Author: Depoworld

How Schools Are Going Solar

The cost for individual homes in the U.S. to “go solar” has dropped by more than 60 percent over the last decade.

Those low costs helped convince more than a million Americans to install solar panels on their roofs.

Now schools are beginning to get in on the benefits. One of them is the school system in Fremont, Indiana.

The residents of this small town in America’s upper Midwest have always relied on the sun to warm their fields and draw tourists to their lakes. Now school superintendent William Stitt said they’re counting on it to power their schools.

“The technology has advanced so much in the last couple of years that it’s become more energy efficient, more cost effective for schools to get solar energy,” Stitt said.

Start-up cost

Construction of the solar project will cost $3 million. But when finished, it will completely power the elementary, middle and high school buildings. It may generate so much electricity, that the school will be able to sell some back to the power company at a profit.

The system will work through several rows of 3,000-4,000 panels each. They will be located in a special 2.5 hectare solar field behind the middle school.

The district has to lease the equipment from the local power company for 20 years, at a fixed rate.

But Kim Quick, facility director, said that even with that added cost, the schools should save money because the panels should last 40 years.

“[It] is going to cost us approximately the same amount we’re paying for utilities today. So that cost is never going to increase for the next 20 years,” Quick said. “So if the power company comes in next year and says, ‘We want to increase utilities 6 percent,’ we’re going to pay the same we’re paying today 20 years from now.”

Free electricity, eventually

In 20 years, the school district will own the equipment outright, meaning it won’t pay anything for electricity.

Since the panels are always “on,” Quick said the district will save additional money by banking the unused electricity that’s generated when school is not in session.

“These work year-round. Even in a full moon they will produce electricity,” he said.

Just 3 percent of the nation’s 125,000 schools use some form of solar energy. While not all can use solar power cost-effectively, a recent report by the Solar Foundation found that 72,000 US schools could save money with solar.

Schools could install panels on their roofs or elevate a field of panels over a parking lot. Those innovations would save most schools an average of $1 million over 30 years.

Educational component

Going solar also offers schools an educational component. It provides teachers opportunities to incorporate lessons in science, technology, engineering, and math into the curriculum.

All three schools in the Fremont system will have a live display module that kids can visit daily to learn how much energy is being used and saved.

If all goes according to plan, Fremont School District’s new solar field will be up and running by mid-summer. Superintendent Stitt is already looking further ahead.

“I’d love the community and the kids in 40 years to go, ‘Man, they made a great decision 40 years ago by creating this solar project!’ ” he said.

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Google Adds ‘Shortcuts’ to Information, Tools on Smartphones

Google wants to make it easier for you to find answers and recommendations on smartphones without having to think about what to ask its search engine.

Its new feature, called “shortcuts,” will appear as a row of icons below the Google search box. Where now you’d have to ponder and then speak or type a request, the shortcuts will let you tap the icons to get the latest weather, movie times, sports scores, restaurant recommendations and other common requests.

The shortcuts will begin appearing Tuesday in updates to Google’s app for iPhones, Android phones and its mobile website. The Android app will also include various tools such as a currency converter, a language translator and an ATM locator, which you can also summon with a tap. Those tools may eventually make it to the iPhone as well, although Google says it doesn’t know when.

These shortcuts are the latest step in Google’s quest to turn its search engine into a secondary brain that anticipates people’s needs and desires. The search engine gleans these insights by analyzing your past requests and, when you allow it, tracking your location, a practice that periodically raises privacy concerns about Google’s power to create digital profiles of its users.

Based on the knowledge that Google already has accumulated, its shortcuts feature may already list your favorite sports teams or recommend nearby restaurants serving cuisines you prefer.

Adapting to audience

Shortcuts also show how Google’s search engine has been adapting to its audience, now that smartphones have become the primary way millions of people stay connected to the internet.

Since more than half of requests for Google’s search engine now come from smartphones, the Mountain View, California, company has adapted its services to smaller screens, touch keyboards and apps instead of websites.

Early in that process, Google tweaked its search engine to answer many requests with factual summaries at the top of its results page, a change from simply displaying a list of links to other websites. Voice-recognition technology also allows you to speak your request into a phone instead of typing it.

The transition is going well so far. Google’s revenue rose 20 percent last year to $89 billion, propelled by digital ads served up on its search engine, YouTube and Gmail. Although shortcuts won’t initially show ads after you tap them, Google typically sells marketing space if a feature or service becomes popular.

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Drone-catchers Emerge on a New Aerial Frontier

The enemy drone whined in the distance. The Interceptor, a drone-hunting machine from Silicon Valley startup Airspace Systems, slinked off its launch pad and dashed away in hot pursuit.

