Friday News Roundup — July 17, 2020

Fixing the Navy; the F-15EX; Russia’s UK Election Interference; Defense Budget Bloat; Social Media’s Woes; Hit the Motorway, Huawei; Protecting International Education

A good Friday morning to you from Washington, where the summer heat and humidity are in full force — of the past 3 weeks, 20 days have seen the mercury hit 90 or higher. Febrile moods match the summer heat, as virus counts rise, lockdowns return, and tempers fray.

This week saw further infighting as a senior presidential advisor took to the pages of a daily newspaper to complain about the advice given by a civil servant, by name. This is not the first time a U.S. Government official tried to undercut a colleague in the press, a practice as old as the republic itself, but the directness and format was extremely jarring. Nor did it encourage confidence that senior leaders were receiving or acting upon the best public health advice as the crisis cruises into its sixth month. Cases continue to spike; state governors look to the federal government for help and coordination; Congress has begun to debate the next phases of relief; and 2020’s political scene now has campaign shakeups alongside convention planning uncertainty. And, of course, there was a multi-day beans brouhaha.

When our politics looks downright silly, it is hard to instill confidence in the American people who are worried about their health, prosperity, and how and when we return to schools and offices, as well as the summer diversions we all miss. It fails to address the real fear and discontent in our communities and deepens the rifts our adversaries exploit.

Beyond the roundup this week, Erica decries the counterproductivity and cruelty of policies aimed at legal immigrants, while Joshua reviews Luke Harding’s Shadow State, another tome at Mr. Huminski’s intersection of Anglophilia and Russian skullduggery.

In this week’s roundup: Dan challenges the U.S. Navy to think boldly after a spate of scandals and strategic drift; Ethan looks at how the F-15EX bridges the divide between generations of fighters; Joshua dives into the formal allegations of Russian electoral interference by Her Majesty’s Government; in a nest of hawks, Chris calls out the bloat in the defense budget, while Michael addresses social media’s influence via the controversies about TikTok and Twitter. Maria covers the UK decision to boot Huawei from their 5G, and Nick looks at how some of the administration policies may affect higher education. As always, we wrap with news you may have missed.

Is Something Wrong with the Navy?

Dan Mahaffee

U.S. Navy Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Austin Haist

Currently, the USS Bonhomme Richard is a flame-gutted hulk at its pier in San Diego. As of this morning, after four days, the flames are extinguished. While docked as part of a maintenance overhaul, on Sunday an explosion in a hold for vehicle storage below the amphibious well dock led to flames that engulfed the ship. Fortunately, there have been no fatalities and the 61 reported injuries to sailors and civilians have been mostly minor. Efforts to save the ship continue, even though there are concerns about the ship listing, as it has taken on water from firefighters’ gallant efforts both on board the ship and dropping water from helicopters to cool the ship’s structure.

The “Bonnie Dick,” as she is affectionately known, is an amphibious assault ship. To those not familiar with the U.S. Navy, one can be forgiven for thinking that the vessel is a small aircraft carrier. She is, in one sense, with a flight deck for vertical launch aircraft, tiltrotors, and helicopters, but she also has the aforementioned well dock to transport and launch amphibious landing craft. As an aside, she bears one of the most historical names in the U.S. Navy, as the first Bonhomme Richard was a French frigate provided to John Paul Jones during the Revolutionary War, and named to honor Benjamin Franklin and his Poor Richard’s Almanack — known in French as Les Maximes du Bonhomme Richard.

There will no doubt be a thorough investigation into the direct cause of the fire, and it will be some time before the ship is returned to fleet duty — if it is not stricken from the roll. That this fire took place in port may have actually worsened the situation, as the ship’s complement was greatly reduced and many damage control systems were offline. However, for the U.S. Navy, this is another in a long line of scandals regarding readiness, operations, and leadership. From the collisions with shipping traffic by the USS’s McCain and Fitzgerald to the Fat Leonard bribery ring or the outbreak of COVID on the USS Theodore Roosevelt, there are serious questions to be raised about a culture in our Navy that deserves a reckoning. A culture that allows such scandals — either by commission or omission — not only drives away the leaders the Navy truly needs, it also affects the fundamental readiness of the fleet.

The challenge is even greater, and the call for renewal in our Navy ever more important, given the return to great power competition. The demands on our already overworked and under-resourced Navy will grow. With the economic impact of the pandemic and the growth of debt, budgets will be tight; new ships will be few; and building an effective culture requires years of the right mixture of leadership growth and real-world experience. Look, for example, as China tries to embark upon its own naval aviation path, yet cannot simply copy, manufacture, or emulate the decades of experience that the U.S. Navy has in carrier flight operations.

