Countering Russian disinformation the Baltic nations’ way - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY TRENDING

Countering Russian disinformation the Baltic nations’ way

As the new Congress begins, it will soon discuss the comprehensive reports to the U.S. Senate on the disinformation campaign of half-truths, outright fabrications and misleading posts made by agents of the Russian government on social media in the run-up to the 2016 presidential election.

After years of anemic responses to Russian influence efforts, official U.S. government policy now includes taking action to combat disinformation campaigns sponsored by Russia or other countries. In May 2018, the Senate Intelligence Committee endorsed the concept of treating attacks on the nation’s election infrastructure as hostile acts to which the U.S. “will respond accordingly.” In June 2018, the Pentagon unleashed U.S. Cyber Command to respond to cyberattacks more aggressively, and the National Cyber Strategy published in September 2018 clarified that “all instruments of national power are available to prevent, respond to, and deter malicious cyber activity against the United States.”


There are already indications that Cyber Command conducted operations against Russian disinformation on social media, including warning specific Russians not to interfere with the 2018 elections. However, low-level cyberwarfare is not necessarily the best way. European countries, especially the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, have confronted Russian disinformation campaigns for decades. Their experience may offer useful lessons as the U.S. joins the battle.

Countering Russian disinformation the Baltic nations’ way

The Baltic Sea region of northern Europe. Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania are in light green in the center, west of Russia in blue.

(Photo by Stefan Ertmann, CC BY-SA)

The Baltic experience

Beginning in 1940 and continuing until they declared independence in the early 1990s, the Baltic countries were subjected to systematic Russian gaslighting designed to make people doubt their national history, culture and economic development.

The Soviets rewrote history books to falsely emphasize Russian protection of the Baltic people from invading hordes in the Middle Ages, and to convey the impression that the cultural evolution of the three countries was enabled by their allegiance and close ties to Russia. Even their national anthems were rewritten to pay homage to Soviet influence.

Soviet leaders devalued Baltic currencies and manipulated economic data to falsely suggest that Soviet occupation was boosting the Baltic economies. Further, Soviet authorities settled ethnic Russians in the Baltic countries, and made Russian the primary language used in schools.

Since the fall of the Soviet Union and the independence of the Baltic countries, the Russian Federation has continued to deliver disinformation to the region, making extensive use of Russian-language social media. Some themes characterize the Baltic people as ungrateful for Soviet investment and aid after World War II. Another common message criticizes Baltic historians for “falsification of history” when really they are describing the real nature of the Soviet occupation.

A massive Russian attack

After independence, and as the internet grew, Estonia led the way in applying technology to accelerate economic development. The country created systems for a wide range of government and commercial services, including voting, banking and filing tax returns electronically. Today, Estonia’s innovative e-residency system is being adopted in many other countries.

These advances made the Baltics a prime target for cyberattacks. In the spring of 2007, the Russians struck. When Estonia moved a monument memorializing Soviet soldiers from downtown Tallinn, the country’s capital, to a military cemetery a couple of miles away, it provoked the ire of ethnic Russians living in Estonia as well as the Russian government.

Countering Russian disinformation the Baltic nations’ way

The relocation of the Bronze Soldier of Tallinn sparked a Russian cyberattack on Estonia in 2007.

(Photo by Keith Ruffles)

For three weeks, Estonian government, financial and media computer systems were bombarded with enormous amounts of internet traffic in a “distributed denial of service” attack. In these situations, an attacker sends overwhelming amounts of data to the targeted internet servers, clogging them up with traffic and either slowing them down or knocking them offline entirely. Despite concerns about the first “cyber war,” however, these attacks resulted in little damage. Although Estonia was cut off from the global internet temporarily, the country’s economy suffered no lasting harm.

These attacks could have severely damaged the country’s financial system or power grid. But Estonia was prepared. The country’s history with Russian disinformation had led Estonia to expect Russian attacks on computer and information systems. In anticipation, the government spearheaded partnerships with banks, internet service providers and other organizations to coordinate responses to cyberattacks. In 2006, Estonia was one of the first countries to create a Computer Emergency Response Team to manage security incidents.

The Baltic response

After the 2007 attack, the Baltic countries upped their game even more. For example, Estonia created the Cyber Defense League, an army of volunteer specialists in information technology. These experts focus onsharing threat information, preparing society for responding to cyber incidents and participating in international cyber defense activities.

Internationally, Estonia gained approval in 2008 to establish NATO’s Cooperative Cyber Defense Center of Excellence in Tallinn. Its comprehensive research into global cyber activities helps identify best practices in cyber defense and training for NATO members.

Countering Russian disinformation the Baltic nations’ way

A place to watch: the Russian embassy in Estonia.

CC BY-SA 4.0

In 2014, Riga, the capital of neighboring Latvia, became home to another NATO organization combating Russian influence, the Strategic Communications Center of Excellence. It publishes reports on Russian disinformation activities, such as the May 2018 study of the “Virtual Russian World in the Baltics.” That report analyzes Russian social media activities targeting Baltic nations with a “toxic mix of disinformation and propaganda.” It also provides insight into identifying and detecting Russian disinformation campaigns.

Baltic elves” – volunteers who monitor the internet for Russian disinformation – became active in 2015 after the Maidan Square events in the Ukraine. And the Baltic nations have fined or suspended media channels that display bias.

