Book Review: Gonzo journalist Barrett Brown’s memoir a piquant take on hacktivism’s rise

By FRANK BAJAK
July 10, 2024

His talents in full flower and basking in public admiration, gonzo journalist and inveterate anti-establishment troublemaker Barrett Brown is jailed in his native Texas on various federal felony charges.

It is 2013 and Brown’s adventures have included helping Anonymous hacktivists publicly expose private U.S. intelligence contractors engaged in deep-state power abuses at a time of rising concerns over Big Brother surveillance.

Brown has done this in swashbuckling style – often in a drug-altered state, chatting with executives whose hacked emails have been dumped online while on opiate maintenance medication. Brown was in withdrawal from antidepressants and opioids, he would later testify, when he threatened an FBI agent in a video posted to YouTube.

“I wanted to become famous for overthrowing things,” Brown writes in his much-awaited memoir, “My Glorious Defeats: Hacktivist, Narcissist, Anonymous.”

Mainstream press coverage at the time of Brown’s prosecution was uneven and sometimes just plain inaccurate. Beyond seeking to set the record straight, the book snapshots a pivotal moment in online activism, and pulls no punches.

Although not a hacker, Brown was a well-known actor/provocateur in the rise of hacktivism, a powerful skein of political activism pioneered by the likes of WikiLeaks that tapped the internet to expose wrongdoing and spur change. That includes supporting Tunisia’s 2011 popular uprising.

Those shenanigans preceded Edward Snowden’s 2013 revelations of wholesale unauthorized National Security Agency surveillance of the U.S. public, which would erase doubts about their righteousness.

Brown is a showman, a gifted writer in the tradition of William Burroughs and Hunter S. Thompson. He also has a knack for self-sabotage and has struggled with heroin addiction and depression. He is currently in Britain engaged in a legal struggle for political asylum.

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US intelligence agencies’ embrace of generative AI is at once wary and urgent

BY  FRANK BAJAK
May 23, 2024

ARLINGTON, Virginia (AP) — Long before generative AI’s boom, a Silicon Valley firm contracted to collect and analyze non-classified data on illicit Chinese fentanyl trafficking made a compelling case for its embrace by U.S. intelligence agencies.

The operation’s results far exceeded human-only analysis, finding twice as many companies and 400% more people engaged in illegal or suspicious commerce in the deadly opioid.

Excited U.S. intelligence officials touted the results publicly — the AI made connections based mostly on internet and dark-web data — and shared them with Beijing authorities, urging a crackdown.

One important aspect of the 2019 operation, called Sable Spear, that has not previously been reported: The firm used generative AI to provide U.S. agencies — three years ahead of the release of OpenAI’s groundbreaking ChatGPT product — with evidence summaries for potential criminal cases, saving countless work hours.

“You wouldn’t be able to do that without artificial intelligence,” said Brian Drake, the Defense Intelligence Agency’s then-director of AI and the project coordinator.

The contractor, Rhombus Power, would later use generative AI to predict Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine with 80% certainty four months in advance, for a different U.S. government client. Rhombus says it also alerts government customers, who it declines to name, to imminent North Korean missile launches and Chinese space operations.

U.S. intelligence agencies are scrambling to embrace the AI revolution, believing they’ll otherwise be smothered by exponential data growth as sensor-generated surveillance tech further blankets the planet.

But officials are acutely aware that the tech is young and brittle, and that generative AI — prediction models trained on vast datasets to generate on-demand text, images, video and human-like conversation — is anything but tailor-made for a dangerous trade steeped in deception.

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Renowned Peruvian investigative reporter battles criminalized smear campaign — and cancer

By FRANK BAJAK
April 28, 2024

LIMA, Peru (AP) — At age 75, one of Latin America’s most storied journalists had been looking forward to weaving into books the fragmented threads of more than four decades of investigative reporting that exposed high-level abuse of power in Peru and abroad.

In an illustrious career, Gustavo Gorriti has endured death threats from drug traffickers, survived Peru’s harrowing Shining Path insurgency and a kidnapping by silencer-toting military intelligence agents during a 1992 presidential power grab.

Then an aggressive lymphatic cancer struck, wasting the former five-time national judo champion’s robust physique. Diagnosed in August, Gorriti was in the final drips of two months of chemotherapy in December when a different kind of body blow landed.

A smear campaign — amplified by complicit, cowed or indifferent broadcast and print media — portrayed the self-styled “intelligence agent for the people” as Public Enemy No. 1, a ruthless, egotistical victimizer of innocents.

