CIA Director Gina Haspel heads to Turkey for Jamal Khashoggi investigation

Gina Haspel, the director of the United States Central Intelligence Agency, is reported to be traveling to Turkey late Monday to assist in “an investigation” over the death of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Read the rest

Former NSA contractor Reality Winner sentenced to 5+ years in prison for leaking secret report on Russian election hacking to The Intercept

Former Air Force language specialist and intelligence contractor Reality Winner has been sentenced to 63 months in prison. Read the rest

Trump threatens to revoke security clearance of intel chiefs who criticize him (LOL, half those guys lost theirs already)

The White House is making it clear to intelligence officials from current and former presidential administrations: criticize Donald Trump and you'll lose your security clearance. Read the rest

Tech giants met with intel chiefs at Facebook HQ to discuss Russian attacks on midterm elections

Representatives from 8 of America's largest technology companies met with U.S. intelligence officials in May to talk about how to respond to the ongoing Russian cyber-attacks and foreign influence campaigns that affected our 2016 elections, and could alter the course of year’s midterms. Read the rest

Dogs have more cortex neurons than cats, but raccoons beat them both

Who is smarter: dogs or cats? It's not really meaningful question. Cats have brains suited to the life of a cat, and dogs have the perfect brain for being a dog. But it's interesting to learn about the relative cognitive power and density of animals, which are presented in an article in this month's Scientific American called "Battle of the Brains." The article is behind a paywall, but here are some highlights:

*A bigger brain doesn’t necessarily make an animal smarter. Calculating neuron density within the cerebral cortex provides a better understanding of cognitive power.

*The cerebral cortex is the part of the brain that integrates all kinds of information, makes decisions, interprets emotions, solves problems, and creates complex behavior. The neurons in the cerebral cortex act like tiny information processors to form thoughts.

*A new count of these cells shows that humans have around 16 billion neurons in an average-sized cortex. A typical mutt has almost 430 million neurons in its cortex, whereas a cat has just 250 million. Raccoons beat them both with almost 440 neurons within a cat-sized cortex.

Image: By Sonsedska Yuliia/Shutterstock Read the rest

"Journalism Jesus" rises from the grave to tweak the nose of Russian intelligence officials

I’m starting a petition to have Arkady Babchenko henceforth referred to as "Journalism Jesus," Because holy shit, he just returned from the grave.

Less than 24 hours after it was reported that the vehemently anti-Putin journalist had died on the way to hospital after being shot in the back outside of his apartment in Kiev, Ukraine, Babchenko strolled into a press conference being thrown by the Ukrainian government, like a boss of all bosses. It seems that a hitman, hired by the Russian government to permanently silence Babchenko for the sum of $40,000, decided that instead of pulling a trigger on the contract, he’d let Ukraine’s security intelligence people in on what was supposed to be happening.

I say "supposed to," because things definitely did not go down the way that Mother Russia allegedly wanted them to.

From the New York Times:

Mr. Babchenko created a sensation in Kiev on Wednesday by appearing at a news conference, billed as a police briefing about his assassination, at which he was greeted by whoops of surprise and scattered applause. It came less than 24 hours after his wife said she had found him bleeding to death on the floor of their apartment, shot in the back.

“First of all, I would like to apologize that all of you had to live through this, because I know the horrible feeling when you have to bury your colleagues,” Mr. Babchenko, 41, told the stunned room. “Separately, I want to apologize to my wife for all the hell she had to go through.”

Holy crap. Read the rest

Scientists discover hundreds of new genes that may affect cognitive ability

Scientists analyzed almost a quarter million DNA samples in the UK Biobank and found 538 new genes that appear to have a role in intellectual capabilities. Read the rest

'People who boast about their I.Q. are losers' —Stephen Hawking

He wasn't talking about the current President of the United States, but it sure fits today. Read the rest

Global spy agencies meet for "Five Eyes" intel-sharing network in New Zealand, including U.S. FBI, CIA, NSA

Intelligence officials from the so-called "Five Eyes" network, which includes the United States' FBI, CIA and National Security Agency, are gathering for an annual intelligence-sharing exchange today in New Zealand. Reuters confirmed the get-together, at which spy agency reps from the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand will also gather. Read the rest

U.S. spies are withholding intelligence from Donald Trump, who has none

Capping off Donald J. Trump's No Good Very Bad Horrible Day today, the Wall Street Journal reports that senior U.S. intelligence officials are deliberately withholding sensitive information from the President because they don't trust him. Today's report cites sources inside the White House, and underscores the deep mistrust between career spies and the imploding kakistocracy. Read the rest

Inspector Crow: birds investigate cause of death when they find a body

Do Crows hold funerals? Nah, not really, but they're up to something when one among the murder is murdered, and scientists are fascinated by their behavior around fallen comrades.

