30 July 2022

Here's Why the World's Most Infamous Spyware Maker Is Broke

Lucas Ropek

The CEO of the notorious spyware vendor NSO Group apparently has a new plan to rebound from the company’s ongoing legal and fiscal tailspin: start re-selling its noxious spyware to the very governments that got it into trouble in the first place.

Beset by ongoing lawsuits, declining sales, scurrying investors, and unendingly negative press coverage, NSO Group has entered a financial spiral and seems so strapped that it’s struggling to pay its own employees. The pivot by CEO Shalev Hulio entails selling its products to countries that have been deemed “elevated-risk” clients, reports the Financial Times. Such clients had apparently been categorized as risky during a due diligence review by a now defunct internal committee. While we can’t say for certain which countries those are, you can probably assume they wouldn’t be places where civil liberties and democratic norms are a huge thing.

It’s been a rough few years for the NSO Group. The spyware vendor, once a shadowy, little-known hawker of technically sophisticated cyber weapons, has suffered a seemingly endless string of highly visible controversies over the past few years. Revelations that it sells its powerful Pegasus spyware to authoritarian regimes, that its products have been used to surveil journalists, activists, politicians, and even potentially world leaders, and accusations that it played a role in the death of Jamal Khashoggi, have marred its reputation—potentially beyond repair.

Defense Firm Said U.S. Spies Backed Its Bid for Pegasus Spyware Maker

Mark Mazzetti and Ronen Bergman

A team of executives from an American military contractor quietly visited Israel numerous times in recent months to try to carry out a bold but risky plan: purchasing NSO Group, the cyber hacking firm that is as notorious as it is technologically accomplished.

The impediments were substantial for the team from the American company, L3Harris, which also had experience with spyware technology. They started with the uncomfortable fact that the United States government had put NSO on a blacklist just months earlier because the Israeli firm’s spyware, called Pegasus, had been used by other governments to penetrate the phones of political leaders, human rights activists and journalists.

Pegasus is a “zero-click” hacking tool that can remotely extract everything from a target’s mobile phone, including messages, contacts, photos and videos without the user having to click on a phishing link to give it remote access. It can also turn the mobile phone into a tracking and recording device.

Our Leaderless Free World

Bret Stephens

Twenty-five years ago, we had the confident presences of Bill Clinton, Helmut Kohl and Tony Blair — and Alan Greenspan. Now we have a failing American president, a timorous German chancellor, a British prime minister about to skulk out of office in ignominy and a chairman of the Federal Reserve who last year flubbed the most important decision of his career. Elsewhere: the resignation of Italy’s prime minister, a caretaker government in Israel, the assassination of Japan’s dominant political figure.

This is bad in normal times. It is catastrophic in bad ones. We are stumbling, half-blind, into four distinct but mutually reinforcing crises, each compounding the other.

The first crisis is one of international credibility. The war in Ukraine is not merely a crisis unto itself. It is a symptom of a crisis, which began with a withdrawal from Afghanistan that telegraphed incompetence and weakness and whose consequences were easily predictable. Beyond Ukraine, in which President Biden has committed enough support to prevent outright defeat but not to secure a clear victory, there is an imminent nuclear crisis with Iran, in which the president seems to have no policy other than negotiations that are on the cusp of failure, and another looming crisis over Taiwan, in which he alternates between challenging Beijing and trying to mollify it.

China Could Unleash A Cyber-Pearl Harbor On America

Matt Erickson

It is understandable that military analysts focus on Russia and the threat it poses to Ukraine. But when it comes to cyber, and in particular cyberdefense and offense in space, we cannot forget that China is the leading threat. Lessons from the war against Ukraine may have only limited application to this more critical, longer-term struggle.

In the lead-up to the war in Ukraine, many analysts made the mistake of assuming Russian cyber aspirations and capabilities would resemble our own. In the past, American and allied cyberattacks have disabled military infrastructure, as in the case of the Stuxnet virus attack on an Iranian uranium-enrichment facility in 2010. Another attack on Iran reportedly disabled air-defense systems when the United States came close to bombing that country in 2019 in response for shooting down an American drone.

These are the types of impressive capabilities that many assumed Moscow and its legion of keyboard warriors might also possess.

Hundreds of Satellites Will Be the Key to America’s Hypersonic Defenses

Kris Osborn

Missile defense technology has made staggering steps forward in recent years, and it is now poised for additional breakthroughs. Yet an even newer paradigm is needed to counter an emerging generation of threats that includes hypersonic weapons, high-speed multiple re-entry vehicles, and advanced countermeasures that fly alongside intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs).

