• James Comey will testify before Senate one month before election, because 2020 wasn't 2016 enough already

    Former FBI Director James Comey is scheduled to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee on September 30, which is just about one month before the presidential election. The GOP keeps trying to gin up the lie that Comey and the FBI under his direction conspired against Donald Trump in 2016.

    From the Associated Press:

    Comey, whom Trump fired in May 2017, will be a featured witness in Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham's investigation into the origins of the Justice Department's Russia probe. The president has long tried to discredit that investigation, which concluded with a 2018 report by special counsel Robert Mueller, calling it a "hoax." Graham said he also invited Mueller to testify but that Mueller had declined.

    Mueller's probe found multiple contacts between the campaign and Russia but said there was not enough evidence to establish a criminal conspiracy between the two. His report also examined several instances in which Trump tried to obstruct his investigation but said he could not come to a conclusion on whether Trump obstructed justice.

    More at AP. Be a good thing to watch on C-SPAN on September 30.

  • Navalny was poisoned with Novichok on hotel water bottle, not cup of tea, says his team

    IMAGE: This photo published by Alexei Navalny on his Instagram shows Alex and his wife Yulia, right, daughter Daria, and son Zakhar, top left, in a hospital in Berlin, Germany. He posted this on Instagram Tuesday Sept. 15, 2020: "Hi, this is Navalny. I have been missing you. I still can't do much, but yesterday I managed to breathe on my own for the entire day."

    Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny has survived an attempted assassination with the Russian military nerve agent Novichok. On Thursday, Navalny and his team said a water bottle with a trace of Novichok was identified in his hotel room in the Siberian city of Tomsk. Navalny became violently ill on a flight from Tomsk to Moscow last month, and was placed in a coma. When the Russian government finally relented and allowed his transfer to Germany, he remained in the induced coma state for 2 more weeks, in treatment with an antidote at Charité hospital in Berlin.

    From Associated Press today:

    The Kremlin has bristled at calls from German Chancellor Angela Merkel and other leaders to answer questions about the poisoning, urging Germany to provide its evidence.

    On Tuesday, Navalny posted a picture of himself from his hospital bed, hugged by his wife and children. "I still can't do almost anything on my own, but yesterday I managed to breathe on my own for the entire day," he added in the post.

  • U.S. charges Iranians with hacking aerospace and satellite technology firms for Islamic republic's Revolutionary Guard

    The Justice Department announced charges against three Iranian nationals over the hacking of aerospace and satellite tech firms.

    Here's the news release from the Department of Justice U.S. Attorney's Office, Eastern District of Virginia, published early Thursday:

    Iranian Hackers Indicted for Stealing Data from Aerospace and Satellite Tracking Companies

    ALEXANDRIA, Va. – An indictment was unsealed today charging three computer hackers, all of whom were residents and nationals of the Islamic Republic of Iran (Iran), with engaging in a coordinated campaign of identity theft and hacking on behalf of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), a designated foreign terrorist organization, in order to steal critical information related to United States aerospace and satellite technology and resources.

    "We will relentlessly pursue and expose those who seek to harm American companies and individuals wherever they reside in the world," said G. Zachary Terwilliger, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia. "The use of malware, the theft of commercial data and intellectual property, and the use of social engineering to steal the identities of United States citizens to accomplish unlawful acts will not be tolerated. Along with our incredible and steadfast law enforcement partners, the Eastern District of Virginia continues to lead efforts to combat serious cybercrime globally and the charges outlined in the indictment exposing IRGC linked hacking operations in the United States are just another example of the fruits of our seamless teamwork."

    Charged in the indictment are defendants Said Pourkarim Arabi, 34, Mohammad Reza Espargham, 25, and Mohammad Bayati, 34, all Iranian nationals residing in Iran.

    "For the third time in three days, the Department has charged Iranian hackers," said John C. Demers, Assistant Attorney General for National Security. "This case highlights the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps' efforts to infiltrate the networks of American companies in search of valuable commercial information and intellectual property. It is yet another effort by a rogue foreign nation to steal the fruits of this country's hard work and expertise."

