Democrats seek suspension of Jared Kushner s security clearance, pending Russia


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Democrats seek suspension of Jared Kushner’s security clearance, pending Russia probe

WATCH Jared Kushner meets with Netanyahu on first day of Middle East trip

House Democrats are raising concerns about the security clearance held by President Trump ’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner. saying suspicions about his contacts with Russian officials should be enough to suspend his access to sensitive information.

“When there are credible allegations that employees may be unfit to continue accessing classified information, security clearances are supposed to be suspended while the allegations are investigated,” wrote Rep. Elijah Cummings. the ranking Democrat on the House Oversight Committee, in a letter to White House chief of staff Reince Priebus. “Mr. Kushner reportedly failed to disclose contacts with dozens of foreign officials on his security clearance application.”

Aides to Kushner did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the letter from Cummings and the other Democrats on the Oversight Committee, which was accompanied by a demand for Kushner’s security clearance application and for “all documents and communications referring or relating to Mr. Kushner’s contacts or communications with Russian government officials or business representatives.” Cummings’ letter is the latest in a drumbeat of efforts by Democrats in Congress. More than 40 members wrote with similar concerns in May.

A White House spokesperson declined to comment.

As a senior adviser to Trump and as someone tasked with helping orchestrate Middle East peace talks, Kushner likely has access to highly sensitive intelligence. According to the letter, his top-secret clearance is temporary, pending a routine screening by the FBI.

The FBI has not identified Kushner as a target of its investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election, recently taken over by special counsel Robert Mueller. Sources familiar with a parallel probe by the Senate Intelligence Committee, however, have confirmed to ABC News that Kushner’s previously undisclosed meetings with Russian officials have drawn the attention of its investigators. Senate investigators have requested documents from Kushner and are negotiating with him to arrange an interview. Through his attorney, Kushner has indicated his desire to cooperate with that probe.

The challenge to Kushner’s security clearance comes as the White House is facing questions about its decision to continue to allow retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn to access to the nation’s most carefully guarded secrets when he served as Trump’s national security adviser, even after Department of Justice officials warned that Flynn may have been susceptible to blackmail by Russian diplomats. The New York Times reported Wednesday that, for three weeks before he was fired, Flynn sat in on the most sensitive intelligence briefings in the White House.

He has denied anything improper occurred during his contacts with the Russian ambassador to the U.S. and sources close to Flynn have told ABC News they consider it ludicrous that anyone could have concluded he was vulnerable to blackmail.

Cummings, however, takes issue with the administration’s decision to continue allowing Flynn access to sensitive information after Justice Department lawyers notified the White House of their concerns.

“Concerns about Gen. Flynn’s false statements — as well as his concealment of communications with the Russian ambassador — raised obvious security concerns that should have resulted in an immediate suspension of his clearance while an investigation of the allegations proceeded,” Cummings wrote.

Kushner’s lawyer Jamie Gorelick. a deputy attorney general under Bill Clinton, said that on Jan. 18, Kushner filed an extensive security questionnaire known as the SF86, with an offer the next day to the FBI to provide omitted details of his Russian contacts during his background check interview by agents in person, The New York Times reported.

The SF86 requires applicants for security clearances to disclose — under criminal penalty for significant omissions — minute details of their life, including specific dates and purposes of foreign travel and any “close and/or continuing contact” with foreign nationals or receipt of foreign payments in the previous seven years.

The fact that Kushner received an interim security clearance despite failing to disclose all his contacts with the Russian ambassador and a Kremlin-owned bank is very unusual, according to one legal expert.

“It’s highly out of the ordinary for how it’s supposed to be done,” said Bradley Moss, a national security lawyer who handles cases involving intelligence community workers’ clearance problems.

Investigators conducting government background checks for those applying for top-secret clearances understand that people make mistakes on their SF86 disclosures and sometimes have to submit supplemental information, but Moss said he has never heard of an interim clearance being given to anyone who failed to disclose contacts with a foreign government.

“If Kushner’s clearance is still being adjudicated and there is this red flag of his failure to properly report numerous contacts with foreign government officials on his SF86, that would be major matter of concern, in terms of him being in charge of this mission to the Middle East,” Moss said.

Cummings and other House Democrats have no power to force the administration to rescind Kushner’s clearance. Trump has final word on who gets a security clearance when it comes to his staff, as the chief executive, by law, is the ultimate authority.


