29 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.

India should invest in ever more sophisticated cyber armaments

Nitin Pai

A century ago, the declaration of war was a formal exercise. Diplomats in frock coats would turn up at chancellories to first serve ultimatums and subsequently to hand-deliver notices of war. Some would even insist on reading them out aloud for the benefit of bemused recipients, who would then make arrangements for the safe departure of the enemy’s embassy. These age-old courtesies were abridged by the time of World War II and terse telegrams replaced frock coats. The advent of the Cold War, nuclear weapons and proxy wars of the 20th century put an end to the custom of formal war declarations. In recent times, an incoming missile or fighter aircraft announces war. Even so, we are used to wars that have a starting point and an end date.

Not anymore. Information warfare is an ongoing affair. Cyber warfare, its technical aspect, has already been militarized. It is global and continues regardless of whether or not states are in armed conflict. We cannot pinpoint the date, month or even the year it started. And, unfortunately, we also cannot say when it will end, if ever. States have no choice but to wage it. Gloomy as this sounds, at least so far the pursuit of politics through these other means has avoided large scale bloodshed that characterized armed conflicts of the Industrial Age.

For India’s Military, a Juggling Act on Two Hostile Fronts

Mujib Mashal and Hari Kumar

In the past year, it has tripled the number of troops in the contentious eastern Ladakh region to more than 50,000. It has raced to stock up on food and gear for freezing temperatures and 15,000-foot altitudes before the region is largely cut off for much of the winter. It has announced that an entire strike corps, an offensive force of tens of thousands more soldiers, would be reoriented to the increasingly contentious frontier with China from the long, volatile border with Pakistan.

India’s military is now grappling with a reality that the country has feared for nearly two decades: It is stuck in a two-front conflict with hostile neighbors — and all three are nuclear armed.

And it comes as India increasingly finds itself isolated in its broader neighborhood, part of the global security backdrop to President Biden’s discussions on Friday with India, Australia and Japan, the group known as the Quad.

China has made investments and inroads from Sri Lanka to Nepal. The victory in Afghanistan by the Taliban, a movement nurtured and harbored in Pakistan that has increasing ties to China, has essentially shut out India from a country it saw as a natural ally in the regional balance.

India: Coming Home In Dantewada, Chhattisgarh – Analysis

Deepak Kumar Nayak*

On September 6, 2021, five Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist) cadres, two of them carrying a total bounty of INR 200,000 on their heads, surrendered to Security Forces (SFs) in Dantewada District. The surrendered Maoists, identified as Nahum aka Pojja Sodi (25), Masa Sodi (26), Sukaru Ram aka Dogal Kadti (21), Rakesh Madkam (18) and Bhupendra Sodi (19), were active in the Gangaloor and Bhairamgarh Area Committees of the CPI-Maoist. Nahum, a Dandakaranya Adivasi Kisan Mazdoor Sangathan (DAKMS, a Maoist front), ‘president’; and Masa, a ‘militia commander’, carried a cash reward of INR 100,000 each on their heads.

On August 30, 2021, two CPI-Maoist cadres active in the Amdai ‘area committee’ of the CPI-Maoist surrendered to Police in Dantewada District. Pradeep Kadti and Ramji Kashyap, both aged 20, were members of the ‘Todma Militia Platoon’, and they carried a bounty of INR 10,000 each on their heads. The duo was involved in various incidents in 2021, including the killing of a Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) trooper on March 4, 2021, in the Pahurnar area in Dantewada District.

After Taliban Victory, Central Asian Countries Increasingly Pursuing Separate Goals

Paul Goble

When the Taliban swept into Kabul on August 15, many assumed that this would lead to a shakeup of the geopolitical order in neighboring Central Asia, with the countries there either seeking protection from the Russian Federation or moving to cooperate more closely with each other to counter the threat (see EDM, August 17). Initial moves could soon be observed in each of these directions: on the one hand, the five Central Asian republics increased consultations among themselves, and on the other hand, they and Moscow explored ways in which the Russian military would help to defend the region (Khan Tengri, CAA Network, September 9; Profil, September 20). But recognition is growing in all of the Central Asian capitals that Moscow will only do so much and that it is not physically ready to guard them against all the threats the Taliban represents (Stan Radar, August 30). And because each of the five “stans” are in quite different situations politically, militarily and domestically, they are taking more independent responses to the challenges they now face—a divergence away from Moscow that is clearly seen in the cases of Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan.

Publication: Terrorism Monitor Volume: 19 Issue: 18

Jacob Zenn

On September 11, the grand mufti of Tajikistan, Saidmukarrim Abdulqoddirzoda, issued an edict calling the Taliban a “terrorist group” and declared that the Taliban’s behavior was “far from Islam.” In particular, the grand mufti focused on the Taliban’s treatment of women, including their “not being allowed to leave the house.” Only if the Taliban practiced the “basics of Islam,” according to the grand mufti, could the “whole world” recognize its state (Khovar.tj, September 11).

These comments mirror Tajikistan’s national policy to possibly provide haven for what remains of the anti-Taliban resistance in exile and to continually accuse the Taliban of “oppression” (Terrorism Monitor, September 7). However, Tajikistan’s religious position regarding the Taliban is not uniform. The Omani grand mufti, for example, immediately congratulated the Taliban after its victory and considered it the “fulfillment of God’s sincere promise” (Middle East Eye, August 16). This was despite Oman’s foreign policy being open to “normalizing” relations with Israel (The Arab Weekly, June 26).

Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan’s Discursive Shift From Global Jihadist Rhetoric to Pashtun-Centric Narratives

Abdul Basit

TTP has also changed its indiscriminate targeting strategy against civilians to focus primarily on attacks against the Pakistani security forces and law enforcement agencies (Umar Media, September 16, 2018). TTP’s emir, Mufti Nur Wali Mehsud, has taken such steps to ideologically justify, operationally sustain and morally legalize the group’s violent struggle in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region in the post-US withdrawal scenario. [2] In an interview with CNN on July 26, 2020, Nur Wali Mehsud articulated his group’s newfound vision of separating the ex-FATA (Federally Administered Tribal Areas) region, which is now merged with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, from Pakistan through a jihadist struggle and to transform it into a sharia-ruled state (CNN, July 26, 2020).

Against this backdrop, it is essential to situate the TTP’s new focus on Pashtun grievances and framing of its struggle in ethno-nationalist terms in the context of rapid geopolitical changes in Afghanistan. Only in this way can one understand the TTP’s future trajectories and the nature of the threat it poses to Pakistan. [3]

TTP: Jihadist Ethno-Separatism?

A careful examination of TTP’s statements of the last two years reveals constant references to two main themes: “Islamic principles and tribal customs” and the “Pashtun tribal nation.” These themes can also be found in the first chapter of Nur Wali Mehsud’s book Inqilab-i-Mehsud. [4] Further, TTP’s July 2020 statement, which reacted to a UN Sanctions Committee on Al-Qaeda and ISIL’s report, was an effort not only to distance TTP from al-Qaeda, but also to frame TTP’s jihadist struggle in ethno-nationalist terms. The UN report highlighted al-Qaeda’s mediation efforts in TTP’s reunification. However, in vehemently refuting this assertion, TTP’s spokesperson Muhammad Khurasani noted that TTP’s “reunification was purely an indigenous effort. No other organization [referencing al-Qaeda] played any part in this [reunification] process, nor would TTP allow anyone to interfere in its internal matters” (Umar Media, July 29, 2020; Independent Urdu, August 1, 2020). [5]

Similarly, reacting to the UN Sanctions Committee on Al-Qaeda and ISIL’s February 2021 report, Khurasani maintained that “The Pakistani state has suppressed the Baloch and Pashtun communities in the last ten years. The Pakistani state has denied the rights of Balochs and Pashtuns. We are fighting to win back their rights [autonomy] and our struggle will continue until we attain these goals” (Umar Media, February 8). TTP’s efforts to distance itself from al-Qaeda reveal TTP as a Pakistan-centric and Pashtun-focused organization and, therefore, as a nationalist and ethno-separatist group, which it might have learned from the Afghan Taliban’s own evolution. [6]

The most explicit expression of TTP’s re-incarnation as an ethno-separatist group came from Nur Wali Mehsud in March 2021. Reacting to the extrajudicial killing of four Pashtun youths from Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province’s Jani Khel area, he asserted, “We will free our land [ex-FATA region] from the occupation of the Pakistani forces and we will never surrender to their atrocious rule. We want to live on our land according to Islamic laws and tribal traditions. We are Muslims and Pashtuns” (Dawn, March 23; Umar Media, March 23). Nur Wali Mehsud’s statement following the UN Sanctions Committee on Al-Qaeda and ISIL’s July 2020 report further noted, “The Pakistan Army has occupied our land [ex-FATA region] and usurped our inalienable right of living according to Islam and tribal culture. We are waging an armed struggle from our soil to free our occupied lands and live our lives according to Islam and Pashtun tribal culture. The independence of Pakhtunkhwa and the Pashtun tribal areas is national and religious for all Pashtuns” (Umar Media, July 29, 2020). [7]

What Does TTP’s Ethno-Nationalist Rhetoric Signify?

TTP’s efforts to move away from the global jihadist narrative of al-Qaeda and frame its propaganda in Pashtun nationalist rhetoric—just like the Afghan Taliban—and to switch from an indiscriminate to discriminate targeting strategy is an effort to evolve from a “terrorist” group to an “insurgent” group. However, TTP neither has the territorial control in the ex-FATA region nor the public support—some pockets of public sympathy notwithstanding—to qualify as a full-fledged “insurgency.” [8] Such terrorist groups like TTP that behave as insurgencies without actually being one can be categorized as “proto-insurgencies” or “hybridized terrorist groups.” [9]

TTP is also making these rhetorical and operational changes to circumvent being lumped with global jihadist groups such as the Islamic State in Khorasan Province (ISKP) or al-Qaeda in Afghanistan. They also seek to avoid US-led Over the Horizon (OTH) counter-terrorism strikes. These changes were also necessary for TTP to continue to benefit from sanctuaries in Afghanistan under the Afghan Taliban’s umbrella without creating international legal challenges for the former. [10]

In addition, TTP’s new rhetoric is consistent with the Afghan Taliban’s position of not recognizing the Durand Line as a legal border and opposing its fencing by Pakistan because it has divided the Pashtun tribes. For example, while talking to a Pakistani Pashto-language channel, the Afghan Taliban’s spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid stated, “The Afghans oppose the fence erected by Pakistan along the Durand Line. The fencing has separated people and divided families. We want to create a secure and peaceful environment on the border, so there is no need to create barriers” (Indian Express, September 9). Nur Wali Mehsud’s framing of TTP’s struggle as an ethno-separatist struggle will not only ensure his group’s continued sanctuary in Afghanistan, but also sustain a low-intensity, long-term insurgency in the ex-FATA region like the Afghan Taliban’s in Afghanistan. The Afghan Taliban conversely managed its own insurgency in Afghanistan when the top leadership guided their movement from the safety of their hideouts in Quetta, Pakistan (Dawn, August 29).


