National Intelligence Bulletin for 02 March 2018

The National Intelligence Bulletin is a weekly look at national security, domestic systems disruption, the risk of failing critical infrastructure, and threats to social, political, economic, and financial stability in the United States. This report is available each week for National Intelligence subscribers.

In this National Intelligence Bulletin… (4,289 words)

  • InFocus: Is “Democracy” at risk?
  • ISIS followers planning WMD attacks on U.S.
  • Electric vehicles will stress grid by 2025
  • Half of federal government websites fail to meet encryption standard deadline
  • U.S. likely to face security and energy crisis
  • CSIS report hammers. U.S. on response to information warfare
  • The president’s mixed signals on ‘assault’ weapons: ban or no ban?
  • American public has favorable opinion of most government agencies
  • America’s top five inbound and outbound states
  • Social media is increasingly influencing political reach
  • Pew, other survey source data shows gun control opinions by race
  • Justice Alito pinpoints blurred line of political speech in Supreme Court case
  • Northrop lands DHS biometric contract
  • FEMA finds that cooperation determines community resiliency
  • Trump starts a trade war?
  • And more…

In Focus: I recently watched a debate held by Intelligence Squared U.S., entitled, “Western Democracy Is Threatening Suicide”. A team of two debaters attempted to prove this statement and another team attempted to refute it (“Western democracy is threatening suicide”). The supporting team pointed to the election of Donald J. Trump, a man known for making incendiary statements — some of which could be perceived as signals of not being committed to democratic ideals — and the election of other national populists in Europe to show that democracy was in decline and under threat from potentially authoritarian strongmen. The other team pointed to the system of checks and balances in the U.S., which were putting President Trump’s policies in check, and the tendency of electorates around the world to embrace freedom over autocratic rule. For the record, all four presenters were admittedly anti-Trump. [watch]

I watched the debate because I’m also reading a great book entitled How Democracies Die. We all know that the United States is a republic (‘if we can keep it’), but in this case “democracy” refers to rule of the people, as opposed to an autocracy or aristocracy. Before purchasing the book, I already knew the bias of the authors and expected as much as in their writing. But I didn’t expect the authors to have written such a well-researched book, even if they over generalize at times and write with research specifically targeting President Trump. They do a great job of explaining how autocracies form; how massive public resentment against the government, threats to national security, and other national crises are exploited by strongman leaders. Constitutional provisions are then curtailed, judicial courts are either packed or entirely replaced with loyalists (what the book refers to as stealing the referees), and the rules of the nation are changed to ensure one party rule. There’s a laundry list of examples: Italy and Germany in the 1930s, Argentina in 1943, Chile in 1973, the Philippines in the 1970s, Venezuela in 1998, Nicaragua, Peru, Russia, Turkey, Ukraine, and lots of other nations have had their government structures overturned by dictators. And the authors state their case that the United States is also facing a momentous period where, as they allege, President Trump is attempting to become a dictator.

I think we’re far from that conclusion, although after reading the book I do entirely understand their point of view. I guess we go back to the old adage that we’re supposed to take President Trump’s incendiary comments seriously, but not literally. And I think there’s quite a bit of over reaction to Trump on the Left; after all, they do have a vested interest in making him the greatest villain possible — a task that he actually helps them to achieve.

But what’s far more important for us to consider is what comes after Trump. One trend contained how How Democracies Die, and it’s probably unintentional on the part of the authors, is that fascism and right wing dictators often follow the growing political power of the far Left. Although Hitler was a national socialist, he railed against communism and the bolsheviks, gaining the sympathies of the nation’s center-right (that’s before the Holocaust). Italian dictator Benito Mussolini used the fear of growing socialism to rise to power. Chile’s Pinochet-led coup followed the election of Marxist president Salvador Allende. The anti-communist Lapua movement in Finland threatened violence against communists and socialists, starting in 1929, and eventually abducted over a thousand Social Democrats who were trying to usher in a far Left socialist government. There are several more historical data points of this trend, and so the point is that history is replete with examples of right wing authoritarianism as a reaction to left wing authoritarianism. It’s almost as if authoritarian neo-liberal, progressive, Marxist, and other far Left policies lead to a right wing reaction. (!)

