11 July 2019

How big data got so powerful

by Olivia Goldhill 

When Judge Robert Bork was nominated for the Supreme Court in 1987, a reporter for the weekly Washington City Paper discovered they both used the same video rental store. He popped in, asked for a list Bork’s rented movies, and published an article revealing the judge’s love of Hitchcock films and British costume dramas.

So began the creation of one of the strongest data privacy laws in the United States.

Lawmakers were aghast. “Public officials, hearing of Bork’s rentals coming to light, even in whimsy, imagined their video records surfacing like so many nightmares,” wrote Michael Dolan, the journalist behind the Bork tapes. “First local and then state and finally federal law was enacted to keep anybody else from doing what

India should use diplomatic tools at its disposal to help de-escalate US-Iran tensions

by Vikram S Mehta

“The most common form of human stupidity is forgetting what one is trying to do.” This Nietzschean aphorism finds sharp affirmation in the behaviour of the leaders of the US and Iran today. Both have forgotten what they are trying to achieve but both are engaged in verbal, economic and physical jousting that is generating sparks that could light up a regional bonfire. India would be severely impacted in such an event. Our leaders face a policy dilemma. Should they use their “soft” power to try and snuff out the sparks but risk an embarrassing rebuff? Or should they stay on the sidelines in the hope that disaster will not prevail? It is my view that the Indian government should do the former. It should deploy the “quiet” power of diplomacy to pre-empt the consequences of human stupidity.

The signals emanating from Washington DC and Tehran are confusing and blurred. They suggest that the leaders in these two cities have lost sight of their vital objectives.

The promise of impact investing in India

Shamika Ravi

Achieving the ambitious sustainable development goals (SDGs) by 2030 will take an estimated $5 to $7 trillion per year, with a financing gap of $2.5 trillion in developing countries.In India alone, the outsize challenge has been translated into a financing gap of $565 billion. While the country has seen huge progress across the social sectors, enormous challenges remain. For example, only slightly over half of all children enrolled in standard 5 can read at least a standard 2 level text, while just 21% of mothers receive full antenatal care.

Closing this gap requires action on several fronts; efficient and effective domestic resource mobilisation, outcome-focused donor efforts to ensure that money is spent well and harnessing private capital for good. In recent years, interest has grown globally amongst governments and markets to develop new investment approaches, such as impact investing or purpose-driven finance. Impact investment refers to the provision of finance to organisations with explicit expectations of financial returns as well as measurable social outcomes.

Moving India to a new growth trajectory: Need for a comprehensive big push

Rakesh Mohan

The paper discusses the need to focus attention on the primacy of growth as a policy objective. As the achievement of annual economic growth of about 7% has almost become commonplace, the country is now in danger of suffering from a degree of complacency. If India is to eliminate poverty and achieve upper middle income status in the foreseeable future, by around 2035, it must elevate its growth trajectory to the next level. This paper analyses the key macroeconomic tasks ahead to take growth back to 8-9%: sustained increase in savings and investment, fiscal consolidation through enhanced tax revenues, and a step up in infrastructure investment.

It also highlights the need to revive animal spirits in the private sector to rekindle investment, particularly in an internationally competitive manufacturing sector. This would need the maintenance of a realistic competitive exchange rate, along with implementation of long overdue bold land and labour reforms, incentivising labour using manufactured exports, and a focus on industrial research and development.

Stressing War’s Toll, Taliban and Afghan Representatives Agree to Peace Road Map

By Mujib Mashal

DOHA, Qatar — Taliban and Afghan representatives, including some government officials, agreed on Tuesday to a basic road map for negotiating the country’s political future, a major step that could help propel peace efforts to end the long war, now in its 18th year.

In a joint declaration after two days of unprecedented and often emotional discussions in the Qatari capital, Doha, the two sides emphasized a need to work for reducing “civilian casualties to zero” and assuring women their fundamental rights in “political, social, economic, educational, cultural affairs.”

The declaration is not binding, and at best is a starting point for when the two sides meet later for negotiations that could lead to fixed terms.

There Will Be No Peace for Afghanistan

By Ashley Jackson

Taliban fighters and local residents celebrate the ceasefire on the second day of Eid in the outskirts of Jalalabad on June 16,2018. Noorullah Shirzada/AFP/Getty Images As talks to end the war in Afghanistan continue in Qatar this week, and amid continued political disarray in Kabul, there seems to be one clear trend on the ground: The Taliban are consolidating control. The longer the war drags on—now in its 18th year—the more the balance of the conflict tips in the insurgent group’s favor. While there has been fierce debate in the West and in government-controlled areas of Afghanistan about what peace talks with the Taliban mean for women’s rights and the future of Afghan democracy, the view from Taliban-controlled areas suggests a harsh reality that few in the international community seem prepared for: If peace talks succeed, the Taliban will effectively formalize, and likely expand, their control over vast swaths of the country. If peace talks fail, however, the outcome will likely be far worse, with renewed fighting and a precarious government in Kabul.

All-Afghan conference brings country closer to peace


Residents carry bodies of those who were killed in an airstrike during a protest in Baghlan province, northern Afghanistan, Tuesday, July 9, 2019. Even as an All-Afghan conference that brought Afghanistan's warring sides together was ending, the airstrike killed seven people, six of them children. 

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — All-Afghan talks that brought together Afghanistan’s warring sides ended Tuesday with a statement that appeared to push the country a step closer to peace, by laying down the outlines of a roadmap for the country’s future and ending nearly 18 years of war.

Washington’s Peace Envoy Zalmay Khalilzad has said he is hoping for a final agreement by Sept. 1, which would allow the withdrawal of U.S. and NATO troops. He will begin an eighth round of peace talks with the Taliban later on Tuesday also in Qatar’s capital, Doha, where the two-day conference was held.

China’s Overrated Technocrats


Many Western parliaments are dominated by people with law degrees, but China’s leaders are mostly trained as engineers and scientists—or so goes conventional wisdom. Advocates for this supposed Chinese approach, such as the entrepreneur Elon Musk, argue that it produces leaders who adopt a pragmatic and technocratic framework to solving problems. And those scientist-politicians, the theory goes, are more likely to govern efficiently, in part because they are unburdened by ideology.

But advocates for China’s supposed technocracy are not only wrong about the background of Beijing’s current leadership. They are also fundamentally mistaken about how their training shapes policymaking. China’s leaders today—including President Xi Jinping himself—have been molded less by their education and more by the need to consolidate control and prevail in the brutal internal power struggles of the Chinese Communist Party.

US-China Competition and Cooperation: The Long View

By Mercy A. Kuo

Trans-Pacific View author Mercy Kuo regularly engages subject-matter experts, policy practitioners, and strategic thinkers across the globe for their diverse insights into U.S. Asia policy. This conversation with Cortez A. Cooper III – senior international/defense researcher at the RAND Corporation and an affiliate faculty member at the Pardee RAND Graduate School with 20 years of U.S. military service – is the 196th in “The Trans-Pacific View Insight Series.”

Identify the top three takeaways of the recently released “Annual Report to Congress: Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China 2019.”

First, the report notes that China’s military modernization and restructuring are a component of a comprehensive, long-term effort to achieve Chinese preeminence in the Indo-Pacific region. The report gives strategic context for Chinese objectives in economic, diplomatic, and informational activities as well as in the military realm; and is particularly instructive in summarizing Chinese attempts to exercise coercive interference in the policy processes of other nations despite Beijing’s stated foreign nonintervention position.

Muslim Leaders Are Betraying the Uighurs


Empty streets. Sprawling encampments in the desert nearby, spoken of in hushed whispers. That’s what a modern terror regime looks like.

More than 1 million Muslim Uighurs in the Xinjiang region of China, their native land, are believed to have been interned in so-called reeducation camps by the Chinese authorities. The number may be as high as 2 or 3 million—out of a population of 11 million. Trapped along with them are Kazakhs, Kyrgyz, and Uzbeks, other Muslim minorities, though in smaller numbers. The Uighurs still on the outside are living in one of the world’s most pervasive and heavy-handed surveillance regimes, in which the camps are just one form of containment and punishment. Uighurs live in constant fear of arbitrary detention and can expect swift retribution for any expression of Turkic or Muslim identity—to the absurd extent that giving your child a traditional Muslim name is illegal.

