Kenya Forces Battle to End Attack as Death Toll Climbs – By David Herbling and Bella Genga January 15, 2019, 8:25 PM PST Corrected January 16, 2019, 1:02 AM PST


Pedestrians flee at the 14 Riverside Drive hotel and office complex in Nairobi on Jan. 15.Photographer: Fredrik Lerneryd/Bloomberg

Kenyan security forces struggled to end an attack on an upmarket hotel and office complex in the capital, Nairobi, after the first apparent major attack by an al-Qaeda affiliate in the East African nation in almost four years. At least 15 people were killed, the Associated Press reported.

Explosions and heavy gunfire were heard early on Wednesday morning as security officers engaged the assailants at the Dusit Hotel on the outskirts of the city center, the Nairobi-based Daily Nation newspaper reported. Scores of people who had been trapped inside the complex were rescued, it said.

The attack began on Tuesday afternoon with an explosion targeting three vehicles in the parking lot and then a suicide-bombing in the foyer of a Dusit Hotels & Resorts Co. outlet, police Inspector-General Joseph Boinnet said.

“We have secured all the buildings that had been affected by these events,” Interior Secretary Fred Matiang’i said in a separate briefing. “We are now in the final stages of mopping up the area and securing evidence and documenting the consequences of these unfortunate events.’’

He didn’t say what had happened to the attackers, whom he described as “suspected terrorist elements,” nor give a death toll.

Al-Shabaab, an affiliate of al-Qaeda based in neighboring Somalia, said it killed 47 people in the attack, according to Radio Andalus, a broadcaster that supports its insurgency. The group didn’t say how it obtained the figure, but if its involvement was confirmed it would be the Islamists’ first significant assault in Kenya since a raid on a university campus in Garissa county in April 2015 that killed at least 147 people.

The group has vowed to keep attacking Kenya as long as it maintains soldiers in Somalia, where it’s part of an African Union mission. A survivor of the attack who gave his name as Reuben told local Citizen TV that he heard the gunmen accuse Kenya of killing “our people in Somalia” and “ruining our way of life.”

WATCH: Smoke seen rising from a building within the complex at 14 Riverside Drive in Nairobi, Kenya, after reports of an explosion and gunfire.

Somalia-based extremist group al-Shabab claims responsibility for the attack pic.twitter.com/yG4WpQtzm8

— TicToc by Bloomberg (@tictoc) January 15, 2019

CCTV footage aired on Citizen TV and dated at 3:32 p.m. showed four gunmen in black entering the compound and shooting. Local television stations showed vehicles on fire near the entrance to the complex and police officers evacuating people from the scene.

The 14 Riverside complex, popular with business travelers and Kenya’s elite, hosts restaurants, banking facilities and offices for companies including LG Electronics Africa, Pernod Ricard SA and Dow Chemicals East Africa Ltd. Kenya has one of sub-Saharan Africa’s biggest economies and serves as a hub for companies including General Electric Co. and Toyota Motor Corp.

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Why Nike’s Woke Ad Campaign Works and Gillette’s Doesn’t – Josh Barro Jan 15, 2019 3:16 P.M.


An image from Gillette’s new campaign. Photo: Gillette

Gillette’s new bullying-and-#MeToo–focused publicity campaign, launched yesterday with a two-minute web video, inverts the company’s slogan, changing “Gillette: The Best a Man Can Get” to “The Best a Man Can Be.” In doing so, it takes the “man” out of a dependent clause (“Gillette” is the subject of the original slogan, with an implied “is” to follow) and makes him the main subject.

This is important: Instead of offering the man something, the slogan now asks him to do something. Gillette has spent decades making him the best razors it could; now it’s the man’s turn to deliver.

Whatever this is, it isn’t marketing.

Gillette’s message — that something has too often gone wrong in masculinity, and that men ought to evaluate whether they are doing enough to combat bullying and mistreatment of women — is correct. But the viewer is likely to ask: Who is Gillette to tell me this? I just came here for razors. And razors barely even feature in Gillette’s new campaign.

