Strategic Intelligence Summer for 17 May 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 Strategic Intelligence subscribers.


In this Strategic Intelligence Summary: (5,596 words)

  • Chinese intelligence linked to previously unconnected cyber threat groups 
  • Russia playing the long geopolitical game in America’s backyard: Latin America 
  • Peace talks aside, U.S., South Korean militaries continue preparing for war 
  • China’s first domestically-built aircraft carrier begins sea trials 
  • Russia’s nuclear underwater drone is real 
  • Russia’s got a legitimate hypersonic glide vehicle and it will be operational by 2020 
  • Former CIA agent charged with providing classified into to China
  • And more…

In Focus: Will he or won’t he? That’s the big question everyone’s asking in regards to North Korean leader Kim Jong-un giving up his nuclear weapons program. Last week, while questions (and doubts) remained, there was at least some evidence that Kim was willing to sit down and discuss the matter with President Trump. The summit is still on — June 20 in Singapore — but in recent days Kim has begun to sound more bellicose than he had been, and that’s got people shaking their heads and thinking, ‘Here we go again with the same old cycle of provocation and peace talks.’ In fact, there are now some who believe Kim has been using this period of ‘peace’ and ‘stability’ to hide critical elements of his nuclear weapons program — ahead of the summit with Trump and ahead of a planned “ceremony” next week in which he has invited members of the foreign press to ‘witness’ the destruction and closure of a nuclear test site that many believe is already useless. Some believe the renewed criticism this week of Trump national security advisor John Bolton — but not of Trump himself — being made by North Korean diplomats, not Kim Jong-un himself, is likely for domestic consumption. We’ll see.

The Middle East continues to be restive, as is per the normal, but there were a couple of key events that took place there this week: The opening of the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem, as Trump promised he would do; and Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim calling on all Islamic nations to unite against Israel over the deaths of dozens of Palestinians killed by Israeli gunfire on the Gaza border. The latter is especially important because Turkey remains a member of NATO, and the U.S. and Israel are key allies in the region. Whether the call for a unified resistance against Israel was made to satisfy domestic political interests is unclear at this time, but it’s not out of the question. Turkish leaders have to know that Israel’s main benefactor, the United States, isn’t going to allow the Jewish state to be isolated and targeted.

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?

Chinese intelligence linked to previously unconnected cyber threat groups

An investigation by cybersecurity vendor ProtectWise turned up evidence that several previously unconnected Chinese threat actors are behind a number of cyber campaigns directed at firms and organization in the U.S., Japan, and elsewhere. The investigation shows groups that are operating under the so-called Winnti umbrella since at least 2009 share common goals, common infrastructure, and often use the same tactics and procedures. The groups have targeted software and gaming companies, but smaller organizations have been targeted as well with the objective of stealing code-signing certificates which are summarily used to sign malware aimed at higher-value targets. “While inside knowledge of their operations is quite limited from any external research such as this, we can still assess with confidence that the various groups are functioning in a singular direction for a greater overall mission,” said Tom Hegel, senior threat researcher at ProtectWise. Chinese intelligence may be supplying all the necessary resources to Winnti umbrella members, according to findings. [source]

Russia playing the long geopolitical game in America’s backyard: Latin America

Russia is returning to its previous Cold War posture in several ways — by flying bombers close to U.S. and NATO countries and sending warships and submarines in greater numbers into the Atlantic Ocean — but also by working once more to expand its influence in places where America has traditionally dominated, such as Latin America. Perhaps taking advantage of the Trump administration’s crackdown on illegal immigration, which has alienated a number of countries in Central and South America because they are going to have a harder time exporting their poverty to the U.S. in the months and years ahead, Moscow is attempting to develop or renew relationships in Cuba, Venezuela, Colombia, Mexico, and Brazil. Each of those countries is undergoing a political transition this year in ways that could provide an opening for Russia. Capitalizing on any opportunity to raise its presence (and influence) in Latin America is an old Russian objective. As then-Marine Gen. John Kelly, head of U.S. Southern Command, testified in March 2015 before the Senate Armed Services Committee, “Periodically since 2008, Russia has pursued an increased presence in Latin America through propaganda, military arms and equipment sales, counterdrug agreements, and trade. Under President [Vladimir] Putin, however, we have seen a clear return to Cold War-tactics. As part of its global strategy, Russia is using power projection in an attempt to erode U.S. leadership and challenge U.S. influence in the Western Hemisphere.” [source] Analyst comment: Many in America believe in Trump’s immigration and trade policies and were too long in coming, so it’s not likely that they will change as long as he’s president. So the objective for the U.S. will be to find common ground with Latin American nations and offer to lend the kind of assistance that Russia, so far away, cannot muster or afford. This could be a number of things including the provision of military and law enforcement equipment to sharing of intelligence and other useful information. Trump could also negotiate new trade deals available only for countries within our hemisphere, thereby offering them something Russia could never offer: Access to the vast U.S. consumer market. 


