25 July 2017

*** Simply put: Where things stand on the Dolam plateau

by Sushant Singh 

SUSHANT SINGH answers key questions on the India-China standoff at the Sikkim trijunction, and pieces together a detailed situation report

From the middle of last month onward, Indian and Chinese troops are arrayed face-to-face on the Dolam plateau, close to the Indian Army post of Doka La, located between Batang La to the north and Gymochen to the south. The standoff began after the Chinese started work on extending an unmetalled track in Bhutanese territory, and were prevented by Indian troops. Bhutan and India believe the Chinese have an eye on the Jampheri ridge to the south, a feature of enormous strategic significance. China has kept up a shrill rhetoric in official briefings and state media, demanding that Indian troops back off before talks on resolving the dispute can begin.

To begin with, where exactly is the standoff happening — is it in Doka La, Doklam, Donglang or Dolam?

The location of the standoff is Dolam plateau, which is in the Doklam area (as referred to in the statements of the Ministry of External Affairs and the Embassy of Bhutan in New Delhi). The Dolam plateau is different from Doklam plateau (which is a disputed area between Bhutan and China, but has no contiguity with India). The Doklam plateau lies around 30 km to the north east of Dolam plateau. Doklam is called Donglang in Mandarin.

Sikkim Impasse Explained: What Is The India-China-Bhutan Border Standoff?

The Doklam or Donglang area is close to the northern end of a funnel-shaped valley, called the Chumbi Valley. The valley opens out in the Tibet region of China. At its base (in Tibet), the Chumbi ‘funnel’ is 54 km wide. At its tip, the ‘funnel’ is just 11 km wide. This is Batang La, which lies to the east of Gangtok. The Chumbi ‘funnel’ measures 70 km from its tip in the south to its base in the north.

Where then, is the ‘trijunction’?

*** In Syria, the U.S. Reverses Course

Source Link

Forecast Highlights

The end of a CIA program for training and equipping rebels is a strategic shift by the United States in its approach to the Syrian civil war as it looks beyond the inevitable conventional defeat of the Islamic State. 

Such a shift, however, even if it leads to less violence in the short term, is unlikely to secure a stable Syria. 

Syria will remain a hotbed of unrest and conflict, a situation that the Islamic State will exploit to rebuild and other extremists will use to form new militant groups. 

Previous U.S. policies to influence the Syrian civil war haven't worked, or at least that's what the White House seems to believe. The Washington Post reported on July 19 that U.S. President Donald Trump decided a month ago to phase out the CIA's covert train and equip program launched in 2013 to support Syrian rebel forces opposed to the government of President Bashar al Assad. The end of the program points to a strategic shift by the United States in its approach to the Syrian civil war, acknowledging Washington's inability to force al Assad from power and its almost exclusive focus on the fight against the Islamic State over the past few years. But what happens in Syria after the militant group's inevitable conventional defeat can't be ignored. And unfortunately for the United States, no matter what it does diplomatically or militarily, even if its efforts lead to less violence in the short term, it won't secure a stable Syria.

Billions Could Die If India and Pakistan Start a Nuclear War

Zachary Keck

With the world’s attention firmly fixated on North Korea, the greatest possibility of nuclear war is in fact on the other side of Asia.

That place is what could be called the nuclear triangle of Pakistan, India and China. Although Chinese and Indian forces are currently engaged in a standoff, traditionally the most dangerous flashpoint along the triangle has been the Indo-Pakistani border. The two countries fought three major wars before acquiring nuclear weapons, and one minor one afterwards. And this doesn’t even include the countless other armed skirmishes and other incidents that are a regular occurrence.

At the heart of this conflict, of course, is the territorial dispute over the northern Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir, the latter part of which Pakistan lays claim to. Also key to the nuclear dimension of the conflict is the fact that India’s conventional capabilities are vastly superior to Pakistan’s. Consequently, Islamabad has adopted a nuclear doctrine of using tactical nuclear weapons against Indian forces to offset the latter’s conventional superiority.