By carefully reframing its militant struggle from al-Qaeda-aligned global jihadist rhetoric to a more local ethno-nationalist Pashtun struggle, Nur Wali Mehsud has created a lifeline for TTP. On the one hand, it will be spared from the U.S.-led OTH campaign, allowing it to plan and execute its attacks in the ex-FATA region with more freedom. On the other hand, it will allow the Afghan Taliban to resist Pakistani pressure to act against TTP. In fact, the Afghan Taliban will likely use TTP as bargain leverage in its dealings with Pakistan. The Afghan Taliban may even facilitate talks between TTP and Pakistani state institutions to settle their differences, but the Afghan Taliban may also ignore Pakistani demands to expel TTP from Afghanistan or to act against TTP. [11]

From a long-term perspective, Pakistan will have to address the grievances of the Pashtun tribes in the ex-FATA region and the root causes of the conflict. Counter-terrorism operations in the ex-FATA area will only address the symptoms, and not the causes, of more profound structural inequalities and socio-economic problems. The persistence of these issues, coupled with the use of force, will further legitimize and embolden TTP’s violent campaign.

The Taliban’s Persistent War on Salafists in Afghanistan

Abdul Sayed

Afghan Salafists have long feared these threats from the Taliban, which is why they held a high-level meeting at the beginning of last year with the Taliban leadership. This article provides insights into that meeting and what was discussed between the Salafist and the Taliban leaders and how the current challenges faced by Salafists were reflected in those meetings’ speeches. This article further contextualizes the speeches of that meeting in the history of Taliban-Afghan Salafist relations. Finally, the article argues that the way their relations are unfolding will strengthen ISKP in its war in Afghanistan against the Taliban.

Afghan Salafists’ Pledge of Loyalty to the Taliban after ISKP’s Collapse

The Afghan Salafist Council under its emir, Shaikh Abdul Aziz Nooristani, met with Afghan Taliban leaders and pledged their allegiance to the Taliban’s supreme leader, Shaikh Haibat Ullah Akhunzada, in March 2020. The meeting was held after the Taliban defeated ISKP in the latter’s traditional strongholds of Nangarhar and Kunar provinces in eastern Afghanistan. This ocurred shortly before the US-Taliban peace deal was signed in Doha on February 29, 2020. The meeting’s details were later revealed through a 17-minute video entitled “Pledge of Allegiance of Salafi Ulama”, which was published by the Afghan Taliban’s official media arm, al-Emarah studio. [1]

One Month after Afghanistan Capture, Internal Taliban Power Struggles Erupt

Trevor Filseth 

After the Taliban’s capture of Kabul on August 15 and its occupation of Panjshir, the final province resisting its rule, in early September, the twenty-year War in Afghanistan has ended, and the Taliban has restored its rule over the country for the first time since 2001. However, as the Taliban has brought an end to the war and established an interim government, several issues have threatened its unity and brought internal divisions within the group into the open.

One of the problems the group has sought to address at its highest levels has been the looting of the cities it has captured. The group’s leaders have condemned the practice, and Taliban officials have publicly stated they are not seeking retribution for the twenty-year war. Two days after the fall of Kabul, spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid assured the country that “we have instructed everyone not to enter anybody’s house, whether they’re civilians or military.”

Despite this, a number of Taliban soldiers and commanders have taken property from the country’s urban residents, justifying these seizures as the spoils of war. Rather than ideological, this issue has primarily divided the upper echelons of the group, which have urged peace and attempted to garner international recognition, and its rank and file, which have pursued material rewards for twenty years of struggle against the United States and NATO.

Afghan Resistance Mulls Formation of Government in Exile

Lynne O’Donnell

The leaders of Afghanistan’s armed resistance against the Taliban have left the country and are regrouping with former senior figures of the toppled Ghani administration with the aim of forming a government in exile.

Politicians including ministers and parliamentary deputies of the deposed government, as well as senior military figures, are in neighboring Tajikistan, seeking financial and military support to bolster a formal opposition to the extremists who took control of Afghanistan on Aug. 15, former officials living abroad said. Ahmad Massoud, son of a famed resistance leader, and former Afghan Vice President Amrullah Saleh, who both led a short-lived resistance in the Panjshir Valley northeast of Kabul, fled across the border in recent weeks after their efforts to hold out against the Taliban were crushed.

A former senior Afghan security official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the resistance comprises three broad categories: supporters of Saleh and Massoud’s National Resistance Front; former officers, including generals of the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces, as well as senior officials of the former defense and interior ministries; and former ministers and deputy ministers. Discussions are in the early stages, and the groups are yet to unite ideologically.

Top Pakistan Diplomat Details Taliban Plan

Edith M. Lederer

Be realistic. Show patience. Engage. And above all, don’t isolate. Those are the pillars of an approach emerging in Pakistan to deal with the fledgling government that is suddenly running the country next door once again — Afghanistan’s resurgent, often-volatile Taliban.

Pakistan’s government is proposing that the international community develop a road map that leads to diplomatic recognition of the Taliban — with incentives if they fulfill its requirements — and then sit down face to face and talk it out with the militia’s leaders.

Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi outlined the idea Wednesday in an interview with The Associated Press on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly’s meeting of world leaders.

The Taliban’s False Amnesty

Mehdi J. Hakimi

The Taliban have been working hard to project a moderate image, promising that they have changed since they last ruled Afghanistan in the 1990s. To that end, one of their first orders of business after seizing Kabul was the proclamation of a general amnesty for all, including those who worked with the “opposition” or supported the “occupiers.”

It is hard to overstate the irony of this declaration considering the violence and bloodshed that the Taliban have inflicted on ordinary citizens in Afghanistan for more than 20 years. Most Afghans legitimately expected the Taliban to seek pardon from them, not the other way around.

Weary of decades of war, Afghanistan enacted an Amnesty Law in 2007. That law was invoked in the 2016 peace deal with Hezb-e-Islami, previously designated a terrorist group. The deal granted immunity to the group, including its leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, a notorious warlord accused of numerous atrocities, in exchange for abandoning violence. The Taliban, however, never showed genuine interest in a similar accord.

How France Can Avoid Being Reduced to a Symbolic Power

Garvan Walshe

France got a bitter lesson in the realities of geopolitics last week when the United States and Australia, with the United Kingdom tagging along, signed the AUKUS security agreement. Its public centerpiece is Australia’s resulting decision to cancel a French submarine contract and replace it with a U.S. one (or, in the British press nostalgic for great power status, an “Anglo-American” one). But strategic calculations about China were decisive for Canberra.