The Baltic countries also rely on a European Union agency formed in 2015 to combat Russian disinformation campaigns directed against the EU. The agency identifies disinformation efforts and publicizes accurate information that the Russians are seeking to undermine. A new effort will issue rapid alerts to the public when potential disinformation is directed against the 2019 European Parliament elections.

Will the ‘Baltic model’ work in the US?

Because of their political acknowledgment of threats and actions taken by their governments to fight disinformation, a 2018 study rated Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania the three European Union members best at responding to Russian disinformation.

Inside Russia’s propaganda machine

www.youtube.com

Some former U.S. officials have suggested adopting similar practices, including publicizing disinformation efforts and evidence tying them to Russia. The Senate Intelligence Committee has called for that too, as has the Atlantic Council, an independent think tank that focuses on international affairs.

The U.S. could also mobilize volunteers to boost citizens’ and businesses’ cyber defenses and teach people to identify and combat disinformation.

Disinformation is a key part of Russia’s overall effort to undermine Western governments. As a result, the battle is ever-changing, with Russians constantly trying new angles of attack and target countries like the Baltic nations identifying and thwarting those efforts. The most effective responses will involve coordination between governments, commercial technology companies and the news industry and social media platforms to identify and address disinformation.

A similar approach may work in the U.S., though it would require far more collaboration than has existed so far. But backed by the new government motivation to strike back when provoked, the methods used in the Baltic states and across Europe could provide a powerful new deterrent against Russian influence in the West.

Featured image by Matt Madd.

This article originally appeared on The Conversation. Follow @militarydotcom on @ConversationUS.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Sunken Soviet nuclear sub is leaking radiation into the sea

The sinking of the Soviet nuclear submarine Komsomolets 30 years ago was one of the worst submarine disasters of all time, and the lasting damages may be far from over.

Norwegian researchers believe that the wrecked K-278 Komsomolets, the only Project 685 Pavnik nuclear-powered attack submarine, is leaking radiation on the seafloor. While two of three preliminary water samples taken on July 8, 2019, show no leakage, one alarming sample showed radiation levels 100,000 times higher than uncontaminated seawater, Norway’s state-owned broadcaster NRK reported.

Low levels of radiation were detected by Russian scientists in the early 1990s and again in 2007, The Barents Observer reported. Norway, which has been taking samples every year since 1990, found elevated concentrations of the radioactive substance cesium-137 near the wreck between 1991 and 1993. No leaks were ever found.


The Norwegian research ship GO Sars set sail on July 6, 2019, from Tromsø to the location in the Norwegian Sea where the Komsomolets sank and sent a Norwegian-built remote-controlled mini-sub to examine the situation. The Soviet submarine, which was lost to the depths with its nuclear reactors, as well as two torpedoes carrying plutonium warheads, is resting at a depth of around a mile below the surface of the sea.

Komsomolets 30 years after it sank

www.youtube.com

The use of the Ægir 6000 mini-sub is a new approach for the Norwegians, one that is expected to offer more precise readings, NRK reported. “The new surveys,” Ingar Amundsen, Head of Directorate for Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety explained, “are important for understanding the pollution risk posed by Komsomolets.”

Norway is particularly concerned about the potential impact on commercial fishing in the area.

“It is important that the monitoring of the nuclear submarine continues, so that we have updated knowledge about the pollution situation in the area around the wreck,” researcher Hilde Elise Heldal of the Institute of Marine Research said in a press statement. “The monitoring helps to ensure consumer confidence in the Norwegian fishing industry.”

Heldal said she was not overly surprised by the recent findings given some of the earlier detections of apparent radioactive emissions. Experts have said previously, according to The Barents Observer, that there is little chance of food chain contamination given the limited marine life presence at the depth the wreckage is located.

The massive 400-foot-long Komsomolets was launched in 1983 at Severodvinsk, where it became operational a year later. The Soviet submarine, expected to be the first of a new class of large attack submarines, had the ability to operate at depths below 3,000 feet, making it one of the world’s deepest diving subs, according to the Central Intelligence Agency.

The vessel, attached to the Soviet Northern Fleet, sank on April 7, 1989, about 100 miles southwest of Bear Island after a fire broke out in the engine room. Forty-two of the 69 were killed, most due to exposure resulting from the slow reaction of the Soviet navy to rescue the stranded crew.

News of a possible radiation leak from the Komsomolets comes a little over a week after 14 Russian sailors perished due to a fire aboard a secret submarine believed to be the Losharik, a top secret deep-diving nuclear submarine suspected to have been designed to gather intelligence, tamper with undersea cables and pipelines, and possibly install or destroy defensive sonar arrays.

Norwegian researchers have been monitoring this incident for signs of radioactive contamination.

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

MIGHTY TRENDING

United Airlines allegedly denied benefits to an Air Force reservist

If you’ve ever hoped United Airlines would get what it deserves, you may be in luck — courtesy of the U.S. government.


United is an airline renowned for its terrible customer service and its awful passenger experiences. It’s so bad, journalists write think pieces about it, and the company CEO talks about how awful they are every six months, while promising to improve.

The company even has its own Twitter parody account.

