23 DEC 16 – Executive Intelligence Summary – Forward Observer Shop

23 DEC 16 – Executive Intelligence Summary


[wcm_nonmember]In this EXSUM… (2505 words)

  • House Committee finds evidence al-Qaida ‘probed’ US critical infrastructure
  • Russia & China SITREPs
  • DOD memo shows concern about vulnerability of military targets
  • #BLM starts website for black business
  • Deutsche Bank settles for $7.2 billion
  • And more…


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[wcm_restrict plan =”fo-osint”]

Bottom Line Up Front: I’d like to wish everyone a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.  There will be no EXSUM on December 30th.  Instead of writing an EXSUM, I will be using that time to retool the indicator system currently used.  What I’d like to introduce is a sliding scale that helps me to judge the likelihood of an event based on the number of current indicators, just like I used at some of my old jobs in the Intelligence Community.  It’s a lot of work, however, I’ll also be finishing an Excel spreadsheet for subscribers so that you can track local indicators of civil unrest during emergencies.  Your feedback will be requested so that I can continue to improve its function.  And you’ll also be able to open this file in other formats, such as the ones used by OSX or Linux computers.

Whether we have four years of relative peace and stability, or four months or four weeks, I hope that you’ll use our remaining time wisely.  I still expect a very bumpy road ahead.  With that, I hope that you’re looking forward to 2017 as much as I am.


Priority Intelligence Requirements:

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

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

PIR3: What are the current indicators of military, government, political, or social-related instability or violence that leads to domestic unrest or conflict?

PIR4: What are the current indicators of economic, financial, or monetary instability that lead to worsening economic conditions or civil unrest?

PIR1: What are the current indicators of systems disruption that could lead to a civil unrest or domestic emergency?

House Committee finds evidence al-Qaida ‘probed’ US critical infrastructure

The House Financial Services Committee released a report describing the aspirations of terror groups like al-Qaida to launch cyber attacks aimed at disrupting critical infrastructure.  “Al Qaeda has expressed interest in ‘electronic jihad’ as a means of disrupting the American economy, and Al Qaeda prisoners have revealed the group’s intent to use cyberattacks. Al Qaeda has probed the electronic infrastructure for ways to disrupt or disable critical infrastructure such as electric power, telephone communications, and water supplies. ISIS [Islamic State], too, has announced a ‘cyber caliphate,’ though it has so far launched only low-impact website-defacement attacks,” reads the report.  The report also states that, “it is widely believed that terrorists do not yet have the capabilities to launch destructive or even disruptive cyberattacks.”


(Washington)* – Northwest’s only nuclear plant shuts down unexpectedly.  Energy Northwest’s Columbia Nuclear Generating Station in Richland, Washington, shut down December 18 after an equipment malfunction at a nearby Bonneville Power Administration substation caused the loss of a power line connecting the nuclear plant’s main output transformers to the substation. Crews stabilized the plant and Energy Northwest officials assured that it remains safe.  (SOURCE)

(Connecticut)* – Chinese national admits to stealing sensitive military program documents.  A Chinese national pleaded guilty December 19 to stealing and exploiting highly sensitive military technology and documents from United Technologies Corporation’s United Technologies Research Center (UTRC) and transporting the majority of the stolen information to China from 2013 – 2014. The defendant admitted his intent to advance China’s defense industry, and beginning in 2013, expressed his intent to individuals outside UTRC to return to China to work on re search projects at select Chinese State- run universities using knowledge and materials he had acquired during his UTRC employment. (SOURCE)

(Texas)* – Authorities: No suspects in gun theft from local police department.  The Nolanville Police Department announced December 19 that 6 guns and an unspecified amount of ammunition were stolen from the police department in Nolanville, Texas, December 17. The theft remains under investigation. (SOURCE)

* These reports are sourced from the Daily Open Source Infrastructure Report published by DHS.  We read each daily report for significant threats and vulnerabilities to critical infrastructure, and include those events in this EXSUM.  Please use this reporting section to form a baseline for the type and frequency of threats to critical infrastructure.

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

The prospects of global conflict continue to revolve around the usual players: Russia, China, and the Middle East. The ways in which global conflict could cause or contribute to a SHTF scenario in America are myriad and they largely depend on which conflict is initiated. We’re certainly at risk of cyber attack in the event of conflict in any of the three regions. Systems disruption, like the price and availability of fuel, is also a top concern that could cause a SHTF event.


