That Saudi Yellowcake Plant

The New York Times has a couple of photos and links to others of sites that may be the yellowcake plant alleged to have been built recently in Saudi Arabia by China.

They are cautious about the claims.

American officials said that the Saudi efforts were still in an early stage, and that intelligence analysts had yet to draw firm conclusions about some of the sites under scrutiny. 

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Amateurs Take Down Disinformation Network

On Twitter, one of the people I follow and interact with is Steffan Watkins, who follows ships and airplanes. Many sites follow ships and airplanes, and Steffan follows those sites to make sense out of who and what are going where. For example, Steffan knew a government plane was on its way long before we were told that President Trump was in Afghanistan.

He has recently been debunking stories about Russian ships and submarines off the east coast of the United States. This is a perennial story and is sometimes even true! Just as American ships and submarines do, Russian ships travel in many places in international waters. What they don’t do is dock at Mar-a-Lago.

Some of those stories come from real reporters who don’t understand what’s going on and repeat a version of something that is true but trivial. Sometimes their stories are based on dodgy websites that deliver deliberate disinformation, laundered through repetition and rumor.

Steffan doggedly checks out those news stories and sets them straight. That usually means that he debunks them, but occasionally he says yes, that Russian ship is off the coast in international waters on a normal patrol. Not once has he found the more sensational stories to be supported.

That’s what he was doing a couple of weeks ago and found a website that consistently was producing junk news stories and stealing stuff from other sites. They also advertised Trump merchandise.

That intrigued a couple of Israeli hackers, Noam Rotem and Ran Locar, who decided to check the website out. That link has all the detail for the more computer-savvy among us. Here’s their bottom line:

We found a network of dozens of websites operated by an affiliate marketer. Some of the websites pushed pro-Trump/anti-Clinton fake-news meant to use patriotism in order to sell unofficial Trump merch to Trump supporters. The technical aspects of the operation allowed us full visibility into not only the operators, but also the unwitting customers.

Many of the web addresses were registered by the same person, identified as Jackson Lin, through a company called Extreme Wisdom. Another company linked to some of the sites is Alabama company Click Wu LLC. They have been spending hundreds of thousands of dollars for advertising on Facebook. The pages have been taken down from Facebook.

Although Rotem and Locar say the motivation is money, it could be that or disinformation or both. It’s part of the stream of junk that flows through social media. It’s particularly  encouraging that a bunch of amateurs exposed it. Now I’d like to see a bigger news operation take it up.

For the rest of us? Be careful what you share or retweet. Know your sources.

Cross-posted to Balloon Juice

Secrecy Isn’t What It Used To Be

Results of CIA investigations continue to be leaked. Concern was expressed at this norm-breaking. The norms exist for a reason, though. The CIA’s reason for existence is national security.

The President of the United States is acting in conflict with the recommendations of his national security agencies and in conflict with national security. Sending troops to the border for political effect. Sharing another nation’s highly classified intelligence with an adversary. Bragging about a plane that he believes is invisible. Failing to visit the troops in war zones. And more.

This is a conundrum for the national security agencies. The internet and the availability of information are changing their roles too.

Information once of limited availability is now on the internet. Some are free, some for sale. Overhead satellite photos, court documents, historical archives, social media that inadvertently shows significant features. Read More

Too Much Information

Do you wear a Fitbit?

If you do, satellites may be watching you.

Yesterday, Strava, a social network that collects data from devices with GPS, uploaded a heat map of its users around the world to the internet. Intelligence services are now combing that map for data about hidden military bases and other tidbits. It’s apparently not just fitbits, but mobile phones and a lot of other devices.

The Guardian gives a few examples. A few more after the jump. Read More

Congratulations to MIIS!

Last Friday, April 8, a remarkable meeting was held at the Middlebury Institute for International Studies (MIIS) in Monterey, California. Attendees included Lassina Zerbo, executive director of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization; Jerry Brown, Governor of California; Rose Gottemoeller, US Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and Nonproliferation;  and Sergey Ryabkov, Deputy Foreign Minister of the Russian Federation. Read More