2 June 2021

China’s Cyber-Influence Operations

 Maj Gen PK Mallick, VSM (Retd) 

The digital era has transformed the way we communicate. Using social media like Facebook and Instagram, and social applications such as WhatsApp and Telegram, one can be in contact with friends and family, share pictures, videos, messages, posts and share our experiences. Social media has become an effective way of influencing human society and behavior, and shaping public opinion. By sharing a post, tweeting an idea, contributing a discussion in a forum and sharing a sentimental picture, we can influence others and sometimes convince into with our opinion.

Use of cyber tools and methods to manipulate public opinion is called ‘Cyber Influence Operation’. In the present day, many countries use cyberspace, especially the social media, to accomplish Cyber Influence Operations as a part of Information Warfare. Most of these operations are done covertly. It is difficult to differentiate between legitimate or malicious influence operations. Continue Reading..... 

China’s Nuclear and Missile Capabilities: An Overview

  Maj Gen PK Mallick, VSM (Retd)

Since China first conducted a nuclear weapon test in 1964, its nuclear doctrine has remained unchanged and is underpinned by two principles: a minimum deterrent doctrine and a No First Use (NFU) policy. China’s 2019 defence white paper states, “China is always committed to a nuclear policy of NFU of nuclear weapons at any time and under any circumstances, and not using or threatening to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear-weapon states or nuclear-weapon-free zones unconditionally.”

However, a recent U.S. Department of Defence (DoD) report claims that the scope of China’s nuclear modernisation and its lack of transparency “raise concern that China is not only shifting its requirements for what constitutes a minimal deterrence but that it could shift away from its longstanding minimalist force posture.” The data available show that China is modernising and expanding virtually every element of its nuclear forces, including each aspect of its nuclear weapons and missile, sea, and air delivery systems. What is not clear are China’s current and planned holdings of nuclear weapons, China’s future plans for deploying additional delivery systems, its commitment to some form of NFU, first preemption, or launch on warning, and the extent to which it will accept what might be called a form of ‘minimum assured destruction.

The Story of the First Sherpa to Climb to the Top of Mt. Everest

By Christopher Rand

The best-known citizen of the Indian hill town of Darjeeling, Tenzing Norkay, is in residence now, though unseasonably, for the year’s climbing in the Himalayas has begun and most of his Sherpa colleagues are off helping Westerners up the peaks. His presence reflects the change that has taken place in his affairs since May 29th of last year, when he and Edmund Hillary stood on the summit of Mount Everest. That feat earned Tenzing a rest from his career as a climber, which had been arduous, and plunged him into a new career, involving contracts, publicity, and politics, which is a good deal more lucrative but which puts him under another kind of strain. Not only is he, like many famous men, unschooled in the ways of publicity but he deals haltingly with English, its lingua franca. Just keeping track of his own life, therefore, demands hard concentration. Tenzing complains that he has lost twenty-four pounds since climbing Everest, and he says—though he probably doesn’t mean it—that if he had foreseen the results, he would never have made the climb. His troubles are compounded by an element of jealousy in Darjeeling—he is to some extent a prophet without honor in his own country—and by a public disagreement, which he is well aware of, as to whether he is a great man or only an able servant. “I thought if I climbed Everest whole world very good,” he said recently. “I never thought like this.”

The Clock is Ticking for the Taliban

by Obaidullah Baheer

Following announcement of U.S. troops’ departure from Afghanistan, the world has been left to hypothesize what may come next. The current reluctance of the Taliban to come to the negotiation table might be attributed to their misperception that regional support will continue after the September 11 withdrawal deadline, which they believe would enable a total victory if negotiations fail. Taliban leadership must recognize otherwise. Various regional actors currently depend on the Taliban to further their strategic interests and positioning, but the nature of these strategic interests will likely change following U.S. withdrawal.

Studying the history of these states’ specific interests in Afghanistan illustrates why these states have supported the Taliban and why this support could deteriorate after the withdrawal. Another war may not yield clear winners. A future civil war would likely bring economic disparity, a power vacuum enemy proxies could fill, and a large exodus of refugees fleeing the violence. This is all bound to spill over into neighboring countries and force them to reassess the benefits of continued ties to the Taliban.

A future civil war in Afghanistan would likely spill over into neighboring countries and force them to reassess the benefits of continued ties to the Taliban.

Pakistan and the Taliban

A mega dam on the Great Bend of China

By Mark Doman, Katia Shatoba and Alex Palmer

The sheer scale of the Tibetan Plateau can be hard to fathom. Its mountain peaks stretch kilometres into the sky, while canyons below sink so deep that few people have ever been able to reach them.

