4 September 2023

Putin struggles with falling ruble, rising prices as sanctions bite

Catherine Belton

LONDON — When Vladimir Putin addressed top economic officials last week after a bruising month in which the Russian ruble plummeted to a 16-month low against the U.S. dollar, the Russian president sought to set a confident tone. The country’s economy, he said, was growing again and wages were rising.

But despite the show of bravado, Putin could not avoid mentioning a growing weakness that is stalking the economy as Western sanctions bite ever deeper, and one that has been exacerbated by the ruble’s plunge.

“Objective data shows that inflationary risks are increasing, and the task of reining in price growth is now the number one priority,” Putin said, with a note of tension in his voice. “I ask my colleagues in the government and the Central Bank to keep the situation under constant control.”

Rapidly rising prices caused by a 20 percent drop in the value of the ruble between early June and mid-August and the government’s pouring of funds into Russia’s defense industry are bringing Russia’s war — and the impact of sanctions — home to many Russians for the first time, economists say.

Israel, Libya, and Italy were just reminded that diplomacy requires more than diplomats

Karim Mezran

The sentence, or some variation of it, has been uttered by diplomats for centuries, but here it proved incendiary. “I spoke with the foreign minister about the great potential for the two countries from their relations,” said Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen in a statement on August 27, confirming a meeting the week before with his Libyan counterpart, Najla Mangoush. News of the meeting between the Libyan and Israeli officials, and the implication that its aim was to advance the North African state in becoming the next signatory of the Abraham Accords, flooded the media in the following days.

The news provoked several protests and incidents in Tripoli and elsewhere in Libya, which does not recognize Israel. Demonstrators stormed a house owned by the United Nations–backed Prime Minister Abdulhamid Dbeibah and torched it. An attempted attack against the main offices of the foreign ministry was also carried out. Disorder in the streets has continued in the days since. Reports that the meeting was championed by Italy, Libya’s former colonizing power, and held in Rome added to the demonstrators’ fury given Italy’s contentious past relations with the country and its people.

Libyans’ outrage is fairly easy to understand. The first criticism is that the Libyan government took a big risk in carrying out such important diplomacy without any public discussion and, in so doing, underestimated the feelings of the population. The second criticism is that the Libyan government appeared open to engagement with an Israeli government widely perceived in the region as very right-wing and uncompromising on the Palestinian issue. Thirdly, news of the meeting provided a unique opportunity for the opponents of Dbeibah’s government, which is widely perceived in Libya as corrupt and nepotistic, to take to the street and attempt to oust the prime minister.

Treasury touts labor unions during ‘summer of strikes’


A new report from the Treasury Department is singing the praises of labor unions as several high-profile strikes and labor contract negotiations reverberate across the economy.

The report situated unions within the concept of the middle class and found that unions help to raise wages and benefits for workers and have economic “spillover effects” that lead to improved social norms.

5 big questions about the ‘Summer of strikes’

“Union workers have been the backbone of America’s middle class, and yet for too long the contributions of union workers have not been fully appreciated,” Vice President Harris, who serves as the head of the White House task force on worker organizing, said about the Treasury’s findings on a call with reporters Monday.

The report lauds many social knock-on effects of unionization, including improved health and safety standards, pay increases within industries that affect nonunion workers, and heightened democratic activity.

“Unionization … has spillover effects that extend well beyond union workers,” according to the report.

Biden administration offers $12B to convert auto factories into EV plants


The Biden administration will put up to $12 billion into converting auto manufacturing facilities into plants for hybrid and electric vehicles, it announced Thursday.

Automakers will be able to receive loans or grants to convert their factories into those that make plug-in electric, hybrid, or hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm told reporters Thursday.

A total of $10 billion will come from the Energy Department’s Loan Program Office and an additional $2 billion coming from Inflation Reduction Act grants. The loan program was also bolstered by the Democrats’ climate, tax and health care bill.

The Department will also make an additional $3.5 billion available for domestic battery manufacturing that was made possible by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.

“For a hundred years, America has been home to the best automakers in the world. We have got to be using their will and their skill to dominate the global EV market,” Granholm said.

At least one death reported as Idalia moves out to Atlantic Ocean


Hurricane Idalia left a path of destruction and high water in its wake as it moved east off the coast of the Carolinas on Thursday morning.

The hurricane made landfall in Florida’s Big Bend early Wednesday with winds of 125 mph, carving a path across southeast Georgia, South Carolina and parts of North Carolina for nearly 24 hours on land.

