Federal anti-terror unit investigated journalists: Watchdog

A U.S. Department of Homeland Security plaque is displayed a podium as international passengers arrive at Miami international Airport where they are screened by U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Nov. 20, 2020, in Miami. (AP)
A U.S. Department of Homeland Security plaque is displayed a podium as international passengers arrive at Miami international Airport where they are screened by U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Nov. 20, 2020, in Miami. (AP)
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Updated 12 December 2021

Federal anti-terror unit investigated journalists: Watchdog

A U.S. Department of Homeland Security plaque is displayed a podium as international passengers arrive at Miami international Airport where they are screened by U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Nov. 20, 2020, in Miami. (AP)
  • Rambo complained to Yahoo News that Customs and Border Protection has not stood by him and that he has been unfairly portrayed in news reports

WASHINGTON: A special Customs and Border Protection unit used sensitive government databases intended to track terrorists to investigate as many as 20 US-based journalists, including a Pulitzer Prize-winning Associated Press reporter, according to a federal watchdog.
Yahoo News, which published an extensive report on the investigation, also found that the unit, the Counter Network Division, queried records of congressional staffers and perhaps members of Congress.
Jeffrey Rambo, an agent who acknowledged running checks on journalists in 2017, told federal investigators the practice is routine. “When a name comes across your desk you run it through every system you have access too, that’s just status quo, that’s what everyone does,” Rambo was quoted by Yahoo News as saying.
The AP obtained a redacted copy of a more than 500-page report by the Homeland Security Department’s inspector general that included the same statement, but with the speaker’s name blacked out. The border protection agency is part of Homeland Security.
The revelations raised alarm in news organizations and prompted a demand for a full explanation.
“We are deeply concerned about this apparent abuse of power,” Lauren Easton, AP’s director of media relations, said in a statement. “This appears to be an example of journalists being targeted for simply doing their jobs, which is a violation of the First Amendment.”
In its own statement, Customs and Border Protection did not specifically address the investigation, but said, “CBP vetting and investigatory operations, including those conducted by the Counter Network Division, are strictly governed by well-established protocols and best practices. CBP does not investigate individuals without a legitimate and legal basis to do so.”
An employee at Storymakers Coffee Roasters, a small storefront shop Rambo owns in San Diego’s Barrio Logan neighborhood, said Saturday that Rambo was not immediately available to comment. He lives in San Diego.
The new disclosures are just the latest examples of federal agencies using their power to examine the contacts of journalists and others.
Earlier this year Attorney General Merrick Garland formally prohibited prosecutors from seizing the records of journalists in leak investigations, with limited exceptions, reversing years of department policy. That action came after an outcry over revelations that the Trump Justice Department had obtained records belonging to journalists, as well as Democratic members of Congress and their aides and a former White House counsel, Don McGahn.
During the Obama administration, federal investigators secretly seized phone records for some reporters and editors at the AP. Those seizures involved office and home lines as well as cellphones.
Rambo’s and the unit’s use of the databases was more extensive than previously known. The inspector general referred possible criminal charges for misusing government databases and lying to investigators, but the Justice Department declined to prosecute Rambo and two other Homeland Security employees.
