If you think the NSA is bad, try the Putin-controlled Chrome toolbar

If you think the NSA is bad, try the Putin-controlled Chrome toolbar

Summary: I am not making this up. You can't make this stuff up. This is what the world is coming to.

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When I grew up the Russians were the Soviets and they were the bad guys. We were told we were about 20 minutes or so from mutually-assured destruction and that the Russians (er, Soviets) hated us for our freedoms.

Eventually, things changed. The Soviet Union fell but many of the old guard remained in power. Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin is a good example. He spent 16 years in the KGB, mustering out with the title of Lieutenant Colonel (the same rank Ollie North had when he was playing games with Iran and the Contras).

While Ollie never became leader of a great nation, Vlad-Vlad certainly did. In fact, the Putinator has been either President or Prime Minister of today's Russia since 1998. Suffice it to say, not much goes on in Russia today without the Putin stamp of approval.

That's why my attention was so quickly drawn to what seems like a normal little marketing gimmick on the part of RT.com. You might know RT.com as a news site. After all, Alexa shows it has a ranking 553 in terms of American visitors to its Web site. 20 percent of its visitors come from the United States (compared to only 5.8 percent who visit from Russia).

What was that marketing gimmick? Nothing big really. Just an extension you can install in Chrome to keep up with RT's news. Or is it something more... devious?

RTputin-sept2013
Image courtesy RT.com

Let's explore RT.com for just a minute. RT.com is Russia Today. Yeah, it's a Russian-owned and Russian-operated propaganda vehicle aimed squarely at Americans. It is funded directly by the Russian Government through Rospechat, the former Ministry of Communications and Mass Media, now known as the Federal Agency on Press and Mass Communications of the Russian Federation.

RT is Putin's house organ. Of course, because most people don't bother to investigate where their news comes from, RT.com is regularly quoted and Liked and tweated all around the blogosphere. I wonder how many people who think they're good Americans don't realize they're furthering Putinganda all across the U.S.?

So here's what baffles me. Everyone is all up in arms about this NSA spying thing, where activities being done are being done under carefully defined legal conditions, and where most of it is for Americans' protection. And yet there are constant stories of outrage.

But when a foreign frenemy power wants to install a toolbar right in your browser, a toolbar that can do pretty much anything (no, I haven't disassembled it, but that's not the point), no one whines and no one cries.

Of course, we're also depending on Eugene Kaspersky for much of our anti-malware protection. Kaspersky was trained by the KGB and his anti-malware software "protects" about a third of America's PCs.

Americans and the press are all freaking out because America's premier signals intelligence agency is gathering signals intelligence for the purpose of protecting America, but then they turn around and open up their computers and their privacy completely to a foreign power who most definitely does not have their best interests at heart.

Sometimes I just don't understand folks out there.

Oh, and if you want to know more about Putin and his antics, read this briefing paper I wrote last year. That one will give you nightmares for a week.

By the way, I'm doing more updates on Twitter and Facebook than ever before. Be sure to follow me on Twitter at @DavidGewirtz and on Facebook at Facebook.com/DavidGewirtz.

Topics: Security, Google, Government, Government US, Privacy

About

David Gewirtz, Distinguished Lecturer at CBS Interactive, is an author, U.S. policy advisor, and computer scientist. He is featured in the History Channel special The President's Book of Secrets and is a member of the National Press Club.

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Talkback

55 comments
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  • It never dawned on me...

    It never fully dawned on me what the implications of a Putin led Russia mean until you brought up Ollie North. So Russia today is basically what the U.S. would be had Ollie North been elected president for life instead of shuttling off to a cushy "analyst" job at Fox.

    A cold shudder just ran down my spine!
    dsf3g
    • Oliver North didn't operate in a vacuum

      The man did what he was ordered to do.
      It was the lack of legality of his actions that were the problem.
      Ideally, he should have brought those orders to the attention of Congress, just like Jack Ryan did in "A Clear and Present Danger."
      But that would have cost him his career just as assuredly as being caught in the Iran-Contra hearings.
      Dr_Zinj
    • Oliver North didn't operate in a vacuum

      The man did what he was ordered to do.
      It was the lack of legality of his actions that were the problem.
      Ideally, he should have brought those orders to the attention of Congress, just like Jack Ryan did in "A Clear and Present Danger."
      But that would have cost him his career just as assuredly as being caught in the Iran-Contra hearings.
      Dr_Zinj
    • Unlike almost everyone else

