Let’s Face It—It’s the Cyber Era and We’re Cyber Dumb

Got to get educated before we can defeat Internet threats


Right now, Chinese criminals and spies are targeting the United States and other countries in the biggest semi-organized campaign of theft and espionage in world history.

And it’s all being done online, through hacks, fraud and other Internet trickery.

But Americans—and especially our leaders—hardly know the first thing about “cyber” threats. And that badly complicates any organized response to Internet attacks.

We’re cyber dumb in an era of cyber danger.

That’s one of the main points that Brookings Institution scholars P.W. Singer and Allan Friedman make in their new book Cybersecurity and Cyberwar. Wonky-sounding though it may be, the book is a brisk and fun read—and terrifying.

“China is at the center of the largest theft in all of human history that is playing out right now,” Singer tells War is Boring, “with the intellectual property targets being vacuumed ranging from jet fighter designs to soft drink company negotiating strategies to academic papers.”

“Is it war in the traditional sense of politically motivated mass violence?” Singer asks rhetorically. “No. But it is something that matters hugely in economic and national security, especially when you think about all that investment, all those potential edges in the boardroom and maybe even future battlefields just lost.”

“Death by a thousand cuts does matter,” Singer stresses.

For all the talk lately about building cyber defenses—it’s one of the Pentagon’s few growth areas—most Americans and especially our politicians, don’t even understand how networks work, why they matter, where they’re vulnerable and how to protect them.

“We are in a strange place of being so incredibly reliant in communication, commerce, critical infrastructure, even conflict—98 percent of U.S. military comms goes over the Internet—and yet the topic is one that is largely stuck in this dangerous mix of ignorance and fear factor,” Singer explains.

“You can see it in all sorts of ways,” he points out. Seventy percent of business executives make cyber security decisions for their firms but have no cyber training, Singer says. Politicians make billion-dollar decisions about Internet policy and the military’s online capabilities and “then admit they don’t understand email.”

The ignorance is not uniquely American. Singer recalls his odd meeting with a European parliamentarian. “I realized all that he knew on cyber threats was from the movie Die Hard 4.”

The confluence of major threat with deep stupidity begs for nothing short of a massive overhaul of our Internet education.

And a smarter cyber defense could start by taking the problem seriously—and recognizing that online operations are unique enough to warrant their own dedicated organizations.

“Don’t treat the leadership of an important military command … as something to be ‘double-hatted’ to a spy agency,” Singer recommends. “The National Security Agency and Cyber Command are both important full-time jobs … yet, we double-hat it. Think of any other command and agency we do that for, let alone ones so important.”

But these single-mission cyber units must work closely with traditional organizations—something that doesn’t usually happen today. “It’s like how they had radios, tanks and airplanes back in World War I, but didn’t know how to use them to their fullest on their own, but even more so how to bring them all together until the Blitzkrieg of World War II,” Singer explains.

He says the Israelis are leading the way in integrating cyber actions into traditional warfare. In September 2007, Tel Aviv launched Operation Orchard to destroy a suspected nuclear weapons facility in Syria. The raid blended F-15 bombers with electronic jamming and network hacks to shut down air-defense sites.

Everyone needs to understand this cyber stuff better, and not leave it up to a handful of experts, Singer stresses. “Don’t treat any and every cyber problem as something for the ‘man on cyber horseback’ to come save us all.”

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Next Story — The U.S. Army Had a Whole Unit of Psychic Spies
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The U.S. Army Had a Whole Unit of Psychic Spies

The project turned out to be an, ahem, headache for the service’s leadership

by JOSEPH TREVITHICK

On Sept. 15, 1995, Army chief of staff Gen. Gordon Sullivan held a meeting with a colonel from the service’s top watchdog agency as well as with another colonel who had served as a psychologist at Army Intelligence and Security Command.

The meeting covered a sensitive and then still-secret topic — so-called “extra-sensory perception activities,” or ESPA.

What they were really discussing was the Army’s experiments involving an entire unit of psychic spies. The ground combat branch’s leadership wanted to know just what was going on so they could make an accurate public statement.

