8 January 2021

US Ambassador to India Confirms His Country’s Role in Ladakh Standoff

By Abhijnan Rej

The outgoing U.S. ambassador to India, Kenneth Juster, has confirmed that his country has been involved in the ongoing China-India standoff in Ladakh. Speaking at a virtual New Delhi think tank event on January 5, Juster noted: “Simply put, no other country does as much to contribute to the security of Indians and India.” “Our close coordination has been important as India confronts, perhaps on a sustained basis, aggressive Chinese activity on its border,” he added.

When asked to expand on this remark, the ambassador declined to provide details of what that “close coordination” has concretely entailed, passing the onus of such disclosure to the Indian government. “I appreciate the question and the interest in the internal discussions on China, but it’s not really something I’m at liberty to get into here. If the government of India wants to comment on that, that’s for the government of India. Suffice it to say that we have cooperated,” The Hindu quoted Juster as saying.

While the fact that the United States has provided intelligence support to India during the Ladakh standoff is something of an open secret in New Delhi’s strategic circles, Juster’s public remarks provide the first on-record confirmation of the fact. While previous news reports noted U.S. intelligence support during the China-India standoff in Doklam in 2017, they were based on anonymous sources.

Reacting to Juster’s comments, the Chinese ambassador to India, Sun Weidong, tweeted on January 6: “We have noticed recent remarks with reference to #China by the #US side. We firmly oppose any third party meddling in #China-#India border issue and hope the #US relations with others not target any specific country.”

An ‘Orchard of Bad Apples’ Weighs on New Afghan Peace Talks

By Kathy Gannon

Afghan negotiators are to resume talks with the Taliban on Tuesday aimed at finding an end to decades of relentless conflict even as hopes wane and frustration and fear grow over a spike in violence across Afghanistan that has combatants on both sides blaming the other.

Torek Farhadi, a former Afghan government advisor, said the government and the Taliban are “two warring minorities,” with the Afghan people caught in between — “one says they represent the republic, the other says we want to end foreign occupation and corruption. But the war is (only) about power.”

The stop-and-go talks come amid growing doubt over a U.S.-Taliban peace deal brokered by outgoing President Donald Trump. An accelerated withdrawal of U.S. troops ordered by Trump means just 2,500 American soldiers will still be in Afghanistan when President-elect Joe Biden takes office this month.

Biden has advocated keeping a small intelligence-based presence in Afghanistan, but Taliban leaders have flatly rejected any foreign troops. Officials familiar with the U.S.-Taliban peace deal say there is no wiggle room that would allow even a small number of foreign troops to remain.

Protest and Purdah in Pakistan


PESHAWAR, PAKISTAN—Khwazhamina Wazir—or aday (Pashto for mother), as everyone calls her—is over 80. As you pull up to her home in Dera Ismail Khan, a tired, dusty city located approximately 190 miles from Peshawar, in November 2019 peals of laughter, the bleating of goats, and the sound of children playing in the afternoon sun break the silence. Inside the dwelling, made up of six ramshackle rooms built around a small courtyard, men are nowhere to be found; the ones in her family are either dead, in prison, or missing.

Wazir sat on a rickety charpai bed in the courtyard, her grandchildren and great-grandchildren surrounding her. The eldest was 18, a girl who said she wanted to move to Peshawar to study medicine. The youngest, a 1-year-old boy, was the son of one of Wazir’s sons, Ali Wazir, a member of parliament who had recently been released from prison, where he was serving a sentence for his alleged involvement in an attack on a military checkpoint in May 2019.

When Khwazhamina Wazir walks, she has a slight limp, and her shoulders slouch. But that didn’t stop her from standing strong behind a wood lectern the year before, at a rally for the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM), also known as the Pashtun Protection Movement, in Bannu, a small city in Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, bordering Afghanistan. On that day, before a sea of cheering men, she steadied herself with both her hands and told the crowd what she had lost over the years.