Rambo complained to Yahoo News that Customs and Border Protection has not stood by him and that he has been unfairly portrayed in news reports.
“What none of these articles identify me as, is a law enforcement officer who was cleared of wrongdoing, who actually had a true purpose to be doing what I was doing,” he said, “and CBP refuses to acknowledge that, refuses to admit that, refuses to make that wrong right.”
Rambo had previously been identified as the agent who accessed the travel records of reporter Ali Watkins, then working for Politico, and questioned her about confidential sources. Watkins now writes for The New York Times.
Rambo was assigned to the border agency unit, part of the National Targeting Center in Sterling, Virginia, in 2017. He told investigators he initially approached Watkins as part of a broader effort to get reporters to write about forced labor around the world as a national security issue.
He also described similar efforts with AP reporter Martha Mendoza, according to an unredacted summary obtained by Yahoo News. Rambo’s unit “was able to vet MENDOZA as a reputable reporter,” the summary said, before trying to establish a relationship with her because of her expertise in writing about forced labor. Mendoza won her second Pulitzer Prize in 2016 as part of a team that reported on slave labor in the fishing industry in Southeast Asia.
Dan White, Rambo’s supervisor in Washington, told investigators that his unit ran Mendoza through multiple databases, and “CBP discovered that one of the phone numbers on Mendoza’s phone was connected with a terrorist,” Yahoo News reported. White’s case also was referred for prosecution and declined.
In response, AP’s Easton said, “The Associated Press demands an immediate explanation from US Customs and Border Protection as to why journalists including AP investigative reporter Martha Mendoza were run through databases used to track terrorists and identified as potential confidential informant recruits.”
It was Rambo’s outreach to Watkins that led to the inspector general’s investigation. While he ostensibly sought her out to further his work on forced labor, Rambo quickly turned the focus to a leak investigation. Rambo even gave it a name, “Operation Whistle Pig,” for the brand of whiskey he drank when he met Watkins at a Washington, D.C., bar in June 2017.
The only person charged and convicted stemming from Rambo’s efforts is James Wolfe, a former security director for the Senate Intelligence Committee who had a personal relationship with Watkins. Wolfe pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his contacts with reporters.
In the course of conversations with FBI agents, Rambo was questioned extensively about his interest in Watkins. He used the travel records to confront her about her relationship with Wolfe, asserting that Wolfe was her source for stories. Watkins acknowledged the relationship, but insisted Wolfe did not provide information for her stories.
Rambo said Watkins was not the only reporter whose records he researched through government databases, though he maintained in his interviews with the FBI that he was looking only at whether Wolfe was providing classified information. Rambo said he “conducted CBP record checks” on “15 to 20 national security reporters,” according to a FBI summary of the questioning that was contained in the inspector general’s report.
New York Times spokeswoman Danielle Rhoades-Ha said new details about the investigation of Watkins raised fresh concerns.
“We are deeply troubled to learn how US Customs and Border Protection ran this investigation into a journalist’s sources. As the attorney general has said clearly, the government needs to stop using leak investigations as an excuse to interfere with journalism. It is time for Customs and Border Protection to make public a full record of what happened in this investigation so this sort of improper conduct is not repeated.”
Watkins said she, too, was “deeply troubled at the lengths CBP and DHS personnel apparently went to try and identify journalistic sources and dig into my personal life. It was chilling then, and it remains chilling now.”
 