YouTube likes are running four-to-one against Gillette’s new ad; for comparison, the YouTube response to Nike’s controversial ad with Colin Kaepernick runs seven-to-one in favor. What should worry Gillette is not so much the rebukes from the set of commentators you might expect (like Piers Morgan and Brian Kilmeade) but the lack of an apparent groundswell of positive reaction that Nike got for its campaign with Kaepernick.

I wrote earlier this year about the wisdom of Nike’s choice, and about the changing pressures on companies that make them more inclined to weigh in on controversial social issues, usually from the left. A controversy can alienate customers, but it can also attract them, as Nike has shown with its rising sales following the risk it took with Kaepernick.

The difference in reaction to the two campaigns shows the limits of “woke capital,” and helps us see what kinds of social change companies will and won’t be successful at pushing. Nike’s campaign appeals to customers — and drives Nike’s sales — to the extent it reflects customers’ existing values back at them. That does not mean companies have the cultural capital to do what Gillette is trying: asking customers to reflect on and change their own behavior.

The Nike-Kaepernick campaign is, at its heart, an upbeat product campaign. Kaepernick is a famous professional athlete and a famous political activist, and the brand video featuring him is full of athletes performing in Nike apparel. His admonition to “Believe in something, even if it means sacrificing everything,” dovetails with Nike’s long-standing brand message to “just do it.” Kaepernick reinforces a message that Nike stands for bold action — on and off the field — and makes many customers inclined to spend on Nike products, which they probably wear more often off the field than on it.

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Facebook’s ’10 Year Challenge’ Is Just a Harmless Meme—Right? – KATE O’NEILL SECURITY 01.15.19


Alyssa Foote; Getty Images

If you use social media, you’ve probably noticed a trend across Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter of people posting their then-and-now profile pictures, mostly from 10 years ago and this year.

Instead of joining in, I posted the following semi-sarcastic tweet:

My flippant tweet began to pick up traction. My intent wasn’t to claim that the meme is inherently dangerous. But I knew the facial recognition scenario was broadly plausible and indicative of a trend that people should be aware of. It’s worth considering the depth and breadth of the personal data we share without reservations.

Of those who were critical of my thesis, many argued that the pictures were already available anyway. The most common rebuttal was: “That data is already available. Facebook’s already got all the profile pictures.”

Of course they do. In various versions of the meme, people were instructed to post their first profile picture alongside their current profile picture, or a picture from 10 years ago alongside their current profile picture. So, yes: these profile pictures exist, they’ve got upload time stamps, many people have a lot of them, and for the most part they’re publicly accessible.

But let’s play out this idea.

Imagine that you wanted to train a facial recognition algorithm on age-related characteristics, and, more specifically, on age progression (e.g. how people are likely to look as they get older). Ideally, you’d want a broad and rigorous data set with lots of people’s pictures. It would help if you knew they were taken a fixed number of years apart—say, 10 years.

Sure, you could mine Facebook for profile pictures and look at posting dates or EXIF data. But that whole set of profile pictures could end up generating a lot of useless noise. People don’t reliably upload pictures in chronological order, and it’s not uncommon for users to post pictures of something other than themselves as a profile picture. A quick glance through my Facebook friends’ profile pictures shows a friend’s dog who just died, several cartoons, word images, abstract patterns, and more.

In other words, it would help if you had a clean, simple, helpfully-labeled set of then-and-now photos.

What’s more, for the profile pictures on Facebook, the photo posting date wouldn’t necessarily match the date that the picture was taken. Even the EXIF metadata on the photo wouldn’t always be reliable for assessing that date.

Why? People could have scanned offline photos. They might have uploaded pictures multiple times over years. Some people resort to uploading screenshots of pictures found elsewhere online. Some platforms strip EXIF data for privacy.

