Category Archives: Globe in Brief, Spring 2017

Russia and CIA Hack French Elections

The political campaign of French presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron has said recently that their servers have been targeted by Russian hackers. Since these allegations, however, a Wikileaks document has shown the CIA had “targeted for infiltration” all the major political parties in a 10-month period around France’s 2012 presidential election.

The CIA operation was titled the espionage order for “Non Ruling Political Parties and Candidates Strategic Election Plans”, and included both the CIA’s human (“HUMINT”) and electronic (“SIGINT”) spies. This appears to have been significantly more advanced than the current accusations of Russian interference in the ongoing election.

France’s political parties are currently worried about a “spear phishing” campaign identical to the attacks launched against the U.S., apparently from Russia, that targeted the DNC and John Podesta’s emails. After his meeting with French candidate Marine Le Pen in Moscow, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s support for Eurosceptic parties in the E.U. is certain, but the allegations of hacks against Europe’s pro-E.U. political parties have not been substantiated. Whatever outcome of the infiltration and investigations, the first round of the election will be held on April 23.

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Top Scientists Condemn U.S. Environment Chief’s Climate Change Denial

Statements made by Scott Pruitt, Donald Trump’s appointee as head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), in March, in which he denied human emissions as the primary cause of climate change, have contradicted the EPA’s own stance on climate change as well as the consensus of the scientific community.

As Oklahoma’s attorney general, Scott Pruitt had lobbied against the EPA on behalf of fossil fuel industries. His own biography describes him as “a leading advocate against the EPA’s activist agenda.” His appointment has caused concern.

“Having Scott Pruitt in charge of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is like putting an arsonist in charge of fighting fires,” says Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club. One of the oldest conservation organizations in the U.S., the Sierra Club has over 2 million supporters.

Over 97 percent of climate experts have firmly concluded that human-caused climate change is happening, according to the American Association for the Advancement of the Sciences, the world’s largest general science society. They recently released a report which said that switching to renewable energy could avoid warming above 2C, beyond which we face “game over” for human life, with severe droughts and weather events that would kill millions and force many more to flee their regions, making the current flow of refugees seem like a trickle by comparison.

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Wikileaks “Vault 7” Dump Proves You Were Right to be Paranoid

In March, Wikileaks started releasing a series of documents titled “Vault 7”, which consists of thousands of pages of sophisticated hacking tools and techniques used by the CIA to break into computers, smartphones, and even smart televisions with listening capability. It also revealed the CIA’s investigations into hacking software in cars to cause them to crash, in effect committing assassinations that would leave no evidence.

After the Snowden revelations, the U.S. tech industry received a commitment from the Obama administration that the NSA would disclose serious vulnerabilities or “zero days” to U.S. manufacturers such as Apple and Google. These new leaks reveal the intelligence community is still hoarding these vulnerabilities.

Software vulnerabilities make everyone susceptible to attack, cybercrime, identity theft, and privacy violations. By discovering but not revealing vulnerabilities, the CIA left these software backdoors open to foreign hackers and cyber criminals, rather than allowing manufacturers to fix them. “The CIA ensures that it can hack everyone; at the expense of leaving everyone hackable,” points out Wikileaks. The US intelligence community has again misled Congress and the public.

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China Bans Coal Imports from North Korea

China has banned all coal imports from North Korea until the end of the year. This comes as a major blow to Pyongyang as coal provides one of North Korea’s major financial lifelines. The announcement comes after recent North Korean missile tests and is a sign that Beijing is increasing pressure on Pyongyang to de-escalate tensions in the region. Coal is North Korea’s single largest export, and the nation is heavily reliant on trade with China due to its increasing international isolation and ensuing economic decline.

The Chinese Commerce Ministry has said that China is fulfilling its obligations to last November’s U.N. Security Council resolution to impose greater economic sanctions on North Korea after its fifth nuclear test of 2016; however, this recent move comes only a day after North Korea’s recent test of an intermediate-range ballistic missile.

North Korea has continued ballistic missile testing since the ban was announced. A recent test coincided with joint U.S.-South Korean military exercises and aimed 3 missiles into Japanese waters.

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US Drops Some Restrictions on Cyber-Security Sales to Russian Spy Agency

In February the U.S. Treasury Department announced that it would be easing some economic sanctions on Russia, allowing limited cyber-security transactions with the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB). This move removes some of the sanctions initially imposed by President Obama in April 2015, and strengthened in December 2016 in reaction to the accusations of “malicious cyber-enabled activities” by the FSB during the U.S. presidential election.

White House spokesman Sean Spicer has said that this does not mark a new policy shift, but that the easing is instead “a regular course of action” that the Treasury has taken to address the sanctions’ unintended consequences. Some U.S. companies had complained that the sanctions limited their ability to sell electronics in Russia, as the FSB maintains control over imports to Russia of devices with encryption technology. Encryption technology is now used in many messaging apps and programs in response to the Snowden revelations that showed the NSA were collecting mass communications data from civilians.

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33 Civilians Dead After U.S. Airstrike on a School in Syria

At least 33 civilians were killed by several U.S. airstrikes on a school in Mansoura, a rural town in Raqqa Province in Syria, early in the morning on March 21. The school had been used as a refuge for around 50 families fleeing from ISIS-controlled Raqqa. It was almost completely levelled in the airstrikes. The number of dead has been confirmed by local residents as well as state television.

The U.S.-backed coalition first claimed that they had no indications that civilians had been hit. Since then they have announced that they are investigating claims that civilians were killed.

Airways, a U.K.-based NGO that monitors international airstrikes against ISIS, has suggested that as many as 370 civilian deaths were caused by coalition attacks in the first week of March alone. These attacks have raised concerns that the U.S. military has become less selective in its targeting, in line with claims made by U.S. President Donald Trump that he would loosen restrictions intended to protect civilians during attacks on ISIS.

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