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

Peace talks aside, U.S., South Korean militaries continue preparing for war

Despite the fact that North and South Korean rapprochement and eventual peace may be in store, and with President Trump set to meet North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in Singapore in June, American and ROK forces are not sitting around waiting for deals to be done: They are continuing to train as though war is a foregone conclusion. Both militaries are aware of the so-called “provocation cycle” that North Korean leaders including Kim have engaged in — periods of provocative behavior aimed at heightening tensions in order to extract concessions, followed by periods of relative harmony. The exercises, known as Foal Eagle and Key Resolve, concluded last week, but “Max Thunder” exercises are ongoing. Foal Eagle involved about 12,200 U.S. troops and 10,000 South Korean soldiers and featured simulated war games. Key Resolve featured 11,500 U.S. and 290,000 South Korean troops engaged in field-training exercises. In the past North Korea has complained — loudly — about the exercises, claiming they were cover for an impending invasion. Pyongyang initially did not complain this time; rather, Pyongyang was at first noticeably silent about the war games and in fact, even released three American prisoners it was holding to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo during the exercises, in Kim’s latest show of goodwill. But about mid-week Kim threatened to pull out of the June meeting with President Trump over the ongoing exercises, which — again — he claimed were a prelude to invasion. One U.S. Army officer currently serving in South Korea sees nothing new here. He expects to be there for his full tour of duty, which ends in July 2019. The exercises are “not any different than what we’ve done for 40 years,” said Col. Scott Taylor, chief operations officer for the 8th U.S. Army. [source] Analyst comment: From all the OSINT reporting I’ve seen, the U.S., South Korean, and Japanese militaries are all taking a ‘wait-and-see’ approach with North Korea — not at all unexpected given the history of using periods of relative peace to prepare for the next phase of provocation.

China’s first domestically-built aircraft carrier begins sea trials

The People’s Liberation Army Navy’s first domestically developed and built aircraft carrier recently began sea trials. The warship is considered a major upgrade to the PLAN’s only other carrier, the Liaoning, a retrofitted ship that was laid down in the late 1980s in the former Soviet Union. Known as the Type 001A, the new ship has yet to be formally christened, but the PLAN intends for the carrier to join the fleet sometime by the end of 2018. It’s not clear yet when the ship will actually be combat-ready. Chinese engineers and warship designers are said to have studied American and Soviet carrier designs when planning the Type 001A. [source] Analyst comment: At 65,000 tons, the Type 001A is smaller than the oldest U.S. carrier in service, the USS Nimitz, which displaces more than 100,000 tons. The Nimitz carries 90 fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters; the Type 001A will carry 38-40 aircraft. The newest American flattops, the Gerald R. Ford and John F. Kennedy, are similar in size to the Nimitz. 

