National Intelligence Bulletin for 16 February 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… (2,860 words)

  • InFocus: School shootings, impeachment, and Steve Bannon
  • CIA, DNI warn of Russian influence in November 2018 elections
  • Agencies warn against Chinese-made electronics
  • Study on gun thefts and robberies
  • Study on cities and police blocking ICE detainments
  • Activists block ICE van in Los Angeles
  • Peter Thiel backing out of Silicon Valley
  • AFGE leaders tells government employees to “fight back”
  • DHS wants to better protect government supply chains
  • ODNI, DHS, FBI to lead classified briefings for state election officials
  • DOE to stand up cyber office
  • NORTHCOM: ‘No reason to believe threats will decrease’
  • Routine economic and financial rumblings
  • And more…

In Focus: There’s so much to talk about this week. First, let’s tackle the fallout from Wednesday’s shooting, then we’ll move on to Victor Davis Hanson’s comments on impeachment, and then to Steve Bannon.

Gun control is again being debated, although not seriously yet, after Wednesday’s school shooting. Watching MSNBC on Wednesday night, Rachel Maddow said that there had been 18 school shootings so far this year (“by my count,” she says) — a claim we saw repeated throughout national and international media. Turns out that the statistic is horribly incorrect. As the Washington Post notes, that number is inflated because the source counts a “school shooting” as “any time a firearm discharges a live round inside a school building or on a school campus or grounds.” Not that it should be of any consolation, but there have only been five shootings at schools this year that caused injury. This is the only mass shooting at a school this year.

Still, the gun control rhetoric is loud as the media promotes cultural figures as policy makers. And the truly unfortunate thing is that few are looking at the cultural issues — the media is especially included — that make school shootings more prevalent. The media plasters each young shooter’s name and face on the screen and they interview the grieving parents and students on live television, while reporting each gory detail in second by second clarity after the shooting occurs. These shooters want to cause pain and suffering, they want notoriety, they want everyone to understand that their grievance — whether bullying, unrequited love, or social exclusion — is being alleviated by murder, and the media enables them to achieve that goal. I’ll spare you the “99% of AR-15s didn’t kill anyone yesterday” argument; however, it’s clear that new laws will not solve this problem because this problem is much deeper than any law can solve. It’s a cultural pathology.

For now, Trump said that he was going to meet and work with state leaders to figure what to do about gun violence in schools. And it doesn’t look like any significant gun legislation is going to soon happen in the Congress, but remember that the Democrats stand a good chance at taking back the Senate and potentially the House this year, which leads me to my next point.

On the most recent Classicist podcast, historian Victor Davis Hanson says that if the Democrats win back the Congress, then the House will introduce articles of impeachment against Trump in 2019. Hanson believes that the president will ultimately be acquitted by the Senate after about a year of deliberation. It’s a way, Hanson says, for a Democrat House to create more friction for the Trump administration.

And speaking of friction, Steve Bannon was questioned by special counsel Robert Mueller’s team for 20 hours over the course of two days this week. And then on Thursday, Bannon appeared before the House Intelligence Committee where he refused to answer some of the questions asked of him while invoking executive privilege. Two of the committee members went on record as saying they plan to hold Bannon in contempt of the Congress over his refusal to answer all their questions.

Bannon certainly has dug himself a deep hole, and not just over his latest appearance. According to Michael Wolff’s book, Fire and Fury, Bannon alleged that Mueller would eventually get President Trump on money laundering. “You realize where this is going. … This is all about money laundering. Mueller chose (senior prosecutor Andrew) Weissmann first and he is a money-laundering guy [money laundering prosecutor at the Justice Department]. Their path to f***ing Trump goes right through Paul Manafort, Don Jr., and Jared Kushner. … It’s as plain as a hair on your face.” Last month, Bannon apologized to the president for comments he made in the book, but has not denied making them. Bannon has, however, gone on record as saying that there is no collusion case against the president. And Mueller’s own investigation appears to have turned away from collusion, so this is looking more like charges of obstruction of justice or, according to Bannon, money laundering. And it may also be the case that President Trump is not directly affected by charges, although more members of his campaign and transition team certainly could be charged.

So what does this mean? Well, it means that we’re in for a lot more friction, uncertainty, and instability for the Trump administration, and probably all the way to 2020 or beyond. Mueller has no time limit for his investigation, although some have said that the investigation is nearly over. Mueller is still waiting to get his time with President Trump, but it seems that Mueller is building a lot of leverage in the meantime. Several outlets have reported that there are now three former Trump team members who have agreed, or are working on a plea deal, to cooperate with investigators.

