This cyber threat will exploit almost all PCs, smartphones, and tablets - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY TRENDING

This cyber threat will exploit almost all PCs, smartphones, and tablets

Silicon Valley is abuzz about “Meltdown” and “Spectre” — new ways for hackers to attack Intel, AMD, and ARM processors that were first discovered by Google last year and publicly disclosed Jan. 3.


Meltdown and Spectre, which take advantage of the same basic security vulnerability in those chips, could hypothetically be used by malicious actors to “read sensitive information in the system’s memory such as passwords, encryption keys, or sensitive information open in applications,” as Google puts it in a blog post.

The first thing you need to know: Pretty much every PC, laptop, tablet, and smartphone is affected by the security flaw, regardless of which company made the device or which operating system it runs. The vulnerability isn’t easy to exploit — it requires a specific set of circumstances, including having malware already running on the device — but it’s not just theoretical.

And the problem could affect much more than just personal devices. The flaw could be exploited on servers and in data centers and massive cloud-computing platforms such as Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure, or Google Cloud. In fact, given the right conditions, Meltdown or Spectre could be used by customers of those cloud services to actually steal data from one another.

Though fixes are already being rolled out for the vulnerability, they often will come with a price. Some devices, especially older PCs, could be slowed markedly by them.

Here’s what Meltdown and Spectre are. And, just as important, here’s what they’re not.

Am I in immediate danger from this?

There’s some good news: Intel and Google say they’ve never seen any attacks like Meltdown or Spectre actually being used in the wild. And companies including Intel, Amazon, Google, Apple, and Microsoft are rushing to issue fixes, with the first wave already out.

The most immediate consequence of all of this will come from those fixes. Some devices will see a performance dip of as much as 30% after the fixes are installed, according to some reports. Intel, however, disputed that figure, saying the amount by which computers will be slowed will depend on how they’re being used.

The Meltdown attack primarily affects Intel processors, though ARM has said that its chips are vulnerable as well. You can guard against it with software updates, according to Google. Those are already starting to become available for Linux and Windows 10.

This cyber threat will exploit almost all PCs, smartphones, and tablets
Brian Krzanich, Intel’s Chief Executive Officer. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Spectre, by contrast, appears to be much more dangerous. Google says it has been able to successfully execute Spectre attacks on processors from Intel, ARM, and AMD. And, according to the search giant, there’s no single, simple fix.

It’s harder to pull off a Spectre-based attack, which is why nobody is completely panicking. But the attack takes advantages of an integral part of how processors work, meaning it will take a new generation of hardware to stamp it out for good.

In fact, that’s how Spectre got its name.

“As it is not easy to fix, it will haunt us for quite some time,” the official Meltdown/Spectre FAQ says.

What are Meltdown and Spectre, anyway?

Despite how they’ve been discussed so far in the press, Meltdown and Spectre aren’t really “bugs.” Instead, they represent methods discovered by Google’s Project Zero cybersecurity lab to take advantage of the normal ways that Intel, ARM, and AMD processors work.

To use a Star Wars analogy, Google inspected the Death Star plans and found an exploitable weakness in a small thermal exhaust port. In the same way two precisely placed proton torpedoes could blow up the Death Star, so, too, can Meltdown and Spectre take advantage of a very specific design quirk and get around (or “melt down,” hence the name) processors’ normal security precautions.

This cyber threat will exploit almost all PCs, smartphones, and tablets
Let’s just hope your processor doesn’t end up looking like this. (Image from Star Wars)

In this case, the design feature in question is something called speculative execution, a processing technique that most Intel chips have used since 1995 and that is also common in ARM and AMD processors. With speculative execution, processors essentially guess what you’re going to do next. If they guess right, then they’re already ahead of the curve, and you have a snappier computing experience. If they guess wrong, they dump the data and start over.

What Project Zero found were two key ways to trick even secure, well-designed apps into leaking data from those returned processes. The exploits take advantage of a flaw in how the data is dumped that could allow them — with the right malware installed — to read data that should be secret.

This vulnerability is potentially particularly dangerous in cloud-computing systems, where users essentially rent time from massive supercomputing clusters. The servers in those clusters may be shared among multiple users, meaning customers running unpatched and unprepared systems could fall prey to data thieves sharing their processors.

What can I do about it?

To guard against the security flaw and the exploits, the first and best thing you can do is make sure you’re up-to-date with your security patches. The major operating systems have already started issuing patches that will guard against the Meltdown and Spectre attacks. In fact, fixes have already begun to hit Linux, Android, Apple’s MacOS, and Microsoft’s Windows 10. So whether you have an Android phone or you’re a developer using Linux in the cloud, it’s time to update your operating system.

Microsoft told Business Insider it’s working on rolling out mitigations for its Azure cloud platform. Google Cloud is urging customers to update their operating systems, too.

This cyber threat will exploit almost all PCs, smartphones, and tablets
It’s a good idea to stay current with your Windows updates. (Screenshot from Matt Weinberger)

It’s just as important to make sure you stay up to date. While Spectre may not have an easy fix, Google says there are ways to guard against related exploits. Expect Microsoft, Apple, and Google to issue a series of updates to their operating systems as new Spectre-related attacks are discovered.

Additionally, because Meltdown and Spectre require malicious code to already be running on your system, let this be a reminder to practice good online safety behaviors. Don’t download any software from a source you don’t trust. And don’t click on any links or files claiming you won $10 million in a contest you never entered.

Why could the fixes also slow down my device?

The Meltdown and Spectre attacks take advantage of how the “kernels,” or cores, of operating systems interact with processors. Theoretically, the two are supposed to be separated to some degree to prevent exactly this kind of attack. Google’s report, however, proves the existing precautions aren’t enough.

Operating system developers are said to be adopting a new level of virtual isolation, basically making requests between the processor and the kernel take the long way around.

The problem is that enforcing this kind of separation requires at least a little extra processing power, which would no longer be available to the rest of the system.

Related: Why it’s a big deal that Cyber Command is now a combatant command

As The New York Times notes, researchers are concerned that the fixes could slow down computers by as much as 20% to 30%. Microsoft is reported to believe that PCs with Intel processors older than the 2-year-old Skylake models could see significant slowdowns.

Intel disputes that the performance hits will be as dramatic as The Times suggests.

Some of the slowdowns, should they come to pass, could be mitigated by future software updates. Because the vulnerability was just made public, it’s possible that workarounds and new techniques for circumventing the performance hit will come to light as more developers work on solving the problem.

What happens next?

Publicly, Intel is confident the Meltdown and Spectre bugs won’t have a material impact on its stock price or market share, given that they’re relatively hard to execute and have never been used (that we know of). AMD shares are soaring on word that the easier-to-pull-off Meltdown attack isn’t known to work on its processors.

But as Google is so eager to remind us, Spectre looms large. Speculative execution has been a cornerstone of processor design for more than two decades. It will require a huge rethinking from the processor industry to guard against this kind of attack in the future. The threat of Spectre means the next generation of processors — from all the major chip designers — will be a lot different than they are today.

