Category Archives: Military

Game of Zones: China raises the specter of war


While Barack Obama brought to Sino-American relations to a level of tension not seen sent Nixon went to Beijing, Donald Trump threatens to send them back to darkest days of the Cold War.

And now China is striking back, though only with words — for the moment,

From RT:

Chinese state media has warned that the US would have to launch a “large-scale war” to prevent Beijing from accessing islands it has built in the South China Sea. It comes after secretary of state nominee Rex Tillerson said such access should be restricted.

“Unless Washington plans to wage a large-scale war in the South China Sea, any other approaches to prevent Chinese access to the islands will be foolish,” the state-sanctioned Global Times newspaper wrote on its English-language website.

>snip<

The article also said that China has so far “shown restraint” when Trump’s cabinet picks have expressed “radical views,” as the president-elect has not yet been sworn in. However, it stressed that the US “should not be misled into thinking that Beijing will be fearful of their threats.”

“If Trump’s diplomatic team shapes future Sino-US ties as it is doing now, the two sides had better prepare for a military clash,” the article reads, adding that Tillerson’s statements are “far from professional.”

The former ExxonMobil CEO’s comments were made during his Senate confirmation hearing on Wednesday, in which he said that China’s activities in the disputed South China Sea were “extremely worrisome.”

More from the Global Times report:

China has enough determination and strength to make sure that his rabble rousing will not succeed. Unless Washington plans to wage a large-scale war in the South China Sea, any other approaches to prevent Chinese access to the islands will be foolish.

The US has no absolute power to dominate the South China Sea. Tillerson had better bone up on nuclear power strategies if he wants to force a big nuclear power to withdraw from its own territories. Probably he just has oil prices and currency rates in his mind as former ExxonMobil CEO.

He also lacks legality. If China is not allowed access to islands it has long controlled, does this also apply to Vietnam and the Philippines? Should the Nansha Islands become a depopulated zone? What does so-called US freedom of navigation around the Nansha Islands mean?

As Trump has yet to be sworn in, China has shown restraint whenever his team members expressed radical views. But the US should not be misled into thinking that Beijing will be fearful of their threats.

2016 proved a black year for personal privacy


In brief, new laws and executive orders have given uintelligence agencies in the U.S. and U.K. unprecedented powers to gather a near-infinite harvest of the digital traces of our lives.

And in the U.S., gleanings once accessible only to a handful of political, military, and diplomatic elites will now be open to a host of law enforcement agencies.

From the New York Times:

In its final days, the Obama administration has expanded the power of the National Security Agency to share globally intercepted personal communications with the government’s 16 other intelligence agencies before applying privacy protections.

The new rules significantly relax longstanding limits on what the N.S.A. may do with the information gathered by its most powerful surveillance operations, which are largely unregulated by American wiretapping laws. These include collecting satellite transmissions, phone calls and emails that cross network switches abroad, and messages between people abroad that cross domestic network switches.

The change means that far more officials will be searching through raw data. Essentially, the government is reducing the risk that the N.S.A. will fail to recognize that a piece of information would be valuable to another agency, but increasing the risk that officials will see private information about innocent people.

Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch signed the new rules, permitting the N.S.A. to disseminate “raw signals intelligence information,” on Jan. 3, after the director of national intelligence, James R. Clapper Jr., signed them on Dec. 15, according to a 23-page, largely declassified copy of the procedures.

Previously, the N.S.A. filtered information before sharing intercepted communications with another agency, like the C.I.A. or the intelligence branches of the F.B.I. and the Drug Enforcement Administration. The N.S.A.’s analysts passed on only information they deemed pertinent, screening out the identities of innocent people and irrelevant personal information.

More from the Intercept:

The change was in the works long before there was any expectation that someone like Trump might become president. The last-minute adoption of the procedures is one of many examples of the Obama administration making new executive powers established by the Bush administration permanent, on the assumption that the executive branch could be trusted to police itself.

Executive Order 12333, often referred to as “twelve triple-three,” has attracted less debate than congressional wiretapping laws, but serves as authorization for the NSA’s most massive surveillance programs — far more than the NSA’s other programs combined. Under 12333, the NSA taps phone and internet backbones throughout the world, records the phone calls of entire countries, vacuums up traffic from Google and Yahoo’s data centers overseas, and more.

In 2014, The Intercept revealed that the NSA uses 12333 as a legal basis for an internal NSA search engine that spans more than 850 billion phone and internet records and contains the unfiltered private information of millions of Americans.

