14 February 2016

Why Siachen Is an Uncomfortable Battle Even for the Soldier


Lt Gen Mukesh Sabharwal
The passing away of a brave soldier, Lance Naik Hanumanthappa, who was buried under heavy snow in the Siachen glacier, has caught the attention of a grateful nation. Much credit must be accorded to his indomitable spirit to survive and will to live against all odds. 
Citizens, one and all, led by the prime minister recognise the sacrifice of 10 valiant soldiers of the Indian Army who were the unfortunate victims of the avalanche at those icy heights. May their souls rest in peace. 
The print, electronic and social media have indeed been forthcoming in covering the tragedy and conveying the sentiments of the public, while paying homage to the departed soldiers. Yet, there are some discordant voices that question the presence of soldiers in that area. 
A view expressed in The Hindu of 11 February 2016 says “that the tragedy does not seem to convince the Defence Minister, Mr Manohar Parrikar to order troop withdrawal from the glacier” (sic).
Parrikar, in a very balanced statement had in fact mentioned,
The decision on Siachen is based on the security of the nation. I am disturbed by the loss of life but I think that due to this, some other solution [withdrawal] would not be the proper analysis.
Why such a senseless unconcern for human lives at unforgiving altitudes and extreme climatic conditions? It is generally believed that commanders are so mission-oriented that they do not care how many casualties are suffered, as long as success is achieved. Nothing can be further from the truth.
The relationship and bond that units and sub-units establish while operating in adverse conditions like Siachen can truly be experienced when one physically stays there for a period of time. When six to eight soldiers, including an officer, live together in a fibre glass hut, share food, see each other’s faces every morning, noon and night, rope up on a patrol as one team, they learn to care and live and die for each other. It was no different for 19 MADRAS, and it is of little wonder that the camaraderie on display was built on an edifice of faith and honour.
The rescue parties worked relentlessly day and night in the hope that some members of the party would miraculously survive. Led by the Commanding Officer, who personally oversaw the rescue operation, it was the dogged determination of the troops that succeeded in finding Lance Naik Hanumanthappa and the mortal remains of the other nine soldiers. 
Credit must be given to the medical officers, helicopter pilots of the Indian Air Force and Army Aviation along with their maintenance and support staff who have conducted casualty evacuation operations with unparalleled zeal. 

A Little Context
Rescue operation in the Siachen glacier. (Photo: PTI)
Casualties, the gravest concern, have reduced drastically, especially after the November 2003 ceasefire. The author of the article in The Hindu goes on to opine that just because we have militarily and materially invested in the Siachen region over the years, it does not provide us with a strategically sound rationale to continue stationing troops there – only to keep losing them year after year.
So what is the strategic significance of Siachen? Lt Gen ML Chibber, the erstwhile Northern Army Commander had succinctly stated that the Siachen glacier is a wedge that keeps the two adversaries apart. If one were to concede to the Pakistani view that the line north of NJ 9842 does indeed join with the Karakoram Pass, it would literally amount to the Chinese presence in the Shaksgam valley moving southwards to the Nubra valley.

With reported activity of Chinese troops involved in building projects in Gilgit and Baltistan, the general area, right down to the Shyok valley will become a collusive playground and a zone for future exploitation by the Chinese and Pakistanis through the Khunjerab and Karakoram passes. Occupation of the Saltoro and Siachen provides a buffer to Ladakh and in military parlance, the much needed depth to important mountain passes that are gateways to Ladakh and Kashmir.
There are some who point out that it is futile to hold on to the positions on the Saltoro ridgeline because they are important only tactically and are of no strategic significance. They are obviously unaware of the prevailing conditions in Siachen and the unequal advantage that accrues to a defender deployed in prepared positions on heights of 18,000 feet. 
Whereas no position is ever considered impregnable by a determined body of soldiers – ask any survivor of such an attack that either failed or succeeded, about his tribulations and his brush with death at close quarters. The professionals in the Pakistan Army are not naïve to have attempted to capture pickets on the Saltoro over and over again despite heavy casualties. If ever there was a tactical gain that was instrumental in providing exponential dividend to a strategic cause, this is one.

