Strategic Intelligence Summary for 30 August 2018 – Forward Observer Shop

Strategic Intelligence Summary for 30 August 2018

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: (4,419 words)

  • InFocus: Bannon wages war in Europe
  • China actively targeting U.S. rail sector
  • Microsoft: Russians targeting conservative think tanks
  • U.S. intelligence worried Russia may attack satellites
  • U.S. to fight Iranian law suit in international court
  • Macron: Europe cannot depend on U.S.
  • U.S. bracing for Iranian cyber attacks
  • Preparing for great power conflict, Army goes back to the big guns
  • U.S. Army manual covers how to counter WMD in conflict
  • U.S. National Guard may see more missions, deployments to South America
  • China studying the Battle of Guadalcanal
  • Russian military to begin largest exercise since Cold War
  • U.S. Navy’s 2nd Fleet boundary to extend to Russian waters
  • U.S. military equipment arrives in Norway
  • Latvian military exercise to test response to ‘civil unrest’
  • China isolating diplomatic support to Taiwan
  • China developing ‘nuclear triad’, has practiced targeting U.S.
  • Pentagon: Japanese alliance ‘more important than ever’
  • Turkey’s Erdogan to meet with Russian, Iranian leaders
  • Russia: U.S. preparing Syria strike
  • Iranian general claims full control of Strait of Hormuz
  • DPRK: U.S. planning war ‘with a smile on its face’
  • And more…

In Focus: Outside of our regular focus for Strategic Intelligence, this week I want to cover a bit about the diplomatic tug of war between established political powers and national populist insurgencies in the U.S. and Europe. I’ve previously reported that former Trump advisor Steve Bannon had been campaigning through Europe to strategize with and promote nationalist political parties like UKIP (Britain), National Rally, which was previously called Front National (France), and Alternative for Deutschland (AfD; Germany). Back in 2014, Bannon said that there was a “global Tea Party movement” pushing back against globalism and internationalist policies. At the strategic level, this is worth a second look.

Earlier this month, Bannon announced the creation of his new political action committee, Citizens of the American Republic. After saying that the mid-terms are “a referendum” on the impeachment of President Trump, Bannon has focused on battling Congressional campaigns of Democrats who favor impeachment. But over the summer, Bannon was setting up shop in Brussels where he was developing “The Movement”, an organization that will mirror the Open Society Foundations founded and funded by internationalist billionaire George Soros. (A former Obama administration official is now its president.) And Bannon plans on spending a lot more time in Europe after November’s mid-terms.

Bannon wants to target the European Parliament and run national populist candidates in May 2019 elections in order to build a significant right-wing voting bloc. “Everybody agrees that next May is hugely important, that this is the real first continent-wide face-off between populism and the party of Davos. This will be an enormously important moment for Europe,” Bannon told reporters last month. [source] If Bannon and other strategists are successful, that voting bloc will throw a wrench into the machine of established EU politics.

This is a significant turn, especially considering what’s happening with the migrant crisis in Europe. Earlier this week, thousands of right wing protestors in Chemnitz, Germany took to the streets after a German man was stabbed to death, allegedly by Iraqi and Syrian refugees. [source] German authorities are investigating a leak of the Iraqi refugee’s arrest warrant, which contained the details of the event and triggered the protest. [source] This is another event in a long series of high profile rapes and murders committed by Islamic refugees and migrants, and Bannon will undoubtedly use the backlash to fuel right wing political victories. Bannon previously predicted that a successful nationalist movement is inevitable. “Right-wing populist nationalism is what will happen. That’s what will govern. You’re going to have individual nation states with their own identities, their own borders.” If Bannon is correct that right wing populists will come into power in Europe, that’s likely to mean mass deportations of economic migrants and refugees. (Europe is about seven percent of the global population, but pays out half of all welfare payments.)

