03/12/20

China Says Immoral of US Officials to Blame China for Virus

By: Denise Simon | Founders Code

FNC: If you listened to Chinese state-run media, you’d think President Trump went to China and released vials of COVID-19 on groups of unsuspecting men, women, and children.

Beijing has been bending over backward trying to convince the world that the United States is the real culprit behind the quickly spreading virus that’s already claimed more than 4,600 lives across the globe.

It’s a high-stakes strategy for the Asian nation fighting to keep its superpower status amid a national lockdown and palpable anger over claims that Wuhan, China, the epicenter of the coronavirus, at first covered it up, triggering a worldwide health and economic crisis.

The Chinese government has already published a book in English — with translations in the works in French, Spanish, Russian and Arabic — touting its handling of the deadly disease.

A Battle Against Epidemic: China Combatting COVID-19 in 2020” is a mishmash of glowing state media reports on the accomplishments of President Xi Jinping, the Communist Party and the dominance of the Chinese system in fighting the crisis.

biosafety-level-IV (P4) opened in 2017 in Wuhan

At best, China’s aggressive new campaign can be chalked up to ambitious propaganda.  At its worst, it’s a reckless display from a country that has actively misled the world while working overtime to save its own skin, foreign affairs expert Gordon G. Chang told Fox News.

Chang believes Beijing has been laying the groundwork for a PR attack against the United States for more than a month, first by throwing doubt on the origin of COVID-19 and second, by slamming America’s handling of previous diseases like the swine flu, which decimated China’s pork industry.

On Sunday, Lin Songtian, China’s ambassador to South Africa, said: “Although the epidemic first broke out in China, it did not necessarily mean that the virus is originated from China, let alone ‘made in China.’

Vague and misleading statements like the one from Lin are ripped right out of China’s propaganda playbook and attempt to sow doubt about the global crisis.

Chinese officials have also pushed back on the expression “Wuhan coronavirus” — saying the name used frequently by U.S. conservative commentators unfairly stigmatizes the world’s most populous country.

Chang said it’s just another tactic in China’s playbook, carefully choreographed to make Americans look petty and racist.

“This an all-out assault on the United States,” Chang said.

In December, when the coronavirus was first detected in Wuhan, many media around the world began referring to it as the “Wuhan virus.” But last month, the World Health Organization renamed the illness COVID-19 so as not to link it to a specific location or group of people.

The name change didn’t stop some, like Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who blew past warnings and deliberately referred to it as the “Wuhan virus” after China’s foreign ministry called it “highly irresponsible” to do so.

President Donald Trump’s national security adviser, Robert O’Brien, went even further Wednesday.

“Unfortunately, rather than using best practices, this outbreak in Wuhan was covered up,” O’Brien said at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative-leaning think tank in Washington. “There’s lots of open-source reporting from China, from Chinese nationals, that the doctors involved were either silenced or put in isolation, or that sort of thing, so that the word of this virus could not get out. It probably cost the world community two months.”

O’Brien said if experts would have had those two months to get ahead of the spread of the virus, “I think we could have dramatically curtailed what happened both in China and what’s now happening across the world.”

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., said the Communist Party is pointing the finger at the U.S. so it can dampen discontent back home.

“The Chinese military portal Xilu.com recently published an article baselessly claiming that the virus is ‘a biochemical weapon produced by the U.S. to target China,’” Rubio said.

Arkansas Republican Sen. Tom Cotton, has frequently used the term “Wuhan virus” on the Senate floor.

Earlier this week, several social media users took House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., to task when he referred to it as “the Chinese coronavirus.”

Instead of backing down, Chang believes officials should keep calling COVID-19 the “Wuhan virus” and push back on accusations of racism.

“This isn’t a Republican thing. We all need to unite and for people to say, ‘this is racist’ is irresponsible,” Chang said. “There is no race known as Wuhanese.”

Chang also said calling COVID-19 the “Wuhan virus” or “Chinese coronavirus” keeps pressure on the Chinese government and forces it to be held accountable by the rest of the world for its initial response to the global crisis, which was widely regarded as abysmal.

China, though, is using everything in its arsenal to paint itself as a global hero, rewriting history and going so far as to demand a thank you for containing the virus as long as it did.

“We should say righteously that the U.S. owes China an apology, the world owes China a thank you,” an editorial on state news agency Xinhua read.

Also peculiar is that Beijing — which is normally quick to censor news — has refused to step in as a wave of anti-American conspiracy theories floods the internet. Among the rumors is that the U.S. created the coronavirus to make China look bad as well as one that accuses the government of covering up thousands of deaths by classifying them as the regular flu.

“It’s more than just some disinformation or an official narrative,” Xiao Qiang, an adjunct professor at the University of California at Berkeley’s Schools of Information, told The Washington Post. “It’s an orchestrated, all-out campaign by the Chinese government through every channel at a level you rarely see. It’s a counteroffensive.”