Prospects for a Demilitarised Siachen
Citizens and analysts alike agree with the view that the two nations and their armies are engaged in a futile conflict in some of the most inhospitable terrain. The benefits of de-militarisation are not lost on any rational thinking person. 
The area can be transformed into a peace park or a laboratory for scientific experiments – the environment can be protected and mountaineering expeditions can be flagged off. Moreover, casualties can be avoided and the national exchequers of both countries can be eased a trifle.
There is, however, a caveat. What if the agreement is flouted and the positions are occupied by the Pakistan Army? There are proponents who advocate that there should be adequate safeguards built into the agreement to include punitive action, if the aggrieved nation so desires. In practice, punitive action is easier said than done, more importantly generating the political will to authorise it. 
If one was to put one’s finger on just one factor that had an overarching impact on the resolution of the Siachen problem, it would be mutual trust or rather, the lack of it. The level of mistrust between India and Pakistan in general and the Indian and Pakistani security forces in particular is so deep-rooted that it will take the better part of a couple of generations to overturn. 
Starting with the proxy war in 1989, the illegal occupation of Kargil heights in 1999, and the alleged role of the ISI in a number of terrorist actions in India would make an exhaustive list. The attack on the Parliament and the Mumbai terrorist attack on 26/11 are bitter reminders. Calibrating the proxy war in Jammu & Kashmir, providing financial and moral support to tanzeems and unwillingness to expel terrorism from their soil are at the base of Pakistan’s rampant mistrust. It must be remembered that nations grow, prosper and develop when the sanctity of their borders is intact.
As acknowledged by the defence minister, members of the Indian defence forces deployed in the Siachen glacier region are performing a challenging role in extremely harsh and adverse conditions and the nation must laud their efforts. I close with the following lines that express a soldier’s wish:

He seeks no reward, material or otherwise; 
His karm​a he performs with honour and pride; 
Yet he longs sometimes, for he is human after all; 
For the love of his countrymen; 
Yes he does, the Army Man.
(The author was the erstwhile 15 Corps Commander in Kashmir and has served in the Siachen glacier region.)

Can China Jump-Start Its Maritime Silk Road in 2016?

February 12, 2016

According to the director of China’s State Oceanic Administration, China has big plans for the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road (MSR) in 2016. Xinhuacited SOA chief Wang Hong as saying that China will advance the MSR with an action plan this year. Wang also spoke of establishing “a China-ASEAN maritime cooperation center and a platform to boost maritime cooperation in East Asia,” according to Xinhua. 

China has already issued an action plan on both the “Belt and Road” – the report on “Vision and Actions on Jointly Building Silk Road Economic Belt and 21st-Century Maritime Silk Road” from March 2015. That document laid out routes and priorities for the MSR: “The 21st-Century Maritime Silk Road is designed to go from China’s coast to Europe through the South China Sea and the Indian Ocean in one route, and from China’s coast through the South China Sea to the South Pacific in the other… At sea, the Initiative will focus on jointly building smooth, secure and efficient transport routes connecting major sea ports along the Belt and Road.”

Yet though the “Belt and Road” were both unveiled in fall 2013, and given a joint action plan in March 2015, development of the overland “Belt” has outpaced the MSR. In particular, China has found eager partners for the “Belt” in Pakistan, Kazakhstan, and Iran. Meanwhile, however, the most willing takers for China’s MSR investments are farther afield – such as Egypt – leaving missing links close to home in the sea leg of the “Belt and Road.”

That’s in part because China’s maritime neighbors in Southeast Asia harbor concerns about China’s conduct in the South China Sea. Wang’s championing of the MSR this week provides ironic symbolism of this point. The SOA, of which Wang is the director, is partially responsible for defending China’s maritime territorial claims, including in the South China Sea, by making sure Chinese laws are enforced in those areas – even disputed regions. It’s not hard to imagine neighbors, particularly those who have maritime disputes with China, looking askance at the SOA head’s proclamations of cooperation.

Plus, Wang’s remarks don’t seem to indicate a new strategy for promoting the MSR, or maritime cooperation. Talk of a China-ASEAN maritime cooperation center is old hat; as my colleague Prashanth Parameswaranpointed out last year, China has been talking about maritime cooperation with ASEAN since at least 2011. As part of those efforts, Chinese officials have been discussing setting up a China-ASEAN cooperation center under the aegis of SOA since 2014. And while Wang might be full of optimism for the MSR in 2016, last year was officially dubbed the “Year of ASEAN-China Maritime Cooperation” – without much to show for all the fanfare.

Meanwhile, given China and Japan’s inability to even set up a crisis management mechanism in the East China Sea, the idea of a broader “platform to boost maritime cooperation in East Asia” seems even more far-fetched.

That’s not to say China’s “Belt and Road” hasn’t made any progress at all in Southeast Asia. Last year, China won high-profile railway deals with both Laos and Indonesia, and officially signed another rail agreement with Thailand. Plus, Sri Lanka’s government recently decided to allow a Chinese port development project to continue (initially, Maithripala Sirisena’s administration had delayed the project, citing concerns over the legality of the government permissions granted by his predecessor).

