Category Archives: Current Affairs

Google publishes federal election political ad database

Following Facebook and Twitter, Google has published its political ad database which details spending in US federal elections. The database contains any political ads purchased to run on Google Search or YouTube starting on or after May 31. The database will be updated weekly, not in real time. The database will include information about who paid for the ad, how many impressions it received, how long it ran for, and how much money was spent on it.

H/T Gary Price’s InfoDocket post. — Joe

What are deepfakes?

“Deepfakes” is an artificial intelligence-based human image synthesis technique. It is used to combine and superimpose existing images and videos onto source images or videos, usually without permission. Such digital impersonation is on the rise. Deepfakes raise the stakes for the “fake news” phenomenon in dramatic fashion (quite literally). Lawfare offers examples:

  • Fake videos could feature public officials taking bribes, uttering racial epithets, or engaging in adultery.
  • Politicians and other government officials could appear in locations where they were not, saying or doing horrific things that they did not.
  • Fake videos could place them in meetings with spies or criminals, launching public outrage, criminal investigations, or both.
  • Soldiers could be shown murdering innocent civilians in a war zone, precipitating waves of violence and even strategic harms to a war effort.
  • A deep fake might falsely depict a white police officer shooting an unarmed black man while shouting racial epithets.
  • A fake audio clip might “reveal” criminal behavior by a candidate on the eve of an election.
  • A fake video might portray an Israeli official doing or saying something so inflammatory as to cause riots in neighboring countries, potentially disrupting diplomatic ties or even motivating a wave of violence.
  • False audio might convincingly depict U.S. officials privately “admitting” a plan to commit this or that outrage overseas, exquisitely timed to disrupt an important diplomatic initiative.
  • A fake video might depict emergency officials “announcing” an impending missile strike on Los Angeles or an emergent pandemic in New York, provoking panic and worse.

For more, see:

The impending war over deepfakes, Axios, July 22, 2018

Here’s why it’s so hard to spot deepfakes, CNN, Aug. 8, 2018

Deep Fakes: A Looming Crisis for National Security, Democracy and Privacy?, Lawfare, Feb. 21, 2018

— Joe

Second batch of Kavanaugh White House documents released [text]

The Senate Judiciary Committee has released another production of documents in the course of its consideration of Judge Brett Kavanaugh to serve as Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States. This latest production from the Office of President George W. Bush totals more than 49,000 pages of records relating to Judge Kavanaugh’s service in the White House Counsel’s Office. — Joe

Enemy of the People: Negotiating News at the White House

From the abstract for Carol Pauli’s Enemy of the People: Negotiating News at the White House, Ohio State Journal on Dispute Resolution, Forthcoming:

How can the press serve as a check on executive power when the president calls it “fake” and the White House denies facts? As journalists debate the right response, this article offers advice from the perspective of a journalist who is now in the legal academy. Drawing on legal scholarship in the field of conflict resolution — as well as literature in journalism and political science — this article analyzes the White House press briefing as a negotiation over both the content of news and the relationship of the press and president. It aims to help the press fulfill the urgent public need for news: the verified, factual, shared reality that makes self-government possible.

Ultimately, the article concludes that the press can improve its negotiating position in several ways. Among them, it should resist anger, formulate expansive goals, use teamwork, and respond to government falsehoods in measured and nimble ways. The press should increase its own transparency in order to build trust and to distinguish its work from the blur of rumors that fill social media. Finally, it should decide in advance what government moves would be unacceptable and what actions it would take in response.

— Joe

Chart: The Trump News Cycle of 2018

Axios has produced a chart that demonstrates just how busy the Trump news cycle has been in just the first half of 2018, as seen in Google News Lab’s data on the googling trends of the public. It shows when and how much people searched about 30 of the biggest news events.

H/T to beSpacific. Interesting. — Joe

CRS Legal Sidebar: Abortion, Justice Kennedy, and Judge Kavanaugh

From Abortion, Justice Kennedy, and Judge Kavanaugh (LSB10185, August 8, 2018):

This Legal Sidebar addresses these questions by first reviewing the undue burden standard and generally discussing Justice Kennedy’s views on the standard in the case law that has developed since Casey. The Sidebar then, in light of President Trump’s July 9, 2018 nomination of Judge Brett Kavanaugh to replace Justice Kennedy, examines Judge Kavanaugh’s only substantive abortion opinion: a dissent in the 2017 case from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit (D.C. Circuit), Garza v. Hargan. Finally, as lower courts continue to apply the undue burden standard to new abortion regulations, the Sidebar concludes by noting some of the abortion cases that the Supreme Court could possibly review in the near future.

— Joe

First round of Kavanaugh’s White House documents released [text]

The Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday publicly released its first batch of documents from Brett Kavanaugh’s work in the George W. Bush White House. The batch being released, totaling more than 5,700 pages and is part of more than 125,000 pages given to the committee last week by the George W. Bush Presidential Library.

