Venice still waiting for Moses to hold back the seas

A car is pictured submerged in flood water in Venice, Italy November 13, 2019. Vigili del Fuoco/Handout via REUTERS

By Riccardo Bastianello and Crispian Balmer

VENICE/ROME (Reuters) – If everything had gone according to plan, Tuesday’s high tide should never have reached the lagoon city of Venice, let alone flood its basilica, submerge its squares and inundate its historic palaces.

But things in Italy rarely go according to plan, especially if you are talking about the execution of a mega infrastructure project involving massive public financing and complex, cutting-edge engineering.

Following the worst flooding in its history in 1966, the Italian government asked engineers to draw up plans to build a barrier at sea to defend one of the world’s most picturesque yet fragile cities from the constant threat of high tides.

Fast forward to 2003 and construction finally started with completion set for 2011. But the project, known as Mose, has been plagued by the sort of problems that have come to characterize many major Italian construction programs — corruption, cost overruns and prolonged delays.

Engineers are now predicting the sea defense system will go on line at the end of 2021 at a cost of 5.5 billion euros ($6.1 billion) against an original estimate of 1.6 billion euros.

“These delays are an embarrassment for all of Italy and we urgently need a solution,” Alessandro Morelli, the head of parliament’s transport commission said on Wednesday, promising to dispatch lawmakers to Venice to review the program.

The good news is they will discover that the building work is almost complete. The bad news is no-one is sure how it will cope with the growing phenomenon of flooding and whether it might prove too little, too late.

MOBILE BARRIERS

Mose is an acronym for “Modulo Sperimentale Elettromeccanico”, or “Experimental Electromechanical Module”, and refers to the biblical figure Moses who parted the Red Sea to enable the Israelites to flee to safety from Egypt.

The modern-day Moses consists of 78 bright yellow mobile barriers buried in the water that, when activated, will rise above the surface and prevent surging tides from the Adriatic Sea flooding the delicate Venetian lagoon.

“If Mose had been working, then we would have avoided this exceptional high tide,” Venice Mayor Luigi Brugnaro said after Tuesday’s floods, which followed a tide of 187 cm (6ft 2ins) — the worst since the 194 cm recorded in 1966.

All 78 gates are now in place and engineers are working on the mechanics of raising them simultaneously once tides of more than 110 cm are forecast, with first testing expected next year.

But there is no guarantee it will go smoothly.

Part of the submerged infrastructure has already started to rust and a source close to the consortium building the mobile dam told Reuters on Wednesday it would cost some 100 million euros a year to maintain — much higher than original estimates.

The source, who declined to be named, was confident that once operational, it could defend Venice from tides of up to 3 meters high, well beyond the current record.

But some experts worry that the system was not designed to deal with the sort of rising sea waters that recent climate-change models have predicted.

A report http://www.unesco.org/new/fileadmin/MULTIMEDIA/FIELD/Venice/pdf/rapporto1_very%20high%20res.pdf by the U.N.’s science and culture agency UNESCO says Mose was planned on a base scenario of sea levels in the northern Adriatic rising some 22 cm by 2100, but many scientists fear that assumption is far too optimistic.

“The planned mobile barriers might be able to avoid flooding for the next few decades, but the sea will eventually rise to a level where even continuous closures will not be able to protect the city from flooding,” the 2011 UNESCO report concluded.

($1 = 0.9074 euros)

(Writing by Crispian Balmer; Editing by Gareth Jones)

Exclusive: Chief U.S. spy catcher says China using LinkedIn to recruit Americans

Small toy figures are seen between displayed U.S. flag and Linkedin logo in this illustration picture, August 30, 2018. To match Exclusive LINKEDIN-CHINA/ESPIONAGE REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration

By Warren Strobel and Jonathan Landay

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States’ top spy catcher said Chinese espionage agencies are using fake LinkedIn accounts to try to recruit Americans with access to government and commercial secrets, and the company should shut them down.

William Evanina, the U.S. counter-intelligence chief, told Reuters in an interview that intelligence and law enforcement officials have told LinkedIn, owned by Microsoft Corp., about China’s “super aggressive” efforts on the site.

He said the Chinese campaign includes contacting thousands of LinkedIn members at a time, but he declined to say how many fake accounts U.S. intelligence had discovered, how many Americans may have been contacted and how much success China has had in the recruitment drive.

German and British authorities have previously warned their citizens that Beijing is using LinkedIn to try to recruit them as spies. But this is the first time a U.S. official has publicly discussed the challenge in the United States and indicated it is a bigger problem than previously known.

Evanina said LinkedIn should look at copying the response of Twitter, Google and Facebook, which have all purged fake accounts allegedly linked to Iranian and Russian intelligence agencies.

“I recently saw that Twitter is cancelling, I don’t know, millions of fake accounts, and our request would be maybe LinkedIn could go ahead and be part of that,” said Evanina, who heads the U.S. National Counter-Intelligence and Security Center.

