Chief US spy catcher says China using LinkedIn to recruit Americans

Small toy figures are seen between displayed US flag and Linkedin logo in this illustration picture, August 30, 2018. (Reuters)
Updated 31 August 2018

Chief US spy catcher says China using LinkedIn to recruit Americans

  • German and British authorities have previously warned their citizens that Beijing is using LinkedIn to try to recruit them as spies
  • It is highly unusual for a senior US intelligence official to single out an American-owned company by name and publicly recommend it take action

WASHINGTON: The United States’ top spy catcher said Chinese espionage agencies are using fake LinkedIn accounts to try to recruit Americans with access to government and commercial secrets, and the company should shut them down.
William Evanina, the US counter-intelligence chief, told Reuters in an interview that intelligence and law enforcement officials have told LinkedIn, owned by Microsoft Corp., about China’s “super aggressive” efforts on the site.
He said the Chinese campaign includes contacting thousands of LinkedIn members at a time, but he declined to say how many fake accounts US intelligence had discovered, how many Americans may have been contacted and how much success China has had in the recruitment drive.
German and British authorities have previously warned their citizens that Beijing is using LinkedIn to try to recruit them as spies. But this is the first time a US official has publicly discussed the challenge in the United States and indicated it is a bigger problem than previously known.
Evanina said LinkedIn should look at copying the response of Twitter, Google and Facebook, which have all purged fake accounts allegedly linked to Iranian and Russian intelligence agencies.
“I recently saw that Twitter is canceling, I don’t know, millions of fake accounts, and our request would be maybe LinkedIn could go ahead and be part of that,” said Evanina, who heads the US National Counter-Intelligence and Security Center.
It is highly unusual for a senior US intelligence official to single out an American-owned company by name and publicly recommend it take action. LinkedIn boasts 562 million users in more than 200 counties and territories, including 149 million US members.
Evanina did not, however, say whether he was frustrated by LinkedIn’s response or whether he believes it has done enough.
LinkedIn’s head of trust and safety, Paul Rockwell, confirmed the company had been talking to US law enforcement agencies about Chinese espionage efforts. Earlier this month, LinkedIn said it had taken down “less than 40” fake accounts whose users were attempting to contact LinkedIn members associated with unidentified political organizations. Rockwell did not say whether those were Chinese accounts.
“We are doing everything we can to identify and stop this activity,” Rockwell told Reuters. “We’ve never waited for requests to act and actively identify bad actors and remove bad accounts using information we uncover and intelligence from a variety of sources including government agencies.”
Rockwell declined to provide numbers of fake accounts associated with Chinese intelligence agencies. He said the company takes “very prompt action to restrict accounts and mitigate and stop any essential damage that can happen” but gave no details.
LinkedIn “is a victim here,” Evanina said. “I think the cautionary tale ... is, ‘You are going to be like Facebook. Do you want to be where Facebook was this past spring with congressional testimony, right?’” he said, referring to lawmakers’ questioning of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg on Russia’s use of Facebook to meddle in the 2016 US elections.
China’s foreign ministry disputed Evanina’s allegations.
“We do not know what evidence the relevant US officials you cite have to reach this conclusion. What they say is complete nonsense and has ulterior motives,” the ministry said in a statement.

Three female media workers shot dead in eastern Afghanistan

Updated 02 March 2021

Three female media workers shot dead in eastern Afghanistan

  • Zalmai Latifi — the director at Enikass TV — said the women were killed in two separate attacks after leaving the station
  • Nangarhar police chief Juma Gul Hemat said an armed suspect was later taken into custody following the shootings