As many as half a million people were without power at the storm’s worst, and around 300,000 — mostly in Florida and Georgia — still lack electricity.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) reported at least one “unconfirmed” fatality Wednesday. The Florida Highway Patrol said two people died in weather-related car crashes. A man in Georgia also died after a tree fell on him, according to local police.

“We are not finding anybody at home,” Florida emergency manager Kevin Guthrie said in a press conference Wednesday. “Many, many people heeded the warnings to evacuate and we, so far, have not had any reports of … fatalities related to any drowning or any flooding.”

Evacuation orders were issued in 28 Florida counties.

Will Hurricane Idalia impact gas prices?

  • Nationwide gas prices are unlikely to increase because of Idalia
  • Those in the Southeast could see temporary impacts due to storm damage
  • If future storms hit the Texas and Louisiana coasts, gas prices could spike
 As Hurricane Idalia sweeps across the Southeast, it’s hard not to wonder whether prices at the pump will spike in the aftermath like the U.S. saw with storms like Hurricane Katrina.

If you live in the affected area, like Florida and Georgia, you may see gas prices spike. But out of the Southeast, it’s unlikely Idalia will have an impact at the pump.

Andrew Gross, with the American Automobile Association, told NewsNation that based on Idalia’s path, there’s no need for most of the country to worry about rising gas prices.

“When you think of those mega-refineries that we have, that Texas to Louisiana section, that’s where those mega-refineries are,” Gross said.

How Ukraine Can Win a Long War: The West Needs a Strategy for After the Counteroffensive

Mick Ryan

The war in Ukraine has just passed the 18-month mark. The country’s people, having fought and won three major offensive campaigns in 2022, are now using a mix of old Soviet and new Western equipment to fight a campaign in the south. Although severing the land link between Russia is an important aim, so is liberating the large swaths of land containing agricultural and mineral wealth that provide significant revenue for the Ukrainian government.

The offensive has been, as Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky described it, a slow affair. The sluggish pace should not surprise people who have studied military conflicts and the challenges of offensive operations. But to many observers, ones used to instant gratification (or who want a major resolution before the 2024 U.S. election), the deliberate, steady pace of the Ukrainians can be difficult to appreciate. Some U.S. security officials and policymakers have even suggested that the lack of rapid progress means the counteroffensive will not succeed.

It is, however, much too soon to say which way the conflict will go. By way of comparison, 18 months into World War I, the allies had lost the campaign for Turkey’s eastern peninsula and the Battle of Verdun was still underway. And after the first 18 months of World War II, most of Europe was occupied by the Nazis, Singapore had fallen to Japan, and the United States was fighting on the Bataan Peninsula in the Philippines.

Idalia poses once-in-a-century threat to rural Florida


Hurricane Idalia slammed a region of Florida that is far less acclimated to hurricanes than other parts of the state, giving the area its most intense storm in nearly a century.

Although the storm swept through less heavily populated areas, meaning it posed a relatively low risk of death or injury, experts warn that the region lacks many of the resilience measures of big coastal cities — and could face destructive flooding or ecological damage.

“The thing that makes [Idalia] a little bit unusual is that it hit a part of the Florida coastline which has experienced very few hurricane-level landfalls in the last hundred years,” said hurricane professor Kerry Emanuel, who teaches at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Outsiders may associate the Sunshine State with densely populated coastal cities and the preparations they have made against frequent storms. On Wednesday, however, the Category 3 storm made landfall southeast of Tallahassee along what’s known as the Nature Coast. The area is dotted with pine forests and marshland rather than beaches and resorts, and it hasn’t experienced a Category 3 storm since 1950. The only such storm before that hit in 1896.

Ukrainian Counteroffensive Pierces Main Russian Defensive Line in Southeast

James Marson

Ukrainian forces have penetrated the main Russian defensive line in their country’s southeast, raising hopes of a breakthrough that would reinvigorate the slow-moving counteroffensive.

Ukrainian paratroopers are fighting through entrenched Russian positions on the edge of the village of Verbove, a Ukrainian officer in the area said. Ukrainian forces have also reached the main defensive line to the south of nearby Robotyne village, he said. Ukraine’s military confirmed advances toward Verbove and south of Robotyne, without giving details.

Describing the advance, the Ukrainian officer held up three fingers representing lines of attack through entrenched Russian positions on the western flank of Verbove, an agricultural village of some 1,000 residents before the war. The significance of the advance is that it marks the first time Ukraine has penetrated the main Russian defensive line, an extensive system of minefields, trenches and antitank obstacles covered by artillery.

Ukrainian forces are now working to expand the cracks in the line to create a hole large enough for Western-provided armored vehicles to push through with sufficient logistical support.