But overall, the MSR is lagging behind its overland twin – and that’s largely because of a reluctance among China’s closest maritime neighbors. As Dr. Xue Li of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences has argued in The Diplomat, winning the trust and support of China’s neighbors will be instrumental to the success of the MSR. Over two years after the “Belt and Road” were announced, Beijing is still struggling to achieve that goal.

Taiwan’s South China Sea Dilemma

By Shang-su Wu
February 12, 2016

The speech of Taiwanese President Ma Ying-Jeou on Taiping Island (also known as Itu Aba, among other names) on January 28 not only demonstrates his view on the territorial disputes in the South China Sea, but also reveals the dilemma that confronts his successor, President-elect Tsai Ing-wen.

With its occupation of some South China Sea islands after the end of the Second World War, and with the publication of the eleven-dash line on its map in 1947, the Republic of China (ROC) regime, despite losing its governance over Mainland China in 1949, has officially maintained substantial territorial claims over the South China Sea. However, the ROC’s isolated international status since the 1970s marginalizes its role in the region, given its inability to participate in related meetings and legal moves. Moreover, in order to maintain unofficial relations with regional countries and keep itself distinct from Beijing, Taipei has rarely highlighted its broader claims. In 2000, Taiwan’s garrison on Taiping was downgraded from the Marine Corps to the Coast Guard in a bid to lower tensions. Since 2008, however, in step with growing cross-strait integration, the Ma administrationgradually ramped up its rhetoric on the South China Sea, among other things proposing that Taipei and Beijing organize a joint fleet to patrol the waters.

Stratfor: What Kind of Great Power Will China Become?

Summary: How China wields its growing power will help shape the geopolitical world of the 21st century. Here Stratfor looks at China and speculates at what it might become. {1st of 2 posts today.} 

What Kind of Power Will China Become?
Stratfor, 3 February 2016

These are grim times for the Chinese economy. In the two years since property markets peaked and subsequently began to slow in most cities across China, it has become abundantly clear that the approach to economic management that sustained double-digit annual growth for two decades has exhausted itself. The unprecedented stock market volatility of the past year, along with signs of spreading unemployment and labor unrest in many regions, are important reminders that the transition to new foundations of national economic growth will in all likelihood be bitter, slow and unnervingly uncertain.

Hong Kong and the Future of Chinese Unrest

By George Friedman and Jacob Shapiro 

Protests during New Year celebrations may not spell trouble for the Communist Party. 

Demonstrations broke out in Hong Kong after police shut down unlicensed food stalls that popped up in the Mong Kok area during the Chinese New Year celebration. It appears as though these food stalls are a normal part of this celebration and police usually look the other way. But this year, the police shut them down, sparking demonstrations that are being called the "fishball revolution" on Chinese social media, named after the food some of these stalls sell.

Clashes between police and citizens erupted after activists tried to defend the vendors. It appears that people had advance notice that the police were going to clear these stalls, because according to BBC, hundreds of people had gathered in the area to support the vendors. Clashes lasted about six hours, and while there were calls on Chinese social media and messaging service WhatsApp to "eat fishballs" again, by Tuesday evening things had calmed down. Ninety people were injured and 61 people were arrested. No fatalities were reported. However, Chinese police fired warning shots into the air. They would not have done that if they did not fear the situation might get out of hand.

It is important to keep this in perspective. Anything that happens in Hong Kong is magnified simply because global media is more present there than on the mainland. There are many foreigners willing to be interviewed and news can be readily transmitted. In 2014, hundreds of thousands of people, also in Mong Kok, demonstrated against proposed reforms to Hong Kong’s electoral system. In December 2015, a group called the National Independence Party is suspected of having planted a bomb in a garbage can outside the Legislative Council’s building. So the tension is not new and is focused on political issues more than economic ones, although the demonstrators defending street food vendors was an interesting dimension of the rights movement defending the relatively poor.

Islamic State uses detailed security manual, revealing its cyber strategy

A security manual co-opted by the Islamic State has been found, containing instructions ranging from avoiding Instagram, to using tools like anonymous browser Tor to avoid detection 

Armed police arrive in the street in Paris, after Isil attacked the city Photo: Paul Grover

Researchers have discovered that the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil), which claimed responsibility for the Paris attacks, has been using a 34-page operational security manual that shows how tech-savvy the extremist terror group really is. 

