21 August 2019

The Chinese Panchen Lama on the Indian Border


The Chinese Panchen Lama, Gyaltsen Norbu is said (by the Chinese media) to have conducted an 'inspection tour' of the region, including a village bordering Ladakh.


Hundreds pictures were published showing the Chinese-selected 11th Panchen Lama touring areas such as Purang/Taklakot, Mt Kailash, Manasarovar lake, Minsar, the monasteries in Tholing/Tsaparang, Ngari town, Rutok, the Panggong tso Lake and even a village on the Indian border in East Ladakh.

He visited monasteries, villages, and larger towns such as Tholing, Nagari and Rutok; he ‘inspected’ many projects i.e. an Ecological Agricultural Industry Park of Gar County. 

The Chinese media extensively covered his two-week long visit.

Norbu had come to Ngari prefecture five years ago, but he then had remained in Purang and Kailash area. 

China Tibet Online reported that on July 26, Gyalsten Norbu (called Choskyi Gyalpo by the Chinese media) traveled to Jaggang Village in Rutok County “for survey and research”; he paid a visit to two Tibetan families named as Wangdul Phuntsok's and Tashi Dundrup's.

Is there a way forward for India-China in Ladakh?


'The best trust building measure would be to undo what was done in 1954 and reopen the Demchok-Tashigang route on the border for trade as a first step; the next one would be to let the pilgrims visiting Kailash-Manasarovar use this route,' says Claude Arpi.

On March 23, 1954, after three months of tough negotiations, the Indian and Chinese representatives were still far from an agreement on trade between India and Tibet (a month later, it would become the infamous Panchsheel ‘accord’, which saw India surrendering all its rights in Tibet without getting anything in return, not even an agreed border).

On that day, Ambassador N. Raghavan cabled Delhi about the routes in East Ladakh, the Chinese were reluctant to concede Rudok (near the Panggong lake) or Rawang (further east) simply because China was building ‘military installations’, wrote Raghavan (the Aksai Chin road would be ‘discovered’ four years later).

Was the fact that China was building this important axis on Indian territory known to the Indian negotiators? Perhaps not, Indian diplomats were living on their own cloud. 

Afghanistan Endgame, Part Two: How Does This War End?

Melissa Skorka

Should the Haqqani network manage a collapse of the Afghan government, Pakistan threatens to make winning the next war more difficult than previous ones.

This is a guest post by Melissa Skorka. She served as a strategic adviser to the commander of International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan from 2011-14 and is a doctoral candidate at Oxford University’s Changing Character of War Centre. 

Many senior scholars and analysts argue that the “forever war” in Afghanistan long-ago evolved, expanding from “a limited focus on counterterrorism to a broad nation-building effort without discussion about the implications for the duration and intensity of the military campaign.” In the latter years of Barack Obama’s presidency, that broader effort was scaled down dramatically, but it was extended in the face of a renewed understanding of Afghanistan’s potential to serve as a Petri dish for transnational terrorist organizations such as the self-proclaimed Islamic State and al-Qaeda. Consequently, as a recent Center for Strategic and International Studies report concludes: “After expending nearly $800 billion and suffering over 2,400 killed, the United States is still there, having achieved at best a stalemate.”

Bailing Out China’s Belt and Road


On August 3, in his first visit to the Asia-Pacific region, new U.S. secretary of defense Mark Esper called out several examples of aggressive conduct by China, including “using predatory economics and debt-for-sovereignty deals.” The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) has created some conflicts between recipient governments and international institutions in the past. Perhaps the latest and starkest example is in Pakistan, where a wave of BRI projects was followed by this summer’s bailout by the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

When the $62 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) was announced in 2015, it should have been easy for followers of the BRI to foresee where the initiative was heading. Even at its initial announced value of $46 billion, the initiative would have amounted to more than 20 percent of Pakistan’s GDP. While details were unclear, as they often are with the BRI, the majority of lending would inevitably come in the form of direct bilateral loans from The Export-Import Bank of China (EXIM) or the China Development Bank (CDB). This was the case for Pakistan’s precedents in Sri Lanka, Kenya, Montenegro, Congo, and other recipients of ambitious bilateral lending initiatives, each of which led to a debt crisis several years later.

