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Bitcoin’s Roller-coaster Ride May Get Wilder

What’s a bitcoin worth? Lately nobody knows for sure, but after a wild ride Friday, it’s worth a good deal less than it was Thursday.

After losses over the last few days, the digital currency fell as much as 30 percent overnight in Asia, and the action became so frenzied that the website Coinbase suspended trading. It later made up much of that ground, and slumped 9.5 percent to $14,042 Friday, according to the tracking site CoinDesk.

Experts are warning that bitcoin is a bubble about to burst, but things might get crazier before it does: A lot of people have heard of bitcoin by now, but very few people own it.

“Bubbles burst when the last buyers are in,” said Brett Ewing, chief market strategist for First Franklin. “Who are the last buyers? The general public, unfortunately.”

1,000 people own 40 percent

Ewing said 40 percent of bitcoin belongs to just 1,000 people, and hedge funds and other major investors are going to start buying it soon. But those funds may buy bitcoin and also protect themselves by placing bets that it will fall. Retail investors may just buy it only to see it fall.

“I think investors should approach it with caution and I think many people will dive into it not understanding what it is,” he said.

As bitcoin skyrocketed this month, the volume of trading was unprecedented as investors hoping to catch a ride up piled in. Prices have risen so fast, the fall on Friday returned the price of bitcoin only to where it was trading two weeks ago.

From tea to blockchain overnight

The volatility has created a circuslike atmosphere. Some companies that have added the word “bitcoin” or related terms to their names to get in on the action. The craziest thing is, it’s worked.

Long Island Iced Tea Corp. until this week had been known for its peach-, raspberry-, guava-, lemon- and mango-flavored drinks. Then, on Thursday, the company announced a radical rebranding. It’s changing its name to Long Blockchain Corp., shifting its primary focus from iced tea to “the exploration of and investment in opportunities that leverage the benefits of blockchain technology.”

Blockchain is a ledger where transactions of digital currencies, like bitcoin, are recorded.

Shares in Long Island Iced Tea soared 200 percent in one day.

The Hicksville, New York, company did what investors are doing, hitching a ride on a currency that raced from less than $10,000 at the end of November to almost $20,000 on Sunday. And it cost less than $1,000 at the beginning of the year.

Crash every three months

The rise of price of bitcoin, which is still difficult to use if you actually want to buy something, has led to heated speculation about when the bubble might burst.

The currency has been, if nothing else, highly elastic, bouncing back every time it crashes, which occurs about once every quarter.

It fell 11.5 percent over two days in early December and 21.5 percent over five days in November.

Curiosity has now driven bitcoin to the futures market, where investors bet on which direction it will go.

Bitcoin futures started trading on two major exchanges, the Cboe and CME, this month. Those futures fell about 8 percent Friday.

Investor beware

If people get burned, it won’t be because they were not warned.

The Securities and Exchange Commission put out a statement last week warning investors to be careful with bitcoin and other digital currencies. The Commodities Futures Trading Commission has proposed regulating bitcoin like a commodity, similar to gold or oil.

Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, a financial watchdog, issued a similar warning recently.

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Rocket’s Arc Across California Sky Stops Traffic

A reused SpaceX rocket carried 10 satellites into orbit from California on Friday, leaving behind a trail of mystery and wonder as it soared into space.

The Falcon 9 booster lifted off from coastal Vandenberg Air Force Base, carrying the latest batch of satellites for Iridium Communications.

The launch in the setting sun created a shining, billowing streak that was widely seen throughout Southern California and as far away as Phoenix.

Calls came in to TV stations as far afield as San Diego, more than 200 miles south of the launch site.

Cars stopped on freeways in Los Angeles so drivers and passengers could take pictures and video.

The Los Angeles Fire Department issued an advisory that the “mysterious light in the sky” was from the rocket launch.

Jimmy Golen, a sports writer for The Associated Press in Boston who was in Southern California for the holidays, said he and other tourists saw the long, glowing contrail while touring Warner Bros. studio in the Los Angeles suburb of Burbank.

“People were wondering if it had something to do with movies, or TV or a UFO,” he said. “It was very cool.”

The same rocket carried Iridium satellites into orbit in June. That time, the first stage landed on a floating platform in the Pacific Ocean. This time, the rocket was allowed to plunge into the sea.

