An increasingly connected world needs hackers more than ever before

Internet security expert Justin Calmus explains why bug bounty programs are so important

An increasingly connected world needs hackers more than ever before
(Credit: Getty/welcomia)

As the world around us becomes more connected to the internet, the number of ways that hackers can infiltrate our lives becomes increasingly multifarious. Today data breaches are taking place in ways that were unheard of just a decade ago — from remotely hacking cars to infiltrating “smart” teddy bears.

The threats have grown so quickly that companies are overwhelmed by the increasing number of attacks, security experts say. This is not just because of the growing number of opportunities to infiltrate a network or device, but also because these attacks are increasingly automated and launched from low-priced computer hardware using open-source tools that require relatively low coding skills to deploy. Defending against such attacks can require well-paid and highly trained experts.

“We believe that cybersecurity is a correctable math problem that, at present, overwhelmingly favors the attackers,” Ryan M Gillis, vice president of cybersecurity strategy for enterprise security company Palo Alto Networks, said at a House Homeland Security Committee meeting last week about protecting the private sector from hacking. “Network defenders are simply losing the economics of the cybersecurity challenge.”

One increasingly popular way for a company or government agency to root out vulnerabilities is through a big bounty program, a policy that invites hackers to try to infiltrate its connected networks. Hackers receive financial compensation for identifying entry points that could be exploited for malicious purposes. The idea has been around since at least 1995, when internet browser pioneer Netscape initiated its “bugs bounty” program with a $50,000 budget. Today such programs are common among major companies, including United Airlines and Tesla Motors, and can be lucrative projects for the most talented hackers who can earn from $10 to tens of thousands of dollars depending on the severity of the vulnerability identified.

Last week Google and Microsoft increased their top rewards for people who can expose the most serious threats, like when code can be remotely injected and executed through network defenses. This underscores the growing popularity of bounty programs as companies compete for the attention of the most talented ethical hackers. Apple, which has resisted compensating people for identifying flaws, last year succumbed to the trend and now offers bounties of as much as $200,000.

Justin Calmus, vice president of hacker success for San Francisco-based HackerOne, which has a bug-bounty platform whose clients include the U.S. State Department, Uber Technologies and General Motors, spoke with Salon about the role bug bounties play in boosting network security.

Bug bounties have been around for about 20 years. Talk about the most recent innovations in the practice and where it might be headed.

I’ll start with the problem first. If we go back 15 years, companies would be able to recruit engineers because they were focused on specific technologies. You would have a few issues from most likely Python, [a high-level general-purpose programming language,] and you would have a website and some people who knew HTML, [the standard language for building websites]. Today we have so many different programming languages and we have different infrastructure components, like running in the cloud versus on premise, we have [Amazon Web Services, a widely used cloud-computing platform] and we have all these different operations.

The problem of security is getting bigger and bigger. How do you control your security? If you run a startup, how do you control your security as you build your business? That’s an even harder problem to solve because you don’t necessarily have the funding to hire tons of security resources. You have to figure out “How do I continue to stay secure while I scale?” That’s one of the problems bug bounties solve for.

For the most part, if you have a company, and it could be any company, you tell hackers, “Hey, I want you to do anything it takes to get access to our data and report it to us.” If you do that, you then have thousands of eyes looking into your specific programs to help you scale and help you secure your business.

Are there hackers that just do this as full-time jobs?

Yeah, we have a gentleman in Vegas that does this full-time, making a half a million dollars a year doing this. You can make a significant income from bug bounties. It’s a fantastic way to make extra income and to potentially go full-time.

Google and Microsoft recently announced big increases in their bug bounty rewards. Why do you think bug bounties are becoming more lucrative?

Imagine if Salon.com is trying to recruit the best reporter in the world, but that reporter must have specific knowledge about security — and it also wants a little bit of software engineering background because the reporter needs to talk technical, and it wants the reporter to be located in this area, and the reporter must be willing to travel. Suddenly you’re moving your needle so small that there might be three people in the world who fit the criteria.

Google is starting to have this problem. They’ve developed a lot of their own tools and they’ve developed their own [programming] language. It’s not easy to find a Google bug because there isn’t external training on what Google does, how they do it, all the different types of infrastructure. There are pretty good resources to figure this out, but to go deep on such a massive problem you need to spend hours and days and months getting to know the infrastructure to find a bug. So to dedicate all of your time and resources into Google you need to be very incentivized to look because at the end of the day you might not find anything.

We’re entering an era of the internet of things [that] connects cars, smart cities, toys with Wi-Fi connections. Are bug bounties being implemented for things like this?

We’re getting to the point to where the [makers of] hardware and the internet of things components are starting to be asked those very questions. As a hacker myself, I want to see them participate in bug bounty programs because I use Alexa, I use some of the apps connected to [the internet of things] and it’s my job to understand how the software and hardware that I buy works. Doing due diligence and being able to reverse engineer to take a look deep into a product, you may find issues and vulnerabilities; some of them may even give you access to other customers’ data. Companies need to be able to responsibly disclose all of that. For hackers to put in the time and effort to find some of these vulnerabilities — it would be fantastic if companies would reward the hackers so that they continue looking into their programs.

We’ve read a lot about how automakers are encouraging white hat hackers to root out these vulnerabilities. But is this happening with other makers of internet-connected products, like internet-connected home appliances or “smart” teddy bears?

It’s absolutely a slow roll. The tech companies get it. They have to deal with security issues day in and day out. The hardware companies don’t necessarily understand it as much as they need to. It’s a problem we’re solving for. We do have some hardware companies on board. We do have internet of things [companies] on board. But we do need to get the word out that security is a fundamental piece of everybody’s life. You need to be able to understand the security outcomes of making life more efficient or easier or whatever it may be. So do I think that we need to spread the word? Absolutely. Do I think they get it yet? Not 100 percent.

The Information Technology and Innovation Foundationrecently said that a significant number of federal government websites failed basic security benchmarks. Is the federal government falling behind in this effort to entice ethical hackers?