In 2015, German Chancellor Angela Merkel admitted that multiculturalism had “utterly failed,” [source] and she barely hung on to her position after the last German federal elections. That’s a good indicator that Germans are growing frustrated with European immigration policies. But I remain somewhat skeptical (call me a Bannon-Euro skeptic) that he’ll make a large difference in the short-term. Euroskeptic and national populist parties have been growing on their own, much to the consternation of EU internationalists.

The Visegrád Group, which consists of Hungary, Poland, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic, is a cultural bloc which leads the charge against the EU’s pro-immigration policies. EU leaders have threatened these countries with fines and other punishments over their refusal to take in migrants from the Middle East and North Africa. At a time when foreigners in Brussels (EU headquarters) are dictating the national immigration policies across Europe, these leaders have stood in defense of their nations. Each of the Visegrad countries has far lower sexual harassment claims than other European countries with high amounts of Islamic migrants. Among the worst are Demark and its migrant-friendly neighbor Sweden, which has been called the “rape capital of the world”. [source] On the national populist side, the Visegrad countries are joined by the previously aforementioned political insurgents like UKIP, AfD, National Rally, Lega Nord (Italy), Fidesz (Hungary), and others doing political battle against the EU internationalists.

On the other side, French president Emmanuel Macron, the de facto leader of Europe’s internationalism, said this week that he was the “chief adversary” of the European populist movement. “It is clear that today a strong opposition is building up between nationalists and progressives and I will yield nothing to nationalists… So if they wanted to see me as their main opponent, they were right to do so.” [source]

While it’s not my focus, I’ll be keeping an eye on how the populists do in Europe next year. If Bannon is correct and Europe does turn politically right wing, then I would expect a crack down on refugees and migrants, which could lead to worsening social conditions. Europe could absolutely be looking at mass deportations, a rise in terror attacks, and worsening domestic conflicts as generally pro-Christian nationalists fight off what they call an Islamic invasion. The rise in right wing groups across Europe are a good indicator that things will become progressively more violent before the problem is solved.

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?

China actively targeting U.S. rail sector

The China Railway Rolling Stock Corporation (CRRC), a Chinese state-owned rail conglomerate, is the largest railcar manufacturer in the world, controlling up to 83 percent of the global rail market. The CRRC is using Chinese government financing and investments to underbid global competitors by as much as 50 percent, putting more than $6.5 billion of U.S. GDP and 65,000 American jobs at risk. Aside from the economic risks, there is a substantial security risk to this portion of the U.S. critical infrastructure, which is used to transport everything from agricultural products to nuclear waste. Rapidly developing railcar technology includes the monitoring of data such as car temperature and load weight through hundreds of railcar sensors. Furthermore, these cars pass through major cities and military bases throughout the country. Without protection of this important critical infrastructure, the U.S. could find itself entrusting it to a potential adversary. [source] Analyst Comment: This is the the kind of predatory behavior that earned China their Trump tariffs — it’s a form of economic warfare. As I’ve covered in previous summaries, the president is targeting the Chinese economy through tariffs in order to win Chinese concessions on unfair business practices. Just this afternoon, a Bloomberg report said that President Trump backed tariffs on another $200 billion of Chinese goods. China has cracks in their economy, and the Trump administration is exploiting those cracks. If the president is successful in his strategy to enlist global aid (Mexico, Canada, the EU, and the ASEAN) to isolate China, then Xi Jinping is going to have real trouble on his hands. After this week’s failed talks between American and Chinese trade officials, China is likely to be forced into two bad options: escalate the trade war, or give in and make concessions. Xi must appear strong, even while some in the Chinese Communist Power remain doubtful. Without being privy to Xi communiques, I have no way of knowing, however, I would expect the trade war to escalate before a solution is found.

Microsoft: Russians targeting conservative think tanks

Microsoft reported that it has “detected and seized” websites recently created by hackers linked to Russia. The goal of these websites was to steal passwords and other credentials by tricking people into thinking they were reaching links managed by the Hudson Institute and the International Republican Institute. [source] Analyst Comment: This is another data point in a long line that indicates Russia’s use of information operations to push back against what they perceive as Western aggression. As NATO continues to expand with no sign of stopping, Russian president Vladimir Putin is likely to escalate attacks against U.S. vulnerability — that includes digital exploitation of any influential individual or group who pursues interests opposite of Putin’s.

