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Tuesday, May 18, 2021

What's Going On In The World Today 210517





U.S., China: Biden Likely to Keep Ban on Investments in Chinese Military-Linked Firms

What Happened: U.S. President Joe Biden is likely to keep a ban on investments in 31 Chinese military-linked companies that his predecessor imposed via executive order in November 2020, according to leaks cited by the South China Morning Post on May 7. 

Why it Matters: Biden has the power to expand the investment ban to other Chinese firms, including those involved in human rights abuses or espionage, but has so far not acted on this. Since taking office in January, Biden has opted to continue most of his predecessor's approach to the United States' strategic competition with China, while also injecting multilateralism into those policies.

Background: China’s major firms are undergoing a credit squeeze amid U.S. investment scrutiny and Beijing’s antitrust campaign, which led to a steep drop in IPOs on mainland Chinese exchanges in 2020.




South Africa’s Unaccountable Ruling Party


The ANC descends into infighting again as it tries to suspend top officials facing corruption charges.


The ANC’s Attempts at Accountability Lead to Chaos

In the last decade, South Africa’s liberation movement-turned-ruling party, the African National Congress (ANC), has been tainted by corruption scandals. In a bid to regain the moral high ground, the party of Nelson Mandela has struggled to hold senior members accountable. Over the last week, the party’s latest attempts to do so exposed chaotic infighting and just how far the ANC’s competing factions have pulled the movement apart.

Step aside. Last week, the ANC moved to suspend party Secretary-General Elias Sekgobelo “Ace” Magashule, who has been at the center of multiple corruption allegations. The suspension was the culmination of months of public discussion, and perhaps years of behind-the-scenes wrangling, on the so-called “step aside” rule…




The U.S. Navy in the Indian Ocean: India’s ‘Goldilocks’ Dilemma

India’s strategic community was in a frenzy last month after USS John Paul Jones carried out a freedom of navigation exercise near India’s Lakshadweep Islands. Indian observers were mystified by the timing of maneuver, coming as it did at a moment when U.S.-Indian relations are on a high. The disquiet in New Delhi was compounded by a U.S. 7th Fleet press release that said the operation was carried out in India’s exclusive economic zone “without requesting India’s prior consent” to assert “navigational rights and freedoms”—language that many Indian observers saw as needlessly provocative.

Analysts in India should not have been surprised. Following the Biden administration’s announcement of ambitious plans to counter China, the United States has moved to boost its military presence in the Indo-Pacific region. In recent weeks, the U.S. Navy and U.S. Marine Corps have bolstered their deployments, jointly conducting expeditionary strike force operations in the South China Sea. While much of America’s focus is on tackling China’s grey zone challenge in the East Asian littorals, the Indian Ocean, too, is receiving more attention than ever. There is a growing sense in Washington that the free and open Indo-Pacific strategy has neglected the Indian Ocean region, where China has made steady inroads. With the maturation of the Quad, a loose security partnership of the United States, India, Australia, and Japan, many U.S. analysts believe the time is right for the U.S. Navy to stage a return to the Indian Ocean region…




The United Kingdom Dispatches HMS Queen Elizabeth to Confront China

Are U.S. allies finally rallying around Washington’s more aggressive stance toward Beijing?

For more than 800 years, English naval ships have been launching from Portsmouth, bound for the world’s oceans. Last week, the Royal Navy opened a new era with the departure of a new aircraft carrier, HMS Queen Elizabeth, for the beginning of an seven-month deployment that will bring it to the Indo-Pacific, along with a strike group. There, the Royal Navy task force will participate in operations designed to ensure freedom of navigation and open seas. The reason? “We see China as being a challenge and a competitor,” said Britain’s first sea lord, Adm. Tony Radakin, during a visit with his U.S. counterpart, Adm. Mike Gilday, the chief of naval operations.

Some might wonder why the British are sticking their toes into the turbulent waters of far-away Asia—why London is suddenly so committed to upholding a “free and open Indo-Pacific,” adopting the slogan used by the Trump and Biden administrations alike. Or, even more tellingly, why so many nations even beyond the United Kingdom are increasingly vocal in their criticisms of Beijing.

