Friday News Roundup — October 15, 2021
Supply Chain Politics; CIA Re-org; AUSA & Future Army; US-EU Divergence on Social Media?
Friday greetings from Washington, D.C. First, we are stunned by the news from the United Kingdom of the murder of British MP Sir David Amess, stabbed to death while meeting with constituents. Across democracies, be it Sir David’s murderer or the mobs of January 6th, there can be zero tolerance for those who believe that violent acts against elected representatives can replace the voice of the people at the ballot box.
Getting to the bottom of the political violence of January 6th, the bipartisan House select committee moved to hold Trump advisor Stephen Bannon in criminal contempt for his refusal to testify to the committee.
Negotiations amongst progressives, moderates, Congressional leaders, and the White House continued on the size of the reconciliation package and the passage of the bipartisan infrastructure deal.
This week, CSPC hosted a discussion with CSPC Senior Fellow Andy Keiser and Michael Lumpkin, to discuss their findings from our report on U.S. semiconductor supply chains and the growing alliance of democracies addressing technology concerns.
This week Joshua C. Huminski reviewed Louis A. Del Monte’s “War at the Speed of Light” for Strategy Bridge and “To Boldly Go” for the Diplomatic Courier. CSPC hosted five of the contributors to this book for a discussion on what we can learn from the worlds of Star Trek, Star Wars, and more.
This week, Dan looks at how supply chain crises and their impact are easy political fodder, but not easily solved. Joshua looks at how the CIA is reshaping itself, while Ethan covers the future of the army, as seen at the annual AUSA. CSPC intern Brian Byrne looks at how the Facebook whistleblower testimony may further divide the U.S. and Europe on matters of social media regulation.
The Politics of Supply Chains
With ships idling off America’s key ports and the threat of disruptions to the holidays looming, President Biden announced efforts to address port bottlenecks and highlighted the administration’s ongoing efforts to address supply chain disruptions and delays — while also addressing their strategic vulnerabilities. On social media, #emptyshelvesJoe and other similar themes were employed by GOP politicians and pundits. At the same time, following an announcement that airlines would have to mandate vaccination for their employees under the terms of their contracts to fly federal government personnel and cargo, a series of disruptions at Southwest Airlines led many anti-vax, anti-mandate politicians to blame, falsely, the vaccine mandate and a pilots’ sickout to protest the vaccine. These disruptions and other are the product of complex factors, ones that a single president, or let alone the whole government, can solve, yet are ready-made for the political blame game.
The hurdles at our ports date back to before the Biden administration and before the pandemic — though disruptions and changes in consumption patterns due to the pandemic have certainly disrupted operations. Scott Lincicome, from the CATO Institute, lays out an overview of all the problems affecting U.S. supply chains, from the shift in consumption patterns to companies no longer trusting “just-in-time” shipping. Furthermore, labor and regulatory factors — such as the limited hours worked by longshoremen in Los Angeles and Long Beach to the impact of the Jones Act — also throw further sand into the gears of modern commerce. Ryan Avent, correspondent for The Economist, described how these complex, interrelated factors translate into the inflationary pressures that hit citizens’ pocketbooks:
Not all, but most of the inflation pressures we’re experiencing in the US are associated with various supply-chain disruptions: chip shortages are a problem, as are long delays at ports, as are inadequate supplies of fuels. One thing which has been interesting to see is the way in which problems can build on themselves. So, manufacturers and retailers are worried they won’t have critical components that they need, so they over-order, which further stresses supply chains. When they over-order, they need a place to store this inventory, and when warehouse space isn’t available they simply use the containers in which the stuff they ordered arrived as onsite storage. But now that’s another container that isn’t in circulation, which adds to stresses on the system. Then, because it’s no fun to be an overworked trucker or a sailor stuck on a ship anchored off Long Beach for weeks, workers start to quit, or they demand better hours and pay, which further stresses the system.
All of these factors take years to address, be it port expansion, changing the Jones Act, reshaping corporate attitudes towards supply chains, and further automating shipping, trucking, and trade. Further disruption of supply chains is likely to drive headlines through the holidays, and the threat of further winter Covid outbreaks and other labor stoppages only add to that likelihood.