It’s wild and spectacular but it’s also vitally important to about a fifth of the world’s population that relies on its immense freshwater reserves.

The ice sheet stretching across the plateau is so vast that it’s often referred to by glaciologists as the Third Pole behind Antarctica and the Arctic. After the north and south poles, this region is the world’s largest store of fresh water.

The plateau’s glaciers feed 10 of Asia’s major rivers. For centuries, they have played a crucial role in sustaining life in the region.

In recent decades, the rivers have provided more than just fresh water — they’ve become a vital source of energy for the world’s most populous country. Since the 1950s, more than 20,000 dams higher than 15 metres have been built in the country, including the world’s largest hydropower station, the Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtze River.

The Drawbacks of Biden’s ‘Competition With China’ Habit

Howard W. French

In last week’s episode of “America Competing with a Rising China,” the geopolitical equivalent of a TV series, Joe Biden took the wheel of a Ford truck and all but burned rubber as he pulled away from reporters who had come to witness the stunt.

Biden’s visit came on the eve of Ford’s announcement of a new, all-electric version of its model F-150, the most popular motor vehicle in the United States, and he used it to enlist the automaker’s innovations in his ongoing campaign to prove not just that “America is Back,” whatever that means, but that the country can outcompete its biggest rival, China.

Understanding China Is Getting Harder Every Month

By James Thorpe

It has never been easy to write about China, but today access is harder, and sources are more limited than they have been for decades. The pandemic hasn’t helped—since March 2020, China’s borders have been closed to most non-Chinese citizens. The result of this is that it is even harder for outsiders—and even most Chinese—to understand what is happening inside the country.

As a journalist, you risk being targeted by an ever changing set of measures by the Chinese government. A weaponized visa process means your credentials may be renewed for six months or denied without explanation. You, or more likely your Chinese colleague, might be detained as the Bloomberg reporter Haze Fan was in 2020.

The Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China reported that the government expelled at least 18 foreign journalists in the first half of 2020. John Sudworth, a BBC reporter, is the latest departure from a prominent news organization, along with his wife, Yvonne Murray, a reporter for the Irish station RTE. As someone who was given rare access to “thought transformation camps” in Xinjiang, his reporting helped bring the story to a global audience.

The sense that foreign journalists are less at risk from retribution has waned, and there is less room for investigative journalism in China. Sudworth is one of a number of China correspondents from major news outlets now based in Taiwan, while others have gone to Hong Kong or left the region altogether. Without access to China, developing sources becomes considerably more difficult.

Beijing Is Trolling Biden Over Gaza

By Michael Singh

“The U.S. claims that it cares about the human rights of Muslims. But it turns a blind eye to the sufferings of Palestinian Muslims,” a Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson tweeted during the Israel-Gaza conflict. The tweet was in no small part spurred by schadenfreude—the United States, under pressure for declining to demand an immediate cease-fire in Gaza, had only days before it used a United Nations event to lambast China for its treatment of Muslims in Xinjiang.

Yet China’s relentless promotion of this narrative—that Washington is indifferent to civilian suffering in Gaza and derelict in its duties as a global power—represents more than spite or defensiveness. It is a sign that great-power competition is being fought in more regions of the world and across multiple arenas, including the seamier cauldrons of social media.

At first blush, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would not seem to be an obvious point of friction between Beijing and Washington. In the 1960s and 1970s, Mao Zedong’s China cultivated close relations with the Palestine Liberation Organization and other guerrilla groups. With Mao’s death, the onset of Israeli-Egyptian peace in the late 1970s, and China’s need for Israeli arms, Sino-Israeli ties underwent a gradual thaw in the 1980s, paving the way for the establishment of formal diplomatic relations in 1992. Those relations have since grown only deeper still. Beijing has assiduously courted Israel, viewing it as a prime destination for Belt and Road infrastructure investments, such as a container port in Haifa and a proposed rail line linking the Red and Mediterranean Seas. More importantly, Beijing has targeted Israel as a source of cutting-edge technologies—including robotics, biotech, and artificial intelligence—where China aims to become a global leader and is desired by the Chinese People’s Liberation Army.

The origin of COVID: Did people or nature open Pandora’s box at Wuhan?

By Nicholas Wade 

Members of the World Health Organization (WHO) team investigating the origins of the COVID-19 coronavirus arrive by car at the Wuhan Institute of Virology on February 3. (Photo by HECTOR RETAMAL/AFP via Getty Images)

The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted lives the world over for more than a year. Its death toll will soon reach three million people. Yet the origin of pandemic remains uncertain: The political agendas of governments and scientists have generated thick clouds of obfuscation, which the mainstream press seems helpless to dispel.

In what follows I will sort through the available scientific facts, which hold many clues as to what happened, and provide readers with the evidence to make their own judgments. I will then try to assess the complex issue of blame, which starts with, but extends far beyond, the government of China.

By the end of this article, you may have learned a lot about the molecular biology of viruses. I will try to keep this process as painless as possible. But the science cannot be avoided because for now, and probably for a long time hence, it offers the only sure thread through the maze.

Biden Looks to the Future in First Defense Budget

By Jack Deutsch

For the Biden administration, the U.S. Defense Department needs to start shifting away from outdated weapons systems and vulnerable platforms to keep up with the Chinese military’s leap forward in military technology.

That’s according to the Pentagon’s $715 billion budget request released on Friday, which calls for paring back the Army’s budget and purchases of existing fighter jets, tanks, and ships while developing unmanned ships and sweeping modernization of the U.S. nuclear arsenal.

“You’ll see a significant investment in our naval forces, long-range fires, and probably the largest ever request for RDT&E for development of technologies,” U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told lawmakers on Thursday, using an acronym to describe the Pentagon’s research and development efforts.

By slightly favoring the future over the present, as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley put it to Congress in the same budget preview hearing yesterday, U.S. President Joe Biden’s first budget is also a notable departure from former U.S. President Donald Trump’s policies, which called for a 355-ship U.S. Navy and projected a long-term decrease for researching and developing future platforms.

A connected world is a vulnerable world. The US can help secure it.

by Benjamin Jensen

Our connected world is fragile. Witness the alleged Chinese hacking into Microsoft products, Russian hacking into the US government contractor SolarWinds, and the recent criminal hack of Colonial Pipeline that disrupted energy flows across much of the United States. Connectivity increasingly seems like a quaint, if not naïve, promise of a liberal order in decline. The post-Cold War phenomenon of globalization appears to be eroding with each new hack, every geopolitical move that builds a world of autocratic and democratic alliance blocs, and the rise of a new nationalism amplified by the pandemic.

But despite the recent events separating the world—like the onset of vaccine nationalism, the disruptions of Brexit, a decoupling in the US-China relationship, and a growing tide of digital authoritarianism and extremism—connectivity remains central to the international system. Countries are connected by global supply chains, and people interact with each other over social media in ways that vary from sharing stories to starting social movements. Emerging technologies aim to accelerate the rate at which the world can expand its connectivity, as 5G networks increase the speed and volume of data in circulation while constellations of satellites connect even the most remote areas on the planet.

The Annapolis Process: A Missed Opportunity for a Two-State Solution?

Udi Dekel, Lia Moran-Gilad

This memorandum describes the context and background of the Annapolis process of 2007—2008 for a permanent status agreement between the State of Israel and the representatives of the Palestinians—the PLO and the Palestinian Authority. The authors, who held key positions in planning, organizing, and conducting the negotiation meetings, describe the interactions and events in public and behind the scenes, in a concerted effort to depict the “golden path” between the competing interests and opposing positions of the parties to reach a stable and viable settlement.

The details presented here and the portrayal of the positions in the negotiation rooms constitute the complex shared and separate reality of Israel and the Palestinians. As one delves into the details and examines the attitudes and positions of the parties and their degree of flexibility, the great weight that the parties attached to their narratives and to the ethos entrenched over the years becomes increasingly apparent, as well as the growing obstacles that prevent a settlement and bridging of the gaps.

To reach an arrangement between Israel and the Palestinians—a fateful decision for the prosperity and fortitude of the State of Israel as Jewish, democratic, secure, and moral—the Palestinian side also needed to agree. In the years since the Annapolis process, the gaps between the two sides have grown and become increasingly entrenched, while chances at achieving a permanent, comprehensive, and stable settlement have receded. The authors conclude here that the Israeli leadership should seriously and honestly consider an agreed-upon separation from the Palestinians as well as take independent steps, without impeding any future diplomatic process. In any future negotiations, the State of Israel should approach the negotiation table having learned from the previous rounds of negotiations, including recognition of both the obstacles and factors that will facilitate progress and the formulation of agreements.

A grand strategy of resolute restraint

Michael E. O’Hanlon

As for the state of the world, for some, the headlines say it all. There’s an aggressive China, a vengeful Russia, a nuclear-minded North Korea, a hostile Iran, and a disintegrating Afghanistan. All of these foreign policy problems are superimposed on top of warming climates, rising oceans and spreading pandemics. This troubling state of affairs would suggest that Biden must be hypervigilant against more threats than the nation has perhaps ever confronted at once.

