3 February 2020

Top commander sees increased Iran threat in Afghanistan

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — There has been an increase in Iranian activity in Afghanistan that poses a risk to American and coalition troops there, a senior U..S. commander said, as the threat from Tehran continues to churn across the Middle East.

Marine Gen. Frank McKenzie, the top U.S. commander for the Middle East made an unannounced visit to Afghanistan this week. He told reporters traveling with him that he is seeing a “worrisome trend,” of Iranian malign interference.

“Iran has always sort of dabbled a little bit in Afghanistan, but they see perhaps an opportunity to get after us and the coalition here through their proxies,” McKenzie said. “So, we are very concerned about that here as we go forward.”

McKenzie's warnings come just weeks after Iran launched as many as two dozen ballistic missiles at two bases in Iraq where American forces are stationed. No one was killed, but several dozen U.S. troops received traumatic brain injuries. The attack was in retribution for a U.S. drone strike in Iraq that killed Qassem Soleimani, a top Iranian Quds Force general.

Why China’s Strategy To Contain The Coronavirus Might Work – OpEd

By Fei Chen*

On January 23, the authorities of Wuhan City, China, sealed off the motorways and shut down all public transport to stop the corona virus outbreak from spreading. Shortly afterwards, at least ten other cities in China were under quarantine orders, most of them located in the areas surrounding Wuhan.

It sounds unbelievable to quarantine a city of 11 million people, but it may work because movement within and between cities in China relies heavily on public transport infrastructure. Major cities in China are well connected by airports, express railways, motorways and long-distance buses.

Once the entry points of these transport routes are controlled and patrolled, people cannot easily get out. The transport infrastructure is built by the state and over 90% funded by public money, so control remains in the hands of the authorities. The one-party government in China also helps to effectively implement such a strategy.

Another reason this containment strategy may work is that major Chinese cities are large and dense. Wuhan has an urban area of 1,528km2, which makes it extremely difficult for people to walk out of the city if they are not able to take public transport or travel on the motorways using private cars.

The Chanciness Of Squirming Back From The Brink Of Nuclear War – Analysis

By Vice Admiral (Retd) Vijay Shankar*

Stanislav Yefgrafovich Petrov, Colonel Second Rank of the Soviet Strategic Air Defence Forces, stood as watch-in-charge at the Oko nuclear early warning surveillance system at the top secret Serpukhov-15 complex in a South Moscow suburb. His duty was to monitor remote sensing data coming in from the Molinya satellite for an early warning of ballistic missile launches from the North Dakota plains, the location of Minuteman III inter-continental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) of the US’ 455 Strategic Missile Wing. If a launch targeting the USSR was detected, he was to alert the Kremlin for release of a retaliatory strike. The process was rigid and beyond recall. At civil twilight (US Central Time) on 25 September 1983, the system reported the launch of multiple Minuteman missiles. Allowing for a flight of 25 minutes and decision-making-cum-retaliation time of 20 minutes, Petrov had less than five minutes to sound the alarm and set in motion the chain of a possible nuclear holocaust.

There was neither time for a re-check nor the luxury of second source validation. Given the gravity and tensions intrinsic to the situation, it must have taken enormous fortitude to make the judgement that he did. Petrov classified the six sequential ‘missile attack warnings’ as false alarms even though he had no authority to do so. This decision prevented a possible retaliatory nuclear attack and escalation to full-scale nuclear war. Investigation of the Molniya system later determined that it had malfunctioned.

Huawei Wins the 5G Battle for Britain (But America and China's 5G Fight Is Not Over)

by Daniel R. DePetris

British politics have been upended by Brexit ever since that fateful day in June 2016, when the British public surprised the world and voted to leave the European Union. The last three years and seven months have consisted of two British prime ministers, Theresa May and Boris Johnson, trying to figure out how to implement the Brexit separation with the least amount of damage to the UK’s economic and diplomatic power as possible. 

Brexit, however, has moved over as of late to make room for another important issue—whether Huawei, the Chinese telecommunications company, will be granted permission to build Britain’s 5G telecommunications infrastructure. After considerable debate and division in the cabinet, Prime Minister Johnson decided to allow Huawei into the British system. For Johnson, the Chinese company is the most cost-efficient way to introduce the fastest internet connections available. 

The Huawei issue is not just another kerfuffle in the rough British political wilderness. It also represents the geopolitical battle now underway between the United States and China, two global powerhouses that are trying to gain an advantage over the other. 

Millions of Soldiers: How to Deal With North Korea's Big and Powerful Army

by Kyle Mizokami

Key point: Pyongyang spends most of its money on its military. Although America is more advanced, you can bet North Korea would put up a big fight.

North Korea is just slightly larger than Ohio. To the south it borders South Korea, to the west it borders the Yellow Sea, and to the east it borders the Sea of Japan. To the North it shares an 880 mile border with China and a much smaller one with Russia. The southern border is heavily fortified, with a 2.5 mile demilitarized zone separating the two Koreas. About a tenth of the population resides in the capital, Pyongyang, with the rest primarily residing in cities on both coastlines, often separated by water, hilly or rough terrain.

Any invasion of North Korea would have to take account these geographical realities. The 1.2 million man Korean People’s Army is organized into nineteen corps-sized units, including nine infantry corps, four mechanized corps, one armored corps, one artillery corps, the Pyongyang Defense Command, Missile Guidance Bureau and Light Infantry Instruction Guidance Bureau. More than half of these forces, particularly the mechanized, armor, and artillery forces are located near the DMZ, making an early cross-border assault unattractive.

The Korean War is unique in that a war has already been fought over the same terrain, against the same enemy, in a largely conventional war. Its legacy suggests that if the United States and South Korea wish to invade the North, an amphibious assault would be the opening blow. North Korea has 1,550 miles of coastline, and while not all of it is favorable to amphibious operations there is plenty that is.

The Fragmentation of the European Union

By George Friedman

At the end of this week, the United Kingdom, the second-largest economy in Europe, will exit the European Union. Meanwhile, Poland is under intense attack by the bloc for violating EU regulations by attempting to limit the independence of Polish judges; Hungary is also under attack for allegedly violating the rule of law; and one of the major parties in Italy has toyed with the idea of introducing a parallel currency that would allow the country to manage internal debt without regard for EU regulations and wishes.

The founding principle of the EU was the unification of hitherto warring nations into a single bloc, built around common economic and political principles and a common European identity. The assumption was that given Europe’s history, putting aside differences was a self-evident need for all European countries. But as we see in the case of Italy, it is not clear that there is a common European economic interest. Given the tensions with Poland and Hungary, it’s also unclear if there is a common political interest. And the U.K.’s decision to leave also raises questions over whether these common interests persist and whether national identity can be subsumed under a European identity. The tensions within the EU do not reflect marginal disagreements; they represent fundamental questions over whether national interests and identities can be reconciled with poorly defined European interests. The EU, therefore, is moving toward an existential crisis. It may survive, but only as a coalition of nations representing a fraction of Europe.

Human Rights Are Under Attack. Who Will Protect Them?

Globally, human rights remain under assault, whether by populist movements desperate to gain power or authoritarian governments eager to maintain it. Technology has opened up new frontiers for curbing people’s ability to express and share dissenting ideas. And broad assaults are underway on institutions like the International Criminal Court, which was established not only to offer recourse for the victims of rights violations, but to establish an international human rights benchmark. Instead, it is being replaced by a dangerous intolerance.

Around the world, populist authoritarians have built their movements by demonizing minorities. In Brazil, for instance, newly elected President Jair Bolsonaro reveled in his provocations calling into question women’s rights as well as those of the LGBT and indigenous communities. With their verbal assaults, these leaders and the movements that follow them are inspiring people to commit acts of physical violence. In just a matter of months last year, Jews were targeted in Pittsburgh, Muslims in New Zealand and Christians in Sri Lanka.

At the same time, the populist rise has invigorated civil society efforts to protect historically marginalized communities, including members of the LGBT community, religious minorities and indigenous groups.


By Craig Whitlock

U.S. officials constantly said they were making progress. They were not, and they knew it, an exclusive Post investigation found.

Aconfidential trove of government documents obtained by The Washington Post reveals that senior U.S. officials failed to tell the truth about the war in Afghanistan throughout the 18-year campaign, making rosy pronouncements they knew to be false and hiding unmistakable evidence the war had become unwinnable.

The documents were generated by a federal project examining the root failures of the longest armed conflict in U.S. history. They include more than 2,000 pages of previously unpublished notes of interviews with people who played a direct role in the war, from generals and diplomats to aid workers and Afghan officials.

The U.S. government tried to shield the identities of the vast majority of those interviewed for the project and conceal nearly all of their remarks. The Post won release of the documents under the Freedom of Information Act after a three-year legal battle.

U.S. Says Some Troops To Stay In Africa Amid Moves By Russia, China

U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper says the Pentagon does not intend to remove all its forces from Africa, amid concerns from allies that Washington could abandon the continent militarily while China and Russia “aggressively” look to increase their influence and as the extremist threat remains.

"We are not going to totally withdraw forces from Africa...I know that is the concern of many folks, but again I would say that no decisions have been made yet. This is a process," Esper said on January 30.

Esper is carrying out a global troop review meant to find ways to free up more resources to address challenges from China's military in Asia.

France especially has expressed concerns about a dramatic U.S. pullout of its 6,000 forces from various troubled areas in Africa. Paris relies on U.S. intelligence and logistical support for its 4,500-strong mission in the Sahel region, which has been hit by deadly extremist violence.

Separately, in a congressional hearing on January 30, General Stephen Townsend, the head of U.S. Africa Command, said Africa is key ground for competition with China and Russia “who are aggressively using economic and military means to expand their access and influence."

He also pointed out the “first visible sign of cooperation we've seen” in Africa between the militaries of China and Russia, including their joint naval exercise off the coast of South Africa last year.

Crippling the Capacity of the National Security Council

By Kathryn Dunn Tenpas

The Trump administration’s first three years saw record-setting turnover at the most senior level of the White House staff and the Cabinet. There are also numerous vacancies in Senate-confirmed positions across the executive branch. As of Sept. 22, 2019, the turnover rate among senior White House aides had reached 80 percent, a rate that exceeded President Trump’s five predecessors after their entire first terms in office. The frequent departure of senior staff has been one of the most noteworthy features of this administration.

My previous analysis examined the first instance of turnover on the president’s “A Team,” and includes 65 individuals in key White House offices e.g., Legislative Affairs, White House Counsel, as well as the Office of Management and Budget, the National Security Council (NSC) and smaller entities. Senior level departures were so frequent that I created a table that documents serial turnover (repeat instances of turnover in particular offices). As of Jan. 2020, over one-third of the offices experiencing turnover had more than two occupants—in some cases, as many as six. The most upheaval has occurred in the NSC, a highly influential office that provides the president with advice on national security and foreign policy issues and coordinates these policies with other key departments and agencies, including State, Defense, Homeland Security and the CIA.

Will Coronavirus Help the U.S. Economy?

by Desmond Lachman

Over the past three years, a fundamental problem with the Trump administration’s economic policy approach has been its insularity. Rather than seeing the US economy as being integrally interconnected with and influenced by the global economy, the administration has chosen to run US economic policy with little regard as to the impact that it might have on the rest of the world. It has also paid little attention to the potential spillovers that might result from economic troubles abroad to our economy and our financial markets.

Judging by Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross’s recent statement that the coronavirus will prove to be beneficial to the US economy, one should not expect the insularity of US economic policy to change anytime soon. This could prove very costly to both the US and global economies.

In Ross’s worldview, the current coronavirus scare, coupled with the earlier SARS and Chinese swine flu episodes, will cause US companies to re-evaluate their decisions to have China continuing to play a crucial part in their global supply chains. That will cause US companies to relocate their investment away from China and towards the United States. That in turn will be a boon to US wages and employment.

The future of work in America: People and places, today and tomorrow

The US labor market looks markedly different today than it did two decades ago. It has been reshaped by dramatic events like the Great Recession but also by a quieter ongoing evolution in the mix and location of jobs. In the decade ahead, the next wave of automation technologies may accelerate the pace of change. Millions of jobs could be phased out even as new ones are created. More broadly, the day-to-day nature of work could change for nearly everyone as intelligent machines become fixtures in the American workplace.

Until recently, most research on the potential effects of automation, including our own, has focused on the national-level effects. Our previous work ran multiple scenarios regarding the pace and extent of adoption. In the midpoint case, our modeling shows some jobs being phased out but sufficient numbers being added at the same time to produce net positive job growth for the United States as a whole through 2030.

The day-to-day nature of work could change for nearly everyone as intelligent machines become fixtures in the American workplace.

If the US launches cyberattacks on Iran, retaliation could be a surprise

Thomas S. Warrick

On the morning of Jan. 8, the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps fired 22 surface-to-surface missiles at two Iraqi airbases. If Americans had died, the Pentagon would have put in front of President Trump options for cyberattacks to disable Iran’s oil and gas sector.

Would the U.S. oil and gas industry have been ready for an Iranian cyber counterattack?

While Americans celebrated Thanksgiving, someone hit Iran with a massive cyberattack that disclosed 15 million Iranian bank debit card numbers on a social media site. On Dec. 11, Iran’s telecommunication minister admitted this was “very big” and that a nation-state carried it out.

Will U.S. banks and credit card companies be ready if Iran tries to hack the card numbers of millions of Americans?

The Trump Administration uses sanctions and cyberattacks as their go-to tools against Iran. U.S. officials have admitted twice on background to recent cyberattacks on Iran.

Pentagon’s top artificial intelligence official to retire

By: Mike Gruss and Jeff Martin 

The Pentagon plans to announce Jan. 31 that Lt. Gen. Jack Shanahan, the Department of Defense’s top artificial intelligence official, will retire from the Air Force this summer, C4ISRNET has learned.

Shanahan has served as the first director of the Pentagon’s Joint Artificial Intelligence Center, an effort to accelerate the Pentagon’s adoption and integration of AI at scale, since December 2018.

Lt. Cmdr. Arlo Abrahamson, a spokesman for the center, confirmed the retirement in a Jan. 30 email and said a search for the next director is underway.

Shanahan previously oversaw the Pentagon’s algorithmic warfare cross-functional team, better known as Project Maven, a pathfinder effort to apply AI and machine learning in analyzing full-motion video.

Pentagon leaders created the JAIC after noting nearly 600 projects and programs across the department had come to touch on artificial intelligence in some way. Officials wanted a central hub to help facilitate progress. In late 2018, Dana Deasy, the Defense Department’s chief information officer, appointed Shanahan to lead the new center.

A New Decade and New Cybersecurity Orders at the FTC

By Randy Milch, Sam Bieler

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC), America’s de facto consumer cybersecurity regulator, is welcoming the 2020s with a shift in its approach to cybersecurity. On Jan. 6, Andrew Smith, the director of the Bureau of Consumer Protection, announced via blog post that in the previous year the commission had “made three major changes” to its “orders in data security cases” to “improve data security practices and provide greater deterrence.” But Smith’s post ignores a significant shift in the FTC’s 2019 cybersecurity orders: the disappearance of the word “reasonable.” This unmentioned shift put the FTC’s new orders at odds with its statutory and regulatory authorities.

Smith acknowledges that the FTC’s cybersecurity orders have long required companies “to implement a comprehensive information security program subject to a biennial outside assessment.” Smith says that the 2019 orders have been improved by requiring “more specific” safeguards as part of the data security program, “require[ing] even more rigor” in the third party assessment, and obligating the settling respondent to present to its board or “governing body” the written data security program and to have its senior officers annually certify compliance to the FTC.

Spies Like AI: The Future of Artificial Intelligence for the US Intelligence Community


Putting AI to its broadest use in national defense will mean hardening it against attack.

America’s intelligence collectors are already using AI in ways big and small, to scan the news for dangerous developments, send alerts to ships about rapidly changing conditions, and speed up the NSA’s regulatory compliance efforts. But before the IC can use AI to its full potential, it must be hardened against attack. The humans who use it — analysts, policy-makers and leaders — must better understand how advanced AI systems reach their conclusions.

Dean Souleles is working to put AI into practice at different points across the U.S. intelligence community, in line with the ODNI’s year-old strategy. The chief technology advisor to the principal deputy to the Director of National Intelligence wasn’t allowed to discuss everything that he’s doing, but he could talk about a few examples. 

At the Intelligence Community’s Open Source Enterprise, AI is performing a role that used to belong to human readers and translators at CIA’s Open Source Center: combing through news articles from around the world to monitor trends, geopolitical developments, and potential crises in real-time.

This is the biggest risk we face with AI, by Google CEO Sundar Pichai

By Briony Harris

The combination of AI and Quantum will help solve the world's problems.
The biggest risk will be failing to grasp its potential for good.
We will need quantum encryption to keep data secure.

The combination of AI and quantum computing will help us tackle some of the biggest problems we see, Alphabet and Google CEO Sundar Pichai said at Davos 2020.

"When I look at the future and say - 'how do we drive improvements?' - quantum will be one of the tools in our arsenal," he said.

He also admitted that there would be challenges as well as opportunities. For example, quantum computing will be able to break traditional encryption methods within the next 5 or 10 years, meaning that quantum encryption will needed.

He also said that he was clear-eyed about the risks of technology, including AI, and called for a governance framework.

Automation and AI sound similar, but may have vastly different impacts on the future of work

Michael Gaynor

Last November, Brookings published a report on artificial intelligence’s impact on the workplace that immediately raised eyebrows. Many readers, journalists, and even experts were perplexed by the report’s primary finding: that, for the most part, it is better-paid, better-educated white-collar workers who are most exposed to AI’s potential economic disruption.

This conclusion—by authors Mark Muro, Robert Maxim, and Jacob Whiton—seemed to fly in the face of the popular understanding of technology’s future effects on workers. For years, we’ve been hearing about how these advancements will force mainly blue-collar, lower-income workers out of jobs, as robotics and technology slowly consume those industries.

In an article about the November report, The Mercury News outlined this discrepancy: “The study released Wednesday by the Brookings Institution seems to contradict findings from previous studies—including Brookings’ own—that showed lower-skilled workers will be most affected by robots and automation, which can involve AI.”

Next-Generation Combat Vehicles “all about the soldier”: US General

By Harry Lye

US Next-Generation Combat Vehicle (NGCV) Cross-Functional Team (CFT) director Brigadier General Ross Coffman recently gave an update on the US Army’s plan to replace several vehicles, why they chose to reset the OMFV programme and putting the soldier first.

Speaking at Defence IQ’s recent International Armoured Vehicles (IAV) 2020, Brigadier General Ross Coffman made clear that despite heading up the NGCV programme CFT, ‘vehicles’ were not his priority when it comes to upgrading and enhancing the capabilities of the US land fleet, but rather that the aim of the programme was about giving the warfighters access to the best equipment possible.

Coffman said: “Nothing we’re doing is about vehicles, it has nothing to do with vehicles. On my hierarchy, vehicles come really come right after this person. It is all about the soldier.”

Emphasising, this Coffman tapped into the aims of the wider industry and defence market saying: “That’s what we’re all about industry, academia, the military, the acquisition, the requirements, it’s all about the soldier. And if we keep that in mind that this business becomes fairly simple. It’s getting the best equipment as fast as possible – as long as the budget allows – into his or her hands because the enemy is real.”