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Monday, June 22, 2020

What's going on in the World Today 200622

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USA

Three U.S. Navy Flattops Sail Toward China As War Of Words Escalates

On April 3, a Chinese ship rammed and sank a Vietnamese fishing boat in the disputed waters of the resource-rich South China Sea.

Around the same time, China declared two archipelagos in the area as its own administrative districts, drawing a protest from Vietnam’s foreign ministry.

Start a Homeland Security degree at American Military University.

Meanwhile, Beijing announced it had established new “research stations” on Fiery Cross Reef and Subi Reef, two of the roughly dozen major island bases it has built across the region in recent years.

Two months later in mid-June, the U.S. Navy deployed three aircraft-carrier battle groups to the western Pacific Ocean. The groups together possessed around 20 surface warships, several submarines and nearly 200 aircraft...

German court sentences 'cyber jihadi' to 5 years in prison

A court in western Germany has convicted a 39-year-old man of providing support to Islamist groups in Syria. The Duesseldorf regional court on Friday sentenced the German- Tunisian defendant, whose name wasn't released for privacy reasons, to five years in prison. Judges concluded that the man had sent night vision devices, firearms-cleaning equipment and ambulance vehicles to the militia group Ahrar al-Sham. He is also accused of having provided propaganda support to the Islamic State group...

Police: Man arrested in NYPD stabbing yelled 'God is Great' in Arabic three times

Police say a man arrested for stabbing an NYPD officer in Brooklyn on Wednesday yelled 'God is Great' in Arabic three times, according to police bodycam footage. Dzenan Camovic was charged Saturday with offenses including attempted murder of a police officer. He could also face federal charges if the FBI determines the attack was an act of terrorism. Investigators say Camovic opened a Twitter account days before the attack and liked two dozen posts on police brutality. He remains intubated after being shot in a gunfight with police....

AFRICA


Russia Deepens Its Commitment to Libya’s War -- and Political Future

Russia's deepening support for the Libyan National Army (LNA) proves the Kremlin views LNA leader Khalifa Hifter as crucial to its greater North African and Mediterranean strategy, and could grant Moscow the upper hand in shaping the war-torn country's political future. The U.S. military, among others, recently released photos confirming the arrival of a fleet of Russian fighter jets at two LNA-controlled air bases in Libya. The deployment will make it more difficult for the U.N.-recognized Government of National Accord (GNA) to make further military gains beyond Tripolitania. But perhaps most importantly, Russia's growing involvement in Libya's civil war — alongside Turkey's continued support for the GNA — will leave Moscow and Ankara at the helm of any potential negotiations between Eastern and Western Libya, much to the dismay of those in Europe and the United States.

On April 13, the GNA took control of several cities along the coastal road between Tripoli and Tunisia, including Sabratha.
The GNA then seized Hifter's vital al-Watiya air base in Western Libya on May 18, and has since begun to prepare for an offensive on the LNA-controlled town of Tarhuna, which is located 65 kilometers or 40 miles southeast of Tripoli.
In response to these losses, the LNA recently announced it was withdrawing some of its forces from the front lines of Tripoli to launch a large-scale aerial campaign against the GNA...

ASIA

Record wave of terrorists to be set free from Australian prisons in 2020

A fifth of Australia’s locked-up terrorists will be released from prison this year. It’s feared they haven’t been reformed behind bars. After serving 12 years behind bars, deradicalised terror plotter Mazen Touma is critical of anti-terror programs in NSW prisons. ...This year will see 11 convicted terrorists released from NSW and Victorian jails...

EUROPE

Coronavirus: Police warn of lockdown radicalisation threat [UK]

The coronavirus lockdown may have led more individuals to become radicalised as they spend more time online, a police chief has warned. The Metropolitan Police ... said the impact of the lockdown on the terrorism threat was not yet known. She urged the public to remain alert and vigilant as people return to crowded places closed in March. The current UK threat level is "substantial" meaning an attack is likely.... There are also concerns some of the mechanisms to spot the signs someone has been radicalised will not have been present during the pandemic.... The threat level comes from individuals supporting far-right as well as jihadist ideologies...