Gorriti is clear on who is behind it: A cabal of “kleptocrats” in Peru’s political and business elites who are in prosecutorial peril due in large part to his crowning gumshoe achievements. Their aim: “to liquidate all gains in the war on corruption.”

With his hair gone from the chemo, his trademark white beard down to “like three hairs,” Gorriti said he “looked like a pathetic Fu Manchu.” He was so debilitated “I only wanted to sleep,” he said in an interview on the terrace of his Lima apartment.

But indignation stirred the pugilistic reporter to action, marshaling his team at IDL-Reporteros, an online news site, to mount a vigorous, detailed defense.

“You don’t get to choose when you go to war,” he said.

Then it got worse. By March 27, Gorriti was facing a criminal investigation in a bizarrely framed bribery case, accused of “favoring” two anti-corruption prosecutors with publicity.

“Of course it’s not true,” one of the prosecutors cited, José Domingo Pérez, told The Associated Press. “This is a blatant attempt to muzzle one of Latin America’s best investigative reporters, the outlet that he has founded, and, by extension, any journalist who would dare to speak truth to power in Latin America,” The Washington-based National Press Club said in a statement co-signed by seven press and human rights groups.

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US-China competition to field military drone swarms could fuel global arms race

By FRANK BAJAK
April 12, 2024

As their rivalry intensifies, U.S. and Chinese military planners are gearing up for a new kind of warfare in which squadrons of air and sea drones equipped with artificial intelligence work together like a swarm of bees to overwhelm an enemy.

The world’s only AI superpowers are engaged in an arms race for swarming drones that is reminiscent of the Cold War, except drone technology will be far more difficult to contain than nuclear weapons. Because software drives the drones’ swarming abilities, it could be relatively easy and cheap for smaller powers and rogue actors alike to acquire their own fleets of killer robots.

In this photo from the Defense Visual Information Distribution Service, British soldiers launch a drone during Project Convergence exercises at Fort Irwin, Calif., on Nov. 4, 2022. With tensions high over Taiwan, U.S. and Chinese military planners are readying themselves for a new kind of war where battleships, fighter jets and amphibious landings cede prevalence to squadrons of AI-enabled air and sea drones. (DVIDS via AP)

The unchecked spread of swarm technology “could lead to more instability and conflict around the world,” said Margarita Konaev, an analyst with Georgetown University’s Center for Security and Emerging Technology.

As the undisputed leaders in the field, Washington and Beijing are best equipped to set an example by putting limits on military uses of drone swarms. But their intense competition, China’s military aggression in the South China Sea and persistent tensions over Taiwan make the prospect of cooperation look dim.

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Online dump of Chinese hacking documents offers a rare window into pervasive state surveillance

By Dake Kang and Frank Bajak

Feb. 21, 2024

Chinese police are investigating an unauthorized and highly unusual online dump of documents from a private security contractor linked to the nation’s top policing agency and other parts of its government — a trove that catalogs apparent hacking activity and tools to spy on both Chinese and foreigners.

Among the apparent targets of tools provided by the impacted company, I-Soon: ethnicities and dissidents in parts of China that have seen significant anti-government protests, such as Hong Kong or the heavily Muslim region of Xinjiang in China’s far west.

The dump of scores of documents late last week and subsequent investigation were confirmed by two employees of I-Soon, known as Anxun in Mandarin, which has ties to the powerful Ministry of Public Security. The dump, which analysts consider highly significant even if it does not reveal any especially novel or potent tools, includes hundreds of pages of contracts, marketing presentations, product manuals, and client and employee lists.

They reveal, in detail, methods used by Chinese authorities used to surveil dissidents overseas, hack other nations and promote pro-Beijing narratives on social media.

The documents show apparent I-Soon hacking of networks across Central and Southeast Asia, as well as Hong Kong and the self-ruled island of Taiwan, which Beijing claims as its territory.

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Whistleblower allegation: Harvard muzzled disinfo team after $500 million Zuckerberg donation

By FRANK BAJAK

Dec. 4, 2023

A prominent disinformation scholar who left Harvard University in August has accused the school of muzzling her speech and stifling — then dismantling — her research team as it launched a deep dive in late 2021 into a trove of Facebook files she considers the most important documents in internet history.