03/5/20

DOD Contractor at Pentagon Charged with Espionage

By: Denise Simon | Founders Code

(WASHINGTON) — A linguist working for the U.S. military who kept a list of secret informants hidden under her mattress was charged with sharing the names with a romantic interest linked to the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, the Justice Department said Wednesday.

Mariam Taha Thompson, 61, appeared in Washington’s federal court on Wednesday to face charges in an espionage case that investigators said put at risk the lives of American military members and confidential sources and represented a significant breach of classified information.

Traductora del Departamento de Defensa de EE. UU. es ...

The criminal case accuses Thompson, a contract translator, of giving to the unidentified Lebanese man the names of U.S. government sources and the information they provided. That effort, according to the government, accelerated during a six-week period from the end of December, when U.S. airstrikes targeted Iranian-backed forces in Iraq and exacerbated relations between the two countries, through the middle of last month.

Assistant Attorney General John Demers, the Justice Department’s top national security official, called the alleged conduct “a disgrace, especially for someone serving as a contractor with the United States military. This betrayal of country and colleagues will be punished.”

Thompson’s court appearance, on charges that could carry life in prison, was brief and ended with her being detained until a hearing next Wednesday. Her attorney did not return a phone message afterward.

Thompson was arrested last week at the military facility in Erbil, Iraq, where prosecutors say she worked as a contract linguist. The Defense Department said it was aware of the arrest and was cooperating with the investigation.

After the arrest, prosecutors say, Thompson acknowledged that she passed secret information to a man she was romantically interested in, but said she did not know that he had any affiliation with Hezbollah. She instead said she thought he might have been tied to the Amal political party in Lebanon, though she later said she considered the groups to be the same.

“No, I don’t know about Hizbollah. I hate Hizbollah,” Thompson told an agent, according to an affidavit unsealed Wednesday. She described members of the group, which the U.S. has designated as a foreign terrorist organization, as “terrorists” and “like the octopus. They can reach anybody.”

Thompson also told the agent that she passed along classified information by memorizing it, writing it down and transmitting it via the video feature of a secure messaging application on her cellphone. One screenshot of a video chat the FBI says it obtained showed Thompson displaying to the Lebanese man an Arabic note describing the technique an informant had used to collect information, according to the affidavit.


The 12-page affidavit is found here.

03/3/20

Bill Whittle: “The Cold War: What We Saw” – Episodes 3, 4 and 5

From: Bill Whittle

So now the board is set and the pieces are in place. In the East, the battle-hardened, seemingly endless divisions of the Red Army, backed by the ruthless and pitiless Joseph Stalin and his state-driven terror. In the West, the idealistic to the point of naïveté allies and their game-changing pika-dons, the nuclear flash-booms that had turned Stalin’s relentless ambition into a pillar of salt. As he tapped his unlit pipe and smoothed his iconic mustache, Stalin was sure that while the West had the Bomb, they did not possess the will to use it; the Americans would not trade Boston for Berlin. Stalin wouldn’t invade because he wouldn’t have to; he’d move the Iron Curtain to keep the Allies out of Berlin. It was a blockade that the West could never get through… but one that they just might be able to get over.

Although the entire Cold War passed without shots being fired between the two superpowers, the Cold War was anything but bloodless. The Korean conflict marked the beginning of proxy wars, regional conflicts backed by the full military might of both the United States and the Soviet Union. A brilliant amphibious landing turns the tide on the Korean Peninsula; meanwhile, America raises the stakes with a bomb so powerful it takes an atomic bomb to simply light the fuse.

Joseph Stalin, the architect and instigator of the 42-year Cold War, has died five years into the conflict. Across the Atlantic, a new Republican President, who had worked closely with Uncle Joe during World War II, is a mere two months in office. As the knives come out for the succession fight inside the Kremlin, will a brief window of opportunity be enough to completely reset the conflict?

02/21/20

US Unable to Trace $716 Million of Military Gear

By: Denise Simon | Founders Code

It was and still is a nasty conflict in Syria, Iraq and even in Turkey. The Islamic State lost its control of landmass but the terror group(s) still operate in various locations.

The Pentagon’s Office of the Inspector General, which was released to the public on Tuesday, shows that most of the CTEF weaponry’s whereabouts cannot be verified. The reason, according to the audit, is that officials with the Special Operations Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve, failed to maintain detailed lists of all military equipment given to Washington’s allies in Syria between 2017 and 2018. Officials did not have a centralized depository facility for dispensing the equipment, and no documentation was kept during the operation, according to the audit. Consequently, thousands of weapons, weapons parts, and other military hardware were exposed to “loss and theft”, says the Pentagon report.

US pulled multiple ways in Syria as Islamic State recedes ...

