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Sunday, March 18, 2018

What's going on in the World Today 180318



U.S.: How Tillerson's Exit Will Affect Foreign Policy

After months of rumors and speculation, another member of the administration of U.S President Donald Trump is leaving his post. On March 13, Trump announced via Twitter that he would be replacing Secretary of State Rex Tillerson with CIA Director Mike Pompeo. To replace Pompeo, Trump has chosen Gina Haspel, the CIA's current deputy director. Though Tillerson was known to disagree with Trump on a number of issues, the decision to dismiss him seemed to come with little direct warning. Speaking with reporters, Trump said the decision was motivated by differences of opinion with Tillerson on substantive issues such as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), better known as the Iran nuclear deal. As talks with North Korea and a review of the JCPOA rapidly approach, Trump appears to be preparing through a Cabinet reshuffling...

U.S. Army Leadership ‘Won’t Stand’ For Future Vertical Lift Delays

FVL is the Army’s No. 3 acquisition priority after long-range precision fires and ground vehicle modernization, and therefore it is the Army Aviation community’s No. 1 priority.

FVL-Medium, the first of five planned FVL acquisition programs, would deliver a next-generation replacement for the troop-carrying Army Sikorsky H-60 Black Hawk and Marine Corps Bell H-1 Huey utility/assault helicopters. But there are concerns about how long this first new rotorcraft will take to field, since production and deployment are not scheduled to begin until fiscal 2030.

This Is Boeing’s Play For MQ-25 ‘Stingray’

On the tarmac of St. Louis’ historic Lambert Field, the future of aircraft carrier aviation may be taking shape. Phantom Works, Boeing’s shadowy advanced prototyping group, has painted part of the tarmac to resemble the flight deck of a carrier. Over the past few months, the company been using this space at all hours of the day and night to test its latest military UAV: a prototype for the U.S. Navy’s MQ-25 “Stingray” program.

A video viewed by Aviation Week and labeled “competition sensitive” shows the huge drone taxiing around the runway during daylight hours on its own power. It stops, starts, moves forward and hooks into position behind the catapult, prepared for launch. But the long-wing aircraft has not yet flown; it is instead being used for carrier suitability trials, including a series of maneuvers to ensure the UAV can easily, reliably and safely move around the deck like any manned aviation platform.

Exactly how the aircraft is directed around the deck is a company secret. We have agreed not to write about it, but one can guess that it will not involve traditional hand signals or wands. As part of the carrier suitability tests, Phantom Works also has been validating the UAV’s “spot factor” and ensuring that it can park anywhere a Boeing F/A-18 Super Hornet can, including the tightest spot of all, a slither of deck aft of elevator No. 4 called “the finger...”

Haley: Vote With U.S. at U.N. or We’ll Cut Your Aid

In a proposed aid overhaul, Nikki Haley embraces an “America first” foreign policy.

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley is proposing a sweeping reassessment of U.S. foreign assistance with a view to punishing dozens of poor countries that vote against U.S. policies at the U.N., according to a confidential internal memo drafted by her staff.

The move to make foreign aid conditional on political support follows a U.S. decision to cut tens of millions of dollars in assistance to Palestinian refugees, a cut made in retaliation for Palestine’s sponsorship of U.N. resolutions denouncing U.S. President Donald Trump’s controversial recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Haley now wants to apply a similar principle to decisions about aid to other needy countries...




For Russia and China, Cooperation Is the Name of the Game in Central Asia

- When it comes to tackling security issues in Central Asia, Russia and China will cooperate more than compete.

- The two countries will ramp up joint military exercises, counterterrorism training and diplomatic consultations in the region through the Shanghai Cooperation Organization.

- As China expands its economic ties in Central Asia, its security presence will probably grow accordingly, potentially upsetting the current balance between Moscow and Beijing...


The U.K. Measures Its Response to the Poisoning of a Former Russian Spy

The poisoning of former Russian spy Sergey Skripal and his daughter Yulia has exacerbated the already tense relationship between the United Kingdom and Russia. As a result, British Prime Minister Theresa May said her government was reviewing a range of diplomatic, financial and economic responses to the likely Russia-backed poisoning, which took place in her country. And the United Kingdom requested that the Kremlin hand over materials and samples of its military grade nerve agent, Novichok, by the end of the day on March 13. Meanwhile, the Russian Foreign Ministry has denied receiving the request and in turn has asked for full access to the investigation and samples of the nerve agent, since Yulia is still a Russian citizen..

Cyber-Espionage Group Steals Data From UK Government Contractor

A cyber-espionage group historically believed to be operating in the interests of the Chinese government is believed to have hacked a UK government contractor from where security researchers found evidence that attackers stole information related to UK government departments and military technology. Attackers used never-before-seen tools, old malware, but also employed legitimate apps found on the compromised systems in an attempt to remain undetected for as long as possible.

