Strategic Intelligence Summary for 09 May 2019 – Forward Observer Shop

Strategic Intelligence Summary for 09 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…

  • Is Iran feeling froggy?
  • Pompeo warns UK over Huawei
  • Germany turns to the East?
  • Pompeo pledges to confront Russia and China in the Arctic
  • Endgame in Syria
  • North Korea tests short-range missiles
  • China acquired NSA tools and used them to attack US allies
  • Flashpoint SITREPs (NATO-Russia, Indo-Pacific, Middle East, North Korea)


PIR1: What are the latest mobilizations and deployments of US or adversary units to potential flashpoint areas?

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

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)

PIR4: How are ‘great powers’ pursuing DIME effects/military-operations-other-than-war in their attempts to subvert, disrupt, and otherwise diminish US power?



PIR1: What are the latest mobilizations and deployments of US or adversary units to potential flashpoint areas?

Is Iran feeling froggy?

Citing “indications and warnings” National Security Advisor John Bolton said the deployment of the USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN-75) and her attendant Carrier Strike Group (CSG) is to show Iran that the United State will retaliate with “unrelenting force” to any attack. A U.S. official said the move had been ordered “as a deterrence to what has been seen as potential preparations by Iranian forces and its proxies that may indicate possible attacks on US forces in the region.”

Speaking on condition of anonymity, the official went on to say the US was not expecting any imminent Iranian attack. The administration is also sending a bomber task force to the US Central Command region. (source)

(Analyst Comment: Every report read on this matter is short on exactly what imminent threat Iran poses to the U.S. in the Middle East. The intelligence on the attacks was apparently supplied by Israel. (source) Secretary of State Mike Pompeo abruptly cancelled a meeting with the German foreign minister and landed briefly in Baghdad on Tuesday, 07MAY10, in order to show support for a “sovereign, independent” Iraq, free from the influence of neighboring Iran. He apparently divulged the intelligence that Iran was moving ballistic missiles by boat in water off Iran’s shores. (source) Where would Iran presumably be moving these missiles to? There’s no indication of whether the ships can launch the missiles or are simply transporting them. We have, in the past, reported on Iran supplying missiles to Yemen, which are then in turn launched against Saudi Arabia. Transporting them from one Iranian port to another would seem to be expensive and exposing; one assumes if Iran was going to move missiles internally it would do so by truck and under the cover of night. So it would be logical to assume that the missiles are bound for a foreign port. They could be going to North Korea for all we know. So perhaps an attack on the ground? An attack on the U.S. military base at al-Assad, Iraq would require the Iraqi government and intelligence organizations to turn a blind eye, something presumably possible but unlikely. The same would apply at the small base at al-Tanf on the Iraq/Syria border. Several sources have made mention of an attack by Iran, or “its proxies,” which could mean Hezbollah, Quds Force, or one of the several Iranian-backed Iraqi Shia militant groups, like Asaib Ahl al-Haq or Khataib Hezbollah. And any intelligence of an attack should have been anticipated; Iran declared all members of the US military as terrorists after the Trump administration labeled the IRGC as a Foreign Terrorist Organization. An attack on US forces in Syria would require the carrier strike group to be in the Mediterranean, where it was operating all last week, not the Persian Gulf. It is also worth noting, as we reported, that the Lincoln deployed on 01APR19 after undergoing her mid-life refueling and overhaul at Newport News in Virginia. The deployment was to be an around-the-world sail, with its termination at Lincoln’s new home port of San Diego, meaning that the likelihood of it transiting the Suez and into the Persian Gulf had a high probability anyway. (source) Even the deployment of the bombers is not a new development. B-1’s from Dyess AFB in Texas returned home on 11MAR19, leaving CENTCOM without a bomber presence in the Middle East for the first time in 18 years so deploying more bombers to cover that gap would be expected. The administration is obviously jumping on an opportunity to exert more “maximum pressure” strategy on Iran in order to get it to change its behavior. Why it decided to do so on the pretext of an attack by Iran is, however, unclear. What is clear is that all this has made Iran decide to withdraw from parts of the JCPOA, saying that if the other signatories (France, Britain, Germany, China, and Russia) don’t shield Iran from some of the US sanctions it will stop exporting its uranium and keep it, thereby allowing it to have the potential to produce nuclear weapons. (source) Hours after Iran made the announcement, President Trump announced new sanctions on Iranian steel, iron, aluminum, and copper. The metals are the second largest group of exports Iran produces after oil. (source) But maybe this guy had something to do with the intelligence: an unconfirmed report says that Brigadier General Ali Nasiri, head of the IRGC Protection Bureau, defected to an American embassy with “strategic documents” after having a falling out with his superiors. If true, it would be a huge intelligence windfall for the West — and one would think a huge blow to Iran.)


