News Brief: Facebook Removes Pages, Manafort Trial, 3D Printed Guns

Aug 1, 2018
Originally published on August 1, 2018 7:46 am
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NOEL KING, HOST:

Facebook says it has uncovered a disinformation campaign on its platforms and taken it down.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Yeah. The company found 32 Facebook and Instagram pages and accounts that were connected to this campaign. Facebook's cybersecurity head said those accounts were involved in "coordinated, inauthentic behavior." That's a quote. But he said they still can't say yet who's behind this effort. However, they did say that the campaign involved, quote, "tools, techniques and procedures" similar to those employed by Russians in the 2016 election.

KING: Issie Lapowsky is a senior writer with WIRED magazine. Good morning, Issie.

ISSIE LAPOWSKY: Good morning.

KING: OK. So what kinds of accounts were these that were engaged in coordinated, inauthentic behavior?

LAPOWSKY: Facebook hasn't shared too much information, but it did say that among the most popular accounts were four names. One was called Resisters. That's sort of the classic resistance-type accountant you might imagine. One was called Mindful Being. That's a mindfulness group as far as I can tell. Another was called Black Elevation. This is similar to a lot of the pages that we saw the Internet Research Agency, the Russian propaganda group that infiltrated the 2016 election, used where they were trying to target the black community to sometimes depress the vote, turn them against Hillary Clinton. And another were called Aztlan Warriors, and that seems to be sort of a Mexican heritage page. So they were trying to, again, build trust among this sort of in-group. And who knows what purpose they wanted to use that for later.

KING: But they really ran the gamut. And Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg said in a conference call yesterday this is not the end of this. Let me play you some of what she had to say.

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SHERYL SANDBERG: Security is an arms race, and it's never done. We face determined, well-funded adversaries who won't give up and who are constantly changing tactics.

KING: Do we have a sense of how much more of this might be out there?

LAPOWSKY: I think we can pretty much guess that there's a lot more out there, and it's not probably just out there on Facebook. I imagine it's out there on all of the platforms that we saw affected during the 2016 election, and that includes Twitter, that includes Google, YouTube, reddit, Tumblr. This really was a multipronged approach in 2016. I think we should expect that it would be this year as well.

KING: Facebook has essentially said it looks like, it might be, it bears some similarity to tactics that Russia has used before. Why can't Facebook with all their resources determine who did this?

LAPOWSKY: Well, what they said was that, you know, the Russians were a little bit sloppy, leaving behind a lot of fingerprints. They used Russian IP addresses. In some cases, they paid for ads in rubles. Now, this group - if it is one group - is doing a lot more to hide their trail. So they're using what's called a VPN that can hide your location. Facebook says that they used third parties to purchase ads. So there aren't as many easy fingerprints to find. But I think that they're, you know, picking up on what details that they can find. For instance, some of the Internet Research Agency accounts were connected to some of these accounts. One of them was even an administrator on one of these pages. So they're looking for those little details that they can pick up.

KING: That's Issie Lapowsky of WIRED magazine. Issie, thanks so much.

LAPOWSKY: Thank you.

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KING: All right. A federal judge yesterday blocked the online release of blueprints for making a gun on a 3D printer.

MARTIN: Right. So this came after attorneys general from eight states, including the District of Columbia, filed suit against the Trump administration because the Trump State Department recently settled this lawsuit about this very issue, which then opened the door to these blueprints getting out there. Washington state's attorney general, Bob Ferguson, seemed delighted with this legal injunction.

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BOB FERGUSON: Makes no damn sense - no damn sense at all - to make those available.

MARTIN: President Trump tweeted yesterday, quote, "I am looking into 3D plastic guns being sold to the public, already spoke to NRA, doesn't seem to make much sense" - end quote.

KING: Matt Largey is with member station KUT in Austin. Matt, good morning.

MATT LARGEY, BYLINE: Good morning.

KING: All right. So we have a complicated story here to say the least.

LARGEY: Oh, yeah.

KING: You've been covering this company based in Texas. They're at the center of this. They're called Defense Distributed. What do they do, and how did they end up in the middle of this big fight?

LARGEY: Yeah. So, originally, they were created as a way to distribute these 3D-printed gun files. What they actually do right now is they make these milling machines - they're about the size of a microwave - that people can buy. They're about $2,000. And they can mill gun parts with them, but they can't download the plans for those online.

KING: It's two different ways of making guns. One of them is, you know, you make the gun in your garage using tools, and one of them is you make the gun using a 3D printer, which, you know, many people don't own. All right. So here is the issue that I think is drawing a lot of concern. This company did put these blueprints online in 2013. And then the federal government took notice and said take them down. But this means the blueprints are already available online. So does what the judge said yesterday - you can't do this - actually mean anything?

