08 September 2017 – Executive Intelligence Summary – Forward Observer Shop

08 September 2017 – Executive Intelligence Summary


In this EXSUM… (4760 words)

  • Hurricane Irma bears down on Florida, southeast U.S.
  • President, Congress agree to avoid government shutdown for three months
  • Putin says whoever masters AI will rule the world
  • Hackers have penetrated the U.S. energy grid
  • U.S. Army rapid reaction force in Europe not ready for prime time against Russia
  • Russia, China, North Korea, and Middle East Situation Reports (SITREPs)
  • Defense in Brief
  • Far Left Roll-Up
  • Americans’ political divisions are growing and becoming more intense
  • And more…

Priority Intelligence Requirements:

PIR1: What are the new indicators of systems disruption or instability that could lead to civil unrest or violence?

PIR2: What are the new indicators of an outbreak of global conflict?

PIR3: What are the new indicators of organized political violence and domestic conflict?


PIR1: What are the current indicators of systems disruption that could lead to instability, civil unrest, or violence?

Hurricane Irma bears down on Florida, southeast U.S.

Hurricane Irma is set to make landfall in south Florida on Sunday morning, track north through Georgia on Monday, and then pass through parts of Alabama and Tennessee and Tuesday and beyond.  Currently a Category 4 storm, Irma is expected to dissipate to Category 1 by Monday, and then become a Tropical Storm and Depression after that.  Meanwhile, police officers are going door to door in parts of south Florida issuing mandatory evacuation orders.  As of this morning’s update, the National Hurricane Center is forecasting Hurricane Jose to head north towards the Atlantic, but not make landfall.  You can follow the updates at http://nhc.noaa.gov.

Click to view full-size.

President, Congress agree to avoid government shutdown for three months

This week, President Trump and Congress agreed to pass a three-month funding bill to keep the government running.  That puts another budget showdown on the schedule for 15 December 2017. President Trump reached across the aisle to work with Democrats, much to the consternation of many Republicans, to attach a Hurricane Harvey and Irma relief rider to the bill.  Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin says that he “will never let the government default,” and that this three-month deal gives the administration 90 days to focus on other things, like tax reform, which Mnuchin says it still on the table for this year.  But Congressman Lee Zeldin (R-NY) says the deal created “created a leverage point for Democrats in December that didn’t exist before.”  Tax reform, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), and the Border Wall are going to come up again, and the Democrats will have an additional and significant opportunity to derail the Trump agenda.  December is the next battle.


Putin says whoever masters AI will rule the world

Russian President Vladimir Putin, in a meeting with students, made a dire prediction regarding artificial intelligence: “the one who becomes the leader in this sphere will be the ruler of the world.” During his talk, Putin also addressed the dichotomy of AI when he remarked that it presents the world with “colossal opportunities and threats that are difficult to predict right now.” He also said “it would be strongly undesirable if someone wins a monopolist position,” adding that Russia would be quick to share its AI with other nations. Finally, he predicted that future wars would be fought not with humans but with armies of drones, and “when one party’s drones are destroyed by the drones of another, it will have no other choice but to surrender.” [source]

Putin’s prediction has the CEO of SpaceX and Tesla, Elon Musk, worried about AI again. Musk has been one of AI’s most vocal critics, tweeting out upon hearing of Putin’s comments, “China Russia, soon all countries w strong computer science. Competition for AI superiority at national level most likely cause of WW3 imo [in my opinion].” [source]

The one country he failed to mention specifically was the U.S., where companies like Google and Microsoft are putting large amounts of resources into the development of AI, though last week Goldman Sachs announced in a report that China could soon catch up.  Putin’s prediction notwithstanding, it’s more likely that AI technology will spread like other technologies has spread, with one country one day possibly even surpassing the initial developing country.



Hackers have penetrated the U.S. energy grid

Cybersecurity giant Symantec claimed in a new report that hackers have managed to burrow their way deeply into critical U.S. infrastructure, including the energy sector and other companies in the U.S. and abroad. (AC: Which is not news to anyone who’s read this EXSUM since last year.) In its report, the firm noted that the threat of cyber-induced power outages in Western countries has gone from the theoretical to a legitimate threat, but only in recent months. “We’re talking about activity we’re seeing on actual operational networks that control the actual power grid,” said Eric Chien, technical director of security technology and response at Symantec.

