22 June 2017

*** Russia: Hacking Away at US Power

By Jacob L. Shapiro

Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election has been making headlines for months now, as new revelations seem to come out every week. Two more surfaced in the past couple of weeks. On June 5, the Intercept published a leaked document from the National Security Agency that revealed that Russia’s General Staff Main Intelligence Directorate engaged in cyberespionage and a spear-phishing campaign against a U.S. company that produces elections-related software. Then on June 13, Bloomberg reported that Russia’s cyberattack on the U.S. voting system targeted as many as 39 states and included incursions into voter databases and software systems. According to Bloomberg, the U.S. was so deeply concerned about the scope and sophistication of these Russian cyberattacks that it took the “unprecedented” step of calling Moscow to complain.

The uproar over these reports has been compounded by allegations that members of Donald Trump’s election campaign colluded with the Russians. When Trump came to office, he wanted to improve U.S. relations with Russia, and even stated so during his campaign. He asked at one point, “Wouldn’t it be nice if we actually got along, for example, with Russia?” The media and Trump’s opposition present this openness toward dialogue and Trump’s own personal admiration for Russian President Vladimir Putin as evidence of his collusion with Russia.

But the only difference between Trump’s approach to Russia and that of his predecessors has been style, not substance. A year after Russia undermined confidence in U.S. security guarantees in the 2008 Georgian war, U.S. President Barack Obama’s administration tried to “reset” Russian relations. It failed miserably. President George W. Bush said in 2001 that he had met Putin, looked him in the eye, gotten “a sense of his soul,” and found him to be straightforward and trustworthy. Bush got it wrong too.

U.S. presidents always try to improve the relationship with Russia, and they always fail. In this sense, Trump is typical. Part of the reason successive U.S. presidents keep making this mistake is that presidents, like the electorate, tend to personalize everything. Trump wants to get along with Russia; Obama wanted a fresh start; Bush felt he knew Putin’s soul. They view Russia as something that can be handled by sheer force of personality. But the individuals and their personal preferences don’t matter, which is something Russia understands better than the United States does. Relationships between countries aren’t like relationships between people. Countries can’t be trusted to act any way except in their own self-interest.

*** Understanding Tomorrow Begins Today: The Operational Environment Through 2035

Ian M. Sullivan, John C. Bauer

The Operational Environment (OE) is a combination of conditions and variables that impact a commander’s decision-making process and his/her ability to employ capabilities. The factors that define a given OE stretch across the Diplomatic, Information, Military, and Economic (DIME) spheres and form the broad setting in which the Army and any of its units, along with its joint and combined partners, conduct operations. Our ability to conceptualize and understand the OE and its lattice-work of variables – the political, military, economic, social, information, infrastructure, physical terrain, and time factors (PMESII-TT) – allows us to not only conceptualize, plan, and train for the types of missions we will face in the near-term, but also to explore the types of capabilities and processes we will need to develop and/or adopt to contend with the threats we will face in the future. Our analysis of the OE indicates that key potential adversaries are focusing on developing capabilities and employing hybrid strategies that will provide direct challenges to Army and Joint and Combined forces.

The OEs of today and the future will be marked by instability. This instability will manifest itself in evolving geopolitics, resurgent nationalism, changing demographics, and unease with the results of globalization creating tension, competition for resources, and challenges to structures, order, and institutions. Instability also will result from the rapid development of technology and the resulting increase in the speed of human interaction, as well an increasing churn in economic and social spheres. A global populace that is increasingly attuned and sensitive to disparities in economic resources and the diffusion of social influence will lead to further challenges to the status quo and lead to system rattling events like the Arab Spring, the Color Revolutions in Eastern Europe, the Greek monetary crisis, and BREXIT. Also, the world order will evolve with rising nations to challenging the post-Cold War dominance of the US-led Western system. New territorial conflicts will arise in places like the South China Sea, compelling us to seek new partnerships and alliances, while climate change and geopolitical competition will open up whole new theaters of operation, such as in the Arctic. 

** Turkey Marches Ahead With Its Military Plans in Qatar

Though Saudi Arabia and its Arab allies have cut ties with Qatar, touching off a diplomatic crisis in the Middle East, one friend has refused to abandon the small country on the Persian Gulf. Turkey's steadfast support of Qatar has stood out since the dispute began June 5. Not only has Ankara provided diplomatic and trade assistance to Doha, but it also has moved to expedite the deployment of Turkish forces to Qatar, a decision that will fortify the common ground forming between the two countries.
Building Stronger Security Ties

Though Turkey's parliament agreed to the deployment last week, the decision to base Turkish forces in Qatar dates back to a 2014 agreement between the two states. Turkey has already sent a limited number of troops to Qatar; according to several reports, between 100 and 150 troops have been stationed at a Qatari military base since October 2016. But these forces are only the vanguard of what is intended to become a more meaningful and permanent deployment. The Turkish military dispatched a three-person delegation on June 12 to coordinate the arrival of additional forces. The latest available information, however, indicates there are practical issues relating to the facility intended to host the Turkish troops that need to be resolved before they can arrive.