That experience though, is a foundation, not laurels to rest upon as the future of naval warfare is in question. A major naval conflict has not been fought since World War II. The wonkier among us will quibble about the Falklands or the Tanker War, but, still, that has been decades since we have seen naval combat. Carriers continue to be the crown jewels of the U.S. Navy, but are they just large, expensive targets? How will unmanned systems fit into the fleet? What is the pipeline for future Navy personnel and leaders? What is the role of the Navy and Marine Corps in the joint force? Asking the hard questions now is better than in the heat of conflict.

The Commandant of the Marine Corps General David Berger has tried to peer into the future with his “Force Design 2030,” which Ethan covered in this roundup, not long ago. In this plan, based on an evaluation of geopolitical and technological trends, the Marine Corps would shed much of its heavy assets to favor the garrisoning of Pacific islets and atolls to provide fires and recon closer to China. We can debate whether it is a bold vision for the future of the Corps, overly-focused on China, or a recipe for countless Wake Islands, but at least there is a vibrant debate about a path forward.

History shows us how the history of the U.S. Navy and its greatness has come from a unique mixture of gallant bravery, eccentric innovation, and visionary leadership. At some of the darkest moments in history, the Navy has overcome the odds and turned the tide. Now it must apply the same to itself.

F-15EX Addition Targets Generational Fighter Gap

(…It also does ABMS)

Ethan Brown

F-15E Strike Eagle — Department of Defense Photo

Big news emerged this week when the the Air Force announced that it has officially placed the order with Boeing for its F-15EX aircraft. The first delivery order, with a price tag of $1.8 billion, will turn out eight initial production models, factoring in early manufacturing costs, development surcharges and other first phase factors. The totality of the contract is a ten-year, ID/IQ (indefinite delivery/indefinite quantity) with a ceiling of $22.9 billion. Ultimately, the final roster may tally 200 total aircraft, but is more than likely to settle at 144.

The F-15EX is intended to serve as a ‘low’ cost solution for filling the generational gap between the Vietnam-era fighter aircraft still in service, and the 5th-generation stealth systems newly ushered into sorties since the turn of the century. The F-15 platform is a distinguished fighter with a storied history, and the industry base has long been clamoring across sponsored and suggested BreakingDefense and DefenseOne articles, theorizing just how necessary this generational-gap filling aircraft is. But why the F-15?

The modern fighter jet flagship

Fighter Jets should be sleek, lethal, and vicious looking—like a bird of prey. This unofficial criterion is why many U.S. fighter aircraft carry monikers like “Falcon”, “Eagle”, and “Hornet”. Those platforms better suited to pointing their noses at the ground in support of the folks on the ground, better known as close air support, those aircraft tend to be…ugly. But not the interceptor corps, whose identities were crafted in the forge of Major John Boyd’s undefeated, lethal concept—the Energy-Maneuverability Theory. In the post-propeller era of aerial combat, but before the radar cross-section deception age of the F-35 and F-22, fighter jets were meant to simply, overtly, outrun, and outgun adversaries. When those of us too old for Tik Tok and too young for America’s Funniest Home Videos think about fighter jets, chances are the Mcdonnel-Douglas F-15A Eagle is the image that comes to mind.

The F-15 encapsulates exactly what a fighter jet should look like. Rolled out in 1975 as the next generation fighter-interceptor to replace the dysfunctional F-111 of SECDEF Robert McNamara’s projectized Vietnam War inventory, the F-15 rapidly gained notoriety for its speed, sophistication, and an unparalleled combination of avionics and weapons. The platform has seen combat in every U.S. conflict since its inception, proliferating amongst allies abroad and carrying with it the most distinguished designation in the USAF inventory: The F-15 platform is the only U.S. aircraft to have never been shot down or lost a dogfight.

While created with the intent to outrun and out-shoot any and all Soviet aircraft of the era, the F-15 proved its modularity in later models, most notably the Echo, or ‘E’ model, dubbed the Strike Eagle. While earlier variants were a single-seat fighter-interceptor designed to travel far, quickly, and unleash advanced missiles from well beyond line of sight, the Strike Eagle added a backseat for a weapons officer, increased range, and adapted weapons racks for air-to-ground munitions. One of the first U.S. aircraft to fly with the Low-Altitude Navigation/Targeting Infrared Night (LANTIRN) targeting pods and APG-70 ground movement target indicator (GMTI) radar, the Strike Eagle established itself as the first turn-of-the-century multi-role fighter by hunting SCUDS in the first Gulf War. Ultimately, this grew into the close air support role typified across the inventory in the GWOT era of aircraft multiplicity.

