Strategic Intelligence Summary for 28 June 2018 – Forward Observer Shop

Strategic Intelligence Summary for 28 June 2018

[Editor’s note: Samuel Culper is out this week.]

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 Strategic Intelligence subscribers.

In this Strategic Intelligence Summary: (4,915 words)

  • Sweden’s far-Right sees election gains amid rising migrant gang violence 
  • China to increase its military presence in Africa
  • U.S. Navy developing long-range stealth torpedo
  • China could deploy hypersonic weapons on a ‘large scale’
  • U.S. Army to focus more heavily on battlefield skills
  • Modern weapons integration throughout the Russian military at nearly 60 percent
  • More…

In Focus: There are some interesting developments this week that could have long-term implications for peace and security, or they could merely be momentary blips on the road to conflict. 

The first substantial development is the announcement of a face-to-face summit in July between President Trump and Russian President Putin. The two have much to talk about, of course, but the meeting will give Trump an opportunity to test his theory that engagement with his Russian counterpart is the key to good relations that will endure, perhaps on the model of Gorbachev and Reagan in the late 1980s and beyond. Putin is ambitious, however, but he is also dealing with sanctions and other economic pressure being exerted by Trump that wasn’t a problem for him under Trump’s predecessor. One of his primary objectives will probably be convincing Trump that he’s harmless and that sanctions are impediments to any lasting peace.

The North Koreans, meanwhile, do not appear to be living up to Dear Leader’s pledge to denuclearize. As you will read below, there are some improvements being made to the country’s principal nuclear research facility and that doesn’t at all look like “denuclearization.”

In the Middle East, Iran’s economic problems are only getting worse, as is the social unrest related mostly to economics — and the Supreme Leader’s obsession with expanding Iranian military and geopolitical influence across the region with the aim of becoming the dominant power. The Ayatollah will have to balance that goal with the more pressing objective of mollifying his people and tamping down the unrest.

There’s much more. Welcome to this week’s Strategic Intelligence Summary and thank you for subscribing We welcome your feedback. — JD

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? (North Korea, China, Russia, Iran/Israel/Middle East)

PIR4: What activities are foreign intelligence services directing against the United States our allies?

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

Sweden’s far-Right sees election gains amid rising migrant gang violence

An increase in gang violence is fueling anti-immigrant furor in Sweden and will likely lead to gains for the country’s far-right political party. Dozens of people have been killed over the past two years during attacks in Stockholm, the capital, by gangs that come mostly from depressed suburbs dominated by immigrants. The public is increasingly calling on the government enact tougher policies on crime and immigration, as support for Sweden Democrats, a party with ties to some neo-Nazi elements, rises. The party wants to freeze all immigration and hold a referendum on Sweden’s continued membership in the U.S. Opinion polls put the Sweden Democrats on about 20 percent support, up from the 13 percent of votes they secured in the 2014 election and the 5.7 percent which saw them enter parliament for the first time in 2010. [source] Analyst comment: Liberal immigration policies in many European countries continue to cause widespread unrest among growing segments of the native-born population, especially as crime rates linked to immigrants and immigrant regions rises. When there is growing anti-immigrant sentiment in Sweden, one of Europe’s most open, liberal countries, then the issue is getting serious. The thing about open-border/open immigration policies is that there will always be groups of people who will take advantage of them, and not all who take advantage should be allowed in. Europe appears to be learning this lesson, albeit much more slowly than most Americans.

China to increase its military presence in Africa

After decades of Chinese presence in Africa dominated primary by economic, commercial, and peacekeeping interests and activities, Beijing is set to increase its military footprint on the continent, as well as its influence. The greater military presence aims to protect China’s growing national assets in African and its budding geopolitical sway. The People’s Liberation Army conducts regular joint training exercises across the region and, in certain countries that are home to major Chinese infrastructure projects under the Belt and Road initiative, the communist state has been especially active. This includes Djibouti, Tanzania, and other places. In a first, Beijing recently hosted the first China-Africa Defense and Security Forum, with the government announcing that it is prepared to provide African countries “comprehensive support” with regard especially to piracy and terrorism. [source] Analyst comment: China’s geopolitical objectives in Africa may at times intersect with ours, but Beijing’s interests on the continent are largely going to be aimed at countering U.S. influence. 

