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Facebook ramps up election security efforts ahead of 2020

WQAD News -

With just over a year left until the 2020 U.S. presidential election, Facebook is stepping up its efforts to ensure it is not used as a tool to interfere in politics and democracies around the world.

The efforts outlined Monday include a special security tool for elected officials and candidates that monitors their accounts for hacking attempts such as login attempts from unusual locations or unverified devices. Facebook said Monday it will also label state-controlled media as such, label fact-checks more clearly and invest $2 million in media literacy projects.

The company also announced it has removed four networks of fake, misinformation-spreading accounts based in Russia and Iran. These networks sought to disrupt elections in the U.S., North Africa and Latin America, the company said. In the past year, Facebook says it has taken down 50 such clusters of accounts, a sign that efforts to use its services to disrupt elections are not letting up.

“Elections have changed significantly since 2016 and Facebook has too,” CEO Mark Zuckerberg said in a conference call Monday. The social network was caught embarrassingly off guard during the 2016 election, having let others use its platform to spread misinformation, manipulate voters and meddle with democracy.

The company says it will also add more prominent labels on debunked posts on Facebook as well as on Instagram. It will put labels on top of what are deemed “false” and “partly false” photos and videos. But Facebook will continue to allow politicians to run ads containing misinformation .

Critics say Facebook’s measures don’t go far enough and argue that the main problem is its business model, which depends on targeted advertisements and making sure that users stay engaged and entertained. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a leading Democratic presidential candidate and one of Facebook’s biggest critics , has proposed breaking it up.

Facebook also says it will add more information about the people or groups who establish or manage Facebook pages. The company said Monday it has noticed groups and people “failing” to disclose the organizations behind pages so people think it is run independently. Starting with large pages in the U.S., Facebook says it is adding a new section about “organizations that manage this page.”

Facebook says it will require the page’s creators to add this information in order to run ads. The rule applies to pages that have gone through the company’s business verification process and to pages that run ads about social issues, elections or politics. If the page creators don’t post this information, they won’t be allowed to advertise.

4 parents in college admissions scam flip to guilty plea as some defendants may face more charges

WQAD News -

(CNN) — Four parents who initially fought charges in the college admissions scam have agreed to plead guilty over the past few days, according to the US Attorney’s Office in the District of Massachusetts.

The plea changes come as federal prosecutors are expected to file additional charges against some defendants who pleaded not guilty in the case, a law enforcement official told CNN. The additional charges, which are said to include bribery, could be filed as early as Tuesday, according to the official.

Douglas Hodge, Manuel Henriquez, Elizabeth Henriquez and Michelle Janavs have each agreed to plead guilty to conspiracy fraud and conspiracy to commit money laundering, prosecutors said. All four have plea hearings set for Monday.

The threat of future charges reflects prosecutors’ carrot-and-stick approach to this case as they use potential charges to try to get defendants to plead guilty.

“The carrot is, ‘Take a quick plea and get your best shot at a lower sentence,'” CNN legal analyst Elie Honig said in April. “And the stick is, ‘We have additional charges that we’ll bring if you don’t plead by that date.'”

Prosecutors initially charged more than 30 parents with conspiracy fraud in March. Those who fought that charge, including actress Lori Loughlin and her husband Mossimo Giannulli, were then charged with a count of conspiracy to commit money laundering in a superseding indictment in April.

Federal prosecutors say at least 50 people were involved in a nationwide fraud to get students into prestigious universities, including wealthy parents, Hollywood actresses, coaches and college prep executives. Ten parents have been sentenced, including actress Felicity Huffman.

More about those pleading guilty

The four parents expected to plead guilty on Monday all come from wealthy business backgrounds.

Hodge, the former CEO of the Pacific Investment Management Company (PIMCO), pleaded guilty to agreeing to pay $200,000 to facilitate his daughter’s admission to the University of Southern California as a soccer recruit and submitting false soccer credentials on her application. He also paid Rick Singer — the alleged mastermind of the scheme — another $325,000 to help his son get admitted to USC as a purported football recruit, prosecutors said.

Hodge apologized in a statement released through his attorneys.

“I accept full and complete responsibility for my conduct. I have always prided myself on leading by example, and I am ashamed of the decisions I made,” he said. “I acted out of love for my children, but I know that this explanation for my actions is not an excuse. I also want to apologize to the deserving college students who may have been adversely impacted by this process.”