Over the summer reports surfaced that hackers were targeting staffers at nuclear energy facilities using phishing attacks in attempts to steal log-in information and install malware on machines. It wasn’t clear at the time the extent of the attacks or whether hackers had managed to breach IT systems. But Symantec’s report removes all doubts. “There are no more technical hurdles for them to cause some sort of disruption,” Chien said. “All that’s left is really motivation.”

Cyber security firms in the private sector, including Crowdstrike, are tracking several hacking groups that are believed to be behind ongoing efforts to breach critical infrastructure. One of them has been dubbed Dragonfly 2.0 by Symantec. The most recent wave of attacks hit energy companies in the U.S., Turkey, Switzerland, Afghanistan, and elsewhere. [source]

Analyst Comment: Long suspected by the cybersecurity community; long classified by the intelligence community; now confirmed through open source reporting.  The question of whether or not critical U.S. and European infrastructure is vulnerable to breaches has been answered.  As I’ve long warned, the next major conflict with a near-peer competitor is likely to include cyber attacks against U.S. critical infrastructure.  Cyber attacks like this would likely first target command, control, and communication systems — say, by China or Russia trying to disrupt, delay, or deter military U.S. mobilization and deployment to the battlefield.  In fact, this is where the U.S. is most vulnerable, and a cyber attack that disrupts command, control, and communications would have the most return on investment, in terms of the cost and resources required for a cyber attack. Cyber is relatively cheap and easy, and could be quite painful for the U.S.  Our best early warning indicator for this scenario is a place and time when Russia or China feels that their sovereignty is being threatened.  This is not a high likelihood scenario, but the likelihood is not zero.

PIR2: What are the current indicators of an outbreak of global conflict?


U.S. Army rapid reaction force in Europe not ready for prime time against Russia

The U.S. Army has a rapid reaction force based in Italy — the 173rd Airborne Brigade — but according to a new internal study, it’s not ready to confront a high-tech, well-equipped military force like Russia or its proxies, which is what it was designed and deployed to do. The problem is that the force, a bulwark of the NATO alliance, is under-equipped, undermanned, and inadequately organized after being sent to Iraq and Afghanistan multiple times over the past decade. The report notes that the brigade does not possess “essential capabilities needed to accomplish its mission effectively and with decisive speed,” according to the analysis.

After Russia invaded Ukraine in 2014, the 173rd’s paratroopers were the first to reach the Baltic states as a means of potentially countering any Russian or Russian-sponsored moves into any of those countries, and as a deterrent to an attack against NATO’s eastern flank. But the new assessment lists several “capability gaps” that were seen during the unit’s recent training with Ukrainian troops that have been engaged against Russian-backed separatists who have employed low-cost drones and electronic warfare tools to pinpoint targets for artillery, even as they have destroyed Ukrainian government armored vehicles with state-of-the-art Russian antitank missiles. [source]

The 173rd appears to be suffering from some of the same overuse/neglect that other active-duty infantry units with specific missions and skill sets are suffering: The grind of low-tech conflict in places where they were never designed to fight. The brigade is lacking air defense capabilities and electronic warfare units — capabilities it does not need or use against Islamic State militants and the Taliban, but which are vital in conventional slugfests with Russian or similar forces.

U.S. military commanders have seen first-hand the Ukrainian conflict and the capabilities fielded by Moscow. And they have seen front-line American units have their skill sets and other capabilities dulled by rag-tag police actions in a pair of long-running brush fire wars.


South China Sea SITREP

A rising China means the U.S. should reaffirm and strengthen its alliance with Australia

China’s rise has created anxiousness among most of its Asian neighbors, and that includes long-time U.S. ally Australia. And, as Beijing becomes more powerful and spreads its influence more widely across the region, the relationship between Canberra and Washington is coming under strain.  There’s a general feeling throughout Australia to allow Beijing to play a larger role in the regoin. In fact, there are even rumblings that Australia should change its long-held grand security strategy of remaining a steadfast U.S. ally, a change that would similarly upend U.S. grand strategy in the Asia-Pacific region.