During an annual marathon news conference, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced that despite the US having more nuclear weapons, submarines, and aircraft carriers, the Russian military was “stronger than any aggressor.” Putin also said that he would grow Russian nuclear capability, to which Trump responded via Twitter that the US would expand its nuclear capabilities, also.  After getting pounded in the press for increasing tensions, especially where it concerns nuclear weapons, Trump is alleged to have said, “Let it be an arms race.  We will outmatch them at every pass and outlast them all.”

To make sense of this statement, let’s go back a couple months where a distinction was made that Democrats took Trump literally but not seriously, while Republicans took Trump seriously but not literally.  I believe Trump when he says that he will expand US nuclear capabilities, and despite the risk of the ballooning US budget, it may actually help keep the peace, so to speak.  Nuclear weapons since Hiroshima and Nagasaki have been a deterrent.    Used defensively, nuclear weapons represent a line in the sand, and nations cross those lines at their own peril.  Trump’s practice of over-the-top statements and what he calls “truthful hyperbole” may actually work in his favor if it convinces potential adversaries to think twice about a military engagement.  It has its downsides domestically as the liberal media has a field day, but they take Trump too literally.  What they fail to see, and have deliberately failed to report, is that Trump is negotiating from a position of strength (have they not read Art of the Deal?).

The US is still the global superpower, and although the US military is having some problems, there’s an amazing amount of resiliency still there, especially as morale problems improve with Trump as Commander in Chief.  The modern US military has separated itself from its peers and competitors by its espirit de corps and by being innovative.  The US could fight a war if it had to, Donald Trump is attempting to prove that he’s willing to win at any cost, and I think that sends a message abroad.  The number one reason that nations were taking advantage of the US under Obama is that the administration failed to send that message.



This week, China began civil flights to one of its disputed islands, perhaps with the intent of eventually building residential buildings outside of its civil-military installations.  Not only would that move increase the ‘ownership’ of these island chains, but it would also make targeting more difficult for foreign militaries should a conflict erupt.  The first flight left on Wednesday, and it’s not certain how frequent these flights will be.

In other news, the Chinese military returned the US drone it removed from international waters last week.  Although a few defense experts say this is proof that China is “willing to stand up to the US Navy,” I view it as more of a cheap target of opportunity meant to embarrass the US.  And although it probably wasn’t directed specifically at Trump, I think we can expect similar episodes in the future, especially one or more tests to set up the Trump administration as weak and ineffectual, like Trump’s predecessor.  There may be an increased risk for conflict if that test involves Taiwan, as China probably believes that Trump is going to use Taiwan as a bargaining chip for the region.


DOD memo shows concern about vulnerability of military targets

In October, Frank Kendall, the undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology, and logistics, published a Department of Defense (DOD) memo inquiring about how vulnerable US military targets were to foreign adversaries.  That memo (DOWNLOAD) stated his concern that potential adversaries to could attack domestic and/or foreign US installations in an effort to delay the deployment of US troops to a high priority conflict zone.  The memo continues:  “What is DOD’s priority/readiness for homeland defense, as well as its ability to successfully prosecute an ‘away game’ if critical infrastructure of homeland capabilities (especially command and control functions) are seriously degraded.”

Analyst Comment: The root of this memo is that the US military is facing potential conflicts at distances that challenge its ability to rapidly transport forces and provide them logistical support.  Specifically, conflicts with Russia in the Baltics, Ukraine, or another eastern European locale, or with China at Taiwan or in the South China Sea, would be far from major US hubs capable of supporting the large, rapid deployments required to compete in a quick conflict.  For instance, a Chinese invasion of Taiwan would likely occur within 24 hours, testing US capabilities to prevent a quick, decisive victory.  Similarly in the Baltics, Russian forces could use hybrid warfare to quickly invade the ethnically-Russian provinces in the border regions of Estonia or Latvia, potentially winning a decisive conflict before US or NATO forces could significantly intervene.

Because these conflicts would occur so close to Russia or China, these near-peer adversaries would have extreme advantages in their ability to deploy forces.  Furthermore, “delaying or disrupting” US deployments are strategies that could be employed by attacking command, control, and communications targets in the US or abroad.  If Russia or China consider that it’s merely a matter of time preventing sufficient US forces from intervening in these conflicts, then one logical conclusion is to identify vulnerabilities in how US deployments occur and then exploit those vulnerabilities to delay US deployments.

