Really? The government got hacked again?

hack_EDITEDPhoto by Prayinito under Creative Commons license. 

Another government intelligence agency just got hacked, again, and a plethora of the government’s cherished information has now been published on the internet. This time, instead of an ex-government contractor revealing NSA data collection practices, WikiLeaks, a multi-national media organization, exposed the Central Intelligence Agency’s (CIA) surveillance secrets.

WikiLeaks claims that malware for smart phones and smart televisions are created by the Engineering Development Group (EDG), a software development group in one of the CIA’s five major directorates. WikiLeaks explains that another branch of the CIA, the Embedded Devices Branch (EDB), was responsible for building “Weeping Angel.” The program was built with help from the UK and was specifically built to target smart TVs by infesting them with a program that places the TV in a “fake off” mode. The “fake off” mode gives the CIA the ability to use the smart TVs as a microphone while the TV appears to be turned off, recording all the conversations in the room. If that’s not already creepy enough, the CIA’s Mobile Device Branch (MDB) has developed the technology to infect cell phones with malware that gives the CIA the ability to secretly access the user’s camera and microphone.

I guess hacking into cell phones could give the CIA more information about terrorists and other foreign threats, but how does hacking into smart TVs protect people from foreign threats? I can’t imagine that terrorists gather around smart TVs watching Netflix, but one thing is certain is that the release of the CIA’s surveillance practices creates questions about the ethics and effectiveness of government surveillance. Should the government be spying on its own citizens? And, do the government’s questionable activities actually protect us from foreign threats?

After interviewing a few University of Baltimore (UB) students I learned that some students believe that the government should continue its surveillance programs as long as the programs actually protect people from security threats. However, a few UB students questioned if the government really needs to collect all of this information just to protect Americans from foreign threats.

Ketki Chavana, an industrial and organizational psychology student, said that she understands that the government is doing the surveillance programs to keep people safe. However, she found the governments bulk data collection activities to be unsettling, explaining that these programs could be a “violation of freedom and personal space” and that “better regulations should be made [for government surveillance programs].” Another UB student, Alontaye, explained that national security could be a cop-out term to excuse the government’s cloak-and-dagger behavior. UB student Alexandra Friend said that the government’s surveillance programs are fine as long as they actually improve national security.

Overall, students agree that the government’s surveillance activities can infringe on people’s freedoms and I’m sure many people would agree with Chavana’s suggestion about increased regulations. However, it’s tough to know how regulations could be used to protect people from government surveillance, since the government surveillance through technology is, in regards to law, uncharted territory. But we can say for certain that the CIA should be more aware of groups attempting to hack into their systems and the CIA should take better measures to protect against hacking, especially if they’re holding millions of Americans’ information.

SGA election 2017: who really cares?

sga1
Flyers announcing the election.

During mid-March the Student Government Association (SGA) held elections for the 2017 – 2018 school year. The elections were predictable. In fact, only a few of the vacancies were contested and most people won without any difficulty due to no opposition. Even the candidate for student president, probably the most powerful position any student could have on campus, ran unopposed.

Mariame Dangnokho ran for student president on a platform that highlighted her student government experience and her ambition to become a lawyer. Overall, Dangnokho is well qualified for the position of student president. She has been an active member in the University of Baltimore’s (UB) SGA since her freshman year, she interned with a congressional office, and she also interned with the Maryland State Attorney’s Office.

Some of the other candidates included Elizabeth Jackson and Keanuu Smith-Brown, both running for vice president, Brittany Thompson, running for treasurer, Noah Johnston, Geraldine Gotera, and Selena Eutsay-Stokes, all of whom ran for Chief of Staff. Morgan Brown and Trevor Ebert ran for Secretary and a number of students ran for undergraduate senator positions while no one ran for the graduate senator positions. Although many students, a total of seven, ran for undergraduate senator positions, there are actually eight undergraduate senator positions, meaning that everyone who ran for a senator position was guaranteed a spot as long as they remembered to vote for themselves.

UB Students Kayla Pumphrey left & Jose Martinez right ran for Undergraduate SGA Senator.

sga2Digital Communications major Geraldine Gotera ran for SGA Chief of Staff.