Terrorists Turn to Bitcoin for Funding, and They’re Learning Fast

By Nathaniel Popper

SAN FRANCISCO — Hamas, the militant Palestinian group, has been designated a terrorist organization by Western governments and some others and has been locked out of the traditional financial system. But this year its military wing has developed an increasingly sophisticated campaign to raise money using Bitcoin.

In the latest version of the website set up by the wing, known as the Qassam Brigades, every visitor is given a unique Bitcoin address where he or she can send the digital currency, a method that makes the donations nearly impossible for law enforcement to track.

The site, which is available in seven languages and features the brigades’ logo, with a green flag and a machine gun, contains a well-produced video that explains how to acquire and send Bitcoin without tipping off the authorities.

Terrorists have been slow to join other criminal elements that have been drawn to Bitcoin and have used it for everything from drug purchases to money laundering.

The draft Afghan peace plan, explained

By Pamela Constable

KABUL — The proposed Afghan peace deal presented Friday to President Trump by the administration’s top peace negotiator would accomplish the president’s major goal of beginning to withdraw thousands of U.S. forces from the country, after nearly 18 years of fighting and just over 2,400 U.S. personnel killed. 

In return, Taliban insurgents would agree to cut ties with al-Qaeda and prevent it from operating or carrying out activities in areas of Afghanistan under Taliban control. This commitment is something U.S. military officials have said is important to help prevent other extremist groups from using Afghanistan as a springboard for attacks against American interests in the region.

Beyond that, however, the agreement as described by U.S. officials leaves several key issues unaddressed, others not yet explicitly endorsed by the Taliban, and still others to be worked out at future meetings between Taliban and Afghan leaders that have not yet been confirmed or announced. 

Afghanistan: Scores killed in Kabul wedding blast


At least 63 people have been killed and scores wounded in an explosion targeting a wedding in the Afghan capital, according to officials, in the deadliest attack in Kabul this year.

The suicide blast took place on Saturday night in the men's reception area of the Dubai City wedding hall in western Kabul in a minority Shia neighbourhood packed with people celebrating a marriage.

Women and children were among the casualties, said Nasrat Rahimi, a spokesman for the interior ministry. 

The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL or ISIS) group claimed responsibility for the attack on Sunday. 

The blast comes as the Taliban and the United States are trying to negotiate an agreement on the withdrawal of US forces in exchange for a Taliban commitment on security and peace talks with Afghanistan's US-backed government.

The significance of the 'backyard war' brewing with China

by Sargis Sangari 

In my July 4 op-ed for the Daily Herald, I introduced the concept of “backyard wars” as limited but violent expressions of ongoing rivalries between great powers. I observed that “often, and increasingly in the present era, these conflicts are fought through proxies armed and otherwise supported by rival great powers.”

Currently, what amounts to a cold war between the U.S. and China is fast heating up and approaching the stage where it too will find expression in regional backyard wars. This situation is extremely worrisome, not only because of the terrible suffering backyard wars inflict on the peoples who fight them and nations where they are fought, but also for what they portend. The problem with backyard wars is that they often don’t stay confined to their back yards: there is a tendency for them to escalate, especially when the stakes for the great powers involved are high. And the stakes for the U.S. and China are very high indeed, being nothing less than global dominance.

During a trip to Thailand in January 2018, the Near East Center for Strategic Engagement investigated the crisis in Burma, as the U.S. and many other nations officially still identify the country whose military leadership changed its name to Myanmar, and determined that, at the time of reporting, Burmese Army forces commanded by General Min Aung Hilang had conducted ethnic cleansing operations in the Arakan region against the Rhohingya and other ethnic minority groups. To date, these operations have resulted in at least 6,000 civilian casualties and the removal of another 65,000 people from their homes.

‘One Belt One Road’ Is Just a Marketing Campaign. And Yet…

BY EYCK FREYMANN

China’s giant project is a poorly coordinated branding effort posing as an infrastructure initiative. But it is also a new kind of strategic challenge for the United States.

Chinese President Xi Jinping is a man in a rush to build a legacy. In 2013, only four months into his presidency, Xi launched the One Belt One Road initiative, billed as the largest international development scheme in history. The “New Silk Road Economic Belt” promises to connect Europe and Asia overland through a large network of highways, railways, pipelines, trade corridors, and digital infrastructure. The “21st Century Maritime Silk Road” will build up a string of industrial port cities tracing the coastline of the South China Sea, Indian Ocean, and Suez Canal all the way to the Mediterranean.

