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Monday, February 11, 2019

What's going on in the World Today 190211

Maj. T.J. "King" Kong: Survival kit contents check. In them you'll find: one forty-five caliber automatic; two boxes of ammunition; four days' concentrated emergency rations; one drug issue containing antibiotics, morphine, vitamin pills, pep pills, sleeping pills, tranquilizer pills; one miniature combination Russian phrase book and Bible; one hundred dollars in rubles; one hundred dollars in gold; nine packs of chewing gum; one issue of prophylactics; three lipsticks; three pair of nylon stockings. Shoot, a fella' could have a pretty good weekend in Vegas with all that stuff.



The U.S. Is Fighting a 21st Century Trade Battle Armed With a 1930s Mindset


- The United States may score some successes in persuading its trade partners to reduce their tariffs, but its current strategy fails to address the fact that tariffs are not the biggest limiters of U.S. exports.

- Ultimately, nontariff barriers such as health and safety regulations and intellectual property rights present greater obstacles to trade in the contemporary world than tariffs do.

- With the United States focused on tariffs, its exporters could soon face greater difficulties as competitors in Canada, the European Union, Asia and elsewhere gain access to more markets thanks to comprehensive free trade deals that eliminate more important nontariff barriers.

Can turning back the clock to the 1930s achieve a 21st-century trade win? That might be the question on everyone's lips as the White House aims to significantly increase presidential authority over U.S. tariffs by asking Congress during next week's State of the Union address to pass the Reciprocal Trade Act. The name of the bill itself echoes perhaps the single most consequential trade act in U.S. history, the Reciprocal Trade Agreements Act, which President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed in 1934 to help the United States recover from the Great Depression...

Why Did the State Department Just Spend $84,375 on a Sculpture by Bob Dylan?
The purchase represents the cultural aspects of U.S. diplomacy for some and lavish and wasteful spending for others.

In the middle of what would become the longest government shutdown in U.S. history, the State Department processed an unusual expense: a piece of iron artwork that stands about 4 feet high.

The cost? $84,375. The artist? The American singer-songwriter Bob Dylan.

The sculpture, paid for with federal funding not subject to the shutdown, raises questions about how and where the State Department spends money at a time when the Trump administration is pushing to slash funds for American diplomacy and trying to curb overall federal government spending.

Dylan’s ironwork was purchased under the department’s Art in Embassies program, which places American art in U.S. diplomatic outposts worldwide to showcase U.S. culture and soft power. It will be displayed at the U.S. Embassy in Mozambique, according to a State Department spokeswoman.

Proponents of the program view art and culture as important tools of diplomacy. Placing artwork at embassies offers a way to engage with local artists and communities across the world at a relatively small price—compared with the overall cost of running an embassy.

But for critics, the Dylan sculpture illustrates the way the State Department mismanages money, particularly on new embassies, even as it struggles to fund its core functions. The Trump administration has repeatedly proposed massive budget cuts for Foggy Bottom (though many of those cuts have been batted away by Congress in federal spending bills).

President Donald Trump himself has criticized ballooning costs for embassy construction abroad—though thus far he has spared the artwork. In early 2018, he railed against the $1 billion price tag of the new U.S. Embassy in London, blaming former President Barack Obama for getting a “bad deal” on the move. (The decision to move the embassy was made during the George W. Bush administration.) In New York, the State Department drew public scrutiny last year for spending $52,701 on “customized and mechanized curtains” at the residence of the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, a decision that was made under the Obama administration.

“The State Department needs more money, but it also has to be a better steward of taxpayer money for these type of expenditures,” said Brett Bruen, a former U.S. diplomat who heads the public affairs firm Global Situation Room, when asked about the Dylan sculpture. “The [department] has spent lavishly on these new embassies even as the core functions of American diplomacy have faced significant reductions...”


