3 March 2021

Border Disputes Threaten Climate Science in the Himalayas

Perched on a mountaintop in northern India, the Aryabhatta Research Institute of Observational Sciences (ARIES) has been monitoring the Earth and skies for about 15 years. The air here at the foothills of the Himalayas is especially pristine, thanks to the absence of human industry. Paradoxically, this makes the institute especially well suited for research into air pollution.

Just below the mountains, pollutants aggregate from far and wide, brought in by strong winds and yearly monsoons. The mountain peaks act like chimneys, through which a small amount of air rises up from the plains, carrying the pollutants to higher altitudes, where scientists can easily detect them against an otherwise clean background.

“That is the beauty of this place,” says Manish Naja, an atmospheric scientist at ARIES. Inside his high-altitude laboratory sits a cacophony of buzzing instruments. A tube from outdoors takes in for analysis mountain air that may contain particles emitted from the burning of fossil fuels, wood, and cow dung. On this particular day, a printout from a machine that measures black carbon, called an aethalometer, is dotted with sooty spots—visual clues that scientists can use to help measure local pollution.

Stretching from Afghanistan to Myanmar, the Hindu Kush Himalayan region is a 2,000-mile long mountain range, home to the world’s highest peaks. Because of the region’s unique climactic conditions, these peaks are warming faster than the rest of the planet. Even if global temperatures rise on the lower end of climate projections, around 1.5 degrees Celsius, about one-third of the region’s glaciers will be gone by the end of the century. This, experts say, would be a disaster for the more than 1 billion people who depend upon the glaciers’ rivers for drinking, hydroelectric energy, grazing, and farming.

In Kolkata, Only a Few Lions Are Still Dancing


On the eve of the Lunar New Year, the streets are dotted with red and yellow lights. Large red banners hanging between the buildings read xinnian kuaile and gonghe xinxi (variations of “Happy New Year” in Mandarin). There is a buzz of excitement in the air. At 10 p.m., the loud beats of the wushu drums begin: thang, thang, thang. Four groups of lion dancers appear, parading up and down the streets as small children stare open-mouthed. One lion eats leaves of cilantro and then scatters the leaves all over the audience for good luck. Finally, the lions bow to a small shrine, indicating the show is over and the audience of barely a few hundred people can disperse. This scene would be an ordinary one in southern China. But this is not Chengdu or Guangzhou but Kolkata in eastern India.

When you think of Chinatowns, you think of San Francisco, Bangkok, or London. But Kolkata has been home to an Indian Chinese community since the 18th century. The Chinese community in Kolkata was once thriving, with some estimates pegging its high at 70,000 people. Most of them immigrated in the 19th and 20th centuries, when India was under British colonial rule, setting up community clubs in Kolkata to connect migrants with others from their original home provinces, like Shandong or Hubei, or from their ethnic groups, like the Hakka. At one point, there were even two Chinatowns in Kolkata: in Tangra, where the leather factories were located, and in Cheenapara, the old Chinatown, home to Chinese churches, shoemakers, and community clubs. Even today Kolkata has the highest concentration of Indian Chinese people in the country, though a few of them have moved to other Indian cities.

Understanding Power in Counterinsurgency: A Case Study of the Soviet-Afghanistan War

Marnix Middelburg

This content was originally written for an undergraduate or Master's program. It is published as part of our mission to showcase peer-leading papers written by students during their studies. This work can be used for background reading and research, but should not be cited as an expert source or used in place of scholarly articles/books.