U.S. intelligence worried Russia may attack satellites

Characteristics of the Russian satellite Cosmos 2519, which was launched last year, have U.S. intelligence agencies concerned that the satellite may be surveilling U.S. space assets, or possibly even practicing to attack them. After its launch, Cosmos 2519 deployed two smaller satellites and maneuvered to rendezvous with them. The ability of a satellite to leave a designated orbit and travel between orbits to check in on other satellites is considered relatively unusual. Satellites with this ability could be used to maintain or re-fuel older satellites, but they could also be used to surveil or attack other space vehicles. A Russian diplomat called the claim that Cosmos 2519 is intended for nefarious activities “slanderous.” [source] Analyst Comment: The U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Arms Control suggested in a recent press briefing that the Russians have deployed a group of satellites that could be used to disable, attack, or otherwise interfere with other objects in space. According to the U.S. official, the behavior of Cosmos 2519 “was inconsistent with anything seen before from on-orbit inspection or space situational awareness capabilities, including other Russian inspection satellite activities.” The U.S. Air Force has also been working for years on the ability to deploy space objects that can maneuver and interact with other objects. An example is the U.S. X-37B unmanned space drone, which has the ability to seize satellites with its cargo hold, and the maneuverability to possibly operate as a satellite hunter.

U.S. to fight Iranian law suit in international court

In late July, Tehran filed a case before the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague, calling for the immediate lifting of sanctions imposed by the United States after the U.S. unilaterally pulled out of the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran. Mohsen Mohebi, the lawyer representing Iran called the U.S. sanctions “naked economic aggression” which has had “immediate damaging consequences on Iran and the Iranian people.” U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has said that lawyers will “vigorously defend” the U.S. and “We will continue to work with our allies to counter the Iranian regime’s destabilizing activities in the region, block their financing of terror, and address Iran’s proliferation of ballistic missiles and other advanced weapons systems that threaten international peace and stability. We will also ensure Iran has no path to a nuclear weapon – not now, not ever.” The hearings, which amount to a request by Iran for a provisional ruling, will last four days with a decision expected within a month. [source]

Macron: Europe cannot depend on U.S.

French President Emmanuel Macron, during a speech to French ambassadors on Monday, said he would propose new measures to boost European Union security. He also said that all European nations, including Russia, should be discussing defense cooperation. Macron went on to say that the inclusion of Russia in such discussions would be dependent on progress in the area of fighting in eastern Ukraine. Macron justified this new stance as a response to President Trump’s bent toward isolationism and the U.S.’s “turning its back on” its shared history with Europe. As a result, according to Macron, the EU must rely on its own military forces for protection and stop depending on the U.S. [source]

U.S. bracing for Iranian cyber attacks

There are concerns that Iran may respond to U.S. sanctions by launching cyber attacks on American targets.  One analyst from the Massachusetts-based cyber threat intelligence company Recorded Future said that there is currently no specific threat but “an increase in chatter related to Iranian threat activity” has been observed in recent weeks. While an Iranian spokesperson claims that Iran’s cyber capabilities are “exclusively for defensive purposes,” a series of attacks on banks between 2012 and 2014, causing tens of millions of dollars in damage, were blamed on Iran by U.S. authorities.  Iran also targeted but failed to penetrate critical infrastructure.  Recorded Future’s spokesperson indicated that similar businesses are most at risk now, but additional targets could include government departments, critical infrastructure providers, and oil and energy. The FBI issued a warning after the U.S. pulled out of the nuclear deal with Iran saying that hackers in Iran “could potentially use a range of computer network operations — from scanning networks for potential vulnerabilities to data-deletion attacks — against U.S.-based networks.” [source]

