7 May 2023

Islamic State Khorasan Province Is a Growing Threat in Afghanistan and Beyond

Colin P. Clarke

In this Oct. 8, 2021 file photo, people view the damage inside of a mosque frequented by the Shiite Muslim minority following a deadly bombing claimed by the Islamic State that killed dozens, in Kunduz province, northern Afghanistan.Credit: AP Photo/Abdullah Sahil, File

The international community risks underestimating the threat posed by the Islamic State in Afghanistan, also known as Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISKP). Just this week it was revealed that the Taliban had killed the Islamic State militant believed to be the leader of the cell that orchestrated the suicide attack near Abbey Gate at Kabul’s airport in August 2021. That attack killed 13 U.S. servicemembers, as well as 169 Afghan civilians, and remains part of a broader inquiry by the U.S. Congress, where a series of hearings aims to investigate the disastrous U.S. withdrawal and its aftermath.

The Biden administration has attempted to assuage its critics by touting the efficacy of “over-the-horizon” counterterrorism strikes, relying on armed drones and intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities to target terrorist leaders. The killing of al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahiri in July 2022 at a Haqqani guest house in Kabul is frequently cited as proof of concept. But that strike, impressive as it was for its lethal precision, is merely one data point. Offshore counterterrorism campaigns are complex and challenging even for a military as advanced as the United States.

The challenge posed by ISKP is far more complex than the Biden administration has acknowledged. The group has spread to nearly all of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces and boasts between 1,500-2,200 members. Since August 2021, the Islamic State’s Afghan affiliate has committed nearly 400 attacks in Afghanistan and Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa region. Within Afghanistan, ISKP has relentlessly attacked the Shia Hazara community in an attempt to further its sectarian aims. The group has been behind some of the most heinous attacks in recent memory, including the bombing of a maternity ward in Kabul in May 2020 and another attack against an office of Save the Children in Jalalabad.

China-Pakistan Ties Steam Ahead With Proposed Rail Project

Umair Jamal

China’s proposed $58 billion railway project aimed at connecting Pakistan’s port of Gwadar to Kashgar in Western China is set to revolutionize trade and geopolitics in the region and beyond. The project is part of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and has been welcomed by both countries for its potential to strengthen their bilateral relations and wider impact.

A Chinese government-commissioned feasibility study has determined that despite the project’s massive price tag, the investment is “worth it” and “should proceed because of its strategic significance.” Analysts from the state-owned China Railway First Survey and Design Institute Group Co Ltd who were involved in the feasibility study of the project have said that the plan has the potential to open up a new chapter in regional economic integration. “The government and financial institutions [in China] should provide strong support, increase coordination and collaboration among relevant domestic departments, strive for the injection of support funds and provide strong policy support and guarantees for the construction of this project,” the Chinese team of analysts said.

China’s western regions would be connected to the Arabian Sea via the 3,000-km Pakistan-China railway, bypassing the Strait of Malacca and relieving its South China Sea dependency. Moreover, “connections with other transport networks i.e., in Iran and Turkey, would also provide a more direct route to Europe for Chinese goods, while Pakistan is forecast to get a much-needed boost from the improved infrastructure and easier trade with China,” said the report.

It is too early to say when this project might begin, but the fact that it is being discussed shows China’s trust in Pakistan. Moreover, it is a clear indication of the strong ties between the two countries and negates any view that China may not be interested in making more investments in Pakistan due to political and security concerns.

The relationship between China and Pakistan is set to be taken to a new level with the proposed rail project, which will have a major effect on Balochistan’s development and stability. This is a visibly important milestone for both countries as it marks a new chapter in their diplomatic and economic ties.

Meta Uncovers Massive Social Media Cyber Espionage Operations Across South Asia

Ravie Lakshmanan

Three different threat actors leveraged hundreds of elaborate fictitious personas on Facebook and Instagram to target individuals located in South Asia as part of disparate attacks.

"Each of these APTs relied heavily on social engineering to trick people into clicking on malicious links, downloading malware or sharing personal information across the internet," Guy Rosen, chief information security officer at Meta, said. "This investment in social engineering meant that these threat actors did not have to invest as much on the malware side."

The fake accounts, in addition to using traditional lures like women looking for a romantic connection, masqueraded as recruiters, journalists, or military personnel.

At least two of the cyber espionage efforts entailed the use of low-sophistication malware with reduced capabilities, likely in an attempt to get past app verification checks established by Apple and Google.

One of the groups that came under Meta's radar is a Pakistan-based advanced persistent threat (APT) group that relied on a network of 120 accounts on Facebook and Instagram and rogue apps and websites to infect military personnel in India and among the Pakistan Air Force with GravityRAT under the guise of cloud storage and entertainment apps.

The tech giant also expunged about 110 accounts on Facebook and Instagram linked to an APT identified as Bahamut that targeted activists, government employees, and military staff in India and Pakistan with Android malware published in the Google Play Store. The apps, which posed as secure chat or VPN apps, have since been removed.

Lastly, it purged 50 accounts on Facebook and Instagram tied to an India-based threat actor dubbed Patchwork, which took advantage of malicious apps uploaded to the Play Store to harvest data from victims in Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Tibet, and China.