This cyber threat will exploit almost all PCs, smartphones, and tablets
Google is urging customers of its Google Cloud supercomputing service, hosted from data centers like this, to update their operating systems. (Image via Google)

Even so, the threat of Spectre is likely to linger far into the future. Consumers are replacing their PCs less frequently, which means older PCs that are at risk of the Spectre attack could be used for years to come.

As for mobile, there has been a persistent problem with updating Android devices to the latest version of the operating system, so there are likely to be lots of unpatched smartphones and tablets in use for as far as the eye can see. Would-be Spectre attackers are therefore likely to have their choice of targets.

It’s not the end of the world. But it just may be the end of an era for Intel, AMD, ARM, and the way processors are built.

MIGHTY SPORTS

The NFL’s most generous legend gives homeless veterans a new life

1977 was a big year for Chicago’s Walter Payton. After two years in the NFL, he was the league’s leading rusher and was selected to play in the 1977 Pro Bowl, where he was named the Pro Bowl MVP. His on-the-field performance turned the struggling Bears franchise around, but his off-the-field performance would earn him the NFL’s Man of the Year Award, an honor that would later bear his name.


Throughout his 13-year career, Payton was an exceptional member of his team, the example by which all team members should follow – in any kind of group, setting, or sport. He only missed one game in that entire span and, despite being the league’s premier running back, he was able to do anything the team asked of him, throwing eight touchdown passes and even setting a game rushing record with a 101-degree fever.

Heck, he wanted to kick,” Bears Head Coach Mike Ditka told ESPN. “We wouldn’t let him kick.”
This cyber threat will exploit almost all PCs, smartphones, and tablets

“Never Die Easy” was Walter Payton’s motto.

(NFL)

But it wasn’t his football performance that prompted the NFL to name its prestigious award after him. What he did in his spare time left a legacy of humanitarianism and generosity that prompts NFL players to use their high earnings to good works within their local communities to this day.

As a young black man in Mississippi, Payton helped integrate his local high school and its football team. From there, he would go on to play at tiny Jackson State University, but his determination at running back caught the NFL’s eye, earning him his spot in the 1975 NFL draft. He didn’t make waves in his first season with the Bears, but he would soon be one Chicago’s — and professional football’s — most legendary athletes.

He founded the Walter Connie Payton Foundation to give back to the city that gave him so much. Though Payton died of a rare liver disorder that led to bile duct cancer, his legacy lives on through his foundation.

This cyber threat will exploit almost all PCs, smartphones, and tablets

Walter Payton with beneficiaries of his foundation’s support.

What began as an effort to help Chicago’s children now includes Chicago’s homeless veteran population. The foundation works with the Northlake, Ill. Concord Place Assisted Living Community in providing veterans with everything they need to live with dignity and pride.

Concord Place Assisted Living is a 55-and-older community, but homeless veterans can live there thanks to Walter and Connie Payton’s foundation. The new homes include food, health care, and physical activities. It keeps them off the cold streets of Chicago while offering them a chance to build new lives. The project is so close to the foundation’s heart that 100 percent of donations for vets will go to the project.

The foundation is now run by Payton’s widow, Connie, to whom he was married for 23 years.

I had no idea how many veterans had no place to go,” she told the Chicago Tribune. “They serve us knowing there might be a chance that they’ll never come home. … I wanted to find a way to do something to help.”

They turned the entire 15th floor of the assisted living community into veteran housing. A mere ,500 funds a room for a vet, complete with bed, TV, food, health care – the works. Once the 15th floor was filled, they started on the 14th. The foundation continues to fund the rooms using its other charitable works.

[Walter] was a kind, genuine person, and the foundation was important to him,” Payton said. “We always felt that when you’ve been blessed, why not learn to give back to other people and bless them, and hopefully someday they can bless someone else.
This cyber threat will exploit almost all PCs, smartphones, and tablets

Walter and Connie Payton Foundation President Connie Payton oversee the renovation of the Northlake, Ill. Concord Place Assisted Living Community.

(WLS ABC 7 Chicago)

Today, the NFL’s Man of the Year Award is named for Payton, honoring players who display Walter Payton-level excellence in every aspect of their lives. The award for 2017 went to the Houston Texans’ J.J. Watt, an outstanding defender who raised million for those in Houston affected by Hurricane Harvey.

The frontrunners for the 2018 award are the Vikings’ Kyle Rudolph, the Cowboys’ Dak Prescott, and Robbie Gould of the San Francisco 49ers.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Now there are NSA cyberweapons for sale on the black market

The National Security Agency, the US’s largest and most secretive intelligence agency, has been deeply infiltrated by anonymous hackers, as detailed in a New York Times exposé published Nov. 12.


The NSA, which compiles massive troves of data on American citizens and organizes cyber-offensives against the U.S.’s enemies, was deeply compromised by a group known as the Shadow Brokers, which has made headlines in the past year in connection to the breach, whose source remains unclear.

Read Also: These special Army cyber teams are hacking ISIS comms

The group now posts cryptic, mocking messages pointed toward the NSA as it sells the cyber-weapons, created at huge cost to US taxpayers, to any and all buyers, including US adversaries like North Korea and Russia.

This cyber threat will exploit almost all PCs, smartphones, and tablets
Kim Jong Un (left) and Vladimir Putin are all too happy to buy up that juicy NSA info. (Kim Jong Un photo from Driver Photography, Putin from Moscow Kremlin)

“It’s a disaster on multiple levels,” Jake Williams, a cybersecurity expert who formerly worked on the NSA’s hacking group, told The Times. “It’s embarrassing that the people responsible for this have not been brought to justice.”

“These leaks have been incredibly damaging to our intelligence and cyber-capabilities,” Leon Panetta, the former director of the Central Intelligence Agency, told The Times. “The fundamental purpose of intelligence is to be able to effectively penetrate our adversaries in order to gather vital intelligence. By its very nature, that only works if secrecy is maintained and our codes are protected.”

Read More: Former NSA contractor allegedly stole docs seemingly far more sensitive than Snowden’s

Furthermore, a wave of cyber-crime has been linked to the release of the NSA’s leaked cyber-weapons.

Another NSA source who spoke with The Times described the attack as being at least, in part, the NSA’s fault. The NSA has long prioritized cyber-offense over securing its own systems, the source said. As a result, the US now essentially has to start over on cyber-initiatives, Panetta said.

Articles

US may put more weapons in the South China Sea

This cyber threat will exploit almost all PCs, smartphones, and tablets
Photo: US Army Staff Sgt. Daniel Love


Senior Army and Pentagon strategists and planners are considering ways to fire existing weapons platforms in new ways around the globe – including the possible placement of mobile artillery units in areas of the South China Sea to, if necessary, function as air-defense weapons to knock incoming rockets and cruise missiles out of the sky.

Alongside the South China Sea, more mobile artillery weapons used for air defense could also prove useful in areas such as the Middle East and Eastern Europe, officials said. Having mobile counter-air weapons such as the M109 Paladin, able to fire 155m precision rounds on-the-move, could prove to be an effective air-defense deterrent against Russian missiles, aircraft and rockets in Eastern Europe, a senior Army official told Scout Warrior.

