5 February 2017

*** Terrorist Threats to Pakistan’s Tactical Nuclear Weapons: A Clear and Present Danger

By Sajid Farid Shapoo

Pakistan has the world’s fastest growing nuclear stockpile.[i] Given the rate of plutonium and highly enriched uranium production, it may be able to produce another 200 nuclear warheads in the next 5 to 10 years, taking its arsenal close to 350. The production of such a staggering stockpile has been associated with an extremely worrisome trend; the majority of nuclear warheads produced by Pakistan in last decade are low yield tactical weapons. The rapid tacticalization of a strategic asset in the region considered to be a nuclear flashpoint, has raised a plethora of security and strategy related issues.

Pakistan is the epicenter of global jihadi terrorism. The country has faced some of the most devastating attacks on its defense establishments by the jihadist in the past decade or so. There have been repeated instances where some of these attacks were mounted with the help of insiders within the Pak military establishment. The unabated internal chaos coupled with a perpetual tension with its eastern neighbor, makes Pakistan a bit of a nuclear nightmare. Its willingness to use tactical nuclear weapons even against a limited conventional incursion by India further complicates the situation. Pakistan, however, has repeatedly stated that its weapons are safe and it has a robust and stable security framework to safeguard its nuclear weapons.

This essay is an attempt to assess threats to Pakistan’s Tactical Nuclear Weapons (TNWs) and its nuclear security vulnerability.

Pakistan’s Nuclear Journey: From Strategic to Tactical

After the nuclear tests of May 1998 by both India and Pakistan, nuclear ambiguity became a thing of past. Pakistan was forced to take a fresh look at its doctrine and nuclear posturing, which could provide a dependable and more credible deterrence against its eastern neighbor. Pakistan faced a complex security situation; India with its conventional superiority continued to pose a perceived existential threat, but now with an overt nuclear capability, the threat perception increased several times over. To compound the situation, with the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan the U.S. geopolitical rationale to support Pakistan was removed. Pakistan realized that it had little choice but to adopt an aggressive nuclear escalation posture. This aggressive posture entailed integration of its nuclear weapons into its military structure to credibly and directly deter Indian conventional attacks. 

The unambiguous expression of overt nuclear threat after India’s nuclear test led Pakistan to adopt a doctrine where Pakistan could quickly respond to even non-existential threats, thus lowering the nuclear threshold. India’s vastly superior conventional capability coupled with the perceived Cold Start doctrine triggered Pakistan to adopt an aggressive nuclear posturing policy. Brig. Feroz Hassan Khan (retd.) writes:

With its relatively smaller conventional force, and lacking adequate technical means, especially in early warning and surveillance, Pakistan relies on a more proactive nuclear defensive policy[ii].

With limited battlefield early warning and surveillance capabilities, the Pakistan Army viewed the threshold for nuclear first use as relatively low in a conventional conflict with India— perhaps even preemptive first use.

Recent Trends in India´s China Policy: The Imperative for Greater Room to Maneuver

Subrata Kumar Mitra,Srikanth Thaliyakkattil 

This paper considers how India might reverse its diminished bargaining position with China. Ironically enough, it’s New Delhi’s increased economic engagement with Beijing which has significantly constrained its strategic and diplomatic options. To improve its lost maneuverability, the Indian government should decrease its trade deficit with China and pursue stronger ties with other partners, including the US and Japan.





© 2017 Institute of South Asian Studies (ISAS) 

India's Got a Reputation Problem

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Mihir Sharma

One of the least enviable jobs in the world at the moment has to be that of Indian finance minister. Arun Jaitley will present his fourth annual budget to India’s Parliament on Wednesday amid terrible headwinds -- mostly caused by his government’s bewildering and disruptive decision to invalidate 86 percent of India’s currency last November. If he’s to revive growth, the first thing he has to do is rethink his priorities.

The scale of the challenge should be clear. The government’s official estimate of 7.1 percent GDP growth this financial year (which began in April) is widely doubted and doesn’t take into account the chaos wrought by demonetization. The International Monetary Fund predicts growth will come in closer to 6.6 percent, or a full percentage point below earlier estimates. 

And these numbers conceal even more weaknesses. Most glaringly, Indian investment has shrunk for the last three quarters for which reliable data is available.

Under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the government’s growth strategy has rested on two fundamental assumptions. First, there’s the unshakeable belief that India is so attractive a destination for capital, given the weakness in the rest of the world, all the government needs to do is tweak the investment climate and money will pour in.

Second is the idea that scaling up public spending, especially on infrastructure, will raise returns sufficiently to attract private investors -- “crowding in,” as it’s known. The last three budgets -- which, in India, are the year’s major statement of economic policy, not just simple accounting exercises -- have operated on this principle.

Surely, however, Jaitley has noticed that this approach hasn’t worked. Even before the demand destruction caused by demonetization, India’s growth was hovering at or around the levels set in the last few years of the previous government’s tenure, when the investment crisis first hit. Clearly, companies aren’t “crowding in” as the government had hoped.

Islamabad: Incubator for Islamist Insurgents, Inc

By Robert Cassidy
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“Those who would ignite the fire in our country, will burn themselves.” - Abdul Rahim Ghafoorzai

“He who will not apply new remedies must expect new evils.” - Sir Francis Bacon

The main reason why we are still in Afghanistan after fifteen-plus years lies in the title. The sanctuary in Pakistan is the single most significant strategic impediment to stability in both Afghanistan and Pakistan. Almost every U.S. DOD report on progress in Afghanistan since 2008 explicitly states that Pakistan’s sanctuary and support prevent the defeat of the Taliban. The reduction of this sanctuary and stopping the sources of support of the Taliban in Pakistan is a strategic imperative to ending the war in Afghanistan with modest success. Pakistan’s failure to alter its strategic calculus, its incubation, and regeneration of murderous Islamist zealots, continues to pose a grave strategic risk for the war in Afghanistan. 

The first quote above reflects the consequences of Pakistan’s decades of delusion and dissembling in support of some of the most virulent strains of Islamist proxies. These groups have prosecuted utterly barbaric acts of violence in Afghanistan, Kashmir, India, and ultimately in Pakistan. This support, in the end, has been to the net detriment of Pakistan’s security and regional stability. It is the metaphorical equivalent of an arsonist ultimately compelled to act as a fireman for his very own house, which he lit on fire. 