30/09/2017

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EXCLUSIVE: Trump team compiles infrastructure priority list #donald #trump, #infrastructure, #airports,


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EXCLUSIVE: Trump team compiles infrastructure priority list

Senate Democrats present a $1 trillion infrastructure bill for the nation’s roads, airports, bridges and seaports, which they say would create 15 million jobs over 10 years. Sens. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Bernie Sanders (I-VT) called on President Trump to follow through on his campaign promise to invest in infrastructure and back their proposal.

The projects on the more detailed document are nearly identical to the ones on the spreadsheet circulated by the National Governors Association among state officials in December, seeking further suggestions.

All but two projects on both lists are the same, and they are listed in the same order. The preliminary list circulated by the governor’s association includes the Alaska Pipeline LNG Project instead of the Texas Central Railway and it lists the Fort Mojave Solar Project instead of the Howard Street Tunnel.

Some projects that governors suggested — in California and Washington state in particular — do not yet appear on either list.

The governors’ association has received 43 responses from states and territories so far, Waskey said.

“The total number of projects is more than 300,” Waskey said. “We are working to convene information for as many states as possible that we will then forward to the administration.”

Related stories from McClatchy DC

Some states, such as Missouri, have more than one project listed, while others appear to have come up empty. Neither document lists any projects in Kansas, for example.

White House spokeswoman Lindsay Walters said on Wednesday that the more detailed document is “not an official White House document.” While a spokesman for the Trump transition said the Excel file was “not a Transition document,” the National Governor’s Association confirmed to McClatchy again on Wednesday that the group got the spreadsheet as an Excel file from that team.

“The Excel file came to NGA from the transition team,” said Elena Waskey, a spokeswoman for the group. “If they’re saying it’s not a transition team document, I don’t really have an answer for you.”

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During her confirmation hearing, Elaine Chao told the Senate committee, “The US Department of Transportation has a rare opportunity to shape the transformation of our critical infrastructure.” She then went on to stress the need to modernize and enter beneficial partnerships, with the primary objective being safety.

The National Governors Association asked governors’ offices last month for input on a preliminary list of infrastructure projects compiled by the Trump team, said Jaime Smith, a spokeswoman for Washington’s Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee.

“They seek examples of priority infrastructure projects that might be incorporated into a future infrastructure investment program,” said the letter from the governors’ association, dated Dec. 16. “Specifically, the transition team is looking for 3 to 5 project suggestions from each state that they would vet for inclusion in a new program.”

The letter said the vetting would be done by a bipartisan infrastructure commission overseeing investments.

“The initial spend on these projects for 2017 is expected to be $150 billion, and the transition team hopes that this type of project will be continued over the next 2 years,” according to the letter.

The letter also noted that any contributions governors made would not be binding, and that this was “just an initial information-gathering request.”

Once the Trump administration officially took office, the letter said, “there will be a more formal process for states to submit information. Projects will be chosen through a more formal process as well.”

The letter included a list of projects already being vetted, with the request that governors use it as a model for submissions.

California Gov. Jerry Brown’s office sent nine examples of big shovel-ready projects in California, including the Sacramento River Bank Protection Project and Bay Area Commuter and Freight Projects.

The projects have to meet specific criteria:

▪ A national security or public safety “emergency.”

▪ “Shovel-ready,” with at least 30 percent of initial design and engineering work complete.

▪ Direct job creator.

▪ Project with the potential for increased U.S. manufacturing.

Both the preliminary list and the more detailed document obtained by the Star include a new terminal for Kansas City International Airport. The detailed document says the project would cost $972 million and generate 1,000 jobs.

Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens declined to comment.

The Kansas City airport is one of three airport projects on the spreadsheet circulated by the governor’s association. The others are expansions of the Lambert-St. Louis International Airport and the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.

“The business case for a new terminal was bolstered after Southwest and the other airlines told the City Council on April 26 that they would finance the nearly $1 billion new terminal, to be built where Terminal A is now,” reads the more detailed document’s description for KCI, which lifts word-for-word a passage in a June 24 article in The Star .

In North Carolina, the I-95 project would provide urgent improvements to one of the oldest sections of the busiest interstate in the nation, according to the document. The cost is listed at $1.5 billion, and the project would produce an estimated 5,400 jobs, the document says.