The actions impacting Joan Donovan’s work coincided with a $500 million donation to Harvard by a foundation run by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan. In a whistleblower disclosure made public Monday, Donovan seeks investigations into “inappropriate influence” from Harvard’s general counsel, the Massachusetts attorney general’s office and the U.S. Department of Education.

The CEO of Whisteblower Aid, a legal nonprofit supporting Donovan, called the alleged behavior by Harvard’s Kennedy School and its dean a “shocking betrayal” of academic integrity at the elite school.

“Whether Harvard acted at the company’s direction or took the initiative on their own to protect (Facebook’s) interests, the outcome is the same: corporate interests are undermining research and academic freedom to the detriment of the public,” CEO Libby Liu said in a press statement.

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Don’t expect quick fixes in ‘red-teaming’ of AI models. Security was an afterthought

By FRANK BAJAK

Aug. 13, 2023

BOSTON (AP) — White House officials concerned by AI chatbots’ potential for societal harm and the Silicon Valley powerhouses rushing them to market are heavily invested in a three-day competition ending Sunday at the DefCon hacker convention in Las Vegas.

Some 2,200 competitors tapped on laptops seeking to expose flaws in eight leading large-language models representative of technology’s next big thing. But don’t expect quick results from this first-ever independent “red-teaming” of multiple models.

Findings won’t be made public until about February. And even then, fixing flaws in these digital constructs — whose inner workings are neither wholly trustworthy nor fully fathomed even by their creators — will take time and millions of dollars.

Current AI models are simply too unwieldy, brittle and malleable, academic and corporate research shows. Security was an afterthought in their training as data scientists amassed breathtakingly complex collections of images and text. They are prone to racial and cultural biases, and easily manipulated.

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Ransomware criminals are dumping kids’ private files online after school hacks

BY FRANK BAJAK, HEATHER HOLLINGSWORTH AND LARRY FENN

July 5, 2023

The confidential documents stolen from schools and dumped online by ransomware gangs are raw, intimate and graphic. They describe student sexual assaults, psychiatric hospitalizations, abusive parents, truancy — even suicide attempts.

“Please do something,” begged a student in one leaked file, recalling the trauma of continually bumping into an ex-abuser at a school in Minneapolis. Other victims talked about wetting the bed or crying themselves to sleep.

Complete sexual assault case folios containing these details were among more than 300,000 files dumped online in March after the 36,000-student Minneapolis Public Schools refused to pay a $1 million ransom. Other exposed data included medical records, discrimination complaints, Social Security numbers and contact information of district employees.

Rich in digitized data, the nation’s schools are prime targets for far-flung criminal hackers, who are assiduously locating and scooping up sensitive files that not long ago were committed to paper in locked cabinets. “In this case, everybody has a key,” said cybersecurity expert Ian Coldwater, whose son attends a Minneapolis high school.

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Microsoft admits Outlook, cloud platform disruptions were cyberattacks

By FRANK BAJAK

June 17, 2023

BOSTON (AP) — In early June, sporadic but serious service disruptions plagued Microsoft’s flagship office suite — including the Outlook email and OneDrive file-sharing apps — and cloud computing platform. A shadowy hacktivist group claimed responsibility, saying it flooded the sites with junk traffic in distributed denial-of-service attacks.

Initially reticent to name the cause, Microsoft has now disclosed that DDoS attacks by the murky upstart were indeed to blame.

But the software giant has offered few details — and did not immediately comment on how many customers were affected and whether the impact was global. A spokeswoman confirmed that the group that calls itself Anonymous Sudan was behind the attacks. It claimed responsibility on its Telegram social media channel at the time. Some security researchers believe the group to be Russian.

Microsoft’s explanation in a blog post Friday evening followed a request by The Associated Press two days earlier. Slim on details, the post said the attacks “temporarily impacted availability” of some services. It said the attackers were focused on “disruption and publicity” and likely used rented cloud infrastructure and virtual private networks to bombard Microsoft servers from so-called botnets of zombie computers around the globe.

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Musk deputy’s words on Starlink ‘weaponization’ vex Ukraine

By FRANK BAJAK

Feb. 9, 2023

BOSTON (AP) — Ukrainians reacted Thursday with puzzlement and some ire to comments by a top Starlink official that their country has “weaponized” the satellite internet service, which has been pivotal to their national survival.

President Gwynne Shotwell of SpaceX, which runs Starlink, was also reported to have said at the same venue Wednesday that the Elon Musk-controlled company has taken unspecified action to prevent Ukraine’s military from using Starlink technology against Russian invaders.