Canadian border more of a terror concern than Mexican for U.S.: report

... in arguing for a border wall, [he] has said repeatedly that terrorists are slipping across from Mexico, known cases of extremists entering the U.S. through its land borders to the north or the south are exceedingly rare. Even then, State Department reports on terrorism have expressed more concern about the Canadian border than the Mexican one because Canada, unlike Mexico, has been home to “violent extremists inspired by terrorist groups such as ISIS and al-Qaida and their affiliates and adherents,” according to a 2017 paper.




Australia parliament hit by cyber-hack attempt

The attempted breach is the latest in a number of known attacks on the Australian government

Authorities in Australia say they are investigating an attempt to hack into its parliament's computer network.

Lawmakers said there was "no evidence" that information had been accessed or stolen, but politicians' passwords have been reset as a precaution.

Local cyber-security experts have suggested the hack likely came from a foreign state.

Australian PM Scott Morrison said he didn't intend to comment in depth on "the source or nature of this".

He said there was "no suggestion" that government agencies or departments had been targeted. MPs and their staff use the parliament network to store emails, among other data...


Tracking Mexico's Cartels in 2019
By Scott Stewart
VP of Tactical Analysis, Stratfor

Editor's Note

Since 2006, Stratfor has produced an annual cartel report chronicling the dynamics of the organizations that make up the complex mosaic of organized crime in Mexico. When we began, the landscape was much simpler, with only a handful of major cartel groups. But as we noted in 2013, the long process of balkanization — or splintering — of the groups has made it difficult to analyze them the way we used to. Indeed, many of the organizations we had been tracking, such as the Gulf cartel, imploded and fragmented into several smaller, often competing factions. Because of this fracturing, we changed our analysis in 2013 to focus on the clusters of smaller groups that emanate from three main geographic areas: Sinaloa state, Tamaulipas state and the Tierra Caliente region.

Surprisingly little has changed over the past year in terms of cartel dynamics. Various leaders and lieutenants have been arrested or killed, and additional splintering has continued for some already fractured groups, but by and large, 2018 was characterized by a stasis in the conflict zones of the assorted factions. In the past, periods of stasis often entailed that cartel groups were staying within their areas of control and that violence would be lower. However, in the current period, large and bloody struggles are continuing unresolved, and cartel groups remain locked in nasty turf wars. This environment means that most of these clashes will rage on well into 2019.

This violence has been reflected in the murder statistics, as the homicide figure for 2018 hit 33,341 — far surpassing the 2017 tally of 29,168. While Mexico's homicide rate of about 27 per 100,000 people is higher than that of the United States (which is expected to come in at about 5 per 100,000 people for 2018), it is still considerably lower than the rates for other countries in the region, including El Salvador (about 82 per 100,000), Honduras (about 56 per 100,000) and Jamaica (about 47 per 100,000)...

A chart plots the number of murders in Mexico by year.


NATO leaders to meet in London in December

Brussels (AFP) - The leaders of NATO's 29 countries will gather in London in December for a special meeting to mark the alliance's 70th anniversary, Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg announced Wednesday.

Stoltenberg tweeted that the British capital was "the ideal setting to mark 70 years of transatlantic military cooperation, as the home of NATO's first HQ back in 1949".

Britain is due to leave the European Union on March 29 and the December meeting will be seen as a signal of solidarity between NATO and the UK -- which is the continent's leading military power, along with France.

"Brexit will change the United Kingdom's relationship to the European Union but it will not change the United Kingdom's relationship to NATO," Stoltenberg said...




U.S., China: Trade Talks End on an Up Note

Stratfor's geopolitical guidance provides insight on what we're watching out for in the week ahead.

The Big Picture

With just a month left before the trade truce between China and the United States ends March 1, the world is eagerly waiting to see whether the high-level negotiations between the two powers will take the path to de-escalation and an agreement.

