18 December 2020

The Unexpected Wrath of Imran Khan

by Michael Rubin

In July 2012, former cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan described his vision for a Pakistani foreign policy on Twitter. “We stand for a nationalist foreign policy which envisages friendly relations with all on basis of reciprocity & in the interest of Pak,” he said in a social media post. Khan was chair of the populist party Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, which he founded in 1996. While his party placed third in general elections in 2013, losing not only to Nawaz Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) but also to Asif Ali Zardari’s center-left Pakistan Peoples Party, the elections solidified his status as an up-and-coming political star. 

Sharif became prime minister and, for the following four years until his eventual ouster by the Supreme Court as a result of the Panama Papers scandal, was both an enthusiastic proponent of reviving Pakistan’s long-standing ties to China and a political punching bag for Khan. 

Khan decisively won the top spot in Pakistan’s 2018 general elections following Sharif’s fall from grace (and the brief tenure of Sharif ally Shahid Khaqan Abbasi). While Khan plays the populist card and tries to wrap himself as a champion of Pakistani nationalism and Islam, his actions suggest the opposite. By any objective standard, Khan has surpassed Sharif in his willingness to subordinate and sell-out Pakistani sovereignty to Chinese interests. While Khan has lambasted Sharif and appears to despise him, when it comes to China Khan is far more deferential to Beijing than Sharif ever was.

More U.S. Companies Are Moving Operations Out Of China

by Katharina Buchholz

After almost 1.5 years of the U.S.-China trade war, some cracks are starting to show in the commitment of U.S. companies to their China operations. In mid-2019 as well as in mid-2020, around 15 percent of companies surveyed said that they were moving at least part of their operations out of China. Moving back to the U.S. was the less popular option. More companies said they were moving "elsewhere", the most popular destinations being Thailand and Mexico according to the U.S.-China Business Council.

Besides the trade war, there are other factors at play making China a less competitive choice for all manufacturers. As the country is developing, wages have risen and regulations have become more stringent, making other locations seem more appealing.

While in 2019, 17 percent of companies said they had reduced or stopped planned investments in China, that number rose to 24 percent in 2020. The trade war was still the most cited reason for investment reduction this year, followed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

As China Leads Quantum Computing Race, U.S. Spies Plan for a World with Fewer Secrets


Back in 1994, when quantum computers existed only as so much chalk on a blackboard, mathematician Peter Shor invented what may soon prove to be their killer app.

Shor trained his efforts on a calculation called "factoring," which ordinarily nobody but a mathematician would care about, except it just happens to be an Achilles heel of the internet. If someone were to invent a computer that could perform this operation quickly, messages that are currently hidden from hackers, terrorists, military adversaries, governments and competitors would be as easy to read as a Stephen King novel.

Shor, of course, didn't have such a computer. He was writing an algorithm, or program, for a hypothetical machine that might one day exploit the weird properties of atoms and subatomic particles, as described by the theory of quantum mechanics, to perform calculations that conventional computers could only solve in years—maybe hundreds of years, or millions, or more time than the universe is expected to last. Too long, at any rate, to be useful in cracking open an email. Shor's algorithm was a theoretical exercise. "The question of whether using quantum mechanics in a computer allows one to obtain more computational power," he wrote in his 1994 paper, "has not yet been satisfactorily answered."

The answers are now coming in.

How Israel Hunted Down an Al Qaeda Leader in Iran’s Capital

by James Phillips

Here's What You Need to Remember: The Abdullah strike fits the pattern of several attacks on Iranian nuclear scientists that were widely attributed to Israel. More recently, Israel also has been suspected of involvement in a string of mysterious explosions and accidents at Iranian nuclear facilities. 

Last Saturday, Iran denied reports that a covert Israeli intelligence operation had recently killed a high-ranking Al Qaeda leader in Tehran, despite his being protected by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards. 

