Why the latest chemical attack in Syria matters to community security

Good afternoon, everyone. As a reminder, this blog is about past, current and future events, national security and community security, culture war and world war. Each day I’ll bring you thoughts and strategies on intelligence, security, and defense for an uncertain future. Welcome to the Forward Observer Daily.

I trust that most heard about or saw the chemical attack in Syria by now. Reports out of Russia say that the military is on alert for potential U.S. strikes against the Assad regime. There were overnight strikes in Syria, but the Pentagon is denying that those strikes were from the United States. Meanwhile, Syria and Russia are blaming the strikes on Israel, but I’ve not seen any confirmation. The whole thing is a mess, and here’s exactly why it all matters to your community security…

Indulge me while I use an analogy. I liken us to catchers on a baseball field. Our job is to make sure that we’re watching the pitcher and catching each strike, which represents our daily, routine lives. But sometimes we’ll need to watch what’s happening on the field and make sure that we guard home plate. We need to keep a watchful eye on what’s happening at other positions, but ultimately our job is at home.

Right now in Europe, a cold war is being waged between NATO and Russia. The same can be said of the U.S. and China in the South China Sea. North Korea represents another potential flashpoint, and finally what’s going on the Middle East is a large scale war just waiting to happen, which could include the U.S., Israel, and Saudi Arabia on one side, and Russia and Iran on the other. These are our batters, they’re up to bat, and there’s a runner on third.

What happens to us when a batter connects with the ball? We hear the crack of the bat and watch as our outfielders respond. Hopefully it’s not a home run. But either way, there’s a good chance that the runner on third is coming home, right where we are. This is a “second-order effect” of the ball being hit, and ultimately it’s going to also affect us as catcher. We have no control over the ball, our teammates in the outfield, or what happens before the ball is thrown to us, but it’s vitally important that we pay attention to what’s happening.

In our analogy, that runner is a second-order effect of the outbreak of war and home plate is our community. If we were to get into a hot war with Russia or China, or with anyone else around the globe, I expect for there to be second- and third-order effects. We could absolutely see systems disruption in multiple forms. We could see cyber attacks, especially with all the open source reporting in recent weeks and years that both Russia and China have been mapping our electrical grids and communication networks. We could see a spike in oil prices, we could see terror attacks in the U.S., we could see economic and financial disruption as a result of a hot war, and probably some other effects as well.

I’m not saying that these things will happen, but only a fool would deny the risk of the disruptive effects of — let’s be honest — the potential for World War 3. Today’s weapons extend far beyond the battlefield, so cyber attacks are a distinct possibility.

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis recently said that military options aren’t off the table for a U.S. response. New National Security Advisor and noted war hawk John Bolton officially started his tenure this morning. And President Trump said that he’d decide on a response within 24-48 hours. “We’ll be making that decision very quickly, probably by the end of the day. But we cannot allow atrocities like [chemical attacks]. Nothing is off the table.”

This ball game just got a lot more interesting.

In light of recent events, I would encourage you to spend 15 minutes today in a mental exercise. Read (or re-read) our series on Intelligence and Community Security, and begin considering what you’ll need to know for the local second- and third-order effects of war.

If we were to experience a significant case of systems disruption, such as a cyber attack on the financial industry, or the oil and gas sector, or on the electrical grid; how might that affect your community? What would your neighbors do if there was a gas shortage? If the grocery stores ran out of food? If there was a bank holiday? How many hours might it take for the first signs of third-order effects — the consequences a cyber attack, for instance — to hit your community, and what would that look like?

These are the questions I’m asking myself because by thinking through these potential scenarios, I can make better preparations for the security of my community.

The last thing about Syria: we actively watch each of the four flashpoints and produce an intelligence report on the latest developments and the risk of war in our Strategic Intelligence summaries each week. Jon’s going to have a write-up about the latest events — who’s really responsible for the chemical attack — and where they’re taking us in Thursday’s report. If a large scale war were to break out, we’ll be providing timely coverage of the war effort in unvarnished truth for our subscribers.

In the meantime, I’ll be back tomorrow with some more thoughts on intelligence, security, and defense for an uncertain future.

 

Always Out Front,

Samuel Culper


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Samuel Culper is a former military intelligence NCO and contract Intelligence analyst. After 39 months of deployment time to Iraq and Afghanistan, he's now the conflict and warfare researcher at Forward Observer.

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