The Department of Defense has a bug bounty program and we’re starting to see efforts to secure all of our government services. Just speaking to higher-ups on the government side I hear them talking about “Hey, we need to find these hackers and reward them and incentivize them, see what we can do to continue to have them continue to look at our programs and even eventually hire them.” The U.S. has its own hiring criteria, but the [Defense Department] is open to anybody today, not just U.S. citizens looking to work for them.

HackerOne recently announced a platform for the open-source coding community, which is free. What inspired you to go in that direction?

We’re absolutely huge open-source fans. Open source powers our platform. It powers many platforms. We see the mission as making the entire internet safer and make sure that everyone is taken care of. We’re better off doing that for all of the open-source projects out there. We want to make sure we’re on top of that. This also helps us branch out to the best hackers out there. We’re able to leverage our ability find vulnerabilities [in open-source software] while we’re getting more connected to the hacker community.

How Uber Could End Up As Silicon Valley’s Most Spectacular Crash

ECONOMY

Lately, the curtain is being pulled back to reveal a rotten culture and troubled CEO.

Photo Credit: Prathan Chorruangsak / Shutterstock.com

Just a year ago, Uber reigned as the tech industry’s awe-inspiring, all-powerful Wizard of Oz. But lately, the curtain is being pulled back to reveal a guy who’s more like an angry drunk frantically yanking levers while taking roundhouse swings at the Tin Man and propositioning Dorothy.

Uber is in a whole lot of bad right now, and there’s growing concern that it’s about to melt down like a haywire nuclear reactor, which would leave a crater in the heart of Silicon Valley. Uber gave us on-demand transportation. Countless people all over the world love this new kind of service. The category is only going to get bigger. But it’s possible it will do that without Uber.

Rotten Culture, Bad PressAt the heart of Uber’s trouble is its culture, which seems to have been born from a one-night stand between John Belushi’s crude Bluto in Animal House and Ayn Rand’s hypercompetitive Hank Rearden. That culture got put on public display in February, when former engineering employee Susan Fowler published a blog calling out Uber’s rotten treatment of women and its general dysfunction. The place is so cutthroat, she wrote, “it seemed like every manager was fighting their peers or attempting to undermine their direct supervisor so that they could have their direct supervisor’s job.”

If anyone thought Fowler was a lone whiner, a few days later tech industry legend Mitch Kapor and his wife, Freada Kapor, who is an expert in workplace mores, published an open letter to Uber’s board. The Kapors were early investors in the company, and they were unhappy about Uber’s tepid response to Fowler’s post and fed up with Uber’s “destructive culture,” to use their term. “We are speaking up now because we are disappointed and frustrated; we feel we have hit a dead end in trying to influence the company quietly from the inside,” they wrote.

A week later, while riding in an Uber, CEO Travis Kalanick was captured on video berating the driver, who dared to complain about cuts to his income because Uber keeps reducing fares. “I’m bankrupt because of you,” the driver told Kalanick, who then erupted. After Bloomberg obtained and published the video, Kalanick found himself in the all-too-familiar position of publicly apologizing. He posted on Uber’s site, “I must fundamentally change as a leader and grow up.” Duh.

Negative publicity keeps battering Uber. The company ran afoul of the protesters who flocked to airports after Donald Trump’s travel ban, then had to fend off a #DeleteUber movement. (Some estimates say 200,000 people deleted the app in the days after the hashtag went viral.) About six months earlier, Uber took a $3.5 billion investment from Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund, a move that made Uber look as if it was buddies with a government that won’t let women drive and puts gay men in jail.

One Uber investor said to Fortune about the deal, “It goes to the heart of who Travis is. He just doesn’t give a shit about optics. Ever.”

Now Uber is being painted as a technology thief by Google’s parent, Alphabet. Last year, Uber bought a company called Otto for a reported $680 million. Otto develops autonomous driving technology. A bunch of people who work there came from Alphabet’s autonomous car subsidiary, now called Waymo. Alphabet alleges that some of those people stole technical data from Waymo, and Alphabet is suing to stop Uber from using it. Uber has often stated that its future rests on having a fleet of self-driving cars—so, of course, it won’t have to share revenue with those pesky human drivers. If Alphabet wins its case, Uber would pretty much have to start building the technology all over again or pay a ton of money to buy someone else’s.

Dissatisfied Drivers, Bleak Financials. While Uber is counting on a hazy future of self-driving cars, in the meantime it has to keep its 160,000 drivers happy, and they are not, as Kalanick’s video encountered showed. Drivers want the Uber app to allow tips; Uber won’t do it. Uber has fought court cases brought by U.S. drivers asking for employee benefits. It settled a suit for $20 million for posting ads that were misleading about how much its drivers can earn. Rival Lyft has been running ads lampooning Uber’s treatment of drivers, hoping to lure away Uber drivers—and convince conscientious riders they should prefer a company that treats its drivers better.  Strategically, Kalanick and his team seem guilty of constant overreach. Does anybody ever order a falafel from UberEats? Who at Uber thought it was a good idea to take on Seamless? Not only did Kalanick buy Otto to get into self-driving cars, but in February he hired a former NASA scientist to develop flying cars. Trump likes to say we always lose to China—well, Uber proved him right by going into China ill-prepared. Last summer, Uber cut a deal with China’s Uber clone, Didi Chuxing, to leave China in exchange for 17.5 percent of the Chinese company and a $1 billion investment by Didi. Is that setting up Didi to eventually beat Uber worldwide? Trump will have a seizure if the day ever comes when U.S. riders no longer say they’re going to “Uber” somewhere and instead say they’re going to “Didi.”And then there is Uber’s financial picture. The company is private, but some of its numbers have been leaked. Bloomberg reported that Uber lost $800 million in the third quarter of 2016. Some speculate Uber may have lost $3 billion last year. Uber is a costly business to run. To serve more customers, it needs to bring in and pay more drivers, so the company can’t take advantage of economies of scale. It has little pricing power because it still faces competition from Lyft and taxis and other newcomers including Maven, which is a unit of General Motors. In order to have the cash to fund operations and expansion, Uber has brought in round after round of private investment, pumping up the valuation of the company to nearly $70 billion. That would make Uber worth more than GM. Raise your hand if you think that makes sense.

