Russian social-media attacks, detailed; US intensifies Somalia airwar; US, Taliban diplomats to meet; BMD cybersecurity fail; And a bit more.

Two congressional reports detail Russian infowar in 2016 — and since. Both are “the first to study the millions of posts provided by major technology firms” to the Senate Intelligence Committee, which at press time had not yet decided whether to endorse the reports but plans to release them later this week.

The first report found that Russia “made an extraordinary effort to target African-Americans, used an array of tactics to try to suppress turnout among Democratic voters and unleashed a blizzard of posts on Instagram that rivaled or exceeded its Facebook operations,” according to the New York Times. “Whether such efforts had a significant effect is difficult to judge. Black voter turnout declined in 2016 for the first time in 20 years in a presidential election, but it is impossible to determine whether that was the result of the Russian campaign.” The report was produced by New Knowledge, an Austin, Texas, cybersecurity company, with help from researchers at Columbia University and Canfield Research. Read on, here.

Huge dataset: The report is “based on a review of 10.4 million tweets, 1,100 YouTube videos, 116,000 Instagram posts, and 61,500 unique Facebook posts published from 2015 through 2017. This is not a complete dataset of Russian influence operations, but it’s still the largest such analysis to take place outside of the companies themselves,” Wired writes. “The most explosive finding in the report may be the assertion that both Facebook and Google executives misled Congress in statements.”

The second report found that Russia “used every major social media platform…to help elect President Trump — and worked even harder to support him while in office,” reported the Washington Post. It was written by Oxford University’s Computational Propaganda Project and Graphika, a network analysis firm. Read more, here.

Open questions, from SAISThomas Rid: “Two things still absent: 1) evidence that [Internet Research Agency] activity had an impact on the 2016 vote, and 2) evidence IRA activity was operationally coordinated with GRU’s hack-and-leak.”


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The Divide Between Silicon Valley and Washington Is a National-Security Threat // Amy Zegart, The Atlantic: Closing the gap between technology leaders and policy makers will require a radically different approach from the defense establishment.

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The US Is Buying Phone Hacking Tools for Ghana’s Police // Aaron Boyd, Nextgov: The State Department wants Ghanaian law enforcement to be able to access Android, Windows, and BlackBerry devices used in transnational crime.

Welcome to this Monday edition of The D Brief by Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. Thanks for reading! And if you find this stuff useful, consider sharing it with somebody you think might find it useful, too. On this day 115 years ago, the Wright brothers conducted “the first successful flight in history of a self-propelled, heavier-than-air aircraft.” That aircraft —the Wright Flyer — traveled 120 feet in 12 seconds of flight, and it’s on display at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C.


America’s airwar in Somalia is more intense than it has ever been. That’s because another six weekend airstrikes put the 2018 total well above the previous annual high of 35 (in 2017, via The Long War Journal). With new activity on Saturday and Sunday, the U.S. military has now carried out at least 45 airstrikes this year against al-Shabaab militants throughout Somalia.
The latest series of strikes killed at least 62 fighters, according to U.S. Africa Command this morning.
Location: “a known al-Shabaab encampment” near the coastal city of Gandarshe, just south of Mogadishu. At least 34 suspected fighters were believed to have been killed in four strikes on Friday, and another 28 were killed in two more strikes on Saturday.
62 deaths calls to mind another big strike on al-Shabaab around this time last year when about 100 were believed to have been killed about 125 miles northwest of Mogadishu. CNN has that reminder from November 2017, here.

Slated for today: A “Pakistan-facilitated meeting” between the U.S. and the Taliban on peace in Afghanistan, Tolo News reported Friday — unclear exactly where the venue would be, “either in Pakistan or in the United Arab Emirates.”
Update: The venue is the UAE capital of Abu Dhabi, Voice of America reports this morning.
Reportedly attending: Afghanistan National Security Advisor Hamdullah Mohib.
Listen: Mohib spoke with Defense One Radio back in July. Re-visit that chat with Executive Editor Kevin Baron from Aspen, Colo., here.
Also attending: reps from Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, VOA adds.
For the record: America’s Afghan war envoy, Zalmay Khalilzad, “is 14 days into an 18-day visit to the region and has already visited Pakistan, Afghanistan, Russia, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Belgium.”
One more thing about Afghanistan: “China, Pakistan and Afghanistan have agreed to cooperate on counter-terrorism and coordinate to call on the Taliban to return to the negotiating table,” the Times of India reported this weekend. Unclear exactly what the CT element entails, but you can read more, here.

Cybersecurity fail, BMD edition. A security audit of America’s ballistic missile system, completed in April, was released to the public on Friday by the Pentagon’s Inspector General.
The damage: “No data encryption, no antivirus programs, no multifactor authentication mechanisms, and 28-year-old unpatched vulnerabilities are just some of the cyber-security failings” cited in the report, according to ZDNet.
That’s not all: All five locations visited by DOD IG officials “failed to maintain a database of written justifications of why employees received access to the BMDS network. Without this database, officials didn’t know the exact reason why employees needed access to the system, and couldn’t enforce a ‘least privilege’ access hierarchy.”
There’s more, including “surveillance cameras [that] failed to cover the entire base, creating gaps that an attacker could exploit to enter the groundwork and buildings” and “door sensors that showed doors as closed, when they were not, and with some facilities that didn’t lock doors.” Believe it or not, it gets worse. Continue reading at ZDNet here, or in the report itself (PDF), here.

Need a quick review of America’s ballistic missile defense systems? Revisit our explainer from June. Or watch our 6-minute video.

The more you know: Tolerance edition. “America is friendlier to foreigners than headlines suggest,” The Economist reported last week off new data from Gallup.
The gist: “This year Gallup reported that a record 75% of them think that immigration is good for the country, up from 66% in 2012. On the pollster’s migration acceptance index, which measures how comfortable people are with foreign neighbours or in-laws, America ranks ninth in the world.” Short- and mid-term implications, here.

And finally today: Bet you never got into a pickle like this when you were a student. For this, we’ll turn it over to the Washington Post‘s Baghdad bureau chief, Tamer El-Ghobashy: “A Swedish-Iraqi student was rescued from an ISIS held town sometime in 2014 by mercenaries in four SUV’s hired by his thesis advisor and we’re only just hearing about it.”
Those involved: Firas Jumaah, a Yazidi student from Iraq; Charlotta Turner, a professor in Analytical Chemistry at Lund University in Sweden; and university security chief, Per Gustafson. It all gets to sounding very Hollywood very fast. So we’ll let Sweden’s The Local fill in the rest, here.

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