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TikTok is acting shady (again)
Also, a hacker snagged the secret TSA's "No Fly" list.
Hello again and happy Thursday. I’m your host, Paul Szoldra. Time again for the rundown of national security news in The Ruck. As usual, there’s a lot happening this week—including the most recent TikTok acting shady news story (I’m sensing a trend) and a Swiss hacker kinda just stumbling on the TSA’s super secret “No Fly” list.
Let’s get to it…
Yet another new and groundbreaking story on TikTok: The service has a secret “heating” button that can make a video go viral, according to Forbes. A powerful lever of influence in the hands of a few.
“For TikTok, fears of political manipulation are tied to concern that the Chinese government could coerce the platform’s Chinese owner, ByteDance, into amplifying or suppressing certain narratives on TikTok. TikTok has acknowledged that it previously censored content critical of China, and last year, former ByteDance employees told BuzzFeed News that another ByteDance app, a now-defunct news aggregator called TopBuzz, had pinned ‘pro-China messages’ to the top of its news feed for U.S. consumers. ByteDance denied the report.”
“TikTok declined to answer questions about whether employees located in China have ever heated content, or whether the company has ever heated content produced by the Chinese government or Chinese state media.”
They didn’t even issue a non-denial denial. 🤔
A U.S. Navy SEAL listed in "an active deserter status since March 11, 2019" was killed last week while fighting alongside Ukrainian forces on an operation in Bakhmut, according to Time Magazine.
“He only had one uniform…He used duct tape to tape armored plates to his chest and back to go on target until he was given a plate carrier,” a friend said of former Special Warfare Operator 1st Class Daniel Swift’s time in Ukraine. “After our SEAL Team Six guy left, he led our team in [Kherson Oblast], Severodonetsk, and Svyatohirsk, and continued to lead the team after I left. He was one of the hardest and most tactically proficient men I have ever met.”
A North Korean man was sentenced to 45 months in prison for money laundering offenses. He "is the first ever North Korean national to be extradited to the United States and is subject to deportation,” according to the Justice Department.
Mun Chol Myong, a 55-year-old businessman living in Malaysia, was extradited to the U.S. in 2021 after being arrested by Malaysian authorities in 2019, VOA reports.
He “used a network of front companies and falsified records to hide more than $1.2 million in illicit transactions” to get luxury goods around U.S. sanctions and into the hands of North Korean customers.
“Since then, doubts over their intentions have mounted. They were rescued not far from the Naftoport facility at the Port of Gdansk, which receives tanker shipments of oil and other and petroleum products. They were also found near an area where there are plans to build a new floating natural gas terminal,” CBS reports.
“Officers apparently saw nothing suspicious at first in the fact that the men were diving near critical infrastructure at night with no permit and atypical amber-hunting equipment, and the local police did not pursue the matter.”
Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki says the divers posed no threat to public safety.
A Swiss hacker wrote about how easy it was to find an airline’s open server on the internet and snag an interesting file: NoFly.csv, a 2019 copy of the TSA’s “No Fly” list with roughly 1.5 million entries.
According to The Daily Dot, the list included several notable figures, including Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout and “16 potential aliases for him.”
“The aliases comprised different, common misspellings of his last name and other versions of his first name, as well as different birthdays. Many of the birthdays aligned with the recorded date Bout was born.”
Congressman Dan Bishop, a member of the House Homeland Security Committee says Congress “will be coming for answers” about the breach, according to CNN.
Japan’s 1st Airborne Brigade was joined by paratroopers from the U.K. and Australian armies for the first time ever during its parachute drop training earlier this month, according to Nippon. It was “apparently intended to make a display of the group's solidarity at a time when China is stepping up maritime activities.”
SpaceX is now offering a product called Starshield for defense and intelligence agencies described as “custom-built spacecraft, sensors, and secure communications services leveraging SpaceX’s investment in its Starlink network of broadband satellites.”
“We have also ordered a number of other military equipment from Russia, including air defense systems, missile systems and helicopters, most of which will also arrive soon.”
A payback from Moscow for a generous supply of Iranian Shahed-136 drones.
“As alleged, Charles McGonigal, a former high-level FBI official, and Sergey Shestakov, a Court interpreter, violated U.S. sanctions by agreeing to provide services to Oleg Deripaska, a sanctioned Russian oligarch,” said U.S. Attorney Damian Williams. “They both previously worked with Deripaska to attempt to have his sanctions removed, and, as public servants, they should have known better.”
McGonigal and Shestakov were arrested on Saturday. Both pleaded not guilty and were released on $500,000 and $200,000 bail, respectively.
WASHINGTON — The Pentagon is racing to boost its production of artillery shells by 500 percent within two years, pushing conventional ammunition production to levels not seen since the Korean War as it invests billions of dollars to make up for shortfalls caused by the war in Ukraine and to build up stockpiles for future conflicts.
A Kremlin official criticized the move as absurd, so I’ll take that as a vote of confidence. Good move, America.
New & notable reports
Generative Language Models and Automated Influence Operations: Emerging Threats and Potential Mitigations (Stanford Internet Observatory, OpenAI, and Georgetown University’s Center for Security and Emerging Technology)
Public Perceptions of China in 13 European Countries | August 2022 (International Republican Institute)
You’re caught up. One more thing before you go: Check out “The Prince” podcast from The Economist. If you’re looking for a well-done primer on China and its leader Xi Jinping that will get you smarter on a long drive, there’s nothing better. I really enjoyed it.
What’d I miss? Let me know in the comments.
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See you next week. —Paul