Lima Charlie’s Weekly Review: U.S. Politics Edition – Highlights of the week in U.S. domestic, geo, cyber, politics.
US Domestic Politics
President Trump Signs $1.3 Trillion Dollar Omnibus Spending Bill, Funding Government Through September 2018
On Friday, Congress passed the $1.3 trillion dollar omnibus spending bill to keep the government funded through the end of September. The bill passed 65-32 in the Senate and 256-167 in the House, sending through 2,300 pages of plans for allocation of spending.
Highlights from the bill:
The largest fortification of defense spending in 15 years, increasing the military’s budget by $80 billion above last year’s. In addition, a pay raise for troops by 2.4% was instituted. Included in this is $1.1 billion dollars for 56 UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters and $1.6 billion dollars for 30 new and 50 remanufactured Apache helicopters.
Incentives for federal and state agencies to input data into the US’ National Instant Criminal Background Check System. While this does not require agencies to input information into background check systems, it does incorporate punitive measures in the event that such requirements are not followed.
Upwards of $4 billion dollars are given to state and local governments to help tackle the opioid crisis.
$380 million dollars for election security are also instituted in order to help protect the nation’s elections and energy grid in the upcoming midterms.
A ban has been put in place preventing the president from using any of the innovative designs for the border wall that had been proposed last week. The only demarcation allowed is previously-incorporated fencing, specifically for 14 miles on the border in the San Diego Sector, primary pedestrian fencing along the southwest border, 25 miles along the southwest border in the Rio Grande Valley Sector and primary pedestrian fencing along the southwest border.
President Trump cited unhappiness with signing the bill, vowing he will “never sign another one like this again” and noting that, in order to receive crucial funding for the military, many concessions had to be made, especially regarding immigration and the border wall.
Celebrating National Medal of Honor Day
March 25th marked National Medal of Honor Day, an accolade that has been presented as the highest award for valor in action against an enemy force.
To date, there have been 3,515 Medals of Honor awarded in the name of this distinction, which was created during the American Civil War.
Many have spoken out in recent years, in an attempt to bring attention to the few American servicemen who have received the Medal of Honor since 9/11 and the call for more to be considered for the honor.
The figure below illustrates the number of veterans from this era who have earned the accolade.
Former UN Ambassador John Bolton To Replace H.R. McMaster as National Security Advisor
On Thursday, President Trump appointed John Bolton, who has previously served as UN Ambassador, as the new National Security Advisor, replacing General H.R. McMaster.
Bolton has drawn criticism for his hawkish views, but many conservatives hailed the choice as a move toward an “America First” foreign policy.
President Bush had appointed Bolton to the position as UN Ambassador in 2005 and many have criticized him for supporting the US invasion of Iraq in 2003. However, those on the right support his opposition of the nation-building strategy which followed in the region.
In comparison to neoconservatives, John Bolton is known for his strong support of Israel, which he has said is America’s greatest ally in the Middle East.
Bolton shares many of President Trump’s views, including being a harsh critic of the Iran Deal which the President has threatened to withdraw from by May 12.
Given his expansive list of credentials, many on the right are hopeful of his capacity for leading on issues such as North Korea, Russia, and China. Bolton has pushed for strength and toughness in opposition to North Korea, arguing that the use of military weapons should not be ruled out in case North Korea refuses to give up nuclear weapons.
Bolton is, to many, a fixture of “the swamp” and his experience in Washington will likely equip him with the ability to stay in the position for a longer duration than many top aides in the administration.
March For Our Lives Gains Solidarity Nationwide
On Saturday, the March For Our Lives took place across the country and even abroad, as Americans gathered in the wake of last month’s shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida to support sensible gun control measures.
The teenagers and young adults who made up the march in large part, who have grown up in a post-9/11 climate, drew the support of Oprah Winfrey and George Clooney, who helped with fundraising efforts.
To put the mass-shooting trend in the US into perspective, this figure from gunpolicy.org demonstrates the number of guns per 100 people in the US, in comparison to other countries across Europe, the Scandinavian nations, South America, and Asia below:
The Mandalay Bay Las Vegas shooting, which still has many questions unanswered, is the second-deadliest incident even on a global scale, as presented by this University of Alabama graphic below.
An estimated 200,000 people attended the March in DC alone, as pro-gun supporters held their own gatherings to speak out for their right to bear arms.
Trump Tariffs On China Announced, Sparking Economic Response From Beijing
President Trump announced new tariffs on China this week, prompting the world’s second largest economy, China, to respond with threats of strong action. According to a statement from its website, China listed 128 US products it plans to take out retaliatory measures upon. Products such as soybeans and pork could be added to the list in the coming days, which could lay a heavy weight on the US.
To many experts, however, the Chinese response was muted, at best. Analysts believe that the latest round of US tariffs will have minimal effects on Chinese markets, totaling no more than 0.1% of its economic output.
