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Iran linked to internet disinformation, fake news: Canadian report – National

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Iran linked to internet disinformation fake news Canadian report National

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When an attractive young Middle Eastern woman contacted Saudi dissident Ali AlAhmed over Twitter last November, he was immediately suspicious.

The Associated Press was on the verge of publishing a story about how AlAhmed, who is based in the Washington area, had been targeted by hackers posing as a female journalist. Now, just two days before the article was set to go live, another young woman had sidled up to him over the internet, trying to entice him to read an article and share it online.

“They will never stop,” AlAhmed wrote in a Nov. 6 message to the AP. “They think a hot girl can lure me.”

READ MORE: Feds unveil plan to fight foreign interference in 2019 federal election

The AP flagged the exchange to Canadian internet watchdog Citizen Lab, which was already helping AlAhmed deal with the hackers. Citizen Lab quickly determined that the Twitter account, purportedly belonging to an Egyptian writer named Mona A.Rahman , was part of a separate operation. In fact, she wasn’t even trying to hack AlAhmed – she was trying to enlist him in an ambitious global disinformation effort linked to Tehran.

In a report published Tuesday, Citizen Lab said A.Rahman was but a small piece of a years-old, multilingual campaign aimed at seeding anti-Saudi, anti-Israel and anti-American stories across the internet. Citizen Lab, which is based at the University of Toronto’s Munk School, said it believes “with moderate confidence” that the operation is aligned with Iran. The campaign is another indication of how online disinformation is being tested by countries well beyond Russia, whose interference into the 2016 U.S. presidential election was laid out in vivid detail in special prosecutor Robert Mueller’s report.

“What this shows is that more and more parties are entering the disinformation game,” said John Scott-Railton, a Citizen Lab researcher, “and they’re constantly learning.”

WATCH: Misinformation spreads through India’s election campaign





In London, Iranian Embassy press secretary Mohammad Mohammadi denied that his government had anything to do with digital disinformation, saying that Iran was “the biggest victim” of such campaigns and had called for international regulations to curb them. He referred further questions to the Iran’s Communications Ministry, whose deputy minister did not immediately return a message Tuesday.

Scott-Railton and his colleagues ended up identifying 135 fake articles that were published as part of the campaign, which they dubbed “Endless Mayfly” because, like the short-lived insect, the bogus stories tended to disappear soon after they began to spread.

The article A.Rahman was trying to get AlAhmed to share – a claim that Israel’s then-defence minister, Avigdor Lieberman, had been fired for being a Russian spy – was typical: The article had startling news, it was hosted on a fake version of a Harvard University website and had a host of spelling and grammatical mistakes. Articles shared by other fake personas followed a similar pattern. They made inflammatory claims about Israel, Saudi Arabia and the United States presented on lookalike versions of respected news sites.

READ MORE: Iran could attack Israel if standoff with the U.S. escalates: Israeli minister

“Ivanka Trump says its unbelievable that women cannot drive in saudi arabia,” said one article posted to a site dressed up to look Foreign Policy magazine. “Saudi Arabia funds the US Mexico border Wall,” said another, hosted on a site imitating The Atlantic.

The campaign seems to have been largely ineffectual – Scott-Railton noted that “most of their stories got almost no organic buzz” – but a couple did break through.

In March 2017 a fake Belgian newspaper article claiming that then-French presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron’s campaign was being one-third funded by Saudi money was widely shared in French ultra-nationalist circles, including by Marion Marechal, the granddaughter of French far-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen. A few months later another site mimicking a Swiss publication tricked the Reuters news agency and other outlets into publishing a false report that Saudi Arabia had written a letter to FIFA, soccer’s governing body, demanding that archrival Qatar be barred from hosting the 2012 World Cup. The report was later withdrawn .

WATCH: Understanding synthetic media & recognizing fake news





Citizen Lab said it first got wind of the suspected Iranian disinformation campaign when a British web developer debunked one of the fake articles on Reddit two years ago. The developer pointed out that the story – which suggested that British Prime Minister Theresa May was “dancing to the tune” of Saudi Arabia – had been published on a website using the URL “indepnedent,” imitating the legitimate British news site, The Independent, and was linked to a network of other suspicious sites, including “bloomberq,” a clone of the news agency Bloomberg. A third site, “daylisabah,” was a fake version of the Turkish publication Daily Sabah.

