20 March 2017

*** Stratfor looks at the power of social media to tilt politics

Summary: New media mark the chapters in the history of politics. Newspaper, radio, TV, and now social media — each generation of media transformed politics. Those who mastered the new media thrived; those that didn’t, failed. Here Stratfor brings in experts to discuss the Arab Spring, Campaign 2016, and what happens next.

Over the past few months, a swell of isolationist rhetoric from some of the world’s newest leaders has given investors and trade partners across the globe pause. Many have pointed to the newfound rise of populism as evidence of the criticism mounting against globalization. And in some ways they might be right; maybe the world truly is fed up with the style of internationalism that the Bretton Woods system of global finance has promoted for the past half-century or so.

But surely this isn’t the whole picture. After all, movements rarely disrupt the modern political order in a vacuum. As we have seen in the past decade — consider the spread of the Arab Spring and Occupy Wall Street movement — the ways in which we build communities and share information have begun to fundamentally change, thanks in large part to the rise of social technologies. These technologies have given savvy political actors a means of reaching new audiences in unprecedented ways, and perhaps it is their impact on society’s stability and hope that we are now finding difficult to ignore.

*** The Surprising Things Algorithms Can Glean About You From Photos

By Andreas Weigend

More than three-quarters of American adults own a smartphone, and on average, they spend about two hours each day on it. In fact, it’s estimated that we touch our phones between 200 and 300 times a day—for many of us, far more often than we touch our partners.

That means that when we’re on our phones, we aren’t just killing time or keeping in touch. We’re “sensorizing” the world in ways that we may not yet fully comprehend.

There are now networked cameras and microphones everywhere—there are more than 1 billion smartphones out there, each presumably equipped with a camera. Most of the photos shared online are taken with a phone, with about 1 billion photos uploaded each day to Facebook alone, according to my calculations.

Even if you do not tag the people in an image, photo recognition systems can do so. Facebook’s DeepFace algorithm can match a face to one that has appeared in previously uploaded images, including photos taken in dramatically different lighting and from dramatically different points of view. Using identified profile photos and tagged photos and social-graph relationships, a very probable name can be attached to the face.

* Making Our Army Great Again


When you need an army, you need it today; you probably actually needed it yesterday, but events will have moved too quickly. Marines can kick down the door quickly and special operations forces can advise and assist allies as well as conduct raids to eliminate terrorists, but you need an army to fight the really big battles. It needs to be an army that deploys quickly and arrives ready to fight. The next secretary of the Army will need to create such a force, and that will mean radically abandoning the mindset created by the last administration, and a departure from traditional army norms.

There are three things that the Army needs today to improve its strategic usefulness: increased strategic mobility, a flattened command structure, and improved situational awareness. The three improvements are interrelated.

First, the army needs a corps-sized armor heavy force that can deploy to a theater within weeks, not months, to deliver a decisive blow against an enemy which has a large conventional force. We can’t do that today. We need to reorganize. Today’s army has a corps structure of three divisions commanding regimental sized subordinate units of roughly 2000 personnel (brigades). Each division headquarters is huge and hard to deploy. Using existing technology, a corps headquarters can directly control up to nine brigades; divisions are no longer needed. Deploying division level headquarters eats up transportation and logistics assets that impede both deployment and employment of combat troops. Division headquarters may be useful garrison administrative headquarters for managing training, but they no longer need to have warfighting functions.

India is the 7th most terror affected country. Pakistan 4th

Paris, Iraq… 2015 was the year that cities were burnt, innocent blood was spilt and countries destroyed by brutal terrorist groups.

The world’s most developed countries have suffered a dramatic increase in deaths as a result of terrorism in the last year, according to the new Global Terrorism Index, despite a drop in the global number of terrorism-related deaths.

There was a 650 per cent increase in fatal terror attacks on people living in the world’s biggest economies in 2015, the Global Terrorism Index 2016 reveals.

However, the study also shows that across the world as a whole, the number of deaths from terrorism fell 10 per cent to 29,376, compared to the previous year.
Here’s a look at the 10 most dangerous countries in the world.


