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  1. WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. President Donald Trump on Tuesday further sought to pressure the Federal Reserve as the central bank prepared to start its two-day policy meeting, warning the Fed’s board not to “make yet another mistake” ahead of an expected interest rate hike. The Federal Open Market Committee is expected to raise interest rates for the fourth time this year during its two-day meeting on interest rate policy that is due to start later on Tuesday. The Fed, which has been raising interest rates in 25-basis-point increments since December 2015, has promised to raise rates gradually toward a neutral setting to keep the economy from overheating. Many economists also expect additional increases next year although at a slower pace. Trump, who has made the economy a key part of his political platform, has repeatedly criticized the Fed and its chairman, Jerome Powell. “Don’t let the market become any more illiquid than it already is. Stop with the 50 B’s. Feel the market, don’t just go by meaningless numbers. Good luck!” Trump wrote. Source
  2. US President Donald Trump went off topic in characteristic style at the United Nations Security Council this week, accusing China of using state media to meddle in the upcoming midterm elections. While he provided no evidence for his remarks, which derailed a meeting that was supposed to focus on issues of nonproliferation, he later accused China on Twitter of "placing propaganda ads in the Des Moines Register and other papers, made to look like news." He was referring to an insert from the state-run China Daily placed in a recent Sunday edition of the Iowa paper, which featured stories promoting the benefit of US-China trade, warned of the potential market losses caused by a trade war, and highlighted Chinese President Xi Jinping's long relationship with the state, among other less news-worthy columns. Political analysts largely agreed the insert was intended to put pressure on the White House by targeting key Republican districts that will be most affected by a drawn-out trade war with China. "I think it's trying to maximize pressure on the administration to change its trade policies toward China by attempting to show White House and Republicans that they're going to pay a price with the mid-terms," David Skidmore, a political science professor at Drake University, told the Des Moines Register in a piece by the paper about the insert. On Wednesday, Xi himself extolled state media's "contributions to the cause of the Party and the people," and praised television workers in "promoting in-depth integration and innovation in international communication to present a true, multi-dimensional and panoramic view of China." While there is no evidence Xi is attempting to influence US elections, Trump is absolutely correct that Beijing uses its media to shape foreign opinions of China -- what he left out, however, is that Washington does as well with its own government-funded media. Telling China's story While it may have been a novelty to some newspaper readers in Iowa, China Daily is a major newspaper, founded in 1981 it is now published in 12 editions across Asia, Europe, Africa and the US. Unlike most other English-language state media, like broadcaster CCTV or the Global Times, China Daily is not an offshoot of a domestic product but has always targeted foreign readers. Today, it claims a circulation of around 800,000, with the majority of readers overseas. The paper's blue vending machines are ubiquitous in Washington DC and parts of New York and other US cities, and it is also often given out for free in hotels and by airlines around the world. This reach is further extended by China Watch, which the newspaper describes as a "monthly publication distributed to millions of high-end readers as an insert in mainstream newspapers." These include major US and British titles, such as the Washington Post, and the UK's Daily Telegraph, giving the insert a reach of 4 million readers, according to China Daily. By comparison, in 2016 USA Today, the top English-language daily in the world, had a circulation of around 4.1 million, while the New York Times had a circulation of 2.1 million. China Daily did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Trump isn't the first to complain about China Watch. Critics have accused newspapers of failing to highlight to readers that it is a paid insert, or distinguish its content from their own, especially online. On the website of the UK's Daily Telegraph for example, branding is the same as stories produced by the paper's own journalists, except for a disclaimer in small text at the top of the page reading "this content is produced and published by China Daily, People's Republic of China, which takes sole responsibility for its contents," and a similar disclaimer at the bottom of the article. The Daily Telegraph did not immediately respond to a request for comment regarding their China Watch sections. A spokeswoman for the Washington Post said the section was clearly marked as not involving "the news or editorial departments of The Washington Post," adding the China Watch section differs in layout and format "from our editorial content in a number of ways, including headline style, body font and column width." Of course, publishing something and having people read it are completely different things, as many media companies have learned to their chagrin. But no matter its reach, China Daily clearly has the backing of Beijing, expanding overseas staff and advertising even as other newspapers slash costs and lay off employees. Going out While it was China Daily which drew Trump's attention, it is not the most important outlet in Beijing's state media strategy. That title belongs to state broadcaster CCTV, and its international offshoot CGTN. (CNN has an affiliate relationship with CCTV.) As Ying Zhu recounts in her book about the network, "Two Billion Eyes: the story of China Central Television," beginning in the early 2000s, Chinese state media was encouraged to "play in the same global pond as CNN, the BBC, and other big Western media firms." This was influenced by then-President Jiang Zemin's call to "let China's voice broadcast to the world," a strategy which finally reached its zenith this year with the creation of Voice of China, a new super bureau combining three state-run networks, CCTV, China National Radio and China Radio International. Of particular attention for this effort has been Africa, where CGTN, China Daily and state news agency Xinhua have all invested heavily. As I document in my book "The Great Firewall of China: How to Build and Control an Alternative Version of the Internet," this propaganda push has coincided with an increase in internet controls and censorship on the continent, often actively assisted by Beijing. Like China Daily, CGTN receives a large amount of state funding, which it has used to expand massively. It now broadcasts in more than 180 countries and regions around the world, and is currently building an expensive new London headquarters. But as with its newspaper sibling, broadcasting in a country doesn't necessarily mean anyone is watching. While accurate global viewership figures are difficult to come by, CGTN claims its English-language offerings can be seen in more than 140 million homes internationally. By comparison, CNN International reaches more than 373 million households worldwide, while the BBC claims a global audience of 376 million. Russian state broadcaster RT, a frequent bogeyman in US political discourse, also knocks CGTN out of the park on YouTube, where the Chinese network has around 