Category: U.S. National Security

Cyber Threats to the Texas Electric Grid

“Texas plays a unique role in America’s infrastructure as the only state with a self-contained electric grid. The entire U.S. electric power system is a prime target of cyberattacks from hostile governments and terrorist organizations, but the Lone Star State is in a unique position to act.

The Consequences of a Vulnerable Grid. The Northeast blackout in 2003 left nearly 55 million residents of the United States and Canada temporarily without power. Crews traced the cause to a software error at a utility control room in Ohio and restored power after two days to most of those affected. But the blackout disrupted transportation in many areas, cut off city water in several locations, and hampered emergency services. Experts attributed 10 deaths to the blackout, which cost more than $10 billion.

Remember: For many, this blackout only lasted a few days. And there was no significant damage to sensitive infrastructure. However:

  • Any serious injury to important power equipment could create a blackout lasting for at least one year “given the nation’s current state of unpreparedness,” argues Peter Pry, a former executive of the Task Force on National and Homeland Security.
  • The Obama administration remains “unwilling to empower competent authorities to combat the adversaries within the grid environment,” according to the assessment of George Cotter, the founding director of Department of Defense Computer Security Center.
  • The Pentagon’s current information security strategy is nothing more than “patch and pray,” said Arati Prabhakar, the Director of Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), in 2015.”

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Part Two – Discussing global terrorism with General Michael Flynn

Part Two of my discussion with Lt. General Michael Flynn regarding the threat of global terrorism.

You can view the interview here.

You can view Part One here: 

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Lt. Gen. (ret.) Michael Flynn visits the NCPA

I had the distinct honor of sitting down with Lt. General Michael Flynn recently to discuss the threat of global terrorism during his recent visit to the National Center for Policy Analysis.

You can view the interview here: 

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Is the Air Force seriously talking about another plane?

A recent DefenseNews article recounts ongoing discussions about how the Air Force would achieve air superiority by 2030 and outlines the newest ideas regarding Air Force platforms. The piece reminds me of discussions I encountered years ago. When I was on active duty, Chief of Staff of the Air Force General John Jumper always stressed that our branch would never aim for parity in warfare — meaning, the Air Force would always strive to outpace our adversaries in both technology and strategy. I appreciated the unrelenting push for excellence. And Brig. General Alexus Grynkewich appears to have some worthwhile arguments for a 2030 platform, which I will address momentarily.

Unfortunately, the current quagmire with the F-35 and the move away from the F-22 has created enormous skepticism about future aircraft – and rightfully so. Trotting out news that the Air Force is already pushing ideas for new aircraft will undoubtedly frustrate readers already puzzled by the current situation of cost overruns and meaningless deadlines.

The F-35/F-22 problems stem from an instance where influencers essentially told the government what the military “needed” and the government agreed. After all, Lockheed — a solid and reputable company, to be sure — earned contracts for the F-22 and F-35. That’s quite a feat. The military has since had to push back on several stupid congressional ideas as a result of those contracts, such as the goal of retiring the A-10. Fellow NCPA blogger Chris Wiley explains here why the retirement of the A-10 would be a tactical and strategic mistake.

The problems have now compounded. The F-22 is an American-only aircraft. It has an incredible array of capabilities and was ready to use until the Pentagon halted its manufacturing. In comparison, the F-35 is spread between Air Force, Navy and Marines AND 12 different countries. It has become the European Union of aircraft: slow to service, incredibly expensive and responds to setbacks with demands for more money. In concept, the F-35 was unmatched. In reality, it is a flying computer that no general officer in their right mind would fly in Close Air Support (CAS) like an A-10, lest it get shot down by a cheap jihadi rocket. This thing is so technologically advanced and so expensive, few will risk using it.

The Air Force has moved the way of the cell phone, where everything anyone could need can be found in one platform. That is good for consumer-driven technology and very bad for warfare. You never want all your eggs-in-one-basket.  That’s why I find Gen. Grynkewich’s comments about the next fighter a bit more palatable than I had expected.

The general mentions this newest idea may not be a fighter and makes convincing arguments for changing the nomenclature from “sixth” generation fighter to “next” generation fighter. “You start to have an argument over what does ‘sixth gen’ mean. Does it have laser beams, is it hypersonic? What is it? What does it look like? That’s not a useful conversation,” he explained. “The more useful conversation is, what are the key attributes we need in order to gain and maintain air superiority in 2030?”