    According to allegations in the indictment, the defendants' hacking campaign, which targeted numerous companies and organizations in the United States and abroad, began in approximately July 2015 and continued until at least February 2019. The defendants at one time possessed a target list of over 1,800 online accounts, including accounts belonging to organizations and companies involved in aerospace or satellite technology and international government organizations in Australia, Israel, Singapore, the United States, and the United Kingdom.

    "Today's charges are yet another example of the FBI's dedication to investigating those who target and attempt to steal data and proprietary information from the United States," said James A. Dawson, Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI's Washington Field Office. "Today's charges allege that these individuals conspired in a coordinated campaign with known IRGC members and acted at their direction. The defendants targeted thousands of individuals in an attempt to steal critical information related to United States aerospace and satellite technology. The FBI remains dedicated to protecting the United States, and we continue to impose risk and consequences on cyber adversaries through our unique authorities, world-class capabilities, and enduring partnerships."

    To facilitate their victimization of these targets, the defendants engaged in a coordinated campaign of social engineering to identify real United States citizens working in the satellite and aerospace fields whose identities the defendants could assume online. The defendants then impersonated those individuals and used their stolen identities to register email addresses and fraudulently purchase domains and hacking tools for use in the scheme. The defendants then created customized spear phishing emails that purported to be from the individuals whose identities the defendants had stolen, in an attempt to entice the recipients to click on malicious links embedded in the emails. Once a recipient clicked on a malicious link, malware would be downloaded to the individual's computer, giving the defendants unauthorized access to the recipient's computer and network.  The defendants then used additional hacking tools to maintain unauthorized access, escalate their privileges, and steal data sought by the IRGC. Using these methods, the defendants successfully compromised multiple victim networks, resulting in the theft of sensitive commercial information, intellectual property, and personal data from victim companies, including a satellite-tracking company and a satellite voice and data communication company.

    Arabi is charged with conspiracy to commit computer intrusions, obtaining information by unauthorized access to protected computers, intentional damage to protected computers, aggravated identity theft, and conspiracy to commit wire fraud. If convicted, Arabi faces a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison.

    Esphargham is charged with conspiracy to commit computer intrusions, obtaining information by unauthorized access to protected computers, intentional damage to protected computers, and conspiracy to commit wire fraud. If convicted, Esphargham faces a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison.

    Bayati is charged with conspiracy to commit computer intrusions, and conspiracy to commit wire fraud. If convicted, Bayati faces a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison.

    Actual sentences for federal crimes are typically less than the maximum penalties. A federal district court judge will determine any sentence after taking into account the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.

    Assistant U.S. Attorneys Nathaniel Smith III, Jay V. Prabhu, and Danya Atiyeh are prosecuting the case with assistance from Trial Attorney Evan Turgeon of the Justice Department's National Security Division.

    A copy of this press release is located on the website of the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of Virginia. Related court documents and information are located on the website of the District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia or on PACER by searching for Case No. 1:20-cr-217.

    And there's more reporting at Reuters.

  • Twitter slaps warning on Trump tweet that lied about voting by mail

    Twitter added a warning label to a tweet by impeached and unfit U.S. President Donald Trump on Thursday. The label says Trump's post includes misleading information about the voting process.

    "Because of the new and unprecedented massive amount of unsolicited ballots which will be sent to "voters", or wherever, this year, the Nov 3rd Election result may NEVER BE ACCURATELY DETERMINED, which is what some want. Another election disaster yesterday. Stop Ballot Madness!," tweeted Donald Trump earlier today.

    From Reuters:

    Twitter's warning label redirected users to a curated page, "Voting by mail is legal and safe, experts and data confirm", which contained more information on mail-in voting.

