Civilian Operator 101: Preparing for the Urban Future of Counterinsurgency


Bottom Line: Conflict follows humanity wherever it goes, and the world’s population is increasingly living in cities. Waning are the days of the Maoist blueprint of rural insurgents pillaging small peripheral villages and seeking refuge in the hard terrain of mountainous caverns, dense forests or expansive deserts. Soon terrorist and insurgent groups will mount operations from crowded slums and ritzy skyscrapers – not just in a dense urban landscape, but in coastal megacities that pose a unique challenge for which the U.S. military largely remains unprepared.

Background: The United Nations estimated in 2016 that some 55 percent of the world’s population lives in urban areas, which will grow to 60 percent by 2030. There are 512 cities of at least one million inhabitants around the world, and this too is expected to grow to 662 cities by 2030. Over the same time period, the number of megacities – or overlapping urban landscapes home to at least 10 million residents – is expected to grow from 31 to 41. Many of these are emerging in the developing world, which will soon be economic, political, and cultural centers of gravity in the international political order.

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Espionage Files: Documentary on CIA to Air on CBS Tommorrow at 8pm CST


“THE SPYMASTERS” REMASTERED: If you missed Showtime’s “The Spymasters: The CIA in the Crosshairs” when it aired last fall – you get another shot on Saturday May 21nd at 8PM CST. on CBS.  The original documentary included interviews with every living CIA Director. It is unclear if they all will be in this version – since the program had to be edited to include commercial messages.   The CBS promo video includes soundbites from Donald Trump because – well, because how can you not include Trump in any promo these days? Mandy Patinkin (who plays “Saul” on Homeland) narrated the documentary.

Read the Original Article at the Cipher Brief                    

Crusader Corner: No Perfect Defense

With all of the “Noise” surrounding the Brussels Terror Attack, here is one interview with a Brit Spook that offers some useful intel and information. -SF


The Cipher Brief: First Paris, then San Bernardino, then Brussels.  How widespread are Islamic State networks in Europe, and can we expect these kind of attacks to continue?

Quite clearly the recent history of attacks, certainly those in Paris and Brussels, shows a very substantial increase in threats linked more or less exclusively to the Islamic State (IS).  The threats are linked to IS’s control of resources and territory in Iraq and Syria and its clear, stated intention of developing an attack capability in Europe and the United States.  Almost inevitably, therefore, there will be groups developing attack capabilities that are varied, linked into central planning in Syria, and carried out by adherents and sympathizers in European capitals and the United States.  And these threats will be linked to the large scale movement of people, particularly around Europe. The Paris attacks showed that all of these factors applied.   What matters, then, is the real operational capability of each individual group, and knowing that is a matter of acquiring detailed information.  There’s been a marked increase, sadly, in the threat, and it has to be taken extremely seriously.

TCB: What do you make of reports that these are sophisticated explosives using TAPT (triacetone triperodoxide) and showing all the hallmarks of the same bombmaker?

I would expect it to take some time for a clear definition of the explosives used and for the identity of the bomb maker to become clear.  So it seems to me to be quite early on to be reaching a judgment on that.  It’s difficult to say more from the outside.

TCB: Will attacks on this scale change the way of life in Europe in terms of conducting business, travel, personal security, and so forth?

On the one hand, one might think so.  It has been the subject of quite a bit of comment.  On the other hand, previous experience in previous years shows it doesn’t necessarily have that effect.  The key issues with attacks of this scale and regularity is the degree to which the security authorities are able to adapt to the new threat or changing threat, and whether they can gain some kind of control or show they can control the situation.  What is damaging is when a feeling develops that a violent terrorist threat is not under control, and therefore, can occur at any time and take [a country or populace] by surprise.  So it all comes back to the effectiveness of the security apparatus in the countries’ concerned and the people’s confidence in them.

TCB: What would you tell your Prime Minister about the threat to the United Kingdom and Europe in the wake of the attacks, and what are the next steps in preventing attacks?

Well, sadly—and I’m not saying anything you don’t already know—there is a very serious threat, and attacks could come at any time.  Nobody is in a position, or could hope to be in a position, to say anything else under the circumstances.  And clearly, an effective response will depend upon good and insightful intelligence, both information obtained and analysis of data, that comes in various ways.  An effective response will also require the most efficient, skillful sharing of relevant information in Europe and internationally with the governments and authorities concerned.  Quite clearly, this is a multinational threat and has to be dealt with in that way.  There is nothing fundamentally new about that, it’s the experience we’ve been having for many years.

TCB: Will these attacks spur greater cooperation on counterterrorism in Europe and with the United States.

There already is very extensive and deep cooperation and sharing of intelligence as well as mutual support.  It’s important that people understand that very, very extensive sharing and cooperation structures already exist and have been built up over many years.  Of course, it can always get better.  No doubt, deficiencies could be highlighted. So it is quite easy for commentators to say we need to learn to share intelligence better between agencies and between countries.  Fine.  But you have to know it already actually happens.  There is no perfect defense against such a threat.  At the same time a great deal of knowledge and skill has been developed over the years, and a great deal of the threat has been disrupted and prevented.