“It’s like inflating a ball,” the officer said.

Ukrainian advances in recent days have led to cautious optimism among Western intelligence services that Ukraine can retake the occupied city of Tokmak, a logistical hub for Russia, according to senior Western intelligence officials.

Ukraine’s Elite Snipers Fight Russians, Bullet by Bullet

Alistair MacDonald and Daniel Michaels

HRODIVKA, Ukraine—The war in Ukraine is a meat grinder of artillery, missiles and deadly minefields. Running silently aside all that is a test of battlefield marksmanship for snipers pursuing the fight one shot at a time.

Around 15 miles from the front line, near Bakhmut, three Ukrainian snipers recently emerged unseen from undergrowth. Their team, which calls itself “Devils and Angels,” is on orders to kill Russian senior commanders, critical members of artillery teams and other high-profile targets.

The war in Ukraine is rich territory for snipers, reminiscent of World War I, with its long and largely static firing line across a flat landscape. The snipers training near Bakhmut are top shots, but they were honing a skill even more important for snipers: stealth.

As Kyiv looks to tip the balance in its continuing counteroffensive, the role of the sniper is evolving. Russian mines make a sniper’s trips into no man’s land more treacherous, while drones make it harder for them to hide. Training snipers also takes weeks that Ukraine doesn’t have to spare.

In response, Ukraine—like militaries in the West—is adding more sharpshooters with less technical training than elite snipers to back up ordinary infantry troops with precise targeting.

“Sniper shooting can’t win the war on its own, but one good shot can change a situation at a particular moment on a particular line,” said Ruslan Shpakovych, a former Ukrainian special forces sniper now training soldiers for the role.

California sues school district over parental notification if kids change gender ID


California Attorney General Rob Bonta (D) is suing a state school district after it implemented a policy that requires employees to inform parents if a student wants to change their gender identity.

The top state law enforcement officer announced Monday that his office is suing to stop the rule adopted by the Chino Valley Unified School District School Board over the summer, labeling it as a “forced outing policy.”

“We’re in court challenging Chino Valley Unified’s forced outing policy for wrongfully and unconstitutionally discriminating against and violating the privacy rights of LGBTQ+ students,” Bonta said.

“The forced outing policy wrongfully endangers the physical, mental, and emotional well-being of non-conforming students who lack an accepting environment in the classroom and at home,” he added. “Our message to Chino Valley Unified and all school districts in California is loud and clear: We will never stop fighting for the civil rights of LGBTQ+ students.”

Why Is the Reputation of the U.S. Military Going South So Fast?

Thomas E. Ricks

U.S. service members practising meditation during a mindfulness training class.Credit...Grant Hindsley for The New York Times

Thomas E. Ricks, the Book Review’s military history columnist, is the author of eight books, including “Waging a Good War: How the Civil Rights Movement Won Its Battles, 1954-1968.”
Aug. 29, 2023

In the years and months since the U.S. withdrawals from Iraq and Afghanistan, public respect for our armed forces has been plummeting toward levels not seen since the end of the American war in Vietnam.

This new wave of skepticism is coming not just from the left, which has long been leery of the military, but also from the right. In a recent Gallup poll, public confidence in the military was still relatively high at 60 percent — much more than any other major public institution — but had declined sharply, especially among Republicans.

Conservatives are expressing concern about more than the collapse of U.S. nation-building efforts in the Middle East. Earlier this summer, the Republican senator Tommy Tuberville of Alabama denounced the Pentagon’s leaders as too “woke.” He is now holding up the promotion of hundreds of senior officers, which has left the Marine Corps without a commandant for the first time in 164 years, the Army without a chief and, as of this month, kept Adm. Lisa Franchetti from assuming the top position in the Navy. She would be the first woman in the Navy’s two-and-a-half-century existence to hold the post.

Biden administration cancels $72 million in student loans for borrowers who attended for-profit Ashford University


The Biden administration announced Wednesday that it would be canceling $72 million in student loans for borrowers who attended Ashford University, a former for-profit institution that the University of Arizona purchased in 2020.

“As the California Department of Justice proved in court, Ashford relied extensively on high-pressure and deceptive recruiting tactics to lure students,” U.S. Under Secretary of Education James Kvaal said in a statement. “Today we are protecting the students who were cheated by Ashford, and we will also hold the perpetrators accountable, protect taxpayers, and deter future wrongdoing.”

The Education Department announced that 2,300 borrowers who said they were misled by Ashford University will have their loans forgiven. The department said that it planned to recoup the money from the University of Arizona.

