18 March 2017

*** Al Qaeda's Many Syrian Foes

Al Qaeda in Syria has more power today than ever before, but it is also contending with more threats to its existence than ever before. For one thing, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, al Qaeda's affiliate in Syria, is still on the losing side of the Syrian civil war. Loyalist forces are advancing, having secured Aleppo. The Syrian government is concentrating on regaining the territory it lost to the Islamic State while it was focused on the battle of Aleppo. But soon enough, loyalist armies will turn their attentions toward Hayat Tahrir al-Sham's stronghold in Idlib. A concerted loyalist advance, with ample backing from Iran and Russia, would put the group in a difficult position, forcing it to consider alternative means to maintain its resistance against Damascus, including guerilla and insurgent tactics.

*** The Deep State

Friedman's Weekly
By George Friedman

It does in fact exist, but not how you think.

There is something ominous-sounding in the deep state. It implies that beneath constitutionally ordained systems and principles, there is a deeper and more potent power in control of the nation. It implies a unified force deeply embedded in the republic that has its own agenda and the means to undermine the decisions of elected presidents and members of Congress. Its power derives from control of the mechanisms of power and being invisible.

The deep state is, in fact, a very real thing. It is, however, neither a secret nor nearly as glamorous as the concept might indicate. It has been in place since 1871 and continues to represent the real mechanism beneath the federal government, controlling and frequently reshaping elected officials’ policies. This entity is called the civil service, and it was created to limit the power of the president.

Prior to 1871, the president could select federal employees. He naturally selected loyalists who would do his bidding. Occasionally, he also would hire people as a political favor to solidify his base. And on occasion, he or one of his staff would sell positions to those who wanted them for a host of reasons, frequently to make money from the positions they were given.

*** China's Uighur Militants Make a Strategic Shift

A railway station attack in Kunming, China, on March 1 suggests that ethnic Uighur militants, whose attacks in the past mostly targeted police and public officials in the northwestern Chinese region of Xinjiang, have shifted to a strategy of seeking to inflict mass civilian casualties anywhere in the country. While these militants may be part of small, disparate cells with a relative lack of central control and training, they have now proved capable of striking in China's far southwest borderlands only months after another Uighur group attacked China's capital, Beijing. This suggests that China's counterterrorism efforts will have to expand nationwide.


A group of around 10 knife-wielding men attacked people in the Kunming railway station in Yunnan, China, stabbing victims indiscriminately, according to eyewitnesses. They ultimately killed 29 and wounded 130, according to the latest reports. Police shot and killed four attackers, arrested one female attacker and are pursuing the other five.

The incident, which Beijing called an "organized, premeditated, violent terror attack" carried out by ethnic Uighur militants linked to the Xinjiang separatist movement, drew a swift and strong political response. Chinese President Xi Jinping called for the capture of the remaining attackers and for the country to maintain a high level of awareness about the dangers of terrorism and the importance of supporting national counterterrorism efforts. Xi also sent two top security officials to Kunming. Meanwhile, Premier Li Keqiang urged police to increase security measures, especially in crowded areas.

** China's Passive Management Strategy

It is useful to look back into history to see how China has managed power in the past. For some 2,000 years, prior to European imperial advancements in the early 19th century, China sat at the center of a regional imperial system, maintaining influence while limiting the need for direct action. Power moved out in rings from the core. There was China proper, protected by an integrated shell of buffer states. For some — such as Xinjiang, Tibet and Manchuria — China was not always dominant, but when outside powers swept across the buffers to change Chinese empires, they at times found themselves ultimately integrated into the Chinese system.

Should the US Support China's Security Role in Afghanistan?

By Wang Mouzhou

Cooperation in Afghanistan could stabilize the region and potentially lead to broader joint counterterrorism efforts. 

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) may wish to review its 15-year mission in Afghanistan. The country is not the top-priority counterterrorism theater for NATO and, due to its distance from Western markets, provides negligible economic benefits for the alliance.

