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A Perfect Cyber Storm: Russia and China Teaming Together

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United States intelligence agencies have listed cyber-attacks as the top threat to American national security, ahead of terrorism. These threats are increasing in sophistication, scale, frequency, and severity of impact.

Also, the range of actors, attack methods, targeted systems, and victims are expanding. In February 2015, James Clapper, the Director of National Intelligence in the United States, announced that the estimation of the Russian cyber threat had been elevated, pushing Russia to the number one spot on the list of countries which pose the greatest danger to the United States.

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia has faced political, military, and economic challenges which it worried could mean that its national interests could be ignored by other powers. In order to protect their interests defensively, and free up their offensive capabilities for deployment elsewhere, Russia and China signed an agreement in April 2015 vowing not to attack each other, while also agreeing to share intelligence and software and cooperate in law enforcement and investigations. This is a direct challenge to the United States because not only are Russia and China working together to get ahead in the energy race but this agreement meant they were now trying to combine their capacities in the digital world.

China and Russia, by far, have the most sophisticated cyber capabilities in the world. The offensive cyber capabilities of each individual country was a threat already to the United States but if they now work together in earnest the United States could be facing an unprecedented cyber danger. According to senior military officials, Russia’s Ministry of Defense is establishing its own cyber command that will be responsible for conducting offensive cyber activities such as propaganda operations and inserting malware into enemy command and control systems. A specialized branch for computer network operations is also being established by Russia’s armed forces. Computer security studies claim that unspecified Russian cyber actors are developing ways to access industrial control systems remotely. Industrial control systems manage critical infrastructures such as electrical power grids, urban mass-transit systems, air-traffic control, and oil and gas distribution networks. “These unspecified Russian actors have successfully compromised the product supply chains of three ICS vendors so that customers download exploitative malware directly from the vendors’ websites along with routine software updates.”

Russia was one of the first nations to move assertively into the cyber sphere. In 1998, long before most nations even began thinking about cyber-security, the Kremlin-backed “Directorate K”, a government agency, began operations to monitor and defend against hackers and spammers. However, in recent years Directorate K has taken on a more offensive role in the digital sphere. Russia has been cyber-probing the United States for many years. In 1999, it was discovered that the Moonlight Maze virus had been stealing information from the Department of Defense, Department of Energy, NASA, and military contractors for two years.

In early 2015, Russian hackers were able to access an unclassified server belonging to the United States Department of State. Through this they were able to penetrate sensitive areas of the White House computer system and access information such as the real-time non-public details of President Barack Obama’s schedule. The FBI, Secret Service, and other United States intelligence agencies were all involved in investigating the breach and said that it was the most sophisticated attack ever launched against an American governmental system. The breach was pinpointed to hackers working for the Russian government based on “tell-tale codes and other markers,” even though the intrusion was routed through computers all around the globe. The attack was believed to have begun with a phishing email launched using a State Department email account that the hackers had previously stolen.

China has also recently increased the amount of time, manpower, resources and money spent on cyber espionage. China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) includes a special bureau within its intelligence community specifically managed for cyber espionage. The PLA, according to recent intelligence reports, is not only capable of advanced surveillance and collection but also possesses malware that could take down foreign electricity and water grids. However, it seems that China so far has only been motivated to commit financial and economic espionage, rather than any outright physical infrastructure attacks. Nevertheless, the United States has been getting compromised by China for many years. “It is estimated that in the last few years, Chinese hackers have attempted attacks on 2,000 companies, universities, and government agencies in the United States.” In 2003, China launched Titan Rain against United States military and government agencies. Titan Rain targeted US defense networks in an attempt to obtain confidential national security information. While no information was reported as stolen, it was considered to be one of the largest attacks in cyber espionage history. Titan Rain is particularly unnerving because the attack was meant to be completed in as little as 20 minutes and was able to target high-profile agencies such as NASA, the US Army Information Systems Engineering Command, the Defense Information Systems Agency, the Naval Ocean Systems Center, and the US Army Space and Strategic Defense Installation simultaneously in one day.