Economically, China is Australia’s largest trading partner, absorbing more than one-quarter of all Australian exports, an arrangement that has led to years of uninterrupted and steadily increasing growth for the Land Down Under — meaning the economic symbiosis will likely continue to grow.  But at the same time, China’s rise is becoming Australia’s biggest security concern since Japan dominated the region in the 1930s and through much of World War II.

Australia is a member of the “Five Eyes” intelligence network that includes the U.S., New Zealand, Canada and Great Britain; giving Canberra access to a wealth of data and intelligence-gathering technology. And it’s close to New Zealand. Plus, Australia is in China’s “neighborhood,” so its strategic importance cannot be overstated.

The trend in Chinese behavior is more aggression, not less. That will create more friction, uncertainty, and the possibility of military conflict in one of the world’s most valuable and strategic waterways in the coming decades.  The dilemma for Australia is clear; Canberra will have to decide whether it’s long-term security interests lie in shoring up and strengthening its ties to Washington, or taking its chances and betting that democratic principles will continue to guide maritime policies China gains control over the South China Sea.


Korean Peninsula SITREP

North Korea has joined the nuclear club: Now what?

North Korea conducted its sixth nuclear test this week and, according to reports, it is the largest one yet. Pyongyang was said to have tested a 100-kiloton weapon, which was 10 times larger than its last test in September 2016. To put that in perspective, the explosive yield was about five times larger than the atomic bomb the U.S. dropped on Nagasaki in August 1945.

The test drew immediate condemnation from the Trump administration and also the Chinese government. President Trump, who had been touring Hurricane Harvey-damaged eastern Texas, tweeted, “North Korea has conducted a major Nuclear Test. Their words and actions continue to be very hostile and dangerous to the United States…..North Korea is a rogue nation which has become a great threat and embarrassment to China, which is trying to help but with little success. … South Korea is finding, as I have told them, that their talk of appeasement with North Korea will not work, they only understand one thing!”

Meanwhile, the Chinese foreign ministry said North Korea “has ignored the international community’s widespread opposition, again carrying out a nuclear test. China’s government expresses resolute opposition and strong condemnation toward this,” adding, “We strongly urge the DPRK (North Korea) to face the strong will of denuclearisation from the international community, earnestly abide by the relevant resolutions of the UN Security Council, stop taking mistaken actions which worsen the situation and are also not in line with its own interests, and effectively return to the track of solving the problem through dialogue.” [Sources: here and here]

U.S. intelligence agencies, via satellite imagery, have been tracking tunneling activity at the test site for months, so it was not wholly unexpected. Still, several things are notable regarding the test. First and foremost is the size of the yield. In the course of a year, Pyongyang has managed to increase it by a factor of ten, which is substantial. Atop an ICBM, that is more than enough destructive firepower to reduce large American cities to rubble, although there are still significant questions about whether or not a North Korean ICBM would reach North America.

Secondly, the timing of the test is significant. It came as Chinese President Xi Jinping was preparing to host a summit of BRICs nations — Brazil, Russia, India China — which are all deemed to be at a similar stage of newly advanced economic development. It was the second time this year that North Korea timed a controversial military test to coincide with a major international political gathering in China. In May Pyongyang fired a ballistic missile as leaders from 29 nations gathered in Beijing for a summit touting China’s new Silk Road project. Why would North Korea intentionally aggravate its only major ally and trading partner?

Third, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un is completely ignoring Trump’s saber-rattling, having conducted this latest nuclear test just days after a controversial and highly risking ballistic missile test whose trajectory took it directly over Japan’s northern island of Hokkaido. More missile tests are likely in the near future, as Pyongyang races to finish its ICBM and nuclear development. A functional weapon (or three; or six) is likely within a year.