The 250-mile high-speed railway in Texas would enable commuters to travel between Houston and Dallas/Fort Worth in less than 90 minutes, according to the document. It is a $12 billion proposal that would create 40,000 direct jobs, the document says.

An $18 billion high-speed rail system, built by a Japanese company, could transform transportation in the Lone Star State.

Video by Patrick Gleason, Sohail Al-Jamea and Gordon Dickson Star-Telegram.com

Other proposals include I-395 reconstruction in Florida and a Cadiz Valley Water Conservation, Recovery and Storage Project designed to conserve billions of gallons of renewable groundwater in California’s Mojave Desert.

Senate Democrats on Tuesday proposed their own $1 trillion plan to fund infrastructure projects over a 10-year period. Democrats say their proposal would create more than 15 million jobs.

Horsley and Vockrodt of The Kansas City Star reported from Kansas City, Missouri. Orenstein of The News Tribune reported from Tacoma, Washington. Wise and Anita Kumar of McClatchy’s Washington Bureau contributed from Washington.

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21/09/2017

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Data Firm Says ‘Secret Sauce’ Aided Trump; Many Scoff – The


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Data Firm Says ‘Secret Sauce’ Aided Trump; Many Scoff

Alexander Nix, chief executive of Cambridge Analytica, at the Concordia Summit for public-private business partnerships in New York in September. The firm claimed to have developed psychographic profiles that could predict the political leanings of every American adult. Credit Bryan Bedder/Getty Images

Standing before political and business leaders in New York last fall, Alexander Nix promised a revolution.

Many companies compete in the market for political microtargeting, using huge data sets and sophisticated software to identify and persuade voters. But Mr. Nix’s little-known firm, Cambridge Analytica, claimed to have developed something unique: “psychographic” profiles that could predict the personality and hidden political leanings of every American adult.

“Of the two candidates left in the election, one of them is using these technologies,” Mr. Nix said, referring to Donald J. Trump .

Capitalizing on its work for the man who is now president, Cambridge has pitched potential clients in the United States ranging from MasterCard and the New York Yankees to the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Ahead of this year’s elections in Europe, Mr. Nix is promoting the four-year-old United States-based company abroad, too.

Cambridge Analytica’s rise has rattled some of President Trump’s critics and privacy advocates, who warn of a blizzard of high-tech, Facebook-optimized propaganda aimed at the American public, controlled by the people behind the alt-right hub Breitbart News. Cambridge is principally owned by the billionaire Robert Mercer, a Trump backer and investor in Breitbart. Stephen K. Bannon, the former Breitbart chairman who is Mr. Trump’s senior White House counselor, served until last summer as vice president of Cambridge’s board.

But a dozen Republican consultants and former Trump campaign aides, along with current and former Cambridge employees, say the company’s ability to exploit personality profiles — “our secret sauce,” Mr. Nix once called it — is exaggerated.

Cambridge executives now concede that the company never used psychographics in the Trump campaign. The technology — prominently featured in the firm’s sales materials and in media reports that cast Cambridge as a master of the dark campaign arts — remains unproved, according to former employees and Republicans familiar with the firm’s work.

“They’ve got a lot of really smart people,” said Brent Seaborn, managing partner of TargetPoint, a rival business that also provided voter data to the Trump campaign. “But it’s not as easy as it looks to transition from being excellent at one thing and bringing it into politics. I think there’s a big question about whether we think psychographic profiling even works.”

At stake are not merely bragging rights, but also an emerging science that many believe could reshape American politics and commerce. Big data companies already know your age, income, favorite cereal and when you last voted. But the company that can perfect psychological targeting could offer far more potent tools: the ability to manipulate behavior by understanding how someone thinks and what he or she fears.

A voter deemed neurotic might be shown a gun-rights commercial featuring burglars breaking into a home, rather than a defense of the Second Amendment; political ads warning of the dangers posed by the Islamic State could be targeted directly at voters prone to anxiety, rather than wasted on those identified as optimistic.

“You can do things that you would not have dreamt of before,” said Alexander Polonsky, chief data scientist at Bloom, a consulting firm that offers “emotion analysis” of social networks and has worked with the center-right Republican Party in France.

“It goes beyond sharing information,” he added. “It’s sharing the thinking and the feeling behind this information, and that’s extremely powerful.”

Both conservatives and liberals are eager to harness that power. In Washington, some Democratic operatives are scrambling to develop personality-profiling capabilities of their own. But even as Cambridge seeks to expand its business among conservative groups, questions about its performance have soured many Republicans in Mr. Trump’s orbit.

Cambridge is no longer in contention to work for Mr. Trump at the Republican National Committee. a company spokesman confirmed, nor is it working for America First Policies, a new nonprofit formed to help advance the president’s agenda.

In recent months, the value of Cambridge’s technology has been debated by technology experts and in some media accounts. But Cambridge officials, in recent interviews, defended the company’s record during the 2016 election, saying its data analysis helped Mr. Trump energize critical support in the Rust Belt. Mr. Nix said the firm had conducted tens of thousands of polls for Mr. Trump, helping guide his message and identify issues that mattered to voters.

But when asked to name a single race where the firm’s flagship product had been critical to victory, Mr. Nix declined.

“We bake a cake, it’s got 10 ingredients in it. Psychographics is one of them,” he said. “It’s very difficult to isolate exactly what the impact of that ingredient is.”

Stephen K. Bannon, President Trump’s senior White House counselor, has served as a Cambridge corporate officer. Credit Damon Winter/The New York Times

Drawn to America

Cambridge’s parent company, the London-based Strategic Communication Laboratories Group, has a long record of trying to understand and influence behavior. Founded in 1993 by a former British adman, the firm has worked for companies and candidates around the world, as well as for government and military clients. SCL has studied Pakistani jihadists for the British government and provided intelligence assessments for American defense contractors in Iran, Libya and Syria, according to company documents obtained by The New York Times.

“Their approach was seen as serious and focused,” said Mark Laity, chief of strategic communications at NATO’s military headquarters in Europe, who has taken part in NATO-affiliated conferences where SCL has made presentations.

In recent years, the company has moved to exploit the revolution in big data to predict human behavior more precisely, working with scientists from the Cambridge University Psychometrics Center. The United States represented a critical new market. Europe has strict privacy protections that limit the use of personal information, but America is more lightly regulated, allowing the sale of huge troves of consumer data to any company or candidate who can afford them.

In 2013, Cambridge Analytica was created as SCL’s American operation, and the two companies today share many of their roughly 200 employees, several top executives, and offices in New York and Washington.

To develop its profiling system, Cambridge conducts detailed psychological surveys — by phone and online — of tens of thousands of people, differentiating them by five traits, a model widely used by behavioral researchers.

Uniquely, the company claims to be able to extrapolate those findings to millions of other people it has not surveyed, assigning them one of 32 distinct personality types. Cambridge then blends those profiles with commercial data and voting histories, revealing “hidden voter trends and behavioral triggers,” according to a 2016 company brochure.

Those profiles, in turn, would allow campaigns to customize advertising, direct-mail slogans and door-knocking scripts, each calibrated to prod the targeted voter toward — or away from — a candidate.

The promise of psychometrics appealed to Mr. Mercer, a computer scientist who made a fortune helping to lead Renaissance Technologies, a Long Island-based hedge fund. Mr. Mercer and his daughter Rebekah presided over a growing political empire that included millions of dollars in contributions to conservative groups and a stake in Breitbart, whose nationalist and racially antagonistic content prefigured Mr. Trump’s presidential campaign.

The billionaire Robert Mercer, a Trump supporter, is the principal owner of Cambridge Analytica. Credit Andrew Toth/Getty Images

Mr. Mercer became Cambridge’s principal investor, according to two former employees. (Like several others interviewed for this article, they spoke on the condition of anonymity, citing nondisclosure agreements and the threat of lawsuits.) Mr. Bannon, the family’s political guru, also advised the company and served as vice president of its board, according to Delaware public records.

Mr. Mercer has never spoken publicly about his policy views in depth, but his giving is eclectic: He has financed anti-Clinton documentaries, right-wing media watchdogs, libertarian think tanks and both Senator Ted Cruz, a religious conservative, and Mr. Trump, a thrice-married nationalist.

“The genius here is Bob, and the billionaire in this is Bob, and the person with the extreme views of how the world should be is Bob,” said David Magerman, a Renaissance research scientist who was recently suspended after criticizing his boss’s support for Mr. Trump.

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25/07/2017

Posted In: NEWS

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