18 July 2020

Is India Ready to Play the ‘Tibet Card’ in Its Battle With China?

By Rajeswari Pillai Rajagopalan

Exiled Tibetans shout slogans against the Chinese government during a protest to show solidarity with India in the country’s standoff with China in the Ladakh region, outside the Chinese embassy in New Delhi, India, Saturday, July 11, 2020.Credit: AP Photo/Manish Swarup

In the month since 20 Indian Army personnel were killed as a result of the clash at Galwan on the Sino-Indian border, public anger at China is palpable. There have been growing calls for a strong response from the Indian government, including a strengthened partnership with Taiwan. There have also been similar calls for enhanced support for Tibet and the Dalai Lama. 

About 10 days after the Galwan clash, Pema Khandu, chief minister of Arunachal Pradesh, referred to the Line of Actual Control dividing India and China as the India-Tibet border. Several points are noteworthy here: He was speaking at an Indian Army meeting at the Bumla border post; he is from the BJP, the party that also holds power in New Delhi; and his state is entirely claimed by China, which calls it “southern Tibet.” 

Could the Houthis Be the Next Hizballah?

by Trevor Johnston

What is the likelihood that Iran will further invest in the Houthis and develop them as an enduring proxy group in Yemen?

Under what conditions might Iran increase its support for, and its efforts to influence, the Houthi movement?

How might the Houthis' demand for Iranian support change in the future?

How sustainable is Iranian support given dramatic changes on the ground (e.g., as Saudi posture and presence in Yemen grows)?

What organizational, ideological, or religious divisions exist within the Houthi movement, and how might these factional differences affect the trajectory of the Houthi-Iran relationship?

Making Sense of the 2020 US South China Sea Policy Update

By Ankit Panda

The Diplomat’s Asia Geopolitics podcast host Ankit Panda (@nktpnd) speaks to Gregory Poling, senior fellow for Southeast Asia and director of the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C., about changes to the United States’ position on the South China Sea disputes.

Click the play button to the right to listen. If you’re an iOS or Mac user, you can also subscribe to The Diplomat’s Asia Geopolitics podcast on iTunes here; if you use Windows or Android, you can subscribe on Google Play here, or on Spotify here.

If you like the podcast and have suggestions for content, please leave a review and rating on iTunes and TuneIn. You can contact the host, Ankit Panda, here.

A Deadly Gamble: Myanmar’s Jade Industry

By Nicholas Muller

Jade pickers cover the side of the mountain searching for stones after mining trucks have dumped their debris. This is backbreaking work and much of the ground is unstable.Credit: Hkaw Myaw

The tragedy was all too familiar in Myanmar’s infamous northern jade mining town of Hpakant: In the early hours of the morning, hundreds of jade pickers teetered on the edge of unstable mountains to scavenge the loose debris dumped by trucks. They are convinced finding a valuable stone will forever change their lives. When the mountain collapses miners are instantly enveloped by a wall of mud when a heavy landslide hits the bottom. Dozens instantly disappear and families are left without answers.

This year’s landslide was deadliest on record. The July 2 collapse at the Wai Khar mine left at least 175 dead, mostly men in their 20s, reportedly from as far away as war-ravaged Rakhine state. Last year, at least 50 people died, buried alive by the mountain, and in 2015, 113 died. Each disaster sparked calls for reform of the jade mining sector. 

The COVID-19 recession is a good time to accelerate Chinese reform

David Dollar, Yiping Huang, and Yang Yao

If China continues to open and reform, it will probably gradually converge on the living standards of the U.S. and achieve its goal of becoming moderately well-off by 2049. There is tremendous uncertainty about the lasting impact of the COVID-19 pandemic; it may well lead to some countries backing away from globalization and to a slowing of growth everywhere.