The network of low-orbiting satellites has been crucial to Ukraine’s use of battlefield drones — a central fixture of the year-old war — and the country’s defenders have no viable alternative. The satellite links help Ukrainian fighters locate the enemy and target long-range artillery strikes.

Onstage at a conference in Washington, D.C., Shotwell said: “We were really pleased to be able to provide Ukraine connectivity and help them in their fight for freedom. It was never intended to be weaponized. However, Ukrainians have leveraged it in ways that were unintentional and not part of any agreement.”

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Drone advances in Ukraine could augur dawn of killer robots

By FRANK BAJAK and HANNA ARHIROVA
January 3, 2023

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Drone advances in Ukraine have accelerated a long-anticipated technology trend that could soon bring the world’s first fully autonomous fighting robots to the battlefield, inaugurating a new age of warfare.

The longer the war lasts, the more likely it becomes that drones will be used to identify, select and attack targets without help from humans, according to military analysts, combatants and artificial intelligence researchers.

That would mark a revolution in military technology as profound as the introduction of the machine gun. Ukraine already has semi-autonomous attack drones and counter-drone weapons endowed with AI. Russia also claims to possess AI weaponry, though the claims are unproven. But there are no confirmed instances of a nation putting into combat robots that have killed entirely on their own.

Experts say it may be only a matter of time before either Russia or Ukraine, or both, deploy them.

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Review: The digital sleuths who demystified cryptocurrency

By FRANK BAJAK
December 5, 2022

“Tracers In The Dark” by Andy Greenberg (Doubleday)

The year was 2011. Cryptocurrency was a little-understood novelty, and Sen. Chuck Schumer called a news conference to vent outrage over a one-stop online shop for illegal drugs whose technology made sellers “virtually untraceable.”

The New York lawmaker’s description of Silk Road helped seed a persisting myth that technology reporter Andy Greenberg exhaustively dispels in “Tracers in the Dark,” that transactions of Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies can’t be tracked.

Greenberg sketches the evolution of a wholly new discipline in the surprisingly lively real-life police procedural, following law officers and programmers who invent and deploy cryptocurrency-tracking tools to catch a new breed of criminal. They take down Silk Road and other “dark web” markets and merchants, finger crypto money launderers and snare the sysadmin and users of Welcome to Video, a major South-Korea-based distributor of child sexual abuse material.

Best of the action are two takedown dramas. A young Quebecois behind the AlphaBay dark web market, Alexandre Cazes, lives large in Thailand, rocketing around in a Lamborghini, running up $12,000 restaurant bills and boasting of adulterous sexploits online. The other takedown is of a DEA agent and a Secret Service agent who illegally enriched themselves off Silk Road while investigating it – each wholly on their own.

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Twitter risks fraying as engineers exit over Musk upheaval

By FRANK BAJAK
November 18, 2022

Elon Musk’s managerial bomb-throwing at Twitter has so thinned the ranks of software engineers who keep the world’s de-facto public square up and running that industry insiders and programmers who were fired or resigned this week agree: Twitter may soon fray so badly it could actually crash.

Musk ended a very public argument with nearly two dozen coders over his retooling of the microblogging platform earlier this week by ordering them fired. Hundreds of engineers and other workers then quit after he demanded they pledge to “extremely hardcore” work by Thursday evening or resign with severance pay.

The newest departures mean the platform is losing workers just at it gears up for the 2022 FIFA World Cup, which opens Sunday. It’s one of Twitter’s busiest events, when tweet surges heavily stress its systems.

“It does look like he’s going to blow up Twitter,” said Robert Graham, a veteran cybersecurity entrepreneur. “I can’t see how the lights won’t go out at any moment” — although many recently departed Twitter employees predicted a more gradual demise.

Three engineers who left this week described for The Associated Press why they expect considerable unpleasantness for Twitter’s more than 230 million users now that well over two-thirds of Twitter’s pre-Musk core services engineers are apparently gone. While they don’t anticipate near-term collapse, Twitter could get very rough at the edges — especially if Musk makes major changes without much off-platform testing.

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High-risk Colombians say GPS devices only add to dangers

By FRANK BAJAK

August 1, 2022

The bulletproof vehicles that Colombia’s government assigns to hundreds of high-risk individuals are supposed to make them safer. But when an investigative reporter discovered they all had GPS trackers, she only felt more vulnerable — and outraged.

