29 August 2022

A Year After the Fall of Kabul

Public anniversaries mark the meaning of the past in the political present. In Washington, one year after the fall of Kabul to the Taliban, the failure of the United States and its allies is emotive and polarizing. This month, House Republicans issued a report, entitled “A ‘Strategic Failure,’ ” which is unsparing of the Biden Administration’s decision last year to withdraw all remaining American forces from Afghanistan, and of its conduct of the chaotic evacuation that followed. The White House denounced the report as “partisan” and demagogic; the National Security Council circulated a memo defending the Administration’s actions. There will be more of this, particularly if Republicans gain control of one or both chambers of Congress in November’s midterm elections. Democrats have reason, in that case, to fear Benghazi-inspired, election-driving hearings and investigations on Afghanistan, although any Republican drive to hang last year’s failures on Biden will be complicated by the central role played in the dénouement by former President Donald Trump.

Six months into the war in Ukraine, Russian media has a new message: ‘Either we win or World War III begins’

Stanislav Kucher

The other day a friend from Nizhny Novgorod, one of Russia’s largest and most modern cities, sent me a video of a theatrical production called “The Dulles Plan,” performed by the experimental theater “NEXT.” Here were actors in their 20s — the generation born in a free Russia, after the Soviet era and before Putin took office — taking to the stage for a 90-minute rant about the degradation and moral decay of the West. The Dulles Plan — named for the U.S. spymaster Allen Dulles — was a long-ago-debunked conspiracy theory suggesting that the U.S. and its allies had a plan to undermine the values of the Soviet Union, and then Russia. The not-so-subtle current message: This is what the west is doing today, to modern Russia.

The play is one bizarre example of a clear shift in Russian narratives about the war in Ukraine. Six months ago, Vladimir Putin’s case for war — or for the “special military operation,” as he called it — rested on a few basic arguments: It was necessary to “denazify” Ukraine, to remove the “criminals” ruling the country, and to rescue the Russian-speaking citizens of the Donbas, in eastern Ukraine, who had been allegedly subjected to “genocide.”

Anthony Fauci is stepping down: How did he become the bogeyman of covid-19 conspiracy theories?

Anya van Wagtendonk and Jonathan Lambert

Anthony Fauci’s announcement this week that he plans to retire from government service after nearly a half-century has unleashed a new wave of vitriol on the right. “Someone needs to grab that little elf and chuck him across the Potomac,” said Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on Wednesday.

Fauci’s decision to step down in December marks the end of an era in more ways than one. He is part of a generation of public health and medical researchers molded by the rise of HIV — a virus that morphed from a certain death sentence to a chronic condition thanks to advances in drug development shaped by activists and scientists alike. The covid pandemic has brought another wave of scientific advances, but it has come amid a broad embrace of pseudoscience, conspiracy thinking and animosity toward basic public health measures.

Why Crimea matters: Ukrainian attacks are frightening Russian tourists and forcing Russia’s army to change tactics

Joshua Keating

At least two things were striking about one of the first videos that emerged of an attack on Russia’s Saki Air Base in Crimea on Aug. 9. One was the size of the mushroom cloud in the background. The other was the sight of clearly alarmed Russian tourists in bathing suits and beach wraps scattering from their cabanas. The first attests to Ukraine’s demonstrated ability to strike targets deep behind Russian lines. The second shows the degree to which Crimea — the peninsula that Russia annexed in 2014 — has been cut off from the war raging just a few miles away, and the sense of calm and security that has prevailed there.

That calm has now been shattered. It started in a relatively small way last month, when a Ukrainian drone flew into the courtyard of the Russian Black Sea Fleet’s headquarters in the Crimean city of Sevastopol, injuring five people and forcing the cancellation of Navy Day celebrations. Russian beachgoers might have kept to their routines.

China can’t be the CIA’s only focus in a world of threats

Daniel N. Hoffman

When he created the China Mission Center a few months back, CIA Director William Burns said the goal was to “strengthen our collective work on the most important geopolitical threat we face in the 21st century — an increasingly adversarial Chinese government.”

The Biden administration is absolutely right to be focused on China, which is militarizing the South China Sea, conducting provocative military drills threatening Taiwan’s territorial integrity, counterfeiting U.S. products, stealing U.S. intellectual property, using its “Belt and Road” initiative as cover for drowning developing countries in debt, and ruthlessly expanding its economic throw weight, military power and political influence from Asia to Africa with its full-throttled police state espionage.

But the CIA is a global intelligence service, which is charged with recruiting spies, stealing secrets and producing analysis on a dizzying array of other wickedly complex threats to our national security, including weapons proliferation, Iran, Russia, North Korea and transnational terrorism.