What Happened

With U.S. President Donald Trump hinting that there is a "good chance" of a trade deal with China, two days of negotiations involving senior officials ended on a high note this week. China's chief negotiator Liu He made a surprise offer to purchase 5 million tons of U.S soybeans when he met with Trump in the White House on Jan. 31. Meanwhile, officials from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce said progress had been made on greater market access and on enforcement of intellectual property rights — two core U.S. concerns. But it wasn't revealed how much overall progress was made or what divisions remain. The details on some core issues — such as China's forced technology transfer and subsidies to strategic industries — were far from clear. Ahead of the talks, China reportedly offered to increase U.S. imports from $155 billion in 2018 to $200 billion in 2019 and to even eliminate its trade surplus with the United States by 2024. And China has taken steps to fast-track domestic legislation that would prohibit forced transfers of technology and open the country's markets more, though implementation will take years and thus fall short of U.S. demands in the short term...


Iran Holds in Syria

Threat Lens Key Takeaways

- Iran's limited military capabilities in Syria have tempered its reaction to Israeli airstrikes there.

- While unlikely to occur, a stronger Iranian reaction could escalate into a major conflict with Israel, which might spill over into Lebanon and Iraq.

- Only a major development could alter the thinking behind Iran's restraint.

On Feb. 1, the deputy head of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) again threatened Israel, saying Iran could destroy it in three days. Despite these threats, Iran has exercised restraint when it comes to confronting Israel militarily, even after dozens of strikes on Iranian forces and equipment in Syria since 2013. These attacks have been focused on degrading Iran's military capabilities in Syria and interdicting its supply lines to Hezbollah in Lebanon.

Iranians after a suspected Iranian surface-to-surface missile was launched from Syria into the Golan Heights. Iran has struck Israel just one other time since 2013, when Iranian forces fired upward of 50 rockets and mortars in May 2018 into the Golan Heights in response to Israeli attacks. The barrage did not inflict a single casualty and caused negligible damage. When Israel responded with its largest killing at least 12 series of airstrikes in Syria, hitting more than 70 targets, Iran did not answer...

Armed men blow up gas tanker truck in Iran, policeman killed: Mehr

A policeman was killed and another seriously wounded after armed men blew up a tanker truck carrying liquified gas in northwestern Iran early on Wednesday, Mehr news agency reported. Police approached two men at a petrol station in the town of Dareh Garm and the men began shooting at the tanker, the agency said.


Will Iraq’s Old Divisions Undermine Its New Prime Minister?

In his first hundred days on the job, Adel Abdul Mahdi has hit entrenched political roadblocks to choosing cabinet ministers and changing a system of political patronage.

BAGHDAD—When he was sworn in as Iraq’s new prime minister in late October 2018, Adel Abdul Mahdi vowed to fight corruption, address electricity and water shortages, create private sector jobs, and curb an entrenched system of political patronage that has long hamstrung Iraq’s ability to serve its people.

Abdul Mahdi’s agenda was as ambitious as it was necessary. It sought to calm public anger following the worst anti-government protests the country has seen in years, fueled by a severe water and sanitation crisis in Iraq’s south that had resulted from years of neglect and mismanagement of public resources. The prime minister’s pledge to choose his own ministers, rather than let political parties pick candidates, aimed to restore trust in a political process that many Iraqis had come to dismiss as corrupt and undemocratic.

But with the 100-day mark of his administration gone, Abdul Mahdi and his reform agenda appear to be faltering. He has been able to freely choose only a handful of ministers, while four ministerial positions remain vacant amid haggling among political parties insisting on their candidates. His budget has drawn widespread criticism for failing to shift resources away from salaries and the security sector toward services, agriculture, industrial development, and the reconstruction of war-torn areas in the country’s north...


Israel releases report on links between BDS and militants

The Israeli government released a report Sunday claiming to reveal close links between the Palestinian-led boycott movement against Israel and militant groups. Israel's Strategic Affairs Ministry, which leads the country's efforts against the boycott movement, said it uncovered extensive connections between pro-boycott groups and activists affiliated with Hamas and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. The Boycott, Divest and Sanctions movement dismissed the report as "wildly fabricated."