In addition, Hodge promised to “continue working hard through charitable endeavors aimed at providing educational opportunities to underprivileged students to begin to repair the harm my actions have caused.”

Manuel Henriquez, the former CEO and founder of Hercules Capital, and his wife Elizabeth Henriquez are accused of participating in the test-cheating aspect of the scheme four separate times for their two daughters. They also are accused of conspiring to bribe Georgetown’s tennis coach to get their daughter into the university as a tennis recruit.

Janavs, a former food executive whose family’s company invented Hot Pockets, is accused of paying to cheat on her daughter’s ACT and of conspiring to bribe USC to get her daughter admitted as a beach volleyball recruit.

Martin Fox, who prosecutors say was president of a private tennis academy in Houston, has agreed to plead guilty to conspiracy to commit racketeering and has entered into a cooperation agreement with prosecutors, according to court documents.

Fox is accused of introducing Singer to a former University of Texas tennis coach and accepting $100,000 for assisting with the bribe transaction. Fox, 62, also arranged similar bribes on two occasions with a coach at the University of San Diego, according to the indictment.

Prosecutors have agreed to recommend a sentence on the low end of the sentencing guidelines:12 months supervised release, forfeiture totaling $462,961.23 and mandatory special assessment of $100 and restitution, according to court documents.

Some defendants insist on innocence

Despite the possibility of more charges, several attorneys told CNN their clients would not be changing their positions.

An attorney for Amy Colburn and Gregory Colburn, two parents charged with conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest services mail fraud as well as money laundering conspiracy, said they won’t be changing their not guilty plea.

“Adding new charges at this time seems to be vindictive and intended to discourage our clients and others from exercising their constitutional right to a fair trial,” attorney Patric Hooper said.

An attorney for defendant Jovan Vavic, a former University of Southern California water polo coach, said he pleaded not guilty to conspiracy to commit racketeering because “he is innocent.”

“Nothing has changed,” attorney Stephen Larson said.

Further, an attorney for two people charged in the case — Gordon Ernst, a former Georgetown University tennis coach, and Homayoun Zadeh, an associate professor of dentistry at USC — said they would not change their pleas.

“My clients continue to rely on their constitutional right to a trial and will not be bullied into a plea on the threat of additional charges for exactly the same conduct,” attorney Tracy Miner said.

Bag explodes while being loaded onto flight at Midway Airport in Chicago

WQAD News -

CHICAGO (WGN) — Normal operations have resumed at Midway International Airport after a bag exploded on a belt while being loaded onto an outgoing Volaris flight.

Volaris is a low-cost Mexican airline. The incident happened at Gate A2 at about 12:20 p.m. Monday.

A Level 1 hazmat situation was called, but has since been cleared.

An airport source told WGN there’s nothing to suggest a sinister motive.  Authorities are investigating to determine if it was some type of battery that exploded.

Bag was affected by a possible cell phone battery or battery charger. Incident was cleared by the bomb squad and no one was injured. Thanks to everyone for being vigilant and to the firefighters, officers and technicians who assisted. https://t.co/EZEnQVt5nU

— Anthony Guglielmi (@AJGuglielmi) October 21, 2019

Chicago police said there were no injuries, and there is no threat to the public. A heavy police and fire presence, including various federal agencies, remains on the scene.

Chicago Midway @fly2midway pic.twitter.com/FQPWQcfbMJ

— Scott McBride (@ksmcbride) October 21, 2019

Police pursuit in Davenport following fired shots overnight Sunday

WQAD News -

DAVENPORT, Iowa — Police entered into a chase with a vehicle after responding to fired shots early on Sunday, October 20th.

At approximately 12:36 a.m., Davenport Police responding to a call of shots fired in the 1700 block of Calvin Street. While officers were en route, dispatchers obtained a description of a suspect vehicle. Officers discovered the vehicle in the area of Central Park and Clark Street, and then pursued it once the vehicle began to flee. Officers were able to stop the car in the area of telegraph Road and Pine Street.

Two male juveniles were apprehended. The driver, a 17-year-old male was charged with several traffic violations. A search of the related areas produced one firearm and many spent cartridges. No injuries were reported, but one squad car sustained damage as a result of stopping the fleeing vehicle.

The investigation is ongoing. No further information is available at the time.

