Cyber Strategy – Different From A Shooting War

Big hack of pretty much everything in Ukraine this morning: internet, power plants, government. I wrote this post before that happened, but it applies.

The Obama administration was in an extremely difficult position after learning about Russian hacking of last year’s election. Several factors came into play: the difficulty of dealing with international cyber attacks, intransigent Republican partisanship, and the decaying relationship with Russia. I’m going to break down those factors into at least two posts.

Cyber attacks present a national security problem different from any encountered before. Lumping them into a designation of “cyberwar” projects assumptions of conventional war onto them and distorts the difficulties and possibilities. I haven’t seen much analysis of these differences and how they affect strategy. Please point me to them, if they exist. Most punditry assumes that cyber attacks can be equated to war, and numerous opinion articles have referred to the Russian hacks as a form of war. In this post, I will consider only that part of last fall’s situation. A later post will consider the political ramifications. Read more



Breaking: White House Statement on Syrian Chemical Weapons

The White House has just released the following statement:

It went up at 10:04 PM EDT on Sean Spicer’s official twitter feed, but is not yet up on the Office of the Press Secretary Statements and Releases page.

Unless someone’s been reading the Mass Atrocity Prevention and Response Handbook*, which presents publicizing mass atrocities/potential mass atrocities as having a potential deterrent effect, I have no idea why this information would be released right now. It is possible that LTG McMaster thinks this may actually deter a forthcoming action. It may be something else entirely. But this is a type of public strategic communication I’m not used to seeing out of any administration – Democratic or Republican.

While we wait for more information: Open Thread!

Update at 10:45 PM EDT:

* The author of the handbook is a friend and former colleague.

 



The Smoking Gun: Putin’s Specific Instructions for Active Measures Against the United States During the 2016 Presidential Election

The Washington Post reports (emphasis mine):

The intelligence captured Putin’s specific instructions on the operation’s audacious objectives — defeat or at least damage the Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton, and help elect her opponent, Donald Trump.

Specifically:

Early last August, an envelope with extraordinary handling restrictions arrived at the White House. Sent by courier from the CIA, it carried “eyes only” instructions that its contents be shown to just four people: President Barack Obama and three senior aides.

The White House debated various options to punish Russia, but facing obstacles and potential risks, it ultimately failed to exact a heavy toll on the Kremlin for its election interference.

But it went further. The intelligence captured Putin’s specific instructions on the operation’s audacious objectives — defeat or at least damage the Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton, and help elect her opponent, Donald Trump.

At that point, the outlines of the Russian assault on the U.S. election were increasingly apparent. Hackers with ties to Russian intelligence services had been rummaging through Democratic Party computer networks, as well as some Republican systems, for more than a year. In July, the FBI had opened an investigation of contacts between Russian officials and Trump associates. And on July 22, nearly 20,000 emails stolen from the Democratic National Committee were dumped online by WikiLeaks.

Miller, Nakashima, and Entous’s excellent, detailed reporting now tells us exactly what Putin’s guidance to his subordinates was. It also tells us what his strategic objective was: to elect Donald Trump to the presidency of the United States. It is important to be very, very, very clear here about what this reporting tells us. It confirms that not only did Putin order active measures against the United States, specifically during the 2016 presidential election. He did so specifically to damage Secretary Clinton and elect President Trump.  As I wrote in July 2016 we are at (cyber) war. And again in March 2017 – we are at war. The only question now is what do we do about it?

ETA at 1:05 PM EDT

The US government has specific actionable intelligence, that is assessed to be of high confidence, that a hostile foreign power has attacked and continues to attack the United States for its own ends. This is a national security problem. And every part of the solution, including election system reforms, need to be understood within the discussion national security responses and solutions to the threat we face.



The Overarching Middle East Problem Set: Proxy War and Forced Realignment

Over the past several weeks the just below the surface proxy wars and attempts to forcefully realign Middle Eastern politics, power dynamics, and alliances have come into full view. Over the past two weeks the Saudis and Emiratis have attempted to isolate their erstwhile Qatari partner. Turkey and Iran have come to Qatar’s aid as a result of the Saudi led blockade. ISIL conducted an attack in Iran and Iran retaliated with a missile strike on ISIL in Syria. We’ve also had ongoing Saudi operations against the Zaydi/Fiver Shi’a Houthis in Yemen and the ongoing low intensity war in Libya.