In order to preserve hard-won humanitarian gains, however, NATO should explore potential partnership and cooperation with Chinese forces in Afghanistan. While any cooperation should proceed on the basis of a clear-eyed assessment of potential costs, risks, and benefits, China could prove to be a relatively benign actor in Afghanistan. Moreover, Sino-U.S. cooperation in Afghanistan could potentially lead to broader counterterrorism cooperation, providing ballast to the broader – and critically important – U.S.-China relationship.

China could become the primary security guarantor in Afghanistan for a simple reason: it is the least distrusted country in the region. India, Iran, Pakistan, and Russia are all distrusted by the Afghans, distrusted by each other, lack sufficient resources to provide security, or all of the above. While China is not uncritically admired by all the countries in the region – India, notably, is wary of China’s alignment with Pakistan, its forays into Southeast Asia, and its maritime claims in the South China Sea – it does enjoy highly workable relationships with all the players in Afghanistan.

Government report warns China and Russia dangerously ahead of U.S. in cyberwar capabilities

Martin Anderson

The recently published final report from the United States’ government Defense Science Board Task Force on Cyber Deterrence paints a grim picture that is very much in line with casual perceptions from news over the last 18 months – that Russia and China have obtained, and are maintaining, a significant lead in capabilities for critical cyber attacks against the west.

The report states that foreign cyberweapons capabilities ‘far exceed’ the United States’ ability to defend its own critical civil and military infrastructure.

‘[Major] powers (e.g., Russia and China) have a significant and growing ability to hold U.S. critical infrastructure at risk via cyber attack, and an increasing potential to also use cyber to thwart U.S. military responses to any such attacks. This emerging situation threatens to place the United States in an untenable strategic position. Although progress is being made to reduce the pervasive cyber vulnerabilities of U.S. critical infrastructure, the unfortunate reality is that, for at least the next decade, the offensive cyber capabilities of our most capable adversaries are likely to far exceed the United States’ ability to defend key critical infrastructures.’

The findings also advise that secondary superpower threats such as North Korea and Iran have ‘growing potential’ to use native or third-party cyber-weaponry to carry out ‘catastrophic attacks’ on United States infrastructure across the board.

The PLA’s Potential Breakthrough in High-Power Microwave Weapons

By Elsa B. Kania

Though details are scarce, recent Chinese reports hint at a major advance in HPM technology. 

Chinese scientists have reportedly achieved unexpected success in their development of a high-power microwave (HPM) weapon. This promising form of directed energy weapon combines “soft” and “hard kill” capabilities through the disruption or even destruction of enemy electronics systems. Such a powerful “new concept weapon” possesses unique advantages, including its potential speed, range, accuracy, flexibility, and reusability.

The PLA’s future HPM weapons could have multiple defensive and offensive functions that would enhance its combat capabilities. In the near term, the PLA’s probable employment of this HPM could be as a ship-borne anti-missile system or to reinforce China’s air defense systems. Potentially, such a weapon system would undermine the efficacy of even the most advanced U.S. missiles, such as the Long Range Anti-Ship Missile (LRASM) currently under development. Its likely applications could also include its use as an anti-satellite (ASAT) weapon or incorporation with missiles in order to overcome enemy air defenses. Once operationalized, this new weapon could thus contribute to China’s anti-access/area-denial (A2/AD) capabilities.

U.S. military likely to send as many as 1,000 more ground troops into Syria ahead of Raqqa offensive, officials say

The U.S. military has drawn up early plans that would deploy up to 1,000 more troops into northern Syria in the coming weeks, expanding the American presence in the country ahead of the offensive on the Islamic State’s de facto capital of Raqqa, according to U.S. defense officials familiar with the matter.

The deployment, if approved by Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and President Trump, would potentially double the number of U.S. forces in Syria and increase the potential for direct U.S. combat involvement in a conflict that has been characterized by confusion and competing priorities among disparate forces. 

Trump, who charged former president Barack Obama with being weak on Syria, gave the Pentagon 30 days to prepare a new plan to counter the Islamic State, and Mattis submitted a broad outline to the White House at the end of February. Gen. Joseph Votel, head of U.S. Central Command, has been filling in more details for that outline, including by how much to increase the U.S. ground presence in Syria. Votel is set to forward his recommendations to Mattis by the end of the month, and the Pentagon secretary is likely to sign off on them, according to a defense official familiar with the deliberations.