Awhile ago, United may have taken it one step too far – at the expense of one of its own.

 

Countering Russian disinformation the Baltic nations’ way
We’re actually surprised it took this long. (Photo by Kiefer)

Daniel Fandrei is a United Airlines pilot who says he was not credited with his employee benefits – his accrued sick leave – while he was deployed to Southwest Asia as Air Force Reserve pilot Lt. Col. Fandrei. He reportedly filed a complaint with the Department of Labor’s Veterans’ Employment and Training Service.

An effort by the airline and Fandrei to resolve the situation failed. This is the airline who lost a 10-year-old girl, after all.

Countering Russian disinformation the Baltic nations’ way

Fandrei is a KC-10 Extender pilot who spent December 2012 to March 2013 conducting mid-air refuelings in support of combat operations in the CENTCOM theater. According to the Justice Department, United did not give him the same benefits as other employees during that time.

The Uniformed Service Employment and Reemployment Rights Act ensures military reserve and guard members called to active duty do not experience penalties as a result of their service.

Vanita Gupta, head of the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division, said Lt. Col. Fandrei’s civil rights are “violated” by United’s behavior, Consumerist’s Chris Morran reported. The DOJ filed a lawsuit with a federal court in Chicago to recoup what the department calls “wrongfully denied employment benefits.”

Under the USERRA, the federal government will file legal actions against things like car repossessions and home foreclosures for activated servicemembers. Fandrei joined the Air Force as an officer in 1990 and started working for United in 2000.

“Lt. Col. Fandrei has made many sacrifices to serve our nation honorably, including spending months away from his job and family,” U.S. Attorney Zachary T. Fardon of the Northern District of Illinois said in a statement. “When our servicemembers are deployed in the service of our country, they are entitled to retain their civilian employment and benefits, and to the protections of federal law that prevent them from being subject to discrimination based upon their military obligations.”

Lists

8 tips and tricks to get better at ruck marching

The one exercise that will never leave the military is also the one exercise that requires the most thought. Push-ups? Just find a good form and knock them out. Runs? Just get a good pair of shoes and be fast.


But ruck marching, especially if you’re going over 12 miles, takes more brains than brawn.

If you’re still in or looking forward to Bataan Memorial Death March, this helpful guide will help get you through a ruck march.

Preparation:

1. Carry heavier weights higher in the pack.

The problem most people have with ruck marching is the weight of their pack dragging them down after the first mile. The lower the weight hangs, the more effort it requires. It also causes more knee and back pain, which means more visits to the doc and, eventually, the VA if done incorrectly.

Countering Russian disinformation the Baltic nations’ way
Bring the weight up to your shoulders, not your hips (Photo by Sgt. Patrick Eakin)

2. Always use your best boots, but not the fancy boots.

The best boots are the ones that will give your feet and ankles the best support. The standard-issue boots are actually very good in this respect. Funnily enough, the “high-speed tacticool” boots that everyone seems to buy are actually far worse for your feet on longer ruck marches.

Countering Russian disinformation the Baltic nations’ way
And don’t be that fool who wears the nice boots they regularly wear in uniform. They’ll get dirty fast. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Molly Hampton)

3. Anti-chafing powder and good underwear.

Common sense says that your feet will chafe, but what some people don’t get is that there are also other parts of the body that will rub against itself.

Countering Russian disinformation the Baltic nations’ way
I mean, unless you’re comfortable with that rash and awkward conversations with medics… (Photo by Capt. Michael Merrill)

4. Wear a good pair of socks and keep more on standby.

When it comes to socks, you’ll want to spend a little extra money to get some good pairs. Make sure you bring plenty durable, moisture-wicking socks, because you’ll need to change them constantly.

Countering Russian disinformation the Baltic nations’ way
Every stop. No exceptions. (Photo by Lance Cpl. Danny Gonzalez)

During the Ruck:

5. Don’t run.

If you do find yourself slowing down or getting left behind, take longer strides instead of running.

If you run, you’ll smack the weight of your pack against your spine and exhaust way too much energy to get somewhere slightly faster. Practice that “range walk” that your drill sergeant/instructor got on your ass to learn.

Countering Russian disinformation the Baltic nations’ way
Just find a good pace and stick with the unit. (Photo by Spc. Jonathan Wallace)

6. Daydream.

Pretend you’re somewhere else. Think about literally anything other than the weight on your back or your feet hitting the ground. The hardest part of a ruck march should only be the first quarter mile — everything after that just flies by.

Countering Russian disinformation the Baltic nations’ way

7. Plenty of water, protein and fruits.

There is nothing more important on a ruck march than water. Keep drinking, even if you’re not thirsty. Drink plenty of water before the march, plenty of water during, and plenty of water after the march.

You’ll also lose tons of electrolytes along the way, so stock up on POG-gie bait (junk food) to help keep that water in your system.

Countering Russian disinformation the Baltic nations’ way

After the Ruck:

8. Take care of your blisters.

Even if you follow all of this advice, you may still end up with blisters by the march’s end. Use some moleskin to help take care of them, crack open a cold one, and relax. You earned it.

