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Justice Department plans to alert public to foreign operations targeting U.S. democracy

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The Justice Department plans to alert the public to foreign operations targeting U.S. democracy under a new policy designed to counter hacking and disinformation campaigns such as the one Russia undertook in 2016 to disrupt the presidential election.

The government will inform American companies, private organizations and individuals that they are being covertly attacked by foreign actors attempting to affect elections or the political process.

“Exposing schemes to the public is an important way to neutralize them,” said Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein, who announced the policy at the Aspen Security Forum in Colorado, according to prepared remarks. “The American people have a right to know if foreign governments are targeting them with propaganda.”

The Obama administration struggled in 2016 to decide whether and when to disclose the existence of the Russian intervention, fearing that it would be portrayed as a partisan move. Concerns about appearing to favor the Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton, weighed on President Obama, who was reluctant to give then GOP-nominee Donald Trump ammunition for his accusation that the election was rigged.

“The Russian effort to influence the 2016 presidential election is just one tree in a growing forest,” Rosenstein said. “Focusing merely on a single election misses the point.”

He cited Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats, who last Friday said Russia’s actions continued. “As Director Coats made clear, “these actions are persistent, they are pervasive, and they are meant to undermine America’s democracy on a daily basis, regardless of whether it is election time or not,’ ” Rosenstein said.

At the Aspen Forum on Thursday, a Microsoft executive said that Russian military intelligence, known as the GRU, has targeted at least three candidates running for election this year. Tom Burt, the company’s Vice President for Customer Security and Trust, said that his team had discovered a spear-phishing campaign targeting the candidates. Spear-phishing is a technique hackers use to trick victims into clicking on malware-laced links in emails that enable access to the victims’ computers.

Twelve GRU officers were charged last week by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III with conspiracy for their role in the hacking of the Democratic National Committee and the transfer of thousands of emails to the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks, which published them at key moments in the campaign.

Pressure has been building on the Trump administration to commit to informing the public with lawmakers debating passage of a similar requirement, which would give it the force of law.

“It’s absolutely crucial that the intelligence community lean forward, push the envelope on sharing as much of that information as possible because one of the biggest challenges we have is on education of the public, of the electorate, on foreign, read Russian-influence operations,” said James R. Clapper Jr., former DNI, who last year at Aspen called for such transparency.

He called the move “quite significant” and said “making that a standard policy across the government is a good one.” Other agencies, he said, “will take a cue” from the Justice Department, which is part of the intelligence community and receives information from spy agencies.

The policy, which is part of a report issued on a new Cyber Digital Task Force set up by Attorney General Jeff Sessions in February, also specifies that in considering whether to disclose, the department must protect intelligence sources and methods, investigations and other government operations.

“Partisan political considerations must play no role in efforts to alert victims, other affected individuals or the American public to foreign influence operations against the United States,” the policy states. A foreign influence operation will be publicly disclosed “only when the government can attribute those activities to a foreign government with high confidence,” it said.

Rosenstein noted that influence operations are not new. The Soviet Union used them against the United States throughout the 20th century, including in 1963 paying an American to distribute a book claiming that the FBI and the CIA assassinated President Kennedy.

The new task force for the first time spelled out five different types of threats covered under foreign influence operations.

Hackers can target election systems, trying to get into voter registration databases and voting machines. Foreign operatives can pursue political organizations, campaigns and public officials. They can offer to assist political organizations or campaigns, while concealing their links to foreign governments. They can seek to covertly influence public opinion and sow division through the use of social media and other outlets. And they can try to employ lobbyists, foreign media outlets and other foreign organizations to influence policy-makers and the public.

“Public attribution of foreign influence operations can help to counter and mitigate the harm caused by foreign government-sponsored disinformation,” Rosenstein said. “When people are aware of the true sponsor, they can make better-informed decisions.”

The task force works closely with the FBI, whose director, Christopher Wray, last year established a Foreign Influence Task Force to focus on the same issue. The Justice Department task force is broader, but includes as a key component foreign influence activities.

To counter foreign influence, the department will aggressively investigate and prosecute such activities, and will work with other departments, such as the Department of Homeland Security, to share information about threats and vulnerabilities with state and local election officials, political organizations and other potential victims so they can take measures to detect or prevent harm, the report said.

It also noted that DOJ supports other agencies’ actions, such as financial or diplomatic sanctions and intelligence efforts. The department also is forming strategic relationships with social media providers to help them identify malign foreign influence activity.

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This article was written by Ellen Nakashima from The Washington Post

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Former Potential Suspects In Alleged Jussie Smollett Attack Claim Attack Was Faked

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UPDATE: Smolletts’ attorneys released a statement countering the claims of the two brothers.