800,000 subscribers across multiple channels, compared to RT's more than 3.3 million. This could be down to content, while CGTN has relaxed considerably from its highly staid past, it lacks the type of slick appeal of RT, nor has it been so willing to host the type of conspiracy theorists who tend to do so well on YouTube. Attention war Whether or not its investment in China Daily and CGTN is paying off, Beijing clearly sees great value in promoting state media overseas, building on its effectiveness as a propaganda tool at home. This effort has come under increasing scrutiny in recent years, and US and Australian lawmakers especially have said they are uncomfortable with the role Chinese state media plays in their countries. China hawks such as Marco Rubio, chair of the Congressional Executive Commission on China (CECC), have long accused Beijing of using its influence around the world to stifle debate and promote its agenda. "Chinese government foreign influence operations, which exist in free societies around the globe, are intended to censor critical discussion of China's history and human rights record and to intimidate critics of its repressive policies," Rubio said during a hearing on the "Long Arm of China" last year. More recently, the US Department of Justice reportedly recommended CGTN and Xinhua be forced to register as foreign agents under an act designed to police lobbyists working for overseas governments. This followed similar restrictions placed on RT which caused the broadcaster to lose its congressional press credentials and were widely denounced by press freedom advocates. Responding to question regarding the alleged move by the US government, Chinese Foreign Ministry Geng Shuang promoted the importance of free speech. "Media serve as an import bridge and bond to enhance communications and understandings between people of different countries," he said at a Beijing press conference, adding that countries "should perceive media's role in promoting international exchange and cooperation in an open and inclusive spirit." Influence battle While the hypocrisy of China complaining about restrictions on the press is self-evident, it's important to remember that while US lawmakers complain about foreign media influence operations, Washington continues to run several of its own. Beginning after World War II and ramping up during the Cold War, the US government invested billions of dollars in Voice of America, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Radio Free Asia and related publications and broadcasters. In 2018, the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), which oversees those outlets, requested over $685 million in funds from Congress to cover costs for what it described as "one of the largest media organizations in the world." BBG subsidiaries broadcast in more than 60 languages to an audience of around 278 million people each week, with thousands of employees based in 50 news bureaus around the world. In its statement to Congress, the bureau said its coverage is "particularly strong" in regions where "global actors that do not share American values are attempting to make further inroads." Both of the main broadcasters targeting China -- RFA and VOA -- are bound by their charters to be objective and are not subject to the same kinds of direct oversight exercised over Chinese state media, but this does not stop the countries which they target seeing them as malicious tools of US influence. Following the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre, funding for VOA broadcasting into China was ramped up, and in 1994 RFA was launched with an initial Chinese-language broadcast in order to "promote democracy and human rights" in China. By their nature, BBG outlets tend to be pro-American in a broad sense, and often lean heavily on dissidents and critics in their coverage. Often this serves as a counter to domestic propaganda, which may feature little to no criticism of the government. RFA in particular produces some excellent reporting from local journalists -- often at great risk to themselves -- out of Tibet and Xinjiang, areas of China from which most foreign journalists are locked out. Since RFA and VOA started targeting China, Beijing has invested heavily in jamming radio signals from the two US-funded broadcasters, and state media has denounced them as tools of the CIA. Their websites and email newsletters are also heavily blocked and censored. In one particularly ironic article, the Global Times lauded cuts to VOA, which it described as a "government-funded propaganda tool of the US," even as it praised Chinese efforts to improve overseas broadcasting. Perhaps all involved need to look in the mirror. Source
  3. Jobseekers' files follow internal records leaking online The United Nations has been hit with two damning data leak allegations in as many days. The global organization has seen researchers uncover a pair of flaws that had left a number of its records, and those of its employees, accessible to hackers online. Word of the first issue came out yesterday when security researcher Kushagra Pathak found that the UN had left an unsecured set of Trello, Jira and Google Docs projects exposed to the internet. Pathak, who has specialized in uncovering vulnerable Trello boards and web apps, said the exposed information included account credentials and internal communications and documents used by UN staff to plan projects. After stumbling onto the vulnerable Trello board, he was able to then get access to the Jira and Google Docs deployments where he harvested other sensitive data. Pathak privately reported the issue to UN, who has since locked down the vulnerable web app instances. The second exposure was uncovered by researcher Mohamed Baset of Seekurity and resulted in the exposure of "thousands" of CVs submitted by job applicants. Baset reports that the UN failed to patch vulnerabilities in one of the WordPress CMS systems it uses to handle job applications. This would potentially allow anyone who chose to exploit the local path disclosure the ability to access the thousands of CVs people had submitted when they applied for a job with a UN agency. The vulnerability was reported to the UN in August, but after getting the full bureaucratic runaround, Baset decided to go public with the flaw this week, and share a proof of concept video: It wasn't all long faces at the UN this week, however. Members of the org had a moment of levity this morning when US President Donald Trump addressed the General Assembly. The Commander-in-Chief's boasts of historic accomplishments at the helm of America sparked chuckling and guffawing by foreign diplomats witnessing his speech... A nice chuckle was had by most. Meanwhile, at last estimate, Trump was custodian to some 4,000 nuclear warheads. Source
  4. An episode of a 1950s Western drama may have foretold America’s current border wall crisis more than 60 years ago. Politics today and the show both feature men named Trump with a wall that is promised to protect every citizen from danger. “Trackdown” aired on CBS between 1957 and 1959 and took place in Texas following the Civil War. The series followed Texas Ranger Hoby Gilman, played by Robert Culp, on his adventures protecting the people of the Lone Star State. The 30th episode of the show, titled “The End of The World,” premiered on May 9, 1958, and saw a con man named Walter Trump, played by Lawrence Dobkin, attempt to scam the entire town. Snopes confirmed that the eerily prescient episode was real. The fictional Trump warned the Texans that apocalyptic meteors would strike the town at midnight, but he could protect everyone. “I bring you a message,” he said. “A message few of you will be able to believe…but be not afraid my friends: I also bring you the means with which to save yourself.” His solution was to build a wall made of magical metal that would repel the meteors and keep everyone safe. As the citizens started to believe Trump, he offered to give them walls for $50 each. However, Ranger Gilman wasn’t convinced. Pandemonium erupted in the town, but in the end Gilman arrests Trump for grand theft and fraud. Even though “Trackdown” was a fictional show, the events of that episode closely mirror what is happening today. As today’s government shutdown enters its third week with no compromise on the Mexican border wall in sight, the country may be hoping for a Ranger Gilman of its own to bring an end to it. Source
