In Other News: Russian Authorities Sentence Navalny, US Continues to Back Venezuelan Opposition Leader & China’s Covid Diplomacy – February 4, 2021

February 4, 2021

Russian protests are continuing – albeit in smaller numbers – following the arrest and sentencing of Kremlin critic and opposition figure Alexey Navalny, who made his name in politics with videos exposing corruption among Russia’s political elites. Navalny was detained by Russian authorities on January 17 upon returning to Moscow from Germany, where he spent months convalescing after being poisoned with a nerve agent by Russian state security. He was sentenced this week to two years and eight months in a penal colony for embezzlement and will appear in court again tomorrow to face charges of defaming a veteran of World War II. The protests that broke out just after Navalny’s return were some of the largest seen in Russia in years and were met with beatings and mass detention of protesters. Russian security forces have also detained journalists – this week a news website editor who retweeted a reference to an anti-Kremlin protest on social media was given 25 days of jail time. The harsh crackdown may be effective in quelling visible unrest. Putin remains broadly popular across Russia, and since the fall of the Soviet Union, political activism among ordinary Russians has not managed to engender the kind of change that pushes the country in a more democratic (or just) direction. That said, escalating expressions of popular discontent are unpredictable, and there is no way to pinpoint the moment when momentum will convert a large-scale protest into a full-scale movement. Even if Russia is not yet at that point, activity on the ground suggests that despite Putin’s strong approval ratings, dissatisfaction with the ruling class is more widespread and runs deeper than the numbers might suggest. And these protests are a test not only for Russia’s domestic policy, but for U.S. foreign policy under President Biden. How the new administration addresses Russia in the wake of the Navalny sentencing and protests – as well as other instances of authoritarianism, human rights abuses, and crises of democracy around the world, such as this week’s coup in Myanmar – will be telling as to the U.S.’s overall foreign policy direction over the next four years.

Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó received a boost of confidence from the United States this week, even as Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro remains in power. On Wednesday, U.S. State Department spokesperson Ned Price noted that the Biden administration continues to recognize Guaidó as the legitimate interim leader of Venezuela and ruled out possible talks with Maduro. Guaidó declared himself the legitimate leader of Venezuela in 2019, and since then he has been recognized by more than 50 countries, including the U.S. and the EU. Last week, the EU issued a statement again condemning the Venezuelan government for fraudulent parliamentary elections held on December 6 and blamed Maduro for the ongoing political, economic, and humanitarian crisis in the country. While Guaidó has managed to retain international support, he remains an opposition figure in the country with no control over the Venezuelan government, military, or security forces. Further, his opposition coalition appears shaky, he lost his leadership position within the National Assembly, and average Venezuelans seem to have given up on protests as a way to oust Maduro. Still, supporting Guaidó serves to deprive Maduro of the international recognition and legitimacy he craves. The Biden administration is likely to use targeted sanctions to go after Maduro and his cronies for corruption, drug trafficking, and human rights abuses, and will work with the EU and Latin American partners on a multilateral approach to Venezuela. Whether the U.S. will lift existing oil sanctions on Venezuela, however, remains to be seen.

China has announced plans to donate coronavirus vaccines to Zimbabwe, Guinea, and Sierra Leone and help another 38 developing countries procure shots in the latest salvo in its Covid-19 assistance/vaccine diplomacy drive. The Zimbabwean and Guinean governments announced that China would donate 200,000 doses to each of their vaccination effort. The number allocated to Sierra Leone has not yet been announced, nor have plans for assistance to other developing countries. Widespread inoculation is critical to getting the virus under control, and programs to assist countries that have neither the capacity to develop their own nor the funds to pay market rates to procure them should be applauded. However, China has a history of turning foreign aid to its economic advantage. China has been the most important source of direct lending for a number of sub-Saharan African countries over the last 10+ years, but predatory lending practices – sometimes called “debt trap diplomacy” – have in some cases meant that governments are forced to use state-owned resources, such as oil, minerals, or port access as collateral for debt they could not otherwise service. This strategy has been employed not only in sub-Saharan Africa, but worldwide, with high-profile examples including China’s oil-for-loans deals with the cash-strapped governments of Ecuador and Venezuela. Expanding vaccinations in sub-Saharan Africa and elsewhere is to the benefit of both the countries receiving the shots and the broader international community, but recipient countries should be wary of the possibility that Beijing will expect favorable treatment in the future in exchange for its generosity.