In a translation given to WIRED magazine by the Combating Terrorism Centre at West Point’s military academy, the manual provides digital guidelines on using everything from social media, to encrypted Internet browsers like Tor and keeping your emails private. 

The guide was originally written in 2014 by Cyberkov, a Kuwaiti cyber-security firm for journalists and activists in Gaza, as a guide to protecting security. It was also found to be circulated in Isil chat rooms. 

Islamic State 'help desk' helps members avoid internet surveillance

11 February 2016

Islamic State supporters in the centre of Mosul, Iraq Credit: AP 

The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil) is telling members how to avoid internet surveillance by Western authorities with an online "help desk".

ISIS relying on child soldiers, drugged fighters as grip on Mosul slips

February 11, 2016 

Iraq planning to retake Mosul as battle for Ramadi continues

ERBIL, Iraq – As the battle for its Iraqi stronghold of Mosul looms, an increasingly desperate ISIS has replaced much of its depleted senior ranks with child soldiers and drugged foreign fighters ill-equipped to use what’s left of the terrorist army’s stolen armaments, according to both Kurdish and national intelligence sources.

Since ISIS captured Iraq’s second-largest city in June 2014, near daily skirmishes with Kurds and Iraqi national forces, as well as coalition air attacks, have taken a heavy toll on the battle-hardened former military officers who formed the terrorist army’s backbone. The attacks, as well as the 20-month isolation of Mosul, also have left ISIS weaponry destroyed or degraded, say experts.

“ISIS is really stupid. If they weren’t stupid they wouldn’t join ISIS.”

- Kamal Kirkuki, spokesman for the Kurdistan Democratic Party

Why Assad's Army Has Not Defected

February 12, 2016

Four years ago, Turkey’s then prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said that within in a few weeks he would be praying in Damascus’s Umayyad Mosque, as Assad was about to fall. Similarly, Israel’s most decorated soldier, former Defense Minister Ehud Barak, predicted that Assad and his military would be toppled within weeks. That was at the beginning of 2012, when there were no Iranian soldiers on the ground or Russian planes in the skies.

As another round of Geneva peace talks collapses and the world wonders what’s next for Syria, it is time to begin with the warnings of Henry Kissinger and Zbignew Brzezinski. Kissinger and Brzezinski, the most seasoned and influential U.S. policymakers on the Middle East since World War II, havegone against popular opinion and stated that President Bashar al-Assad hasmore support than all the opposition groups combined.

It is no secret that the Saudis and Qataris, with full U.S. support, have tried to bribe some of Assad’s innermost circles to defect. The all-important professional military cadre of the Syrian Arab Army, however, has remained thoroughly loyal.

UAE to store crude oil in Mangalore petroleum reserve

India tells UAE energy minister OVL, IOCL keen to buy stakes in oil fields under production

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi Sheikh Mohammed Bin Zayed Al Nahyan (R) at an air force base in New Delhi on Wednesday. 

New Delhi: The United Arab Emirates’ (UAE) Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC) will store crude oil in India’s 1.5 million tonnes-Mangalore strategic petroleum reserve using it as a wholesale storage capacity and sell to the Indian refiners whenever needed, oil minister Dharmendra Pradhan said after a meeting with visiting energy minister Suhail Mohammed Al Mazrouei.

India also informed Al Mazrouei that state-run companies ONGC Videsh Ltd (OVL), Indian Oil Corp. Ltd (IOCL), Bharat Petroleum Corp. Ltd (BPCL), Hindustan Petroleum Corp. Ltd (HPCL) and Oil India Ltd were interested in taking stakes in oil fields that are under production and in securing hydrocarbon exploration permits in the Persian Gulf country.

An oil ministry statement quoted Pradhan as saying Indian companies were also interested in acquiring a stake in Abu Dhabi Company for Onshore Petroleum Operations Ltd. (ADCO), another company held by the UAE through ADNOC. Pradhan also offered New Delhi’s idea of a strategic reserve is primarily to tide over any possible supply disruption due to geopolitical reasons, rather than to build up an inventory of cheap oil, officials privy to the development explained.

How President Putin is getting what he wants in Syria

Viewed from the West, Russia's President, Vladimir Putin, is in the diplomatic dog-house.

His annexation of Crimea and military involvement in eastern Ukraine broke the settled pattern of post-Cold War relations in Europe.

The Russian military's increasingly aggressive patrolling and exercises on the margins of Nato have raised genuine concerns - even in a country such as Sweden - that a conflict with Russia can no longer be regarded as impossible.

Reluctant Nato governments are slowly increasing defence spending, and the US is taking steps to reinforce its forward presence in Europe.

