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Monday, March 16, 2020

What's going on in the World Today 200316



The chiefs of both U.S. Africa Command (Africom)
and U.S. Central Command (Centcom) will brief the House Armed Services Committee on Tuesday to discuss U.S. military activities in Africa and the Middle East. Two members of that committee introduced a bill last week that would curtail the Pentagon’s ability to reduce troop numbers in the Africom theater, as Foreign Policy’s Robbie Gramer reported on March 4...

Middle East SAM Discovery Highlights F-35’S Evolving Role

As a series of Block 4 upgrades are set to elevate the Lockheed Martin F-35’s profile for the counter air-defense mission, a top program official shared an operational anecdote highlighting the aircraft’s latent capability against surface-to-air missile (SAM) systems.

Twelve F-35As deployed last year to the Middle East to support operations against the Islamic State group (ISIS), logging 150 weapons employed during about 7,300 hr. flown on 1,300 combat sorties, said Brig. Gen. David Abba, director of the Air Force’s F-35 integration office, speaking at the Mitchell Institute March 9. “The numbers were pretty remarkable,” Abba said.

Although ISIS forces posed little threat to the F-35A, the deployment provided opportunities for the stealthy fighter to demonstrate capabilities against a more sophisticated opponent.

Abba described an operational scenario that involved a mobile SAM system. The U.S. intelligence community normally tracks the locations of such systems as closely as possible, but in this case the mobile SAM had not been seen “in a while,” he said.

Meanwhile, two F-35As were en route to perform an unrelated mission when an indication of the missing, mobile SAM appeared on their cockpit displays, Abba said. The inference was that the F-35’s onboard sensors, such as the BAE Systems ASQ-239 electronic-warfare suite, detected and identified the threat. The pilots used the data to cue the radar-mapping mode of the F-35’s Northrop Grumman APG-81 active electronically scanned array radar to establish “targetable” coordinates for the SAM...

New Bill Would Protect Journalists From Being Prosecuted For Publishing Classified Information

ALMOST A YEAR after the Trump administration unsealed an indictment against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, two progressive members of Congress are trying to prevent a World War I-era secrecy law from being used to investigate and prosecute journalists for publishing classified information. The legislation to amend the 1917 Espionage Act was introduced by Oregon Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden in the Senate and California Democratic Rep. Ro Khanna in the House of Representatives. Wyden and Khanna told The Intercept they crafted the legislation to preserve the government’s need for secrecy while strengthening protections for members of the press and expanding legal channels for government whistleblowers.... “What my bill does is refocus the Espionage Act to the core issue, which is ensuring that the more than four million government employees and contractors with a security clearance don’t violate their oaths by divulging government secrets.”... The Wyden-Khanna bill would narrow the scope of the law to primarily target offenders with current or expired security clearances, as well as any agents of a foreign government to whom they may pass information. Members of the press or the public could be prosecuted if they committed a separate crime in the course of obtaining the information, but not for soliciting information or for “speech activity” like publishing...

Document Likely Shows SM-6 Hypersonic Speed, Anti-Surface Role

A U.S. Navy document that cryptically describes a versatile and powerful new missile likely offers the first confirmation of the hypersonic speed and newly acquired, antisurface-warfare role for the Raytheon SM-6 Block 1B.

The terse reference in a written submission by Navy officials to the House Armed Services Committee on March 11 also likely offers the first proof that the SM-6 Block 1B remains in development, even after the Navy scrubbed all references to the project in the latest round of fiscal 2021 budget documents...




Turkey says U.S. offering Patriot missiles if S-400 not operated

Tuvan Gumrukcu

ANKARA (Reuters) - The United States has offered to sell Turkey its Patriot missile defense system if Ankara promises not to operate a rival Russian system, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said, in what he called a significant softening in Washington’s position.

FILE PHOTO: Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan attends a joint news conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin (not pictured) following their talks in Moscow, Russia March 5, 2020. Pavel Golovkin/Pool via REUTERS
Two Turkish officials told Reuters that Turkey was evaluating the U.S. offer but that Ankara had not changed its plans for the Russian S-400 systems, which it has said it will start to activate next month.

In Washington, the Pentagon said that U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper had not changed his position on the issue, which was: “Turkey is not going to receive a Patriot battery unless it returns the S-400.”

