According to recent revelations from WikiLeaks dumps, the NSA routinely spied on German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier for reasons that are yet unclear.
This is the second major time the United States has been accused to officially spying on Germany, an ally, in recent times. Last summer, there were reports that Chancellor Angela Merkel’s phone had been tapped, but an international investigation into the matter was dropped for lack of proof. The current revelations allege that US spying regarding Germany goes back at least to 1998.
WikiLeaks is a continual source of headache to the US government, whose statecraft largely hinges on certain things going without saying, including that its spying operations are sacrosanct. Opponents of George W. Bush, for instance, were horrified when he outed a CIA officer during his administration. The country is no longer viewed globally as a place to be free and have your privacy respected, but rather what amounts to a proto-fascist haven of thugs, unafraid to kill its own, caging more human beings than any other nation in history.
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A German official said his government is seeking answers from the Americans, but that it would be hard to reconcile what has been revealed. The motive and extent of the spying on Steinmeier has yet to be independently verified, but Julian Assange has said of the matter:
Today’s publication indicates that the NSA has been used to help the CIA kidnap and torture with impunity. For years the CIA was systematically abducting and torturing people, with the tacit complicity of European governments. In 2005 German Foreign Minister Steinmeier was thrilled that his tactic of asking Condoleezza Rice no hard questions about CIA renditions had worked. The US said nothing that would require him to do anything. And how do we know about it? Because the National Security Agency was gloating to the US senior executive about intercepting this cowardly display. Nobody comes out of this looking good.
The preceding is categorized under “opinionated,” which means that although it deals in mostly facts, the author’s opinion is apparent.
Images from Shutterstock and Wikipedia.
Obama Administration Concerned United States Falling Behind on AI Research
The White House released its “National Artificial Intelligence Research and Development Strategic Plan” [PDF] this month. One of the chief concerns in the report is the fact that of the two countries doing the most research on artificial intelligence, more specifically on deep learning, the US has fallen into second place. The below graphs were published on page 13 of the report (page 21 if you’re looking at the PDF) and are supposed to be cause for concern. According to the graphs, China has outpaced the US in the publication of papers regarding “deep learning,” and, more to the point, has also had more such papers cited by other researchers.
People have been quick to point out that these metrics are not necessarily meaningful. A paper can be cited for multiple reasons, including to point out its inaccuracies. The mere fact that Chinese researchers have been cited more, and that China has overall published more papers (with a three-fold population), does not necessarily mean the US is falling behind in terms of deep learning research. After all, one of China’s biggest companies, Baidu, was recently pushing to hire artificial intelligence researchers for its Silicon Valley lab. Its competition for talent is the likes of Google, Apple, and Microsoft, all of whom already have viable deep-learning projects deployed in the form of Google Now, Siri, and Cortana.
The report speaks to areas of AI research that have been less pursued or are most likely to be neglected by industry, making them most important for Federal investment dollars. It notes that most progress in AI has involved specific applications, and says on page 19:
Using these systems on a wider range of problems requires a significant re-engineering effort. In contrast, the long-term goal of general AI is to create systems that exhibit the flexibility and versatility of human intelligence in a broad range of cognitive domains, including learning, language, perception, reasoning, creativity, and planning.
Broad learning capabilities would provide general AI systems the ability to transfer knowledge from one domain to another and to interactively learn from experience and from humans. General AI has been an ambition of researchers since the advent of AI, but current systems are still far from achieving this goal.
The report also suggests that it would be valuable to invest in research on “human-like AI” so systems can “explain themselves in ways that people can understand.”
The future definitely involves a lot more artificial intelligence. Some believe that most or all manual labor will be conducted by robots one day, and that people at all levels of society will benefit with the emergence of a universal basic income. Others still fear the changes that will come due to “the rise of the machines.” Whatever the future brings, the Obama administration wants to see the US leading the way rather than China or any of the other countries currently investing in its ongoing development.
Images from Shutterstock. Charts courtesy of the White House report.
Is Russia Really Looking to Hack the U.S. Presidential Elections?
