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Christopher Wylie: Bannon wanted “weapons” to fight a “culture war” at Cambridge Analytica

Christopher Wylie, the whistleblower from Cambridge Analytica who provided multiple reports about how the London-based data firm misused Facebook data of as many as 87 million people during the 2016 election, testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday as part of a congressional probe into data privacy and security.

The revelations have since forced the social media titan and other tech companies to reevaluate how they manage user data.

During the three-hour-long hearing, Wylie provided new details into the firm’s more controversial practices, including discussions of voter suppression, targeting African-American voters, and testing of slogans in 2014 that would be later used throughout the Trump campaign in 2016.

The whistleblower told lawmakers that former vice president of Cambridge Analytica and Trump ally Steve Bannon, “saw cultural warfare as the means to create enduring change in American politics.”

“The company learned that were segments of the population that responded to messages like ‘drain the swamp’ or images of walls or indeed paranoia about the deep state that weren’t necessarily reflected in mainstream polling or mainstream political discourse that Steve Bannon was interested in to help build his movement,” Wylie told lawmakers. He said that under Bannon’s leadership at Cambridge Anlaytica, U.S. clients could request testing voter suppression efforts in their contracts.

“Steve Bannon is a follower of something called the ‘Breitbart doctrine’ which posits that politics is downstream from culture. So if you want any lasting or enduring changes in politics you have to focus on the culture. When Steve Bannon uses the term culture war, he uses that term pointedly and they were seeking out companies that could build an arsenal of informational weapons to fight that war,” he added.

When pressed on how the firm targeted black voters, Wylie said that Cambridge Analytica would target anybody with “characteristics that would lead them to vote for the Democratic party, particularly African American voters.”

“Traditional marketing doesn’t misappropriate tens of millions of people’s data, and it is not or should not be targeted at people’s mental state like neuroticism and paranoia, or racial biases,” urged Wylie.

Wylie also noted the connections between Cambridge Analytica’s research and projects to Russian entities were cause of great concern to him. He pointed to connections with Moscow-based Lukoil, testifying that Cambridge Analytica made presentations and sent documents to Lukoil on its experience in disinformation and rumor campaigns.

“The company had engaged contractors who had previously worked in Eastern Europe for pro-Russian parties and indeed the company decided to test Americans views on the leadership style of Vladmir Putin and American views on Eastern European issues relating to Russian expansionism,” Wylie added.

“There was a lot of contact with Russian companies that made it known this research was being done,” Wylie added, saying “a lot of noise was being made to companies and individuals who were connected to the Russian government.”

Wylie testified that the lead researcher that managed the Facebook harvesting project for Cambridge Analytica was at the time working on projects that related to “psychological profiling in Russia with Russian teams.”

As for recommendations for moving forward, Wylie stressed the need for public oversight over user data. He said the issue of privacy should be taken as seriously as other national security issues.

“When you look at industries that are important — cars, food, medicine, nuclear power, airlines, we have rules that require safety and put consumers first,” said Wylie.

He urged that in the 21st century, it’s “nearly impossible to be functional in the workplace and society at large without the internet.”

Read updates below as they happened:

‘Things could have gone much worse’: Ex-student shot by officer during gunfire exchange at Dixon High School

A police officer working at Dixon High School on Wednesday shot a former student who fired a gun near the school’s gym and later tried to shoot the officer, officials said.

The incident began about 8 a.m., according to officials speaking at a late-morning news conference. Students had gathered at the gym for graduation practice.

Dixon police Chief Steven Howell said the suspect, a 19-year-old man, “fired several shots” near the gym.

The school resource officer, identified as Mark Dallas, confronted the suspect, who then fled from the school with the officer in pursuit, Howell said. During the pursuit, the suspect fired several shots at the officer but did not strike him.

Senate approves bipartisan resolution to restore FCC net neutrality rules

The Senate approved a resolution Wednesday that aims to undo a sweeping act of deregulation undertaken last year by the Federal Communications Commission, issuing a rebuke to the Trump administration, which supported the FCC’s move.

