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.


A tale of two Ramadans: the experiences of Muslims in Saudi Arabia and the US

Updated 15 April 2021

A tale of two Ramadans: the experiences of Muslims in Saudi Arabia and the US

  • The Kingdom is using technology to help ensure a more normal holy month than last year, Arab News’s Rawan Radwan tells the Ray Hanania Show
  • Meanwhile there is a growing acceptance among Americans of the importance and significance of this time to Muslims, says US-based professor

Muslims around the world celebrated the start of Ramadan this week, but the experience and traditions of the holy month can vary widely from country to country, especially in the pandemic era.

In Saudi Arabia, for example, the latest technology is being employed to protect the health of worshipers visiting the two most sacred mosques in Islam, Arab News deputy section editor Rawan Radwan explained during an interview on radio program The Ray Hanania Show on Wednesday.

Meanwhile acceptance in the US of Ramadan as an important religious occasion is continuing to grow, according to Saeed Khan, a history professor at Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan.

Radwan said that authorities in the Kingdom have launched two apps to help ensure that only those who have been vaccinated, or are in the process of receiving the shots, can join others to pray and worship.

“Just before the start of Ramadan, the Presidency for the Affairs of the Two Holy Mosques issued a series of guidelines and protocols with the relevant authorities involved, as well such as the minster of the interior and the minister of health,” she said.

“All of this is to ensure that every worshiper and all pilgrims that arrive at either the Prophet’s Mosque in Madinah or the Grand Mosque in Makkah receive the proper care and attention that they deserve. Their health comes first.”

Radwan said Saudi authorities require visitors to the mosques to provide documents that confirm COVID-19 vaccination status. When this is verified, worshipers are given set time slots for their visit to maximize participation but avoid overcrowding.

“We have gone digital,” she added. “We are digital by default. We have something like a health passport — it’s not a health passport per se, it is an application that will allow you into establishments and commercial establishments across Saudi Arabia.”

The app, called Tawakkalna, displays a barcode along with the name of the user, an ID number and a color that reflects the health status of the individual.

“If you are vaccinated and you are fully immune, then it is a darker green color,” said Radwan. “If you just received one jab then it is a lighter green. If you just arrived from the US it could either be a blue or purple color and that could (mean) you need you to isolate.”

Ramadan last year was severely affected by the start of the pandemic, as lockdowns prevented people gathering to pray and families from getting together for iftar. The latest measures introduced by the Saudi authorities to protect public health, she said, have raised hopes that this year’s Ramadan will be more normal. But there are still precautions that must be followed.

“The rules are very strict, very, very rigid,” said Radwan. “You cannot enter (the mosques) unless you are vaccinated and unless you have recovered. You have to go through certain entryways.

“You can’t even enter with your car. A bus will take you after you prove you have a reservation, and then you can enter. And, of course, you can’t make any reservation except through (the app).”

Those who are eligible to visit the mosques are given scheduled entry times and they can spend up to two hours there.

“Worshipers at the Grand Mosque in Makkah are allowed to perform Umrah all hours of the day, said Radwan. “Those wishing to pray are only allowed in to pray, and then leave. The Prophet’s Mosque in Madinah closes after evening prayers (and) reopens about a half hour before the Fajr, or Dawn, prayers. Again, the reason is they have to ensure the people arriving are safe.”

Cleanliness and protecting the health of the public are priorities, she added. More than 10,000 workers have been assigned to the Grand Mosque, which is sanitized 10 times daily. More than 200,000 bottles of holy ZamZam water are distributed to worshipers each day.

In the US, meanwhile, there is a growing recognition and acceptance of Ramadan as an important Muslim religious occasion, said Khan.

“At the same time, Muslim Americans are developing more visibility and more acceptance within broader society, (on) a few different levels,” he added. “Corporate America is certainly recognizing Muslims Americans; we see a lot more companies and stores not only providing Ramadan greetings but also providing Ramadan products, greeting cards and other kinds of Ramadan paraphernalia.

“But I think the most important thing that we are seeing is at the institutional level. Schools are becoming much more accommodating to the needs of young Muslim students, recognizing that maybe students that are fasting during the daylight hours might be operating in a slower gear.

“There is now recognition in the largest public school district in the country, New York City, that the Eid festival will be recognized as a public holiday for school students.”