IMAGE: Soldiers rush in after terrorists opened fire on a bus and then attacked the Dina Nagar police station in Gurdaspur. Photograph: PTI Photo

With 289 deaths in 2015, India ranks seventh in the world of countries most affected by terrorism.

The deaths from terrorism in India decreased to the second lowest level since 2000. However, there were four per cent more attacks, totalling 800 and representing the highest number since 2000.

The Graveyard of Empires and Big Data


The only tiki bar in eastern Afghanistan had an unusual payment program. A sign inside read simply, “If you supply data, you will get beer.” The idea was that anyone — or any foreigner, because Afghans were not allowed — could upload data on a one-terabyte hard drive kept at the bar, located in the Taj Mahal Guest House in Jalalabad. In exchange, they would get free beer courtesy of the Synergy Strike Force, the informal name of the American civilians who ran the establishment.

Patrons could contribute any sort of data — maps, PowerPoint slides, videos, or photographs. They could also copy data from the drive. The “Beer for Data” program, as the exchange was called, was about merging data from humanitarian workers, private security contractors, the military, and anyone else willing to contribute. The Synergy Strike Force was not a military unit, a government division, or even a private company; it was the self-chosen name of the odd assortment of Westerners who worked — or in some cases volunteered — on the development projects run out of the guest house.

The Synergy Strike Force’s Beer for Data exchange was a pure embodiment of the techno-utopian dream of free information and citizen empowerment that had emerged in recent years from the hacker community. Only no one would have guessed that this utopia was being created in the chaos of Afghanistan, let alone in Jalalabad, a city that had once been home to Osama bin Laden. Or even more unlikely, that the Synergy Strike Force would soon attract the attention of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).

The Never-Ending War in Afghanistan

Source Link

BOSTON — Remember Afghanistan? The longest war in American history? Ever?

When it comes to wars, we Americans have a selective memory. The Afghan war, dating from October 2001, has earned the distinction of having been forgotten while still underway.

President Trump’s Inaugural Address included no mention of Afghanistan. Nor did his remarks last month at a joint session of Congress. For the new commander in chief, the war there qualifies at best as an afterthought — assuming, that is, he has thought about it all.

A similar attitude prevails on Capitol Hill. Congressional oversight has become pro forma. Last week Gen. Joseph Votel, the head of Central Command, told Congress that the Pentagon would probably need more troops in Afghanistan, a statement that seemed to catch politicians and reporters by surprise — but that was old news to anyone who’s been paying attention to the conflict.

And that’s the problem. It doesn’t seem that anyone is. At the Senate hearings on the nomination of James Mattis as defense secretary, Afghanistan barely came up.

Pakistan: Stoking the Fire in Karachi

Facts are facts – ethnic, political and sectarian rivalries; jihadist groups; criminality and heavy-handed security policies are turning Pakistan's biggest city into a pressure cooker that's about to explode. According to this report, feuding politicians will have to set their conflicts aside or Karachi's law-and-order crisis may indeed reach the bursting point.

South China Sea Options: The Road To Taiwan

By Divergent

National Security Situation: The Republic of China (Taiwan) exists in a singular position in world affairs. Taiwan is viewed as a breakaway province by the communist People’s Republic of China (PRC), who controls the Chinese mainland. However, Taiwan possesses its own government, economy, and institutions, and its nominal independence has been assured by the United States (U.S.) since 1949. However, the PRC views any move toward actual independence as casus belli under its “One China” policy, which has been in place for decades. Recognition or even acknowledgement of Taiwanese positions is a veritable geopolitical and diplomatic taboo.

The recent election of Donald Trump as president of the United States (POTUS) potentially undermines the previous order that has been in place since the Nixon Administration. Campaigning as a change agent, and one to defy convention, President Trump has suggested the U.S. rethink the “One China” policy. POTUS’ reception of overtures from Taiwan and hard rhetoric towards the PRC brings the question of Taiwan’s status and future to the forefront of geopolitics once again.

