Foreign spies are watching — and probably targeting — Fox News Channel

So if I were a spymaster in the employ of a hostile foreign service, I’d devote some significant effort to penetrating one specific private institution: Fox News Channel.

.. It’s no secret that Fox News — specifically, shows such as “Hannity,” “Fox & Friends,” “Tucker Carlson Tonight” and “Justice with Judge Jeanine” — have outsize influence on the inner workings of how certain policies are carried out by the U.S. government.

.. Mediate recently argued that the most influential people working in the media today are “Fox & Friends” hosts Steve Doocy, Brian Kilmeade and Ainsley Earhardt, because “they have captured the President’s attention — which often then gets tweeted and covered by the media — the topics they cover essentially set the national agenda for the rest of the day.”

.. When Fox News broadcasts, the president often reacts impulsively. His tweet threatening North Korea with his “Nuclear Button” at 7:49 p.m. last Tuesday appeared to have been spurredby a Fox News segment on the very same topic that occurred 12 minutes beforehand

.. The Kremlin has indicated that Russian President Vladimir Putin reads Trump’s tweets and views them as official White House statements. Pakistan recently summoned the U.S. ambassador in Islamabad to account for Trump’s tweet bashing what he called the country’s “lies & deceit.”

.. Trump’s unfiltered Twitter feed provides world intelligence operatives with “a real-time glimpse of a major world leader’s preoccupations, personality quirks and habits of mind” — traits to be exploited in further dealings on the global stage.

.. A truly aggressive intelligence effort would not just monitor what’s being said on the network. It would target the on-air talent, as well as the folks behind the scenes who make the network’s programming possible: producers, bookers, associate producers, production assistants and the like.

..  Trump reportedly calls Sean Hannity after his show. If hostile foreign services compromise Hannity’s phone (or place a listening device in the room where Hannity takes his private calls), that could provide real-time intelligence on the American president and his thoughts.

.. For Russian intelligence, a systematic effort to threaten, coerce and co-opt journalists is a decades-old practice.

.. Kalugin wrote that the KGB’s Tumanov helped spread rumors and disinformation within Radio Liberty for years, turning staff against each other and identifying further potential targets for recruitment. He even had a hand in the bombing of Radio Liberty’s headquarters in Munich in 1981.

.. Compared to government workers, Fox employees would make easy targets.

.. Also, it’s television — full of trade secrets, big personalities and titanic egos. Most wouldn’t expect to be compromised by a hostile intelligence power, especially on American soil.

.. Few, if any, have the sort of counterintelligence training the U.S. government administers to people in sensitive positions

.. One of the major rationales for Putin’s behavior is to cause chaos, ultimately weakening and undermining his American adversaries. It’s his real long game.

 

Trump proves he is a parrot

he has shown himself to be swayed with remarkable ease: He said he was rethinking his position on Obamacare after a post-election talk with President Obama, revised his views on NATO after speaking with Europeans, softened his views on China after a chin-wag with the Chinese, shifted on NAFTA after talking with the Mexicans and switched his budget views after hearing from Chuck and Nancy.

.. This raises the tantalizing prospect that Trump could be a better president if he were not surrounded by the likes of Stephen Miller, as well as the alarming possibility that he could be even worse if the last voice he heard before making a decision were that of, say, Vladimir Putin, or Alex Jones

.. But this all depends on what is going on in Trump’s head when he repeats the last words he hears: Is he actually internalizing the views, or is he merely echoing? Is he a chameleon or a parrot?

.. Clearly, Trump is merely echoing, not embracing, the words he hears. No mind could possibly assimilate as many diametrically opposed ideas as Trump’s appeared to in those 55 minutes.

.. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) told Trump that DACA legislation to protect immigrant “dreamers” had to be done “in a matter of days — literally of days,” referring to a Jan. 19 budget deadline.

Replied Trump: “I agree with that, Dick. I very much agree with that.”

A few minutes later, Rep. Martha McSally (R-Ariz.) took exactly the opposite view, suggesting that DACA action could wait until March and that instead there had to be an immediate Pentagon budget increase: “Those who need us right now before the January 19 deadline is our military.”

House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), paddled Trump back the other way, saying more military spending would have to be accompanied by similar hikes for domestic programs such as infrastructure.

Replied Trump: “I think we can do a great infrastructure bill.”

This was fun!

Minutes after Hoyer invoked the phrase “comprehensive immigration reform” — a phrase hard-liners see as code for “amnesty” — Trump was using the phrase, too.

When you talk about comprehensive immigration reform,” Trump said (after Sen. Lindsey Graham, a GOP maverick, had also floated the idea), “which is where I would like to get to eventually — if we do the right bill here, we are not very far way.

.. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.) both said border security and a solution to “chain migration” — a conservative priority — must be included in the DACA bill. Trump readily agreed.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) proposed the opposite, a “clean DACA bill” — that is, without border security and chain migration — before taking up a comprehensive overhaul, and Trump said, “I would like to do that.”

McCarthy, alarmed, swatted Trump back in the other direction. He reiterated that the DACA bill should include border security and chain migration.

Trump agreed with this, too. “And the lottery,” he added, tossing in another conservative priority about making immigration merit-based.

Back and forth Trump bounced.

One moment he appeared to agree with Perdue that the DACA bill would include the conservatives’ chain-migration plan. The next moment he appeared to confirm to Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) that the DACA legislation would not be paired with that provision.

Big data meets Big Brother as China moves to rate its citizens

The Chinese government plans to launch its Social Credit System in 2020. The aim? To judge the trustworthiness – or otherwise – of its 1.3 billion residents

But now imagine a system where all these behaviours are rated as either positive or negative and distilled into a single number, according to rules set by the government. That would create your Citizen Score and it would tell everyone whether or not you were trustworthy. Plus, your rating would be publicly ranked against that of the entire population and used to determine your eligibility for a mortgage or a job, where your children can go to school – or even just your chances of getting a date.

.. “It is very ambitious in both depth and scope, including scrutinising individual behaviour and what books people are reading. It’s Amazon’s consumer tracking with an Orwellian political twist,”

.. by 2020 it will be mandatory

.. The behaviour of every single citizen and legal person (which includes every company or other entity)in China will be rated and ranked, whether they like it or not.

.. In this marriage between communist oversight and capitalist can-do, the government has given a licence to eight private companies to come up with systems and algorithms for social credit scores.

The first is with China Rapid Finance, a partner of the social-network behemoth Tencent and developer of the messaging app WeChat with more than 850 million active users. The other,

Sesame Credit, is run by the Ant Financial Services Group (AFSG), an affiliate company of Alibaba.

.. the real star of Ant is AliPay, its payments arm that people use not only to buy things online, but also for restaurants, taxis, school fees, cinema tickets and even to transfer money to each other.

.. Sesame Credit has also teamed up with other data-generating platforms, such as Didi Chuxing, the ride-hailing company that was Uber’s main competitor in China before it acquired the American company’s Chinese operations in 2016, and Baihe, the country’s largest online matchmaking service. It’s not hard to see how that all adds up to gargantuan amounts of big data that Sesame Credit can tap into to assess how people behave and rate them accordingly.

.. the five factors taken into account. The first is credit history. For example, does the citizen pay their electricity or phone bill on time? Next is fulfilment capacity, which it defines in its guidelines as “a user’s ability to fulfil his/her contract obligations”. The third factor is personal characteristics, verifying personal information such as someone’s mobile phone number and address. But the fourth category, behaviour and preference, is where it gets interesting.

.. Under this system, something as innocuous as a person’s shopping habits become a measure of character. Alibaba admits it judges people by the types of products they buy. “Someone who plays video games for ten hours a day, for example, would be considered an idle person,” says Li Yingyun, Sesame’s Technology Director. “Someone who frequently buys diapers would be considered as probably a parent, who on balance is more likely to have a sense of responsibility.” So the system not only investigates behaviour – it shapes it. It “nudges” citizens away from purchases and behaviours the government does not like.

.. As the government document states, the social credit system will “allow the trustworthy to roam everywhere under heaven while making it hard for the discredited to take a single step”... there have been three critical “de-centering shifts” that have altered our view in self-understanding:

  1. Copernicus’s model of the Earth orbiting the Sun;
  2. Darwin’s theory of natural selection; and
  3. Freud’s claim that our daily actions are controlled by the unconscious mind.
  4. .. Floridi believes we are now entering the fourth shift, as what we do online and offline merge into an onlife. He asserts that, as our society increasingly becomes an infosphere, a mixture of physical and virtual experiences, we are acquiring an onlife personality – different from who we innately are in the “real world” alone.

.. Where these systems really descend into nightmarish territory is that the trust algorithms used are unfairly reductive. They don’t take into account context. For instance, one person might miss paying a bill or a fine because they were in hospital

.. Professor Wang Shuqin from the Office of Philosophy and Social Science at Capital Normal University in China recently won the bid to help the government develop the system that she refers to as “China’s Social Faithful System”. Without such a mechanism, doing business in China is risky, she stresses, as about half of the signed contracts are not kept.

.. “The behaviour of the majority is determined by their world of thoughts. A person who believes in socialist core values is behaving more decently.” She regards the “moral standards” the system assesses, as well as financial data, as a bonus.

.. the State Council’s aim is to raise the “honest mentality and credit levels of the entire society” in order to improve “the overall competitiveness of the country”

 

Making China Great Again

As Donald Trump surrenders America’s global commitments, Xi Jinping is learning to pick up the pieces.

The hero, Leng Feng, played by the action star Wu Jing (who also directed the film), is a veteran of the “wolf warriors,” special forces of the People’s Liberation Army. In retirement, he works as a guard in a fictional African country, on the frontier of China’s ventures abroad. A rebel army, backed by Western mercenaries, attempts to seize power, and the country is engulfed in civil war. Leng shepherds civilians to the gates of the Chinese Embassy, where the Ambassador wades into the battle and declares, “Stand down! We are Chinese! China and Africa are friends.” The rebels hold their fire, and survivors are spirited to safety aboard a Chinese battleship.

.. For decades, Chinese nationalism revolved around victimhood: the bitter legacy of invasion and imperialism, and the memory of a China so weak that, at the end of the nineteenth century, the philosopher Liang Qichao called his country “the sick man of Asia.” “Wolf Warrior II” captures a new, muscular iteration of China’s self-narrative, much as Rambo’s heroics expressed the swagger of the Reagan era.

.. “In the past, all of our movies were about, say, the Opium Wars—how other countries waged war against China,” he said. “But Chinese people have always wanted to see that our country could, one day, have the power to protect its own people and contribute to peace in the world.”

.. For years, China’s leaders predicted that a time would come—perhaps midway through this century—when it could project its own values abroad. In the age of “America First,” that time has come far sooner than expected.

.. Trump often portrays America’s urgent task as one of survival. As he put it during the campaign, “At what point do you say, ‘Hey, we have to take care of ourselves’? So, you know, I know the outer world exists and I’ll be very cognizant of that, but, at the same time, our country is disintegrating.”
.. China’s approach is more ambitious. In recent years, it has taken steps to accrue national power on a scale that no country has attempted since the Cold War, by increasing its investments in the types of assets that established American authority in the previous century: foreign aid, overseas security, foreign influence, and the most advanced new technologies, such as artificial intelligence.
.. It has become one of the leading contributors to the U.N.’s budget and to its peacekeeping force, and it has joined talks to address global problems such as terrorism, piracy, and nuclear proliferation.
.. This was an ironic performance—for decades, China has relied on protectionism—but Trump provided an irresistible opening. China is negotiating with at least sixteen countries to form the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, a free-trade zone that excludes the United States, which it proposed in 2012 as a response to the T.P.P. If the deal is signed next year, as projected, it will create the world’s largest trade bloc, by population.
.. By setting more of the world’s rules, China hopes to “break the Western moral advantage,” which identifies “good and bad” political systems
.. Meng Hongwei, a Chinese vice-minister of public security, became the first Chinese president of Interpol, the international police organization; the move alarmed human-rights groups, because Interpol has been criticized for helping authoritarian governments target and harass dissidents and pro-democracy activists abroad.

.. Moreover, China’s economic path is complicated by heavy debts, bloated state-owned enterprises, rising inequality, and slowing growth. The workers who once powered China’s boom are graying.

.. In 2000, the U.S. accounted for thirty-one per cent of the global economy, and China accounted for four per cent. Today, the U.S.’s share is twenty-four per cent and China’s fifteen per cent.

.. in the past we were used to going to the White House to get our work done,” Shivshankar Menon, India’s former foreign secretary and national-security adviser to the Prime Minister, told me. “Now we go to the corporations, to Congress, to the Pentagon, wherever.”

.. everybody else in the world will look around and say, I want to be friends with both the U.S. and the Chinese—and the Chinese are ready, and I’ll start with them.”

.. He presented China as “a new option for other countries,” calling this alternative to Western democracy the zhongguo fang’an, the “Chinese solution.”

.. The state press ran a profile of Xi that was effusive even by the standards of the form, depicting him as an “unrivalled helmsman,” whose “extensive knowledge of literature and the arts makes him a consummate communicator in the international arena.”

.. Xi has inscribed on his country a rigid vision of modernity. A campaign to clean up “low-end population” has evicted migrant workers from Beijing, and a campaign against dissent has evicted the most outspoken intellectuals from online debate.

.. Foreign universities with programs in China, such as Duke, have been advised that they must elevate a Communist Party secretary to a decision-making role on their local boards of trustees.

.. The Party is encouraging dark imaginings about the outside world: posters warn the public to “protect national secrets” and to watch out for “spies.”

.. Last June, Yao Chen, one of China’s most popular actresses, received a barrage of criticism online after she tried to raise awareness of the global refugee crisis. (She was forced to clarify that she was not calling for China to accept refugees.)

.. In Rao’s view, Trump’s “America First” slogan is an honest declaration, a realist vision stripped of false altruism and piety.

.. “In this world, power speaks,” he said, making a fist, a gesture that Trump adopted in his Inauguration speech and Xi displayed in a photo taken at the start of his new term.

.. “I think Trump is America’s Gorbachev.” In China, Mikhail Gorbachev is known as the leader who led an empire to collapse. “The United States will suffer,” he warned.

.. In 1991, when Bush, Sr., launched the war against Iraq, it got thirty-four countries to join the war effort. This time, if Trump launched a war against anyone, I doubt he would get support from even five countries.

.. For Chinese leaders, Yan said, “Trump is the biggest strategic opportunity.” I asked Yan how long he thought the opportunity would last. “As long as Trump stays in power,” he replied.

.. When Trump won, the Party “was in a kind of shock,”

.. “They feared that he was their mortal enemy.” The leadership drafted potential strategies for retaliation, including threatening American companies in China and withholding investment from the districts of influential members of Congress.

.. Before he entered the White House, China started assembling a playbook for dealing with him.

.. “China knows Trump can be unpredictable, so we have weapons to make him predictable, to contain him. He would trade Taiwan for jobs.”

.. there were two competing strategies on China. One, promoted by Stephen Bannon, then the chief strategist, wanted the President to take a hard line, even at the risk of a trade war. Bannon often described China as a “civilizational challenge.” The other view was associated with Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and adviser, who had received guidance from Henry Kissinger and met repeatedly with the Chinese Ambassador, Cui Tiankai. Kushner argued for a close, collegial bond between Xi and Trump, and he prevailed.

.. While Xi was at the resort, the Chinese government approved three trademark applications from Ivanka’s company, clearing the way for her to sell jewelry, handbags, and spa services in China.

.. During the transition, Kushner dined with Chinese business executives while the Kushner Companies was seeking their investment in a Manhattan property.

.. In May, Kushner’s sister, Nicole Kushner Meyer, was found to have mentioned his White House position while she courted investors during a trip to China.

.. During the Mar-a-Lago meetings, Chinese officials noticed that, on some of China’s most sensitive issues, Trump did not know enough to push back.

.. “Trump is taking what Xi Jinping says at face value—on Tibet, Taiwan, North Korea,”

.. “The Chinese felt like they had Trump’s number,” he said. “Yes, there is this random, unpredictable Ouija-board quality to him that worries them, and they have to brace for some problems, but, fundamentally, what they said was ‘He’s a paper tiger.’ Because he hasn’t delivered on any of his threats. There’s no wall on Mexico. There’s no repeal of health care. He can’t get the Congress to back him up. He’s under investigation.”

.. a Beijing think tank, published an analysis of the Trump Administration, describing it as a den of warring “cliques,” the most influential of which was the “Trump family clan.”

.. The Trump clan appears to “directly influence final decisions” on business and diplomacy in a way that “has rarely been seen in the political history of the United States,” the analyst wrote. He summed it up using an obscure phrase from feudal China: jiatianxia—“to treat the state as your possession.”