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The person to ‘weaken’ America: what the Kremlin papers said about Trump | Russia

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In January 2016, America was coming to terms with what had previously seemed incredible. Barring an unforeseen event, Donald J Trump was on course to become the Republican party’s presidential candidate. Some welcomed this giddy prospect, while others in the Republican establishment recoiled in horror.

The man himself oozed confidence. “I have a feeling it’s going to work out, actually,” he told his rival Ted Cruz, at a Fox News debate. By 22 January, the polls had Trump well ahead, as a snowstorm nudged towards Washington.

Trump’s astonishing and confounding rise had not gone unnoticed in Russia. Unbeknown to the US public, his personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, was in touch with the office of the Kremlin press secretary. Cohen had begged for help in building a luxury hotel in Moscow – a decades-long Trump dream.

Meanwhile, Trump had said flattering things about Vladimir Putin, a person talked about by some leading US politicians as a cold-eyed KGB killer. “Wouldn’t it be great if we got along with Russia,” Trump would muse.

That he was the Kremlin’s preferred candidate is not in doubt. What has been a source of endless conjecture is the lengths Russia was prepared to go to to help Trump win. The Guardian has spent months seeking to verify the authenticity of papers that may provide an answer to this question.

Our investigation has revealed that western intelligence agencies have known about the papers – and have been examining them – for some time.

Independent experts approached by the Guardian have also confirmed they are consistent with the Kremlin’s thinking and chain of command.

Their fascination in material that appears to have come from within the heart of the Kremlin is easy to understand.

The papers suggest that as Trump surged ahead, a group of analysts inside the Russian administration were putting the final touches on a secret paper.

The title of the document was bland enough: “Report on strengthening the state and stabilising the position of Russia under conditions of external economic constraint.”

Its contents were not.

The document describes how Putin’s expert department was urging a multi-layered plan to interfere in the race for the White House. The goal: to “destabilise” America.

One candidate above all might help bring this about, the experts confidently believed – the “mentally unstable”, impulsive” and “unbalanced” Trump.

This plan was presented as being entirely defensive. The Obama administration had inflicted damage on the Russian economy by imposing sanctions. Living standards were falling, regional elites were unhappy and the sugar rush from Putin’s 2014 annexation of Crimea had worn off, the report said. Potential domestic political dangers lay ahead.

The sensible course from Moscow’s perspective, it said, was to enact measures that would “pressure” America to ease off – by dropping anti-Russian sanctions, or softening them.

The paper seems to have set off a flurry of activity in the Kremlin.

The documents indicate that on 14 January Vladimir Symonenko, the expert department chief, shared a three-page summary.

“At the moment the Russian Federation finds itself in a predicament. American measures continue to be felt in all areas of public life,” it starts. Next, Putin ordered the head of his foreign policy directorate, Alexander Manzhosin, to arrange an urgent meeting of the national security council, Russia’s top decision-making body. At some point over the next few days Putin appears to have read the document himself.

By 22 January, other security council members had had a chance to digest its contents. The early part dealt with Russia’s economy. The secret American measures were contained in a special section beginning on page 14.

The report seemed to confirm what Trump would later deny: that Putin’s spy agencies had gathered compromising material on him, possibly stretching back to Soviet KGB times.

Trump’s personal flaws were so extensive – also featuring an “inferiority complex” – that he was the perfect person to feed divisions and to weaken America’s negotiating position.

The unflattering assessment of Trump’s personality was based on evidence, the paper said, derived from observation of his behaviour during trips to Russia.

Trump visited communist Moscow and Leningrad in summer 1987 following an invitation from the Soviet envoy in New York. Trump returned in the 1990s, and early 2000s, seeking business deals, and flew in for the 2013 Miss Universe beauty contest, when he stayed in Moscow’s Ritz-Carlton hotel. Putin’s FSB agency had spy cameras in guest rooms, and a full-time officer on the premises, the Senate intelligence committee later found.

The report appears to confirm Trump was being watched, though no dates or locations are given.“Considering certain events that took place during his stay on Russian Federation territory (Appendix 5 – personal characteristics Donald J Trump, paragraph 5), it is urgently necessary to use all means to promote his election to the post of President of the United States,” it says.