According to him, the United States gains and maintains air superiority in 2030 by focusing primarily on range and payload. He explains any future platform would have to be responsive to probable areas of future engagement, such as the Pacific theater. For that reason, increased payload and the ability to overcome the “tyranny of distance” remain so crucial. This is an important distinction since the F-35 responds to “whiz-bang” technologies, rather than mission.

I am not completely sold on moving into yet another discussion about aircraft. But the Pentagon must remain forward-thinking, despite past decisions. And it seems like the discussion is headed in the right direction.

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How New Cold World Order Threatens Humanity

This originally appeared in Townhall:

“An ancient proverb says, ‘When elephants fight, it’s the grass that suffers.’

By now you have seen the heart-wrenching video of a 5-year old Syrian child pulled from the rubble of a house destroyed during another indiscriminate bombing campaign over the city of Aleppo. No tears. No wailing. He sits there unflinching, caked in soot and a face half-covered in blood from a nasty gash atop his head.

It’s hard to stomach as a human. Nearly unwatchable as a father.

While many remain deeply divided over how America should respond to the growing number of atrocities, the same audience seethes at knowing this evil is up against a routinely unprepared and seemingly impotent U.S. administration. The greater concentration of power in the hands of those cold to human suffering may bring the world to a humanitarian tipping point.

The tyrannical cooperation between Iran and Russia, and now perhaps Turkey, is shaping up to Biblical proportions. The dictatorial instincts of those invested in this three-way marriage of convenience and their collective disregard for innocent life when it stands in the way of their insatiable thirst for power serves to affirm the United States as the last great hope for human flourishing. Warts and all, America still stands as the counterweight to the inevitable despotism that overwhelms the world in its absence.

Yet, this critical moment in international history elicits little more than a soundbite from the current administration while it passes from the fairway to the green. World leaders are now disinclined to consult the United States. Instead, they begrudgingly phone Putin, believing him to be the de-facto maestro of world events.

Russian warships carrying Kalibr cruise missiles are gathering in the Caspian and Mediterranean seas. Media outlets report 40,000 Russian troops, tanks and armored vehicles amassed along the Ukrainian border. The administration and NATO feel 4,000 troops to the Baltic States and Poland adequately serves as a “trip wire” against Russian aggression. A force that RAND analysts say would be overrun in 60 hours.

Meanwhile, Russia continues to assist Syria in its heartless war against dissidents. And Iran quite literally reconfigured runways and hangers so that Russia could relocate aircraft to a resident base. This marks the first time since Iran’s 1979 revolution that a foreign military has used the Islamic Republic to launch attacks elsewhere.

The U.S. government’s claim that the revelation took them by surprise leaves Americans to wonder if leadership honestly missed such a visible military maneuver or whether leaders are hiding the truth. There’s no other option. It all comes just as the White House admitted that the $400 million cash payment to Iran was essentially ransom. The habitual I-confess-because-you-caught-me routine is maddening.

The Turkish president’s snuggling up to Putin in the wake of his crackdown in Turkey could be perhaps the most frightening element of all. A NATO member pulls closer to the very country that inspired the organization’s creation. The same NATO ally cut power to U.S. airbases during the alleged coup without cause, leaving operations and facilities without adequate electrically for weeks; 1,500 U.S. airmen stationed at Incirlik Air Base remain quarantined.

At the time, all the administration could muster was a public pronouncement for the Turkish public to recognize Erdogan as their leader. Now the administration is allegedly moving tactical nuclear weapons stockpiled at Incirlik into Europe, presumably over fears of Erdogan’s next move with Russia. But again, the administration says things are under control.

To borrow from Michael Corleone, “Can’t you give me a straight answer anymore?!?”

The strategic alignment among three major powers who share a disdain for liberty and a disregard for human suffering creates a remarkable bloc of authoritarianism. The next president will hold one of the worst hands ever dealt an incoming administration. But a comprehensive and imaginative strategy that treats traditional areas non-traditionally would be a good first step.

For instance, help draw U.S. allies into an unprecedented alliance against the emerging group, such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Israel. Also, begin to treat traditional criminal enterprises as national security concerns. The illicit market of goods, whether drugs, pirated movies or looted antiquities, funds everything from the Russian economy to terrorist organizations. Likewise, emphasize the use of financial strategists and analysts to follow the money.

View the cyber threat as one capable of physical injury rather than primarily data manipulation. Employ strategies that presume malicious codes contain physically destructive capabilities. Finally, return to a greater reliance on human intelligence. One co-opted person in the right place can literally change the course of world events.

This isn’t a call for war. It’s more like a prediction that America will eventually have to confront the emerging Cold World Order or succumb to its barbarism.”