In July 1995, a woman had sent a distressing letter to Secretary of the Army Togo West, Jr. complaining about ill effects from “psychic warfare.” The next month, journalist and author Jim Schnabel wrote a detailed article on the Army’s studies for the London Independent.

“The chief of staff was genuinely unaware of Grill Flame and its history,” the officer from the inspector general later wrote in a classified report, using the official code name for the project. “The chief of staff has asked me to monitor developments concerning Grill Flame and advise accordingly.”

War Is Boring obtained this report and other related documents through the Freedom of Information Act. Citing privacy concerns, censors redacted the officers’ names, as well as the name of the woman who wrote the letter.

What the colonel found — and others within the Army had already documented this— was that the project had long been an irritant to the ground combat branch. And that’s putting it lightly.

Above — U.S. Army troops practice traditional human intelligence. At top — an experimental system that links a soldier’s brain with a computer. U.S. Army photos

Though they rarely publicize the fact, the Pentagon, U.S. intelligence agencies and law enforcement agencies have never shied away from the paranormal or pseudo-scientific. The potential benefits of psychics, mediums, telekinesis and other similar techniques are immense — if they actually work.

During the Vietnam War, American troops tried to find Viet Cong tunnels with witching rods. Researchers at defense contractor HRB Singer criticized skepticism of the age old practice as “somewhat academic” and said, given the importance of the mission, that “scientific rigor can be de-emphasized, if necessary.”

By the 1970s, Americans were faced with the ever-present specter of nuclear annihilation, as well as the increasing threat of international terrorism. Some in Washington were willing to entertain radical ideas.

What if intelligence agents could “see” into Soviet bunkers from a hotel room outside Washington, D.C.? What if they could predict a bombing or airplane hijacking?

In October 1978, Maj. Gen. Edmund Thompson, then the Army’s top intelligence officer, ordered Intelligence and Security Command to look into ESPA. The Army intelligence specialists put together a team after combing their units and calling on other agencies. Six years earlier, the Central Intelligence Agency had looked into similar concepts with the help of the Stanford Research Institute think-tank.

“Driven by the notion that the Soviets might develop capabilities in this area, key personalities in the intelligence community were determined to explore the potential usefulness of psychic phenomena,” a once-secret December 1995 overview of the project explained. Grill Flame only applied to the Army’s portion of what was in essence a Pentagon-wide set of experiments.

The entire project was highly classified. Thompson initially had literally told his subordinates what to do rather than write anything down.

The ground combat branch’s spies apparently felt the studies were promising enough to push ahead. Still, the project would likely have died without the interest of a colorful group of characters, including Thompson.

Worried about the Kremlin’s own paranormal efforts, the general was also a true believer. “I never liked to get into debates with skeptics, because if you didn’t believe that remote viewing was real, you hadn’t done your homework,” Thompson said, according to Schnabel’s book Remote Viewers: The Secret History of America’s Psychic Spies.

Maj. Gen. Edmund Thompson, at left. At right, Maj. Gen. Albert Stubblebine III. U.S. Army photos

Grill Flame focused largely on training and honing the skills of remote-viewers. The hope was that these individuals could describe sensitive details about enemy equipment and facilities without ever having to leave the United States.

“In short, it involved placing an individual in a controlled darkened environment, descending him or her into a self-hypnotic trance and causing him/her to vocally describe images and other impressions that came to mind,” according to the overview. “In an intelligence context, the subject would be given some parameters of a target area or an intelligence question and the subject’s verbalization would be closely monitored.”

In 1981, Thompson gained a significant ally when Maj. Gen. Albert Stubblebine III took over Intelligence and Security Command. The two officers shared an enthusiasm for unconventional ideas.

As Thompson left for a post at the Defense Intelligence Agency, he gave Stubblebine full control of Grill Flame. In September 1981, the Army stood up a formal unit to handle the project.

The ground combat branch buried Detachment G in the Army Operations Group. This banal-sounding unit handles the service’s human intelligence mission — the business of going out to gather up important information from other people.