Preparing for a “Decent Chance” of Success and Failure with North Korea

Patrick M. Cronin

In a presidential tweet on Wednesday, President Donald Trump sounded cautiously hopeful regarding negotiations with North Korea. “Decent chance of Denuclearization,” he announced in uncharacteristically low-key fashion through social media. He added that negotiations had already achieved more than symbolic gains in the form of a freeze on nuclear weapons and missile testing, the return of soldiers’ remains from the Korean War, and the release of three Americans held prisoner.

The next summit is unlikely to prove a decisive success or failure, although pre-negotiating a couple of specific steps in the direction of denuclearization would help ensure progress. The president has 2019 and perhaps 2020 to demonstrate that diplomacy is productive and not simply buying Pyongyang relief from pressure and time to keep acquiring lethal weapons.

In this next phase of diplomacy, the United States and its allies must simultaneously prepare for two broad contingencies: first, a breakthrough denoted by Pyongyang undertaking significant steps toward dismantling its nuclear capabilities; and conversely, failure in the form of a protracted impasse or an abrupt, crisis-induced short-circuiting of negotiations.

As long as the United States is embarked on this diplomatic rollercoaster ride, there are concrete steps that it can take to prepare for different contingencies and safeguard its core interests when it encounters turbulence along the way...

How Vietnam’s Transition Experience May be Helpful for North Korea Today

Bradley O. Babson February 7, 2019

The recent visit of the DPRK’s Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho to Hanoi and the announcement that Vietnam will host a second summit between US President Trump and DPRK leader Kim Jong Un on February 27-28 have rekindled interest in how Vietnam’s success story might have relevance for North Korea today. In the late 1980s, both countries faced poor-performing state-led economies, over-dependence on China, and the economic shock of sharp reductions in Soviet aid and trade. While economic crises gripped both countries, their strategic choices in response could not have been more different. Vietnam chose to embark on economic reforms, end its occupation of Cambodia, downsize its military, improve relations with the US, and open itself to the international community for aid, investment and trade. North Korea responded by adopting isolationist, self-reliant economic policies, seeking improved inter-Korean relations, increasing military tensions by pursuing a nuclear weapons program and a confrontational policy toward the US, and appealing for humanitarian assistance from the international community in the face of economic collapse and a growing famine.
The trajectories of the two countries since the early 1990s illustrate the dramatic consequences of these strategies. For decades, the North Korean regime has grappled with the challenges of economic development, poverty reduction, social stability and maintenance of a communist political system, which should make the Vietnamese experience of significant interest as Kim Jong Un embarks on implementing the so-called new strategic line, prioritizing economic development...


Russian Navy has new weapon that makes targets hallucinate, vomit: report

... Russian state news agency RIA Novosti reported that a Russian military contractor has installed the weapon on two Russian warships. The weapon fires a beam similar to a strobe light that affects the target's eyesight, making it more difficult for them to aim at night. During testing, volunteers reportedly used rifles and guns to shoot targets that were protected by the weapon. The volunteers reported having trouble aiming because they couldn't see. Additionally, about half of the volunteers said they felt dizzy, nauseous and disoriented. About 20 percent of the volunteers reported experiencing hallucinations.




How U.S. Mission Creep in Syria and Iraq Could Trigger War With Iran

One previously unreported incident from 2017 illustrates the risks of Trump’s latest plan.

Lara SeligmanFebruary 4, 2019, 12:55 PM

An incident in Syria two years ago involving the transport of an Iranian port-a-potty nearly led to a confrontation between American and Iranian forces, underscoring just how quickly even minor events could escalate there.

The episode, told here for the first time, is particularly instructive as the Trump administration signals it might leave behind a small force in both Syria and Iraq to monitor Iranian activities...


An Arrest at Apple Shows How Corporate Spies Worm Their Way Into the System

By Scott Stewart
VP of Tactical Analysis, Stratfor

- Two cases in which engineers working on Apple's autonomous vehicle program allegedly stole trade secrets show that corporate espionage will continue to be a major threat to companies.