Anyone with information is encouraged to call the Davenport Police Department at 563 326-6125 or submit an
anonymous tip via the mobile app entitled “CityConnect Davenport, IA” or “CrimeReports by Motorola”.

Public, election officials may be kept in the dark on hacks

WQAD News -

WASHINGTON (AP) — If the FBI discovers that foreign hackers have infiltrated the networks of your county election office, you may not find out about it until after voting is over. And your governor and other state officials may be kept in the dark, too.

There’s no federal law compelling state and local governments to share information when an electoral system is hacked. And a federal policy keeps details secret by shielding the identity of all cyber victims regardless of whether election systems are involved.

Election officials are in a difficult spot: If someone else’s voting system is targeted, they want to know exactly what happened so they can protect their own system. Yet when their own systems are targeted, they may be cautious about disclosing details. They must balance the need for openness with worries over undermining any criminal investigation. And they want to avoid chaos or confusion, the kind of disruption that hackers want.

The secrecy surrounding foreign hacks is not a hypothetical issue. The public still doesn’t know which Florida counties were breached by Russian agents in the 2016 election. Rick Scott, Florida’s governor in 2016 and now a U.S. senator, was not told at the time and didn’t learn most of the details until this year.

And the threat to electoral systems is real. Federal officials believe Russian agents in 2016 searched for vulnerabilities within election systems in all 50 states. And the nation’s intelligence chiefs warn that Russia and other nations remain interested in interfering in U.S. elections.

Meanwhile, experts worry the White House hasn’t highlighted the threat as President Donald Trump argues it’s OK for foreign countries to provide damaging information on his political rivals, a matter now the subject of an impeachment inquiry led by House Democrats.

In general, it’s up to electoral agencies to disclose when they’ve been hacked. That, plus the federal policy protecting the identity of cyber victims, could mean that state election officials might not be told immediately if one of their local election offices experiences a breach. In addition, the whole situation could be considered classified as part of a federal investigation.

At least two states — Colorado and Iowa — have implemented policies to compel local officials to notify the state about suspected breaches involving election systems.

“Every American in this nation deserves to have a democracy they can believe in, and when there is not good communication on cyber incidents … it does create a lack of confidence in the system,” said Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold. “Luckily we have been able to work around the void of federal policy that has been leaving our nation in a precarious spot.”

But Department of Homeland Security officials say privacy is needed to ensure that officials come forward and share valuable threat information, such as suspect IP addresses.

Some election officials could be hesitant about public disclosures, concerned their agencies would be portrayed in a negative light. They could opt to handle any breach alone.

That could create dangerous delays in sharing information, said Jeanette Manfra, assistant director for cybersecurity at Homeland Security’s new cyber agency.

Homeland Security acts as the middleman between the intelligence community and the states. In general, communication and coordination on election security have improved in the last two years.

“We’ve worked over the years to be able to declassify even more and to do it faster,” Manfra said. “It’s still not a perfect process.”

Due to the criminal nature of cyber breaches, law enforcement officials may seek to withhold releasing certain information long after the incident. When Florida’s current governor, Ron DeSantis, was briefed this year on the 2016 cyber breaches, he said he signed an agreement preventing him from identifying the affected counties.

The secrecy surrounding Florida helped spur bipartisan legislation that would compel reporting among federal, state and local officials and to voters potentially affected by a breach. Rep. Stephanie Murphy, a Florida Democrat, co-sponsor of the bill, said she believes voters are the victims, not the election office, and that not disclosing information about election-related breaches could undermine public confidence.

In June, a majority of Americans expressed at least some concern that voting systems are vulnerable to hackers, according to a poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.

“It’s hard for me to assess if what people are doing in response is sufficient when I don’t know the full scope of the problem,” Murphy said. “And I think that’s the same issue with voters: How can they feel comfortable or confident that this next election will be free and fair?”

Yet election officials want to ensure they have a good understanding of what happened before going public so they don’t contribute to the confusion that the hackers may be trying to achieve.

Cyber intrusions are inherently complicated, taking time to understand and contain. There is also a concern of inadvertently releasing information that could invite further compromises or undermine an investigation.

“It is important to be as transparent as possible, but as with any crime, the full details of an investigation are not discussed,” said Paul Pate, Iowa’s Republican secretary of state. “It’s a balancing act that needs to be measured on a case-by-case basis.”