France has more than 1.5 million citizens in the Indo-Pacific region, mainly in New Caledonia and Réunion. These territories are politically integrated with Paris, like Hawaii is with Washington. French security agreements with Australia (of which the sale of submarines was one) were part of the Paris’s efforts to secure those territories in an increasingly militarized Asian environment.

But things have changed in the Pacific. The French-Australian submarine agreement was concluded in 2016 during the presidency of François Hollande. At the time, France and Australia both wanted enthusiastic engagement with China, in order to exploit the growing Chinese market. In the last two years, however, Australia’s position has shifted radically. Pushed by aggressive diplomacy from Chinese President Xi Jinping, including a recent boycott of Australian wine, Canberra has seen no alternative but to confront its northern neighbor.

Combating Foreign Disinformation on Social Media

Raphael S. Cohen, Nathan Beauchamp-Mustafaga, Joe Cheravitch

How are state adversaries using disinformation on social media to advance their interests? What does the Joint Force—and the U.S. Air Force (USAF) in particular—need to be prepared to do in response? Drawing on a host of different primary and secondary sources and more than 150 original interviews from across the U.S. government, the joint force, industry, civil society, and subject-matter experts from nine countries around the world, researchers examined how China, Russia, and North Korea have used disinformation on social media and what the United States and its allies and partners are doing in response. The authors found that disinformation campaigns on social media may be more nuanced than they are commonly portrayed. Still, much of the response to disinformation remains ad hoc and uncoordinated. Disinformation campaigns on social media will likely increase over the coming decade, but it remains unclear who has the competitive edge in this race; disinformation techniques and countermeasures are evolving at the same time. This overview of a multi-volume series presents recommendations to better prepare for this new age of communications warfare.

NATO Secretary General meets virtually with China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi

The Secretary General welcomed the expanding dialogue between NATO and China, and noted the potential for further engagement on common challenges, such as climate change.

The Secretary General recalled that NATO does not see China as an adversary, but called on China to uphold its international commitments and act responsibly in the international system. He raised NATO’s concerns over China’s coercive policies, expanding nuclear arsenal and lack of transparency on its military modernisation. The Secretary General urged China to engage meaningfully in dialogue, confidence-building, and transparency measures regarding its nuclear capabilities and doctrine. He stressed that reciprocal transparency and dialogue on arms control would benefit both NATO and China.

The Secretary General and the Chinese Foreign Minister also discussed developments in Afghanistan. The Secretary General stressed that NATO Allies went into Afghanistan to ensure the country did not serve again as a platform for terrorists, and recalled that no terrorist attacks against our countries had been organised from Afghanistan since 2001. Mr Stoltenberg also stressed the importance of a coordinated international approach, including with countries from the region, to hold the Taliban accountable for their commitments on countering terrorism and upholding human rights, not least the rights of women.

Chairman Xi, China’s Looming Crisis, And The Myth Of Infallibility

Anne Stevenson-Yang

The gist of analysis on China and its Evergrande debacle is generally “the government will save things” and “China can’t have a crisis.” Both statements rely on the decades-old article of faith that Chinese leaders are all-seeing and all-powerful and have an amazing array of tools in their policy kit. The less this view is true, the more fervently it is asserted.

In the last six months, Xi Jinping and his “Thought” have been elevated in the State media and leadership pronouncements to a level heretofore enjoyed only by Mao. In its public discourse, the Party has significantly elevated Xi to semi-deity status, with the explicit claim he is able to control everything.

Mao Zedong depicted on a 1960's poster declaring 'revolutionary committees are good'. (Photo by: ... [+] UNIVERSAL IMAGES GROUP VIA GETTY IMAGES

Divide, Depoliticize, and Demobilize: China’s Strategies for Controlling the Tibetan Diaspora

Tenzin Dorjee


Last fall, the Tibetan community in New York City was scandalized by news that a New York Police Department (NYPD) officer named Baimadajie Angwang, allegedly of Tibetan ethnicity, had been arrested and charged with spying on the local Tibetan community for the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) (New York Times, September 21, 2020). Court filings alleged that Angwang had been affiliated with the CCP since at least 2014 (Eastern District of New York U.S. Attorney’s Office, September 21, 2020). While news of Angwang’s arrest intrigued national media and intensified Washington’s growing concern about China’s overseas influence operations, Tibetans have long felt the creeping presence of Chinese espionage activities in their communities. Traditional exile hubs like Dharamsala and Kathmandu have been menaced for decades, but this problem has now spread to Western outposts of the Tibetan diaspora.

Beijing has historically viewed the Tibetan diaspora—with its resilient exile government and highly effective transnational advocacy movement—as a threat to China’s international reputation and its foreign policy objectives. This was especially so during its heyday in the late nineties and the early aughts, when the international Tibet movement dealt Beijing several defeats on the global stage––from thwarting China’s bid for the 2000 Olympics to foiling a high-stakes World Bank loan that would have enabled Beijing to transfer some 60,000 Chinese settlers into eastern Tibet (Los Angeles Times, September 24, 1993; World Bank, April 28, 2000). During this time, Beijing began expanding its overseas influence operations targeting the Tibetan diaspora, refining its strategies and innovating new tactics to counter the Tibet movement.

But how does Beijing actually counter the Tibetan diaspora’s opposition to China? What are the methods it uses to co-opt or neutralize Tibetans living in free democracies in the West? This article provides a preliminary answer to these questions using firsthand observations, policy reports, court documents, and personal interviews. The case of Baimadajie Angwang provides a glimpse into some of the tools and tactics that Beijing uses to infiltrate communities, depoliticize institutions, and silence individuals in the Tibetan diaspora.