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

Preparing for great power conflict, Army goes back to the big guns

The quantity, quality, and manpower of the U.S. Army’s artillery and missile forces were seriously degraded following the Cold War due to an emphasis on low-intensity conflict and nearly two decades of counterinsurgency warfare. The Army is working to correct this problem by prioritizing artillery, missile, and air defense forces as it prepares for peer or near-peer threats like China and Russia. Illustrating how the Army has fallen behind in this area is a statement by a RAND Corporation official stating that Russian rockets and artillery have 50 to 100 percent greater range than those in use by the U.S. The Army hopes to double the range of it current systems over the next one to five years. In addition to improving the quality of these systems, there are plans to increase the number of weapons and the number of soldiers operating them. Personnel retention bonuses in the fires community are currently the highest being offered outside of the cyber warfare community. [source]

U.S. Army manual covers how to counter WMD in conflict

A new U.S. Army manual, Army Techniques Publication No. 3-90.40, “ Combined Arms Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction,” provides some clues as to how the Army might plan to destroy North Korea’s nuclear weapons, although it does not specifically mention the country. The manual addresses how regular Army combat brigades should deal with weapons of mass destruction (WMD) when encountered. The manual addresses topics such as how to set conditions to defeat a WMD network, delaying potential use of WMDs by attacking associated storage and transportation facilities, and reducing the number of weapons in enemy WMD stockpiles. Special emphasis is given to reconnaissance and intelligence collection to identify potential WMD sites. The manual also differentiates between operations intended to seize WMDs and those intended to secure WMD sites. [source]

U.S. National Guard may see more missions, deployments to South America

During a speech at the 140th National Guard Association of the United States conference in New Orleans, Louisiana, this weekend, Secretary of Defense James Mattis said that the National Guard would play an important role in cultivating allies, particularly in South America. “This is not a one-time mission, and the Guard is uniquely suited to sustain allied efforts over many years thanks to the amount of corporate continuity you maintain in your ranks,” Mattis said. Mattis said this Guard mission will be instrumental in supporting the Department of Defense strategy of renewed “great power competition” by courting allies, both old and new. During his speech, Mattis made several comments regarding efforts by China to gain influence in South America, and how this strategy can be used to help counter those efforts. [source] Analyst Comment: Earlier this month, I dedicated an InFocus section to Defense Secretary Mattis’ endorsement of the Monroe Doctrine. (You can read that here.) Mattis has repeatedly warned troops that the U.S. is entering a period of great power competition, and that includes the expansion of Russian and Chinese influence in Central and South America. It appears that the National Guard will play a central role in improving and maintaining military relations among Latin partners, and defending them from Russian Chinese influence. On his trip this month, Secretary Mattis highlighted Brazil as South America’s strategic leader.

China studying the Battle of Guadalcanal

Unlike the United States, which has been at war almost continuously since 2001, China has not undertaken a significant military campaign since 1979. This has resulted in China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) having a lack of combat experience. To remedy this situation, the PLA has used the study of military history, including the Guadalcanal campaign of August 1942. In December 2017, the Chinese Navy’s official magazine Navy Today published an analysis of this campaign, detailing Japanese errors. According to the article, the Japanese defeat can be attributed to a number of mistakes including:

  • An emphasis on always taking the offensive;
  • Intelligence shortages;
  • Poor coordination between ground and naval forces;
  • An emphasis on night fighting and close combat;
  • Poor logistics and failure to target U.S. lines of communication;
  • Inappropriate weapons designs.

