Posts Tagged ‘Twitter’

European cyber police unit to take on Islamic State propaganda

June 22, 2015

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The Islamic State group controls some 300,000 square kilometres (115,000 square miles), terrifying residents with a gruesome brutality that analysts say has become central to its existence

THE HAGUE (AFP) – European policeagencyEuropol said Monday it was launching acontinent-widecybercrime unit to combat social media accountspromotingjihadist propaganda, particularly those of the Islamic State (IS) group.The unit, set to start operating fromEuropol’s Hague-based headquarters next month, will comb tens of thousands of social media accounts connected with IS and report them to the companies behind the websites,Europol chief Rob Wainwright said.He declined to name Facebook and Twitter “for privacy reasons,” but said: “These are the leading social media companies. There’s only three or four, so that’s who we are talking about.”

The team “will focus on publicly-available material and combine what we see on social media with more traditional intelligence sources,” Wainwright told AFP in a telephone interview.

Initially consisting of some 15 to 20 members, the cyber squad will focus on key figures who put out thousands of tweets and run accounts used to lure would-be jihadists to Iraq and Syria, as well as to recruit jihadists’ brides.

A recent US study identified at least 46,000 Twitter accounts linked to supporters of the IS group, three-quarters of them tweeting in Arabic.

Since the IS group called on Muslims to come to the caliphate it declared a year ago, foreign fighter numbers have jumped, with the United Nations reporting a 71 percent spike in the nine months to April.

The International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation in London said the number of foreigners fighting in Syria and Iraq topped 20,000 by January — with nearly a fifth of them from western Europe.

“The IS is the most well-connected terrorist organisation that we’ve seen online,” Wainwright pointed out.

“They are manipulating the Internet and social media, which has become a cornerstone in the lives of many young people,” he said.

Europol will draw on a decade of experience in monitoring extremist websites and well as “deep knowledge of extremist content and good linguistic capabilities including our knowledge of Arabic,” to combat the problem.

Wainwright said once an extremist account had been detected, the companies would be informed and it would be taken down in “a matter of a few hours.”

Islamic State Seen Overtaking Al Qaeda in South Asia Social Media War

June 19, 2015

Reuters

ISLAMABAD — Islamist militant propaganda websites and social media accounts in South Asia are promoting Islamic State at the expense of al Qaeda, analysts said on Friday, highlighting the rivalry between the two global militant groups.

Disaffected Taliban factions have started to look toward Islamic State, impressed by its rapid capture of territory in Syria and Iraq, though there is no evidence it is providing substantial material support to the Taliban.

The popularity of IS comes at the expense of al Qaeda, whose deep pockets and foreign fighters once readily attracted local commanders. But al Qaeda has been decimated by drone strikes and its traditional influence severely eroded.

“The Taliban and al Qaeda have almost been written out of the picture,” said Omar Hamid, the head of Asia analysis at IHS Country Risk. “Most of these sites have converted their content to an Islamic State (IS) platform.”

So far the IS social media campaign has not been matched by material support to South Asian groups such as the Taliban, he said, but it has helped gather dissatisfied splinter groups around Islamic State.

A few Afghan commanders have sworn allegiance to IS, saying they oppose peace talks between the government and Taliban. Others have questioned whether reclusive one-eyed Taliban leader Mullah Omar, who has close ties to al Qaeda, is alive.

In Pakistan, home to a separate but allied Taliban insurgency, the leadership of the Taliban is hotly disputed. Some factions there also swore allegiance to Islamic State, cementing their vow by beheading a soldier and posting the video online.

This week, the Afghan Taliban sent a letter to Islamic State’s leader, urging the group to stop recruiting in Afghanistan.

“Twelve months ago, a majority of social media sites in Urdu or Pashto had around 70 percent (of content) related to South Asian jihadi groups,” Hamid said, referring to two languages commonly spoken in Pakistan and Afghanistan. “It changed to about 95 percent IS content by September last year.”

Hamid, a former Pakistani counter-terror police officer, analyzed dozens of militant Twitter and Facebook profiles and militant propaganda sites.

Pakistan’s government has repeatedly promised to ban jihadi websites but most remain online. A spokesman for the country’s telecoms authority could not say how many militant websites had been banned.

Islamic State is definitely gaining in popularity at the expense of al Qaeda, said Saifullah Mahsud, head of Islamabad-based thinktank the FATA Research Centre.

“Islamic State is the new poster boy,” he said. “But the ideology has been around a long time.”

(Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

Apple iOS 9 may make it easier for iPhone users in China to bypass government internet censorship

June 9, 2015

By James Griffiths

South China Morning Post

An update to Apple’s mobile operating system could make it easier for users in China to bypass internet filtering and censorship.

The latest version of the operating system for iPhones and iPads, iOS 9, includes a change to how app developers can implement virtual private network (VPN) protocols on Apple devices. The update was released to developers on Monday, and will become widely available later this year.

READ MORE: Apple announces music streaming service, iOS 9, OS X El Capitan, and upgraded Siri

VPNs are the primary means by which internet users in China bypass the so-called Great Firewall (GFW), which blocks access to Twitter, Facebook, and the South China Morning Post among thousands of other websites.

At the beginning of this year, Beijing clamped down on VPN usage in mainland China, leading to complaints from many internet users and entrepreneurs and forcing VPN providers to find new ways of bypassing restrictions.

The primary means by which censors detect and block VPN traffic is by using deep packet inspection (DPI), which examines the data being sent across the network to see if it matches a certain profile, such as a VPN protocol.

VPN providers have gotten around this packet sniffing to a degree by adding another layer of encryption to their protocols to mask the traffic and ensure it is not recognisable via DPI.

“Before iOS 9, [Apple] only supported a few well known, standard VPN protocols in its built in app which are well known and easy for the GFW to detect, degrade and/or block,” he said.

The update means that custom VPN protocols designed to bypass Chinese internet blocking will now have “first class support” in iOS.

Salibra was quick to point out however, that the change was likely not motivated by a desire to help Chinese dissidents avoid the censors.

“Security and privacy have become a huge priority in the technology industry since the Snowden revelations,” he said. “It is entirely possible that Apple is offering this feature in response to security demands from their corporate customers.”