Countering Russian disinformation the Baltic nations’ way
We decided not to end this on a picture of blisters, so, you’re welcome, everyone-who-isn’t-a-medic-or-grunt. (U.S. Army Reserve photo by Sgt. Audrey Hayes)

MIGHTY TRENDING

Why a North Korean defector fled the for the South

The 24-year-old North Korean defector who successfully made it across the North Korean border and into South Korea under a hail of gunfire was reportedly involved in a crime “that led to a death,” according to South Korean intelligence officials cited in Donga Ilbo, a South Korean newspaper, on Jan. 23.


Chung-sung Oh reportedly confessed to the alleged crime, according to intelligence officials who are investigating his background as part of the standard procedure involving North Korean defectors. The National Intelligence Service, the primary intelligence agency in the country, was said to be looking into all circumstances of the alleged death, including whether it was a murder or an accidental death.

Related: Watch a North Korean defector dodging bullets to cross the DMZ

A reporter from Chosun Ilbo, another South Korean news organization, also said he received a similar unconfirmed report in December, in which Oh is believed to have been involved in a vehicle accident involving another person and may have defected in fear of being punished.

Oh, who has been recovering after sustaining multiple gunshot wounds, is said to have a carefree personality, according to government sources. But those sources noted that his testimony seemed to change depending on his mood. The investigation is expected to extend beyond February.

If reports of Oh’s statement proves to be true, it could complicate the proceedings and exclude him from benefits for North Korean defectors, according to the South Korean newspaper. But because the government does not have an extradition treaty with North Korea, Oh does not appear to be at risk of being sent back to the North.

Countering Russian disinformation the Baltic nations’ way
A defector from North Korea dodges bullets as he crosses the DMZ.

Meanwhile, South Korean intelligence officials have publicly denied Oh’s testimony and said those involved with the matter had “never made a statement of that kind.”

The Ministry of Unification, the government body responsible for inter-Korean relations, said that it could not confirm the account because the investigation was still ongoing.

News surrounding Oh has become a hot-button subject in Korea after footage of his dramatic escape in November was captured in stunning detail. Following Oh’s rescue, those involved in the recovery, including his physician, have been the center of media attention in the country.

Articles

‘Noose around the neck of ISIS’ as carrier airstrikes move south

ABOARD THE USS GEORGE H.W. BUSH, Persian Gulf — The hiss and scream of F/A-18 Super Hornets launching from the flight deck is business as usual on this city at sea, where sorties on Islamic State targets in Iraq and Syria have been launched a dozen or more times a day since early February.


When aircraft loaded with AIM-9 Sidewinder missiles and 1,000-pound bombs aren’t being catapulted into flight, training and qualification flights commence.

Constant through the action is a sort of deck ballet of positioning, as the 74 aircraft based on the ship are guided onto elevators for maintenance and storage, or moved to make room for the daily C-2 Greyhound delivery of people and Amazon packages.

The routine of life aboard the carrier is perhaps the most conventional element of the unconventional war against ISIS.

American troops on the ground in Iraq and Syria, mostly special operations and advisory elements, operate in relative secrecy, with few opportunities for journalists to observe them up close.

Countering Russian disinformation the Baltic nations’ way
U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Matt Brown

On the carrier, by contrast, public affairs officers host three or four media visits per month, boarding them in comparatively luxurious “distinguished visitor” berthing, complete with monogrammed bathrobes, and offering them interviews with pilots and unit commanding officers.

Aboard the carrier, multiple sailors said they are on their second deployment in support of Operation Inherent Resolve — the coalition anti-ISIS fight — and compared the consistency of operations today favorably to the frenetic nature of the campaign when it first began in 2014.

With OIR about to enter its third year next month, the commander of the Bush carrier strike group said he is seeing progress in the fight.

Related: Iran tests advanced torpedo in Strait of Hormuz

While many strikes continue to target enemy positions in Raqqa, Syria, and Mosul, Iraq, where assaults on ISIS’s urban strongholds continue, the carrier’s fighter pilots are seeing more missions to the south, along the Euphrates River Valley. The strikes follow the path of retreating ISIS leaders, Rear Adm. Ken Whitesell said.

“Their vision of a geographic caliphate is coming to an end,” Whitesell told Military.com. “As they move and that unblinking eye stays on top of them, they will be targeted as they move down the valley.”

The number of fighter sorties launched from the carrier daily ranges from 12 to more than 20, plus several EA-18G Growler electronic warfare sorties, said Capt. Will Pennington, commanding officer of the Bush.

Pilots fly punishing eight-hour missions one to three times a week, in addition to daily training and currency flights. But the mission tempo has stayed largely steady since the carrier deployed, and the air wing has yet to be pushed to its limits, he said.

“We’re not surging to make this happen; this is a comfortable pace. We could up it and still get comfortable,” Pennington said.

The fight is proceeding carefully and deliberately from the air in large part because of the complexity of the urban ground battle. In Iraq, where a little more than half of the air wing’s sorties are tasked, the strike mission was simpler before coalition forces arrived in Mosul, he said.

“There were more targets and less complicated aerials,” Pennington said. “Now that the effort is moving forward and being successful … that operation, both from the ground and the air, needs to be carried out with much more prudence, given civilian entanglement.”

