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balloon

China Spy Balloons Discovered Under Biden, But This Is Not The First Time They’ve Appeared

According to a senior administration official working under President Joe Biden, the recent sighting of the spy balloon from China is not the first time one has appeared in the US in recent years. In fact, three suspected spy balloons from China appeared over the US during the Trump administration, but were not discovered until Biden took office. 

The official told CNN that the intelligence committee is currently preparing to give briefings to key Trump administration officials regarding the surveillance program from China. The Biden Administration believes that the program has been deployed in five continents within he past several years. 

The Pentagon initially stated that similar balloon sightings had been reported during Trump’s administration following the suspected Chinese spy balloon sighting over Montana last week. 

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“I don’t ever recall somebody coming into my office or reading anything that the Chinese had a surveillance balloon above the United States,” said former Trump administration Defense Secretary Mark Esper to CNN.

A former national security adviser under Trump, John Bolton, reasserted Esper’s point stating that the former administration had knowledge of the surveillance program: “Did the Biden administration invent a time machine? What is the basis of this new detection?”

“The very fact, if it is a fact, that the Chinese tried this before, should have alerted us and should have caused us to take action before the balloon crossed into American sovereign territory.”

An official with the Biden Administration stated the previous incidents were not discovered until Trump had already left office, but no information has been given regarding when these supposed previous sightings happened or how. 

The Pentagon has reportedly briefed Congress regarding the precious Chinese balloon surveillance sightings during the Trump administration that, at the time, flew over Texas and Florida. 

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Representative Michael Waltz said in a statement to CNN that “currently, we understand there were incursions near Florida and Texas, but we don’t have clarity on what kind of systems were on these balloons or if these incursions occurred in territorial waters or overflew land.”

“Another Chinese spy balloon also transited the continental US briefly at the beginning of the Biden administration, the senior administration official said. But the balloon that was shot down by the US military on Saturday was unique in both the path it took, down from Alaska and Canada into the US, and the length of time it spent loitering over sensitive missile sites in Montana,” officials stated to CNN.

“Closely observing the balloon in flight has allowed us to better understand this Chinese program and further confirmed its mission was surveillance.”

Biden acknowledged that he ordered the Pentagon to shoot the balloon down last Wednesday when he was initially briefed of its presence over Montana. 

“Shooting it down over water also maximized the possibility of recovering the payload – the equipment carried by the balloon that the US says was being used for surveillance – intact and able to be examined further by the US intelligence community,” officials said.

tiktok

US and TikTok Draft Deal To Resolve National Security Concerns

The Biden Administration and social media platform TikTok are drafting a deal to resolve concerns over the company’s data policies and its threat to U.S. national security. TikTok is owned by the Chinese company ByteDance.

The resolution would allow ByteDance to keep ownership of the company but would make changes to its “data security and governance,” according to The New York Times. The two parties are still negotiating the terms of the deal, which aims to protect American data from the Chinese government.

The Justice Department is steering the negotiations with TikTok. Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco, who was also a national security official in President Obama’s administration, believes that the current agreement terms are not rigorous enough to adequately protect national security. The Treasury Department is also involved in the negotiations and is skeptical that the deal will sufficiently protect American data. The Treasury Department plays a significant role in approving agreements that have the potential to incite national security vulnerabilities.

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The hesitancy from the government may drag out the final resolution for months. TikTok’s CEO Shou Zi Chew insists that the company is not interested in sharing U.S. data with the Chinese government and considers itself a “separate US-based entity subject to U.S. laws.” Chew asserts that TikTok has “not provided U.S. user data to the CCP, nor would we if asked.”

“Employees outside the U.S., including China-based employees, can have access to TikTok U.S. user data subject to a series of robust cybersecurity controls and authorization approval protocols overseen by our US-based security team.”

However, ByteDance still owns TikTok, and some ByteDance employees can still access TikTok user data. With midterms set for November, politicians turned their attention back to the security issue.

According to the deal, TikTok would store its American data on U.S. servers, likely run by the tech company Oracle, instead of its servers in Singapore and Virginia. Oracle would monitor TikTok algorithms for foreign government interference in user content recommendations. The worry is that the Chinese government will be able to use those recommendations to influence American users and politics. TikTok would also have to create a board of security experts to report to the U.S. government to oversee its actions.

Jake Williams, a former National Security Agency hacker, spoke about how Chinese government access to U.S. data creates a power imbalance between the two countries.

“Let’s assume for a second that U.S. intelligence has access to WeChat. They would have to fight hard for that access, and it would constantly be at risk of discovery and neutralization. China, on the other hand, doesn’t have to fight for access to TikTok; they have it by statutory authority.”