The hunter twisted through the air to avoid trees, homed in on its target, fired a Kevlar net to capture it, and then carried the rogue drone back to its base like a bald eagle with a kill.

Airspace is among some 70 companies working on counter-drone systems as small consumer and commercial drones proliferate. But unlike others, it aims to catch drones instead of disabling them or shooting them down.

A demonstration at Airspace headquarters in San Leandro, California, showed a compact aircraft just a few feet wide, yet capable of sophisticated, autonomous navigation and accurate targeting of a drone in motion.

It is still early days in the drone-defense business.

Security professionals both public and private worry about dangerous drones at military sites, airports, data centers, and public venues like baseball stadiums. But counter-measures carry risk, too.

For example, the U.S. Air Force recently tested experimental shotgun shells for shooting down drones. But if the drone carries a payload like a bomb or chemical weapon, it could still fall on its target.

Jamming the radio signals to the drone does not always work, either. Drones differ from “remote-controlled” aircraft because they can fly to pre-set coordinates autonomously. The fastest drones can reach 150 miles per hour (240 km), too quick for human pilots flying another drone to catch.

The technical challenge of safely stopping a dangerous drone appealed to Guy Bar-Nahum, one of the inventors of the Apple iPod and the engineering brains behind Airspace Systems.

“We are creating a very primitive brain of an insect, a dragonfly,” Bar-Nahum said. “It wakes up, sees the world and doesn’t really know where it is. But it has goals to capture the other drone, and it’s planning a path in the world and knows how to move through the world.”

The Interceptor must pack computing power and sophisticated software into that tiny drone brain. Unlike the emerging driverless car, it has to understand its environment without the benefit of an internet connection to a massive mapping database.

“My background is in physics, and it’s all about modeling the world” with math, Bar-Nahum said. “What we do in this lowly startup that looks to be a normal, military ‘take ’em down’ kind of company is build machines that can model the world.”

The business model is challenging too. Currently, only law enforcement officials have the authority to interfere with another drone’s flight. Regulations also require a certified pilot to stand ready to intervene in any commercial drone flight and keep a line-of-sight view of the aircraft.

Thus, Airspace Systems will not be selling its aircraft, but rather leasing a system — complete with operators and a mobile command center — to customers.

The New York Mets have an interest in using the system to protect Citi Field in New York City, according to Sterling VC, the venture capital arm of Sterling Equities, which owns the stadium and also invested in Airspace.

Detection and destruction

The danger from hostile drones became more clear in the last few months when the U.S. military said Islamic State fighters were using them to attack Iraqi troops in the battle over Mosul.

The military news site Defense One reported IS was using an array of consumer-style drones, including an agile quadcopter version for dropping explosives.

At least 70 companies worldwide are working on various types of counter-drone systems, said Mike Blades, aerospace and defense analyst with Frost & Sullivan.

San Francisco-based Dedrone, for example, has raised $28 million in venture capital and is focused on detecting drone incursions. It now has about 200 customers, according to CEO and co-founder Joerg Lamprecht. Some are car companies looking to protect new designs from the automotive press and others are data center owners looking to keep drones from damaging critical rooftop cooling systems.

“Most of the market is going to be detection, something like a burglar alarm,” Lamprecht said.

DroneShield, an Australian company, also makes a detection system and has developed a prototype electronic jamming gun to ground a drone.

Airspace, backed by $5 million from Shasta Ventures and Sterling VC, hopes to bring its drone-capture system to market as early as this summer.

But Airspace’s approach has limitations. Chief among them: The Interceptor catches one drone at a time. To defend against multiple drones, Airspace must launch multiple machines.

“The swarm of drones is going to be the threat,” said Blades.

Beyond that, catching drones incurs expense and complication when simpler measures might do. Dedrone’s Lamprecht gives an example from a German customer that makes cars.

At its test track, the customer wanted to protect new car designs from drones’ prying eyes. When Dedrone detects an intrusion, the car’s driver hits a dashboard button to fire a fog bomb to obscure the car.

But James Bond-style diversions, or even forcing a drone down, may prove insufficient if a craft is hovering above a crowd with something dangerous, like an explosive or poison. In such a situation, capturing and carrying away the enemy drone may be the best option, even if it is complex and expensive.

For Airspace, perfecting a drone-hunting machine than can see — and chase — on its own is not as crazy as it may seem.

“This is an old ambition. You can read about it in Jules Verne or Aldous Huxley,” said Bar-Nahum. “That’s why autonomous movement is the next decade for me.”

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Venezuela’s Problems Could Doom US Heating Oil Charity

Amid continuing economic turmoil, Venezuela skipped heating oil contributions to a Massachusetts-based nonprofit for a second consecutive winter, signaling that the popular program that began with fanfare after Hurricane Katrina may be kaput.