The overall point is this: while I understand the Left’s perception of Dictator Trump, I don’t believe he’ll actually become one. My concern, though, is what happens after Trump leaves office. If one party rule in the United States is a chief concern, then amnesty, increased immigration, and the welfare state are great avenues for the Left to pursue. And they’re pursuing these policies for what they hope will be a bloodless revolution. Packing the country with millions of new Democrat voters is a great way to ensure that the GOP is diminished to a regional party. There absolutely is a way for ‘democracy’ to die in America, but it’s not yet at the hands of a dictator. It’s at the hands of policies which will implement one party rule far sooner than any dictator could. The alternative is, however, that President Trump upends ‘democratic ideals’ and prevents this from happening. My belief is that, either way, one party rule is likely America’s future, and we’re going to see another domestic conflict as a result.

Priority Intelligence Requirements

PIR1: What are new the indicators of systems disruption and threats to critical infrastructure?
PIR2: What are the new indicators of potentially disruptive social, cultural or political conditions or events?
PIR3: How are state and federal agencies preparing for domestic conflict, emergencies, or other instability?
PIR4: What are the new indicators of systems disruption and threats to the economic or financial industry?

PIR1: What are new the indicators of systems disruption and threats to critical infrastructure?

ISIS followers planning WMD attacks on U.S.

U.S. intelligence officials say they are hearing “chatter” that ISIS followers in the Middle East may be planning possible chemical attacks in the U.S. involving chlorine and other “simple” weapons of mass destruction. Intelligence officials said that ISIS followers are discussing how to engineer deadly chlorine and other chemical attacks that have been carried out successfully in Syria inside the U.S. While there is no specific plot that has yet been uncovered, intelligence officials note that there is definitely motivation among followers to launch such attacks. “We are working on a real world threat related to ISIS in the WMD [weapons of mass destruction] space that is really an export of something happening in the Middle East that is causing us to devote thousands of dollars in very near-term funding,” Homeland Security official Col. Lonnie Carlson said, speaking at the National Defense Industry Association’s Special Operations and Low Intensity Conflict conference in Crystal City, Va., this week. “We’re putting capabilities out in the field right now to counter this threat that 6 months ago, we probably never would have thought of happening. I can’t get into the details right now. It’ll come out shortly,” added the officer, who is director of strategy, plans and policy in DHS’s Counter WMD office. The White House has had “principal committee- level meetings with senior cabinet officials” on the issue. “The bottom line is…the threat is real.” [source]

Electric vehicles will stress grid by 2025

According to the Edison Electric Institute, by 2025 seven million zero emission vehicles will be taxing the electrical grid, as the electrical needs of each vehicle will be the equivalent of three houses. Energy and electric car companies need to charge customers less than nine cents or less per mile for a successful business model. Many states have run test modules to determine the efficiency as well as the charging capabilities of cities, and demand for electricity will increase as electric vehicles become more prevalent. [source]

Half of federal government websites fail to meet encryption standard deadline

Nearly 46 percent of websites missed the 13 February 2018 deadline to implement HTTPS requirements for its websites, as directed by the Department of Homeland Security. The Interior Department and NASA had over 90 percent compliance, while Homeland Security, Energy, and Commerce departments had around 20 percent compliance. [source] (Analyst Comment: The federal government continues to be woefully under prepared in the cyber space, starting with implementing basic encryption on website connections and ranging to deciding which federal organization is in charge during a massive cyber attack on the nation. Candidate Trump campaigned on increasing cybersecurity, and while some strides have been made, the federal government is still lagging far behind the risk that both nation-state and criminal hackers pose to critical infrastructure and information assurance. Expect continued breaches of government data and the potential for a crippling attack on critical infrastructure.)

U.S. to face security and energy crisis

Obama-era legislation and regulation policy is leaving the United States dangerously dependent on other countries — some of them potential adversaries — for vital natural resources and raw materials that would become unavailable in a crisis. A new analysis of the situation notes that, for example, even as the U.S. has cut its dependence on oil and gas by ramping up fracking operations, the country remains reliant on competitor nations like China for up to 100 percent of dozens of exotic minerals like gallium, germanium, rare earth elements and platinum group metals. [source] (Analyst Comment: President Trump and his staff are aware of our dangerous reliance and the president crafted an executive order addressing the issue. It reads “that federal policies would henceforth focus on reducing these vulnerabilities, in part by requiring that government agencies coordinate in publishing an updated analysis of critical nonfuel minerals; ensuring that the private sector have electronic access to up-to-date information on potential US and other alternative sources; and finding safe and environmentally sound ways to find, mine, reprocess and recycle critical minerals – emphasizing sources that are less likely to come from unfriendly nations, less likely to face disruption.” Also: “The order also requires that agencies prepare a detailed report on long-term strategies for reducing US reliance on critical minerals, assessing recycling and reprocessing progress, creating accessible maps of potentially mineralized areas, supporting private sector mineral exploration, and streamlining regulatory and permitting processes for finding, producing and processing domestic sources of these minerals.” Unfortunately, change at the federal level, even when a president orders it, is lethargic because federal agencies are filled with career ideologically-driven bureaucrats who slow-walk the president’s policy priorities if they disagree with them. That means that we could face a national security and energy crisis in the future.)

