19 September 2021

Deterrence Theory– Is it Applicable in Cyber Domain?

Maj Gen PK Mallick, VSM (Retd)


The Deterrence Theory was developed in the 1950s, mainly to address new strategic challenges posed by nuclear weapons from the Cold War nuclear scenario. During the Cold War, the U.S. and the Soviet Union adopted a survivable nuclear force to present a ‘credible’ deterrent that maintained the ‘uncertainty’ inherent in a strategic balance as understood through the accepted theories of major theorists like Bernard Brodie, Herman Kahn, and Thomas Schelling.1 Nuclear deterrence was the art of convincing the enemy not to take a specific action by threatening it with an extreme punishment or an unacceptable failure.

Cyber Weapons – A Weapon of War?

Maj Gen PK Mallick, VSM (Retd)

The character of warfare has changed fundamentally over the last decade. In the past, it was essential for an adversary nation or insurgent to physically bring weapons to bear during combat. That requirement is no longer a necessity. In cyber operations, the only weapons that need to be used are bits and bytes. In this new era of warfare, logistics issues that often restrict and limit conventional warfare and weaponry are not impediments. This new weaponry moves at the speed of light, is available to every human on the planet and can be as surgical as a scalpel or as devastating as a nuclear bomb.

Cyber attacks in various forms have become a global problem. Cyber weapons are low-cost, low-risk, highly effective and easily deployable globally. This new class of weapons is within reach of many countries, extremist or terrorist groups, non-state actors, and even individuals. Cyber crime organisations are developing cyber weapons effectively. The use of offensive Cyber operations by nation-states directly against another or by co-opting cyber criminals has blurred the line between spies and non-state malicious hackers. New entrants, both nation-states and non-state actors have unmatched espionage and surveillance capabilities with significant capabilities. They are often the forerunners for criminal financial gain, destruction and disruption operations. Progressively, we see non-state actors including commercial entities, developing capabilities that were solely held by a handful of state actors.

Anand Gopal on the Future of the Taliban

David Remnick

Last week, The New Yorker published “The Other Afghan Women,” a penetrating report on an unlikely source of support for the Taliban during their stunningly quick reconquest of Afghanistan: the country’s rural women. While the Taliban’s recapture of Kabul sparked panic among residents of that city, the response of women in Afghanistan’s countryside—home to the majority of the population, and the site of much of the violence of the two-decade U.S. occupation—was more complicated. Reporting this spring and summer from the country’s southern Helmand Province, the writer Anand Gopal encountered relief and outright support among some local women, despite the Taliban’s harshly repressive treatment of women when the group last ruled the country, and in the areas it has controlled more recently.

Very few foreign journalists have spent as much time with members of the Taliban as Gopal has. A finalist for a 2015 Pulitzer Prize for his book on Afghanistan, “No Good Men Among the Living,” Gopal was on his way back to the country when I spoke to him recently for The New Yorker Radio Hour. In our conversation, Gopal discussed the Taliban’s long-term prospects for staying in power, whether their recent pledges of change can be trusted, and how young Afghans view the September 11th attacks and the subsequent U.S. occupation. Our discussion has been edited for length and clarity.

Pakistan Might Soon Regret Its Win in Afghanistan

Anchal Vohra

Last weekend, Pakistan’s spy chief Faiz Hameed sipped tea at the Serena Hotel in Kabul as he mediated between Taliban ruling factions quarrelling over shares of power in the next Afghan government. “Everything will be okay,” he said about Afghanistan’s future. A few days later, a slate of men were appointed to high office, all of whom had been sheltered by the Pakistani state for nearly two decades while Pakistan denied doing any such thing.

As Hameed helped select designated terrorists to be the country’s top leaders, he showed little concern for what the West would think of him. Instead, he marched around Kabul exuding the confidence of a victor. He and his colleagues are patting themselves on the back for pushing out India—one of the leading allies of the recently deposed Afghan government— and creating a client state in Afghanistan of their own.

Pakistan’s deep state has indeed secured the expanded strategic reach it so desperately craved against India and will almost certainly use the Afghan territory as a safe haven for anti-India terrorist groups, as it did the last time the Taliban were in power. Pakistan has also succeeded in proving its worth to the Chinese as a go-between and security guarantor. Beijing intends to mine minerals in the war-torn nation and spend billions of dollars building an economic corridor that runs through Pakistan and Afghanistan to Central Asia.