Through the Facebook meme, most people have been helpfully adding that context back in (e.g. “me in 2008, and me in 2018”), as well as further info, in many cases, about where and how the pic was taken (e.g. “2008 at University of Whatever, taken by Joe; 2018 visiting New City for this year’s such-and-such event”).

In other words, thanks to this meme, there’s now a very large data set of carefully curated photos of people from roughly 10 years ago and now.

Of course, not all the dismissive comments in my Twitter mentions were about the pictures being already available; some critics noted that there was too much crap data to be usable. But data researchers and scientists know how to account for this. As with hashtags that go viral, you can generally place more trust in the validity of data earlier on in the trend or campaign— before people begin to participate ironically or attempt to hijack the hashtag for irrelevant purposes.

As for bogus pictures, image recognition algorithms are plenty sophisticated enough to pick out a human face. If you uploaded an image of a cat 10 years ago and now—as one of my friends did, adorably—that particular sample would be easy to throw out.

What’s more, even if this particular meme isn’t a case of social engineering, the past few years have been rife with examples of social games and memes designed to extract and collect data. Just think of the mass data extraction of more than 70 million American Facebook users performed by Cambridge Analytica.

Is it bad that someone could use your Facebook photos to train a facial recognition algorithm? Not necessarily; in a way, it’s inevitable. Still, the broader takeaway here is that we need to approach our interactions with technology mindful of the data we generate and how it can be used at scale. I’ll offer three plausible use cases for facial recognition: one respectable, one mundane, and one risky.

The benign scenario: facial recognition technology, specifically age progression capability, could help with finding missing kids. Last year police in New Delhi, India reported tracking down nearly 3,000 missing kids in just four days using facial recognition technology. If the kids had been missing a while, they would likely look a little different from the last known photo of them, so a reliable age progression algorithm could be genuinely helpful here.

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Maxine Waters meets with CBS News representatives over lack of black 2020 reporters – Tal Axelrod 01/15/19 11:01 PM EST


Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) met with representatives from CBS News to discuss the ongoing controversy over the network’s lack of black reporters slated to cover the 2020 presidential race.

“CBS admitted they had a lot of work to do & committed to including Blacks on their 2020 election team & all other teams. True diversity is the inclusion of ALL. I won’t let them off the hook!” Waters tweeted Tuesday night.

The California Democrat had earlier sent a tweet panning the network for its lack of diversity in its campaign team.

“CBS, the efforts on your website about your support for diversity fly in the face of your display of all of the reporters you’ve selected for the 2020 campaign. Not one Black. What’s up with this? An explanation is needed,” she tweeted Monday morning.

CBS News did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Hill regarding the Waters meeting.

The network has faced criticism after it rolled out its campaign team last week.

“This WH admin has made having a functional understanding of race in America one of the most important core competencies for a political journalist to have, yet @CBSNews hasn’t assigned a *single* black journalist to cover the 2020 election,” Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez tweeted Saturday.

“CBS News’ decision to not include Black reporters on their 2020 Election news team further proves the voting power and voices of Black America continue to be undervalued,” the NAACP echoed in a statement Tuesday.

A CBS spokesperson said Sunday that its team was an “initial wave of what will be an outstanding and diverse wave of journalists” that will cover the highly anticipated election.

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White House Sought Options to Strike Iran – Dion Nissenbaum Updated Jan. 13, 2019 10:10 p.m. ET


State and Pentagon officials were rattled by the request

John Bolton, President Trump’s national security adviser, had asked for military options to strike Iran.

President Trump’s National Security Council asked the Pentagon to provide the White House with military options to strike Iran last year, generating concern at the Pentagon and State Department, current and former U.S. officials said.

The request, which hasn’t been previously reported, came after militants fired three mortars into Baghdad’s sprawling diplomatic quarter, home to the U.S. Embassy, on a warm night in early September. The shells—launched by a group aligned with Iran—landed in an open lot and harmed no one.

