Outlawed app Telegram emerges as key tool for Russian protesters

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By Francesca Ebel, The Associated Press

MOSCOW — Anti-government protesters in Russia are increasingly relying on an encrypted and officially banned messaging app to pass on information in critical situations, from dodging riot police to giving those arrested a line to the outside.

Although officially banned in Russia, Telegram is still running, and experts say it’s harder to hijack than other popular platforms.

Since July, Moscow has been rocked by almost weekly rallies after a dozen independent candidates were blocked from running for the city legislature in the Sept. 8 election. Authorities responded with a harsh police crackdown, arresting hundreds.

Russia banned Telegram after its creators refused to hand over the encryption keys to authorities last year. Nevertheless, it remains available and many pro-government figures and Kremlin officials, including President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov, still keep active accounts.

Sergey Sanovich, a postdoctoral scholar at the Center for Information Technology Policy at Princeton University, says the app is better than others at effectively coordinating protests.

“It is not designed around collecting the largest number of likes,” he said. “It is a tool for real people for offline interaction.”

Protesters have harnessed Telegram’s tools, from information channels to chats and automated bots, to streamline communication, create aid initiatives for detainees and render civil activity more effective.

If someone wants to join the grassroots, protest group Bessrochka, for example, the group’s website instructs users to join a “protest navigator” on Telegram. The navigator then provides new users with a list of channels which offer a steady flow of information about the latest opposition activity or political topic, and chats which link new recruits with other activists in their area.

Protesters have also been using Telegram bots to provide legal assistance, food or financial aid for detainees.

That is one of the ways police monitoring group OVD-Info has managed the onslaught of panicked messages from those detained at each weekend rally. Automated bots optimized a system overwhelmed by alerts, making sure that no one slips through the net and allowing the group to make a more accurate count of detainees.

A series of anonymous Telegram chats also helped protesters at a rally last month locate riot police and avoid arrest, with users exchanging tips about which areas had become too hot and which streets were safe.

Previously, rallies in Russia were partly coordinated through Twitter hashtags. But often large groups of automated bots would be deployed by pro-government agents to produce counter propaganda and spam, and the hashtag would quickly become unusable.

More and more protests are now coordinated on Telegram channels rather than Twitter.

“It’s much harder to hijack a channel than a hashtag,” Sanovich explained.

Telegram’s strengths, however, for activists are also its vulnerabilities. Its anonymity makes users’ communications safer, but it also helps the authorities who can anonymously join open chats and channels and monitor the opposition’s activity.

Gregory Asmolov, a Fellow at King’s College London’s Russia Institute, wrote in a recent essay for Open Democracy that as the Russian opposition is adopting new digital tools, the government “may soon find itself at a crossroads.”

Authorities may feel forced to use more force to block digital tools, he said, but those “drastic measures may provoke a new spiral of protests.”

Colorado Rapids secure 2-1 win over LA Galaxy

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COMMERCE CITY — Cole Bassett and Nicolás Mezquida scored six-minutes apart late in the second half and the Colorado Rapids beat the Los Angeles Galaxy 2-1 on Wednesday night.

Bassett gave Colorado (10-14-6) a 1-0 lead in the 79th minute on a header 12 yards away from the right side of the box, assisted by Jack Price. Giancarlo Gonzalez put Los Angeles (13-13-3) on the board in the 82nd with a header seven yards out from the center of the box, assisted by Cristian Pavon.

Mezquida sealed it for Colorado on a penalty kick in the 85th.

The Rapids outshot the Galaxy 16 to 10, with 10 shots on goal to seven for Los Angeles.

Colorado drew 11 corner kicks, committed 12 fouls and was given two yellow cards. Los Angeles drew five corner kicks, committed 11 fouls and was given three yellow cards.

Both teams next play Sunday. The Rapids visit Los Angeles FC and the Galaxy visit Houston.

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The Associated Press created this story using technology provided by Data Skrive and data from Sportradar.

General: U.S. faces “Sputnik moment” in space race competition

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COLORADO SPRINGS — The U.S. has reached a new “Sputnik moment” in which the military must act to keep the nation’s competitive advantage in space against adversaries such as Russia, China and to a lesser extent, Iran and North Korea, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said Monday.

Gen. Joseph Dunford made his comments during a ceremony at Peterson Air Force Base recognizing the re-launch of U.S. Space Command.

He compared President Donald Trump’s re-boot of the U.S. Space Command to President John Kennedy’s call to action after the Soviet Union started the space race with Sputnik, the first space satellite launched in 1957, and with 1961’s first manned trip into space.

“In my view, it’s not an overstatement to say that we’re at another Sputnik moment,” Dunford said. “And you could argue that the stakes are much higher than they were in the late 1950s and early 1960s.”

The Pentagon had a U.S. Space Command from 1985 to 2002, but it was disbanded in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terror attacks to focus on homeland defense. Trump said in December he would re-establish the Space Command with the goal of improving the organization space operations across the U.S. military and to speed up technical developments.

Space Command is not Space Force, a separate military service that Trump wants but which Congress must approve. In a White House ceremony last week, the president said Space Command represents a recognition of the central role of space in security and defense.

Russia and China are placing greater emphasis on their space capabilities, and have developed technology and weapons that could disrupt or destroy satellites, Dunford said.

Iran and North Korea have less developed capabilities, but they still pose a threat, he added.

Space Command has become necessary to not only compete, but will be essential to the nation’s ability to fight wars, he said.

“I learned early in my career the value of seizing the high ground in a fight,” Dunford said. “Space command will seize and hold the high ground.”

Space Command’s new commander, Gen. John “Jay” Raymond, said he wants to deter war in space by focusing on building forces that would win a cosmic battle and keep U.S. “space superiority.”