But we think that it is not likely to overturn the persistent pattern in which less-developed economies that pursue integration with the global economy grow faster than rich countries and tend to catch up, at least partially. In fact, we believe that many reforms in China — reforms that we detail in our recent book, “China 2049: Economic Challenges of a Rising Global Power” — are more pressing in the wake of the pandemic. Three good examples are the challenges of aging in a system with strong rural-urban cleavages, inefficiencies and risks in the financial system, and the need to reform and modernize the international economic architecture.


Space will be a battleground in future wars - and China and Russia are already developing weapons that could work in zero gravity, claims UK Defence Secretary


Britain needs to be prepared to defend itself in space, as future wars will be fought above the Earth using zero-gravity weapons, says the UK Defence Secretary.

In a speech on air and space power in the 'age of constant competition' Ben Wallace said China and Russia were already developing space-based weapons.

Satellites, that provide communication, intelligence, surveillance and navigation services will be a key battleground and need defending in future, he explained. 

Beyond space, Wallace said the country should also be prepared for 'constant competition' from outside forces including possible 'high-level cyber strikes'.

'Today we’re facing coronavirus, tomorrow it could be a cyber strike. It’s clear the binary distinctions between peace and war have disappeared,' he said. 

Satellites, that provide communication, intelligence, surveillance and navigation services will be a key battleground and need defending in future, 

A number of weapon types exist that can be used either from Earth-to-space, space-to-Earth or even within space itself, according to defence specialists. 

The World’s Most Technologically Sophisticated Genocide Is Happening in Xinjiang

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Two recent disturbing events may finally awaken the world to the scale and horror of the atrocities being committed against the Uighurs, a mostly secular Muslim ethnic minority, in Xinjiang, China. One is an authoritative report documenting the systematic sterilization of Uighur women. The other was the seizure by U.S. Customs and Border Protection of 13 tons of products made from human hair suspected of being forcibly removed from Uighurs imprisoned in concentration camps. Both events evoke chilling parallels to past atrocities elsewhere, forced sterilization of minorities, disabled, and Indigenous people, and the image of the glass display of mountains of hair preserved at Auschwitz.

The Genocide Convention, to which China is a signatory, defines genocide as specific acts against members of a group with the intent to destroy that group in whole or in part. These acts include (a) killing; (b) causing serious bodily or mental harm; (c) deliberately inflicting conditions of life to bring about the group’s physical destruction; (d) imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; and (e) forcibly transferring children of the group to another group. Any one of these categories constitutes genocide. The overwhelming evidence of the Chinese government’s deliberate and systematic campaign to destroy the Uighur people clearly meets each of these categories.

Over a million Turkic Uighurs are detained in concentration camps, prisons, and forced labor factories in China. Detainees are subject to military-style discipline, thought transformation, and forced confessions. They are abused, tortured, raped, and even killed. Survivors report being subjected to electrocution, waterboarding, repeated beatings, stress positions, and injections of unknown substances. These mass detention camps are designed to cause serious physical, psychological harm and mentally break the Uighur people. The repeated government orders to “break their lineage, break their roots, break their connections, and break their origins”; “round up everyone who should be rounded up”; and systematically prevent Uighur births demonstrate a clear intent to eradicate the Uighur people as a whole.

Pompeo Draws a Line Against Beijing in the South China Sea

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In a surprise move, the Trump administration has issued a statement on the South China Sea that is consistent with international law, grounded in historical evidence, and completely in line with the expectations of the United States’ allies and partners. It places the United States squarely behind the interests of Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia, Brunei, and the Philippines, all of which have serious disputes with Beijing. It’s a strong move—but the big question is how Washington will follow up on it.

In his statement on Monday, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said he was aligning the U.S. position on China’s maritime claims in the South China Sea with the 2016 ruling of an international arbitral tribunal in The Hague. That ruling, in a case brought by the Philippines, comprehensively demolished China’s decades-old claims to maritime resources that go beyond those allowed by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). China refused to even attend the tribunal, despite being a UNCLOS signatory, and fiercely denies the result.

Colin Powell Still Wants Answers

By Robert Draper

Early one morning in August 2002, Jack Straw, the British foreign minister at the time, drove with a small entourage to a beach house in East Hampton on Long Island. The house belonged to the billionaire Ronald Lauder, who for most of August was hosting his good friend and Straw’s American counterpart, Colin Powell.

The foreign minister and the secretary of state had become extraordinarily close over the previous year. Powell’s customary 11 p.m. calls to the Straw household had prompted Straw’s wife to refer to him as “the other man in my life.” The August meeting at the Lauder residence, Powell would later say, was an attempt to answer a question: “Could we both stop a war?”

For nearly a year — since just a few days after the Sept. 11 attacks — Powell had watched as the idea of invading Iraq, once the preoccupation of a handful of die-hards in other corners of the Bush administration, took on increasingly undeniable momentum. Powell thought such an invasion would be disastrous — and yet the prospect had for months seemed so preposterous to Powell and his deputies at the State Department that he assumed it would burn out of its own accord.

But by that August, it had become evident to Powell that he was not winning the argument. On Monday, Aug. 5, a couple of weeks before the meeting in East Hampton, he and Condoleezza Rice, President George W. Bush’s national security adviser, joined Bush for dinner at the White House residence. For two hours, Rice said little while Powell proceeded to do what no one else in the Bush administration had done or would do: tell the president to his face that things in Iraq could go horribly wrong. “If you break it, you own it,” he famously told Bush. “This will become your first term.”

UK exported spying technology to autocratic states like Saudi Arabia, UAE

Reaping nearly $100 million in sales over five years, the British government provided spyware, wiretaps and other telecom interception tools to 17 countries, many with a track record of targeting dissent and undemocratic behaviour.

The UK has sold a range of surveillance technologies to 17 governments, including Saudi Arabia and the UAE, The Independent reported.

Records show that the British government provided wiretaps, spyware and other telecommunications interception equipment that can be used to spy on dissidents.

Over the past five years, UK ministers have signed off on more than $95 million in sales to countries ranked “not free” by Freedom House, despite rules against exporting security goods to countries that might use them for internal repression.

China and Bahrain were among the list of recipients. The UAE was the largest recipient of licenses, totaling $14.5 million alone since 2015.

The Philippines, under the Rodrigo Duarte government which has regularly carried out extrajudicial killings, was also sold UK spy gear.

Did Iran Suffer a Nuclear Setback?

By Ray Takeyh

An explosion has caused heavy damage to an Iranian nuclear facility just as the country approaches a bold new energy partnership with China, but Iran shows no signs of slowing down its nuclear program.

What happened at the Natanz nuclear plant earlier this month?

A satellite image shows a close-up view of a building damaged by fire at the Natanz nuclear facility in Iran. Maxar Technologies/Reuters

It appears that a huge explosion occurred at the plant, specifically at a warehouse used to construct advanced centrifuges. Iran had hoped to roll out a large number of such machines to boost its uranium enrichment capacity. The U.S. press has speculated that Israel was responsible. In the past few months, there have been various accidents at Iran’s military facilities, including at a missile production factory.

Putin 5.0?

Angela Stent

On July 1, Russia finished a weeklong period of voting in a referendum on 200 amendments to the 1993 Yeltsin constitution. President Vladimir Putin had first called for changes to the constitution in January, and, within a few months, all the amendments were ready. Official figures heralded a triumph for Putin: a 65% turnout, with 78% voting in favor of the amendments and 21% against. Of course, there were claims of ballot stuffing and vote fraud, as well as of medical personnel and others being pressured to vote. But the amendments had already been passed by the Duma (Russia’s legislature), so the plebiscite was cosmetic — intended to boost Putin’s popularity and legitimacy during the COVID-19 pandemic and associated economic downturn.

The amendments include a ban on same-sex marriage, in addition to stipulations that Russian laws supersede international law, that the Russian language takes precedence over others, and that officials with high national security responsibilities cannot have dual citizenship or own bank accounts and property abroad. God is explicitly mentioned. Russian citizens are prohibited from questioning the official historical narrative about the victory in World War II. The new constitution generally embodies conservative social values and a new emphasis on Russian nationalism.

But the most important amendment is the one that resets Putin’s electoral clock. Instead of retiring in 2024 at the end of his fourth term in office, he can now stay in power for another two terms — until 2036. At that point, aged 83, he will have been in power a decade longer than Josef Stalin.

A Return to ‘Normal’: How Long Will the Pandemic Last?

American consumers are crowding back into stores, restaurants and other places of business as states ease pandemic-related restrictions that strangled the economy for months. But a full return to normal isn’t likely to happen until November 2021, according to Ezekiel (Zeke) Emanuel, vice provost for global initiatives and chair of the Department of Medical Ethics and Health Policy at the University of Pennsylvania and Wharton professor of health care management.

“That’s your date,” Emanuel said. “I’m generally a very optimistic guy, and I’m being realistic here.”

Emanuel believes that’s how long it will take for an effective vaccine to be distributed widely enough to stop the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus that in the U.S. has infected more than 3.2 million people and caused over 134,000 deaths.

Until then, he said, corporate employees should continue to work from home as much as possible, because enclosed spaces and prolonged exposure to other people increase the likelihood of transmission. In the case of frontline workers and others who cannot work remotely, including employees at retail stores, a detailed protocol should be implemented to protect both workers and customers – such as mandatory masks, plexiglass dividers, and regular sanitizing of hands and surfaces.

A COVID-19 Vaccine Is Still Far Off, but Questions of Fair Distribution Can’t Wait

Jeremy Youde 

The coronavirus pandemic has inspired a great deal of scientific research into developing a vaccine for COVID-19. The process is moving much faster than normal, with more than 155 vaccine candidates currently being developed, 23 of which are already in human trials. Vaccines can take years or even decades to develop and distribute, but the Trump administration is pushing to have one ready by early next year.

Developing a vaccine is one thing, but making it available to people is another issue altogether—one that involves thorny questions of ethics, intellectual property rights, global trade and recouping research costs.

Anthony Fauci Is a Better Economist Than Donald Trump or Jared Kushner

By John Cassidy

Back on April 29th, Jared Kushner, Donald Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, gave an interview to Fox News in which he dismissed concerns that the coronavirus pandemic would have a lasting negative impact on the American economy. “I always find that we see the leading indicators, and often the media sees the lagging indicators,” Kushner said. “I think you’ll see by June a lot of the country should be back to normal, and the hope is that by July the country’s really rocking again.”

Kushner’s statements neatly encapsulated the Trump Administration’s economic theory of covid-19: it would be a sharp but short shock. As states, particularly some that are governed by Republicans, rushed to reopen their economies in May and June, economic activity did rebound. The Labor Department’s jobs report for June, which was released on July 2nd, showed that employers added 4.8 million jobs, and the official unemployment rate fell from 13.3 per cent to 11.1 per cent. Trump hailed this as “spectacular news.” But now it looks as though the employment survey, which was carried out in the second week of June, may well have marked an inflection point for the economy rather than a breakout.

As last month proceeded, the rate of new infections picked up in a number of states, including Arizona, California, Florida, and Texas. Americans took notice and changed their behavior. Some real-time indicators of discretionary consumer spending, including restaurant reservations and credit-card activity, took a dip. Given the threat that the virus presents in confined spaces, it could be argued that the restaurant and bar businesses are special cases. However, there is also evidence from other industries, such as retail and transportation, that the initial hit from the virus may be turning into a long-lasting one.

Russia Is Eyeing the Mediterranean. The U.S. and NATO Must Be Prepared

by Colin P. Clarke, William Courtney, Bradley Martin, Bruce McClintock

As part of its great power exertions Russia seeks more access and freedom of movement in the Mediterranean region, and is bolstering its military footprint to achieve this objective. To address this rising challenge the United States and NATO could develop a more robust southern strategy with a reinforced air and naval presence, respectively.

Not since Egypt ordered out Soviet forces in 1972 has Moscow had a major military base in the Mediterranean. This is changing. By upgrading its military posture in the region, Russia seems to believe it can be more successful in projecting power and minimizing the influence of the United States and NATO.

In 2015 Russian air power rescued Syria from a growing insurgency that threatened to topple the Assad regime. Now, Damascus is returning the favor. In 2017 Russia announced formation of a "permanent group of forces" at the port of Tartus and nearby Khmeimim air base.

Previously, Russia had use only of a modest naval logistics facility at Tartus. Under a new 49-year lease, Moscow is funding a $500 million expansion. It will provide Russian warships with greater capacity for sustained and more distant operations in the Mediterranean Sea.

Russia has deployed dozens of combat aircraft at Khmeimim and possibly the long-range S-400 air defense system. But the base, which is being expanded, could be vulnerable. It may have faced drone swarm attacks and a missile attack from al-Nusra.

The United States Needs a New Foreign Policy

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The global order is crumbling, domestic renewal is urgent, and America must reinvent its role in the world.

It’s tempting to draw sweeping conclusions about what geopolitics will look like after the pandemic. Some argue that we’re witnessing the last gasp of American primacy, the equivalent of Britain’s 1956 “Suez moment.” Others argue that America, the main driver of the post–Cold War international order, is temporarily incapacitated, with a president drunk at the wheel. Tomorrow, a more sober operator can swiftly restore U.S. leadership.

There is a lot we don’t know yet about the virus, or how it will reshape the international landscape. What we do know, however, is that we have drifted into one of those rare periods of transition, with American dominance in the rearview mirror, and a more anarchical order looming dimly beyond. The moment resembles—in both its fragility and its geopolitical and technological dynamism—the era before World War I, which triggered two global military convulsions before statecraft finally caught up with the magnitude of the challenges. To navigate today’s complicated transition, the United States will need to move beyond the debate between retrenchment and restoration, and imagine a more fundamental reinvention of America’s role in the world.

The wreckage of the pandemic surrounds us—with more than half a million people around the world dead, the ranks of the global hungry doubling, and the most severe economic crisis since the Great Depression raging. Well before the coronavirus hit, however, the liberal international order built and led by the United States was becoming less liberal, less ordered, and less American. The pandemic has accelerated that trend and aggravated preexisting conditions.

Turkey’s Generation Z Turns Against Erdogan

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Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s online address to students on June 26 was the latest sign that his efforts to shape Turkey’s young generation in his image have failed. Thousands of students joining the YouTube livestream disliked the video and used the comments section to criticize Erdogan and tell him that he wouldn’t get their vote. They were justifiably frustrated that the government had shifted the date of this year’s university entrance exam back and forth several times over the past few months, a result of poor pandemic-related planning. But in the days that followed, the students’ frustration turned into general anger at Erdogan. The video has received 422,000 dislikes and the hashtag #OyMoyYok—no votes for you—became a trending topic on Turkish Twitter. Not only did Erdogan’s office disable the video’s comments, but shortly afterward, Erdogan announced plans for new regulations to control social-media platforms or shut them down entirely.The students were frustrated at the government’s handling of this year’s university entrance exam—but in the days that followed, their frustration turned into general anger at Erdogan.

A whole generation of Turkish youth has now grown up under Erdogan—first as prime minister, then as president. With half of the country’s population below the age of 32, what young people think has significant political ramifications. No one seems to know this better than Erdogan: Beginning in 2012, he embarked on a project to raise “pious generations.” His main tool to accomplish this has been the country’s education system, including by pouring billions of dollars into religious education. He dramatically increased the number of imam hatip secondary schools, which were originally founded by the state as vocational institutions to train young men to become imams and preachers, and extended this system to lower age groups. At regular public schools, he increased the number of hours dedicated to religious education and banned the teaching of evolution from the curriculum.

Where Trump Went Wrong on North Korea Nuclear Diplomacy

After more than two years at the forefront of the international agenda, North Korea denuclearization efforts have faded from view, leaving little progress to show for it. Critics say the Trump administration took a flawed approach to the negotiations—and the U.S. trade war with China didn’t help. Meanwhile, North Koreans continue to suffer.

Ending North Korea’s nuclearization efforts moved to the forefront of the international agenda soon after U.S. President Donald Trump took office in 2017, and stayed there for more than two years. But despite a period of improved relations between North and South Korea and two unprecedented face-to-face meetings between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, no clear progress was made toward denuclearizing North Korea. It has now largely faded from view as a priority for the Trump administration.

Trump framed the meetings and his personal relationship with Kim as a promising start to a potential breakthrough, and subsequently claimed that he single-handedly avoided war with North Korea. But critics point to the lack of headway in the failed talks, which they blame on the Trump administration’s flawed approach to the negotiations. For his part, Kim has refused to even begin drawing down the program that is essentially his regime’s only bargaining chip unless the international community drops its sanctions. Hard-liners in Washington, on the other hand, would like to see meaningful steps toward denuclearization before they lift any restrictions.

Maintaining the Competitive Advantage in Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning

by Rand Waltzman

How do the U.S. and Chinese national strategies for AI compare?

What key differences in cultural and structural factors affect the implementation of U.S. and Chinese AI strategies?

How do these differences affect military capability development relevant to USAF?

How can the USAF establish a competitive advantage in militarily relevant AI capabilities?

Artificial intelligence (AI) technologies hold the potential to become critical force multipliers in future armed conflicts. The People's Republic of China has identified AI as key to its goal of enhancing its national competitiveness and protecting its national security. If its current AI plan is successful, China will achieve a substantial military advantage over the United States and its allies. That has significant negative strategic implications for the United States. How much of a lead does the United States have, and what do the United States and the U.S. Air Force (USAF) need to do to maintain that lead? To address this question, the authors conducted a comparative analysis of U.S. and Chinese AI strategies, cultural and structural factors, and military capability development, examining the relevant literature in both English and Chinese. They looked at literature on trends and breakthroughs, business concerns, comparative cultural analysis, and military science and operational concepts. The authors found that the critical dimensions for the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) involve development and engineering for transitioning AI to the military; advances in validation, verification, testing, and evaluation; and operational concepts for AI. Significantly, each of these dimensions is under direct DoD control.

Human-machine detection of online-based malign information

by William Marcellino

What are the main features of the current malign information operations threat context?

What insights can be identified from the application of proof-of-concept machine detection in a known Russian troll database?

In what ways could the machine learning model developed by RAND be applied in the future?

As social media is increasingly being used as people's primary source for news online, there is a rising threat from the spread of malign and false information. With an absence of human editors in news feeds and a growth of artificial online activity, it has become easier for various actors to manipulate the news that people consume. Finding an effective way to detect malign information online is an important part of addressing this issue. RAND Europe was commissioned by the UK Ministry of Defence's (MOD) Defence and Security Accelerator (DASA) to develop a method for detecting the malign use of information online. The study was contracted as part of DASA's efforts to help the UK MOD develop its behavioural analytics capability.

Cyberwarfare Requires Speed, Adaptability And Visibility To Win

Christopher R. Wilder

Cybersecurity is now a war of attrition. Companies face new threats every day, and it is impossible to keep up with the frequency and volume of vulnerabilities that profoundly impact a company’s IT hygiene. Bad actors and nation-states have created a cottage industry for hackers/crackers who indiscriminately attack foreign networks and their critical infrastructure. Recently, the FBI complaints regarding security incidents quadrupled, mainly due to more employees working from home. Based on our own research and in-field cyber assessments, we have seen the costs of ransomware attacks increase to nearly $12 billion, up 74% since 2018. This is particularly evident in healthcare, critical infrastructure, financial services and the public sector. We expect the number of ransomware attacks to grow by an additional 60%, or to nearly $19 billion, in 2020, with the increased number of employees working remotely due to Covid-19.

Unfortunately, most organizations do not have the insight or visibility into their infrastructure to detect or react to a breach, nor do they have the policies and processes to respond to an attack. In an age of interoperability, many companies still live in silos of information that prohibit security teams from practicing proactive cybersecurity. Because they are not proactive and cannot see their blind spots, they are more likely to be the target of a significant attack. Mature companies realize they cannot keep determined bad actors out of their networks. However, they can reduce the frequency of substantial intrusions, limit the damage and restore normal operations faster by taking a proactive cybersecurity posture.

Report: CIA most likely behind APT34 and FSB hacks and data dumps

By Catalin Cimpanu 
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US President Donald Trump gave broad powers to the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in 2018 to carry out offensive cyber operations across the globe.

In an exclusive today, Yahoo News reported that the agency used its newly acquired powers to orchestrate "at least a dozen operations" across the world.

The CIA was already authorized to conduct silent surveillance and data collection, but the new powers allow it to go even further.

"This has been a combination of destructive things - stuff is on fire and exploding - and also public dissemination of data: leaking or things that look like leaking," a former US government official told Yahoo News.

While the former official didn't go into the specifics of each operation, Yahoo News reporters believe the CIA's new powers and modus operandi link it to a series of hack-and-dump incidents that took place primarily in 2019, such as:

Publishing hacking tools (malware) from APT34, an Iranian government hacking unit, on Telegram.

Drone-Era Warfare Shows the Operational Limits of Air Defense Systems

by John V. Parachini and Peter A. Wilson

While most countries struggle with the COVID-19 pandemic, the civil wars in Syria and Libya have become battlegrounds for foreign states backing different local sides. External powers have intervened in both civil wars supplying advanced conventional weapons that have intensified the conflicts, but not all the weapons have performed as claimed. Perhaps the most startling example of this is how ineffective modern Russian air defense systems have been at countering drones and low-flying missiles. In the face-off between expensive air defensive systems and lower cost offensive drones and low-flying missiles, the offense is winning.

In recent weeks, drones supplied by Turkey (PDF) in support of the internationally recognized Government of National Accord have reportedly destroyed the Russian Pantsir short-range air defense systems (SHORADS) that the opposition Libyan National Army (LNA) used to protect their forces. The inability of the LNA to protect their forces has turned the tide of the conflict and is a reminder of how difficult effective air defense is in an era of comparatively inexpensive armed drones and precision guided low-flying cruise missiles.

Build Allies Into Tomorrow’s Battlefield Network, Army Leaders Say


The service is trying to build a communications network that’s big enough to include coalition partners but small enough to fit on a truck and drive off to war.

The U.S. military needs to do a better job informing allies and coalition partners what it expects highly-networked warfare circa 2040 to look like, said U.S. Army Undersecretary James E. McPherson on Tuesday at an online AFCEA event. 

That outreach needs to start with a better discussion about the Defense Department’s push to link the services in a single command-and-control framework, loosely dubbed Joint All-Domain Command and Control, or JADC2. 

“When we [Army senior leaders] were talking this morning about JADC2, one of the pieces that the chief [of staff] brought up was that we’re going to have to add a letter to JADC2. That’s ‘combined.’ And we need to start doing that, especially for the Five Eyes allies but others as well,” McPherson said. “We need to start sharing with them what our concept of this battlefield of 2040 is going to look like and how we can partner with them going forward with our data management and all things data on that future battlefield. We’re going to add ‘C’ in front of JADC2.”