Editorial | Why Spy Agencies Say the Future Is Bleak – The New York Times

Credit…Illustration by The New York Times; Photograph, via Getty Images

“Every four years, at the start of a new administration, American intelligence agencies put out “Global Trends,” a weighty assessment of where the world seems headed over the next two decades. In 2008, for example, the report warned about the potential emergence of a pandemic originating in East Asia and spreading rapidly around the world.

The latest report, Global Trends 2040, released last week by the National Intelligence Council, finds that the pandemic has proved to be “the most significant, singular global disruption since World War II,” with medical, political and security implications that will reverberate for years. That’s not schadenfreude. It’s the prologue to a far darker picture of what lies ahead.

The world envisioned in the 144-page report, ominously subtitled “A More Contested World,” is rent by a changing climate, aging populations, disease, financial crises and technologies that divide more than they unite, all straining societies and generating “shocks that could be catastrophic.” The gap between the challenges and the institutions meant to deal with them continues to grow, so that “politics within states are likely to grow more volatile and contentious, and no region, ideology, or governance system seems immune or to have the answers.” At the international level, it will be a world increasingly “shaped by China’s challenge to the United States and Western-led international system,” with a greater risk of conflict.

Here’s how agencies charged with watching the world see things:

  • “Large segments of the global population are becoming wary of institutions and governments that they see as unwilling or unable to address their needs. People are gravitating to familiar and like-minded groups for community and security, including ethnic, religious, and cultural identities as well as groupings around interests and causes, such as environmentalism.”

  • “At the same time that populations are increasingly empowered and demanding more, governments are coming under greater pressure from new challenges and more limited resources. This widening gap portends more political volatility, erosion of democracy, and expanding roles for alternative providers of governance.”

  • “Accelerating shifts in military power, demographics, economic growth, environmental conditions, and technology, as well as hardening divisions over governance models, are likely to further ratchet up competition between China and a Western coalition led by the United States.”

  • “At the state level, the relationships between societies and their governments in every region are likely to face persistent strains and tensions because of a growing mismatch between what publics need and expect and what governments can and will deliver.”

Experts in Washington who have read these reports said they do not recall a gloomier one. In past years, the future situations offered have tilted toward good ones; this year, the headings for how 2040 may look tell a different story: “Competitive Coexistence,” “Separate Silos,” “Tragedy and Mobilization” or “A World Adrift,” in which “the international system is directionless, chaotic, and volatile as international rules and institutions are largely ignored by major powers like China, regional players and non-state actors.    . . . ”

Opinion | I Fought in Afghanistan. I Still Wonder, Was It Worth It? – The New York Times

Mr. Kudo is a former Marine captain who served in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. He is working on a novel about the Afghanistan war.

Credit…Illustration by Nicholas Konrad/The New York Times; photograph by Getty Images

“When President Biden announced on Wednesday that the United States would withdraw all its troops from Afghanistan by Sept. 11, 2021, he appeared to be finally bringing this “forever war” to an end. Although I have waited for this moment for a decade, it is impossible to feel relief. The Sept. 11 attacks took place during my senior year of college, and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that followed consumed the entirety of my adult life. Although history books may mark this as the end of the Afghanistan war, it will never be over for many of my generation who fought.

Sometimes there are moments, no more than the span of a breath, when the smell of it returns and once again I’m stepping off the helicopter ramp into the valley. Covered in the ashen dust of the rotor wash, I take in for the first time the blend of wood fires burning from inside lattice-shaped mud compounds, flooded fields of poppies and corn, the sweat of the unwashed and the wet naps that failed to mask it, chicken and sheep and the occasional cow, the burn pit where trash and plastic smoldered through the day, curries slick with oil eaten by hand on carpeted dirt floors, and fresh bodies buried shallow, like I.E.D.s, in the bitter earth.

It’s sweet and earthy, familiar to the farm boys in the platoon who knew that blend of animal and human musk but alien to those of us used only to the city or the lush Southern woods we patrolled during training. Later, at the big bases far from the action, surrounded by gyms and chow halls and the expeditionary office park where the flag and field grade officers did their work, it was replaced by a cologne of machinery and order. Of common parts installed by low-bid contractors and the ocher windblown sand of the vast deserts where those behemoth bases were always located. Relatively safe after the long months at the frontier but dull and lifeless.  . . . “

Stephen Wertheim | America Is Not ‘Back.’ And Americans Should Not Want It to Be. – The New York Times

Mr. Wertheim is a historian of American foreign policy and the director of grand strategy at the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, a think tank.

