21 December 2020

India Inches Forward to Block Chinese Telecom Equipment

By Abhijnan Rej

Indian media reported on December 16 that the Narendra Modi government has decided to issue certification for equipment used by telecom companies in the country based on their perceived security risk. Such certification could pave the way for an effective ban on the acquisition of Chinese telecom equipment in the future, including those related to 5G internet solutions. The decision follows a meeting of the Indian Cabinet on Wednesday, leading to a new National Security Directive on the Telecommunication Sector.

According to the Hindustan Times, the certification would be issued by a new National Security Committee on Telecom headed by Deputy National Security Advisor Rajinder Khanna, a former chief of the Research and Analysis Wing, India’s lead external intelligence agency. The newspaper quotes Ravi Shankar Prasad, minister of telecommunications, as saying after the cabinet meeting: “This is a very important decision with respect to national security.” It also notes that India’s National Cyber Security Coordinator will issue the list of equipment that will fall under the ambit of the new directive.

While India in the recent past has periodically hinted that it is ready to ban Chinese firms from 5G trials in the country, officially such a decision is yet to be taken. On November 6, India’s Home Secretary Ajay Bhalla, speaking at the National Defense College, noted: “On 5G the government has not taken any call. Discussions are still on… when it (the trials) will be allowed and who will be allowed to participate. The penetration of (Chinese firms’) telecom hardware and software is extensive.”

Milley Meets With Taliban In Fragile Peace Negotiations


KABUL, Afghanistan — Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley this week met with Taliban negotiators in Doha, Qatar, amid an ongoing U.S. troop drawdown from Afghanistan and rising violence in the southern parts of the country. 

The two and a half-hour meeting was the second time Milley has met with the Taliban as part of U.S. efforts to bring about a negotiated peace settlement between the insurgent group and the U.S.-recognized government in Kabul. He is the first known chairman of the Joint Chiefs to have met with the Taliban, which the United States has been fighting either directly or in support of Afghan security forces since shortly after the Sept. 11 attacks in 2001. 

Milley also met Wednesday with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, in Kabul, as part of a four-day swing through the region that comes just weeks before a new administration takes office. For operational security reasons, Defense One agreed not to disclose the meeting until Milley was out of the region, at the request of defense officials.

“The most important part of the discussions I had with both the Taliban and the government of Afghanistan was the need for a reduction in violence,” Milley told defense reporters traveling with him. “Everything else hinges on that.” 

U.S. negotiators have been urging both sides to move forward towards a genuine, nation-wide ceasefire in the next 30 to 40 days, said a person familiar with the negotiations. On Jan. 20, President-elect Joe Biden will take office. Biden has publicly called for a small, nimble counterterrorism force to remain in Afghanistan; how his administration will handle the fragile peace negotiations remains unknown. 

How Kublai Khan’s Yuan complicates the notion of ‘China’

James Carter 

Students of Chinese history often memorize the “parade of dynasties” — Qin, Han, Sui, Tang, Song, Yuan, Ming, Qing (sometimes with a preamble of Xia, Shang, Zhou) — using cram sessions and mnemonic jingles. But though the effort has resulted in a lot of A’s, the dynastic hit parade is poison when it comes to understanding history. With that in mind, this week we look back to December 18, 1271, when the Great Khan of the Mongols — Kublai Khan — proclaimed the new Yuan dynasty and fashioned himself a Chinese emperor.

Kublai’s empire, a successor to one of the Khanates that comprised the vast Mongol empire that traversed Asia in the 13th century, would reign over much of what is now China, as well as Mongolia and other territory in Central and Eastern Asia. The following year, he moved his capital from Shangdu — the Xanadu of Coleridge’s dreams — to the former capital city of the Jin dynasty. Renamed Dàdū 大都, the city would be better known by the name it assumed in the Ming dynasty: Beijing. Himself a Mongol, Kublai Khan established what would be (usually) the capital of China for nearly a millennium.

The fact that Kublai took a Chinese dynastic and reign name, and its new capital at the site of what is China’s capital today, contributes to our sense that this was a new Chinese dynasty. The Yuan dynasty’s subjects were not exclusively Han Chinese, but by claiming the Mandate of Heaven — the mythic, supernatural credential that legitimated Chinese rulers — the Mongols were joining a lineage that has defined Chinese statecraft and Chinese civilization.