Opinion A chaotic evacuation is symbolic of U.S. failure in Sudan

For most Americans, the U.S. government’s chaotic approach to Sudan became clear only last month when fighting erupted, causing thousands of U.S. citizens to scramble for safety. But for close Sudan-watchers, the disordered evacuation effort is only the latest incident in years of failed policy.

Since April 15, when Sudan’s two most powerful generals started attacking each other, the country has descended into widespread violence, leading Sudanese and foreign nationals alike to flee the capital, Khartoum. On Monday, the United Nations warned that the humanitarian crisis in Sudan is on the verge of becoming a “full-blown catastrophe” and, if the fighting continues, 800,000 potential refugees could cause a regional crisis.

The U.S. government seems to have been caught off-guard. On April 23, military helicopters evacuated the embassy in Khartoum, but the Biden administration said security conditions prevented the rescue of private American citizens, leaving many to seek help from other nations. While several other countries evacuated their people, Americans on the ground lamented their government’s lack of support as they made life-or-death decisions.

After days of criticism, on April 29, the U.S. Defense Department deployed armed drones to protect a convoy of Americans making the harrowing trip from Khartoum to Port Sudan. Two more such convoys have since arrived in Port Sudan. In Washington, lawmakers in both parties had been calling on the administration to prepare for such a scenario.

“The violence and ongoing crisis in Sudan are no surprise to anyone paying attention,” James Risch (Idaho), the ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told me. “Why the administration, which has been working on this issue from day one, did not see the troop build-up in Khartoum or other warning signs as sufficient reason to act speaks to the more significant failures of its policy.”

As national security adviser Jake Sullivan pointed out, Sudan is not Afghanistan, where the United States had special obligations. Nevertheless, it’s hard not to notice that in both circumstances, the administration had no good plan to get Americans out, and then struggled to come up with one on the fly.

An Airstrip on Myanmar’s Great Coco Island

Sribala Subramanian

When Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing visited Great Coco Island last month, his plane landed on a tarmac that was generating some buzz. Recent satellite photos showed the newly-extended airstrip had nearly doubled in length to 2,300 meters. Two new hangars and a causeway were also visible on the tiny island off the coast of Myanmar.

According to the authors of a recent report from Chatham House, the London-based think tank, the improvement was no ordinary upgrade. The hangars were wide enough to accommodate “high-performance aircraft,” perhaps surveillance planes. Great Coco, they speculated, could be turning into a naval intelligence gathering base.

Why would Myanmar, a country with a tottering economy and no external enemies, invest in a sophisticated surveillance outpost? The report suggested the military’s top brass may deploy Great Coco as a “point of future leverage,” offering up “naval intelligence acquired from surveillance flights… for desperately needed economic investment” from China. The shared reconnaissance data “would give Beijing a key regional advantage over New Delhi.”

Indian officials reportedly confronted their counterparts about the satellite images. But Myanmar denied the topic ever came up and dismissed the allegation as “absurd.” The Foreign Ministry in Beijing called the Chatham House report “sheer nonsense.”

Speculative reports on Great Coco tend to spawn conspiracy theories. In 1998, India’s defense minister alleged that the islands were on “loan” to China and that the surveillance facility would be upgraded to a “major naval base.” A few years later, India’s navy chief conceded that there was no China-installed monitoring station on the island.

Perhaps Great Coco’s upgrade should be taken at face value. Myanmar’s desire to safeguard a prized investment could be a motivating factor. In 2018, China agreed to invest $7.3 billion in a deep-water port in Rakhine State. The Kyaukphyu project would be China’s “back door” to the Indian Ocean and has been called the “most important element” of the Belt and Road Initiative in Myanmar. Construction on the port could begin soon.

Is Myanmar building a spy base on Great Coco Island?

John Pollock

Myanmar’s Coco Islands in the Bay of Bengal have long been the subject of geopolitical intrigue and controversy among analysts, journalists, and policymakers across South Asia.

The most common allegation is that since the early 1990s, Myanmar has allowed a Chinese signals intelligence facility on the archipelago. Little evidence exists for such a facility, bar a heavily weathered radar station, but recent satellite photographs have raised concerns, especially for India, of increased activity on the islands.
The phantom Chinese intelligence post

The islands are experiencing a steady makeover, with tell-tale signs of military modernization and facilities to support aircraft. Instead of the phantom Chinese intelligence post still prevalent in the popular imagination, the latest images reveal that Myanmar may soon be intending to conduct maritime surveillance operations from Great Coco Island, the largest in an isolated archipelago that lies just 55 kilometres north of India’s strategic Andaman and Nicobar Islands.

Beijing has staked a large investment in Myanmar to access Indian Ocean sea lanes

The photos from January 2023 by Maxar Technologies, which specializes in satellite imagery, show renewed levels of construction activity on Great Coco. Visible are two new hangars, a new causeway and what appears to be an accommodation bloc, all of which are visible in proximity to a freshly lengthened 2,300-metre runway and radar station. Visible as of late March on the southern tip of Great Coco, just beyond the causeway connecting the islands, is evidence of land clearing efforts indicating construction work to come.