The sky-high valuation may be haunting Uber. Kalanick has famously refused to take Uber public, even though the company, at eight years old, is in the sweet spot of when many tech companies do an initial public offering. He makes his stance sound like a maverick’s declaration of independence from public markets, but whispers now are that Uber’s finances might not justify an IPO at a valuation high enough to make current investors happy. If that’s true, Uber is in a hole. It won’t be able to raise money from anyone who has passed sixth-grade math.

If Uber stalls, it isn’t going to be saved by a loyal consumer fan base. There is no stickiness to Uber. It has no frequent-rider program. It has no social component. It prevents users from forming bonds with drivers. No one gets a heightened sense of self by identifying as an Uber rider versus some competitor. We’ll stick with Uber as long as it continues to get us where we want to go at a price we like. Someone else comes along with a better service or lower price, we’ll use it.

Drexel of the 2010s?It’s hard to imagine the devastation that would come with an Uber collapse. Its dozens of investors range from venture capital companies to individuals like Kapor and companies such as Microsoft and Citigroup. The company employs 11,000 people (excluding drivers), mostly around Silicon Valley, and is in the process of spending $250 million on new offices. The blow to Silicon Valley’s ego might be up there with the pain the Democratic Party has been feeling lately.

Uber has done amazing work in its short life. It created, defined and has so far dominated a new market of on-demand transportation, changing the way we do things today and profoundly changing the way we think about the future of urban transportation. It is a historically important company. No one will ever take that away from Kalanick and his crew. But Uber has proved to be a flawed company. To find a business tragedy that’s an appropriate warning for Uber, go back to Drexel Burnham Lambert in the 1980s, when Kalanick was in grade school. (He is, believe it or not, 40 years old.) Drexel, led by investing legend Mike Milken, defined and dominated junk bonds as a category of finance. This changed Wall Street and business forever. Drexel was a superstar. But the company had a flawed culture of insane pressure to perform, so employees took sketchy risks that ultimately led to criminal charges. Within a couple of years, the company fell from the pinnacle of Wall Street power to filing for bankruptcy. Milken went to prison for securities fraud.

The category Drexel created lives on. Today, junk bonds are a $1 trillion market, without Drexel.

The Kapors are pushing Kalanick to reinvent Uber’s culture so it can become an enduring company. It would be awesome if Uber can fulfill its promise and stand next to companies like Apple and Amazon. But as Uber’s bad days pile up, it often looks as if Kalanick has built the Drexel of the 2010s.

Kevin Maney is a best-selling author and award-winning columnist.

 

WikiLeaks Has Joined the Trump Administration

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WikiLeaks Has Joined the Trump Administration

As a presidential candidate, Donald Trump declared, “I love WikiLeaks!” And he had good reason to display affection to this website run by accused rapist Julian Assange. By releasing reams of emails stolen from the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta, WikiLeaks helped tilt the 2016 election in Trump’s favor.

As president, Trump hasn’t come out and said anything laudatory about WikiLeaks following its massive disclosure of CIA secrets on Tuesday — a treasure trove that some experts already believe may be more damaging than Edward Snowden’s revelations. But Trump hasn’t condemned WikiLeaks. The recent entries on his Twitter feed — a pure reflection of his unbridled id — contain vicious attacks on, among other things, Arnold Schwarzenegger, the New York Times, and Barack Obama but not a word about WikiLeaks. Did the president not notice that the intelligence community he commands has just suffered a devastating breach of security? Or did he simply not feel compelled to comment?

Actually there is a third, even more discomfiting, possibility:

Perhaps Trump is staying silent because he stands to benefit from WikiLeaks’ latest revelations.

Perhaps Trump is staying silent because he stands to benefit from WikiLeaks’ latest revelations.On Saturday, recall, Trump was making wild-eyed accusations that Obama had ordered the U.S. intelligence community to wiretap him. “How low has President Obama gone to tapp (sic) my phones during the very sacred election process. This is Nixon/Watergate. Bad (or sick) guy!” The White House could not come up with one iota of evidence to support this irresponsible allegation, which was denied by FBI Director James Comey and former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper. But Trump would not be dissuaded from pursuing this charge, which serves as a convenient distraction from the far more serious accusations of possible collusion between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin while Russia was interfering with the presidential campaign.

Is it just a coincidence that WikiLeaks dumped a massive database pertaining to CIA hacking and wiretapping just three days after Trump made wiretapping a major political issue? Perhaps so. But there is cause for suspicion.

In the first place, WikiLeaks has often timed its leaks for maximum political impact. It released 20,000 stolen DNC emails just three days before the Democratic National Convention on July 25, 2016. As expected, WikiLeaks generated headlines about DNC staffers disparaging Sen. Bernie Sanders, buttressing a Trump campaign effort to prevent Clinton from consolidating Sanders supporters. DNC Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz resigned as a result, and the Clinton campaign suffered significant public relations damage.

In the second place, WikiLeaks, which has often leaked American but never Russian secrets, has been identified by the U.S. intelligence community as a front for Russian intelligence. In January, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence released a declassified estimate that found “with high confidence that Russian military intelligence … relayed material to WikiLeaks.” This was done with a definite purpose: “Putin and the Russian Government aspired to help President-elect Trump’s election chances when possible by discrediting Secretary Clinton and publicly contrasting her unfavorably to him.”

Trump has consistently resisted the intelligence agency’s conclusions, insisting that some 400-pound couch potato might have committed the hacking before grudgingly accepting the findings but continuing to claim that the Russian hack had no impact on the election. (Given that 70,000 votes in three states were his margin of victory, how does he know what affected the outcome and what didn’t? And if WikiLeaks was so inconsequential, why did he tout its revelations in almost every appearance during the last month of the campaign?)