The basis of this cancellation comes from a lawsuit brought by the state of California against Ashford and its parent company, Zovio. Evidence from that lawsuit showed that Ashford and Zovio “made numerous substantial misrepresentations during that period that borrowers relied upon to their detriment.”

Ukraine’s Escalating Drone Campaign Is Bringing the War to Russian Soil

Joshua Keating

When Ukrainian drones struck targets in six Russian regions on Wednesday, from the Estonian border to Moscow, it was the largest attack on Russian territory since in the 18-month-old war. It was also the latest reminder that the war is no longer limited to Ukrainian soil.

For most of the past year and a half, Russians–at least those not in uniform–have been insulated from the violence raging next door in Ukraine. That’s no longer the case.

According to the BBC, there have been more than 160 suspected drone strikes on Russian territory this year, not counting strikes on Russian-annexed Crimea. Often those drones hit their targets - as was the case when a drone strike damaged four cargo jets at an airport in Pskov that is home to Russia's 334th military transport regiment. A series of attacks last week struck towers in Moscow’s financial district and a separate strike is believed to have destroyed a supersonic bomber hundreds of kilometers from the Ukrainian border.

This is still nowhere near the scale of Russian attacks on Ukraine. In just one month, earlier this year, Ukraine was hit with more than 400 drone and 160 missile attacks. Russia also launched a "massive" missile and drone attack on the Ukrainian capital Kyiv Wednesday. The Ukrainian attacks have caused few casualties–no deaths have been reported from the strikes in Moscow, though there have been some elsewhere–and many of the drones have been intercepted by one of the world’s most extensive air defense systems.

But Ukraine’s drone war over Russia is starting to have an impact on the Russian public, which may have been lulled into feeling that the war could not affect them. As one Muscovite posted angrily on social media after a spate of attacks on the city, “Where is the defense of our capital?”

A military motive - and psychological one too

The attacks on Russian soil started small. The first was believed to have been a helicopter-fired rocket strike on an oil depot in Belgorod, just 20 miles from the Ukrainian border, in April, 2022. The number of strikes quickly multiplied, mostly in areas near the Ukrainian border. In May of this year, Ukrainian drones were destroyed over the Kremlin, a dramatic sign that the Russian capital was within reach.

While the types of attacks on Russian soil since the war began have ranged from the shelling of border towns to arson, and from assassinations to all-out military incursions by semi-official “volunteer” groups, drone strikes have been by far the most common.

There is a clear military logic to the strikes on oil facilities, ammunition depots, and other logistics hubs near Ukraine. But the attacks against the Kremlin and glittering skyscrapers of Moscow’s business district are likely more for psychological effect, Samuel Bendett, a drone warfare analyst at the Center for Naval Analyses, told the Messenger.

The strikes are “all demonstrating Ukrainian capability,” Bendett said. “They're all demonstrating that Ukraine can reach the heart of the most defended city in the country. They're meant to demonstrate that Russian air defenses and electronic warfare defenses are not absolute, and have gaps that could be readily exploited. If Ukraine continues to strike Moscow repeatedly, it may have a cumulative effect on the people in the city.”

Kamikaze drones

Two main types of drones have been used in the recent strikes. The UJ-22, produced by the Ukrainian company UKRJet, is a fixed-wing aircraft with a range of about 500 miles. It’s meant to be used as either a reconnaissance aircraft or to drop bombs, but could potentially be adapted for “kamikaze” use as well - crashing into the target and exploding.on impact.

Another is the Bober, Ukrainian for “beaver,” believed to have been responsible for many of the recent attacks on Moscow. It’s a kamikaze drone with a range of over 600 miles, which began development last year partly backed by an international crowd-funding effort.

Where exactly these aircraft are launching from remains something of a mystery. Bendett noted that fixed-wing aircraft like these, unlike the off-the-shelf quadcopters used for many operations within Ukraine itself, require a fair bit of infrastructure, including runways, suggesting that they are probably launching from Ukrainian territory. Moscow is a little less than 300 miles from the Ukrainian border at its closest point, well within the range of both drones.

A man takes a photo of a damaged building of the Moscow-City business center (also known as Moscow International Business Center, of MIBC) after a drone fell on August 23, 2023, in Moscow, Russia.

Western intelligence officials have attributed the most spectacular attacks to Ukraine’s military special forces or intelligence services, but some media accounts have suggested that pro-Kyiv saboteur groups could be responsible for others.

Ukrainian officials have generally not commented directly on the drone strikes, or acknowledged responsibility only obliquely. But they are starting to be less coy than they used to be.