    The social network has previously attached labels to tweets posted and shared by the president, including adding fact-checking notices on his tweets

  • Protesters should get sedition charges, AG Bill Barr told federal prosecutors

    Illegitimate U.S. Attorney General Bill Barr told federal prosecutors on a call last week they should consider sedition charges against those suspected of violent crimes at recent racial justice protests.

    The Wall Street Journal first reported Barr's sedition comments.

    From reporting by Katie Benner at the New York Times:

    The highly unusual suggestion to charge people with insurrection against lawful authority alarmed some on the call, which included U.S. attorneys around the country, said the people, who spoke on the condition they not be named describing Mr. Barr's comments because they feared retribution.

    The attorney general has also asked prosecutors in the Justice Department's civil rights division to explore whether they could bring criminal charges against Mayor Jenny Durkan of Seattle for allowing some residents to establish a police-free protest zone near the city's downtown for weeks this summer, according to two people briefed on those discussions.

    The directives are in keeping with Mr. Barr's approach to prosecute crimes as aggressively as possible in cities where protests have given way to violence. But in suggesting possible prosecution of Ms. Durkan, a Democrat, Mr. Barr also took aim at an elected official whom President Trump has repeatedly attacked

    Read more: Barr Told Prosecutors to Consider Sedition Charges for Protest Violence

  • Military police weighed using 'heat ray' to burn skin of D.C. protesters at Trump church photo op in June

    Remember that Trump photo op in front of St. John's Church in Lafayette Square in DC, on June 1st, where American citizens were tear-gassed? Military police were also considering using what is described as a heat ray to burn the skin of people protesting the killing of George Floyd on that day.

    Previously, the heat ray has been aimed against undocumented immigrants at the U.S. border with Mexico.

    They decided on tear gas, a chemical weapon, to clear pro-Black Lives Matter demonstrators from the area for President Trump's obscene photo, holding the bible up with those evil, blank eyes.

    Hours before they ultimately chose tear gas, the federal agents began to stockpile lethal ammunition, and they were also trying to obtain military devices that could blast people deaf with piercing sound, Marissa J. Lang at the Washington Post reports:

    D.C. National Guard Maj. Adam D. DeMarco told lawmakers that defense officials were searching for crowd control technology deemed too unpredictable to use in war zones and had authorized the transfer of about 7,000 rounds of ammunition to the D.C. Armory as protests against police use of force and racial injustice roiled Washington.

    In sworn testimony, shared this week with The Washington Post, DeMarco provided his account as part of an ongoing investigation into law enforcement and military officers' use of force against D.C. protesters.

    […] DeMarco's account contradicts the administration's claims that protesters were violent, tear gas was never used and demonstrators were given ample warning to disperse — a legal requirement before police move to clear a crowd. His testimony also offers a glimpse into the equipment and weaponry federal forces had — and others that they sought — during the early days of protests that have continued for more than 100 days in the nation's capital.

    DeMarco, who provided his account as a whistleblower, was the senior-most D.C. National Guard officer on the ground that day and served as a liaison between the National Guard and U.S. Park Police.

    Read more at the WaPo: Federal officials stockpiled munitions, sought 'heat ray' device before clearing Lafayette Square

  • WeChat users in U.S. will not be penalized, says Justice Department

    Users who sued claim Trump's ban on WeChat prohibits "millions of WeChat users in the United States … from using the most popular social media space for Chinese speakers in the world."

    The Justice Department said on Wednesday that U.S.-based users of the Chinese-owned messaging app WeChat will not face civil or criminal penalties, even if the messaging app is banned as planned by the federal government next week.

    Last month, impeached president-in-name-only Donald Trump said all U.S. transactions with WeChat's owner Tencent Holdings Ltd were banned. The executive order called Tencent's WeChat and Bytedance's TikTok "significant threats" to American national security, and was launched by the Trump administration right after they announced a purge of "untrusted" Chinese apps.

    Trump's move was big on posturing, short on details.

