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Cambridge Analytica's CEO is about to have a very bad day

VICE News - 53 min 52 sec ago

Cambridge Analytica boss Alexander Nix has been caught in a journalistic sting speaking on a hidden camera about his company's practices, according to Channel 4 News in the U.K.

Nix is currently at the center of a political storm over allegations the data company, founded by Steve Bannon and conservative megadonor Robert Mercer, harvested unauthorized information from 50 million Facebook users to help Donald Trump win the 2016 election.

The Channel 4 report, which Cambridge Analytica has attempted to block, shows reporters posing as potential customers secretly recording several meetings with company executives, including Nix, where he's openly discuss his company’s services.

The broadcaster began investigating Cambridge Analytica after whistleblower Christopher Wylie raised the alarm by sharing documents that detailed data misuse.

Channel 4 News would not comment on Cambridge Analytica’s attempt to block the story. The segment is set to air Monday at 7 p.m. (2 p.m. ET).

Attempts to contact Cambridge Analytica’s London offices Monday went unanswered.

Facebook and Cambridge Analytica deny wrongdoing, but both face increasing pressure to explain why the information of so many people was harvested without consent.

Facebook Friday banned Cambridge from its platform, even though it knew about the issue more than two years ago. It has also banned Wylie from using Facebook as well as its other properties WhatsApp and Instagram.

Lawmakers on both sides of the Atlantic have hit out at Facebook in recent days.

Damian Collins, the chair of the U.K. Commons digital, culture, media and sport select committee, said he'd be contacting Nix and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg this week to answer questions on the matter.

“It is not acceptable that they have previously sent witnesses who seek to avoid answering difficult questions by claiming not to know the answers,” Collins said in a statement. “This also creates a false reassurance that Facebook’s stated policies are always robust and effectively policed.”

The EU said Monday that it would investigate whether the data of 50 million Facebook users was misused.

In Washington, Rep. Adam Schiff of California, the top Democrat on the House intelligence committee, called for Facebook to provide a full explanation while demanding that Cambridge Analytica be “thoroughly investigated.”

“The company has repeatedly touted its ability to influence voters through ‘psychographic’ targeting and has claimed it was the fundamental reason that Donald Trump won the 2016 election,” Schiff told the Guardian. “Indeed, it may be that through Cambridge Analytica, the Trump campaign made use of illegitimately acquired data on millions of Americans in order to help sway the election.”

Zuckerberg, who said at the beginning of the year that he was going to “fix” Facebook, is facing increasing pressure to speak publicly about the company’s shortcomings.

Shares in Facebook slid 4 percent in pre-market trading Monday.

Cover image: Alexander Nix, CEO of Cambridge Analytica, talks with Matthew Freud, Founder and Chairman of Freuds, on the final day of the Web Summit in Altice Arena on Nov. 9, 2017, in Lisbon, Portugal. (Horacio Villalobos - Corbis/Getty Images)

Stephen Hawking predicted how the universe will end 2 weeks before he died

VICE News - 1 hour 3 min ago

Just two weeks before he died, Stephen Hawking submitted his final paper that might lay out the math needed to prove the existence of other universes.

The working paper, submitted for publication on March 14, according to the U.K.’s Sunday Times, may turn out to be a culmination of the renowned physicist’s life’s work. In his research, Hawking sought to solve problems he’d been pondering for the past 35 years — ever since he published his theory of how the universe expanded following the Big Bang.

The paper proposes that evidence of a multiverse is detectable in the background radiation of our own universe — and that that evidence could, in theory, be found and measured. If we do, in fact, live in a “multiverse,” our own cosmos is just one of many universes out there. Taken together, the multiverse — made up of all its individual universes — would comprise all of space, time, matter, and energy.

Though Hawking’s last paper could provide optimism for those hoping to test for the existence of multiple universes, his research also includes a bleak prediction: Our universe will eventually go dark once all its stars run out of energy.

The paper, titled “A Smooth Exit from Eternal Inflation,” is under peer review for publication in an unnamed major scientific journal.

In 1983, Hawking and his colleague Jame Hartle co-authored a paper describing the inflation that took place after the Big Bang — the rapid expansion of space that created the universe. The theory relied on the existence of other universes, formed at the same time as ours during the Big Bang. The theory, however, couldn’t be tested.

But testing the idea through experimentation was exactly what Hawking sought to do. “We wanted to transform the idea of a multiverse into a testable scientific framework,” said Thomas Hertog, the co-author of the paper and Hawking’s mentee, according to the Sunday Times. If Hawking were still alive, the paper might have even won him his first Nobel Prize, other researchers said. The award, however, isn’t given posthumously.

But not everyone agrees the working paper’s findings are groundbreaking.

“His very last paper sought to rescue some predictiveness, but the arguments are as yet unconvincing,” said Professor Neil Turok, director of Canada’s Perimeter Institute and a friend of Hawking, told U.K.’s The Times.

Hawking died peacefully in his home on March 14 due to complications associated with the neurodegenerative disease he’d fought for most of his adult life, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.

Cover image: Professor Stephen Hawking arrives for the Interstellar Live show at the Royal Albert Hall in central London on March 30, 2015. (Photo by Joel Ryan/Invision/AP, File)

Austin police: We believe we are dealing with a “serial bomber”

VICE News - 1 hour 4 min ago

Austin’s police chief said Monday morning that they believe they’re dealing with a “serial bomber” after the Texas city was rattled Sunday night by the fourth blast in less than three weeks.

The latest explosion, which left two men with serious but non-life-threatening injuries, used what’s known as a trip-wire device, which is different in sophistication from the prior three bombs that were left on porches and detonated when opened. Despite that, Austin Police Chief Brian Manley said there were enough similarities between the bombs to lead investigators to believe they were made by the same person or group.

“We are clearly dealing with what we see as a serial bomber,” Manley said in a morning press conference.

Authorities also see the more sophisticated trip-wire device as a clear escalation in tactics from the cruder package bombs delivered over the past few weeks.

“A trip wire doesn’t necessarily suggest a military background,” said Manley. “But it suggests that the suspect or suspects we are dealing with have a higher level of sophistication than we believed, as they’re changing their methods to a more difficult device.”

Before Sunday, authorities had been urging caution around handling package deliveries. Now they’re telling residents to be careful about where they walk, as a trip-wire device can be activated by simply stepping on a wire connected to the bomb. Earlier on Monday, Austin Mayor Steve Adler told AP that the citywide anxiety was “legitimate and real.”

“We’ve seen a significant change from what appeared to be three very targeted attacks to an attack that would have hit any random victim who walked by,” Manley said.

Unlike in the earlier explosions, the victims in the latest bombing were both white.

Sunday night’s bombing came just hours after Chief Manley made a televised appeal to the perpetrator (or perpetrators) of the earlier bombings, which killed two people and injured one.

“We hope this person or persons is watching and will reach out to us before anyone else is injured or anyone else is killed,” Manley said. “We assure you, we are listening and we want to understand what brought you to this point, and we want to listen to you, so please call us.”

What we know about the latest bombing

Around 8:30 p.m. in Travis Country, a residential neighborhood in southwest Austin, two white men in their early twenties were walking along the side of the road when they or something else triggered a explosive device left by the road. They both suffered serious but non-life-threatening injuries. Manley asked residents of the area to stay indoors on Monday morning.

Sunday’s bombing coincided with the final day of Austin’s citywide South by Southwest festival, which started on March 9.

The Roots were scheduled to play Sunday, but the show was cancelled after Austin police learned of a bomb threat. They subsequently arrested Trevor Weldon Ingram, 26, who was charged with making a terroristic threat, a felony. “There are no indications of any broader security concern for any activities relating to this incident,” Austin police wrote in a statement. They said Ingram was not a suspect in the earlier package bombs.

There are 500 federal agents, from the FBI or Bureau of Alcohol, Firearms and Tobacco, currently assisting the investigation. Chief Manley said Sunday that they’d increased the combined reward for information leading to arrest and conviction in the case from $65,000 to $115,000. They are also urging residents in the Travis Country neighborhood to turn in any surveillance footage they have of the area.

What we still don’t know

Was it the same person or group? Probably.