“Gradually, the war is returning to the territory of Russia – to its symbolic center and military bases, and this is an inevitable, natural and absolutely fair process,” President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said after a series of strikes against Moscow in July.

The U.S. view: Uneasy but watchful

The reason for the lack of comment is that these strikes make some of Ukraine’s backers very nervous. The U.S. has provided Ukraine with a range of reconnaissance and attack drones, but has held back on weapons with long-range capabilities, including Gray Eagle drones and ATACMS missiles. That’s due partly to concerns that they would be used to attack Russian soil and might spark a potentially catastrophic direct conflict between the U.S. and Russia.

“As a general matter, we do not support attacks inside of Russia," a White House spokesperson said after drones struck Moscow in July. But the locally produced drone models like the Bober and UJ-22 show that Ukraine doesn’t necessarily need foreign help to strike deep within Russia.

And these relatively simple aircraft may only be the tip of the iceberg. The war has spurred a new industry in Ukraine, with more than 200 companies working on new drone technology, including new applications for using artificial intelligence to pilot aircraft.

This is the first war in which drones–primarily a counterterrorism weapon for the past two decades–have been used at this scale by two opposing conventional militaries. At a recent meeting with reporters hosted by George Washington University, Assistant Secretary of Defense Mara Karlin told The Messenger that Ukraine provided “extraordinary laboratory for understanding the changing character of war” and that “a piece of that is obviously the role of drones.”

Part of that role is evidently to bring the war home to otherwise peaceful cities, hundreds of miles from the front.

Is BRICS big enough for the Saudi-Iran rivalry?

Eldar Mamedov

One of the remarkable aspects of the “big bang” expansion of BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) announced at the summit in Johannesburg, South Africa, this week, is the invitation to join the group issued to, among others, Iran and Saudi Arabia — geopolitical rivals in the Persian Gulf.

After Iran became a full member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) in 2022, and Saudi Arabia a “dialogue partner” to this China-led Eurasian security forum (with the prospect of full membership), BRICS is now the second multilateral platform for cooperation and dialogue between Riyadh and Tehran.

Simultaneous accession to BRICS and, in the future, Saudi accession to SCO, could further enhance the incipient process of bilateral normalization between Tehran and Riyadh. Skeptics point to the alleged dysfunctionality of BRICS that, unlike the European Union or NATO, lacks clear accession criteria and gathers countries that seemingly have little in common except some vaguely defined dissatisfaction with the U.S.-led “rules-based order.”

Yet, this flexibility and the absence of rigid “rules” can be more of an asset than a defect. For Iran and Saudi Arabia, what counts is a trajectory, a prospect for a long-term normalization rather than immediate results and unrealistic commitments and expectations.

In other words, a forum like BRICS, where both countries can interact on an equal footing and all decisions are taken by consensus, could prove to be a suitable arena to incrementally build mutual confidence.

Internet Shutdown Pushback in Kazakhstan

Catherine Putz

On January 4, 2022, amid unprecedented unrest in Kazakhstan, the internet stopped working. In an effort to control the spiraling chaos, the Kazakh government had pulled the virtual plug. The week-long internet stoppage cost Kazakhstan’s economy as much as $410.7 million; amid the blackout and the protest more than 200 people were killed.

In August 2023, a coalition of Kazakh and foreign human rights organizations and experts launched a petition urging Astana to cancel legislation that allows the government to block or slow access to the internet. The coalition’s website, Shutdown.kz, lists its supporters as including MediaNet International Journalism Center, Legal Media Center, Civil Expertise, Erkindik Kanaty, Eurasian Digital Foundation, Digital Paradigm, and Internet Freedom Kazakhstan.

During Qandy Qantar – a Kazak phrase meaning “Bloody January” – the internet blockage plunged Kazakh citizens into ignorance. With the internet and social media networks down, many Kazakhs had little access to information about what was happening on the streets of most major cities in the country, but also about what the government’s instructions were. The curious ventured out; some of them were killed.

It was on January 5, after the internet went down, that Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev declared a state of emergency and called on the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) to dispatch forces. Two days later he reportedly authorized the use of lethal force, ordering security services to “shoot to kill without warning.”

New AUKUS tech announcement coming in fall, Pentagon’s tech chief says


Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese (L), US President Joe Biden (C) and British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak (R) hold a press conference after a trilateral meeting during the AUKUS summit on March 13, 2023 in San Diego, California. (Leon Neal/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON — The White House is set to make a new announcement on the future of the trilateral security pact known as AUKUS sometime later this year, the Pentagon’s chief technology officer said today.

