Posts Tagged ‘NSA’

China’s Tech Giants Have a Second Job: Helping Beijing Spy on Its People

December 1, 2017

Tencent and Alibaba are among the firms that assist authorities in hunting down criminal suspects, silencing dissent and creating surveillance cities

HANGZHOU, China—Alibaba Group’s sprawling campus has collegial workspaces, laid-back coffee bars and, on the landscaped grounds, a police outpost.

Employees use the office to report suspected crimes to the police, according to people familiar with the operation. Police also use it to request data from Alibaba for their own investigations, these people said, tapping into the trove of information the tech giant collects through its e-commerce and financial-payment networks.

In one case, the police wanted to find out who had posted content related to terrorism, said a former Alibaba employee. “They came to me and asked me for the user ID and information,” he recalled. He turned it over.

 


Richard B. Levine/ZUMA PRESS

The Chinese government is building one of the world’s most sophisticated, high-tech systems to keep watch over its citizens, including surveillance cameras, facial-recognition technology and vast computers systems that comb through terabytes of data. Central to its efforts are the country’s biggest technology companies, which are openly acting as the government’s eyes and ears in cyberspace.

Companies including Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. , Tencent Holdings Ltd. and Baidu Inc., are required to help China’s government hunt down criminal suspects and silence political dissent. Their technology is also being used to create cities wired for surveillance.

This assistance is far more extensive than the help Western companies extend to their governments, and the requests are almost impossible to challenge, a Wall Street Journal examination of Chinese practices shows.

Companies including Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. , Tencent Holdings Ltd. and Baidu Inc., are required to help China’s government hunt down criminal suspects and silence political dissent. Their technology is also being used to create cities wired for surveillance.

This assistance is far more extensive than the help Western companies extend to their governments, and the requests are almost impossible to challenge, a Wall Street Journal examination of Chinese practices shows.

Unlike American companies, which often resist U.S. government requests for information, Chinese ones talk openly about working with authorities. Tencent Chief Executive Ma Huateng, also known as Pony Ma, and Alibaba founder Jack Ma both have voiced support for private companies working with the government on law enforcement and security issues.

“The political and legal system of the future is inseparable from the internet, inseparable from big data,” Alibaba’s Mr. Ma told a Communist Party commission overseeing law enforcement last year. He said technology will soon make it possible to predict security threats. “Bad guys won’t even be able to walk into the square,” he said.

In practice, China’s internet giants, which have benefited from trade policies shielding them from foreign competition, have little choice but to cooperate in a country where the Communist Party controls both the legal system and the right to function as a business.

Tencent, the world’s largest online videogame company, dominates Chinese cyberspace with news, video-streaming operations and its WeChat app, used by nearly one billion people to communicate and for mobile payments.

Beijing activist Hu Jia said he bought a slingshot online after a friend recommended it for relieving stress. He paid with WeChat’s mobile-payment feature. Mr. Hu said he was later interrogated by a state security agent, who asked if he was planning to shoot out surveillance cameras near his apartment.

Beijing activist Hu Jia, on left in 2013, says ‘everyone has a spy watching them. That spy is their smartphone.’Photo: Kim Kyung Hoon/REUTERS

A few years earlier, Mr. Hu said, he had messaged a friend headed to Taiwan with the names of activists he might want to see while traveling there. Later, he said, state security agents showed up at the friend’s house and warned him against meeting Mr. Hu’s acquaintances.

“Experience has proven that WeChat is completely compromised,” especially for people on the government’s watch list, Mr. Hu said. “Everyone has a spy watching them. That spy is their smartphone.”

Neither Tencent nor Chinese security officials responded to requests for comment.

Xu Bing describes how he created a fictional film by piecing together footage taken from ubiquitous surveillance cameras recording the daily lives of Chinese citizens. Photo: Xu Bing Studio

When discussing their cooperation with the government, Chinese companies point to disclosures by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden, which detailed how U.S. tech and telecommunications companies granted U.S. government agencies access to user data. Earlier, many American phone companies had complied with a secret National Security Agency program to intercept the communications of some U.S. citizens without a court warrant.

U.S. government requests for information about U.S. citizens or legal residents now have to be approved by a court. Chinese police, by contrast, can rely on a search warrant issued by the police themselves.

“I would disagree with the premise that the central government has access to all this corporate data. That’s just not true,” said Joseph Tsai, Alibaba’s executive vice chairman, at the Journal’s D.Live conference in October. “If they want data from you, just like in the U.S., they have to have a reason.”

Alibaba and other tech companies push back if they believe a Chinese government request for data isn’t warranted, said a Chinese police official familiar with the operations of the country’s cyberpolice. He said law enforcement must follow set procedures to gain access to private information.

China’s government, however, has the last word. There is no independent judiciary to approve or review government requests—or for companies to appeal to if they disagree with a demand.

It is unlikely any Chinese company could mount the sort of challenge Apple Inc. did when it refused to comply with a request by the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation to unlock the iPhone of a suspect in the San Bernardino mass shooting in 2015.

‘The political and legal system of the future is inseparable from the internet, inseparable from big data.’

—Jack Ma, founder, Alibaba Group

Over the past year, Chinese regulators have ordered three popular internet platforms to stop streaming videos with political content not in line with government policy, and they more recently warned that companies that didn’t comply with new social-media rules would be shut down. Facebook Inc. was banned in China in 2009, without a stated reason.

On June 1, a new cybersecurity law went into effect that requires companies running internet platforms in China to help authorities ferret out content that “endangers national security, national honor and interests.”

That goes far beyond U.S. government demands on internet service providers or platforms, which are required by law to report suspected instances of child pornography when they discover it and take down material that has been found to infringe on copyrights.

Chinese government authorities didn’t respond to requests for comment for this article.

In one of the first significant actions under the new law, China’s Cyberspace Administration this fall slapped maximum fines on Tencent, internet company Baidu and others for allowing users to spread banned content, including “false rumors” and pornography.

Tencent said it “sincerely accepted” the punishment and vowed to do a better job. Baidu outlined a plan to use big data and artificial intelligence to better identify and dispel rumors. A Baidu spokeswoman said the new platform was developed in collaboration with police and other public and private agencies, and was designed to ensure users get accurate information.

