28 October 2014

Fighting in the cyber trenches


October 13, 2014, 

Relations between the U.S. and China and Russia are tense, but no shot has been fired. Online, it’s a different story.

For one unnamed American biomedical company, it took five years to bring a new product to market as it stuttered on the ideation assembly line. There was genesis, then research and development, then meticulous rounds of testing to refine what came before and meet regulatory scrutiny. Only then was the product manufactured and sold for use in a hospital.

How did a Chinese competitor manage to rush the same product to market in 18 months? Heart valves and prosthetics take less time, it turns out, when a team of digital cat burglars can sneak into the American company’s mainframe and pop out with schematics for a fully tested product, beating the original innovators to market.

“It happens with every industry,” says Shawn Henry, president of services and chief security officer of CrowdStrike, a cyber security firm in Irvine, Calif. The biomedical company is a client of CrowdStrike’s, one of countless U.S. firms that see foreign hackers worm their way into their mainframes and facilities on a regular basis.

It’s nothing personal. In several areas of the world, the United States is mired in economic and political tension. In China, it is facing a rising economic power that has little patience for Western dominance. In Russia, it is facing a belligerent former power that is using force to recoup what was lost so long ago (and economic leverage to keep it that way). The hostilities continue to play out in bold headlines and fraught diplomatic relations, a Cold War simmer that refuses to boil over.

In the digital world, however, the U.S. and its adversaries have been at war for some time. Some of the largest U.S. threats are buzzing through Russian and Chinese computer systems operated by droves of highly skilled hackers. A small biomedical company beat by a copy of its own product? Just the tip of a mammoth iceberg of cyber warfare over the last decade that has left companies and organizations that are standing on the sidelines shellacked.

Cyber sabotage has quickly become the 21st century’s preferred form of international trade theft. Hackers hunt any intellectual property worth a dollar, ruble, or yuan. Pilfered research from the biomedical, energy, finance, software, IT, defense, and aerospace industries creates not only economic gain but state-related advantage. In China, the state and economy are so intertwined that illicit intelligence-gathering doubles as national security. In Russia, the battery of economic sanctions in response to its military actions in Eastern Europe have incentivized subterfuge opportunities.

It is difficult to attribute attacks to certain nations. In the interconnected digital world, there is no equivalent of a DNA sample or fingerprint to identify the perpetrator of a specific cyber crime. Still, aggregate data—including time zone, location of the physical servers used in the attack, nation-specific tools and techniques, and language indicators—leads researchers like CrowdStrike to place the majority of blame on Moscow and Shanghai.

“I’m talking about thousands of data points here,” Henry says. Cyber theft is a lot like bank robbing, he says—the more you do it, the more trails you leave. “You’re able to see consistencies of patterns, and along the line somewhere the attackers make a mistake. They make the digital equivalent of parking their getaway car near the convenience store camera, and we can attribute.”

Domains, Budgets and Bureaucracies: Nukes, Space & Now — Cyber

October 24, 2014 

Joan Johnson Freese, a member of our Board of Contributors and professor at the Naval War College, is an expert on space, Strategic Command and several other topics dealt with below. She doesn’t think the creation of Cyber Command is a great idea. Read on to find why. The Editor.

Analysis of the Peloponnesian War is a standard of military and security studies curricula. Strategists had it relatively easy between the 5th century BC and the 19th century AD: land power versus sea power, but then things began to get complicated. In the 19th century “domains” – warfighting environments – began to expand.

War took to the air, so clearly “air” was now a domain, and ships now battled undersea, so that must be a domain as well. Each new domain seemed to bring with it changes in military organizational charts. In the United States, “air” got its own service in the form of the Air Force and its own branch in the Navy, as did submariners.

But that wasn’t the end of organizational growth beyond traditional considerations. A special category of arms — nuclear weapons — got its own place on the organizational charts, with space and cyber later added as yet more domains. But this organizational growth does not necessarily improve America’s ability to fight wars, or even a logical purpose. It is often largely a budget-driven bureaucratic purpose. That is a purpose the United States can no longer afford.

Cyber is the newest domain, the flavor of the day. Attach the prefix Cyber to anything and it can immediately be funded. It is in 2014 what “transformational” was during the Rumsfeld years. Most prevalent in the lingo is cyberwar. But Thomas Rid questioned what that actually means in his book Cyber War Will Not Take Place. A 2013 profile in the Boston Globe summed it up nicely.

Calling digital attacks “war,” Rid argues, wrongly equates computers with traditional military weapons. “Code can’t explode, plain and simple,” he says. “So you have to weaponize a target system, be it an airplane, a pacemaker, a power plant, something else.” Any successful digital attack must be highly tailored, requires quality intelligence, and only becomes “war” if the end result is something we’d acknowledge as an act of war.

RAND analyst Martin Libicki accepted the premise of cyberspace but questioned the value of calling it a domain:

Whether cyberspace does or does not have the essence of a warfighting domain as per some platonic ideal is not at issue. Instead, we contend that understanding cyberspace as a warfighting domain is not helpful when it comes to understanding what can and should be done to defend and attack networked systems. To the extent that such a characterization leads strategists and operators to presumptions or conclusions that are not derived from observation and experience, this characterization may mislead. The argument that cyberspace is a warfighting domain, only a really different one, begets the question of what purpose is served by calling cyberspace a domain in the first place.