JALALABAD, Afghanistan: Three female media workers were shot and killed in the eastern Afghan city of Jalalabad on Tuesday, their TV network said, in what appeared to be the latest targeted killing to rock the war-torn country.
Zalmai Latifi — the director at Enikass TV — said the women were killed in two separate attacks after leaving the station.
“They are all dead. They were going home from the office on foot when they were shot,” Latifi told AFP, saying all three worked in the dubbing department for the broadcaster.
Zahir Adel, a spokesman at Nangarhar’s provincial hospital, also confirmed the toll.
No group has so far claimed responsibility for the attacks.
Nangarhar police chief Juma Gul Hemat said an armed suspect was later taken into custody following the shootings, adding that authorities were still looking for other culprits.
“We arrested as he was trying to escape,” said Hemat. “He has admitted that he carried out the attack. He is a Taliban member.”
A Taliban spokesman later denied that the group had any hands in the killings.
Journalists, religious scholars, activists and judges have all been targeted in a recent wave of political assassinations that have spread panic across Afghanistan and forced many into hiding — with some even fleeing the country.
The killings have increased since peace talks were launched last year between the Afghan government and the Taliban — the latest attempt to end decades of conflict.
Afghan and US officials have blamed the Taliban for the wave of violence, but the group has denied the charges.
The killings come as the US special envoy to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad returned to Kabul this week for meetings with Afghan leaders, in a bid to revive a flagging peace process as violence soars in the war-weary country and a deadline for US troop withdrawal draws closer.
Khalilzad’s arrival marks the first time he has returned to Afghanistan since US President Joe Biden took office in January and asked him to stay in his post.
Donald Trump’s administration, eager to end America’s longest war, tasked the veteran diplomat with negotiating with the Taliban, culminating in a deal signed in Qatar on February 29 last year.
The accord states that the US will withdraw all troops from Afghanistan by May, with the Taliban promising not to allow territory to be used by terrorists — the original goal of the US invasion following the September 11, 2001 attacks.
Speculation is rife over America’s future in Afghanistan, after the White House announced plans to review a withdrawal deal brokered by Khalilzad and the Taliban in Doha last year.
Fears are growing across Afghanistan that a speedy US withdrawal from the country may unleash even greater chaos in the war-weary country.

Diversity and Netflix dominate Golden Globes

Updated 01 March 2021

Diversity and Netflix dominate Golden Globes

  • ‘Nomadland’ wins best drama movie at mainly virtual Hollywood ceremony

LOS ANGELES: Drama “Nomadland” and satire “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm” won movie honors at the Golden Globes on Sunday in a mostly virtual bicoastal ceremony that was marked by impassioned calls for more diversity and the dominance of Netflix.

“Nomadland,” a moving drama about van dwellers in recession-hit America from Searchlight Pictures, also took the best director prize for Chinese-born Chloe Zhao. It made Zhao only the second woman to win at the Globes in that category, and the first woman director of Asian descent to win.

“For everyone who has gone through this difficult and beautiful journey at some point in their lives, this is for you,” said Zhao.

“We don’t say goodbye, we say see you down the road,” she said, quoting a line from the movie.

The two wins for “Nomadland” increased the profile of the film ahead of nominations in March for the Oscars.

Sacha Baron Cohen, the creator of “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm” from Amazon Studios was named best comedy movie actor, while singer Andra Day was a surprise winner for her lead role in “The United States vs. Billie Holiday.”

“Donald Trump is contesting the result!” Baron Cohen joked about the win for the “Borat” sequel, which was a satire on the America of the former US president.

Netflix’s period drama “Mank,” about “Citizen Kane” screenwriter Herman Mankiewicz, had gone into Sunday’s show with a leading six nods but ended the night empty-handed.

Nevertheless, the streaming service was the biggest winner on Sunday, with four wins in the movie field and six for television, including best TV drama series “The Crown” and limited series chess saga “The Queen’s Gambit.”

The usual chummy gathering of A-listers at a gala dinner in Beverly Hills, California, was replaced by webcams in the homes of celebrities that were either dressed up or, like “Ted Lasso” star Jason Sudeikis, in casual garb.

Hosted by Tina Fey in New York and Amy Poehler in Beverly Hills, the small physical audiences were made up of masked frontline workers.

Peter Morgan, creator of “The Crown” said he missed being together. “I’m just sorry I am sitting here in my tragic little office and not surrounded by the people who make this show such a pleasure,” Morgan said, appearing by video.

