Secret Underground ‘Nuclear Facility’ in Syria Baffles Experts

The Institute for Science and International Security looked into a 2015 report alleging that Syria was building another reactor – publishing their findings a day after Israel claimed responsibility for 2007 attack

Top security think tank ISIS says can’t confirm that Syria is building another nuclear plant
Top security think tank ISIS says can’t confirm that Syria is building another nuclear plant Institute for Science and International Security

A Washington-based think tank said Wednesday it was impossible to confirm a 2015 article by the German weekly Der Spiegel claiming that Syria was developing another nuclear reactor to replace the one Israel destroyed in 2007. However, it urged the international atomic watchdog to investigate the site in which Syria – possibly aided by Iran and North Korea – was allegedly trying to set up a new nuclear base to cover for the one Israel destroyed.

The results of the investigation by the Institute for Science and International Security were published hours after Israel took responsibility for the 2007 attack at Deir el-Zour in northeast Syria.

>> No longer a secret: How Israel destroyed Syria’s nuclear reactor

According to Der Spiegel, a new underground facility was launched in the center of a mountain into which a tunnel network had been dug. Located in a remote, rugged region near Qusayr in western Syria, the facility was said to be connected to a power plant and a water source for cooling.

Top security think tank ISIS says can’t confirm that Syria is building another nuclear plant Institute for Science and International Security
Top security think tank ISIS says can’t confirm that Syria is building another nuclear plant Institute for Science and International Security

Experts who viewed satellite photos told the magazine the facility was meant for uranium enrichment. The Syrians had transferred 8,000 fuel rods to the facility, Der Spiegel added.

But the Institute for Science and International Security said it could not confirm the report by the German magazine. (Click here for full report)

>> Ten years of silence on Syria strike. Why now? ■ The real fallout from the strike ■ The intelligence failure: It took years for Israel to discover the reactor ■ Israeli strike on Syrian nuclear reactor: Battle of the memoirs >> Who’s hiding Israeli air force participation in major exercise with UAE and U.S.?

skip – Syrian Nuclear Reactor Attack: Step by Step

Syrian Nuclear Reactor Attack: Step by Step – דלג

Syrian nuclear reactor attack: Step by step

“Based on commercial satellite imagery, none of these claims could be confirmed, and the purpose of the site remains unknown,” the think tank wrote.

“However, some imagery observations are consistent with Der Spiegel’s reporting. Although we fully understand the limitations and risks of the following approach, we believe that this site warrants inspection by the International Atomic Energy Agency, even though accomplishing such inspections may have to wait until the Syrian conflict ends.”

As the think tank put it, “a nuclear reactor located fully underground is not impossible, but it poses a huge engineering challenge and would likely require secret, on-going assistance from North Korea.

“Similarly, an enrichment plant would require extensive foreign assistance, likely from North Korea or possibly from Iran, since there is no available evidence of Syria buying the necessary equipment and materials from abroad. In any case, learning the purpose of this site should be a priority. A visit by the IAEA makes sense, even though accomplishing that may have to wait until the Syrian conflict ends.”

Top security think tank ISIS says can’t confirm that Syria is building another nuclear plant
Top security think tank ISIS says can’t confirm that Syria is building another nuclear plant Institute for Science and International Security

It added: “Any nuclear-related facility in Syria could involve considerable assistance from North Korea, given that Pyongyang provided extensive assistance in the construction of the Al Kibar reactor, which Israel destroyed in 2007.”

The think tank also warned about the possibility that Syria was storing materials from the destroyed site. “An enduring mystery … is the fate of key remnants of the reactor project, such as stockpiles of natural uranium, fuel fabrication capabilities, and even possibly plutonium separation capabilities that may have remained in Syria and continue to pose a proliferation risk,” it wrote.

The authors added that “Israel’s action serves to highlight once again the lack of accounting for Syria’s past nuclear weapons program and the location of any assets remaining from that program.”

They concluded: “Understanding North Korea’s role in Syria is also important as the United States weighs the prospects of negotiations with North Korea.”

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg ‘happy’ to testify before Congress amid mounting anger at data scandal

In his first interview addressing a user privacy scandal that has besieged his company, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said he would be willing to testify before Congress and apologised.

“I’m really sorry this happened”, Mr Zuckerberg said, and “I’m happy to” appear before Congress “if it’s the right thing to do”.

But the Facebook founder, whose company last year dispatched a top deputy rather than Mr Zuckerberg to testify before Congress on Russian actors seeking to influence the election via Facebook, hedged on the possibility.

“The goal there is to get Congress all the information they need to do their extremely important job and we want to send whoever is best informed”, Mr Zuckerberg said.

He also said Facebook was committed to stopping interference in the US midterm election in November and elections in India and Brazil, adding he was “sure someone’s trying” to use the site to meddle.

“There are going to be some new tactics that we need to make sure that we observe and get in front of,” he said.

For days Mr Zuckerberg made no public comment on the news that consulting firm Cambridge Analytica, which wielded sophisticated online targeting to shape the 2016 presidential race in the service of Donald Trump’s campaign, had gathered data on some 50 million Facebook users. His absence amid the mounting fallout spurred widespread criticism.

Breaking that silence, Mr Zuckerberg, acknowledged earlier in the day that Facebook had known since 2015 that researcher Aleksandr Kogan shared user data he gathered from an app with Cambridge Analytica.

