A Brief Note About Rear Admiral Jackson’s Press Conference This Afternoon

By now pretty much everyone is aware that Rear Admiral (RADM) Ronny Jackson, the President’s and the White House physician, appeared at the White House Spokesperson’s (almost) daily press conference. He ran through the results of the President’s annual physical from last Friday and then took questions. For almost an hour. I’ve seen that it has been bandied about in some of the comments’ to other posts that RADM Jackson may be lying or fudging or was ordered to lie to protect the President. Regardless of what anyone thinks of the President, such an order would be both illegal and violate RADM Jackson’s professional responsibilities under his licensure as a physician. Had the results been bad they would have had the President invoke his HIPAA rights, cancelled RADM Jackson’s appearance and done what they usually do – brazen their way through it.

Not everything is a conspiracy. And not every piece of news you don’t like is an attempt to purposefully deceive people. A conspiracy would be having the results classified and compartmented as a matter of national security; staffing appropriate, plausible sounding talking points through the intelligence community, and then briefing those. This would also be illegal. Material cannot be classified to prevent personal and/or professional embarrassment. Moreover, the actual results would most likely leak.

The physical itself, as well as the results presented today were overseen and done by a respected physician who is also a flag officer. This isn’t the hastily typed note that Dr. Feelgood, St. Tropez School of Medicine and Mixology – Class of 78, produced for the campaign. It was a legitimate annual medical check up done in a state of the art facility by uniformed and civilian medical and laboratory professionals. While the cognitive exam, the Montreal Cognitive Assessment (MoCA), only takes a few minutes to complete, it is a legitimate exam. It is not, however, a psychological/psychiatric examination.

We all know people with absolutely terrible lifestyle habits that routinely get excellent results on medical tests and live far longer than we’d expect based on diet, dearth of exercise, smoking, and/or drinking. We all also know people who work to keep their diets clean, exercise regularly, minimize their risk factors, and get marginal to poor results on a number of these tests. It is what it is.

What has to be considered and understood, in light of what RADM Jackson briefed today, is that at present there is neither a medical or cognitive explanation for the President’s behavior. The impulsiveness, the recklessness, the pettiness, the strange speech patterns, the hair trigger temper, the poor grammar and syntax, including in the tweets, are simply the President. This is who he is. From my understanding of the reporting by his unauthorized biographers, his ghost writer (Tony Schwartz), his former managers (Barbara Res), this is who the President has always been. And it is who he will continue to be.

Open thread.



Some Thoughts On Martin Luther King Day From The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Himself

There is really nothing I can say about what the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King was trying to teach us all and motivate us all to accomplish that he did not say himself. Given that reality, here he is in his own words. The Other America (1967):

The Three Evils of Society (1967):

Beyond Vietnam (1967):

Finally, as I wrote in last year’s Independence Day post, during the years prior to the Great Rebellion, America abolitionists rewrote the lyrics to My Country Tis of Thee. This abolitionist variant, done in a minor key, becomes a haunting spiritual begging the divine providence cited by the Founders in the Declaration, Constitution, and their other writings to finally bring liberty to all. This variant is below:

I will only say, in honor of the day and the man it is named after, that if one is not considered equal, then none of us are equal. And if one is not free, none of us are free. That has always been the challenge of America’s ideals versus America’s reality. It is up to us to do the hard work, small and large, to bridge that gap and to truly form a more perfect Union. Open thread!



Penetration At All Levels: US Senate Edition

This is what happens when you decide to play political games for power and profit rather than provide for the common defense and promote the general welfare! That this is being disclosed now means that the penetration has occurred, Senators, their staffs, and/or their campaigns are already compromised, and the enemy – Russia – wants everyone to know in order to increase the confusion and distrust and further aggravate the social, political, economic, religious, and ethnic/racial tensions and divisions in the US. Are Senators Grassley’s and Graham’s recent actions the result of being compromised or attempts to seek partisan advantage? And what about the House of Representatives? There is no way the Russians have hacked the Senate, but not the House.

From The Associated Press:

PARIS (AP) — The same Russian government-aligned hackers who penetrated the Democratic Party have spent the past few months laying the groundwork for an espionage campaign against the U.S. Senate, a cybersecurity firm said Friday.

