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Backstory: How Reuters uncovered Beto O’Rourke’s teenage hacking days

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(Reuters) – Reuters reporter Joseph Menn exclusively revealed on Friday that Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke belonged to one of the best-known groups of computer hackers as a teenager.

Within minutes, his special report was the most popular story on Reuters.com here and was picked up by other news outlets. But the origin of the story goes back more than two years.

Members of the group, which calls itself Cult of the Dead Cow, protected O’Rourke’s secret for decades, reluctant to compromise the former Texas Congressman’s political career.

After more than a year of reporting, Menn persuaded O’Rourke to talk on the record. In an interview in late 2017, O’Rourke acknowledged that he was a member of the group, on the understanding that the information would not be made public until after his Senate race against Ted Cruz in November 2018.

In an interview with Reuters senior producer Jane Lee, Menn explains how he broke the story and got O’Rourke to open up about his hacking days.

“I decided to write a book about the Cult of the Dead Cow because they were the most interesting and influential hacking group in history. They illustrated a lot of the things that I think are fascinating about hacking and security work.

“While I was looking into the Cult of the Dead Cow, I found out that they had a member who was sitting in Congress. I didn’t know which one. But I knew that they had a member of Congress.

“And then I figured out which one it was. And the members of the group wouldn’t talk to me about who it was. They wouldn’t confirm that it was this person unless I promised that I wouldn’t write about it until after the November election. That’s because the member of Congress had decided to run for Senate. Beto O’Rourke is who it was.

Democratic 2020 presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke, 46, speaks with supporters during a three day road trip across Iowa, in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, U.S., March 15, 2019. REUTERS/Ben Brewer

“I met Beto O’Rourke. I said ‘I’m writing a book about Cult of the Dead Cow, I think it’s really interesting. I know you were in this group. This book is going to publish after November and your Senate race is over. And he said, ‘OK.’

“And he told me about his time in the Cult of the Dead Cow.”

Menn explains more about the story on Twitter @josephmenn twitter.com/josephmenn

Reporting by Jane Lee in San Francisco; Editing by Bill Rigby and Ben Kellerman

Our Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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Exit poll has Thai opposition winning most seats but not enough for government

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BANGKOK (Reuters) – Thai voters flocked to the polls on Sunday for the first election since a 2014 coup, and an exit poll indicated the populist party linked to exiled former leader Thaksin Shinawatra would win the most seats, but not enough to form a government.

Thailand’s Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha (L) prepares to vote in the general election at a polling station in Bangkok, Thailand, March 24, 2019. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha

The race has pitted military junta chief Prayuth Chan-ocha seeking to retain power and stay on as prime minister against a “democratic front” led by the Pheu Thai Party loyal to Thaksin.

Thailand has been under direct military rule since then-army chief Prayuth overthrew an elected pro-Thaksin government in 2014. Former telecommunications tycoon Thaksin was thrown out by the army in 2006 and has lived in self-exile since 2008.

Unofficial results of Thailand’s first general election since 2011, from the Election Commission, were not due for several hours.

However, immediately after polls closed at 5 p.m. (1000 GMT) the Thai PBS channel aired an exit poll by Thai research center Super Poll that indicated Pheu Thai would win 163 seats in the 500-seat House of Representatives.

The same exit poll indicated junta chief’s Palang Pracharat would win 96 seats, the establishment Democrat Party 77 seats, the Bhumjaithai Party 59 seats and the new Future Forward Party 40 seats.

If correct, the projection would mean that Pheu Thai would not have enough votes to form a majority government in its hoped-for “democratic front” with other parties.

Prayuth’s Palang Pracharat party also could not form a government on its own, but it would have a better chance to form a coalition needed to elect a prime minister due to junta-written electoral rules that favor it.

Turnout was estimated to be high as 80 percent among the 51.4 million Thais eligible to vote, the Election Commission said about an hour before the polls closed.

Critics have said a new, junta-written electoral system gives a built-in advantage to pro-military parties and appears designed to prevent the Thaksin-linked Pheu Thai Party from returning to power.

Voters are choosing the 500-seat House of Representatives. The lower house of parliament and an upper house Senate, which is appointed entirely by the ruling junta, will select the next government.

Pro-Thaksin parties have won every election since 2001, but the past 15 years have seen crippling street protests both by his opponents and supporters that destabilized governments and hamstrung business.

Additional reporting by Panarat Thepgumpanat, Patpicha Tanakasempipat, Panu Wongcha-um; Editing by John Chalmers, Robert Birsel

Our Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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Thousands attend NZ vigil, rally to fight racism, remember Christchurch victims

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CHRISTCHURCH (Reuters) – Thousands gathered in New Zealand’s cities on Sunday to protest racism and remember the 50 Muslims killed by a gunman in Christchurch and as Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced a national remembrance service to be held later this week.