A Critical Lesson for Tajikistan: The Plight of Migrant Workers in 2020

By Khiradmand Sheraliev

The coronavirus pandemic, beyond causing a dramatic loss of life around the world, triggered lockdowns and border closures that dealt serious damage to the global economy, leaving millions without work. Developing and emerging economies, like Tajikistan, tend to be poorer and unable to meet the needs of their populations and the pandemic exacerbated existing weaknesses. As such, 2020 was perhaps the most challenging year for Tajikistan since the country’s civil war in 1992-1997. In Tajikistan, it’s important to look to the plight of migrant workers in 2020 if any lessons are to be learned from the devastating year 2020. 

Tajikistan is one of the most remittance-dependent countries in the world and Russia is a top destination for Tajik migrant workers. Tajik migrant workers have been unable to travel to Russia since March 2020 due to a travel ban that largely remains in place. Therefore, throughout 2020 many remained in Tajikistan unemployed, as the labor market in the country is weak and cannot provide everyone with jobs, even in better economic times. In addition, thousands of Tajik labor migrants who were working in Russia at the beginning of the spring season, at the beginning of the pandemic, lost their jobs as a result of lockdowns. Following the pandemic, large Russian cities locked down and imposed quarantines, which eventually led to a reduction of activities in certain sectors of the economy. These sectors included trade, services, transportation, and construction in which many migrant workers were employed. Consequently, Tajik labor migrants were among the first victims of the COVID-19 crisis in 2020 and experienced some of the most painful shocks of the year.

How Damaging Was 2020 to Central Asia’s Economies?

By Catherine Putz

It’s no surprise that the World Bank’s latest economic prospects update forecasts a “subdued” recovery as the world staggers out of 2020. It’s too early to truly tell whether the coronavirus pandemic is anywhere near over, vaccines aside, given the more virulent new strain that emerged in the U.K. late last year. But a regular stock-taking of the global economic situation is a helpful, if momentarily so, barometer.

The World Bank expects global economic output to expand 4 percent in 2021, “but still remain more than 5 percent below its pre-pandemic trend.” For emerging market and developing economies (EMDEs), the World Bank forecasts growth at a 5 percent rate in 2021, but with output far below pre-pandemic outlooks. Critically, “The pandemic is likely to steepen the long-expected slowdown in potential growth over the next decade, undermining prospects for poverty reduction.”

As for 2020, the World Bank estimates a global contraction of 4.3 percent; the contraction in EMDEs was less sharp, at 2.6 percent. But if China is excluded from the EMDE group, which one can argue it should be, the contraction was 5 percent among emerging market and developing economies.

Trump, China, and Foreign Policy as Theater

By Abhijnan Rej

President Donald J. Trump joins Xi Jinping, President of the People’s Republic of China, at the start of their bilateral meeting Saturday, June 29, 2019, at the G20 Japan Summit in Osaka, Japan.Credit: Flickr/The White House

I would have normally prefaced a piece on muscular foreign policy pronouncements from a lame duck administration days away from stepping down with the famous Dylan Thomas lines – “Do not go gentle into the good night… Rage, rage against the dying of the light” – had said administration not been U.S. President Donald Trump’s. Even as Trump himself bends every known political norm known in the United States to the breaking point to hold on to power, despite unambiguous defeat in the November elections, his policy team continues to tilt at Chinese windmills.

The latest installment in the sad saga that is the Trump administration’s China policy near its end – recently described as a “driverless clown car careening into a ditch” by the Sinocism newsletter writer Bill Bishop – is a January 4 Newsweek op-ed co-authored by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Marshall Billingslea, the special presidential envoy for arms control. The piece is titled, with characteristic moderation, “China’s Nuclear Madness.” (Other similar recent hits include a China strategy document released in November, again with due consideration to not overstating one’s case, titled “The Elements of the China Challenge.” Commenting on the document’ authors – the State Department’s Policy Planning Staff – in Foreign Policy, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace senior fellow and former U.S. diplomat Daniel Baer wrote “From the outset, a reader is wont to marvel at their apparent lack of a sense of irony.”)