    "Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross is set to release regulations by Sunday clarifying what WeChat transactions will be prohibited," reports Reuters:

    WeChat users have filed a motion in U.S. District Court in San Francisco seeking a preliminary injunction to bar the Trump administration from prohibiting the use of WeChat in the United States by individual users, businesses and groups. A hearing on the request is for Thursday.

    The Justice Department responded in a filing on Wednesday that Ross does not plan to target persons or groups who only download or use WeChat to convey personal or business information and said they would not face criminal or civil penaltes.

    But the department added that "use of the app for such communications could be directly or indirectly impaired through measures targeted at other transactions."

    More at Reuters: U.S. says WeChat users will not be penalized

  • Scientific American endorses Joe Biden, breaking 175-year tradition of never endorsing a presidential candidate

    Because Trump is an enemy of science.

    "Scientific American has never endorsed a presidential candidate in our 175-year history—until now," tweeted the publication today.

    "The 2020 election is literally a matter of life and death. We urge you to vote for health, science and Joe Biden for President."

    Excerpt:

    The evidence and the science show that Donald Trump has badly damaged the U.S. and its people—because he rejects evidence and science. The most devastating example is his dishonest and inept response to the COVID-19 pandemic, which cost more than 190,000 Americans their lives by the middle of September. He has also attacked environmental protections, medical care, and the researchers and public science agencies that help this country prepare for its greatest challenges. That is why we urge you to vote for Joe Biden, who is offering fact-based plans to protect our health, our economy and the environment. These and other proposals he has put forth can set the country back on course for a safer, more prosperous and more equitable future.

    The pandemic would strain any nation and system, but Trump's rejection of evidence and public health measures have been catastrophic in the U.S. He was warned many times in January and February about the onrushing disease, yet he did not develop a national strategy to provide protective equipment, coronavirus testing or clear health guidelines. Testing people for the virus, and tracing those they may have infected, is how countries in Europe and Asia have gained control over their outbreaks, saved lives, and successfully reopened businesses and schools. But in the U.S., Trump claimed, falsely, that "anybody that wants a test can get a test." That was untrue in March and remained untrue through the summer. Trump opposed $25 billion for increased testing and tracing that was in a pandemic relief bill as late as July. These lapses accelerated the spread of disease through the country—particularly in highly vulnerable communities that include people of color, where deaths climbed disproportionately to those in the rest of the population.

    Read it and share it: Scientific American Endorses Joe Biden

  • 'It's me, Navalny,' says Putin critic in first post since emerging from coma after Novichok poisoning

    "It's me, Navalny."

    Russian opposition leader and investigative journalist Alexei Navalny posted these words with this photo from his hospital bed on Instagram, with his wife and two children.

    Navalny is in Germany, where he was airlifted after being poisoned with the Russian chemical weapon nerge agent known as Novichok.

    Navalny's wit and humor appear to be back. He says he's breathing on his own again, and that he "highly recommends it".

    "Alexei Navalny is definitely the victim of a crime," said Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel.

    "They wanted to silence him, and I condemn this in the strongest possible terms," she said.

    "There are very serious questions now which only the Russian government can and must answer."

  • NASA monitors carbon monoxide from California and Oregon fires, finds 10x typical CO emissions

    • NASA's Atmospheric Infrared Sounder (AIRS), aboard the Aqua satellite, captured carbon monoxide plumes coming from California wildfires last week.

    The observations from Earth orbit show high-altitude concentrations of the gas that are more than 10 times typical amounts.

    Shown in this post, some new carbon monoxide emission imaging from the ongoing wildfires in California, Oregon, and elsewhere in the West, out of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in smoke-choked Pasadena, California.

    Here's the announcement from JPL:

    NASA's Atmospheric Infrared Sounder (AIRS), aboard the Aqua satellite, captured carbon monoxide plumes coming from California wildfires last week. There were 28 major wildfires burning across the state as of Sept. 14. This includes the August Complex Fire, which started on Aug. 17 and has since burned over 471,000 acres, making it the largest fire on record in California.