In terms of CAS, which the F-15 performs admirably, few aircraft (save the big guys like the B-1 Lancer or the archaic B-52) can show up to the fight with as much firepower and still effectively ‘point their nose at the ground’. While not quite the same level of adrenaline that the beloved A-10 offers in a gunfight, I had the distinct pleasure of utilizing Strike Eagle’s many times in multiple arenas, and both myself and many of my former military colleagues owe our continued breathing to the ‘DUDEs’ who showed up for us when we needed them most. In short, the F-15 is a staple of the U.S. inventory and a wholly capable asset in modern combat.

4th Generation Fighters in a 5th Gen world

Of course, this is the age of hyper-advanced, stealth aircraft who rely on precision and integration across digital mediums. The age of bringing sheer, overwhelming firepower no longer stirs the budgetary drink. 5th-generation aircraft like Lockheed-Martin’s coalition F-35, Russia’s Sukhoi Su-57 (which may or may not be an unmanned aircraft???), and the CCP People’s Liberation Army Air Force’s Shenyang J-31 are the show-horses in the air superiority race. Of these aircraft, only the F-35 appears to have considered the CAS/Air interdiction (primary air-to-ground) roles as a major factor in its application, but of course many of these systems remain highly classified. Adversaries like Russia, China and their prospective customers may well have multi-role variants of these platforms, but if the roll out of these advanced aircraft faces any similar supply chain slumps, development shortfalls, and general issues like the Lockheed-Martin model they were based on, then their operational timeline remains a stark unknown.

One of the limitations of 5th generation aircraft is the reliance on stealth; it’s great for getting past overlapping Strategic Air Defense networks and delivering precision munitions to begin attrition of the neural Surface-to-Air Missile/Air Defense Artillery complex, but these platforms are carrying small munitions in a concealed bay—no outboard racks for munitions until well after combat has begun. The downside of being ‘multi-role’ means you are not really proficient in one thing. The F-35 must approach every capacity with equal integration and capability, but its multiplicity means that design sacrifices (in terms of payload) must be made.

Deep strike packages under the stealth banner are a necessary early component of force application, but soon after the early phase, a bigger hammer needs swinging. This is where the F-15EX, courtesy of Boeing (who bought out Mcdonnel-Douglas in 1997), enters the fray to bridge the 20th century dinosaurs with the 5th-gen multi-role stealth fighters. It is still fast, big, and carries a significant payload across air-to-air (the most air-to-air missiles of any U.S. aircraft) and air-to-ground configurations. But the EX model is fully modernized, rather than simply a refurbishing of old Eagle systems.

This Boeing rendering suggests enhanced avionics such as an “all-glass” digital cockpit.

These EX variants will be crafted from scratch in St. Louis, MO, and feature an enhanced avionics suite, updated cockpit, and digital century hosting systems in the aim to facilitate the F-15EX as a comprehensive strike platform capable of hosting digitized command and control. Boeing has taken a particular aim at fusing the EX with the Advanced Battlefield Management System (ABMS) in order to truly bridge the generational gap. As readers of this space know, the Air Force is leading the way in creating a genuine All-domain command and control system that creates true information exchange across all domains- the problem has been figuring out where and how to begin hosting this secure all-node network at the forward staged areas of potential conflict. Recall that only late last year were the F-22 and F-35 able to finally communicate together due to literal physics differentials in their respective communication suites.

Introducing a known quality in the F-15 platform that can operate in the Joint All-Domain battlespace and essentially bring together the 5th-gen fighters would be quite a coup for Boeing, who has spent several years in a schoolyard brawl with Lockheed-Martin over contract awards from the DoD. At least some level of competition remains in the defense industry base despite the threats for nationalizing aircraft production. The first eight F-15EX’s are due for operational capacity sometime in 2021.

One parting note for your next military trivia night: the M61A1 20mm multi-barrel Cannon (dubbed the “Vulcan”) on the F-15, F-16, and F-18 platforms is canted upwards in order to account for the trajectory drop of the bullets for its air-to-air application. This rendered the 20mm on these aircraft less-than ideal for CAS as it required the pilot to take a much steeper dive angle for a gun-run, when compared to the A-10 and its 30mm GAU-8.