CSIS report hammers. U.S. on response to information warfare

An intelligence report from the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) claims that “total” information warfare is a threat to free nations and that intelligence services in the U.S. and Canada have so far failed to grasp the depth and seriousness of the problem. At issue is that threats to democracy come in the form of mass media manipulation, disinformation, and propaganda campaigns — mostly through social media platforms but also through traditional journalism, which is suffering a major credibility problem, the CSIS report notes. “Nobody appears to be taking a totally holistic approach to this. The US seems to be grinding down the cyber road. The Facebook and Twitter road. Individual roads with no real impact on the holistic picture.  There is no roadmap, there is no plan, there is only floundering,” a summary of the report stated. “We need a concept first, a strategy. The totality of the problem must be enumerated, roughly defined – allowing evolution as we learn, milestones established, working groups established, recommendations made, followed by tweaks and adjustments, then agreement. Only then should we begin passing common sense laws allowing for growth, learning, and security, while allowing us freedom of speech,” the summary continued. “Increases in data transmission capacity coupled with a shift toward programmatic advertising have resulted in a precipitous decrease in the ability of traditional journalism to mediate the quality of public information,” the report said. “Conventional journalism has been partially displaced by a torrent of data from an infinite number of originators. Within that torrent is a current of lies and distortions that threatens the integrity of public discourse, debate and democracy.” [source] [Analyst Comment: (From J.D.) Given the current political times in the U.S., it would be easy to jump to the conclusion that hostile nations like Russia are mostly responsible for the growing problem of using disinformation, propaganda, and “fake news” to drive public opinion. But the CSIS report says that’s only part of the problem and a small part at that. “The problem of disinformation cannot simply be attributed to … deliberate actions of government-funded trolls” using Twitter, Facebook and other popular social media platforms, the report reads. As an intelligence analyst and researcher — as well as a political scientist with 30 years’ worth of reporting and media experience — I can tell you with great confidence that the biggest problem by faris the purposeful manipulation of ‘news’ and information by the major U.S. media outlets. Partisanship in journalism is nothing new; what’s new in the age of Bush-Obama-Trump is hyper-partisanshipCoverage was extremely biased for and against during Obama’s administration, but since Trump has been elected major outlets like The New York Times, the Washington Post, CNN, etc., have completely lost any semblance of nonpartisan reporting journalistic ethics in reporting on the president and his administration. In many cases, these and other outlets have published information ‘leaked’ to them by political and intel operatives without doing the regular due diligence of confirming it with other independent sources. All of this has led to a credibility crisis among all media, not just the so-called “mainstream” outlets. Media in America, with few exceptions, have divided themselves along ideological lines; this makes it easier for Americans to be influenced by outside sources, for sure, but it also compartmentalizes information. If you only listen to, watch, or read sources you ‘agree’ with, you’re not getting the full picture. That means we don’t have a fully-informed electorate, which is a primary function of a free press — to fully inform.]

PIR2: What are the new indicators of potentially disruptive social, cultural or political conditions or events?

The president’s mixed signals on ‘assault’ weapons: ban or no ban?

In an open door meeting with President Trump yesterday, California Democrat Senator Dianne Feinstein expressed nothing short of euphoric glee after the president said he wanted her ‘assault’ weapons ban provision written up in a bill for gun control legislation this year (right side of the screen, to the right of the president, below)…

… and then Trump began to lose his base. The NRA, veterans, and lots of other Second Amendment activists criticized President Trump for making a bad deal for gun rights. Meanwhile, the media shared the news and accurately described President Trump as selling out his base, which was true according to his comments that afternoon. A few voices, though, urged caution that maybe Trump should be taken seriously but not literally — that the president is merely negotiating with Democrats and will allow the Congress to make the ultimate decision. (For now, the Congress is not likely to pass an assault weapons ban.) Towards the end of that meeting, President Trump told Senator Feinstein: “What you’re going to have to do is discuss [the assault weapons ban] with everybody”. According to the NRA, officials later met with President Trump, and said that the president was against “gun control”. The president himself tweeted out, “Good (Great) meeting in the Oval Office tonight with the NRA!”. These signs may indicate a serious back pedal from yesterday’s assault weapons ban comments. [source]