Infiltrating Communities: Divide, Depoliticize, Demobilize

The motivations driving China’s efforts to infiltrate the Tibetan diaspora are different from those behind its standard espionage programs that target the American defense industry or multinational corporations in the West. While the Tibetan community has neither military secrets nor cutting-edge technology, it has a vibrant transnational advocacy movement that Beijing has long sought to undermine. Outside of the Indian subcontinent, New York City has the largest and most dynamic Tibetan exile population, which makes it a prime target for the United Front Work Department (UFWD), the agency of the Chinese government responsible for managing or pre-empting potential sources of opposition to CCP rule.[1]

The first objective of Chinese infiltration into the Tibetan diaspora is to divide the community. At the direction of the UFWD, agents seek to sow seeds of division or fan pre-existing tensions within the diaspora. In conversations between Angwang and his handler at the Chinese consulate in New York that were recorded and published in the FBI’s court affidavit, they discuss the need to “develop” relationships with religious minorities in the Tibetan community––such as Catholics and Muslims––and, in particular, to exploit sectarian tensions within Tibetan Buddhism.

Notably, Angwang names the Shugden issue––the most disruptive sectarian conflict to bedevil Tibetan Buddhism in the last century. He explains to his “boss” at the Chinese consulate that members of the “Bujie Xiongdan” (sic) group have been “discriminated against and neglected in the Tibetan community” and will therefore easily “feel the warmth of the motherland” if the consulate were to cultivate them (U.S. District Court of the Eastern District of New York, September 19, 2020).[2] This rationale is undergirded by a classic “divide and co-opt” strategy that Beijing has implemented for years, not only against Tibetans, but also against Uyghurs and other ethnic or religious minorities living overseas. Extensive investigative reporting by Reuters has shown that Shugden groups waging a highly organized international smear campaign against the Dalai Lama had been co-opted by Beijing, citing a leaked internal Chinese government document from 2014 that referred to the Shugden issue as “an important front in our struggle against the Dalai clique” (Reuters, December 21, 2015).

Another objective of Chinese infiltration is to depoliticize the Tibetan diaspora. The condition of exile tends to politicize people, which leads in turn to mobilization and activism. To counter this, Beijing wants to depoliticize the Tibetan diaspora, including its social associations and cultural institutions, with a view to demobilizing the Tibetan freedom movement. This strategic thinking is reflected in Angwang’s exchanges with the leaders of the Tibetan Community of New York and New Jersey, the association that caters to the several thousand Tibetan residents of the greater New York metropolitan area.

In February 2019, at a Tibetan New Year event where Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was the guest of honor, the Tibetan activist and parliamentarian Dorjee Tseten gave a speech that touched on China’s human rights violations in Tibet (Students for a Free Tibet, February 9, 2019). Following the gathering, Angwang dropped in on a post-event debrief meeting at the community center, where he criticized the political nature of Mr. Tseten’s speech and advised that the community center be made a politics-free zone. He further suggested that he could bring in wealthy Chinese Buddhists who might donate to the community center and alleviate its mortgage burden if the association would tone down its advocacy for Tibetan freedom and human rights.[3]

Angwang’s suggestions to depoliticize the Tibetan community center and its activities were ignored by the association’s leaders. But it is not hard to imagine an alternate scenario where less scrupulous or less sophisticated executives might have accepted the promise of financial assistance at the cost of political self-censorship. Angwang’s offer exemplifies the Faustian bargain that Beijing’s agents propose to Tibet-related organizations and institutions (often in subtle ways that leave room for deniability). This strategy has found some success in limited circles with some religious foundations and cultural institutions censoring content that is critical of China. Mainstream Tibetan organizations and public institutions have so far proven resilient against Beijing’s community-level stratagems—possibly because their relative transparency and inherently political nature make them less susceptible to bribery than private or cultural groups. Meanwhile, a more sophisticated tool has emerged in Beijing’s arsenal, one that relies on targeting individuals rather than community infiltration and weaponizes familial relationships rather than financial rewards.

Neutralizing Individuals: The Visa-as-Bait Strategy

One of the most potent tools that Beijing wields against the Tibetan diaspora is access to family. All exiles dream of the home they left behind. For exiles who have elderly parents back home, this yearning can turn into desperation in the event of parental sickness or other emergencies. In the exiles’ desire to visit their ancestral home and reconnect with their families, Beijing sees a strategic vulnerability. For example, Angwang clearly recognized the lure of the visa as a means to convert or neutralize individuals in the diaspora. According to the FBI complaint, he appears to have suggested “that issuing ten-year visas to Tibetans in the United States might assist their recruitment as intelligence assets.”[4]

Historically, Tibetans came into exile in two big waves—one in the aftermath of Chinese invasion in the 1950s and the other in the liberalization era of the 1980s. Almost everyone in the second group has older parents, many of whom remain in Tibet. In the mid-2000s, Chinese consulates started issuing visas to carefully vetted Tibetan exiles, allowing them to make short trips to visit family in Tibet, albeit under the close supervision of UFWD minders. As word of these secret but sensational trips spread throughout the diaspora, more Tibetans began lining up at Chinese consulates in the hope of securing access to their ancestral homeland.