Khan said that this growing acknowledgment and acceptance of Ramadan is the result of community-based educational efforts, and an understanding by Muslims in the US that when Americans of other faiths ask questions about Islam it is not always intended as a criticism.

“There is always more that can be done,” he added. “Part of the essence of that really is to be neighborly and not to be offended by somebody who is asking a question. Most of the time the questions come from a very good place and good faith, wanting to learn.

“There certainly are people who ask the ‘gotcha’ questions but, generally speaking, we find when it is a neighbor, a coworker or a colleague, they just want to know. We can’t necessarily presume everyone knows, that somehow it is self-evident.”

Khan said the evolving experience of Muslims in the US is similar to that of devotees of other religions in America.

“I always noticed that on Fridays the menu in the cafeteria (in school) was always the same,” Khan said by way of an example. “It was fish sandwiches and macaroni and cheese. I learned later that had to do with Catholic students and meatless Fridays.” Although the rules have changed in some countries over the years, Catholics traditionally are prohibited from eating meat on Fridays and on the main religious holidays.

“So, the US has always had that mechanism to go ahead and accommodate religious minorities. Muslims are no different,” Khan added.

Despite the positive signs of growing acceptance of Muslims and their faith, many still face discrimination, however.

“Unfortunately it seems like it is going to be a challenge that will be with us for quite a while,” said Khan. However he added that this is something that can affect people of all faiths.

“I think it is important to remember that it is not necessarily only directed against Muslims,” he said. “I remember in 2012 when Mitt Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts and now the senator from Utah, was the presidential candidate on the Republican ticket, there were a lot of people who had a problem with a Mormon being someone running for high office.”

• The Ray Hanania Show, sponsored by Arab News, is broadcast in Detroit on WNZK AM 690, in Washington DC on WDMV AM 700 on the US Arab Radio Network. 

 


Tunisian journalists protest over new head of state news agency

Updated 13 April 2021

Tunisian journalists protest over new head of state news agency

  • Protesting journalists say Kamel Ben Younes is too close to the moderate Islamist Ennahda

TUNIS: Tunisian police on Tuesday clashed with journalists at the state news agency demonstrating against a new chief executive whose appointment they see as an attempt to undermine editorial independence.
Dozens of protesting journalists had gathered in front of Tunis Afrique Presse’s (TAP) headquarters to try to stop Kamel Ben Younes from entering, but police later forced a way in.
“TAP is free and police must go,” the journalists chanted.
Protesting journalists say Ben Younes is too close to the moderate Islamist Ennahda, the biggest party in parliament. They accuse him of backing moves to control the press before the 2011 revolution brought democracy.
He has denied both charges, saying he is a political independent and pointing to his past work as a journalist with several outlets, including the BBC.
Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi, whose government needs Ennahda’s parliamentary backing to survive, has described the appointment of Ben Younes as a purely administrative move and in no way an effort to interfere with TAP’s editorial stance.
Before the revolution, TAP was an arm of state propaganda based entirely on official sources. But it has become a rare Arab news agency with editorial independence, often covering stories that criticize the government.
During protests in January, it reported on demonstrations as they took place and on accusations of police brutality. It has also reported on the friction between Mechichi, Ennahda and President Kais Saied.
“This appointment indicates an unbridled desire to lay hands on the agency and make it a governmental and partisan propaganda trumpet, and we will not accept it,” said Mounir Souissi, a TAP journalist at the protest.
The Journalists’ Syndicate, part of Tunisia’s labor unions movement, has called for TAP reporters to hold their first-ever strike on April 22 if the government does not withdraw Ben Younes.
Mechichi and Ben Younes have said they will not back down.
“Everyone knows I have been independent in my professional career for 35 years, and the goal of my appointment is to reform the agency that suffers from many administrative and financial problems,” Ben Younes told Reuters.