In fact, while these threats are all real, and while the coronavirus will cause misery for at least another one to two years on much of the planet, there is a much happier narrative as well. The world has never been more prosperous, democratic, or — for most of us at least — safe and secure. However oxymoronic, these competing realities need to be understood correctly if U.S. foreign policy is to be rightsized for the dangers the country faces. There is clearly no basis for complacency, retrenchment, or a lowering of America’s guard (although it seems the Biden team has already made a big mistake in deciding to withdraw from Afghanistan in the hope that the dangers there will easily be contained without a small American or NATO presence). Yet at the same time, America need not overreact to each and every provocation, by China or Russia in particular. The world order is fraying a bit around the edges, but its central core remains strong. Getting this diagnosis roughly right is important if the United States is to avoid the twin but opposing dangers of overreacting and underreacting to various possible and perceived threats.

The Islamic Republic’s Republic Is Dying

By Sina Toossi

“Our economic growth was not at the pace needed to solve problems, especially for the youth and their unemployment,” proclaimed Ali Larijani, Iran’s former speaker of parliament, in a recent interview. “It was natural that it could not have such growth under sanctions.” Larijani’s comments, which came days before he was disqualified by a powerful theocratic body from running in Iran’s June 18 presidential election, were a pointed reminder of the immediate stakes of this year’s vote.

Whereas Larijani has voiced support for negotiations with the West to lift sanctions and potentially address disputes beyond the nuclear issue, his would-be challenger for the presidency, the hard-line judiciary chief Ebrahim Raisi, has very different views about how best to deal with U.S. sanctions. Two months ago, Raisi declared: “Instead of seeking negotiations with the enemy, we must resolve the country’s economic problems through correctly managing the country’s human and natural capacities.”

But the disqualification of Larijani and other prominent moderates and reformists from this year’s election, which has left Raisi with a practically uncontested path to the presidency, matters far beyond the nuclear file. It represents an inflection point in the political history of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Hard-liners with authoritarian and strongly anti-American worldviews are brazenly maneuvering to remove their moderate rivals from the political landscape and overturn the system’s republican elements.

The Islamic Republic was from the get-go envisioned by its founder Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini as a mix between his interpretation of Shiite political philosophies and Western republicanism and electoral politics. Its governance system is a unique blend of popular sovereignty and religious authority, though the institutions that represent the latter hold a tutelary power over the former. The Islamic Republic has a president and a parliament, but also a Guardian Council of clerics and jurists that vets legislation and political candidates, and a supreme religious leader who is the ultimate arbiter on high-level decisions.

It’s Time to End the ‘Special Relationship’ With Israel

By Stephen M. Walt

The latest round of fighting between Israelis and Palestinians ended in the usual way: with a cease-fire that left Palestinians worse off and the core issues unaddressed. It also provided more evidence that the United States should no longer give Israel unconditional economic, military, and diplomatic support. The benefits of this policy are zero, and the costs are high and rising. Instead of a special relationship, the United States and Israel need a normal one.

Once upon a time, a special relationship between the United States and Israel might have been justified on moral grounds. The creation of a Jewish state was seen as an appropriate response to centuries of violent antisemitism in the Christian West, including but hardly limited to the Holocaust. The moral case was compelling, however, only if one ignored the consequences for Arabs who had lived in Palestine for many centuries and if one believed Israel to be a country that shared basic U.S. values. Here too the picture was complicated. Israel may have been “the only democracy in the Middle East,” but it was not a liberal democracy like the United States, where all religions and races are supposed to have equal rights (however imperfectly that goal has been realized). Consistent with Zionism’s core objectives, Israel privileged Jews over others by conscious design.

Israel's operation against Hamas was the world's first AI war


Having relied heavily on machine learning, the Israeli military is calling Operation Guardian of the Walls the first artificial-intelligence war.

“For the first time, artificial intelligence was a key component and power multiplier in fighting the enemy,” an IDF Intelligence Corps senior officer said. “This is a first-of-its-kind campaign for the IDF. We implemented new methods of operation and used technological developments that were a force multiplier for the entire IDF.”

In 11 days of fighting in the Gaza Strip, the Israeli military carried out intensive strikes against Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad targets. It targeted key infrastructure and personnel belonging to the two groups, the IDF said.