Russia, of course, puts the boot on the other foot and blames Nato's expansion for its increased military readiness.

But this is a government widely believed to have sent its agents to poison an opponent in London, leaving a radioactive trail across the city.

* The European Band Plays On

By George Friedman 
Feb. 11, 2016 

The EU’s six founding members may deepen integration among themselves, while leaving the rest to follow their own paths. 

In an interview with Bloomberg, Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi addressed the various crises currently facing the European Union, saying, “The EU is like the orchestra playing on the Titanic.” I don’t think anything captures the reality in Europe better than that quote, save for one thing. The orchestra on the Titanic knew that the ship was sinking and that they were going to die. They played in defiance of their fate. The leadership and apparatus of the EU are on a sinking ship, they see the water rising, but they insist that if they simply keep playing their old tunes, the ship will refloat and sail on. That orchestra on the Titanic played with heroic courage. The EU band is playing with an apparent denial of reality. There is a vast intellectual and moral distinction between the two and I suspect Renzi is aware of that distinction.

Meanwhile, the foreign ministers of the six founding members of the EU met in Rome on Feb. 9. Ministers from Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg and the Netherlands issued a joint communique, saying they were “concerned about the State of the European project.” They cited two serious problems challenging the European Union: migration and terrorism. Take a moment to appreciate what was left out: the catastrophic economic condition of southern Europe. Greece and Spain both still have unemployment rates at about 20 percent, as does southern Italy. Also left out of the ministers’ statement was the inability of the EU to formulate a joint policy to do something about the economic crisis. Or to act jointly and decisively to mitigate the social catastrophe that is underway. That silence was the sound of denial – denial of the fact that one part of the EU is in a catastrophic condition and is regarded by the other part of the EU as a foreign entity, not as part of a single cohesive union.

Why Is America Restarting the Cold War With Russia?

February 11, 2016

The president’s new budget proposal for 2017 calls for a 200 percent increase for our military spending in Europe aimed at Russia—perhaps the most provocative step yet in our apparent efforts to encircle and antagonize that country.

Meanwhile, spending aimed at ISIS is to increase by 50 percent.

In a speech last week in Washington,Secretary of Defense Ashton Cartersaid explicitly that Russia constitutes a greater threat to U.S. security than ISIS, as witness Russian military activity from Ukraine to Syria. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, dutifully echoing the administration line, has indicated similar views.

This is belligerent nonsense.

Radical Islam has declared war on the United States, beheaded our citizens, planned and carried out the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, killed our soldiers and Marines in Iraq and Afghanistan, and declared its intention to set up a caliphate that would stretch from the Mediterranean to the Caspian.

Past as Prologue? What North Korea Teaches Us About Iran’s Nuclear Program

By A. Trevor Thrall and Gregory D. Koblentz
February 12, 2016

North Korea’s test of a long-range ballistic missile last weekend, coming one month after its fourth underground nuclear test, spurred the usual rounds of global condemnation. During the last Republican debate in the United States, candidates took turns calling for expanding missile defense spending and suggesting that it is time for military action against the regime. Senator Ted Cruz linked North Korea with Iran. “The fact that we’re seeing the launch and we’re seeing the launch from a nuclear North Korea is a result of the failures of the first Clinton administration,” Cruz argued. “What we are seeing with North Korea is foreshadowing of where we should be with Iran.”

Cruz’s attack goes to the heart of the debate about Iran’s nuclear program. Critics have consistently argued that Iran, like North Korea, will disregard the nuclear deal and develop nuclear weapons covertly with the help of funding generated by the easing of economic and financial sanctions.

Organizing for the future

byAaron De Smet, Susan Lund, and William Schaninger
January 2016

Platform-based talent markets help put the emphasis in human-capital management back where it belongs—on humans.

The best way to organize corporations—it’s a perennial debate. But the discussion is becoming more urgent as digital technology begins to penetrate the labor force.

Although consumers have largely gone digital, the digitization of jobs, and of the tasks and activities within them, is still in the early stages, according to a recent study by McKinsey Global Institute (MGI). Even companies and industries at the forefront of digital spending and usage have yet to digitize the workforce fully (Exhibit 1).1

Are Industrial Control Systems the Latest Weapon in Modern Warfare?

by Barry Mattacott, marketing director, Wick Hill Group 

Are industrial control and SCADA (Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition) systems the new frontier, not just for cyber-crime but also for cyberwar? Until recently, when you were at war with a country, you sent in your bombers. First they hit the military targets. Once they had finished those off, they would hit infrastructure, with attacks designed to destroy industry and demoralise the civilian population.