No one had informed Claudia Julieta Duque — or apparently any of the 3,700-plus journalists, rights activists and labor and indigenous leaders who use the vehicles — that the devices were keeping constant tabs on their whereabouts. In Duque’s case, it happened as often as every 30 seconds. The system could also remotely cut off the SUV’s engine.

Colombia is among the world’s most dangerous countries for human rights defenders — with more than 500 killed since 2016. It is also a country where right-wing extremists have a track record of infiltrating national security bodies. For Duque, the GPS revelation was chilling: Movements of people already at risk of political assassination were being tracked with technology that bad actors could weaponize against them.

“It’s something super invasive,” said Duque, who has been a persistent target of rogue security agents. “And the state doesn’t seem to care.”

The government agency responsible has said the trackers were installed to help prevent theft, to track the bodyguards who often drive the vehicles and to help respond to dangerous situations.

For a decade, Colombia had been installing trackers in the armored vehicles of at-risk individuals as well as VIPs, including presidents, government ministers and senators. The agency’s director made that disclosure after Duque learned last year through a public records request that the system was recording her SUV’s location an average of five times an hour.

The director dismissed privacy concerns and called the practice “fundamental” to guaranteeing security.

Considering the tracker a danger to her and her sources, Duque pressed for details on its exact features. But the National Protection Unit, known as UNP in Spanish, offered little. She then demanded the agency remove the device. It refused. So in February, Duque returned the vehicle, left the country and filed a legal challenge.

Now back in Bogotá, she is hoping for satisfaction when Gustavo Petro, Colombia’s first leftist president, takes office Aug. 7.

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In Ukraine war, a race to acquire smarter, deadlier drones

By OLEKSANDR STASHEVSKYI and FRANK BAJAK

July 14, 2022

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Drone camera footage defines much of the public’s view of the war in Ukraine: grenades quietly dropped on unwitting soldiers, eerie flights over silent, bombed-out cities, armor and outposts exploding in fireballs.

Never in the history of warfare have drones been used as intensively as in Ukraine, where they often play an outsized role in who lives and dies. Russians and Ukrainians alike depend heavily on unmanned aerial vehicles to pinpoint enemy positions and guide their hellish artillery strikes.

But after months of fighting, the drone fleets of both sides are depleted, and they are racing to build or buy the kind of jamming-resistant, advanced drones that could offer a decisive edge.

The urgency was reflected by the White House’s disclosure Monday that it has information that Iran will be rushing “up to several hundred” unmanned aerial vehicles to Moscow’s aid. Iranian-supplied drones have effectively penetrated U.S.-supplied Saudi and Emirati air-defense systems in the Middle East.

“The Russian drone force may still be capable, but exhausted. And Russians are looking to capitalize on a proven Iranian track record,” said Samuel Bendett, an analyst at the CNA military think tank.

Meanwhile, Ukraine wants the means “to strike at Russian command and control facilities at a significant distance,” Bendett said.

The demand for off-the-shelf consumer models remains intense in Ukraine, as do efforts to modify amateur drones to make them more resistant to jamming. Both sides are crowdfunding to replace battlefield losses.

“The number we need is immense,” a senior Ukrainian official, Yuri Shchygol, told reporters Wednesday, detailing the first results of a new fundraising campaign called “Army of Drones.” He said Ukraine is initially seeking to purchase 200 NATO-grade military drones but requires 10 times more.

Outgunned Ukrainian fighters complain that they simply don’t have the military-grade drones needed to defeat Russian jamming and radio-controlled hijacking. The civilian models most Ukrainians rely on are detected and defeated with relative ease. And it’s not uncommon for Russian artillery to rain down on their operators within minutes of a drone being detected.

Compared with the war’s early months, Bendett now sees less evidence of Russian drones getting shot down. “The Ukrainians are on the ropes,” he said.

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Deadly secret: Electronic warfare shapes Russia-Ukraine war

By OLEKSANDR STASHEVSKYI and FRANK BAJAK

June 4, 2022

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — On Ukraine’s battlefields, the simple act of powering up a cellphone can beckon a rain of deathly skyfall. Artillery radar and remote controls for unmanned aerial vehicles may also invite fiery shrapnel showers.

This is electronic warfare, a critical but largely invisible aspect of Russia’s war against Ukraine. Military commanders largely shun discussing it, fearing they’ll jeopardize operations by revealing secrets.

Electronic warfare technology targets communications, navigation and guidance systems to locate, blind and deceive the enemy and direct lethal blows. It is used against artillery, fighter jets, cruise missiles, drones and more. Militaries also use it to protect their forces.

