6 February 2018

Pakistan's dangerous obsession with nuclear weapons

February 05, 2018
Lieutenant General Kamal Davar (retd).
For the world and India, one of the most enduring challenges of the times is for Pakistan's nukes to be neutralised, before they are ever used by the State, their sponsored non-State actors or any rogue elements from the many terror tanzeems dotting Pakistan's unstable landscape, says 
Pakistan has a total of 15 nuclear sites, of which only three -- Karachi, Chashma and PINSTECH --are under IAEA safeguards.
Others are under the control of the army and remain unsafeguarded. Additional plutonium enrichment plants are coming up at PINSTECH.
Reportedly, Pakistan produces HEU at a rate of 100 kg per year. Its HEU-based warheads require between 15 and 20 kg of HEU each.
Pakistan is also producing plutonium for plutonium-based warheads to which they are changing over from HEU.
It is reported to have the fastest growing nuclear arsenal in the world with estimates of 120 to 140 warheads in its possession.

The development of Pakistan's nuclear delivery systems has been assisted mainly by China and North Korea, while some systems are indigenously produced.
Pakistan's delivery vehicles include modified F-16A/B aircraft and a few Mirage V and Chinese-built A-5 Fantans, under the control of the Pakistan air force and a variety of surface-to-surface missile systems under the control of the army.
The F-16s are likely based at the Sargodha air base, located 160 km northwest of Lahore.

Reviewing the Nuclear Posture Review: Here’s What You Need to Know

US President Donald J. Trump’s Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) calls for enhanced deterrence and a larger nuclear arsenal. 
The administration released the new review on February 2. Outlined in the strategy is Trump’s decision to pursue a path toward augmenting nuclear capabilities against the backdrop of increasing tensions with North Korea—as it moves ever closer to its own nuclear weapons—as well as nuclear-armed adversaries such as Russia. He has advocated for increasing the number of low-yield nuclear weapons to bolster US deterrent capabilities. 
Read the full review here
We asked our analysts their thoughts on the new nuclear strategy. Here is their take: 
Elisabeth Braw, nonresident senior fellow in the Scowcroft Center on Strategy and Security: 

"While the Nuclear Posture Review may contain no radical departures from the Obama administration's nuclear policy, the public debate is already focusing on the low-yield nuclear weapons. The European public will see this as another dangerous Trump policy at an already tense time in the transatlantic relationship."

The Case for Counter Insurgency ‘Light’ in Afghanistan

By Charles Barham, February 05, 2018

"One man seemed to speak for everyone when he made a brief, impassioned plea to the visiting officials. “Our homes are being destroyed, our youths are being killed, people are suffering every day and being forgotten,” he said. “If, God forbid, we lose Lashkar Gah, then Helmand will collapse and the whole region and Afghanistan will collapse. Please save us from this chaos.”
Statement made to Gen. John W. Nicholson in October 2016,
Lashkar Gah, Helmond Province.i

The Taliban was and remains an insurgency. It must be dealt with as an insurgency by focusing on the human terrain. The Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan (GIRoA) must develop and pursue an indigenous Counter Insurgency (COIN) campaign focused on the principles of security, governance, and basic services. This does not need to be the full spectrum, comprehensive COIN led by the U.S. from 2010 to 2012, but a “light” version of that campaign. Regardless, GIRoA will likely require coalition forces to work by, with, and through them, providing training, advising, and assistance (TAA) in order for GIRoA to identify and address the specific elements of security, governance, and basic services which are the most critical for winning over the population and bringing the Taliban insurgency to an end.
By 2016 the situation in Afghanistan had reached a point best described as a stalemate. The Taliban insurgents had been able to launch multiple concurrent offensives intended to seize four provincial capitals. The Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF) were successful in defeating these operations, but in doing so demonstrated that they were still very dependent not only on U.S. enabler support such as fires and intelligence, but also support to man, train, equip, sustain, and regenerate units. Additionally, the efforts to defeat the Taliban offenses disrupted ANDSF plans to not only further secure territory already under GIRoA control, but also to expand this territory. ii Neither side possessed the strength to defeat the other.