Russia’s nuclear underwater drone is real

Reports surfaced about a year ago that Russia was allegedly building an undersea “drone” capable of covertly delivering a nuclear payload to enemy harbors and ports. Turns out the drone is real: It’s mentioned in a draft of the Pentagon’s Nuclear Posture Review. This marks the first time the Defense Department has acknowledged that the weapon exists. “In addition to modernizing ‘legacy’ Soviet nuclear systems, Russia is developing and deploying new nuclear warheads and launchers,” says an unclassified draft of the review. “These efforts include multiple upgrades for every leg of the Russian nuclear triad of strategic bombers, sea-based missiles and land-based missiles. Russia is also developing at least two new intercontinental range systems, a hypersonic glide vehicle and a new intercontinental, nuclear-armed undersea autonomous torpedo.” The system is designated Status-6 (Kanyon) and is being called an “AUV” — autonomous underwater vehicle.” The full name is Ocean Multipurpose System Status-6, and it’s been tested at least once. It’s not clear, however, if the system has been officially deployed yet. The U.S. detected the system after it was launched from a Sarov-class submarine Nov. 27, 2016, in a validation test. Russian reports indicate that the system could be equipped with a 100-megaton nuclear warhead. According to Russian media, the AUV has a range of 6,200 miles, a top speed of 56 knots, and can dive to depths of 3,280 feet below sea level. It is designed to be launched from at least two different classes of Russian subs including the Oscar class, which can carry four of the AUVs at a time. [source] Analyst comment: The U.S. isn’t openly building or testing a similar system at present. The final version of the Nuclear Posture Review may not include the Status-6 but some believe the draft version contained references to it as a means of demonstrating Russia’s diverse nuclear capability.

Russia’s got a legitimate hypersonic glide vehicle and it will be operational by 2020

U.S. intelligence officials say that Russia’s hypersonic glide vehicle, a system known as Avangard, will be “ready for war” by 2020. The vehicle has been tested three times — two successfully — with a fourth test expected this summer. The vehicle can reportedly reach speeds up to Mach 5, rendering current U.S. missile defenses useless. President Vladimir Putin touted the system earlier this year during his annual address to the country, claiming that Avangard is “invincible.” The hypersonic vehicle is designed to sit atop SS-19 intercontinental missiles, but will likely be fitted to other ICBMs in the future. It’s not yet clear whether the Avangard will be fitted with conventional or nuclear warheads, but the precision and speed of the weapon is believed to pack enough power to obliterate its target. “These kinds of boost glide vehicles attack the gaps in our missile defense system,” said Thomas Karako, director of the Missile Defense Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “There’s no time like the present to modify our current missile defense posture,” Karako added, saying it was “unfortunate that we have let Russia come this far.” [source] Analyst comment: Well, it isn’t as if we could have stopped Russia’s development of this system, but perhaps what the expert meant is that the U.S. should have been doing more to develop its own hypersonic capability or, perhaps, better defenses. Either way, this system looks like it will be operational in less than two years — long before an equivalent U.S. system is ready for deployment, most likely, unless the recently-awarded hypersonic development contract given to Lockheed produces results sooner than expected. 

First Russian-made S-400 air defense system arrives in China

In 2014, China became Russia’s first foreign customer for the S-400 Triumf air defense system, and the first regimental set has now been completely delivered. Two ships from Russia carrying the initial components arrived in China in April; the third and final ship carrying support equipment arrived this month. That means all elements of the system — command centers, launchers, guided missiles and power supply gear — have arrived in China. Russian personnel are expected to begin handing over the system to Chinese military officials beginning later this month, a process that is expected to take two months, including operational training and set-up. An S-400 regiment consists of two battalions; each battalion, also referred to as divisions, has two batteries. A standard battery consists of four transporter-erector launchers, each with four launch tubes, as well as fire-control radar and a command module. Russia media reported that China has only bought two regimental sets, but other reports claim Beijing has bought four-to-six sets. In addition to China, other customers or potential customers include Turkey, India, and Saudi Arabia. [source] Analyst comment: Reports indicate that China has as many as 15 divisions of the S-400’s predecessor, the S-300, deployed along the coast of its Fujian province, which overlooks northern Taiwan. The S-400 has yet to be utilized in combat, but it’s reported to be an extremely capable system that costs less than corresponding U.S. Patriot systems.