The Sum of Our Fears Has the Internet and social media primed us to worry too much about improbable threats — and too little about probable ones?

OCTOBER 23, 2014.


We who live in the industrialized world have put up a large retaining wall to safeguard us from the horrors that have plagued humanity throughout history. We no longer worry on a daily basis about some Genghis Khan figure sweeping through our towns and leaving great piles of skulls in his wake. We don’t obsess about famines, which once appeared with the regularity of the seasons. The Black Death is behind us, as is cholera, polio, and numerous other epidemics.

In other words, we’ve knocked three of the Four Horsemen from their saddles. War, pestilence, and famine, though still a presence in the developing world, have been largely put out to pasture in the rich half of the planet. When that fourth horseman – the “pale rider” of death – finally pays a visit, it’s only after we’ve clocked seven or eight decades on average.

Yet, for all our unprecedented good fortune, we are in a near-constant state of fear.

Some portion of this fear is existential. We worry about global apocalypse delivered to us by way of climate change, a mistakenly launched volley of nuclear weapons, or an asteroid that mysteriously deviates from its path. But these threats remain rather abstract, in the sense that they do not generate panic (though with nuclear accidents and global warming, they really should, if that’s what it would take to shift policy).

What really makes us sweat, the stuff of horror movies, is the threat from within. We are terrified by the possibility that the ordinary-looking person standing next to us on the bus will turn out to be a homicidal terrorist or the carrier of a deadly communicable disease. Or a neighbor suddenly reveals himself to be a dangerous lunatic. Or, even closer to home, a family member succumbs to a clandestine cult.

The worst possibility is that we ourselves are somehow complicit in the horror.

That’s the hook that has propelled The Following through two popular, blood-soaked seasons on Fox. The TV show features Kevin Bacon as an FBI agent on the trail of a serial killer who, during his time in prison, has inspired a fan club of the similarly unhinged. Somehow – and let’s skip over the improbability of all this – the killer has managed from his prison-house perch to convince his followers to burrow into influential social positions and wait for just the right signal. Then, one by one, these “sleepers” are activated to play their parts in a ghoulish narrative ripped from the stories of Edgar Alan Poe (the second season leans more heavily on the Bible).

In the ultimate tribute to the parlor game Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon, the FBI agent discovers that everything is stage-managed for his benefit: he is the “dear reader” to which the murderous story is dedicated. More to the point, Bacon is connected more closely to the killer than he is willing to admit. They are not only in love with the same woman; they also share a violent disposition, a desire for revenge, and a mutual obsession with each another.

The creator of The Following is no neophyte when it comes to horror. Kevin Williamson was the force behind the Scream movies, which took the classic teenage slasher flick and turned it into an increasingly self-referential commentary on classic teenage slasher flicks. With its tight focus on the horrific events that take place around a few characters, Scream now seems like a quaint vestige of the 1990s. Sure, it was bloody. But it was also essentially provincial.

The Following is something different. It encapsulates the greatest fear of our era in the same way that Invasion of the Body Snatchers provided a horror-movie metaphor for the Cold War and the supposed infiltration of Communists into every crevice of American society – the military, politics, Hollywood. Communists, for all practical purposes, are dead and gone. The Following has seized on a different anxiety – terrorism – our fear that ISIS or al-Qaeda or Boko Haram will soon instruct their followers to throw off the mask of ordinary life and set upon their friends, neighbors, and colleagues.

It’s an improbable scenario, as improbable as many of the episodes of The Following (orHomeland for that matter), but fear can paper over even the largest holes in a plot. Fear makes us, willingly or unwillingly, suspend our disbelief. It doesn’t matter that we are far more likely to die in a car accident than a terrorist attack. Actually, you have a greater chance of being killed by lightening, a dog, or by legal execution. And yet, particularly after the ISIS beheadings, people continue to worry about a major terrorist attack on the United States as well as the more isolated “lone wolf” attacks like the one that just claimed the life of a Canadian soldier near Montreal. Frankly we should be more worried about the everyday acts of violence that take place, from police shootings in Ferguson and semi-annual Columbine copycats to the 87 homicides that have taken place so far this year in Washington, DC.

The rise in our dread level is not only a function of terrorism. An even greater panic has set in after the United States has experienced its first three cases of Ebola: a Liberian man and two nurses who took care of him at a Dallas hospital. So far, however, no one else has tested positive for the disease, though several travelers have received further testing. Yet, despite the limited number of cases and the difficulty of transmission, the number of people who are worried that they or their family members will contract the disease has risen from one in fourto nearly one in two.
OCTOBER 20, 2014 

Some argue that the recent civil war in Syria was caused, at least in part, by droughts in the area, which led to greater social instability. (© Ali Sultan/NurPhoto/Corbis)

Five Conflicts and Collapses That May Have Been Spurred by Climate Change 
Earth's changing climate has been a spectre in centuries of civil conflict and, at times, the collapse of whole civilizations 

Is climate change a matter of national security? In a warming world, sea-level rise, drought and soil degradation are putting basic human needs such as food and shelter at risk. In March, the U.S. Department of Defense called climate change a "threat multiplier," saying that competition for resources "will aggravate stressors abroad such as poverty, environmental degradation, political instability and social tensions—conditions that can enable terrorist activity and other forms of violence."