Russian Electoral Interference Across the Pond

Joshua C. Huminski

Pippa Fowles/DowningSt

This week the United Kingdom’s parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) voted unanimously to release a long-awaited report into Russia’s electoral interference in the 2016 Brexit vote and the 2017 general election. Prime Minister Boris Johnson approved the release of the report after the Conservative Party won the December 2019 election. The delay in its release was due to the need to appoint a new ISC, which oversees the United Kingdom’s intelligence agencies including MI5, MI6 and GCHQ.

The ISC, unlike other committees reports not to parliament, but to the prime minister and has not sat for seven months. While roughly analogous to the American House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence and Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, the ISC — only formed in 1994 — has had a rocky record and an uneven reputation. It missed key evidence related to the 7/7 bombings and needed to revisit its own investigation, and provided a thin report on the intelligence related to WMDs in Iraq, leaving it to the Butler Inquiry to investigate deeper. It received a legislative boost in 2013, expanding its powers and remit, but friction between it, the organizations it oversees, and the Cabinet Office and Downing Street remain.

Some had hoped 10 Downing Street would release the report — which was completed in March 2019 — well ahead of the December general election. Dominic Greive, then the ISC’s chair, sought the report’s release for October, but when that was not forthcoming commentators speculated the report contained damaging information about members of the Conservative Party’s relationship with Russian-affiliated individuals or groups.

In advance of the report’s release, the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, Dominic Raab, issued a statement on the leak of the UK-US Free Trade Agreement documents on Reddit ahead of the General Election in 2019. Raab said, “the Government has concluded that it is almost certain that Russian actors sought to interfere in the 2019 General Election through the online amplification of illicitly acquired and leaked Government documents.” He added, “When these gained no traction, further attempts were made to promote the illicitly acquired material online in the run up to the General Election.”

His statement that “whilst there is no evidence of a broad-spectrum Russian campaign against the General Election, any attempt to interfere in our democratic processes is completely unacceptable,” is likely to raise eyebrows, especially once the ISC’s report is released next week (and which will be covered by the author in next week’s Friday News Analysis).

Parliamentary Power Plays

The announcement of the forthcoming report’s release follows a setback for Prime Minister Johnson as his chosen ISC Chair, former minister Chris Grayling, was snubbed in favor of Julian Lewis, a backbencher. Lewis, who put himself forward for the chairmanship, previously sat on the ISC and once served as the chairman of the Commons defence select committee. Grayling, for his part, was a “Brexiteer” and once served as Secretary of State for Transport. His poor performance in government earned him the nickname “failing Grayling”; while in Transport he oversaw the collapse of two major rail lines and awarded a ferry contract to a company with no ships.

After Lewis’ victory, Downing Street kicked the new ISC Chairman out of the parliamentary party and stripped him of the whip, “because he worked with Labour and other opposition MPs to his own advantage”. Tory whips worked to secure the necessary approval of the five Tory members on the Committee over the four Opposition MPs, which included Scottish National Party and Labour Party members.

The Prime Minister’s efforts to install his man as Chairman of the ISC were roundly criticized. Dominic Grieve, a former ISC Chairman, said the chair needed to be “respected on a cross-party basis” and “trusted as being competent and effective”. Lord Janvrin, also a former member of the Committee, said “the non-partisan, cross-party nature of the Committee and this has in my view added to its authority in holding the intelligence community to account — a crucial constitutional role in a democracy.”

All Potatoes and No Meat? What’s in the Report?

This is the proverbial $10,000 question. Former ISC chair Dominic Grieve sought the report’s release in advance of the December election saying it contained information that would be “germane” to voters heading to the polls. Downing Street, for its part, has downplayed the report saying it is relatively anodyne. There will, however, be a secret annex. By failing to release the report when it was finalized and before the election, Downing Street may have inadvertently stirred the pot of speculation, raising unnecessary questions as to how damning it could really be. To borrow a cricket phrase, Downing Street may have been better off playing with a straight bat.

Moreover, the delay in the release may have unintentionally inflated the role the Russians played in the Brexit vote and the General Election to a greater degree than was already present in the minds of many Britons. As Mark Galeotti, a Russian expert noted last year, “Divide. Distract. Demoralize. Sometimes it almost looks as if Putin’s information warriors and political operators need not do anything, the West gladly does their work for them.”

Much of what is expected to be in the ISC’s report is already in the public domain, and is thought to be more embarrassing than explosive. Indeed, the near constant coverage of Russian interference has shown the broad spectrum of Moscow’s activities, which are almost assuredly covered at length in the report.