It’s an area where Russia was thought to have a clear advantage going into the war. Yet, for reasons not entirely clear, its much-touted electronic warfare prowess was barely seen in the war’s early stages in the chaotic failure to seize the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv.

It has become far more of a factor in fierce fighting in eastern Ukraine, where shorter, easier-to-defend supply lines let Russia move electronic warfare gear closer to the battlefield.

“They are jamming everything their systems can reach,” said an official of Aerorozvidka, a reconnaissance team of Ukrainian unmanned aerial vehicle tinkerers, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of safety concerns. “We can’t say they dominate, but they hinder us greatly.”

A Ukrainian intelligence official called the Russian threat “pretty severe” when it comes to disrupting reconnaissance efforts and commanders’ communications with troops. Russian jamming of GPS receivers on drones that Ukraine uses to locate the enemy and direct artillery fire is particularly intense “on the line of contact,” he said.

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Tripwire for real war? Cyber’s fuzzy rules of engagement

By FRANK BAJAK

February 14, 2022

BOSTON (AP) — President Joe Biden couldn’t have been more blunt about the risks of cyberattacks spinning out of control. “If we end up in a war, a real shooting war with a major power, it’s going to be as a consequence of a cyber breach of great consequence,” he told his intelligence brain trust in July.

Now tensions are soaring over Ukraine with Western officials warning about the danger of Russia launching damaging cyberattacks against Ukraine’s NATO allies. While no one is suggesting that could lead to a full-blown war between nuclear-armed rivals, the risk of escalation is serious.

The danger is in the uncertainty about what crosses a digital red line. Cyberattacks, including those that cripple critical infrastructure with ransomware, have been on the rise for years and often go unpunished. It’s unclear how grave a malicious cyber operation by a state actor would have to be to cross the threshold to an act of war.

“The rules are fuzzy,” said Max Smeets, director of the European Cyber Conflict Research Initiative. “It’s not clear what is allowed, what isn’t allowed.”

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AP Exclusive: Polish opposition senator hacked with spyware

By VANESSA GERA and FRANK BAJAK

December 23, 2021

Polish Senator Krzysztof Brejza on the night of parliamentary elections on Oct. 13, 2019. An investigation by The Associated Press and Citizen Lab, a watchdog at the University of Toronto, has found that Brejza's mobile phone was hacked with military-grade Pegasus spyware nearly three dozen times in 2019 as he ran an opposition campaign to unseat the right-wing populist government in parliamentary elections. The ruling party won a slim majority and Brejza is convinced that the hacking of his phone gave it an unfair advantage. (AP Photo)
Polish Senator Krzysztof Brejza on the night of parliamentary elections on Oct. 13, 2019 (AP Photo)

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Polish Sen. Krzysztof Brejza’s mobile phone was hacked with sophisticated spyware nearly three dozen times in 2019 when he was running the opposition’s campaign against the right-wing populist government in parliamentary elections, an internet watchdog found.

Text messages stolen from Brejza’s phone — then doctored in a smear campaign — were aired by state-controlled TV in the heat of that race, which the ruling party narrowly won. With the hacking revelation, Brejza now questions whether the election was fair.

It’s the third finding by the University of Toronto’s nonprofit Citizen Lab that a Polish opposition figure was hacked with Pegasus spyware from the Israeli hacking tools firm NSO Group. Brejza’s phone was digitally broken in to 33 times from April 26, 2019, to Oct. 23, 2019, said Citizen Lab researchers, who have been tracking government abuses of NSO malware for years.

The other two hacks were identified earlier this week after a joint Citizen Lab-Associated Press investigation. All three victims blame Poland’s government, which has refused to confirm or deny whether it ordered the hacks or is a client of NSO Group. State security services spokesman Stanislaw Zaryn insisted Thursday that the government does not wiretap illegally and obtains court orders in “justified cases.” He said any suggestions the Polish government surveils for political ends were false.

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African internet riches threatened by lawsuit and corruption

Two young boys use a computer at an internet cafe in the low-income Kibera neighborhood of Nairobi, Kenya Wednesday, Sept. 29, 2021. Instead of serving Africa's internet development, millions of internet addresses reserved for Africa have been waylaid, some fraudulently, including in insider machinations linked to a former top employee of the nonprofit that assigns the continent's addresses. (AP Photo/Brian Inganga)

By ALAN SUDERMAN, FRANK BAJAK and RODNEY MUHUMUZA

November 23, 2021

KAMPALA, Uganda (AP) — Outsiders have long profited from Africa’s riches of gold, diamonds, and even people. Digital resources have proven no different.