Military interventions and counter-insurgency campaigns have proven to be a hard-to-tackle problem for powerful states in the 20th and 21st century. Military campaigns in Somalia (1992-1995), Yemen (2015-present), Afghanistan (1979-1989, 2001-present) and Vietnam (1965-1975) are harsh reminders for states that military superiority is no guarantee for a successful military campaign. Posen (2003) argues that insurgents have the capability to defy the balance-of-power vis-à-vis a more powerful actor due to their ‘home-court advantage’.[1] This entails that insurgents operate on their own territory, consequently providing them with an advantage in terms of knowledge of the terrain, popular support, and access to resources in comparison to a foreign military force.[2] What strategy allows states that are engaged in counter-insurgency (COIN) operations to counter this position of power? Practice shows that policy-makers seek to challenge the home-court advantage of insurgents with strategies that rely on the exercise of military power. Saudi-Arabia’s aggressive counter-insurgency operations against the Houthis in Yemen are evidence of this paradigm in strategic thinking.[3] The proposed approach of the USA under the Trump administration on the conflict in Afghanistan serves as another example, as the president stated that “[America] is not doing nation-building again … we are killing terrorists.”[4] Apparently, Trump believed that the best way to exercise American power was to rely on military superiority, which would be used to eliminate insurgents. It is a strategy that relies on the assumption that the USA will derive power from the exercise of violence. Other, more subtle concepts of power, are disregarded by stating that the USA will not participate in nation-building again. Are these kind of strategies doomed to fail, or the key to success? An answer to this can be found in the analysis of the military campaign of the Soviet-Union in Afghanistan between 1979-1989.

What Happened to the Afghan Peace Talks?

Grant Farr

The peace talks between the Afghan government and the Afghan Taliban were set to resume in Doha, Qatar on January 6, 2021. Yet, to date, the talks have not restarted, except for minor meetings of staff over issues of protocol. The failure to restart the talks is in part because both sides are waiting to see what the Biden administration is going to do, especially whether or not the United States will abide by the agreement the Trump administration struck with the Taliban in February of 2020. This agreement called, among other things, for the withdrawal of all United States troops from Afghanistan by May 2021. In the meantime, the violence in Afghanistan continues unabated, with the killing of politicians, journalists, peace workers, and university students. The government of Ashraf Ghani seems unable, or unwilling, to stop this carnage as his government faces increasing pressure to form an interim government. All of this is taking place while the Covid-19 virus continues to ravage this poor country.

What will Biden do?

It had been expected that the Biden administration would be slow getting around to Afghanistan, given so many other pressing issues in the world. However, Biden’s team has moved quickly. The first contact with the Afghan government came just two days after the presidential inauguration on January 22, 2021, when Biden’s National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan called his Afghan counterpart, Afghan National Security Advisor Hamdullah Mohib. According to the readout of the call, Sullivan indicated to Mohib that the United States intends to review the February agreement with the intent to assess whether or not the Taliban was living up to its side of the deal to cut ties with terrorist groups, especially al Qaeda, reducing violence and making progress on peace talks with the Afghan government (Afzal, 2021; Bezhan, 2021).

Chinese cyberspies targeted Tibetans with a malicious Firefox add-on

By Catalin Cimpanu

Chinese state-sponsored hackers have gone after Tibetan organizations across the world using a malicious Firefox add-on that was configured to steal Gmail and Firefox browser data and then download malware on infected systems.

Today's security threats have expanded in scope and seriousness. There can now be millions -- or even billions -- of dollars at risk when information security isn't handled properly.

The attacks, discovered by cybersecurity firm Proofpoint this month, have been linked to a group the company tracks under the codename of TA413.


UN Human Rights Council: As the US returns, it will have to deal with China and its friends

Ted Piccone

The Biden administration announced its intention to rejoin the U.N. Human Rights Council again. However, China and other countries are moving to rewrite the norms of the Council to undermine human rights. Ted Piccone explores how the U.S. can reengage and ensure that UNHRC does not fall prey to China's goal of gridlock. This article was originally posted on BTI Transformation Index.

As the Human Rights Council (HRC), the United Nations’ highest body for human rights, convenes this month for its first 2021 session, the perennial doubts resurface about its membership and effectiveness as a multilateral actor for upholding fundamental rights. Some recent developments, however, may merit a more serious look at the opportunities for reform as it marks its 15th anniversary.