The intelligence community’s finding that Putin helped him win the election spurred Trump to pursue a vendetta against it. For example, he accused the spooks — with no support — of being behind BuzzFeed’s publication of a damning dossier compiled by a former British intelligence officer claiming that the Kremlin had compiled compromising materials on him. Trump outrageously tweeted: “Intelligence agencies should never have allowed this fake news to ‘leak’ into the public. One last shot at me. Are we living in Nazi Germany?” His animus against the intelligence agencies has continued down to his more recent accusations that they allowed themselves to be used by Obama to wiretap him. The consistent (if hardly believable) storyline from Trump is that he has no connections to Russia, and that he is a victim of the nefarious machinations of the American “deep state.”

It is significant, therefore, that one of the major storylines to emerge from the latest WikiLeaks release is that the CIA supposedly has a program to reuse computer codes from foreign hackers, thus disguising CIA fingerprints on a hacking operation. Never mind that there is no evidence that the codes used to break into the DNC were part of this CIA database. Right-wing outlets are nevertheless trumpeting these revelations with headlines such as this one on Breitbart: “WikiLeaks: CIA Uses ‘Stolen’ Malware to ‘Attribute’ Cyberattacks to Nations Like Russia.” Russian-controlled Internet “bots” are also said to be playing up these claims online.

The implication is clear. Trump was a victim of a “false flag” operation wherein CIA hackers broke into the DNC and blamed the Russians. This may be nutty, but it’s eminently believable to an audience conditioned to believe that 9/11 was an inside job and that the Sandy Hook massacre was staged — favorite tropes of the radio talk-show host Alex Jones, whose work Trump has praised. Other WikiLeaks revelations — for instance, that the CIA can use Samsung smart TVs as listening devices — lend further credence to Trump’s charge that he was secretly wiretapped.

Quite apart from its specifics, the WikiLeaks release changes the subject after a bad few days for Trump highlighted by Attorney General Jeff Sessions’s decision to recuse himself from any Kremlingate probe after he was revealed to have lied under oath when he denied meeting any Russian representatives. Last week it was Trump on the defensive. Now it’s his nemeses in the U.S. intelligence community who are answering embarrassing questions about how this leak could have occurred and the contents of the leaked information.

Again, maybe this is entirely coincidental, but WikiLeaks’ history of being used by Russian intelligence to support Trump should lead to much greater scrutiny not only of who leaked this information — is there a mole in the CIA? — but why it was released now. Even if there is no active collusion between the White House and the Kremlin, the extent to which their agendas coincide is striking. Both Putin and Trump want to discredit the U.S. intelligence community because they see it as an obstacle to their power.

Photo credit: OLI SCARFF/Getty Images

WikiLeaks Has Joined the Trump Administration

WikiLeaks reveals vast CIA spying, cyberwar operation

8 March 2017

The bitter internecine struggle within the US state apparatus and ruling political establishment, featuring unsubstantiated Democratic claims of Russian hacking in support of Trump, on the one hand, and Trump’s own charge that his campaign was bugged by Obama, on the other, was overshadowed Tuesday by a massive release of CIA documents by WikiLeaks.

The 8,761 documents contained in what WikiLeaks has described as “the largest intelligence publication in history” have begun to lay bare a vast system of surveillance, hacking and cyberwarfare directed against the people of the United States and the entire planet.

The anti-secrecy organization called the first document trove “Year Zero” and said that further CIA data dumps are still to come under a larger project dubbed “Vault 7.”

The files were taken from the CIA’s Center for Cyber Intelligence, a huge and little-known command that includes some 5,000 hackers, both CIA agents and private contractors. Much as in the case of Edward Snowden’s leaking of secret documents exposing the global spying operation of the National Security Agency (NSA) in 2013, the CIA documents have apparently come from a former agency hacker or contractor concerned about the scope and purpose of the agency’s cyberwar operations.

The programs described in the documents indicate that the CIA, according to WikiLeaks, has developed “more than a thousand hacking systems, trojans, viruses and other ‘weaponized’ malware” allowing it to seize control of devices, including Apple iPhones, Google’s Android operating system (used by 85 percent of smart phones) and devices running Microsoft Windows. By hacking these devices, the CIA is also able to intercept information before it is encrypted on social media platforms such as WhatsApp, Signal, Telegram, Wiebo, Confide and Cloackman.

The agency has apparently stockpiled so-called weaponized “zero-day” threats that can be used to exploit unidentified vulnerabilities in a wide range of devices before their manufacturer is able to detect the flaw and correct it. Under the Obama administration, the White House had supposedly established a “Vulnerabilities Equities Process,” under which the intelligence agencies would inform manufacturers of most software vulnerabilities while keeping some to itself for exploitation. In part, this was designed to prevent US companies from losing market share overseas. The vast character of the CIA arsenal establishes that this program was a sham from the outset.

One of the programs developed by the CIA, codenamed “Weeping Angel,” turns Samsung smart televisions into the kind of technology envisioned by George Orwell in 1984, in which “thought police” monitored “telescreens” that served as both televisions, broadcasting the speeches of “Big Brother,” and security cameras, monitoring every word and action of the viewer. This surveillance technique places targeted TVs in a “fake off” mode, transmitting conversations in a room over the Internet to a covert CIA server.

WikiLeaks reported that a large amount of information had been redacted from the leaked documents, including computer codes for actual cyberweapons as well as the identities of “tens of thousands of CIA targets and attack machines throughout Latin America, Europe and the United States.”

That “targets” exist in the US indicates that the agency is engaged in wholesale domestic spying in violation of its charter.

The documents also establish that the CIA has developed these programs in collaboration with MI5, the British intelligence agency, and that it operates a covert cyberwarfare center out of the US Consulate in Frankfurt, Germany.

One chilling revelation provided by the documents, according to WikiLeaks, is that, “As of October 2014 the CIA was also looking at infecting the vehicle control systems used by modern cars and trucks.” WikiLeaks notes that “The purpose of such control is not specified, but it would permit the CIA to engage in nearly undetectable assassinations.”