Heidi Shyu, under secretary of defense for research and engineering, said she expected the announcement to come sometime in the “fall.” And while she did not give details about what the announcement would be, her role in the discussions and her technology portfolio means it likely has to do with the so-called Pillar 2 AUKUS track.

“The president will be announcing, so I don’t want to get ahead of him or the [secretary of defense], but I did propose something to [the secretary of defense], which he loved,” Shyu told reporters at the National Defense Industrial Association’s Emerging Technologies for Defense conference today.

INDOPACOM stands up new directorate to better connect industry, DoD innovation efforts


WASHINGTON — The head of US Indo-Pacific Command hopes a new “Joint Mission Accelerator Directorate” under his command will help make it easier to connect industry to the military’s key innovation programs and efforts, he said today.

The new organization has been charged with pulling “together my key programs of joint fires network, mission partner environment, fintech and StormBreaker, [and] link it with the support from DoD,” Adm. John Aquilino said today at the National Defense Industrial Association’s Emerging Technologies for Defense conference.

Aquilino added that the new directorate “is about outcomes, not about inputs” and involves teams from the under secretary of defense for research and engineering, the Pentagon’s chief digital and artificial intelligence office, chief information officer and acquisition and sustainment.

“So we think we can actually help make it easier for you to be able to get after the key programs that the warfighter needs,” he added.

Though not offering up many details about the new directorate, Aquilino said that Doug Beck, director of the Pentagon’s Defense Innovation Unit, will play a role by putting “the deputy director in that organization in my headquarters to be able to plug in innovation” in an effort to better connect the Pentagon and industry players to INDOPACOM’s critical mission needs.

Jordan subpoenas hate speech watchdog


House Judiciary Chairman Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) subpoenaed a hate speech watchdog group on Wednesday, ramping up the committee’s probe into the nonprofit organization.

Jordan issued the subpoena to the Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH) for documents relating to its communication with the federal government. He also sent a letter to the group accusing them of refusing to “comply voluntarily” with the committee’s requests.

CCDH has previously responded to the committee’s requests by stating it appears to misunderstand the nature of the organization’s work, which they said is nonpartisan and funded by private donors, not government contracts or donations.

However, Jordan’s latest letter continues to press the CCDH over its communication with the government. Jordan wrote that “by declining to produce anything of substance in response to the Committee’s request, CCDH is hindering the Committee’s ability to fulfill its constitutional oversight obligations.”

The subpoena follows a request from Jordan to the CCDH earlier this month seeking documents and communications between the CCDH and the federal government, as well as with social media companies.

White House to nominate former NSA, CIA official as next national cyber director

Source Link 

President Biden will nominate Harry Coker to be the country’s next national cyber director and replace Chris Inglis, who resigned earlier this year, the White House announced Tuesday.

Coker, a national security expert, has more than four decades of experience in public service. He served in the U.S. Navy for 20 years before moving to the CIA and the NSA, where he held various positions. He currently works as a senior fellow at Auburn University’s McCrary Institute for Cyber and Critical Infrastructure Security.

If confirmed, Coker would help lead and implement Biden’s national cyber strategy, which was unveiled in March.

The strategy outlined several key pillars, including defending critical infrastructure from cyberattacks, disrupting and dismantling cyber criminals, and forging international partnerships.

The announcement comes as lawmakers have been urging the administration to fill the role as quickly as possible as the position has been vacant since February.

Space Force in discussions to establish a cyber component to US Cyber Command


The Space Force has been in talks since early this year about establishing a formal cyber component with U.S. Cyber Command, according to officials.

Each military service besides Space Force currently has a service cyber component to Cybercom — just as they do for all combatant commands — and has requirements to provide Cybercom a set number of personnel and teams to the joint cyber mission force, which conducts offensive and defensive cyber operations.

Since the creation of Space Force in 2019, there was speculation as to if and when it would supply a service cyber component to Cybercom. However, to date, there were no formal or concrete plans to do so.

“We are in process of working with Cyber Command of what does their service component to Cyber Command, the Space Force service component to Cyber Command look like,” Lt. Gen. DeAnna Burt, the Space Force’s deputy chief of space operations for operations, cyber and nuclear, said at the annual DAFITC conference Wednesday.

“Partnering with 16th Air Force [the Air Force’s service cyber component], with our own mission analysis team, [officials are discussing] what do we see that footprint for Cyber Command to make that connection as a Space Force service component in the future … [and] when do we get to our own cyber mission teams?” Burt added.

Once a Pilot, Army Program for Recruits Who Fall Short of Weight, Academic Standards Is Becoming Permanent

Steve Beynon

The Army's pre-basic training courses are here to stay and will likely be a fundamental tool for the service to fill the ranks amid falling academic performance and growing obesity among young Americans.

The Future Soldier Preparatory Course was launched as a pilot program in August last year, with most of it held here at Fort Jackson. Early results suggest it could be a massive success -- winning virtually universal praise from Army officials -- as it helps the service climb out of the biggest recruiting slump in decades.

Starting in October, the course will move from that pilot stage into a permanent school in the Army's portfolio, opening up more resources and funding, and signaling the preparatory courses will likely be an integral part of the service for the foreseeable future.

"Our insistence on not lowering the standard to enter basic training means that we have to be ready to remove obstacles for those that want to serve," Brig. Gen. Jason Kelly, commander of the Army Training Center and Fort Jackson, told Military.com in an interview. "So, this is a program of record. Next month, that will be true. We're moving away from pilot."

As of Tuesday, 10,260 soldiers had attended at least one of the prep courses and moved on to basic training -- a 95% graduation rate, according to data provided by the service.

The Future of Warfare Lies Underground: How Armies Are Training to Fight in Caves, Tunnels, and Sewers

  • Armies around the world are zeroing in on underground complexes as future battlefields.
  • Subsurface warfare is stripped of luxuries like tanks and air support, but armies are bringing new tools to the fight.
  • Today, the U.S. Army is training to fight in caves, tunnels, sewers, and other underground complexes.

One of the oldest battlefields in the history of warfare is back.

The U.S. Army recently took part in an underground training exercise, called Exercise Warrior Shield, in March earlier this year. Soldiers practiced subterranean warfare tactics at training facilities in South Korea, including breaching entrances to underground buildings.

This type of subsurface exercise is increasingly being implemented by armies around the world. Underground complexes, first warred over by our primitive ancestors, are now seen as critical terrain in places like Korea, the Middle East, and the world’s major cities. Subsurface warfare is stripped of luxuries like tanks and air support, conducted in darkness at point-blank range, but armies are bringing new tools of their own to the fight.

The Subterranean World

In recent years, the world’s armies have woken up to the idea that eventually, their soldiers might have to go down into a hole filled with enemy troops. The superiority of western armed forces, particularly in the areas of artillery and air power, have forced their potential adversaries to pick up a shovel and switch on the concrete mixer. Non-state actors like ISIS and Hamas have gone underground, as well entire armies such as those of North Korea and Iran.

Underground complexes vary in their size and composition. In the Middle East, the terrorist group Hamas started building tunnel complexes in the late 2000s. Today, it has an estimated 300 miles of tunnels, using them to cache weapons, conceal command centers, and as an underground highway system across the Gaza Strip. Islamic State fighters have built fighting tunnels in northern Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan.

Some countries have built extensive tunnel complexes to shelter their armed forces. North Korea constructed thousands of underground facilities capable of hiding fighter jets, artillery, and large troop concentrations. It also dug a number of tunnels under the demilitarized zone to infiltrate neighboring South Korea with combat troops. Iran has built much of the facilities supporting its nuclear weapons program underground, and it recently opened an underground base housing fighter jets in the south of the country.

There’s also another subterranean combat zone, one probably less than a hundred feet from you right now: sewers. The Army believes that sewers will be a major component of fighting in so-called “megacities,” or cities with a population of ten million or more, such as Seoul, Kinshasa, and Lagos. The sewers of major cities offer miles of ready-made tunnels, similar to fighting tunnels, for those willing to hold their nose and use them.

Underground Challenges

Fighting underground is very different from fighting above ground. Underground facilities are typically cramped with narrow pathways, as no one likes to dig any more than necessary. This makes it impossible to bring along manned combat vehicles, many of which are 12 feet wide or wider and have the unfortunate side effect of polluting stale air with engine exhaust. Soldiers must carry weapons, ammunition, and medical supplies on their backs and carry out wounded troops on their own.

There are also serious environmental challenges. Underground facilities by their very nature are typically dark. Air circulation is poor, and bad air, chemical fumes, and smoke from gunpowder adds up very quickly. Sounds are magnified, concussive blasts funnel through tunnel spaces, and radio waves don’t travel very well. The only consolation is that these effects apply equally to both the tunnel invaders and defenders.

One way armies are dealing with the prospect of underground warfare is by training early. In 2019, the U.S. Army released ATP 3-21.51, its how-to guide to subterranean operations. The Army trains for subterranean combat on the Korean peninsula, where it may have to enter caves and underground complexes to root out North Korea’s weapons of mass destruction. The British Army, French Army, other NATO armies, and even the Austrian Army (which rarely leaves home) train their soldiers to fight underground.