‘I would disagree with the premise that the central government has access to all this corporate data.’

—Joseph Tsai, executive vice chairman, Alibaba

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Alibaba has data on hundreds of millions of Chinese citizens who use the company and its affiliated services to shop online, stream videos, pay rent, send text messages, make comments on social media and more.

The job of monitoring traffic on these platforms falls to its Alibaba Security Team, whose Chinese name—Shendun—can be translated as “Magic Shield.”

At the company’s Hangzhou campus, computer programs sweep Alibaba’s internet commerce sites and flag anything that might be prohibited, such as guns and pornography, according to current and former Magic Shield agents.

The security team scans the websites for suspicious sales, one former staffer said, such as tea being sold for an exorbitant price, an indication it might really be illegal drugs. Agents then review and remove objectionable content, and in cases of scams such as monetary fraud, will alert the police, the current and former agents said.

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In a video published on the team’s Twitter-like Weibo site, the Magic Shield team is shown working at computer screens. “Guns, rubber bullets, drugs,” the narrator says. “As long as it’s illegal, it will not escape our control.”

The team has assisted police in “several thousand cases,” the video says. The team also is called in to help police with criminal investigations, people familiar with the operations say.

Plans to set up police outposts at tech companies were disclosed in a 2015 posting on China’s Ministry of Public Security website, which said the intent was to “find out about criminal activity at its first instance.”

An Alibaba spokeswoman said the company’s campus includes “a designated meeting space where law-enforcement staff visit occasionally to communicate the latest updates on regulation. If there are established criminal cases, our team will also use this space to discuss the extent of our assistance in those investigations as required by law. There are no police officers stationed on our campus.”

Unlike their Chinese counterparts, U.S. tech companies, including Apple, Facebook and Alphabet Inc.’s Google, routinely disclose their government cooperation in transparency reports.

Chinese President Xi Jinping, front, was applauded by Chinese and American technology CEOs and other executives at Microsoft Corp.’s campus in Redmund, Wash., in 2015. Photo: Ted S. Warren/Press Pool/Getty Images

Google, whose services are mostly blocked in China, said there were 23 Chinese government requests for Google to remove content in the second half of 2016, mostly for national security reasons.

Apple disclosed that more than 35,000 user accounts were affected by 24 Chinese law-enforcement requests in the first half of this year, many in connection with fraud investigations. It said it provided information on about 90% of them.

Chinese companies don’t release any information on the number of requests from the government, the nature of the requests or the compliance rate.

Tencent’s online monitoring operations use computers to filter its streamed videos, news feeds and other online platforms for obscene and politically sensitive content, according to people familiar with the operation.

Self-Policing the Internet

Chinese and U.S. internet platforms face different government standards for policing content.

PORNOGRAPHY:

–U.S.: Responsible for reporting child pornography
–China: Must be removed and reported. Liable for hosting content.

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TERRORISM CONTENT:

–U.S.: May voluntarily remove, but no legal responsibility to report.
–China: Must be removed and reported. Liable for hosting content.

.
CONTENT PROMOTING GAMBLING:

–U.S.: Online gambling is mostly illegal. Should not accept online gambling ads and must not host, promote or support gambling activities.
–China: Must be removed and reported. Liable for hosting content.

.
CONTENT CONTAINING STATE SECRETS:

–U.S.: Acquiring or leaking state secrets is prohibited, but re-publication of such material is protected by First Amendment. May voluntarily remove.
–China: Must be removed and reported. Liable for hosting content.

.
CONTENT UNDERMINING PUBLIC MORALITY:

–U.S.: No legal responsibility to report.
–China: Must be removed and reported. Liable for hosting content.

.
Sources: Stanford Law School, Baker McKenzie

Censors at Chinese companies are responsible for blocking unfavorable references to the Communist Party and senior leaders, as well as foreign news stories casting China in a negative light. Computers are programed to spot thousands of words and phrases and delete most of the offensive content, according to the people familiar with the censorship operations.

Users of Tencent’s WeChat app who run large group chats say they have received automated warnings about politically sensitive content. Some political activists say their WeChat accounts have been suspended or closed for posts critical of the government.

During important political events, staffers with China’s internet regulator set up shop at Chinese content providers to catch anything that might slip through the cracks, people familiar with the operations said. The regulator, the Cyberspace Administration of China, didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Along with access to online data, China’s government wants something else from tech companies—the cloud computing prowess to sort and analyze information. China wants to crunch data from surveillance cameras, smartphones, government databases and other sources to create so-called smart cities and safe cities.

Alibaba’s computers and artificial-intelligence algorithms power a “city brain” in Hangzhou that improves traffic flow and clears the path for ambulances by using mobile mapping and data from traffic cameras to time traffic signals. The company said its cloud and data services also have helped manage aircraft parking in Guangzhou and deploy tour guides in Wuhan.

Chinese President Xi Jinping appeared on a screen during the annual World Internet Conference in Wuzhen, China, in 2016.Photo: Aly Song/REUTERS

The township of Wuzhen hosts an annual internet conference attended by political and technology leaders. Chinese citizens with grievances show up, too, hoping to get their attention. Police now work with Alibaba to use surveillance footage and data processing to identify “persons of interest” and keep them out, local police official Dai Jinming said at a recent conference sponsored by Alibaba.

Inside China’s Surveillance State

–Surveillance Cameras Made by China Are Hanging All Over the U.S.
–China’s All-Seeing Surveillance State Is Reading Its Citizens’ Faces
–Tencent is working with police in the southern city of Guangzhou to build a cloud-based “early-warning system” that can track and forecast the size and movement of crowds, according to a statement from the Guangzhou police bureau.

Maya Wang, a Hong Kong-based researcher for Human Rights Watch, contends the proclaimed benefits of such wired cities mask their true purpose. “This whole safe city idea is a massive surveillance project,” she said.

The government-sponsored Smart Cities Work Committee didn’t respond to a request for comment.

China’s latest five-year development plan calls for 100 smart-city trials to be rolled out next year.

By 2020, the plan says, smart cities will make up a “ubiquitous system” that is expected to “achieve remarkable results.”