Connecting climate change to a global increase in violence is tricky, and attempts to make such a link receive a fair amount of criticism. A hotter planet doesn't automatically become a more conflict-ridden one. The 2000s, for instance, saw some of the highest global temperatures in recorded history—and some of the lowest rates of civil conflict since the 1970s.

But there are historical examples of civilizations that did not fare well when faced with drastic environmental change, and those examples may offer a window into the future—and even help prevent catastrophe. "We can never know with 100-percent certainty that the climate was the decisive factor [in a conflict]," says Solomon Hsiang, assistant professor of public policy at the University of California, Berkeley. "But there's a lot of cases where things look pretty conspicuous."

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The Akkadian Empire 

(Bronze sculpture head of an Akkadian King, now located in the National Museum of Iraq. Credit: © Gianni Dagli Orti/Corbis)

Around 2350 B.C., the Akkadian empire conquered and united the various city-states of Sumer in Mesopotamia. For almost two centuries, this powerful empire stretched from the Mediterranean Sea to what is now inner Iran, setting up vast stretches of agricultural land and trade routes. Then, around 2100 B.C., the empire collapsed, and the land remained unsettled for nearly 300 years.

Archaeologists attributed the empire's abrupt end to invasions and political strife. But in one region, formerly the center of the empire’s grain production, the soil also held an intriguing clue: a thin layer of volcanic ash covered by a thicker layer of wind-blown silts. That region, it seemed, suffered from a sudden shift to more arid conditions.

In 2000, an international group of scientists studied marine sediment cores taken from the Gulf of Oman, more than 1,000 miles from what would have been the heart of the Akkadian empire. From these cores, the scientists were able to create a holistic picture of climate in the region. They found distinct peaks of the minerals calcite and dolomite beginning around 2025 B.C. that lasted approximately 300 years. These minerals are transported to the ocean as dust from dry, arid regions, so their abundance suggests that the collapse of the Akkadian empire must have been caused, at least in part, by a rapid and unprecedented drying, which in turn led to mass migrations, overcrowded cities and eventually, internal violence within the empire. 


 2 of 5
Chinese Dynasties 

(Prisoners and soldiers from the First Emperor of the Han dynasty entering a city. Credit: © Burstein Collection/CORBIS)

The history of China is often told in dynastic cycles, where one family takes control of the country for hundreds of years until, for social or political reasons, they fall from power. Dynastic collapses were almost always followed by years of turmoil, which eventually led to the introduction of another ruling family.

Here’s who should be happiest about falling oil prices

October 20, 2014 

Russia, Iran and Venezuela have reason to be nervous about the abrupt 25% plunge in global oil prices. But what of those whose spirits should be up? We are hearing less from them.

To quantify all this silence, Quartz looked at the top 25 petroleum-importing countries and emerged with what we’re calling the “$80 Index.” The name references a reasonable average for Brent oil over the coming year or so, given the global petroleum glut, dearth of demand, and nonchalance toward geopolitical disruption. (Brent traded as low as $82.93 last week.) If the index is accurate, these are the countries with the most reason to breaking out the champagne as their economies get a jolt from a better trade balance—and as their drivers get more cash in their pockets.

The index mechanics are explained below. What they yield makes sense: Ukraine and Poland, for example, will be spending much less on imports and, given their entanglement with a resurgent Russia, will be much more at ease in an $80-a-barrel world than at $115, the price last June.

Even though its shale oil is a big reason for the price plunge, and that sector will be earning less at lower prices, the US makes the top 10 due to its trade deficit (about a third of which is comprised of oil imports) and the energy intensity of its economy. In addition, at lower prices, the US derives contentment from imagining Russian president Vladimir Putin’s discomfort with $80 oil and the prospect of squeezing Iran, with which the West is in tense nuclear negotiations.

Each country’s score is based on a weighted index that takes four factors into account:

Petroleum imports as a share of total oil consumption (35% of final score). This is fairly obvious—the more a country depends on buying foreign oil to power itself, the more it is subject to the whims of the market. 

Current account deficit as a share of GDP (35%). The current account is the broadest measure of trade flows. A big deficit implies that a country relies heavily on borrowing and investment from abroad to finance consumption. A lower energy bill would reduce this reliance. 

Energy intensity (20%). This is a gauge of an economy’s energy efficiency, as measured by how much energy it takes to produce $1 of output. The higher the number, the more sensitive a country is to the price of the fuel necessary to power its economy. 

Geopolitics (10%). This is a bonus awarded to the five countries whose current foreign-policy goals are particularly served by falling oil prices. These are the US (explained above); Ukraine (Russia could be more conciliatory on the gas prices it charges Ukraine); Germany (Putin will be less defiant toward chancellor Angela Merkel); Poland (Russia will be less likely to throw its weight around in the region); and China (lower prices give it leverage in negotiations with resource-producing partners). 

Libya In Chaos: Has Libya Become a Battleground for Proxies?

Is Libya a proxy war?

