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The curious case of a Russian hacking

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Ever since Donald Trump won the elections, the Democrats who have been (or ‘were’) very magnanimous about the fact they would accept the election results whatever be the outcome, have been vigorously demanding an enquiry into the hacking by Russia into their Democratic National Committee (DNC) meetings which resulted in a variety of colorful information about the activities done by the Democrats behind closed doors. Videos released by Project Veritas also showed how the Democratic strategists planted agitators in Donald Trump rallies to incite violence. But that is a different story altogether. Let’s get back to the curious case…..

How did the Russians allegedly do it? They sent a variety of Phishing emails to various sources and hoped that people clicked on the same. For example John Podesta, the chairman of Hillary’s aide was sent this email. He forwarded it to an aide, who by mistake said that it was ok. As a result, the Russians had access to 60,000 of Podesta’s emails. Among those were mischievous emails, which showed Debbie Wasserman Schultz (ex-Chair of the DNC) and her aides trying to undermine the emerging candidature of Bernie Sanders. These were sent to Wikileaks who promptly published them in their website. Following this scandal, Debbie had to resign from her position as the DNC Chair. So who was she replaced by? Enter Donna Brazile, a Democratic strategist and a television commentator…

So after that, did the Democrats do an about turn and sort out their affairs? ‘Once bitten twice shy’ was probably a proverb that the Democrats either did not know or disliked. Donna Brazile was caught revealing questions that were going to be asked during the primaries debate to Clinton campaign officials. After getting caught, one would have expected Donna to be defensive and apologetic. But no, not Donna…. Maybe others…. But not Donna…. She gave out one of the coolest statements in recent times – “I am sorry to have been caught while cheating.” This, in essence, meant that the next time she does it, she will take all necessary precautions not to get caught ????

The charge that many Democrats and even some Republicans (mostly the anyone-but-Trump Republicans) are laying out is ‘How can a foreign country interfere in our elections?’ That statement can be slightly turned and reframed as ‘How can the U.S. interfere in any foreign elections?’ After all there are charges that the Obama government interfered in the Israeli elections of 2015 to oust Benjamin Netanyahu. The U.S. State department paid US $ 350,000 to an Israeli group named ‘OneVoice’ to support the NGO’s efforts to back Israeli-Palestinian peace settlement negotiations. However, they allegedly used it to build a voter database, train activists and hire a political consulting firm with ties to Obama’s campaign – all of which set the stage for an anti-Netanyahu campaign.

In one finding, the subcommittee, which investigated the issue, even said that OneVoice told the U.S. State Department’s top diplomat in Jerusalem of its plans in an email. But the official Consul General Michael Ratney claims to have never seen them. The email was deleted permanently and hence there was no trail left for the subcommittee to verify the claims. OneVoice allegedly also deleted the State Department’s logo from the list of “partners” on its website. It is true that the subcommittee which investigated the charges found that there was no evidence that the NGO used funds to influence Israeli elections. But questions still remain – is it true that OneVoice deleted the U.S. State Departent’s logo from its website? If so, why would they do it?

Were there any motives for Obama to have worked against Netanyahu? Yes, there were. The Obama-Netanyahu rivalry started in early 2009 when they clashed over Israeli settlements in the West Bank. Later during the 2012 elections, Netanyahu gave out a perception, through his close friendship with Mitt Romney, which went back to their working for a Boston investment firm in the 1970s and also through his close friendship with Pro-Romney Superpac donor Sheldon Adelson, that he backed Romney. He also criticised Obama publicly over the Iran nuclear deal in September of 2012, a few months before the U.S. elections. All these did not help the cause.

Of course, that is not all. The U.S. has meddled in the Maidan protests in Ukraine too. The Maidan Protests started in Kiev, Ukraine, in 2013. Victoria Nuland, the State Department’s top diplomat to Europe under the Obama regime, admitted that around U.S. $ 5 billion was poured in for assisting Ukrainians in building “democratic skills and institutions.” What were the beautiful democratic skills and institutions developed in Ukraine that required a whooping U.S. $ 5 billion? Sadly, Victoria Nuland throws no light on that. Later, in February of 2014, a leaked audio tape appeared on the net which showed the two diplomats Victoria Nuland and Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt discussing who should lead the Ukrainian government and who should not. Hence it is clear that the U.S. had a role in the Maidan protests. “I think Yats (Arseniy P Yatsenyuk) is the guy who’s got the economic experience, the governing experience” says Victoria in the tape. What a stylish way of saying that!!!!