The resolution targets the FCC’s vote in December to repeal its net neutrality rules for Internet providers. If successful, the legislative gambit could restore the agency’s regulations and hand a victory to tech companies, activists and consumer advocacy groups.

The congressional effort comes less than a month before the rules are officially expected to expire, on June 11. And the high-profile vote could shine a spotlight on lawmakers running for reelection during a tough midterm season.

“The Senate vote, on the eve of midterms, could have significant political effects,” said Marc Martin, a telecom lawyer at Perkins Coie in Washington. But, he cautioned, it remains unclear how many voters will actually be motivated by net neutrality to go to the polls.

Senate supporters of the FCC rules put forward the legislation under the Congressional Review Act, a law that permits Congress to revisit — and reject — decisions by administrative agencies within a certain window of their approval. The resolution, or CRA for short, passed with the backing of all 49 Democratic senators and three Republicans: Sens. Susan Collins of Maine, John N. Kennedy of Louisiana and Lisa A. Murkowski of Alaska.

Sen. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), who led the CRA effort, called the vote a victory for democracy and the economy on Wednesday afternoon.

“When we talk about a free and open Internet, we mean it is free from corporate control,” said Markey, who called on the House to take up the measure.

Kennedy, whose vote was closely watched, as he was one of the few Republicans siding with Democrats on the issue, said he was ultimately persuaded to vote yes because more than 1 in 5 Louisianans lack choice in their broadband provider.

“It was a fairly close call, but I’ll tell you what it comes down to: the extent to which you trust your cable company,” Kennedy told The Washington Post moments after casting his vote. “If you trust your cable company, you’re not going to like my vote today. If you don’t trust your cable company, you will.”

Kennedy’s vote was highly sought by Democrats in the run-up to the vote. Markey and Kennedy have met and discussed the issue numerous times in recent weeks, according to a Democratic aide, and the two lawmakers’ staffs have been in “constant communication.”

However, Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), the chairman of the Senate committee that oversees the FCC, called the vote a political stunt and repeatedly said Wednesday it would lead nowhere. “Despite this vote, I remain committed to finding a path to bipartisan protections for the Internet and stand ready to work with my colleagues on the other side of the aisle when they are ready as well,” he said.

Still, it is unclear what fate may await the measure in the House. Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) urged the House to take up the issue quickly.

“House Republicans don’t have to choose the same path that the vast majority of Republicans in the Senate chose,” Schumer said at a news conference Wednesday afternoon. “The American people have spoken. Speaker Ryan should listen.”

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) has said lawmakers in that chamber are focused on designing their own legislation to “permanently address this issue,” casting doubt on whether the Senate resolution can advance. And, given the White House’s endorsement of the FCC’s repeal, analysts say, it is unlikely that Trump will sign the resolution to make it effective. (In one of his first acts of office, Trump last year signed a Republican-backed CRA overturning other FCC rules that established new privacy protections for Internet users.)

The net neutrality regulations, imposed on broadband companies such as ATT, Verizon and Comcast in 2015, banned the industry from blocking or slowing down websites. The rules also prohibited those companies from offering websites and app developers faster, easier access to Internet users in exchange for extra fees — a tactic that critics described as digital “fast lanes” that could distort online competition in favor of large, wealthy businesses.

Despite surviving a court challenge from broadband industry groups seeking to overturn the rules in 2016, they came under fire again a year later — this time from the agency’s new Republican leadership. FCC Chairman Ajit Pai led the charge against the net neutrality regulations, calling them an example of government overreach that discouraged Internet providers from investing in upgrades to their networks.

Pai said his agency’s “light-touch” approach would lead to better, faster Internet service for Americans — and more competition.

Last November, a month before he and the FCC’s two other Republicans, Michael O’Rielly and Brendan Carr, voted to repeal the rules, Pai said, “Under my proposal, the federal government will stop micromanaging the Internet.”

The agency’s two Democrats at the time, Mignon Clyburn and Jessica Rosenworcel, voted to keep the rules on the books.

On Wednesday, Pai said: “It’s disappointing that Senate Democrats forced this resolution through by a narrow margin. But, ultimately, I’m confident that their effort to reinstate heavy-handed government regulation of the Internet will fail.”

Pai’s opponents have said the rules are a necessary consumer protection as the Internet has become more vital to supporting the economic livelihoods of everyday Americans. In surveys, solid majorities say they support the principle of net neutrality, generally, and the FCC’s rules, in particular.

“Pai’s so-called ‘Restore Internet Freedom’ order was built on a mountain of false premises — about the law, the state of investment … and public sentiment,” Tim Karr, a consumer advocate at Free Press, tweeted Tuesday.

In response to Wednesday’s vote, ATT said it was committed to a lasting legislative compromise between Republicans and Democrats on the issue.

“We reiterate our call for actual bipartisan legislation that applies to all internet companies and guarantees neutrality, transparency, openness, non-discrimination and privacy protections for all internet users,” the telecom giant said in a statement.

On Wednesday, start-up advocacy group Engine praised the vote: “Fortunately, a majority of Senators … voted today to preserve internet openness. Congress has an opportunity to do the right thing for the start-ups who depends on the internet, and we hope the House will also approve the CRA soon.”

Trade groups representing Internet providers sent a letter to Capitol Hill on Tuesday urging lawmakers to vote against the CRA. Calling on Congress to reject the resolution in favor of developing bipartisan legislation to replace the FCC rules, the groups argued that the CRA does “nothing” to address the data mining and other practices of tech companies who have come under growing scrutiny for their role in facilitating the spread of online misinformation and harassment.

The Internet Association, a trade group backed by Facebook, Uber and others, has said that regulations targeting Silicon Valley on hate speech risks running afoul of the First Amendment. It also said last week that consumers demand strong and enforceable net neutrality rules on Internet providers.

“It is essential that rules be reinstated through any means necessary, including the CRA, courts, or bipartisan legislation,” the group said in a statement.

Tony Romm contributed to this report.

Trump ramps up rhetoric on undocumented immigrants: ‘These aren’t people. These are animals.’

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President Donald Trump is hammering California for its sanctuary policies in his latest push to resist the “resistance” to his presidency. (May 15)
AP

WASHINGTON — President Trump used extraordinarily harsh rhetoric to renew his call for stronger immigration laws Wednesday, calling undocumented immigrants “animals” and venting frustration at Mexican officials who he said “do nothing” to help the United States.

“We have people coming into the country or trying to come in, we’re stopping a lot of them, but we’re taking people out of the country. You wouldn’t believe how bad these people are,” Trump said. 

“These aren’t people. These are animals.”

Trump’s comments came in a freewheeling, hour-long White House meeting with local California leaders opposed to so-called “sanctuary city” policies. “California’s law provides safe harbor to some of the most vicious and violent offenders on Earth, like MS-13 gang members putting innocent men, women, and children at the mercy of these sadistic criminals,” he said.

His comment about “animals” came after Fresno County Sheriff Margaret Mims complained that state law forbids her from telling U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement about undocumented immigrants in her jail — even if she suspects they’re part of a gang.

“There could be an MS-13 member I know about. If they don’t reach a certain threshold, I cannot tell ICE about it,” she said.

Trump’s remarks were reminiscent of his first press conference as a presidential candidate in 2015, when he said the United States had become a “dumping ground” for people other countries didn’t want.

“When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best,” he said then. “They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”

Trump has been particularly vocal in opposing so-called “sanctuary city” policies, in which some jurisdictions have refused to fully cooperate with federal immigration authorities. On Wednesday, he highlighted California cities who do cooperate, inviting mayors and sheriffs opposed to the state’s predominant policy.

“Each of you has bravely resisted California’s deadly and unconstitutional sanctuary state law,” Trump told them.

In other comments, Trump:

► Called for Attorney General Jeff Sessions to investigate Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf for warning undocumented immigrants of an upcoming sweep by immigration agents. “You talk about obstruction of justice, I would recommend that you look at obstruction of justice for the mayor, Jeff,” the president said.

► Expressed frustration at his southern neighbor for not doing more to stop the flow of refugees and immigrants into the United States. “Mexico does nothing for us, they do nothing for us. Mexico talks, but they do nothing for us, especially at the border,” he said. “Certainly don’t help us much on trade.”

► Blamed Democrats for a policy of separating children from their parents when undocumented families enter the United States. 

“I know what you’re going through with families is very tough,” he told Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen. “But those are the bad laws the Democrats gave us. We have to break up families. The Democrats gave us that law. It’s a horrible thing we have to break up families.”

Alan Gomez reported from Miami. David Jackson contributed.

 

‘Diplotainment at its pinnacle’: Critics fear Trump’s style eclipses substance on North Korea

President Trump’s strategy on North Korea has played out in full public view over 16 months with dramatic, made-for-TV moments designed to focus global attention on his risky faceoff with dictator Kim Jong Un.

But as North Korean officials abruptly cast doubt this week on Trump’s planned historic summit with Kim in Singapore next month, critics fear that a president determined to declare victory where his predecessors failed will allow his desire for a legacy-making deal to override the substance of the negotiations.

In the social media era, Trump’s public showmanship is “creating a huge buzz where everyone wants to know what’s going on and what comes next,” said Jung Pak, a former CIA official who is now an Asia analyst at the Brookings Institution. “It’s a very dramatic way of conducting foreign policy and national security. But it creates a thin veneer of understanding. It’s mostly about symbolism.”

The risks involved in Trump’s approach were underscored this week when a top North Korean official threatened to cancel the summit and lambasted national security adviser John Bolton over his hard-line declaration that Pyongyang must fully relinquish its nuclear weapons before the United States offers reciprocal benefits.

Trump has invested significant political capital in the summit, and a no-show by Kim would be a major embarrassment. Perhaps fearful of further alienating the North Korean leader, Trump reacted with uncharacteristic restraint Wednesday, offering a vague, “We’ll see what happens.” Trump responded “yes” when a reporter asked whether he would still insist that the North denuclearize.

Trump has vowed to walk away without a deal if the talks aren’t fruitful. But foreign policy analysts have interpreted conflicting statements from Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo as a sign that the administration might be willing to settle for a narrower agreement, such as the elimination of ballistic missiles capable of striking the United States.

Asked about Bolton’s declaration that North Korea must follow the “Libya model” from 2004 and quickly abandon its nuclear program, which Pyongyang blames for the overthrow of leader Moammar Gaddafi, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders suggested he was freelancing.

“I haven’t seen that as part of any discussions,” she told reporters, “so I’m not aware that that’s a model that we’re using.”

Democrats and foreign policy analysts also have expressed alarmed over Trump’s sharp rhetorical shift toward Kim. Having mocked him last year as a “madman,” Trump has softened his tone and cast the authoritarian leader as an honest broker.

After Kim met with South Korean President Moon Jae-in at the demilitarized zone in April, Trump said that Kim had been “very open and I think very honorable based on what we’re seeing.” Last week, standing on the tarmac at Joint Base Andrews with three Americans who had been imprisoned in North Korea for more than a year, Trump told reporters that Kim “really was excellent” to the three men in allowing them to leave.

“The president’s rhetoric has reflected Kim Jong Un’s actions,” deputy White House press secretary Raj Shah said. “Kim Jong Un has stepped forward and made pledges to halt nuclear tests, halt ICBM tests, and now has released these three prisoners. And those are signs of good faith, and we hope to build on that.”

Critics said Trump, enamored with his own handiwork, has focused too heavily on shaping the public narrative ahead of the summit and trying to set the stage for a political victory. Always mindful of how his actions are playing on television, the president boasted on the tarmac at Andrews last week that the cable networks live-broadcasting the return of the American prisoners would set viewership records.