H/T to beSpacific. — Joe

West Virginia House Judiciary Committee adopts articles of impeachment against all four justices on the state’s Supreme Court of Appeals [text]

NPR reports that the 14 recently adopted articles of impeachment recommend that the entire bench — Chief Justice Margaret Workman, Justice Allen Loughry, Justice Robin Davis, and Justice Elizabeth Walker – be impeached “for maladministration, corruption, incompetency, neglect of duty, and certain high crimes and misdemeanors.” — Joe

CRS report: History of Use of U.S. Military Bases to House Immigrants and Refugees

The United States has used military bases in the past to house large groups of immigrants and refugees. History of Use of U.S. Military Bases to House Immigrants and Refugees (IN10937, July 26, 2018) provides examples from the past 50 years as well as statutory authority and DOD policy documents. — Joe

Teaching information literacy in an era of lies

“Every day, critics of the American president decry his penchant for “false or misleading claims,” while he and his supporters fire back with accusations of “fake news.” It’s no wonder those of us who teach are worried more than ever about information literacy,” wrote David Gooblar in How to Teach Information Literacy in an Era of Lies, Chronicle of Higher Education (July 24, 2018). Gooblar believes that professors in every discipline should make teaching information literacy a priority. He provides ways to incorporate information literacy into various courses.

H/T Information Today. — Joe

Who or what is QAnon?

QAnon refers to a conspiracy theory centered on Q, an online handle used on several image boards by a presumably American pseudonymous individual or group of individuals claiming to have access to classified information involving the Trump administration and its opponents in the United States, and detailing a supposed secret counter-coup against the alleged “deep state”. OAnon believers have been showing up at Trump MAGA events. Here’s three profiles:

What Is QAnon? The Conspiracy Theory Tiptoeing Into Trump World (NPR)

QAnon: latest Trump-linked conspiracy theory gains steam at president’s rallies (The Guardian)

#QAnon, the scarily popular pro-Trump conspiracy theory, explained (Vox)

— Joe

Weekend reading: Malcolm Nance’s The Plot to Destroy Democracy: How Putin and His Spies Are Undermining America and Dismantling the West

From the blurb for The Plot to Destroy Democracy: How Putin and His Spies Are Undermining America and Dismantling the West (Hachette Books, June 26, 2018):

In the greatest intelligence operation in the history of the world, Donald Trump was made President of the United States with the assistance of a foreign power. For the first time, The Plot to Destroy Democracy reveals the dramatic story of how blackmail, espionage, assassination, and psychological warfare were used by Vladimir Putin and his spy agencies to steal the 2016 U.S. election–and attempted to bring about the fall of NATO, the European Union, and western democracy. It will show how Russia and its fifth column allies tried to flip the cornerstones of democracy in order to re-engineer the world political order that has kept most of the world free since 1945.

Career U.S. Intelligence officer Malcolm Nance will examine how Russia has used cyber warfare, political propaganda, and manipulation of our perception of reality–and will do so again–to weaponize American news, traditional media, social media, and the workings of the internet to attack and break apart democratic institutions from within, and what we can expect to come should we fail to stop their next attack.

Nance has utilized top secret Russian-sourced political and hybrid warfare strategy documents to demonstrate the master plan to undermine American institutions that has been in effect from the Cold War to the present day. Based on original research and countless interviews with espionage experts, Nance examines how Putin’s recent hacking accomplished a crucial first step for destabilizing the West for Russia, and why Putin is just the man to do it.

Nance exposes how Russia has supported the campaigns of right-wing extremists throughout both the U.S. and Europe to leverage an axis of autocracy, and how Putin’s agencies have worked since 2010 to bring fringe candidate Donald Trump into elections.

Revelatory, insightful, and shocking, The Plot To Destroy Democracy puts a professional spy lens on Putin’s plot and unravels it play-by-play. In the end, he provides a better understanding of why Putin’s efforts are a serious threat to our national security and global alliances–in much more than one election–and a blistering indictment of Putin’s puppet, President Donald J. Trump.

— Joe

Facebook removes “bad actors” ahead of 2018 elections

Facebook has removed pages and accounts that were using “coordinated inauthentic behavior” intended to “mislead” other users ahead of the 2018 U.S. midterm elections, the company announced. From today’s press release:

Today we removed 32 Pages and accounts from Facebook and Instagram because they were involved in coordinated inauthentic behavior. This kind of behavior is not allowed on Facebook because we don’t want people or organizations creating networks of accounts to mislead others about who they are, or what they’re doing.

It’s clear that whoever set up these accounts went to much greater lengths to obscure their true identities than the Russian-based Internet Research Agency (IRA) has in the past. We believe this could be partly due to changes we’ve made over the last year to make this kind of abuse much harder.