The decision by Venezuela’s Citgo Petroleum Corp. to bow out of the program founded by Joseph P. Kennedy II, which has helped hundreds of thousands of U.S. residents, coincides with plummeting oil prices and corresponding economic problems in oil-rich Venezuela.

Hopes of a late contribution to the “Joe-4-Oil” program to help the poor heat their homes faded with spring’s arrival this week, Kennedy said.

“While this is not good news, it certainly isn’t surprising,” the businessman and former congressman told The Associated Press.

Citgo officials declined to comment.

The Citgo heating oil program was launched after Katrina damaged U.S. refining capacity in 2005, causing energy costs to spike as winter approached.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, the fiery leader who died in 2013, responded to an appeal from Kennedy to help out after criticizing then-Republican President George W. Bush for failing to do enough for the poor. Houston-based Citgo is a subsidiary of the Venezuelan national oil company.

Over the years, the program has provided $500 million in heating assistance to 2 million program participants in 25 states and the District of Columbia, supplementing federal energy assistance.

Rita Soucier, 80, said she and her husband received assistance many times over the years, helping the couple stay warm in their trailer in Howland, Maine.

This year, there was no help, said Soucier, whose husband, a retired paper mill worker, died last month. But she said she’s grateful for past help, typically 100 gallons of heating oil.

“It helps a lot when you’re not the richest people in the world,” said Soucier, who said her needs are few. “As long as I can get by, I don’t want any more or any less.”


Venezuela, which has the world’s largest proven oil reserves, has been hurt by declining prices. The unraveling economy, cuts to social programs and growing political divisions have rocked the once-stable country, leading to food shortages and a dramatic drop in currency value.

Citizens Energy continues to operate other programs. The nonprofit was created in 1979 to channel revenue from commercial enterprises to charitable programs.

But the heating oil program may fold. The “Joe-4-Oil” television advertisements did not run this year or last, and a message online said that applications for winter heating oil help were not being accepted.

The nonprofit isn’t giving up hope, however. The Citgo program was suspended in 2009, only to return a few months later.

Citizens Energy continues to operate solar, wind and transmission projects that provide assistance, including solar panels for low-income homes, energy grants for homeless shelters and natural gas subsidies for low-income households.

“The good news is Citizens Energy continues to grow and prosper and provide significant benefits to low-income people around our country as a result of businesses that provide the financial firepower to fulfill our mission,” Kennedy said.

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Apple Cuts Prices on Lower-End iPads, Releases Red iPhones

Apple is cutting prices on two iPad models and introducing red iPhones, but the company held back on updating its higher-end iPad Pro tablets.

A much-speculated 10.5-inch iPad Pro didn’t materialize, nor did new versions of existing sizes in the Pro lineup, which is aimed at businesses and creative professionals. The new devices are mostly refreshes of existing models. Apple unveiled them through press releases Tuesday rather than a staged event, as it typically does for bigger product releases.


The iPad updates come as the tablet market continues to decline, after a few years of rapid growth. According to IDC, tablet shipments fell 20 percent to 53 million worldwide in the final three months of 2016, compared with the same period in 2015.

The new lineup

The iPad Air 2 is replaced by a new model simply called the iPad. It retains a 9.7-inch screen, but gains a little weight and thickness. The display is brighter and the processor faster. Its price starts at $329 for 32 gigabytes of storage, down from $399. The standard-size iPad is now cheaper than the smaller Mini model.


The 7.9-inch iPad Mini 4 now comes with 128 gigabytes of storage starting at $399, rather than $499 before. Apple is eliminating the 32-gigabyte model, which used to sell for $399. Nothing else is changing.

Apple is also releasing a red edition of the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus; for each phone sold, Apple is donating an unspecified amount to HIV and AIDS programs. And Apple is doubling the storage on the smaller iPhone SE while keeping the $399 starting price.


The new iPad Mini 4 is available right away, while the standard-size iPad comes out next week, with orders to begin Friday. The new iPhone SE comes out Friday, while the red iPhones are expected by the end of the month, with advance orders beginning Friday.

The missing device

IDC analyst Jorge Vela had high hopes for a 10.5-inch iPad. He said such a size might have offered room for a better keyboard, compared with the 9.7-inch iPad Pro, and it wouldn’t have been as bulky as the 12.9-inch version.

And Apple typically sparks consumer interest when it has new sizes and designs, Vela said, as seen by a jump in sales following the introduction of larger iPhones in 2014 (iPhone sales have since dropped.) Vela said a 10.5-inch version might have been enough for existing iPad owners to upgrade.

