Featured Analysis

09 Feb 2017

US government warns that terrorists want to target hospitals

In a joint intelligence alert issued on 8 February 2017, the Department of Homeland Security, the FBI, and the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC) warned that ISIS and other terrorists are encouraging attacks on hospital and other healthcare facilities. According to the alert: “Recent calls over the past year for attacks on hospitals in the West by media outlets sympathetic to the Islamic State (ISIS) highlight terrorists’ perception of hospitals as viable targets for attack. Targeting hospitals and healthcare facilities is consistent with ISIS’s tactics in Iraq and Syria, its previous calls for attacks on hospitals in the West, and the group’s calls for attacks in the West using “all available means”. The pro-ISIS Nashir Media Foundation released a series of messages on 29 December 2016 encouraging long offenders in the West to conduct attacks on hospitals, cinemas, and malls. In early June 2016, ISIS called for a “month of calamity”, encouraging followers in Europe and the United States to attack schools and hospitals in an audio message released via Twitter. Additionally, in its January 2016 issue of Rumiyah magazine, ISIS provided tactical guidance and encouraged lone offenders to conduct arson attacks on hospitals.”

04 Feb 2017

State Department Report on Gray Zone Conflict

The study addresses the challenges facing the United States from the increasing use by rivals and adversaries – state and non-state alike – of what have come to be called “Gray Zone” techniques. The term Gray Zone (“GZ”) denotes the use of techniques to achieve a nation’s goals and frustrate those of its rivals by employing instruments of power – often asymmetric and ambiguous in character – that are not direct use of acknowledged regular military forces. The report is organized according to the specific subjects the ISAB was directed to consider by the Terms of Reference (TOR) – Characteristics of GZ Operations, Policy Options and Concepts, and Deterrence/Dissuasion. Characteristics of GZ Conflict Perhaps the most widely used definition of Gray Zone conflict is that established by the U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM): “gray zone challenges are defined as competitive interaction among and within state and non-state actors that fall between the traditional war and peace duality. They are characterized by ambiguity about the nature of the conflict, opacity of the parties involved, or uncertainty about the relevant policy and legal frameworks.” Read too broadly, this definition would embrace practically all international interaction, most of which is directed in some degree at affecting the actions or view of other countries. However, it is possible to describe the problem without seeking a universal and precise definition. The term “Gray Zone” may be new; the phenomenon is not. Although many of the techniques used now are based on modern technology, notably cyber and networked communication, many are as old as history. What are now being called GZ methods have been conducted in the past under such names as “political warfare,” “covert operations,” “irregular or guerrilla warfare,” “active measures,” and the like. In some sense, the Cold War was one protracted GZ campaign on both sides on a global scale. The Trojan Horse exploited many of the instruments of a GZ operation – creating confusion and division in enemy opinion, extending ostensible inducements, implanting hidden military forces, deception, and clandestine infiltration of enemy territory. The central characteristic of GZ operations is that they involve the use of instruments beyond normal international interactions yet short of overt military force. They occupy a space between normal diplomacy and commercial competition and open military conflict, and while often employing diplomacy and commercial actions, GZ attacks go beyond the forms of political and social action and military operations with which liberal democracies are familiar, to make deliberate use of instruments of violence, terrorism, and dissembling. Moreover, they often involve asymmetry in magnitude of national interests or capabilities between the adversaries. GZ techniques include: Cyber, information operations, efforts to undermine public/allied/local/ regional resistance, and information/propaganda in support of other hybrid instruments; Covert operations under state control, espionage, infiltration, and subversion; Special Operations Forces (SOF) and other state-controlled armed units, and unacknowledged military personnel; Support – logistical, political, and financial – for insurgent and terrorist movements; Enlistment of non-governmental actors, including organized criminal groups, terrorists, and extremist political, religious, and ethnic or sectarian organizations; Assistance to irregular military and paramilitary forces; Economic pressures that go beyond normal economic competition; Manipulation and discrediting of democratic institutions, including electoral system and the judiciary; Calculated ambiguity, use of /covert/unacknowledged operations, and deception and denial; and Explicit or implicit threat use, or threats of use of armed force, terrorism, and abuse of civilian populations and of escalation. Currently, the United States can reasonably be said to face GZ campaigns in a range of theaters: Russia has mounted a variety of GZ operations, not only in Ukraine where it actually employed thinly disguised military