China Strengthens Grip on Sri Lanka’s Colombo Port

P.K. Balachandran

China is strengthening its grip on Colombo port after securing an agreement to build, operate, and transfer a warehousing hub within the port. The China Merchants Port Holdings Company (CMPH) will have an 85 percent stake in the warehouse facility and will operate it for 50 years. The Sri Lankan government assigned the $392 million project to CMPH, a Chinese state-owned enterprise, without open tendering.

The CMPH already has an 85 percent stake in the Colombo International Container Terminal (CICT), a star performer among Sri Lankan and South Asian terminals. The CMPH also controls Hambantota port in southern Sri Lanka, in which it has an 85 percent stake and enjoys a 99- year lease. According to CMPH chairman Miao Jianmin, the latest deal will bring its total investments in Sri Lanka to over $2 billion, making the company the single largest foreign investor in the island nation.

Another Chinese company, China Harbor Engineering Company (CHEC), is partnering with Access Engineering Ltd. of Sri Lanka and the Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SLPA) to build the Eastern Container Terminal in Colombo port. The CHEC is also the builder of Colombo Port City, which is designed to be an international financial hub.

A ‘Done and Dusted’ Deal

Shipping sources in Colombo said that they had advocated for the government to award the Colombo port warehousing project on the basis of an open tender. Instead, the government unilaterally gave the project to the CMPH, according to these sources. No other Sri Lankan or foreign party had raised this issue; as a result, the deal “is done and dusted,” as Rohan Masakorala, CEO of Shippers’ Academy in Colombo, put it.

For the purpose of setting up the warehouse, to be called the South Asia Commercial and Logistics Hub, the CMPH has set up a fully-owned subsidiary, Fortune Centre Group Limited (FCGL).

What Happens if China, Iran, and Russia Form a Cyber Tripartite?


Recent reporting reveals that ties between Russia and Iran have tightened to the point where Russia is now Iran’s chief military patron. This is extremely worrisome, especially for Washington that has seen the war in Ukraine push its traditional rivals closer together. This military relationship has been categorized as unprecedented, with Tehran delivering military supplies like ammunition and drones, with the possibility of even providing ballistic missiles in the future in exchange for cooperation in joint drone production and Russia-provided technology. Naturally, concerns over Russia supplying Iran with nuclear-related materials to spurn its nuclear weapons program have surfaced, putting at risk any hope of a deal between the United States and Iran over its nuclear ambitions. Collaboration between two U.S. rivals threatens to prolong the war in Ukraine, while providing a heavily sanctioned Iran economic and defense support at a time where the United States’ attention is diverted elsewhere.

Naturally, this growing relationship raises questions about whether it will extend to a more formal engagement between Moscow and Tehran with respect to the cyber domain, an area where both could benefit from closer collaboration. According to one prominent news source, Russia has already supplied Iran with surveillance and other equipment to facilitate intelligence gathering, as well as hidden cameras, and even lie detectors. Furthermore, there is speculation that Moscow may also have provided Tehran sophisticated software that enabled Iranian authorities to hack into the phones of political oppositionists and dissidents in 2022, allowing them to alter, disrupt, and monitor how they used their phones. Though this advanced technology appears to be more surveillance-focused as opposed to sophisticated disruptive or destructive malware, it nevertheless shows the willingness of these authoritarian regimes to share advanced cyber tools and equipment.

These developments are not so surprising as Tehran and Moscow have engaged in some level of cyber cooperation in the past. Both governments signed a formal information and cyber agreement in 2021, creating the opportunity to coordinate their cybersecurity activities. Though details were scarce, the agreement appeared to focus on cyber defense rather than offense, an acknowledgement that both needed to reduce reliance on foreign technology, as well as increase their awareness of the activities of advanced state threats like the United States operating in cyberspace. This agreement had roots in a similarly themed 2015 accord where the two governments agreed to collaborate on cyber defense issues to include intelligence sharing and interactions against common cyber threats. While at many times such agreements can be largely ceremonial endeavors, they ultimately provide the basis from which to expand areas of mutual benefit in cyberspace.

China’s use of exit bans on the rise, worrying international businesses

The Chinese government has significantly increased the use of exit bans to stop people — Chinese and foreign nationals alike — from leaving the country since top leader Xi Jinping took power in 2012, according to a new report describing how a web of vague laws are being expanded for political reasons.

The report comes amid growing concern about the environment for foreign businesses in China, after the wide-ranging overhaul last week of the country’s espionage law and raids on corporate consultancies Mintz Group and Bain & Co.

“Anyone may be a target — human rights defenders, businesspeople, officials and foreigners,” the rights group Safeguard Defenders said in the report, “Trapped: China’s Expanding Use of Exit Bans.”

The report found that the Chinese Communist Party has used exit bans to silence activists, intimidate foreign journalists, control ethnic and religious groups, and pressure people to return to China to face investigation — and that evidence suggested the number of politically targeted exit bans had grown in the past five years.

“The report shows that those anecdotal cases that we read about now and then are not isolated incidents, but part of a fast growing trend,” said Laura Harth, the group’s campaign director.

Beijing has added to the number of laws regarding exit bans since 2018, according to the report, expanding the ambiguity surrounding activities that could run afoul of the rules.

“China has continued to introduce new laws and regulations on exit bans, further complicating and confusing the legal landscape,” said the report.

A review by The Washington Post identified seven laws and regulations enacted or amended in that time period that provided for exit bans.