      Commenting on Iran-Contra, I actually watched the hearings and so know that Iran-Contra was actually an attempt to topple the Mullahs in Iran and was not an arms for hostages deal. I also know that the Boland amendment was written to keep the Communists in power in Nicaragua. I also know that pretty much every lawyer at the time was of the opinion that the Boland amendment didn't prohibit what the NSA was doing.
      baggins_z
      • If only

        Ah, if only those traitorous Democrats in congress hadn't stopped him, St. Ronnie might have sold the mullahs two aircraft carriers, a wing of B1 bombers, and a handful of MX missiles! Surely that would have been enough to topple the regime! Problem wasn't that we sold Iran these weapons... Problem was we didn't sell them enough!
        dsf3g
        • The sales weren't going to the Mullahs.

          But thanks for showing that you also don't have a clue as to what the Iran-Contra operation was really about.
          baggins_z
          • Of course not..

            Of course not, the sales were going to fairies and unicorns, which is why Ollie North and John Pointdexter shredded thousands and thousands of pages of official documents... they didn't want the world to know the truth about the existence of fairies and unicorns.
            dsf3g
  • Toolbars in Chrome!

    Where to sir?
    All the way down.
    Dreyer Smit
  • Globalisation

    That's the thing with globalisation... stuff spreads. A bit from here, a bit from there and assembled somewhere else. The thing is you do not have to be a died-in-the-wool Capitalist to appreciate the benefits. Heck especially the died-in-the-wool Capitalist appreciates the benefit.

    How much of your network infrastructure comes from China? What proportion of your software comes from India or the Middle East or indeed China? Are your personal data being processed in Asia?

    Of course it is a fact that the black hats are all abroad and the white hats all come from the US (that is apart from Ollie... ).

    At least the US citizen does have the freedom to CHOOSE to install the RT toolbar and not use Kaspersky. In which case, thanks for providing the public information service.

    Now, where do you stand on Chinese manufactured comms stuff? Are they safe or not?
    dcarmi
  • You do realize...

    Many Nazi scientists and statesman were secretly embedded into our govt (ie. NASA) after WWII? You do realize all of our American mian-stream media is fully owned by the 1% corporations, including a few non-americans? You do realize that the Telcoms allow NSA and other intelligence full access of their systems and data? Putin and Russia has always been a threat since WWII, but I believe, as many Americans believe, the enemy is not always foreign. And lastly, that Abby Martin gives me a woody every time! Just sayin'! And I don't install toolbars.
    SpankyFrost
    • Not even

      Not even the Abby Martin toolbar?
      dsf3g
      • No, that's

        Abbie Normal
        ka5s@...
    • Wait...what?

      "Putin and Russia has always been a threat since WWII"

      WWII was over in 1945 and Putin wasn't born until 1952.
      ShuaiJan
  • So here's what baffles me.

    "Everyone is all up in arms about this NSA spying thing, where activities being done are being done under carefully defined legal conditions"

    The NSA spying is clearly unconstitutional. No one shall have his person, houses, papers, and effects searched without a warrant issued on probable cause, sworn on an oath particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

    So, David Gewirtz, if the NSA has any of your phone or Internet data, where is a warrant sworn on probable cause?

    Read the 4th Amendment. I'll make it easy for you:

    The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
    bb_apptix
    • I'll make this easy for you to understand

      The NSA spying is being done by Democrats. So it is OK. If this were a Republican administration, the blog author would be the first in line calling for hearings, arrests and impeachments.
      baggins_z
      • Love you baggins but

        As long as you continue to fall for the Dems vs Reps paradigm then you will continue to be played for a sucker. Both parties are funded by the same people and are carefully staged to divide and conquer us. They have done a good job as we all tend to prefer one party over another per our personal psychological leanings but in the end we are being suckered in divisiveness instead of uniting as single group of Americans against the silent tyranny that lies behind both parties.
        Astringent
        • I'm telling you the motivations of the blog

          author. Not my motivations.
          baggins_z
      • Yes, yes, everything is always partisan.

        Yawn-a-rama. Look at recent history. Even REX84 should keep you from getting turned on.
        HypnoToad72
    • As if the NSA is what you should worry about.

      You don't have a clue. You fear is misplaced. The real deal is not governmental it has no limitation of law or location.. The Internet is like a post card passed from hand to hand the emperors new cloths looks to be the fashion now.
      Altotus
    • "and if your government should ever become oppressive

      you have the right to tear it down, even by force"......
      winddrift03