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Monday, March 9, 2020

What's going on in the World Today 200309



Arrests in Four States of Racially Motivated Violent Extremists Targeting Journalists and Activists
Four racially motivated violent extremists from across the U.S. were arrested and charged today in U.S District Court in Seattle with a conspiracy to threaten and intimidate journalists and activists, the Department of Justice announced. Today’s arrests and searches by the FBI and local law enforcement are being coordinated by the Department of Justice’s National Security Division and the U.S. Attorney’s Offices in Seattle, Tampa, Houston, and Phoenix. “These defendants from across the country allegedly conspired on the internet to intimidate journalists and activists with whom they disagreed,” said Assistant Attorney General for National Security John C. Demers. “This is not how America works. The Department of Justice will not tolerate this type of behavior...”

Baltimore sees more than 50 homicides so far in 2020, activists say city 'was never like this'

Only into the third month of the new year and more than 50 people have been killed in the Baltimore city area. ... At least 52 homicides were been reported throughout the city as of March 2, according to a tally by The Baltimore Sun. The major northeastern city in Maryland of more than 600,000 people is one of the most dangerous in America, according to the FBI.

A paranoid militia infiltrating Texas police is bent on rebellion, ‘ready to rise up’

A revolution-minded, conspiracy-bent militia group named the Oath Keepers is recruiting law officers in Hood County to take up arms in what the founder predicts will be a “bloody civil war” against the U.S. government. A national director of the Las Vegas-based Oath Keepers, John D. Shirley, moved to rural Hood County in 2015 and has been appointed by county commissioners as a constable, giving him both access to confidential information and a political platform to recruit more militia members.
Another cross-border tunnel found in Arizona

Pentagon's new rules for autonomous weapons, combat AI called 'ethics-washing project'

The Pentagon on Monday rolled out a sweeping set of ethical guidelines to govern the use of artificial intelligence on the battlefield, marking a major step forward in the military’s campaign to establish firm controls over 21st-century technology and ensure that humans retain control over machines. The principles, developed after 15 months of consultation with top technology industry leaders, call for the responsible use of all AI, concrete rules to trace the implementation of all systems and how they behave, and a blanket policy that says a human monitor can at all times override the AI technology. Military officials also said they will try to ensure that all AI capabilities do not develop or show “unintended bias” in how they behave or in whom they target, and the Pentagon stressed that AI will be employed only in a given situation after an explicit, well-defined purpose has been laid out and is thoroughly understood by all involved. The effort dramatically demonstrates how machine learning and vast data-crunching technologies are changing the face of modern warfare and posing ethical problems that could scarcely have been conceived just a generation ago...








Some 160 Mexican City Police Officers Suspended and Disarmed

Approximately 160 police officers in the municipality of San Juan de los Lagos, in the Mexican state of Jalisco, have been disarmed and suspended from their duties on charges of suspected involvement with organized crime groups. According to the State Security Council of the state government, the measure was the result of an investigation by federal officials who determined that there might be "an infiltration"


U.S.-Taliban Peace Deal Under Fire
Airstrikes against Taliban forces threaten to undermine a pact that may be already coming apart.

Stefanie GlinskiMarch 4, 2020, 5:19 PM

KABUL—The fragile peace deal between the United States and the Taliban appeared to hang in the balance Wednesday as the U.S. Defense Department announced its first airstrike against Taliban forces in 11 days and bitter disagreements between the radical Islamist movement and the Afghan government, as well as internal divisions in Kabul, threatened to nullify the pact.

People throughout the nation were holding their breath, caught in a limbo between fear and hope, as new violence erupted in a country long torn by civil war. Both U.S. and Afghan officials suggested that the Taliban were violating the pact despite an unprecedented telephone call between U.S. President Donald Trump and Taliban political leader Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar on Tuesday, after which Trump said the two had agreed there would be “no violence...”