The second quote is an admonition to the Coalition and the U.S. to desist in the illusion that Pakistan, one of the foremost ideological and physical incubators of Islamist terror, Inc., is an ally and a friend. It is neither. Pretending that Pakistan was an ally in the war against Islamist militants, one that would act in ways to help defeat Islamist networks in the tribal areas, made the West partly complicit and malfeasant in Pakistan’s machinations. 

Years of tactical and operational gains in taking away the Taliban’s capacity have been fleeting because defeating an enemy means taking away its capacity and its will. Strategic momentum has been absent because the will of the Taliban and the Haqqanis rest in their regenerative potential and leadership, all protected in Pakistan’s sanctuary. Pakistan has created this contradiction to prevent the defeat of the Taliban, protract the war, and erode the Coalition’s will, to potentially make the capacity of the Coalition irrelevant because it could ultimately depart the fight without achieving its strategic aims.

Still at War in Afghanistan, but to What End?

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By Daniel DePetris

Do you remember that war we launched in response to the September 11 attacks more than 15 years ago? You would be forgiven for assuming that the United States has long closed the chapter on Afghanistan, the longest military campaign in the country’s history. Outside of an opening question by U.S. Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.), Secretary of Defense-designate James Mattis was not asked about Afghanistan during his three-hour confirmation hearing—a vivid illustration that most of Congress have moved on from the issue.

The war in Afghanistan is not only still going on; it is going strong. Former President Barack Obama increased U.S. military involvement in the war during his final year in office. The Afghan security forces—designed to be America's ticket out of the war—are performing valiantly, but are taking so many casualties from the Taliban that Washington has had to slow down the pace of American withdrawals. Indeed, when the next administration is fully in place, it will inherit a war that the American people have all but forgotten—but that U.S. soldiers on the ground and pilots in the air are still very much involved in.

Every day the Afghan Army requests U.S. air support against Taliban positions to soften up resistance before an offensive or to maintain the territory it already holds. The number of U.S. bombs dropped in Afghanistan climbed by 40 percent in 2016 compared to the year before. We have seen an influx of American power from the sky that is a product of President Obama's decision to loosen the rules of engagement, broaden the target list, and authorize U.S. commanders to expand the scope of U.S. air activity from defensive to offensive operations. Aerial sorties by U.S. aircraft that resulted in at least one weapon released increased by 50 percent in 2016, yet another bit of evidence pointing to a more aggressive American presence in Afghanistan than President Obama would have liked at this point in his tenure.

President Obama long ago realized that his dream of extracting America from its longest war wouldn't happen before he left office. If fact, President Obama provided his commanders with the latitude to move troops around and in certain circumstances closer to the actual fighting. Two years after U.S. Marines withdrew from Helmand province, the Corps is back again—forced to return to the very spot where so many American troops died during the 2010-2011 surge in order to help Kabul keep the Taliban from capturing the provincial capital.

With everything going on in the world today, from state-sponsored cyber attacks on U.S. domestic infrastructure to Iran's naval maneuvering against U.S. destroyers in the Strait of Hormuz, the war in Afghanistan barely gets a wink of attention from politicians in Washington—most of whom continue to go about their daily lives as if Afghanistan is a problem that can best be dealt with by shoveling billions of dollars down the throats of Afghan politicians and commanders.

Defining the Ends, Means, and Ways of SCS Strategy

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Since China undertook a massive artificial island building program in 2013 with the intention of militarizing the islands, the U.S. has grown increasingly worried about freedom of navigation through this economically important waterway. The Cipher Brief spoke to Admiral Jonathan Greenert, former Chief of Naval Operations, to understand how the U.S. can properly signal its intentions and goals in the South China Sea to allies and adversaries without escalating to a conflict.

The Cipher Brief: If you had to brief the incoming Trump Administration on U.S. maritime interests in Asia, and specifically the South China Sea, what would you highlight as the most critical variables on which to focus?

Jonathan Greenert: The South China Sea (SCS) has received a lot of media coverage. Consequently, it is viewed by many as the most likely potential flash point. I think the East China Sea (ECS) is (and has been) the most volatile maritime area in the region. This was validated in my discussions with Japanese military and defense policy officials last month. They are increasingly concerned. Sovereignty disputes between Japan and China regarding natural gas and mineral rights in the Senkaku Islands have been festering. Naval, coast guard, and military air patrols, by each, in a relatively small geographical area have steadily increased. Their history of deep and sensitive cultural issues is well known.

There are few bilateral mechanisms to resolve emerging sea and air disputes due to their strained relations, although some engagement in this area is underway. Both navies have agreed to implement CUES (Code for Unplanned Encounters at Sea), a protocol (air and maritime) for professional behavior in international waters and airspace, designed to preclude miscalculation. However, this protocol has not yet been agreed to by their respective coast guards. Chinese-Japanese coast guard ships and aircraft are the predominant platforms currently interacting in the ECS. Regionally, this deserves more vigilance and dialogue to sustain stability.

My counsel to Trump Administration representatives regarding the Indo-Pacific would be: Draft and articulate a coherent, unambiguous, and cogent security and defense strategy; assure allies, friends, and potential partners; warn adversaries and potential adversaries; retain all options to act in the United States’ best interests. Specifically: 

Determine U.S. security goals for the Indo-Pacific region. Publish. 

Task DoD to assess the current security situation vs. U.S. goals and propose a defense strategy, with a campaign plan for each key player in the region. Produce an unclassified and classified strategy. Revisit (and revise) associated war plans. 

The Quebec mosque shooting is proof that Canada is just as divided as the rest of the West

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With all the uproar surrounding Donald Trump’s travel ban on citizens from several Muslim-majority nations, it might come as a shock to many that Canada, one of the few Western nations willing to accept thousands of Syrian refugees – and apparently very happily – would suffer a terrorist attack. Even more so that it was one targeting the country’s Muslim population.