In Other News: Russian Protests, Covid-19 Impacts on Mexico & More – January 29, 2021

January 29, 2021

Tens of thousands of Russians (possibly as many as 100,000) took to the streets last weekend in cities across the country to protest the arrest of opposition leader Alexey Navalny upon his return from Germany, where he was treated and convalesced after being poisoned by Russian state security services in August. More than 3,700 protestors were arrested, and video and photographic evidence of violent clashes and police beatings have been widely shared over the internet. Later in the week, authorities arrested Navalny’s brother and another close ally and a Russian court struck down an appeal of Navalny’s arrest. More demonstrations are planned for this coming weekend. Navalny claims that his arrest was politically motivated (a claim many consider credible). He rose to international prominence via a series of videos detailing corruption allegations against high-ranking Russian officials, including one that was put online the day after his return to Russia that purports to be footage of a $1 billion+ mansion/compound belonging to President Putin. Navalny’s poisoning and arrest – and what they imply about corruption and political repression in Russia – are not the only cause for discontent. Also at issue is the Russian economy. The Covid-19 pandemic and resulting impact on oil demand and prices has contributed to high unemployment and a sharp devaluation of the ruble, along with declining living standards and rising inflation. Despite the hardships facing Russians and their show of dissatisfaction with the government, we do not consider Putin or his allies in the Kremlin to be in political jeopardy. However, these protests, which follow a similarly surprising show of anti-Kremlin force as the October 2020 protests in Russia’s far east, suggest that the anger under the surface may be more powerful than is currently visible, and may also be growing. This is a situation that merits careful monitoring, both by the Kremlin and by those looking for signs of impending change in Russia.

Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador tested positive for Covid-19 on Sunday but continues to carry out his duties as president. López Obrador is isolated at the National Palace and experiencing only mild symptoms, according to Interior Minister Olga Sánchez, who said that he would return to his daily press conferences as soon as doctors give him clearance. López Obrador is 67 years old and considered high-risk, having had a heart attack in 2013, yet he has displayed a lax attitude toward the coronavirus for months. Mexico has recorded approximately 1,750,000 cases and 150,000 deaths from the coronavirus, and López Obrador has received much criticism for his handling of the crisis. In contrast to many other large economies, Mexico has not provided fiscal stimulus to combat the negative economic impacts of the pandemic. Even Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, who also got Covid and whose handling of the pandemic has been criticized, spent the equivalent of 12% of its GDP to provide assistance to its population. Mexico has dedicated a scant 0.7% of its GDP to address the crisis, and its economy in 2020 shrank by 8.5%, its biggest annual contraction since the Great Depression. Even though Q4 saw some recovery, economists are now concerned that surges in the virus – particularly in and around Mexico City, which is experiencing new restrictions to slow the spread – could halt growth in Q1 2021.

A documentary detailing the origins of the Covid-19 pandemic in Wuhan, China is expected to paint a damning picture of alleged attempts to suppress information about the outbreak and will almost certainly elicit a fierce backlash from Beijing. Reports suggest that the film, set for release by HBO later this year, persuasively contradicts the narrative that China’s handling of the virus was a success. China has long resisted a thorough accounting of where the virus originated and how it spread, leaving an information vacuum that gave rise to numerous theories (including some of the tin foil hat variety). While Beijing’s goal may have been to downplay any responsibility for a pandemic that has killed more than 2 million worldwide, its secrecy fueled speculation that there was something incriminating to hide. Adding to that speculation are recordings of WHO officials from early on in the pandemic, leaked to reporters, complaining of a lack of transparency on China’s part. China has made a priority of casting its role in containing and battling the virus in a positive light. The country was quick to offer international assistance (with mixed success – several countries reported that Chinese-made Covid tests were faulty) and is suspected of attempting to steal vaccine research in an effort to take the lead in developing an effective shot. Beijing even released its own government-made film last week, “Heroic hymn of the people,” to disseminate its narrative about how events unfolded. A WHO team deployed to Wuhan to for a long-delayed investigation of the pandemic’s origins was released from quarantine yesterday and is set to begin field work today. Their methods and results will be under intense scrutiny, and their findings will be critical to identifying potential sources of future pandemics and developing plans for containing the damage. Any effort on Beijing’s part to obstruct research or prevent full findings from being made public will only strengthen suspicions about China’s role in unleashing the worst pandemic in a century and undermine its attempts to cast itself as the hero.

