Monday Reads: of Honey Traps and AIPosted: February 11, 2019
Good Morning Sky Dancers!
I actually was present on a day that UCLA/MIT/Stanford and other institutions opened a computer connecting node to more than just a few places during an expansion of what was to become the world wide web.. This would eventually be the internet/world wide web beyond something than connecting a few universities and government entities. The original turn on in happened in 1969. My high school math department got a grant and one of those huge printers that came to life when they started expanding it to a few more places around 1970. They undoubtedly wanted to show us our future.
Again, it was just a big printer with huge green bar paper rolls that hooked us to an out of state university (Michigan, I think) and it printed some welcome message that didn’t impress me. We all stood there and watched it kind’ve like the first time in junior high when a guy from bell labs turned on a projector with a small red beamed called a laser. They had no idea if it would be the future of communications but that was the dream. The next time I saw that bean at university was its planetarium with Pink Floyd playing in the background. Now, both my eldest and her husband use them for operations in their respective medical practices.
I started actually using the world wide web in graduate school back in 1978 and eventually got a computer and modem around 1980 and hooked in with a phone line. Back then, all you saw were green lines of characters but it was still quite fascinating and the best thing was finding all those nerds beyond Nebraska.
I now sit here as an old lady on a small computer typing all kinds of things to you and posting pictures and knowing that my old skills at FORTRAN and BASIC are worthless. Needless to say, I think any technology developed during the Nixon administration must’ve been funded with war and political sabotage in mind.I also know that the internet and lasers have morphed from dream of benign and useful communications to a whole lot more.
A whole lot more. But, then you know that or you wouldn’t be reading this here from me down here. The fascinating science of 40 plus years ago is also highly weaponized and aimed at nearly all of country’s endeavors. This from today’s New Yorker and written by Adam Entous and Ronan Farrow.
Psy-Group stood out from many of its rivals because it didn’t just gather intelligence; it specialized in covertly spreading messages to influence what people believed and how they behaved. Its operatives took advantage of technological innovations and lax governmental oversight. “Social media allows you to reach virtually anyone and to play with their minds,” Uzi Shaya, a former senior Israeli intelligence officer, said. “You can do whatever you want. You can be whoever you want. It’s a place where wars are fought, elections are won, and terror is promoted. There are no regulations. It is a no man’s land.”
In recent years, Psy-Group has conceived of a variety of elaborate covert operations. In Amsterdam, the firm prepared a report on a religious sect called the Brunstad Christian Church, whose Norwegian leader, Psy-Group noted, claimed to have written “a more important book than the New Testament.” In Gabon, Psy-Group pitched “Operation Bentley”—an effort to “preserve” President Ali Bongo Ondimba’s hold on power by collecting and disseminating intelligence about his main political rival. (It’s unclear whether or not the operations in Amsterdam and Gabon were carried out. A spokesperson for Brunstad said that it was “plainly ridiculous” that the church considered “any book” to be more important than the Bible. Ondimba’s representatives could not be reached for comment.) In another project, targeting the South African billionaire heirs of an apartheid-era skin-lightening company, Psy-Group secretly recorded family members of the heirs describing them as greedy and, in one case, as a “piece of shit.” In New York, Psy-Group mounted a campaign on behalf of wealthy Jewish-American donors to embarrass and intimidate activists on American college campuses who support a movement to put economic pressure on Israel because of its treatment of the Palestinians.
This is one fascinating story. There’s also a lurid one regarding Jeff Bezos and his totally public affair and craziness with AMI. Bezos, head of Amazon and WAPO has his own internet toils, tribulations, and amassed wealth. And now we venture forth to the land of billionaires, grudges, and honey pots. No one certainly hinted at any of this on that huge print out on green bar paper the day I met the world wide web.
The brother of Jeff Bezos’ mistress, Lauren Sanchez, supplied the couple’s racy texts to the National Enquirer, multiple sources inside AMI, the tabloid’s parent company, told The Daily Beast.
Another source who has been in extensive communication with senior leaders at AMI confirmed that Michael Sanchez first supplied Bezos’ texts to the Enquirer.
The leaked texts, published last month, included notes from Bezos like, “I want to smell you, I want to breathe you in. I want to hold you tight.”
AMI has previously refused to identify the source of the texts, but a lawyer for the company strongly hinted at Sanchez’s role during a Sunday morning interview on ABC.
“The story was given to the National Enquirer by a reliable source that had given information to the National Enquirer for seven years prior to this story. It was a source that was well known to both Mr. Bezos and Ms. Sanchez,” attorney Elkan Abramowitz told ABC’s George Stephanopoulos.
Asked directly whether Sanchez was the source, Abramowitz said, “I can’t discuss who the source was. It’s confidential within AMI.”
An AMI spokesperson declined to comment for this story. Asked directly more than a half-dozen times whether or not he supplied the texts to the Enquirer, Sanchez declined to respond.
Depending on whom you believe, the Enquirer’s exposé on Bezos’s affair was a political hit inspired by President Trump’s allies, an inside job by people seeking to protect Bezos’s marriage, or no conspiracy at all, simply a juicy gossip story.
The saga might have been easily dismissed as little more than tabloid fare, but it has taken on a more serious cast in recent days. A volley of charges and countercharges about how and why the Enquirer launched its investigation has emerged for several reasons, including the history of the Enquirer, which has acknowledged taking actions during the last presidential campaign that benefited Trump politically. Trump, meanwhile, has repeatedly lodged attacks on The Post’s coverage of him and on Bezos, who bought the news company in 2013. And Bezos, the head of a retail giant that is famously loath to comment to the media, has authorized his security chief to speak about his investigation.