Now, hypersonic missiles travel so quickly along the boundary of the earth’s atmosphere that it is nearly impossible to develop a continuous “track” as they transit from one radar aperture to another. Recognizing this, the Pentagon is moving quickly to launch new constellations of high-tech, networked satellites for the specific purpose of establishing that continuous track and strengthening the layers of missile defense.

Accomplishing this requires non-line-of-sight targeting and connectivity, high-speed data sharing, artificial intelligence-enabled information processing and transmission, and, perhaps most of all, the addition of new constellations of low and medium Earth orbit satellites to complement traditional geosynchronous, higher altitude satellites. Essentially, hundreds of new satellites need to go up to help “blanket” otherwise unreachable target areas and exchange threat track data quickly and accurately enough to ensure a targeting trajectory is not lost as a high-speed weapon transits from one field of regard to another.

India Bets Big on Emerging Technologies

Girish Linganna

Recently, Indian defense minister Rajnath Singh spoke about the growth of emerging technologies in India. He referred to Russian president Vladimir Putin’s admonition that “whoever becomes the ruler of the sphere will rule the world.” The defense minister quipped that India does not want to rule the world but added that the sphere is growing, and there is a need to strengthen emerging technologies so as not to be overpowered by anyone.

India has delivered various internationally competitive services worldwide in the past few decades. The private sector has driven this boom, especially in information technology. Until recently, the industry and investors felt the government’s lack of cultivation of capacities. This has changed drastically and Bangalore, Gurgaon, Noida, Mumbai, Hyderabad, and Chennai have emerged as formidable locations for information technology firms. This change is observable in the variety of apps we use for all aspects of our life. In 2022, not only did India boast of the hundredth “unicorn”—a startup valued at more than $1 billion—but it added eighteen more in the first few months.

Military services ‘not aligned’ on JADC2 efforts, Air Force official warns

Mark Pomerleau

The various efforts the military services are undertaking to achieve a more connected way of warfare are disjointed and need more guidance, according to a top Air Force adviser and other observers.

The Pentagon’s Joint All-Domain Command and Control (JADC2) concept seeks to connect sensors and shooters, and provide battlefield commanders with the right information to make faster decisions. But each of the military departments have their own JADC2 initiatives: the Air Force’s Advanced Battle Management System, the Army’s Project Convergence and the Navy’s Project Overmatch.

“Every service has their own interpretation of JADC2. The Department of Air Force is ABMS, the Army is Project Convergence and I think the Navy and Marine Corps … [Project] Overmatch. All different. I’ve looked at all of the documentation associated with all three. We are not aligned with what we need to be to be interoperable to be able to fight together,” Wanda Jones-Heath, the principal cyber adviser for the Air Force and Space Force, said Tuesday at the annual Air Force Summit hosted by the Potomac Officers Club.

The Failure of the Institutions time is too short for what does not work

CDR Salamander

If you believe the threat from China is overblown, our Navy is well led, and that our fleet is big enough, then this is not the post for you. If you are concerned for all of it, grab a fresh drink and dive right in.

We are facing of something our nation has not had to seriously consider in well over three decades; we do not have free and unfettered access to the sea.

Even when Soviet submarines roamed the world’s oceans at will – though closely watched – and the Red Banner Fleet could send battle groups on cruises through the Gulf of Mexico, we had fair confidence in one thing – the Pacific was an American lake.

After years of inattention, Congress scrambles to save defense supply chain

Bryant Harris

WASHINGTON — When Ukrainian fighters in May surrendered Mauripol’s sprawling steel plant to Russian forces after a months-long siege, the consequences were widespread.

Russia not only notched a victory over the 500 Ukrainians fighting to maintain control, but it also knocked out a plant central to Ukraine’s position as a powerhouse in global neon gas exports. Those exports are key to manufacturing the very weapons the United States is sending to Kyiv to defend against Moscow’s invasion.

Steel plants like the one in Mauripol are crucial to capturing neon gas from the air and separating it from other elements in a liquid form. This is then a component in semiconductor chips, the electrical components used to manufacture everything from computers to cars to the Javelin anti-tank missile the Ukranians have successfully used to defend against Russian forces. The United States has sent at least 5,500 Javelins to Ukraine so far, and each individual missile contains more than 200 semiconductors.

What is mission command?

Greater firepower and a disregard for civilian lives are helping Russia to make slow territorial gains in Ukraine. But soldier for soldier, Ukraine’s forces are proving more effective. Part of their edge comes down to a principle that Western armies call “mission command”. What is it and why is it helping Ukraine hold off the numerically superior Russian forces?