UK to invest 48 million pounds in new chemical weapons defense center

Britain will invest 48 million pounds ($67 million) in a new chemical warfare defense center at its Porton Down military research laboratory....“Today I can announce that we’re building on our world-class expertise of the defense science and technology laboratory at Porton Down. We’re investing 48 million pounds in a new chemical weapons defense center to maintain our cutting edge in chemical analysis and defense,” Williamson said in a speech...


U.S. Braces for Return of Terrorist Safe Havens to Afghanistan

For 17 years, three successive presidents have told the American public that above all else, Afghanistan must never again provide “safe haven” to terrorist groups seeking to harm the United States and its interests. But Defense Department and intelligence officials now say exactly that may be on the verge of happening...Afghan officials believe there are now an estimated 3,000 Islamic State fighters in Afghanistan.... the Islamic State was planning attacks in the United States from safe havens in Afghanistan and Pakistan.


The Chinese Leadership's Reform Strategy Comes With a Risk

The next few years will determine whether China's leaders have the commitment and ability to adapt to economic changes and follow through with necessary reforms.

Chinese President Xi Jinping will need to retain a firm grip on power while at the same time meeting the rising expectations that come with that level of authority.

Beijing aims to reshape local governments' behavior and lower its growth target, paving the way for more sustainable economic growth.

Trade pressure from the United States and a slowing economy will test Beijing's resolve as it strives to restructure its economy, challenging its deleveraging campaign and its attempts at enforcing environmental reforms..

Chinese Working On Giant Engine For Long March 9

Completing a demonstrator for a huge first-stage rocket engine, possibly this year, is among the technology acquisition projects being undertaken by China’s main space industry group in preparation for a go-ahead for manned Moon missions. Work on engines for second and third stages and on the structure for the giant launcher, informally called Long March 9 and due to go to the Moon around 2030, is also underway.

Long March 9’s targeted payload to low Earth orbit is 140 metric tons (310,000 lb.), of which 50 metric tons would be sent on a trajectory to the Moon. It would therefore have about six times the capability of China’s current largest rocket, Long March 5...






Rise and Kill First, An Interview With Dr. Ronen Bergman

New York Times Bestselling Author Ronen Bergman sits down with Stratfor Chief Security Officer Fred Burton in this episode of the Stratfor Podcast to discuss his latest book, Rise and Kill First: The Secret History of Israel’s Targeted Assassinations.

Bergman’s book, described as the first definitive history of the Mossad, Shin Bet and the Israel Defense Forces’ targeted killing programs, is the result of seven years of research and over a thousand interviews with the people responsible for leading and carrying out those programs...


North Korea nuclear reactors show new signs of activity

New satellite imagery examined by Western experts suggests North Korea has begun preliminary testing of one of its nuclear reactors at the Yongbyon research facility. The disclosure comes as preparations get underway for the summit between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in next month -- and ahead of Kim's planned meeting with President Trump in May.


Putin Plans for a Russia Without Him

- Though Russian President Vladimir Putin is assured an election win on March 18, his fourth term will usher in a period of deep challenges for Russia and his continued rule.

- Putin's pledge to maintain stability is facing economic and demographic shifts that will ripple throughout society and test compliance with Putin's government.

- Thinking of the longer term, the Kremlin is considering a spate of reforms and has allowed political discourse to return to Russia, though each maneuver is not without its risks.

- Putin, his cultlike government and the Russian people are starting to consider what life in Russia will look like after he leaves the political stage.

Russia Sends a Chilling Message With Its Latest Chemical Attack

- Shortly after Russian President Vladimir Putin assumed power, Moscow's intelligence services began exhibiting increasingly aggressive behavior.

- This included the targeted assassinations of enemies across Europe, the Middle East and in the United States.

-In response, Western intelligence agencies increased efforts to recruit Russian intelligence officers as spies.

-In this context, the attack on Sergei Skripal was not necessarily about his treason, but more of a warning to current Russian intelligence officers not to betray the government.

To pedestrians passing outside the Maltings shopping center in Salisbury, England, on the afternoon of March 4, the pair slumped on a bench appeared to be another tragic case of opioid overdose. The younger woman was unconscious, having lost control of her bodily functions, and was propped against the older man, himself twitching and mumbling in an incoherent manner. But as police arrived at the scene and identified the victims, it soon became clear that this was not an accidental narcotics overdose.

