Mike Nova’s Shared NewsLinks
|Mike Nova’s Shared NewsLinks|
|Puerto Rico Economic Development Dept. promotes investment in medical cannabis market Caribbean Business|
SAN JUAN – Puerto Rico Economic Development Secretary Manuel Laboy announced Monday that the island was presented to some 14,000 “world leaders” of the medicinal cannabis market as an ideal investment destination.
The island’s pitch was given during the sixth annual Marijuana Business Conference & Expo, a major industry event, held this year in Las Vegas.
“The medical cannabis industry survived Hurricane María. This puts this industry in a privileged position, and at DDEC [Spanish acronym for the Economic Development & Commerce Department] we believe we had to let the world know. Therefore, through the Puerto Rico Medical Cannabis Association [PRMCA] we backed a commercial mission to present Puerto Rico as an investment destination and an ideal international market for medicinal cannabis,” Laboy said in a written statement.
“This effort also served to demonstrate to the pioneers and connoisseurs of this market, who gathered to discuss the latest trends in the industry, that Puerto Rico is up, strengthened and ready to develop this industry so it represents opportunities for the country’s economic growth, generates jobs and provides alternatives for medical treatment to so many patients who need relief from their chronic conditions,” the official added.
Laboy Rivera said that after Hurricane María, the cannabis market, like other industries, faced challenges to be able to conserve crops and continue distribution, as well as working on an ecosystem that involves manufacturing, cultivation, laboratories, dispensaries and education.
“It is extremely important and necessary to deliver the message that Puerto Rico has taken measures to protect the industry and is doing everything necessary to continue developing it at the highest level of quality and competitiveness,” the secretary said.
He added that, during the event, funds were also raised to subsidize the cost of medicine for patients registered in the Medical Cannabis Program in Puerto Rico and to have new patients join it free of cost.
The effort is supported by celebrities such as Montel Williams, a multiple sclerosis patient and Emmy-winning TV personality who, through his LenitivLabs, established a fundraising alliance with the PRMCA.
“We have the ecosystem ready to continue with the production of medicinal cannabis to supply local demand and forge alliances with international business people, which will result in new investments for Puerto Rico. This industry has many opportunities to continue growing, develop new businesses related to this activity and become a significant source of jobs for the country,” PRMCA President Ingrid Schmidt said.
According to PRMCA estimates, the cannabis industry in Puerto Rico has generated more than $35 million for the economy and more than 1,000 direct and indirect jobs in its short development period.
According to Health Department reports, there are about 12,000 PRMCA-registered patients, who are being treated for epilepsy, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, anxiety disorder, fibromyalgia, arthritis and cancer, among other conditions.
|Countering Russian Information Operations in the Age of Social Media|
As investigations into attempts to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential election continue, more aspects of Russia’s approach to information warfare are coming to light. A steady stream of new disclosures is revealing a complex blend of hacking, public disclosures of private emails, and use of bots, trolls, and targeted advertising on social media designed to interfere in political processes and heighten societal tensions.
Moscow’s hostile actions are driven by the belief that Russia is already in a state of conflict with the West, led by the United States, and that the internet is a domain for waging this conflict. From the earliest stages of the internet’s development, Russia has held a starkly different view from the West of its benefits and its potential. Russia’s national security establishment immediately saw connectivity as a threat and a potential weapon—and eventually as one that could help achieve regime change and deprive a country of its sovereignty—rather than as an enabler of economic development.
The organization of Russia’s information-warfare capabilities, which include cyber operators, media outlets, and false flag entities, is shrouded in secrecy. In the West, generally only the intelligence community has a clear picture of how Russian capabilities are directed. Barring the sudden appearance of a Russian counterpart to Edward Snowden, the only view into Russia’s information toolbox is provided by cybersecurity companies and criminal prosecutions. The picture is further muddied because the Russian government keeps many of its cyberwarfare actors at arm’s length by employing contractors and former criminals through middlemen, giving Moscow a degree of deniability if caught.
Nevertheless, both Western governments and private industry can take steps to mitigate Russian influence operations. Western governments should swiftly and decisively denounce Russian information activities as soon as they are identified, and their counterintelligence agencies should identify quantitative means to measure the effectiveness of Russia’s methods. Social media companies should more aggressively police their platforms for malicious state-sponsored content, and they should work with news organizations to promote verified and fact-checked content on their platforms.