— Xiao Xiao and Lingling Wei contributed to this article.

https://www.wsj.com/articles/chinas-tech-giants-have-a-second-job-helping-the-government-see-everything-1512056284

 

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U.S. Flagged Russian Firm Kaspersky as Potential Threat as Early as 2004

November 18, 2017

Intelligence agencies have expressed concern about the cybersecurity company’s software

WASHINGTON—A Russian cybersecurity firm whose products current and former U.S. officials suspect Moscow has used as a tool for spying was flagged by U.S. military intelligence as a potential security threat as early as 2004, according to new information the Defense Department provided to Congress.

In 2013, the Defense Intelligence Agency, the U.S. military spy service, also issued a Pentagon-wide threat assessment about products made by the company, Kaspersky Lab, according to an email this week from the Pentagon to the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology. The contents of the assessment weren’t disclosed.

The DIA “began producing threat reporting referencing Kaspersky Lab as a threat actor as early as 2004,” according to the email, reviewed by The Wall Street Journal, raising questions about why other federal agencies continued to use the firm’s products.

The Journal reported in October that hackers suspected of working for the Russian government targeted a National Security Agency contractor through the contractor’s use of Kaspersky Lab antivirus software and stole details of how the U.S. penetrates foreign computer networks.

Kaspersky has long said it doesn’t assist the Russian government with spying on other countries.

The revelation about Kaspersky comes as concern over Russian infiltration of American computer networks and social-media platforms is growing after the U.S. intelligence assessment that the Russian government worked to help President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign. Russia has denied meddling in the election.

Kaspersky published a report on Thursday saying that the computer it believes may have belonged to the NSA contractor in question was infected with other malware that could have been responsible for ex-filtrating information.

The company said in a separate statement, in response to the revelation that U.S. military intelligence flagged the firm as a threat actor, that it remains “ready to work with the U.S. government to address any and all concerns and further collaborate to mitigate against cyber threats, regardless of their origin or purpose.” It added: “we maintain that there has yet to be any credible evidence of the risks presented by the company’s products.”

The DIA’s threat analysis center, established in 2009, circulated analysis regarding Kaspersky Lab to various acquisition programs within the Pentagon, according to the email. It also made its views about the potential threat posed by Kaspersky Lab known to other agencies as early as 2012, the email said.

The email the Pentagon official sent this week was a follow-up to questions posed by the committee chairman, Rep. Lamar Smith (R., Texas), about why the Pentagon had decided not to use Kaspersky products while other U.S. federal agencies felt safe to do so.

A top Pentagon cybersecurity official, Essye Miller, told the committee at a hearing this week that the Defense Department hadn’t used Kaspersky products because of intelligence information regarding the firm.

Still, other federal agencies didn’t follow the same precautions and used Kaspersky products. Jeanette Manfra, a top Department of Homeland Security official, said at the hearing that roughly 15% of the federal agencies that checked to see if Kaspersky was operating on their systems found the company’s products. DHS has set a Dec. 12 deadline for all U.S. government agencies to remove the firm’s software.

“We expect to continue to get more information and also get those basic questions answered—like why did they ever start using Kaspersky Lab products?” Rep. Smith said.

Write to Paul Sonne at paul.sonne@wsj.com

 https://www.wsj.com/articles/u-s-flagged-russian-firm-kaspersky-as-potential-threat-in-2004-1510957459

Kaspersky blames NSA hack on infected Microsoft software

November 16, 2017

AFP

11:46 EST, 16 November 2017

The Moscow headquarters of Kaspersky Lab, which the US has alleged has links to Russian intelligence

Embattled computer security firm Kaspersky Lab said Thursday that malware-infected Microsoft Office software and not its own was to blame for the hacking theft of top-secret US intelligence materials.

Adding tantalizing new details to the cyber-espionage mystery that has rocked the US intelligence community, Kaspersky also said there was a China link to the hack.

The Moscow-based anti-virus software maker, which is now banned on US government computers because of alleged links to Russian intelligence, confirmed that someone did apparently steal valuable National Security Agency programs from an NSA worker’s home computer, as first reported by the Wall Street Journal on October 5.

According to the Journal, the person had top secret files and programs from the NSA hacking unit called the Equation Group on his computer, which was also using Kaspersky software protection.

They believe that Russian spies used the Kaspersky program as a back door to discover and siphon off the files, reportedly causing deep damage to the NSA’s own cyber-espionage operations.

US allegations that Kaspersky, which sold more than $600 million of anti-virus software globally in 2015, knowingly or unknowingly helped Russian intelligence in the theft have effectively killed its US business and hurt its worldwide reputation.

– Kaspersky software ‘disabled’ –

Using its own forensic analysis, Kaspersky said the breach of the NSA worker’s computer took place between September and November 2014, rather than 2015 as the Journal reported.

Kaspersky said what was stolen included essential source code for some Equation Group malware, as well as classified documents. Based on the materials, it said the computer appeared to belong to someone involved in creating malware for the Equation Group.

The company claimed, however, that the computer was infected by other malware, including a Russian-made “backdoor tool” hidden in Microsoft Office.

Kaspersky said that the malware was controlled from a computer server base in Hunan, China, and would have opened a path into the computer for anyone targeting an NSA worker.

“Given that system owner’s potential clearance level, the user could have been a prime target of nation-states,” it said.

Kaspersky’s own software would have detected that malware, the company said, except that its software had been turned off.

“To install and run this malware, the user must have disabled Kaspersky Lab products on his machine,” it claimed.

pmh/jh

China, Philippines Sign 14 Agreements — China Adopts Duterte, The Philippines, South China Sea

November 15, 2017
Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, left, gestures to Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte as they prepare for their bilateral meeting following a welcome ceremony at Malacanang Palace grounds in Manila, Philippines, Wednesday, Nov. 15, 2017. Li is on an official visit to the country. AP/Bullit Marquez

MANILA, Philippines — A total of 14 cooperation documents were signed by Philippine and Chinese officials during Chinese Premier Li Keqiang’s extended stay in the Philippines on Wednesday.

Li, the first Chinese premier to pay an official visit on the Philippines in 10 years, witnessed the signing of the documents with President Rodrigo Duterte during a ceremony at Malacañan.