In the beginning, the team’s staff included a grand total of five people — three soldiers and two civilians, including an office secretary — according to a now-declassified instruction detailing the unit’s creation. Everything they did was on a “need to know” basis.

Throughout the Pentagon, remote-viewers were given intelligence and other tasks to test their skills. Grill Flame and the Defense Intelligence Agency’s own project — nicknamed Sun Streak — tried to find the exact whereabouts of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi before American planes bombed his country in 1986, according to Schnabel’s book.

Three years later, they tried to locate Manuel Noriega after American troops chased the Panamanian dictator from his residence. The Pentagon tapped the psychic spies to try and find out if there really were any U.S. prisoners of war still in Vietnam, Laos or Cambodia.

But despite all of these efforts, the Army in particular had quickly soured on the entire idea. To the service’s top leaders, the results were inconclusive and the players embarrassingly erratic.

After taking over the Army’s main intelligence command, Stubblebine had begun promoting a number of pseudo-scientific ideas beyond remote-viewing. He became famously known for bringing other officers to “spoon-bending parties.”

At these events, self-described psychics and telekinentics would twist silverware into amazing shapes. In the 1970s and ’80s, individuals such as Israeli-born Uri Geller had wowed American and foreign television audiences with similar demonstrations.

“The key in all of this has nothing to do with bending metal,” Stubblebine, with an array of bent spoons and forks in front of him, told journalist Jon Ronson in an interview for his 2001 documentary The Secret Rulers of the World. “What it has to do with — lord, mercy, if I can do that with my mind, what else can I do?”

The general tried to “energize” Army Special Forces troops with these ideas, but found them dismissive. He finally prevailed on them to give the techniques a chance by telling them that they might one day be able to kill people with their minds — a story Ronson later detailed in his book The Men Who Stare At Goats.

According to Ronson, the Central Intelligence Agency had a sent a psychologist to evaluate Stubblebine’s competence. In the process, Dr. Ray Hyman interviewed the officer’s successor, Maj. Gen. Harry Soyster.

“I asked him if he had been forced to go to a spoon-bending party and he said, ‘Oh yes,’” Hyman told Ronson in another interview for his documentary. “He said, ‘Well the spoons bend, but I couldn’t see any military application so I didn’t think much of it.’”

A military intelligence soldier talks to children in Afghanistan. U.S. Army photo

When Soyster took over in 1986, he worked to curtail Grill Flame and similar projects. The general insisted that his command’s job was to “listen to bad guys talk to each other, catch spies [and] take pictures,” according to an official Army historical review a private individual obtained via the Freedom of Information Act and submitted to the independent website GovernmentAttic.org.

Still, in Washington, like-minded members of Congress kept Grill Flame and related programs alive. In particular, Rhode Island senator Claiborne Pell — best known for the federal college grants that bear his name — was an ardent supporter of the paranormal experiments.

“Pell and his staff were largely instrumental in keeping the funding alive for this effort even when skepticism was building in the late ’80s and ’90s,” according to the Army watchdog. In 1987, the legislator had tried to draw attention to an “extrasensory perception gap” with Moscow by inviting Geller to bend spoons for his colleagues.

After the stunt, Time Magazine dubbed him “Senator Oddball.” Army leaders and others in Washington were not thrilled with these associations.

On top of these public relations issues, the Army appeared to have concerns about the ethics of Grill Flame’s activities. As early as February 1981, Thompson “recommended … continue to ensure all legal/medical human use issues are met prior to conduct of any new [Grill Flame] initiatives.”

A number of former remote-viewers and other participants in psychic projects developed physical and mental illnesses or symptoms thereof. While conspiracy theories and speculation is rampant, it’s hard to say whether any of these issues were directly related to the projects.

“Had they been living too far out on the shamanic edge of things?” Joseph McMoneagle, one of the Army’s remote-viewers who eventually suffered a heart attack, wondered — this according to Schnabel’s book. “Did the act of remote viewing, or even being near a remote viewer, produce some kind of hazardous effect on the human nervous system, or the immune system?”