A few students were asked about who they want to win the few contested SGA positions and, surprisingly, many students showed apathy towards the election. Lethargically, the students explained that they will vote if they get around to it and that they don’t really have much opinion on the candidates. In fact, everyone that I asked about the election wasn’t planning on voting and, quite frankly, couldn’t seem to care less who won the election. This attitude towards the election is concerning because the people going into office are not just figure heads, they have real power.

The Student Government Association (SGA) receives around $50,000 per year and most of this money comes from student tuition. These funds are supposed to be used to address student issues, improve UB’s campus, and pay the salaries of SGA officers. The SGA president and other executive members also receive a generous stipend of up to $1,500 per year while other members can receive up to $300. The SGA President can also appoint members to the SGA that go onto receive a stipend of up to $400 per year.

All of this means that the SGA has at least $50,000 to improve UB and that the SGA members are paid handsomely to listen to your grievances. So, if you have anything you think that the SGA should be doing to make UB better, then I recommend that you let an SGA officer know. Or better yet, run for SGA office next year and try to improve your campus. But at least find some way to make your voice heard and communicate with your SGA officers. After all, you are paying the SGA members for their service.

 

Photos by Hailey Chaudron

Trump’s Misguided Approach to Fighting Terrorism

During President Trump’s election campaign, he continued to say that he was going to be tough on terrorism. However, when Trump said terrorism he really just meant foreign Islamic terrorism. This is evident from his repeated use of the term “radical Islam.” Although foreign terrorism kills several Americans every year, it doesn’t make sense to place so much emphasis on just Islamic terrorists when other issues, such as domestic terrorism and gun violence, can be just as harmful if not more harmful than foreign Islamic terrorism. Additionally, Trump’s current plans for fighting what he calls “radical Islam” are quite bad when you consider that his plans could actually lead to an increase in terrorism.

Foreign Terrorism vs. Homegrown Terrorism

Trump may think that terrorism comes mostly from Islamic countries, but that is simply not true. The truth is that there are more instances of home grown terrorism than foreign terrorism. Research has also shown that police departments are more worried about homegrown terrorists than foreign terrorists. However, with the San Bernardino attack that occurred in 2016, the total amount of Americans killed by Islamic inspired terrorists is close, but still lower, than the total amount of Americans killed by non-Islamic inspired terrorists.

Guns vs. Terrorism

The amount of people killed by guns is a lot higher than the amount of people killed by terrorists. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that in 2013, over 33,000 Americans were killed by guns while 21 Americans were killed by terrorists. The CDC also said that for every American killed by terrorists more than 1,000 Americans were killed by guns.

Number of American Deaths Caused by Terrorism VS Gun Violence

How Trump Has Fought Terrorism So Far

During President Trump’s campaign he said, “When you get these terrorists, you have to take out their families. They care about their lives, don’t kid yourself. But they say they don’t care about their lives. You have to take out their families.” He also said that he would “go after the [terrorists] wives.” As president, he continued his fight against “radical Islam” by signing an executive order that instituted a travel ban on several Muslim majority countries. The travel ban involves stopping people from Muslim majority countries from seeking visas and traveling to the US.

Many of Trump’s actions, especially banning Muslims from entering the US, play into the hands of terrorists. In particular, instituting a travel ban on Muslims could increase feelings of hatred towards the West. It could also increase disenfranchisement in many Muslim majority countries since people in these countries would be provided with less economic opportunities as a result of the travel ban. This reduction in economic opportunities could lead to people being nearly forced to work for ISIS because they may have no other means to support their family. The travel ban could also mean that more people will be persecuted by ISIS and other extremist groups.  Overall, the travel ban would likely lead to increases in both disenfranchisement and hatred toward the West, two variables that lead to increases in terrorism.

What We Should Do

If you look at the statistics, then you can clearly see that it would be a far better idea to address gun violence and homegrown terrorism than foreign terrorism. If the US decides to continue to divert more and more resources into combating foreign terrorism, instead of homegrown terrorism and gun violence, then the US should at least address foreign terrorism in a logical manner. For example, the US could increase communication with foreign countries, increase intelligence sharing, and increase funding in counter terrorism research. As of now, the steps President Trump has taken to address foreign terrorism do not actually address the issue, they exasperate the problem.

