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Fitness tracking app Strava gives away location of secret US army bases

Data about exercise routes shared online by soldiers can be used to pinpoint overseas facilities

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Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Fitness tracking app Strava gives away location of secret US army bases” was written by Alex Hern, for The Guardian on Sunday 28th January 2018 21.51 UTC

Sensitive information about the location and staffing of military bases and spy outposts around the world has been revealed by a fitness tracking company.

The details were released by Strava in a data visualisation map that shows all the activity tracked by users of its app, which allows people to record their exercise and share it with others.

The map, released in November 2017, shows every single activity ever uploaded to Strava – more than 3 trillion individual GPS data points, according to the company. The app can be used on various devices including smartphones and fitness trackers like Fitbit to see popular running routes in major cities, or spot individuals in more remote areas who have unusual exercise patterns.

However, over the weekend military analysts noticed that the map is also detailed enough that it potentially gives away extremely sensitive information about a subset of Strava users: military personnel on active service.

Nathan Ruser, an analyst with the Institute for United Conflict Analysts, first noted the lapse. The heatmap “looks very pretty” he wrote, but is “not amazing for Op-Sec” – short for operational security. “US Bases are clearly identifiable and mappable.”

“If soldiers use the app like normal people do, by turning it on tracking when they go to do exercise, it could be especially dangerous,” Ruser added, highlighting one particular track that “looks like it logs a regular jogging route.”

“In Syria, known coalition (ie US) bases light up the night,” writes analyst Tobias Schneider. “Some light markers over known Russian positions, no notable colouring for Iranian bases … A lot of people are going to have to sit through lectures come Monday morning.”

In locations like Afghanistan, Djibouti and Syria, the users of Strava seem to be almost exclusively foreign military personnel, meaning that bases stand out brightly. In Helmand province, Afghanistan, for instance, the locations of forward operating bases can be clearly seen, glowing white against the black map.

Helmand Province in Afghanistan.
Helmand province in Afghanistan.
Photograph: Strava heatmap

Zooming in on one of the larger bases clearly reveals its internal layout, as mapped out by the tracked jogging routes of numerous soldiers. The base itself is not visible on the satellite views of commercial providers such as Google Maps or Apple’s Maps, yet it can be clearly seen through Strava.

Outside direct conflict zones, potentially sensitive information can still be gleaned. For instance, a map of Homey Airport, Nevada – the US Air Force base commonly known as Area 51 – records a lone cyclist taking a ride from the base along the west edge of Groom Lake, marked on the heatmap by a thin red line.

Area 51, with a lone cyclist marked on the map.
Area 51, with a lone cyclist marked on the map.
Photograph: Strava heatmap

RAF Mount Pleasant in the Falkland Islands is lit up brightly on the heatmap, reflecting the exercise regimes of the thousand British personnel there – as are nearby Lake Macphee and Gull Island Pond, apparently popular swimming spots.

Heatmap of people exercising at RAF Mount Pleasant in the Falkland Islands.
RAF Mount Pleasant in the Falkland Islands.
Photograph: Strava heatmap

When Strava released the heatmap, an updated version of one it had previously published in 2015, it announced that “this update includes six times more data than before – in total 1 billion activities from all Strava data through September 2017. Our global heatmap is the largest, richest, and most beautiful dataset of its kind. It is a direct visualisation of Strava’s global network of athletes.”

Strava demonstrated that the new heatmap was detailed enough to see kiteboarding in Mexico, to track the route of the Camino de Santiago across northern Spain and to see the sea route of the Ironman triathalon in Kona, Hawaii. Perhaps the closest to the current operational security issues that it noted, however, was the layout of the Burning Man festival in the Nevadan desert. “The unique pentagonal pattern of Burning Man’s pop-up city is forever etched into the Heatmap, thanks to all the runners and cyclists who have used Strava to explore it,” the company wrote.

  • How does Strava work?
  • Why are secret bases showing on Strava but not Google or Apple Maps?
  • What does Strava do?

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Trump Pardons Steve Bannon In One of His Final Acts As 45th President

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(CNN)— President Donald Trump has decided to pardon his former chief strategist Steve Bannon, in a last-minute decision made only hours before he is scheduled to depart the White House for a final time.

Officials cautioned CNN that Trump’s decision was not final until he signed the paperwork. Trump told people that after much deliberation, he had decided to pardon Bannon as one of his final acts in office.

Bannon’s pardon would follow a frantic scramble during the President’s final hours in office as attorneys and top aides debated his inclusion on Trump’s outgoing clemency list. Despite their falling out in recent years, Trump was eager to pardon his former aide after recently reconnecting with him as he helped fan Trump’s conspiracy theories about the election.

It was a far cry from when Trump exiled Bannon from his inner circle after he was quoted in a book trashing the President’s children, claiming that Donald Trump Jr. had been “treasonous” by meeting with a Russian attorney and labeling Ivanka Trump “dumb as a brick.” Those statements from Bannon drove Trump to issue a lengthy statement saying he had “lost his mind.”

“Steve Bannon has nothing to do with me or my presidency,” Trump said at the time.Things shifted in recent months as Bannon attempted to breach Trump’s inner circle once again by offering advice before the election and pushing his false theories after Trump had lost.

