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2634d ago / 4:05 PM UTC

China's ZTE Will Pay Record $900M In Fines for Selling Phones to Iran

Chinese telecom giant ZTE agreed Tuesday to plead guilty to violating U.S. laws that restrict business with Iran, and will pay the largest criminal fine ever in an export case — nearly $900 million. 

Federal officials called the plea and fines "a new high-water mark in enforcement efforts." 

ZTE, the fourth-largest smartphone vendor in the U.S., admitted it shipped millions of dollars worth of U.S.-sourced products to Iran illegally, sales "that were approved at the highest levels of the company," federal officials said. Employees were asked to sign non-disclosure agreements about the sales and used an e-mail system that automatically deleted messages.

The company also admitted that employees lied to federal investigators who inquired about the sales.

"ZTE Corporation not only violated export controls that keep sensitive American technology out of the hands of hostile regimes like Iran’s — they lied to federal investigators and even deceived their own counsel and internal investigators about their illegal acts,” said Attorney General Jeff Sessions. "This plea agreement holds them accountable, and makes clear that our government will use every tool we have to punish companies who would violate our laws, obstruct justice and jeopardize our national security."

ZTE sells phone handsets to AT&T, T-Mobile US, and Sprint.

2558d ago / 5:49 PM UTC

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2563d ago / 7:50 PM UTC

U.S. Announces New Iran Sanctions, But Keeps Waiving Sanctions

The Treasury Department announced new sanctions on Iran for its ballistic missile program Wednesday, but also said it will continue to waive sanctions as required by the Iran nuclear deal.

"The Treasury Department is imposing new sanctions on Iranian defense officials, an Iranian entity, and a China-based network that supplied missile-applicable items to a key Iranian defense entity,'" said a statement released by the Treasury Department. "The action reflects concern with Iran’s continued development of ballistic missiles, which is in inconsistent with United Nations Security Council Resolution 2231. 

The statement also said the waiver of sanctions "does not diminish the United States' resolve to continue countering Iran's destabilizing activity in the region. ... [A]bove all, the United States will never allow the regime in Iran to acquire a nuclear weapon."

2565d ago / 5:22 PM UTC

Ex-NSA Official Confirms Ransomware Based on Flaw Swiped from NSA

A former senior National Security Agency official who consults with the agency told NBC News that it's true, as cybersecurity researchers report, that the WannaCry ransomware epidemic is the result of a software vulnerability identified and stockpiled by the NSA. And it became public when it leaked as part of the Shadow Brokers disclosures.

The NSA releases 90 to 95 percent of the software vulnerabilities it discovers, he said, but it sits on the rest for use in hacking and spying activities. In other words, it doesn't tell Americans about software holes that make them vulnerable -- so it can exploit those weaknesses to spy on foreigners.

In this case, after the leak, the NSA warned Microsoft and other companies, the official said. Microsoft released a patch in March.

But not everybody patches, and those running outdated systems may not even be able to.

The former official said some people would like the NSA to alert industry to every software hole it finds. But then, he said, the NSA would lose intelligence collection. And hackers would still find holes to exploit, because such holes are inevitable.

That said, he praised a new system in the UK, where spies sit with private researchers and share vulnerabilities in real time. That doesn't mean the Brits don't keep some secret, he added.

He sees a Russian hand in the Shadow Brokers disclosures, which would be ironic if true. Russia has suffered heavily from the ransomware attack because it uses pirated and outdated software.

2569d ago / 1:48 PM UTC

CIA Creates New Korean Mission Center, Won't Say Who Runs It

The Agency announced late Tuesday that it has established a "Korea Mission Center" to "harness the full resources, capabilities, and authorities of the Agency in addressing the nuclear and ballistic missile threat posed by North Korea." The CIA also announced that Director Mike Pompeo has named a "veteran intelligence officer" to run the center — but declined to name the officer for security reasons.

Both publicly and privately, the agency has said North Korea has been one of, if not the most, difficult of intelligence targets.

"Creating the Korea Mission Center allows us to more purposefully integrate and direct CIA efforts against the serious threats to the United States and its allies emanating from North Korea," said Pompeo. "It also reflects the dynamism and agility that CIA brings to evolving national security challenges."

2572d ago / 4:00 PM UTC

Iran Test Fires High-Speed Torpedo Sunday

Three senior defense officials report that Iran test-fired a high-speed torpedo near the Strait of Hormuz on Sunday.

The Hoot torpedo is still in the testing phase, the officials report, but once it is fully operational it should be able to travel about 12,000 yards (approximately six nautical miles) at a speed of about 200 knots per hour (approximately 250 miles per hour). None of the officials could say whether the test was successful or not.

The USS George HW Bush strike group is in the Gulf right now but all three officials said the test did not pose a threat to U.S. ships or assets in the region.

Two of the officials said that the Iranian military last tested this torpedo in February 2015. 

2577d ago / 10:05 PM UTC

Iran Submarine Test Fires Cruise Missile, Fails

Iran tried to test-fire a cruise missile from a submarine in the southern Persian Gulf on Tuesday and failed, according to two senior U.S. officials.

One official described the launch as a “basic ejection test,” an exercise to ensure the submarine can launch the missile while submerged.  

The officials both said the test did not appear to be successful.

The submarine was in Iranian territorial waters and did not pose a threat to any U.S. military ships in the region, the officials explained.

The USS George H.W. Bush strike group is operating in the Persian Gulf, supporting military operations in Iraq and Syria.