The scope of the plan is mind-boggling, but the details are hazy. Neither the belt nor the road are actual routes connecting hub cities, as the Chinese government’s official maps depict them. Any country can join the initiative, but membership carries no concrete commitments. Some observers call One Belt One Road—OBOR—a “Chinese Marshall Plan.” Others have argued it will mark the “dawn of Eurasia” and profoundly reshape global politics. The Trump administration calls OBOR “debt-trap diplomacy”—a predatory scheme to get poor countries hooked on Chinese loans.

A Tiananmen Solution in Hong Kong?

MINXIN PEI

WASHINGTON, DC – The crisis in Hong Kong appears to be careening toward a devastating climax. With China’s government now using rhetoric reminiscent of that which preceded the Tiananmen Square massacre in June 1989, Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protesters – and, indeed, its democracy – could well be in grave danger.

For more than two months, Hong Kong has been beset by protests. Triggered by a proposed law to allow the extradition of criminal suspects to mainland China, the demonstrations have since developed into broader calls to safeguard – or, perhaps more accurately, restore – the semi-autonomous territory’s democracy, including by strengthening state (especially police) accountability.

As the unrest drags on, the Chinese government’s patience is wearing thin – and its warnings are growing more ominous. The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) garrison in Hong Kong is, in the words of its commander Chen Daoxiang, “determined to protect national sovereignty, security, stability, and the prosperity of Hong Kong.” To drive the point home, a promotional video showing Chinese military officers in action was released along with the statement.

Trump’s Assault on the Global Trading System

By Chad P. Bown And Douglas A. Irwin 

Donald Trump has been true to his word. After excoriating free trade while campaigning for the U.S. presidency, he has made economic nationalism a centerpiece of his agenda in office. His administration has pulled out of some trade deals, including the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), and renegotiated others, including the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the U.S.-Korea Free Trade Agreement. Many of Trump’s actions, such as the tariffs he has imposed on steel and aluminum, amount to overt protectionism and have hurt the U.S. economy. Others have had less obvious, but no less damaging, effects. By flouting international trade rules, the administration has diminished the country’s standing in the world and led other governments to consider using the same tools to limit trade arbitrarily. It has taken deliberate steps to weaken the World Trade Organization (WTO)—some of which will permanently damage the multilateral trading system. And in its boldest move, it is trying to use trade policy to decouple the U.S. and Chinese economies.

Putin’s Ill-Advised Embrace of China


When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, the leaders of post-Soviet Russia faced herculean challenges and fundamental questions of national strategy and direction. Would Russia continue on the Soviet path of hostility toward the West—or would it take a very different course? For Mikhail Gorbachev, the first president of Russia’s new era, the answer was clear. Russia would seek not just good relations with the West, but it also would seek to become a fully integrated part of Europe. Gorbachev spoke eloquently and sincerely of “a common European home.” He initiated twin transformations of the Russian economy away from Soviet-style socialism toward free markets and the political system from communist dictatorship to parliamentary democracy.

The Currency Manipulation Game Is Afoot – but That’s Better Than a Trade War

Jeffrey Frankel

The trade war between the United States and China is heating up again, with U.S. President Donald Trump abruptly announcing plans to impose a 10-per-cent tariff on the US$300-billion worth of imports from China that he had so far left untouched. The Chinese authorities then allowed their currency, the renminbi, to fall below the symbolic threshold of seven yuan for every U.S. dollar. The Trump administration promptly responded by naming China a “currency manipulator” – the first time the U.S. had done that to any country in 25 years. Pundits declared a currency war, and investors immediately sent global stock markets lower.

The U.S. assertion that the recent depreciation of the renminbi amounts to currency manipulation is not true. It would be more correct to say that the Chinese authorities gave in to market pressure – the immediate source of which was none other than Mr. Trump’s announcement of the new tariffs.

Battle-Ready: The PLA’s Hong Kong Garrison

By Bonnie Girard

As the Union Jack was lowered and the Chinese flag was raised in Hong Kong on July 1, 1997, marking the handover of sovereignty over Hong Kong from British to Chinese control, another handover was taking place, as well.