Related


Reuters names Alessandra Galloni as its next editor-in-chief

The hunt for the new Reuters editor came as other major media are dealing with succession in the newsroom. (File/AFP)
Updated 13 April 2021

Reuters names Alessandra Galloni as its next editor-in-chief

  • A native of Rome, Galloni, 47, will replace Stephen J. Adler, who is retiring this month after leading the newsroom for the past decade

LONDON: Reuters News has named one of its top editors, Alessandra Galloni, as its next editor-in-chief, the first woman to lead the globe-spanning news agency in its 170-year history.
A native of Rome, Galloni, 47, will replace Stephen J. Adler, who is retiring this month after leading the newsroom for the past decade. Under his leadership, Reuters has received hundreds of journalism awards, including seven Pulitzer Prizes, the industry’s highest honor.
A speaker of four languages, and with broad experience covering business and political news at Reuters and previously at the Wall Street Journal, Galloni takes the helm as the news agency faces an array of challenges. Some of these are common to all news media. Others are specific to the organization’s complexity: With a worldwide staff of some 2,450 journalists, Reuters serves a range of divergent customers and is also a unit in a much larger information-services business.
Since 2008, Reuters has been part of Thomson Reuters Corp. , a corporation with more-lucrative and faster-growing segments than news. Its chief executive, Steve Hasker, who joined Thomson Reuters last year, has focused on aggressively expanding the corporation’s three largest businesses: providing information, software and services to lawyers, corporations and the tax and accounting profession. Hasker’s strategy has helped boost Thomson Reuters stock to all-time highs.
Reuters News comprises about 10% of Thomson Reuters’ total $5.9 billion in revenues. Unlike many news organizations, Reuters is profitable. But it is also a drag on the parent company’s revenue growth and profit margin, analysts say, and the executive who runs the news business, Reuters President Michael Friedenberg, is pushing to increase sales and boost profitability. Looking forward, Thomson Reuters’ chief financial officer last month forecast that sales at its “Big Three” businesses are expected to grow 6% to 7% in 2023, while its news division and printing business “are expected to dilute organic revenue growth by about 1% to 2%.”
Gary Bisbee, an analyst at Bank of America, said he expects Reuters News “will continue to be a drag on the growth of the company,” but added that as other divisions of Thomson Reuters grow faster, that drag would diminish over time.
Thomson Reuters is hoping for a turn-around in the Reuters Events business, which it acquired in October 2019. Almost all in-person conferences last year were canceled or postponed because of the COVID-19 pandemic. But the business has pivoted to a hybrid events strategy for 2021 with both in-person and virtual conferences, and expects its revenues to improve.
While some in the industry have speculated that Thomson Reuters might want to sell the news division, three analysts said they don’t expect a sale. Douglas McCabe, a media analyst with Enders Analysis in London, said Reuters is “a tremendously powerful part of” the Thomson Reuters brand, and that “the mighty Reuters newsroom behind you and all the really specialized business assets is a great combination.”
In a statement, CEO Hasker said: “Thomson Reuters is committed to the future of Reuters News. It is an important part of the company and is valued across our customer base. The last year has proven beyond question the value of independent, global, unbiased journalism.”
This year saw the closing of a deal in which the former Financial and Risk business of Thomson Reuters — now called Refinitiv — was sold to the London Stock Exchange Group Plc in a $27 billion all-stock deal. Under the terms, Reuters News is guaranteed annual payments of at least $336 million to provide news and editorial content to Refinitiv until 2048. That stream of revenue is envied by many in the media industry.