The allegation that the Russians had kompromat on Trump would haunt his four years in the White House. True or false, his flattering treatment of Putin was one riddle of his chaotic presidency.

The papers seen by the Guardian suggest that after the security council meeting Putin set up a special inter-departmental commission headed by his close ally Sergei Shoigu, Russia’s defence minister. Shoigu was in overall command of the operation to influence the 2016 US election. GRU military intelligence, SVR foreign intelligence and the FSB were all told to prepare immediate practical steps to help accomplish the report’s preferred scenario – a Trump victory.

This certainly came at a time of internal spy agency tensions.

The SVR’s then chief, Mikhail Fradkov, was regarded as a weak figure. In 2010, the FBI arrested 10 of Fradkov’s undercover sleeper agents in America. The scandal badly damaged his authority. The GRU and FSB harboured scarcely concealed ambitions to take over the SVR’s functions abroad. Meanwhile, the GRU’s director, Igor Sergun, died two weeks before the meeting, apparently while undercover in the Middle East.

By spring 2016, the commission chiefs appear to have overcome their institutional rivalry to work harmoniously together. A team of GRU cyber-hackers moved into an anonymous glass tower in north-west Moscow. They worked closely with GRU colleagues based in a downtown building.

The first phishing email was sent on 19 March to John Podesta, Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman.

More followed. As the report correctly envisaged, these stolen and dumped emails became a “media virus” – infecting and weakening the Democratic campaign, and reaching millions of American voters via Facebook and Twitter.

By autumn, President Obama was convinced Putin had personally approved the hacking operation, which Clinton believes cost her the presidency. In October 2016, Obama remonstrated with his Russian counterpart in a phone call, telling Putin his election meddling was “an act of war”. The 2019 report by special counsel Robert Mueller called the Kremlin’s operation “sweeping and systematic”. In 2020, the bipartisan Senate intelligence committee said it was “aggressive and multi-faceted”.

The committee detailed multiple interactions between individuals linked to the Russian government and Trump’s inner circle. The GRU spy Konstantin Kilimnik held clandestine meetings with Trump’s campaign chairman, Paul Manafort. Manafort supplied Kilimnik with private polling and other data. The pair communicated using encrypted messages and shared email drafts.

And what of the report’s claim that Putin would be able to exploit Trump’s weaknesses in “clandestine fashion” during bilateral discussions?

Something along these lines took place during their notorious 2018 summit in Helsinki. Asked at a joint press conference to condemn Kremlin hacking and dumping, Trump endorsed Putin’s assertion that Moscow had not interfered – a claim at odds with the findings of all 14 US intelligence agencies. After a backlash at home, and amid speculation the Russians were somehow blackmailing the president, Trump said he misspoke.

Putin has repeatedly denied claims he interferes in US politics. Western governments don’t believe him. According to US intelligence officials, Moscow sought to influence the 2020 election by spreading “misleading or unsubstantiated allegations” against Joe Biden. Last year, Russian state hackers penetrated numerous federal US institutions, in a massive cyber-attack.

Little is really known about how decision-making works at the top of the Kremlin. The apparent leaked papers seen by the Guardian appear to suggest the bureaucratic paper trail is more considerable than you might think. The security council – the Sovbez in Russian – has increasingly come to resemble the Politburo, the Soviet Union’s powerful executive committee. At the top is a small, like-minded group of individuals, led by a preeminent figure.

For the moment, Putin’s regime looks impregnable, despite mass street protests in January following the arrest and jailing of the opposition leader Alexei Navalny, poisoned in 2020 in a special FSB operation. As unrest grows, further leaks seem possible. The lesson comes from history. When the USSR collapsed 30 years ago, KGB files were opened and long-buried secrets fell out.

Trump did not initially respond to a request for comment.

Later, Liz Harrington, his spokesperson, issued a statement on his behalf.

“This is disgusting. It’s fake news, just like RUSSIA, RUSSIA, RUSSIA was fake news. It’s just the Radical Left crazies doing whatever they can to demean everybody on the right.

“It’s fiction, and nobody was tougher on Russia than me, including on the pipeline, and sanctions. At the same time we got along with Russia. Russia respected us, China respected us, Iran respected us, North Korea respected us.

“And the world was a much safer place than it is now with mentally unstable leadership.”