Yet the cheery, sometimes fawning coverage from abroad of Justin Trudeau’s first year as prime minister masks two truths about Canada that mark it out as not that different from the rest of the western world.

The first is that, just like Britain, the United States, and most of Western Europe, Canada is a divided society. The fault lines runs along the old divisions of conservative and liberal, and the new ones of open and closed.

Before Trudeau, Canada was dominated for nine years by the Conservative Party of Stephen Harper. It was a new movement that brought together the “red tories” of the Progressive Conservatives and the Texas-style nationalist conservatism of the Canadian Alliance.

Big oil, climate change scepticism, immigration reform, armed interventions abroad, and the promotion of a school history curriculum focusing on Canadian military victories may not sound like "Canadian values" to admiring foreigners, but they won Harper three elections in a row.

The 2015 federal election, in which Harper was ousted, was, by Canadian standards, quite nasty. The most contentious point was the Conservatives suddenly making a burqa ban an election issue. Realising he was sliding in the polls and with the economy struggling with low commodity prices, Harper turned to a “get the base out” strategy of promoting conservative "Canadian values" and focusing on the foreign terror threat. 

We will never cease our efforts to keep Canadians safe, and Canada secure. #elxn42 Source Link

It backfired, but it nonetheless highlighted that a large proportion of Canadian society, especially in the Prairie provinces and the former industrial powerhouses of southern Ontario and Cape Breton, has more in common with Donald Trump’s forgotten men and women than with Justin Trudeau’s “country strong, not in spite of our differences, but because of them”.

Indeed, during the neighbouring US election, it was not unusual to see Canadians openly wearing Trump 2016 t-shirts around town.

Trudeau’s remarkable turnaround of the Liberal Party from third place irrelevance to outright majority was, thanks to first past the post and a three party system, achieved with just 39 per cent of the popular vote. The Conservatives won 31 per cent. Those fractures still exist, no matter how well they are disguised by the media-savvy foreign popularity of the current government

The second truth is that Quebec, ever the troublesome child of Canadian confederation, has its own inner cultural conflicts. The province is home to one of the world’s largest truly bilingual cities in the shape of the highly multicultural Montreal, but its capital, Quebec City – three hours from Montreal by road – is 95 per cent French-speaking and 90 per cent Catholic.

Quebec has a complicated cultural heritage. Part colonial oppressors, part colonially oppressed, it has a heritage of pre-revolution French statism but is adherent to Napoleonic civil law in an English speaking, common law using federation. On top of this comes a highly secular tradition secured by the “quiet revolution” of the 1960s after three centuries of Catholic domination of the State. It is a hodgepodge society of competing cultural, religious, linguistic, and political interests. 

ISIL has evolved into something more dangerous

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Hassan Hassan

On Saturday, the president of the United States, Donald Trump, ordered the Pentagon and other agencies to draw up a preliminary plan for fighting ISIL within 30 days. This is good news, as it could recognise and review some of the current plan’s blind spots.

Officials can better assess the direction of the fight against ISIL by considering how the situation inside ISIL’s areas has evolved over the past two years. The changes can be narrowed down to three main phases.

The first phase ran roughly from June to November 2014, the height of ISIL’s rise. It is inaccurate to say that it was welcomed by the local populations, but the changes it brought were viewed positively by many locals. Those areas in Syria – stretching from eastern Aleppo to the Iraqi border – had been plagued by chaos. In Syria and Iraq, people were fed up with whoever had governed them.

Divisions, infighting and corruption, combined with a lack of security and services, were replaced by uniformity with record speed. Various people began to join the group to serve in its civil, military, security and religious sectors. Former government institutions began to function, albeit not with the same efficiency since resources were in short supply.

Militants and clerics engaged the people. They encouraged locals to approach them and ask for favours. Although the militants felt in full control and reached out to people they ruled, a specific group of ISIL operatives continued to roam villages and towns with their identities hidden. Such members, operating under amniyat, or security units, were in their thousands. These operatives are the organisation’s most trusted members, and locals – much less outsiders – had little to no knowledge about them.

The second phase ran from November 2014 to June 2016. As the anti-ISIL operation Inherent Resolve intensified and started to take effect, especially when commanders were directly targeted, ISIL’s paranoia heightened. This brought to the fore the fearful and brutal amniyat. Clerics, fighters and other members took the back seat in day-to-day life under ISIL. Old suspects were recaptured. People were detained for the pettiest of reasons.

This was a critical phase for the organisation. Many of those who joined ISIL for reasons unrelated to its ideology left. Restrictions alienated local people and ISIL members, including former members of other insurgent groups who had pledged allegiance to ISIL. A mass exodus from ISIL-held areas, mostly of young people, intensified during this period. Parents fearful of seeing their children joining the organisation paid thousands of dollars to smuggle them out of ISIL ­areas, despite the risks.
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Cybersecurity is often discussed in relation to the major global powers: China’s economic espionage, Russian influence operations, and U.S. dragnet global surveillance to thwart terrorism.

However, as other countries move to digitize their economies, cybercriminals are zeroing in on these new and lucrative targets while regional players are quickly incorporating cyber capabilities into their own arsenals for achieving strategic ends.

The Middle East, particularly the Gulf states, are quickly recognizing the urgent need for better cybersecurity, while regional adversaries such as Iran have begun weaponizing code as an extension of broader strategic goals within the region. What, though, is the Gulf’s current cybersecurity atmosphere, and how does Iran’s emerging use of offensive cyber capabilities fit into its broader strategy in the Middle East?

Wajdi Al Quliti, the Director of Information Technology at the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, notes that “the region’s dramatic strides towards digitization—expected to add over $800 billion to GDP and over 4 million jobs by 2020—is making the Gulf a major target for fast evolving cyber threats.” Much like other regions, the Gulf is finding it difficult to sufficiently create criminal deterrence due to segmented laws and difficulties in attribution. 

Al Quliti argues “cross-border cooperation and common cybersecurity structures could prove to be a game-changing advantage in the fight against cybercrime.” However, “the elephant in the room,” according to Al Quliti, “is the issue of state-sponsored hacking, in which case harmonized laws are unlikely to make a difference.”