Similarly, when the disruption at Southwest Airlines resulted in delayed or canceled travel plans, some took it as an opportunity to blame the administration’s vaccine mandate and laud a non-existent pilot “sickout.” A search of the headlines demonstrates that this is not the first time that Southwest has faced mass cancelation issues during the summer, but the political narrative was more important than the reality. While the vaccine mandate has been met with some resistance in the airline industry — with United leading the way with its own mandate — what happened at Southwest reflects larger structural issues for the industry ranging from a shortage of pilots to airlines’ creaking IT infrastructure to desperately needed modernization of U.S. air traffic control.
For better-or-worse, any White House is blamed for the economic and commercial challenges that are largely outside of their ability to control. The Carter administration is the prime example of how a sense of national malaise overwhelmed an administration, and already, pundits are drawing that comparison for President Biden. Disruptions to travel, rising prices, and bare shelves at the holidays will only add to the political headwinds. It does not help that this comes at a time when our political media is more focused on this back-and-forth rather than the complexity of these challenges. Similarly, while there are infrastructure and economic measures under debate at this very moment as a deal is sought on the larger Reconciliation package and the bipartisan infrastructure package, our media focuses on Senator Sinema’s friendships and Senator Manchin’s houseboat rather than the actual items and proposals being horse-traded on Capitol Hill.
The complexity of shifting supply chains is ill-suited for zero-sum politics in 280 characters. The changing paradigm of supply chains and global trade has been accelerated by the pandemic, as well as demographic and economic trends in both the United States and our trading partners. Regulatory hurdles should be easy to remove, but special interests will dig in. A greater emphasis on automation — throughout shipping, trucking, and warehousing — raises its own thorny combination of political and technological concerns. Reshoring and nearshoring of supply chains takes time, as well as leadership on trade agreements. All of these factors, and their complexity, do not bode well for simple solutions by Christmas, nor November 2022 or 2024.
CIA Announces Restructuring for Strategic Competition
Joshua C. Huminski
On Thursday, William Burns, the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) announced that the organization would establish two new mission centers to adapt to changing global dynamics. The China Mission Center will focus on the rapidly emerging peer-competitor and another center, the Transnational and Technology Mission Center will focus on global trends such as technology, climate change, and pandemics. In a statement accompanying the announcement, Burns said the China Mission Center “will further strengthen our collective work on the most important geopolitical threat we face in the 21st Century, an increasingly adversarial Chinese government.”
While at first glance the restructuring makes sense, it is, in reality, not that innovative or significant of a change. These changes follow just six years after Burns’ predecessor, John Brennan, announced a widespread reorganization of the Agency, bringing together Operations Officers (the recruiters of agents) and analysts into 10 mission centers. It also comes four years after Director Mike Pompeo announced the creation of Iran and Korea mission centers, both of which will be absorbed by larger Near East and East Asia centers, according to reports. These organizational changes take time, energy, and attention away from the core mission set and could be disruptive in the near term.
Modeled after the Counterterrorism Center, Brennan’s divisions were intended to streamline collection, targeting, analysis, and dissemination under mission-focused groupings. In many ways, this reform borrowed from the Department of Defense’s Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) operational model, which was refined during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. JSOC became exceptionally efficient at finding, fixing, and finishing (killing or otherwise eliminating) targets.
In practice, the Brennan reforms cut against the grain of the Agency, eroding the primacy of the Operations Officers and signaled a further shift, in the eyes of many, away from the human aspect of human intelligence. In its counterterrorism efforts, critics allege, the Agency lost focus on the longer-term, strategic and over-the-horizon challenges, instead being drawn into demands of tactical or operational intelligence. The Agency itself became highly efficient in its own clandestine program of finding, fixing, and eliminating targets — counterterrorism via drone — but this model was inappropriate for the hard target challenges of China, Russia, Iran, and North Korea, where target development could take months, if not years.
In some ways, Burns’ announced changes are window-dressing as opposed to substantive restructuring. The way intelligence is collected and analyzed today is no longer in the silos that it once was, even in the halls of the “Russia House” and its China counterpart. Officers and analysts are not as divorced as they perhaps once were during the Cold War and its immediate aftermath.
