Small Wars Journal

05/11/2021 News & Commentary – National Security

Tue, 05/11/2021 - 4:33pm

News & commentary by Dave Maxwell. Edited and published by Daniel Riggs.

1. White House’s slate of nominees would put familiar faces back in the Pentagon

2. DarkSide Ransomware Hit Colonial Pipeline—and Created an Unholy Mess

3. The Real Infrastructure Problem: The Colonial Pipeline shutdown is a warning of worse to come.

4. US military trashes unwanted gear in Afghanistan, sells as scrap

5. Colonial Pipeline Cyberattack Follows Years of Warnings

6. Toward a Whole-of-Society Framework for Countering Disinformation

7. The logic of US–China competition by Joseph S. Nye 

8. Romanian leader tells Biden more NATO troops needed in east

9. Strengthen Asia to Weaken Beijing

10. Create a Dedicated Humanitarian Ops Officer

11. The Tension Between Secrecy & Innovation

12. Redraw the Limits on Lethal Force Against Terror Groups

13. SOFWERX Zeros In on Rapid Acquisition

14. The U.S. Is Getting a Reality Check in Yemen

15. F.B.I. Identifies Group Behind Pipeline Hack

16. China’s ‘Long-Term Time Bomb’: Falling Births Stunt Population Growth

17. ‘We cut too deep’: Air Force reinstates hundreds of ROTC cadets after dismissals spark backlash

18. What the United States Wants From Japan in Taiwan

19. Russia's GRU spy unit suspected of being behind bizarre sonic attacks

20. Claims of Microwave Attacks Are Scientifically Implausible

21. ‘Where is the plan?’: Biden pressed on global vaccine strategy

22. A CIA Historian’s Photos of the Afghan War Tell the Story of Those Being Left Behind in Afghanistan


1. White House’s slate of nominees would put familiar faces back in the Pentagon

Defense News · by Aaron Mehta, Valerie Insinna, Joe Gould and Jen Judson · May 10, 2021

Personnel is policy.:

Michael Brown

Frank Kendall

Heidi Shyu

Christine Wormuth


2. DarkSide Ransomware Hit Colonial Pipeline—and Created an Unholy Mess

Wired · by Lily Hay Newman

The big questions are what are we going to do in response to this hostile action and how are we going to defend against such attacks in the future? This may be one of the greatest national security threats we face. Are we doing enough to defend the US?

Excerpts:One step that could work in the near-term? Requiring that victims disclose ransomware incidents, and create a cyber incident review board in the US, says Rob Knake, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and a former director for cybersecurity policy at the National Security Council. Currently most victims keep ransomware attacks quiet when possible; a full accounting of these rolling crises could spur a response. “Notification is essential because cyber incidents are not like plane crashes—the investigating agency may never find out that they have happened,” Knake says. “So for the cyber incident review board to be successful it will need to be notified of incidents and then have the authority to investigate. Voluntary will not work.”

In the meantime, cybersecurity professionals say that they hope the Colonial Pipeline incident really will finally spark action in the fight against ransomware. Given how many other dire attacks have failed to act as this catalyst, though, they are wary of being too hopeful.

“We’re at a point where only systemic improvement will have any meaningful impact,” Crowdstrike's Meyers says. “And organizations don’t necessarily have the bandwidth, funding, and personnel to do that. But this should be a wakeup call to any organization: You need to do better or you’re going to suffer the same fate.”


3. The Real Infrastructure Problem: The Colonial Pipeline shutdown is a warning of worse to come.

WSJ · by The Editorial Board

Do we really appreciate the context? Do we understand the problem? Can we create an approach that will solve the problem?

All military failures (and I would broaden it to all national security failures) are the result of three things - failure to learn, failure to adapt, and failure to anticipate. (Eliot Cohen and John Gooch)  Are we anticipating what will come next while we learn and adapt? And can our learning and adaptation be based on what we anticipate will happen in the future and not just on what has happened up to this point?