No Respite from the Slow-Motion US-China Collision


NEW YORK – I recently attended the China Development Forum (CDF) in Beijing, an annual gathering of senior foreign business leaders, academics, former policymakers, and top Chinese officials. This year’s conference was the first to be held in person since 2019, and it offered Western observers the opportunity to meet China’s new senior leadership, including new Premier Li Qiang.

The event also offered Li his first opportunity to engage with foreign representatives since taking office. While much has been said about Chinese President Xi Jinping appointing close loyalists to crucial positions within the Communist Party of China and the government, our discussions with Li and other high-ranking Chinese officials offered a more nuanced view of their policies and leadership style.

Prior to becoming premier in March, Li served as the CPC secretary in Shanghai. As an economic reformer and proponent of private entrepreneurship, he played a crucial role in convincing Tesla to build a mega-factory in the city. During the COVID-19 pandemic, he enforced Xi’s strict zero-COVID policy and oversaw a two-month lockdown of Shanghai.

Fortunately for Li, he was rewarded for his loyalty and not made into a scapegoat for the policy’s failure. His close relationship with Xi also enabled him to convince the Chinese president to reverse the zero-COVID restrictions overnight when the policy proved to be unsustainable. During our meeting, Li reiterated China’s commitment to “reform and opening up,” a message that other Chinese leaders also conveyed.

Li’s remarkable wit contrasted sharply with the more reserved demeanor of former Premier Li Keqiang, whom we met in earlier years when he was premier. During our meeting, he made Apple CEO Tim Cook laugh out loud by attributing his joyful mood to the viral video of Cook being applauded by crowds during his visit to an Apple store in Beijing. He even joked about a video of US lawmakers grilling TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew, which had also gone viral that week. Unlike Cook, he noted, the beleaguered TikTok boss was not smiling during his congressional hearing. Li’s joke included an implicit warning that although US firms are still welcome in China, the Chinese government can play hardball if its firms and interests are treated harshly in the United States.

China’s New Strategy for Waging the Microchip Tech War

Gregory C. Allen


Two dates from 2022 seem certain to echo in geopolitical history. The first, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24, hardly needs further explanation. The second is October 7, when the United States government enacted a series of new export control regulations targeting China’s artificial intelligence (AI) and semiconductor industries. While most Americans are likely only faintly aware of the October 7 policy and its significance, the date marked the beginning of a new era in U.S.-China relations and with it international politics.

U.S. Secretary of State Tony Blinken nearly said as much in a speech delivered only ten days after the new policy was enacted. “We are at an inflection point,” Blinken said. “The post-Cold War world has come to an end, and there is an intense competition underway to shape what comes next. And at the heart of that competition is technology.”

In many ways, the October 7 policy was narrowly targeted. It only restricted exports of certain types of advanced computer chips for AI applications and the diverse set of technologies needed to design and manufacture AI chips. However, the implementation approach and underlying logic of the new regulations marked a major reversal of 25 years of U.S. trade and technology policy toward China in at least three ways.

First, rather than restricting exports of advanced semiconductor technology to China based on whether the exports were related to military end-uses or to prohibited end-users, the new policy restricted them on a geographic basis for China as a whole.

Second, previous U.S. export controls were designed to allow China to progress technologically, but to restrict the pace so that the United States and its allies retained a durable lead. The new policy, by contrast, actively degraded the peak technological capability of China’s semiconductor industry. Leading Chinese semiconductor firms such as Biren, YMTC, SMIC, and SMEE have all been set back years.

Bold action needed to deter China’s invasion of Taiwan

James Fanell and Bradley A. Thayer 

China‘s actions against Taiwan are increasing in scope and intensity. We have documented the exercises around Taiwan, the first (Joint Fire Strike) last August and the second (Joint Anti-Air Raid) last month, and we anticipate a third (Joint Island Landing) this fall, all of which are designed to prepare for the invasion of Taiwan.

Given that the invasion of Taiwan could occur at any time and might come as soon as this year, drastic actions must be taken to deter the People’s Republic of China.

The threat of an invasion of Taiwan is real and increasing in likelihood as evinced by many factors, including the exercises that provide Beijing with the confidence to conduct the invasion without fear of defeat by Taiwan’s forces or allied forces. The exercises were supported and integrated with joint logistics and information dominance.

Moreover, China‘s maritime and aerial penetration of Taiwan’s territory is now routine, increasing frequency and location of the People’s Liberation Army Navy’s carrier operations near Taiwan, Japan and Guam. In addition, Chinese Communist Party leader Xi Jinping’s statements, as well as those from other CCP and government officials, are ever more explicit about realizing their strategic goal of invading Taiwan.

The threat of the invasion of Taiwan is immediate and growing larger. Taiwan matters to U.S. national security for five reasons.

The first is economic. Taiwan is a vibrant and wealthy economy — and a superpower in computer chip production. Any damage to its factories, including their destruction or conquest by China, will reverberate for many years throughout the U.S. and global economies. There may come a day when the U.S. is no longer dependent upon Taiwanese chips, but that day is not today and will not be for many years.