Apple did not immediately respond to a request to comment.

This technique has just received a boost from Apple, according to Larry Salibra, founder and chief executive of Hong Kong-based software testing platform Pay4Bugs.

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Xiaomi, China’s New Phone Giant, Takes Aim at World: Apple, Samsung Get Ready

June 8, 2015

Entrepreneur Lei Jun’s smartphone startup used social networking to win over Chinese, but can he repeat overseas?

Founder, Chairman and CEO of Xiaomi Global, Lei Jin (L) and Vice President, Hugo Barra gesture during the launch of Xiaomi’s Mi4i smart phone and Mi Band in New Delhi on April 23, 2015

By Eva Dou
The Wall Street Journal

NEW DELHI—When Xiaomi Corp. launched a new smartphone here in April, there was an air of chaos. Employees were still stuffing gift bags that morning, and a few staffers from Beijing headquarters, pressed for time, arrived on tourist rather than business visas.

After Xiaomi Chief Executive Officer Lei Jun stepped onstage, his first time speaking publicly in English, he veered off script. His odd phrasing went viral in online videos of him repeatedly asking the crowd, “Are you OK?”

No matter. The Chinese smartphone seller’s online offering of 40,000 phones sold out in 15 seconds. Hundreds lined up outside the launch venue, including 17-year-old Raghav Goyal, who drove seven hours to attend and said the Xiaomi phone was a much better value than its big-name rivals.

“Apple is gone!” he shouted after the unveiling. “Apple and Samsung are gone!”

That is the kind of zealotry Mr. Lei, 45, is counting on to replicate overseas his success in China, where he has used an unusual mix of social-network marketing, fan-appreciation festivals and his own tech-star status to become No. 2 in smartphone-market share after Apple Inc. 

Little known in the West and just 5 years old, closely held Xiaomi (pronounced sh-YEOW-mee) is in ways still a disorganized startup. But it is also among the world’s fastest-growing smartphone companies and most valuable startups, with a valuation of $46 billion by some estimates.

Selling full-featured phones at near cost, it has come to battle Apple and Samsung Electronics Co. for the No. 1 spot in China. It dented Samsung SSNHZ 0.00 % ’s China market share badly in 2014, one factor forcing the South Korean company to post a sharp profit drop and to rethink its strategy.

Xiaomi’s high-end 64 GB Mi Note Pro smartphone costs 2,999 yuan ($489) in China, compared with 6,088 yuan for a 64GB Apple iPhone 6 and 5,288 yuan for a 32GB Samsung SSNHZ 0.00 % Galaxy S6.

But Mr. Lei has bigger, global ambitions, of which his push into India is part: to create the first Chinese consumer brand that is cool abroad. China, he says, is no longer about cheap manufacturing and copycats. “Xiaomi’s mission,” he says, “is to change the world’s view of Chinese products.”

Mr. Lei’s mission echoes that of South Korean concerns a generation earlier. Companies like Samsung SSNHZ 0.00 % used low-price me-too gadgets to build global brands and grab market share from Japanese electronics makers, who had done the same still earlier to American companies.

In seeking to turn his brand into one the world recognizes, Mr. Lei wants to build on the Xiaomi name’s remarkable rise in China. Xiaomi sold its first smartphone in mid-2011. In the 2015 first quarter it had 13.7% of the Chinese market, just behind Apple’s 14.7%, according to IDC. Xiaomi says its sales more than doubled last year to 61 million smartphones and it expects to sell up to 100 million this year.

A brand called ‘Mi’

Xiaomi’s phones, branded “Mi” for English versions, have yet to demonstrate that Mr. Lei’s business model in China—where Xiaomi doesn’t advertise much and sells mostly online—will translate abroad. It doesn’t disclose sales outside China; IDC estimates about 8.6% of its 2014 smartphone shipments were abroad.

Mr. Lei has had to alter his approach in India, where most consumers buy in physical stores, by striking a deal with brick-and-mortar retail channels. Xiaomi expects to enter Brazil this year, but Mr. Lei says it will be cautious about entering other countries after concluding it needs time to grow in markets it already sells in, including Singapore and several other Southeast Asian countries. Xiaomi says it doesn’t have immediate plans to sell phones in the U.S.

Xiaomi faces new low-cost competition at home, where it is also selling more phones through physical retailers that charge higher prices. And it lacks the patent portfolios that big rivals use to fend off lawsuits. Sweden’s Ericsson  has sued Xiaomi in India, claiming Xiaomi’s phones infringe on its wireless patents. Xiaomi declines to comment on the case. Ericsson says it sued “as a last resort” when Xiaomi didn’t respond to attempts to discuss licensing.

Mr. Lei, at Xiaomi’s fifth-anniversary news conference this spring, spoke of the expectations on his company to perform. “Sometimes when I think about it,” he said, “I can’t breathe.”

Xiaomi, like many tech companies, pays contract manufacturers to build its products. Its lineup includes television sets, routers and smart wristbands that it designs itself, and it has invested in startups that make everything from air purifiers and smart light bulbs to a GoPro GPRO -like action camera and Segway-brand scooters.

Attendees line up at a Xiaomi smartphone launch event in April in India, Xiaomi’s biggest export market.
Attendees line up at a Xiaomi smartphone launch event in April in India, Xiaomi’s biggest export market. Photo: Kuni Takahashi/Bloomberg News

Phones are its biggest sellers. It designs them with specifications similar to those of Apple’s iPhones, Samsung’s Galaxy line and other models. In product launches, it compares features of its new smartphone with the iPhone’s, then announces the price—half the iPhone’s or less. Its latest model, the Mi Note Pro, is encased in glossy white glass and is about a millimeter thinner than an iPhone 6 Plus.

Xiaomi keeps marketing costs low by spending largely on cultivating a fan base instead of on ads. It holds fan parties every few weeks in a different city, where executives meet enthusiasts and give gifts. It has an army of employees to interact with consumers on social media.

It sells the majority of its phones online, where prices don’t need to include a profit margin for retailers. It sells them at near cost, Xiaomi executives say.

Mr. Lei’s goal is to get customers eventually to buy Internet services that are more profitable than Xiaomi’s smartphones, such as games, apps, videos, financial services and advertisements in its content.