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

Pompeo warns UK over Huawei

Saying that the US had made its views “well known,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the US had to protect its UK operations from “security risks,” and ensure that its data partners were “trusted.” He made the remarks while meeting with his British counterpart, UK Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, in London. At issue is Britain’s pending decision on just how far to let Chinese telecom company Huawei build out England’s 5G network infrastructure. The US is convinced that Huawei will work hand-in-glove with the Chinese government to collect intelligence using the new technology. Pompeo has in the past threatened to reduce intelligence sharing with the UK if they go ahead with Huawei equipment. (source)

(Analyst Comment: In previous weeks the UK Defense Secretary was sacked after having been accused of leaking information about a possible decision by the UK government concerning Huawei. The decision was that the UK would contract with Huawei for only “non-core” elements of the new network. Pompeo’s remarks are obviously the fruition of this leak and he’s there trying to capitalize on the “Special Relationship” that the UK and US have enjoyed since the end of WWII. But Pompeo couldn’t stave off Huawei’s deal with Germany. After talking with British PM Teresa May, Pompeo slammed the Chinese “Belt and Road Initiative” (BRI) again warning of Chinese attempts to “peddle corrupt infrastructure deals in return for political influence” around the world.” The problem is that the BRI is working, at least for China. Money and the promise of development apparently have a great deal of appeal for many nations around the world, especially in the soft economies of the Eurozone. Meanwhile, a Chinese engineering and construction company is finalizing terms with the Philippines to build a $2bn, 500-hectare industrial park at what once was the United States’ Clark Air Force Base, and there are additional loans to build a railway linking Clark to Subic Bay. Other Chinese firms are looking to take over a failing shipyard at Subic. (source) So the question is what is the US going to offer nations around the world to counter Chinese money and infrastructure? Threats don’t seem to be working at the moment.)

Germany turns to the East?

A majority of Germans reject the country’s pledge to meet NATO’s rising military spending; 69 percent want more cooperation with Russia and only 35 percent with the US. A consistent German polling majority also refuses to defend Poland and the Baltic states if Russia invades them. Now Sigmar Gabriel, former Foreign Minister to Angela Merkel, is being nominated to lead Atlantik-Brücke (Atlantic Bridge) an influential German non-profit association of wealth and influence (the organization refers to itself as “elite”) that was founded in 1952 with the mission to “strengthen and preserve the [German] bond with the West.”

(Analyst Comment: The problem is that Gabriel is a protégé of former Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, who is now the chairman of Russia’s Gazprom Nord Stream 2 pipeline and Rosneft, Russia’s energy giant. Gabriel reinforced Schröder’s ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin by pushing for renewed trade with Iran and boosting the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline. He also issued a statement promising to block foreign “meddling” against Russia by the European Union and the United States. He has also opposed increasing Germany’s defense budget to meet NATO’s target of 2 percent of GDP. His flawed reasoning for opposing the budget increase was that it would result in an outsized growth of Germany’s military which would subsequently terrify Germany’s neighbors. The 500 members of Atlantik-Brücke will vote on its director’s choice of Gabriel as Chairman in June. (source) Russia will use every method at its disposal to ensure his election. Putin sees NATO not as merely an organization dedicated to the mutual defense of Europe; he views it as an existential threat to his Russia. This also presents a conundrum for US diplomacy. President Trump famously and publicly berated NATO, and Germany in particular, for not meeting their monetary obligations to the organization last year. Too much stick will drive Germany closer to Russia. Too many carrots will do nothing more than give Germany a pass on its obligation, which would set a horrible precedent vis-à-vis the other member nations who might become more dilatory about paying theirs. The only winner is Russia. If Germany maintains the status quo, NATO continues to stay underfunded. If Germany moves closer to Russia, it just drives a wedge deeper into the alliance.)


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)

NATO-Russia: Pompeo pledges to confront Russia and China in the Arctic

Giving a speech in Finland on Monday, 06MAY19, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo posed the question, “Do we want the Arctic Ocean to transform into a new South China Sea?” The reference is to China’s military build-up in that area. He continued: “Just because the Arctic is a place of wilderness does not mean it should become a place of lawlessness.” (source) (Analyst Comment: Here’s the problem with Pompeo’s stance; it’s too late. We have written in the past on Putin’s build-up in the Arctic with S-400 air defense batteries, anti-ship missiles, and even marine mammals. China is eyeing the opening Arctic shipping lanes. And meanwhile the US has exactly one heavy ice-breaker, and it’s 40 years old — in other words, well past its service life. In contrast Russia has 40 ice-breakers. Given the ease with which China can lay keels to build new boats, it would not be outside the realm of possibility that they could have anywhere from ten to twenty ice-breakers within a decade. In the same speech, Pompeo asserted that Canada’s claim to the Northwest Passage was “illegitimate.” A spokesman for the Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs took the opportunity to remind Pompeo that under the terms of the 1988 Arctic Co-operation Agreement, the US government must seek consent from the government of Canada to navigate the waterway, saying, “Canada remains committed to exercising the full extent of its rights and sovereignty over its territory and its Arctic water including the various waterways commonly referred to as the Northwest Passage.”