In Other News: Suicide Bombings in Baghdad, US-Mexico Relations & More – January 22, 2021

January 22, 2021

Twin suicide bombings in Tayaran Square in central Baghdad yesterday killed more than 30 and wounded more than 100, the first suicide bombing in Iraq’s capital city in two years. ISIS has claimed responsibility for the attack. While ISIS and other militant groups have been involved in a spate of incidents across the country in recent months, attacks in the capital have been far less common. However, warnings have been escalating about a resurgent ISIS, and further attacks in Baghdad cannot be ruled out. Though the group was officially defeated in 2017, the drawdown of US troops from Iraq, combined with domestic unrest and the economic impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and low oil prices, have created an opening for it to regroup. Also contributing to the precarious security situation in Baghdad is the exchange of fire between Iran-backed militias operating in Iraq and U.S. and Coalition security forces and facilities, including a rocket attack that damaged the U.S. Embassy compound on December 21. The change of administration in the U.S. is likely to usher in large shifts to Washington’s posture toward Iran (including efforts to reengage in a nuclear deal) which could mitigate U.S.-Iran clashes within Iraq, and possibly toward Iraq, as well. Biden’s incoming Secretary of Defense, retired General Lloyd Austin, oversaw the withdrawal of forces from Iraq in 2011, only for the decision to be reversed following ISIS success in overrunning large swaths of the country. Austin was also involved in developing the military strategy that ultimately led to the (temporary) defeat of ISIS. The trajectory of U.S. policy in Iraq is not yet clear, but hopefully President Biden and General Austin’s past Iraq experience will ensure that they not lose sight of the threat ISIS poses to the region, even as the administration grapples with domestic public health and economic issues.

Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador called on President Biden to make good on campaign promises for immigration reform. Indeed, Biden’s number two issue after dealing with the pandemic appears to be immigration. He has already sent to Congress a proposal for comprehensive immigration reform creating a pathway to citizenship for 11 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S. and signed executive orders rolling back Trump-era policies such as the “remain in Mexico” program for asylum seekers and construction of the border wall. Mexico has long wanted U.S. immigration reform, including a path for dual citizenship for Mexican nationals working in the U.S. More recently, Mexico has called on the U.S. to do more to support Central Americans suffering from crime, poverty, the pandemic, and recent natural disasters. This has become all the more urgent, as another caravan of more than 8,000 Honduran nationals crossed into Guatemala this week in their northbound quest to reach the United States. For his part, Biden’s proposed legislation includes $4 billion over four years to Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras to address the concerns that are causing people to flee. He has also appointed former U.S. Ambassador to Mexico Roberta Jacobson to coordinate southwest border security policy with the hope of managing these security challenges together with Mexico and Central America. López Obrador should welcome this engagement, even if he also seems concerned about an increased level of American meddling in Mexico’s internal affairs, particularly when it comes to labor laws, the environment, and human rights. The immigration debate in the United States will no doubt be fraught, but immigration reform may open avenues for further cooperation between the United States and Mexico.

President Biden’s quick moves on environmental policy – rejoining the Paris Climate Agreement, cancelling the Keystone XL pipeline, and revisiting a Trump-era rollback of limits on methane emissions in the oil and gas value chain – will spark a short-term backlash but will ultimately make the US oil and gas industry more competitive globally. Cancelling Keystone XL, which was intended to deliver crude from Canadian oil sands to US Gulf Coast refineries, presents a rough start for the US-Canada economic relationship. Canada has long considered the pipeline an economic priority. But the oil market has undergone a fundamental shift since the line was first proposed more than a decade ago, and current dynamics of abundant oil and low prices make oil sands less viable regardless. Furthermore, as wealthier countries develop and implement national climate and emissions agendas, at least some of them are likely to establish emissions standards for imported goods. The EU has proposed binding methane emissions standards for imported oil and gas, and market chatter suggests that other oil and gas importers, particularly in Asia, are beginning to express an openness to paying a premium for “greener” imports. All this points to a global market in which oil and gas produced without environmental accounting and safeguards might be less palatable to the world’s biggest buyers and would thus put exports from countries with lax environmental standards at a disadvantage. If global trends in environmental awareness continue on this trajectory, emissions standards for imported goods may eventually expand to other regions and apply not only to oil and gas, but to goods across the board. Ultimately, a move toward alignment with international attitudes on environment and climate will likely mean better market access for U.S. industries in general.