The looming Chinese-U.S. confrontation—and especially the United States’ supposedly more aggressive stance—is often cited as the main threat to global peace. The danger is argued to be the result of former U.S. President Donald Trump’s attempts to overturn four decades of more cooperative U.S. policy toward China. Trump’s moves, including imposing tariffs, banning tech companies, challenging Beijing’s influence campaigns, increasing naval operations in the South China Sea, and deepening ties with Taiwan, led to warnings that Washington was turning China into an enemy and pushing the two nations closer to conflict. For example, an open letter to then-President Trump signed by more than 100 American academics and former diplomats and military officers expressed the belief that “many U.S. actions are contributing directly to the downward spiral in relations…”
















Iran: Hard-Line Judiciary Chief to Run in Presidential Election

What Happened: Iran’s hard-line judiciary chief Ebrahim Raisi plans to run in the June 18 presidential election and is expected to officially register as a candidate later this week, according to leaks cited by the local media outlet Tasnim. 

Why It Matters: Raisi, who ran against President Hassan Rouhani in 2017, will give Iran’s conservative factions a candidate to rally around in next month’s vote. Raisi is also currently the overall frontrunner, with pre-election polls showing the most support for his prospective candidacy. A more conservative president would not necessarily be an obstacle to a narrow U.S.-Iran agreement on nuclear compliance, though it would make a follow-up deal more challenging. 

Background: On May 11, Iran opened registration for candidates seeking to run in the June presidential ballot. Raisi won 38% of the vote in the 2017 presidential election. 








In Gaza, More Bloodshed Appears Inevitable

Grassroots pressure on the Israeli and Palestinian governments portend a prolonged border conflict that places more lives at risk and forestalls Arab-Israeli normalization. 

Militant groups in Gaza launched over 400 rockets at southern Israeli territory since May 10, killing two Israelis and wounding at least 24 more. In response, the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) struck more than 130 targets in the Gaza Strip, killing 26 Palestinians, including 9 children. Political paralysis and deepened popular frustration on all sides of the conflict will make it harder for the Israeli and Palestinian governments to satisfy their angry constituents and reach an eventual resolution. 

Popular anger among Palestinians and Israelis over contested neighborhoods in Jerusalem drove Gazan militants and the Israeli military to exchange fire over Gaza. 

Forced evictions of Palestinian families from the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of East Jerusalem have sparked Palestinian anger across the territories. Israeli nationalists have also been provoking Palestinians in contested areas in Jerusalem, resulting in clashes in places like the Damascus Gate. Recent rocket volleys from the Gaza Strip landing in central Israeli territory, meanwhile, crossed a red line for many Israelis as well, as most violence in the region is usually concentrated along the southern border. Reports of rockets striking targets in Tel Aviv on May 11 indicate a significant expansion of the conflict from its typical tit-for-tat escalation in southern Israeli and Gazan territory… 




The Acceleration of North Korea’s Missile Program

Under Kim Jong Un, North Korea has rapidly accelerated its longer-range ballistic missile and nuclear programs. But Pyongyang has also focused on short-range systems as part of an effort to modernize its military capability for contingencies on the Korean Peninsula. 


The Threat of North Korea’s Missile Programs


In March, North Korea carried out a cruise missile test, as well as a test of maneuverable short-range ballistic missiles. The two tests came amid the spring training exercises and ended a year-long lapse in missile tests as Pyongyang focused its attention on managing the COVID-19 crisis. Satellite imagery and photos from military parades suggest North Korea may be preparing another test of its submarine-launched ballistic missile, perhaps coinciding with the launch of its new ballistic missile submarine. These tests reflect the two prongs of North Korea’s overall defense strategy: securing second-strike nuclear capability against the United States, and modernizing its missile and rocket systems for operations on the Korean Peninsula. 


The United States has long been concerned by North Korea’s intermediate and long-range missile programs, particularly coupled with Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons program. But South Korea and nearby Japan have been equally (if not more) concerned with the shorter-range systems in North Korea’s arsenal, which are designed to strike at U.S. and U.S.-allied military facilities in the region. For Seoul and Tokyo, Pyongyang’s shorter-range ballistic missiles, cruise missiles and large-caliber multiple launch rocket systems (MLRS) have not only proven to be more reliable but are also more likely to be used in regional contingencies that may fall shy of a full war with the United States. The 2010 shelling of South Korea’s Yeonpyeong islands, for example, included North Korean MLRS systems, inflicting damage on military and civilian infrastructure...