New York Times and Washington Post investigations cast doubt on Pentagon's account of Kabul drone strike

Brian Stelter

Think back to last month after the ISIS attack at a Kabul airport checkpoint, which killed 13 U.S. service members and scores of Afghans. There was a widespread fear that a followup attack was imminent. That was some of the context when the U.S. military conducted an August 29 drone strike in the heart of Kabul, targeting an alleged would-be bomber.

But then reporters at the scene learned of civilian casualties. And now a pair of investigations by The New York Times and The Washington Post have cast further doubt about the Pentagon's account. The Times went to great lengths to reconstruct the target's final day, using surveillance camera footage and satellite images and other methods to buttress traditional interviews. "This man was an aid worker going about his normal day," Evan Hill told me on Sunday's "Reliable Sources."

"What we showed," he added, "challenges and perhaps contradicts the Defense Department's case about this man being an Islamic State facilitator, or a man carrying explosives."

The final scramble out of Kabul required skills only commandos have, special-ops veterans say


In the final weeks of August, US troops and international allies scrambled to get evacuees out of Afghanistan.

Getting foreign citizens and at-risk Afghans out was tricky, requiring many of them to make it through Taliban-held areas.

Key to those operations were special-operations units, which got outside the wire and extracted people in risky conditions.

The lighting speed of the Taliban conquest of Afghanistan caught the US and its allies ill-prepared.

The resulting evacuation was marred by confusion, mistakes, and tragedy. But not all went wrong. US and coalition forces managed to get roughly 115,000 people out of the country, including US citizens, third-country nationals, and vulnerable Afghans and their families.

Key to the evacuations were special-operations units, which were able to go outside the wire and extract people in risky conditions.

The special-operations face of the evacuations

Backing the Wrong Horses: American Blowback From Vietnam to Afghanistan

Rizal Ramli

Over the past few weeks, the world has come to the realization that the United States needs a major reset in its foreign policy, in particular its diplomacy, economic engagement, and use of military force.

For those of us watching from abroad, It was refreshing to hear U.S. President Joe Biden saying that America’s departure from Afghanistan should mark the end of “an era of major military operations to remake other countries.”

If there is any important lesson from the war in Afghanistan, as well as most of the conflicts the U.S. has been involved in since the end of the Second World War, it should be the lesson that the time has come for a serious assessment of Washington’s foreign policy establishment and its knack for backing military interventions doomed for failure.

The foreign policy elites’ rationale for interventions, which often starts with an argument about the need to protect America’s strategic interests, is usually followed by the desire to advance noble liberal causes such as nation-building, democratization, and the delivery of humanitarian aid.

Preliminary Commander's POSTEX on Afghanistan

CDR Salamander

What is most interesting here are three individuals speaking out who have mostly stayed in the background: Barno, McNeill, and McKiernan. You’ll come away wanting to hear more from them.

No longer in uniform, Gens. Stanley McChrystal, David Petraeus, Joseph Dunford, John Allen, David McKiernan, Dan McNeill, and Lt. Gens. Eikenberry and David Barno, speak frankly.

First, as always – let’s pull out the appropriate graphic. Time and context matters. In the article, they don’t do like they should and go chronologically, so I will here.

"I personally resented the war in Iraq," Barno, the senior US commander in Afghanistan for 19 months over 2003 to 2005, says.

Crashing Out In Afghanistan, the United States succeeded only in creating a virtual fantasyland.

Bruno Maçães

In the summer of 2002, Karl Rove arranged a meeting with journalist Ron Suskind to tell him that reality was a thing of the past. Rove was the most senior and best-known advisor to President George W. Bush, the mastermind behind his election almost two years earlier. The meeting with Suskind happened as the Iraq War was looming. Public debate about invading Iraq revolved around forensic evidence and intelligence reports, taken more or less seriously by the members of what Rove called the “reality-based community”—people emotionally attached to reality the way their ancestors were attached to God.

Suskind did not disagree. He liked to believe that solutions emerge from the “study of discernible reality,” but when he started to mumble something about the values of the Enlightenment and the ideal of empiricism, Rove cut him off. “Not the way the world really works anymore. We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you are studying that reality . . . we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort themselves out.”

In both Iraq and Afghanistan, the point of the enterprise was to act decisively against an old foe and bring him down. What might happen afterward was not really considered. The connections linking the invasion to the surrounding context, the parallel plot lines, the vast network of unpredictable consequences that the wars would inevitably bring about or the new possibilities that they would open up—all these elements were mostly ignored. If the invasions and wars were a story, they were an adventure tale, composed of the simplest elements: the hero sets out to defeat a cruel enemy and returns home, covered in glory.