Is China the 21st Century’s Great ‘Going Concern’?

By Francis P. Sempa

China’s rise to global power in the 21st century is attributable to several factors, but perhaps the most important is that China for the past decade or more has been the world’s greatest “Going Concern.” What that means was best explained in 1919 by the British geopolitical theorist Sir Halford Mackinder in his timeless book “Democratic Ideals and Reality.”

Students and scholars of Mackinder sometimes focus too narrowly on the geographical aspects of his ideas and concepts. Contrary to some of his critics, Mackinder was not a geographical determinist. In his famous 1904 “pivot” paper, Mackinder wrote that the global balance of power was the product of “geographical conditions, both economic and strategic, and … the relative number, virility, equipment, and organization of the competing peoples.” Favorable geography was important, but by itself insufficient, to achieve global power. The other necessary ingredient was “social momentum” or what he also called the “Going Concern.”

It is no accident that Mackinder began “Democratic Ideals and Reality” by discussing the concept of “social momentum” or the “Going Concern.” This concept encompasses economic growth, sufficient population, and social/political organization, with organization being the most critical factor. Mackinder compared the structure of society to a “running machine.” It is that “running machine” that enables man to exercise greater control over nature and that produces “social momentum.” Social momentum produces scientific and technological advances, but society’s overall productivity and political stability depend upon the proper organization of those scientific and technological advances and the populace as a whole.

China’s Africa Diplomacy Starts 2021 on a High Note

By Shannon Tiezzi

For the past 30 years, China has kept up a tradition of sending its foreign minister to Africa for his first trip of the new year. Despite the complications of the pandemic, which has curtailed many overseas trips for diplomats around the world, this is one tradition China is keeping. On January 4, Foreign Minister Wang Yi departed for a five-country tour that will take him to Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Botswana, Tanzania, and the Seychelles.

“During this visit, State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi will hold in-depth exchange and coordination with African countries, promote implementation of the important consensus reached by President Xi Jinping and African leaders and the outcomes of the FOCAC Beijing Summit and the Extraordinary China-Africa Summit on Solidarity against COVID-19, support African countries in combating the virus and achieving economic recovery, advance BRI cooperation, and build a closer China-Africa community with a shared future,” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said in a press briefing on January 4.

The COVID-19 pandemic – including disease prevention, treatment, and vaccine distribution – and the associated economic devastation has, unsurprisingly, become the primary focus of China-Africa cooperation over the past year. As Hua referenced in her statement above, Chinese President Xi Jinping held a virtual summit with 13 African leaders, as well as the chair of the African Union Commission, focused on COVID-19 in June 2020.

Mekong Levels Reportedly Plummet Due to Chinese Dam Activity

By Sebastian Strangio

The Mekong River at Chiang Khong district, Thailand.Credit: Pianporn Deetes

Water levels on the Mekong River have fallen due to the filling of a Chinese dam on the upper reaches of the river in Yunnan province, according to locals and river monitors.

The fall was reported on January 4, when locals in the Thai port town of Chiang Saen, close to the Golden Triangle confluence with Laos and Myanmar, started sharing photos on social media showing a sudden and unexpected drop in the water level along the river.

The drop was quickly confirmed by the recently-launched Mekong Dam Monitor, which employs remote sensing and data from satellites to track water levels along mainland Southeast Asia’s great river.

The Mekong Dam Monitor, which is operated by the Washington-based Stimson Center and the American research firm Eyes on Earth, and is part-funded by the U.S. State Department, was officially launched on December 15.

Third Chinese Aircraft Carrier Nears Completion Amid Shipyard Expansion

By Steven Stashwick

A J-15 fighter jet sits on the flight deck of the aircraft carrier Liaoning.Credit: Flickr/rhk111

A major Shanghai shipyard is being significantly expanded amid news that work has begun there on China’s fourth aircraft carrier.