Regarding the South China Sea, the U.S. has a nuanced or complicated relationship with China involving both rivalry and cooperation; the recent Chinese move to put surface-to-air missiles on claimed territory in the South China Sea has escalated tensions and led Pentagon planners to consider various options.

Officials are clear to emphasize that no decisions have been made along these lines, yet it is one of the things being considered. Pentagon officials have opposed further militarization of the area and emphasized that the territorial disputes in the South China Sea need to be resolved peacefully and diplomatically.

At the same time, Pentagon officials have publicly stated the U.S. will continue “freedom of navigation” exercises wherein Navy ships sail within 12 miles of territory claimed by the Chinese – and tensions are clearly on the rise.  In addition to these activities, it is entirely possible the U.S. could also find ways to deploy more offensive and defensive weapons to the region.

Naturally, a move of this kind would need to involve close coordination with U.S. allies in the region, as the U.S. claims no territory in the South China Sea. However, this would involve the deployment of a weapons system which has historically been used for offensive attacks on land. The effort could use an M777 Howitzer or Paladin, weapons able to fire 155m rounds.

This cyber threat will exploit almost all PCs, smartphones, and tablets
Photo:  US Army Spc. Gregory Gieske

“We could use existing Howitzers and that type of munition (155m shells) to knock out incoming threats when people try to hit us from the air at long ranges using rockets and cruise missiles,” a senior Army official said.

Howitzers or Paladins could be used as a mobile, direct countermeasures to incoming rockets, he said.  A key advantage to using a Paladin is that it is a mobile platform which could adjust to moving or fast-changing approaching enemy fire.

“A Howitzer can go where it has to go. It is a way of changing an offensive weapon and using it in dual capacity,” the official explained. “This opens the door to opportunities and options we have not had before with mobile defensive platforms and offensive capabilities.

Mobile air defenses such as an Army M777 or Paladin Howitzer weapon could use precision rounds and advancing fire-control technology to destroy threatening air assets such as enemy aircraft, drones or incoming artillery fire.

They would bring a mobile tactical advantage to existing Army air defenses such as the Patriot and Theater High Altitude Area Defense, or THAAD, which primarily function as fixed-defense locations, the senior Army officials said.

The M777 artillery weapon, often used over the years in Iraq and Afghanistan, can fire the precision GPS-guided Excalibur artillery round able to destroy targets within one meter from up to 30-kilometers or more away.  Naturally, given this technology, it could potentially be applied as an air-defense weapon as well.

Using a Howitzer or Paladin could also decrease expenses, officials said.

“Can a munition itself be cheaper so we are not making million dollar missiles to shoot down $100,000 dollar incoming weapons,” The Army official said.

While Pentagon officials did not formally confirm the prospect of working with allies to place weapons, such as Howitzers, in the South China Sea, they did say the U.S. was stepping up its coordination with allies in the region.

“We continue work with our partners and allies to develop their maritime security capabilities,” Cmdr. Bill Urban, Pentagon spokesman, told Scout Warrior.

Strategic Capabilities Office

The potential use of existing weapons in new ways is entirely consistent with an existing Pentagon office which was, for the first time, recently announced publically.  It is called the Strategic Capabilities Office, or SCO, stood up to look at integrating innovating technologies with existing weapons platforms – or simply adapting or modifying existing weapons for a wider range of applications.

“I created the SCO in 2012 when I was deputy secretary of defense to help us to re-imagine existing DOD and intelligence community and commercial systems by giving them new roles and game-changing capabilities to confound potential enemies — the emphasis here was on rapidity of fielding, not 10 and 15-year programs.  Getting stuff in the field quickly,” Carter said.

This cyber threat will exploit almost all PCs, smartphones, and tablets
Photo: U.S. Navy by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Apprentice Joshua Adam Nuzzo

Senior Army officials say the SCO office is a key part of what provides the conceptual framework for the ongoing considerations of placing new weaponry in different locations throughout the Pacific theater.  An Army consideration to place Paladin artillery weapons in the South China Sea would be one example of how to execute this strategic framework.

In fact, the Pentagon is vigorously stepping up its support to allies in the Pacific theater. A 2016 defense law, called the Southeast Asia Maritme Security Initiative, provides new funding to authorize a Department of Defense effort to train, equip, and provide other support to the Philippines, Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Thailand, Urban explained.

“The Secretary (Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter) has committed $425M over Fiscal Years 2016-2020 for MSI (Maritime Security Initiative), with an initial investment of $50M available in fiscal year 2016 toward this effort,” Urban said.

Army Rebalance to the Pacific

While the Army is naturally immersed in activities with NATO to deter Russian movements in Eastern Europe and maintaining missions in Iraq and Afghanistan – the service has not forsaken its commitment to pursuing a substantial Army component to the Pentagon’s Pacific rebalance.

Among other things, this involves stepped up military-to-military activities with allies in the region, coordinating with other leaders and land armies, and efforts to move or re-posture some weapons in the area.”The re-balance to the Pacific is more than military, it is an economic question. the Army has its hands full with the Middle East and with Europe and is dealing with a resurgent problem in Europe and North Africa,” an Army official said. “We have been able to cycle multiple units through different countries,” the senior official said.

Also, the pentagon has made the Commander of Army Pacific a 4-star General, a move which enables him to have direct one-to-one correspondence with his Chinese counterpart and other leaders in the region, he added.

As of several years ago, the Army had 18,500 Soldier stationed in Korea, 2,400 in Japan, 2,000 in Guam, 480 in the Philippines, 22,300 in Hawaii and 13,500 in Alaska. The service continues to support the national defense strategy by strengthening partnerships with existing allies in the region and conduction numerous joint exercises, service officials said.

“The ground element of the Pacific rebalance is important to ensure the stability in the region,” senior officials have said. Many of the world’s largest ground armies are based in the Pacific.

Also, in recent years Army documents have emphasized the need for the service to increase fire power in the Pacific to increased fielding of THAAD, Patriot and the Army Tactical Missile System, or ATACMS in the Pacific region. ATACMS is a technology which delivers precision fires against stationary or slow-moving targets at ranges up to 300 km., Army officials have said. In 2013, the Army did deploy THAAD missile systems to Guam.

Army officials have also called for the development of a land-based anti-ship ballistic missile, directed energy capability, and additional land-based anti-ship fires capabilities such as the Guided Multiple Launch Rocket System.

Army officials have also said man support a potential adaptation of the RGM-84 Harpoon and calls for the development of boost-glide entry warheads able to deploy “to hold adversary shipping at risk all without ever striking targets inland.

Boost-glide weapons use rocket-boosted payload delivery vehicles that glide at hypersonic speeds in the atmosphere. An increase in the Army’s investment in boost-glide technology now could fast track the Army’s impact in the Air-Sea Battle fight in the near term, Army papers have stated.

