Strategic Intelligence Summary for 02 May 2019 – Forward Observer Shop

Strategic Intelligence Summary for 02 May 2019

Strategic Intelligence

Strategic Intelligence contains intelligence reporting on the state of global security and instability, geostrategic issues affecting the United States, pre-war indicators, and assessments on the current risk of war. This report is available each week for Intelligence subscribers.


In this Strategic Intelligence Summary…

  • US send two destroyers through Strait of Taiwan
  • USN CNO; Navy’s new strategy is to “Force Our Competitors to Respond”
  • Trump, Erdogan discuss S-400 working group
  • Trump administration saves the aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman
  • Hungry Beluga whale with Russian kit makes contact with Norwegian fishermen
  • Former CIA officer pleads guilty to spying for China
  • China launches twice the output of US shipyards in two years
  • Flashpoint SITREPs (NATO-Russia, Indo-Pacific, Middle East, North Korea, Venezuela)


Priority Intelligence Requirements:

PIR1: What are the latest significant developments, mobilizations, and deployments of U.S. or adversary units?

PIR2: How are traditional allies, security partners, and other countries responding to potential conflict?

PIR3: How are ‘great powers’ pursuing DIME effects / military-operations-other-than-war in their attempts to subvert, disrupt, and otherwise diminish U.S. power?

PIR4: What is the current situation report and risk of war in each of the four flashpoints? (NATO-Russia, Indo-Pacific, Middle East, North Korea, Venezuela)


PIR1: What are the latest significant developments, mobilizations, and deployments of U.S. or adversary units?

US sends two destroyers through Strait of Taiwan

On Sunday 28APR19, the US Navy sent the destroyers USS William P. Lawrence (DDG-110) and the USS Stetham (DDG-63) through the Strait of Taiwan. The Freedom of Navigation Operations (FONOPs) were a clear signal to China that the USN will operate wherever it is legally allowed to do so. It also was a show of support for Taiwan, which China regards as a breakaway province. (source) But in an earlier (and unusual) development, France sent the frigate Vendemiaire (F734) through the strait on 06APR19 resulting in France’s invitation to China’s naval review being rescinded. China sent ships to shadow the frigate and warned it to not navigate the strait, to no avail. (source) (Analyst Comment: The US is bound by law to help defend the island nation, but France is under no such obligation and one wonders just how much interest it has in the Pacific. France just concluded deals worth billions of euros with China which makes this FONOP notable. If, in the future, we see other nations conducting FONOPs in the Strait, it would be safe to assume that the US is coordinating the effort.)

Navy’s new strategy is to “force our competitors to respond”

At a New America Foundation event on Tuesday, 30APR19 Chief of Naval Operations ADM John Richardson said, “In the ideal world we would want our competitors to respond to our moves instead of responding to them…We would want to make many of the first moves on our own.” He went on to say that the FONOPs conducted by the Lawrence and Stetham (see above), were part of that broader strategy. “It goes to this idea of response time as well, so we can respond and anticipate” the actions of competitors. (source) (Analyst Comment: This seems to shift the emphasis from conducting naval operations wherever legal to something just short of provocation. That’s an important distinction. One could argue that this new strategy reflects the authoritarian regimes’ “grey zone” strategy of conducting operations that pursues the interests of nation players just up to the point of getting into a major shooting war with a peer/near peer adversary.  So it could be looked at as fighting fire with fire. But it does not come without a substantial amount of risk.) (SC: China remains dedicated to supplanting U.S. power and influence without fighting a war. This looks to me like a recognition of that fact and, as Pete outlines, ‘fighting fire with fire.‘)


PIR2: How are traditional allies, security partners, and other countries responding to potential conflict?

Trump, Erdogan discuss S-400 working group

President Trump and Turkish President Erdogan discussed a Turkish proposal to create a joint working group on Turkey’s planned purchase of a Russian S-400 air defense system. The two countries, both NATO ‘allies,’ have argued for months over Turkey’s order for the system. The US and NATO contend that the system is incompatible with the F-35 Lightning II stealth fighter. (source) (Analyst Comment: The Russian S-400 is the very system the F-35 is designed to penetrate. While Turkey may declare that it won’t compromise any secrets that come with the F-35s, the S-400, as we’ve written about before, will come with hundreds, if not thousands of Russian support personnel to install the system and train the Turks on how to use it. They would have no hesitance in trying to collect on the F-35 aircraft. Just last year, the US Senate introduced a bill that would have prevented the sale of F-35’s to Turkey if it went ahead with the S-400 buy. (source) Now President Erdogan, after one phone call to President Trump, has gotten him to consider a “working group” which, it’s safe to assume, will work diligently to minimize the threat to the F-35 from the missile system. But on Tuesday, 30APR19 Erdogan said at a defense industry fair that excluding Turkey from the F-35 project will result in a complete collapse of the program. It’s possible that he actually believes it and is using Turkey’s piece of the manufacturing base of the F-35 as a bargaining chip. We have, however, reported in the past that former defense secretary Jim Mattis thought that losing the parts that Turkey manufactures could result in a delay in production up to two years; which would not be an entire collapse of the system.)

Trump administration saves the USS Harry S. Truman

On Tuesday 30APR19, Vice President Mike Pence made the announcement to crew members of the USS Harry S. Truman (CVN-75), but apparently not the Navy, that President Trump would save the Truman from being decommissioned 25 years ahead of schedule. “President Donald Trump asked me to deliver a message.. We are keeping the best carrier in the world in the fight. We are not retiring the Truman.” The carrier was scheduled to undergo a lengthy and expensive ($3.5bn) midlife refueling process beginning in 2024. As recently as Monday 29APR19, the Chief of Naval Operations, ADM John Richardson, defended the Navy’s plan to retire the carrier instead of refueling, arguing that the service needed to look forward to new technologies. Lawmakers had been skeptical of the plan. (Analyst Comment: It was always hard to see how the Navy was going to pull off retiring the Truman half-way through its service life. US Code Title 10, Subtitle C, Part I, Chapter 507, 5062 specifically states that the combat forces of the Navy shall include no less than 11 operational carriers. Assuming that the next two Ford-class carriers won’t become operational on time, or even a couple of years after that, retiring the Truman early would have driven that number down to nine. And the Truman is based in Virginia, a state with a powerful congressional delegation that would look askance at losing all the revenue that comes with having close to 6,000 sailors stationed in Norfolk and that’s not including the jobs at Newport News Shipbuilding. It’s one of the largest employers in the Hampton Roads region.)

PIR3: How are ‘great powers’ pursuing soft power in their attempts to subvert, disrupt, and otherwise diminish U.S. power?

Former CIA officer pleads guilty to spying for China

Former CIA officer Jerry Chun Shing Lee pleaded guilty on Wednesday, 01MAY19, to conspiracy to commit espionage for China in a case linked to the loss of numerous Agency spies in China. Lee is a naturalized US citizen living in Hong Kong. He supplied documents and information to the Chinese Ministry of State Security (MSS) after being recruited during a 2010 meeting in Shenzhen, China. Lee joined CIA in 1994 and left the agency in 2007. In 2012, the FBI raided his hotel room when he was in Honolulu and found notes identifying “intelligence provided by CIA assets, true names of assets, operational meeting locations, phone numbers, and information about covert facilities.” That information was classified at the secret level. (source) (Analyst Comment: In 2010 the CIA experienced a communications failure that led to the death of dozens of assets in Iran and China, so Lee’s 2010 recruitment by the MSS could tie him to that debacle. This is the third prosecution of a Chinese asset in the past twelve months, and we’ve reported before about the data breach at the Office of Personnel Management in 2015 where the security records of as many as four million personnel were hacked. The MSS has had three years to sift through the data, identify, and recruit potential spies. The point here is that it is only prudent to assume that Mr. Lee is the tip of the Chinese espionage iceberg.)

Gingrich: Chinese are playing ‘Go’

In Thursday morning remarks at the Heritage Foundation, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich explained the Chinese game called ‘Go,’ in which players win not by fighting their opponents but my outmaneuvering them. He continued to explain that China recently signed a trade deal with Italy to add them to the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). That deal essentially purchased a main Italian port. Meanwhile, another BRI deal secured access to a major port for Germany. China now has access to or controls over a dozen European ports, as they outmaneuver the U.S. on Euro trade. Gingrich intimated that the U.S. was being outmaneuvered by China.


PIR4: What is the current situation report and risk of war in each of the four flashpoints? (NATO-Russia, Indo-Pacific, Middle East, North Korea)


Beluga whale with Russian kit makes contact with Norwegian fishermen

A Beluga whale with a tight harness that had “Equipment St. Petersburg” written on one of the straps approached a Norwegian fishing boat in the Arctic. Joar Hesten, one of the fishermen, reported a tame, white cetacean with a tight harness swimming around his boat last week. He and Joergen Ree Wiig jumped in the water and removed the harness, which was equipped with a mount for a camera. A professor at the University of Norway said, “It is most likely that the Russian Navy in Murmansk” is involved. Russia does have a history of using mammals for military purposes having in 2016 publishing a tender to buy five dolphins, stipulating that they needed good teeth. But this is the first time Beluga whales have been thought to have been used by the Russians. (source) (Analyst Comment: The intriguing note here is the camera mount. A camera, obviously, would denote some sort of reconnaissance or early warning mission for the whales. Beluga whales are especially adapted to the Arctic and while being slow swimmers, they can dive up to 2300 feet (700 meters). They inhabit the Arctic Circle in the winter and when the sea ice melts they move to warmer river estuaries and coastal areas. The article describes the mount as one for an “action camera,” which would lead one to think of a GoPro type device. Unless the camera has some sort of communications link to transmit images in real time, that would indicate that the animal would be taking pictures while moving and then bringing those images back to its handler. If one is equipping pods of Belugas with GoPro cameras and launching them from Murmansk and recovering them in the same place, one possible mission could be to detect undersea threats in the Arctic Circle. The Russians have been aggressively militarizing parts of the Arctic and, as we’ve warned before, is now a ‘third front’ in the cold war.)


China launches twice the output of US shipyards in two years

Between 2015 and 2017, China launched 400,000 tons of naval vessels, just around twice the output of US shipyards in the same period. The People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) now has about 400 warships and submarines. By 2030, the Chinese navy could have more than 530 warships and submarines. The Chinese navy has also developed an edge in firepower; the best Chinese destroyers, frigates, fast attack craft and subs are armed with anti-ship missiles that in most cases out-range and outperform those on US warships. (source) But the PLAN isn’t the only Chinese player in the east Pacific. In an interview with the Financial Times, USN CNO ADM John Richardson said that he told Chinese Vice Admiral Shen Jinlong in January that Washington would respond to aggressive acts by non-naval ships, such as Chinese coast guard and fishing vessels, the same way it deals with the PLAN. China has militarized its maritime fleet, turning it into a quasi-militia. It uses this “maritime militia” to further its interests in the South China Sea and to achieve its political goals. (source) (Analyst Comment: China could use its maritime militia to conduct a sort of swarm tactic in the region. If China was, for example, to fill the Taiwan Strait with a fishing fleet capable of harassing US naval vessels, exactly what would the US response be? Sinking fishing vessels would be a dangerous escalation and the optics on the world stage would be terrible. They could also provide early warning; if a carrier strike group has to get within 600 miles of its target before it can launch its air component, what would be the best course of action if it ran into far-ranging fishing vessels at 800 miles out? One assumes that there is some sort of electronic warfare measure that could prevent communications between hostile ship and shore, but would one bet a carrier strike group on it? China wants a free hand to operate in what it considers its backyard, the west Pacific. It might be that before too long, the US will not be able to stop them.)


Earlier this week, opposition leader Juan Guaidó staged what appeared to be a coup attempt against President Nicolas Maduro’s regime. According to various reports, here’s what we know:
— Guaidó called on elements of the military and on Venezuelans themselves to join in what he termed the “final phase of Operation Liberty” — to throw off the last vestiges of Maduro’s rule.
— Early reports said that rival Venezuelan troops — those loyal to Maduro and those loyal to Guaidó — exchanged gunfire in the capital of Caracas. Photos from reporters on the scene showed Guaidó loyalists setting up firing positions armed with heavy machine guns. Others showed clouds of tear gas wafting over parts of the nation’s capital as civilians caught in the crossfire ran for cover.
— Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told various U.S. media outlets that 1) the Trump administration remained committed to using force “if necessary” to help bring down Maduro, which has been a foreign policy objective of this administration; 2) Maduro was actually on his way out of the country — he had a plane waiting for him and at least some members of his government — at the airport in Caracas, but Russia “intervened” and encouraged him to stay.
Pompeo said: “If the question is, is the United States prepared to consider military action if that’s what it takes to restore the democracy there in Venezuela, the president’s been consistent and unambiguous about that.” He said this in response to a claim by the Venezuelan ambassador to the UN that the U.S. was behind a 3,000-strong force gathering in Colombia to assist in overthrowing Maduro by force of arms.
“The option to use military force is available if that’s what is ultimately called for. We hope it’s not, we hope there can be a peaceful resolution and that Maduro will leave without violence,” Pompeo added.
Regarding Russia, he said: “[Maduro] had an airplane on the tarmac; he was ready to leave this morning, as we understand it, and the Russians indicated he should stay. We think the situation remains incredibly fluid. We know that there were senior leaders inside the Maduro government that were prepared to leave. They told as much over the past few weeks. And we’re convinced that the Venezuelan people are going to get their democracy back.”
— Venezuela’s chief of the secret police, Manuel Ricardo Cristopher Figuera, has publicly broken with Maduro. The head of the Bolivarian Intelligence Service (SEBIN) said in a letter made public that he always supported Maduro but the time had come to try to “rebuild the country.”
— National Security Adviser John Bolton says that three key Maduro officials — the defense minister, the chief judge of the supreme court and the commander of Maduro’s presidential guard — had privately pledged to help remove Maduro. The defense minister, Vladimir Padrino López, has thus far publicly condemned Guaidó’s rebellion.
— One Republican congressman, Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, told Fox News host Tucker Carlson this week that Russia has placed nuclear missiles in the country, echoing the Cuban Missile Crisis of the early 1960s. In discussing fears that Russia and China will increase their presence in Venezuela if Maduro remains in power, Diaz-Balart said, “The closest we every came to nuclear war was because the Russians put missiles, right, nuclear missiles in Cuba.” Carlson responded, “Are you saying the Russians will put nuclear missiles in Venezuela?” Diaz-Balart replied: “What I am suggesting is that they are already there.” [SOURCE]
(Analyst Comment: The wildcard in this was and remains Russia. The fact that Moscow was able to deter Maduro from fleeing is significant; what did Russia promise — armed assistance? Russia is denying Pompeo’s claim, but it’s possible, given that Russian mercenaries from the Wagner Group were reported to have landed in Venezuela in January specifically to protect Maduro. The thing to remember is that Russia has sunk billions into Venezuela’s oil industry and Vladimir Putin does not want to lose his investment.)


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