This weekend’s focus is on Mail Cat, a one of a kind cat who loves to search for emails without letting others know about it, a follow up on Real Raw News from Bill McCarthy of PolitiFact, and commentary on the implications of the Kuomintang Chairmanship elections. The main image is sourced from the Kuomintang website. Acting Chairman Johnny Chiang accepts the resignation. He will be replaced by Chairman-elect Eric Chu on 30 October 2021.
Mail Cat is a one-of-a-kind cat who can find existing emails without notifying users. GitHub user Sharsil created this incredible OSINT tool utilising API/STMP features to check for a username in an email on 26 different provides (consistent of 60 domains, including Gmail, Outlook, and major Russian domains. Mail Cat is similar in technique (although not in code) to the popular OSINT tool Sherlock, which searches for usernames on social media sites. Mail Cat, however, is particularly unique because it does not trigger notifications. Previously, to confirm an email address exists OSINT practitioners needed to attempt sign-ins and risked sending notifications to the target. This was particularly dangerous depending on who the target was, and unhelpful for CTFs with Trace Labs Search Party, as triggering a notification email to a missing person was dangerous and out of bounds of the CTF. Mailcat may provide a unique way around this, and be particularly beneficial for Trace Labs events (although it will not in itself provide evidence, finding an existing email with a username is a great way to find other hidden social media accounts).
(For context, Search Party is a fantastic OSINT event where teams work together to find evidence for authorities working to solve missing persons cases; rules of engagement are very strict). (Last note, I could not get Mail Cat working on MacOS – likely this is my own fault as I could not get past the dreaded ‘Permission Denied’ error even with sudo).
Another website to mention this week comes from Ritu Gill (@OSINTtechniques on Twitter), who opened a StartMe page for OSINT Resources unique to Canada! The resource is a fantastic repository of Canadian information on individuals, corporations, infrastructure, and professionals.
Hangings, guillotines and Gitmo: Going behind Real Raw News’ sensational (and fabricated) headlines by Bill McCarthy(PolitiFact)
A few weeks ago I addressed a rather disgusting, yet popular and sensational, fake news machine: Real Raw News. However, I went into the direction of connecting it to disinformation networks and narratives on COVID-19 vaccines and the defence of Taiwan. This week, Bill McCarthy of PolitiFact did an excellent analysis of the news site and the man behind it, Michael Tuffin. McCarthy did an excellent job using OSINT to put together Michael Baxter’s (Tuffin’s alias) previous blogging history. The story is both conclusive, and insight into how seductive and financially motivating the creation of disinformation is. Distressingly, as of two weeks ago when I was poking around on Real Raw News, their Facebook page was up and Google Ads populated on their page. PolitiFact has gotten both companies to takedown their respective resources; which is an incredible and satisfying result. The story is a master craft in journalism so thorough and convincing, the disinformation was not only debunked, but de-platformed.
Kuomintang Chairmanship Election Goes to Eric Chu, Bad Headlines Go to You
On Saturday in Taipei, former New Taipei Mayor Eric Chu (朱立倫) was elected to the Kuomintang (KMT) chairmanship with 46 percent of the vote, and upon ceremonially approval, will take office on 30 October. Why is the KMT Party election worth discussing when only 50.71 percent of eligible KMT voters cast a ballot, whom consist of .8 percent of Taiwan’s population? The impending headlines and narratives matter, is why. And there is going to be a lot of amplification of those headlines due to the KMT’s legacy in Taiwan, and how much Taiwan matters to geo-politics at the moment.
A few disclaimers are warranted as I am diving directly into Taiwanese politics, and even more, Cross-Strait politics. First, yes, I am a foreigner living in Taiwan. Second, to lead with my point: Taiwanese matter, so for the final word on this go seek out what Taiwanese have to say on the KMT elections, and Taiwan in general. Here are four to get you started: Clarissa Wei, William Yang, Tricky Taipei, Daniel Kao. Third, my own political opinion is, not surprisingly, Taiwan is a country and is treated as a sovereign actor in many ways by international actors, but not in every way; critically, the ludicrous “One China Policy”. The international community ought to quickly figure out how to solidify Taiwan as a country to preserve its independence. Fourth and last, if you are unfamiliar with the KMT, the White Terror, or 228 – all reasons why the KMT’s existence is contested – researching those terms would be a good start. Here is a Diplomat article covering the remember of the 228 incident from 2019.
The context surrounding this year’s KMT election was a COVID-19 outbreak in Taiwan which began in late April, but was caught in mid-May, and is now back to near zero (as of writing, there have been two days of zero cases). Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) President Tsai-Ing Wen and her administration came under early scrutiny for the 3+11 policy (three days of quarantine, eleven days of health management) towards pilots, which was the supposed point of entry for COVID-19. Months later, however, the Central Epidemic Command Centre (CECC) stated they do not believe the point of entry was a pilot, and quarantining pilots is an exceedingly difficult row of decisions. Next, however, the DPP also came under fire from the KMT for not procuring enough vaccines. Taiwan’s first doses of Astra-Zeneca vaccines arrived in April to low willingness to take the vaccine. International news was hyperventilating about (rare) blood clot risks associated with the AZ vaccine, and as Taiwan had no domestic COVID-19 cases, people opted to not take them. Community spread quickly turned people’s minds, and there were suddenly (and remains) not enough vaccines. One of the reasons this was an issue for the KMT, is the Tsai-administration CDC withdrew from a contact for Pfizer vaccines in January in the 13th hour. Most Pfizer (BioNTech) vaccines in east-Asia come from the Fosun Pharmaceuticals in Shanghai. According to Ministry of Health and Welfare (MOHW) Minister Chen Shih-Chung, the January contract was returned, requesting an alteration of the term 我國 (Wǒ guó, my country, a term used to refer to Taiwan in official documents) to Taiwan Province. The vaccines would come with the price of an official document recognising Taiwan as a province of China.
What followed was generous donations from Japan, Lithuania, Slovakia, the United States, and Poland. Meanwhile, authorities approved Taiwan’s domestic vaccine Medigen for emergency authorisation, although the KMT was speculative about the approval process and opened a suit against Minister Chen. Eventually, Foxconn, TSMC, and Buddhist Foundation Tzu Chi negotiated contracts for vaccine donations, which they would in return donate to Taiwan. (China’s Global Times still attempted to take credit for the vaccines delivery, to the convincing of no one). The BNT vaccines arrived and the CECC deployed them to high school students first, as Pfizer was the only vaccine approved for 12–17-year-olds.
Yet, now nearly past the domestic COVID-19 outbreak, the support for the KMT has not risen, although approval of Tsai’s administrations has decreased. This is critical context for the KMT under its current chairman, Johnny Chiang, age 49, the party tried to move younger. Only three percent of party members are under 40, and in the election that saw Chiang rise, only 35 percent of qualified members voted.
Critically, however, Chiang moved away from an old KMT commitment to the informal 1992 consensus between the KMT and Chinese Communist Party (CCP) that Taiwan would reunify. Most Taiwanese identify as Taiwanese, not Chinese from the mainland, and thus observe reunification would be disastrous both for choosing their own identity and leaders, democratically. The brutal crackdown on Hong Kong in the 2019 protests was a key factor in many young voters swinging towards the President Tsai in 2020. The National Security Law and nearly daily infractions of the PLA Air Force into the southern ADIZ have only convinced more Taiwanese to turn towards the DPP and far-away from an undemocratic, informal, and archaic 1992 consensus.
Except those older adherents to the KMT’s view of the 1992 Consensus have a strong disdain for the DPP moving towards Taiwan Independence. Yet, they also have a disdain for reunifying under ‘Red China’. Aside from Johnny Chiang – whose youthful ‘Taiwan’ KMT was not ‘Republic of China’ enough in the essence of Generalissimo Chiang Kai-Shek – the other likely candidate was an academic, 張亞中 (Chang Ya-Chong), whose commitment was reunification under ‘Red China’. This was also not ‘Republic of China’ in any sense, and basically was a direct move towards a “One Country, Two Systems” deal that ended so disastrously for Hong Kong. However, he still had support enough to lead at several points during the vote count.
Ultimately Eric Chu was the perfect middle ground for his commitment to the old-guard of the Kuomintang, having met Chinese President XI Jinping in 2015, and having a degree from the United States with good relations there. In demeanor and speech, he is reminiscent of nostalgia for KMT members, speaking with commitment to reuniting with old friends. His acceptance speech thanked his competitor’s commitment to the KMT, and he sought immediately to focus on unity, commitment to finding new friends, and focusing on the strengthening of the party; specifically saying that the DPP should be scared from this night forward. Moreover, he also immediately stated he intends to open a KMT office in Washington D.C., a commitment to the more ‘moderate’ and ‘international’ side some KMT members see in their party.
