Strategic Intelligence Summary for 08 November 2018

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: (3,614 words)

  • U.S. general seeks political solution to Afghanistan
  • Finnish commandos raid a Russian outpost
  • Foreign fighters are pouring back into Mindinao
  • Russia probes Trident Juncture 2018
  • CIA experiences breach of COVCOM system
  • Iranian infrastructure comes under another cyber attack
  • EU Commission to form a ‘European Army’
  • Mattis, Pompeo and Chinese officials to hold security talks
  • NATO-Russia, Middle East, Indo-Pacific, Korean Peninsula SITREPs
  • And more…

 Priority Intelligence Requirements:

PIR1: What are the new indicators of disruptive events that could cause global or regional instability?

PIR2: What are the latest military and security developments exhibited by the U.S. and their peer and near-peer adversaries?

PIR3: What is the current situation report and risk of war in each of the four flashpoints? (NATO-Russia, Indo-Pacific, Middle East, North Korea)


PIR1: What are the new indicators of disruptive events that could cause global or regional instability?

GEN Scott Miller, the U.S. commander in Afghanistan, says a political solution is necessary to end the war. He claims that U.S. troops have been in a “more offensive mindset” since he took over, but acknowledges that the U.S. can’t win by force of arms. [source] (Analyst’s Comment: GEN Miller was recently wounded in an insider attack that took the life of Kandahar’s police chief, who was a particularly effective enemy of the Taliban. GEN Miller thinks the Taliban realize they can’t win, either, and are ready to start negotiations. Given the Taliban’s continued success in executing complex and high profile attack — to reiterate: they recently wounded the top U.S. general — it’s unlikely that they would have the same interest in negotiations as GEN Miller does.)

Finnish commandos conducted a raid on a private residence on an island located in an archipelago between Finland and Sweden. The island is owned by a Russian businessman who has ties to Russian president Vladimir Putin. Neighbors in the area say that no one ever visits the place. The ostensible reason given by the Finnish government were suspicions of money laundering, but the island is covered with security cameras, has nine piers, a helipad, swimming pool, apparently enough housing to accommodate a “small army,” and an inordinate number of satellite dishes. More than 400 police officers and military personnel conducted the raid. [source] (Analyst Comment: Finland and Russia have had a tense and sometimes contentious relationship with Russia following the Winter War of 1939. Finland doesn’t belong to NATO, but did send troops to participate in Trident Juncture, which was the largest NATO exercise since the Cold War ended.)

An uninvited Russian long-range maritime reconnaissance plane flew over the USS Mount Whitney (LCC-20), during NATO’s Trident Juncture exercise. Marking a return to Cold War flyovers, the Tu-142 flew over the ship while Marines were on deck for a group photo. Russia is very displeased with the exercise and has stated that it won’t go unanswered. Last week Russia announced it would be conducting missile tests in the Norwegian Sea and sent out a Notice to Airmen (NOTAM). No missile tests were seen, but NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said that any missile testing “will not change the plan of our exercise.” [source]

Foreign fighters are pouring back into Mindanao. Despite the Philippine army having killed over 1,100 Islamic State and Abu Sayyaf fighters in Marawi last year, fighters from Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Morocco, Spain, France, Tunisia, Iraq, Somalia, Egypt, Yemen, Libya, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and China have moved back into the region. Mindanao has thousands of miles of coastline making it virtually impossible to stop a determined foreign fighter from entering the country. Last year’s siege of Marawi caused immense amounts of destruction which has not been addressed, angering the local population. [source] (Analyst Comment: One of the success stories of the Global War on Terror that didn’t get enough attention had been U.S. Special Operations Command’s virtual obliteration of Abu Sayyaf, in conjunction with the Philippine military. When President Duterte demanded the withdrawal of U.S. forces after his election and degraded U.S. military’s capabilities there, this was the predictable outcome.)

