America’s NWS chief backs forecasters who contradicted Trump

An American flag is seen in Rodanthe as Hurricane Dorian hits Cape Hatteras in North Carolina. (AFP)
Updated 09 September 2019

America’s NWS chief backs forecasters who contradicted Trump

  • Director Louis Uccellini said forecasters in Birmingham did the right thing

HUNTSVILLE, Alabama: The head of the National Weather Service issued a strong public defense Monday of forecasters who contradicted President Donald Trump’s claim that Hurricane Dorian posed a threat to Alabama as it approached the United States.
Director Louis Uccellini said forecasters in Birmingham did the right thing Sept. 1 when they tried to combat public panic and rumors that Dorian posed a threat to Alabama. It was only later that they found out the source of the mistaken information, he said.
Speaking at a meeting of the National Weather Association, Uccellini said Birmingham forecasters “did what any office would do to protect the public.”
“They did that with one thing in mind: public safety,” said Uccellini, who prompted a standing ovation from hundreds of forecasters by asking members of the Birmingham weather staff to stand.
Earlier, the president of the 2,100-member association, Paul Schlatter, said any forecast office “would have done the exact same thing” as the Birmingham forecast office.
Trump has defended his tweet about Alabama, and he displayed an altered forecast map in the Oval Office last week in an attempt to make his point. Apparently siding with the president, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration issued an unsigned statement critical of the Birmingham forecasters Friday.
But Alabama had never been included in hurricane adviseries and Trump’s information, based on less authoritative computer models than an official forecast, was outdated when he sent a tweet saying Alabama could be affected by Dorian.
Discussing the flurry of social media contacts and phone calls that followed Trump’s tweet, Uccellini said Birmingham forecasters used “an emphasis they deemed essential to shut down what they thought were rumors” when they posted on social media that Alabama’s wasn’t at risk.
“Only later, when the retweets and politically based comments started coming to their office, did they learn the sources of this information,” he said.


US media questions Bezos hacking claims

Updated 25 January 2020

US media questions Bezos hacking claims

  • Experts said while hack “likely” occurred, investigation leaves too many “unanswered questions”
  • Specialists on Thursday said evidence was not strong enough to confirm

LONDON: An investigation into claims that the phone of Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos was hacked has been called into question by cybersecurity experts and several major US media outlets, including the Wall Street Journal, New York Times and the Associated Press (AP).

Specialists on Thursday said evidence from the privately commissioned probe by FTI Consulting is not strong enough for a definitive conclusion, nor does it confirm with certainty that his phone was actually compromised.

The Wall Street Journal reported, late on Friday: “Manhattan federal prosecutors have evidence indicating Jeff Bezos’ girlfriend provided text messages to her brother that he then sold to the National Enquirer for its article about the Amazon.com Inc. founder’s affair, according to people familiar with the matter.”

Experts said while a hack “likely” occurred, the investigation leaves too many “unanswered questions,” including how a hack happened or which spyware program was used, the Associated Press (AP) reported.

Steve Morgan, founder and editor-in-chief of New York-based Cybersecurity Ventures, said the probe makes “reasonable assumptions and speculations,” but does not claim 100 percent certainty or proof.

UK-based cybersecurity consultant Robert Pritchard said: “In some ways, the investigation is very incomplete … The conclusions they’ve drawn, I don’t think, are supported by the evidence. They veered off into conjecture.”

Alex Stamos, former chief security officer at Facebook, wrote that the FTI probe is filled with “circumstantial evidence but no smoking gun.”

Matt Suiche, a Dubai-based French entrepreneur and founder of cybersecurity firm Comae Technologies, told AP that the malicious file is presumably still on the hacked phone because the investigation shows a screenshot of it.

If the file had been deleted, he said the probe should have stated this or explained why it was not possible to retrieve it. “They’re not doing that. It shows poor quality of the investigation,” Suiche added.

Reports on Wednesday suggested that Saudi Arabia was involved in the phone of Bezos being hacked after he received a WhatsApp message sent from the personal account of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

The Saudi Embassy in the US denied the allegations, describing them as “absurd.” Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan called the accusations “purely conjecture” and “absolutely silly,” saying if there was real evidence the Kingdom looked forward to seeing it.

A Wall Street Journal report quoted forensics specialists as saying the FTI investigation’s claims that Saudi Arabia was behind any possible hacking of the phone “appeared to forgo investigatory steps.”

CNN reported that critics of the probe highlighted a “lack of sophistication” in it, quoting Sarah Edwards, an instructor at the SANS Institute, as saying: “It does seem like (FTI) gave it a good try, but it seems they’re just not as knowledgeable in the mobile forensics realm as they could have been.”

The New York Times said the probe tried to find links between the possible hacking of the phone and an article in the National Enquirer about the Amazon CEO’s extramarital affair with Lauren Sanchez, but any link remains “elusive.”

National Enquirer owner American Media said in a statement regarding the source of the leak on Sanchez’s involvement with Bezos: “The single source of our reporting has been well documented, in September 2018 Michael Sanchez began providing all materials and information to our reporters. Any suggestion that a third party was involved in or in any way influenced our reporting is false.”