- Nevertheless, the prosecution of an insider may not necessarily discourage future employees from following the same path.

- The differences in the tactics in the two cases demonstrate that corporate spies will learn from the mistakes of predecessors, and adapt to changes in security policy.

Chen Jizhong was all ready to head for China on Jan. 22 when FBI special agents swooped in on the Apple engineer. Chen's alleged crime, according to a complaint filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, was to have stolen trade secrets relating to the company's autonomous vehicle program. In doing so, Chen appeared to be following in the footsteps of Zhang Xiaolang, a Chinese compatriot and Apple colleague whom authorities also nabbed as he prepared to flee to China in July 2018. In both cases, the men were planning to start employment with Apple's Chinese competitors in the driverless car market...


US intelligence warns China is using student spies to steal secrets

...at the direction of a high-level Chinese intelligence official, Ji allegedly attached background reports on eight US-based individuals who Beijing could target for potential recruitment as spies, according to a federal criminal complaint. The eight -- naturalized US citizens originally from Taiwan or China -- had worked in science and technology. Seven had worked for or recently retired from US defense contractors. The complaint says all of them were perceived as rich targets for a new form of espionage that China has been aggressively pursuing to win a silent war against the US for information and global influence.... The sheer size of the Chinese student population at US universities presents a major challenge for law enforcement and intelligence agencies tasked with striking the necessary balance between protecting America's open academic environment and mitigating the risk to national security....While US officials stress that they believe the vast majority of Chinese students are here for legitimate purposes, they have also made it clear that the Trump administration continues to grapple with counterintelligence concerns posed by foreign agents seeking to exploit vulnerabilities within academic institutions. Rather than having trained spies attempt to infiltrate US universities and businesses, Chinese intelligence services have strategically utilized members of its student population to act as "access agents" or "covert influencers," according to Joe Augustyn, a former CIA officer with firsthand knowledge of the issue from his time at the agency.... "We know without a doubt that anytime a graduate student from China comes to the US, they are briefed when they go, and briefed when they come back," according to Augustyn.... According to the complaint, FBI agents discovered about 36 text messages on one iCloud account that Ji and the intelligence officer allegedly exchanged between December 2013 and July 2015. In 2016, after he graduated, Ji enlisted in the US Army Reserve under a program in which foreign nationals can be recruited if their skills are considered "vital to the national interest."... "They're exploiting the very open research and development environment that we have," Wray told a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing last year, expressing concern that academic officials aren't taking the threat from China seriously enough.

Hackers Turn the Tables on Russia

A new website features documents pilfered from Kremlin officials and agencies.

Russian government officials are getting a taste of their own medicine. A new site that collects hacked and leaked material from around the web late last week published a major collection of documents and emails belonging to Russian government officials and oligarchs.

On Friday, a site calling itself Distributed Denial of Secrets published a 108-gigabyte archive dubbed the “Dark Side of the Kremlin,” which includes emails and documents from the Russian Interior Ministry, the Russian weapons exporter Rosoboronexport, and Kremlin officials, oligarchs, and separatist forces in eastern Ukraine. The trove is the result of numerous hacks conducted by various groups in Russia and Ukraine in recent years.

The Russian documents and emails “show how the Russian power system is interconnected, and documents influence operations in real time—from those separatists/terrorists backed by Russia to those in the Orthodox and business worlds,” said Emma Best, the co-founder of Distributed Denial of Secrets and a journalist and transparency activist, in message to Foreign Policy.

Russian attempts to influence the 2016 presidential election by hacking into the email and computer systems of Democratic Party operatives captured the world’s attention. But such hacking operations are rampant within Russia itself, and government ministries, Kremlin officials, and even the prime minister have all had the contents of their inboxes strewn across the internet.

The material from these hacks is scattered around the web, but Distributed Denial of Secrets has for the first time gathered up these Russian leaks, along with dozens of others from around the world, and collated them on a single, easy-to-access site.

