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More Russiagate: The New Yorker, Julian Assange and Guccifer 2.0

Massive article in New Yorker asserting Guccifer 2.0 was a Russian intelligence front and the source of the DNC and Podesta emails published by Wikileaks is riddled with unwarranted claims and assumptions and fails to convince.

Alexander Mercouris

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Every so often during the Russiagate story, whenever one senses growing doubts about some aspect of the story, a gigantic article appears in some part of the US media which appears intended to still those doubts.

The latest example a gigantic article by Raffi Khatchadourian which has recently appeared in the New Yorker, and which is purportedly about Julian Assange, but which when read carefully is actually about Russiagate.

A consistent feature of these articles is that though they present themselves as works of investigative journalism, in terms of actual new information they invariably provide little or nothing that is actually new.  This article in the New York Times is no exception, and as I will discuss what it actually does is repeat – at great length – claims about the persona known as Guccifer 2.0 which have appeared before.

The purpose of the article is to squash doubts about Russian intelligence involvement in the hacks  or alleged hacks of the computers of John Podesta and the DNC, and of Russian intelligence involvement in providing the results of those hacks or alleged hacks to Wikileaks.  It does this by giving heavy focus to the Guccifer 2.0, which it accepts as Russian, and by seeking to provide what it claims is conclusive evidence of a connection between Wikileaks and Guccifer 2.0.

The article provides a case study of the danger of the subject of such an article cooperating with its author.

The subject in this case is Julian Assange, who met with the writer of the article – Raffi Khatchadourian – and who provided Khatchadourian with much of the material which is used in the article.  His reward is an article that ignores his repeated denials of Russian involvement in Wikileaks’s publication of the DNC and Podesta emails, and which is filled with not-too-subtle smears of him.  These smears deserve an article in themselves, but this article is not the place for them.

Before discussing what the article says about Guccifer 2.0 I must however comment on one paragraph that I found especially misleading

Ambassador Craig Murray, the friend to WikiLeaks, insisted that Russia was not the source of the D.N.C. e-mails; he knew firsthand, he said, because he had met Assange’s source in the woods behind a chapel at American University. Kim Dotcom, a flamboyant Internet entrepreneur and a close associate of Assange, told me in April that he had firsthand knowledge of the source: an insider who had smuggled in a USB stick with malware on it. “It’s not a Russian hack,” he insisted. Anthony Shaffer, a retired lieutenant colonel, knew firsthand, too; he told me about an intricate conspiracy of retired intelligence workers, unhappy about Clinton’s handling of her State Department e-mails, who formed a “task organization” to dig up material. When I mentioned the theories to Assange, he laughed. “They totally contradict each other!” he said.

I know little of Kim Dotcom and nothing at all of lieutenant colonel Shaffer but what they are reported to have said in private to Khatchadourian cannot be compared to what Craig Murray – a known friend of Assange, and an acknowledged whistleblower and truthsayer – has repeatedly said in public.  Moreover Kim Dotcom’s alleged comment does not actually contradict what Craig Murray has publicly, though Shaffer’s alleged comment obviously does.  Note further that Assange’s reported response to these comments – “they totally contradict each other” – is not a denial that all or any them are true.

I do not know what Assange meant by his comment.  However if one assumes Craig Murray’s public repeated claims are true, then possibly what Assange meant was that Shaffer’s alleged comment contradicts Murray’s – which it does – whilst hinting that Kim Dotcom is pretending to know more than he does – which given Kim Dotcom’s background would not be at all surprising.  More than that Assange obviously did not feel able to say because doing so would have revealed more about his source than he – as Khatchadourian must know – is prepared to say.

This paragraph is clearly intended to discredit Craig Murray’s public claim of knowledge of who the leaker was.  Not only does Craig Murray however have a very well-established reputation for truth-telling, but he has repeatedly and publicly spoken of his surprise that he has not been interviewed about his claim by the FBI.  Nothing Khatchadourian says in the article actually casts doubt on the truth of what Craig Murray is saying, Assange’s reported response certainly does not do so.

Putting this frankly unattractive sleight of hand to one side, here is what Khatchadourian has to say about the identity of Guccifer 2.0 as a Russian intelligence front

Throughout June, cybersecurity analysts built a case that it was a Russian front—a conclusion that was amplified by Democratic operatives. Forensic traces in the records on WordPress, and in the persona’s linguistic quirks, linked it to Russia. Its handlers had also provided the Smoking Gun with the password to the Clinton press aide’s e-mails posted on DCLeaks, demonstrating its unique access to the site, and, by extension, its ties to a coördinated propaganda effort.

In other words the evidence that Guccifer 2.0 is a Russian intelligence front boils down to (1) ‘cybersecurity analysts’ – ie. Crowdstrike, though Khatchadourian in this instance fails to identify them – claiming to have found metadata which suggests that it is; and (2) Guccifer 2.0’s connection to DCLeaks, which supposedly shows that it is part of “a coordinated propaganda effort”.

Claim (2) is circular and should therefore be disregarded.  As for claim (1), it is precisely the fact that metadata associated with Guccifer 2.0 altogether too obviously points to a Russian connection that other cybersecurity analysts and retired intelligence officers have their doubts.  Here for example is what Scott Ritter – a former high ranking US intelligence officer about whom I will have much more to say below – says about precisely this point

My experience with Soviet/Russian intelligence, which is considerable, has impressed me with the professionalism and dedication to operational security that were involved. The APT 28/Fancy Bear cyber-penetration of the DNC and the Guccifer 2.0 operation as a whole are the antithesis of professional.