Credit…David Tulis/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

” “America is back,” President Biden has declared in every major foreign policy speech he has given since taking office. He means to restore what he sees as the essence of global leadership — the United States joining with allies to “fight for our shared values” — that his predecessor defiled. Back, then, is America’s quest to order the world in the name of democracy, human rights and the American way.

After four years of Donald Trump, the impulse to return to familiar habits is understandable. But those habits, especially the moralization of one country’s armed dominance, have proved destructive. What matters is whether the Biden administration will actually make America — No. 1 in armed force and arms dealing — less violent in the world. In that regard, Mr. Biden’s larger vision, of the United States dividing the globe into subordinate allies and multiplying adversaries, and shouldering the burdens toward both, remains troubling, no matter how high-minded his rhetoric or diplomatic his actions.

Mr. Biden has signaled some improvement so far. He has cut off Washington’s support for “offensive operations” in Yemen and related arms sales to Saudi Arabia, reversing the awful policy initiated by President Barack Obama and intensified by President Trump. He has taken steps toward re-entering the nuclear agreement with Iran, essential for avoiding future wars.” . . .

A German Terrorist Suspect With a Refugee Disguise: The Tale of Franco A. – The New York Times

“OFFENBACH, Germany — At the height of Europe’s migrant crisis, a bearded man in sweatpants walked into a police station. His pockets were empty except for an old cellphone and a few foreign coins.

In broken English, he presented himself as a Syrian refugee. He said he had crossed half the continent by foot and lost his papers along the way. The officers photographed and fingerprinted him. Over the next year, he would get shelter and an asylum hearing, and would qualify for monthly benefits.

His name, he offered, was David Benjamin.

In reality, he was a lieutenant in the German Army. He had darkened his face and hands with his mother’s makeup and applied shoe shine to his beard. Instead of walking across Europe, he had walked 10 minutes from his childhood home in the western city of Offenbach.”

Opinion | I Was the Homeland Security Adviser to Trump. We’re Being Hacked. – The New York Times

Mr. Bossert was the homeland security adviser to President Trump and deputy homeland security adviser to President George W. Bush.

Credit…Illustration by Frank Augugliaro; flag: Wolfgang Deuter/Getty Images

“At the worst possible time, when the United States is at its most vulnerable — during a presidential transition and a devastating public health crisis — the networks of the federal government and much of corporate America are compromised by a foreign nation. We need to understand the scale and significance of what is happening.

Last week, the cybersecurity firm FireEye said it had been hacked and that its clients, which include the United States government, had been placed at risk. This week, we learned that SolarWinds, a publicly traded company that provides software to tens of thousands of government and corporate customers, was also hacked.

The attackers gained access to SolarWinds software before updates of that software were made available to its customers. Unsuspecting customers then downloaded a corrupted version of the software, which included a hidden back door that gave hackers access to the victim’s network.”

Biden Plans to Tap Lloyd Austin, Former Iraq Commander, as Defense Secretary – The New York Times

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“. . . General Austin became the top commander of American forces in Iraq in 2010, when the United States still had roughly 50,000 service members there. Much of the attention had moved on to other hot spots in the Middle East, but major questions still existed about the direction of Iraq, including whether any American forces would remain in the country beyond 2011. General Austin and his commanders were convinced that a sizable force of over 5,000 troops needed to remain to help the fledgling Iraqi military. But the commanders on the ground were ultimately overruled by the Obama administration, which pulled out all American forces by the end of 2011.

Years later that decision would be blamed for the Islamic State’s ability to seize wide swaths of the country.

General Austin’s style was far more reserved than some of the officers with marquee names who spent considerable time cultivating their public image and using the news media to maneuver policy fights with the administration.” . . .

Opinion | So, Russia, You Want to Mess With Our Voting Machines? -By Tim Wu- The New York Times

By 

Mr. Wu is a co-author of “Who Controls the Internet?: Illusions of a Borderless World.”

Credit…Kirsten Luce for The New York Times

“Put yourself in the shoes of Russian or Iranian leadership for a moment. Why not interfere with the voting in the U.S. presidential election? What could be more advantageous than catalyzing a bitter and protracted battle over the results of the election, with a chance of igniting civil unrest throughout the country? Sure, it might not work — but with little to lose and so much to gain, why not try?

When it comes to foreign election meddling in elections, disinformation is a serious threat, but the most disruptive form of intrusion is electoral cyber-interference: the freezing of voting systems, the mass deletion of voter registration information, altering vote counts and so on. Such feats may not be easily accomplished, but if they were successful, they could throw the United States into chaos.