“Russia’s Cyber-Attack on US Intel,” Jack Devine on WLS-AM 890 Chicago Radio, January 14, 2021

TAG President Jack Devine talked about the recent Russian hack with WLS-AM 890 Chicago Radio. As a 32-year CIA veteran, Jack underscored the scale of the attack as the largest cyber-attack in history. Jack also discussed the damage that’s been done and how cyber warfare will continue to grow in the future.

Russia’s cyber-attack on US intel

“Biden’s Day 1 Russia problem” – OpEd by Jack Devine in The Hill – January 11, 2021

Biden’s Day 1 Russia Problem

By Jack Devine

January 11, 2021

After a half-century of closely observing how our adversaries surreptitiously collect intelligence on the United States and our friends across the globe, few espionage operations trouble me more than the recent Russian cyber attack on our federal agencies. Not only is this one of the largest and most potentially damaging hacks of all time, but it represents a dangerous escalation in the spy v. spy struggle in which the intelligence world has engaged for decades. How President-elect Biden responds will complicate his opening days and possibly define his legacy.

The outlines of the Russian attack are starting to reveal themselves and serve as a wake-up call for all. As the U.S. Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency has warned, hackers who pose “a grave risk to the federal government” attacked the SolarWinds IT management software suite in March 2020. Malware was then installed by more than 17,000 customers, SolarWinds reported, including some of our most sensitive federal agencies. The list of victims includes the State Department, Homeland Security, Energy, Treasury and on and on.

The news should have stunned no one. Since the end of World War II, Russia’s intelligence assault against the U.S. has been unrelenting. During the Trump era, the Russians have felt even more unconstrained. Following its galling 2016 interference in the U.S. elections, Russia has sought to disrupt the internal affairs and elections of other Western countries, including Great Britain, the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Montenegro, Norway and Spain. The assaults have taken the form of cyber attacks, disinformation campaigns, funding for pro-Russian parties, and direct election interference. Recent criminal indictments and intelligence assessments suggest that Russia sought to continue its meddling in both the 2018 and the 2020 American elections, albeit on a smaller scale.

While weaponizing communications technologies, engaging in illicit financial schemes, and employing asymmetrical, anonymized strategies to sow chaos, Russia has made strange alliances with non-state actors. Some, focused on disinformation, are well-known — such as WikiLeaks and the now infamous Internet Research Agency. Others are more obscure, according to news reports and analyses from subject matter experts.

In one case, a well-known ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, Yevgeny Prigozhin, known as “Putin’s chef,” reportedly financed private militias in Syria. The news media and intelligence pundits also report that Russian intelligence controls Sci-Hub, the illegal platform that many academics use to gain free access to scientific papers that otherwise require university and academic subscriptions. As reported by the media, the founder of Sci-Hub is under scrutiny “on suspicion that she may also be working with Russian intelligence to steal U.S. military secrets from defense contractors.” Furthermore, there are recent reports of Russian cyber attacks on U.S. hospitals researching COVID-19 and treating patients. Russia has targeted our elections, our military, our alliances, our schools, and even our pandemic response.

Biden needs to dramatically expand our intelligence programs targeting Russia and its S.V.R. spy agency. This renewed effort should include espionage, counterintelligence and, yes, covert action. We are way past the time of shooting a metaphorical cyber-tomahawk into an empty desert to send Putin a strong message. President-elect Biden needs to thwart Russian intelligence efforts in real time. Second, we need to increase our sub rosa dialogue to encourage the Russians to re-think their relentless intelligence assault. This dialogue should happen at the spy-to-spy and diplomat-to-diplomat level.

The Russians have crassly broken the unspoken rules of the road. They have moved from intelligence collection to all-out attacks on our democratic system. The 2016 election hacks show that the Russians are in a position to weaponize the knowledge gleaned from the SolarWinds hack today. Should they act on this capability and shut down our power grid, or go directly after our defense systems, this tit-for-tat response would be highly dangerous. Our cyber operations would transform into cyber warfare overnight.