Analyst Comment: Secretary of State Spokeswoman Heather Nauert said that China is working with North Korea on back channels, and she didn’t seem too hopeful that there would be a quick resolution.  It appears that the State Dept. isn’t confident in a quick resolution and may actually be preparing for another generation’s worth of diplomacy.  One way to look at this is that the U.S. has a “multi-pronged approach,” using diplomatic, military, and financial pressure on a North Korean regime that continues to thumb its nose at America.  The Kim regime is deliberately making a mockery of the U.S., skirting the line of U.S. military strikes.  We don’t believe the Kim regime is serious about nuking America, although the ramped-up rhetoric may also be taking its toll on Trump.  Our greatest risk, as we see it, is a miscalculation: The Kim regime believes that the U.S. is preparing a preemptive strike and then launches their own attack.

I remember a time during my first tour in Afghanistan when we were worried that a Taliban cell had an old Stinger missile.  The big question: would they use it?  One line of thought was that because they enjoyed showing it off so much, it was more of a prize or piece of treasure than it was a weapon.  The cell might be lauded for downing an aircraft with it, but they would be killed soon thereafter.  In the end, it seems the cell decided that bragging about having it was more beneficial than actually using it.  This could be Kim’s reasoning, too.


Mideast SITREP

Israeli strike against Syrian government facility ups the ante against Hezbollah and Iran

Israeli defense officials said that an airstrike the country launched in Syria was directed against a facility used to manufacture chemical weapons, in violation of international agreements. In a press release, the Syrian government denied it was manufacturing chemical weapons, adding that the Israeli strike killed two soldiers near the town of Masyaf, which hosts a branch of the government agency responsible for developing and producing nonconventional weapons and the means to deliver them, known as the Scientific Studies and Research Center (SSRC).

The Syrian government made no mention of the facility and instead said the Israeli airstrike involving missiles fired from Lebanese airspace were aimed more at hindering Damacas’ fight against the Islamic State. The strike comes at a time of increased tension on Israel’s northern borders with Syria and Lebanon. [source]

In recent weeks Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has ramped up the rhetoric, singling out Iran for building sites in Lebanon and Syria to manufacture missiles — something he said Israel cannot (and likely would not) tolerate. While Israel has launched about 100 airstrikes into Syria since civil war broke out more than four years ago, this particular attack is said to represent an escalation, because it targeted an official Syrian government facility. Israeli defense officials said that not only does the facility targeted produce chemical weapons, but it also manufactures missiles which are regularly transferred to Iran-backed militant group Hezbollah, which is growing in strength and power in Syria and Lebanon. While Israel is concerned about the threat of chemical weapons, its military brass may have been more worried about the missiles going to Hezbollah, given Tel Aviv’s policy of targeting Hezbollah-bound weapons shipments.

This escalation, such as it is, comes as the new leader of another Iranian proxy, Hamas, declared that the militant group’s five-year rift with Tehran is officially repaired, and that he will use the improved relationship for “rebuilding and accumulating” increased military assets in order to “liberate Palestine” from Israel. “Thousands of people work every day to make rockets, [dig] tunnels, and train frogmen,” said Yehiyeh Sinwar.  Hezbollah, Hamas, and Iran are the only armed forces with enough combined firepower to seriously challenge Israel. Not only that but defeating Israel remains the strategic objective of all three. And while Iran may not be ready to challenge Israel directly, the Iranian modus operandi is to pursue proxy warfare, just as they did in Iraq against U.S. and Coalition Forces.

At any rate, we believe conflict is coming between Israel and Hezbollah — and Iran and its other proxy, Hamas — no matter what Israel does.


Defense in brief

The way the U.S. Army will fight the next major war

The U.S. Army is engaged in major upgrades to its M1A2 Abrams main battle tanks, which will factor heavily into the next major war. Army developers are currently engineering a new Advanced Multi-Purpose 120mm ammunition round for a much-improved M1A2 SEP V4 Abrams variant for the 2020s and beyond. The tank is designed to be much more lethal, faster, lighter, and better protected and equipped with an array of sensors while being armed with upgraded, more effective weapons. The new ammunition is designed to replace four different types with a single round. The first two are the M830 HEAT (High-Explosive Anti-Tank) round and the M830A1, Multi-Purpose Anti-Tank (MPAT) round. The latter round was introduced in 1993 to engage and defeat enemy helicopters, specifically the Russian Hind helicopter. The third round is the M1028 Canister first introduced in 2005 as a means of defeating enemy dismounted Infantry, especially close-in human wave assaults. The fourth round is the M908 Obstacle Reduction round, which as designed to help destroy large obstacles position on roads by enemy forces to block access. The new ammunition data link will help tank crews determine which round is best suited for a particular given attack. [source]