American public has favorable opinion of most government agencies

Despite news that Americans are polarized against federal agencies, the latest numbers from Pew Research show that Americans have favorable ratings of most government agencies. Most Americans surprisingly view the FBI (66 percent), CIA (64 percent), the Justice Department (59 percent), and the Internal Revenue Service (58 percent) favorably. The least favorable government agency is the Department of Education (42 percent unfavorable). These numbers become somewhat skewed, however, between Democrats and Republicans. The Federal Reserve (not a federal agency), the Center for Disease Control, Veterans Affairs, DOJ, and the Postal Service have about the same favorability ratings on both sides of the political aisle; however, the largest gaps exist with the FBI (78 percent of Democrats are positive, compared to 55 percent of Republicans), the IRS (68 percent of Dems, 50 of Republicans), and the Environmental Protection Agency (66 percent of Dems, compared to 52 percent of Republicans). [source] [Analyst Comment: One early warning indicator of political and social instability is a sharp or gradual decrease in trust and favorability of government agencies. While the unfavorability of Congress remains near all-time highs (20 percent approve; 75 percent disapprove as of Gallup’s January 2018 numbers), favorability among government agencies signals some stability.]

AEI: America’s top five inbound and outbound states

The American Enterprise Institute (AEI) published their latest findings of the top five states for inbound and outbound population. According to statistics they’ve compiled, five of the top ten outbound states — Illinois, Connecticut, New Jersey, California, New York — also have the highest tax burden and are controlled by Democrats. Arizona, Idaho, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee are the top five inbound states and have much lower tax rates. [source and source]

Social media is increasingly influencing political reach

After Facebook changed some algorithms in January to promote content from friends and family and reduce the reach of brand pages, the engagement of President Trump’s posts dropped by roughly 45 percent, according to Breitbart Tech. [source] And YouTube continues its purge of content from right wing channels while ignoring that of left wing channels. YouTube figure Andy Warski — who routinely holds live-streamed “death matches” which feature debates over the Alt-Right, race, and other political issues — reported that an old video of his received a flag, which warns of content not suitable according to YouTube’s terms of service. [source] It turns out that, in an overt attempt to clamp down on the use of the service by Alt-Right and other edgy conservative figures, YouTube introduced a three strikes policy and now uses “trusted flaggers” who can shut down a channel without a review from YouTube. Previously, users could report videos for inappropriate content, and YouTube would make a determination as to whether or not it violated its terms of service. Now, however, these “trust flagger” accounts — which apparently now include at least one member at the Leftist propaganda outlet Southern Poverty Law Center — can flag videos and shut down channels without a proper review, since YouTube “trusts” these flaggers. Meanwhile, a video that shows antifascist activists recently chanting death threats (“The Revolution has come, it’s time to pick up a gun” among other threats), uploaded by New Right activist Mike Cernovich, was removed by YouTube for violating its guidelines. [source] It was later uploaded to Bitchute, a hopeful YouTube competitor. [source]

Pew, other survey source data shows gun control opinions by race

One main reason for the anti-immigration rhetoric from figures like Ann Coulter, is that most immigrants coming to the United States are left-leaning. She recently retweeted two sources showing that immigration and race do matter on the gun control issue. According to July 2016 survey from GenForward, 76 percent of Asian Americans, 63 percent of African Americans, and 60 percent Latinos favor “gun control”, while 53 of whites oppose it. [source] Similar numbers come from Pew Research, showing that support for protecting gun rights is highest among whites (55 percent), and lowest among minority groups: 17 percent among Asians, 25 percent among Blacks, and 28 percent among Hispanics. [source]

Justice Alito pinpoints blurred line of political speech in Supreme Court case

According to a transcript of a case being considered by the Supreme Court, Justice Samuel Alito identifies the blurry line of political speech at polling places. A Minnesota man wearing a “Don’t Tread on Me” shirt was stopped from voting, after poll officials cited a ban of clothing with political messages. He’s now suing the government. Here’s an interesting part of an exchange between Justice Alito and the government attorney:

  • Alito asks if a rainbow flag t-shirt is allowed? Rogan (the government attorney) replies, “Yes, unless there was a gay rights issue on the ballot.”
  • Is a “Parkland Strong” t-shirt allowed? “Yes.”
  • Is an NRA t-shirt allowed? “No.”
  • Is the text of the Second Amendment allowed? “No.”
  • Is the text of the First Amendment allowed? (Laughter.) “Yes.”
  • A Colin Kaepernick jersey? “Yes.”
  • Is an “All Lives Matter” t-shirt allowed? “Maybe. It’s a close case.” [source]

PIR3: How are state and federal agencies preparing for domestic conflict, emergencies, or other instability?