“We will develop ready and lethal space forces,” Raymond said. “We will take our existing space warfighting culture established by the original United States Space Command, honed in the Cold War and hardened in the many conflicts since, and adapt it to today’s strategic environment.”

The initial Space Command headquarters is Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs, which is also home to other units with space operations, including missile defense warning systems.

E-bikes are headed for national parks — and some in Colorado aren’t happy about it

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WASHINGTON — A new Trump administration order hotly opposed by many outdoors groups will allow e-bikes on every federal trail where a regular bike can go.

Sales of the bikes, powered by both pedals and battery-driven small motors, are booming, and some aging or less fit people have sought the rule change. It will allow them to whirr up and down biking trails in the country’s roughly 400 national parks and other federally managed backcountry areas.

Interior Secretary David Bernhardt signed the order without fanfare Thursday, classifying e-bikes as non-motorized bikes.

The e-bikes “make bicycle travel easier and more efficient, and they provide an option for people who want to ride a bicycle but might not otherwise do so because of physical fitness, age, disability or convenience,” National Park Service Deputy Director P. Daniel Smith said in a statement Friday.

But more than 50 hiking, horse-riding and other outdoor and conservation associations, including the Appalachian Trail Conservancy and Pacific Crest Trail Association, objected in a July letter to the Interior Department. They say the administration is fundamentally changing the nature of national parks with little or no public notice or study.

“It’s not an opt in/opt out. That’s the biggest complaint here,” said Michael Carroll, a senior program director at the Wilderness Society’s Colorado office. “This is classic Trump administration policy. Spend a year talking to the industry and make a policy change to accommodate that use.”

Carroll, an avid mountain biker who lives in Durango, said it’s personal for him. He thinks the rule change is an attempt to divide the outdoor recreation community.

“There’s a reason for there being non-motorized trails,” Carroll said. “People like being able to enjoy the backcountry free from motorization.”

E-bikes are the fastest-growing segment of the bicycle industry, with U.S. sales jumping 72% to $144 million last year, according to the NPD Group, which tracks bike sales. The motorized bikes are popular with commuters and aging baby boomers who might not otherwise get out on a bicycle.

The bikes, which can cost $2,000 or more, combine the frame of a regular bike with lightweight batteries and electric motors.

In parks and other public lands as on city streets and sidewalks, people moving on vehicles powered by electric or gasoline engines frequently jostle for the right of way with people on foot or traditional bikes. In the National Park Service, officials over the decades have tried to carefully sort out rules and systems to minimize conflicts.

In their letter, the outdoor groups complained the decision to allow motorized bikes on bike trails breaks with policies dating back to the early 1970s confining cars, dirt bikes, all-terrain vehicles and all other motorized vehicles to roads and designated areas or trails on public lands.

Interior’s order allows motorized bikes that can go up to 28 mph to be classified as regular bikes.

Colorado has thousands of miles of great e-bike trails already, Carroll said, including the Hermosa Creek trail, which is one of his favorites. He said he doesn’t think e-bikers are lacking places to ride, but his organization could support opening more trails if it was done in what Carroll described as the right way.

“Do a public process. Ask the sportsman. Ask the backcountry horsemen,” Carroll said. “Arbitrarily opening all non-motorized trails to e-bikes is a huge mistake.”

The Interior statement said riders must use the motor only to boost their pedaling on the trails, and not zip along on motor power alone.

Bernhardt’s order gave agency officials 30 days to come up with public guidance on how the new policy will be carried out by the National Park and National Wildlife Refuge systems, and on land overseen by the Bureau of Land Management and Bureau of Reclamation.

The National Park Service said in a statement that public comment would be sought as it works to develop a revised rule on bicycle use.

Ashley Korenblat, an advocate for preserving public lands and CEO of Western Spirit Cycling in Moab, Utah, saw several upsides.

E-bikes could lead to fewer cars at congested national parks, she said. The bikes are quiet, not much faster than regular bikes and allow people who otherwise couldn’t physically ride to go cycling.

“You can bring grandma and a 7-year-old and the whole group will be able to stay together,” said Korenblat.

Park Service Deputy Director Smith said the parks “should be responsive to visitors’ interest in using this new technology wherever it is safe and appropriate to do.”

But Brengel, the parks conservation association official, noted the order comes in a season when thousands of volunteers with trail groups have been in the parks all summer improving trails.

“You put a policy out like this, and it’s a slap in the face,” she said.

The Denver Post’s Anna Staver contributed.

Huawei reportedly canceling U.S. meetings, has sent American workers home

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The Financial Times reported Friday that tech giant Huawei has ordered its employees to cancel technical meetings with American contacts and has sent home numerous U.S. employees working at its Chinese headquarters.

The moves come amid growing U.S.-China tensions over trade and technology in which…

Foxconn has goal of using Wisconsin firms for 60% of contracting. It counts company with Arlington Heights HQ as ‘Wisconsin-based.’

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Foxconn Technology Group has awarded $13 million in contracts to three firms it describes as “Wisconsin-based.”

The Journal Sentinel reports that while the two of the three companies have a presence in Wisconsin, they are headquartered elsewhere. The contracts are for work on the foundations of…

Postal Service will ship mail on self-driving trucks for first time

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A self-driving truck company has partnered with the U.S. Postal Service to test autonomous technology on the long-haul route between Phoenix and Dallas.

San Diego-based TuSimple is planning for two autonomous trucks to carry mail and parcels on five round trips between the Postal Service distribution…

Foxconn chairman meeting at White House — reasons unclear

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Foxconn Technology Group Chairman Terry Gou is headed to the White House for a meeting, but it’s unclear why.

Foxconn has committed to building a $10 billion display screen manufacturing facility in Wisconsin that the company says will employ 13,000 people.

Foxconn said in a statement Tuesday that…