However, Jodie Foster, a best supporting actress winner for the Guantanamo prison legal drama “The Mauritanian,” told reporters backstage that she felt it was one of the best Golden Globe shows ever. “It didn’t feel like it was filled with so much artifice,” said Foster.

Emotional high points included a posthumous best actor award for Chadwick Boseman, who died at age 43 last August from an undisclosed battle with cancer. “He would say something beautiful,” said his widow Simone Ledward Boseman, as she fought back tears. “I don’t have his words.”

British actors Daniel Kaluuya and John Boyega were among other Black winners chosen by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA), which has been lambasted in recent days for having no Black people among its 87 members.

“Soul,” the first Pixar movie to have a Black character in the lead, was named best animated movie and won best score.

The HFPA was the target of jokes and comments throughout the night. “We all know awards shows are stupid,” said Fey. “Even in stupid things, inclusivity is important and there are no Black members of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA).”

Members of the HFPA appeared briefly on Sunday’s show and pledged to do better.

Jane Fonda, 83, used her lifetime achievement acceptance speech to make the case for elevating all voices in Hollywood, saying that stories “really can change people.”


Online privacy fears mount as India sets tougher social media controls

Updated 26 February 2021

Online privacy fears mount as India sets tougher social media controls

  • Journalists warn new rules are attempt to regulate online news portals
  • Tech giants are obliged to assist law enforcement in cybercrime, “unlawful” cases

NEW DELHI: Indian journalists and digital rights advocates have warned that new social media rules announced on Thursday will further undercut online privacy and freedom of expression in the country.
The new controls give the government more power to police content shared on social media and digital streaming platforms.
It means that Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp and other services are more accountable to requests for removal of content and the identification of users who are deemed to have committed illegal acts by authorities.
Under the Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code, social media platforms have to remove content within 36 hours of receiving a legal order and assist law enforcers in probing cybersecurity-related incidents within 72 hours of receiving a request.
The new rules, which Indian Information Technology Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad described as a “soft-touch oversight” mechanism, come two weeks after Twitter denied a government order to remove content on the farmer protests in New Delhi from its platform.
“The way these rules have come out, they will have a negative impact on privacy, freedom of speech, on creativity and the freedom of the press in India,” Nikhil Pahwa of India’s top Internet policy website MediaNama told Arab News, adding that the new controls are “the worst series of regulations on the Internet.”
He said: “It is very regressive and to my mind it is not backed by law. The rules need to be challenged in court, and if they are, the Indian government will probably lose.”
Social media giants enjoy a large presence in India, with the Facebook-owned WhatsApp messaging platform being used by 530 million people, YouTube by 448 million, Facebook by 41 million, Instagram by 21 million and Twitter by 10.7 million, according to Indian government data.
But none of the platforms have given detailed comments on the new regulations.
“The details of rules like these matter and we will carefully study the new rules,” Facebook said in a written response to a request for comment.
“We believe that regulation is beneficial when it safeguards citizens’ fundamental rights and reinforces online freedoms,” Twitter said in a statement.
However, because the new rules have been introduced as changes to the IT Act, which also regulates online media, journalists fear that the changes are an attempt to regulate news portals.
“We do know that the government is rattled by the work the digital media space does. Whether the only intention of these rules is for the government to have an overarching control over us, we will know only in time,” said Dhanya Rajendran, editor of news portal News Minute and chairperson of Digipub Foundation of India, which represents digital media organizations.
“Yes, we do have our suspicions and we are concerned that this could be the government’s motive,” she told Arab News.
Delhi-based journalist Paranjoy Guha Thakurta, who writes for News Click, a popular news portal known for independent journalism that had its offices raided by police last week, said the new regulations are “the government’s strategy to not just curb dissenting voices, but also to clamp down or curb their activities.”
He added: “The whole purpose or agenda is to clamp down on digital news media, which has been showing greater resilience and playing the role of adversaries against the government in power.”

