24 MAR 17 – Executive Intelligence Summary – Forward Observer Shop

24 MAR 17 – Executive Intelligence Summary


[wcm_nonmember]In this EXSUM… (2796 words)

  • Russia and China increasing military cooperation
  • DHS focusing on protection of critical infrastructure, government websites
  • Number of hacked sites increasing
  • Russia & China SITREPs
  • Defense in Brief
  • Political Violence Roll-Up
  • 3,500 chain store locations closing
  • And more…


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Bottom Line Up Front: A report published by the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission shows increases in the quality of cooperation regarding “military exercises, defense industrial cooperation, and high-level military contacts” between Russia and China.  “Regular bilateral and multilateral exercises are increasing in complexity, particularly in the maneuvers, coordination, and weapons systems used, notably expanding into missile defense,” the report reads.  (SOURCE)

This is not a surprising development, but what should be alarming is a combination of rising levels of cooperation and the rapid military advancements made by the two countries over the past five to twenty years.  US leaders have warned that a rising Russia and China pose a threat to the current “international order,” just as Russian and Chinese leaders have made plans to increase their countries’ future global power by diminishing US power and influence.  (In recent Congressional testimony, former CIA deputy director McLaughlin said that he does not believe that the US will lose its strategic power.  This report will be published on Monday, 27 March 2017.)

An America that loses its standing in the world will be a vastly different nation.  This is a medium- to long-term trend, and it’s one that will have a significant impact.  I don’t believe this will result in the extreme “societal collapse” which has often been warned, but it will pose challenges to the daily lives of many Americans — particularly to our quality of life and standard of living.  One major disruption to this potential future is the automation of workforces, which will affect more than just the US.  While President Trump attempts to bring manufacturing jobs back to the US — millions of which were exported due to the past 20 years of globalization — I think we’re likely over the next several years to see major disruptions in the US workforce, especially with the advent of driverless vehicles and on-demand transportation.  Tech leaders are already warning that car ownership, along with truck and cab drivers, will be casualties of this near future scenario.

So while there’s a cause for concern about regional military powers, like Russia and Iran, and regional military powers with truly global aspirations, like China, competing to supplant US dominance around the globe, understand that this is not an overnight event, nor do I believe that it’s a foregone conclusion.  However, if we’re looking at domestic disruptions, then I think there are candidates over and above the disruption we may see from a China that rules an increasingly larger portion of the globe.


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 or instability that could lead to civil unrest or violence?

DHS focusing on protection of critical infrastructure, government websites

Cybersecurity lapses have long been a black eye and worse for the US Government, especially as they rose to prominence under the Obama administration.  Despite being formalized six years before the Obama administration got around to signing it, the National Cyber Incident Response Plan was still short on many details; specifically as to how exactly government would actually respond to a cyber incident.  (Even then, Congress passed a law requiring the plan be signed by former president Obama in 2014, and he finally got around to it in mid-2016.)  This Response Plan calls for the creation of a cyber response group only after a cyber attack has occurred, which has been an unresolved point of contention for nearly seven years.

US networks are very vulnerable, in part because security is a team-effort.  No one individual (or piece of software) can prevent unauthorized access to a network, and there are hundreds of thousands of employees with access to government and corporate computer networks who neither understand the threat nor share the security culture.  Unauthorized access could initiate while opening an email attachment containing a virus, inserting a USB drive from a previously-infected computer that auto-executes into the new network, or hackers gain access by exploiting bugs in software.  Each is a valid vector, of which many employees outside of cybersecurity are unaware.

That adds to an increasing likelihood of a large-scale cyber attack, especially when we consider the broad range of state-sponsored, criminal, and terrorist-affiliated cyber groups capable of launching an attack.  The impact of an attack depends on the target and its effects.  For most attacks, impact will be limited to local networks or perhaps to a regional scale.  But there are several areas that we know can be exploited to cause a severe impact: namely, the power grid.

Many cybersecurity experts say that a large-scale cyber attack against the US is not a matter of if, but of when.  The main reason is that the cybersecurity and computer network defense effort continues to be the “lowest core competency” across local, state, and federal government agencies.  Years after recommendations following the first national cyber defense exercise, there’s still widespread confusion in government about the chain of command during a cyber attack.

One of the top three planks of Trump’s agenda was increasing cybersecurity and fixing an inherently broken US cyber policy.  This week an official from the Trump administration said that they’re going to roll out a cyber “neighborhood watch” program as part of its cybersecurity agenda.  The official said that DHS would be focusing on decreasing “systemic risk”, decreasing response times, and decreasing the down time of critical infrastructure affected by a cyber attack — whether that’s a virus or a sustained cyber attack.