Writing on Twitter, Aric Toler, the lead Eurasia researcher with the open-source investigative group Bellingcat, said that finding the leaks had previously been like collecting rare baseball cards. Now, they exist in a well-organized repository.

The transparency advocates behind Distributed Denial of Secrets aim to build on the early promise of WikiLeaks—before its credibility was damaged was by the political and personal machinations of its founder, Julian Assange—to expose corruption and promote government transparency.

Their repository includes material provided by groups with conflicting agendas, including Shaltai Boltai, a shadowy collective thought to have been behind the hack of Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev’s email and his Twitter account in 2014. Though the collective has targeted some of Russia’s top politicians, it is also believed to have worked with the FSB, the successor organization to the KGB.

When the hack on Medvedev’s email eventually revealed some of the vast wealth he’d accumulated, including a palace in St. Petersburg and a vineyard in Tuscany, Russians responded with mass protests. Some of the protestors took to the street with sneakers tied around their necks, a reference to the expensive sneakers he was shown have purchased—Nike Air Max 95s.

“The Russian ones [hacks] that have had the most consequences are more internal palace politics—the FSB hacking someone to embarrass them,” Toler told FP.

Best’s site includes some documents WikiLeaks refused to publish, such as leaks from the Russian interior ministry. Its archive features some hacking greatest hits from recent years and some overlooked gems...

Can commercial satellites be used for espionage?

Companies like Planet Labs are producing millions of detailed images of Earth. What happens if those photos fall into the wrong hands?

For decades, the U.S. has relied on spy satellites to look deep into the territory of American adversaries, and for years, these were the cameras dominating Earth's orbit.

Not anymore.

As David Martin reports on 60 Minutes this week, there are now commercial companies putting small satellites in space and allowing customers to purchase panoramic images of Earth. As a result, the U.S. government no longer holds a monopoly on the photos taken from orbit—and has no power to classify commercial images as top secret.

One of those companies, Planet Labs, has put about 300 satellites into orbit, enough to image the entire landmass of Earth every day. The company has done it, in part, by reducing the dimension of its satellites. Government satellites are the size of a pickup truck; Planet Labs' are the size of a loaf of bread.

The U.S. government sets limits on commercial satellite use and mandates that American companies obtain a license. It also restricts the optical resolution of satellites; commercial cameras are not allowed to zoom down to the same detail as a spy satellite.

Still, the resolution comes relatively close. Martin told 60 Minutes Overtime that U.S. military officers could use commercial satellites for 90 percent of the intelligence they need.

These new satellites make close monitoring—if not outright espionage—an option, particularly for governments that do not have their own advanced satellite technology. The first spy photos that American satellites took of the former Soviet Union were not as high quality as the photos that Planet Labs is now taking.

The National Geospatial Intelligence Agency even uses Planet Labs images to get a more complete look at the world, particularly in places where U.S. spy satellites are not focused.

The humanitarian uses for commercial satellite images are numerous. Planet Labs' photographs monitor change, creating before-and-after pictures of environmental transformations, such as deforestation, receding glaciers, and melting ice caps.

But there is also plenty of potential for people to use commercial images in nefarious ways.

For example, people with access to satellite images could keep a daily record of the number of U.S. Navy ships in port. "If the United States were trying to move an army, as they did in the first Persian Gulf War," Martin said, "move an army without the enemy seeing it, the satellite would see it."

Anyone who obtained the images would also see an army on the move. Dictators wanting to cleanse an ethnicity would similarly be able to track movements of refugees, Martin said.

How, then, do commercial companies prevent their images from falling into the wrong hands? Will Marshall, a Planet Labs co-founder, told Martin his company hired an ethics officer to monitor this specific question.

"We have a process to review every single new client on a case-by-case basis," Marshall said. "Is it in line with our values?"

U.S. sanctions prohibit companies like Planet Labs from selling to countries like North Korea or Russia. But, Martin said, that's what front companies are for.