The revelation suggests the group often nicknamed Fancy Bear, whose hacking campaign scrambled the 2016 U.S. electoral contest, is still busy trying to gather the emails of America’s political elite.

“They’re still very active — in making preparations at least — to influence public opinion again,” said Feike Hacquebord, a security researcher at Trend Micro Inc., which published the report . “They are looking for information they might leak later.”

The Senate Sergeant at Arms office, which is responsible for the upper house’s security, declined to comment.

Hacquebord said he based his report on the discovery of a clutch of suspicious-looking websites dressed up to look like the U.S. Senate’s internal email system. He then cross-referenced digital fingerprints associated with those sites to ones used almost exclusively by Fancy Bear, which his Tokyo-based firm dubs “Pawn Storm.”

Trend Micro previously drew international attention when it used an identical technique to uncover a set of decoy websites apparently set up to harvest emails from the French presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron’s campaign in April 2017. The sites’ discovery was followed two months later by a still-unexplained publication of private emails from several Macron staffers in the final days of the race.

Hacquebord said the rogue Senate sites — which were set up in June and September of 2017 — matched their French counterparts.

“That is exactly the way they attacked the Macron campaign in France,” he said.

Business Insider also has coverage:

The US Senate was targeted last year by the same hacking group that broke into the Democratic National Committee servers during the 2016 presidential election, according to the cybersecurity firm Trend Micro.

The research firm found that phishing sites were set up by Pawn Storm, also known as Fancy Bear or APT28, mimicking the Senate’s internal email system in an attempt to gain users’ login credentials.

“By looking at the digital fingerprints of these phishing sites and comparing them with a large data set that spans almost five years, we can uniquely relate them to a couple of Pawn Storm incidents in 2016 and 2017,” the researchers wrote.

The  June 2017 phishing attempts would not have been the first time the Russia-linked hackers tried to infiltrate the US Senate.  In its extensive analysis of Fancy Bear’s targets during the presidential election, the Associated Press found that Senate staffers Robert Zarate, Josh Holmes, and Jason Thielman were targeted between 2015-2016.

Fancy Bear had a “digital hit list” throughout that period that targeted a wide range of Russia’s perceived enemies, including former Secretary of State John Kerry, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, anti-corruption activist Alexei Navalny, and half of the feminist protest punk rock group Pussy Riot.

Trend Micro said that the Senate’s Active Directory Federation Services (ADFS), which is bascially its internal email system, “is not reachable on the open internet.” But phishing of users’ credentials on a server “that is behind a firewall still makes sense.”

“In case an actor already has a foothold in an organization after compromising one user account, credential phishing could help him get closer to high profile users of interest,” the researchers wrote.

Hacquebord said he doesn’t think it’s correct to say that the methods Pawn Storm used were not advanced.

“They have to know who they want to target, and the timing is important,” Hacquebord said. “The techniques may not be advanced but the social engineering is. They’ve been using these same tactics for quite some time, and it’s been quite effective. They are also very persistent.”

He added that Pawn Storm was using zero-days, or software vulnerabilities that can be exploited by hackers before the developer discovers and patches it.

“These zero days are expensive on the black market,” Hacquebord said. “This is not the stuff of amateurs.”

In case you think compromising members of the Senate, their staffs, and their campaigns is very bad, it gets worse.

On June 13, 2017, Attorney General Jeff Sessions testified to the Senate Intelligence committee about Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. After fielding hours of questions about his knowledge of the plot, Sessions was greeted by an abrupt change in topic from Senator John McCain. “Quietly, the Kremlin has been trying to map the United States telecommunications infrastructure,” McCain announced, and described a series of alarming moves, including Russian spies monitoring the fiber optic network in Kansas and Russia’s creation of “a cyber weapon that can disrupt the United States power grids and telecommunications infrastructure.”

When McCain asked if Sessions had a strategy to counter Russia’s attacks, Sessions admitted they did not.