According to U.S. intelligence officials interviewed by the New York Times, Abdullah Ahmad Abdullah, wanted by the U.S. government for plotting the 1998 truck bombings of two U.S. embassies in Africa and other terrorist attacks, was killed by Israeli agents in the heart of Iran’s capital at Washington’s behest. 

Abdullah, also known by the nom de guerre Abu Mohammad al-Masri, reportedly was shot by two men on a motorcycle while driving near his home. His daughter Miriam, the widow of Osama bin Laden’s son Hamza, also was killed while riding with him.

Abdullah joined jihadists fighting in Afghanistan after the 1979 Soviet invasion and later became one of Al Qaeda’s founders. By 2008, the U.S. National Counterterrorism Center deemed him the “most experienced and capable operational planner not in U.S. or allied custody.” 

By the time of his death, he had risen to become Al Qaeda’s number two official, with a $10 million reward offered for his capture by the U.S. government. 

Arab Recognition of Israel Redefines the Middle East

By George Friedman

Last week, Morocco established diplomatic relations with Israel, joining three other Arab countries – the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Sudan – that normalized ties this year. In Morocco’s case, part of the deal was U.S. recognition of Morocco’s claim to Western Sahara, just as it had agreed to remove Sudan from its list of state sponsors of terrorism.

This process, which began with the UAE, is rooted partly in a paradox of U.S. Middle Eastern policy. The United States has played an important role in implicitly endorsing the process and occasionally throwing a sweetener on the table. But the United States also made it clear that it was withdrawing its forces from the region and reducing its commitments. That left the region without the power that held it together. Public hostility among nations in the region, and especially with Israel, was possible while the U.S. served as coordinator and bridge. These countries could and did work together but only through secret contacts and U.S. coordination. Without the United States, each state was left to either go it alone or form meaningful relations on the whole. U.S. policy forced the countries of the region to face a reality they had tried to hide: They needed each other.

They needed each other because the Sunni Arab world had enemies, none more dangerous to their interests than Iran. The Arabs framed their policy on the assumption that the United States would guarantee their interests, and even their existence, against an Iranian threat. That remains possible, but what the United States has done is create a critical uncertainty. Iran cannot be sure of what the United States would do under any particular circumstances. Neither can the Arabs. Each has to prepare itself for an absent United States, rather than simply assume an American reaction.

Opinion – Is the Next Middle East War on the Horizon?

Glen Segell

The latest in the saga of Iran’s decades long nuclear program is the question of who assassinated high-ranking Iranian nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh on November 27. It would be foolish for anyone to claim responsibility for risk of retribution. Iran, as usual, is blaming Israel – noting how Israel has also been blamed for having taken part in the assassinations of other Iranian nuclear scientists during 2010 and 2012. As of the time of writing, there is no definitive evidence. However, with emotions running high it could become a catalyst to the next Middle East war.

The timeline and reasons for Iran’s nuclear and missile programs are well documented. So too is the opposition to them by most other countries in the Middle East and globally. Also documented is extra-regional intervention, be it the supply of technology and resources or arms control and disarmament efforts. Iran on the one hand has called for the creation of a Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) free zone in Middle East and has signed the 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. This was one of many Cold War and post-Cold War treaties aimed at conflict reduction in arms control and disarmament.

At the same time, Iran leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini since 1984 sought civilian nuclear electricity and that is acceptable to the global community. Iranian personnel have been trained by China and Pakistan, and Russia agreed to construct the nuclear power plant. However there were reasons to suspect this as a way to attain military nuclear strength and in 1996 American President Bill Clinton approved an embargo on Iran for trying to acquire nuclear weapons. The American cause for concern since 1996 is that in addition to a nuclear program Iran also has an ongoing missile program that according to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), since 2003 has the capability to deliver a nuclear weapon on targets in the Middle East and Eastern Europe and is aiming for globally.