In December 2018, the DoD began planning for the safe, professional withdrawal of U.S. personnel from Syria while maintaining its efforts to defeat ISIS. For FY 2020, the DoD budget requested $300 million, including $173.2 million for weapons, ammunitions, vehicles, and other CTEF-S equipment, to ensure the enduring defeat of ISIS. The FY 2020 DoD budget request states that equipping, sustaining, and enabling the VSO is critical to the DoD’s approach. The relationship between U.S. forces and the VSO relies heavily on the DoD’s ability to provide weapons, ammunitions, and equipment. Furthermore, the FY 2020 DoD budget request states that the VSO’s combat effectiveness, movement, and operational tempo are directly linked to U.S. support, including the provision of weapons, ammunition, and equipment.

The CTEF-S program provides equipment designated for Syria to support the VSO. From FY 2017 through FY 2018, Congress authorized a total of $930 million for the CTEF-S program to support the VSO. Of the $930 million, the DoD budget requested $715.8 million for weapons, ammunition, vehicles, or equipment for FYs 2017 and 2018.

Special Operations Joint Task Force–Operation Inherent Resolve (SOJTF-OIR), under Combined Joint Task Force–OIR (CJTF-OIR), is the primary accompany force in Syria that advises and assists the VSO. According to SOJTF-OIR personnel, SOJTF-OIR also manages the day-to-day operations of the CTEF-S program. Specifically, SOJTF-OIR personnel identify program requirements—including the VSO’s needs for CTEF-S equipment and weapons— coordinate with acquisition agencies, manage equipment distribution, and monitor divestment tracking and reporting for CTEF-S equipment, such as weapons, ammunition, or vehicles.

Personnel from 1st Theater Sustainment Command (1st TSC), under U.S. Army Central, told us that 1st TSC personnel account for and store CTEF-S equipment in Kuwait, accept the equipment once it arrives in Kuwait, then transport the equipment to the Building Partners Capacity (BPC) Kuwait warehouse. According to 1st TSC personnel, 1st TSC maintain a detailed inventory of all CTEF-S equipment at the BPC Kuwait warehouse and coordinate the movement of all CTEF-S equipment from the BPC Kuwait warehouse to storage sites closer to Syria. Personnel from 1st TSC indicated that CTEF-S equipment remains in U.S. Government possession while stored at the BPC Kuwait warehouse and storage sites closer to Syria. According to SOJTF-OIR personnel, Coalition units located throughout Syria work closely with the VSO to identify their current and future operational needs, such as weapons and vehicles. The VSO consists of DoD-approved Syrian opposition personnel who are dedicated to fighting ISIS throughout Syria. SOJTF-OIR personnel stated that Coalition units select, investigate, train, and equip these local Syrian forces to defeat ISIS. In addition, SOJTF-OIR personnel stated that Coalition units receive the CTEF-S equipment from the BPC Kuwait warehouse and divest CTEF-S equipment to the VSO. Once divested, ownership and accountability of CTEF-S equipment is transferred from the DoD to the VSO.

Finding

SOJTF-OIR personnel did not account for the budgeted $715.8 million of CTEF-S equipment for FYs 2017 and 2018 from procurement through divestment in accordance with DoD Instruction 5000.64 and Army Regulation 735-5. For example, SOJTF-OIR personnel did not maintain comprehensive lists of all equipment purchased and received. This occurred because SOJTF-OIR personnel allowed multiple entities involved with CTEF-S equipment to store records in numerous locations instead of designating a central repository for all supporting accountability documentation.

1st TSC personnel did not properly store or secure CTEF-S equipment at the BPC Kuwait warehouse in accordance with DoD guidance, Army regulations, or SOJTF-OIR standard operating procedures. For example, 1st TSC personnel stored weapons outside in metal shipping containers, exposing the equipment to harsh environmental elements, such as heat and humidity. This occurred because SOJTF-OIR personnel did not divest or dispose of CTEF-S equipment, which led to overcrowding at the BPC Kuwait warehouse. In addition, according to 1st TSC’s inventory records, 1st TSC personnel stored 4,144 Category II weapons (sensitive weapons), such as machine guns and grenade launchers, outside in metal shipping containers and not in a facility that met the requirement for storing Category II weapons.

For FY 2020, the DoD budget requested $173.2 million for weapons, ammunitions, vehicles, and other CTEF-S equipment. Without accurate accountability records, such as inventory records and hand receipts, SOJTF-OIR personnel could order equipment that SOJTF-OIR already has in stock, risking unnecessary spending of CTEF-S funds and further overcrowding the BPC Kuwait warehouse resulting in equipment being stored outside.

Furthermore, SOJTF-OIR and 1st TSC personnel left thousands of CTEF-S weapons and sensitive equipment items vulnerable to loss or theft. Without conducting consistent inventories and ensuring proper security for CTEF-S equipment, 1st TSC could not determine whether items were lost or stolen which could delay the initiation of an investigation.

Recommendations

We recommend that the Commander of SOJTF-OIR develop a central repository system for all documentation required to support CTEF-S equipment requested on the memorandum of requirement through the entire divestment process.

