• Grey zoneGaining Competitive Advantage for the U.S. in the Gray Zone

    The United States is entering a period of intensifying strategic competition with several rivals, most notably Russia and China. U.S. officials expect this competition to be played out primarily below the threshold of armed conflict, in what is sometimes termed the gray zone between peace and war. The United States is ill prepared and poorly organized to compete in this space, but the United States can begin to treat the ongoing gray zone competition as an opportunity more than a risk.

  • PerspectiveHow Cyber Weapons Are Changing the Landscape of Modern Warfare

    In the weeks before two Japanese and Norwegian oil tankers were attacked, on 13 June, in the Gulf of Oman—acts which the United States attributes to Iran—American military strategists were planning a cyberattack on critical parts of that country’s digital infrastructure. On 20 June, the United States launched a cyberattack aimed at disabling Iran’s maritime operations. Then, in a notable departure from previous Administrations’ policies, U.S. government officials, through leaks that appear to have been strategic, alerted the world, in broad terms, to what the Americans had done.

  • Perspective: CybersecurityCyberattack Attribution and the Virtues of Decentralization

    In the midst of rising tensions between the United States and Iran over tanker attacks and Iran’s downing of a U.S. drone, reports emerged that U.S. Cyber Command had launched a responsive cyber operation against a group linked to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps. As cyber operations by both states heat up, non-governmental actors may play pivotal roles, not just as potential victims and collateral damage from states’ actions, but also as accusers of states.

  • Perspective: TechnologyDo Patents Protect National Security?

    On 12 June, the Wall Street Journal broke the story that Chinese firm Huawei Technologies Co. had asserted more than 200 patents against Verizon Communications Inc., reportedly demanding more than $1 billion in licensing fees. On its face, this would seem to be a private patent dispute. But, in fact, it is an important turn of events for national security: The Verizon-Huawei dispute contradicts a view espoused by many experts, and even the Trump administration, about the relationship between national security and intellectual property rights such as patents.

  • PerspectiveHow Fake News Could Lead to Real War

    Who really bombed the oil tankers in the Persian Gulf two weeks ago? Was it Iran, as the Trump administration assured us? Or was it Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates or Israel—or some combination of the three?

  • Perspective: CybersecurityReport: Pentagon Should Assume U.S. Satellites Are Already Hacked

    The U.S. and its allies need to double down on the cybersecurity of their satellites as space infrastructure becomes ever more integral to national security, according to a recent report. The Pentagon and other Western military forces rely heavily on space-based systems to guide weapons, gather intelligence and coordinate operations around the globe, but security gaps in their satellite infrastructure threaten to bring those functions to a grinding halt or worse, a new Chatham House study found. Jack Corrigan, writing in Defense One, quotes the study’s authots to say that as adversaries like Russia and China ramp up their offensive cyber capabilities, the Western world needs to lock down its space infrastructure against potentially crippling attacks. And in the meantime, “it would be prudent” for countries to assume their systems have already been infiltrated.”

  • Perspective: Truth decayHow Fake News Could Lead to Real War

    Who really bombed the oil tankers in the Persian Gulf two weeks ago? Was it Iran, as the Trump administration assured us? Or was it Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates or Israel—or some combination of the three? Daniel Benjamin and Steven Simon write in Politico that they believe in the official U.S. position, that Iran was behind the attacks, trying to prod other countries to pressure the U.S. to relax its sanctions makes sense. But the whole unsettling episode opened our eyes to a deeply troubling reality: The current fake news epidemic isn’t just shaking up U.S. politics; it might end up causing a war, or just as consequentially, impeding a national response to a genuine threat. Thus far, public discussion of deep fakes—and fake news more broadly—has focused on domestic politics and particularly elections. That was inevitable after the Russian interference on President Donald Trump’s behalf in 2016—the dimensions of which were laid out in the unprecedented joint assessment of the National Security Agency, Central Intelligence Agency and Federal Bureau of Investigation in February 2017 and the Mueller Report.
    But fake news’ implications for foreign and security policy may be as far-reaching—and even more dangerous. Misinformation in geopolitics could lead not only to the continued weakening of our institutions but also to combat deaths. Sure, fake news has been a feature of international relations for a long time, but it’s different now: “Advancing technology that can fabricate convincing images and videos combined with the chronic, exuberant dishonesty of the commander-in-chief and his minions has meant that no one can feel confident in assessing life or death choices in foreign policy crisis. For a democracy—one with global interests—this is a disaster,” Benjamin and Simon write.

  • Perspective: The Russia connectionPentagon Report: Russian Leaders Believe They Are Already at War with the United States—in the Gray Zone

    A group of governmental, military, and outside experts published a white paper urging the US government to jump fully into the so-called gray zone—the conceptual space in which countries take action that lies somewhere on the continuum between warfare and peaceable relations.  Russia, they say, is exploiting it effectively. It’s in the gray zone that Russia meddles with elections, launches online disinformation campaigns, and uses a host of other means to gain greater leverage in places ranging from the former Soviet states to Latin America. Matt Field, writing in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, notes that Russia’s already doing well in this sub-military conflict space. He quotes Nicole Peterson, who writes in the report’s executive summary: “Overall, Russia’s influence abroad is growing, and the Kremlin has mastered the use of ‘hybrid warfare’ in driving Russia’s foreign policy… Russia utilizes a variety of gray zone tactics   around the globe. These include the use of paramilitary forces and other proxies, interference in political processes, economic and energy exploitation (particularly in Africa), espionage, and media and propaganda manipulation.”

  • PerspectiveThe Russian Submarine that Caught Fire and Killed 14 May Have Been Designed to Cut Undersea Internet Cables

    A Russian navy submarine caught fire on Monday, killing 14 sailors on board. Two independent Russian news outlets reported that the vessel was the AS-12 “Losharik,” a nuclear-powered vessel that US officials have said is designed to cut undersea cables that keep the world’s internet running. Alexandra Ma and Ryan Pickrell write in Business Insider that Moscow officials have remained secretive about the type of vessel and whether it was nuclear-powered, prompting accusations of a cover-up. President Vladimir Putin canceled a scheduled event on Tuesday and told his defense minister to “personally receive reports” on the investigation into the accident, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported.

  • PerspectiveRectifying a wrong nuclear fuel decision

    In the old days, new members of Congress knew they had much to learn. They would defer to veteran lawmakers before sponsoring legislation. But in the Twitter era, the newly elected are instant experts. That is how Washington on 12 June witnessed the remarkable phenomenon of freshman Rep. Elaine Luria (D-Norfolk), successfully spearheading an amendment that may help Islamist radicals get nuclear weapons. The issue is whether the U.S. Navy should explore modifying the reactor fuel in its nuclear-powered vessels — as France already has done — to reduce the risk of nuclear material falling into the hands of terrorists such as al-Qaida or rogue states such as Iran. Luria says no. Alan J. Kuperman writes in the Pilot Online that more seasoned legislators have started to rectify the situation by passing a spending bill on 19 June that includes the funding for naval fuel research. They will have the chance to fully reverse Luria in July on the House floor by restoring the authorization. Doing so would not only promote U.S. national security but teach an important lesson that enthusiasm is no substitute for experience.

  • Nazi nukesHow close was Nazi Germany to the bomb?

    How close did Nazi Germany get to a working nuclear reactor? Researchers exploring the German quest and failure to build a working nuclear reactor during the Second World War say that Germany was close – but that the effort was hampered by decentralization and lack of scientific communication. “If the Germans had pooled their resources, rather than keeping them divided among separate, rival experiments, they may have been able to build a working nuclear reactor,” says an expert.

  • Climate & conflictAs global temperatures climb, risk of armed conflict likely to increase substantially

    As global temperatures climb, the risk of armed conflict is expected to increase substantially, according to experts across several fields. Synthesizing views across experts, the study estimates climate has influenced between 3 percent and 20 percent of armed conflict risk over the last century and that the influence will likely increase dramatically.

  • PerspectiveHow China could shut down America’s defenses

    Advanced U.S. weapons are almost entirely reliant on rare-earth materials only made in China—and they could be a casualty of the trade war. Keith Johnson and Lara Seligman write in Foreign Policy that President Donald Trump has often argued that China has much more to lose than the United States in a trade war, but critics say his administration has failed to address a major U.S. vulnerability: Beijing maintains powerful leverage over the war-making capability of its main strategic rival through its control of critical materials.

  • Chemical detectionDARPA tests advanced chemical sensors

    DARPA’s SIGMA program, which began in 2014, has demonstrated a city-scale capability for detecting radiological and nuclear threats that is now being operationally deployed. DARPA is building off this work with the SIGMA+ initiative that is focused on providing city- to region-scale detection capabilities across the full chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, and explosive threat space.

  • PerspectiveAnalytic superiority, public-private cooperation and the future of U.S. foreign intelligence

    After years of focusing on counterterrorism, a mainly kinetic threat, the U.S. intelligence community must now adapt to a long-term cyber struggle with nation-state adversaries. This struggle includes election interference and other socio-political disruption, cyber sabotage, theft of secrets, and competition in emerging technologies such as quantum computing and 5G wireless communications. David Kris writes in Lawfare that to succeed against these threats, the intelligence community must shift its approach in two related ways. First, it must focus on analytic superiority as well as cryptographic superiority—terms that I explain below but that basically require a shift in emphasis from accessing data to managing and using data. Second, to achieve analytic superiority, the intelligence community must develop stronger partnerships with the private sector and academia, and a broader base of external support with the American people.