Williams continues, “the potential for Chinese data collection across the platform is a larger concern, especially when combined with other data already acquired by Chinese state actors.”

TikTok announced last week that it would ban political fundraising on its platform to prevent politicians from using it to grow their campaigns.

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In 2020, former President Donald Trump tried to force the sale of TikTok over similar national security concerns. TikTok initially agreed to sell a part of TikTok to Oracle, but the deal never came to fruition. The Biden Administration is taking a more nuanced approach to regulating the company’s access to American data.

Kian Vesteinsson, a research analyst for the nonprofit Freedom House, which advocates for political freedom, said that “there are definitely signs that Chinese influence efforts are likely to grow, linked to the Chinese government’s strategy more broadly of digital authoritarianism.”

“But it’s important for us to acknowledge that the U.S. government has its own shadowy national security surveillance authorities. And in recent years, U.S. government agencies have monitored social media accounts of people coordinating protests in the U.S. and done things like searched electronic devices throughout the country and at the border. These sorts of tactics undermine the idea that this is only a foreign threat.”

Russia

Edward Snowden’s Life in Russia and his New Memoir

Edward Snowden, the infamous whistleblower who in 2013 revealed the extent of the NSA’s surveillance on ordinary citizens, has written a memoir entitled Permanent Record which releases tomorrow, September 17th. Snowden, 36, has lived with his wife in Moscow ever since leaking highly classified government information to The Guardian and The Washington Post. Snowden was charged by the Obama administration with theft of government property and violating the Espionage Act, and his passport was revoked. Snowden never intended on living in Russia in the long term, and was actually en route to Havana, Cuba when his passport was cancelled, leaving him stuck in Russia. Snowden has advocated for greater asylum protection for whistleblowers such as himself around the world, and has expressed regret about the fact that the only safe place for him to live is in Russia, not in Europe where protections on free speech and privacy are thought to be more respected.

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Despite being physically restricted to his home in Moscow, Snowden has been active in intelligence community circles, particular among organizations devoted to digital privacy and freedom. Oftentimes, Snowden will appear virtually at conferences over the internet, sometimes taking advantage of a telepresence robot to speak at events around the world. Though it’s been six years since his controversial decision to share classified information about the NSA’s surveillance, Snowden has recently gained attention in the news media as he is promoting his upcoming memoir. In 2013, Snowden applied for asylum in many countries, including France and was offered asylum in four countries, but was unable to travel to any of them without passing through a country which would have extradited him to the US. 

Snowden has stated that while he is located in Russia, he has no interest in providing commentary on Russian politics and feels that he lives “on the Internet.” Snowden, however, has said that Russia is a beautiful country with friendly people. His asylum status in Russia, however, is temporary; initially he was granted asylum for only one year, but his permission to stay in the country has since been extended and is now set to expire in 2020. Snowden still considers himself an American, and wants to return to his home country; however, as he believes he would not be granted a fair trial in the States and would likely face a lengthy prison term with the threat of solitary confinement, he doesn’t consider this an option. Snowden argues that, by leaking information about the NSA, he acted in the public interest and thus didn’t break the law; however, under the terms of his indictment Snowden would not be allowed to mount a public interest defense, rendering this justification moot in the eyes of the legal system.

Snowden no longer disguises himself in public, and moves freely about his city, visiting restaurants, cafes, and art galleries, and spending time with friends.

In his memoir, Snowden describes his experience using the internet to communicate anonymously with like-minded individuals while he was growing up, the circumstances that led to his becoming interested in computer science, hacking, and privacy, and the experiences he had in the military and working for Booz-Allen, a security contractor for the US government. Snowden expresses his concern that global intelligence communities are moving towards having the capacity to create a profile detailing all of the conversations and behaviors of everybody on the planet, and is particularly worried about the surveillance behavior made possible by advancements in artificial intelligence, which have the potential to make the widespread collection of data on ordinary people even more accurate and detailed.

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Though he’d prefer to live in a different country, Snowden has grown accustomed to his life in Russia. When he first arrived, he was deathly afraid of leaving his apartment for fear of being captured by the authorities, and when he did go outdoors he would wear scarves, hats, and coats to disguise his appearance. Now, several years later, Snowden no longer disguises himself in public, and moves freely about his city, visiting restaurants, cafes, and art galleries, and spending time with friends. He makes his living by collecting fees for speaking with students, civil rights activists, and others, and though it is not yet released, his memoir is already the #1 Best Seller in Amazon’s Political Intelligence category. Though he is stuck within Russia’s borders, Snowden enjoys travelling, and has visited St. Petersburg and the Black Sea resort of Sochi, among other places.