The British garrison force in Hong Kong, which had been stationed in what was then its colony beginning in the 1840s, was replaced by white-gloved Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) troops, which rolled into the city by the truckful that day.

Today, the Hong Kong garrison’s combat-readiness is underpinned by units from three distinct PLA Army branches, including ground forces, and smaller contingents of Navy and Air Force units. The combined force is estimated to be anywhere between 5,000 and 10,000 strong.

A Battle for Supremacy in the Middle East


The struggle between Iran and Saudi Arabia for dominance in the Middle East has insinuated itself into nearly every regional issue, fracturing international alliances and sustaining wars across the region, while raising fears of a direct conflict between the two powers. 

Saudi Arabia has ramped up its regional adventurism since Mohammed bin Salman, the powerful son of King Salman, was appointed crown prince in 2017. And it has cracked down on its opponents, including the brutal murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. That appears to have had little effect on the crown prince’s increasingly close ties to the Trump administration, though. Determined to undermine the Iranian regime, Washington has pulled out of the nuclear deal with Tehran and, more recently, used its economic might to block five countries from continuing to purchase Iranian oil. 

Sanctions: The New Economic Battlefield

By David Uren

Economic warfare is being fought with an intensity not seen since the period leading up to World War II as countries deploy tariffs, embargoes and economic sanctions to force policy changes or punish their adversaries.

Free trade is coming off second best, and global trade has stalled. There’s been no growth in trade volumes since late 2017, contributing to a slowing world economy.

The World Trade Organization, as the upholder of global trading rules, looks increasingly impotent. Its resemblance to the League of Nations in the late 1930s will sharpen if, as is possible, the US withdraws in the lead-up to next year’s presidential election.

A rising tide of trade embargoes in the early 1940s was the catalyst for Japan’s bombing of Pearl Harbor and attacks in Southeast Asia to secure its supplies of rubber and oil.

While the escalation of tariffs between the US and China has been the greatest concern to economists and institutions like the International Monetary Fund, the use of economic sanctions is becoming increasingly aggressive and extends far beyond UN Security Council mandates.

Who Will Rule the Twenty-First Century?

by Michael O'Hanlon 

Today’s political and policy environment has my students more worried about the fate of the country, and the Earth, than they have been at any previous time over the past ten years.

For ten years now, I have had the privilege of teaching outstanding students at Johns Hopkins University, Syracuse University, and the University of Denver a course called “Who Will Rule the 21st Century?” It is a course about almost everything of geostrategic note: China’s rise, Russia’s return, democracy’s spread, authoritarianism’s resurgence, many challenges but many enduring strengths of America and NATO, warming climates and rising oceans, proliferating weapons of mass destruction, new technologies including artificial intelligence, and the planet’s likely push towards ten billion humans by mid-century. Most of those human beings are in the developing world and most of them live in cities. Additionally, as my Brookings Institution colleague, Homi Kharas, underscores, a larger fraction of those humans are living middle-class lives or better than at any time in history. We start the course by reading Paul Kennedy’s 1987 classic, The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers, as a retrospective on previous eras. We then read big-idea authors dealing with today’s world—Robert Kagan, John Ikenberry, Fareed Zakaria, Charlie Kupchan, Tim Snyder, Tom Wright, Bruce Jones, the late Zbigniew Brzezinski, Henry Kissinger—and do “deep dives” on subjects like China and climate. The students are mostly American, and mostly thirty-ish (many already holding full-time jobs) in age, but they come from all walks of life and many countries.

The Danger of Climate Doomsayers

BJØRN LOMBORG

PALO ALTO – Most people on the planet wake up each day thinking that things are getting worse. It is little wonder, given what they routinely read in the newspaper or see on television. But this gloomy mood is a problem, because it feeds into scare stories about how climate change will end in Armageddon.

The fact is that the world is mostly getting better. For starters, average global life expectancy has more than doubled since 1900 and is now above 70 years. Because the increase has been particularly marked among the poor, health inequality has declined massively. Moreover, the world is more literate, child labor is decreasing, and we are living in one of the most peaceful times in history.