The number of U.S. airstrikes in Yemen are down, but Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) is still a “significant” threat. Central Command (CENTCOM) released a statement reporting that the US conducted 36 airstrikes in the region in 2018, about a quarter of the number in 2017. Several AQAP members are thought to serve in senior positions with Al-Qaeda’s general command. AQAP has fought alongside the rebelling Houthis, but they’ve clashed with them as well. The Saudi-UAE coalition has often avoided targeting AQAP and has, in the past, cut deals with the group that have allowed it to conserve its strength. [source] (Analyst Comment: AQAP has a reputation for having some of the most innovative bomb makers in Al-Qaeda. They’re the makers of the underwear bomb and the ink cartridge bomb, for instance. If Saudi Arabia has made deals with AQAP in the past, there might be more than just the diversion of resources responsible for the reduction of U.S. airstrikes against the group.)

CIA experienced a catastrophic breach of its covert communications networks in Iran, China, and other countries. After the Obama administration announced the discovery of a secret Iranian underground uranium enrichment facility, the Iranians stepped up counterintelligence operations. CIA was using an internet-based platform to communicate with assets; “an elementary system” according to one former official. The Iranians used Google to identify the website CIA officers were using, and in 2011 announced they had arrested 30 CIA sources and contacts in the country. Shortly after, China announced that they’d executed 30 agents, leading some to speculate that Iran had shared the information with their Chinese counterparts. [source] (Analyst Comment: An intelligence failure of this magnitude will take decades to overcome, as CIA officers will have to dangerously and painstakingly rebuild access to sources in a country implementing an authoritarian, police state security apparatus. Chinese internal security countermeasures will continue to be very disruptive for CIA operations there, and will certainly degrade U.S. intelligence capabilities.)

Iranian infrastructure and strategic networks have come under attack in the last few days by a computer virus. The virus is said to be more advanced and more sophisticated than Stuxnet, the virus that was used to cripple Iran’s centrifuges. Israeli officials are refusing to say if they had anything to do with it, but this follows a string of Israeli intelligence operations against Iran, including the thwarting of a murder plot in Denmark and Iran has acknowledged that Iranian President Rouhani’s cell phone had been bugged. The Mossad also, in January, reportedly managed to extract from Tehran a vast archive documenting Iran’s nuclear program. [source] (Analyst Comment: This article is dated 31OCT18, so the attack took place only four days before US sanctions against Iran were reimposed, which could lead one to believe that the attack was timed to inflict the most damage it could before the fifth of November. It would also give Iranian IT engineers a very small window to find and fix the virus before the sanctions dropped.)


PIR2: What are the latest military and security developments exhibited by the U.S. and their peer and near-peer adversaries?

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is working to pair Army and Marine helocopter pilots with robot co-pilots. Part of the larger Future Vertical Lift program will be optionally manned airframes. Sikorsky is reporting that they’ve conducted over 300 hours of autonomous flight using an S-76B Sikorsky, a commercial helicopter. The desired outcome is that with autonomy there will be fewer crashes and aviators will be able to concentrate on tasks such mission command, close air support, and medevac rather than flying. [source]

U.S. Cyber Command and the NSA may split into two separate organizations. Since its inception in 2009, U.S. Cyber Command has been operating on the National Security Agency’s networks. According to one official, the need for Cyber Command to have its own infrastructure stems from the diverging mission of the two agencies. NSA’s mission is primarily gathering intelligence and establishing covert access to foreign networks. Cyber Command, on the other hand, might not care about being so covert at times. “In fact, in some cases we want to be overt about what we’re doing — we want to make sure that the adversary knows that we’re there,” said one official. GEN Paul Nakasone, dual hatted as the commander of both NSA and Cyber Command, has recommended against splitting the two entities for at least two more years. [source] (Analyst Comment: New rules of engagement from Trump administration allows Cyber Command a more robust defense as well as new offensive capabilities. Given the ongoing information and cyber operations against the U.S., waiting until the 2020 elections to equip Cyber Command with its own networks and infrastructure seems to be less than prudent.)