It was the 18th and final launch of 2017 for SpaceX, which has contracted to replace Iridium’s system with 75 updated satellites. SpaceX has made four launches and expects to make several more to complete the job by mid-2018.

The satellites also carry payloads for global real-time aircraft tracking and a ship-tracking service.

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Immigrant Teen Denied Abortion Threatened to Hurt Herself

An immigrant teen who was denied an abortion by a U.S. government official, even though her pregnancy was caused by rape, had threatened to harm herself if she was forced to have the child, according to a government memo released Friday.

The memo is addressed to Scott Lloyd, director of the Office of Refugee Resettlement, which shelters thousands of unaccompanied immigrant minors who are in the U.S. without legal permission. The American Civil Liberties Union posted the memo as part of its lawsuit over abortion access for immigrant minors in custody.

The document describes how the teen was raped in her home country and believed she had become pregnant as a result. According to the memo, written by the Office of Refugee Resettlement’s deputy director, she told a doctor during her first prenatal visit that she wanted an abortion. The teen “disclosed to the medical doctor that she preferred to harm herself rather than to continue with her pregnancy.”

In later visits, the teen reported the pressure her mother and a potential sponsor were putting on her to maintain the pregnancy. At one point, she reported facing “physical harm” if she had an abortion.

“She felt pressured by her mother and potential sponsor to continue the pregnancy, but she wants to terminate the pregnancy,” the memo said.


While the recommendation of the deputy director is blacked out, Lloyd circled the word “disapproved” at the bottom of the memo and signed it.

The teen and another minor eventually received access to abortions after U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan ruled in their favor this week.

In a letter about the case that was disclosed in court filings Thursday, Lloyd argued he saw no obligation under the law or the U.S. Constitution to allow abortions for people in his office’s custody, even though government policy restricting abortion broadly has an exemption for women who were victims of rape.

He also said an abortion would not “cure the reality” of the woman’s rape. Both abortion and rape are forms of violence, he said in his letter.

“Implicit here are the dubious notions that it is possible to cure violence with further violence,” he said.

The ACLU accused Lloyd of implementing a “cruel and heartless policy,” and pledged to continue fighting it.

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Researchers Date Parts of Jesus’ Tomb to Time of Constantine

Over the next month, Christians of all kinds will celebrate the birth of Jesus. The world has been wondering about the reality of his existence, his life, death, and the question of his divinity for thousands of years. But the place considered to be his tomb has been dated to the time he is believed to have walked the earth. VOA’s Kevin Enochs reports.

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Lawsuit: Apple Slowed iPhones, Forcing Owners to Buy New Ones

IPhone owners from several states sued Apple Inc. for not disclosing sooner that it issued software updates deliberately slowing older-model phones so aging batteries lasted longer, saying Apple’s silence led them to wrongly conclude that their only option was to buy newer, pricier iPhones.

The allegations were in a lawsuit filed Thursday in Chicago federal court on behalf of five iPhone owners from Illinois, Ohio, Indiana and North Carolina, all of whom say they never would have bought new iPhones had Apple told them that simply replacing the batteries would have sped up their old ones. The suit alleges Apple violated consumer fraud laws.

A similar lawsuit was filed Thursday in Los Angeles. Both suits came a day after Apple confirmed what high-tech sleuths outside the company already observed: The company had deployed software to slow some phones. Apple said it was intended as a fix to deal with degraded lithium-ion batteries that could otherwise suddenly die.

“Our goal is to deliver the best experience for customers, which includes overall performance and prolonging the life of their devices,” an Apple statement said. It said it released the fix for iPhone 6, iPhone 6s and iPhone SE and later extended it to iPhone 7. Apple didn’t respond to a message Friday seeking comment.

The Chicago lawsuit suggests Apple’s motive may have been sinister, though it offers no evidence in the filing.

“Apple’s decision to purposefully … throttle down these devices,” it says, “was undertaken to fraudulently induce consumers to purchase the latest” iPhone.

Plaintiff Kirk Pedelty, of North Carolina, contacted Apple as his frustration grew. However, the lawsuit says: “Nobody from Apple customer support suggested that he replace his battery to improve the performance of his iPhone. … Frustrated by slowdowns and intermittent shutdowns of his iPhone 7, Pedelty purchased an iPhone 8.”

