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Wednesday, November 13, 2019

What's going on in the World Today 191111







India Opts Out of the Chinese-Backed RCEP Deal -- For Now
The Big Picture

Rising protectionist sentiment in the United States is driving Asia's largest economies to forge their own trading pact that would cover a third of the world economy. India's concerns over granting China wider access to its market, however, have continued to serve as the main sticking point in negotiations.

What Happened

After seven years of talks, the push to finalize the world's largest free trade zone has been delayed by at least several months. On Nov. 4, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi refused to sign the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) at the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit in Bangkok, alluding to long-standing concerns over China's widening trade surplus with India and demands for enhanced market access for Indian exporters. Thailand has since highlighted a "commitment" by all ASEAN member nations to now sign the RCEP agreement with their six free trade partners (India, China, Japan, Australia, South Korea and New Zealand) by sometime next year...


Swiss police target Islamist extremists in raids across the country

Swiss police carried out raids in several regions of the country Tuesday targeting people suspected of ties to Islamist extremists, prosecutors said. Around 100 police officers took part in the raids in the cantons of Zurich, Bern and Schaffhausen, conducting a total of 11 house searches, the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) said in a statement. The operation targeted 11 individuals, including five juveniles who will face proceedings headed by a special office for juvenile prosecutions, the statement said...

Anti-police violence surges in the tough suburbs of Paris

…Violence on Saturday night in Chanteloup-les-Vignes and recent flare-ups in other tough neighborhoods west of Paris have not matched the intensity or destructiveness of the unrest that spread to hundreds of towns in 2005. But French authorities are alarmed because the violence appears pre-planned, with ambushes deliberately set to target police. Police union officials suspect that rival gangs from different tough neighborhoods are competing for bragging rights in their attacks and are reveling in the media coverage they’re generating, even egging each other on in social media.


In Chile, Protests Show No Signs of Dying Down

With Chile's protests poised to enter their fifth week, the prospects for a timely and tidy resolution are dim. Already, the sustained demonstrations in Santiago and other cities have led to at least 20 deaths, cost the economy an estimated $1.5 billion and forced the government to cancel the mid-November Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit at the last minute. Following the spread of demonstrations into Santiago's wealthier neighborhoods earlier this week, President Sebastian Pinera unveiled a carrot-and-stick approach on Nov. 7: While announcing plans to enhance the government's ability to monitor and punish violent protesters, he also heralded the beginning of "citizen dialogues" next week...






Iran Spins More Centrifuges On US Embassy Crisis Anniversary

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iran on Monday broke further away from its collapsing 2015 nuclear deal with world powers by announcing it’s doubling the number of advanced centrifuges it operates, calling the decision a direct result of President Donald Trump’s withdrawal from the agreement.

The announcement — which also included Iran saying it now has a prototype centrifuge that works 50 times faster than those allowed under the deal — came as demonstrators across the country marked the 40th anniversary of the 1979 U.S. Embassy takeover that started a 444-day hostage crisis.

By starting up these advanced centrifuges, Iran further cuts into the one year that experts estimate Tehran would need to have enough material for building a nuclear weapon — if it chose to pursue one. Iran long has insisted its program is for peaceful purposes, though Western fears about its work led to the 2015 agreement that saw Tehran limit its enrichment of uranium in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions.

Tehran has gone from producing some 450 grams (1 pound) of low-enriched uranium a day to 5 kilograms (11 pounds), said Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran.

Salehi dramatically pushed a button on a keyboard to start a chain of 30 IR-6 centrifuges at Iran’s Natanz nuclear facility, where he was being filmed, increasing the number of working centrifuges to 60.

“With the grace of God, I start the gas injection,” the U.S.-trained scientist said.

The nuclear deal limited Iran to using only 5,060 first-generation IR-1 centrifuges to enrich uranium by rapidly spinning uranium hexafluoride gas. Salehi also announced that scientists were working on a prototype he called the IR-9, which worked 50-times faster than the IR-1.

As of now, Iran is enriching uranium to 4.5%, in violation of the accord’s limit of 3.67%. Enriched uranium at the 3.67% level is enough for peaceful pursuits but is far below weapons-grade levels of 90%. At the 4.5% level, it is enough to help power Iran’s Bushehr reactor, the country’s only nuclear power plant...

