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Electronic Jihad – The New Terrorism?

In cyber security, cyber terrorism, cyber threats, Defense, Global Economy, Intelligence, Iran, Israel, Libya, multinational corporations, North Korea, Syria, Terrorism on May 24, 2014 at 6:55 am

cyber hoodie pic

March 2014 marked the hacking of 12 Indonesian Government websites by unknown hackers made up of both adventure enthusiasts and radicals. Apart from giving the hackers visibility, the episode crippled critical components of Indonesian government’s daily functioning where e-Governance is depended upon so much. This does not appear to be an isolated episode but enumerates scores of other recent transnational cyber attacks performed by non-state actors for a larger ideological goal.  This new era of ‘Cyber Jihad’ has far reaching implication, and if fully realized, would further underscore the magnitude of threats that it presents to practically every industry and government sector around the world.

The Edge will be presenting a three part series on what some cyber officials are calling the ‘Electronic Jihad’, and how it is shaping the landscape for this new battleground of international terrorism.

PART I – The New Cyber Warriors and their Tactics

Although the traditional purveyors of cyber attacks – states like China, Iran and their supporters continue to dominate state sponsored activities across the global cyber sphere, the existences groups of irregulars and non state actors – script kiddies, anarchists, hacktivists, hostile insiders, criminal elements and independent enthusiasts have added additional challenges, more lethal and ominous for legitimate Governments and multinational corporations to combat than could have been imagined.  The current state of cyberspace warfare will move to control every spectrum of a conventional battlefield – space, energy & power, economic and finance. This lays out an eerie scenario when a state or multinational is presented with evidence that weapons of cyber warfare are available to any warrior in the cyber world and they are available in the public domain.

In the field of intelligence and counter terrorism, capability assessments form an essential part of gaging the threat. Such assessments provide astonishing outcomes, especially when presented with inputs about a power system being attacked such as the case in the US by a cyber jihadist group.  This input was as early as January 2014, at a time when government agencies and regulators around the world have worked tirelessly to institute stringent control measures, cyber security monitoring and information security audits to defend against these very attacks.  Infiltrating these perimeters and conducting attacks on a critical infrastructure demonstrates the extent and capability being harnessed by cyber jihadists.

Counter terror operations are now challenged with the concept of identifying ‘cyber trade craft’, cyber radicalization, and recruitment.  The entire cycle of Spotting, Recruiting and Developing an agent for these activities can be comfortably performed from the confines of one’s home.  Blogs like Jhuf.net (Jamia Hafsa Urdu Forum) and Al Ansar.info have been critically tracking developments in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and using these issues to motivate members to fight against intruding western government and corporations.  Membership in the cyber realm is usually a virtual walk-in or referral, in which case both can be entertained using pseudonyms.  As a result, we have a potential candidates in the terror recruitment cycle being indoctrinated to fight in the cyber space, and have his/her identity concealed which keeps the original identity intact.  Ironically, these very recruits are corporate employees, information technology experts, businessmen, educated youths in the real-world.  We thus have the creation of an educated breed fighting a radical cause in an open world notoriously shrouded by fake IP addresses.  Through the creation of fake social media profiles, recruiters are able to conduct targeting, spotting and assessing operations for indoctrination.  Through the use of such tactics as  cyber ‘Dead drops’ – where confidential messages are passed in the cyber world and the use of image and text files, they are able to communicate without the possibility of it being detected.  A bomb attack in Tel Aviv back in January 2013 had traces of planning activities left in the cyber world when jhuf.net members posted a message in .jpg format highlighting the plans to attack Tel Aviv.  This was made more scrupulous by the use of codes in the image or text files.  Agencies tracking keywords to identify a possible attack would have missed the inconspicuous text hiding superficially in an image format.  In the real world, recruitments for these causes is prone to being intercepted by security agencies.  However, cyber ‘handling’ accomplishes not just recruitment but also indoctrination, financing and tasking for a potential acts without ever having a handler and agent come in contact. 

How big is the challenge to secure global cyber infrastructure?  It’s huge and growing by the second.  As new users and new technologies take hold, the scale of the battlefield expands exponentially.  Join us next month for Part II as we examine other players, threats and the tactics being employed by this new breed of terrorists.

