Under The Radar: All The News You Missed Last Week
by Marlon Muir
Hello again, folks.
When I sum up a week that saw President Trump meeting with Vladimir Putin, it’s safe to say some of the topics I try to highlight as underreported are going to be, well, less-so. That said, Russia is such an active aggressor, I still managed to find several substantial nuggets that avoided the spotlight.
Dan Coats, the new Director of National Intelligence, lists Russia, China, Iran, and North Korea as the most aggressive cyber actors…and underlines Russia, going as far as saying that our digital infrastructure “is literally under attack.”
Do you know any Russians? If you do, you’ll know they have a remarkably cynical political character – they can easily embrace a good conspiracy theory. But, as John Schindler points out, to them it’s not usually a theory. Schindler explains Putin’s manipulations in recharging Ukraine’s tensions with Poland in such a way that Americans might be tempted to play Mad Libs with the Eastern European states and substitute “antifa,” “Unite the Right,” “La Raza,” “National Policy Institute,” “BLM,” or whatever extremist social justice warrior or alt-right group they see fit. It’s not a bad temptation – especially if you’re willing to entertain skepticism about the funding and influence behind all radicalism.
Westerners generally lack skepticism about the lengths Russian intelligence is willing to go. There are many ways to rectify this, but the most entertaining way is to take a look at the State Department’s files on Soviet active measures from September 1983. Kinda like downing a kale smoothie that tastes like mint chocolate chip, it’s like reading 20 movie plots without realizing it’s a Cold War history book.
Speaking of thrilling reads, what do the hacking of the DNC servers, police brutality in Florida, catfishing, Russian intelligence, doxing and a former Marine have in common? This story. Read it. And buy the movie rights. Seriously.
Last item on recent Russian news…
Facebook has finally come clean about it’s relationship with Russian giant mail.ru. Apparently, it gave Mail.ru a two-week extension to wind up its ability to see Facebook users using the Mail.ru app when Facebook began policing the issue back in 2015. This doesn’t sound like a big deal, except 1) Facebook is only owning up to this after a year since Congress has been questioning Facebook over Russian social media connections, 2) Mail.ru was founded by original Facebook investor Yuri Milner (yeah, and he also was a major investor in Twitter), and 3) “’If you are a Russian businessperson of a certain scale, you can’t escape the requirements Russian intelligence services are going to put on you,’ says Brett Bruen, a US diplomat who served as director of global engagement under President Obama and now runs the consulting firm Global Situation Room. ‘This is the reality of doing business in Russia today.’” No confirmation yet on whether Facebook’s PR department summer interns will be staying late this week.
China’s been relatively quiet this week. A Chinese-born hardware engineer has been charged with stealing super-secret tech from Apple. He was nabbed by the FBI as he tried to board a plane for China. The news story indicates that this might be corporate espionage by a Chinese company but doesn’t point out that government facilitation is a hallmark of Chinese corporate espionage, so I will.
Meanwhile, China continues the soft power colonization of Uganda, turning the strongest semi-stable country in central and eastern Africa into its dependent. However, China’s massive road development projects are leaving Ugandan companies behind. China’s Chinese subcontractors appear to be gaining and the Ugandan taxpayers are losing. The lack of a fair trade-off only amplifies the differences between the two cultures. While Museveni’s government has little interest in debating the relationship, the average Ugandan might.
Movie idea: Iran decides to hide nuclear plans in a unmarked, lightly guarded warehouse in southern Tehran. The Israelis find out about it and, working against a 6.5 hour clock, steal 50,000 pages and 163 compact discs of memos. The information reveals that Iran had everything in place to begin nuclear armament two decades ago, how Iranian officials discussed dividing the nuclear program into “overt” and “covert” lanes, and the Iranian effort to hide the scientific work on neutrons necessary to create a nuclear explosion. The Hill, the NY Times and the Washington Post bend over backwards to say that nothing in the documents indicates Iran has violated the 2015 “Iran Deal.” That predictable third act – it’s a bit of an anti-climax. Just the same, the document dump is still embarrassing for Iran’s defenders.
Remember Assodolah Assadi, the Iranian diplomat charged with coordinating a bomb plot in Paris? The Germans are prosecuting him now. And that is just the latest in a worldwide surge of terror plots and assassinations being mounted by Iran’s clandestine service. The Dutch, Algerians, Moroccans – countries that have somewhat cordial relations with Iran – have each seen the need to respond to recent Iranian aggression. Iran’s push to counter Saudi Arabia’s Sunni expansion has brought Iran to Africa has not escaped notice either. Hopefully, a lot more to come on this.
A lot of bad news from Afghanistan, where the US just lost another special operations soldier and Pakistan lost one of its anti-Taliban leaders. But most shocking of all is POLITICO’s story on Operation Reciprocity, a classified DEA effort to crush the narcotics trade in Afghanistan – an effort that died due to the Obama administration’s leaderless foreign policy, negligence, and neglect. There are stark similarities between Reciprocity and the successful drug trials against FARC which helped clean up Colombia. The Obama administration does not come out of this report smelling good, being accused of “placing short-term political points over long-term security interests.” Specifically, the Obama administration wanted peace talks with the Taliban (and, possibly, to secure Bowe Bergdahl’s release) more than they wanted to cripple the drug trade in Afghanistan (which has played an underreported role in the US’ opioid crisis), or, at least to use Reciprocity as leverage in the peace talks. In that respect, Reciprocity faced the same hurdles – and succumbed to the same fate – as Project Cassandra (the effort to arrest and try Hezbollah drug kingpins), which was offed so as not to affect the Obama administration’s desire to negotiate with Iran. There is a lot more to unpack in the article, but let me leave it at this. If you’ve ever wondered why so many law enforcement and military types did not like the Obama administration or the State Department; if you have wondered what Afghanistan’s future will be without the US (spoiler alert: narco-state); or if you are unsure why the “peace at all costs” mindset, especially as practiced by the Obama Administration, leads unfailingly to catastrophe – this article will answer a lot for you. There is even a sliver of hope, as there is a chance that the Trump Administration could bring Operation Reciprocity back to life. But, as with all things Trump, the odds are unpredictable. Talk about burying the lede.
Lastly, hackers are selling, among other things, an unidentified airport’s remote desktop protocol (which allows employees to work from specific computers outside the airport’s network) on the dark web for $10. Might be a good year to take Greyhound instead.
Until next week…
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