Frederic Wehrey
Washington Post
October 25, 2014

The remains of a burnt airplane at the Tripoli international airport in the Libyan capital damaged during fighting between anti-Islamist forces and Islamist militias on July 16. (Mahmud Turkia/AFP/Getty Images) 

Recent reports of Egyptian military aircraft bombing Islamist militant positions in the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi have highlighted once more how the Mediterranean state has become a contested site of regional proxy wars. The projection of Middle Eastern rivalries onto Libya’s fractured landscape has a long pedigree, dating back to the 2011 revolution and perhaps even further, when Moammar Gaddafi’s propaganda apparatus portrayed the country as a plaything at the mercy of predatory imperialists. During the uprising, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar jostled for influence, with their respective special forces supporting disparate revolutionary factions with intelligence, training and arms. Initially, the choice of actors had less to do with ideological affinity and more with expediency, history and geography. Libyan expatriates residing in each country shaped the channeling of funds and weapons. 

As the revolution wore on, these interventions had a profound effect on its trajectory and aftermath. The availability of outside patronage reduced incentives for factional cooperation and consensus-building on the ground. It sharpened preexisting fissures in the anti-Gaddafi opposition: Revolutionary factions competed for arms shipments, withheld foreign intelligence and targeting data from one another, and tried to outmaneuver one another in the revolution’s endgame – the liberation of Tripoli. 

But the intra-regional tussling of the 2011 revolution pales in comparison to the intensity of today’s proxy war. Back then, the factions and their foreign backers were at least united in the common goal of toppling a universally despised tyrant. Today, the outside powers are engaged in a struggle far more divisive and consequential: a war of narratives. 

A dangerous scenario looms ahead. Backed by Egypt and the UAE, the Libyan government is extending the narrative of its counter-terrorism struggle against jihadists in Benghazi to include what is effectively a multi-sided civil war in Tripoli and the western mountains – of which Islamists are only one player. It is a multifaceted struggle that is only partially understood, and for which the literature on proxy interventions does not fully account. 

Political scientist Karl Deutsch forwarded an early definition of proxy wars as: “an international conflict between two foreign powers, fought out on the soil of a third country; disguised as a conflict over an internal issue of that country; and using some of that country’s manpower, resources and territory as a means for achieving preponderantly foreign goals and foreign strategies.” Recently, Andrew Mumford criticized this definition for being “too state-centric,” arguing instead that proxy wars are “conflicts in which a third party intervenes indirectly in order to influence the strategic outcome in favor of its preferred faction.” 

In the Libya case, however, neither definition is satisfying because they leave out the crucial element of narrative. 

The inflection point in Libya’s post-revolutionary narrative arguably came from outside the country, in the rise of now-President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in neighboring Cairo. Without meaning to intervene, at least initially, the Egyptian strongman cast a long and ultimately polarizing shadow over Libya’s unsettled politics. In both word and deed, he was an exemplar to embattled and desperate segments of the Libyan population: The ex-regime officials, key eastern tribes, federalists and younger liberals, who began idolizing the military uniform, the proverbial “man on horseback,” as the salvation for the country’s worsening violence and, less nobly, a way to exclude their ideological opponents from power. 

The Imploding U.S Strategy in the Islamic State War?

OCT 23, 2014 

It is too early to say that the U.S. strategy against the Islamic State is imploding, but it is scarcely too soon to question whether this is possible. In fact, it is far from clear that the original U.S. strategy ever planned to deal with the complications that have arisen since President Obama officially announced a portion of what that strategy really had to be.

The Non-Strategy for Dealing with the Islamic State

To begin with, the basic goal of degrading and destroying the Islamic State always bordered on the ridiculous. It was always clear that some form of violent Islamic extremism would survive any combination of U.S. air attacks, Iraqi efforts to clear Iraq on the ground, and the limited capabilities of the Free Syrian Army. In fact, senior U.S. defense officials and military officers have repeatedly made this clear by limiting the objective to “degrade” and noting that the struggle against violent religious extremism would go on for years if not more than a decade.

U.S. counterterrorism data make the broader nature of this struggle all too clear even if the fact the United States is working with its regional allies to deal with other extremism movements in virtually every country with a large Muslim population did not. Like the worst moments in the Christian Reformation and Counterreformation, this is a struggle that goes far beyond one country or one movement.

The database for the most recent U.S. State Department Country Reports on Terrorism shows an increase from less than 300 major terrorist incidents a year in the Middle East and North Africa during 1998 to 2004 to 1,600 in 2008, then from 1,500 in 2010 to 1,700 in 2011, 2,500 in 2012, and 4,650 in 2013 – a fifteen fold increase since 2002, and threefold increase since 2010. Yet, bad as these figures were, the worst cases of terrorism were outside the region and in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

A recent RAND study found a 58-percent increase in the number of Salafi-jihadist groups from 2010 to 2013, and that the number of Salafi jihadists more than doubled from 2010 to 2013, according to both its low and high estimates. Moreover, for all the U.S. and other Western fears of terrorism, RAND found that, “Approximately 99 percent of the attacks by al Qaeda and its affiliates in 2013 were against “near enemy:” largely other Muslims in the Middle East and North Africa.

No one should ignore the fact that the Islamic State is a key threat. RAND did find a significant increase in attacks by al Qaeda–affiliated groups between 2007 and 2013, although the most the violence in 2013 was perpetrated by the Islamic State (43 percent), which eventually left al Qaeda. But, the other leading groups were affiliated with al-Qaeda and were al Shabaab (25 percent); Jabhat al-Nusrah (21 percent); and al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (10 percent).