People attend a vigil for victims of the mosque shootings in Christchurch, New Zealand March 24, 2019. REUTERS/Edgar Su

About 15,000 turned out for an evening vigil in Christchurch in a park near the Al Noor mosque, where a suspected white supremacist killed more than 40 of the victims. Several more people were killed at the nearby Linwood mosque.

Many non-Muslim women wore headscarves at the vigil, some made by members of Christchurch’s Muslim community, to show their support for those of Islamic faith as they had at similar events last week.

Ardern said on Sunday that a national remembrance service would be held on March 29 to honor the victims, most of whom were migrants or refugees.

“The service will be a chance to once again show that New Zealanders are compassionate, inclusive and diverse, and that we will protect those values,” Ardern said in a statement.

The prime minister has been praised for her leadership following the attack. She swiftly moved to denounce the incident as terrorism, toughen gun laws and express national solidarity with the victims and their families.

The vigil started with an Islamic prayer, followed by a reading of the names of the victims, which included students from the nearby Cashmere High School.

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness only light can,” Okirano Tilaia, one of the school’s pupils, told the crowd. “Hatred cannot drive out hatred, only love can.”

Earlier in the day more than 1,000 people marched in a rally against racism in central Auckland, carrying “Migrant lives matters” and “Refugees welcome here,” placards.

Muslims account for just over 1 percent of New Zealand’s 4.8-million population, a 2013 census showed, most of whom were born overseas.

As New Zealand continued to mourn and ask questions about how such an attack could have happened in the peaceful Pacific nation, the victims’ families spoke about their losses.

Shahadat Hossain, whose brother Mojammel Haque was killed in the attack, arrived in New Zealand on Saturday to bring his brother’s body back to Bangladesh.

“I can’t describe how I felt when I saw my brother’s lifeless body,” he told Reuters. “I was devastated.”

Farid Ahmed, who was at the Al Noor mosque when the shooting took place, escaped but his wife, Husna, was killed. On Sunday, he went door-to-door, thanking his neighbors for their support.

    “They came running… they were crying, they were in tears,” he said of his neighbors when they found out that Husna had died.

“That was a wonderful support and expression of love, and I am feeling that I should also take the opportunity to say to them that I also love them.”

Reporting by Jill Gralow Natasha Howitt, Charlotte Greenfield in Christchurch, Ruma Paul in Dhaka, James Redmayne and Tom Westbrook in Sydney; Writing by Lidia Kelly; Editing by Sam Holmes

Our Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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Almost 400 people winched from stricken cruise liner off Norway

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OSLO (Reuters) – Rescue services had airlifted 397 people to safety from a luxury cruise liner with engine trouble off the coast of Norway by Sunday morning and were preparing to tow the vessel to a nearby port.

The Viking Sky, with 1,373 passengers and crew on board, sent out a mayday signal on Saturday as it drifted towards land in the Norwegian Sea.

The ship was carrying 915 passengers, of whom “a large number” were from the United States and Britain, according to the rescue services.

Some 17 injured passengers had been taken to hospital, a local rescue coordinator told a news conference early on Sunday, while others suffered minor cuts and bruises.

One was taken to St. Olav’s Hospital in the town of Trondheim, which is central Norway’s most advanced medical facility. Others were taken to local hospitals in the region.

“Many have also been traumatized by the experience and need care when they arrive on shore,” the Norwegian Red Cross said in a statement.

The airlift had gone on through the night. The ship has been able to restart three of its four engines on Sunday morning but still needed assistance.

“The evacuation continues at the request of the vessel … they need tugboats to get to port,” rescue service spokesman Per Fjeld said, adding that the plan was to bring the Viking Sky to the town of Molde.

Rescue services have begun to attach lines to the ship from tugboats to begin towing it towards the port.

BROKEN WINDOWS

Stormy weather conditions had improved in the early hours of Sunday, with winds blowing at 14 meters per second, down from 24 meters per second previously, according to the Norwegian Meteorological Institute. The wind speeds are expected to fall further during Sunday.

Images and film posted by passengers on social media showed furniture sliding around as the vessel drifted in waves of up to eight meters (26 feet), and passengers earlier described the ordeal.

Slideshow (3 Images)

“We were having lunch when it began to shake. Window panes were broken and water came in. It was just chaos. The trip on the helicopter, I would rather forget. It was not fun,” American passenger John Curry told public broadcaster NRK on Saturday.

The stretch of water known as Hustadvika and surrounding areas are known for fierce weather and shallow waters dotted with reefs.

Viking Cruises, which owns the ship, on Saturday said the safety of passengers was its top priority. The company was not immediately available for further comment on Sunday.

Reporting by Terje Solsvik and Gwladys Fouche; Editing by Jane Merriman/Keith Weir

Our Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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