Jack Devine served as the CIA’s acting director of operations and associate director of operations from 1995 to 1996. He led the covert-action operation that drove the Russians out of Afghanistan. Today, he is a founding partner and president of The Arkin Group. He is the author of Good Hunting: An American Spymaster’s Story and Spymaster’s Prism: The Fight against Russian Aggression, which will be published in March 2021.

In Other News: World Leaders React to Violence in Washington, Russia Behind Hack, Iran Resumes Enriching Uranium to 20% & More – January 8, 2021

January 8, 2021

Foreign governments around the world reacted to the violence in Washington on January 6 with shock and condemnation. Several American allies condemned the storming of the U.S. Capitol and called for a peaceful transition to the incoming Biden administration. UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson expressed shock at the “disgraceful scenes,” while German Chancellor Angela Merkel said she regrets that President Trump has not accepted the results of the 2020 presidential election. Adversaries have also weighed in, with the Russian foreign ministry criticizing the U.S. electoral system and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani saying the events show the fragility of Western democracy. Notwithstanding the criticism, world leaders like Canadian Prime Minster Justin Trudeau commented on the underlying strength of U.S. democratic institutions, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reminded the world that American democracy has inspired millions of people for generations. It is true that there is no place for violence in our democracy, where differences are worked out through debate and elections. The peaceful transfer of power is critical to our democracy. The violence in Washington is not part of that American tradition, and when democracy is attacked in one country, it is attacked everywhere. Americans need to work to restore our faith in democracy and to preserve and protect our Constitution. Hopefully the events in Washington will be a reminder of both the strength of our democratic institutions and that the work for a more perfect union continues.

A group of U.S. intelligence agencies has publicly named Russia as the likely party behind a series of devastating hacks last year that compromised several branches of the U.S. government and a number of private sector firms. Russia has been the presumed perpetrator since the news broke, but its identification by the FBI, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI), the National Security Agency (NSA), and the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) adds new weight to the U.S. need for a coherent and assertive response. As further details have emerged about the extent of the breach, its scope has grown more alarming. The hackers managed to access Microsoft source code, meaning that any entity using Microsoft products could be vulnerable to cyberattacks. As noted before, incoming president Biden needs to leverage the full suite of U.S. cyber capabilities to both strike back and defend U.S. infrastructure and assets, but ultimately the U.S. and Russia will need to establish ground rules on cyber warfare to head off future, more severe escalations. The U.S. and Russia will also need to find a way forward on negotiating an extension of the New START Treaty. At the same time, the U.S. under a Biden administration is likely to draw closer to NATO, take a harsher line on human rights and democracy issues, and display a deep, healthy, and very public skepticism of the intentions of Vladimir Putin. These competing priorities will require the new administration to walk a fine line between cooperation and conflict, which will present it with plenty of opportunities for missteps.

Iran notified the International Atomic Energy Agency on Monday that it has resumed enriching uranium to 20% at its Fordow nuclear facility, an open violation of the 2015 nuclear deal signed with powers including the US, UK, and China. The deal prohibits Tehran from enriching uranium at or bringing uranium to Fordow, formerly a covert enrichment facility, for 15 years. Also this week, Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) seized a South Korean oil tanker in the Persian Gulf, ostensibly for violating environmental laws, but in reality as retaliation for freezing $7 billion in Iranian funds that are subject to U.S. sanctions. The incoming Biden administration was expected to try to resuscitate the nuclear deal – from which the U.S. withdrew in 2018 – in a reversal of the Trump administration’s “maximum pressure” campaign. These Iranian escalations could encourage Biden’s nascent foreign policy team to modify or even jettison that ambition, but they also could be designed specifically to bring the U.S. back to the negotiating table. Iran’s foreign minister used Twitter to send the message that its steps toward further enrichment could be reversed if all signatories of the 2015 deal were to comply with it in full. The Biden administration is likely to stay the course of seeking a deal to stave off further proliferation, but the legacy of tit-for-tat escalations under the Trump administration may make both sides even more wary.