Russia’s Air Force to Receive 17 New Su-30 Fighter Jets in 2017

By Franz-Stefan Gady

The latest variant of the heavy multirole fighter aircraft remains the mainstay of Russia’s fighter force. 

The Russian Air Force is slated to receive 17 Sukhoi Su-30SM multirole fighter jets, classified by Russian military authorities as 4++ generation fighter aircraft, in 2017, according to a press statement by Russia’s deputy defense minister, Yuri Borisov, while visiting the aircraft’s manufacturer Irkutsk Corporation on March 9.

“Long-term contracts have been concluded with this plant. This year it is expected to deliver 17 Sukhoi-30SM planes and ten Yakovlev-130 planes,” Borisov said, according to TASS news agency. In April 2016, Russia’s Defense Ministry and Irkut Corporation concluded a contract for the procurement of over 30 Su-30SM fighter aircraft by the end of 2018.

The Russian Air Force and Navy currently operate approximately 40-50 Su-30SM aircraft. Initially, the Russian military expected 60 new aircraft of the type the end of 2016, yet it is unclear how many new fighters jets have in fact joined the service. The Russian Ministry of Defense intends to induct a total of 90 Su-30SMs, according to various contracts concluded since 2012 as part of Russia’s 2011-2020 State Armament Program.

A Peace Plan for Syria III

by James Dobbins, Philip Gordon, Jeffrey Martini

This Perspective is the third in a series in which the authors argue for practical steps aimed at reducing the fighting in Syria to provide more time for a national transition process. As the international community continues to search for ways to resolve Syria's civil war, this Perspective argues that recent developments in Syria and the region — including the cessation of hostilities that was sponsored by Russia, Iran, and Turkey — reinforce the prospects for a national ceasefire based upon agreed zones of control backed by external powers, and it proposes a plan for the international administration of Raqqa province. After nearly six years of humanitarian catastrophe and geopolitical upheaval from Syria, the prospects for the removal of the Assad regime and a near-term transition to a "moderate opposition" are poorer than ever. But there is a chance for the new administration in Washington to make real progress on de-escalating the conflict and contributing to stability in Syria if it focuses on a realistic but achievable end-state: a decentralized Syria based on agreed zones of control recognized and supported by outside partners.

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Preserving Order Amid Change In NAFTA

by Reva Goujon and Matthew Bey

It took more than a decade and three presidencies, from Ronald Reagan to Bill Clinton, to conceive and craft the North American Free Trade Agreement. Will a single presidency manage to undo the process of North American integration? While the risk is real, the reality may be less dramatic.

The Invisible Hand of Geopolitics

Just as in economics, there is an invisible hand in geopolitics that shapes the behavior of our politicians and business leaders. Individuals bend to the world, not the other way around. And North America has long been bending toward tighter integration.

The continent’s combined population of 484 million is spread out across a landmass more than twice the size of Europe. At its heart is the world’s largest naturally integrated river system overlaid by arable lands, a foundation for an empire and a prize claimed by the United States. Massive oceans buffer a continent and extensive coastlines with deep ports serve as a launch pad for trade eastward and westward. Arguably, no other continent in the world is as blessed by geography.

OPEC and US shale drillers seem back at the brink of war

In December, the world’s petro-states congratulated themselves for what they called a historic achievement—24 of them agreed to cut their collective production by 1.8 million barrels a day, all in the service of bringing order to a chaotic oil market in which prices had plunged to about $27 a barrel. Among the most surprising things was the involvement of Russia, traditionally an outsider that refused to cooperate with OPEC.

Today, all of that seems to be in shambles. Since March 7, oil has again been in free fall. Internationally traded Brent crude is down 9% in March, and, as of this writing, by 1.7% today, to $50.48 a barrel. US-traded West Texas Intermediate (WTI) is being pummeled even worse—it is down by 2% this morning, to $47.41 a barrel.

Russia, for one, is not amused. In an exchange of messages with Reuters, Rosneft, Russia’s top oil company, said that the longer-term trend is for a balanced oil market, but that meanwhile “the risk of a price war resuming remains.” Saudi Arabia appears to feel the same: After reducing its production to 9.8 million barrels a day in January, it said today that it tacked back on over 10 million in February—which was the news that pushed down prices this morning.

WikiLeaks Dump Shines Light on Government’s Shadowy Zero-Day Policy


The documents shed little light on how many unknown vulnerabilities the intelligence agency retains and how well it vets the damage they might cause.

WikiLeaks’ massive release of CIA cyber exploits this week produced more questions than answers about the government’s shadowy procedure for hoarding damaging digital vulnerabilities that remain unknown even to a system’s manufacturer.

These bugs—called zero days because industry has had zero days to create and promulgate a software patch—can be goldmines for U.S. intelligence agencies looking to sneak undetected into the computers, phones and other electronic devices of terrorists and officials of adversary nation-states.

These glitches can be extremely dangerous, however, if those same terrorists or other nations’ intelligence agencies discover them independently and use them to spy on Americans. If discovered by cyber criminals, they might also be used to steal money or information from American citizens or U.S. companies.

How Many Zero Days Does the Government Have?

Hackers drawn to energy sector’s lack of sensors, controls

by Houston Chronicle 

HOUSTON (AP) — Oil and gas companies, including some of the most celebrated industry names in the Houston area, are facing increasingly sophisticated hackers seeking to steal trade secrets and disrupt operations, according to a newspaper investigation.

A stretch of the Gulf Coast near Houston features one of the largest concentrations of refineries, pipelines and chemical plants in the country, and cybersecurity experts say it’s an alluring target for espionage and other cyberattacks.

“There are actors that are scanning for these vulnerable systems and taking advantage of those weaknesses when they find them,” said Marty Edwards, director of U.S. Homeland Security’s Cyber Emergency Response Team for industrial systems.

Homeland Security, which is responsible for protecting the nation from cybercrime, received reports of some 350 incidents at energy companies from 2011 to 2015, an investigation by the Houston Chronicle has found. Over that period, the agency found nearly 900 security flaws within U.S. energy companies, more than any other industry.

How the U.S. Military Plans to Save Stealth from Becoming Obsolete

Dave Majumdar

As Russia and China continue to improve their air defenses, stealth is increasingly becoming a perishable commodity.

While stealth technology will not become obsolete per se, the U.S. Air Force and particularly U.S. Navy official have said that low observables will have to be supplemented with electronic warfare. Indeed, Air Combat Command believes that the next-generation Penetrating Counter Air (PCA) replacement for the Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor will likely make extensive use of electronic warfare. But tomorrow’s electronic warfare systems will be far more advanced than anything currently flying.

DARPA—and companies like Raytheon and BAE Systems—are developing advanced new electronic warfare systems that would use artificial intelligence technology to automatically learn how to jam a previously unencountered signal. Currently, only dedicated electronic attack aircraft such as the Boeing EA-18G Growler can identify and jam an unknown threat emitter because it carries a trained electronic warfare officer onboard. Other tactical aircraft including the Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor and the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter rely on preprogrammed threat libraries—which must be periodically updated—to counter hostile radars.

Counter network

PDF file 1.6 MB 

In July 2011, President Barack Obama promulgated the Strategy to Combat Transnational Organized Crime. In the letter presenting the strategy, the president stated that the expanding size, scope, and influence of transnational organized crime and its impact on U.S. and international security and governance represent one of the most significant challenges of the 21st century. Through an analysis of transnational criminal networks originating in South America, this report develops a more refined understanding of the operational characteristics of these networks; the strategic alliances that they have established with state and other nonstate actors; and the multiple threats that they pose to U.S. interests and to the stability of the countries where they operate. It identifies U.S. government policies and programs to counter these networks; the roles of the Department of Defense, the geographic combatant commands, component commands, and task forces; and examines how U.S. Army assets and capabilities can contribute to U.S. government efforts to counter these networks. The report also recommends reconsidering the way in which nontraditional national security threats are classified; updating statutory authorities; providing adequate budgets for the counternetwork mission; and improving interagency coordination.