Come visit the Global Affairs and Human Security Student Association

Have you ever thought about traveling the world, becoming a diplomat, or helping those that are less fortunate than you? If you have, then you should check out the Global Affairs and Human Security Student Association (GAHSSA). GAHSSA is a student run organization at the University of Baltimore that is “dedicated to exploring international affairs related to global health, socio-political events, economic issues, transnational problem solving, global governance, and issues effecting human security.” In order to fulfill this mission, GAHSSA has implemented a guest speaker series that provides international affairs experts, from around the world, with a venue to express ideas and discuss global topics. So far, GAHSSA’s guest speakers have included former US Ambassador to South Africa, Princeton Lyman, and Middle East media commentator Alireza Jafarzadeh.

A few months ago, GAHSSA’s latest guest speaker, Ambassador Lyman, stood in front of a large group of undergraduate and graduate students and explained his many experiences in South Africa and South Sudan. Before providing details about his time in South Africa, Lyman gave some background on the political situation, explaining that the US civil rights movement was occurring at the same time as the South African apartheid movement, which enabled each movement to feed off each other, in turn, creating a “symbiotic” process to promote change. Lyman also explained that, around this same time, the US congress placed economic sanctions on South Africa, in order to punish the South African government. These sanctions were passed after much disagreement and political drama which involved President Ronald Reagan vetoing the proposed bill, against the will of the US State Department, and congress eventually overriding Reagan’s veto.

Lyman went on to explain that these legislative activities going on in the background contributed to a particular atmosphere in South Africa, a distrustful atmosphere that made Lyman’s job a lot harder. This distrust of the US government, among both the ant-apartheid movement and South Africa’s white government, was a result of the US government’s flip flopping on economic sanctions and other foreign policies. Ambassador Lyman explained that due to the atmosphere in South Africa, Lyman and other members of the State Department not only had to help resolve the overarching conflict in South Africa, they also had to resolve these trust issues. Lyman went on to speak about how a transition process was eventually facilitated in South Africa and how this led to an increase in US credibility in the region.

In regards to Lyman’s involvement in South Sudan, Lyman explained that he was sent to South Sudan to ensure that the Sudanese followed through with a peace agreement they made with people in surrounding regions. During this time, Ambassador Lyman and other diplomats had to deal with changing US positions and had to settle several other issues, including setting boundary lines and establishing a currency.

The guest speaker session closed with comments and questions. Students from across the university asked several interesting questions, one of which was why does the US intervene in some international conflicts but not others? Ambassador Lyman answered this question by explaining that the US usually only involves itself in areas where it has a strategic interest.

If you want to learn more about interesting international topics, such as South Africa and South Sudan, or if you just want to get firsthand knowledge from global experts then be sure to check out GAHSSA.

GAHSSA is even expecting to have another guest speaker come to the University of Baltimore this upcoming semester, so be on the lookout for flyers and emails about GAHSSA’s next guest speaker.

The Shortcomings in Trump’s Foreign Policy

Donald Trump has been a very unique presidential candidate, to say the least, and his uniqueness stretches all the way to his positions on foreign policy issues. His positions on foreign policy involves: building a wall on US Mexico border and making Mexico pay for it, defeating ISIS, and establishing new immigration controls to boost American wages. At face value all of these ideas, except maybe building a giant wall on the southern border, may seem like good ideas. After all, boosting American wages would mean that Americans can buy more stuff, right? Well, this is actually not true.

Boosting American Wages

Trump’s plan to boost American wages would actually hurt the US’ economy and cause American incomes to decline. The reason for this unexpected outcome is that limiting the possibilities of immigrants to gain employment means that lower wage positions will go to Americans. These Americans will demand higher pay than the formerly employed immigrants. Since business owners will be forced to pay employees higher wages, the cost of goods will increase. This means that all Americans will be paying higher prices for goods. As a result, Americans would have less discretionary income. This would lead to demand for higher cost services declining and could further lead to a decrease in employment among higher salaried careers.

