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Everything You Need to Know From Mark Zuckerberg’s Congressional Testimony: Day 1

You’ve heard the rumblings over the years: Might Mark Zuckerberg make it to Washington? We’re pretty sure this isn’t the type of visit he had in mind. In the wake of Facebook’s involvement in the data-sharing scandal, Zuckerberg testified today before a joint session of the Senate Judiciary Committee and the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee (at 10:00 ET tomorrow morning, he’ll be in the hot seat again, this time before the House Committee on Energy and Commerce).

Zuckerberg already shared his written testimony, but during today’s live-streamed hearing, 44 Senators had five minutes each to ask him questions directly. The whole thing took about five hours. Here are the topics they batted around the most, and what both the Senators and Facebook’s CEO had to say about them.

Consumer Privacy

“If you and other social media companies don’t get your act in order, none of us are going to have any privacy any more,” Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) said during his opening statement. Given the nature of the Cambridge Analytica scandal (reminder: the third-party app used a quiz to get ahold of user data, as well as that of all of their friends), it’s not surprising that privacy was a hot topic throughout the hearing.

Lawmakers tried to suss out exactly what Facebook knew about the Cambridge Analytical scandal, most of which was already covered in Zuckerberg’s previous statements on the topic. They also asked if he’d react differently if the data scraping happened today (yes, he would).

At several points throughout the testimony, Zuckerberg attempted to clarify exactly what data Facebook collects and what it doesn’t. He frequently emphasized that Facebook does not sell user data. It collects data, and then gives advertisers access to the Facebook users that are most relevant for their products or services.

In one of the most overtly critical moments of the day, Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA) questioned outright whether Zuckerberg had the “will” to help Congress solve the problem of inadequate privacy protections.

Facebook’s Content

Zuckerberg told Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX), “I agree that we’re responsible for the content [on Facebook],” and a number of questions focused specifically on what kind of “content” actually showed up on the social media site.

Several senators asked how Facebook is addressing hate speech. Zuckerberg noted that the platform is creating helpful artificial intelligence (AI) tools and hiring more native speakers to review content in non-English speaking nations.

Meanwhile, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) took a different line of questioning (perhaps not surprising since, as several have pointed out, Cruz himself was working with Cambridge Analytica), noting that the platform seems to express a bias against conservative stories and users.

“I am very committed to making sure Facebook is a platform for all ideas,” Zuckerberg responded. Facebook attempts to police content that can cause “real-world harm,” such as terrorism, self-harm, or election interference, according to Zuckerberg.

Beyond that, though, the platform’s goal is “to allow people to have as much expression as possible.”

Tech Regulations

Sen. John Thune (R-SD) noted in his opening remarks that lawmakers may soon need to take more control in the tech industry instead of letting the companies mostly regulate themselves.

When Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) asked Zuckerberg if Facebook would “welcome regulation,” Zuckerberg said, “I think, if it’s the right regulation, then yes.”

As for what those that regulation might be, Zuckerberg told Graham he would “absolutely” work with lawmakers on crafting it, and that his team would follow up after (this, perhaps, was Zuckerberg’s most-often repeated phrase of the afternoon).

He later told Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) that a rule requiring Facebook to notify users of a breach within 72 hours “makes sense” to him. He also supports having a law that makes “opt in” the standard for data sharing.

The Best of the Rest

Here’s a potpourri of things that might have come up less frequently, but were still significant during Zuckerberg’s testimony:

  • User Trust: Sen. Thune questioned why users should trust Facebook, asking Zuckerberg, “After more than a decade of promises to do better, how is today’s apology different?” In response, Zuckerberg noted Facebook’s recent decision to take a “more active view in policing the ecosystem.” He said people will have to judge the company by the results of those efforts.
  • Election Interference: When asked what Facebook is doing to prevent foreign interference in U.S. elections, Zuckerberg once again referenced the company’s AI tools. He noted that Facebook has used the tools to identify fake accounts, helping prevent interference in the French presidential election and others since the 2016 presidential election.
  • Robert Mueller’s Special Counsel: The counsel investigating Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election has contacted Facebook, Zuckerberg said. Mueller’s team hasn’t interviewed Zuckerberg directly, but others at Facebook have spoken to the investigators.
  • Android Phones: When asked about Facebook’s phone-scraping scandal, Zuckerberg testified that Facebook can’t collect users’ call and text history through its Messenger app unless the user opts in.
  • Facebook’s Future: A “version of Facebook” will always be free, according to Zuckerberg.

Tune in tomorrow for Zuckerberg’s round 2 in the ring with the U.S. Senate.

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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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