Bezos’s longtime private security consultant, Gavin de Becker, has concluded that the billionaire was not hacked. Rather, de Becker said in an interview, the Enquirer’s scoop about Bezos’s relationship with former TV anchor Lauren Sanchez began with a “politically motivated” leak meant to embarrass the owner of The Post — an effort potentially involving several important figures in Trump’s 2016 campaign.
As the Daily Beast first reported last week, de Becker has publicly named only one subject of his investigation, Michael Sanchez, Lauren’s brother and a pro-Trump Hollywood talent manager who is also an acquaintance of provocative Trump backers Roger Stone and Carter Page.
Hit me with your laser beams. Will Bunch–writing for the Philadelphi Inquirer connects dots this way: “Bezos, the National Enquirer, the Saudis, Trump, and the blackmailing of U.S. democracy.”
And what if I told you something else: That the Bezos scandal is ripping away the curtain on a secret world that’s been hiding in plain sight: That a nation founded in the ideals of democracy has been increasingly fallen prey to a new dystopian regime that melds the new 21st century dark arts of illegal hacking and media manipulation with the oldest tricks in the book: blackmail and extortion.
Pull up a chair.
You probably know by now the basics about Bezos and the National Enquirer: In January the Amazon mogul announced that he and his longtime wife MacKenzie are divorcing, hours ahead of a report in the National Enquirer laden with the content of racy texts between the billionaire and his mistress. On Thursday, Bezos — who’d hired a well-known investigator to find out how the supermarket tabloid got his private communications — took to Medium with a post accusing the Enquirer’s parent company, AMI, whose CEO is David Pecker, of threatening to publish embarrassing photos of Bezos and his lover if he didn’t drop his investigation and state (falsely, Bezos asserts) that its coverage was not politically motivated.
Ironically, the Bezos-AMI affair sucked all the oxygen out of another big scoop published at almost exactly the same time. The New York Times reported American intelligence had learned that the de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia, Crown Prince Muhammed bin Salman (commonly referred to as “MBS”) had railed to an associate against the Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi, who’d moved to the United States and was writing anti-MBS op-ed columns for the Washington Post. MBS allegedly said he’d personally put “a bullet” into Khashoggi.
Then, of course, we’re learning more about the Russian interference in our elections. Today’s NYT has this: “In Closed Hearing, a Clue About ‘the Heart’ of Mueller’s Russia Inquiry”.
Comments by one of Mr. Mueller’s lead prosecutors, disclosed in a transcript of a closed-door hearing, suggest that the special counsel continues to pursue at least one theory: that starting while Russia was taking steps to bolster Mr. Trump’s candidacy, people in his orbit were discussing deals to end a dispute over Russia’s incursions into Ukraine and possibly give Moscow relief from economic sanctions imposed by the United States and its allies.
The theory was offered almost as an aside by the prosecutor, Andrew Weissmann, during a discussion of contacts between Mr. Trump’s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, and a longtime Russian associate, Konstantin V. Kilimnik, whom investigators have linked to Russian intelligence.
A closer look at the transcript, released late Thursday, shows that the prosecutors have been keenly focused on discussions the two men had about a plan to end the conflict that followed Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and annexation of Crimea in 2014. Persuading the United States to ease or end the American-led sanctions imposed to punish Moscow for its aggression has been a primary goal of Russian foreign policy.
According to the transcript, which was heavily redacted, Mr. Manafort and Mr. Kilimnik repeatedly communicated about a so-called peace plan for Ukraine starting in early August 2016, while Mr. Manafort was still running Mr. Trump’s campaign, and continuing into 2018, months after Mr. Manafort had been charged by the special counsel’s office with a litany of crimes related to his work in the country. The prosecutors claim that Mr. Manafort misled them about those talks and other interactions with Mr. Kilimnik.
All this just in time for this:
Artificial intelligence is the 60-year-old quest to make machines capable of mental or physical tasks seen as emblematic of human or animal intelligence. In the past seven years a technology called machine learning, in which algorithms gain skills by digesting example data, has allowed computers to become markedly better at understanding the world. That technology has birthed software able to read medical scans, virtual assistants that answer shouted trivia questions, and become the heart of every major tech company’s product strategy.
One element of the Trump administration plan would open some stocks of government data to academics and companies doing AI research. Tech companies such as Google parent Alphabet have plenty of 1s and 0s logging consumer habits stashed inside their data centers; but in other areas, such as health care, they struggle to amass the data needed to fuel AI projects.
The White House says it will ask agencies in areas such as health and transportation to release data that could advance AI research, using mechanisms that protect privacy. The results could resemble a project of the Veterans Administration, which developed a way to provide Alphabet temporary access to hundreds of thousands of anonymized health records to train AI software to predict kidney problems.
The plan awaiting Trump’s signature also directs federal agencies to prioritize AI when allocating their R&D budgets. It asks them to support training and fellowship programs that will help workers adjust to jobs changed by AI, and train future AI experts and researchers.
The administration strategy also acknowledges that artificial intelligence may cause unwelcome effects.
Is this another fine mess they’re getting us into?
During a conference call with press, a senior administration official noted that the order will include five “key pillars” on which agencies should focus their AI efforts.
These pillars include the creation of a set of ethical guidelines for AI development and implementation, as well as the prioritization of AI research and development. The administration also wants agencies to make it easier for AI researchers to access federal data, create fellowships and apprenticeships that will help workers prepare for automation, and find ways to collaborate with other nations without compromising U.S. “values and interests.”
Yeah, and call me when the administration does anything ‘without compromising U.S. “values and interests”‘.
What’s on your reading and blogging list today?