“As I have said, at this time, we cannot offer you anything because we are the ones needing help. But maybe in the future Philippines would also show its debt of gratitude to China,” Duterte told Li.

“And for all of the fundings of the public works, bridges and all, there is nothing more we can ask from your friendship,” the Philippine leader added.

For his part, Li assured Duterte that China is fast-tracking the implementation of relevant projects requiring efforts of both Manila and Beijing.

“Like you, Mr. President said, China and Philippines are close neighbors. Both China and the Philippines are countries with large population and we are developing opportunities and a big market for each other,” Li told Duterte.

 

“If we can work together, I believe, it will all bring benefits to the people of both countries and the regions as a whole,” he added.

Below is the list of documents signed by representatives of Manila and Beijing:

 

  1. Agreement on Economic and Technical Cooperation between the Government of the Republic of the Philippines and the People’s Republic of China | Signatories: Department of Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III and International Trade Representative and Vice Minister of Commerce Fu Ziying
  2. Memorandum of Understanding on Jointly Promoting on Second Basket of Key Infrastructure Projects Cooperation between the Department of Finance of the Republic of the Philippines and the Ministry of Commerce of the Government of the People’s Republic of China | Signatories: Department of Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III and International Trade Representative and Vice Minister of Commerce Fu Ziying
  3. Exchange of Letters on Project of Dangerous Drugs Abuse Treatment and Rehabilitation Centers | Signatories: Department of Health Secretary Francisco Duque and International Trade Representative and Vice Minister of Commerce Fu Ziying
  4. Exchange of Letters on Project of Two Bridges Across Pasig River | Signatories: Department of Public Works and Highways Secretary Mark Villar and International Trade Representative and Vice Minister of Commerce Fu Ziying
  5. Memorandum of Understanding for Cooperation on Industrial Parks Development between the Department of Trade and Industry of the Republic of the Philippines and the Ministry of Commerce of the People’s Republic of China | Signatories: Department of Trade and Industry Secretary Ramon Lopez and International Trade Representative and Vice Minister of Commerce Fu Ziying
  6. Memorandum of Understanding on Jointly Promoting the Philippine National Railways South Long Hall Project Cooperation between the Department of Transportation of the Republic of the Philippines and the Ministry of Commerce of the People’s Republic of China | Signatories: Department of Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade and International Trade Representative and Vice Minister of Commerce Fu Ziying
  7. Implementation Framework for the Memorandum of Understanding and Development of Project List for Cooperation in Production Capacity and Investment between the National Economic and Development Authority of the Republic of the Philippines and the National Development and Reform Commission of the People’s Republic of China | Signatories: Socioeconomic Secretary Ernesto Pernia and National Development and Reform Commission Vice Chairman Zhang Yong
  8. Memorandum of Understanding between the Department of Environment and Natural Resources of the Republic of the Philippines and the National Development and Reform Commission of the People’s Republic of China Concerning the Provision of Goods for Addressing Climate Change | Signatories: Department of Environment and Natural Resources Secretary Roy Cimatu and National Development and Reform Commission Vice Chairman Zhang Yong
  9. Memorandum of Understanding on Defense Industry Cooperation between the Department of National Defense of the Republic of the Philippines and the State Administration of Science Technology Industry of the National Defense of the People’s Republic of China| Signatories: Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana and Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Zhang Yesui
  10. Memorandum of Understanding between the Intellectual Property Office of the Philippines and the State Intellectual Property of the People’s Republic of China on Cooperation in the Field of Intellectual Property | Signatories: Intellectual Property Office Director General Josephine Santiago and Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Zhang Yesui
  11. Memorandum of Understanding between the National Youth Commission and the All-China Youth Federation on Strengthening Youth Cooperation | Signatories: National Youth Commission Chairperson and CEO Cariza Seguerra and Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Zhang Yesui
  12. The Financing Cooperation Agreement on Chico River Pump Irrigation Project and New Centennial Water Source-Kaliwa Dam Project between the Government of the Republic of the Philippines represented by the Department of Finance and the Export-Import Bank of China| Signatories: Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III and Export-Import Bank of China President Liu Liange
  13. The Republic of the Philippines 2017 Renminbi Bond Issuance Underwriting Agreement | Signatories: Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III and Bank of China Limited Chairman Chen Siqing
  14. Memorandum of Understanding between the Bases Conversion and Development Authority and China Development Bank | Signatories: Bases Conversion and Development Authority Chairman Gregorio Garcia III and China Development Bank Chairman Hu Huaibang

http://www.philstar.com/headlines/2017/11/15/1759226/14-agreements-between-china-and-philippines-signed

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Trump Jr. messaged with WikiLeaks during 2016 campaign

November 14, 2017

The Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump’s oldest son on Monday released a series of private Twitter exchanges between himself and WikiLeaks during and after the 2016 election, including pleas from the website to publicize its leaks.

Donald Trump Jr.’s release of the messages on Twitter came hours after The Atlantic first reported them. In the exchanges — some of them around the time that the website was releasing the stolen emails from Democrat Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman — WikiLeaks praises his father’s positive comments about WikiLeaks and asks Trump Jr. to release his father’s tax returns to the site.

The revelations are sure to increase calls in Congress to have Trump Jr. testify publicly as part of several committee probes into Russian interference in the 2016 election. And they add a new element to the investigations that have been probing for months whether Trump’s campaign colluded in any way with the Russian government.

In an intelligence assessment released last January, the NSA, CIA and FBI concluded that Russian military intelligence provided hacked information from the DNC and “senior Democratic officials” to WikiLeaks. WikiLeaks has denied that Russia was the source of emails it released, including those from Clinton’s campaign chairman, John Podesta.

The private messages released by Trump Jr. show him responding to the WikiLeaks account three times, at one point agreeing to “ask around” about a political action committee WikiLeaks had mentioned. He also asked the site about a rumor about an upcoming leak. The messages began in September 2016 and ran through July.

Trump Jr. downplayed the exchanges as he released them.

“Here is the entire chain of messages with @wikileaks (with my whopping 3 responses) which one of the congressional committees has chosen to selectively leak,” he tweeted. “How ironic!”