Despite his experience, McMoneagle continues to practice and promote the technique. In a review of one of his books, Reader’s Digest called the former Army soldier “the most renowned remote-viewer in the United States.”

“What is true is that the Army … did participate in this heavily and some embarrassing episodes resulted,” the inspector general official noted in his review. “Media exaggeration can clearly hurt [Intelligence and Security Command’s] name.”

And while the colonel from the inspector general dug into the project’s background as Sullivan had asked, he could find no instances where a remote-viewer had clearly produced real results.

The final assessment was that Grill Flame had been “more smoke than substance.”

While researching his documentary and subsequent book, Ronson described claims of remote viewing and other psychic techniques making a comeback after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in New York City and Washington, D.C. But six years earlier, the Army’s opinion was loud and clear that the whole idea had been more trouble than it was worth.

Next Story — The Libyan National Army’s Planes and Helicopters Are Scattering Cluster Munitions Across Libya
Currently Reading - The Libyan National Army’s Planes and Helicopters Are Scattering Cluster Munitions Across Libya

MiG-21bis serial number 404 loaded with one RBK-250–270 PTAB 2.5M cluster bomb under its left wing at Benina air base on Aug. 15, 2016. LNA photo

The Libyan National Army’s Planes and Helicopters Are Scattering Cluster Munitions Across Libya

The weapons endanger civilians

by ARNAUD DELALANDE

Official photos from the Libyan National Army, published on Aug. 15, 2016, indicate that the LNA is using cluster munitions in Libya.

The LNA, headed by Gen. Khalifa Haftar — a former officer in the regime of Muammar Gaddafi — has pledged allegiance to the House of Representatives faction in Tobruk, one of many competing political entities in Libya.

In May 2014, the LNA launched Operation Dignity, its ongoing campaign against Islamist armed groups in Benghazi and Derna. Now we can reasonably assert that this campaign involves cluster munitions, which spread small explosives over a wide area and risk disproportionately endangering civilians.

But this is probably not the first time that cluster bombs have been used in Libya. Remnants of RBK-250 PTAB 2.5M cluster bombs were found in Bin Jawad in February 2015 and in Sirte in March 2015.

LNA air force general Saqr Al Jerroushi confirmed that his aircraft carried out air strikes on these cities during the periods when the cluster munitions were found, but Al Jerroushi denied that his forces were responsible for dropping the bombs.

In May 2015, remains of RBK-250 ZAB-2.5 incendiary cluster munitions were discovered in Derna in eastern Libya. The LNA air force regularly strikes forces belonging to the Shura Council of Mujahideen in Derna. On Feb. 7, 2016, unidentified aircraft bombed Bab Tobruk District, an area controlled by the Shura Council. The strikes killed four civilian and two militant fighters.

MiG-21bis serial number 404 loaded with one RBK-250–270 PTAB 2.5M cluster bomb under its left wing at Benina air base on Aug. 15, 2016. LNA photo

According to local sources, the air strikes hit ammunition and weapons the DMSC had stored in residential areas, resulting in huge explosions. Col. Muftah Hamza from the LNA denied his forces’ involvement, instead blaming the Libyan air force, the LNA air force’s much smaller rival.

But just one day later, an LNA air force MiG-23ML — serial number 6132 — was shot down by DMSC militants after taking off from Gamal Abdul El Nasser air base near Tobruk International Airport and carrying out an air raid on Derna. The shoot-down seemed to confirm the LNA’s responsibility for the cluster-bombings in Derna.

On March 8, 2016, the first photos appeared of an LNA Mi-8T helicopter carrying a RBK-250-275 AO-1SCh cluster bomb under its left stub-wing. The RBK-250-275 AO-1SCh comes packed with 150 bomblets.

