[Strategic Intelligence Summary] for 10 November – Forward Observer Shop

[Strategic Intelligence Summary] for 10 November

ADMIN NOTE: The Holiday Season is upon us. Both Strategic Intelligence and Low Intensity Conflict will be published on Friday, 24 November on the week of Thanksgiving. The week of Christmas (25-29 December), we will be publishing both reports in a shorter format. After the new year, Strategic Intelligence will be published regularly on Thursdays, and Low Intensity Conflict on Fridays. Thank you for the support, and we hope that you have a wonderful rest of the year with us.

ADMIN NOTEx2: Jon and I are going to spend the rest of this year trying out different reporting formats. After a few subscribers mentioned the length of the long form SITREPs, we’re going to let you try out a bullet format. We both want this report to be informational and useful; our job as we see it is to create as much utility in these reports as possible. Beginning in the next report, I’ll be adding weekly commentary on the how-to’s of intelligence and security, with time-tested intelligence and security doctrine, along with new resources that I find. I’ll mainly focus on how to use intelligence collection and analysis to the ends of community security, since we cover strategic threats that may end up having local or tactical consequences. We’re also going to expand our reporting to include more traditional threats in PIR1. Please let us know your thoughts, and how you like this reporting format.


Priority Intelligence Requirements:

PIR1: What are new indicators of systems disruption or instability that could lead to civil unrest or violence?
PIR2: What is the current risk of war with the four flashpoints?
PIR3: Defense in Brief – What are the new pre-war developments in the U.S. military and defense industrial base?

PIR1: What are new indicators of systems disruption that could lead to instability, civil unrest, or violence?

USG clearance backlog plaguing clearance rates

The U.S. government has a national security background check backlog of more than 700,000 people because the government is still using Industrial Age, manual processes with which to clear government employees. Worse, the backlog is growing by some 10,000 per month. This security clearance backlog means that qualified national security personnel hiring is slowed to a crawl, with most applicants waiting nearly a year before starting their jobs. In extreme cases, the process can drag on more than two years, during which time employees are often given temporary clearances to handle top secret information. This is a critical security risk that directly affects the government’s ability to protect the nation — from terrorists, foreign and domestic, and other threats.


The Pauls warn of eventual economic collapse

Dr. Ron Paul, former long-serving U.S. representative from Texas and leading voice for limited, constitutional government, low taxes, the free market and sound money, said nothing much has changed since the Great Recession of 2008-09 in terms of government monetary and financial policy. “We still have a system where we encourage people to borrow money, that debt doesn’t matter, and we’re not going to cut taxes, and we’re not even going to admit that we spend too much money,” he said recently. “Nobody can cut anything — that’s why Washington is at a stalemate.” Paul, whose son is Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), added that Americans are over-taxed and over-regulated, resulting “in a destructive system that has divided the country into two groups: Those who haven’t recovered from the great financial crisis versus those who are getting very rich because they’re on the receiving end of the new money created by the Federal Reserve.” An eventual collapse “will be driven by the marketplace,” he added, saying current policies will continue “until this whole thing collapses.”


CIA releases UBL files

The CIA has released thousands of documents and other files that were recovered from the U.S. Navy SEAL raid on the Pakistan compound where Al Qaeda founder Usama bin Laden was killed. The documents are said to have provided “invaluable insights” into the terrorist organization’s operations, but more importantly, the documents confirmed previous reporting on its ties to Iran. Through those ties, the U.S. State Department has designated Iran as the “foremost state sponsor of terrorism.” Authors of a report published by the Long War Journal say it will take years for experts and researchers to “comb through this treasure trove of information,” but preliminary findings indicate that bin Laden continued planning for another 9/11-style terrorist attack against America. In addition, the authors noted that “al Qaeda has adapted and in some ways grown, spreading its insurgency footprint in countries where it had little to no capacity for operations in 2001.”


PIR2: What is the current risk of war with the four flashpoints?

South China Sea SITREP

— Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte appears to be backing away from earlier efforts to cozy up to China. He pledged to bring up South China Sea territorial disputes with Chinese President Xi Jinping this week. When asked what he expected from the meeting, Duterte said it was time for Xi to inform the Philippines and all members of the ASEAN alliance exactly what China wants and what its goals are. “You want to control the passage, or do we have free passage? Unbridled, undisturbed, unmolested,” he told reporters this week. Meanwhile, others believe Duterte is playing China against the U.S. and Japan and doing so nicely. The Filipino leader has flip-flopped on who he supports more — China or the U.S. and its allies — while the U.S., Japan, and South Korea scramble to provide his nation with “goodies” in order to win his support. It’s deftly done diplomacy, no question about it, but at some point, he’ll have to decide whether U.S. democracy or Chinese authoritarianism is more favorable. China will press that issue first via outsized territorial claims.