Moreover, there are reasons for the separation of officers and analysts, at least some separation. For one, operational security is maintained when analysts do not know the identities or even cryptonyms of agents (about which more, below). Second, when the entire world is an operational area of focus, critical details and focus can be lost i.e. when everything is a priority, nothing is a priority. The successes of the battlefield and counterterrorism campaign are not analogous to that of strategic competition. Diving what the Central Committee in Beijing is considering or what oligarch is in favor or falling out of favor in the Kremlin is a long-game requiring a great deal more patience and finesse than eliminating a high-value terrorist target.
The announcement of the changes came shortly after the New York Times reported on a top secret cable warning CIA stations and bases that an alarming number of agents (recruited spies) were being captured or killed. In 2010 over a two-year period, China executed dozens of U.S. spies and rolled up an extensive network in-country. This was largely believed to be a function of a botched covert communication (covcom) system, one that was used in the Middle East and imported into China. According to the New York Times, the worldwide stations and bases cable (WWSB) warned that the situation was much worse and more urgent than initially understood, and was partially driven by Pakistan’s success in uncovering CIA agents in-country.
Running agents and serving as an Operations Officer is becoming exceedingly more challenging. With the ubiquity of cheap surveillance cameras, near constant connectivity, AI and machine learning, and facial recognition, the tradecraft of espionage is becoming considerably harder. Even the absence of activity is evidence in and of itself — if an officer doesn’t have a profile or deviates from their usual social media activity, that could be a sign he or she has gone operational, a clue for would be foreign intelligence service spy catchers.
While a technical or tradecraft issue certainly could be the cause of the network roll ups, it is not beyond the realm of possibility that there is a mole or moles within the Intelligence Community. Aldrich Ames and Robert Hannsen, arrested on espionage charges in 1994 and 2001 respectively, were collectively responsible for the deaths of untold numbers of agents. Ames was a 31-year veteran of the CIA and Hannsen served as an FBI special agent in counterintelligence. Both were spies for the Soviet Union and, later, Russia. It is also believed that Jerry Chun Shing Lee, a former CIA officer, may have been partly responsible for the roll-up of the networks in China, having been recruited by Beijing.
It is unsurprising, but nonetheless disappointing, that the Agency is getting more notice for the loss of its agents, than its heroism in the drawdown in Afghanistan — the Agency’s successes are mostly unknown, but its failures make the frontpage. In the wake of the disastrous and precipitous withdrawal ordered by President Joe Biden (the consequences of which the Agency warned of), the CIA scrambled to pull-out its agents and partners as the Taliban drew in and took control of Kabul. The CIA’s “Eagle Base” served as a staging area for Afghans evacuating the country and members of the Agency’s partner force on-the-ground helped secure secret gates the Agency used to spirit out agents.
Pivoting the Agency towards strategic competition is certainly a critical undertaking. Dilbert-esque bureaucratic restructuring for the sake of bureaucratic restructuring will be more damaging than any problem it is attempting to alleviate, and there is danger in making changes that do not fit with the current operational dynamic.
Future war is mass vs. speed
This week, the Army is hosting AUSA, the Association of the United States Army Annual Meeting & Expo, which is the big who’s who of ground pounder think tanks, defense contractors, and strategists who care about all things Army and maneuver warfare. Plenty of interesting media headlines have come out from the pitches, talks and products showcasing, but the one that has caught my eye was an interview given by Brigadier General John Rafferty, director of the Long-Range Fires Cross-Functional Team.
In an interview with BreakingDefense, B.G. Rafferty pointed out what the Army plans to do with its long-range firepower. Chiefly, he wants the future ground fire systems to overwhelm adversary Anti-Access/Area Denial (A2/AD) capabilities, employing one of the oldest paradigms of combined arms: massing of fires. It’s one thing to lobby for increased defense spending on a career-defining program, it’s another thing entirely to frame this ambition around one of the DoD’s most important initiatives — Joint All-Domain Command and Control (JADC2). B.G. Rafferty put JADC2 squarely in his sights when he made his assertion about what precision ground fires need to do against adversarial-denied battle spaces: “We will contribute to the requirement for JADC2 going forward. [Penetrating] and disintegrating A2/AD is the fundamental problem of all-domain operations. It’s the hardest problem we’ve got”.