These cyber threats from Russia and China were always a major concern for the United States because they undermined American economic competitiveness and at least tried to compromise national security interests. As of now, a “cyber armageddon” may not be a high risk but low to moderate-level attacks over time could pose serious financial and security risks to the United States. Especially if this supposed cyber alliance ever truly takes root and begins to create new innovative cyber strategies for attacks. “In the United States alone, the value of the information that is compromised due to international hacking is somewhere between 25 billion to 100 billion dollars annually.” With Russia’s tactics of using cyber-attacks to block any and all communications from within a nation-state and China’s habit of economic and financial cyber-attacks, the two countries combining could be a perfect storm of political and economic havoc that may not yet have the United States’ proper attention and deterrence capacity.

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Intelligence

Who Masterminded the Suicide Attack on Hazara Students’ Educational Center Kaj in Kabul?

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Image source: thestar.com

According to explicit intelligence information, last Friday, September 30, 2022, a suicide attack on Hazara students in an educational center called (Kaj) in the western part of Kabul was carried out by the Ministry of Education and the so-called ministry of Evil Forbidden of the Taliban in coordination with the leadership of Kandahar. Apparently, Afghans’ feelings were torn apart by the news of the Taliban’s former Minister of Education Maulvi Noorullah Munir that he had signposted in Uruzgan Province, followed by the Minister of the Evil Forbidden of the Taliban, Sheikh Muhammad Khalid Hanafi, claimed that letting women educated is opposed to Sharia law.

After his comments, he was rigorously criticized by the internal and external media, women activists, youth, the UN and the international community. Which is why the masterminds contacted the GDI of the Taliban’s intelligence agency followed by the meeting between the Akhundzada Taliban and Sheikhs of the South West Zone, while giving them permission and sharia fatwa/decree to suicide attacks on women’s schools and all institutions that encourage women to come out of their homes across Afghanistan.  In such manner they wanted to be free of international denunciation, since, the responsibility of such attacks is always claimed by the ISIS group in order to gain influence in Afghanistan. On the other hand, the high-ranking leaders of the Taliban are in contact with the ISIS group in the east of Afghanistan, so that the two groups are coordinating in such assaults to happen.

Hence, the Taliban by applying this method want to upsurge the risk and threat towards the female strata of the Afghan community getting them scared, in order to prevent them to go to schools.    Learning that, the high-ranking leaders of the Taliban government are forced to take such measures, since in the absence of such attacks, women will not stop studying, especially non-Pashtun Geno.      If girls go to school and the Taliban leaders do not stop them, then the low-ranking members and fighters of the Taliban will start rebelling against their own leaders.

As a result, there will be more internal strife and the group will become weak and eventually disappear, which is not in the interest west, who wants to employ the Taliban government and other non-state international armed groups in Afghanistan as an unofficial private militia against China and Russia. Furthermore, the Taliban’s foreign supporters are also forcing the ISIS group to take responsibility for some of the current and potential crimes committed by the Taliban, while paving the way for the Taliban to achieve their goal, subsequently, the external pressures will be  reduced and internal differences and resentment of low-ranking fighters will be avoided.

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Ethnic War a Newfangled Pakistani Forward-policy for Afghanistan

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According to the intelligence information, Pakistan’s ISI is trying to start ethnic and maneuvering war again in Afghanistan, of which distinct objective is to refurbish the age-old enmity between the Achakzai and Noorzai tribes in the southwest zone. Besides, they want to start an ethnic war among Pashtuns and non-Pashtuns across Afghanistan, and between the northern and southern directions, thus, the prominent leaders of the Taliban, who are led by the ISI, have been entrusted with the task. As in the east and north of Afghanistan, Pashtun Taliban militants are oppressing other Non-Pashtuns, raiding their homes; however, no high-ranking Pashtun Taliban officials are preventing them because the ISI network leads this strategy. In order to revamp a civil war in Afghanistan, score of influential figures have been summoned by the Pakistani military establishment. 

The latest examples are as follows: Two days ago, the Pashtun Taliban killed the former police chief and an influential tribal leader in Mandol district of Nuristan province, which caused many emotions against Pashtuns especially about southwest zone of Afghanistan. Meanwhile, in order to afresh the years of hostility between the Noorzai and Achakzi tribes in the southwestern region of Afghanistan, the ISI network raised the issue of a mass grave by several leading Taliban militants, especially by the current governor of Kandahar province and Noorzai tribe leading leader, Haji Mohammad Yousef Wafa.

Qari Aslam Noorzai call for by Pak security forces

At a time when the former leader of the Noorzai tribe, the leading smuggler of drugs and heavy weapons in Central and South Asia, and the financial supporter of the first Taliban regime, Haji Bashar Noorzai was released from the US prison in Guantánamo. The Noorzai tribe once again became twice as strong and dominant in Afghanistan, especially in the southwest zone.  Resulting threats towards the Achakzai people, on the other hand, ISI has started rapid efforts to recommence the years of enmity between these two tribes.

Hajee Feyzullah Khan Noorzai meets Pak military Intelligence

Recently, Pakistan’s intelligence network ISI, with the help of some leading social media and high-ranking Taliban officials, has kept the issue of finding a mass grave in Kandahar province in the southwestern zone of Afghanistan broiling, namely by inducing  the blame-game. Meanwhile, local tribal leaders and residents of Spin Boldak district claim that such a grave is the grave of those who were taken out of their homes by the Taliban after August 15.  Since, they were connected to Achakzai tribe and on the other hand, they served in the security departments of the overthrown Islamic Republic of Afghanistan that is why the Taliban night raided their houses, and massively killed them.

Moreover, mass murdering Hazaras at their educational institutions via suicide bombing and meantime blowing up the worship places of Sufi-Muslims, who preach the non-violent form of Islam, while calling for De-weaponization and De-politicization of Islam.

Consequently, by applying such a forward-policy, Pakistan will achieve its fancied strategic-depth in Afghanistan, while subjugating the Afghan Nation.

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Pakistani Intelligence Agencies ignite Tribal Conflicts in Pak-Afghan Region

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According to the intelligence information, Pakistani intelligence community supported by some international rings want to once again spread dispute and disharmony among the tribes in Afghanistan and Pakistan; subsequently the centuries-old evils and wars between the tribes will once more take a new color and become fresh. Recently, rumors of the discovery of a mass grave in Kandahar province in the southwestern zone of Afghanistan are spreading; the blame for this mass murder falls on the former police chief of Kandahar province and the former leader of the Achagzai tribe, General Abdul Razaq Achagzai.  In order to afresh raising the reaction of the Norzi tribe against the Ackzai and anew the evil and war between these two tribes. Even though the current governing body of Afghanistan is completely under the control of the Noorzi tribe, because most of the high-ranking leaders of the Taliban, including the leader of the Taliban, Sheikh Haibatullah, are related to the Noorzi tribe, so there is a greater threat posed to the Achakzi tribe.

Even now, in spite of such menaces, more than 6000 Achakzi families live in Kandahar province, whose members served in the security departments under the command of General Abdul Razaq Achakzi, a staunch opponent of the Taliban.  Currently, in such a tense situation that the Taliban administration has control over Afghanistan and the head of this administration is connected to the Nurzi tribe, the harsh criticism of General Abdul Razaq Achakzai’s mass killings is logical, which can cause international and internal outcries.  As a result, the major victims will be the youths and leading tribal leaders of the Achakzai tribe.

By the advent of Taliban on August 15, 2021, in the first four months, more than 600 youths and tribal leaders from the Achakzi tribe were killed in the southwest zone of Afghanistan, while applying night operations or raids by the Taliban. The most famous case happened to the family of Haji Fida Mohammad Achakzai in Spin Boldak district. Haji Fida Muhammad Achakzai, known as Haji Fida Aka, is a leading leader of the Achakza tribe of Spin Boldak district and had close relations with the family of General Abdul Razaq Achakzai.

 When Kandahar province fell to the Taliban before August 15, the two young sons of him were killed by the Taliban on the first night, unfortunately none of the Taliban officials took any action to prevent the tragedy. Nevertheless, this time, there is a plan going on at the international level to renew the age-old differences between the Achakzai and Norzai tribes, which the international media warmly supports.  If this time the internal differences and conflicts between the Achakzai and Norzai tribes in Afghanistan get sturdier, then it will have damaging effects not only in Afghanistan, but also, serious negative measures will be taken against the Norzai under the leadership of Mahmoud Khan Achakzai, the head of the Achakzai tribe, in the Pakhtunkhwa provinces of Pakistan.

In the meantime, the decision of the Pakistani government to hand over the Pashtun areas in Pakhtunkhwa provinces to the Taliban was approved and supported by the Nurzi tribe, conversely, this action of the Pakistani government was strongly condemned by Mahmoud Khan Achakzai and PTM leader Manzoor Pashtun.

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