“President Trump has forged a new category of international relations that I would call ‘diplotainment,’ and the Singapore meeting is going to demonstrate diplotainment at its pinnacle,” said Daniel Russel, who served as senior Asia director at the National Security Council under President Barack Obama. “Imagine the size the crowd is going to be in Singapore — it’s going to be ‘huge.’ But those are very different deliverables than, say, the complete, verifiable, irreversible denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.”

All administrations have employed elements of stagecraft to advance a president’s foreign policy agenda. But few have embraced the role with as much gusto as Trump.

In November, after a surprise visit to the DMZ aboard Marine One was foiled by bad weather, Trump delivered a searing speech at South Korea’s National Assembly in Seoul, lambasting North Korea as “a country ruled as a cult.”

In January, Trump used the denouement of his State of the Union address to introduce a surprise guest in the first lady’s box: Ji Seong-ho, a North Korean defector, raised his crutches to a standing ovation in the House chambers as Trump said he represented what the Kim regime feared most — “the truth.”

And in February, Vice President Pence brought Fred Warmbier — the father of Otto Warmbier, a college student who died after 17 months in captivity in North Korea — with him as part of the U.S. delegation to the Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea, in a bid to upstage the North’s delegation.

Yet as Trump has shifted into summit mode, he has appeared infatuated by the prospect of a historic deal, with supporters talking about a potential Nobel Peace Prize.

After seeing images of Kim and Moon, during their summit, taking turns stepping across the border at the 38th parallel, Trump ruminated that the DMZ might be a good site for his own meeting with Kim.

“If things work out, there’s a great celebration to be had, on the site,” he said.

But experts noted that the Panmunjom Declaration signed by the two Korean leaders did not contain significant new breakthroughs and appeared to be a more symbolic bid by Moon to improve relations and create the optics of success for Trump.

Trump’s focus is “very much getting the public involved and invested in what’s going on. That’s the way you shape the narrative,” said Pak, the Brookings analyst. “Moon is doing something similar. By televising the summit, televising the meetings, he’s creating an intimacy between the viewer and the object.”

The upshot, she said, is a win for Kim — humanizing him and helping him shed a label as “the creature from Pyongyang.”

Some analysts said Trump deserves credit for elevating the North Korean threat and consolidating international support for his “maximum pressure” strategy, including from China. Ian Bremmer, president of Eurasia Group, a global risk analysis firm, said Trump’s relationship with Chinese President Xi Jinping helped tighten economic sanctions on Pyongyang. Though it is highly unlikely the North will denuclearize, a smaller deal aimed at dismantling the North’s ballistic missiles is worth pursuing, he said.

The president’s willingness to be bold and stake his reputation on the summit “helps avoid disaster because it is so historic,” Bremmer said. “Even if not much comes out of the meeting aside from theatrics, given everything that has transpired, if the theatrics are good, and Trump knows how to put on a show, those that support Trump will think this is tremendous.”

Yet Pyongyang’s threat to cancel the summit was a reminder that Trump is facing an unpredictable and wily negotiating partner, one prone to similar public outbursts and bouts of showmanship.

More recently, Trump reportedly asked the Pentagon to draw up plans to reduce or eliminate the more than 30,000 U.S. troops stationed in South Korea, a long-held goal of both Pyongyang and Beijing. The president told reporters that such a deal was not on the table for Kim, but he reiterated that he might entertain the idea to save U.S. tax dollars.

Bruce Klingner, a former U.S. intelligence analyst who now works at the Heritage Foundation, said that in envisioning potential outcomes for the summit, he believes it is likely that Trump will take a page from his book, “The Art of the Deal,” in which the real estate developer touted the virtues of “truthful hyperbole.”

No matter what Trump agrees to with Kim, regardless of the details, Klingner said, the president will declare it “the best deal in the world.”


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