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Peter Ludlow (New York Times):

To get some perspective on the manipulative role that private intelligence agencies play in our society, it is worth examining information that has been revealed by some significant hacks in the past few years of previously secret data.

Important insight into the world these companies came from a 2010 hack by a group best known as LulzSec  (at the time the group was called Internet Feds), which targeted the private intelligence firm HBGary Federal.  That hack yielded 75,000 e-mails.  It revealed, for example, that Bank of America approached the Department of Justice over concerns about information that WikiLeaks had about it.  The Department of Justice in turn referred Bank of America to the lobbying firm Hunton and Willliams, which in turn connected the bank with a group of information security firms collectively known as Team Themis.

Team Themis (a group that included HBGary and the private intelligence and security firms Palantir Technologies, Berico Technologies and Endgame Systems) was effectively brought in to find a way to undermine the credibility of WikiLeaks and the journalist Glenn Greenwald (who recently broke the story of Edward Snowden’s leak of the N.S.A.’s Prism program),  because of Greenwald’s support for WikiLeaks. Specifically, the plan called for actions to “sabotage or discredit the opposing organization” including a plan to submit fake documents and then call out the error. As for Greenwald, it was argued that he would cave “if pushed” because he would “choose professional preservation over cause.” That evidently wasn’t the case………

……Several months after the hack of HBGary, a Chicago area activist and hacker named Jeremy Hammond successfully hacked into another private intelligence firm — Strategic Forcasting Inc., or Stratfor), and released approximately five million e-mails. This hack provided a remarkable insight into how the private security and intelligence companies view themselves vis a vis government security agencies like the C.I.A. In a 2004 e-mail to Stratfor employees, the firm’s founder and chairman George Friedman was downright dismissive of the C.I.A.’s capabilities relative to their own:  “Everyone in Langley [the C.I.A.] knows that we do things they have never been able to do with a small fraction of their resources. They have always asked how we did it. We can now show them and maybe they can learn.”

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On Monday, CNN’s Christiane Amanpour asked how so many journalists could have been misled in the run-up to the Iraq War. She interviewed two reporters for Knight-Ridder newspapers, Jonathan Landay and Warren Strobel, both of whom have been vindicated as being consistently right on Iraq.

Amanpour began by recapping some of the George W. Bush administration’s hallmark assertions regarding Saddam Hussein’s purported programs to make nuclear, biological and chemical weapons, and highlighting the debunked claims that Iraq was importing aluminum tubes to use in centrifuges for enriching uranium.

“So how could so any false assertions have been taken as fact?” she asked. “After the war, some of America’s leading newspapers were forced to apologize for getting it wrong.”

She then welcomed Strobel and Landay to the program.

Landay talked about the difficulty of getting stories published that ran contrary to the narrative being established by Washington. Editors would demand to know why these stories weren’t also running in the New York Times or the Washington Post.

“It was very lonely,” he said. “One of the ironies is that every time we would write something, the White House would say nothing, because we realized after a while that that would have been the best advertisement for our stories that we could possibly ask for.”

“There’s a problem with journalism in Washington,” said Strobel, “and that’s access. The New York Times and others had access to top officials who were spinning this line. We talked to those people as well, but most of our reporting was done with intelligence — military and diplomatic — mid-level and lower-level, the types that journalists don’t normally talk to or go after.”

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The organizers of American Crossroads hope to bring electoral victory to the Republican Party by defeating unelectable tea party candidates in GOP primary races. The new super PAC, called the Conservative Victory Project, will be run by American Crossroads president Steven Law and is supported by former Bush political adviser Karl Rove.

“There is a broad concern about having blown a significant number of races because the wrong candidates were selected,” Law told the New York Times on Saturday. “We don’t view ourselves as being in the incumbent protection business, but we want to pick the most conservative candidate who can win.”

The Victory Project plans to oppose candidates like Christine O’Donnell, Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock. Though running in places where Republicans were favored, the tea party-backed candidates lost the general election after defeating moderate Republicans in the primary. Many tea party candidates who were victorious in 2010, such as Allen West and Joe Walsh, also ended up being defeated by Democratic challengers in 2012.

