Posts Tagged ‘intelligence’

Russian Hackers Appear to Shift Focus to U.S. Power Grid

July 28, 2018

State-sponsored Russian hackers appear far more interested this year in demonstrating that they can disrupt the American electric utility grid than the midterm elections, according to United States intelligence officials and technology company executives.

Despite attempts to infiltrate the online accounts of two Senate Democrats up for re-election, intelligence officials said they have seen little activity by Russian military hackers aimed at either major American political figures or state voter registration systems.

Image result for u.s. electric grid, photos

By comparison, according to intelligence officials and executives of the companies that oversee the world’s computer networks, there is surprisingly far more effort directed at implanting malware in the electrical grid.

The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence findings, but their conclusions were confirmed by several executives of technology and technology security firms.

By David Sanger
The New York Times

This week, the Department of Homeland Security reported that over the last year, Russia’s military intelligence agency had infiltrated the control rooms of power plants across the United States. In theory, that could enable it to take control of parts of the grid by remote control.

While the department cited “hundreds of victims” of the attacks, far more than they had previously acknowledged, there is no evidence that the hackers tried to take over the plants, as Russian actors did in Ukraine in 2015 and 2016.

In interviews, American intelligence officials said that the department had understated the scope of the threat. So far the White House has said little about the intrusions other than raise the fear of such breaches to maintain old coal plants in case they are needed to recover from a major attack.

On Friday, President Trump was briefed on government efforts to protect the coming midterm elections from what a White House statement described as “malign foreign actors.” It said it was giving cybersecurity support to state and local governments to protect their election systems.

“The president has made it clear that his administration will not tolerate foreign interference in our elections from any nation state to other malicious actors,” the statement said.

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Small-Scale Attack on U.S. Power Grid Could Cause Nationwide Blackout

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U.S. officials say Russian government hackers have penetrated energy and nuclear company business networks

U.S. officials say Russian government hackers have penetrated energy and nuclear company business networks


Facebook pledges tough U.S. election security efforts as critical memo talks about “creepy” features, failures

July 25, 2018

Facebook officials on Tuesday said the company is using a range of techniques including artificial intelligence to counter Russian operatives or others who use deceptive tactics and false information to manipulate public opinion.

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The officials told reporters in a telephone briefing they expected to find such efforts on the social network ahead of the U.S. mid-term elections in November, but declined to disclose whether they have already uncovered any such operations.

Facebook has faced fierce criticism over how it handles political propaganda and misinformation since the 2016 U.S. election, which U.S. intelligence agencies say was influenced by the Russian government, in part through social media.

The controversy has not abated despite Facebook initiatives including a new tool that shows all political advertising that is running on the network and new fact-checking efforts to inform users about obvious falsehoods.

But the company reiterated on Tuesday that it will not take down postings simply because they are false. Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg last week drew fire for citing Holocaust denials as an example of false statements that would not be removed if they were sincerely voiced.

Tuesday’s briefing, which included Nathaniel Gleicher, head of cybersecurity policy, and Tessa Lyons, manager of Facebook’s core “news feed,” came just before the publication of an internal staff message from Facebook’s outgoing chief security officer that was sharply critical of many company practices.

The note by Alex Stamos, written in March after he said he was going to leave the company, urged colleagues to heed feedback about “creepy” features, collect less data and “deprioritize short-term growth and revenue” to restore trust. He also urged the company’s leaders to “pick sides when there are clear moral or humanitarian issues.”

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Stamos posted the note on an internal Facebook site but Reuters confirmed its authenticity. It was first disclosed by Buzzfeed News.

Stamos said the company needed to be more open in how it manages content on its network, which has become a major medium for political activity in many countries around the world. Tuesday’s media briefing was part of the company’s efforts in that direction.

Lyons said the company was making progress in smoothing its process for fact-checkers assigned to label false information. Once an article is labeled false, users are warned before they share it and subsequent distribution drops 80 percent, Lyons said.

Posts from sites that often distribute false information are ranked lower in the calculations that determine what each user sees but are not entirely removed from view.

Gleicher said those seeking to deliberately promote misinformation often use fake accounts to amplify their content or run afoul of community standards, both of which are grounds for removing posts or entire pages.

He said the company would use a type of artificial intelligence known as machine learning as part of its efforts to root out abuses.