While the military relied on what was already available on the civilian market and adapted it for military purposes – in the years prior to the fighting – the IDF established an advanced AI technological platform that centralized all data on terrorist groups in the Gaza Strip onto one system that enabled the analysis and extraction of the intelligence.

Soldiers in Unit 8200, an Intelligence Corps elite unit, pioneered algorithms and code that led to several new programs called “Alchemist,” “Gospel” and “Depth of Wisdom,” which were developed and used during the fighting.

Collecting data using signal intelligence (SIGINT), visual intelligence (VISINT), human intelligence (HUMINT), geographical intelligence (GEOINT) and more, the IDF has mountains of raw data that must be combed through to find the key pieces necessary to carry out a strike.

Iran’s Biggest Problem Is Water

By Alex Vatanka

Iran is parched. Indeed, this year is expected to be among the driest in the last 50 years. Of the country’s 85 million people, some 28 million people live in water-stressed areas, mostly in the central and southern regions. Water scarcity is hitting all segments of society, from urban households to rural farming communities.

Iran isn’t alone in its plight. Of the 17 most water-stressed states in the world, 12 are in the Middle East and North Africa, which includes all the littoral states of the Persian Gulf. In tackling the region’s water challenges, Iran and its Arab neighbors to the south have much to gain by accepting the need for regional cooperation to promote water security while minimizing harm to the Persian Gulf’s ecology. In fact, regional cooperation in this area is an easy mark and one U.S. President Joe Biden has good reasons to encourage given his administration’s focus on combatting climate change.

Over the last decade, Iranian authorities have invested much political and financial capital in dealing with the growing problem of water scarcity. This includes initiatives to increase the use of desalination and the transfer of water from the Persian Gulf to water-poor provinces in central Iran. This national water transfer plan, which is already underway, involves four main water supply lines and a growing number of feeder desalination plants. It is projected to cost as much as $285 billion to complete by 2025, and officials in Tehran expect it to create some 70,000 jobs.

How Greece became Europe’s unlikely model student

Brussels can be a patronising place. In the eu, prime ministers are sometimes treated like schoolchildren. In a favourite phrase, stern officials declare that national governments must “do their homework”. If Brussels is a classroom, then Greece has become an unlikely swot. Its handling of the pandemic has been praised. Its plans for spending a €31bn share of the eu’s €750bn ($915bn) recovery pot got a gold star from eu officials. Greek ideas such as a common covid-19 certificate are taken up at a European level. After a decade in which Greece found itself in remedial lessons, enduring three bail-out programmes and economic collapse, it is a big shift. Syriza, the leftist party that ran the country from 2015 to 2019, was the class rebel. By contrast, the government of Kyriakos Mitsotakis, the smooth centre-right prime minister since 2019, is a teacher’s pet.

Partly, the change in reputation is a question of politics. Syriza set itself up as a challenger to the eu’s current order, hoping to overhaul the club from the inside. But if the eu has a house view, it is one of the centre-right where Mr Mitsotakis’s New Democracy sits. In the technocratic world of eu politics, Mr Mitsotakis fits right in. A former management consultant, he speaks English, French, German and Davos, a dialect used by middle-aged men in snowboots at high-altitude conferences. He wears the school uniform well. Explicitly, New Democracy was elected in 2019 on a plan to overhaul Greece. Implicitly, their task was to make Greek politics boring and turn Greece into a normal European country. Syriza’s leaders saw themselves as a beginning of history; New Democracy’s leaders see their job as bringing a dark era to an end.

It’s Time to End the ‘Special Relationship’ With Israel

By Stephen M. Walt 

The latest round of fighting between Israelis and Palestinians ended in the usual way: with a cease-fire that left Palestinians worse off and the core issues unaddressed. It also provided more evidence that the United States should no longer give Israel unconditional economic, military, and diplomatic support. The benefits of this policy are zero, and the costs are high and rising. Instead of a special relationship, the United States and Israel need a normal one.

Once upon a time, a special relationship between the United States and Israel might have been justified on moral grounds. The creation of a Jewish state was seen as an appropriate response to centuries of violent antisemitism in the Christian West, including but hardly limited to the Holocaust. The moral case was compelling, however, only if one ignored the consequences for Arabs who had lived in Palestine for many centuries and if one believed Israel to be a country that shared basic U.S. values. Here too the picture was complicated. Israel may have been “the only democracy in the Middle East,” but it was not a liberal democracy like the United States, where all religions and races are supposed to have equal rights (however imperfectly that goal has been realized). Consistent with Zionism’s core objectives, Israel privileged Jews over others by conscious design.

