National Intelligence Bulletin for 08 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… (4,052 words)

  • GAO finds vulnerabilities in infectious disease preparedness 
  • Government report notes that most federal agencies are at risk of cyber attack 
  • Experts say we’re not ready for the national security threat posed by drones 
  • Security experts says next ‘9/11’ attack will be cyber 
  • Social Security Administration set to begin dipping into reserves 
  • Violence increasing ahead of Mexico’s July 1 elections 
  • American policing may be slowly collapsing 
  • America’s racial divide, at its worst in decades, may be irreversible

ADMIN NOTE: Sam Culper here. I’m in transit with sporadic internet access and behind schedule, so please accept my apology with this late report.


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?

GAO finds vulnerabilities in infectious disease preparedness

The Government Accountability Office was tasked with measuring the effectiveness of the government to respond to widespread infectious disease outbreaks, including the Zika threat and Ebola, the latter of which is highly contagious and very often fatal. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has three key preparedness and capacity-building programs—Epidemiology and Laboratory Capacity for Infectious Diseases (ELC), the Hospital Preparedness Program (HPP), and Public Health Emergency Preparedness (PHEP). These three programs awarded about $21.2 billion to states and other jurisdictions from 2002 through 2017 to carry out public health preparedness and response efforts, including those related to infectious diseases, natural disasters, or terrorist events. Of this amount, $18.4 billion were awards funded from annual appropriations. HHS’ three key preparedness and capacity-building programs measure performance in four areas that directly relate to infectious disease preparedness capacity—electronic lab reporting, epidemiology capacity, laboratory capacity, and responder protection. The majority of awardees (states and other jurisdictions) met targets for all nine measures in the responder protection area, which measures activities related to safety and coordination for responders. However, awardee performance in the other three areas was mixed. In electronic lab reporting, one of two measures was met (this relates to the sending of laboratory reports to public health agencies via electronic means). In Epidemiology capacity, one of three measures was met (this relates to awardees’ ability to identify and respond to infectious disease outbreaks). In terms of laboratory capacity, five of six areas were met (this relates to both laboratory testing of certain pathogens, and communication between laboratories and other public entities). [source]

Government report notes that most federal agencies are at risk of cyber attack

Three-quarters of all government agencies are at risk of a cyber attack, reports the Office of Management and Budget. That’s because as the cyber risk has dramatically increased, most federal agencies have been lackadaisical in improving cyber defenses (despite an executive order early in Trump’s presidency to address this very issue — which agencies cannot do without appropriate funding). Of the 96 federal agencies participating in the assessment, 71 had cybersecurity programs that were either at risk or at high risk. Just 25 agencies were reported to be managing risk using recommended tools and policies. The report found that only 40 percent of the agencies examined reported the ability to detect when their data is being exfiltrated. Only a quarter can detect attempts to access large volumes of data on their systems, and fewer still actually bother to test those capabilities on an annual basis. [source]

Experts say we’re not ready for the national security threat posed by drones

Investigators into a recent prison break involving an inmate in South Carolina who was found three days later in Texas discovered that he got the hardware he needed for his breakout via a drone — of the same variety now readily available in retailers all over the country, for a relatively affordable price. Criminals have also used them to drop drugs into prisons, and Mexican cartels have used them to spy on the movement of U.S. border authorities. ISIS used them to drop crude explosives on U.S. and allied forces in Syria and Iraq. “We know that terrorists are using drones overseas to advance plots and attacks, and we’ve already seen criminals use them along and within our borders for illicit purposes,” Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said in a recent interview. “We are working with Congress for the authorities needed to ensure we can better protect the American people against emerging drone threats.” [source]

