Category: Intelligence

London Burning: Latest terror attack is “Fourth Gen Warfare”

At 10:30 pm on Saturday, June 3, London witnessed the latest in a string of jihadi terror attacks that have so far hit Afghanistan, Iraq, and Manchester. ISIS has also taken over the town of Marawi in the southern Philippines, showing that as its central state is rolled back inch by inch it has the potential to expand elsewhere.

The attack on London Bridge saw 7 people killed by being run over by a white van or stabbed by the three terrorists who then went on a stabbing rampage that ended in Borough Market. British armed police arrived on the scene in 8 minutes from the time of the alert, where they shot all 3 men dead, who were wearing what turned out to be fake suicide vests.

The attacks struck at another landmark in the capital of the West’s home to parliamentary democracy; London Bridge is a landmark with deep historical significance, and to launch an attack on it was an attempt to reach the same level of psychological impact as that on Westminster Bridge back in March. Borough Market is a popular tourist and local attraction and is always full of people. If the attackers had managed to obtain AK-47’s or another similar firearm, or indeed if they’d actually had real suicide vests, the death toll could have been catastrophic. As it was, the country is grateful that they only had a vehicular missile and blades to finish the job. That is what we’ve come to in the West.

What we are seeing is, as Maajid Nawaz and others have described, a full blown global jihadist insurgency. The jihadists have taken their campaign of terror beyond mere terrorism and have elevated it to the levels of highly decentralised, insurgent, Fourth-Generation Warfare.

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These past two weeks of Trump scandals were entirely predictable

The Republicans played with fire, and now they’re gonna get burnt

The past two weeks have brought developments in the ongoing saga of America’s executive office dysfunction that have shattered even previous high water marks of unbridled incompetence, corruption, and abuse of power. On May 9, Donald Trump fired FBI Director James Comey on transparent pretexts. A couple of days later, Trump admitted his pretexts were false. Later he made a threat to Comey, who is invited to testify before Congress, about having supposed “tapes” of his conversations, and the White House still won’t say if it is recording conversations, even as it faces a subpoena from Congressional investigators. Now, in the past few hours, it has come to light that Comey produced a memo stating Trump had told him to end the investigation into Michael Flynn.

If Trump’s attempts to derail the Russia investigation weren’t enough, Trump met with Russian Ambassador to the U.S. Sergey Kislyak and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov literally the next day after firing Comey. Apparently without the White House’s permission, the Russian government photographer shared photos of the two men yukking it up in front of Trump with the Russian media that would go viral around the world—even as Trump didn’t allow any American photographers to capture images of the meeting. Didn’t Trump already learn from Michael Flynn and Jeff Sessions the perils of meeting with Kislyak?

But the optics disaster was only foreshadowing what the public would soon find out happened during the meeting.

On May 16, it was reported by the Washington Post that “Trump revealed highly classified information to Russian foreign minister and ambassador.” The information revealed was reportedly enough to let Russia figure out the source of intelligence shared by an ally (a very strong ally that Trump made much of claiming to support). Trump’s irresponsible mouth puts Israeli spies in ISIS-controlled territory at risk. It may threaten U.S. intelligence-sharing with Israel.

The saddest thing is, this was all completely predictable.

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The Donald vs. the US Intelligence Community

If there’s anything that’s keeping me up at night, other than my PhD thesis, it is The Donald.

On a personal level, his (dis)temper, inadequate preparation for the exigencies of the office he has won, and his utter incapability to withhold commentary on absolutely anything that is purported to relate to him, concern me. The bigotry, homophobia, prejudice and racism upon which his campaign rested concern me. His “policies,” such as they are, concern me. His alliances with, and appointment of, heads of major corporations and individuals with a similar political acumen to himself (little to none), concern me. His policies toward immigrants, women, the disabled, and the poor concern me.

But there’s something more, that concern me as an Intel researcher.

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Bombs + Dollars’ analysis of the House Intel report on Snowden

Edward Snowden was a portrayed as a frustrated worker who clashed with colleagues, failed workplace training, and exaggerated his credentials in a report by the United States House of Representative Intelligence Committee. Most damningly, it alleges that he has passed on classified information to the Russian government. In the words of Bombs + Dollars editor Sumantra Maitra, “This is rough.”

The House Intel Committee began investigating in 2014 in order to analyze the damage Snowden’s leaks did to U.S. national security and how to minimize the risk of it happening again. It is worth noting that the Intel Committee has their own point of view. The 4 page report available to the public is but a small summary of the classified 36-page report, with information selected to best make their case. The committee’s investigation avoided interviewing individuals who may be witnesses as a possible trial of Snowden and in some cases interviewed second- or third-hand sources who had reviewed reports of interviews with Snowden’s colleagues, rather than the colleagues themselves. Nonetheless, much of the information is in-line with what has been reported in journalistic and non-governmental sources about Snowden, though some of the House’s claims are worded in a sensationalistic manner.

First, the report states that Snowden caused “tremendous damage to national security.” The information he revealed that Glenn Greenwald and other journalists published about U.S. intelligence programs both domestic and abroad is, of course, available to anyone with an Internet connection. That is a necessary consequence of a journalistic expose, and journalists can only control the degree to which they minimize the most damaging information, but it is sometimes justified for public knowledge.

Yet a large amount of the information published had nothing to do with spying on American citizens–or even foreign citizens. The U.S. tapped the phones of foreign leaders, for example, and conducted espionage on its rivals during diplomatic and trade negotiations, it was reported, based on Snowden’s leaks. “[T]he vast majority of the documents he stole have nothing to do with programs impacting individual privacy interests,” the report says. Snowden has already admitted that he didn’t even read all the documents he leaked.

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Secrecy, privacy, security, transparency

End-to-end encryption for civilian messaging services is a dearly-held dream of many outside the intelligence and security communities. It certainly isn’t something that I myself disagree with; I’d like to think that the messages I send to my loved ones are, in fact, being read only by my loved ones. However, every time that somebody uses an app with E2EE to send a message or make a call, members of the worldwide intelligence communities cradle their heads in their hands and cry.

Allo-app-img_6663-640x427Yesterday, Google jumped on the ‘encryption-for-all!’ bandwagon, announcing their new messaging service Allo, messages sent through which not even Google itself will be able to decrypt (theoretically, and for now) when the app is operating in Incognito mode. After all, to the average citizen it is perfectly reasonable to take steps to ensure one’s privacy, especially when you know good and well that there are those out there with the capacity to intercept and read your unencrypted (and therefore insecure) messages should they choose to.

In fact, Google is actually late to the game on this one. As Wired pointed out earlier today, Facebook (with Messaging and Whatsapp) as well as Apple (iMessage, Facetime) have been quietly encrypting your communications for some time now. More people are aware of this now, due both to the consequences of the Snowden revelations and the extremely public throw down between Apple and the FBI over getting into the iPhone of the San Bernadino shooter. And that’s the real rub. For all that we are entitled to privacy (and so we should be, not disagreeing with that!), our intelligence services and security organizations have the duty to protect against threats to the security of the State and the citizens therein (that would be us). Of course, the problem with that is privacy for everyone means privacy for everyone….including criminals and terrorists. Apple cannot build the FBI a backdoor into an iPhone, because that sets a dangerous precedent for the future. Not to mention, once that capacity exists it can’t be taken back, and absolutely nobody can guarantee that it won’t eventually trickle down to some who will use it negatively. This is an ethical as well as legal dilemma, and there really is no simple (or, so far, complex) solution.

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Weekly Reading List: All about foreign policy Realism.

Hi everyone, been long we had a Weekly Reading List! Not weekly anymore, unfortunately, as I am busy with my work and research, but as Easter break is approaching, and I will be immersed full time in my PhD thesis, here’re a few articles which I want to leave you guys with, which I wrote in the last one month.

JIR2016_1First, the big one.

My research paper got published, titled “Was Putin Ever Friendly to the West?”: An Expository Study of the First Two Terms of President Vladimir Putin, In Light of the Theories of Realism. (Journal of International Relations, Faculty of International Relations, University of Economics in Bratislava 2016, Volume XIV, Issue 1, Pages 58-92. ISSN 1336-1562 (print), ISSN 1339-2751 (online) Published 15. 3. 2016)

You can download the full paper here.

Aurangzeb_in_old_age_2Secondly, most of you would remember I wrote a comparative piece on how modern Russia is like seventeenth century India under the Mughals? I went a bit further and compared Putin and the medieval Indian emperor Aurangzeb. (Which, incidentally got a nice review here!)

I wrote two articles on Russia-Direct, the first one on how unlikely it is for Russia to actually invade the Baltics, and the second one on the fact that Russia and US is not in any New Cold war, but just a usual Great power rivalry with competition and cooperation happening simultaneously.

I also wrote one long essay for The Interpreter Magazine, on how contrary to popular belief, Obama is not a Realist…infact he doesn’t seem to understand what Realism in foreign policy means.

With regards to my weekly columns, here are they. 

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Was Putin ever a friend of the West? — New working paper published at SSRN

Realism and the Rise and Decline of Putin’s Rapprochement with the Bush Administration after 9/11

Sumantra Maitra takes on conventional wisdom with his Working Paper Series for SSRN. Here’s the abstract:

It is a common notion among a lot of analysts, including but not limited to Dmitri Trenin of Carnegie Moscow, that Vladimir Putin was a “friend of the West,” and that due to causal and structural reasons, like Iraq War, NATO expansion, Eastern Europe missile defenses and oil price index, he turned into a revanchist ruler that he is today.

I argue, that was not the case, and this essay highlights that he was always a shrewd Realist, on a tactical alignment with the West, looking to chart his own course at his earliest convenience. The study of this time period, of Putin’s first two terms, highlights the importance and suggests future policy course in dealing with him.

This paper is expository and tests the theory of Realism with Russian actions under the first two terms of Vladimir Putin, which broadly coincides with the George W Bush Administration.

Download the full paper here.

Suggested CitationMaitra, Sumantra. Working Paper Series : “Was Putin Ever a Friend of the West? Realism and the Rise and Decline of Putin’s Rapprochement with the Bush Administration after 9/11” (Dec 16, 2015). Available at SSRN – http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2704623 

Communications Insecurity: Time to Return to Messenger Pigeons?

As most of us now know, much of what we do on the Internet can be monitored by pretty much whoever decides we are of interest. Whether or not you agree with government surveillance, no one can really deny that we enjoy the security that our governments provide us with (if you are lucky enough to live in such a country). A growing issue with the Internet and communications technology, however, is that increasing surveillance is also resulting in decreased security, both overall and for the individual layperson (that’s you and I).

If you’ve read @War by Shane Harris (and you should), you’ll know that certain agencies have been stockpiling zero days and building backdoors into commerical tech and software for years. You may or may not know that banks, commercial giants, and, you know, hackers of the black-hatted variety have been and are doing this as well.

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