U.S. Navy developing three new weapons that are naval warfare ‘game changers’

A report issued in August by the Congressional Research Service assesses that three U.S. Navy weapons systems currently under development are each “game changers,” and that singly or together would change the nature of combat at sea. The systems assessed by the CRS — solid state lasers (SSLs), the eletromagnetic railgun (EMRG), and the hypervelocity projectile (HVP) — could dramatically improve the ability of surface warships to project power and to defend themselves against by enemy missiles. “Any one of these new weapon technologies, if successfully developed and deployed, might be regarded as a ‘game changer’ for defending Navy surface ships against enemy missiles,” the report states. “If two or three of them are successfully developed and deployed, the result might be considered not just a game changer, but a revolution.”

The report goes onto note that it has been rare when the Navy has had so many technologically advanced weapons in development at the same time, noting that the HPV in particular has “emerged as a program of particular interest to the Department of Defense…which is exploring the potential for using the weapon across multiple U.S. military services.”

The Navy has made substantial progress on all three weapons systems over the past few years but serious hurdles remain, the report said, noting that Congress will have to consider those challenges — and the risk that the development could fail — in deciding whether to approve additional funding requests from the Navy for those systems moving forward. [source]


Pentagon is now calling for ‘deterrence’ against Russia

The Pentagon has changed its stance towards Russia in Europe, now calling its efforts to challenge Moscow “deterrence” rather than “reassurance” to NATO allies and other European governments. The change is part of the Trump administration’s quest for NATO nations to up their contributions to the continent.

In 2014 the Obama administration implemented what it called the European Reassurance Initiative; that has now been changed to the European Deterrence Initiative. Its purpose is to fund troop presence, military exercises, military infrastructure, and security assistance. “The difference between reassurance and deterrence is [that] reassurance is what we did for Europe, but deterrence is what we do with Europe,” said Thomas Goffus, deputy assistant secretary of defense for Europe and NATO, during a Sept. 6 keynote address at the ComDef conference in Washington.

President Trump has often chided NATO allies for failing to spend 2 percent of their GDP on defense, which is part of the alliance agreement. By year’s end, NATO allies are expected to meet at a summit in Wales and ink a pledge to spend that much on defense by 2024.

As Russia continues to improve its combat capabilities and modernize its forces, NATO will have to respond in kind if it is to be seen by Moscow as a credible deterrent. The Trump national security team realizes this and is seeking to convince its NATO allies that a strong alliance is the only thing that will keep Russian armor out of their cities.


PIR3: What are the new indicators of organized political violence and domestic conflict?

Leftist groups organizing “mutual aid and rescue networks” in Houston

According to Salon (and the article first published by Truthout), members of Redneck Revolt and other “anti-fascist” groups are organizing relief efforts in Houston, helping those affected by Hurricane Harvey.  Scott Crow, an anarchist, says, “This is how we build liberatory communities, because we can’t rely on the government,” Crow tells Truthout.  “You have all these anarchist networks that have existed before Katrina, strengthened through Katrina, and have continued after disaster after disaster in the United States, and now they … are ready to be the boots on the ground,” he said.  Other groups like Houston’s Anarchist Black Cross (ABC) chapter and the Black Women’s Defence League are organizing similar relief efforts.  (The Dallas/Forth Worth, Texas-based Black Women’s Defense League is “a revolutionary womanist coalition that provides political education, self-defense training, and resources and rescue to abused, underserved black women and marginalized genders.”)  [source]

Analyst Comment: This is where the rubber meets the road for a Leftist Hearts and Minds campaign.  Relief efforts like this were a routine part of the counterinsurgency strategy in Iraq and Afghanistan, for both sides of those conflicts.  I’ll never forget an anecdote from the summer of 2008 when U.S. Forces in Iraq partially demolished a home near Sadr City in Baghdad.  It took something like two or three days for U.S. soldiers to approach the home owner and offer compensation for the collateral damage.  By the time the soldiers arrived, Jaysh al-Mahdi — Muktada al-Sadr’s Shi’ite militia that we were fighting — had already repaired the home and given money to the family.  That family, if they weren’t already, became supporters of Jaysh al-Mahdi and their support of U.S. Forces was lost forever (to be honest, it probably already was, anyway).  But this story underlines the importance of creating popular support by helping those in need.  When radical Leftist groups help their communities, they’re recruiting and garnering support for their movements.