NATO allies Turkey and the United States have been at odds over Ankara’s purchase last year of the S-400s, which Washington says are incompatible with the alliance’s defense systems...


Police issue terror warning after arrests hit two-year high after London Bridge attack

Police have issued a terror alert to the public to avoid complacency after arrests for terrorist offences hit a two-year high. The number of arrests in the last quarter of 2019 jumped to 80, a 33 per cent increase on the previous quarter, and the highest number since 2017, according to Home Office figures. “As we have seen in the last few months, attacks can happen anywhere and at any time without warning,” ...“With 3,000 or so subjects of interest currently on our radar and more convicted terrorists soon due to be released from prison, we simply cannot watch all of them, all the time. “When my colleagues and I tell you that ‘Communities defeat terrorism’ it is not just a catchphrase. We know from experience that public information and action helps save lives and leads to the significant arrests detailed in these statistics...








Iran Says Tens Of Thousands Of Prisoners Released Because Of Coronavirus Fears

Iranian authorities have released about 70,000 prisoners because of the new coronavirus outbreak in the country, judiciary chief Ebrahim Raisi said, as Iran reported 43 new deaths from the disease in the past 24 hours. "The release of the prisoners, to the point where it doesn't create insecurity in society...will continue," Raisi said on March 9, according to Mizan, the news site of the judiciary. It was not immediately clear if or when the released inmates would need to return to jail...


U.S. wages retaliatory strikes against Iran-backed militia in Iraq

Phil Stewart

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States waged a series of precision air strikes on Thursday against an Iran-backed militia in Iraq that it blamed for a major rocket attack a day earlier that killed two American troops and a 26-year-old British soldier.

The U.S. strikes appeared limited in scope and narrowly tailored, targeting five weapons storage facilities used by Kataib Hezbollah militants, including stores of weaponry for past attacks on U.S.-led coalition troops, the Pentagon said.

In a statement, Iraq’s military said the U.S. air strikes hit four locations in Iraq that housed formal Iraqi police and military units, in addition to the paramilitary groups.

Three Iraqi army soldiers were killed and four wounded, police in Babel province said in a statement. Five paramilitary fighters and one policeman were also injured, they said, adding that the fate of two more policemen was unknown.

One strike hit an Iraqi civilian airport under construction in the holy Shi’ite Muslim city of Kerbala and killed a worker, Iraqi religious authorities said on Friday...


How Israel's Annexation Strategy Will Prompt a Partnership Pivot

Ryan Bohl Middle East and North Africa Analyst, Stratfor Mar 9, 2020


- Over the next decade, Israel will likely annex large parts of the West Bank, leaving the Palestinians without a viable option for an independent state.

- Liberal and left-leaning parties in the United States and Europe will push back against Israel's annexation strategy as they eventually come to power through electoral turnover.

- To offset the potential impact, Israel will build out relations with countries that are less likely to experience cyclical political change, like Russia, China, India and the Gulf Arab states, while at the same time building up ties to centrist and right-wing governments worldwide.

Over the next decade, Israel will pivot away from its close, pro-Western footing to a more independent one as its traditional allies pressure it to change its West Bank strategy. By the end of the 2020s, right-wing politics will gain the upper hand in Israel, expanding its annexationist trend in the Palestinian territories. But a territorially expanded Israel will not always find supportive allies in the United States and Europe, and its Western allies are likely to pressure Israel to reverse its West Bank strategy...

Palestinians slam Israeli road plan that would cut off West Bank

Palestinian leaders have slammed the Israeli defence ministry's approval of planning for a road that would separate Palestinians and Israeli commuters east of Jerusalem, a highly controversial move meant to help advance an illegal settlement plan in the strategically sensitive E1 region. Israeli Caretaker Defence Minister Naftali Bennett said on Monday the "sovereignty road" would allow Israel to continue building in the highly controversial area between Jerusalem and a settlement bloc directly to the east of the disputed city.


North Korea’s Illicit Cyber Operations: What Can Be Done?