The lawsuit seeks class-action status to represent thousands of iPhone owners nationwide.

Creative Strategies analyst Carolina Milanesi said she believes the tech giant was seeking to help consumers extend the lives of the older phones — though it would have been better to disclose what it was doing and why right away.

“Even if you are trying to do something good for your customers, it is going to be perceived as you are sneaking around behind their backs if you don’t tell them about it first,” she said.

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US Senate Republican Leader Says Immigration Will Be Addressed Early Next Year

U.S. Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell said Friday that Congress would address immigration early next year, including a program that gives immigrants who entered the U.S. illegally as children the opportunity to become citizens. 

Democrats demanded, but were denied, a vote this week on a measure that would allow an estimated 1.2 million immigrants to remain legally in the U.S.

McConnell, of Kentucky, told reporters on Capitol Hill, “We have a commitment on a bipartisan basis to address the DACA issue. We’ll devote full time to that in January.”

DACA, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, was instituted by former President Barack Obama, and it protected nearly 800,000 immigrants from deportation, allowing them to legally live and work in the United States.

Trump rescinded the program in September and has given Congress until March 5 to agree on legislation that would provide equivalent protections to those offered under DACA. 

“They embody the best in our nation: patriotism, hard work, perseverance,” House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi of California said Thursday of DACA beneficiaries. “We should not leave them to celebrate the holidays in fear.”

​Other changes

McConnell said a working group that includes Democratic Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois also must “do other things” to “improve the legal immigration system,” particularly with respect to what some call chain migration — a community- or extended-family-based process by which immigrants from a particular area follow others from that area to specific U.S. cities or neighborhoods.

Additionally, Republican lawmakers and President Donald Trump are pushing for more border security.

Democratic lawmakers who support the protection of DACA beneficiaries enjoy broad public support. An NBC/Wall Street Journal poll released Tuesday found that 62 percent of those surveyed said Congress should approve protections for DACA immigrants, while 19 percent said Congress should allow DACA to lapse.

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Nestle Warned It Lacks Rights to California Spring Water

Nestle, which sells Arrowhead bottled water, may have to stop taking millions of gallons of water from Southern California’s San Bernardino National Forest because state regulators concluded it lacks valid permits.


The State Water Resources Control Board notified the company on Wednesday that an investigation concluded it doesn’t have proper rights to pipe about three-quarters of the water it currently withdraws for bottling.


“A significant portion of the water currently diverted by Nestle appears to be diverted without a valid basis of right,” the report concluded.


Nestle Waters North America was urged to cut back its water withdrawals unless it can show it has valid water rights to its current sources or to additional groundwater.


The company, a division of the Swiss food giant, also was given 60 days to submit an interim compliance plan.


“We are disappointed by the fact that we have just received a copy of the report from the State Water Resources Control Board and that others appear to have received it much sooner,” Nestle said in a statement Thursday. “Once we have had an opportunity to review the report thoroughly, we will be in a position to respond.”


The move was applauded by activists who have fought to turn off Nestle’s tap in the forest.


Amanda Frye, who filed one of the complaints that prompted the investigation, said she was pleased with the result although she hadn’t read the entire report.


“I feel like it’s a victory,” Frye told the Desert Sun of Palm Springs. “I’m happy that the State Water Resources Control Board did pursue it and look into it. I feel that they’re protecting the people of California.”


Nestle took about 32 million gallons of water from wells and water collection tunnels in the forest last year. A long water board investigation concluded that it only had the right to withdraw 26 acre-feet per year, or about 8.5 million gallons.


Nestle has contended that it inherited rights dating back more than a century to collect water from the forest northeast of Los Angeles. It uses the water in its Arrowhead Mountain Spring Water.


Opponents of the water withdrawal have long sought to turn off Nestle’s tap, arguing that it lacked proper permits and that the water usage could harm the local environment and wildlife, particularly in the midst of California’s drought.


In 2015, the U.S. Forest Service was sued by environmental and public interest groups who allege the Swiss-based company was being allowed to operate its Strawberry Canyon pipeline on a permit that expired in 1988. However, the court ruled that the company could continue water operations while its application to renew the permit was pending.