Although I have high hopes that this administration will shore up loose ends in cybersecurity and work with the private sector to improve overall security, I do believe that we should temper our expectations.  One of those reasons is because security is a culture, and one challenge for the Trump administration is getting employees in both the private and public sector to take part in this security culture.  Another reason is because for years, the US Government has had staffing problems with being able to hire and retain cybersecurity professionals.  There’s currently an unfilled hiring gap in cybersecurity for the US Government  And retaining talent is another challenge, according to one DHS official:  “[W]hen we spend a couple years training forensic analysts, they’re very qualified, and they’re often spirited away by the private sector.” (SOURCE)  (Also read:  Assessing the State of Cyber Threats for SHTF Scenarios)


Number of hacked sites increasing

Google’s 2016 State of Website Security Report found a 32 percent increase in the number of hacked sites from the previous year.  Google also reported that, “We don’t expect this trend to slow down. As hackers get more aggressive and more sites become outdated, hackers will continue to capitalize by infecting more sites.”  We should absolutely expect that additional cases of data leakage and illegal disclosures will occur.  (SOURCE)

So far, we’ve not seen any cases of civil unrest or violence result from a hack — say, for instance, the Yahoo hack which compromised user details from a billion user accounts — however attacks that are meant to cause damage (against critical infrastructure) could absolutely result in civil unrest; especially if those attacks are against the power grid or financial system.


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

The prospects of global conflict continue to revolve four geopolitical actor: Russia, China, Iran, and North Korea. In the event of war with any of these nations, consider domestic systems disruption a distinct possibility.



This week, the Islamic State allegedly claimed responsibility for Friday’s attack on Russian National Guard base in Chechnya, and a spokesman said that the Russian National Guard — which was created last year to combat terrorism and organized crime — is on the “forefront” of the fight against terror (i).  This attack coincided with French presidential candidate Marine Le Pen’s visit to Moscow.  The nationalist Le Pen is an ardent opponent of the Islamization of France and Europe, and this attack will give Russian President Vladimir Putin an opportunity to support Le Pen’s candidacy, whose National Front political party has received Russian financing.  In January, Le Pen echoed the sentiments of Putin when she said that, “We are in a world that is multipolar.” (Post-WWII, we can say that the world has been unipolar; that is, the US has been the single economic and geopolitical pole of the world.  A multipolar world would include China and Russia, and give them a seat at the table of global powers.)   If polls are to be believed, then Le Pen is currently leading ahead of her closest competitor, “centrist” Macron.  Should Le Pen be elected, then we should see some Russia-centric polices in Paris, which will be a net loss for the “international order” as its currently fielded.

Read File:

(i) IS claims responsibility for attack on Russian Guards base

Six servicemembers killed in attack on Russian base in Chechnya

Russia’s airborne force wraps up large-scale military drills in Crimea

Ukraine sees Russian hand in ammunition warehouse explosion



This week, a Japanese defense official remarked that, “China is attempting to make changes in the South China Sea with bases, and through acts that exert pressure is altering the status quo, raising security concerns among the international community.”  Japanese officials are not hiding their desire to confront China on military expansion in the South China Sea (SCS); nor are they hiding their desire to grow their own military.  For its side, a Chinese defense official recently said, “If Japan persists in taking wrong actions, and even considers military interventions that threaten China’s sovereignty and security… then China will inevitably take firm responsive measures.”  There’s no doubt in my mind that a large part of the Trump administration’s SCS strategy is to promote the military growth of Japan, South Korea, and other key allies in the region to not only deter further Chinese military expansion, but also give the credible threat of military force should China continue its expansion in a way that threatens US allies.  China announced two weeks ago that it was planning a 400 percent increase to its marine corps “to protect [China’s] maritime lifelines and its growing interests overseas.”

The Philippines traditionally have been a stanch enemy of China, however, the election of Duterte has given pause to that history.  Duterte is a rollercoaster of a policy puzzle because last year he began to reject US military presence in the Philippines, which is critically strategic for Pacific operations, at the same time that he began to display openness to better relations with China.  (He even went so far as to express the possibility that a new Filipino policy could realign itself with China instead of the US.)  Weeks later, he began walking back his anti-US statements (which coincided with the election of Donald Trump), and this week criticized the US for not doing more against China over its land disputes in the SCS.  “Why didn’t you deploy five aircraft carriers and threaten to fire on them?,” he asked this week, in regards to Chinese military expansion towards the Philippines.  Duterte continued:  “We cannot take on China. China will go to war. President Benigno Aquino III is right. It was only America that could deal with that problem, not us.”