In olden times of war, whichever organized force arrived at the site of battle with the most fighters tended to win out. Of course, certain aspects must be considered — maneuverability, cover and concealment, logistical support, and firepower. Firepower has naturally changed over the millenia, where the bow and arrow could overwhelm even a numerically-superior force at distance, fire, cannonades, and guided missiles could ultimately break defensive barriers. On Napoleonic battle-grounds, integrated firepower was largely equitable in capabilities, the French conqueror was simply better and moving his set-pieces and logistics to achieve decisive outcomes at key moments. But the artillery was uniform with regards to size, range, devastation, and capacity. Even in cases like World War One where artillery evolved in leaps and bounds, the ranges were fairly equitable throughout the war, while the sheer volume of rounds became moot due to both sides darkening the skies with artillery shells (obligatory Dan Carlin Hardcore History podcast plug).
The point of all that being, numerical advantage and the firepower to change the calculus of that numbers game, and they remain fundamental in planning for the next conflict. Carrying a bigger stick into combat has been the great power’s anthem for ages now, and while modern conflict arenas are shifting to a precision and hypersonic bandwagon, the U.S. Army is still betting big on bigger: bigger artillery inventories, bigger connectivity, and bigger battle spaces (i.e. the Pacific). The challenge of denied battle spaces, a la A2/AD, makes this endeavor of particular interest for how the Army plans to retain and widen the capabilities gap with the Chinese People’s Liberation Army.
Denied areas will be won or lost on two key principles: out-massing, and out-reaching the denial or defense capabilities. With B.G. Rafferty’s remarks about connecting C2 capabilities across the ground fires paradigm, the United States and partners have a chance to out-mass the deterrence of A2/AD by synergizing targeting across a high-speed connected control apparatus. We still have to get the inventory up to a level of sustainment that supports this war principle of ‘mass’, but faster, more efficient command and control enables effective concentration of artillery and fire support, just like Napoleon achieved in bygone centuries of artillery warfare. To achieve out-reach, the next fun news from AUSA deserves recognition.
Being able to outreach an opponent with firepower requires either ever-increasing distance capacity, which also gives the enemy a longer duration to intercept, or shortening the engagement range by mobility or literal speed. A combination of both, of course, is preferable. Thus, the Army had tested a precision strike missile that can reach targets at upwards of 499km, about 300 statute miles, which is just about what the third and nearest defensive layer of China’s A2/AD zones cover with organic and tactical submarine firepower (see graphic). Not only is the weapons platform being tested and vetted against real-world conditions, but the Army is fielding support-troops with virtual training capabilities so that the soldiers responsible for operating the weapons are developing in tandem with the missiles. Vast open locales are the stomping ground (pun intended) for big maneuver armies, but when those wide open expanses are the Pacific Ocean, that obviously limits the effectiveness of a maneuver army. Thus, a commitment to hypersonics alters the paradigm in which the Army maneuvers, and chiefly, how quickly it can do so.
Two prongs to encircle the A2/AD field then, range and speed, with a third fusing the weapons systems together — which is all-domain control. There are a variety of sub-programs that tie into the new vector for the Army in the next fight, Future Vertical Lift, sensor diversification, and integrating cyber as an offensive capability that augments the ecosystem of fires and fire deterrence. But the direction of long range precision fires looks to combine mass with speed, which is a critical advantage the current adversary-induced operational environment is predicated on mass or speed, two components that effectively deter American force projection as the inventory stands today.
Will Haugen Testimony Lead to Further Divergence on Platform Regulations?
Last week, Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen, the company insider who leaked internal documents that led to The Facebook Files, presented Congress with compelling testimony that has reopened the international conversation about regulating Facebook and other online platforms. Congress has hosted dozens of hearings on Big Tech in recent years — examining internet platforms’ role in the spread of disinformation, use of customer data, anti-competitive practices, and the implications of AI-driven algorithms. Often, these separate issues can be conflated in the minds of policymakers and the public. And in that vein, the incriminating Haugen hearing provides considerable fuel for those in Congress who have called for the federal government to regulate Big Tech writ large. However, given the impasse in Congress over major spending bills, it is unlikely that we will see meaningful actions on this front in the near term.