Northrop lands DHS biometric contract

Defense contractor Northrop Grumman is set to develop the first two phases of the Homeland Advanced Recognition Technology (HART) and provide integration support to the Department of Homeland Security’s office of biometric identity management. [source] (Analyst Comment: As expected, DHS is becoming more involved in using advanced biometrics for the purposes of law enforcement, immigration, and national security. The FBI, DHS, and possibly other government agencies store the fingerprint images of known and unknown individuals; something I’ve referred to previously as the ‘anvil’. Law enforcement forensics teams, biometric entry/exit points, and other sources of collection are the ‘hammer’, running these newly collected fingerprint images against federal databases. Biometric identification occurs when these databases return a match from an old entry to a new entry. While this is an improved method of identifying unknown suspects and foreigners applying to enter the United States, U.S. citizens should remain cognizant that biometrics represent a threat to privacy, especially considering that human beings leave fingerprints in public places, which can then be harvested and sent into a federal database. This will likely result in situations where the spirit of the Fourth Amendment is violated.)

FEMA finds that cooperation determines community resiliency

PrepTalks is a new project by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to address emergency management issues, and is based on the popular TEDTalks format. FEMA’s analysis of recovery efforts in the wake of Hurricane Katrina resulted found that the survivability and recovery of communities in the wake of natural disasters is related to how well the community can work together and trust one another. According to the presenter, community cooperation and high trust — elements coming from “inside the community” as opposed to outside of it — more positively impact recovery than money, mental health, governance, and level of damage. The PrepTalk, entitled “Social Capital in Disaster Mitigation and Recovery” can be viewed here.

PIR4: What are the new indicators of systems disruption and threats to the economic or financial industry?

Trump starts a trade war?

We’ve heard the old refrain that Trump’s tariffs on steel is going to start a trade war, but the truth of the matter is that we’ve already been in a trade war. Next week, Trump is expected to order a 25 percent tariff on imported steel and a ten percent tariff on aluminum, angering the European Union, Canada, and China. “We’re going to build our steel industry back and we’re going to build our [aluminum] industry back,” the president said. American Steel executives have long complained about unfair trading practices which allow the Chinese to dump artificially cheap steel in U.S. markets, although Chinese steel makes up just one or two percent of U.S. steel imports. Canadian steel is the largest source of U.S. steel imports. The president’s stated goal is to rebuild the U.S. steel industry, make U.S. companies more competitive, and encourage manufacturers to purchase U.S.-made steel, which in theory will now be cost-competitive. This economic nationalism — and protectionism — is a part of Trump’s America First agenda to put Americans back to work by leveling the playing field for many unfair foreign trade practices.

The last U.S. leader to impose tariffs on goods coming from China was Obama, who at the beginning of his first term imposed tariffs on tires after the Chinese unloaded cheap tires for U.S. consumers. China responded with its own tariffs on U.S. goods (like chicken feet, which cost the U.S. poultry industry a billion dollars). While China is still mulling a response, EU president Jean-Claude Juncker responded by saying that the EU “will put tariffs on Harley-Davidson, on bourbon and on blue jeans — Levi’s”.

But current trade practices between the U.S. and China (and other countries) are hardly fair. U.S. auto manufacturers in China are forced to run production through Chinese companies. (And try buying a Ford in Korea, where it costs $10,000 more than it does in the U.S.) China also restricts a number of other U.S. goods from Chinese markets, while creating more supportive business conditions for its homegrown competitors while they eventually outgrow their U.S. rivals. One Chinese business official criticized the tariffs, saying that the higher cost of U.S. goods is not in the interests of America First policies. He also warned that U.S. companies would be less competitive after the tariffs, when “China is in its prime.”

(Analyst Comment: At risk is the rising cost of production, and rising input costs could mean layoffs. A series of competing tariffs — like the EU’s on Harley Davidson, bourbon, and jeans — could affect sales volume, resulting in decreased revenue, and potentially more layoffs. Trump’s agenda is protecting American industries, and many accuse him of wishing for a bygone era of the 1950s that’s never coming back. But, then again, that’s what Obama said about Trump’s outlook on American jobs, and they seem to be coming back. The Trump cabinet is at odds over economic protectionism, as are U.S. CEOs. If these moves end up starting a trade war, Trump is confident — at least outwardly confident — that the U.S. can win. Economists aren’t so sure, and there’s the potential for national and global economic instability if this trade war escalates. That seems to be China’s decision now.)

Samuel Culper 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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