27 Jan 2017

ODNI Global Trends Report 2017 – Paradox of Progress

We are living a paradox: The achievements of the industrial and information ages are shaping a world to come that is both more dangerous and richer with opportunity than ever before. Whether promise or peril prevails will turn on the choices of humankind. The progress of the past decades is historic—connecting people, empowering individuals, groups, and states, and lifting a billion people out of poverty in the process. But this same progress also spawned shocks like the Arab Spring, the 2008 Global Financial Crisis, and the global rise of populist, anti-establishment politics. These shocks reveal how fragile the achievements have been, underscoring deep shifts in the global landscape that portend a dark and difficult near future. The next five years will see rising tensions within and between countries. Global growth will slow, just as increasingly complex global challenges impend. An ever-widening range of states, organizations, and empowered individuals will shape geopolitics. For better and worse, the emerging global landscape is drawing to a close an era of American dominance following the Cold War. So, too, perhaps is the rules-based international order that emerged after World War II. It will be much harder to cooperate internationally and govern in ways publics expect. Veto players will threaten to block collaboration at every turn, while information “echo chambers” will reinforce countless competing realities, undermining shared understandings of world events. Underlying this crisis in cooperation will be local, national, and international differences about the proper role of government across an array of issues ranging from the economy to the environment, religion, security, and the rights of individuals. Debates over moral boundaries—to whom is owed what—will become more pronounced, while divergence in values and interests among states will threaten international security. It will be tempting to impose order on this apparent chaos, but that ultimately would be too costly in the short run and would fail in the long. Dominating empowered, proliferating actors in multiple domains would require unacceptable resources in an era of slow growth, fiscal limits, and debt burdens. Doing so domestically would be the end of democracy, resulting in authoritarianism or instability or both. Although material strength will remain essential to geopolitical and state power, the most powerful actors of the future will draw on networks, relationships, and information to compete and cooperate. This is the lesson of great power politics in the 1900s, even if those powers had to learn and relearn it. The US and Soviet proxy wars, especially in Vietnam and Afghanistan, were a harbinger of the post-Cold War conflicts and today’s fights in the Middle East, Africa, and South Asia in which less powerful adversaries deny victory through asymmetric strategies, ideology, and societal tensions. The threat from terrorism will expand in the coming decades as the growing prominence of small groups and individuals use new technologies, ideas, and relationships to their advantage. Meanwhile, states remain highly relevant. China and Russia will be emboldened, while regional aggressors and nonstate actors will see openings to pursue their interests. Uncertainty about the United States, an inward-looking West, and erosion of norms for conflict prevention and human rights will encourage China and Russia to check US influence. In doing so, their “gray zone” aggression and diverse forms of disruption will stay below the threshold of hot war but bring profound risks of miscalculation. Overconfidence that material strength can manage escalation will increase the risks of interstate conflict to levels not seen since the Cold War. Even if hot war is avoided, the current pattern of “international cooperation where we can get it”—such as on climate change—masks significant differences in values and interests

06 Jan 2017

Intelligence Community Report on Election Hacking

Assessing Russian Activities and Intentions in Recent US Elections Russian efforts to influence the 2016 US presidential election represent the most recent expression of Moscow’s longstanding desire to undermine the US-led liberal democratic order, but these activities demonstrated a significant escalation in directness, level of activity, and scope of effort compared to previous operations. We assess Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the US presidential election. Russia’s goals were to undermine public faith in the US democratic process, denigrate Secretary Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency. We further assess Putin and the Russian Government developed a clear preference for President-elect Trump. We have high confidence in these judgments. We also assess Putin and the Russian Government aspired to help President-elect Trump’s election chances when possible by discrediting Secretary Clinton and publicly contrasting her unfavorably to him. All three agencies agree with this judgment. CIA and FBI have high confidence in this judgment; NSA has moderate confidence. Moscow’s approach evolved over the course of the campaign based on Russia’s understanding of the electoral prospects of the two main candidates. When it appeared to Moscow that Secretary Clinton was likely to win the election, the Russian influence campaign began to focus more on undermining her future presidency. Further information has come to light since Election Day that, when combined with Russian behavior since early November 2016, increases our confidence in our assessments of Russian motivations and goals. Moscow’s influence campaign followed a Russian messaging strategy that blends covert intelligence operations—such as cyber activity—with overt efforts by Russian Government agencies, state-funded media, third-party intermediaries, and paid social media users or “trolls.” Russia, like its Soviet predecessor, has a history of conducting covert influence campaigns focused on US presidential elections that have used intelligence officers and agents and press placements to disparage candidates perceived as hostile to the Kremlin. Russia’s intelligence services conducted cyber operations against targets associated with the 2016 US presidential election, including targets associated with both major US political parties. We assess with high confidence that Russian military intelligence (General Staff Main Intelligence Directorate or GRU) used the Guccifer 2.0 persona and DCLeaks.com to release US victim data obtained in cyber operations publicly and in exclusives to media outlets and relayed material to WikiLeaks. Russian intelligence obtained and maintained access to elements of multiple US state or local electoral boards. DHS assesses that the types of systems Russian actors targeted or compromised were not involved in vote tallying. Russia’s state-run propaganda machine contributed to the influence campaign by serving as a platform for Kremlin messaging to Russian and international audiences. We assess Moscow will apply lessons learned from its Putin-ordered campaign aimed at the US presidential election to future influence efforts worldwide, including against US allies and their election processes. Assessing Russian Activities and Intentions in Recent US Elections

07 Dec 2016

Best Security, Business, and Technology Books of 2016

Dozens of times per year, I get asked to recommend my favorite books so I couldn’t say no when the OODA Loop team asked me to build on Mark Mateski’s popular Red Teaming book list by providing my top 10 books for 2016. I have very eclectic interests, so I’ve focused my list on the top security, business, and technology books of 2016. Given that I’ve always drawn on fiction for both inspiration and insight, the list also includes three very compelling works of fiction that should be of interest to those in the security and technology fields. Please feel free to share your thoughts and recommendations with me via twitter @MattDevost. Happy reading! The Seventh Sense: Power, Fortune, and Survival in the Age of Networks by Joshua Cooper Ramo I first met Joshua several years ago during a reception for a private event we were both speaking at and I was impressed with his insights. In fact, I adopted a quote he mentioned for use in some of my presentations that has been incredibly well received. The Seventh Sense earns the award for the most highlighted book in my 2016 collection and is chock full of many wonderful insights. Joshua Cooper Ramo argues that the future of business and society will reward those who have a Seventh Sense for understanding how things are connected or will be connected in the future. Those who understand how things are or will be connected will garner a great advantage over those who don’t and many will attempt to exert power by controlling the connections (a la the Chinese Firewall). Black Box Thinking: Why Most People Never Learn from Their Mistakes – But Some Do by Matthew Syed As a red teamer and entrepreneur I’ve always made a habit of studying success and failure with equal weighting. We received a lot of criticism during the Terrorism Research Center days for tracking failed terrorist attacks in our database, but we truly believed they were a roadmap for future intent and innovation. Black Box Thinking is specifically focused on understanding how organizations learn from their mistakes (or don’t) and draws a stark contrast between failure in the commercial aviation and medical industries. I recently recommended this book to an executive only to find that they later made it required reading for the entire management team. Shoe Dog by Phil Knight The grittiest and most honest book about entrepreneurship that I have ever read. Phil Knight, the founder of Nike, provides a multi-decade history of his quest to launch his own shoe company and the blood, sweat, and tears it took to get there. His writing style is engaging and the history of Nike is absolutely compelling and inspirational. This book has earned a spot in my top ten business books of all time. Dark Territory: The Secret History of Cyber War by Fred Kaplan Fred Kaplan is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist that decided to focus his attention on documenting the secret history of cyber war and spent years conducting research and interviewing an impressive list of experts. The thorough nature of his research and his ability to capture and highlight the themes and events that impacted three decades of cyber conflict and information warfare make this an essential history of the topic. Whether you were on the front lines of DoD Directive 3600.01 or new to the field, you will gain substantial insights from this book. Eccentric Orbits: The Iridium Story by John Bloom Prior to SpaceX, Facebook, and Google popularizing the concept of global satellite communications there was Iridium. This book provides a well

06 Dec 2016

US Foreign Policy: A Strategic Approach towards China Concerning the DPRK

Last week, a task force assembled by the Council on Foreign Affairs released a report on the current North Korea situation facing the U.S. and its regional allies. The report was conducted following the regime’s unprecedented number of ballistic and nuclear grade missile testing within a single year and its leader’s increasingly belligerent posturing. The report asserts that the previous two U.S. Administrations’ overarching approach towards the DPRK has failed to slow the regimes’ path towards weaponized nuclear material. It also argues that due to the danger the volatile regime poses towards its neighbors and eventually the U.S. mainland, halting any further progress of the regime’s nuclear program must become a “front-burner” issue. Also, while the task force presented no original ideas in terms of paths to success, its value lays in the hierarchy in which it places known ideas, as well as iterating the need for urgent action. There are multiple dangers to U.S. interests from DPRK miniaturization of nuclear materials, including, but not be limited to, the following: An existential threat to the U.S. when the regime’s nuclear weapons are able to reach the U.S. mainland The regime’s ability to use nuclear arms as a means of increasing influence on regional and international politics The option for the desperate and reckless regime to sell the weapons to the U.S.’s many adversaries for profit, including Iran or international terrorist organizations The task force also accurately judged that, regardless of action taken, The People’s Republic of China’s (PRC) involvement will define any policy’s ultimate success or failure. While official sanctions implemented by UN partners have done little to change the regime’s position on advancing with its nuclear weapons program and committing human rights abuses against its own populace, it has made China Pyongyang’s primary benefactor. While the PRC has agreed to the UN resolution on sanctions towards the DPRK regime on paper, it has continued to provide “food & fuel” and economic channels for capital to flow in and out of the country. This state of affairs has put the PRC in a unique position; if it so chooses, it has the power to deal a devastating economic blow to the regime. The PRC has the most leverage in terms of cutting off essential resources, given its geographic position on North Korea’s sea-lanes and land border. This position enables the PRC to restrict and permit trade in and out of North Korea. Beijing’s foreign policy priorities, however, are oriented toward its own critical priorities: internal stability and sustained economic growth. Beijing has opted to save face with the international community regarding complaints on how it treats its own citizens and its aggressive expansion in the South China Sea. It expects, quite rightly, that its economic power will save it from any repercussions besides international political virtue signaling, while helping the adjacent regime in Pyongyang remain relatively stable. While the PRC would prefer a less troublesome regime on the Korean peninsula, it does not have the same geostrategic or defense concerns as the U.S. This friction is the essential source of friction between U.S. and PRC cooperation on this issue. A higher priority on Beijing’s list is ensuring the regime remains intact so that any negative effects do not spill over into China. This position contrasts heavily with the US ideal of replacing the totalitarian Communist state with a pro-Western, democratic government. The task force also suggested that a united Korean peninsula (under a U.S. friendly government) would be unfavorable to Beijing. The task

12 Oct 2016

White House Report on the Future of Artificial Intelligence

Under President Obama’s leadership, America continues to be the world’s most innovative country, with the greatest potential to develop the industries of the future and harness science and technology to help address important challenges. Over the past 8 years, President Obama has relentlessly focused on building U.S. capacity in science and technology. This Thursday, President Obama will host the White House Frontiers Conference in Pittsburgh to imagine the Nation and the world in 50 years and beyond, and to explore America’s potential to advance towards the frontiers that will make the world healthier, more prosperous, more equitable, and more secure. Today, to ready the United States for a future in which Artificial Intelligence (AI) plays a growing role, the White House is releasing a report on future directions and considerations for AI called Preparing for the Future of Artificial Intelligence. This report surveys the current state of AI, its existing and potential applications, and the questions that progress in AI raise for society and public policy. The report also makes recommendations for specific further actions. A companion National Artificial Intelligence Research and Development Strategic Plan is also being released, laying out a strategic plan for Federally-funded research and development in AI. Preparing for the Future of Artificial Intelligence details several policy opportunities raised by AI, including how the technology can be used to advance social good and improve government operations; how to adapt regulations that affect AI technologies, such as automated vehicles, in a way that encourages innovation while protecting the public; how to ensure that AI applications are fair, safe, and governable; and how to develop a skilled and diverse AI workforce. The publication of this report follows a series of public-outreach activities spearheaded by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) in 2016, which included five co-hosted public workshops held across the country, as well as a Request for Information (RFI) in June 2016 that received 161 responses. These activities helped inform the focus areas and recommendations included in the report. Advances in AI technology hold incredible potential to help America stay on the cutting edge of innovation. Already, AI technologies have opened up new markets and new opportunities for progress in critical areas such as health, education, energy, and the environment. In recent years, machines have surpassed humans in the performance of certain specific tasks, such as some aspects of image recognition. Although it is very unlikely that machines will exhibit broadly-applicable intelligence comparable to or exceeding that of humans in the next 20 years, experts forecast that rapid progress in the field of specialized AI will continue, with machines reaching and exceeding human performance on an increasing number of tasks. One of the most important issues raised by AI is its impact on jobs and the economy. The report recommends that the White House convene a study on automation and the economy, resulting in a follow-on public report that will be released by the end of this year. In the coming years, AI will continue contributing to economic growth and will be a valuable tool for improving the world in fields as diverse as health care, transportation, the environment, criminal justice, and economic inclusion. The Administration believes that it is critical that industry, civil society, and government work together to develop the positive aspects of the technology, manage its risks and challenges, and ensure that everyone has the opportunity to help in building an AI-enhanced society and to participate in its benefits. Preparing for the Future of AI (PDF Report)

11 Oct 2016

Inside ISIS’s English-Language Magazine

With the slow but steady recovery ISIS-held lands across Iraq and Syria, analysts are warning of a surge in ISIS-inspired attacks across Europe and the US as the terrorist group changes tactics. The latest magazine from Al Hayat Media Center, the ISIS media wing, confirms this shift in emphasis with an explicit charge to target “businessman riding to work in a taxicab, the young adults (post-pubescent “children”) engaged in sports activities in the park, and the old man waiting in line to buy a sandwich…Indeed, even the blood of the kafir street vendor selling flowers to those passing by is halal to shed – and striking terror into the hearts of all disbelievers is a Muslim’s duty.” Rumiyah (Rome) Magazine published its first issue in September and, unlike most ISIS propaganda, was published in English, French, German, Indonesian, Turkish, and Russian in addition to Arabic. The magazine’s forward begins with a eulogy for a fallen ISIS commander and a reminder to the “faithful” that the death of any one man is irrelevant to the preservation of the muwahidden. “…Those fools do not realize that Allah preserves His religion however He wills, and this religion will remain established and will not be damaged by the death of any person…” After the forward, the 38-page publication is divided into 7 articles and a summary of recent ISIS operations, including those of affiliates in Somalia, the Philippines, and Russia (“As the soldiers of the Khilafah continue waging war on the forces of kufr, we take a glimpse at a number of recent operations conducted by the mujahidin of the Islamic State that have succeeded in expanding the territory of the Khilafah, or terrorizing, massacring, and humiliating the enemies of Allah.”) Articles: The Religion of Islam and the Jama’ah [“body” or “worldwide community”] of the Muslims – a summary of various core ISIS doctrines with heavy exegesis from the Quran Interview with the Amir of the Central Office for Investigating Grievances Among the Believers are Men: Abu Mansur al-Muhajir – a eulogy for recently killed ISIS militant and recruiter from Australia who spent four-and-a-half years in prison for a plot to detonate a bomb in a stadium during an Australian Football match. He died outside of Aleppo when “a piece of shrapnel struck him and tore his chest open, bringing him what he had long awaited – shahadah in the path of Allah.” O Women, Give Charity – a charge to women, who are “excused” from fighting, to do their part by waging jihad with their “wealth, souls, and tongues.” The Wicked Scholars are Cursed – an explanation of the necessity of violent jihad within ISIS theology and a repudiation of all other Muslim scholars who reject it The Virtue of the 10 Days of Dhul-Hijjah and the Acts of Worship Therein – an explanation on the observances for Dhul-Hijjah, the “best ten days of the year according to Allah.” The Kafir’s Blood is Halal for You: So Shed It – the final article in the publication and subject of concentrated western attention. “The Kafir’s Blood is Halal for You: So Shed It” The most immediately relevant for Western readers, this article declares “anyone who is neither a Muslim nor a dhimmi kafir [a non-Muslim who pays a special tax, subjects themselves to special laws, and deserves regular “humiliation”] is a hostile tyrant deserving aggression.” It continues its internal line of reasoning with additional interpretations of Hadith and other


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