If this situation sounds similar, that is because this is the same strategy the U.S.-led NATO forces adopted against the Soviet Union during the Cold War. In the face of a numerically superior Soviet military, the United States, starting with the Eisenhower administration, turned to nuclear weapons to defend Western Europe from a Soviet attack. Although nearly every U.S. president, as well as countless European leaders, were uncomfortable with this escalatory strategy, they were unable to escape the military realities undergirding it until at least the Reagan administration.

The Challenge of Living next to China.


The ongoing Doklam standoff between India and China has to be seen in the larger context.

The ongoing Doklam standoff between India and China has to be seen in the larger context.

The ongoing Doklam standoff between India and China has to be seen in the larger context. The event was clearly precipitated by China’s sudden move to shift the India-Bhutan-Tibet tri-junction. There has been a long-standing dispute between Bhutan and China on the Doklam plateau. Tibetan and Bhutanese herdsmen have, for long, peacefully grazed their livestock on the grassy plain, till a few years ago, Chinese horsemen wearing People’s Liberation Army (PLA) tunics and with military issue binoculars, started accompanying the Tibetan herdsmen. That’s when the Bhutanese objected and it became a dispute between their militaries.

The subsequent meetings between the PLA and Royal Bhutan Army (RBA) officials in Thimphu and New Delhi have always been in the presence of Indian military officers. India has always had a special relationship with Bhutan, which is underscored by a treaty. India stations a brigade in Bhutan and substantially trains, arms and funds the Bhutan military.

Talk Point: Is the proposed inter-agency review of American support to Pakistan different from such past exercises?

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has announced at a Congressional hearing that the administration is beginning an inter-agency policy review of continuation of American aid to Pakistan. This week, a key Congressional panel started hearing a proposal to make US civil and military aid to Pakistan conditional to Islamabad’s support to the fight against the Afghan Taliban. What will the implications of these moves be on Pakistan and on the South Asian region? We ask experts Alyssa Ayres, TCA Raghavan, Ahsan Mukhtar Zubairi, C Christine Fair, Rahimullah Yusufzai, Timothy Roemer, Arun Singh and Jayadeva Ranade.

US is viewing S. Asia region widely to include ties with India and New Delhi’s concerns – ALYSSA AYRES, Senior Fellow for India, Pakistan, and South Asia, Council on Foreign Relations

The White House has been leading a regional strategic review of US policy toward South Asia — not simply a review of US-Pakistan ties, but a review of American involvement in Afghanistan and strategy toward the region.

It is my sense, based on the public statements about counter-terrorism and Pakistan made during PM Modi’s visit in June, that the administration is viewing the region widely to include our ties with India and New Delhi’s concerns, not just through an Af-Pak lens.

Mattis decides to withhold U.S. cash from key Pakistani military fund

By Thomas Gibbons-Neff and Dan Lamothe 

People gather around a vehicle hit by a drone strike in which Akhtar Mohammad Mansour, the head of the Taliban, was believed to be traveling in the town of Ahmad Wal in Baluchistan, Pakistan on May 21, 2016.

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has decided that the Pentagon will not give Pakistan the remainder of a key U.S. military reimbursement fund allotted to the country for 2016, a move that could signal a burgeoning hard-line approach by the Trump administration toward Islamabad. 

The Pentagon announced the move to withhold $50 million in “coalition support funds” in a statement Friday, saying it had determined Pakistan had not taken “sufficient action” against the Haqqani network, the Taliban offshoot responsible for numerous attacks on civilians and military targets in neighboring Afghanistan. Reuters was first to report on the development. 

“This decision does not reduce the significance of the sacrifices that the Pakistani military has undertaken over previous years,” said Adam Stump, a Pentagon spokesman, in the statement. 

The move comes less than a year after Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter decided to withhold $300 million from the same fund for the same reason: that Pakistan was not going after the Haqqani militants. 

Pakistan’s Proudly Double-Dealing Intelligence Service


Pakistan’s intelligence organization, known as Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), has ensnared the U.S. in a double game for years.

Operating in the shadows of the Pakistani “deep state” – a term used to reference the country’s political system, which is dictated by unelected military and security officials – the ISI has strategically fashioned a mutually beneficial relationship with the U.S. since the late 1970s and 1980s, when it worked alongside the CIA to funnel money and weapons to mujahideen fighters battling Soviet forces in Afghanistan. In the aftermath of 9/11, ISI officials claimed to have aided U.S. forces in capturing or killing several top al Qaeda leaders, including Khaled Sheikh Mohammed, the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks.

At the same time, however, the ISI has never lost sight of its own agenda, which gives priority to counteracting the activities of India, and to ensuring that any government in Kabul owes no allegiance to India. To that end, the ISI supplied the Taliban with weapons and cash to help it rise to power in Afghanistan during the 1990s. Despite denials from senior Pakistani officials, many experts agree that the ISI continues to protect and assist the Taliban, the Haqqani network, and Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), all designated as terrorists by the U.S. government, as part of its strategy to keep Afghanistan on unstable footing and advance its ambitions in the disputed Kashmir region bordering India and Pakistan.

China's Belt and Road Comes to Nepal

By Ashutosh M. Dixit
Source Link

The Belt and Road could help Nepal reduce its economic dependence on India. 

Thanks to a recently signed memorandum of understanding between Nepal and China, Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) has been discussed as a possible alternative gateway for Nepali access to China, Central Asia, and Eastern Europe. Nepal, so far connected to world trade through the southern route and India, has not been able to fully utilize its potential due to infrastructural clogs across the border, including lack of road, rail, and port facilities.

Nepal faces an arduous challenge in uplifting itself from a least developed country status to middle income country by 2030. The priorities for the country are meeting need for connectivity, creating employment, and increasing trade. A World Bank study estimates that Nepal needs to invest 2.3 to 3.5 percent of GDP annually to adequately develop its connectivity alone, including strategic and local roads. The BRI, which is exclusively focused on bridging the infrastructure gap, can help fill the financial and material void of the Himalayan nation. Moreover, remembering trade obstruction at the southern border of Nepal in 2015, which choked the economy for three months, the situation demands that the country should start analyzing the pros and cons of joining the BRI.

China clamping down on use of VPNs to evade Great Firewall

by Joe McDonald

In this May 15, 2017 file photo, journalists work on laptop computers at the China National Convention Center (CNCC) as Chinese President Xi Jinping delivers a statement at the end of the Belt and Road Forum in Beijing. China is tightening control over foreign companies' internet use in a move some worry might disrupt their operations or jeopardize trade secrets. In a letter to corporate customers, the biggest Chinese internet service provider says virtual private networks, which create encrypted links between computers and can be used to see websites blocked by Beijing's web filters, can connect only to a company's headquarters abroad - not to any other sites outside China.

BEIJING (AP) — China is tightening control over foreign companies’ internet use in a move some worry might disrupt their operations or jeopardize trade secrets as part of a crackdown on technology that allows web surfers to evade Beijing’s online censorship.

In a letter to corporate customers seen by The Associated Press, the biggest Chinese internet service provider says virtual private networks, which create encrypted links between computers and can be used to see sites blocked by Beijing’s web filters, will be permitted only to connect to a company’s headquarters abroad. The letter from state-owned China Telecom Ltd. says VPN users are barred from linking to other sites outside China, a change that might block access to news, social media or business services that are obscured by its “Great Firewall.”

China Vows to Become an Artificial Intelligence World Leader

By Charlotte Gao

China launches a grand plan for AI industries and sets the goal for next dozen years 

China is betting big on artificial intelligence (AI). On July 20, China published a new grand plan on developing its AI industries, claiming that the development of AI has been raised up to the level of national strategy.

The newly-published plan was issued by China’s State Council, demonstrating that the plan is approved and promoted by the highest levels of the central government.

The plan sets three strategic goals for China’s AI industry with specific figures. [Emphasis added below.]

By 2020, Chinese AI technology and its application should reach the world’s advanced level; the AI industries should become a new significant economic growth point; several world-leading AI enterprises should have been nurtured; and the value of the country’s core AI industries should exceed 150 billion yuan ($22.15 billion) and that of the related industries should be more than 1 trillion yuan. 

Does the New York Times Want America In Iraq for One Hundred Years?

Curt Mills

And questions abound about why some might want to exaggerate Iranian power.

The headline of the New York Times piece was breathless: “Iran Dominates in Iraq After U.S. Handed the Country Over.” The content was only slightly less so: “But after the United States’ abrupt withdrawal of troops in 2011, American constancy is still in question here—a broad failure of American foreign policy, with responsibility shared across three administrations.”

The statement is curious. “What about U.S. history of involvement there tells you it’s going to end well?” asks Hussein Banai of Indiana University Bloomington. Arango’s reporting, which advocates for “American constancy” in Iraq, “contributes to this mythmaking on all sides that all Iraq might need is a U.S. stablizing force,” says Banai. “And it’s just ridiculous.” (Iran’s foreign minister, the veteran diplomat Javad Zarif, also complained about this piece in comments to the National Interest on Monday).

The evidence suggests the 2011 withdrawal was anything but “abrupt.” Barack Obama, an original opponent of the war and supporter of withdrawal, won the 2008 election on an anti-war wave. Leading figures in U.S. life had been calling for withdrawal since the war took a turn for the worse shortly after the fall of Baghdad in 2003. But most importantly, the exodus of U.S. forces in 2011 had been negotiated in 2008 by President Bush; not abrupt. And “it had been working it ways through the Iraqi parliament for some time” before that, Banai notes.

Russia Is Building Laser-Armed Nuclear 'Combat Icebreakers'

Michael Peck

More details are emerging about Russia’s trump card for control of the Arctic: laser-armed, nuclear-powered “combat icebreakers.”

In addition to a warship-sized array of weapons, the 8,500-ton Ivan Papanin–class vessels will mount powerful lasers that can cut through ice—and possibly through enemies as well. They will join a fleet of forty existing Russian icebreakers. The United States is now down to two, even as the United States, Canada and other nations are focusing on the Arctic, where melting ice offer the lure of fresh mineral deposits and new commercial shipping routes.

The first of these icebreakers was laid down in April, according to Russian news site Sputnik News. “The multipurpose vessel is conceived as an all-in one Navy warship, icebreaker and tugboat,” measuring 361 feet long, and with a speed of sixteen knots and a range of six thousand nautical miles.

The Ivan Papanin–class ships, also known as Project 23550, will be fitted with a “modular armament suite,” Russian defense-industry sources told Jane’s 360 in April. Sputnik News cites a Russian analyst who claims that “in addition to radio-electronic equipment and its heavy-duty hull, Project 23550 icebreakers will include the ability to deploy missile weapons…The Kalibr-NK [cruise missile] system’s launch containers can be placed comfortably on the ship behind the helicopter landing pad. A total of eight launchers can be deployed onboard.”

Frustrated foreign fighters

Daniel L. Byman

Returned foreign fighters pose a significant terrorism threat to their home countries, but policies that aim to block the flow of foreigners frustrate some of these would-be jihadists. That frustration poses new problems.

Foreign fighters generally gain training and combat experience that can lead to more sophisticated and deadly attacks. Security services are rightly alarmed by the 40,000 or so volunteers who traveled to fight with the Islamic State—a historic high for the global jihadist movement. In comparing plots involving foreign fighters and those without, leading terrorism scholar Thomas Hegghammer has found that the presence of a foreign jihad veteran both dramatically increases the terrorist plot’s chance of success and the attack’s lethality. Experience in a war zone also changes an individual’s mindset. Many individuals who fight in a foreign jihad initially have no intention of using violence at home, but while in a foreign country, they become indoctrinated and come to see their former home as enemy territory. Although I’ve argued that the relative threat regarding plots and lethality per volunteer from returning Syrian fighters may be lower than the historical average, the sheer numbers of returning foreign fighters will likely result in a large security problem. Because of this problem, the decline in foreign fighters joining the Islamic State in the last year indeed demonstrates a true success against the group.

Trump Was Right: NATO Is Obsolete


The much-discussed requirement that NATO members spend 2 percent of their GDP on defense is a crude measure, often misunderstood or criticized. But there are clear benefits to such a benchmark. It focuses attention on the need for adequate military spending — especially important in democracies, where votes are typically to be found in tax cuts and social care, not tanks and soldiers’ pensions. It is a tool that builds unity, enhances NATO’s capacity to act, including in humanitarian operations abroad, and is a deterrent, offering no encouragement to adventurism from Moscow or anywhere else.

But all tools can get rusty or outdated, and the existing 2 percent benchmark is a perfect example. Now that “war” is as much about hacking, subversion, espionage, and fake news as it is about tanks, the West needs a minimal baseline requirement for spending on “hybrid defense”: police services, counterintelligence services, and the like.

Much of this may sound as if it shouldn’t be NATO’s business; this is a military alliance, after all, and it should be no more responsible for parachuting forensic accountants in to check whether British banks are laundering dirty Russian cash than it should be hunting spies in the Balkans. But it should matter just as much to members of the alliance when their fellow members underspend on hybrid defense measures as it does when they underspend on the military. Given that NATO now recognizes cyberattacks as possible grounds for invoking Article 5, the alliance’s mutual defense clause, weak national cyberdefenses are a potential invitation to a wider conflict. More broadly, a failure to address nonkinetic defense undermines the solidarity and common confidence building at NATO’s heart.

The Iran Nuclear Deal Isn't Working

Timothy Stafford

In a legally required letter to Speaker Paul Ryan on April 18, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson confirmed that Iran is in compliance with the terms of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). The next day, he told reporters that the deal represented a “failed approach” that will not prevent a nuclear-armed Iran. One might be tempted to attack such doublespeak as indicative of the administration’s general tendency to say one thing and do another. Yet on this count, Tillerson is correct. Iran is in compliance with the JCPOA, but the JCPOA isn’t working. Why?

In short, because compliance is not enough. The agreement resulted in Iran receiving significant sanctions relief in exchange for accepting a range of restrictions on its nuclear program. Were these restrictions permanent, Iranian willingness to adhere to them might be sufficient. However, many of the key restrictions expire in a number of years—six in the case of ballistic-missile development, eight in the case of Iran’s overall enrichment capability and thirteen in the case of a prohibition on enriching uranium to weapons-grade level. Accordingly, the benchmark for success must be set higher. The JCPOA can only be said to be working if progress is being made on the broader goal of discouraging Tehran from returning to enrichment when the restrictions on its program cease to be mandatory.


President Donald Trump has signed an executive order to launch a cross-government study of whether the country’s manufacturers can fully supply the military’s needs during a war or lower-level conflict, officials said Friday.

The review will investigate whether there are enough manufacturers to supply everything from submarine propeller blades to circuit boards and military-grade semiconductors, and whether there’s enough skilled labor to keep those factories running, presidential adviser Peter Navarro said during a press briefing.

The review will look for single points of failure that government policy can address, said Navarro, who is director of the White House Office of Trade and Manufacturing Policy.

He called the order “one of the most significant presidentially led actions on the state of the defense industrial base since Dwight Eisenhower was in office.”

The Pentagon will lead the review, which will loop in the Homeland Security, Commerce, Energy and Labor departments and numerous other agencies, Navarro said.

What is the future of the Air Force?

By George F. Will

It is said that America’s armed forces have been stressed by 16 years of constant warfare, the longest such in the nation’s history. For the Air Force, however, the high tempo of combat operations began 26 years ago, with enforcement of no-fly zones in Iraq after Desert Storm. With an acute pilot shortage, particularly in the fighter pilot community, and with a shortfall approaching 4,000 among maintenance and staffing personnel, the service is, as Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson says, “too small for what the nation expects of it.” 

At the Air University here at Maxwell Air Force Base, officers are studying what expectations are reasonable. Technological sophistication — America’s and that of near-peer adversaries (Russia and China) — is changing capabilities. This, and the political and military primitivism of some adversaries (e.g., the Islamic State), is reshaping the environment in which air power operates, and the purposes of this power. The traditional U.S. approach to warfare — dominance achieved by mass of force produced by the nation’s industrial might — is of limited relevance. 

Lt. Gen. Steven L. Kwast, president of the Air University, recalls that Gen. George Marshall, who in 1939 became Army chief of staff, asked a two-star general in the horse cavalry how he planned to adapt to the challenges of tanks and planes. The two-star, who replied that the horses should be carried to the front in trailers so they would arrive rested, was retired in 1942. 



If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough. -Einstein

Three years and a day ago, about noon local time, Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 (MH17) pushed back from Gate G3 at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport en route to Kuala Lumpur. Just over three hours later, the aircraft — a Boeing 777-200 — crashed in a rural area of eastern Ukraine, killing all 283 passengers and 15 crew on board. Three years later, the public — not to mention the families of the dead — ought to have definitive answers to two key questions: What physically caused MH17 to crash? And, who was responsible?

However, what followed the immediate tragedy is one of the most convoluted attempts in recent memory to attribute causation and responsibility in a major international incident. The complexity of the forensic examinations and criminal investigations into the crash has been daunting. As a result, official results have come out in drips and drabsover the course of months and years. Indeed, the final report from the authorities regarding criminal charges against the perpetrators is still pending as the investigators seek to interview all possible witnesses and analyze thousands of evidentiary items.

Further, Russia, an interested state actor, mounted a massive disinformation media campaign to discredit official reports and to impede investigations. From the beginning, the Russian government has sought to deny and obfuscate its own complicity in the deaths of nearly 300 innocent people. Had Moscow not undertaken such an obstructionist strategy, the investigations would no doubt have progressed more quickly, and the results would have been more universally accepted.

Unusual High-Altitude Spy Plane Appears at Special Operations Exercise

The U.S. military, including the U.S. Coast Guard, has a long history of operating high-flying surveillance aircraft based on or otherwise derived from powered gliders. Recent pictures show U.S. special operators are at least training with one particularly rare type, the Grob G 520.

On July 12, 2017, Indiana’s North Vernon Municipal Airport posted a series of pictures on its official Facebook page of U.S. Air Force and Army special operations aircraft on their way to an exercise. The photographs showed what appeared to be C-130H Hercules and an MH-47G Chinook, as well as what looked like stock photos of a CV-22B Osprey, an AH-6M Little Bird, and multiple MH-60M Black Hawks. There was also a picture of an odd looking white-and-gray aircraft and someone had blacked out its only apparent marking.

We have been unable to confirm the exact model or owner conclusively. However, this plane is most likely the Grob G 520 EGRETT II, which Bear Defense currently owns. The defense contractor, based in Tampa, Florida, home of U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM), refers to the plane as the “NYX ISR” on their website. At the time of writing, the company had not responded to a request to confirm they had participated in any recent U.S. military exercise in Indiana or provide additional information about their aircraft, which carries the registration N520DM and has subdued shark mouth art on the nose. SOCOM had similarly not returned a request for more information on the drill, which was called Total Force Exercise (TFX) 17-3.

Canadian Military Journal Issue 17, No. 3

This issue of the Canadian Military Journal focuses on 1) Russia’s employment of hybrid warfare; 2) the ideology used by North Korea’s ruling regime to legitimize its rule and possession of nuclear weapons; 3) child suicide bombers in Afghanistan; 4) the evolution of high energy laser weapon systems; 5) the relationship between environmental sustainability, ethics and war; 6) Carl von Clausewitz's view on the war, strategy and victory; and 7) the role of language in preserving and perpetuating sexual misconduct in the Canadian Armed Forces. The edition also includes three book reviews.


Last week, word began to spread that the Trump administration was considering granting new powers to U.S. Cyber Command. Lolita Baldor of the Associated Press had the scoop, discussing two related but separate steps under consideration: first, to elevate U.S. Cyber Command to the status of a unified command and second, to break the current “dual-hat” arrangement with the National Security Agency (NSA), whereby the commander of U.S. Cyber Command is the same individual as the director of the NSA.

It is worth noting, however, four things: First, these two steps (elevation and separation) have been under consideration for years. Second, there were good reasons at the time why the Obama administration didn’t act on them. Third, elevation and separation should, in theory, operationally empower U.S. Cyber Command, but in practice Cyber Command may ironically find itself with less capability to offer. And finally, Cyber Command has already quietly amassed non-operational power and authority within the Department of Defense, making it one of the most independent commands, second only to the U.S. Special Operations Command. As such, while this weekend’s news is a good sign of the continued maturation of Cyber Command (and the acknowledgment of that maturation by the White House), there’s less here than meets the eye.



If media coverage is to be believed, we are in the midst of a cyberwar with daily attacks occurring across several theaters. Between dropping “cyber-bombs” on the Islamic State, Chinese intruders pilfering precious technology, and Russian information operations shaping the U.S. political process, it seems that the continuous power struggle between nations is now most commonly waged on the internet. While there might be some truth to that narrative, the reality is — of course — more nuanced. It’s difficult to define and explain attacks that are entirely virtual. To understand this, one must understand a few points about offensive network operations. First, cyber operations are not as novel as they appear. Rather, they draw heavily from the integration of electronic warfare into joint operations. Second, different nations have largely different perspectives on how to employ network capabilities to achieve political objectives. Third, most incidents we label as “cyberattacks” or “cyber warfare” do not in fact merit being called such.

Cyber Evolution

The United States and NATO have declared networks to be a fifth domain of warfare, cementing the perception that it is novel and distinct. We have also seen massive investments and doctrinal updates towards cyber-related activities. But network operations are neither entirely novel nor do they necessarily constitute warfare. Perhaps then we should stop automatically defining them as such. Labelling an incident an “attack” can have tremendous consequences, especially when carried out by one nation against another. Indeed, NATO’s secretary general just revealed that that alliance’s leaders “decided that a cyberattack can trigger Article 5.” It is therefore crucial that everyone from the world leader to the average citizen have an informed understanding of what exactly constitutes an “attack.”



Security industry promoters and a zealous yet ill-discerning press corps make it easy to believe that state-sponsored cyber-attacks have reached epidemic levels. The convenience of the term “attack” and its impression on the psyche belie a subtly fundamental question: What is a “cyber-attack,” anyway?

When I tell people that I lead FireEye iSIGHT’s “Attack Team,” I am sometimes met with stares of disbelief. But I quickly confess I do not lead cyber-attacks at all. I study them, think about them, and write about them.

To my team and me, an attack is not an intrusion. It’s not a compromised machine. It’s not stolen intellectual property, embarrassing leaks, or credit card numbers. To us, an attack is delivering the blow. It’s an effort to destroy, degrade or deny access to a computer system or to manipulate the physical, real-world processes – like electricity transmission or distribution – that computers control.

Intrusion or exploitation of a computer system often precede an attack, but serve a different objective – to gather information. To illustrate: Intruding into networks to steal blueprints of a nuclear weapons facility is exploitation. Delivering a worm that manipulates the nuclear enrichment process at that facility is an attack because its objective is to degrade or destroy.

Questions surround nuclear plants’ cybersecurity amid hacks

by Amanda Oglesby

In this March 30, 2017 photo, Suzanne D'Ambrosio, communications manager for Exelon Corp.'s Oyster Creek Generating Station, discusses plans for decommissioning the nuclear power plant in 2019 during an interview at the plant's Oyster Creek Education Center in Lacey Township, N.J. Attempts by hackers to breach computer systems at nuclear power plants in 2017 have prompted questions about cybersecurity at Oyster Creek Generating Station, with some experts suggesting there's cause for concern even though industry officials and federal regulators say there's nothing to fear. (Tanya Breen/The Asbury Park Press via AP) 

LACEY TOWNSHIP, N.J. (AP) — Computer hackers, not content with mucking around with U.S. commerce and elections, have trained their sights on nuclear power plants, prompting questions about cybersecurity at Oyster Creek.

Industry officials and federal regulators say there’s nothing to fear, but experts say there is cause for concern, including from the harm that could be caused by cyberattacks on the electrical grid upon which power plants depend.

In recent weeks, hackers tried to — and in at least one case succeeded — in penetrating the firewalls and digital protections of administration information at these nuclear facilities, according to government reports cited recently in the New York Times and Bloomberg News.

State hackers ‘probably compromised’ energy sector, says leaked GCHQ memo

The UK energy sector is likely to have been targeted and probably compromised by nation-state hackers, according to a memo from Britain’s National Cybersecurity Centre.

The NCSC, a subsidiary of GCHQ, warned that it had spotted connections “from multiple UK IP addresses to infrastructure associated with advanced state-sponsored hostile threat actors, who are known to target the energy and manufacturing sectors,” according to Motherboard, which obtained a copy of the document.

This information implies that direct connections are being made between computers in the UK’s energy sector and the attacker’s command-and-control apparatus. Both the Windows data-transfer protocol SMB, and the web backbone HTTP, were used to in the connections, according to Motherboard.

“NCSC believes that due to the use of wide-spread targeting by the attacker, a number of industrial control system engineering and services organisations are likely to have been compromised,” the memo says.

The NCSC has neither confirmed nor denied the memo is genuine. It told the BBC in a statement: “We are aware of reports of malicious cyber-activity targeting the energy sector around the globe … We are liaising with our counterparts to better understand the threat and continue to manage any risks to the UK.”

Active Cyber Defense

This report does indeed focus on cyber defenses which rely on offensive measures to counter cyber-attacks. Among other things, the text 1) defines the concept of Active Cyber Defense (ACD); 2) highlights the prevalence of ACD in the strategies of important international and state actors; and 3) recommends additional ways to develop and refine this type of self-defense.

The Future of Artificial Intelligence: Why the Hype Has Outrun Reality

Robots that serve dinner, self-driving cars and drone-taxis could be fun and hugely profitable. But don’t hold your breath. They are likely much further off than the hype suggests.

A panel of experts at the recent 2017 Wharton Global Forum in Hong Kong outlined their views on the future for artificial intelligence (AI), robots, drones, other tech advances and how it all might affect employment in the future. The upshot was to deflate some of the hype, while noting the threats ahead posed to certain jobs.

Their comments came in a panel session titled, “Engineering the Future of Business,” with Wharton Dean Geoffrey Garrettmoderating and speakers Pascale Fung, a professor of electronic and computer engineering at Hong Kong University of Science and Technology; Vijay Kumar, dean of engineering at the University of Pennsylvania, and Nicolas Aguzin, Asian-Pacific chairman and CEO for J.P.Morgan.

Kicking things off, Garrett asked: How big and disruptive is the self-driving car movement?

It turns out that so much of what appears in mainstream media about self-driving cars being just around the corner is very much overstated, said Kumar. Fully autonomous cars are many years away, in his view.