A 10.5-inch version may still come this year, closer to the holiday shopping season, along with updates to existing Pro sizes.

Jackdaw Research analyst Jan Dawson said Tuesday’s announcement makes it “even clearer that there are two very distinct iPad tiers now — the iPad Pro and the basic iPads. The iPad Pros will likely continue to get all the best new features, while the basic iPad will get occasional updates and new features a little later than the Pros, lagging a generation or two behind.”

The processor in the new standard-size iPad, for instance, is akin to what’s in the iPhone 6S from 2015. The Mini’s processor is even older.

Down, but not out

In the last three months of 2016, iPhones generated 10 times the revenue as iPads. Unit sales of iPads fell 19 percent from the previous year. Yet Apple CEO Tim Cook has expressed optimism because many people were buying iPads for the first time, indicating that the market had yet to reach saturation, the point at which everyone who wants a particular product already has one.


Dawson agrees that the number of tablet owners is still growing, even if overall sales are declining because people aren’t upgrading often. He said the new $329 price for the 9.7-inch iPad should help spur sales. New 9.7-inch models have previously cost at least $499.

Far from holding a clearance sale, Vela said Apple is merely taking advantage of lower prices for older components. And Apple might be able to preserve higher profit margins by pushing people into a model with four times the storage, or 128 gigabytes; the extra storage costs Apple far less than the extra $100 that model sells for, Vela said.


Apple remains the market leader, accounting for about a quarter of all tablets shipped in the fourth quarter, according to IDC.

Samsung beat Apple to a tablet announcement by nearly a month, though Samsung’s Android-based Galaxy Tab S3 doesn’t actually start selling until this Friday, for $600.

Vela doesn’t consider it a serious threat to Apple. Even though the Tab S3 is more in line with iPad Pros in quality, Vela said people tend to buy Samsung tablets as media-consumption devices, something they can do with the cheaper iPads.

Samsung also has two Windows 10 tablets coming. Called the Galaxy Book, the Windows devices are more likely to challenge Microsoft’s Surface than iPads. Microsoft is due for a refresh of its Surface Pro tablet, last updated in October 2015.

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US Hotel Chains to Target Food Waste by Rethinking Menus

Some of the world’s largest hotel chains are taking part in an initiative aimed at cutting food waste, which includes re-thinking menus to prevent food from ending up in the trash, an environmental organization said Tuesday.

About a dozen hotels across the United States run by groups including Hilton, Hyatt and Marriott International will take part in a 12-week pilot program to cut food waste in hospitality, according to World Wildlife Fund (WWF).

“Imagine every hotel breakfast buffet or conference luncheon eliminating food waste,” Pete Pearson, WWF director of food waste, said in a statement.

About a third of food produced around the world is never eaten because it is spoiled after harvest and during transportation, or thrown away by shops and consumers.

Yet almost 800 million people worldwide go to bed hungry every night, according to United Nations figures.

In the United States, some 133 billion pounds (66 million tons) of food was wasted by consumers and the retail sector in 2010 at a loss of almost $162 billion, according to estimates by U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Pearson said some of the hotel chefs would work to make sure menus for banquets and large events could be quickly adjusted if necessary, and part of the excess food reused for other meals.

“No chef likes wasting food,” he told Reuters by phone.

Throwing out food wastes the water, energy and fuel needed to grow, store and transport it, campaigners say, while discarded food ends up in landfills where it rots, releasing harmful greenhouse gases.

Launched with support from the American Hotel & Lodging Association and the Rockefeller Foundation, the initiative will also focus on training staff and raising customers’ awareness.

“We’ve already seen that hotel guests are more than willing to conserve water and energy, simply by placing a card on their pillows or hanging their towels,” said Devon Klatell, associate director at the Rockefeller Foundation.

“Our hunch is that they’ll also take action to be part of the fight to cut food waste,” he added.

Reducing food waste is a good investment for companies that can save an average of $14 for every dollar spent on it, a recent study showed.

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US Opts Out of Human Rights Meetings, Cites Legal Issues

U.S. officials declined to attend key meetings on human rights issues Tuesday, citing legal battles over President Donald Trump’s executive orders aimed at banning refugees and travelers from Muslim-majority countries, authorities said.

The hearings by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) were planned to question U.S. officials on the impact of Trump’s orders, which have been stalled in the courts, according to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), a participant.

The IACHR, part of the Organization of American States, is a leading human rights organization that has tackled issues of torture, killings and disappearances in North, Central and South America for nearly 60 years.

At the hearings, Jamil Dakwar, director of the ACLU’s Human Rights Program, called the absence of a U.S. delegation “an unprecedented show of disrespect to the international community.”