    The animation shows three-day averages of carbon monoxide concentrations around 3 miles (5 kilometers) up in the atmosphere between Sept. 6 and Sept. 14. The red and orange areas indicate regions with extremely high carbon monoxide concentrations of greater than 350 parts per billion by volume (ppbv). The more normal, background concentrations of carbon monoxide show up as yellow and green, with amounts between 30 and 50 ppbv.

    Released by the fires along with smoke and ash, carbon monoxide is a pollutant that can persist in the atmosphere for about a month and can be transported great distances. At the high altitude mapped in these images, the gas has little effect on the air we breathe; however, strong winds can carry it downwards to where it can significantly impact air quality. Carbon monoxide plays a role in both air pollution and climate change.

    The intense heat from the wildfires lofted the carbon monoxide high into the atmosphere, enabling detection by the AIRS instrument. The jet stream then blew the carbon monoxide plume eastward across the U.S. and over the Atlantic Ocean.

    AIRS, in conjunction with the Advanced Microwave Sounding Unit (AMSU), senses emitted infrared and microwave radiation from Earth to provide a three-dimensional look at Earth's weather and climate. Working in tandem, the two instruments make simultaneous observations down to Earth's surface. With more than 2,000 channels sensing different regions of the atmosphere, the system creates a global, three-dimensional map of atmospheric temperature and humidity, cloud amounts and heights, greenhouse gas concentrations and many other atmospheric phenomena. Launched into Earth orbit in 2002, the AIRS and AMSU instruments fly onboard NASA's Aqua spacecraft and are managed by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, under contract to NASA. JPL is a division of Caltech.

    The latest carbon monoxide data, as well as other information from NASA Earth-observing missions can be viewed at the fully interactive Eyes on the Earth. With the "Latest Events" feature, you can explore geo-located satellite images of recent Earth events, including algal blooms and wildfires.

    More information about AIRS can be found at airs.jpl.nasa.gov.

    Source: NASA Monitors Carbon Monoxide From California Wildfires

  • Trump to approve Oracle Tiktok deal Tuesday: CNBC

    The arranged deal in which Donald Trump's political ally and campaign donor Larry Ellison and his company Oracle become the sole U.S. technology provider to Tiktok, from China's ByteDance, is reportedly getting Trump's approval today.

    The Oracle-Tiktok deal will be announced by the White House on Tuesday afternoon, CNBC reported on Tuesday morning, citing sources.

    More at CNBC, and Reuters.

  • Toilet paper panic buying has U.S. groceries stocking Mexican brands

    Move over, Charmin, time for Pétalo.

    The extended duration toilet paper panic buying spree inspired by the coronavirus pandemic has been so intense, "in order to keep their shelves stocked, retailers are buying up foreign toilet paper brands, mostly from Mexico," reports AP.

    Across the country, chains such as CVS, Piggly Wiggly, Safeway, 7-Eleven, and others are carrying brands normally sold in Mexico and Latin America.

    Excerpt:

    In recent weeks, a CVS in New York has been selling three Mexican brands: Regio, Hoteles Elite and Daisy Soft. Mexico's Petalo was on the shelves of a Piggly Wiggly in Sister Bay, Wisconsin. And a Safeway supermarket in Fremont, California, had those same brands, plus Vogue, whose label says in Spanish that it smells like chamomile.

    The stores said they needed to get creative during the pandemic and started working with new suppliers to get shoppers what they needed. But don't worry about popular U.S. brands like Charmin — they aren't going to disappear. Supply chain experts expect the Mexican and other foreign-made rolls to be on store shelves only temporarily, until U.S. manufacturers catch up with demand.

    Americans use much more toilet paper than other countries, according to Patrick Penfield, a supply chain professor at the Whitman School of Management at Syracuse University — which is why Mexico can handle shipping more rolls to the United States. Stores have done this with other products during the pandemic, he said, bringing Mexican-made hand sanitizer to the U.S. when there was a shortage.

    Read more at AP.

