National Intelligence Bulletin for 22 June 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 Intelligence subscribers.


In this National Intelligence Bulletin… (3,164 words)

  • Hackers are attempting to infiltrate election systems
  • Chinese hackers target U.S. satellite and telecom firms
  • Criminal gangs are increasingly training members in military tactics
  • Top House Democrat suggests there should be ‘uprisings’ over Trump immigrant children policy
  • California police opposed to bill that would limit use of force
  • NY gubernatorial candidate Cynthia Nixon calls ICE a ‘terrorist organization’
  • And more…

ADMIN NOTE: All reporting and analysis in this report is the product of Jon Dougherty, unless otherwise marked “S.C” for Samuel Culper.

InFocus: There are a couple of trends that deeply trouble me with regard to the future of America. First, political considerations and agendas, not practicality or a genuine approach toward problem-solving, appear to be guiding many public policy initiatives and legislation in a growing number of ZIP codes. On the Left and Right, political leaders are increasingly more interested in legislation and policies that thwart opposition rather than advance the public good. As an example, majorities of Americans support a law that would prohibit so-called “sanctuary cities” — jurisdictions that forbid local law enforcement from cooperating with federal immigration authorities — and yet Congress is unable to deliver despite the fact that such sanctuary policies enable illegal alien criminals who sometimes prey on citizens. 

Also, the level of anger, frustration, and mistrust is definitely growing between various political factions, religious organizations, and ethnic and cultural groups. In particular, the Left is increasingly willing to abandon the rules of civil society in pursuit of their objectives. And they are justifying bad, destructive behavior in the process. A congressional intern shouts an expletive at the president as he walks through the Capitol building. A Justice Department paralegal joins a group of Democratic Socialists to heckle DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen. Two instances this week of people making death threats to POTUS and to the children of a U.S. congressman in Florida. An entertainer tweeting out a disgusting threat to President Trump’s youngest son. And so on. What’s instructive here is that no one on the Left side of the aisle or elected Democrats acting in any meaningful way to curb these actions in the future. At times they are even defending such behavior.

As one pundit said this week, the level of discourse we’re seeing and the ever-increasing rancor between political factions “is how countries fall apart.” 

Welcome to this week’s National Intelligence Bulletin. Thank you for subscribing. — JD


Priority Intelligence Requirements

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

Hackers are attempting to infiltrate election systems

State and local officials say that hackers attempt to gain access daily to American electronic balloting systems, noting that the 2018 midterms are a potential target. In testimony to a Senate committee looking into the issue, officials said that the 2016 election — in which hacking attempts were made but which U.S. officials have said repeatedly no results were changed — brought attention to an increasingly worrisome problem of cyber-tampering with balloting machines. “Hack us once shame on them, hack us twice, shame on us if we don’t do anything about it,” said Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn. DHS said that at least 21 states were targeted during the 2016 election; Russia is the primary suspect. [source] Analyst comment: While we hear a lot about how Russia is a prime suspect in election-hacking attempts, we must remember that other adversarial nations have substantial hacking capabilities including China and Iran, and their objective — to sow distrust and misinformation among the already angry U.S. electorate — would be the same as Moscow’s. Even if there are no successful hacking attempts during the 2018 elections, it’s likely our enemies will still try to plant seeds of doubt and sow further division in an already superheated, hyper-partisan political environment.

Chinese hackers target U.S. satellite and telecom firms

A China-based hacking group called Thrip has launched a series of cyberattacks over the last 18 months targeting a satellite operator, a telecommunications firm, a geospatial imaging company and a defense contractor. According to the cybersecurity firm Symantec, the attacks lend credence to the possibility telecom traffic could be intercepted or altered. “This is likely espionage,” said Greg Clark, Symantec CEO. “The Thrip group has been working since 2013 and their latest campaign uses standard operating system tools, so targeted organizations won’t notice their presence. They operate very quietly, blending into networks, and are only discovered using artificial intelligence that can identify and flag their movements.” The cybersecurity firm said beginning in 2013 Thrip used custom malware to infect targets, but beginning last year switched “to a mixture of custom malware and ‘living off the land tools.’” [source] 


