The US government got caught using sock puppets to spread propaganda on social media

While countries like Russia and China have been making headlines for years with their disinformation and propaganda campaigns on platforms like Twitter and Facebook, it turns out that the US and other Western countries have been playing the same game. A recent report (pdf) from social network analysis firm Graphika and the Stanford Internet Observatory has uncovered a series of operations, some covert and some less so, that aimed to “promote pro-Western narratives” in countries like Russia, China, Afghanistan, and Iran (via Gizmodo).

According to the report, Twitter and Meta removed a group of accounts from their platforms earlier this month, citing their platform manipulation and coordinated inauthentic behavior rules. Analyzing the accounts’ activity, researchers found that the accounts have been carrying out campaigns to criticize or support foreign governments (sometimes the same governments, in what feels like an attempt to sow division) and offer takes on culture and politics for years. The report says this was sometimes done by sharing links to news sites backed by the US government and military.

Some of the political cartoons shared by the accounts.
Images: Graphika and the Stanford Internet Observatory

The data analyzed came from 146 Twitter accounts (which tweeted 299,566 times), 39 Facebook profiles, and 26 Instagram accounts, along with 16 Facebook pages and two Facebook groups. Some of the accounts were meant to appear like real people and used AI-generated profile pictures. Meta and Twitter didn’t specifically name any organizations or people behind the campaigns but said their analysis led them to believe they originated in the US and Great Britain.

For anyone who’s ever been within 15 feet of a history book, the news that the US is using covert action to push its interests in other countries won’t come as a surprise. It is, however, interesting that these operations were uncovered just as social media companies are gearing up to deal with a wave of foreign interference and misinformation in our own elections.

The report also comes right on the heels of a bombshell whistleblower report from Peiter “Mudge” Zatko, Twitter’s former head of security, which accused the company of lax security practices and misrepresenting the number of bots on its platform (something the US government is investigating and that Twitter has strongly denied).

Notably, the report didn’t uncover any sophisticated hacking techniques that took advantage of weak security. Speaking to Gizmodo, Internet Observatory staffer Shelby Grossman said that “there was not anything technically interesting about this network,” contrary to how we might imagine the US operating. “You’d think, ‘Oh, this influence operation originated in the US, surely it’s going to be special,’ but that really wasn’t the case,” she said.

The full report is a fascinating read, if you have the time, breaking down how the accounts posted and diving deep into what kind of content they shared. Spoiler alert: there were memes, hashtag campaigns, petitions, and — what else — fake news.

It also reveals a somewhat damning tidbit when talking about the reach and impact of these campaigns; according to the report, “the vast majority of posts and tweets we reviewed received no more than a handful of likes or retweets, and only 19% of the covert assets we identified had more than 1,000 followers.” What’s more, the two accounts with the most followers explicitly said they were tied to the US military. I’ll try not to think about how much all this cost when I’m paying my taxes next year.

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Hackers could use nasty bug to expose government websites

Approximately 332,000 websites were exposed to bad actors as a result of a vulnerability in the open-source development tool Git, according to cybersecurity researchers from

As reported by TechRadar, among those websites, 2,500 are associated with .gov domain in different countries, leaving various organizations at risk of online attacks and nefarious use of data.

Digital encrypted Lock with data multilayers. Getty Images

Researchers claim that the vulnerability has come about not so much due to an issue with Git, but due to users’ not protecting their files with proper antivirus protocols. Due to the nature of open-source tools being the most basic code of any program, they can easily be tampered with if not safeguarded. In this case, hackers can get access to folders and download data from government agencies.

“Open-source technology always has the potential for security flaws, being rooted in publicly accessible code. However, this level of vulnerability is not acceptable,” Oliver Pinson-Roxburgh, CEO of, told TechRadar.

He added that the U.K. government was among the organizations with its domains exposed that should “monitor their systems and take immediate steps to remediate risk.” researchers further explained that a single file within a folder can contain the data of a full codebase history, including “previous code changes, comments, security keys, as well as sensitive remote paths containing secrets and files with plain-text passwords.” Typically, users with such access might be those with credentials to fix issues rather than exploit them. Certain folders do hold login credentials and API keys, which can give unfriendly users access to even more sensitive information.

Pinson-Roxburgh noted that some organizations might leave certain folders open for their own specific purposes; however, there are still many others that might unknowingly be under threat of a data breach.