An Mi-8T equipped with an RBK-250–275 AO-1SCh cluster bomb under its left stub-wing at Al Abraq air base on March 28, 2016. LNA photo

During the night of March 28, an LNA Mi-8T armed with at least one RBK-250-275 AO-1SCh and a Mi-35 gunship loaded with S-8 rocket launchers and a UPK-23–250 gun pod both took off from Labraq air base and attacked five technical vehicles in the Benghazi area.

This was actually the second time that cluster bombs had been seen loaded on LNA helicopters. Most of the unguided bombs that LNA aircraft carry are classic, Russian-made FAB-250/270 and French-made 400-kilogram Type 21C SAMPs that, by and large, are in very poor condition.

The cluster munitions, by contrast, don’t seem so old, which suggests that they were either properly stored or were acquired recently from other countries.

An Mi-8T based at Benina carrying an RBK-250–275 AO-1SCh under its left stub wing on March 8, 2016. LNA photo

On Aug. 15, 2016, MiG-21bis serial number 404, which had been damaged while landing on Nov. 11, 2015, was seen at Benina air base armed with one RBK-250-270 PTAB 2.5M cluster bomb under its left wing. This was the first LNA aircraft displaying such a configuration. The RBK-250-270 PTAB 2.5M dispenses 30 bomblets.

Seven MiG-21bis, eight MiG-21MFs and three MiG-21UMs are in service with Squadrons 1021 and 1060 of the LNA air force. LNA army aviation, for its part, operates 15 M-8Ts, eight Mi-24/35s and one Mi-171. Another Mi-171 was shot down on July 17, 2016.

Since the beginning of the year, LNA and Government of National Accord-affiliated forces — including the “official” Libyan air force — have fought to recapture the cities of Sirte and Benghazi from militants. The main targets for LNA aircraft are the fish market in Al Sabri, Factory Island, Ganfouda district and Ajdabiya.

On June 17, media favorable to the Shura Council of Benghazi Revolutionaries and to the Misrata militia published pictures of damage in Benghazi that the media claimed had been inflicted by indiscriminate “barrel- bomb” air strikes carried out by the LNA at Haftar’s command.

But there is no clear evidence of the LNA using improvised barrel-bombs. Cluster bombs, yes. Barrel bombs, no.

On June 27, a temporary ceasefire agreement was signed between MSCD and LNA. But two weeks later, MiG-23BNs struck the western entrance to the city of Derna. And beginning in August, aircraft struck alleged militant ammunition stores.

LNA media reported that its MiG-21/23s and Mi-8/35s based at Tobruk, Al Abraq and Benina were engaged in heavy attacks on all axes. The cluster bombers in the new photos are clearly part of this effort.

Next Story — Yikes — Iranian Boats Play Chicken With U.S. Warships
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Iranian fast-attack boats during a naval exercise in 2015. Sayyed Shahaboddin Vajedi photo via Wikimedia

Yikes — Iranian Boats Play Chicken With U.S. Warships

Now think about what this tactic would look like if they weren’t playing around

by ROBERT BECKHUSEN

Another few sunny days in the Persian Gulf, and another several days of scarily-close encounters between Iranian boats and U.S. warships. And this time they provoked an American ship into firing warning shots.

That’s not a reassuring series of events at a time when Saudi Arabia — a U.S. ally — and Iran fight devastating proxy wars in Syria and Yemen. It’s only a little more than a year since the landmark deal between Iran and the West, while still shaky, halted Iran’s drive to develop nuclear weapons.

If the incidents in August are any indication, relations between the United States have a very long way to go before they get any better. Tehran, or at least elements within the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps, seem to prefer it that way.

The first incident on Aug. 23 occurred when four IRGC boats — weapons uncovered — came within 300 yards of the destroyer USS Nitze, which fired off flares to warn the boats away, in the Strait of Hormuz.

Video of the incident is below:

The next day, Iranian boats harassed American ships on three separate occasions. The first incident on Aug. 24 occurred when three Iranian vessels approached the patrol vessels USS Tempest and USS Squall — and crossed the Tempest’s bow back and forth three times.

A few hours later, an Iranian boat played chicken with Tempest by speeding toward her head on.