Trump-Putin meeting sets a new world order

July 17, 2018

The president has upended the global definitions of friends and foes

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 17 July, 2018, 10:10am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 17 July, 2018, 10:10am

This story is published in a content partnership with POLITICO. It was originally reported by Christopher Cadelago on July 17, 2018.

US President Donald Trump cast his meeting Monday with Russian President Vladimir Putin as a step “towards a brighter future”.

But the global community had a different assessment: the summit in Helsinki signalled the manifestation of a new world order.

As Trump decamped from his weeklong trip to Europe, he was holding up America’s friends as its “foes,” and presenting Russia, the former superpower scorned by his predecessor as a fading regional player, as significant enough to be in competition with the US.

Trump, during a surreal joint news conference following the meeting, showed deference to Putin by repeatedly refusing to criticise the Russian president, noting that his description of him as a “competitor” was meant purely as a compliment.

At another point, Trump stepped in to answer a pointed question directed at Putin, only days after special counsel Robert Mueller indicted a dozen Russian intelligence agents for allegedly hacking the Democratic National Committee and his 2016 opponent Hillary Clinton’s campaign to help Trump win the contest.

Trump told reporters that while he has “great confidence” in US intelligence officials, “President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today.”

Mueller’s spokesman declined to comment.

The president’s regard for Putin – who on Monday affirmed his preference for Trump in the 2016 election – contrasted sharply with his increasingly tough talk toward Europe, language that chips away at international order, to still unclear affect.

A similar dynamic played out last month in Singapore, when Trump left flustered allies, including Canada, behind after departing the G7 summit to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, whom he called “tough” and “very smart”.

“It’s just really striking,” said Thomas Wright, director of the Centre on the United States and Europe at the Brookings Institution.

“I think it shows he’s much more comfortable with strongman adversaries than he is with democratic allies.”

For Trump, who often expresses his views on trade and economics as a zero-sum game, his friendliness toward a country or region can be measured by the degree to which they are seen as an economic threat to the US, experts noted.

A news ticker displays headlines from the meeting of US President Donald Trump and Russia’s President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, Finland on the News Corp building in New York. Photo: Reuters

By that measure, Europe and Canada are far scarier than Russia – despite it being at the centre of years of Republican attacks on Democrats over security issues.

Though Trump has long expressed affection for authoritarian rulers, it’s the degree to which Trump is eroding US relationships with others around the world that is leading some to call for the resignation of his top officials and commanding the focus of spurned foreign leaders.

Trump over the last week lashed out at European leaders, suggesting that Nato nations double the amount of their gross domestic product that they spend on defence; ripped German officials for approving a natural gas pipeline link from Russia; falsely denied criticising British Prime Minister Theresa May behind her back, and answered a CBS interviewer’s question about who he considers to be his biggest foe by naming the European Union.

Trump specifically cited “what they do to us on trade”.

US President Donald Trump shakes hands with Russian President Vladimir Putin during a joint press conference in Helsinki, Finland. Photo: Xinhua

“Now you wouldn’t think of the European Union, but they’re a foe,” he added.

“Russia is a foe in certain respects. China is a foe economically, certainly a foe.”

In Germany, Trump’s rebuke left such a lashing that the country’s foreign minister said he has no choice but to believe that Europe can no longer count on the president and must begin further turning inward for support.

“We can no longer completely rely on the White House,” Heiko Maas told the Funke newspaper group. “To maintain our partnership with the USA we must readjust it. The first clear consequence can only be that we need to align ourselves even more closely in Europe.”

Added Maas: “Europe must not let itself be divided however sharp the verbal attacks and absurd the tweets may be.”

The backlash in Britain was already setting in when Trump slammed May in The Sun tabloid and spoke glowingly about her political rival.

Thousands protested in the streets under a giant balloon depicting Trump as an orange baby and headlines blasted his break with protocol by walking in front of Queen Elizabeth.

Trump opened Monday blaming American “foolishness and stupidity” and the investigation into Russian election meddling that he dismisses as a “rigged witch hunt,” for historically strained relations with Russia.

Despite earlier listing Russia in his list of adversaries, his Europe trip seemed to give Putin few reasons to be displeased overall.

Putin, for his part, seemed to shape-shift from international outlaw into veteran statesman, calm, cool and collected. Only once did he seem to directly confront the Trump agenda, when he credited the Iran nuclear deal that Trump tore up for allowing the Middle East country to “become the most controlled in the world.”