2578d ago / 10:20 PM UTC

Former NSA Chief Hayden: Agency Loses Intel, But Gains Politically With Collection Change

The National Security Agency's recent announcement that it will stop collecting American emails that mention people who are foreign intelligence targets will result in a loss of intelligence, but may help the agency politically, former NSA director Michael Hayden says.

"Operationally, they were wiling to pay the price — the NSA is going to lose some good coverage here," Hayden said in a Q & A published Tuesday by the Cipher Brief, an intelligence website. 

The NSA announced on Friday that it would stop collecting communications among Americans that simply mention a foreign intelligence target, and limit the collection to communications between foreigners.

In the past, if an American emailed another American about, say, ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, that email might be picked up and stored by NSA.

The decision to stop doing that, Hayden said, is meant to make it easier for Congress to renew the law governing some of NSA's bulk collection, a provision known as section 702. Considered a valuable counter terrorism tool — and a potential invasion of privacy — the law expires this year.

2578d ago / 6:38 PM UTC

NYPD Sued for Documents on Facial Recognition Technology

A university think-tank that has raised concerns about unregulated use of facial-recognition by law enforcement sued the NYPD Tuesday after the department claimed it has barely any documents on how it employs the technology.

The Center for Privacy and Technology at Georgetown Law said it filed a freedom of information request for the material during research for an October report that called for new laws on how police departments can search photo databases using the increasingly popular tool.

The NYPD denied the request. After the center appealed, the NYPD said it could not find the specified documents beyond a single memorandum, according to the lawsuit.

The Georgetown group is now asking a court to compel the nation's largest police department to turn over any paperwork, citing statements from NYPD personnel in the press about how much they depend on facial recognition.

A 2016 article said the NYPD facial recognition unit had conducted 8,500 investigations, resulting in 3,000 matches and nearly 2,000 arrests. In a 2015 interview, a sergeant said the unit had "only misidentified five people."

Facial recognition technology collects data from a person's face and then compares that to databases that can have millions of faces, looking for matches. 

The Georgetown center said it can be an invaluable tool, but more needs to be done to address privacy and civil liberties issues. David Vladeck, the faculty director, called the NYPD's response to its request "deeply troubling."

"If no records exist, that means that there are no controls on the use of face recognition technology and we ought to worry about that," he said.

"If there are records, then why did the Police Department say that it couldn't find them? The lawsuit we've filed aims to get to the bottom of those questions."

The city Law Department said it was reviewing the lawsuit.

2583d ago / 9:50 PM UTC

CIA's New "Mayor" Comes From Finance Firm, Not Intelligence World

Brian Bulatao, a private equity investor from Dallas, is slated to become the No. 3 official at the CIA, according to current and former intelligence officials. 

The job has traditionally, but not always, been filled by career intelligence officers. It is not subject to Senate confirmation. 

The position has long been known as "executive director," but CIA Director Mike Pompeo is changing the title to "chief operating officer." The executive director has been called the CIA’s "mayor," responsible for the internal workings of the agency that employs an estimated 20,000 personnel worldwide.

Bulatao is no stranger to Pompeo, the former Kansas congressman who was named director by President Trump. The two were West Point classmates, graduating in 1986, and later business partners, according to officials. Pompeo, first in his class at the academy, graduated from Harvard Law School. Bulatao was an Army Ranger who served as a paratrooper, and earned an MBA from Harvard Business School.

Pompeo and Bulatao were among several West Point alumni who in 1998 founded Thayer Aerospace, a Wichita machining company. The firm received financing from a venture capital company funded by the Koch brothers, according to a 2011 story in the Washington Post. The company was sold in 2006 and Bulatao moved on to executive roles at a packaging company before entering private equity in 2010. He is currently a senior adviser at Highlander Partners, L.P., a Dallas-based investment firm that claims more than $1 billion in assets under management.

2584d ago / 8:49 PM UTC

New Orleans Prosecutor Sends Witnesses Mock Subpoenas: Report

A prosecutor's office in New Orleans is sending notices that are stamped "subpoena" but that are not issued by a judge or court to witnesses in criminal cases, according to a new report.

Legal experts told The Lens NOLA, an investigative news website, that the formal-looking paperwork is unethical and possibly illegal.

A spokesman for Orleans Parish Leon Cannizzaro defended the practice, saying, "It's no different than if we just put a letter out on our letterhead."

But the "subpeona" letters also come with a threat of arrest. "A fine and imprisonment may be imposed for failure to obey this notice," they said.

The Lens said it had confirmed three instances in which the notices were used, including the case of slain former NFL player Will Smith.

"There's no question this is improper," Pace University law professor Bennett Gershman told the site. The DA's spokesman, Chris Bowman, said his boss "does not see any legal issues with respect to this policy."

2585d ago / 9:57 PM UTC

Death Delivery: Two Charged With Selling Killer Heroin to Woman in Rehab

Two New York City men have been charged with selling a killer dose of heroin to a 41-year-old woman trying to kick her addiction in a hospital rehab clinic.

Anthony Dodaj and Duane Martinez face up to life in prison if convicted of federal charges for the New Year's Day delivery to Ivy Katz, who was later found unconscious in her room with a needle in her arm, prosecutors said.

Acting U.S. Attorney Joon Kim said the two men "will now be held to account for their role in fueling the tragic overdose death crisis in New York City." The defendants' attorneys could not be reached for immediate comment.

According to a criminal complaint in the case, Katz was a heroin addict who sought treatment at a Manhattan hospital in mid-December. Less than three weeks later, she used the hospital payphone to call her drug connection, investigators said.

On Jan. 1, Dodaj showed up at the facility and signed in as a visitor, the complaint says. Video showed him meeting with Katz, who was found comatose a half-hour after he left. Her family removed her from life support two weeks later.