Two examples should suffice though one can write about a few more like the allegations against the Democratic Senator Edward ‘Ted’ Kennedy (youngest brother of John F Kennedy), who contacted the KGB leadership and asked for help in defeating the then U.S. President Ronald Reagan in the early 1980s. Let us assume that the present allegations against Russia are true. But what are the Russians alleged to have done? Have they bribed the voters and induced them to vote against Hillary Clinton? No, they have not. Of course, bribing the voters is a specialty unique only to India!!! So, have they manipulated the results by hacking the voter machines and tried to change the election outcome through bogus votes? No, they have not. What else have they done? They have hacked the DNC and revealed all the manipulations which went on behind closed doors in the Democratic Party. So what is the big fuss about…….

Disclaimer: Views expressed in this article are those of the author

Harish Venugopalan is a Research Assistant with the Observer Research Foundation. He has done his Masters in International Relations from the Dublin City University (DCU) in 2011-2012. His current research interest is ‘Conflict Management in Africa’.

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Coronavirus: Bioterrorism or Not, Who Is the Winner?

Sajad Abedi

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Authors: Sajad Abedi and Mohammad Amin Zabihi*

It has been so long since the early instances of using toxins, chemicals, and diseases as agents of assassinations and/or even mass murder. There are numerous historical and even modern instances of using toxins in assassinations, or using contagious diseases in warfare without even knowing about the bacteria or virus. For example, (allegedly) the first registered event of such method goes back to 14th century when Tatar army, desperate to win after three years of siege, threw corpses of plague victims to the Caffa city[1], causing an outbreak of this disease within the city. But the most important part happened afterwards; some soldiers could manage to escape on boats – Caffa was a port city on the Crimea Sea – to Italy, unaware of the fact that they were already infected. Nevertheless, most of them died along the way, but infected rats and remaining bodies caused one the major waves of plague pandemic[2] all over the Europe.

The paramount point is that in our modern world, it is just a matter of hours to leave New York and land somewhere else, thousands of miles away, even before the first symptoms of your disease manifest itself. In fact, the most horrifying factor of any contagious disease could be its latent period.

On the other hand, considering the unprecedent pace of ever-growing biological technologies, many developed countries possess the ability to develop an intelligent virus equipped with customized features in order to remain unnoticed on the victim’s (vector’s) body for quiet a time, and only manifest itself after it infected a considerable number of surrounding people. More interestingly, such customized virus can be planned whether to disable a specific organ or to metastasize within the whole system of the host. Even more, it can be planned according to the genetic map of people within a given region.

Looking at the whole picture with broader perspective, it does not matter whether the agent is toxic, chemical, or biological. The capability to produce and employ a virus, bacteria, or toxin by malicious actors, namely terrorists or criminals, could bring disastrous results.As we witnessed such case during 1990s in Japan – the Aum Shinrikyo Cult.

In fact, if we are going to prevent such disasters, first we should find the potential actors who may resort to such actions, investigate the probable ways, and also understand the costs, benefits, motives, and risks of which for these potential actors.

Of course, terrorists and criminals are the first probable examples which may pop up in our minds, but looking more rigorously, state actors are also among the potential cases. In the case of Coronavirus outbreak, if one considers it as an instance of bioterrorism/biological-war act, the probability of participation of terrorist or criminal organizations seems to be low, due to the complexity of production process and the highly advanced technologies required to produce such virus at the first place. On the other hand, a terrorist organization typically claims the responsibility of such attack in order to earn the reputation, and a criminal organization may demand ransom prior to release the virus – otherwise it would not be beneficial, unless they already have the cure (vaccine/antidote) ready to sell. In any case, it doesn’t seem probable. 

Considering the fact that, in the case of a pandemic, finding the main cause and the zero patient in this complex, interconnected world is significantly difficult (if possible), state actors may resort to such options due to multiple reasons. They may try to initiate a hidden biological war against another country (countries), in order to cause economic interruptions, socio-political chaos, create power vacuum in a specific area, forcing another actor to leave a region, or just simply to enjoy the economic benefits of selling the vaccine or antidote to victims. Obviously, there will be some serious prosecutions and consequences in the case that some concrete evidence shows any tracks of participation of an actor – whether a sovereign state or even a pharmaceutical company; but in such cases, states usually start to throw allegations at each other anyway.

We are living in a world that any kind of news affect the open markets immediately; the more important the news is, the deeper it affects the markets. In this case – Coronavirus – we witnessed a serious drop in international stock markets –especially oil markets – all over the world, which coincided with Russia’s ambivalence approach regarding the cutting supply decision made by OPEC – and also Saudi Arabia’s reaction to the whole story. Altogether, these factors caused a serious drop in different markets which, in fact, started with the news of Coronavirus outbreak at the first place. Who gets the best use of such scenario? The oil and gas producers are the main victims, obviously; but if one (the alleged perpetrator) knows the whole story before it happens, he would sell at the highest price and buy at the lowest price again – after the price crash, president Trump ordered to stock up the US oil reserves.