While WikiLeaks does not specifically mention it, this was the scenario suggested by many in the 2013 fatal single-car accident in Los Angeles that claimed the life of journalist Michael Hastings. At the time of his death, Hastings, who had previously written an article that led to the removal of Gen. Stanley McChrystal as the top US commander in Afghanistan, was working on a profile of Obama’s CIA Director John Brennan. Before the accident, Hastings had informed colleagues that he was under government surveillance and had asked a neighbor to lend him her car, saying he feared his own vehicle had been tampered with.

One other politically significant element of the revelations contained in the WikiLeaks documents concerns a CIA program known as “Umbrage,” which consists of a sizable “library” of malware and cyberattack techniques developed in other countries, including Russia. The agency is able to exploit these “stolen” tools to mask its own attacks and misdirect attribution to their originators. The existence of such a program underscores the lack of any foundation for the hysterical campaign alleging Russia’s responsibility for the hacking and leaking of Democratic Party emails.

While the Democrats continue to center their fire against Trump on the question of alleged ties to Russia—rather than the reactionary policies his administration has unleashed against immigrants and the working class as a whole—the WikiLeaks revelations about the CIA are being dismissed by sections of the media as another Moscow plot.

Along similar lines, the New York Times Monday published a lengthy article mocking alleged “signs of a White House preoccupation with a ‘deep state’ working to thwart the Trump presidency” following Trump’s charge that he had been bugged during the presidential campaign.

Such a term might be appropriate for countries like Egypt, Turkey or Pakistan, the Times argued, but could not be applied to the US because it “suggests an undemocratic nation where legal and moral norms are ignored.”

The reality is that the “deep state” in the US is more massive and powerful than anywhere in the world and is the patron of similar military-intelligence complexes in countries like Egypt, Turkey and Pakistan. As for “legal and moral norms,” the latest revelations about the CIA, an organization long ago dubbed Murder, Inc., offer a glimpse of the real methods of the American state.

That the Times attempts to dismiss concerns about the activities and influence of the military-intelligence apparatus only establishes its own role as a propaganda organ and ideological instrument of this “deep state,” with the most intimate ties to the CIA, the Pentagon and other agencies.

The documents released by WikiLeaks cover the period of 2013 to 2016, the last years of the Obama administration, which presided over the continuation and spread of the wars begun under Bush, a sweeping expansion of the power the US intelligence apparatus and a corresponding assault on democratic rights. This included the organization of an international drone assassination program under which the White House claimed the authority to order the extrajudicial murder of American citizens.

This vast apparatus of war, repression and mass surveillance has now been handed over to the administration of Donald Trump, a government of billionaires, generals and outright fascists that is determined to escalate war abroad and carry out unprecedented attacks on the working class at home.

While the Democratic Party is calling for a special prosecutor over alleged Russian “meddling” in the US election—a demand aimed at sustaining the US war drive against Russia and diverting the mass opposition to Trump into reactionary channels—and Trump is calling for a probe of the alleged bugging of his communications, neither side has called for investigation of the CIA spying operation. Both Democrats and Republicans are agreed that such police-state measures are required to defend the crisis-ridden capitalist system against the threat of a social revolution by the working class.

Bill Van Auken

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2017/03/08/pers-m08.html

The Snap IPO: Trump agenda fuels an orgy of speculation

snap-surges-44-in-its-stock-market-debut-after-an-ipo-that-made-its-20-something-founders-multibillionaires

3 March 2017

Shares of Snap Inc., the maker of the Snapchat messaging app, surged 44 percent Thursday after its initial public offering (IPO). The firm, which has a miniscule number of employees, has never turned a profit and lost $514.6 million last year, is now valued higher than the retailing giant Target, which employs over 300,000 people.

Within seconds of trading in the stock getting underway, an hour and a half or so after they had rung the opening bell, the wealth of each of the company’s two co-founders, Evan Spiegel and Bobby Murphy, was boosted to $5.3 billion as the shares jumped from an initial price of $17 to more than $24—a leap of 44 percent. They rose even further during the course of the day before falling back slightly at close of trading. Others also benefited, including the venture capital firms Benchmark Capital and Lightspeed Venture Partners which made $903 million and $613 million respectively.

The explosion in the value of Snap shares is illustrative of two interconnected processes. It is a further demonstration of the rise of parasitism at the heart of the US economy and financial system. At the same time, it is another graphic endorsement by Wall Street and US financial elites of the policies of the Trump administration aimed at setting loose the “animal spirits” of capitalist money-making, free from any government control or regulations.

The fact that Snap Inc. has warned that it may never turn a profit did not prevent a rush for the stock. Speculators salivated not so much on the prospect that Snapchat’s 158 million users, sending more than 2.5 billion images and messages every day and concentrated in the 18- to 34-year-old demographic, could be a lucrative source of revenue. Rather, the stampede was motivated by the very short-term prospect, measured in minutes or even seconds, that there were huge immediate gains to be made on a rise in its share value.

The response to the Snap launch was hailed on Wall Street as a sign that the downturn in IPOs in the past two years was coming to an end and that further massive fortunes could be made if other firms such as ride-hailing service Uber and rental service Airbnb decide to list publicly.

The Snap IPO took place in the midst of a market surge that began with the election of Donald Trump four months ago. Since Election Day, the market has risen by 15 percent and on Wednesday the Dow Jones index hit a new record high of 21,000 after passing the 20,000 mark on January 25.

The IPO took place the same week as Trump announced plans to increase US military spending by a massive $53 billion, offset with cuts to social spending and foreign aid, and as his administration presided over a massive round-up of undocumented workers.

As Trump noted in his address to Congress this week, since his election victory, more than $3 trillion has been added to share values. The driving force of this process is not the prospect of a genuine revival of the US economy—growth continues to trend below 2 percent—but rests on the belief that the administration is going to scrap legal and administrative constraints on profit-making.

In short, the type of economic and financial arrangements that have characterised Trump’s business career, based on speculation, swindling, low wages, and business malfeasance, are now going to hold even greater sway in the American economy as a whole.

This perspective has been articulated by Trump’s chief strategist, the fascistic ideologue and economic nationalist Stephen Bannon, who has insisted on the scrapping of what he calls the “administrative state.”