'Exclusive Cliques': China Lashes Out at Upcoming Quad Meet

Beijing: China on Tuesday, September 14, hit out at the upcoming first-ever Quad summit to be hosted by US President Joe Biden, saying the formation of “exclusive cliques” targeting other countries runs counter to the trend of the times and is “doomed to fail”.

President Biden would host the first in-person Quad summit on September 24 in Washington which will be attended by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Prime Minister Scott Morrison of Australia and Japanese premier Yoshihide Suga.

Asked for his comment on the upcoming Quad summit, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told a media briefing here that cooperation between the countries should not target third parties.

“It is China’s consistent belief that any regional cooperation mechanism should follow the trend of peace and development, and help promote mutual trust and cooperation among regional countries rather than target a third party or undermine its interests,” Zhao said.

China’s Culture Wars Are Just Getting Started

Howard W. French

To many people who follow events in China closely, two announcements made in the past month by the Chinese government seemed like reasonably foreseeable developments, if not entirely predictable in their timing or details.

In the first, Beijing said that it was committed to combating the grueling common workplace culture known as 996, which stands for 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., six days a week. Placing such heavy demands of self-sacrifice for the benefit of corporations was unhealthy for society, the state concluded, in a belated judgment that follows more than a generation of high-speed growth characterized by utter domination of workers by the managerial class. In fact, the problem is so big that, now that it has been officially recognized, Chinese media have been able to frame the need for more unstructured, personal time as all but a matter of human rights. And although it might sound ironic for the world’s largest socialist society, one of the remedies, or reforms, that has been mooted has hinted at breaking another taboo: allowing trade unions to actually organize directly on behalf of their members. ..

Why is everyone so afraid of Xi Jinping's 'common prosperity' doctrine?


Chinese President Xi Jinping’s announcement that China must ensure that wealth is more evenly distributed across the country – a policy known as “common prosperity” – has been, in large part, received negatively internationally.

Mr Xi’s intention to “regulate excessively high incomes” and “encourage high-income people and enterprises to return more to society” might sound par for the course in many countries, but the common prosperity policy has, according to some publications, sent “luxury stocks tumbling” and provoked “uncommon angst among China’s elite”. It has been portrayed as part of a “regulatory onslaught” that risks “slower economic growth and more volatile financial markets”. The word “crackdown” has enjoyed many outings.

Never mind that these new regulations include one that parents elsewhere may envy: Chinese children are now banned from playing online video games for more than three hours per week. It is clear that some are framing common prosperity as another instance of Mr Xi exercising his authority. That is something those who are hawkish on China will always portray negatively.

The Third Revolution in Warfare

Kai-Fu Lee

On the 20th anniversary of 9/11, against the backdrop of the rushed U.S.-allied Afghanistan withdrawal, the grisly reality of armed combat and the challenge posed by asymmetric suicide terror attacks grow harder to ignore.

But weapons technology has changed substantially over the past two decades. And thinking ahead to the not-so-distant future, we must ask: What if these assailants were able to remove human suicide bombers or attackers from the equation altogether? As someone who has studied and worked in artificial intelligence for the better part of four decades, I worry about such a technology threat, born from artificial intelligence and robotics.

Autonomous weaponry is the third revolution in warfare, following gunpowder and nuclear arms. The evolution from land mines to guided missiles was just a prelude to true AI-enabled autonomy—the full engagement of killing: searching for, deciding to engage, and obliterating another human life, completely without human involvement.

The Backlash Against Globalized Trade Is Changing, Not Subsiding

Former U.S. President Donald Trump upended what was once a relatively staid global economic and trade system. Under the banner of “America First,” Trump launched a trade war with China and threatened America’s European allies with another, imposing steel and aluminum tariffs that have proven to be difficult to reverse. He also undermined the ability of the World Trade Organization to resolve global disputes by blocking key appointments. For all of this upheaval, Trump left office with only one clear-cut accomplishment: an updated NAFTA deal known officially as the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Act, or USMCA.

Even as Trump sowed chaos in America’s trade relationships, most of the world reinforced its commitment to trade liberalization. One of Trump’s first moves in office was to pull America out of the huge Pacific Rim trade deal known then as the Trans-Pacific Partnership. But the remaining 11 members moved forward with the deal largely intact, renaming it the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, or CPTPP. While the TPP was originally designed to contain China, Beijing is now actually showing interest in joining the revamped bloc. Meanwhile, upon being sealed in late 2020, the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership comprising 15 Asia-Pacific nations became the world’s largest trading bloc.