In 2014, a former state department official described NSA surveillance under 12333 as a “universe of collection and storage” beyond what Congress has authorized.

And a Snooper’s Charter takes effect in the U.K.

It’s called the Investigatory Powers Act 2016, more familiarly known as the Snooper’s Charter [full text here].

The Guardian reported on the measure’s passage on 19 November:

A bill giving the UK intelligence agencies and police the most sweeping surveillance powers in the western world has passed into law with barely a whimper, meeting only token resistance over the past 12 months from inside parliament and barely any from outside.

The Investigatory Powers Act, passed on Thursday, legalises a whole range of tools for snooping and hacking by the security services unmatched by any other country in western Europe or even the US.

The security agencies and police began the year braced for at least some opposition, rehearsing arguments for the debate. In the end, faced with public apathy and an opposition in disarray, the government did not have to make a single substantial concession to the privacy lobby.

US whistleblower Edward Snowden tweeted: “The UK has just legalised the most extreme surveillance in the history of western democracy. It goes further than many autocracies.”

One major organization, the National Council for Civil Liberties [counterpart of the American Civil Liberties Union in the U.S.], is on the legal offensive.

From their website:

Liberty is launching a landmark legal challenge to the extreme mass surveillance powers in the Government’s new Investigatory Powers Act – which lets the state monitor everybody’s web history and email, text and phone records, and hack computers, phones and tablets on an industrial scale.

Liberty is seeking a High Court judicial review of the core bulk powers in the so-called Snoopers’ Charter – and calling on the public to help it take on the challenge by donating via crowdfunding platform CrowdJustice.

Martha Spurrier, Director of Liberty, said: “Last year, this Government exploited fear and distraction to quietly create the most extreme surveillance regime of any democracy in history. Hundreds of thousands of people have since called for this Act’s repeal because they see it for what it is – an unprecedented, unjustified assault on our freedom.

“We hope anybody with an interest in defending our democracy, privacy, press freedom, fair trials, protest rights, free speech and the safety and cybersecurity of everyone in the UK will support this crowdfunded challenge, and make 2017 the year we reclaim our rights.”

The Investigatory Powers Act passed in an atmosphere of shambolic political opposition last year, despite the Government failing to provide any evidence that such indiscriminate powers were lawful or necessary to prevent or detect crime. A petition calling for its repeal

Liberty will seek to challenge the lawfulness of the following powers, which it believes breach the public’s rights:

  • the Act lets police and agencies access, control and alter electronic devices like computers, phones and tablets on an industrial scale, regardless of whether their owners are suspected of involvement in crime – leaving them vulnerable to further attack by hackers.
  • the Act allows the state to read texts, online messages and emails and listen in on calls en masse, without requiring suspicion of criminal activity.

Bulk acquisition of everybody’s communications data and internet history

  • the Act forces communications companies and service providers to hand over records of everybody’s emails, phone calls and texts and entire web browsing history to state agencies to store, data-mine and profile at its will. This provides a goldmine of valuable personal information for criminal hackers and foreign spies.
  • the Act lets agencies acquire and link vast databases held by the public or private sector. These contain details on religion, ethnic origin, sexuality, political leanings and health problems, potentially on the entire population – and are ripe for abuse and discrimination.

The secret agreements giving those new laws more power

From a review [open access] of the implications of revelations contained in the Snowden leaks in the International Journal of Law and Information Technology:

The US and UK’s signals intelligence agencies, National Security Agency (NSA) and Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), have gained access to very large volumes of Internet communications and data, for extremely broad ‘foreign intelligence’ purposes. A declassified 2011 US court order shows that NSA was already accessing more than 250 million ‘Internet communications’ each year. GCHQ is recording 3 days of international Internet traffic transiting the UK and 30 days of ‘metadata’ about these communications, and has gained access to ‘the majority’ of European Internet and telephone communications. NSA and GCHQ ‘collection’ of data is via intercepts of Internet traffic flowing through international fibre optic cables operated by telecommunications companies, and through automated searches carried out by Internet companies such as Microsoft, Apple, Google and Facebook on their internal systems, as well as the provision of complete records of all US telephone calls by AT&T, Verizon and others. NSA Director Keith Alexander asked his staff in 2008: ‘Why can’t we collect all the signals all the time?’—and they have set out to implement this vision.

The US and UK laws compel this cooperation by telecommunications and Internet companies (including ‘cloud computing’ providers that increasingly provide the infrastructure for Internet services).5 Other European governments cooperate with the USA–UK–Canada–Australia–New Zealand ‘Five Eyes’ intelligence alliance, notably an additional four countries in a ‘9-Eyes’ group (France, The Netherlands, Norway and Denmark) and a further five (Germany, Sweden, Spain, Belgium and Italy) in a ‘14-Eyes’ configuration.

NSA has further bugged EU offices and computer networks in Washington DC and New York, and gained access to UN internal videoconferencing systems. It has interception equipment and staff (jointly with the CIA) at 80 US embassies.

NSA has compromised at least 85,000 ‘strategically chosen’ machines in computer networks around the world; each device ‘in some cases … opens the door to hundreds or thousands of others.’ A new automated system is capable of managing ‘potentially millions’ of compromised machines for intelligence gathering and ‘active attack’. NSA conducted 231 ‘offensive operations’ in 2011, which represents ‘an evolution in policy, which in the past sought to preserve an international norm against acts of aggression in cyberspace, in part because U.S. economic and military power depend so heavily on computers’. NSA is spending $250 million each year to sabotage security standards and systems so that it can maintain access to encrypted data. GCHQ has developed methods to access encrypted data communications to Hotmail, Google, Facebook and Yahoo!

And if is those international agreements that magnify the impact of the increased panoptical powers in the United States and Great Britain.

And foremost among those pacts in the UKUSA Agreement, an accord granting London and Washington unparalleled access to each others intelligence gleanings.

Images of the day: Whistle while you work


First a tweet from security researcher Dan Staples, taking it to the man:

blog-nsa-shirt

And the image on his T-shirt [which you can find online here]:

blog-nsa-shirt-2

Headlines of the day: Today in Trumplandia™


From the Washington Post, the three leading front page stories:

Secretary of state nominee pushed for Exxon deal in Iraq despite U.S. plea

  • The 2011 oil exploration deal overseen by former Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson — whose confirmation hearings to become secretary of state begin Wednesday — defied U.S. diplomats’ requests that the company wait, fearing such an agreement would undermine their credibility with Iraqi authorities and worsen ethnic tensions that had led Iraq to the brink of civil war.

Defense nominee urged U.S. strike against Iran during Iraq War

  • Gen. James Mattis’s falling-out with the Obama administration over Iran offers perspective into how he would lead the world’s largest military and the advice he would bring during sensitive Situation Room debates.

Over China’s objections, Ted Cruz and Texas governor meet with Taiwanese president

  • The meeting is likely to irk officials in Beijing amid already heightened tensions between the U.S. and China.

Fueled by Trump, the Game of Zones heats up


The Donald’s provocative moves in the delicate multi-power game underway in the China Seas have include incendiary tweets, numerous campaign declarations, and, in particular, two meetings.

The first came in the form of the first post-election visit by a foreign leader, Shinzo Abe’s 18 November visit to the President-elects Trump Tower suite, a meeting also attended by the first-daughter-to-be Ivanka and her real estate mogul/media baron spouse.

The meeting, Trump’s first-ever flesh-presser with a foreign head of state, also came while Ivanka was sealing a business deal with a Japanese company. business negotiations.

Then, on 2 December came another foreign visitor, this time by telephone, when Trump reversed decades of American foreign policy by engaging in direct conversation with the President of Tawan, a government most of the world doesn’t recognize, in part because of its claims to be the only legitimate government of the Chinese mainland.

Besides appealing to the Cold War strains still resonating in the Grand Old Party, Trump’s conversation with Tsai Ing-wen inflamed Beijing — probably intentionally — even though he’s the first Taiwanese leader who hasn’t endorsed claims to rightly rule the mainland.

Oh, and former U.S. Senator-turned-lobbyist Bob Dole spent months setting up the meeting, his firm pocketing more than $140,000 for Dole’s labors.

Abe takes heart from Trump’s glad-handing

Bolstered by his meeting with the anti-Beijing Trump, Japan’s prime minister is beefing up his country’s military agenda in the Game of Zones.

We begin with a map from the Yomiuri Shimbun, a conservative Japanese paper charting the competing powers in the Game of Zones:

blog-zones

From the accompanying story:

The government plans to formulate by this summer an integrated defense strategy, which outlines how the Self-Defense Forces would respond in the event of a contingency involving China over the Senkaku Islands in Okinawa Prefecture, according to government sources.

The measure is aimed at devising scenarios for a possible clash between Japan and China.

To strengthen the defense of the Nansei Islands through cooperation between the SDF and U.S. forces, the government will also compile a Japan-U.S. joint operation plan at the same time, the sources said.

With these measures, the government intends to become fully prepared and, at the same time, to develop a deterrent effect against China, which has been stepping up its military activities in areas around Japan.

Possible scenarios for a contingency over the Senkakus likely include an accidental clash between a Chinese fisheries patrol boat and a Japan Coast Guard patrol vessel, the dispatch by China of patrol vessels en masse, the deployment of Chinese naval vessels, and landing on any of the islands by a Chinese airborne unit.

The strategy is expected to stipulate operations to be conducted in the form of exercising the right to self-defense within Japan’s territories and waters, such as preventing a military vessel from approaching a remote island by using surface-to-ship missiles of the Ground Self-Defense Force, bringing enemy forces under control with ground strafing from an Air Self-Defense Force fighter jet or fire from a Maritime Self-Defense Force destroyer, and having GSDF personnel land on the island.

So what are Trump’s motives

Here’s what a Chinese government paper came up with when it looked across the Pacific.

From China Daily:

In light of US President-Elect Donald Trump’s hawkish remarks about China, allied to a number of unexpected moves in the wake of his election victory, experts in Sino-US studies around the world have expressed deep concerns about the key relationship.

Many of the experts have warned that the Sino-US relationship may revert to the deep, mutual distrust that characterized relations between the countries during the 1960s.

Ted Carpenter, senior fellow of defense and foreign policy at the Cato Institute in Washington, said he is “increasingly worried” about Trump’s policies regarding China.

“At first, I thought that Trump was engaging in the ‘China-bashing’ that is fairly typical of US presidential campaigns. Yet once in office, new presidents have pursued policies very similar to those of their predecessors since the early 1970s,” he said, adding that Trump’s post-election actions suggest that something else may be going on.

“The telephone conversation with Tsai Ing-wen was startling enough, but the Trump transition team’s insistence on referring to her as the ‘President of Taiwan’ indicated sympathy with hard-line Taiwanese separatists,” he said, referring to a phone call between Trump and the Taiwan leader on Dec 2, which broke with decades of diplomatic precedent.

The irony is that China turned to the Cato Institute, the libertarian think tank that gave birth to the first draft of Reaganomics.

And China signals possible reprisals to come

More on China/U.S. relations in the Age of Trump from the Financial Times:

Senior Chinese officials have warned the US that Beijing is ready to retaliate if Donald Trump’s incoming administration imposes new tariffs, highlighting the risk of a destructive trade war between the world’s two largest economies.

Penny Pritzker, the outgoing US commerce secretary, said in an interview with the Financial Times that Chinese officials had informed their US counterparts in a meeting after November’s election that they would be forced to respond to trade measures taken by the new administration.

“The Chinese leadership said to me ‘If you guys put an import duty on us we are going to do it on you’,” Ms Pritzker said. “And then they said ‘That will be bad for both of us’.”

She said that the next administration needed to decide “the fine line between being tough and a trade war”, cautioning that such a confrontation would have “enormous consequence” for the US.

The move highlights the concern in China over the risk to relations presented by Mr Trump, who has also offended Beijing by breaking with traditional US policy on Taiwan.

In the words of that venerable China-watcher Sherlock Holmes of Baker Street,  “Come Watson! The game is afoot.”

Map of the day: A deadly year for journalists


From the International Federation of Journalists, a map showing nations where journalists were killed in 2015.

From the International Federation of Journalists, a map showing nations where journalists were killed in 2015.

The year just ended proved a bloody one for the world’s dwindling population of journalists, and Mexico proved one of the most dangerous of nations for members of the Fourth Estate, with 11 journalists slain, trailing only Iraq [15 killed] and Afghanistan [13 killed].

From the International Federation of Journalists:

93 journalists and media professionals were killed in 2016 according to new statistics published by the world’s largest journalists’ organisation.

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), which represents 600.000 members in 140 countries, today published a list of 93 journalists and media staff who were killed in 2016 in work-related incidents. A further 29 died in two plane crashes.

The killings, including targeted murders, bomb attacks and crossfire incidents span 23 countries in Africa, Asia Pacific, the Americas, Europe and the Middle East and Arab World regions.

Although the figures for 2016 are down on previous years the IFJ has warned against complacency citing reports of rising threats, intimidation and self-censorship as evidence that attacks on freedom of expression remain at critical levels.

In addition to the 93 targeted killings, 20 Brazilian sports reporters perished in a plane crash over the city of Medellin in Colombia, a country where for the first time in many years no killing was recorded this year, against three listed in 2015. 9 Russian journalists were killed in a military plane crash.

Calls to end a dangerous new GMO technology


What if scientists devised to introduce new genetic alternations in a way that ensured the altered genes spread rapidly through a species in the wild?

The scientists who have done just that contend their inventions would ensure the rapid diffusion of genetic traits that would benefit humanity.

But that assertion implies a godlike omniscience, and if we know anything of the fathomless human capacity for hubris, just sucj thinking invariably leads to catastrophe.

The technology is called the gene drive, and its so scary that the even Pentagon has grown wary of a technology they have supported, as Scientific American reported last month:

Over the next four years a new program in the Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) plans to cultivate, among other things, a kind of cleanup crew for engineered genes deemed harmful to or undesirable in an ecosystem. The initiative, called Safe Genes, comes at a time when so-called “gene drive” systems, which override the standard rules of gene inheritance and natural selection, are raising hopes among some scientists that the technology could alter or suppress populations of disease-carrying insects or other pests in as few as 20 generations.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation sees so much promise in gene drive technology that it plans to double spending on its Target Malaria initiative, which aims to create systems for driving genes in two species of malaria mosquitoes, to $70 million. Yet without careful precautions, a gene drive released into the wild could spread or change in unexpected ways. Kevin Esvelt, head of the Sculpting Evolution lab at MIT Media Lab, which is applying for Safe Genes funding in collaboration with eight other research groups, predicts that eventually, perhaps around 15 years from now, an accident will allow a drive with potential to spread globally to escape laboratory controls. “It’s not going to be bioterror,” he says, “it’s going to be ‘bioerror.’”

DARPA itself has been one of the largest public funders of synthetic biology research in the U.S. in recent years, upping its spending on synthetic biology projects to more than $100 million in 2014 from nothing in 2010, according to one analysis. The agency announced its Safe Genes program in September 2016 and plans to award funding to multiple research teams by the first half of 2017. “If we’re going to be really bullish about genome engineering,” says DARPA program manager Renee Wegrzyn, “we need to be just as aggressive with tools to reverse those changes.”

The fact that t’s the Pentagon which has backed the technology should be frightening enough, given that the building they’re in was built by the same fellow who headed the American nuclear weapons program for what was then called [more honestly than today] the Department of War.

Civil groups call for a stop to gene drives

And now a coalition of global environmental , labor, and other civil groups is calling for a halt to the new technology.

From Via Campesina News:

At the 2016 UN Convention on Biodiversity held in Cancun Mexico this month, international conservation and environmental leaders called upon governments to establish a moratorium on the controversial genetic extinction technology called gene drives.

Gene drives, developed through new gene-editing techniques- are designed to force a particular genetically engineered trait to spread through an entire wild population – potentially changing entire species or even causing deliberate extinctions. The statement urges governments to put in place an urgent, global moratorium on the development and release of the new technology, which poses serious and potentially irreversible threats to biodiversity, as well as national sovereignty, peace and food security.

Over 170 civil society organisations from six continents have joined the call. Among them were environmental organizations including Friends of the Earth International; trade unions such as the International Union of Food Workers representing over 10 million workers in 127 countries; the largest global organization  of small-scale famers La Via Campesina International, and organics movements like the International Federation of Organic Agricultural Movements; the international indigenous peoples’ organization Tebtebba; scientist coalitions including European Network of Scientists for Social and Environmental Responsibility and Unión de Científicos Comprometidos con la Sociedad (Mexico); as well as ETC Group and Third World Network.

We can be certain that corporations seeking to release the new technology into the world will lie about it, just as Monsanto conducted a massive smear campaign to destroy the reputations and careers of scientists like Ignacio Chapela of the University of California at Berkeley [previously] when he reported that genes from Monsanto’s patented corn strains had escaped into the wild, infecting root race varieties of maize in Mexico.

The Law of Unintended Consequences speaks to the inevitability that  actions on complex system designed to create a similar response will inevitably lead to other consequences unanticipated by those who initiate the actions.

And when those actions could impact the whole biosphere, we should tremble in our boots.