— That said, Duterte appears to be bending to China’s will, at least for the time being. He ordered work halted on a sandbar in a disputed region of the South China Sea after Beijing complained about it. It could just be that Duterte is attempting to assuage China ahead of a meeting in Vietnam with Xi this weekend, but China invoked a previous agreement between the two countries to maintain the status quo and not occupy any new land features — an agreement that benefits China, since Beijing has reclaimed far more South China Sea area through construction of artificial islands.

— The Chinese just launched a massive new “island-building” ship that is itself designed to create precisely the same kind of islands the country has already built (and it was unveiled on the eve of President Trump’s visit). China has previously militarized most of the islands it’s built.

Outlook: The U.S. and China are not on a collision course to war in the near-term — far from it at this point — but the trends are thus: China appears set to continue its island-building; the Philippines wants China to clarify what it intends to do in the South China Sea (which will no doubt influence Duterte’s choice of who to get in bed with and stay); and the presence of three U.S. aircraft carrier battle groups in the western Pacific was every bit as much a signal to China as it was to North Korea that the U.S. is also in the region for the long haul.


Middle East SITREP

— The proxy war between arch-rivals Saudi Arabia and Iran is growing this week. For years the two have engaged in their own cold war, but after the ‘defeat’ of the Islamic State, Iran will have more time to focus on expanding its reach in Syria, Lebanon, and Iraq. That has the Saudi crown prince preparing to counter Iranian influence in a major way.

— Meanwhile, the Saudis are blaming Iran for a missile fired by its proxy forces in Yemen last weekend. The Saudis, using a U.S.-made Patriot PAC-3 anti-missile battery, downed the Houthi rebel-launched missile, but nevertheless blamed Tehran, saying the launch — which targeted King Khalid International Airport near the capital of Riyadh — was an “act of war.”

— The Saudis also accused neighboring Lebanon of declaring war on the kingdom because of aggression from Iran-backed Lebanese Shi’ite group Hezbollah, which Iran has helped to spread influence within the Lebanese government while arming the militant group. “Lebanon has been thrust to the center of regional rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Iran since the Saudi-allied Lebanese politician Saad al-Hariri quit as prime minister on Saturday, blaming Iran and Hezbollah in his resignation speech,” Reuters reported.

— Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, before he was named by his father King Salman as successor to the throne, declared that peace dialogue with Iran was impossible.

— When bin Salman was still deputy crown prince, he met with President Trump in March, with both men declaring the Iran was the key threat to regional security. In May, Trump visited Saudi Arabia, with the Saudi portion of the agenda arranged personally by bin Salman, which was seen as a great diplomatic coup for him. During that visit Trump also green-lighted new Saudi-led efforts to clamp down on terrorism in the region — which Riyadh seems to be taking specifically as Iranian-led terrorism.

Bin Salman secretly visited Israel in September, where the primary topic of discussion was what to do about Iran. The Israelis seem to be preparing for war against principal Iranian proxy Hezbollah in Lebanon, a conflict that, once it starts, could eventually draw in actual Iranian troops.

— The ongoing Saudi political purge, some believe, is aimed at clearing out any remaining pockets of resistance to anti-Iranian pushes.

Outlook: A direct conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran isn’t just likely at this juncture, it appears to be inevitable. What a wider war involving the two biggest powers in the Middle East other than Israel will do to the global economy — which is driven by energy prices, primarily — is anyone’s guess, but suffice to say the financial impact of regional power war between two of the largest oil producers won’t be good. Also, should a full-blown war break out, it’s hard to see the U.S. avoid supporting the Saudis directly via increased weapons and intelligence support. China and Russia may follow suit and offer such aid to Iran.


North Korea SITREP

— On his first Asian tour this week, President Trump declared that the “era of strategic patient is over” when it comes to the U.S. and its dealings with North Korea. “Some people have said my rhetoric is very strong,” Trump said in Japan alongside Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. “But look at what’s happened with very weak rhetoric over the last 25 years. Look where we are now.”

— There are three U.S. Navy carrier battle groups currently operating in the western Pacific, in the region of North Korea and China. A single carrier battle group sends a very strong message to a potential adversary, so imagine the message that three groups is sending. On tap: The first exercises involving three carrier groups in a decade. This is a big deal.

— Some reports noted this week that North Korea can likely no longer use its nuclear explosion test site because it is leaching deadly radiation into the area. There are reports of “deformed babies” and dying vegetation, with the area turning into a “wasteland” of radiation-contaminated destruction. The Research Association of Vision of North Korea interviewed 21 North Korean defectors who lived in Kilju, a nearby town north of the Punngye-ri nuclear test site where six tests have been conducted. They said babies are being born with birth defects and residents fear widespread radiation contamination.