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US Senate Majority Leader McConnell Sees More Collegial 2018

U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Friday said a shifting landscape will lead him to work with Democrats on immigration and financial regulation early in the new year, following a year of acrimony and partisan legislation.

In an end-of-year news conference, McConnell touted a list of Republican accomplishments since President Donald Trump took office in January. It started with the confirmation of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court and ended with an overhaul of the U.S. tax code.

But in January, McConnell’s already razor-thin 52-48 Republican majority will shrink to 51-49 with the swearing in of Senator-elect Doug Jones, the Democrat who surprised the political world with a win in a special election in the deeply Republican state of Alabama.

Adding to McConnell’s difficulties, special Senate procedures are fading that allowed him to pass a tax bill and try to repeal the Affordable Care Act this year without any Democratic support.

That means that McConnell’s victories — if he has them — will require more collaboration and less confrontation. The pivot was the centerpiece of his news conference remarks.

“There are areas where I think we can get bipartisan agreement,” McConnell said. First on his list was legislation to change Dodd-Frank banking regulations that he said would help smaller financial institutions.

The Kentucky senator noted that Senate Banking Committee Chairman Mike Crapo has advanced legislation that is co-sponsored by several Democrats.

McConnell also pointed to bipartisan efforts to help undocumented immigrants, known as “Dreamers,” who were brought into the United States when they were children.

If negotiators from both parties can come to a deal for the Dreamers that Trump’s administration can support, “we’ll spend floor time on that in January,” McConnell said.

On Thursday, Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer complained that throughout 2017 Republicans “have been hell-bent on pursuing a partisan agenda.”

When asked by a reporter of possible bipartisan successes in 2018, Schumer pointed to the need for infrastructure improvements but said that Trump has been “all over the lot” on how to accomplish road, airport and other construction projects.

With the November 2018 congressional elections approaching, Democrats might have less incentive to cooperate with Republicans, especially after Schumer’s party won decisive victories in special elections this month and last in Alabama and Virginia.

McConnell hinted it would be tougher to find agreement with Democrats on some other legislative issues, including welfare reform, which Trump says he wants to push ahead with in 2018.

McConnell said he would consult with Trump and House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan in January over prospects for welfare reform.

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Bitcoin Plunges Below $12,000, Heads for Worst Week Since 2013

Bitcoin plunged by a quarter to below $12,000 on Friday as investors dumped the cryptocurrency in manic trading after its blistering ascent to a peak close to $20,000 prompted warnings by experts of a bubble.

It capped a brutal week that had been touted as a new era of mainstream trading for the volatile digital currency when bitcoin futures debuted on CME Group Inc, the world’s largest derivatives market on Sunday.

Friday’s steep fall bled into the U.S. stock market, where shares of companies that have recently lashed their fortunes to bitcoin or blockchain — its underlying technology — took a hard knock in early trading.

The biggest and best-known cryptocurrency had seen a staggering twentyfold increase since the start of the year, climbing from less than $1,000 to as high as $19,666 on the Luxembourg-based Bitstamp exchange on Sunday and to over $20,000 on other exchanges.

Bitcoin has fallen each day since, with losses accelerating on Friday.

In the futures market, bitcoin one-month futures on Cboe Global Markets were halted due to the steep price drop, while those trading on the CME hit the limit down threshold.

In the spot market, bitcoin fell to as low as $11,159, down more than 25 percent on the Luxembourg-based Bitstamp exchange, its largest one-day drop in nearly three years. For the week, it was down around a third — its worst performance since April 2013.

“After its parabolic-like rally, a crash was imminent and so it has proved,” said Fawad Razaqzada, market analyst at in London. “Investors may have also been put off buying bitcoin at those elevated levels amid repeated warnings from experts about the way it had climbed near $20,000.”

“A manic upward swing led by the herd will be followed by a downturn as the emotional sentiment changes,” said Charles Hayter, founder and chief executive of industry website Cryptocompare in London. “A lot of traders have been waiting for this large correction.”

“With the end of the year in sight a lot of investors will be taking profits and saying thank you very much and closing their books for the holiday period,” he added.

Warnings about the risks of investing in the unregulated market have increased — Denmark’s central bank governor called it a “deadly” gamble —  and there have been worries about the security of exchanges on which cryptocurrencies are bought and sold.