For one, the United States has announced its intention to reengage immediately with the HRC as an active observer and to compete for a seat this fall after the Trump administration abandoned it in 2018. If past experience is a guide, this may help strengthen the cross-regional coalitions needed to address acute crises as well as to advance longer term reform. On the other hand, China is becoming more adept at flexing its muscle to undermine well-established norms and practices for monitoring and action, and bringing a widening circle of client states along with it.


Competition With China Shouldn’t Dictate U.S. Foreign Policy

Ali Wyne 

One of former President Donald Trump’s principal legacies was to elevate the attention that U.S. foreign policy accords to China. His administration argued that America’s erstwhile “engage but hedge” approach had failed and that it was time to take a tougher line. The results of his policies, though, suggest that adopting an overly China-centric U.S. foreign policy is mistaken.Listen to this article:

Pursuant to its more confrontational approach, the Trump administration imposed steep tariffs on Chinese exports and, having concluded that Beijing’s technological progress posed a particularly pressing threat to U.S. national security, took a number of steps to thwart the expansion of Chinese telecommunications giants, particularly Huawei. While those measures did set back the company’s global ambitions and limit China’s ability to import the semiconductor chips that are increasingly essential to contemporary innovation, Trump’s broader effort to slow Beijing’s resurgence did not succeed. Indeed, China is now more deeply embedded in the global economy than it was before the onset of the coronavirus pandemic.

China, UAE Forge New Deals; Joint R&D Plan & New Drone Sales


ABU DHABI: The UAE army plans to buy a bunch of new Chinese unmanned aerial vehicles, one official who wished not to be named told Breaking Defense at IDEX.

“The deals could include 10 to 15 Golden Eagle CR500 helo drones fitted with Red Arrow 12 missiles, and 20 MR40 unmanned aircraft fitted with BBE-2 bombs,” the official told me, adding that both deals will approximately cost $9 million and $7 million respectively.

The UAE is also set to receive “thousands of related missile systems”, he added, with the CR500 being able carry up to 150KG of payloads.

Back in November 2020, China North Industries Group Corporation Limited (NORINCO) announced its Golden Eagle CR500 vertical take-off and landing UAV had completed final inspections and been cleared for delivery to an undisclosed costumer.

The Significance of the Iran Hostage Crisis for International Dispute Settlement

Coline Ferrant

Demonstrations against Iran’s autocratic leader, ‘the shah’ Mohamed Reza Pahlavi, began in October 1977 – at that time, led by both secular and religious parties. The demonstrations gained intensity throughout 1978. The shah went into exile on January 17, 1979. On February 1, 1979, ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini returned to Iran and soon established an Islamic Republic. In the morning of November 4, 1979, Islamist students were reaching Tehran University to participate in a demonstration commemorating the students killed by the shah’s regime. They began to rally around the American embassy. Such gatherings were usual in the context of the Iranian Revolution: embassy attaché Lee Schatz recalls that ‘whenever there was a demonstration in Tehran, it was the norm for people to pass the embassy in groups’ (Wells, 1985, p. 37). Less predictable was the overrun of the embassy compound. The students managed to seize the building and held its 65 American employees as hostages. 13 were released on November 18, whereas 50 were detained at the embassy and 3 at the Foreign Ministry. There is evidence that after the botched American military rescue operation in April 1980, the hostages were separated and held in 14 different places throughout Iran. The Algiers Accords (January 19, 1981) eventually settled the crisis. All hostages were released the following day.

Political scientist David Patrick Houghton (2001) argues that the takeover of the American embassy ‘took almost everyone – in Tehran, Washington D.C. and even in the moderate Iranian government – by surprise’ (p. 50). The astonishment is enduring: scholars are far from reaching a consensus regarding the causes of the hostage-taking. Two main explanations are being discussed.