US Is Only Nation with Ethical Standards for AI Weapons. Should We Be Afraid?


On August 29th, three days after a suicide bomber killed 13 American soldiers and 160 civilians at Kabul airport, U.S. military intelligence was tracking what was thought to be another potentially devastating attack: a car driving towards the airport carrying "packages" that looked suspiciously like explosives. The plan was to lock in on the car by video with one of the Army's Reaper drones and destroy it with a Hellfire missile at a moment when there were no innocent civilians nearby. Sure enough, the car came to a stop at a quiet spot.

The tactical commander, most likely working at Creech Air Force Base in Nevada, had received the green light from General Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr., the head of U.S. Central Command in Tampa, Florida. Since video feeds have to ricochet among military commanders spread out around the world, they are often delayed by several seconds. In this case, that lag may have been time enough for a handful of civilians to approach the target vehicle, according to the U.S. military. The blast killed as many as 10 Afghan civilians, including seven children, and raised an international outcry. Doubts have surfaced over whether the car even posed a threat in the first place.

As military strategists ponder how to prevent future threats from ISIS, al Qaeda and other groups that could arise in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan—or any other distant location, for that matter—they are searching for a better way of attacking from afar. That search is leading in a disturbing direction: letting the machines decide when, and perhaps whom, to kill.

America’s Money Lost the Afghan War

Casey Michel and Paul Massaro

Last month, while the United States’ pullout from Afghanistan unfurled, the office of the U.S. Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) released a thorough 140-page report on lessons from Washington’s two-decade presence in the country. Amid details of political decisions and missed opportunities, the report offered a run-through of the one element the United States consistently overlooked during its occupation: corruption. Specifically, the SIGAR report details the American choices that, time and again, “increased corruption”—corruption that rotted the U.S.-backed regime and that allowed the Taliban to topple the government far more quickly than many assumed.

The examples of American decisions and policies that expanded rampant corruption—and how such expansion stemmed directly from the U.S. presence—are too numerous to list. Delivering “ghost money” to corrupt Afghan officials, looking the other way when investigations into elite corruption stalled out, ignoring signs that paid-off warlords were in hock to Taliban insurgents—the United States’ presence in Afghanistan is saturated in stories of how America and its NATO allies ignored metastasizing corruption, especially in Kabul.

Nor was it all the kind of simple, bags-of-cash bribery we may be accustomed to. As SIGAR notes, much of the U.S.-fueled corruption stemmed directly from increased U.S.-backed investment in the country, without any commensurate oversight. “As spending increased, the United States initially failed to recognize the existential threat that corruption posed to the reconstruction effort, missing an opportunity to make anticorruption efforts a central part of its strategy,” SIGAR writes.

How the United States Terrorized Itself

Joseph Stieb

The journalist Spencer Ackerman’s new book, Reign of Terror: How the 9/11 Era Destabilized America and Produced Trump, advances the important work of integrating America’s global counterterrorism campaigns with the history of politics and race in the two decades since the 9/11 attacks. Ackerman’s core argument is that the post-9/11 wars helped radicalize the right in the United States, pushing it toward nativism, Islamophobia, and a paranoid sense of civilizational decline that created a political niche for former President Donald Trump. It’s an important book—but one that sometimes falls into the sweeping generalizations that characterized the post-9/11 era itself.

Ackerman contends that even if counterterrorism is no longer the defining paradigm of U.S. foreign policy, the United States still operates in a political era defined by the response to terrorism. This open-ended, amorphous conflict became a political resource for various ideologues and office-seekers. The web of campaigns known as the “war on terror” has been used for numerous purposes, many of them racialized: limiting immigration to prevent what some have dubbed “white replacement,” lifting American culture out of supposed decadence and dissolution, and forging a narrative of the conflict as a struggle of the West against Islamic civilization. The ideological and political baggage attached to the post-9/11 wars not only made the conflict theoretically boundless but also encouraged a huge swath of the country to view Muslims, immigrants, liberals, and other groups as enemies.

U.S. Cyber Chief Says ‘Cyber Bullets’ Are Part of War on HacksBy

Chris Strohm

The U.S. government should be prepared to fire “cyber bullets” in response to significant hacking attacks as part of a comprehensive strategy to dissuade adversaries, National Cyber Director Chris Inglis said.

President Joe Biden has been receptive to proposals to use cyber weapons in retaliation against adversaries, among other options, Inglis, a former deputy director of the National Security Agency, said at an intelligence conference Tuesday in the suburbs of Washington. He is the first to hold his Senate-confirmed position at the White House.