Mission command is a style of military management that gives more agency to rank-and-file soldiers, says Tyler Zagurski of America’s Marine Corps. Commanders issue their intent—the principles and objectives of a mission—and delegate responsibility for achieving it to more junior officers, allowing them to exercise their own initiative and judgment. This speeds up decision-making and allows armies to respond flexibly, and even to surprise enemies who may expect them to stick to textbook procedures. As long as troops respect the commander’s intent, forces with mission command can be creative, altering tactics and seizing opportunities that arise. Its cultural foundations include trust, individualism, innovation and entrepreneurial spirit—qualities often associated with liberal democracy.

Strategic Petroleum Reserve: The Secret to Lower Gas Prices?

Stephen Silver

While still very high by historical standards, U.S. gas prices have begun to drop again in recent weeks, with the average gas price in several states dropping below $4 per gallon. As of Monday, per GasBuddy, the average price had dropped forty days in a row or about six weeks.

In the spring, gas prices were as high as $5 per gallon. These prices, and inflation, are expected to be key issues in the midterm elections. But with the prices falling again, the White House is taking something of a victory lap.

On Tuesday, the White House announced that it has released the latest Notice of Sale, in order to “supply additional barrels of crude oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR) onto the global market.” The White House added that 125 million barrels of oil have already been released from the SPR since it was first tapped by the administration earlier this year.

Ukrainian War and American Decisions

Dimitri K. Simes

In his opening remarks at the Fourth Ukraine Defense Contact Group on July 20, U.S. secretary of defense Lloyd Austin touted Kyiv’s military accomplishments and issued a warning to Moscow. “Russia thinks that it can outlast Ukraine—and outlast us,” he stated. “But that’s just the latest in Russia’s string of miscalculations.” Russia’s miscalculations in this conflict—underestimating both the strength of Ukrainian resistance and the unity of the West—are indeed serious and real, but such blunders are not unusual in the early stages of wars, including wars where, in the end, the erring side proved victorious. The Soviet invasion of Finland in 1939-40 is a prime example. Russia’s early miscalculations are therefore a poor guide in predicting the outcome of its burgeoning confrontation with the West, especially if we fail to take stock of America’s no less serious miscalculations in dealing with post-Soviet Russia.

Five key examples come to mind.

The first is the West’s staunch dismissal of Moscow’s numerous and increasingly dramatic warnings that NATO expansion toward its borders would be viewed as an existential threat to Russian security and encounter the strongest possible resistance. Under several different U.S. administrations starting with President Bill Clinton, America and its allies took the position that, since the West had no intention of attacking Russia, Moscow’s concerns could be safely ignored. As George F. Kennan and other American critics of NATO expansion anticipated at the time, however, Moscow adopted an increasingly determined stand against expansion, culminating in the deployment of force against Ukraine. Rather than acknowledge this development as evidence of Western mistakes, the West’s foreign policy elites instead now portray Moscow’s (in their view) unreasonable position as proof of Russia’s inherently aggressive nature. The problem with this view is that it contradicts what these policymakers told the Western public in the 1990s when decisions regarding NATO expansion were first made, that Russia was in essence a friendly but irrelevant geopolitical power. Since then, they have elevated their search for a new post-Cold War mission for NATO—and, tacitly, a new enemy—above the broader imperative of integrating the new Russia into the global order and, in the process, establishing a stable and secure Europe.

Sri Lanka Crisis: A 21st Century French Revolution

Varun Mohan

The Sri Lankan economic crisis recently reached a tipping point when protesters marched into the Presidential Palace on July 9, marking the end of 10 years of Rajapaksa family rule in the country. The status of Rajapaksa remains unknown; he is believed to have initially flown to the Maldives, then to Singapore, and at present he might be in Saudi Arabia. His brother was stopped at the airport after a notice was issued by the Sri Lankan court to block Rajapaksa family members from leaving the country.

The ongoing political saga, which directly stems from the worsening economic crisis in Sri Lanka, is similar to events that happened in 18th century France leading up to the French Revolution.

The primary reason for the French Revolution is considered to be social inequalities, an absolute monarchy coupled with lack of good governance, and poor economic conditions including a series of fiscal crises, structural deficiencies, and crippling debt. This paints a similar picture of Sri Lanka today. President Rajapaksa’s dictatorial rule and complete disregard for democratic values and governance have completely ruined Sri Lanka, which is still recovering from four decades of civil war. The Rajapaksa family member’s influence in day-to-day government activity and deep-rooted corruption has structurally weakened the national economy and political institutions. The Sri Lankan people made history repeat itself via their march to the Presidential Residence, an act that closely resembles the storming of the Bastille during the French Revolution.