You can see it right in the batting order of dynasties: Yuan is a Chinese dynasty.

Except it’s not. Or at least, not only.

Joint Warfare: How the U.S. Military Would Win a War Against Russia or China

by Kris Osborn

In the event of some kind of major war between the United States and a great-power rival such as Russia or China, wouldn’t the deciding factor be determined by which country succeeds in dominating the skies to a large extent? Surely the need for air supremacy, one could argue, supersedes or would need to precede any kind of large-scale ground invasion.

Certainly, ground-power advocates will tell you that winning a war may ultimately rest upon the ability to seize, occupy and control territory, or at least the present, credible, realistic threat of a successful major ground invasion to deter further enemy action and declare victory. This may well be true, even if decisive, or actual dominance were first established in the air. What these interwoven dynamics point to is that they fortify and depend upon one another. Complete victory in any major conflict, it would seem self-evident, would rest upon the ability to dominate or prevail both on the ground and in the air. Perhaps this is one reason why Pentagon war planners regularly say warfare is inherently joint, thus providing the conceptual basis for ongoing wargames aimed at finding potential vulnerabilities or weak points likely to emerge in any kind of a major-scale war against a great power.

While specifics related to these games are of course quite likely not available, some senior participants explain that the analyses need to be sure to fully accommodate an exploration of airpower dominance, as air war would of course be of an entirely different character than that which was relied upon in Iraq and Afghanistan. While this reality is obvious to most and now well known, the Pentagon is making a special effort to ensure its advanced wargaming fully addresses the necessary multi-domain, air-ground-sea components expected to figure prominently in any future war

Could America’s Drones Survive a War With China or Russia?

by Kris Osborn

The U.S. Air Force Reaper Drones were crucial to victories in the War on Terrorism by delivering lethal, decisive and precise hellfire missile attacks upon terrorist and insurgent targets. They also provided countless hours of real-time intelligence to ground commanders through video surveillance in the Middle East and around the world. In fact, these drones have been continually expanding mission scope through a growing weapons arsenal and even new air-to-air attack capability. Yet, could the Reaper survive a war against China or Russia? Probably not.

“We have effective RPAs that were designed for permissive environments where they do not have IADS (Integrated Air Defense Systems) or fighter jets coming after them. We will need a balance of the right size of a permissive RPA (Remotely Piloted Aircraft - drones) fleet as well as RPAs designed for contested environments and more high end threats like Russia and China,” Lt Gen Joseph T. Guastella, Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations, U.S. Air Force, told The Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies in a video interview

Senior Air Force weapons developers certainly see a continued role for the Reaper, particularly regarding its more recent ability to drop a much greater sphere of weapons and fire an AIM-9X air-to-air missile. However, simply put, the drone may not be stealthy enough, small enough or fast enough to survive a war against any major opponent armed with advanced air defenses or sophisticated air-to-air weapons. 

The World’s Most Important Body of Water


The South China Sea is the most important body of water for the world economy—through it passes at least one-third of global trade. It is also the most dangerous body of water in the world, the place where the militaries of the United States and China could most easily collide.

Chinese and American warships have just barely averted several incidents there over the past few years, and the Chinese military has warned off U.S. jets flying above. In July, the two nations carried out competing naval exercises in those waters. Given what is called the growing “strategic rivalry” between Washington and Beijing, the specter of an accident that in turn triggers a larger military confrontation preoccupies strategists in both capitals.

These tensions grow out of a disagreement between the two countries as to whether the South China Sea is Chinese territory, a quarrel that speaks to a deeper dispute about maritime sovereignty, how it is decided upon, and the fundamental rights of movement in those waters.

The standoff over the South China Sea thus has many levels of complexity. It is not simply about one body of water, or a single boundary. As Tommy Koh, a senior Singaporean diplomat who led negotiations to create the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, told me, “the South China Sea is about law, power, and resources, and about history.”

That history is haunted in particular by four ghosts, long-departed men from centuries past whose shadows fall across the South China Sea, their legacies shaping the deepening rivalry in the region; historical figures whose lives and work have framed the disputes about sovereignty and freedom of navigation, the competition of navies, as well as war and its costs.

Arab Dignity Is Real. So Is Arab Failure.