New Powers for U.K. Police to Tackle Hostile State Activity and Terrorism at Borders

Police at U.K. ports will be able to stop, question, search and detain individuals to determine whether they are a spy as part of a range of measures put before Parliament on June 8. The new Schedule 3 powers were introduced as part of the Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Act 2019, in response to the poisoning of five people in Salisbury using a military-grade nerve agent. ... The U.K. government is certain that the two suspects charged for the Salisbury nerve agent attack are Russian Military Intelligence officers and that the attack was almost certainly approved at a senior level of the Russian state. The British government has also updated its code of practice on the use of existing Schedule 7 powers, which give the police the power to stop and detain people at ports in relation to terrorist activity.

Yorkshire man appears in court over alleged leftwing terror offences

A man from West Yorkshire has appeared in court in connection with alleged leftwing terrorism offences. Dominic Noble, 32, from Huddersfield, was charged with a total of 14 offences, including possessing documents likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism, after he was arrested at his home last week. Counter Terrorism Policing North East said Noble was arrested on 2 June as part of an “intelligence-led investigation into suspected leftwing terrorism”...

Germany: Man arrested over threat to attack Muslims

A man has been arrested in Germany after allegedly threatening an attack on Muslims, citing the assailant who attacked mosques in New Zealand last year, prosecutors said Monday. The 21-year-old from the northern city of Hildesheim is suspected of announcing his intention to carry out an attack "with multiple dead" in an internet chat on Friday.... Investigators found weapons at his apartment that he had apparently acquired to carry out an attack and "data files with radical right-wing contents," prosecutors said. ... A judge on Monday ordered him kept in custody on suspicion of disturbing the peace by threatening crimes and of financing terrorism, a count that prosecutors said stems from the weapons. The investigation so far indicates that the man had long considered carrying out an attack to garner worldwide media attention, according to prosecutors.

New Zealand drops plans for armed police patrols

New Zealand police on Tuesday scrapped plans for armed patrols prompted by last year's Christchurch mosque shootings, after criticism the change would lead to a U.S.-style militarization of the force. Police in the South Pacific nation usually operate without firearms but gave armed patrols a trial run after a lone gunman murdered 51 Muslim worshippers in Christchurch in March 2019.... The move was met with unease among sections of the New Zealand public who weren't used to seeing armed officers, particularly the Maori and Pacific communities, which argued they were the most likely to come into contact with firearm-toting officers.... "We only have to look to the United States to see how violent things can get under a militarized police force," she said in an open letter to Commissioner of Police Andrew Coster. "This is especially so for minorities and communities of color."

LATIN/SOUTH AMERICA

NOTHING SIGNIFICANT TO REPORT

AFGHANISTAN

Taliban still haven't met conditions for US withdrawal from Afghanistan, US general says

The Taliban have not met the conditions agreed upon in order for U.S. troops to leave Afghanistan in May 2021, according to Gen. Frank McKenzie Wednesday. McKenzie said that the U.S. is ahead of schedule in meeting the demands to reduce U.S. troops in the country in July, the initial phase of the U.S.-Taliban deal that was signed in February. But the General stressed that going to zero troops by next May is dependent upon Taliban conditions. “Those conditions would be: Can we be assured that attacks against us will not be generated there?” McKenzie said speaking in video conference for the Middle East Institute in Washington Wednesday...

CHINA


China's Evolving Taiwan Policy: Disrupt, Isolate and Constrain

HIGHLIGHTS

- Although China's official policy is still one of peaceful reunification with Taiwan, the island's political evolution and shifting international relations are pushing Beijing down a more coercive path.

- China has a variety of toolkits to draw from as it seeks to shape the political and social dynamics in and around Taiwan, but events over recent years are shifting China away from conciliatory tools and toward an expansion of coercive measures.

- Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-Wen's continued refusal to recognize the so-called 1992 Consensus, and more overt U.S. backing for Taiwan, are testing Beijing's perception that it has time on its side.