Yet, despite this lean towards an ‘international’ outlook of old-guard KMT cross-strait status-quo relations, Chu’s relationship with Xi will almost certainly turn the KMT into an exterior party of the ‘1992 Consensus’. The party moving in that direction will continue to be deeply unpopular with young voters. Xi Jinping’s faxed letter of congratulations and Eric Chu’s faxed reply both focused on emphasizing the ‘1992 Consensus’, opposing the DPP, and opposing Taiwan Independence. Chu even wrote that both people in Taiwan and China are descendants of the legendary Yellow Emperor (兩岸人民同為炎黃子孫). The majority Han ethnicity in China identify their common heritage to the yellow emperor. Problematically for Taiwan, this identification as ‘Han’ is a direct negation of Taiwanese identity, as well as the many other indigenous identities who remain nomin voters in support of the KMT. Notably, however, Chu did not erase dating his reply with 110, the R.O.C. calendar year.
The KMT under Eric Chu will lean heavily into the R.O.C. identity, opposing the Taiwanese identity that so strongly unifies the independent identity. At a local level, this may ensure the KMT continues to hold their strongholds, and depending on what happens in a year’s time, may even indicate the KMT maintains or gains ground in the local mid-term elections. Yet, due to the ‘1992 Consensus’ being so deeply unpopular, and the next two years before the election likely to feature the revelation of further human rights abuses in Hong Kong, Xinjiang, and elsewhere, the presidential election will likely go towards the DPP candidate, as long as whoever that is does not fall into some political trap (this is Tsai’s second-term, so she cannot run again).
Moreover, China’s recent crackdown on LGBT identity is likely going to further embed anti-CCP sentiment, as Taiwan LGBT people enjoy a growth of recognized rights, including same-sex marriage, and most recently, the ability for transgender people to switch their recognized gender. Indigenous rights and people are also seeing more attention and could be likely to switch from KMT to DPP, if the KMT begins to focus sharply on the 1992 Consensus. (The article cited was written before the monumental 2019 Hong Kong protests, and sentiment since then may have evolved even more from indigenous elders supporting the KMT.) Hualien County, Taiwan’s traditionally pan-blue (KMT is blue, DPP is green) eastern county home to many indigenous people, switching green in 2022 could be largely indicative of doom for the KMT at even the local level.
The KMT’s international connections, however, could be a feed of ambiguous, misinformation, and confusing narratives. Hence, this is the ultimate point of why it is so critical to read and pay attention to Taiwanese people’s voices. The Reuter’s article written regarding Xi Jinping’s letter of congratulations reads, “China’s Xi warns of ‘grim’ Taiwan situation in letter to opposition.” This headline portrays the ‘opposition’ to the CCP as the KMT; as if they are in one political system. Reuters reporting on the letters exchanged is poorly framed. Future reporting from an international perspective that overlooks key Taiwanese opinions may be just as poor.
Lastly, the letters, and ultimately Eric Chu’s election may not be as definitively consequential as first-thought, especially if the KMT’s support dwindles. If Xi Jinping sees a glimmer of hope for peaceful reunification, ADIZ infractions may momentarily fall leading into the mid-term elections. As militaristic as CCP leadership and state media outlets can be, an invasion of Taiwan, or even an air-conflict challenge, remains convoluted with many more possible disastrous outcomes for the CCP should the PLA fail.
The election of Eric Chu is a rather routine, and even predictable event, that could have nominal effects and routine, predictable bad headlines in international media. Yet, there is also the potential that Eric Chu is bolder than any of his predecessors, dating back to Chiang Kai-Shek. Taiwan-PRC relations are stretched thinner than ever before, which leaves room for politicians to dramatically change factors with actions that would be otherwise on newspapers’ flipside. Paying attention to the KMT is important, but that level of importance largely depends now on how action-oriented Eric Chu is on the wording he has given in two days as chairman-elect.
全台前後山與圖 (Complete Map of Taiwan and Mountains)
Taiwan is a beautiful island, and there are many, many historical maps showcasing the immense diversity of environment and topographic features. This particular map is from the Qing Dynasty, and highlights mountains and rivers, with many other details. North is oriented to the left. Source is the Library of Congress – zoom display available on the LOC website.