In addition, people are better off economically. Over the past 30 years, average global per capita income has almost doubled, leading to massive reductions in poverty. In 1990, nearly four in ten of the world’s people were poor; today, less than one in ten are. That has helped to transform the way people live. Between 1990 and 2015, for example, the proportion of the world’s population practicing open defecation halved to 15%. And in the same period, 2.6 billion people gained access to improved water sources, bringing the global share up to 91%.

Europe Must Oppose Trump

JEFFREY D. SACHS

NEW YORK – With Donald Trump due to visit Europe again for the G7 summit later this month, European leaders have run out of options for dealing with the US president. They have tried to charm him, persuade him, ignore him, or agree to disagree with him. Yet Trump’s malevolence is bottomless. The only alternative, therefore, is to oppose him.

The most immediate issue is European trade with Iran. This is no small matter. It is a battle that Europe cannot afford to lose.

Trump is capable of inflicting great harm without compunction, and is now doing so by economic means and threats of military action. He has invoked emergency economic and financial powers that aim to push Iran and Venezuela to economic collapse. He is trying to slow or stop China’s growth by closing US markets to Chinese exports, restricting the sale of US technologies to Chinese companies, and declaring China a currency manipulator.

It is important to call these actions what they are: the personal decisions of an incontinent individual, not the result of legislative action or the outcome of any semblance of public deliberation. Remarkably, 230 years after its constitution was adopted, the United States suffers from one-man rule. Trump has rid his administration of anyone of independent stature, such as the former defense secretary, retired General James Mattis, and few congressional Republicans murmur a word against their leader.

On nuclear protection, Japan gets a wake-up call from Trump

Brahma Chellaney

North Korea has test-fired a slew of short-range ballistic missiles in recent weeks, including three new systems, indicating that it has been busy boosting its sub-regional capabilities since its leader Kim Jong-un met with U.S. President Donald Trump at the Korean demilitarized zone in June. Yet Mr. Trump has openly condoned the North Korean tests, largely because the new missiles threaten not the United States but Japan and South Korea.

Indeed, Mr. Trump has clearly indicated that his administration will put up with North Korea’s sub-regionally confined nuclear arsenal (as Washington has done with Pakistan’s) as long as Mr. Kim does not pursue long-range capability that threatens the United States. Not surprisingly, this American stand unnerves Japan, which is central to U.S. military deployments in Asia but feels increasingly vulnerable to growing Chinese and North Korean missile capabilities.

Mr. Trump’s position not only emboldens Mr. Kim but also gives him virtually a free hand in developing and testing short-range missiles that can potentially deliver nuclear warheads.

From Nazism to Never Again

By Richard J. Evans 

Defeated regimes are not only swiftly removed from power but often immediately erased from memory as well. When Adolf Hitler’s “thousand-year German Reich” came crashing down in 1945 with the Allied victory in World War II, reminders of the 12 years of its actual existence were hastily scrubbed away as Germans scrambled to adjust to life after Nazism. Stone swastikas were chiseled off the façades of buildings, Nazi insignia were taken down from flagpoles, and, in towns and cities across Germany, streets and squares named after Hitler reverted to their previous designations. 

Meanwhile, millions of former Nazis hid or burned their uniforms, and in the final days of the war, the Gestapo set fire to incriminating records all over the country. Many of the most fanatical Nazis did not survive: they either perished in the final conflagration or killed themselves, along with Hitler, Joseph Goebbels, Heinrich Himmler, and many others, in one of the greatest waves of mass suicide in history, unable to imagine anything beyond the all-encompassing world of the Third Reich, the only thing that gave their lives purpose and meaning. 

In the Yuan, Washington Finds Its Latest Trade War Target

By Phillip Orchard

The U.S. is running out of ways to escalate the trade war with China.

Last week, after nearly two decades of threats from U.S. President Donald Trump and his predecessors, the U.S. Treasury formally labeled China a currency manipulator. This followed Trump’s announcement that new 10 percent tariffs on some $300 billion in Chinese goods would kick in on Sept. 1, which sent the Chinese currency crashing to less than 7 yuan to the dollar for the first time since 2008.

The move has been widely characterized as a dramatic escalation in the trade war, expanding the U.S. offensive from tariffs, tech controls and investment to asset prices. But by the United States’ own definition, China hasn’t actually been intentionally weakening its currency. Quite the opposite, in fact. And the label itself won’t do anything to pressure China into major concessions. What it really suggests is that the U.S.-China trade war has entered a new phase – one marked by waiting around for a change in conditions that forces one side or the other to blink.

