EXECUTIVE INTELLIGENCE SUMMARY – 07 April 2017 🔒
[wcm_nonmember]In this EXSUM… (2971 words)
- BLUF: A recap of last night’s attack on Syria
- Russia, China, and North Korean SITREPs
- Current Status of the National Security Council
- US Southern Command: 75 percent of known drug shipments evade interception
- Moscow and Beijing to bypass US dollar in world money market
- JP Morgan Chase’s financial/geopolitical outlook
- Rogers: Outlook on energy and trade wars
- And more…
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[wcm_restrict plan =”fo-osint”]
Bottom Line Up Front: The President already had a busy week ahead of preparing for his meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping scheduled for Thursday, but was interrupted by a foreign policy matter elsewhere. There are three significant story lines to follow concerning this week’s events in Syria. The first is the circumstances of the chemical strike. The second is the domestic political atmosphere that may have contributed to the US military response. The third is the response from Russia.
On Tuesday, chemical weapons killed, by some reports, at least 86 Syrians, including at least two dozen children, in Idlib Province. Multiple foreign outlets cited autopsies carried out in Turkey that found the effects of Sarin gas were the cause of death. The Trump administration immediately blamed Syrian President Bashar al-Assad for the chemical attack. The Russians immediately pointed to a Syrian air strike which they allege hit a rebel-held chemical storage facility, resulting in a deadly leak. Rebels in Syria have used chemical attacks in the previous years. Both scenarios are plausible.
On Wednesday, Senator John McCain (R-AZ) called the president and urged action against the Assad regime. “I said, obviously I think we need to act. You don’t have to be Barack Obama. The worst thing you can do is say you’re going to act and don’t act.” McCain later told reporters, “I know [Trump’s] appalled and I cannot predict exactly what he’s going to do. But I do believe Gen. Mattis and Gen. McMaster are the people whose judgment I would rely on.”
By Thursday morning, President Trump was interviewed aboard Air Force One on his way to Mar-a-Lago to meet with Chinese President Xi. Trump said, “I think what happened in Syria is a disgrace to humanity. He’s there, and I guess he’s running things, so something should happen.” (In hindsight, that should have been a very good indicator.) Meanwhile at a press conference, when asked about pursuing regime change in Syria, SECSTATE Tillerson said, “Those steps are underway.” Tillerson laid out the case that Russia was given the reigns in Syria to prevent another chemical attack during a 2013 agreement. Failing to prevent a chemical weapons attack, Tillerson said, Russia did not uphold its end of the bargain. President Trump requested military options in reprisal for the chemical attack, and then ordered a cruise missile strike. That decision was made upon international intelligence collaboration to determine the nature of the alleged chemical weapons attack.
On Thursday night, the US Navy launched a total of 59 cruise missiles against Al-Shayrat Airfield, where the US alleges the strike originated. In a video statement, President Trump said that the strike was intended to “prevent and deter the spread and use of deadly chemical weapons.” A statement from the Pentagon said that the strike “targeted aircraft, hardened aircraft shelters, petroleum and logistical storage, ammunition supply bunkers, air defense systems, and radars.” It went on to say that, “Every precaution was taken to execute this strike with minimal risk to personnel at the airfield,” and that Russian military officials were warned before the attack occurred. Several outlets reported that Arab states were consulted before the attack, and the strike had international backing. It’s unclear right now what the casualties from the strike were. Since the US alerted the Russians before the strike, the Syrian military would have presumably had some time to evacuate mobile equipment.
When pressed for evidence that Tuesday’s event was indeed the result of a chemical weapons attack carried out by the Syrian military, unidentified US intelligence officials late Thursday night said that they were using radar to track the aircraft that carried out the alleged chemical attack, and were able to observe heat signatures from the chemical rockets fired from that aircraft. If US intelligence is correct, then Russian advisors at Al-Shayrat Airfield would have certainly known about chemical weapons storage there, and would have likely known prior to Tuesday’s chemical attack. Early this morning, Russian officials called that accusation baseless and accused the US of violating international law. Over the past year, Russian officials have repeatedly warned the US about attacking Syria. One official characterized Russian policy is to treat an attack on Syria as an attack on Russia. Last October, a spokesperson for the Russian Foreign Ministry warned that a US strike against the Syrian military would lead to “terrible, tectonic shifts” across the region.
In a series of statements released by the Russian Ministry of Defence, Russian military officials criticized the effectiveness of the US strike. Citing their data that showed that only 23 of 59 cruise missiles hit the airbase, “The combat effectiveness of the US massive missile strike on Syria’s airbase was thus very low.” The MoD also allege that the airbase’s runway was undamaged, and that the attack also killed civilians. Russian officials have also criticized the strike for playing into the hands of the Islamic State, now that Syria lacks an airbase from which to run missions.