Git serves a very popular user base of over 80 million active users. It can be a reminder for organizations to update antivirus protocol, especially when it comes to open-source programs.

Recently, the cybersecurity firm Buguard reported on the brand Wiseasy, which is well-known in the Asia-Pacific region for its Android-based payment system. Its accompanying Wisecloud cloud service was hacked through employees’ computer passwords being stolen by malware and ending up on the dark web marketplace. This allowed bad players to infiltrate the brand’s database and gain access to 140,000 payment terminals globally.

Notably, the popular payment system brand lacked commonly recommended security features, such as two-factor authentication. Android is also well-known for being open source at its core.

Editors’ Choice

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FBI and MI5: ‘The Chinese government is set on stealing your technology’

The heads of the FBI and UK domestic security service shared a platform for the first time to issue dire warnings about the threats posed by the Chinese government’s espionage operations, BBC News reports. FBI Director Christopher Wray and MI5 Director General Ken McCallum were speaking at a joint event at MI5’s London headquarters in front of an audience that included business CEOs and senior figures from universities.

“The Chinese government is set on stealing your technology—whatever it is that makes your industry tick—and using it to undercut your business and dominate your market,” the Wall Street Journal reports Wray said in the speech. The FBI director added that the benefits of keeping a piece of technology confidential may sometimes outweigh those of accessing the Chinese market.

“Maintaining a technological edge may do more to increase a company’s value than would partnering with a Chinese company to sell into that huge Chinese market, only to find the Chinese government and your partner stealing and copying your innovation,” Wray said, adding that it represents “an even more serious threat to western businesses than even many sophisticated businesspeople realized.”

In their speech, the two allege that the Chinese government is engaged in a “coordinated campaign” to gain access to important technology, and to “cheat and steal on a massive scale.” They added that the Chinese government’s hacking program dwarfs that of every major country, and that it has a global network of intelligence operatives. The threat means that MI5 is running seven times as many investigations into Chinese activity as it was four years ago, while the FBI is opening roughly two new counterintelligence investigations every day, The Wall Street Journal reports.

“Today is the first time the heads of the FBI and MI5 have shared a public platform,” MI5’s McCallum said. “We’re doing so to send the clearest signal we can on a massive shared challenge: China.” He added that the threat is “real and it’s pressing” and that it could be “the most game-changing challenge we face.”

In terms of specific examples, MI5’s McCallum cited the case of a British aviation expert who was offered a job by a company that was actually a front for Chinese intelligence officers looking to acquire technical information on military aircraft, BBC News reports. Another engineering firm came close to making a deal with a Chinese company, before seeing its technology taken and the deal called off. The incident forced the company into bankruptcy.

A spokesperson for China’s embassy in Washington, Liu Pengyu, denied the allegations, telling the Associated Press in a statement that the country’s government “firmly opposes and combats all forms of cyber-attacks” and “will never encourage, support or condone” them. The Chinese government maintains that it does not interfere in the affairs of other countries, but that it will defend itself against cyberattacks. The statement criticized “U.S. politicians who have been tarnishing China’s image and painting China as a threat with false accusations,” the Wall Street Journal reports.

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US government offers $10 million bounty for information on Colonial Pipeline hackers

In May, a ransomware attack shut down a pipeline carrying 45 percent of the fuel used on the US East Coast. The Colonial Pipeline incident led to panic buying and heightened fears about the threat posed by simple hacks to national infrastructure. Now, the US State Department is offering a bounty of up to $10 million to anyone who can supply the “identity or location” of the leaders of the group responsible — an outfit known as DarkSide.

In addition to the $10 million bounty, the state department is offering a reward of up to $5 million for information leading to the arrest or conviction “of any individual conspiring to participate in or attempting to participate in a DarkSide variant ransomware incident.” What exactly that means isn’t clear. Is a “DarkSide variant ransomware incident” one that involves the group’s hacking tools? What if the software has been altered slightly? It seems deliberately ambiguous, allowing the State Department to cast as wide a net as possible.

The offer is the latest example of the US using monetary rewards to try and fight serious cybercrime. These bounties are offered under the Rewards for Justice (RfJ) program, which was originally established in 1984 to target international terrorism. The US evidently thinks cybercriminals now warrant the same level of attention and, in July, the State Department began offering bounties of up to $10 million through RfJ for information on individuals who participate in “malicious cyber activities against US critical infrastructure.”