Speaking at a press conference at 11:00 a.m. Monday, Police Chief Manley said that based on preliminary evidence, they think the latest bomb was made by the same person or group who made the earlier bombs. The key difference was that the most recent bomb was designed to detonate with a trip wire, whereas the first three were essentially pipe bombs concealed in delivery boxes designed to detonate upon opening.

“We believe a trip wire was used in this device,” said Manley. “We are now dealing with someone using a higher level of sophistication and higher level of skill.”

Fred Milanowski, the special agent from the Bureau of Alcohol, Firearms and Tobacco in charge of Houston, said he thinks the same person built the first three devices.

Why are they doing this?

The fact that the victims of the first three blasts were black or Hispanic had initially fueled theories that the bombings could be racially motivated. The NAACP reached out to Austin community members urging caution, and law enforcement said they were not ruling out the possibility that the explosions were hate crimes. The families of the two black victims reportedly knew each other and are active in Austin’s African-American community.

“Is it domestic terrorism? Is it hate-related? We’re early on in the investigation,” said Manley on Monday. “As the day moves on, that’s something we’re going to be looking at.”

Manley added that they were going to examine whether there was a particular ideology behind the attacks.

A timeline of terror

March 2, 6:55 a.m., Harris Ridge, North Austin

Anthony Stephan House, 39, opened a delivery box containing a pipe bomb, and it detonated. He later died from his injuries at the hospital. House, who was black, worked at Texas Quarries and had a young daughter. Authorities said the package appeared to have been hand-delivered.

March 12, 6:44 a.m., East MLK, East Austin

Draylen Mason, 17, was killed opening another delivery box containing a pipe bomb. Mason, also black, played stand-up bass in an orchestra and was trying to decide between pursuing a career as a neurosurgeon or a composer.His mother, Shamika Wilson, was also injured with non-life threatening injuries. Neighbors told CNN that they saw Mason’s mother standing in the yard covering her face with her hands, partially naked after the blast ripped off her clothes.

March 12, 11:50 a.m., Montopolis, southeast Austin (a few miles from Austin-Bergstrom International Airport)

Esperanza Herrera, a 75-year-old Hispanic woman, was badly injured after opening yet another package bomb. Her mother, Maria Moreno, also suffered minor injuries.

March 18, 8:30 p.m., Travis County, southwest Austin

Two men riding bicycles were seriously wounded after they (or something else) triggered a tripwire bomb.

Criminals are racing to cash out their bitcoin. Here's how they're doing it.

VICE News - 4 hours 13 min ago
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The bitcoin scam worked — almost too well. In 2012, back when almost no one had heard of the digital coin, he’d started modestly, asking people he found on the dark web for $200 or $300 worth of bitcoin as a way to test out his investment scheme. He told them he could exploit the then huge price differences between various bitcoin exchanges and promised huge rewards. But once they sent the funds, he vanished into the ether to find his next stooge.

There was a certain genius criminal irony to it: He would hype an untraceable anonymous digital currency, then get paid in it.

But something happened in the cryptocurrency world, slowly at first, then all at once. The public and investors started pushing their money in, inflating bitcoin’s value. The Winkelvi became bitcoin billionaires. ICOs became hotter than IPOs. Even Jim Cramer started talking about bitcoin. After its price peaked at $20,000 late last year, the guy’s cache should have been worth $20 million.

But he had a problem. It was getting harder to turn the most overhyped currency since the tulip into actual cash.

The guy found himself among a growing number of dark web vendors — people who use anonymous networks to sell drugs, counterfeit currency, and malware — who are struggling to convert their bitcoins into real money. (VICE News heard his account from a Swiss private banker who said he’s received several messages from scammers and criminals looking for help with cryptocurrency.) These dark web vendors were among the early investors in bitcoin, and, arguably, the drivers of its initial value when no one else was interested. Now, those holding virtual millions are stuck in limbo.

Such is the insanity of the bitcoin market over the last 12 months, with law enforcement and regulators attempting to bring order to a world where the price of a single coin can fluctuate by hundreds of dollars in the space of minutes. Earlier this month, for example, the price of bitcoin dropped $1,000 after rumors surfaced that an exchange had been hacked and the SEC was planning a clampdown. Increasingly, companies are getting spooked about potential losses or lawsuits. Facebook and Google both banned ads for cryptocurrencies from their platforms in recent weeks, citing fears of users being tricked out of their money.

It’s always been difficult for anyone to trade in bitcoin for a fiat currency like dollars or euros. Until recently, financial institutions wanted little to do with cryptocurrency because of its volatile price and perceived (and real) links to criminal activity.

Exchanges such as Coinbase, founded in 2011, offer the easiest way for the general public to buy and sell mainstream cryptocurrencies like bitcoin, litecoin, and ethereum. But users have to register with their real identities and prove their cryptocurrency was acquired legally. That makes them less appealing for criminals. Cashing out small amounts of bitcoin is still possible, but it’s becoming more difficult to do so without attracting law enforcement attention.

Dark web vendors were among the early investors in bitcoin. Now, those holding virtual millions are stuck in limbo.

And because of the explosion in demand for cryptocurrency, anyone using bitcoin today faces rising transaction fees and lengthy wait times for payments to be processed.

All of this means that people like our guy who are very rich on paper (or, more accurately, on the blockchain) must devise highly complex methods to convert their ill-gotten gains, or risk losing quite a bit of value, said Tom Robinson, co-founder of the blockchain analytics company Elliptic. “Funds from illicit activities are just lying dormant, and they are waiting to find effective means of cashing out,” he said.

Yet if we know anything about criminals, it’s that they’re resourceful. As financial institutions and regulators the world over grapple with bitcoin’s adaptation to mainstream use, some of these criminals have devised ingenious hacks for converting their money; still others are turning to alternative coins as they seek greater privacy for their transactions and to stay ahead of the law.

BITCOIN LAUNCHED in 2008 with the grand vision of replacing the traditional banking system. Its immunity from regulation and the relative anonymity of transactions on the network — at least at first — made it appealing to dark web vendors, as well as arms dealers, hitmen, and pedophiles. Six years ago, up to 30 percent of all bitcoin transactions were sent to the dark web. Today, that figure has plummeted to 1 percent as more and more people use bitcoin for legitimate trading and investment.

Starting in 2013, law enforcement caught on to bitcoin’s use on dark web marketplaces. That year, the FBI shut down the Silk Road — described by an agent at the time as “the most sophisticated and extensive criminal marketplace on the internet today.” Silk Road’s takedown came after it gained widespread attention in the mainstream media for making it easy to buy everything from Class A drugs to guns. The FBI seized 144,000 bitcoin in the raid — worth $1.2 billion at today’s valuation — drawing more attention to the cryptocurrency, though it was still years away from mass appeal.

Last July, a joint law enforcement operation between the FBI, DEA, and officials from Canada and Thailand brought down two of the biggest hidden drug markets, AlphaBay and Hansa, instantly wiping out a huge portion of the illicit activity conducted on the dark web.

By pooling intelligence across agencies, undercover law enforcement agents were able to infiltrate these markets, targeting administrators and ultimately taking them offline. Dutch police went further and operated Hansa in secret for a month before taking it down, hoovering up huge amounts of data on the people using the site — as well as millions in bitcoin, ethereum, and other cryptocurrencies.

All this has led to a sense of paranoia among vendors and buyers. One dark web vendor of malware in Eastern Europe who goes by the handle LeagueMode told VICE News that he rigged his computers and smartphones so that he could erase everything with the push of a single button.

Growing concerns about bitcoin’s security also happened to coincide with a rapid rise in the currency’s price (it’s since dropped to about $11,000). Investor speculation drove up the value, and the currency gained broader acceptance among Wall Street and financial institutions. It was the perfect time to sell.

“They are ready to pay big time.”

LIKE MANY aspiring international criminals before him, our guy eventually turned to a Swiss private banker. In January, he approached Olivier Cohen, an experienced broker based in Geneva who recently established a company called Altcoinomy to help high-net-worth individuals invest in cryptocurrencies. At first, the guy claimed to have built up his bitcoin cache running a trading service. Cohen was skeptical of bitcoin and its origins, as bankers tend to be, so he traced the payments. The journey ultimately took him back to the dark web.