Xi Jinping Can’t Handle an Aging China

Carl Minzner

China is aging and shrinking. The country’s population surged from 540 million in 1949 to a peak of 1.4 billion in 2021 but tipped over into decline in 2022. In coming decades, it will follow the rest of East Asia into a future marked by low fertility, rapid aging, and a steadily declining population. By the middle of the century, China is projected to have up to 200 million fewer people than it does today. Simultaneously, the median age will steadily climb from 38 years old in 2020 to around 50.

US tech war opens fire on China’s cloud computing


Pressed by Republican senators to sanction Chinese cloud computing companies, US Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo made it clear that she and the Biden administration would not be painted as weak on China: "I've put over 200 Chinese companies on the entity list in my tenure,” she told the Senate Appropriations Committee, “and we are actively, […]

Xi Jinping Can’t Handle an Aging China

Carl Minzner

China is aging and shrinking. The country’s population surged from 540 million in 1949 to a peak of 1.4 billion in 2021 but tipped over into decline in 2022. In coming decades, it will follow the rest of East Asia into a future marked by low fertility, rapid aging, and a steadily declining population. By the middle of the century, China is projected to have up to 200 million fewer people than it does today. Simultaneously, the median age will steadily climb from 38 years old in 2020 to around 50.

Watching Iran: the ISR Gulf

While Iran remains the focus of regional security concerns, key elements of the United States’ intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capacity to have ‘eyes on’ Tehran are being drawn elsewhere, as other areas demand even greater attention. The Gulf region’s own capabilities cannot yet replace all the allied resources being re-tasked, and Gulf Cooperation Council countries remain reticent to cooperate on ISR.

Continuity can often be a welcome feature, but in the Gulf region it is also an issue. Iran remains the overwhelming security concern for the Gulf states, while their collective capacity to counter Tehran continues to be hampered by a reluctance to cooperate more closely. Four decades after its founding in 1981, the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) has yet to live up fully to its name.

The hesitancy over greater collective engagement in the defence and security realm is not new, but there has not been much progress either. And while this is problematic in and of itself, it is also being compounded by the demands of other regions on the United States, which is still the Middle East’s primary security guarantor. Washington may use the language of optimising force posture, but in practical terms this means a reduction in its regional capabilities as these are drawn elsewhere. Along with redeploying combat capabilities, the US is also shifting the focus of what are sometimes called ‘high-value, low-volume enablers’, including crewed and uninhabited intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) systems. When the region was the United States’ priority, demand for ISR still could not be matched with available assets; even before Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, the pull of the Indo-Pacific and concern over China were a draw on US ISR capacity. The war in Ukraine has served only to accelerate this move away from the Gulf region.

Unfortunately, the need to observe Iran to better understand its military activities and to help with intelligence assessments of the threat it poses has not lessened. This paper considers the value of ISR as both a contributor to regional deterrence and an essential element of armed forces’ capacity in the event of war.

U.S. had no warning of a drone attack on the Kremlin, officials say


The Biden administration had no foreknowledge of an impending drone attack on the Kremlin, four U.S. officials said, and a top official recommends caution when it comes to Moscow’s claims.

Russia said Wednesday that two drones flew overnight into the heart of Moscow to assassinate President Vladimir Putin, even though he wasn’t in the complex. Kyiv denies the allegation and officials said Ukraine had nothing to do with the attack. Instead, they insist it’s all a pretext created by the Kremlin to escalate its 14-month war.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said he’d take anything coming from the Kremlin with a “large shaker of salt” during a conversation with the Washington Post’s David Ignatius on Wednesday.

Senior Biden administration officials are still working to confirm whether the suspected attack was ordered by Kyiv, conducted by a rogue pro-Ukraine group, or a false flag operation by Russia, two U.S. officials said.

If it was Ukraine, “we had no advance knowledge,” said one of the officials, who like others was granted anonymity to discuss a sensitive issue. “We are looking into the report but aren’t able to confirm it or validate its authenticity,” said another.

Members of the Senate Intelligence Committee will be briefed by the administration at 2:30 p.m. Wednesday. U.S. intelligence agencies didn’t respond to requests for comment.

Experts are skeptical that Ukraine would be brazen enough to try to kill Putin in the Russian capital. “The idea that this was an assassination attempt is absolutely ludicrous,” said Alina Polyakova, president and CEO of the Center for European Policy Analysis in Washington, D.C. “The Kremlin is a bunker and this looked like a makeshift drone that could only cause minimal damage.”

Mykhailo Polodyak, a senior adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, said “Ukraine has nothing to do with drone attacks on the Kremlin.” Such a strike would only incentivize Moscow to send more missiles into Ukraine to terrorize the civilian population, he suggested. “Why would we need this? Where is the logic in that?”

Russia could take Bakhmut within weeks

Vladimir putin likes a parade. When he invaded Ukraine on February 24th last year, he hoped his “special military operation” would bring triumph within days; some units reportedly had dress uniforms ready packed. Later he hoped his annual May 9th Victory in Europe Day procession would coincide with the fall of Mariupol, a port city on the Azov Sea. But Ukraine held out for another week, and the parade in Moscow was a damp squib. This year’s parade now looks menaced; on May 3rd, Russia said it had shot down two Ukrainian drones that had targeted the Kremlin itself. (Ukraine denied responsibility.)