A critical point in nation-state hacking in the Middle East begins with the Stuxnet worm. Discovered in 2010 burrowed deep in Iranian networks, the worm had slowly been sabotaging Iran’s nuclear ambitions. Then in 2011 CrySyS Lab discovered Duqu, a cyber espionage tool tailored to gather information from industrial control systems, and in 2012, Kaspersky Labs identified Flame, another espionage tool, targeting various organizations in the Middle East. Both Duqu and Flame are associated with Stuxnet and attributed back to the Equation Group, widely considered an arm of the National Security Agency.

It's Putin's World

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Edmon De Haro; Alexei Nikolsky

In 2012, vladimir putin returned to the presidency after a four-year, constitutionally imposed hiatus. It wasn’t the smoothest of transitions. To his surprise, in the run-up to his inauguration, protesters filled the streets of Moscow and other major cities to denounce his comeback. Such opposition required dousing. But an opportunity abroad also beckoned—and the solution to Putin’s domestic crisis and the fulfillment of his international ambitions would roll into one. After the global financial crisis of 2008, populist uprisings had sprouted across Europe. Putin and his strategists sensed the beginnings of a larger uprising that could upend the Continent and make life uncomfortable for his geostrategic competitors. A 2013 paper from the Center for Strategic Communications, a pro-Kremlin think tank, observed that large patches of the West despised feminism and the gay-rights movement and, more generally, the progressive direction in which elites had pushed their societies. With the traditionalist masses ripe for revolt, the Russian president had an opportunity. He could become, as the paper’s title blared, “The New World Leader of Conservatism.”

Putin had never spoken glowingly of the West, but grim pronouncements about its fate grew central to his rhetoric. He hurled splenetic attacks against the culturally decadent, spiritually desiccated “Euro-Atlantic.” He warned against the fetishization of tolerance and diversity. He described the West as “infertile and genderless,” while Russian propaganda derided Europe as “Gayropa.” At the heart of Putin’s case was an accusation of moral relativism. “We can see how many of the Euro-Atlantic countries are actually rejecting their roots, including the Christian values that constitute the basis of Western civilization,” he said at a conference in 2013. “They are denying moral principles and all traditional identities: national, cultural, religious, and even sexual … They are implementing policies that equate large families with same-sex partnerships, belief in God with the belief in Satan.” By succumbing to secularism, he noted on another occasion, the West was trending toward “chaotic darkness” and a “return to a primitive state.”

Few analysts grasped the potency such rhetoric would have beyond Russia. But right-wing leaders around the world—from Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines to Nigel Farage in Britain to Donald Trump in the U.S.—now speak of Putin in heroic terms. Their fawning is often discounted, ascribed to under-the-table payments or other stealthy Russian efforts. These explanations don’t wholly account for Putin’s outsize stature, however. He has achieved this prominence because he anticipated the global populist revolt and helped give it ideological shape. With his apocalyptic critique of the West—which also plays on anxieties about Christendom’s supposedly limp response to Islamist terrorism—Putin has become a mascot of traditionalist resistance.

Don’t Ignore the Fighting in Ukraine

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The “frozen conflict” in East Ukraine is thawing out. This week, in the wake of a much-anticipated phone call between President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin, fighting in the former Soviet Republic’s eastern districts erupted again. Since Sunday, eight Ukrainian soldiers have been killed with another 26 wounded. According to the government in Kiev, an unspecified number of civilians have also become casualties in the fighting. The often intense violence between Ukrainian troops and Russian-supported forces has, however, been met with stony silence from a distracted political class in the United States. It would be a grave mistake to ignore this slowly boiling conflict.

Both Kiev and Moscow blame one another for the recent surge in fighting, but that is an immaterial concern for Americans who want to see Russian aggression contained. From the Middle East to the frontiers of NATO, it isn’t Ukraine but Russia that has demonstrated a penchant for irredentism and expansionism. The West and the citizens of the United States should not overlook this war. It may be a prelude to something with more immediate repercussions for global peace and stability.

In the campaign, Donald Trump made no secret of his desire to cede to Moscow a sphere of unrivaled geopolitical influence in the Middle East and Europe. He even went so far as to entertain the prospect that he would not come to the aid of a NATO ally like Estonia if it invoked the Atlantic Alliance’s mutual defense provisions following a Russian attack.

What Does Russian Hacking of the U.S. Election Mean for the Rest of the World?

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By Arun Mohan Sukumar

Russian involvement in the US presidential election, as formally alleged by the Obama administration, represents a constitutional moment for state conduct in cyberspace. On the one hand, it could catalyze disruptive and potentially destabilizing activities on digital networks by nation-states. This scenario looks likely in the short term. On the other hand, this period could spur the creation of international instruments to regulate the behavior of states and their proxies, though a treaty, say, for the “peaceful uses of cyberspace,” is in any case many years away.

To states that do not have the capacity to execute sophisticated cyber attacks, the US-Russia confrontation over the presidential elections offers three conclusions:

First, that it is possible to destabilize digital infrastructure without violating international law. Certainly, the Obama administration appears to have concluded that the Russian election hacks were not in breach of any international obligation. Even if the US were to attribute the attacks to Russia with a high degree of confidence at an international platform, its own domestic regulations of the time did not label electoral systems as “critical infrastructure” (CI). This raises the question—what exactly is Moscow liable for? Russia would not be in violation of even the basic cyber norm of avoiding attacks against another’s CI. Complications on this point stem from the decision of the UN Group of Governmental Experts in 2013 and 2015 not to define “critical infrastructure,” allowing expansive national interpretations of the term. Ironically, this created a coordination problem—in the absence of legal standards that apply across jurisdictions, states are free to target the CI of others. Labeling an industry “critical” has the benefit of directing domestic funds and resources to map its vulnerabilities, so as to raise its defenses. However, domestic law alone does little to signal to a foreign party that attacks against CI will face consequences at the international level.