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California’s net neutrality law dodges Big Telecom bullet • The Register

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The US Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals on Friday upheld a lower court’s refusal to block California’s net neutrality law (SB 822), affirming that state laws can regulate internet connectivity where federal law has gone silent.

The decision is a blow to the large internet service providers that challenged California’s regulations, which prohibit network practices that discriminate against lawful applications and online activities. SB 822, for example, forbids “zero-rating” programs that exempt favored services from customer data allotments, paid prioritization, and blocking or degrading service.

In 2017, under the leadership of then-chairman Ajit Pai, the US Federal Communications Commission tossed out America’s net neutrality rules, to the delight of the internet service providers that had to comply. Then in 2018, the FCC issued an order that redefined broadband internet services, treating them as “information services” under Title I of the Communications Act instead of more regulated “telecommunications services” under Title II of the Communications Act.

California lawmaker Scott Wiener (D) crafted SB 822 to implement the nixed 2015 Open Internet Order on a state level, in an effort to fill the vacuum left by the FCC’s abdication. SB 822, the “California Internet Consumer Protection and Net Neutrality Act of 2018,” was signed into law in September 2018 and promptly challenged.

In October 2018, a group of cable and telecom trade associations sued California to prevent SB 822 from being enforced. In February, 2021, Judge John Mendez of the United States District Court for Eastern California declined to grant the plaintiffs’ request for an injunction to block the law. 

So the trade groups took their case to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which has now rejected their arguments. While federal laws can preempt state laws, the FCC’s decision to reclassify broadband services has moved those services outside its authority and opened a gap that state regulators are now free to fill.

“We conclude the district court correctly denied the preliminary injunction,” the appellate ruling [PDF] says. “This is because only the invocation of federal regulatory authority can preempt state regulatory authority.

The FCC no longer has the authority to regulate in the same manner that it had when these services were classified as telecommunications services

“As the D.C. Circuit held in Mozilla, by classifying broadband internet services as information services, the FCC no longer has the authority to regulate in the same manner that it had when these services were classified as telecommunications services. The agency, therefore, cannot preempt state action, like SB 822, that protects net neutrality.”

The Electronic Frontier Foundation, which supported California in an amicus brief, celebrated the decision in a statement emailed to The Register.

“EFF is pleased that the Ninth Circuit has refused to bar enforcement of California’s pioneering net neutrality rules, recognizing a very simple principle: the federal government can’t simultaneously refuse to protect net neutrality and prevent anyone else from filling the gap,” a spokesperson said.

“Californians can breathe a sigh of relief that their state will be able to do its part to ensure fair access to the internet for all, at a time when we most need it.”

There’s still the possibility that the plaintiffs – ACA Connects, CTIA, NCTA and USTelecom – could appeal to the US Supreme Court.

In an emailed statement, the organizations told us, “We’re disappointed and will review our options. Once again, a piecemeal approach to this issue is untenable and Congress should codify national rules for an open Internet once and for all.” ®

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RCSI scientists find potential treatment for secondary breast cancer

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An existing drug called PARP inhibitor can be used to exploit a vulnerability in the way breast cancer cells repair their DNA, preventing spread to the brain.

For a long time, there have been limited treatment options for patients with breast cancer that has spread to the brain, sometimes leaving them with just months to live. But scientists at the Royal College of Surgeons Ireland (RCSI) have found a potential treatment using existing drugs.

By tracking the development of tumours from diagnosis to their spread to the brain, a team of researchers at RCSI University of Medicine and Health Sciences and the Beaumont RCSI Cancer Centre found a previously unknown vulnerability in the way the tumours repair their DNA.

An existing kind of drug known as a PARP inhibitor, often used to treat heritable cancers, can prevent cancer cells from repairing their DNA because of this vulnerability, culminating in the cells dying and the patient being rid of the cancer.

Prof Leonie Young, principal investigator of the RCSI study, said that breast cancer research focused on expanding treatment options for patients whose disease has spread to the brain is urgently needed to save the lives of those living with the disease.

“Our study represents an important development in getting one step closer to a potential treatment for patients with this devastating complication of breast cancer,” she said of the study, which was published in the journal Nature Communications.