South Korean cryptocurrency exchange Youbit said on Tuesday it is shutting down and is filing for bankruptcy after it was hacked for the second time this year.

Coinbase, a U.S. company that runs one of the biggest exchanges and provides digital “wallets” for storing bitcoins, said on Wednesday it would investigate accusations of insider trading, following a sharp increase in the price of a bitcoin spin-off hours before it announced support for it.


As rival cryptocurrencies slid along with bitcoin, the total estimated value of the crypto market fell to as low as $440 billion, according to industry website Coinmarketcap, having neared $650 billion just a day earlier.

But other cryptocurrencies surged this week, with investors moving into cheaper digital coins, rather than cashing out of the sector.

Ethereum, the second-biggest cryptocurrency by market size, soared to almost $900 earlier in the week, from around $500 a week earlier. Ripple, the third-biggest, has more than quadrupled in price since Monday.

Stephen Innes, head of trading in Asia-Pacific for retail FX broker Oanda in Singapore, said that there have also been moves out of bitcoin into Bitcoin Cash, a clone of the original cryptocurrency. Oanda does not handle trading in bitcoin.

“Most of it is unsophisticated retail traders getting burned badly,” Innes said on bitcoin’s recent retreat.

While some say the launch by CME and its rival Cboe Global Markets of bitcoin futures over the last two weeks has given the digital currency some perceived legitimacy, many policymakers remain skeptical.

Bitcoin is known to go through wild swings. In November, it tumbled almost 30 percent in four days from $7,888 to $5,555. In September, it fell 40 percent from $4,979 to $2,972.

Reporting by Gertrude Chavez-Dreyfuss in New York and Jemima Kelly in London; Additional reporting by Shinichi Saoshiro in Tokyo; Editing by Keith Weir and Susan Thomas.

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Russian Hackers Targeted More Than 200 Journalists Globally

Russian television anchor Pavel Lobkov was in the studio getting ready for his show when jarring news flashed across his phone: Some of his most intimate messages had just been published to the web.

Days earlier, the veteran journalist had come out live on air as HIV-positive, a taboo-breaking revelation that drew responses from hundreds of Russians fighting their own lonely struggles with the virus. Now he’d been hacked.

“These were very personal messages,” Lobkov said in a recent interview, describing a frantic call to his lawyer in an abortive effort to stop the spread of nearly 300 pages of Facebook correspondence, including sexually explicit messages. Even two years later, he said, “it’s a very traumatic story.”

The Associated Press found that Lobkov was targeted by the hacking group known as Fancy Bear in March 2015, nine months before his messages were leaked. He was one of at least 200 journalists, publishers and bloggers targeted by the group as early as mid-2014 and as recently as a few months ago.

The AP identified journalists as the third-largest group on a hacking hit list obtained from cybersecurity firm Secureworks, after diplomatic personnel and U.S. Democrats. About 50 of the journalists worked at The New York Times. Another 50 were either foreign correspondents based in Moscow or Russian reporters like Lobkov who worked for independent news outlets. Others were prominent media figures in Ukraine, Moldova, the Baltics or Washington.

The list of journalists provides new evidence for the U.S. intelligence community’s conclusion that Fancy Bear acted on behalf of the Russian government when it intervened in the U.S. presidential election. Spy agencies say the hackers were working to help Republican Donald Trump. The Russian government has denied interfering in the American election.

Previous AP reporting has shown how Fancy Bear — which Secureworks nicknamed Iron Twilight — used phishing emails to try to compromise Russian opposition leaders, Ukrainian politicians and U.S. intelligence figures, along with Hillary Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta and more than 130 other Democrats.

Lobkov, 50, said he saw hacks like the one that turned his day upside-down in December 2015 as dress rehearsals for the email leaks that struck the Democrats in the United States the following year.

“I think the hackers in the service of the Fatherland were long getting their training on our lot before venturing outside.”

‘Classic KGB tactic’

New Yorker writer Masha Gessen said it was also in 2015 — when Secureworks first detected attempts to break into her Gmail — that she began noticing people who seemed to materialize next to her in public places in New York and speak loudly in Russian into their phones, as if trying to be overheard. She said this only happened when she put appointments into the online calendar linked to her Google account.