Iranian infrastructure and strategic networks have come under attack in the last few days by a computer virus. The virus is said to be more violent, more advanced and more sophisticated than Stuxnet, the virus that was used to cripple Iran’s centrifuges. Israeli officials are refusing to say if they had anything to do with it, but this follows a string of Israeli intelligence coups against Iran including the thwarting of a murder plot in Denmark and Iran has acknowledged that Iranian President Rouhani’s cell phone had been bugged. The Mossad also, in January, managed to extract from Tehran a vast archive documenting Iran’s nuclear program. (source) Analyst’s note: This article is dated 31OCT18, so the attack took place only four days before US sanctions against Iran were reimposed, which could lead one to believe that the attack was timed to inflict the most damage it could before the fifth of November. It would also give Iranian IT engineers a very small window to find and fix the virus before the sanctions dropped.

The United States has squandered a decade-long lead in drone technology. China unveiled a mock-up of the CH-7 combat drone at the Zhuhai Airshow this week and it looks remarkably like the one the U.S. Navy was developing until it dropped the project. The Navy experimented with the X-47B made by Northrop Grumman, looking for a combat drone that could take off from a carrier, conduct reconnaissance deep in enemy territory, and possibly fight it out with enemy aircraft. They dropped the program in 2015, choosing to develop an unmanned aerial refueling tanker instead, the MQ-9 Stingray, which they hope will be ready to field in 2019. [source] (Analyst Comment: The article mentions a cultural reluctance in the Navy towards unmanned combat aircraft. The writing is on the wall: Remote Piloted Aircraft are going to, sooner or later, become the new normal. One of the oldest American tenets of combat is “Send a bullet, not a man.” In the not too distant future we’ll send drones instead of men. Delaying the inevitable only gives China and other nations a vast head start.)

The White House slashed $33 billion from the Pentagon’s 2020 defense budget. The Pentagon is currently fully funded under the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018, and there are big ticket items such as the Air Force’s B21 Raider bomber and the Navy’s quest for a 355 ship navy. Some of these projects will mature around 2021, which will be after the next presidential election. Depending on which party is in power, there might not be the stomach for greater deficit spending and if so, research and development will take the hit. [source] (Analyst Comment: With the Democrats taking control of the House of Representatives it could mean, if not the end of the Trump administration of the defense build-up, at least a significant reduction of it. It will probably not, however, revert to draconian measures such as the Budget Control Act of 2011, commonly referred to as Sequestration.)

 


PIR3: What is the current situation report and risk of war in each of the four? (NATO-Russia, Indo-Pacific, Middle East, North Korea)

NATO-Russia

Significant Developments:

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg is asking the Russians to provide details about Russia’s 9M729 cruise missile. The Intermediate Nuclear Forces (INF) was designed to eliminate all nuclear and conventional missiles with ranges of 500-1000 kilometers. The 9M729 is thought to have a range of 700 kilometers, thereby being in non-compliance with the terms of the treaty. This is one of the reasons the Trump administration is planning to withdraw from the treaty. [source] (Analyst Comment: Withdrawing from the treaty would give the U.S. the ability to significantly complicate Kremlin planning by turning the Aegis Ashore platforms in Poland and Romania into stations for land-based cruise missiles.The Russians likely never believed that the Aegis Ashore missile defense systems in Poland and Romania were there purely as a defense against Iranian missiles, maintaining all along that they were an offensive weapon aimed at Russia. But withdrawing from the treaty and adding land based cruise missiles to the two sites would demand a response from Russia. Up until now, Russia has conducted multi-domain operations in a manner that would not risk an armed response from NATO or its allies. Putting land based cruise missiles on her borders has the possibility of changing that.)