The future of the Middle East will be shaped in the next few weeks

The US recently flew two B-52 bombers over large parts of the Middle East, sending what US officials say is a message of deterrence to Iran. AP

We are entering a period of immense complexity for the Middle East. What happens in the next few months will set the tone in our region for years. If managed correctly, there is the possibility of building a more peaceful political situation. If mismanaged, the consequences could be dire.

One arena which will receive much attention in the next few weeks is Syria. Russia, a key player in the conflict and power dynamics of the country, is in an uncomfortable position. Like all involved in the war, it is trying to predict President-elect Joe Biden’s policy towards the country. Moscow wants to be done with the Syria issue in 2021. But this seems unlikely due to a lack of co-operation with Turkey, as well as reports of rifts emerging among the Syrian ruling elite. Moscow, therefore, has difficult choices to make, including how to settle the question of Idlib, a notoriously unstable area in the country, in which anti-Assad sentiment remains strong. A harsh military response in the province seems increasingly likely.

A desire to scale-down its presence in the country also brings the possibility that Iran will fill the subsequent void. The Iranians are suggesting to the Russians that they can handle the situation when the latter withdraws. They are offering “guarantees” that Syria would remain friendly towards Russia under Iran’s leadership. Russia’s new weariness in Syria reflects changing priorities in Moscow in favour of a more defensive “lone wolf” strategy, as life in the country drags on under the burden of sanctions and the prospect of a more hawkish incoming US administration.

The International Telecommunications Union: The Most Important UN Agency You Have Never Heard Of

The International Telecommunications Union (ITU) is a little-known, wonky multilateral organization first created to regulate the telegram industry. Today, it is responsible for the future of the internet, including critical standard-setting and 5G regulatory activities. These activities have particular potential for impact in the developing world. The ITU attracts strong activism (at high-level leadership and low-level study group levels) by U.S. strategic competitors. The organization’s mandate, composition, and upcoming leadership transition in 2023 make it an exceptionally important organization for identifying and advancing U.S. interests.

What Is the ITU?

First called the International Telegraph Union, the ITU was formed in 1865, 15 years before the invention of the radio, when a series of European states got together to regulate communications across borders. In 1942, the ITU became part of the wider United Nations family. Its current mandate calls on the organization to “ensure networks and technologies seamlessly interconnect, and strive to improve access to ICTs [information and communication technology] to underserved communities worldwide.” It does so through policy and regulatory activities and setting global standards and best practices for ICT services.

The ITU is made up of two types of members: traditional member states—193 countries—as well as 900 “sector members,” private sector corporations that have a seat at the decisionmaking table. The ITU is overseen by a secretary-general (SG), currently Zhao Houlin of China, who is supported by a Secretariat responsible for the organization's workflow, representational, and coordination activities. The Secretariat works closely with the ITU Council, an elected body made up of 25 percent of member states, which works to link the ITU’s main meeting (the Plenipotentiary Conference) and the organization’s regular portfolio. The Council is elected from the membership body for four-year terms.

Biden Sees the A-Team. I See the Blob.


Back in early 2001, I attended a dinner of foreign-policy mavens with a friend who was about to join the incoming Bush administration. His confidence in his future colleagues and his expectations for the future were sky-high. He saw the Clinton administration as a bunch of well-meaning but naive amateurs who had repeatedly mishandled major foreign policy issues, and he told well-wishers at this gathering that they could relax, sit back, and watch how smoothly things would run now that a team of experienced professionals—Colin Powell, Donald Rumsfeld, Condoleezza Rice, Dick Cheney, etc.—were back in charge.

We all know how that turned out, alas, but I’ve been reminded of this episode as I’ve watched reactions to the roll-out of President-elect Joe Biden’s foreign policy team. For some observers, the new team is manna from heaven; just what the country needs after the incoherent, tweet-driven, and mostly ineffective chaos of the Trump/Pompeo era. Former Foreign Policy editor David Rothkopf sees Biden’s initial appointees as an “all-star list,” and believes “they’re picking the A-team.” Former top officials have hailed Secretary of State nominee Antony Blinken as someone with “unique insight into the full range of national security issues” and praised Biden’s nominee as Director of National Intelligence, Avril Haines, as a “wonderful choice” and “whip-smart.”

The new team has won measured praise from experts who rarely, if ever, agree, such as the Quincy Institute’s Trita Parsi and Mark Wallace, CEO of United Against Nuclear Iran, with the latter describing Biden’s initial picks as “talented, thoughtful, and reasonable.” Other supporters see them as an experienced, professional group that has worked together in the past, enjoys the president-elect’s full confidence, and is ready to repair relations with traditional U.S. partners.

Racism, Crimea and Crimean Tatars

Taras Kuzio

A large number of western historians of ‘Russia’ and some political scientists working on Russia supported the incorporation of Crimea into Russia based on the argument that the peninsula ‘had always been Russian’ (see Zhuk 2014). Many agreed with Putin that an injustice had been resolved through Crimea’s ‘repatriation’ to Russia (Sakwa 2016, 24). This view of Crimea has its origins in western historiography of ‘Russia,’ which was analysed in chapter 1. Western scholarly arguments supporting a Russian Crimea are the same as those of the Russian leadership and rest on the peninsula being part of ‘Kievan Russia’ (Kyiv Rus) and a long period of Russian rule over Crimea since the late eighteenth century, which deny that Kyivan Rus was part of Ukrainian history and ignore the far longer Tatar history in Crimea. This chapter disagrees with these claims. Based on a civic understanding of what constitutes the history of a nation-state, Kyiv Rus should be understood as part of Ukrainian history. This chapter argues that the Tatars are the indigenous people of Crimea.

Although Russia’s invasion and annexation of Crimea has been covered in a multitude of scholarly publications, the after-effects of life under Russian occupation have not. There are very few scholarly studies of how Russia’s occupation has impacted Crimean Tatars and Ukrainians (see Coynash and Charron 2019; Skrypnyk 2019). Racism towards Crimean Tatars had always existed within the Soviet Communist Party and continues within Russian nationalists. If there is very little scholarly work on the plight of Crimean Tatars, the Ukrainian minority in Crimea is totally ignored (as it is in the Donbas). Russification and Sovietisation have followed Russia’s annexation of Crimea and parts of the Donbas (Violations of human rights and international crimes during the war in the Donbass 2018; Coynash and Charron 2019; Skrypnyk 2019). 50.5% of Ukrainians believe that the rights of Ukrainian speakers are infringed in Russian-occupied Crimea and the Donbas, with 18.6% disagreeing (Ukrayinska mova: shlyakh u nezalezhniy Ukrayini 2020).

Joe Biden and the Future of Transatlantic Relations

Hendrik W. Ohnesorge

In these times of increasing polarization, there was little that pundits, politicians, and the media across the political spectrum seemed to agree upon at the eve of the 2020 U.S. election. In fact, a recent study by the Pew Research Center (cf. Dimock and Wike 2020) found a virtually unprecedented degree of division in American society. One thing that was shared across party lines, however, was the importance attributed to the outcome of the election. In his acceptance speech at the 2020 Republican National Convention, incumbent Donald Trump thus declared, “This is the most important election in the history of our country” (quoted in Thrush 2020). As early as mid-2019, Trump’s opponent Joe Biden, agreed, “You all know in your gut, not because I’m running, that this is maybe the most important election, no matter how young or old you are, you’ve ever voted in” (quoted in Selk 2019).

Although sentiments such as these can frequently be heard come election season, there seems to have been a particular justification for them this time around. Seldom, if ever, since the end of World War II have the contrasts been so stark between the two candidates seeking the highest elective office in the land. This holds true for substance and style of their policies, both foreign and domestic. Additionally, both candidates, and their respective running mates, embody starkly differing visions of America due to their own backgrounds and biographies.

Not for no reason, therefore, did the New York Times, taking up on such observations, headline on October 17, 2020, “The election has become a referendum on the soul of the nation” (Dias 2020). Now that the referendum with respect to the presidential race is, if not officially over, at least decided: What do we know about the “soul of the nation”? Which vision will govern U.S. foreign policy in years to come after Joseph R. Biden, Jr. will be sworn in as 46th President of the United States on January 20, 2021? What, in particular, can the United States’ transatlantic partners expect from the incoming administration?

Impact of War and Prospects for Peace between Russia and Ukraine

Taras Kuzio

Since 1991, there has been an in-built tension in Russian-Ukrainian relations, because ‘the more Ukraine asserted its sovereignty, the more Russia questioned it, and vice versa’ (D’Anieri 2019, 63). The 2014 crisis cannot be understood without ‘looking at its long-term sources’ because to do so would be to tackle them ‘out of context and therefore to misinterpret them’ (D’Anieri 2019, 253). The sources of the 2014 crisis lie in Russia’s inability to recognise Ukraine and Ukrainians, which hark back to the early 1990s. The 2014 Russian-Ukrainian crisis is not fundamentally different from the many disagreements the two sides have had since December 1991 (D’Anieri 2019, 265–266).

This chapter is divided into two sections. The first section analyses the impact of Russian annexation and military aggression on the disintegration of Ukraine’s ‘east,’ which comprised eight southeastern Ukrainian oblasts prior to 2014; the replacing of the Soviet concept of Russians and Ukrainians as close, but different ‘brothers’ with the Tsarist Russian and White émigré denial of Ukraine and Ukrainians, which particularly impacted upon Russian-speaking eastern Ukrainians; and the collapse in Russian soft power in Ukraine. The second section discusses the prospects for a peaceful settlement of the Russian-Ukrainian War. Former President Poroshenko was never the obstacle to peace, and President Zelenskyy will not become the harbinger of peace because the roots of the Russian-Ukrainian War do not lie in the choice of Ukrainian president, but rather in Russian nationalist (imperialist) attitudes towards Ukraine and Ukrainians, which will remain as long as Putin is de facto president for life.

Impact of the War

Pro-Russian Ukrainian ‘East’ is No More

US Embassies Were Hit with High-Power Microwaves. Here’s How That Works


The mystery ailment that has afflicted U.S. embassy staff and CIA officers off and on over the last four years in Cuba, China, Russia and other countries appears to have been caused by high-power microwaves, according to a report released by the National Academies. A committee of 19 experts in medicine and other fields concluded that directed, pulsed radiofrequency energy is the “most plausible mechanism” to explain the illness, dubbed Havana syndrome

The report doesn’t clear up who targeted the embassies or why they were targeted. But the technology behind the suspected weapons is well understood and dates back to the Cold War arms race between the U.S. and the Soviet Union. High-power microwave weapons are generally designed to disable electronic equipment. But as the Havana syndrome reports show, these pulses of energy can harm people, as well.

As an electrical and computer engineer who designs and builds sources of high-power microwaves, I have spent decades studying the physics of these sources, including work with the U.S. Department of Defense. Directed energy microwave weapons convert energy from a power source – a wall plug in a lab or the engine on a military vehicle – into radiated electromagnetic energy and focus it on a target. The directed high-power microwaves damage equipment, particularly electronics, without killing nearby people. 

Social media is the greatest threat to US service members


Forget Russia or China: The biggest threat to the U.S. military today comes from social media, which provides limitless opportunities for service members to abruptly end their careers by doing something stupid.

While this phenomenon is not specific to one particular military branch, the Army seems to be the Typhoid Mary of America’s ongoing social media stupidity pandemic.

In the past week, Fort Bragg’s official Twitter account posted obscene material. A spokesman for the 18th Airborne Corps initially said the Twitter account had been hacked. (Narrator’s voice: It wasn’t.)

TikTok in particular appears to be the Army’s Kryptonite. Two soldiers with the Michigan Army National Guard were recently disciplined for making a video in which they called liberals and Democrats “crybabies” and “snowflakes.” (As it turns out, their battalion commander is also under investigation for allegedly espousing conspiracy theories on his private Facebook page.)

In two separate recent incidents: A paratrooper took a video selfie of himself drinking cranberry juice and vibing to Fleetwood Mac during an actual jump and an Army lieutenant joked about the Holocaust, prompting investigations of both soldiers.

General Atomics’ New Compact, High-Powered Lasers


WASHINGTON: General Atomics is so confident in a unique technology they say solves the heat and weight problems found in rival laser designs that they’re making it the core of two distinctly different projects.

The Office of the Secretary of Defense is funding General Atomics and two competitors to build experimental lasers able to blast out some 300 kilowatts of power – enough to burn cruise missiles out of the sky. This project is about scaling up laser power output and testing alternative technologies for the services to pick up for separate follow-on programs.

Meanwhile, Boeing and General Atomics are jointly developing a smaller laser weapon – starting at about 100 kilowatts but capable of growing to 250 kW. Unlike OSD’s, this 250 kW weapon is being built at the companies’ own expense, essentially on spec. (The technical term is IRAD, Independent Research And Development).

Like OSD, Boeing and GA are hoping to demonstrate technology that’ll be picked up by the services for a wide range of ground- and ship-based applications: The company says they’re targeting the Army’s Stryker-mounted M-SHORAD and its larger truck-borne IFPC, as well as Navy shipborne models. But for the pilot project, they’ve set themselves a very specific and demanding technical challenge: make their laser fit aboard an airplane – and make it fire accurately from that plane in flight. (Breaking D readers will remember the Airborne Laser, a huge chemical laser on a modified 747, as well as plans to arm the Next Generation Air Dominance planes with lasers.)

Volume II: Contemporary Developments

Incel Radical Milieu and External Locus of Control

The Islamic State’s Global Insurgency and its Counterstrategy Implications

Funding in Place: Local Financing Trends Behind Today’s Global Terrorist Threat

Community and Gender in Counter-Terrorism Policy: Challenges and Opportunities for Transferability Across the Evolving Threat Landscape

Normalisation, party politics and vigilantism: Why the next terrorist wave will not be right-wing extremist

Waylaid by Contradictions: Evaluating Trump’s Indo-Pacific Strategy

Ashley J. Tellis

If any of Donald Trump’s initiatives ought to outlast his presidency, the Indo-Pacific strategy is arguably the most deserving candidate. The recognition that the Indo-Pacific region should become the centerpiece of America’s global engagement obviously predated Trump. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, for example, acknowledged in 2010 “how important the Indo-Pacific basin is to global trade and commerce.” 1 By 2014, then-Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel would declare—in words almost foreshadowing Trump—that “having just come from New Delhi and having consulted closely with our Japanese and Korean allies and ASEAN [Association of Southeast Asian Nations] defense ministers, I see a new, committed resolve to work together, to work together to build a security system across this Indo-Pacific region, recognizing the independent sovereignty of nations, respecting that sovereignty, but also recognizing the common interests that we all have for a stable, peaceful, secure world.” 2 This desire to construct a security system across the Indo-Pacific region can in fact be traced even further back to President George W. Bush, whose dramatic efforts to transform the relationship with India were driven by the quest for a new geopolitical equilibrium in Asia.3 This endeavor, and all of Washington’s other eye-catching initiatives since, might give the impression that unifying

Russia, Biden and cyber regulation


Pavel Sharikov examines rival attempts by the US and Russia to internationally regulate cyberspace and wonders whether such a consistently fraught outlook will change with the incoming Biden Administration

Cybersecurity will be a salient aspect of the incoming Biden Administration’s Russia policy. Unfortunately, there will hardly be much trust or goodwill between the two nations on this topic. Indeed, the spectral presence of Russian hackers in the US elections of 2016 is still raw for Biden and his Democratic Party, and that came amid years of mutual suspicions relating to all manner of online international cyber crime.

A New Code War

Any attempts to build understanding over the last decade have been short lived. In 2013, Barack Obama and Vladimir Putin agreed to establish a hot line for exchanging information about threats and incidents in cyberspace between Kremlin and the White House; the pair also set up permanent working group for discussing cybersecurity issues. On the eve of the Ukraine crisis, both Moscow and Washington reported that cooperation would be very promising. The following year, this agreement was terminated along with many other tracks of cooperation, due to Russia’s actions in Ukraine.

9 Browser Extensions to Help You Search the Web Better

THE WEB IS a big place, which is why we need search engines. But given that virtually every popular search engine now heavily weights its top results in favor of its own products, services, and ads, it's gotten surprisingly difficult to really find the information you're looking for.

Luckily, these browser extensions for Google Chrome, Microsoft Edge, and Mozilla Firefox take your searches to the next level, making them smarter and faster, so you don't have to spend so much time sifting through ads and irrelevant information to find good search results.

From digging deeper into Wikipedia to querying multiple search engines at once, you should be able to find something of use here. Note that the new Microsoft Edge browser is based on Chromium, like Google Chrome is, so you can install any extension from the Chrome Web Store.

The Peril of Persuasion in the Big Tech Age


Persuasion is as old our species. Both democracy and the market economy depend on it. Politicians persuade citizens to vote for them, or to support different policy positions. Businesses persuade consumers to buy their products or services. We all persuade our friends to accept our choice of restaurant, movie, and so on. It’s essential to society; we couldn’t get large groups of people to work together without it. But as with many things, technology is fundamentally changing the nature of persuasion. And society needs to adapt its rules of persuasion or suffer the consequences.

Democratic societies, in particular, are in dire need of a frank conversation about the role persuasion plays in them and how technologies are enabling powerful interests to target audiences. In a society where public opinion is a ruling force, there is always a risk of it being mobilized for ill purposes—such as provoking fear to encourage one group to hate another in a bid to win office, or targeting personal vulnerabilities to push products that might not benefit the consumer.

There have long been rules around persuasion. The U.S. Federal Trade Commission enforces laws that claims about products “must be truthful, not misleading, and, when appropriate, backed by scientific evidence.” Political advertisers must identify themselves in television ads. If someone abuses a position of power to force another person into a contract, undue influence can be argued to nullify that agreement. Yet there is more to persuasion than the truth, transparency, or simply applying pressure.

Will ‘Cyberpunk 2077’ Outsell ‘Call Of Duty Cold War’?

Paul Tassi

We are less than a week away from the launch of Cyberpunk 2077, the last major game to be released this year, and perhaps the biggest of them all. After three delays this year alone, there’s no more pushing it back now, and it will arrive next week, even if it ends up “coming in hot,” as they say.

What I’m growing curious about is if there’s enough interest in Cyberpunk 2077 where it could achieve the rare feat of outselling Call of Duty Black Ops Cold War, where Call of Duty is the biggest selling game of the year, every year. The exception to this is when there’s a new Grand Theft Auto release, but other than that, it’s all Call of Duty all the time.

But Cyberpunk is just massively anticipated, so I don’t think it’s entirely out of the realm of possibility. But I do think it’s somewhat unlikely in the end.

What do we have to compare right now? Well, Activision is not really reporting Call of Duty sales a month or so after release. It released information that Cold War was the biggest digital launch in series history, which is not a huge surprise given the trends we’ve seen in the industry the past few years, not to mention two of the four new consoles that debuted this fall literally do not even have disc drives.

Train Troops to Use Social Media More Effectively


No less for the military than for the rest of American society, social media has proven a double-edged sword. It creates operational security risks and gives a bullhorn to the boneheaded. But to argue, as Task & Purpose’s Jeff Schogol did recently, that social media is too dangerous to allow troops to use it, is to miss the ways the military could make better use of these new tools. In particular, the military should think harder about, and better train its members in, using social media to better connect the military to the larger society it serves.