MIGHTY TRENDING

The Air Force is preparing for a war without satellites

Exercise Red Flag is the much-less famous, Air Force version of TOPGUN. It had the same impetus as TOPGUN – the Vietnam War highlighted some very serious shortcomings in how the service prepared to fight a war. Red Flag, however, doesn’t just feature the air-to-air stuff. Red Flag takes it a step further and trains pilots in air-to-ground combat as well.


Sometimes, Red Flag is a very international affair, with participants from all over the world. The current Red Flag, though, is going to be a much more… private affair. According to Popular Mechanics, the United States is only bringing in some of its closest allies, including the United Kingdom and Australia. This is because this Red Flag is being run without the use of the Global Positioning System, or GPS.

This cyber threat will exploit almost all PCs, smartphones, and tablets
A four-ship formation of F-22 Raptors from the 94th Fighter Squadron and 1st Fighter Wing fly in formation over the Rocky Mountains in Colorado. The four aircraft were in transit back to Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Va. after participating in Red Flag 17-4 Aug. 26, 2017. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Why? Just take a look at the news: Both Communist China and Russia are working on deploying systems that can destroy American satellites. Among the satellites at potential risk are those of the GPS system. This would put a serious crimp in not just navigation, but also in munitions guidance. Weapons like the Joint Direct Attack Munition and the Joint Stand-Off Weapon use GPS to get within about 30 feet of a target.

The good news is that GPS is not the only tool that American pilots have. There are inertial navigation systems and radios that don’t rely on the satellites. GPS, however, has become the preferred tool. As such, if an enemy were to knock some or all of the constellation out, American forces would be greatly disadvantaged.

This cyber threat will exploit almost all PCs, smartphones, and tablets
A B-1B Lancer taking part in Green Flag, an exercise similar to Red Flag, over Nellis Air Force Base. (USAF photo)

This year’s Red Flag is recreating that scenario to prepare pilots for the worst. The United States will be getting a good idea of how to fight without GPS. Participants will be getting plenty of practice doing so when the stakes are little more than a bunch of bruised egos.

How did they shut off GPS over the deserts of Nevada? They aren’t saying — after all, no need to give the enemy ideas.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Philippines draw red line in already tense South China Sea

Amid a simmering trade war, the US and Chinese militaries have exchanged tit-for-tat measures with each other in and above the South China Sea.

In early October 2018, a US Navy destroyer sailed close to Chinese-occupied territory in the area, a freedom-of-navigation exercise meant in part to contest Beijing’s expansive claims.

During that exercise, a Chinese destroyer approached the US ship — reportedly as close as 45 feet — in what Navy officials called an “unsafe and unprofessional maneuver.”


“The tension is escalating, and that could prove to be dangerous to both sides,” a senior US official told Reuters on Sept. 30, 2018, after China canceled a meeting between its officials and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis — the second senior-level meeting called off in a week.

The encounter between the US and Chinese ships took place near the Spratly Islands, at the southern end of the South China Sea. Farther north, at Scarborough Shoal, the US, the Philippines, and China have already butted heads, and their long-standing dispute there could quickly escalate.

The Philippines took over Scarborough after its independence in 1946. But in 2012, after a stand-off with the Philippines, China took de facto control of the shoal, blocking Filipino fishermen from entering.

This cyber threat will exploit almost all PCs, smartphones, and tablets

Map showing territory claimed by the Philippines, including internal waters, territorial sea, international treaty limits, and exclusive economic zone.

Chinese control of Scarborough — about 130 miles west of the Philippine island of Luzon and about 400 miles from China’s Hainan Island — is an ongoing concern for the Philippines and the US.

Given the shoal’s proximity to the Luzon, if “China puts air-defense missiles and surface-to-surface missiles there, like they have at other South China Sea islands, they could reach the Philippines,” Bryan Clark, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, said in late August 2018.

That would be “the most direct sort of pushback on the Philippines’ attempt to assert control over Scarborough Shoal,” said Clark, a former US Navy officer.

Beyond a challenge to Manila, a military presence on Scarborough could give China more leverage throughout the South China Sea.

Scarborough would be one point in a triangle edged by the Spratlys and the Paracel Islands, both of which already house Chinese military outposts.

While China can use shore-based assets in the air-defense identification zone it declared over the East China Sea in 2013, the eastern fringe of the South China Sea is out of range for that, Clark said.

“So their thought is, the Chinese would really like to develop Scarborough Shoal and put a radar on it so they can start enforcing an ADIZ, and that would allow them to kind of complete their argument that they have control and oversight over the South China Sea,” Clark said.

Given Scarborough’s proximity to bases in the Philippines and the country’s capital, Manila, as well as to Taiwan, a presence there would extend China’s intelligence-gathering ability and maritime-domain awareness, said Greg Poling, director of the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

“But above and beyond the military implications … China has a political interest in establishing control over all the waters and airspace within the nine-dash line, in both peace and war,” Poling said in an email, referring to the boundary of China’s expansive claim in the South China Sea.

‘What is our red line?’

After 2012, Manila took its case to the Permanent Court for Arbitration at The Hague, which ruled in favor of the Philippines in July 2016, rejecting China’s claims and finding that Beijing had interfered with Philippine rights in its exclusive economic zone, including at Scarborough. (EEZs can extend 230 miles from a country’s coast.)

Ahead of that ruling, the US detected signs China was getting ready to reclaim land at the shoal, and then-President Barack Obama reportedly warned Chinese President Xi Jinping of serious consequences for doing so, which was followed by China withdrawing its ships from the area.

This cyber threat will exploit almost all PCs, smartphones, and tablets

President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden talk with Vice President Xi Jinping of the People’s Republic of China and members of the Chinese delegation following their bilateral meeting in the Oval Office, Feb. 14, 2012.

(Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

That warning was followed by increased Pentagon activity in the region, including flying A-10 Thunderbolts, which are ground-attack aircraft, near Scarborough a month later.

Tensions between China and Philippines eased after the ruling was issued, however, as Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, who took office in July 2016, pursued rapprochement.

The Philippines said in February 2017 that it expected China to try to build on the reef, which Manila called “unacceptable.” The following month, Chinese authorities removed comments by an official about building on Scarborough from state-backed media, raising questions about Beijing’s plans.

More recently, the Philippines warned China of its limits at Scarborough.

“What is our red line? Our red line is that they cannot build on Scarborough [Shoal],” Philippine Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano said in May 2018.

Cayetano said the other two red lines were Chinese action against Philippine troops stationed at Second Thomas Shoal in the Spratlys and the unilateral exploration of natural resources in the area. He said China had been made aware of the Philippine position and that Beijing had its own “red line” for the area.

In July 2018, the acting chief justice of the Philippine supreme court, Antonio Carpio, said Manila should ask the US make Scarborough an “official red line,” requesting its recognition as Philippine territory under the US-Philippine Mutual Defense Treaty, which obligates each to come to the aid of the other in case of attack.

“Duterte himself has reportedly said that Chinese construction of a permanent facility at Scarborough would be a red line for the Philippines,” Poling said.

The Philippines’ “one real option” to try to prevent Chinese construction on Scarborough would be to invoke that defense treaty, Poling said.