We recommend that the Commander of SOJTF-OIR develop guidance for the proper disposal of CTEF-S equipment stored at the BPC Kuwait warehouse that has been declared unserviceable.

Additionally, we recommend that the Commander of 1st TSC complete a physical security inspection periodically, but no less than every 18 months, and ensure corrective action is taken to fix new and existing security issues identified.

Management Comments and Our Response

During the audit, we advised SOJTF-OIR and 1st TSC of the deficiencies within the CTEF-S program for the accountability and security of CTEF-S equipment. SOJTF-OIR and 1st TSC personnel agreed with our findings and immediately initiated corrective actions. SOJTF-OIR personnel stated that SOJTF-OIR created a shared drive portal for all documentation for CTEF-S equipment from procurement through divestment, including memorandums of requirement, purchase orders, equipment received, inventories completed, hand receipts, transfers, and divestment packages. 1st TSC has already started providing its hand receipts and completed inventory documents to SOJTF-OIR for inclusion in the shared drive. As of January 2020, SOJTF-OIR is using this shared drive portal to store documentation for CTEF-S equipment, such as inventories, lateral transfers, and hand receipts. The actions taken addressed the specifics of Recommendation 1 to establish a central repository for all documentation required to support CTEF-S equipment requested on the memorandum of requirement through the entire divestment process; therefore, Recommendation 1 is closed.

On May 31, 2019, U.S. Central Command developed and began implementing a disposal plan for unserviceable equipment purchased for the VSO, including items stored at the BPC Kuwait warehouse. CJTF-OIR personnel stated that this plan will reduce the amount of CTEF-S equipment currently stored at the BPC Kuwait warehouse, and equipment will no longer need to be stored outside the warehouse exposed to the harsh elements. Furthermore, in November 2019, CJTF-OIR personnel confirmed that disposition guidance for unserviceable CTEF-S equipment was received from U.S. Central Command and that unserviceable CTEF-S equipment will be provided to the Defense Logistics Agency or disposed. The actions taken addressed the specifics of Recommendation 2 to develop guidance for the disposal of unserviceable equipment; therefore, Recommendation 2 is closed.

During our February 2019 followup site visit, the audit team verified that 1st TSC personnel had started taking corrective actions to address the security deficiencies on the issues the audit team identified during the initial site visit. The actions taken addressed the specifics of Recommendation 3 to complete a security inspection and address security issues; therefore, Recommendation 3 is closed.

This report is a result of Project No. D2019-D000RJ-0031.000

02/17/20

Russia Got Crimea, Working on Ukraine, Belarus Next?

By: Denise Simon | Founders Code

Primer: The Minsk Agreement has not led to a peace deal. The agreement was first negotiated by a mere telephone call between Vladimir Putin and Petro Poroshenko in 2014. It has a few newer iterations. It was to stop the warring factions between Russia and Ukraine. The whole matter was and is a continued plot for Putin to consolidate his power.

***

Belarus, Minsk and Schedrin Maps

The president of Belarus said Friday that Russia insisted on merging the two states during last week’s talks on further integrating the countries’ economies.

“They understand integration as swallowing up Belarus. This isn’t integration. It’s incorporation. I will never go for this,” President Alexander Lukashenko said during a visit to a paper plant in southeastern Belarus.

“I will always fight for our land to remain sovereign and independent. Your first president that you once elected will never be the last,” he added.

Tensions have been running high between the neighboring ex-Soviet states for several months now. As negotiations on closer ties stalled, Russia halted oil supplies to Belarus and Lukashenko repeatedly accused the Kremlin of pushing for a merger of the two countries.

Lukashenko and Russian President Vladimir Putin sat down last Friday for yet another round of talks in Sochi but failed to reach an agreement.

Merging with Belarus is seen by many as a strategy for Putin to stay in power well past the legally mandated end of his presidential term in 2024 by becoming the head of a new state.

As Lukashenko has resisted the integration effort, the Kremlin has increased pressure by halting oil supplies to Belarus, which relies on Russia for more than 80% of its energy needs.

Lukashenko has since vowed to find alternative oil suppliers and boasted about warming ties with the West in an apparent bid to win concessions from Russia. So far Belarus has been able to secure a shipment of oil from Norway and is negotiating supplies from Kazakhstan.

Lukashenko, who has ruled Belarus with an iron fist for more than two decades and is up for re-election this year. He doesn’t want to become a governor in a single state with Russia, Minsk-based political analyst Alexander Klaskovsky told The Associated Press.

“The Kremlin has so far failed to scare Minsk by cutting subsidies ahead of the presidential race in Belarus,” Klaskovsky said.

Lukashenko said Friday that talks on closer ties between Russia and Belarus would continue, but only “the questions of integrating economies” would be on the table.

***

This effort by Moscow has been going on at least since 2014. Trade and oil are at the core of the issues and Russia is strong-arming the leadership of Belarus.

02/13/20

Bill Whittle: “The Cold War: What We Saw” – Episodes 1 and 2

From: Bill Whittle

World War III — the Apocalypse that never was — started in the same place that World War II in Europe had ended: Berlin. “An Iron Curtain has descended across the Continent,” said Winston Churchill, and that curtain ran right through the heart of Berlin. On the Eastern side, the collectivist, state-centered world of Joseph Stalin communist ideology, armed to the teeth with conventional forces. On the other side — the Western side — a war-weary alliance of capitalist countries, led by the beacon of individual rights, the United States.

In Part 1 of The Cold War: What We Saw, we will peel back the layers of mystery cloaking the Terror state run by the Kremlin, and watch as America takes its first small steps onto the stage of world leadership.

After the defeat of Germany, Joseph Stalin looked at the pieces laid out on the board in front of him with satisfaction that bordered on glee. His Red Army, consisting of millions of battle-hardened troops, thousands of tanks and an equal number of artillery pieces had come to a halt — temporarily, thought Stalin — where they had encountered the British and American forces attacking from the West. Those forces, he knew, were no match for the sheer mass his Soviet Union had mustered, and he was certain that the Western Democracies did not have the stomach for another long and bloody war. Soon all of Europe would be his, and his communist ideology fulfilled.

But all of that changed when the Americans had conjured two brilliant flashes of light over Japan and brought a sudden end to the Second World War. Would American atomic wizardry be enough of a deterrent to prevent the Third?

02/13/20

US Navy Seizes Iran Ship with SAMs on Board

By: Denise Simon | Founders Code

Our turn eh? Hmmm, the same day that the Senate votes to limit the President’s war power measures on declaring war with Iran, this event from last week hits the headlines. By the way, President Trump has never indicated he would go to war with Iran with or without Congressional approval so that whole bi-partisan measure in the Senate was just a formality… a gesture.

The Senate passed a war powers resolution Thursday that constrains President Donald Trump’s ability to authorize military strikes against Iran.

The resolution from Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine received bipartisan support. It passed 55–45 with eight Republicans voting with Democrats in favor. However, Trump has signaled he will veto the resolution, and there are not enough votes in Congress to override the veto.

Kaine introduced the resolution in early January after escalating tensions with Iran culminated in an American strike killing Iranian general Qassem Soleimani and Iran responding by firing missiles at two American bases in Iraq. The administration gave Congress a briefing to justify the strike after the fact, which didn’t satisfy Democrats and infuriated two administration allies, Republican Reps. Mike Lee and Rand Paul.

“The nation should not be at war without a vote of Congress,” said Kaine Wednesday. “Even if he chooses to veto it and we can’t override, the will of both bodies and the public they represent, that could be a factor in his decision making.” h/t

Anyway, back to the SAMs…surface to air missiles…

U.S. Warship in Arabian Sea Seizes Suspected Iranian Weapons

***
Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser USS Normandy (CG-60) seized a cache of Iranian-made anti-tank missiles and other munitions aboard a dhow in the Arabian Sea over the weekend.

The Normandy stopped the dhow while conducting maritime security operations over the weekend, in accordance with international law, according to a statement released Thursday by U.S. Central Command.

The seized weapons include:

  • 150 Dehlavieh anti-tank missiles, which are Iranian-made version of the Russian Kornet anti-tank missiles.
  • Three Iranian-made surface-to-air missiles.
  • Thermal imaging weapon scopes.
  • Components for manned and unmanned aerial and surface vessels.

The CENTCOM statement noted that many of the munitions seized over the weekend by Normandy are similar to weapons and components seized in November by the crew of Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Forrest Sherman (DDG-98).

The weapons included 358 surface-to-air missile components and ‘Dehlavieh’ anti-tank guided missiles (ATGM), intended for the Houthis in Yemen, aboard a stateless dhow during a maritime interdiction operation in the U.S. Fifth Fleet area of operations on Feb. 9, 2020. US Navy Photo

The weapons seized by Forrest Sherman were determined to be destined for Houthi rebels fighting in Yemen, according to CENTCOM. Houthi rebels have been fighting Saudi Arabian forces in Yemen for five years. The force has used unmanned aerial and surface vessels to attack Saudi Arabian forces in the past, using equipment that U.S. military experts say comes from Iran.

The shipment of weapons seized over the weekend would violate a United Nations Security Council resolution prohibiting the “direct or indirect supply, sale, or transfer of weapons to the Houthis,” the CENTCOM statement notes.

02/13/20

Chinese Spy Leading California Public Pension Fund?

By: Denise Simon | Founders Code

This may add some very new and different questions when it comes to the Biden foreign operations… read on.

Rep. Jim Banks, R-Ind., joined “Mornings with Maria” to explain why he wrote a letter to California Gov. Gavin Newsom highlighting his concerns about the state public pension fund’s chief investment officer having ties to China.

The fund has invested $3.1 billion in Chinese companies, some of which have been blacklisted by the U.S. government, Banks told FOX Business’ Maria Bartiromo.