India unveils tougher rules for social media such as Facebook, Twitter

Updated 25 February 2021

India unveils tougher rules for social media such as Facebook, Twitter

  • The rules come after Twitter ignored orders to drop content on farmers’ protests
  • A detailed version of the guidelines is to be published later and take effect three months after that

NEW DELHI: India announced new rules on Thursday to regulate big social media firms, such as Facebook and Twitter, the latest effort by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government to tighten control over Big Tech firms.
The rules come after Twitter ignored orders to drop content on farmers’ protests, fueling the government’s zeal, dating from 2018, to clamp down on material it regards as disinformation or unlawful.
The new measures will require big social media companies to set up a grievance redressal mechanism and appoint executives to coordinate with law enforcement, the government said in a news statement.
The government said the guidelines in its code of digital media ethics were needed to hold social media and other companies accountable for misuse and abuse.
Social media firms should be “more responsible and accountable,” Ravi Shankar Prasad, the minister for information technology, told reporters in outlining the rules.
A detailed version of the guidelines is to be published later and take effect three months after that, the government said. It did not specify the date, however.
Facebook did not immediately respond to a request for comment, while Twitter declined to comment.
On Wednesday, Reuters reported the draft of the rules, which give companies a maximum of 36 hours to remove content after they receive a government or legal order.
Prasad also told reporters the rules would oblige the companies to reveal the originator of a message or posting when asked to do so through a legal order.
Tech firms are coming under tighter scrutiny worldwide. Facebook faced a global backlash last week from publishers and politicians after it blocked news feeds in Australia in a dispute with the government over revenue-sharing.
That prompted last-ditch changes by Australia in a law passed on Thursday to ensure Alphabet Inc’s Google and Facebook Inc. pay media companies for content, a step that nations such as Britain and Canada want to follow.
India’s rules will also require video streaming platforms like Netflix and Amazon Prime to classify content into five categories based on users’ age, the government said.

Facebook bans Myanmar military accounts citing the coup

Updated 25 February 2021

Facebook bans Myanmar military accounts citing the coup

  • Pages for government offices now run by the junta remain unaffected

BANGKOK: Facebook said it has banned all remaining accounts linked to the Myanmar military on Thursday, citing the junta’s use of deadly force against anti-coup demonstrators.
The move, which takes effect immediately, applies to the military and entities controlled by the armed forces on both Facebook and Instagram.
It also bans “military-linked commercial entities” from advertising on the platforms.
“Events since the February 1 coup, including deadly violence, have precipitated a need for this ban,” the social media giant said in a statement.
“We believe the risks of allowing the Tatmadaw on Facebook and Instagram are too great,” it added, using the Myanmar name for the country’s armed forces.
The junta has steadily increased its use of force against a massive and largely peaceful civil disobedience campaign demanding Myanmar’s army leaders relinquish power.
Three anti-coup protesters have been killed in demonstrations, while a man patrolling his Yangon neighborhood against night arrests was also shot dead.
Facebook said its ban was intended to prevent Myanmar’s generals “from abusing our platform.”
The military has used Facebook to boost its claims that voter fraud marred an election last November after ousted civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s party won in a landslide.
Since seizing power, the junta has arrested hundreds of anti-coup protesters, ordered nightly Internet blackouts and banned social media platforms — including Facebook — in an effort to quell resistance.
Thursday’s announcement follows Facebook’s earlier decision to kick off a page run by the regime’s “True News” information service after the tech giant accused it of inciting violence.
Pages for government offices now run by the junta remain unaffected.
“This ban does not cover government ministries and agencies engaged in the provision of essential public services,” the company said. “This includes the Ministry of Health and Sport, and the Ministry of Education.”
In recent years, hundreds of army-linked pages have been blocked by Facebook after the social media giant came under heavy criticism for its ineffective response to malicious posts in the country.
Junta chief Min Aung Hlaing and other top brass were booted from the platform in 2018, a year after a military-led crackdown forced around 750,000 members of the Rohingya Muslim community to flee into neighboring Bangladesh.
Facebook admitted that year it had failed to do enough to prevent the incitement of violence in Myanmar.
“We can and should do more,” Facebook executive Alex Warofka said at the time.