Security experts says next ‘9/11’ attack will be cyber

Security experts believe that the next “9/11” level attack against the U.S. will be a cyber attack, and what’s more, they believe it’s inevitable. The more I speak to people, the more they think that the next Pearl Harbor is going to be a cyber attack,” cybersecurity executive and professional hacker Tarah Wheeler told a panel audience during the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s (OECD). “I think that the most horrifying cybersecurity attack is going to have its own name and I think it’s going to involve something more terrifying than we’ve thought of yet.” She noted further: “I think about the fact that most American healthcare technology is secured, if at all, with ancient, crumbling security infrastructure. I think of planes full of people, the kind of infrastructure that protects flu vaccinations. I think about fertility clinics losing years’ worth of viable embryos.” Retired Admiral James Stavridis, who served as NATO Supreme Allied Commander for Europe, echoed similar warnings. “We’re headed toward a cyber Pearl Harbor, and it is going to come at either the grid or the financial sector… we need to think about this cyber attack as a pandemic.” Governments, experts have said, are not doing nearly enough to defend against what’s coming. [source] Analyst comment: It should be noted that we continue to see these dire warnings/predictions — but we never see reports that essentially say, “Hey, we’re making great progress protecting our infrastructure.” So let this warning be your preparation guide. An attack of that nature would cripple everything in our society, and the social chaos that would surely follow will be epic — and horrendous. Plan accordingly.


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

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich explains President Trump’s ‘Make America Great Again’

There is no one who understands POTUS Trump’s “MAGA” mindset than Newt Gingrich, who has been a close confidant of the commander-in-chief since well before he was inaugurated. During a recent appearance before the conservative Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C., Gingrich discussed his new book, “Trump’s America,” and the philosophy behind it: That there are, today, two Americas, with one side consisting of Trump supporters and “America Firsters” and the other diametrically opposed to that perspective. The two cannot co-exist peacefully. As Gingrich notes (correctly), one side has to win and one side has to lose. [source] JD — Whether or not you agree with him politically, Gingrich is one of the most insightful political intellects in the country today. His grasp of Trump and how Trump seeks to restore the greatness of the American republic is well worth the 40 minutes it takes to watch his speech. But there’s an underlying message in what he’s saying, namely that Trump the patriot understands that America was at a crossroads, which is why he decided to run for president. Trump is attempting to lead the country down the path of increasing prosperity, growth, and unity, because he saw that we were on a path leading the country to chaos and decline. Gingrich, the historian, believes Trump has been wildly successful thus far and is poised to bring us historic gains in wealth, opportunity, and worldwide prestige. But he acknowledges, too, there are forces aligned to circumvent the president and put us back on the path of decline. It’s a fascinating presentation; I’d recommend it. (Hint: His insights into current changes going on in China, beginning around the 25:30 mark, are really good.) 

Social Security Administration set to begin dipping into reserves

The Social Security Administration will dip into its nearly $3 trillion trust fund in order to meet obligations this year, the first time the agency has had to do so since 1983 and three years sooner than forecast just a year ago. Part of the reason is due to lower-than-expected economic growth; the program’s income is derived from taxes and from interest on its fund. The trust fund, however, is on pace to be depleted by 2034, and Social Security will no longer be able to pay fully scheduled benefits unless Congress takes action to improve the program’s finances. If no changes are made, beneficiaries will only be able to draw about three-quarters of their expected payouts. In addition, the program’s latest annual report noted that Medicare’s hospital insurance fund will be depleted by 2026, three years sooner than expected. The country’s aging population is increasing the cost of Social Security and Medicare even as revenue gains lag. [source] Analyst comment: While economists and experts have long predicted that Social Security would go broke at some point, the report’s claims that growth figures were over-estimated seems nebulous at best. During the Trump era, annual GDP growth has reached 2.2-3.2 percent growth in four of five quarters since the president’s election in November 2016; prior to that, Obama’s GDP growth was tepid — in the 1-2 percent range. So if Trump’s economy is registering higher numbers, how can forecasters claim ‘lower-than-expected’ growth? It seems odd, but long-term trajectory remains the same: Without congressional action the fund’s going to go broke in less than 20 years.