The US response to the alleged Russian hacks established that even the most advanced cyber power can do little to deter disruptive conduct on digital networks. Perhaps given that the intrusions violated no international obligation, the Obama administration limited its (public) response to expelling Russian diplomats from the country. And even if the US launched a devastating covert counter-attack on Russia’s digital infrastructure, this does not help establish a precedent that deters foreign adversaries and lends strategic stability to cyberspace. Granted, the twin problems of signaling and deterrence in international relations are not limited to cyber weapons alone. Disruptive or malicious digital tools are different from other dual use technologies, however, in that they cannot possibly be limited by export control regimes. For now, states will exploit this legal vacuum to build their capabilities and test the response of their adversaries. And the election hacking has shown that such actions need not cross a threshold that invites retaliatory measures.

The second lesson from the current US-Russia standoff for smaller states is that responses to “cyber” activities will likely be, at least in large part, “non-cyber.” As the US Director of National Intelligence James Clapper’s recently testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee, it is difficult to control escalation in conflicts involving digital networks, given that most countries do not know the disruptive capacity of their adversaries. “The problem is […] not knowing if you do retaliate in the cyber context, not knowing exactly what counter-retaliation you’ll get back,” said Clapper.

Fifteen Questions Trump Should Answer About His “Safe Zones”

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By Micah Zenko

U.S. President Donald Trump delivers remarks after attending a swearing-in ceremony for Defense Secretary James Mattis with Vice President Mike Pence at the Pentagon on January 27, 2017 (Reuters/Carlos Barria). 

Yesterday, the White House released the readout of a call between President Donald Trump and the King of Saudi Arabia, Salman bin Abdulaziz al Saud. The statement featured this remarkable statement: “The President requested and the King agreed to support safe zones in Syria and Yemen, as well as supporting other ideas to help the many refugees who are displaced by the ongoing conflicts.” 

During the presidential campaign, Trump, as well as Mike Pence, repeatedly endorsed the creation of safe zones in Syria, without adding any clarification. Trump proclaimed that unnamed Middle East countries would pay for the “big, beautiful safe zone” in Syria, while Pence during the vice presidential debate proclaimed they would “create a route for safe passage” and “protect people in those areas, including with the no-fly zone.” Five days later, when asked about his running mate’s position Trump declared flatly: “He and I haven’t spoken, and I disagree.”

Political campaigns are consequence-free environments, but statements made while serving as chief of state should reflect actual government policy. If President Trump is now serious about authorizing the U.S. armed forces to implement safe zones (as indicated by his request to the Saudi monarch), he and his senior aides must clarify exactly what he means by this new, expansive, and poorly conceived military mission. 

I have written about no-fly zones and safe zones for more than fifteen years. But rather than re-package previous analysis, here are fifteen questions that Congress, journalists, and citizens should expect the Trump administration to answer: 

What is the ultimate political objective of the safe zones? For example, will they provide temporary humanitarian refuge for internally displaced persons, or leverage for a brokered peace agreement? 

What is the domestic legal basis for them? 

As the sovereign government of Syria will presumably oppose them, what is the international legal basis? 

Where exactly within Syria or Yemen will they be located, and why were those locations chosen? 

Will non-combatants as well as rebel groups residing within the safe zones be protected? If not, how will residents be vetted, and who will do the vetting? 

Will those residing within safe zones be protected from all forms of harm, including aerial bombing, artillery shelling, small arms fire, sniper fire, starvation, and lack of clean drinking water and sanitation? 

Europe’s Uncommon Decency: Saving Lives Now, Sorting Out Later

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ROME—More than 1,000 refugees and migrants arrived in Italy by sea on Friday, the same day U.S. President Donald Trump signed an executive order barring people from seven majority-Muslim countries from entering the United States.

The figure is small compared to what will be surely be yet another record-breaking year for migration in Italy. None of the new arrivals were vetted—extremely or otherwise—before they were rescued. It’s rather inconvenient to verify documents and social networking activity when the potential refugee’s head is bobbing up and down in the icy water.

Instead Italy, along with Greece, saves their lives and brings them into Europe thanks to the Coast Guard and rescue ships like SOS Méditerranée and Migrant Offshore Aid Station (MOAS) that trawl the waters for boats in peril.

The alternative to these rescues is to simply look away and let the refugees and migrants drown and wash up on shore like the now long-forgotten little Syrian boy named Aylan Kurdi whose photo made the world care for one all-too-brief moment.

What happens to those who survive the voyage varies. Some are eventually deported back to their countries of origin, but they all get a chance to exercise their “right to seek and enjoy asylum,” which is a fundamental clause in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights established in 1951 in response to the atrocities of the Holocaust. No one gets turned away without a chance to prove they might deserve to stay.

Trump tweeted about the “horrible mess” of Europe’s migration plan as one of his justifications for his hard-line stance. “Our country needs strong borders and extreme vetting, NOW. Look what is happening all over Europe and, indeed, the world—a horrible mess!”

It is no exaggeration that Europe’s migration crisis is a mess. There are Syrian refugees sleeping in sub-degree weather in Serbian train stations, burning fruit boxes to stay warm. There are Nigerian teenagers forced into sex slavery in Italy. More than 10,000 minors have disappeared in the last two years, no doubt sucked into crime and corruption rings that exploit the weak.

Because of the sheer number of arrivals—more than 300,000 people arrived in 2016 to Italy and Greece and more than a million the year before—asylum applications take many months to be processed before people can join families or get settled. All of that costs Europe a lot of money and manpower.

But Europe does it because, no matter how costly or inconvenient, it is still the right thing to do. And Europeans agree that picking and choosing which refugees to save and which to let die is just wrong.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel didn’t mince words in her condemnation of Trump’s executive order, which she did during a phone call in which she reminded him of the Geneva Convention. Her spokesman then charged that the fight against terrorism “does not justify putting people of a specific background or faith under general suspicion.” Germany has taken more than 1.3 million asylum seekers since 2015.

U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May, just coming off an American love fest with Trump and the Republican Party, seemed to have morning-after-regrets about holding hands with Trump. She is now suddenly under pressure to cancel Trump’s planned state visit unless he reconsider the ban, which she now calls “divisive, unhelpful and wrong.”

Former Staffers Alarmed by Trump's National Security Council Shakeup

By: Aaron Mehta and Joe Gould, 
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WASHINGTON – The Pentagon on Monday downplayed a Trump administration memo directing changes in the structure of the National Security Council, but analysts are still worried the move will lead to politicized decisions on national security.