Calling to each other, gathering around, and paying special attention to a fallen comrade is common among the highly intelligent corvids, a group of birds that includes crows, jays, magpies, and ravens, says Kaeli Swift, a Ph.D student in environmental science at the University of Washington. (See "Are Crows Smarter Than Children?")

But it doesn't necessarily mean the birds are mourning for their lost buddy. Rather, they're likely trying to find out if there's a threat where the death occurred, so they can avoid it in the future.

One study involved using masks to see if crows would avoid humans who handled dead crows (and thereby implicated themselves in the investigation.) They did. On the other hand, if crows are smart enough to investigate murders, maybe they're smart enough to take one look at that mask and think: "OK, that is definitely a murderer." Read the rest

New documents shed light on secret DoJ rules for targeting journalists with National Security Letters

In July 2015, Freedom of the Press Foundation sued the Justice Department (DOJ) over the agency’s secret rules governing how the FBI can target members of the media with due process-free National Security Letters, and we have just received documents back in the ongoing lawsuit. Read the rest

Why do smart people live longer?

Numerous research studies have correlated higher IQs with longer lifespans. Why? One reason could be that smarter people apparently don't do as many dumb things that could kill them early. In Scientific American, Michigan State University psychologist David Z. Hambrick looks at the latest research in cognitive epidemiology:

One possibility is that a higher IQ contributes to optimal health behaviors, such as exercising, wearing a seatbelt, and not smoking. Consistent with this hypothesis, in the Scottish data, there was no relationship between IQ and smoking behavior in the 1930s and 1940s, when the health risks of smoking were unknown, but after that, people with higher IQs were more likely to quit smoking. Alternatively, it could be that some of the same genetic factors contribute to variation in both IQ and in the propensity to engage in these sorts of behaviors.

Another possibility is that IQ is an index of bodily integrity, and particularly the efficiency of the nervous system.

"Research Confirms a Link between Intelligence and Life Expectancy" Read the rest

British intelligence's use of persuasion psychology

The documents leaked by Edward Snowden revealed a division of British intelligence focused on the use of psychological science to influence, deceive, and infiltrate suspected terrorist cells, hostile states, criminal gangs, and activist groups. Vaughan "Mind Hacks" Bell investigates, and notes that some of their techniques draw heavily from the work of Robert Cialdini, author of Influence, an absolute must-read classic book about techniques of persuasion. Read the rest

Do IQ test results mean anything at all?

The answer is yes — but only in certain circumstances and that "yes" comes with a whole bunch of caveats. At Discover, Emily Sohn has a nice basic primer on what we know now about intelligence testing and what your score on an IQ test does and doesn't mean. Read the rest

Washington's $52.6 billion "black budget" exposed

The Washington Post's Barton Gellman and Greg Miller detail the vast sums of money America spends on intelligence operations, far from public scrutiny.

Among the notable revelations in the budget summary:

•Spending by the CIA has surged past that of every other spy agency, with $14.7 billion in requested funding for 2013. The figure vastly exceeds outside estimates and is nearly 50 percent above that of the National Security Agency, which conducts eavesdropping operations and has long been considered the behemoth of the community.

•The CIA and NSA have launched aggressive new efforts to hack into foreign computer networks to steal information or sabotage enemy systems, embracing what the budget refers to as “offensive cyber operations.”

•The NSA planned to investigate at least 4,000 possible insider threats in 2013, cases in which the agency suspected sensitive information may have been compromised by one of its own. The budget documents show that the U.S. intelligence community has sought to strengthen its ability to detect what it calls “anomalous behavior” by personnel with access to highly classified material.

•U.S. intelligence officials take an active interest in foes as well as friends. Pakistan is described in detail as an “intractable target,” and counterintelligence operations “are strategically focused against [the] priority targets of China, Russia, Iran, Cuba and Israel.”

Don't miss this incredible, clarifying interactive chart. Read the rest

Octopus limbs have a mind of their own

A couple of years ago, I recorded a talk on octopus neurobiology. One of the freakiest things you'll learn, if you watch it, is that an octopus' "brain" isn't really a centralized thing the way ours is. The processing capacity is distributed throughout the animal's body. At io9 today, Annalee Newitz writes about a new study that backs up that idea, demonstrating that disembodied octopus arms react to threats in ways a severed human hand never could. Read the rest

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