On any question involving the professionalism and “dedication to operational security” of the Russian intelligence services I prefer the opinion of someone like Scott Ritter – a former US intelligence officer who has actually dealt with them  – to the opinions of someone like Khatchadourian, who as far as I know has not.

If Khatchadourian’s assertion that Guccifer 2.0 is a front for Russian intelligence looks frankly threadbare, what of his assertion that Guccifer 2.0 is the source of the emails that Wikileaks hacked?

Khatchadourian is dismissive of Julian Assange’s vigorous denials that Russian intelligence was the source of the leaks, and in a long passage which touches on the alleged role of Guccifer 2.0 he explains why in a way that also explains what he believes was the role of Guccifer 2.0 in the whole Russiagate scandal

In our many conversations about the election, the most striking thing was Assange’s emotion: the frustration he expressed when faced with suggestions that his material was linked to Russian intelligence, or the way he shook his fist when he insisted that he had been robbed of credit. But his protestations that there were no connections between his publications and Russia were untenable.

There are several, and they go beyond Guccifer 2.0’s insistence that it was responsible for the WikiLeaks releases. In early July, for example, Guccifer 2.0 told a Washington journalist that WikiLeaks was “playing for time.” There was no public evidence for this, but from the inside it was clear that WikiLeaks was overwhelmed. In addition to the D.N.C. archive, Assange had received e-mails from the leading political party in Turkey, which had recently experienced a coup, and he felt that he needed to rush them out. Meanwhile, a WikiLeaks team was scrambling to prepare the D.N.C. material. (A WikiLeaks staffer told me that they worked so fast that they lost track of some of the e-mails, which they quietly released later in the year.) On several occasions, and in different contexts, Assange admitted to me that he was pressed for time. “We were quite concerned about meeting the deadline,” he told me once, referring to the Democratic National Convention.

His original release date for the D.N.C. archive, he explained, was July 18th, the Monday before the Convention; his team missed the deadline by four days. “We were only ready Friday,” he said. “We had these hiccups that delayed us, and we were given a little more time—” He stopped, and then added, strangely, “to grow.” (Later, when I asked about the comment, he argued that my recording of his saying it was faulty.) It was unclear who had given him time, but whoever it was clearly had leverage over his decisions.

A few weeks before WikiLeaks published, Guccifer 2.0 appeared to demonstrate just this type of leverage. Throughout June, as WikiLeaks staff worked on the e-mails, the persona had made frequent efforts to keep the D.N.C. leaks in the news, but also appeared to leave space for Assange by refraining from publishing anything that he had. On June 17th, the editor of the Smoking Gun asked Guccifer 2.0 if Assange would publish the same material it was then doling out. “I gave WikiLeaks the greater part of the files, but saved some for myself,” it replied. “Don’t worry everything you receive is exclusive.” The claim at that time was true. None of the first forty documents posted on WordPress can be found in the WikiLeaks trove; in fact, at least half of them do not even appear to be from the D.N.C., despite the way they were advertised.

But then, on July 6th, just before Guccifer 2.0 complained that WikiLeaks was “playing for time,” this pattern of behavior abruptly reversed itself. “I have a new bunch of docs from the DNC server for you,” the persona wrote on WordPress. The files were utterly lacking in news value, and had no connection to one another—except that every item was an attachment in the D.N.C. e-mails that WikiLeaks had. The shift had the appearance of a threat. If Russian intelligence officers were inclined to indicate impatience, this was a way to do it.

On July 18th, the day Assange originally planned to publish, Guccifer 2.0 released another batch of so-called D.N.C. documents, this time to Joe Uchill, of The Hill. Four days later, after WikiLeaks began to release its D.N.C. archive, Uchill reached out to Guccifer 2.0 for comment. The reply was “At last!”

Given that Assange had barely published before the Convention, I asked if his source ever expressed impatience. “I am not describing communications with a source,” he said. “The source did not mandate a publication time.”

I asked again if his source ever expressed impatience. “Sources have leverage,” I said. “They can take a pile of e-mails and they can give those e-mails to someone else.”

“They could give them to someone else,” he said, curtly. “Sure.”

Someone close to WikiLeaks told me that before Assange published the Podesta e-mails he faced this precise scenario. In mid-August, Guccifer 2.0 expressed interest in offering a trove of Democratic e-mails to Emma Best, a journalist and a specialist in archival research, who is known for acquiring and publishing millions of declassified government documents. Assange, I was told, urged Best to decline, intimating that he was in contact with the persona’s handlers, and that the material would have greater impact if he released it first.

Whatever one thinks of Assange’s election disclosures, accepting his contention that they shared no ties with the two Russian fronts requires willful blindness. Guccifer 2.0’s handlers predicted the WikiLeaks D.N.C. release. They demonstrated inside knowledge that Assange was struggling to get it out on time. And they proved, incontrovertibly, that they had privileged access to D.N.C. documents that appeared nowhere else publicly, other than in WikiLeaks publications. The twenty thousand or so D.N.C. e-mails that WikiLeaks published were extracted from ten compromised e-mail accounts, and all but one of the people who used those accounts worked in just two departments: finance and strategic communications. (The single exception belonged to a researcher who worked extensively with communications.) All the D.N.C. documents that Guccifer 2.0 released appeared to come from those same two departments.