On Dec. 17, 2010, Mohamed Bouazizi set himself alight in the central Tunisian town of Sidi Bouzid. After lingering in a hospital for more than two weeks, he finally succumbed to his self-inflicted injuries. While he lay dying, popular protests rolled toward the Tunisian capital, eventually overwhelming Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali’s fearsome 24-year iron-fisted and corrupt reign when he took flight to Saudi Arabia on Jan. 14, 2011.

Ben Ali was not supposed to fall. Neither was Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak. Nor was Libya’s Muammar al-Qaddafi supposed to be run out of Tripoli. Ali Abdullah Saleh was supposed to have mastered the art of dancing on the pin that was/is Yemeni politics. The Assads were also supposed to have Syria wired. The events of late 2010 and 2011 were so extraordinary and so unexpected—at least to most Westerners—that journalists, analysts, and officials began referring to them collectively as the Arab Spring. The name was poetic, in a way, but it implicitly assumed an outcome that in those early days was far from assured no matter how awe-inducing the uprisings may have been.

Now, a decade later, what was the meaning of the uprisings? There has been a bounty of articles about how the Arab Spring turned to winter, but perhaps it is too early to tell. After all, the Prague Spring was crushed mercilessly, but Czechs and Slovaks threw off communist rule two decades later. The idea that the uprisings in the Middle East have set the stage for future success has been a fallback position for activists and analysts alike. It may well be that the winter and spring of 2010-2011 was a prelude to change that will slowly, but inevitably, topple regional authoritarians, making way for democratic politics. But then again, maybe not.

Cyber-attack is brutal reminder of the Russia problem facing Joe Biden

Luke Harding

It is Joe Biden’s biggest foreign policy headache. As well as confronting the Covid pandemic, the president-elect has to deal with a more familiar problem: Russia. Moscow’s meddling in the 2016 US presidential election cast a shadow over US politics for four long years.

And now the Kremlin appears to have struck again. This week details emerged of an unprecedented cyber-attack against US government departments. Beginning in March, suspected Russian hackers penetrated Washington’s signature institutions.

They include the commerce and treasury departments, homeland security, nuclear laboratories and the Pentagon, as well as leading Fortune companies. For months the Russian spies roamed at will, apparently undetected. Only now are aghast officials scoping the damage.

The hacking is a brutal reminder of how Vladimir Putin and the KGB agents around him view the world. They regard the US as the glavniy protivnik or main enemy. This adversarial cold war mindset endures, regardless of whether a Trump or a Biden sits in the White House.

This latest cyber-attack can be explained as part of Moscow’s continuous almost-but-not-quite war against the west. It is an asymmetric conflict, fought on Moscow’s side by shadow state operatives. Some are assassins, deployed in Salisbury and Siberia. Others are backroom computer or chemical experts.

Why Is the U.S. Still So Vulnerable to Russian Cyberattacks?

Candace Rondeaux 

To call the revelations about Russia’s devastating cyberattack on U.S. government agencies and thousands of American businesses chilling would be a gross understatement. What is even scarier, though, is that despite wave after wave of Russian-sponsored cyberattacks on the United States and its allies for more than a decade now, Washington still apparently lacks the political will to defend against this Russian aggression.

It is possible and even probable that this latest attack will provoke a strong response from the U.S. and its allies, as some have suggested. As well it should. After all, the breach of the network monitoring software made by Texas-based SolarWinds, which has been widely attributed to Russia’s SVR intelligence agency, targeted the digital information architecture of several federal agencies, including the National Security Agency and the departments of Homeland Security, Treasury, Commerce and State. It also affected an estimated 18,000 companies with SolarWinds accounts, including several on the Fortune 500 list. ..

The Japanese authorities understood covid-19 better than most

When the Diamond Princess, a cruise ship suffering from an outbreak of covid-19, arrived in Japan in February, it seemed like a stroke of bad luck. A small floating petri dish threatened to turn the Japanese archipelago into a big one. In retrospect, however, the early exposure taught the authorities lessons that have helped make Japan’s epidemic the mildest among the world’s big economies, despite a recent surge in infections. In total 2,487 people have died of the coronavirus in Japan, just over half the number in China and fewer people than on a single day in America several times over the past week. Japan has suffered just 18 deaths per million people, a higher rate than in China, but by far the lowest in the g7, a club of big, industrialised democracies. (Germany comes in second, at 239.) Most strikingly, Japan has achieved this success without strict lockdowns or mass testing—the main weapons in the battle against covid-19 elsewhere.