A first explanation posits that Khomeini used the hostages as a bargaining chip to force the U.S. to extradite the shah (hospitalized there) to return to Iran. Admittedly, this was one of the students’ voiced demands. But this explanation weakens in front of evidence that Khomeini denied negotiating with the Carter administration – something he would have done, arguably, if he had purported to bargain. On top of it, there was no extradition treaty between the U.S. and Iran: even if the U.S. had agreed so, extradition would have been legally infeasible.

In Iraq, Joe Biden Haunted by Obama's Foreign Policy Missteps


As President Joe Biden becomes the fourth consecutive U.S. president to assume the mantle of wartime leadership in the Middle East, his foreign policy decisions inevitably are viewed in relation to those of his predecessors—and none so much as those of the man to whom he once reported, former President Barack Obama.

In perhaps no country is this more clear than in Iraq, where U.S. troops remain, albeit in smaller numbers, despite Obama's announcement of a full withdrawal nearly a decade ago amid a collapse in discussions with the Iraqi government at the time.

Some observers point to this decision as a misstep that paved the way for the rise of the Islamic State militant group (ISIS). Others refute that theory, instead blaming domestic forces at work in Iraq. One thing is certain, however: The 46th president is aiming to assert his own unique strategy in an attempt to distance himself from past approaches.

Veteran U.S. diplomat James Jeffrey, who served as both Obama's ambassador to Iraq and former President Donald Trump's special envoy for Syria and the anti-ISIS coalition, laid out what he saw as differences in the mindset of Biden, whom he described as "more a mainstream late-20th century foreign policy moderate than Obama."

In some ways, he said, this involves a less compromising approach than that of his former boss, a number of whose deputies have joined the new administration in new roles.

"Biden doesn't nurse suspicion that the U.S. is responsible for or contribute to world security problems, but rather sees the U.S. as the remedy," Jeffrey told Newsweek, citing examples of Obama's diplomacy with Iran and Cuba.

Iran, Syria Stress Alliance as Joe Biden Launches Airstrikes


The foreign ministers of Iran and Syria spoke by phone on Thursday as President Joe Biden launched his first airstrike against Iranian-linked targets in Syria, discussing the alliance between Damascus and Tehran and options to expand economic cooperation.

Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarid and Syrian Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad spoke by phone, according to the state-run Syrian Arab News Agency.

Iran's state-run IRNA said the two ministers discussed "ways to foil plots hatched by certain Western states in the way of restoring security and stability in Syria," as well as the need for Western powers to respect "sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Arab country."

The call came as the Biden administration launched airstrikes against Iranian-linked militia groups in Syria; retaliation for a deadly rocket attack by an Iranian-backed group in Iraq earlier this month.

A Pentagon press release said the strikes destroyed "multiple facilities located at a border control point used by a number of Iranian-backed militant groups." Those included Kaitib Hezbollah and Kaitib Sayyid al-Shuhada, both of which are Iraqi groups and part of the umbrella Popular Mobilization Forces organization.

In the Middle East, War Is Going Digital


Given this year’s news cycle, you might already have forgotten that, this past December, news broke that Russia had conducted a major hack of U.S. intelligence agencies. Around the same time, a smaller story about government-led hacking in the Middle East came out. Saudi Arabia, it was alleged, was spying on journalists from Al Jazeera, the state-funded media network of its rival Qatar, using Israeli spyware. Both stories involved cyber-infiltration and data theft. But the stories had a more important commonality: No one seemed especially shocked by them.

The Gulf is rapidly becoming a laboratory for the ethics and practices of hybrid warfare. A new report (which one of us directed) from the Middle East and North Africa Forum at the University of Cambridge explores the drivers, and the direction, of the Gulf’s evolving strategy. With conflicting religious agendas and rival international backers, Saudi Arabia and Iran have spent almost 30 years locked in geopolitical struggle. Both have sought to build leverage over one another using methods short of war—backing regional proxies, amplifying the voices of the other’s political opposition groups, and, increasingly, using targeted cyberattacks. For both, cyberwarfare offers an ethical out—it kills less people than conventional war—but can cause great havoc and disruption.