It is also critical to point out that even if the Islamic state does not survive as an entity in both Syria and Iraq, intelligence estimates by one Arab ally count some thirty rebel factions in Syria and the largest and most powerful are violent Islamic extremist. Some U.S. expert counts list more than 70 rebel factions and subgroups, although both sources seem to agree that the most likely group to emerge if the Islamic State ever does break up is Jabhat al-Nusrah – an affiliate of al-Qaeda.

What this means in simple terms is that even if the Islamic State could be “destroyed,” rather than “degraded,” a strategy based on that objective rather than forging a comprehensive strategy and set of partnerships to fight violent religious extremism make no sense even in Syria, much less for a world power – particularly one already fighting other military battles against such movements in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, and Yemen. At present we have a partial if not a non-strategy even against our declared enemy and no clear strategy for what we once called a “war on terrorism” and one where every metric shows we are not winning.

We not only need to clarify every aspect of what we are really trying to do in Iraq and Syria to fight the Islamic State, we need to go from reporting on global patterns in terrorism and engaging in the struggle of the moment to some clear set of priorities, well defined partnerships with Muslim and other key states, and creating a global strategy that defines clear patterns of action, resources to implement them, andhonest metrics for measuring progress – none of which we have done well over a decade after 9/11.

The Non-Strategy for Dealing with Syria

In fairness, many of those who shaped the strategy for dealing with the Islamic State were so focused on Iraq that they almost certainly thought they could decouple the campaign to degrade the Islamic State and drive it out of populated areas in Iraq from any broader goal in Syria for either defeating Assad or creating a meaningful force of moderate rebels.

Mexican drug cartels are worse than ISIL

Western obsession with the Islamic State is fueled more by bigotry than any genuine assessment of risk or atrocities

October 20, 2014 

The horrific rampage of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) has captured the world’s attention. ManyWestern commentators have characterized ISIL’s crimes as unique, no longer practiced anywhere else in the civilized world. They argue that the group’s barbarism is intrinsically Islamic, a product of the aggressive and archaic worldview that dominates the Muslim world. The ignorance of these claims is stunning.

While there are other organized groups whose depravity and threat to the United States far surpasses that of ISIL, none has engendered the same kind of collective indignation and hysteria. This raises a question: Are Americans primarily concerned with ISIL’s atrocities or with the fact that Muslims are committing these crimes?

For example, even as the U.S. media and policymakers radically inflate ISIL’s threat to the Middle East and United States, most Americans appear to be unaware of the scale of the atrocities committed by Mexican drug cartels and the threat they pose to the United States.

Cartels versus ISIL

A recent United Nations report estimated nearly 9,000 civilians have been killed and 17,386 wounded in Iraq in 2014, more than half since ISIL fighters seized large parts on northern Iraq in June. It is likely that the group is responsible another several thousand deaths in Syria. To be sure, these numbers are staggering. But in 2013 drug cartels murdered more than 16,000 people in Mexico alone, and another 60,000 from 2006 to 2012 — a rate of more than one killing every half hour for the last seven years. What is worse, these are estimates from the Mexican government, which is known to deflate the actual death toll by about 50 percent.

Statistics alone do not convey the depravity and threat of the cartels. They carry out hundreds of beheadings every year. In addition to decapitations, the cartels are known to dismember and otherwise mutilate the corpses of their victims — displaying piles of bodies prominently in towns to terrorize the public into compliance. They routinely target women and children to further intimidate communities. Like ISIL, the cartels use social media to post graphic images of their atrocious crimes.

The narcos also recruit child soldiers, molding boys as young as 11 into assassins or sending them on suicide missions during armed confrontations with Mexico’s army. They kidnap tens of thousands of children every year to use as drug mules or prostitutes or to simply kill and harvest their organs for sale on the black market. Those who dare to call for reforms often end up dead. In September, with the apparent assistance of local police, cartels kidnapped and massacred 43 students at a teaching college near the Mexican town of Iguala in response to student protests. A search in the area for the students has uncovered a number of mass graves containing mutilated bodies burned almost beyond recognition, but none of the remains have been confirmed to be of the students.

A still from a video released by ISIL’s official website in September 2014. AFP / Getty Images

While the Islamic militants have killed a handful of journalists, the cartels murdered as many as 57 since 2006 for reporting on cartel crimes or exposing government complicity with the criminals. Many of Mexico’s media have been effectively silenced by intimidation or bribes. These censorship activities extend beyond professional media, with narcos tracking down and murdering ordinary citizens who criticize them on the Internet, leaving their naked and disemboweled corpses hanging in public squares. Yet American intellectuals such as Sam Harris appear to be more outraged when Muslims protest or issue threats in response to blasphemous or anti-Muslim hate speech than when cartels murder dozens of journalists and systematically co-opt an entire country’s media.

Similarly, Westerners across various political spectrums were outraged when ISIL seized 1,500 Yazidi women, committing sexual violence against the captives and using them as slaves. Here again, the cartels’ capture and trafficking of women dwarfs ISIL’s crimes. Narcos hold tens of thousands of Mexican citizens as slaves for their various enterprises and systematically use rape as a weapon of war.