“In the smartphone world, there is no one comparable” with its business model, says Aditya Awasthi, research head at LexInnova, a Houston tech-consulting firm. “It’s a new-age smartphone company.”

Born a schoolteachers’s son in central China’s Hubei province, Mr. Lei found inspiration to be an entrepreneur after reading about Apple co-founder Steve Jobs. At Hubei’s Wuhan University, which gave students only four hours a week on computers, he says he sneaked extra time and carried a paper dummy keyboard to practice. After college, he founded a software startup with classmates.

“We did very average,” he says, “and that was a big blow to me.”

In 1992, he joined a software firm, Kingsoft Corp., becoming chief executive in five years. Kingsoft missed the early rise of China’s Internet industry, he says, and he resigned in 2007 after its initial public offering. He rejoined Kingsoft as chairman in 2011; he is still chairman and its largest shareholder.

“He reflected a lot on himself, on Kingsoft, and why we missed the big trends in Internet,” says Hongjiang Zhang, Kingsoft’s CEO. “He’s someone who really wants to do something that has huge impact.”

‘A pig can fly’

Mr. Lei says he learned that seizing the right opportunity was as important as hard work. “Even a pig can fly if it stands at the center of a whirlwind,” he says.

After several years in semiretirement, “one day I woke up and thought, ‘I’m already 40 and I’ve achieved nothing,” he says. “I had a dream when I was young to found a global, first-rate company.”

In April 2010, he founded Xiaomi with Bin Lin, a former Google Inc. and Microsoft Corp. MSFT  executive. The name means “millet,” a Chinese staple that is nutritious but inexpensive. While consumers in China at the time could buy expensive foreign smartphones or cheap Chinese knockoffs, there was a void between that Mr. Lei decided to target.

“He told me he’d sell over the Internet, engage users actively,” says Hans Tung, an early Xiaomi investor and GGV Capital managing partner, of Mr. Lei’s January 2010 pitch. “We both believed e-commerce and mobile Internet would be the big trend.”

Mr. Lei offered stock to woo veteran engineers and executives from Silicon Valley companies, early investors say. He invested his own money and attracted funds from concerns such as Qualcomm Inc. QCOM  venture-capital arm. “It all added up to something very different from the scores of other OEMs I had met in China,” says Jeff Lorbeck, senior vice president of Qualcomm China, referring to gadget makers.

At first, Xiaomi made software, its own smartphone user interface that ran on Google’s Android operating system, tapping “crowdsourcing” to get online enthusiasts to help develop it. Xiaomi’s engineers then designed phone hardware, and it signed up some of the same contract manufacturers Apple used.

Xiaomi introduced its phone in August 2011, with Mr. Lei trumpeting that it had a faster processor than Apple’s iPhone 4 and Samsung’s Galaxy S2. Its price was 1,999 yuan, under half that of a 16GB iPhone 4 in China. Apple and Samsung declined to comment for this article.

Xiaomi had a ready customer base: It had attracted more than half a million users to its online forum, it says, and marketed directly to them.

Mr. Lei built a following on Weibo, China’s Twitter equivalent. He and staff interacted with customers on message boards. In 2012, with its second model, sales exceeded seven million smartphones.

Xiaomi introduced just a few models a year, keeping down engineering expenses. It upgraded its flagship phone’s quality each year, combating initial complaints that its devices felt cheap, sometimes touting that key components matched those in the iPhone and came from the same suppliers.

Big market-share gains came after it introduced a lower-cost smartphone line, the Redmi, in 2013. The phones cost less than comparable devices from Samsung and helped Xiaomi become China’s top smartphone vendor in the second quarter of 2014, surpassing Samsung, according to IDC. Dong Han, 29, a Beijing resident, bought a Redmi Note last year because he says it was a good bargain compared with other brands. “Xiaomi provides value for money,” he says.

Xiaomi expanded to selling TV sets in 2013 and a tablet in 2014, while adding other peripheral products. It invested in dozens of Chinese startups, including one that bought the Segway brand in April. It says it has over 8,000 employees.

Xiaomi doesn’t disclose financial details but says it is profitable. People familiar with its operations say it makes healthy profit margins on peripheral products such as batteries and headphones that help make up for thin phone margins.

Mr. Lei fosters a startup style. He appears at launches in a black T-shirt and jeans. Headquarters has an open floor plan and an office dog. Some desks are covered in stuffed animals, often rabbits in Chinese army hats—Xiaomi’s mascot.

“We do a lot of things opposite from Kingsoft,” says Wang Chuan, Xiaomi’s TV head. “Kingsoft had lots of structure. We have no structure.”

Employees frequently cite Xiaomi’s egalitarian management structure, in which even junior employees meet with vice presidents and each department has high autonomy. “The flat management is one of the great things about Xiaomi,” says one former employee. “Everything operates on trust.”

Xiaomi hopes to use its smartphones, like the new Mi 4i pictured here, to expand market share abroad.
Xiaomi hopes to use its smartphones, like the new Mi 4i pictured here, to expand market share abroad. Photo: PICHI CHUANG/REUTERS

“But,” this person adds, “as Xiaomi gets bigger, you can’t just manage based on trust.”

Some analysts predict Xiaomi’s China sales will level off this year, with competition from others imitating its model. The giant Lenovo Group Ltd. LNVGY -1.84 % and Huawei Technologies Co. have started units to make smartphones aimed at young savvy users, selling and marketing online as Xiaomi does.

Lenovo CEO Yang Yuanqing says Xiaomi’s business model is no longer unique. “It’s just an online model,” he says. “Now everyone knows how to do that.” A Huawei spokesman says it doesn’t comment on competitors.

Mr. Lei also must show Internet services can be a major profit driver. He says he expects Internet-services revenue to triple to $1 billion this year—about 6% of Xiaomi’s projected $16 billion total revenue.

“They’ve created this image of themselves as an Internet company,” says Chris DeAngelis, a Beijing-based consultant at Alliance Development Group, a tech advisory firm. “And they’re not. They’re a hardware company.”

Xiaomi’s big test will come abroad. It entered Hong Kong and Taiwan in April 2013, beginning its foray into Southeast Asia later after hiring former Google executive Hugo Barra as global vice president.