— If that’s true, that means Pyongyang may make good on its previous threats to test a nuclear device over the Pacific Ocean, an event that could finally trigger a preemptive U.S. and allied military strike against North Korea.

Outlook: Trump’s trip and his warnings have had no outward effect on the regime of Kim Jong-un. The United States will continue to stare into the “abyss of doom” until “lunatic old” President Trump is removed from office, according to a North Korean missive Wednesday, released just hours after Trump warned the rogue regime not to “try” America. This attitude, coupled with the likelihood of above-ocean nuclear testing, may just be the two things that force Trump’s hand.



– Russian defense officials leveled a number of serious charges against NATO this week. Upon news that NATO is reforming its command structure, a Russian diplomat accused NATO of reverting back to Cold War models. “It is evident now that, by making such decisions, NATO members were apparently inspired by Cold War-era strategies,” he said. In an apparent rebuttal to NATO secretary-general saying that the military restructure was not directed at any nation specifically, the Russian diplomat said, “Although measures to adjust NATO’s military potential are explained by the need to repel threats in all directions, it is evident that the task of confrontation with Russia lies at the core of those efforts.”

– Its true that NATO is creating two additional command elements for the military alliance. One will focus on clearing sea channels for NATO ships, should war break out with Russia. The other’s key task is implementing better mobility for the staging, mobilization, and deployment of NATO military units across Europe. For decades, U.S. Army units have especially been hamstrung by the labyrinth of regulations and paperwork when transiting through European countries. Last month, U.S. Army Europe commander LTG Ben Hodges pointed out that this is a problem that must be solved in the U.S. Army is expected to keep pace with the deployment speed of the Russian Army. (Even Secretary of Defense Mattis this week mentioned that recent NATO exercises have shown that military units are slow to move within Europe.)

– Also this week, the Russian defense minister directly accused NATO member nations of preparing for nuclear strikes. “On the eastern flank [NATO] has intensified operative and combat training activities, including nuclear weapons use procedures [to be used against Russia].” This accusation, of course, comes on the heels of Russia’s most recent ballistic missile tests.

Outlook: The media took a collective sigh of relief after the end of Zapad 2017, but the underlying conditions between NATO and Russia remain the same. Both NATO and Russian officials are serious about doing their best to prepare for a potential war, even if conditions appear to be stable right now. North Korea is largely overshadowing conditions in Europe, but the feeling is that European news outlets — especially ones in Poland and the Baltics — are treating the situation very seriously. Just this week, one prominent Polish newspaper accused Russian nuclear weapons of being aimed at U.S. missile defense at bases in the northern part of the country.

Defense in Brief:

A growing maintenance backlog of U.S. Navy submarines threatens to idle as many as 15 boats for years at a time. While current sub deployments are meeting day-to-day demands of the force, the backlog means fewer subs would be available to reinforce forward-deployed forces should there be a crisis. “If you have a submarine that’s tied up in the shipyard, then obviously they’re not operating,” said Vice Adm. Joseph Tofalo, commander, Submarine Forces. “It’s probably most manifest in our ability to surge in time of crisis. We meet our combatant commander (COCOM) demand on a day-to-day basis, but the impact would be, if there’s a crisis, then your surge tank is low.” That’s a lot of military-speak to say simply that the Navy wouldn’t have enough subs to back up forward-deployed subs or, Heaven forbid, replace subs lost in battle.

Speaking of U.S. submarines, the planned Columbia class of boats is staying on schedule as cost-per-vessel falls to about $7.2 billion each, according to program officials. The ballistic missile subs are slated to begin replacing Ohio class vessels in the coming years. “It’s a complex project, it’s a very big submarine – it’s two and a half times the size of a Virginia-class submarine, and we’re going to build it in the same timeframe as the first Virginia class that we built – so the challenge is big,” said the program executive officer, Rear Adm. Michael Jabaley.

The Pentagon and the Trump administration believe that Russia is continuing to violate the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty. Adm. Harry Harris, commander of U.S. Pacific Command, recently testified to Congress that “there are only two countries that signed on to and one of them doesn’t follow it. That becomes a unilateral limitation on us.” China has between 1,400 and 1,800 ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles that would be banned under the terms of the treaty, but they’re not signatories and don’t have to comply; right now, only the U.S. is complying. Moscow’s violations are not new; throughout most of the Obama administration Russia was permitted to violate the INF treaty without any ramifications from the White House or Congress.

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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