The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Don't push that button!

British Airways cancelled all of its flights out of its two biggest hubs in London today because of a power-supply failure:

The airline hoped to be able to operate some long haul inbound flights on Saturday, landing in London on Sunday, Mr Cruz added.

The GMB union has suggested the failure could have been avoided, had the airline not outsourced its IT work.

BA refuted the claim, saying: "We would never compromise the integrity and security of our IT systems".

All passengers affected by the failure - which coincides with the first weekend of the half-term holiday for many in the UK - will be offered the option of rescheduling or a refund.

The airline, which had previously said flights would be cancelled until 18:00 BST, has now cancelled all flights for Saturday and asked passengers not to come to Gatwick or Heathrow airports.

Some things never change.

Mueller appointed special counsel

Surprising everyone in Washington last night, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein appointed former FBI director Robert Mueller as special counsel to investigate the Trump campaign's possible ties to Russia. The Washington Post sees this as really bad news for the president:

“The risk is that you lose control of your agenda,” added Robert Luskin, a Washington white-collar attorney who represented Karl Rove in the Plame investigation, as well as a pair of Clinton senior officials during Whitewater. “It’s an enormous distraction. It’s an energy suck. As long as the clouds hang over a presidency it becomes much more difficult to get anything else done.”

This is why White House officials and GOP leaders in Congress have so strongly resisted a special counsel until now.

The FiveThirtyEight blog has a balancing view:

Although the simple case is that Mueller’s appointment is not welcome news for Trump — the White House was surprised by the announcement — it does have some plausible benefits for the president, especially in the near term. The Russia investigation had been dogging the Trump administration, and his firing of Comey had turned into a debacle.

Trump can now say there is an independent investigation going on, by someone he did not personally appoint and who is not beholden to his party. And Mueller has very strong credentials. The president and his team, in theory, can turn the focus to governing, while deferring questions about the investigation. And maybe Comey, who appears to have notes of every conversation he has had with the president, will share them with Mueller and not The New York Times.

But:

Mueller’s appointment ensures that the Russia controversy won’t just go away — at least not anytime soon. And he could gravely threaten Trump’s presidency if he finds clear, improper connections between the president’s campaign and Russian officials. There was a reason that Republicans on Capitol Hill and the Trump administration were trying to stop the appointment of a special counsel. Prosecutors with broad authority to investigate can cause major problems. Just ask Bill Clinton.

Greg Sargent simply says "Trump is totally delusional about what’s happening to him right now."

On the other side, Fox News is downplaying the appointment, reporting that Mueller and Comey have had a "long, close relationship." Otherwise they seem more preoccupied with Roger Ailes' death ("and his legacy of free speech"). And I'm not going to look at the far-right reactions just now.

So is this a good development? We'll see.

This fake news is from Donbass, dumbass

Laura Reston at New Republic has a good piece on how the Soviets Russian government is doubling down on its disinformation campaign against Western democracies:

One of the most recent battles in the propaganda war took place on January 4, less than a week after President Obama expelled 35 Russian diplomats in retaliation for the Kremlin’s meddling in the U.S. election. The Donbass International News Agency, a small wire service in Eastern Ukraine, published a short article online headlined “MASSIVE NATO DEPLOYMENT UNDERWAY.” Some 2,000 American tanks were assembling on the Russian border, the agency reported. The United States was preparing to invade.

The story was a blatant fabrication.

Such tactics were pioneered during the Cold War, as the Soviet Union worked covertly to influence political dialogue in the West. From KGB rezidenturas scattered around the world, a small division called Service A planted false stories in newspapers, spread rumors, and worked to stir up racial tensions. In 1964, a KGB front group helped Joachim Joesten, a former Newsweek reporter, publish a sprawling conspiracy theory about John F. Kennedy’s assassination, which later became the basis for Oliver Stone’s JFK. In 1983, Russian operatives planted a story in a small Indian newspaper claiming that the U.S. government had manufactured the AIDS virus at a military facility in Fort Detrick, Maryland—and Soviet wire services then trumpeted the story all over the world. As U.S. officials later explained in a report to Congress, “This allows the Soviets to claim that they are just repeating stories that have appeared in the foreign press.”