Afghans Wonder: Is the Peace Deal Just for Americans?
The Taliban are happily talking with Trump and standing down against U.S. troops, but they say they are "still at war" with Afghan national security forces.

Emran FerozMarch 6, 2020

There’s a grim new joke going around parts of Afghanistan: If you want to be safe from Taliban attacks, move next to a U.S. air base. “I have never seen a dead American soldier,” said Fatteh Sattar, a civil engineer from the northern province of Baghlan. “It’s Afghans killing Afghans, and I guess this will not stop so quickly.”

The Taliban, for their part, are now saying more clearly than ever that the peace deal signed Feb. 29 in Doha, Qatar, after 18 months of negotiations applies only to a truce with U.S. forces, not to the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces. “We signed an agreement with the Americans. But our jihad is not over,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told Foreign Policy this week. “The stooges who supported the invaders during the last two decades are our enemies. This might change after additional talks but at the moment, we are still at war.”

Even before the deal in Doha was signed, skepticism among ordinary Afghans rose as they watched the elected government of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani—who is currently engaged in fight for legitimacy with his election rival, Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah—get left out of the negotiations between U.S. Special Envoy Zalmay Khalilzad and Taliban leader Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar. Skepticism changed to outright fear and terror as the Taliban launched dozens of military operations against Afghan forces in the last few days, killing both armed soldiers and civilians, according to the Afghan Ministry of Interior...


A Chinese Destroyer Fired a Laser at a U.S. Navy Patrol Aircraft

A Chinese Navy destroyer hit a U.S. Navy maritime patrol aircraft with a laser beam, an incident the Navy characterized as “unsafe and unprofessional.” The incident happened last week but was only revealed by the U.S. Navy on Friday, February 28. The laser, invisible to the naked eye, was detected by sensors aboard the P-8A Poseidon aircraft. No one onboard the aircraft was injured...


What Conservative Control of Iran's Parliament Foretells

Mar 5, 2020


Iran's parliamentary elections on Feb. 21 produced two clear takeaways: Reformist and moderate politicians like President Hassan Rouhani currently have less power, while conservatives will hold a commanding position heading into next year's presidential election.

Regardless of the parliamentary election results, Iran was already unlikely to change its increasingly hard-line foreign policy in the short term, which is designed in part to help counter and dissuade the United States from continuing its maximum pressure campaign.

Dissatisfaction with their government and the economic impact from sanctions over the coming year could move Iranians to support a candidate who differs from the current offerings in the political establishment, like a populist conservative, for president.
Iran's parliamentary elections on Feb. 21 produced a conservative parliament that will support more hard-line policies against the United States. The new parliament will clash with the more moderate administration of President Hassan Rouhani over how tactically to manage the country's economy through the next and final year of Rouhani's term. But on a strategic level, regardless of the election results, Iran's government across the political spectrum is still aligned on the need to implement austere economic policies to help weather sanctions and to continue an aggressive foreign policy against the United States. The sanctions-burdened economy is negatively affecting the lives of Iranians; how it fares over the next year will determine the kind of conservative candidate — pragmatist, traditional, hard-line or populist — likely to win Iran's 2021 presidential election...

Iran triples stockpile of enriched uranium in breach of nuclear deal
Watchdog says country may also be storing material at three undeclared sites
Associated Press in Vienna Tue 3 Mar 2020

Iran has nearly tripled its stockpile of enriched uranium since November in violation of its deal with world powers and is refusing to answer questions about three possible undeclared nuclear sites, the UN atomic watchdog agency has said.

The International Atomic Energy Agency made the statement in a confidential report distributed to member countries that was seen by the Associated Press.

The agency said that as of 19 February, Iran’s total stockpile of low-enriched uranium amounted to 1,021kg, compared with 372kg noted in its last report on 3 November 2019...