Yet when Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the self-styled defender of Muslims worldwide, visited China last week, state media reported that he said all the people in Xinjiang were “living happily” there, thanks to China’s general upward economic trajectory. Erdogan’s attitude is all too typical of the approachtaken by the world’s most prominent Muslim leaders toward the Uighurs.

The Longer The US Sino-Tariff Wars Go On, The Harder It Will Be To Undo The Damage

by Dan Steinbock

Compared to pre-2008 crisis levels, world economic growth has plummeted by half and is at risk of a long-term, hard-to-reverse stagnation. Returning to global integration and multilateral reconciliation could dramatically change the scenario.

Since spring 2017, the US-led tariff wars have effectively undermined the global recovery. In the past years, global economy has navigated across several scenarios. Now it is approaching the edge.

I have been following four generic scenarios on the prospects of global economic growth since the U.S. 2016 election. The first two scenarios represent variants of “recoupling." In these cases, global integration prevails, despite tensions. In the next two scenarios, global integration will fail, either in part and regionally or fully and globally.

Cyber Warfare Threat Rises As Iran And China Agree 'United Front' Against U.S

Zak Doffman 

"The Islamic Republic of Iran and China are standing in a united front," claimed Iran’s ICT Minister Mohammad Javad Azari Jahromi last week, "to confront U.S. unilateralism and hegemony in the field of IT." For confront read "offensive actions," and for IT read "cyber."

Jahromi followed this with similar comments in Beijing a few days later, when he met his opposite number Miao Wei. The ministers discussed "common challenges" in the face of "U.S. unilateralism," of which Jahromi said, “we are facing similar challenges, so we need to find common solutions." The Iranian minister accused the U.S. of "spreading its hegemony on new strategic technologies such as artificial intelligence," and criticized Washington's actions against Huawei and ZTE.

Miao Wei reportedly stressed that cooperation between the two countries would help tackle "such threats and pressures."

Huawei Employees Linked To China's Military And Intelligence, Reports Claim

Zak Doffman 

Throughout the conflict between Washington and Huawei, a central theme has been the alleged connections between the company and state defense and intelligence agencies in China. The theory goes that the company has links and is obliged, under Chinese national security legislation, to collaborate with the state when asked to do so—and, where the company is supplying core networking equipment to overseas countries, that this carries clear risk.

Along with the question of hidden backdoors in hardware and software products, it is these state security links that Huawei has gone to the greatest lengths to deny. But the debate will now intensify again, after the Telegraph reported on Saturday (July 6) that "Huawei staff have admitted to having worked with Chinese intelligence agencies in a 'mass trove' of employment records leaked online."

Iran makes new nuclear threats that would reverse steps in pact

Babak Dehghanpisheh, Tuqa Khalid

GENEVA/DUBAI (Reuters) - Iran threatened on Monday to restart deactivated centrifuges and ramp up enrichment of uranium to 20% purity in a move away from the 2015 nuclear deal, but the head of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards insisted the world knows Tehran is not pursuing nuclear arms.

The threats to ramp up enrichment, made by Tehran’s nuclear agency spokesman, would go far beyond the small steps Iran has taken in the past week to nudge stocks of fissile material just beyond limits in the pact that Washington abandoned last year.

They would reverse the major achievements of the agreement, intended to block Iran from making a nuclear weapon, and raise serious questions about whether the accord is still viable.

Iran omitted important details about how far it might go to returning to the status quo before the pact, when Western experts believed it could build a bomb within months.

The Pentagon Looks to Virtual Reality to Prepare Troops for Nuclear War


The Defense Threat Reduction Agency wants info about VR training systems that could simulate “radiological threats.”

The Defense Department is considering investing in virtual reality platforms to prepare troops to face nuclear threats.

The Defense Threat Reduction Agency on Tuesday began seeking information on virtual reality training systems that would allow troops to rehearse different scenarios involving “radiological threats.”

The agency, which focuses on countering weapons of mass destruction, could one day use the tech to train troops to intercept radiological weapons on the battlefield, respond to radioactive contamination and even prepare for full-fledged nuclear war, officials wrote in the solicitation.