China arrested at least 53 Hong Kong citizens with links to the island’s pro-democracy movement before dawn on Wednesday in what is widely thought to be the nail in the coffin for what remains of opposition to mainland authority. While we anticipate that the incoming Biden administration will take a harder line on China’s violations of human rights and democratic norms than the Trump administration did, there is limited scope for the U.S. to intervene, though additional sanctions are possible. Furthermore, Beijing has used this week’s recent breach of the U.S. Capitol to argue that its Hong Kong arrests were intended to avoid exactly that type of situation. U.S. plans to pressure China have also been undermined by the EU’s decision to finalize an investment treaty with Beijing late last year, despite the incoming Biden administration’s request for consultation prior to the EU moving forward. The move has been heavily criticized in Europe as sacrificing values for economic gain, and it satisfies Beijing’s objective of clinching the deal before the Biden administration can bring to bear its strategy of forming a coalition of allies to push back on China in various spheres, including human rights, trade, and military expansion. The deal has not yet been ratified by the EU parliament but is likely to be sealed this year and will complicate US efforts.

In Other News: Vaccine Progress Improves Global Economic Outlook, Brexit Trade Deal Passes, and the Threat of Russian Aggression – December 31, 2020

December 31, 2020

Progress on the Covid-19 vaccines, including the UK approval of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine on December 30, has helped improve the global economic outlook for 2021. Most economists believe we will see global growth between 4% and 5% in 2021, with the United States at about 4% according to the U.S. Federal Reserve. The rollout of the coronavirus vaccines in the United States and around the world will inevitably dictate the pace of recovery, but immunologists believe the approval of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine could be a game-changer – particularly in emerging markets. While clinical trials indicated that the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine has only 70% efficacy compared to 95% for the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, it is substantially cheaper (at $3 or $4) and easier to transport, handle, and store. The UK is the first to authorize its use and India, Argentina, Brazil, and South Africa could soon follow, allowing for vaccinations across large swaths of the globe and, in turn, fueling the global economic recovery. Good news on the vaccine front along with increased government spending, like the U.S. Covid Relief bill signed into law by President Trump on December 27, will help stave off the worst of the economic damage from 2020 and a difficult first quarter in 2021 still to come. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), which said the early economic impacts of Covid-19 were 10x those experienced in the first months of the 2008 global financial crisis, forecasts global economic growth will average about 4% over the next two years but that economic recovery will be uneven across the globe. More optimistic, however, economists with Morgan Stanley see global growth closer to 5% in 2021, with all geographies and sectors joining the global economic recovery by March or April thanks to the rollout of the vaccines.

The British Parliament passed the trade deal between Britain and the European Union in a vote of 521 to 73, making this the final step in the long slog to realize the Brexit vote of June 2016. The trade deal, passed on December 30, establishes the economic relationship between Britain and the European Union going forward and, with just one day to spare, helped avoid the potential chaos of a “no-deal” Brexit. This is a huge win for British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who has been negotiating the terms of the deal with the EU while also leading the UK’s response to the coronavirus pandemic over the past year. The deal provides Britain tariff-free access to European markets, but in accordance with the Brexit promise, Britain will no longer be a member of the European Union’s single market and customs union. Britain left the EU politically last January but had remained under existing EU economic rules for 2020, in a transition period during which Johnson negotiated with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen to sever Britain from economic integration with the EU. Johnson has long argued that the short-term economic pain of Brexit will be worth the sovereignty and economic independence gained in the long-term. Brexit skeptics in the Labour Party ultimately voted with Johnson’s Conservative Party to pass the bill, recognizing that in the midst of a pandemic, a “thin deal” would be better than the potential catastrophe of a “no-deal.” The pros and cons of Brexit are sure to be debated for years to come, but at least for now, Britain and the EU can put Brexit to bed.