“After digging and digging, I found that he was not legit. The bitcoins have been tainted,” Cohen said. He told the scammer: “Look, this is black-market; I can’t on-board you.”

The guy was up front about how much he was willing to pay to convert his bitcoin into fiat currency. Cohen said he’s fielded three or four similar requests following a message he posted on Reddit on Christmas Eve about the difficulties in cashing out bitcoin.

“They are ready to pay big time,” he said. “They tell you very straightforwardly, ‘If you get me out of the situation, you will get 10 percent.’”

That would have meant a windfall of $2 million for Cohen at the going bitcoin rate. But even if Cohen had wanted to do it, it was unlikely he could complete the task. Despite Wall Street and financial institutions investing heavily in blockchain technology, banks are still ultra-wary of bitcoin — particularly large amounts with no history attached. As a result, banks will delay such transactions and request a lot of documentation, and they may ultimately reject anyone looking to cash out bitcoin in bulk simply because of its links to the dark web.

“I don't think there is any way to process eight- or nine- or 10-figure transactions in bitcoin,” said John Bambenek, a cyber-security researcher who tracks bitcoin payments. “Coinbase allows you cash out up to $15,000 per week. That's not bad, but if I'm sitting on nine figures, I want to cash out more than that, faster.”

It’s possible to slowly cash out little chunks here and there, but doing so brings the risk of attracting unwanted attention, since it looks like structuring, a practice of transferring many small amounts in order to avoid federal regulations.

Bitcoin hoarders who are willing to get a little creative — and be a little patient — can still reap the currency’s rewards, however. VICE News spoke dark web vendors who use bitcoin on a daily basis about their ways of cashing out. (None of them wanted to use their real names, for obvious reasons.)

How criminals are cashing out bitcoin before it’s too late:

  • The drop and run: LeagueMode operates on the Wall Street Market, one of the most popular dark web markets, and has traded in malware and stolen banking credentials since 2010. He said most vendors use multiple bitcoin wallets — he has more than a dozen himself — combined with automated, personalized scripts to “mix” the bitcoin through micro-transactions to avoid detection. He found a person living locally who wants to regularly buy bitcoin. So once or twice a week, he transfers bitcoin into this person’s account, “and a few hours later he brings a bag of cash to my porch,” he explained. “One-to-one exchange, no fees, and we both stay happy.”

  • An oldie but a goodie: A vendor using the handle Med3l1n sells stolen credit cards and IDs on the Wall Street Market. The 24-year-old, who is also a moderator of the WSM forum, said there are a number of ways of cashing out, if you know what you’re doing. One way is to send your bitcoin to a company that charges a prepaid debit card that can be used in the real world. “The card emitter doesn't even know that it was recharged with bitcoins because there's a company that does this service for you,” he said. You can get around demands for ID simply by buying fake documentation on the dark web — using bitcoin or another cryptocurrency, of course.

  • Go to Western Union: Alpha_xxx, a 24-year-old U.S.-based drug dealer on the Point dark web marketplace, said he goes through Western Union to help cash out bitcoin. First he uses one of a number of services that automatically transfer bitcoin to Western Union accounts, then has a third-party — called a picker — collect the cash as a further layer of protection.

  • It’s easy, if you know how: Dr Lysergic, who sells cocaine, LSD, and MDMA, dismissed claims that you can’t cash out bitcoin anymore. “If anything, it’s becoming easier to cash out for me than when I first began,” he said. He wouldn’t reveal what method he uses to offload his bitcoin, but he said he typically cashes out $3,000 at a time, losing around 2 percent in the process. “If some of these novice vendors were smart and sit and think about it, there are so many ways to do it,” he said. “Sometimes it may be tedious and a long process, but that’s what we signed up for.”

Still, most criminals with large stashes of bitcoin who want to cash out quickly have no easy way of doing so, and few of them really know the ropes, Cohen said.

“Some people have thought about innovative ways of cashing out,” he said. “But this is at most 20 percent of those people — 80 percent have no idea how to do it.”

THERE’S ALWAYS the option of playing it straight and declaring illicit bitcoin to a government authority with the hope they simply won’t do any checking. Cohen said he knew of cases where this worked, but he also knew of incidents where it didn’t.

Another less risky option is to seek out a bank in Eastern Europe, where regulations are much more lax.

Back in 2013, the U.S. led the way in regulating the burgeoning use and trading of bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. That year, the Senate held the first hearings on bitcoin, the Department of the Treasury released guidance on virtual currencies, the IRS became the world’s first tax authority to clarify the tax treatment of bitcoin, and New York state established BitLicense, a set of regulations for companies that deal in digital currencies.

Robinson’s company Elliptic, along with others like Chainalysis, works closely with U.S. law enforcement, providing tools for agents to track bitcoin payments through the blockchain. “We can distinguish the average bitcoin user from a dark marketplace vendor, for example,” Robinson said.

All of this made it much harder for any criminals to launder money through exchanges based in the U.S. But just like anything, criminals will find the weakest link in the chain. At the moment, that weak link is Europe.

A recent report by Elliptic, in partnership with the Foundation for Defense of Democracies’ Center on Sanctions and Illicit Finance, found that Europe was the “wild west” of cryptocurrency regulation.

A disproportionate amount of illicit bitcoin transactions are funnelled through Europe, with criminals taking advantage of cryptocurrency gambling and mixing sites to launder their money. With a complete lack of regulation in this area, these services don’t need to perform due diligence on their customers or report suspicious activity.

“European exchanges have a serious issue with policing illicit activity on their platforms,” said Yaya Fanusie, an ex-CIA counterterrorism analyst who currently works as CSIF’s director of analysis.

In December, the 28 EU member states agreed on stricter rules to prevent money laundering and terrorism financing on exchange platforms for bitcoin and other virtual currencies. The new rules will mean exchanges and companies providing wallet services will be required to identify their customers, just as U.S. companies are. But they have another 18 months to implement the new directives, meaning gaps remain for criminals to exploit. The European Central Bank just last month said that cryptocurrency regulation is “not exactly very high on its to-do list.”

Rob Wainwright, who heads Europol, the EU’s law enforcement arm, predicts that a coming shift away from bitcoin and toward alternative cryptocurrencies will make it even tougher for agencies to track these transactions.

The leader of the Europol team tracking illicit cryptocurrency transactions said the agency has found more and more people are using alternatives to bitcoin on the dark web. “We have seen in 2017 and 2018 a move of some criminals and criminal groups over from bitcoin to currencies that guarantee higher levels of anonymity," said the expert, who himself requested anonymity out of concern the criminals he pursues would target him.

DESPITE ITS HEADACHES, bitcoin remains the gold standard on dark web marketplaces largely because it’s the easiest digital currency for customers to get hold of. But it’s clear from speaking to more than a dozen experts, researchers, academics, and dark web vendors that the Europol agents are right: Criminals are starting to favor newer cryptocurrencies.

The takedown of AlphaBay spurred more people to move away from bitcoin. The speed of that shift depends on who you ask, but there are three clear frontrunners to take bitcoin’s crown as the digital currency of choice for the underworld. These all essentially operate in the same way as bitcoin, with payments transferred on a public blockchain, but they each have built-in privacy functions that make it harder for law enforcement to track transactions.

Monero, for example, has gained a major following on the dark web due to its privacy attributes, with one darknet vendor based in eastern Europe telling VICE News that up to 45 percent of his transactions are now in monero. Zcash, created by cryptographers at Johns Hopkins University, is also gaining traction; last year, Shadow Brokers, the Russian hacking group selling stolen NSA hacking tools, said they are now only accepting Zcash from customers. Litecoin and Dash are among the other alternatives being embraced on the dark web.

Neither the FBI nor Europol would discuss how difficult it is to track the movement of privacy-focused cryptocurrencies like monero. Doing so “would give people a step-by-step guide to avoiding detection,” the Europol expert said.

The FBI and DEA also declined to comment on how they are dealing with the current use of cryptocurrencies by criminals.