Royal Jordanian set to sponsor Arab Influencers Forum

Royal Jordanian set to sponsor Arab Influencers Forum
Updated 17 August 2022

Royal Jordanian set to sponsor Arab Influencers Forum

Royal Jordanian set to sponsor Arab Influencers Forum
  • The airline’s CEO stated that the its sponsorship is in line with its vision to support all efforts promoting Jordan

AMMAN: Royal Jordanian Airlines is sponsoring the inaugural City Talk, a forum for Arab influencers due to take place in Jordan in early October, the Jordan News Agency reported on Tuesday. The airline said that it will also serve as official carrier for the forum’s guests from across the region.

The event is being organized by the Jordan Tourism Board and Omnes Media, a digital-media and communications platform based in Dubai.

Royal Jordanian CEO Samer Majali said the airline’s sponsorship of the event reflects its vision and desire to support all initiatives and events that promote Jordan.

He added that by attracting social media content creators and marketing industry professionals from across the Arab world, the forum will help to market the culture and heritage of Jordan and its tourism sector.

City Talk is scheduled to take place Oct. 2-5 at King Hussein bin Talal Convention Center near Sweimeh, on the Dead Sea shore. More than 500 Arab social media influencers and industry leaders are expected to attend.

The forum will explore and discuss recent advances in the marketing and advertising industry. The schedule includes six panel discussions and six workshops, along with daily meetings with influential Arab figures.


Netflix launches Because She Created writing program in Egypt

Netflix launches Because She Created writing program in Egypt
Updated 16 August 2022

Netflix launches Because She Created writing program in Egypt

Netflix launches Because She Created writing program in Egypt
  • The streamer will work with Sard, a regional hub for scriptwriters, to help local women develop their creative writing and storytelling skills
  • Netflix wants to create ‘more diverse content to ensure that women are represented both on screen and behind the camera,’ said Ahmed Sharkawi, its director of Arabic series

DUBAI: Netflix has partnered with Sard, a dedicated hub for scriptwriters in the Arab world, to coach women in creative writing and help them to develop their storytelling and creative-expression skills through the latest in a series of Because She Created programs.

It is the latest development in an initiative launched last year as a virtual panel discussion to give female Arab filmmakers a chance to talk about the evolving role of women in the regional film industry. Netflix then teamed up with the Cairo International Film Festival for a second Because She Created event, which was a fireside chat with renowned Tunisian actress Hend Sabry.

In July this year, the company used the platform to present a specially curated collection of 21 Arab films designed to shine a light on the work of Arab women in film. 

The writing program, which will take place in Cairo, is designed to provide an incubator for the untapped talents of 20 women from outside of the city and introduce them to the creative tools and industry insight they need to advance their creative and professional development.

“Sard believes that expressing oneself through writing is the first step to self-discovery and we’re proud to have discovered talent through this program that we feel will one day become the scriptwriters of the future,” said Mariam Naoum, the founder and CEO of Sard.

Although Egypt and the wider Arab world is “ripe with talent,” the region needs a “concerted effort and professional support” to help that local talent grow, she added.

“Women in the region, in particular, need this kind of incubation and technical support to gain access to opportunities that advance their professional growth in an industry where their presence is still limited,” said Naoum.

“Sard is trying to achieve this through the work we do and through partnerships with organizations like Netflix that help steer talent in the right direction.”

The five-day program will include storytelling classes, sessions on creative expression, and discussions and talks led by established professionals in the entertainment industry. It will also feature daily activities, including trips to the theater and cinema.

“At Netflix, we recognize that being part of the creative communities comes with responsibilities and that includes the need to develop the talent pipeline and give new voices a chance to be heard,” said Ahmed Sharkawi, director of Arabic series at the streaming service.

The company wants to create “more diverse content to ensure that women are represented both on screen and behind the camera,” he added, and “partnerships like this allow us to equip them with the skills they need to tell the best version of their stories.”

The Because She Created writing program is an initiative of the Netflix Fund for Creative Equity, which aims to create new opportunities for underrepresented communities within the entertainment industry through training and skills development.


Russia fines streaming site Twitch over 31-second ‘fake’ video — agencies

Russia fines streaming site Twitch over 31-second ‘fake’ video — agencies
Updated 16 August 2022

Russia fines streaming site Twitch over 31-second ‘fake’ video — agencies

Russia fines streaming site Twitch over 31-second ‘fake’ video — agencies
  • The court accused Twitch, a U.S.-based live-streaming service popular with video gamers, of failing to remove a 31-second clip of a girl from Bucha

LONDON: A court in Russia has fined streaming service Twitch 2 million roubles ($33,000) for hosting a short video containing what it calls “fake” information about alleged war crimes in the Ukrainian town of Bucha, Russian news agencies reported on Tuesday.
Russia has repeatedly threatened to fine sites — including Google, Twitter and Wikipedia — it accuses of hosting “fake” content related to its military campaign in Ukraine.
The court accused Twitch, a US-based live-streaming service popular with video gamers, of failing to remove a 31-second clip of a girl from the town of Bucha, the Kommersant newspaper reported. It did not specify the content of the video.
Twitch, which is owned by Amazon, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Ukraine and its allies accuse Russian forces of committing atrocities in Bucha, a satellite town of Kyiv, after Moscow launched its invasion in February. Russia denies the charge.
Earlier, RIA reported that Telegram messenger was hit with two fines totalling 11 million roubles ($179,000) for refusing to delete channels which allegedly showed how to “sabotage” military vehicles and hosting “unreliable data” about Russia’s progress in what it calls a “special military operation” in Ukraine.


