EXECUTIVE INTELLIGENCE SUMMARY -14 April 2017 🔒
In this EXSUM… (5180 words)
- BLUF: Trump’s Road Not Taken
- Russia, China, & North Korea SITREPs
- Defense in Brief
- Symantec connects 40 cyber attacks to CIA hacking tools exposed by Wikileaks
- Dallas emergency sirens hacked, blare for hours
- Pentagon to produce resiliency solution to the American power grid
- Leftist activist describes intelligence gathering
- 15 April — The Battle of Berkeley
- Fitch Ratings changes course on Trump
- And more…
Bottom Line Up Front: There will be no shortage of targets for military strikes in the coming days, weeks, and months ahead; there never have been. Candidate Trump campaigned on a platform of peace through strength, and to rebuild a hollow military but not to use it as a blunt instrument of foreign policy. From what I’ve seen at the White House, President Trump has re-positioned himself as clearly in the mainstream on foreign policy, specifically with regard to using military power as an extension of diplomacy.
Charles Krauthammer accurately quipped of Obama’s military strikes that, “Cruise missiles make weak presidents feel strong.” Taking that as a starting point, I see the Trump administration as using cruise missiles to prove its strength and decisiveness. The Chinese have a saying: Kill the chicken to scare the monkey. It’s my sincerest hope that this is the Trump strategy: use power early to establish expectations, as opposed to using it as an opening salvo of protracted conflict. Unfortunately, I see the president about to tumble down in yet another watershed moment for this nation.
The Obama administration was faced with a fork in the road. After a decade of costly conflicts in the Middle East and southwest Asia, what would Obama do — how would he change course for America? He had this fatalistic policy of an America in irreversible decline, which became an ideology that informed his reality. As a result, Obama did nothing to save the nation, and instead pursued policies that would ensure the survival of the State, even to the detriment of the American People.
The fate of empire is always collapse, most often due to over-extension. When the economy is strong, empires can afford to expand on the belief that expansion brings greater wealth. But when economies are weak, those empires run out of money, they hollow out the military and infrastructure, and are then easily exploited. The Persians, the Greeks, the Romans, the Russians, the British, some two dozen more. The road of history is paved on fallen empires, and we’ve slowly been adding the American Empire to this list.
Surrounded by General Flynn and Steve Bannon, the Trump administration held great promise as they came into DC thinking that our decline was not irreversible. These men held lofty ambitions, believing that saving the US economy was the first step to reversing America’s decline, and that disengaging from costly over-extension was the second step. Trump arrived at a his fork in the road, too.
I want to share the last stanza of Robert Frost’s The Road Not Taken because I think it’s an appropriate analogy:
I shall be telling this with a sighSomewhere ages and ages hence:Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—I took the one less traveled by,And that has made all the difference.
The road more traveled includes military action abroad to prolong the inevitable, punching even in retreat, even when we’re up to our eyeballs in conflicts, which is exactly where we are now. The neoconservatives say that if we can defeat our near-peer competitors, then we can delay the sunset on the American Empire, and that’s the only way if you were to ask them. It appears that this is the road Trump is choosing to take. President Trump may negotiate to avoid some conflicts, but should those deals fail, keep in mind who gets to decide Plan B. It’s not General Flynn and it’s not Steve Bannon.
As I write this on Friday morning:
- US/NATO-Russia relations are at a ‘low point’. According to candidate Trump, NATO was once obsolete, but now it’s necessary to save an America in decline. Despite promises to the contrary, the future of improved relations with Russia is gone, perhaps irrevocably, as we promote a military buildup in eastern Europe in anticipation for war.
- Candidate Trump was adamant that foreign entanglements were not in the interest of the America People. President Trump says that foreign entanglements are in the interest of national security, and Trump’s red lines in Syria and elsewhere will be maintained and enforced.
