North Korea Tests Another Missile

From US Pacific Command (USPACOM):

U.S. Pacific Command Detects, Tracks North Korean Missile Launch

By CDR David Benham | U.S. Pacific Command | April 04, 2017

CAMP H.M. SMITH, Hawaii — The U.S. Pacific Command (USPACOM) detected and tracked what we assess was a North Korean missile launch at 11:42 a.m. Hawaii-Aleutian Standard Time, April 4. The launch of a single ballistic missile occurred at a land-based facility near Sinpo.

The missile was tracked until it landed in the Sea of Japan at 11:51 a.m.

Initial assessments indicate that the type of missile was a KN-15 medium-range ballistic missile (MRBM).

USPACOM is fully committed to working closely with our Republic of Korea and Japanese allies to maintain security.

The North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) determined that the missile launch from North Korea did not pose a threat to North America.

An Administration official has issued the following statement:

A senior White House official issued a dire warning to reporters Tuesday on the state of North Korea’s nuclear program, declaring “the clock has now run out and all options are on the table.”

“The clock has now run out, and all options are on the table,” the official said, pointing to the failure of successive administration’s efforts to negotiate an end to North Korea’s nuclear program.
The senior White House official who issued Tuesday’s ominous missive also said North Korea is a “matter of urgent interest for the President and the administration as a whole” and emphasized that “all options are on the table.”
Those options could include stepped up economic sanctions — including against Chinese entities that do business with North Korea — cyberattacks or military action.
Earlier Tuesday, Gen. John Hyten, the commander of US Strategic Command, which oversees US nuclear weapons and missile defense forces, contradicted Trump, saying China was critical to solving the North Korea nuclear challenge.
As I wrote last week, the biggest issue here is that we have a dearth of expertise. While we do have a handful of really sharp subject matter experts on North Korea, we don’t have a lot. And most of the folks you’ll see opining on what to do are not these subject matter experts. And this deficit of knowledge is combined with a new Administration that is not properly or fully staffed. As a result Kim Jong Un, like Bashar al Assad and others, will continue to probe, prod, and push the new Administration to see what they can and cannot get away with.
Stay frosty!


Syrian Arab Armed Forces Chemical Weapons Attack at Idlib

It is being reported that earlier today Bashar al Assad’s Syrian Arab Armed Forces conducted a chemical weapons attack against targets in the city of Idlib. Here is video footage from inside a hospital at the moment of the attack:

The BBC is reporting:

At least 58 people have been killed and dozens wounded in a suspected chemical attack on a rebel-held town in north-western Syria, a monitoring group says.

Reuters reports:

The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the attack killed at least 58 people and was believed to have been carried out by Syrian government jets. It caused many people to choke, and some to foam at the mouth.

Director Rami Abdulrahman told Reuters the assessment that Syrian government warplanes were to blame was based on several factors such as the type of aircraft, including Sukhoi 22 jets, that carried out the raid.

“We deny completely the use of any chemical or toxic material in Khan Sheikhoun town today and the army has not used nor will use in any place or time neither in past or in future,” the Syrian army command said in a statement.

The Russian Defence Ministry said its aircraft had not carried out the attack. The U.N. Security Council was expected to meet on Wednesday to discuss the incident.

The official US response at this time is:

On Tuesday, the White House blamed the Syrian government for the attack, which it called a “reprehensible” act “that cannot be ignored by the civilized world.”

Sean Spicer, the White House spokesman, further told reporters that “these heinous actions by the Bashar al-Assad regime are a consequence of the last administration’s weakness and irresolution.”

Mr. Spicer declined to respond to questions about Mr. Trump’s declaration that his administration’s policy in Syria is not regime change.

“He is not here to telegraph what we are going to do, but rest assured he has been speaking with his national security team this morning,” Mr. Spicer said, adding later: “The statement speaks for itself.”

As of now (1430 EDT) there is still no statement on the Department of State’s website, nothing on the Department of State’s twitter feed, and nothing on Ambassador Haley’s twitter feed about the attack. Regardless, this morning’s chemical attack in Syria points to the complexity of the real strategic wicked problem on the Syrian side of the US led Coalition’s fight against ISIL. What happens after ISIL is defeated? How does the Coalition begin to set the conditions now to secure post conflict success in a Syria that has been liberated from ISIL? What does the Coalition do with the areas that it liberates from ISIL as the counter-ISIL operations in Syria are being conducted without the support and without an invitation from the Syrian government. These are the real strategic issues and concerns and they are brought back into the foreground by today’s chemical weapons attack and the denials from the government of Bashar al Assad and his Russian patron.