Russia’s long-standing, overall foreign policy objective is to weaken adversaries, particularly countries on its periphery, those in NATO, and the United States, by any means available, and its information warfare targets social cohesion and political systems toward this aim. During the twentieth century, the Soviet Union exploited freedom of expression in the West by planting and spreading fake news stories. In the last decade, the rise of social media has made this task vastly simpler. And at least since 2016, Moscow has also exploited the sophisticated advertising networks used by legitimate companies and political campaigns to precisely target audiences for disinformation.
Russia worked toward this objective during the 2016 U.S. election campaign, when Russian agents combined technical and psychological measures to sway U.S. voters away from Hillary Clinton and toward Donald J. Trump. Hackers obtained documents and selectively released them to embarrass the Clinton campaign, while their carefully targeted social media operations denigrated Clinton and boosted the Trump agenda.
Russia attempted similar campaigns during the French election in May 2017, but a forewarned French government and media meant that the activities met with only limited technical success and had no significant bearing on the election result. French law prohibits candidates from campaigning and the media from quoting candidates or campaign officials within forty-four hours of a presidential vote. That prevented the French media from disclosing the contents of emails leaked from Emmanuel Macron’s campaign in the hours before the vote. French media users also tend to get their news from traditional outlets rather than social media, which further limited the leak’s effectiveness.
It is harder to discern whether or how Russia meddled in the German elections in September 2017. One possible explanation is that after the French experience, Russia chose not to interfere in Germany; another is that Russia did attempt to interfere, but the techniques used were more subtle and are not yet fully understood. (Many of the implements used in the U.S. election are only becoming widely known a year after the event.) But even if Russia’s potential election manipulation is unsuccessful or entirely absent, just its suggestion is enough to cause uncertainty and doubt about the democratic process and hence meet Russia’s objectives.
Russian attempts to sow discord are not confined to elections. Attempts to meddle in U.S. internal affairs have continued since the election. Most recently, Russian internet trolls published divisive messages on social media in response to the controversy over NFL players’ kneeling during the national anthem. According to the research group Alliance for Securing Democracy, more than six hundred Russian-backed accounts promoted hashtags aimed at fueling the debate.
The digital processing of personal data, including browsing history and consumer spending, enables anyone to precisely target selected groups and individuals by geographic location and socioeconomic status. In particular, malicious actors are able to show contradictory messages to different groups of users, categorized by political, ethnic, religious, or demographic characteristics, in order to play on existing tensions within target societies. Information is slowly emerging about the extent to which this method was employed by Russian-linked entities during and after the U.S. presidential election, but its overall effect remains unclear.
Cyber-enabled disinformation can have a measurable objective and effect. One method is for hackers to insert false reports in genuine media outlets. For example, in May 2017, a malicious actor suspected to be from Russia compromised the website of a Qatari state media outlet to attribute to the emir of Qatar remarks praising Iran. This triggered a diplomatic row between Qatar and its neighbors.
The social media ecosystem provides an ideal environment for hostile information campaigns. The more incendiary the information is, the more likely it is to go viral. Many users have lost trust in established news outlets, and they tend to consume information that affirms, rather than informs, their views.
Russia has no need to create new divisions in target societies when it can exploit already-existing fault lines. For example, Russian-backed efforts amplified the controversy about the NFL and the national anthem by promoting the most divisive and extreme voices in the debate. Now, as during the Cold War, the strongest defense against malign Russian influence is to identify the divisions and social ills that provide Russia with leverage. Remedies to these problems are complex and require significant resources and time. However, the Trump administration has shown little interest in confronting Russian cyber operations, and the president himself is actively engaged in the divisive use of social media.
Western states also depend on multinational corporations to constrain information warfare operations. Immediately after the election, Google, Facebook, Twitter, and other tech companies denied that their services could have been manipulated by disinformation campaigns. More recently, though, they have acknowledged the scope of Russian operations and have been working with third parties to flag fake news, and they have rolled out technological fixes to counter disinformation and provided limited data on the source of advertisement purchases. Critics in the media and Congress have argued that these companies’ responses have been “frankly inadequate on almost every level” and are unlikely to succeed.