But experts who lauded the relationship-building goals of the meeting suggest the larger context surrounding it were not conducive to long-term success, including the Russian hacking indictments handed down Friday, last week’s Nato summit, and last month’s G-7. The former is a particularly sensitive subject for Trump because it threatens to undercut his own role in the 2016 victory.

“The whole concept of that came up perhaps a little bit before, but it came out as a reason why the Democrats lost an election which, frankly, they should have been able to win, because the Electoral College is much more advantageous for Democrats, as you know, than it is to Republicans,” Trump said in response to a question meant for Putin about why he should be believed that Russia didn’t interfere.

Christopher Preble, vice-president for defence and foreign policy studies at the Cato Institute, and a proponent of the meeting, said Trump’s answers won’t soon settle the charged subject.

“It amounts to the president of the United States appearing to give more credence to the claims of Vladimir Putin than to the claims of his own intelligence, law enforcement and national security agencies.”

But Preble, considering the awkward timing of the meeting, urged sceptics not to discount possible long-term benefits for the US relationship with Russia, not Europe.

He concluded: “I didn’t expect Donald Trump to say or do anything dramatically different than what he said and did.”

David Herszenhorn contributed to this report.

White House Orders Broader Access to Files About F.B.I. Informant

July 13, 2018

The White House has rebuffed concerns among American intelligence and law enforcement officials and ordered that more lawmakers be given access to classified information about an informant the F.B.I. used in 2016 to investigate possible ties between the Trump campaign and Russia, according to two American officials with knowledge of the decision.

Both the director of national intelligence and the director of the F.B.I. tried to keep the classified documents tightly restricted, fearing that a broader dissemination of operational reports and other sensitive material could lead to more leaks of detailed information about the role of the confidential F.B.I. informant.

Christopher A. Wray, the F.B.I. director, opposed expanding the number of lawmakers who can read the classified files.CreditErin Schaff for The New York Times

Some American officials believe, in fact, the reason the White House made the decision was to provide political ammunition to President Trump’s Republican allies who have argued — without any evidence — that the F.B.I. investigation was opened in July 2016 as an effort to keep Mr. Trump from becoming president.

The F.B.I. files about the informant will now be available to all members of the Senate and House Intelligence Committees, instead of to just a group of congressional leaders known as the Gang of Eight. It is unclear whether Mr. Trump or a lower-level White House official authorized the move.

The controversy over the F.B.I. informant is one skirmish in a searing political battle that was renewed on Thursday during a contentious hearing convened by the House Judiciary and Oversight Committees that heard testimony from Peter Strzok, an F.B.I. agent who once ran the bureau’s investigation into the Trump campaign.

PHOTO: Deputy Assistant FBI Director Peter Strzok waits to testify before a joint committee hearing of the House Judiciary and Oversight and Government Reform committees, July 12, 2018 in Washington.

Deputy Assistant FBI Director Peter Strzok waits to testify before a joint committee hearing of the House Judiciary and Oversight and Government Reform committees, July 12, 2018 in Washington. Mark Wilson/Getty Images

During the summer of 2016, the F.B.I. sent an informant to meet with two Trump campaign advisers after the bureau had received information that the two men had suspicious contacts linked to Russia. The informant, Stefan Halper, an American academic who teaches at Cambridge University in England, had meetings with both Carter Page and George Papadopoulos to gain a better understanding of their contacts with Russians.

The New York Times did not originally name Mr. Halper because of a general practice not to name confidential F.B.I. informants to preserve their safety. Mr. Halper’s name has now been widely reported.

A veteran of several Republican administrations, Mr. Halper has been a source of information to the C.I.A. and other American security agencies for several years, according to people familiar with his work for the government.

F.B.I. officials concluded that they had the legal authority to open the investigation into the Trump campaign after they received information that Mr. Papadopoulos had been told that the Russians had compromising information about Hillary Clinton, the Democratic presidential candidate, in the form of “thousands of emails,” months before WikiLeaks released stolen messages from Democratic officials.

Mr. Trump’s congressional allies reacted angrily to the revelation of Mr. Halper’s role in the F.B.I. investigation, accusing the bureau of “spying” on the Trump campaign. The president himself has called the issue a “scandal” on Twitter.

“Reports are there was indeed at least one FBI representative implanted, for political purposes, into my campaign for president,” he wrote in May.