— Joe

Kavanaugh returns Senate Judiciary Committee questionnaire [text]

SCOTUSblog’s Amy Howe highlights answers from Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s completed questionnaire for the Senate Judiciary Committee. Here’s the text of the completed questionaire. — Joe

CRS Report: Judicial Opinions of Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh

Two excerpts from Judicial Opinions of Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh (R45269, July 23, 2018):

Arguably, Judge Kavanaugh’s authored opinions provide the greatest insight into the nominee’s judicial approach, as a judge’s vote or decision to join an opinion authored by a colleague may not necessarily represent full agreement with a colleague’s views. This report provides a tabular listing of 306 cases in which Judge Kavanaugh authored a majority, concurring, or dissenting opinion.

While this report identifies and briefly describes judicial opinions authored by Judge Kavanaugh during his time on the federal court, it does not analyze the implications of his judicial opinions or suggest how he might approach legal issues if appointed to the Supreme Court. Those matters will be discussed in a forthcoming CRS report.

H/T beSpacific. — Joe

Weekend reading: James R. Clapper’s Facts and Fears: Hard Truths from a Life in Intelligence

An excerpt from the blurb for James R. Clapper, Facts and Fears: Hard Truths from a Life in Intelligence, Viking, May 22, 2018):

The former Director of National Intelligence’s candid and compelling account of the intelligence community’s successes–and failures–in facing some of the greatest threats to America. Facts and Fears offers a privileged look inside the U.S. intelligence community and, with the frankness and professionalism for which James Clapper is known.

— Joe

President Trump’s Rhetoric

An excerpt from Katherine Shaw’s Speech, Intent, and the President, Cornell Law Review, Vol. 104, Forthcoming:

The novel rhetorical habits and strategies of President Donald Trump have already thrust questions of presidential intent into the spotlight in high-stakes ongoing litigation, including over the President’s “travel ban” orders. Courts evaluating the lawfulness of those orders have wrestled with what weight to accord the President’s statements, both from the campaign and following inauguration, with no real guiding principles regarding the significance of presidential statements, their relationship to presidential intent, or the relevance of intent in challenges to presidential action. These cases — and a number of others ongoing at the time of this writing — highlight the absence of any coherent conceptual framework for assessing both presidential speech and presidential intent. This Article attempts to fill that gap.

— Joe

CRS Report: The Trump Administration’s “Zero Tolerance” Immigration Enforcement Policy

An excerpt from The Trump Administration’s “Zero Tolerance” Immigration Enforcement Policy (R45266, July 20, 2018):

Administration officials and immigration enforcement advocates argue that measures like the zero tolerance policy are necessary to discourage migrants from coming to the United States and submitting fraudulent asylum requests. They maintain that alien family separation resulting from the prosecution of illegal border crossers mirrors that occurring under the U.S. criminal justice system policy where adults with custody of minor children are charged with a crime and held in jail, effectively separating them from their children.

Immigrant advocates contend that migrant families are fleeing legitimate threats from countries with exceptionally high rates of gang violence, and that family separations resulting from the zero tolerance policy are cruel and violate fundamental human rights—such as the ability to request asylum. They maintain that the zero tolerance policy was hastily implemented and lacked planning for family reunification following criminal prosecutions. Some observers question the Trump Administration’s capacity to marshal sufficient resources to prosecute all illegal border crossers without additional resources. Others criticize the family separation policy in light of less expensive alternatives to detention.

— Joe

Carter Page’s FISA documents [text]

The Trump administration disclosed on Saturday a previously top-secret set of documents related to the wiretapping of Carter Page, the onetime Trump campaign adviser who was at the center of highly contentious accusations by Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee that the F.B.I. had abused its surveillance powers. Here’s the documents. — Joe

Weekend reading: McFaul’s From Cold War to Hot Peace: An American Ambassador in Putin’s Russia

From the blurb for Michael McFaul’s From Cold War to Hot Peace: An American Ambassador in Putin’s Russia (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, May 8, 2018):

From one of America’s leading scholars of Russia who served as U.S. ambassador to Russia during the Obama administration, a revelatory, inside account of U.S.-Russia relations from 1989 to the present

In 2008, when Michael McFaul was asked to leave his perch at Stanford and join an unlikely presidential campaign, he had no idea that he would find himself at the beating heart of one of today’s most contentious and consequential international relationships. As President Barack Obama’s adviser on Russian affairs, McFaul helped craft the United States’ policy known as “reset” that fostered new and unprecedented collaboration between the two countries. And then, as U.S. ambassador to Russia from 2012 to 2014, he had a front-row seat when this fleeting, hopeful moment crumbled with Vladimir Putin’s return to the presidency. This riveting inside account combines history and memoir to tell the full story of U.S.-Russia relations from the fall of the Soviet Union to the new rise of the hostile, paranoid Russian president. From the first days of McFaul’s ambassadorship, the Kremlin actively sought to discredit and undermine him, hassling him with tactics that included dispatching protesters to his front gates, slandering him on state media, and tightly surveilling him, his staff, and his family.

— Joe