Although the Trump administration seems unlikely to pursue action against Russian information operations, there are steps the U.S. Congress and other governments should consider.
Awareness of the challenge of Russian information warfare is the most potent defense against it. Western nations were initially slow to respond to the multifaceted nature of Russia’s developing online capabilities. The focus in the West was almost exclusively on countering technical threats delivered through cyberspace, such as economic crime, espionage, and attacks on critical infrastructure. This approach neglected the additional capabilities that Russia was building up in other areas of information warfare.
More recently in Europe, however, increasing awareness of the threat has enabled society, media, and governments to put appropriate defenses in place. In Germany, public awareness and interest in hostile information operations had been aroused by the “Lisa” case, in which Russia attempted to stoke anti-immigrant sentiment. The media blackout in France helped blunt the effect of Russia’s interference in the presidential election; but Macron’s campaign was also aware of Russia’s attempts to influence the outcome and took countermeasures. Leaders in other Western nations should be open and outspoken about the nature of the challenge, as doing so has been shown to be highly effective in raising public awareness and decreasing potential targets’ susceptibility to information operations.
Another essential step to countering information warfare is for governments targeted by Russian influence operations to develop a metric of damage that acknowledges a range of objectives, including influencing elections. Countries including the United States, Germany, and the United Kingdom have made little visible effort to quantify the success and effectiveness of Russia’s subversion and disinformation campaigns. This raises the risk that targeted governments could misdirect resources and countermeasures against ineffective threats that could reasonably be simply monitored, while overlooking other threats that could cause actual harm.
Once harmful information operations are identified, targeted states should quickly denounce them, both to minimize their effectiveness and to deter other actors that might want to conduct Russian-style operations. Policymakers should also warn other states tempted to combine cyberattacks with social media manipulation that exposure and response will be much more rapid and effective than they were in the 2016 election.
On computers, antivirus software monitors the integrity of critical systems and processes, assessing whether they have been affected by malicious data introduced from outside. Governments should develop an analogous system of identifying sources of misinformation and mapping how they influence online discourse and public opinion. This would allow them to properly assess any effect of Russian subversion on public debate. While the government agency that would conduct this monitoring would vary among countries, in each case the security and counterintelligence agencies responsible for protecting the security and integrity of state systems would need to provide support. The costs involvedin implementing such measures would be a disincentive for any Western government, but they should be weighed against the costs of the loss of political legitimacy, integrity, or, indeed, sovereignty.
Social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook have an important role to play in mitigating the effects of Russian messaging, but their primary objective is generating profits, not defending Western political systems. Attempts to introduce legislation or regulations to restrict online speech, even if they were targeted at Russian disinformation and trolls, could mirror Russian constraints on free expression and could be interpreted as running counter to the values Western societies seek to defend. Nevertheless, tech platforms have an interest in taking firm steps to prevent, for example, the hijacking of profiles of legitimate organizations and individuals for the purpose of disinformation. They also have an interest in cooperating with Western intelligence agencies, as this could provide them with greater understanding of how their systems are abused to systematically deceive their users, as well as of software bugs and other technical vulnerabilities in their products.
To address the specific problem of disinformation, social media companies should continue partnering with journalists and fact-checkers to build trust, even though this is only effective for media-literate users who take the time and effort to assess the legitimacy of sources. The extent that governments can guide such efforts will vary among countries, depending on their constitutional systems and media cultures. In the United States, for instance, the First Amendment greatly limits what the U.S. government can do to vet online media. But where government action is permissible, national media bodies, such as the United Kingdom’s Independent Press Standards Organization and the Office of Communications, should implement proposals for an open review and verification system for online media with the aim of establishing a gold standard for fact-checking and objectivity. Whichever approach countries choose to take, they should recognize that any anti-disinformation system needs protection against the same kind of gaming and abuse as any other open forum to which Russia has access.
To combat the particular challenge of how human psychology is exploited by social media disinformation, governments’ responses should be as interesting as the fake news they are countering. Simple explanations that a particular piece of news is false are not sufficient to engage target audiences. Countermeasures should focus not on fact-checking but on the deceit—emphasizing that people were conned—and, like the original disinformation, should appeal to readers’ emotions rather than their rationality, in order to be effective.
Russian information operations pose a difficult but not insurmountable challenge to targeted governments. But countermeasures should be flexible and adaptable: any success in countering Moscow’s operations will invariably cause the Kremlin to deploy new capabilities. If defenders are not prepared to be alert and agile, they will once more be taken by surprise.
This Cyber Brief is part of the Digital and Cyberspace Policy program. The Council on Foreign Relations takes no institutional positions on policy issues and has no affiliation with the U.S. government. All views expressed in its publications and on its website are the sole responsibility of the author or authors.
|A Kremlin Defender in Congress Finds Challenges on All Sides – New York Times|
|Spy Circles Suggest Kremlin Is Behind Dozens of Fake Trump Sex Tapes|
President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin on July 7, 2017. MIKHAIL KLIMENTIEV/AFP/Getty Images
Attempting to get to the bottom of a complex espionage case, untangling multiple strands of secret agentry, is the most challenging exercise in all intelligence work. It taxes the minds of the most gifted counterspies, particularly when the operation extends over years, even decades, and it involves a complex cast of players, some of them Russian.
A half-century ago, when our Intelligence Community was assessing if there were Kremlin moles inside our spy agencies (spoiler: there were), a nasty bureaucratic fight ensued that dragged on for years. The protagonist was James Angleton, the CIA’s top counterspy for two decades, who coined the term “wilderness of mirrors” to describe the impenetrable mystery of certain espionage operations. In typical Angletonian flourish, he borrowed the phrase from a T. S. Eliot poem to capture the enduring mystery of never quite grasping up from down in a case, or knowing who’s really running the show—and looking at it too closely only leads to more confusion.
I’ve previously written about Angleton’s “wilderness of mirrors,” since it remains a fascinating saga still, and I noted how tricky the counterspy game can be:
One of the alluring aspects of counterintelligence is that very complex cases can turn on very small, sometimes minute, pieces of information. And years of getting to the bottom of an operation can be swiftly overturned when one tiny—and possibly very inconvenient—fact comes to light. This is particularly a possibility when what exactly happened in a case proves hard to pin down. As most cases involving the Russians are.
This is relevant today, since between Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team and the efforts of our Intelligence Community, the secret side of Washington, D.C., is currently engaged in the biggest counterintelligence investigation since the days of VENONA in the early Cold War, when the FBI and NSA unraveled a vast Kremlin spy apparatus in our country, centered in our nation’s capital.
Seventy years later, it’s the same story, except this time the targets include not just senior White House officials—VENONA revealed that Soviet moles had burrowed deep and high into FDR’s four administrations—but the man in the Oval Office himself. Just exactly what President Donald Trump’s relationship to Moscow is constitutes the cornerstone of the inquiry, and that’s a vexing and complex question, because it requires close examination of Trump’s activities at least going back to 1987, when he took a trip to the Soviet Union.
No part of the investigation has gotten more rubber-necking than any kompromat that the Russians may possess on our president. I’m talking, of course, about the alleged “pee-pee tape” that caught the public’s attention when it was posited by the former British spy Christopher Steele in his now-infamous dossier on Donald Trump, which has become a lightning rod for all sorts of speculation, not necessarily informed.
As I’ve written about the Steele dossier, although a great deal of its raw intelligence has turned out to be true, large portions reek of disinformation— including the most salacious bits. As I explained:
The dossier’s “pee-pee tape” claim is viewed with derision by most Western spies who know the Russians. It’s very likely that the Kremlin possesses kompromat on the president—senior intelligence sources from several countries have confirmed to me that unpleasant videos of Trump exist—yet there’s no reason to believe Steele’s particular claim here, without corroborating evidence.
So, Steele’s porn-worthy allegation appears to be untrue, but the idea that our president has acted out in sexually controversial (and perhaps illegal) ways—and that somebody has filmed it—is taken very seriously by intelligence experts. Ever since Trump announced his candidacy for the White House in June 2015, espionage gossip everywhere has bandied about what might exist to corroborate decades of rumors about Trump’s antics.
It’s plausible that such kompromat exists, given our president’s lifestyle. Forty years ago, when he was partying at Manhattan’s Studio 54 at its cocaine-fueled heyday alongside celebrities and hangers-on (including the just-indicted Paul Manafort and the swinging Roger Stone), it was a wild scene of which Trump boasted: “I would watch supermodels getting screwed, well-known supermodels getting screwed, on a bench in the middle of the room. There were seven of them and each one was getting screwed by a different guy.”
Then there are the allegations that the president’s penchant for pretty girls does not always pay attention to the age of consent. One woman who’s claimed that Trump raped her when she was just 13 years old has repeatedly filed suit against the president, only to drop the case each time, most recently last year. That’s connected to the mysterious case of Jeffrey Epstein, the billionaire hedge-funder and convicted sex offender, whose “friends list” reads like a who’s-who of the male half of America’s rich and powerful.
President Trump is on that list, and rumors have swirled for years about his participation in Epstein’s underage sex escapades. There appear to be connections between Epstein’s debased antics and Trump’s Mar-A-Lago resort, now termed “the winter White House.” Hard facts remain elusive, however, and perhaps the media’s lack of ardor for getting to the bottom of this sordid case may have something to do with the fact that Epstein’s pals are a powerful bunch—and Bill Clinton is mixed up in this too.
To sum up, the idea that President Trump has been caught on tape doing something sordid is inherently in the realm of the possible. But has he been? Here’s where things get tricky, fast. I’ve investigated this issue for the past couple years. I’ve talked to dozens of well-placed sources (many of them longtime spy-friends), and I can share with you some basic conclusions.
As many as a dozen intelligence services worldwide, on four continents, are in possession of some sort of “Trump tape” featuring sexual escapades of a controversial nature; in some cases, the women involved appear to be underage. Some of these tapes have been shared with the Mueller investigation.
One Western intelligence agency with a solid professional reputation is in possession of an unpleasant Trump tape that they assess “with high confidence” is bona fide, i.e. exactly what it appears to be. They obtained the tape from a trusted source who plausibly had access to it. Over the decades, Trump has traveled widely—including to Russia more than once—and thereby exposed himself to surreptitious filming in numerous countries.
However, here’s the rub: Many of the “Trump tapes” floating around in spy circles worldwide cannot be verified, while some of them are obvious fakes. The Western spy agency that’s holding a Trump tape they’re pretty sure is real has also been approached two other times with tapes that were less solid—and one of them was transparently fake.
It’s obvious to savvy Western counterspies that someone is spreading fake Trump tapes—not all of them high quality—to muddy the waters. The obvious suspect, of course, is the Kremlin. Since the Russians know all about President Trump’s decades of personal antics, including what kompromat exists on him, they appear to be pushing dubious and unverifiable tapes, some of them obviously fake, to create chaos and confusion.
It’s working, and in the current climate, it seems doubtful that any Trump tape can be verified sufficiently to have a mainstream journalistic outfit report its details. After all, with multiple fakes out there, any bona fide tape would require not just rock-solid technical authentication, but also firming up the exact place and date of the incident, plus confirmation from the girl(s) caught on camera too. That seems like an insurmountably high bar to clear at present.
This, then, is yet another successful Kremlin spy operation, one more grand provocation to mess with our Western heads. Although Vladimir Putin is deeply disappointed with President Trump, who has failed to get sanctions lifted off Russia, much less make Washington and Moscow close partners in anything, keeping an increasingly damaged and ineffectual president in the White House, who’s incapable of accomplishing much except rage-tweeting, suits Moscow’s foreign policy needs just fine.
A half-century ago, the Kremlin dispatched multiple dangles and even a fake KGB defector to Washington to confuse American counterspies and, above all, to protect their real moles in our nation’s capital. It worked like a charm. The resulting confusion birthed Angleton’s vaunted “wilderness of mirrors,” and eventually it drove that brilliant and seasoned counterspy over the edge, never to return.
Now, in a more technologically advanced age, the Russians are playing a nearly identical operational game with fake tapes, websites, trolls and bots. The Kremlin appears to have pulled it off again, and it will take years, probably decades, to get to the bottom of the Trump tapes saga—if anybody ever does. Welcome to the Wilderness of Mirrors, Trump Edition.
John Schindler is a security expert and former National Security Agency analyst and counterintelligence officer. A specialist in espionage and terrorism, he’s also been a Navy officer and a War College professor. He’s published four books and is on Twitter at @20committee.
|New York Terror Attack Points to Growing Radicalization of Uzbeks|