In 2017, Beijing had a $275.8 billion dollar trade surplus with the US, about two-thirds of its global total, although DC reported the figure at about $375.2 billion.
Iranian Hackers Indicted By New York Southern District
The US Attorney for the Southern District of New York announced indictments on Friday against nine hackers who have been associated with the Iranian government in attempting to steal intellectual products from American and foreign higher education facilities.
The hacking was referred to by US Attorney Geoffrey Berman as one of the largest state sponsored hacking campaigns ever taken on by the Department of Justice.
The hackers are associated with the Mabna Institute, stealing about 31 terabytes of data, worth upwards of 3 billion dollars.
The Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Qassemi referred to the accusations as “false”, condemning the “US’ provocative, illegal, and unjustified actions.”
Trump has adopted a tough stance against the Iranian regime, vowing to withdraw from the Iran deal by May 12th of 2018.
Blockchain Goes Maritime
British nonprofit, Lloyd’s Register Foundation, recently announced an initiative to utilize blockchain technology to bolster security on the high seas.
The endeavor, known as Maritime Blockchain Labs, will involve a partnership with the Denmark firm Blockchain Labs for Open Collaboration.
The ability of Blockchain to bring safety to the maritime front has even been tested by Europe’s largest shipping port, the Port of Rotterdam, which has begun sharing information through blockchain already.
Blockchain has been instituted by governments worldwide, causing many to ask the question, why not on the high seas?
The IBM graphic below illustrates some of these examples in the last 5 years.
Known Unknown Cyber Attacks Evading Detection
According to new research from Balabit, in a report known as The Known Unknowns of Cyber Security, only 39% of companies who are victims of a cyber breach can confidently identify the source.
This number of known unknowns is illustrated below, demonstrating that the figure has skyrocketed, with many internal fluctuations, between 2002 and 2013.
Malware in Europe has also taken on increasingly varied forms, evolving as the technology has improved upon itself. The below map from Comodo represents the numerous malware families which commonly attack European entities and businesses, demonstrating that greater preventative technology is necessary to ensure that victims of cyber breaches can both identify their attackers and preempt such attacks.
GhostMiner Cryptojacking Trend Eliminates Rival Cryptojackers For Maximum Impact
The biggest trend last year in hacker activity was secret cryptocurrency coin mining, also known as cryptojacking, to the extent that the activity surged 8,500 percent in the last quarter, as shown below.
Even more shocking is the 600% increase in attacks on Internet of Things devices, like Alexa and Google products.
Cryptojacking malware is also constantly evolving, improving upon past versions to ensure maximum efficiency. One new form of this malware is called GhostMiner, which uses fileless malware delivery techniques to land on systems. The malware actually kills off its competitor malwares to allow for maximum profit. As seen below, the command “cryptonight” ensures the removal of rivals to allow for maximum efficiency, according to a recent Minerva Report.
While GhostMiner represents one popular trend amongst cryptojackers, a recent Comodo Report found that the diversity of attacks has seen no shortage, as described by the wide range of hacking activity calculated below (credit: Comodo).
Operation Olive Branch Yields Capture of Afrin City, With Turkish Forces Seeking to Cut Off Key Access to Nubl and al-Zahraa
Following the successful takeover of Afrin by Turkish forces which seized the location from Kurdish militia, the intricate geopolitics at play took center stage.
The operation, known as “Olive Branch,” aims at clearing the area of what Ankara believes to be “PKK terrorists” and “liberating locals.” Simultaneously, with US relations strained and Russia giving the go-ahead for an Idlib attack by the Syrian government, the area is geographically one of the few regions that has been relatively undisturbed by war. The Euphrates Shield territory is just at arms length from the canton and, given Turkish success in taking over the city, a push into Manbij by Erdogan would directly confront the US coalition area of operations currently serving in the region.
Turkey views US support of Syrian Kurdish militants against ISIS as an offensive move, especially given that Erdogan does not draw a demarcation between the Kurdish Workers’ Party (the PKK) and the Kurdish militia in Syria.
Geographically, the region is largely isolated from the remainder of YPG-dominated areas and civilians there are fearful of this vulnerability. The dominant water supply there, regionally called the Black River, is a tributary of the Orontes River which stems from the Kartal Mountains in Turkey. The Turkish leaders ended the flow of water from the Black River in 2017, hurting agricultural output.
Disputed Western Sahara Territory Renews Conflict Between Morocco, EU, and Polisario
The conflict over ownership of territory on Africa’s North-West boundary is one of the globe’s most contentious geopolitical disputes.
The UN brokered a ceasefire in 1991 which brought a temporary halt in conflict between Morocco, who had successfully annexed the Western Sahara in 1975 and Polisario, the nomadic inhabitants of the Western Sahara. The region is presented below (picture source: simpleWiki).