Violence increasing ahead of Mexico’s July 1 elections

Mexico is set to hold its next elections, including for president, July 1, but this electoral cycle has become the most violent in the country’s recent history, with 36 candidates for public office killed since September. In addition, dozens of other politicians and campaign officials have been killed as well. Because of the rise in deaths, that has created a fresh challenge for the country’s political parties: They are now trying to fill dozens of candidacies left open by the assassinations. Criminal groups are using violence to try to influence candidates, analysts say, and establish their power over local and state politics. In some cases, they might be targeting politicians who have refused to show them deference or pay them off. In other cases, candidates might have formed alliances with one criminal group, and later been targeted by a rival group. Separate reports noted that nearly 100 politicians have been murdered since September. That means about one candidate or public official has been killed every three days since the country’s campaign season began last year, as organized crime is threatening to interrupt the electoral process in dozens of small-town elections across the country. [source] Analyst comment: Two things — it’s no wonder Mexico’s government at all levels is corrupt; only corrupt candidates ‘survive’ long enough to actually hold office. Two, that means real reformers cannot be protected well enough to serve, let alone many any serious improvements in the country’s drug-infested culture of corruption. That means Mexico will remain one of the world’s biggest narco-states and continue to pose a national security threat to the U.S. 

Mexican businesses are warning workers about the country’s leading presidential candidate

Mexican billionaires and businesses are attempting to warn workers about the country’s leading presidential candidate, an avowed Left-wing socialist they are afraid will transform Mexico into a much larger version of Venezuela. Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador’s lead has only grown, and with just a month until the election, business leaders are cautioning their countrymen about the potential consequences of his victory. In a letter published this week, Mexican billionaire German Larrea, head of mining and rail company Grupo Mexico, warned about the risk of a “populist” president and cited the economic struggles of Venezuela, Argentina, and Cuba. “If this populist economic model, in which everything supposedly belongs to and comes from the state, and in which people are given things without working for them, ends up being imposed on Mexico, investment will be disincentivized, seriously affecting jobs and the economy,” the letter said. The letter did not mention Lopez Obrador by name but did reference his more contentious proposals, including rolling back the energy and education reforms of current President Enrique Peña Nieto. [source] Analyst comment: The last thing America needs is a Mexico that is even more economically distressed and tumultuous than it is now. If you think our illegal immigration problem at the border is bad now, just wait until you see the effects of Venezuela-style populism/socialism as it saps Mexico’s labor and economic sectors. The business leaders are exactly right to be concerned.

U.S. citizen sentenced to 35 years for providing material support to terrorist organization

Maalik Alim Jones, 33, of Baltimore, Maryland, has been sentenced to 35 years in prison, to be followed by five years of supervised release, for conspiring to provide material support to al-Shabaab, a designated foreign terrorist organization based in Somalia, conspiring to receive military training from al-Shabaab, and carrying and using an AK-47 machine gun, rocket-propelled grenades, and other destructive devices in furtherance of his support for al-Shabaab.  Jones pleaded guilty on Sept. 8, 2017, to a three-count Superseding Information. In July 2011, Jones left Baltimore to join al-Shabaab in Somalia.  Jones traveled to New York City, then flew via commercial aircraft to Kenya, with stopovers in Morocco and the United Arab Emirates.  After arriving in Kenya, Jones traveled by land from Kenya to Somalia, which is a common travel route for foreign fighters traveling to Somalia to join al-Shabaab. In Somalia, Jones joined al-Shabaab and was a member of the terrorist organization for approximately four years.  During this time, Jones trained, worked and fought with al-Shabaab in Somalia. On Dec. 7, 2015, Jones was taken into custody by Somali authorities while he was attempting to procure a boat to depart Somalia for Yemen. [source]

American policing may be slowly collapsing

After years of political abuse which in turn led to actual abuse in the form of increased violence, accusations of racism, assaults, and ambushes, some analysts believe that policing in the U.S. is in a slow state of collapse. Departments are having increased difficulty attracting new recruits — no matter how low standards are dropped (not good) — according to Eugene O’Donnell, a former NYPD officer and current professor of law and police studies at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. NY City is a case study. Under sustained assault by the City Council, pundits and self-styled civil-liberties advocates, a new generation of New York City cops are being conditioned to avoid showdowns with civilians, especially where coercion or force is called for, explained O’Donnell. We could have saved the costly investment in body cameras by explicitly telling the cops two words: “Do nothing,” he wrote in an editorial recently. It’s looking the same in other major cities as well. O’Donnell said he sees similar trends in Chicago, Detroit, Philadelphia, and other big cities. Unbelievably, he reported that in all of 2016 Detroit PD officers never engaged in a single shooting incident with a suspect that resulted in injury or death — even as murders continued to rise in the city. “Police paralysis is great news for the elite critics of the cops but terrible news for the people dragooned in that town” as it “likely signals that police are taking the long and winding road around trouble of all kinds.” [source] Analyst comment: During the Obama era, under the guise of civil rights violations, the Justice Department imposed itself on a number of police departments around the country where officers were involved in shootings of black men, many of whom were unarmed but nearly all of which were deemed justifiable either by departments or by juries. From there, the Obama DoJ mandated rules that hamstrung officers by putting them under a microscope rather than the criminal element. The result of those policies and the effort by Left-leaning political activists like George Soros to elect like-minded local prosecutors who are picking up where the Obama administration left off and targeting cops rather than criminals is having the effect of neutering police. Don’t think for a moment that the criminal element isn’t aware of what’s going on; that’s likely part of the reason why we’re seeing unprecedented levels of animosity directed toward police officers all over the country. This is only going to get worse; the public will suffer this social engineering. 

America’s racial divide, at its worst in decades, may be irreversible

Millions of Americans now believe that the escalating tensions between whites and minorities have reached the point of no return, and the resentment and anger is only being made worse by mainstream efforts to achieve parity and provide social justice. The evidence is seen in the way society reacts to various events. When a female Starbucks manager in Philadelphia called police to remove to black men thought to be loitering — against company policy — the result was that Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz ordered all 175,000 employees to undergo ‘racial sensitivity training’ featuring a video that can only be described as disparaging all whites. When the NFL recently implemented a rule forbidding players from kneeling on the sidelines during the playing of the National Anthem, liberal writers and pundits remarked that it was an effort by largely white owners to subdue the First Amendment rights of black players — though the league has long imposed behavioral rules on its players. And so on. “These incidents, coming as they do 50 years after the historic advances in civil rights, induce a deep pessimism that this country will ever escape from the endlessly boiling cauldron of racial conflict. … For many, race has become a constant preoccupation.” [source] Analyst comment: One could read this as merely the observations of one person or see it for what it is: A timely snapshot of America today. There is no question that our racial divide is worse today than at practically any time in our past, save the ‘60s — the 1860s and 1960s. And for the really bad news, in the era of Obama and Trump, it’s only going to get worse.


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

DHS issues a directive to boost protection of high-value assets 

As hackers become more sophisticated, the Trump administration is making additional moves to protect high-value federal assets. In particular, the Department of Homeland Security has introduced a new directive that aims to implement “a more focused, integrated approach to addressing weaknesses across federal agency HVAs, facilitates ongoing collaboration across cybersecurity teams to drive timely remediation, and ensures senior executive involvement to manage risk across an agency enterprise,” according to Jeanette Manfra, assistant secretary for the Office of Cybersecurity and Communications. Called “Binding Operational Directive 18-01: Securing High Value Assets,” the new initiative is very similar to, and now supersedes, a directive issued by DHS in 2016 requiring agencies, with the department’s assistance, to identify any weaknesses in their high-value assets — systems that “enable the government to conduct essential functions and operations, provide services to citizens, generate and disseminate information, and facilitate greater productivity and economic prosperity. The new directive enhances those efforts, based lessons learned over the past two years, “by expanding system scope, refining assessment methodologies, and using less-constrained penetration testing approaches to resemble tactics, techniques, and procedures used by advanced threat actors attempting to gain unauthorized access,” it explains. The policy ensures that civilian agencies are prepared to work with DHS not only to identify those critical systems but also to conduct risk and vulnerability assessments and security architecture reviews on the systems in question, and then remediating any found vulnerabilities within 30 days. [source]

GAO finds the FAA should improve safety risk management in the age of drones

Finding: “The Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) information on the extent of unsafe use of small unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) in the national airspace system is limited. Although FAA collects data on several types of safety events involving small UAS, the accuracy and completeness of the data are questionable. For example, since 2014, pilots and others have reported to FAA over 6,000 sightings of UAS, often flying near manned aircraft or airports, but FAA officials told GAO that FAA cannot verify that small UAS were involved in most of the sightings. Officials explained that small UAS are often difficult for pilots to identify definitively and typically are not picked up by radar. Such data limitations impede the agency’s ability to effectively assess the safety of small UAS operations. FAA is taking steps to improve its data.” The GAO was requested to examine the issue of small UAS — defined as small unmanned aircraft weighing less than 55 pounds and remotely piloted from within sight of a ground-based operator — are increasingly being used for commercial and recreational purposes. [source] Analyst comment: Congress is growing increasingly concerned about the deployment of these small aircraft — undetected, often — near high-value assets like airports most likely because they have been weaponized by various rebel factions around the world and used effectively to attack installations. 


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

Three resource implications expected from the rise in electric vehicles

Demand for electric vehicles (EV) is increasing apace and is expected to continue rising in the foreseeable future as more people around the world turn away from combustible engine-powered vehicles. But several common assumptions about EVs and the Earth’s resources are misplaced. And in some cases, the common wisdom is almost entirely wrong. 1) Having more electric and hybrid vehicles on the road is expected to reduce oil demand only modestly over the next 10 to 15 years, meaning the world will not arrive at “peak oil” use anytime soon. As internal-combustion-powered vehicles become more efficient and less predominant, global crude-oil demand will continue to grow. Increased oil demand will come from a variety of sources, including industries such as chemicals and aviation; growing regions, notably China and other emerging markets. 2) There is a possibility of a “land squeeze” as public charging points will have to rise significantly to accommodate the increased use of EVs. There are currently more than 400,000 public charging points that support the more than three million EVs now in use globally. This number will have to rise significantly to meet the global EV-adoption increases forecast by 2030. Simply replacing gas stations with charging points or adding more charging points that are the size of gas stations won’t be sufficient to service the expected number of EVs. It will take multiple rapid 120-kilowatt charging stations with eight outlets to dispense a similar amount of range per hour as the standard-size gas station of today. The possibility of a land squeeze will be much greater in Europe and China than in the United States. 3) The price of parts for EVs — especially batteries — will add cost pressures. If EV sales are to meet forecast levels, battery-manufacturing capacity will need to increase too, perhaps as much as threefold by 2020. Technological improvements must also continue apace. Higher EV sales will help reduce battery costs, with major battery manufacturers racing to expand capacity. At the same time, EV growth will put pressure on the costs of crucial battery inputs, including cobalt and lithium, for which demand will rise sharply. Even as a green solution, in other words, EVs will have costs as well as benefits for society, our environment, and the resources we consume. [source]

Experts see the next recession hitting by 2020

The economy may be red-hot for the time being but economists and other experts are already seeing signs that a new recession will hit the U.S. around 2020. The last recession came as the result of the housing crisis back in 2008, but now the housing market continues to return to its cyclical highs. But it won’t be housing that brings the U.S. back in to a recession this time. According to the experts interviewed by Zillow, monetary and trade policies will trigger this next recession. About 48 percent of those surveyed said the recession would begin in 2020, and 22 percent said they expect it to begin in the first quarter of that year. What’s more, even those who disagreed with the 2020 prediction forecasted the recession is near. About 24 percent of respondents said it would fall even sooner, as close as 2019, while another 14 percent forecasted 2021. Only 1 percent of respondents said they expected the next recession to occur after 2022. [source] Analyst comment: Right now President Trump is getting credit for the good economy. He will subsequently be blamed for any downturn in the economy. If these experts are correct, a downturn could effect the outcome of the next presidential election, which is to be held in November 2020.

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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