“Did we just get an insight into a fake news operation?” the developer asked at the time.

Citizen Lab confirmed his hunch, later connecting the sites to an incident in which another Twitter user, Bina Melamed, tried to persuade Israeli journalists to share the same fake Harvard article that AlAhmed received.

When one of the reporters privately confronted Melamed about why she was pushing nonsense, the answer was unusually straightforward.

“I like challenging and controversial stories,” Melamed said. “Sometimes they are fake and sometimes they are not.”

WATCH: New report finds Canadians consuming more news, but increasing anxiety over fake news





Outside experts who reviewed Citizen Lab’s report gave a qualified verdict. Both FireEye and ClearSky Cyber Security, U.S. and Israeli companies respectively, said they recognized elements of the digital infrastructure flagged by Citizen Lab from their own reporting, but ClearSky researcher Ohad Zaidenberg said he wanted to see more evidence before attributing the social media personas to Iran.

Speaking generally, he said the apparent clumsiness of the online disinformation should not be a reason to dismiss it.

“It gets better each day,” he said.

READ MORE: Canada’s millennials are most willing to admit that fake news has fooled them: Ipsos poll

Most of the personas mentioned in Citizen Lab’s report – such as A.Rahman and Melamed – have been suspended. Messages left with a handful of surviving accounts – sent via Twitter and Reddit – elicited no response. Emails sent to half a dozen addresses used to register several bogus websites – including bloomberq, daylisabah, foriegnpolicy, theatlatnic and indepnedent – either weren’t returned or bounced back as undeliverable.

AlAhmed said he was intrigued to hear that A.Rahman had been tied to the Iranian government. Despite knowing from the start that the whole thing was a charade, AlAhmed struck a wistful note in a recent interview about his interactions with the attractive-looking A.Rahman. At one point, she had written to him inviting him to stay at an apartment she claimed to have in London.

“A small part of me thought, ‘I hope this is real,”‘ AlAhmed said.

He quickly made clear that he was kidding.

“I told my wife,” he said.



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FOREIGN NEWS

Catholic Bishops react to military coup in Mali

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Catholic Bishops react to military coup in Mali

Contrary to the expectations of the people, the leadership of the Episcopal Conference of Mali (CEM) has termed the Tuesday, August 18 military coup in the West African nation as “regrettable” and “a big failure for our democracy” and called for a change of mentality if the country has to put an end to coups.

In an interview with ACI Africa Wednesday, August 19, made available to RECOWACERAO NEWS AGENCY, RECONA, the President of CEM, Bishop Jonas Dembélé said that the governance challenges the country is facing can be managed through dialogue.

“The military coup that led to the ousting of President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta is regrettable because we are in a state of law and democracy. This is the second time that Mali has had a military coup as a result of the way in which the country is governed. It is a big failure for our democracy even if there were reasons for it,” Bishop Dembélé told ACI Africa.

“It is true that our country has serious challenges including bad governance, the poor management of the economy, corruption, insecurity and so on,” Bishop Dembélé said and probed, “Why is it that we Malians have not managed to engage in dialogue to be able to discuss these problems and face up to these challenges responsibly?”

“Our leaders, our people lack transparency, they hate those who speak the truth and advocate for good governance. This mentality must change for our country to move on,” the Prelate told ACI Africa August 19.

Bishop Dembélé who is a frontline member of RECOWA-CERAO urged the military officials “to ensure a return to democracy as promised but most especially ensuring the new leadership of the country put the people first and tackle the security challenges facing the nation.”

Asked about the role of the Church in the current crisis, the 57-year-old Prelate noted, “For us the Catholic Church in Mali, our role is to preach peace; our role is to preach dialogue. We shall continue in this path of dialogue for peace just like Cardinal Jean Zerbo and some religious leaders initiated.”

“In a state of law, power is not in the hands of certain individuals but to the people. The anger of our people led to this crisis, but we must work for peace and reconciliation in Mali,” Bishop Dembélé said.

He continued in recollections, “The Bishops in Mali have always issued messages before every election in our country sounding the alert and inviting the government to organize transparent elections, ensure good governance and better management of resources.”
“But it seems our messages are never taken into consideration that is why we find ourselves in this situation today,” the Local Ordinary of Kayes Diocese told ACI Africa and added, “If the opinion of the Episcopal Conference of Mali is needed to mediate in bringing back stability and peace in the country, then we are ready.”