Trump Jr.’s lawyers had released the exchanges to three congressional committees that have been investigating Russian intervention in the 2016 election and whether there were any links to Trump’s campaign.

In a statement, Trump Jr.’s lawyer said thousands of documents had been turned over to the committees.

“Putting aside the question as to why or by whom such documents, provided to Congress under promises of confidentiality, have been selectively leaked, we can say with confidence that we have no concerns about these documents and any questions raised about them have been easily answered in the appropriate forum,” said Alan Futerfas.

Futerfas didn’t say which forum he was referring to, but Trump Jr. was interviewed behind closed doors by Senate Judiciary Committee staff in September. A person familiar with that meeting said the private Twitter messages were discussed. The person declined to be identified because the transcript of that interview hasn’t been made public.

In one message dated Oct. 3, 2016, the WikiLeaks Twitter account sent Trump Jr. an article that included critical comments Clinton had made about WikiLeaks editor Julian Assange and said “it’d be great if you guys could comment on/push this story.”

Trump Jr. replied: “Already did that earlier today. It’s amazing what she can get away with.”

Two minutes later, Trump Jr. sent another message: “What’s behind this Wednesday leak I keep reading about?”

Longtime Trump associate Roger Stone had tweeted the day before that on Wednesday, “Hillary Clinton is done,” referencing WikiLeaks.

The WikiLeaks Twitter account never responded, but days later WikiLeaks started rolling out Podesta’s stolen emails. After the emails were released, WikiLeaks sent Trump Jr. a searchable link of the emails. Trump Jr. tweeted that link two days later, on Oct. 14, 2016, The Atlantic noted.

The rest of the messages are one-sided, with WikiLeaks sending Trump Jr. messages through July 2017. They include praise for his father for mentioning them on the campaign trail, a plea to release Trump’s taxes to the site and advice on Election Day that Trump should not concede if he lost. One message suggested Trump encourage Australia to appoint Assange as U.S. ambassador.

In July, the Twitter account messaged Trump Jr. to ask him to give the site emails surrounding a meeting he and other Trump associates held with Russians during the campaign. Trump Jr. then released them himself.

Vice President Mike Pence responded quickly to the revelations, issuing a statement through his press secretary that he knew nothing about the situation.

“The vice president was never aware of anyone associated with the campaign being in contact with WikiLeaks,” said spokeswoman Alyssa Farah. “He first learned of this news from a published report earlier tonight.”

Assange tweeted after The Atlantic report that he couldn’t confirm the messages but then defended them after Trump Jr. released them.

“WikiLeaks appears to beguile some people into transparency by convincing them that it is in their interest,” Assange tweeted.

Democrats swiftly reacted to the report, saying Trump Jr. should provide more information. California Rep. Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House intelligence committee, says it “demonstrates once again a willingness by the highest levels of the Trump campaign to accept foreign assistance.”

Schiff also pointed to Cambridge Analytica, a data firm that worked for Trump’s campaign and reached out to WikiLeaks before the election about obtaining emails related to Clinton, according to the company’s CEO.

Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said that panel should subpoena the documents and force Trump Jr. to publicly testify.

“There seems to be no reasonable explanation for these messages,” Blumenthal said.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley had said he would call Trump Jr. to publicly testify after the private interview in September. But negotiations over witnesses broke down last month amid disagreements with Democrats on the panel.

The House and Senate intelligence committees are also expecting to interview Trump Jr., but those interviews are expected to be behind closed doors.

___

Associated Press writers Zeke Miller, Eric Tucker, Chad Day and Tom LoBianco contributed to this report.

American Intelligence Horror Story

November 13, 2017

Are U.S. spies losing their technological edge?

The National Security Agency campus in Fort Meade, Maryland in 2013.
The National Security Agency campus in Fort Meade, Maryland in 2013. PHOTO: PATRICK SEMANSKY/ASSOCIATED PRESS
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NSA, sometimes said to stand for Never Say Anything, does not want to talk about this. But it’s a momentous crisis for the largest US intelligence agency. https://nyti.ms/2jlglTa 

The N.S.A.’s headquarters at Fort Meade in Maryland. Cybertools the agency developed have been picked up by hackers from North Korea to Russia and shot back at the United States and its allies.

Security Breach and Spilled Secrets Have Shaken the N.S.A. to Its Core

A serial leak of the agency’s cyberweapons has damaged morale, slowed intelligence operations and resulted in hacking attacks on businesses and civilians worldwide.

nytimes.com

For years technologists have been warning about the possibility of a sort of digital Pearl Harbor in which a hostile foreign power launches a devastating cyber-attack on the United States. Is it already happening?

A disturbing report in the New York Timesdescribes the damage that has been done—and is still being done—by a mysterious group called the Shawdow Brokers, which managed to steal the hacking tools the U.S. National Security Agency has used to spy on other countries. The Times describes an “earthquake that has shaken the N.S.A. to its core” and adds:

Current and former agency officials say the Shadow Brokers disclosures, which began in August 2016, have been catastrophic for the N.S.A., calling into question its ability to protect potent cyberweapons and its very value to national security. The agency regarded as the world’s leader in breaking into adversaries’ computer networks failed to protect its own.

A reported breach of the NSA has been described as “catastrophic” and even worse than Edward Snowden’s massive data leak. CBS News Senior National Security Contributor @MichaelJMorelljoins @CBSThisMorning to discuss

Among the most disturbing aspects of the case is the fact that, long after the theft of critical data was detected, our government still doesn’t know how it happened. The Times writes:

Fifteen months into a wide-ranging investigation by the agency’s counterintelligence arm, known as Q Group, and the F.B.I., officials still do not know whether the N.S.A. is the victim of a brilliantly executed hack, with Russia as the most likely perpetrator, an insider’s leak, or both. Three employees have been arrested since 2015 for taking classified files, but there is fear that one or more leakers may still be in place. And there is broad agreement that the damage from the Shadow Brokers already far exceeds the harm to American intelligence done by Edward J. Snowden, the former N.S.A. contractor who fled with four laptops of classified material in 2013.