  5. In the three days since President Donald Trump’s Tuesday night address to the country, you’ve probably already forgotten the significance of his parroted talking points about a border wall, or all that weird nose breathing. If you live in Seattle and were watching it on your local Fox affiliate, however, you probably can’t stop thinking about how orange he looked, and also, wasn’t he licking his lips more than normal? No, you weren’t imagining it—the clip of his address aired on Seattle’s Q13 Fox was doctored. The video, aired on the Seattle-based Q13 news station on Tuesday night, shows Trump delivering part of his speech, saying he hopes to see the country “rise above partisan politics in order to support national security.” But it also shows him with a bigger head, a harsher tint of saturated orange skin, and an exaggerated propensity for licking his lips. Essentially, the edited video—known as a “deepfake”—made Trump look more like Trump, with his enlarged ego, spray tanned complexion, and inability to keep his tongue (and dentures) from falling out of his mouth. Despite the video’s creative merits, the TV station involved, Q13, did not think the doctored video of Trump was commendable, and has fired the station editor involved, the Seattle Times reported on Thursday. Conservative talk radio host and RNC media director Todd Herman brought attention to the discrepancy between the Q13 video and the broadcast of Trump’s address, uploading a side-by-side comparison of the two videos. A listener had sent him the Q13 clip recorded with their phone during its broadcast. On Thursday, Q13 news director Erica Hill released a statement saying the doctored video didn’t meet the station’s editorial standards, later following up with a statement that the editor involved had been fired. Whether the editor actually created the video or just put it on air is unclear, the Times pointed out. “This does not meet our editorial standards and we regret if it is seen as portraying the president in a negative light,” Hill’s statement read, according to the Times. “We’ve completed our investigation into this incident and determined that the actions were the result of an individual editor whose employment has been terminated.” The war of poorly edited partisan videos is far from over, though I suggest hanging this one in the hall of fame. Source
  6. WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. President Donald Trump said on Thursday he will meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping soon to try to seal a comprehensive trade deal as Trump and his top trade negotiator both cited substantial progress in two days of high-level talks. Trump, speaking at the White House during a meeting with Chinese Vice Premier Liu He, said he was optimistic that the world’s two largest economies could reach “the biggest deal ever made.” No specific plans for a meeting with Xi were announced, but Trump said there could be more than one meeting. U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin were invited to bring a U.S. negotiating team to Beijing around mid-February, with dates still pending. At the end of two days of high-level talks next door to the White House, Liu told Trump that China would make a new, immediate commitment to increase soybean purchases. An administration official later clarified the amount as a total of 5 million tonnes, effectively doubling the amount bought by China since resuming limited purchases in December. U.S. soybean sales to China, which totaled 31.7 million tonnes in 2017, were largely cut off in the second half of last year by China’s retaliatory tariffs and the announcement drew a positive reaction from Trump, who said it would “make our farmers very happy.” While China has offered increased purchases of U.S. farm, energy and other goods to try to resolve the trade disputes, negotiators dug into thornier issues, including U.S. demands that China take steps to protect American intellectual property and end policies that Washington says force U.S. companies to turn over technology to Chinese firms. U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer said there was “substantial progress” on these issues, including verification mechanisms to “enforce” China’s follow-through on any reform commitments it makes. “At this point, it’s impossible for me to predict success. But we’re in a place that if things work out, it could happen,” Lighthizer said at the Oval Office meeting. Later, he told reporters that the U.S. objective was to make China’s commitments “more specific, all-encompassing and enforceable” with a mechanism for taking action if China fails to follow through, but declined to provide specific issues. Reuters previously reported that such an enforcement mechanism would involve a snap-back of U.S. tariffs. Asked whether the two sides discussed lifting U.S. tariffs on Chinese goods, Lighthizer said tariffs were not part of the talks. A person familiar with the discussions said a broad range of concerns about access to Chinese agricultural markets were raised in the talks but little progress was made. The White House said in a statement that a scheduled March 2 tariff increase on $200 billion of Chinese goods to 25 percent from 10 percent was a “hard deadline” if no deal was reached by March 1. Trump said he did not think he would need to extend the deadline. “I think when president Xi and I meet, every point will be agreed to,” Trump added. But Trump has vetoed multiple proposed trade deals with China, choosing to push ahead with tariffs on Chinese goods to gain leverage. Earlier, Trump said on Twitter he was looking for China to open its markets “not only to Financial Services, which they are now doing, but also to our Manufacturing, Farmers and other U.S. businesses and industries. Without this a deal would be unacceptable!” The U.S. complaints on technology transfers, and intellectual property protections, along with accusations of Chinese cyber theft of American trade secrets and a systematic campaign to acquire U.S. technology firms, were used by Trump’s administration to justify punitive tariffs on $250 billion worth of Chinese imports. China has retaliated with tariffs of its own, but has suspended some and is allowing some purchases of U.S. soybeans during the talks. Chinese officials have said their policies do not coerce technology transfers. The U.S. tariffs on Chinese goods are just one front in Trump’s efforts to upend the global trading order with his “America First” strategy. He has also imposed global tariffs on imported steel and aluminum, washing machines and solar panels and has threatened to raise tariffs on imported cars unless Japan and the European Union offer trade concessions. Source