The Chinese visa application process is anything but straightforward for Tibetans, even those who are naturalized U.S. citizens (U.S. CECC Testimony, September 30, 2020). At the Chinese consulate in New York, for instance, instead of going through the main consulate window where general applicants are processed, Tibetan applicants are taken to a separate area where they are grilled by a liaison officer. They are made to write down their personal stories, name all the groups they have ever joined, and state whether they have ever participated in a protest against China. Sometimes, when an applicant answers that she has never been to a protest, the officer might sternly invite her to look at his computer screen—showing a picture of the applicant at a Tibet rally—before rejecting her application.[5]

More disturbingly, Tibetan applicants are made to provide the names, locations, occupations, and other identification details of their relatives in Tibet. Each piece of information surrendered to the consulate is a data point that Beijing uses to map the Tibetan diaspora, linking the individual exile to their more vulnerable family members back home. This transnational relationship mapping is designed to seed a hypothetical sense of guilt in the conscience of the exile; it is meant to instill in the targeted individual the advance feeling that her political participation in exile might endanger her family in Tibet. The ultimate goal of this tactic, which a recent report by a Uyghur rights group has aptly called “coercion by proxy,” is the political deactivation of the exile.[6]

Tibetans are far from the only community affected by China’s long arm. Beijing’s ambitious foreign influence campaign uses a sophisticated set of tools, tactics, and strategies to conduct what can only be described as “repression without borders” against a host of potential opponents abroad (U.S. CECC Testimony, September 30, 2020). One of its key strategies is the weaponization of access—to markets, funding, and family.

In targeting the Tibetan diaspora, the weaponization of access to family is a strategy that Beijing has refined to perfection. One of the sources interviewed by the author in the United States recounted how, toward the end of her last trip to Tibet, her United Front minders explicitly reminded her that her political behavior going forward would determine not only her future chances of securing a visa, but also the safety and well-being of the family she had just visited. In short, her family in Tibet is the hostage, and her silence in exile is the ransom—which she must pay everyday by refraining from actions online or offline that may be perceived as critical of the Chinese government. In other words, she has been neutralized.

According to recent news reports, the United Front’s sustained overseas efforts to collect data on diaspora-homeland linkages are being complemented by more aggressive local data-gathering drives in Tibet. Chinese authorities have reportedly harassed Tibetan families in Shigatse, Tingri, Nagchu and Kardze prefectures, urging them to give up names and details of all their known relatives in exile (RFA, July 30).

Another source recounted an incident that illustrates a different pathway by which this neutralizing force operates. A Tibetan man living in Europe was nominated as a new board candidate for the local chapter of Chushi Gangdruk.[7] He received enough votes to become a nominee, but received a call from his family in Tibet before he could participate in the next round of elections the following weekend. Chinese authorities had just visited and made cryptic remarks about the “recent political activity” of their “children abroad.” The family understood this as a veiled threat and promptly called their exiled son. He immediately withdrew his name from the slate of candidates: he, too, has been neutralized.


In the long run, China’s visa-as-bait strategy of targeting individuals may prove to be more effective in its efforts to demobilize the Tibetan diaspora than its community infiltration tactics. Spying for China represents such a dramatic departure from the social norm that it remains unthinkable for the vast majority of Tibetan exiles. It is a bold red line that few are willing to cross. People like Angwang, who are recruited into the ranks of China’s secret agents, are rare in the Tibetan diaspora, and his unique background shows that he is the exception that proves the rule.[8]

Unlike traditional espionage, seeking access to one’s family in the ancestral homeland is part of normalized exile behavior, even if it comes at the cost of political self-censorship. In theory, the silencing of one individual voice in a broad-based grassroots movement inflicts no great loss on the collective cause. But in reality, there are significant social and political costs when a growing number of individuals use the same logic to justify their respective silence. Individual actions, no matter how insignificant, have collective consequences. What begins as the silence of an individual can end in the collective surrender of an entire movement.

The tactics and strategies discussed here are only a handful of the pathways through which the Chinese government works to divide, depoliticize, and eventually demobilize the global Tibetan diaspora. While some of its tactics are illegal, many are not. But all of them are aimed at creating a world in which transnational political activism on behalf of human rights in general, and Tibetan freedom in particular, becomes severely curtailed.

Beijing’s Growing Influence on the Global Undersea Cable Network

Justin Sherman


The vast majority of intercontinental internet traffic traverses submarine cables laid across the ocean floor. Private and state-owned firms have long invested in these submarine cables to carry internet traffic and other data, often in cooperation with one another due to the high costs and complex logistics of laying cables undersea. In recent years, Chinese state-owned telecommunications companies have greatly increased their investment in submarine cables; in 2021 alone, three state-owned Chinese telecoms had ownership stakes in 31 newly deployed cables (TeleGeography, accessed August 30). Much of this investment has focused on infrastructure beyond the Chinese mainland.

These Chinese state investments are occurring in the context of growing international concern about Chinese technology practices: specifically, how the Chinese government is working to undermine the global open internet; the degree to which the Chinese government exerts control over Chinese internet companies; and whether the Chinese government’s overseas infrastructure and development projects—broadly represented by the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI)—are a means of spreading surveillance technology and increasing technological dependence on China.[1] In this context, Chinese state investments in submarine cables are especially significant.

Xi Facing Opposition on Different Fronts in Run-Up to Key Party Plenum

Willy Wo-Lap Lam


A controversy is raging among the upper echelons of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) over General Secretary Xi Jinping’s advocacy of “common prosperity,” which has included forcing giant private enterprises to share their wealth with less privileged sectors (China Brief, August 26). At the same time, a thorough purge within the political-legal apparatus (政法系统, zhengfa xitong), which includes the police, secret police, the procuratorates and the courts, has turned up supposedly disloyal personnel who were—according to unofficial reports by NetEase (网易, wang yi), an online media platform that is run by the internet company of the same name—planning to take “illegal and improper” (不轨, bugui) actions against the top leadership (NetEase, September 14).