This cyber threat will exploit almost all PCs, smartphones, and tablets

President Rodrigo Duterte and President Xi Jinping shake hands prior to their bilateral meetings at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, October 2016.

It’s not clear if the treaty applies to the shoal, Poling added, “but the treaty definitely does apply to an attack on Filipino armed forces or ships anywhere in the Pacific.”

“So Manila would probably need to send Navy or Coast Guard ships to interfere with any work China attempted at Scarborough … and then call for US intervention should China use force.”

That could cause China to back off, as Obama’s warning in 2016 did, Poling said.

While China has pulled back from previous attempts to build on the shoal, “they’ve got ships floating around the area just waiting for the chance,” Clark said in late August 2018. “So I wouldn’t be surprised if China tries to restart that project in the next year to … gauge what the US reaction is and see if they can get away with it.”

That would almost certainly force the hand of the US and the Philippines.

“If China’s able to start building an island there and put systems on it, and the Philippines doesn’t resist … all bets are off,” Clark said. “China feels emboldened to say the South China Sea is essentially a Chinese area.”

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

Articles

Base to troops: don’t chase virtual Pokemon into restricted areas

This cyber threat will exploit almost all PCs, smartphones, and tablets
Military.com / Reddit


At least one military base is warning service members against the dangers of wandering into unauthorized areas while chasing Pokemon.

“Since Pokemon Go hit last week there have been reports of serious injuries and accidents of people driving or walking while looking at the app and chasing after the virtual Pokemon,” says the message posted this morning to the Joint Base Lewis McChord official Facebook page. “Do not chase Pokemon into controlled or restricted areas, office buildings, or homes on base.”

The wildly popular iPhone and Android app, “Pokemon Go,” leads players on a real world chase via their phone’s GPS system and camera, through which they can “catch” virtual Pokemon that appear around the player within the app. At least one player has reportedly stumbled on a dead body while playing the game, according to news accounts, while others have been lured into corners and robbed, other sources have reported..

Lewis-McChord officials said the notice was a precaution and that there have been no reports of problems on the base caused by service members, families or employees playing the game.

“We talked about it here this morning with our director of emergency services, and said, as a precaution, let’s just tell people right away ‘do not be using the app to follow Pokemon creatures into restricted areas on base or controlled areas,'” said Joseph Piek, a JBLM spokesman. “We’re not saying don’t play — but we are saying there’s certain areas, don’t chase the Pokemon there, you’ll just have to leave them be.”

Officials with the Defense Department said they have no plans to issue military-wide Pokemon guidance or rules for playing the game within or around the Pentagon.

“Our personnel are well informed on the restrictions regarding restricted areas, regardless of if they’re chasing Pokemon or otherwise,” they said.

JBLM is home to the 2nd Battalion of the 75th Ranger Regiment, 1st Special Forces Group as well as the Army’s I Corps and the Air Force’s 62d Airlift Wing.

Articles

Heroic Coast Guard ship from ‘Perfect Storm’ sunk for reef

The ship made famous in the book and subsequent film “The Perfect Storm” has been intentionally sunk off the New Jersey and Delaware coasts so it can become part of an artificial reef.


The sinking of the Tamaroa, a 205-foot (62-meter) Coast Guard vessel, took place May 10. The sinking initially was scheduled to occur several months ago, but was repeatedly delayed by rough seas and other related issues.

The vessel was sent down about 33 nautical miles (61 kilometers) off the coast of Cape May, New Jersey. It was deployed in water more than 120 feet (36.5 meters) deep after patches were removed from holes that were pre-cut into its hull, according to the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection.

The pre-cut holes were part of the extensive work that had to be done before the ship could be sunk, including the removal of interior paneling and insulation as well as emptying and cleaning the vessel of all fuel and fluids.

This cyber threat will exploit almost all PCs, smartphones, and tablets

The ship turned on its side as it slowly went down in the calm water, then turned straight up as the bulk of the vessel went under water. It then disappeared from view as a person on board a neighboring vessel thanked the Tamaroa for its long service.

A tugboat had started hauling the Tamaroa from a Norfolk, Virginia, shipyard on Monday afternoon and it slowly made its way up the Eastern Seaboard on Tuesday without any issues.

The Tamaroa was first commissioned by the U.S. Navy in 1934 under the name Zuni and saw action during World War II when it helped tow damaged vessels across the war-torn Pacific Ocean. It was transferred to the Coast Guard and renamed in 1946, then continued to serve until it eventually was decommissioned in 1994.

The vessel’s most notable mission came in October 1991, when three strong storm systems came together off the New England coast, generating 40-foot (12-meter) waves and wind gusts of more than 70 mph.

The Tamaroa’s crew helped save three people aboard a sailboat that was caught in the storm. They also rescued four of five crewmen of an Air National Guard helicopter that ran out of fuel during a similar rescue mission and had to be ditched in the ocean.

Both events were documented in Sebastian Junger’s 1997 book, “The Perfect Storm,” and a movie of the same name starring George Clooney.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Venezuela’s new ‘interim president’ is in hiding

Juan Guaidó, the Venezuelan opposition leader who declared himself interim president in January 2019, appeared to be in hiding as the country’s military leaders declared their support for his rival, President Nicolás Maduro.

The whereabouts of Guaidó, 35, remains unknown after he symbolically swore in as the country’s interim president on Jan. 23, 2019, before tens of thousands of supporters, promising to remove Maduro from power.


Guaidó has said that he needs support from three groups: The Venezuelan people, the international community, and the military, The Associated Press reported.

He hasn’t passed all three tests yet.

The long list of countries supporting his claim — including the US, the EU, and most of Venezuela’s neighbors — gives him a good argument that he has persuaded the international community.

This cyber threat will exploit almost all PCs, smartphones, and tablets

President Nicolás Maduro.

It is difficult to measure Guaidó’s popular support, though his rallies have pulled in huge crowds. Tens of thousands of Venezuelans marched in support of Guaidó in January 2019.

Venezuela’s military, however, is much more clear-cut. Its leaders have remained staunchly loyal to Maduro.

Guaidó told the Univision TV channel from an undisclosed location on Jan. 24, 2019, that he would not rule out granting amnesty to Maduro and his military allies if he secures power.

“Amnesty is on the table. Those guarantees are for all those who are willing to side with the Constitution to recover the constitutional order,” he told Univision.

He appeared on a low-resolution video feed against a blank background, with poor-quality audio.

This cyber threat will exploit almost all PCs, smartphones, and tablets

Guaidó spoke to Univision from an undisclosed location on January 24, 2019.

(Univision)

Venezuelans protested against Maduro for days, describing his presidency as unconstitutional and fraudulent.

Under Maduro’s rule, Venezuela is going through one of the world’s worst economic crises, with hyperinflation, power cuts, and food shortages.

More than a million Venezuelans have fled the country into neighboring Colombia, with hundreds of thousands more in Peru, Ecuador, Argentina, Chile, and Brazil.

US President Donald Trump declared his support for Guaidó on Jan. 23, 2019, shortly after he swore in as the country’s interim president.

Shortly after Trump’s announcement, Maduro told all US diplomats in the country to leave within three days. Washington has refused to comply.