Outside China, Xiaomi depends more on retailers and logistics companies than at home. And Mr. Lei has less star power to help build a fan base.

In India, where Xiaomi started selling phones in mid-2014 and which the company says is its largest foreign market, it faces large, established local competitors such as Micromax Informatics Ltd. Xiaomi distributes in the country to an online retailer, to a telecom operator that sells the phones in its stores, and to a brick-and-mortar retailer. But its products aren’t in most phone stores.

Still, Xiaomi became the fifth largest smartphone seller in India in the 2014 fourth quarter. The April launch—Xiaomi promoted it on Facebook FB 0.11 % and its India fan forum—showed it already has fans.

One was Gaurav Anand, 31, a New Delhi businessman who said Xiaomi’s phone was a much better value than Samsung’s or Apple’s. The Xiaomi Mi 4i costs 12,999 rupees (about $200) versus 53,400 rupees for a 16 GB iPhone 6 in India. “I’ll never buy another brand,” he said.

Write to Eva Dou at eva.dou@wsj.com

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Experts Export Their Vision on the Internet — Russia, China and the Islamic State Lead the Way

June 2, 2015

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Some call it salesmanship. Some call it propaganda. Some say its “a pack of lies.” How and by whom are organizations able to “spin” even the most evil of organizations like the Islamic State?

China

It has been the strangest kind of charm offensive.

China, the country that perfected breaking the Internet, has of late been on a campaign to convince the rest of the world that its approach to digital networks is worth spreading. It’s an effort led by Lu Wei, the man whose chief responsibilities include overseeing the Great Firewall of China, whose heavy veil of censorship is responsible for the damage China has done to the Internet inside its borders.

n November, Mr. Lu was among the headline speakers at China’s first-ever World Internet Conference, which featured corporate guests from around the globe. In December, he flew to Silicon Valley and visited Mark Zuckerberg, Tim Cook and Jeff Bezos. He appeared at a Washington Internet forum co-hosted by Microsoft and attended by senior U.S. officials. A few days later, he published an article in the Huffington Post that, in a tidy 1,397 words, laid out China’s vision for what the Internet should look like.

Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s chief, meeting with Lu Wei, China’s top Internet regulator, last week in a photo posted on the state-run China Network agency.

Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s chief, meeting with Lu Wei, China’s top Internet regulator, last week in a photo posted on the state-run China Network agency. Credit China Network

It’s a dramatic change from China’s historically favoured way of expressing its Internet views: the silent display of error messages instead of websites it doesn’t like, the deletion of social media posts it considers improper and the banning of foreign companies that won’t toe its line. The latest appears to be Google, whose search and Gmail products have been largely blocked since late spring.

But Mr. Lu, who leads the Cyberspace Administration of China, is on a new mission to convert others to his vision of how the Internet should be run: that digital networks should not allow the unimpeded flow of information, but should instead fall under the “cybersovereignty” of individual nations.

The Internet should be “free and open, with rules to follow and always following the rule of law,” he said, in somewhat contradictory fashion, at the November conference. Asked whether he would consider allowing Facebook in, he was more direct: “I can choose who will be a guest in my home.” He wants others to assert the same power.

It’s a controversial notion, since China has used its control of the Internet to silence dissent, spread propaganda and delete chapters of history . It has also exported its firewall technology to others, notably to African regimes looking for their own god-like powers over online content.

Mr. Lu’s charm offensive suggests the rest of the world must prepare for a more concerted effort by China to export its Internet governance model as well. In a recent column in state media, Fang Xingdong noted that China increasingly has the “hard power” to exert its will.

“China boasts the largest number of Internet users and also world famous companies like Alibaba, Tencent and Baidu. The Chinese market will be critical in reshaping the cyberlandscape in the next decade,” wrote Mr. Fang, director of the Centre for Internet and Society at Zhejiang University of Media and Communications.

China of course has little authority over the Internet outside its borders. But it wields considerable control over companies eager to profit from its massive population – and that can have global consequences.

LinkedIn is among the only social media sites that operates in China, but its agreement to censor content sensitive to Beijing has led to it blocking posts from users in the United States. Microsoft search engine Bing has similarly come under fire for censoring searches on its Chinese-language service that originated outside China.

“It’s a bigger problem than most people even imagine,” said Rogier Creemers, a research officer at the University of Oxford Centre for Socio-Legal Studies.

“On a topic that might well be the most important story of our time, being the re-emergence of China, we are reliant upon privately owned communications platforms, some of which are trying to get in China’s good graces.”

And even Western governments are sculpting the data they allow in: Britain has notably built a wide-ranging filter to intercept child pornography.

Many nations are also newly skeptical of U.S. leadership in cyberspace, following the Edward Snowden revelations of rampant spying. “The U.S. is no longer seen as a benevolent steward of the Internet system,” said Mr. Creemers.

“The whole idea that Cisco routers, which power the Chinese Internet, might have CIA backdoors installed is a huge concern in Chinese policy circles.” China appears to be taking swift action, saying it wants home-grown technology to supplant foreign-sourced goods in sensitive banking, military and other applications by 2020.

That action underscores the risk to western corporations of China’s new Internet assertiveness.

Critics says there are risks, too, in the Chinese philosophical model – one that suggests governments should be assertive in controlling information – gaining adherents elsewhere.

“If we think about the role the Internet has played in the Arab spring, the attempts by those countries to try to limit access to that information is hugely important,” said Michael Geist, a law professor and privacy expert at the University of Ottawa.

“People who look to the Internet as having the potential to embody a new globalized communication structure where there is access to information in every corner in ways that wasn’t possible before – that vision takes a pretty big hit when we see what’s actually unfolding in some countries, and China is a huge player in that.”

Still, some suggest China itself is changing.

“We think the Firewall is a stopgap arrangement, whose function will diminish as Chinese cyberspace becomes more developed. Being an open society has become one of China’s core beliefs,” the Communist-run Global Times wrote in an editorial this week.

And the very structure of the Internet – with vast numbers of interconnected humans – suggests even technological barriers erected by government will only be partly effective. After all, anyone with even modest technical skill can still access Facebook, or the Wikipedia history of the Tiananmen massacre, inside China today.