Mossad chief says US ‘rushing into a deal that is a lie’ with Iran

Mossad chief David Barnea has said in recent meetings about the Iranian nuclear deal that the US “is rushing into an accord that is a lie,” according to multiple reports in Hebrew media outlets this evening.

Barnea is quoted as saying the emerging accord is “very bad for Israel” and “a strategic disaster.”

The reports in Channel 12, Ynet, Haaretz and others do not cite a source, but all seem to have received the same information on the Mossad chief’s internal comments.

Barnea adds that an accord appears inevitable “in light of the needs of the US and Iran.”

He said the deal “gives Iran license to amass the required nuclear material for a bomb.” It will also provide Tehran billions of dollars in currently frozen money, increasing the danger Iran poses through the region via its proxies.

He stresses that a deal will not obligate Israel, and the country will act however it sees fit. He says that if it does not do so, it will be in danger.

Congress Must Rescue Biden from His Defeatist Policies

Michael Rubin

Iranian hard-liners have been circulating a list of “concessions” worth tens of billions of dollars to which the Biden administration has allegedly agreed, all to get Tehran to come into compliance with a nuclear agreement that is near expiring.

For the Biden administration, a collapse of fortitude in the face of rogue regimes has become the rule rather than the exception. After fanning conspiracies that former President Donald Trump was a Russian agent, President Joe Biden’s team gave Russian dictator Vladimir Putin the gift of a generation when it waived sanctions on the Russo-German Nord Stream-2 project, an action that the Kremlin interpreted, as Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) had warned, as a green light to invade Ukraine.

As Russian troops massed on Ukraine’s border, Biden again counseled defeat. National security adviser Jake Sullivan encouraged Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to flee his country and surrender it to Russian aggression. That Zelensky refused did more to defend the post-World War II liberal order than any U.S. politician has since former President Ronald Reagan.

Biden, Zelensky discuss concerns over Zaporizhzhya nuclear plant


President Biden and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky spoke Thursday about a new $3 billion security assistance package for Ukraine, and the two leaders also demanded Russia relinquish control of the Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant, according to the White House.

The phone call took place a day after the White House announced the $2.98 billion assistance package for Ukraine, dovetailing with the country’s Independence Day. The package is the latest tranche of support to help Kyiv fight off the continuing Russian attack.

Biden “congratulated Ukraine on its Independence Day and expressed his admiration for the people of Ukraine, who have inspired the world as they defended their country’s sovereignty over the past six months,” according to a White House readout of the phone call.

“The two leaders also called for Russia to return full control of the Zaporizhzhya Nuclear Power Plant to Ukraine and for International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) access to the plant,” the readout said.

Israel may need a paradigm shift on Iran

Jacob Nagel

During President Joe Biden's visit, the most difficult task was explaining to him the dangers posed by returning to the 2015 nuclear deal. Not surprisingly, Israel failed miserably in this effort – not in the actual explanations to Biden but in the ultimate results. The administration has remained bent on making every possible mistake on restoring the JCPOA. Biden is being helped in this mission by having a chorus of supporters of irresponsible prominent Israelis – including some who are still in public office – who have been engaged in "background briefings" and various overseas meetings to convey a view that runs contrary to Israel's official position.

The IDF chief of staff, the Mossad director, and the political echelon (including former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu) are convinced that re-entering the deal would be a big mistake. Israel's political echelons are mostly working hard to get this message across to the US, using all available platforms, despite some claiming that they are not making themselves heard loud enough. As is customary in a democracy, it is time that their subordinates fall in line.

Both Iran and the US have escalated their rhetoric (in the ayatollahs' case it is also about preparing the public opinion for a return to the deal), with both sides highlighting the benefits they would secure through the deal. Likewise, both sides have been stating that the deal entails almost no concessions on their part, although unfortunately, this is true only on the Iranian side.

Letter on Russia’s illegal seizure and mistreatment of Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhya Nuclear Power Plan

As a bipartisan group of experts on nuclear nonproliferation, many of whom have served in both Democratic and Republican administrations, we urge you to prioritize responding to Russia’s illegal seizure and mistreatment of Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhya Nuclear Power Plant (ZNPP) and its staff. The most immediate priority should be ensuring the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) can visit the plant to ensure its operations are safe and secure.

As you know, the Russian military seized ZNPP, Europe’s largest nuclear power plant, in early March. Russia reportedly has since deployed additional forces there, using the facility as a base from which to shell nearby Ukrainian positions and population centers, knowing the Ukrainian military cannot risk responding in kind.