Background: The communist victory during the Chinese Civil War caused the Nationalist government under Chiang Kai-Shek, with 2 million of its supporters, to flee from the Chinese mainland to the island of Taiwan. The gradual transition of the island to a democratic form of government, its industrialized, capitalist economy, and its reliance on western benefactors for defense established it as a bulwark of western influence in Asia. As a result of Cold War rivalries and competing ideologies, the independence of Taiwan has been assured in all but name for more than 65 years by the U.S. A series of crises, most recently in 1996, demonstrated the inability of the PRC to project military force against Taiwan, and the willingness of the U.S. to ensure Taiwan’s independence. Today, though the PRC is internationally recognized as the government of China, and the “One China” policy is a globally accepted norm, Taiwan still maintains de facto independence.

A Mountain of Debt: Is China's Economy Going To Crash?

Anthony Fensom

A Chinese credit blow-up would cause widespread damage.

China bears have had their fears reconfirmed over the nation’s mountainous debt by none other than the nation’s central bank governor. Is the world’s second-biggest economy heading for a crash?

On Friday, People’s Bank of China Governor Zhou Xiaochuan confessed to reporters that “non-financial corporate leverage is too high. First of all, (the debt levels of) every business, especially those with leverage that already is too high, have to be controlled."

The communist-ruled giant’s credit binge has taken total debt from around 150 percent of gross domestic product before the 2008 global financial crisis, to more than 260 percent currently.

Zhou’s deputy, Yi Gang, said the growth in leverage “isn’t conducive to the sustainable development of the economy and accumulates certain risks.”

Beijing plans to help restructure firms with excessive debt burdens, while also continuing to purge excessive industrial capacity. Zhou suggested support would be withdrawn for the infamous “zombie” companies, financially unviable firms surviving only on credit.

Beware the New Mujahideen: The Threat from Future Jihadist Networks

by Colin P. ClarkeChad C. Serena, Amarnath Amarasingam

The current wave of foreign fighters emerging from the conflict in Iraq and Syria will be larger and potentially more dangerous than the mujahideen guerrillas that were a byproduct of the Soviet-Afghan conflict in the 1980s, FBI Director James Comey warned last September.

That is an especially foreboding observation, since the foreign fighters borne from the Afghan conflict went on to form the core of Al Qaeda and fight in the internecine conflicts in Bosnia, Algeria and Chechnya during the 1990s.

When one conflict ends, these fighters often use their connections to move on and join another fight. This phenomenon is likely to worsen in the future.

The number of foreign fighters participating in the conflict in Iraq and Syria is significant compared to those who participated in Afghanistan in the 1980s. Even more concerning, jihadists have improved and facilitated their networking capacity—improved communication, eased transportation, and diversified access to sources of information and money can make even small cadres of experienced fighters a dangerous force. The foreign-fighter phenomenon is not new. Over the past two hundred years, they have appeared in more than a quarter of all civil wars. But now these fighters engage in foreign civil wars and insurgencies—and then export their expertise back to their home countries or to places they have newly immigrated.

Rumiyah: Jihadist Propaganda and Information Warfare in Cyberspace

By Remy Mahzam 

Since its debut as an online publication in September 2016, Rumiyah (or ‘Rome’ in Arabic) has provided a strategic distraction for the so-called Islamic State (IS), and reflected a fundamental shift in the group’s modus operandi. Indeed, by producing the text in 10 languages, IS has been able to tailor its propaganda to fit the interests of particular communities and regions, as Remy Mazak explains here.


Recognising that wars are no longer confined to the physical battlefields, the Islamic State (IS) terrorist group has since 2014 embarked on an aggressive propaganda campaign in cyberspace through the release of various online publications like Dabiq (discontinued since August 2016), Amaq News, Al-Naba and Rumiyah. Since its debut in September 2016, Rumiyah (‘Rome’ in Arabic), which draws its title from a Prophetic tradition foretelling the fall of the West, is a strategic distraction from the realities on the ground characterised by the considerable loss of territory and revenue, heavy casualties and low morale among fighters. The launch of Rumiyah came precisely at a time when the rhetoric to justify the final battle in Syria seemed counter-intuitive and signalled a strategic shift in IS’ modus operandi, with the battle against its enemies going not only beyond the Middle East but also into the realm of the digital.