Russia to tighten gun rules after school shooting

The gun rampage at a school in the city of Kazan has prompted President Vladimir Putin to order a tightening of Russia's gun controls.

A 19-year-old, Ilnaz Galyaviev, was detained and he is the suspected shooter. Seven children and two adults were killed. Dozens more were wounded and some are in critical condition.

A Russian MP says the weapon used was a semi-automatic shotgun - a type popular among hunters. Reports say Galyaviev had a licence for it. The gun is relatively cheap in Russia, costing upwards of 20,000 roubles (£190; $280).

The same type of gun was used by a teenager, who killed 20 people at a technical college in the city of Kerch in Russian-annexed Crimea in 2018, then shot himself…







Cyberattack Forces a Shutdown of a Top U.S. Pipeline

The operator, Colonial Pipeline, said it had halted systems for its 5,500 miles of pipeline after being hit by a ransomware attack.

One of the nation’s largest pipelines, which carries refined gasoline and jet fuel from Texas up the East Coast to New York, was forced to shut down after being hit by ransomware in a vivid demonstration of the vulnerability of energy infrastructure to cyberattacks.

The operator of the system, Colonial Pipeline, said in a vaguely worded statement late Friday that it had shut down its 5,500 miles of pipeline, which it says carries 45 percent of the East Coast’s fuel supplies, in an effort to contain the breach. Earlier Friday, there were disruptions along the pipeline, but it was not clear at the time whether that was a direct result of the attack or of the company’s moves to proactively halt it.

On Saturday, as the F.B.I., the Energy Department and the White House delved into the details, Colonial Pipeline acknowledged that its corporate computer networks had been hit by a ransomware attack, in which criminal groups hold data hostage until the victim pays a ransom. The company said it had shut the pipeline itself, a precautionary act, apparently for fear that the hackers might have obtained information that would enable them to attack susceptible parts of the pipeline…

Ransomware Pros for Hire Take Down Largest U.S. Petroleum Products Pipeline

Editor's Note: ­This security-focused assessment is one of many such analyses found at Stratfor Threat Lens, a unique protective intelligence product designed with corporate security leaders in mind. Threat Lens enables industry professionals and organizations to anticipate, identify, measure and mitigate emerging threats to people, assets and intellectual property the world over. Threat Lens is the only unified solution that analyzes and forecasts security risk from a holistic perspective, bringing all the most relevant global insights into a single, interactive threat dashboard. 

This excerpt discusses the impact of the recent ransomware cyberattack on the Colonial Pipeline system, leading to it being shut down, and the rise of commercial-oriented ransomware groups. While the attackers appear to be a criminal group, it is still the most disruptive cyberattack on the U.S. energy sector and will bring more political pressure on President Joe Biden to expand his cybersecurity agenda and boost U.S. defenses against all cyberthreats. 

As of publication, the timetable for restarting the full pipeline is unclear. While the impact of a shutdown of the Colonial Pipeline system's main lines for a few days will only have a limited impact on regional gasoline, diesel and jet fuel prices, a longer lasting outage will have a more disruptive impact and could cause localized shortages and fears about scarcity along much of the U.S. East Coast. If the impact to U.S. fuel supplies becomes more acute, it will only increase pressure on the Biden administration to respond strongly.

The Colonial Pipeline cyberattack will reinforce the Biden administration's push for boosting U.S. cybersecurity defenses, but the rise of more professionalized ransomware groups and extortion campaigns will only lead to more cyberattacks on Western companies despite government policy. The Colonial Pipeline Co. shut down its pipeline system — the largest petroleum products pipeline servicing the eastern United States — on May 7 after learning its information technology systems suffered a cyberattack, the company said in a statement released on its website the following day.

200K Veterans’ Medical Records May Have Been Stolen by Ransomware Gang

A database filled with the medical records of nearly 200,000 U.S. military veterans was exposed online by a vendor working for the Veterans Administration, according to an analyst, who also presented evidence the data might have been exfiltrated by ransomware attackers. The VA for it’s part said that the evidence may point to internal security work rather than a cyberattack.