- Should there be stronger political moves in Taiwan toward independence, or if U.S. military capability and political will appear significantly weak, Beijing may weigh the cost of inaction as exceeding the cost of unification by force...

China Reports Progress in Ultra-Secure Satellite Transmission
Researchers enlisted quantum physics to send a “secret key” for encrypting and decrypting messages between two stations 700 miles apart.

The world of artificial satellites, silent in the void of space, might seem pacific. In fact it’s a high-flying battlefield rife with jamming, snooping, blinding, spoofing, hacking and hostility among the planet’s growing array of spacecraft and space powers. Now, Chinese scientists report new progress in building what appears to be the first unbreakable information link between an orbiting craft and its terrestrial controllers, raising the odds that Beijing may one day possess a super-secure global communications network.

In the journal Nature on Monday, the team of 24 scientists describe successfully testing the transmission of a “secret key” for encrypting and decrypting messages between a satellite and two ground stations located roughly 700 miles apart...

IRAN

Iran Appears Poised to Go on the Cyber Offensive

Continued U.S. sanctions and Israel's aggressive strategy against Iran in Syria and Iraq have backed Iran into a corner, forcing it to become more aggressive in its counterstrategy. In 2019, Iran made a significant shift in its asymmetric strategy in the Persian Gulf and on the Arabian Peninsula when it launched missile, drone and bombing attacks that inflicted significant damage on regional oil exports and Saudi Arabia's oil industry. Now it appears that Iran may be making the same shift toward inflicting physical damage using cyberattacks as well. Such a shift would entail a significantly higher risk of further cyberattacks on Arab, U.S., Israeli and other Western companies operating in the region, as well as for critical infrastructure worldwide.

In April, Iranian-backed cyber actors targeted Israeli water infrastructure in an attack that could have increased the amount of chlorine to dangerous levels. The Israel National Cyber Directorate stopped the attack when operators noticed that water pumps were malfunctioning. While few details about the incident have emerged, the hackers apparently deployed malware targeting the plant's industrial control systems' programmable logic controllers once they gained entry into the network.

Prior to April's attack, Iran's offensive cyber operations did not damage critical civilian infrastructure but rather focused on deleting data and records and on accessing information, but April's cyberattack was intended to significantly physically damage and disrupt Israel's water supply. Iran has spent years attempting to gain entry to critical infrastructure and developing the necessary cyber tools to target industrial control systems to damage infrastructure and economic targets...

Amid US tension, Iran builds fake aircraft carrier to attack

As tensions remain high between Iran and the U.S., the Islamic Republic appears to have constructed a new mock-up of an aircraft carrier off its southern coast for potential live-fire drills. The faux foe, seen in satellite photographs obtained Tuesday by The Associated Press, resembles the Nimitz-class carriers that the U.S. Navy routinely sails into the Persian Gulf from the Strait of Hormuz, its narrow mouth where 20% of all the world’s oil passes through. While not yet acknowledged by Iranian officials, the replica’s appearance in the port city of Bandar Abbas suggests Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard is preparing an encore of a similar mock-sinking it conducted in 2015. It also comes as Iran announced Tuesday it will execute a man it accused of sharing details on the movements of the Guard’s Gen. Qassem Soleimani, whom the U.S. killed in a January drone strike in Baghdad...

5 Iran tankers sailing to Venezuela amid US pressure tactics

By JON GAMBRELLMay 17, 2020 GMT

Five Iranian tankers likely carrying at least $45.5 million worth of gasoline and similar products are now sailing to Venezuela as of Sunday, May 17, 2020, part of a wider deal between the two U.S.-sanctioned nations amid heightened tensions between Tehran and Washington. Analysts say the gasoline they carry came from the Persian Gulf Star Refinery. (Iranian Presidency Office via AP, File)

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Five Iranian tankers likely carrying at least $45.5 million worth of gasoline and similar products are now sailing to Venezuela, part of a wider deal between the two U.S.-sanctioned nations amid heightened tensions between Tehran and Washington.