It should surprise no one that the DPRK is a sophisticated cyber actor. Over the past several years, Kim Jong Un’s regime has earned up to $2 billion through illicit cyber operations, providing North Korea with a significant cushion against the effects of international sanctions imposed on it and the efforts to leverage sanctions to generate greater pressure on Pyongyang to reach an acceptable agreement on denuclearization. The proportion of revenue generated by the DPRK through cyber operations has grown in relation to income generated through other illicit activities and its ability to adapt and move into areas such as cryptocurrency and the cybercrime underground make attacks harder to prevent and trace. This essay puts forward recommendations to achieve greater success in curbing this activity. The Appendix provides a historical overview of the North’s illicit cyber operations and a description of the various methods Pyongyang has used to continually improve its cyber capabilities to generate revenue in evasion of sanctions.


The DPRK’s advanced capabilities are consistent with the country’s national objectives, state organizations and military strategy­. Given the relative weakness of its conventional military, the ability to carry out asymmetric and irregular operations is key to the North’s strategic objectives. The low cost of entry and high yield, the difficulties in attribution, a lack of effective deterrents, and the international community’s high level of monitoring traditional weapons capabilities—such as nuclear weapons—also make cyber capabilities a natural regime focus.

Furthermore, cybercrime is a logical extension of the country’s reliance on activities to evade sanctions such as counterfeiting, smuggling of precious metal, gems and cash, arms trading, gambling and illegal shipping operations. As a consistent innovator in sanctions evasion, it would have been surprising if the DPRK didn’t take advantage of the vulnerabilities inherent in cyberspace, including the anonymity it provides, to generate illicit income. North Korean cyber actors have committed dozens of cyber attacks targeting financial institutions and cryptocurrency exchanges in at least 17 countries. The United Nations Panel of Experts stated in its 2019 midterm report that these actors raise money for the country’s weapons of mass destruction programs and that the increasing scale, capacity and sophistication of attacks show the DPRK’s ability to continually adapt and develop its capabilities.

It is also worth keeping in mind that the new strategic domain of cyber is not just a question of financial crimes but also speaks to a larger set of DPRK strategic assets. These assets are applicable to cyber espionage, disruptive attacks in the United States and its allies, and the use of the internet to access prohibited knowledge and skills enabling the development of its nuclear and ballistic missile programs...

N. Korea Fires Weapons After Threatening 'Momentous' Action

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North Korea fired three short-range projectiles off its east coast on Monday, South Korea’s military said, two days after the North threatened to take “momentous” action to protest outside condemnation over its earlier live-fire exercises.

Seoul’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said the multiple kinds of projectiles fired from the eastern coastal town of Sondok flew as far as 200 kilometers (125 miles) at a maximum altitude of 50 kilometers (30 miles) before landing in the waters between the Korean Peninsula and Japan.

A JCS statement said South Korea expressed “strong regret” over the launches that it said violate a past inter-Korean agreement aimed at lowering military animosities. South Korea’s national security director, defense minister and spy chief held an emergency video conference and agreed the North Korean action were not helpful to efforts to establish a peace on the Korean Peninsula, according to South Korea’s presidential Blue House.

Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said North Korea fired suspected ballistic missiles. He said the multiple North Korean projectiles traveled 100 to 200 kilometers (62 to 125 miles) but none landed inside Japan’s exclusive economic zone.

“North Korea’s latest action, on top of its repeated firings of ballistic missiles, is a serious threat to the peace and safety of Japan and … a grave problem for the entire international society,” Suga said.

In the past 10 days, North Korea has said leader Kim Jong Un supervised two rounds of live-fire artillery exercises in its first weapons tests since late November. Kim had entered the new year with a vow to bolster his nuclear deterrent and not to be bound by a major weapons test moratorium amid a deadlock in a U.S.-led diplomacy aimed at convincing Kim to abandon his nuclear program in return for economic and political benefits...




Saudi Palace intrigue
. In addition to market shocks, there was also palace drama in Riyadh over the weekend. Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, the kingdom’s de facto leader, accused senior royals of a coup plot and arrested Prince Ahmed bin Abdulaziz al Saud, a brother of Saudi King Salman, and Prince Mohammed bin Nayef bin Abdulaziz al Saud, the king’s nephew. Bin Nayef’s younger brother was also detained along with as many as 20 others. The move was seen as a warning to anyone within the royal family who dares to criticize MBS’s rule...