Even in the U.S., where there are stricter regulations, law enforcement is struggling. Jason Kichen, an ex-CIA intelligence expert, said he thinks that agencies will find it hard to win the battle against criminals using cryptocurrencies.

“I don't necessarily believe it’s because they are technically unable, I suspect it’s just the scale of the problem,” he said. “As large and well-resourced as they are, illicit use of cryptocurrencies is such a large issue that I don't think the organizations can scale to meet the problem.”

Just like many others in the nascent cryptocurrency world, law enforcement is often fumbling around in the dark. But they do have powerful tools to quickly and easily track bitcoin transactions, specifically, across the blockchain.

It’s these tools that make life so difficult for those who want to quickly convert bitcoin into hard cash. For now, potential ways out are limited to finding a buyer via an Eastern European bank that won’t ask too many questions or coming clean and hoping the tax authorities don’t really understand how bitcoin works.

These are among the options now being explored by the dark web scammer, who continues to search for ways to turn his virtual fortune into a real one.

David Gilbert is a reporter for VICE News.

French Consulate driver in Israel busted for allegedly using diplomatic car to smuggle guns

VICE News - 4 hours 20 min ago

A French citizen employed in his country’s consulate in Jerusalem will appear in an Israeli court Monday charged with smuggling more than 70 weapons to Palestinians under the cover of diplomatic immunity, according to security officials.

Israel's Shin Bet security agency said Romain Franck, 23, was alleged to have used a diplomatic car to avoid checkpoints as he smuggled 70 pistols and two assault rifles from Gaza to the West Bank.

“This is a most serious incident, cynically exploiting the immunity and additional privileges extended to foreign representatives to Israel,” the agency said.

It said Franck, who was arrested crossing the border between Israel and the Gaza Strip in February, was suspected of having made at least five trips to smuggle the weapons.

Shin Bet said he had been passed the guns by a Palestinian working at the French Cultural Center in Gaza, delivering them to another Palestinian in the West Bank. It alleged that Franck, one of nine people arrested over the scheme, had acted for financial gain.

Franck had worked at the consulate in a number of roles, including driver, making regular trips between Jerusalem and Gaza.

“We take this case very seriously and are in close contact with the Israeli authorities,” a spokesman for the French embassy in Tel Aviv said. The man is receiving consular protection.

Last month, police in Argentina revealed they had busted a huge international drug-smuggling ring running high-quality cocaine to Europe through the diplomatic courier service of the Russian embassy.

Cover image: A general view taken on October 16, 2017, shows the Erez border crossing in Beit Hanun in the northern Gaza Strip. (MOHAMMED ABED/AFP/Getty Images)

No one is congratulating Putin on his election win

VICE News - 4 hours 55 min ago

Outside of comments from a few authoritarians, Vladimir Putin’s landslide victory in the Russian national election Sunday was met with silence from leaders around the globe.

The only messages of support came from China’s President Xi Jinping and leaders from a few smaller nations, including Kazakhstan, Belarus, Venezuela, Bolivia, and Cuba.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte extended his congratulations, saying he “wishes President Putin more success in leading Russia to greater progress and in advancing the cause of peace and security in our region and in the larger international community.”

Xi, who recently positioned himself to remain in power for the rest of his life, said: "Currently, the China-Russia comprehensive strategic cooperative partnership is at the best level in history, which sets an example for building a new type of international relations."

No Western leader has publicly congratulated Putin, who captured 76 percent of the vote, and none of Russia’s fellow G8 members have made any official comment on the win.

When asked about the victory Monday, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas questioned the fairness of the vote, adding that Russia would remain a difficult partner.

None of Putin’s seven opponents posed a credible threat after the main opposition leader, Alexei Navalny, was banned from taking part.

Putin said Sunday that he was considering making changes to his government, which may include replacing Dmitry Medvedev as prime minister.

If he serves out his six-year term as president, Putin will be Russia’s longest-serving leader since Joseph Stalin.

Cover image: Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a rally of his supporters at Manezhnaya Square near the Moscow's Kremlin, Russia, March 18, 2018. Vladimir Putin has won the 2018 Presidential Elections. (Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images)

Kim Jong Un has sent an envoy to Finland to discuss the big Trump summit

VICE News - 5 hours 22 min ago

Despite its bizarre silence over the forthcoming meeting between Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un, North Korea dispatched officials to Finland over the weekend to take part in talks with the U.S. and South Korea ahead of the historic summit.

The U.S. delegation includes two former ambassadors to South Korea — Kathleen Stephens and Thomas Hubbard — as well as academics Bob Carlin, John Delury, and Karl Eikenberry, according to sources speaking to South Korea's Yonhap news agency.

The meeting was initially set to discuss the broader tensions on the Korean Peninsula, but following Trump’s acceptance of an invitation to meet Kim, talks will now focus on the logistics of the summit. A date hasn't been set yet.

Kimmo Lahdevirta, an official at the Finland foreign ministry, confirmed the three-way talks would take place this week, describing the sit-down as a “track 1.5 academic meeting, involving representatives from North Korea, South Korea, and the U.S.”

Stephens served as ambassador to Seoul under President Barack Obama and is fluent in Korean. She was also stationed in South Korea while serving in the Peace Corps.

Hubbard served as ambassador from 2001 to 2004 and has extensive experience dealing with North Korean officials. He was the principal negotiator of the 1994 Agreed Framework, a process aimed at ending North Korea's nuclear weapons program. He also headed the first senior-level U.S. government delegation to North Korea.

The date, time and location for the meeting has yet to be officially announced, but Yonhap sources said it would kick off with a dinner hosted by the Finnish government Monday, before talks get underway on Tuesday.

It is understood that Choe Kang Il, the deputy director general for North American affairs at North Korea's foreign ministry, is leading the delegation from the hermit kingdom, after he was seen boarding a plane for Finland at Beijing’s airport.

South Korea’s Foreign Minister Kang Kyung Wha told CBS Sunday that Kim was surprised by Trump’s willingness to meet, adding that the North Korean leader had expressed a sincere willingness to get rid of his nuclear arsenal. “The significance of his word is quite weighty. In the sense that this is the first time the words came directly from the North Korean supreme leader himself.”

The South Korean delegation at the talks will include Shin Kak Soo, former ambassador to Japan, Shin Jung Seung, former ambassador to China, and Kim Joon Hyung of Handong Global University.

“The meeting had been initially designed as a venue to discuss ways to ease tensions but is likely to discuss summit meetings as the situation has evolved,” Kim told Yonhap. “During the one-and-a-half--day meeting, the discussion will start from scratch without any keynote speeches.”

Cover image: This undated picture released from North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on September 12, 2017 shows North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un attending a photo session with teachers who volunteered to work at branch schools on islands and schools in forefront line and mountainous areas, in Pyongyang. (STR/AFP/Getty Images)

Correspondent Takeover: Let's talk about Pennsylvania

VICE News - March 18, 2018 - 10:20am

Hey VICE News fans, it’s me, Evan McMorris-Santoro,

This was a big week for politics, which is fortunate when it comes to newsletters because I cover politics a lot for VICE News Tonight (weeknights at 7:30 PM ET on HBO.)

Folks, we gotta talk about this western Pennsylvania thing.

On Tuesday, Democrat Conor Lamb eked out a victory over Republican Rick Saccone in a closely-watched special Congressional election. Why was it so closely watched? Because it was in the heart of Trump Country, the 18th Congressional District. That’s a district that the president won by double digits in 2016. So Republicans wanted to show they can hold the line in places they won last time. Democrats wanted to show they can rally behind the kinds of candidates who can win anywhere thanks to Trump’s dismal approval ratings. Lamb fit the bill, it seems (more on how Democrats actually pulled it off here.)

But here’s the weird part, as producer Mary Grace Lucas and I reported this week: the race actually didn’t matter. The district both parties were fighting so hard over doesn’t exist anymore.

Thanks to redistricting, voters in the 18th are now scattered and divided up in new ways. So if Lamb wants to stay in Congress, he now has to mount a Democratic primary campaign in a district that’s a lot more Democratic than the 18th. Saccone, the defeated Republican? He already started gathering signatures to campaign in a new district where a Republican is all but guaranteed to win. The upshot: it’s more than a little likely the candidates who fought over the 18th like it was the most important election in American history will both find themselves in Congress next year.