Without having access to the internal communications of Russian and Chinese military circles, it’s nearly impossible to judge the likelihood of these potential invasions, however, they are a distinct possibility.  China historically feels no reluctance to threaten a Taiwanese invasion, and if the Chinese Community Party feels that Trump would promote Taiwan as the independent Republic of China, then we could be looking at a future military conflict to prevent that from happening.  Meanwhile, Putin is waiting to see whether the Trump administration is going to relax Western sanctions against Russia, so the likelihood of a Ukraine-esque invasion is unlikely in the near-term; although the likelihood may increase should the US Congress decide to impose further sanctions over the alleged involvement in hacking and leaking emails associated with high profile political figures.


DOD alters defense policy to counter threats of war

A significant trend I’ve seen over the past few months is the Department of Defense (DOD) making changes, some subtle and others very explicit, to counter near-peer adversaries in a conflict.  Perhaps these shifts are indicators that a conflict is growing more likely, however, they certainly point to the expectation that military leaders will have to fight a large scale war.

Two weeks ago, I reported that the 3rdd Infantry Division is upgrading a light infantry brigade to an armored brigade, which will be receiving Abrams tanks and Bradley Fighting Vehicles.  That’s pretty standard inventory for an Armored Brigade Combat Team, and reflects the unit’s changing mission from fighting irregular adversaries to conventional ones.  I can’t think of anything more conventional in warfare than a tank battle.  In that same EXSUM, I wrote that the Navy was adopting a new strategy in addition to distributed lethality, which is likely directly related to countering the Chinese navy in the South China Sea conflict.  There was a report that the Chinese military now has air-to-air missiles with a 100+ mile range, which would allow their air force to target US refuelers outside the reach of our own fighters.  And because US fighter aircraft are dependent on mid-air refueling, if those refuelers are taken out of the fight, then US fighters now operate at a severe disadvantage.  This is part of China’s move to anti-access/area denial weapons systems, and it’s a strategic move for which the US military is unprepared.

This week, it was reported that the Pentagon will begin focusing on its own anti-access/area denial weapons, which will include counters to Russian and Chinese systems.  The memo stated that the purpose of a 9-12 month study was to identify “the best mix of air-breathing, ballistic, and hybrid hypersonic weapons and defense penetration aids for strike actions from operationally feasible distances given projected threat anti-access capabilities.”

PIR3: What are the indicators of military, government, political, or social-related instability or violence that could lead to domestic unrest or conflict?

#BLM starts website for black business

In another move deepening the chasm of race relations in the US, this week Black Lives Matter published a new website called, Backing Black Business.  Currently in beta form (for testing), the website’s aim is to publish every black-owned business in America.   It’s tagline is “Make your dollars and your voice heard by supporting locally owned Black businesses.”  The site currently has around 300 business listed, but that number is expected to grow considerably.  “Black-owned business have long been a staple in the Black community providing jobs, economic security and somewhere for us to go and feel seen and safe,” Black Lives Matter co-founder Patrisse Cullors said in a statement.  “In these uncertain times, we need these places more than ever.”

#BLM websites comes under 100 DDOS attacks

Deflect Labs published a report this week showing that over a seven month period, the official Black Lives Matter website came under 100 distributed denial of service (DDOS) attacks.  A DDOS attack effectively shuts down a website by flooding it with a volume of web traffic that the site’s servers are unable to handle.


PIR4: What are the current indicators of economic, financial, or monetary instability that lead to worsening economic conditions or civil unrest?

Deutsche Bank settles for $7.2 billion

A few months ago, Deutsche Bank (DB) was on the ropes, it Europeans were unsure if it was headed for collapse.  Its collapse could have reignited the European banking crisis, which could have triggered another global financial crisis.  But DB announced this week that it would settle with the US Department of Justice for just $7.2 billion for its role in the 2008 US mortgage crisis.  The US Department of Justice had originally demanded $14 billion in reparations, which would have threatened DB with insolvency.  Europe, and perhaps the world, dodges a bullet for now.



Mike Shelby is a former military intelligence NCO and contract intelligence analyst. He spent three years in Iraq and Afghanistan and is now the intelligence and warfare researcher at Forward Observer.

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