Our students are not learning. But are our teachers teaching?

Shamika Ravi and Neelanjana Gupta 

Untrained teachers, irrespective of schools being adequately staffed, directly affect student performance. ASER and NAS results make it clear that this is not merely a learning crisis; the Indian school education system is going through a teaching crisis (S Burmaula / Hindustan Times)

Education at the school level has seen remarkable achievements in recent years. With the passage of the Right to Education Act in 2009 and the universalisation of elementary education, more children are successfully completing class 8. Enrolment trends from the Unified District Information on School Education suggest that the gap in enrolment rate between girls and boys has reduced. While there are no numbers to measure the functionality of basic infrastructure facilities, schools now have access to drinking water (87%), electricity connection (61%), and separate toilets for boys and girls (94%).

Tehran Journeys Down a Provocative Nuclear Path

U.S. sanctions pressure on Iran, coupled with the European Union's inability to guarantee economic concessions to keep the Islamic republic in the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, have compelled Tehran to resume activities it had promised to refrain from under the nuclear deal. Iran's recent announcements are the most provocative moves it has made thus far, but Tehran has room to escalate its response, meaning that the prospect of a confrontation between Iran and the United States over the nuclear issue remains high.

Iran has resumed the nuclear activities it previously agreed to suspend as a part of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) — the agreement it entered into in 2015 with the United States and Germany, France, the United Kingdom, China and Russia — and Tehran has left room for further action. On July 7, Iran announced that it would no longer cap uranium enrichment levels at 3.67 percent. The next day, its atomic energy agency announced that it was enriching uranium to 4.5 percent. Iran also announced that in another 60 days it would implement a third phase of reducing its commitments to the nuclear deal in response to increased U.S. sanctions pressure.

The U.S. Unleashes Its Cyberweapons

The United States has made a strategic shift toward a more aggressive stance of conducting offensive cyberattacks to achieve strategic and tactical objectives. 

The change has been years in the making, shaped by the unique architecture of cyberspace and on continued cyberattacks that have necessitated a shift in strategy by several Western powers toward incorporating offensive capabilities. 

With the United States increasingly viewing the world through the lens of competition with China and Russia, the shift in strategy to incorporate the increasing use of offensive cyberoperations is likely to be permanent. 

In late June, an Iranian missile knocked a U.S. unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) on a reconnaissance mission out of the sky and into the Gulf of Oman. The shootdown sent ripples of concern throughout the Persian Gulf that the incident could lead both countries down a path to greater conflict. But the U.S. military response barely made a splash. That's because instead of a conventional airstrike against Iranian forces, the U.S. response came in the form of a cyberattack targeting missile command and control systems of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

New Camera Could Help Drones See Through Camouflage


There’s a reason why camouflage doesn’t work once you get close enough to touch it. The texture of, say, the woodland pattern intended to conceal tanks or soldiers doesn’t match what nature produces. The farther off you can detect an ersatz texture, the sooner you can pierce the disguise. Animals such as mantis shrimp can do it, thanks to eyes that gather light vibrating in a multitude of directions and view it on a single plane. That process of reducing those light waves shooting off in multiple directions into a single wave is called polarization.

The term has come to encompass a wide variety of lenses and add-ons to cameras that are marketed as “polarized.” But they should be better understood as only partially polarized. These lenses reduce wave directionality, a bit, which can bring down camera glare or make a regular picture somewhat crisper. But these don’t reveal hidden features or objects that would be invisible to the naked eye. There are cameras that produce more fully polarized images, that allow a user to see light from multiple planes one at a time, but these have moving parts and can be very large.

3 ways IoT devices compromise security

By: Kelsey Reichmann 

The National Institute of Standards and Technology released a new report June 27 detailing the cybersecurity and privacy risks associated with the Internet of Things and solutions for how government agencies can manage them.

IoT devices can create cybersecurity vulnerabilities for government agencies by exposing private data, the accuracy of data or data availability and may compromise personally identifiable information. As the popularity of the devices grows, so too does scrutiny. In March, a bipartisan group in Congress proposed the “Internet of Things (IoT) Cybersecurity Improvement Act of 2019” that would require that devices purchased by the U.S. government meet certain minimum security requirements.