We face a higher degree of threat, that is clear. Obviously, it’s a big worry. But experience shows we can get on top of these things, respond to them and achieve a level of success. There is no need to be defeatist. It’s important to keep calm and rational.

Read the Original Article at The Cipher Brief

Smart Guns: An Unproven Technology


An Interview with Wayne Weber, President of Heckler and Koch USA.

The trend of making conventional objects “smart” is continuing unabated, and now even firearms are beginning to have computers integrated into them. The Cipher Brief spoke to Wayne Weber, President of Heckler & Koch USA, about the rise of smart guns. He says that systems which only allow authenticated users to fire weapons are still unproven, and that the technology as a whole still has a way to go before it could be implemented on a large scale.

The Cipher Brief: Generally speaking, how do you view smart technology, especially in regards to the firearms industry? There has been some push back in the integration of smart technology into firearms, what are your thoughts on this?

Wayne Weber: To clarify, when we discuss smart gun technology, in general, the perception is that it is a device, whether it is a watch or a ring or some type of electronic device, that disables the function of the gun when that watch or ring is not within a certain proximity of the gun. There are other interpretations of smart gun technologies as well. However, I’m referring to the one whereby the gun is disabled unless the device is within proximity, so that only the authorized person will be able to use that gun.

There has clearly been some pushback from the gun industry with regard to the integration of smart gun technology, and much of that is related to the political climate with gun control in today’s society. I think that some people view this as an opportunity to pass legislation favoring smart gun technology, which in my opinion is not proven. There are so many things that need to be determined with smart gun technology — whether it is a ring that has the sensor in it, or a watch or whatever. I think that smart gun technology still has quite a bit of research and development to undergo before it’s considered a proven technology.

There are certain potential hazards with smart gun technology, too. If you look at this application in law enforcement or military use, quite often if one guy gets hurt or runs out of ammunition, you need to grab another troop’s firearm and use it. In many applications, I just don’t see the feasibility and the practicality of smart gun technology.

TCB: Can you talk more about the integration of these electronic control systems into firearms and how they’re shaping the industry?

WW: I just don’t see a huge trend within the firearms industry. Some companies may see the feasibility of something along those lines in the future, but I’m not aware of anyone actively pursuing smart gun technology, from a safety aspect. There are very basic and fundamental safety precautions that most firearm owners should use with regard to conventional firearms. To say that smart handguns that can only fire from an authorized user would resolve those problems, I just don’t think that’s something that the firearms industry as a whole has embraced or will embrace anytime in the near future. The technology is not proven and that technology is a work around, in an effort to pass anti gun legislation.

TCB: How do you expect the market for smart weapons to evolve and how do you see the technology progressing?

WW: While I mentioned one interpretation of smart gun technology, the other interpretation is a system that we are working on for the U.S. government, which is considered a gun that shoots smart ammunition – this would also be considered a smart gun. A user employs a very complicated fire control system with a laser range finder, and then it takes that information and communicates it to the ammunition that’s in the chamber. This is an explosive ammunition for military use, but it talks to the fire control system and talks to the ammunition and tells the round to explode once it has gone a certain distance. This means that, if the enemy is hiding behind a wall or in a ditch, you can still engage him without shooting directly at him.

TCB: Do you see this integration enhancing functionality at all?

WW: You do, and that’s something that is not necessarily applicable to handguns. Gun is a very general term—that applies to handguns, machine guns, and even larger weapons systems in many cases, but in terms of a smart gun platform or concept, you are seeing a trend of smart guns combined with smart ammunition. You see the integration of a lot of electronic devices that communicate with the gun, a high-end scope, a ballistics computer, and either the ammunition or a PDA of some sort. These take that information and translate it into something that may be user friendly from a command standpoint, whereby your authorities could tell you, “okay I’m seeing the same things you’re seeing, go ahead,” or authorize you to do something. It is very useful from a combat or a law enforcement command standpoint in terms of communicating to multiple people with one guy standing behind a rifle, and others essentially seeing the same thing he is seeing.

TCB: Are there any cyber security concerns that go along with this?

WW: I’m not a cyber security expert but I would say it is as susceptible as any IT system out there right now, whether it communicates via Bluetooth or other cordless means. I wouldn’t say it is any more susceptible than others, but I would say it is certainly a potential risk, given the nature of the existing technology out there in terms of transferring that information.

TCB: Is there anything else you would like to say with regards to smart gun technology?

WW: Smart gun technology is innovative, and I have seen companies that have been working on smart gun technology for probably the past 18 to 20 years, and quite honestly I have not seen a leap in the technology. However, I have seen a leap in gun control efforts where certain states have made efforts to put legislation in place that would ban conventional firearms at a certain date and require smart gun technology. I have seen the effort to politicize it, and that is one of the bigger concerns for me. Being a technical person, I also know very well that this technology is far from being something that is proven and practical, from a fielding standpoint.

[Wayne Weber is the President of Heckler & Koch USA and has been in the firearms industry for more than 27 years, including 23 years with HK.  Originally from New Orleans, Louisiana, Wayne attended Xavier University before joining the US Air Force. He served seven years as a Combat Arms Instructor at the Nellis Air Force Base (NV) Desert Warfare Training Center prior joining Heckler & Koch in 1993.]

Cold War Files: The Americans are Coming


…or is it the Russians?  The popular FX series premieres episode one of season four on Wednesday. (March 16th).

In case you’re not already read in on the cold-war drama, prepare to be taken back to 1980s Virginia and into the household of Elizabeth and Philip Jennings, a seemingly normal American couple who are actually Russian spies.

The first three seasons of the show were filled with murder, intrigue, and deception, as any good spy thriller should be.  That might be because one half of the two-person show runner team (the other half is Joel Fields) once took a stab at being a real life spy.  Joe Weisberg trained as a CIA Officer on the operations side and spent about three and half years at the Agency before getting out and entering the far-less dangerous world of television.  But it may very well have been his time at the CIA that led to some of the creative success he’s enjoying now.

“I was taking the polygraph at the Agency, and I was asked on the polygraph, ‘Are you joining the Agency to get information about espionage so you can write about it later?’  And I sorta froze because I wasn’t at all. I was totally joining the Agency because I wanted to be a spy. It never even occurred to me, but once they said that on the polygraph, I was like, ‘Whoa, that’s a good idea’,” Weisberg says, laughing.  “They sorta got it into my head, and then I was afraid I was gonna fail the polygraph.”

But it’s no lie that the show is based on real life spy rings.

“The Russians actually did set up ‘illegal’ rezedencies (like our overseas ‘Stations’) shortly after 1917,” says Cipher Brief expert and former CIA Senior Service member John Sipher.  “Since so few countries recognized the Soviet Union, they had to set up spy operations that did not rely on formal embassies.  But even after they established formal embassies and KGB rezedencies, they continued to also support these illegal, off-the-grid teams.”

That definitely explains the roots of the real-life Russian spy ring the FBI busted up in 2010, one of the headline events that inspired Weisberg to launch the series.  That ring was filled with spies who posed as normal, ordinary, even boring Americans, before their cover was blown, and they were ‘swapped’ back to mother Russia.  But if you think that writing timely television is as easy as ripping from the headlines, Weisberg says, think again.  He freely admits that The Americansis a ‘made for cable’ show, which (ahem) means he has a lower budget to work with.  Their writing team consists of seven writers, and the production team of course, is bigger, but there are still financial restrictions that limit just how ‘real’ he can keep the scenes.

“I wanted from the start to make the tradecraft in the show extremely realistic, or as realistic as possible, and it raised a number of issues.  First of all, there was the fact that tradecraft that was done in movies or television shows generally was not realistic or well done ,so I had that in my favor.  I had in my favor that I was trained at the CIA, I knew a lot about real tradecraft, and I knew that it hadn’t been done right, so that was a big opportunity.”

But then he had to find out whether the CIA was willing to play ball.  Not because the Agency had a say in the script writing process, but because Weisberg once worked for them and had a clearance, so he had agreed to something all spies must agree to, the (sometimes) dreaded, pre-publication review process.

“I started sending scripts to CIA, and I really didn’t know what to expect, but I was very pleased to discover that on a lot of tradecraft issues, they were pretty open, so I could show quite a bit of tradecraft, which was great,” said Weisberg.

What was not anticipated, however, was just how much the financial strains would impact the ability to show real tradecraft, like surveillance and counter surveillance operations, a common tactic in cold-war era spying.

“I really know how counter surveillance works, and I know enough to put these things together and do a very realistic depiction, but if you wanna really, really show this stuff the way it’s really done, you can imagine the number of cars you would need, and the number of streets that you would have to film to do a realistic depiction of an actual counter surveillance team following somebody.”

So he had to figure out how to keep to the spirit of a true counter surveillance operation, while making sure he didn’t blow his budget.  So he shot it all on fewer streets and with fewer cars.  The true spirit of the tradecraft, he says, still came through.

When we talked, I asked Weisberg for one little nugget about the first episode that only an insider would know.  He kinda laughed and thought for a second before giving up the goods.

“You’ll see a scene in the first episode of the new season that takes place in an outdoor market in Russia, in the Soviet Union in the early 1940s, and it’s kind of a short scene.  We went to considerable trouble and expense to build that set that may not look fancy, but its hard to find a location that looked at all like 1940s Russia.  It was supposed to be a daytime scene, and it was starting to get dark. After all this trouble, we didn’t think we were going to be able to shoot the scene, because there wasn’t enough light.  It was such a disappointment because we weren’t going to be back at that location.”   But they were able to shoot the scene in the very last seconds of daylight.  So now you know.

So back to that idea of getting ideas anywhere.

“I think that a lot of people are creative people and I think that a lot of people have a similar experience like I do, which is that you walk around the streets daydreaming and those daydreams consist of a lot of stories but you tend to sort of dismiss them or throw them out and think that they’re not valuable, but they are valuable. The crazy daydreams you’re having, the ones that you don’t want to tell people about that are embarrassing, those are stories,” said Weisberg.

Read the Original Article at The Cipher Brief