The Snap IPO is an expression of this general process. This is a company which makes nothing, which has very few employees and whose valuation is based on the belief that it is a vehicle through which money will simply be able to beget more money via financial operations.

That such speculation now increasingly assumes the first place in wealth accumulation is expressive of the rot at the very heart of American capitalism. It results from the fact that trillions of dollars are unable to find a productive outlet in the real economy and investors increasingly seek returns through financial manipulations.

The same phenomenon is visible elsewhere. One of the chief drivers of the share market rise has been the escalation in the value of bank shares, particularly of Goldman Sachs, former executives and employees of which have assumed prominent positions in the Trump administration.

The rise in bank share values is not the result of expectations of a surge of lending for productive activities, but flows from the belief that the Trump Administration intends to dismantle financial regulations, including the extremely limited measures introduced under the Dodd-Frank Act in response to the financial crisis of 2008.

Likewise, the surge in the shares of companies, such as Caterpillar, involved in infrastructure projects is not based on any genuine public initiatives—notwithstanding Trump’s declaration in his address to Congress that crumbling infrastructure will be replaced by new roads, bridges, tunnels, airports and railways, “gleaming” across the land. Rather, it is grounded on the understanding that at the centre of the $1 trillion so-called infrastructure program will be tax concessions and write-offs for major firms.

Armaments firms and defence contractors are also enjoying a surge because of Trump’s commitment to increase military spending at the cost of vital social services. And adding fuel to the fire is the promise of major tax cuts, both at the personal and corporate level.

The prospect that the very heights of American society, already wallowing in obscene levels of wealth, are going to be further richly rewarded under the Trump administration is the essential content of the Snap IPO frenzy.

The election of Trump marks a new stage in the social counter-revolution initiated under Obama, the aim of which has been to massively enrich the financial oligarchy through the impoverishment of workers, the dismantling of social services, and the elimination or non-enforcement of financial, environmental, occupational health, and other business regulations.

This is the outcome of the capitalist system, which, beset by economic, geopolitical, and social crisis, sees no solution to its internal maladies outside of dragging society back over a hundred years to the age of the robber barons.

Trump’s reactionary social and economic agenda, which has already given rise to the largest mass protests in US history, will set the administration on a collision course with the working class. If workers are to fight back, they must understand that Trump does not act as an individual—a blot on the otherwise healthy capitalist system—but rather expresses its innermost essence: parasitism, dictatorship, and militarism.

The struggle against the Trump administration is the fight against the social class he represents—the American financial oligarchy—and the capitalist system. It requires the working class to adopt a socialist strategy, aiming to overturn capitalism and replace it with public ownership and control of the means of production.

Nick Beams

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2017/03/03/pers-m03.html

The discovery of a system with seven “Earth-like” exoplanets

24 February 2017

The detection of a nearby solar system of potentially Earth-like exoplanets orbiting the star Trappist-1 has evoked widespread public interest and enthusiasm. Millions of people have read reports, watched videos and posted on social media about the seven worlds that might have liquid water on their surfaces.

The Trappist-1 system is comprised of seven planets that orbit a nearby ultracool dwarf star (so-called for its comparatively low temperature). Six of the planets have been confirmed to have an Earth-like size, mass and density. None of them have any hydrogen in their atmospheres, further confirmation that these are all terrestrial, rocky worlds like Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars. Moreover, due to the gravitational interactions between all seven planets and Trappist-1 itself, every world in the system may have liquid water.

Of particular interest is the fact that the planets are very close. They are Earth’s next-door neighbors, relative to the vastness of the universe. Trappist-1 is only 39 light years away—that is, it takes light, traveling at about 300,000 kilometers per second, 39 years to travel the distance. In comparison, the Milky Way galaxy of which our sun is a part has a diameter of 100,000 light years, and it is about 2.5 million light years to its larger companion, the Andromeda galaxy, one of trillions of galaxies in the Universe.

An artist’s rendering of the seven worlds of the Trappist-1 system, shown to scale in both size and distance, as might be seen from Earth with a future telescope. Credit: NASA, JPL-Caltech, Spitzer Space Telescope, Robert Hurt (Spitzer, Caltech)

The planets are so close that, in the not-too-distant future, it should be possible to make far more detailed analyses and even direct observations of exoplanets.

The discovery of these worlds is the most remarkable of a wave of new scientific findings since the first “exoplanet”—a planet outside of our solar system—was discovered around a Sun-like star in the mid-1990s. At the time, while exoplanets had been predicted for nearly four centuries, none had been conclusively detected, let alone directly observed.

Advances in measuring techniques and the use of instruments placed in the orbit around Earth, free of the distortions of the atmosphere, made it possible to detect very slight dips in the brightness of stars. When those dips were observed with regularity, they could be attributed to the motion of planets across the line of sight between the star and the observers.

When the first detection occurred, it opened a whole new realm of astronomy. The gravitational effects of these unseen planets could also be studied, providing evidence of their mass, density and other physical characteristics. Today, not only have scientists detected more than 3,400 exoplanets, the knowledge built up over the past 20 years makes it possible to visualize what these worlds might look like, either from space or from the surface. And with the launching of the James Webb Space Telescope next year, it should be possible to make far more detailed analysis and even direct observation of exoplanets.

Like most significant astronomical advances, the planets’ discovery was an international endeavor. The detection of exoplanets around Trappist-1 began in May 2016, when a team of astronomers used the Chile-based Transiting Planets and Planetesimals Small Telescope (TRAPPIST), remotely operated from Belgium and Switzerland, to first observe the star. They discovered three Earth-sized planets orbiting it, with the outermost one likely within the star’s habitable zone.

This encouraged further observations, which were conducted by a series of ground-based telescopes located in Chile, Hawaii, Morocco, Spain and South Africa. The Spitzer Space Telescope was also commissioned to use its higher precision and greater ability to see in the infrared to study the system. When it was discovered that the system had not three, but seven planets, the Hubble Space Telescope was employed to do an initial survey of the planetary atmospheres for hydrogen. Astronomers across Africa, Europe, the Middle East, North America, South America and Southeast Asia coordinated their efforts to make sense of the data.