Millions of internet addresses assigned to Africa have been waylaid, some fraudulently, including through insider machinations linked to a former top employee of the nonprofit that assigns the continent’s addresses. Instead of serving Africa’s internet development, many have benefited spammers and scammers, while others satiate Chinese appetites for pornography and gambling.

New leadership at the nonprofit, AFRINIC, is working to reclaim the lost addresses. But a legal challenge by a deep-pocketed Chinese businessman is threatening the body’s very existence.

The businessman is Lu Heng, a Hong Kong-based arbitrage specialist. Under contested circumstances, he obtained 6.2 million African addresses from 2013 to 2016. That’s about 5% of the continent’s total — more than Kenya has.

AFRINIC made no claim of graft when it revoked Lu’s addresses, now worth about $150 million, saying his company was not adequately serving Africa’s interests. Lu fought back. His lawyers in late July persuaded a judge in Mauritius, where AFRICNIC is based, to freeze its bank accounts. His company also filed a $80 million defamation claim against AFRINIC and its new CEO.

It’s a shock to the global networking community, which has long considered the internet as technological scaffolding for advancing society. Some worry it could undermine the entire numerical address system that makes the internet work.

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Big Pentagon internet mystery partially solved

By FRANK BAJAK

April 25, 2021

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BOSTON (AP) — A very strange thing happened on the internet the day President Joe Biden was sworn in. A shadowy company residing at a shared workspace above a Florida bank announced to the world’s computer networks that it was now managing a colossal, previously idle chunk of the internet owned by the U.S. Department of Defense.

That real estate has since more than quadrupled to 175 million addresses — about 1/25th the size of the current internet.

”It is massive. That is the biggest thing in the history of the internet,” said Doug Madory, director of internet analysis at Kentik, a network operating company. It’s also more than twice the size of the internet space actually used by the Pentagon.

After weeks of wonder by the networking community, the Pentagon has now provided a very terse explanation for what it’s doing. But it has not answered many basic questions, beginning with why it chose to entrust management of the address space to a company that seems not to have existed until September.

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AP investigation finds Hacking Team tailor-made attackware for Ecuador’s spy agency

Aug. 7, 2015

By FRANK BAJAK and RAPHAEL SATTER

Associated Press

LIMA, Peru (AP) — Ecuadorean opposition activist Dr. Carlos Figueroa was being pursued by the state when his email and Facebook accounts were hacked. Several dozen of his colleagues have similarly had their digital lives violated. All blamed President Rafael Correa’s government, but no one had proof.

The Associated Press has found compelling evidence that Figueroa was indeed hacked by Ecuador’s domestic intelligence agency, with software tailor-made by an Italy-based company called Hacking Team that outfits governments with digital break-in tools.

That would tag Figueroa as the first publicly identified target from a catalog of more than 1 million company emails stolen by an unknown hacker and leaked online last month.

AP’s finding also casts doubt both on Hacking Team’s claims that its intrusion tools, which intercept phone calls, collect emails and record keystrokes, are for use against serious criminals, not dissidents, and on assertions by Ecuadorean officials that they do not spy on domestic opponents.

The purloined Hacking Team emails have thrown back the curtain on state-sponsored hacking across the world, drawing outrage in South Korea — where a spy caught up in the scandal killed himself — and Cyprus, whose intelligence chief resigned following the disclosures.

They were gathered and made easily searchable online by WikiLeaks, the secret-spilling website whose founder Julian Assange has been holed up in Ecuador’s London embassy since 2012.

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Book Review: ‘Means of Control’ charts disturbing rise of secretive US surveillance regime

By Frank Bajak

March 4, 2024

In the aftermath of the 9/11 terror attacks, former national security advisor John Poindexter launched Total Information Awareness, intent on preventing future assaults on the homeland by amassing extensive databases on people and their movements.

The Pentagon program had a creepy eye-surveilling-the-globe-from-a-pyramid logo and was roundly rejected by civil libertarians as Orwellian overkill. Adm. Poindexter, an Iran-Contra conspirator, was skewered by late-night talk show hosts and Congressional resistance moved to defund it.

Except TIA wasn’t DOA. Not by a longshot.