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

NATO-Russia:

Late last week, the U.S. Air Force scrambled a pair of U.S. F-22s from Alaska to intercept a pair of approaching Russian nuclear-capable bombers. The approach by the bombers — Tu95 Bears — were the first in more than a year by Russian bombers getting that close to U.S. territory. Intel sources said the bombers came to within 55 miles of the Alaskan west coast. The F-22s monitored the Bears until they left the U.S. air-defense identification zone (ADIZ) along the Aleutian Islands. They didn’t enter sovereign U.S. airspace, according to a Canadian NORAD spokesman. As has been the case for the past decade, we expect to see more ‘tests’ of U.S. air defenses like this one. 

The Trump administration’s decision to reestablish the Second Fleet, which was disbanded in 2011 as a cost-cutting measure, is aimed to address the new realization that the U.S. Atlantic Coast is vulnerable to a revisionist Russia. Historically, throughout the Cold War, the Second Fleet’s area of operations and responsibility was the North Atlantic, where it was mainly tasked with detecting and defending against Russian subs and surface fleet vessels. That threat is rising again as the Russian navy receives upgraded nuclear- and conventional-powered submarines. The Pentagon understands than in an emergency NATO would rely heavily on American reinforcements of personnel and equipment — much of which would have to be sent via ship across the Atlantic, where Russian subs would no doubt be lying in wait. During the Cold War and now, the most strategic terrain involves the waters around Greenland, Iceland and the western approaches to the U.K.: the so-called GIUK gap. U.S. defense experts believe that reestablishing the Second Fleet will encourage NATO navies to upgrade their capabilities as well, and for the same reason — to thwart Russian revisionism.

Meanwhile, the Russian navy continues to prepare. The missile cruiser Marshal Ustinov of the Northern Fleet held live-fire exercises in the Barents Sea recently involving its close-in missile defense system. “During the combat exercise, the combat team of the missile and artillery unit of the cruiser Marshal Ustinov was assigned the task to deliver a missile strike against a grouping of a notional enemy’s warships. The fire was delivered against a complex target position installed in the designated area of the Barents Sea,” said navy spokesman Captain 1st Rank Vadim Serga. The ship joined the then-Soviet fleet in 1986; it has a top speed of 32 knots and a crew complement of 500 officers and enlisted personnel. It’s basic weapons load consists of 16 missile launchers capable of firing supersonic anti-ship missiles. There are three such vessels — Moskva in the Black Sea Fleet, the Varyag in the Pacific Fleet and the Marshal Ustinov in the Northern Fleet. 

Russian President Vladimir Putin announced that warships armed with the Kalibr cruise missile are to be permanently stationed in the Mediterranean Sea, allegedly to defend against “attacks by international terrorists in Syria.” He noted further: “Cruise missile strikes and effective operations by deck aircraft inflicted serious losses on the terrorists and eliminated their key facilities and infrastructure. These and other crucial tasks were coped with successfully largely thanks to the high combat and technological readiness of the Navy.” Putin then gave away the real intention behind the permanent stationing of ships in the Med: “It is essential to enhance the naval component of the strategic nuclear force. This will increase the role of the Navy in nuclear deterrence.”

Russia is also said to be developing the Poseidon, an underwater drone that is capable of carrying a nuclear warhead of up to 2 megatons that would be used against enemy naval bases. “It will be possible to mount various nuclear charges on the ‘torpedo’ of the Poseidon multipurpose seaborne system, with the thermonuclear single warhead similar to the Avangard charge to have the maximum capacity of up to 2 megatons in TNT equivalent,” a source told Russian media. With its nuclear munition, the underwater drone “is primarily designed to destroy reinforced naval bases of a potential enemy,” the source noted further. The drone is expected to join the Russian fleet under the existing armament program from 2018-2027. It will be carried by a new specialized sub that is currently being built at the Sevmash Shipyard. Putin announced the development of the drone earlier this year during his annual state address to the nation. Trials of the basic element of the drone, its small nuclear power plant, have already been conducted

Middle East: 

The Israelis could not have made their message more clear to the Iranians last week: They want Tehran’s forces out of Syria, and Jerusalem is willing to go to war with the Islamic republic if need be. That’s the best way to read Israel’s massive response to an Iranian missile attack in which Revolutionary Guard forces lobbed some 20 missiles into Israeli territory, with some getting through the Jewish state’s substantial missile defense barriers and striking military bases. Israeli warplanes attacked dozens of Iranian military installations throughout Syria, sending a clear message that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is in no mood to negotiate with the Iranian mullahs when it comes to his country’s national security. 