The Future of War Is Here: Proxy Warfare

October 24, 2014

Unconventional warfare isn’t popular among Western strategists these days. Whether it’s supporting insurgent groups (the strict definition) or supporting militias allied with government forces, proxy warfare has a bad reputation. The complex situation in Syria and Iraq isn’t helping matters: the US is struggling to find a reliable proxy in Syria and confidence in Iraq’s security forces and associated militias is low. In a recent editorial in the Canberra Times, Hugh White said, “For half a century America and its allies have been trying to win messy civil wars without fighting themselves and by training and equipping one side or the other. It never works.”

Professor White’s not alone in his dismal assessment. The New York Times’ Mark Mazzetti reports that a recent CIA study came to a similarly dim conclusion—that US efforts at unconventional warfare had little effect on the long-term outcome of conflicts. Despite those conclusions, it’s unwise for strategists prematurely to dismiss the idea of supporting insurgent groups and working with non-state armed groups in both current and future conflicts.

For those who find proxy warfare detestable, its poor record mightn’t seem worrisome. Unfortunately, global trends suggest future conflicts will be characterized by insurgents, militias, and non-state armed groups who’ll be important in determining outcomes. Reports, including theNational Intelligence Council’s Global Trends 2030, show that increasingly those groups emerge to fill the security vacuums of failing states. They have easier access to external sources of support.Russia and Iran clearly see proxy warfare as part of their strategic culture. Even most conventional future scenarios—what Douglas MacGregor calls “wars of decision”—will have insurgents seeking to influence outcomes before, during, and after decisive actions. So it’s critical that strategists understand unconventional warfare and how to counter it. No matter how detestable we might find proxy warfare, it does work and our enemies would be happy to use it against us.

The data on supporting insurgent groups helps to illustrate my point. Studies of insurgencies and civil wars consistently demonstrate that external support is the most common enabler of insurgent success and that failure to isolate insurgents from external support is one cause of unsuccessful counterinsurgency campaigns. If external support matters so much in determining the outcome of civil wars, but US and allied efforts have a bad record, what’s the obvious conclusion? The problem isn’t that unconventional warfare doesn’t work; the problem is that we’re not good at it! The US and its allies are either doing something wrong or failing to do something important.

Actually, it’s both. Generally speaking, when supporting insurgent groups in the past, the US and its allies have either committed too little and/or expected too much. It’s important to recognize this failing now and to make a concerted effort to better understand how to incorporate unconventional warfare in future strategy. To be fair, the US and its allies have had some success when they chose to support a side in both insurgent and full-blown civil wars. Successful examples include Afghanistan in the 80s, at the beginning phases of Operation Enduring Freedom in 2001, and in Yugoslavia during World War II to name just a few. (There are more.) However, according to Mazzetti, the report claims that CIA efforts were less effective when insurgent militias fought “without any direct American support on the ground.” That’s a point I’ve emphasized before. Proxy forces will be more effective (and more malleable) when advisors are on the ground and providing them with capability, trust, advice, and support. Proxy forces live in the dangerous reality of civil war and social anarchy, and therefore have different immediate and long-term interests than their sponsors. It’s a principal-agent problem that has to be addressed. If we don’t commit blood and treasure to their cause, we can’t expect to influence their behavior—or the outcome.

Counter-Unconventional Warfare Is the Way of the Future. How Can We Get There?

October 23, 2014
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Pro-Russian rebels ride on an armored personnel carrier (APC) during a parade in Luhansk, eastern Ukraine, September 14, 2014. (Marko Djurica/Courtesy Reuters) 

By Robert A. Newson 

This commentary comes courtesy of Captain Robert A. Newson, CFR’s U.S. Navy fellow and a SEAL officer. He argues that the newly outlined “Counter-Unconventional Warfare” strategy will be the best way to counter the emerging threat of hybrid warfare witnessed most recently in Ukraine. Captain Newson acknowledges that this new mode of warfare will be difficult to adopt—yet failing to do so will carry much worse consequences. 

The U.S. Army Special Operations Command (USASOC) released a timely white paper last month, titled “Counter-Unconventional Warfare (Counter-UW).” This white paper correctly argues that the United States requires, but does not have, a credible strategic-level ability to interdict and roll back external sponsorships of insurgent and separatist movements. 

The Growing Threat of Hybrid Warfare 

Counter-UW, to a large degree, is about responding to the increasing use of hybrid warfare. Hybrid warfare has been defined as a combination of conventional, irregular, and asymmetric means, including the persistent manipulation of political and ideological conflict, and can include the combination of special operations and conventional military forces; intelligence agents; political provocateurs; media representatives; economic intimidation; cyber attacks; and proxies and surrogates, para-militaries, terrorist, and criminal elements. 

Hybrid warfare places a premium on unconventional warfare (UW)—defined in military doctrine as activities conducted to enable a resistance movement to coerce, disrupt, or overthrow a government. External sponsorship often provides the motivation, resources, and support to people attempting to destabilize international and regional security. Some examples of this strategy include the Russo-Georgian war of August 2008, Russia’s current activities in Ukraine, and potential future Russian moves in the Baltics, as well as Iran’s use of surrogates such as Hezbollah. Accordingly, a United States capacity for counter-UW is absolutely necessary. 

What’s Different About Counter-Unconventional Warfare? 

Counter-UW is distinct from counter terrorism (CT) and counter insurgency (COIN). CT operations tend to be short-term, time-sensitive, intelligence-driven (reactive) operations with immediately visible results; i.e., has the kill or capture been achieved or not? Counter-UW, by contrast, is protracted and proactive. The results are expressed in negative terms: what areas are not under insurgent control? What opportunities have been denied to them, and what objective has the enemy failed to achieve? 