Mr. Snowden’s cascade of disclosures to journalists and his defiant public stance drew far more media coverage than this new breach. But Mr. Snowden released code words, while the Shadow Brokers have released the actual code; if he shared what might be described as battle plans, they have loosed the weapons themselves. Created at huge expense to American taxpayers, those cyberweapons have now been picked up by hackers from North Korea to Russia and shot back at the United States and its allies.

15 mos intensive investigation & FBI still can’t solve catastrophic NSA hack … but surprised people question certainty of conclusions on DNC hack where it never examined server. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/12/us/nsa-shadow-brokers.html 

The N.S.A.’s headquarters at Fort Meade in Maryland. Cybertools the agency developed have been picked up by hackers from North Korea to Russia and shot back at the United States and its allies.

Security Breach and Spilled Secrets Have Shaken the N.S.A. to Its Core

A serial leak of the agency’s cyberweapons has damaged morale, slowed intelligence operations and resulted in hacking attacks on businesses and civilians worldwide.

nytimes.com

This NSA disaster occurred on President Obama’s watch and the Times report suggests that Mr. Obama ignored advice from top officials in his national security team to address the management failure because he prioritized the effort to search for potential 2016 Trump campaign links to Russia:

One N.S.A. official who almost saw his career ended by the Shadow Brokers is at the very top of the organization: Adm. Michael S. Rogers, director of the N.S.A. and commander of its sister military organization, United States Cyber Command. President Barack Obama’s director of national intelligence, James R. Clapper Jr., and defense secretary, Ashton B. Carter, recommended removing Admiral Rogers from his post to create accountability for the breaches.

But Mr. Obama did not act on the advice, in part because Admiral Rogers’s agency was at the center of the investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election.

As for President Trump, the question is why he has not initiated a house-cleaning at the top of the NSA.

For all Americans, the question is whether the technological edge that the United States has enjoyed in defense and intelligence for essentially all of our lifetimes is now in jeopardy.

***

Bottom Stories of the Day

Why would Kim Jong-un insult me by calling me “old,” when I would NEVER call him “short and fat?” Oh well, I try so hard to be his friend – and maybe someday that will happen!

Does This Tweet Make Me Look Apophatic?
“Trump mocks North Korea’s Kim, says he would never call him ‘short and fat’,” Fox News, Nov. 12

Annals of Single-Payer Health Care
“Canadian Patients And Doctors Are Sharing ‘Excruciating’ Wait Times On Twitter,” Huff Post, Nov. 3

So Much for the War on Drugs
“GOP Tax Plan Could Deal Blow to Seniors Paying for Long-Term Care,” ElderLawAnswers,” Nov. 10

Hypothesis and Proof

  • “Without Humans, Artificial Intelligence Is Still Pretty Stupid,” The Wall Street Journal, Nov. 12
  • “How to Survive a Robot Apocalypse: Just Close the Door,” The Wall Street Journal, Nov. 10

***

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https://www.wsj.com/articles/american-intelligence-horror-story-1510594127

(Carol Muller helps compile Best of the Web. Thanks to Irene DeBlasio, Myles Pollin, Jordan Bruneau, Rod Pennington and Paul Wood.)

Related:

Security Breach and Spilled Secrets Have Shaken the N.S.A. to Its Core

November 13, 2017

A serial leak of the agency’s cyberweapons has damaged morale, slowed intelligence operations and resulted in hacking attacks on businesses and civilians worldwide.

Trump Reverses, Backs U.S. Intelligence Agencies When Asked About Russian Meddling — John Kelly: “The tweets don’t run my life—good staff work runs it.”

November 12, 2017

But the president wouldn’t say definitively whether he believes the report that Russia interfered in 2016 election

HANOI, Vietnam—President Donald Trump said he had full confidence in U.S. intelligence agencies, indicating that he believed a report earlier this year that concluded Russia meddled in the 2016 presidential election.

Still, asked to answer with an affirmative yes or no about whether he believed that report was true, Mr. Trump declined. Instead, he expressed confusion that there was any question about his confidence in the intelligence agencies and again cast doubt on the previous administration, which initially assembled the report.

“I am with our agencies, especially as currently constituted,” Mr. Trump said on Sunday in Hanoi, Vietnam. “I believe very much in our intelligence agencies.”

Standing outside the Presidential Palace in Hanoi with Vietnam President Trần Đại Quang, Mr. Trump begrudgingly acknowledged his acceptance of the intelligence report a day after casting doubt on the U.S. intelligence community.

Flying from Da Nang, Vietnam on Saturday, Mr. Trump told reporters that Russian President Vladimir Putin was irritated by repeated questions about his country’s involvement in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, and called a trio of former heads of U.S. intelligence agencies “political hacks.”

On Sunday, Mr. Trump was asked to definitely assert—yes or no—whether he believed that Mr. Putin and/or Russia interfered in the election, Mr. Trump did neither.

Instead, he said he was “with our agencies,” and added the caveat that he meant his cabinet. The report was assembled under the Obama administration, but Mr. Trump’s top intelligence officials have all unequivocally said they believe the findings.

“I’m surprised there’s any conflict on this,” Mr. Trump said.

Mr. Trump has struggled to put to rest questions about the report. He faced almost the exact same question at a January news conference, shortly before taking office. “As far as the hacking, I think it was Russia,” he said at the time. ”But I think we also get hacked by other countries and other people.”

He has also said the meddling—which the intelligences community says was a campaign of disinformation, data thefts and leaks—could have been someone “sitting on their bed who weighs 400 pounds.” He has also suggested, as he did again on Saturday, that Russia wouldn’t have gotten caught if they were the source of the interference.

Mr. Trump is in the midst of a 10-day swing through Asia. At the press conference with Mr. Quang, Trump hailed Vietnam’s growing middle class as “a key market for American goods and services,” listing American energy, agriculture, financial services, aviation, digital commerce and defense products as industries where Americans “are able to meet all of your many commercial needs.” The U.S. trade deficit with Vietnam has widened over the past decade, exceeding $30 billion last year.

Mr. Trump has focused many of his public comments on urging China to put more pressure on North Korea to dismantle its nuclear program, and to point out the trade imbalances between the U.S. and Asia’s economic powers.

Asked about North Korea on Sunday, Mr. Trump said it was a “possibility” that he could have a friendly relationship with Kim Jong Un. The two leaders have engaged in a contingent war of words, with each disparaging the other’s looks and mental capacity.

“Strange things happen in life—That might be a strange thing to happen, but it’s certainly a possibility,” Mr. Trump said. “If that did happen, it would be a good thing for, I can tell you, for North Korea. But it would also be good for lots of other places, and it would be good for the world.”

After the news conference, White House chief of staff John Kelly said Mr. Trump spoke with Mr. Putin about the North Korea issue. The two leaders crossed paths on Friday and Saturday at the APEC conference in Da Nang, Vietnam.

“Any port in the storm,” Mr. Kelly said about seeking Russia’s help. “Any friend we can get on that regard is a good thing.”

Asked whether Mr. Trump’s tweets helped the nuclear crisis with North Korea, Mr. Kelly said he tells White House staff not to react the president’s social media posts. Mr. Trump on Sunday suggested on Twitter that Mr. Kim was “short and fat.”

“The tweets don’t run my life—good staff work runs it,” Mr. Kelly said. “We develop policy in the normal, traditional, staff way.”

—Natasha Khan contributed to this article.

Write to Michael C. Bender at Mike.Bender@wsj.com

 Related:
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Kaspersky antivirus software sometimes copies your files files

November 4, 2017

Image may contain: tree, sky and outdoor

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – Eugene Kaspersky said his company’s widely used antivirus software has copied files that did not threaten the personal computers of customers, a sharp departure from industry practice that could increase suspicions that the Moscow-based firm aids Russian spies.

The acknowledgement, made in an interview last Friday as part of the Reuters Cyber Security Summit, comes days after Kaspersky’s company said its software had copied a file containing U.S. National Security Agency hacking tools from the home computer of an agency worker in 2014.

 Image may contain: sky and outdoor

Kaspersky’s firm has for years faced suspicions that it has links with Russian intelligence and state-sponsored hackers. Kaspersky denies any cooperation with Russian authorities beyond cyber crime enforcement.

In September, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security banned Kaspersky software from use in federal offices, citing the company’s ties with Russian intelligence. The company is the subject of a long-running probe by the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation, sources have told Reuters.

Antivirus software is designed to burrow deeply into computer systems and has broad access to their contents, but it normally seeks and destroys only files that contain viruses or are otherwise threatening to a customer’s computers, leaving all other files untouched.

Searching for and copying files that might contain hacking tools or clues about cyber criminals would not be part of normal operations of antivirus software, former Kaspersky employees and cyber security experts said.

In the Reuters interview, conducted at Kaspersky Lab’s offices in Moscow, Eugene Kaspersky said the NSA tools were copied because they were part of a larger file that had been automatically flagged as malicious.

He said the software removed from the agency worker’s computer included a tool researchers dubbed GrayFish, which the company has called the most complex software it has ever seen for corrupting the startup process for Microsoft’s Windows operating system.

Kaspersky said he had ordered the file to be deleted “within days” because it contained U.S. government secrets.

But he defended the broader practice of taking inert files from machines of people that the company believes to be hackers as part of a broader mission to help fight cyber crime.

“From time to time, yes, we have their code directly from their computers, from the developers’ computers,” Kaspersky told Reuters.

‘IMPROPER PRACTICE’

Three former Kaspersky employees and a person close to the FBI probe of the company, who first described the tactic to Reuters this summer, said copying non-infectious files abused the power of antivirus software. The person associated with the FBI said in one case Kaspersky removed a digital photo of a suspected hacker from that person’s machine.

Eugene Kaspersky declined to discuss specific instances beyond the NSA case, saying he did not want to give hackers ideas for avoiding detection.

“Sometimes we are able to catch cyber criminals, that’s why I am not so comfortable to speak about this to media,” he said in the interview. “Many of them are very clever, they can learn from what I am saying.”

Other industry experts called the practice improper. Mikko Hypponen, chief research officer at Finnish security company F-Secure, said that when his firm’s software finds a document that might contain dangerous code, “it will prompt the user or the administrator and ask if it can upload a copy to us.”

Dan Guido, chief executive of cyber security firm Trail of Bits, which has performed audits on security software, said Kaspersky’s practices point to a larger issue with all antivirus software.

“All of them aggregate a huge amount of information about their clients, which can be easily exploited when put in willing hands,” he said.

U.S. news organizations have reported that Kaspersky, or Russian spies hijacking its service, have been searching widely among customers’ computers for secret files, citing anonymous U.S. intelligence officials. Reuters has not verified such reports.

Kaspersky said he hoped to alleviate concerns about his company by opening up his source code for review by third parties in independently run centers, as well as by raising the maximum amount it offers for information about security flaws in its programs to $100,000.

To read the latest Reuters coverage of cyber security, click on www.reuters.com/cyberrisk

Reporting by Joseph Menn in San Francisco; Additional reporting by Jack Stubbs in Moscow, Jim Finkle and Alastair Sharp in Toronto and Dustin Volz in Washington; Editing by Jonathan Weber and Bill Rigby

Qatar Holds Secrets Behind Syrian War

October 29, 2017

Zero Hedge

A television interview of a top Qatari official confessing the truth behind the origins of the war in Syria is going viral across Arabic social media during the same week a leaked top secret NSA document was published which confirms that the armed opposition in Syria was under the direct command of foreign governments from the early years of the conflict.

And according to a well-known Syria analyst and economic adviser with close contacts in the Syrian government, the explosive interview constitutes a high level “public admission to collusion and coordination between four countries to destabilize an independent state, [including] possible support for Nusra/al-Qaeda.” Importantly, “this admission will help build case for what Damascus sees as an attack on its security & sovereignty. It will form basis for compensation claims.”

A 2013 London press conference: Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim bin Jabr Al Thani with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. A 2014 Hillary Clinton email confirmed Qatar as a state-sponsor of ISIS during that same time period. 