“There is a sense that we can perhaps fire some cyber bullets and kind of shoot our way out of this,” Inglis said at the conference, hosted by the Intelligence and National Security Alliance and the nonprofit group AFCEA.

“That will be useful in certain circumstances,” he said. “If you had a clear shot at a cyber-aggressor and I can take them offline, I would advise that we should do that so long as the collateral effects are acceptable.”

Zalmay Khalilzad: ‘I Will Reflect’ on What U.S. Could Have Done Differently

Elise Labott

No U.S. official has been more closely associated with the United States’ 20-year involvement in Afghanistan—and its inglorious end—than Zalmay Khalilzad. An Afghan native, born in Mazar-i-Sharif and raised in Kabul, Khalilzad first came to the United States as a high school exchange student, studied at the University of Chicago, and rose to the upper echelons of the Republican foreign-policy establishment.

After the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, then-U.S. President George W. Bush tapped Khalilzad as his envoy to Afghanistan and, later, as his ambassador to Kabul. During that time, he midwifed the country’s Loya Jirga (or “public assembly”) in Bonn, Germany, and oversaw the drafting of the Afghan constitution and the country’s first elections. He went on to serve as George W. Bush’s ambassador to both Iraq and the United Nations.

Then-U.S. President Donald Trump, eager to withdraw all U.S. troops from Afghanistan, asked Khalilzad to return to government and negotiate a peace deal with the Taliban. Khalilzad signed the agreement in Doha, Qatar, on behalf of the United States in February 2020. When Trump left office, U.S. President Joe Biden asked Khalilzad to stay on in his position.

Stanford professors urge U.S. to end program looking for Chinese spies in academia

Jane Lanhee Lee
Source Link

Sept 13 (Reuters) - A group of Stanford University professors has asked the Justice Department to stop looking for Chinese spies at U.S. universities, joining an effort by human rights groups to end a Trump administration program they said caused racial profiling and was terrorizing some scientists.

The "China Initiative," launched in late 2018, aimed to prevent U.S. technology theft by China but has since "deviated significantly from its claimed mission," according to a Sept. 8 letter signed by 177 Stanford faculty members and made public by them on Monday.

"(I)t is harming the United States' research and technology competitiveness and it is fueling biases that, in turn, raise concerns about racial profiling," the letter said.

That letter is now being supported by about 140 University of California, Berkeley professors who have signed on since late last week, according to Randy Schekman, Berkeley professor and Nobel prize winner for physiology or medicine.

The US isn’t ready for the new national security risks of clean energy

Tim McDonnell

Securing a reliable, affordable supply of oil has long been a cornerstone of US national security strategy. But as the global economy begins a slow transition away from fossil fuels in an effort to avert devastating climate change, the geopolitical calculus around energy is shifting.

In a world that uses no oil and gas, Saudi Arabia, Russia, and other fossil powerhouses could lose much of their wealth and leverage, and the US might have less incentive for military or diplomatic interventions in the Middle East. But even if decarbonization is aggressively pursued, that world is still many decades away, according to the International Energy Agency. Meanwhile, the energy transition could actually benefit some legacy fossil producers—and present new security challenges.

“A world that is much more decarbonized will raise new geopolitical risks that we have barely started to contemplate,” said Jason Bordoff, director of Columbia University’s Center on Global Energy Policy. ”If we’re not really careful about anticipating the geopolitical and security-of-supply risks that might accompany the energy transition, that will not only have security implications, but it will undermine the pace of the transition itself.”

The Topography of Geopolitics: Net Resources and the Past, Present, and Future of American Power

Christopher Shaw

Quantifying power has always been central to the conduct of strategy. David Baldwin’s book Power and International Relations quoted Sir Francis Bacon who, in 1612, noted that “there is not any thing amongst civil affairs more subject to error than the right evaluation and true judgement concerning the power and forces of a state.”[1] He also quoted Stephen Jones who, more recently, stated that “so long as there is power among sovereign states, there will be estimation of power. Even though the best estimates are only rough, they are better than reliance on intuition or emotion.”[2] Both Sir Francis Bacon and Stephen Jones are correct. The need to estimate power remains central to politics, strategy and statecraft, but it continues to be a subjective and problematic undertaking.