China’s Wolf Warrior Diplomacy Is Fading

Ray Weichieh Wang

In recent years, China has become famous for “wolf warrior diplomacy,” an assertive diplomatic tactic that goes as far as insulting or threatening those deemed to violate China’s interests. Wolf warrior diplomacy has been widely used in the past few years, particularly since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Nevertheless, this assertive diplomatic strategy has undercut China’s global image and further exacerbated its relations with countries across the world, ranging from Europe to Asia. Therefore, a change must be made to better secure China’s interests.

Change in the Winds

In May 2021, China’s President Xi Jinping told senior officials in a meeting of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) that it is crucial to manifest a positive image of China in order to constantly expand China’s circle of friends. “It is necessary to make friends, unite and win over the majority, and constantly expand the circle of friends [when it comes to] international public opinion,” said Xi. He also said that China should be “open and confident, but also modest and humble” in its communication with the world.

Sri Lanka’s State-Owned Enterprises Are a Big Part of Its Economic Problems

Talal Rafi

Sri Lanka is in an unenviable position, and its policy makers face a conundrum. The country is experiencing its worst economic crisis in a century. Sri Lanka has formally defaulted; its public debt is over 100 percent of GDP and is mostly U.S. dollar denominated. The country is facing a severe foreign exchange shortage, which has led to shortages of fuel, gas, and essential food items. There is some positive news for Sri Lanka, with the managing director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) stating on July 20 that she hopes to conclude talks for an IMF bailout soon.

Though the previous government of Gotabaya Rajapaksa bears a sizable share of blame for the economic malaise Sri Lanka is experiencing, the causes are also deep rooted. Sri Lanka has a culture of being suspicious toward foreign direct investment, with powerful trade unions, a very large and unsustainable public sector, and a culture of risk aversion. A 26-year civil war that ended in 2009 also had put the brakes on the country’s economic progress, even though Sri Lanka was the first country in South Asia to open its economy.

Sri Lankan political culture has a role to play in the degradation of the economic state. For decades, Sri Lankan political leaders have used populist promises like subsidized rice, low-priced bread, public sector salary increases, free fertilizer, and tax cuts to ride to power. This has led to an economy that has become unsustainable.

Sri Lanka also has a history of public opposition to foreign direct investment, linked to socialist ideologies and powerful trade unions. Sri Lanka even had to back out of an agreement the government had signed with the governments of India and Japan to jointly develop the Colombo East Container Terminal due to protests. Even a grant of $480 million by the U.S. government agency Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) did not get permission from the Sri Lankan government to go ahead due to protests, which eventually led to the MCC withdrawing the grant from Sri Lanka.

Structural Issues With State-Owned Enterprises in Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka’s history of populist policies has led to the creation of many state-owned enterprises with powerful trade unions, which are running at massive losses. Sri Lanka has 527 SOEs and 55 of them are identified as strategically important. As of 2019, Sri Lanka’s SOE losses were greater than the national expenditures on education and health combined. Adding to the problem, just one in 10 SOEs have made public their financial information, raising questions of transparency.

SOEs in Sri Lanka are set up in general in a way that will lead them to fail. There are no budgetary constraints, with the Treasury supporting them. Many SOEs also borrow from other SOEs with no plan for paying the loans back, with the Ceylon Electricity Board borrowing from the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation as an example. Many SOEs also borrow from the two state-owned banks, Bank of Ceylon and Peoples Bank. These SOEs will not be able to borrow from private lenders due to their unprofitable structures, but with political interference they are able to borrow from state financial institutions.

The monopolistic nature of SOEs also gives them little incentive to be innovative. The end result is that the consumer receives products or services that are not the best of quality. And with SOEs occupying monopolies in many industries, this shuts out these industries from the private sector and increases red tape, resulting in delays and pushing Sri Lanka down in the ease of doing business rankings.

The structure of state-owned entities in Sri Lanka has many problems. The labor costs of SOEs in Sri Lanka are around 70 percent higher than those of private firms, with the labor productivity of SOEs seeing a steady decline over the past decade. There is a lack of internal audits and financial disclosure, reducing the incentive to work efficiently. Mismanagement, corruption, and overstaffing by politicians are major problems faced by SOEs. The vast majority of state sector employees are genuinely hardworking, but the problem is political interference. Supporters of politicians are often given jobs, which in some cases do not exist.

SOEs subsidizing their products is another reason for loss-making, with many institutions bearing the cost. The Ceylon Electricity Board has not revised its prices since 2014, even though Sri Lanka has experienced a low but steady single digit inflation over the last decade. This only results in larger fiscal deficits, which results in increased debt or printing of more money.