Cyber espionage, social media influence, selective leaks, and even funding the Leave.EU movement via cutouts has been discussed by the UK broadsheets. The Tory Party’s relationships with Russian business people was reported on by the Times and by authors such as Luke Harding in his new book Shadow State. Even Boris Johnson’s trip, as foreign minister, to an Italian villa owned by Evgeny Lebedev, who runs the Evening Standard and whose father is a former KGB officer, has been covered by the media.

The extent to which Russian money has penetrated London’s financial networks and, by extension its politics could make for uncomfortable reading. This goes beyond individual donations to the ecosystem of expatriated money from Russian oligarchs. As detailed by Catherine Belton in her excellent book Putin’s People, Moscow sought the benefits of a willing and open financial system and the certainty of the British legal system to park expropriated assets. This infusion of wealth generated a rising tide for not just the bankers, but public relations consultants, lawyers, accountants, real estate agents, and more, so much so that the UK’s capital is often called “Londonograd”.

Perhaps most discomforting could be the expected analysis that London’s failure to act in response to known Russian activity, such as the Litvinenko assassination or the Skripal poisoning, may have emboldened Moscow’s activities. This long-term failure to deter Russia, out of fear of jeopardizing inflows of Russian money, may have only invited further interference.

For its part, Washington announced further sanctions against Yevgeniy Prigozhin — the head of the Internet Research Agency and the financier behind the Wagner private military company — this week. The new sanctions target Prigozhin’s assets in Sudan, Thailand, and Hong Kong. This is a step forward, to be sure, but one that is likely to be only an inconvenience, not a measure of deterrence.

Waste Much, Want Much

Chris Condon

In his final address as President of the United States, Dwight Eisenhower warned against the growing influence of war profiteers:

In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes.

This week, the House Appropriations Committee considered the House’s version of the annual defense appropriations bill. Heedless of President Eisenhower’s clear warning, the budget allocates $694.6 billion to the Department of Defense, a staggering amount that is incomprehensible to any sane person. While it is the purview of any government to defend its citizenry against enemies foreign and domestic, are we really to believe such a sum is necessary to perform this essential function?

First, let us consider the sheer size of the nearly $700 billion sum dedicated to “defense.” In 2019, the federal government spent roughly $4.4 trillion, which in itself is preposterous. This means that over 15% of all government expenditures go to the Department of Defense, even during peacetime. Out of that $4.4 trillion, however, only roughly 35% is discretionary spending, meaning that Congress decides annually where the money is allocated. The other 65% is regrettably dedicated to nondiscretionary spending, meaning that it has been previously allocated through legislation to permanent government programs and so the money cannot be allocated to different areas each year by Congress. If only about 35% of total federal spending is discretionary (which includes the Department of Defense’s budget), that means that almost half of the money Congress allocates each year is dedicated to the military. Remember, the United States is not fighting a declared war and Congress’ last remotely related AUMF was passed to authorize strikes against al Qaeda in 2001.

“Well,” you may say, “if we’re spending so much on the military, it must be necessary! We have foes around the globe we must protect against!” First off, I will be the first to admit that national defense is perhaps the government’s most important duty. From a practical standpoint, it is indefensible to argue that $700 billion is necessary to protect against any earthly adversary. Last year, the People’s Republic of China spent an estimated $261 billion on military endeavors. That means even if we cut the Department of Defense’s budget by half, we would still spend about $100 billion more than the next highest military budget. Further, the United States spends more on our military than the next 10 highest nations combined. Of these nations, eight are our allies (India, Saudi Arabia, France, Germany, United Kingdom, Japan, South Korea, and Brazil) and the other two are highly unlikely to wage war on us (China and Russia).

You hardly need a better argument that such an exorbitant sum is wasteful than to look at what is being done with the money. The president has inexplicably been able to allocate Defense Department funds to the construction of his ill-fated border wall, even though Congress has thus far refused to allocate funding for such a wall. Congress created a chief management officer post in 2018 to report on the operating procedures of the Department of Defense, but is now considering eliminating the position due ostensibly to a lack of usefulness. It must be pure coincidence that the current officeholder has pointed out $21 billion in waste due to inefficiency in the Defense Department.

While it may seem like the United States government has unlimited funds to spend, it does need to prioritize where money is spent. For years, Republicans in government have chastised “tax and spend” liberals for suggesting massive government programs with no clear manner by which to pay for them. Those same Republicans are the most vehement defenders of the status quo regarding the military budget, arguing that such spending is necessary for national security. Democrats are no less to blame for the ridiculous current state of affairs, as they have not made any serious suggestions of cutting the Pentagon’s budget. In fact, the House defense appropriation bill allocates $1 million additional dollars to remove confederate names from U.S. Army bases. The back of the taxpayer is not the place to wage these petty political battles.

In the opinion that the military budget is too large or that the military-industrial complex holds too much power over our government, perhaps I am in the minority. Even here at the CSPC, I have been referred to as an iconoclast on military policy. It is true that my focus on the law, domestic affairs, and the intent of the founders often leads me to different conclusions than others, but I do not see this as a negative outcome. I relish being in the company of the likes of James Madison, Calvin Coolidge, and Dwight Eisenhower, even if such a line of thinking is that of the minority. It is even curious to me that we continuously refer to this area of public affairs as “defense policy.” If we are arguing over making logical cuts to a military budget as large as the entire GDP of Switzerland, it is clearly no longer about defense — it is about world domination.

A Bad Week for Social Media

Michael Stecher

I am ready to discuss social media!

When I was a freshman in college, my classmates were very excited because was going to become available for Georgetown students. At the time, you needed a .edu account from a particular set of institutions to be part of the social network and it was a closed, safe(ish) space for people to share information and photos about campus activities. There was even an option to input your class schedule so you could learn more about that person who sits a few rows over you had been meaning to try to gin up the courage to talk to. Then, Facebook was a revolution; today, it is a hegemon and the social media industry has become central to the way people around the world think and communicate. In the last couple weeks, we have been reminded of how social media has transformed society as a whole through stories about two networks — Tik Tok, the spread of which is concerning for cybersecurity experts, and Twitter, which has become so ubiquitous that a cyberattack on its network became front page news around the world.

I know that I am not in TikTok’s target demographic. The social media platform has a large and growing following among young people — 41% of it’s 800 million active users are between the ages of 16 and 24 — and it is the third-most frequently downloaded non-gaming app behind only WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger. Geoffrey Fowler, the Washington Post’s technology columnist, calls the content of the service, “the 2020 equivalent of ‘Star Search’ crossed with ‘America’s Funniest Home Videos’ [ed. note: the Policy Team may be too old for TikTok, but we are also too young for Star Search and AFHV], creating culture particularly through recorded dance moves.”

The problem with TikTok, though, is what data the app collects and where it sends them. Since last year, U.S. lawmakers and regulators have raised concerns about data collection in TikTok, but the details became clearer earlier this year, when researchers were able to get under the hood of the programming. A pseudonymous poster on reddit found that TikTok could use location tracking, capture network information, and even download and execute files in its Android app. Security researchers also found that TikTok could copy information from a phone’s clipboard, even in background mode. This is particularly dangerous because there are many apps, including emails systems and password managers, that use the clipboard to transfer sensitive information. A code update has since disabled this feature on Apple iOS devices.

The Department of Defense has already advised that military and defense civilian personnel delete TikTok from both government-issued and personal devices. The government’s concern is that, because the platform is owned by a Chinese company, the organs of Chinese state security could be using it to collect personally identifying information about servicemembers and other people with potential access to sensitive or classified information. Amazon also instructed employees to remove the app last week, before reversing course.

Lawmakers and regulators have begun to explore means to ban the app. This may pose a challenge: it is probably not a top-tier cybersecurity issue and decisions made in haste could undermine the norms of a transnational internet, which materially benefits the United States. That, however, does not change the underlying fact that I would not want it on my phone. Facebook — which launched Instagram Stories to undermine Snapchat after that company spurned a takeover offer and collects horrifying amounts of personal information from users to precisely target advertising, complete with its own ethical and technical challenges — is also preparing its own TikTok clone.

TikTok is a slow moving challenge to privacy, but, on Wednesday, Twitter faced a crisis. Around 4pm EDT, several high profile, verified users (known as “blue checkmarks” in Twitter parlance because of the white check marks on blue backgrounds next to their names when they tweet) began tweeting similar messages requesting $1,000 worth of bitcoin with a promise that they would return double that amount. Prominent public figures and brands, including Uber, Apple, Bill Gates, Joe Biden, Kim Kardashian, and Barack Obama, were targeted, and reports indicate that the scammers took in more than $100,000.

According to Twitter’s support account, the attack began as a “coordinated social engineering attack” targeting employees with access to internal systems. This is extremely frightening. It is not the first time that hackers have attacked Twitter to spread false information. In 2013, the Syrian Electronic Army, a hacker organization that supports the regime of Bashar al-Assad got access to the Associated Press’s Twitter account to report that explosions had been heard at the White House and that President Obama had been injured. This caused a 1% drop in the stock market before the news could be corrected. Incidentally, 2 years later, the Syrian Electronic Army decided it needed to go after the heart of American power and launched an attack on the Center for the Study of the Presidency & Congress’s website.