Gessen, the author of a book about Russian President Vladimir Putin’s rise to power, said she saw the incidents as threats.

“It was really obvious,” she said. “It was a classic KGB intimidation tactic.”

Other U.S.-based journalists targeted include Josh Rogin, a Washington Post columnist, and Shane Harris, who was covering the intelligence community for The Daily Beast in 2015. Harris said he dodged the phishing attempt, forwarding the email to a source in the security industry who told him almost immediately that Fancy Bear was involved.

In Russia, the majority of journalists targeted by the hackers worked for independent news outlets like Novaya Gazeta or Vedomosti, though a few — such as Tina Kandelaki and Ksenia Sobchak — are more mainstream. Sobchak has even launched an improbable bid for the Russian presidency.

Investigative reporter Roman Shleynov noted that the Gmail hackers targeted was the one he used while working on the Panama Papers, the expose of international tax avoidance that implicated members of Putin’s inner circle.

Fancy Bear also pursued more than 30 media targets in Ukraine, including many journalists at the Kyiv Post and others who have reported from the front lines of the Russia-backed war in the country’s east.

Nataliya Gumenyuk, co-founder of Ukrainian internet news site Hromadske, said the hackers were hunting for compromising information.

“The idea was to discredit the independent Ukrainian voices,” she said.

The hackers also tried to break into the personal Gmail account of Ellen Barry, The New York Times’ former Moscow bureau chief.

Her newspaper appears to have been a favorite target. Fancy Bear sent phishing emails to roughly 50 of Barry’s colleagues at The Times in late 2014, according to two people familiar with the matter. They spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss confidential data.

The Times confirmed in a brief statement that its employees received the malicious messages, but the newspaper declined to comment further.

Some journalists saw their presence on the hackers’ hit list as vindication. Among them were CNN security analyst Michael Weiss and Brookings Institution visiting fellow Jamie Kirchick, who took the news as a badge of honor.

“I’m very proud to hear that,” Kirchick said.

The Committee to Protect Journalists said the wide net cast by Fancy Bear underscores efforts by governments worldwide to use hacking against journalists.

“It’s about gaining access to sources and intimidating those journalists,” said Courtney C. Radsch, the group’s advocacy director.

In Russia, the stakes are particularly high. The committee has counted 38 murders of journalists there since 1992.

Many journalists told the AP they knew they were under threat, explaining that they had added a second layer of password protection to their emails and only chatted over encrypted messaging apps like Telegram, WhatsApp or Signal.

Fancy Bear target Ekaterina Vinokurova, who works for regional media outlet Znak, said she routinely deletes her emails.

“I understand that my accounts may be hacked at any time,” she said in a telephone interview. “I’m ready for them.” 

‘I’ve seen what they could do’

It’s not just whom the hackers tried to spy on that points to the Russian government.

It’s when.

Maria Titizian, an Armenian journalist, immediately found significance in the date she was targeted: June 26, 2015.

“It was Electric Yerevan,” she said, referring to protests over rising energy bills that she reported on. The protests that rocked Armenia’s capital that summer were initially seen by some in Moscow as a threat to Russian influence.

Titizian said her outspoken criticism of the Kremlin’s “colonial attitude” toward Armenia could have made her a target.

Eliot Higgins, whose open source journalism site Bellingcat repeatedly crops up on the target list, said the phishing attempts seemed to begin “once we started really making strong statements about MH17,” the Malaysian airliner shot out of the sky over eastern Ukraine in 2014, killing 298 people. Bellingcat played a key role in marshaling the evidence that the plane was destroyed by a Russian missile — Moscow’s denials notwithstanding.

The clearest timing for a hacking attempt may have been that of Adrian Chen.

On June 2, 2015, Chen published a prescient expose of the Internet Research Agency, the Russian “troll factory” that won fresh infamy in October over revelations that it had manufactured make-believe Americans to pollute social media with toxic rhetoric.

Eight days after Chen published his big story, Fancy Bear tried to break into his account.

Chen, who has regularly written about the darker recesses of the internet, said having a lifetime of private messages exposed to the internet could be devastating.

“I’ve covered a lot of these leaks,” he said. “I’ve seen what they could do.”

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