The EU, Canada, and almost every country in Latin America also recognized Guaidó as president.

Russia, Turkey, Bolivia, and Cuba have explicitly declared support for Maduro.

China, Iran, and Syria condemned what they called US interference in Venezuela’s domestic affairs.

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

MIGHTY TRENDING

Trump approves cash for missile upgrades aimed at China

President Donald Trump on Aug. 13, 2018, signed into law a $717 billion defense spending bill that puts China in the crosshairs of a host of new US Navy missiles and tactics.

Beijing heavily protested it and may have scored some small concessions, but the bill puts nearly $1 trillion behind the idea that great power strategic competition has returned and that the US seeks to win it.


The increase in spending comes as China has increasingly edged out the US Navy’s competitive advantage in open waters. The US suffers a missile gap with both Russia and China, meaning those countries have longer-range missiles designed to sink massively valuable platforms like aircraft carriers before they can get close.

The US drifted from a focus on fighting near-peer adversaries like China and Russia after the Cold War, as military planners banked on continued US supremacy to limit potential adversaries to non-state actors and rogue states.

This cyber threat will exploit almost all PCs, smartphones, and tablets

The aircraft carrier USS Nimitz, the guided-missile cruiser USS Chosin, the guided-missile destroyers USS Sampson and USS Pinkney, and the guided-missile frigate USS Rentz operating in formation in the South China Sea.

(U.S. Navy photo)

But with the new defense bill comes a renewed focus on producing as many new missiles as possible to counter the high-end threats from those countries.

China’s YJ-18 and YJ-12 each can fly over 240 miles while meters above the surface of the ocean. When the YJ-18 gets close to the target, it jolts into supersonic speed, at about Mach 3. When the YJ-12 — also supersonic — approaches a target, it executes a corkscrew turn to evade close-in ship defenses.

Russia’s anti-ship Club missiles can reach 186 miles and boost into supersonic speeds when nearing a target.

The US Navy’s Harpoon missile is subsonic and travels just 77 miles.

Simply put, these missiles would chew up a US carrier strike group, with destroyers and cruisers protecting an aircraft carrier. Launching F/A-18s off a carrier could beat back a Russian or Chinese attack, but the missile gap remains palpable and a threat to the US Navy’s highest-value assets.

This cyber threat will exploit almost all PCs, smartphones, and tablets

US Navy submariners loading a Tomahawk cruise missile onto a sub.

(US Navy Photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Apprentice Samuel Souvannason)

Return to ship-sinking

To regain its status as the world’s premier ship-sinking force, the US has planned a few upgrades and set aside cash for them in the defense bill. It would pay for new long-range missiles for the Air Force and some Navy planes while bringing back a missile abandoned by the Navy after the fall of the Soviet Union.

Today, Tomahawk missiles have a massive range, of about 1,000 miles, but can hit only land targets, as they have in Syria recently. At the height of the Cold War, Tomahawks could strike moving ships, and now the Navy seeks to get that power back.

A modification in the works at Raytheon seeks to deliver 32 maritime versions of the Tomahawks by 2021 that would healthily out-range any Russian or Chinese missiles.

After a successful test of the upgraded Tomahawk in 2015, the deputy secretary of defense at the time, Bob Work, said (according to USNI News): “This is a potentially a game-changing capability for not a lot of cost. It’s a 1,000-mile anti-ship cruise missile.”

“It can be used by practically our entire surface and submarine fleet,” Work added.

Full-court press

But not only will the Navy get increased power to fight adversaries like China — it’s scheduling in some more patrols that could lead to run-ins, as have become increasingly frequent.

With Beijing building up its military presence in the South China Sea and rolling out new warships at a dizzying rate, the US’s return to great power competition will also include training neighboring navies in India and Sri Lanka.

Meanwhile, it says Beijing will remain excluded from Rimpac, the world’s largest naval exercise, until it stops its efforts to take control of the South China Sea.

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

Articles

10 leadership lessons to live by, straight from the Army’s top enlisted leader

Prior Sergeant Major of the Army Dailey offered some powerful guidance for the “backbone of the Army,” the non-commissioned officers’ corps. In case you missed it the first time we posted it, here it is:


No. 1. Yelling doesn’t make you skinny. PT does.

If you’re not out there saluting the flag every morning at 6:30, you can automatically assume your soldiers are not. Soldiers don’t care if you’re in first place. They just want to see you out there. This is a team sport. PT might not be the most important thing you do that day, but it is the most important thing you do every day in the United States Army. The bottom line is, wars are won between 6:30 and 9.

No. 2. Think about what you’re going to say before you say it.

I’ve never regretted taking the distinct opportunity to keep my mouth shut. You’re the sergeant major. People are going to listen to you. By all means, if you have something important or something informative to add to the discussion, then say it. But don’t just talk so people can hear you. For goodness sake, you’re embarrassing the rest of us. Sit down and listen. Sometimes you might just learn something.

This cyber threat will exploit almost all PCs, smartphones, and tablets
DoD Photo by Cpl. Christopher Mendoza

No. 3. If you find yourself having to remind everyone all of the time that you’re the sergeant major and you’re in charge, you’re probably not.

That one’s pretty self-explanatory.

No. 4. You have to work very hard at being more informed and less emotional.

Sergeants major, I’ll put it in simple terms: Nobody likes a dumb loudmouth. They don’t. Take the time to do the research. Learn how to be brief. Listen to people, and give everyone the time of day. Everyone makes mistakes, even sergeants major, and you will make less of them if you have time to be more informed.

No. 5. If you can’t have fun every day, then you need to go home.

You are the morale officer. You don’t have to be everyone’s friend, but you do have to be positive all the time. The sergeant major is the one everyone looks to when it’s cold, when it’s hot, when it’s raining, or things are just going south. Your job is to keep the unit together. That’s why you’re there. The first place they will look when things go bad is you, and they will watch your reaction.

This cyber threat will exploit almost all PCs, smartphones, and tablets
DoD Photo by Lance Cpl. Joseph Abrego

No. 6. Don’t be the feared leader. It doesn’t work.

If soldiers run the other way when you show up, that’s absolutely not cool. Most leaders who yell all the time, they’re in fact hiding behind their inability to effectively lead. Soldiers and leaders should be seeking you, looking for your guidance, asking you to be their mentors on their Army career track, not posting jokes about you on the ‘Dufflebag blog’. That’s not cool. Funny, but it’s not cool.

No. 7. Don’t do anything — and I mean anything — negative over email.

You have to call them. Go see them in person. Email’s just a tool. It’s not a substitute for leadership. It’s also permanent. You’ve all heard it. Once you hit ‘send,’ it’s official, and you can never bring it back. Automatically assume that whatever you write on email will be on the cover of the Army Times and all over Facebook by the end of the week. Trust me, I know this personally.

No. 8. It’s OK to be nervous. All of us are.

