Sunday, February 24, 2013

The Cyberdragon

Unit 61398 and Chinese Cyber Belligerence 

In certain ways, this whole cyber craze isn't exactly new--though it may certainly seem that way to the average individual watching the news over the past year or so. For years, security experts (both public and private) and western intelligence agencies have indicated that Chinese hackers have been trying to steal Western corporate secrets.  Recently, evidence of Chinese hacking has outraged American politicians and has lead to backlash against Chinese firms. 

Outside the building alleged to be the home of Chinese military Unit 61398 by 
American cyber security firm Mandiant. 

The Chinese government has always vehemently denied these accusations. In January of 2013 the Chinese Defense Ministry asserted that "it is unprofessional and groundless to accuse the Chinese military of launching cyber attacks without any conclusive evidence."  That all changed on Feb 19th when Mandiant, an American cyber-security firm, released a report detailing the activities of a particular group of hackers. That group of hackers was a Chinese military outfit known as Unit 61398 and they, according to the Mandiant report, were probably behind attacks launched against more than one hundred companies and government agencies the world over.The Mandiant report itself is the result of nearly six years of investigation and tracks individual members of one Chinese hacker group (with charming aliases like "Ugly Gorilla" and "SuperHard") to what the Economist describes as a "nondescript district in residential Shanghai that is home to Unit 61398) f the People's Liberation Army."

 The report (which dubs the Unit as APT1) indicates that the Chinese did not employ particularly ground-breaking methods in their endeavors. What makes them unique is the "duration of the attacks and the range of the group's "ecosystem" of remote-control software." These factors combined allowed the hackers to steal terabytes of data from their victims. For the the less than tech savvy among us, that is literally trillions of bytes of information from the hapless, hacked organizations they targeted. And as for duration of the attacks, some have dates imprinted on them which suggests that they were initially programmed as early as 2004. What we are seeing now is clearly the fruition of what might be nearly a decade of planning and premeditation. They've been at this for some time. So no, this cyber thing isn't remotely new. Not at all.  The report indicates that most of the companies and organizations hacked were in fact American, and while it does not name victims, a relates New York Times investigation (Mandiant was also the company NYT hired to look into their own cyber-attacks) sheds some light: including that the hackers managed to gain access to an American defense contractor as well as the networks of a company that helps run American pipelines and power grids. Needless to say, that in itself is cause for alarm. 

The day after this report was released,  February 20th, the United States government announced plans to combat the theft of trade secrets. Cybercrime costs businesses billions upon billions of dollars. No one seems to be able to put a firm number on it--but one thing is apparent: China is easily the most outrageous offender. 

Now, stones and glass houses taken into account, America is by no means innocent in our current world of cyber-spying. But what's unique to the Chinese, at least in comparison to America, is that the Mandiant report shows that China's definition of national security pretty much includes outright theft. This, of course, highlights the need for America as a government and a conglomeration of private companies to get itself in gear to deal with cyber threats. Barack Obama has recently announced measures to ensure greater cooperation between American firms and government agencies--especially in the realms of sharing information. He's supplicating Congress to take similar, more permanent steps. Hopefully this will put America on the path of greater cyber security. That aside--America (and the rest of the world) need to show the Chinese that state sponsored crime is unacceptable. It's time to move the complaints out from behind closed door discussion with Chinese officials and onto the world stage, or at least into the world media.

China should consider this too. How long will brazen cyber belligerence continue to work in their favor? China's new leader, Xi Jinping, came into power suggesting that China "must embrace reform and show more respect for the rule of law." This is a perfect opportunity, which may be missed in light of Chinese hot protests against the Mandiant report. Chinese economic benefits of cyber-theft are obvious, but what do they risk by persisting? Chinese companies will be regarded with consistent suspicion while seeking business abroad. Within the United States they already are, and those attitudes will only persist. China will also not be taken seriously when it protests to the West's talk of a "China threat." Chinese cyber belligerence will not be able to proceed unchallenged for long, and it will be interesting to see how the Chinese will handle the inevitable increasing resistance.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Dictatorships and Photoshop, A Love Story

Dictators hold a very interesting position in world society for a number of reasons. For the time being, we will ignore the loftier and less playful of these reasons, and instead focus on the lighter things. Chief among these lighter things is the privileged position dictators occupy among the ranks of humanity as being one of the few groups of people that routinely get to live their lives doing much closer to whatever the heck they want than most people can manage. Between the money they've stolen, the dissenters and detractors they've killed, and the power they have leeched out of their governments and concentrated in themselves, they've really got nothing holding them back. In theory even the most unchecked, overindulged of imaginations must eventually hit a wall--and, of course, pesky little realities like the laws of physics do eventually put a damper on things--but for all intents and purposes, they've basically been given carte blanche to do as much of whatever they please as they can. Until the revolution, of course, but as previosly mentioned, we're keeping things light for the moment.

Despite all of this power, privilege, and general exceptionalism, there are some things that these people seem to be comically incapable of accomplishing without seeming as intelligent or competent as, well, something very unintelligent and incompetent. Unfortunately, no comparison came to mind that didn't seem incredibly childish, so I'm opting not to include one. Forgive me.

Moving on, despite the capabilities despotism has afforded them, there have been a spate of recent examples of dictators being woefully [for them], delightfully [for us] inept at crafting propaganda.

We'll start with the most recent one of which I am aware. I say we'll start, because depending on my level of interest in continuing this (and possibly popular response), this may become an ongoing research endeavor of mine. Anyway, this particular story was mentioned in class during our little current events chat at some point in the past couple weeks, possibly even by me. The charming establishment that presumes to be leading/governing Iran (which may or may not be considered a dictatorship, but it will be here for simplicity's sake) has this homegrown fighter jet referred to as a Qaher 313. It's attractive enough as a fighter jets go, I suppose, but for a variety of mildly amusing technical reasons, no amount of aesthetic appeal will get this blob off the ground. Ever. Or, at least not while the current laws of physics have anything to say about it, and it is my understanding that they have rather a lot to say about the matter. But what is physics to the Iranian powers-that-be? Not much, it seems. They felt it appropriate to release the following image to the world at large:

For starters, when last I checked, the sun did not have a tendency to shine directly on the center of the back of an object of any sort while simultaneously shining in a presumably even fashion on absolutely everything else around said object.

Second, it was suggested to me that if you know anything about perspective (which I don't), for this "picture" to make any sense (and I don't think any rational human being really wants it to, but let's say there are one or two of them out there), that jet would have to either be extremely close to the "photographer" or absolutely monstrous in size. It is my belief that neither condition can be met.

What I find most interesting is the picture over which the Qaher 313 is superimposed. It is a quite nice stock photo of  Mount Damavand, a very attractive volcano in northern Iran. If nothing else, I'll give them partial credit for not having their jet flying over Mount Everest or Disneyland Paris or something. Sad thing is, the Iranians couldn't be prevailed upon go and take their own picture of their own mountain. The one they used was a computer wallpaper image they took (without asking, no doubt) from

For your viewing pleasure, here is the pickywallpaper image with and without the intrusive jet:

Granted, some presumably underpaid Iranian computer "wiz" spent a solid 4.8 seconds playing with the colors, but it is absolutely, unquestionably the same image. In theory, we as Americans/America should be taking the Iranian government somewhat seriously. Their nuclear program is cause for some concern, among other things. But it would be much easier to do so if they could manage to exist and function (or pretend to function) without behaving more and more like an SNL parody of themselves.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Se • ques • tra • tion: The action of taking legal possession of assets until a debt has been paid

My college SweetB has done a great job laying out the details of the impending budget cuts.  Here's a little more:

Our debt crisis (exacerbated by Washington myopathy) is a reoccurring phenomenon with which we have become all too familiar.  The 2011 debt ceiling debacle, which produced the 2012 fiscal cliff fiasco, which produced the 2013 sequester, many believe, will no longer be kicked down the road again.  And the Pentagon will be among the hardest areas of the federal government.  The Department of Defense is staring at $42.7 billion in defense cuts (a 9.4 percent cut).  The sequester will force defense officials to put 800,000 civilian employees on unpaid leave.  More importantly, it would result in permanent defense job losses of roughly 325,000 -- including 48,147 civilian employees at the DoD.  The repercussions of such sweeping cuts will likely harm our military and our global respect.

National security leaders are speaking up.  Outgoing Secretary of Defense, Leon Panetta, told his employees in a memo "the rigid nature of the cuts forced upon this department, and their scale, will result in a serious erosion of readiness across the force."  For his part, Secretary of State John Kerry warned that "we can’t be strong in the world unless we are strong at home.  My credibility as a diplomat working to help other countries create order is strongest when America at last puts its own fiscal house in order, and that has to be now."

And the cuts would harm our forces around the world.  "For the U.S. Navy, the rising crescendo of warnings now hits at the heart of the fleet’s activities — the deployed carrier strike groups (CSGs) and amphibious ready groups (ARGs) that project naval power around the world, and that underpin U.S. military activities in the Middle East and the Pacific."  Adm. Jonathan Greenert, chief of naval operations, warns that CSGs and ARGs will be un-deployable because the cuts will stop “nearly all non-deployed operations."  Sequester will also prevent the Navy from training units to replace the two carrier groups in the Middle East and Pacific.  (Similarly, Gen. Raymond Odierno, the Army chief of staff, said the cuts would delay training and that the Army would be forced to send unprepared troops or extend the tours of those already in-country).

While testifying at congressional hearing on behalf of the Navy, Vice Chief of Naval Operations, Adm. Mark Ferguson said:
The immediate impact will be to our fleet operations and depot maintenance. . . .  We anticipate reducing flight operations and underway days for our deployed forces, cancelling deployments . . . suspending most non-deployed operations such as training and certifications, along with other cost-cutting measures. . . .  We will immediately erode the readiness of the force. Over the long term the discretionary budget caps under sequestration will fundamentally change our Navy. We will be compelled to reduce our force structure - our end strength.
Moreover, such immediate austerity will negatively impact our ability to project power in Asia, the region where we have recently renewed our efforts with our strategic "pivot."  Writing in 2012 about the potential impacts of future sequestration, Michael C. Horowitz, Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Pennsylvania, wrote:
Decisions about defense spending are integrally linked to the United States’ overall strategy in the Asia-Pacific. Given ongoing uncertainty surrounding North Korea, China’s continuing development of anti-access/area-denial (A2/AD) capabilities, and disputes over the East and South China seas, maintaining a robust presence in the region will be a high priority for any future administration. However, sequestration or other major defense cuts could undermine perceptions of U.S. resolve in the Asia-Pacific and make core U.S. allies such as Japan and South Korea doubt Washington’s willingness to invest appropriately in relevant capabilities. Concretely, such cuts could make it more difficult for the United States to maintain its current presence.
The recent North Korea nuclear test and the fears of ongoing Iranian uranium enrichment have once again highlighted the threat of global nuclear proliferation.  While sanctions have so far failed to prevent Pyongyang from pursuing its nuclear ambitions, a credible deterrent threat that might succeed in keeping a nuclear North Korea in its box requires the U.S. to project power well beyond its borders -- and that requires a well financed navy.  In anticipation of the recent nuclear test, "South Korean and U.S. troops began naval drills Monday in a show of force partly directed at North Korea."

Meanwhile, Iran is upping its naval capabilities in the Persian Gulf, which will allow it to continue to endure or evade U.S. sanctions aimed at forcing Iran to give up its nuclear program.  They are building a new naval base in the Sea of Oman near Pakistan's border.  Iran’s Navy Commander Rear Admiral Habibollah Sayyari said "[t]he Iranian navy has so far had no military presence in the area, but now, we will be present in the region to defend the interests and maritime resources of our country and exercise a tighter control over the traffic in the region."  Iran is already able to evade sanctions.  "[T]he most common trick Iran uses to dodge sanctions is ship-to-ship transfers (STS), in which large tankers leaving Iran’s ports offload Iranian oil to smaller vessels.  Then, the Iranian oil is blended with that of another country to disguise it. After that, new shipping documents are issued, giving the blended oil shipment a new identity."  The next step for the U.S. would be to use naval presence to prevent oil tankers from leaving Iranian ports, which would dramatically escalate tensions and risk military confrontation as Iran continues to expand its naval presence outward.  Iran is also becoming more belligerent towards its neighbors by increasing its naval presence near Iranian-occupied islands that are also claimed by the United Arab Emirates.  "The islands sit near oil shipping routes at the mouth of the strategic Strait of Hormuz and the challenge over their sovereignty is a constant threat to Iran's fragile relations with its Arab neighbors."

The U.S. Navy is also going through a technological transition amid calls for austerity.  Overcoming a dwindling naval fleet (let's bring back 1916!)  through superior technological improvements will be important in the future.  But so will making strategic decisions that enhance our capabilities rather than waste money ineffective procurements.  The Littoral Combat Ship, designed to be quick and maneuverable and flexible for diverse naval action in shallow coastal waters, has become a funding black hole that Congress keeps filling.  The program has ballooned to $37 billion, and questions remain as to its combat effectiveness.  With fewer armaments and limited armor than other ships, the LCS will be vulnerable to attack from air, sea, or ground forces despite its faster speed.  (Even at 40 knots, the LCS can't outrun cruise missiles.)

How the sequester shakes out will influence our ability project power.  Brains need to be used.

Monday, February 11, 2013

US Navy and Air Force test and implement laser weapons

Laser technology, more specifically laser weaponry, is one of the dreams for a science-fiction enthusiast like because I have always imagined seeing the US military, one day, using laser weapons. Well, immergence for laser weaponry is definitely near. Over the last few years and months, the US military and its many contractors, i.e. Raytheon Co., have started implementing laser technology on surface and air vehicles. This once object of science fiction is now our science reality. This advancement in military technology is another response to the rapid changes that happen all the time. Mostly, laser technology is a direct response and defense against unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). Even though the majority of the US public only knows of UAVs from major news sources, they often forget or do not know that other countries are also acquiring and implementing UAVs against the US military. So, in order to counter this revolution of UAVs, the US and its allies are already testing the effectiveness of laser weaponry against UAVs. It is important to note, the US military has used Phalanx for decades to shoot down mortars and rockets. The weapon combines a 20-millimeter Gatling gun that fires at a rate of either 3,000 or 4,500 shots per minute, with radar to search for and track targets. The US Navy has used a land-based version of Phalanx in Iraq since 2005. Mounting a laser cannon beside the Gatling gun should extend the range at which incoming ordinance and UAVs can be eliminated. How the laser weaponry works: The laser weapon system, with a power output of 150 kilowatts, uses a combination of radar and optical systems to detect and track incoming drones. Radar provides an approximate location of the targets, and the optical system takes over to pinpoint the drone's position. Also, the high-energy laser system is able cut through a steel girder almost two-thirds of a mile away. The US Navy and Air Force of the next decade could be equipped with laser weaponry that’s small enough to outfit fighter jets, considerably bolstering U.S. defense capabilities. The significance is this: The 150-kilowatt lasers are an entirely new class of weapon — 10 times smaller and lighter than current laser technology — and would enable a speedier response by fighter jets to threats. These weapons typically defend the United States against rockets, surface-to-air missiles and other weapons that threaten aircraft. However, the new lasers also could go on the offense against certain types of ground targets. The Navy is hoping to test the 150-kilowatt laser against surface ship targets. Raytheon Co. says ground-based training on the new laser is scheduled for 2014. By the way, this guy is definitely not in charge: Dr. Evil

Monday, February 04, 2013

Impending Budget Cuts Threaten Military Effectiveness

       The Budget Control Act of 2011 called for significant reductions in federal spending between 2013 and 2021, which is set to include funding for national defense. The mandated cutbacks will require the Defense Department to cut its non-war defense budget by $52 billion, six percent of the planned amount, for the 2013 fiscal year, and by about ten percent of the planned levels for 2014 and 2021 each year, for a total of $500 billion over the next decade. Although the implementation was set to take place on 1 January 2013, the American Taxpayer Relief Act pushed the implementation date back to 27 March. Defense Secretary Panetta has made it clear to Congress that the budget cuts will severely impact military readiness. Despite this fact, the law is unlikely to be overturned. As the new deadline approaches, Defense Department officials have ordered the military services to prepare a plan for implementing the budget cuts.

            The Pentagon has already begun taking measures to implement the budget cuts, and the individual military branches are taking steps to reduce short-term spending before the new budget cuts go into effect. Current actions include a hiring freeze (greatly affecting job opportunities for military veterans), laying off temporary and contract workers (retaining only those critical to the DoD’s basic mission and Afghanistan), and delaying maintenance on aircraft and ships. Plans for the new budget cuts include implementing a furlough for most of the Pentagon’s 800,000 full-time civilian employees. Each branch of the military services must provide their plans for implementing the budget cuts after they go into effect to Deputy Defense Secretary Carter by 8 February. In doing so, they will plan to reduce spending in ways which maximize each individual branch’s effectiveness individually.

            Plans for the Navy’s reduction in spending include cancelation of maintenance on 30 ships due to take place in 2013. The number of ship operation days would be cut by 30 to 35 percent, which will impact the Navy’s operations in the Gulf and Asia-Pacific region. The Navy is considering the possibility that it will have to remove one carrier from the Gulf. The Army would reduce its training budget to only include training troops slated for deployment to Afghanistan. All other troops would largely go without training. Additionally, the Army plans to cut its active-duty combat brigades from 45 to 37. The Air Force plans to implement budget cuts by eliminating 6 of its 60 squadrons of fighter and attack planes. However, given the Defense Department’s vision of rebalancing to the Asia-Pacific region, the bases for those planes may have been on the chopping block despite the budget cuts, allowing the Air Force to make those cuts elsewhere in the budget.

            A better option would be for the military services as a whole to allocate the budget cuts in ways that improve overall military effectiveness according to the national security strategy of rebalancing to the Asia-Pacific region. This strategy will rely largely on naval and air forces rather than ground forces, which indicates that a larger share of budget resources should be shifted from the Army to naval and air forces. Cindy Williams, security studies research scientist at MIT, suggests the following budget cuts for this option. Instead of eliminating only 8 active-duty combat brigades, the Army should eliminate 19. The Army would need to largely reduce its permanent troops in Europe while keeping some troops in the Korean peninsula. The Army would need to rely on its National Guard and Reserve troops, and increase their training, in order to have available troops if necessary. With the reduction in Army resources, the Air Force can reduce resources which one provided air support to those Army resources. The Air Force could eliminate a total of 14 squadrons to free up budget funds for airlift, refueling, and surveillance, which would provide support for more effective air forces in the Asia-Pacific rebalance strategy. Any funds available beyond the budget cuts would be reallocated to the Navy and Marine Corps, making these forces more effective in the Asia-Pacific region.

            The military services have begun taking steps to implement the budget cuts according to the first option. In doing so, however, each has expressed that the cuts will reduce their overall readiness individually by the end of the year. Lacking readiness in each branch of the U.S. military greatly reduces military effectiveness overall, and does not support the national security strategy of rebalancing to the Asia-Pacific region. According to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Army Gen. Dempsey, this option puts the U.S. “on the brink of creating a hollow force, the very thing we said we must avoid.”  The second option would provide for a more effective military conducive to meeting current and future national security threats and protecting U.S. interests.

The strategy of rebalancing to the Asia-Pacific is the result of bipartisan consensus of defense officials and policymakers on the importance of U.S. foreign policy in that region. With combat operations winding down in the Middle East, policymakers have identified the need for a strong military presence in Asia for several reasons: the importance of Asia on the growth of the world economy and its possible impact on U.S. interests, North Korea’s continuous threats and nuclear development program, and keeping China’s rising military and economic power in check through deterrence and defense. While the U.S. already has a strong presence in northeast Asia, the rebalance seeks to distribute forces more widely throughout the entire region.

While Asia is comprised of significant land mass, it is highly unlikely that the U.S. would engage in a land war with the two largest powers in the region, China and Russia. It is more likely that any war in which the U.S. would become involved would be fought largely in the air and at sea. Furthermore, with the rise of the Arab Spring, it is likely that the U.S. would be involved in regional conflicts rather than major wars, where sea and air forces will be most effective. Therefore, the majority of future military missions are likely to require more naval and air forces than boots-on-the-ground troops, which is why it would be prudent to reallocate funds from the Army and land-based tactical air forces to the Navy and Marine Corps. The Navy is the most flexible of all the armed forces, and can be in position quickly in order to respond to crises and conflicts with sea, air, and ground capabilities. Even when ground troops are necessary, naval and air forces are required to transport ground troops into the theater of operations and provide cover for ground troops. Therefore, increasing available funding for the Navy and Marine Corps can maintain and improve their effectiveness in the rebalancing strategy in several ways.

First, maintaining and increasing naval forces, which can provide sea, ground, and air forces, make them ideal for crisis management. They can be sustained indefinitely in distant locations in a high state of readiness, given the necessary logistics and support. Even in times of non-crisis and peace, a strong naval presence can deter and defense against any attempts to threaten U.S. interests in resources and markets.

Second, building up naval forces in the region can serve as a deterrence for North Korea and China. As North Korea has crossed one red line after another, and continues to build its nuclear weapons program and issue threats to the U.S., a display of increased naval capabilities in the region could support U.S. credibility on responding to North Korea’s threats. While China’s naval program presumably lags behind South Korea, Japan, and India, they are quickly working on their development. The introduction of two new fleet oilers could soon allow China to deploy their fleet beyond coastal waters. Additionally, recent satellite photos revealed that China is developing an anti-ship ballistic missile (ASBM). The Defense Department has identified the ASBM as a significant potential threat, and needs funding to develop countermeasures for addressing this threat. A strong U.S. naval presence is required to deter China from threatening U.S. and allied threats in the region, and responding with force if necessary.

Third, funding for naval forces allows the U.S. to maintain and expand on allied relationships in the region and export security. Force instance, increased funding will allow for a security agreement between the U.S. and Australia, which would provide for U.S. military presence in Australia while providing additional security for Australia. With China being Australia’s largest trading partner, it is important for the U.S. to strengthen its partnership with Australia, a country with shared democratic values. These types of agreements are important for building on other alliances in the region, which can serve to keep those countries from aligning with China for security. While strengthening military alliances are not meant to provoke China, they could serve as a containment strategy and increase the number of allied armed forces available to the U.S. if necessary.

Finally, increasing the funding for the Navy and Marine Corps can improve their effectiveness by allowing them to establish a greater focus on intellectual programs with supplement hardware resources (ships, planes, and missiles). The Naval War College has determined that an investment in intellectual talent can increase effectiveness in a number of ways. First, they can create intellectual software that better enables them to employ its hardware with maximum effect in the Asia-Pacific region. Second, they can invest in human capital to further develop political and technical expertise which can be utilized in operational concepts that will be sent to the fleet. Third, investment in intellectual development of cultural and lingual awareness of the Asia-Pacific region can provide cultural awareness for use in the region, which, as we have learned with Iraq and Afghanistan, is vitally important skills for our military, and for developing allied relations in the Asia-Pacific region.