Although it seems pretty convincing, but is it really rational? What are the risks and costs? In reality, the pandemic of a dangerous virus – one like Coronavirus – equipped with a two-week latent period, in a high-populated country like China can cause sever problems in almost every corner of the planet; in fact, the bigger economy you have, the deeper your challenge would be. The implications of such outbreak are considerably wide: (1) it causes decrease in oil prices which will result in budget deficits in oil-dependent countries – like Russia, Iran, Saudi Arabia; (2) it interrupts the production process and consequently the sale chains – like China; (3) reduces the tourists travels which will consequently result in budget deficits in tourist-dependent countries – like Turkey and most of EU; (4) it causes sever socio-economic costs, especially for populated countries – like China, US, and Russia.

Altogether, if one state actor decides to initiate a biological war against another state, using a virus agent which has the potential to cause a global pandemic, it should consider the possibility of backfiring the same gun inside its own country in numerous ways. In an interconnected world like the one we are living in, such actions cause gargantuan reactions in different ways, one may not be able to predict all of them. Considering such costs and also the risk of being traced back and accused of committing such horrifying act, the possibility of state-sponsorship in these cases will be considered relatively low (but still possible). It is not like creating a computer virus – like Stuxnet – that may or may not blow back to your face; it is the matter of people’s lives. 

*Mohammad Amin Zabihi, MSc. Regional Studies, Allameh Tabatabaei University


[1] Nowadays it is Feodosia, Ukraine 

[2]Also known as Black Death

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Cybercrime effecting banking sector/economy of Pakistan

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Cyber-crime is not a conventional offence as its ramifications transcend borders.  It affects a society in different ways. The term “cybercrime” denotes any sort of illegal activity that uses a computer, cell phone or any other electronic device as its primary means of commission. The computer and electronic devices serve as the agents and the facilitator of the crime. Cyber criminals take full advantage of obscurity, secrecy, and interconnectedness provided by the internet and are able to attack the foundations of our modern information society. Breaching of cyber space is an issue of utmost concern for the banks and financial institutions. The menace of data theft is growing in magnitude with huge financial impact. As custodian of highly valuable customer information, banks have always been the favorite target of the cyber-attacks.

Moreover it is estimated that banks are more frequently targeted by the hackers than any other business organization. IT based financial solutions of the banks such as ATMs, mobile banking and internet banking are exposed to various forms of frauds including skimming and phishing etc. Affected banks may also witness decline in their share prices. Banking industry is more susceptible to the breach of cyber security due to its financial lure for the transgressors. In Pakistan, banking is increasing its user base at a brisk pace; the resulting threats are also multiplying. Financial services in Pakistan i.e. credit cards, accounts information and other, can also be acquired for theft or fabrication. During last few years Pakistan faced some serious cyber breaches in the banking sector. In 2018 it lost US $6 million in cyber-attacks as online security measures failed to prevent breach of security in which overseas hackers stole customer’s data.Data from 19,864 debit cards belonging to customers of 22 Pakistani banks has been put on sale on the dark web, according to an analysis conducted in year 2018 by Pakistan’s Computer Emergency Response Team, PakCERT.

However Cyber breaches of January 24 and January 30, 2019 included such data in large quantities pertaining to bank Meezan Bank Ltd. Gemini Advisory; a body that provides guidance with addressing emerging cyber threats stated that the compromised records posted between January 24 and January 30, 2019 is associated with a compromise of Meezan Bank Limited’s internal systems. Cyber security company “Group-IB”on  a February  22,2019  in advisory stated that money mules use the fake cards, to either withdraw money from ATMs or buy goods” that are later resold by fraudsters. Despite efforts of banks to eliminate ATM card fraud, criminals still find ways around security measures to acquire card data at the point of sale.

The impact of a single, successful cyber-attack can have far-reaching implications including financial losses, theft of intellectual property, and loss of consumer confidence and trust. The overall monetary impact of cyber-crime on society and government is estimated to be billions of dollars a year. While, the banks in Pakistan claim that they have insurance policies, they do not seem much interested in securing their system and the public remains highly affected by such attacks. There is growing sense of distrust in the online banking. Several banking organizations fail to provide proper insurance to their customer. That is why people are more comfortable in keeping their money and reserves at home rather than banks. This is one of the major factors that add to country’s severe economic decline.