Today, however, decades of brutal Israeli control have demolished the moral case for unconditional U.S. support. Israeli governments of all stripes have expanded settlements, denied Palestinians legitimate political rights, treated them as second-class citizens within Israel itself, and used Israel’s superior military power to kill and terrorize residents of Gaza, the West Bank, and Lebanon with near impunity. Given all this, it is not surprising Human Rights Watch and the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem have recently issued well-documented and convincing reports describing these various policies as a system of apartheid. The rightward drift of Israel’s domestic politics and the growing role of extremist parties in Israeli politics have done further damage to Israel’s image, including among many American Jews.

Palestinian Politics Are More Divided Than Ever

Ghaith al-Omari 

The cease-fire that entered into force last Friday brought an end to 11 days of fighting between Israel and Hamas, leaving behind at least 248 Palestinian and 12 Israeli dead, as well as untold destruction in Gaza. Yet even as the fragile truce is holding thus far, the power struggle between the two largest Palestinian parties—Hamas and its rival, Fatah—seems poised to only intensify.

The most recent round of violence was the fourth since 2007, when Hamas violently wrested control of Gaza after winning elections the previous year. It took place against the backdrop of an intense political crisis triggered by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ decision to call, then cancel, the first round of Palestinian national elections since that 2006 vote. Abbas’ Fatah, which controls the Palestinian Authority from the city of Ramallah, in the West Bank, was largely seen as irrelevant during the Gaza conflict, and is reeling from internal divisions that were exposed and deepened by the ill-conceived election gambit. ...

Recent Iranian Cyber Attacks Show How Geopolitics Drive Cyber Activity

Emilio Iasiello

A recent report has revealed that an Iranian threat actor group dubbed “Agrius” has been operating in Israel since 2020. The group has been linked to cyber espionage activity and has quickly evolved into conducting destructive wiper malware attacks against Israeli targets. What’ more, these attacks have been posing as ransomware attacks in order to mask their true intent. This is not the group’s first foray into executing destructive attacks. In 2019, Agrius group developed wiper malware that targeted a Saudi Arabian organization in possible retaliation for the U.S.-led effort to kill the then-leader of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps – Quds Force. Since then, the group has refined its wiper malware, and improved its capabilities via a succession of variants until the most recent one used against Israeli and perhaps one entity in the United Arab Emirates that featured a fully-functional ransomware strain. Agrius appears to be a competent group able to develop their own malware and execute offensive activities.

Iranian-linked wiper attacks are not new. Other Iranian cyber groups have been engaged in executing wiper attacks against Middle East targets. In 2012, the implementation of the Shamoon wiper malware garnered attention when suspected Iranian actors targeted Saudi Aramco, destroying approximately 30,000 computer systems. The oil company was again targeted in 2016 with an updated variant of the same malware. Three years later in 2019, Iranian actors executed ZeroCleare, an offshoot of Shamoon, that targeted energy and oil companies in the Middle East believed to be competitors to Iranian companies.

The road to net zero in 4 charts

David Elliott

The world can reach net zero by 2050, but it will require some big changes, according to a new study.

Our energy systems will need to be totally transformed, the International Energy Agency report Net Zero by 2050 says.

Huge declines in the use of coal, oil and gas will be essential.
These charts show what these changes could mean for the economy, citizens and governments.

Can the world really reach net zero by 2050? Yes, says a new study – but we’ll need to make some big changes.

Climate pledges from governments so far will fall well short of what is needed, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA) report Net Zero by 2050: a Roadmap for the Global Energy Sector.

Ensuring we add no more CO2 emissions to the atmosphere than we remove is considered to be essential if we are to limit global warming to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels. Experts say doing this could reduce the chances of extreme heatwaves, droughts and floods by the end of the century. There are implications for food supplies, livelihoods and biodiversity across the world.

So how can we get to carbon neutrality? The IEA’s roadmap calls for a total transformation of the energy systems that underpin our economies. And it warns the gap between talk and action must close now.

Russian cyber threat: US can learn from Ukraine

by Mark Temnycky

The US has recently been hit by a number of cyberattacks linked to Russia. These incidents echoed similar attacks carried out against Ukraine since the outbreak of hostilities with Russia in 2014. 

In recent months, cyber warfare has repeatedly made headlines in the United States. In December 2020, America faced a massive cyberattack orchestrated by hackers reportedly linked to the Russian government. Through the use of a routine software update used on numerous computer systems, the hackers infiltrated over 100 private companies and federal agencies.

