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Russian move to block Telegram creates wider access problems for Russian Internet users

Clumsy implementation of mass IP bans create a difficulty in accessing global Internet resources, in a move that is NOT based in propaganda

Seraphim Hanisch

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First appeared on RussiaFeed.com

Internet users in the Russian Federation may have noticed something different in the last week or two. Many Internet sites that were available in March are no longer available now, at least not without a VPN in use to set the user’s computer outside the Russian Federation.

Is this government censorship?

Hardly, at least not in the expected sense of sanctioning the West.

It is a very clumsy attempt by the Russian government to restrict access to Telegram. If one wants to call that move censorship it might be legitimate, but it still is not a move that has anything to do with tensions with the West.

In our newspiece dated 14 April, the Russian censorship authority Roskomnadzor (RKN) announced the forthcoming restriction against Telegram, Russian entrepreneur Pavel Durov’s latest messaging enterprise. While the date that the ban was to take effect was not released, it apparently has been put in place now.

On 22 April, Pavel Durov had this to say on Twitter:

Pavel Durov was a co-founder of vKontakte (VK), a social network very similar to the American Facebook, but targeted at the Russian market.

The Russian government has taken issue with Durov’s Telegram network because its ability to encrypt communication end-to-end is so strong that encryption keys are required to crack it. This has created unwitting cover for ISIS personnel. and the point of view of the Russian Federal Security Bureau (FSB) is that this is a threat to the security of the Russian Federation. When the FSB requested decryption keys for Telegram users in Russia, Pavel Durov refused to grant them.

Unfortunately, the FSB’s move to get Rozkomnadzor to restrict Telegram from being used within Russian territorial bounds was further complicated when the messaging network shifted its service to two giant American web hosts, Google Cloud and Amazon Web Services, while at the same time repeatedly changing its IP address to skip ahead of Roskomnadzor. So RKN was unable to restrict Telegram by just blocking one or a few addresses.

 

To try to stop Telegram services from being accessible, RKN then blocked a rather wide range of IP addresses that belong to Google. When this happened, other sites that also use IP addresses in this range were cut off. 

The New York Times reported on some of the effects:

The collateral damage hit a variety of other sites, like Viber, another messaging app, as well as small businesses including a language school and a courier service, all of which suffered financial losses.

Volvo dealershipscould not access their service records, according to press reports, and Kremlin museums had to suspend ticket sales. Roskomnadzor said it unblocked individual sites as soon as the agency became aware of a problem.

The Agora group of human rights lawyers, which represents Telegram in Russian courts, said in a statement that it had received 73 complaints about blocked websites. The organization planned to file a formal complaint with the prosecutor general’s office.

In addition to the virtual warfare, the two sides sparred publicly. Mr. Zharov told the independent Russian news outlet The Bellthat his agency had been able to cut off one-third of the traffic to Telegram, while the company said the figure was 5 percent. The Bell suggested that traffic even rose on the day the initial blocks had been imposed.

Telegram has been sending messages to users encouraging them to use alternative means, including Virtual Private Networks, which effectively connect to the internet outside Russia, to evade the ban.

Mr. Durov is marketing this disputeas “digital resistance”, a move which has gained the support of Edward Snowden, the NSA-turned-political refugee.

However, while the feud between Pavel Durov and the FSB and RKN are making some news stories in the West, the Russian viewpoint is a little less sensational. As assessment by an expert in Internet and IT security in Russia shared this opinion with me:

The situation looks ugly for Russian IT, not because of the blockings themselves, but because the whole picture looks stupid when viewed from outside:

  • Durov fulfills the requirements of other governments but not the requirements of Russian government – for example blocking Telegram channels in Iran in December 2017.
  • There are problems with other IT services due to the mass IP bans set in place
  • Users of Telegram are told in glowing terms about the privacy that they are able to have, but usually do not use, such as the “secret chats” feature, which provides end-to-end encryption.

However, there is some logic here.

For many foreign IT companies, the Russian market is not a primary market; it is small. So, when they decide to adapt their services and products to the local laws and markets, they first try to understand how much this will cost. and then from this, they determine whether or not the market is really that important for them.

Russia in not at the top of the ratings for IT spending.

So, sometimes it is simply not profitable to adapt.

To that end, Durov is acting like an astute businessman. He is not interested in the Russian market (he said this in Twitter recently), the Russian segment of Telegram is just 6~7% of all the Telegram user base. Also, it is risky to be a Russian now while building an international IT company, as we see in similar situations, such as that with Kaspersky Lab.

Durov made a small PR appearance, showing that his office in Dubai.

He is not really aimed at the Russian market. But the hype gave him an international advertising campaign for free–  he is talented entrepreneur. Go to Pavel Durov’s Twitter feed and you can see this campaign in full swing presently.

To offer further perspective, you can find information about banning Telegram channels in Iran. The minister of communication of Iran asked Durov to block the channel in his Twitter and Durov did this.Iranian users number about 50-60% of the whole user base of Telegram, not 6-7% as in Russia.

Even though the unique value proposition of Telegram was the statement that “it is the most secure…”, there are already many popular messengers apps, such as WhatsApp, Viber, and Skype. So, it is impossible for Durov now to give up here – security is the main differentiator of his product. He may use this situation again to try and highlight that “Telegram is secured”, but in reality he is likely to cooperate with other governments.”

In a relevant development, Iranian officials said that their government officials are no longer allowed to use Telegram, They also said if Durov’s messenger app refuses to localize Iranian user data in Iran’s territory and if Telegram does not create a local office in the country, then Telegram will be banned in Iran.

Given that Iranian users form a huge part of the Telegram user base, it will be interesting to see what happens next.

 

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Saudis Admit Khashoggi Killed At Consulate “In Fist-Fight”, King Salman Fires 5 Top Officials

Saudi Arabia confirmed tonight that Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi was killed at its consulate in Istanbul on 2 October.

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Democrat Congressman Adam Schiff has weighed in on the Khashoggi murder admission from KSA claiming “the Saudi report of Khashoggi is not credible.”

The White House issue a statement…

Via Zerohedge


Saudi Arabia confirmed tonight that Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi was killed at its consulate in Istanbul on 2 October.

In a statement put out on Saudi state television, citing an initial investigation by Saudi prosecutors, SPA said that:

“an argument erupted between him [Khashoggi] and others whom he met in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul leading to a fistfight which led to his death.”

Prosecutors said the investigation was still ongoing and that 18 people, all Saudi nationals, had so far been arrested, SPA reported.

“The Kingdom expresses its deep regret at the painful developments that have taken place and stresses the commitment of the authorities in the Kingdom to bring the facts to the public,” the statement said.

Additionally, Saudi Arabia’s King Salman has removed a key royal adviser and a senior intelligence official..

King Salman issued an order to remove Saud al-Qahtani, an adviser to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, according to the state-run Ikhbariya television.

The monarch also relieved deputy intelligence chief Gen. Ahmed al-Assiri.

This follows the narrative reported by The New York Times on Thursday that Riyadh is looking to blame Assiri for the purported murder of Khashoggi in an effort to shield Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman from the blame.

Saudi King Salman has also ordered the formation of ministerial committee led by crown prince Mohammad bin Salman to restructure the general intelligence agency.

As Ali Shihabi, Founder, The Arabia Foundation, tweets:

“The removal of two top officials, a cabinet ranking, very powerful and close advisor of MBS and the Deputy Head of Foreign intelligence + 4 other Generals in foreign intelligence (virtually its whole top leadership) cannot be written off as a cover up. This is unprecedented.”

This is not saying “rogue killers” but implicating virtually the whole top leadership of foreign intelligence. They carried out a mission that went sour very quickly and tried to cover it up initially. Bad news travels slowly to the top.”

We await President Trump’s “very severe consequences.”

 

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Pat Buchanan: Caravan Puts Trump Legacy on the Line

Unwanted mass migration is the issue of our time, as there is no foreseeable end to it before it alters America irremediably.

Patrick J. Buchanan

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Authored by Patrick Buchanan via Buchanan.org:


Our mainstream media remain consumed with the grisly killing of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, and how President Donald Trump will deal with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Understandably so, for this is the most riveting murder story since O.J. Simpson and has strategic implications across the Middle East.

Yet far more critical to the future of our civilization is the ongoing invasion of the West from the Third World.

Consider the impact of the decision by Chancellor Angela Merkel in 2015 to throw open Germany’s doors to 1 million refugees from Syria’s civil war.

Last weekend, in a crushing blow to Merkel, the Christian Social Union, the Bavarian sister party of her CDU, won its smallest share of the vote in half a century, 37 percent. Her coalition party, the SPD, saw its share of the Bavarian vote fall to a historic low of less than 10 percent.

The right-wing Alternative for Deutchland saw its support rise to 10 percent and has become a force in German politics. Some conservatives are urging the CDU to adopt the AfD hardline on illegal immigration.

The message sent by the Bavarian electorate is the message voters across Europe have been sending to their own capitals for years: You are failing in your first duty — defense of the homeland from foreign invasion. Mass migration of unassimilable peoples and cultures from a global South represents an existential threat to our Europe.

As Merkel’s chancellorship approaches its end, French President Emmanuel Macron, her progressive EU partner, has seen his approval fall to below 30 percent.

The U.S.-led NATO alliance may guard the Baltic and Black Sea regions against a Russian invasion from the east. But in Central, Southern and Western Europe, the more feared invaders are the peoples of Africa and the Muslim world, whose numbers are expected to triple or quadruple by this century’s end.

And as their numbers grow, so, too, does their desperation to escape, even at risk of their lives, the poverty, wars and repression of their homelands to cross the Med and fill the empty spaces left by a depopulating Europe.

It also now appears that the U.S. elections, not three weeks away, may be affected by another immigration crisis on the U.S. border.

As of Thursday, a caravan of 4,000 refugees without visas had crossed from Honduras into Guatemala and was heading toward Mexico. By Election Day, it will either have been stopped, or it will be here. And this caravan is a portent of things to come.

According to The Washington Post, during FY 2018, which ended last month, 107,212 members of “family units” crossed over into the U.S., “obliterating the previous record of 77,857 set in 2016.”

Citing DHS figures, the Post adds, “Border patrol agents arrested 16,658 family members in September alone, the highest one-month total on record and an 80 percent increase from July.”

When Trump, under intense political fire, ended his “zero tolerance” policy of separating refugees from their children, this message went out to Mexico and Central America:

Bring your kids with you when you cross the border. They will have to stay with you, and they cannot be held for more than 20 days. Thus, when they are released, you will be released to await a hearing on your claim of asylum. The odds are excellent that you can vanish into the U.S. population and never be sent back.

Enraged, Trump has threatened to cut off aid to El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala if they do not stop the caravans and has warned Mexico he will use the U.S. military to secure our border.

Unwanted mass migration is the issue of our time, as there is no foreseeable end to it before it alters America irremediably.

As these migrants are almost all poor, not highly skilled, and do not speak English, most will join that segment of our population that pays no income taxes but qualifies for social welfare benefits like food stamps, medical care and free education in our public schools.

They are thus a net drain upon the resources of a nation that is already, at full employment, running a deficit of $779 billion a year.

These migrants, however, are a present and future benefit to the Democratic Party that built and maintains our mammoth welfare state, and which, in presidential elections, routinely wins 70 to 90 percent of the votes of people whose trace their ancestry to Asia, Africa and Latin America.

Not without reason, Democrats believe that if they can change the composition of the American electorate, they can control America forever.

If Donald Trump was elected on any one issue, it was immigration and his promises to secure the border, build the wall and halt the invasion.

How he deals with the impending crisis of the migrant caravan may affect both the fate of his party in November and his presidency in 2020.

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‘Mohammad bin Salman Must Go’, but US-Saudi Ties Are Here to Stay

Was it possible that Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) was so arrogant that he could not imagine the consequences of such a heinous crime?

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Authored by Federico Pieraccini via The Strategic Culture Foundation:


Mohammad bin Salman is fully aware of the Western elite’s understanding of its own values. While he may be given a pass to bomb Yemen and kill thousands of innocent civilians, he should know better than to dare touch a Washington Post columnist – “one of ours”, as one MSNBC host said. Did he not realize there would be consequences?

As more information came out, many analysts began to confront the most obvious question. Was it possible that Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) was so arrogant that he could not imagine the consequences of such a heinous crime? How could MBS betray Trump this way, not anticipating that the Democrats and the mainstream media would jump all over Trump’s friendship with him? Could he be so foolish as to place in jeopardy foreign investments planned at the Davos in the Desert conference on October 23? The answer to that question is apparently: yes, he could.

The only rational explanation for this behavior is that MBS thought he could get away with it. Remember that we are talking about someone who had Saad Hariri, the prime minister of Lebanon, kidnapped and carried off to the Kingdom, with his whereabouts unknown for days but with very little reaction from the mainstream media or Western politicians. It is possible that in this instance, MBS simply misjudged the level of Khashoggi’s popularity amongst neoliberals of the Washington establishment, provoking an unexpected response. Furthermore, the thesis that the Saudis understood that they had some kind of green light from Trump is not to be totally dismissed. Such a backlash is what you get from having a big mouthpraise your friends too much, and tweet all the time.

The rapidity with which the US media, and especially dozens of Republican and Democratic senators, attacked Saudi Arabia, blaming it for the atrocious crime, is rather unusual. After all, the Saudi elites have been inclined to behave in such a manner over the last 40 years. But it also highlights the ongoing inconsistency and double standards: nothing is said about Yemen, but the Kingdom is currently under the strongest censure for allegedly offing a journalist.

As I had already pointed out in my previous article, Khashoggi was clearly part of a faction opposed to the current ruling royal family in Saudi Arabia, headed by MBS. To understand this Saudi golden boy of the US mainstream media as well as military-industrial-spying complex, we have to go back to Mohammed bin Nayef. Bin Nayef has been under house arrest for almost two years, immediately purged by MBS as soon as he assumed power as crown prince. Bin Nayef has for decades been the CIA’s go-to man in Riyadh, helping the CIA & Co. pretend to “fight” al Qaeda in the Kingdom while using al Qaeda as a tool to inflict damage on US geopolitical adversaries.

The removal of bin Nayef by MBS was greeted with anger by a part of the US establishment close to Washington think tanks and the CIA and was never fully digested. MBS and his father, King Salman, needed to consolidate power around the throne at the time, and bin Nayef was certainly part of the faction opposing MBS, as was Khashoggi.

Naturally, these antipathies were set aside by the CIA, think tanks and neoliberals in the media due to to the importance of the relationship between Saudi Arabia and the US, especially vis-a-vis the US Petrodollar. MBS even undertook a tour in the US to help smooth the relationship with the West, being hailed as a new reformer, if you can believe that.

Nowadays,the relationship between Riyadh, Tel Aviv and Washington is based on the strong friendship between Trump and MBS and Trump and Netanyahu. Furthermore, the strengthened link between Trump and MBS, facilitated by son-in-law Jared Kushner, who is close to Israel, served to create a new alliance, perhaps even hinting at the possibility of an Arab NATO. Israel is eager to see more Saudi and US engagement against Iran in the region, and the Saudis similarly praise Israel and the US for being engaged in a fight against Iranian influence in the region. In this way, Trump can please his Israeli friends and see Saudi money pour in as investments.

These agreements have led to a series of disasters in the Middle East that go against the interests of Israel, Saudi Arabia and the US. Israel’s recklessness has led to the deployment of a wide range of Russian state-of-the-art weapons to Syria, preventing Israel and the US from acting as freely as before. The disastrous Saudi war in Yemen, the almost diplomatic break with Canada, the kidnapping of the prime minister of Lebanon, and now the Khashoggi affair, have further weakened and isolated Saudi Arabia, MBS, and therefore Trump. The US is no longer able to influence events on the ground in Syria, and so the initial plans of Israel and Saudi Arabia have foundered, after having devoted hundreds of millions of dollars to arm and train terrorists to overthrow Assad.

The Khashoggi affair plays into this situation, exacerbating the war between elites in the US as their strategies in the Middle East continue to fail. The neoliberal mainstream media immediately used the Khashoggi story to pressure Trump into taking a firm stance against one of his last friends and financiers, trying to further isolate him as the midterms approach. Many in the US deep state are convinced – as they were convinced that Clinton would win the presidency – that the House and Senate will end up in Democratic hands in the November elections, paving the way for Trump’s impeachment and for Mike Pence to become president. Pence, a prominent figure of the evangelical right, would be the perfect president for Israel, placing Tel Aviv in the driving seat of US foreign policy as never before. In this scenario, it would certainly be preferable for certain parts of the elite to have a different figure at the helm in Saudi Arabia, seeing as MBS appears to be an unstable leader. Possibly they would prefer someone tied to the US secret services – someone like Mohammed bin Nayef. For these reasons, Democrats, some Republicans and the mainstream media have gone all out against MBS and Trump.

Turkey seems to be using the situation to further widen the fracture between Saudi Arabia and the rest of the world. Since Doha is paying the bills for Erdogan these days, with the Turkish lira at a low, it is essentially the Al Thani family running the PR show in the Turkish media. It looks like the Qatari media are paying back with interests all the negative media they received from the Saudis over the past year. Despite this, neither Ankara nor Riyadh is intent on any kind escalation, both knowing that any suffering on their part is a boon for their enemies.

An interesting aspect related to the Khashoggi affair concerns the sources of the news about the investigation, all anonymous and coming from Turkish police or from people linked to the top echelons of the Turkish state. Knowing the odd state of relations between Ankara and Riyadh, and especially between Turkish ally Qatar and Saudi Arabia, all this news coming from one source should at least be taken with a grain of salt. What is certain is that the Turks had immediate knowledge of the matter regarding who, what, where, when and why. This means that they must have bugged the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, allowing the MIT, Turkey’s intelligence service, to know in real time what was happening to Khashoggi. The story concerning the Apple watch appears to be an attempt by the Turks to thrown off the scent Saudis who may be scratching their heads wondering how the Turks came to have such intimate knowledge of what transpired in their consulate.

For Turkey, the Khashoggi affair could be the occasion for a rapprochement with the US, following a deterioration in relations in the last two years. Turkey has few friends left, and after being cornered by Russia and Iran in Astana with regards to Syria,  it also has to deal with the tensions between Riyadh and Qatar as well as balance its relations with Iran and Israel. Erdogan would like to exploit this event as much as possible, and the release of Pastor Brunson seems to indicate Ankara’s willingness to extend an olive branch to Washington.

Russia, Syria and Iran have everything to benefit from this ongoing internal quarrel between elements within Saudi Arabia, Israel, Turkey, Qatar and the US. Whatever the outcome of the Khashoggi affair, Moscow, Tehran and Damascus can only benefit from any deterioration of relations between these countries.

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