The internet has enabled the Kremlin to weaponize such tactics, making propaganda easier to manufacture and quicker to disseminate than any guided missile or act of espionage. Russian operations like the Internet Research Agency have employed hundreds of bloggers to mass-produce disinformation in the form of misleading tweets, Facebook posts, and comments on web sites ranging from The Huffington Post to Fox News. “Since at least 2008,” Peter Pomerantsev, a Russian media expert, observes, “Kremlin military and intelligence thinkers have been talking about information not in the familiar terms of ‘persuasion,’ ‘public diplomacy,’ or even ‘propaganda,’ but in weaponized terms, as a tool to confuse, blackmail, demoralize, subvert, and paralyze.”

Meanwhile, our deranged President this morning openly threatened private citizen James Comey on Twitter, which should give everyone pause.

Fitbit helping to solve crimes?

Via security expert Bruce Schneier, the AP reports that police in central Connecticut obtained an arrest warrant partially on the timing of a murder victim's Fitbit step data:

Connecticut State Police allege [Richard] Dabate killed 39-year-old Connie Dabate at their Ellington home two days before Christmas in 2015, while their two young sons were in school.

Dabate told investigators a masked man shot his wife and tied him up before he burned the intruder with a torch. Authorities responded to a burglary alarm at the home and found Richard Dabate with superficial knife wounds, with one arm and one leg zip-tied to a folding chair.

But police said evidence contradicted Dabate's story and timeline of events, including information from Connie Dabate's Fitbit that showed she was still moving around the house an hour after Richard Dabate said she was shot.

Dabate pleaded not guilty to the crime. Also, the Fitibit data, while helpful to the police, may have had less impact than the allegation that "Dabate also told his pregnant girlfriend before the slaying that he was going to divorce his wife, state police said in an arrest warrant affidavit."

NBC has more.

Things I'll be reading this afternoon

Some articles:

And now, Parker needs a walk.

Schneier on trusting the government and the laptop ban

Security expert Bruce Schneier weighs in on the ridiculous airplane laptop ban the Trump administration and the British government imposed last week:

This current restriction implies some specific intelligence of a laptop-based plot and a temporary ban to address it. However, if that's the case, why only certain non-US carriers? And why only certain airports? Terrorists are smart enough to put a laptop bomb in checked baggage from the Middle East to Europe and then carry it on from Europe to the US.

Why not require passengers to turn their laptops on as they go through security? That would be a more effective security measure than forcing them to check them in their luggage. And lastly, why is there a delay between the ban being announced and it taking effect?

One analysis painted this as a protectionist measure targeted at the heavily subsidized Middle Eastern airlines by hitting them where it hurts the most: high-paying business class travelers who need their laptops with them on planes to get work done. That reasoning makes more sense than any security-related explanation, but doesn't explain why the British extended the ban to UK carriers as well. Or why this measure won't backfire when those Middle Eastern countries turn around and ban laptops on American carriers in retaliation. And one aviation official told CNN that an intelligence official informed him it was not a "political move."

In the end, national security measures based on secret information require us to trust the government. That trust is at historic low levels right now, so people both in the US and other countries are rightly skeptical of the official unsatisfying explanations. The new laptop ban highlights this mistrust.

But to the Trump team, distrusting government is a feature, not a bug. They just may not have thought through all the consequences.

Two unhappy articles about your phone

First, two unidentified have discovered malware on 38 Android devices that could only have been installed after manufacture but before distribution to retailers:

An assortment of malware was found on 38 Android devices belonging to two unidentified companies. This is according to a blog post published Friday by Check Point Software Technologies, maker of a mobile threat prevention app. The malicious apps weren't part of the official ROM firmware supplied by the phone manufacturers but were added later somewhere along the supply chain. In six of the cases, the malware was installed to the ROM using system privileges, a technique that requires the firmware to be completely reinstalled for the phone to be disinfected.

"This finding proves that, even if a user is extremely careful, never clicks a malicious link, or downloads a fishy app, he can still be infected by malware without even knowing it," Check Point Mobile Threat Researcher Daniel Padon told Ars. "This should be a concern for all mobile users."

