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Monday, August 31, 2020

What's Going On In The World Today



No US Icebreakers Working As USCGC Healy Limps Home

With one icebreaker down, the US has one left in port -- with no new ships scheduled to arrive for years.

WASHINGTON: The Coast Guard has lost its only deployed icebreaker after one of the ship’s main motors caught fire on August 18, an incident only reported by the service on Tuesday.

The USCGC Healy had just picked up a group of 11 scientists in Seward, Alaska to run experiments on ice flow patterns in the Arctic when the blaze struck. The ship is now sailing back home under its own power. It should arrive by Aug. 31, the Coast Guard confirms to Breaking Defense. As a result of the incident, the Coast Guard has canceled all Arctic operations at sea.

The Healy blaze means the US has no operational icebreakers capable of deploying, as the heavy icebreaker Polar Star just wrapped up a scheduled overhaul to prepare for a planned annual deployment to Antarctica in November. The Polar Star is currently in port in Seattle preparing for Operation Deep Freeze, which leads the breakout of McMurdo Sound to allow resupply of the McMurdo Station at Antarctica, the Coast Guard’s Lt. Cmdr. Stephen Brickey told me in an email...

Arson suspected in Bonhomme Richard fire, defense official says

SAN DIEGO — Arson is suspected as the cause of a July 12 fire that left extensive damage to the amphibious assault ship Bonhomme Richard docked off San Diego, and a U.S. Navy sailor was being questioned as a potential suspect, a senior defense official said Wednesday.

The sailor was being questioned as part of the investigation by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the official said, adding that defense department leaders were notified of the development. The official, with knowledge of the investigation, spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity to provide details not yet made public. The sailor was not detained.

The amphibious assault ship burned for more than four days and was the Navy’s worst U.S. warship fire outside of combat in recent memory.

The ship was left with extensive structural, electrical and mechanical damage and its future remains uncertain...

Competition For U.S. Long-Range Strike Mission Heats Up

Lockheed Martin Precision-Strike Missile

Long-range strike as a sector of U.S. military investment has not been so popular since perhaps Gen. Curtis LeMay’s Strategic Air Command reigned supreme over the Air Force in the 1950s. Whether in terms of missiles—hypersonic, supersonic or subsonic—or a new platform such as the stand-in Northrop Grumman B-21 or reengining of the standoff Boeing B-52H, the Air Force has multiple, overlapping development programs in progress.

For the first time, however, the popularity of the conventional long-range strike mission is no longer reserved for the Air Force. Since the signing of the now-defunct Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty in 1987, which led to the retirement of the Army’s Pershing II missile system, the Army has depended solely on Air Force surveillance and striking power to hit any target more than 185 mi. away.

That division of responsibilities was partly intended to establish clear lines of authority for weapons release on a dynamic battlefield to minimize the chances of a friendly fire incident. The other services also appeared content to focus their limited fiscal resources on other areas while the Air Force shouldered the financial burden for maintaining the long-range strike mission...




China Is Taking Advantage of India’s Intelligence Failures

New Delhi has failed to learn from its mistakes.

In June, soldiers from India and China engaged in a violent skirmish along the two countries’ unmarked border in the Galwan Valley in eastern Ladakh. At least 20 Indian soldiers were killed, along with an unspecified number of their Chinese counterparts, in what was the first such confrontation since 1975 that resulted in fatalities.

New Delhi and Beijing have now embarked on a fitful process of de-escalation. But even as the two parties seek to restore some semblance of normalcy along their shared border, a critical question lingers: Why was India’s security establishment seemingly blindsided by China? Local officials in Ladakh have in fact been sounding the alarm about Chinese forays into Indian territory for years, a fact that points to a complete breakdown in New Delhi’s intelligence gathering and risk assessment.

It wouldn’t be the first time. And India doesn’t seem to be learning crucial lessons from previous security failures...






Flash Floods Kill At Least 100 In Afghanistan

Flash floods caused by torrential rains in Afghanistan have killed at least 100 people and injured more than 300 others in Parwan Province just north of Kabul, Afghan officials say. ... Afghanistan's state minister for natural-disaster management, told RFE/RL on August 26 that the floods had also destroyed more than 1,000 houses in the province. ... the death toll was likely to rise as rescue teams continue to locate victims people buried beneath destroyed houses...


China holds another round of naval drills in South China Sea

A look at recent developments in the South China Sea, where China is pitted against smaller neighbors in multiple territorial disputes over islands, coral reefs and lagoons. ... China is holding another round of military drills in the South China Sea amid an uptick in such activity in the area highlighting growing tensions. The Maritime Safety Administration said the exercises would run from Monday through Sunday. It warned outside vessels to steer 5 nautical miles (9.26 kilometers) clear of the drill area but otherwise gave no details...

