Media Bias

I’ve written about the dangers of believing everything you read and here I go again.

Matti Friedman was a reporter and editor in the Jerusalem bureau of Associated Press who now exposes a particularly pernicious bias within the established news media. The article is entitled, An Insider’s Guide to the Most Important Story on Earth, and it exposes the news media’s bias against Israel. While I don’t agree with everything Friedman says in the article, my experience tells me that he is right that “the old comfort of parsing the moral failures of Jews, and the feeling of superiority this brings” is alive and well in the news media.

For over 20 years, I have had to sort through bias, prejudice, propaganda, and stupidity from the semblance of fact presented in news articles. Friedman’s article illustrates only one underlying narrative that distorts what passes for news reporting these days. If you must resort to searching for “facts” in news articles, then I urge you to read Friedman’s article.

Don’t Believe Everything the Government Says

Here are three simple facts:

  1. Governments are political.
  2. Politics is not about the truth–it’s about getting elected at any cost.
  3. Morally vacuous individuals are attracted to the power inherent in politics and government.

The following is my approach to evaluating the veracity of what government says:

  1. Record what government or politician(s) said.
  2. Conduct a detailed comparison of what they said to the data provided by the same government.
  3. Bureaucrats are political, they champion ideologies, agendas, or politicians that promise them greater power, higher pay or benefits.
  4. A thorough understanding of statistics and their abuse is required.
  5. If they continue pushing their agenda in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, then you are witnessing morally vacuous individuals engaged in self-serving propaganda.

Sources and Methods for Investigative Internet Research

Sale

My book, Sources and Methods for Investigative Internet Research, is now available at a reduced price of $19.95 at our online store until Saturday, 30 August 2014. For a description of the book go to our Publications page.

The ePub edition is only available from our store.

Safe Recharging with a USB Condom

The mobile phone adaptor USB cable is a combination power-and-data connection that can expose your device to manipulation by some very unsavory characters. This practice is called Juicejacking and I have written about it before.

If you must recharge your mobile devices at a public recharging station then you need to practice safe recharging just like your high school health class recommended.

USB Condom

The USB Condom protects personal and private data stored on your mobile device while recharging. The USB Condoms only transfer power, not your data as it cuts off the data pins in a standard USB cable, preventing any data from transferring in either direction.  It sells for $9.99. This is very hygienic.

However, you can abstain entirely and achieve the same results by using a power-only USB cable.

Propaganda War

Shooting down a passenger jet has exposed some good old-fashioned Soviet-style propaganda. It’s not as good as some of Putin’s efforts, but it’s interesting to watch.

The Wayback Machine has captured some very interesting evidence that Russian-backed terrorists shot down Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17. In a post by Igor Girkin on Vkontakte, Russia’s Facebook clone, the Ukrainian terrorist leader who is also known as Strelkov, claimed his forces downed what he thought was a Ukrainian military transport plane.

The Russian-backed terrorist claims he shot down Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 was caught by the Wayback Machine and publicized on their Twitter account, @InternetArchive (https://twitter.com/internetarchive/status/490302564240334848). See The Christian Science Monitor article that translates the content and provides a timeline of the attempts by the terrorists to hide this and blame the Ukraine government.

Meanwhile over at Wikipedia, the Twitter account @RuGovEdits monitors Wikipedia edits by the Russian government. It reveals Russia’s efforts to shift the blame to the Ukrainian government. Putin’s office and Russian media outlets made multiple edits to the page for the murder of the MH17 passengers to blame the “Ukrainian military”. @RuGovEdits should be trustworthy as the Wiki-twitterbot code is widely available on Github.

Forgotten But Not Gone

The European Union “right to be forgotten” law that allows individuals to demand the removal of links from Google’s EU search sites is starting to come into play.

The EU “Right to be Forgotten” is clearly a form of censorship in the 28 member nations and 4 other European countries that encompasses over 500 million people. Google has 90% of the search engine market there.

Demanding the removal of an indexed item only renews interest in the story. As the law only applies to Google and not the pages themselves or other search engines, traffic to the articles in question increases thanks to journalists calling attention to them once they receive notification that the article was removed from the EU sites. This is known as The Streisand Effect.

European Google search results for any name display the disclaimer that, “Some results may have been removed under data protection law in Europe,” even if nobody requested the removal of anything.

Of course, people will soon tire of writing about the removed articles and people will stop demanding the removal of indexed items.

Certainly, a free speech enthusiasts will start to collate all the missing search results and make them available. This has already started with Hidden From Google. This site archives articles that Google must remove from European Union search results. I’m certain a Twitter account like @gdnvanished will also appear to provide similar content.