“This situation presented a drastically increased risk of collision, and the Iranian vessel refused to safely maneuver in accordance with internationally recognized maritime rules of the road, despite several request and warnings via radio, and visual and audible warnings from both U.S. ships,” U.S. Fifth Fleet spokesman Cmdr. Bill Urban told USNI News.

That’s when Squall fired three .50-caliber warning shots, which apparently convinced the Iranian boat to turn around. But that wasn’t the end of it. The same boat later harassed the destroyer USS Stout.

Close encounters between Iranian patrol boats and U.S. warships are hardly unprecedented. The Iranian navy often shadows American ships as a means to signal strength and to keep its sailors steeled for a potential armed conflict.

In July, Gen. Joseph Votel — commander of all U.S. forces in the Middle East — got a first-hand look while sailing on board the amphibious transport USS New Orleans when five Iranian boats came within 500 yards. And on Aug. 15, IRGC vessels “launched rockets in exercises a few miles away from two U.S. Navy ships,” Defense News reported.

This isn’t to suggest that a naval conflict between the United States and Iran is likely, just that Tehran finds it useful to train its sailors for that possibility. And what better way to prepare for war than to scope out and engage in high-risk maneuvers in close proximity to U.S. warships?

The biggest potential downside is that someone — an Iranian or American commander — may miscalculate. The fact that the most recent set of incidents provoked an American ship into firing warning shots shows just how close both sides can come to igniting a flashpoint.

The patrol ship USS ‘Tempest’ at left, and the USS ‘Firebolt’ in the Arabian Gulf in April 2014. U.S. Navy photo

Call it a inherent risk given Iran’s penchant for swarm tactics. Iran’s navy has deliberately cultivating such tactics, which involves sending large numbers of small vessels to outnumber and overwhelm larger and less-agile American warships.

It’s an evolution in Iranian naval doctrine since the Iran-Iraq War, when the U.S. Navy destroyed much of the Iranian surface fleet in Operation Praying Mantis in retaliation for Tehran planting naval mines in the Persian Gulf — one which exploded and nearly sank the frigate USS Samuel B. Roberts.

Tehran correctly discerned that challenging the U.S. Navy at sea on America’s terms, which favors large and heavily-armed vessels, would be doomed to fail.

Fortunately for Iran, the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman provide an 1,100-mile-long coastline with plenty of launching pads for gun- and missile-boat swarms. These boats can also threaten the strategic Strait of Hormuz, where around 20 percent of the world’s oil passes through on container ships.

Iran possesses a fleet of small boats optimized for this kind of war. Basically, the idea is to launch them from many different places at once, and as the swarm converges on their targets, they confuse and overwhelm them.

Swarms have some disadvantages. While some of Iran’s boats (many of them glorified speedboats) can carry anti-ship missiles, the vessels’ meager size means they cannot carry sophisticated target acquisition radars.

As a predictable result, the boats must come relatively close to secure a high probability of scoring a hit. In any case, most of Iran’s fast-attack boats do not carry anti-ship missiles but rockets and torpedoes, which means they must get close anyways.

The problem is that getting close means coming within range of those heavily-armed American ships. The U.S. Cyclone-class patrol boats such as Tempest and Squall bristle with .50-caliber machine guns, anti-ship missiles, Mark 38 autocannons and Mark 19 grenade launchers.

If the Cyclones’ crews wanted to, they could have made quick work of the Iranian vessels.

However, it’s not that easy for the U.S. Navy. Even at long-range and accounting for the Iranian navy’s poor sensors, they can still mass in large numbers and present a major tactical problem.

America’s anti-ship missiles are also a grossly inefficient response to small, cheap boats — which, like a swarm of insects, can still bite even if you swat back as much as you can.

The Navy should further expect Iran to send surveillance boats to get close and pinpoint targets before transmitting the data to other vessels armed with ship-killing missiles. “Countering fast attack craft, that’s really the niche where the Navy’s got this capability gap,” Paul Daniels of Raytheon Missile Systems told Breaking Defense. “Right now there’s no way to stand off and shoot them first before they shoot you.”