As soon as Duterte began making anti-US statements, I began to wonder what his real intentions were.  From the 24 October 2016 EXSUM:

If Duterte is learning from North Korea, which regularly crosses so-called “red lines” and then adjusts their behavior in return for humanitarian aid, Duterte could be setting himself up for a windfall relationship with the next US president, after the reward of military equipment is the price to pay for Filipino relations.  But Duterte also threatened, “Do not treat us like a doormat because you’ll be sorry for it. I will not speak with you. I can always go to China.”

In all, I think this continues to display that a military confrontation is shaping up in the South China Sea, and it has the potential to be a multi-front conflict as North Korea also gets involved.  In this scenario, I would expect the US military to act quickly and decisively to decapitate North Korea’s missile threat, as it’s not only the most significant wild card in this conflict, but also the greatest threat to our Japanese and South Korean allies.  A US-China conflict could get very ugly as North Korea potentially invades South Korea and attempts to strike its adversarial neighbors with nuclear weapons, while US allies in southeast Asia work to dislodge the Chinese from their militarized islands in the SCS.  This conflict is likely to include cyber attacks against US command and control hubs and critical infrastructure; and potentially involve even space warfare, as China has demonstrated the ability to disrupt US satellite communications.  While this is not presently a likely (>75%) scenario, I do believe its one for which we need to be prepared.

Read File:

[DISPATCH] Conflict Trends in the South China Sea

Duterte hits US inaction in South China Sea

China plans 400 percent increase in marine corps


Defense in Brief:

Vigilant Guard 2017 is set to kick off next week, as National Guard personnel from the southeast US gather to conduct an exercise to respond to a simulated hurricane.  “More than 8,000 personnel from Georgia, Florida, Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama and South Carolina will take part in the exercise from March 27 through April 2 in various locations around Georgia,” reads a National Guard press release statement.  (SOURCE)

PIR3: What are the current indicators of organized political violence?

Political Violence Roll-Up:

Based on rhetoric from both sides, the Traditionalist Workers Party (TWP) rally in Pikeville, Kentucky, to be held on 28 and 29 April, is shaping up to be a violent event.  Several Antifa and neo-Nazi websites have expressed interest in showing up to oppose or support the event (respectively), and several TWP members or affiliated groups said via social media that they will be armed at the event.  The TWP’s Facebook event post (which may have since been removed) read, “All attendees should be prepared for possible Leftist attacks.  We will not be driven from the streets, under any circumstances.”

RI:  Disrupt MAGA: 25 March  (https://itsgoingdown.org/providence-ri-disrupt-maga-march-25th/)

CA: Disrupt MAGA: 25 March (https://itsgoingdown.org/huntington-beach-ca-disruptmaga-march-25th)

CA: Disrupt Ann Coulter event in Modesto (https://itsgoingdown.org/modesto-ca-call-action-ann-coulter/)

GA: T-Mobile store vandalized in connection with police shooting (https://itsgoingdown.org/atlanta-ga-t-mobile-store-vandalized-connection-police-shooting/)


Antifa Roll-Up:

MN: Antifa/IWW march on 31 March (https://itsgoingdown.org/minneapolis-mn-fascism-hate-march-31st/)

REMINDER: 1-7 April is Antifa “Week of Action Against Repression”.  I’ll be providing additional info in next week’s EXSUM — 31 March.  (https://itsgoingdown.org/new-posters-week-action-repression-april-1st-7th/)

Prosecutors say they’re hacking over 100 phones confiscated during Inauguration riots


Black Lives Matter Roll-Up:

Black Lives Matter joining forces with minimum wage activists for nationwide protests

BLM: Police officers evolved from “slave catchers”

Rapper Jay-Z to produce feature film about the life of Trayvon Martin

Student who wore gorilla mask to BLM rally indicted by grand jury

Arizona State Univ:  Deray McKesson speaks about activism


Black Panthers/Black Separatist Roll-Up:

Trump inspires reactivation of San Diego Black Panthers Party

MO: UMSL event hosts Black Panther speaker


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

Regarding worsening conditions or civil unrest, I would urge all readers to focus more on local and regional economic and financial trends rather than on national trends.  National trends seem stable and I don’t expect the stock market to crash; however, we’re eventually going to have some consolidation at some point in the future.

Over the next couple of months, more than 3,500 chain store locations will be closing its doors, leaving some major shopping malls without an anchor.  JCPenny, Macy’s, and Sears are among those shopping mall anchors who are shutting down a combined 248 locations across the US. (SOURCE)


I don’t have the means to map or the time to provide additional details for every single store closing, however, I would encourage you to investigate your local shopping malls and see if there are plans to shutter stores there.  That could be a leading indicator of an increase in crime or worsening local economic conditions as these stores move away from brick and mortar operations to focus on online sales.


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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