Key Findings

Countering Transnational Organized Crime Is a New Mission for the Department of Defense 

Success in counternarcotics has been traditionally measured by the amount of illicit drugs interdicted. 

Army revises functional concept of intelligence

By: Mark Pomerleau

The Army is coming to grips with the notion that with a rapidly changing world and threat environment, intelligence must adapt in kind.

The Army is taking direct aim at intelligence practices with major revisions to the publication of Training and Doctrine Command’s “ U.S. Army Functional Concept of Intelligence 2020-2040,” dated for February 2017.

The document is a revision to the previous iteration published in 2010 that covered an applicability period from 2016-2028.

“Enemies will employ countermeasures to avoid detection and cloud efforts to develop situational understanding; therefore, Army forces must be prepared to employ multi-disciplinary intelligence, simultaneously through multiple domains, and operate under conditions of uncertainty,” Lt. Gen. H. R. McMaster, who at the time of the document’s publication was the director of the Army Capabilities Integration Center, wrote in the forward. “This concept serves as a foundation for developing future intelligence capabilities and helps Army leaders think clearly about future armed conflict, learnabout the future through the Army’s campaign of learning, analyze future capability gaps and identify opportunities, and implement interim solutions to improve current and future force combat effectiveness.”

Generals describe challenges, characteristics of a multi-domain battle

By: Mark Pomerleau,

After 15 years of war in a permissive environment against a technologically inferior adversary, the U.S. military now stands at a crossroads.

So-called near-peer adversaries have observed the U.S. and are making investments in new technologies and concepts to disrupt the U.S. in future conflict. This combined with rapid technological innovations in the commercial sector such as cyber and small unmanned vehicles has the military questioning its operating procedures.

The armed forces are beginning to adopt a cross- or multi-domain approach on the battlefield. The Army is developing a multi-domain battle white paper — in concert with the Marine Corps — which has been the primary focus of the 2017 Global Force Symposium hosted by the Association of the U.S. Army in Huntsville, Alabama.

The multi-domain battle

Initially discussed at the annual fall AUSA gathering, Gen. David Perkins, commander of Training and Doctrine Command — flanked by members of the joint force during his March 13 panel discussion — unveiled the Army's effort to develop a multi-domain battle concept.

Shut Down Laboratories And Overhaul The DRDO, Expert Committee Tells Defence Ministry

India’s premier defence research organisation, Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), needs a major overhaul, some its research laboratories closed and the organisation needs to concentrate only on development of defence platforms, a high-level committee appointed by the Ministry of Defence has said in its report.

In the last five years, DRDO has been getting between ₹6,000-₹8,000 crore annually for defence research — roughly 6% of the defence budget.

The DRDO was set up in 1958 to achieve self-reliance in manufacturing weapon systems to equip the armed forces. It has over 33,000 personnel, which includes nearly 8,000 scientists, 13,000 technicians, and 52 laboratories. Its area of research is wide and encompasses everything, from juices to nuclear missiles.

Former Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar had constituted the committee led by Lieutenant General DB Shekatkar (Retired) in May 2016 to suggest ways to enhance the combat capabilities of India. The panel submitted its 550-page report to the government recently.

Russian Espionage Piggybacks on a Cybercriminal’s Hacking


To the F.B.I., Evgeniy M. Bogachev is the most wanted cybercriminal in the world. The bureau has announced a $3 million bounty for his capture, the most ever for computer crimes, and has been trying to track his movements in hopes of grabbing him if he strays outside his home turf in Russia.

He has been indicted in the United States, accused of creating a sprawling network of virus-infected computers to siphon hundreds of millions of dollars from bank accounts around the world, targeting anyone with enough money worth stealing — from a pest control company in North Carolina to a police department in Massachusetts to a Native American tribe in Washington.

In December, the Obama administration announced sanctions against Mr. Bogachev and five others in response to intelligence agencies’ conclusions that Russia had meddled in the presidential election. Publicly, law enforcement officials said it was his criminal exploits that landed Mr. Bogachev on the sanctions list, not any specific role in the hacking of the Democratic National Committee.