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

U.S. Navy developing long-range stealth torpedo

The Navy will attempt to develop a longer-range, stealthy, more technologically-advanced and powerful Mk48 torpedo that is better able to destroy enemy ships, subs, and small boats. Navy officials have issued a new defense industry solicitation seeking proposals and related information for the torpedo and associated control systems, guidance, navigational, and soar technology. The Navy wants a torpedo that is better able to destroy ships at longer, stand-off ranges. Russia and China are believed to have similar torpedo upgrades in development. A Mk 48 torpedo is 21 inches in diameter and weighs 3,520 pounds; it can destroy targets at ranges out to five miles and travels at speeds greater than 28 knots. The weapon can operate at depths greater than 1,200 feet and fires a 650-pound high-explosive warhead, available Navy and Lockheed data. The Navy has been working to upgrade the weapon for a number of years. The service restarted Mk48 production in 2016 in a Mod 7 configuration. [source]

China could deploy hypersonic weapons on a ‘large scale’

The Chinese military is far enough in its development of hypersonic weapons it could soon begin deploying them on a large scale, according to Air Force Gen. Paul Selva, vice chair of the Joint Chiefs. “They haven’t mass deployed hypersonics or long-range [tactical] ballistic missiles” yet, he said during a panel discussion at the Center for a New American Security in Washington, D.C. However, “what they have done is proven the technologies, and so they are able now to deploy those capabilities at a large scale” if they decide to move in that direction. China has been conducting hypersonic tests for at least three years, according to published reports. Hypersonic weapons can travel at speeds of Mach 5 or faster and are believed to be practically indefensible. Selva noted that while the U.S. is behind in overall hypersonic development, “we are way ahead in a lot of the sensor and sensor-integration technologies…” [source] Analyst comment: In April the Air Force announced a contract with Lockheed Martin for rapid development of a hypersonic air-launched, standoff weapon. The service has dramatically streamlined the process to cut two-to-three years’ development time off the project, as a means of catching up to China and Russia, the latter of which may deploy a weapon as soon as next year if President Vladimir Putin is to be believed. 

U.S. Army to focus more heavily on battlefield skills

Army planners are swinging their attention away from social issues like integrating transgender troops to focus more on honing battlefield skills as it seeks to overhaul training regimens. A series of memorandums approved by Army Secretary Mark Esper and Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley indicates service leaders are making optional previously mandatory training on issues such as transgender transition and drug abuse. The move, Army leaders argue, is designed to relieve stress on the overburdened troop training regimen and refocus on soldiers’ ability to fight in combat. [source] Analyst comment: These changes are part of SECDEF James Mattis’ early initiatives to shift service training away from fighting low-intensity wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to preparing for high-intensity combat with peer- or near-peer adversaries like Russia and China. 

Modern weapons integration throughout the Russian military at nearly 60 percent

The share of modernized weapons in the Russia military is close to 60 percent and is on pace to reach the objective of 70 percent by 2021, according to President Vladimir Putin. The rate of modernization has been rapid. Six years ago, modern weapons and equipment did not exceed 16 percent in the army and navy. The most recent upgrade/addition: The Kinzhal air-launched hypersonic missile, which has already been fielded in what is seen as “experimental combat duty” in the Southern Military District. Putin noted that Avangard ICBMs will be ready to deploy soon while Sarmat (new heavy ICBMs) will enter service in 2019. [source]

PIR3: What is the current situation report and risk of war in each of the four? (North Korea, China, Russia, Iran/Israel/Middle East)


Significant Developments:

U.S. Air Force expanding capabilities to counter Russia: Almost have of the Trump administration’s $828 million budget request in FY2019 for military infrastructure in Europe will go to improve existing Air Force infrastructure or to build new capability. As part of the Trump administration’s overall strategy to confront Russia, the Air Force has been quietly shifting assets to the European continent so it can deploy forces to allied bases in the East, close to Russia’s west flank. [source]

U.S., Russia agree to a summit: Russian President Vladimir Putin will meet with President Trump at a date to be announced in days, Russia media reported. National Security Advisor John Bolton and Putin hammered out the details this week. “The two countries have discussed the issue for a long time, it has been discussed through closed channels,” said Russian Presidential Aide Yuri Ushakov. The meeting place will be a “comfortable” third country. The aide further noted that Trump and Putin would definitely be meeting face to face. [source]

The summit will be held July 16 in Helsinki, Finland, reports noted Thursday.


According to the summit report above, the big issue both sides needed to hammer out was a joint statement/declaration both could agree upon. Ushakov noted: “The issue at hand was that the two presidents can agree on a joint statement that could outline the two countries’ further steps both in terms of improving bilateral relations, in terms of joint steps in the international arena and in terms of maintaining global stability and security.”

As for the topics at hand, there are many: Regional security (meaning a security arrangement that doesn’t advantage one country — or alliance — over another), international terrorism, “regional issues,” and “conflict situations across the globe,” according to Russian news agency Tass. And, of course, “bilateral relations,” discussions of which Trump may use to bring up the ongoing “Russian collusion” investigation into his 2016 campaign, Moscow’s efforts to interfere in U.S. elections generally, and the Kremlin’s support for isolating Iran from the global oil market.

The summit comes at a crossroads. The U.S. has been spending money and committing new resources to bolster NATO’s defense, which is very likely one of the major reasons why Putin has agreed to come to the table now (that, and the ongoing U.S.-led sanctions against Putin’s inner circle, top Russian officials, and corporations). NATO, meanwhile, has been cajoled by the Trump administration to begin boosting spending and building up its capability as well, though that effort really is just beginning. Taken together these actions should indicate to Putin that Trump is not only committed to NATO, but to the defense of Europe. 

But Russia has also been strengthening and exercising its tools of influence around the world and across a broad range of domains, according to intelligence experts. 

The summit also comes at a time when Moscow is pouring money into developing the Arctic’s natural resources, another part of the world where there is the potential for conflict with the West and with the U.S. in particular. America is arriving late to the Arctic and Russia has far more to work within the region, but the Trump administration is moving in that direction.

Russia under Putin has certainly become more aggressive — the war in Georgia, the annexation of Crimea, the ‘assistance’ provided to rebels in Ukraine, and the commitment to Syria — all demonstrate that. That said, regardless of what the two discuss, Trump should be seen as coming to the summit from a position of strength as well, which is always a good thing. He’s not been afraid to confront the Russians — economically and militarily — a departure from the last administration. And he shows no signs of backing down in places where U.S. and Russian forces are operating in proximity to each other, like Syria. Recall the hundreds of Russian mercenaries who were killed by U.S.-led forces in Syria. Many saw that as Putin testing Trump, and Trump passing with flying colors; Russian mercenaries do not simply show up in Russian military areas of operation without funding, logistics, and orders from the Kremlin.

What will the summit produce? Maybe nothing more than just a recognition of where both leaders and their countries currently stand. Both are great powers, though the U.S. certainly has distinct economic and military advantages over Russia. Both have regional and global ambitions. But Trump is somewhat limited politically in how and where he can act, depending on national and congressional support. And while Putin, even as the titular head of the Russian government, has his people to consider, he is primarily constrained only by what capabilities he can fund and field. It may be that his primary objective is to convince Trump to lift some sanctions so he can accomplish regional and global objectives more quickly. 

Middle East: 

Significant Developments:

Russian airstrikes in Syria break cease-fire: Russian warplanes carried out airstrikes in Syria’s southwest last Sunday in defiance of a cease-fire agreement with the U.S. and Jordan. The strikes came as forced aligned with the Syrian government pushed to capture one of the last strongholds held by rebels. The Trump administration had been warning the Syrians for weeks not to violate the agreement, but Washington does not look anxious to be dragged into a fight between Syrian rebels and government troops, the latter of whom are backed by Moscow and Tehran. [source]


New protests have wracked Iran amid a currency in free fall, soaring prices for goods and commodities, economic mismanagement and government corruption, much of it brought on by U.S. sanctions. Iranian shop owners were reportedly out in the streets late this week in what is seen as the largest anti-government protests in the country’s capital in recent years. 