Geopolitically, nevertheless, Morocco has continued in its claims over the Western Sahara, and Morocco is a critical strategic partner for the EU in fighting terrorism and combatting influx of migrants into North Africa.
In late February, the European Court of Justice sent down a decision that the Western Sahara is not a territory that falls under the EU-Morocco Fisheries Partnership Agreement.
The Polisario has expressed interest in negotiating deals of their own with the EU to grant fishermen licenses off the coast for Europeans.
Geographically, the Western Sahara is about 2,700 km of land that contains scattered land mines and is patrolled by Moroccan troops. These mines stand in direct contradiction with the Ottawa Treaty and place the inhabitants of the region in great peril.
The African Union has taken a stand on the issue, saying that the “Western Sahara remains an issue in the completion of the decolonization process of Africa that must be resolved.”
The UN has been placed in the middle of defending the Saharawi people of the native coast from Moroccan influence, and the recent February 27th decision places great strain on EU-Morocco relations.
In a recent tactic to combat Morocco in the region, the Polisario went to court to seize a phosphate shipment en route to New Zealand, which they claim was illicitly taken from the Western Sahara territory. The ship, NM Cherry Blossom, has been put up for auction in South Africa, just months after its seizure. The decision was granted by the court and represents just one more conflict in the long-running dispute over the Western Sahara between players of Morocco and the Polisario.
Indonesia and Democratic Republic of Congo Sign Historic Treaty Protecting World’s Largest Tropical Peatland
As first announced by the UN, on March 23rd, an agreement was signed which arranged for the collaboration of Indonesia and the Congo Basin toward the greater goal of protecting the Cuvette Centrale region in the Congo Basin from unrestricted degradation.
What is primarily at stake in this region, however, is what amounts to three years of global greenhouse gas emissions that are stored in the Basin itself, which could be released in the event of drainage or disturbance. The region is about the size of England.
Geopolitically, the cause brought together Indonesia and the countries located within the Congo Basin to sign what has been termed the Brazzaville Declaration.
Oil as a Currency for Conflict
Spotlight: South Sudan
In early March, reports surfaced from The Sentry, an investigative policy analysis organization, that South Sudan’s state oil company, Nile Petroleum (Nilepet) was funding militias to take part in the ongoing violence that has been occurring since the Civil War inception in 2013.
For instance, Nilepet gave funds to a company known as Golden Wings Aviation for “logistical attacks” in 2015.
Geopolitically, the US took action against the funding by announcing, this week, that certain South Sudanese agencies would be placed on the US Department of Commerce’s Entity List. The move will impose a license requirement on all exports and transfers of any US origin items to those entities. In addition to Nilepet, the Safinat and Sudd Petroleum Groups are placed on the list.
Even China has been brought in to the ongoing conflict, with one diplomat asserting “South Sudan is a testing ground for China’s proactive diplomacy,” signifying Beijing’s interest in spreading its influence across the continent.
Many of those displaced by the violence have spilled over into neighboring borders, like Ethiopia, Sudan, Kenya, and Uganda, threatening the geopolitical strife in those areas, as well.
Furthermore, numerous regional conflicts have also placed a strain on the humanitarian and economic crisis in the Sudan. Juba and Sudan’s capital, Khartoum have been in conflict for over 6 years now, regarding shared claims to oil in the region, as shown below (image source: PBS)
South Sudan has required Sudan drop ownership of the contested land in the area of Abyei, which is an oil-rich property.
The latest US sanctions come as the West attempts to choke off funding for further war, while South Sudan maintains that the move will only seek to prevent peace moving forward.
US Granted Historic and Controversial Military Base in Ghana
In the midst of World War II, America instituted a military base in Ghana for the first time in history, to fight the Axis Powers, Italy, Japan and Germany.
This week, the Parliament approved the Defence Cooperation Agreement between the two countries ratifying a military base for US forces in Ghana around Kotoka International Airport. The decision was not made easily, nor without great opposition. Ministry Spokesperson on Foreign Affairs, Samuel Okudzeto Ablakwa spoke out against the decision, fearing the move may expose the country to more terrorist attacks by hosting foreign troops.
The move represents efforts on the parts of both Ghana and the US to foster a closer alliance, especially given the US’ investment of over $20 million dollars in training and equipment for the Ghanian armed forces.
While the move allows for greater cohesion between the two armies, the Minority in Parliament has expressed discontent with the decision, claiming Ghana will lose its credentials as a Sovereign State, as a result. Nevertheless, US participation in the Africa Crisis Response Initiative and joint operations with Ghana forces will prove fruitful for greater geopolitical cooperation in the region.
LIMA CHARLIE NEWS
[Edited by Nikita Roach]
Lima Charlie provides global news, insight & analysis by military veterans and service members Worldwide.
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