Our ability to estimate power is improving, thanks to the insight of Professor Michael Beckley at Tufts University, who proposed a measurement of “net power” to take into account gross inputs against a state’s inherent efficiency.[3] While subjective analysis and commentary may struggle to quantify relative power between states, net power offers a more objective insight into geopolitical rivalries and great power competition. Michael Beckley went on to claim, using his concept of net power, that America is and will remain unrivaled as a geopolitical super-power.[4] Closer analysis of historical great power rivalries and net resources shows that this is an inaccurate interpretation. Instead, net resources offer an insight into the current and emerging geopolitical balance of power that indicates, while the United States will remain unsurpassed, China will represent a far more powerful competitor than America faced in the 20th century.

Assad Shores Up Control in Syria’s Symbolically Important South

Aron Lund

For much of the Syrian civil war, the southern city of Deraa and the surrounding Houran Plains, an agricultural region near the Jordanian border, were divided between government forces and armed rebels. Fighting raged back and forth, killing thousands. It was not until Russia backed a government offensive in 2018 that the situation changed in earnest. That year, Moscow brokered a series of agreements with rebel factions that brought the area back under loose government control.

This summer, fighting returned to Deraa—the epicenter of the initial 2011 uprising against President Bashar al-Assad that sparked the civil war—when government forces moved to forcibly revise the terms of the 2018 agreements. After a monthslong siege, Assad’s forces and their Russian allies have subdued the part of Deraa city that was still under rebel control, pressuring fighters to lay down their arms and accept a greater state presence. It is an outcome that bodes ill for anti-government forces elsewhere in the region. ...

Semiconductors: The Skills Shortage

Elliot Silverberg & Eleanor Hughes

Semiconductors are foundational to the digital revolution. A global chip shortage – accentuated by U.S.-China tensions, Covid-19, extreme weather events, as well as industry consolidation over the last decade – has galvanized attention around supply chain security. But alongside multilateral efforts to close bottlenecks in the semiconductor supply chain, cooperation will be needed to mitigate other systemic constraints on the industry’s growth.

Chief among these constraints is a shortage of qualified semiconductor engineers in the United States and partner nations.

In a 2017 survey of U.S. semiconductor manufacturers, 77 per cent of respondents were convinced that a talent deficit existed within the industry. Another 14 per cent anticipated a critical deficit by 2020.

Japanese companies, which import nearly two-thirds of their chips from South Korea and Taiwan, are struggling to fill jobs requiring expertise in artificial intelligence, quantum computing, and other cutting-edge technologies used in advanced chip design. In response, Tokyo plans to spend a trillion yen on its industry.

Europe’s military presence highlights Asia’s importance

The British aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth docked at Yokosuka Naval Base this week, after holding military drills with Japan’s Maritime Self-Defense Forces (MSDF) and other navies.

European military forces have an expanding presence in this part of the world, a recognition of the ever-larger role the Indo-Pacific has assumed in those governments’ strategic calculations and of emerging threats to regional stability. European attention is welcome but we shouldn’t have outsize expectations of the role it can play.

The HMS Queen Elizabeth, a 65,000-ton aircraft carrier and the largest surface vessel ever built in the U.K., is making its maiden voyage through the Indo-Pacific, engaging with 40 countries on its journey. Its strike group includes two destroyers, two frigates and a submarine. Prior to the port call, the strike group held a drill with MSDF forces, as well as exercises with U.S. and Dutch forces.

Defusing Saudi Arabia-UAE tensions through economic rebalancing

Hani Findakly

UAE Finance Minister and Deputy Ruler of Dubai Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid Al Maktoum (R) speaks to Saudi Arabia's Finance Minister Ibrahim al-Assaf ahead of a group meeting of Gulf and Arab Finance Ministers in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, September 7, 2011. REUTERS/Jumana El Heloueh/File Photo

The recent disagreement between Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) over oil production quotas has drawn attention to broader issues, such as diverging interests in the Yemen war and disputes over borders. Missing from the public discourse, however, is an assessment of the economic factors that are a game changer in Riyadh-Abu Dhabi relations. These conflicting national interests arise from a symbiotic relationship that has created massive economic imbalances that heavily favor the UAE, which Saudi Arabia is taking steps to remedy. Although Saudi Arabia lifted travel restrictions to the UAE for citizens this month in conjunction with the Dubai Expo 2020, much remains unresolved.

The emerging schism is not inevitable. By identifying the economic imbalances contributing to the breakdown, recalibration is possible to rebuild a more balanced relationship that circumvents the zero-sum game that has given rise to the Riyadh-Abu Dhabi dispute. Otherwise, a slew of joint ventures, bank loans, investments, and transport will be disrupted, entailing costly disentanglement. In July, media reports indicated major land travel disruptions at the UAE-Saudi borders, and scores of businesses around the world were impacted. Should the rift continue, major shifts in logistics, as well as shipping and transit routes, will occur.