On Saturday, President Donald Trump issued guidance for how the NSC would be led going forward, elevating his political adviser, Steve Bannon, to a permanent spot on the committee while adding language permitting the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Director of National Intelligence to attend only "where issues pertaining to their responsibilities and expertise are to be discussed."

Pentagon spokesman Capt. Jeff Davis defended the language, arguing that there would be no practical consequence because he could think of no situation where the NSC would convene on an issue where Gen. Joe Dunford, the current chairman, would lack the required expertise.

“From our standpoint we don’t see this as a change. We see this as a continuation of the very critical role the chairman has played in an advisory capacity for both the secretary and chairman over the past 16 years,” Davis said.

Those comments were echoed by White House spokesman Sean Spicer Monday, who insisted that “this idea there has been a change or a downgrade is utter nonsense.” The chairman and intelligence director are both welcome to attend meetings when they wish, he said.

That may appear to be true, said Loren DeJonge Schulman, a former NSC and DoD official under president Barack Obama. But she raises concerns about the future of the council under Trump.

“There was a change in how [Dunford’s] role described that, if implemented fairly, probably won't have practical impact. It's hard to give them the benefit of the doubt that it will be implemented fairly," Schulman said. “Whether this is a matter of bureaucratic semantics signifying nothing or a serious national security issue comes down to practice and intent.

“If you give [National Security Advisor Mike Flynn] and the drafters of the EO the benefit of the doubt, their framing of the participation of CJCS and the DNI in the Principals Committee (PC) raises no eyebrows,” she said, referring to the element of the NSC that is being updated by Trump. “As statutory advisers to the president and the National Security Council, their attendance at nearly all Principals Committee meetings should be expected. But this week’s events and the addition of chief strategist Steve Bannon to the NSC and PC erases the benefit of the doubt that the Trump White House plans to run a fair, credible, and serious national security process.”

Where America's Terrorists Actually Come From

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This weekend, Rudy Giuliani went on Fox News to explain why Donald Trump’s decision to bar Syrian refugees from U.S. shores and suspend visas for citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries did not amount to a Muslim ban. “What we did was, we focused on, instead of religion, danger,” the former New York City mayor said, in reference to the targeted nations: Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen. “Which is a factual basis, not a religious basis. … It’s based on places where there are substantial evidence that people are sending terrorists into our country.”

But Trump’s policy does not have the factual basis that Giuliani claims. The data on terrorism in the United States consistently indicates that the threat largely lies elsewhere.

 The Coldhearted Folly of Trump's Proposed Immigration OrderISIS does control territory in Syria, Iraq, and Libya, while al-Qaeda has a major presence in Yemen and the terrorist group al-Shabab is based in Somalia. The U.S. State Department alleges that the governments of Iran, Sudan, and Syria support international terrorism. The Trump administration also selected these countries because the Obama administration and Congress had previously designated them as places people couldn’t visit if they planned to participate in the U.S. visa-waiver program.

In addition, people from the countries in Trump’s crosshairs have certainly committed acts of terrorism in the United States; a Somali refugee injured several people in an attack at Ohio State University just this fall. Asylum-seekers have also recently been implicated in terrorist plots in Europe.But after sifting through databases, media reports, court documents, and other sources, Alex Nowrasteh, an immigration expert at the libertarian Cato Institute, has arrived at a striking finding: Nationals of the seven countries singled out by Trump have killed zero people in terrorist attacks on U.S. soil between 1975 and 2015.

Six Iranians, six Sudanese, two Somalis, two Iraqis, and one Yemeni have been convicted of attempting or executing terrorist attacks on U.S. soil during that time period, according to Nowrasteh’s research. (Nowrasteh focused on plots against the U.S. homeland, which presumably Trump cares most about, rather than other terrorism-related offenses, like supporting a foreign terrorist group or trying to join a jihadist organization overseas.) Zero Libyans and zero Syrians have been convicted of doing the same. “Foreign-born terrorism is a hazard,” Nowrasteh argues, “but it is manageable given the huge economic benefits of immigration and the small costs of terrorism.”

As for refugees, Nowrasteh writes, Trump’s action “is a response to a phantom menace.” Over the last four decades, 20 out of 3.25 million refugees welcomed to the United States have been convicted of attempting or committing terrorism on U.S. soil, and only three Americans have been killed in attacks committed by refugees—all by Cuban refugees in the 1970s.
By Byard Duncan

Sen. John McCain, who spent more than five years in Vietnamese captivity, is no stranger to traditional war. But when the Arizona Republican recently brought together officials from three intelligence agencies, his focus was on a more modern frontier: cyberspace.

Given reports of Russian interference in last year’s presidential election, McCain wanted to know how the U.S. might appropriately respond. So 20 minutes into the hearing, he posed a blunt question to Director of National Security James Clapper: Would a successful digital campaign to alter the outcome of a U.S. election equal an attack on the U.S.?

Clapper demurred.

“Whether or not that constitutes an act of war I think is a very heavy policy call that I don’t believe the intelligence community should make,” he said. “But it certainly would carry, in my view, great gravity.”

Clapper’s response highlighted an alarming point about U.S. cyber policy, one that could prove troublesome as U.S.-Russia tensions mount and an unpredictable new administration gets its bearings: America does not have a clearly defined threshold at which digital offensives escalate into all-out war.

A history of disagreement

In 1996, the U.S. and Russia began meeting in secret to establish a set of common protocols for their respective operations in cyberspace. Since then, they’ve managed to agree, via the United Nations, that international law applies in the digital realm – and that countries must take responsibility for the actions of hackers operating within their borders. As recently as 2015, the two parties also agreed that no state should use digital tools to target each other’s critical infrastructure during peacetime.

But the common ground essentially ends there. While Russia historically has pushed for treaties that limit the use of digital weapons, the U.S. for years has claimed that cooperation among international police is a better technique for regulating cyberspace.

Throughout this standoff, both sides have taken shots at the other’s approach: U.S. critics say any treaty Russia creates would limit free speech by targeting citizens who find a way around the country’s censorship infrastructure; Russia maintains that America, in refusing to come to the table, is willfully stoking a digital arms race.