But while the role of hacks in the election is the subject of several ongoing probes, the hacks of other U.S. institutions and infrastructures have been largely ignored by the Trump administration, even as the hacking became more aggressive throughout 2017. In June, shortly after McCain’s testimony, the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI released an urgent joint report stating that U.S. nuclear power stations and other energy facilities had been hacked. In July, Bloomberg and the Washington Postconfirmed that the hackers worked for the Russian government.

While U.S. government officials stressed that the public was not yet at serious risk, claiming the hackers had not yet gained the ability to control the grid, intelligence officers warned that infrastructure attacks by a hostile state can also operate as a form of political leverage. Most analyses of the 2016 election hacks have framed leverage in personal terms: kompromatstolen from hacked emails used to blackmail individuals into submission or to humiliate officials as part of a propaganda campaign. Less examined is the form of leverage McCain raised at the Sessions hearing: the possibility of vital infrastructure, like the power grid, being crippled, potentially causing massive financial and humanitarian consequences. In this formulation, an entire government could ostensibly be held hostage to another government’s whim out of fear of triggering a cataclysmic attack.

As 2017 wore on, Russia continued to hack infrastructure around the world , again crippling government and corporate offices across Ukraine, along with energy sectors in the United Kingdom and government officialsin France, and ending the year targeting NATO countries through unprecedented focus on underwater North Atlantic cables that provide internet service to the U.S. and Europe. Disrupting these cables, one British naval official said, would “immediately and potentially catastrophically affect both our economy and other ways of living.”

In September, security firm Symantec said it had notified more than 100 energy companies in the U.S., Turkey, Switzerland, Afghanistan, and elsewhere about Dragonfly 2.0—a set of intrusions into industrial and energy-related companies suspected to originate in Russia. Using targeted phishing emails and compromised websites designed to capture users’ credentials, the hackers gained access in some cases not just to front-office networks but to “operational machines.” As a Symantec security analyst told Fast Company, “We’re talking about machines that are controlling elements that are plugged into the power grid.” A month later, the Dept. of Homeland Security and FBI warned critical infrastructure providers in nuclear, energy, and other key sectors about the ongoing attacks, noting that “threat actors are actively pursuing their ultimate objectives over a long-term campaign.”

And if you think Putin is going to stop, he’s not. He’s going to turn the screws.

When the employees of the famous “troll factory” in St. Petersburg return to their desks after the Russian holidays, they will be writing comments and posts on social media in much more spacious offices. As the city’s leading business daily Delovoy Peterburg reports in an investigative article published just before New Year, the 4,000 square metres of their previous address on 55, Savushkina Street have been replaced by 12,000 square metres in St Petersburg’s Lakhta business district.

The impressive threefold increase of work space is testimony to the success of the “factory”. As Russian RBC Daily’s investigation in April 2017 showed, the trolling activities have now branched out into a conglomerate of at least 16 different online outlets, all of which voice strong support for Kremlin’s policies, while systematically linking to each other’s products. At the same time they carry little or no advertisement.

The owner of the “troll factory”, businessman and billionaire Yevgeny Prigozhin, has also become known as “Putin’s chef” because of his success in providing catering services for, among other clients, the Kremlin and other branches of the Russian government. Mr Prigozhin has been sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury Department for providing financial support for Russia’s military occupation of Ukraine. Delovoy Peterburg’s investigation also reveals that the owners of the new premises are contributors to President Putin’s election campaign.

As I wrote 18 months ago: we are at cyberwar. I was one of the first national security professionals to publicly make that argument based on what was available in open source reporting. Eighteen months later we have actually moved to the point were the cyberwar is just one of the fronts in an elaborate, multi-pronged Russian attack and offensive against the US, our EU and NATO allies, and other liberal democratic states and societies. A formal declaration of war and placing the US on a mobilized for war footing in order to appropriately respond is no longer something to joke about. We can either get serious with this threat and respond appropriately through a formal declaration of war, placing the US on a war footing to fight back, and the mobilization of our closest allies by invoking NATO Article 5 or we can watch Putin make bank as he dismantles liberal democracy in the US, Canada, and the EU and then tries to scarf up eastern Europe, the Baltics, and parts of Scandanavia.