4. US military trashes unwanted gear in Afghanistan, sells as scrap · by Kathy Gannon · May 10, 2021

One man's trash is another man's treasure. But our Afghan allies are pointing out all they are getting is our trash and there is no treasure.


5. Colonial Pipeline Cyberattack Follows Years of Warnings · by Brad D. Williams

We can hear the "I told you so's." There are many who have anticipated this. Why can't we listen to the warnings? (and more importantly take appropriate action to protect ourselves).

We should probably go back and study and take for action the entire Cyber Solarium Commission report - especially those things that have received warnings about but have not yet actually happened. Can we anticipate?


6. Toward a Whole-of-Society Framework for Countering Disinformation · by JD Maddox · May 10, 2021

A view from the GEC (Global Engagement Center at State). I am happy to see State publishing at the Modern War Institute.

Excerpt: “In this article, we assume that the proposed framework and outlined capabilities are focused on the shared objective of countering disinformation that undermines US policies, stability, and national security. The term “countering disinformation,” a term that is almost as misunderstood and redefined as IO and PD, does not consist merely of counter messaging but also of proactive measures that use facts to inform audiences, reduce the impact of disinformation, and promote freedom of expression—activities that can be functionally categorized under communication, resilience, disruption, and regulation.

A survey of US information and influence capabilities: “The United States, as a society and nation, has an extraordinarily broad range of disparate communicators and voices, ranging from governmental institutions to the private sector, to civil society actors and organizations. Communication platforms are also constantly evolving and expanding their reach as production and consumption of social media, print and digital media, radio, and television continuously grow and change. Within the US government alone, communication encompasses a number of activities:

Of note - they do not call for re-establishing the US Information Agency (and all the myths that surround it - read Matt Armstrong's great research) or the Active Measures Working Group from the Raegan era, but instead recognize that the influence effort is not singularly controllable.

Categorizing activities to counter disinformation within the functions of communication, resilience, disruption, and regulation supports a focus on outcomes rather than creating further bureaucratic division. Opening the information aperture to consider a broader spectrum of actors and capabilities allows communicators, strategists, and policymakers to construct impact-based activities by combining disparate capabilities. No single agency and no single tactic is capable of countering disinformation on its own. Therefore, we must be committed to learning, collaborating, and innovating.


7. The logic of US–China competition by Joseph S. Nye · by Joseph S. Nye · May 7, 2021

Can the US and China agree on the definition of "global public goods?"

Conclusion: A key question when gauging the success of Biden’s China policy will be whether the two powers can cooperate in producing global public goods, while competing strongly in other areas. The US–China relationship is a ‘cooperative rivalry’, in which the terms of competition will require equal attention to both sides of the oxymoron. That will not be easy.


8. Romanian leader tells Biden more NATO troops needed in east · by Stephen McGrath and Vanessa Gera · May 10, 2021

Seems like everyone wants more US/NATO troops (from Nigeria asking for AFRICOM to Romania asking for more troops for Eastern Europe). Perhaps our friends, partners, and allies, have some concerns with the potential threats.


9. Strengthen Asia to Weaken Beijing

WSJ · by Walter Russell Mead

When our friends partners and allies recognize and understand this and develop their economic and and national security elements of power they will not want to be subject China's heavy hand:  China seeks to export its authoritarian political system around the world in order to dominate regions, co-opt or coerce international organizations, create economic conditions favorable to China alone, and displace democratic institutions.

Professor Walter Ruseell Mead's assessment:In the short to medium term, Washington needs to work with allies to keep Beijing from exploiting its window of opportunity. China has its hawks, but the leadership is pragmatic. As long as Beijing understands that the military road leads nowhere good, peace is likely to hold. No country other than America can act as the linchpin of an alliance that can hold the window firmly closed. Doves may not like that reality, but they will like the consequences of failure even less.