The Maskirovka Slips XIV: Susan Rice is Once Again Public Enemy #1

Bloomberg‘s Eli Lake, who seems to have become the Congressman Nunes whisperer, reports:

White House lawyers last month discovered that the former national security adviser Susan Rice requested the identities of U.S. persons in raw intelligence reports on dozens of occasions that connect to the Donald Trump transition and campaign, according to U.S. officials familiar with the matter.

The pattern of Rice’s requests was discovered in a National Security Council review of the government’s policy on “unmasking” the identities of individuals in the U.S. who are not targets of electronic eavesdropping, but whose communications are collected incidentally. Normally those names are redacted from summaries of monitored conversations and appear in reports as something like “U.S. Person One.”

The National Security Council’s senior director for intelligence, Ezra Cohen-Watnick, was conducting the review, according to two U.S. officials who spoke with Bloomberg View on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss it publicly. In February Cohen-Watnick discovered Rice’s multiple requests to unmask U.S. persons in intelligence reports that related to Trump transition activities. He brought this to the attention of the White House General Counsel’s office, who reviewed more of Rice’s requests and instructed him to end his own research into the unmasking policy.

…The standard for senior officials to learn the names of U.S. persons incidentally collected is that it must have some foreign intelligence value, a standard that can apply to almost anything. This suggests Rice’s unmasking requests were likely within the law.

Here’s an important question: who ordered Cohen-Watnick, a junior DIA analyst promoted to a senior directorship on the National Security Staff by former National Security Advisor LTG Flynn way above his level of expertise and experience, to conduct this review? Was it LTG Flynn before he was fired on 13 February 2017? Was it the now reassigned KT McFarland? Was it someone above Cohen-Watnick in the Administration chain of command? This is an important question that needs to be answered! Unless Cohen-Watnick had a need to know this – as in was ordered to conduct such a review – as part of his duties as the NSC’s Senior Director for Intelligence Policy, his accessing of this material is a violation of classification and compartmentalization protocols. As is his dissemination of such information.

Bradley Moss, an attorney specializing in cases regarding security clearances and national security, has made a most prescient observation and prediction:

Noah Rothman has made an important discovery and is reporting that:

Rothman is referring to this Medium post from yesterday, 2 APR 2017, by Mike Cernovich. It now appears that Cernovich’s claims that he, at least, and other prominent members of the alt-right have ongoing contacts with senior White House/Administration officials. What Rothman is reporting, that, at least, Cernovich’s ties are accurate, this is important news. It shows that the white nationalist/white supremacist/neo-NAZI community that goes by the more respectable name the alt-right actually has a solid connection to the new Administration. This is disturbing on many levels. Not least is where the flow of information went: Cernovich, Zero Hedge, InfoWars, Gateway Pundit.

What is even more interesting is that someone seems to have fed the info to Fox and Friends, which is where the President saw it:

Back to Susan Hennessy a former attorney in the US Intelligence Community and now a Senior Fellow at Brookings:

A lot of unpleasant material is going to be thrown at a lot of walls today in very short order.

Stay frosty!



Life Imitates Satire: TSA Edition

This is satire:

This actually happened:

Well that’s not creepy at all…

I have said it before and I’m sure I will say it again: 9-11 caused the US to socio-culturally suffer a mental and emotional breakdown. While lots of Americans have recovered, a not insignificant number of Americans have not.



The Maskirovka Slips XIII: A Few Thoughts

In the comments to the Maskirovka Slips XI post, PJ wrote:

Even a Putin critic like Masha Gessen has claimed that Russophobia is behind the allegations connecting Trump with the Russians, and that there’s nothing to see here, folks.

This is a good point to raise and something to keep in mind as everything continues to play out. My guess is that PJ was referencing this article by Gessen at The NY Review of Books. Gessen’s essential thesis is that:

Russia has become the universal rhetorical weapon of American politics. Calls for the release of Trump’s tax returns—which the group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) hopes to have subpoenaed as a result of its lawsuit alleging the violation of the Emoluments Clause—are now framed in terms of the need to reveal Trump’s financial ties to Russia. And the president himself is recapturing the campaign debate’s “No, you are the puppet” moment on Twitter, trying to smear Democratic politicians Charles Schumer and Nancy Pelosi with Russia.

The dream fueling the Russia frenzy is that it will eventually create a dark enough cloud of suspicion around Trump that Congress will find the will and the grounds to impeach him. If that happens, it will have resulted largely from a media campaign orchestrated by members of the intelligence community—setting a dangerous political precedent that will have corrupted the public sphere and promoted paranoia. And that is the best-case outcome.