The South China Morning Post (SCMP) reports that the Jiangnan shipyard is beginning a three-year expansion that will include a new ship design and research center, additional workshops, fabrication facilities, quays, and other shipbuilding infrastructure. Some of the new shipyard will support the yard’s commercial vessel work but much appears to be focused on the aircraft carrier building program of the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN).

China’s first aircraft carrier, the Type 001 Liaoning, was rebuilt on a gutted, unfinished Ukrainian aircraft carrier hull and might be considered a modernized variant of the Soviet Kuznetsov-class carrier. China built an improved version of the Liaoning, designated the Type 001A, which it named the Shandong.

PLAN’s third and fourth carriers will be an entirely new design called the Type 002. They are expected to be much larger than the Liaoning and Shandong, and unlike those ships, which use ramps to assist planes in take-off, are reported to feature electromagnetic catapults.

China Is an Economic Bully—and Weaker Than It Looks


For decades, the United States imposed punishing economic sanctions on Sudan, Iraq, and other states it branded as rogue. Outside of military invasion, trade, financial, and diplomatic sanctions became the primary tools for America and its allies to coerce foreign leaders “
to start behaving differently” and disarm weapons programs, end support to international terrorist groups, and cease widespread human-rights abuses. 

Now China wants advanced democracies around the world to behave differently, too. In 2017, Beijing blocked Chinese tourists from visiting South Korean island getaways after Seoul deployed an American missile defense system. Two years later, it placed trade restrictions on Canada’s agriculture exports to protest the Canadian arrest of a high-profile Chinese executive. After Australia called for an international investigation in the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic last year, Beijing responded with a barrage of tariffs and restrictions on its exports. More and more, Beijing is doling out its own punishment on countries that cross its political redlines. The West is learning what it is like to be on the receiving end of economic coercion.

In the face of billions of losses from China’s trade measures, some may see the value in meeting Beijing’s demands to stay quiet on its affairs in Xinjiang, Taiwan, and Hong Kong and stop blocking Chinese foreign investment deals in critical infrastructure. But rather than accept a future under China’s thumb, there are ways to survive and even put a stop to Chinese coercive diplomacy.

With Ship Seizure, South Korea Again Stuck Between the US and Iran

By Kyle Ferrier

On January 4 Iran’s armed forces seized the South Korean oil tanker MT Hankuk Chemi in the Persian Gulf, citing environmental and chemical pollution by the ship. With little evidence so far to back up these claims, many experts have already concluded that the incident is meant to pressure Seoul to grant Tehran access to $7 billion held by two South Korean banks that are effectively immobilized as a result of U.S. sanctions. If true, this would only be the latest addition to the price South Korea has had to pay for U.S. President Donald Trump’s reversal on the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

Negotiated in 2015, the JCPOA is a multilateral agreement in which Iran agreed to dismantle most of its nuclear program in exchange for multilateral sanctions relief from the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council and Germany. In 2016, the year the deal was first implemented, Iranian GDP grew by over 13 percent, mostly driven by exports from the country’s lucrative oil and gas industry. By the end of 2017, Iran was producing around 3.8 million barrels of crude oil per day, up from just over 3 million barrels at the start of 2016.

However, in May 2018 Trump announced the U.S. exit from the deal, claiming that the JCPOA still allowed Iran to build a nuclear weapons program over time,. The reimposition of sanctions on Iran as well as secondary sanctions on countries found trading with Iran effective November that year – though temporary exemptions were carved out for major oil importers through May 1, 2019 – brought the boon to an abrupt end. As a result, in 2018 Iranian GDP contracted by 6 percent before falling by another 6.7 percent in 2019 alongside a corresponding drop in oil exports.

Why an Iran Attack Could Be Biden’s ‘Hour One’ Crisis


Michael Knights is a Senior Fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. He has worked on Iraq since the 1990s and made multiple trips to Iraq each year since 2003, embedding with Iraqi security forces and interviewing local and national leaders.

On January 3, Iran’s leadership will mourn the one-year anniversary of the U.S. airstrike that killed Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps General Qassem Soleimani and Iran’s senior Iraqi militia commander Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis. And the world seems preoccupied with the possibility of imminent armed conflict in the Middle East as Iraqi militias sponsored by Iran ramp up both rocket attacks on U.S. sites and roadside bombings of convoys, and the U.S. flies B-52 bombers and positions the Navy’s hardest-hitting strike forces to the Gulf.

A number of observers have speculated that a violent clash with Iran would be President Donald Trump’s final and most destabilizing act in office. But there is every possibility that revenge for Soleimani and Muhandis might be the first crisis of the Biden administration instead.

The evidence for a post-January 20 confrontation has been accumulating for some weeks. Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei cautioned on December 16 that Iran’s revenge would come “at its own time and place,” and thus not necessarily under Trump, who has pledged to strike back hard if Americans are harmed. Inside Iraq, the key Iranian-backed militia, Kataib Hezbollah, has warned against revenge attacks until Trump is gone, and even Mohammed al-Hashemi, an Iraqi government envoy sent to Iran, was quoted in Lebanon’s Al-Akhbar newspaper as beseeching Tehran to maintain calm “until the Biden administration takes over the presidency from Trump.”

The Age of Hypersonic Warfare is Almost Here

by Kris Osborn

Here's What You Need to Remember: Hypersonic autonomy would also bring new dimensions to high-speed attack, as it would introduce a measure of flight precision far beyond what’s known as waypoint kinds of GPS guidance. Projectiles or hypersonic missiles could not merely transit from one predetermined point to another but rather maneuver more freely to avoid defenses by synergizing sensor targeting with guidance systems. For instance, an autonomous hypersonic weapon or drone could discern, and then avoid, an interceptor weapon or air defense system.

Hypersonic attack drones will definitely exist, the question simply is when. The prospect of surveillance drones or armed unmanned systems catapulting through space at five times the speed of sound, is already on the radar at high levels at the Pentagon.

“You can think of autonomy and hypersonics being integrated in the way you fly vehicles and the things you might do with those vehicles,” Mike E. White, Assistant Director for Hypersonics, Office of The Undersecretary of Defense For Research and Engineering, told reporters according to a Pentagon transcript.

After all, successful attacking at hypersonic speeds will hinge upon fast-adapting, reliable guidance systems and ISR. Many newer kinds of sensors already bring an ability to help weapons course correct or change course in flight, and in future war it will be crucial to attack with the capability of doing this at hypersonic speeds.

Any kind of hypersonics-autonomy blend introduces questions about ISR and high-speed sensing, something White described as “command and control elements and the front end of the kill chain elements for targeting hypersonic strike weapons.”

Mission Failure: How the U.S. Capitol was Stormed

by Dov S. Zakheim

Units of the 173rd Airborne Brigade can deploy anywhere in the world on eighteen hours’ notice. So too can one of the brigades of the 82nd Airborne Division. But the DC National Guard, which certainly had at least eighteen hours notice that trouble was brewing in the Capitol, tarried for hours while rioters egged on by the president of the United States besieged the seat of America’s legislature, breaking windows and climbing through them to wander around the building at will. Washington had not witnessed such a violent assault on its federal institutions since 1814, when the British set fire to the building during the War of 1812.

Unlike the state National Guards, who take their orders from their respective governors, the DC National Guard is under the command and control of the Office of the Secretary of Defense. The policymakers in that office are a group of recently appointed “acting” officials, Trump flunkies all. Acting Secretary Christopher Miller and his minions not only did not move to mobilize the Guard in the absence of an explicit order from the White House. They apparently were not prepared even to suggest that the Guard be deployed in anticipation of the trouble that ultimately materialized in a manner no one, with the possible exception of Donald Trump, could possibly have anticipated.