Some other stuff from VICE News this week that has been good and weird too

Additional interesting stuff from outside the VICEiverse

That’s it for me. I’m off to find more weird stories in what is shaping up to be one of the wildest years for our country since, well, the last one. And maybe the one before that. Say hi: @EvanMcS on Twitter and ems@vice.com on your email dial.

If you're not subscribed do our newsletter, do it right here.

How first responders are training for the next mass shooting

VICE News - March 18, 2018 - 7:03am

First responders are changing the way they respond to mass shooting events in hopes of increasing the odds of survival for victims of AR-15 or military-style assault rifles.

The new protocols are called the Hartford Consensus, which borrow from war zone training to teach first responders how to pack wounds and apply tourniquets, with a focus on stopping massive bleeding quickly. Law enforcement, firefighters, EMS, and even school nurses are taking the course.

“We’re saving lives by starting CPR earlier and getting the public involved. It’s the same thing with bleeding control,” Officer Brian Wallace, who leads the course, told VICE News. Both he and Dr. Jacobs want to see the training reach everyday civilians, and for the practices to become common life skills.

The program has its roots at Connecticut's Hartford Hospital, which was put on alert to receive casualties during the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary school in 2012. But no patients arrived.

As the trauma surgeon on standby, Dr. Lenworth Jacobs felt compelled to make a change.

“I sit on the board of the American College of Surgeons and we met two weeks later and said we’ll do something: establish a committee to increase survival from active shooter and intentional mass casualty events,” Dr. Jacobs told VICE News.

Three weeks after the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, School Resource Officer Tina Roy attended a half-day training on tactical medicine at the Center for Education, Simulation and Innovation at Hartford Hospital. As the lone law enforcement officer at South Windsor Middle School, she says she could use the practice.

“I take it very very personal that this is a child that I'm going to protect with everything I have and I'm going to get them back to their parent,” Officer Roy told VICE News.

This segment originally aired March 7, 2018 on VICE News Tonight on HBO.

Turkey’s band of pro-Erdoğan hackers keep trolling Europe

VICE News - March 17, 2018 - 11:27am

In September 2016, Austria started experiencing what its intelligence services have since described as the country’s first bout of cyber-terrorism. In that month, there was a distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack on the Vienna Airport, followed by a paralysis of the National Bank (“the biggest attack in recent years,” a spokesperson said). In November, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Foreign Defense, and the Federal Army websites were all attacked.

Austrian Intelligence eventually traced the attack back to one individual, Arslan A., alias Osman T., aka General Osman, who was living in a bungalow in Bowling Green, Kentucky. General Osman is part of a Turkish nationalist group called Aslan Neferler Tim (ANT, or Lion Soldiers Team in Turkish).

The attacks on Austria were some of the most high-profile stunts by ANT to date, but they were hardly the last. Instead, as President Recep Erdoğan’s creep toward authoritarianism pushes him further out of favor with EU leaders in Brussels, ANT’s attacks are proliferating, putting further strain on an already frayed relationship.

“I would say they are the most prominent hacker group in Turkey,” Cosimo Mortola, a threat intelligence analyst with the cybersecurity company Fireeye, told VICE News. Mortola said that given the group’s focus on targeting EU countries at odds with Turkey, they’ve also become one of the most-watched groups in Europe.

ANT, which subscribes to the strain of Turkish nationalism espoused by Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP), emerged as a prominent hacking group in October 2015, as Turkey suffered a string of terrorist attacks and a breakdown in the Kurdish peace process. The upheaval spurred on Erdoğan’s aggressive clamp down on media and political opposition, drawing criticism from EU countries.

A history of animosity

Turkish hackers have long attacked European countries whose politicians espouse anti-Islamic views or criticism of Turkey. In 2009, a hacker self-identified as “aLpTurkTegin” hacked the website of the radical right-wing firebrand Dutch politician Geert Wilders, whose anti-Islamic, anti-EU stance led the UK to bar him from entry. During the cyberattack, Wilders’ face was replaced with a monkey.

“It’s very nasty indeed,” the politician told Reuters of the experience.

ANT has grown more aggressive in recent years, especially as Turkey’s relationship with Brussels has grown more contentious.

Turkey and EU relations have been especially strained since the failed coup against Erdoğan in July 2016. Following the coup, Erdoğan unleashed a wide-ranging purge and threw tens of thousands of soldiers, teachers, and civil servants in jail. He followed the purge with a 2016 referendum that extended his powers and raised the specter of authoritarianism in a country that has long prided itself on its secular and democratic ideals.

Turkey’s slide toward authoritarianism hasn’t gone unnoticed in Europe. In April 2017, the EU Parliament voted to effectively freeze Turkey’s membership bid, citing Erdoğan’s authoritarian crackdown.

While cyberattacks themselves can’t determine the outcome of Turkey’s EU bid, “they could aggravate an already bad situation,” Zenonas Tziarras, a researcher at the University of Cyprus said.

ANT’s made it clear they’re not pleased with Europe’s stance toward their idol. A clear pattern has emerged: a foreign country or entity will publicly discredit Turkey, then ANT quickly responds with embarrassing cyberattacks on government websites or infrastructure.

Cyber “soldiers”

Fireeye has been tracking ANT since its emergence. In the last three years, the collective has launched attacks against Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Germany, and the Netherlands — and that’s just on EU states. ANT has also launched attacks on Armenia, Iraq, Israel, and the United States. The group, Mortola explains, focuses on three types of attacks: DDoS, defacement, and occasional compromises of individual sites. They’ve also been involved in a handful of data leaks.

“Targeting a foreign government, especially one with which there is a background in hostilities, is common. This gives both veteran and new hackers an opportunity to get some recognition among their peers,” Turkish cybersecurity expert Alper Basaran said.

ANT’s affiliated membership (or “soldiers,” as they refer to themselves) is unknown, although Fireeye has tracked 50 names associated with the group. There is also no physical evidence that directly links the Turkish government to ANT, but analysts believe there is overlap.

“It is suspected that ANT may have some connection to the Turkish government given that they claim to be defending the Turkish nation and Islam, something that resembles very much the current government’s ideological rhetoric,” Tziarras said.

“They can influence the accession process of Turkey.”

ANT attacks do follow a specific form of Turkish nationalism. On Oct. 28, 2017, ANT launched a DDoS attack on the Belgian Ministry of Defense in reaction to a spate of riots that happened when a bus of Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) supporters, escorted by local police, drove through a Turkish neighborhood in Antwerp. ANT publicly accused the Belgian government of supporting the PKK, the pro-Kurdish separatist group that Turkey and the U.S. have labeled a terrorist organization. Erdoğan has also accused Belgium of being a hub for PKK militants.

Basaran pointed out that while the attack was disruptive, “a state-sponsored attack would manifest itself in a more technically advanced format."

"At this stage it is impossible to say if either side is really engaged in APT (Advanced Persistent Threat) attacks for intelligence purposes," Basaran added. “[These] attacks seem to be planned and executed by hacker teams/groups that act alone either based on nationalist feelings or just to take advantage of the current political situation.”

Yet considering Turkey’s already tense relationship with the EU, these attacks don’t need to be advanced to cause diplomatic disorder. “Cyberattacks might not only impact the cyber domain but diffuse and escalate to other environments, in this case political,” said Pythagoras Petratos, a lecturer at the University of Oxford. “They can influence the accession process of Turkey.”

ANT has also inspired the anger of other nationalistic hacker groups. Anonymous Greece, the local chapter of the global hacking collective, has been embroiled in a self-dubbed “cyber war” with ANT for years. It most recently claimed responsibility for hacking a Turkish municipal website on Jan. 9.

Screenshot of Turkish municipal website, Kazim Karabekir, which was hacked by Anonymous Greece as part of an ongoing self-dubbed “cyber war” with Turkish hacking group Aslan Neferler Tim (ANT, or Lion Soldiers Team in Turkish).