Apple issues emergency security update

Kevin Collier

Apple on Monday advised all users to update their devices after researchers warned that the Israeli spyware company NSO Group had developed a way to take control over nearly any Apple computer, watch or iPhone.

“It’s absolutely terrifying,” said John Scott-Railton, a senior researcher at The Citizen Lab, which recently discovered the software exploit and notified Apple about it. The group published a report about it Monday.

The malicious software takes control of an Apple device by first sending a message through iMessage, the company’s default messaging app, and then hacking through a flaw in how Apple processes images. It is what’s known in the cybersecurity industry as a “zero-click” exploit — a particularly dangerous and pernicious flaw that doesn’t require a victim clicking a link or downloading a file to take over.

People whose devices have been exploited are extremely unlikely to realize they’ve been hacked, Scott-Railton said.

The Other Face of Battle

James Sandy

Military history and its practitioners were long derided for their obsession with battle. The bugles and banners style of operational history, the standard approach of the discipline until the mid-1970s, has cast a long shadow of exclusion and dismissal upon military historians and their purpose. That all changed when John Keegan’s The Face of Battle was released in 1976. Keegan’s seminal work centered on the soldiers’ experience and the multi-faceted consequences, costs, and havoc wreaked on the individual in combat. Keegan uses three critical British battles, Agincourt, Waterloo, and the Somme, to disprove mythologies, track the impact of new technologies, and present a more accurate representation of the realities of combat. Keegan literally changed the game, launching first the social and then the cultural turn in the discipline, both of which have created a forever richening scholarship seeking a deeper understanding of warfare, its realities, and widespread consequences.[1]

Wayne Lee, Anthony Carlson, David Preston, and David Silbey come together in The Other Face of Battle to present the next step in Keegan’s cause while highlighting a serious flaw in his objective. This book and its four authors, all of outstanding reputation and pedigree, stand on the 40-year foundation set by the cultural turn. In a masterful homage to Keegan and with eyes to the future, Lee, Carlson, Preston, and Silbey take the iconic work and its framework into the present by asking questions that are as difficult as they are important. While Keegan spotlights the soldiers’ experience in combat between culturally linked opponents on European battlefields, this new inquiry does the opposite: it explores the jarring and much more prevalent encounter when the enemy is the “other.”

Blood, Guts and Grease

Lex Oren

Jon Mikolashek is a former United States Army Command and General Staff College historian, professor at the Joint Forces Staff College, National Defense University, and published author of historical military works including General Mark Clark: Commander of U.S. Fifth Army and Liberator of Rome. Mikolashek goes beyond General George S. Patton’s well-known reputation as a military tactician and strict disciplinarian, notably portrayed by George C. Scott in the 1970 eponymous movie Patton. Blood, Guts, and Grease, to capture the younger, less known company and field grade officer before his daring exploits as a general officer in World War II.

Patton made informed and deliberate decisions as a young officer that steered his career to the ground floor of tank warfare.

NSO Group iMessage Zero-Click Exploit Captured in the Wild

Bill Marczak, John Scott-Railton, Bahr Abdul Razzak, Noura Al-Jizawi

While analyzing the phone of a Saudi activist infected with NSO Group’s Pegasus spyware, we discovered a zero-day zero-click exploit against iMessage. The exploit, which we call FORCEDENTRY, targets Apple’s image rendering library, and was effective against Apple iOS, MacOS and WatchOS devices.

We determined that the mercenary spyware company NSO Group used the vulnerability to remotely exploit and infect the latest Apple devices with the Pegasus spyware. We believe that FORCEDENTRY has been in use since at least February 2021.

The Citizen Lab disclosed the vulnerability and code to Apple, which has assigned the FORCEDENTRY vulnerability CVE-2021-30860 and describes the vulnerability as “processing a maliciously crafted PDF may lead to arbitrary code execution.”

Today, September 13th, Apple is releasing an update that patches CVE-2021-30860. We urge readers to immediately update all Apple devices.


In March 2021, we examined the phone of a Saudi activist who has chosen to remain anonymous, and determined that they had been hacked with NSO Group’s Pegasus spyware. During the course of the analysis we obtained an iTunes backup of the device.

Figure 1: The GIF files we found on the phone.