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

NYU professor doxxes ICE agents

Sam Lavigne, an adjunct art professor at New York University, created a database this week containing the personal details of 1,600 Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents. After scraping the professional networking website LinkedIn, Lavigne published the database to Medium, which promptly removed the post and deleted his account. After Reddit and Github, both information sharing websites, did the same, Wikileaks is now hosting the database at https://ice.wikileaks.org. Levigne wrote in the Medium blog post, “I’ve downloaded and made available the profiles of (almost) everyone on LinkedIn who works for ICE, 1,595 people in total. While I don’t have a precise idea of what should be done with this data set, I leave it here with the hope that researchers, journalists, and activists will find it useful.” [source] S.C.: This isn’t the first time that personal details of federal law enforcement officials have been leaked to the public. Several years ago under the Obama administration, a hacker published the details for some 20,000 FBI employees. It’s difficult to say exactly what the results of the ICE leak are, however, I would expect physical protests at the homes of ICE agents and, probably more likely, some form of digital (social media stalking, posting, etc.) protest against ICE agents or their family members.

Criminal gangs are increasingly training members in military tactics

Military-trained gang members (MTGMs) have received military training such as tactics, weapons, explosives, or equipment, and the use of distinctive military skills. Gangs with military-trained members often pose an ongoing and persistent military and political threat. At least one-tenth of one percent of the U.S. population is an MTGM, and there are between 150,000 and 500,000 MTGMs, according to an official at the Department of Criminal Justice Administration at Middle Tennessee State University. That number demonstrates an alarming domestic and national security threat that includes a number of potentially significant implications for government leaders in the U.S., and in other countries where third generation (3GEN) Gangs or Drug Trafficking Organizations (DTOs) are prevalent. The intersection of MTGMs and criminal insurgencies threatens national security and communities, undermining the economic and political foundations of local and state government. These criminal organizations often behave like insurgents, engaging in governance to support the illicit marketplace or acting in police or social roles in the community. Counterinsurgency strategies, including cultural awareness, should be implemented alongside traditional anti-gang measures. [source] Analyst comment: MTGMs can be a member of any of the following: A street gang, outlaw motorcycle gang, prison gang, or a domestic terrorist extremist group. They aren’t always associated with violent drug cartels from Mexico and beyond or MS-13. What is really important about this report is the estimated number of MTGMs around the country. Even the low figure of 150,000 represents nearly half of the number of current National Guard forces of about 350,000 — and most of them are not what you’d consider being primarily combat forces (they are logistics, medical, military police, and headquarters units with some infantry, artillery, and air forces sprinkled in). The high number of 500,000 is truly bothersome; that encompasses nearly all combined current National Guard and military reserve forces. Depending on MTGM numbers in individual communities, they could also overwhelm local police SWAT units. What’s more, it appears as though their numbers are growing. These groups bring specific combat skill sets to the forefront such as ambush, defensive positions, and small unit tactics like shooting, moving, and communicating. They are a major threat to the civil society. 

Top House Democrat suggests there should be ‘uprisings’ over Trump immigrant children policy

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., suggested during a press conference this week regarding the Trump administration’s policy of separating children from adults who cross the U.S. border illegally that “uprisings” should be taking place around the country. I just don’t even know why there aren’t uprisings all over the country, and maybe there will be when people realize that this is a policy that they defend,” she said. “It’s a horrible thing, and I don’t see any prospect for legislation here.” Her comments drew immediate criticism for her “extreme rhetoric” from the Republican Party. As Health and Human Resources Secretary Alex Azar told lawmakers earlier this month, “Individual children are separated from their parents only when those parents cross the border illegally and are arrested.” [source] Analyst comment: Besides ignoring the fact that Democrats had nothing to say about this when President Obama’s administration was separating children from parents in 2014 and beyond, Pelosi’s comment came near the one-year anniversary of the shooting and near-murder of Republican House Majority Whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana by an angry Left-wing supporter of Sen. Bernie Sanders’ 2016 presidential campaign. It would be nice to think it was just an accidental, off-the-cuff comment, but Pelosi’s been in Congress for decades and we have to believe this was intended for full effect. One could certainly make the case that this was a dog whistle to someone who already harbors an unhealthy anger for the Trump administration. This just isn’t something someone in Congress should be suggesting, under any circumstances, but especially in our hyper-partisan political environment.