- The Carl Vinson Carrier Strike Group is headed to the Korean Peninsula in anticipation of another North Korean nuclear test. The best case scenario — which realistically at this point continues to be North Korea having nukes but not using them — may not be the most likely scenario, and we could absolutely see a conflict here. Rational thought is that Kim Jong-Un won’t use nuclear weapons because it would mean immediate regime change; however, we can’t rely on Kim Jong-Un being a rational actor. Like Obama was, Kim is surrounded by ideologues, and they may have convinced him that no one is capable of toppling him, regardless of what he does. Top Navy admirals in the Pacific have said for months that North Korea is the next potential and most likely conflict, and our own Secretary of Defense has repeatedly said that North Korea has to be stopped. (Of all potential conflicts, this may be the most legitimate, but it’s going to be an ugly one. That’s why I applaud President Trump’s insistence that China gets the first crack. There’s more on North Korea in PIR 3.)
- The Chinese continue an aggressive military expansion into the South China Sea, to the detriment of US allies in the region. Trump was hard on China throughout the campaign, and may be retreating from that position. Despite a promise to label China as a currency manipulator, he has since said that they’re not, which is likely part of some negotiation. America faces a very tough decision with China: do we lose the South Pacific to the Chinese? What does America look like once that happens? Is combating Chinese power in the Pacific a real national security issue, and does preventing their regional dominance put America first? Will their regional dominance turn into total dominance of the entire Pacific, and if so, what’s in store for America’s future? These are tough questions, and I don’t recommend arriving at quick conclusions.
So this is where Donald Trump gets to decide which path to take, and I believe that he’s already made his decision. Even outside of Iraq and Afghanistan, the likelihood of another military strike is certainly on the table, if not likely. It’s a good bet that we’ll see another military action within the next month, and given Trump’s decision to take the road more traveled, it’s going to make all the difference.
Priority Intelligence Requirements:
PIR1: What are the current indicators of systems disruption or instability that could lead to civil unrest or violence?
PIR2: What are the current indicators of an outbreak of global conflict?
PIR3: What are the current indicators of organized political violence?
PIR4: What are the current indicators of economic, financial, or monetary instability?
PIR1: What are the current indicators of systems disruption that could lead to instability, civil unrest, or violence?
Symantec connects 40 cyber attacks to CIA hacking tools exposed by Wikileaks
Since Wikileaks’ Vault 7 release in March, security researches have identified at least 40 cyber attacks covering 16 countries which have used the CIA’s hacking tools. This release was extremely damaging for the Agency, not only because criminals and state-sponsors are now using the tools, but also because the leaks likely enables foreign government to identify previously-clandestine cyberattacks carried out by CIA. In other words, once they know the tools, forensic analysts can backtest them on known intrusions in order to attribute the attacks to CIA, and also to patch unknown vulnerabilities that were exploited. It’s been a very, very bad decade for the US Intelligence Community. (SOURCE)
Dallas emergency sirens hacked, blare for hours
Last Saturday night, hackers engaged emergency warning sirens in Dallas, Texas, worrying residents, and causing more than 4.4 million calls to 911 between 11:30pm and 3:00am. Although there were several source articles I read, the one linked here is very good at explaining how this type of diversion in the future may cause mass panic or conceal other criminal activities. (SOURCE)
Pentagon to produce resiliency solution to the American power grid
Despite eight or more years of warnings that the US power grids were vulnerable to cyber exploitation, the US military is making moves to increase resilience in the event of a cyber attack. The system being developed is called Rapid Attack Detection, Isolation and Characterization Systems (RADICS), and is intended to identify cyber attacks, and then re-route electricity away from affected sections of the grid to mitigate disruption. (SOURCE)
PIR2: What are the current indicators of an outbreak of global conflict?
The prospects of global conflict continue to revolve five geopolitical actors: Russia, China, North Korea, and Iran. In the event of war with any of these nations, consider domestic systems disruption a distinct possibility.
The usual back-and-forth accusations continued this week as NATO and Russian leaders hope for the best but prepare for the worst. NATO-Russian relations took at least two steps backwards recently; the first coming after the US strike in Syria, and the second after news broke that the tiny nation of Montenegro will be accepted into NATO. Russian President Vladimir Putin’s chief complaint in this new Cold War is that NATO continues to grow, despite the collapse of the Soviet Union nearly thirty years ago. The Russians see the growth of NATO as a Western military alliance to pursue a policy of regime change, which is a perfectly rational conclusion. Given the continued expansion of NATO, Putin has responded by building up the Russian military and creating buffer zones like South Ossetia, Crimea, Donetsk, and Lugansk; which NATO then calls military aggression.