Iran struggles to contain virus outbreak. Iran has now confirmed more than 2,300 cases of the coronavirus and at least 77 deaths. It is one of the largest outbreaks beyond China, and the high mortality rate suggests the number of cases may be higher. The virus has directly affected the government, with at least 23 members of parliament testing positive for the virus. Iran’s physical interconnectivity and its political and economic isolation pose unprecedented challenges—and U.S. secondary sanctions have hampered humanitarian trade and cut Iran off from vital medical supplies, threatening to turn a crisis into a catastrophe, Esfandyar Batmanghelidj and Abbas Kebriaeezadeh write for FP...


Big Ideas for NATO’s New Mission in Iraq

Sharing the burden of keeping down the Islamic State makes sense. But U.S. and NATO leaders should be coldly realistic about what European allies can do—and avoid their mistakes in Afghanistan.

David PetraeusMarch 6, 2020, 4:09 PM

Following U.S. President Donald Trump’s calls for America’s allies to “get more involved in the Middle East,” NATO defense ministers last month agreed to “enhance” the Atlantic alliance’s training mission in Iraq. Although the parameters of NATO’s new role are still to be defined, Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg has indicated it may include taking on some of the tasks currently being performed by U.S. forces in support of Iraqi military units focused on preventing a resurgence of the Islamic State.

In principle, having America’s NATO allies—as well as other coalition partners from around the world—assume greater responsibility for preventing the resurgence of Islamist extremist groups in Iraq makes sense. Why, after all, should the United States shoulder the lion’s share of the burden for keeping terrorism at bay when the rest of the trans-Atlantic community is equally, if not more, threatened by it?...


A Netanyahu Victory Would Be Bad News for Peace and the Rule of Law

If he leads the next government, the prime minister is likely to annex much of the West Bank and deepen attacks on judicial independence.

Dahlia ScheindlinMarch 5, 2020, 6:55 AM

In Israel, winning elections is all about who forms the next government. As the dust settles from Israel’s third election in a year, election night projections of a clear victory for the right-wing parties backing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have been somewhat tempered since the March 2 vote. Results now show Netanyahu’s bloc holding 58 seats, short of the 61-seat majority needed to form a coalition out 120 seats in the Knesset, Israel’s parliament.

Still, Netanyahu seems to have the upper hand. His Likud party has a three-seat lead over Benny Gantz’s Blue and White party, the closest competitor. The parties that oppose him may hold 62 seats, but they are an ideological hodgepodge ranging from the ultranationalist right-wing party of Avigdor Lieberman to the Joint List, comprising four Arab and Arab-Jewish parties. The large, centrist Blue and White and the fading Zionist left represented by the Labor Party and Meretz only amount to 40 of those 62 seats. Given the ideological incoherence of the opposition, Netanyahu could well be asked to form the next government...


North Korea launches unknown projectile, Seoul says

North Korea launched at least one unidentified projectile on Monday, just days after its leader Kim Jong Un supervised an artillery drill aimed at testing the combat readiness of some of its units.... it was not immediately clear how far the unknown projectile flew. The launch would be the first of its kind in 2020. Kim announced late last year that he was no longer obligated to comply with a self-imposed moratorium on testing nuclear weapons and intercontinental ballistic missiles.


Putin boasts about new Russian weapons, calls them defensive

Vladimir Isachenkov, The Associated Press

MOSCOW — President Vladimir Putin says that Russia has developed unique offense weapons without the intention of starting a war with anyone but to maintain “strategic balance” and “strategic stability” in the world.

“We are not going to fight against anyone. We are going to create conditions so that nobody wants to fight against us,” Putin said in an interview with the state-run Tass news agency, a part of which was released Monday...

...As an example, the president mentioned new “hypersonic offensive systems” — a weapon that can fly 27 times the speed of sound that became operational late last year. He said that in the past 20 years the share of modern equipment in the Russian military has grown from 6% to 70%...