Hillary Clinton and her party believe it’s Russia’s fault that various scandals surrounding her and the Democratic National Committee have come to light in recent weeks. From the organization’s early unfair treatment of Bernie Sanders to the fact that the DNC knew Donald Trump was the candidate Hillary could most likely beat, and therefore pushed for him to be the Republican nominee, voters in this election have a clearer picture of what goes on behind closed political doors than perhaps any previous one.
Russia, and many other countries in the world, for that matter, have a vested interest in who will become the next US president. With one of the largest military forces and perhaps the most resources, whoever is at the helm of the US government come January will swing a mighty stick. Donald Trump has publicly expressed a bizarre admiration for Russian President Vladimir Putin, a Cold War-era KGB officer and all-around strongman leader. This, along with various digital forensics, has led Hillary Clinton and many in her party to simplify the issue of scandals regarding internal communications now made public: blame Russia.
Before we get into a breakdown of the various things which outline – or dispel – the likelihood of Russian interference, a timeline of events seems in order.
- March, 2015: Hillary Clinton becomes the subject of an investigation that she had illegally used a private e-mail server while acting in an official capacity as the Secretary of State. Various debacles take place as Clinton makes the appearance of co-operating with the investigation. Ultimately, it is proven that on at least a couple of occasions, Clinton’s server, which was insecure by modern computer security standards, contained classified information – which is illegal.
- March, 2016: WikiLeaks posts a massive trove of Hillary Clinton e-mails.
- May, 2016: The State Department’s Office of the Inspector General releases a report stating that Clinton was never officially permitted to use her own server while Secretary of State, a claim the candidate had made on multiple occasions.
- June, 2016: Guccifer 2.0, whose name references Guccifer, the Romanian hacker who said in May that Clinton’s e-mail server was “like an open orchid on the Internet,” breaches Democratic National Committee servers and leaks internal communications revealing that long before the primaries had ever commenced, the organization already assumed Hillary Clinton would be the candidate. Scandalously, it was revealed that the organization may have been involved in some of the uglier smear campaigns against Bernie Sanders, including the “Bernie Bros” who actively harassed Clinton supporters.
- July, 2016: WikiLeaks posts a large DNC e-mail archive.
- October, 2016: WikiLeaks posts a trove of e-mails belonging to Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta. The Clinton campaign continues to attribute such leaks to Russians, with Clinton spokesman Glen Caplin making a public statement on the matter:
It is absolutely disgraceful that the Trump campaign is cheering on a release today engineered by Vladimir Putin to interfere in this election, and this comes after Donald Trump encouraged more espionage over the summer and continued to deny the hack even happened at Sunday’s debate. he timing shows you that even Putin knows Trump had a bad weekend and a bad debate.
Russian Statecraft Or Hacker-Induced Political Transparency?
Members of the US government intelligence community view the hacks as being directly sponsored by the Russian government, a typical play and well-documented method of Russian statecraft. Robert Dietz, a veteran of the CIA and NSA, said Russian interests would be in determining which candidate was more likely to be friendly to their policies, telling the Washington Post that the information gathered by also hacking Trump:
… may provide tips for understanding his style of negotiating. In short, this sort of intelligence could be used by Russia, for example, to indicate where it can get away with foreign adventurism.
Yet few leaks on Trump have come to light, making it seem that the hacking endeavors of the Russian government, as confirmed by a security called CrowdStrike who reviewed DNC computer systems and identified two Russians working for the Russian government, are not simply about causing disruption in the US election cycle, but rather have a specific goal in mind: the elevation of Donald Trump to the presidency.
Further illustrating the likelihood of official Russian involvement is the release of altered leaked documents, as reported by Newsweek writer Kurt Eichenwald. Eichenwald’s writing was incorrectly attributed to Sidney Blumenthal by a Russian news organization. Donald Trump used the doctored, leaked e-mail in a recent speech, believing that the long-time friend of Hilary Clinton had actually said that more could have been done about Benghazi. In response, Eichenwald has written:
This is not funny. It is terrifying. The Russians engage in a sloppy disinformation effort and, before the day is out, the Republican nominee for president is standing on a stage reciting the same manufactured story as truth.