Security alert: Millions of cars vulnerable to key cloning

Cars probably aren’t the first things you think of when you hear the words “vulnerable devices.” But despite how they look and run, many cars actually come with multiple digital components. ... According to new research from the University of Birmingham and KU Leuven in Belgium, millions of cars with radio-enabled key fobs were discovered to be at risk for unauthorized key cloning. The results of the study revealed cars made by Toyota, Hyundai, Kia and Tesla have a significant encryption flaw hackers can exploit with a simple RFID transmitter. When configured properly, it can copy the signal produced by the key fobs, which hackers could then use to unlock a victim’s car. The report’s complete list includes a range of model years from 2009 to 2017. The report emphasizes this list is not exhaustive, meaning there could be more cars with the issue that have not been detected...

My car was in a hit-and-run. Then I learned it recorded the whole thing.

The car is becoming a sentry, a chaperone, and a snitch

Geoffrey A. Fowler Technology columnist Feb. 27, 2020

My parked car got gashed in a hit-and-run two weeks ago. I found a star witness: the car itself.

Like mine, your car might have cameras. At least one rearview camera has been required on new American cars since 2018. I drive a Tesla Model 3 that has eight lenses pointing in every direction, which it uses for backing up, parking and cruise control. A year ago, Tesla updated its software to also turn its cameras into a 360-degree video recorder. Even when the car is off.

All those digital eyes captured my culprit — a swerving city bus — in remarkable detail.

Tesla chief executive Elon Musk calls this function Sentry Mode. I also call it Chaperone Mode and Snitch Mode. I’ve been writing recently about how we don’t drive cars, we drive computers. But this experience opened my eyes.

I love that my car recorded a hit-and-run on my behalf. Yet I’m scared we’re not ready for the ways cameras pointed inside and outside vehicles will change the open road — just like the cameras we’re adding to doorbells are changing our neighborhoods.

It’s not just crashes that will be different. Once governments, companies and parents get their hands on car video, it could become evidence, an insurance liability and even a form of control. Just imagine how it will change teenage romance. It could be the end of the idea that cars are private spaces to peace out and get away — an American symbol of independence...


New US Counterintelligence Strategy Has 5 Objectives

By William Tucker Columnist, In Homeland Security

Earlier this month, the National Counterintelligence and Security Center (NCSC) released The National Counterintelligence Strategy of the United States of America 2020-2022. The document focuses on U.S. counterintelligence activities or threats that have evolved or arisen since the last strategy document was released in 2016.

Over the past four years, the intelligence threat picture has changed to include aggressive disinformation campaigns by U.S. adversaries and a plethora of leakers who disregard their oaths and release sensitive information to satisfy a personal ideological viewpoint.

Strategy Aims to Fill Newly Recognized Gaps and Calls for New Government Approach

Hostile foreign intelligence services are attacking the U.S. economy and seeking to undermine the U.S. political environment. In some instances, hostile foreign intelligence services are attacking the U.S. economy and seeking to undermine the U.S. political environment.

In a news release, NCSC Director William Evanina said, “with the private sector and democratic institutions increasingly under attack, this is no longer a problem the U.S. Government can address alone. It requires a whole-of-society response involving the private sector, an informed American public, as well as our allies.”

Five Strategic Objectives in 2020-2022 Strategy

The new NCSC strategy will continue traditional counterintelligence efforts, having identified five new strategic objectives because of the threat to these areas. They are:

- Protect the nation’s critical infrastructure from foreign intelligence entities seeking to exploit or disrupt national critical functions.

- Reduce threats to key U.S. supply chains to prevent foreign attempts to compromise the integrity, trustworthiness, and authenticity of products and services purchased and integrated into the operations of the U.S. Government, the defense industrial base, and the private sector.

- Counter the exploitation of the U.S. economy to protect our competitive advantage in world markets and our economic prosperity and security.

- Defend American democracy against foreign influence threats to protect America’s democratic institutions and processes and preserve our culture of openness.

- Counter foreign intelligence cyber and technical operations that are harmful to U.S. interests.

These endeavors have been long been known, but the U.S. has not published a comprehensive strate


The Right-Wing Extremist Threat in Context: Internal Extremist Actors

Scott Stewart VP of Tactical Analysis, Stratfor Mar 10, 2020


- Insiders have an advantage over outsiders when planning an attack on a company or organization due to their intimate knowledge of security measures, policies and procedures.

- But insiders also have a disadvantage in that their co-workers have more contact with them, and can note as they progress through the attack cycle or along the pathway to violence.

- Educating employees about warning signs and preparatory activities can empower them to help detect and report them...