That day, visitors to the Kazim Karabekir were greeted with a surprising image of Erdoğan. The traditionally stern-looking Turkish strongman was uncharastically glowing, his face done up in pink eyeshadow and rouge that had been carefully, if a bit heavy-handedly, applied to his lips and cheeks. A pair of dangling pearl earrings framed his face, while an LGBT flag waved behind him.

The rainbow colors matched his tie.

Cover image: Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan addresses members of parliament from his ruling AK Party (AKP) during a meeting at the Turkish parliament in Ankara, Turkey, March 6, 2018. REUTERS/Umit Bektas

We spoke to the Russian scientist who helped create the toxin that poisoned a spy in Britain

VICE News - March 17, 2018 - 8:34am

The diplomatic row over the poisoning of a Russian ex-spy kept heating up on Friday, as Britain’s foreign secretary Boris Johnson pointed the finger directly at Russian President Vladimir Putin. Johnson said that it's "overwhelmingly likely" that Putin decided "to direct the use of a nerve agent on the streets of the U.K., on the streets of Europe, for the first time since the second world war."

The British government concluded Sergei Skripal and his daughter, who are both still hospitalized, were exposed to novichok, a toxin developed by the Soviet Union. VICE News spoke to Dr. Vil Mirzayanov, a scientist who worked on developing novichok and later became a whistleblower. Mirzayanov fled to the U.S. in 1992, and he's been campaigning to get the chemical agent banned internationally ever since.

Mirzayanov said novichok is "at least ten times stronger than any known toxic substance in the world. It strikes the central nervous system and shuts off the person's breathing." Because the chemical agent was only developed in Russia, Mirzayanov said he believes the odds are high that Russia was behind the attack.

"I think it was a public display of the sort of fate that could await any potential opponent of the Kremlin," he added.

This segment originally aired March 16, 2018 on VICE News Tonight on HBO.

Oklahoma teachers haven't had a raise in a decade and they're fed up

VICE News - March 17, 2018 - 7:43am

OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla. — Teachers across the nation took notice after West Virginia’s strike prompted state legislators to increase pay for all state employees five percent. Now, Oklahoma teachers, who make less than the teachers in every other state, are gearing up for a mass walk out April 2, the day after the state legislature is mandated by law to pass an education budget.

In an attempt to avert a walkout, Republicans in Oklahoma’s House of Representatives unveiled a plan Thursday that would increase starting teachers’ pay $10,000 and 20-year veteran teachers’ pay $20,000 over six years. The program, expected to cost $700 million, does not restore other school funding or include raises for school support staff.

There’s also a catch: they’ve offered no proposed budget cuts or tax increases to pay for it, so teachers are skeptical.

“We are beyond upset that they would have the audacity to suggest such an pathetic plan to us. It’s just another example of how they do not value teachers,” said Lyndsey Stuart, a history teacher at Bartlesville High School in northeast Oklahoma. “We are not ignorant and will walk on April 2 unless they get a package together.”

Oklahoma teachers earned an average of $42,460 per year in May 2016, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The Oklahoma state legislature hasn’t passed a salary increase for teachers in the past ten years. Stuart has been teaching for 10 years and said she has never had a raise.

“We are graduating students who could go to [the convenience store] QuikTrip and start making more than the teacher that taught them,” Stuart said.

Bartlesville High School teacher Lyndsey Stuart speaks with her state representative, Republican Earl Sears, at the Oklahoma State Capitol on Tuesday, March 13. (Photo: Chelsey B. Coombs/VICE News)

Oklahoma school funding per student has also plummeted by 28.2 percent since 2008, more than any other state.

“Teachers are ready to walk for lower class sizes, for materials, for their students, for pay increases for themselves and support professionals so that we have people to stay in the state and teach and work with our children,” Alicia Priest, president of the Oklahoma Education Association, said.

The Oklahoma Education Association’s proposal includes a $10,000 raise for teachers spread over three years, with a $6,000 raise in 2019. And while the House Republican plan only increases teachers’ salaries, the Oklahoma Education Association’s proposal also includes a $5,000 raise for school support personnel like bus drivers and food service workers, as well as a raise totaling $213 million for all other state employees.

In addition to staff salary increases, the proposal also restores $200 million in funding for schools. There is also a proposal for a $255.9 million in health care funding for the next two years. In total, the proposals would cost the state $1.4 billion over three years.

Flat taxes

Since a ballot initiative in 1992, Oklahoma has required a 75 percent supermajority of the Legislature for any tax increase to pass. The Oklahoma Senate passed a 12.7 percent salary increase for teachers earlier in the week, but did not get the votes to raise revenue to support that increase.

Oklahoma has decreased income tax revenue dramatically since the recession in 2008, as seen in this Pew Charitable Trust graphic. Oklahoma raised 17.8 percent less tax revenue in the second quarter of 2017 than the state did at its peak in 2008.

Pew Charitable Trust

The state also decreased the gross production tax on new oil and natural gas wells from seven percent to two percent in 2015. The Oklahoma Education Association doesn’t have a specific plan in mind to pay for the proposals, but says plans like eliminating the capital gains tax exemption, increasing the cigarette tax and raising the gross production tax back to seven percent could raise the money needed to fund education in the state.

Brain drain

Many teachers have left the state to teach elsewhere or the profession altogether. The average salary for teachers in the seven-state region of Arkansas, Colorado, Kansas, Missouri, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas was $48,103 in September 2017. Oklahoma was last in the region, with an average salary of $45,245. New Mexico has the second lowest salary in the region, with teachers earning on average $47,500, while Texas’ teachers earn $52,575 on average.

Oklahoma’s 2016 Teacher of the Year, Shawn Sheehan, moved to Texas the year after winning.

Because of this talent drain, there are now around 2,000 teachers in the state who are teaching without education degrees, but so-called emergency certifications.

Bartlesville has been at the forefront of the Oklahoma teachers’ movement. Because Oklahoma law prohibits employees from striking, the Bartlesville Board of Education authorized school closures beginning April 2 to allow teachers to walk out and protest for school funding and salary increases for state employees.

The board also came up with its own proposals to fund teachers and schools. Teachers in the district began a program called Teacher Tuesdays, which allows a few employees each week to take unpaid personal days to lobby the state legislature for improvements in work environments.

Bartlesville students also organized the first student walkout in the state, which lasted 22 minutes in reference to a $22 million budget cut to education the Legislature passed.

Bartlesville isn’t the only school district that has announced it will follow the Oklahoma Education Association’s lead and close schools beginning April 2. Tulsa School District’s Superintendent Deborah Gist said earlier this week that the district will be “closed indefinitely until Oklahoma state leaders create a permanent sustainable plan to pay educators the professional salaries they deserve.”

Gist said teachers in her district will also be “working the contract effort,” meaning they will work only the seven hours and 50 minutes per day required by their contracts rather than continue work after school and on the weekend.

Despite the House Republicans’ plan, the teachers are still planning to walk out of their classrooms and to the Oklahoma State Capitol.

“Teachers are against it because it only addressed teacher raises, and even then, it doesn't give us the money we are asking for,” Stuart said. “They also are not presenting a way to pay for it, so without a revenue package, it is, again, empty promises.”

Cover image: Third grade teacher Lisa Sander says the pledge of allegiance with her class at Mayo Demonstration School in Tulsa, Okla on March 12, 2018. The teachers are now only working the hours that they are contractually obligated to work. (Mike Simons/Tulsa World via AP)

Putin is handpicking the future leaders of Russia

VICE News - March 17, 2018 - 6:45am

Russian President Vladmir Putin has been busy tightening his already strong grip on the country, which heads to the polls to vote for its next president on Sunday.

While the outcome of the election isn't really in doubt, Putin is ensuring that his influence extends well beyond the new six-year term he'll inevitably win. He's fired a record number of elected regional governors and replaced them with younger supporters that could stay in office even after he leaves.

Putin replaced a staggering 35 percent of the country's governors between 2016 and 2017. That's a big deal for modern Russia, which is a federation of 85 states, each with its own laws and customs, overseen by the regional governor. They appoint officials, control budgets, and even have the power to pardon criminals.

READ: Russia rolls out Boat McBoatface-style online naming contest for new nuclear weapons

The empty posts are temporarily filled with young recruits, who participate in the highly competitive “Leaders of Russia” training program. They then have to stand for local elections, which are nothing more than a formality since Putin selects the candidates.