European Defence 2016

By Zoe Stanley-Lockman

The first EUISS Security Monthly Stats (SMS) brings together defence data from the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) and the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) from 2016. Aggregating figures from the 28 EU member states, the graphics answer a series of questions about defence spending levels and arms exports.

How much did the EU-28 spend on defense in 2016?

A More Public National Security Strategy Discussion

by Daniel M. Gerstein

President Trump has proposed a Department of Defense spending increase of $54 billion, or over 10 percent above the current Fiscal Year 2017 budget. The offsets for the increased defense spending have not been specifically identified other than coming from “greater savings and efficiencies across the federal government.” While the debate rages as to the wisdom and benefit of such a federal spending rebalancing, a fundamental question remains: What is the national security strategy that supports this reallocation of resources?

So far, President Trump has spoken publicly about defense priorities only in broad terms. He has said the U.S. military should project strength, not aggression, and that it should avoid unnecessary foreign interventions and focus on defeating terrorist groups. He has suggested U.S. allies should assume a fair share of the cost of their defense. In remarks March 2 aboard the aircraft carrier USS Gerald R. Ford, he said the additional funding is necessary to pay for more ships, aircraft and other equipment, greater force levels and enhanced cyber capabilities.

Trump's first National Security Strategy, a congressionally mandated public report that lays out America's global interests, goals, and objectives, is not expected for months. But a broader public discussion of the strategies he hopes to advance through his proposed military build-up would be welcome.

Pentagon Wants to Declare More Parts of the World as Temporary Battlefields

Donald Trump’s administration is considering a military proposal that would designate various undeclared battlefields worldwide to be “temporary areas of active hostility”, the Guardian has learned.

If approved, the Pentagon-proposed measure would give military commanders the same latitude to launch strikes, raids and campaigns against enemy forces for up to six months that they possess in Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria.

The proposal would in effect unravel a highly controversial bureaucratic structure for launching lethal assaults, such as drone strikes and counter-terrorism raids, set up by Barack Obama’s White House.

Under Obama’s structure, known as the Presidential Policy Guidance (PPG), the president and his counter-terrorism adviser at the National Security Council played a substantial role in approving life-or-death strikes on suspected terrorists on undeclared battlefields such as Yemen, Pakistan and Somalia.

The Pentagon’s proposal would push those authorities down to military commanders during the 180-day lifespan of the temporary designations, according to an administration official familiar with the proposals, who described Obama’s PPG as, functionally, a dead letter.

Winning Indefinite Conflicts: Achieving Strategic Success Against Ideologically-Motivated Violent Non-State Actors

by Mark E. Vinson

“This broader challenge of countering violent extremism is not simply a military effort. Ideologies are not defeated with guns, they are defeated by better ideas...”

-- President Barak Obama, July 6, 2015

Elusive Success

If, as President Obama asserted, “ideologies are not defeated by guns,” but by “better ideas,” then how should the U.S. military be used to help achieve strategic success in the growing number of protracted, irregular conflicts with ideologically-motivated violent non-state actors (VNSAs)? In Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Somalia, Libya, the Philippines, and many more countries around the globe, VNSAs, motivated by religious, political, ethnic and other status-quo-challenging ideas, have been remarkably resilient, perseverant, and influential. By surviving and rapidly recovering from punishing attacks by the United States and its partners—while continuing to carry out violent agendas against local, regional, and even global adversaries—these VNSAs can credibly claim that they are succeeding strategically. With broad, ambiguous long-term strategic objectives, and an open-ended, evolving path to strategic success, the United States has generally conducted limited military operations intended to disrupt and degrade such VNSAs, followed by the hopeful but indefinite objective of “ultimately defeating” them. In view of the VNSAs’ resilience, persistence, and ideological basis for conflict, the path to strategic success for the United States has remained elusive. Although its military has achieved tactical and operational successes against such adversaries, the U.S. government has struggled to define, much less achieve, strategic success. If military success is not sufficient against ideologically-motivated VNSAs, then how can the United States achieve strategic success and what is the military’s role?

Developing Special Operations Forces in China and Russia


When Syrian government forces retook the ancient city of Palmyra from ISIS for the second time in early March, they had the assistance of one of the world’s elite special operations forces: Russia’s Special Operations Command (SSO). In coordination with U.S. and Russian air power, the combined forces killed or wounded 1,000 ISIS militants and destroyed more than 150 vehicles, according to a Russian military leader.

The development of the SSO is part of a larger shift by Russia to modernize and professionalize its military, and it is not the only one of the United States’ global competitors doing so. China is also in the midst of its own military modernization program, and chief among its goals is a larger and more capable complement of special operations-capable forces.

Both Russia and China have observed the successes of the United States’ Special Operations Forces (SOF) and have sought to incorporate successful elements into their own mission needs and concepts of warfare. While many of the missions and capabilities overlap with those of U.S. SOF, neither country can yet field SOF forces who can operate as robustly or independently as those of the United States.

Tank 2022: Demos & Decisions For Army’s Next Generation Combat Vehicle


Russia’s new T-14 Armata tank on parade in Moscow. Russian advances are driving the Army to explore new combat vehicles.

HUNTSVILLE, ALA.: 2022 will be the year of decision for the Army’s nascent Next Generation Combat Vehicle, officials told the Association of the US Army conference here today. That’s when “at least two” NGCV demonstrators get field-tested by real troops. Those soldiers’ feedback, in turn, will inform Army leaders’ decision: whether to fund a full-up program to field a new armored vehicle by 2035, or put off a fresh start — again — and just keep updating 1970s designs.

There’s a long and painful history of cancelled programs here, from the Crusader howitzer in 2002 to the Future Combat Systems vehicle family in 2009, to the Ground Combat Vehicle in 2014. Meanwhile, the M1 Abrams battle tank and M2 Bradley troop carrier designed in the 1970s have fought well for decades, and they’ve been repeatedly upgraded, almost beyond recognition, but there limits to what an old design can do. With Russia deploying its latest hardware to devastating effect in Ukraine, many Army leaders fear — in the words of Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, now National Security Advisor — that “we are outranged and outgunned.”

Trump’s Defense Secretary Cites Climate Change as National Security Challenge

by Andrew Revkin

James Mattis’ unpublished testimony before a Senate panel recognizes a threat others in the administration reject or minimize. 

Secretary of Defense James Mattis has asserted that climate change is real, and a threat to American interests abroad and the Pentagon’s assets everywhere, a position that appears at odds with the views of the president who appointed him and many in the administration in which he serves. 

In unpublished written testimony provided to the Senate Armed Services Committee after his confirmation hearing in January, Mattis said it was incumbent on the U.S. military to consider how changes like open-water routes in the thawing Arctic and drought in global trouble spots can pose challenges for troops and defense planners. He also stressed this is a real-time issue, not some distant what-if. 

“Climate change is impacting stability in areas of the world where our troops are operating today,” Mattis said in written answers to questions posed after the public hearing by Democratic members of the committee. “It is appropriate for the Combatant Commands to incorporate drivers of instability that impact the security environment in their areas into their planning.” 

Defence Expenditure: A Challenge for Defence Economists

Amit Cowshish

The only sub-theme that vies for pride of place alongside the debate on the alleged shenanigans of an inept civilian bureaucracy is the gross inadequacy of defence outlays. Governments have come and gone since 1947, but the sluggish trajectory of annual defence budgets continues, interrupted only by pay commissions and wars. It does not require any great power of prophesy to rule out a steep hike in the defence budget in the coming years. The history of the defence budget over the past seven decades should be enough to drive home this truth.

More specifically, the growth in annual defence allocations since 2014 only indicates that it is naive to expect that the gap between the demand projected by the Ministry of Defence (MoD) and the actual allocations made for defence in the union budget will soon be a thing of the past.

Defence analysts never tire of mentioning the year 2004 when the then outgoing government made a provision for a defence modernisation fund in the interim budget, seen till date as a bold step to address the problems besetting the modernisation of the armed forces. But it is the same political dispensation which, despite being in power now for almost three years, not only has not revived the defence modernisation fund but has also failed to cut the mustard when it comes to raising the defence expenditure.


The technology and computer security website, ZDNET.com has an article on their website today,March 13, 2017, with the title above. Zack Whittacker, a writer for Zero Day, writes that an “unsecured backup drive has exposed thousands of U.S. Force documents, including highly sensitive personnel files on senior, and high-ranking officers. Security researchers found that the gigabytes files were accessible to anyone — because the Internet-connected backup drive was not password protected.”

“The files reviewed by ZDNET contained a range of personal information, such as names and addresses, ranks, and Social Security numbers of more than 4,000 officers,” Mr. Whittacker writes. “Another file lists the security clearance levels of hundreds of other [active duty] officers, some of whom possess ‘Top Secret’ and other special access clearances. Phone numbers, and contact information of staff and their spouses as well as other sensitive and private information was found in other spreadsheets.”

Mr. Whittacker writes that “the drive is understood to belong to an [active duty] Lt. Col.”, whom ZDNET said that they would not reveal his identity since attempts to reach him by email — thus far — have not been successful.

Whistling Past the Cyber Graveyard

By Matthew Wein

It seems not a day passes that a new cyber security incident is not reported. Whether it is the breach of email accounts at Yahoo, the networks at the Democratic National Committee (DNC) or John Podesta’s digital recipe box, the revelations draw the attention of a wide variety of news organizations, and the stories each seem to approach a level of critical mass until a new story emerges. These incidents are all different in scope, and their targets are in the crosshairs of both criminals and hostile intelligence organizations - for motives that vary from political, to monetary, to just plain mischief. No matter the intent of the cyber criminal, the government’s response ought to prevent escalation along the cybercrime continuum. What Americans have seen to this point is network access and data exfiltration – or more simply said: breaking, entering, and theft. 

Data manipulation, the next step along the cybercrime continuum, was possible in each of the aforementioned scenarios. The ability of criminals to manipulate data through the Internet could have destructive and harmful long-term effects, particularly for an American public that is increasingly reliant on networked technologies and cloud computing. Yet, this is an eventuality for which American law enforcement entities need to deter against, and for which they are unprepared. As the incident allegedly perpetrated by the Russian Government leading up to the American 2016 Presidential elections demonstrates, now is the time for the U.S. to develop a comprehensive plan of action for cybercrime in the realm of data manipulation.


As if you needed any more evidence that the Internet of Things (IoT), and our networked devices have many vulnerabilities, this latest technique may well be the tipping point for you to disconnect and join the burgeoning off-the-grid movement. For the overwhelming majority of us, joining the off-the-gridders is not an option; so, we have to assume our devices aren’t ‘clean; but, if we practice best cyber hygiene practices, that will be good enough for many of us. Having said that…….

Mark Prigg writes in the March 14, 2017 edition of the Daily Mail Online, that a groundbreaking research effort at the University of Michigan has shown that “sound waves can be used to hack into critical sensors — in everything from phones, and medical devices, to fitness trackers and cars. The researchers discovered that millions of the gadgets/devices we use every day — have accelerometers, which can be compromised/breached via sound waves. The “researchers found the tiny sensors can be tricked, registering fake movement and, giving hackers a backdoor into these same devices,” Mr. Prigg wrote.

“The fundamental physics of the hardware allowed us to trick sensors into a false reality to the microprocessor,” said Kevin Fu, U-M Associate Professor of Computer Science and Engineering. “Our findings upend widely held assumptions about the security of the underlying hardware.”

