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Under the Radar News…Vladimir Putin, North Koreans and Far-Right Intrigue in Austria

Folks,

If you want to take a good look at Russia’s actions over the past week or so, you’ll need to start in Austria. Austria, like much of Europe, is consumed with choosing the lesser of two evils between Islamism and Russian influence. For co-dependent (one might, uncharitably, say “emasculated”) EU countries like Austria, it does not appear politically, culturally or diplomatically strong enough to keep both evils at bay. And it has friendlier relations with Moscow than any Islamic entity — Putin had never even met Foreign Minister Karin Kneissl when he flew out to attend her wedding. But when the Putin-friendly Freedom Party directs raids on the Austrian “FBI” (technically the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution and Counterterrorism, or Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz und Terrorismusbekämpfung, or BVT) unit specializing in “extremism”, is pretty brazen. The raid was carried out by Austrian street cops and netted 19 gigabytes of data, including dirt on right-wing groups with ties to Vice Chancellor and Freedom Party leader Heinz Strache. For one thing, the Freedom Party is in charge of the BVT (which has led to speculation that this was a heavy-handed attempt to replace the BVT’s hierarchy with Freedom Party members). For another, the reasons for the search warrant appear to be rather flimsy — among them are the failure to properly dispose of information scheduled for deletion, and, um, working with the South Korean government to forge blank North Korean passports in Austria as part of a larger espionage operation against the Norks. Not sure what part of the latter was illegal. A court is deciding on it in the next few days and a parliamentary inquiry is scheduled for next month. Answers should be forthcoming.

It is somewhat refreshing that the average American is becoming more savvy about the extent, nature and frequency of Russian influence campaigns in the US. It is less refreshing when Americans only care about it in proportion to the damage it does to their domestic, political opponents. We’ll see if the newly evangelized anti-Russian Left cares that GRU-backed hackers have been exposed by Microsoft conducting “spearfishing” attacks on Republican organizations that remain critical of Putin. We’ll also see if the American public is willing to follow the bouncing ball as other nations — Iran, China, North Korea, Turkey — are exposed for their extensive subversive campaigns.

In fact, let’s look at the largest influence campaign we know of: Facebook ads. In a video that’s so easy to understand, it might was well have been done in crayon, Vice shows how Facebook’s ads are so successful and how you are such an easy mark. And, to be fair, if you’re in the market for a better brand of laundry detergent or the hippest microbrew, it’s not so bad to be an easy mark. But it should be clear why so many foreign powers are working overtime to exploit open societies and their technology.

Now, factor in Artificial Intelligence. Any K-12 school in the country that received federal funding is using Safety Management Platforms (SMPs) like Gaggle, Securly, or GoGuardian, to monitor what kids are writing on their school-issued tablets or Chromebooks. If words or phrases are detected that might indicate bullying, suicide, school shootings, or Madonna VMA tributes, AI will alert a team of humans to review the text and determine next steps. There is a good argument that this kind of AI “normalizes surveillance” for the kids, making them more aware of the angles of internet permissions and all that, but man, you have to wonder how kids who have “normalized surveillance” will interpret the 4th Amendment, don’t you? As with almost all technological innovation, it was birthed with good intentions. If only there was an aphorism that warned us about those.

As if that wasn’t dangerous enough, get ready for one of those technological innovations that probably wasn’t birthed with the best of intentions — DNN’s or Deep Neural Networks. Triggered by such specific cues as the right face sitting in front of the monitor or the right voice in the room, DNN’s can launch malware on your computer regardless of what you type.

More to come soon…

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