  7. On Tuesday morning, President Donald Trump went after Google CEO Sundar Pichai in a series of tweets. Trump said Pichai "was in the Oval Office working very hard to explain how much he liked me, what a great job the Administration is doing, that Google was not involved with China's military." Trump's outburst was seemingly spurred by a segment on Fox Business' "Lou Dobbs Tonight" that featured a former Google engineer named Kevin Cernekee accusing Google of bias against Trump. Image:Google CEO Sundar Pichai. President Donald Trump went after Google CEO Sundar Pichai on Tuesday morning in a series of tweets. Trump said Pichai had visited the Oval Office and was "working very hard to explain how much he liked me, what a great job the Administration is doing, that Google was not involved with China's military, that they didn't help Crooked Hillary over me in the 2016 Election, and that they are NOT planning to illegally subvert the 2020 Election despite all that has been said to the contrary." Pichai and other tech leaders have repeatedly visited the White House since Trump was elected in 2016. It wasn't immediately clear which meeting with Pichai that Trump was referring to, and White House press representatives didn't immediately clarify. Pichai's most recent meeting with Trump was in March, when the two men discussed relations with China and "political fairness," Trump said. Image:President Donald Trump and Pichai Trump's outburst at Pichai was seemingly in response to a segment on Fox Business' "Lou Dobbs Tonight" that featured a former Google engineer named Kevin Cernekee. In an interview with "Fox & Friends" that was replayed in the segment, Cernekee, who was fired from Google in 2018, accused Google of bias against Trump and intentionally altering the way its service works. Trump had embedded a video of the segment in a tweet that read: "Check out what @Google is up to for the 2020 election!" In the interview, Cernekee said Google intended to "use all the power and all the resources that they have to control the flow of information to the public and make sure that Trump loses in 2020." This is far from the first time Google has become a political target. Trump has made similar accusations of bias in the past, and last week Peter Thiel, the Facebook board member and prominent Silicon Valley conservative, published a scathing op-ed article in The New York Times blasting Google's relationship with China. Google has repeatedly denied allegations of anti-conservative bias, and representatives have testified in front of Congress that the allegations are unfounded. "The statements made by this disgruntled former employee are absolutely false," a Google representative said on Tuesday morning. "We go to great lengths to build our products and enforce our policies in ways that don't take political leanings into account. Distorting results for political purposes would harm our business and go against our mission of providing helpful content to all of our users." Source
  8. After Beijing announced an additional $75 billion tariffs on the US, Trump demanded US Businesses find alternatives. We Don't Need China Trade and currency wars took another huge leap forward just one day after another oft-repeated message that a deal with China is coming. The Wall Street Journal reports Trump Orders U.S. Businesses to Find Alternative to China. President Trump said U.S. companies were “hereby ordered” to start looking for alternatives to doing business in China after Beijing said it would impose tariffs on $75 billion worth of additional U.S. products. “Our Country has lost, stupidly, Trillions of Dollars with China over many years,” Mr. Trump wrote in a series of tweets. “They have stolen our Intellectual Property at a rate of Hundreds of Billions of Dollars a year, & they want to continue. I won’t let that happen! We don’t need China and, frankly, would be far better off without them.” Mr. Trump’s comments came in response to China’s plan, laid out Friday, to impose tariffs of 5% and 10% on almost all the remaining U.S. imports on which it has yet to impose punitive taxes, including vehicles and car parts, in retaliation against U.S. moves to slap punitive tariffs on an additional $300 billion of Chinese goods. The president demanded that U.S. companies “immediately start looking for an alternative to China, including bringing your companies HOME and making your products in the USA.” Items China plans to impose tariffs on include agricultural products, apparel, chemicals and textiles. Some major car companies will be hit hard by the increase in tariffs, particularly Tesla Inc.and Ford Motor Co., as well as Germany’s BMW AG and Daimler AG ’s Mercedes-Benz. These companies build a significant number of vehicles in the U.S. for export to China—mostly premium models—and a higher tariff could force them to raise prices. Soon after President Trump announced his plans for fresh tariffs set for Sept. 1, Beijing responded by officially announcing the freezing of purchases of U.S. agricultural products and letting its currency drop to its lowest level in a decade. A weaker yuan makes Chinese exports cheaper. China Tweetstorm Wow Bond yields are tumbling, the DOW is down 500 points, The Yuan is hitting new lows and gold is up $30. Source
  9. He wants a rehearing. President Trump is determined to challenge an appeals court ruling preventing him from blocking critics on Twitter. The Justice Department has filed papers for Trump that demanded a rehearing by the Second US Circuit Court of Appeals in New York, arguing that the three-judge panel's unanimous decision was "fundamentally misconceived." The move would supposedly create a chilling effect for politicians if upheld. "Public officials who address matters relating to their public office on personal accounts will run the risk that every action taken on that account will be state action subject to constitutional scrutiny," according to the filing. The challenge may face an uphill battle. In the earlier ruling, Circuit Judge Barrington Parker noted that @RealDonaldTrump is "one of the White House's main vehicles" for official activity -- it's under scrutiny precisely because many of Trump's tweets are state actions. He "hereby ordered" companies to find alternatives to production in China on August 23rd while using his personal account, for example, and incorrectly . If Trump was allowed to block critics of his policies on his personal account, other politicians could simply shift their announcements to personal accounts to avoid their responsibilities for civic interaction. This lines up to a degree with a January ruling that an official's Facebook page is a public forum. As it is, there are calls for consistency across the aisle. Critics have sued Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez arguing that they, too, shouldn't be blocked on Twitter merely based on disagreements. While Trump may not be fond of seeing critics' tweets, the ruling could also ensure that rival politicians have to contend with online objectors of their own. Source
  10. Amazon thinks it lost a military cloud computing contract worth $10 billion to rival Microsoft because our vendetta-addled president wanted to personally “screw” CEO Jeff Bezos, court documents show. Per the New York Times, Amazon wrote in a federal court complaint unsealed on Monday that Pentagon officials reviewed outdated Amazon submissions for the Joint Enterprise Defense Initiative (JEDI) project before granting the contract to competitor Microsoft—whose CEO Satya Nadella is not currently the target of one of Donald Trump’s mostly one-sided feuds. (Trump is reportedly obsessed with “Jeff Bozo” almost exclusively because the billionaire CEO also owns the “fake news” Washington Post, but this is also a man whose list of top grievances includes water-conserving toilets.) Amazon’s complaint in the United States Court of Federal Claims in Washington claims that Trump intervened in the contract process to hurt Bezos, “his perceived political enemy,” with the Defense Department making “blatant, inexplicable errors” complying with the White House’s directive. The Pentagon “failed to acknowledge the numerous instances in which [Amazon Web Service’s] demonstrated capabilities vastly exceeded performance requirements,” Amazon’s legal team wrote, “while ignoring instances where Microsoft necessarily failed to demonstrate its solution met the technical requirements.” Amazon added in the complaint that the Pentagon had “departed from the rules of procurement and complied—consciously or subconsciously—with its commander in chief’s expressed desire to reject AWS’s superior bid.” Amazon claims in the filings those factors included a last-minute requirement preventing it from using “existing data centers already certified for classified use and instead requiring AWS to build new dedicated classified infrastructure for DoD,” driving up the cost of its bid. Another assertion involves Secretary of Defense Mark Esper, who re-opened the JEDI bidding process after the departure of his predecessor Jim Mattis in late 2018. Amazon wrote that while Esper recused himself from matters involving the JEDI contract on Oct. 22, 2019, citing conflicts of interest, the decision to award the contract to Microsoft had already happened five days earlier. The filing calls this an “unprecedented and bizarre attempt to rewrite the factual record and unsully a process tainted by the President’s intervention.” “DoD’s substantial and pervasive errors are hard to understand and impossible to assess separate and apart from the President’s repeatedly expressed determination to, in the words of the President himself, ‘screw Amazon,’” Amazon wrote, referring to an order Trump allegedly gave Mattis in 2018. The $10 billion isn’t all that’s on the table. While JEDI was initially billed as a data-management system for the military backend, it is also a potential opportunity for tech giants to expand their foothold in the wildly lucrative contracting business feeding off the U.S.’s ever-expanding war machine. An April 2018 article in Defense One indicated that top defense officials such as Mattis viewed cloud computing as a way “not just to manage files, email, and paperwork but to push mission-critical information to front-line operators.” Employee protests at the prospect of their work being used to fuel conflict drove Google out of the bidding process and created a ruckus at Microsoft, where staffers wrote a letter claiming JEDI could cause “human suffering” in pursuit of “short-term profits.” Amazon was widely considered to be the clear front-runner for the JEDI contract until the bidding process entered its final phase. Somewhat tellingly, competitors including Google, Microsoft, Oracle, and IBM were reportedly furious about stipulations in the contract that, to them, seemed designed to clear the company’s path of rival bidders (as well as reports Amazon offered a Pentagon official working on the project a lucrative job). One DC lobbyist for Oracle, Kenneth Glueck, reportedly shopped White House aides a memo claiming that Amazon won the contract due to a “conspiracy,” with the document making it all the way to Trump’s desk. In a statement to Times, the Defense Department denied that Trump’s hatred of Bezos or any other outside factors played a role in its decision. “This source selection decision was made by an expert team of career public servants and military officers from across the Department of Defense and in accordance with D.O.D.’s normal source-selection process,” Pentagon spokeswoman Elissa Smith told the paper. “There were no external influences on the source selection decision.” Source
  11. Cybercriminals are leveraging political names and figures for social engineering as the elections loom. With the U.S. presidential elections looming, bad actors are tapping into the political craze with several malware distribution campaigns, using high-profile political names to tap into victims’ emotions and convince them to click on malicious links. Researchers have uncovered hundreds of politically-charged malware campaigns – distributing ransomware, remote access trojans (RATs) and more – using the names of prominent political figures like U.S. President Donald Trump, Russia President Vladimir Putin, North Korea ruler Kim Jong-un and more. “As this investigation has exposed, adversaries will go to any lengths and use anything they deem advantageous, from pop culture to political references — everything is fair game,” Nick Biasini and Edmund Brumaghin, researchers with Cisco Talos, said in a Tuesday analysis, shared with Threatpost ahead of publication. “This is applicable not only to the adversaries delivering malware, but also the miscreants writing tools for adversaries to leverage including crypters, injectors and loaders.” After investigating a malspam campaign that peddled an executable called “trump.exe,” Biasini and Brumaghin began looking for other types of campaigns leveraging political figures. They found a broad range of applications – some designed to lure victims into paying ransom demands, and others used to gain backdoor access to systems and provide attackers the ability to operate within organizational networks. The political themes uncovered are not aimed at disinformation – which is another matter altogether that companies like Facebook and Twitter have been grappling with – but rather used as lures aimed to fool victims into clicking or downloading various types of malware, researchers stressed. RATs Researchers uncovered a variety of politically themed remote access trojans (RATs) that utilized political themes to trick victims into downloading malware. For instance, researchers said they came across a RAT that was being delivered via a Word document titled “12 things Trump should know about North Korea.doc,”spread via phishing. (Researchers did not say who specifically was targeted). At first, when opened on an analysis system the document did not appear to function properly, taking several minutes to load – but after further investigation, it was determined that during that slow opening, Dynamic Link Libraries (DLLs) that were being reconstructed from data present within the document itself, which finally executed malware called Konni RAT. Konni RAT, discovered in 2014, has been used in attacks against government agencies and public organizations linked to North Korea. Researchers also found political themes in various malicious Excel spreadsheets, including one spreadsheet titled “Trump_administration_economic_indicators_on_China_investments.xls” containing malicious macros that are responsible for infecting systems with the PoisonIvy RAT, which is known for cyberespionage and has been used in attacks with ties to Chine. Among other politically-motivated themes used to distribute RATs “were [file infecting malware] Neshta, which utilized a theme around North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. Additionally, we found an NjRAT campaign [njRAT is a RAT that may run in the background and silently collect information about the system, connected users, and network activity] that delivered an unusual decoy image. This same image was used as the icon for the executable, aptly named ‘Papa-Putin.exe,'” researchers said. Iconography Researchers said that malware such as ransomware, packers (software that unpacks itself in memory when the “packed file” is executed) and crypters (commonly used to attempt to evade antivirus detection by encrypting or obfuscating malicious code associated with malware binaries) were also