Deaths caused by breast cancer are often a result of treatment relapses which lead to tumours spreading to other parts of the body, a condition known as secondary or metastatic breast cancer. This kind of cancer is particularly aggressive and lethal when it spreads to the brain.

The study was funded by Breast Cancer Ireland with support from Breast Cancer Now and Science Foundation Ireland.

It was carried out as an international collaboration with the Mayo Clinic and the University of Pittsburgh in the US. Apart from Prof Young, the other RCSI researchers were Dr Nicola Cosgrove, Dr Damir Varešlija and Prof Arnold Hill.

“By uncovering these new vulnerabilities in DNA pathways in brain metastasis, our research opens up the possibility of novel treatment strategies for patients who previously had limited targeted therapy options”, said Dr Varešlija.

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Surface Duo 2 review: Microsoft’s dual-screen Android needs work | Microsoft

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Microsoft’s second attempt at its interesting dual-screen Android smartphone corrects some mistakes of the original, but falls short of a revolution due to a series of oddities created by its physical laptop-like form.

Looking more like a tiny convertible computer than a phone, the Surface Duo 2 starts at £1,349 ($1,499/A$2,319), a lot for a regular smartphone but slightly cheaper than folding-screen rivals.

It opens like a book, with each half just 5.5mm thick, and a hinge that allows it to fold all the way over.

Microsoft Surface Duo 2 review
There is no screen on the outside, but the time and some basic alerts for SMS and calls can be shown down the spine of the hinge. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

Inside are a pair of 90Hz OLED screens each measuring 5.8in on the diagonal. They can be used on their own or combined as one display measuring 8.3in – a similar size to an iPad mini. Both screens are covered in traditional scratch-resistant smartphone glass and have large, old-fashioned bezels top and bottom.

Having two separate displays rather than one that folds in half creates a major drawback: a gap in the middle of the screen big enough that you can see through it, which is much harder to ignore than the crease in the middle of a flexible display as found on the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3.

Microsoft Surface Duo 2 review
The gap between the screens sits right in the middle of the combined display, which makes full-screen reading, scrolling and watching video awkward. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

You can use two different apps at the same time on the two screens. The theory is sound, but I found few pairings were useful beyond simple messaging apps and a browser. More useful was using one screen for a note-taking app and the other for a full keyboard like a mini laptop.

Some apps spanned across both displays, like Outlook, can put different information on each screen, such as your inbox on one side and an open message on the other. Some games, including Asphalt 9 and Microsoft’s Xbox Game Pass streaming service, put controls on one screen and the action on the other. But there are very few apps and games optimised for this setup.

microsoft surface duo 2 review
The two screens can be folded into various configurations, including just a single display, both combined into one large display, propped up like a tent or open like a mini laptop. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

Specifications

  • Screens: two 5.8in AMOLED 90Hz displays

  • Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon 888

  • RAM: 8GB of RAM

  • Storage: 128, 256 or 512GB

  • Operating system: Android 11

  • Cameras: 12MP wide, 16MP ultra-wide, 12MP 2x telephoto; 12MP selfie

  • Connectivity: 5G, USB-C, wifi 6, NFC, Bluetooth 5.1 and location

  • Water resistance: IPX1 (dripping water)

  • Dimensions closed: 145.2 x 92.1 x 11.0mm

  • Dimensions open: 145.2 x 184.5 x 5.5mm

  • Weight: 284g

2021’s top Android chip

microsoft surface duo 2 review
It takes two hours 15 minutes to fully charge the Duo 2 hitting 50% in 45 minutes, using a 45W USB-C charger (not included), which is pretty slow compared to rivals. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

The Duo 2 has last year’s top Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 chip with 8GB of RAM, matching the performance of top-flight Android smartphones from 2021 and capable of running two apps running side-by-side without slowdown.

Battery life is more variable than a traditional phone. It lasts about 32 hours between charges, with both screens used for about four hours with a variety of messaging, browsing and work apps. It lasts about a third longer if you mostly use only one screen. That’s a considerably shorter battery life than a regular smartphone and behind the Z Fold 3.

Sustainability

Microsoft Surface Duo 2 review
The camera sticks quite far out of the glass back stopping it from sitting flat on a desk. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

Microsoft does not provide an expected lifespan for the Duo 2’s battery; those in similar devices typically maintain at least 80% of their original capacity for in excess of 500 full charge cycles. Microsoft charges an out-of-warranty service fee of £593.94 to repair devices and £568.44 to replace the battery. The previous generation Surface Duo scored only two out of 10 on iFixit’s repairability scale.

