Today's D Brief: Extremism rising; Moscow's nonstarter; Afghans to Europe; 'Brain-control' weapons; Cyber mercs; And a bit more.

American troops, veterans have become more extreme, new data shows. The number of active and former service members who committed extremism-related crimes increased significantly over the past decade, and those numbers seem poised to rise if leaders do not intervene, Defense One’s Tara Copp reports this morning. 

What the data says: “From 1990-2010, an average of 6.9 subjects per year with U.S. military backgrounds” committed extremism-related crimes, according to a report (PDF) from the University of Maryland’s National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism, or START. “Over the last decade, that number has more than quadrupled to 28.5 subjects per year.”

What’s more, even if the Jan. 6 military participants are removed from the data set, the average number of people with military backgrounds who engaged in those criminal acts jumped from 6.9 to 17.7 per year. 

Overall, 458 people with military backgrounds were arrested, charged, or indicted after committing criminal acts that were motivated by extremist political, economic, social, or religious goals since 1990, according to START. That includes 107 veterans and 11 others with military ties arrested for the Jan. 6 attack. 

So what’s going on? “We just concluded the two longest wars in U.S. history, unsatisfactorily, in two Muslim-majority countries in a hyperpolarized moment in American history. So those underlying factors are not going away,” said William Braniff, an Army vet who leads START.

Bigger picture: It may be tempting to call developments in Charlottesville and the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol “anomalies,” but Branniff said he believes “they’re a reflection  of the political climate in the United States…I don’t think this is some sort of blip that will completely reverse itself in any sense.” Continue reading, here.


From Defense One

This Army Reservist’s Formula Predicts the Inside Layout of Buildings from Satellite Photos // Patrick Tucker: The ability to predict the placement of stairs, rooms, etc., could be a big help to tactical teams.

Diplomacy Is ‘No Longer Sufficient’ To Prevent Russian Escalation, Lithuanian Defense Chief Says // Jacqueline Feldscher: The U.S. should act now to punish Russia and help Ukraine, not wait for a full-scale invasion, Arvydas Anusauskas said.

Army Commanders Relieved Over Vaccine Refusal // Elizabeth Howe: Battalion COs among the six soldiers removed from their jobs as service deadline passes.

The Paperwork Coup // David A. Graham, The Atlantic: A much more dangerous insurrection was under way in the inboxes of Trump's inner circle in the weeks before January 6.

Welcome to this Friday edition of The D Brief from Ben Watson with Jennifer Hlad. If you’re not already subscribed to The D Brief, you can do that here. On this day in 1944, the nearly six-week long Battle of the Bulge entered its second day, when at least 84 American prisoners were executed by Nazi troops in an event known as the Malmedy massacre.


President Joe Biden’s national security advisor rang up nine of America’s central and eastern European partners on Thursday. That includes Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, and Slovakia—aka “the Bucharest Nine.”
Dominating the discussion: Russian military activity and “the need for Russia to take immediate steps to deescalate the situation at its border with Ukraine,” Emily Horne of the National Security Council said in a statement after the call.
NSA Jake Sullivan’s message: That “our unity with Allies and partners is our greatest strength and that we will not make any decisions related to their security without them.” According to Horne, consensus on at least two points was very easy. “All participants emphasized their commitment to Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity in the face of Russian aggression,” she said in her statement. A bit more, here.
The latest:Russia sets out tough demands for security pact with NATO,” including one nonstarter—never allowing Ukraine into NATO—that the alliance has already rejected, the Associated Press reports Friday from Moscow. 

Speaking of Europe: “Afghans are now on course to overtake Syrians as Europe’s leading asylum-seekers in 2021,” the Associated Press’s John Leicester and Daniel Cole report today from the French-Italian alps. It’s there that Afghans are slogging through knee-deep snow after three months of walking through at least five different countries in search of some kind of better life than the one they faced under Taliban rule.
Bigger picture: “The Afghan exodus that some feared would flood Europe with migrants after the Taliban swept to power hasn’t materialized,” Leicester and Cole report. But “Internal EU reporting on migration trends shows that more than 80,000 Afghans applied for asylum through November. That’s a surge of 96% over the same span last year, and the increase was partly driven by the evacuations from Kabul airport.” The full report is worth your time, even if you just behold Cole’s photography; continue here.
Related reading:More Than 60,000 Interpreters, Visa Applicants Remain in Afghanistan,” via the Wall Street Journal’s Jessica Donati, reporting Thursday. 