found using iconography that was associated with Trump. For instance, researchers found an array of fake ransomware campaigns that featured iconography related to political figures including Donald Trump. Interestingly, the samples didn’t always encrypt the victims’ data properly, or at all, but researchers said they did lead users to believe their data was lost. One variant, for instance, appeared to start encrypting files once downloaded and told the victim “This is the Donald Trump ransomware” with an image of Trump. Another is a ransomware themed around Putin, with the title “Putin Lockware 2.0.” As with most screenlockers, the malware simply removes the icons, taskbar, and task manager on the victim machine and displays the application window displayed above in full-screen mode, researchers said. “These steps are performed in an attempt to make exiting the application difficult for victims and maximizes the likelihood of a successful ransom payment,” researchers said. “It then directs the user to communicate with the adversary through some means, in this example email, at which point they will demand money to provide the code to ‘unlock’ the screen.” As the U.S. Presidential Elections draw closer, researchers warned end users to be on the lookout for political name-dropping and iconography used in various malware distribution campaigns – especially via suspicious websites and emails. “One of the unexpected aspects of the investigation was the presence of lures that dropped malware associated with multiple nation-state attacks in the past, showing how even advanced, sophisticated adversaries will use any means to achieve their nefarious goals,” researchers said. “We were also struck by the wide array of different malware from ransomware and screenlockers, to adware and remote access trojans, and everything in between.” Source
  12. The operations will take place in the eastern Pacific Ocean and Caribbean Sea. The US is launching counter-narcotics operations in the Western Hemisphere to prevent drug cartels from exploiting the coronavirus pandemic, the nation's president said Wednesday. Speaking at a White House press briefing, Donald Trump said cartels, criminals, terrorists and other malign actors are posing a "growing threat" amid the global focus on the disease and are trying to take advantage of the pandemic. MASSIVE NEW COUNTERNARCOTICS OPERATION IN THE EASTERN PACIFIC Washington is deploying additional Navy destroyers, combat ships, aircraft and helicopters, Coast Guard cutters and Air Force surveillance aircraft. Source: Ensonhaber.com
  13. Wall Street spent most of the day in a rally, but tumbled dramatically as President Trump declared a national emergency. Wall Street tumbled and then soared Friday afternoon as President Donald Trump announced he was declaring a national emergency and implementing a series of "decisive" measures to address the coronavirus pandemic. The Dow Jones Industrial Average, which had surged by around 1,200 points earlier in the day, sank by around 500 points as the president addressed the nation from the White House Rose Garden, flanked by health officials and members of the coronavirus task force. The blue-chip index then soared to a gain of more than 1,000 points as key details of the White House response were revealed, including a close collaboration with companies such as Walmart, Target, and Google. The S&P 500 notched up a gain of over 6 percent and the Nasdaq spiked by 5.5 percent. Markets are still waiting for concrete action on an economic relief package, which lawmakers and the White House have so far failed to produce. “I think we’re very close to getting this done. The president is absolutely committed that this will be an entire government effort, that we will be working with the House and Senate," Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin told CNBC Friday morning. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., vowed Friday to pass a coronavirus relief bill before the weekend, though she said negotiations with Mnuchin were still ongoing. Market optimism also grew after news reports the Group of Seven governments would work together to create a coordinated economic response to the viral pandemic. Friday's rally follows a massive meltdown, with Thursday marking the official end of the longest bull-market run in history. The S&P 500 plummeted 9.5 percent and the Dow tumbled by 10 percent. It has been the worst week for equities since 2008, prompting questions as to whether or not the Federal Reserve will implement a massive rate cut of one full percentage point at its meeting next week. “There are no guarantees here, and things could get worse,” said Brad McMillan, chief investment officer for Commonwealth Financial Network, told CNBC. “If the number of cases continues to increase, the economic damage will go from hitting confidence to something worse. If the economy deteriorates, markets will reflect that shift." Source
  14. Trump has faced increasing criticism over his administration's response to the pandemic. President Donald Trump plans to declare a national emergency Friday to allow more direct relief to Americans affect by the coronavirus, two administration officials told NBC News. The move could help open up tens of billions of dollars to help fight the rapidly spreading pandemic. Trump announced earlier in the day that he will hold a press conference Friday afternoon about the response to the coronavirus pandemic. The president's tweet comes amid the rapid spread of the virus and as the White House has scrambled to craft a strategy to shift Trump's response to the outbreak, which had been focused on downplaying the threat and accusing the media of creating undue concern. Trump has come under increasing fire in recent weeks over his response to the pandemic while his administration weathered criticism for the lack of coronavirus testing being done compared with other countries. In addition to having insisted for weeks that he had the outbreak under control, Trump has also propagated personal beliefs about the coronavirus that contradict those of veteran health officials and experts. As panic began to set in over the outbreak, Trump tried to quell the fears of Americans across the country by giving a speech from the Oval Office on Wednesday night. He announced that he would ban many foreign travelers from Europe for the next 30 days and offered a series of economic relief actions to help workers and companies deal with the outbreak. But his speech was met with swift pushback after he misstated several aspects of the policy and failed to propose any new action to combat the outbreak domestically. Health officials in recent days have sounded the alarm, warning the public that the outbreak is likely to get worse. Many major public events, including all NBA, NHL, MLS and MLB preseason games and Broadway shows, have been canceled this week, and Thursday saw the Dow's worst day since the 1987 crash. Wall Street, however, rallied on Friday, bouncing firmly back after lawmakers and the White House appeared close to finalizing an economic relief package to address the coronavirus pandemic. Source
