Monday, March 11, 2013

Sinanyan Scandal Updates & Detailed Responses to His Defenders*

*4/19/13 UPDATE: Zareh Sinanyan Has Finally Admitted Responsibility For Online Comments

In the wake of the scandal that broke here Tuesday linking City Council candidate Zareh Sinanyan to a large volume of obscene comments on various websites, additional prominent political leaders have rescinded their earlier support. In addition to Congressman Adam Schiff, Eric Garcetti, Wendy Greuel, and Paul Krekorian have also all retracted their endorsements. To Sinanyan’s credit, he has promptly removed references to them from his official campaign website. The ongoing scandal has since been covered in the Daily NewsGlendale News-PressLA Observed and LAist.

Most importantly, it was covered in this agenda item for this Tuesday’s City Council meeting (PDF), where the City Council will inquire into whether Mr. Sinanyan authored the comments. Mr. Sinanyan serves as a commissioner at the pleasure of the council, so if a majority of the council believes it’s likely he is responsible for the comments and that it is damaging to the reputation of the city to have him continue as a Community Block Grant commissioner, they are free to remove him from his appointed position.

Among Zareh supporters in the comment section on my previous posts (first post, second post) there there have been five main defenses against the allegations. As it is impractical for me to respond to each individual comment, here are the main defenses I've heard and a detailed response to each one.

**warning: many of the image links below contain offensive content**

1. It was a smear campaign by an anonymous source/shady political operative/Turkish Intelligence!

While I’m sure Mr. Sinanyan does have political enemies, and the timing is potentially damaging to his City Council campaign, these observations do nothing to challenge the volume of third-party evidence that shows that he is very likely to have said was is alleged to have said. As I documented in my previous posts, I did not publish any information from the original anonymous e-mail that was sent to many in Glendale without investigating it myself, verifying the links between the account that made the comments and Sinanyan's confirmed accounts and describing my process. The Glendale News-Press also investigated the claims and came to similar conclusions. Every bit of information alleged in the initial anonymous e-mail was verifiable by third party sources with no stake in the election, including the cached files of several of the world’s largest and most secure tech companies. The technical skills required to uncover the comments initially weren’t hacker-level ninjitsu - anyone who has ever used a search engine could find them just as easily by simply typing the candidate’s name into Google or Yahoo. It would be a smear campaign against Mr. Sinanyan if the allegations weren’t true, but as one commenter noted, using someone’s racist and vulgar statements to portray them as being racist and vulgar isn’t a smear; it’s accountability.

And yes, I did get a comment blaming it on Turkish Intelligence, as well as numerous anonymous comments decrying the anonymity of the original tip with no apparent sense of irony.

2. He was only attacking people who were denying the Armenian Genocide.

This was claimed by the highly partisan Asbarez Armenian newspaper. They are correct that some posts were on videos and comment threads that discussed the Armenian genocide, in which the Ottoman Turks are well documented to have killed 1.5 million Armenians between 1915-1920; but many of the disturbing posts were on videos and topics unrelated to the horror of the genocide, including MMA videos.

3. The comments weren’t really so bad! Who hasn’t gotten into a heated argument online?

I certainly have. But not like this, this or this. Especially disturbing are the numerous posts referring to Muslims as “raghead cockroaches” and wishing them death. I have many, many more examples of these comments that will singe your hair. The sheer volume and inventiveness of obscenity is stunning. If you think this is acceptable language for a candidate for higher office, so be it, but it would be far-fetched for Mr. Sinanyan to claim that he didn’t know that city commissioners and candidates for elected office would be held to a higher standard of behavior than the average Youtube flame-war participant.

4. Perhaps Sinanyan wrote the comments, but an anonymous hacker got into his home computer and made them public! That hacker should be prosecuted!

The allegations in the initial anonymous e-mail had nothing to do with linking the comments to a specific computer or IP address; the allegations are linked to Sinanyan via his Google account, which he could log into from any computer he had access to. The comments themselves were openly published online and didn’t require any “hacking” to view - they were all freely visible under Mr. Sinanyan’s name. Additionally, the connections shown between the Youtube account and the Google account were all made using information that Mr. Sinanyan himself had chosen to make public in various online profiles, no special access or “hacking” required.

5. He didn’t write the comments at all - he was hacked by an impostor!

This is the big argument that keeps coming up, so I've written a post with an analysis of why a "hack" of the necessary scope and duration is highly unlikely.


Anonymous said...

You left out the last argument: that his real life contradicts the claim that he is a racist, homophobic, sexist person. After all he is the only candidate who has put green issues in the center of his campaign.

Last but not least the argument that speaking Russian, Armenian and English are rare qualities is ridiculous in Glendale.

You also have not addressed cyberstalking and identity fraud as real phenomena. They are not a joke.

In the first post Scott said that the emails could be traced to his personal computer. Now he has backtracked from that claim.

Anonymous said...

Israeli-Turkish Cyberwar Begins
Turkish hackers launched a DNS attack on 350 Israeli websites in what experts believe was a test run for attacks on Israeli domains.
AAFont SizeBy Gabe Kahn.
First Publish: 9/6/2011, 7:04 PM

Amid the current diplomatic impasse between Ankara and Jerusalem, Turkish hackers hijacked some 350 Israeli websites on Sunday evening, launching a Domain Name System (DNS) attack on dozens of other websites as well.

