This Israeli Presentation on How to Make Drone Strikes More “Efficient” Disturbed Its Audience

from December 5, 2017 at 10:00AM

Research backed by the U.S. and Israeli military scandalized a conference near Tel Aviv earlier this year after a presentation showed how the findings would help drone operators more easily locate people — including targets — fleeing their strikes and better navigate areas rendered unrecognizable by prior destruction.

The doctoral student who presented the research demonstrated how pioneering data visualization techniques could show a drone operator, using lines and arrows of varying thickness, which direction fast-moving people and vehicles were most likely to travel, for example, at an intersection or while fleeing a building. The presentation clearly angered at least some of the crowd, including the moderator, prompting hostile questions.

“The guy’s talk (and its video documentation) revealed much of what’s very wrong about UAV warfare,” said Mushon Zer-Aviv, a web designer and activist and an organizer of the conference, the data visualization confab known as ISVIS.

The incident at ISVIS underscores the extent to which drone warfare’s deeply technological basis and inhumanity has become a major part of global pubic debate around its use. Once viewed (and still promoted) as an efficient, safer way to target terrorists, the growing ubiquity of lethal drone strikes in global hotspots is increasingly seen as helping to create wastelands and fomenting the sort of terroristic support it’s designed to eradicate.

Part of the controversy over the research presentation traces back to the desensitized environment in which drone pilots operate, which is not frequently seen by outsiders. In this world, the pilots ask questions that might sound absurd outside the context of aerial robot-aided killing: What happens when you want to kill someone, but they’ve run into a building, and you’re not sure where they’ll exit? What happens when a town has been so thoroughly destroyed, you can’t recognize it anymore and get lost?

The presenter of the drone material, Yuval Zak, told the Intercept he was surprised by the audience reaction and hostile questioning after his presentation. “The conversation changed from dealing with visualization and improving information presentation on a … map to a discussion about the ethical issues of using drones,” he wrote in an email. “But the focus of the conference and my paper is entirely different.” The technology he presented could just as easily be used for policing and search and rescue as for drone strikes, he said — any time-critical scenario involving a map.

Still, Zer-Aviv said he was stunned as the presentation unfolded. He was the co-chair of ISVIS, which has billed itself as Israel’s first data visualization event, bringing together “design, engineering, and psychological perspectives on visualization.” Like many conferences in any field, ISVIS put out an open call for presentations, hoping to bring a sampling of the burgeoning world of data visualization under one roof at Shenkar College of Engineering, Design and Art in Ramat Gan.

“What is gained and what is lost in the transition from data, through images, to insights?” read the ISVIS manifesto. The programming looked thoughtful and sharp, covering topics from storytelling and journalism to political activism and aesthetics. One session promised to explain how “for museum curators it is imperative to learn, analyze, and understand the behavior patterns of the visitors,” in part through “recent developments in the field of indoor positioning systems.”

This sort of work is central to a lot of applied data science: how to make things we’re already doing more efficient, more effective, less laborious. But what if we’re talking about shooting missiles at people from flying robots? Should drone warfare, already so remote and clinical, receive further layers of software abstraction? Should killing be engineered to be more efficient?

These were the sorts of urgent, necessary questions that Zak ignored. His presentation focused on nuts and bolts, presuming that drone warfare ought to be made more efficient in the first place. His slides indicated his work was part of a “research collaboration between Ben-Gurion University,” the Israeli military, and the U.S. Research, Development, and Engineering Command’s Army Research, Development and Engineering Command, or, in poetic Pentagon-speak, RDECOM AMRDEC.

The ISVIS organizers were “obviously very curious” when Zak submitted his talk, said Zer-Aviv, and decided to place it in a segment titled “Power and Change,” alongside a presentation on feminist data visualization. “This panel was expected to take on visualizations use both by those in power and by citizens who may want to grapple with or oppose this power,” explained Zer-Aviv.

Yuval Zak speaks at an Israeli data visualization conference.

Zak opened his presentation with a startling statement that must have, somehow, felt matter-of-fact:

It has been said that in the upcoming round of combat, for example, the Israel Air Force will knock down some 1,000 buildings or more, so anyone who goes into Gaza won’t even be able to identify what he thought he should be able to see there.

Herein lies the problem confronting Israeli’s high-tech air power, as Zak’s team sees it: What happens when you’ve so devastated an urban area that it’s no longer recognizable? How will you navigate, for the purposes of killing and destruction, a place that you’ve been transforming by said killing and destruction? Therein lies a main problem of drone warfare, relying heavily on sensor-laden robots that are still operated by humans with finite memories and with visual processing easily confused by rubble and ruin. This is where Zak’s research comes in. He explained in his remarks that the goal of his research was “at the end of the day, to improve the efficiency of unmanned drone operators in the army in their missions.”

Zak then described the work environment of the drone operator, who has video from the aircraft and a map, typically with some sort of overlay, which might show existing forces. “What he does not have,” Zak said, “is some sort of aggregate information about past missions.”

In other words, he takes off, he knows where the enemy is expected to be, where our forces are expected to be. He won’t know how the enemy acted in yesterday’s mission unless he remembers, he won’t know how he acted in last week’s mission or two weeks ago and even so, he has an information load and coping with it is very difficult for him.

The issue at hand, then, boils down to one with which an MBA candidate or Deloitte consultant might grapple: How can our organization make sense of an over-abundance of data and increase employee productivity by leveraging 21st century software techniques? The only difference here is that the organization in question is interested in the business of killing, and an increase in employee productivity means killing more easily. Israel’s record of civilian deaths in the course of its unmanned drone campaigns is already well-documented.

Zak covered four different visualization techniques explored during his research, noting that the first in the series was “a visualization that most of the [drone] operators we consulted liked very much.” Suppose you’re tailing a person or a car filled with people. Now, you’re piloting a drone equipped with a litany of hard-to-pronounce imaging sensors capable of incredible visual detail, day or night. But one thing the cameras and lasers can’t discern is what a person on the ground, at a street intersection, for instance, will do next:

You’re following a vehicle, a suspect, you come to a junction, and you have the possibility of going straight, turning right, or turning left. In other words, not you, the target you’re following. So what is the probability that that target turns to each of the directions at the junction? When we can display this probability with either a number that we add to the visualization or using the thickness of the line, and some filtering can be done about this, perhaps the time, the type of target, the date, if it’s a moving target, a vehicle or a pedestrian.