Galloni has told colleagues that one of her critical tasks would be maintaining a good relationship with Refinitiv, as it is Reuters’ biggest customer, accounting for slightly more than half of the news agency’s $628 million in revenues last year.
The important relationship has been a source of some tension, senior editors say. As part of the contract with Refinitiv, Reuters is required to meet strict performance targets for the news coverage that Refinitiv clients receive, which Reuters has exceeded so far. Thomson Reuters, for its part, noted in its latest annual report that the exclusive deal, while lucrative, limits Reuters’ ability to sell to other customers in the growing financial-services industry. A Refinitiv spokesman declined to comment.
Gordon Crovitz, a former publisher of the Wall Street Journal, said the new editor will nevertheless have to find new sources of revenue. “Reuters is in an unusual position because the pledge from Refinitiv frees Reuters News up to be more aggressive in creating new news products to serve new markets,” he said. “I think there’s still a lot of low-hanging fruit for Reuters because of the strength of the brand and the size of the staff.”
New website
Reuters’ primary competitors include Bloomberg News, the Associated Press, French news agency AFP and visual content provider Getty Images. In addition to its events business, Reuters has been seeking other growth opportunities. Prominent among these is the upcoming launch of a revamped website that is expected to target professionals and eventually begin charging for content.
McCabe said convincing consumers to pay for content is challenging because “Reuters is a brand that a lot of people recognize but don’t intuitively go to.” But he is more optimistic that targeting professionals could succeed for Reuters. “All the evidence says to me that these are the subscription models that really work,” he said.
CEO Hasker has told colleagues that he wants to make Reuters more integral to the company’s other divisions. To that end, the newsroom recently added to its legal reporting staff.
Adler spearheaded a number of moves to modernize Reuters, which gained fame in its early days for using carrier pigeons to relay scoops. In the past decade, the newsroom created teams of investigative, data and graphics journalists, and is using artificial intelligence to speed the delivery of certain breaking financial news.
Hasker has said he is eager to continue modernizing the newsroom by getting it to embrace new technologies more aggressively. He and Friedenberg considered a wide range of journalists to succeed Adler, both inside and outside the news agency, according to people familiar with the matter.
Among them were two top Reuters editors, Gina Chua and Simon Robinson. The external candidates included David Walmsley, editor in chief of Canada’s The Globe and Mail, and Kevin Delaney, former co-chief executive and editor-in-chief of Quartz Media Inc.
Galloni, based in London, is known internally as a charismatic presence with a keen interest in business news. She has told colleagues that her priorities would include boosting the Reuters digital and events businesses.
She takes the helm after serving as a global managing editor of Reuters, overseeing journalists in 200 locations around the world. At the beginning of her career, she worked at the Reuters Italian-language news service. She received degrees from Harvard University and the London School of Economics. She returned to Reuters in 2013 following about 13 years at The Wall Street Journal, where she specialized in economics and business coverage as a reporter and editor in London, Paris and Rome.
“For 170 years, Reuters has set the standard for independent, trusted and global reporting,” Galloni said in the Reuters announcement on her appointment, which takes effect on April 19. “It is an honor to lead a world-class newsroom full of talented, dedicated and inspiring journalists.”
The hunt for the new Reuters editor came as other major media are dealing with succession in the newsroom. Both the Washington Post, where executive editor Marty Baron retired in February, and the Los Angeles Times, where Norman Pearlstine stepped down as executive editor in December, are currently seeking their replacements.