The SolarWinds cyberattack targeted the US departments of State, Treasury, and Energy, as well as Microsoft and several other major American companies and federal agencies. These groups are still working to determine how badly the attacks compromised their data. When asked about the SolarWinds cyberattacks in an interview with 60 Minutes, Microsoft President Brad Smith stated that it was likely the “largest and most sophisticated attack the world has ever seen.”

As American institutions and organizations continue to conduct internal investigations into the SolarWinds attack, one thing is already clear. The United States should have been prepared for the attack but clearly wasn’t.

The SolarWinds attack “exposed fundamental cyber security vulnerabilities within US government agencies and the private sector,” stated Robert Knake, the Whitney Shepardson Senior Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. “The SolarWinds hack demonstrated the need to ensure that all components of the digital supply chain are trusted.”

What’s Ahead for Venezuela’s Crisis?

There is no end in sight to the political and humanitarian crises that have overwhelmed Venezuela and spilled over into neighboring countries for the past several years. In fact, the protracted fight for control of the country has only meant additional suffering for its citizens, who are already living in the most dire conditions outside of a warzone in recent memory.

Even if the political stalemate is broken, there are no easy solutions for fixing the country’s economy, which was too dependent on oil and collapsed as global crude prices fell. But President Nicolas Maduro has shown more interest in consolidating his grip on power than making needed structural changes. The result has been growing shortages of food and basic supplies, widespread power outages and alarming rates of malnutrition. The crisis has also decimated the country’s health care system, leaving Venezuela at the mercy of the coronavirus pandemic, which is likely to further exacerbate all of its challenges.

Opposition leader Juan Guaido’s attempt to oust Maduro’s government in early 2019 with the backing of the United States appears to have backfired. U.S. support initially helped Guaido succeed in getting himself recognized as Venezuela’s legitimate interim president by governments in the region and around the world. But Guaido and the opposition proved unable to seize power, hardening the Maduro regime’s resolve and ultimately resulting in an impasse. The outcome of recent sham legislative elections, which removed the National Assembly from opposition control, underscored Guaido’s increasing irrelevance. Meanwhile, Washington’s public attempts to help bring down Maduro’s socialist administration have pushed the Venezuelan leader to strengthen his partnerships with Russia and China.

These are the breakthroughs we need to achieve a net-zero world

Anthony Robert Hobley, Nigel Topping

Most net-zero commitments are due by the 2040s but the only way to meet them is if sector leaders work together to achieve transformational breakthroughs in the early 2020s.

The emissions reductions achieved so far have been the easy wins; massive investment will now be needed to move from incremental to structural emissions cuts.

The Mission Possible Partnership is working to build net-zero industry platforms across the hard-to-abate sectors that account for 30% of global emissions.

Our parent’s generation put a man on the moon eight years after JFK’s commitment to do so in May 1961. In this decisive decade, when faced with the threat of a climate emergency, how can we do any less?

In corporate boardrooms across the world, the challenge is increasingly being accepted: climate change poses an existential threat, and the only way to survive and thrive is to join the race to a healthier, more resilient future. The response? A growing drumbeat of net-zero commitments, most of which fall due in the 2040s.

These commitments mark an important and welcome first step. But the only way we will meet and beat them is if sector leaders work together to achieve transformational breakthroughs now, in the early 2020s. The first breakthrough, as set out by the United Nations High-Level Champions for Climate Action, is: secure credible net-zero commitments from 20% of leaders across the largest and most polluting industries before November’s COP26 climate summit.

Renewable energy jumped nearly 50% in 2020

Niall McCarthy

Amidst the global pandemic, 278 gigawatts of renewable energy was added last year.

This was a 45% increase from the year before and the biggest increase in over 20 years.

The IEA attributes the boom to policy decisions in the United States, China and Vietnam.

Renewable power generation grew at the fastest rate for two decades in 2020 according to a new report from the International Energy Agency. 278 gigawatts of capacity was added last year, a 45 percent jump and the largest year-over-year increase since 1999. The growth was even more impressive given that it occurred in the midst of pandemic-induced supply chain challenges and construction delays.

The exceptional level of renewable energy capacity additions is expected to be maintained with 270 GW forecast to become operational in 2021 while 280 GW is predicted for 2022. The IEA attibutes the boom to policy decisions in the United States, China and Vietnam with China alone responsible for 80 percent of global annual installations between 2019 and 2020.

Nigeria Is a Failed State

By Robert I. Rotberg

Nigeria has long teetered on the precipice of failure. But now, unable to keep its citizens safe and secure, Nigeria has become a fully failed state of critical geopolitical concern. Its failure matters because the peace and prosperity of Africa and preventing the spread of disorder and militancy around the globe depend on a stronger Nigeria.