Xi’s retrogression to Maoism has sparked rare divergent views, as could be seen from how different sectors of the party reacted to a much-noted article by the ideologue blogger Li Guangman (李光满) entitled, “Each person can feel that a series of profound changes is happening” ([每个人都能感受到,一场深刻的变革正在进行!], Mei ge ren dou neng ganshou dao, yi chang shenke de biange zhengzai jinxing). First published on Li’s WeChat page on August 29, the piece was then simultaneously run by Xinhua, People’s Daily, the CCTV website, and various other prominent official media. Calling for a second Cultural Revolution, Li noted that recent instances of party authorities imposing discipline and fines on quasi-monopolistic private firms as well as social media bans on several “vulgar” and money-grabbing celebrities represented a prelude to “thorough transformations, which can also be called a series of profound revolutions.” He also asserted that deep-seated changes were happening in the economic, financial, cultural and political realms: “The theme of the revolution is changing a society centered on capital to a people-based one, as well as a return to the ‘original intentions’ (初心, chuxin) and quintessence (本质, benzhi)” of the CCP and Chinese socialism (Xinhua, August 29). Li claimed that strict measures against greedy capitalists and effeminate film stars were necessary to fend off “infiltration” from the United States (BBC Chinese Service, September 13; Radio Free Asia, September 3).

The Indo-Pacific, The Quad And The Reality Of Chinese Power – Analysis

Kerry Brown*

The idea of a coherent territory called the Indo-Pacific has been appealing to strategists for some years, but it is no coincidence that the tighter and more urgent formation of this idea has happened at the same time as China’s rising prominence. The desire to counterbalance China has driven much of the intellectual and diplomatic investment in the idea of the Indo-Pacific.

The United States, Europe and countries in the region have invested publicly in the idea, in terms of diplomatic commitment and actual resources.

The Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad) — consisting of Australia, the United States, Japan and India — was resuscitated in 2017 with a focus on making the idea of the Indo-Pacific real. In March 2021, for the first time, its meeting was held at the head of government level, forming part of the new Biden administration’s move to restore and recommit the United States to multilateralism after the chaotic Trump years. The United Kingdom sent its newly deployed Queen Elizabeth Aircraft Carrier to the South China Sea region in July, drawing the ire of China. In March, France sent its warships to the region before undertaking exercises with the United States.

Users Can’t Be Afterthoughts in the Pentagon’s AI Efforts


The Defense Department has issued strategy and guidance to transform itself into a “data-driven organization” and assigned smart, capable people to achieve this vision through multiple centers of excellence. But DoD must also cultivate a broader, enterprise-level understanding of modern software development and the fundamental realities of operational artificial intelligence platforms. In particular, DoD and other national security components must recognize the indispensable role of the end user in designing, developing, implementing, and iterating AI capabilities.

Based on our analysis of the government’s approach to software, and our experience building these capabilities in the private sector and with the Pentagon, we argue there are two areas where DoD should dedicate near-term attention. First, the actual end users of AI platforms must be closely involved in all aspects of the development process, from identifying and providing data to providing feedback on model performance. Second, DoD should implement an enterprise-level development pipeline for AI: an end-to-end solution, from data management to final model deployment, that serves as the primary mechanism for facilitating close, ongoing interaction between users and developers.

Comparing the Syria and Afghanistan Pullouts: Did Trump Do Better Than Biden?

Ramon Marks

In December 2018, General James Mattis resigned from his post as Secretary of Defense. While his resignation letter did not explain a precise reason, the accepted wisdom is that he did so after long frustration over dealing with then-President Donald Trump. The final straw was the President’s announcement in December 2018 that he was ordering the withdrawal of all U.S. troops from Syria.

General Mattis’s departure has been lauded as an act of statesmanship. To this day, he has remained relatively silent, basically explaining only that he did so out of a sense of conviction and duty. After Mattis quit, President Trump was persuaded by the Pentagon to reconsider his total Syrian withdrawal order. In October 2019, he ordered a more limited pullout, only from northern Syria along the Turkish border. The former President allowed a smaller troop presence in Syria’s northeast oilfields, closer to the Iraqi border to remain. That continued strategic presence compels Syrian president Bashar al Assad and Russia to this day to keep a wary eye on American troops inside Syrian borders. At the same time, the departure of U.S. troops from the Syrian/Turkish border area, ordered by Trump, did not lead to the widely predicted Kurdish bloodbath many had feared, a resurgence of ISIS, or to a complete collapse of opposition rebels in the Syrian civil war quagmire.

How the United States Can Deter Ransomware Attacks

Jonathan Welburn and Quentin E. Hodgson

As President Biden said in late July: If the United States ends up in “a real shooting war” with “a major power,” a “cyber breach of great consequence” will be to blame.

Cybercriminals have been escalating their attacks for years—locking up the computer systems of police stations, city governments, and hospitals. But the ransomware attack in May on the operator of the largest petroleum pipeline in the United States—which disrupted gasoline supplies in much of the country—is one of many cyberassaults that are tiptoeing closer to an act of war.

DarkSide, the hackers-for-hire believed to be based in Russia, dropped out of sight after the company Colonial Pipeline paid $4.4 million in bitcoin. But cybercrime groups frequently reorganize and rebrand. Haron and BlackMatter are among the new names that have emerged this summer. The FBI recently announced it was tracking more than 100 active ransomware groups.

The Right War for the US and China


HONG KONG – The planet is heating up – and so are global geopolitics. With less than two months until the crucial United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow, the United States and China must commit to cooperate on the existential challenge global warming represents. But bilateral relations remain burdened by mistrust, antagonism, and even warmongering.

Technically, the US and China are both willing to cooperate on climate change. But China wants to do so only in a broader context of constructive engagement. The US, by contrast, wants “climate cooperation à la carte,” so that it can maintain a policy of containment and competition in virtually every other arena.

This mentality was on display last week, with the announcement of the so-called AUKUS security alliance. The US and the United Kingdom have now agreed to share advanced – and highly sensitive – technology with Australia, and to supply it with nuclear-powered submarines. The goal of the alliance, according to US President Joe Biden, is to advance the “imperative of ensuring peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific over the long term.”