Since Trump’s election defeat, the President has leaned further into his expansive pardon powers — granting pardons to his first national security adviser, Michael Flynn, longtime ally Roger Stone and former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, among others.

Among Trump’s pardons earlier in his term were those for former Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio, right-wing commentator Dinesh D’Souza and financier Michael Milken.

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California Governor Formally Appoints Alex Padilla To Fill US Senate Seat Vacated By Kamala Harris

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(CNN) — California Gov. Gavin Newsom formally submitted the appointment of Alex Padilla to the US Senate today, according to a press release from the governor’s office. 

Padilla formally resigned as Secretary of State this morning and Gov. Newsom also submitted his nomination letter for Assembly member Shirley Weber to replace him. The Deputy Secretary of State, James Schwab, will be the Acting Secretary of State.

“It is fitting that on the same day we celebrate the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. — a civil rights icon who fought for justice and representation — we also move forward the appointment of California’s first Latino U.S. Senator Alex Padilla and the nomination of Dr. Shirley Weber who will serve as the first-ever African American Secretary of State. Both will be strong defenders of our democracy during this fragile moment in our nation’s history,” said Gov. Newsom.

“I am humbled and honored by your trust in me to represent California in the United States Senate. I look forward to continuing to serve the great State of California as a United States Senator and to ensuring that the rights and democratic principles we cherish are protected and preserved for all people,” Padilla wrote in a letter to Gov. Newsom.

Some context: Earlier today, Vice President-elect Kamala Harris formally resigned her seat as one of California’s US Senators. She’ll be inaugurated as vice president on Wednesday, Jan. 20. In a farewell addressed posted to Twitter, Harris said, “Of course, I’m not saying goodbye. In many ways, I’m now saying hello as your vice president.”

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Capitol Police Arrests Man With ‘Unauthorized’ Inauguration Credential & Gun

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(New York Times) — The U.S. Capitol Police arrested a man at a security checkpoint in Washington on Friday after he flashed what an officer described as an “unauthorized” inauguration credential and a search of his truck found an unregistered handgun and more than 500 rounds of ammunition, the authorities said.

A federal law enforcement official said that the man, Wesley A. Beeler, 31, worked as a contractor, and that his credential was not fake, but was not recognized by the police officer. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the arrest.

Mr. Beeler’s father, Paul Beeler, said in an interview that his son was part of a security team working alongside the Capitol Police and the National Guard, and that his son must have simply left his personal gun in his truck. Wesley Beeler has an active private security license in Virginia and was approved to have a handgun, shotgun or patrol rifle while on assignments, according to a state website.

“It was an honest mistake,” Mr. Beeler told The Washington Post after being released on Saturday afternoon. He said he had been working a security job in Washington, was running late to work, and had forgotten that his firearm was in his truck. He denied having 500 rounds of ammunition, as listed in the police report.

“I pulled up to a checkpoint after getting lost in D.C. because I’m a country boy,” he told The Post. “I showed them the inauguration badge that was given to me.”

The arrest comes as law enforcement officials have tried to fortify Washington ahead of Inauguration Day on Wednesday, when they fear that extremists emboldened by the attack on the Capitol by President Trump’s supporters on Jan. 6 could seek to cause violence. A militarized “green zone” is being established downtown, National Guard members are flooding the city, and a metal fence has gone up around the Capitol grounds in advance of the swearing-in of President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr.

Mr. Beeler, of Front Royal, Va., had driven up to a security checkpoint less than half a mile from the Capitol grounds on Friday evening and presented “an unauthorized inauguration credential,” according to a statement from a Capitol Police officer filed in a District of Columbia court on Saturday. The officer, Roger Dupont, said that he had checked the credential against a list and found that it did not give Mr. Beeler authority to enter the restricted area.

A spokeswoman for the Capitol Police later described the credential that Mr. Beeler had shown as “nongovernment issued.”

Officers searched his truck, which had several gun-related bumper stickers, and found a loaded Glock pistol, 509 rounds for the pistol and 21 shotgun shells, the police said. Mr. Beeler had admitted having the Glock in the truck’s center console when he was asked if there were weapons in the car, they said.

Mr. Beeler was charged with five crimes, including possessing a weapon and ammunition in Washington without having it registered as required. He and his lawyer did not respond to requests for comment on Saturday.

Paul Beeler said his son, a father of four, had held other security jobs over the years. “He was proud of the work he was doing with the police and the National Guard,” the father said.

Asked if he thought his son supported a peaceful transition of power, Paul Beeler said, “That’s the reason he’s there.”

The elder Beeler said he had grown worried about his son when he did not return his text messages on Friday night, and that he had called him on Saturday morning, when he thought his son would be returning to Virginia after his shift. He and his wife discovered that Mr. Beeler had been arrested when she received a call from a reporter, he said.

Law enforcement officials have said they are alarmed by chatter among far-right groups and other racist extremists who are threatening to target the nation’s capital to protest Mr. Biden’s electoral victory. Federal agencies have tried to keep some people who breached the Capitol with weapons earlier this month from returning to the city, including by restricting their ability to board commercial planes, according to an administration official.

Mr. Biden has resisted calls to move the inauguration ceremony indoors for the sake of safety. His inauguration committee had already been planning a scaled-back celebration with virtual components because of the coronavirus.

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