Countering Russian disinformation the Baltic nations’ way
U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Neo Greene III

In both Mosul and Raqqa, the ground fights have been slow-moving. Coalition troops began their first assault on Mosul in October, and began a campaign to retake Raqqa the following month. Whitesell pointed optimistically to the words of Iraqi Army Chief of Staff Othman Al-Ghanmi, who predicted earlier this month that the fall of ISIS in Mosul would be complete in just three weeks.

It’s not the first time a top official has predicted victory close at hand. But the changing nature of strike targets also gives Whitesell reason to believe the end is near.

In addition to targets including enemy personnel, vehicles and improvised explosive devices, Whitesell said pilots are being tasked with destroying a key source of the militant group’s economic survival: oil wells.

While previously aircraft would target vehicles used to transport the oil, most of those are gone, thanks to the air mission, he said. “Now we get it before it comes out of the ground.”

Whitesell contrasts today’s operational picture to that of 2014, when the Bush became the first aircraft carrier to launch airstrikes on ISIS.

Countering Russian disinformation the Baltic nations’ way
U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Christopher Gaines

“ISIS had made the push out of Syria and Raqqa, way down, so they had incredible geography. So this carrier was the first striking on the Iraqi assets to stop ISIS at the gates of Baghdad and start moving them back,” he said. “Fast-forward three years to where we are. We’ve got, essentially, a noose tied around the neck of ISIS.”

On a given day, a pilot might be tasked with engaging a specific target over Iraq or Syria, or with flying to a region and remaining “on call,” to be assigned a future target, sometimes with scant notice, by a controller on the ground.

Also read: Here’s how the F-16 Falcon could replace the F-15 Eagle

While pilots’ assignments can change at any time during the mission, they generally know the day’s mission set by the time they’re walking to their aircraft on the flight deck, said Lt. Cmdr. “Butters” Welles, a pilot with Strike Fighter Squadron 37, the “Ragin’ Bulls.” The squadron flies the F/A-18C Hornet.

Multiple pilots who spoke with Military.com asked that their full first and last names not be used, a subtle acknowledgment of online threats ISIS militants have made on various occasions against U.S. troops and their families.

Welles, who is on his fourth combat deployment, said he still feels the power of the moment when dropping ordnance on a ground target.

Countering Russian disinformation the Baltic nations’ way
U.S. Navy Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Sean M. Castellano

It’s a sense similar to other high-stress moments, whether it’s landing on the ship at night or doing something that requires intense attention,” he said. “There’s a sense of time compression, where everything sort of slows down, but you feel like it’s still moving very quickly … it’s definitely a very intense moment.”

At that point, a pilot’s day is far from done. Still ahead are a series of tanker refueling operations, a flight back to the ship, and hours of debriefs. The workday of a pilot with a strike mission can easily stretch to 12 hours or more, the work continuing long after exiting the cockpit.

But after a day in the fight, they return to the ship, where four meals are served daily, gyms and movie channels are available for free time, and routine keeps chaos at bay.

And pilots are well aware of the contrast between the reality of the island-like carrier and that of coalition troops in the gritty, drawn-out ground battles.

“It’s a very different perspective and involvement for us to be up and somewhat detached from what’s going on down on the ground,” Welles said. “So I would say it’s a sense of pride, knowing that we contributed in some way to a very difficult effort on the ground. Because once we’re complete, and we either leave to airborne refuel, or need to go home, then the people we’re talking with are still there in the fight.”

MIGHTY TACTICAL

US Army bars soldiers from using TikTok on government phones

The US Army has barred its soldiers from using TikTok following mounting fears from US lawmakers that the Chinese tech company could pose a national security threat.

Military.com was the first to report the new policy decision, which is a reversal of the Army’s earlier stance on the popular short-form video app.


A spokeswoman told Military.com that the US Army had come to consider TikTok a “cyberthreat” and that “we do not allow it on government phones.” The US Navy took a similar decision to bar the app from government phones last month.

Countering Russian disinformation the Baltic nations’ way

(U.S. Navy Photo by Gary Nichols)

TikTok is owned by the Chinese tech company ByteDance, and its links to Beijing have prompted intense scrutiny from US politicians as the app’s popularity has skyrocketed. Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York successfully requested an Army investigation into the app’s handling of user data in November, and numerous reports have emerged of the platform censoring content it thinks could anger the Chinese government.

TikTok has strenuously denied any allegations of Chinese state influence, and in its first transparency report claimed that China had made zero censorship requests in the first half of 2019.

Numerous reports have surfaced that the company is exploring strategies for distancing itself from its Chinese roots, including a US rebrand, building a headquarters outside China, and selling off a majority stake in its business.

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

MIGHTY TRENDING

US expects to withdraw more troops from Afghanistan

The U.S. military is expected to trim troop levels in Afghanistan by more than 1,000 soldiers, a U.S. general told Reuters on Feb.15, 2019.

U.S. President Donald Trump told Congress in February 2019 he intended to reduce U.S. forces in Afghanistan as negotiators make progress in talks with Taliban insurgents.

However, U.S. Army General Joseph Votel, the head of the U.S. military’s Central Command, said the decision to reduce some of the 14,000 American forces in Afghanistan was not linked to those negotiations.


Instead, he said it was part of an efficiency drive by the new commander, Army General Scott Miller, who took over in September 2018, to make better use of U.S. resources.

Countering Russian disinformation the Baltic nations’ way

United States President Donald Trump.

(Photo by Gage Skidmore)

“This is something that he started as he got into the position here and was looking at how we [can] be as efficient and as effective as we can be on the ground,” Votel told Reuters during a trip to Oman.

Asked whether Miller would likely cut more than 1,000 troops from Afghanistan under the efficiency drive, Votel said: “He probably will.”

The U.S.-Taliban talks are aimed at finding a negotiated end to Afghanistan’s 17-year war.

The United States has been attempting to bring the Taliban to the negotiating table with officials in Kabul.

The Afghan government has been absent from the U.S.-Taliban talks, prompting anger and frustration in Kabul.

The Taliban considers the Kabul government a Western puppet and has so far refused to directly negotiate with it.

This article originally appeared on Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Follow @RFERL on Twitter.

Articles

NATO is hunting for this Russian submarine in the Med

Maritime patrol aircraft from several NATO countries — including United States Navy P-8 Poseidons — are scrambling to carry out a mission that comes from the darkest days of the Cold War: Locating sneaky Russian submarines skulking around good-guy ships.


In this case, NATO’s prey is at least one Oscar-class nuclear cruise missile submarine.

According to a report by The Aviationist, the hunt is on since two nuclear-powered aircraft carriers, the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN 69) and the French carrier Charles de Gaulle (R 91), are operating in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea.

Countering Russian disinformation the Baltic nations’ way
A port bow view of a Soviet Oscar Class nuclear-powered cruise missile attack submarine underway. Each Oscar sub is equipped with 24 SS-N-19 550-kilometer-range missiles. (DoD photo)

While most submarines are designed to target an enemy merchant fleet, submarines, or enemy surface combatants, the Oscar was designed to take out two kinds of ships: supercarriers like the Eisenhower and de Gaulle or large-deck amphibious assault ships like the USS Wasp (LHD 1).

These are tough ships, not likely to go down after taking a single hit from a torpedo.

The main weapons of the 19,400-ton Oscar are its 24 SS-N-19 Shipwreck anti-ship missiles. With a warhead of over 1,650 pounds, a top speed of Mach 2.5, and a range of roughly 300 nautical miles, the Shipwreck is one powerful missile.

Oscar-class submarines also can fire torpedoes, with four 533mm torpedo tubes and four 650mm torpedo tubes. The 650mm torpedoes in the Russian inventory are arguably the most powerful in the world – and designed to kill escorts like the Arleigh Burke-class destroyer or the Ticonderoga-class cruiser with one hit using a torpedo called the 65-76.

The 65-76 has a range of up to 54 nautical miles, a top speed of 50 knots and delivers a warhead of nearly 2,000 pounds. The Oscar’s 533mm torpedoes, like the TEST-71M, can handle surface ships as well, but also give this carrier-killer a weapon to protect itself from submarines hunting it.

Countering Russian disinformation the Baltic nations’ way
A look at the SS-N-19 cells on the Soviet battlecruiser Kirov. 24 of these missiles are on an Oscar-class sub (DOD photo)

According to the 16th edition of Combat Fleets of the World, Russia has seven Oscar-class submarines in service out of an original inventory of 13.

One, the Kursk, sank after an accidental explosion in 2000, and five others were retired. The seven survivors are the target of modernization plans.

According to a report from IHS Janes, they are slated to replace the 24 SS-N-19s with as many as 72 SS-N-26 “Sapless” or SS-N-27 “Sizzler” cruise missiles.

This Oscar hunt raises a very big question: Who is hunting whom? Is the Oscar (or Oscars) hunting the carriers, or is NATO hunting the Oscar (or Oscars)?

MIGHTY HISTORY

That time the Air Force lost four nuclear bombs in a single crash

This Day In History: January 17, 1966

On this day in history, 1966, at around 10:30 a.m. a B-52G Bomber collided with a KC-135 Stratotanker, accidentally scattering its payload of four nuclear bombs, 70-kilotons each. Three of the bombs fell near the fishing village of Palomares, Spain, and the fourth landed in the Mediterranean Sea, taking a full 80 days to locate and recover.

The B-52G had been attempting to refuel from the KC-135, but came in too fast. Normally, if a collision might appear to be imminent, the boom operator on the refueling tanker is supposed to notify the other plane to break away immediately, which they will then do. However, in this case, for whatever reason, the boom operator said nothing, which ended up costing himself and the rest of the Stratotanker crew their lives as the B-52G collided with the refueling boom. This resulted in the KC-135’s fuel payload exploding and the B-52G breaking apart shortly thereafter. It also resulted in three of the seven aboard the B-52 bomber dying, with the other four managing to parachute to safety. One of them managed to make it to land, but three of them landed in the sea and were later picked up by fishing boats at sea.


Aside from losing the two aircraft and the destruction of four nuclear bombs valued at around billion each (according to the Secretary of Defense’ valuation at the time), the area around Palomares was also subjected to high levels of ionizing radiation. While the nuclear bombs didn’t detonate fully, the traditional explosives (the high explosive igniters) in the bombs did detonate with two of the bombs when they hit the ground. This resulted in their core radioactive materials being spread about in the air and contaminating an area around 1-2 square miles. The third bomb was found mostly in-tact in a river bed nearby.

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A B-52 Stratofortress approaches the refueling boom of a KC-135 Stratotanker.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Capt. Zach Anderson)

The fourth was significantly harder to locate due to the fact that its parachute had deployed (the parachute tail plate was all that was initially found, which led them to believe it had deployed) and so they presumed it had landed somewhere in the Mediterranean. After 80 days of searching, it was finally located and, after a botched first attempt at recovery resulting in them losing it again for a time, it was successfully recovered. Interestingly, salvage rights for it were claimed by Simó Orts. This customarily grants the locator of the item 1-2% of the value of that which was found. Given that the bomb was valued at around billion, Orts asked for the lower 1% amount of million. It isn’t known how much he actually ended up getting, but the Air Force did eventually settle with him, paying him an undisclosed amount of money.

Incidentally, one of the divers who was working on finding and recovering the missing nuke, Carl Brashear, lost his leg when it was crushed in an accident during the search. Apart from being an important event for the unlucky Carl Brashear, this was also the inspiration for the movie “Men of Honor” starring Cuba Gooding Jr., Robert De Niro, and Charlize Theron.

Also of interest is that the Boeing KC-135 Stratotanker line of aircraft has now been in service for 55 years. What’s even more impressive about these planes is that they are projected to still be fully operational up until around 2040, giving them a total service life of around 83 years, at which point they will be phased out in favor of the Boeing KC-46. These planes currently cost the U.S. government in maintenance and operations cost around – billion per year and rising every year as they age and maintenance costs go up.

This article originally appeared on Today I Found Out. Follow @TodayIFoundOut on Twitter.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Veteran gets his diploma 76 years after missing graduation to fight in WWII

A Chicago veteran missed his graduation day in 1944 serving in World War II. But on June 13, 2019, he walked across the stage, officially graduating with the Class of 2019.

William Wagner, 94, was drafted during the last half of his senior year at Tilden High School on Chicago’s South Side, ABC7 reported.

“They told me to take history and civics to get my diploma,” Wagner told ABC7. “I went to the draft board and they said, ‘Punk you got a number, you got to go.'”


WWII veteran graduates from Tilden High School at age 94

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On June 12, 1943, a date he said he can easily recall, he joined the Navy, serving as a cook onboard the USS Yosemite, whose company repaired ships destroyed in the war, according to ABC7.

Forrest Wagner, the WWII vet’s son, arranged for the school to send him the diploma, which came a day before William Wagner’s birthday on March 7, ABC7 reported. The diploma then became his birthday present, complete with balloons and a graduation cap.

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USS Yosemite.

“How awesome is that for a young teenager to sit back and put his country before his own wants and needs,” Forrest told ABC7. “What he scarified for me and my brothers and sisters, and then also for his country, I believe I will never be able to repay.”

William told ABC7 that walking across the stage at this year’s graduation ceremony came at a close second as the best moment in his life, with the first being his marriage.

“Seventy-six years,” William said. “It took me that long to get my diploma, instead of going through four years.”

This article originally appeared on Insider. Follow @thisisinsider on Twitter.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

Army looks to ‘LiFi’ for secure future mission command

When investigating new ways of transmitting and communicating information, sometimes it helps to see the light.

This is the idea behind a new technology being investigated by the Research, Development and Engineering Command Soldier Center’s Expeditionary Maneuver Support Directorate, along with its industry partner, VLNComm of Charlottesville, Va.

“It’s a wireless system but instead of using radio frequencies it uses infrared light,” said Frank Murphy, an engineer on EMSD’s System Development and Engineering Team. “It is called LiFi, or light fidelity. It has many advantages.”


Murphy has been investigating ways to utilize the emerging commercially available technology in a tactical environment as the physical characteristics appear to solve many issues facing wired and wireless field command post network systems.

The technology will be used in expeditionary mission commands. EMSD has come up with a concept for using LiFi within any enclosed mission command platform. LiFi eliminates the problems associated with the time-consuming task of running data lines in tactical operation centers and command posts. Moreover, since the technology does not use radio waves, it cannot be detected outside the confines of the mission command platform.

“The technology uses light waves to transmit and receive data between the servers and the user’s computer,” said Melvin Jee, the leader of EMSD’s Command Post Platforms Branch. “As light cannot pass through walls, the enemy cannot detect the signal.”

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The transceiver (pictured here) is simply put into a USB port and will then detect the signal and users will be hooked up to the IT network of their command post. Then a Soldier just needs a light shined overhead to have network access.

(Photo is courtesy of the RDECOM Soldier Center Expeditionary Maneuver Support Directorate)

Murphy’s investigation into the technology was inspired in part by Douglas Tamilio, the director of RDECOM Soldier Center, sharing an article about LiFi with RDECOM Soldier Center leadership. Murphy’s investigation was also inspired by the vision of Claudia Quigley, the director of EMSD, and the RDECOM Soldier Center’s ongoing partnership with the 82nd Airborne. The RDECOM Soldier Center and the 82nd Airborne have worked together extensively to find out ways to best meet the needs of warfighters.

Murphy explained that Quigley and other members of the directorate were working with the 82nd Airborne during a field exercise. During the exercise, Murphy noticed that the setup of IT cabling was proving to be a time-consuming and difficult task.

“They had a hard time setting up their IT network, which isn’t usually an NSRDEC area, but we felt that we could address the need,” said Murphy. “Tactical speed is absolutely essential for command post setup. LiFi is potentially faster, easier to install and doesn’t have the security and exposure issues of other technologies. LiFi is un-hackable and untraceable when used within the command post shelter.”

“It’s virtually impossible to find the wavelength the data is being transmitted on, so if LiFi is detected, it’s hard to intercept the data stream,” said Jee.

EMSD is working with industry partners. Murphy explained that the commercially available technology was modified to fit a tactical environment. The technology will affect how soldiers communicate and, thus, carry out a mission.

“A command post of any size is an information processing center,” said Murphy, “They take information from the field whether it comes in from a drone, soldier/squad reports, other personnel in the area, satellite information, information from wheeled vehicles, or from behind the front lines — all this information gets fed to the command post staff. They make a decision and then the information goes right back out. Lives depend on this communication.”

“LiFi is part of NSRDEC’s plan to provide a fully integrated platform with all of the necessary infrastructure in order for the warfighter to set up his command post,” said Jee. “Just as a house is fully integrated with power, lights, and network cabling — allowing the homeowners to just concentrate on the furnishings — NSRDEC plans to provide a fully functional house, allowing the warfighter and program managers to provide the “furniture.'”

“In a command post, everyone has a job to do and they have their information chain,” said Murphy.

“All these soldiers need network access. With this, you simply shine the light over their head. After you hook the transceiver into the USB port, the transceiver will detect the signal and you will be hooked up to the IT network of your command post. It’s as simple as that. We also hope to have it integrated into the wiring harness for the lighting so we can just roll up the tent and pack it away during a move.”

Murphy emphasized that the NSRDEC project is really a team effort and that several entities at the Natick Soldier Systems Center were important to the development of the technology. He also received “great guidance” from his branch chief, Melvin Jee, and from his team leader, Connie Miles-Patrick, System Development and Engineering Team, as well as the DREN team and people in the Natick Contracting Division.

He also credited the use of the Base Camp Integration Lab, or BCIL, which was created by and is expertly run by, Product Manager Force Sustainment Systems. A first-generation Li-Fi system prototype was recently set up at the BCIL and successfully demonstrated the capability to send and receive data using the BCIL’s IT network.

“The people at the BCIL were incredible,” said Murphy. “They gave us the perfect platform to showcase the tactical capabilities of this device. This project really showcases what Natick is all about. The Natick team dove in with both feet. Great things happen when people believe in each other and in an idea. We all want to help the soldier.”

Murphy believes that LiFi is truly the wave of the future.

“The demand for data inside the command post is only going to continue to increase,” said Murphy, “So data quantity and quality need to improve to meet this demand. This technology can be hooked up permanently in rigid wall mission command platforms, but it can be used anywhere. We will be bringing world-class communications, security, speed, and capability to the frontline soldier. Information in the field is a weapon. This technology will help the warfighter make better decisions and be more effective and lethal in the field. This changes everything in the IT network system. It’s a game changer.”

This article originally appeared on the United States Army. Follow @USArmy on Twitter.

MIGHTY TRENDING

The Navy’s Osprey landed, refueled and took off from an aircraft carrier for the first time

Since 1965, the Navy’s carrier onboard delivery mission has been performed by the Grumman C-2 Greyhound. The C-2s fly mail, passengers and supplies between aircraft carriers and land bases. Despite decades of overhauls and upgrades, the Navy plans to replace the C-2 with the CMV-22B Osprey by 2024. On November 20, 2020, the Osprey reached its first major milestone on its path to taking on the COD role.

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A CMV-22B from VRM-30 lands on the USS Carl Vinson for the first time on November 20 (U.S. Navy)

While conducting routine maritime operations in the Pacific, USS Carl Vinson received an Osprey aboard its deck. The landing marked the first time that the new COD platform has ever landed on a carrier. The operations continued the next day to include a refueling and rolling takeoff.

The CMV-22B can carry up to 6,000 pounds of cargo and has a range of 1,150 nautical miles. While these performance figures are inferior to the outgoing C-2, the Osprey’s adoption is driven by its ability to support the new F-35C Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter. The Osprey is able to carry the F-35’s Pratt & Whitney F135 engine and deliver it to and from both aircraft carriers and amphibious assault ships. Additionally, the Osprey brings a slew of new capabilities to the COD role.

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The first refueling of a CMV-22B aboard an aircraft carrier on November 21 (U.S. Navy)

Modified from the existing MV-22B Block C platform, the CMV-22B includes Navy-specific features including: a secure beyond-line-of-sight HF radio, an internal PA system to address passengers, fuel jettison capability, improved cargo bay and load ramp lighting, and an extended-range capability with fore and aft external conformal fuel tanks in the wings and sponsons.

The Fleet Logisitics Multi-Mission Squadron VRM-30 “Titans”, based out of NAS North Island, California, took possession of its first Osprey this summer. The squadron is scheduled to field the Osprey on its first operational detachment aboard the Carl Vinson in 2021. The Navy plans to establish a second COD Osprey squadron, VRM-40, on the east coast and equip them with aircraft in FY2022. A training squadron, VRM-50, is also planned to be stood up in California adjacent to VRM-30.

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