The Department of Defense’s Looming AI Winter

The Department of Defense is on a full-tilt sugar high about the potential for AI to secure America’s competitive edge over potential adversaries. AI does hold exciting possibilities. But an artificial AI winter looms for the department, potentially restraining it from joining the rest of the world in the embrace of an AI spring.

The department’s frenzy for AI is distracting it from underlying issues preventing operationalization of AI at scale. When these efforts fail to meet expectations, the sugar rush will collapse into despair. The resultant feedback loop will deprioritize and defund AI as a critical weapon system. This is known as an “AI winter,” and the Department of Defense has been here twice before. If it happens again, it won’t be because the technology wasn’t ready, but because the Department of Defense doesn’t know enough about AI, has allowed a bureaucracy to grow up between the people who will use AI and those developing it for them, and is trying to tack “AI-ready” components onto legacy systems on the cheap.

Previous AI winters arrived in the Department of Defense for their own peculiar reasons — immature technologies, overzealous regulation fixated on short-term results, and reality not living up to the hype cycle. This time, however, the core enabling technologies for AI are now widely available in the commercial sector. Computing power, cloud structures, data, and advanced software development are all readily available to anyone with the wherewithal to put them all together. The department’s looming AI winter will be unique, isolated, and of its own creation…











Conflicts in Wargames: Leveraging Disagreements to Build Value

Millennium Challenge 2002 is likely the most infamous wargame of the last several decades. During an event billed as the key to U.S. military transformation, Lt. Gen. Paul Van Riper, while commanding an inferior opposing force in the scenario, quickly sunk 19 U.S. ships and rendered the carrier battle group ineffective. Despite the controversy that followed, Lt. Gen. B. B. Bell, the commander of U.S. forces in the game, identified a number of valuable tactical lessons for dealing with asymmetric warfare. He also recognized the importance of red teaming in the planning process, and went on to establish more than 20 red teams in the organizations he led. Not all lessons gleaned from wargaming are highlighted so dramatically. In fact, valuable information can be easily missed.

While the idea that wargames play a key role in helping organizations identify useful insights is widely accepted, there is less agreement on the mechanisms that best accomplish this task. The wargaming literature underscores the importance of networks, the role of weak signals, and internalization of the experience. While all of these (and others) play a role, this article will explore three key parallels between wargaming practices and sound executive decision-making that can help convert contentious debate into insights: including diverse perspectives, debating their merits publicly, and revisiting key recommendations multiple times. These practices are particularly useful when decision-makers are struggling to discern the signals of valuable information from the pervasive background noise…



Vlad the vaccinator: Dracula's castle lures visitors with COVID-19 jabs

Visitors to Dracula's castle are more likely to find puncture marks in their arms than their necks this month, after medics set up a COVID-19 vaccination centre at the Transylvanian attraction.

Doctors and nurses with fang stickers on their scrubs are offering free Pfizer (PFE.N) shots to all-comers at 14th century Bran Castle, which is purported to be an inspiration for the vampire's towering home in Bram Stoker’s novel "Dracula".

Castle staff hope the service will bring more people to the site in Romania's Carpathian mountains, where tourist numbers have plummeted since the start of the pandemic.

Anyone can turn up without an appointment every weekend in May. They also get free entry to the castle's exhibit of 52 medieval torture instruments…


Alcohol made from radioactive Chernobyl apples seized by Ukraine government

By Brandon Specktor - Senior Writer 7 days ago

In 2019, a group of scientists and distillers decided to create a bold new type of booze: Atomik, an artisanal alcoholic spirit made from ingredients grown in the Chernobyl nuclear power plant's still-radioactive exclusion zone. (The booze itself was not radioactive after the distilling process, Live Science previously reported).

Now, the first batch of Atomik is finally complete — and all 1,500 bottles of it have been seized by Ukrainian Secret Services agents for unknown reasons, according to a statement from Atomik's manufacturer, The Chernobyl Spirit Company…


A prototype bottle of Atomik. (Image credit: University of Portsmouth)

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