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The Brexit and American Opportunities

Some believed the British exit from the European Union to be a calamitous economic event. However, the referendum actually provided the United States with several opportunities to improve its economy and security.

The United States remains the EU’s largest trading partner, despite the crippling taxes and suffocating regulations the organization imposes on those U.S. trade agreements with member states. The EU requires standardized agreements between the United States and each individual member, rather than allowing the parties involved to settle on arrangements that meet their particular needs. Separately, the EU levies a 2 percent tariff on all American goods. A similar tariff will hit the United Kingdom in the coming months, meaning that the 44 percent of British exports sent to EU countries in 2016 will be hit with a tariff in 2017.  This tariff will likely drive many British goods to new markets as they are priced out of continental Europe. America could be an option.

In any case, the Brexit means the United States and Britain can move away from the financial impositions of the EU and develop a trade agreement that meets the specific needs of both countries. An important relationship indeed since Britain accounted for 18 percent of the EU economy, and 17 percent of its exports went to the United States in 2015. With Britain now free from the economic shackles of Brussels, the United States could negotiate a trade deal with fewer economic barriers.

Security remains the other benefit of the Brexit. The EU represents 28 nations and dozens of security agencies, which unfortunately retards the ability to share information quickly and inhibits a coordinated response to conflict. Working directly with Britain would allow the United States to develop an improved security network through the cultivation of state-to-state relationships.

Britain’s armed forces would also no longer be subject to the proposed EU draft ‒‒ an idea now openly discussed by the President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker and other Brussels elites who prefer a centralized European military authority. This armed force would be, among other things, an expensive redundancy to NATO.

Finally, the Brexit allows the United States and Britain to collaborate in areas of terrorism that might otherwise be impeded by EU legal system. For instance, Muslim fundamentalists have historically benefited from lenient EU courts. Knowing this, several leading Wahhabi Imams, such as Anjem Choudary of London, advocated for the U.K. to remain in the EU because “certain principles and caveats” essentially prevented the prosecution of Islamists. According to British media outlets, almost 33 percent of all the cases the U.K. loses at the European Court of Human Rights are lost to extremists and other violent criminals. In some instances, Al Qaeda affiliates originally found guilty in British courts were freed after EU courts overturned the rulings.

The United States would certainly see benefits to a more autonomous Britain in both security and economy, and should take full advantage.

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Foxnews – Gen. Mike Flynn, Allen West, Dr. David Grantham: Yes, we can defeat terrorism

This piece originally appeared at Foxnews.com. “The legendary Chinese military strategist Sun Tzu rightly observed generations ago that “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles.” But he also taught that “if you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.” And right now, our strategy suggests we know neither the enemy nor ourselves.

That must change, and quickly.

The president refuses to know that our current adversary in radical Islam lives by an apocalyptic worldview – one that relies on unconscionable levels of slaughter to bring about its final caliphate.

One cannot rationalize away such an irrational ideology. No medieval battles over Jerusalem, no features of Guantanamo Bay and certainly no aspect of Western culture can justify this level of bloodlust. And yet the current administration stubbornly searches for a clarification that might explain that militant Islam is the result of something other than irreconcilable religiosity. It is a theme akin to “we have met the enemy and decided to deny its existence.”

This obfuscation and denial is the pattern of the administration, one revealed early on when officials termed the Islamic terrorist attacks as “man-caused disasters” and combat operations as “overseas contingency operations.” This willful ignorance has prompted a dangerous mismatch in priorities. The president telling future military leaders, for example, that they are derelict in their duties if they deny climate change creates an environment of false truths, resulting in unsafe policy. Those on the front lines cannot defend against the threat when the threat is purposely misidentified.

It has also led to dishonest conclusions, such as arguing that the loss of territory equates to American military success, and the frequency of terrorist attacks represents the Islamic State’s desperation. Even those with a cursory knowledge of jihadists understand that the successful execution of an attack is seen as a signal of divine support. Frequency only strengthens their resolve.

One should never be so intransigent as to deny the truth of the enemy. That only concedes the initiative and gives the enemy an ability to outmaneuver you strategically.

Instead, we must get into the head of the enemy. All three of us have been there. It’s not pretty. There exists an unparalleled devotion to their cause; a fanatical adherence to Islamic conventions.

Take for instance Abu Zubaydah, a senior Al Qaeda leader captured in 2002. His religious fidelity led him to actually thank his overseers for enhanced interrogation because, according to him, those captured were permitted by Allah to provide information once they reached their own limit for physical or psychological hardship. He said “you must do this for all the brothers.”