LARGEY: Yeah. The blueprints for Cody Wilson, the founder of Defense Distributed, the original gun that he made, which was a single-shot pistol that he called the Liberator - and yeah, it was all plastic. It had a few sort of simple metal components that you could buy at a hardware store basically. And so those plans have been out there for years, actually. He put them online. The State Department told him to take them down, but they have always sort of been freely available on file-sharing sites. The files have been being passed around for years. But they had only released that one - the plans for that one gun. So what they did on Friday was they released plans for several other guns, including an AR-15.

KING: Oh, OK.

LARGEY: And so now those plans are still out there. They've been downloaded thousands of times already.

KING: All right, so what happens next, just briefly? This ruling by the judge doesn't settle this, does it?

LARGEY: No. I'm - though I haven't heard this for a fact, I assume that Cody Wilson is going to appeal this ruling. And I really doubt that this is the end of the fight.

KING: KUT's Matt Largey. Matt, thanks so much.

LARGEY: Thank you.

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KING: All right. Today is day two in the trial of President Trump's former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort.

MARTIN: Yesterday at the opening of the trial, lawyers picked a jury. There were opening statements, even testimony from a key witness. Paul Manafort is accused of financial fraud, but it is his connections to Ukraine and its pro-Russia leader - former leader - that loom over this trial.

KING: NPR's justice correspondent Carrie Johnson is covering the trial. Good morning, Carrie.

CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: Good morning.

KING: All right. So yesterday, you had opening statements in which each side laid out their narrative. Let's start with the government's narrative. What did they say?

JOHNSON: Yeah, sure. Prosecutor Uzo Asonye says these 18 tax and bank fraud charges boil down to one thing - that Paul Manafort lied, that he believed the law did not apply to him. Remember; Paul Manafort earned something like $60 million through his lobbying work in Ukraine. But the authorities say he concealed a lot of that money from the Internal Revenue Service and failed to file reports on his foreign bank accounts. And yesterday, in its opening statement, the government argued Paul Manafort spent that money lavishly on real estate, antique rugs, $15,000 on a custom jacket made from an ostrich. Sadly, we did not get a photo of the ostrich jacket. But prosecutors say also more seriously that Manafort lied to his bookkeepers and accountants, and they passed on those lies to the IRS.

KING: All right. That's the government's story. What does Paul Manafort's defense team say about all this?

JOHNSON: Yeah, there's a counternarrative going on here from the defense. They say the record keeping lapses by Paul Manafort were a mistake, not intentional fraud that rises to the level of a crime. His defense lawyer, Tom Zehnle, says this case is about trust and that Manafort put his trust in the wrong guy. His former right-hand man, Rick Gates, Manafort says he was traveling the world and left the money details to Gates. And they say that Gates embezzled money from the business. Then, when they all got in trouble, Gates pleaded guilty and agreed to flip on Manafort. Rick Gates is going to be a key witness in this trial. Manafort wants to put Rick Gates on trial.

KING: All right. The jury yesterday heard from the first witness, a political consultant who worked with Manafort. He was a witness for the prosecution. What did he testify to?

JOHNSON: This is a man named Tad Devine who does a lot of TV and radio ads for candidates. He's worked for Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, former Vice President Al Gore and other prominent Democrats like John Kerry. But in this case, Devine was mostly a way for prosecutors to demonstrate that Manafort did sweat the details when it comes to money, at least when it came to Ukraine's former leader, Viktor Yanukovych, and his political work there. On cross-examination, Tad Devine said he thought Manafort was very professional, very hardworking, earned all the money he made in Ukraine. So that was a little bit of a positive moment for the defense.

KING: All right. So a lot went on yesterday. What happens - what is happening today?

JOHNSON: Yeah. What we know so far is that the second witness is going to be another political consultant who did work with Paul Manafort in Ukraine, a man named Daniel Rabin. Then we're going to get to hear from one of the FBI agents in the case. And because this case is moving so swiftly, I expect several other witnesses today as well.

KING: Do we have any idea what the second witness, Daniel Rabin, is going to be testifying to?

JOHNSON: He's going to be talking a lot about the consulting work they all did together in Ukraine. And I believe prosecutors are going to try to demonstrate once again that Paul Manafort was the boss, he was the guy in charge of that effort.

KING: All right, a big tangled trial here. NPR's justice correspondent, Carrie Johnson, is covering it. Carrie, thank you so much.

JOHNSON: My pleasure.

(SOUNDBITE OF JON HOPKINS' "LOST IN THOUGHT") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.