A close reading of this analysis will likely provide hints of the PLA’s focus in coming years. [source]

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


Significant Developments:

Russian military to begin largest exercise since Cold War

Russia’s military forces in the east of the country were put on high alert on August 20 in preparation for the military exercise Vostok-2018, which will be held in August and September. Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu has said Vostok-2018 will be “unprecedented in scale, both in terms of area of operations and numbers of military command structure, troops and forces involved,” going on to say that the it will be the largest such military exercise since Zapad-81. According to the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, that exercise had 100,000 to 150,000 troops participating. China and Mongolia will also participate in the exercise. China is expected to deploy approximately 3,200 troops and 900 pieces of military equipment, including 30 rotary and fixed wing aircraft. The aim of the drills, according to the Chinese Defense Ministry, is to strengthen the Chinese-Russian strategic military partnership and to increase the countries’ abilities to respond to security threats, and ensure regional peace, stability and security. [source]

U.S. Navy’s 2nd Fleet boundary to extend to Russian waters

The newly reconstituted U.S. Navy 2nd Fleet was announced in May and the ceremonial standup of the new command was August 24.  The Navy has already moved to employ more ships into the North Atlantic as part of this new command structure. The boundaries of the 2nd Fleet extend into waters north of Scandinavia and the Arctic Circle, near the submarine headquarters of Russia’s Northern Fleet, according to Chief of Naval Operations John Richardson. The new 2nd Fleet Commander, Vice Adm. Andrew Lewis, said the new command reflects Defense Secretary John Mattis’ goal of a return to “great power competition” with nation states, rather than the low-intensity conflict in which the U.S. has engaged since 2001. [source]

U.S. military equipment arrives in Norway

Last week, the first shipload of military equipment arrived in Andalsnes in western Norway in preparation for the military exercise Trident Juncture, the largest NATO exercise since 2002. The exercise will be conducted from October 25 to November 7, and will involve about 130 aircraft, 70 vessels, and up to 10,000 vehicles, according to the Norwegian Armed Forces. This first shipload of equipment arrived on the Italian cargo vessel Capucine. The exercise will take place in eastern Norway and surrounding areas of the North Atlantic and the Baltic Sea, including Iceland. There will also be exercise activity in the airspace of Finland and Sweden. [source]

Latvian military exercise to test response to ‘civil unrest’

During a two-week NATO exercise in Latvia that began on August 20 and is scheduled to end on September 2, Latvian Armed Forces, National Guard, law enforcement and volunteers will join more than a dozen other NATO states’ military forces. According to media reports, the total number of troops participating will be 10,000, the largest NATO exercise in Latvia since it gained independence. In addition to conventional military operations, the exercise will have troops responding to counter “spontaneous unrest” in the general public. According to Lieutenant Colonel Gunars Grikmanis, Commander of the Military Training Department of the Armed Forces Joint Staff, “The main challenges in the training will be related to this cooperation with other state structures – with the police and the border guard. Cooperation with state and local government institutions and the civilian population will also be essential.” [source]

Analyst Comment: This week, we’ve seen more NATO and Russian military posturing as both sides are adamant that their military power is only defensive. Of particular note is the cooperation between Russia and China, which is a signal that Russia wants to be recognized as a regional military power that must be respected — the same statement they’ve made since their annexation of Crimea and hybrid invasion of Ukraine. A large scale exercise that includes China also lends legitimacy to Putin’s vow to resurrect the Russian empire.



Significant Developments:

China isolating diplomatic support to Taiwan

El Salvador has become the fifth country to break diplomatic ties with Taiwan in favor of an alliance with China since Taiwan’s president, Tsai Ing-wen, came to office in 2016. According the to Taiwan Foreign Minister, this realignment came as the result of Taiwan’s inability to assist El Salvador with “massive funding support” last year for a port development project in that country. He said that Taiwan was unwilling to engage in “money competition” with China. El Salvador’s president, Salvador Sanchez Ceren, said his country would see “great benefits” and “extraordinary opportunities” from the new alliance. Taiwan claims that China has attracted former diplomatic allies of Taiwan with generous aid packages, a claim that China denies. [source]

China developing ‘nuclear triad’, has practiced targeting U.S.