Saudi Arabia and Iran have very different approaches to cyberwar. Saudi Arabia has chosen to outsource most of its cyberdevelopment, purchasing bespoke tools from private contractors in the United States, Israel, and the United Kingdom to conduct specific cyberoperations. Saudi Arabia has used legions of bots to bolster the kingdom’s image on social media at times of crisis, most recently for damage control after the murder of Jamal Khashoggi. At the same time, the kingdom has attempted to strengthen its cyberdefenses, in particular by creating a broad institutional infrastructure to handle cybersecurity. In 2017, this began with the launch of a National Cybersecurity Authority, a Saudi equivalent to U.S. Cyber Command under the direct authority of the King’s office, as well as the Saudi Federation for Cybersecurity, Programming and Drones, an organization under the auspices of the Saudi Olympic Committee leading the charge to build a pool of skilled Saudi cyberwarriors.

The Middle East: An Orientalist Creation

Arwa Syed

This content was originally written for an undergraduate or Master's program. It is published as part of our mission to showcase peer-leading papers written by students during their studies. This work can be used for background reading and research, but should not be cited as an expert source or used in place of scholarly articles/books.

In order to examine whether the Middle East is an invention, it is important to examine the significance of British and French influence over the region. The fall of the Ottoman Empire in the early 20th century marked the beginning of Western influence in the region and consequently created the ‘Middle East’ that we know today. By examining the role the British and French had in shaping state boundaries and state formations, along with the social and geopolitical aspects, it can be argued that the imperial rule of the British and French essentially invented the Middle East. Even the name coined for the region can be an indication of how the Middle East can be understood as an invention. The term Middle East is a Eurocentric term and was coined by the British in accordance with the proximity of the region to Europe. As a result, the region can be interpreted in various ways and what countries form the Middle East is often a topic of debate, with many scholars opting to referring to the region as ‘West Asia’. This essay will argue that the Middle East can be understood as an imperial invention, created by the European imperial powers by exploring policies such as the Sykes-Picot Agreement and the mandate system, as well as the region’s response to such policies and how overtime nationalist groups have contributed to the identity of the region. Edward Said’s ‘Orientalism’ can support many of the claims made in this essay and the policies which are explored, demonstrating how Orientalist attitudes have played a significant role in the ‘invention’ of the Middle East as well as 21st century Western influence and intervention in the region.

Impact of Regime Policies on the Rise of Sectarian Violence: Case of Syria

Ondrej Palicka

This content was originally written for an undergraduate or Master's program. It is published as part of our mission to showcase peer-leading papers written by students during their studies. This work can be used for background reading and research, but should not be cited as an expert source or used in place of scholarly articles/books.

By the late 2010, a series of popular uprisings known as the Arab Spring began in Tunisia and quickly spread across the Arab world, overthrowing regimes, sparking reforms, and throwing some countries into chaos – Syria among them. Although many argued that Syria was different and popular protests would avoid it, the opposite proved to be true (Lesch, 2012). Wary of the economic situation and regime repression, people started protesting in the city of Deraa in March 2011, eventually triggering countrywide demonstrations which escalated into an uprising, aimed at toppling the regime and eventually leading to a full-blown civil war that has, as of this writing, not yet ended. To further complicate the situation in Syria, the civil war soon became sectarianized and gave way to a rise of militant Salafism and groups such as the Islamic State. Syria is a highly heterogenous country; as of 2010, its population consisted of Sunni Arabs (65%), Kurds (15%), Alawites (10%), Christians (5%), Druze (3%), Ismailis (1%), and Shia (1%) (Balanche, 2018). In addition, the country is led by a minority Alawi regime represented by President Bashar al-Assad. Therefore, one could argue that sectarian divisions played a significant role in the emergence of the civil war. Yet, when Bashar’s father Hafiz was met with the Muslim Brotherhood uprising, the group failed to mobilise the Sunni Arab population and the uprising ended in failure.