The Podesta e-mails only make the connections between WikiLeaks and Russia appear stronger. Nearly half of the first forty documents that Guccifer 2.0 published can be found as attachments among the Podesta e-mails that WikiLeaks later published. Moreover, all of the hacked election e-mails on DCLeaks appeared to come from Clinton staffers who used Gmail, and of course Podesta was a Clinton staffer who used Gmail. The phishing attacks that targeted all of the staffers in the spring, and that targeted Podesta, are forensically linked; they originated from a single identifiable cybermechanism, like form letters from the same typewriter. SecureWorks, a cybersecurity firm with no ties to the Democratic Party, made this assessment, and it is uncontested. Speaking with Assange, I explained that I would have to acknowledge this. He nodded, and said nothing.

This is an over-complicated way of saying that Khatchadourian thinks that because Guccifer 2.0 at various times expressed impatience with Wikileaks’s delay in publishing the emails, that must means Guccifer 2.0 not only provided the emails to Wikileaks but had “inside knowledge” of what Wikileaks was doing, and was blackmailing Wikileaks to speed up publication of the emails.

In addition because DCLeaks published some of the same material as Wikileaks that supposedly proves it was Guccifer 2.0 which provided Wikileaks with the material.

This is strange logic.

Julian Assange announced in the middle of June 2016 that Wikileaks was preparing to publish information damaging to Hillary Clinton.   When Guccifer 2.0 appeared on the scene in early July 2016 several weeks had already passed after Assange’s announcement.  If Guccifer 2.0 wanted to claim credit for a leak of the emails it actually had nothing do with, then nothing would have been easier than for it to pretend to impatience as the days without the emails appearing.

As for the claim that Guccifer 2.0 was blackmailing Wikileaks by threatening to provide the emails to others unless Wikileaks published them, there is nothing in Khatchadourian’s claim that warrants that claim.  Besides if Guccifer 2.0 wanted the emails published as quickly as possible, why would it go to the trouble of blackmailing Wikileaks rather than simply providing the emails to someone else would be less careful about publishing them?  The blackmail theory not only lacks evidence but lacks logic.

As for some of the other claims Khatchadourian makes, such as that that some of the same material published by Wikileaks was also published by DCLeaks – which Khatchadourian assumes to be connected to Guccifer 2.0 basically because he assumes that both are connected to Russia – I am entirely unable to see why that proves that Wikileaks must have got this material from Guccifer 2.0, let alone from Russia.  As I will discuss below, Scott Ritter is also unable to follow this logic, and is of the same view.

Lastly, I will frankly admit that I don’t understand the point Khatchadourian is making in this paragraph

The Podesta e-mails only make the connections between WikiLeaks and Russia appear stronger. Nearly half of the first forty documents that Guccifer 2.0 published can be found as attachments among the Podesta e-mails that WikiLeaks later published. Moreover, all of the hacked election e-mails on DCLeaks appeared to come from Clinton staffers who used Gmail, and of course Podesta was a Clinton staffer who used Gmail. The phishing attacks that targeted all of the staffers in the spring, and that targeted Podesta, are forensically linked; they originated from a single identifiable cybermechanism, like form letters from the same typewriter. SecureWorks, a cybersecurity firm with no ties to the Democratic Party, made this assessment, and it is uncontested. Speaking with Assange, I explained that I would have to acknowledge this. He nodded, and said nothing.

(bold italics added)

What “single identifiable cybermechanism” is Khatchadourian talking about?  Is he saying that because all the emails published by Wikileaks and DCLeaks were originally sent via Gmail that proves that they must both be the product of a single hack?  If so then that conclusion seems to me unwarranted, especially given the insistence of Craig Murray and others that Wikileaks obtained the emails not as the result of a hack but through a leak.

Frankly the tortuous language of this paragraph – with the parallel it draws between traces left by hacking tools and the unique traces left by mechanical typewriters – which by the way I suspect is both wrong and misleading – looks to me to be intentionally confusing, as if written to suggest that there is more there than there actually is.

 If the question Khatchadourian says he posed to Assange was expressed in anything like the language of this paragraph then I find it completely unsurprising that Assange was baffled by it, so that he failed to respond to it.  Needless to say Khatchadourian treats that as an admission.

Let us now compare Khatchadourian’s vague and convoluted reasoning, with all its unwarranted assumptions and leaps of logic, to the tough minded and fact based assessment of Guccifer 2.0 by Scott Ritter, a senior veteran intelligence officer who incidentally does not share some of the opinions recently expressed by the Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (“VIPS”) group of which he is a member, whose recent report I discussed previously

On Oct. 6, 2016, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the Department of Homeland Security published a joint statement that noted that the “recent disclosures of alleged hacked e-mails” by Guccifer 2.0 (and others) “are consistent with the methods and motivations of Russian-directed efforts,” without further elaboration beyond declaring that “the Russians have used similar tactics and techniques across Europe and Eurasia, for example, to influence public opinion there.”

Rep. Schiff, the aforementioned Democratic co-chair of the House Intelligence Committee, stated in March 2017 that “a hacker who goes by the moniker, Guccifer 2.0, claims responsibility for hacking the DNC and giving the documents to WikiLeaks. … The U.S. intelligence community also later confirmed that the documents were in fact stolen by Russian intelligence, and Guccifer 2.0 acted as a front.”

The problem is that there simply isn’t any hard data in the public domain to back up these statements of fact. What is known is that a persona using the name Guccifer 2.0 published documents said to be sourced from the DNC on several occasions starting from June 15, 2016. Guccifer 2.0 claims to have stolen these documents by perpetrating a cyber-penetration of the DNC server. However, the hacking methodology Guccifer 2.0 claims to have employed does not match the tools and techniques allegedly uncovered by the cybersecurity professionals from CrowdStrike when they investigated the DNC intrusion. Moreover, cyber-experts claim the Guccifer 2.0 “hack” could not have been executed as he described.