California police opposed to bill that would limit use of force

California law enforcement organizations came out strongly against a bill being considered by a state Senate committee that would change the definition for the use of force. Assembly Bill 931 would increase the state standard for lethal use of force from “reasonable” to “necessary,” which is a tougher (higher) than the federal standard. Officer organizations say changing the standard to “necessary” would put officers’ lives in danger by opening up their split-second decisions to further scrutiny in a courtroom. The Peace Officer’s Research Association of California also objected to the cost of retraining 100,000 police officers across the state. [source] Analyst comment: This proposal was strongly backed by state lawmakers who have been sharply critical in the past of police shootings of suspects. During debate over the measure the issue turned to “race-based bias” on the part of police, which appeared to be the real motivating factor behind the legislation. One senator, Steve Bradford, a Democrat who is black, even said, “It always blows me away when law enforcement fear for their life only when they’re facing black and brown people. It blows me away me when black and brown men and women don’t even get to the jail. They don’t even get a chance to be arrested.” That perfectly characterizes the issue for proponents. But the data don’t support the allegation that police shootings of racial minorities is an epidemic or even a huge problem. Unduly hamstringing officers as part of a political agenda is only likely to lead to less public safety for everyone as cops find ways to avoid contact with suspects — especially those of color, which is already happening around the country. 

Starbucks closing 150 stores nationwide in high-minimum wage cities

In response to state and local laws requiring businesses to pay high minimum wages, Starbucks announced it will be closing 150 of its stores, most of them in cities and communities affected by the higher-wage requirement. The move comes amid slower sales growth and increased competition, with company officials saying many of the selected stores are no longer profitable. Analysts see most of the closures coming in major urban markets in the Northeast and West Coast. [source] Analyst comment: Liberal cities are mostly responsible for passing outsized minimum wage laws, with $15 being the most common wage set. Though many people see the move as commendable, higher mandatory wages most often come with additional regulations that add so much to the cost of thin-profit margin industries (like coffee shops and restaurants) they cannot afford to remain open. This hurts the very people the higher minimum wage laws were intended to help — the low-skilled, underemployed, and young. But Washington, D.C., became the latest large city to pass an increased minimum wage, and other liberal cities are looking at doing the same thing, so we expect to see more closures of businesses with already-thin profit margins. 

NY gubernatorial candidate Cynthia Nixon calls ICE a ‘terrorist organization’

New York gubernatorial candidate and former “Sex and the City” star Cynthia Nixon has called the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency a “terrorist organization” that should be abolished. “ICE has strayed so far away from its mission. It is supposed to be here to keep Americans safe but what it has turned into, frankly, is a terrorist organization of its own that is terrorizing people who are coming to this country,” she told local NY media. She made her comments at a church on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, where an illegal immigrant is taking sanctuary after being threatened with deportation after she failed to show a driver’s license during a traffic stop by ICE agents. The current NY governor, Andrew Cuomo, does not share her views. He issued a statement saying he believes ICE “should be a bonafide law enforcement organization that prudently and diligently enforces the law.” [source] Analyst comment: This is what I was talking about in the “In Focus” segment at to open this week’s bulletin. These comments are inflammatory, divisive, and ill-intended. What’s more, they essentially delegitimize a duly-sanctioned federal law enforcement agency that just happens to be tasked, among other things, with arresting people who are in the country illegally — just like similar law enforcement agencies in other countries do. When Nixon and others make inflammatory statements about ICE, they are putting agents at risk of reprisal, injury, and death. That said, I don’t expect these kinds of comments to go away or be condemned by political leaders in her party who ought to be condemning them. — JD