This attack, however, is of a different order because it used internal Twitter tools to take control of the ecosystem as a whole, rather than an individual account. With power of that magnitude, it is surprising that the attackers only used it to siphon a few thousand dollars from trusting rubes on the internet. It could have been so much worse: hackers could have placed short positions on a company’s stock and tweeted bad news from their official account or issued a statement that hostilities had broken out between the United States and Iran in the Persian Gulf from official Defense Department accounts or even from @realdonaldtrump.

In response, Twitter shut down the ability to send tweets for blue checkmarks, some of whom retweeted strings messages from @everyword — an account that tweeted every word in the English language — to convey messages to their followers. Others created new burner accounts. The National Weather Service, which was trying to pass along information about an ongoing tornado warning, however, did not have those options. In Washington, when we talk about “critical cyber infrastructure,” we are usually referring to the risk that an adversary could disrupt something weighty, like telecommunications or the electrical grid. We learned this week that there could even be serious effects to a disruption of a weightless social media space.

In the last two decades, social media has entered and warped our shared cultural space. You are probably reading this Roundup because you clicked on a link conveyed to you through social media. What access the companies that provide us these services should have into our minds, phones, and wallets, however, has not yet been fully adjudicated. We need to be savvier consumers going forward, an increasingly difficult proposition as they become more essential to our lives and businesses and the implicit tradeoffs we are making in using them become more obscure.

China — U.K. Relations Take A Hit Amidst Huawei Ban

Maria Hatzisavvas Damsgaard

Image Credit: Samsung/Tech Radar

After intense U.S. pressure and a visit by President Trump’s national security adviser Robert O’Brien this week, the U.K. took a regulatory U-turn on Tuesday, ordering Huawei technology out of its 5G network by 2027. The U.K. is one of many European countries that has been meditating on the security implications of market access for the Chinese telecom giant, further intensified by U.S. sanctions on supply of microchips to Huawei. Tuesday’s announcement effectively reverses the U.K.’s decision in January to allow Huawei limited access to British 5G network, and while it may help mend U.S.-U.K. relations, it brings with it considerable consequences for the U.K. Besides delaying 5G roll-out up to three years and adding $2.5 million in additional costs, the U.K.’s move is threatening its “Golden Era” of trade and the massive Chinese investment plans in the U.K.

The British government, headed by self-declared “sino-phile” Boris Johnson, claims that the motivation behind the sudden 5G policy U-turn is a technical reassessment of the security implications associated with Huawei’s services by the U.K.’s security and intelligence agency, GCHQ. The move aligns the U.K. with the growing consensus among the Five Eyes; the intelligence sharing partnership between Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the U.K. and the U.S. Yet the claim of a new assessment looks more like a technical fig-leaf attempting to conceal the bigger geopolitical estrangement between the U.K. and China. With the U.K. embarking on its vital post-Brexit mission of establishing itself as an EU-independent political and economic power, the country is also taking a tougher stance on China. Just last week, to the dismay of Xi Jinping, Boris Johnson pledged to hand British passports to almost three million Hong-Kong citizens, following China’s tightening grip on the region. The weakening of the U.K.-China relationship has also become evident in public opinion, with a recent Financial Times poll suggesting that 83 percent of British people currently don’t trust China, undoubtedly buttressed by the Chinese handling of the pandemic’s early stages.

Just five years ago, former Conservative Party Prime Minister David Cameron’s government proposed its glittering vision of a ‘Golden Era’ of trade between the U.K. and China. China had also been envisaging post-Brexit Britain as a cooperative market in need of increasing its non-EU trade and preserving London as a financial hub. This rapid change comes as an unpleasant surprise in the face of the ‘might makes right’-China. Chinese ambassador to the U.K., Liu Xiaming, asserted that the decision on banning Huawei is not only “disappointing, it’s disheartening.” The ambassador assured that the British decision would be followed closely by China, and added that “Britain can only be Great Britain when you have an independent foreign policy, rather than to be viewed in China and the rest of the world that you are just a junior partner of [the] United States.” This statement surely merits a response from the U.K., who is in risk of being viewed as the bouncing pinball buffering through an economic crossfire between the U.S. and China.

During a time of seeming collapse of the rules-based trading system, individual companies like Huawei are becoming the flash-points of broader trading clashes. The U.K. Huawei ban will inevitably feed into the downward spiral of corporate battles bleeding into political disputes, effectively distressing trade patterns between the two countries. The decision may also shake China’s willingness of continuing to point its R&D internationalization activities towards the U.K. During the last 20 years, China has piled roughly $55 billion into the British economy — twice as much as the largest European contributor, Germany. A big range of Chinese investments have been made in sensitive areas like the nuclear industry. Besides having large stakes in many nuclear power plants, China has most recently signed an agreement to build its own nuclear reactor in Essex, which currently has no built-in governmental safeguards to prevent board member takeovers and theft of critical nuclear information or intellectual property rights.

While the U.K. is embarking on its novel trajectory as a free-trading nation, it is realizing that it is not inoculated from great power competition and the appurtenant political implications. The bilateral world of the U.S. and China does not easily allow countries to carve out economic and political middle-ways. The U.K. Huawei ban is inevitably a reversal of a business-as-usual attitude towards the critical importance of safe 5G infrastructure. O’Brien’s Europe trip did not only include the U.K., but also France, Italy and Germany. In an EU with a dispersed approach to 5G roll-out and the handling of Huawei, the central question now arises: To what extent will the U.K.’s decision on banning Huawei, accompanied by continued well-informed pressure from the U.S., resonate in the rest of Europe?

U.S. Government Should Protect, Not Curtail, Campus Internationalization

Nick Schroeder

“I don’t know how I would have been able to continue studying. I can’t transfer, but online class while living in Italy would have been impossible.”

Gabriele Simonti is a rising senior at George Washington University. He is one of the many students who would have been severely impacted by the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) attempt to force international students to leave the country if their college decides to transition to online learning for the fall semester.

DHS’s policy received significant backlash from states, universities, and the general public and was removed a week after it was announced. Had the policy been kept in place, there would have been adverse effects on both American students and international students. The Trump administration was absolutely on the wrong side of this issue: internationalized campuses benefit American students and our government should be trying to foster these campuses, not undermine them.

For many students, college is one of the first times in their lives that they leave their home bubbles and meet people from around the world. While college is primarily looked at as a place to continue one’s education in a classroom, students can also learn more about other people and cultures. Colleges and universities actively try to create these opportunities by exposing their students to people and viewpoints from around the world, a process called “internationalizing the campus.” Scaling back campus internationalization could cause an entire generation of college students to lose this experience. More than just losing the experience of learning more about other cultures, students could potentially have had less of an ability to interact with people from different countries in the future if they were not given a chance to learn in college.

DHS’s new policy would have been harmful to American students immediately. Students would have lost their friends from other countries for the rest of the semester, and possibly even longer. This potential loss was a primary reason for the public outrage from college students against DHS. American students who are from households that are bilingual or have heavy influence from other cultures would have suffered even more. These students would no longer be able to rely on international students to have someone to relate to for their home lives, or may have also lost students who speak the same language as them. International students would have been even more gravely affected.

Some international students may not have been able to return home. The high price of travel and danger inherent in traveling during a pandemic could have prevented students from leaving the country, which would have left them with their next option: transferring to another school. Assuming students could have found a place to transfer to, they would have been faced with a new set of problems. International students who transfer would need to find new friends, learn a new campus, and transfer credits from one college to another, all of which is a challenge under normal circumstances.

Another problem would have been scholarship money. Students who are on scholarship at one school might not get the same financial aid at another. This uncertainty would have made it more difficult for international students to continue attending a university if they were forced to leave the country. Even if international students could easily move out of the United States, there would have been another major problem: time change. Living in another country could have made school almost impossible for international students as classes could now have been in the middle of the night.

Since DHS tried to implement this policy so late into the summer, students would not have been able to change their schedules to help address potential time differences between their college and country. The final negative impact for international students would have been more visible in the future. Many international students plan to stay in the United States and pursue a career here. Any combination of being forced to transfer, drop out, or potentially stay out of the country for a year could have severely hindered their ability to find an employer, especially if there was uncertainty about a potential re-entry to the United States.

DHS would have created far more problems than solutions if international students were forced to leave the country. American students would have suffered socially and lost a source of learning in college. International students would have experienced these same consequences and various potential problems regarding leaving the country or transferring. All of us need to be wary of attempts in the future to de-internationalize American colleges since it would prove to be detrimental to the present and future of the United States. Policies like this would force America to take a significant step backward at a time when we need to be forward-looking in addressing new and emerging challenges.

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The views of authors are their own and not that of CSPC.



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