It also means that the results of the investigation could greatly affect the mid-term elections. For the past two years, many Republican members of Congress have seen political strength in siding with Trump and have certainly sought Trump’s endorsement. Meanwhile, anti-Trump Senators Jeff Flake of Arizona and Bob Corker of Tennessee, among others, are not seeking re-election likely because they can’t win after opposing much of the America First agenda that propelled Trump into office. But the pro-Trump political bonus could change if Mueller’s investigation turns up real or perceived cases of major violations. At this point, I don’t see how the Mueller investigation could not affect the mid-terms, which could delay the results until after November.

Either way, between the results of the Mueller investigation and the likelihood of the Democrats taking back the House and possibly the Senate, the rest of the Trump administration is looking shaky, especially when we consider how rabid the Democrats will be to bring an end to America First policies and quite possibly the president himself.

UPDATE: After writing this, CNBC broke news that the Mueller team had indicted “13 Russian nationals and three Russian entities for alleged interference in the 2016 presidential elections”. You can view the complaint here.


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 and/or 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?

Industrial Control Systems (ICS) and Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) systems continue to pose the greatest risk to critical infrastructure. Cyber attacks, whether by criminal or nation-state actors, are unpredictable. While actual cyber attacks are less common than cases of cyber exploitation, these events do pose a significant risk to critical infrastructure and national security. We know that nation-state cyber groups are mapping out U.S. critical infrastructure, so my greatest concern is domestic systems disruption in a conflict.

CIA, DNI warn of Russian influence in November 2018 elections

CIA Director Mike Pompeo late last month said that he has “every expectation” the Russia will attempt to influence the outcome of the 2018 elections. We covered that two weeks ago; however, he’s now joined by the Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, who said, “There should be no doubt that Russia perceives its past efforts as successful and views the 2018 U.S. midterm elections as a potential target for Russian influence operations.” And National Security Agency chief Mike Rogers adds to Pompeo’s and Coats’ warnings that the Russians are already engaged in influence activities in America this year.

(Analyst Comment: In previous reports, we’ve explained how the expansion of NATO into Russian spheres of influence is causing Russian president Vladimir Putin to push back. Influencing Western elections is just one of those ways. Despite recent media reports that the Russians exploited voting systems in the 2016 election, the Department of Homeland Security denies the claim, saying “[W]e have no evidence – old or new – that any votes in the 2016 elections were manipulated by Russian hackers.” [source] And to a degree, that’s exactly what DHS has to say: there was no manipulation. If they admit there’s evidence of successful manipulation, then it could call the entire election into question and that would be politically damaging, not just for the Trump administration but for the entire country. Still, the real concern here, as CIA Director Mike Pompeo and DNI Dan Coats point out, is that Americans are susceptible to media manipulation. Russian ‘inform and influence’ campaigns have targeted Europe for decades, and Soviet propaganda was distributed before that. The Russians have a long history of effective manipulation via information; that’s not going to change. The cyber exploitation aspect is standard intelligence gathering. I would be surprised if the Russians actually attempted to alter votes — clearly an act of war. But the inform and influence side is certainly on everyone’s radar.)

Agencies warn against Chinese-made electronics

The heads of the CIA, FBI, NSA, and other U.S. intelligence agencies have warned against Americans buying and using smartphones made by top Chinese electronics company Huawei, also expressing security concerns with fellow Chinese telecom company ZTE. “We’re deeply concerned about the risks of allowing any company or entity that is beholden to foreign governments that don’t share our values to gain positions of power inside our telecommunications networks,” FBI Director Chris Wray told the Senate Intelligence Committee.Huawei has been aggressively attempting to enter the U.S. telecom market, first through a partnership with AT&T that was eventually called off.

During their testimony to the Senate panel, U.S. intelligence chiefs praised American telecoms for resisting overtures from Chinese competitors.“ This  is a challenge I think that is only going to increase, not lessen over time for us,” said Adm. Michael Rogers, the NSA’s director. “You need to look long and hard at companies like this.” [source]


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

Study on gun thefts and robberies

Last month we reported that gun robberies of federal firearms licensees were up 227 percent since 2013, and burglaries were up 71 percent over the same time period, according to ATF statistics. I got a lot of messages and emails asking about culprits: who were they, is this part of a larger trend, is this related to revolution, and similar questions.  We did an open source pull of news items and found 98 instances of attempted or successful robberies or burglaries of gun stores in 2017, although this is not comprehensive. You can view that list here.

Study on cities and police blocking ICE detainments

We’re still working on a cumulative list of municipalities, local police, and county sheriffs actively blocking ICE detainments. So far, we’ve identified over 150 city and county governments in California (19), Colorado (15), Connecticut (2), D.C. (1), Florida (3), Georgia (2), Iowa (12), Illinois (2), Kansas (4), Kentucky (1), Louisiana (1), Massachusetts (6), Maryland (3), Minnesota (1), Mississippi (1), Nebraska (2), New Jersey (4), New Mexico (5), Nevada (1), New York (8), Oregon (31), Pennsylvania (16), Rhode Island (2), Texas (2), Virginia (2), Vermont (3), and Washington (16) that have either broken off agreements with ICE, have stopped cooperating with ICE, or are in open defiance of ICE immigration enforcement. This is not a cumulative list and this research is not final, however, we are seeing more municipalities push back against immigration enforcement.