This segment originally aired March 9, 2018, on VICE News Tonight on HBO.

Head of Motion Picture Academy now under investigation for sexual harassment

VICE News - March 16, 2018 - 8:03pm

As the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements sear through Hollywood, the president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has come under investigation for sexual harassment.

John Bailey, who has served as the president of the organization since August, is the subject of three sexual harassment complaints that were all made Wednesday, Variety reported Friday. The reports prompted the Academy to immediately open an investigation.

In a statement to Variety, the Academy said it “treats any complaints confidentiality to protect all parties.”

“The Membership Committee reviews all complaints brought against Academy members according to our Standards of Conduct process, and after completing reviews, reports to the Board of Governors,” the statement read.

The Academy added it wouldn’t comment further until a full review was completed, though a timeline was not given.

The Academy, which oversees the Oscars, has undergone significant changes in its code of conduct since the Harvey Weinstein scandal last October. The Academy’s board, which includes Bailey, voted to expel Weinstein, and had "well in excess of the two-thirds majority" to do so. Casey Affleck also withdrew himself from presenting the Best Actress Award at the Oscars after several sexual harassment allegations.

In January, the Academy adopted a new set of rules to discipline misconduct, which includes anonymously reporting claims to the Academy website or membership department.

"If any member is found by the Board of Governors to have violated these standards or to have compromised the integrity of the Academy by their actions, the Board of Governors may take any disciplinary action permitted by the Academy’s Bylaws, including suspension or expulsion,”the Academy said at the time.

Snapchat lost half a billion after Rihanna snapped back on domestic violence ad

VICE News - March 16, 2018 - 4:05pm

Snap, the parent company of Snapchat, lost more than half a billion dollars by the time the market opened on Friday, a four percent drop that began after an advertisement that appeared to make light of domestic violence began circulating on the platform.

The since-deleted advertisement allowed users to play game called “Would you rather” asking them to choose whether they’d rather slap Rihanna or punch Chris Brown.

(In 2009, Brown assaulted Rihanna inside a car on the way to the Grammy awards, choking her, threatening to kill her, and leaving her bruised and bleeding.)

Snapchat deleted the ad on Monday and apologized, stating “the advert was reviewed and approved in error, as it violates our advertising guidelines.”

"[The ad] never should have appeared on our service," Snap told Bloomberg. "We are so sorry we made the terrible mistake of allowing it through our review process. We are investigating how that happened so that we can make sure it never happens again."

The apology didn’t satisfy the singer, who issued a statement on her Instagram story saying the company knew what it was doing.

"Now SNAPCHAT I know you already know you ain't my fav app out there! But I'm just trying to figure out what the point was with this mess!" Rihanna wrote. "I'd love to call it ignorance but I know you ain't that dumb. You spent money to animate something that would intentionally bring shame to DV victims and made a joke of it."

Chris Brown’s lawyer, Mark Geragos, also told US Weekly, “They should change their name from Snapchat to Tone Deaf.”

A statement issued to Slate on behalf of Snapchat defended the company’s stance on domestic violence, pointing out it supports the National Network to End Domestic Violence, whose executive vice president sits on Snap’s safety advisory board.

Cover image: A protest message is affixed to a turtle as residents demonstrate near a building converted into a Snap, Inc. vender of Spectacles sunglass cameras for Snapchat on the Venice Beach boardwalk on March 11, 2017 in the Venice area of Los Angeles, California. Protesters accuse Snap of buying up residential and small business buildings throughout Venice and adjacent Marina del Rey, then converting them into commercial offices as a kind of sprawling campus as part of the so-called Silicon Beach movement. / AFP PHOTO / DAVID MCNEW (Photo credit should read DAVID MCNEW/AFP/Getty Images)

ProPublica’s mistake was inevitable in age of CIA secrecy over torture

Columbia Journalism Review - March 16, 2018 - 3:41pm
ProPublica last year published a widely cited article linking Trump’s CIA nominee Gina Haskel directly to the waterboarding and torture of Abu Zubaydah when she was in charge of a CIA black site prison in Thailand in 2002. Yesterday, ProPublica was forced to retract and apologize for a significant part of the article’s content. There’s no doubt […]

Brazilians take to the streets after groundbreaking politician murdered

VICE News - March 16, 2018 - 3:24pm

Thousands of Brazilians took to the streets of Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo on Thursday to protest the slaying of politician Marielle Franco and her driver Anderson Pedro Gomes. The pair were shot dead Wednesday night, in what some authorities suspect to be a political assassination.

“We are not going to allow this to continue,” one protester in told reporters at a demonstration in Rio on Thursday.

Franco's murder has sparked outrage around the country, and comes just weeks after Brazil’s President Michel Temer agreed to give the Brazilian military authority over security operations in Rio de Janeiro State, a move seen by some as an attempt to gain popularity, rather than actually tackle crime.

“This is certainly an attack on the rule of law and an attack on democracy,” Temer said in a video statement published on social media Thursday.

Franco, a gay woman of color, defied expectations when she was elected to Rio's city council in 2016. Once in power, she quickly established herself as a voice for people in the city’s favelas, where extreme poverty, gang activity and police brutality are common.

Human rights watchdogs have called for an investigation into the killing.

BuzzFeed increases female leadership, according to latest report

Columbia Journalism Review - March 16, 2018 - 3:01pm
BuzzFeed’s 2017 diversity numbers for its newsroom show an overall increase in women and people of color, especially in leadership and managerial roles. Its latest data also shows significantly more women and people of color on staff at all levels than many other American newsrooms, including online-only outlets. “In the past year, diversity in our […]

Black man beaten on camera by Charlottesville racists found not guilty of assaulting them

VICE News - March 16, 2018 - 2:05pm

DeAndre Harris, a black man who was charged with misdemeanor assault and battery after a group of white supremacists beat him in a Charlottesville parking garage, was exonerated in court on Friday.

Charlottesville Central District Judge Robert H. Downer Jr. said it was clear that Harris didn’t intend to cause harm and was acting in defense of his friend when he swung a flashlight at Harold Crews, a North Carolina lawyer and state chairman of the League of the South, a white supremacist group.

Video of the clash between Harris and the group of white supremacists went viral and became a defining moment from the violent Unite the Right rally last August. In the video, Harris, a former special education teaching assistant, is seen lying bloodied on the floor of the parking garage while six men in khakis and white shirts beat him with sticks.

Read more: Alternative Facts: How white supremacists got the black man they brutally beat charged with felony

Harris, who was 20 at the time, suffered a concussion, a head laceration that required 10 staples, a broken wrist, a spinal injury, and a chipped tooth. The injuries continued online, as far-right trolls, angry about the viral attention that Harris received and the arrests of several of his assailants, flooded social media with “evidence” that sought to discredit Harris’ version of events and portray him as the aggressor.

The League of the South undertook a campaign for Harris' arrest, with members claiming that they had “completely reconstructed DeAndre Harris’ actions” and had “indisputable evidence against him.” They filed a report with Charlottesville Police Department, which declined the case, and took their “evidence” to the Commonwealth Attorney’s office, which also declined.

But they found a sympathetic ear in the magistrate’s office, which issued a warrant for Harris’ arrest. Harris was arraigned on felony assault charges, which were later downgraded to a misdemeanor. Had he been convicted, he faced up to a year in jail and a $2,500 fine.

States are trying to make it easier to punish the next Larry Nassar

VICE News - March 16, 2018 - 1:11pm

Rachael Denhollander couldn’t sleep. With her 25th birthday fast approaching, she had just days left before she ran out of time to file a police report against then-celebrated USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar.

In other words, Denhollander had to decide whether to finally, publicly accuse of Nassar sexually abusing her when she was a 15-year-old gymnast.

“I woke up the morning I turned 25, and instead of feeling joy at a milestone, I only felt hopelessness and grief because I thought my chance to stop this man was over,” Denhollander told a Michigan courtroom, years later, after Nassar was convicted for decades of sexual misconduct against the young athletes he treated. More than 260 people have since accused Nassar of abuse. “I thought daily about all the little women and girls walking in his office and I wondered if it would ever, ever end.”