Meanwhile, COIN operations are designed to contain and defeat an insurgency while simultaneously addressing the root cause. As a result, COIN tends to generate a very large footprint and high U.S. signature. Counter-UW, on the other hand, is executed by a smaller force and is more narrowly scoped. It has a small footprint, a low signature, and is specifically designed to deny an adversary the ability to use surrogates as a path to strategic success. 

Wastebook 2014: What Washington Doesn't Want You to Read.

By Senator Tom Coburn
October 23, 2014

Gambling monkeys, dancing zombies and mountain lions on treadmills are just a few projects exposed inWastebook 2014 – highlighting $25 billion in Washington’s worst spending of the year.

Wastebook 2014 — the report Washington doesn’t want you to read —reveals the 100 most outlandish government expenditures this year, costing taxpayers billions of dollars.

“With no one watching over the vast bureaucracy, the problem is not just what Washington isn’t doing, but what it is doing.” Dr. Coburn said. “Only someone with too much of someone else’s money and not enough accountability for how it was being spent could come up some of these projects.”

“I have learned from these experiences that Washington will never change itself. But even if the politicians won’t stop stupid spending, taxpayers always have the last word.”

Congress actually forced federal agencies to waste billions of dollars for purely parochial, political purposes.

For example, lawmakers attached a rider to a larger bill requiring NASA to build a $350 million launch pad tower, which was mothballed as soon as it was completed because the rockets it was designed to test were scrapped years ago. Similarly, when USDA attempted to close an unneeded sheep research station costing nearly $2 million every year to operate, politicians in the region stepped in to keep it open.

Examples of wasteful spending highlighted in “Wastebook 2014” include: 
Coast guard party patrols – $100,000 
Watching grass grow – $10,000 
State department tweets @ terrorists – $3 million 
Swedish massages for rabbits – $387,000 
Paid vacations for bureaucrats gone wild – $20 million 
Mountain lions on a treadmill – $856,000 
Synchronized swimming for sea monkeys – $50,000 
Pentagon to destroy $16 billion in unused ammunition -- $1 billion 
Scientists hope monkey gambling unlocks secrets of free will –$171,000 
Rich and famous rent out their luxury pads tax free – $10 million 
Studying “hangry” spouses stabbing voodoo dolls – $331,000 
Promoting U.S. culture around the globe with nose flutists – $90 million 

Read the full report here.

The Army Gropes Toward A Cultural Revolution

October 22, 2014 

AUSA: A new generation of generals is rising in the Army. It’s a generation forced to get creative by more than a decade of ugly unconventional conflicts. It’s a generation disillusioned by the mistakes of superiors, military and civilian alike. It’s a generation willing to take on the Army’s bureaucratic culture of top-down management, which dates back toElihu Root becoming Secretary of War in 1899.

But can they shift the notoriously slow-moving service? “I think the Army would acknowledge they are in the earliest stages of figuring out how to design and field the force we will need in the future,” Michele Flournoy, former Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, told my colleague Colin Clark today at the Bipartisan Policy Center.

To make change stick in the largest service, you have to start by rewriting holy writ, the service’s official doctrine. For the first time, for example, an official Army Operating Concept – published just this month — addresses the problem that’s bedeviled the military since Vietnam: how to turn tactical victories into strategic success. “That was a very deliberate decision [to include],” Gen. David Perkins, head of the Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC), told reporters during the new concept’s roll-out at the annual Association of the US Army conference. “We are very, very good at the operational and tactical level,” Perkins said, “[but] this was written by people who’ve actually done this since 9/11, and we realize that actually the operational and tactical level of war is inadequate. It’s important, but it is inadequate to get at what the Army needs to provide our nation.”

“That’s why we start with Win In A Complex World,” the title of the new concept , Perkins said: “‘Win’ is a strategic-level construct.”

Gen. David Perkins, TRADOC commander.

The Army’s not only adding a new emphasis on strategy, it’s taking away a longstanding emphasis on top-down control. In fact, the venerable term “command and control” itself is gone, replaced by “mission command.”

In military jargon, “control” meant making sure your subordinates followed orders: That’s still necessary, but it’s far from sufficient for a world so complex and quickly changing that no commander, staff, or war plan can keep up, Gen. Perkins told me. Enforcing “compliance to specific orders” is less important than forging “a common understanding” between superiors and subordinates,” he said. Wireless networks are the Army’s top investment priority because they help share and update this common understanding — when they work, Perkins added wryly — but it has to start with a meeting of human minds.

Perkins himself exercised extraordinary initiative — to the point some old-school commanders might consider insubordination — as a brigade commander spearheading the US drive into Baghdad in 2003. (More on that below). 11 years and four stars later, he’s now, since March, the chief of TRADOC, the oft-hidebound priesthood of the Army. His deputy is no less an iconoclast than Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, whose career was once nearly killed by traditionalist promotion boards.

Are the inmates running the asylum? They’re certainly driven to shake things up.”It is not a feel-good document,” Perkins said of the new concept. “It is meant to be a very serious document written by very serious people… who have seen a lot of blood spilled since 9/11 and are very serious about really capturing the essence of war.”

“It’s in our doctrine now, because we know the world is unknown and constantly changing, [that] you can’t possibly control compliance with everything,” Perkins told reporters at the service’s largest gathering, the annual Association of the US Army conference. “You have got to figure out how you empower subordinates to exploit the initiative.”

27 October 2014

Moving the discourse to ground zero

October 27, 2014 

Suhasini Haidar

With tensions along the LoC, the centre of gravity for the resolution of the Kashmir dispute has moved away from Jammu and Kashmir, both geographically and mentally

When two elephants fight, goes the oft-repeated cliché, it is the grass that gets trampled on. The recent firing along the Line of Control (LoC) and International Border (IB) between India and Pakistan has caused the deaths of both soldiers and civilians, has set back dialogue and left the Kashmir resolution process gravely wounded. The most lasting effects of these will no doubt be felt by the people of Jammu and Kashmir who bear the brunt of all the tensions between the two countries. In more than a decade of the ceasefire holding, farmers had resumed planting crops, schools had sprung back to life, and many villages were repopulated along the LoC, outcomes that are endangered now. But what has affected the State the most is that as a result of such tensions, the centre of gravity for the resolution of the Kashmir dispute has moved away from Jammu and Srinagar, Poonch and Rajouri, both geographically and mentally.

Away from a resolution

Consider for example the crisis from August to October this year. As the firing progressed and artillery guns were deployed, the discourse moved away from the purview of local commanders. The National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government issued orders that the local Border Security Force (BSF) commanders must not accede to a flag meeting, and firing should persist. Orders from Pakistan were sharp too, as the Army kept the barrage going on its side. Fairly soon, New Delhi and Rawalpindi were engaging each other, and the messaging had deeper undertones. It was clear that Pakistan’s Army was testing the new Indian government, raising firing levels in the pre-winter shooting season. And the new Indian government was letting Pakistan know there is zero-tolerance in its working style. This was reflected in the India-Pakistan Foreign Secretary talks being cancelled over a meeting with Hurriyat leaders, while the firing over the LoC/IB resumed, according to a senior Defence ministry official, “in double measure.”

Inequalities and the Ebola crisis

Nissim Mannathukkaren 

The response to Ebola, which has killed nearly 5,000 Africans but only two western citizens, cannot be colour coded anymore. For the future, we cannot but raise questions about the structural inequalities that prevent accessible health care for the global poor, and societies that eliminate these inequalities 

The principle upon which the fight against disease should be based is the creation of a robust body; but not the creation of a robust body by the artistic work of a doctor upon a weak organism; rather, the creation of a robust body with the work of the whole collectivity, upon the entire social collectivity. — Che Guevara 

The photograph in August this year, of a very weak, 10-year-old Saah Exco, suspected of having contracted Ebola, sitting naked on a bucket and fighting to stay alive while residents of a slum in Monrovia, Liberia, milled around him, terrified of helping him, might go on to win Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer John Moore another prize. But that’s irrelevant in what is unfolding as a devastating tragedy in Africa. Moore’s and others’ pictures can only show us a glimpse of that tragedy. They do not show that Exco’s mother and brother had died earlier, or that he himself would die later. 

The popular media in America and the rest of the western world, which, until recently, was busy dealing with the horrors of beheadings perpetrated by “medieval barbarians,” and other “horrors” in the form of nude photographs of celebrities being leaked online on a daily basis, was suddenly forced to confront another horror. One that was silently brewing for many months in those parts of the world which appear in the western consciousness only through Hollywood blockbusters. And this it was forced to do so only once the first Ebola death happened on American soil.

Global apathy 

Nevertheless, the response to the crisis has been on expected lines. The entire discourse surrounding Ebola in the West is about quarantining itself against “those” poor Africans entering “our” space, bringing deadly viruses with them. Look at the discussion surrounding Thomas Duncan, the Liberian man, the first person to be diagnosed with Ebola in America, in September. Social media was rife with opinion that he had deliberately come to America to infect others. The state authorities in America, before his death, were even considering filing criminal charges against him for intentionally exposing the public to the virus! Airports in North America have begun screening passengers travelling from affected areas and the governments are on high alert for any eventuality. 

“The response of developing nations such as India, China, and Brazil — all of which want Africa as a business partner — has not been any better than that of the West.”

Of course, it is only natural that people are concerned about their own safety and lives. But what is shocking is that the concern for one’s own self is also accompanied by a complete apathy towards the distant other. Otherwise, how can we explain the response to what the World Health Organization (WHO) calls the “unparalleled” health crisis in modern times? Canadian journalist Geoffrey York who has covered wars and disasters, from the Gulf War to tsunamis, reported from Liberia that “nothing is quite like Ebola,” a feeling reinforced by photographs: stricken mothers slumped on pavements with their infants on their laps, the dead lying on roads, people pleading with health workers to touch the bodies of their loved ones. 

Piecemeal solutions 

These gut-wrenching pictures resemble nothing short of a scene of a war-ravaged zone, except that the tragic difference here, unprecedentedly, is that one cannot even help the dying or grieve for the dead. Yet, the international community has only “failed miserably,” as the World Bank president would admit. The reported response of developing nations like India, China, and Brazil — all of which want Africa as a business partner — has not been any better than that of the West either (the shining exception has been that of the tiny nation of Cuba, contributing, as in all global health crises, far beyond its means).