How China Manages the Yuan

For more than a decade beginning in the early 2000s, Beijing was indeed quite transparently keeping the yuan artificially weak, buying up some $4 trillion in...

Trump’s Foreign-Policy Crisis Arrives

BY THOMAS WRIGHT

Competition between the U.S. and China may be inevitable, but if Trump and Xi mishandle the Hong Kong crisis, they could lose the ability to calibrate.

For two and a half years, the world has wondered how President Donald Trump would cope with a real international crisis. That crisis may have finally arrived in Hong Kong, as Beijing appears poised to execute a massive, violent crackdown against protesters. And how it’s resolved will matter not just for Trump’s political fortunes—it will determine whether the United States and China can find a basis for managing competition with each other, or whether they will be locked in a new and volatile Cold War.

Unrest in Hong Kong would pose a particularly difficult challenge for any American president, who would have to balance support for democracy, human rights, and peaceful protest against the need to avoid interfering in China’s domestic affairs.

The shadow of Budapest in 1956 looms large. Hungarians believed, with good reason, that the United States would support them if they rose up against the Soviet Union. When they did so, President Dwight Eisenhower refused to intervene, believing it could lead to a general war. This tragic episode was a warning to future presidents not to overpromise. That lesson was learned again when President George H. W. Bush encouraged the Kurds to rise up against Saddam Hussein in 1991, only to abandon them.

THE SERIOUS MONEY IS WARMING TO BITCOIN


THERE’S AN ARMS race afoot over who can store cryptocurrency safest. Perhaps you’d like your bitcoin buried in a vault under a mountain in the Swiss Alps? Xapo has offered that as a service to wealthy investors, for free. Coinbase, best known for its popular cryptocurrency exchange, prefers elaborate key-printing rituals along with a Faraday cage. Anchorage, an Andreessen Horowitz-backed startup, promises easy-access digital storage with some cryptographic voodoo. And now old-school firms like Fidelity and Bakkt, which shares an owner with the New York Stock Exchange, are jumping into the fray with storage solutions of their own.

The aim behind all these sophisticated security arrangements: wooing Wall Street.

Russia's New Arms Give the U.S. Room for Pause


The recent failure of a Russian Burevestnik missile test highlights the numerous deficiencies in the weapon's development, yet Russia will continue to prioritize the development of the missile and other offensive strategic weapon systems. In so doing, Russia will aim to boost its deterrence and negate U.S. missile defense capabilities as much as possible. Because the Kremlin has prioritized the operational deployment of some programs — despite the technical challenges they face — the United States will be forced to upgrade its overall missile defense systems and strategic capabilities.

The incident itself had immediate and drastic effects: five dead and a spike in radiation that was up to 16 times higher than normal. But the larger fallout from the Aug. 8 explosion of a nuclear-powered cruise missile on Russia's White Sea coast has drawn renewed attention to the development of some of the country's newest, high-tech strategic weapons. The development of the weapon in question fits into Moscow's broader effort to maintain its nuclear deterrent. While Russia's ambitions are pushing the boundaries of its capabilities in some of these projects — to even deadly results, as the most recent case demonstrates — the overall effort will undoubtedly force the United States into a response.

Google tracks Everything

Michael K. Spencer

In the 4th industrial revolution, it’s all advertising and surveillance incentives and no privacy.

In August, 2018 it broke that Google made a secret deal with MasterCard to buy our shopping data, that is, our MasterCard data to link online ads with offline purchases.

So it doesn’t come as a shock that via Gmail Google tracks our purchases as well.
Google uses Gmail to track a history of things you buy — and it’s hard to delete, reports CNBC.
Is it creepy or convenient? Google has been quietly keeping track of nearly every single online purchase you’ve ever made, thanks to purchase receipts sent to your personal Gmail account.

I agree with the Verge though that’s its semi-secret nature is what’s most disturbing. So this information is made available to you via a private web tool that’s been active for an indeterminate amount of time. You can go view it here.

Essentially advertising companies have incentives to track everything about you. We already know the granular kind of data Facebook has, but Google too. Essentially Google has been saving years of information on purchases you’ve made, even outside Google, and pulls this information from Gmail.

The weaponisation of information is mutating at alarming speed


Communication has been weaponised, used to provoke, mislead and influence the public in numerous insidious ways. Disinformation was just the first stage of an evolving trend of using information to subvert democracy, confuse rival states, define the narrative and control public opinion. Using the large, unregulated, open environments that tech companies once promised would “empower” ordinary people, disinformation has spread rapidly across the globe. The power that tech companies offered us has become a priceless tool in propagandists’ hands, who were right in thinking that a confused, rapidly globalising world is more vulnerable to the malleable beast of disinformation than straightforward propaganda. Whatever we do, however many fact-checking initiatives we undertake, disinformation shows no sign of abating. It just mutates.

While initially countries that were seasoned propagandists, such as Russia and North Korea, were identified as the main culprits, the list of states employing disinformation is growing. China is apparently using disinformation to portray Hong Kong protesters as proxies of nefarious western powers and violent rioters, potentially to prepare the ground for more violent intervention to suppress the movement. India has been the host of constant disinformation campaigns, either ahead of the most recent elections or during the current standoff with Pakistan over Kashmir. Lobbying and PR firms have now professionalised online disinformation, as the cases of Sir Lynton Crosby’s CTF Partners in the UK and the troll farms in the Philippines indicate.

What’s the best way for the Pentagon to invest in artificial intelligence?

By: Adam Stone
The Department of Defense is poised to spend nearly $1 billion on artificial intelligence in the next year.

The Pentagon’s proposed budget for fiscal 2020 includes some $927 million for AI, as well as machine learning, according to Ainikki Riikonen, a research assistant for the Technology and National Security Program at the Center for a New American Security.

This includes $208 million earmarked for the Joint Artificial Intelligence Center, which was created in 2018. The Center’s initial efforts have delivered “a very mature, insightful high-level view” of issues surrounding AI, said Ian McCulloh, chief data scientist at Accenture Federal Services.

AI encompasses hardware, software, people and processes. With nearly a $1 billion bankroll, Defense Department leaders and the intelligence community are now looking for the best ways to leverage this emerging capability most effectively.

Starting point

Researchers eye artificial intelligence (AI) for cyber-physical systems for control of unmanned vehicles


ARLINGTON, Va. – U.S. military researchers are asking for industry's help in using artificial intelligence (AI) for the quick design of military systems that blend physical processes with computers and digital networking, called cyber-physical systems.

Officials of the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) in Arlington, Va., issued a broad agency announcement on Tuesday (HR001119S0083) for the Symbiotic Design for Cyber-Physical Systems program.

Cyber-physical systems use embedded computing and digital networks to monitor and control physical processes, and have feedback loops to enable physical processes and computing to influence one another. Examples of cyber-physical systems are automatic avionics, robotics, autonomous automobiles, smart grids, and process-control systems.

The aim of the Symbiotic Design for Cyber-Physical Systems program is to develop AI-based approaches to reduce the time it takes to design of military cyber-physical systems from years to months, and enhance innovation in design.

For Facebook’s Cryptocurrency, the Well May Already Be Poisoned


Facebook's new Libra coin is asset-backed and runs on a restricted network, which could make it as stable as a major currency — setting it apart from other, much more volatile cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin. The social media giant's negative political reputation, however, will influence Libra's reception in key markets such as the United States, Germany and India. This will likely create a hostile regulatory environment toward Libra, which will not only affect its rollout in 2020 but could have detrimental repercussions for the cryptocurrency field at large.

In June, Facebook made waves when it confirmed it was planning to launch its own cryptocurrency in 2020. Called Libra, the system will be connected to Facebook's massive user base, granting it the immediate potential of rivaling such established systems as Google Pay and PayPal. Indeed, Libra hopes to become the world's most widely adopted digital currency — sparking the kind of economic revolution that cryptocurrency has long promised, but has so far largely failed to deliver. Unlike other digital coins, however, Libra's main barrier to success won't be its technology, but its image.

20 August 2019

The US can't seem to live without Afghanistan

BY AARON DAVID MILLER

The eighth round of U.S.-Taliban negotiations concluded this week without an accord. Still, there’s a real possibility that an agreement will be concluded by September. 

It’s far too early to call winners and losers before the details of a framework accord are announced and likely even afterwards, given the uncertainties inherent in any accord. But here are several key politically inconvenient realities that would seem to flow from any U.S.-Taliban agreement. 