US spy plane enters no-fly zone during Chinese live-fire naval drill

The US has sent spy planes over a live-fire Chinese military drill – including a U-2 which entered a declared no-fly zone – triggering a protest from Beijing and heightening the risk of an armed conflict.... The Beijing-based think tank South China Sea Strategic Situation Probing Initiative said a US Air Force RC-135S reconnaissance aircraft flew across the South China Sea on Wednesday, during the Chinese military drill. But it said it appeared the plane was on a transfer, rather than a reconnaissance mission. Chinese defence ministry spokesman Wu Qian said a U-2 reconnaissance jet flew without permission over the no-fly zone in the PLA’s northern military region, where the live-fire drills were taking place...

Blanked-Out Spots On China's Maps Helped Us Uncover Xinjiang's Camps

This project was supported by the Open Technology Fund, the Pulitzer Center, and the Eyebeam Center for the Future of Journalism.

In the summer of 2018, as it became even harder for journalists to work effectively in Xinjiang, a far-western region of China, we started to look at how we could use satellite imagery to investigate the camps where Uighurs and other Muslim minorities were being detained. At the time we began, it was believed that there were around 1,200 camps in existence, while only several dozen had been found. We wanted to try to find the rest.

Our breakthrough came when we noticed that there was some sort of issue with satellite imagery tiles loading in the vicinity of one of the known camps while using the Chinese mapping platform Baidu Maps. The satellite imagery was old, but otherwise fine when zoomed out — but at a certain point, plain light gray tiles would appear over the camp location. They disappeared as you zoomed in further, while the satellite imagery was replaced by the standard gray reference tiles, which showed features such as building outlines and roads.

At that time, Baidu only had satellite imagery at medium resolution in most parts of Xinjiang, which would be replaced by their general reference map tiles when you zoomed in closer. That wasn’t what was happening here — these light gray tiles at the camp location were a different color than the reference map tiles and lacked any drawn information, such as roads. We also knew that this wasn’t a failure to load tiles, or information that was missing from the map. Usually when a map platform can’t display a tile, it serves a standard blank tile, which is watermarked. These blank tiles are also a darker color than the tiles we had noticed over the camps...


Iran announces locally made ballistic and cruise missiles amid U.S. tensions

Iran displayed a surface-to-surface ballistic missile on Thursday that Defence Minister Amir Hatami said had a range of 1,400 kilometres and a new cruise missile, ignoring U.S. demands that Tehran halt its missile programme. “The surface-to-surface missile, called martyr Qassem Soleimani, has a range of 1,400 km and the cruise missile, called martyr Abu Mahdi, has a range of over 1,000 km,” Hatami said in a televised speech. Pictures of the missiles were shown on state TV, which it said was “the newest Iranian cruise missile that will further strengthen Iran’s deterrence power”...

Iran says 'sabotage' caused blast at Natanz nuclear site

Iran’s Atomic Energy Organisation said on Sunday that “sabotage” was the cause of an explosion that damaged the Natanz nuclear facility last month. “Security investigations confirm this was sabotage and what is certain is that an explosion took place in Natanz,” spokesman Behrouz Kamalvandi was quoted as saying by state news agency IRNA. “But how this explosion took place and with what materials ... will be announced by security officials in due course.” Iran said after the incident on 2 July that it had determined its cause but declined to release details due to “security concerns”.

Iran To Allow Access To Suspected Nuclear Sites

Iran has agreed to allow inspections of two sites where nuclear activities are suspected to have taken place in the past, easing diplomatic pressure on Tehran as the United States seeks to reimpose UN sanctions. The announcement was made on August 26 in a joint statement by Iran and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) as Director-General Rafael Grossi was wrapping up his visit to Tehran...


U.S.-led troops withdraw from Iraq's Taji base

United States-led international coalition troops withdrew from Iraq’s Taji military base on Sunday and handed it over to Iraqi security forces, Reuters witnesses and the coalition said.
The base, 20 km (12 miles) north of Baghdad, had been the site of frequent rocket attacks by Iran-backed militias targeting U.S.-led troops in recent months. The movement of coalition military personnel is part of a long-range plan coordinated with the government of Iraq,” the coalition said in a statement, adding that Camp Taji has historically held up to 2,000 coalition members, most of whom have departed this summer. Remaining coalition troops will depart in the coming days after finalising the handing over of equipment to Iraqi security forces, it added...


What's Driving Muslim Countries to Normalize Their Ties With Israel?

The waning influence of the pan-Islamism and pan-Arabism movements, combined with increasing U.S. pressure, will cause Oman, Bahrain and Morocco to soon join the United Arab Emirates in formalizing ties with Israel, accelerating a longer-term normalization trend that no longer hinges on the formation of a Palestinian state. The allure of Israel's technology and defense capabilities could also compel other Muslim states with covert ties and limited histories of overt conflict with Israel, such as Pakistan, to follow suit. Israel will, in turn, see expanding global economic ties that strengthen its post-pandemic recovery, as well as stronger regional allies that bolster its position against Iran should the upcoming U.S. election yield a less hawkish administration in Washington.