There’s no doubt, though, that Vladimir Putin looks weak through this. The Russian military’s mission in Syria was to keep Assad in power and prevent a US attack like the one we saw last night. I think this is a black eye for Putin, and we should expect a response. Although some have warned that a Russian military response would be imminent, I think we should look elsewhere. For starters, I think we could see Russia’s defensive efforts re-doubled as they work to prevent another US strike against Syrian military targets. Keep in mind that their military expedition in Syria has been limited to mostly air strikes with low scale ground operations, and their logistics have been deeply strained to prop up what limited operations they do have there. In other words, Russia is not prepared to fight in Syria.
Russia excels in political warfare against soft targets, not military warfare against hard targets. Right now, the US military, despite all its troubles, is still a hard target. But politically, with a fractured Republican base and an agitated Leftist resistance; I think there’s a better play for Russia. They can target Trump where it really hurts — in public opinion and in the minds of US allies.
In a social media post, Russian Prime Minister Medvedev referred to Trump’s pledges to avoid further entanglements in the Middle Easy, saying, “Right after his [Trump’s] election I said that all will depend on how quickly the existing machine of power will break Trump’s election pledges. It needed ten weeks.” Medvedev went on to criticize Trump on a number of issues, including being dependent on the Washington establishment; violating international law; and finally ordering military operations without the approval of Congress — all of which are legitimate points. I think we’ll see a concerted effort to undermine Trump’s influence, starting with the American People.
(You can read last night’s press conference with SECSTATE Tillerson and National Security Advisor McMaster here.)
(ADMIN NOTE: We finally have the new FO Members Area up and running. Remember that it’s in beta right now, which means that we’re still testing some stuff, working out some kinks, and refining how it looks and feels. In this article, I’ve included several links to reports in the Members Area. Eventually we’ll move this EXSUM and all intelligence reporting over to this area of the website. You can access it now by using your regular username and password at: https://members.forwardobserver.com. Once we’ve tested everything out and we’re ready to be live (o/a 14 APR), I’ll send out an email letting you know. Feedback from the new site is requested.)
Priority Intelligence Requirements:
PIR1: What are the current indicators of systems disruption or instability that could lead to civil unrest or violence?
PIR2: What are the current indicators of an outbreak of global conflict?
PIR3: What are the current indicators of organized political violence?
PIR4: What are the current indicators of economic, financial, or monetary instability?
PIR1: What are the current indicators of systems disruption that could lead to instability, civil unrest, or violence?
Current Status of the National Security Council (NSC)
This week, White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon was removed from the NSC, which is not insignificant because there have been unverified reports that Bannon has considered or is considering resigning from the Trump administration. Bannon is an outsider to the national security cabal, and few aside from President Trump ever favored him on the Principles Committee of the NSC. It could be the case, as one anonymous official told Bloomberg, that Bannon was monitoring Flynn. Bannon has a very return-to-traditional-America outlook, while McMaster is as mainstream as one gets, so it could be the case that Bannon was removed to focus on more domestic policy/political issues, assuage Democrats and Republicans concerns, and decrease conflict over national security at the NSC. See the full report for more info.
US Southern Command: 75 percent of known drug shipments evade interception
Admiral Kurt Tidd, Head of US Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) told the Senate Armed Services Committee that 75 percent of known drug shipments in the region slip past SOUTHCOM due to the command’s lack of resources.
PIR2: What are the current indicators of an outbreak of global conflict?
The prospects of global conflict continue to revolve four geopolitical actor: Russia, China, Iran, and North Korea. In the event of war with any of these nations, consider domestic systems disruption a distinct possibility.
This week, the top general at US Strategic Command said that there’s currently no defense against Russian nuclear-tipped cruise missiles. “We have no defense for it, especially in defense of our European allies. That system can range and threaten most of the continent of Europe depending on where it is deployed. … It is a concern and we’re going to have to figure out how to deal with it as a nation.” While mainly affecting the European continent, these missiles don’t have the range to target the US mainland from current Russian platforms.
Due to following last night’s events in Syria, the NATO-Russia SITREP is short this week.
This week, Filipino President Duterte ordered his military to occupy all islands, reefs, and shoals in the Spratly Islands to prevent Chinese de facto annexation. President Duterte even claimed that he would personally travel to the islands to raise the Filipino flag himself. After criticizing the US last month for not sending the US Navy to protect Philippine’s territory against the Chinese, Duterte said on Thursday that, “It looks like there’s a race to grab islands. What is ours now, we should get and make a strong point that it is ours.” This is a significant turn as Duterte has wobbled on the fence that separates his relations with the US and China. Overall, this is good news for US foreign policy now that the Philippines are stepping up their fight against illegal Chinese expansion in the South China Sea. A short time later, Filipino defense officials clarified Duterte’s statements, saying that perhaps the Philippines wouldn’t go so far as to occupy every single piece of land in the Spratly Islands; just those with existing structures.
Meanwhile, in between ordering a military strike on Syria and posing for photo-ops, President Trump had time to meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping. The talks were scheduled to focus heavily on North Korea. Earlier this week, Trump was quoted as saying, “if China is not going to solve North Korea, we will”. According to a White House release, President Trump had very positive remarks about the meeting, saying that progress was made, without elaborating other than saying, “I believe lots of very potentially bad problems will be going away.”
North Korea SITREP
In response to another ballistic missile test, SECSTATE Tillerson released a terse statement on Tuesday that read, “North Korea launched yet another intermediate range ballistic missile. The United States has spoken enough about North Korea. We have no further comment.” It appears that China has little to no control over North Korea, which is a new development under the Kim Jong-Un regime. No comment has been provided about a specific military action; however, military options are on the table, according to Trump administration officials.
In other news, the US Northern Command chief said this week that she is “extremely confident” that the US can intercept an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) from North Korea. She also says that North Korea currently lacks the ability to reach the US with an ICBM.
PIR3: What are the current indicators of organized political violence?
May Day Organizers Prepare for Historic Strikes and Protests
May Day organizers on Twitter are already promoting that 400,000 fast food and other service industry workers will strike on Monday, 01 May, in addition to organizing protests which have a propensity to become violent. In response, I’ve started a May Day march/protest map in the new members area. There are already several dozen sites on the map, and I’ll be updating it as we get closer to 01 May. In addition, I’ll be narrowing down a few options for a battle tracking exercise. 01 May falls on a Monday, so we’ll have to see which marches or protests are most likely to become violent, whether that’s on the night of Saturday, 28 April or 01 May.
Patriots Day Rally
On 15 April, a group will be holding a Patriots Day Rally in Berkeley, CA; the site of a riot that prevented Milo Yiannopolous from speaking earlier this year. I’ll be focusing more on this event next week because a number of Leftist websites and social media accounts are organizing for a counterprotest. This absolutely has the potential to involve violence, and late next week I’ll make the determination if we’ll be battle tracking this event on Saturday, 15 April. Let me know if you’d like to volunteer and on Tuesday I’ll start setting up the group and preparing for Saturday.
Political Violence Roll-Up:
PIR4: What are the current indicators of economic, financial, or monetary instability that lead to worsening economic conditions or civil unrest?
Moscow and Beijing to bypass US dollar in world money market
The Russian central bank opened its first foreign office in China this week, which comes as another sign that the two nations are prepared to cooperate economically against US and Western influence over the global financial landscape. Global financial doomsday sites were jumping on this story, heralding the impending doom of the dollar. That’s not going to happen for some time, and I see no reason why this development would “significantly accelerate” the dollar’s demise. This is a step towards cooperation between Russia and China; however, it’s not the ‘nail in the coffin’ indicator that many are making it out to be.
JP Morgan Chase’s financial/geopolitical outlook
In a 45-page annual report to shareholders, JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon outlines the bank’s outlook on a number of issues. (DOWNLOAD) Those include:
- [Globalization] Anti-globalization sentiment is growing in parts of the world today, usually expressing itself in anti-trade and anti-immigration positions… We do not believe globalization will reverse course…
- [Mexico & China] While there are some issues with our trade policies that need to be fixed, poorly conceived anti-trade policies could be quite disruptive, particularly with two of our key trading partners: Mexico and China.
- [Mexico] Our trade agreement with Mexico helps ensure that the young democracy in Mexico is not hijacked by populist and anti-American leaders (like Chavez did in Venezuela).
- [China] The United States has some serious trade issues with China, which have grown over the years – from cybersecurity and the protection of intellectual property to tariffs, non-tariff trade barriers and non-fulfillment of World Trade Organization obligations. However, there is no inevitable or compelling reason that China and America have to clash…
- [Poor economic growth] Our economy has been growing much more slowly in the last decade or two than in the 50 years before then. From 1948 to 2000, real per capita GDP grew 2.3%; from 2000 to 2016, it grew 1%. Had it grown at 2.3% instead of 1% in those 17 years, our GDP per capita would be 24%, or more than $12,500 per person higher than it is.
- [Public Policy – Beginning on page 32, Dimon outlines a host of maladies affecting the nation; healthcare, education, debt, labor force participation, etc.]
Rogers: Outlook on energy and trade wars
In an interview this week, Jim Rogers spoke about energy and Trump’s potential effects on the global economy.
- Well energy is making a complicated bottom. You’ve got to look back a year or two and see that in 2015/16/17, oil prices made their low. I expect another drop down before it makes that low. But at that point, people should probably buy energy because the known reserves of oil continue to decline, except for fracking. Most fracking cannot make money unless prices are much higher.
- Well if Mr Trump starts trade wars, the whole world’s going to collapse, Carolyn. I mean that’s it – it’s over. History is very clear about that. If he does the other things – cuts taxes, builds infrastructure, brings the money back to the US, gets rid of regulations – the market will like it and the market will go up for a while. I wouldn’t say more than a few months but it would certainly go up for a while. But if he starts all of those other things that he promised us he would do, you should be very worried.