“I don’t mean to say that it’s not worrying, or it’s not eventually going to be a problem,” said Ren Bucholz, a Toronto lawyer who serves on the advisory board for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a digital rights group that advocates for privacy and free expression online.

“But I don’t know what I would do if I was in [China’s] position and trying to map out a strategy for how to control the Internet. I really think that’s a difficult ask, even for a supervillain.”

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/report-on-business/international-business/china-seeks-to-export-its-vision-of-the-internet/article22269080/

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 (China has a pattern of silencing or censoring critics)

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Russia

Russia has an army of well-paid “trolls” that has tried to wreak havoc all around the Internet — and in real-life American communities.

By ADRIAN CHEN
The New York Times

round 8:30 a.m. on Sept. 11 last year, Duval Arthur, director of the Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness for St. Mary Parish, Louisiana, got a call from a resident who had just received a disturbing text message. “Toxic fume hazard warning in this area until 1:30 PM,” the message read. “Take Shelter. Check Local Media and columbiachemical.com.”

St. Mary Parish is home to many processing plants for chemicals and natural gas, and keeping track of dangerous accidents at those plants is Arthur’s job. But he hadn’t heard of any chemical release that morning. In fact, he hadn’t even heard of Columbia Chemical. St. Mary Parish had a Columbian Chemicals plant, which made carbon black, a petroleum product used in rubber and plastics. But he’d heard nothing from them that morning, either. Soon, two other residents called and reported the same text message. Arthur was worried: Had one of his employees sent out an alert without telling him?

If Arthur had checked Twitter, he might have become much more worried. Hundreds of Twitter accounts were documenting a disaster right down the road. “A powerful explosion heard from miles away happened at a chemical plant in Centerville, Louisiana #ColumbianChemicals,” a man named Jon Merritt tweeted. The #ColumbianChemicals hashtag was full of eyewitness accounts of the horror in Centerville. @AnnRussela shared an image of flames engulfing the plant. @Ksarah12 posted a video of surveillance footage from a local gas station, capturing the flash of the explosion. Others shared a video in which thick black smoke rose in the distance.

 A man attempts to access YouTube after an Istanbul court's ban decision in Istanbul, Turkey Monday.   

Dozens of journalists, media outlets and politicians, from Louisiana to New York City, found their Twitter accounts inundated with messages about the disaster. “Heather, I’m sure that the explosion at the #ColumbianChemicals is really dangerous. Louisiana is really screwed now,” a user named @EricTraPPP tweeted at the New Orleans Times-Picayune reporter Heather Nolan. Another posted a screenshot of CNN’s home page, showing that the story had already made national news. ISIS had claimed credit for the attack, according toone YouTube video; in it, a man showed his TV screen, tuned to an Arabic news channel, on which masked ISIS fighters delivered a speech next to looping footage of an explosion. A woman named Anna McClaren (@zpokodon9) tweeted at Karl Rove: “Karl, Is this really ISIS who is responsible for #ColumbianChemicals? Tell @Obama that we should bomb Iraq!” But anyone who took the trouble to check CNN.com would have found no news of a spectacular Sept. 11 attack by ISIS. It was all fake: the screenshot, the videos, the photographs.

Read the rest:

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/06/07/magazine/the-agency.html?hp&action=click&pgtype=Homepage&module=photo-spot-region&region=top-news&WT.nav=top-news&_r=0

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The Islamic State has Grown masters of The Internet Jihadists

As the FBI continues to dig into the past of the two men shot dead outside a Texas event designed to offend Muslims, experts have again warned this is a sign of what is to come.

The challenge of countering online radicalisation of Islamic State sympathisers has been laid bare in a hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington.

Terror experts told the top level Homeland Security Committee lone wolf attackers were a bigger threat than fighters returning from Syria or Iraq.

But tracking them down remains difficult as they do not fit any ethnic profile and the only thing in common is their connection to social media.

Peter Bergen from the New America Foundation detailed the think tank’s latest research, telling the Committee they have identified 62 people in the US who have tried to join militant groups in Syria.

The average age was 25, a fifth of them were women. One of the girls was as young as 15.

However, there is no geography binding them — they come from 19 different states.

“The only profile that this group really share, 53 of 62 individuals, were very active on social media, downloading and sharing jihadist propaganda and in some cases as Elton Simpson was doing, directly communicating with members of ISIS in Syria,” Mr Bergen said.

“You know, this is a new development in the way jihadist terrorists are recruiting in the United States. The kind of conventional view or perhaps the cartoonish view is that an Al Qaeda recruiter comes here and recruits somebody and creates a cell. In fact that is very rare.”

Media player: “Space” to play, “M” to mute, “left” and “right” to seek.

JM Berger from the Brookings Institution has reported finding up to 46,000 Twitter accounts being used by Islamic State supporters late last year.

“What we are seeing is that social media allows people to self-select the beliefs and information that they receive,” he said.

“So if you have an interest in jihadism, you can find other people who are interested in that very easily, very quickly and you can establish relationships with them.”

While public social media accounts give authorities the chance to track sympathisers, Mr Berger said lone wolves thrive on the support.

“The first thing that they have done that is different from what Al Qaeda did is they have become a populist movement. So they have a very low threshold for entry and they are pretty undiscriminating about who they include in their group, relative to Al Qaeda.

“It was very difficult to join Al Qaeda, Al Qaeda was a vanguard and an elitist movement.”

Speaking after the hearing, committee chairman Republican Ron Johnson said the US should be doing better.

He floated legislation that would enable a rapid response communications strategy.

“We’ve got the technology, we invented the internet, the social networks. We’ve got the messaging capability. We need to start utilising it so it’s, from my standpoint, just an obvious piece of legislation,” he said.

Mr Johnson said there was still not enough support from the Muslim community.

“The government, who’ve engaged in those communities, have found out that people in those communities think we have such perfect information as a federal government, that we know who these young people are that are being radicalised.

“We don’t, so the fact of the matter is, if you see something, you have to say something. You have to alert authorities. We need everybody to be on the alert.”

http://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-05-08/countering-islamic-state-sympathisers-in-us/6454142

Related:

Censorship the elephant in the room as Twitter courts Chinese firms at CES Asia in Shanghai

May 26, 2015

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By James Griffiths
South China Morning Post

A senior Twitter executive laid out the company’s benefits to Chinese businesses looking to connect with a global audience at a talk in Shanghai that ignored restrictions placed on the service in China.