Survey: Most Americans can’t tell fact from opinion in news reporting

In a recent survey conducted by the Pew Research Center, only about one-quarter percent of adults could identify factual statements as opposed to opinion in news reports. The main portion of Pew’s survey polled 5,035 adult Americans aged 18 and above in February and March. The study was intended to determine if respondents could differentiate between factual information and opinion statements in news stories. Participants were given five factual statements such as “spending on Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid make up the largest portion of the U.S. federal budget,” and five opinion statements such as “democracy is the greatest form of government.” They were asked to identify which ones were factual and which were opinions. Only 26 percent were able to correctly identify all five factual statements. On opinions, about 35 percent were able to correctly identify all five statements. Roughly a quarter got most or all wrong in identifying facts and opinions, the research showed. [source] Analyst comment: A study of the results found that Americans who are more ‘news savvy’ were better equipped to distinguish fact from opinion, but overall the study found that Americans with preconceived opinions about ‘facts’ disagreed with them when they did not align with their beliefs. This would suggest that the effect of so-called “fake news” is far more pervasive than many knew or understood. Making this situation worse is the fact that there are media operations that feed Americans’ misconceptions and misperceptions as part of a political agenda. This is hurting the news industry, for certain, but it’s also creating an irreconcilable atmosphere of distrust and anger among political factions in the country.

 


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

Homeland Security reassessing cybersecurity strategy

Instead of thinking about risk to assets and systems, the Dept. of Homeland Security is focusing on the functions and services that ordinary citizens rely on for their everyday lives and how to respond if those functions are threatened. “We see ourselves as the national risk managers,” said Jeanette Manfra, DHS’ National Protection and Programs Directorate (NPPD) assistant secretary for the Office of Cybersecurity and Communications, at the June 14 Akamai Government Forum in Washington, D.C. Officials are assessing whether DHS as a whole is taking the right approach and deploying the right technologies and policies to best protect the country from a cyber attack or other threats. DHS has been given unique authorities in the federal government to, for example, direct federal agencies to take cybersecurity action, protect critical infrastructure information for release for a FOIA or regulatory purposes, to apply liability protections to companies sharing information through DHS, and so on, according to Manfra. [source]


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

The 2020s could be the worst decade in U.S. history

Like other intelligence analysts, financial experts don’t have crystal balls and cannot ‘see’ the future. They look at current data, historical data, trends, and other information streams in order to produce analyses based on data they’ve seen and what they believe it means. One such financial analyst, author John Mauldin, believes he sees trouble ahead for the U.S. (and by default the global) economy. He sees the 2020s shaping up to be the worst decade in the history of our country based on a number of factors featuring a convergence of bad economic phenomena like the growing U.S. debt and higher federal spending; sluggish economic growth in Europe; and rising automation causing massive job losses. From there a sort of chain reaction of events will take place: As jobs dry up and the economy tanks, there will a demand from voters for an expansion of “safety net” programs. Republicans will balk so the likely outcome is a Democratic Congress and president, who will then roll back corporate tax cuts and raise taxes on “the rich” in order to expand entitlement and benefits programs. The debt will continue to explode, resulting in an eventual default as the country runs out of money to continue paying just the interest on it. [source] Analyst comment: Of course, this is just one possible scenario, but the chain of events makes perfect sense based on historical evidence. The trick moving forward will be training populations to anticipate job losses in response to automation so they can move into other fields and industries to remain relevant and employed. Technology has been displacing human labor since the Industrial Revolution; that’s not going to change. But those displacements led workers to find employment in other industries and sectors. Yesterday’s factory worker could be tomorrow’s robotics repair person.

Jon E. Dougherty is a political, foreign policy and national security analyst and reporter with nearly 30 years of experience in both fields. A U.S. Army veteran of Operation Enduring Freedom, he holds BA in Political Science from Ashford University and an MA in National Security Studies/Intelligence Analysis from American Military University.

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