“If true — all time biggest political scandal!”

Congressional leaders have received two briefings about Mr. Halper’s role in the F.B.I. investigation. One of the briefings was attended by John F. Kelly, the White House chief of staff, and Emmet T. Flood, a White House lawyer handling issues related to the special counsel’s Russia investigation — leading to vocal criticism on Capitol Hill that it was improper for White House officials to attend a classified briefing about an investigation that involves the president.

Representative Devin Nunes of California, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee and one of the president’s staunchest defenders in Congress, for weeks has demanded that the full House and Senate Intelligence Committees be given access to documents about the informant’s role in the campaign. He has accused the Justice Department of “obstruction” of a congressional investigation.

Democrats have argued that the true aim of the Republicans is to undermine the Russia investigation — which in May 2017 was taken over by the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III — and that Republicans want access to F.B.I. files to gain information they can use against the inquiry.

Intelligence and law enforcement officials — including Dan Coats, the director of national intelligence, and Christopher A. Wray, the F.B.I. director — were opposed to expanding the number of lawmakers who can read the classified files, according to people with knowledge of their thinking.

In a letter to Mr. Coats on Thursday, Democratic members of the Gang of Eight protested the release of the documents, saying that it “contravenes your representation to us and our colleagues that this information would not be shared outside that group.”

“We believe your decision could put sources and methods at risk,” they added.

Representatives for the F.B.I. and the director of national intelligence declined to comment. The White House did not respond to a request for comment.

During congressional testimony in May, Mr. Wray gave a thinly veiled warning to lawmakers about the dangers of exposing information about confidential sources.

“The day that we can’t protect human sources is the day the American people start becoming less safe,” he said.

A version of this article appears in print on , on Page A15 of the New York edition with the headline: More Access, Not Less, To F.B.I. File On Informant.

As Bolton Says North Korea Could Disarm in a Year, Reality Lags Promises

July 2, 2018

President Trump’s national security adviser said on Sunday that North Korea could dismantle all of its nuclear weapons, threatening missiles and biological weapons “in a year,” a far more aggressive schedule than the one Secretary of State Mike Pompeo outlined for Congress recently, reflecting a strain inside the administration over how to match promises with realism.

The statements by John R. Bolton, the national security adviser and historically a deep skeptic that North Korea will ever fully disarm, came as Mr. Pompeo prepares to make his third trip to North Korea late this week.

By  David E. Sanger and William J. Broad
The New York Times

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, right, with President Trump and the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, during a meeting in Singapore last month. Mr. Pompeo will visit North Korea this week to try to work out more details of a disarmament plan. Credit Doug Mills/The New York Times

Mr. Pompeo will arrive in Pyongyang with a proposed schedule for disarmament that would begin with a declaration by North Korea of all its weapons, production facilities and missiles. The declaration will be the first real test of the North’s candor, amid increasing concern that it may be trying to conceal parts of its nuclear program. But Mr. Bolton, appearing on CBS’s “Face the Nation,” said Sunday that, nearly three weeks after the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, and President Trump met in Singapore, no such declaration has arrived.

Advisers to Mr. Pompeo, both outside the government and inside the C.I.A., which he used to direct, have cautioned him that North Korea will not give up its arsenal of 20 to 60 weapons until the last stages of any disarmament plan — if it gives them up at all. Many of the plans they have given him call for the North to halt production of nuclear fuel — at a moment that there are signs of increased production — but do not insist on dismantling weapons until Mr. Kim gains confidence that economic benefits are beginning to flow and that the United States and its allies will not seek to overthrow him.

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Can NATO deter both Russia and radicalization?

June 7, 2018

Donald Trump wants more counterterrorism action from the alliance. Can NATO deliver? Should it even try? Teri Schultz examines the issues ahead of the July summit.

Germany armed forces in Kunduz, Afghanistan

Donald Trump’s constant refrain to European allies to “spend more” on defense is usually accompanied by a demand to “do more” on counterterrorism. And the US president has made clear he’s expecting to be served a platter of plumped-up policies at the NATO summit in July. US Ambassador to NATO Kay Bailey Hutchison confirmed Wednesday that’s “definitely” something Trump is seeking as a summit “deliverable.”