Padon said it's not clear if the two companies were specifically targeted or if the infections were part of a broader, more opportunistic campaign. The presence of ransomware and other easy-to-detect malware seems to suggest the latter. Check Point also doesn't know where the infected phones were obtained. One of the affected parties was a "large telecommunications company" and the other was a "multinational technology company."

But malware and password stealing doesn't always need software. Sometimes it just needs a suspicious border guard:

Data provided by the Department of Homeland Security shows that searches of cellphones by border agents has exploded, growing fivefold in just one year, from fewer than 5,000 in 2015 to nearly 25,000 in 2016.

According to DHS officials, 2017 will be a blockbuster year. Five-thousand devices were searched in February alone, more than in all of 2015.

The more aggressive tactics of the past two years, two senior intelligence officials told NBC News, were sparked by a string of domestic incidents in 2015 and 2016 in which the watch list system and the FBI failed to stop American citizens from conducting attacks. The searches also reflect new abilities to extract contact lists, travel patterns and other data from phones very quickly.

But the officials caution that rhetoric about a Muslim registry and ban during the presidential campaign also seems to have emboldened federal agents to act more forcefully.

"The shackles are off," said Hugh Handeyside, a staff attorney with the ACLU's National Security Project. "We see individual officers and perhaps supervisors as well pushing those limits, exceeding their authority and violating people's rights."

Expect a lot of litigation and very unhappy travelers. Plus some other Fourth Amendment issues that go unreported.

Happy cell phoning!

Maybe the problem is too many guns, huh?

A 2015 theft of a gun shipment from a railroad yard in Chicago continues to plague the city:

The guns had been en route from New Hampshire weapon maker Sturm, Ruger & Co. to Spokane, Washington. Instead, the .45-caliber Ruger revolvers and other firearms spread quickly into surrounding high-crime neighborhoods. Along with two other major gun thefts within three years, the robbery helped fuel a wave of violence on Chicago's streets.

The 2015 heist of the 111 guns, as well as one in 2014 and another last September from the same 63rd Street Rail Yard highlight a tragic confluence. Chicago's biggest rail yards are on the gang- and homicide-plagued South and West sides where most of the city's 762 killings happened last year.

Chicago's leaders regularly blame lax gun laws in Illinois and nearby states that enable a flow of illegal weapons to the city's gangs and criminals. But community leaders and security experts say no one seems to be taking responsibility for train-yard gun thefts.

But the number of guns produced in this country has nothing at all to do with crime, according to the NRA. Right.

We may know where the leaks are coming from

Diners at Mar-al-Lago overheard the President talking with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, the latest in a string of idiotic security breaches he's made all by himself:

As Mar-a-Lago's wealthy members looked on from their tables, and with a keyboard player crooning in the background, Trump and Abe's evening meal quickly morphed into a strategy session, the decision-making on full view to fellow diners, who described it in detail to CNN.

News of Pyongyang's launch had emerged an hour earlier, as Trump was preparing for dinner in his residence. Officials had concluded the Musudan-level missile flew 310 miles off North Korea's eastern coast before crashing into the Sea of Japan.

Oy.

Meanwhile, the Sears Death Watch continues:

[B]ecause Sears and its sister company Kmartare merely shells of their former selves after they destroyed so much value over the years for employees, customers, and investors, there may be a group of stakeholders secretly hoping the end comes soon: shopping malls.

While a Sears Holdings bankruptcy might lead malls to suddenly face the prospect of being flooded with zombie retail space, they would have the chance to redevelop the stores themselves and attract new tenants who would pay them, and not Seritage, significantly higher rents.

Of course, a Sears Holdings bankruptcy carries risks for them, too. As noted, many retailers are reducing their footprints, not expanding them, so filling up the space may not be so simple, and for malls not in desirable locations, Sears Holdings' demise could be catastrophic. Credit Suisse says some 184 malls can be classified as "least valuable property" -- meaning at risk of shutting down -- and, concernedly, Sears is the anchor store in 110 of them. A Sears Holdings bankruptcy and the wave of store closings that would follow could very well jeopardize their existence.

Again, oy.