Scattered reports including video and other details posted on social media show protesters attacking police and other security personnel. As the U.S. dollar rose over the past several months, the Iranian rial fell, losing about half of its value in recent months against the dollar. Reports say rials are trading in the black market for about 85,000 to the dollar. In late 2017, $1 USD was worth about 43,000 rials. The unrest has led Iran’s parliament to urge President Hassan Rouhani to change his economic team, while the country’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei urged a crackdown on “those who disrupt economic security.” 

A common theme among protesters now, as was the case during protests around the country last year — in which dozens were killed by government forces — is that the Iranian government is spending resources on military adventurism in countries like Syria and Yemen while its people suffer at home. “As I have said before, it should surprise no one that protests continue in Iran,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said this week. “The Iranian people are demanding their leaders share the country’s wealth and respond to their legitimate needs.”

With Iran’s supreme leader dealing with rising resentment, anger, and unrest at home over his foreign policy — anger that will only grow as the country’s economy tanks further — he may be less inclined to expand Iran’s involvement in various conflicts throughout the region. Then again, with Iran’s robust foreign exchange reserves, Khamenei may feel he can ride out U.S.-imposed sanctions and not be deterred at all. 

Elsewhere in the region, Syrian President Bashar Assad is set to recapture the southwestern portion of his country, the last rebel stronghold. Israel will have to decide whether it wants to intervene in that effort in order to protect its border. One stipulation for remaining on the sidelines could be a demand by Jerusalem that Syria removes all Iranian forces and Shiite militias from the area. This comes on top of reporting that President Trump is set to demand that Iran remove all its forces from Syria after essentially giving Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ‘permission’ to respond to Iranian threats inside Syria any way he chooses. Trump is reportedly set to make his demand in his upcoming meeting with President Putin in Finland.

The U.S. and Russia both have an interest in seeing armed militias in Syria disarmed. As a way to make the Iran removal demand more palatable, Trump may be prepared to discuss other options like a continuation of the Assad regime (which the U.S. has opposed up to now) and a return of Syrian territories taken by various factions. But those talks and concessions would only occur after Iran removed its forces.

North Korea:

Significant Developments:

North, South agree to historic family reunions: Diplomats from the two Koreas are preparing a historic reunification of families in August more than six decades after the Korean War split them apart. The reunification comes as North Korea makes good on a pledge by leader Kim Jong-un to President Trump to repatriate the remains of U.S. soldiers listed as missing after the fighting stopped in 1953. South Korea figures show that since 1988, more than 130,000 people registered for a lottery that decides which families are chosen for a reunion. Since then, about 75,000 have died, it said. [source] 

North Korea still building at nuclear site: North Korea is carrying out rapid improvements to its nuclear research facility, a monitor said on Wednesday, despite declaring a commitment to the denuclearization of the peninsula at the Singapore summit. Recent satellite imagery showed that not only were operations continuing at present at the North’s main Yongbyon nuclear site, it was also carrying out infrastructure works, according to 38 North. [source]

U.S. will soon give N. Korea post-summit timeline with ‘asks’: In the coming weeks, the Trump administration will be presenting Kim Jong-un’s government with “specific asks,” according to an American media report. There were no details provided regarding those asks, but SECDEF Mattis traveled to the Indo-Pacific region this week for talks with Chinese military leaders, among others. “We’ll know pretty soon if they’re going to operate in good faith or not,” said a U.S. official. There will be a timeline presented with each ask. [source]


Now that the Singapore summit is history the difficult task of putting the promise of North Korean denuclearization and incremental normalization of relations into place begins. Much of this task will be left to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. There are a number of things on his list of ‘to-do’s’ that President Trump, U.S. military leaders, and our allies will want to see completed and implemented to ensure full denuclearization before POTUS will begin to seriously consider lifting sanctions and normalizing relations. 

What are some of these to-dos? The list most definitely would include a verification process, complete dismantling of the North’s nuclear weapons-making capacity, identification of all nuclear weapons facilities, the turning over of all nuclear warheads and materials, and documentable assurances that the program will not be restarted. 

It will be a long process and there will have to be some give-and-take on both sides. But without verification, Pompeo will be less likely to make concessions and that will probably slow the process down even further. Without verification, Trump will never agree to any deal. 

Then again, complete verification may be what Kim balks at.

It’s a trust issue, not just for us but also for the North Korean leader. Kim knows his country’s history and he knows that we know it too. Everyone knows that in the past North Korean leaders have cheated on agreements. That’s why most experts have already concluded that Kim will cheat on any deal that is eventually made, because it’s been his country’s ambition to become a nuclear power in order to ensure its survival. After getting this close to full capability, it isn’t unreasonable to conclude Kim doesn’t want to throw it away, regardless of what he’s promised. He knows that U.S. administrations change every four-to-eight years, and he’s playing the long game. These kinds of trust issues don’t just vanish after one meeting with a sworn adversary.

Kim had another meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping, confirming that Beijing will have a seat at the table throughout this process. There has probably been some ‘sizing up’ of Trump and Pompeo at these Kim-Xi meetings. They are attempting to learn Trump’s persona and how they can ‘manage’ him the same as he is sizing them up. While things are cordial on the outside, we can never lose site of the fact that all countries act in their own self-interests, and that won’t change here. 

But there are positive signs too. North Korea has been removing negative references to the U.S. in the public space, and the government has not been openly critical of Washington or its allies, according to North Korea monitors. In fact, North Korea canceled its annual “anti-U.S.” rally as well. 

We’re early in this process. Like the U.S. official said, “we’ll know pretty soon” if Pyongyang is serious.

South China Sea:

Significant Developments:

China’s coast guard being absorbed into the PLA: The People’s Liberation Army is absorbing China’s coast guard after having moved the 1.5 million-strong People’s Armed Police Force under the PLA earlier this year. Beginning in July the 16,000 personnel and 135 ships of the China Coast Guard will essentially become a branch of the Chinese military. Analysts believe the force will be integrated into the Chinese navy. The coast guard vessels will be armed with heavier cannon and personnel will be authorized to carry firearms. Some analysts believe the “militarization” of the coast guard will change its mission from one of maritime law enforcement to include the enforcement of military doctrine and policy. [source]


During a national security forum in Washington last weekend, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., addressed China’s global aspirations. He was clear and concise in his analysis, but here’s the nub of it: “They have made very clear that their central ambition is to displace the United States as the world’s most powerful nation.  And essential to that ambition is a plan that’s called Made in China 2025.  The plan is to displace American manufacturing and dominate key sectors that will define the 21st century.” Perhaps now this puts the president’s “trade war” with China in better perspective. It also puts into perspective his administration’s intent to limit Chinese investment in American technology companies. 

Rubio also dispelled the “myth” that as China grew richer over the past two decades its government would become more democratic and open, like ours: “One of the things I can tell you that’s emerged over the last few years is the growing consensus that the assumptions that have long pinned our relationship with China for several decades really, in a bi-partisan way, that those assumptions are wrong.  The prevailing wisdom for decades has been that as China got richer with more trade, economic activity, robust cultural and diplomatic exchange, that not only would China move toward more normalization, but that they would become more like us and certainly more amenable to the rule of law, international rule of law, on both trade and commerce and internally.  That has not been the case.”

Two primary takeaways from Rubio’s assessment: (1) China doesn’t want to simply remain on par with the U.S.; China was to be the dominant world power. (2) We should not expect the Chinese to alter their behavior anywhere in the world, and that, of course, includes the South China Sea.

China is making substantial investments in cyber and electronic warfare. It is also making investments in counter-space technologies (which could also be a big reason why Trump now wants a “space force”). And Beijing is really putting money into artificial intelligence; in fact, China has said it wants to become the world’s foremost AI developer. Since the Chinese cannot hope to match the U.S. in conventional power anytime soon, Bejing’s military has turned to A2/AD strategies — the use of technology to conduct anti-access/area denial operations and keep U.S. forces and their allies at bay, particularly in the South China Sea but also in the East China Sea. What technological data China cannot obtain through normal, legal means, Beijing is attempting to obtain via cyber espionage, in which it has been remarkably successful over the years. But the U.S. defense sector is not the only one being targeted; the EU defense sector is also a target for cyber espionage.