Preparing Japan's Multi-Domain Defense Force for the Future Battlespace Using Emerging Technologies

Jeffrey W. Hornung, Scott Savitz, Jonathan Balk, Samantha McBirney

Rapidly advancing and emerging technology areas — such as artificial intelligence, autonomy, big data, cyber warfare, electronic warfare, low-cost satellites, directed-energy weapons, and unmanned systems — will likely shape how defense operations are conducted in the future. As a result, governments and defense organizations must determine how to allocate investments to prepare their forces for future conflicts. In this Perspective, RAND researchers explore considerations for shaping Japan's defense technology portfolio, in light of both technological developments themselves and how other countries may employ them. Key trends include the increasing pace of warfare, the enhanced criticality of network security and disruption, the central role of unmanned systems, the increasing accuracy of long-range targeting, the growing ability of aggressors to achieve plausible deniability, the expanding importance of emerging warfare domains, and the elevated importance of deception.

Research conducted by


This research was sponsored by the Strategic Planning Division of Japan's Ministry of Defense and conducted within the International Security and Defense Policy Center of the RAND National Security Research Division (NSRD).

This publication is part of the RAND Corporation Perspective series. RAND Perspectives present expert insights on timely policy issues. All RAND Perspectives undergo peer review to ensure high standards for quality and objectivity.

Permission is given to duplicate this electronic document for personal use only, as long as it is unaltered and complete. Copies may not be duplicated for commercial purposes. Unauthorized posting of RAND PDFs to a non-RAND Web site is prohibited. RAND PDFs are protected under copyright law. For information on reprint and linking permissions, please visit the RAND Permissions page.

The RAND Corporation is a nonprofit institution that helps improve policy and decisionmaking through research and analysis. RAND's publications do not necessarily reflect the opinions of its research clients and sponsors.

Evaluating the Effectiveness of Artificial Intelligence Systems in Intelligence Analysis

Daniel Ish, Jared Ettinger, Christopher Ferris

The U.S. military and intelligence community have shown interest in developing and deploying artificial intelligence (AI) systems to support intelligence analysis, both as an opportunity to leverage new technology and as a solution for an ever-proliferating data glut. However, deploying AI systems in a national security context requires the ability to measure how well those systems will perform in the context of their mission.

To address this issue, the authors begin by introducing a taxonomy of the roles that AI systems can play in supporting intelligence—namely, automated analysis, collection support, evaluation support, and information prioritization—and provide qualitative analyses of the drivers of the impact of system performance for each of these categories.

The authors then single out information prioritization systems, which direct intelligence analysts' attention to useful information and allow them to pass over information that is not useful to them, for quantitative analysis. Developing a simple mathematical model that captures the consequences of errors on the part of such systems, the authors show that their efficacy depends not just on the properties of the system but also on how the system is used. Through this exercise, the authors show how both the calculated impact of an AI system and the metrics used to predict it can be used to characterize the system's performance in a way that can help decisionmakers understand its actual value to the intelligence mission.

How Autocrats Manipulate Online Information: Putin’s and Xi’s Playbooks

Jessica Brandt
Source Link

Democracies are engaged in a broad, persistent asymmetric competition with authoritarian challengers who seek to reshape the global order to suit their interests. The competition is playing out across multiple intersecting domains, and the information space is a critical theater.1 In this competition, Russia and China intentionally choose tools that give them the upper hand. In the political domain, Russia and China take advantage of permissive influence regimes, covertly funneling millions of dollars to political parties and civil society groups to sway policy decisions.2 They exploit democracies’ visible domestic challenges—from inequality to polarization—in the service of deepening social divides. And they conduct cyberattacks against legislatures, businesses, media organizations, and other entities to cripple a target society or retaliate against those that would hold them accountable. In the economic domain, Russia deploys corruption as an instrument of national strategy, transforming the grift that was once simply a routine feature of its own society into a weapon for subverting democratic ones.3 Both regimes cultivate economic dependencies, make coercive investments, and deploy unfair trade practices as leverage.4 In the technology domain, China is investing significant resources into attaining an edge in global markets. As it does so, it is shaping the standards for how new technologies will be developed and the norms that will govern how they will be used for decades to come, with potentially significant consequences for the rights to privacy and expression of individuals worldwide.

The Promise and Perils of Big Tech

Technology has the potential to dramatically improve the quality of life for the world’s populations, but there are no guarantees it will. Concerns remain about everything from how the growing digital divide risks leaving large swathes of society—and the world—behind, to questions about the security of data and its potential weaponization. And, of course, there is the ongoing debate around how technology and information platforms can be used to undermine democratic processes, including elections.

To address these concerns, a panel of experts assembled by the United Nations in 2019 called for a “multistakeholder” approach that would convene governments, members of civil society, academics, technology experts and the private sector in an attempt to develop norms and standards around these technologies. Even they could not agree on what this structure might actually look like, though, underscoring how difficult it will be to ensure that technology is harnessed for everyone’s benefit.

Warning: New Technology is Not Enough to Save the U.S. Military

James Holmes

Here's What You Need to Know: The problem is that not every great idea works out when reduced to engineering and put to the test. The sales pitch masks this reality, encouraging customers to act long before they have full information.

Beware of minor word choices when interacting with representatives of the military-industrial complex. Syntax can shape or misshape deliberations about strategy, force design, or budgeteering. Something as simple as speaking about some potential future capability or widget in the present tense can mislead. Such phrasing implies that the capability or widget already exists, that engineers have vetted the technology under real-world circumstances, and that acquiring it involves little risk. The upshot: it constitutes a worthy investment of taxpayer dollars. QED.

Not so fast.

Portraying future as present capability is a common tactic in defense circles. Case in point: over at the War Zone, the redoubtable Tyler Rogoway and Joseph Trevithick report on an effort by defense manufacturer General Atomics to field the “Defender,” an unmanned escort fighter aircraft meant to ward off attacks against U.S. Air Force tanker aircraft. I don’t mean to pick on General Atomics in particular. Its salesmanship is neither unusual nor especially egregious. It simply fits into and illustrates a pattern.