Protest and Power in France


LONDON – Too much repetition can diminish the impact of even the most dramatic events. Such is the case with mass protests in France, which erupt so often and persist for so long that much of the world hardly takes notice. But the current bout of protests – which culminated in violent clashes with police on May 1 – warrants reflection about French society’s political alienation and what can be done about it.

Coming three years after the last major protests – an unusually long period of docility for France, brought about by the pandemic – the current wave of demonstrations was triggered by President Emmanuel Macron’s push to enact pension reform. Peaceful marches, millions-strong, were sustained for weeks, but to no avail: in March, Macron’s government raised the retirement age by decree, invoking Article 49.3 of the constitution to bypass the National Assembly.

Now, the protests have taken a violent turn. The May Day protesters clashed with police, leaving more than 100 officers injured and resulting in nearly 300 arrests. The extent to which this escalation can be blamed on Macron’s decision to bypass the legislature is impossible to say. But there is no doubt that many citizens viewed it as a slap in the face by a president who, following last year’s elections, no longer has the support of a parliamentary majority.

In fact, the move transformed France’s domestic political debate. Instead of weighing the advantages and disadvantages of a higher retirement age, people began asking simply: Who governs France?

But the trite framing of that question as a choice between the democratically elected government and the protesters obscures a more interesting issue. If the government’s actions are entirely legal, but its legitimacy is fraying nonetheless, is France’s political-constitutional system fundamentally flawed? Assuming that it is, how can we lay the groundwork for repairing the relationship between government and the people?

US Air Force in a big lie about the A-10


Captain Richard Olson, a 74th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron A-10 pilot, exiting an A-10 Warthog after his flight at Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan, in 2011. Note the seven-barrel Gatling-style autocannon – something the F-35 lacks. 

While the US Air Force publicly insists it wants to get rid of the A-10 “Warthog” close air support fighters, it has just deployed a squadron to the Middle East.

The deployed fighters each can carry 16 GBU-39B small-diameter bombs (four per bomb rack). The A-10 also has an ultra-powerful 30mm GAU-8/A Avenger gun that rapidly fires depleted uranium shells that can penetrate armor.

The Pentagon has sent an A-10 squadron to the UAE. It is likely the A-10s will be moved to Iraq or possibly even Syria to be used in support of US bases, which have been repeatedly attacked by missiles and drones. When the US occasionally has responded, it has sent supersonic fighter aircraft.

The subsonic A-10 is much less expensive to operate and its gun system is far more lethal. For the most part, the A-10s will be operating in an area where the enemy has little or no air defenses outside of MANPADS. The A-10 has very good missile warning receivers and A-10 pilots can evade MANPADS when warned.

For the record, it is worth noting that US bases in Iraq and Syria have very limited air defenses and haven’t been able to counter rockets and drone attacks effectively.

The US Air Force has criticized keeping the A-10s in service, arguing that the aircraft are not survivable against modern air defenses, and has convinced the US Congress to dump the A-10s on the ground that they are not survivable.

However, the empirical evidence says that the A-10s do survive even in dense air defense environments.

U.S. Could Run Out of Cash by June 1, Yellen Warns

Alan Rappeport and Jim Tankersley

WASHINGTON — Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen said on Monday that the United States could run out of money to pay its bills by June 1 if Congress does not raise or suspend the debt limit, putting pressure on President Biden and lawmakers to reach a swift agreement to avoid defaulting on the nation’s debt.

The more precise warning over when the United States could hit the so-called X-date dramatically reduces the projected amount of time lawmakers have to reach a deal before the government runs out of money to pay all of its bills on time.

The new timeline could accelerate negotiations between the House, the Senate and Mr. Biden over government spending — a high-stakes standoff between the president and House Republicans who have refused to raise the limit without deep spending cuts attached.

In response to Ms. Yellen’s new timeline, Mr. Biden on Monday called the top four leaders in Congress to ask for a meeting on May 9 to discuss fiscal issues. The president reached out to Speaker Kevin McCarthy and Representative Hakeem Jeffries of New York, the minority leader, along with Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the majority leader, and Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the minority leader.

Mr. McCarthy has accepted the invitation, a person familiar with the developments said on Tuesday.

Economists have warned that failure to raise the debt limit, which caps the total amount of money the United States can borrow, threatens to rock financial markets and throw the global economy into a financial crisis.

Because the United States runs a budget deficit — meaning it spends more money than it takes in — it must borrow huge sums of money to pay its bills. In addition to paying Social Security benefits, along with salaries for the military and government workers, the United States is also required to make interest and other payments to the bondholders who own its debt.

The 2023 National Cybersecurity Strategy: How Does America Think About Cyberspace?

Divyanshu Jindal, Mohammed Soliman

On March 2, 2023, the Biden administration released the new National Cybersecurity Strategy, replacing the 2018 Trump administration Cybersecurity Strategy. The new strategy builds on the previous one, continuing the momentum on many of its priorities while seeking to carry forward and evolve many of the strategic efforts originally initiated by the 2008 Comprehensive National Cybersecurity Initiative.

Dividing the strategy into five pillars, the Biden administration focuses on defending critical infrastructure, disrupting and dismantling threat actors, shaping market forces to drive security and resilience, investing in a resilient future, and forging international partnerships to pursue shared goals.