In an annual report to Congress on China’s military and security developments, which was released on August 16, the Pentagon reported for the first time that China is practicing long-range bombing runs against U.S. targets. According to the report, Chinese bombers have “the capability to carry six land-attack cruise missiles, giving the PLA a long-range standoff precision strike capability that can range Guam.” The report went on to state that, “the PLA Air Force has been re-assigned a nuclear mission. The deployment and integration of nuclear-capable bombers would, for the first time, provide China with a nuclear “triad” of delivery systems dispersed across land, sea and air.” Additionally, the Pentagon reported that although China has stopped major land reclamation in the South China Sea, its work on existing facilities could soon include floating nuclear power plants to power these islands and “speed up commercial development”. Anti-nuclear activists are concerned that China’s inexperience with this technology could be disastrous. [source]

Pentagon: Japanese alliance ‘more important than ever’

In the annual Japanese defense report, “Defense of Japan”, strengthening of the U.S.-Japan alliance is described as “more important than ever” in light of increased threats from North Korea and China. Although North Korean missile tests have been suspended since April, the report still expresses concern about Pyongyang’s capabilities and says there remains a need to monitor its actions. In addition to the North Korean threat, the report also expresses concerns regarding China’s intentions in the region. “China’s rapid modernization of the PLA, enhancement of operational capabilities, and unilateral escalation of activities in areas close to Japan are generating strong security concerns in the region and international community,” the paper said.


Middle East

Significant Developments:

Turkey’s Erdogan to meet with Russian, Iranian leaders

Earlier this month, Turkey’s President Erdogan warned the U.S. that Ankara may begin looking for new alliances as diplomatic relationships between the two countries—soured by U.S. support of Kurdish forces in Syria—and the Turkish economy continue to deteriorate. Turkey is a member of NATO. With this backdrop, Erdogan is scheduled to meet with Russian President Putin and Iranian President Rouhani in Iran on September 7 to discuss developments in Syria and how to deal with the remaining radical Islamic groups controlling the last major opposition holdout in the northwestern province of Idlib. Turkey’s stated concern is that a full military offensive in Idlib could lead to a new refugee wave toward the Turkish border. The U.S. and Russia have also exchanged warnings recently concerning developments in Idlib, with U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton warning that the U.S. could intervene military if Syrian President Assad uses chemical weapons there, a threat Russia characterized as a pretext to attack Assad. [source]

Russia: U.S. preparing Syria strike

In breaking news from The Jerusalem Post on August 28, a Russian military spokesman was quoted as saying that the USS Ross, a guided missile destroyer with 28 Tomahawk missiles, entered the Mediterranean on August 25. The Russian Ministry of Defense characterized this activity as part of a U.S. military buildup in the region for a possible strike on Syrian government forces. [source]

Iranian general claims full control of Strait of Hormuz

A general officer of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards has said that Iran is in full control of the Gulf as well as the Strait of Hormuz, and the U.S. Navy does not belong there.  He also suggested that closing off the strait would be the most direct way of blocking shipping into and out of the Gulf. In response to statements by senior U.S. officials that the goal is to reduce Iran’s oil exports to zero as part of U.S. sanctions, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has said that if Iran is not allowed to export oil then no country should be allowed export oil from the Gulf. [source]

North Korea

Significant Developments:

DPRK: U.S. planning war ‘with a smile on its face’

In an apparent response to President Trump’s cancellation of a planned trip to North Korea by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, North Korea’s state media accused the U.S. of planning an attack on the country “with a smile on its face.” The Rodong Sinmun newspaper article claimed that the U.S. was engaging in military movements it described as “extremely provocative and dangerous,” including claims of flying drills in the Philippines simulating an attack on Pyongyang, and the movement of Special Forces troops from Okinawa to South Korea. The paper claimed these actions were part of a plan to attack North Korea. The Washington Post reported that he U.S. military called the accusations “far-fetched.” President Trump blamed the canceled Pompeo trip on North Korea’s insufficient denuclearization efforts and the trade war with North Korea’s closest ally, China. President Trump took to Twitter and reassured North Korea that Secretary Pompeo still looks forward to a trip to North Korea “in the near future.” [source]



– S.C.

Mike Shelby 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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