Friday, January 13, 2017

Why Did a Major PR Company Do Work for a Mob Planning to Hack the White House Web site?


[We are awaiting comment from PRNewsire; its owner Cision, Protester.io; and the FBI. We'll update if we get anything.]

"Um...this came over PR Newswire...not sure this is legal?" Tweeted well-known conservative editor and writer John Podhoretz, with a screen grab, on Thursday morning, Jan. 12th

um...this came over PR Newswire...not sure this is legal?

The screen grab, seen below, stated that "Protester.io Launches Campaign to Take Down WhiteHouse.gov on Inauguration Day." It called on people across the country to help by "occupying whitehouse.gov online."

This call to hack a federal Web site certainly raises several questions, the first being whether it represents a conspiracy to violate federal cyber crime laws. It sounds like a classic Distributed Denial of Service (DDOS) attack, in which hackers overwhelm a Web site so it can't be used by others (in this case, the American people). This technique is often used by criminals trying to extort the owner of the Web site, or countries like Russia and North Korea trying to shut down Web sites they don't like. Such attacks have sometimes been declared crimes under the federal Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA); violators can face years in prison and stiff fines. A Wisconsin man was reportedly fined $183,000 for using a DDOS attack to take down a company Web site for one minute.

But perhaps most surprising was the company publicizing the campaign, PRNewswire, one of the largest PR services in the world. Bought for nearly a billion dollars in 2015 by private equity-backed Cision, PRNewswire is a go-to choice for those seeking publicity for things like product launches, policy studies and required financial and legal disclosures. Now they were generating publicity for a group planning what might a federal crime.


According to the company: "PR Newswire, a Cision company, is the premier global provider of multimedia platforms and distribution." The service operates 35 offices in 18 countries. "Our network reaches nearly 3,000 newsrooms, like The New York Times, ABC News, BuzzFeed and more. We send content to more than 550 news content systems like Moody’s, SmartBriefs, LexisNexis and McGraw-Hill."

Why would PRNewswire, a company serving thousands of Web sites, want to help a protest group shut down perhaps the best known government site in the country?

We immediately went to the PRNewswire feed and found the following. PRNewswire had "corrected" the initial release to remove the parts about "taking down" WhiteHouse.gov.



But PRNewswire was still directing traffic to the Protester.io site -- where there were instructions on how people could "automate" the hack of WhiteHouse.gov. [We blacked out the specific instructions.]


Based on this, we started Tweeting questions to PRNewswire, Cision and Cision's CEO, Kevin Akeroyd, ex-GM of Oracle Marketing Cloud. 

They never responded. But something interesting was happening: The whole press release appeared to disappear from the PRNewswire system.


Has someone at Cision or PRNewswire realized they were providing publicity for what could be a federal crime? We've emailed them and the organizers of the "take down" campaign against WhiteHouse.gov, but have not yet heard back. We're also contacted the FBI to see they know about this campaign and whether it, and the technique it's promoting, are legal.

As for us, Need to Share News, we're left with several questions:

  • Why would PRNewswire, a company ostensibly devoted to the free exchange of ideas, apparently take money to help promote a campaign to "take down" a legal Web site?
  • Why do the people at Protester.io think they have the right to hack a public Web site other Americans want to use? Why not just put up their own Web site?
  • Do the FBI and other federal cyber crime agencies read PRNewswire? Or Twitter?
  • Will the authorities consider this campaign a lawful protest or a violation of cyber crime laws by "mob DDOSing?" Imagine if Moscow used this tactic to take down the White House site?
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Saturday, January 7, 2017

Navy's Secret Underwater Code Revealed: Whale Songs for "Covert By Disguise" Cold War Communications

The U.S. government has now declassified files on years of ingenious secret experiments to use "coded pilot whale sounds" for covert communications between American Navy ships and submarines during the Cold War.

Excited Navy researchers concluded: "Covert communication by natural disguise is a psychologically confounding alternative approach that can convey considerable advantage to the adversary employing the technique."



"Project Combo" -- according to declassified files from the Naval Sea Systems and Electronic Systems Commands -- developed, tested and evaluated the systems on land and at sea from 1965 through at least 1980.  We received the declassified files from our friend independent researcher Mike Ravnitzky and the governmentattic.org. We at Need to Share News have a long interest in Navy detection of undersea noises while searching for enemy submarines, plus the government's use of dolphins and other animals in military operations.

The declassified report includes fascinating discussion of the noises made by different kinds of whales, porpoises, seals and sea lions, along with their potential suitability for use as coded messages. The Navy chose pilot whales for many of the tests.



The system, composed of recording/transmission and reception/processing equipment, proved successful in sending usable signals up to 50 nautical miles.  Maintaining secret communication at sea has been a critical goal of major naval powers for decades, especially when involved with the high-stakes underwater "cat and mouse" ("killer whale and seal?") game between nuclear submarines.

The declassified documents do not mention deployment of the technology for actual operations. However, one page seems to imply concerns the Soviets could be paying attention to the technique.

Also not discussed: The potential impact on whales if warring forces started interpreting their songs as transmissions from enemy vessels.



And what if some of the those relaxing new-age whale songs sold online actually include secret messages from U.S. sailors?




See the "Project Combo" files here.

Monday, August 15, 2016

US Gov Specifically Asks Applicants for Citizenship if They Were WWII Nazis -- But NOT If They Were Members of ISIS or al-Qaida


[Note: Critics of President Trump say the "vetting" of visa applicants and immigrants is already tough enough. You decide...]


To be admitted legally to the United States, then apply for a Green Card and later become a naturalized citizen, an immigrant typically must fill out various forms managed by the State Department, US Customs and Border Protection (USCBP) and US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).


Given the debate over Islamist extremist terrorism and Islamic immigration (and "naming" the former as a threat), Need to Share News decided to review these questionnaires** and seek answers from the agencies about the process and statistics involving them. [Important note: This report concerns the major documents used by most immigrants. Special programs, such as refugee resettlement, often require additional paperwork/vetting.]


What we learned: During the visa and immigration process, someone seeking to become a US citizen is specifically asked in writing if he/she has been a Communist or World War II Nazi but is not specifically asked in writing whether he or she is or has been a member of ISIS, al-Qaida or other named Islamist terrorist groups.


The only terrorists groups we've seen specifically mentioned in the major documents are Colombian terror groups -- even though they've never attacked the US homeland and are widely believed to have no interest in doing so.


The government does ask general questions applying to other terrorist groups. But it does not keep readily available information on the number and affiliations of applicants who admit being part of ISIS/al-Qaida/other terrorist groups and appears to have no statistics at all on the number of applicants who say "No" when asked if they support the US Constitution.


"Won't they just lie?" ask critics of enhanced immigration screening. Many will, but that misses a key point: Getting them on the record can allow the US to deport, "denaturalize" or prosecute them later if the lie is discovered. This is one reason the US has long asked about membership in Nazi groups: "The U.S. Department of Justice has used lies about wartime service made in immigration papers to deport dozens of suspected Nazi war criminals," the AP reported in 2013. This tactic has also been used against accused members of Islamist terrorist groups and others.


[Note; Do applicants always lie, or do they ever tell the truth about being in terrorist or subversive groups? We asked the government how many immigrants admitted while answering the forms that they were Communists or Nazis, or belonged to a terrorist group. We were surprised by what USCIS told us: "Applicants report membership in various types of groups or organizations, including terrorist organizations, but we do not have statistical information about which applicants claimed membership in which groups readily available." The agency told us such information might be available via the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).]


Since the FBI is already overwhelmed with "lone wolf" (or often more accurately, "known wolf") cases across the country, and can often take no action until a terrorist act is committed, an enhanced ability to deport Green Card holders and citizens who've lied about their backgrounds could be a powerful tool.






From State Department Visa Form DS-260











To be fair, during processing for a Green Card and then citizenship, the government does ask in general about an applicant's membership in a "terrorist organization." "Under the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), for lawful permanent resident status application purposes, an individual who is or has been a member of (or affiliated with) a terrorist organization is generally inadmissible to the United States....," a USCIS spokesman informed us via email. [Note re sourcing: All quotes are on-the-record and from a specific USCIS public affairs official, who asked that he be identified as a "USCIS spokesman."]


We also wondered about the issues raised by Donald Trump's camp and others: How about people who've belonged to Islamist organizations (eg, groups that believe Islamic law should be supreme). In others words, does the US government try to screen out applicants who believe in "Sharia law" above the Constitution? These people are often called "Sharia supremacists" -- although many American Muslims dispute such terms -- more in a later report.


"An applicant for naturalization must show that he or she has been and continues to be a person attached to the principles of the Constitution of the ​United States​ and well-disposed to the good order and happiness of the ​United States​ during the statutorily prescribed period.​'Attachment' is a stronger term than 'well disposed' and implies a depth of conviction, which would lead to active support of the Constitution.​ Attachment includes both an understanding and a mental attitude including willingness to be attached to the principles of the Constitution. An applicant who is hostile to the basic form of government of the ​United States​, or who does not believe in the principles of the Constitution, is not eligible for naturalization," said the spokesperson.

The government agencies also all let us know their questions are mandated by the INA and applicable law -- in other words, if they don't specifically ask about membership in ISIS or al-Qaida, Congress needs to take action.


Finally, we asked USCIS for the list of "terrorist groups" its citizenship officials use to screen immigrants, plus whether the controversial Muslim Brotherhood is on that list. That information too was not readily available, though the spokesman said he would try to get it for us. [See update on Aug. 18, 2006, below -- answers from USCIS.]***


The government did say not any information would likely be available on the number of immigrant applicants who answer "No" when asked if they support the Constitution (and/or say they will not take the Oath of Allegiance.) "USCIS does not statistically track this specific information," said the spokesperson.


We'll have more on this topic, including the issue of an ideological test for immigrants to screen out those who believe in "Sharia law." That's clearly far more complicated and contentious than a potential simple improvement to the current immigration system: Specifically asking applicants in writing whether they belong/ed to ISIS, al-Qaida and other groups that want to destroy the United States today.


What questions do you think the US government should ask immigrants? Let us know in the comments section below.



*Some of the applicable documents:






Form DS 260 (State Department visa)






Form I-485 Application for Permanent Residence (USCIS)






Form N-400 Application for Naturalization (USCIS)










**Updates from USCIS on Aug. 18, 2016:





Is there a list of “terrorist organizations” provided to examiners? For example, are the organizations on the State Department list of terrorist groups also on your list?




"The Department of State maintains two lists of designated terrorist organizations, as described in INA § 212(a)(3)(B)(vi)(I) and INA § 212(a)(3)(B)(vi)(II), and those lists are available on the Department of State’s public website at http://www.state.gov/j/ct/rls/other/des/123085.htm and http://www.state.gov/j/ct/rls/other/des/123086.htm respectively. Our officers are trained to refer to the Department of State’s lists of designated terrorist organizations when adjudicating applications for immigration benefits. USCIS does not maintain separate lists of designated terrorist organizations nor does USCIS maintain any list of undesignated terrorist organizations as defined in INA § 212(a)(3)(B)(vi)(III). Rather, a determination as to whether an organization meets the definition of an undesignated terrorist organization is made newly and independently by each USCIS adjudicator in the course of considering each benefit application."


Is the Muslim Brotherhood on the list/s above?


"As of August 10, 2016, the Muslim Brotherhood has not been designated as a terrorist organization by the Department of State or Congress. Please check the Department of State websites listed above for updates to the lists of designated terrorist organizations."




*PS We tweeted this link to reporters covering the "vetting"story @ major media organizations such as the NY Times, Washington Post and CNN. None has responded or, as far as we can tell, included any of this information in their reporting as of 8/18 afternoon.



Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Only Attorneys Need Apply? Democratic Party = "Lawyers' Party?"


With the selection of the Clinton/Kaine ticket, EVERY Democratic nominee for President/Vice President since 1984 has been a lawyer (attended law school), according to our review of public bios (See chart below.). [BTW, Bernie Sanders did not attend law school, according to public bios.]

During that same time period, most Republican nominees have NOT been lawyers (some exceptions: Pence this year; Romney, if you count his joint MBA/Juris degrees received before he went into finance; Quayle and Dole).

By the numbers, 100% of Democrats attended law school (of 18 nominee slots, eg President/Vice President in an election cycle & 13 people, because some "filled a slot" more than once -- Al Gore filled slots three times, for example, during two VP runs and one Presidential run.). For the Republicans, app. 22% of the slots were filled by those who attended law school & app. 31% of the people nominated (some more than once) had attended law school.
We thought to check this after considering the different "word clouds" from ‪#‎RNCinCleveland‬ (heavy on "ISIS," "military," etc) and ‪#‎DNC2016‬, where "public service/servant" has been used extensively, often referring to lawyers.
Obviously, given the different views of the two political groups on government regulation, it's not surprising that being a lawyer now appears a requirement for making the Dem national ticket (btw, last Dem non-lawyer we could find was Jimmy Carter, a Navy officer and farmer before entering politics and being elected president in 1976 and then running unsuccessfully for reelection in 1980.)