The recent cyberattacks on the U.S. government by Russian hackers present an immediate national security challenge for the incoming Biden administration. While President Trump has doubted the role of Russia in the SolarWinds hack, President-elect Biden is likely to take a harder line on Russian President Vladimir Putin. The hackers, believed to be part of Russia’s foreign intelligence service (SVR), subverted SolarWinds software to penetrate U.S. government and private sector networks with the apparent objective of gaining access to their data. The extent of the hack is still not fully known, and this will need to be a focus of the incoming administration as it fortifies the U.S. government’s defense systems. At the same time, Biden could decide to use cyber weapons in an offensive strategy – either in retaliatory counter-attacks or to preempt future attacks. Already, Biden has said he is in favor of cyber weapons under the control of the U.S. military’s Cyber Command, NSA, and the CIA. Ultimately, the United States and Russia will need new ground rules when it comes to cyber warfare, which will eventually require tough negotiations between the two countries and with other major players, such as China. But cyber is not the only bilateral issue with Russia that Biden will need to deal with immediately upon taking office – the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) is set to expire on February 5. Biden is likely to extend this agreement, which is the last remaining nuclear arms control treaty between the United States and Russia, but it will be left with no time to negotiate anything other than the extension. Biden’s Russia policy has yet to take shape, but it is clear that Russian aggression will continue to be a threat to U.S. national security, democracy, and global stability in 2021 and into the foreseeable future.

Wishing you all a healthy and happy New Year! Hope to see you in 2021!

“Hackers May Be Deeply Embedded In DoD,” Jack Devine on Bloomberg Radio, December 21, 2020

Former chief of CIA’s worldwide operations, founding partner and President of The Arkin Group, and author of the new book Spymaster’s Prism: The Fight Against Russian Aggression, Jack Devine discussed the gravity of the massive cyber hack by Russia, today on Bloomberg Radio, hosted by Paul Sweeney and Vonnie Quinn. Jack talked about the scale of the cyberattack on U.S. government agencies. He said, “Collecting intelligence around the world is a common event, but the magnitude of going into every aspect of our defense system, is really over the top, an extremely aggressive thing … I think we’re only looking at the tip of the iceberg here.” According to Jack, Russian hackers are deeply embedded in DoD and our defense contracting industry. Regarding the history of Russian aggression against the United States, Jack said there have been continuous intelligence activities over the last 25 years. He noted that the Russians are still using the Cold War strategy to put the United States off balance. Jack commented that Russian interference in the 2016 election is an example whereby Russia is now going beyond just the collection of intelligence, and now with the information they have from the 2020 cyber hack, they will be in a position to take further action against us. Jack believes we are looking at the same dynamics as we were in the Cold War with nuclear weapons, and while cyber weapons are not kinetic, they are nonetheless damaging. “We need new ground rules,” according to Jack who believes the United States and Russia should negotiate the rules of the game when it comes to cyber warfare. Jack said, “If someone thought Russia hasn’t been in an adversarial role, this should be a wake-up call.”

“Hackers May Be Deeply Embedded In DoD,” Bloomberg Radio, December 21, 2020

Spymaster’s Prism: The Fight Against Russian Aggression, by Jack Devine

Announcing A New Book By Jack Devine – Spymaster’s Prism

Friends, colleagues, and collaborators,

I am delighted to announce the publication of my second book, Spymaster’s Prism, available for pre-order now at Potomac Books and Amazon.

My goal in writing Spymaster’s Prism was to offer my perspective on Russia’s decades of unceasing attempts to subvert our democracy and how to devise strategies to counter these assaults. Americans are facing a high level of internal division, and as we strive to address what divides us, it is critical that we not lose sight of the need to defend our democracy from nefarious external actors, including Russia.

I wish you all a safe and happy holiday!


Spymaster’s Prism

In Spymaster’s Prism the legendary former spymaster Jack Devine details the unending struggle with Russia and its intelligence agencies as it works against our national security. Devine tells this story through the unique perspective of a seasoned CIA professional who served more than three decades, some at the highest levels of the agency. He uses his gimlet-eyed view to walk us through the fascinating spy cases and covert action activities of Russia, not only through the Cold War past but up to and including its interference in the Trump era. Devine also looks over the horizon to see what lies ahead in this struggle and provides prescriptions for the future.

Based on personal experience and exhaustive research, Devine builds a vivid and complex mosaic that illustrates how Russia’s intelligence activities have continued uninterrupted throughout modern history, using fundamentally identical policies and techniques to undermine our democracy. He shows in stark terms how intelligence has been modernized and weaponized through the power of the cyber world.

Devine presents his analysis using clear-eyed vision and a repertoire of better-than-fiction spy stories, giving us an objective, riveting, and candid take on U.S.-Russia relations. He offers key lessons from our intelligence successes and failures over the past seventy-five years that will help us determine how to address our current strategic shortfall, emerge ahead of the Russians, and be prepared for what’s to come from any adversary.