Opening the second day of the inaugural Consumer Electronics Show (CES) Asia, Twitter vice president of Asia Pacific, Latin America and emerging markets Shailesh Rao gave a keynote speech squarely aimed at Chinese firms in attendance.

“Twitter can help Chinese companies and organisations reach world audiences,” Rao said.

“You have the power to … reach people with shared interests anywhere in the world.”

The unspoken exception to that global reach is mainland China, where Twitter has been blocked since 2009.

In an interview with the South China Morning Post in March, Peter Greenberger, Twitter’s sales director for emerging markets, said the company was targeting “big [Chinese] advertisers looking to reach overseas”.

This goal was clear in Rao’s speech, which served as something of an introduction to Twitter for Chinese business leaders perhaps less familiar with the service than their foreign counterparts.

Twitter was inaccessible during CES Asia. It has been blocked in mainland China since 2009. Photo: James Griffiths

Twitter, which also has a booth in the main CES Asia conference hall, is completely inaccessible for attendees who do not use a virtual private network (VPN) to bypass internet restrictions, something which has become significantly more difficult in mainland China since the beginning of this year.

While Rao did not reference the fact that Twitter was blocked in China, the country was noticeably absent from slides discussing global participation in conversations around events such as the football World Cup or the Sochi Winter Olympics.

Speaking at the opening of Twitter’s Hong Kong office earlier this year, Greenberger said that it was not the firm’s intention to re-enter the mainland Chinese market, where it would face stiff competition from domestic social media platforms even if the government ban was lifted.

Instead, Twitter aims to become a tool for Chinese businesses that are already engaged with local audiences on social media to build similar followings overseas.

DON’T MISS: At CES Asia expo, tech gurus lay out vision for ‘internet of things’

“Our ideal customer is someone who is advertising on Weibo and wants to do the same for an international audience,” Greenberger said.

Rao mentioned Alibaba, Air China and Xiaomi as three examples of Chinese companies which are using Twitter to build their brands overseas.

“We’re seeing Chinese companies extend to reach audiences around the world [and] Twitter can be … the bridge to do that,” he said.

One sector which has embraced Twitter, as well as fellow blocked-in-China service Facebook, is Chinese state media. State news agency Xinhua, major newspapers including the People’s Daily and Global Times, and broadcaster CCTV all have active Twitter accounts on which they publish content in multiple languages.

ISIS ‘claims responsibility’ after two gunmen ‘carrying explosives’ killed in attack on anti-Islam art contest near Dallas

May 4, 2015

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Attack: The suspects’ bodies are seen next to their vehicle as it is searched for explosives at the anti-Muslim event. Two men got out the vehicle and opened fire, wounding a security guard in the leg, before they were shot dead by police

ISIS supporters claimed on Twitter that one of the gunmen was a man calling himself Shariah Is Light on the social media site, but police have yet to formally identify the culprits

ISIS supporters claimed on Twitter that one of the gunmen was a man calling himself Shariah Is Light on the social media site, but police have yet to formally identify the culprits

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— Two suspects were gunned down after shooting the guard in the leg outside the Curtis Culwell Center in Garland
Building and surrounding area was placed on lockdown by a SWAT team with around 100 attendees still inside
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— Reports suggest the pair were carrying explosives as they approached the building in the Dallas suburb
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— Garland Mayor Douglas Athas said the second suspect was shot as he turned to reach for his backpack
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— The American Freedom Defense Initiative event offered a $10,000 prize for the best caricature of the prophet
Involved a keynote speech from far-right Dutch politician Geert Wilders, who has linked the Koran to terrorism
ISIS fighter claimed on Twitter that the shooting was carried out by two pro-ISIS individuals
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Isis has claimed responsibility for an attack on an anti-Islam art contest in Texas in which an unarmed security guard was blasted in the ankle by fire from automatic rifles and the suspects shot dead by police.

Two heavily-armed men suspected to have been carrying explosives were killed by police after opening fire outside the Curtis Culwell Center in Garland, Dallas, at around 7pm during an controversial event where caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad were being displayed.

The SITE Intelligence Group reported that an Islamic State (IS) fighter claimed on Twitter that the shooting was carried out by two pro-Isis individuals.

In a series of tweets and links, a jihadist named as Abu Hussain AlBritani, which SITE said was British IS fighter Junaid Hussain, claimed that ‘2 of our brothers just opened fire’ at the Prophet Muhammad exhibition in Texas.

‘They Thought They Was Safe In Texas From The Soldiers of The Islamic State,’ added the tweet.

Other Isis supporters claimed on Twitter that one of the gunmen was a man calling himself Shariah Is Light on the social media site, using the account name @atawaakul, according to New York Times reporter Rukmini Callimachi.

He had posted a message earlier that said ‘the bro with me and myself have given bay’ah [oath] to Amirul Mu’mineen [ISIS leader Al Baghdadi]. May Allah accept us as mujahideen #texasattack‘.

However, Ms Callimachi pointed out that it’s not even known at this point if the attackers are Muslim. The Shariah is Light account has now been suspended.

One of the suspects, after being initially wounded by police gunfire, was seen reaching for a backpack and was shot again and killed, Garland Mayor Douglas Athas later told CNN.

The building and surrounding area was placed on lockdown by SWAT teams with around 100 attendees still inside after multiple gunshots were heard.

FBI bomb squad robots were then sent in to check the suspects’ vehicle, as the two bodies of the gunmen, who have not yet been identified, lay on the road beside it.

The bodies were not immediately taken from the scene because they were too close to the car, which police feared had incendiary devices inside.

Shortly before midnight police alerted media that a strong electronic pulse would be activated near the scene, presumably as part of the bomb squad’s work, and a loud boom was heard moments later, though police did not comment further on what was done.

A contest offering a top prize of $10,000 for the best portrayal of the prophet was just minutes from finishing when the shootout unfolded.

The event had been condemned by critics as an attack on Islam, but the organizers insisted they were exercising free speech.

Some Twitter users began posting about the shooting on the event using a #JeSuisGarland hashtag, mirroring the #JesuisCharlie hashtag that became popular after January’s jihadist attacks in France which saw gunmen kill 12 people in the Paris offices of French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in revenge for its cartoons.

After the shooting no one was allowed to leave as nearby businesses, including a Wal-Mart and a Sam’s Club, were evacuated.

Those inside started to sing patriotic songs, including the national anthem and God Bless America, and said a prayer for the injured security guard after one woman pulled out an American flag form her bag.

The two suspects pulled up in a vehicle with with explosives, before getting out and firing at a security officer, identified as 57-year-old Bruce Joiner, who was employed by the independent school district and wearing a ‘police-style uniform’.

Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3066779/Police-officer-suspect-said-injured-shooting-outside-art-anti-Muslim-exhibition-art-depicting-prophet-Muhammad.html#ixzz3ZA7tXLpf
Follow us: @MailOnline on Twitter | DailyMail on Facebook

A police officer stands next to the pickup truck, not the suspect's vehicle, outside the Curtis Culwell Center in Garland, Texas. Two suspects were shot dead after opening fire near the 'Draw Muhammad' event

A police officer stands next to the pickup truck, not the suspect’s vehicle, outside the Curtis Culwell Center in Garland, Texas. Two suspects were shot dead after opening fire near the ‘Draw Muhammad’ event

The event had been condemned by critics as an attack on Islam, but the organizers insisted they were exercising free speech

The event had been condemned by critics as an attack on Islam, but the organizers insisted they were exercising free speech

The two men are said to have gotten out of a vehicle nearby, walked into the parking lot and opened fire on Sunday evening. The exhibition inside involved a competition with a $10,000 prize for the best caricature of Muhammad 

The two men are said to have gotten out of a vehicle nearby, walked into the parking lot and opened fire on Sunday evening. The exhibition inside involved a competition with a $10,000 prize for the best caricature of Muhammad

Internet problems in China blamed on malware from overseas servers

May 1, 2015

A hacking attack using malware from overseas servers was to blame for Internet problems in China earlier this week that prevented users accessing a number of popular foreign websites, an official state-run newspaper said on Friday.

Social media users first reported on Sunday that they were being sent to software website wpkg.org and travel website ptraveler.com when trying to access news websites like cnn.com, news portal yahoo.co.jp, and games website runescape.com, among others.

 

The incident was the latest in a series of challenges businesses and individuals have faced going online in the world’s second-largest economy.

The English-language China Daily, citing the National Computer Network Emergency Response Technical Team Coordination Centre, an agency that monitors China’s Internet safety, said the redirection happened because some servers in China were “contaminated” by malware from overseas servers.

Access to the internet — both speed and stability — have long been a major issue especially among foreign businesses and individuals. Internet services operated by Facebook, Google and Twitter, to name a few, are unusable in China. The country operates the world’s most sophisticated censorship mechanism in order to quell sources of information the Communist Party sees as potentially destabilizing or undermining its rule.

IN-DEPTH

— Reuters

http://www.nbcnews.com/tech/tech-news/china-blames-hacking-attack-recent-internet-problems-n351821

China Frees 5 Women’s Rights Activists After Month Detention

April 14, 2015

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China’s jailed women’s rights activists: Clockwise from top left: Li Tingting, Wu Rongrong, Zheng Churan, Wei Tingting, Wang Man. They have been detained by Chinese authorities.

The Associated Press

BEIJING — Chinese authorities have released five women’s rights campaigners whose detentions for more than a month sparked an international outcry and underscored the government’s tight restrictions on independent social activism.

The women were freed Monday under a form of conditional release that keeps the investigation open for another year and allows formal charges to be brought later, said Liang Xiaojun, a lawyer for one of them.

The activists, aged from 25 to 32, were known for colorful protests that included “potty parity” sit-ins and street theater to denounce spousal abuse, and their detentions brought international calls for their release, including from the United States, Britain and the European Union.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said China should “support them, not silence them” in their fight against sexual harassment and other injustices toward women, and #FreeTheFive became a popular Twitter hashtag.

Human rights activists said the release was driven by Beijing’s desire to avoid marring its reputation on women’s rights and creating a public relations disaster, especially ahead of a September commemoration of a key women’s rights summit held in Beijing in 1995.

Amnesty International Regional Director for East Asia Nicholas Bequelin said he had no doubt the release resulted from a political and diplomatic decision at a senior level.

“It shows that China does have a bottom line when it comes to embarrassment on the world stage,” Bequelin told The Associated Press. “There’s a price that China is not ready to pay to enforce its prohibition on independent organizing.”

As of late Monday night, all five had either returned or were on their way to their homes in Beijing and elsewhere in China, including the southern metropolis of Guangzhou and the eastern resort city of Hangzhou. Calls to the Haidian District Detention Center in western Beijing, where they had been held, rang unanswered.

Other lawyers could not be reached by phone, but posted messages on social media saying their clients had been freed.

An anti-discrimination group working with the activists, the Beijing Yirenping Center, said in a statement that continuing to treat the women as criminal suspects was “neither legal nor reasonable.” Late last month, Beijing police raided the center’s office and confiscated computers and financial documents.

“They deserve public recognition and rewards,” center co-founder Lu Jun wrote of their activism. “The arrest and detention of them is a glaring injustice.”

In a statement, Amnesty International called the women’s release an “encouraging breakthrough” but “an incomplete step.” It said China must end the investigation and exonerate the five.

The European Union also urged authorities to drop the investigation of the women.

Hong Lei, spokesman for China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, confirmed Tuesday that the activists were released on bail. He said the matter was dealt with in accordance with Chinese law.

“It is part of China’s sovereignty for the Chinese judicial authority to observe and enforce the law and to fight crime,” Hong said. “That is a principle a country under the rule of law must stick to.”

Under the conditions of their release, the five remain formally under investigation for the next year and must report their movements to police and be available for interrogation at any time. They are also barred from discussing the case among themselves or gathering as a group, lawyer Wang Qiushi said.

The women — Wang Man, Zheng Churan, Wu Rongrong, Wei Tingting and Li Tingting — were detained last month as they prepared to distribute posters and stickers against domestic violence on International Women’s Day on March 8. They were accused of creating a disturbance and, if convicted, could have been sentenced to up to three years in prison. Five others detained at the same time were released earlier.