It is highly unusual for a senior U.S. intelligence official to single out an American-owned company by name and publicly recommend it take action. LinkedIn boasts 562 million users in more than 200 counties and territories, including 149 million U.S. members.

Evanina did not, however, say whether he was frustrated by LinkedIn’s response or whether he believes it has done enough.

LinkedIn’s head of trust and safety, Paul Rockwell, confirmed the company had been talking to U.S. law enforcement agencies about Chinese espionage efforts. Earlier this month, LinkedIn said it had taken down “less than 40” fake accounts whose users were attempting to contact LinkedIn members associated with unidentified political organizations. Rockwell did not say whether those were Chinese accounts.

“We are doing everything we can to identify and stop this activity,” Rockwell told Reuters. “We’ve never waited for requests to act and actively identify bad actors and remove bad accounts using information we uncover and intelligence from a variety of sources including government agencies.”

Rockwell declined to provide numbers of fake accounts associated with Chinese intelligence agencies. He said the company takes “very prompt action to restrict accounts and mitigate and stop any essential damage that can happen” but gave no details.

LinkedIn “is a victim here,” Evanina said. “I think the cautionary tale … is, ‘You are going to be like Facebook. Do you want to be where Facebook was this past spring with congressional testimony, right?'” he said, referring to lawmakers’ questioning of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg on Russia’s use of Facebook to meddle in the 2016 U.S. elections.

China’s foreign ministry disputed Evanina’s allegations.

“We do not know what evidence the relevant U.S. officials you cite have to reach this conclusion. What they say is complete nonsense and has ulterior motives,” the ministry said in a statement.

EX-CIA OFFICER ENSNARED

Evanina said he was speaking out in part because of the case of Kevin Mallory, a retired CIA officer convicted in June of conspiring to commit espionage for China.

A fluent Mandarin speaker, Mallory was struggling financially when he was contacted via a LinkedIn message in February 2017 by a Chinese national posing as a headhunter, according to court records and trial evidence.

The individual, using the name Richard Yang, arranged a telephone call between Mallory and a man claiming to work at a Shanghai think tank.

During two subsequent trips to Shanghai, Mallory agreed to sell U.S. defense secrets – sent over a special cellular device he was given – even though he assessed his Chinese contacts to be intelligence officers, according to the U.S. government’s case against him. He is due to be sentenced in September and could face life in prison.

While Russia, Iran, North Korea and other nations also use LinkedIn and other platforms to identify recruitment targets, the U.S. intelligence officials said China is the most prolific and poses the biggest threat.

U.S. officials said China’s Ministry of State Security has “co-optees” – individuals who are not employed by intelligence agencies but work with them – set up fake accounts to approach potential recruits.

They said the targets include experts in fields such as supercomputing, nuclear energy, nanotechnology, semi-conductors, stealth technology, health care, hybrid grains, seeds and green energy.

Chinese intelligence uses bribery or phony business propositions in its recruitment efforts. Academics and scientists, for example, are offered payment for scholarly or professional papers and, in some cases, are later asked or pressured to pass on U.S. government or commercial secrets.

Some of those who set up fake accounts have been linked to IP addresses associated with Chinese intelligence agencies, while others have been set up by bogus companies, including some that purport to be in the executive recruiting business, said a senior U.S. intelligence official, who requested anonymity in order to discuss the matter.

The official said “some correlation” has been found between Americans targeted through LinkedIn and data hacked from the Office of Personnel Management, a U.S. government agency, in attacks in 2014 and 2015.

The hackers stole sensitive private information, such as addresses, financial and medical records, employment history and fingerprints, of more than 22 million Americans who had undergone background checks for security clearances.

The United States identified China as the leading suspect in the massive hacking, an assertion China’s foreign ministry at the time dismissed as `absurd logic.`

 

UNPARALLELED SPYING EFFORT

About 70 percent of China’s overall espionage is aimed at the U.S. private sector, rather than the government, said Joshua Skule, the head of the FBI’s intelligence division, which is charged with countering foreign espionage in the United States.

“They are conducting economic espionage at a rate that is unparalleled in our history,” he said.

Evanina said five current and former U.S. officials – including Mallory – have been charged with or convicted of spying for China in the past two and a half years.

He indicated that additional cases of suspected espionage for China by U.S. citizens are being investigated, but declined to provide details.

U.S. intelligence services are alerting current and former officials to the threat and telling them what security measures they can take to protect themselves.

Some current and former officials post significant details about their government work history online – even sometimes naming classified intelligence units that the government does not publicly acknowledge.

LinkedIn “is a very good site,” Evanina said. “But it makes for a great venue for foreign adversaries to target not only individuals in the government, formers, former CIA folks, but academics, scientists, engineers, anything they want. It’s the ultimate playground for collection.”

(Reporting by Warren Strobel and Jonathan Landay; Additional reporting by John Walcott; Editing by Kieran Murray and Ross Colvin)