“Refusing to engage with the commission is an isolationist policy that mirrors the behavior of authoritarian regimes and will only serve to embolden them,” said Dakwar in a statement. “This is another worrying sign that the Trump administration is not only launching an assault on human rights at home but is also trying to undermine international bodies charged with holding abusive governments accountable.”

‘Not appropriate’

A U.S. State Department spokesman said the United States has “tremendous respect” for the IACHR but had told the rights group it could not attend Tuesday’s hearings in Washington.

“It is not appropriate for the United States to participate in these hearings while litigation on these matters is ongoing in U.S. courts,” State Department spokesman Mark Toner told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in an email.

Trump issued a revised travel ban on March 6, temporarily banning refugees and travelers from six predominantly Muslim countries, citing national security. But the order has been partially halted by two federal judges, the latest legal blows to the administration’s efforts to restrict travel to the United States.

The order seeks to bar citizens of Iran, Libya, Syria, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen from entering the country for 90 days, and to block refugees from entering the country for 120 days.

An earlier ban issued by Trump in January, which included Iraq among the Muslim-majority nations, caused chaos at airports and sparked mass protests in major U.S. cities.

The IACHR hearings also were intended to discuss U.S. policies affecting migrants seeking asylum at the U.S.-Mexico border, the ACLU said.

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Mass Protests in Macedonia as EU Envoy Tries to Break Deadlock

Tens of thousands of demonstrators gathered in Macedonia’s capital, Skopje, Tuesday to protest a visit by a European Union envoy who is trying to break the political deadlock that has left the country without a government for three months.


Waving red-and-yellow national flags, the protesters chanted “Macedonia! Macedonia!” – as EU enlargement commissioner Johannes Hahn held talks with political leaders.


Protest organizers said they were holding rallies at 42 sites around the country, and unfurled giant banners along the route taken by Hahn from the airport to the capital.


Macedonia’s two largest parties do not have enough lawmakers to form a government after a general election in December.


They would need to form a coalition with one party from the country’s ethnic Albanian minority, which is demanding that Albanian be made the country’s second official language.


The long-governing conservatives rejected the minority demand outright. Conservative President Gjorge Ivanov, however, has refused to hand the rival Social Democrats a mandate to form a government until they do the same.


Ivanov, who did not meet with Hahn, argues that the language demand is an attempt to destroy Macedonia’s character.


Supporting Ivanov’s tough line, demonstrators have gathered regularly for the past three weeks, and organizers said that a crowd of 50,000 rallied in Skopje Tuesday _ a number not immediately confirmed by authorities.


“We’ve had enough of commissioners,” Bogdan Ilievski, a protest organizer, said. “The language we all understand is Macedonian and the [minority demand] is only aimed at breaking up the country. That’s why we won’t allow it to become the policy of any government.”


Ethnic Albanians make up a quarter of Macedonia’s population. Albanian is currently recognized as an official language in minority-dominated areas but not in the country as a whole.


Macedonia has been locked in a major political crisis for the past two years, sparked by a wiretapping scandal and corruption allegations.

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Poland Accuses EU’s Tusk of Criminal Negligence Over Smolensk Plane Crash

Poland’s defense minister has accused European Council President Donald Tusk of working with Russia’s Vladimir Putin to harm Polish interests following the 2010 plane crash that killed President Lech Kaczynski and 95 others.

The ministry notified the military department of the National Prosecutor’s Office on Monday that it suspected Tusk, who was Polish prime minister at the time, of an “abuse of trust in foreign relations.”

The move was the latest, and possibly most serious, in an internal political row between Poland’s ruling right-wing Law and Justice (PiS) party and rival Tusk.

Poland was isolated and rebuffed at an European Union summit earlier this month when Tusk, a centrist, was reappointed as council president over Warsaw’s objections.

Tusk accused of treason

A spokeswoman for the prosecutor’s office in Warsaw confirmed it had received the ministry’s notification, which effectively accuses Tusk of diplomatic treason. It now has 30 days to decide whether to investigate.

Tusk dismissed the accusations as “purely about emotions and obsessions.”

“This is not a matter of legal or political nature, it is purely about emotions and obsessions,” he said in emailed comments. “Therefore, it is not within my competence to comment on cases like this one.”

The PiS is led by Kaczynski’s twin brother Jaroslaw, Poland’s most powerful politician and a longstanding opponent of Tusk.

Lech Kaczynski died when in a plane carrying a Polish delegation crashed approaching Smolensk Air Base in Russia. He was flying from Warsaw to commemorate the 1940 Katyn massacre of Polish officers by Soviet secret police.