After the Trump administration withdrew from the nuclear deal, the U.S. military is now becoming increasingly concerned with Iran’s proliferation of intermediate-range missiles, mostly to the Houthi rebels in Yemen, but elsewhere as well. So far there doesn’t seem to be a plan short of containment to deal with the issue, but pessimistic assessments from defense media not very friendly to the White House or the president proclaim the problem to be bigger than it actually is. Sure, Iran is proliferating its missiles and technology, and sure, the Pentagon ought to “do something” about it, say these critics. But short of war, what can be done? The U.S. could work with Israel to either interdict known missile shipments or destroy caches of missiles that have already been shipped and are in the hands of rebels and/or Iran proxies. As for the Iran nuclear deal, these critics tend to discount Israeli evidence showing that Tehran was continuing its nuclear development, but in secret. Sound familiar? It should; despite the 1994 “Agreed Framework” the Clinton administration and our allies negotiated with North Korea, Pyongyang continued its nuclear development as well. Here’s the thing regarding Iranian missile development: It takes money, and right now the Iranian regime, which spends a pittance on its military compared to Saudi Arabia’s $70 billion annual budget, is fairly cash-starved, thanks to lower oil prices (that are rising, to be sure) and newly-imposed sanctions. 

There is some good news in the region. After the U.S. moved its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem this week, in formal recognition that the city is Israel’s capital alone, word came that the Trump administration is readying an Israeli-Palestinian peace plan that the White House hopes will become the basis for a lasting agreement between the two. Reports noted that the U.S. was in the “late phases” of the plan, which is expected to be presented to both sides in the coming months. Senior Trump administration officials say that despite the fact that the Palestinians are vehemently opposed to the recognition that Jerusalem is Israel’s capital, it’s not being viewed as an impediment to a peace deal. The plan has been in the works for a year, and will be presented “when the time is right.” Said one administration official: “We want to get a lasting deal that is livable for both parties.” The administration realizes that neither side will like everything that is in the plan, but it’s being viewed as a viable starting point subject to negotiation.

North Korea:

As North Korea now regularly consults its primary ally, China, in the lead-up to talks with the United States aimed at denuclearization, Washington’s allies are in regular contact with President Trump and his diplomatic corps. Late last week Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe made another trip to D.C. for talks with Trump that of course touched on North Korea and the U.S. alliance with Tokyo and Seoul. Trump has also been in close contact with South Korean President Moon Jae-in and he’s spoken with Chinese President Xi Jinping as well. It is shaping up to be a real breakthrough for all parties involved but the world as well — will it pan out?

It’s still difficult to say at this point but in a recent summary we noted that one of the reasons why Kim suddenly traveled to China in late March to visit with Xi after neglecting the Chinese leader for years after he took power in 2011 could have been due to the fact that the North’s principal nuclear test site was heavily damaged and threatening China with nuclear contamination. Now comes news that the damage may very well be more severe than originally believed. A team of international scientists who have examined the Punggye-ri site say a larger part has collapsed, caving in on itself in the hours and days after the latest nuclear test — the North’s largest — in September 2017. The study of the site was conducted by U.S., Singaporean, German, and Chinese scientists examining space-based radar and satellite imagery. Kim has offered to close the site as a goodwill gesture ahead of talks with Trump, but others say it’s essentially meaningless since the site is no longer usable anyway. During talks with Moon, Kim said that two larger tunnels at the site were still in good condition, but other analyses question that. Nevertheless, it doesn’t appear as though the site is usable, which makes its ‘dismantling’ and closure largely ceremonial. 