“As a victim of a hate crime who has cooperated with the police investigation, Jussie Smollett is angered and devastated by recent reports that the perpetrators are individuals he is familiar with. He has now been further victimized by claims attributed to these alleged perpetrators that Jussie played a role in his own attack. Nothing is further from the truth and anyone claiming otherwise is lying.

“One of these purported suspects was Jussie’s personal trainer who he hired to ready him physically for a music video. It is impossible to believe that this person could have played a role in the crime against Jussie or would falsely claim Jussie’s complicity.

“Jussie and his attorneys anticipate being further updated by the Chicago Police Department on the status of the investigation and will continue to cooperate. At the present time, Jussie and his attorneys have no inclination to respond to “unnamed” sources inside of the investigation, but will continue discussions through official channels.”

Chicago (CBS) — Two brothers who were questioned and released by Chicago police investigating the Jussie Smollett attack did play a role in the crime.

Sources say at least one of the brothers bought the rope used in the incident at Smollett’s request. The sources also say the “Empire” actor paid for the rope, which was purchased at the Crafty Beaver Hardware Store the weekend of Jan. 25.

The brothers were paid $3,500 before leaving for Nigeria and were promised an additional $500 upon their return.

They left for Nigeria later in the day on Jan. 29 after the attack.

The sources say plain red hats worn by the brothers were bought at an Uptown beauty supply store and that the attack was supposed to happen before Jan. 29.

Smollett claims two men attacked him in Streeterville early Jan. 29 as he was heading to his apartment. He said they yelled racial and homophobic slurs at him, poured a chemical on him and put a rope around his neck.

The brothers are now cooperating with police.

Since being released Friday night, the brothers have been staying in an undisclosed location.

Chicago police spokesperson Anthony Guglielmi said:

“We can confirm that the information received from the individuals questioned by police earlier in the Empire case has in fact shifted the trajectory of the investigation. We’ve reached out to the Empire cast member’s attorney to request a follow-up interview.”

Developing story, more to come…

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Colin Kaepernick Reaches Settlement With NFL Over Kneeling Protest Fallout

  • Colin Kaepernick, Eric Reid settle collusion grievance with NFL
  • Parties have resolved grievances subject to confidentiality pact

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Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Colin Kaepernick reaches settlement with NFL over kneeling protest fallout” was written by Bryan Armen Graham, for theguardian.com on Friday 15th February 2019 19.32 UTC

The NFL and attorneys for Colin Kaepernick and Eric Reid jointly announced on Friday afternoon they have settled a complaint of collusion by the players, who claimed the league’s owners blackballed them because they had protested by kneeling during the pre-game playing of the national anthem.

“For the past several months, counsel for Mr Kaepernick and Mr Reid have engaged in an ongoing dialogue with representatives of the NFL,” the statement read. “As a result of those discussions, the parties have decided to resolve the pending grievances. The resolution of this matter is subject to a confidentiality agreement so there will be no further comment by any party.”

An arbitrator had been expected to rule over the next few weeks on Kaepernick’s grievance against the league, which he filed in 2017 under the collective bargaining agreement. The former San Francisco 49ers quarterback alleged the owners conspired to keep him off the field because of his protests to draw attention to racial inequality and social injustice issues.

The filing said the NFL and its owners “have colluded to deprive Mr Kaepernick of employment rights in retaliation for Mr Kaepernick’s leadership and advocacy for equality and social justice and his bringing awareness to peculiar institutions still undermining racial equality in the United States”.

The NFLPA released a statement on Friday in support of Kaepernick and Reid, acknowledging they did not know the terms of the agreement as the players employed outside counsel.

“We continuously supported Colin and Eric from the start of their protests, participated with their lawyers throughout their legal proceedings and were prepared to participate in the upcoming trial in pursuit of both truth and justice for what we believe the NFL and its clubs did to them,” the statement said. “We are glad that Eric has earned a job and a new contract, and we continue to hope that Colin gets his opportunity as well.”

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Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg Returns To The High Court After Bout With Cancer

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WASHINGTON, Feb 15 (Reuters) – U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is back at the court after missing oral arguments in January as she recovered from lung cancer surgery at home, a court official said on Friday.

Ginsburg, who will turn 86 in March, had been working from home and participating and voting in cases since her December surgery by reading argument transcripts and case briefs. She attended the justices’ closed-door conference to discuss cases on Friday.

While Ginsburg was expected to attend the next session of oral arguments beginning on Feb. 19, court officials could not confirm she would be on the bench next week.

Last month, the court announced that Ginsburg’s recovery was on track and that there was “no evidence” of remaining disease.

Ginsburg, who joined the court in 1993, underwent a surgical procedure called a pulmonary lobectomy on Dec. 21 at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York to remove two cancerous nodules in her left lung. She was released from the hospital on Dec. 25.

Ginsburg missed oral arguments in January for the first time in her lengthy career on the court, fueling speculation about her ability to continue in the job. (Reporting by Andrew Chung; editing by Jonathan Oatis)

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