The outlook brightens over the long term. The U.S. is not condemned to an endless struggle against an inexorably rising China. On the contrary: As the rest of Asia rises, Beijing’s chance at supremacy begins to shrink—and Washington’s Indo-Pacific allies will be able to bear more of the costs that keeping the peace requires.

Nothing, including retreat and appeasement, is risk-free. As China sees its hegemony window closing, Beijing’s hawks could press for a Japan-style dash for power. America and its allies must guard against this. Over the long haul, maintaining U.S. alliances as Asia rises will pose complex moral and practical difficulties that test the ingenuity of Washington diplomats. The appropriate mix of engagement and competition in America’s China policy will be hard to discern on issues ranging from the Belt and Road Initiative to trade policy and tech standards.

But the big picture is clear. A flourishing Asia is the answer to the U.S.’s China problem. Asia’s peoples and countries want to be independent and rich. Washington’s job is to help that Asian Dream come true.


10. Create a Dedicated Humanitarian Ops Officer · May 10, 2021

Who wants to be a "HOO?"

Excerpts:The HOO program is not a panacea for all the challenges of humanitarian response or the hazards of militarizing the provision of humanitarian aid.14 Alone, it is insufficient to address the security challenges posed by climate change and climate-related disasters. It does not address the threat of physical, sexual, or economic abuse by aid workers, peacekeepers, and military personnel in HA/DR environments or the political dimension of humanitarian aid, including how aid can be used to encroach on the sovereignty of another state or to further an outside government’s interests.15 These require a distinct response not covered by the creation of a HOO corps.

Nonetheless, the HOO program or a similar community of humanitarian professionals would provide the Sea Services a way to tackle the current difficulties of military involvement in humanitarian operations while laying the groundwork for what will be an increasingly routine part of U.S. military involvement at home and abroad in the coming years.

The military is the United States’ most capable force for humanitarian response, and as disasters grow in frequency and scale, it will be called on to render aid around the world. Meeting this challenge requires rethinking the military’s current means of conducting HA/DR operations and recognizing that those professionals tasked with employing martial force likely are not the ones best equipped to provide sustained, well-managed humanitarian assistance. In conjunction with other policies to mitigate the challenges this new security environment entails, a HOO corps may be the best bet for addressing a future where disaster, displacement, and need define the operating environment as much or more than who the enemy is.


11. The Tension Between Secrecy & Innovation · by Paul Bracken

Conclusion: “But these recommendations are offset by a security system designed in the 1950s when the danger was one of spilling secrets from silos built around nuclear weapons, missiles, and aircraft. Now, this old security system is applied to new technologies like space, cyber, hypersonic missiles, and AI. This is very different from the closed innovation silos of the Cold War. Innovation requires going outside of the silos to bring in fresh ideas from different technical fields.

There’s a tension between secrecy and innovation. I don’t think this tension line is even recognized in today’s debates about whistleblowers and cyber espionage. To juice up defense innovation, we need to recognize the dual role of the system: security and innovation. We need to move the needle toward the innovation side of the ledger. Otherwise, a “secrecy first” culture will strangle innovation. This system has to change if the United States is to leverage its immense technological potential into real military advantage.


12. Redraw the Limits on Lethal Force Against Terror Groups · by Rachel Stohl

The 48 page report from the Stimson Center can be accessed here

Conclusion: “The United States reserves the ability to use lethal force in new contexts, with new risks, yet with limited transparency and accountability. Such options were once viewed as exceptional but, in the last 20 years, have become entrenched in policy responses and counterterrorism strategies.

The administration should resist any inclinations to reinvigorate the approach adopted during the Obama administration and exacerbated during the Trump administration. Instead, President Biden should develop a clear, concise, and constrained strategy that appropriately situates counterterrorism among other pressing security priorities. As the Biden administration reviews the policy and guidance governing the use of lethal force outside war zones, it must make certain that the ensuing counterterrorism policies and practices do not perpetuate a cycle of “forever wars” around the world.


13. SOFWERX Zeros In on Rapid Acquisition · by Mandy Mayfield

One of the great things done by the Nunn-Cohen Amendment to the 1986 Goldwater Nichols Defense Reorganization Act was to provide SOF (USSOCOM) some service authorities - namely for budgeting (MFP-11) and research and development for SOF unique equipment. The other thing it did which is too often overlooked is maintaining the relationship switch SOF and Services for service common equipment. And overlooked even further is the contribution SOF has made to the services and how much SOF unique equipment has been developed but has then been adopted by the services which is truly a win-win scenario.

The question is what other service authorities should be granted to SOF - e.g. personnel management? And a proper balance between SOF personnel management while still connected to the very necessary service recruiting efforts. 


14. The U.S. Is Getting a Reality Check in Yemen

Bloomberg · by Bobby Ghosh · May 11, 2021


15.  F.B.I. Identifies Group Behind Pipeline Hack

The New York Times · by David Sanger and Nicole Perlroth · May 10, 2021

We would do well to recall Frank Hoffman's seminal work on hybrid conflict:

Excerpt from "Examining Complex Forms of Conflict: Gray Zone and Hybrid Challenges" by Frank Hofffman: A hybrid threat transcends a blend of regular and irregular tactics. More than a decade ago, it was defined as an adversary that “simultaneously and adaptively employs a fused mix of conventional weapons, irregular tactics, catastrophic terrorism, and criminal behavior in the battlespace to obtain desired political objectives.”54 The criminal, or more broadly “socially disruptive behavior,” and mass terrorism aspects should not be overlooked, but the fusion of advanced military capabilities with irregular forces and tactics is key, and has appeared repeatedly during the past decade from Hezbollah to the Russian campaigns in Georgia and Ukraine.55


16. China’s ‘Long-Term Time Bomb’: Falling Births Stunt Population Growth

The New York Times · by Sui-Lee Wee · May 11, 2021

We should also remember that most all PLA soldiers are only sons in families due to the past one child policy.  This means the end of family bloodlines when those soldiers are killed in a needless conflict.


17.  ‘We cut too deep’: Air Force reinstates hundreds of ROTC cadets after dismissals spark backlash

The Washington Post · by Alex Horton · May 9, 2021

What was the Air Force thinking? Throw away our future seed corn?

Excerpts: “The pandemic’s wave of economic and social uncertainty triggered the initial decision, officials said. The natural cycle of departing officers creating room for the younger ranks has been disrupted, and service members, wary of leaving jobs and health care, are staying at the highest rate in two decades.

To rebalance the numbers, the Air Force rejected far more cadets than in past years. The cuts were so drastic that they swallowed up cadets with excellent grades and high fitness marks, according to current and former Air Force officials, sending scores of families into financial panic after scholarships vanished.


18. What the United States Wants From Japan in Taiwan

Foreign Policy · by Jeffrey W. Hornung · May 10, 2021

Excerpts:Japan’s involvement could make an operational impact in many areas. Regardless of what the United States requests, however, Japan’s involvement will always be a political decision. When the Suga administration agreed to include Taiwan in recent statements, it must have understood this signaled Japan’s commitment to do something if the “peace and security” of the Taiwan Strait is broken. If Japan does nothing or underwhelms in its support, not only would the U.S.-Japanese alliance be shaken, but the strength of the whole U.S. network of allies could be called into question.

There are hopeful signs this situation can be avoided. For example, Tokyo is reportedly studying possible responses by the Self-Defense Forces to various scenarios involving Taiwan. Moreover, a recent poll by Nikkei showed 74 percent of the Japanese population support engagement in the Taiwan Strait.

As many Japan watchers know, Tokyo historically has tended to approach the use of military force through a legalistic lens. Depending on what box a situation checked, Japan’s level of involvement varied. Should China attack Taiwan, the United States is likely going to look for a quick operational commitment. Japan’s typical approach of clearing various administrative hurdles would likely not cut it in a rapidly changing operational environment. For Japan’s political decision-making to keep pace with U.S. operational timelines, Japan needs to know now what the United States will likely request in wartime. These discussions could already be occurring, and if so, it is important to get them right.

Having expressed support for securing the peace, the United States and Japan need real plans to translate their words into action. As a recent Nikkei article argued, “Japan cannot be neutral in this picture.”


19. Russia's GRU spy unit suspected of being behind bizarre sonic attacks

Daily Mail · by Harriet Alexander · May 10, 2021


Russia's GRU spy unit suspected of being behind bizarre sonic attacks

Russia's infamous GRU spy unit is suspected of being behind microwave weapon attacks causing 'Havana Syndrome' on U.S. personnel across the globe - and even on the White House lawn

  • Last year in Miami several government officials reported strange symptoms
  • Effects were akin to 'Havana Syndrome' reported by diplomats in Cuba in 2016
  • Sudden splitting headaches, loss of balance and ringing in ears were reported
  • Also in 2020, a senior National Security Council official reported the effects
  • He was walking to his car from the south lawn of the White House
  • And in 2019, another NSC official felt the symptoms walking a dog in Alexandria
  • In Europe, the U.S. and Syria, members of the military have reported symptoms
  • On Monday three current and former officials said the Russians were suspected
  • They told Politico that Russia's GRU - foreign intel unit - could be behind attacks


20.  Claims of Microwave Attacks Are Scientifically Implausible

Foreign Policy · by Cheryl Rofer · May 10, 2021

Something is harming our diplomats and intelligence officers. Please explain what it is.

Excerpts:If there is such a weapon that can cause such effects, who is using it and how? Of course, the Russians are the prime suspects. Their military also has an interest in a death ray, and they were the ones who bathed the U.S. Embassy in microwaves during the Cold War. Diplomats and intelligence employees are likely targets. But we have no evidence that the Russians have such a weapon.

Of course, such a weapon would be classified, we are told. Mark Zaid, a lawyer who represents victims, claims that the American government knows more than it is letting on.

That may be, but it would be hard to keep the development of this kind of weapon secret. The military and associated industries are often proud of their innovations. We have heard regularly over the past 40 years of the progress of fitting a laser into an airplane, and the jet suit is popular—even if it only has fuel for about 10 minutes of flight. It’s rare that the government classifies every aspect of research surrounding a classified topic. University research on the interaction of microwaves with the brain would have been sponsored and published, and the National Academies committee would have found many more than its paltry dozen references. Although the central work on laser isotope separation was classified, the ultraviolet spectrum a colleague and I measured passed classification restrictions and was published.

The evidence for microwave effects of the type categorized as Havana syndrome is exceedingly weak. No proponent of the idea has outlined how the weapon would actually work. No evidence has been offered that such a weapon has been developed by any nation. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, and no evidence has been offered to support the existence of this mystery weapon.


21. ‘Where is the plan?’: Biden pressed on global vaccine strategy

The Washington Post · by Dan Diamond and Tyler Pager · May 9, 2021


22. A CIA Historian’s Photos of the Afghan War Tell the Story of Those Being Left Behind in Afghanistan · by Brian Glyn Williams

Please go to the link for the photos.




“There were occasions when Shakespeare was a very bad writer indeed. You can see how often in books of quotations. People who like quotations love meaningless generalizations.”  

- Graham Greene, Travels with My Aunt


"Disinformation does not mean false information. It means misleading information—misplaced, irrelevant, fragmented or superficial information—information that creates the illusion of knowing something,but which in fact leads one away from knowing."

- Neil Postman


“It is the politicians who dream their dreams - sometimes dangerous dreams, (...). A top intelligence officer has to be harder-headed than the toughest businessman. One has to trim to the reality, (...) (Sir Nigel Irvine, p. 428-429).”

- Frederick Forsyth, The Fourth Protocol

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