As a way forward, the Bishop urged the people of God in Mali to “seek the path to conversion” and to accept dialogue in the spirit of truth and honesty.
“We all want change in our

country, but this change can only be possible if individually we seek the path to conversion. It is for Malians be they Muslims or Christians or members of traditional religion, to do an examination of conscience and accept personal and community conversion in order to engage in sincere dialogue,” he said.

The Malian Prelate added, “Now there is this coup d’état to demand change we really wonder where change should come from. As long as we don’t change our behavior, our mentality, we will always have a repeat of the current situation.”

On Tuesday, August 18, President Keita announced his resignation and dissolved parliament hours after mutinying soldiers detained him at gunpoint, Aljazeera reported.
“For seven years, I have with great joy and happiness tried to put this country on its feet. If today some people from the armed forces have decided to end it by their intervention, do I have a choice? I should submit to it because I do not want any blood to be shed,” President Keita said August 18 during the televised address to the nation.

Rev. Fr. George Nwachukwu
RECOWACERAO NEWS AGENCY, RECONA

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Harris accepts VP nomination

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Harris accepts VP nomination

Senator Kamala Harris formally accepted the Democratic nomination for vice president on Wednesday following a scathing speech by former President Barack Obama, who said the fate of the nation” depends entirely on the outcome of this election.”

Both Mr. Obama and Harris stressed the importance of voting, with Harris saying “we’re all in this fight together.” Harris sounded an optimistic note by highlighting her personal history and the promise of America, saying she was “so inspired by a new generation.”

“Make no mistake, the road ahead will not be not easy,” she said. “We will stumble. We may fall short. But I pledge to you that we will act boldly and deal with our challenges honestly. We will speak truths. And we will act with the same faith in you that we ask you to place in us.” She called Mr. Trump a “predator” in a speech that came after Mr. Obama issued his most forceful rebuke of his successor to date, saying Mr. Trump “hasn’t grown into the job because he can’t.”

“This president and those in power — those who benefit from keeping things the way they are — they are counting on your cynicism,” Mr. Obama said. “They know they can’t win you over with their policies. So they’re hoping to make it as hard as possible for you to vote, and to convince you that your vote doesn’t matter.

That’s how they win. That’s how they get to keep making decisions that affect your life, and the lives of the people you love. That’s how the economy will keep getting skewed to the wealthy and well-connected, how our health systems will let more people fall through the cracks. That’s how a democracy withers, until it’s no democracy at all.”

Mr. Obama and Hillary Clinton, speaking earlier in the night, both said they had hoped Mr. Trump would rise to the occasion. But they both stressed what they called his failures while in office, with Mr. Obama saying Mr. Trump has shown “no interest in treating the presidency as anything but one more reality show that he can use to get the attention he craves.”

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Mali coup leaders vow to hold elections as history repeats itself

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Mali coup leaders vow to hold elections as history repeats itself

The Malian soldiers who forced President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita to resign in a coup promised early Wednesday to organize new elections after their takeover was swiftly condemned by the international community.

In a statement carried overnight on state broadcaster ORTM, the mutinous soldiers who staged Tuesday’s military coup identified themselves as the National Committee for the Salvation of the People led by Colonel Major Ismael Wagué.

“With you, standing as one, we can restore this country to its former greatness,” Wagué said, announcing that borders were closed and that a curfew was going into effect from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m

The news of Keita’s departure was met with jubilation by anti-government demonstrators in the capital, Bamako, and alarm by former colonial ruler France and other allies and foreign nations.

The U.N. Security Council scheduled a closed meeting Wednesday August 19, 2020 afternoon to discuss the unfolding situation in Mali, where the U.N. has a 15,600-strong peacekeeping mission. Keita, who was democratically elected in a 2013 landslide and re-elected five years later, still had three years left in his term.

But his popularity had plummeted, and demonstrators began taking to the streets calling for his ouster in June.

West African regional bloc ECOWAS had sent mediators to try and negotiate a unity government but those talks fell apart when it became clear that the protesters would not accept less than Keita’s resignation.

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