As Haugen is set to testify before the British Parliament and is expected to speak before the European Union, governments across the Atlantic may be compelled to double down on regulating platforms. This could, in turn, exacerbate the current U.S.-European tech regulation imbalance, pushing each side further away from common ground. Google, Facebook, Apple and Microsoft have all been fined by the European Commission for engaging in anticompetitive practices. The EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which is predicated on the principle that privacy is a fundamental human right, imposes strict limitations on the use of EU residents’ personal data with steep fines for noncompliance. Any company handling an EU person’s data must have a privacy officer on staff. Amazon was fined EUR 749 million for violating GDPR protections.
Additionally, the European Commission has proposed the Digital Services Act and the Digital Markets Act, which will set even tougher standards for tech companies doing business in EU countries. The bills are designed to simultaneously expand and protect the rights of consumers while curbing the anti-competitive practices. With both the GDPR and the pending Digital Services Act package, the European Union is on the forefront of regulating the world’s digital economy.
The deliberate multi-pronged EU strategy to rein in Big Tech stands in contrast to a disjointed and laissez-faire approach in the United States. One reason is that U.S. law governing competition policy and data privacy has not been updated for the digital age. The federal government addresses antitrust issues through the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). The FTC is designed to protect consumers from what are deemed “unfair or deceptive practices in or affecting commerce.” The FTC sued Facebook in December of 2020 alleging that the company was “maintaining its personal social networking monopoly through a years-long course of anticompetitive conduct,” and they have been in court ever since. The FTC Act’s ambiguous verbiage allows the government considerable leeway in how it chooses to check the power of companies like Facebook, but it was not designed to handle internet platforms. In the absence of an updated toolbox of policy options, the federal government must exercise discretion in which cases to pursue, resulting in a disorganized front against tech companies.
When it comes to data privacy, the United States lacks a comprehensive data privacy law at the federal level and relies on a patchwork of policies aimed at specific instances of potential data breaches. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), for example, protects communications between citizens and “covered entities” which include health professionals. Beyond HIPAA, there is the Children and Teens Online Privacy Protection Act, the Video Privacy Protection Act, the Electronic Communications Privacy Act and various other laws that fit together to form a spotty patchwork of limited data privacy protections. On the state level, California, Virginia, and Colorado have adopted comprehensive privacy laws. There are a dozen bills in Congress that would create a comprehensive federal data privacy law akin to the GDPR. These include legislation by Sens. Wicker and Blackburn and a bill introduced in multiple Congresses by Rep. DelBene. The latter has garnered support by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Business Software Alliance (BSA), and Amazon.
Despite the present energy in Congress to regulate Facebook, it is unlikely to amount to much in the way of meaningful legislation, given current Congressional priorities. There was appetite for regulation in 2018 after it was revealed that the political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica stole the personal data of ten of millions of Facebook users. The scandal resulted in no action on behalf of Congress.
In the digital age, policymakers on both sides of the Atlantic face the daunting task of balancing innovation with the need to protect their citizens online. It remains to be seen whether the latest Facebook revelations will result in more convergence or more divergence between Europe and the United States in terms of regulation of internet platforms.
News You Might Have Missed
Sunday October 10, Iraq held an election in response to 2019 protests against the political system and the lack of social services. Despite the mass turnout at these protests, the voter turnout for Sunday’s election was only 41% of eligible adults. The low voter turnout is a response to the lack of faith that individuals had in the election’s ability to lead to substantial change. The final results of the election will be announced on Monday; preliminary results indicate that cleric Moqtada al-Sadr’s party won the most votes and are expected to have over 70 seats in Parliament. Although it will be the largest party in Iraq’s Parliament, they will still need to enter negotiations with other groups to form a coalition. Sadr ran on a platform of nationalism and anti-foreign intervention, and has called for the end of U.S. military presence in the country.
As details emerge from the Pandora Papers, lawmakers in Chile have initiated impeachment proceedings against President Sebastian Pinera. Information revealed in the Pandora Papers have raised suspicions around Pinera’s business dealings, including the sale of Dominga mine. The mine was sold during Pinera’s first term in office through a company owned by his children; the contract included a controversial clause that prevented adding environmental protections in the mining area. This revelation is also coinciding with a dispute with the Indigenous Mapuche people, who are calling for the return of their ancestral lands. Demonstrating that the relationship between the government and the people, already experiencing turmoil, was further destabilized by the release of the Pandora Papers. The Chilean government will vote in early November to decide whether to indict Pinera.
The views of authors are their own, and not that of CSPC.