The data collection that Poindexter envisioned instead went underground, with code names such as “Basketball” and classified budgets. How private Beltway contractors grew what has become a secretive surveillance regime is exposed in disturbing detail by journalist Byron Tau in his first book, “Means of Control.” In the absence of a federal privacy law, the U.S. national security establishment has used commercially available data to craft a creeping panopticon.

As a Wall Street Journal reporter, Tau broke important stories on how the shadowy U.S. data collection and brokering industry has been indirectly — and legally, it seems — eavesdropping on tens of millions of Americans and foreigners in the service of U.S. military, intelligence and homeland security.

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Pentagon’s AI initiatives accelerate hard decisions on lethal autonomous weapons

By FRANK BAJAK

Nov. 25, 2023

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. (AP) — Artificial intelligence employed by the U.S. military has piloted pint-sized surveillance drones in special operations forces’ missions and helped Ukraine in its war against Russia. It tracks soldiers’ fitness, predicts when Air Force planes need maintenance and helps keep tabs on rivals in space.

Now, the Pentagon is intent on fielding multiple thousands of relatively inexpensive, expendable AI-enabled autonomous vehicles by 2026 to keep pace with China. The ambitious initiative — dubbed Replicator — seeks to “galvanize progress in the too-slow shift of U.S. military innovation to leverage platforms that are small, smart, cheap, and many,” Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks said in August.

While its funding is uncertain and details vague, Replicator is expected to accelerate hard decisions on what AI tech is mature and trustworthy enough to deploy – including on weaponized systems.

There is little dispute among scientists, industry experts and Pentagon officials that the U.S. will within the next few years have fully autonomous lethal weapons. And though officials insist humans will always be in control, experts say advances in data-processing speed and machine-to-machine communications will inevitably relegate people to supervisory roles.

That’s especially true if, as expected, lethal weapons are deployed en masse in drone swarms. Many countries are working on them — and neither China, Russia, Iran, India or Pakistan have signed a U.S.-initiated pledge to use military AI responsibly.

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Insider Q&A: Pentagon AI chief on network-centric warfare, generative AI challenges

Nov. 20, 2023

By FRANK BAJAK

The Pentagon’s chief digital and artificial intelligence offer, Craig Martell, is alarmed by the potential for generative artificial intelligence systems like ChatGPT to deceive and sow disinformation. His talk on the technology at the DefCon hacker convention in August was a huge hit. But he’s anything but sour on reliable AI.

Not a soldier but a data scientist, Martell headed machine-learning at companies including LinkedIn, Dropbox and Lyft before taking the job last year.

Marshalling the U.S. military’s data and determining what AI is trustworthy enough to take into battle is a big challenge in an increasingly unstable world where multiple countries are racing to develop lethal autonomous weapons.

The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Q: How should we think about AI use in military applications?

A: All AI is, really, is counting the past to predict the future. I don’t actually think the modern wave of AI is any different.

Q: Pentagon planners say the China threat makes AI development urgent. Is China winning the AI arms race?

A: I find that metaphor somewhat flawed. When we had a nuclear arms race it was with a monolithic technology. AI is not that. Nor is it a Pandora’s box. It’s a set of technologies we apply on a case-by-base basis, verifying empirically whether it’s effective or not.

Q: The U.S. military is using AI tech to assist Ukraine. How are you helping?

A: Our team is not involved with Ukraine other than to help build a database for how allies provide assistance. It’s called Skyblue. We’re just helping make sure that stays organized.

Q: There is much discussion about autonomous lethal weaponry – like attack drones. The consensus is humans will ultimately be reduced to a supervisory role — being able to abort missions but mostly not interfering. Sound right?

A: In the military we train with a technology until we develop a justified confidence. We understand the limits of a system, know when it works and when it might not. How does this map to autonomous systems? Take my car. I trust the adaptive cruise control on it. The technology that is supposed to keep it from changing lanes, on the other hand, is terrible. So I don’t have justified confidence in that system and don’t use it. Extrapolate that to the military.

Q: The Air Force’s “loyal wingman” program in development would have drones fly in tandem with fighter jets flown by humans. Is the computer vision good enough to distinguish friend from foe?

A: Computer vision has made amazing strides in the past 10 years. Whether it’s useful in a particular situation is an empirical question. We need to determine the precision we are willing to accept for the use case and build against that criteria – and test. So we can’t generalize. I would really like us to stop talking about the technology as a monolith and talk instead about the capabilities we want.

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