(For anyone interested, the State Department has a Tor-based tip line, accessible at he5dybnt7sr6cm32xt77pazmtm65flqy6irivtflruqfc5ep7eiodiad.onion. This URL requires the use of a Tor browser and won’t work with ordinary browsers like Chrome or Firefox.)

The ambiguous nature of the State Department’s latest bounty is related to the fluid nature of hacking groups. These outfits can dissolve and reform under different monikers and identities as easily as someone creating a new username, but they often use related methods and software that can be used to trace a common lineage.

DarkSide, for example, ceased all activities after the Colonial Pipeline incident. The group seemed caught off-guard by the magnitude of the attack, and even issued a formal apology for the “social consequences” of what they did. But according to US cybersecurity experts, members of the group may have simply rebranded as an outfit named BlackMatter, which appeared on the scene weeks after DarkSide dropped off the radar, wielding similar weapons and tactics. Presumably, the state department’s bounty will apply to them, too.

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Pegasus spyware group blacklisted by the US government

The US Department of Commerce has ordered American companies to not sell their tech to NSO, citing reports that the group’s Pegasus spyware is used against journalists, government officials, activists, and more. In its press release, the regulator says that the company is being added to the Entity List because its tool threatens “the rules-based international order” when its sold to repressive foreign governments.

NSO’s Pegasus spyware was recently in the spotlight because of The Pegasus Project, a collection of journalists who revealed a list of names seemingly connected to the spyware. That list included journalists, activists, heads of state, and others from across the globe, people that NSO says its software shouldn’t be used to target. The Pegasus Project also analyzed a handful of journalists’ phones and found evidence that the spyware had been installed on them — almost certainly by a government agency, as NSO says those are the only clients it’ll sell its software and services to.

Pegasus had made headlines before this year, too. Journalists in Mexico were reportedly targeted with the tool, WhatsApp sued NSO for using an exploit in the messaging app to hack people’s phones, and the FBI is said to have at least looked into the company in relation to Jeff Bezos’ phone being hacked.

The Department of Commerce says (pdf) that NSO being added to the entity list, which restricts US companies from exporting products to it because the company “poses a significant risk of being or becoming involved in activities that are contrary to the national security or foreign policy interests of the United States.”

This likely relates to US affairs outside its actual borders — NSO has said that its tool can’t be used to target American phone numbers, and the Department of Commerce and Pegasus Project haven’t contested that fact.

NSO isn’t the only company being added to the entity list on Thursday. Candiru, another Israeli IT firm that sells spyware (that’s reportedly used for similar purposes), is also being blacklisted. The Department of Commerce cited two more companies — one from Russia and one from Singapore — that it says are involved in selling hacking tools.

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AI technology could reshape the U.S. government, but should it?

Artificial intelligence is already making its mark on the global economy, and private businesses are not the only ones putting it to good use. Government agencies of all types are adopting AI as well, and in some ways,  exceeding the private sector’s ability to leverage AI for massive data analysis and cutting-edge applications.

Whether this sounds like innocent adoption of new technology or a nefarious plot to control the citizenry depends on your political perspective, of course. However, there is no denying that the same technology that is currently powering the likes of giants like Facebook and Amazon to leverage user information in pursuit of profits, is also available to all aspects of government, including taxation, defense, intelligence agencies, and other key entities like agriculture and labor.

What can AI do for the government?

According to a recent report by Deltek, federal spending on AI in the U.S. increased by 50% between 2018 and 2020, reaching nearly $1 billion — making it the fastest rate of growth for any emerging technology. While AI was once the purview of science-facing agencies like NASA and the Department of Energy, this technology is now migrating across the governmental spectrum in the quest to improve performance, create operational efficiencies, and reduce waste, fraud, and abuse. In large part, this transformation is being driven by legislation and policy directives from the highest levels of government.

So, what exactly can AI do for the government? Plenty, according to Boston Consulting Group’s Nadim Abillama, Steven Mills, Greg Boison, and Miguel Carrasco. For one thing, it can foster better policymaking by giving decision-makers more accurate and timely information regarding demographics, behavioral trends, and a wide range of other metrics. At the same time, it can quickly provide the kind of analytical feedback needed to determine if a particular policy or program is performing as intended, and at the anticipated cost level.