The new strategy underlines two fundamental shifts: rebalancing the responsibility to defend cyberspace and realigning incentives to favor long-term investments. It takes a fresh look at the balance between the government and the private sector in terms of roles and responsibilities toward mitigating cyber risks. It recognizes the present realities where the end users bear a disproportionate burden for reducing such risks and, in an ambitious outlook change, seeks a legislative mechanism to enforce liability on providers when they fail to meet basic security standards. While underlining the government’s role to protect its own systems and engage in diplomacy, law enforcement, and the collection of intelligence, the strategy places an emphasis on the need for private entities to protect their systems.

The Biden administration's strategy highlights the need to make substantial public sector investments in the sector to assure that the U.S. continues to stay ahead of the curve in modern technology and innovation, maintaining its global leadership role. For this, the Biden administration deems it necessary to incentivize decision-making while balancing short-term imperatives against a long-term vision.

An Overview of the Priorities in Five Pillars

Geoffrey Hinton tells us why he’s now scared of the tech he helped build

Will Douglas Heavenarchive page

I met Geoffrey Hinton at his house on a pretty street in north London just four days before the bombshell announcement that he is quitting Google. Hinton is a pioneer of deep learning who helped develop some of the most important techniques at the heart of modern artificial intelligence, but after a decade at Google, he is stepping down to focus on new concerns he now has about AI.

Stunned by the capabilities of new large language models like GPT-4, Hinton wants to raise public awareness of the serious risks that he now believes may accompany the technology he ushered in.

At the start of our conversation, I took a seat at the kitchen table, and Hinton started pacing. Plagued for years by chronic back pain, Hinton almost never sits down. For the next hour I watched him walk from one end of the room to the other, my head swiveling as he spoke. And he had plenty to say.

The 75-year-old computer scientist, who was a joint recipient with Yann LeCun and Yoshua Bengio of the 2018 Turing Award for his work on deep learning, says he is ready to shift gears. “I'm getting too old to do technical work that requires remembering lots of details,” he told me. “I’m still okay, but I’m not nearly as good as I was, and that’s annoying.”

But that’s not the only reason he’s leaving Google. Hinton wants to spend his time on what he describes as “more philosophical work.” And that will focus on the small but—to him—very real danger that AI will turn out to be a disaster.

Hinton will be speaking at EmTech Digital on Wednesday.

New Software Aims to Allow Fewer Troops to Manage More Drones


The U.S. military will be unable to fully exploit drones until it can enable fewer people to control more robots, says Anduril’s Chris Brose, who says his company has found a way to do just that.

Brose said a modified version of Anduril’s Lattice software could allow numerous types of robotic weapons to autonomously operate with one another on the battlefield. Ultimately, such software could help the Pentagon use drones instead of human-operated warplanes and warships.

“Absent of it, we're not actually going as a nation to get where we want to get in terms of generating this kind of larger and different type of force to be successful in great power competition,” he said.

Today, military drones, especially the larger ones, are heavily reliant on people to fly them, control cameras and sensors, and analyze intelligence.

“In a lot of ways, when we thought about is, the next leap of this looks a lot more like how are we taking all the training and tactics development, all those pieces we do with human pilots today, human operators today, start to codify that into an intelligent piece of software that can go out and do it,” said Anduril CEO Brian Schimpf.

The military has grandiose plans for fleets of autonomous aerial and sea-faring drones that operate in tandem with human-controlled planes and ships, But it's unclear when the technology will be widely used across the battlefield. For now, the technology has been primarily used in military experiments and only in a limited fashion in combat.

“When we look at our unmanned formations today, they cost way too much, there are way too many people inside of way too many loops,” Brose said. “That's not going to scale against a competitor that has four times as many people and a GDP that is approaching ours.”

How DOD Is Experimenting with AI for Enhanced Cybersecurity


BALTIMORE—The Defense Information Systems Agency is looking to expand the way it uses artificial intelligence to detect signs of intrusion on DOD networks much faster and sooner.

Deepak Seth, the technical lead for emerging technologies at DISA, told conferencegoers at AFCEA’s TechnetCyber conference that the agency wants to take all the data it can collect within DOD networks at different endpoints and have “an AI model, help… predict or process all that and then give us some information that it will take a human a lot longer.” He said the agency is working with DARPA on the Cyber Hunting at Scale, or CHASE, program.

“The question really becomes, ‘How can we use AI to process all this data?’ and then we'll be able to detect threats that we address that we don't know about,” he said.

But DISA isn’t just looking to automate the detection of anomalies across all of its computers and devices. It’s also looking to automate attacks…on itself. One of the key capabilities DISA wants to develop is automated penetration testing on Defense Department networks.

“We’re trying to automate a lot of the functions that we would typically see a team of pen testers would do for us within the agency. Those resources are becoming more and more limited, if you will,” said Eric Mellot, DISA’s senior technical strategist. “We're looking to figure out ways in which we can leverage technology to do autonomous continuous validation…being able to bring in artificial intelligence to be able to think like a hacker.”.

That follows previous Pentagon experimentation that showed red teams continually trying to hack Defense Department networks improved overall cybersecurity better and faster than just periodically running check lists on Defense Department systems.