This is not a game. It is not a joke. This is not politics as usual or as unusual. This is not about partisan advantage. We have wasted trillions of dollars, thousands of American and allied lives, and hundreds of thousands to millions of lives of host country nationals caught in the crossfire misunderstanding and improperly responding to Islamic extremism and the terrorism it engenders as an existential threat. Right now we have decided to purposefully ignore a real existential threat: Russia’s war against the US, the EU, NATO, and liberal democracy because it might jeopardize Paul Ryan’s desires to gut Social Security, Mitch McConnell’s dreams to gut campaign finance laws and pack the Federal courts, Stephen Miller’s blatant racism, Mike Pence’s fetish for punishing LGBTQ people because they make him feel icky about himself, and the President’s psychological inability to come to terms with the fact that he is only in office because Vladimir Putin felt threatened by Secretary Clinton combined with the desires of a plurality of white racists and misogynists to make one last stand for bigotry and oppression. And because stating that truth is considered to be politically inappropriate. We can either get it together or we can be remembered as a society so stupid we allowed ourselves to be subverted and destroyed without a single shot being fired.

As I asked eighteen months ago: we are at war, what are we going to do about it?



Here’s a Little Bit of Hope on What Seems to be a Hopeless Night

 

Between the racks of canned beans and rolls of toilet paper in a bodega in Borough Park, Brooklyn, a staircase hides beside the shelves.

It leads to a cavern where, for the past 14 years, the bodega owner has quietly housed scores of homeless men, some with violent pasts and mental illness. He takes them in, from local park benches and street corners, unable to bear the idea of anyone out in the cold.

Here, beneath the shelves of instant soup and paper towels is an unauthorized shelter in its most primal form — a dank unfinished basement, cavelike and fetid, where the men sleep on pallets amid pools of dark water on the cement floor.

But there is real warmth, the men say. It comes from behind the deli counter, where seven days a week, stands the welcoming bodega owner, Candido Arcángel.

The shop is zoned for commercial use, and the basement does not have the required certificate of occupancy to permit people to live there. Mr. Arcángel has not made the necessary applications to the Department of Buildings to convert it into habitable space, which would require an inspection to determine if it is safe to do so.

The absence of permits has not deterred Mr. Arcángel, who says his reasoning for opening his basement to the homeless is simple. “Because they don’t have,” he said. “And I do.”

Mr. Arcángel recognizes the limitations of the crude shelter he provides; its rawness, he imagines, will prevent anyone from getting too comfortable. He aspires to be a way station for men who don’t get such things, but he fears his refuge becoming a crutch. “I tell them this: “Gentlemen, here, there’s no way out,” he said. “‘Take off like a dove, flying. You’ll learn to fly on your own. When I die, where will you go?’”
Here’s the kicker:

Mr. Arcángel grew up in the Dominican Republic, with dreams of becoming a baseball player. He played professionally on a Venezuelan team for one year, he said, before a shoulder injury ended his career and he left for America in 1989. It was his experience as a boy playing on teams — where children from working-class families like himself played alongside street children — that showed him how providing some structure, even in the form of uniforms, bats and gloves, transformed his teammates’ lives.

“These youths that were lost, you have to find them, and bring them in, so they could love God,” he said. “This is not a personal mission; it’s a mission for the good of society.”

That’s right, Mr. Arcángel immigrated from a country the President no doubt considers a shithole. Yet it is Mr. Arcángel who is doing his part to maintain and extend America’s civil society, not tear it down through petty bigotry.

Stay frosty (and warm)!

Open thread.



Senator Cardin’s Report on the US Security Concerns of Russian Active Measures and Cyberwarfare

Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD) has overseen the production of a report on the US security concerns regarding the Russian active measures and cyberwarfare campaigns against the US and a number of European states. This is a minority staff report prepared for the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations. The report can be found at this link or downloaded below. A section by section summary can be found at this link or downloaded below.

Final_Cardin_Report Section by Sections of RR 1-8

For those interested, here’s the video of the German Marshall Fund’s event about the report with Senator Cardin and Congressman Hurd.