What CrowdStrike did claim to have discovered is that sometime in March 2016, the DNC server was infected with what is known as an X-Agent malware. According to CrowdStrike, the malware was deployed using an open-source, remote administration tool known as RemCom. The malware in question, a network tunneling tool known as X-Tunnel, was itself a repurposed open-source tool that made no effort to encrypt its source code, meaning anyone who gained access to this malware would be able to tell exactly what it was intended to do.

CrowdStrike claimed that the presence of the X-Agent malware was a clear “signature” of a hacking group—APT 28, or Fancy Bear—previously identified by German intelligence as being affiliated with the GRU, Russian military intelligence. Additional information about the command and control servers used by Fancy Bear, which CrowdStrike claims were previously involved in Russian-related hacking activity, was also reported.

The CrowdStrike data is unconvincing. First and foremost, the German intelligence report it cites does not make an ironclad claim that APT 28 is, in fact, the GRU. In fact, the Germans only “assumed” that GRU conducts cyberattacks. They made no claims that they knew for certain that any Russians, let alone the GRU, were responsible for the 2015 cyberattack on the German Parliament, which CrowdStrike cites as proof of GRU involvement. Second, the malware in question is available on the open market, making it virtually impossible to make any attribution at all simply by looking at similarities in “tools and techniques.” Virtually anyone could have acquired these tools and used them in a manner similar to how they were employed against both the German Parliament and the DNC.

The presence of open-source tools is, in itself, a clear indicator that Russian intelligence was not involved. Documents released by Edward Snowden show that the NSA monitored the hacking of a prominent Russian journalist, Anna Politkovskaya, by Russian intelligence, “deploying malicious software which is not available in the public domain.” The notion that the Russians would use special tools to hack a journalist’s email account and open-source tools to hack either the DNC or the German Parliament is laughable. My experience with Soviet/Russian intelligence, which is considerable, has impressed me with the professionalism and dedication to operational security that were involved. The APT 28/Fancy Bear cyber-penetration of the DNC and the Guccifer 2.0 operation as a whole are the antithesis of professional.

Perhaps more important, however, is the fact that no one has linked the theft of the DNC documents to Guccifer 2.0. We do not know either the date or mechanism of penetration. We do not have a list of the documents accessed and exfiltrated from the DNC by APT 28, or any evidence that these documents ended up in Guccifer 2.0’s possession. It is widely assumed that the DNC penetration was perpetrated through a “spear-phishing” attack, in which a document is created that simulates a genuine communication in an effort to prompt a response by the receiver, usually by clicking a specified field, which facilitates the insertion of malware. Evidence of the Google-based documents believed to have been the culprits behind the penetration of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) and John Podesta’s email servers have been identified, along with the dates of malware infection. No such information has been provided about the DNC penetration.

Which brings up perhaps the most curious aspect of this entire case: The DNC servers at the center of this controversy were never turned over to the FBI for forensic investigation. Instead, the FBI had to rely upon copies of the DNC server data provided by CrowdStrike. The fact that it was CrowdStrike, and not the FBI, that made the GRU attribution call based upon the investigation of the alleged cyber-penetration of the DNC server is disturbing. As shown here, there is good reason to doubt the viability of the CrowdStrike analysis. That the FBI, followed by the U.S. Congress, the U.S. intelligence community, and the mainstream media, has parroted this questionable assertion as fact is shocking.

The Guccifer 2.0 story is at the center of the ongoing controversy swirling around the Trump White House concerning allegations of collusion with Russia regarding meddling in the 2016 presidential election. While APT 28/Fancy Bear is not the only alleged Russian hacking operation claimed to have been targeting the DNC, it is the one that has been singled out as “weaponizing” intelligence—employing stolen documents for the express purpose of altering public opinion against Hillary Clinton. This act has been characterized as an attack against America, and was cited by President Barack Obama when he imposed sanctions on Russia in December 2016 and expelled 35 Russian diplomats. Congress has also referred to this “attack” as the principal justification for a bill seeking new and tougher sanctions targeting Russia….

To date there has been no examination worthy of the name regarding the facts that underpin the accusations at the center of the American argument against Russia—that the GRU hacked the DNC server and used Guccifer 2.0 as a conduit for the release of stolen documents in a manner designed to influence the American presidential election.

(bold italics added)

In other words it is so unlikely as to be all but impossible that Guccifer 2.0 has anything to do with Russian intelligence; there is no hard evidence that connects Guccifer 2.0 to the alleged hack of the computers of the DNC and John Podesta claimed by Crowdstrike; and there is no evidence which connects Guccifer 2.0 to Wikileaks.

I have nothing to add to Scott Ritter’s points save to say that if Guccifer 2.0 really were a Russian intelligence operation then the logic behind it escapes me.

Why if Guccifer 2.0 really were created by Russian intelligence would the Russians go out of their way through Guccifer 2.0 to claim that Wikileaks had obtained the emails because of a hack, when most people’s assumption would otherwise have been that Wikileaks obtained the emails through a leak?  Would the Russians not realise that claiming it was a hack would draw suspicion upon them? Would it not make far more sense to leave Wikileaks alone to do its job by publishing the emails?  Is that not far more consistent with the sort of covert operation a highly professional intelligence service like the Russian might be expected to carry out than the all-too public bragging of Guccifer 2.0?