And that this almost unrelenting focus is obscuring equally, if not more important matters:

Imagine if the same kind of attention could be trained and sustained on other issues—like it has been on the Muslim travel ban. It would not get rid of Trump, but it might mitigate the damage he is causing. Trump is doing nothing less than destroying American democratic institutions and principles by turning the presidency into a profit-making machine for his family, by poisoning political culture with hateful, mendacious, and subliterate rhetoric, by undermining the public sphere with attacks on the press and protesters, and by beginning the real work of dismantling every part of the federal government that exists for any purpose other than waging war. Russiagate is helping him—both by distracting from real, documentable, and documented issues, and by promoting a xenophobic conspiracy theory in the cause of removing a xenophobic conspiracy theorist from office.

Gessen has likely forgotten more about Putin and how he operates than most people will ever know, and I doubt she’s forgotten much if anything. And her concerns and caveats are important to keep in mind going forward. However, I think her concerns, as rooted in her excellent column on autocracy from November 2016, are also missing something: the overwhelming, open source reporting and documentation about the connection between the President, his business the Trump Organization, his children, and both senior and peripheral members of his campaign, his transition, and now his Administration with Russian government officials, Russians connected to Russian Intelligence – formally and informally, Russian oligarchs tied to Vladimir Putin, Ukrainian Oligarchs tied to Vladimir Putin, and people – Russian and non-Russian tied to Russian organized crime.

As I’ve been stating here, and Malcolm Nance has been tweeting and stating on a variety of news platforms:

And, to quote Ian Fleming, as many have:

Once is happenstance. Twice is coincidence. The third time is enemy action.

As Evan McMullin tweeted:

While I think it is important to keep Gessen’s concerns in mind, we have significant amounts of circumstantial evidence as a result of open source reporting and documentation. What we don’t have, what we don’t really know, is what the material that the Interagency Counterintelligence (CI) Task Force investigating all of this has. And here, I think, is where some of Gessen’s concerns begin to break down: a lot of the leaking hasn’t been anything that wasn’t either already known in the open source reporting and documentation for those that knew where to look or were looking and/or were intended as warning shots across various people’s bows. For instance, the leaks about Attorney General Sessions were the latter. They were intended to put him on notice that if he tried to muck about with the CI investigation the next shot wouldn’t be for range, it would be for effect. And to his credit, AG Sessions was smart enough to recognize this and recused himself.

As I’ve written here before, several times:

As a national security professional, what I would like to see is the President-elect address the now long standing and ongoing allegations regarding his connection to Russia. If the allegations are spurious, as he and his team have claimed every time they’ve come up, or if there is a straightforward and simple explanation that can be made, he needs to make it. I think a lot of the foreign, defense, and national security policy concerns that many across the political spectrum have with the President-elect’s longstanding policy preferences dating back to 1987 arise from all of the smoke around the claims of Russian connections and interference for Russia’s, not the US’s, not the President-elect’s, interests.

The sooner the President-elect and his team can either provide evidence for why the allegations and rumors are spurious or provide a simple and straightforward explanation for the seeming preference for Russia and the abandonment of the post WW II and post Cold War international order the better.

Unfortunately we’ve reached a point where I’m not sure a straightforward and simple explanation can be made. The circumstantial evidence we’re all able to review from the open source reporting and documentation seems to have obliterated that possibility. Yesterday several of the surviving members of the investigative reporting team that included the late Wayne Barrett provided even greater details and granularity into the Trump Organizations connections to Russian organized crime via Felix Sater and Sater’s ties to the Department of Justice and the FBI, specifically the New York Field Office. Today WNYC reported on some of Paul Manafort’s real estate transactions that appear to follow the same patterns as those done to launder money. These stories broke almost at the same time as Richard Engel’s reporting on Manafort’s financial dealings in Cyprus, USA Today‘s reporting on the Trump Organizations alleged ties to Russian and other state’s organized crime,* The New Yorker‘s multiple reports, and Michael Issikoff’s reporting on the ongoing mess that Congressman Nunes’ actions and statements have made of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. This includes functionally shutting the committee down so that the House of Representatives no longer conducts oversight of the US Intelligence Community given that all future business of the committee has now been postponed indefinitely.

For those of us that have been following these things for a while, a lot of this wasn’t new, surprising, or both. And that’s really why I think Gessen’s caveats and concerns are important to keep in mind, but that she is also missing the forest for the trees. There is just too much coincidence here. The US Intelligence Community does not form Interagency Counterintelligence investigations willy nilly. Nor do judges approve FISA warrants for spurious or frivolous reasons. I honestly have no idea where all this will lead. And I do agree with Gessen and others that even if these investigations ultimately demonstrate actual connections and collusions between the President’s campaign and the Russians which given how things have been intertwined under Putin basically includes the Russian government, Russian intelligence, Russian oligarchs, and Russian organized crime, we may not see the resolution that many are hoping for. These connections are all linked together, which also makes unravelling this ball of yarn difficult. Part of the problem going forward is exactly why we have been in a Constitutional crisis for months. It is unclear which, if any, of the institutional protections and remedies that the Constitution delineates actually could be used to resolve what we have been watching slowly unfold since last Summer when the leaks of hacked DNC, DSCC, DCC, and John Podesta emails began to trickle out. If there is nothing to see here, as Gessen attests, then there certainly is a whole lot of a very specific type of nothing** all around the President, his family, his business, his campaign, his transition, and his Administration.

* The Who, What, Why?USA Today, and WYNC reporting are not actually breaking news. They do provide substantially more details about things that have been previously reported, documented, and/or known.

** And this nothing doesn’t even get into financial ties between the President and PRC state owned banks, which are facially violations of the emoluments clause as a result of the President’s failure to properly and fully divest from his business.



The Dearth of Expertise: My Concerns with the Recent Actions by the North Korean Government

The Kim government’s recent activities – increasing missile testing, increasing the developmental process for assembling, fielding, and potentially deploying a nuclear weapon has most people concerned. As has the recent, official US statements in regard to these actions. At Foxtrot Alpha, Terrell Jermaine Starr makes an excellent argument for why there is no good military option for dealing with the Kim government’s recent actions. Starr specifically references an excellent post at Lawfare by Jacob Stokes and Alexander Sullivan. Stokes and Sullivan make very well thought out points- about how the US should engage with China in regard to this problem set.

And here’s where we get to the real problem and my real concern: we have precious few actual subject matter experts regarding North Korea. There is a perfectly reasonable explanation for this: the Kim family has kept North Korea essentially closed to everyone and everything outside of North Korea while at the same time heavily indoctrinating their own population. A population that is, by the measures we’re aware of, is incredibly impoverished. There are a few Americans that have gotten permission to spend extended periods in North Korea. Two of them have written books/parts of books about this, which are, of course, partially opposed to the other’s theses (h/t: The XX Committee). And there are also defectors to South Korea and other East Asian states. And, of course, the South Koreans have a significant portion of their Intelligence Community focused on their northern neighbor.

But, the real problem here is that we don’t have the ability to know about North Korea the way we do other places. Even when Iran and Cuba were under full US sanctions, we still had some Americans, as well as citizens of other countries traveling to them. Despite the sanctions both countries tried to be engaged with the rest of the world, albeit on their own terms As a result people did advanced academic/scholarly study of both countries, their politics, culture, religion, economics, etc. And because the leadership of each country had not tried to establish complete isolation from the outside world, subject matter expertise, from many different disciplines and approaches, and from many different people in different places developed.

This dearth of expertise – the lack of a significant number of professionals with deep subject matter expertise into the politics, culture, religion/spirituality, economics, kinship dynamics, etc – in regard to North Korea is a significant shortfall that the US, its allies, and partners will have to overcome in regard to adapting existing and developing new policies and strategies, and the contingency planning in regard to the Kim government’s actions. Moreover, this dearth of expertise is, right now, compounded by the new Administration’s falling behind in staffing the critical political appointments at our National Security departments, agencies, and offices. And the folks that are in place holding stopgap positions, and some who are in more permanent ones, do not exactly inspire confidence that they actually have the credentials, knowledge, skills, abilities, and expertise to help overcome this low information gap.

Trying to work through the North Korean problem set of the Kim family government is, itself, a wicked problem. This dearth of expertise comes at a particularly bad time for the US as we’ve moved into what Tom Nichols*, Professor of National Security Affairs at US Naval War College, calls the death of expertise. The Death of Expertise, is, in fact, the title of Nichol’s recent book. And we can see, in the North Korean problem set, the combination of both dearth and depth. For instance, should the US, its allies, and its partners, most likely working in conjunction with the People’s Republic of China, have to respond with military power to either a military provocation ordered by the Kim government or using all elements of National power (diplomatic, information, military, and economic/DIME) to a humanitarian crisis the lack of significant subject matter expertise in regard to North Korea combined with what seems to be key, senior officials’ within the new Administration antagonism towards expertise will make an effective response very difficult to almost impossible.