Indeed, it has been reported that when DC Mayor Muriel Bowser requested that the Guard be mobilized to protect against what she sensed would be rioting and even bloodshed—indeed, a woman was shot on the Capitol grounds and has since died—the Pentagon turned her down. Its response was rather different from the haste with which it ordered National Guard units both to protect the Capitol from Black Lives Matter protesters and to deploy to environs of Lafayette Park in order to confront protesters and to make way for the president’s ludicrous photo-op in front of St. John’s Church.

Air University Press

Air & Space Power Journal, Winter 2020, v. 34, no. 4

Achieving Convergence in the Information Environment: Revising the Air Component Structure

Command and Control Operations in the Information Environment: Leading with Information in Operational Planning, Execution, and Assessment

Restructuring Information Warfare in the United States: Tuning Our Instruments to Overcome Barriers to Battlefield Harmony

Empowering the Information Warrior: Unlocking the Latent Value of This Strategic Asset 

Not All Wars are Violent: Identifying Faulty Assumptions for the Information War

The Spectrum of Cyber Attack

Information Warfare and Joint All-Domain Operations: A Primer for Integrating and Prioritizing Data Requirements

Journal of Military Conflict Transformation, September 2020, v. 1, no. 2 https://www.airuniversity.af.edu/Portals/10/AFNC/documents/jmct/web_jmct_vol1no2_sept2020.pdf

Transformational Negotiation: Establishing a Novel Approach to Workplace Conflict

Engaged Leadership – Why Leaders Should Practice Self Reflection

Transformational Negotiation in Workplace Change Initiatives

The Active Duty to Civilian Reintegration Dilemma: A Case Study on Veteran Reintegration

Dispute and Conflict Transformation Basics

Joint Task Force Katrina

Negotiating Advanced Cyber Capabilities

The Worrying Geopolitical Implications of Australia’s Antarctic Airport Plan

By Grant Wyeth

The Australian government has put a highly unusual project out for competitive tender. The proposed project would be the construction of a 2.7 kilometer paved runway — and associated infrastructure — at the Vestfold Hills in Princess Elizabeth Land, Antarctica, with the aim of servicing Australia’s three permanent scientific research stations on the continent. The proposed runway would be designed to accommodate large aircraft capable of making the six hour flight from Australia, forming the central component to Canberra’s 2016 Antarctic Strategy and 20 Year Action Plan. However, the project remains controversial due to both its potential environmental impact on the region, as well as major geopolitical concerns. 

Presently, flights from Australia to Antarctica are only able to take place at the beginning and end of summer due to inaccessible weather conditions the rest of the year. At those times aircraft land on a glacial runway near the Casey research station and smaller aircraft are then able to shuttle scientists to Davis and Mawson stations. All three of these stations are inaccessible by both air and ship in winter. Australia is seeking to change this equation by creating the infrastructure necessary to provide year-round access between the city of Hobart in Tasmania and Davis station. This would be a significant enhancement of Australia’s capabilities in Antarctica. 

The Double-Edged Sword of Oil, Energy and Mining in International Politics

Despite concerns over the environmental impact of industrial mining and the contribution that fossil fuels make to global warming, resource extraction continues to be a major source of revenue for both developing countries and wealthier nations alike. In fact, the amount of resources being pulled from the earth has tripled since 1970, though the global population has only doubled in that time.

Despite global efforts to reduce carbon emissions as part of climate change diplomacy, fossil fuels remain among the most prized extractives, for a simple reason: Global demand combined with the wealth they generate have historically given some countries, including members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, outsized global influence.