There is no question that some service members’ social media escapades have resulted in disciplinary action, headaches for PAOs, and hiccups in the dialogue surrounding the professionalism of the military. These instances can be looked at narrowly as embarrassments that justify a social media ban — or as opportunities to address longstanding problems. 

As the military works to crack down on racism and sexism within its ranks, social media posts can help identify troops whose behavior does not meet the expected standard. (E.g., the viral TikTok video in which Pfc. Jarrett Morford uttered racial slurs and threatened to shoot Chinese people.) As Nolan Hedglin has written, social media opens up the military to more scrutiny over the behavior of individuals, but that is not a bad thing. Those who believe in a military accountable to the American public, that takes threats to combat readiness such as racism, sexual assault, and other issues in the military social media has helped shed light on, should welcome this development. 

The Pentagon Is Ill-Organized to Improve Its Use of Electromagnetic Spectrum, GAO Says


The U.S. military has big plans for better harnessing the electromagnetic spectrum, but lacks the organizational setup to do it, says the Government Accountability Office, or GAO. The department hasn’t even figured out who should be in charge of implementing its months-old strategy, let alone how to connect or combine the service’s many related projects and efforts. 

“DOD officials from multiple offices with [electromagnetic spectrum] duties identified a lack of central coordinating authority as a major challenge to effective EMS governance,” says the report, issued on Thursday. “An official from the [cross-functional team] said that EMS-related duties are spread across the department and there is a need for a DOD official that can be held responsible for EMS issues.” 

The problem isn’t so much a lack of high-ranking defense officials with eyes on electronic warfare and spectrum issues. It’s that those people have a lot of other important things to do, so while they may all agree that spectrum warfare is critical and that the Defense Department should follow its own strategy, they’re also in charge of things like nuclear deterrence or fixing the Defense Department’s information technology infrastructure. So spectrum issues become everybody’s second job. 

“Senior-level DOD officials responsible for department-wide EMS management are assigned many non-EMS-related responsibilities. For example, the Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, a four-star general officer, is DOD’s Senior Designated Official for the [cross-functional team] but has numerous other responsibilities,” notes the report. “Those who focus on EMS-related issues full-time are most often located at lower organizational levels within DOD.”

This Is Only Going to Get Worse

By nearly all measures, it has been a horrible week, a horrible month (10 days in), and a horrible year. The United States this week set records in all three metrics that gauge the pandemic’s severity, with a total of 1.4 million new cases and 15,966 deaths. Yesterday, states and territories reported 3,088 deaths from COVID-19—a record no one wanted to see—and the average number of deaths per day over the past 7 days exceeded 2,000, surpassing the highest average we saw in the spring’s deadly first surge. More than 106,000 people are currently hospitalized with COVID-19.

Congress Fears DoD Not Prepared For NC3 Cyber Attacks


NC3 network, Office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Nuclear Matters

WASHINGTON: A classified assessment of America’s nuclear command, control and communications system (NC3) has rung alarm bells on Capitol Hill. The assessment was mentioned in a provision crafted by the Senate Armed Services Committee for the 2021 National Defense Authorization Act and accepted by the House in their conference deliberations.

The Secretary of Defense to submit to the congressional defense committees a plan, including a schedule and resourcing plan, to implement the findings and recommendations of the first annual assessment of cyber resiliency of the nuclear command and control (NC3) system. The provision would require the Secretary to develop a concept of operations to defend the NC3 system from cyber attacks and develop an oversight mechanism to ensure implementation.” 

The NDAA bill’s text elaborates that, besides a CONOPS plan, the DoD report must detail the division of roles and responsibilities among the Office of Secretary of Defense, the combatant commands, the military services, DoD agencies and field services when it comes to nuclear command and control. Congress also wants specifics on “cybersecurity capabilities to be acquired and employed and operational tactics, techniques, and procedures, including cyber protection team and sensor deployment strategies, to be used to monitor, defend, and mitigate vulnerabilities in nuclear command and control systems.”