Useless Sanctions on China: Robert Reich Says ‘Forget It,’ Better to Rebuild American Industry

In China, Global Economy, International Relations, International Trade, U.S. Economy on September 22, 2010 at 4:13 pm

Useless Sanctions on China: Robert Reich Says \’Forget It,\’ Better to Rebuild American Industry

Washington Consensus meets the updated Beijing Consensus with nationalism seeping out both sides. The writer hits the nail on the head, at least according to the framework of global production – the trade imbalance between the US and China has been disguised as political rhetoric to deflect attention away from a lack of a U.S. domestic industrial policy. How true is that? I am not sure. –

“The administration will also have to be careful not to unleash something it can’t control. Protectionist impulses run frighteningly deep in Congress.”

CONTRIBUTOR:  Wandering China is a Foresight Perspective contributor and comes to us as a researcher on Chinese politics, international relations and security.  Thanks for the piece WC.  

PERSPECTIVE VIEW: Thinking Ahead – Corporate Contingency Strategies for the Middle East

In FYI - For Your Intelligence, Global Economy, International Trade, Iran, Israel, Terrorism, U.S. Economy on September 20, 2010 at 9:51 pm

Strategic thinkers and planners in government and international business have long had a lot to consider regarding the Middle East.  Weighing the range of complicated and overlapping issues – such as oil resources, water rights, military power, religious conflict, territory disputes, economic and educational disparities, foreign alliances,  to name a few – it is daunting to devise contingency strategies in preparation for the potential of changed circumstances. By 2010, a host of new military and weapons-related issues have emerged, the most problematical being Iran’s steady and stealthy pursuit to secure the capability to construct and deliver nuclear weapons.

Various scenarios can be envisioned if Iran uses its enrichment sites to produce weapons-grade products from nuclear material shipped to Iran by Russia (and possibly other countries) after incorporating technology and materials likely obtained from China, North Korea and others to develop a deliverable weapons system.  Logically, corporations and governments with strong interests in the region should plan what they will do in the event the nuclear situation in the region is changed given the impact on political and economic issues.  Clearly, Israel would be under greater threat from a nuclear- armed Iran given Tehran’s past posturing about the destruction of Israel, the links between Iran and Hamas/Hezbollah, the stresses within the Iranian regime, and its leaders’ need for organized diversion at home to distract from domestic problems.   Two core questions emerge: what would Israel do about a nuclear-armed Iran, and how should businesses and governments prepare to adjust their strategies in response to likely scenarios?  Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu believes that stopping Iran’s nuclear weapons program is central to protecting and defending Israel.  Therefore, strategic planners must consider that Israel will, in some way, halt Iran’s acquisition of nuclear weapons perhaps with an overt air strike or covert sabotage — with or without the tacit acceptance of the United States and other international players.

 Taking these thoughts a step farther, if Israel acts unilaterally to destroy Iranian nuclear weapons development, then much of the Middle East calculus in oil, business, foreign policy and military dynamics will change rapidly.  Against this backdrop, the time to think through options and develop contingency plans for various scenarios is now while there is still time to weigh carefully alternatives and reasonable options.  While government and military planners constantly consider all options as a matter of course, corporations, both large and small, are often less equipped or inclined to consider alternatives before events actually demand change.  Best intelligence (and business) practices suggest that corporate leaders and strategists (calling upon internal and external resources) should consider likely Israeli-Iranian scenarios and their outcomes.  With such analyses in hand, corporate managers can quietly work, if necessary with other professionals, to solidify corporate contingency strategies in advance of a potentially altered Middle East landscape.  Now is the time for contingency planning.

CONTRIBUTOR:  OptionsInt is our newest contributor.  They are a security consulting firm made up retired U.S. intelligence officers with years of worldwide operational experience.  They currently use their expertise to consult with U.S. corporations and government on matters of operational security training and support.  We appreciate their insightful observations and look forward to hearing more from them periodically.

Secretary Clinton and the National Debt threat

In Clinton, Defense, Global Economy, U.S. Economy on September 9, 2010 at 12:29 am

Clinton says deficit is national security threat – The Hill’s On The Money.

Deficit Balloons Into National-Security Threat – WSJ

In February of this year, the Wall Street Journal’s Gerald Sieb walked us through the direct link between the out-of-control planned budget of the Obama administration and U.S. national security.  At that time, it was still just “planned.”  Now having implemented many of the spending bills, we have Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s startling disclosure that the ballooning debt sends a  “message of weakness internationally.”  The only question that possibly comes to mind is:  What took so long?  Now with that statement, does the Secretary really understand the ground truth of what she is saying?  Is there any real support from the administration to point out such a fact.  Putting aside the anger the American electorate is showing this political season and concerns of the international markets calling the spending into question, does this statement go past political expediency and demonstrate that the Secretary and others in the administration are really concerned about this? 

Unfortunately, based on media reporting out of the White House today regarding more spending for infrastructure, there appears to be a disconnect between the State Department and the White House.  The problem in this case lies in the truth.  It is not just about being able to fund future defense, or continuing to leverage our futures to China, or even undermining the U.S. image abroad.  While these reasons should be overwhelmingly enough to keep us from continuing down this path of risk, there is something more important.  This is still about our freedom and our ability to make decisions even when the world may not be on board.  Under these circumstances, we lose this freedom to foreign pressures as those same international markets, creditors and governments who question the wisdom of our spending now, will be able to manipulate and control our decisions in the future.  We will have no choice.  Once that becomes the case, we no long are able to lead the world as in the past…we will be led.

PLA General tests Reform Waters; Supports American- style Democracy in China

In China, Global Economy, Intelligence, International Relations, military, PLA, Uncategorized on August 15, 2010 at 9:30 pm

PLA General backs the American Dream

General and scholar test reform waters

PLA Political Commissar  [Lieutenant, not Full General as reported by the Age article below] General Liu Yazhou seems to be constantly pushing boundaries. He argues his points in a recent report by Hong Kong-based magazine Phoenix. He seems to have been able to freely comment on a systemic shift for China to move forward since 2007. Since 2007 the Commissar has be redesignated from the Air Force.

He’s not the only notable figure challenging reforms. For more, check out this article by the Asia Times Online – General and scholar test reform waters (Asia Times, 09 August 2010).  It is noteworthy that one is a military man and the other, an economist. As an observer with vested interest, I am of Chinese ethnicity.  I am still not sure if reform that essentially transforms all significant global powers today to one of American-style democracy will work. I understand where they are coming from, and the Chinese overseas I have met over the course of the past two years are quite happy with the status quo (i.e. Communism with Chinese characterstics – translated Authoritarian Capitalism a la Singapore style, arguably). That being said, I have not visited China since 2002. I shall verify this when I travel to China again this year.

The Chinese are notoriously resistant toward adopting ideals not self-generated. So, why not find a balance between the two?  The Chinese have been a collectivist society for the past few millennia.  Such a wholesale reform to one of individualism, just twenty years after opening up to the world, is going to be a challenging one with many contemporary implications.

Sun Yat-Sen tried it in the early 20th century with Western-influenced nationalism based on democratic ideals, but corruption, far worse than ever before, emerged and set China into further turmoil. It started with civil war involving war lords initially, and then the fight between the Nationalists and Communists.  Key to this is that Sun sought reform against a dynasty that was plunging China into darkness on all fronts – social, economic, political, military – the list is endless.

Today is quite different. Communism 1.0 may have been a disaster with the Cultural Revolution and the like, but Communism 2.0 today really is a marked improvement.

The bigger question is this – how is it that such reports see the light of day in supposedly ‘fully’ authoritarian China?

”If a system fails to let its citizens breathe freely and release their creativity to the maximum extent, and fails to place those who best represent the system and its people into leadership positions, it is certain to perish…’

CONTRIBUTOR:  Wandering China is a Foresight Perspective contributor and comes to us as a researcher on Chinese politics, international relations and security.  Thanks for the piece WC. 

China Eyes the Dream Factories (China Daily)

In Global Economy, International, International Relations, International Trade on August 12, 2010 at 6:33 pm

China Eyes the Dream Factories

China now eyes Western film companies. China is already a major stimulant for many world economies.  Add in ownership of such ‘dream factories’, and China will not only determine and have a say in what we use and wear, but how we see the world as well.  Interesting.

“If you are in too much of a hurry to label the company as a carrier of Chinese culture, that may draw hostility from the US audience, and may eventually even destroy the brand.”

CONTRIBUTOR:  Wandering China comes to us as a researcher on Chinese politics,international relations and security.  While brief, this piece represents the efforts China is making in all areas of geo-political and economics to influence and control behaviors of western consumers.   We look forward to more from this contributor.

North Korean Artillery and the U.S.S. George Washington; A Prelude to Something

In Defense, Global Economy, Intelligence, International Relations, Nuclear Arms on August 10, 2010 at 4:49 am

Amid tensions with S. Korea, N. Korea fires artillery into the sea

Won Snaps Seven Day Advance on North Korea Artillery Fire

US aircraft carrier visiting Vietnam

Everything you see in the media links above has happened in the last several days.  Some events have been reported within the last hour.  We have the North Koreans firing artillery off the coast toward the area the U.S. and South Korea just concluded naval exercises.  We have anger from China for the lack of U.S. support for their claims over the South China Sea (namely the Paracel and Sprately Islands), and now we have the U.S.S. George Washington in Vietnam to be followed by the U.S.S. John McCain as a show of unity in a regional partnership designed to provide balance between the U.S. and China in the region.  The only problem?  The U.S. is about 5 years late for this engagement and the balance of power has been leaning in Beijing’s favor for some time now.

The territorial claims to the South China Sea have been made by Beijing for several years.  The attempts by the U.S. to tether itself to Vietnam, a valuable ally wanting stability and staking claim to the South China Sea resources, are important but very antagonistic to the Chinese.  So, enter North Korea.  By using the instability between North and South Korea as leverage, the Chinese will be able to stir up all the problems necessary to keep the U.S. on its heels in this situation.  Even if it means taking the Koreas to the brink of conflict.  In other words, China cannot back out of its territorial claim and save face.

Look for Secretary Clinton and the folks at Foggy Bottom to work some deal on how the U.S. can back out of its position on the disputed islands, and maybe even allow some leeway on China’s enforcement of the new sanctions against Iran.  That should give China a chance to reign in North Korea for now.  The real issue here is that, short of going to war with China or North Korea, the U.S. comes to the table with a weak hand.  And China takes on an all new position of power.

While U.S. Continues “Jobless” Recovery, Germany Prospers

In Global Economy, International, International Trade on August 9, 2010 at 11:57 pm

In Germany, a Broad Recovery Is Under Way

It is almost like stepping through the looking-glass.  Germany steadily working to cut deficits, control government spending and keeping taxes down.  The U.S. doing the exact opposite.  And the results:  Well, early returns are promising across the pond and bleak on this side.  What is more interesting is how George Soros notes the association between Germany tightening it’s belt and the imbalance in trade with the other European countries.   As he and his organization push for more stimulus spending, higher taxes and more debt in the U.S., he points out the deficit cutting and wage controls in Germany are to blame for Germany’s recovery at the cost of trade with the more in debt countries like France and Spain.  (Interesting.) However, Germany should not bite at this one.  Perhaps a better option would be for the other European countries to follow suit and cut their deficits and spending. 

Now this is all well and good but there is something even more important to this recovery as demonstrated by BMW’s “help wanted” signs.  The one thing that Germany is realizing is more jobs.  That is the basis of any recovery.   And as that situation grows and more jobs are chasing fewer workers, the German people will have the control.   They will be able to push for higher wages and better benefits.  They will be in the driver’s seat.  And at BMW, that’s good. 

So how does the U.S. get there?  By having fiscal policies that keep current jobs in country and invite U.S. businesses and jobs back.  Businesses will go where they can provide a product or service at a competitive price and be profitable.  Like many U.S. businesses in China and Mexico, where ever they go they will take jobs.  So why not in the U.S.?   Bring down corporate taxes to the levels in China and other developing nations, repatriate billions in hard currency, and bring jobs back to the U.S.  In that case, we will have more jobs chasing workers.  Then the people will be back in control and we too shall experience true recovery.