Tank drills turn Poland into Army’s new 'center of gravity'

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ZAGAN, Poland — U.S. tanks alongside Polish armored vehicles blasted a flurry of rounds in a show of firepower Monday before a group of political and military leaders assembled to mark the arrival of a U.S. forces in a region seeking a larger American military presence.

U.S. Army Europe’s Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges, who has led the Army’s expansion into Poland, said troops from the 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, were on a mission to deter any potential aggression from Russia.

American and Polish soldiers in front of their vehicles at the live fire exercise in Zagan, Poland, on Monday, Jan. 30, 2017.


“Poland will become the center of gravity for U.S. (Army) operations in Europe,” Hodges told reporters. “We believe an attack from the east is unlikely, but it’s having troops on the ground here that makes it even more unlikely.”

U.S. soldiers took part in a combined live-fire demonstration with Poland’s 11th Armored Cavalry Division at Karliki range near Zagan, a small town in western Poland.

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Polish President Andrzej Duda welcomed the soldiers Monday at a base occupied by Soviet forces during the Cold War.

“I believe this is a historic moment,” Duda said. “Thirty years ago, we were forced to accept the Soviet army here. We felt in bondage. We welcome our allies here today with open arms.”

It’s Time to Create a Megacities Combat Unit

By John Spencer

Every year, more and more of the world’s population moves into cities. The number of megacities is growing exponentially. Both of these global patterns and their inevitable consequences for military operations are well documented. Yet we still do not have units that are even remotely prepared to operate in megacities. If we want to find success on the urban battlefields the US Army will inevitably find itself fighting on in the future, that needs to change.

Throughout history, military forces either sought to avoid or simply had no need to engage in urban combat. Most military doctrine, and the strategic theory it is built upon, encourages land forces to bypass, lay siege to, or—if required—isolate and slowly clear cities from the outside in. The great armies of the world have historically fought for cities rather than in cities, a distinction with a significant difference. In cases where military forces had no choice but to operate within cities, the environment, almost without exception, proved very costly in both military and civilian casualties. Today, many armies have accepted that global population growth and urbanization trends will increasingly force military operations into crowded cities, and military forces must therefore be capable of conducting the full range of operations in large, dense urban areas. Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley recently remarked that the Army “has been designed, manned, trained and equipped for the last 241 years to operate primarily in rural areas.” But that is about to change. Milley continued:

In the future, I can say with very high degrees of confidence, the American Army is probably going to be fighting in urban areas. . . . We need to man, organize, train and equip the force for operations in urban areas, highly dense urban areas, and that’s a different construct. We’re not organized like that right now.

But despite the clear recognition that armed forces will increasingly be required to fight in urban areas, no army has committed to train, organize, and equip forces specifically to operate in cities. It is time for the US Army to do just that.

A 2016 United Nations report estimated 54.5 percent of the world’s population lived in urban areas. By 2030, that percentage is projected to rise to 60 percent. As a result of this rural-to-urban migration, cities themselves are growing. In 2016, there were 512 cities with at least one million inhabitants globally. By 2030, a projected 662 cities will have at least one million residents. And the number of “megacities” in the world—those with ten million residents or more—is projected to grow from thirty-one to forty-one in the same period.

In 2014, the chief of staff of the Army’s Strategic Studies Group (SSG) chose megacities to be the organizing theme for its yearlong research projects. Concept teams looked at the unique characteristics and challenges of a megacity, future maneuver and mobility concepts, Army force design considerations, personnel talent management, and other topics, assessing the requirements for operating in megacities. The conclusions of the SSG research are clear: megacities are unavoidable, they are potentially the most challenging environment the Army has ever faced, and the Army is unprepared to operate in them. The SSG also recommended that the Army, charged with the mandate of preparing forces for sustained operations on land, take the lead in training, organizing, and equipping forces for megacities.

U.S. Military Botches Online Fight Against Islamic State

By Desmond Butler & Richard Lardner
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TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — On any given day at MacDill Air Force Base, web crawlers scour social media for potential recruits to the Islamic State group. Then, in a high-stakes operation to counter the extremists' propaganda, language specialists employ fictitious identities and try to sway the targets from joining IS ranks.

At least that's how the multimillion-dollar initiative is being sold to the Defense Department.

A critical national security program known as "WebOps" is part of a vast psychological operation that the Pentagon says is effectively countering an enemy that has used the internet as a devastating tool of propaganda. But an Associated Press investigation found the management behind WebOps is so beset with incompetence, cronyism and flawed data that multiple people with direct knowledge of the program say it's having little impact.

Several current and former WebOps employees cited multiple examples of civilian Arabic specialists who have little experience in counter-propaganda, cannot speak Arabic fluently and have so little understanding of Islam they are no match for the Islamic State online recruiters.

It's hard to establish rapport with a potential terror recruit when — as one former worker told the AP — translators repeatedly mix up the Arabic words for "salad" and "authority." That's led to open ridicule on social media about references to the "Palestinian salad."

Four current or former workers told the AP that they had personally witnessed WebOps data being manipulated to create the appearance of success and that they had discussed the problem with many other employees who had seen the same. Yet the companies carrying out the program for the military's Central Command in Tampa have dodged attempts to implement independent oversight and assessment of the data.

Central Command spokesman Andy Stephens declined repeated requests for information about WebOps and other counter-propaganda programs, which were launched under the Obama Administration. And he did not respond to detailed questions the AP sent on Jan. 10.

The AP investigation is based on Defense Department and contractor documents, emails, photographs and interviews with more than a dozen people closely involved with WebOps as well as interviews with nearly two dozen contractors. The WebOps workers requested anonymity due to the sensitive nature of the work and because they weren't authorized to speak publicly.

The information operations division that runs WebOps is the command's epicenter for firing back at the Islamic State's online propaganda machine, using the internet to sway public opinion in a swath of the globe that stretches from Central Asia to the Horn of Africa.

Early last year, the government opened the bidding on a new counter-propaganda contract — separate from WebOps— that is worth as much as $500 million. Months after the AP started reporting about the bidding process, the Naval Criminal Investigative Service told the AP that it had launched an investigation. NCIS spokesman Ed Buice said the service is investigating a whistleblower's "allegations of corruption" stemming from how the contract was awarded.