The Pentagon’s AI Chief Is ‘Scared to Death’ of ChatGPT


Large language models and generative artificial intelligence agents like ChatGPT have captured the public’s attention, but the Defense Department’s chief digital and AI officer, said he worries about the profound havoc that such tools could wreak across society.

“I’m scared to death,” about how people might use ChatGPT and other consumer-facing AI agents, Craig Martell said Wednesday.

Such tools, which can respond to simple prompts with long text answers, have raised concerns about the end of academic essays and have even been floated as a better way to answer medical patient questions. But they don’t always produce factually sound content, since they pull from human-created sources. Martell, who comes to the job with experience in academia as well as managing machine learning at Lyft, didn’t mince words when asked his opinion on what large language models like ChatGPT mean for society and national security.

“My fear is that we trust it too much without the providers of that service building into it the right safeguards and the ability for us to validate” the information, Martell said. That could mean people rely on answers and content that such engines provide, even if it’s inaccurate. Moreover, he said, adversaries seeking to run influence campaigns targeting Americans could use such tools to great effect for disinformation. In fact, the content such tools produce is so expertly written that it lends itself to that purpose, he said. “This information triggers our own psychology to think ‘of course this thing is authoritative.’”

While using such tools can feel like an exchange with a human being, Martell warns they lack a human understanding of context, which is why reporter Aza Raskin was able to pose as a 13-year old and get an LLM to give him advice on how to seduce a 45 year-old man.

The Chief Digital and Artificial Intelligence Office, which Martell heads, is primarily responsible for the Defense Department’s AI efforts and all the computer infrastructure and data organization that goes into those efforts. Martell made his comments during AFCEA’s TechNetCyber event in Baltimore to a room full of software vendors, many of whom were selling AI platforms, tools, and solutions.

“My call to action to industry is: don’t just sell us the generation. Work on detection,” so that users and consumers of content can more easily differentiate AI-generated content from humans, Martell said.

Quantum computing could break the internet. This is how

Sam Learner 

They call it Q-day. That is the day when a robust quantum computer, like this one, will be able to crack the most common encryption method used to secure our digital data.

Q-day will have massive implications for all internet companies, banks and governments — as well as our own personal privacy.

We know that this will happen one day. The only question is when.

For the moment, quantum computers, which exploit the spooky physics of subatomic particles, remain too unstable to perform sophisticated operations for long. IBM’s Osprey computer, thought to be the most powerful quantum computer yet developed, only has 433 qubits (or quantum bits) when most computer scientists consider it would take 1mn to realise the technology’s potential. That may still be a decade away.

But in 1994 the American mathematician Peter Shor wrote an algorithm that could theoretically run on a powerful quantum computer to crack the RSA encryption protocol most commonly used to secure online transactions. The RSA algorithm exploits the fact that while it is very easy to multiply two large prime numbers, no one has yet discovered an efficient way for a classical computer to perform the calculation in reverse. Shor showed how a quantum computer could do so relatively easily. A recent research paper published in China explored the possibility that a hybrid classical-quantum computing approach might be able to pull Q-day forward.

Excited by the possibilities of building the first robust quantum computer, and terrified by the prospect of coming second, the world’s leading powers are now in a race to develop the technology. Not only can quantum computers be used to crack existing encryption methods, they can also be used to secure communications in a quantum world — and governments, corporations and venture capitals have been investing heavily with a view to commercialising the technology.

The Rising Geopolitical Importance of Argentine Lithium

Scott B. MacDonald

Argentina is set to go to the polls on October 23 to elect a new government. The election—amidst a deep economic crisis, which includes high inflation (over 100 percent), a complicated exchange rate system, a drought in prime agricultural regions, falling international foreign currency reserves, large fiscal deficits, and a messy debt situation—will be momentous. There is even some talk that the Fernández government may not last until election day. Yet despite a pervading sense of pessimism over the economy, one sector has shined: lithium. The flaky white metal is widely seen as an export that can help grow the country out of its troubles.

But there is a sharp debate about how to play the lithium card: should it be exported as a raw material (in the form of lithium carbonate), with a welcome role for foreign companies, or should there be a value-added process that extends to the creation of a local battery industry guided by the state and restrictive to the foreign sector? The discussion over how to approach this issue is likely to intensify as the election draws closer, with foreign mining companies and governments watching closely.

Lithium as Key to the World’s Energy Future

Lithium’s importance stems from its central use in the making of batteries. As the world moves away from fossil fuels to renewable energy, the need for batteries increases as they are essential to power electric vehicles (EVs) and help augment storage for wind and solar power. In the United States, the great energy transition has received a massive amount of government support, most noticeable in the $369 billion Inflation Reduction Act (IRA). The European Union, meanwhile, is taking measures to secure diverse, affordable, and sustainable supplies of critical raw materials, including lithium.

While the United States and the EU are major users of lithium, China is the largest consumer of the metal due to its use in its booming electronics and EV industries as well as being the world’s leading battery maker. Some of its largest mining/energy companies are already engaged in Argentina. Other countries are also scrambling to find secure sources of lithium, including Australia, Canada, Japan, South Korea, and the UK. According to the U.S. Geological Service, global consumption of lithium in 2022 was estimated to be 134,000 tons, a 41 percent increase from 95,000 tons in 2021. Expectations are that demand for lithium is only going to grow in the decade ahead.