‘Illegal contract’ with Putin

Defense Minister Antoni Macierewicz told the Gazeta Polska Codziennie daily on Tuesday: “Tusk made an illegal contract with Vladimir Putin to the detriment of Poland and should bear criminal responsibility for that.”

State news agency PAP quoted the notification as accusing Tusk of agreeing to terms that prevented Poland from playing a full part in investigating the causes of the crash.

Macierewicz alleged that Tusk failed to secure from the start an agreement with Moscow “to guarantee the participation of representatives of Poland in all investigative activities on the site,” and that this allowed Russia to limit the Polish role.

The notification also accused Tusk of failing to take steps that would enforce the return of the Tu-154 plane wreckage to Poland, the notification said.

Russia has repeatedly refused Poland’s demand to return the Tu-154 wreckage and its black box recorders, citing its own ongoing investigation.

Beyond negligence

The notification from the defense ministry covers the period from the plane crash on April 10, 2010 to 2014, when Tusk took up his current post as chairman of EU leaders’ summits. The alleged crime carries a sentence of one to 10 years in prison.

“It’s not about negligence, it is about a criminal offense,” Macierewicz said.

Polish prosecutors are already conducting several investigations into the Smolensk crash, including a case against a group of public officials also suspected of acting to Poland’s detriment in the year after the accident.

Tusk has frequently denied any responsibility for the crash, which an earlier official investigation concluded was an accident.

The accusation marks a sharp escalation of the conflict between PiS and Tusk, who led the rival Civic Platform party and was prime minister from 2007 to 2014. PiS has already accused him of neglecting the existence of a fraudulent investment  scheme when prime minister and selling off too many Polish businesses to foreigners.

Civic Platform party hopes Tusk may return to Poland after his EU stint and become its candidate for the next presidential election in 2020.

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Cyber Firm at Center of Russian Hacking Charges Misread Data

An influential British think tank and Ukraine’s military are disputing a report that the U.S. cybersecurity firm CrowdStrike has used to buttress its claims of Russian hacking in the presidential election.

The CrowdStrike report, released in December, asserted that Russians hacked into a Ukrainian artillery app, resulting in heavy losses of howitzers in Ukraine’s war with Russian-backed separatists.

But the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) told VOA that CrowdStrike erroneously used IISS data as proof of the intrusion. IISS disavowed any connection to the CrowdStrike report. Ukraine’s Ministry of Defense also has claimed combat losses and hacking never happened.

The challenges to CrowdStrike’s credibility are significant because the firm was the first to link last year’s hacks of Democratic Party computers to Russian actors, and because CrowdStrike co-founder Dimiti Alperovitch has trumpeted its Ukraine report as more evidence of Russian election tampering.

Alperovitch has said that variants of the same software were used in both hacks.

While questions about CrowdStrike’s findings don’t disprove allegations of Russian involvement, they do add to skepticism voiced by some cybersecurity experts and commentators about the quality of their technical evidence.

The Russian government has denied covert involvement in the election, but U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded that Russian hacks were meant to discredit Hillary Clinton and help Donald Trump’s campaign. An FBI and Homeland Security report also blamed Russian intelligence services.

On Monday, FBI Director James Comey confirmed at a House Intelligence Committee hearing that his agency has an ongoing investigation into the hacks of Democratic campaign computers and into contacts between Russian operatives and Trump campaign associates. The White House says there was no collusion with Russia, and other U.S. officials have said they’ve found no proof.

Signature malware

VOA News first reported in December that sources close to the Ukraine military and the artillery app’s creator questioned CrowdStrike’s finding that a Russian-linked group it named “Fancy Bear” had hacked the app. CrowdStrike said it found a variant of the same “X-Agent” malware used to attack the Democrats.

CrowdStrike said the hack allowed Ukraine’s enemies to locate its artillery units. As proof of its effectiveness, the report referenced publicly reported data in which IISS had sharply reduced its estimates of Ukrainian artillery assets. IISS, based in London, publishes a highly regarded, annual reference called “The Military Balance” that estimates the strength of world armed forces.

“Between July and August 2014, Russian-backed forces launched some of the most-decisive attacks against Ukrainian forces, resulting in significant loss of life, weaponry and territory,” CrowdStrike wrote in its report, explaining that the hack compromised an app used to aim Soviet-era D-30 howitzers.

“Ukrainian artillery forces have lost over 50% of their weapons in the two years of conflict and over 80% of D-30 howitzers, the highest percentage of loss of any other artillery pieces in Ukraine’s arsenal,” the report said, crediting a Russian blogger who had cited figures from IISS.

The report prompted skepticism in Ukraine.

Yaroslav Sherstyuk, maker of the Ukrainian military app in question, called the company’s report “delusional” in a Facebook post. CrowdStrike never contacted him before or after its report was published, he told VOA.