It only takes a single missile — or torpedo — to score a hit and disable or sink a warship. No wonder the U.S. Navy is on a hair trigger.

Next Story — The United States Is Getting More and More Irritated at Russia’s Nuke Treaty Violation
Currently Reading - The United States Is Getting More and More Irritated at Russia’s Nuke Treaty Violation

Russian Backfire bombers. Photo via Wikipedia

The United States Is Getting More and More Irritated at Russia’s Nuke Treaty Violation

Moscow’s apparent new missile tests patience in Washington

by ELAINE GROSSMAN

Omaha, Nebraska — Russia continues to rattle the United States with its alleged breach of a 1987 bilateral agreement aimed at eliminating medium-range ground-based missiles, according to a senior State Department official.

“We have made it very clear to our Russian colleagues that our patience is not indefinite,” said Frank Rose, the State Department’s top diplomat for arms control, compliance and verification. “We will work closely with our allies to ensure that Russia does not gain any benefit from its violation.”

Translation — this is bad. But unless Moscow actually deploys the prohibited missile, don’t expect a dramatic U.S. response anytime soon.

Congressional Republicans, who pushed the Obama administration three years ago to publicly acknowledge the treaty violation, won’t greet this news warmly. Neither will many arms-control advocates who call for treaty enforcement.

The United States in July 2014 formally accused Russia of breaking provisions in the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty that ban either nation from building, flight-testing or possessing ground-based cruise missiles with ranges between 300 and 3,400 miles. Russian leaders deny they have violated the pact, commonly referred to as the INF agreement.

Washington has not publicly named the weapon at the focus of the controversy. But over the past two years, U.S. diplomats have dismissed theories that it’s a variant of an existing cruise missile, according to security experts. U.S. Defense and State Department officials say it appears Moscow has yet to deploy what they describe as the new “state-of-the-art” missile.

Russian flight tests of the ground-launched cruise missile are said to have already violated the pact, so the damage is done. But U.S. diplomats have been pressing the Kremlin to adhere to the INF terms going forward. They’re calling on Russia to stop any further development or flight tests, and prove that all nonconforming missiles and launchers are being destroyed.

“We have been in a very active engagement with the Russians over the past … three years to try to bring them back into compliance,” Rose said, speaking July 27, 2016 at a military symposium here. “To date, our efforts have not been successful. But we have not thrown in the towel.”

It’s a hard sell, U.S.-based Russia experts say.

If Moscow had wanted to adhere to international norms, it could have developed the missile only after withdrawing from the INF Treaty. Doing so, though, would have subjected the Kremlin to international opprobrium for exiting an agreement popular in Europe and Asia, where nations sit within range of ground-based missiles the accord was meant to eliminate, said Steven Pifer of the Brookings Institution.

Instead, Russia gambled on quietly developing a banned missile and exploiting Washington’s reluctance to discuss sensitive intelligence data about it. That reticence about revealing intelligence details hampers U.S. efforts to foster global opinion against the violation, Pifer said.

AGM-158 Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile. Photo via Wikipedia

Last November, Rose said the Obama administration was contemplating “possible economic and military responses” that might “motivate Russia” to “resolve the issue diplomatically.” Others have since described U.S. and European economic sanctions against Russia — along with the NATO’s recent force buildups, new security collaborations and military exercises — as a substantial response to Moscow’s overall uptick in aggressive behavior, to include the prohibited cruise-missile testing.

Russia also has complicated the matter by floating counter-accusations that U.S. Aegis missile deployments in Romania violate the 1987 agreement. The United States denies this, saying Aegis is configured for use only in missile defense.

Onsite inspections would be required to prove the Aegis deployments could not be used as offensive ground-launched cruise missiles, said Ivo Daalder, a former U.S. ambassador to NATO. The Russian allegation is “invalid,” he said. But now that it “in the air,” the Aegis issue must be dealt with if Moscow’s breach is to be resolved, Daalder said.