The Obama administration recently officially acknowledged that it believed the Russian government had been involved in meddling in US politics this election season, and the president is currently considering a “proportional” response, according to White House press secretary Josh Earnest.
But is the fact that Russian hackers have been involved in securing the documents, or that Russian news agencies have made false claims in relation to the leaked documents, as important as the contents of the documents themselves? The deflection strategy from the Clinton campaign to “blame Russia” fails to address what is actually at issue: the anti-democratic means by which the candidate came by her candidacy, the failure of the DNC to properly consider all would-be nominees, with Debbie Wasserman-Schultz actively supporting Hillary Clinton in her capacity as DNC Chairwoman long before the nominee had even been decided.
There is even the lingering possibility that the nomination vote in Brooklyn, New York was, in effect, rigged, with tens of thousands of voters falling off the rolls. Such things are interesting because they are true, regardless of who made them public information.
WikiLeaks has a long history of publicizing information about governments and other powerful organizations around the world. In the most recent leaks, it has acted as the primary source of dissemination. So while the government and the Democratic party are quick to place blame at the feet of Vladimir Putin, whom Donald Trump has openly expressed admiration for, it seems WikiLeaks is intent, as always, on forcing the matter of transparency.
The contents of the e-mail archives and other leaks have not been disputed, but the method by which they were obtained is called into question. So, American voters are basically being told that they should disregard the nefarious activities of Clinton and the DNC even if they are true because the Russian government wants them to vote for Donald Trump. The odds of people voting in favor of Trump as a result of Hillary Clinton and the DNC’s e-mail scandals are pretty small, by the way. The first scandal, regarding her use of a private server and privately trafficking in classified information, has been going on for the duration of her campaign, and yet the candidate enjoys a double-digit favoritism among American voters polled.
More Interesting Than Bernie’s Plight: Hillary Clinton’s Secret Wall Street Speeches
As recently as February, Bernie Sanders urged Clinton to release the transcripts of various paid speeches she has given to Wall Street. Clinton had failed to do so when WikiLeaks managed to do so itself. The speeches reveal a person who opposes the legalization of marijuana and believes the financial industry should reform and essentially regulate itself.
The friendliness and favorable tone of Clinton’s remarks to various Wall Street banks would seem to make clear the reason that her campaign would not release these transcripts themselves: many liberals, including especially those who supported Bernie Sanders, want to see intense regulation and forced reform of the financial industry, along with higher taxation. That Clinton was personally enriched in the hundreds of thousands of dollars for each speech doesn’t help, either.
So, is Russia really looking to hack the U.S. presidential elections? The answer seems to be yes, but this should not detract from the value of the information the public now has at its disposal. The character of executive politics for at least the next four years can be previewed in the method by which the nomination was obtained – by any means necessary – and the beliefs privately expressed by Clinton to Wall Street cronies.
At an October 2015 debate, Clinton said she supports the use of medical marijuana and wanted to use a “wait and see” approach in regards to recreational legalization. But in one of her speeches to Wall Street, Clinton said that regarding the legalization of marijuana she was “short in all senses of the word,” which in the context of the conversation meant she was against it. Many younger voters have grown up with an attitude that the end of the Drug War and the lack of support for medical marijuana is long overdue.
While Russian interference seems likely, the Clinton campaign has only themselves to blame for any backlash from the leaks at hand. WikiLeaks is merely doing its job of providing secret documents to the press and public, and whether Russians would prefer to see Trump as the next president or not, a move which represented the taking of accountability would be more likely to assuage voter concerns than would the continual deflection strategy employed by the Clinton campaign.
Images from Shutterstock.
Beware Uber Drivers! The Robot Cars Are Coming
Uber announced that that the world’s first self-driving Uber cars are on the road in Pittsburgh, the Steel City. The road ahead is still long, but the implications are staggering.
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