The tankers’ voyage came after Venezuela’s socialist leader Nicol├ís Maduro already turned to Iran for help in flying in chemicals needed at an aging refinery amid a gasoline shortage, a symptom of the wider economic and political chaos gripping Latin America’s one-time largest oil producer.

For Iran, the tankers represent a way to bring money into its cash-starved Shiite theocracy and put its own pressure on the U.S., which under President Donald Trump has pursued maximalist campaigns against both nations.

But the strategy invites the chance of a renewed confrontation between the Islamic Republic and America both in the Persian Gulf, which saw a series of escalating incidents often involving the oil industry last year, and wider afield.

“This is like a new one for everyone,” said Capt. Ranjith Raja, an analyst who tracks oil shipments by sea at the data firm Refinitiv, of the gasoline shipments. “We haven’t seen anything like this before.”

All the vessels involved belong to Iranian state-owned or state-linked companies, flying under the Iranian flag. Since a pressure campaign on Iranian vessels began, notably with the temporary seizure of an Iranian tanker last year by Gibraltar, the country’s ships have been unable to fly flags of convenience of other nations, a common practice in international shipping...

Mystery Submarine May Reveal A Major New Capability For Iran


It was only a matter of time before this happened. A new vessel, shown in public for the first time this week, is either a very small submarine or a very large Uncrewed Underwater Vehicle (UUV). It appears to be the latter. If correct, this will add a new dimension to Iran’s systematic warfare capability. It will also mean that Iran joins an elite club with only the U.S. Navy and Britain’s Royal Navy having such large UUVs.

The vehicle is loosely comparable to the Boeing BA Orca extra-large uncrewed underwater vehicle (XLUUV), which is being developed for the U.S. Navy, in terms of size category and, crucially, diesel-electric propulsion, if not sophistication. The Iranian model is almost certainly a cheaper..!

IRAQ

NOTHING SIGNIFICANT TO REPORT

ISRAEL

Why the U.S. Can’t Get Israel to Break Up With China
For most Israelis, the deals are enticing and the threat seems remote.

Joshua Mitnick

TEL AVIV, Israel—U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s message to Israelis on a recent visit was blunt: Beware China.

After years of blooming Israeli-Chinese commercial relations and the awarding of a string of port and mass transit projects to Chinese building conglomerates, Israel must tread warily or risk cooperation with its most important ally, he said in an Israeli television interview last month.

“We don’t want the Chinese Communist Party to have access to Israeli infrastructure, Israeli communication networks,” he said, “the kind of things that endanger the Israeli people and the ability of the U.S. to cooperate with Israel...”

KOREAN PENINSULA

NOTHING SIGNIFICANT TO REPORT

RUSSIA

Russia's Newest Submarine, Khabarovsk, Could Redefine Underwater Warfare

Russia's Newest Submarine, Khabarovsk, Could Redefine Underwater Warfare

In a move that harks back to the Cold War, the Russian Navy is quietly developing a whole new category of submarines, and their unique capabilities could influence the nature of undersea warfare. The first of the new type, Khabarovsk, is expected to be launched this month. In my view, this is likely to be the defining submarine of the 2020s because it represents a novel and difficult adversary.

Other navies are unlikely to emulate it, but they will want to counter it. The underwater game of cat and mouse where U.S. Navy hunter-killer submarines stalk the Russians could be reinvigorated. But these new targets are not ballistic missile subs. Khabarovsk is instead designed to be armed with the gigantic Poseidon nuclear drone-torpedoes.

Russia has managed to keep many details about the submarine out of the public domain. Relatively little is known about this large nuclear-armed boat, certainly in comparison to Western types. So its launch is eagerly anticipated by defense watchers...

With a Satellite Launch, Russia Beefs up Its Nuclear Deterrent

Russia will continue to focus on developing space-based early warning capabilities, since its newly restored system lacks redundancy. The Kupol system, the collective term for Russia’s space-based warning capability, will eventually comprise at least six satellites. Currently, only four Tundra satellites have been launched beginning in 2015, though their combined orbits already provide around-the-clock observation of U.S. territory. Russia's previous early warning satellite constellation, composed of Oko satellites, became defunct when its last geosynchronous satellite to guarantee permanent visibility of the United States failed in April 2014. Two remaining orbiting satellites continued to provide some visibility after this, but only managed to provide a total of three hours of coverage of the United States per day, leaving Russia without the ability to detect potential launches in a timely fashion...