That said, this is could just be a public relations campaign. A former North Korean diplomat who defected to South Korea says that Kim’s nuclear weapons program is essentially his pride and joy — and his means of maintaining his family’s dynasty — and that he’ll never surrender it willingly. “It is too early to predict (with one month left before the U.S.-North Korea summit), but I think the North will move toward sufficient, verifiable, irreversible dismantling, which is to sufficiently reduce threats from nuclear weapons, rather than seek complete, verifiable and irreversible dismantlement (CVID),” Thae Yong-ho told reporters. “The final destination that the North is headed for is not to completely dismantle its nuclear weapons program but become a nuclear weapons state covered by the paper called denuclearization.” He added: “Kim Jong-un said during a party meeting on April 20 that (nuclear weapons) are a treasured sword for protecting peace. He also said that they are the strongest assurance that guarantees the most respected and happiest life on earth,” he said. “They are, in other words, a sword and a shield for eternal prosperity, prosperity and happiness for generations to come … He will never give them up.”

For him to do so, however, will require the U.S. giving Kim rock-solid security guarantees, according to the one American official who knows him better than anyone else right now — Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who’s at least met Kim twice now. In describing the stakes of the upcoming 12 June Trump-Kim summit (if it goes off as hoped/planned), the president will have to “provide security assurances” to Kim personally. Trump’s objective is complete and verifiable nuclear disarmament in exchange, in part, for U.S. assistance in helping Kim improve his country’s economy. Pompeo didn’t elaborate in his media interview but said the assurances could be of the type that Pyongyang has sought in the past. During negotiations with North Korea in 2005, for instance, the U.S. declared that it no longer kept nuclear weapons on the peninsula and said that Washington “affirmed…[it] has no intention to attack or invade with nuclear or conventional weapons.” Pompeo noted further: “Make no mistake about it, America’s interest here is preventing the risk that North Korea will launch a nuclear weapon into L.A. or Denver or to the very place we’re sitting here this morning. That’s our objective, that’s the end state the president has laid out and that’s the mission that he sent me on this past week, to put us on the trajectory to go achieve that.” As to whether this agreement will get done, Pompeo said that “American leadership under President Trump has its eyes wide open.”

South China Sea:

A little more than 20 years ago the “Third Taiwan Crisis” took place after Taiwan’s president, Lee Teng-hui, was granted a travel visa by the Clinton administration so he could give a speech at his alma mater, Cornell University. The incident angered the Chinese, who spent much of 1995 and 1996 engaged in an intimidation campaign against its much smaller island neighbor that also involved actual preparations for battle. The Chinese drew up plans to launch a missile a day at Taiwan’s economic centers, which was likely to be followed by an invasion force. President Clinton ordered two U.S. aircraft carriers into the region — both as a show of American naval power and also in support of Taiwan, whom the U.S. is treaty-bound to defend. It was at that moment the Chinese were humiliated because they realized their armed forces were not equipped to defeat carrier-based forces. That has changed. In the proceeding 20-odd years, China, through its massive economic expansion, has managed to build a credible deterrent against American carriers, to include the DF-21 ‘carrier-killer’ intermediate-range ballistic missile. This development has come even as the People’s Liberation Army Navy has co-developed offensive capabilities, to include its own aircraft carriers (five of which are believed planned) and nuclear-powered submarines. In the future, the U.S. Navy will be forced to operate 800-900 miles from Taiwan in order to remain out of range of Chinese defenses in the event of a crisis. That alone could mean the U.S. won’t have the ability to adequately defend its ally.

That said, a spokesman for the Chinese government has come out and said, directly, that Chinese military exercises around the self-ruled island were indeed meant as a direct threat against any attempt by Taipei to declare its independence. The message conveyed by recent drills was “very clear,” a spokesman for the Cabinet’s Taiwan Affairs Office, An Fengshan, said at a regular news briefing. “It is a strong warning to Taiwan independence separatist forces and their activities. It demonstrates our determination and capabilities to safeguard national sovereignty and territorial integrity,” An said, adding that Beijing has the “firm will, full confidence and sufficient capabilities” to block moves toward Taiwan’s formal independence. Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen has rebuffed Chinese demands to recognize that Taiwan is a part of China.