AI can also reinvent the (often dismal) user experience with government agencies. Ranging from chatbot-driven self-help tools to more customized interactions based on personal histories, socioeconomic factors, eligibility requirements, and a host of other data sets. Anyone who has tried to navigate the labyrinth of rules and regulations at, say, the Internal Revenue Service might appreciate help from any intelligence, whether it is artificial, biological, or otherwise. In many cases, such as with the Veterans Administration or Medicare/Medicaid, the performance improvements could be life-saving even as the cost reductions reach into billions of dollars.

Local Help

But it’s not just the federal level that is wading into the AI waters. State and local governments are getting their feet wet as well. San Leandro, California, a city with a population of 90,000, recently installed a platform called CityDash that provides a unified, intelligent data visualization framework for a wide range of municipal services. The system provides tools like a mobile chatbot for sharing data on everything from crime incidents, to building permits, and community events. CityDash also features a cloud-based knowledge graph with machine learning capabilities for analyzing IoT datasets relating to traffic flow, utilities, and even the weather. There is also a public-facing dashboard that assists citizens with non-emergency services and general inquiries.

AI is already fueling the development of smart cities that are expected to produce all manner of societal benefits, says A.J. Abdallat, CEO of AI development firm Beyond Limits. With better traffic management, for example, we should see lower carbon emissions, fewer traffic jams, fewer accidents, and improvements to infrastructure development and repair. At the same time, cities should be able to manage utilities like water and electricity, as well as services like garbage collection and public safety, in a more finite manner, directing resources where they are needed most and reducing waste or duplicative efforts. And this won’t just improve local operations but also the often tricky coordination that takes place between local, state, and federal authorities as well as quasi-state and private entities.

Government is in a unique position when it comes to AI in that it is deploying it at the same time it seeks to regulate it. While transparency has been one of the hallmarks of recent efforts to place some control on how businesses utilize AI, certain segments of government, particularly on the federal level, might not be so open. That will only breed suspicion as to what agencies are doing with our data and how it is being studied and manipulated.

At a time when mistrust of both the government and AI is running high, the idea that somewhere someone in authority is using AI behind closed doors will only increase public unease, regardless of how much the technology is improving government services.


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US and allies accuse Chinese government of masterminding Microsoft Exchange cyberattack

The United States and key allies have accused the Chinese government for the first time of hiring gangs of hackers to carry out cyberattacks in the West. Attacks attributed to China include the recent Microsoft Exchange hack, a significant and widespread breach that gave attackers access to the email servers of an estimated 30,000 organizations in the US alone.

The Microsoft Exchange attack was initially blamed on Hafnium, a hacking group sponsored by the Chinese state. A senior official in the White House told reporters in a briefing at the weekend that the US government had “high confidence” that the Exchange hackers were being paid by the Chinese government.

“[China’s] MSS — Ministry of State Security — uses criminal contract hackers to conduct unsanctioned cyber operations globally, including for their own personal profit,” said the official. “Their operations include criminal activities, such as cyber-enabled extortion, crypto-jacking and theft from victims around the world for financial gain.”

The accusation against China was made by the US, EU, UK, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Japan, and NATO, reports Bloomberg News.

In a press statement, the European Union said these and other attacks were linked to hacking groups known as Advanced Persistent Threat 40 and Advanced Persistent Threat 31 (these labels are used by cybersecurity professionals to track the activity of known organizations). The UK’s National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) said that the APT40 group had targeted “maritime industries and naval defence contractors in the US and Europe” while APT30 had attacked “government entities, including the Finnish parliament in 2020.”

“The attack on Microsoft Exchange servers is another serious example of a malicious act by Chinese state-backed actors in cyberspace,” said NCSC Director of Operations Paul Chichester in a press statement. “This kind of behaviour is completely unacceptable, and alongside our partners we will not hesitate to call it out when we see it.”

Cyberattacks and ransomware incidents have been on the rise in recent years, with gangs of hackers apparently targeting larger organizations. This year alone, hackers have targeted America’s largest meat supplier and a key oil pipeline, though in both cases the groups responsible are thought to be based in Eastern Europe, and most likely Russia.

Russia was also blamed for 2020’s SolarWinds hack, which breached a number of US federal government entities, and to which the US responded with new economic sanctions.

However, today’s announcement includes no similar sanctions against China for its role in the Microsoft Exchange attack (though these could follow). “The US and our allies and partners are not ruling out further actions to hold the PRC accountable,” said a senior White House official during a briefing. The US Department of Justice did, though, announce criminal charges against four hackers sponsored by China’s MSS for “a multiyear campaign targeting foreign governments and entities in key sectors, including maritime, aviation, defense, education, and healthcare in a least a dozen countries.”

The most notable aspect of today’s accusation is instead the broad coalition of countries that are publicly condemning China. It also the first time the military alliance NATO has formally accused the country of organizing cyberattacks.

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Tech News

Open APIs are the sexiest thing to ever happen to government services

We have the technology to send rovers to Mars and explore the deepest parts of the ocean, but it can still take days and multitudes of paperwork just to move to a new city, start your own business, or do any other task that requires multiple government. These are the small moments in life that turn well-adjusted individuals into the psychopaths of the future.

While even the most traditional industries from big banks to agriculture have experienced a technological boom with the help of fintech and agritech startups, government bodies have largely been left behind.

But the push to develop more open APIs is set to change all that — and it’s not just citizens who will benefit. Companies and entrepreneurs with the foresight to jump on publicly available government data will be able to develop sticky solutions for their users’ everyday needs. Ever used a weather or traffic app? These are all run using APIs which allow users to access real-time updates.

But beyond these opportunities lies a deeper question. In the age of personal data and GDPR, what rights do we have to access citizen data? What impact can making this data publicly available have on society at large?

In a push to bring the government into the 21st century, the Netherlands started its own API portal in 2016. TNW spoke with Frank Terpstra, Senior Advisor at Geonovum, a government foundation focused on improving use and access to geo-information, to find out more about the potential impact.

APIs are cutting down on admin BS… and I love it

An API, or application programming interface, is a structured way for different systems to query and share data with each other.

If you’ve ever used a flight booking platform, like Skyscanner, you’ll know that you simply need to type in your destination and dates and the platform will pull up all possible flight journeys within those parameters. What you don’t see happening behind the scenes is the network of communications that happens after you press enter.

To find out what’s available, the platform needs to communicate with other airline websites like KLM, Alitalia, or Lufthansa to find flights going to your destination that day. It does this using APIs.

In the case of the Netherlands, a government API portal means that different government offices can share information faster and easier via APIs. For example, if you move from Amsterdam to the Hague, the municipality offices can easily share your information, making the registration process smoother and less paperwork-intensive.

As Terpstra explained, using APIs also makes the data sharing process more efficient and accurate.

When municipalities find a useful bit of information they make local copies. They have their own local data store where they amass all this data. Then they start doing database queries based on this information and running their processes in parallel. But local copies always have a tendency to be slightly out of sync and may not be 100% correct. It’s also inefficient because you’re making complete copies of data sets, when you just need a small bit of information. Instead, API’s are a great enabler allowing the computer systems of municipalities to directly query the source.

Open access means greater cooperation between government, businesses, and developers

Not only does it allow for smoother and more efficient communication between government bodies, the switch to APIs also opens up public access to government data, making it easier than ever for companies and newbie entrepreneurs to develop solutions based on government collected data. As Terpstra explained:

“Around 2008-2009, the platform economy started with Facebook, LinkedIn, Google, etc. One of the things that platforms did differently than systems before them was that they relied very heavily on APIs for exposing their content and exposing their functionality to others.

“Most developers understand APIs and the larger market understands APIs. We decided we needed to do something about this because all our systems and standards were based on SOAP and XML, but that’s not what society at large was expecting. Today, if you have ten developers in a room and ask, ‘who can give me a SOAP/XML data exchange, maybe only one person will raise their hand. If you ask for a data exchange using APIs, it’s likely everyone in the room will be able to do this.”

The idea of a platform is you do what you’re good at and let others do what they do best by exposing data using an API. Every time you see a ‘share’ button on Facebook, there’s an API behind it. They’re leveraging their platforms in a way that lets everyone work on their technology and spread it.

For example, one of the most popular government APIs is the Key Register of Addresses and Buildings in the Netherlands (BAG). If you run a web business and you want to make it easier for your customers to locate the nearest store or fill out delivery details, you just have to ask them to put in their postal code and the house number and the rest of the address is filled in automatically.

This key registry is open to everyone, but because we were using SOAP and XML, not that many people were integrating with it and using it. Once the API started, within a year, it surpassed the past seven years of data delivery. This is a really good illustration showing that, if you just change the underlying technology that you’re using, you can reach far more people – Terpstra said.

A data democracy

To facilitate this transition, the government created the Developer Overheid website where developers can access government APIs for free. But it’s not just about providing access. The website also has a forum where developers can share innovative ways they’re using this data and help shape the government’s API strategy based on what the wider public actually needs.

For example, the Covid dashboard API provides up-to-date information about infection rates, the number of vaccinations, and more.

The outside world expects us to use APIs, which is why we should transform IT systems to support them and make the resources and the functionality of the government more readily available to the rest of the world – Terpstra told TNW.

Saskia Stuiveling, former President of the Netherlands Court of Audit, was at the forefront of the push towards developing effective accountability, transparency, and (technological) modernization of government. In her view, as taxpayers we’ve already paid for open data once, so why should we pay for it again?

That’s why the government created the Stuiveling Open Data Award (SODA). Every year, the award is given to a public or private party that uses open data in an innovative manner to address current societal challenges. The goal is to encourage more collaborations like this between the government and public entities, resulting in better solutions for the wider public.

Last year’s winner, Movimaps, is an API created to measure bicycle safety by looking at the relationship between bicycle accidents and bicycle use. This information, while seemingly simple, will help inform discussions on things like e-bike regulations and bike safety amongst the elderly.

And the possibilities are endless. The Rijksmuseum created its own API allowing developers to search their collection and even zoom in and see close-ups of historic works of art. Individuals have used APIs to create maps of some of the best outdoor art in Amsterdam and the locations of city farming projects.

How could APIs help cross border collaboration?

It’s not just the Netherlands, a number of governments are also creating their own open API strategies. This could really facilitate cooperation on cross border issues, from making free movement across countries easier to monitoring progress on climate change.

Vaccination passports are another key issue that will require intra-governmental cooperation and data sharing. APIs could be a great way to tackle the problem of sharing and verifying up to date vaccination data.

The best part is that the government wants this to be an open project, involving all stakeholders, in order to make it as useful and accessible to the public as possible. Whether you’re a business or just an individual interested in shaping the government’s future API strategy, feel free to participate in the public consultation on API design rules, which lasts until the end of August. Also check out the Developer Overheid website for more information about upcoming working group sessions.

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Tech News

Government UFO task force will use AI to study bizarre ‘alien’ aircraft

Last week, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) released a nine-page preliminary unclassified report on unidentified aerial phenomenon (UAP), the government’s term for UFOs. This report wasn’t as exciting as some had hoped, though it is the start of what may prove to be an interesting development over the coming months and years. One tidbit from the report hints at how the government plans to learn about UAPs: by using artificial intelligence.

What we know so far

The unclassified preliminary report offers a very minor look at what various government sectors know about the UAP/UFO phenomenon, including instances in which these objects were observed. The report was intended to shed light on the potential threat posed by these unusual ‘alien’ aircraft, which have been spied in everything from close encounters with commercial aircraft to seemingly antagonizing intrusions with military vessels.

The gist of the report is that the government doesn’t know what these objects are and whether they’re an actual national security threat. The data comes from the Unidentified Aerial Phenomena Task Force (UAPTF), a program formed by the Department of Defense that operates as part of the Office of Naval Intelligence. The task force is intended to “standardize the collection and reporting” of the phenomena. Among other things, the DNI report says, “Data continues to be collected and analyzed.”

The idea is that forming a standardized and consistent means for consolidating these UAP reports from agencies across the federal government will improve the quality of data while streamlining the analysis process. How, exactly, will the data be analyzed? Though many details aren’t forthcoming, the DNI report does contain one hint at how the government is approaching this mystery.

Artificial intelligence may be key

On page six of the report, the DNI reveals that the UAPTF will initially use AI and machine learning algorithms to “cluster and recognize similarities and patterns in features of the data points.” Using artificial intelligence to make sense of data is nothing new, but this is perhaps one of the most interesting uses of the technology to date.

Though human analysis can turn up many details, the tedious work takes considerable time as the amount of data grows and certain data points may not be recognized in the mix. Machine learning algorithms are able to rapidly process large amounts of data in search of things like commonalities and anomalies, alerting human experts to identified patterns and points of interest to help guide a deeper exploration of the topic.

The government’s use of AI will help address the biggest issue related to UAP/UFO reports: figuring out which ones are credible and truly involve unknown phenomena rather than mistaken, but quite mundane and explainable, objects. Shiny ballons, distant birds flying in formation, drones with LEDs, and similar subjects can be easily mistaken for UFOs when viewed by someone unfamiliar with the objects or in distracting environments like storms.

The DNI explains that as the UAPTF’s database grows, the artificial intelligence that analyzes it will learn to tell the difference between ordinary terrestrial objects like weather balloons from truly interesting and seemingly unexplainable objects.

Limited data is a problem

The report makes it clear that the task force is working under the assumption that sensors used to observe the phenomena “generally operate correctly” and that enough actual data is collected in the process to facilitate “initial assessments.” There may be instances in which sensor anomalies could explain why an observed object acts in erratic or unexpected ways, however.

At this time, at least as far as the report is concerned, the UAPTF has focused on a selection of observations and incidents largely reported by people who work for the US government. A total of 144 cases are briefly detailed, only one of which could be positively identified as a deflating balloon.

The majority of the reports involved multiple aspects of observation ranging from personnel who saw the objects to tracking with multiple types of sensors, including infrared and radar, weapon seekers, and more. Beyond that, the report confirms that some of the observations involved UAP that seemed to “exhibit unusual flight characteristics.”

The report cautions that a more “rigorous analysis” of these instances is necessary to determine whether the strange activity could have been the result of sensor errors or spoofing technology, the latter of which confuses tech systems into perceiving something that isn’t actually taking place.

Security concerns

The UAPTF is operating with the assumption that there are multiple explanations for these reports and that most of them will involve mundane reasons like industry programs or natural atmospheric phenomena. However, the government is accommodating other potential explanations in a catch-all “other” category, which the report notably fails to elaborate upon beyond covering objects for which “pending scientific advances” would enable a better understanding.

Though the US government has avoided all mentions of the possibility of these craft being alien in origin, it does emphasize a major concern about potential national security problems associated with the phenomenon. The report indicates that the technology could be the result of a foreign adversary, though critics of this idea point out the improbable and highly concerning notion that another country could have spent years operating such vehicles around the US military without being identified.

Beyond the national security concerns, the DNI report mentions that some pilots have reported “near misses” with UAPs, incidents that were documented in 11 cases. The instances in which these unknown objects have operated in close proximity to aircraft indicate they may be a threat to airspace safety.

Working together to solve the mystery

At this point in time, the UAPTF is developing an interagency system for analyzing and processing UAP reports and data. There are limitations to the analysis at this time as hinted at in the report. The UAPTF is largely working with information provided by the US Navy, according to the DNI, though it hopes to change this by opening a pathway for other agencies to easily consolidate and share their data.

The report indicates that the US Air Force did not contribute data to this report. The UAPTF is presently attempting to get any data the USAF may have, but it’s unclear what may be the current limiting factor and how far the task force is in this process.

The US Air Force is not uninformed about the issue. The DNI report reveals the USAF formed a pilot program in November 2020 that would run for six months. This program was intended to identify hot spots where UAPs/UFOs are most likely to be encountered. Though the pilot program would now be over without an extension, the report reveals that the USAF is currently “evaluating how to normalize future collections, reporting, and analysis” across the entire branch.

The Federal Aviation Administration is likely to play a major role in the gathering of UAP data. The UAPTF has started receiving some information from the FAA, which is said to acquire the data as part of its normal air traffic operations management. The UAPTF may particularly benefit from data the FAA continuously acquires, using it to find anomalies that may bolster its budding machine learning algorithms.

Beyond the military

The government likewise plans to expand its analysis to reports from more than just government employees, noting that the UAPTF can use the FAA’s “robust outreach program” to increase understanding and emphasize the need for reports from the aviation community. The DNI report’s note about “the importance of reporting UAP” incidents underscores the urgency the government may harbor in regards to the phenomena, which still remains of little interest to the general public.

The report goes on to explain:

The UAPTF is looking for novel ways to increase the collection of UAP cluster areas when U.S. forces are not present as a way to baseline “standard” UAP activity and mitigate the collection bias in the dataset.

Another tidbit in the report reveals that the use of machine learning algorithms in this program will not be limited to newly collected data. The DNI revealed that a proposal has been made to utilize “advanced algorithms” to study the mass of historical data from radar and other systems to potentially grow the dataset and learn more about the history of this phenomenon, which in turn may shed light on its present occurrence and the driving factor behind it.

The work is just getting started, however, and the UAPTF has made it known that more funding will help it develop its program and conduct research into UAPs. Artificial intelligence will ultimately play a major role in this effort and may speed up the rate of analysis considerably, paving the way for relatively rapid advancement in the understanding of these mysterious objects spotted around the world.

The full unidentified aerial phenomena report can be found on the Office of the Director of National Intelligence’s website.

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Frequent run-ins with Indian government complicates tech giants’ plans

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(Reuters) — Another spat between India’s government and U.S. big tech has exacerbated disillusion among firms which have spent billions to build hubs in their largest growth market, to the extent some are rethinking expansion plans, people close to the matter said.

The government on Saturday said Twitter had not indicated compliance with new rules aimed at making social media firms more accountable to legal requests, and therefore risked losing liability exemptions for content posted on its platform.

Twitter joins compatriots, Facebook, and Facebook-owned WhatsApp in long being at loggerheads with the administration of Prime Minister Narendra Modi over data privacy bills and policies some executives have called protectionist, but tension has escalated in recent weeks.

Police visited Twitter last month to notify it of a probe into the tagging of a political tweet as “manipulated media”, and in February interrogated an Amazon official about the potentially adverse social impact of a political drama. Meanwhile, WhatsApp is challenging the government in court over rules it said would force it to access encrypted data.

“The fear is there,” said a senior tech industry executive in India. “It weighs both strategically and operationally.”

There are no indications the increasing run-ins have led to the delay or cancellation of planned investment.

Still, three senior executives familiar with the thinking of major U.S. tech firms said perceptions of India being an alternative, more accessible growth market to China are changing, and that longstanding plans for India’s role in their operations are being reviewed.

“There always used to be these discussions to make India a hub, but that is being thought through now,” said one of the executives, who works at a U.S. tech firm. “This feeling is across the board.”

Four other executives and advisors also expressed concern about rising tension. All declined to be identified due to the sensitivity of the matter and because discussions were private.

Twitter, Amazon, Facebook, WhatsApp and India’s Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology did not respond to requests for comment.


The government has argued that its rules are needed to stem the spread of misinformation that can spark violence – such as in 2017 when kidnapping rumours shared on message apps including WhatsApp led to lynching. It also said the rules are necessary to hold large technology companies accountable for practices that hurt domestic businesses or compromise customer privacy.

India is a massive market for U.S. tech giants. It is the biggest market for both Facebook and WhatsApp by user numbers, showed data from Statista, and third for Twitter. Amazon has committed as much as $6.5 billion to invest in the country.

To attract small businesses through WhatsApp, Facebook last year invested $5.7 billion in Reliance Industries‘s media and telecommunications arm, Jio Platforms.

Alphabet’s Google also pumped $4.5 billion into Jio last year from a newly created $10 billion fund earmarked for investment in India over five to seven years.


The government has tried to balance attracting high-tech investment with nationalist policies aimed at protecting local businesses and, critics say, advancing its political agenda.

A border confrontation with China prompted it to effectively ban Chinese social media apps, including TikTok and WeChat.

The government has also forced foreign firms to store data locally against fierce lobbying, and its promotion of a domestic payment card network prompted Mastercard to complain to the U.S. government about the use of nationalism.

In 2019, compliance issues with new regulations saw Amazon remove thousands of products from its e-commerce platform. The e-tailer is separately facing scrutiny by the Competition Commission of India for its retailing practices.

Twitter publicly refused to comply with some government demands to remove content, a stance which some industry executives said may have aggravated its current situation.

WhatsApp has gone to court rather than comply with a new law requiring social media firms to trace the origin of dangerous or criminal posts on their platforms. The message app operator said it cannot comply without breaking encryption, while observers said yielding could prompt similar demands in other countries.

At the same time, WhatsApp has faced regulatory delays that have limited its payment service to just 4% of its 500 million customers. Nevertheless, it is pressing ahead with hiring for a service it has called a “globally significant” opportunity.

Government officials have shown little patience for objections. IT minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said any robust democracy must have accountability mechanisms, such as the ability to identify the originator of messages.

“A private company sitting in America should refrain from lecturing us on democracy when you are denying your users the right to effective redressal forum,” Prasad said in an interview with the Hindu newspaper published on Sunday.

Still, continued antagonism could imperil Modi’s ambition of making India a go-to investment destination.

“It’s a question of what you would develop in a three-to-five-year horizon,” said another executive familiar with the thinking of U.S. firms. “Do you do that in India or do you do that in another country. That’s where the conversation is.”


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Repost: Original Source and Author Link