New Report Exposes Brutal Methods of Russia’s Wagner Group

How a shady network of operatives serves as the tip of the spear in Russia’s global influence efforts with almost no accountability.

Late last November, videos of a gruesome killing went viral on Russian social networks. The shaky cell phone footage taken at al-Shaer gas plant near Palmyra, Syria, shows a Syrian man, who was known to friends and family as Hamdi Bouta, lying on the ground, surrounded by Russian-speaking men in military fatigues. They beat his extremities with a sledgehammer before decapitating him, setting his body on fire and posing for photographs with his remains.

The perpetrators, who have not yet been charged, were identified by the Russian independent news outlet Novaya Gazeta as private military security contractors for the so-called Wagner Group. Yevgeny Prigozhin, a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin who was indicted in the United States for attempted interference in the 2016 presidential election, is widely regarded as the driving force behind the mercenary group.

Bouta’s slaying is symptomatic of the accountability vacuum in which the Wagner Group operates. While mercenary groups are outlawed within Russia, they have served as the tip of the spear of the Kremlin’s proxy wars abroad...

MIDDLE EAST GENERAL

Austerity Will Force Saudi Arabia to Revise Its Military Priorities

HIGHLIGHTS

- Facing severe budgetary strain due to COVID-19 and low oil prices, Saudi Arabia will likely reduce its arms purchases, while avoiding spending cuts that could impede its internal security or the development of its defense sector.

- Riyadh will be careful not to trim spending that hampers the monarchy’s internal security or goal of building its domestic defense production capacity.

- Saudi leadership will calibrate its decisions and seek to limit damage to its Vision 2030 goals, as it keeps an eye on the U.S. presidential election and plans for increasing U.S. scrutiny of its human rights and security policies...

CYBER ISSUES

Chicago Police Scanner Jammed by Hackers Amid Riots [IL]

An investigation has been launched after hackers gained access to the emergency radio system used by the Chicago Police Department over the weekend. As officers worked hard to keep the peace amid riots and looting triggered by the death of George Floyd, hackers jammed their radio comms with slogans and music, endangering the safety of the public and those out protesting peacefully and lawfully. While reports of gun violence were called in, police scanners were blocked with N.W.A.'s '80s hip-hop track "F*** the Police" and Tay Zonday's "Chocolate Rain," which alludes heavily to institutional racism in the United States. Dispatchers struggled to communicate with police to determine where fires had broken out and find out where ambulances needed to be sent. ... “It’s a very dangerous thing that they’re doing,” ....


Israel and Iran Just Showed Us the Future of Cyberwar With Their Unusual Attacks
A shadow war fought largely in secret has reached a new, more open phase.

In late April, Israeli media reported on a possible cyberattack on several water and sewage treatment facilities around the country. Israel’s national water agency initially spoke of a technical malfunction, but later acknowledged it was a cyberstrike. According to Israeli officials, the event caused no damage other than limited disruptions in local water distribution systems. At the time, the reports went all but unnoticed amid the flood of pandemic-related media coverage. Israeli media later blamed Iran for the cyberattack, which had been routed through U.S. and European servers. Iran has denied involvement.
A closer look suggests that cyberwarfare is maturing into a new phase, where new rules of engagement and deterrence are in the process of being established.

Then, on May 9, a cyberattack targeted the computer systems at Iran’s busiest hub for maritime trade, Shahid Rajaee Port in Bandar Abbas near the Strait of Hormuz. According to Iran’s Ports and Maritime Organization, the attack did not penetrate central security and information systems but instead disrupted private operating companies’ systems for several hours. On May 18, the Washington Post cited unnamed officials who identified Israel as the author of what appeared to be a retaliatory attack. Contradicting official Iranian claims of negligible effects, the Post reported that the attack triggered serious road and waterway congestion for several days. Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi didn’t directly acknowledge responsibility, but he alluded to the event when he declared that “Israel will continue acting [against its enemies] with a mix of instruments...”