The risk is not hypothetical. American intelligence agencies, having hacked into Russian computer networks, report that Russia recently infiltrated some voting systems in the United States. If Russia or another country were to alter tallies or voter information in just a few swing states, it could threaten our confidence in the results of the election.

That is why this week, Joe Biden and President Trump should threaten punishing retaliation should another nation attempt such forms of electoral interference. They should stress that by “interference” they do not mean propaganda or influence campaigns, but rather direct attacks on the election, which are attacks on political independence and thus a form of illegal aggression. And they should warn that such attacks will lead to destructive consequences — as permitted by international law — for the offending nation and its leadership.”

Opinion | The Biggest Risk to This Election Is Not Russia. It’s Us. – By Fiona Hill – The New York Times

By 

Ms. Hill was senior director for European and Russian affairs on the National Security Council from 2017 to 2019.

Credit…Alex Brandon/Associated Press

“Robert O’Brien, President Trump’s national security adviser, revealed this week that he had recently met his Russian counterpart, Nikolai Patrushev, in Geneva and warned him that “there would be absolutely no tolerance for any interference” in the November election.

This was a pointless exchange. It misrepresents how Russia actually interferes in our affairs. The Russian state does not meddle directly. It delegates to proxies, who amplify our divisions and exploit our political polarization.

And the truth is, Americans must recognize that the United States is ripe for manipulation. With a month to go before Election Day, we are ripping ourselves apart.

When I was at the National Security Council, I had similar meetings with Mr. Patrushev and other Russian officials; we met in Geneva, in Moscow and in side rooms at international summits. With the national security advisers H.R. McMaster and John Bolton, we called them out for intervening in our 2016 elections. We warned them not to repeat their operations in 2018 and 2020.

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Our Russian counterparts never admitted to anything. They professed surprise at the uproar in American politics. They had done nothing. The United States, they said, had “gone mad.”

ImageNikolai Patrushev, secretary of Russia’s Security Council.
Credit…Maxim Shemetov/Reuters

The uproar, we countered, was their fault. They had lost the entire American political class. Their actions pushed our bilateral relationship into a destructive spiral.

We would then run through the now widely reported facts about what Russian operatives had done. Russia’s 2016 campaign was a creative mix of old-style propaganda techniques and new cybertools. On the one hand, Russia state-backed media outlets magnified the most divisive U.S. political conflicts. On the other, Twitter bots and WikiLeaks spread disinformation and revealed hacked emails. Russia’s Internet Research Agency analyzed U.S. public opinion and hired individuals to pose as Americans on Facebook.

Mattis Accuses Trump of Dividing the Nation in a Time of Crisis – The New York Times

“WASHINGTON — Former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, breaking months of public silence on President Trump since resigning in protest in December 2018, on Wednesday offered a withering critique of the president’s leadership amid growing protests across the country.

“Donald Trump is the first president in my lifetime who does not try to unite the American people — does not even pretend to try,” Mr. Mattis wrote in a statement issued late Wednesday. “Instead he tries to divide us. We are witnessing the consequences of three years of this deliberate effort. We are witnessing the consequences of three years without mature leadership.”

Mr. Mattis, a retired four-star Marine Corps general, also criticized comments by the current defense secretary, Mark T. Esper, who in recent days has described protest sites across the nation as a “battle space” to be cleared.

“We must reject any thinking of our cities as a ‘battle space’ that our uniformed military is called upon to ‘dominate,’” Mr. Mattis wrote. “At home, we should use our military only when requested to do so, on very rare occasions, by state governors. Militarizing our response, as we witnessed in Washington, D.C., sets up a conflict — a false conflict — between the military and civilian society.” “

“. . .  In his statement on Wednesday, Mr. Mattis sounded a call to arms of a different sort than have resounded in the streets near the White House, and across the country.

“We know that we are better than the abuse of executive authority that we witnessed in Lafayette Square,” Mr. Mattis said. “We must reject and hold accountable those in office who would make a mockery of our Constitution.” “

Chinese Agents Spread Messages That Sowed Virus Panic in U.S., Officials Say – The New York Times

“WASHINGTON — The alarming messages came fast and furious in mid-March, popping up on the cellphone screens and social media feeds of millions of Americans grappling with the onset of the coronavirus pandemic.

Spread the word, the messages said: The Trump administration was about to lock down the entire country.

“They will announce this as soon as they have troops in place to help prevent looters and rioters,” warned one of the messages, which cited a source in the Department of Homeland Security. “He said he got the call last night and was told to pack and be prepared for the call today with his dispatch orders.”

The messages became so widespread over 48 hours that the White House’s National Security Council issued an announcement via Twitter that they were “FAKE.”