Whistling Past The Cyber Graveyard

by Matthew Wein

It seems not a day passes that a new cyber security incident is not reported. Whether it is the breach of email accounts at Yahoo, the networks at the Democratic National Committee (DNC) or John Podesta’s digital recipe box, the revelations draw the attention of a wide variety of news organizations, and the stories each seem to approach a level of critical mass until a new story emerges. These incidents are all different in scope, and their targets are in the crosshairs of both criminals and hostile intelligence organizations – for motives that vary from political, to monetary, to just plain mischief. No matter the intent of the cyber criminal, the government’s response ought to prevent escalation along the cybercrime continuum. What Americans have seen to this point is network access and data exfiltration – or more simply said: breaking, entering, and theft.

Data manipulation, the next step along the cybercrime continuum, was possible in each of the aforementioned scenarios. The ability of criminals to manipulate data through the Internet could have destructive and harmful long-term effects, particularly for an American public that is increasingly reliant on networked technologies and cloud computing. Yet, this is an eventuality for which American law enforcement entities need to deter against, and for which they are unprepared. As the incident allegedly perpetrated by the Russian Government leading up to the American 2016 Presidential elections demonstrates, now is the time for the U.S. to develop a comprehensive plan of action for cybercrime in the realm of data manipulation.

States of cyber warfare: negotiating a cyber-weapons treaty

By Martin Courtney

The destructive effect of cyber disruptions between nation states is leading to calls for cyber-weapon agreements. Should we look to nuclear arms treaties as our guide?

Cyber-attacks are damaging and disruptive when orchestrated by criminals and hacktivists with a point to prove, but they take on a more sinister and potentially catastrophic significance when carried out or supported by government-funded military or intelligence units.State-sponsored cyber espionage and cyber terrorism have been steadily growing in frequency and diversity over the last decade as national authorities become increasingly reliant on digital information and expansive networks.

The situation is considered so serious in some circles that calls to establish agreed rules on the use of cyber weapons against the critical national infrastructure (CNI) of individual countries are getting louder. Yet, as befitting the murky world of spies, it is hard to assess exactly how much progress has been made on any cyber warfare proliferation deals to date. Some question whether digital arms controls that restrict the use of specific types of cyber weapon, such as advanced persistent threats, distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks or malware, are feasible in the first place.


By Evan Osnos

In 2007, Admiral Mike McConnell, the wonky former head of the National Security Agency, became the director of National Intelligence, and soon discovered that many senior American officials were not remotely prepared for the advent of digital warfare. (Less than a year earlier, Senator Ted Stevens, of Alaska, who chaired the main Senate committee that regulates the Internet, had described the Web as a “series of tubes.”) To grab his peers’ attention, McConnell adopted the intelligence community’s version of a party trick: when visiting a Cabinet officer, he would pull out a copy of a memo that had been written by his host and then stolen. The Chinese, he might explain, hacked this from you—and we hacked them to get it back.

A decade later, nobody in Washington remains ignorant of such risks. The hacking that took place during the 2016 election, including attacks that exposed the inner workings of the Democratic National Committee and of Hillary Clinton’s campaign, has opened a new chapter in the long-predicted rise of cyber conflict. If the first fifteen years of the twenty-first century were dominated by the war on terror, we are now entering a period when the war on cyber—and war by cyber—will very likely loom as large in our discussions of national security. Last week, WikiLeaks released an archive of cyber tools stolen from the C.I.A.; it was hardly a surprise that the C.I.A. spies on phones and computers, even if it was news that the agency might hijack a Samsung television and use it as an eavesdropping tool. President Donald Trump’s aide Kellyanne Conway took advantage of that news to promote the myth that Barack Obama might have “wiretapped” Trump though household electronics. Surveillance can be conducted with “microwaves that turn into cameras,” she said on Sunday. “We know this is a fact of modern life.” (Faced with ridicule, she later said her microwave-Obama-Trump scenario was taken out of context.)