Should the Kremlin move to deploy the prohibited weapon, the Pentagon has contemplated three possible response approaches. Fielding “active defenses” to protect allies against any cruise missile attacks. Using “counterforce capabilities” to strike the cruise missiles themselves on the ground. Or deploying “countervailing strike capabilities” akin to the Russian weapons.

Some of these options would comply with the INF Treaty, while others would not, Brian McKeon, a top Defense Department policy official, said in 2014 congressional testimony.

“In the event that Russia does deploy and it becomes obvious to the world that they have violated the treaty, then I’m confident that the administration will respond forcefully” with one or more of the three options, one former senior Pentagon official told War Is Boring. The individual spoke on condition of not being named, citing the sensitivity of reaction timing.

Each response category raises potential complications, though. Cruise missiles are relatively small and difficult to locate on the ground, and striking them could be highly inflammatory. These missiles also are hard to defend against in flight, Daalder noted. And the Pentagon can barely afford its existing equipment modernization plans without adding an expensive, new ground-based missile to the budget, Pifer said.

Should Moscow’s action compel Washington to openly develop new medium-range missile capabilities of its own, that could also put the White House — rather than the Kremlin — on the hot seat for withdrawing from the treaty first, Pifer said.

Any U.S. move to develop similar ground-based missiles that flout the treaty also would be unnecessary, said Hans Kristensen of the Federation of American Scientists. The Pentagon is already fielding thousands of treaty-compliant, air-launched AGM-158 Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missiles on bombers and attack jets that could threaten virtually any target in Russia, he said.

Virtually any new military response to the Russian violation holds the potential to spark a tit-for-tat arms race, reminiscent of the Cold War.

“We don’t want to create an action-reaction cycle, if at all possible,” Rose said July 27. “But be assured. One, our patience is not indefinite, and two, we will do what is necessary to protect the United States and our allies from potential threats.”

Presently, Washington’s European allies don’t have much stomach for challenging Russia on the INF Treaty issue, Daalder said.

Germany recently said a Russian withdrawal from the INF Treaty “would fundamentally shake security architecture beyond Europe.” But an alliance split over the matter is plain to see and one that Moscow is exploiting. NATO on July 9 devoted just two sentences to the topic in its 16,469-word Warsaw summit communiqué, and stopped short of alleging a Russian violation.

“I think it’s very unlikely that we would want to do anything without the full support of our allies,” Rose told War Is Boring on the military conference sidelines in July. “This is not really just an arms-control treaty. It goes to the fundamental issue of Eurasian security.”

“The Russians think they can have their cake and eat it, too, [and] that we won’t do anything,” said Jeffrey Lewis of the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies. “I think that’s a bad precedent to set.”

Lewis said Washington should share with its European and Asian allies more data about the new missile and how its deployment would threaten them. That could ratchet up pressure on the Kremlin to return to compliance, he said.

Even in Washington, though, the matter is receding as the White House and Congress grapple with the Russian annexation of Crimea, its suspected hacking of Democratic campaign computers, and an incident last spring in which one of its jet fighters repeatedly buzzed a U.S. warship in the Baltic Sea.

While Rose condemned the alleged treaty violations, he acknowledged the Kremlin began developing the new cruise missile only as its Backfire bomber and other theater-strike capabilities began aging out.

A decade before the State Department made public its formal accusation, then-Russian defense minister Sergei Ivanov in 2004 proposed a “joint withdrawal” from the INF Treaty.

At the time, Russian officials said medium-range missiles might become necessary to address threats from potential nearby adversaries, such as China and Pakistan. But the United States refused to renounce the agreement, insisting it continued to bolster regional security.

“They are probably developing these capabilities … because their theater-strike capability has declined,” Rose told War Is Boring. “And this helps kind of close a gap.”

Still, Pifer said, the Russians “have more than enough to deter those countries” of concern. “They don’t need an intermediate-range missile to do that.”

Elaine Grossman is an investigative reporter who writes about national security and foreign affairs. This article was independently reported with partial funding support from a Ploughshares Fund journalism grant.

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