Although it was the terrorist attack on the US on September 11, 2001 that remains the sole time NATO’s sacred Article V — collective defense — has ever been invoked, it was only Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea and its brash buildup in eastern Ukraine that galvanized the alliance to dramatically reform and reconfigure itself.

Read more: Can the trans-Atlantic relationship survive Donald Trump?

Counterterrorism has not traditionally been one of NATO’s core tasks, in no small part because it’s a capacity that lies primarily with national governments and their intelligence, law enforcement and police services.

NATO says it’s ‘stepping up’ 

Nonetheless, the alliance feels it has a long and laudable list of achievements officials repeat whenever questioned about Trump’s demands. These include becoming a full member of the US-led global coalition fighting “Islamic State,” in addition to providing AWACS flights, creating a “terrorism intelligence cell” at headquarters, along with a regional “hub for the south” at NATO’s Joint Force Command in Naples to provide extra visibility and maneuverability in that area.

Add to these the now 17-year-long war to wipe out terrorist havens in Afghanistan and the training program for Iraqi security and defense forces that will be formally expanded at the July summit.

Donald Trump, Mike Pence and Mike Pompeo in the Oval OfficeDonald Trump doesn’t understand NATO’s job, some experts say

Elisabeth Braw, a senior fellow with the Atlantic Council, believes the US should be satisifed.

“Since the alliance is extremely busy simply trying to address purely military challenges, now is not the best time to be pushing members to also focus more on terrorism,” she told DW. “What’s more, it’s not clear how counterterrorism would become more effective by shifting more tasks to NATO. Law enforcement agencies are already doing a good job.”

Read more: How does Germany contribute to NATO?

Caliphate gone, but challenge remains

Former commanding general of US Army Europe Ben Hodges, however, told DW he agrees more focus is warranted. “I think the alliance needs to put more attention on the Black Sea region similar to what it’s done with the Baltic region as part of a coherent defense strategy,” explained Hodges, now retired and with the Center for European Policy Analysis. “We don’t get to choose our threats,” he added. “It’s not either [Russia] or [IS].”

Ian Lesser, executive director of the German Marshall Fund’s Transatlantic Center in Brussels, agrees, pointing out that polls on public threat perception demonstrate that in the majority of NATO nations, Russia doesn’t top the list of perceived threats. Risks “from the south,” including IS but also mass migration, are in many cases much more prominent. “That isn’t just true for countries in southern Europe,” Lesser told DW. “It’s also true for France; it’s arguably true for Germany.”

Lesser explained the south is quite a logistical challenge compared with the single — and obvious — adversary in Europe’s east. “The sources of instability are multiple, and it’s an enormous geographic expanse that involves both land and sea space stretching across thousands of kilometers,” Lesser pointed out. “So it’s also a theater in which it’s extremely important to have effective cooperation with other partner states but also partner institutions, the European Union and others.”

EU-NATO fighting radicalization at its roots

That’s where something new is in fact happening, since the EU and NATO agreed to intensify cooperation at the alliance’s Warsaw summit in 2016. The first EU-NATO staff-to-staff dialogue on counterterrorism took place on May 29. Michael Kohler, director for EU-Neighborhood Policy at the EU’s directorate for development cooperation, told DW that for the first time the EU is contributing money to a program run by NATO called “Building Integrity,” which conducts training and exercises in transparency and accountability to combat corruption in defense and security sectors in a range of partner countries.

It may be the slow road in fighting terrorism, but Kohler believes efforts like this are the most sustainable and effective. “[If] you don’t have a government that creates chances for the younger generation, there’s an awful lot of frustration and in some cases this frustration will spill over into radicalization,” he explained. “So in other words, if you really want to do something against terrorism, you have to treat the symptoms, but you also have to cure the root causes.”

Will programs like that satisfy the US president? Ian Bond, director of foreign policy for the Center for European Reform, suspects some of Trump’s insistence that NATO isn’t doing enough is because he doesn’t understand how the alliance works.

“NATO is not going to start picking up random people who’ve been radicalized on the internet and want to blow themselves up,” Bond told DW. “You’re not going to deploy NATO’s rapid-reaction force to a guy with a van and some knives on London Bridge. NATO is not the answer to most of the kinds of terrorism that western countries are now facing.”