Indo-Pacific: Navy, Army facing significant challenges in Pacific

The US Navy is stepping up its operations in the South China Sea region, as well as just north of there in the Strait of Taiwan. But it’s not just freedom of navigation operations (FONOPS), it’s also playing catch up for building logistics and supply capacity. Roughly 30,000 Marines are stationed in and around the Pacific Ocean, and current sea lift capacity is already insufficient.

Meanwhile, Army rotations into the Indo-Pacific theater are a far cry from their previous desert missions. The Army announced last year that it would extend rotation lengths to the region in an effort to maintain a presence and acclimate soldiers to the Pacific environment. The most forward-deployed soldiers rotate to Thailand and the Philippines as part of the Pacific Pathways program, which is expected to grow. The new annual Defender Pacific rotation will involve up to 10,000 soldiers who focus on the South China Sea for up to 45 days. The Army also announced last year that it was introducing a new uniform for soldiers specifically designed for humid, jungle environments they’ll experience.

(Analyst Comment: During a time of war, the U.S. will already face serious hurdles in deploying and supplying Marines in the Indo-Pacific region. Adding in Army transport by sea, and the additional logistics supply trains that would involve represents a more serious challenge. But that doesn’t even compare to the threat that Chinese fast attack submarines will pose to U.S. transport and supply ships, which the Navy would struggle to protect.

Meanwhile, China is building its third aircraft carrier, which is expected to have a catapult launch system, unlike the ski-ramp launch systems of the first two carriers. It’s not known, as of yet, whether the ship will be diesel- or nuclear-powered. If it can build a nuclear-powered carrier — no doubt using stolen technology — with catapult launch systems, it will raise itself to a world-class power. The ship is expected to join the fleet in 2023. If this one isn’t nuclear powered, the next one surely will be.)


Middle East: Endgame in Syria

Syrian government forces and their Russian allies hit the rebel-held city of Idlib in northwest of Syria with air strikes and artillery on Saturday, 04MAY19. Idlib is the last holdout of the Syrian rebels. The UN has said that the attacks have included the worst use of the notorious “barrel bombs” by the Syrian army in 15 months. The fight is taking place inside a buffer zone agreed to in September 2018 between Russia and Turkey, which was designed to avert a major offensive in the area. The attacks, say rescuers and medical personnel, have killed dozens and forced tens of thousands to flee their homes. Two Turkish soldiers were lightly wounded in the shelling. Taking control of the province would bring two highways back into government control. The highways, the M4 and M5 run from south to north and regaining them would allow the government to start to rebuild its weak economy.  (source) (Analyst Comment: There is scant mention anywhere of what the US forces left in Syria are doing, or if there are any forces left. The plan was to draw down from a high of around 2,000 troops to 400. Turkey has set up a buffer zone in the northwest corner of the country, ostensibly to contain the threat it sees from the Kurds in the region. The artillery of today can be extremely accurate; much more so than in the past. If Turkish positions took indirect fire, there are three possibilities: Russia/Syria is sending a message, Turkey has not made their positions known (which is normal in de-conflicting kinetic operations between nations), or Russia/Syria simply doesn’t have the intelligence to know where the positions are. The last seems rather unlikely.)


North Korea: NK tests short-range missiles

On Friday, 03MAY19, South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff reported that North Korea test fired several short-range missiles. It would mark the first time Pyongyang has tested a missile since its last ICBM launch in November of 2017. On Saturday, 04MAY19, President Trump downplayed the launches, tweeting “[Kim] also knows that I am with him and does not want to break his promise to me.” Firing short range missiles would technically not violate North Korea’s promise not to test long range or nuclear missiles. This past Thursday, 09MAY19, the North Koreans fired two more short-range ballistic missiles. (Analyst Comment: Short-range missiles may not get President Trump’s attention, but they certainly will get South Korea’s. Kim Jong-un is pushing back against the US after having been denied sanctions relief at the failed summit in Hanoi. Last month, Kim met Vladimir Putin for the first time in Vladivostok and accused the US of acting in “bad faith.” US and North Korean officials say they’re open to a third summit, but KJU has set the year’s end as a deadline for the talks to take place.)


PIR4: How are ‘great powers’ pursuing diplomatic, information, military, economic (DIME) effects or military-operations-other-than-war in their attempts to subvert, disrupt, and otherwise diminish U.S. power?

China acquired NSA tools and used them to attack US allies

Researchers with the cyber security firm Symantec think the Chinese government captured code from the the National Security Agency (NSA) when the NSA used that code to attack Chinese systems. The group of hackers, thought to be contractors for the Chinese Ministry of State, are known as “the Buckeye group.” The group then went on to re-purpose the code and commit several attacks on US targets including space, satellite, and nuclear propulsion manufacturers. This is the first known instance of an entity being able to capture a cyber weapon that was being used against it and redeploy it. They then went on to conduct cyberwarfare against Belgium, Hong Kong, Luxembourg, the Philippines, and Vietnam. (source) Some of the same tools were dumped online in previous years by an unidentified group calling itself  The Shadow Brokers.



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