By the fall of 2017 GIRoA only controlled territory containing less than 60% of the population which was down from over the 70% they held in 2016, and down from the 80% they held in 2014 when the lead for security operations transitioned from NATO to GIRoA. The remaining 40% was either controlled by the Taliban or was considered “contested.” iii The ANDSF were incapable of recapturing the contested portions of the country, or those portions under Taliban control without increased levels of U.S. support. 

China's Surveillance State Should Scare Everyone

The country is perfecting a vast network of digital espionage as a means of social control—with implications for democracies worldwide.
FEB 2, 2018 
Imagine a society in which you are rated by the government on your trustworthiness. Your “citizen score” follows you wherever you go. A high score allows you access to faster internet service or a fast-tracked visa to Europe. If you make political posts online without a permit, or question or contradict the government’s official narrative on current events, however, your score decreases. To calculate the score, private companies working with your government constantly trawl through vast amounts of your social media and online shopping data.

When you step outside your door, your actions in the physical world are also swept into the dragnet: The government gathers an enormous collection of information through the video cameras placed on your street and all over your city. If you commit a crime—or simply jaywalk—facial recognition algorithms will match video footage of your face to your photo in a national ID database. It won’t be long before the police show up at your door.

Pakistan's Water Crisis Is a Ticking Time Bomb

Pakistan's long-festering water crisis is threatening to upend its politics.
Scott Moore, February 4, 2018
When it comes to Pakistan, President Trump’s Twitter feud with one of America’s most important partners in the fight against terrorism has dominated the news. But beneath the headlines, a massive water crisis is unfolding that has profound implications for the country’s stability and security. Rapid urbanization and conflict combined with corruption, crime and years of mismanagement have left a massive proportion of the population without access to clean water. And now, this long-festering crisis threatens to upend Pakistan’s politics.

Perhaps the strangest thing about Pakistan’s water crisis is that until recently, the country had been doing well in connecting more of its citizens to water supply and sanitation networks. From 1990 to 2015, the percentage of the country’s population with access to clean water increased from 86 percent to 91 percent. But in a reversal of what happens in most countries, almost all of this improvement occurred in rural areas—the percentage of urban residents with access to clean water actually declined from 97 to 94 percent over the same period.
Only a few other countries, most of them war-torn places like Syria and Gaza, have experienced similar reversals in providing clean water to cities. And while the causes of Pakistan’s water crisis are complex, the country’s political instability has played a key part. Pakistan is urbanizing at a rapid rate of over 3 percent annually—the highest rate in South Asia. The causes of this fast-moving urbanization are deeply troubling, with climate change and the fight against Muslim extremists acting as key drivers. Given this ever-quickening tide, Pakistan’s cities have had trouble providing basic services, including housing and water, to new urban residents.

Pakistan Is Losing the Space Race

As India’s space program surges ahead, Pakistan’s remains an afterthought.
By Raja Mansoor, February 01, 2018
India’s space program is thriving as one of the fastest-growing in the world. With a successful Mars missionand various satellite launches in recent years, India is emerging as a new space power.

The Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) is now a go-to for countries like Germany, South Korea, Japan, and France seeking to launch and deploy their satellites into space. Even companies like Google use ISRO rockets to launch their satellites. This will help India economically, giving it a foot in the door in a rapidly growing industry (Morgan Stanley projects that the space industry will go from being worth around $350 billion today to over $11 trillion by the 2040s).

In June 2016, ISRO successfully launched 20 satellites in a single payload; in February 2017, it launched 104 satellites on a single rocket and thus set a world record. ISRO launched its heaviest rocket, Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle-Mark III (GSLV-Mk III), on June 5, 2017 and placed a communications satellite GSAT-19 in orbit. With this launch, ISRO became capable of launching massive, four-ton satellites.Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.

Meanwhile, India launched a Mars orbiter mission in November 2013, and in September 2014, that space probe began successfully orbiting Mars.
India’s new prominence in space has its consequences, especially for Pakistan. India’s rise as a space power will come at the cost of Pakistan’s interests.