The lucrative contracts associated with the extractive sector help to explain why resource extraction remains central to many developing countries’ strategy to grow their economies. But the windfalls don’t come without risks, most prominent among them being the “resource curse” that can plague countries that fail to diversify their economies to generate alternate sources of revenue. Corruption can also thrive, especially when government institutions are weak. When the wealth generated from resource extraction isn’t fairly distributed, it can entrench a permanent elite, as in Saudi Arabia, or fuel persistent conflicts, as in the Democratic Republic of Congo. And the environmental damage caused by the extractive industries has decimated local communities and driven social protest movements around the world.

Right-Wing Extremists Storm US Capitol


Hundreds of Donald Trump supporters breached security measures and entered the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday, forcing law-enforcement personnel to evacuate members of Congress gathered to certify the president’s electoral defeat.

Several hours after the mob broke windows and entered the Capitol, the White House announced that President Trump had activated the D.C. National Guard to respond to the unfolding chaos inside the building, where at least one person was shot. Although Trump tweeted during the afternoon that the rioters should “Stay peaceful!” and urged them to “go home in peace,” he also praised them as “special” and continued to falsely claim that the election had been “stolen.” 

At 6 p.m., when a curfew ordered by D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser took effect, the president appeared unrepentant in the face of a hailstorm of criticism that he had incited mob violence.

“These are the things and events that happen when a sacred landslide election victory is so unceremoniously & viciously stripped away from great patriots who have been badly & unfairly treated for so long,” he tweeted. “Go home with love & in peace. Remember this day forever!

By 7 p.m., Guardsmen had arrived on the Capitol grounds and police officials declared the building secure. Lawmakers began to return to the chamber to finish certifying the electoral college vote. Still, the task of clearing the Capitol complex of rioters is likely to prove a painstaking one. The complex is a massive and labyrinthine set of buildings with lots of nooks and crannies in which an enterprising person could hide. 

Russia ‘Likely’ Behind SolarWinds Hack, Cyber Response Agencies Sa


Federal agencies leading the response to a massive breach of public and private-sector entities across the globe said the events appear to be part of a still-active intelligence collection campaign connected to Russia. 

Following reports of unauthorized access at the cybersecurity firm FireEye, the Commerce Department, and others by a sophisticated actor, the National Security Council established the Cyber Unified Coordination Group, or UCG. It pulled together the FBI, the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, with support from the National Security Agency, on behalf of the president, according to a press release the group issued Tuesday. 

“This work indicates that an Advanced Persistent Threat actor, likely Russian in origin, is responsible for most or all of the recently discovered, ongoing cyber compromises of both government and non-governmental networks,” the agencies said. “At this time, we believe this was, and continues to be, an intelligence gathering effort.” 

President Donald Trump previously expressed doubt about Russian involvement in the hack and suggested China might be behind the operation, while Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Attorney General William Barr publicly connected the incident to Russia.

As the lead agency for threat response, the FBI is analyzing evidence toward further attribution, the group said.

Readout of U.S.-Maldives Inaugural Defense and Security Dialogue

The U.S. Department of Defense and the Ministry of Defense of the Maldives held their inaugural Defense and Security Dialogue January 5 in Male, Maldives. Mr. Anthony Tata, performing the duties of under secretary of defense for policy, co-chaired the meeting alongside Maldivian Minster of Defense Mariya Didi. 

The DoD and the Maldivian MoD agreed on concrete steps to operationalize the Security and Defense Relationship Framework signed in September 2020, with a focus on four areas: exercises, logistics, information sharing and professional military education. Both sides reaffirmed their shared commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific region and agreed on activities in 2021 that will advance shared priorities such as maritime security, counterterrorism, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief. 

The DoD commended the Maldives’ success in rapidly mobilizing and responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, and both sides agreed to evaluate further cooperation opportunities in the area of COVID-19 vaccine distribution. 

The DoD and Maldivian MoD affirmed the importance of the dialogue and look forward to holding the next Defense and Security Dialogue in 2022.

The Autonomous-Car Chaos of the 2004 Darpa Grand Challenge

by Alex Davies.