As Beijing prepares to exert greater control over the South China Sea, the military says it is preparing to build bigger warships as the navy’s first domestically-produced aircraft carrier begins sea trials. A substantial upgrade to the Soviet-era refurbished carrier Liaoning, the new Type 001A is meant, in part, to demonstrate Beijing’s growing naval construction prowess. Hu Wenming, chairman of the China Shipbuilding Industry Corporation, told state television recently that the new carrier was a collaboration project between civilian contractors and the government’s defense industry. He also said that bigger carriers are in the offing.

Meanwhile, other governments continue to push back against China’s control and militarization of the SCS. Vietnam has formally requested that Beijing remove military gear and weaponry from its SCS islands to maintain “peace and responsibility.” The request comes after American media reports earlier this month noting that China had placed anti-ship cruise missiles and surface-to-air missiles on three of its SCS outposts. “Vietnam requests that China, as a large country, shows its responsibility in maintaining peace and stability in the East Sea,” Vietnamese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Le Thi Thu Hang said in a statement. China has not publicly or officially acknowledged the deployment of systems that put the entire SCS within range. “Vietnam is extremely concerned about the information (as reported) and reaffirms that all militarisation activities, including the installation of missiles on the Spratly Islands, is a serious violation of Vietnam’s sovereignty,” Hang said.


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

Former CIA agent charged with providing classified into to China

A former CIA case officer, Jerry Chung Shin Lee, 53, has been indicted by a federal grand jury on espionage charges. Officials allege he was passing classified information to the Chinese government including the identities of covert U.S. operatives and their China-based human intelligence (HUMINT) assets, according to a Justice Department announcement. Lee worked for the CIA from 1994 to 2007 and is alleged to have worked with a pair of Chinese intelligence officers to arrange for the theft of classified documents in exchange for cash payments. In addition, DoJ officials claim he prepared handwritten notes that contained the real names and phone numbers of U.S. intelligence and CIA assets and employees working in China, along with operational notes from asset meetings as well as the locations of covert facilities, the indictment reads. When he left the CIA’s employ he settled with his family in Hong Kong. There, Chinse agents approached him and offered to pay him for classified information. Eventually, he is said to have agreed to accept assignments from Chinese intelligence. He set up secret email accounts to contact and converse with them covertly. Lee was arrested at JFK International Airport in New York City in January of this year. Federal investigators had suspected for years he was working with Chinese intelligence and were investigating his ties. When FBI agents searched Lee’s hotel rooms in Virginia and Hawaii in 2012 they found a 49-page notebook and a 21-page address book, both of which contained highly classified information he obtained from the CIA. He also repeatedly lied to investigators regarding his overseas activities during five interviews in May and June 2013. It’s not clear why the U.S. government waited so long to arrest him. Some high-level intelligence officials in the United States believe Lee’s espionage led to the dismantling of the CIA’s spy network throughout China. In the end, more than a dozen CIA assets were either killed or imprisoned by Beijing. [source] 

Britain’s MI5 chief: UK, EU intel sharing ‘never more important’

It’s an increasingly dangerous world and especially on the European continent as revisionist Russia rises and other threats, including terrorism, increase, making intelligence-sharing more important now than ever, according to the head of MI5, Andrew Parker. In his first public speech since taking over Britain’s domestic counterintelligence and security agency, Parker said, “In today’s uncertain world we need that shared strength more than ever.” He added that MI5, along with Britain’s two other main intelligence services MI6 and GCHQ, are anxious to continue a close working relationship with EU intelligence services after Brexit. In his speech he warned that ISIS, despite being ejected from all of its strongholds in Syria and the surrounding regions, remains a threat and is attempting to “direct devastating and more complex attacks” throughout Europe. He also directly blamed Moscow for the nerve agent attack against former Russian spies living in England, Sergei Skripal and daughter Yulia. “European intelligence cooperation today is simply unrecognizable to what it looked like five years ago,” he said. Britain, as a member of the Five Eyes agreement, has access to the vast U.S. intelligence community and thus is viewed as a valuable partner for EU intelligence agencies. That said, Britain also shares a lot of intelligence with France and Germany, as well as other, smaller EU countries where the British intel footprint is small.

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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