The 55 strategically important SOEs employ around 1.9 percent of the workforce and the total state sector workforce comes to around 1.4 million people, which is just over one in six of the country’s total workforce. In a country where only around 3 percent of the population are entrepreneurs, this is a heavy burden to support. As the state sector absorbs a large portion of the workforce, this results in a lack of human talent for the profit-making private sector. This also results in the labor costs for the private sector rising due to a shortage of human capital. As state sector employees have the incentive of receiving pensions after their retirement, which is not the case for private sector employees, many Sri Lankans opt for government jobs instead of looking at the private sector as a potential employer.

Due to all these factors, Sri Lankan SOEs have increased their burden on the country’s budget, with SOE debt climbing to 9 percent of GDP in 2020, up from 6.5 percent of GDP in 2012. The national airline of Sri Lanka is one example of a loss-making public entity. Sri Lankan Airlines cost the Sri Lankan government 45 billion rupees in 2021, and as 75 percent of taxes in Sri Lanka are indirect taxes, many ordinary Sri Lankan who have never used the airline end up paying to keep the airline afloat.

Sri Lankan Airlines was a very profitable airline when it was privatized. Forty percent of its shares were sold to Emirates Airlines, which ran the management of the airline. However, Sri Lanka’s national airline was renationalized in 2008. Since then, it has recorded cumulative losses of 302 billion rupees and not shown a single year of profit since 2008. This in itself builds a strong case to reprivatize the airline. At a time when Sri Lanka’s economy is in dire straits and it is seeking financial assistance from the IMF and other countries, it does not make sense to run a loss-making entity any further.

Sri Lanka does have a prominent example of a SOE that was successfully privatized. In 1997, Sri Lanka Telecom (SLT) was privatized. In Sri Lanka, privatization is a challenge due to powerful trade unions but SLT’s transition was smoothly handled, with letters highlighting the benefits of privatization being sent to the workers’ home addresses, directly bypassing trade union leaders. Workers and their families were also given a collective ownership stake of 3.5 percent. In the end, the management of SLT was given to a Japanese company, which led to skills transfer and efficient management. At the same time, other private sector players were allowed into the telecom industry to encourage competition. This transformed Sri Lanka’s telecom industry, with Sri Lanka later becoming the first country in South Asia to get 4G.

However, there are also several important arguments against privatization, which should be thoroughly examined when a government looks to handing over a state-owned entity to the private sector. Not all SOEs can or should be privatized, as thinking based on profits can have devastating effects on the population. A review shows that privatization can result in retrenchment, high employee turnover, and lower salaries, causing further socioeconomic problems in communities. Many SOEs enjoy monopolies and privatizing them can result in corporations making decisions based on profits rather than on public benefit.

When governments consider privatizing an SOE, a thorough study should be done to systematically assess and weigh up the benefits and opportunities versus the risks and challenges of privatization. If an SOE cannot be privatized, it could be restructured in a way so that the government can continue owning and managing it in a more efficient and sustainable way as required.

The Case for Privatization of State-Owned Enterprises

In general, privatization brings a number of benefits. First, policymakers can focus on strategy. As in private companies, where boards tend to spend more time on operational decisions as opposed to spending time on strategy, to the detriment of the company, the same would apply to the government. Currently the responsibility for management comes under the relevant state ministries; as a result, government ministries spend much of their time focusing on operational decisions of SOEs. If privatized, the time spent on operational meetings can be spent on strategy building and policymaking. SOEs in the retail distribution and hotel industries can be privatized, as there is no case for governments to manage them.

When SOEs are owned and administered by the government and the relevant ministries, short-sighted decisions are taken, prioritizing the next election win for the ruling political party. This has manifested itself for decades in Sri Lanka in overstaffing SOEs with supporters and handing out subsidies, without consideration of the long-term implications of these decisions to the fiscal stability of the state. Private ownership would take a longer-term view of the health of the company, resulting in more efficient operations.

Currently, SOEs are unable to make the right management decisions due to political interference. The chairman and directors of SOE boards are appointed by the ruling party, leading to political favoritism when making crucial decisions. This also means that key decision makers of SOEs are not being appointed on merit. Privatization removes this hindrance. As the enterprise will have to show profits and be answerable to private sector shareholders, the board and the management team will be selected by merit.

Privatizing SOEs can result in them becoming leaner and more efficient. Employees have more incentive to do quality work in companies managed by the private sector as opposed to SOEs, as salaries and bonuses are associated with performance. This is not necessarily the case in state-owned institutions, where there is a lack of transparency and accountability.

Once privatized, these institutions work on profits and have to take into consideration environmental, social, and governance (ESG) factors as consumers, investors, supply chain partners, and employees demand this accountability. If an institution is state-owned and monopolistic, it may choose to ignore ESG factors.