The whistleblower's complaint alleges multiple conflicts of interest that include division officers being treated to lavish dinners paid for by a contractor. The complaint also alleges routine drinking at the office where classified work is conducted. The drinking was confirmed by multiple contractors, who spoke to AP and described a frat house atmosphere where happy hour started at 3 p.m.

A Diplomat’s Proper Channel of Dissent

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Scores of State Department employees are reported to be planning to protest the Trump administration’s executive order on immigration. CreditWin McNamee/Getty Images

Organizations, particularly large ones, have a tendency to engage in group think. They need to make an extra effort to listen to dissenting views to ensure that the organization is pursuing the right goals.

The Trump administration’s new immigration policy would have benefited from a review and comment period to solicit dissenting views before a final decision. Then they might have heard from experts like Gen. John Allen and Michael O’Hanlon about the devastating consequences of the policy in the fight against the Islamic State, particularly in Iraq and Syria, and hopefully would have modified the policy accordingly.

Instead, President Trump’s inner circle is confronted with a wave of dissent, including the reported intention of scores of Foreign Service officers to protest the new policy through the State Department’s official “dissent channel.” This presents the administration and the entire government with the question of how to balance the need for discipline for organizations to function effectively with the importance of open debate in determining the organization’s goals.

In the military, discipline that guarantees orders will be followed can also protect dissent, because there is a clear line between executing a lawful order and expressing an opinion about it.

But diplomats are in a more awkward position than soldiers because so much of their job involves explaining and defending government policy. The State Department created its dissent channel in 1971 as a response to concerns that contrary opinions were suppressed or ignored during the Vietnam War. It provides American diplomats with a means to provide written submissions expressing disagreement with policies. Those submissions are supposed to be circulated among the most senior officials in the department, and the writers are supposed to be protected from retaliation.


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Author(s): Don Rassler, Muhammad al-`Ubaydi, Vera Mironova 

Much has been made of the Islamic State drone threat ever since the group killed two Kurdish soldiers in October 2016 with a bomb hidden within one of its drones that Kurdish forces downed in Iraq.1 The Islamic State was able to achieve this feat through an act of deception, as the two Kurdish soldiers were killed by the bomb after they had taken the drone back to their base to inspect it. Since this type of attack had not been conducted before, the drone was an unassuming place for the Islamic State to hide an improvised explosive device. But that trick only works occasionally, and it likely has a limited shelf life.

Creativity and innovation, however, don’t appear to be problems for the Islamic State. Several days ago, on January 24, 2017, the group’s media office for Ninawa province released a video entitled “The Knights of the Dawawin,” which highlighted a new Islamic State drone capability: dropping small bomb-like munitions on its enemies from the air.2 The capability displayed was not a one-off achievement as in scene after scene the video shows the group dropping small bombs from remotely controlled drones and doing so with some level of relative accuracy. This included the Islamic State being able to successfully drop munitions onto crowds and to hit stationary vehicles and tanks while its drone loitered and filmed the incidents. Besides the surprise factor observed from those being targeted by the Islamic State’s drones, the video also showed that the group’s new capability packed enough punch to wound and/or kill those near where the munition landed. And on January 30, the Wilayat al-Furat media office released a video entitled “Roar of the Lions” in which the Islamic State featured its military operations in the Anbar Province of Iraq. At the end of the video, the group showed a brief teaser for its next release, which contained a video clip of the drone bomb drop capability (this time with what appeared to be a round grenade) being used in Anbar.

Despite these achievements, it is also important to remember that the videos released by the Islamic State are edited pieces of propaganda, which likely have been carefully crafted to make the group—and its capabilities—look impressive. What isn’t being shown are all of the times U.S. and Iraqi forces have downed the Islamic State’s quad-copters3 or instances when the Islamic State’s new drone bomb drop tool were less accurate.

Screen capture from Islamic State video showing a drone munition drop targeting a tank

The recent discovery of a small batch of internal Islamic State documents, which were recovered in Iraq and provided to the Combating Terrorism Center (CTC), provides an inside look into how the group has sought to cobble together, develop, and enhance its drone capabilities as well as manage its drone program. The paragraphs below provide a description of the documents and an overview of their significance in light of what is already known about the Islamic State’s use of drones.

The Documents: Background and Caveats 

Rebuilding Trust Between Silicon Valley and Washington

Author: Adam Segal

Cyber threats to the United States are escalating in sophistication and magnitude, but mistrust between Washington and Silicon Valley continues to stymie progress on cybersecurity. In a new Council Special Report, Adam Segal examines the security risks exacerbated by the divide between government and the technology community and offers policy recommendations to help restore trust.

"In addition to rising cybersecurity threats, the [Donald J.] Trump administration will inherit a growing political divide between Washington and U.S. tech firms that stems in large part from the disclosures by NSA contractor Edward Snowden," writes Segal, the Council on Foreign Relations' Ira A. Lipman chair in emerging technologies and national security and director of the Digital and Cyberspace Policy program.

"Although numerous government officials have traveled to Silicon Valley over the past several years, narrowing the gap will not be easy in part because technology firms operating as global platforms have strong economic motivations to keep Washington at a distance. Potential adversaries will continue to use hardware and software developed by U.S. companies and thus law enforcement and intelligence agencies will persist in exploiting the vulnerabilities in these products," he adds.

Segal asserts that "repairing the rift will not be easy, but there are areas where the two sides can find common ground." The report, Rebuilding Trust Between Silicon Valley and Washington, notes that the two sides can work together to: 

Create a vibrant cyber workforce. The private sector and the U.S. government both benefit from growing the labor pool of qualified cyber professionals. 

Fight the global trend of forced data localization. U.S. tech companies and the U.S. government share an interest in opposing requiring tech companies operating abroad to store data locally. 

Deter state attackers. "Although companies must improve their own defenses, policies taken to deter the most sophisticated state actors would be an important step in reducing the threats and thus restoring some measure of confidence in the technology sector that the government can effectively address the cybersecurity challenge."