In 2017, California election officials quickly disclosed the state had been notified by federal officials that its election systems were among those scanned by Russians the year before. Five days later, they had to correct the announcement after discovering the scans involved a non-election system. Secretary of State Alex Padilla, a Democrat, said it was an important lesson in making sure all the facts were there, especially considering the public is not familiar with cybersecurity terminology.

In the summer of 2016, hackers accessed Illinois’ voter registration database, and officials moved fast to shut down the system and isolate the threat. State officials knew the move wouldn’t go unnoticed and felt it was important to notify the public.

It became clear only later that Russian agents were involved, and the breach was part of an unprecedented campaign to interfere in U.S. elections.

Matt Dietrich, spokesman for the Illinois State Board of Elections, said it would be hard to imagine that any election office would try to keep something like that quiet today.

“In 2016, it was a story and then it was dealt with and then it kind of went away for a year,” Dietrich said. “That is not going to happen this time. It will be a national and a worldwide story. We all know this. We all know we are going to be under the microscope.”

Man named Tupac Shakur arrested in Tennessee for meth possession and other charges

WQAD News -

Police in Tennessee arrested a man named Tupac A. Shakur, 40, after they say he pulled a knife on them and was found with methamphetamine.

Officers with the Johnson City Police Department, about 25 minutes from Bristol, received calls Friday about Shakur who had active warrants for his arrest from another department, according to a news release from Johnson police.

When officers arrived at the scene, they saw a car with Shakur inside. Officers attempted to arrest Shakur, but he pulled away and reached for his waistband, the release said.

Shakur then turned toward officers with a knife before officers took him down. Officers found a syringe and baggies of meth on Shakur, the release said.

Shakur was charged with aggravated assault, simple meth possession and having unlawful drug paraphernalia. He is being held at the Washington County Detention Center on a $18,000 bond. He is set to be arraigned Monday, the release said.

It was not clear Sunday whether Shakur has legal representation.

Shakur shares the same name, even the same middle initial, as the late rapper Tupac Shakur who was killed in September 1996 at age 25.

Chicago’s teacher strike heads into another week, with no end in sight. Here’s what’s at stake

WQAD News -

(CNN) -- Marathon talks to end the Chicago teachers' strike stalled again, meaning 300,000 students are missing a third day of classes Monday.

The Chicago Teachers Union and city officials negotiated through the weekend but couldn't reach a deal. So no one knows when 25,000 educators in the country's third-biggest school district will return to school.

"These negotiations must move more swiftly so that we can get students back into school as fast as possible," Mayor Lori Lightfoot said.

"Our team has been turning around thoughtful counteroffers at a rapid pace. We are hopeful that CTU will meet that pace ... so we can bring this process to a fair and responsible end."

The union's demands echo what teachers across the country are fighting for: smaller class sizes, more support staff, higher raises and more school funding.

But the mayor and Chicago Public Schools say it's just not realistic to fund everything the union wants.

"CPS is not flush with cash," the mayor said. "The fact is there is no more money. Period."

'Tragedies waiting to happen'

Chicago teachers say they're fighting for students who often face dire challenges.

About 75% of their students qualify for free or reduced lunch. In some neighborhoods, gangs and violence permeate the streets, forcing children to grapple with grief at a very young age.

Nine of 10 majority-black schools have no librarians, and there aren't enough bilingual teachers in a district that's "nearly half Latinx," the union said.

And many schools don't have a full-time nurse.

"There (are) just tragedies waiting to happen because we don't have enough staff in our schools," nurse Dennis Kosuth told CNN affiliate WLS.

Last year, Kosuth had to split his time among six schools.

"It was impossible for me to give the kind of care that I wanted to give to my students," he said.

This year, he's working at three different schools. "But I'm still just as busy."

Hiring more social workers, counselors, nurses, bilingual teachers and librarians is just part of of the union's demands.

Teachers also want smaller class sizes, higher pay for all school employees and more teacher prep time during the school day.

More than 41,000 Chicago elementary school students are trying to learn in classes with 30 students or more, the union said. Of those, 5,290 are in classes with at least 35 students.

And from the elementary to high school levels, CTU said, some classes have more than 40 students.

A bit of progress

Chicago Public Schools has offered to steadily raise teachers' salaries to an average of $97,757 by fiscal year 2024.

"We will also ensure every school has a full-time nurse by 2024," CPS said.

It said it would also commit another 200 social workers and special education case managers for the highest-need schools over the next three years.