Iran moves further from nuclear deal, alarming Russia, France

Iran has stepped up work at its underground Fordow nuclear facility, state TV reported on Wednesday, a move France said showed for the first time that Tehran explicitly planned to quit a deal with world powers that curbed its atomic work. Russia also voiced alarm at Iran’s decision to start injecting uranium gas into centrifuges at Fordow, a move that further distances Iran from the accord. A central aim of the agreement was to extend the time Iran would need to build a nuclear weapon, if it chose to, to a year from about 2-3 months...

Iran’s Imperial Overreach

By Ali Alfoneh for The Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington

From Iraq to Lebanon, Iran's hard-won empire is ablaze. As anti-government protests spread like wildfire threatening the Islamic Republic's allies and proxies, Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is facing a dilemma: Should Iran, itself subjected to severe U.S. economic sanctions, use its scarce resources to stabilize allies and proxies in the region and thereby risk worse conditions and social unrest within Iran, or leave them to their own devices and risk a fight with the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps on whose support Khamenei's survival depends?

Statements made by commanders of the IRGC show their preference for supporting their allies and proxies, and Khamenei's first comments on the subject indicate he is inclined to align himself with the IRGC. He also appears to be redefining the role of Iran's regular military to adapt to the changed threat environment but perhaps also aiming to reduce the dependence of his regime on the IRGC. Regardless of Khamenei's efforts, he may be facing Iran's moment of imperial overreach, one which propels the Islamic Republic toward economic collapse...

Iran: Tehran Inaugurates New IR-6 Centrifuges

What Happened: Iran has inaugurated an experimental chain of 30 advanced IR-6 centrifuges that can enrich uranium roughly ten times faster than more traditional IR-1 centrifuges, according to the head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, Ali Akbar Salehi, the Mehr News Agency reported Nov. 4.

Why It Matters: The inauguration of the new centrifuges illustrates Iran's intention to shore up the capabilities of its nuclear program without blatant violations of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) nuclear deal. The measure is part of Iran's efforts to retaliate against increasing U.S. sanctions pressure, while building up leverage for potential future negotiations. President Hassan Rouhani might also announce further steps on Iran's nuclear program later this week.

Background: Salehi's comments came on the 40th anniversary of the occupation of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, a symbolic date that the Iranian government has timed to previous announcements. This week also marks the end of the latest 60-day deadline for European countries to extend economic relief to Iran in exchange for Tehran's decision to abide by the JCPOA.


Iraq: Ongoing Protests Begin to Disrupt Oil Sector Operations

What Happened: Protests in Iraq have forced the state-owned North Oil Company to shut in the small Qayara oil field after blockades in the governorate of Basra prevented tanker trucks from delivering crude to ports, Iraqi Oil Report reported Nov. 6. Separately, protesters have blocked the entrance to the Nasiriyah oil refinery and prevented tanker trucks from transporting refined oil products throughout the province.

Why It Matters: The two incidents highlight the potential for disruptions to Iraq's energy sector from ongoing protests as the government has struggled to quell unrest in major cities across the country. Although the protests have not yet forced Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi to resign, security forces are responding to the demonstrations in an increasingly violent fashion, raising the risk of further escalation.

Background: Protesters have succeeded in blocking roads to the Iraqi port of Umm Qasr on several occasions, almost completely halting the vital port's operation for a week. So far, the disruptions at Umm Qasr have cost the country around $6 billion, according to Iraqi officials.






Russia's Arctic Dreams Remain on Ice


- Despite the Kremlin's encouragement, state-owned oil and gas enterprises are likely to remain hesitant to commit resources to the costly development of Arctic assets.

- Moscow will try to reduce the financial burden of building Arctic infrastructure, but its proclivity to offer incentives on a case-by-case basis will hamper rapid development.

- In the end, the output from the Arctic could fall short of government targets to ensure sustained oil production levels and overall economic growth...

Russia Sends Ten Subs Into North Atlantic In Drill Unprecedented In Size Since Cold War

The most extensive Russian underwater exercise since the end of the Cold War is currently underway in the frigid waters of the North Atlantic. No less than 10 Russian Navy submarines are reported to be involved, eight of which are nuclear powered, according to Norwegian intelligence. The massive exercise is thought to include tests of new weapons and stressing of capabilities of individual classes of submarines involved, including long-duration, deeply submerged operations. The exercise is also likely to test U.S. and NATO forces' ability to track Russia's most capable boats as they push through the Greenland, Iceland, United Kingdom Gap, better known as the GIUK Gap—a major strategic bottleneck that is closely monitor...