Its economy is usually estimated to be Africa’s largest or second largest, after South Africa. Long West Africa’s hegemon, Nigeria played a positive role in promoting African peace and security. With state failure, it can no longer sustain that vocation, and no replacement is in sight. Its security challenges are already destabilizing the West African region in the face of resurgent jihadism, making the battles of the Sahel that much more difficult to contain. And spillover from Nigeria’s failures ultimately affect the security of Europe and the United States.

This designation of repeated failure is not a knee-jerk, casual labeling using emotive and pejorative words. Instead, it is a designation informed by a body of political theory developed at the turn of this century and elaborated upon, case by case, ever since. Indeed, thoughtful Nigerians over the past decade have debated, often fervently, whether their state has failed. Increasingly, their consensus is that it has.

Cyber-Security: Here's Why The Bad Guys Are Winning

David B. Black

There’s a war going on in our computers and networks. It’s a silent, invisible war. It’s fierce and continues to escalate.

The bad guys are winning. They are aggressive, hard-working, learning, inventing and focused on the goal of making money. The large army of the good guys is led by hapless, incompetent, unmotivated bureaucrats with meaningless certifications in this or that, consumed by building an audit trail showing that they’ve followed the ever-growing body of useless regulations so that when the nearly-inevitable security disaster happens, they can prove it wasn’t their fault. It’s clearly not a fair fight.

The security war isn’t like a war between nations. It’s more like a sprawling collection of gated communities infiltrated and attacked by myriad bands of criminal groups who break in, rob valuables and sometimes take hostages for ransom. The communities spend more money every year building walls that are higher and stronger and hiring ever more highly trained security people. Governments have multiple departments whose purpose is to stop the criminals directly and to help the communities better defend themselves.

Every year the money spent to prevent cyber-crime goes up, and every year the amount of illicit goods the criminals make off with goes up. The criminals are almost never caught. The problem is clearly not that the communities aren’t spending enough money. The problem is that the defenders don’t know much about computers and are going through the motions while the attackers are going for the gold, i.e. bitcoin.

U.S. Cyber Command Hunts Forward

By Kimberly Underwood

The nation’s cyber force, when called upon, deploys to other nations to protect against nefrarious adversarial behavior in the digital realm.

The U.S. Cyber Command, at the invitation of foreign governments, sends teams of cyber warriors overseas to aid in the search for, analysis of and protection against adversaries conducting cyber warfare.

While U.S. forces frequently deploy overseas, this is a different kind of military support. Instead of taking tanks, helicopters and ships, the U.S. military sends its cyber warriors, armed with their adroit offensive and defensive skills and digital tools.

“Hunt forward operations play a crucial role in the U.S. Cyber Command's persistent engagement strategy,” said Gen. Paul Nakasone, USA, commander, U.S. Cyber Command; director, National Security Agency; and chief, Central Security Service. “Hunt forward teams deploy to countries that have formally requested support to defend and harden U.S. networks and systems and critical infrastructure, while also yielding insights and intelligence valuable to both us and our international partners.”

Army tests new techniques with airborne jamming pod

Mark Pomerleau

BELCAMP, Maryland — The Army used a series of exercises to prove out and mature its forthcoming aerial jamming pod, drawing lessons for senior leaders to make more informed funding decisions.

Most recently, the Army tested the Multi-Function Electronic Warfare Air Large pod — the service’s first organic brigade electronic attack asset mounted on an MQ-1C Gray Eagle drone — at Edge 21, an aviation-focused exercise leading up to the larger Project Convergence event later this summer. The Army is scheduled to field MFEW Air Large in 2022.

“This is the first time that we’ve had airborne capability like this. The big piece of it is just giving it visibility for senior leaders,” Col. Kevin Finch, project manager for electronic warfare and cyber at Program Executive Office for Intelligence, Electronic Warfare and Sensors, said Wednesday at the Cyber Electromagnetic Activity conference hosted by the Association of Old Crows. “What we’re trying to do with Edge 21 and also with Project Convergence is to provide data points for the senior leaders so as they make decisions, making informed decisions versus guesses on what the capability will actually do.”

That information will factor into the Army’s decisions as it plans for the 2023 budget and lays out its program objective memorandum for 2024, Finch said. His office has been providing white papers to senior leaders after demonstrations to help them decide on capabilities based on what the systems can actually do.

In terms of the actual capabilities, Finch told C4ISRNET that the team tries to add more electronic attack techniques at each exercise or demonstration.