Recent re-analysis of the backup yielded several files with the “.gif” extension in Library/SMS/Attachments that we determined were sent to the phone immediately before it was hacked with NSO Group’s Pegasus spyware.


The files were:
27 copies of an identical file with the “.gif” extension. Despite the extension, the file was actually a 748-byte Adobe PSD file. Each copy of this file caused an IMTranscoderAgent crash on the device. These files each had random-looking ten-character filenames.

Four different files with the “.gif” extension that were actually Adobe PDF files containing a JBIG2-encoded stream. Two of these files had 34-character names, and two had 97-character names.

The output of the pdfid tool on these four “.gif” files was (NB: the stream had varying length): 
Discovery and Disclosure

Because the format of the files matched two types of crashes we had observed on another phone when it was hacked with Pegasus, we suspected that the “.gif” files might contain parts of what we are calling the FORCEDENTRY exploit chain.

Citizen Lab forwarded the artifacts to Apple on Tuesday, September 7. On Monday, September 13, Apple confirmed that the files included a zero-day exploit against iOS and MacOS. They designated the FORCEDENTRY exploit CVE-2021-30860, and describe it as “processing a maliciously crafted PDF may lead to arbitrary code execution.”

The exploit works by exploiting an integer overflow vulnerability in Apple’s image rendering library (CoreGraphics). We are publishing limited technical information about CVE-2021-30860 at this time.

Attribution to NSO Group

We observed multiple distinctive elements that allowed us to make a high-confidence attribution to NSO Group:

The spyware installed by the FORCEDENTRY exploit exhibited a forensic artifact that we call CASCADEFAIL, which is a bug whereby evidence is incompletely deleted from the phone’s DataUsage.sqlite file. In CASCADEFAIL, an entry from the file’s ZPROCESS table is deleted, but not entries in the ZLIVEUSAGE table that refer to the deleted ZPROCESS entry. We have only ever seen this type of incomplete deletion associated with NSO Group’s Pegasus spyware, and we believe that the bug is distinctive enough to point back to NSO. The specific CASCADEFAIL artifact can be detected bySELECT "CASCADEFAIL" FROM ZLIVEUSAGE WHERE ZLIVEUSAGE.ZHASPROCESS NOT IN (SELECT Z_PK FROM ZPROCESS);

The spyware installed by the FORCEDENTRY exploit used multiple process names, including the name “setframed”. That process name was used in an attack with NSO Group’s Pegasus spyware on an Al Jazeera journalist in July 2020. Notably, we did not publish that detail at the time.

Previous NSO Zero-Click Exploits

FORCEDENTRY is the latest in a string of zero-click exploits linked to NSO Group. In 2019, WhatsApp fixed CVE-2019-3568, a zero-click vulnerability in WhatsApp calling that NSO Group used against more than 1400 phones in a two-week period during which it was observed, and in 2020, NSO Group employed the KISMET zero-click iMessage exploit.

To our knowledge, the KISMET vulnerability was never publicly identified, though we suspect that the underlying vulnerability (if it still exists) can no longer be exploited via iMessage due to Apple’s introduction of the BlastDoor mitigation in iOS14. We suspect that NSO Group developed FORCEDENTRY, which circumvents BlastDoor, in response to this mitigation.

Despite promising their customers the utmost secrecy and confidentiality, NSO Group’s business model contains the seeds of their ongoing unmasking. Selling technology to governments that will use the technology recklessly in violation of international human rights law ultimately facilitates discovery of the spyware by investigatory watchdog organizations, as we and others have shown on multiple prior occasions, and as was the case again here.

In 2016, we titled our report on the discovery of an iOS and MacOS Apple zero-day the “Million Dollar Dissident.” The title was chosen to reflect the huge sums that autocratic governments are willing to pay to hack their critics. Mercenary spyware companies devote substantial resources to identifying software vulnerabilities on widely used applications and then package those exploits to eager government clients, creating a highly lucrative but widely abused commercial surveillance marketplace.

Our latest discovery of yet another Apple zero day employed as part of NSO Group’s arsenal further illustrates that companies like NSO Group are facilitating “despotism-as-a-service” for unaccountable government security agencies. Regulation of this growing, highly profitable, and harmful marketplace is desperately needed.

Our finding also highlights the paramount importance of securing popular messaging apps. Ubiquitous chat apps have become a major target for the most sophisticated threat actors, including nation state espionage operations and the mercenary spyware companies that service them. As presently engineered, many chat apps have become an irresistible soft target. Without intense engineering focus, we believe that they will continue to be heavily targeted, and successfully exploited.