Pakistan needs to develop its cyber capabilities infrastructure and should invest in the youth to build a cyber security force of young experts. Simultaneously, there is a need to focus on artificial intelligence, block chains and software robots as suggested by Chief Technology Officer Huawei (Middle East and European Union) Jorge Sebastiao in the recent international seminar on Global Strategic Threat and Response (GSTAR). Establishing a stronger cyber infrastructure will provide stronger security guarantees to the IT enabled services especially to the banking systems of Pakistan. This will in turn enhance the economic growth and security. Furthermore, the transnational nature of cyber-crime makes cyber-security a global challenge and, hence, demands collective and collaborative measures at the international level with flawless and strong legal and cyber policy framework.

In this regard, Pakistan’s cyber-law provides for ‘international cooperation.’ It has the membership of the International Multilateral Partnership against Cyber Threats (ITUIMPACT) and participates in Asia Pacific Security Incident Response Coordination Working Group (APSIRC-WG). However, cyber-security does not appear to be a priority on the country’s agenda for international dialogue and agreements.  Pakistan needs to review the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Bill which will contribute mainly to increase the security of banking systems.

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‘Da Cui Yun’ – False Flag Operation

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“Customs detains Karachi-bound ship in Gujarat: Report”

February 3, 2020, the tragic day of sheer propaganda where India claimed Ship was carrying a dual-use autoclave in it. Indian customs officials detained a ship bearing a flag of Hong Kong and bound for Port Qasim in Karachi. The officials seized the ship as it was carrying an autoclave — a pressure chamber that is used for launching ballistic missiles.

India accused that the autoclave has been certified as a “dual-use” item. India wrongly ascertained that their examination has proved that the item can be utilised for military application. Whereas the authorities from both sides (China and Pakistan) firmly denied any such application of the item this was claimed to be utilised for Ballistic missiles. Pakistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) has confirmed that the item or the autoclave was a heat treatment furnace casing system which has numerous industrial applications. MOFA also cleared that the item was correctly declared in the relevant documentation and this item is not listed in any international export control list.

This is not the first time, of course, where in the backdrop of major events that happened in New Delhi where President Trump was expected to arrive in India and Islamabad’s resorts to tackle the FATF issue, India has started highlighting another fake incident where they captured Chinese ship carrying suspected cargo to Pakistan fearing wrong estimates of nuclear proliferation in the region.

Such were the headlines features that occupied the front pages of Indian newspapers and were displayed as news tickers on all Indian news channels. The practice remains to linger till date while the fact remains that the authorities in New Delhi have failed to come out with any hard substantiation regarding the incident. The Indian authorities started to blame Pakistan right off the bat while the Indian Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) still engaged in a battle of how to go ahead with such folly.

New Delhi once again is brewing the anti-Pakistan curry in its witches’ cauldron by persistently accusing Pakistan. The recent News coverage shows that only few Indian sources have started raising the issue of Chinese ship involving it with a larger interest of blaming both partners for Indians own aspired goals.

For maligning Pakistan’s repute in the international arena, India has never ever spared a moment from blaming Pakistan over insubstantial grounds. This can be further understand by analyzing the major past events that happened in India i.e.   From unrest in India to the chaos in Karnataka and the Mumbai attacks etc. Pakistan has been apprehended with unjustifiable accusations for every incident of restlessness in New Delhi. New Delhi not only contends Pakistan but also convinces other major players in the international arena to think the same. In the meanwhile, whenever proof has been claimed from New Delhi, their government has always nose-dived to produce any in front of international statutory bodies.

Unfortunately, truth and logic are what lacks in the Indian investigations. We have observed that 26/11 has been proved a false flag by none but New Delhi’s own Intelligence agencies be fooled themselves. There are various books, interviews and articles that have thoroughly described the sham, that ‘claims’ regarding 26/11 actually are. ‘Who killed Karkare’’ and ‘Betrayal of India- Revisiting the 26/11 Evidence’ by Elias Davidsson are among the notable books published.

Nevertheless, a number of questions arises to one’s mind where important facts are going to be overlooked as similar to the trial of the Mumbai attack i.e. ambiguities in the investigation procedure, no provision of proof beyond reasonable doubt against Pakistan blaming, differences in the witnesses’ confessions, etc. and most importantly this all event questions that before any investigation and without any evidence why India started blaming Pakistan immediately with unfounded accusation of proliferation. Indian version in every case was totally concocted, based on deceit and outright lies.

Lastly, India must refrain from acting so recklessly and irresponsibly to just pick out their biased side of the story and fuel to the already present hatred towards Pakistan.

Rather than tirelessly blaming Pakistan, New Delhi needs to secure her own domestic environment. While there is an urgent need by Pakistani media of countering such fake allegations of India and Indian media with rationale and logic. There is also a need of taking such issue to international forum by Pakistan where India continuously mudslinging Pakistan to harm its sovereignty or international standing. In the end if India appears unable to provide the concrete proofs of such incident then they must be penalized for their every fake accusations.

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