Finally, privatization enhances the competitive and innovative capacity of firms in the market. One good example in Sri Lanka is the successful privatization of Sri Lanka Telecom, as outlined above. When an entity is state-owned it has little incentive to innovate as it is financially protected by the state from bankruptcy. This is not the case when an entity is privatized with an open economy.

SOE losses add to the fiscal deficit of the Sri Lankan government. Governments in Sri Lanka have printed money to cover the fiscal deficit, resulting in inflation which reduces the value of the salaries of ordinary Sri Lankan. Privatization can solve this problem. With more efficient and profitable operations in these companies, governments can earn more from the dividends and taxes paid from a divested SOE than from trying to own and manage them.

Privatization and Restructuring: The Way Forward

Sri Lanka is in a precarious situation. Inflation is likely to hit 70 percent in the coming months, and the Sri Lankan government is negotiating with its creditors to restructure debt repayments. SOEs are a key part of the problem: A staggering 86 percent of the Sri Lankan government tax revenue in 2021 went to paying the salaries of public sector employees. This is dangerously high and deeply unsustainable for any country. This leaves very little money for government spending on education, health, and other development projects.

With such a large and unsustainable public sector, failing SOEs in Sri Lanka should be restructured to promote efficient, transparent, accountable and effective service delivery. Where required, select loss-making SOEs should be privatized. The Sri Lankan banking sector, too, is heavily exposed to debt and recapitalization of the banking sector will require divestiture. If not, it will be hard to justify to creditors, with whom the Sri Lankan government is negotiating to restructure its debt, and to the IMF, from whom Sri Lanka is expecting a bailout.

America’s Refugee Revolution How Ordinary Citizens Are Taking the Lead in Resettling Newcomers

Gregory Maniatis

In June, for the first time in history, the number of people who have been forced to flee their homes surpassed 100 million worldwide, including over 30 million refugees who have crossed international borders. Syrians have forged overland to Turkey and Venezuelans have traversed the Darien Gap to escape their collapsing states. In just four months, over five million Ukrainians have sought refuge across Europe and beyond. This is a global problem of such staggering proportions that it risks seeming unsolvable.

As a signatory to the Geneva Conventions, the United States pledged to accept individuals who reach its borders and can demonstrate that they have left their homelands “owing to well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, or membership of a particular social group or political opinion.” U.S. wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, furthermore, contributed to the conditions that caused millions to flee. U.S. administrations, however, have not opened the doors significantly wider to acknowledge the magnitude of need: from 1980 through 2016, the United States admitted an average of 80,000 refugees annually.

US military making plans in case Pelosi travels to Taiwan


SYDNEY (AP) — Nancy Pelosi hasn’t said if she’s going to Taiwan, but if she does she’d be entering one of the world’s hottest and most contentious spots. While U.S. officials say they have little fear that Beijing would attack the U.S. House speaker’s plane, they are aware that a mishap, misstep or misunderstanding could endanger her safety. So the Pentagon is developing plans for any contingency.

Officials told The Associated Press that if Pelosi goes to Taiwan — still an uncertainty — the military would increase its movement of forces and assets in the Indo-Pacific region. They declined to provide details, but said that fighter jets, ships, surveillance assets and other military systems would likely be used to provide overlapping rings of protection for her flight to Taiwan and any time on the ground there.

Putin’s New Police State In the Shadow of War, the FSB Embraces Stalin’s Methods

Andrei Soldatov and Irina Borogan

Since the spring of 2022, a terrifying new force has coursed through Russian society. Activists who have protested the “special operation” in Ukraine are being rounded up. Opponents of the regime and even ordinary citizens who have had unauthorized foreign contacts are being thrown into Moscow’s Lefortovo Prison, where in Stalinist times, political prisoners were tortured and executed. Special border agents have been interrogating and intimidating Russians who are trying to leave or return. But even those who have made it out are not safe; exiles who have spoken out are being investigated, and their relatives in Russia are being harassed by the regime. And security police are cracking down on Russian companies that buy foreign rather than Russian raw materials and hardware.

As Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine enters its sixth month, a dramatic shift has occurred in the Kremlin’s security bureaucracy, and it has centered on the agency closest to Putin himself: the Federal Security Service, or FSB. When the war began, the Kremlin planned to use the FSB mainly in Ukraine, as a special operations force that would consolidate a rapid Russian conquest. According to the plan, the Russian tanks rolling into Ukraine would trigger regime change in Kyiv, and a new pro-Moscow leadership, sponsored by FSB spymasters, would take control of the country. At the time, it was the FSB’s foreign intelligence branch—the Fifth Service—that was to carry out this task. It was the only major FSB department, out of a dozen, that was directly involved in preparing for the war.