To be clear, there are no innocent victims here. Years before Putin introduced military reforms and made modernization a national priority, Russia engaged in information operations and espionage against NATO partners. This was largely out of necessity, as the Russian military was not a formidable opponent, yet the Russians still needed to ensure national survival. NATO points to continued Russian intelligence operations across Europe as evidence of a nefarious plot to undermine the West, which is also very true. Putin’s vision for a renewal of the Russian Empire precludes Western dominance; the two cannot simultaneously dominate the same region. We see some of the recent statements from Russian officials like Prime Minister Medvedev and Foreign Minister Lavrov, which are intended to poke holes in so-called “democratic values” of the West, and they do a great job at pointing out the hypocrisy. For their part, I view Putin’s stranglehold over Russia as a means to not only remain in power, but also prevent threats from within Russia pursuing their own regime change. Is it right that Putin has political opponents and detractors jailed or assassinated? Of course not, however, for Putin this is a means to pursue the ends of national survival, which he sees as a moral imperative — a course of action that he will pursue at all costs.
This week, Russian officials said that relations were at a ‘low point’ and that the US strike in Syria had badly damaged the progress made since January. The future of relations is uncertain, especially as SECSTATE Tillerson’s trip to Moscow this week did visibly little to assuage Russia’s concerns about a policy of regime change in Syria. Just a week before, Tillerson said that “steps are underway” to bring down the Assad regime, however, he later clarified that those steps did not include a military intervention, but rather a political one. Tillerson’s trip to Moscow was likely to encourage Russia to replace Assad at some point in the future after the defeat of the Islamic State and once Syria is stabilized from its civil war. Previously, the trend of potential conflict between NATO and Russia was waning. Since President Trump turned 180 degrees and said that NATO was not obsolete, that it was now a necessary force in the region, this trend will begin an upward climb. Add on top of this that US Northern Command is now preparing a military estimate for the Arctic to prevent Russian dominance there, and we now have a potential third front of a Russian conflict (after eastern Europe and potentially Syria). (Additional information on Arctic plans can be found under Defense in Brief.) In the meantime, I’ll continue to track conflict indicators, and I plan on eventually introducing an index score to the Intelligence Dashboard (https://members.shop.forwardobserver.com) to gauge how close we are to conflict.
This has by far been the busiest two weeks for PIR 3, as each of these three regions are in virtual upheaval. Additionally, there’s been a lot of bad reporting about what’s going around the China-North Korea border, which I’ll explain under the North Korea SITREP.
After his meeting with President Xi last week, President Trump said that China was not a currency manipulator, despite his promises during the campaign to claim the contrary. The only explanation for this is that it’s the first part of a deal with President Xi, perhaps relating to the trade deficit or the security situation surrounding North Korea. Trump expects something positive to come from this, although he has repeatedly said that if China doesn’t act on North Korea, then the US will.
North Korea SITREP
Another mess. This week, I’ve seen false reports that claim two million North Koreans were evacuating Pyongyang in anticipation of a military conflict. I also read that China was sending 150,000 troops to the North Korean border in anticipation of an invasion, which the Ministry of Foreign Affairs adamantly denied. There was also no follow up evidence for that mass movement, either. There are other reports that China did deploy a much smaller number of troops to the border, however, keep in mind that China’s been building a wall (in addition to putting up mountain top observation posts) to prevent refugees from pouring in when the Kim regime is finally deposed. Additionally, hundreds of thousands of Chinese soldiers are stationed in that region, so small troop movements would not be out of the ordinary. There are also some more credible reports saying that the Chinese military was ordered to be on alert, which is plausible if not likely. Another claim reported that North Korean officials told reporters to be ready for a ‘major event’, which implied that they would be covering yet another underground nuclear weapons test. There were several reports going back and forth, but that’s yet inconclusive, although many officials still expect a test over the weekend. And finally came the news that China Air, the largest airline carrier in China, was suspending all flights to North Korea… well, not exactly. Despite the alarming news, China Air explained that a significant drop in demand was the reason behind cancelling some of its flights. Other flights will continue as scheduled.