A European Union Army is likely to be formed one day, the European Commission said on Tuesday. The remarks came after French President Emmanuel Macron called for a “real European army.” The intent is to reduce dependence on NATO, which the United States dominates. [source] (Analyst Comment: France and Germany established the Franco-German Brigade almost 30 years ago. Outside of command, just about the only thing they share are berets. They carry the weapons of their home country’s armies and don’t even share radios. A European army wouldn’t likely be any better. Each nation has a defense industry to support, different constitutional rules for the employment of their armed forces, and little interest in funding military spending for some other nation. This sounds more like grandstanding in the wake of the Trump administration’s admonishment of Europe, rather than a die-hard commitment to a pan-European force. There are already several multi-national brigades under NATO command, and that seems to be the more likely model going forward.)

 

Indo-Pacific

Significant Developments:

The USS Ronald Reagan CVN-76 and its carrier strike group joined Japan in conducting the largest ever exercise held between the two nations. The two nations were joined by a Canadian warship for the biennial Keen Sword exercise. The U.S. deployed 57,000 sailors, marines, and airmen, while Japan’s contingent was 47,000 representing a fifth of its nation’s armed forces. [source] (Analyst Comment: Japan is looking for a bigger role in the Pacific given its concerns over North Korea and China. Japan’s pacifist constitution prohibits the Japanese Maritime Self Defense Force from having aircraft carriers, but the Izumo class of “Helicopter Carrier-Destroyer” is perfectly capable of landing and launching the F35B Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter and the V-22 Osprey.)

Seeking to ease tensions, the U.S. and China will hold top level security talks on Friday. Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis will meet with his counterpart GEN Wei Fenghe and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will meet with the second highest ranking official in China, Yang Jiechi. The meetings will take place in Washington, DC. “Strategic competition does not imply hostility,” remarked Mattis, who made the comment at a Middle East security conference last week. [source] (Analyst Comment: The tone of the rhetoric, on both sides, has become increasingly bellicose. But the fact is that the administration has managed to get China’s attention on these matters in a way that previous administrations were not. Getting China to the negotiating table is a good first step, but China plays the long game very well. The carrot and stick approach has worked for now, but it could backfire if China does just enough to appease until a new administration takes over in 2020.)

 

 

Middle East 

Significant Developments:

Joint U.S.-Kurdish patrols in Syria are unacceptable, says Turkey. The U.S. conducted joint patrols with the Kurdish led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) last week in northern Syria. The patrols were in response to Turkey’s shelling of Kurdish positions a week ago. The Kurds also accused Turkey of carrying out at least six attacks across the border, killing one Kurdish fighter and a border guard. Turkey has been battling a decades long insurgency against Kurds in Turkey (known as the PKK, the Kurdistan Worker’s Party) and consider the Kurds who form the majority of the SDF (known as the YPG, the People’s Protection Units) as an extension of that group. Turkish President Recep Erdogan said earlier that his country has a “comprehensive and effective operation” to drive the Kurdish militia back from the border region. [source] As a peace offering, the U.S. offered substantial rewards for information leading to the capture of three senior members of the PKK, but President Erdogan said that Turkey will not ease its stance against the YPG. (Analyst Comment: Turkey has become increasingly belligerent towards the United States. The day after the U.S. reimposed sanctions on Iran, Erdogan said that Turkey would not abide with the sanctions, calling them wrong and aimed at “unbalancing the world.” This gap between Turkey and the U.S. gives ISIS the space it needs to continue operations (and survive) and drives Turkey closer to Russia, even though Turkey is a NATO member.)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made an unannounced visit to Oman on Friday, the first such visit in 20 years. The prime minister has long talked of his ties with key Arab states, but the visible evidence of these ties has been absent. Netanyahu met with the longtime ruler of Oman, Sultan Qaboos bin Said. Israel’s transportation minister is headed to Oman this week for a transportation conference where he will present plans for a rail line between Israel and the Gulf Arab countries. [source] (Analyst Comment: The small country of Oman has maintained a role as mediator in the region. It did not, for instance, participate in the boycott of Qatar initiated by the Gulf Cooperation Council, even though it is a member. That this flurry of Israeli engagement with gulf nations two days before the U.S. imposed sanction were to hit Iran would be hard to be thought of as a coincidence.)

On Monday the Trump administration reimposed all the sanctions on Iran that had been lifted by the Obama administration. The sanction will impact shipping, financial, and energy sectors. It’s the second set of sanctions imposed by the Trump administration since withdrawing from the 2015 nuclear deal in May. The sanctions are aimed at “fundamentally altering the behavior of the Islamic Republic of Iran” according Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Eight nations, however, have received temporary waivers that will allow them to continue to import Iranian petroleum products, among them Italy, India, Japan, and South Korea, but only for a definite period of time after which they will have to end their imports entirely. [source] (Analyst Comment: Tehran has weathered these sanctions before, but if the government is forced to cut fuel and food subsidies to the population again it could experience the same sort of protests it saw in 2009. Just as the Shah learned in 1979, brutal crackdowns work for only so long. That the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps will side with the government is a given. But the key question will be, as it usually is, what will the army do?)

The two week long Shield of the Arabs I exercise started in Egypt on Saturday. The exercise brings together troops and advisors from eight nations, including Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Kuwait, Bahrain and Jordan. Advisers from Lebanon and Morocco will also attend. But the exercise underscores the fragmented nature of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and its ongoing feud with Qatar, which is being excluded from the event. The Middle East Strategic Alliance (MESA) has been repeatedly delayed after the idea was first broached by Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman (commonly referred to as MbS) as a type of Middle Eastern NATO. The Trump administration is withholding its support hoping to get the GCC to resolve their row with Qatar so that the entire GCC can present a united front to Iran. It’s  been historically difficult to get the Arab nations to form an encompassing alliance. GEN Anthony Zinni in 1997, when he was the CENTCOM commander tried to create an Arab alliance in order to counter Iran instead of using U.S. forces, but it stalled — so did a plan to develop a GCC wide missile shield by the Obama administration. A number of Arab states severed ties with Qatar last year accusing it of exporting terrorism, shielding terrorists, and being too close to Iran. The stakes for the U.S. are high here: al-Udeid Air Base is a critical hub for lift throughout the theater and Doha (the capital of Qatar) has just announced that it’s going to spend $1.8 billion dollars on upgrades to the base.

 

North Korea

Significant Developments:

South Korea and the U.S. are changing roles in their military alliance. During the last 65 years, the U.S. and Korea have agreed that in case hostilities break out, the U.S. commander would have authority over both U.S. and Korean forces. Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis and his South Korean counterpart signed a guiding set of principles that will shift that responsibility to South Korea. There will still be a combined force, but in 2022, the command will go to a South Korean general. The document also reiterates that American forces will stay on the peninsula for the foreseeable future. [source] (Analyst Comment: Pyongyang will welcome this development. North Korea has already been able to get the annual exercises cancelled on the peninsula and any diminishing of American authority will be a welcome development.)

A no-fly zone and cessation of military drills along the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) took effect on 01NOV18. The no-fly zone extends 25 miles north and south of the Military Demarcation Line. The agreement also brings to a halt live fire drills involving missiles and aircraft in the no-fly zone. [source] (Analyst Comment: North Korea is also taking steps to reduce tension in the region by “covering artillery deployed along the skirmish prone western shore,” but the report doesn’t exactly define what that means. Seoul, South Korea’s most densely populated city and seat of government, is 35 miles from the DMZ and on any given day has hundreds of North Korean artillery pointed directly at it. If North Korea’s intentions are covertly nefarious, a no-fly zone would give them more ability to maneuver whatever forces they wanted to right up to the DMZ in almost complete secrecy.)

 

// END REPORT

– S.C.

 

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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