Pavlo Narozhnyy, a technical adviser to Ukraine’s military, told VOA that while it was theoretically possible the howitzer app could have been compromised, any infection would have been spotted. “I personally know hundreds of gunmen in the war zone,” Narozhnyy told VOA in December. “None of them told me of D-30 losses caused by hacking or any other reason.”

VOA first contacted IISS in February to verify the alleged artillery losses. Officials there initially were unaware of the CrowdStrike assertions. After investigating, they determined that CrowdStrike misinterpreted their data and hadn’t reached out beforehand for comment or clarification.

In a statement to VOA, the institute flatly rejected the assertion of artillery combat losses.

“The CrowdStrike report uses our data, but the inferences and analysis drawn from that data belong solely to the report’s authors,” the IISS said. “The inference they make that reductions in Ukrainian D-30 artillery holdings between 2013 and 2016 were primarily the result of combat losses is not a conclusion that we have ever suggested ourselves, nor one we believe to be accurate.”

Erica Ma, operations administrator with IISS in the U.S., said that while the think tank had dramatically lowered its estimates of Ukrainian artillery assets and howitzers in 2013, it did so as part of a “reassessment” and reallocation of units to airborne forces.

“No, we have never attributed this reduction to combat losses,” Ma said, explaining that most of the reallocation occurred prior to the two-year period that CrowdStrike cites in its report.

“The vast majority of the reduction actually occurs … before Crimea/Donbass,” she added, referring to the 2014 Russian invasion of Ukraine.

‘Evidence flimsy’

In early January, the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense issued a statement saying artillery losses from the ongoing fighting with separatists are “several times smaller than the number reported by [CrowdStrike] and are not associated with the specified cause” of Russian hacking.

But Ukraine’s denial did not get the same attention as CrowdStrike’s report. Its release was widely covered by news media reports as further evidence of Russian hacking in the U.S. election.

In interviews, Alperovitch helped foster that impression by connecting the Ukraine and Democratic campaign hacks, which CrowdStrike said involved the same Russian-linked hacking group—Fancy Bear—and versions of X-Agent malware the group was known to use.

“The fact that they would be tracking and helping the Russian military kill Ukrainian army personnel in eastern Ukraine and also intervening in the U.S. election is quite chilling,” Alperovitch said in a December 22 story by The Washington Post.

The same day, Alperovitch told the PBS NewsHour: “And when you think about, well, who would be interested in targeting Ukraine artillerymen in eastern Ukraine? Who has interest in hacking the Democratic Party? [The] Russia government comes to mind, but specifically, [it’s the] Russian military that would have operational [control] over forces in the Ukraine and would target these artillerymen.”

Alperovitch, a Russian expatriate and senior fellow at the Atlantic Council policy research center in Washington, co-founded CrowdStrike in 2011. The firm has employed two former FBI heavyweights: Shawn Henry, who oversaw global cyber investigations at the agency, and Steven Chabinsky, who was the agency’s top cyber lawyer and served on a White House cybersecurity commission. Chabinsky left CrowdStrike last year.

CrowdStrike declined to answer VOA’s written questions about the Ukraine report, and Alperovitch canceled a March 15 interview on the topic. In a December statement to VOA’s Ukrainian Service, spokeswoman Ilina Dimitrova defended the company’s conclusions.

“It is indisputable that the [Ukraine artillery] app has been hacked by Fancy Bear malware,” Dimitrova wrote. “We have published the indicators to it, and they have been confirmed by others in the cybersecurity community.”

In its report last June attributing the Democratic hacks, CrowdStrike said it was long familiar with the methods used by Fancy Bear and another group with ties to Russian intelligence nicknamed Cozy Bear. Soon after, U.S. cybersecurity firms Fidelis and Mandiant endorsed CrowdStrike’s conclusions. The FBI and Homeland Security report reached the same conclusion about the two groups.

Still, some cybersecurity experts are skeptical that the election and purported Ukraine hacks are connected. Among them is Jeffrey Carr, a cyberwarfare consultant who has lectured at the U.S. Army War College, the Defense Intelligence Agency, and other government agencies.

In a January post on LinkedIn, Carr called CrowdStrike’s evidence in the Ukraine “flimsy.” He told VOA in an interview that CrowdStrike mistakenly assumed that the X-Agent malware employed in the hacks was a reliable fingerprint for Russian actors.

“We now know that’s false,” he said, “and that the source code has been obtained by others outside of Russia.”

This report was produced in collaboration with VOA’s Ukrainian Service.

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Twitter Cracks Down on Terrorism-related Accounts

Twitter suspended more than 376,000 accounts in the second half of 2016, most of which it said were promoting terrorism.

