Balance of Power: Mueller Unfriends Facebook as Probe Zeroes In

 A reckoning is coming for Facebook.

The social media giant was already on the defensive after top Senate investigators said it and related companies like Twitter need to be more forthcoming about Russian manipulation of their platforms during the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

Now, officials involved in the federal probe led by special counsel Robert Mueller say social media is a “red-hot” focus of their inquiry. No one is accusing CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s company of wrongdoing and Russia rejects accusations that it hacks. 

Yet one thing is clear: Facebook’s revelation that $100,000 in ad spending was connected to fake accounts probably run from Russia is just the “tip of the iceberg,” as Senator Mark Warner said.

Social media has become the soft underbelly of global espionage, one U.S. intelligence official told Bloomberg, and it’s not clear the U.S. or any other government knows how to defend against this 21st century battle.

As U.S. officials struggle to get a handle on what happened last year, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats issued a warning: Cyber operations by Russia are only getting more aggressive.

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Zuckerberg during a town hall meeting at Facebook headquarters in Menlo Park, California on Sept. 27, 2015. 
Photographer: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg

Global Headlines

Deal on ‘Dreamers’ | Democrats say they’ve reached a tentative agreement with Trump to shield from deportation about 800,000 undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children. The deal -- struck at a White House dinner -- marks the second time in as many weeks the president has circumvented his fellow Republicans to work with Democratic lawmakers.

War games | Russia marshals thousand of troops, planes and tanks this week to fend off the armies of fictitious Veyshnoria, Lubenia and Vesbaria in the Zapad-2017 war games. The scale of the maneuvers -- and the fact that two of the attackers are located on the territory of modern-day NATO members Poland and Lithuania -- has the West worried the Kremlin might not be just playing. 

Assad prevails | With his survival all but assured, Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad and his wife, Asma, are back to acting presidential. Yet after six years of war, the images of a beaming, confident Assad can’t paper over the fact that he has emerged from the struggle much weakened and leads a country possibly broken beyond repair, Donna Abu-Nasr reports

Merkel's funk | Unlikely as it may seem, a former German radio DJ sees a chance to snatch the parliamentary district Angela Merkel has held for the past 27 years. Leif-Erik Holm, a member of the Alternative for Germany party, says a well of anger about migration will work in his favor. The mere notion of a close race underscores just how much the chancellor's refugee policy is shifting the electoral math. For more news and features from the campaign trail, visit our election hub page.

A political roller coaster | Even those accustomed to Brazilian politics found yesterday a bit much. What started with the arrest of the CEO of the world’s largest meat company, was followed by the dramatic apprehension of ex-governor Anthony Garotinho during his radio show. The climatic finale featured President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva in court on corruption charges. It was enough for local media to dub the breathless day of action "Super Wednesday."

And finally... Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin asked to use a U.S. Air Force jet for his honeymoon to Europe last month to ensure secure communications with Washington. Although the request was withdrawn, ABC News reports that the Treasury’s inspector general is now investigating multi-millionaire Mnuchin’s bid to have taxpayers stump up $25,000 an hour for his personal travel. 

Linton drew criticism in August for an Instagram photo she posted touting the designer clothes she wore on a government-funded trip with Mnuchin to Kentucky. 

 

— With assistance by Ben Sills

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