As the Carl Vinson Carrier Strike Group sails to the Korean Peninsula (it was just there a month ago), North Korea accused the United States of sending a threatening signal, saying that the US was engaging in “open threat and blackmail”. Meanwhile, the Chinese Foreign Minister said that, “We call on all parties to refrain from provoking and threatening each other, whether in words or actions, and not let the situation get to an irreversible and unmanageable stage.” China likely fears that a US-North Korean war would disrupt their economy and international trade, and also that the US will deploy additional intelligence gathering platforms to the region, which would undoubtedly also focus on the Chinese military. For the US and South Korea, a war would be a truly ugly one, and would likely cause South Korea a good deal of suffering, as Seoul is well-within striking distance of the North Korean military.
A couple of questions came up this week about North Korea’s ability to seek reprisal against the United States, so here are few of my thoughts.
Within the past month, I mentioned the report that US intelligence was carrying out cyber attacks against North Korean missile launches, with the goal of mission failure. There indeed have been failed missile tests within the past year, however, I can’t confirm that US cyber attacks played a role, in part or whole, in the failed tests. What we do know is that the US and South Koreans have been a fever pitch to deploy and make operational the Terminal High Altitude Air Defense (THAAD) missile defense system, and it may be operational this month. It may be operational by now. Between the THAAD and other missile defense systems, the US military would likely prevent an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) from threatening the US mainland. There have been reports that the US is prepared, if not planning, to target the next North Korean missile test with air defense. We may well see a test of US missile defense, however, that’s likely to be taken as an act of war. Frankly, even if US missile defense is successful, if I’m Japan or South Korea then I’m worried about the second or third missile, or follow-on attacks from North Korea.
Many around the world are prepared to see what the North Koreans are calling a nuclear weapons test as early as Saturday, although a North Korean official may have walked back that claim, saying that the test will continue whenever they’re ready (which may not be Saturday). The Carl Vinson Carrier Strike Group (in addition to some Japanese destroyers) may have caused the North Koreans to re-think their alleged weekend activities.
Lastly, let’s bring up the topic of a North Korean submarine launched ballistic missile (SLBM). Last August, I reported a successful test launch of an SLBM, which ended up flying a little over 300 miles. In February of this year, there was another successful test launch, which covered about the same distance as the first; which is likely enough to target Japan and South Korea. In other words, we know that they can launch SLBMs, although the likely don’t have the ability to nuclear-arm SLBMs yet. Additionally, we have to look at the SLBM platform; in this case the North Korean-produced Sinpo-class submarine. Estimates are that the Sinpo has an estimate max range of 1,500 nautical miles. To put that into perspective, Anchorage, Alaska is about 3,200 nautical miles away. I remain doubtful that North Korea can target the mainland US with an SLBM.
Defense in Brief:
Due to be completed this fall, US Northern Command (NORTHCOM) is preparing a strategic military estimate of the Arctic. According to JP 5-0, a strategic estimate “is a tool available to [combatant commands] . . . as they design and develop campaign plans and subordinate campaign plans or operation plans.” JP 5-0 continues: “The result of the strategic estimate is a visualization and better understanding of the operational environment to include allies, partners, neutrals, and potential adversaries.”
A 2009 presidential policy directive states that the Arctic’s national security implications include “such matters as missile defense and early warning; deployment of sea and air systems for strategic sealift, strategic deterrence, maritime presence, and maritime security operations; and ensuring freedom of navigation and overflight.”
This is likely in response to Russia’s buildup of the Arctic, which escalates the region in strategic importance. Russia’s moves are two-fold: to take advantage of receding ice, which they hope will reveal additional oil reserves; and also to challenge the level to which the US can dominate the region.