Everything You Need to Know About Monkeypox

OVER17,000 confirmed cases of monkeypox have been reported worldwide since April 2022, the majority in Europe and North America, where the disease hasn’t traditionally had a foothold. This makes the current outbreak by far the largest to take place in areas where the disease isn’t endemic, and the spread is still ongoing.

Because of this, the World Health Organization (WHO) has declared the outbreak a Public Health Emergency of International Concern. This is the WHO’s highest state of alarm, and signals that the disease poses a serious threat, has the potential to spread to countries that aren’t yet affected, and needs international coordination in order to be controlled.

But while cases have been rising and symptoms can be painful, the risk of monkeypox to the general population is low. If you think you have the virus—or have come into contact with someone with it—stay calm. You probably won’t need any treatment, but you should do what you can to avoid spreading the virus further.

Didi slapped with $1.1B fine for breaching China data security laws

 Eileen Yu

Didi Global has been fined 8 billion yuan ($1.18 billion) for breaching China's cybersecurity and data security laws. The Chinese ride-sharing operator is accused of 16 illegal practices involving the collection of passenger data.

Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) said Thursday Didi had violated the country's cybersecurity and data security laws. The industry regulator pointed to the Cybersecurity Law, Data Security Law, and Personal Information Protection Law (PIPL), reported state-run media agency China Daily.

CAC said Didi had illegally collected its users' personal data, including 107 million pieces of passengers' facial recognition details as well as their photos and short messages.

Low-Cost Tech Shaping Modern Battlefield, Socom Commander Says


In his 38 years as a soldier, across theaters ranging from the Middle East to Europe, the commander of Special Operations Command says he never had to look up. But those days are ending. 

"I never had to look up because the U.S. always maintained air superiority," Army Gen. Richard D. Clarke said during a discussion Friday at the Aspen Security Forum in Aspen, Colorado. "We won't always have that luxury," he added. 

Low-cost quadcopters and larger unmanned aerial vehicles are disrupting the status quo as militaries and insurgents increasingly rely on them, the general said. 

Navy lieutenant sentenced in Japan causes outcry among family, US lawmakers

Charles Creitz

A U.S. Navy lieutenant and Mormon missionary living in Japan has been sentenced to what his family calls a "shocking" three years in prison after at least two people were killed in a traffic accident doctors said may have been caused by a medical episode.

The family of Lt. Ridge Alkonis, through information compiled by the Pipe Hitter Foundation (PHF), alleges several violations of the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) between the U.S. and Japan, and some members of Congress are also speaking out against his confinement – which began Tuesday at 1 p.m. Japan Standard Time.

The PHF said in a document describing Alkonis' situation other military families are now "acutely aware that this terrible situation could have been them" and are in "fear" that SOFA may be allegedly violated again in the future.

Alkonis, who lived with his family in Yokosuka, had just finished a hike on the famed Mount Fuji shortly before he was scheduled to be deployed on the USS Benfold. Outside of his military duties, he was also part of a mission with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.

Political violence and the future of democracy: Take a look in the mirror, America


Our research group just completed a nationwide survey measuring support for — and willingness to engage in — violence to advance political objectives. Initial results, which have not yet undergone peer review, were reported Tuesday. We were motivated by recent trends, detailed in the report, that include an unprecedented increase in fatal violence, an equally unprecedented increase in firearm purchasing, widespread acceptance of delusional beliefs about American society, and an increasing willingness to resort to violence for political purposes.

Here’s some of what we learned from more than 8,600 respondents. More than 40 percent of Americans agree (19 percent strongly or very strongly) that “having a strong leader for America is more important than having a democracy.” More than 40 percent agree (16 percent strongly or very strongly) that “in America, native-born white people are being replaced by immigrants.” Half (50 percent) agree (27 percent strongly or very strongly) that “discrimination against whites is as big a problem as discrimination against Blacks and other minorities.”


Christian Tripodi and Matthew Wiger

The US Army has lost interest in counterinsurgency training. Over the past year, the withdrawal from Afghanistan appears to have drawn a line under COIN’s modern incarnation, while escalation in eastern Europe has focused policymakers’ minds on the possibility of major combat operations against a near-peer adversary. As US forces forward deploy across Europe, bureaucrats are leveraging Ukraine to pitch revolutionary training centers, doctrine rewrites, and advanced technology platforms, while commanders across NATO seek to fulfill the technocratic vision of modern multidomain operations. COIN—and irregular warfare more broadly—is out of fashion.

