Facebook has a secret app in China - Axios
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Facebook has a secret app in China

A computer screen displays the social media posting by Mark Zuckerberg on Facebook in Beijing, China, Friday, March 18, 2016. The photo of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg jogging in downtown Beijing's notorious smog has prompted a torrent of astonishment, mockery and amusement on Chinese social media. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)

Facebook is testing a photo-sharing app in China, called Colorful Balloons, that is similar to Facebook's Moments app, but isn't identified as linked to Facebook, the New York Times reports.

Why this matters: The release of a secret app shows, according to the Times, the "desperation — and frustration" among big tech companies to gain access to the tightly controlled Chinese internet market and its hundreds of millions of users.

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Twitter CEO retweeted suspected Russia propagandist account

Jack Dorsey. Photo: Richard Drew / AP

Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey retweeted a Twitter account that was identified as being created by the Kremlin, according to the Daily Beast.

The account, @Crystal1Johnson, tweeted mostly positive and encouraging stories, but then would occasionally tweet "inflammatory stories about Hillary Clinton," the Beast reports. This played into the method of other Russian propaganda accounts, in which they would build an audience with shareable content, and were then "weaponized for divisive political messages."

Why it matters: This follows a string of instances in which Russia created fake accounts on Twitter for influence. Dorsey's retweets prove "just how pervasive Russian propaganda became on major American social media platforms," per the Daily Beast.


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Cellular internet service in Puerto Rico now available via Project Loon

A Project Loon balloon being readied for deployment to Puerto Rico. Photo: Alphabet

AT&T and Alphabet said late Friday that they have begun to offer limited mobile Internet service using the Google parent company's Project Loon balloons.

Apple is issuing a cellular settings update that will allow iPhones to activate the currently unused Band 8 to access the Loon-based service. It's the second time Project Loon has been activated to assist with an emergency (the first was in Peru) and the first time Loon has been used in the U.S. The FCC earlier granted temporary approval for Loon to operate in Puerto Rico.

Why it matters: Connectivity and power remain major challenges for Puerto Rico and communications are seen as a necessary starting point for other parts of recovery and rebuilding to move forward. Without cellular service, even first responders and humanitarian groups are forced to use pricey satellite phones.

"We've never deployed Project Loon connectivity from scratch at such a rapid pace, and we're grateful for the support of AT&T and the many other partners and organizations that have made this possible," the Loon team said in a blog post.

In general, Loon is designed to bring Interest service to remote and rural areas not easily served with cell service, though aid groups say they are excited to have more options for disaster relief efforts.

What's covered: Project Loon supports basic internet communications including text messaging, basic web access and e-mail. AT&T said there is no added cost to its customers for the service.

The downside: Because they are solar powered, the Loon balloons only offer service during the daytime.

Separately, AT&T said Friday that more than 60% of the population in Puerto Rico and 90% of the population in the U.S. Virgin Islands has cell service.

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Mattis met with McCain about the Niger ambush

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis. Photo: Manuel Balce Ceneta / AP

Secretary of Defense James Mattis met with Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham on Friday after the ambush in Niger more than two weeks ago that resulted in the death of four American soldiers, according to CBS.

Why it matters: There are still several unanswered questions about the ambush, and the FBI has joined the investigation. Sen. McCain said on Thursday that the investigation may "require a subpoena," but Sec. Mattis maintained that didn't prompt their meeting.

In Mattis' meeting with Graham, per the Washington Post, Graham supported Mattis' new rules of engagement that were presented in their meeting. The new rules includes putting "decision-making authority in the hands of commanders in the field," and expanding "the ability to use lethal force against suspected terrorists."

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ISIS may be dispersed, not destroyed

Illustration: Lazaro Gamio / Axios

In November 2001, the Taliban abandoned Kabul without a fight, and a month later the U.S. triumphantly installed Hamid Karzai as the new Afghan president. But in reality, the Taliban and their al Qaeda brethren had dispersed, not been killed or crushed. Sixteen years later, they represent a grave threat to the U.S.-backed order in Kabul.

Why it matters: Some Trump administration officials are crowing over the capture of Raqqa, the official capital of ISIS, and the surrender of hundreds of its fighters. But given the escape of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi along with many other fighters, there is a nagging question whether celebration is premature. The group may merely be scattered.

Don't underestimate the victory: ISIS rose to be at once the most brutal and successful terror group in history, earning billions of dollars in oil sales, extortion and taxes, and governing a swath of Syria and Iraq the size of Belgium. The 2014 sweep that produced that state — and its announcement of a caliphate — was a big part of what attracted acolytes the world over. And now it's gone.

  • Perhaps the biggest loss is not Raqqa but its aura of invincibility: The loss of almost all its territory, and the surrender of fighters who formerly vowed to fight to the death, "really brings into question the core ideology," Doug Ollivant, a former director for Iraq on the National Security Councils in the Bush and Obama administrations, says in an email exchange. "This is not to say that violent Islamism disappears, but that groups like al Qaeda might see a resurgence and shift of priority to them."
  • Baghdadi is missing but that does not mean he is safe: Aki Peritz, a former CIA officer for Iraq, notes that the last three terror leaders of Iraq were all killed in the fighting, and that there is a $25 million reward for the current ISIS chief's capture. "No one will give [Baghdadi] refuge; he'll be mercilessly hunted down, along with his entire shura council, in the increasingly small space that ISIS still controls," said Peritz.

But, but, but ... The trouble with dancing on the grave of ISIS is that it fails to understand the history of fights with Islamic extremists.

What to watch: According to Nick Heras of the Center for a New American Security, a think tank, it may appear that ISIS is in retreat mode now, but it's probably just transitioning "from a quasi-state actor … back down to an insurgency."

When to fight, when to flee: It would be madness for ISIS to attempt to hold territory now, given the demonstrated resolve of combined U.S., Russian and Syrian forces. Raqqa-based ISIS fighters had retreated to the neighboring area of Deir al-Zour, but in recent days, they have been largely pushed out of there, according to the NYT's Anne Barnard and Hwaida Saad.

  • But it would equally be a mistake, given the history of Iraqi militant groups and their Baathist collaborators managing to resurrect themselves, to treat ISIS as dead.

Look far afield: We can likely expect more suicide bombers in the Middle East and more terrorist attacks linked to ISIS abroad from now on, Heras warned. David Sterman, a fellow at New America, the D.C. think tank, noted that ISIS affiliates remain active in Libya, Mali, Afghanistan, the Philippines, and elsewhere.

  • Plus, ISIS retains followers in Europe, where attacks over the last three years have killed more than 350 people. They're "hoping to use … these trump cards to undermine the narrative that its caliphate has been crushed," Heras said.

The ground remains fertile for militants: In the mishmash of overlapping interests in the region — among Assad, Russia, Iran, Turkey, and the U.S. — a destabilizing force could rise, just as ISIS arose amid unhappiness with bad governance and the Sunni-Shia divide.

"There is the real risk of seeing the next generation — the son of ISIS," said Melissa Dalton of the Center for Strategic and International Studies. CIA director Mike Pompeo echoed this possibility, noting this week that it would be "foolish" to think a "son" of ISIS couldn't crop up.

What's next: The Trump administration is going to face pressure to figure out its long-term strategy. Brian McKeon, a former Defense Department official and National Security Council staffer under Obama, says a lack of policy for the region from the Trump administration poses problems moving forward, especially since "the military campaign is by no means over."

For now, the U.S.-led coalition is in talks with Syrian Democratic Forces about continuing the anti-ISIS campaign into some of the territory still held by ISIS along the Euphrates River, a spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition, Col. Ryan Dillon, told reporters this week. That could potentially engage U.S. service members further.

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Volcanic activity created a cave under the moon's surface

Photo: Charlie Riedel / AP

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (Jaxa) discovered a chasm beneath the surface of the moon, measuring 50 km long and 100 meters wide, according to The Guardian.

Why it matters: Jaxa identified the cave as a lava tube created by volcanic activity over three billion years ago. A senior Jaxa researcher, Junichi Haruyama, said lava tubes could be "the best candidate sites for future lunar bases."

People and equipment are at risk from extreme temperatures on the moon, varying from 107 degrees Celsius during the day and -153 degrees Celsius at night. The lava tubes could protect astronauts from those extremes, as well as from sun's radiation. But, the inside of the chamber hasn't been seen yet, and Haruyama said further examination would provide more details. It could also offer "insights concerning the evolutionary history of the moon."

The cave's discovery "will boost plans by several countries to send astronauts to the moon almost half a century after the Apollo 11 mission," the Guardian reports. While the U.S. is the only country to have put humans on the moon, Japan has made it a goal for 2030, the same year that Russia expects to begin work on a human colony on the moon's surface.

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FBI joins investigation into Niger ambush

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis answers a question about the ambush of U.S. troops in Niger. Photo: Alex Brandon / AP

The FBI is assisting in investigating the ambush in Niger more than two weeks ago that left four U.S. soldiers dead; specifically, the Islamist militants believed to be responsible for the attack, and how they learned of the U.S.-Niger patrol, according to the Wall Street Journal.

What happened: The WSJ reports that the American team was on a routine patrol with Nigerian soldiers, when they "gave chase to a small group of men on motorcycles" heading towards Mali's border. The group was a decoy; when the joint patrol returned, they were ambushed by "several technical vehicles and dozens more armed men on motorcycles."

Go deeper: What happened during this month's Niger attack..

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Snap reduces headcount, plans slower hiring for 2018

Evan Spiegel speaks at the Vanity Fair New Establishment Summit in Beverly Hills. Photo: Matt Winkelmeyer / Getty Images

Snapchat parent company Snap has laid off employees as it slows its growth heading into 2018, Business Insider reports. The company has grown fast over the past two years: it had 600 employees at the end of 2015 and ended last quarter with 2,600.

Why it matters: Snap believes the company has reached a size that is functioning well, so it is reducing its rate of hiring and therefore cutting some staff recruiter roles. The company said it will continue to hire aggressively in engineering and sales roles, but the overall pace of those hires will also slow next year.

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White House: We "won't rest" until we get answers on Niger ambush

Press Secretary Sarah Sanders in the White House briefing room. Photo: A

Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said Friday that the White House "won't rest" until they get to the bottom of what happened during the Niger ambush.

When pressed for more answers from reporters, Sanders pointed to the investigation initiated by the Department of Defense, which she said "occurs any time an American is killed in action" and stated that "frankly, the entire country and government wants to know what happened."

Briefing highlights:

  • On Gen. Kelly's incorrect statement on Rep. Wilson: "If you want to get into a debate with a four-star marine general, I think that's highly inappropriate," adding that Kelly "absolutely" stands by his comments.
  • Did Trump misstep in his condolence call? "If the spirit of which the comments were intended [was] misunderstood, that's very unfortunate."
  • Gen. Kelly's thoughts on Rep. Wilson's rebuke of Trump's call to the widow of a fallen soldier: "General Kelly said he was stunned that she made the comments about herself."
  • On George W. Bush's speech: "Our understanding is that those comments were not directed at the president."
  • Next disaster relief supplemental funding bill will be sent to Congress "in the coming weeks."
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John Kelly told incorrect story about Florida congresswoman

White House Chief of Staff John Kelly takes questions during a surprise damage-control appearance at the daily briefing. (AP's Susan Walsh)

White House Chief of Staff John Kelly incorrectly told reporters from the White House podium that Florida Rep. Frederica Wilson claimed she "got the money" for a new FBI building in Miramar, Florida, at its dedication in 2015. The Sun-Sentinel unearthed video of Wilson's speech at the dedication event, where she took credit for securing quick approval for naming the building after deceased FBI agents but never mentioned funding.

Timing: Kelly's misrepresentation of what happened comes amid the White House's current feud with Wilson and the Gold Star widow of a soldier killed in Niger, which began over President Trump's alleged thoughtless choice of words.

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Body cams fail to curb police aggression

A photo of the screen during the trial of Milwaukee police officer Dominique Heaggan-Brown who shot and killed 23-year-old Sylville Smith after a routine traffic stop last August. Photo: Milwaukee Police Department / AP

Police officers in D.C. who were given body cameras were just as likely to use force and receive civilian complaints as those who did not wear cameras, according to a newly released study of more than 1,000 police officers over seven months by the Lab @ D.C.

Why it matters: Previous studies bolstered the idea that body cameras were extremely effective for cutting back the use of force and civilian complaints. This led to body cam companies like Axon and Watchguard selling hundreds of thousands of body cameras across the country — Watchguard even filed for an IPO yesterday. Now this latest study calls into question the real impact body cameras have in changing aggressive policing culture.

On the other hand: Even if body cams are ineffective at keeping law enforcement from using force, they still provide a layer of accountability and have provided useful evidence in police shooting cases.