...This week, I turn my attention to the threat posed by right-wing extremists who are insiders. Just for clarification, I am not talking about the reputational threat to a company or organization when they are found to be employing someone who holds radical or extremist beliefs. For example, an employee of the State Department's Bureau of Energy Resources was suspended after it became known that he was affiliated with the white supremacist movement, and was a prolific poster in online forums. Despite his rhetoric, however, there is no indication that he was planning or preparing for an attack.

Instead, I want to discuss the threat posed by right-wing extremists who are planning to conduct an act of political violence predicated on their radical beliefs, that is, to commit domestic terrorism. For example, an active-duty U.S. Coast Guard officer was sentenced in January to 13 years in prison after pleading guilty to drug and gun charges. Investigators found that the officer was a long-time skinhead who promoted violence against minorities and "enemies" of the white race. They also uncovered that he had conducted internet searches that demonstrated he was researching potential targets, including media personalities and current and former elected officials...

Why Saudi Arabia's Oil Price War May Backfire

Mar 10, 2020

The Big Picture

- Saudi Arabia is offering aggressive discounting on its oil exports and planning to sharply increase volumes in April in the wake of its failure to agree with Russia on a path forward for OPEC+ production restraint. This move will damage the finances of oil exporters lacking diversified economies, but it is not likely that either the Saudis or the Russians will capitulate in the next few months. The result will be rapidly rising oil inventories and weak prices.

After Russia refused last week to accept OPEC's proposal to cut oil production by 1.5 million barrels per day to prop up oil prices, Saudi Aramco announced on March 7 that it would lower its April pricing differentials by $4-$6 to Asia and $7 to the United States. The move took Asian differentials from premiums to steep discounts and Saudi Arabia strongly hinted at a substantial production increase, which Saudi Aramco sources confirmed to media outlets on March 8 without attaching specific numbers. The development, in turn, produced a shock to financial markets, with Brent crude oil down to $35 per barrel in late trading on March 9.

Why It Matters

The Saudi move is a declaration of a full-blown price war, which most observers did not foresee on March 6 when talks between OPEC and its nonmember partners fell apart, given that it would blow up the Saudi budget deficit, as well as the fact that Russia, even unconstrained by OPEC+ commitments, has limited potential to raise production quickly in 2020. It takes a situation in which the world oil market had been hit by a demand shock (shutdowns and other disruptions caused by the COVID-19 outbreak has sharply reduced the demand for oil) amid a modest slowdown in economic growth and added a supply shock of an unknown but potentially massive quantity. As a result, inventories will be building much more rapidly, though price drops are somewhat mitigated in the short-term by the availability of storage. But an extended COVID-19 crisis could easily force prices down to levels below where they were in 2015-2016. An extended price collapse into the $20s-$30s range, which is now likely for at least the next several months and perhaps much longer, will have broad knock-on effects on other markets. Other than energy equities, the worst impacts will be on sovereign finances of oil exporters with less-diversified economies and low sovereign reserves. In particular, Iran and Venezuela will suffer the most, as both have already been forced to sharply discount their sales to find buyers amid U.S. sanctions...

Scientists identify rain of molten iron on distant exoplanet

Hannah DevlinWed 11 Mar 2020 12.00 EDT

Conditions on Wasp-76b in Pisces include temperatures of 2,400C and 10,000mph winds

Wasp-76b is what astronomers call an exoplanet, one that orbits a star outside our solar system. Scientists have discovered that the local weather conditions include 2,400C temperatures, winds in excess of 10,000mph and a steady pelting of iron rain.

The observations of the distant planet’s unusually hostile climate are the first results from a new instrument on the Very Large Telescope in Chile, which astronomers say will transform our view of worlds far from beyond our own solar system.

Wasp-76b, which is 640 light years away in the constellation of Pisces, is an ultra-hot gas giant. It orbits its star at about 3% of the distance between the Earth and the Sun, resulting in scorching surface temperatures and the weird phenomenon of molten iron falling from the sky.

“It’s a kind of world we can’t imagine easily because we don’t have anything like that in our solar system,” said Christophe Lovis, an exoplanet researcher at the University of Geneva and co-author of the paper.

Because the planet is so close in, it is “tidally locked” (like the Moon’s orbit about Earth) and only only ever shows one face, its day side, to..,

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