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FAREED ZAKARIA: Did you know that Obama supporters are likely to eat at Red Lobster and listen to smooth jazz? That Romney supporters prefer to dine at Olive Garden and watch college football? Well, big data does. Big data. That is the buzz word for the immense amounts of information being captured about all of us in this interconnected age. It’s a great boon for business, but unbeknownst to many of us, it was also used to great effect in the 2012 presidential race. Here to explain this, “New York Times” reporter Charles Duhigg. Charles, what is big data? Why is it new?

CHARLES DUHIGG, REPORTER, “THE NEW YORK TIMES”: Big data is — two things have happened in the last four or five years, the first of which is that everyone is now generating much more data throughout their entire life. When you go online, when you use your credit card, when you do almost anything that allows a company to track your behavior, you are creating data about yourself and your preferences. And in addition, computing power has grown so much so significantly that companies and campaigns can now take that data and can crunch it within seconds to try and figure out who you are, what types of habits you have, what do you like, and what can push your buttons.

ZAKARIA: So explain what the campaigns have been doing with this new data?

DUHIGG: Well, one of the things that the campaigns have done is try to vacuum up everything that they can. It used to be that when someone was running for office, they would get — the voter file, right? They would say, someone’s name, where they live and their party affiliation, whether they ever voted before. Now each campaign has literally thousands of data points on you. They know what magazines you subscribe to, they know if you’ve ever declared bankruptcy or gone into foreclosure, they know how many kids you have, they know if you ever bought a boat, what type of insurance you own, where your send your kids go to school. Thousands and thousands of data points, they collect to try and create an image of you, at the center of that is the same question, how can I push your button to vote for my guy or gal?

ZAKARIA: And what do you find that we — you know, what are the kind of surprising things that are predictive of whether or not you are not going to vote — you are likely to be a Republican or a Democrat?

DUHIGG: Well, what’s interesting is a lot of it is as you mentioned it, when you introduced me was the other places you go. :Like, we didn’t know, for instance, that Romney supporters go to Olive Garden and that Obama supporters go to Red Lobster, but knowing that is actually really useful. Because that means that Romney can go buy ads inside Olive Garden since they say, look, if you don’t really — if you don’t often vote, come out to the polls, because I know you’re going to vote for me.

ZAKARIA: Why were Obama’s people better at this?

DUHIGG: Obama’s people were better at it for two reasons. The first of which is they’ve had a lot more time to build it up. Keep in mind that four years ago, Obama started building this database. And so, when Mitt Romney came to this campaign this year he really had to recreate the wheel that the Obama folks had been building for four years and building the database bigger and bigger and bigger. The second reason is that there was a basic fundamental difference in approach to between the campaigns. Romney outsourced its data management. Obama built it inside. And there was a big question going on. The Romney folks would say, look, it’s better to outsource because we can get the most cutting edge science, whereas the Obama folks are stock with something they started building four years ago. But I think what the election showed is when you build it inside, you really own the knowledge, the technical know-how and that seemed to end up making a huge difference. In fact, the Romney campaign folks I’ve talked to — spoken to inside the campaign said on election day they were blown away. They had no idea how much more Obama knew about voters in certain areas and it just blew them out of the water.

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New York Times reporter David Sanger on Sunday defended his reporting amid an intense debate and investigation of alleged national security leaks.

CNN’s “Reliable Sources” host Howard Kurtz said the information in Sanger’s book — that President Obama accelerated cyber attacks against Iran — seemed like information the administration wanted out.

“I have my doubts about that,” Sanger responded. “This was 18 months of reporting, long before the political season started.”

Sanger told Kurtz that “of course” he worked with administration officials in the process of reporting the book. “This is a book about the totality of the national security strategy of President Obama, what’s worked and what hasn’t. … How do you report a book about that without talking to people who were in the room?”