All of these actions and events have one thing in common: they are all about attempts to forcefully realign the politics, power dynamics, and alliances within the Middle East. A significant portion of this attempt to remake the Middle East’s political map is the result of a several year old proxy war between Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Turkey for hegemony in the Middle East. This proxy war is being fought over who will be the preeminent regional power; a power that will speak not just for the region, but for Islam. And this latter component is a major complication. The Saudis are promoting the Wahhabi understanding of tawheed – the radical unity of the Deity, which also forms the basis for both al Qaeda’s and ISIL’s doctrine/theology. Iran seeks hegemony not just to represent the Ithna Ashari/Twelver Shi’a that are the majority in Iran, Iraq, and Bahrain, a significant plurality in Lebanon, a significant minority in Syria – including the Alawite sect, and are a minority in several of the other Gulf states, but also on behalf of the Ismaili/Sevener and Zaydi/Fiver Shi’a throughout the region. Finally, Erdogan’s Turkey seeks to not just reassume its historic role of being the North-South and East-West bridge and power player in the Middle East, Central Asia, and the trans-Caucasus, but also to represent and speak for Islam throughout the region. Specifically Erdogan’s politicized Islam.

Against this backdrop we also have the ongoing activities of al Qaeda’s regional proxies throughout the Middle East, as well as ISIL’s ever more tenuous attempt to hold on to actual physical territory as part of their self proclaimed caliphate: the Islamic State/al dawlah al Islamiyah.

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That First International Crisis May Be Happening Now

This is really a place holder until Cheryl and/or Adam show up, but if you don’t count Qatar-follies, we’ve got a situation brewing in Syria that could truly end up being double-plus ungood:

Iran’s Revolutionary Guard said Sunday it launched missiles into eastern Syria targeting Islamic State militants in response to an attack on Iran’s parliament and a shrine in Tehran, warning that it would similarly retaliate on anyone else carrying out attacks in Iran.

The launch of surface-to-surface medium range missiles into Syria’s Deir el-Zour province comes as Islamic State militants fleeing a U.S.-led coalition onslaught increasingly try to fortify their positions there.

Meanwhile:

A U.S. F/A-18E Super Hornet fighter jet downed a Syrian SU-22 plane on Sunday in the southern Raqqa countryside, said the U.S. military, the first time since the civil war broke out.
read more: http://www.haaretz.com/middle-east-news/syria/1.796428

I’m not going to even to pretend to offer meaningful analysis, given the availability here of folks who actually know about such matters.  I’ll just point out the scorecard as context for what I’m sure will be more sophisticated thinking to come.

First:  Iran strikes ISIS at bases in Syria.

Second:  the US knocks down a jet flown by the armed forces of Iran’s ally/client, the Assad government of Syria.

Third: …that’s what I’m afraid of.

Over to you folks.

Image:  Thomas Cantrell Dugdale, Charge of the 2nd Lancers at El Afuli – in the Valley of Armageddon, 5 am, Friday 20th September 19181918.








ISIL Attacks Iran

Earlier today ISIL conducted two attacks in Iran with a third being thwarted. The first was at the Iranian majlis or parliament. The second was a suicide bombing at the shrine to Ayatullah Uzma Khomeini. The BBC has the details:

Twin attacks on the Iranian parliament and Ayatollah Khomeini’s mausoleum in the capital, Tehran, have killed at least 12 people and injured many more.

The assault on the parliament appears to be over, after hours of intermittent gunfire there. A suicide bomber detonated a device at the mausoleum.

Iranian officials say they managed to foil a third attack.

The Islamic State (IS) group has claimed it carried out the attacks, which would be a first in Iran.

Unlike the attacks we’ve seen throughout Europe, ISIL quickly claimed responsibility.

This is significant as it indicates a directly coordinated attack, rather than actions taken by self radicalized actors on behalf of/in the name of the Islamic State. The New York Times‘ Rukmini Callimachi, who has done a magnificent job in her reporting on ISIL, breaks this down on her twitter feed:

This is a very significant point that Callimachi is making:

Brisard’s and Callimachi’s reasoning is further supported by this piece of analysis from yesterday at Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty:

The Islamic State (IS) extremist group has recently expanded its campaign to recruit Iranians and disseminate its message to Persian speakers.

In late March, IS published a rare video in Persian in which it called on Iran’s Sunni minority to rise up against the Shi’a-dominated Iranian establishment. The video was dismissed by Iran’s state broadcaster as “nonsense” and an attempt by the group to cover up mounting losses in Iraq.

Since then, IS has published four issues of its online propaganda publication Rumiyah in Persian. Rumiyah, whose title means Rome in Arabic in an allusion to prophecies that Muslims would conquer the West, is already published in several languages, including English, Russian, French, and Indonesian.

Iran has deployed senior military advisers and thousands of “volunteers” in the past six years to help regional ally Syrian President Bashar al-Assad battle an armed insurrection that includes IS and other Islamist fighters as well as groups supported by Turkey and the United States.

IS advocates a radical Salafi version of Sunni Islam and regards Shi’a as heretics, and controls parts of Iraq and Syria under what it describes as a “caliphate.”

This attack is significant for several reasons. The first is that even as ISIL is being squeezed on the ground, with the long delayed start of the operation to clear ISIL from Raqqa finally seeming to be under way and operations to finish driving ISIL from Mosul coming to a completion and other parts of northern Iraq well under way, we are seeing an increase of ISIL related attacks well outside of the self proclaimed caliphate. This makes a certain logical sense. It allows ISIL, or those that objectively (have formally joined/under direct ISIL control) or subjectively (consider themselves to be in solidarity with, but haven’t formally joined/not under direct ISIL control) ISIL, to demonstrate that they are still relevant and have significant operational capability even as they lose more and more ground in Iraq and Syria. To a great extent this was always going to be part of the potential negative effects of the US’s strategy of degrading and reducing ISIL in Iraq and Syria. The more successful Operation Inherent Resolve is, the more ISIL inspired and/or directed terrorist activity would be seen well away from the actual declared caliphate in the Levant.

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The 73rd Anniversary of D-Day

Today is the 73rd anniversary of D-Day.

Here is the lost, but now found, D-Day documentary:

 

From the Unwritten Record blog:

The First D-Day Documentary

This post was written by Steve Greene. Steve is the Special Media Holdings Coordinator for the Presidential Libraries System. Previously, he was the audiovisual archivist for the Nixon Presidential Materials.

Despite being cataloged, described, and housed at the National Archives for decades, the films created by the U.S. Military during World War II still hold unexpected surprises.

In a recent search for combat moving image footage to complement the Eisenhower Library’s commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the D-day landings, I identified four reels of a documentary on the landings prepared by the “SHAEF [Supreme Headquarter Allied Expeditionary Forces] Public Relations Division.”

These reels were assigned separate, nonsequential identifying numbers in the Army Signal Corps Film catalog, suggesting that the Army did not recognize them to be parts of single production. Rather than offering the perspective of a single combat photographer, the reels shifted perspective from the sea, to the air, to the beaches, suggesting careful editing to provide an overview. The 33 minutes of film were described on a shot card as “a compilation of some of the action that took place from D Day to Day Plus 3, 6-9 June 1944.” The production, with no ambient sound, music or effects, includes a single monotone narrator and gives the impression of a military briefing set to film.

This film is probably the first film documentary of the events of the first four days of the D-day assault, created within days of the invasion.

More at the link.

Here’s the US Army Europe’s Military Band playing at the 70th anniversary festivities:

Here’s a 70th anniversary air drop over France:

The President doesn’t seem to have made any formal remarks, but he did issue a commemorative tweet!

Here’s President Reagan’s 40th anniversary remarks:

And President Obama at the 70th anniversary: