A handful of elite soldiers are carrying out hush-hush missions across the globe, and their numbers are growing
You can find them in dusty, sunbaked badlands, moist tropical forests, and the salty spray of third-world littorals. Standing in judgement, buffeted by the rotor wash of a helicopter or sweltering beneath the relentless desert sun, they instruct, yell, and cajole as skinnier men playact under their watchful eyes. In many places, more than their particular brand of camouflage, better boots, and designer gear sets them apart. Their days are scented by stale sweat and gunpowder; their nights are spent in rustic locales or third-world bars.
These men — and they are mostly men — belong to an exclusive military fraternity that traces its heritage back to the birth of the nation. Typically, they’ve spent the better part of a decade as more conventional soldiers, sailors, marines, or airmen before making the cut. They’ve probably been deployedoverseas four to 10 times. The officers are generally approaching their mid-thirties; the enlisted men, their late twenties. They’ve had more schooling than most in the military. They’re likely to be married with a couple of kids. And day after day, they carry out shadowy missions over much of the planet: sometimes covert raids, more often hush-hush training exercises from Chad to Uganda, Bahrain to Saudi Arabia, Albania to Romania, Bangladesh to Sri Lanka, Belize to Uruguay. They belong to the Special Operations forces (SOF), America’s most elite troops — Army Green Berets and Navy SEALs, among others — and odds are, if you throw a dart at a world map or stop a spinning globe with your index finger and don’t hit water, they’ve been there sometime in 2015.
The Wide World of Special Ops
This year, U.S. Special Operations forces have already deployed to 135 nations, according to Ken McGraw, a spokesman for Special Operations Command (SOCOM). That’s roughly 70% of the countries on the planet. Every day, in fact, America’s most elite troops are carrying out missions in 80 to 90 nations, practicing night raids or sometimes conducting them for real, engaging in sniper training or sometimes actually gunning down enemies from afar. As part of a global engagement strategy of endless hush-hush operations conducted on every continent but Antarctica, they have now eclipsed the number and range of special ops missions undertaken at the height of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Microsoft counsel addresses question of US search warrant for Hotmail emails stored in Ireland: ‘We would go crazy if China did this to us’
The United States government has the right to demand the emails of anyone in the world from any email provider headquartered within US borders, Department of Justice (DoJ) lawyers told a federal appeals court on Wednesday.
The case being heard in the second circuit court of appeals is between the US and Microsoft and concerns a search warrant that the government argues should compel Microsoft to retrieve emails held on a Hotmail server in Ireland.
Microsoft contends that the DoJ has exceeded its authority with potentially dangerous consequences. Organizations including Apple, the government of Ireland, Fox News, NPR and the Guardian have filed amicus briefs with the court, arguing the case could set a precedent for governments around the world to seize information held in the cloud. Judges have ruled against the tech company twice.
Counsel for Microsoft contends that the US search warrant should not have been used to compel it to hand over emails stored in Ireland. “This is an execution of law enforcement seizure on their land,” Joshua Rosenkranz, counsel for Microsoft, told the court. “We would go crazy if China did this to us.”
The DoJ contends that emails should be treated as the business records of the company hosting them, by which definition only a search warrant would be needed in order to compel the provision of access to them no matter where they are stored. Microsoft argues the emails are the customers’ personal documents and a US warrant does not carry the authority needed to compel the company to hand it over.
“This notion of the government’s that private emails are Microsoft’s business records is very scary,” Rosenkranz told the court.
Prime minister justifies ‘act of self-defence’ in which UK citizens fighting alongside Isis were targeted by an unmanned aerial drone outside formal conflict
David Cameron is facing questions over Britain’s decision to follow the US model of drone strikes after the prime minister confirmed that the government had authorised an unprecedented aerial strike in Syria that killed two Britons fighting alongside Islamic State (Isis).
Speaking to the Commons on its first day back after the summer break, Cameron justified the strikes on the grounds that Reyaad Khan, a 21-year-old from Cardiff, who had featured in a prominent Isis recruiting video last year, represented a “clear and present danger”.
Two other Isis fighters were killed in the attack on the Syrian city of Raqqa on 21 August, the first time that a UK prime minister has authorised the targeting of a UK citizen by an unmanned aerial drone outside a formal conflict. One of them, Ruhul Amin, 26, was also British. A third Briton, Junaid Hussain, 21, was killed by a separate US airstrike three days later as part of a joint operation.
Cameron disclosed the strikes in a dramatic afternoon statement which had originally been billed as a chance to outline his plans to take thousands of extra refugees from Syria. Downing Street announced on Monday morning that the statement, in which the prime minister confirmed that Britain would take 20,000 refugees over the next five years, would also cover a major counter-terrorism announcement.
The prime minister told MPs: “In an act of self-defence and after meticulous planning Reyaad Khan was killed in a precision airstrike carried out on 21 August by an RAF remotely piloted aircraft while he was travelling in a vehicle in the area of Raqqah in Syria.
Dwarf planet Ceres is seen in the main asteroid belt, where it resides well away from Earth. NASA is hoping to quell online rumors that a massive near-Earth asteroid is due to hit us next month.
Have you heard that a giant asteroid is due to strike the Earth sometime between Sept. 15 and Sept. 28?
If so, you probably thought it was a hoax. And you’d be right.
But some people who read “numerous recent blogs and web postings” about impending doom from space weren’t sufficiently skeptical. NASA on Thursday sought to clarify:
“If there were any object large enough to do that type of destruction in September, we would have seen something of it by now,” Paul Chodas, manager of NASA’s Near-Earth Object (read: close meteors and asteroids) office at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said in a statement.
The statement reads in part: “In fact, NASA’s Near-Earth Object Observations Program says there have been no asteroids or comets observed that would impact Earth anytime in the foreseeable future. All known Potentially Hazardous Asteroids have less than a 0.01% chance of impacting Earth in the next 100 years.”
But what if an asteroid really was barreling toward an impact with Earth? Could we stop it?
NPR’s Jacob Goldstein spoke with former astronaut Ed Lu in a piece that aired on All Things Considered on Thursday.
Lu runs a foundation that’s trying to figure out how to put an asteroid-deflecting telescope into orbit. He says he needs about $500 million to put it in orbit. As Jacob points out, that is coincidentally about how much people around the world paid to see the 1998 movie Armageddon, in which Bruce Willis plays a miner-turned-astronaut who is tapped by NASA to fly into space and save the world from a rogue asteroid.
But of course, the rest of the security world doesn’t stop for security conferences. So whether you were braving the long lines in Vegas or following along at home, here’s the big news that happened in the rest of the world that you should know about this week. As always, to read the full story linked in each post, click on the headlines. And be safe out there!
The Pentagon’s Joint Staff email system—luckily unclassified—was hacked, and Russia may be the culprit, at least according to anonymous US officials cited by NBC News. The anonymous officials say the intrusion took place around July 25th and affected around 4,000 Joint Chiefs of Staff personnel (both military and civilian). It’s not entirely clear why the attack is being attributed to Russia. The Pentagon responded by shutting down the entire unclassified email system and internet during the investigation. The system has been shut down for around two weeks.
In the modern world, dangers against Americans abound.
U.S. decision-makers are confronted with myriad complex issues, including the Islamic State group and “lone-wolf” terrorists, China, cyber attacks from unknown hackers, al-Qaida, cyber attacks from known hackers, Iran, domestic budget cuts, North Korea, climate change, drug cartels straddling its borders, and Russia’s continued ability to reduce the North American continent to a radioactive crisp.
The job of commander-in-chief has perhaps never been more difficult, and public disagreement among the president’s top advisers gives the appearance to those outside the White House Situation Room that top U.S. national security infrastructure doesn’t know where to start.
July saw top officials from across the government asked publicly what they believed served as the greatest threat facing the U.S. Their responses gave insight into the most closely guarded meetings within the executive branch where the commander-in-chief and his top lieutenants cannot settle for anything less than accurately anticipating the future. It’s a job the U.S. has never quite perfected, and it is perhaps more difficult now than ever.
“You’re hearing a cacophony of views, because it’s almost unpredictable,” says Barry Pavel, a former senior national security adviser to presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush, and longtime Pentagon policy official. He cites, for example, the “fantastical scenario” a decade ago that the Russian military would act belligerently and march on a foreign country. What may have been considered a fringe forecast turns out to have been pretty accurate.
“It does reflect that there’s no single overriding existential threat to the U.S. as there was during the Cold War,” says Samuel “Sandy” Berger, the national security adviser to President Bill Clinton until 2001. And during that time, the U.S. and the Soviet Union each knew roughly how many missiles the other had. “It was an easy framework to think about.”
So how to prepare for a far more complex world? It became a favored question of Sen. Joe Manchin last month. The West Virginia Democrat exploited a time of almost unprecedented turnover among the Joint Chiefs of Staff to grill the nation’s new top officers about what they fear most.
“My assessment today, senator, is that Russia presents the greatest threat to our national security,” came a snappy answer from Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford, in his nomination hearing. His characteristic clarity surprised some, who figured the infantry commander who earned his combat chops in Iraq and Afghanistan might prioritize Islamic extremism or the cauldron of violence that now serves as much of the Middle East.
“In Russia, we have a nuclear power,” the general responded to Manchin’s request for further details. “We have one that not only has capability to violate sovereignty of our allies to do things that are inconsistent with our national interests, but they’re in the process of doing so.”
Global warming could turn the Arctic into a 21st-century battlefield, and the United States isn’t prepared. That’s the key takeaway from a new Pentagon report on the national security risks of climate change that, for the first time, looks region by region around the world from the standpoint of military commanders.
The report provides a consensus estimate of climate change’s security implications from each of the four-star generals who lead the military’s six regional combatant commands around the world. Though the appraisals differ by region, the report says they “share a common assessment of its significance.”
According to the Pentagon, which issued its report last week, “a changing climate increases the risk of instability and conflict overseas.” Military policy experts have said this before, but according to Marcus King, an expert on climate change and national security at George Washington University, the current report comes from “a warfighter’s perspective, and that’s a different perspective than has been brought to the debate.”
Global climate change will have wide-ranging implications for U.S. national security interests over the foreseeable future because it will aggravate existing problems—such as poverty, social tensions, environmental degradation, ineffectual leadership, and weak political institutions—that threaten domestic stability in a number of countries.
Though the report mentions recent climate change–related pressures like drought in Syria, flooding in Pakistan, sea level rise in the Pacific, and extreme weather events in the United States, the most chilling sections are those that discuss the growing security risks in the still-frozen north.
Can we stop explosives guides from landing in violent hands? And if so, at what cost to free expression?
After the 9/11 attacks, the FBI was given expanded powers to pursue terrorists in the United States. Its counterterrorism force grew exponentially. Over the next decade, the number of informants and agents in the field grew to ten times the number deployed during the COINTELPRO days, when the agency launched its now largely discredited program to investigate, disrupt, and destroy groups it saw as threatening to the nation. These operatives have targeted the FBI’s recent list of enemies of the state: al-Qaeda-inspired homegrown extremists, sovereign citizens groups, white supremacists, militias, anarchists, environmental and animal rights groups, Puerto Rican separatists, and lone wolves of any stripe. The FBI counterterrorism mission is to circumvent attacks before they occur, and so controversial sting operations have become a regular means to identify and arrest suspects seen as potentially violent. These operations rely on an FBI agent or highly paid informant soliciting conspiratorial and instructional speech from a suspect, and have led to suspicions that the FBI is engaging in unscrupulous methods. The informants offer themselves as technically adept trainers and explosives experts who talk suspects into bogus plots and engage them in speech that crosses the line into conspiracy and instruction. Under ordinary circumstances, many observers think, these suspects would have neither the means nor the will to carry out terrorist attacks. The statute 18 U.S.C. § 842(p), which bans the teaching or demonstration of a making or use of an explosive weapon, has provided a way of prosecuting suspects based on their conversations about weapons and their collections of popular weapons manuals and videos not linked to any specific act or plan. A provision of the USA PATRIOT Act, 18 U.S. Code § 2339, prohibits “providing material support to terrorists” and allows related forms of speech to be used against defendants in court. Since the laws act to catch persons on pretext, dangerous instructional texts have become key in demonstrating that persons are poised on the verge of action.
In late January this year, 18 U.S. business associations penned a joint letter to the Chinese authorities complaining about a new rule requiring that they replace their banking technologies with “secure and controllable” ones produced in China. Adopted ostensibly for national security purposes after Edward Snowden revealed the presence of spying equipment in the existing banking technologies, the guidelines actually cater to Chinese industrial policy by potentially requiring foreign companies to reveal source code and other commercial secrets.
Although it is not uncommon for U.S. industry to lobby the Chinese government, particularly when the stakes are high, in this case, the businesses chose to bypass the government and address the letter directly to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) Central Leading Group for Cyberspace Affairs rather than the government’s Cyberspace Administration of China. The standard practice is to engage government officials up and down the hierarchy, from the lowliest section chief up to the minister and beyond. Business lobbyists even interact with critical decision-makers who hold key party positions on a government rather than a party level. (The exception is local investment deals, where the local party secretary has the ultimate say and can influence the bureaucracy’s decision.)
In any case, soon after registering their complaint, representatives from U.S. businesses received face-to-face meetings with Chinese officials, and in late March, China announced it would suspend implementation of the banking-technology regulations. Fearing that China would attempt to quietly implement the policy anyway, the group sent a second letter in early April to the same party agency, asking that it issue a written edict to ensure the suspension would truly hold. A few days later, the party complied once more.
This unexpected victory not only reveals how U.S. industry has figured out how to pull the levers of power in China but also points to a substantial change in how China is governed. In the past, there was at least some separation between party and government roles, but it seems that the line is blurring dramatically. The CCP and its ruling Politburo Standing Committee have always been the ones in charge, but they have been amassing greater control over policymaking and even implementation. It leaves one wondering: Does the Chinese government matter anymore?
BEHIND THE CURTAIN