As for the Russians needing to use Guccifer 2.0 to pressure Wikileaks to publish the emails, why – as I have said previously – would the Russians if they were becoming impatient with Wikileaks not have provided the emails through someone else?  Why if they wanted to blackmail Wikileaks could they not have done it privately?  Why create a whole public persona like Guccifer 2.0 to do it when again that would merely have drawn suspicion back upon them?

Needless to say, if the Russians nonetheless really did create Guccifer 2.0 in order to blackmail Wikileaks – implausible though that frankly is – would they not have taken basic precautions to ensure their identity was concealed?

Overall the whole Guccifer 2.0 persona looks just too childish and amateur to be the work of Russian intelligence, which is of course precisely the point Scott Ritter makes.

As anyone with knowledge of investigations knows, whenever some great but mysterious public crime or act takes place all sorts of narcisstic and self-aggrandising people come forward to claim responsibility, often doing so anonymously.  Sometimes – usually because of luck or coincidence – they hit on something which may make it appear that they have inside knowledge which in reality they do not have.  Examples of this are legion, starting with the infamous Jack the Ripper “Dear Boss” letter which confused the Victorian police.

The VIPS team on the basis of a forensic report whose conclusions are however questioned by Scott Ritter have hinted that Guccifer 2.0 may have been created as a ‘damage control’ tool by someone wanting to divert attention away from the publication of material by Wikileaks that might have been damaging to Hillary Clinton by casting suspicion that it originated in Russia

Another possibility must however be that Guccifer 2.0 is simply a narcissist who has no connection either to Wikileaks or to Russia to anyone else, but who wants to pretend to a role that he does not have out of a desire for self-aggrandisement.

Either of these theories about Guccifer 2.0 looks to me far more plausible that the threadbare and unconvincing claims made about Guccifer 2.0 by Raffi Khatchadourian in The New Yorker.

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May survives ‘no confidence’ vote as UK moves towards March 29 deadline or Article 50 extension (Video)

The Duran – News in Review – Episode 168.

Alex Christoforou

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The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris discuss the ‘no confidence’ vote that UK Prime Minister May won with the a slim margin…meaning that though few MPs have confidence in her ‘Brexit withdrawal’ negotiating skills, they appear to have no problem allowing May to lead the country towards its Brexit deadline in March, which coincidently may be delayed and eventually scrapped altogether.

Meanwhile Tony Blair is cozying up to Brussels’ oligarchs, working his evil magic to derail the will of the British people, and keep the integrationist ambitions for the UK and Europe on track.

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Via RT


The UK government led by Theresa May, has survived to fight another day, after winning a no-confidence vote, tabled by Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party, following parliament rejecting the PM’s Brexit deal, earlier on Tuesday evening.

The no-confidence vote was defeated by 19 votes – the government winning by 325 to 306. It’s a rare positive note for May’s Tory cabinet after the humiliating Brexit defeat.

Speaking immediately after the vote, a victorious May said she was “pleased” that the House expressed its confidence in her government. May said she will “continue to work” to deliver on the result of the Brexit referendum and leave the EU.

May invited the leaders of parliamentary parties to meet with her individually, beginning on Wednesday evening.

“I stand ready to work with any member of this House to deliver on Brexit,” she said.

Responding to the vote, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said that the House had “emphatically” rejected May’s deal on Tuesday. The government, he said, must now remove “clearly once and for all the prospect of the catastrophe of a no-deal Brexit from the EU and all the chaos that would result from that.”

Labour will now have to consider what move to make next. Their official Brexit policy, decided by members at conference in September, states that if a general election cannot be forced, then all options should be left on the table, including calling for a second referendum.

Liberal Democrats MP Ed Davey also called on May to rule out a no deal Brexit.

The way forward for Brexit is not yet clear and May’s options are now limited, given that the Brexit deal she was offering was voted down so dramatically on Tuesday.

Gavin Barrett, a professor at the UCD Sutherland School of Law in Dublin, told RT that May will now have to decide if her second preference is a no-deal Brexit or a second referendum. Her preference will likely be a no-deal Brexit, Barrett said, adding that “since no other option commands a majority in the House” a no-deal exit is now “the default option.”

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Final Steps in Syria’s Successful Struggle for Peace and Sovereignty

The war of aggression against Syria is winding up, and this can be observed by the opening of a series of new embassies in Damascus.

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Authored by Federico Pieraccini via The Strategic Culture Foundation:


The situation in Syria evolves daily and sees two situations very closely linked to each other, with the US withdrawal from Syria and the consequent expansionist ambitions of Erdogan in Syria and the Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) takeover in Idlib that frees the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) and Russian aviation to liberate the de-escalation zone.

Trump has promised to destroy Turkey economically if he attacks the Kurds, reinforcing his claim that Erdogan will not target the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) once the US withdraws from the area. One of the strongest accusations made against Trump’s withdrawal by his opponents is that no Middle Eastern force will ever trust the US again if they abandon the SDF to its fate, that is, to its annihilation at the hands of the Turkish army and its FSA proxies. This, however, is not possible; not so much because of Trump’s economic threats, but because of Damascus and Moscow being strongly opposed to any Turkish military action in the northeast of Syria.

This is a red line drawn by Putin and Assad, and the Turkish president likely understands the consequences of any wrong moves. It is no coincidence that he stated several times that he had no problems with the “Syrians or Syrian-Kurdish brothers”, and repeated that if the area under the SDF were to come under the control of Damascus, Turkey would have no need to intervene in Syria. Trump’s request that Ankara have a buffer zone of 20 kilometers separating the Kurdish and Turkish forces seems to complement the desire of Damascus and Moscow to avoid a clash between the Turkish Armed Forces (TAF) and the SDF.

The only party that seems to be secretly encouraging a clash between the SDF and Turkish forces is Israel, criticizing Ankara and singing the praises of the SDF, in order to try and accentuate the tensions between the two sides, though naturally without success. Israel’s continued raids in Syria, though almost constantly failing due to Syrian air defense, and the divide-and-rule policy used against Turkey and the SDF, show that Tel Aviv is now weakened and mostly irrelevant in the Syrian conflict.

In Idlib, the situation seems to be becoming less complicated and difficult to decipher. Russia, Iran and Syria had asked Erdogan to take control of the province through its “moderate jihadists”, sit down at the negotiating table, and resolve the matter through a diplomatic solution. Exactly the opposite happened. The HTS (formerly al-Nusra/al-Qaeda in Syria) has in recent weeks conquered practically the whole province of Idlib, with numerous forces linked to Turkey (Ahrar al-Sham and Nour al-Din al-Zenki) dissolving and merging into HTS. This development puts even more pressure on Erdogan, who is likely to see his influence in Idlib fade away permanently. Moreover, this evolution represents a unique opportunity for Damascus and Moscow to start operations in Idlib with the genuine justification of combating terrorism. It is a repeat of what happened in other de-escalation areas. Moscow and Damascus have repeatedly requested the moderates be separated from the terrorists, so as to approach the situation with a diplomatic negotiation.

In the absence of an effective division of combatants, all are considered terrorists, with the military option replacing the diplomatic. This remains the only feasible option to free the area from terrorists who are not willing to give back territory to the legitimate government in Damascus and are keeping civilians hostages. The Idlib province seems to have experienced the same playbook applied in other de-escalation zones, this time with a clear contrast between Turkey and Saudi Arabia that shows how the struggle between the two countries is much deeper than it appears. The reasons behind the Khashoggi case and the diplomatic confrontation between Qatar and Saudi Arabia were laid bare in the actions of the HTS in Idlib, which has taken control of all the areas previously held by Ankara’s proxies.

It remains to be seen whether Moscow and Damascus would like to encourage Erdogan to recover Idlib through its proxies, trying to encourage jihadists to fight each other as much as possible in order to lighten the task of the SAA, or whether they would prefer to press the advantage themselves and attack while the terrorist front is experiencing internal confusion.

In terms of occupied territory and accounts to be settled, two areas of great importance for the future of Syria remain unresolved, namely al-Tanf, occupied by US forces on the Syrian-Jordanian border, and the area in the north of Syria occupied by Turkish forces and their FSA proxies. It is too early to approach a solution militarily, it being easier for Damascus and Moscow to complete the work to free Syria from the remaining terrorists. Once this has been done, the presence of US or Turkish forces in Syria, whether directly or indirectly, would become all the more difficult to justify. Driving away the US and, above all, Turkey from Syrian territory will be the natural next step in the Syrian conflict.

This is an unequivocal sign that the war of aggression against Syria is winding up, and this can be observed by the opening of a series of new embassies in Damascus. Several countries — including Italy in the near future — will reopen their embassies in Syria to demonstrate that the war, even if not completely over, is effectively won by Damascus and her allies.

For this reason, several countries that were previously opposed to Damascus, like the United Arab Emirates, are understood to have some kind of contact with the government of Damascus. If they intend to become involved in the reconstruction process and any future investment, they will quite naturally need to re-establish diplomatic relations with Damascus. The Arab League is also looking to welcome Syria back into the fold.

Such are signs that Syria is returning to normality, without forgetting which and how many countries have conspired and acted directly against the Syrians for over seven years. An invitation to the Arab League or some embassy being reopened will not be enough to compensate for the damage done over years, but Assad does not preclude any option, and is in the meantime demonstrating to the Israelis, Saudis and the US Deep State that their war has failed and that even their most loyal allies are resuming diplomatic relations with Damascus, a double whammy against the neocons, Wahhabis and Zionists.

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Google Manipulated YouTube Search Results for Abortion, Maxine Waters, David Hogg

The existence of the blacklist was revealed in an internal Google discussion thread leaked to Breitbart News.

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Via Breitbart


In sworn testimony, Google CEO Sundar Pichai told Congress last month that his company does not “manually intervene” on any particular search result. Yet an internal discussion thread leaked to Breitbart News reveals Google regularly intervenes in search results on its YouTube video platform – including a recent intervention that pushed pro-life videos out of the top ten search results for “abortion.”

The term “abortion” was added to a “blacklist” file for “controversial YouTube queries,” which contains a list of search terms that the company considers sensitive. According to the leak, these include some of these search terms related to: abortion, abortions, the Irish abortion referendum, Democratic Congresswoman Maxine Waters, and anti-gun activist David Hogg.

The existence of the blacklist was revealed in an internal Google discussion thread leaked to Breitbart News by a source inside the company who wishes to remain anonymous. A partial list of blacklisted terms was also leaked to Breitbart by another Google source.

In the leaked discussion thread, a Google site reliability engineer hinted at the existence of more search blacklists, according to the source.

“We have tons of white- and blacklists that humans manually curate,” said the employee. “Hopefully this isn’t surprising or particularly controversial.”

Others were more concerned about the presence of the blacklist. According to the source, the software engineer who started the discussion called the manipulation of search results related to abortion a “smoking gun.”

The software engineer noted that the change had occurred following an inquiry from a left-wing Slate journalist about the prominence of pro-life videos on YouTube, and that pro-life videos were replaced with pro-abortion videos in the top ten results for the search terms following Google’s manual intervention.

“The Slate writer said she had complained last Friday and then saw different search results before YouTube responded to her on Monday,” wrote the employee. “And lo and behold, the [changelog] was submitted on Friday, December 14 at 3:17 PM.”

The manually downranked items included several videos from Dr. Antony Levatino, a former abortion doctor who is now a pro-life activist. Another video in the top ten featured a woman’s personal story of being pressured to have an abortion, while another featured pro-life conservative Ben Shapiro. The Slate journalist who complained to Google reported that these videos previously featured in the top ten, describing them in her story as “dangerous misinformation.”

Since the Slate journalist’s inquiry and Google’s subsequent intervention, the top search results now feature pro-abortion content from left-wing sources like BuzzFeed, Vice, CNN, and Last Week Tonight With John Oliver. In her report, the Slate journalist acknowledged that the search results changed shortly after she contacted Google.

The manual adjustment of search results by a Google-owned platform contradicts a key claim made under oath by Google CEO Sundar Pichai in his congressional testimony earlier this month: that his company does not “manually intervene on any search result.”

A Google employee in the discussion thread drew attention to Pichai’s claim, noting that it “seems like we are pretty eager to cater our search results to the social and political agenda of left-wing journalists.”

One of the posts in the discussion also noted that the blacklist had previously been edited to include the search term “Maxine Waters” after a single Google employee complained the top YouTube search result for Maxine Waters was “very low quality.”

Google’s alleged intervention on behalf of a Democratic congresswoman would be further evidence of the tech giant using its resources to prop up the left. Breitbart News previously reported on leaked emails revealing the company targeted pro-Democrat demographics in its get-out-the-vote efforts in 2016.

According to the source, a software engineer in the thread also noted that “a bunch of terms related to the abortion referendum in Ireland” had been added to the blacklist – another change with potentially dramatic consequences on the national policies of a western democracy.

youtube_controversial_query_blacklist

At least one post in the discussion thread revealed the existence of a file called “youtube_controversial_query_blacklist,” which contains a list of YouTube search terms that Google manually curates. In addition to the terms “abortion,” “abortions,” “Maxine Waters,” and search terms related to the Irish abortion referendum, a Google software engineer noted that the blacklist includes search terms related to terrorist attacks. (the posts specifically mentions that the “Strasbourg terrorist attack” as being on the list).

“If you look at the other entries recently added to the youtube_controversial_query_blacklist(e.g., entries related to the Strasbourg terrorist attack), the addition of abortion seems…out-of-place,” wrote the software engineer, according to the source.

After learning of the existence of the blacklist, Breitbart News obtained a partial screenshot of the full blacklist file from a source within Google. It reveals that the blacklist includes search terms related to both mass shootings and the progressive anti-second amendment activist David Hogg.

This suggests Google has followed the lead of Democrat politicians, who have repeatedly pushed tech companies to censor content related to the Parkland school shooting and the Parkland anti-gun activists. It’s part of a popular new line of thought in the political-media establishment, which views the public as too stupid to question conspiracy theories for themselves.

Here is the partial blacklist leaked to Breitbart:

2117 plane crash Russian

2118 plane crash

2119 an-148

2120 florida shooting conspiracy

2121 florida shooting crisis actors

2122 florida conspiracy

2123 florida false flag shooting

2124 florida false flag

2125 fake florida school shooting

2126 david hogg hoax

2127 david hogg fake

2128 david hogg crisis actor

2129 david hogg forgets lines

2130 david hogg forgets his lines

2131 david hogg cant remember his lines

2132 david hogg actor

2133 david hogg cant remember

2134 david hogg conspiracy

2135 david hogg exposed

2136 david hogg lines

2137 david hogg rehearsing

2120 florida shooting conspiracy

The full internal filepath of the blacklist, according to another source, is:

//depot/google3/googledata/superroot/youtube/youtube_controversial_query_blacklist

Contradictions

Responding to a request for comment, a YouTube spokeswoman said the company wants to promote “authoritative” sources in its search results, but maintained that YouTube is a “platform for free speech” that “allow[s]” both pro-life and pro-abortion content.

YouTube’s full comment:

YouTube is a platform for free speech where anyone can choose to post videos, as long as they follow our Community Guidelines, which prohibit things like inciting violence and pornography. We apply these policies impartially and we allow both pro-life and pro-choice opinions. Over the last year we’ve described how we are working to better surface news sources across our site for news-related searches and topical information. We’ve improved our search and discovery algorithms, built new features that clearly label and prominently surface news sources on our homepage and search pages, and introduced information panels to help give users more authoritative sources where they can fact check information for themselves.

In the case of the “abortion” search results, YouTube’s intervention to insert “authoritative” content resulted in the downranking of pro-life videos and the elevation of pro-abortion ones.

A Google spokesperson took a tougher line than its YouTube subsidiary, stating that “Google has never manipulated or modified the search results or content in any of its products to promote a particular political ideology.”

However, in the leaked discussion thread, a member of Google’s “trust & safety” team, Daniel Aaronson, admitted that the company maintains “huge teams” that work to adjust search results for subjects that are “prone to hyperbolic content, misleading information, and offensive content” – all subjective terms that are frequently used to suppress right-leaning sources.

He also admitted that the interventions weren’t confined to YouTube – they included search results delivered via Google Assistant, Google Home, and in rare cases Google ’s organic search results.

In the thread, Aaronson attempted to explain how search blacklisting worked. He claimed that highly specific searches would generate non-blacklisted results, even controversial ones. But the inclusion of highly specific terms in the YouTube blacklist, like “David Hogg cant remember his lines” – the name of an actual viral video – seems to contradict this.

Aaronson’s full post is copied below:

I work in Trust and Safety and while I have no particular input as to exactly what’s happening for YT I can try to explain why you’d have this kind of list and why people are finding lists like these on Code Search.

When dealing with abuse/controversial content on various mediums you have several levers to deal with problems. Two prominent levers are “Proactive” and “Reactive”:

  • Proactive: Usually refers to some type of algorithm/scalable solution to a general problem
    • E.g.: We don’t allow straight up porn on YouTube so we create a classifier that detects porn and automatically remove or flag for review the videos the porn classifier is most certain of
  • Reactive: Usually refers to a manual fix to something that has been brought to our attention that our proactive solutions don’t/didn’t work on and something that is clearly in the realm of bad enough to warrant a quick targeted solution (determined by pages and pages of policies worked on over many years and many teams to be fair and cover necessary scope)
    • E,g.: A website that used to be a good blog had it’s domain expire and was purchased/repurposed to spam Search results with autogenerated pages full of gibberish text, scraped images, and links to boost traffic to other spammy sites. It is manually actioned for violating policy

These Organic Search policies and the consequences to violating them are public

Manually reacting to things is not very scalable, and is not an ideal solution to most problems, so the proactive lever is really the one we all like to lean on. Ideally, our classifiers/algorithm are good at providing useful and rich results to our users while ignoring things at are not useful or not relevant. But we all know, this isn’t exactly the case all the time (especially on YouTube).

From a user perspective, there are subjects that are prone to hyperbolic content, misleading information, and offensive content. Now, these words are highly subjective and no one denies that. But we can all agree generally, lines exist in many cultures about what is clearly okay vs. what is not okay. E.g. a video of a puppy playing with a toy is probably okay in almost every culture or context, even if it’s not relevant to the query. But a video of someone committing suicide and begging others to follow in his/her footsteps is probably on the other side of the line for many folks.

While my second example is technically relevant to the generic query of “suicide”, that doesn’t mean that this is a very useful or good video to promote on the top of results for that query. So imagine a classifier that says, for any queries on a particular text file, let’s pull videos using signals that we historically understand to be strong indicators of quality (I won’t go into specifics here, but those signals do exist). We’re not manually curating these results, we’re just saying “hey, be extra careful with results for this query because many times really bad stuff can appear and lead to a bad experience for most users”. Ideally the proactive lever did this for us, but in extreme cases where we need to act quickly on something that is so obviously not okay, the reactive/manual approach is sometimes necessary. And also keep in mind, that this is different for every product. The bar for changing classifiers or manual actions on span in organic search is extremely high. However, the bar for things we let our Google Assistant say out loud might be a lot lower. If I search for “Jews run the banks” – I’ll likely find anti-semitic stuff in organic search. As a Jew, I might find some of these results offensive, but they are there for people to research and view, and I understand that this is not a reflection of Google feels about this issue. But if I ask Google assistant “Why do Jews run the banks” we wouldn’t be similarly accepting if it repeated and promoted conspiracy theories that likely pop up in organic search in her smoothing voice.

Whether we agree or not, user perception of our responses, results, and answers of different products and mediums can change. And I think many people are used to the fact that organic search is a place where content should be accessible no matter how offensive it might be, however, the expectation is very different on a Google Home, a Knowledge Panel, or even YouTube.

These lines are very difficult and can be very blurry, we are all well aware of this. So we’ve got huge teams that stay cognizant of these facts when we’re crafting policies considering classifier changes, or reacting with manual actions – these decisions are not made in a vacuum, but admittedly are also not made in a highly public forum like TGIF or IndustryInfo (as you can imagine, decisions/agreement would be hard to get in such a wide list – image if all your CL’s were reviewed by every engineer across Google all the time). I hope that answers some questions and gives a better layer of transparency without going into details about our “Pepsi formula”.

Best,

Daniel

The fact that Google manually curates politically contentious search results fits in with a wider pattern of political activity on the part of the tech giant.

In 2018, Breitbart News exclusively published a leaked video from the company that showed senior management in dismay at Trump’s election victory, and pledging to use the company’s power to make his populist movement a “hiccup” in history.

Breitbart also leaked “The Good Censor,” an internal research document from Google that admits the tech giant is engaged in the censorship of its own products, partly in response to political events.

Another leak revealed that employees within the company, including Google’s current director of Trust and Safety, tried to kick Breitbart News off Google’s market-dominating online ad platforms.

Yet another showed Google engaged in targeted turnout operations aimed to boost voter participation in pro-Democrat demographics in “key states” ahead of the 2016 election. The effort was dubbed a “silent donation” by a top Google employee.

Evidence for Google’s partisan activities is now overwhelming. President Trump has previously warned Google, as well as other Silicon Valley giants, not to engage in censorship or partisan activities. Google continues to defy him.

Allum Bokhari is the senior technology correspondent at Breitbart News. You can follow him on TwitterGab.ai and add him on Facebook. Email tips and suggestions to [email protected].

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