The Long Shadow of A.Q. Khan How One Scientist Helped the World Go Nuclear

On February 4, 2004, the Pakistani scientist Abdul Qadeer (A.Q.) Khan, then famous for his role in developing Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal, confessed on live television to having illegally proliferated nuclear weapons technology to Iran, Libya, and North Korea over the course of decades. Today Khan is enjoying a resurrection at home, where he is again touted as the “Mohsin e-Pakistan,” or the savior of Pakistan. He appears as the guest of honor at official ceremonies, and last year Sir Syed University of Engineering and Technology declared him a distinguished alumnus in recognition of his “meritorious services and valuable contributions towards scientific research and its practical application for the productive use for mankind.”

Outside of Pakistan, Khan has largely been forgotten, despite the fact that his fingerprints are all over the world’s most volatile nuclear hot spots. Indeed, three of the United States’ most significant national security challenges—Iran, North Korea, and Pakistan—are largely the results of Khan’s handiwork.
Between the start of Khan’s nuclear black market in the mid-1970s and his forced confession in 2004, the United States and other countries had many opportunities to stop him. Yet each time, policymakers decided that preventing the spread of nuclear weapons was less important than pursuing other foreign policy goals. These decisions haunt U.S. leaders today. Pakistan’s nuclear deterrent makes it impossible for U.S. commanders to force the country to close its safe havens for Afghan extremists. Iran’s nuclear program—though frozen for now—could still lead to a nuclear arms race in the Middle East. And North Korea, which Khan helped turn from a thorn in the world’s side into an unstable nuclear power, now threatens the lives of millions.

How were Khan’s activities allowed to continue for so long? And what lessons might the failures to contain him hold for policymakers today?

China Will 'Pull the Trigger' in the South China Sea

By Gordon C. Chang, February 03, 2018

The National Interest has recently hosted a debate on whether China wants a confrontation in the South China Sea.
In a January 24 piece, “China Wants Confrontation in the South China Sea,” I argue what 
In this piece, I show China wants more than just to provoke a confrontation in that contested body of water. It wants to “pull the trigger.” Beijing, we should recognize, will almost certainly use force if it gets the opportunity.
That’s more than just a prediction. It is an extrapolation from past Chinese behavior.
“An antagonist who stumbles into the arena of combat is different from one who strides into the arena,” writes Holmes, the first holder of the J. C. Wylie Chair of Maritime Strategy at the Naval War College. In this regard, Jim, whom I greatly admire and respect, is certainly correct.

China, however, is more than stumbling into the South China Sea. It is using its power to push out others, namely, the United States, which has no South China Sea sovereignty claims, and rival claimants. Beijing may want to “win without fighting” as Holmes suggests, but it cannot win without confronting.
Confrontation, unfortunately, is “inevitable,” as Yu Maochun of the U.S. Naval Academy points out. Beijing is trying to push out its borders and expand control of peripheral waters. “China’s geopolitical and geostrategic priority is to revise or change the existing international order that has been based upon a complex system of rules, laws, and customs that govern various global commons including the South China Sea,” he told The National Interest. “Revisionism brings unavoidable confrontation.”

Turkey's President Takes a Victory Lap

Following a referendum vote on sweeping constitutional changes in April 2017, Turkey's government will transition from a parliamentary democracy to an executive presidency after the next presidential election in 2019.
The odds of a free and fair election are slim given the measures incumbent President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has taken — and the further measures he will take — to ensure he comes out on top.
Though former President Abdullah Gul would be Erdogan's most credible challenger, he is unlikely to run in the next presidential race.

By November 2019, Turkey will hold one of its most consequential elections: a vote to choose its first executive president. Up until 2014, Turkey's parliament appointed the country's presidents, who served largely in an emeritus capacity as paternalistic figures representing the integrity of the state. The system changed with a series of constitutional amendments spearheaded by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan that allowed for direct elections in the future. Erdogan then succeeded President Abdullah Gul to become Turkey's first popularly elected president in August 2014. At the time of his election, constitutional scholars highlighted concerns that having a popularly elected prime minister and a popularly elected president could give rise to an executive duality. If both the head of the constitutionally defined executive — the prime minister — and the head of state are popularly elected, who runs Turkey?

