This is your weekly intelligence briefing. We’ll gather the headlines each week, put a little context to them, link to further reading, and pass along to you so you can sound smarter at parties.
Russian Hacking/Intelligence Report
The Office of the Director of National Intelligence released a new declassified report on Friday 1.6.17, detailing their probe into alleged Russian hacking during the U.S. Presidential election. The report didn’t provide any new concrete evidence, but did reinforce the growing belief that the Russian government was behind DNC emails that were released through Wikileaks. Intelligence experts have pointed to the targets of the hack that included emails from both major parties in the U.S., military officials and others with ties to Russia.
The Trump Team has danced around the topic for months now, suggesting that the hackers could have been Russians working with the government, or just about anyone else. These theories were proven highly unlikely by security expert @pwnallthethings in a series of tweets that provide clarity on the targets of the hacks. The Russian government has a documented history of using independent hackers to cover their own tracks.
Could have hacked? Sure. Did hack? No. Let me go through why not. https://t.co/srzkfVLyqh
— Pwn All The Things (@pwnallthethings) January 4, 2017
Several of Trump’s cabinet appointees went through their confirmation hearings this week. Headlining the list were Attorney General Nominee Jeff Sessions and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. Sessions, a U.S. Senator from Alabama, stands out as a controversial figure, even in an administration full of them. He was denied a position as a Federal Judge in the Reagan administration when, presented with evidence of racist comments made by Sessions, the Republican-controlled Senate Judiciary Committee voted to deny his Judgeship. During his confirmation hearing, Senator Corey Booker of New Jersey broke from Senate tradition by speaking out adamantly against Sessions’ nomination.
Tillerson, the former CEO of Exxon had a rough go of it during his confirmation hearing, particularly when drilled with questions relating to Russia. As Exxon CEO, Tillerson partnered with Russian petroleum company Rosneft on a billion-dollar deal to explore Russia for oil.
When asked if he believed Putin’s actions across the Middle East and in parts of Eastern Europe made him a war criminal, Tillerson replied, “I would not use that term”. In many answers, he appeared to take different stances than those publicly taken by Trump, and in an alarming response, Tillerson noted that he and Trump had not discussed the Trump Administration’s policy towards Russia in any detail.
Headlining the dissent against Tillerson was Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fla). The one-time GOP rising star is likely to have the deciding vote on confirming Tillerson, and has the opportunity to side with Democrats in denying his confirmation. Republicans have been quick to walk back their anti-Trump stances from the campaign season in favor of maintaining party discipline throughout his transition period.
Affordable Care Act
Congressional Republicans began their efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act this week, with both the House and Senate voting to repeal the law. While Republican lawmakers have touted “Repeal and Replace” as their strategy all along, they have yet to come up with a cohesive plan to replace the law. Donald Trump encouraged Congress to repeal and replace “simultaneously”, but many experts believe there will be longer-than-expected delays in the process.
The nonpartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget has estimated that repealing without a replacement plan could cost U.S. taxpayers $350 billion over the course of ten years, and could cost more than 18 million people their health insurance. It appears that the GOP is alone in their belief that outright repeal, even without a replacement, is the best strategy. Major healthcare providers have come out in opposition, and have expressed their concerns that doing so could create major problems in the marketplace. Only 20% of American people want the law killed outright, and 75% favor either keeping it, or waiting until a clear replacement plan is agreed upon before moving forward.
Republican lawmakers are set to roll back safeguards put in place to help protect net neutrality. FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler speaking before non-partisan think-tank, The Aspen Institute, gave his final speech as Chairman warning his Republican colleagues of the danger that repealing net neutrality imposes. Wheeler will step down from his post on Jan. 20th, Donald Trump’s inauguration day.
Wheeler’s successor has not yet been named, however the Trump transition team has named Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn) as the head of the House Commerce Subcommittee on Communications and Technology, giving her a prominent voice in the administration’s stance on net neutrality. She has been a critic since the safeguards were put in place two years ago, taking the stance that the policy allows the government to run the internet. Like many of the appointees selected so far, she appears to have a very shaky understanding of what the policies she is set to rule over actually entail.
Amazon Continues to Add Jobs; Also Continues to Replace Them With Robots
Amazon announced this week its plans add 100,000 full-time jobs over the next 18 months, a continuation of the 150,000 jobs created over the past five years. This comes on the heels of Donald Trump championing his ability to keep manufacturing jobs in the U.S., including the deal he struck with Carrier to keep 800 jobs at its plant in Indiana. The Carrier deal will reportedly cost the taxpayers of Indiana $7 million over the next ten years, and many of the jobs saved are likely to be replaced by automation.
Though Amazon has added hundreds of thousands of jobs over the past few years, they are also at the forefront of the automation boom. With services like drone delivery and their new Amazon Go service, they are helping paint a picture of a world where low-wage workers are replaced by automation.
This will be a recurring feature, highlighting some of the more noteworthy/insane/dangerous tweets from the leader of the
free world. We’ll try to keep this from being a replica of what you can find in the outrage bubble of social media, but we also want to provide a showcase for some truly surreal ideas.
Trump attacks a leader of the Civil Rights Movement, claiming that his district is infested with crime. “All talk, talk, talk” refers to Congressman John Lewis (D-GA), who was on the front lines, being assaulted by law enforcement officers during the 1960’s. Lewis’ actions (and those of his fellow protestors) led to the passing of the Civil Rights Act of 1968, including the Fair Housing Act which Trump was later sued for violating.
mention crime infested) rather than falsely complaining about the election results. All talk, talk, talk – no action or results. Sad!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 14, 2017
Donal Trump cited One America News Network as a credible source in denying allegations that the Russian government has extensive blackmail on him. The network, clearly a right-wing propaganda organization, made headlines this week for also hiring former Trump Campaign Manager Corey Lewandowski. Weird timing.
INTELLIGENCE INSIDERS NOW CLAIM THE TRUMP DOSSIER IS “A COMPLETE FRAUD!” @OANN
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 14, 2017
Trump, after attacking reporters at his first press conference in over six months, continued his assault on Twitter. He continues to deride any organization who questions him as “FAKE NEWS”, and has yet to realize how damaging this is to the very first amendment in the U.S. Constitution.
.@CNN is in a total meltdown with their FAKE NEWS because their ratings are tanking since election and their credibility will soon be gone!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 12, 2017