Both Cambridge Analytica and Mr Kogan certified they had destroyed the information, Mr Zuckerberg said, and Facebook only learned they may not have from news reports this week. In the interview with CNN, he said Facebook erred in accepting the assurances of Cambridge Analytica and Mr Kogan.

“I’m used to, when people legally certify that they’re going to do something, they’re going to do it. But I think this was a mistake in retrospect”, Mr Zuckerberg said. “We should not have trusted the certification they gave us”, he added, “and we’re not going to make that mistake again”.

In his post, Mr Zucckerberg said Facebook had instituted safeguards in 2014 to prevent apps from harvesting the amount of user data gleaned by Mr Kogan’s survey and pledged Facebook would roll out more stringent measures to limit data collection. He reiterated the pledge to better safeguard user data during the CNN interview, promising a sweeping review of existing apps.

“We are doing a set of things to restrict the amount of access that developers get going forward“, he said, adding that “We’re going to review thousands of apps”.

While Mr Zuckerberg’s statement hewed to the explanation already publicly offered by Facebook, it came after Mr Zuckerberg faced rising frustration from elected officials who wondered why the CEO had not publicly addressed the gathering crisis.

Cambridge Analytica: Theresa May addresses government connections at PMQs

Members of Congress and Parliament have called on Mr Zuckerberg to testify, and his post did not quell their desire to hear from the Facebook founder himself.

“The steps Facebook has laid out to protect its users are a start but Zuckerberg still needs to come testify”, said Senator Amy Klobuchar, a Minnesota Democrat who has sought to more tightly regulate political speech on Facebook.

Similarly, Senator Ed Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat, responded to Mr Zuckerberg’s post by writing “You need to come to Congress and testify to this under oath”.

“I still want to know why it took Facebook so long to do anything about this, particularly when there are indications that this user data was exploited by Cambridge Analytica for years”, said Senator Mark Warner, a Virginia Democrat.

Cambridge Analytica: Who are they, and did they really help Trump win the White House?

After the claims made by whistleblower Christopher Wylie, some have suggested the company might be all-powerful, but others wonder if it was more master of PR than master of the universe

Two weeks before the US Presidential election, a British businessman with a fondness for Savile Row suits and polo made an extraordinary boast to a reporter from the Washington Post.

Alexander Nix – ‘Bertie’ to his chums from Eton and elsewhere – said his company had developed a psychological model for identifying voters that could “determine the personality of every single adult in the United States of America.”

And, Bertie seemed to imply, through the power of so-called “big data and psychographics”, his company was going to help Donald Trump win the election.

Of course, everyone knew Hillary was going to win, so no-one really paid any attention to Bertie, or what the Washington Postdescribed as his “little-known company”, Cambridge Analytica.

Until election night.

Three days after Donald Trump became President-Elect of the United States, Cambridge Analytica issued a press release, modestly entitled: “The Data Gurus Who Anticipated the Election Result”.

It began with a quote from veteran pollster Frank Lutz: “There are no longer any experts except Cambridge Analytica. They were Trump’s digital team who figured out how to win.”

Suddenly everybody wanted to know about Cambridge Analytica, the firm which may – or may not – have had links with the Brexitcampaign and whose website (still) promises that it “uses data to change audience behaviour”.

There were sceptics.  One Republican political consultant told The Spectator that Trump had been “played for a rube” by people spouting expensively packaged “nonsense”.  But there weren’t many sceptics.

After being informed by Mr Nix that “Creative-led blanket advertising is being replaced by data-driven individualised advertising”, The Spectator concluded: “Don Draper is dead — replaced by a twentysomething chugging Diet Coke at a laptop.”

Whistleblower Christopher Wylie has been described as ‘the data nerd who came in from the cold’ (Reuters)

Now, though, it seems that the useful, computer coding twentysomething has stopped chugging Coke and starting talking, to journalists.

He goes by the name of Christopher Wylie and he’s still only 28, although he started working for Cambridge Analytica in the early days, in 2014.

“The data nerd who came in from the cold,” The Observer called him.

Cambridge Analytica: Chris Wylie tells Channel 4 News data for 50 million Facebook profiles was obtained

The gay Canadian vegan who somehow ended up creating “Steve Bannon’s psychological warfare mindfuck tool” was how the pink-haired, nose-pierced Wylie described himself.

Cambridge Analytica, Wylie claimed, had been involved in harvesting the personal information of some 50 million Facebook users without proper authorisation.

And now Wylie has given further details to the Washington Post about how he worked with Steve Bannon, who was Cambridge Analytica’s vice-president between June 2014 and August 2016, with Mr Nix as chief executive.

During this time, Wylie admitted, his data mining helped the firm discover how young, conservatively-minded whites responded positively to certain phrases, like “drain the swamp”, or “deep state”.

Independent reporter Jeremy B. White kicked off Facebook campus… for filming a Facebook live

The same groups, Cambridge Analytica found, also liked the idea of a big wall to keep out immigrants.

Bannon, Wylie and the Washington Post made clear, might not have known the detail of how Cambridge Analytica got its data or that it might have been harvested from Facebook.

And, Wylie added, in 2014: “Trump wasn’t in our consciousness.  This was well before he became a thing.  He wasn’t a client or anything.”

Steve Bannon went from being vice-president of Cambridge Analytica to chief strategist for Donald Trump (Getty)

But Bannon went on to become the presidential candidates’s chief strategist and, in many people’s eyes, his eminence grise, the controlling intelligence behind Donald Trump’s brute force and ignorance.

Wylie, it seems, watched horrified as those messages become core slogans in the campaign speeches of Donald Trump.

And shortly before Wylie spoke to the Washington Post, it emerged that Bertie himself had been boasting, this time to a wealthy Sri Lankan businessman who turned out to be an undercover reporter for Channel 4 News.

Cambridge Analytica, Mr Nix seemed to be suggesting, could use more than data to change audience behaviour.  Women, the covert recording seemed to reveal him saying, could be hired to entice a political rival into the kind of reputation-destroying honeytrap that could be leaked to the media.

“We could send some girls around to the candidate’s house,” Mr Nix seemingly declared. “We could bring some Ukranians in on holiday with us, you know what I’m saying? They are very beautiful. I find that works very well.”

Mr Nix, 42, has now been suspended by the Cambridge Analytica board “pending a full independent investigation”.

There has also been a flurry of denials from Cambridge Analytica to every publicly aired allegation.

But those of conspiratorial mind might start to wonder whether the tale of Bertie and his Cambridge Analytica pals suggests that while Old Etonians like David Cameron can be PM until unseated by Brexit, other Old Etonians decide – and keep on deciding – who runs the country.

There is, though, an alternative interpretation, one that requires a look at who Mr Nix and his Cambridge Analytica partners are, and which wonders whether they might be smart, smooth-talking members of the upper class whose PR far outstrips their actual power.

Or, to express the possibility in the rather more colourful languageof a rival, American, Republican data scientist: “They’ve got a Brit wearing Savile Row suits who gives you a great pitch …but with psychographic profiling there’s nothing there. They’re really, really smart people … like a bunch of board-certified doctors who decided to make a lot more money selling snake oil.”

There seems little doubt they made a pile of money.

When Mr Nix was boasting to the Washington Post about the power to determine the personality of every single adult, the newspaper was quoting federal filings showing the Trump campaign’s payments to Cambridge Analytica had come to $5m in September 2016.

It also seems that the people at the top of Cambridge Analytica and its London-based parent company the SCL Group are exceedingly well connected.

Among those who co-founded the group with Mr Nix in 2005 was Sir Geoffrey Pattie, a former defence minister and trade minister under Margaret Thatcher who was also vice-chairman of the Conservative Party in 1990.  Sir Geoffrey, reported by The Timesto have been the group’s founding chairman, resigned from SCL in 2008.

When Cambridge Analytica itself was created in 2013, it was reportedly backed by $15m ($10.7m) from Robert Mercer, the hedge fund billionaire and Republican party donor who until last year had a stake in Breitbart, the “alt-right” news website co-founded by Steve Bannon.

Another co-founder of the SCL Group, who retains a key role in it, is Nigel Oakes, 55.

Nigel Oakes (Flickr/STRATCOM COE)

Mr Oakes, The Independent reported in August 2000, had, like Mr Nix, been to Eton and, again, those who met him spoke of his charm, good manners and immaculate tailoring.

Such attributes may have helped him gain his first brief brush with public attention as the boyfriend, between November 1983 and May 1984, of the minor Royal Lady Helen Windsor, the daughter of the Duke of Kent.

According to The Times, his career prior to the SCL Group also included a spell running a mobile disco called Traitor.

By the time he caught The Independent’s attention in 2000, though, he was working from a very high-tech office in Jakarta as image consultant to Indonesian President Abdurrahman Wahid.

At least one of his employees thought the suave Old Etonian, with his mysterious working methods, was worthy of comparison with 007.

“We called him Mr Bond,” the employee said, “Because he is English, and such a mystery.”

At the same time, however, The Independent’s correspondent seemed less than impressed with Mr Oakes’ image management, writing: “The use of international PR agencies by national leaders and their governments has become commonplace … But for all his computers and camera equipment, Mr Oakes was hardly in the same league.  His work appears to have been rather limited.”

Mr Oakes, though, does not seem ever to have shared such doubts about his abilities.

In 1992, having started another consultancy business specialising in “behavioural influence”, he told the trade magazine Marketingthat to get people’s agreement on a functional level you had appeal to them on an emotional level, reportedly characterising this approach as: “We use the same techniques as Aristotle and Hitler”.

Mr Nix, Mr Oakes and Mr Bannon, then, were some of the people into whose orbit Mr Wylie entered in 2014 when he accepted Mr Nix’s offer of work, which, according to The Observer, came wrapped in the enticing promise: “We’ll give you total freedom. Come and test out all your crazy ideas.”

Mr Wylie, of course, did not have Bertie or Nigel’s schooling or pedigree.  Diagnosed with ADHD and dyslexia as a teenager, he had left a Canadian school aged 16 without a single qualification.

But he had taught himself to code aged 20, and he was, according to a senior politician who has known him since about that time, “One of the brightest people you will ever meet.”

Aged 24, Wylie was thrilled at the intellectual possibilities presented by Cambridge Analytica and the chance to test “crazy ideas” about developing digital data.

Now, older, possibly wiser, and no longer working for the company, he seems to regard what he did in a different light.

According to a friend who spoke to The Observer, Wylie fears he has helped create the Cambridge Analytica “data Frankenmonster”.

While always insisting there is nothing sinister behind it, Mr Nix has at times seemed to revel in the power of the company’s creation.

Soon after Trump’s victory he was quoted by Switzerland’s Das Magazin as saying: “Pretty much every message that Trump put out was data-driven.”

Cambridge Analytica: Dr Aleksandr Kogan denies responsibility for data from Facebook being used in US Presidential campaign

Das Magazin reported that before Trump’s team was able to test 175,000 different variations for his arguments.

From July 2016, the report said, Trump canvassers were provided with an app allowing them to identify the political views and personality type of a given house, and the outline conversation scripts that would work with the inhabitants.

“We can address villages or apartment blocks in a targeted way. Even individuals,” Mr Nix was quoted as saying.

And before the election in America, there was the Brexit vote in the UK.

In February 2016, four months before the referendum, an article with the byline “Alexander Nix” appeared in Campaign, the magazine for the marketing and advertising industries.

“Recently,” the article said, “Cambridge Analytica has teamed up with Leave.EU – the UK’s largest group advocating for Breixt – to help them better understand and communicate with UK voters. We have already helped supercharge Leave.EU’s social media campaign by ensuring the right messages are getting to the right voters online, and the campaign’s Facebook page is growing in support to the tune of about 3,000 people per day.”

Cambridge Analytica: Theresa May addresses government connections at PMQs

This was also four months before Cambridge Analytica was hired by Team Trump.  So the article instead detailed the firm’s role in helping Ted Cruz achieve a “stunning victory” over “bombastic billionaire Donald Trump” in the Iowa Republican presidential primary.

“Cambridge Analytica (CA) worked with the campaign for over a year to develop predictive data models in order to identify, engage, persuade and turnout voters for Cruz,” the article stated.

“CA was able to provide the campaign with predictive analytics based on more than 5,000 data points on every voter in the United States. From there, CA’s team of political consultants and psychologists guided the campaign on what to say and how to say it to specific groups of voters.

“The degree of granularity that can be achieved when you have the right data and the tactical operation to put it into action is incredible

“Ultimately, what made the difference in Iowa was that Senator Cruz used data analytics to gain an in-depth understanding of Iowa voters, and then used every communication tool at his disposal to talk to them directly. Meanwhile, Donald Trump was delivering the same message to an indistinguishable mass of voters who he didn’t really understand – and the rest is history.”

There were some who refused to believe.

Eitan Hersh, a Yale professor and author of Hacking the Electoratewas quoted as saying that Cambridge Analytica’s claim about predicting personality was “basically impossible. . . . You can do better randomly guessing.”

But Hersh said that before the US election, and anyway he is an expert – and as we all know, people have had enough of experts.

Perhaps, therefore, sceptics about the power of psychographics should rely on the word of … er, Mr Nix of Cambridge Analytica.

In late February 2018, as worries about Cambridge Analytica’s influence grew, but before the current set of allegations emerged, the chief executive was questioned by MPs on the Commons Digital, Culture, Media, and Sport Committee.

He was reassurance itself.

That February 2016 Campaign article, he said, the one alleging a link-up with the Brexit campaign and spectacular results on behalf of Ted Cruz: he never wrote it.

Despite it carrying his byline, it had been authored by a “slightly overzealous PR consultant”.

Alas, he added, “We tried to correct the press again and again and again, but unfortunately and somewhat ironically this was an example of fake news that got disseminated and spun out virally.”

Cambridge Analytica might have sought Brexiteer custom, he insisted, but it never got it.  Leave.EU didn’t give them the chance to influence the referendum, said Mr Nix: “We dated each other, we had a couple of dinners, we didn’t get married.”

And despite whatever impressions some people might have formed about Cambridge Analytica, they weren’t the masters of the universe.  They were just a “small technology company”.

“Do you see yourselves as an all-powerful presence with all this knowledge and data that you’ve got?” asked Tory MP Rebecca Pow.

“That’s very flattering that you might suggest people might see us as having these incredible powers,” replied the Old Etonian. “[But] what we’re doing is really no different to what the advertising industry at large is doing across the commercial space.”

“We are a small technology company,” he insisted.  “The science of political campaigning goes back hundreds of years and what we’re doing is a natural evolution to what’s been done before and many other people are doing as well.”

There have been further clarifications since Mr Wylie started talking, not least an insistence that Cambridge Analytica had never claimed it won the election for Donald Trump.

“This is patently absurd,” the company said. “We are proud of the work we did on that campaign, and have spoken in many public forums about what we consider to be our contribution to the campaign.”

In fact, since Cambridge Analytica only joined Team Trump in June 2016, five months before the election, there was a limit to the sophistication of the operation that they could launch – as  the company had explained shortly after the election.

Faced with setting up an entire data operation from scratch, it had relied a lot more than it normally would have done on conventional polling, simply using its cutting edge “psychographics” to get sharper predictions from the conventionally acquired data.

No Facebook data was used, the company said, and there was no personality-targeted advertising for the Trump campaign either.

trump drug prices
Some have questioned Cambridge Analytica’s power to predict – or influence – Donald Trump’s election victory  (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

In fact, a close re-reading of that press release about “Data Gurus Who Anticipated the Election Result” might suggest that, for all the invincible aura now surrounding Cambridge Analytica, it never straight out said Trump was going to win.

“The firm knew that Mr. Trump had a very solid shot at winning,” is what the press release actually says, along with a quote from Matt Oczkowski, Cambridge Analytica’s Head of Product: “The outcome was very difficult to predict, and we didn’t get every state right, but we saw the trends.”

The Spectator reported that Cambridge Analytica had given Trump a 30 per cent chance of victory as people went to vote – better than nearly every other pollster, but perhaps not quite proof of unassailable predictive power.

Cambridge Analytica itself has been keen to stress that whatever power it does possess is not used exclusively in the service of a particular right-wing ideology.  It might be proud of its work for the Trump campaign, but the company has also insisted: “We work with parties on both the centre-left and the centre-right.”

And, the company adds, without naming the companies involved, “most of our work is for commercial brands.”

As for the alleged sinister harvesting of Facebook data, Cambridge Analytica says this was received from a “seemingly reputable” contractor “in good faith” in 2014.  The company says the data was deleted in its entirety “in co-operation with Facebook” in 2015 “after it subsequently became known that [the contractor] had not adhered to data protection regulation”.

This contractor does have a different take on things, and has spoken of feeling “used as a scapegoat by both Facebook and Cambridge Analytica when we thought we were doing everything appropriately.”

There also seems to be a difference of opinion between Cambridge Analytica and Channel 4 News about the context behind what Mr Nix supposedly said to the undercover reporter.

Mr Nix, according to Cambridge Analytica, had been humouring the ‘Sri Lankan businessman’ in order to test his integrity and see whether this was a client he could work with.

A company press release stated: “A senior Cambridge Analytica executive clearly set out the principles which govern its work and said the following to the undercover reporter:

“‘We’re not in the business of fake news, we’re not in the business of lying, making stuff up, and we’re not in the business of entrapment… There are companies that do this but to me that crosses a line.’

“Despite this clear statement, the undercover reporter later attempted to entrap Cambridge Analytica executives by initiating a conversation about unethical practices.

“After several meetings discussing ostensibly legitimate projects, the reporter unexpectedly and suddenly turned the conversation towards practices such as corruption and the entrapment of political figures.”

“Assessing the legality and reputational risks associated with new projects is critical for us,” the press release explained, “And we routinely undertake conversations with prospective clients to try to tease out any unethical or illegal intentions.

“The two Cambridge Analytica executives at the meeting humoured these questions and actively encouraged the prospective client to disclose his intentions. They left with grave concerns and did not meet with him again.”

There was, though, an acknowledgement that Mr Nix might have been a little ill-judged in how he sought to tease out the potential client’s unethical intentions.

“Alexander Nix acknowledges that on this occasion he misjudged the situation,” the press release says.

It includes a statement from Mr Nix himself: “In playing along with this line of conversation, and partly to spare our ‘client’ from embarrassment, we entertained a series of ludicrous hypothetical scenarios.

“I am aware how this looks, but it is simply not the case. I must emphatically state that Cambridge Analytica does not condone or engage in entrapment, bribes or so-called ‘honeytraps’, and nor does it use untrue material for any purpose.

“I deeply regret my role in the meeting and I have already apologised to staff. I should have recognised where the prospective client was taking our conversations and ended the relationship sooner.”

As for Mr Wylie, the Cambridge Analytica line is that he is “a former contractor who left in 2014 and is misrepresenting himself and the company throughout his comments.”

Mr Wylie, though, has reportedly submitted a dossier of evidence to the UK’s Information Commissioner and is said to have plans to testify to Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee.

It seems Cambridge Analytica, a company imagined by some to be all-powerful, may yet have more to deal with from the once compliant coder.


Trump’s China tariffs get bipartisan support, reflecting widespread U.S. disillusionment with Beijing

Trump's China tariffs get bipartisan support, reflecting widespread U.S. disillusionment with Beijing
President Donald Trump speaks before signing a presidential memorandum imposing tariffs and investment restrictions on China in the Diplomatic Reception Room of the White House, Thursday. (Evan Vucci / AP)


President Trump’s decision to order some $50 billion in tariffs on a wide range of Chinese imports, despite the risk of setting off a wider trade war, met with bipartisan approval Thursday, reflecting the growing disillusionment with Beijing on the part of many American officials and business leaders.

The order was the largest move yet in Trump’s rapidly unfolding effort to use tariffs — taxes on imported goods — to counter what he sees as unfair trade practices by other countries. It aimed to stop what U.S. officials describe as a years-long effort by China to steal American technology.

The move came on the same day that administration officials announced a significant scaling back of another major trade initiative — Trump’s announcement two weeks ago of tariffs against imported steel and aluminum. Officials announced that countries responsible for more than half of U.S. steel imports and a similar share of aluminum would be exempted, more tightly focusing that weapon on China as well.

“We’re in the midst of a very large negotiation” with the Chinese, Trump said in announcing the new tariffs at the White House, implying he would consider modifying the tariffs if China responds. “We’ll see where it takes us.”

By late in Thursday’s trading session in New York, market indexes were down by nearly 3%, largely on fears of a brewing trade war.

The new tariffs are designed to raise prices on Chinese products from clothing to laptop computers to toys. Officials who briefed reporters in advance said the list of more than 1,000 products subject to the new tariffs will be made final after a period for public comment, probably later this spring.

Trump also will direct the Treasury Department to come up with new restrictions on Chinese investment in the U.S., beyond the rules that currently limit foreign purchases of U.S. companies and assets.

White House trade advisor Peter Navarro, a longtime critic of Chinese practices, called Trump’s move a “historic event” that is part of a “seismic shift” by the administration away from decades of U.S. policies that sought to draw China further into the international economic order.

China seeks “domination of the industries of the future” and has used “discriminatory, unreasonable practices” to force U.S. companies to help it achieve that goal, Navarro told reporters in advance of Trump’s announcement.

The U.S. has “repeatedly aired its concerns” about those practices, but “those dialogues failed under the Bush and Obama administrations,” he said. Faced with a pattern of Chinese actions that he estimated had cost the U.S. at least 2 million jobs, Trump decided to act, Navarro said.

Although Trump’s statement, emphasizing negotiations, held out the possibility of resolving trade disputes with China, Beijing already has plans to retaliate and almost certainly will do so. U.S. agricultural exports, notably soybeans and hogs, are likely to be early targets, raising worries among Trump supporters in farm states of the Midwest and Great Plains.

China could also hit major U.S. companies such as Apple, Ford and Boeing. China plans to buy about $1 trillion of Boeing’s aircraft over the next two decades, the company has said.

A fight with China over trade could also complicate Trump’s negotiations with North Korea over its nuclear program, a subject on which he wants Beijing’s help.

Hua Chunying, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, emphasized Wednesday that both the U.S. and China have benefited from economic ties, particularly American consumers. China does not want a trade war, she told reporters, “but if our hands are forced, we will not … recoil from it. … [W]e will definitely take firm and necessary countermeasures to safeguard our legitimate interests.”

China “has launched a multifaceted effort to prepare for what looks like an imminent trade war,” the state-run Global Times tabloid said on Wednesday, adding that Chinese officials have been meeting with foreign governments “in a bid to form a multilateral response” to the tariffs.

The timing of Trump’s move in part marks a calculation that with the U.S. economy at its healthiest point in a decade, the country is in good position to handle whatever disruptions a potential trade war with China might bring.

It also reflects the rising influence in the administration of trade hawks, notably Navarro. Supporters of free trade have been in retreat within the administration after Gary Cohn resigned from his post as Trump’s chief economic adviser after losing an internal battle over the tariff policy.

The open confrontation between the U.S. and China shows the effect of Trump’s trademark bluster and his scorn for the caution of his predecessors.

But the shift to a more aggressive policy also reflects growing disenchantment with China among U.S. policymakers of both parties as well as influential business leaders.

Senate Democratic Leader Charles E. Schumer of New York, for example, praised the president Thursday morning in a Senate floor speech.

“Today he is doing the right thing,” Schumer said, accusing China of “rapaciously” taking advantage of the United States. “They steal it,” he said, referring to U.S. intellectual property, “and we do nothing.”

A leading Republican, House Ways and Means Committee chair Kevin Brady of Texas, offered more nuanced praise.

“President Trump is right to take a hard line against China’s dishonest trade practices, which have clearly harmed American workers,” Brady said in a statement. “The challenge for every president, however, is how to punish China without harming our families, businesses, and farmers. Tariffs are taxes, so the next 30 days of input are crucial to make sure we don’t punish American workers and families for China’s misbehavior.”

Pressure from Brady and other Republican congressional leaders, business groups and U.S. allies helped cause the administration to scale back the tariffs on imported metals that Trump had announced.

On Thursday, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer told Congress that the European Union members, as well as Argentina, Australia, Brazil and South Korea would be exempt from the metals tariffs. Trump had previously announced that Canada and Mexico would be exempted. In addition, the administration plans to grant exemptions for some industries that buy types of steel that aren’t produced domestically.

Action against China has more political support because of a long history of disappointments. When China fully entered the international trading system, becoming a member of the World Trade Organization at the end of 2001, leaders in both parties predicted that joining would mark the first step on a path that would lead China to greater wealth, but also make it less threatening to the rest of the world.

After Congress approved legislation in 2000 clearing the way for China’s entry into the WTO, then-President Clinton hailed the vote as an “historic step toward continued prosperity in America, reform in China and peace in the world.”

The man who would succeed him in the Oval Office, then-Gov. George W. Bush of Texas, called the move a step toward a “stronger American economy, as well as more opportunity for liberty and freedom in China.”

Eighteen years later, that bright promise has faded.

China has benefited hugely — its national income per capita has grown ninefold since 2000, according to the World Bank.

But that growth came at a much higher cost to U.S. jobs than backers of trade liberalization had predicted. Moreover, the bold predictions of “reform” and “liberty” in China have largely proved wrong.

U.S. politicians of both parties have grown increasingly worried about Chinese efforts to get hold of American technology — by forcing U.S. companies to share innovations as a price of doing business in China or, in many cases, by industrial espionage, cyberattacks and other crimes.

So too have many business leaders.

“China’s theft of American intellectual property and their use of unfair trade practices represent clear threats to manufacturers’ competitiveness and the jobs of American manufacturing workers,” the National Assn. of Manufacturers said in a statement.

But, the group warned, tariffs “are likely to create new challenges in the form of significant added costs for manufacturers and American consumers. In addition to these challenges, tariffs also run the risk of provoking China to take further destructive actions against American manufacturing workers.”

The U.S.-China Business Council, which represents American companies that do business in China, similarly said in a statement that “China’s technology transfer practices and protection of intellectual property need to be addressed and improved.” But the group’s president, John Frisbie, added that “American business wants to see solutions to these problems, not just sanctions such as unilateral tariffs that may do more harm than good.”

Last summer, the Trump administration began an investigation of China’s actions, known as a Section 301 inquiry for the U.S. trade law that gives the president power to retaliate against certain unfair trade practices.

The “very extensive” investigation found strong evidence that China has violated its trade agreements and engaged in a pattern of unfair trade practices, Everett Eissenstat, the deputy director of the White House’s National Economic Council, told reporters.

The investigation found that the Chinese government has hacked U.S. computer systems to benefit Chinese companies, routinely pressured U.S. companies to enter into joint ventures with Chinese partners that required sharing valuable technology, and used state funds to purchase U.S. companies to get their patents and other intellectual property.

In addition, U.S. companies don’t have the same ability to license intellectual property in China that Chinese companies have, he said.

The record “clearly demonstrates that there are unfair practices by China,” Eissenstat said.

But administration critics say Trump’s “America first” rhetoric and his flouting of long-standing U.S. policies in other areas have hurt the international alliances that might have helped the U.S. in a fight with China.

Moreover, the new tariffs do come with some domestic political risk for the president, and China will probably use its retaliatory actions to target those pressure points.

Already on Wednesday, in advance of Trump’s decision, members of Congress were expressing concerns about the impact on their home state industries.

When Lighthizer appeared before the House Ways and Means Committee, Republicans from Ohio, Nebraska and Kansas hit him with questions about possible Chinese efforts to restrict U.S. exports of soybeans, hogs and other agricultural products.

Chinese officials already have suggested that they can buy less of those commodities from the U.S. and more from other suppliers, such as Brazil.

Others raised questions about the effect on retailers or on low-income families if the prices of imported Chinese shoes and clothing go up.

Lighthizer conceded that retaliation was likely, but insisted that the concerns were not “a sufficient worry that you’re going to say, therefore, we’re not going to stick up for U.S. intellectual property.”

“We can’t have a $375-billion trade deficit and not do anything to defend ourselves,” he said.

Lauter reported from Washington and Kaiman from Beijing.

Courtesy: Los Angeles Times

Austin bomber recorded 25-minute ‘confession’ to his deadly crimes, police say

Mark Anthony Conditt, the man linked to the deadly bombings that rocked Austin, Texas, and surrounding areas over the past month, recorded a 25-minute-long “confession” to his crimes, police said late Wednesday.

Officers located the recording, in which Conditt, 23, described creating seven devices, including one he blew up during the conflict with police, Austin Police Chief Brian Manley said at a news conference. The recording was made on a phone, which was found in the suspect’s possession following the confrontation.

Conditt described the bombs “with a level of specificity,” including their differences, Manley said.

Surveillance footage, Google search history, and cell triangulation: A look at the technology law enforcement used to catch the suspected Austin serial bomber

In the recording, the suspect did not mention “anything about terrorism, nor does he mention anything about hate,” the police chief said. The message is rather “the outcry of a very challenged young man talking about challenges in his personal life.”

Police said all seven devices have been found, suggesting there was no further threat from Conditt to people in the area.

The community should still “remain vigilant,” Manley said, despite the “described seven explosive devices” being “no longer in play.”

Manley told reporters that authorities believe the recording was made between nine and 11 p.m. Tuesday night and “there was no reason given for why he selected” the affected individuals.

The string of bombs killed two people and injured four others in the Texas capital. Conditt blew himself up in a motel parking lot overnight as a SWAT team approached his SUV early Wednesday, banging on his car window.

Austin bombing suspect killed himself as police closed in.

Manley said that within seconds, the suspect had detonated a bomb in his car, blasting the officers backward before one officer fired his weapon at the suspect. The police chief said the county medical examiner has not finalized the cause of death, but that the bomb caused “significant” injuries.


Texas Gov. Greg Abbott praised the police department’s handling of the case, saying they did everything in their power to locate and apprehend the “treacherous, evil criminal” responsible for the bombings.

“We will take away from this the importance of being able to respond quickly but also lessons learned to make that heinous, inexplicable bombing actions by a crazed madman will be able to be minimized because of the way that law enforcement has been galvanized to ensure that we keep our community safe,” Abbott added.


James Fitzgerald former FBI profiler and author of 'A Journey to the Center of the Mind,' reacts to the demise of Mark Conditt, the individual behind the string of Austin, Texas explosions.

FBI Special Agent in Charge Christopher Combs also commended the combined work of several law enforcement agencies, saying that through their partnership, the suspect was successfully apprehended.

Describing the scene in which Conditt was captured, Combs said he’d seen a video of the action, which showed “Austin police officers running towards a vehicle that had an explosive device in it that detonated.”

“That’s unbelieveable courage,” he said. “Those are heros.”

Conditt’s family said in a statement that they were “devastated and broken” at the news of his involvement. In the statement, the family expressed shock and grief, and offered “prayers for those families who have lost loved ones … and for the soul of our Mark.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Courtesy: Fox News

Facebook’s Cambridge Analytica data scandal: What you need to know

A data analytics company has harvested information from more than 50 million Facebook users. That data was used to “change audience behavior” and advance political projects like Brexit and Donald Trump’s White House bid.

Facebook logo at annual F8 developer conference

Facebook has some explaining to do. To be more precise, the social media giant has to explain how personal data from 50 million users was harvested by Cambridge Analytica and used to further political agendas in the UK, US and even Kenya.

Lawmakers on both sides of the Atlantic have called on Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg to testify  on whether the networking platform failed to protect user data. The scandal has also prompted campaigns urging users to delete their Facebook accounts.

Read more: 5 things to know about the world’s biggest social network

How we got here:

  • The New York Times and UK-based Observer reported that more than 50 million Facebook users had their data harvested by Cambridge Analytica in what has been described as the social media platform’s largest data breach to date.
  • Cambridge Analytica reportedly used the data to target users with personalized political ads to further Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential bid and the pro-Brexit campaign.
  • It claimed that it “fully complies with Facebook’s terms of service,” denying any wrongdoing in harvesting data from the social media platform to further clients’ political projects.
  • Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said his company will implement three new measures to better protect user data after the revelations, including banning developers that misused personal data and further restricting developer access to user data.

Read more: Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg admits ‘mistakes’ in Cambridge Analytica scandal

Key facts:

  • Trump’s former far-right political strategist Stephen Bannon reportedly oversaw one of Cambridge Analytica’s programs that created voter profiles based on data garnered from Facebook. He served as the company’s vice president and secretary before joining Trump’s campaign in 2016.
  • The revelations have prompted a sell-off of Facebook stocks and those of other social media platforms, knocking off $50 billion (€40 billion) in Facebook’s market value and roughly $9 billion from Zuckerberg’s personal wealth, according to Forbes.
  • Cambridge Analytica is partially owned by American businessman Robert Mercer, who is known for backing conservative causes. The company, which says it “uses data to change audience behavior,” is the subject of ongoing criminal investigations for its role in the Brexit vote and the US presidential election.

Read more: Who are the Mercers? What you need to know about Breitbart’s backers

Key quote:

Christopher Wylie, the whistleblower who worked alongside Cambridge University researcher Aleksandr Kogan to garner the data for Cambridge Analytica, told the Observer:

  • “We exploited Facebook to harvest millions of people’s profiles. And built models to exploit what we know about them and target their inner demons. That was the basis the entire company was built on.”

Wyle later said on Wednesday that he would testify on Cambridge Analytica’s activities before lawmakers in the US and UK.

Read more: Fake news ’70 percent more likely to be shared’


Nigeria: Kidnapped schoolgirls freed by Boko Haram

Boko Haram has released 101 of the 110 schoolgirls that the Islamist militant group abducted in Nigeria last month. The return of the girls came with a sinister warning for the girls’ parents.

Watch video04:04

Boko Haram frees dozens of schoolgirls

The Nigerian government on Wednesday said 101 of the 110 girls who were kidnapped by Boko Haram Islamist militants in mid-February were returned to their hometown of Dapchi in northeastern Nigeria on Wednesday.

“No ransoms were paid,” said Information Minister Lai Mohammed, adding the girls were released “through back-channel efforts and with the help of some friends of the country, and it was unconditional.”

The girls were being treated by counselors at a local hospital and would receive psychological treatment before they returned to their schools, according to Mohammed.

Read more: Nigeria fails to protect schools from Boko Haram’s attacks

Returned ‘out of pity’

The family of one of the kidnapped schoolgirls told DW correspondent Adrian Kriesch in Lagos that their daughter, Aisha, had been returned.

View image on TwitterView image on Twitter

Great news! Just talked to Alhaji Kadau and his daughter Aisha: after one month in captivity she is back with her family! Most abducted by one month ago are free again! So happy for the families after all they had to go through.

Another father told DW: “They were just brought inside the town and released. The insurgents told them just go to your homes.”

Boko Haram freed the girls “out of pity,” one of the fighters told residents after a convoy of trucks dropped them off in the town.

He also told residents: “Don’t ever put your daughters in school again.”

In the local Hausa language, Boko Haram translates as “Western education is forbidden.”

Read more: Are Nigerian authorities withholding information on missing Dapchi schoolgirls?

Watch video03:30

Nigerian family grieves over abducted schoolgirl

Security forces warned 

Nigeria’s military dismissed an Amnesty International report that claimed security forces were warned several times ahead of the mass abduction last month as “outright falsehood.”

Read more: Is Islamic extremism on the rise in Africa?

Amnesty had on Tuesday cited sources including security officials and witnesses who said military and police received at least five calls in the hours before the attack.

Watch video12:00

Terrorists target schoolgirls in Nigeria

Echoes of 2014

The latest kidnappings caused a fresh wave of anger in Nigeria, with many people reminded of Boko Haram’s abduction of 276 schoolgirls from Chibok in 2014.

Read more: What makes young African Muslims join jihadi groups?

The February 19 case is the biggest mass abduction since the Chibok kidnappings.

On 22 February, Nigerian media reported that up to 76 of the girls had been rescued, two days after they were kidnapped.

amp, law/rt (dpa, AFP, AP, Reuters)

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