This happens to be my favorite. It came from my mother. My mom always used to tell me that if you’re not nervous on the first day of school, then you’re either not telling the truth, you either don’t care, or you’re just plain stupid. [Being nervous] makes you try harder. That’s what makes you care more.  Once that feeling is gone, once you feel like you have everything figured out, it’s time to go home, because the care stops.  Don’t do this alone. You need a battle buddy. You need someone you can call, a mentor you can confide in. Don’t make the same mistakes someone else has made. Those are the dumb mistakes. Don’t do this alone.

This cyber threat will exploit almost all PCs, smartphones, and tablets
Sergeant Major Dailey. DoD Photo by Timothy Hale

No. 9. If your own justification for being an expert in everything you do is your 28 years of military experience, then it’s time to fill out your 4187 [form requesting personnel action] and end your military experience.

Not everything gets better with age, sergeants major. You have to work at it every day. Remember, you are the walking textbook. You are the information portal. Take the time to keep yourself relevant.

No. 10. Never forget that you’re just a soldier.

That’s all you are. No better than any other, but just one of them. You may get paid a little more, but when the time comes, your job is to treat them all fair, take care of them as if they were your own children, and expect no more from them of that of which you expect from yourself.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The bizarre history of the Naval Academy’s mascot, ‘Bill the Goat’

Every sports team needs their very own cartoony mascot to get the fans going. Sure, it’s a goofy tradition, but it gets the people cheering and those cheers spur the players on to victory, so no one ever questions it. Military academies are no different.

The Air Force Academy sports the high-flying falcon because it’s the apex predator across much of America’s sky. West Point is represented by the mule because it’s a hardy beast of burden that has carried the Army’s gear into many wars. The Naval Academy, in what seems like a lapse of logic, decided long ago that the best representation of the Navy and Marine Corps’ spirit is a goat.

The use of a goat as their mascot began in 1893 with El Cid the Goat, named after the famed Castilian general. Eventually, they settled on the name “Bill” because, you know, billy goats… And it just gets weirder from there.


This cyber threat will exploit almost all PCs, smartphones, and tablets

From 1847 to 1851, the Naval Academy used a cat as their mascot, which we can presume would’ve hated being paraded in front of large crowds.

(National Archives)

In the Navy’s defense, goats actually served a purpose on Navy vessels back in the days of fully rigged ships. Unlike most livestock that required specialized food, a goat can eat just about any kind of scraps, which is handy on a long voyage. And, once it fulfilled its purpose as a walking garbage disposal, as grim as it sounds, it provided the cooks with a fresh source of meat.

Yet, when the U.S. Naval Academy was founded in 1845, then-Secretary of the Navy George Bancroft chose his favorite animal to be the official mascot of his newly established military academy: the monkey. This didn’t last long because the logo was actually of a gorilla and, as most people know, gorilla’s aren’t monkeys. The next idea was a cat (which actually have a place in Naval history), then a bulldog (before the times of Chesty Puller), and then a carrier pigeon.

This cyber threat will exploit almost all PCs, smartphones, and tablets

Ever since, sailors have enjoyed a long tradition of giving their goats the clever name of ‘Bill.’

​(U.S. Navy Historical Center)

There are two different versions of the story of how the Navy finally got the goat.

The first of those version is simple: The previously mentioned El Cid the Goat appeared at the 1893 Army-Navy football game and its presence, supposedly, helped carry the team to victory. The Navy continued to bounce back and forth between mascots until officially sticking with the goat in 1904. Said goat was re-branded as “Bill,” named after the Commandant of Midshipmen, Commander Colby M. Chester’s pet goat, and the rest is history.

This cyber threat will exploit almost all PCs, smartphones, and tablets

The biggest takeaway from the legend is the difference between becoming a legend and getting a Captain’s Mast is whether or not you can attribute a Navy victory over West Point on your actions.

(U.S. Navy photo by Joaquin Murietta)

The other version is steeped in legend — and is entirely bizarre. As the story goes, a ship’s beloved pet goat had met its untimely end. Two ensigns were tasked with heading ashore to bring the goat to a taxidermist so that its legacy could live on. The ensigns got lost on their way to the taxidermist, as most butter bars do, and wound up at the Army-Navy game.

The legend never specifies who, exactly, came up with this brilliant idea, but one of them apparently thought, “you know what? f*ck it” and wore the goat’s skin like a cape. During halftime, one ensign ran across the sidelines (because sporting arena security wasn’t a thing then) donning the goat skin and was met with thunderous applause.

Instead of reprimanding the two idiots for clearly doing the exact opposite of what their captain had asked of them, the Naval Academy rolled with it and attributed their victory over the Army to the goat.

This version is kind of suspect because El Cid the Goat was at the fourth game so the goat-skin midshipman would have had to been at one of the three games prior. The first and third games were held at West Point (which is clearly far away from any wandering ensigns) and second Army/Navy game was a victory for Army. But hey! It’s all in good fun.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Why immigrant military recruits are in bureaucratic limbo

Army Spc. Charles Choi, 32, originally from South Korea, has a bachelor’s degree and a master’s in statistics from Cornell University. He has education and skills that make him a highly valued prospect for the military, but he hasn’t made it to Basic Combat Training after signing up with the Army Reserve.

He has been waiting for two years.


Yes, I’m in limbo,” Choi said in an interview with Military.com. “I’m still waiting for the security clearance to be completed.”

Choi is one of several non-citizen enlistees who joined the military through the Military Accessions Vital To National Interest program, and spoke with Military.com about how they’ve been stuck waiting months or years for clearances and security screenings to process.

The program, created to attract those with highly sought skills for military service, has been essentially suspended amid political battles over immigration policy. Of the estimated 10,400 troops who have signed up to serve through MAVNI since 2008, more than 1,000 now face uncertain futures. Some can’t risk the wait.

For Choi, that’s especially true.

“Delays are so long and we have a finite length to our visas and that’s where the real problem comes in,” he said.

His visa will expire in less than a year.

“So if they just keep us in limbo and if we run out of visa status, then we cannot work or drive,” he said. “It’s a very screwed-up situation.”

The complex history of MAVNI

In 2012, well before MAVNI fell victim to the nation’s ever-shifting immigration policies, then-Army Chief of Staff Ray Odierno invited Sgt. Saral Shrestha to his Pentagon office for a photo op and a congratulatory grip-and-greet. Shrestha, who was born in Nepal, had just won the Army’s “Best Warrior” competition.

Shrestha, who earned citizenship through MAVNI, was honored later that year at the annual Association of the U.S. Army’s convention as the “Soldier of the Year.”

This cyber threat will exploit almost all PCs, smartphones, and tablets
Sgt. Saral Shrestha.
(U.S. Army photo by Teddy Wade)

Shrestha’s motto is “Mission first, soldiers always.” He said that “MAVNI was a blessing” in his progress from student visa to the Army and then to taking the oath as a citizen.

In March 2018, Army Sgt. Santosh Kachhepati, a combat medic with the 62nd Medical Brigade with two tours in Afghanistan, was selected for the Enlisted to Medical Degree Preparatory Program, or EMDP2. He will begin his studies to become a doctor at George Mason University in Virginia in the fall.