Erdogan had a clear answer. In April 2017, Turkey held a referendum that the president had proposed and promoted on a sweeping number of constitutional changes. Among the amendments up for approval was a provision to transition the country's government from a parliamentary democracy, which it had been since the republic's founding in 1923, to what some have called an "executive presidency." The office of prime minister would be abolished under the new system and all executive power transferred to the presidency. The president would also gain the authority to enact laws directly through decree (though parliament would continue legislating), immunity from virtually all forms of judicial oversight and vast powers to appoint judges to much of the judicial hierarchy, including the Constitutional Court and courts of appeal. In what proved to be a highly contentious process of electioneering — the result of which has been disputed — 51 percent of voters narrowly passed the change to Turkey's political system. The new executive presidency model will come into operation for the most part after the next parliamentary and presidential elections, scheduled for 2019.

Does China’s J-20 rival other stealth fighters?

Does China’s J-20 rival other stealth fighters?

The Chengdu J-20 marks the first entry of a multirole stealth fighter into China’s armed forces. According to the Department of Defense (DOD), China views stealth technology as a core component in the transformation of its air force from “a predominantly territorial air force to one capable of conducting both offensive and defensive operations.” Designed for enhanced stealth and maneuverability, the J-20 has the potential to provide China with a variety of previously unavailable air combat options and enhance its capability to project power.

Development of the J-20
As an advanced multirole stealth fighter, it is speculated that the J-20 can fulfill both air-to-air and air-to-ground combat roles for the People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) and the aviation branch of the People’s Liberation Army Navy (referred to as either Naval Aviation or the PLAN-AF). According to PLAAF Senior Colonel Shen Jinke, the J-20 will enhance the overall combat capability of China’s air force. A 2016 report by the DOD states that the J-20 represents a critical step in China’s efforts to develop “advanced aircraft to improve its regional power projection capabilities and to strengthen its ability to strike regional airbases and facilities.” In 2014, the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission described the J-20 as “more advanced than any other fighter currently deployed by Asia Pacific countries.”

: A Chinese Superweapon, and Saudi Arabia Dreams of Big Tech

Feb 4, 2018 | 

AI is one of the most important things humanity is working on. It is more profound than, I dunno, electricity or fire.

    Sundar Pichai, CEO of Google

Brexit Negotiations Pick Up Speed. The Brexit negotiation is slowly gaining momentum again as the remaining 27 members of the European Union approved a series of guidelines for the upcoming negotiations over the transitional period that will follow Britain's departure from the bloc in March 2019. London will be allowed to remain in the EU single market until December 2020, but it will not participate in EU policymaking. More important, the United Kingdom will be authorized to negotiate free trade agreements with non-EU countries during the transition period (a key part of Britain's post-EU strategy). Negotiations over the transitional period will start next week.

Korean Olympics. South Korea's Winter Olympics will begin in Pyeongchang on Feb. 9, marking the start of events that will last through mid-March and showcasing a warming in inter-Korean ties. Expect North Korea to continue its pause in missile testing, but also expect the country to show signs of continued resolve to pursue a nuclear deterrent. The day before the Olympics begin, North Korea will stage a much-talked-about military parade that may feature its intercontinental ballistic missile technology. The key question is not what happens at the Olympics, but what happens after. And with the United States and South Korea giving every sign that they will carry out their joint military drills after the games, this detente has a short shelf-life and will quickly begin to run into the incompatible interests of the various parties.

Rejecting The Grey Zone

For most of my life, terrorism and Islam have occupied overlapping spaces in the public consciousness. It goes without saying that the attacks on September 11 dramatically changed the world, and the West’s relationship with Islam took a turn along with it.
I recall the week after 9/11, a boy at school asked me if I was Muslim. It was the first time anyone had asked me; religion never came up in a conversation before then. I was ecstatic about a chance to finally talk about Islam. I abruptly and jubilantly said “yes!” Before I could finish taking a deep breath to start my next sentence, he said with a twisted face and condescending tone, “so just like the terrorists that killed people with planes?” I was never able to muster a response because what does an eleven-year-old say to that? I was too young and oblivious to comprehend his comment. What terrorists? What is a terrorist? What did they have to do with Islam? We had never discussed planes or terrorists during our weekly lessons at the mosque. 

Five years later, I wrote a short opinion piece on the fifth anniversary of 9/11 for the local newspaper. I got my own little headline: “Muslim Teen: We Must Stay Together.” I wrote about the need for us to support one another and our similarities as Americans, which should not be invalidated by our religious beliefs. I wanted so desperately to believe that in five years we had overcome this dark period in our collective memories and come together as a country. In hindsight, that was mostly wishful thinking and naiveté on my part. I also mistakenly wrote that the attacks didn’t directly impact my family and I. However, over the years it became apparent to me that, in one way or another, all Muslims were, and continue to be, either directly or indirectly affected. 

Putting the Squeeze on Iran via Hezbollah


From selling drugs to profiting from a pig farm, Lebanese Hezbollah’s hypocrisy knows no bounds – a political party with a military army that does the bidding of the Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.
That was the description of the group by Trump administration officials who announced new sanctions Friday – little noticed during the brouhaha over the Nunes memo. The sanctions are meant to delay the flow of illicit cash to Hezbollah’s coffers, and frustrate its support of Syrian leader Bashar al Assad, as the group fights alongside Iranian volunteers at the behest of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

The group didn’t start out that way. Lebanese Hezbollah is a political party with a military wing, founded in the 1980s to fight Israel when it invaded Beirut. But it became America’s main terrorist target, for a time, when it carried out the 1983 bombings in Beirut that killed 241 Americans and 58 Frenchmen. That earned it the terrorist label, and sanctions that have ebbed and flowed with each American administration’s interest and attention span.
The Trump administration has put Lebanese Hezbollah back on center stage, as a vehicle by which to hit nemesis Iran.

THE COMING WARS The strait at the center of the world


The waters between Djibouti and Yemen are one of the few places where refugees flow both ways.
By BRUNO MAÇÃES , 1/29/18,

BAB EL-MANDEB STRAIT, Djibouti — They call it the gate of grief.
Bab-el-Mandeb was named — according to an old legend — after those who drowned when the strait cracked opened as an earthquake tore apart the continents of Africa and Asia. All non-African people alive today are thought to derive from the small group — some scientists say no more than 200 intrepid souls — who crossed from Africa here, before spreading to the four corners of the world. The first migrants, the original sparkle.
I ask the boat’s pilot to stop right on the line traced between the mountainous Ras Siyyan peninsula in Djibouti and Perim island in Yemen. On the left, the Indian Ocean. On the right, the Red Sea. Time stands still, not a living creature nor the slightest noise to disturb the precious sense of being at the exact point where humanity left Africa to conquer the globe.

The Bab-el-Mandeb you read about is made up of lines and dots on a nautical chart: a strategic chokepoint through which passes almost all of the maritime trade between Europe and Asia: every year, about $700 billion in goods, some 25,000 ships, nearly 2 billion barrels of oil. Then there is an underground world, a secret current underneath, populated by pirates and rebels, fishermen, migrants, wild-hearted divers, sailors and everything in between.

Enhanced Deterrence in the North A 21st Century European Engagement Strategy

February 5, 2018

Twenty-five years of relative calm and predictability in relations between Russia and the West enabled European governments largely to neglect their military capabilities for territorial defense and dramatically redraw Northern Europe’s multilateral, regional, and bilateral boundaries, stimulating new institutional and cooperative developments and arrangements. These cooperative patterns of behavior occurred amid a benign security environment, a situation that no longer obtains. Following Russia’s annexation of Crimea, its military incursion into eastern Ukraine, its substantial military modernization efforts, heightened undersea activity in the North Atlantic and Baltic Sea, and its repeated air violations, the region’s security environment has dramatically worsened. The Baltic Sea and North Atlantic region have returned as a geostrategic focal point. It is vital, therefore, that the United States rethink its security approach to the region—what the authors describe as an Enhanced Northern Presence.

Russia's Military Cooperation Goals in Central Asia


What military threats keep Russia and its Central Asian partners up at night?
By Dmitry Stefanovich, January 31, 2018

The year 2017 marked several important milestones for Russian-led “not-so-allied” alliances: the Collective Security Treaty (on the basis of which an organization of the same name, the CSTO, was created) turned 25, while the Commonwealth of Independent States Joint Air Defense System (CIS JADS) received an “adaptation roadmap” to tackle Air-Space Defense tasks. Several high-profile multilateral military exercises took place, and their analysis may help understand the grand strategy of Russia and other participants in these groupings.

Guardians of CIS Air and Space

Basic Guidelines for the CIS Joint Air Defense System (JADS) Adaptation to the Air-Space Defense (ASD) tasks were signed at the meeting of the CIS Heads of State Council in Sochi in October 2017. The process is due to be completed by 2025.Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.

Currently, Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan (as well as Turkmenistan as an observer) provide the Air Defense System of the CIS Member States (CIS Air Defense Forces) with 19 aviation units, 38 anti-aircraft missile units, 16 signals units, nine air defense brigades, and three electronic warfare (EW) units.
The main directions of JADS adaptation presumably include developing the regulatory framework, improving the organizational structure and management system, further integrating the forces and assets, and creating several subsystems, i.e. reconnaissance and early warning, countering aerospace attacks, command and control, and maintenance.

Addressing The State Of The World

03 February 2018
from STRATFOR, -- this post authored by Reva Goujon

U.S. President Donald Trump is preparing to deliver his first State of the Union address. The speech, scheduled for Jan. 30, will carry all the usual pomp and ceremony: the flurry of autographs and handshakes as the president enters the U.S. House chamber; the vice president and speaker of the house's awkwardly intense gazes on the president as he gives the address; the contrived anecdotes about special guests in the audience designed to underscore the president's populist image; the opposition party's coordinated acts of protest by refusing to stand and applaud. Political theater aside, however, the president will be addressing his country - and, by extension, the world - in a year in which anxiety over the future of trade and the prospect of great power conflict tempers tepid optimism toward global growth. As an accompaniment to this year's State of the Union address, I'll take a stab at summarizing the State of the World.

We find ourselves in an age in which technology is advancing at a relentless pace, and many nations - under mounting economic and social strain - are resorting to desperate measures to try to keep up.
The United States is trying to find its footing in the emerging world order. Given the country's outsize influence on the global stage, the transition has been understandably raucous. Yet while the current administration regularly leers at multilateral institutions in prioritizing its interests above those of other nations, the United States is not about to tear down the global trading order or leave long-standing allies in the lurch. Checks and balances will continue to moderate the more sensational impulses of the White House as it tries to crack down on so-called economic predators and demand more of its partners.
Bracing for Uncertainty

An Assessment of Violent Extremist Use of Social Media Technologies


By Scot A. Terban, February 05, 2018

Summary: The leveraging of social media technologies by violent extremists like Al-Qaeda (AQ) and Daesh have created a road map for others to do the same. Without a combined effort by social media companies and intelligence and law enforcement organizations, violent extremists and others will continue to operate nearly unchecked on social media platforms and inspire others to acts of violence.

Text: Following the 9/11 attacks the U.S. invaded Afghanistan and AQ, the violent extremist organization who launched these attacks, lost ground. With the loss of ground came an increase in online activity. In the time before the worldwide embrace of social media, jihadi’s like Irhabi007 (Younis Tsouli) led AQ hacking operations by breaking into vulnerable web pages and defacing them with AQ propaganda as well as establishing dead drop sites for materials others could use. This method was pioneered by Irhabi007, who was later hunted down by other hackers and finally arrested in 2005[1]. Five years after Tsouli’s arrest, Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) established Inspire Magazine as a way to communicate with its existing followers and “inspire” new ones[2]. Unfortunately for AQAP, creating and distributing an online magazine became a challenge.

Today, social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, VKontakte, and YouTube are now the primary modus for jihadi extremists to spread the call to jihad as well as sow fear into those they target. Social media is perfect for connecting people because of the popularity of the platforms and the ease of use, creation of accounts, and ability to send messages that could have a large audience. In the case of Daesh, they use Twitter and YouTube as their primary means of messaging not only for fear but also command and control as well as recruitment. Daesh sees the benefits of using social media, and their use has paved the way for others. Even after Twitter and YouTube began to catch on and act against the Daesh accounts, it is still easy still for Daesh to create new accounts and keep the messages flowing with a new user name followed by a digit.

Pay Attention to Probing, Persistent Attacks Against Critical Infrastructure


During times when the country expresses passionate opinions over the politics of the day, I wonder what U.S. adversaries focus on.
One thing always in the back of my mind, as a former intelligence correspondent and now publisher of a national-security focused website, is the U.S. power grid.
U.S. critical infrastructure systems have been under persistent attack for years. They are the components of our infrastructure that are vital to the way we live: the power grid, the financial system, transportation, medical, industrial manufacturing and election systems. A range of adversaries, most often led by nation-states, never takes time to stop for U.S. political debate. And there is a lot of evidence that their capabilities are increasing.

A series of attacks on American banks and energy companies in the Persian Gulf from 2011 to 2013 slowed the websites of companies like Bank of America, JP Morgan, Sun Trust Banks and Capital One.
In 2013, hackers used a cellular modem to gain access to a New York dam. They probed the system, but didn’t do anything, which led some experts to believe it may have been a test run.
And of course, there was the 2016 hack targeting the computer systems of the Democratic National Committee and attacks that probed some voting equipment. A unanimous IC finding attributed the attacks to Russia.

Dark Clouds Form Around the Defense Department’s Data Strategy

By Mytheos Holt, 
February 2nd, 2018

The U.S. government has a troubling history with adopting new technology. While programs like DARPA have laid the groundwork for much of the private sector’s development in the past, most of the government seems to treat technological progress the way a six-year-old treats trips to the dentist: as someone to be avoided as much as humanly possible, and gotten out of the way in a cursory manner when it becomes necessary. Incumbency also reigns beyond the point of reliability: for example, as of 2013, some government departments were still running their servers on 2003 Windows software.
This kind of inefficiency is not always so darkly funny, however. It can have massive implications for national security. Whatever one thinks of the furor over Russian hacking, the issue probably would not have the legs it does if the federal government had a reputation for peerless efficiency and impregnability in the cybersphere. Unfortunately, the opposite impression widely exists.

Moreover, until recently, Pentagon Acquisition Chief Ellen Lord, was poised to make it worse. Specifically, Lord had plans to hand overstorage of the Defense Department’s virtually entire cyber resources over to a single company. In other words, Lord was preparing to store all the Department of Defense’s “cloud” data on a single company’s servers.
This approach should give anyone with interest in our government’s technological security night sweats. Yes, using cloud computing to store data is an advance for the U.S. government and one that would likely have become only more urgent with time. But to just drop all the most significant national security data on one cloud? What?

No, the US Won’t Respond to A Cyber Attack with Nukes


Defense leaders won’t completely rule out the possibility. But it’s a very, very, very remote possibility.
The idea that the U.S. is building new low-yield nuclear weapons to respond to a cyber attack is “not true,” military leaders told reporters in the runup to the Friday release of the new Nuclear Posture Review.
“The people who say we lowered the threshold for the use of nuclear weapons are saying, ‘but we want these low-yield nuclear weapons so that we can answer a cyber attack because we’re so bad at cyber security.’ That’s just fundamentally not true,” Gen. Paul Selva, vice chairman of the Joints Chiefs of Staff, said Tuesday at a meeting with reporters.
It’s an idea that military leaders have been pushing back against since the New York Times ran a Jan. 16 story headlined, “Pentagon Suggests Countering Devastating Cyberattacks With Nuclear Arms.”
When would the U.S. launch a nuclear attack in response to a non-nuclear event? The Defense Department says the threshold hasn’t changed since the Obama administration’s own nuclear posture review in 2010, but a draft of the new review that leaked online caused a bit of drama in its attempts to dispel “ambiguity.”