Most of the accounts, 74 percent, were removed by proprietary software, the company said in its latest transparency report. The software reportedly determines a terrorism related account through how it behaves, rather than what it posts, saying the accounts have “distinctive behavior.”

Two percent of the accounts were suspended by various government requests, according to Twitter.

The number of suspensions is three times more than the social media site deleted in the last half of 2015.

In total, the company says it suspended 636,280 accounts from August 1, 2015 to December 31, 2016.

The report comes as Facebook and Google are wrestling with how to prevent objectionable content from their sites.

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Справу щодо катастрофи малайзійського «Боїнга» треба розглядати в Гаазі – Сторожук

Для України важливо, щоб справу щодо катастрофи літака рейсу МН17 розглянули в міжнародному кримінальному суді в Гаазі (Нідерланди). Про це в ефірі Радіо «Донбас.Реалії» заявив перший заступник генерального прокурора України Дмитро Сторожук. Він зазначив, що альтернативним варіантом так само може бути національний суд Нідерландів, де працює центральний офіс Спільної слідчої групи.

«Розслідування триває, але ми готові вже відправляти справи в суд. Єдина заковика, яка на сьогоднішній день є, – визначити підслідність суду. Ми розуміємо, що цей процес на сьогоднішній день заполітизований, тому що Росія постійно говорить про те, що у нас є конфлікт інтересів, це було на нашій території, і в цьому нас звинувачують», – сказав Сторожук.

Крім того, заступник генерального прокурора уточнив, що серед підозрюваних у цій справі є громадяни Росії.

Раніше міжнародна Спільна слідча група з розслідування обставин катастрофи авіалайнера MH17 «Малайзійських авіаліній» встановила 120 осіб-фігурантів кримінального провадження в цій справі.

Літак «Боїнг-777» «Малайзійських авіаліній», що виконував рейс із Амстердама в Куала-Лумпур, був збитий над зоною збройного конфлікту на сході України 17 липня 2014 року. Загинули 298 людей – усі, хто перебував на борту.

Міжнародна Спільна слідча група під керівництвом прокуратури Нідерландів оголосила перші попередні офіційні підсумки розслідування. У доповіді йдеться про те, що зенітно-ракетна установка «Бук», із якої збили «Боїнг», була доставлена на територію України з Росії. За даними слідчих, місце пуску ракети – селище Первомайське, яке перебувало на момент катастрофи під контролем проросійських сепаратистів.

У Кремлі заявили, що доповідь не можна вважати «остаточною правдою», а висновки слідчих у Москві назвали «попередніми». У МЗС Росії назвали доповідь «упередженою».

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Справу щодо катастрофи малайзійського «Боїнга» треба розглядати в Гаазі – Сторожук

Для України важливо, щоб справу щодо катастрофи літака рейсу МН17 розглянули в міжнародному кримінальному суді в Гаазі (Нідерланди). Про це в ефірі Радіо «Донбас.Реалії» заявив перший заступник генерального прокурора України Дмитро Сторожук. Він зазначив, що альтернативним варіантом так само може бути національний суд Нідерландів, де працює центральний офіс Спільної слідчої групи.

«Розслідування триває, але ми готові вже відправляти справи в суд. Єдина заковика, яка на сьогоднішній день є, – визначити підслідність суду. Ми розуміємо, що цей процес на сьогоднішній день заполітизований, тому що Росія постійно говорить про те, що у нас є конфлікт інтересів, це було на нашій території, і в цьому нас звинувачують», – сказав Сторожук.

Крім того, заступник генерального прокурора уточнив, що серед підозрюваних у цій справі є громадяни Росії.

Раніше міжнародна Спільна слідча група з розслідування обставин катастрофи авіалайнера MH17 «Малайзійських авіаліній» встановила 120 осіб-фігурантів кримінального провадження в цій справі.

Літак «Боїнг-777» «Малайзійських авіаліній», що виконував рейс із Амстердама в Куала-Лумпур, був збитий над зоною збройного конфлікту на сході України 17 липня 2014 року. Загинули 298 людей – усі, хто перебував на борту.

Міжнародна Спільна слідча група під керівництвом прокуратури Нідерландів оголосила перші попередні офіційні підсумки розслідування. У доповіді йдеться про те, що зенітно-ракетна установка «Бук», із якої збили «Боїнг», була доставлена на територію України з Росії. За даними слідчих, місце пуску ракети – селище Первомайське, яке перебувало на момент катастрофи під контролем проросійських сепаратистів.

У Кремлі заявили, що доповідь не можна вважати «остаточною правдою», а висновки слідчих у Москві назвали «попередніми». У МЗС Росії назвали доповідь «упередженою».

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