  15. President Trump is weighing whether to declare a national emergency over the coronavirus, which would free up additional resources to combat the rapidly spreading disease. The president indicated to reporters that using an emergency declaration under the Stafford Act was under consideration, but would not say definitively whether he would sign it on Thursday. "We have things that I can do. We have very strong emergency powers under the Stafford Act," he said during an Oval Office meeting with the Irish prime minister. "I have it memorized practically as to the powers in that act, and if I need to do something I’ll do it. I have the right to do a lot of things that people don't even know about." Asked if he planned to declare a national emergency on Thursday, Trump deflected. "I don’t want to say that, but you know, at some point," he said. Trump can declare a national emergency or a major disaster declaration under the Stafford Act, which would enable the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to mobilize additional resources and funding to fight the coronavirus. There were roughly 1,300 people with confirmed cases of the coronavirus in the U.S. as of Thursday morning, and 37 people had died from the virus, according to The New York Times. Trump's remarks Thursday came a day after he announced that the U.S. would restrict travel from Europe for the next 30 days in an effort to stem the spread of the virus. The president also said he would use executive orders to offer financial relief to individuals and small businesses impacted by the fallout over the disease. Multiple advisers to the president have indicated he is seriously considering signing an emergency declaration on Thursday in what would be the latest significant step to try to combat the fallout from the coronavirus. "If ever there was an emergency, it’s now. We’re a week away from being Italy," one adviser told The Hill, invoking the Italian government's decision to largely shut down the country to stop the virus from spreading. CNN reported that top economic adviser Larry Kudlow informed congressional Republicans that Trump could sign the declaration as early as Thursday afternoon. Trump may be hesitant to declare a national emergency after spending the past several weeks downplaying the severity of the coronavirus. He predicted in late February that the number of cases could quickly drop to near zero, and told a conservative conference that the administration deserved an "A+++" for its work containing the disease. But as new cases are reported each day, Trump has been forced to adopt more serious measures, such as those laid out in his Wednesday night address. Top health officials in the Trump administration said the decision to restrict travel from Europe would be beneficial, but have warned in recent days that the worst of the virus was yet to come. Still, Trump on Thursday projected optimism. "We’re in great shape compared to other places," he said. "We want to keep it that way." Source
  16. Trump says he wants to ease up on coronavirus related shutdowns 'pretty soon' amid concerns about economy - updates WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump on Monday said his administration is looking at ways to ease economic restrictions it stressed just days earlier even as the U.S. braces for a jump in coronavirus cases and states tighten restrictions on people and businesses. "I'm not looking at months," Trump said of the duration of social distancing guidelines that have led to school and business closures. "We will be back in business as a country pretty soon." Trump’s suggestion comes as others are taking their most strict measures yet. On Monday, four U.S. states announced more rigid orders for residents and businesses, an International Olympic Committee member revealed this year's games would be postponed and U.S. deaths approached 600, according to the Johns Hopkins University data dashboard. The federal government, Trump said, will use data "to recommend new protocols” to allow local economies to “cautiously resume their activity at the appropriate time." Coronavirus:Trump signals growing impatience with coronavirus-related economic shutdowns He did not say when those protocols would be rolled out as the coronavirus spreads across the U.S. The remarks were a major departure from Trump's prediction just days ago that the guidelines could potentially be in place through the summer. Trump appeared to signal that parts of the country that are less hard hit could be placed under less strict guidelines than states like New York and California. At the same time, Trump admitted the outbreak will only get worse in the U.S. Trump said he agreed with his surgeon general’s prediction that the number of coronavirus cases would jump. “This is going to be bad,” Trump said. “We’re trying to make it so it’s much, much less bad.” - John Fritze and Sean Rossman Source: usatoday.com
  17. Trump moves could stop Huawei from buying US tech or from selling to US firms. Enlarge / Customers purchase mobile phones at the Huawei Experience Center on May 16, 2019 in Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province of China. Getty Images | VCG/Long Wei The Trump administration yesterday took two actions that could effectively prevent Huawei from buying US technology and prevent it from selling products to US companies. An executive order issued by President Trump and a separate action taken by the US Commerce Department could "cut the Chinese telecommunications giant off from American suppliers and ban it from doing business in the US," The Wall Street Journal wrote. The order doesn't mention Huawei or China by name, but it was widely seen as targeting Huawei and other Chinese companies such as ZTE. Huawei is the second-biggest smartphone vendor in the world, according to IDC, and it sells a large amount of network equipment to telecom providers and other companies. Trump's executive order "declar[ed] a national emergency and barr[ed] US companies from using telecommunications equipment made by firms posing a national security risk," Reuters wrote. The executive order applies to future transactions only. Shortly after Trump's executive order, "the Commerce Department said it had added Huawei and 70 affiliates to its so-called Entity List—a move that bans the telecom giant from buying parts and components from US companies without US government approval," Reuters also wrote. This will make it difficult for Huawei to sell some products because of its reliance on US-made parts, and could potentially put its use of the Google Play store and Google apps on Android devices in jeopardy. ZTE had to shut down temporarily last year after a similar ban prevented it from using Qualcomm chips and Google software. (Huawei makes its own smartphone chips.) However, the Commerce Department hasn't yet announced all the exact details of the new restrictions, so it's hard to make specific predictions of what products will be affected. The US agency said it "will issue regulations within 150 days to establish procedures for reviewing such transactions." US-China trade war expands The moves expand a trade war between the US and China. Trump's executive order said the actions are necessary to prevent "economic and industrial espionage against the United States and its people," as US enemies could "create and exploit vulnerabilities in information and communications technology or services, with potentially catastrophic effects." The US government hasn't been able to find hard evidence that Huawei spies on behalf of China, however. "Huawei has denied those charges, and its chief executive [Ren Zhengfei] has said he would shut down the company rather than obey Chinese government orders to intercept or divert Internet traffic," the New York Times wrote. "American officials say he would have no choice: Chinese law requires that the country's firms obey instructions from the nation's Ministry of State Security." Both Huawei and the Chinese government condemned the Trump administration moves. "Restricting Huawei from doing business in the US will not make the US more secure or stronger; instead, this will only serve to limit the US to inferior yet more expensive alternatives, leaving the US lagging behind in 5G deployment, and eventually harming the interests of US companies and consumers," Huawei told CNBC. "In addition, unreasonable restrictions will infringe upon Huawei's rights and raise other serious legal issues." A Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson called the US moves "abuse of export control measures," according to the Associated Press. Source: Trump tries to shut Huawei out of US market with executive order (Ars Technica)
  18. The Presidential manure is causing Bitcoin’s price to come up roses. Please sir, may we have another? Crypto Twitter had a field day yesterday President Trump delivered his tuppence-worth about Bitcoin and Facebook’s Libra project. “I am not a fan of Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, which are not money, and whose value is highly volatile and based on thin air,” said the President, in his first-ever tweet on the subject. “If Facebook and other companies want to become a bank, they must seek a new Banking Charter and become subject to all Banking Regulations, just like other Banks, both National and International,” he added. But for cryptocurrency, as a whole, his tweets were nothing except good news. Here’s why. 1. As Trump knows, there’s no such thing as bad publicity. For cryptocurrency, it’s all about adoption. But how can you adopt something if you don’t even know what it is? Trump’s tweet to his 62 million followers presumably reaches some millions of people who are, shall we say, not super sophisticated about crypto. Indeed, Google searches for Bitcoin spiked post-Trump tweet. Coinbase CEO, Brian Armstrong tweeted that the POTUS tweets mark the third stage in the four stages that will lead to adoption: “getting ignored, getting laughed at, getting fought, and then winning.” And Jeremy Allaire, the chief executive of Goldman Sachs-backed Circle, tweeted that Trump’s tweets could be the “largest bull signal” for Bitcoin of all time. Within half an hour of Trump’s tweet, Bitcoin had risen by 2%. 2. The enemy of my enemy is my friend. If Trump is for something, automatically, much of the U.S. and the rest of the world will take the other side. Presidential hopeful Democrat Andrew Yang is already on the side of ethical crypto. Trump being opposed to it will only make the issue political, and force the rest of the pack to declare themselves. Indeed, Trump’s ignorant rant might even force Rep. Maxine Waters to soften her hardline, anti-Facebook position. She sure doesn’t want to be Trump’s comrade in arms. 3. Trump will focus his attacks on Facebook History will not remember Donald Trump as a great intellect. It will be far easier for him to rail against Facebook—which he’s already targeted as being biased against the Right. That will only increase the onus of the social network to spend gazillions of dollars appeasing regulators—which will benefit bitcoin and the rest of the crypto industry. Pull up your lawn chair and grab some popcorn, kids while we watch this play out. Source
  19. WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. President Donald Trump on Wednesday suggested the European Union was out of line bringing lawsuits against U.S. technology companies like Facebook and Alphabet Inc’s Google , saying legal action against those firms should be the purview of the United States. FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump “She hates the United States perhaps worse than any person I’ve ever met,” Trump said in an interview with Fox Business Network in an apparent reference to EU competition commissioner Margrethe Vestager. “What she does to our country. She’s suing all our companies. We should be suing Google and Facebook, and all that, which perhaps we will,” he said. “They’re suing Apple for billions of dollars. They’re suing everybody.” “They make it almost impossible to do two-way business,” Trump said, reprising his frequent complaint that Europe treats the United States worse than China when it comes to trade. Trump also reiterated his view that social media companies were discriminating against conservatives. “They should be sued,” he said. Source
  20. WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. President Donald Trump said on Thursday his administration was looking closely at Amazon.com’s bid on a $10 billion cloud contract with the Defense Department after getting complaints from other tech companies. Amazon.com Inc and Microsoft Corp were selected in April to continue competing for the Pentagon cloud computing services that is part of a broad modernization of Pentagon information technology systems. The selection left Oracle Corp and IBM Corp out of the competition for the contract for the Defense Department’s Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure Cloud, or JEDI. Trump has taken several swipes at Amazon since becoming president, complaining of unfair business practices and that the online retailer does not pay the U.S. Postal Service a fair rate for package delivery. Amazon did not have an immediate comment. Trump’s criticism stems in part from his oft-expressed dislike of the Washington Post’s critical coverage of his administration. Amazon Chief Executive Jeff Bezos privately owns the Washington Post. Oracle has complained about the contract award process, including expressing concern about the role of a former Amazon employee who worked on the JEDI project until recusing himself, then later left the Defense Department and returned to Amazon Web Services. Oracle earlier this month lost a lawsuit challenging the contract award. A judge ruled Oracle did not have standing to claim it was wronged by the decision because it did not meet the contract requirements. Its chief executive, Safra Catz, who was a member of the executive committee of Trump’s transition team after he was elected, told reporters in April that she has met with Trump to discuss the contract, telling him commercial customers often use more than one cloud. Source
  21. Trump's meeting with Cook was disclosed by daughter and adviser Ivanka Trump. US President Donald Trump met with Apple CEO Tim Cook on Thursday to discuss trade and other hot-button issues facing the tech company as Trump deliberates whether to make good on his threat to hike tariffs on imports from China. Trump's meeting with Cook was disclosed by daughter and adviser Ivanka Trump during an event that Trump held with governors on skills development. Cook is a frequent visitor to the White House and has worked with Ivanka Trump on her job training and education initiatives. The president often name-checks Cook as a business leader who has brought jobs and investment back to the United States. On Thursday, Trump spoke with Cook about "trade, US investment, immigration and privacy," White House spokesman Judd Deere said. A spokesperson for Apple could not be immediately reached for comment. The meeting comes as Trump weighs whether to go ahead with proposed increases to tariffs in his trade war with China. He has said he will make a decision some time after the G20 summit in Osaka, Japan at the end of June, where he hopes to meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping. Trump is using tariffs to push Xi to change a host of Chinese trade practices, but negotiations have flagged. Makers of consumer electronics like phones and tablets have escaped the brunt of tariffs to this point but likely would be affected by the next hike. US authorities are also preparing to probe market power of large technology companies, according to sources. Cook has defended his company, saying it has a moderate share of the market and is not too large. Source
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