Subterranean Solutions

Armies are using technology to meet the challenges of the subterranean battlefield. Some of the tech, like M40 field protective masks for poor air quality, are borrowed from other uses. Heavy equipment such as sledgehammers, plasma cutters, shotguns, and other breaching tools can overcome locked doors and underground obstacles.

Other tech has been developed to support tunnel operations. U.S. soldiers in Korea use wheeled armored shields (see above) to provide mobile cover in featureless tunnels where there is no place to hide from bullets and shrapnel. In 2017, the Army’s Rapid Equipping Force developed a wireless pedometer that uses frequency-hopping transmitters, allowing commanders to know how far into an underground system their soldiers have traveled.

One of the most promising technologies for underground combat is drones. The U.S. Army also uses drones (see video above) as tunnel scouts to clear the way ahead—or deliver an explosive charge. DARPA is further developing drones with an eye towards underground exploration: the agency’s Sub-T challenge sought to deal with the issues of how drones underground would sense their environment, work autonomously, transverse uneven terrain, and communicate with their human operators.

The Takeaway

Subterranean warfare has probably existed since the caveman days. Despite the difficulty, in some cases the stakes are so high—as with North Korea and its nuclear weapons—that armies will have no choice but to take the fight to what is often a vast, foreboding underworld.

The armies of the West must successfully demonstrate they can pursue their enemies even underground, holding them at risk, and that negotiations—not war—are the only true option.

Small Drone Threat Grows More Complex, Deadly as Tech Advances

Stew Magnuson

WASHINGTON, D.C. — If anyone wants to get an idea of how quick and potentially deadly small drones are becoming, all they have to do is head over to their local hobby shop, said one of the Pentagon’s key advisors on the threat.

“Today, you see these racing drones that are smaller, they're faster, they're lightweight. Just think of how you — as an adversary — could use something like that in the homeland or abroad,” said John McGough, counter uncrewed systems deputy director under the deputy assistant secretary of defense for platform and weapon portfolio management.

“These unmanned aircraft systems are also incorporating the technological innovations and the lethality that can inflict significant damage on the infrastructure and militaries of sovereign countries,” he said Aug. 29 at the National Defense Industrial Association’s Emerging Technologies Conference and Exhibition in Washington, D.C.

They are now the preferred weapon in conflicts in the Middle East and Europe, McGough said, citing open source intelligence.

The Defense Department in fiscal year 2023 planned to spend $668 million on counter-UAS research and development and an additional $78 million to procure the hardware, according to an April Congressional Research Service report on the topic.

Beyond Joint: The Need for an Interests-Centric Approach to Integrated Campaigning

Lawrence M. Doane

In 2018, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs released the Joint Concept for Integrated Campaigning (JCIC). Three years in the making, this document outlined a paradigm for use of the military, particularly below the threshold of armed conflict, to address broader national security objectives. Heavily influenced by H.R. McMaster’s work at the Army Capabilities and Integration Center, the Joint Concept for Integrated Campaigning was principally inspired by the rise of so-called gray-zone challenges and the need to develop a military framework to meet adversary actions below the threshold of war.[1] The authors of the Joint Concept for Integrated Campaigning also sought to close the perceived gap between America’s military successes on the battlefield and more lasting, strategic success. The solution proposed was a deviation from the rigid, structured tools of operational planning and the adoption of an approach capable of countering more opportunistic, fluid adversaries. A year later, Joint Doctrine Note 1-19 expanded upon the Joint Concept for Integrated Campaigning and underscored the importance of viewing competition as a continuum of degrees of conflict, ranging from cooperative relations to outright combat. Most recently, the Joint Concept for Competing (JCC) was signed in February 2023, cementing a call for an expansion of the Joint Force’s mindset to encompass all aspects of competition into the foundation of future doctrine. Each of these documents seek a departure from a binary formulation of being at war or peace and to shift thinking to a more amorphous view of competition.

Yet, while this new emphasis on campaigning rather than campaigns, and continuous competition instead of finite operations, is a helpful step forward, it is not enough. U.S. doctrine, to include the new Joint Concept for Competition, are overly focused on adversaries—nations against whom U.S. policymakers can envisage using force. However, for the U.S. and its military to truly compete in all arenas short of war, it must recognize that integrated campaigning requires not just a different mindset and toolkit, but an entirely new perspective. When considering campaigning, the adversary focused, force-centric approach embedded in operational planning must take a back seat and make room for an interest-focused, alignment-centric approach to take hold.