Back stateside, Texas just threw its hat in the ring with 6 other GOP states refusing the Pentagon’s vaccine requirements for National Guard soldiers. “Texas Republican Gov. Greg Abbott asserted the Pentagon has no authority to punish unvaccinated members of the state National Guard,” CNN reported Thursday after Abbott sent the letter (PDF) to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin.
ICYMI: The other states are Oklahoma, Wyoming, Alaska, Iowa, Mississippi and Nebraska.
What now? “A spokesman for the Office of the Secretary of Defense acknowledged receipt of the letters and said a response would be forthcoming,” CNN’s Oren Liebermann writes. Read on, here

It could be tinfoil hat time for some folks after reading this Thursday headline from CNBC: “U.S. blacklists 34 Chinese entities, citing human rights abuses and ‘brain-control weaponry’
You read that right. The U.S. Department of Commerce listed (PDF) more than three dozen firms that it says are “acting contrary to the foreign policy or national security interests of the United States” in an announcement Thursday. “Of the forty entries, thirty-four are located in China.” (The others are in Georgia, Malaysia, and Turkey.) Twelve of those 34 in China involve work with Beijing’s Academy of Military Medical Sciences. And according to the Commerce Department, that military academy “and its 11 research institutes use biotechnology processes to support Chinese military end uses and end users, to include purported brain-control weaponry.”
So what is “brain-control weaponry”? The short answer is we don’t know. And a longer sort-of answer from Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo was arguably no more revealing, according to CNBC. “The scientific pursuit of biotechnology and medical innovation can save lives,” Raimondo said, and added, “Unfortunately, the [People’s Republic of China] is choosing to use these technologies to pursue control over its people and its repression of members of ethnic and religious minority groups.”
But later Thursday, the Treasury Department called out eight other Chinese firms for their alleged role in the “biometric surveillance and tracking of ethnic and religious minorities in China, particularly the predominantly Muslim Uyghur minority in Xinjiang.” Read more from that notice, including how one firm (Cloudwalk Technology Co., Ltd.) linked up with the Zimbabwe government to use its citizens’ faces to refine Cloudwalk’s facial recognition system, here.

Facebook—er, Meta—just banned seven big players in the “global cyber mercenary” industry. Those seven firms—operating out of China, Israel, India, and North Macedonia—were using about 1,500 accounts to spy on an estimated 50,000 Facebook and Instagram users across more than 100 countries, allegedly “collect[ing] intelligence, manipulat[ing] and compromis[ing] their devices and accounts across the internet,” Meta said in a report Thursday. Affected users have allegedly already been “alerted” if they were believed to have been targeted.
Where this all comes from: The cyber heat generated by Israeli-based NSO Group (see WIRED, e.g.), which is a firm believed to have been used to target the devices of State Department employees in Uganda, as well as journalists around the world and dissidents in the United Arab Emirates. The Department of Commerce targeted NSO Group with restricted activity in early November, but some U.S. lawmakers want the restrictions widened, as Reuters reported Wednesday.
The seven newly-banned firms include: 

  • CobwebsTechnologies; 
  • Cognyte; 
  • Black Cube;
  • Bluehawk CI, which, along the first three, is based in Israel; 
  • BellTroX, out of India; 
  • Cytrox, from North Macedonia; 
  • and “an unknown entity in China.”

Meta also says it’s time to have “a public discussion about the use of surveillance-for-hire technology” in order “to deter the abuse of these capabilities both among those who sell them and those who buy them.” Meta’s advice? “[I]t is imperative for technology platforms, civil society and democratic governments to raise the costs on this global industry and disincentivize these abusive surveillance-for-hire services.”
Why this all matters, according to Meta: “While these cyber mercenaries often claim that their services and surveillanceware are meant to focus only on criminals and terrorists, our own investigation, independent researchers, our industry peers, and governments have demonstrated that targeting is indeed indiscriminate and includes journalists, dissidents, critics of authoritarian regimes, families of opposition, and human rights activists.” And “In fact,” the company adds, “for platforms like ours, there is no scalable way to discern the purpose or legitimacy of such targeting.” Read over the full report (PDF), here.
ICYMI: Zoom has joined tech industry counterterrorism group,” Reuters reported Wednesday. (The TLDR version: “The Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism is an independent group through which member companies share information to combat terrorism and violent extremism on their sites,” Reuters writes. It was created in 2017 and includes Meta, Microsoft, Airbnb and more.)

And lastly: Trends on Chinese-owned social media app TikTok are disrupting school districts across America, with the latest and arguably most concerning “TikTok challenge” yet involving a cheaply-made meme threatening school violence on December 17. The vaguely-threatening image and accompanying text eventually made its way to teachers and administrators this week, as D.C.-area WJLA news reported Wednesday. Here’s a Google News rundown of schools across the nation that can’t afford to ignore such threats of violence.
There have been at least 24 school shootings in the U.S. this year, including 16 since August, according to Ohio’s WFMJ news, reporting in late November. 
That’s why one district in central Ohio just added a security robot that patrols the hallways on tracks, like a mini-tank. It’s called the S3 Bot, and it’s the product of a high school robotics class and a local company called Trac Fabrication. The idea is to “give eyes to first responders while not jeopardizing human life and limb,” said a superintendent of the Laurel School District, in central Ohio.
The S3 Bot is also armed with pepper spray and tasers to go along with its red and blue lights. Read or watch more in WFMJ’s video report, here.

Have a safe weekend, everyone. And we’ll catch you again on Monday!

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