But they triggered unusual alarm in Washington, where Mr. Trump’s national security team led by John Bolton conducted a series of meetings to discuss a forceful U.S. response, including what many saw as the unusual request for options to strike Iran.

“It definitely rattled people,” a former senior U.S. administration official said of the request. “People were shocked. It was mind-boggling how cavalier they were about hitting Iran.”

The Pentagon complied with the NSC’s request to develop options for striking Iran, the officials said. But it isn’t clear if the proposals were provided to the White House, whether Mr. Trump knew of the request or whether serious plans for a U.S. strike against Iran took shape at that time.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, here visiting the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad this month, joined forces with national security adviser John Bolton to develop a more aggressive policy aimed at weakening the government in Tehran.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, here visiting the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad this month, joined forces with national security adviser John Bolton to develop a more aggressive policy aimed at weakening the government in Tehran. Photo: ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS, PRESS POOL

Garrett Marquis, an NSC spokesman, said the body “coordinates policy and provides the president with options to anticipate and respond to a variety of threats.”

“We continue to review the status of our personnel following attempted attacks on our embassy in Baghdad and our Basra consulate, and we will consider a full range of options to preserve their safety and our interests,” he said.

Mr. Bolton’s request reflects the administration’s more confrontational approach toward Tehran, one he has pushed since taking up the post last April.

As national security adviser, Mr. Bolton is charged with providing a range of diplomatic, military and economic advice to the president.

Former U.S. officials said it was unnerving that the NSC asked for far-reaching military options to strike Iran in response to attacks that caused little damage and no injuries.

Mira Ricardel, who was ousted as Mr. Bolton’s deputy in November, described the attacks in Iraq as ‘an act of war.’

Mira Ricardel, who was ousted as Mr. Bolton’s deputy in November, described the attacks in Iraq as ‘an act of war.’ Photo: Zach Gibson/Bloomberg News

Last year, then-Defense Secretary Jim Mattis argued against strikes that might hit Russian and Iranian forces when Mr. Trump and his national security team were looking at ways to punish President Bashar al-Assad of Syria for a chemical-weapons attack, people familiar with the debate said. Mr. Mattis, who resigned in December amid a dispute with Mr. Trump over the president’s national security decisions, pushed for a more modest response that Mr. Trump eventually embraced.

In talks with other administration officials, Mr. Bolton has made it clear he personally supports regime change in Iran, a position he championed before joining Mr. Trump’s administration, people familiar with the discussions said.

As a think-tank scholar and Fox News commentator, Mr. Bolton repeatedly urged the U.S. to attack Iran, including in a 2015 New York Times op-ed titled, “To stop Iran’s bomb, bomb Iran.”

After taking the White House post, Mr. Bolton joined forces with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to develop a more aggressive policy aimed at weakening the government in Tehran. Mr. Bolton has said his job is to implement the president’s agenda, which doesn’t include regime change in Tehran. The State Department declined to comment.

Mr. Bolton worked last year to quickly pull the U.S. out of former President Obama’s nuclear-containment deal with the country and to tighten economic sanctions on Tehran, moves eagerly sought by Mr. Trump. In a September speech, Mr. Bolton warned Tehran that there would be “hell to pay” if Iran threatened the U.S. or its allies.

Mr. Bolton and his deputy at the time, Mira Ricardel, were pressing for new ways to confront Iran militarily.

The Sept. 6 mortar attack in Baghdad generated little news coverage. The city’s Green Zone has been a frequent target for insurgents since the U.S. invasion in 2003. A Shiite militia group aligned with Iran eventually claimed responsibility for the attack.

Two days later, amid anti-Iranian protests in the southern Iraqi city of Basra, unknown militants fired three rockets that hit relatively close to the U.S. consulate, but caused no serious damage.

No one claimed responsibility for the second attack, but White House officials decided they needed to send a clear message to Iran.

Alongside the requests in regards to Iran, the NSC asked the Pentagon to provide the White House with options to respond with strikes in Iraq and Syria as well, people familiar with the talks said.

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