The drone operators Zak has been working with, he said, were particularly tickled by this visualization because there are missions during which “they follow a vehicle and … sometimes lose it, because you go into some kind of a cloud, and then they get out of the cloud, and they want to know ‘OK, we’ve lost the target, and there was a junction, so where do we look for it?’”

It’s unclear where the data necessary for such a narrow prediction is coming from, and it’s not the only example of its kind Zak trotted out. Other visualizations under consideration by the Israeli-American research team include one for following individuals as they might flee on foot, in which drone operators would receive a colorful visual display of “the probability of entering and exiting each door in each building,” designated by arrows of varying thickness, and a system for tracking a “permanent target” like Ismail Haniyeh, senior Hamas leader and former Palestinian Authority head. For people like Haniyeh, Zak said “we can build a movement grid for him, where the places where he was and the probabilities are shown via the thickness of the lines or of those dots.” The “surveillance grid for an individual target received a very high efficiency ranking” from drone operators, Zak noted with pride. It’s a bit like Netflix suggestions, only for people to fire missiles at.

Zak quickly lost the crowd.“I think no one in the room really expected this,” Zer-Aviv told The Intercept. Sure enough, according to a transcript of the Q&A session following Zak’s talk, the first question was actually a denunciation: “I’m just saying that when you hurt so many people, not all of whom are Ismail Haniyeh, for these purposes, we can look a bit less self-satisfied,” an audience member said. “Not everything is inherently honorable.”

The segment’s moderator tried to press Zak on this point:

We hear a lot of talk these days about predictive policing. About using algorithms, too, to make certain policy decisions. Be it policing policy, in our case, it is targeted assassination policy. Making life-and-death decisions based on data. What is the role both of your data processing and of the visualizations in these complex ethical questions?

In his reply, Zak sidestepped the ethical issues, stating that, “In the big picture, our job is to make the work of a drone operator more efficient.” He added that his visualization work would not take two targets and determine “that one has to be destroyed and that one not.” This role, he said, is made “by people who … view video screens and evaluate the situation based on that.”

In his email to The Intercept, Zak stated that the benefits of increased accuracy for drone operators go beyond efficient killing:

If an operator has better information, there will be less chance of errors or accidents.

Most UAV accidents and mishaps are related to human errors so the technology calls for developing UAVs holistically, which includes human factors in addition to technology. Unfortunately, most UAVs are developed to achieve certain technical goals, without considering the human cognitive limitations in operating the system, or the decision-making process. This is where our research can contribute to improving operators’ performance.

For example, take a reported U.S. case in which UAV operators failed to observe and report on the presence of children in a suspected crowd in Afghanistan, causing a helicopter to kill 23 civilians. These are precisely the incidents we aim to avoid by improving operators’ abilities to focus.

If you can make those video screens as rich and information-packed as possible, well, why wouldn’t you? Isn’t it smarter? Better? But these completely ethics-agnostic replies — so reminiscent of Silicon Valley accountability dodging — are basically the “guns don’t kill people” of drone warfare. Accountability lies with the button-pushers, the reasoning goes, rather than the people who designed and built the buttons in the first place. The view of drone operators as merely passive consumers of content who need the best content available in order to make the best decisions possible allows us to avoid uncomfortable questions and debates over whether this system ought to be used to frequently in the first place and allows critics to be waved off with promises of better data just around the corner. Maybe the problem with the so-called kill chain used to authorize robotic killing isn’t that it’s an abstracted, desensitizing, information-centric form of remote assassination, but that we’re just not throwing enough good data in the war sluice?

Top photo: A picture shows an Israeli army unmanned aerial vehicle landing in an airfield, in the Israeli-annexed Golan Heights, on Jan. 20, 2015, two days after an Israeli airstrike killed six Hezbollah members in the Syrian-controlled side of the Golan Heights.

The post This Israeli Presentation on How to Make Drone Strikes More “Efficient” Disturbed Its Audience appeared first on The Intercept.

Read more at: The Intercept

Facebook Allowed Political Ads That Were Actually Scams and Malware

from December 5, 2017 at 05:14AM

In September, an ad with the headline, “New Approval Ratings For President Trump Announced And It’s Not Going The Way You Think,” targeted Facebook users in the U.S. who were over 40 and labeled as “very liberal” by the tech company.

“Regardless of what you think of Donald Trump and his policies, it’s fair to say that his appointment as President of the United States is one of the most…,” ran the text. “Learn more.”

At least some people who clicked on this come-on found their computers frozen. Their screens displayed a warning and a computer-generated voice informed them that their machine had been “infected with viruses, spywares and pornwares,” and that their credit card information and other personal data had been stolen — and offered a phone number to call to fix it.

Actually, the freeze was temporary, and restarting the computer would have unlocked it. But worried users who called the number would have been asked to pay to restore their access, according to computer security experts who have tracked the scam for more than a year.

This ad, which targeted Facebook users in the U.S. who were over 40 and labeled as “very liberal” by the tech company, led some people to a scam site that froze their computers and tried to trick them into paying for bogus tech support.

Russian disinformation isn’t the only deceptive political advertising on Facebook. The pitch designed to lure President Donald Trump’s critics is one of more than a dozen politically themed advertisements masking consumer rip-offs that ProPublica has identified since launching an effort in September to monitor paid political messages on the world’s largest social network. As the American public becomes ever more polarized along partisan lines, swindlers who used to capitalize on curiosity about celebrities or sports are now exploiting political passions.

“Those political ads, especially right now if you look at the U.S., they are actually getting more clicks,” said Jérôme Segura, lead malware intelligence analyst at anti-malware company Malwarebytes. “Where there are clicks, there is going to be interest from bad guys.”

The ads, supplied by ProPublica readers through our Political Ad Collector tool, lured Facebook viewers with provocative statements about hot-button figures such as former President Barack Obama, Ivanka Trump, Fox News commentator Sean Hannity and presidential adviser Kellyanne Conway.

Clicking on the headline, “Sponsors Pull out From His Show Over This?” — over a photo of Hannity with MSNBC commentator Rachel Maddow — led to a page styled to look like the Fox News website. It offered a free bottle of Testo-Max HD, which it described as a cure for erectile dysfunction, although it isn’t approved by the FDA. People who sign up for such free nostrums are typically asked to provide credit card information to pay for shipping and are then automatically charged almost $100 a month, according to reviews online.

Another ad we collected led people to a webpage styled to look like the Fox News site. The scam site falsely said commentator Sean Hannity was hawking free trials of a pill called Testo-Max HD, which it claimed could cure erectile dysfunction.

Although these scams represent only a tiny fraction of the more than 8,000 politically themed advertisements assembled by the Political Ad Collector, they raise doubts about Facebook’s ability to monitor paid political messages. In each case, the ads ran afoul of guidelines Facebook has developed to curb misleading and malicious advertising. Many of the scams had also been flagged by users, fact-checking groups and cybersecurity services — even the Federal Trade Commission — long before they appeared on the social network.

Moreover, most of the sites may have warranted special attention because they had been registered within the 30 days before users sent them to our Political Ad Collector. Paul Vixie, the co-founder of San Mateo, California-based computer security company Farsight Security, said new website domains are more likely to be shady, because fraudsters often shut sites down after days or even minutes and open new ones to stay ahead of authorities looking to catch them.

As the midterm elections heat up, such cons are likely to proliferate, along with more devious forms of information warfare. Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg recently said in an interview with Axios that the social network had missed “more subtle” election interference in part because its security team had been focused on “the biggest threats” of malware and phishing — tricking people into revealing their personal information. Based on ProPublica’s findings, it’s unclear if the world’s largest social network can handle either challenge.

Facebook officials told ProPublica that the company is trying to improve its ability to stop harmful advertising, including malware and frauds, but is aware some bad ads get through its defenses. “There is no tolerable amount of malware on the site. The tolerance is zero, but unfortunately that’s not the same as zero occurrence,” said Rob Goldman, Facebook’s vice president of ads. Goldman said of the 14 deceptive ads ProPublica identified, 12 were removed by Facebook before ProPublica contacted the company in November. Facebook took down the other two after ProPublica alerted it to the ads.

He declined to identify the specific tools, such as computer virus databases or popular fact-checking website, that Facebook uses to inspect ads. “It’s bad if the bad guys learn how we enforce,” he said.

To be sure, malicious advertising — also called “malvertising” — likely will never be stopped fully, several cybersecurity researchers said. Segura said other internet ad companies, not just Facebook, showed similar lapses by letting such ads through. Still, the persistence of these ads on Facebook suggests the company doesn’t have adequate oversight in place to stop problematic ads before they run.

Malvertising tactics that have been reported publicly, “should be dealt with and done,” Segura said. Instead, they continue to show up — including in the Facebook ads collected by ProPublica — indicating that “the core issue hasn’t been addressed,” he said.

Traditionally, Facebook has been reluctant to review ads before they show up on its platform. In a recent video announcement outlining the company’s response to misleading political ads from Russia during the 2016 election, Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg reiterated that stance. “Most ads are bought programmatically through our apps and website without an advertiser ever speaking to someone at Facebook,” he said. “We don’t check what people say before they say it and frankly, I don’t think society should want us to. Freedom means you don’t have to ask permission first, and that by default you can say what you want.”

Under pressure from its users and lawmakers, Facebook has said it is trying to become more proactive, instituting rules to evaluate ads and posts and block or limit those it deems misleading.

The social networking giant has long had rules against fraudulent ads and those that lead people to “any software that results in an unexpected or deceptive experience.” Last year, it rolled out a policy to prevent “low quality or disruptive content” providers from placing ads, saying that ads should “link to landing pages that include significant and original content that is relevant” to the ad, and that they should not “include deceptive ad copy that incentivizes people to click.” In May, Facebook announced it had stepped up measures against “misleading, sensational and spammy” ads and posts. The company said it had used artificial intelligence to figure out which new pages shared on Facebook were likely to be low quality, which the company defined as having “little substantive content” or a lot of shocking or scammy ads. If its algorithms determined a post was likely to link to that sort of web page, it said, the post “may not be eligible” to be used in advertising.

Since 2014, Facebook has also intensified its efforts to crack down on so-called “clickbait,” which it says includes “headlines that intentionally leave out crucial information, or mislead people, forcing people to click to find out the answer.”

All the consumer rip-off ads recorded by ProPublica violated one or more of these rules.

It is unclear how many people have been cheated by such ads on Facebook. ProPublica’s sample is not random or representative, and the vast majority of politically themed ads ProPublica saw were legitimate. But what seems like a small annoyance for the social network can be a big headache for hundreds or thousands of people. For example, Facebook recently told lawmakers that only about 0.004 percent of the content on its news feed from June 2015 to August 2017 was related to the Russian Internet Research Agency’s influence campaign — but that meant 126 million Americans may have seen such items.

The Facebook scams are the latest in a long line of deceptive campaigns using digital ad technology, said Robyn Caplan, a researcher who studies algorithms and media at the New York-based Data & Society Research Institute.

They are “building off of really well-worn techniques with advertising in the ’90s,” she said. At that time, scammers started using techniques to manipulate search engine algorithms and promote their own pages. “Clickbait” and similar tactics arose as a way to entice web users.

On Facebook, though, hucksters can take their manipulation to the next level because the company gathers so much data about people and allows advertisers to target messages based on that data. So scammers can ensure their clickbait is seen by the people they think are most likely to fall for their outrageous headlines.

The political scam ads identified by ProPublica had certain traits in common. At least seven were associated with a scheme that sends readers to a web page containing a snippet of malicious computer code, or malware, to lock up the user’s computer. Those included the ad featuring Trump’s approval rating, as well as ones headlined “Ivanka Trump Has Actually Responded to Her Dad’s ‘Incestuous Comments’ About Her” — which were also targeted at “very liberal” people over 40 — and “This Barack Obama Quote About Donald Trump Is Absolutely Terrifying,” for which we couldn’t identify the target audience.

Typically, after their computers are frozen, users are instructed to call a toll-free number. Our calls to that number in the weeks after the ads ran went unanswered, but people who track this particular hoax say the perpetrators usually ask for money or login information to fix the person’s machine.

These attacks, known as “tech support scams,” have been a common problem for several years, said Will Maxson, the assistant director of the division of marketing practices at the Federal Trade Commission who has been fighting them since 2013.

When Facebook users clicked on some of these fraudulent ads, they were taken to a page with a snippet of malicious computer code, or malware, to freeze their computers. They were then instructed to call a number for tech support, even though they could have unlocked the screen by simply restarting the computer.

Maxson said when he started, the scammers called potential victims on the phone and claimed to be from Microsoft or Apple. They have since also adopted more sophisticated techniques, including the computer-locking code seen by ProPublica.

We couldn’t figure out who was behind the tech support scams we found. The accounts used fake names such as Facts WorldWide and News Express. Website registrations for the sites used in the ads, which had addresses such as and, used a service that masked the actual address. Clues on one related site and in the malicious code pointed to people in India, but such details can be easy to fake, and attempts to contact the people went unanswered.

Facebook isn’t the only company to have overlooked the tech support scam. The ad about Trump’s approval rating used a known flaw in web-browsing software that can be exploited to eat up all available memory, making the computer freeze. This browser vulnerability was first reported in 2014 and has been used by tech-support fraudsters for about a year, Segura, the malware researcher, said. But Safari and Microsoft’s newest browser, Edge, were the only ones with a fix when the ads ran. A spokesman for Google, which makes the Chrome browser, said the company had introduced an “initial patch” for the bug in September but was still working on improving protections against the flaw. A spokesman for Mozilla, which makes the Firefox browser, said the organization plans to fix the problem in an upcoming version.

Even if this flaw were fixed, there are other vulnerabilities that tech support fraudsters commonly use to lock up computers, such as trapping a user in a pop-up screen.

To hide their activities from Facebook’s automated scanning tools, almost all of the scammers used a technique called cloaking. Typically, cloaking involves running bad content only at certain times or to selected audiences, redirecting some people to a separate website, or automatically altering the content depending on who is looking. In August, Facebook issued a press release detailing how the company was using artificial intelligence to uncover cloaking.

One version of the ad about Trump’s approval ratings sent users to a site named When we first saw it on Sept. 25, that site automatically funneled many users to another site — — which had the bad code to lock up their machines. When we rechecked the ad later, was blank and didn’t send people anywhere else. Presumably, computer security experts told us, poolparty9 would have kept any Facebook scanners it detected on the same blank page, rather than referring them to

The shady ads we saw used outrageous headlines about political figures to lure people to click. Facebook said all the ads violated at least one of its policies, including those against fraud and malware.

Cloaking also protected a set of ads proclaiming that Kellyanne Conway was leaving the White House. The reasons for her departure given in the linked article changed depending on the user’s choice of browser. In Firefox, the site said she quit her job to sell Allura Skin cream, but when an automated internet archiving service — similar to a tool that a company like Facebook might employ to scan ads —visited the same site, the story merely said Conway had left, and didn’t say what she planned to do.

ProPublica’s tool collected at least five different versions of the Conway-related ad. They linked to sites such as and, which were registered using the email address, according to DomainTools, a Seattle-based computer forensics service. These sites encourage visitors to sign up for a free trial of skin cream and ask for credit card information to pay only for shipping. But consumers are then charged nearly $100 automatically for each small vial of cream, according to Snopes.

Cloaking is supposed to trick companies like Facebook by showing them legitimate websites and pages. But in these cases, even the sites that were supposed to pass inspection actually violated Facebook’s rules against clickbait and low-quality content and could have indicated to Facebook that something was amiss.

Many of the decoy sites offered outlandish or false information. For example, another version of the Trump ad sent people to, which offered content such as “10 Fantastic and Bizarre Caterpillar Facts” and “10 Most Bizarre Planets You’ve Probably Never Heard Of.”

Most of the ads affiliated with the scam that locked people’s computers included links to Facebook pages, not just outside websites. While these Facebook pages may have been intended to enhance credibility, they typically posted either almost no content, or content that was just copied from elsewhere on the web. Many of the Facebook pages and the outside websites used for cloaking featured similar teasers, such as “GET ALL THE LATEST FACTS ALL OVER THE WORLD.” A Google search for that phrase turns up a handful of dubious Facebook pages and outside websites operating since June, suggesting that the scam was rolling months before ProPublica saw the ads this fall.

In addition, several of the decoy websites were associated with computer servers known to be problematic. DomainTools gave several of them a “risk score” that indicates they are worth further security review. One was classified as actively dangerous by an antivirus company nearly a month before ProPublica’s tool saw the ad.

Facebook failed to unveil the cloaking and detect the flimflams despite many prior specific warnings about the ads. Most notably, the Conway scam had been reported in May by Snopes, with which Facebook has partnered in an effort to block advertising by purveyors of fake news. Snopes found an overwhelming number of almost identical advertisements that falsely claimed Conway and other celebrities had started careers in skin care. Snopes pointed out that the free trials of skin care products could actually cost consumers almost $100. The Federal Trade Commission has fined advertisers for similar behavior.

A Facebook page associated with another ad carried more than 100 comments from users warning that this was “fake fake fake” and “clearly a scam!,” including comments posted weeks before ProPublica gathered the ad. This ad, aimed at users who were over 18 and had recently been in Switzerland, trumpeted, “Anonymous shocks Donald Trump by revealing system which made him rich!” The advertisers claimed to offer access to a stock-trading scheme promoted by the hacker collective Anonymous. They sought a minimum deposit of $250 and said “our system will quadruple this in just 24 hours.” They described their “system” as “limited to binary options,” a scheme that involves betting on whether a stock or commodity will go above or below a certain price. The FBI cited binary options earlier this year as a common vehicle for identity theft and other fraud.

Advertisers who trumpeted “Anonymous shocks Donald Trump by revealing system which made him rich!” offered access to what they portrayed as a stock-trading tool promoted by the hacker collective Anonymous. They sought a minimum deposit of $250 and said “our system will quadruple this in just 24 hours.” The FBI has cited this type of scheme as a common vehicle for fraud and identity theft.

“I just wonder why Facebook keeps suggesting these. This should be checked before actually sending this to people,” one Facebook user complained.

The audio file used in the Trump approval ad and other tech support scams to tell people that their computers were infected was flagged as a cybersecurity risk over a year ago. And one of the sites hosting the bad code,, had been marked as malicious by a widely used service almost two weeks before our tool collected it.

Goldman, the Facebook official, would not specify which services Facebook relies on to tell it whether an ad might be a problem. He also said the company doesn’t make decisions on an ad based on any one indicator.

Facebook users have been complaining for more than a year about fake political headlines leading to sites that locked their computers, according to a review of Facebook’s online help forums.

Cath Nelesen, an Arizona retiree, posted on such a help forum in October 2016, asking “how to stop a hack” that she had seen two times in one week. Nelesen, who describes herself as a “staunch Hillary supporter,” told ProPublica she clicked on an “unbelievable” link about the election. She didn’t recall exactly what it said but thought it may have falsely asserted that Hillary Clinton had been arrested.

She clearly remembered what happened next, though: “Immediately there was a message that I was infected by malware and needed to call an 800 number affiliated with Microsoft,” Nelesen said. Her son-in-law had worked for Microsoft, and had told her of swindlers claiming to be Microsoft tech support. So she realized it might be a hoax, but she didn’t know how to regain control of her computer.

“Finally I turned off and prayed,” she said. When she turned the computer back on, it worked — possibly due to the prayer, but more likely because the code that locked up the screen only works when the harmful webpage is open.

She complained to Facebook and received a generic answer about the importance of reporting problems and avoiding spam. “It was completely worthless to me,” Nelesen said. “You’d think if you report something to somebody the problem would stop, but that isn’t the way it goes. I wouldn’t depend on Facebook for any help.”

Read more at: ProPublica: Articles and Investigations

Honduras: police refuse to obey government as post-election chaos deepens

from December 4, 2017 at 03:09PM

More than a week after a fiercely contested presidential election, Honduran voting authorities have drawn back from naming a winner, after days of deadly violence and mounting pressure to investigate opposition allegations of fraud.

Early on Monday, the government-controlled electoral commission found that US-backed incumbent Juan Orlando Hernandez was ahead of opposition candidate, Salvador Nasralla, by 42.98% to 41.39%, after a recount of suspicious votes from just over 1,000 polling stations.

But the Supreme Electoral Commission, known as the TSE, refrained from declaring a winner and hinted that a wider recount could still be possible.

The delay comes after days of confusion, following delays in the vote count and a sudden reversal of initial exit polls. The string of irregularities has fulled growing frustrations that have boiled over onto the streets and caused many people, including international observers, to question the legitimacy of TSE’s results.

As negotiations continued on Monday, Nasralla’s Alliance party repeated calls for a recount of results from more than 5,000 polling stations which were tabulated after an alleged glitch in the TSE’s vote-counting system on Tuesday – and ultimately reversed a trend that showed he would be the winner. Protestors accuse Hernandez of manipulating votes and “stealing” the election.

“We a going to demand they review the votes from 5,179 stations. If not, we will protest,” spokesperson Rodolfo Pastor wrote to the Guardian.

The TSE’s decision to delay the announcement comes after election monitors from Organization of American States and the European Union called for the commision to honor the opposition’s request to ensure a fair and transparent vote count that all parties will respect.

TSE magistrate Marco Lobo agreed that the votes in question should be recounted and all other allegations of fraud investigated, telling the Guardian that “otherwise the opposition and many Hondurans won’t respect the announcement”.

But late on Monday afternoon, Lobo said that the TSE had still not met to decide whether or not to announce a winner – and had not discussed whether or not it plans to widen the vote count.

Since Sunday, Hondurans have taken to the streets across the country, facing off against security forces clad in riot gear, who used tear gas and water canons. A night-time curfew imposed on Friday has curbed protests, but not put an end to the violence.

On Monday, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights reported that they have received preliminary information on the deaths of 11 Hondurans during the protests that have gripped the streets since the election crisis began.

“We condemn all forms of repression (and) regret all the deaths. In a democracy, it’s normal that people have the right to peacefully protest,” said Marisa Matias, head of the EU mission. The United States’ top official, Heide Fulton, congratulated the TSE for the “orderly count” of votes it conducting on Sunday night.

Hernandez is a close ally of the United States, and his government has closely cooperated with Washington on border security, counternarcotics operations and migration policy.

On Monday, Reuters reported that the US state department had certified that Honduras has been supporting human rights and fighting corruption. The certification will allow the Hernandez government to receive millions in US security assistance. In 2017, the US provided 17.3 million in security assistance to Honduras.

Read more at: World news | The Guardian

Prosecutors: Manafort Wrote Op-Ed With Colleague ‘Assessed To Have Ties’ In Russia

from December 4, 2017 at 03:04PM

WASHINGTON (AP) — While facing several felony charges, Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort has been working on an op-ed essay with a longtime colleague “assessed to have ties” to a Russian intelligence service, according to court papers filed Monday by prosecutors working for special counsel Robert Mueller.

In the court filing, prosecutors say Manafort and the colleague sought to publish the op-ed under someone else’s name and intended it to influence public opinion about his work in Ukraine. The op-ed was being drafted as late as last week, with Manafort currently under house arrest. Prosecutors did not name the colleague but noted the person is based in Russia.

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WaPo: Roy Moore Accuser Shares New Details About Their Relationship

from December 4, 2017 at 03:04PM

One of the women included in the Washington Post’s first report on Alabama Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore’s alleged relationships and sexual misconduct with teenagers presented more proof of their relationship Monday.

After Debbie Wesson Gibson saw a Nov. 27 video of Moore saying “I do not know any of these women,” the Post reported, she found a graduation card from Moore in a scrapbook in her attic.

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Supreme court allows enforcement of Trump travel ban as appeals proceed

from December 4, 2017 at 01:57PM

The supreme court is allowing the Trump administration to fully enforce a ban on travel to the United States by residents of six mostly Muslim countries.

The justices say in an order Monday that the policy can take full effect even as legal challenges against it make their way through the courts.

The ban applies to travelers from Chad, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria and Yemen. Lower courts had said people from those nations with a claim of a bona fide relationship with someone in the United States could not be kept out of the country. Grandparents, cousins and other relatives were among those courts said could not be excluded.

Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor would have left the lower court orders in place.

More to come…

Read more at: World news | The Guardian

Tribes Granted Reservoir Protections In Dakota Access Oil Spill Response Plan

from December 4, 2017 at 11:14AM

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — The Army Corps of Engineers and the developer of the Dakota Access pipeline must complete an oil spill response plan for the stretch of pipe beneath the Missouri River in North Dakota, a federal judge ruled Monday.

U.S. District Judge James Boasberg’s order grants a request by the Standing Rock and Cheyenne River Sioux tribes for additional measures to protect the river’s Lake Oahe reservoir. The tribes draw drinking water from the lake and also consider it sacred.

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ICE Is Falsely Accusing Undocumented New Yorkers of Being Gang Members in a Plot to Deport Them En Masse

from December 4, 2017 at 05:04AM

Immigration activists have launched a truth-seeking mission.

When the Trump administration can’t find crimes to detain undocumented immigrants with, it invents them. That’s exactly what activists fear is occurring in Long Island, NY with Operation Matador, under which Immigration and Customs Enforcement claims to have arrested nearly 350 people for being members of MS-13, or Mara Salvatrucha, a Salvadorean gang whose violence is spreading across America. Advocates believe undocumented residents of Suffolk and Nassau counties are being erroneously arrested for being gang members so they can then be deported. To prove it, a coalition of immigration advocacy groups have filed Freedom of Information Act requests to discover the truth behind the mass deportations. 

The nationwide operation against the Central American MS-13 has been underway since May, and the sting is clearly politically charged. The GOP tried to win the Virginia governor’s race with baseless ads claiming Governor-elect Ralph Northam is linked to the violent gang, in an effort not only to defeat Northam but to spread the lie that undocumented immigrants are responsible for the gang’s growth. They failed in Virginia, but while ICE might have been restrained under previous administrations, as acting director Tom Homan explained to CBS News, "since Mr. Trump’s election, ICE has been able to make more arrests; in part, because this administration allows him to prioritize any individual who crosses the border illegally, not just those who have committed other crimes. "The NGOs and the advocates can say what they want. Everybody has their day in court."

The NGOs refers to are fighting back. "Immigration authorities seem to be using supposed gang affiliation as a pretext to detain immigrants and deny them benefits. New York communities will not be safer if immigrants avoid local law enforcement for fear of being arbitrarily locked up and deported," said Camille Mackler, director of immigration legal policy at the New York Immigration Coalition. Her organization is a member of I-ARC, a collaborative of 65 immigration, legal and nonprofit services around New York State that jointly filed the FOIA request. They hope to find the information they need from Homeland Security Investigations, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the Suffolk and Nassau County Police Departments, and the New York City Police Department.

Babe Howell, a professor at CUNY School of Law, thinks the arrests are "based on inaccurate information, including information from law enforcement gang databases, which are based on appearances and association rather than on criminal conduct." In fact, she continued, "any conviction for a crime or criminality is not required. There’s no notice, or a review, or an ability to appeal, so there’s no way of correcting errors in the gang databases." 

ICE agents have even admitted the evidence is less than foolproof. Before one early morning raid targeting a 20-year-old suspected gang member earlier this month, Jason Molina, an assistant special agent in charge of the raid told CBS News, "Yes. We have information, we have pictures of him actually flashing gang signs." However, as even CBS pointed out, "gang membership is not a crime, and the agents did not have a criminal warrant." Molina had told reporter Margaret Brennan prior to the raid that he expected the suspect to be heavily armed, but the agents found only "pellet guns or BB guns." 

Unfortunately, as Mackler explained, ICE, Homeland Security and related agencies were still able to make this arrest and hundreds of others under Operation Matador simply because the target is an undocumented person. "They were actually using Operation Matador to not only arrest gang members but also arrest individuals who have no other issues on their record other than they are here in the United States undocumented," Mackler said.  

Activists are adamant that raids like this are counter-productive. In fact, MS-13 is "terrorizing our immigrant communities and our immigrant neighbors," Mackler said. "Many of them, themselves or their family and friends and neighbors fled those very same gangs and thought that they were finding safety here on Long Island or here in the United States." 

Operation Matador is also undoing years of work spent building trust between immigrant communities and police in an effort to fight gang violence. Patrick Young, program director at the Central American Refugee Center (CARECEN) and a member of the coalition that filed the FOIA request explained that “we have always wanted to work to bring the police and the community together because we believe the community are the eyes and the ears of the police in countering the growth and violence of Mara Salvatrucha and other gangs on Long Island." Unfortunately, he continued, "we’ve seen a lot of our work basically go by the wayside in the last 11 months. People now in the community are very much afraid to come forward. They see the police as working together with ICE in immigration enforcement.”

Once I-ARC has received and analyzed the documents, Mackler, Howell and Young explained they will be compiling a report with their findings and creating toolkits for immigrant communities and immigration attorneys to use when they believe gang allegations have been made in an inappropriate way. They’re not expecting a smoking gun, but rather stronger proof of the government’s attempts to use fabricated gang affiliation as a pretense for deportation. 

Read more at: Alternet

New Investigation Finds U.S. Special Forces Massacred Somali Civilians and Orchestrated a Cover-Up

from December 4, 2017 at 05:04AM

The victims were farmers, according to a report this week of eyewitness accounts.

The Pentagon is on the defensive after a new investigation revealed evidence that U.S. special operations forces massacred civilians in Somalia earlier this year, allegedly firing on unarmed farmers and their families, then planting weapons beside the bodies to appear as though the people were armed members of al-Shabab. On Wednesday they released a statement that said, “After a thorough assessment of the Somali National Army-led operation near Bariire, Somalia, on Aug. 25, 2017 and the associated allegations of civilian casualties, U.S. Special Operations Command Africa has concluded that the only casualties were those of armed enemy combatants.” This came after The Daily Beast published an investigation Wednesday on the operation and its aftermath and reported what eyewitnesses have said since the attack—the victims were farmers, and they were killed by American soldiers. All of this comes as the U.S. recently revealed it has some 500 troops in Somalia, up from a reported 50 earlier this year. We speak with Christina Goldbaum, an independent journalist based in Mogadishu, Somalia. Her new article for The Daily Beast is the investigation headlined, “Strong Evidence that U.S. Special Operations Forces Massacred Civilians in Somalia.”


This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman.

The Pentagon is on the defensive after a new investigation revealed evidence that U.S. special operations forces massacred civilians in Somalia earlier this year, allegedly firing on unarmed farmers and their families, then planting weapons beside the bodies to appear as though the people were armed members of al-Shabab.

On Wednesday, the Pentagon released a statement that said, “After a thorough assessment of the Somali National Army-led operation near Bariire, Somalia, on August 25, 2017, and the associated allegations of civilian casualties, U.S. Special Operations Command Africa has concluded that the only casualties were those of armed enemy combatants.

This statement came after The Daily Beast published an investigation Wednesday on the Bariire operation and its aftermath, and reported what eyewitnesses have said since the attack. The victims were farmers. They were killed by American soldiers, they said.

MUQTAR MOAALIM ABDI: American forces attacked us and our farms, and killed these people, including children. Those killed were farmers who were innocent and not al-Shabab fighters.

AMY GOODMAN: In fact, after the attack, hundreds protested, and survivors refused to bury their dead until the Somali government apologized and withdrew allegations that they were members al-Shabab, and reportedly paid the victims’ families as much as $75,000 each. All of this comes as the U.S. recently revealed it has some 500 troops in Somalia, up from a reported 50 earlier this year. And on Thursday, the death toll reported from a massive truck bomb attack in Mogadishu in October rose from at least 350 to 512.

For more, we’re joined by Christina Goldbaum, an independent journalist based in Mogadishu, Somalia. Today she joins us from Nairobi, Kenya. Her new article in The Daily Beast is headlined, Strong Evidence that U.S. Special Operations Forces Massacred Civilians in Somalia.

Christina, thanks so much for being with us. You interviewed several survivors, as well as the Somali Army commander in charge of Somali soldiers who assisted in the operation, and also Somali intelligence officers, local leaders, and government officials familiar with this attack. Can you lay out what you found? What happened this past summer?

CHRISTINA GOLDBAUM: As you said, after this operation happened, there was a big uproar in Somalia. People were protesting in a town nearby to where this happened. The families also refused to bury their dead until the Somali national government admitted that they were civilians, as you say. And so after that happened, I began looking into what exactly had happened in that operation. This investigation included over two dozen interviews of people who know about it and people who were eyewitnesses. And what I found is shocking in two ways.

The first is that AFRICOM, or the U.S. Africa Command, often says that U.S. soldiers on the ground in Somalia and elsewhere in Africa are doing “advise, assist”—and now they’re starting to say “accompany”—missions. And they will have the public believe that in the course of these operations, U.S. soldiers are not in the line of fire. They are simply advising and assisting local forces.

And so the first thing that shocked me in the course of this investigation was learning that in fact, U.S. soldiers who were part of this mission were on the front lines. They were firing in addition to the Somali National Army soldiers, at these civilians. And we learned that from looking at the shell casings that were found and were immediately collected after this operation happened, and immediately brought to Mogadishu, again because these farmers are civilians and they wanted to make that clear. So that I think is one thing that is very important to note. Because again, U.S. Africa Command will have the American public believe that U.S. soldiers are not in the line of fire, and this clearly demonstrates that that is not the case.

The second kind of interesting fact about this is that—Somalia is an incredibly complex environment. You have al-Shabab militants in rural areas, but then you also have a lot of clans who have rivalries and are in conflict with each other. So you also have a lot of farmers, pastoralists, who are armed, to protect their resources, to protect their camels, to protect their farmland, from rival clans and rival clan militias.

And what became clear to me in the course of this investigation was that the U.S. special operators who had carried out this operation didn’t quite understand that dynamic in the course of planning this operation. They had approached the Ugandan Defense Force’s contingent commander as a part of the African Union peacekeeping force, and his purview includes Bariire. And he had actually advised them against doing this mission.

When he said that he would not offer his soldiers, they instead went to a Somali National Army brigade that had not been trained by U.S. soldiers, as some Somali National Army brigades has been. The U.S. is there training Danab, which is a special forces unit of the Somali National Army. So they approached the Somali National Army to help them with this operation.

It became clear that they were getting information from that leader of that brigade of the Somali National Army, who is a former al-Shabab commander. They were also getting information from a militia leader who is in direct rivalry to the clan of the farmers who were killed. And in addition to that, they are also using a translator who they had used in a different operation a year ago in central Somalia, in north central Somalia, that had resulted in the death of ten people that were not al-Shabab. They were in fact from a local militia that the U.S. had been working alongside.

And so it seems as if those three individuals in particular, perhaps others, had misled U.S. forces, and that those U.S. forces had not sufficiently vetted the information that they were getting, about who these farmers are.

I also learned from talking to the farmers who had survived this operation that they had approached the Somali National Army commander multiple times in the week prior to this operation happening, to let him know that they did have arms but they were not al-Shabab. That the arms that they had were to protect them from a rival clan who they believed were going to attack their farm. And they wanted to make clear to the American special operators they knew were now in this town nearby that they were simply farmers, and they were armed, but that did not mean that they were al-Shabab.

And yet, that information was clearly not conveyed to these U.S. special operators. And again,I don’t think that the information that they were getting in the lead-up to this operation had been sufficiently vetted. And again, if you read that AFRICOMstatement that came out just after I published this investigation with The Daily Beast, they will remind you that they take every precaution to try to protect civilian lives. And I would say that in this operation, that’s not the case. That this information was not sufficiently vetted, which is why ten farmers, including one child, was killed in the course of this operation.

AMY GOODMAN: So this happened, Christina Goldbaum, on August 25th, this past summer. Explain what the people did then with—well, what the soldiers did, and which soldiers did this, laying weapons out next to the dead bodies?

CHRISTINA GOLDBAUM: Yes. When the farmers approached the Somali National Army commander, he had instructed them—and he told local media this immediately after this incident—he had instructed them to place their weapons in a house. That way, that if there was drone surveillance, they would not be confused for al-Shabab, because they wouldn’t be carrying arms.

So on those instructions, these farmers placed their weapons in a house. It was a part of this farming village. And after they were killed, after they were shot and the survivors were brought to the scene where some of their fellow farmers were shot, they saw the Somali National Army soldiers go into the house on the instruction of U.S. special operators, collect the weapons that had been inside that house, and then place them next to the bodies of the farmers who were killed. And then they saw the three U.S. special operators taking photos of their bodies.

Now, it is important to note that usually if there is a firefight and a weapon is displaced—maybe it’s thrown a foot or two away from an enemy who was killed—that it is not unusual for a soldier to take that weapon and place it next to the body of that person killed before taking a photo, to demonstrate that they are an enemy combatant. However, these weapons were not displaced on the battlefield in the course of a firefight These weapons were in a home, on the instruction of the Somali National Army commander.

And it seems to me, seeing the Somali National Army soldiers collect them from this house where they had been stashed, and place them next to the weapons, it’s directly misleading. Taking a picture of a farmer who was killed with a weapon that was in a house and not—he was not firing back in the course of this operation—to try to prove that he is an al-Shabab militant, that is directly misleading.

And I think one thing that shocked me again in the course of this investigation is the seemingly kind of cover-up of what happened. From placing these weapons next to the bodies, to diplomats in Mogadishu pressuring the Somali government to hide the findings of their own investigation into this incident, which proved that these people were civilians. And because of that investigation, because the Somali government knows that they are civilians, that’s why they paid these families at least $70,000 in the aftermath. And they would never do that if these people were al-Shabab militants.

AMY GOODMAN: So the amount of money you’re talking about, you’re talking about each family got something like $70,000? Where did the money come from?

CHRISTINA GOLDBAUM: I talked to a number of government officials who gave me the figure between $60,000 and $70,000. At least one of those government official believed that that money is actually coming from the United States. That’s only one person. I haven’t confirmed that. But that is his strong belief, that part of—again, in the aftermath of this, part of the U.S. diplomats pressuring the Somali government to not publish the findings of their investigation was kind of quietly paying these families as compensation for what happened.

Again, that is one source, but it is clear that these families were paid in the aftermath of this event, which again would never happen if they were al-Shabab combatants. You would never have protests like you did if they were al-Shabab combatants. And you would never have al-Shabab bringing the bodies of those killed to Mogadishu and refusing to bury them, if they were al-Shabab. That would be absolutely unprecedented, and I can’t see any reason why al-Shabab would do so.

AMY GOODMAN: And the idea that the villagers took the bodies of the dead to Mogadishu to prove that they were civilians and not al-Shabab?

CHRISTINA GOLDBAUM: Exactly. Again, there has never been any incident in Somalia where al-Shabab brought their own militants to Mogadishu and refused to bury them. That would be absolutely unprecedented and I cannot see any reason why al-Shabab would do that.

The reason that this happened—the elders of this particular clan were again pressuring the Somali federal government to admit they were civilians. The fellow farmers who survived were pressuring them to do the same, because they were being told that they were al-Shabab militants when they are not. So again, that has never happened. And again, I cannot see any reason why al-Shabab would bring their militants to Mogadishu, or why hundreds of people would protest this.

It has become, I think, very clear in Somalia, that these people are civilians, which is why the AFRICOM statement saying that their investigation found that they were enemy armed combatants—and note they don’t say “al-Shabab,” they say “enemy armed combatants”—is really troubling. That makes me think that perhaps it is again this kind of cover-up of saying, “No, no, no. These people were firing back at us.” Which simply, in the course of my investigation, is not the case.

AMY GOODMAN: And finally, Christina, I want to ask you about a bombing that took place two months later, almost two months later. Now the numbers have been adjusted to over 500 people killed in the twin bomb blasts in Mogadishu October 14th. Can you talk about—is there any link between these two?

CHRISTINA GOLDBAUM: There is not a link between these two. There was an article that came out in the aftermath of that bombing that alleged that one of the suicide bombers was somebody who had been radicalized after that operation. What happened is that about a month after the incident where the farmers were killed, al-Shabab went to the town nearby, which the Somali National Army soldiers were attempting to hold from them, and retook the town, killing about 40 Somali National Army soldiers in the course of that.

And after that happened, which was at the end of September, that entire area now is yet again in the hands of al-Shabab. So it is possible that the suicide bomber came from that area, but if so, it is only because al-Shabab retook the town nearby and perhaps sent one of their militants from that town to Mogadishu to carry out that tragic bombing.

AMY GOODMAN: Christina Goldbaum, I want to thank you for being with us. Last question—what directly has the Pentagon told you in your reporting on both the massacre and what you are alleging is a U.S. Pentagon cover-up?

CHRISTINA GOLDBAUM: I spoke to them a day before my article came out, and they had told me that the investigation was still ongoing. So to me it’s very suspicious that 30 minutes after my article was published, that they have come out to say that the investigation has finished, and that they have found that they were not civilians who were killed. So again, that was 24 hours before this article came out, and the DoD was telling me that the investigation was still ongoing. It was undergoing a credibility assessment then.

AMY GOODMAN: Christina Goldbaum, thank you so much for your incredible reporting. Independent journalist based in Mogadishu. Her new article for _The Daily Beast” is headlined Strong Evidence that U.S. Special Operations Forces Massacred Civilians in Somalia. We will link to The Daily Beast piece at Christina was joining us today from Nairobi, Kenya.

The original content of this program is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. Please attribute legal copies of this work to Some of the work(s) that this program incorporates, however, may be separately licensed. For further information or additional permissions, contact us.

Read more at: Alternet

Antifa Counter Protesters Overwhelm Nazi Rally at the White House

from December 4, 2017 at 07:05AM

The event lasted 20 minutes before Richard Spencer & Co. beat a hasty retreat.

Antifa Drowns Out Nazi Rally at the White House

President Trump and FOX News aren’t the only ones angry over the verdict in the Kate Steinle trial, wherein undocumented Mexican immigrant Jose Ines Garcia Zarate was acquitted of first-degree murder, second-degree murder, as well as most of the charges he faced. Neo-Nazis and white nationalists, many of whom were present in Charlottesville, Virginia this August…

Read more at: Alternet