As World's Worst Humanitarian Crisis Rages, the 'Perfect Storm' is Blowing Up in Yemen


President Joe Biden's move to halt U.S. offensive support for the Saudi-led military campaign in Yemen has raised hopes for a tangible alleviation of the human suffering that has consumed the country on multiple fronts.

But another deadly threat is likely to lurk for some time—IEDs.

Improvised explosive devices are killing Yemenis at alarming rates, with little international attention.

Across the war-torn country militias, militant groups, criminals and mercenaries are exploiting the shortcomings of global disarmament and peacekeeping efforts to wage a war within a war, targeting civilians and fighters alike with a weapon that has come to symbolize today's asymmetrical warfare.

"I'd say that IEDs are still a blind spot of the international community despite the IED having been the defining weapon for over 20 years since the 9/11 attacks," Iain Overton, executive director of United Kingdom-based nonprofit Action on Armed Violence, told Newsweek.

Overton is an investigative journalist who has authored books focusing on small arms and suicide bombers. Today, he's sounding the alarm specifically on IED use and how it's added to Yemen's mounting miseries.

US Needs Better Space Defenses, Including Weapons: CSIS


WASHINGTON: The US must make near-term policy, technical and investment decisions about how it intends to defend space assets from growing military threats — including putting ‘active defenses’ such as lasers on satellites, says a new study by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).

“If space is to remain a source of economic and strategic advantage, the United States must prioritize and expedite its efforts to improve space defenses. Robust space defenses make conflict in space less likely,” argues Defense Against the Dark Arts in Space: Protecting Space Systems from Counterspace Weapons.

“Many of the architectures and technologies already exist to make space systems more defendable and resilient. Senior leaders in DoD and Congress need to make top-level decisions about which types of defenses to pursue and then provide sustained investments to fund these capabilities to fruition,” the study concludes.

Despite its cheeky Harry Potter theme, the first-of-its-kind study takes a serious look at the technologies available to protect and defend US satellites, and articulates the policy issues that need to be addressed in using them.

Global oil supply-and-demand outlook to 2040

COVID-19 sent shocks through global oil markets, with oil demand and supply still struggling to return to pre-pandemic levels. Our outlook looks back at 2020 and presents our most-likely scenarios for oil demand, supply, and prices through 2040.

Demand has partially recovered since April 2020 but still ended the year approximately 9 million barrels per day (MMb/d) below the 2019 level, with continued COVID-19-related lockdown measures in January 2021 keeping it around 6 MMb/d lower than January 2019.

Supply remained robust until April 2020 and then dropped by 13 to 14 MMb/d in May, driven by OPEC+1 cuts and shut-ins (that have mostly returned to the market), thus showing the willingness of OPEC+ to continue interventions. The market saw an oversupply of approximately 20 MMb/d in April 2020, pushing Brent prices to $18 per barrel of oil (bbl) for the month, before recovering to $50/bbl by the end of the year.

OECD commercial inventories remain at high levels and, although we have seen draws over the past months, they are still 150,000 barrels above pre-COVID-19 levels.

How global tech executives view U.S.-China tech competition

Christopher A. Thomas and Xander Wu

The global technology industry is hedging its bets. As the United States and China compete for technological supremacy in advanced semiconductor design and manufacturing, software, and other core technologies, global high-tech companies do not plan to pick sides. Rather, they pragmatically aim to compete in both Chinese and U.S. ecosystems regardless of the extra cost and complexity involved. This is the message from 158 senior business executives working for American, Chinese, European, Japanese, Taiwanese, and Korean global high-tech firms whom we polled about the impact of U.S-China tensions on their industry. While these executives regard as inevitable that American and Chinese technological spheres of influence will to some extent separate, they also expect Chinese systems and solutions suppliers to continue to rely on globally sourced (rather than Chinese-developed) technologies. In addition, these executives expect multinational companies of all stripes to double down on their efforts to keep competing in the Chinese market.

Latin American Governments Are Caught in the Middle of the U.S.-China Tech War


For most policymakers in Latin America, the best way to react to growing geopolitical tensions between the United States and China is obvious: Stay neutral. Given Latin America’s geographic proximity to the United States, growing economic dependence on China, and historic aversion to long-standing alliances that limit strategic autonomy, leaders across the ideological spectrum have largely decided to embrace a pragmatic stance and maintain friendly ties with both Washington and Beijing.

With few exceptions, this strategy was largely seen to be a winning formula over the past years. Chile’s right-wing president, Sebastián Piñera, for example, sought to present himself as the region’s most trusted interlocutor for both former U.S. President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping. Mauricio Macri, Argentina’s center-right former president, and his center-left successor Alberto Fernández have likewise been keen to simultaneously maintain constructive ties with the United States and China. In Colombia, right-wing President Iván Duque preserved Bogotá’s historically close security cooperation with the United States but also made clear his administration had no plans to preemptively exclude Huawei as the country prepares to build its 5G network, a stance surely welcomed in Beijing.

Cyber warrior’s glimpse into Kim’s Operation Chaos


North Korean special forces armed with modified AK rifles fitted with what are believed to be high-capacity magazines parade through Pyongyang. North Korea's cyber warriors may be less visible, but are far more operationally active. Photo: AFP

One of the most shadowy arms of one of the world’s most shadowy states is finding itself bathed in a harsh and unwelcome global spotlight.

Two developments this month are adding to the mounting evidence that while North Korea’s conventional military refrains from provocations, its online operatives are actively, constantly and widely engaged across the borderless web.

On February 16, it was alleged that North Korean hackers had hacked pharmaceutical company Pfizer with the aim of stealing information about its Covid-19 vaccine. It is unclear whether the hackers succeeded. Subsequently, European intelligence officials told Reuters that North Korea planned to produce counterfeit vaccines to sell on the global black market.

Separately, on February 17, the US Department of Justice indicted two North Koreans and expanded charges against a third for their involvement in a vast multiplicity of cyber crimes, including the 2014 attack on Sony Entertainment and the 2017 global Wannacry DDOS (Distributed Denial of Service) attack. According to a 33-page DOJ report, the three attempted to extort or steal $1.3 billion, though their actions went far beyond theft.

Security News This Week: The SolarWinds Body Count Now Includes NASA and the FAA

SOME BLASTS FROM the past surfaced this week, including revelations that a Russia-linked hacking group has repeatedly targeted the US electrical grid, along with oil and gas utilities and other industrial firms. Notably, the group has ties to the notorious industrial-control GRU hacking group Sandworm. Meanwhile, researchers revealed evidence this week that an elite NSA hacking tool for Microsoft Windows, known as EpMe, fell into the hands of Chinese hackers in 2014, years before that same tool then leaked in the notorious Shadow Brokers dump of NSA tools.

WIRED got an inside look at how the video game hacker Empress has become so powerful and skilled at cracking the digital rights management software that lets video game makers, ebook publishers, and others control the content you buy from them. And the increasingly popular, but still invite-only, audio-based social media platform Clubhouse continues to struggle with security and privacy missteps.

If you want something relaxing to take your mind off all of this complicated and concerning news, though, check out the new generation of Opte, an art piece that depicts the evolution and growth of the internet from 1997 to today.

And there's more. Each week we round up all the news we didn’t cover in depth. Click on the headlines to read the full stories. And stay safe out there.

Britain's GCHQ cyber spies embrace the AI revolution

Britain's cyber spies at the GCHQ eavesdropping agency say they have fully embraced artificial intelligence (AI) to uncover patterns in vast amounts of global data to counter hostile disinformation and snare child abusers.

AI, which traces its history back to British mathematician Alan Turing's work in the 1930s, allows modern computers to learn to sift through data to see the shadows of spies and criminals that a human brain might miss.