This isn’t about peace

On August 11, as Afghans were marking the Muslim festival of Eid Al-Adha, U.S. negotiator Zalmay Khalilzad expressed hope that “this is the last Eid where Afghanistan is at war.” I worked with Khalilzad at the State Department, and he’s one smart negotiator.

The draft Afghan peace plan, explained

By Pamela Constable
Source Link

KABUL — The proposed Afghan peace deal presented Friday to President Trump by the administration’s top peace negotiator would accomplish the president’s major goal of beginning to withdraw thousands of U.S. forces from the country, after nearly 18 years of fighting and just over 2,400 U.S. personnel killed. 

In return, Taliban insurgents would agree to cut ties with al-Qaeda and prevent it from operating or carrying out activities in areas of Afghanistan under Taliban control. This commitment is something U.S. military officials have said is important to help prevent other extremist groups from using Afghanistan as a springboard for attacks against American interests in the region.

Beyond that, however, the agreement as described by U.S. officials leaves several key issues unaddressed, others not yet explicitly endorsed by the Taliban, and still others to be worked out at future meetings between Taliban and Afghan leaders that have not yet been confirmed or announced. 

U.S. Seeks to Reassure Afghan Military Amid Uncertainty Over Peace Deal

by Mujab Mushal 

The top American commander in Afghanistan sought to reassure Afghan forces on Thursday that they still had the full backing of the United States, after a report that the support was being dialed back in preparation for an imminent peace deal with the Taliban.

The fighting in Afghanistan has intensified as United States diplomats and the insurgents have worked through eight rounds of negotiations in Qatar. Afghan forces and the Taliban have both sought to increase their political leverage through violence, with both sides suffering heavy casualties and civilians bearing the brunt of the attacks…

In Afghanistan, Is Sirajuddin Haqqani Ready for Peace?

BY MELISSA SKORKA

In peace talks with the Afghan Taliban, the United States should not fail to address the evolution of the Haqqani-al-Qaeda nexus.

As the Donald J. Trump administration aims to end a “‘slowly deteriorating stalemate,’ with ‘no military victory’ possible,” President Trump has supported withdrawing thousands of U.S. troops from Afghanistan in exchange for peace with the Afghan Taliban. According to some accounts, the reduction of U.S. forces seems imminent, irrespective of the peace negotiation.Notwithstanding whether Washington pulls out U.S.combat forces, Trump said he would leave “a very strong intelligence” presence in Afghanistan, which he calls the “Harvard of terrorists.” If this strategy is to achieve its security goals, it should account for a fundamental concern that has not received sufficient attention: how modern terrorist organizations usurp U.S. foreign policy in order to survive and even prosper by adapting to Western counterterrorism measures in insidious and often underestimated ways.The Haqqani network, a terror network with close ties to the Taliban, al-Qaeda, and Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), has evolved over the last half-century and now exerts unprecedented influence in the Afghan insurgency, according to the UN ISIL (Da’esh), Al-Qaida and Taliban Monitoring Team. In fact, as the UN Team stated in an interview for this blog:

The U.S. Shouldn’t Stumble Out of Afghanistan

By Laurel Miller

As the United States seeks to finalize a deal with the Taliban, it must reconcile two discordant truths: One is that the United States grievously erred in thinking it could defeat an insurgency in Afghanistan and should have negotiated its military withdrawal much sooner, and the other is that the deal it negotiates now might increase rather than lessen the violence. 

Between those two truths is a narrow space in which the U.S. government could both end its longest war and avoid leaving an intensified civil war in its wake. Whether the expected deal accomplishes those objectives will depend on the details.

Overshadowing the talks is Washington’s now evident intent to pull out of Afghanistan. The political logic of U.S. withdrawal was ripening well before candidate Donald Trump broadcast his desire for it.

The political logic of U.S. withdrawal was ripening well before candidate Donald Trump broadcast his desire for it.The expense and challenges of nation building in one of the world’s poorest and weakest states—and the lack of direct security threats to the United States once al Qaeda was decimated—meant that one day this thought would crystallize in Washington: What are we still doing there? The U.S. interest in destroying al Qaeda was always clear; the interest in destroying its Taliban hosts was always attenuated.