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A Critical Misstep?

Facebook’s decision to suspend the account of whistleblower Christopher Wylie on March 19 is an interesting test case for the reach—and overreach—of our social media giants.

Recall that the former Cambridge Analytica data scientist had spearheaded his company’s efforts to mine data from tens of millions of Facebook users without their consent. His method involved devising a Facebook app that not only gained access to personal information from users of the app, but of all those users’ friends as well. The information was then used to target those individuals with pro-Trump content prior to the 2016 election. Wylie contends that CA was able to build psychological profiles that served to lead those individuals to CA’s content and maximize its appeal.

In the hindsight of the impact of his work, Wylie decided to blow the whistle on himself and the company he worked for. In a video interview posted online on The Guardian on March 17, Wylie confesses his sins because he came to believe that, “it was a grossly unethical experiment, because you are playing with an entire country, the psychology of an entire country, without their consent or awareness.”

While Facebook may contend that Cambridge Analytica deceived them as to their intended use of this data, they have nonetheless been damaged by Wylie’s admissions because it suddenly gives Facebook users a rather distinct impression that their personal data is not safe. The immediate consequence of this impression was a one-day stock drop of $40B; perhaps even more troubling is the possibility of a mass exodus from Facebook on the part of its users.

Damage Control

The damage control, Facebook decided, would include suspending the Facebook and Instagram accounts of Mr. Wylie. The ‘reason’ for doing so, according to a Facebook statement sent to several media outlets, was somewhat cryptic:

Mr. Wylie has refused to cooperate with us until we lift the suspension on his account. Given he said he ‘exploited Facebook to harvest millions of people’s profiles,’ we cannot do this at this time.

Facebook knew they had to demonstrate that they were enraged by the revelations of CA’s practices and are now concerned about the personal information that CA had mined. While CA has told Facebook that it has not held onto that information, Facebook stated ‘we received reports that, contrary to the certifications we were given, not all data was deleted. We are moving aggressively to determine the accuracy of these claims.’ Essentially, then, Christopher Wylie’s account is being suspended, not as a form of ‘punishment’ for the damage he has caused to Facebook’s reputation, but because he is not cooperating in their attempts to guarantee to Facebook users that this data has been deleted.

Potential Backfire?

In today’s social media landscape, such a suspension may bring about unintended consequences. Mr. Wylie was able to take to Twitter and further throw Facebook under the bus:

And so now, not only is Facebook seen as incapable of protecting users’ private information, they are also viewed as complicit in covering up these breaches. Though Wylie doesn’t state it overtly, some may take his tweet to suggest that CA’s actual use of private data was a tacit part of the business arrangement with Facebook all along.

The suspension also gave Wylie’s attorney, Tamsin Allen, the opportunity to frame the narrative. She said in a statement that when Facebook learned about the articles, the company “privately welcomed” his help but then criticized him publicly and suspended his account.

“This behavior is more consistent with damage limitation than with a genuine attempt to resolve a serious problem. None of this would have been revealed without Mr. Wylie speaking out and taking his share of responsibility. Facebook should be doing the same rather than simply blaming others.”–Tasmin Allen

Controlled Perception

Wylie’s work with Cambridge Analytica was all about controlling people’s perception towards a political end. Facebook’s reaction is all about managing people’s perception in the interests of its own business. Facebook’s future success depends on it being perceived as a company that cares about people and their privacy. At the moment, this perception is that Facebook’s genuine interest has always been business, not people.

Will this blow over, akin to Beatles’ fans burning record albums after John Lennon observed that the Beatles had become more popular than Jesus Christ? Or will this be another trigger for a consciousness revolution, where people become fully aware of how their perception is being controlled, and start to tear down these veils of manipulation?

Time will tell. It’s playing out live.


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Havana Syndrome again? CIA officers are mowed down by a mysterious disease

A CIA officer in Moscow experienced symptoms of the so-called “Havana syndrome” in 2017. This became known to The New York Times with reference to sources in diplomatic circles.

CIA officer Mark Polimepulos, who helped lead covert operations in Russia and Europe, complained about the manifestation of mysterious symptoms. According to the newspaper, in December 2017, he felt severe dizziness, which later developed into a prolonged migraine, forcing him to retire. At that time, Polymerpoulos was 48 years old.

It is noted that such a case was not the only one. Similar symptoms were experienced by the staff of the American ambassadors in Cuba and China in 2016-2018. However, the exact number of cases and the place where this happened is not named. It is alleged that the US diplomats have tried to influence in a similar way around the world.

At the same time, the US State Department was unable to establish an unambiguous reason that caused the “Havana syndrome.” Among other things, it was assumed that the diplomats may have been exposed to an unidentified sound effect.

In 2017, it was reported that, beginning in late 2016, American diplomatic officials and their relatives in Cuba began to complain of symptoms such as hearing loss, nausea, headaches and balance disorder. 

The Associated Press received audio footage of the attack and described the harassing sounds as “the high-pitched sound of crickets combined with fingernails scratching on a board.” Then the American government suggested that Russia or China could be the culprit.

Many victims are still undergoing rehabilitation. Specialists from the University of Pennsylvania performed magnetic resonance imaging and revealed visible changes in the structure of the brain in the diplomatic missions.

Differences were found in 23 men and 17 women who complained of health problems while on diplomatic duties in Havana. Scientists have yet to figure out what causes the unusual symptoms.

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How Russia and the United States nearly started a nuclear war in 1995

The Norwegian meteorological rocket incident remains the only time in history that the Russian president has activated his nuclear briefcase.

On January 25, 1995, Doomsday could have come in the world: the Russian Federation was preparing to launch a nuclear strike on the United States. How did it come about that the states that left the confrontation of the Cold War in the past and had just normalized relations with each other found themselves on the verge of mutual destruction?

The beginning of the war?

The cause of the crisis was an ordinary Norwegian meteorological rocket. Its launch from the small island of Anneia at 7 am local time (10 am Moscow time) towards Spitsbergen caused a stir in Russia. 

Black Brant XII.

Black Brant XII. Legion Media / ZUMA Press

Equipped with scientific equipment to study the aurora borealis, the Black Brant XII was similar in size to the nuclear-powered American Trident D-5 ballistic missile, intended for launch from submarines. In addition, it flew along a trajectory along which, as the Russian Defense Ministry believed, American missiles would fly in the event of a nuclear war. 

In December 1994, Norway informed 28 states, including Russia, about the planned launch, but did not give a specific date, limiting itself to specifying the period: from January 15 to February 10 of the next year. Due to bureaucratic delays, this information did not reach the Russian Missile Warning System, which sounded the alarm.

Decisive minutes

An emergency meeting with the country’s top political and military leadership was convened in the Kremlin. Defense Minister Pavel Grachev, Chief of the General Staff Mikhail Kolesnikov and President of the Russian Federation (as Supreme Commander-in-Chief) Boris Yeltsin had three strategic missile forces control terminals activated – the so-called nuclear suitcases.

Vladimir Sayapin / TASS

The military believed the lone missile could have been fired to create an electromagnetic pulse that knocked out Russian radars and communications systems. Following it, a massive blow could be expected.

For several tense minutes, as leaders watched it flight, it was decided whether Russia would launch a nuclear strike against the United States. 

“Little is known today about what Yeltsin said at the time, given that it could have been some of the most dangerous moments in the entire history of the nuclear era,” The Washington Post journalist, David Hoffman wrote three years after the incident : “They make it clear that the Cold War nuclear readiness system continues to operate, and how catastrophic its consequences could be, despite the fact that the feud between the great powers is already over.”   

The situation was discharged only when it became clear that the rocket had gone towards Spitsbergen (not far from which it fell into the ocean). The nuclear cases have been deactivated. Russian President Boris Yeltsin (center) and Russian Defense Minister Pavel Grachev (right).

Russian President Boris Yeltsin (center) and Russian Defense Minister Pavel Grachev (right). Igor Mikhalev / Sputnik

The incident with bringing Russia’s Strategic Nuclear Forces to combat readiness, soon became the property of the world community. When, four years later, the Norwegians were about to repeat their launch of Black Brant XII and reported this to the Russian Foreign Ministry, the US additionally warned all key Russian military departments about it through their channels. As a result, this time there were no unpleasant surprises. 


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Germany conducted exercises in case of nuclear war

Bundeswehr / Birthe Brechters

The Bundeswehr with partners in the North Atlantic Alliance ( NATO) trained in operations in a nuclear war.

The German army, together with Italian, Belgian and Dutch colleagues, conducted exercises in the event of a conflict with the use of nuclear weapons.

The location of the exercise “Steadfest Noon” was chosen airbase “Nörfenich”, where the tactical squadron of the Luftwaffe 31 “Boelcke” is located. Together with the Luftwaffe of the Bundeswehr, the air forces of other NATO countries, in particular, Italy, the Netherlands and Belgium, took part in the exercises.

According to a report by Bild, the exercise scenario involved training procedures for safely removing nuclear weapons from storage, delivering ammunition and installing them on aircraft. The training flights took place without nuclear weapons, and in parallel with the aviation exercises at the Büchel airbase, where the tactical squadron of the Luftwaffe 51 Immelman is located, the Resilient Guard air defense systems were trained to protect the airfield from air attacks.

The training sites for the Luftwaffe of the Bundeswehr were not chosen by chance, since the Nörfenich airbase is a reserve storage site for the B61, a hydrogen bomb that forms the basis of nuclear weapons of the US strategic nuclear forces. 

Some of this ammunition is stationed at NATO bases in Europe. The exact number of hydrogen bombs that are stored at European sites and which ones are not reported. In Europe, the B61 is carried by Panavia Tornado fighter-bombers (pictured) and General Dynamics F-16 Fighting Falcon fighters.

Recall that the B61 thermonuclear bomb is the main weapon of the US strategic nuclear forces, although it entered service in 1968. Since 2012, a new guided version of the B61-12 has been under development, which will replace all B61 and B83 bombs that have been in service since 1983. It can be used both on strategic bombers and tactical aircraft. About two billion dollars were spent on the development of the 12th modification of the aerial bomb.

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