Responding to Russia’s Attacks on Democracy

January 10, 2018 | 8:45AM to 10:30AM EST
Washington, DC

Discussants

  • Panel 1: U.S. Senator Ben Cardin, Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (D-MD)
  • Panel 2: U.S. Congressman Will Hurd, Member of the House Committee on Homeland Security (R-TX)

Moderator

  • Secretary Michael Chertoff, former United States Secretary of Homeland Security

While Americans have recently been awakened to the threat of Vladimir Putin’s efforts to undermine democratic institutions in the United States, such tactics are all too familiar to our European partners and allies who have been on the frontlines of Russia’s assault on democracy. There is much we can learn from the history of Russia’s activities aimed at undermining democracies in Europe, as well as from how our European partners and allies respond. The U.S. government, including the Executive Branch and Congress, must take steps to work with our European partners and allies to defend against and deter such activities in the future.

Please join the Alliance for Securing Democracy at The German Marshall Fund of the United States for a two-part discussion. The first conversation will feature U.S. Senator Ben Cardin, ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, as he presents findings from his new report, “Putin’s Asymmetric Assault on Democracy in Russia and Europe: Implications for U.S. National Security.” This will be directly followed by a conversation with U.S. Representative Will Hurd on Russia’s threat to U.S. national security. Former U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff will moderate both sessions.

Open thread!



Breaking: Senator Feinstein Has Released The Transcript of Glenn Simpson’s Testimony To The Senate Judiciary Committee

Senator Feinstein has released the transcript of Glenn Simpson’s, of Fusion GPS, testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee. You can find all 312 pages at this link. Or access it below in case Senator Grassley throws a tantrum and it get’s removed from Senator Feinstein’s outward facing Senate page. I haven’t had a chance to read through this and won’t get to it till at least tomorrow, if not later in the week, but enjoy!

Simpson_Testimony

Open thread!



Breaking News: Federal District Court Judge Gloria Navarro Dismisses All Charges in Bundy Trial With Prejudice

From Maxine Bernstein at The Oregonian:

U.S. District Judge Gloria M. Navarro methodically listed the prosecution’s six separate violations of the Brady law, which requires turning over evidence potentially favorable to the defense. The judge further ruled that each violation was willful.

If ever there was a time when federal prosecutors needed to make sure they acted with complete integrity it was in the high-stakes Bundy case, legal observers say. The defendants already held a deep suspicion of the government and had successfully rallied followers to their cause.

Now, the question becomes whether prosecutors can pursue a new trial, and the judge’s finding of deliberate misconduct gives the Bundys a good argument to seek an outright dismissal and walk away free men, legal experts said.

In the meantime, the dissection has begun: How could prosecutors have lost sight of due process, one of the basic tenets of the legal system.

The judge’s rebuke of Nevada’s Acting U.S. Attorney Steven Myhre, the lead, and two seasoned veteran Assistant U.S. attorneys, Daniel Schiess and Nadia Ahmed, was remarkable in and of itself.

“This is every prosecutor’s nightmare,” said Kent Robinson, a retired federal prosecutor who served six years as chief of the criminal division in Oregon’s U.S. Attorney’s Office.

When a judge makes a finding of misconduct by a prosecutor, the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Professional Responsibility investigates and determines if discipline is warranted, which can range from a reprimand to a suspension.

That scrutiny is underway. Ian D. Prior, deputy director of public affairs in the Justice Department, announced that U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions “takes this issue very seriously.”

Sessions “has personally directed that an expert in the department’s discovery obligations be deployed to examine the case and advise as to next steps,” Prior said.

Much more at the link.

JJ McNab, a journalist and scholar of domestic right wing extremism, has this preliminary analysis:

This is going to be a fluid situation. Expect the analysis to continue throughout the day before it firms up. Also, given what we know of the Bundy’s, they’re likely to overplay this – badly. They have an uncanny knack for creating the conditions for trouble, having it find them, having others get in trouble for it – several others are already serving jail terms for both the Bunkerville standoff and the Malheur standoff as well – and walking away themselves with no real legal consequences. This will embolden them, their fellow travelers, and their supporters.

Things are likely to get lively in Nevada.

Stay frosty (or warm if you’re where it is really cold).

Open thread!

Also, obligatory: