Category: Miscellaneous

The Threat From Cyber Jihad

Luke Twombly is a research associate at the NCPA:

“It is easy to believe that bombs and bullets are the deadliest weapons in the Islamic State’s arsenal. However, ISIS continues to expand its cyber capabilities and might now be seeking to obtain “BlackEnergy” malware that was recently used by Russian hackers in December of 2015 to cripple a Ukrainian electrical grid. The attack left roughly 300,000 people without water and power for several hours. With this technology, ISIS could cripple the U.S. economy with relative ease, while at the same time paralyzing almost all aspects of the United States’ military.

The organization has already amassed an impressive digital presence, which includes an I.T. help desk for aspiring jihadists. ISIS is leading a campaign to educate young jihadists about how to navigate the dark web, while also introducing them to the tools and connections they require to perpetuate acts of war across the West. This cyber help desk is open 24-hours and uses a vast network of social media forums and applications. The operatives who run this desk have master’s level training in information technology, and use their education to train jihadists in obfuscation, propaganda and basic hacker tools.

One of those frequently used hacker tool is known as “Ransomware”, which is a type of malware that weaponizes encryption. The malware prevents the target from accessing their systems until they have paid a ransom to the attacker. This software is easy to purchase on the dark web, and unskilled or amateur hackers have used it with great success. ISIS, in particular, has been using this to fund their worldwide reign of terror. This “Ransomware” takes money directly from the Western economies and places it into the caliphate’s war chest.

Additionally, ISIS uses the internet to actively recruit college-educated Westerners who have the highest potential for harming their home countries. Almost 16 percent of ISIS recruits are college educated with another 30 percent having at least some college education, according to James Scott from the Institute for Critical Infrastructure Technology (ICIT). More startling, anywhere from 5,000 to 6,000 men and women have been recruited out of Europe and the United States. The Islamic State has successfully recruited tech savvy westerners who pose the greatest threat to their home countries.

ISIS’ success in the digital realm is one of the instrumental factors that has led to them becoming the most dominant Islamic terrorist group in the world. Their use of cyberspace to recruit new members and rob the first world to pay for its jihad appears to be only a precursor to greater achievements, such as damage to America’s critical infrastructure through malware. A robust program of proactive cyber warfare that moves beyond intrusion detection and anti-malware creation should be a top priority for U.S. national security officials.


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Eight Reasons Why We Face a National Security Problem

This originally appeared in my townhall column: John Kerry called the Istanbul airport attack a sign of desperation on the part of ISIS. The following observations suggest American leaders are the ones desperately clinging to failed strategies.

  1. Choosing symbolism over substance: Whether or not expressed explicitly, the administration demands uniformity of thought and diversity in appearance. As a result, upwards of 200 military officers have been “purged” for failing to acquiesce to a rudderless national security strategy that, among other things, subjects the military to costly and fruitless social engineering projects. A dangerous future awaits a country that diverts defense spending to that which offers no measurable benefit to military readiness. Woe to them who funds appearance over capability.
  2. Dangerous growth in government: Any expansion in government inevitably gives leaders an unwarranted sense of self (see the European Union). That remarkable hubris leads officials to believe, for instance, that they have identified the primary cause of weather patterns, and thus, have the power to fix it. A lack of consensus among specialists in this area is no match for such vanity. Assured of their position, big government saddles the military with climate directives that only serve to undermine its effectiveness. (see here)
  3. Faking moral outrage: The administration’s moral high ground is nothing but a false summit. And the latest sprint to the top in the wake of the Orlando massacre is fueled by widely vague notions of gun control and a staunch resistance to define the enemy. Government plans to drag America uphill to “Assault Rifle Ridge” only then to demand that citizens ignore the greater peaks that loom overhead, with names like “Emboldened Russia” and “Radical Islam.”
  4. Misinterpreting American exceptionalism: Some modern conservatives continue to rely on a misguided notion that all things American – democracy, capitalism and hot dogs – are inherently exceptional and, therefore, easily transferrable to all people. Such a simple interpretation inevitably leads to clumsy nation-building projects and unproductive security assistance programs. Both have increased defense spending, while doing little to enhance U.S. security. I call this defenseless debt.
  5. Misunderstanding American exceptionalism: John Kerry “cringed” at hearing the term. President Obama has lectured about its use. They incorrectly believe it to be a pompous vision of America where the ignorant believe the United States represents the climax of human culture, government and economy. Progressives then, ironically, respond with another form of American exceptionalism, which says the country’s faults and past misdeeds are, in fact, exceptionally American. Such a premise concludes that America is uniquely bad and all others endure as victims of that legacy. This leads to number 6.
  6. Prizing reputation over defense: The administration seems to be more concerned with its reputation among America’s adversaries than among those it governs. For this reason, we have the Iran nuclear deal. For this reason, what might inspire terrorism goes unstated. For this reason, Marines changed out of their uniforms four different times while readying themselves to respond to Benghazi, all because state officials felt embroidered American flags were potentially harmful to local sensibilities. We know the end of that story.
  7. Negotiating national security: The government must provide for the common defense. That’s non-negotiable. But 2015 marked the first time in history the Commander-in-Chief vetoed the National Defense Authorization Act for reasons unrelated to defense (he wanted more domestic spending). And when Congress acquiesced, both branches set the wrong precedent that the government’s constitutional duty to provide for the common defense matched their imagined duty to provide for the domestic welfare.
  8. National secrets taken lightly: The former Secretary of State completely compromised U.S. national security secrets, and still feels qualified to request a promotion. Either she displayed premeditated disregard for America’s security or, see number 5, excused the behavior because it only harmed an exceptionally unjust and discriminatory security apparatus. This breach is incredibly dangerous, as I have previously explained here.

America is a constitutional republic founded on a special of rule of law that allows for the truest expressions of personal liberty. And officials will not have a shared interest in preserving that legacy until the government can agree that defending America is truly its top priority.

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Learning From Israel in the Aftermath of Orlando

Danielle Zaychik is a research associate with the NCPA: “As we mourn the victims of the Orlando attack, gun control is once again at the forefront of the political debate.  But the solutions should be more geared towards terrorism.  Having lived in Israel for an extended period, I made some observations that may help the readers understand how a country combats terrorism within its borders.  The following suggestions come both from relevant literature and from Israeli experience.

Aggressively pursue terrorist suspects: In light of ISIS’s encouragement of lone wolf attacks, the U.S. government must step up its attempts to identity and track potential adherents to their message.  Not only had Omar Mateen twice popped up on the FBI’s radar, a gun company and Disney both reported Mateen to the FBI because of his suspicious behavior.  While there is definitely a place for restrictions on FBI investigations aimed at protecting citizens’ privacy, the U.S. government cannot ignore the changing nature of terrorism.  Israel has seen success using aggressive counterterrorism measures, including targeting terrorist organizations’ use of information and communication technology.  Since these platforms are used to inspire attacks, the United States government could consider creating an aggressive surveillance, monitoring, and counterterrorism system that combats those efforts.  Additionally, integrating local police units into federal counterterrorism efforts is critical for safety and security.

Decrease vulnerability:  In general, the idea of increasing the presence of public and private security guards does not sit well with Americans.  It seems unfathomable to put a guard in front of every major terror magnet (including concerts, malls, and train stations).  However, this is precisely what Israel did; Israelis got used to living with security as a part of daily life.  The most recent wave of violence in Israel, the Jerusalem Intifada, consisted largely of lone wolf copycat attacks, inspired by the social and mainstream media.  Attacks have been primarily halted by security forces and the increased security presence in high-conflict places, like the Old City of Jerusalem, has likely dissuaded others.  It can work in America, too.  Placing security guards in schools, for example, became more popular after Sandy Hook without controversy.

Improve response time. Active shooters often do not stop shooting until they meet resistance.  Or will continue their attack elsewhere if they do not meet resistance at the first location.  In many ways the Orlando shooting resembled the Bataclan massacre, which also had around a three hour police response time, although the Orlando police properly followed protocol based on previous incidents.  But protocol in regards to response could be considered for change.  Finding ways to improve response time, as they have done in Israel, will undoubtedly save lives during the next attack.

Past domestic and international experience provides a blueprint for creating measures that could mitigate future terrorist attacks on U.S. soil.  We cannot fall into the trap of crafting policy that tries to prevent the last attack.  We must implement measures that will best mitigate both threats similar to those we have seen in the past and new threats going forward.”

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BIG! Senate Passes NDAA

The U.S. Senate passed its version of the National Defense Authorization Act. And after the Islamic jihadist attack in Orlando, there should be no malingering about the final passage of a strong NDAA. The veto threat from the Obama administration is bad policy and incomprehensible at this critical time.

The FY 2017 NDAA must lay the ground for the restoration of our military, in a fiscally responsible manner. We must end the absurd and dangerous gutting of our force. We must streamline our procurement and acquisitions systems in order to get the best weapons systems into the hands of our warriors. And we must better compensate and care for those willing to make the last full measure of devotion and their families.

See how each Senator voted here.

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Can Sanctions on North Korea Prevent Conflict with China?

Braxton Clark is a research associate for the NCPA:

“At a time of increased Chinese militarization in the South China Sea, as well as an onslaught of government-sponsored cyber-attacks against American businesses and government, a door seems to be opening to improved Sino-American relations. China has been a staunch ally of North Korea for over 60 years, having provided the regime with decades of economic, military and humanitarian assistance. But China is now reevaluating its position towards both North Korea and South Korea.

North Korea has recently stepped up frequency of its missile tests, including those with the suspected capability of hitting American installations on Guam. And in expected style, these tests have utterly failed with one missile detonating immediately after launch. The constant antagonizing, the unpredictability and the fragility of the North Korean economy has driven a rift between it and China.

China has been slowly distancing itself from North Korea for some time due to its uncontrollable nature. The most overt example of this development came when China adopted and backed U.N. Security Council Resolution 2270 ‒‒ a resolution that includes Chinese cooperation on sanctions. These sanctions focus on the sale of jet fuel and the import of coal, which totals over 40 percent of DPRK trade. China’s participation in sanctions of this level is completely unprecedented.

Joining the sanctions signals a serious change in strategy for several reasons. First, according to the Congressional Research Service, China accounts for over 70 percent of North Korea’s trade. The trade relationship has generated billions of dollars for both nations. Therefore, any significant sanctions would theoretically hurt the Chinese economy. Although the Chinese economy is worth over $17 trillion, sanctions on North Korea would hurt merchants, companies and channels of commerce along their shared border.

Secondly, sanctions undermine an otherwise long history of Chinese support for North Korea. Since the Korean War started in 1950, China has provided arms, troops and supplies to their troublesome neighbor. In fact, during times of crisis, China has been the North’s number one supplier of humanitarian aid. Sanctions have suddenly brought decades of support into question.

To add insult to injury, China has decreased its cooperation with North Korea, while simultaneously furthering cooperation with South Korea. The Former President of South Korea Roh Tae-woo (1988-1993) introduced the doctrine of Nordpolitik, which aimed to repair relationships with northern powers, such as the USSR and China. He hoped working with the Chinese would isolate the North from its sole ally. Ever since China recognized South Korea as a state in 1992, they have worked towards building a functional relationship with one another. A 2014 BBC public perceptions poll found that people within South Korea and China are viewing each other with higher favorability annually. The report also determined that 40 percent of Chinese view South Koreans positively, only 32 percent view them negatively. Additionally, free trade agreements have established China as South Korea’s top trading partner. This shift, by extension, could improve China-U.S. relations.

The sanctions might provide a bridge to cross the growing divide between the two superpowers. And China seems ready to accept Western influence in the region, even if it comes in the form of South Korean soft power.”

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Use the NDAA Against Iran

The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), the annual bill that sets the military budget, is in the markup phase. As Congress begins to review and edit the content of the bill, now is the time to make our voice heard. The urgency in repairing our defense readiness capabilities dovetails with the U.S. national security urgency in holding Iran accountable for acts of aggression.

First, the Senate could consider adding a version of H.R. 3662 Iran Terror Finance Transparency Act, introduced by Rep. Steve Russell (R-OK), as an amendment to the NDAA.  I have written previously about the bill here, which passed the House but has not received a vote in the Senate.

Congress could also consider a version of H.R. 4342 Iran Ballistic Missile Prevention and Sanctions Act introduced by Rep. John Delaney (D. MD), as another amendment. Indeed, as one can see, the Iran issue has bipartisan support. Adding amendments of this nature could find backing across party lines.  And the American people would love to see such compromise, especially on an issue in which they stringently disagree with the president.

In any case, something must be done.

Iran has repeatedly violated the so-called “agreement,” which has turned out to be more like a Pinky-Swear Agreement (PSA) rather than a real contract. And for some unknown reason, the Obama administration plans to comply with the PSA with or without Iran. Now the Department of Energy has gone through with its purchase of Iran’s heavy water — used in the process of creating nuclear material — per the PSA. The Islamic Republic will receive $8.6 million. As the agreement stands, that money could be used to fund terrorism. Speaker Paul Ryan rightly called this idea subsidizing Iran’s nuclear program. This is just the latest mind-numbing strategy from the administration, and does not include billions in unfrozen assets flowing into Tehran. American Soldiers on their knees in surrender, rocket tests, etc; the in-your-face dissent will continue because Iran simply has no incentive to abide.

Meanwhile, Russia has recently agreed to supply Iran with S-300 missiles ahead of schedule and remains in talks to send even more military equipment.  I continue to believe that Israel will likely be the first victim of the Ayatollah’s wrath. And the PSA sets the ground work for that.

Former CIA Director James Woolsey once said, in reference to how American dollars sent to buy Middle East oil help enrich hostile governments and terrorist organizations, “Except for the Civil War, [the War on Terror] is the only war that we have fought where we are paying for both sides.”

Sounds like the PSA.  Even worse, we provided money that will likely fund Hezbollah and other terrorist organizations for virtually nothing in return.  The NDAA could help turn that around.

We, at the National Center for Policy Analysis, have developed the “Provide for the Common Defense, Now!” petition to ensure that the FY 2017 NDAA helps provide for a strong, fiscally responsible national defense plan. If you stand with us, please sign it.

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Rules of Engagement for the 21st Century Battlefield

The following originally appeared in West’s Townhall column: “Rules of Engagement (ROE) is defined as a directive issued by a military authority specifying the circumstances and limitations under which forces will engage in combat with the enemy. In the history of warfare we have seen an incredible metamorphosis of the rules of engagement. Long ago, armies presented themselves upon the battlefield in open areas away from civilian populations. The fact that weapons were limited to that which was carried, sword and spear, meant that fighting the enemy meant close-quarter engagement. The rules then were quite simple: engage the enemy, defeat them, and pursue to bring about their ultimate destruction. Given the fact that the level of communications capability was basically that of your voice, formations were tight and not spread out.

As battlefield technology and communications technology improved, the military battlefield expanded, and that meant a broader scope of what a “battlefield” encompassed. So as time moved forward, the battlefield was not just far away fields where armies came together; it meant involving civilian populations. As armies grew in size and scope, it became more necessary to depend upon local populations for food resourcing.

One thing that remained necessary and important was the states declared war against each other and fielded uniformed militaries that were identifiable on the battlefield. But consider what began here in America with the French and Indian War when there were two adversaries, but each employed non-state entities in support of their uniformed forces. The history of our vaunted US Army Rangers came from a company-sized force from the provincial colony of New Hampshire called into service of the British Army led by Colonel Robert Rogers, Roger’s Rangers. This guerrilla force operated in support of a uniformed state military, the British Army, against its enemies and won fame in the campaign against the Abenanki Indian tribe – who had been waging a frontier war against civilian populations supporting the British.

In our own Revolutionary War, militias such as that of Francis Marion, the “Swamp Fox,” in South Carolina again featured a group supporting a uniformed Army in its prosecution of warfare.

In order to try and police the battlefield and reduce the impact of such non-uniformed belligerents, it was often a practice that those captured on the battlefield as such were summarily tried and executed. The purpose was to try and protect civilian populations.

But with the advent of “total war,” where civilian populations were in support of the war making machine, industry rules of engagement changed. Industry and means by which the materiel support to warfare were deemed part of “centers of gravity” were now targets. We remember the bombing of the Ploesti oilfields in Romania. Such as it was for factories that produced weapons components and the train systems that transported troops and materiel. And yes, there were spies and acts of espionage to gather intelligence and sabotage key infrastructure – and again, those captured not in uniform aiding and abetting efforts were summarily executed. It was brutal, but in essence it was the unfortunate consequence of civilians entering the expanded battlefield.

Fast forward to Vietnam, where a main belligerent on the battlefield was the Viet Cong, who infiltrated the civilian population and used adjoining nation-states as a base of operations to train, equip, provide provisions, and stage their attacks. They were a non-state actor in support of a state actor, the North Vietnamese Army (NVA). The ROE during that war was very convoluted, and in many ways enabled the enemy to find sanctuary due to the desire not to inflict civilian casualties.

And so we find ourselves much in a similar position today in the war against Islamic Jihadism. War on terror is a horrible misnomer. One cannot fight against a tactic, which is what terrorism is. It is a means, a method used by an undefined enemy. On the new battlefield of the 21st century, we must have ROE that is not developed at the highest levels but at the battlefield levels to enable success. When the enemy knows that we have a political concern with “collateral damage,” they will use that reticence to their utmost advantage.

As a Battalion Commander in Iraq, I can recall the insurgent enemy using mosques and burial grounds as assembly points, as well as ammunition and equipment staging points. They knew what our restricted target list was. We insidiously advertised it. The enemy knows that our troops are told to not fire until fired upon, and it has come to the point where Islamic jihadist enemies can simply drop their weapons and walk away, knowing they will not to be engaged by our forces.

We must also employ weapon systems on the battlefield with the proper ROE that enable us to gain and maintain contact with the enemy, and not allow them to reposition into civilian populations, which increases the chances for civilian casualties. Let me provide you with an example from my years in Afghanistan.

When an American element becomes involved in a TIC (troops in contact), it is imperative that they have the support of all resources that can destroy that enemy in place. The ground element must be able to keep the enemy engaged and maintain “eyes on target.” If the enemy is firing upon you from a location, that location is a target. What happens all too often is that far back at some headquarters, any request for additional fire support must go through ROE protocols, where a series of inane questions are asked of the ground element – something the enemy knows very well. Time is of the essence in a firefight.

We need weapon systems platforms that are in support of the ground element; that can deliver close support to them. We need mortars, artillery, and aerial close-air support assets that allow the ground element to keep an enemy pinned down for the ultimate kill, with additional assets. And let me be very clear: an F-15, F-16, and F/A-18 are not exactly fixed wing close air support assets. The best tools for that mission are attack helicopters or A-10 Warthogs. Why? Because the ground element can direct them right in on the enemy while still maintaining their direct fire, and reducing the issue of collateral damage.

What happens on the modern battlefield is that the enemy knows our TTPs (tactics, techniques, and procedures). When our ground element disengages, meaning they stop firing, they are repositioning to not be in the circular error probable of bombs that will be dropped. So the enemy repositions as well, and normally deeper into civilian areas, and we raise the probability of collateral damage.

If we are to be successful on this battlefield, let’s allow the leaders on the ground – not lawyers – to develop common sense ROE. We can ill afford to allow the enemy any advantage and initiative to kill our men and women we have deployed into harm’s way. This is a critical issue that the House and Senate Armed Services Committees should be examining. This is why we at the National Center for Policy Analysis are addressing this policy issue. To learn more, visit our “Provide for the Common Defense, Now!” petition.”

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