Philippine defense chief says China sea dispute still a challenge

March 26, 2018

This aerial photo shows a Chinese navy formation, including the aircraft carrier Liaoning (C), during military drills in the South China Sea. (AFP)
MANILA: The territorial dispute with Beijing over the South China Sea remained a security challenge despite an improvement in bilateral ties, the Philippine defense chief said on Monday as he accepted three maritime surveillance planes from Japan.
Delfin Lorenzana, in a speech at a naval base south of the capital Manila, said the three Japanese donated second-hand TC90 planes will definitely boost the navy’s capability to gather intelligence in the disputed South China Sea.
“We must admit that much still has to be done to boost our military capability equipment in order to meet a number of persistent maritime security challenges,” Lorenzana said, identifying territorial disputes with China, and other countries, over resource-rich areas in the South China Sea.
China claims almost the entire South China Sea, where about $5 trillion worth of sea-borne goods pass every year. Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also have conflicting claims in the strategic waterway.

Photo shows the China Coast Guard vessel, which has been anchored in Gugusan Beting Patinggi Ali for about two years.

Photo shows the China Coast Guard vessel

Tensions between the Philippines and China over the disputed sea have eased since President Rodrigo Duterte came to power in July 2016 and improved relations with Beijing via Chinese trade and investments.
Lorenzana said the Philippines was also concerned with piracy and the movement of armed insurgents in the Sulu Sea and other transnational crimes, including smuggling of illegal drugs and poaching into rich fishing grounds in territorial waters.
Japan planned to lease five surveillance planes but decided last year to transfer without cost the aircraft after changes were made in Tokyo’s self-defense forces law allowing donation of excess defense and military equipment to partner countries.
Japan’s vice minister for defense, Tatsuo Fukuda, said Tokyo was willing to help its allies improve its capabilities help secure the safety of international sea lanes and benefit not only the Philippines but the entire region.
During the handover ceremony, Lorenzana and Fukuda watched the planes land at a naval base guarding the mouth of Manila Bay, hundreds of miles southeast of the disputed Scarborough Shoal now patrolled by Chinese coast guard ships.
The navy said the surveillance planes have a range of 300 km (186 miles), twice the capability of its existing aircraft and could patrol into China’s seven artificial islands in the Spratly, which had been converted into military bases.
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Above: Location of seven Chinese military bases in international waters or Philippine territorial waters — all near the Philippines.
The navy said it has a budget of nearly 6 billion peso ($114.65 million) to acquire two brand new long-range maritime patrol aircraft to enhance its intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) capability. ($1 = 52.3310 Philippine pesos)



 (USS Mustin passage — Freedom of Navigation)

  (Xi Jinping’s first public address as “Ruler for Life”)


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China says it has sovereignty over all the South China Sea north of its “nine dash line.” On July 12, 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration  in The Hague said this claim by China was not valid. But China and the Philippine government then chose to ignore international law.

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China has militarized the South China Sea — even though they have no legal claim. This is Mischief Reef, now an extensive Chinese military base — one of seven Chinese military bases near the Philippines



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Chinese H-6 bomber at Scarborough Shoal last year



We’ve heard 白痴國家 (Means “Idiot Nation”)




Israeli Army Sets Up ‘Consciousness Ops’ Unit to Influence Enemy Armies, Foreign Media and Public Opinion

March 9, 2018


With eye on hearts and minds, Israeli army sets up a new ‘soft power’ psychological warfare unit

A woman sits near a sign at Mount Bental, an observation post in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights that overlooks the Syrian side of the Quneitra crossing, Israel February 10, 2018. REUTERS/ Ammar Awad     TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
A woman sits near a sign at Mount Bental, an observation post in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights that overlooks the Syrian side of the Quneitra crossing, Israel February 10, 2018. REUTERS/ Ammar Aw\ AMMAR AWAD/ REUTERS

As the new year began, the operations branch at Israel Defense Forces Central Command cut the ribbon on a new department, called the Center for Consciousness Operations. It is a reincarnation of another division that had engaged mainly in international legitimization and legal aspects of Israeli military activity, and had been subordinate to the Planning Branch.

The structural reform was the recommendation of Brig .Col. K, until recently a senior intelligence officer, who was appointed to study the issue. The idea was to concentrate planning all “soft” activity – with foreign armies, diplomats, the foreign press and public opinion – under one military roof. This was done as part of Israel’s effort to influence the enemy and Western opinion over Israel’s military moves on the northern front and in the territories.