They are vulnerable to the physical world

10 things you need to know before the opening bell


Here is what you need to know.

1. Stocks are dropping as traders fear a shift in the Fed's rate cutting stance. Investors are bracing for the Federal Reserve to signal if it could temper or scrap expected cuts to interest rates this month.2. The US government could face a potential default in September, according to a Washington think tank. The report from Bipartisan Policy Center says lower than expected tax revenues now mean there is a "significant risk" that the federal government will run out of borrowing authority in the early part of September.

3. Deutsche Bank is still reeling from yesterday's massive job cuts across the German bank. Shares are sliding, and Wall Street insiders say that the cuts are not extensive enough.

4. The UK is investigating whether Russian spies hacked secret memos branding Trump 'uniquely dysfunctional' and 'incompetent.' The UK foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt confirmed the investigation of the possibility of a Russian cyber-attack.

Cyber security will always be an issue, “until we get rid of passwords” — Frank Abagnale Jr

How can organisations beat malware and ransomware; and get a stronger foothold in the cyber security landscape? Frank Abagnale Jr, security consultant and former con man, says the tables will never be turned "until we get rid of passwords"

The security landscape has certainly changed since Frank Abagnale Jr impersonated a pilot, doctor and lawyer.

Frank Abagnale Jr is a name some of you may be familiar with. His early life, between 16 and 21, has been documented in many adaptations: books, plays, TV series’ and even a film; the playful biographic, Catch Me If You Can, produced and directed by Steven Spielberg.

We must deter Russian cyberattacks to prevent a digital Cold War

Dave Weinstein, Opinion contributorPublished 3:15 a.m. ET July 6, 2019

National security adviser John Bolton recently declared that “we’re now opening the aperture, broadening the areas we’re prepared to act” in cyberspace to meet a Russian threatthat extends far beyond the ballot box, costing American companies billions of dollars and posing unacceptable risks to our citizens’ safety and the American way of life. 

It’s about time.

For years, the Russians have been preparing the digital battlefield, treating our critical infrastructure as if it were their own cyber weapons range

Overseas they’ve gone even further. In 2015 and 2016, the Kremlin planted malware in Ukraine’s electric grid, disrupting power for hundreds of thousands of residents in the middle of winter. Keenly aware of its capabilities and motivations, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats has said that “the warning lights are blinking red again” — an allusion to CIA Director George Tenet’s warning to Congress just months before 9/11.

Cyber Warfare Now – Tales from the Digital Battlefield

by John Sjoholm

Democracies worldwide are facing critical challenges from ever expanding cyberwarfare operations with the ability to not just threaten infrastructure, but to control information. Until recently, it was generally accepted that there were just five countries that had the capability of carrying out offensive and defensive cyber-warfare operations on a large scale – the United States, China, Russia, Iran and Israel. But that list has grown. Lima Charlie News presents an in-depth guide to the major players and programs that have deployed to the world’s Cyber Battlefield.

On November 2, 1988, Robert Tappan Morris, the 22 year old son of Robert H. Morris, Sr., launched what is considered the first computer worm to be distributed via the Internet. The Morris Worm, or Great Worm, once released slowed down infected systems to a crawl rendering the networks they ran unusable. Within hours, the Internet was largely disabled in North America, while the worm was making its way around the world. It would take nearly a week before the Internet was able to reconnect and become united again. Robert Tappan Morris would become the first person to be prosecuted and convicted under U.S. federal law for releasing the worm.



Iran says it has broken the “monopoly” of world powers on electronic warfare and advanced communications technologies. Commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Hossein Salami said that a new unit called Sepehr 110 had been established that would help Iran cope with electronic warfare attacks.

The US says it carried out cyberattacks against Iran in late June after Iran shot down a US Global Hawk drone over the Gulf of Oman. The attacks were judged to be a better response than airstrikes, which would have killed Iranians. In response, Iran has rolled out this new unit, the latest in a series of Iranian claims to have created indigenous technology – from submarines to cruise missiles to nuclear enrichment – that showcases its innovations.