Shaky truce appears to take hold in Israel-Gaza fighting

A shaky cease-fire between Israel and the Palestinian militant group Islamic Jihad appeared to be taking hold early Tuesday, ending a two-day round of violence that had threatened to disrupt next week's Israeli national elections. Musab al-Berim, a spokesman for Islamic Jihad in the Gaza Strip, said the cease-fire went into effect at 11:30 p.m. Monday, several hours after an earlier truce quickly unraveled. He said Egypt and U.N. mediators had negotiated the new deal, and nearly an hour later things appeared quiet on both sides. Yemen: US to stop aid in Houthi areas if rebels do not cooperate

A Cease-Fire With Russia Appears to Shrink Turkey's Influence in Syria

Mar 5, 2020 | 21:00 GMT

The Big Picture

Turkey and Russia have different strategies in Syria, and they've come up against each other in Idlib province in the country's northwest. Turkey has now faced a serious Russian-backed campaign to retake the province and is scrambling for options to preserve its influence there — and keep its entire Syria strategy from unraveling.
See The Syrian Civil War

By agreeing with Russia to enact a cease-fire in northwestern Syria starting at 12 a.m. March 6, Turkey appears willing to sacrifice significant territory held by the rebel forces it supports to ensure that violence stops as soon as possible. In doing so, Turkey is setting up Russia and Syria for their next offensive in Idlib province with no real solution in sight for refugees in the area. The deal is designed to allow the de-escalation process between Turkey on the one side and Russia, Syria and Iran on the other to begin in earnest and to reduce tensions between Turkey and Russia in Idlib...

Russia Just Tested Its Hypersonic Anti-Ship Missile

Russia has tested its new Zircon hypersonic missile. Zircon is designed to attack ships at sea and targets on land at speeds of up to Mach 9, giving enemy missile defenses little time to prepare. The new missile will breathe new life into the Russian Navy, many of whose ships were built before the end of the Cold War. The test, according to Naval News, took place in the Barents Sea in January. The missile was fired from the Russian Navy frigate Admiral Gorshkov (above). The missile reportedly struck a target on land. There have reportedly been five previous tests of the missile but were likely tests of key components, such as the engine and missile body. The January test was the first all-up test of the actual hypersonic weapon...

Sudan, U.S.: Washington Lifts Sanctions on 157 Sudanese Firms

Mar 5, 2020

What Happened: According to Sudan's central bank, the United States said it was lifting sanctions to enable 157 Sudanese companies to again start conducting international business, France 24 reported March 4. Only a handful of entities who were involved in human rights violations in Darfur will now remain under U.S. sanctions.

Why It Matters: The sanctions removal — which is in line with a U.S. policy decision in 2017 to begin lifting Washington's 20-year trade embargo on Sudan — will provide some relief for the struggling Sudanese economy. By indicating Washington's commitment to normalizing ties with Sudan, the move also bodes well for further negotiation on the removal of separate U.S. sanctions related to Sudan's designation as a state sponsor of terrorism, which continue to severely limit the country's access to international financial institutions.

Background: The United States has been working to normalize ties with Sudan since the country overthrew its longtime authoritarian leader, President Omar al Bashir, in April. But concerns over the military's continued role in Sudan's transitional government has left Washington hesitant to do so.


Trump Admin. to Extract Military, Intelligence Assets from U.K. over Britain’s Huawei Deal
Tobias HoonhoutMarch 5, 2020 2:58 PM

Signs at the Huawei offices in Reading, England. (Toby Melville/Reuters)
The Trump Administration’s National Security Council launched a review this week of what military and intelligence assets will be withdrawn from Great Britain if the U.K. goes ahead with its 5G deal with Chinese telecom giant Huawei...

EXCLUSIVE: U.S. targets North Korea hacking as nuclear talks sputter

U.S. officials are engaged in an intense behind-the-scenes campaign with foreign allies to cripple North Korea’s cyberhacking and fundraising capabilities, as consensus grows in the Trump administration that nuclear talks with Pyongyang will remain stalled for the coming year. High-level personnel shifts on the North Korea policy team suggest President Trump is moving Pyongyang to the back burner, but sources familiar with the backroom diplomacy say the administration remains active and as focused as ever on undercutting the financial lifelines for the regime of Kim Jong-un.