** For the Islamic State, Distraction Is Survival

By Kamran Bokhari

One of the Islamic State’s strengths is its ability to exploit the interests of those trying to defeat it. Sometimes, as they compete and maneuver for position against each other, they make it easy for the Islamic State. Other times, the Islamic State has been able to deepen divisions by staging attacks and compelling certain actors to retaliate, angering other players in the region. It’s one way the Islamic State has been able to frustrate its enemies’ efforts against it.

Two developments in Syria over the weekend illustrate how the competition among these enemies has benefited IS. First, Iran launched ballistic missiles at IS facilities in eastern Syria in response to the IS attacks in Tehran on June 7. Second, the United States shot down a Syrian army warplane that was attacking Kurdish-led forces fighting the Islamic State, the first time the U.S. has downed a Syrian plane since it got involved in the conflict. Russia has since announced it would no longer use the “deconfliction” communication channel that was set up to help Russian and U.S. forces avoid direct conflict in their Syrian operations. Both of these developments need to be unpacked separately.

Iran Strikes in Syria

On June 18, Tehran fired six Zolfaghar ballistic missiles at IS facilities in the eastern Syrian town of Mayadeen. This is the first time Iran has fired missiles into Syria. Iran last conducted missile strikes in 2001 in Iraq, where it targeted a rebel group known as the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq. A spokesman for the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, which runs the country’s ballistic missile program, told state TV that while these missiles targeted IS they were also designed to send a message to others, namely the Saudis and the Americans.

Darjeeling flareup: We had it coming

Sunanda K Datta Ray

The bloodshed in Darjeeling highlights how foolish it was to try to make Bengali a compulsory school subject even in a Nepalese-majority district. But the agitation that flared up had been simmering for more than a century and concerns not just West Bengal but India as a whole. The ascendancy of an authoritarian, monocultural party at the Centre greatly increases the likelihood of minority groups seeing the state as “the prison house of nationalities”, Lenin’s term for Tsarist Russia.

The turbulence in Jammu and Kashmir is the most obvious instance of this gulf between nation and region. Whatever the outcome, strife will not end so long as the Kashmir revolt is dismissed as only the outcome of Pakistani mischief, jihadist terrorism and black money. As A.S. Dulat, the perspicacious former head of the Research and Analysis Wing, pointed out, there can be no solution until the Kashmiris themselves have been won over through a process he called “selling peace through a sustained dialogue”. That demands a sympathetic approach and some knowledge of the historical background. I am reminded in this connection of the legendary Ranjit Gupta’s response to my outrage at alleged human rights abuses against the Naga tribes. Known for suppressing Naxalites when he was Kolkata’s police commissioner, Ranjit Gupta was interested in anthropology and was aware of history. “Don’t forget,” he said, “that India was an imperial creation and can be kept together only through imperial methods!” Far from admitting that modern India was an imperial creation, the change of place names — will the Gateway of India be the next victim? — suggests that many Indians would like to deny that the British ever ruled us. Not for them the view that “to strengthen their attempt at developing an India-wide response to the India-wide rule of the British” the Congress, virtually the sole opinion-maker then, “invented the idea of an ancient ‘Mother India’ to which all Indians had once owed allegiance.” Mother India means nothing to Nagas, Mizos, Meteis or Kashmiri Muslims.

Where is the data for India to make a case on terrorism from Pakistan?

Tara Kartha

It’s that time again during the term of a prime minister, when he has to prepare to call on the President of the United States, a country that is still seen as powerful enough to count as a desirable parti in times of stress. Apart from plans to buy a fleet of commercial aircraft guaranteed to catch the attention of an anxious industry, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the United States is also expected to focus on Pakistan’s proxy wars against India.

As always when negotiating with the US, it is not only White House aides, bureaucracy and members of the Congress who matter, but also the think tanks and media who aim to influence policy at the Hill. Any diplomatic mission worth its salt aims to engage with these ‘expert’ groups and bring them into public debate preferably in aid of India, but at least not against its stated positions.

This is where the difficulty starts. Major think tanks in Washington have a very different view on terrorism in the region. For instance, a prestigious think tank while classifying conflicts, cites Afghanistan as a “‘civil war’’ on its interactive map. This flies against facts, given that almost the entire top Taliban leadership lives, strategies and more importantly, banks in Pakistan. A civil war is an internal phenomenon, and the term ‘Af-Pak’ itself illustrates the cross border pall under which the war is being fought. The only instance of cross border terrorism that is cited in Asia is oddly enough limited to sectarian conflict in Pakistan.

