26 April 2019

It’s Getting Harder to Track USProgress in Afghanistan


Almost every metric “is now classified or nonexistent,” says the special inspector general for Afghan reconstruction.

It’s getting harder and harder for the public to track the U.S.military’s progress in its 17-year war in Afghanistan, the special inspector general for Afghan reconstruction warned Wednesday ahead of the release of his latest quarterly report.

“What we are finding is now almost every indicia, metric for success or failure is now classified or nonexistent. Over time it’s been classified or it’s no longer being collected,” John Sopko told reporters. “The classification in some areas is needless.”

Sopko did not detail what information previously made public would be blacked out in the new report, due out this month. The quarterly reports — which are mandated by Congress and are intended to be public documents — track waste, fraud and abuse in U.S. reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan. The reports have also become an important tracking tool for territorial and population control by the Taliban.

Terrorists in Sri Lanka Swore Allegiance to Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi

By Thomas Joscelyn

The Islamic State has released three statements and a video claiming responsibility for the bombings in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday.

The first, a terse statement by Amaq News Agency, offered no details about the operation, saying simply that a security “source” told the group’s media arm that the so-called caliphate’s “fighters” had carried out the attacks.

The Islamic State subsequently released a longer statement, saying that 1,000 people were killed or injured in the orchestrated assault. That statement highlighted the fact that Christians were the intended target, as they are supposedly at war with Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s enterprise. The statement also provides the aliases for several of the bombers.

Amaq News then produced a third statement, including a photo of the eight alleged perpetrators standing in front of the flag typically flown by the group. The photo is reproduced above. Only one of the eight is unmasked. That individual, seen in the middle, appears to be Zahran Hashim, a fiery ideologue who spread his hateful message in online videos.

Sri Lankan president vows security shake-up over attacks

Sri Lanka's president has vowed to conduct a major shake-up of the country's security establishment after its failure to prevent the Easter Sunday bombings that killed more than 320 people, despite some officials apparently having prior information about the attacks.

In a televised address to the nation on Tuesday, President Maithripala Sirisena said he would make "major changes in the leadership of the security forces in the next 24 hours".

He also pledged a "complete restructure" of police and security forces in the "coming weeks", and alleged intelligence officials had failed to inform him of prior information concerning possible attacks.

"The security officials who got the intelligence report from a foreign nation did not share it with me," Sirisena said.

Three sources with direct knowledge of the matter said Sri Lankan intelligence officials were tipped off about an imminent attack hours before Sunday's blasts, Reuters news agency reported on Tuesday.

ISIS Claims Sri Lanka Attacks, and President Vows Shakeup

By Jeffrey Gettleman, Dharisha Bastians and Mujib Mashal

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka — The Islamic State claimed responsibility on Tuesday for the coordinated suicide bombings on churches and hotels in Sri Lanka, as the president of the traumatized nation promised to dismiss senior officials who had failed to act on warnings about the attacks.

As Sri Lankans buried the dead from the half-dozen Easter Sunday bombings that killed more than 350 people, the Islamic State issued a statement boasting of the suicide assaults. It also distributed an online video showing the person Sri Lankan officials suspect of having led the attacks.

In the video, the man believed to be the chief suspect, Mohammed Zaharan, a little-known extremist preacher from Sri Lanka, leads masked, black-clad disciples pledging fealty to the Islamic State.

There is no proof that the extremist group did more than provide encouragement for the suicide bombings, part of its decree calling for attacks on others considered infidels by Islamic State ideologues. But the release of the video via the Islamic State’s news agency, and disseminated through its network of online chat rooms, suggested that the attackers had access to the group’s core operatives.

In The Wake Of The Terrorist Bombing In Sri Lanka; Saudi Arabia Foils ISIS Terror Attack, Kills 4 Terrorists, Arrest 13, Seize Suicide [Homicide] Vests, Bomb-Making ‘Factory’ — And What The West Must Do To ‘Kill’ Jihadist Philosophy

Various media outlets are reporting this evening that Saudi security authorities have foiled a planned terrorist attack by former ISIS members and/or sympathizers. The Saudi Arabian Press Agency this afternoon, stated that “13 people were arrested as a result of [authorities] finding plans to execute criminal acts [terrorism] targeting the Kingdom’s security. Four of the 13 al-Zulfi attackers are ISIS members,” the press agency added. Saudi investigators “revealed a place [safe house] rented by one of the attackers in the al-Rayan neighborhood of the al-Zulfi Province, where the attack was conceived and planned. Inside the location [safe house], investigators found “what looks to be a factory for explosives, and explosive belts. Five explosive belts were found, as well as 64 locally manufactured hand grenades, two Kalashnikov’s [Russian made, gas-operated, assault rifle], four bags of organic fertilizers, a [mobile] telecommunications device, and two laptops.”

Bhvishya Patel, posted an article on this afternoon’s/April 22, 2019 edition of the DailyMail.com, noting that “these arrests come after the Islamic State claimed responsibility for an attempted attack on a Saudi state security building in Zulfi last Sunday, a small city about 155 miles northwest of the capital of Riyadh.

With Easter Bombings, a New Brand of Terrorism Arrives in Sri Lanka

Sudha Ramachandran

As Christians around the world were flocking to churches for Easter services Sunday, Sri Lanka was already in mourning. A string of deadly, coordinated explosions early Sunday, which tore through churches and luxury hotels in Colombo and across the island nation, killed over 321 people, including some 38 foreigners, and injured around 500 others. Seven of the eight attacks were suicide bombings. A ninth explosion was prevented late Sunday when security personnel defused an improvised explosive device on the road to Colombo International Airport.

Among the churches attacked on Sunday morning was the 18th-century St. Anthony’s Shrine in Colombo, St. Sebastian’s Church at Negombo, and the Zion Church in Batticaloa in the island’s Eastern Province. The targeted hotels included the Cinnamon Grand, the Shangri-La and the Kingsbury—all in Colombo, with clientele who are largely Western tourists and businessmen. Later on Sunday, a bomb went off at a hotel near the National Zoo in Colombo and a suspected safe house on the outskirts of the capital.

The Sri Lanka attacks: New front, old wounds

by Mario Arulthas
The attacks in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday for many brought back memories of the long ethnic war, which came to a bloody conclusion 10 years ago in May. Although the Sri Lankan authorities are yet to identify the perpetrators, it appears the attacks are of a different nature, one fuelled by global dynamics, rather than a response to local communal grievances. Despite this, the violence is bound to exacerbate already-deep ethnic and religious fault lines, increasing existing tensions and possibly fuelling further violence.

After 1948, newly independent Sri Lanka embedded a virulent form of Sinhala Buddhist nationalism in the formation of the state. This ethos, in simple terms, holds that the entire island is home to Sinhala Theravada Buddhism and that minorities are invaders, who will be tolerated if they accept Sinhala hegemony. Any threats (perceived or real) to the Sinhala identity of the country are attacked resolutely.

A Scholar of Extremism on How Religious Conflict Shapes Sri Lanka

By Isaac Chotiner

On Easter Sunday, terrorists slaughtered nearly three hundred people in Sri Lanka, in coördinated attacks at three churches and three luxury hotels. The government has said that the attacks were the work of suicide bombers from a single extremist group, and that thirteen people are being held in police custody. On April 11th, the country’s deputy inspector general had issued a letter to government officials saying that National Thowheed Jama’ath, a radical Islamist group based in South India, was planning a terrorist attack, but the Prime Minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe, has said that he did not receive the warning. Since the attack, the government has shut down Facebook and other social-media platforms, which recently were used to incite anti-Muslim violence in the country.

Sri Lanka has experienced intermittent violence since the end of a brutal civil war, which lasted from 1983 to 2009. In it, the government, dominated by Sinhalese Buddhists, who make up a large majority in Sri Lanka, defeated the insurgent Tamil Tigers, a militant group that emerged from the Tamil minority, which is overwhelmingly Hindu and makes up about fifteen per cent of the country. Muslim and Christian minorities, both of which make up about eight-to-ten per cent of the population, have also historically faced discrimination.

The Consolidation of Political Power in China Under Xi Jinping

by Timothy R. Heath
Document submitted April 11, 2019, as an addendum to testimony before the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission on February 7, 2019.PDF file 0.1 MB 

Would Beijing’s skepticism of the PLA’s operational capabilities be the same if China were involved in a conflict with one of its neighbors rather than with the United States? 

• How would the PLA’s perceived operational deficits constrain Beijing if it were contemplating a confrontation with a non-treaty ally of the United States, like Vietnam or India? 

• How might the PLA's perceived operational deficits constrain Beijing if it were contemplating a confrontation with a treaty ally of the United States where U.S. intervention might be in question. For example, if China attacked Philippine nongovernmental boats operating in areas of competing maritime claims? What about a conflict with Japan if U.S. intervention was in doubt?

ChinaBrief • Volume 19 • Issue 7 • April 09, 2019

In March, the National People’s Congress and the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference both convened their full annual sessions in Beijing. Collectively known as the “Two Sessions” (Lianghui, 两会), the annual meetings of these bodies comprise two of the largest annual events on the official political calendar of the People’s Republic of China (PRC). The two institutions hold no real power, but the scripted agendas of their meetings often provide insights into the concerns and prioritized policy initiatives under discussion within the higher echelons of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

A Specter Is Haunting Xi’s China: ‘Mr. Democracy’

Ian Johnson

Beijing—Something strange is happening in Xi Jinping’s China. This is supposed to be the perfect dictatorship, the most sustained period of authoritarianism since the Cultural Revolution ended more than forty years ago, a period of such damning disappointment that all but the regime’s most acquiescent apologists have become cynics or critics. And yet the past few months have also seen something potentially more interesting: the most serious critique of the system in more than a decade, led by people inside China who are choosing to speak out now, during the most sensitive season of the most sensitive year in decades.

The movement started quietly enough, with several brilliant essays written by a Chinese academic that drew an attack from his university bosses, which in turn stirred a backlash among Chinese public intellectuals. None of this means that the Communist Party is getting ready to loosen its icy grip over the country, but it is a remarkable series of events that is challenging what was supposed to be possible in Xi’s China.

Catching China by the Belt (and Road)

By Ethan B. Kapstein, Jacob N. Shapiro

Will the developing world fall under China’s sway? Many policymakers in Washington certainly fear so, which is one of the reasons they have created the new International Development Finance Corp. (IDFC), which is slated to begin operating at the end of this year. Like the Marshall Plan, which in the post-World War II years used generous economic aid to fight the appeal of Soviet communism in Western Europe, the IDFC aims to help Washington push back against Beijing’s sweeping Belt and Road Initiative.

The new institution should allow the United States to better align its commercial and development goals with its foreign policy in the developing world. But the IDFC will start at a significant disadvantage: relative poverty. Whereas the new IDFC will have about $60 billion in capital, the Belt and Road Initiative is a $1 trillion effort. By some estimates, Pakistan alone has already received more cash commitments from China than the value of the entire IDFC budget.

China’s Engagement with Smaller South Asian Countries

When the government of Sri Lanka transferred operations of Hambantota port to a Chinese majority-held joint venture for 99 years, this event heightened concerns about China’s presence in the smaller countries of South Asia. Some commentators have suggested that Sri Lanka, as well as other South Asian nations that have funded major infrastructure projects through China’s Belt and Road Initiative, are victims of “China’s debt-trap diplomacy.” This report finds that the reality is much more complicated.


The smaller South Asian (SSA) countries maintain different levels of interaction with China, ranging from Bhutan, which has no formal diplomatic relations with China, to Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, which have the strongest military and economic ties, respectively.

On balance, SSA countries have benefited from China’s growing economic and military engagement with them and the region. Chinese projects have helped increase connectivity within these countries as well as with external trading networks.

By Punishing Iran, Trump Is Weakening America


Last week, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo complained about Republicans in Congress who were grandstanding for harsher sanctions on Iran. Now, he has joined the grandstanders, announcing that the Trump administration is stepping up its maximum pressure campaign against Iran by ending waivers that had allowed some states to import Iranian crude oil.

This may have significant consequences for global oil markets. It will have bigger consequences for U.S. power. Trump administration unilateralists, together with their Capitol Hill supporters and anti-Iran lobby groups, such as the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, think they can use sanctions as a tool of regime change. They are wrong. The increasingly desperate efforts of the United States to ratchet up sanctions are likely to backfire, hardening the resolve of the Iranian regime and driving both allies and competitors away from the U.S.-dominated global financial system.

ISIS Still Has Global Reach, Despite the Caliphate’s Collapse

By Robin Wright

Exactly a month after losing its final piece of territory, the Islamic State is giving notice that it can still surprise the world—this time in Sri Lanka. On Tuesday, it claimed responsibility for Easter bombings of three churches and three popular hotels which killed more than three hundred innocent civilians, including more than forty children, and injured another five hundred. “The perpetrators of the attack that targeted nationals of the coalition states and Christians in Sri Lanka were from theisis news agency, Amaq, claimed in its chat rooms on Telegram, a social-media app. “Coalition” refers to an international alliance of more than seventy countries that ousted isis from its territory in the Middle East. A second isis communique included a video of eight men standing in front of the black-and-white isis flag, seven with their faces covered by black-and-white kaffiyehs, as they pledged bayat, or allegiance, to the Islamic State. The communique identified each man who targeted each site on an “infidel holiday.”

Britain Can’t Afford to Keep Talking About Brexit


The recently extended Brexit delay has temporarily averted a harmful “no deal” scenario and handed Britain more time to find a consensus. But it isn’t cause for celebration. It only prolongs a paralysis in necessary economic decision-making, which is already taking its toll.

Heated disagreements about the nature of Brexit, both within the ruling Conservative and opposition Labour parties, have been the sticking points at the heart of a long maelstrom in British politics. It has meant the U.K. executive, legislature, civil service, and media have all become increasingly absorbed by the Brexit process—leaving little oxygen to address the socio-economic grievances that played a role in the June 2016 referendum outcome to leave the European Union in the first place.

Demographic analyses reflect how that vote partly served as a proxy for a confluence of unchecked economic wounds, including weak wage growth, poor social mobility, and vast regional imbalances. Indeed, the poorest households and groups that were left behind by growth in Britain’s globalized financial and research centers—typically those people in rural, coastal, and post-industrial areas—generally voted in higher numbers to leave. Yet with the U.K. Parliament in a state of flux ever since and delays to Brexit, the lack of political focus threatens only to exacerbate these economic challenges.

Disinformation Is Drowning Democracy


From India to Indonesia to Brazil, democracy is being compromised by online domestic disinformation campaigns from political parties seeking to gain an advantage. Democratic institutions have not been able to keep up and have instead deferred to tech firms, trusting them to referee online behavior. But this is a task far beyond the limited capabilities and narrow motivations of companies such as Facebook and Twitter. If the democratic recession is to end, democratic institutions need to create new rules and hold the responsible parties to account.

As internet penetration rapidly increases, new users from retirees in Arizona to villagers in Uttar Pradesh, ill-equipped to navigate their new information environments, are being exploited by domestic political parties and interest groups. The digital campaigning strategies to exploit them are remarkably similar across the globe.


The next decade will be defining for the future of Europe and Europe’s role in the world. Seismic global power shifts; pressure on liberal democracies; challenges to global governance; the transformation of economic models and the very fabric of societies; new uses and misuses of technology; contrasting demographic patterns; and humanity’s growing ecological footprint – the world is well on its way towards a new geopolitical, geo-economic and geotechnological order. What role will Europe play in this fast-changing world? How can the European Union ensure that it does not end up a middle power, caught between the United States and China? What will it take for Europe to hold its destiny in its own hands in 2030?

Against this backdrop, the ESPAS Global Trends to 2030: Challenges and Choices for Europe report is a contribution to support policy- and decision-makers as they navigate the world into 2030. The European Strategy and Policy Analysis System (ESPAS) provides a framework for cooperation and consultation at administrative level, on a voluntary basis, between the European Parliament, the Council of the European Union, the European Commission and the European External Action Service, with the European Economic and Social Committee, the Committee of the Regions, the European Investment Bank and the European Union Institute for Security Studies as observers, to work together on medium and longterm trends facing or relating to the European Union.

Strategic Leadership Primer for Senior Leaders, 4th ed.

Doctor Thomas P Galvin, Dr Dale E. Watson

With a Foreword from MG John Kem, 51st Commandant of the U.S. Army War College. The 4th edition of the Strategic Leadership Primer represents a major change in direction from previous editions. In the past, one could assume most U.S. Army War College students had little prior experience at the strategic level. In 2019, this is no longer the case, as some War College students have already served in enterprise-level assignments or performed duties at the strategic level in operational environments. The new Primer includes chapters on defining strategic leadership; understanding competitive environments both external and internal to the organization, competitive strategy; the evolving roles, competencies, and character required of leaders at the strategic level; and the need for continuous and lifelong development. The Primer is applicable for all senior service college students and graduates--whether military or senior civilian, US or international.

Political Warfare: Competition in the Cyber Era

Antonios Nestoras

The concept of political warfare is not new. Today, however, with the emergence of cyberspace as the fifth domain of war, the scope of political warfare, its diversity and its level of sophistication signify a break from past experience. What early ideas about political warfare identified as propaganda, psychological operations, or a race for the hearts and minds of the population can now be applied on a scale never seen before. 

This article offers a new frame of reference for an old problem. In order to assess and adapt to the complex nature of inter-state competition in the cyber era, we need to understand how information technology is raising the relative importance of political warfare by transforming the social environment and its instruments of operation.

Furthermore, although information technology is a neutral variable, the openness of Western societies increases the vulnerability of liberal democracies to political warfare. As a result, authoritarian regimes, terrorist groups and other revisionary forces of the twenty-first century are undermining democracy and freedom around the world by targeting the network society and by establishing new, virtual spheres of influence. DOWNLOAD PDF 

Cybersecurity in Building Automation Systems (BAS)

ICIT CERTIFIED: In this paper, the OT Research Team at Forescout, an ICIT Fellow Program Member, performed an exercise in vulnerability and malware research for devices commonly used in building automation system (BAS). It has been reviewed by ICIT researchers and is certified as an educational document. ICIT encourages stakeholders to read this paper and distribute it widely to share its contents.

Vulnerabilities in smart buildings are very dangerous because they open these buildings up to the possibility of large-scale cyberattacks. Although we haven’t yet seen malware specifically crafted for smart buildings, malware for ICS have seen enormous growth in the past decade and are getting increasingly common (see Stuxnet, Industroyer, TRITON, and the more recent GreyEnergy). These attacks can be devastating, and we believe that malware targeting smart buildings is an inevitable next step.

To anticipate this threat, the OT Research Team at Forescout has conducted in depth analysis and research of vulnerabilities and malware unique to BAS. There were three key objectives:

Is IBM No Longer A Tech Company?

by John Lounsbury

In February we posted an article from Statista which listed the ten largest (by number of employees) tech companies. The list was restricted to companies headquartered in the U.S. which means that some very large companies from the rest of the world did not make the list. For example Foxconn Technology (Taiwan) with 803k, Samsung (S. Korea) with 321k, Huawei Technologies (China) with 188k, and SAP (Germany) with 96k employees are among those not included.

But it was most surprising to me that IBM, an iconic American company with a global reach and the sixth largest enterprise in America (Top 10 Largest Employers in the USA) was not where it seems it should belong, in second place on the Statista list (below).

The IBM website does not identify the company specifically as a technology company, but does "dance" around that definition. Here are some excerpted statements:


ON DECEMBER 2, 2015, a man named Syed Rizwan Farook and his wife, Tashfeen Malik, opened fire on employees of the Department of Public Health in San Bernardino, California, killing 14 people and injuring 22during what was supposed to be a staff meeting and holiday celebration. The shooters were tracked down and killed later in the day, and FBI agents wasted no time trying to understand the motivations of Farook and to get the fullest possible sense of his contacts and his network. But there was a problem: Farook’s iPhone 5c was protected by Apple’s default encryption system. Even when served with a warrant, Apple did not have the ability to extract the information from its own product.

The government filed a court order, demanding, essentially, that Apple create a new version of the operating system that would enable it to unlock that single iPhone. Apple defended itself, with CEO Tim Cook framing the request as a threat to individual liberty.

Cyberwarriors get first look at critical new tools

By: Mark Pomerleau   

The U.S. Air Force delivered to U.S. Cyber Command the first iteration of a critical new cyber platform that will give teams important tools and help with coordination, Department of Defense officials said.

The Air Force is developing the Unified Platform, a system that will allow cyber forces to share information, conduct mission planning and provide the command and control tools they need to conduct cyber missions, on behalf of the joint force. An Air Force spokesman confirmed to Fifth Domain that increment 1, formerly known as the minimum viable product, was delivered and operationally accepted by Cyber Command April 9.

The Unified Platform team is expected to deliver a minimal viable product in the spring.

The military’s cyber teams can now use that increment, which includes capabilities supporting defensive cyber operations and interoperability.

How the Navy is changing its thinking on information warfare

By: Mark Pomerleau 

The National Defense Strategy, the guiding principle for everything the Department of Defense does these days, is a little more than a year old. The document stresses the return to a so-called great power competition and cites adversaries such as Russia and China as key competitors.

Following the release of the new strategy, the Navy’s top uniformed officer distributed an updated version of his 2016 strategy for the service titled “Design for Maintaining Maritime Superiority, Version 2.0.” That document charts a path for how the Navy will compete against near-peer competitors.

One of the critical components to the service’s success in that realm will come in the information domain. And the man tasked with making it all work is Vice Adm. Matthew Kohler, the Navy’s top information warfare officer.

Kohler recently spoke with C4ISRNET’s Mark Pomerleau about how the Navy is changing in order to compete in the information sphere.

Army & Air Force Draft New Combined “War Attack Plan” – Warrior Maven

by Warrior Maven

The Army and the Air Force are crafting a new combined air-ground combat attack strategy to improve warfare networks, perform long-range sensing of targets, strike enemies more effectively and strengthen defenses across multiple domains in real-time.

The Army-Air Force collaboration, called “Multi-Domain Operations,” has included in-depth joint-service wargames; it is ultimately aimed at developing new doctrine, service leaders explained.

A new Army-Air Force collaborative war strategy is, broadly speaking, discussed in terms of being a modern, or new iteration of the Cold War-era “AirLand Battle” strategy.

AirLand Battle, which envisioned air-ground warfare synergy to counter a Soviet threat on the European continent, was intended to provide air cover for advancing land attack units confronting a larger Soviet Army.