At the height of the second intifada, the chief of staff at the time, Moshe Yaalon, was asked how we’d know that Israel had vanquished Palestinian suicide bombings. Yaalon answered that victory would be achieved through “cognitive etching” – Palestinian acknowledgement that the terror attacks wouldn’t drive Israel to capitulation.

>> Collision course in the north between Israel and Iran | Analysis <<

Yaalon was roundly mocked in the press but in retrospect, he was right. The terror attacks subsided mainly because both halves of the Palestinian leadership, in the Palestinian Authority and finally in Hamas, too, reached the conclusion that the price Israel was exacting from Palestinian public in response to terrorism was too high.

The incumbent chief of staff, Gadi Eizenkot, also has keen interest in the battle over consciousness. It’s even mentioned in the latest IDF strategy paper. His close friend, Col. Gabi Siboni, recently published an article about the cognitive shaping drive, through INSS. Siboni and another researcher, Gal Perl Finkel, wrote that the “IDF has intensified its cognitive-related activity recently, significantly building up process in this area and developing technological tools. Technological development enables a wide range of focused means of influence vis-à-vis various target audiences, and in effect creates another combat arena beyond the classic kinetic combat arenas,” they wrote.

“Armies and states have to contend with the enemy’s attempts to gain influence using technology and social media” rather than traditional war. Armies and states must work defensively, countering enemy efforts proactively and on the offensive plane, “in order to achieve objectives by influencing enemy target audiences, including decision makers, commanders, combatants, and domestic and world public opinion.”

The army could stand to learn from civilian PR campaigns for selling things from products to politicians, they suggest.

Of course, it’s a slippery slope, one the army already went down, and not well, under the days of Miri Regev as IDF spokeswoman. But their conclusion, that technological changes and social media require the army to contend there too, is hard to contest. The broad coverage of the recent moves in the Arab press – from IDF spokesman Ronen Manelis’ article warning Hezbollah and Iran on Arab websites, to intelligence widely disseminated in Western media – indicate that this is just the beginning.

South China Sea turning into signals hub for Chinese military

February 21, 2018

Throughout the ages, wars have been waged over territory. From nation states and warring factions, to gangs and real estate developers everyone knows location is key.  The more land you control, the more territory you lord over – the more power you wield.

Generally the acreage and borders  in question are based on the land as nature intended it to be. But what if your strategic interests required creating land out of thin air, or in this case, deep blue ocean?  Enter the People’s Republic of China and their man-made islands in the Spratly island chain, in the hotly disputed South China Sea.

The United States and its allies have been watching the construction of these man made islands for some time. China began the projects under the auspices of navigational necessity but analysis of their chosen locations quickly revealed there was another strategic motivation at work. In fact, they were building new military bases.

In early 2017 the DC based think tank the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS)released a report– having analyzed recent satellite photos –and concluded that runways, aircraft hangers, radar sites and hardened surface-to-air missile shelters had either been finished or were nearing completion.

The report also stated that the satellite images appeared to be the most conclusive indication yet that China is using its island-building project to bolster its claim over almost the entire South China Sea and its islands and reefs–bases that will give China the ability to deploy combat aircraft and other military assets with efficiency across the disputed region.

The U.S. and its allies raised ref flags and held press conferences to express disapproval but effectively the Chinese continued their projects unabated.

Fast forward to February 2018, when new satellite imagery shows China’s new military lily pads in the South China Sea may have an even more nefarious purpose in the form of full on intelligence communications nodes. On Saturday CSIS released another report, this time comparing its own satellite images and aerial photos released by the Philippine Daily Inquirer earlier this month.

CSIS says the photos add more detail than previously available but do not show new capabilities so much as reinforcing their earlier point that “these artificial islands now host substantial, largely complete, air and naval bases, and new construction continues apace despite diplomatic overtures between China and its fellow claimants.”

The report finds the northeastern corner of Fiery Cross Reef is now equipped with a communications or sensor array bigger than those found on other artificial islands in the Spratlys. Fiery Cross is one of the seven reefs Beijing turned into islands in the Spratlys. It is the smallest and the southermost of the “Big Three”, which also includes Subi, or Zhubi in Chinese, and Mischief, or Meiji.