“From the beginning we did not aim at containment,” says Oshitani Hitoshi, a virologist who sits on an expert panel advising the government. That would require identifying all possible cases, which is not feasible in a country of Japan’s size when the majority of infections produce mild or no symptoms, argues Mr Oshitani: “Even if you test everyone once per week, you’ll still miss some.” Japan performs the fewest tests in the g7: an average of 270 a day for every million people, compared with 4,000 or so in America and Britain (see chart).

It Is Time to Let Turkey Go


If, as observers like to suggest, the U.S.-Turkish relationship resembles a slow-motion train wreck, the good news is that the trains have been moving more slowly than some expected. The bad news is that they are still heading toward each other on the same track. Present-elect Joe Biden is now in the unenviable position of brakeman… and he can’t expect much help from his counterpart in the oncoming train.

For Biden, the challenge will be to minimize the damage that Turkey can do to U.S. interests without provoking new conflicts or foreclosing the possibility of future cooperation. His work must begin with recognizing that Washington cannot single-handedly rescue the U.S.-Turkish alliance, nor will Erdogan ever offer any real or lasting reset—no matter how many times he seems to do so. The United States and Turkey will continue to work at cross purposes and there will continue to be more crises. If everyone is lucky, there will also be periods of respite and some progress on areas of common interest.

To best navigate this no-win situation, Washington should be clear-eyed about Turkey’s role in U.S. foreign policy, and also about its own role in Turkish domestic politics: It will be nearly impossible to cooperate with Turkey when the Turkish government sees the United States as a threat, and it will be difficult to support Turkish democracy when much of Turkey’s opposition does too.

US Government Officially Labels Vietnam a Currency Manipulator

By Sebastian Strangio

The U.S. Department of the Treasury has labeled Vietnam a currency manipulator, accusing it of improperly intervening in foreign exchange markets to advantage its own exports.

Despite bandying about the accusation for some time, this marks the first time that the U.S. government has officially applied that label to the country, a designation that will now require it to enter into negotiations with the U.S. government and the International Monetary Fund to address the situation.

In its semi-annual report to Congress, released on December 16, the Treasury Department said that Vietnam “conducted large-scale and protracted intervention, much more than in previous periods, to prevent appreciation of the dong.” The report covers activity from July 2019 to June 2020.

While the report also scrutinized the exchange rate policy of other major U.S. trading partners, only Vietnam and Switzerland were deemed to have exceeded the criteria used to identify what the department views as potentially unfair currency practices that could harm U.S. workers.

Global Markets Are Partying Like It Is 2008 (But a Crash Is Coming)

by Desmond Lachman

In late 2008, at a meeting with academics at the London School of Economics, Queen Elizabeth II asked why no one seemed to have anticipated the world’s worst financial crisis in the postwar period. The so-called Great Economic Recession, which had begun in late 2008 and would run until mid-2009, was set off by the sudden collapse of sky-high prices for housing and other assets—something that is obvious in retrospect but that, nevertheless, no one seemed to see coming.

It would seem all too likely that now we are about to make the same mistake by being too sanguine about today’s asset and credit market bubbles. 

Certainly, the U.S. and global economies have snapped back well from the depths of the coronavirus economic recession. It is also beyond doubt that effective vaccines have been developed and are now being distributed. However, as the Bank for International Settlements keeps warning us, global asset and credit market prices have once again risen well above their underlying value—in other words, they are in bubble territory. In addition, as our health experts keep warning us, we still have to get through a dark coronavirus winter before a sufficient part of the population has been vaccinated to allow a return to economic normality.

Considering the virtual silence among economists about the danger today’s bubbles pose and about the risk of another leg down in the global economy, one has to wonder whether in a year or two, when the bubbles eventually do burst, the queen will not be asking the same sort of question.

Britain and the EU Finally Approach the Reckoning


UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson thinks of himself as a latter-day Winston Churchill: a leader taking charge of a floundering nation and steering it toward the sunlit uplands of pride and prosperity. As time goes on, a more relevant model is turning out to be George III, the British king who diminished his country with his erratic conduct and ended up losing America.