The man, 66-year-old Sergei Skripal, was a former colonel in Russia's military intelligence service (known as the GRU) and had been recruited by Britain's foreign intelligence service (MI6) in the 1990s. He had come to the United Kingdom in 2010 as part of a high-profile spy swap. The woman next to him was his 33-year-old daughter, Yulia, who had come to Salisbury from Russia to visit her father. Indeed, as police officers began to collapse after coming into contact with the pair, it quickly became evident that this was yet another case in which a former Russian intelligence officer was poisoned in the United Kingdom. And with this latest attack, Russia under President Vladimir Putin is letting the intelligence world know that it is changing the rules: Betrayal can make you and your family a target, even if you're no longer in the game...

Missiles of March: A Political Means of Last Resort for Putin

President Vladimir Putin's extra-heavy emphasis on new strategic missile systems in his March 1 address to parliament was quite unexpected and rather out of character. My colleague Steven Pifer suspects that Putin has "something of a fixation on things nuclear" and compares this trumpeting of wonder-missiles with President Donald Trump's slogan "Jobs! Jobs! Jobs!" Putin is, after all, campaigning for re-election (the vote is March 18), though the outcome is pre-determined...

A Brief History of Attempted Russian Assassinations by Poison

Russian security services appear to be increasingly targeting dissidents and renegade spies for death by poison.

With the announcement by British police on Wednesday that a former Russian spy was poisoned by a nerve agent, Sergei Skripal joins the long ranks of those who have run afoul of the Kremlin and subsequently fallen ill or died under what can only be described as suspicious circumstances.

Skripal was walking with his daughter on Monday when they fell ill, collapsed on a park bench, and were promptly rushed to the hospital, where they remain in critical condition. On Thursday, British police said that around 21 people had sought treatment as a result of exposure to the unidentified poison. A police officer who aided the two is in stable condition, and is conscious and talking.

“This is being treated as a major incident involving attempted murder by administration of a nerve agent,” Mark Rowley, Britain’s chief police official for counterterrorism and international security, said.

A Russian court convicted Skripal of spying on behalf of Britain in 2006, but he was returned to England as part of a spy swap in 2010....

Russia says it has successfully tested advanced hypersonic missile

Russia's Defense Ministry says it has successfully tested one of the "invincible" missiles that President Vladimir Putin said earlier this month could deliver a warhead at hypersonic speed and pierce US defenses. "A MiG-31 fighter crew of the Russian Aerospace Forces conducted a combat training launch of a hypersonic missile of the Kinzhal high-precision air missile system in the designated area," the ministry said in statement Saturday...




Qatar: New Development Plan Goes in Pursuit of Knowledge

Construction is out and knowledge is in — at least when it comes to putting Qatar’s economy on a firm foundation for the future. On March 14, Qatari Prime Minister Abdullah bin Nasser bin Khalifa al-Thani unveiled a new five-year plan for the country that will focus on social development and economic diversification. The strategy will involve nurturing a robust private sector in areas such as science, logistics, financial services and tourism, as well as information and communication technology. At the same time, the small, arid, natural gas-rich country aims to develop sustainable water resources and produce 65 percent of its own seafood through local fish farms. And in a sign of greater belt-tightening, Qatari officials have noted that spending will need to fall by about one-third to around 21.2 percent of the country's gross domestic product...

Saudi Arabia: Cabinet Approves New Nuclear Policy

On March 13, the Saudi Cabinet approved a new national nuclear policy in advance of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman's visit to Washington on March 19-22, during which he is expected to push for a nuclear deal with the United States. Though Saudi Arabia’s policy clearly states that any nuclear activities will be purely peaceful and that the kingdom will follow all international laws in this regard, it also commits the country to best practices for handling nuclear waste and for developing a national capability in the nuclear industry. These guidelines suggest that Saudi Arabia could be planning activities that could lead to nuclear proliferation...


The Diplomatic Pouch: A Hands-Off Exception to Border Inspection

When the U.S. foreign service needs to send secrets to another country, it relies on diplomatic couriers. Those men and women ferry our nation’s most precious secrets from the State Department's Foggy Bottom headquarters to U.S. embassies around the globe. In 1985, when I went through basic agent training with the department's Diplomatic Security Service (DSS), I was offered the option of serving as one of those couriers. The word around the academy was that the job came with lots of overtime and allowed the adventurous traveler to see the world on Uncle Sam’s dime...

Cybercriminals trained up for March Madness

...“March Madness is back and with it comes a great opportunity for cybercriminals who are intent on making some quick cash,” ...“Email infection, fake betting websites and traditional phishing attacks are all expected to have their day in the sun.”...“These online trends almost always play out before, during and after the events take place. Cybercriminals are completely prepared for the excitement and hype surrounding March Madness by infecting emails with malware, creating fake betting websites and growing the number of phishing attacks they carry out.”

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