Tech firms suspend use of ‘biased’ facial recognition technology

Microsoft has joined Amazon and IBM in banning the sale of facial recognition technology to police departments, the tech giants are also urging for federal laws to regulate the use of these solutions. “We will not sell facial-recognition technology to police departments in the United States until we have a national law in place, grounded in human rights, that will govern this technology,” said Microsoft President Brad Smith. “The bottom line for us is to protect the human rights of people as this technology is deployed...”


U.S. Nuclear Contractor Hit with Maze Ransomware, Data Leaked

A U.S. military contractor involved in the maintenance of the country’s Minuteman III nuclear arsenal has been hit by the Maze ransomware, according to reports – with the hackers making off with reams of sensitive information. The company, Westech International, has a range of contracts with the military for everything from ongoing evaluation for the ballistic missile defense system in Colorado, to a role as a sub-contractor for Northrup Grumman. In the latter capacity it provides engineering support, repair and maintenance for ground subsystems components involved in the Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) program...

INTEL GENERAL

NOTHING SIGNIFICANT TO REPORT

TERRORISM

Report: Airman suspected of killing deputy wrote violent extremist messages in blood

Staff Sgt. Steven Carrillo, the Travis Air Force Base security forces airman charged with murdering a California sheriff’s deputy and multiple other crimes last Saturday, wrote phrases associated with a far-right extremist movement in blood on a car before his arrest.... Carrillo wrote the words “boog” and “I became unreasonable” in blood on the hood of a car shortly before he was arrested. NBC said “boog” is short for “boogaloo,” which is a term for an online anti-government movement that seeks to provoke a second civil war in America. “I became unreasonable” refers to a quote from anti-government extremist Marvin Heemeyer, which has become a meme on boogaloo-related social media sites.... Carrillo also wrote “stop the duopoly” in blood, NBC said, referencing a desire to break the system of two main political parties in the United States. Carrillo, who was arraigned in Santa Cruz Friday afternoon, faces at least 19 charges, according to a criminal complaint filed Thursday. He is accused of ambushing and fatally shooting Sgt. Damon Gutzwiller, 38, of the Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Department, as well as wounding and attempting to kill other officers with firearms and pipe bombs...

Ex-Californian Pleads Not Guilty In Terrorism Case

A former California prison counselor pleaded not guilty Monday to federal charges that he lied to the FBI during an international anti-terrorism investigation.... He was extradited from the United Kingdom last Friday after a 3 1/2-year legal battle, the U.S. attorney’s office said in a statement. Dempsey lived in Sacramento and from 2001 to 2012 he was a youth counselor for the juvenile justice division of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. Prosecutors said that in 2013, Dempsey, a convert to Islam, flew to Syria to join Islamic militant fighters in that country and stayed for less than two months before trying to fly home. He was detained by an FBI agent at an airport in Rome, where he was stopped because he was on a no- fly list. He is accused of lying to an FBI agent by falsely claiming he had gone to Syria to help refugees. He was arrested in the United Kingdom in 2017...

MISC

With U.S.-Russia Talks Ahead, New START’s Future Hangs in the Balance

The United States is seeking to buy time in upcoming arms control discussions with Russia, and could agree to a brief extension of New START in an effort to draw China into a longer-term discussion about its potential inclusion in the treaty. Washington may now be more willing to preserve core New START elements that restrict the number of strategic nuclear weapons and delivery systems that each signatory can have.

- The White House’s arms control negotiator, Marshall Billingslea, and Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov are slated to finally meet in Vienna on June 22 to discuss the future of New START, which came into force in 2011 and is now set to expire in February 2021 unless both parties agree to a five-year extension provided within the treaty itself.

- Recent leaks from the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump have suggested that a shorter extension (i.e. less than the five years) may be on the table, but the upcoming meeting will not guarantee any final decision...


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