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

Scott Stewart VP of Tactical Analysis, Stratfor, Mar 3, 2020


-Due to a long history of law enforcement penetration and disruption, right-wing extremist groups in the United States and Europe adopted the leaderless resistance model of terrorism in the 1980s.

-In recent years we have seen right-wing extremists adopt social media strategies pioneered by jihadist groups, particularly the Islamic State.

-Right-wing extremists remain constrained by the attack cycle and are vulnerable to detection as they progress through that cycle.
Focusing on behaviors associated with the attack cycle can help prevent attacks by right-wing extremists.

Last week I had the opportunity to speak with someone in the process of setting up a protective intelligence program at a large corporation. During our conversation about various concerns and threats, the topic of the current wave of right-wing extremist attacks arose. We discussed how that threat manifested itself differently when the actor was an outsider versus an insider, as well as steps the company could take to protect itself against these threats. After thinking about that conversation for some days, it occurred to me that there might be broader interest in the topic, and that it might be worth writing on it to place the threat posed by right-wing extremism into context. With that in mind, I have decided to address external right-wing extremist actors and insider extremists.

The Big Picture
Terrorism remains a persistent and deadly threat, but it can be prevented. Studying terrorism trends and tactics to develop an understanding of the attack cycle and its associated behaviors can help people and organizations adopt measures to mitigate the impact of an attack — or better yet, to recognize attack planning as it's occurring to thwart it.

A History of Right-Wing Violence

As I've discussed elsewhere, the threat of violence from white supremacists, white nationalists and other right-wing extremists is not new. Indeed, as evidenced by the sacking of Lawrence, Kansas, in 1856 and the birth of the Ku Klux Klan in 1865, the threat predates the advent of modern terrorism in the Victorian era. Since then, there have been a number of waves of right-wing extremism in the United States and Europe, including the second rise of the KKK in the United States and the rise of Nazism in Germany and Fascism in Italy in the 1920s, and the rise of George Lincoln Rockwell's American Nazi Party and the third rise of the KKK in the 1960s...

Suspect in attempted Pentagon parking lot bombing appears in court

A 19-year-old Arkansas man arrested in Arlington National Cemetery on Monday is scheduled to appear in court Tuesday to face charges related to an alleged attempt to blow up a service member’s car in the Pentagon parking lot.... “I was just trying to blow myself up," Richardson told officers upon his arrest, according to court documents...


Mapping the coronavirus outbreak: Follow our daily updates on the epidemic and how it is affecting countries around the world here.

Defense Department Linguist Charged with Espionage

Mariam Taha Thompson, 61, formerly of Rochester, Minnesota, was charged today in the District of Columbia with transmitting highly sensitive classified national defense information to a foreign national with apparent connections to Hizballah, a foreign terrorist organization that has been so designated by the Secretary of State. According to the affidavit filed in support of a criminal complaint, the information Thompson gathered and transmitted included classified national defense information regarding active human assets, including their true names. By compromising the identities of these human assets, Thompson placed the lives of the human assets and U.S. military personnel in grave danger...

...“While in a war zone, the defendant allegedly gave sensitive national defense information, including the names of individuals helping the United States, to a Lebanese national located overseas,” said Assistant Attorney General for National Security John C. Demers. “If true, this conduct is a disgrace, especially for someone serving as a contractor with the United States military. This betrayal of country and colleagues will be punished.”

“The conduct alleged in this complaint is a grave threat to national security, placed lives at risk, and represents a betrayal of our armed forces. The charges we’ve filed today should serve as a warning to anyone who would consider disclosing classified national defense information to a terrorist organization,” said U.S. Attorney Timothy J. Shea for the District of Columbia...

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