The easiest way to circumvent this censorship is to search using the Google.com site instead of the local EU search sites—or better yet, use other search engines like DuckDuckGo, Yandex, and blekko.

Perception & Disguise

I was working on a small surveillance crew recently and we needed to change our appearances on the fly. Changing clothing is an old ploy but it wasn’t enough for this group of very alert subjects.

We bought used clothing in bigger sizes than we normally wear. I tested this clothing around people who haven’t seen me in a while. They all commented on how much weight I had lost. Some asked if I had been sick. I didn’t change, but the clothes made me look like I had lost 30 pounds. Adding a little makeup under my eyes made some people think I had a terminal illness.

Perception goes a long way. People quickly jump to conclusions–my disguise made sure it was the conclusion I wanted them to make.

Critical Thinking & Reality TV

Critical thinking is the investigator’s greatest tool. You might have developed a good way of evaluating sources such as my 13-point check list for evaluating information, but you must apply it with intellectual rigor.

The authority of the source and the accuracy of the information are key issues to examine.

  • What is the reputation of the data, and the data-provider? Has this source of data been cited elsewhere?
  • What is the reliability of the source?
  • How can you document or qualify the source of the information?
  • Are the complex issues of data integrity and validity oversimplified?

With regard to authority and accuracy, I suggest you read the interview with Cody Lundin who is a professional survival instructor with over 25 years of experience. Read this to learn more about Survival TV from his perspective as an expert. He calls this stuff, Survival Entertainment with good reason and says, “…anyone who would trust their life to what they see on reality television shouldn’t breed.”

Critical Thinking

Growing up, my mother always told me not to believe everything I read. This was good advice, but it doesn’t go far enough.

Critical thinking is an ancient concept but the actual term began to appear in the mid-20th century. In the information age, developing this skill is essential. It is an intellectually disciplined process of actively analyzing and evaluating information. It transcends all subjects, sources, or problems. Critical thinking protects us from biased, distorted, partial, uninformed, or prejudiced content and ideas. It insulates us from improper assumptions and implications. It prevents undesirable consequences.

Critical thinking is not the application of logic for selfish purposes. Selfishness often appears under the guise of critical thought to skilfully manipulate ideas to promote a vested interest. Fortunately, this usually becomes apparent upon close examination because selfishness typically accompanies lies and an intellectually flawed argument. Examining the issue fair-mindedly, and with true intellectual integrity, the selfish analysis falls apart. Of course, the selfish minded individuals will call the product of true critical thinking idealism, using that term in a pejorative sense, thus further identifying their selfish motives.

Anonymize Your Email

Guerrilla Mail is a temporary, disposable email service. It lets you to easily set-up random email addresses. If accessed through Tor, it ensures that no one can connect your IP address with a Guerrilla Mail address.

Encrypting messages for webmail is awkward. You must copy and paste messages into text windows and use PGP to scramble and unscramble them. To avoid this, you can use a privacy-focused email host like Riseup.net and Mozilla Thunderbird with the encryption plugin, Enigmail, along with another plugin called TorBirdy that routes email through Tor.

Confidential File Transfers

Google Drive and Dropbox don’t provide privacy. Onionshare is an open-source program that lets you send big files via Tor. When you use it to share a file, it creates a Tor Hidden Service, which is a temporary and anonymous website hosted on your computer. Give the recipient of the file the .onion address for that site, and they can securely and anonymously download it using their Tor Browser. The person who is receiving the file doesn’t need OnionShare. All they need is to open the URL you send them in Tor Browser to be able to download the file.

For now it only runs as a bare-bones command-line tool on the Tor-based operating system Tails, which can be launched on Windows or Mac machines.

If you’re trying to send a secret file then it’s important to send this URL secretly. I recommend you use Off-the-Record encrypted chat to send the URL. This provides an end-to-end encrypted conversation over services like Google Talk and Facebook chat that prevents Google or Facebook from having access to the contents of your conversation.

Microsoft’s Ban on Guns & the Investigator

Since 2009 Microsoft’s Code of Conduct has been applied to more and more of their online services. Under this Code of Conduct, users are prohibited from using it in  “any way that promotes or facilitates the sale of ammunition and firearms” (See bullet point #13). You have to trust that Microsoft’s definition of “promotes or facilitates the sale of ammunition and firearms” is the same as yours and that one of their robots doesn’t delete all your data. Not recognising this risk could mean the loss of all your investigation reports and data. A lot of my investigations have included large volumes of data on firearms and ammunition. Imagine the damage to your reputation, if at a crucial juncture in the investigation, some Microsoft employee or robot decides my data and reports are “promoting guns” and deletes everything.

Most of Microsoft’s online services are covered by their “Code of Conduct”. This includes Windows Live, Office 365, Microsoft Sharepoint, Bing.com, Outlook.com, Windows OneDrive, Exchange Online, MSN and more.

Searching for firearms and ammunition data on Bing may already produce censored results as a result of the Code of Conduct.

Only Skype, Microsoft Azure and XBox Live are now exempt. I expect Skype will be the next to come under the Code of Conduct.

Windows OneDrive, formally Microsoft SkyDrive, is part of Windows 7, Windows 8, Windows 8 for Phones and Windows 8 for Tablets. If you handle information about firearms you should avoid these products. You could find your account terminated and all your emails, contacts, calendar, and everything else deleted.

Windows Live powers a number of Microsoft services including Microsoft’s cloud email and cloud Office suite. Windows Live, Outlook.com and Exchange Online power many large institutions. If you work in such an institution be very careful, especially if you have signed documents agreeing to abide by Microsofts Terms of Use.

If you use Microsoft Office and the Office 365 service to share files about guns, then you will eventually find everything has gone down the memory hole.

Microsoft’s Code of Conduct can affect everything an investigator does. Searching, email, voice calls, storing data, and preparing reports are all potentially at risk if you use these services in relation to firearms and ammunition related topics. Now ask yourself how Microsoft knows the content of your data and think about the confidentiality and security of your data.

You must have a due diligence process in place before starting to even look for online and cloud services. You have to read and understand the implications of all the stuff hidden in the fine print.

How to Take Veracious Surveillance Video

I don’t like going to court, who does, but sometimes it’s a necessary evil.

I once conducted a surveillance as part of a complex investigation. Of all the surveillance operatives, I was the only one subpoenaed regarding the primary subject. During a break in the proceedings I asked the barrister, why only me?

His answer was simple and direct. He said, “you started or finished each video segment by panning up and out to wide angle to clearly show where the video was taken. The visible landmark buildings and the surroundings make your video more credible.”

None of my evidence was questioned until they got around to a segment of my “camera in a cardboard box” video taken on a city street. Those questions ended when pictures of me with my box on the street were entered into evidence. These were taken by facing a reflective shop window–there I was in my Dickie work clothes holding the cardboard box that concealed the the camera.  The other side didn’t like the fact that I captured the licence plates on both the subject’s car and that of his mistress parked on the same side street by walking down the street with my cardboard box. They were later connected through the licence plate and surveillance, which in turn, led us to an apartment on the same side street that was purchased with embezzled funds.

I don’t know if questioning the truthfulness of all surveillance video based upon the location of the person recording it will become standard practice or if this was just a bit of aggressive lawyering, but these courtroom tactics can be defeated by proper technique, documentation, and reporting.

Saving Bozo Eruptions for Posterity

During research projects I sometimes come across astounding levels of stupidity posted for all to see. Sometimes this occurs in obscure corners of the interweb, sometimes it’s done on Twitter.

If I think an instance of stupidity might become important in the future, I manually archive the web page or Tweet by submitting it to the Wayback Machine using the Save Page Now option.

This doesn’t work with all sites, but when it works, the “Bozo Eruption” will be available on an authoritative site in the future. There won’t be any question that the eruption occurred if someone has second thoughts and removes it from the site.

Alberta Court Stikes Down Trespass to Premises Act

An Alberta Court struck down the provincial Trespass to Premises Act (TPA) as “unconstitutional” as it relates to public property in R v S.A. This decision prevents Transit Authorities across Alberta from using the Trespass to Premises Act to ban individuals from using their facilities.

R v S.A was about a young woman who was banned from all Edmonton LRT stations due to her involvement in an altercation at a single station. This eliminated her ability use public transit in Edmonton.

This is a long and thoughtful decision addresses the Liberty interest found in S.7 of the Charter. On reading the decision, I believe this decision will, over time, extend to all public places where the Trespass to Premises Act might be used by any public authority in Alberta.

Since 1976, Canadian courts have been whittling away at the right of private property owners to keep out trespassers under provincial trespass legislation. The reasoning presented in this decision may become the norm throughout Canada and it may have unforeseen implications for private landowners.

Security and facility management should begin reviewing trespass policies, operating practices, and training in the light of the direction and standards outlined in this case. It seems that the prudent course is to ensure trespass bans are objectively defensible and proportionate to the inappropriate behaviour. Implementing an appeal process for a trespass ban also seems judicious.

Please note that this decision is currently under appeal. It is also from a Provincial Court and not binding. However, understand that landowners rarely get expanded rights from the courts; it usually goes in the other direction.