Navy officer, wife, 2 others charged in China inflatable boat smuggling conspiracy

A U.S. Navy officer, his wife and two Chinese nationals have been charged with conspiring to unlawfully smuggle military-style inflatable boats to China, the Justice Department announced Friday…. [They] were charged with "conspiring to submit false export information and to fraudulently attempt to export articles from the United States," …. Fan Yang was assigned to the Maritime Patrol and Reconnaissance Weapons School (MPRWS) at Naval Air Station Jacksonville and held a top-secret security clearance….\

Russia Steps Up Efforts to Shield Hackers From Extradition to U.S.

… For months, Moscow has pursued what current and former U.S. law-enforcement and diplomatic officials describe as part of a stepped-up and evolving campaign to prevent Russians arrested on criminal hacking charges from being extradited to the U.S. Russia has relied on a variety of techniques—whether leveraging the legal system or resorting to more coercive means, such as bribery—to pressure other countries to impede U.S. extradition efforts, current and former U.S. officials said. “Russia uses every tool at its disposal, including these more coercive steps” to prevent its citizens arrested abroad on hacking charges from being extradited…. “It can sometimes seem like a throwback to the Soviet era in terms of the tactics they are using.”


Yemeni rebels claim they shot down a US-made drone

Yemen's Iran-backed Houthi rebels shot down a U.S.-made drone Friday along the border with Saudi Arabia, according to a statement by the group's spokesman. The Shiite rebels, who overran Yemen's northern parts and the capital Sanaa in 2014, have been fighting a Saudi-led and U.S.-backed military coalition since 2015. In recent months, they have shot down at least two American drones...

Middle East: U.S.-Led Maritime Security Mission Begins Operations

What Happened: The International Maritime Security Construct (ISMC), a U.S.-led coalition to protect shipping in the Persian Gulf and Gulf of Oman, officially started operations this week, Bloomberg reported Nov. 7.

Why It Matters: The United States formed the ISMC in response to attacks this summer against oil tankers, including nine instances in which Iran or its proxy forces assaulted tankers. The United States and the United Kingdom have since increased their security patrols in the region, but they have failed to form a broad coalition for the ISMC, as only seven countries agreed to join.

Background: Although there haven't been any attacks against tankers off the Iranian coast since July, the risk to commercial shipping and energy infrastructure in the region remains high due to increasing U.S. sanctions pressure against Tehran.

Facing Sanctions, Turkey's Defense Industry Goes to Plan B


- Turkey is facing significant arms embargoes from its Western partners as a result of its military incursion into northeastern Syria.

- But while Ankara's increasingly acrimonious relationship with the West will hurt the Turkish defense sector, it will not cripple it.

- In the main, Turkey will weather the storm because it is better placed to rely on its growing domestic defense industry for its military needs and because it will search for alternative defense partners...


North Korean Malicious Cyber Activity

The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and the Department of Defense (DoD) have identified a Trojan malware variant—referred to as HOPLIGHT—used by the North Korean government. The U.S. Government refers to malicious cyber activity by the North Korean government as HIDDEN COBRA. CISA encourages users and administrators to review Malware Analysis Reports MAR10135536-8 and the page on HIDDEN COBRA - North Korean Malicious Cyber Activity for more information.


An Era of Unparalleled Espionage Risk Is Upon Us
Scott Stewart
VP of Tactical Analysis, Stratfor


- China and Russia have become increasingly aggressive in their industrial espionage efforts, though the proliferation of espionage tools ensures they are far from the only threat actors.

- Technology has also made it easier to hack into corporate systems remotely and to download massive quantities of data from inside an organization.

- Combined with the spread of post-truth attitudes in the workplace, these factors create an environment rife with corporate espionage risk.


Eliminating the Cartel That Killed 9 Americans in Mexico Will Not Be Easy


- Gunmen killed nine Americans passing through the area of La Mora, which is in eastern Sonora and western Chihuahua.

- Heavy fighting between forces loyal to the Sinaloa cartel (Gente Nueva) and remnants of the Juarez cartel (La Linea) has racked that region.

- The criminal groups operating in the mountains of this region are firmly entrenched, and it will take a significant counterinsurgency effort to root them out.



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