Building a Wall

Trump’s proposal to build a wall along the Mexico border would be incredibly costly, costing around $15 billion to $25 billion. Mexico’s president, Enrique Peña Nieto, has also said that Mexico is not paying for a wall at the US border. Despite President Nieto’s statements, Trump continues to say that Mexico will pay for the wall. However, Trump actually has no way to effectively force Mexico to pay for the wall. Additionally, Trump’s plan does not take into account the many underground trafficking tunnels, which could be used to smuggle drugs and people. These underground tunnels are at times very sophisticated and large. For example, US law enforcement officers found a tunnel that ran all the way from Tijuana, Mexico to San Diego, California.

Mexico drug tunnels
A Journalist walking through a tunnel in Tijuana, Mexico

Defeating ISIS

Trump’s plan to defeat ISIS is even worse than his plans to “boost American wages” and stop illegal immigration. This is because his plan to defeat ISIS is largely non-existent. The only thing it says on Trump’s website about defeating ISIS is that Trump will:

Work with allies in the Middle East and “pursue aggressive joint and coalition military operations to crush and destroy ISIS, international cooperation to cutoff their funding, expand intelligence sharing, and cyberwarfare to disrupt and disable their propaganda and recruiting.”

The big problem here is that Trump’s statement is not very specific; he doesn’t explain how he will do any of the things he outlines. Trump claims that he isn’t being specific because he doesn’t want the enemy to know his plan, but I’m not buying this. I think Trump isn’t being specific because he doesn’t actually have a plan to defeat ISIS, which is understandable since Trump does not have much experience, if any, in developing international policy. His experience is in business, not international politics. Additionally, if Donald Trump actually had a plan, then one would think that he would at least give a little outline or sneak peak of his plan, but he has yet to do this.

Overall, when looking at foreign policy, Trump does not seem to be well suited for the position of President of the United States of America. His foreign policies would not only hurt the US economy, but they also seem to be vague and not well thought out.

Read more of Wes’ articles and research about terrorism, economics, and international relations at thepoliticist.org

Do Air Strikes Actually Stop Terrorism?

Last month, a Pentagon official confirmed that ISIS’ Minister of Information was killed in an air strike. Earlier this year, other ISIS leaders were also killed in air strikes, including regional leader Hafid Saeez Khan and ISIS’ former number two in command, Abu Muhammad al-Adnani. Although several alleged terrorists have been killed with air strikes, ISIS has still been functioning well and terrorism in the west has not shown any signs of slowing down. So are the air strikes really stopping terrorism?

The air strikes are hurting ISIS’ oil supply, but they may also be creating unintended problems, such as helping ISIS and other terrorist organizations in recruiting more members and increasing the amount of lone wolf terrorist attacks. There are several reasons these air strikes may be leading to these unintended consequences. One reason is that many terrorist organizations recruit people by claiming that the West hates Muslims. US air strikes on Muslims certainly does not refute this assumption and could actually promote this accusation. Additionally, being killed in an air strike could be perceived as martyrdom. This perception of martyrdom could send a distorted message to individuals that terrorists are actually activists fighting against western oppression and are dying for a great cause. In effect, motivating individuals to support ISIS and other extremist groups by either going to Syria or carrying out lone wolf terrorist attacks.

There’s also nearly no way air strikes could deter terrorist behavior. Similarly to there not being any evidence that a death penalty stops crime, creating deterrence by killing terrorists doesn’t even make sense, since many modern day terrorists are willing to commit suicide. If a terrorist is willing to commit suicide, then how would an air strike deter the individual from engaging in terrorist behavior. Additionally, some terrorists believe that they will be rewarded in the afterlife for carrying out terrorist attacks. If the individual truly believes that they will be rewarded for their terrorist behavior, then threatening to kill the person would not stop the person from committing terrorist acts.

So if air strikes don’t deter terrorism, lower morale, or stop ISIS’ ability to function, then what is the point of using the extra judicial tactic of air strikes? I don’t know. Maybe the US government believes that air strikes are a good tactic in the war against terrorism. But, I’m not sure if air strikes are really that effective, or even ethical.

Read more of Wes’ articles and research about terrorism, economics, and international relations at thepoliticist.org