China’s Communist Party-led government maintains tight restrictions on all forms of public protest, and campaigners say conditions for independent activists have grown increasingly harsh under President Xi Jinping.

While the government has commented little on the case, it appeared that the women’s detentions were linked more to their penchant for media-friendly street actions than their advocacy of women’s rights.

In 2012, the activists briefly took over public men’s restrooms in Beijing and other cities to demand more women’s facilities. That year, Li and two other women strolled down a busy Beijing shopping street wearing bloody wedding dresses to denounce domestic violence.

Amnesty’s Bequelin said that, given the case’s high profile, he expects police to keep a close eye on the five. The legal restrictions on them will likely be sufficient to “if not silence, then considerably mute their voice,” he said.

Along with the international outcry, Bequelin said the fact that the women made no political demands helped their cause, along with the weakness of the accusations against them.

“It helped that they hadn’t actually committed any wrongdoing,” he said.

___

Associated Press writers Jack Chang and Didi Tang contributed to this report.

 

‘#WhyI’mnotvotingforHillary’ hashtag tops Twitter

April 13, 2015

Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign announcement was not met with the positive response her team would have been hoping for

By , US Correspondent

The Telegraph

A social media backlash began against Hillary Clinton on Sunday night after the former secretary of state announced her run for the White House.

“#Why Im not voting for Hillary” quickly became the most talked about subject on Twitter in the US in the hours after Mrs Clinton released a video asking for the public’s backing for her 2016 bid to become the America’s first-ever female president.

While many declared their support for the wife of former US president Bill Clinton, a wave of users began using the hashtag giving their reasons for why they would not be voting for the Democratic candidate.

Many criticised her response to the deadly 2012 attack on the US consulate in Benghazi, Libya, which left four Americans dead, including the ambassador, Christopher Stevens.

Includes video
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/hillary-clinton/11531729/Why-Im-not-voting-for-Hillary-hashtag-tops-Twitter.html

Hillary Clinton during a hearing on the September attacks on US diplomatic sites in Benghazi (Photo: Jason Reed/Reuters)

Sara Teague wrote: #WhyImNotVotingForHillary #Benghazi proved her incompetence and disregard for American lives. Email scandal shows she’s “above the law”

Others cited her apparent lack of transparency, particularly over her use of a private email server during her time in office. It emerged last month Mrs Clinton deleted 30,000 of the emails, which she described as private correspondence.

No true American should need anymore reasons than this one.

Four solid reasons

The hashtag was started by 19-year-old Markeece Young from North Carolina, who describes himself on his Twitter account as a former Democrat-turned-Conservative.

“Well when I heard Hillary was announcing her campaign on Twitter I came up with the Idea to create ‪#‎WhyImNotVotingForHillary‬ it’s simple but very powerful,” he wrote. “It was the #1 trending hashtag in America for about 3 hours.”

Anti-Hillary graffiti also popped up in the New York borough of Brooklyn, where Mrs Clinton’s campaign headquarters will be based.


A poster placed in front of Hillary Clinton’s HQ in Brooklyn, New York (AP)

The street art features portraits of the presidential hopeful alongside phrases including “Don’t Say Secretive”,”Don’t Say Entitled”.

Mrs Clinton made waves before she had even taken up residence.

A group of Haitian protesters – who have accused the Clinton Foundation of stealing money intended for rebuilding their country after the 2010 earthquake – last week gathered outside her building, chanting: “Do we want Clinton for president? Hell no.”

Because of her global profile and the lack of other prominent Democrats in the field, Mrs Clinton enters the race in a position that is perhaps unmatched in modern US presidential politics.

Her tweet announcing her candidacy notched almost 90,000 retweets by the end of the day on Sunday, her campaign video more than 1 million views on YouTube, and her Facebook campaign page almost 500,000 likes.

Impressive, marketing strategists say, although she did create one or two chinks for Republicans to chisel at.

Her 138-second campaign video featured everyday Americans discussing milestones such as starting a business or having a baby, with Mrs Clinton first appearing a full 90 seconds in. It broke a million views on Facebook by Sunday evening.

“It’s less ‘me’ and more ‘us’, which I think is very smart,” said Marissa Gluck, a director at marketing firm Huge.

That’s a really “big difference in tone, ego and professionalism compared to rollout videos from Rand Paul and (Ted) Cruz,” said Josh Cook, a former Obama digital director and vice president of digital engagement for the political consulting firm, BerlinRosen, referring to Republican presidential hopefuls.

But Republicans pushed back hard and fast.

Republican presidential contender Ted Cruz of Texas responded to the “ready for Hillary” message in a crudely cut video asking if Americans wanted “a third Obama term.”

A Google search for “Hillary Clinton for President” resulted in an ad for Hillary’s campaign page, but just below it was an ad for “Pledge to Stop Hillary,” a Republican-created petition.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/hillary-clinton/11531729/Why-Im-not-voting-for-Hillary-hashtag-tops-Twitter.html

Related:

FILE PHOTO NYC PAPERS OUT; Social media use restricted to low res file, max 184 x 128 pixels and 72 dpi

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Pictured: Hillary Clinton, then U.S. Secretary of State, discusses with then China’s Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi at a news conference in Beijing Sept. 5, 2012. Hillary Clinton never made any strong statements of U.S. concern over China’s moves in the South China Sea. Today, China controls several islands in the South China Sea that were uninhabited before the Obama Administration. Today some of the best U.S. allies in Asia like the Philippines and Japan are greatly concerned by China’s rapid rise during the Clinton-Obama years. Photo: AP/Feng Li, Pool

Hillary Clinton and Vladimir Putin. After this photo was taken, Mr. Putin annexed Crimea and “invaded” eastern Ukraine.

Those were fun times, weren’t they?  U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, right, and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov press a red button symbolizing the intention to “reset” U.S.-Russian relations during their meeting in Geneva, Switzerland, Friday, March 6, 2009. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton left her post as U.S. Secretary of State with a Russia in military resurgence. The butten meant “reset to the Cold war” wor Putin’s Moscow government. (AP Photo)

‘Huge gaps’ in Clinton emails: Chairman of House Benghazi Committee


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