A veteran teacher's aide makes less than $30,000 a year and must work other jobs

CPS' latest offer would also raise the salaries of teachers' assistants, nurses and clerks every year for the next five years.

But the challenge isn't just funding those new positions -- it's finding enough quality applicants.

"Social workers, nurses, counselors, and other similar positions are hard to hire," the school district said. "The candidate pool is limited, and hiring is competitive."

Last month, the union asked for "CPS to hire more than 1,000 new employees by October 1, 2019, across several hard-to-find specialties," the school district said.

"The (union's) proposal also calls for hiring approximately 3,000 more employees over the next two years at a cost of more than $800 million. Even if CPS could realistically afford such a commitment, it would be nearly impossible to meet those hiring goals."

After lengthy negotiations Saturday, the teachers' union said both sides are getting closer to an agreement -- but sticking points remain.

"We have tentative agreements on eight different items -- two in particular, I think, are huge," CTU Vice President Stacy Davis Gates said.

"One goes with the pipeline for teachers of color," which could help reverse "the precipitous decline of black teachers," she said.

"The other one that's huge is that over the life of the contract, we effectively have a charter (school) moratorium."

While many parents have joined teachers on the picket lines, some oppose the strike.

"To me, it's a whole distraction and interruption to the school year," said Liam Boyd, the father of a fourth grader at Blaine Elementary School.

"I don't support the union. I think the school district and the city has been more fair this time and (are) trying to be more fair."

The union's president, Jesse Sharkey, said he has two children in the school district.

"We understand that a strike is a disruption to the parents of the city," Sharkey said. "It's worth a short-term disruption if that puts in place over the long-term the conditions that make education better in this city."

Help WQAD Go Red for Women This Wednesday

WQAD News -

We want you to help us GO RED on Wednesday, October 23rd!

In celebration of the Go Red for Women Dinner (info here) taking place on Thursday, October 24th – WQAD is helping raise money for the American Heart Association’s Go Red for Women Movement.

The Go Red for Women Movement is celebrating 15 years in 2019. The initiative’s goal is to bring people together across the country to raise awareness about the #1 killer of women – heart disease.

On Wednesday, October 23rd, WQAD is holding a day-long donation drive at our station – 3003 Park 16th Street, Moline, Illinois – from 7am to 6pm. As a thank you for your gift, Jewel Food Stores is donating red carnations to each donor. We hope to see you there!

WQAD is a proud sponsor of the Go Red for Women Event every year in the Quad Cities.

Sterling police searching for summer thieves; requesting public aid

WQAD News -

 

STERLING, Illinois — The Sterling Police Department has put out a press release asking for the public’s help in catching two people involved in a store theft last July.

The two suspects went to Marshang’s Automotive at 2530 E. Lincolnway in Sterling on July 25th and stole an undisclosed amount of tools and other items from the store. The police department’s primary concern is identifying the two thieves.

Anyone with information regarding the theft or identity of the two individuals shown are asked to call the Sterling Police Department at 815-632-6640 or Whiteside County Crimestoppers 815-625-7867.

Annual Pumpkin Dash raises money in Blue Grass

WQAD News -

BLUE GRASS, Iowa -- Heroes, villains, monsters, and kids all had one common goal on Saturday in Blue Grass: Make it to the finish line and nab some candy.

The City of Blue Grass Park held the 9th annual Pumpkin Dash on October 19th. An entry fee of $8 got kids up to 12 years-old a spot in the race and some extra Halloween candy courtesy of local businesses and organizations. Race participants were also treated to pumpkins, hot dogs, chips, and drinks. Many came in costume, but Halloween attire was not required.

The annual event raises money to benefit Blue Grass parks and programs, as well as help send kids to YMCA camp Abe Lincoln.

Police take precautions at Rock Falls High School amid possible threat

WQAD News -

ROCK FALLS, Illinois — Students of Rock Falls High went to class under increased protection on the morning of Monday, October 21st.

On Sunday, Rock Falls High School officials and Rock Falls Police were made aware of a series of social media posts alleging a possible threat to the school for the following day. School and police officials spent the day identifying the person(s) involved and investigating the threat.

Through the search, officials determined that the threat was not entirely credible, but decided to take precautions, just in case. Rock Falls Police officers provided extra security to the Rock Falls High campus on Monday morning.

The incident is still under investigation, but at this time, police say there is no evidence of a credible threat to student safety on Rock Falls.

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