“I consider this opportunity to be an Army physician an honor and a privilege to serve the medical needs of our soldiers who risk their lives protecting this nation,” Kachhepati said, according to a release from Joint Base Lewis-McChord.

JBLM said that Kachhepati, also from Nepal, “came to the United States to attend college at the University of Texas at Arlington. He graduated U.T.’s Nursing Program with Honors in 2013.”

“He enlisted in Army in 2014 through the Military Accessions Vital to National Interest program, which allows certain qualified non-citizens to enlist in the U.S. military and thereby gain eligibility for U.S. citizenship,” JBLM said.

MAVNI began in 2008 as a one-year pilot program with the goal with the goal of bringing in non-citizen recruits with language or medical skills for the nation’s counterinsurgency wars and giving them a fast track to citizenship in return.

Adm. Eric Olson, then-commander of U.S. Special Operations Command, said at the time that MAVNI recruits were “operationally critical” to the military’s needs. But the program from the onset was caught up in political immigration debates and the high command’s security concerns.

The program was suspended in 2009 over fears of insider threats in the ranks when Army Maj. Nidal Malik Hassan, a psychiatrist born in the U.S., shot and killed 13 people and wounded more than 30 others in a rampage at Fort Hood, Texas, on Nov. 5 of that year.

The restrictions were lifted again in 2012, shortly after Shrestha won the “Soldier of the Year” award. Since then, MAVNI recruits have performed higher on entrance tests and had lower attrition rates than native-born troops, according to military data. But the program reached a turning point in September 2016.

This cyber threat will exploit almost all PCs, smartphones, and tablets
Santosh Kachhepati
(U.S. Army photo by Cain Claxton)

The beginning of the end for MAVNI came in the form of a September 2016 memo to the service secretaries from Peter Levine, then the acting under secretary for personnel and readiness.

Levine said that the MAVNI pilot program “is currently set to expire on Sept. 30, 2016.”

As it turned out, that wasn’t quite so.

In the same memo, Levine said that “changes in the enclosed guidance will strengthen and improve the execution of the MAVNI program.”

He said that for MAVNI in the coming year, “the maximum number of accessions will be: Army — 1,200; Navy — 65; Marine Corps — 65; and Air Force — 70.”

Despite the language suggesting the program’s continuation, Pentagon spokespeople said the program was effectively allowed to end October 2017, when tighter screening procedures were put in place for MAVNI recruits who had already signed up.

Mattis looks to save MAVNI

In a memo in July 2017, to Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, Pentagon personnel and intelligence officials warned of the “espionage potential” from foreign-born recruits.

“While the Department recognizes the value of expedited U.S. citizenship achieved through military service, it is in the national interest to ensure all current and prospective service members complete security and suitability screening prior to naturalization,” the memo said.

Foreign-born recruits would have to “complete a background investigation and receive a favorable military security suitability determination prior to entry in the active, reserve, or Guard service,” the memo said. “Those in the MAVNI program and other foreign-born recruits may have a higher risk of connections to Foreign Intelligence Services.”

This cyber threat will exploit almost all PCs, smartphones, and tablets
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis.
(DOD photo by U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Jette Carr)

However, Mattis, in a session with defense reporters in October 2017, said he was looking for ways to keep MAVNI alive despite the 2016 Levine memo that had again suspended the program.

“We are taking the steps obviously to save the program, if it can be saved,” Mattis said. “And I believe it can.”

In January 2018, on board his plane en route to Vietnam, Mattis held out the possibility that MAVNI could be renewed once enhanced vetting procedures were ironed out.

Mattis said that an internal examination had found that procedures were lax in screening MAVNI recruits.

“We were not keeping pace with our usual standard,” he said.


“We’ve got to look people’s backgrounds, and if you have a lot of family members in certain countries, then you come under additional scrutiny,” he added. “Until we can get them screened, we can’t bring in more.

“You’ve got to be able to screen them as they come in, rather than get them in and then you send them off to a unit and they say, ‘By the way, they don’t have security clearance yet.’ And then they say, ‘Well, thanks very much, but I can’t use them.’

“So it’s simply a matter of aligning the process, the recruiting process with the usual screening process,” Mattis continued. “There’s nothing more to it.”

Don’t go climbing Mount Kilimanjaro

The changes in the rules since 2016 have left more than 1,000 recruits already accepted into the military in a state of bureaucratic limbo with time running out on their visas while they await security clearances.

Choi, the Korean Army specialist, described filling out a form that required him to list his travel to foreign countries over the last seven years. He didn’t list a trip to Tanzania to climb Mount Kilimanjaro, which had occurred more than seven years before he filled out the form.

Six months later, an Army investigator gave him a call. They had found out about the trip to Tanzania and needed some “points of clarification,” Choi said. “The way they do it is just really not organized at all. It’s kind of clear this was made up on the fly.”

Choi said his battalion commander has urged him to look at the possibility of attending Officer Candidate School.

Army Reserve Pfc. Alan Huanyu Liang, 24, is also caught up in the same screening logjam while waiting to report to BCT. He was born in China, has been living in the U.S. for six years and has a bachelor’s degree from University of California, Los Angeles.

He signed his contract under the MAVNI program in May 2016.

“Since then, my life has been drastically changed by this program,” he told Military.com. “From the day I signed my contract, I have been eagerly waiting for my ship day [to BCT].”

This cyber threat will exploit almost all PCs, smartphones, and tablets
The first Navy sailors to participate in the MAVNI program are issued the oath of citizenship by Stacey Summers, branch chief from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Chicago field office.
(U.S. Navy photo by Scott Thornbloom)

Now, he said, it has been almost two years and no progress has been made since he signed his contract.

“I have been drilling every month since I was in-processed into my unit, and I witnessed people coming later to the unit than I did get shipped and came back with a uniform,” he said. “I really, really envy them. I wish one day I can be in that uniform and serve like a real soldier. I keep asking my recruiter and all I am told is to wait.”

Another MAVNI recruit, who didn’t want her name used, told Military.com that she has been at a training base for two years after completing BCT while awaiting additional screening that would let her go to AIT, or Advanced Individual Training.

In the meantime, she does paperwork.

“You need the favorable adjudication [Military Service Suitability Determination] to go to AIT,” she said. “I’m between a rock and a hard place. It’s kind of ridiculous, but I am still motivated by the idea of serving.”

Lawyer who built MAVNI pushes to save it

“There’s an epic bureaucratic fight going on,” said Margaret Stock, a lawyer and former Army lieutenant colonel who was instrumental in planning and initiating the MAVNI program while still in the service.

“It’s an appalling example of bureaucratic incompetence,” she said of the efforts to kill the MAVNI program and subject those who have already signed up to endless screening.

“They’re saying the MAVNIs are some kind of security threat,” Stock told Military.com, but “there is no specific threat” that justify strictures that would kill a program that has already proven its worth.

“They pose the same threat that U.S. citizens would,” said Stock, the recipient of a MacArthur “Genius Grant” fellowship.

To meet a range of emerging threats, “we need these people,” she said. “What we don’t need is people sitting on a base for 18 months doing nothing because of background checks.”

Do Not Sell My Personal Information