  • Breonna Taylor: Louisville to pay millions to mom and reform police in wrongful-death lawsuit settlement

    The city of Louisville, Kentucky has agreed to pay several million dollars to the mother of Breonna Taylor, and install police reforms. The reforms and financial compensation are part of a settlement with Taylor's family, The Associated Press reports.

    The settlement is said to include reforms on how warrants are handled by police, and the city of Louisville is expected to announce it on Tuesday afternoon.

    From AP:

    The settlement would be the largest sum paid by the city for a police misconduct case, according to a person, who asked to not be identified because the settlement has not been announced publicly.

    Taylor's shooting by police serving a narcotics warrant at her home has sparked months of protests in Louisville and calls nationwide for the officers to be charged in her death. The state's attorney general, Daniel Cameron, is investigating police actions in the March 13 shooting.

    The lawsuit, filed in April by her mother, Tamika Palmer, alleged the police used flawed information when they obtained a "no-knock" warrant to enter the Black woman's apartment in March. Taylor, 26, was shot several times and police found no drugs at her home.

    More: City to pay millions to Breonna Taylor's mom, reform police

  • Trump on dictators: 'The tougher and the meaner they are, the better I get along with them'

    Another horrifying Donald Trump quote was revealed Monday in audio aired for the first time on NBC's "Today," in a segment with Bob Woodward, who is promoting his forthcoming book.

    This time, Woodward's audiotape from the new book "RAGE" captures Donald Trump musing on his bromance with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

    Why is Trump so fond of evil dictators, wonders Trump?

    "I get along very well with Erdogan, even though you're not supposed to because everyone says, 'What a horrible guy," Trump told Bob Woodward.

    "But you know, for me it works out good. It's funny, the relationships I have, the tougher and the meaner they are, the better I get along with them. You'll explain that to me someday, okay? But maybe it's not a bad thing. … The easy ones are the ones I maybe don't like as much or don't get along with so much."

    More at the Washington Post.

  • China's Shenzhen Zhenhua Data Technology gathers info and social media posts of American VIPs and military

    A small Chinese firm known as Shenzhen Zhenhua Data Technology has been systematically collecting personal data and crawling social media posts since 2017 for the stated purpose of providing intelligence to Chinese military, government and commercial clients, "according to a copy of the database that was left unsecured on the Internet and retrieved by an Australian cybersecurity consultancy," reports The Washington Post.

    The data gathered includes "Biographies and service records of aircraft carrier captains and up-and-coming officers in the U.S. Navy," "real-time tweets originating from overseas U.S. military installations," family charts of foreign leaders, including relatives and children, and social media chatter about China in Washington, Gerry Shih reports at WaPo:

    The cache, called the Overseas Key Information Database, or OKIDB, purports to offer insights into foreign political, military and business figures, details about countries' infrastructure and military deployments, and public opinion analysis. The database contains information on more than 2 million people, including at least 50,000 Americans and tens of thousands of people who hold prominent public positions, according to Zhenhua's marketing documents and a review of a portion of the database.

    Although there is no evidence showing that the OKIDB software is currently being used by the Chinese government, Zhenhua's marketing and recruiting documents characterize the company as a patriotic firm, with the military as its primary target customer.

    U.S. experts who have reviewed the database offer conflicting assessments of its value. Swaths of the database appear to be raw information copied wholesale from U.S. providers such as Factiva, LexisNexis and LinkedIn and contain little human analysis or finished intelligence products. Much of the social media trove appears to be scraped from public accounts accessible to anyone.

    (…) But the database, combined with Zhenhua's digital trail — marketing materials, patents and employees' resumes — provides a small window into the firm's ambitions, if not actual capabilities, to glean insights by aggregating and analyzing publicly available, or open-source, data. The potential power of big data has been a long-standing concern for privacy advocates and governments alike, and its use is not exclusive to China. Large-scale open-source collection is undertaken by U.S. government agencies and American companies — the source of much of Zhenhua's data.

    Read more: Chinese firm harvests social media posts, data of prominent Americans and military