Israeli IT analysts said Tuesday the DNS hijacking is likely to be, in fact, a "test-run" ahead of a major attack on Israeli domains.

Visitors to some of the sites were diverted to a page declaring it was “World Hackers Day."

At least seven high-profile websites outside Israel were also hijacked, including those of The Telegraph, Acer, National Geographic, UPS and Vodafone.

Hackers calling themselves the "TurkGuvenligi group" claimed they had done the cyber-attack. TurkGuvenligi translates as "Turkish security."

"The hack represents a 10%-15% spike compared to the average number of daily hacks of Israeli websites," Shai Blitzblau, head of Maglan-Computer Warfare and Network Intelligence Labs, explained.

The operation was very sophisticated and probably entailed a significant financial investment, Blitzblau added.

An inquiry into the hack attack discovered a clear link to "TurkGuvenligi," as well as several failed attempts to hack other websites.

Israel's military and security establishment has invested significantly in cyber-warfare programs in recent years and is considered one of the most advanced cyber-warfare forces in the world, both in attack and defense modes.

The Stuxnet virus that downed systems at Iran's Bushehr nuclear reactor to a halt for over six months is widely believed to have been the result of an Israeli cyber-attack, although Israel has not admitted it.

Anonymous said...

Cyberwarfare: Is Turkey ready for cyber war?

Submitted by Reza Rafati on Fri, 11/11/2011 - 10:50

On Nov. 8, the Turkish Ministry of Finance’s website was hacked by the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) . A song praising Abdullah Öcalan, the leader of the terrorist group, was playing via YouTube.

The next day the page was not accessible. I hope the attack is avoided by today. The incident in itself is a shame. However the worst thing is the fact that the webmasters were warned before and they haven’t taken any measures to avoid this. !A group of Turkish nationalist hackers hacked the website a few months ago and issued a warning on the website.! They wrote that it is “sad ignorance” that has so many loopholes that could be used to hack the website. The group ended their warning with an order: Fix the bugs! However as we learned on Tuesday the webmasters for didn’t take them seriously.

This reminded me of how NATO turned its attention from a nuclear war to a cyber one. Two years ago during the ARI movement’s International Security Conference, I had the opportunity to speak with a NATO officer and she told that one of the fundamental areas in the future of NATO will be cyber security. After seeing the attack on, I agree with her.
The Turkish-PKK cyber war may not be on the international agenda but the one in between the West and China definitely is. Until recently it wasn’t possible to prove that China was actively hacking Western institutions. However a TV show changed all that. China Central Television 7 (CCTV-7) is China’s official channel for military and agricultural issues. As part of its wide-ranging coverage, every Saturday it runs a 20-minute program called ‘Military Science and Technology.’ The July 16 edition was entitled “The Internet Storm is Coming.” The program appeared to show dated computer screen shots of a Chinese military institute conducting a rudimentary cyber attack against a U.S.-based dissident entity. According to Diplomat News Web Site, however modest, ambiguous and - from China’s perspective - defensive, this is possibly the first direct piece of visual evidence from an official Chinese government source to undermine Beijing’s official claims that it never engages in overseas hacking of any kind for government purposes.

From Canada and Britain, France and South Korea, there have been growing reports of online attacks on computer networks around the world.

According to BBC, the finger of suspicion is often pointed at China. We will see how this will turn out as the West clearly states that Chinese attacks will be considered as act of war if they go on like this. Can a cyber war start a real one will be the debate of the coming years.

Meanwhile back in Turkey, we are so far away from this discussion. It is clear that we don’t have any cyber security strategy. This last attacked showed that the “Special Communication Tax” collected from mobile communications was not used for technological readiness but probably making the double roads just like the special taxes collected after the earthquake to get Turkey earthquake ready.

Scott said...

to Anonymous 7:04am :

A few points.

Sure, he may be a lovely and progressive person in real life, I hope he is.

At no time did I or any other media outlet say that the comments (or e-mails, which are different) could be traced to any specific computer, merely that they were linked by a specific Google account. Completely different things.

As far as cyberstalking and identity fraud being real phenomena, sure, they are to some extent. But that does nothing to address the arguments as to why, in the particular case, that is unlikely to be the case given the sheer length of time, amount of detail, and technical hurdles involved; and does nothing to challenge the connections that have been presented. Just because hacking is a problem somewhere doesn't do anything to change the specifics of this particular incident.

Anonymous said...

I don't know this guy, but after reading his comments its hard to believe that he is pro-LGBT and gender equality.
Seems like people will say anything to get elected. He certainly does not have our vote.

Chris M. said...

Listen fellow Armenians, don't waste your breath trying to defend this guy. He did something shameful and is making it worse by not addressing the issue head on. Let's be real, Turkish intelligence didn't do this 5 years ago in hopes that some day Zareh will run for some prominent position... Even if they did what do they care about some no name city council member... Anyways the point is stop defending him until he has the guts to own up to his mistakes and issue an apology or something along those lines. These "theories" are just encouraging him to lie more and that's definitely not doing him any favors.