 

Activists block ICE van in Los Angeles

On Thursday night, a group of activists attempted to block an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention van from leaving a detention center in downtown Los Angeles. The ICE Out of LA group aims to “create an open source campaign where people push for ICE out of (Los Angeles) through diverse and innovative tactics,” according to the Facebook page. [source] (Analyst Comment: In previous weeks I’ve discussed how the immigration battle is creating social and cultural friction, with a focus on the potential to result in violence. I still expect a lot more civil unrest affiliated with the increase in immigration detainers and deportation orders.)

Peter Thiel backing out of Silicon Valley

Venture capitalist and technology icon Peter Thiel is moving from San Francisco and will reportedly take a less active role in the Silicon Valley tech scene due to intolerance over his political views. Thiel backed Donald J. Trump for president during the campaign, which was the start of the split from the very liberal tech world in Silicon Valley. Thiel will also be moving Thiel Capital and the Thiel Foundation near his new home in Los Angeles. Thiel previously criticized Silicon Valley as being a “one-party state,” where conservatives are often castigated. [source] (Analyst Comment: Why does this matter? Because Silicon Valley is home of some of the most innovative and disruptive technologies — to include future technologies — and the ecosystem is ruled by the Left. Last year, James Damore was fired from Google after he wrote a letter criticizing what’s been described as an anti-white and anti-male culture there. Damore is now suing Google over discrimination. Technology innovation is being led by young visionaries who subscribe to post-modernist ideologies and who support social just warrior tactics, which includes exclusion based on political beliefs. )

AFGE leaders tells government employees to “fight back”

After the president’s 2019 budget requested a pay freeze for federal employees and other changes, the national president of the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) said at a recent speech that there’s an urgent need for the federal employees union to act. “The survival of our civil service is at stake. The survival of our government is at stake. I want to know this: What are you going to do about it? That’s right, fight back.” The AFGE is enlisting Democrat members of Congress to ensure that all federal workers get a three percent pay raise this year. [source] (Analyst Comment: I’m not sure that this could lead to a strike or collective bargaining, but it could certainly could lead to instability among government employees, if they feel it’s as serious and urgent an issue as the AFGE national president describes it.)


PIR3: How are state and federal agencies preparing for domestic conflict and/or instability?

DHS wants to better protect government supply chains

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is increasing efforts to shore up supply chain security, especially for government contractors. A chief concern is that both hardware and software acquired for use by government could contain malicious code. Because the current technology ecosystem contains products from so many vendors, it’s impossible for DHS to vet every single piece of hardware or software used in government systems. This is an obvious avenue for adversaries to introduce bugs or malware that attack or listen to U.S. systems, especially during a time of war. [source]

ODNI, DHS, FBI to lead classified briefings for state election officials

Starting today and on Sunday, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI), DHS, and FBI will be leading classified briefings on the threats posed to national election systems. These briefings are “part of an ongoing effort to ensure the integrity and security of the nation’s election infrastructure, particularly as the risk environment evolves. The briefings will focus on increasing awareness of foreign adversary intent and capabilities against the states’ election infrastructure, as well as a discussion of threat mitigation efforts.” [source]

DOE to stand up cyber office

Energy Secretary Rick Perry announced that the Department of Energy (DOE) would be standing up a cyber office to focus on protecting critical infrastructure and preventing cyber attacks. The Office of Cybersecurity, Energy Security, and Emergency Response will also focus on emergency preparedness and threats to all energy infrastructure. [source]

 

NORTHCOM: ‘No reason to believe threats will decrease’

In testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee, U.S. Northern Command (NORTHCOM) commander Air Force Gen. Lori Robinson said that while NORTHCOM was able to defend the U.S. against a North Korean nuclear missile, continued work needs to be done. “Looking forward, I see no reason to believe that the threats to our homeland will decrease. Our adversaries continue to extend their operational reach, and are developing new capabilities to range targets in North America.” She also said that the U.S. is working with the Canadians to defend North America:


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

Outside of the routine back and forth over inflation fears (healthcare costs are going up, material costs for home builders continues to rise, etc.), the market correction, and what rising interest rates mean for the economy, there’s nothing significant to report this week. Still, I don’t have any reason to believe that fiscal, monetary, or economic calamity is immediate. I do expect intermittent volatility, especially the next time the Federal Reserve raises or talks about raising interest rates, but my long term expectations remain the same: the next recession is going to be painful.

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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