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Spy agency warned Trudeau China's media tactics becoming more 'sophisticated … insidious' – CBC.ca

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As Canada’s spy agency warns that China’s efforts to distort the news and influence media outlets in Canada “have become normalized,” critics are renewing calls for Ottawa to take a far tougher approach to foreign media interference.

The warning is contained in briefing documents drafted for Canadian Security Intelligence Service Director David Vigneault in preparation for a meeting he had with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau earlier this year.

That meeting focused on the rise of foreign interference in Canada — something CSIS says has become “more sophisticated, frequent, and insidious.”

One way foreign states — including the People’s Republic of China (PRC) — try to exert pressure on other countries is through media outlets, say the documents, obtained through an access to information request.

“In particular, PRC media influence activities in Canada have become normalized,” it reads.

“Chinese-language media outlets operating in Canada and members of the Chinese-Canadian community are primary targets of PRC-directed foreign influenced activities.”

CSIS director David Vigneault holds a press conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Thursday, July 16, 2020. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

CSIS spokesperson John Townsend said foreign states target both mainstream media outlets — print publications, radio and television programs — and non-traditional online outlets and social media channels to pursue their goals.

“Mainstream news outlets, as well as community sources, may also be targeted by foreign states who attempt to shape public opinion, debate, and covertly influence participation in the democratic process,” he said.

“Considering Canada’s rich multicultural makeup, foreign states may try to leverage or coerce individuals within communities to help influence to their benefit what is being reported by Canadian media outlets.”

China has an effective influence network, report finds

It’s a tactic former Conservative MP Kenny Chiu said he knows all too well. He said he was targeted during the recent federal election by a misinformation campaign run through Chinese language media outlets and social media.

“If that’s the normal behaviour, then we should really become concerned,” he said. 

Chiu said he was attacked online as anti-Chinese after introducing a private member’s bill that would require agents of foreign governments to register and report on their activities. He lost the B.C. riding of Steveston-Richmond East to Liberal Parm Bains by almost 3,000 votes.

“I just felt, first of all, very sad. I feel ridiculous. I feel sad because some of my fellow Canadians of Chinese descent, why would they even believe in this information?” he said.

Former Conservative MP Kenny Chiu says he felt targeted by misinformation during the last election campaign. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

Earlier this year, Alliance Canada Hong Kong — an umbrella group for Hong Kong pro-democracy activists in this country — released a report alleging the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) runs a sophisticated network that inserts Beijing-friendly narratives into various media outlets.

The report says China has been exploiting a lack of oversight in short-staffed newsrooms to push the party line abroad.

It says China sometimes pushes those narratives in the open — through sponsored posts or advertorial inserts written by Chinese party-state media — while groups closely tied to Chinese authorities buy digital or print ads parroting party rhetoric.

“It’s meant to portray that it’s indicative they’re the group that speaks on behalf of all Chinese folks, all the Canadian Chinese, which is just not true,” said Ai-Men Lau, an adviser with Alliance Canada Hong Kong.

China also uses its toehold in Canadian ethnic Chinese media to keep journalists in line, she said. 

“For years, reporters in ethnic media are often required to self-censor themselves or face uprisings. We’ve seen journalists being fired. If they take a certain line, they don’t get their columns posted anymore in ethnic media,” she said. 

Alliance Canada Hong Kong’s report says Beijing influences voices in mainstream media outlets as well.

“In the mainstream media, vocal supporters wooed through elite capture deliver Beijing’s messages in op-eds and media appearances, helping to sway popular perceptions,” says the report.

The CSIS briefing note said a number of countries (their names are blacked-out in the note) work to undermine Canada’s political processes at the federal, provincial and municipal levels, and within Indigenous governments.

‘Persistent targeting’ ongoing says CSIS

The heavily redacted document says that politicians and party riding associations are targeted by these foreign influence operations, along with members of Chinese-Canadian communities.

Earlier this year, CSIS reported that foreign states were looking to bribe or blackmail voters and politicians. That same report said some such operations also rely on flattery, money and even romantic entanglements to push their agenda.

Ai-Men Lau said she expects to see China’s harassment of dissidents abroad continue.

“You see out of Hong Kong, people are leaving and they’re leaving because of the national security law. It’s kind of like baggage — whether you want it or not, it follows you,” she said.

“So that’s something that I think Canadian officials or decision makers and policymakers and politicians need to think of when we talk about addressing these issues … It’s going to stay with us for a while.”

Townsend said CSIS is reaching out to communities under pressure.

“While I cannot speak in detail about the specifics of our assessments and investigations, I can say that CSIS has observed persistent targeting of specific communities here in Canada, both in person and through the use of online campaigns, by foreign state actors,” he said.

‘Sunlight’ policy needed: Vigneault

In his meeting with Trudeau, Vigneault said Canada has a role to play in calling out media influence tactics in public.

“Canada can make use of a policy that is grounded in transparency and sunlight in order to highlight the point that foreign interference should be exposed to the public and clandestine practices are not equivalent to public diplomacy,” the CSIS briefing documents said.

“Various state actors are currently using foreign interference activities with limited impunity to undermine Canada’s interests.”

Chiu said he wants to see a stronger approach from the federal government.

“The Chinese government controls WeChat, has a monopoly on many Canadians’ lives and their ears and their brains … we need to find a solution to that,” he said.

“We also need to monitor and make sure that our regulators … make sure that … broadcasters and the commentators are held responsible for this information they help spread, especially during the election or before the election.”

Ai-Men Lau also called for more oversight to make sure China isn’t manipulating media and threatening journalists.

CSIS said it recently increased its investigative efforts and triggered threat reduction measures — a term referring to its broad legal powers to reduce threats to the security of Canada.

The main restriction on CSIS’s threat reduction powers is that the service can’t intentionally — or by criminal negligence — cause death or bodily harm, violate sexual integrity or willfully obstruct justice.

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Twitter blocks Mexican billionaire, citing abusive behavior

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Twitter said on Wednesday it has blocked the account of Mexican billionaire Ricardo Salinas Pliego due to abusive behavior.

The social media company did not detail why Salinas had been blocked, but said on its help center that an account “may not engage in harassing situations directed at one person or incite others to do so.

“We consider abusive behavior any attempt to harass, intimidate, or silence another person’s voice,” it added.

Last week, Salinas, the owner of Banco Azteca SA bank engaged in a dispute with Mexican journalist Denise Dresser, making comments on Twitter about her appearance that the social media company said had violated its rules.

A spokesman for Salinas declined to comment.

Salinas said on his Telegram account that he would use his Telegram, Facebook, Instagram and TikTok accounts until he resolves the “issue” with Twitter.

The billionaire and his family rank 153 in the Forbes billionaires list, with an estimated net worth of $13.5 billion. Earlier this month, he said he was considering the purchase of Citigroup consumer banking business in Mexico, known as Citibanamex.

(This story corrects paragraph 7 to show that the Forbes billionaire ranking and wealth are for Salinas and his family, not just for Salinas).

 

(Reporting by Carolina Pulice; Editing by Sandra Maler)

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SETI Institute in the News – Media Roundup. December 2021 – SETI Institute

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LaserSETI Expands Its View

The ability to search for laser signals from other civilizations, rather than “traditional” radio signals, has increased significantly with new installations of LaserSETI in Hawai’i.

Each device is equipped with two identical cameras, rotated 90 degrees to one another along the viewing axis. A splitter divides the incoming light into spectra, which the camera records at a rapid rate. The wide-angle commercial lenses used in the LaserSETI devices are capable of imaging around 75 degrees, so only a few are needed to scan the entire night sky. Eliot Gillum, principal investigator for LaserSETI, said it’s “a big step forward in searching for technosignatures,” and that it’s the “first project in either optical or radio astronomy designed to cover the entire sky.”

MarsAnalogs, Lava, Mud, and Salt: Exploring Mars on Earth

In preparation for more missions to the Red Planet, including possible human explorers, scientists use locations on Earth to simulate conditions that may be found on Mars.  Other researchers, including Janice Bishop, examine and recreate the chemistry of Martian soil in the lab.

Dr. [Pascal] Lee runs the Haughton-Mars Project, an analog research facility on Devon Island, an uninhabited, barren Arctic outpost in Nunavut, Canada. “There’s an incredibly wide array of features that are similar to what we see on the moon and on Mars,” he said.

 

DunesDunes Across Many Worlds

Earth isn’t the only place in the Solar System with dunes – planets, moons, and even comets all have shown fields of wind- and/or water-sculpted landscapes. Studies of these features not only expands our understanding of these far-flung worlds, but also of our own planet, as described in this article, co-authored by Lori Fenton.

On Mars, more than 4,000 dune fields displaying a wide variety of dune forms have been mapped. Dunes have been imaged in two fields on Venus. The Rosetta spacecraft observed dunelike features on the nucleus of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko where a tenuous and transient atmosphere—formed by vaporization of ice as the comet passes close to the Sun—may mobilize surface particles. Meanwhile, Titan, Saturn’s largest satellite, has moon-circling longitudinal dunes near its equator; Triton, Neptune’s largest moon, and Io, Jupiter’s volcanically active moon, both have surface features indicating windblown sediment transport in transient atmospheres; and Pluto features dunelike forms on the frozen-nitrogen surface of Sputnik Planitia.

 

James Webb Space TelescopeJames Webb Space Telescope Holds Possibilities for SETI

New astronomical instruments bring unexpected discoveries and answers to old questions, as well as creating new questions to be answered.  Could JWST help answer one of humanity’s oldest questions?

We can’t even begin to imagine how much more we are going to learn,” Bill Diamond, president and CEO of the SETI Institute, told the Washington Examiner in 2018. The “odds of finding extraterrestrial life only get better” with the wider range of technology at scientists’ disposal,” including the James Webb telescope, he added.

BolideBolide Detection Gets a Boost from AI

Bolides – fireballs from exploding meteors – are difficult to study.  With the aid of lightning-spotting satellites and artificial intelligence, scientists now have more data to examine.

When a blazing bright light floods the sky in the Western Hemisphere, data travel from the two lightning mappers on the GOES satellites to NOAA, where they are processed to capture lightning events. Data then branch off and travel to supercomputers at the NASA Ames Research Center to spy the bolide flashes that scientists like [Jeffrey] Smith have trained them to recognize.

CAMSStudent Involvement with SpaceML Extends the Reach of CAMS

Meteor surveillance with the CAMS system of cameras covers much of the world, but is lacking in Asia.  One student in India describes his participation the SpaceML community and working with CAMS.

In the new world order created by the pandemic, SpaceML and my experience with CAMS showcases a model of how people from different parts of the world with different skill sets, can collaborate successfully. It is evidence that geopolitical borders are no boundaries to impactful work.

keplerExoplanets – The Numbers (and Bizarre Types) Are Growing

ExoMiner, a new algorithm, has scanned the Kepler data archive to confirm over 300 new exoplanets.  Meanwhile, scientists describe some of the strangest exoplanets yet found.

Kepler-16b is an extrasolar planet that was detected in the Kepler-16 system during NASA’s Kepler mission led by Laurence Doyle of the SETI Institute back in 2011. The mission’s research team used the data from the Kepler space telescope to search for transiting planets, and noticed “the brightness of this particular system dipped even when the stars were not eclipsing one another, hinting at a third body.”

AAATeachers Explore the Stratosphere on SOFIA

The Airborne Astronomy Ambassadors program brings science educators and scientists together on NASA missions aboard SOFIA, the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy. The 2021 ambassadors are back on Earth, eager to share their experiences with their students.

Ultimately, the flight invigorated the teachers to continue to educate the minds of their students and hopefully spark an interest in science among them. 
“More than just content, like being able to think critically and examine graphs, being able to work together and communicate, just like the all those people on the plane,” Heflin said. “Being able to work in groups is such a big skill.” 

 

An unusually large asteroid zipped past Earth in early December.  Spoiler alert: it didn’t hit the planet.

In a hint of festive hope, astronomer Dr. Franck Marchis said the rock, known as Nereus, “is not a threat” at this time.
But he added: “Its orbit could be deviated by various things, such as an encounter with another asteroid or a planet like Venus. Any deviation could be a problem. It is as if you have an evil neighbor: you want to know where they are and what they are doing”.

 

Dixie Fire as viewed from the Hatcreek Radio ObservatoryCalifornia Wildfires Again Threatened SETI Antennas

The SETI Institute’s Allen Telescope Array (ATA) was in the path of deadly wildfires for a second time.  While personnel were evacuated as a precaution for the Dixie Fire, the array was unharmed – this time.

It would be an ironic (and very human) twist if the thing that held back the search for life in the cosmos was the terrible effects of climate change on a more telluric scale.

 

The keystone of SETI research turned 60 in 2021. Nadia Drake discusses the Equation with her father, Frank.

Scores of scientists are still guided by the equation today, and the latest discoveries about other planets both within and beyond our solar system are helping researchers to fill in the variables. It’s a remarkable legacy considering he only wrote the thing down in 1961 when he was strapped for time and needed to organise a meeting.

 

Big Picture Science

Join hosts Seth Shostak and Molly Bentley each week as they explore emerging science and technology research.

Skeptic Check: Identifying UAPs
The Pentagon’s report on UAPs (Unidentified Aerial Phenomena) said nothing about the possibility that some might be alien spacecraft. Nonetheless, the report has generated heightened interest in figuring out what these UAPs are, and that interest extends to some scientists. We talk to two researchers who want an open and strictly scientific investigation of these phenomena. What should they do and what do they expect to find? And finally, will the possibility of alien visitors ever be resolved?
 
With guests Jacob Haqq-Misra, Ravi Kopparapu

Hubble and Beyond
The universe is not just expanding; it’s accelerating. Supermassive black holes are hunkered down at the center of our galaxy and just about every other galaxy, too. We talk about these and other big discoveries of the Hubble Space Telescope, now in orbit for 30 years.

But two new next-generation telescopes will soon be joining Hubble: the Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope and the James Webb Space Telescope. Hear what cosmic puzzles they’ll address. Plus, life in a clean room while wearing a coverall “bunny suit”; what it takes to assemble a telescope.
 
With guests Meg Urry, John Grunsfeld, Kenneth Harris

Attack of the Mutants
The omicron variant is surging. More contagious than delta, omicron demonstrates how viruses use mutations to quickly adapt.

Mutations drive evolution, although most don’t do much. But occasionally a mutation improves an organism. Omicron, the latest in a string of variants, is bad for us, but good for the virus.

How mutation of viruses ensures their own survival while threatening ours, and the prospect of a universal vaccine that would protect us against all a viruses’ variants.  

With guests Robert Garry, Kevin Saunders

Mycology Education
Beneath our feet is a living network just as complex and extensive as the root systems in a forest. Fungi, which evolved in the oceans, were among the first to colonize the barren continents more than a half-billion years ago. They paved the way for land plants, animals, and (eventually) you. 

Think beyond penicillin and pizza, and take a moment to consider these amazing organisms. Able to survive every major extinction, essential as Nature’s decomposers, and the basis of both ale and antibiotics, fungi are essential to life. And their behavior is so complex you’ll be wondering if we shouldn’t call them intelligent!

With guest Merlin Sheldrake

More Big Picture Science episodes can be found at http://bigpicturescience.org/episodes.

SETI Live

SETI Institute hosts interview cutting-edge scientists each week on social media. Recent SETI Live episodes include:

Discovering Exoplanets in Another Galaxy
For the first time, scientists may have discovered evidence of a planet in another galaxy. Using NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory, the possible exoplanet candidate is located in the spiral galaxy Messier 52 (M51), about 28 million light-years away from Earth. Join Franck Marchis in conversation with Rosanne Di Stefano, lead author on the study that found this exciting new planet candidate to learn how they did it and what’s next.

DART: Mission to Move a (Didy)moon
Planetary defense is one of the core concerns of scientists. Our planet is constantly being bombarded by rocks, and so far, none of those rocks have been a serious threat to humanity. However, that could change, and researchers looking to prevent a catastrophe have designed a new mission to test our ability to shift an asteroid in its orbit. The Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) mission is NASA’s demonstration of kinetic impactor technology, impacting an asteroid to adjust its speed and path. On November 24, 2021, the DART mission was launched and is expected to arrive at its target, asteroid Didymos’ moon Dimorphos (aka Didymoon), in 2022. Joining us to discuss DART’s objectives and science goals are three SETI Institute scientists working on the mission: Michael Busch, Matija Ćuk, and Gal Sarid. Beth Johnson will lead the discussion.

Mars Underground: Preparing Mars for Human Exploration?
The next era of Mars exploration has begun, with current and future missions highlighting the importance of subsurface science for sample return, astrobiology and human exploration. SETI Institute senior planetary astronomer Franck Marchis invited microbiologist Rachel Harris from Harvard University to discuss a session she organized at the AGU Meeting in New Orleans on the study of the interior of Mars with a focus on finding resources or sign of life on the red planet. Since this discussion was recorded from the #AGU21 meeting, we will take questions in the comments below.

SETI: Looking Back, Looking Forward
We’ve almost reached the end of 2021, and it was… a year. While everyone dealt with the pandemic and an uncertain future, we continued our outreach efforts to keep bringing science directly to the public. To close out an amazing calendar of SETI Live events, we are excited to speak with Dr. Nathalie Cabrol, Director of the Carl Sagan Center for Research, and Dr. Seth Shostak, Senior Astronomer, about the advances and progress made on our search for life beyond Earth this past year. They’ll also share their thoughts on what we can look forward to in the upcoming year, both with regards to SETI and space science. Beth Johnson will moderate.

Coming Spon: The Missions and Sights of 2022
Despite 2022 starting as an extension of 2020 and 2021, there are still new missions to be launched, more science to be done, and all the usual sights in the sky to look up at. Join Franck Marchis and Simon Steel as they give you the run down on what’s coming up in space science this year.

Videos of all past Facebook Live events can be found on our Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/SETIInstitute/, or on our YouTube channel, https://www.youtube.com/SETIInstitute.

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Amazon reveals ‘Lord of the Rings’ subtitle that hints at storyline

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The long-awaited, expensive Middle-earth fantasy series from Amazon.com Inc has a name: “The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power.”

Amazon’s Prime Video revealed the full name of the fantasy series on Wednesday ahead of its planned streaming debut of Sept. 2.

The show’s storyline takes place thousands of years before the events in writer J.R.R. Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings” books, which are set in the fictional land of Middle-earth and were brought to life in blockbuster movies.

The subtitle foreshadows a story “that welds the major events of Tolkien’s Second Age together: the forging of the iconic rings,” Amazon said in a statement.

Creators J.D. Payne and Patrick McKay said the series “unites all the major stories of Middle-earth’s Second Age: the forging of the rings, the rise of the Dark Lord Sauron, the epic tale of Numenor, and the Last Alliance of Elves and Men.”

“Until now, audiences have only seen on screen the story of the One Ring,” they added. “But before there was one, there were many … and we’re excited to share the epic story of them all.”

Amazon spent about $465 million filming the first season of the show, according to government officials in New Zealand, where the series was filmed. The company is expecting to make five seasons of the show, making it one of the most expensive TV series ever.

The first season will be available in more than 240 nations in multiple languages, Amazon said. New episodes will be released weekly.

 

(Reporting by Lisa Richwine; Editing by Leslie Adler)

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