They are resolute in their convictions. They are dedicated to the slaughter of any who do not share their warped vision for the future. That’s the enemy.

But America must also know itself. Jihadists do not distinguish between black and white, young or old, poor or rich. Our enemy sees us all as Americans, and we should do the same. It is essential that we champion American exceptionalism — defined not as a pompous view of self, but as the beacon of light for individual freedom in a world lacking it. We must have a shared understanding that our country, our constitutional republic, will always be the last great hope for liberty. And above all, we must agree to protect it.

The government must also know its responsibilities. The next administration and each one thereafter must embrace its constitutional obligation to provide for the common defense, and must never put the interests of others above those they serve. Those leaders should clearly and correctly define the enemy, and articulate an unambiguous national and international strategy to defeat it.

Make no mistake; we are at war. And the enemy possesses an unalterable 7th century ideology with 21st century capabilities. But even the most dogmatic can be defeated. They have been defeated when the United States, leaders and citizens alike, chose to know the enemy and resolved to defeat it. From the Barbary Wars to Nazism, Imperial Japan to communism, America chose sacrifice over compliancy, bravery over fear. The American people squared their collective shoulders and faced the threat head-on.

All of this can be done. And we will do so with unwavering integrity, renewed strength and unapologetic resolve. Knowing ourselves and our enemy will ensure victory.”

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Why Divesting in Israel Hurts More than Israel

This piece was co-authored by NCPA research associate Danielle Zaychik:

“The self-styled Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement has been seeking to discredit and reverse Israeli policies with respect to the Palestinian Territories since 2005. BDS promotes an international boycott of Israeli products, divestment from Israeli companies, and exclusion of artists and academics from the Jewish state, among other things. Though the political aims of BDS are contrary to nearly 40 years of U.S. policy, the movement has gained traction in the United States, primarily in academic circles, and among religious and labor organizations. Divesting from Israel, however, would not only likely have negative economic repercussions for Americans and Israelis, but for Palestinians as well. Indeed, the entire divest movement has the potential to devastate the very people it purports to defend.

The Financial Cost of Divestment and Boycott. Punitive economic campaigns have reemerged as the weapon of choice for activists seeking to change the behavior of a given public corporation or the policies of a certain government. For instance, socially responsible investing (SRI) ‒‒ the practice of choosing stocks, bonds or mutual funds based on political, religious or social values ‒‒ remains a popular approach for political activists pushing divestment. State pension funds are a popular target for SRI and divestment activists. Despite their fiduciary duty to maximize the return for investors, some funds have made decisions based on political motivations or outside pressure. Investors in those funds have suffered the consequences. For example:

  • In 2000, the California Public Employees Retirement System and the California State Teacher Retirement System sold all $800 million of their tobacco shares; but since then, the fund has missed out on $3 billion in investment gains and is now considering reinvesting in tobacco company stocks.
  • SRI funds routinely underperform traditional stocks; from 2004 to 2009, the worst performing regular fund tracking the S&P 500 Index fared better than three out of the four leading SRI funds…”

Click here to continue reading

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General Flynn goes from the NCPA to the Republican National Convention

General Michael Flynn headlined the Republican National Convention Monday night with a rousing speech that laid out what the next president must do in order to protect the United States and its interests around the globe.

His comments echoed those he delivered only months earlier at the National Center for Policy Analysis’ biannual Hatton W. Sumners Distinguished Lecture Series — an NCPA program where nationally and internationally renowned speakers address business leaders, college students and the general public on the the nation’s most pressing issues.

In a passionate address to NCPA supporters in March 2016, General Flynn spoke at length about the specific threat from terrorist organizations, adversarial governments and cyber belligerents, and the overlap among them. Flynn stressed the need to improve America’s intelligence capabilities, and made a spirited plea for the administration to engage its allies and moderates in the Middle East in order to defeat the rising tide of radical Islam.  America must identify and work directly with those reformists like Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi if we expect to see victory, Flynn said.

The defining moment at the NCPA event came when the General emphasized the importance of protecting national security information, and found himself genuinely dumbfounded that a candidate who so willfully compromised that material would still be considered worthy of the highest office.  The findings from the FBI investigation into Hillary Clinton’s email server released months later proved she had quite deliberately (but without malice) undermined the national security of the United States.  As a veteran and former intelligence specialist like General Flynn, I found the compromise equally troubling, and now fear our intelligence capabilities may see a tremendous decline since sources who risk their lives to work with us will lack confidence that we can maintain their anonymity. I have addressed here why this extreme level of carelessness is so dangerous to U.S. security and why NOT charging Clinton further undermines our long-term capabilities.