FYI, there are roughly 3X as many "top executives" as lawyers in the American workplace, according to government labor statistics, and lawyers are outnumbered by other professions such as farmers/ranchers and high school teachers.

We've got our opinions on teams of lawyers, especially those with limited experience in business or even private practice, running a country that depends on a vibrant business environment. What do you think? Please let us know in the comments.


"There is no shortage of lawyers in Washington, DC. In fact, there may be more lawyers than people:" attributed to Sandra Day O'Connor


Attended Law School                         Non-Law School Grad/Profession Before Politics
1984
Ronald Reagan (Calif.) actor/union official/corporate spokesman– George H. W. Bush (Tex.) businessman, gov official
George H. W. Bush (Tex.) businessman Dan Quayle (Ind.)
Bob Dole (Kans.) – Jack Kemp pro athlete (N.Y.)
George W. Bush (Tex.) – Dick Cheney (Wyo.) gov official
John McCain Navy officer (Ariz.) – Sarah Palin (Alaska)broadcaster 
Mitt Romney (Mass.) – Paul Ryan (Wis.) Cong. staffer
Donald Trump businessman (N.Y.) – Mike Pence (Ind.)

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Major Media Try to "Make the Statue of Liberty Disappear" in Reporting on Guns -- Latest Example is Vox

Magician David Copperfield famously made the Statue of Liberty "disappear" in plain sight on national television. Now the major national media are attempting a similarly audacious trick, this time involving some critical facts about one of our most important and contentious issues: guns.

The most recent example of this vanishing act is Vox's ambitious new project on gun deaths. "More than 33,000 people are shot and killed in the U.S. each year...And that means that for all the grief and haranguing and calls to action, we’re likely missing opportunities to bring that number down:" says the "letter from the editor" set-up for the report from Vox (a leading "young-adult site," according to WSJ's James Taranto.)

What's actually missing is recognition in the set-up that the number of firearms deaths has plunged over recent years, from almost 40,000 (39,595) in 1993 to 33,636 in 2013 (Centers for Disease Control, source for the Vox report's data.).

You'd think Vox might focus on this decline (which would come as news to many readers subsisting solely on a regular diet of major media mush) and explanations for the drop, which might well provide ideas on how to keep the decline going. But that would be like David Copperfield focusing on a moving stage or hidden trap door.



Also ignored in the Vox set-up and many other major media stories is that the CDC predicted gun deaths would exceed those from motor-vehicle accidents: "by the year 2003 (the CDC wrote in early 1994), the number of firearm-related deaths will surpass the number of motor-vehicle crashes, and firearms will become the leading cause of injury-related death." bit.ly/CDCPredicts

Oops.

Turns out that in 2003 motor-vehicle crashes still killed far more Americans than guns (43,340 to 30,136). They still do, though by a much smaller margin: http://bit.ly/CDClatest  Now that's an interesting potential story.

All of which reminds us of this graphic from AEI (which again would probably come as a shock to many Americans):


guns4


Says the AEI researcher: "In contrast to the widely embraced narrative, perpetuated by liberal politicians and the media, that gun violence in America is getting worse all the time, the data reveal that the exact opposite is true. According to data retrieved from the Centers for Disease Control, there were 7 firearm-related homicides for every 100,000 Americans in 1993 (see light blue line in chart). By 2013 (most recent year available), the gun homicide rate had fallen by nearly 50% to only 3.6 homicides per 100,000 population."

We don't have the expertise to parse the more complicated statistical issues in the gun issue, but we do know enough to be skeptical when a critical trend is routinely & suspiciously underplayed, or even omitted, by so much coverage by the major media.

And unlike Mr. Copperfield, these media outlets apparently expect us to believe their sleight-of-hand is real.




Monday, June 20, 2016

If the Obama Administration Had Been in Office Back When...


[Context:"Justice Department blasted for editing Orlando transcripts (6/16)"]

...

"By the grace of Heaven, Emperor of [omitted], Emperor [omitted]...we hereby declare war" on USA, 12/8/1941.

...

"The ruling to kill the Americans...is an individual duty for every [omitted] who can do it:" [omitted] bin [omitted].

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