Electricity production, oil and gas, even water and waste services would all be targeted. However, nowadays, you don't need brute force to turn the lights off. This was recently demonstrated by hackers attacking The Ukraine, who succeeded in knocking out power supplies to up to 1.4 million residents through the social engineering attack known as spear phishing. An infected Word document was used to introduce BlackEnergy malware into critical systems.

4 Ways To Protect America’s Internet From Cyber Threats

February 10, 2016

Government Needs To Be More Vigilant Against Enemies Overseas, Cyber Security Expert Says
The Internet has transformed the way we communicate, the way governments interact and how we use everything from cell phones to home alarm systems and baby monitors. Unfortunately, it’s also made the nation vulnerable in ways previous generations couldn’t have imagined, says Gary Miliefsky, CEO of SnoopWall, a company that specializes in cyber security.

“Billions of dollars have been spent on firewalls and antivirus programs,” he says. “Yet at every turn they fail us and we see major breaches in the news on a weekly basis.”

The victims aren’t just retailers targeted by cyber thieves who are after customer credit card information. Government also is at risk and the White House, the Office of Personnel Management and NASA are among those that have been victimized by hackers.

“As much as we would like for the Internet to be secure, it is in fact fragile and constantly under attack,” Miliefsky says. “That’s bad for us as consumers because our private information can be at risk, but it may be even worse for us as a nation, because our national security can also be at risk from cyber attacks from abroad.”

Most Spam Messages Originate In The US

by Felix Richter, Statista.com

-- this post authored by Dyfed Loesche

About 55 percent of all e-mails sent worldwide are unwanted ad or spam mails, according to security software business Kaspersky.

The United States are the biggest source of spam, accounting for 15.2 percent of global spam traffic. Russia was in second place (6.2 percent) with Vietnam and China sharing third place (6.1 percent). The positive outlook being that the proportion of spam in e-mail flows was 55.28%, which was 11.48 percentage points lower than in 2014.

One hot topic for spam mails was an event that hasn't even taken place yet: The upcoming Olympic Games in Brazil in the summer of 2016. According to Kaspersky "already in 2015 fraudulent notifications of lottery wins dedicated to this popular sporting event were being registered." Some e-mails came with PDF files attached, informing recipients their address had been selected out of millions of email addresses.

Top ten countries from which spam originated in 2015.

Why Black Lives Matter Is in Trouble

February 11, 2016

The end is nigh for #BlackLivesMatter—and its leadership doesn’t even see it yet.

DeRay Mckesson announced last week in a soporific Medium post that he is running for mayor of Baltimore, and the general response has been a collective cringe. Mckesson is one of the Black Lives Matter activists with the most promise, but by attempting to leverage a social movement into a political force for good, he’s likely headed for trouble.

Mckesson survived the December Twitter fracas after Black Lives Matter cofounder, New York Daily News“social justice” columnist and erstwhile fundraiser Shaun King could not account for hundreds of thousands of dollars raised via social media platforms on behalf of Haitian earthquake victims and black victims of gun violence. Apparently King’s incompetence extended to his latest failed venture, the pseudo-nonprofit Justice Together. After King could not account for the organization’s funds, board members, including Mckesson, resigned while accusing King of gross mismanagement.

New Details About Yesterday’s NRO Spy Satellite Launch

Justin Ray
February 11, 2016

Delta 4 goes against the grain to backwards orbit for spy bird

Soaring in fine fashion before daybreak, a United Launch Alliance Delta 4 rocket maneuvered a new spy satellite into a unique retrograde orbit this morning to join an expanding constellation of radar-imaging spacecraft.

The 217-foot-tall orange and white vehicle used its hydrogen-fueled main engine and a pair of side-mounted solid rocket boosters to fire away from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California at 3:40:32 a.m. local time (6:40:32 a.m. EST; 1140:32 GMT), an exacting moment required by the clandestine payload.

Liftoff came after an evening and overnight countdown that saw the mobile gantry rolled back, the two-stage rocket loaded with its cryogenic commodities and a full testing campaign for the launcher and ground network.

As the count entered the last 30 seconds, the launch team called out “Go Delta” and “Go L-45” to signify all systems were ready for flight as a final status check.

The rocket leaped off the Space Launch Complex 6 pad atop more than a million pounds of thrust and angled to the southwest for its flight downrange. Delta 4 shed the solid motors and half of its 750,000-pound liftoff weight within two minutes.

Is There Any Way to Get Windows 10 to Stop Spying on Me?