WHEN THE INQUISITION required him to drop his study of what the Roman Catholic Church insisted was not a heliocentric solar system, Galileo Galilei turned his energy to the less controversial question of how to stick a telescope onto a helmet. The king of Spain had offered a hefty reward to anyone who could solve the stubborn mystery of how to determine a ship’s longitude while at sea: 6,000 ducats up front and another 2,000 per year for life. Galileo thought his headgear, with the telescope fixed over one eye and making its wearer look like a misaligned unicorn, would net him the reward.

Determining latitude is easy for any sailor who can pick out the North Star, but finding longitude escaped the citizens of the 17th century, because it required a precise knowledge of time. That’s based on a simple principle: Say you set your clock before sailing west from Greenwich. Say when the sun hits its apex, the clock reads five hours past noon. Because you know the earth rotates 15 degrees per hour—completing the 360 in 24 hours—you know you’re 75 degrees west of London. Easy peasy. That only works, though, if you have a clock that can keep accurate time, which nobody sailing the high seas then did. Clocks were complex mechanical devices, ill-suited to sea voyages. The rolling oceans messed with the pendulums that kept time on land. Salt air messed with everything. So explorers increasingly interested in crossing the oceans had a dangerously limited understanding of where they were.

The US Needs More Foreign Artificial Intelligence Know-How

DURING PRESIDENT OBAMA’S two terms in the White House, Jason Furman was a top economic policy adviser and a key voice on the growing importance of artificial intelligence.

Furman served as deputy director of the National Economic Council before becoming chair of the Council of Economic Advisers. He also coauthored a report issued by the Obama administration in October 2016 that detailed the economic importance of AI to the US.

Furman, who is now a professor of the practice of economic policy at Harvard, spoke to WIRED senior writer Will Knight. This transcript has been edited for length and clarity.

WIRED: The report produced under President Obama, Preparing for the Future of Artificial Intelligence, emphasized the importance of AI to the US economy. What’s the first thing the Biden administration should do to demonstrate this?

Jason Furman: Far and away the most important AI policy change should be immigration policy. That has been a disaster for the last four years, and I hope that gets much better over the next four years.

AI is invented by humans, and if you look at the top AI engineers, they are spread all over the world. Attracting them to this country is so important.

The US has certainly lost its allure for some tech students and workers. Are there specific immigration policies you’d like to see changed?

What AI Can and Cannot Do for the Intelligence Community


A seasoned intelligence professional can be forgiven for raising her eyebrows about artificial intelligence, a nascent and booming field in which it can be hard to sort real potential from hype. Addressing that raised eyebrow — and helping senior leaders understand how to invest precious time and money — will take more than vague generalities and myopic case studies. We therefore offer a hypothesis for debate: AI, specifically machine learning, can help with tasks related to collection, processing, and analysis — half of the Steps in the Intelligence Cycle — but will struggle with tasks related to intelligence planning, dissemination, and evaluation.

When we talk about AI’s prospective value in intelligence work, we are generally talking about the specific field of deep learning, a term that refers to multi-layer neural network machine learning techniques. Deep learning tools have made tremendous progress in fields such as image recognition, speech recognition, and language translation. But there are limits to its abilities. 

Deep learning excels at “tasks that consist of mapping an input vector to an output vector and that are easy for a person to do rapidly,” wrote three of the field’s leading lights — Apple’s Ian Goodfellow and University of Montreal professors Yoshua Bengio and Aaron Courville — in their 2016 textbook Deep Learning. “Other tasks, that cannot be described as associating one vector to another, or that are difficult enough that a person would require time to think and reflect in order to accomplish the task, remain beyond the scope of deep learning for now.”

Infographic Of The Day: The Best And Worst Performing Sectors Of 2020

Today's infographic uses an augmented screenshot of the FinViz treemap, showing the final numbers posted for major U.S.-listed companies, sorted by sector and industry. As you can see, the best and worst performing sectors generally fall into two categories: those that benefitted from COVID-19, and those that didn't.