Kellner is a visiting scholar at Carnegie Europe, where his research focuses on Brexit, populism, and electoral democracy.

As the Brexit saga goes on and on, Johnson never tires of referring to his “European friends.” But his actions betray a different sentiment.

In September 2020, he presented Parliament with the internal market bill, which his own ministers admitted violated international law by threatening to breach the UK-EU withdrawal agreement in relation to Northern Ireland.

In December, his office briefed the media that the UK Royal Navy was preparing to keep EU fishing boats out of British waters if negotiations for a new UK-EU trade deal broke down.

These actions bear more than a passing resemblance to the character of George III in the musical Hamilton. The King threatened George Washington’s insurgents with “a fully armed battalion to remind you of my love.”

Just now, nobody knows what the outcome will be of the UK-EU talks. They should have been over weeks ago, but true to the EU’s traditions they have ignored deadline after deadline. As one comic writer observed years ago, “I love deadlines. I love the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.”

If we do not know what the outcome will be, we can at least say what needs to happen for a deal to be agreed. A successful outcome will appear to respect the blood-red lines of both sides.

The Peril of Persuasion in the Big Tech Age


Persuasion is as old as 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.

'We want them infected’: Trump appointee demanded ‘herd immunity’ strategy, emails reveal


A top Trump appointee repeatedly urged top health officials to adopt a "herd immunity" approach to Covid-19 and allow millions of Americans to be infected by the virus, according to internal emails obtained by a House watchdog and shared with POLITICO.

“There is no other way, we need to establish herd, and it only comes about allowing the non-high risk groups expose themselves to the virus. PERIOD," then-science adviser Paul Alexander wrote on July 4 to his boss, Health and Human Services assistant secretary for public affairs Michael Caputo, and six other senior officials.

"Infants, kids, teens, young people, young adults, middle aged with no conditions etc. have zero to little risk….so we use them to develop herd…we want them infected…" Alexander added.

"[I]t may be that it will be best if we open up and flood the zone and let the kids and young folk get infected" in order to get "natural immunity…natural exposure," Alexander wrote on July 24 to Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Stephen Hahn, Caputo and eight other senior officials. Caputo subsequently asked Alexander to research the idea, according to emails obtained by the House Oversight Committee's select subcommittee on coronavirus.

Alexander also argued that colleges should stay open to allow Covid-19 infections to spread, lamenting in a July 27 email to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Robert Redfield that “we essentially took off the battlefield the most potent weapon we had...younger healthy people, children, teens, young people who we needed to fastly [sic] infect themselves, spread it around, develop immunity, and help stop the spread.”

Billions Spent on U.S. Defenses Failed to Detect Giant Russian Hack

By David E. Sanger, Nicole Perlroth and Julian E. Barnes

WASHINGTON — Over the past few years, the United States government has spent tens of billions of dollars on cyberoffensive abilities, building a giant war room at Fort Meade, Md., for United States Cyber Command, while installing defensive sensors all around the country — a system named Einstein to give it an air of genius — to deter the nation’s enemies from picking its networks clean, again.

It now is clear that the broad Russian espionage attack on the United States government and private companies, underway since spring and detected by the private sector only a few weeks ago, ranks among the greatest intelligence failures of modern times.

Einstein missed it — because the Russian hackers brilliantly designed their attack to avoid setting it off. The National Security Agency and the Department of Homeland Security were looking elsewhere, understandably focused on protecting the 2020 election.

The new American strategy of “defend forward” — essentially, putting American “beacons” into the networks of its adversaries that would warn of oncoming attacks and provide a platform for counterstrikes — provided little to no deterrence for the Russians, who have upped their game significantly since the 1990s, when they launched an attack on the Defense Department called Moonlight Maze.

Something else has not changed, either: an allergy inside the United States government to coming clean on what happened.

Amidst a Massive Cyber Attack by Russia, Pompeo Warns of China Threat

by Nancy LeTourneau

Last August, Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe announced that he would no longer provide in-person intelligence briefings to members of Congress. The Trump appointee is a former Republican member of Congress who was a relentless critic of the Russia probe. So it was not surprising that he justified the move by saying that Democrats were wrong to suggest that Russia is a greater national security threat than China. As I wrote, “Ratcliffe is telling us that the Trump administration doesn’t want Congress or the public to know what Moscow is doing…but instead wants to change the narrative to focus on the distraction they’re offering about the threat posed by China.”