Study: Facebook delivers biased job ads, skewed by gender

Updated 09 April 2021

Study: Facebook delivers biased job ads, skewed by gender

  • Facebook ads were skewed by gender beyond what can be legally justified by differences in job qualifications, says University of Southern California researchers

Facebook is showing different job ads to women and men in a way that might run afoul of anti-discrimination laws, according to a new study.
University of Southern California researchers who examined the ad-delivery algorithms of Facebook and LinkedIn found that Facebook’s were skewed by gender beyond what can be legally justified by differences in job qualifications.
Men were more likely to see Domino’s pizza delivery driver job ads on Facebook, while women were more likely to see Instacart shopper ads.
The trend also held in higher-paying engineering jobs at tech firms like Netflix and chipmaker Nvidia. A higher fraction of women saw the Netflix ads than the Nvidia ads, which parallels the gender breakdown in each company’s workforce.
No evidence was found of similar bias in the job ads delivered by LinkedIn.
Study author Aleksandra Korolova, an assistant professor of computer science at USC, said it might be that LinkedIn is doing a better job at deliberately tamping down bias, or it might be that Facebook is simply better at picking up real-world cues from its users about gender imbalances and perpetuating them.
“It’s not that the user is saying, ‘Oh, I’m interested in this.’ Facebook has decided on behalf of the user whether they are likely to engage,” she said. “And just because historically a certain group wasn’t interested in engaging in something, doesn’t mean they shouldn’t have an opportunity to pursue it, especially in the job category.”
Facebook said in a statement Friday it has been taking meaningful steps to address issues of discrimination in ads.
“Our system takes into account many signals to try and serve people ads they will be most interested in, but we understand the concerns raised in the report,” it said.
Facebook promised to overhaul its ad targeting system in 2019 as part of a legal settlement.
The social network said then it would no longer allow housing, employment or credit ads that target people by age, gender or zip code. It also limited other targeting options so these ads don’t exclude people on the basis of race, ethnicity and other legally protected categories in the US, including national origin and sexual orientation.
Endlessly customizable ad targeting is Facebook’s bread and butter, so any limits placed on its process could hurt the company’s revenue. The ads users see can be tailored down to the most granular details — not just where people live and what websites they visited recently, but whether they’ve gotten engaged in the past six months or share characteristics with people who have recently bought new sneakers, even if they have never expressed interest in doing so themselves.
But even if advertisers can’t do the targeting themselves, the study shows what critics have stressed for years — that Facebook’s own algorithms can discriminate, even if there is no intent from the job advertisers themselves.
“We haven’t seen any public evidence that they are working on the issues related to their algorithms creating discrimination,” Korolova said.
Since it isn’t possible to show every user every advertisement that is targeted at them, Facebook’s software picks what it deems relevant. If more women show interest in certain jobs, the software learns it should show women more of these sorts of ads.
LinkedIn said the study’s findings align with its internal review of job ads targeting.
“However, we recognize that systemic change takes time, and we are at the beginning of a very long journey,” the company said in a statement.
US laws allow for ads to be targeted based on qualifications but not on protected categories such as race, gender and age. But anti-discrimination laws are largely complaint-driven, and no one can complain about being deprived of a job opportunity if they didn’t know it happened to them, said Sandra Wachter, a professor at Oxford University focused on technology law.
“The tools we have developed to prevent discrimination had a human perpetrator in mind,” said Wachter, who was not involved in the USC study. “An algorithm is discriminating very differently, grouping people differently and doing it in a very subtle way. Algorithms discriminate behind your back, basically.”
While Domino’s and Instacart have similar job requirements for their drivers, Domino’s delivery workforce is predominantly male, while Instacart’s is more than half female. The study, which looked at driver ads run in North Carolina compared to demographic data from voter records, found that Facebook’s algorithms appeared to be learning from those gender disparities and perpetuating them.
The same trend also occurred with sales jobs at retailer Reeds Jewelers, which more women saw, and the Leith Automotive dealership, which more men saw.
The researchers call for more rigorous auditing of such algorithms and to look at other factors such as racial bias. Korolova said external audits such as the USC study can only do so much without getting access to Facebook’s proprietary algorithms, but regulators could require some form of independent review to check for discrimination.
“We’ve seen that platforms are not so good at self-policing their algorithms for undesired societal consequences, especially when their business is at stake,” she said.


Former secretary of state Mike Pompeo to join Fox News

Fox has hired other members of the Trump orbit in recent months. (File/AFP)
Updated 09 April 2021

Former secretary of state Mike Pompeo to join Fox News

  • “I intend to give viewers a candid, no-nonsense look at geopolitics, international relations and the America First policies,” the former secretary of state said
  • Fox has hired other members of the Trump orbit in recent months

WASHINGTON: Donald Trump’s top diplomat Mike Pompeo has been hired to appear on Fox News as a “contributor,” the conservative cable news channel said Thursday.
“I intend to give viewers a candid, no-nonsense look at geopolitics, international relations and the America First policies that helped chart the course for unprecedented American prosperity and security,” the former secretary of state and member of Congress said in a statement released by Fox.
“Mike Pompeo is one of America’s most recognized and respected voices on foreign policy and national security issues,” Fox News Media CEO Suzanne Scott said. “I look forward to his contributions across our range of platforms to share his distinct perspective with our millions of viewers.”
Pompeo took up the post of secretary of state from his predecessor Rex Tillerson in April 2018 until the end of the Trump administration in January 2021. He was previously director of the CIA.
Recently, Pompeo has joined calls for the United States to boycott the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing and has called the expert report on the origins of the Covid-19 virus a “sham” as part of a “disinformation campaign” from the World Health Organization and the Chinese Communist Party.
He was on the front lines of the Trump administration’s standoff with China.
Fox has hired other members of the Trump orbit in recent months, including his daughter-in-law and campaign adviser Lara Trump and former White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany.
The network has found itself embroiled in controversies over Trump’s untrue allegations of election rigging in 2020, with voting machine maker Dominion seeking more than $1 billion in a lawsuit over allegations Fox implicated the company in the false claims.