GCHQ, where Turing cracked Germany's naval Enigma code during World War Two, said advances in computing and the doubling of global data every two years meant it would now fully embrace AI to unmask spies and identify cyber-attacks.

The world's biggest spy agencies in the United States, China, Russia and Europe are in a race to embrace the might of the technological revolution to bolster their defensive and offensive capabilities in the cyber realm.

Army EW Targets Foes For Infantry


WASHINGTON: As the Army rebuilds its long-neglected electronic warfare arm, it’s finding simple tools can have a big impact – at the right place and time.

While EW is best known for disrupting radio and radar, recent wargames at Fort Benning showed tremendous tactical value to simply detecting hostile transmissions. EW troops following behind the frontline infantry used portable sensors to detect “enemy” units’ transmissions a kilometer or more away, long before regular soldiers could see them.

“It provides that ground force commander early warning,” said Capt. Bryan McCoskey, Fort Benning’s liaison office from the Army’s Cyber Center. “It gives him more time to make those tactical decisions … than ‘I’m walking thru the woods and I just received contact 300 meters away’” after the enemy opened fire.

That early warning lets the infantry fly a drone to confirm the report, get into prime position for any infantry attack, or artillery Maj. Joe Tague told me, “call up a fire mission and destroy the enemy entirely… before the mission has even started.”

DoD’s Technology Imperative: How Industry Is Answering DoD’s Call For A Competitive Edge


The Air Force has encouraged the defense industry to develop new technology to support airmen. Rolls-Royce has responded with advancements such as Virtual Reality engine maintenance training for Air Force bases that fly C-130J aircraft equipped with Rolls-Royce AE 2100 engines. (U.S. Air Force)

In this Viewpoint from Rolls-Royce North America Defense, Darryl Roberson, Senior Vice President and retired U.S. Air Force Lieutenant General, discusses how the company is developing advanced technology to support the Air Force.

Breaking Defense: Flying the latest and greatest aircraft has always been important to the Air Force, but there has been an increasingly high interest in a broader level of innovation within the service in recent years.

Darryl Roberson: There is no doubt the U.S. Air Force has always wanted to have the most advanced and capable aircraft to defend the nation. I’ve been very fortunate to fly a few of those incredible birds. But the key to increased lethality and advantage over our adversaries is the introduction of new technology and capabilities from industry. It’s no longer just about better aircraft, it is more about integrating capabilities across the board, especially electronic warfare and cross-domain integration. That’s our goal at Rolls-Royce, which has been proud to support Air Force missions by delivering tens of thousands of engines for more than 100 years. We Pioneer the Power that Matters. We are constantly innovating – whether it is to deliver hypersonic solutions, digital designs, rapid prototyping, improved fuel efficiency or enhanced survivability through our infrared suppression systems. Rolls-Royce Defense, specifically, is relentlessly focused on providing the Power to Protect.

ISIS and Al-Qaeda’s Sub-Saharan Affiliates Are Poised for Growth in 2021


Once considered a backwater for jihadists, sub-Saharan Africa is now at the forefront of the counterterrorism landscape. With core ISIS and al-Qaeda reeling from sustained Western counterterrorism campaigns, attention has shifted from former jihadist bases in the Middle East and south Asia, respectively, to the Sahel and Nigeria, the Horn of Africa, and, most recently, the continent’s southeastern Swahili coast. ISIS and al-Qaeda affiliates throughout sub-Saharan Africa are well-positioned to expand their influence, garner new recruits, spread propaganda, and in some cases, capture territory.

As weak states give way to weak regions, overmatched security forces are being upstaged by well-armed jihadists capable of mounting complex and coordinated operations that increasingly resemble those of core ISIS and al-Qaeda themselves. These terrorists have taken advantage of porous borders throughout Africa and, in opportunistic fashion, have capitalized on fraught political transitions and lack of security sector accountability in countries like Mali and Mozambique, working to further destabilize already fragile states.