What we now know is that, at that time, Ratcliffe was wrong or lying. Russia was engaged in hacking U.S. government and private industry computer networks on a scale that Frank Bajak of the Associated Press said “will rank among the most prolific in the annals of cyberespionage.”

It was first announced on Sunday that the Treasury and Commerce Departments had been breached. By Monday, the New York Times reported that the State Department, the Department of Homeland Security, and parts of the Pentagon had been compromised as well.

While the scope of this attack is still being determined, the methods used indicate that it began in March and was not detected by U.S. officials until they were alerted by a private cybersecurity firm, FireEye.

The suspected Russian hack of the US government, explained

by Zachary B. Wolf

(CNN)Let's take a quick break from the pandemic and the presidential election and focus on two really important things regarding Russia:

1. Agents ID'd before poisoning -- CNN and the internet research journalists at Bellingcat have identified the team of Russian chemical experts who trailed opposition figure and Vladimir Putin nemesis Alexey Navalny to 17 countries before he was poisoned in Russia.

The identified Russians were dogged in their pursuit of Navalny, who CNN interviewed as he convalesces in Germany. But they also made some rookie spycraft mistakes, like barely changing their names or birth dates on travel documents. This kind of independent internet sleuthing is essential to unmask wrongdoing. It reminds me of the efforts undertaken to tie Saudi government agents to the killing of Jamal Kashoggi. It's sometimes harder for countries to hide their misdeeds than others.

2. US government hacked, Russia suspected -- We've long known about Russian efforts to compromise the US government and infiltrate the 2020 US electoral process. While there's no evidence to suggest Russia was successful in its efforts to target US election systems, it's now suspected of hacking multiple US government agencies -- from the Department of Homeland Security to the Department of Commerce -- by accessing SolarWinds, a third-party security vendor. It's also possible the Treasury Department and the US Postal Service were hacked.

Will There Be a Reckoning Over Sweden’s Disastrous ‘Herd Immunity’ Strategy?

Frida Ghitis 

This past spring, as the coronavirus pandemic was tightening its grip across the globe, I wrote about Sweden’s controversially relaxed response to COVID-19, describing it as more of a failure than a panacea. Still, I conceded, “the final judgement on Sweden’s unorthodox approach cannot be rendered until the crisis moves into the history books,” even if the actions of Swedish authorities “may ultimately be viewed by future generations of Swedes as a shameful chapter in the country’s history.”

I was wrong. We won’t have to wait until the end of the pandemic to know that Sweden’s strategy was a preventable disaster. And I suspect it won’t take generations for Swedes to demand a reckoning over what went so horrifically wrong. ...

Rocket startup Astra reaches space for the first time with second launch attempt from Alaska

Michael Sheetz

San Francisco-area startup Astra became the latest U.S. rocket builder to reach space on Tuesday, with the successful launch of its Rocket 3.2 vehicle from Kodiak, Alaska.

Astra shared images captured by the rocket at the edge of space.

The rocket came just shy of reaching orbit, with Astra CEO Chris Kemp telling reporters after the launch that the vehicle reached the target altitude of 390 kilometers but was “just a half a kilometer per second short” of the target orbital velocity.
“This far exceeded our team’s expectations,” Kemp said.

Rocket 3.2 launches from Kodiak, Alaska.

San Francisco-area startup Astra became the latest U.S. rocket builder to reach space on Tuesday, with the successful launch of its Rocket 3.2 vehicle from Kodiak, Alaska.

The rocket came just shy of reaching orbit, with Astra CEO Chris Kemp telling reporters after the launch that the vehicle reached the target altitude of 390 kilometers but was “just a half a kilometer per second short” of the target orbital velocity.

“This far exceeded our team’s expectations,” Kemp said.

Astra shared images captured by the rocket at the edge of space. The rocket did not carry any satellites or other payloads, as the launch was a demonstration mission.