The phone contains no recycled materials, but Microsoft operates recycling schemes for old devices, publishes a company-wide sustainability report and a breakdown of each product’s environmental impact.

Android 11

Microsoft Surface Duo 2 review
The single screen mode is hard to use one-handed and most Android apps and websites are designed for longer screens, not short and fat ones, so you end up having to do a lot more scrolling than you would on a regular phone. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

The Duo 2 runs Android 11 – not the latest Android 12 – and generally behaves like a standard Android smartphone or tablet with a few small additions that make it easier to use each screen separately. One of the best is the ability to drag the gesture bar at the bottom of an app to move it between screens or to drop it on to the gap between the screens to span it across both displays.

The software can be a bit unpredictable at times, such as opening the keyboard or text box of an app on another screen or hiding a second app from the screen when you try to type. But it is generally a fast and responsive experience given how unusual the device is.

The Duo 2 will receive three years of software updates from release, including monthly security patches, which is disappointingly at least a year short of what rivals, including Samsung and Apple, offer. Microsoft’s last planned update for the Duo 2 will be 21 October 2024.

Camera

Microsoft Surface Duo 2 review
Because the camera is on the back of the device, it would be blocked if you fold one of the screens over, meaning you have to shoot photos with both screens open – which is unwieldy. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

The Duo 2 has a triple camera on the back and a 12-megapixel selfie camera above the right-hand screen.

The rear main 12MP camera and 2x telephoto cameras are good, capable of producing detailed shots in a range of lighting conditions. The 16MP ultra-wide camera is reasonable, but a bit soft on detail and struggles with challenging scenes. The camera app has most of the features you’d expect, such as portrait mode, night mode and slow-mo video, and can shoot regular video at up to 4K at 60 frames a second.

The 12MP selfie camera is capable of shooting detailed photos even in middling light, and has access to the dedicated night mode when it gets dark.

Overall, the camera system on the Duo 2 is solid, but it can’t hold a candle to the best in the business.

Observations

Microsoft Surface Duo 2 review
The camera lump on the back stops the device folding fully flat, creating a wedge shape when using one screen only. The shiny power button is also a fingerprint scanner, which was fairly fast and reliable. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian
  • The Duo 2 supports Microsoft’s Slim Pen stylus, which can be magnetically stored and charged on the back of the device when not in use.

  • The stereo speakers are decently loud but a bit tinny, fine for watching YouTube videos.

  • The width of the device makes it a challenge to fit into smaller pockets.

Price

The Surface Duo 2 costs £1,349 ($1,499/A$2,319) with 128GB, £1,429 ($1,599/A$2,469) with 256GB or £1,589 ($1,799/A$2,769) with 512GB of storage.

For comparison, the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 costs £1,599 and the Galaxy Z Flip 3 costs £949.

Verdict

The Surface Duo 2 is an improvement on its predecessor, but is still a very odd proposition that’s neither a good phone nor a good tablet.

The individual screens are short and stout, forcing lots of scrolling in apps when using it like a phone and making one-handed use very difficult. The gap at the hinge makes combining them into one big tablet screen awkward too.

Using two apps side-by-side works well, but few combinations proved useful or faster than just quick switching between two apps on one screen on a normal phone. There is more potential in apps like Outlook that provide a multi-pane view, but few apps or games are optimised for the dual-screen system.

Microsoft is only offering a disappointing three years of software and security updates from release for the Duo 2, too, losing it a star.

It is good to see Microsoft trying something different. But ultimately the Duo 2’s two screens are just not yet as good or useful as either a single phone screen or a bigger folding screen, making it an expensive halfway house.

Pros: two screens, two apps side-by-side, multiple modes, top performance, hardened glass screens, decent camera, head-turning design.

Cons: gap between screens, few optimised apps, average battery life, bulky camera lump, chunky in pocket, hard to use one-handed, no real water resistance, only three years of software updates from release.

Microsoft Surface Duo 2 review
The outside of the device is smooth glass front and back with quality-feeling plastic edges and a metal hinge. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

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