The holidays this year were unusually kind to the Mazzafro family, and I hope the same is true for you and all who matter to you.
No holiday though for world events that affect and effect our national security and personal safety. While there have fortunately been no ISIS beheadings since our last virtual encounter, the last two weeks of December ushered out 2014 with several events that will surely impact the national security scene in 2015. As the price of oil continued to drop driving the Russian economy into chaos, President Obama diplomatically recognized Cuba to mixed reviews in both countries. There was a lone wolf terrorist hostage situation in Sydney Australia that resulted in two dead, while the Taliban attacked a school in Peshawar for Pakistani military children killing 141 (132 children). All of this was unfolding as North Korea concocted a high visibility cyber hack against Sony Picture Entertainment (SPE; previously Columbia Pictures) to prevent the release of the feature film “The Interview,” which is a comedy satire imagining that two reporters acting on behalf of the CIA assassinate North Korea’s “Boy Leader” Kim Jung Un. The cyber hack against SPE’s intellectual property, business records, and emails was followed by threats of physical violence against theaters screening “The Interview” on Christmas Day. The US-led NATO combat mission in Afghanistan formally ended but with 11,000 troops remaining, while the general leading the fight against ISIS said things are going well, but that it will be at least three years before we can stand-down. Not surprisingly the polemics about the Senate Select Committee for Intelligence (SSCI) majority report on the use of Enhanced Interrogation Techniques dissipated with the adjournment of the 113th Congress.
So given all this, here is a potpourri of what I think we can expect to see in 2015:
- The Sony Hack is likely to be the seminal cyber event that causes both the US government and the private sector to get serious enough about cyber security to encourage the Congress to pass bi-partisan legislation that will require the sharing of threat information between corporations and government agencies with cyber security responsibilities. Moreover, there will likely be a robust debate about what constitutes “cyber vandalism” as opposed to “cyber terrorism” and when a “cyber-attack” is an act of war? Presumably, this debate will educate the American people regarding when and how they can expect their government to protect them in cyber space. I also believe that the Sony hack and privacy concerns raised by the Snowden revelations will cause a rapid adoption of data encryption by virtually all Fortune 500 companies around the world and a significant number of individuals as well. As for North Korea, I would not be surprised to see a more open struggle emerge between hardliners and Chinese-encouraged moderates regarding pragmatic accommodations with South Korea and the US.
- The 46% drop in oil prices during 2014 has certainly ratcheted up the effects of economic sanctions on Iran and Russia while stimulating economic activity in China, Japan, and the US – – so what’s not to like about this situation? Nothing, if it causes Tehran to agree to curtail its nuclear weapons program in a verifiable way and results in Moscow rethinking its expansionist foreign policy in former states of the defunct Soviet Union. The alternative, however, is an “us against the world” outlook that actually causes Putin and Iran’s supreme leader Khamenei to see no option but to keep pursuing aggressive nationalistic based policies that will continue to challenge a “lame duck” Obama administration facing an adversarial Congress.
- With China’s economic growth rate slowing to between 6% and 7% as the population ages, the Xi Jinping regime will become increasingly concerned with domestic issues. Of particular importance to Xi and the Chinese Politburo will be insuring that the democracy movement/demonstrations in Hong Kong do not spread to China’s mainland coastal cities. Meanwhile, the declining price of oil should have a calming effect on China and other nations seeking to establish territorial claims in the South and East China Sea in order to preserve energy exploration rights.
- By this time next year the US lead effort to degrade, disrupt and defeat ISIS with airpower will likely have devolved into a stalemate despite the US committing another 7,000 combat “advisers” (for a total of 10,000 boots on the ground) to steady and encourage the Iraqi Army. The irony here is that US ground forces will likely be acting in concert with the Iranian military to keep at least a Shia Iraq in existence. Unless Syrian Dictator Bashar al Assad is taken out politically, or by other means, there seems little chance of the Syrian civil war ending in 2015.
- With 11,000 US troops remaining in Afghanistan as combat advisors, the end of America’s combat mission in this foreboding landlocked country is more political rhetoric than reality. The presence of US troops and the Pakistani military’s unwillingness to now concede safe haven to the Taliban and Al Qaeda in the aftermath of the Peshawar military school slaughter should keep the central government in Kabul viable, but for the long term prognosis see Iraq after the US departure in 2011 and Afghanistan post the Russian departure in 1989. Already Afghan President Ashraf Ghani is saying the United States might want to “re-examine” the timetable for removing the remaining U.S.-led coalition troops in the country by the end of 2016.
- And now for the “lightening round”
- “Lone Wolf” attacks, both physical and cyber, will increase in 2015 as result of self-radicalization, aggrieved individuals, or some just seeking their “15 minutes of fame.”
- NSA’s bulk collection authorities will likely be renewed, but with considerable deference to privacy concerns and transparency. I also expect to see privacy advocates arguing before the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC)
- The Intelligence Community’s (IC) deteriorating relationship with Congress should begin to heal, but it will be incumbent on the IC to rebuild the trust and confidence of the Congress (and by extension the American people) in the community. Both the IC and its Congressional oversight committees should begin a dialogue regarding how to revamp oversight so it can be more effective both in terms of IC mission needs and growing privacy concerns associate with the Information Age.
- Budget caps will not be lifted by the 114th Congress, leaving Overseas Contingency Operating (OCO) funds as the only source of relief for unmet defense and intelligence funding needs. Military Service Intelligence agencies will be particularly squeezed
- Despite the interest of incoming Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter in acquisition reform, which is shared with Senator McCain (incoming Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee) and Representative Thornberry (next Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee), there will be no meaningful reforms enacted in 2015.
- As defense and intelligence contract award opportunities diminish because of budget realities, there will be an increase in merger and acquisition activity within the DoD and IC’s industrial base.
- Expectations that private sector Research & Development (R&D) will be sufficient to meet Defense and IC needs are misplaced as contractors shift funding from R&D to protect shareholder equity and/or improve their balance sheets for potential acquirers.
- 2015 is the “make or break” year for ICITE to begin to deliver mission capabilities to the IC if IOC, as laid out in 2012, is going to be achieved by 2017. Agencies opting out of the Desk Top Environment (DTE), the slow development of governance models, and challenges with integration do not make me optimistic
That’s what I think; what do you think?