The discovery of a planetary system around Trappist-1 is not merely a piece of luck. It is the confirmation of a scientific hypothesis, first advanced in 1997, that, due to the physics of stellar formation, stars with about a tenth of the mass of the Sun are more likely to have terrestrial-sized planets. Trappist-1 is one of many candidates to be studied using this hypothesis, and the first for which the idea has been borne out.

This scientific breakthrough is the culmination of several centuries of advances in astronomy and physics: the understanding of how solar systems are formed; the analysis of visible light and other forms of electromagnetic radiation; and mathematical methods of analysis used to discover the subtle signals in the data from stellar observations.

Trappist-1 is a demonstration of the power of human cognition, science and reason. It is a powerful rebuke to the incessant contemporary glorification of irrationalism, whether through the cultivation of backwardness and religious prejudice or the promotion of postmodernism and its rejection of objective truth, and a mighty vindication of the materialist understanding of the world, that there are objective laws of nature and that humans can comprehend them.

Among millions of people inspired by such discoveries, there is an instinctive understanding that the methods employed to find the Trappist-1 planets and make other scientific and technical advances should be used to solve social and economic problems, to provide sufficient health care, education, shelter and food for all humanity. How can our society discover seven potentially Earth-like worlds more than 350 trillion kilometers away, yet proceed, through environmental recklessness and nuclear-armed militarism, to destroy the planet on which we live?

The exoplanet discovery was based on collaboration towards a common goal whose driving force was the pursuit of knowledge, not the amassing of insane amounts of personal wealth. This sort of thinking is totally alien to the world’s ruling elite, which flaunts its backwardness, vulgarity, ignorance and parasitism, personified in the figure of Donald Trump.

This discovery highlights another contradiction of modern society. The organization and planning required to produce these results is a testament to humanity’s ability to rationally and scientifically coordinate resources on an international scale. The scientists on the project also had to reject the constant mantra of national chauvinism, espoused by the ruling elites throughout the world. While science probes the seemingly infinite distances of galactic space, humanity remains trapped at home within the prison house of the nation-state system, with barbed-wire fences, wars, invasions, bombings and mass flights of refugees.

The squandering of trillions of dollars, yuan, yen, roubles and euros to enrich a parasitic capitalist elite and to wage war around the globe is one reason why scientific announcements of this order are so rare. Immense resources, material and human, are wasted, which should be devoted to the improvement of the human condition and the conquest of knowledge of the material world.

The creation of a society in which the development of knowledge can be freed from the constraints of capitalism requires the application of science and reason to the evolution of society and to politics. In opposition to postmodernism and its many variants, which insist that there is no objective truth, Marxism is rooted in an analysis of the laws of socioeconomic development.

Driven inexorably by its internal contradictions, capitalism is leading mankind toward the abyss of world war and dictatorship. These same contradictions, however, also produce the basis for the overthrow of capitalism: the international working class. The objective process must be made conscious, and the growing opposition of millions of workers and youth around the world must be transformed into a political movement that has as its aim the establishment of an internationally coordinated, rationally directed system of economic planning based on equality and the satisfaction of human need: socialism.

Bryan Dyne

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2017/02/24/pers-f24.html

50 Years Later, Here Are 3 Big Ways the Summer of Love Is Still with Us

CULTURE
The ideals of the Human Be-In remain woven through American culture.

Members of Jefferson Airplane performing at the KFRC Fantasy Fair and Magic Mountain Music Festival in Marin County, California, United States in June, 1967
Photo Credit: Bryan Costales ©2009 Bryan Costales, licensed CC BY-SA 3.0-Bcx.Org: http://www.bcx.org/photos/events/concerts/ffair/?file=KFRCFantasyFair19670603_7464SBCX.jpg, Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 3.0; Jefferson Airplane, Marin County, CA, 1967

Born of the simple intention to unite people in the name of connection and love, an event on the polo fields of Golden Gate Park half a century ago sparked a cultural paradigm shift unrivaled in the U.S. since World War II. But this time it was the antithesis to war that would reshape America: the Summer of Love.

The impetus for that fateful summer was called the Human Be-In, in a nod to the peaceful sit-ins waged by university students in the preceding years against racial segregation. In the years surrounding the Summer of Love, the frigid prospect of nuclear war loomed, minorities and women were rising up against myriad oppressions and the government was cracking down on mind-altering substances like LSD and cannabis. The Summer of Love and its values of free expression, love, peace, activism, and psychedelic exploration of consciousness were the backlash.

The early acid-rock sounds of Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, Big Brother and the Holding Co. and others mixed with the words of boundary-pushing poets and psychedelic pioneers to gather 75,000 or so young people in the park. They spilled out into the five-block radius of the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood with fresh smells, sounds and ideals that came to shape the era’s iconography.

Bill McCarthy, founder of the Unity Foundation, co-produced a 50-year anniversary celebration of the Be-In in San Francisco this week.

“It’s important that we celebrate the past, celebrate the victories, triumphs and challenges of the past, but at the same time look at what’s happening today,” he said. “We’re saying yes, in 1967 this all happened, so let’s rededicate ourselves to that. But let’s also see what’s happening today that can build community, build empathy with people all over the world that are struggling.”

He said given the current political climate, with Trump’s impending inauguration and all that’s bound to come with it, there is more reason than ever to “activate ourselves.” He said when you take the “long view” from 1967 to now, it’s obvious that we’re moving forward.

“The values we treasure and movements we created are still stronger than they ever have been,” he said. “When there’s darkness in the world, the thing that feeds darkness is fear. The last thing we should do right now is be fearful.”

Fifty years since the Be-In, as the digital age re-molds the economy, values and skylines of San Francisco and beyond, the ideals of the Human Be-In remain woven through our culture in ways we rarely pause to acknowledge. From the sounds of activism to the shape of companies to that box of free stuff out on the corner, many hippie dreams are alive and well in 2017.

Annie Oak, founder of the Women’s Visionary Congress, a nonprofit dedicated to exploring altered states of consciousness, says the prevalence of psychedelics in the 1960s and ’70s is directly related to the ideas put forth by young people at the time.