Moscow’s actions risk causing a transnational radiological disaster. Russian forces occupying ZNPP have reportedly subjected the plant’s workers to torture, interrogation, and other undue stress that could jeopardize vital safety functions. The Russia military’s reported shelling of the facility and damage caused to the complex have further threatened the safety and security of the plant and its surroundings.

America Is Gifting Ukraine A New Air Defense Network To Stop Russia’s Strikes

Sebastien Roblin

Ukraine is getting new air defense systems that won’t make things easier for Russia: August 24 was the 31st anniversary of Ukraine’s independence from the Soviet Union—and Moscow did not let the day pass without yet another vicious attack, peppering the town of Chaplyne with a lethal hail of Smerch rockets, and Iskander and S-300 missiles. Hits to residential areas, the train station and a passenger train killed 25 civilians and wounded 50.

Fortunately, Russia’s ability to inflict such terror attack appears likely to decline over time. One reason is depletion of missile stocks and inability to rapidly build them back up. Another factor is that Ukraine’s ground-based air defenses are strengthening, not weakening,

This trend was discernible in the $2.98 billion military aid package the U.S. announced the same day, the largest given by Washington to Ukraine yet. (Technically, the money is coming out of a total of $13.7 billion already authorized by Congress in the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative.)

Ukraine Wants To Go On The Offensive Against Russia. It Could Be Risky

Robert Farley

Will Ukraine Go on the Offensive Or Not? Expert Analysis by Dr. Robert Farley: Observers of the Russia-Ukraine War have been aflutter for weeks about the prospect of a Ukrainian offensive to retake some of the territory seized by Russia in the first months of the war. To some extent, this reflects frustration with what has become a static struggle of attrition, with front lines moving only a few kilometers and (in recent weeks) slowing to a crawl. For a variety of reasons, however, onlookers have been disappointed.

Despite some feints and apparent early moves, Ukraine has not seriously attempted to dislodge Russia from any of its conquests.

There are good reasons why Ukraine would resist the call for an early offensive from foreigners who’ve grown bored with the war. A failed counter-offensive would be a dramatic defeat for Ukrainian prospects. In addition to the political effects (which would include an increase in Russian morale and the potential loss of support in the West), a failed offensive could open gaps and vulnerabilities in Ukraine’s defensive position, enabling Russian counter-attacks that could seize additional territory. A failed counter-offensive could also result in a Russian cease-fire offer on extremely advantageous terms to Moscow, a prospect that Kyiv would prefer to avoid.

Cold War offers clues about China’s plans for the Indian Ocean

David Brewster

A recent study published by the US Army War College looks at how geography constrained the Soviet military presence in the Indian Ocean and the lessons that can be drawn for China’s efforts to become an Indian Ocean power.

Geography has a big impact on the strategic dynamics of the Indian Ocean. It is largely enclosed on three sides with few maritime entry points. The Himalayas also cut off much of the Eurasian hinterland from access to the sea.

This makes it hard for militaries to get access. The semi-enclosed geography of the Indian Ocean creates a premium for naval powers that control the maritime chokepoints and the limited number of deep-water ports for essential logistical support.

There are similar constraints in projecting airpower. Aircraft can only access Indian Ocean airspace from, say, Chinese territory by flying over other countries. Within the region, the sheer size of the Indian Ocean makes it essential to have a network of local airfields for staging and support.

Civilian Harm Mitigation and Response Action Plan Fact Sheet

On August 25, 2022, the Department of Defense (DoD) released its Civilian Harm Mitigation and Response Action Plan (CHMR-AP), which lays out a series of major actions DoD will implement to mitigate and respond to civilian harm.

The plan, directed by the Secretary of Defense, creates new institutions and processes that will improve strategic outcomes, optimize military operations, and strengthen DoD's ability to mitigate civilian harm during operations through a reinforcing framework. It will facilitate continued learning throughout DoD, enhance DoD's approach to assessments and investigations, and improve DoD's ability to effectively respond when civilian harm occurs. The actions set forth in the CHMR-AP build upon each other to improve accountability and transparency regarding civilian harm resulting from U.S. military operations. DoD will begin implementing the CHMR-AP immediately. Certain actions set forth in the plan can be taken now, while others will require additional time to properly implement.

Sloppy Use of Machine Learning Is Causing a ‘Reproducibility Crisis’ in Science

HISTORY SHOWS CIVIL wars among the messiest, most horrifying human affairs. So Princeton professor Arvind Narayanan and his PhD student Sayash Kapoor got suspicious last year when they discovered a strand of political science research claiming to predict when a civil war will break out with more than 90 percent accuracy, thanks to artificial intelligence.