"You can, I think, rely on Planet to operate in good faith," Martin said. "Whether or not they can be fooled is another question."

To watch David Martin's 60 Minutes report on small satellites, click here.


‘Improvised explosion’ hits New Mexico strip mall, kills 1

An “improvised explosion” detonated in an alley behind a strip mall in Albuquerque, New Mexico, on Monday and killed a man authorities believe was responsible for the device... the blast didn’t appear to be linked to any terrorist act but the FBI is investigating. The name of the man killed has not been released and police don’t know if he was connected to the shopping center and have yet to determine a motive.

Fractured Far Right Escalates Harassment Against Left in Portland

...The Proud Boys, a street gang that saw its peak riding the coattails of the “alt-right,” has been at the center of a two-year campaign of attacks in liberal cities around the country. Building a narrative about “protecting the community” from anti-fascists, members have patrolled urban centers and are accused of initiating gang-style assaults that have left dozens hospitalized. In Portland, this has been especially persistent since the Proud Boys linked up with Patriot Prayer, known for its Trumpian rabble-rousing and public instigations of violence.

10 Security Resolutions for 2019
By Scott Stewart
VP of Tactical Analysis, Stratfor

Come the end of December, people the world over sit down to make resolutions for the year ahead. And with the On Security column for Jan. 1, what better way to ring in the new year than with 10 security resolutions to help people keep themselves, their families and their homes safe from a wide array of threats.

1. I resolve to practice the appropriate level of situational awareness for my environment.

Situational awareness is more a state of mind than a hard skill. Because of this, anyone can practice it. But to do so effectively, one must understand the different levels of situational awareness and which level is appropriate for which circumstance. For more about situational awareness, read Building Blocks of Personal Security: Situational Awareness...


Visualizing the World's Busiest Ports

A graphic by Visual Capitalist showing the world's busiest ports and top 50 container ports.

By Nick Routley for Visual Capitalist

An estimated 90 percent of world trade is facilitated by maritime shipping, and as trade volumes continue to increase, the world's busiest ports continue to grow larger and more efficient to meet demand.

In fact, in just the last four years, the median annual volume of the top 50 ports jumped from 5.49 to 5.86 million twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs).
Here are the world's 20 largest ports, using the most recent data from the World Shipping Council:..

Flightworthy SpaceX Raptor Roars To Life

Feb 4, 2019 Irene Klotz | Aerospace Daily & Defense Report

LOS ANGELES—SpaceX fired up an operational, methane-burning Raptor rocket engine for the first time on Feb. 3, marking a key step toward the start of flight tests of a multipurpose, interplanetary-class space transportation system.

Though called Starship and designed for human missions to Mars and beyond, the superheavy-lift, reusable transport will first cut its operational teeth delivering payloads into Earth orbit, a service currently provided by SpaceX’s Falcon family of rockets, and sending billionaire Japanese entrepreneur Yusaku Maezawa and 6-8 artists (not yet named) on a six-day flight around the Moon, among other missions.

SpaceX intends to start low-altitude flight tests of a prototype Starship upper stage this year at its newest field center in Boca Chica, Texas, near Brownsville. In preparation, engineers on Sunday night fired up the first operational Raptor engine for a three-second test.

“First firing of Starship Raptor flight engine. So proud of great work by SpaceX team,” CEO and CTO Elon Musk, who was on site for the test, posted on Twitter.

Raptors, which burn gaseous methane and liquid oxygen, first will be used in low-altitude hopper tests of Starship’s upper stage. The prototype ship is being repaired after 50 mph winter storm winds broke its mooring blocks on Jan. 22, toppling the nosecone.

Three Raptors will be used to propel the Starship prototype up to three miles in altitude.
SpaceX intends to group 31 Raptor engines, each providing 200 metric tons of force, to power the first stage of Starship, an interplanetary space transportation system previously known as Big Falcon Rocket, or BFR. Vacuum-optimized Raptors will be used for the upper stage. Both stages are designed for operational reusability.

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