Jacob Siegal
February 11, 2016

Windows 10 will keep spying on you no matter how hard you try to stop it

When you boot up Windows 10 for the very first time, you have the option to customize several settings related to the collection of data from Microsoft’s servers.

You can stop your machine from sending contact and calendar details, typing and speech data, location data and even error and diagnostic reports. Unfortunately, no matter how many boxes you uncheck, Microsoft is still going to collect information from your computer, whether you know it or not.

In a Voat thread last week, a user by the name of CheesusCrust published his findings after running a network traffic analysis relating to the telemetry and surveillance features of Windows 10. The results were troubling, to say the least.

While setting up a fresh copy of Windows 10 Enterprise Edition on VirtualBox, the user went through and disabled all three pages of tracking options, one by one. He then left the computer running for eight hours overnight, and returned to find that Windows 10 had attempted to contact 51 Microsoft IP addresses 5,508 times.

After 30 hours, over 112 IP addresses had been contacted.

Strategic Culture and Cyberspace: Cyber Militias in Peacetime?

February 12, 2016

India’s premier security think tank, the Institute for Strategic and Defence Analysis (IDSA), just held itsfirst major international conference on cyber security. Its focus on Asian and international perspectives has delivered distinctly Un-American perspectives on security in cyber space.

The three-day meeting coincided with the release by President Obama on February 9 of a bold new initiative,the Cybersecurity National Action Plan (CNAP). The gulf between the concepts and programs elaborated in the U.S. plan and those of several Asian or Asia Pacific states (India, Japan, China, Pakistan) and Taiwan, revealed at the IDSA meeting has been stark indeed.

The richest and most technologically advanced country in the world announced a new spend in the budget sent to Congress of $19 billion for additional cyber security policies, a 35 percent increase over the previous Fiscal Year. This included a Technological Modernization Fund of $3 billion just to upgrade government IT systems, the establishment of a new National Center for Cyber Security Resilience, and a new Cyber Reserve Force.

More Bad News for Tajikistan's Economy: Vulnerability in the Banking Sector

February 12, 2016

A team from the International Monetary Fund spent 10 days in Tajikistan discussing the country’s economic situation, policies and reform agenda. Upon the mission’s conclusion, the team released a brief statement and the IMF also released a longer report on the stability of the country’s financial systems. Neither the statement nor the report are very hopeful in their outlook–and place the necessity for action squarely on Dushanbe.

The report concludes that the Tajik economy “is entering a downturn” and that the banking sector, in particular, is vulnerable. Keep in mind that the data for this particular report was as of May 2015, meaning it does not take into account the economic malaise that has settled more firmly over Eurasia. Though the signs were all there, in May 2015 there had been some improvements in one of the biggest factors in regional economies: oil prices.After a freefall in late 2014, by May 2015, oil prices had recovered slightly (rising from a January low near $48 per barrel to a May high of around $64 per barrel).

* Scrum: a new organizational tool that will help shape the 21st century

Summary: A new industrial revolution has begun. We usually think of these are new tech and new machines, but they also create new ways of thinking and new methods of doing business — changes almost as important as the new tech. Here Mike Few discusses new ways of problem solving, which create new forms of organization. {@nd of 2 posts today.}
The F3EAD framework

The day was March 25, 2007, our unit was 5-73 Recon (Airborne), and these events would culminate into what was known on the strategic level as the Iraq Surge. After much failure, we knew that we were losing the war. We decided to change our thinking and adopt a decentralized, adaptive framework to try and salvage a win. The results were astonishing — real, tangible patterns not whitewashed Orwellian KPI’s {key performance indicators} on a PowerPoint slide to brief the Generals.

Thoughts as I watch my Army walk away from counterinsurgency once again

FEBRUARY 11, 2016
By Brig. Gen. John Scales, USAR (Ret.)
Best Defense guest columnist

Will the Army forget or discard the counterinsurgency lessons learned over the last 15 years? I hope not but, if history is a guide, there is little reason to be optimistic.

In 1971 I was a young 82nd Airborne infantry lieutenant, Ranger-qualified, trying to get to Vietnam to do as I had been trained. After several attempts and discouragement from higher ups saying the Army was trying to get out of there, I finally succeeded and became an infantry platoon leader for six months. After the unit stood down I was transferred to be an installation security officer in Qui Nhon, where I controlled an indigenous guard force of Montagnards and Nungs. In late 1972, I returned to the U.S. and was assigned to the 101st Airborne Division, where I served in several positions, including rifle company commander.