Judge orders Twitter to give Elon Musk former executive’s documents

Judge orders Twitter to give Elon Musk former executive’s documents
Updated 26 min 20 sec ago

Judge orders Twitter to give Elon Musk former executive’s documents

Judge orders Twitter to give Elon Musk former executive’s documents
  • Kayvon Beykpour is considered one of the executives “most intimately involved with” determining the amount of spam accounts, which have become a central issue in the legal fight

LONDON: Twitter Inc needs to give Elon Musk documents from a former Twitter executive who Musk said was a key figure in calculating the amount of fake accounts on the platform, according to a Monday court order.

Bot and spam accounts on Twitter have become a central issue in the legal fight over whether Musk, who is Tesla Inc's chief executive, must complete his $44 billion acquisition of the social media company.

Twitter was ordered to collect, review and produce documents from former General Manager of Consumer Product Kayvon Beykpour, according to the order from Chancellor Kathaleen McCormick of the Delaware Court of Chancery.

Twitter and lawyers for Musk, the world's richest person, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Beykpour, who left Twitter after the social media company agreed in April to be acquired by Musk, was described in Musk's court filings as one of the executives “most intimately involved with” determining the amount of spam accounts.

Beykpour did not immediately respond to a request for comment sent through LinkedIn.

McCormick said in her order on Monday that she was denying Musk's request for access to 21 other people with control over relevant information.

Musk's legal team had written to McCormick last week asking her to order Twitter to hand over employee names so they could be questioned. read more

Musk accused Twitter earlier this month of fraud for misrepresenting the number of real active users on its platform, which Twitter has denied. The company has accused him of breaching his agreement to acquire the company and wants McCormick to order him to complete the deal at $54.20 a share.


OSN+ to stage 1,000-drone airborne light show in celebration of ‘House of the Dragon’ premiere

OSN+ to stage 1,000-drone airborne light show in celebration of ‘House of the Dragon’ premiere
Updated 15 August 2022

OSN+ to stage 1,000-drone airborne light show in celebration of ‘House of the Dragon’ premiere

OSN+ to stage 1,000-drone airborne light show in celebration of ‘House of the Dragon’ premiere
  • As well as the display over Riyadh Boulevard as part of Gamers8, the streaming service announced a screen takeover and fireworks display to herald debut of ‘Game of Thrones’ prequel

DUBAI: Middle East streaming platform OSN+ is celebrating the upcoming premiere of new HBO series “House of the Dragon,” a prequel to the international hit “Game of Thrones,” by staging an immersive drone show at Riyadh Boulevard on Aug. 18, as part of the ongoing Gamers8 festival.

In addition to the airborne light show, featuring 1,000 drones, the special celebration will include a complete screen takeover at Gamers8 and a fireworks display.

“OSN+ is excited to launch a spectacular drone show, as part of the Gamers8 festival, ahead of the highly anticipated release of ‘House of the Dragon’ on Aug. 22 in the Middle East,” said Ashley Rite, vice-president of marketing and growth with the streamer.

“Alongside an expansive screen takeover and firework display, the gaming festival will provide an engaging and immersive platform to celebrate the premiere of the first episode of the ‘Game of Thrones’ prequel with fans, both within the Saudi Arabian capital and across the Kingdom.”

The first season of the 10-episode HBO Original drama will air exclusively in the region on OSN+ from Aug. 22, with the first episode available at the same time as its US premiere and subsequent episodes released weekly.