“These substances allowed people to think way outside the box and also question social systems,” she said. “The hippies here really put forward a liberal political consciousness and humanist values that impacted society.”

Here are three modern cultural shifts that have their roots in the psychedelic Summer of Love.

1. Collectivism, from communal living to open-source software. 

Annie Oak says communal living, which is everywhere now, was born in the Summer of Love. So, she says, are collectivist projects like the Haight-Ashbury Free Clinic, which is still in operation, offering medical treatment free of charge.

“These ideas of collectivism really launched larger ideas like the open-source software movement and creative commerce,” she notes. “These are ideas that are commonplace now.”

Michael Gosney has produced Digital Be-Ins over the years at Be-In anniversaries to pay homage to the initial Be-In of ’67 and to look to the future. He was involved in early desktop publishing and digital media in San Francisco in the late ’80s. It was the dawn of personal computers, and his magazine was covering early Macintosh creativity. He describes the publication as a “nexus of artists and tech people coming together.”

Between ’85 and ’92 he observed that psychedelics—which made their debut in modern culture during the Summer of Love—heavily influenced the creation of digital media. He says the software programmers who worked on digital music, animation, photography and video were influenced by psychedelics.

“I noticed the preponderance of psychedelic influence in the programming community with the engineers that were inventing these new tools,” he said. “Psychedelic influence was extremely powerful, and really that’s how people were seeing the vision of digital networks and so forth. It very much came out of the influence of psychedelics.”

2. Activism and alternative media.

The mainstream newspapers in 1967 were not about to promote the Be-In event. An underground, independent zine called the Oracle, produced for free in Haight-Ashbury, was the first to cover what would become the catalyst for the hippie days and cultural revolution.

“The Oracle was the first to write about the Be-In, so it helped launch the alternative press,” Annie Oak of WVC says. “And there were also underground radio stations that helped promote the events, so the whole alternative media movement really was moved along by the Be-In and the Summer of Love.”

Oak notes that the environmental movement was also taking place in Haight-Ashbury at the time. The local community organized in the ’60s against a proposed freeway project that would run through the panhandle portion of Golden Gate park, connecting Golden Gate Bridge with the Peninsula. The community organized in protest on the same polo grounds where the initial Be-In took place, and their uprising eventually killed the freeway project. This was in 1964, but Oak says the power of community organizing was a key motif of the ’67 Be-In and its cultural imprints.

“The freeway was one of the important predecessors of the Be-In activism and gathering that took place also in the polo grounds three years later, and the later protests against the war,” she said. “Timothy Leary kind of set the tone with his famous phrase, turn on, tune in, drop out, which kind of set the tone for the Be-In. But what really happened here is people kind of turned on to activism, and then took over. They took over big sections of our culture and changed it in positive ways.”

Oak notes the irony that because of the proposed freeway project, which would have displaced many residents, the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood harbored lower-income residents like students and minorities. As the years passed following the Summer of Love, the neighborhood became an iconic tourist destination. Today, as wealthy techies have been drawn to the city for its iconic allure, lower-income residents are priced out.

“Haight-Ashbury sort of personified the transition between the beat generation—the poets and jazz hipsters that were embracing a lot of the black jazz culture—and the hippies, who then kind of came into what was then a black neighborhood,” Oak says. “And, to some degree, later that movement ironically gentrified the neighborhood, and a lot of the black community then left. It was a very complex form of gentrification, and that gentrification is still happening.”

Bill McCarthy of Unity Foundation said in planning the Be-In anniversary this year he had a conversation with author and historian Dennis McNally about how the mainstream media of the time co-opted the Summer of Love.

“[McNally] was saying… the media created the hippie and created this—how we should look at the culture, and that was part of the downfall,” McCarthy said. “And to that I said, well, Dennis, the beautiful thing now is we can create our own media. We’re not saddled by ABC, NBC, CBS, whatever anymore. We have our own media vehicles.”

3. Cannabis legalization and psychedelic science are influencing mainstream medicine.

Two years prior to the Summer of Love, the psychedelic beloved by many young people who associated LSD with spiritual enlightenment and creative expression was criminalized, like cannabis before it. Retaliating against the Summer of Love and the progressive concepts it launched, President Richard Nixon waged the racist, violent (and ultimately failed) war on drugs that vilified psychedelics and cannabis in the public eye for decades.

Cannabis and most psychedelics remain federally illegal to this day, though the pendulum is starting to swing back. Eight U.S. states have legalized weed for adult use, and this decade the first U.S. government-approved human trials assessing psychedelics in tandem with psychotherapy treatment are showing overwhelmingly positive results. Most of the studies are sponsored by the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), a nonprofit group founded by Rick Doblin in 1986.

Doblin said the Summer of Love set society on a path toward important cultural shifts.

“Since the iconic Summer of Love, 50 years ago, marijuana has gone from being a heavily demonized drug used by rebellious youth to a medicine, with one of the largest growing demographics being elderly people,” he said. “Psychedelics now are being investigated as tools used in scientific research for therapeutic uses, a catalyst of spirituality, art and creativity, acceptance of death and we are now facing their legitimization and acceptance as medical tools.”

In addition, MAPS is conducting studies of MDMA’s potential to help treat post-traumatic stress disorder, researching the use of ibogaine for opiate addiction and “implementing ayahuasca research for PTSD and broadening psychedelic harm reduction outreach for more widespread acceptance into our culture,” Doblin said. Similar to the path of cannabis in culture, he predicts psychedelics will first be accepted medicinally, then for their broadened spiritual and cultural uses.

“One day people will take for granted that psychedelics are legal, are highly prized, and help people make positive contributions to society,” he said.

April M. Short is a yoga teacher and writer who previously worked as AlterNet’s drugs and health editor. She currently works part-time for AlterNet, and freelances for a number of publications nationwide. 

http://www.alternet.org/culture/50-years-later-here-are-3-big-ways-summer-love-still-us?akid=15118.265072.82O0Sv&rd=1&src=newsletter1070698&t=14