A series of papers described astonishing results from using machine learning, the technique beloved by tech giants that underpins modern AI. Applying it to data such as a country’s gross domestic product and unemployment rate was said to beat more conventional statistical methods at predicting the outbreak of civil war by almost 20 percentage points.

Yet when the Princeton researchers looked more closely, many of the results turned out to be a mirage. Machine learning involves feeding an algorithm data from the past that tunes it to operate on future, unseen data. But in several papers, researchers failed to properly separate the pools of data used to train and test their code’s performance, a mistake termed “data leakage” that results in a system being tested with data it has seen before, like a student taking a test after being provided the answers.

Russian AI Research 2010-2018

Margarita Konaev and James Dunham

Executive Summary

In October 2019, the Russian government released a national strategy for the development of artificial intelligence, promising to increase support for scientific research in the AI field.1 By most metrics necessary for the advancement of AI—hardware, data, talent, and investment—Russia lags behind the United States and China. Yet the Russian government has an ambitious vision for AI and is committing resources to strengthening Russian science and technology more broadly.

This issue brief presents an overview of Russia’s scientific research on artificial intelligence published in English-language journals over the past decade, including trends in topical focus and institutional activity. We analyzed 7,095 research papers published in English between 2010 and 2018 across different fields of science related to the development and application of AI and machine learning. The authors of these papers listed affiliations with 249 institutions in Russia. Our key findings show:Between 2010 and 2018, the number of English-language publications by Russian scientists in fields such as machine learning, algorithms, and robotics has increased more than six times.

China’s Big Tech built some of the world’s most powerful algorithms. Beijing just exposed some closely-guarded details online


Late last week, Chinese regulators publicly shared details on 30 algorithms that power some of the country’s most widely used apps and websites, an unprecedented measure that marks a new escalation in Beijing’s years-long campaign to rein in the power of big tech.

The list of algorithms included details on the underlying technology that power apps from China’s largest internet companies, including e-commerce firm Alibaba, social media company and TikTok-owner Bytedance, and delivery giant Meituan. The A.I.-driven recommendation algorithms are highly valuable trade secrets that have come to govern many parts of day-to-day life in China, determining what videos people watch, the products they buy, and food delivery workers' routes.

US blocks China's access to advanced chip design software

Max A. Cherney

The U.S. Commerce Department has implemented an export control on advanced chip design software that’s necessary to produce next-generation processors, expanding on existing controls that target chipmaking tools with the goal of hampering Chinese efforts to build the most complex chips domestically.

The new export restrictions targets electronic design automation, or EDA, software produced by the likes of Cadence and Synopsys. The goal is to hamper Chinese companies pursuing AI applications and prevent them from building chips with an emerging technology called gate all around, according to a person familiar with the Biden Administration’s plans. The advanced design tools are necessary to make chips with gate-all-around designs that are capable of delivering substantially more computing horsepower with far less energy than today's chips.

The Commerce Department issued the new rule Friday, though Protocol first reported on the pending plan to block advanced EDA software exports earlier this month.

For 1st time China sends ground, naval, air forces to join Russian Vostok drills

Guo Yuandan and Liu Xuanzun

The Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) has dispatched forces to join the upcoming Vostok-2022 in Russia, with PLA ground and air forces having already arrived at the designated drill region and naval forces being rendezvoused with Russian warships at sea. Observers said this is the first time the PLA has sent three of its forces to participate in a single Russian drill.

Based on the annual China-Russia military cooperation plan and consensus reached by the two sides, the PLA has dispatched some of its troops to Russia to take part in the Vostok-2022 exercise, Senior Colonel Tan Kefei, a spokesperson at China's Ministry of National Defense, said at a regular press conference on Thursday.

Chinese ground and air forces have arrived at designated positions, as they have completed forces assembly, field camp establishment and site checks, with adaptive flight training missions underway, and the Chinese naval forces carried out communications exercises after having rendezvoused with Russian warships at sea, Tan announced.

Opium Poppy Cultivation in Afghanistan Appears To Be Declining—At a Cost

Ambassador Mark Green 

Afghanistan is the world's largest producer of opium. Its production grew during the years when US and coalition forces were present, despite the US spending more than $8 billion to eradicate the crop. Production grew during the Taliban’s years of insurgency, despite its public opposition to opium production because narcotics are contrary to Islam, and perhaps because the militant group reportedly imposed “taxes” on poppy farmers and others involved in the trade as a way of funding its operations.

As Taliban representatives negotiated over the drawdown of Western forces with the Trump Administration and then Biden representatives, they promised to end opium production in Afghanistan once they regained power. Even though observers say the Taliban have broken many of its other pledges—on matters like the role of women in society and tolerance for diversity of opinion— the “poppy pledge” may be one they’re serious about trying to keep.