In Other News: Russian Hack on U.S. Government, Mexico and Brazil Congratulate Biden & More – December 18, 2020

December 18, 2020

Hackers believed to be from Russia’s foreign intelligence service, or SVR, penetrated a range of U.S. government agencies in what has been described as “a grave risk” to the federal, state, local, and tribal governments as well as critical infrastructure and other private sector entities. The hack was nothing short of stunning in its breadth and audacity. The State, Treasury, Commerce, Agriculture, and Homeland Security Departments, as well as the National Institutes of Health, were all successfully breached. As updates have continued to roll in, it has emerged that even the nuclear weapons agency was breached, though the Department of Energy and National Nuclear Security Administration have said that the malware used in the attack affected their business operations but remained outside of internal national security networks. Much remains unknown about the operation, including definitive identification of the perpetrators, how long ago it began, and the full extent of which entities were compromised. Also unknown is whether hackers were able to access classified information or just data stored on unclassified systems. However, it is a near-unanimous assessment that this was highly sophisticated, creative, and well-resourced, and that the potential fallout will be difficult to predict. This incident is also ratcheting up international calls for a multilateral agreement to establish rules of the road, similar to those that govern more traditional forms of warfare, to hold authoritarian regimes and other bad state actors to account.

Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador and Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro congratulated President-elect Biden this week. López Obrador and Bolsonaro, who were both seen as close to President Trump over the last four years, had withheld their congratulatory remarks for Biden until this week, presumably allowing for Trump’s legal challenges to make their way through the courts and for the Electoral College to meet on December 16. López Obrador said that he had intentionally waited until after the Electoral College met before sending a letter to Biden, while Bolsonaro sent his congratulations via Twitter. Both López Obrador and Bolsonaro emulated Trump in their own ways, most recently in their response to the Covid-19 pandemic, but it is likely that they will both want a working relationship with the incoming Biden administration too. In his letter to Biden, López Obrador noted that maintaining good relations with the United States is one of his top priorities given that the United States is Mexico’s top trading partner. This is pragmatic. With Latin America’s economy set to contract by approximately 8% this year, López Obrador and Bolsonaro know that the countries of the region will need U.S. support coming out of the pandemic. Also, Biden will need to work with Mexico and Brazil on several top issues of interest to the United States, including energy and climate issues; counternarcotics, migration, and border security; as well as the thorny issue of Venezuela. On all of these foreign policy fronts, Biden will need commitments and cooperation from Mexico and Brazil, the two largest economies in Latin America and leaders in the region in their own right.

An Indian call-center scam defrauded more than 4,500 Americans out of more than $14 million by telling victims that law enforcement authorities were freezing their assets because their bank account details had been found at crime scenes linked to Mexican and Colombian drug cartels. The victims would then transfer funds (in various forms, including bitcoins) to purported government accounts to avoid going to jail. Police in Delhi have arrested 50 people for their involvement in the scam. According to police, the scammers – who were trained to speak with American accents – were employed by an Indian man based in Dubai, UAE, who paid them $400-$500 a month with extra monetary rewards for those who showed particular skill in getting people to quickly accede to demands for funds. Call center and online fraud operations are so common in India that there are police units dedicated to them, and with India now officially in recession and facing a long road ahead to return to growth, these types of scams are likely to proliferate.

The U.S. Commerce Department is blacklisting more than 60 Chinese firms today for enabling human rights abuses, supporting the Chinese military in operations and island-building in what the international community considers illegitimate claims to the South China Sea, purchasing U.S. goods on behalf of the Chinese military, and theft of intellectual property and trade secrets. Blacklisted firms include Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corp, which is critical to Beijing’s ambition to reduce its reliance on U.S. semiconductor manufacturers, thereby being less vulnerable to punitive trade actions. This is only the latest salvo in an escalating series of actions by the U.S. that appear designed not only to punish China for a variety of infractions – state and corporate espionage, territorial adventurism, legitimate human rights abuses, particularly against its Muslim Uighur minority – but also to lock the incoming Biden administration into policies that take aggressive aim at limiting the influence of Chinese companies in the U.S. and globally. However, Beijing will likely continue to keep its responses targeted and restrained in hopes of finding a new equilibrium with the incoming Biden administration.