I think this poses a national security issue for the US, in a broad sense and not in a narrow or specific sense. America has traditionally been protected by two “walls” — the Pacific and Atlantic — so having a near-peer competitor like Russia expanding into the Arctic suddenly negates two very large geo-strategic advantages. This is obviously what the Pentagon sees, so it appears that NORTHCOM will take more focused approach on military planning in the Arctic.
The Army currently lists its critical capability gaps as:
- air and missile defense
- long-range fires
- munitions, mobility, and lethality for brigade combat teams
- active protection systems for aviation and ground platforms
- assured position, navigation, and timing
- electronic warfare
- offensive and defensive cyber
- assured communications
- vertical lift
Russian and Chinese developments in long-range and anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) weapons systems are posing a significant challenge to Pentagon planners. Since the end of World War II, and increasingly so since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the US military has remained virtually light years ahead of its nearest competitors, but all that’s changing very rapidly.
These critical capability gaps are pieces of battlefield operating systems, commonly referred to as BOS, that the Army needs to improve in order to maintain technological superiority.
Take long-range fires, for instance. That includes artillery and rocket artillery, like the multiple launch rocket system (MLRS); both of which are currently outranged by Russian equipment. In a conflict, Russia would have a much deeper engagement area than the US, meaning that the Army’s ground units would be well within range of being targeted before they could target Russian positions.
Another point of interest is the Army’s assured position, navigation, and timing capability gap. It’s no secret that the Russians intend to use electronic warfare (EW) to disrupt the US military’s command, control, and communications. In a conflict China, that could also include space warfare to disrupt satellite communications — which also means the global positioning system (GPS). Navy ships currently navigate by GPS, and the US military uses GPS to ascertain current locations and navigational way points. In fact, GPS was developed for military use before it was used in civilian markets. GPS can be attacked multiple ways. The most likely is by being jammed, disrupting situational awareness for combat commanders at the battalion and brigade level; and by being spoofed. Spoofed GPS signals report inaccurate locations, which could result in degrading the Army’s ability to hit its targets, or potentially lethal friendly fire.
Because EW and cyber warfare are likely to play a role in future conflicts with near-peer competitors, the Army has been focusing on what it calls Multi-Domain Battle. This is a concept that ties together all available forms of warfare, which is no longer limited to just maneuver elements (tanks and infantry), and pushes those capabilities down to the brigade level. The goal is to provide the commander of a Brigade Combat Team a multi-domain array of weapons to attrit or annihilate enemy forces. The problem is that the Army is reportedly playing catch up in areas like tactical EW and cyber offense and defense, which poses significant risk in a conflict with Russia.
For the record, the Army has lots of problems. The decade-plus of conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan have taken a toll on the military. Add on sequestration as a result of the Budget Control Act of 2011, and we’re seeing the consequences: degraded military readiness and force modernization. That’s the budget problem the Army’s been fighting for half a decade — ‘how do we balance a shrinking Army with its modernization needs, all the while maintaining the same level of overseas commitments?’ Tough question, tougher answers.
But with as many problems as the Army has, the Trump administration’s plans to increase military spending is slated to help solve many of them. Meanwhile, sanctions and low oil prices have crippled not just the Russian economy, but also their own military modernization programs. For all its bluster, I have significant doubts about the operational effectiveness of the Russian military. Yes, they’ve developed some weapons and a doctrine that seek to exploit key vulnerabilities in the US military in order to achieve some parity. But that parity is limited to only a few areas of the battlefield. So while we know that a conflict with the Russians is likely to result in greater casualties than American wars since Vietnam, I remain convinced that the US could prevail in a conflict with Russia, with one caveat: no one wins a nuclear conflict.
Early this year, there was an effort by the Army’s Rapid Capabilities Office (RCO) to equip units in Europe with upgraded electronic warfare (EW) equipment, which was in response to Russian EW capabilities. Previous reporting indicated that the Army was well behind Russian EW capabilities, and that catching up was considered mission critical. The RCO described this problem as a “strategic gap,” and began looking at equipment already “in the pipeline that can either be repurposed, accelerated, or prioritized to fielding in Europe, and how can we do operational assessments on that from now until the next two years.” (Emphasis mine. – SC)
The RCO recently reported that phase one of this program is underway, which means that 2nd Stryker Cavalry Regiment (2SCR) out of Vilseck, Germany, is currently testing and learning this new equipment. Phase two will take place next year, and will include addressing the needs of other units.
Electronic warfare is intended to disrupt electronics — which includes command, control, communications, and targeting systems — in use by an adversary. Because the US Army relies so heavily on electronic communications, US units in Europe have found themselves at a strategic disadvantage in a potential conflict, due to Russia’s likely overmatched EW capabilities.
Future RCO plans for US Army Europe likely include upgrading the range of the M777 Howitzer to compete with Russian artillery, some of which is superior in range.
PIR3: What are the current indicators of organized political violence?
Leftist member of Unicorn Riot Describes Intelligence Gathering
On a recent podcast interview, a member of Unicorn Riot explains his approach to intelligence gathering via Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests. (Unicorn Riot is a non-profit, activist-collective media outlet, and can be found at http://www.unicornriot.ninja.)
Chris explains that he uses MuckRock (http://muckrock.com) to file FOIA requests about information gathered by law enforcement during a specific protest. (Each request uses a standard request template form and costs five dollars.) From these requests, he’s able to see how information is gathered about protestors and protest groups. For instance, he received the Denver Police Department’s crowd control manual, which describes how law enforcement deals with protests. He also found out that the Denver PD uses “shadow teams” to infiltrate protests and conduct surveillance on specific protestors. In addition, he received daily intelligence reports the Denver PD filed regarding protest activities. Chris also says that the Denver PD would estimate the sentiment of protest crowds via social media, in order to develop their response tactics. If the protest group is more aggressive on social media, then the Denver PD will adopt more aggressive tactics.
Chris also sent out FOIA requests to the two dozen law enforcement agencies that took part in the Dakota Access Pipeline protest controls. “They were pretty forthcoming, which was surprising to me,” he says. He received back a 200 page FEMA training manual on how to deal with protestors, which he says was helpful in understanding how law enforcement would respond to protests.
Through FOIA requests, police departments have accidentally reported mission critical information, such as pictures of undercover police. Chris then explains that this type of information can be crowdsourced to provide value-added intelligence information.
Chris also claims that under Trump, law enforcement agencies are abandoning a softer, community policing approach, and engaging in more heavy-handed tactics. He believes that police departments are working more with the FBI’s joint terrorism task force, which is informed by fusion centers, which are federal, which are under the Trump administration.
Lastly, Chris encourages activists to file a FOIA request about their arrests. “Shake the tree, and see what falls out. You never know.” (SOURCE: http://www.soleone.org/solecast/2017/4/10/solecast-39-w-chris-of-unicorn-riot-on-counter-counter-insurgency-how-to-foia)
15 April — The Battle in Berkeley
As reported for a couple weeks, conservative, libertarian, and Alt-Right speakers are set to host a rally in Berkeley, CA, the absolute epicenter for leftist political activism. In February, black bloc rioters shut down a speech from Milo Yiannoplous. Following the leftist agitators this week, it’s clear that rioters again plan to shut down this Patriots Day Rally. I’ve not been able to track this situation as closely, with all the other events (Syria, China, North Korea) going on, however, I’ll be keeping an eye on it this weekend. I’m still undecided if I’ll be battle tracking this event, however, I highly encourage that you spend a few hours gathering real-time information and plotting it on GoogleEarth or whatever mapping feature you’d like to use. It’s great practice for the next real world, real-time scenario that you may face. (RELATED)
Political Violence Roll-Up:
PIR4: What are the current indicators of economic, financial, or monetary instability that lead to worsening economic conditions or civil unrest?
Fitch Ratings changes course on Trump
Despite earlier warnings that President Trump would pose a danger to global economic stability, Fitch Ratings has since changed course. They released a statement this week upgrading their outlook. Citing Trumps pro-growth agenda would help US GDP, one of three major ratings agencies confirmed a “AAA” credit rating for the US. Fitch’s outlook includes 2.3 percent GDP growth this year, and 2.6 percent next year. (SOURCE)