China has already begun cyber surveillance of U.S. military platforms and civilian targets such as critical infrastructure. Any conflict would likely involve Beijing’s hackers targeting these sectors. As the Trump administration continues to confront Chinese claims in the South China Sea while checking Chinese expansion elsewhere, Beijing is rushing to develop asymmetrical technological capabilities that negate our conventional military superiority.

PIR4: What are the activities regarding intelligence services involving the United States our allies?

Chinese shipbuilding manager arrested for selling carrier secrets to CIA

A senior executive at the state-owned China Shipbuilding Industry Corp. (CSIC) has been arrested by Chinese authorities for reportedly selling classified ship data to the CIA. The data included design and specifications for China’s first aircraft carrier, the Liaoning. Sun Bo, the second-highest ranking executive at the giant shipbuilder, was arrested for “gross violation of laws and party discipline” as well as graft. A Hong Kong-based news service reported that Sun may have divulged drawings as well as other information regarding the Soviet-era carrier including retrofitting work during the 2000s. Chinese officials are reportedly concerned that information on the country’s first domestically-built carrier, which is based heavily on the Liaoning, has also been compromised. Both carriers are rumored to have issues regarding quality of performance. [source]

Pentagon pushing counterintelligence for industry amid Chinese hacks

The Pentagon is kicking off a new effort to integrate counterintelligence and law enforcement into acquisition, citing a string of successful Chinese hacks that resulted in the theft of defense secrets. The Pentagon’s deputy secretary for intelligence, Kari Bingen, told the House Armed Services Committee that the Defense Department cannot be concerned only with cost, performance, and schedule. “We must establish security as a fourth pillar in defense acquisition,” while at the same time making security “a major factor in competitiveness for U.S. government business.” The Pentagon plan is called “Deliver Uncompromised,” and it seeks to find ways that DoD can work with the defense industry on a case-by-case basis to tighten security. It comes after reports that China hacked a U.S. Navy defense contractor and stole classified information about undersea warfare technologies that included plans for developing a supersonic anti-ship missile for submarine use by 2020. [source] Analyst comment: This problem of Chinese hacking isn’t new, and of course we rarely hear of U.S. intelligence successes in hacking Chinese systems, but the point is taken in that the Pentagon is spending hundreds of billions of dollars inventing and perfecting weapons platforms and systems that other countries then steal on the cheap. Bingen seems to be making the case that whatever it costs to better protect DoD and DoD contractor systems will be worth it. 

U.S. Intel: China’s ‘Thousand Talents’ program an aggressive plan to siphon U.S. expertise

The Pentagon has told the House Armed Service Committee that China’s “Thousand Talents” program is an aggressive 10-part “toolkit for foreign technology acquisition.” The program, begun in 2008, is far from secret. But its unadvertised goal is “to facilitate the legal and illicit transfer of US technology, intellectual property, and know-how” to China, according to an unclassified analysis by the National Intelligence Council, the branch of US intelligence that assesses long-term trends. The National Intelligence Council analysis was produced in April and it characterized the plan as “China’s flagship talent program and probably the largest in terms of funding.” More recently, the White House cited the assessment in a report this week titled “How China’s Economic Aggression Threatens the Technologies and Intellectual Property of the United States and the World.” Of the 2,629 Chinese students currently in the Thousand Talents program, 44 percent specialize in medicine, life, or health sciences; 8 percent and 6 percent respectively specialize in computer sciences and aviation/aerospace and astronomy. [source] Analyst comment: U.S. military and intelligence officials have warned for a long time that Chinese espionage poses a threat to national security and the U.S. economy. That’s what makes protecting data so important; the U.S. bears the brunt of development costs while Beijing manages to reap the rewards without spending tens of billions of dollars.

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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