The US military has been here before. In the wake of Vietnam, US military planners purged the Army’s intellectual and organizational COIN capabilities—with tragic ramifications for readiness and expertise as US forces went on to engage in a succession of insurgent-based conflicts in El Salvador, Colombia, Lebanon, and Somalia, to name a few, culminating in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Terrorist Financing Innovation in the Crime-Terror Nexus

Zachariah Parcels


Terrorists cannot symmetrically confront modern States. Instead, terrorists violently struggle by using or threatening to use violence against civilians to achieve political aims.[1] Befitting the definition by Ganor and the “Doubtful Terrorism Proper” designations by Enders and colleagues, there have been 155,551 (as of 2020) terrorist attacks since 1970.[2] Yet, only spectacularly innovative terrorist attacks take nations by surprise by exploiting vulnerabilities in security apparatuses and inflicting high material, psychological, social, and emotional costs.[3] Albeit being an accessible and inexpensive means of violent political expression, terrorism really exemplifies disruptive innovation when it is sufficiently financed.[4] Though, money is needed more for logistics than operations.[5]

Amidst Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) suiciding bombings, the late Meir Dagan’s (1945-2016) “Harpoon” unit, under Israel’s famed Mossad, realised this need, as did the US-led coalition against ISIS, to “follow the money, devalue the money, seize the money, and kill the money.”[6] Dagan subsequently influenced United States (U.S.) and international efforts, such as the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), to counter terrorism financing (CTF) and money laundering (AML).[7]

Ukraine’s lessons for Taiwan grow more ominous


The longer the Biden administration continues delaying and stinting its support for Ukraine without enabling Kyiv to halt and reverse Russia’s invasion, the more precarious both Ukraine’s and Taiwan’s positions become.

This is not to disparage the substantial volume of U.S. and NATO weaponry that has flowed into Ukraine from a standing start, and for which Ukrainians have expressed gratitude. Rather, it is to note that the aid has been too little in quantity and quality and too late to avoid a catastrophic cost in human lives, destruction of cities, forced relocation to Russia of tens of thousands of Ukrainians, desperate emigration to other countries of millions more, and the crippling of Ukraine’s economy. It is a grotesque scenario out of World War II, yet the West is becoming desensitized to the horrific costs of Vladimir Putin’s brutal invasion and war crimes.

China Targeted Fed to Build Informant Network and Access Data, Probe Finds

Kate O’Keeffe and Nick Timiraos

China tried to build a network of informants inside the Federal Reserve system, at one point threatening to imprison a Fed economist during a trip to Shanghai unless he agreed to provide nonpublic economic data, a congressional investigation found.

The investigation by Republican staff members of the Senate’s Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs found that Fed employees were offered contracts with Chinese talent-recruitment programs, which often include cash payments, and asked to provide information on the U.S. economy, interest-rate changes and policies, according to a report of the findings released Tuesday.

Pelosi Visit to Taiwan Could Force China To Show Its Hand


The speaker of the House has a rare opportunity to defy Chinese threats and visit Taiwan in a showdown that could determine whether Communist China is ready to go beyond rhetoric in its claim to the island province.

Speaker Pelosi has yet to say she’s going, but the mere possibility is inspiring fierce warnings from Beijing, worries in the White House and Pentagon, and calls for her to show she has every right to visit in bold defiance of whatever the Chinese say.

At a time when China has been increasing pressure on Taiwan, with flights into the island’s air defense identification zone, Mrs. Pelosi would be the first American member of Congress to visit Taiwan since Newt Gingrich led a delegation there in 1997. Like Mrs. Pelosi, Mr. Gingrich was speaker of the House, though of a different political persuasion.

The U.S. and Russia Need to Start Talking Before It’s Too Late

Samuel Charap and Jeremy Shapiro

In the five months since Russia launched its war in Ukraine, the United States has pledged about $24 billion in military aid to Ukraine. That’s more than four times Ukraine’s 2021 defense budget. America’s partners in Europe and beyond have pledged an additional $12 billion, according to the Kiel Institute for the World Economy.

And yet these tens of billions still fall short of the Ukrainian government’s wish list for weapons, which President Volodymyr Zelensky’s government announced last month. This divergence between what Ukraine wants and what its Western partners are prepared to give reflects the reality that Western leaders are pulled in two directions. They are committed to helping Ukraine defend itself against Russia’s aggression, but they are also trying to prevent the conflict from escalating into a major power war.

Myanmar executions: US urges China to condemn Myanmar

Melissa Zhu

A state department spokesperson said China could influence Myanmar more than any other country - but China said it did not interfere in other countries' internal affairs.

Meanwhile Myanmar's junta insisted the men "deserved many death sentences".

A spokesman said the four had been able to defend themselves in court.

"If we compare their sentence with other death penalty cases, they have committed crimes for which they should have been given death sentences many times," junta spokesman Zaw Min Tun said at a regular press briefing.

The four men had been allowed to speak with family members by video link before their execution, Zaw Min Tun said.