The major drivers that have traditionally kept Israel isolated in the Muslim world are changing, opening the door for states interested in enhanced trade and diplomatic ties to explore normalization.

Pan-Islamist and pan-Arabism movements once largely centered around anti-Israel narratives, which led many Muslims to support isolating from and even fighting wars with Israel. These movements, however, are weakening as a result of being partially discredited by their long records of fomenting unsuccessful conflicts with Israel, their history of governance that has not always improved living standards or delivered essential services, and their inspiration of radical extremists such as al Qaeda and the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq. Pan-Islamist and pan-Arabism ideologies now remain most popular among older Muslim generations, who make up an increasingly small minority of the roughly 1.8 billion Muslims living around the world (the average age of Muslims worldwide was 24 in 2015)...


North Korea Doesn’t Trust China to Protect It

Pyongyang will never accept the shelter of another power’s nuclear umbrella.

When North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and Chinese President Xi Jinping met for the first time in March 2018, the official topics of discussion were predictable: peace, denuclearization, industry, economic development, and deepening North Korea-China relations. That’s unsurprising for two countries that are each other’s only formal treaty allies and have been for decades. But the relationship is far more taut than public displays indicate. North Korea is happy to have Beijing on its side. But it’s never going to be willing to put its ultimate security in China’s hands. Nowhere is this more important than in denuclearization. The United States has been able to pressure allies, such as South Korea and Taiwan, out of the possibility of nuclear programs in the past, thanks to offers of protection—whether the ambiguous guarantees to Taiwan or the formal shelter of the U.S. nuclear umbrella offered to Japan and others. That makes the idea of a Chinese nuclear umbrella over North Korea an attractive and legitimate avenue for denuclearization—but one that Pyongyang itself will never agree to.

China and North Korea share ideological roots, and Beijing laid the foundation for an enduring alliance when it came to North Korea’s aid during the Korean War. But there are key differences between the North Korea-China alliance and the United States’ alliances with South Korea and Japan that make the creation of a Chinese nuclear umbrella over the North highly unlikely. Any offer would directly clash with three critical North Korean concerns in policymaking: adherence to the ideology of juche (“self-reliance”), economic entwinement with China, and maintaining nuclear leverage...




Despite a Rocky Start, UAE-Israeli Defense Ties Are Poised to Grow

The United Arab Emirates' desire to simultaneously upgrade its defense ties with Israel and the United States will probably create political controversy in both countries, though the benefits of deeper security cooperation with Abu Dhabi is more likely to earn greater support in Israel than Washington. On Aug. 25, Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz and his Emirati counterpart, Mohammed al-Bawardi, reportedly discussed possible security cooperation in their two countries' first publicly-known phone call since agreeing to normalize ties. The call came a day after the United Arab Emirates canceled a planned trilateral meeting with the United States and Israel in response to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's public objection to the potential sale of the American F-35 stealth fighter jets to Abu Dhabi.

- The pending arms deal between the United States and the United Arab Emirates was reportedly part of the negotiation process for the U.S.-brokered normalization deal between Israel and Abu Dhabi.

- Israel's unity government has been divided on whether to grant Abu Dhabi access to such fighter jets and other advanced weaponry, with Netanyahu reportedly holding discussions about the U.S. sale of F-35 jets in particular without Gantz.

- Most of Israel's center-right politicians, such as those in Gantz's Resilience Party as well as his former Likud party, oppose advanced arms sales to even friendly Arab Gulf states for fear the weapons systems or technologies might fall into anti-Israeli hands — a policy commonly known as Israel's Qualitative Military Edge (QME).//


FBI, DHS expose North Korean government malware used in fake job posting campaign

The FBI and DHS’ cybersecurity agency exposed malware Wednesday that North Korean government hackers have been using this year to target defense contractors in the military and energy sectors. The hackers have been targeting contractors with fake job postings from other defense contracting entities to lure them to click through and install the data-gathering implant on their systems, the FBI and Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) said in a joint Malware Analysis Report (MAR). The attacks leverage a remote access trojan (RAT), which the FBI and the CISA call “BLINDINGCAN,” to gain a foothold into networks and then maintain access for further network exploitation, the FBI and CISA said.




St. Pete protester caught with Molotov cocktail, loaded gun, police say [FL]

A St. Petersburg protester has been charged with terrorist activity after police discovered a Molotov cocktail in his car that was parked outside of police headquarters. ... Quraishi threw a round of ammunition at the direction of officers during the protest. Officers soon realized Quraishi was carrying a loaded firearm without a permit.


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