Election Security 2020

by Adam Segal, Connor Fairman, Lauren Dudley, and Maya Villasenor

In the weeks leading up to the 2020 presidential election, the U.S. government and technology companies took several steps to safeguard election security in cyberspace, focusing their efforts on disinformation and cyberattacks. Although there were a handful of incidents, none compromised the integrity of the election, and Election Day passed without any major disruption. As one official from the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) put it, Election Day was “just another Tuesday on the internet.” Why did things go right this time? A combination of government and private sector action motivated by the lessons of the 2016 and 2018 elections. Still, as the vote count continues, disinformation remains a real threat.

In early October, the Department of Justice (DOJ) seized ninety-two domain names masquerading as news outlets that Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps had been using to distribute propaganda in the United States, Western Europe, the Middle East, and Southeast Asia. Days later, following U.S. Cyber Command strikes against the Russian botnet Trickbot, a U.S. district court in Virginia issued an order allowing Microsoft to seize servers enlisted in the botnet due to concerns that Trickbot could threaten computers used to report on election results and maintain voter registration records.

Suspected Russian Hackers Target Frail U.S. Supply Chain

By Jordan Robertson and William Turton

For years, U.S. officials have warned about the dangers of cyber-attacks involving the electronics supply chain. This week’s revelation that a growing number of federal agencies were breached in a widespread attack by suspected Russian hackers shows how little they have followed their own advice.

Last year, for instance, the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, known as CISA, reported that federal agencies faced about 180 different threats from the digital supply chain, the hardware and software that goes into making up a computer network. CISA’s parent, the Department of Homeland Security, was among those agencies breached in the recent attack.

The attack involved code embedded in updates for widely used network-management software made by SolarWinds Corp., which provides administrators with tools to manage and update their computer networks. That has brought new superlatives to the discussion of supply-chain security. Lawmakers who received a classified briefing on the attack indicate that it is among the most serious in recent years. Senator Richard Blumenthal, the Connecticut Democrat, said in a tweet Tuesday that the briefing left him “deeply alarmed, in fact downright scared.” Dick Durbin, the Senate’s second highest-ranking Democrat, said on CNN Wednesday that the hack was “virtually a declaration of war.”

Despite those public pronouncements, a blistering report by a government watchdog that was completed in October and released Tuesday shows that the risks that led to these intrusions are far from new, and that U.S. agencies have failed for years to implement recommended safeguards for their information technology supply chains.

President Trump’s Legacy on Cyberspace Policy

by David P. Fidler

The apparent election of Joe Biden as the forty-sixth president signals the need to begin probing the cyberspace policy legacy of the administration of President Donald J. Trump. President Trump and his administration adopted policies and behaved in ways that will affect how President-Elect Biden starts to formulate and implement his cyber policies. Overall, President Trump’s legacy is decidedly mixed. His administration confronted China on technology issues, embraced forward-leaning military cyber operations, and moved towards regulating the domestic technology industry. However, President Trump weakened democracy through disinformation, and his administration did not make progress on persistent problems, including cybercrime.

President Trump entered office after an election darkened by foreign cyber interference and in a global context of declining internet freedom. With democracy under threat in cyberspace, the Trump administration confronted an unprecedented challenge. The administration’s response constitutes a disturbing legacy.

Battle Force 2045: What It Is And Why It Matters for the U.S. Navy

Brent Sadler

After a flurry of tantalizing but incomplete public announcements throughout October, the much-delayed future force plan for the U.S. Navy known as Battle Force 2045 is no longer missing in action. Its prolonged absence, though, will not be without consequence.

In the meantime, as maritime competition with China and Russia sharpens and COVID-19 costs drag on the economy, some have begun calling to cut defense by as much as 10 percent. Such cuts are ill-advised, given the Army and Marine Corps are still shifting from 20 years of counter-insurgency operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the Navy will need years to recover its fleet’s readiness after prolonged overwork and under-resourcing.

Without Battle Force 2045’s shipbuilding plan—formally known as the Future Naval Force Study (FNFS)—Congress had no guide to prioritize nor judge its budgetary decisions weighed against building the Navy the nation needs in the current budget proposal—NDAA 2021.

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That said, before making major defense budget shifts, better—as former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Elbridge Colby recently argued—to first decide what the nation needs the Navy to achieve. FNFS hints that this was done, and is included in a forthcoming Tri-Service Maritime Strategy. That said, since at least 2015 there has been consensus, reflected in the widely accepted 2018 National Defense Strategy, that our military must compete in peacetime, deter aggression, and win in war.