In the vast majority of the United States, including Nassar’s home state of Michigan, laws called statute of limitations set deadlines, often just a few years, by which civil or criminal charges can be filed against someone. But in the wake of Nassar’s high-profile trial and the widespread #MeToo movement, at least 17 states introduced bills to loosen those deadlines, according to a VICE News’ review of legislature dockets.

Inspired by the Nassar scandal, Michigan state Sen. Margaret O’Brien wants Michigan to become known as the “the state where we protect children from being sexually assaulted.” She recently cosponsored a package of bills, which passed the state’s Senate on Wednesday, to lengthen many of Michigan’s civil and criminal statutes of limitations for child sex abuse victims.

Advocates for statutes of limitation warn that waiting to prosecute could leave people unable to fairly defend themselves, since memories fade and evidence deteriorates. But reform supporters point to the pile of sex abuse scandals, most recently with Harvey Weinstein and Nassar, as catalysts for the laws to change. With longer statutes of limitations or none at all, victims can heal in private and still see justice served.

“For a long time, the rape victims and the child victims looked so vulnerable — they had no lobbies — that it was just very easy to push them back,” said Marci Hamilton, CEO of anti-child abuse group Child USA. “The #MeToo movement does indicate that they are having increasing political power and I think that does make a difference.”

“A barrier to justice”

Forty-three states currently have some type of statute of limitations for felony sex crimes on the books, according to a database by the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), the leading anti-sexual assault group in the United States. The laws vary widely in the time restrictions they impose and the type of crimes they affect: Some laws limit cases to within five years after the crime, while others give a 20-year window. Many states also make exceptions for crimes where police collected DNA evidence.

"The harsh reality is that in most cases, survivors of sexual assault are too deeply traumatized to be able to speak out and pursue justice until decades later."

Advocates for statutes of limitations laws want to ensure that innocent people aren’t prosecuted for crimes they didn’t commit or “he said, she said” situations where they can’t defend themselves.

“It’s very difficult to defend against most sexual assault charges anyway,” said Mike Iacopino, a New Hampshire criminal defense attorney who also serves as the co-chair of the sex offense committee for the National Association of Criminal Law. He thinks states should keep statute of limitations for sexual assault cases. “Even though the burden of proof is not on the defendant, you’ve got to investigate and you’ve got to be able to come up with evidence to negate what is said. And that’s very difficult to do when there’s a huge length of time that’s gone by.”

The New Hampshire Legislature is currently considering both a bill to eliminate the statute of limitations on sexual assault and a bill to study the impact of doing so.

But others point out that sexual assault victims — especially those abused as children — often wait years before speaking out, thanks to the shame and fear that can surround sex crimes. Just 23 percent of people who were raped or sexually assaulted in 2016 reported the crime to law enforcement, the Bureau of Justice Statistics found.

Denhollander said Nassar sexually assaulted her in 2000, but she didn’t publicly name him as a pedophile until 2016. As it turns out, Michigan had already changed the law that Denhollander thought prevented her from filing charges; she just didn’t know. Her police report and interview with the Indianapolis Star made Denhollander the first woman to publicly accuse Nassar of sexual misconduct.

Now, O’Brien wants to reform Michigan’s laws even more.

"The harsh reality is that in most cases, survivors of sexual assault are too deeply traumatized to be able to speak out and pursue justice until decades later," Denhollander told the Michigan Senate Judiciary Committee last month. Both Denhollander and Sterling Riethman, who also said Nassar abused her, met with O’Brien and advocated for statute of limitation reform.

Rachael Denhollander, left, hugs Sterling Riethman, after Dr. Larry Nassar appeared in court for a plea hearing in Lansing, Mich., Wednesday, Nov. 22, 2017. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

“States of limitations were established at a time when we knew a lot less about victimology about the neurobiology of trauma, about why a victim might not report immediately,” explained Rebecca O’Connor, who serves as RAINN’s vice president of policy. “They’re a barrier to justice for some victims.”

For example, though more than 45 women said Bill Cosby raped or sexually assaulted them, the statutes of limitations expired in all but one case. And one man who said former Penn State football coach Jerry Sandusky molested him couldn’t sue because he’d missed the statute of limitations deadline by nine months.

“We’re seeing this movement throughout our country, where we’re saying, ‘Enough’s enough.’”

Right now, Michigan has no statute of limitations for the most severe types of sexual assault, like rape. If someone endures second- or third-degree sexual misconduct, however, prosecutors must bring charges within a decade of the offense or the victim’s 21st birthday, whichever is later. And if people sexually abused as children in Michigan want to bring a civil lawsuit against their abuser, they generally need to do so before their 19th birthday.

If O’Brien’s bills succeed, Michigan won’t have a statute of limitation on indictments for second-degree sexual misconduct against children, and prosecutors would have at least 30 years to bring charges for third-degree misconduct against children. People abused as minors would also have until their 48th birthday to sue.

Most of the 16 state efforts to reform statutes of limitations would give victims of childhood sex abuse more time to come forward, but a few want to completely remove the time limit on some types of sexual assault. South Dakota is also considering a bill to study the impact of weakening statutes of limitations on sex crimes, although no one has proposed a bill yet.

An uphill battle

Though Nassar’s trial and the #MeToo movement are fuelling their activism now, the calls for reform are far from new. Both RAINN and Child USA have supported statute of limitations reforms for years.

And last year, 10 states introduced bills to reform the statutes of limitation on child sex abuse — more than Child USA’s CEO Hamilton said she’d seen in 20 years of advocacy.

“The #MeToo movement has helped a lot this year, but I also think we were building up to it,” Hamilton explained. She ticked off some of the country’s largest sex scandals, like the Boston Globe’s 2002 expose on the Catholic Church’s history of sex abuse and the 2012 conviction of Sandusky for abusing 10 boys. Pennsylvania — where Sandusky was charged and where the sole prosecution against Cosby is taking place — isn’t considering changing its statutes of limitations this year.

Bill Cosby arrives for a pretrial hearing in his sexual assault case at the Montgomery County Courthouse, Tuesday, March 6, 2018, in Norristown, Pa. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

But the sexual assault accusations against Cosby have prompted some states to rethink their statutes of limitations, O’Connor said. Although Cosby’s lawyers have argued that the case against him is still too old to be prosecuted, the scandal spurred California to eliminate its statute of limitations on rape last year.

“I think Americans have pretty much had enough,” Hamilton said.

Still, proponents of the proposals will likely face an uphill battle. In a letter to Michigan’s legislature before the Senate vote, a group representing the state’s 15 public universities asked to delay its decision on O’Brien’s bills. The group said the package could damage schools, churches, and other institutions and opened them up to lawsuits that could spike insurance costs and weaken government credit.

The Catholic Church has also fought past efforts to loosen statutes of limitation in states like New York, Colorado, and Massachusetts, which are all considering reforming their statutes of limitations this year. The Church is particularly concerned by so-called statute of limitation “revivals,” which give victims a window of time to retroactively file civil cases against their alleged abusers even if the statute of limitations has passed. After California gave childhood sex abuse survivors a one-year window to file civil claims in 2003, over 500 people ended up participating in a $660 million settlement against the Catholic Church for abuses that stretched back 70 years. The settlement was the largest of its kind at the time.

O’Brien’s package of bills include a one-year “revival” that would allow children abused as far back as 1997 to sue. (Athletes at Michigan State University first reported Nassar’s abuse to school officials in 1997.) A spokesperson for the Michigan Catholic Conference didn’t reply to a request for comment but said last week that the bills inspired by the Nassar scandal were “of concern” to the state’s Catholic lobbying arm.

Still, O’Brien told VICE News that she hopes to pass the package by summer. The bills were referred to a House committee on Thursday.

“These are arguments that would ensure that justice is never given to the Nassar victims or to any other person,” O’Brien said. “We’re seeing this movement throughout our country, where we’re saying, ‘Enough’s enough.’”

Cover image: Larry Nassar listens during his sentencing at Eaton County Circuit Court in Charlotte, Mich., Monday, Feb. 5, 2018. (Cory Morse /The Grand Rapids Press via AP)


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