“If this were up to me, I would fire [Chief Investment Officer Yu Ben Meng] immediately because of these suspicious ties,” he said. “We learned that Mr. Meng, who is the chief investment officer of CalPERS, was actually recruited to this position by the [Chinese Communist Party] through something called the Thousand Talents Program. Now he’s denied it.”

CalPERS stands for the California Public Employees’ Retirement System, the largest public pension fund in the nation.

“What is unusual is that many of these companies are companies that we’ve blacklisted, that make Chinese military equipment or are responsible for technologies like Hikvision, which is the equipment that’s used by the Chinese for surveillance on the Uighur Muslim population that they’ve been abusing in their own country,” Banks said.

The Commerce Department blacklisted Hikvision in October “for engaging in or enabling activities contrary to the foreign policy interests of the United States.”

CalPERS defended Meng.

“This is a reprehensible attack on a U.S. citizen. We fully stand behind our Chief Investment Officer who came to CalPERS with a stellar international reputation,” a CalPERS spokeswoman told Reuters.

China's Social Credit System – It's Coming To The United ...

Hold on, it is actually worse… going back 4 months ago…

(Reuters) – Some of the biggest public pensions funds in the United States have invested in one of the world’s largest purveyors of video surveillance systems that the U.S. government claims are used in wide-scale repression of the Muslim population of western China.

The Trump administration’s decision to put the company, Hangzhou Hikvision Digital Technology Co (002415.SZ), on a blacklist last week has prompted at least two of the pension plans to say they are reviewing or monitoring that development.

The blacklist applies to Hikvision and seven other companies because they allegedly enabled the crackdown that has led to mass arbitrary detentions in the Xinjiang region.

“We are tracking the situation given this new development with the Department of Commerce’s announcement,” a spokeswoman for the California State Teachers’ Retirement System (CalSTRS) said in an email.

CalSTRS owned 4.35 million Hikvision shares at the end of June 30, 2018, the last data available. The holding, owned directly and through emerging market exchange-traded funds, would be worth $24 million at that share count.

The New York State Teachers Retirement System also owned Hikvision, reporting 81,802 shares at the end of June, up from 26,402 shares at the end of 2018, fund disclosures show.

“Our holdings are primarily held according to their weights in passive portfolios matching the MSCI ACWI ex-U.S. index, our policy benchmark. We are monitoring the situation,” said a spokesman for the teachers’ fund. The ex-U.S. All Country World Index includes stocks from 22 developed and emerging markets.

The blacklisting means Hikvision and the other companies will not be able to buy U.S. technology, such as software and microchips, without specific U.S. government approval. It does not prevent U.S. investors from buying the companies’ shares. In August, Hikvision had been banned from selling to U.S. federal agencies because the government said its products could allow access to sensitive systems.

Hikvision’s General Manager Hu Yangzhong told Reuters on Wednesday it has been talking to the U.S. government about Xinjiang and has hired human rights lawyers to defend itself against the blacklisting.

A spokeswoman for law firm Sidley Austin LLP, which has lobbied for Hikvision this year, declined to comment.

Another major fund investing in Hikvision shares is the Florida Retirement System (FRS), with 1.8 million shares at the end of June.

A spokesman for the fund said it was working closely with external money managers “related to the issue in order to meet all regulatory and fiduciary requirements.”

POSTER CHILD

Risk consultants say the ease with which money used for the retirements of tens of millions of Americans is being invested in such companies should concern U.S. authorities at every level, as well as Americans generally.

“Hikvision has emerged as the corporate poster child for enabling Chinese human rights abuses, with its surveillance cameras visible atop the walls of detention camps incarcerating some one million or more Uighurs in Xinjiang,” said Roger Robinson, president and CEO of Washington DC-based risk consultancy RWR Advisory Group.

Beijing denies any mistreatment of people at the camps, which it says provide vocational training to help stamp out religious extremism and teach new work skills.

Robinson said that many Americans are unwittingly owning shares in such companies because they are in index funds. “They are picked up by the index providers in sizable numbers and sluiced into U.S. investor portfolios with seemingly very little, if any, due diligence or disclosure in the categories of national security and human rights.”

MSCI Inc (MSCI.N), whose products are designed for global investors, added Hikvision to its benchmark emerging markets index last year. MSCI declined to comment.

One other company among the blacklisted eight that is owned by some of the big pension funds is iFlytek Co Ltd (002230.SZ), a speech-recognition firm. Its shares were owned by funds in Florida, New York State as well as CalSTRS and the California Public Employees Retirement System (CalPERS) indirectly through the iShares MSCI Emerging Markets ETF at their last disclosure dates. IShares, a top ETF provider owned by BlackRock Inc (BLK.N), declined to comment.

CUTTING TIES

Not all the funds have stuck with Hikvision.

The New York State Common Fund, one of the country’s biggest pension funds, liquidated its position months ago. It had owned 2.7 million shares worth $14.2 million at the end of March through an external fund manager, but sold them in May, a spokesman said, declining to say why.