“Antifa isn’t a hobby or a fad”

I came across an interview with Mark Bray, Dartmouth professor, Antifa apologist, and author of Antifa: The Anti-Fascist Handbook. It’s an interesting interview and I encourage you to read it if you’re concerned with the Antifa movement.  There are two points I think are salient this week.  The first is that Bray describes Antifa not as just antifascist, but specifically revolutionary and anti-capitalist. “[Antifa] is also informed by commonly shared anti-capitalist and revolutionary outlooks. In that way, an anti-fascist is not simply anyone who opposes fascism. Anti-fascism is a specific strand or tendency that opposes fascism from a pan-radical position.”

The second point is that the Antifa movement and their supporters view their action as part of a political struggle against an “imminent threat”.  “Anti-fascists are also leftists of all stripes who also are union organizers and environmentalists and immigrant rights advocates and so forth. These people do a lot of political work and are very committed, and this isn’t a hobby or a fad that people decided to do on a whim. It is the product of serious political analysis. It’s a reaction to what they perceive to be an imminent threat.”

Last week I pointed out that prominent politicians and media outlets condemned Antifa violence as counterproductive.  Members of the Antifa movement see violence as a small part of their political struggle, but I do believe that this could be the source of a small rift in the movement, especially if prominent Leftist leaders continue to condemn the violence.  Most of the violence I’ve observed has occurred during protests (although there have been sporadic and opportunist attacks on Trump supporters) and while law enforcement were either small in numbers or disengaged from the situation.  [source]


ASU Students for a Democratic Society chapter backs away from ‘Antifa’

The Arizona State University chapter of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS; a socialist group) is disavowing the ‘Antifa’ label and distancing their chapter from the violence associated with the Antifa movement. Following last week’s condemnation of Antifa violence by Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), there’s a small fault line forming about appropriate tactics. I’ll write a full-length post about this, but for now I’ll just point out that one of the reasons why the Occupy Wall Street movement fizzled was because a majority of their supporters disagreed with their tactics, which were counterproductive. Ultimately, this small rift may not lead to anything significant, but some Leftist politicians and organizations are now tap dancing away from being associated with Antifa violence.  Well-publicized future cases of violence is likely to encourage others on the Left to condemn violence, as well. [source]


Americans’ political divisions are growing and becoming more intense

A new survey indicates Americans are edging closer to where the country was in the 1840s and 1850s before actual warfare broke out with the secession of the Southern states in 1861. People who identify with either major political party are increasingly at odds not just over policy, but they are beginning to inhabit separate worlds that harbor divergent cultural and social values, even viewing their economic outlook in a partisan manner. Self-segregation due to political, social, and cultural differences, if you will.

Some examples: Democrats are twice as likely as Republicans to never go to church, and eight times as likely to favor some form of action on climate change. And while more than three-quarters of Democrats say they are comfortable with the major societal changes that the country has seen over the past couple of decades, less than one-third of Republicans are because they prefer more traditional American values. “Our political compass is totally dominating our economic and world views about the country,” said GOP pollster Bill McInturff, who conducted the survey with Democrat pollster Fred Yang.  The pollsters say our current yawning divide is part of “a generation-long trend.” [source]


Far Left Roll-Up

GA: Student struggles in Atlanta

IN: Evansville community rallies against police murder

KY: List of state’s hate groups includes black supremacists

MI: Ann Arbor diversity of tactics

TX: Houston Anarchist Book Fair – 24 Sept

WA: Communist Party posters glued in Sammamish

Communist Party USA calls for “party-building conference” in November

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