Lets just take one, technical military concern. And it would be a concern for both a military intervention and a whole of government approach, utilizing all elements of National power response, to a humanitarian crisis: setting the theater. Setting the theater is an Army doctrinal term defined in ADRP 4-0 as:

… all activities directed at establishing favorable conditions for conducting military operations in the theater, generally driven by the support requirements of specific operation plans and other requirements established in the geographic combatant commander’s (GCC) theater campaign plan. Setting the theater includes whole-of-government initiatives such as bilateral or multilateral diplomatic agreements to allow U.S. forces to have access to ports, terminals, airfields, and bases within the area of responsibility (AOR) to support future military contingency operations. Setting the joint operations area (JOA) includes activities such as theater opening, establishing port and terminal operations, conducting reception, staging, onward movement, and integration, force modernization and theater-specific training, and providing Army support to other Services and common-user logistics to Army, joint, and multinational forces operating in the JOA (FM 3-93).

After over a decade of war in Iraq and Afghanistan we now know, though current doctrine does not reflect it, that there are some other important things to consider when setting the theater. Specifically the broadly defined socio-cultural* context of the host country population among whom we will be operating – regardless of type of operation. Given the dearth of expertise about North Korean society, culture, religion, politics – other than what little we know of the Kim family, their retainers, and their understanding of government and governance, economics, etc we have significant gaps in the contextual knowledge we need to properly set the theater. For instance, if Myers is correct that the Kim family and their retainers have heavily propagandized the North Korean population for going on four or five generations, then simply being concerned with where to put phase lines and base troops and establish MSRs and logistics routes and/or emplace artillery is going to be insufficient as we will be operating among a population that has been acculturated and socialized to despise and distrust everyone but their own government and people. No matter how good our planners and logisticians are, without subject matter experts with deep expertise into North Korea’s different socio-cultural components, any operation – military or humanitarian – to provide inputs on how North Koreans are going to respond as people, is going to be fraught with more danger than normally accompanies such operations. To use Clausewitzian terms: responding to provocation by the Kim government or to the humanitarian needs of the North Koreans themselves, will be a response plagued by significantly more fog and friction than we have ever encountered before. And that means developing effective strategies to respond to the Kim government’s actions is going to be very, very, very difficult.

* I have never met Professor Nichols. I did correspond with him once by email, to send him a report I had done in 2011 on a topic he’d just written a column on and managed to send him a corrupted file – as in the file name was right, the title on the first page was right, but something not germane (and largely not coherent) had been saved as the document. And I didn’t bother to open the file and check it before emailing it across as an attachment to an email introducing myself. 10/10, big win, would do it again!

**  The only official doctrine/concept definition that we have of culture comes to us from CJCSI 1800.01E, the Officers Professional Military Education Policy (OPMEP). The definition is also mirrored in the Enlisted Professional Military Education Policy (EPMEP). No two doctrinal publications within the Army have the same definition for culture, hence the need to defer to this default joint definition. This definition is:

An interconnected set of ideas; all the information passed on between generations through language, writing, mathematics, and behavior. The distinctive and deeply rooted beliefs, values, ideology, historic traditions, social forms, perceptual predispositions, and behavioral patterns of a group, organization, or society that is learned, evolves and adapts over time, and is transmitted to succeeding generations.



The Maskirovka Slips XII: Anti-Corruption Protests in Russia Edition

Protests are underway in Moscow and St. Petersburg.

Here’s the video that Weiss linked to:

And here’s an English translation (via Google Translate) of the caption and statement below the video:

He’s not Dimon to us.

Protest action in Moscow

In dozens of Russian cities on March 26, anti-corruption protests took place. They involved from several dozen to several thousand people. The rallies took place even in those cities where the authorities officially banned their conduct. Radio Liberty conducted a live broadcast of protest actions.

In Moscow, the uncoordinated action took place in the format of a walk. According to various sources, eight to 20 thousand people took part in it. The human rights project “OVD-Info” reports more than 600 detainees. The police used force against activists. Despite several injured at the hands of law enforcement officials, in the mayor’s office of Moscow, the police called “impeccable.”
The Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK) in early March published an investigation of the undeclared real estate of Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev and his possible involvement in corruption. The film “He did not give you a Dimon” typed more than 10 million views on YouTube, but neither the Prime Minister nor his representatives responded to the charges, no federal Russian television channel told about the investigation of FBK. In this regard, Navalny appealed to his supporters across Russia on March 26 to go to protest rallies with the demand to investigate information about Medvedev’s real estate.

Apparently even the cows are fed up!

After several years of Putin directed propagandizing of his own citizens, crackdowns on dissent, and the consolidation of power in Putin’s hands it is encouraging to see that Russia’s Gray Zone, its civic culture still has some antibodies left to fight back.

We’ll keep an eye out in case things turn ugly.