U.S. mutual funds have also cut or eliminated positions in Hikvision amid the negative publicity, which included it being named in a Human Rights Watch report on mass surveillance in Xinjiang in May.

Just 9% of global emerging markets funds now own Hikvision, down from 20% in 2018, according to Copley Fund Research. One fund to pull out is the $2.7 billion Artisan Developing World Fund (APDYX.O), which had a $66 million position in Hikvision at the end of March but reported holding no shares three months later, fund disclosures show. Artisan did not respond to a request for comment.

At least one U.S. pension fund had worried this summer about whether to invest in the Chinese surveillance company.

The $33 billion Alaska Permanent Fund had considered an investment in a China fund featuring Hikvision as a top holding, according to minutes of a June meeting of its trustees and staff. The minutes were published last month.

Schroders Global Asset Management, a finalist for the fund’s mainland China investment mandate, touted Hikvision as a top performer.

Some Alaska trustees, however, worried about “headline risks” of investing in companies that aid the Chinese government’s surveillance activities, according to the minutes.

Jack Lee, portfolio manager of the China fund, assured Alaska pension officials he had spoken with Hikvision executives. Hikvision will “try to avoid that kind of business,” the trustees were told, but “they don’t necessarily know how their equipment is used,” Lee told the trustees, according to the minutes.

Reuters could not determine whether Alaska made an investment in the Schroders fund that included Hikvision stock.

A spokeswoman for the Alaska Retirement Management Board, which oversees the pension, said it does not have any additional information to share regarding Schroders’ efforts. A Schroders spokesman declined to comment.

02/10/20

4 Members of the Chinese Military Hacked Equifax

By: Denise Simon | Founders Code

(AP) — Four members of the Chinese military have been charged with breaking into the networks of the Equifax credit reporting agency and stealing the personal information of tens of millions of Americans, the Justice Department said Monday, blaming Beijing for one of the largest hacks in history to target consumer data.

The 2017 breach affected more than 145 million people, with the hackers successfully stealing names, addresses, Social Security and driver’s license numbers and other personal information stored in the company’s databases.

4 Chinese military members charged in Equifax case

The four — members of the People’s Liberation Army, an arm of the Chinese military — are also accused of stealing the company’s trade secrets, including database designs, law enforcement officials said.

The accused hackers exploited a software vulnerability to gain access to Equifax’s computers, obtaining log-in credentials that they used to navigate databases and review records. The indictment also details efforts the hackers took to cover their tracks, including wiping log files on a daily basis and routing traffic through dozens of servers in nearly 20 countries.

“The scale of the theft was staggering,” Attorney General William Barr said Monday. “This theft not only caused significant financial damage to Equifax, but invaded the privacy of many millions of Americans, and imposed substantial costs and burdens on them as they have had to take measures to protect against identity theft.”

Equifax, headquartered in Atlanta, maintains a massive repository of consumer information that it sells to businesses looking to verify identities or assess creditworthiness. All told, the indictment says, the company holds information on hundreds of millions of Americans in the U.S. and abroad.

The case is the latest Justice Department accusation against Chinese hackers suspected of breaching networks of American corporations. It comes as the Trump administration has warned against what it sees as the growing political and economic influence of China, and efforts by Beijing to collect data on Americans and steal scientific research and innovation.

The administration has also been pressing allies not to allow Chinese tech giant Huawei to be part of their 5G wireless networks due to concerns that the equipment could be used to collect data and for surveillance.

The accused hackers are based in China and none is in custody. But U.S. officials nonetheless view criminal charges like the ones brought in this case as a powerful deterrent to foreign hackers and a warning to other countries that American law enforcement has the capability to pinpoint individual culprits behind hacks.

A spokesperson for the Chinese embassy did not immediately return an email seeking comment Monday.

The case resembles a 2014 indictment from the Obama administration Justice Department that accused five members of the PLA of hacking into major American corporations to steal their trade secrets. U.S. authorities also suspect China in the massive 2015 breach of the Office of Personnel Management and of intrusions into the Marriott hotel chain and Anthem health insurance company.

“This kind of attack on American industry is of a piece with other Chinese illegal acquisitions of sensitive personal data,” Barr said of Monday’s announcement, adding that “for years we have witnessed China’s voracious appetite for the personal data of Americans.”

The criminal charges — which include conspiracy to commit computer fraud and conspiracy to commit economic espionage — were filed in federal court in Atlanta.

Equifax last year reached a $700 million settlement over the data breach, with the bulk of the funds intended for consumers affected by it.

Equifax didn’t notice the intruders targeting its databases for more than six weeks. Hackers exploited a known security vulnerability that Equifax hadn’t fixed.

Once inside the network, officials said, the hackers spent weeks conducting reconnaissance. They stole login credentials and ultimately downloaded and extracted data from Equifax to computers outside the United States.

The indictment says the hackers obtained names, birth dates, and Social Security numbers for about 145 million American victims, along with credit card numbers and other personal information for about 200,000.

According to the Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress, a server hosting Equifax’s online dispute portal was running software with a known weak spot. The hackers jumped through the opening to reach databases containing consumers’ personal information.

Equifax officials told GAO the company made many mistakes, including having an outdated list of computer systems administrators. When the company circulated a notice to install a patch for the software vulnerability, the employees responsible for installing the patch never got it.

Equifax’s $700 million settlement with the U.S. government gives affected consumers free credit-monitoring and identity-restoration services, plus money for their time or reimbursement for certain services. However, because so many people made claims, officials said some consumers would get far less than the eligible amounts because of caps in the settlement pool.

02/7/20

AI In War Means Deepfakes As Well As Killerbots

By: Denise Simon | Mind Matters News

In its Gerasimov and Primikov doctrines of warfare, Russia makes this clear.

Since 2014, Russia has played a dominant role in the civil war hostilities in Syria where the testing of technology fresh out of research and development has been applied to measure results, graded by software systems. Such military upgrades launched in Syria and in Yemen include the SS-21 Scarab, the Uran-9 and the Ratnick-4 (robotics). A four-day drill was held in December 2019 in the Gulf of Oman and the Indian Ocean. Participants were Russia, Iran, and China whose cooperation, unity, and military exchanges were evident during the drills.

Russia’s involvement should be considered in light of a strategy. In 2013, Russian Army General Valery Gerasimov (right) published a strategic doctrine (the Gerasimov Doctrine) where he described applying non-military as well as military warfare, mobilizing and utilizing all national power to achieve a mission. Non-military power includes economic sanctions, diplomatic pressure, propaganda, threatening navigation, false or fake stories, and publications, cyber threats, arrests, espionage, theft, demonization, corruption, ridicule, trolls, counterfeiting, broadcasts, chaos, violations of agreements/treaties, torture/death, proxies, gas-lighting, and technology generally.

Another concept of interest is the Primikov Doctrine, after Russian diplomat and Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov (1929–2015) which holds that, rather than competing with other global superpowers, it is more efficient and less costly to constrain them. These two doctrines have merged.

Enter artificial intelligence (AI), where the Russian toolkit is expanding such that it includes physical and abstract systems for military and political purposes, in this case, hybrid operations. The expansion comes as a result of a 2018 order from Vladimir Putin to organize national power, including engineers, education, science, and commercial developers, to develop a plan for AI and Big Data. Putin seeks automation, training, laboratories, monitors, gaming, forums, conferences, and compliance to advance technologies in such a way that a 4:1 ratio of non-military to military activity is applied in locations most beneficial to global Russian expansion.

Potential battlespace locations chosen by Russia on land, at sea or in space have unique characteristics that favor AI for formulating, modeling and grading risks, costs, predictions, situational awareness, and strategy decisions.

The Kremlin mission’s goals are never clearly defined, due to “maskirovka” or deception, a common tool of Russia. But the annexation of Crimea was a clear achievement. Putin applied grey power or soft power in that quest and increased the hostilities in Russia’s continued war with Ukraine. The use of audio and video deep-fakes is expanding in Ukraine, the Baltic States, Western nations, and Africa.

Digital disinformation on social media, bots, and trolls by Russia is reshaping how other nations defend and analyze rogue nation tactics. Artificial intelligence and computer automation provide Moscow with predictive analytics for the effectiveness of influence and destabilization of nations over which Russia seeks power.

While Russia terminated the FEDOR (Skybot) for the International Space Station due to rendezvous failures, the humanoid has AI brains. These AI brains are also used in advanced Russian robots used to disarm bombs and mines and explore uncharted areas. The center of Russian technology for offense and defense systems is based in the Russian Foundation for Advanced Research Projects and Innovation, financed and managed by Dmitry Rogozin of the State Duma.

A particular area of interest for Russian use of robots is the Arctic. Ratnik versions 3 and 4 are well designed for long term capabilities in extreme weather conditions, as the Kremlin seeks to lay claim to the large oil and gas fields. Oil-seeking robots probe under the ice in Project Iceberg. Russia has a sad history of submarine safety at sea due to human error and nuclear or mechanical failures and AI is well applied to reduce those risks.

The Russian power company, Nikiet has been tasked with the viability and testing of robots and unmanned systems to advance underwater operations in the Arctic. Project Iceberg has reactivated an estimated 50 Russian Arctic military bases where automated vehicles are used for testing, exploration, and drilling, perhaps even charging stations.

Surveillance, reconnaissance, command and control, satellite, sonar and computer systems with remote capabilities, hypersonic weapons, and smart bombs are part of the computer decision-grade hybrid warfare doctrine of hard and soft power used by Russia, China, and likely other rogue nations, perhaps during joint military drills that feature collaboration and exchange or unity.

Note: The photo of Valery Gerasimov is republished under a Creative Commons license (CC by 4.0) courtesy mil.ru.