Darjeeling Unrest Has National Ramifications, Mamata Banerjee Shouldn’t Be Allowed To Mishandle It

Jaideep Mazumdar

Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee resists deployment of central paramilitary forces during elections in Bengal. Over the past six years that she has been in power in the state, Banerjee has never sought central forces to tackle internal disturbances in the plains of Bengal, relying solely on her police force to act (or not act, depending on the community involved) in all such incidents.

But when it comes to the Darjeeling hills, it is a different ball game altogether. Ever since trouble broke out in the hills, Banerjee has been insisting on getting central forces to be deployed. She even got the Army, which she had once ludicrously accused of trying to stage a coup, and shamelessly charged Army soldiers (deployed in a drill) of extorting money from truckers at a traffic check-post, to hit the streets of the hill town since trouble broke out on 8 June.

The reason why Banerjee wants the Army and central forces deployed in Darjeeling is that she wants to fire the gun on Gorkhas from their shoulders, with the state police remaining safely behind the battle-lines. Banerjee has a sinister motive in doing so. She wants to suppress the Gorkhaland movement by brute force, but she wants her police (and, thus, herself) to remain free of any blame for bloodshed. She knows that there will be casualties if the movement is to be suppressed by force, but she wants the central forces and the Army to be blamed for those casualties.

Here, Mamata is looking at her immediate political gains and she cares little for anything beyond that. In order to safeguard her political interests, she is even willing to put national interests to grave risk and danger. The Gorkhas are a very proud and emotional race, and the death of three Gorkhas in police firing on agitators in Darjeeling on Saturday has agitated them, hurt them and caused the community no little trauma.

Government Is Going Overboard With Aadhaar; Mindless Expansion Can Be Dangerous

R Jagannathan

The government has won one half of the battle for linking PAN with Aadhaar, but it is in danger of losing the larger case on privacy if it mindlessly pushes Aadhaar to areas it was never intended.

The irrational haste with which the Narendra Modi government is rushing to make Aadhaar compulsory for almost any and every purpose will cost it dearly. Last week, the government made Aadhaar mandatory for bank accounts, sending everyone a chilling reminder that Big Brother is not only watching you, but now has your finances at his finger-tips.

There is no better way to kill a good idea and make people suspicious of your intentions than to repeatedly shove Aadhaar down unwilling throats.

Let me be clear: I opposed Aadhaar when the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government began collecting biometrics without a law to back it. I changed my position when the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government showed some willingness to provide at least a figleaf of privacy protection by enacting the Aadhaar (Targeted Delivery of Financial and other Subsidies, Benefits and Services) Act, 2016. I also have no problem if Aadhaar is mandatory for tax filing and PAN numbers – a position upheld by the Supreme Court recently.

Moving forward on defence and security

Dhruva JaishankarTanvi Madan

When Prime Minister Narendra Modi meets US President Donald Trump for the first time, the focus will be on establishing a good rapport between the two leaders. There remain concerns that their two governments’ objectives are not compatible: that Trump’s “America First” approach, which conceives of US interests in narrow, transactional terms, will be at odds with Modi’s agenda to transform India. But one area of natural convergence is in the defence and security realm.

Part of the bilateral security agenda involves developing India’s capacity to assume a bigger role as a net security provider in its region. Unlike parts of Europe and Asia, India is not dependent on US security guarantees, and is eager to have a larger military presence, particularly in the Indian Ocean. Indian efforts have complemented US interests, including in patrols of the Strait of Malacca, counter-piracy operations in the Gulf of Aden and the evacuation of civilians from Yemen.

Afghanistan’s Center of Gravity: The Taliban and Case for AFPAK FATA by Victor R. Morris

Victor R. Morris


The Taliban are the center of gravity in Afghanistan. This is not due to the fact the group is the perceived adversary, but because the Taliban wield power. The insurgency predominantly composed of ethnic Pashtuns are a tangible physical agent performing actions. Equally important, the insurgency is emboldened by intangible socio-cultural variables like Sunni Islamic fundamentalism, Salafi jihadism and Pashtunwali. These intangible variables influence relevant populations and actors, but the Taliban insurgency has the inherent capability for action required to achieve their political objectives. After almost two decades of misidentifying and attacking centers of gravity (COGs), another insurgency strategy needs to be considered or re-considered for successful and effective limited defeat of the Taliban hybrid threat.

This article conducts COG analysis on the Taliban sub-system and Pashtun tribal system using revised joint doctrine and non-linear dynamical systems analysis. Identification of vulnerabilities and recommendations for non-military strategies are outputs of the analyses.

Eikmeier Method of COG Analysis

Considering the Taliban as the primary COG in the war in Afghanistan utilizes the new COG definition that both clarifies and modernizes the COG concept, which is a crucial approach as operational environments and population dynamics change over time. The insurgency also called “the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan” exists in the physical environment and has the capability to attain their objectives. As of May 2017, the Taliban controls or contests 40 percent of Afghan districts and subsequently heavily influences international security policy. In order to elucidate the insurgency’s mechanisms of control and influence, this article employs the Eikmeier method of COG analysis that includes revised definitions, precision and testability. Therefore, the COG identification assertion is validated based on the above criteria. This article also draws from nonlinear science and warfare concepts, which include systems, chaos and complexity theories.

Afghan Government Quietly Aids Breakaway


KANDAHAR, Afghanistan — It was a particularly bitter fight in the heavily contested district of Gereshk in Helmand Province. The adversaries deployed suicide attackers, roadside explosives and a magnetic bomb stuck to the undercarriage of a commander’s car, amid pitched firefights that went on for several days last week.

When it was over, at least 21 people were dead on both sides — and all were members of the Taliban.

As a result, Gereshk remained one of the few places in the province still mostly under the Afghan government’s control, thanks to a breakaway Taliban faction that has become a de facto ally of the government.

Infighting among the Taliban is nothing new. But Afghan officials have now chosen sides, with a policy that amounts to “If you can’t beat them, at least help their enemies do so.”

In recent months, the government has quietly provided the breakaway faction — popularly known as the Renouncers — with weapons, safe passage and intelligence support in their fight against the mainstream Taliban. The result has been a series of successes in areas where the government has otherwise suffered repeated defeats, particularly in Helmand, a southern province where the mainstream Taliban still control 90 percent of the territory.

China, Europe, and the US: Are Changes Coming to the World Order?

By Roie Yellinek

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: The German Chancellor’s daily routine has been attracting wide attention of late. Angela Merkel met recently with US President Donald Trump, followed by meetings with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang. Merkel expressed some of her colleagues’ thoughts after meeting Trump by saying, “Europe can no longer completely rely on its longstanding US alliance”. The timing of the Chinese visit, shortly after Trump’s visit, was not coincidental. China has a vision of joining forces with Europe to counterbalance the US, and President Trump’s reception in Europe made this vision more plausible.

US President Donald Trump’s visit to EU headquarters in Brussels on May 24-25, 2017 caused major discomfort among members of the Union. German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the strongest leader in the EU, spoke for several of her colleagues when she said, “Europe can no longer completely rely on its longstanding US alliance.”

Merkel’s words caused a firestorm. Until recently, the strength of the transatlantic alliance had been largely taken for granted. Trump’s declaration that the US will not endorse the Paris climate treaty, signed in 2015, unless changes are made further destabilized US relations with Europe.

Balochistan: The Chinese Chequered

Tushar Ranjan Mohanty

The Islamic State (IS, also Daesh) on June 8, 2017, claimed the killing of two Chinese nationals who had been abducted from the Jinnah Town area of Quetta, the provincial capital of Balochistan, in the afternoon of May 24, 2017. Amaq, the IS propaganda agency, declared, “Islamic State fighters killed two Chinese people they had been holding in Baluchistan province, south-west Pakistan.” The Chinese couple, Lee Zing Yang (24) and Meng Li Si (26), were studying Urdu in Quetta, where they reportedly also ran a Mandarin language course.According to Deputy Inspector General Police Aitzaz Goraya, unknown abductors, wearing Police uniforms, had forced the two foreigners into a vehicle at gunpoint and driven away. They also tried to overpower another Chinese woman but she ran away. A man present at the site attempted to resist the kidnapping, but was shot at by one of the abductors. So far no local group has claimed responsibility for the incident (abduction and subsequent killing). Reports speculate that the actual perpetrators were linked to the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi al Alami (LeJ-A), the international wing of the LeJ, which believed to be affiliated to Daesh.

The claim came hours after Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) released details of a three-day operation (June 1-3) by the Pakistan Army against Daesh-affiliated terrorists in the Mastung area of Balochistan, in which Security Forces (SFs) had killed 12 suspected terrorists, including two suicide bombers. ISPR claimed, There were reports of 10-15 terrorists of a banned outfit Lashrake-Jhangivi Al-Almi (LeJA) hiding in caves near Isplingi ( Koh-i-Siah/Koh-i- Maran) 36 Kilometer South East of Mastung." And further, "The suicide bomber used against Deputy Chairman of Senate Maulana Abdul Ghafoor Haydri on May 12 was also sent by [the targeted group]." The ISPR statement asserted that SFs destroyed an explosives facility inside the cave where the terrorists were hiding, and recovered a cache of arms and ammunition, including 50 kilogrammes of explosives, three suicide jackets, 18 grenades, six rocket launchers, four light machine guns,18 small machine guns, four sniper rifles, 38 communication sets and ammunition of various types.

Charting the Indian banking sector’s future

Renny Thomas

The Indian banking sector is at a critical juncture in its evolution. It is now clear that the slump in credit growth and increase in stressed assets has affected the profitability of all banks, and threatens the very survival of some of them.

State-owned banks account for more than three-fourths of the stressed asset load, which is now far higher than their net worth. Provision levels are inadequate, as the banks hold only 28% of gross non-performing assets and restructured assets, as provisions. There is a $110 billion gap between the stressed assets in the system and the provisions made. Shifts in consumer preferences, combined with changes in technology and regulations, have created a perfect storm. The way out will depend to a large extent on the speed and direction of stakeholder reactions.

The core challenge is that many of the public sector banks (PSBs) are undifferentiated, sub-scale, and with limited capabilities to be full universal banks. About 80% of them own only 25% of the assets. They also operate in virtually every market segment with very limited sector or vertical-focused specialization. In fact, they focus on the same customer segments, offer similar products, and very often compete only on price. Some of this is because PSBs face challenges that impede them from competing effectively. They have to shoulder a disproportionate share of social and nation-building obligations. Policies on compensation and human resources reduce management autonomy, and inhibit their ability to attract and manage talent.

Fighting, While Funding, Extremists

Even sophisticated observers admit to confusion and consternation about the Middle East, where rivalries and jealousies among nations have reached new levels of complication. Saudi Arabia and some of its neighbors decide to punish Qatar and some of its citizens, ostensibly for fostering and financing Islamist terrorism. But Saudi Arabia itself has been accused of underwriting extremists. No matter: President Trump, captivated by Saudi royalty, sides with the Saudis — even though the United States has two important bases in Qatar.

Baffling, right? But here is one clear bottom line: The biggest loser in all this may turn out to be the fight against the Islamic State. Nobody likes ISIS. Yet the idea of a united front among Gulf states against the terrorist group has all but evaporated, and hypocrisies and contradictions abound. Here’s a primer on some of the main players.

QATAR This tiny but exceedingly wealthy country definitely has a mixed record. But is it a colossal threat? Last week, the United States agreed to sell it $12 billion worth of F-15 jets and two Navy vessels arrived there for joint military exercises. If Qatar were seen as a serious terrorism threat, that wouldn’t be happening.

The View From Olympus: Britons Strike Home?

“Britons Strike Home” is an 18th century naval song, a product of an age when Britain knew how to avenge insults to her soil and her people. She has now suffered three such insults in the last three months, and it is clear Britain’s ruling class hasn’t the ghost of an idea of what to do about it.

Of course, they have their rituals. There is weeping and gnashing of teeth, candles and flowers and balloons, benefit concerts and twaddle from politicians about “getting tough”. Labor Party leader Jeremy Corbyn gave a perfect example of the usual crap. According to the June 5 New York Times, he said in response to the London attacks,

We are all shocked and horrified by the brutal attacks in London. My thoughts are with the families and friends of those who have died and the many who have been injured. Today, we will all grieve for their loss.

Weakness drips from every line.

Prime Minister Theresa May, who is to Maggie Thatcher as Napoleon III was to Napoleon I, was no better. Saying “things need to change” and “Enough is enough,” she offered no action, just words. It seems that instead of “Britons strike home,” all the British elite of today can offer is “Britons strike your flag.”

What could be done? The British government surely knows which mosques preach Islamic puritanism. Shut them down and expel their entire memberships and their families. Similarly, when an Islamic terrorist is caught, expel his entire family, down to and including his most distant cousins.

Such measures and other like them would hold Britain’s Islamic communities responsible for policing their own. If they fail to, then they would pay a price. That price could and should be ratcheted upward for as long as Moslem terrorists who live in Britain carry out attacks there. Could it reach the point of expelling whole communities? If those communities cannot or (more likely) will not police themselves, then that action might be necessary.

Russia's new cyber weapon turns up the heat on US efforts

by Charlie Mitchell

Reports that the Russians have an advanced new cyber weapon designed to penetrate and cripple opponents' electrical grids, and perhaps other critical infrastructure, have struck a Cold War note with lawmakers. Yet, it was greeted as old news by cyber professionals. 

The weapon was used in December to temporarily bring down portions of the electrical grid in Ukraine, according to an analysis by security firm Dragos that was first reported in the Washington Post. 

Members of the Senate Armed Services Committee quizzed Defense Secretary Jim Mattis on the weapon at a hearing last week, and sources said the House and Senate homeland security and intelligence panels are taking a close look. 

The vulnerability of the electric sector has been frequently cited by military leaders as a potential Achilles' heel for U.S. armed forces, which rely on local power companies at almost all of their domestic bases. And a sustained blackout caused by a cyber weapon could impose astronomical economic and human costs on the United States. 

The 2016 Ukraine attack is now seen as merely a small-scale test, according to the Dragos report, because this weapon in theory could be used to wreak havoc on any industrialized country. 

While Pentagon Slowly Ponders Its Next Move, the Afghan Security Forces Still Have Not Proven They Can Contain or Defeat the Taliban and ISIS

ISLAMABAD — As American military officials complete plans that are likely to send several thousand additional U.S. troops to Afghanistan, a flurry of setbacks in the war have underscored both the imperative of action and the pitfalls of various approaches.

Further complicating the picture are questions about how to deal with neighboring Pakistan and balance separate fights against Afghan and foreign-based insurgents.

In the latest attack Sunday morning, Taliban fighters stormed a police base in southeastern Paktia province after detonating a suicide car bomb outside. At least five members of security forces and several civilians were killed, officials said. The attack came one day after an Afghan army commando shot and wounded seven U.S. troops inside an army base in northern Balkh province.

Almost every week seems to bring alarming and embarrassing developments that cast doubt on the ability of Afghan security forces to protect the public and make headway against the domestic Taliban insurgency and the more ruthless Islamic State.

From the powerful truck bomb that decimated a high-security district of Kabul on May 31, killing more than 150 people and sparking days of protests, to the Saturday shooting at the same base in Balkh where Taliban infiltrators killed more than 140 Afghan soldiers April 21, a spate of attacks from various sources is inflicting blow after blow on the nation’s battered psyche.

The Saturday shooting was one of several recent insider attacks that are raising new concerns about poor vetting and conflicting loyalties, even among the elite Afghan special operations forces that the U.S. military sees as crucial to boosting the war effort. Experts said such attacks would be likely to increase if more U.S. troops arrive.

The stakes in Syria now include US-Russia war

By Ralph Peters

The stakes in Syria just jumped mighty high. Syrian troops attacked the anti-ISIS fighters we back. We warned them to knock it off. In reply, a Syrian aircraft struck our allies. An American jet shot it down.

Now the Russian government says it will view as hostile any manned aircraft or drone flying west of the Euphrates River. That means us.

Were we to accept Russia’s ultimatum, we could not support our allies and we’d be shut out of the endgame battle with ISIS when, as Raqqa falls, the terrorists make a last stand at Deir ez-Zor (a city with a grim history: It was the end-station for Armenian genocide victims death-marched across the desert).

The technical wording of their threat allows the Russians a little bit of leeway, but what makes the pronouncement dangerous is that it’s public — making it hard for Vladimir Putin to back down. Of course, Putin’s a gambler, and a canny one. He may be bluffing. But we can’t count on it. We must assume his forces in Syria are already setting ambushes for our aviators.

Meanwhile, the Russian media, in a Big Lie mode excessive even by Moscow’s shameless standards, insist US troops on the ground are supporting ISIS, while the noble Syrian forces — alongside their selfless Russian and Iranian comrades — are the only ones fighting the terrorists.

U.S. May Be Defenseless Against New Hypersonic Missiles

By Larry Bell

On June 3, Russia tested a hypersonic missile system a year ahead of a preannounced schedule I previously reported that it says will make all U.S. defense systems obsolete.

Named “Zircon,” Russia’s international news site Sputnik suggests that the 4,600 mile per hour (six times the speed of sound) missile with its 250 mile range will require only three minutes and 15 seconds between launch and targeted impact.

The five-ton Zircon can reportedly be installed on Russia’s nuclear-powered strike ship Pyotr Veliky. Military analyst Vladimir Tuckkov expects that the system will be added to the country’s arsenal between 2018 and 2020. Russian authorities report that its radar target-seeker and an optical-electronic complex can trace and detect targets at hypersonic speed with capabilities to destroy the most advanced warships and aircraft carriers in a single strike.

Tim Ripley who covers defense issues for the Jane’s Defense Weekly has confirmed that Zircon could render all Western anti-aircraft defenses “obsolete.” While warning that Russia appears to be far ahead of U.S. in development, he also observes “But that doesn’t mean there isn’t some black, super-secret project run by the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency or DARPA.”

Whether or not the U.S. presently actually has an effective defense countermeasure program in the works is publicly uncertain. If so, it is curious why, as reported by Bill Gertz in The Washington Times last February, the Pentagon’s Missile Defense Agency (MDA) had then just released a request seeking information to identify defensive weapon concepts to support an “analysis of alternatives” this year.

The MDA information request followed results of a study conducted by a panel of Air Force experts last fall which concluded that U.S. hypersonic weapon progress has fallen behind Russia and China. Their report criticized the Pentagon for having “no formal strategic operational concept or organizational sense of urgency.” and faulted their “lack of leadership” in developing countermeasures and defense solutions.

A quantum step to a great wall for encryption

Jacob Koshy

China’s experiment also underlines the extent to which the West’s domination of science has eroded

Quantum mechanics (QM) is the dark arts of physics. Though physics — in the Newtonian mould — tells us how every object will precisely behave when pushed and hurled, QM deals with the invisible world of subatomic particles, where counter-intuitive rules apply.

QM inhabitants such as electrons and photons live in zombie-like ‘undead’ states. The very act of observing them makes them beguiling tricksters. Though not always understandable, science knows, in bits and pieces, how they can be manipulated for purposes that benefit the visible world such as making integrated circuit chips and fibre-optic lines for global, instantaneous communication.

Transparency may be the shining ideal of modern society but countries and corporations are now infinitely more obsessed with secrecy than in the days of ancient Greece. On Friday, the world took a major leap in employing QM to the cause of secrecy.

How it works

Cybersecurity Experts Attack Imaginary Countries In Cyber 'X Games' At CMU

Fifty military cybersecurity experts are defending the online infrastructure of their imaginary nations at the Cyber Endeavor X Games this week.

Now in its sixth year, the five-day competition is being held at Carnegie Mellon University’s Software Engineering Institute.

“It’s very easy to suspend your disbelief and believe that you’re actually in a real environment with real-word things happening and responding to those events in the context of the exercise,” said Michael Massa, program manager at CMU’s CERT division, or omputer Emergency Readiness Team.

CMU works closely with US-CERT and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to improve the nation’s cybersecurity infrastructure.

Austin Whisnant, cyber security engineer at CMU’s CERT division, manages the simulation.

She said the participants – mostly Army and Navy reservists – are divided into four teams, each representing a country. Teams spent the first couple days last week familiarizing themselves with their country’s infrastructure and patching weaknesses in their cyber defenses, Whisnant said.

“And then after that, they can start defending their network and attacking other countries if they choose to do so, and kind of continuing with their vulnerability mitigation,” she said.

As in past years, the game is paired with a more serious conference on cybersecurity.

The U.S. Department of Defense-sponsored Cyber Endeavor conference runs Tuesday through Thursday and focuses on the theme of “deterrence.”

Massa said there is a need to develop a cyber version of the doctrine of “mutually assured destruction,” which some experts credit with preventing nuclear war.

He said there are also no hard and fast rules of engagement when it comes to cyber warfare.

“If you suspect that you have been attacked via the cyber avenue – whether it be to influence something politically or to disrupt critical infrastructure or to steal state secrets – how do you prove who it was and how do you respond within the context of the law as it exists internationally as well as in the U.S. code?”

GOP Data Firm Accidentally Leaks Personal Details of Nearly 200 Million American Voters

Dell Cameron and Kate Conger

Political data gathered on more than 198 million US citizens was exposed this month after a marketing firm contracted by the Republican National Committee stored internal documents on a publicly accessible Amazon server.

The data leak contains a wealth of personal information on roughly 61 percent of the US population. Along with home addresses, birthdates, and phone numbers, the records include advanced sentiment analyses used by political groups to predict where individual voters fall on hot-button issues such as gun ownership, stem cell research, and the right to abortion, as well as suspected religious affiliation and ethnicity. The data was amassed from a variety of sources—from the banned subreddit r/fatpeoplehate to American Crossroads, the super PAC co-founded by former White House strategist Karl Rove.

Deep Root Analytics, a conservative data firm that identifies audiences for political ads, confirmed ownership of the data to Gizmodo on Friday.

UpGuard cyber risk analyst Chris Vickery discovered Deep Root’s data online last week. More than a terabyte was stored on the cloud server without the protection of a password and could be accessed by anyone who found the URL. Many of the files did not originate at Deep Root, but are instead the aggregate of outside data firms and Republican super PACs, shedding light onto the increasingly advanced data ecosystem that helped propel President Donald Trump’s slim margins in key swing states.

Although files possessed by Deep Root would be typical in any campaign, Republican or Democratic, experts say its exposure in a single open database raises significant privacy concerns. “This is valuable for people who have nefarious purposes,” Joseph Lorenzo Hall, the chief technologist at the Center for Democracy and Technology, said of the data.

Dark Web Service Claims To Be Able To Track Any Cellphone

Ali Raza has an article on the June 14, 2017 edition of HackRead.com, warns that “a service on the Dark Web,” is advertising that it can track any cellphone, and read the texts of these targeted cellphones — for a fee of $500. According to Ms. Raza, the targeting includes text messages; and, the company claims to be able to follow and hack into cellphones who’s service is unable to other people.

According to Ms, Raza, “this service can be accessed at zkkc7e5rwvs4bpxm.onion, to those who use the Tor network. It’s called the ‘Interconnector,’ and besides the $500-worth full access, it also offers deals for smaller fees. “For example,” Ms. Reza notes, “you can [or the company will, it is not clear], intercept texts [from/to the targeted cellphone] for $250; or, get a report about this particular cellphone for $150,”.[or maybe not all texts, just ones that might contain a key word/s].

“Some wealthier users may even pay the ultimate price of $5,500, and get direct access to the Signaling System Number 7 (SS7) network port,”which would basically allow you to set up your own telecom service,” Ms. Reza wrote; or, perhaps trick the targeted cell phone user into thinking they are on a certain telecom network — when in fact their device has basically been hijacked and is really being hosted by their adversary.– if I am understanding this correctly. Whatever the case, all the more reason to use encryption and/or shielding — if you have privacy concerns/issues.

Home Is Where The Hack Is: “Why ‘Smart’ Light Bulbs May Be The Next Hacker Target;” The Internet Of Things (IoT) Or…..The Internet Of Threats?

U.S., West Must Do More to Deny Terrorists Access to Online Social Media

The terrorist attacks that have swept the United Kingdom mark yet another chapter in the long war by violent Islamist extremists against the free world. Terrorism in Europe is not a new phenomenon. The fact that three attacks have struck Britain in the last three months alone exposes that despite safeguards and a vast understanding of the terrorist threat, much more must be done to defeat these radical killers.

In March, 52-year-old Briton Khalid Masood who converted to a radical brand of Islam in prison and was investigated by British intelligence drove his car into pedestrians near the Palace of Westminster and then fatally stabbed an unarmed police officer. Masood injured more than 50 innocent people and killed five in his terrorist rampage in London.

A few weeks ago, another British national, Salman Abedi, bombed a concert in Manchester full of young children, killing 22 people and injuring over 119. Abedi previously attended a mosque led by an Imam who had condemned ISIS’ ideology and whose members had reported Abedi’s radicalism to British authorities on several occasions. His radicalization appears to have started with his father, Ramadan, who is known to have supported Islamists with ties to al-Qaeda. He took his three teenage boys to Libya in 2011 to participate in the civil war against Muammar Qaddafi.

Tragically, our ally across the Atlantic was struck again by terrorists on June 3rd. The tactics of the perpetrators of that attack appear to echo the methods of the Westminster attack from March. There terrorists used simple vehicles and knives to kill as many people as possible. Just hours before the attacks in London, ISIS reportedly encouraged its followers to kill Western civilians with guns, knives, and trucks over the encrypted messaging app Telegram.

According to the British Home Secretary, the UK security services are investigating 500 different plots with 3,000 high priority suspects and 20,000 lower tier suspects. With this extraordinary volume of potential threats combined with terrorists’ ability to adapt to changing security measures and innovate new methods of attack, it is an enormous challenge to stop every plot. As Irish IRA terrorists reminded British authorities just three decades ago, “we have only to be lucky once, you will have to be lucky always.” This may cause many to conclude that there is no way to stop this growing threat to our countries. But that defeatist attitude is unacceptable.

British authorities have revealed that at least two of the three London attackers on Saturday were known to British intelligence services. One of them, a British citizen born in Pakistan, apparently eluded police despite being on a watch list and appearing in a 2016 British television documentary highlighting the United Kingdom’s home-grown extremism problem. The other, a Moroccan-Italian man who lived in east London, was allowed to enter to the UK in January, despite being listed on the Schengen Information System, an EU-wide database of potential suspects. 

Frankly, our Western allies across the pond have, for too long, coexisted with radicalism festering in their borders. British Prime Minister Theresa May said it best after last week’s attack, suggesting that there is “far too much tolerance” of Islamist extremism in Britain today. Now our European partners must take a more serious look at this threat. They must have “some difficult and often embarrassing conversations,” as Prime Minister May said. Western values are the bedrock of our free civilization, but they can lead to its ultimate destruction if they are used to tolerate and coddle the criminal extremism that seeks to attack it.

Our allies in Europe must not resign to a defeatist attitude that accepts these attacks as the norm. The free world must not treat these attacks as separate incidents. It’s time that we come to terms with the fact that the terrorists themselves see the attacks as part of a single war against the West. Countries must allocate more resources to local and federal authorities investigating these ongoing threats so that they can keep up with the growing number of individuals suspected of extremism. Our allies in Europe face a greater risk than we do, as more of their citizens who fought with ISIS and other terrorists return home. Borders must be protected, and perhaps individuals who are on watch lists should not be allowed entry until their cases are thoroughly investigated. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. 

Protection should extend beyond physical borders, as well. Terrorism is increasingly transcending borders instantly over the internet where terrorists radicalize, recruit, fundraise, and plan their treachery. That is exactly why I have led the charge in Congress to remove extremists from social media. Last year, the House of Representatives passed my bill, the Combat Terrorist Use of Social Media Act. It was eventually included in the Department of State Authorities Act and passed into law late last year. As Twitter and Facebook make progress to deny terrorists online presence, terrorists have migrated to other platforms, like Telegram. More must be done to take these thugs offline.

President Trump’s May 21 speech in Saudi Arabia set the right tone: communities, particularly all those in the Middle East, must drive out the radicals who spread the jihadist hate and murder. And we, in the West, must do the same. We must no longer tolerate those that seek to destroy our way of life. We can no longer coexist with terrorists that exploit and misuse our rights and freedoms in order to eventually kill and maim innocents. We must drive the violent extremists out of our cities and cyberspace. We must never tolerate and allow this spate of terrorist attacks to become the norm. Defeatism is not an option. And that’s just the way it is.