As the war in Syria continues slowly winding down, it seems new source material comes out on an almost a weekly basis in the form of testimonials of top officials involved in destabilizing Syria, and even occasional leaked emails and documents which further detail covert regime change operations against the Assad government. Though much of this content serves to confirm what has already long been known by those who have never accepted the simplistic propaganda which has dominated mainstream media, details continue to fall in place, providing future historians with a clearer picture of the true nature of the war.

This process of clarity has been aided – as predicted – by the continued infighting among Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) former allies Saudi Arabia and Qatar, with each side accusing the other of funding Islamic State and al-Qaeda terrorists (ironically, both true). Increasingly, the world watches as more dirty laundry is aired and the GCC implodes after years of nearly all the gulf monarchies funding jihadist movements in places like Syria, Iraq, and Libya.

NSA Document Says Saudi Prince Directly Ordered Coordinated Attack By Syrian Rebels On Damascus

“Light up Damascus,” the Saudi prince told Syrian rebels, as they grew increasingly reliant on foreign support.

theintercept.com

The top Qatari official is no less than former Prime Minister Hamad bin Jassim bin Jaber al-Thani, who oversaw Syria operations on behalf of Qatar until 2013 (also as foreign minister), and is seen below with then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in this Jan. 2010 photo (as a reminder, Qatar’s 2022 World Cup Committee donated $500,000 to the Clinton Foundation in 2014).

In an interview with Qatari TV Wednesday, bin Jaber al-Thani revealed that his country, alongside Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and the United States, began shipping weapons to jihadists from the very moment events “first started” (in 2011).

Al-Thani even likened the covert operation to “hunting prey” – the prey being President Assad and his supporters – “prey” which he admits got away (as Assad is still in power; he used a Gulf Arabic dialect word, “al-sayda”, which implies hunting animals or prey for sport). Though Thani denied credible allegations of support for ISIS, the former prime minister’s words implied direct Gulf and US support for al-Qaeda in Syria (al-Nusra Front) from the earliest years of the war, and even said Qatar has “full documents” and records proving that the war was planned to effect regime change.

“We argued over the prey and that prey run away”.Ladies and Gentleman: To these people   was nothing but a f….ing hunting game https://twitter.com/walid970721/status/923825448324345858 

According to Zero Hedge’s translation, al-Thani said while acknowledging Gulf nations were arming jihadists in Syria with the approval and support of US and Turkey: “I don’t want to go into details but we have full documents about us taking charge [in Syria].” He claimed that both Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah (who reigned until his death in 2015) and the United States placed Qatar in a lead role concerning covert operations to execute the proxy war.

The former prime minister’s comments, while very revealing, were intended as a defense and excuse of Qatar’s support for terrorism, and as a critique of the US and Saudi Arabia for essentially leaving Qatar “holding the bag” in terms of the war against Assad. Al-Thani explained that Qatar continued its financing of armed insurgents in Syria while other countries eventually wound down large-scale support, which is why he lashed out at the US and the Saudis, who initially “were with us in the same trench.”

In a previous US television interview which was vastly underreported, al-Thani told Charlie Rose when asked about allegations of Qatar’s support for terrorism that, “in Syria, everybody did mistakes, including your country.” And said that when the war began in Syria, “all of use worked through two operation rooms: one in Jordan and one in Turkey.”

Below is the key section of Wednesday’s interview, translated and subtitled by @Walid970721. Zero Hedge has reviewed and confirmed the translation, however, as the original rush translator has acknowledged, al-Thani doesn’t say “lady” but “prey” [“al-sayda”]- as in both Assad and Syrians were being hunted by the outside countries.

‘s ex PM says that Qatari support for jihadists including Nusra in  was in coordination w/ KSA, Turkey & the US via @BBassem7

The partial English transcript is as follows:

“When the events first started in Syria I went to Saudi Arabia and met with King Abdullah. I did that on the instructions of his highness the prince, my father. He [Abdullah] said we are behind you. You go ahead with this plan and we will coordinate but you should be in charge. I won’t get into details but we have full documents and anything that was sent [to Syria] would go to Turkey and was in coordination with the US forces and everything was distributed via the Turks and the US forces. And us and everyone else was involved, the military people. There may have been mistakes and support was given to the wrong faction… Maybe there was a relationship with Nusra, its possible but I myself don’t know about this… we were fighting over the prey [“al-sayda”] and now the prey is gone and we are still fighting… and now Bashar is still there. You [US and Saudi Arabia] were with us in the same trench… I have no objection to one changing if he finds that he was wrong, but at least inform your partner… for example leave Bashar [al-Assad] or do this or that, but the situation that has been created now will never allow any progress in the GCC [Gulf Cooperation Council], or any progress on anything if we continue to openly fight.”

As is now well-known, the CIA was directly involved in leading regime change efforts in Syria with allied gulf partners, as leaked and declassified US intelligence memos confirm. The US government understood in real time that Gulf and West-supplied advanced weaponry was going to al-Qaeda and ISIS, despite official claims of arming so-called “moderate” rebels. For example, a leaked 2014 intelligence memo sent to Hillary Clinton acknowledged Qatari and Saudi support for ISIS.

The email stated in direct and unambiguous language that:

the governments of Qatar and Saudi Arabia, which are providing clandestine financial and logistic support to ISIL and other radical Sunni groups in the region.”

Furthermore, one day before Prime Minister Thani’s interview, The Intercept released a new top-secret NSA document unearthed from leaked intelligence files provided by Edward Snowden which show in stunning clarity that the armed opposition in Syria was under the direct command of foreign governments from the early years of the war which has now claimed half a million lives.

The newly released NSA document confirms that a 2013 insurgent attack with advanced surface-to-surface rockets upon civilian areas of Damascus, including Damascus International Airportwas directly supplied and commanded by Saudi Arabia with full prior awareness of US intelligence. As the former Qatari prime minister now also confirms, both the Saudis and US government staffed “operations rooms” overseeing such heinous attacks during the time period of the 2013 Damascus airport attack.

No doubt there remains a massive trove of damning documentary evidence which will continue to trickle out in the coming months and years. At the very least, the continuing Qatari-Saudi diplomatic war will bear more fruit as each side builds a case against the other with charges of supporting terrorism. And as we can see from this latest Qatari TV interview, the United States itself will not be spared in this new open season of airing dirty laundry as old allies turn on each other.