Just as he had months earlier to NCPA guests, Flynn told the crowd at the RNC Convention that these threats facing America had to be confronted head-on with “unwavering integrity, renewed strength and unapologetic resolve.” He also noted that the U.S. military needed the support to undertake the missions asked of them. The president’s recent troop requests for Iraq and Afghanistan, absent the funding necessary to do so, proved yet again that he intends to prolong the fight without providing the support to the warfighter to accomplish the mission. It does not have to be this way, though.

There is a way to maintain and increase troop levels without adding more to the budget. For example, rerouting funds away from ambiguous climate change programs and related civilian positions, and eliminating the climate directive issued in January 2016 which saddles the military with unnecessary tactical considerations, would be the first step in maximizing efficiency while stabilizing expenditures (explained here).  Another goal would be to address the rise in misplaced defense spending, which has only seen a decrease in American security — a paradox I have termed defenseless debt.  Solving the problem, in part, would involve decreasing and moving executive slush funds, like the Overseas Contingency Operation account, back under defense control, while limiting Pentagon staff positions and decreasing spending on expensive and potentially harmful security assistance programs in places like Africa.

Each of these would be a first step in properly funding defense capabilities and will ensure the warfighter has the tools to protect America. Flynn says the threat must be faced head-on. But our forces cannot do so when leadership has its head in the sand.

 

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Part I: Why the ‘Jack of All Trades’ Model for Military Aviation Fails

Today’s federal budget is one of constrained resources.  But the answer to such challenges is not consolidation of weapons systems.

The U.S. military celebrates the diversity of its force in every area except tactical airpower.  The size of our forces makes the U.S. military uniquely capable of having specialized airframes.  For example, a B-52 could theoretically assist ground troops during a firefight, known as Close Air Support (CAS), but its primary mission is and should be Strategic Attack.  True, the maintenance and supply chain costs for multiple airframes can be a challenge, but fielding a force with feigned breadth and hollow depth is foolish.  Forcing these platforms to become ‘Jack of All Trades’ undermines mission effectiveness.

Our aircraft carriers formerly had as many as four different tactical platforms launching from their decks.  Today, the F/A-18 Hornet remains the only one.  The Hornet is a formidable threat to our adversaries’ aircraft, naval fleets and centers of gravity.  However, it becomes a problem when the Navy demands this one aircraft be as proficient as four different airframes.  There exists a very finite amount of money and time to develop and maintain proficiencies for two or three distinctly different mission types.

Recall when the F/A-22 Raptor was sold to Congress in the 1990s as Lockheed Martin’s new multi-role, 5th Generation marvel that would perform a new mission: Air Dominance.  Once the funding was assured, the Raptor’s designation promptly changed to F-22A – a change to the Attack prefix that the F-15C Eagle community welcomed because it ensured their expertise would remain air-to-air combat.

Their community within the Air Force is recognized as the Jedi Knights of air combat.  I remember briefing and debriefing missions with or against Eagles and walking away with many lessons learned to better fly and teach dogfighting.  But had the F-22 designation remained as initially conceived, it would have added air-to-ground training to F-15C mission and hollowed out their air-to-air mastery.

The Navy fared differently.  The sister service previously boasted a cadre of F-14 Tomcat pilots that rivaled the F-15C Eagle pilots.  Now, the Hornet force must divide its resources among air-to-air, air-to-ground and even air refueling missions due to the retirement of the S-2 Viking.  But just this week, the commander of Air Combat Command (ACC) in testimony before Congress appears to suggest the multi-role F-35 must focus on Air Superiority – the airframe pledged to replace A-10, AV-8B Harrier, F-16, and F-18.  Sadly, the Air Force bought far too few F-22s for their needs, and is now making up for the Raptor shortfall with F-35s.

I fear the Pentagon is beholden to buying the shiny new toy, rather than providing the jets and the people to best support our fellow soldiers and marines.  As a possible solution, our national leaders must communicate to our allies that such mission specialization – equipment, maintainers, and operators – is imperative to maintaining our decided advantage against our enemies.  Many of our fellow NATO members, for instance, do not spend their pledged percentage of GDP on defense although they depend on and train with these American platforms.  Those nations should contribute the shortfall between their actual and required spending directly to the U.S. DoD to offset our country’s investment in these critical mission types.

Designing, funding and fielding an airborne Swiss Army knife is possible.  But when the demands on the knife saturate the person wielding it, a swarm of Bowie knives will win the day.

Chris Wiley is an NCPA contributing fellow

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