Impact of Biden’s capitulation to the Taliban

Clifford D. May

The terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, changed the lives of many Americans, mine among them. Enlisting in the military wasn’t an option, but I was given the chance to set up a research institution on terrorism and other threats to free peoples. Twenty years ago, the Foundation for Defense of Democracies was established.

Prior to 9/11, influential voices in the foreign policy community argued that terrorism was not a serious national security threat, merely the weapon of the weak, a way for those without fighter jets and tanks to call attention to their “legitimate grievances.”

After 9/11, I thought that debate would end. I also thought it had become obvious that “grievances, legitimate or not, provide no license for the murder of other people’s children” — a moral insight conveyed to me by the late Jeane Kirkpatrick, an eminent foreign policy scholar and the first woman to serve as America’s ambassador to the U.N.

Taliban circulates video of Haqqanis plotting 2010 suicide raid against U.S. troops


The Taliban released a video showing its deputy emir and interior minister Sirajuddin Haqqani and other top terrorist commanders finishing preparations for a large-scale suicide assault against U.S. forces based in eastern Afghanistan in 2010.

The video, which was circulated by Taliban supporters on social media, shows the whose who of the Haqqani Network, the powerful Taliban faction that is listed by the U.S. as a Foreign Terrorist Organization, seeing off the team of suicide bombers who attacked Forward Operating Base (FOB) Fenty on Nov. 12, 2010. FOB Fenty was located at the Jalalabad City airport in the Behsud district in Nangarhar.

The attack was ultimately repelled by a quick reaction force of U.S. and Afghan troops. Six attackers were killed and two suicide vests were recovered.

In the video, Sirajuddin Haqqani, who at the time was the operational commander of the Haqqani Network, was joined by his brother Badruddin Haqqani, Qari Zakir, the Taliban’s chief of suicide bombers, Mullah Sangeen Zadran, a dangerous Haqqani leader, and Ghani Muhammad, an Al Qaeda-linked military commander based in Pakistan.

Huawei founder sparks alarm in China with warning of ‘painful’ next decade

Helen Davidson 

The founder of Huawei has delivered a stark warning for the tech company’s future, sparking alarm with the frankness of his assessment and what it signals for smaller businesses amid China’s economic troubles and a global downturn.

In a leaked internal memo, Ren Zhengfei told Huawei staff “the chill will be felt by everyone” and the company must focus on profit over cashflow and expansion if it is to survive the next three years, indicating further job cuts and divestments.

“The next decade will be a very painful historical period, as the global economy continues to decline,” Ren said, pointing to the pandemic as well as the impact of the Ukraine war and a “continued blockade” by the US on some Chinese business.

“Huawei must reduce any overly optimistic expectations for the future and until 2023 or even 2025, we must make survival the most important guideline, and not only survive but survive with quality.”

China makes progress in reusability with secretive second flight of suborbital spaceplaneby

Andrew Jones

HELSINKI — China has performed its first repeated use of a suborbital spaceplane as part of efforts to develop a fully reusable space transportation system.

The suborbital vehicle launched vertically from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in the Gobi Desert on Friday, Aug. 26 Beijing time (Aug. 25 Eastern), according to CASC, China’s main space contractor.

The suborbital spaceplane later landed at Alxa Right Banner airport in Inner Mongolia. The short statement provided neither images of the craft nor information such as the launch's time, duration or apogee.

The launch occurred while an orbital spaceplane—launched Aug. 4 and an apparent part of a planned two-vehicle reusable system—continues to orbit the Earth.

Learned Helplessness China’s Military Instrument and Southeast Asian Security

Zachary Abuza and Cynthia Watson

The People’s Republic of China (PRC) has developed a sophisticated toolbox to advance its national interest. The country’s growing and multifaceted military instrument is meant to signal, compel, deter, and engage in joint-kinetic operations. But most of all, it is meant to awe regional states into acquiescing to Chinese interests, values, and interpretations of international law. In short, it aims to reinforce a notion of learned helplessness.

Xi Jinping pledged at a meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in November 2021 not to seek dominance in Southeast Asia, saying that “China resolutely opposes hegemonism and power politics, wishes to maintain friendly relations with its neighbors and jointly nurture lasting peace in the region and absolutely will not seek hegemony or even less, bully the small.”[1] Yet, China is operationalizing its doctrine of unrestricted warfare in the region, meaning that “any methods can be prepared for use, information is everywhere, the battlefield is everywhere, and that any technology might be combined with any other technology,” as well as that “the boundaries between war and non-war and between military and non-military affairs have systematically broken down.”[2]