For Border Security, Economics Trumps Politics

11 February 2016

In this presidential election year, much of the focus has been on national security, and one idea that has come up repeatedly is that walls can be built along the United States border with Mexico to keep contraband and people from crossing illegally.

This suggestion ignores the fact that powerful and basic economic forces make it simply impossible to hermetically seal the U.S.-Mexico border.
Walls and Fences

Constructing border walls and fences to provide national security is an age-old concept. The Athenians built "long walls," such as one running to Piraeus, as military fortifications. Chinese emperors built the Great Wall to help protect against Mongol invasion. The Romans erected Hadrian's Wall to guard settlements in modern England from marauding Picts and other tribes. And the Berlin Wall was erected almost overnight - though not so much to keep people out of the Communist territory east of the wall as to keep people in.

The idea of barrier walls along the U.S.-Mexico border is likewise not a new idea. Along some parts of the border, there have been fences for decades. The U.S. government constructed enhanced border fences in urban areas in the 1990s - many made using surplus metal runway mats from the Vietnam War.

Australia picks a fresh fight with Britain over a 100-year-old battle

The spat between Australia and Britain over the “banning” of the families of the British soldiers who fell at the Battle of Fromelles in France in July 1916 from this years commemoration is historically confused and based on an anachronistic understanding of Australian and British connections during the war. It’s also an example of the danger of linking your national identity too closely to your military history.

What makes it so absurd is that many of the 5,513 casualties from the Australian Imperial Force at Fromelles were British-born migrants to Australia. But modern Australian officialdom is (presumably inadvertently) endorsing the view that the battle was an exclusively “Australian” tragedy for which the blame is fixed squarely on the arrogant “imperialist” British generals who treated colonial forces as cannon fodder.

Confirmed: Thailand’s Military Wants a New Main Battle Tank

February 12, 2016

Thailand announced this week that it is in the process of setting up a procurement committee to evaluate Chinese and Russian tank models in order to select a new main battle tank (MBT) for service in the Royal Thai Army (RTA), the Bangkok Post reports.

Earlier in the week, the Thai military had initially denied media reports that it is considering purchasing a Russian-made tank, the T-90(M)S MBT. Now, according to Thailand’s ministry of defense, the procurement committee is purportedly considering two different Chinese and Russian MBT models.

Royal Thai Army spokesperson Colonel Winthai Suvaree emphasized that the military will make a decision based on cost-effectiveness. “The Army’s aware it’s taxpayers money,” he said. He did not go into details as to when a selection will be made, nor offer a price estimate.

DoD’s next challenge: managing the fall of our military welfare state

Summary: The military is often described as a test tube for American social science, running experiments such as integration of race, sex, and gender in its relatively controlled society. But the largest social science experiment in the military — perhaps the largest in US history — is DoD’s socialism. We close our eyes, preferring not to see it. Now the military’s spending priorities are changing, and we’ll see the effects on recruitment and retention as it is eroded away. Here Jennifer Mittelstadt explains the history and workings of the military “welfare state”. 

Military socialism under siege

Under pressure from the increasingly outlandish cost of hardware (e.g., carriers, the F-35), DoD has chosen to cut compensation of its people. It is one of the most important and least covered defense issues (a minor sideshow, keeping the A-10 Warthog, has received 100x the attention).

One of the best articles I’ve seen in years about this is “Welfare’s last stand” by Jennifer Mittelstadt (Assoc Prof of History at Rutgers) at Aeon, 21 September 2015 — “Long in retreat in the US, the welfare state found a haven in an unlikely place – the military, where it thrived for decades.”

Tom Engelhardt: the key to winning wars in the 21st Century

Summary: The greatest US tragedy since 9/11 is our failure to learn from our failed wars, making it impossible to win future wars. We roll on from one disaster to another even larger disaster. Our wars are the seldom-mentioned elephant stalking our candidates on the campaign trail (other than GOP chants to bomb bomb, bomb). Here Tom Engelhardt, who has chronicled our misadventures since right after 9-11, gives a masterly summary of the steps that brought us here. It’s the first step to learning, more valuable than the hours of sound-bites from any of the debates.

Here’s my twenty-first-century rule of thumb about this country: if you have to say it over and over, it probably ain’t so. Which is why I’d think twice every time we’re told how “exceptional” “or indispensable” the United States is. For someone like me who can still remember a moment when Americans assumed that was so, but no sitting president, presidential candidate, or politician felt you had to say the obvious, such lines reverberate with defensiveness. They seem to incorporate other voices you can almost hear whispering that we’re ever less exceptional, more dispensable, no longer (to quote the greatest of them all by his own estimate) “the greatest.”