Construction on Fiery Cross Reef:

Image courtesy of CSIS/Philippine Inquirer

Specific construction on Fiery Cross according the CSIS:

  1. The northern end of the base’s 3,000-meter runway, which was completed in late 2015.
  2. Hangars to accommodate four combat aircraft. Hangar space for another 20 combat aircraft and four larger hangars, capable of housing bombers, refueling tankers, and large transport aircraft, have been built farther south along the runway. All the hangars were completed in early 2017.
  3. A tall tower housing a sensor/communications facility topped by a radome, completed in late 2016.
  4. A field of upright poles erected in 2017. The original notations on the aerial photos identify this only as a communication facility, but it is most likely a high frequency radar array like the one built on Cuarteron Reef two years earlier.
  5. One of the four point defense facilities built around the base in 2016. Similar point defenses exist on all of China’s artificial islands, sporting a combination of large guns (identified in one of the aerial photos of Johnson Reef as having 100-mm barrels) and probable close-in weapons systems (CIWS) emplacements.
  6. A large communications/sensor array completed during 2017. None of the other bases in the Spratlys so far has a comparable array, though smaller ones have been built on Subi and Mischief, suggesting that Fiery Cross might be serving as a signals intelligence/communications hub for Chinese forces in the area.
  7. Three towers housing sensor/communications facilities topped by radomes, completed in 2017.

Additional Construction of Concern

Subi Reef, just 12 nautical miles from Philippine-occupied Thitu Island: China has built a large lighthouse, a 3,000-metre airstrip, a high-frequency radar array and underground storage tunnels that could be used for ammunition.


Mischief Reef: Three towers housing sensor or communications facilities topped by a dome to protect radar equipment were completed in 2017.

Gaven Reef: a solar panel array was built in 2015, along with other facilities such as wind turbines, a tall tower housing a communications facility and an administrative center.

Fiery Cross was the site of the most construction in 2017 with work on buildings covering an estimated 100,000 square metres (27 acres).

What Say you China?

Beijing has been accused of militarizing the South China Sea, which is also claimed by Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam but has repeatedly rejected those accusations. Their actions continue to say otherwise.

In order to wield power over this region–to create a sphere of influence–China needs to dissuade all others concerned from any further resistance. Strategic locations like Fiery Cross have been talked about as potential command and control centers for Chinese activity in the Spratlys since the early 1980’s – it appears once again that while the world was involved in other things, the Chinese made their plans into reality.


Theresa May wants new security treaty with EU next year

February 17, 2018

British PM seeks treaty on post-Brexit military, intelligence and counter-terrorism cooperation

Theresa May delivers her speech at the 2018 Munich Security Conference.
 Theresa May delivers her speech at the 2018 Munich security conference. Photograph: Sebastian Widmann/Getty Images

Theresa May has called for a new security treaty with the European Union that should be up and running next year to ensure military, intelligence and counter-terrorism cooperation after London leaves the bloc.

“The key aspects of our future partnership in this area will already be effective from 2019,” the British prime minister told top European and US officials at the Munich Security Conference on Saturday.

“The partnership that we need to create is one that offers UK and EU way to combine our efforts to greatest effect where this is in our shared interest,” May said.

She called on her country’s European Union partners not to let “rigid institutional restrictions” get in the way of a wide-ranging post-Brexit security partnership and warned that there will be “damaging real-world consequences” if none is agreed.

May told the conference that “the UK is just as committed to Europe’s security in the future as we have been in the past”.

May said the challenge is to put together a “deep and special partnership” with the EU to retain cooperation. She said: “This cannot be a time when any of us allow competition between partners, rigid institutional restrictions or deep-seated ideology to inhibit our cooperation and jeopardise the security of our citizens.”

May ruled out a second vote on the country’s membership of the European Union, saying there was no going back on the result of the June 2016 vote.

“We are leaving the EU and there is no question of a second referendum or going back and I think that’s important,” May said.

“People in the UK feel very strongly that if we take a decision, then governments should turn not round and say: no, you got that wrong,” she said when asked if Britain would consider a second referendum.

Ahead of Saturday’s speech, May appeared at a joint press conference with Angela Merkel in Berlin at which the two leaders spoke in conciliatory terms about the UK’s future relationship with the European Union, with Merkel saying that she was “curious” but “not frustrated” with the British government’s slow progress in outlining its plan.

May’s critics will argue one key problem is her rigid adherence to a red line in the Brexit negotiations of leaving the jurisdiction of the European court of justice, which has made continued cooperation more difficult.