Today's D Brief: VP Harris to Seoul; State of the Space Force; China's economy is slowing down; FB takes down 'largest and most complex' Russian op; And a bit more.
North Korea just conducted its 20th missile test of the year when it fired two short-range ballistic missiles into the water off its east coast on Wednesday. The missiles were launched 10 minutes apart shortly after 6 p.m. local, and both departed from the capital city of Pyongyang, South Korea’s military said in a statement. Seoul’s Yonhap news agency reports the two missiles were fired from road-mobile launchers.
Both missiles are believed to have flown about 220 miles and at a relatively low trajectory of about 18 miles above the earth. (Pyongyang’s last test, three days ago, featured a trajectory of about three times Wednesday’s apogee.)
Reminder: The U.S. Navy is conducting joint drills with their South Korean counterparts this week, the first time that’s happened in five years. Those exercises are expected to end on Thursday—the same day U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris is expected to arrive in Seoul for talks with President Yoon Suk Yeol and others.
VP Harris is also expected to visit the demilitarized zone between the two Koreas, which is a place American diplomats have long assembled only to be photobombed by North Korean soldiers at a creepily close proximity.
New nuclear prediction: The North might detonate a nuclear weapon sometime between the middle of October and early November, intelligence officials in Seoul told lawmakers Wednesday; the two dates on either end of that forecast are China’s Communist party congress on Oct. 16, and U.S. midterm elections on Nov. 7. The Associated Press and Reuters have a bit more.
From Defense One
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Welcome to this Wednesday edition of The D Brief, brought to you by Ben Watson with Jennifer Hlad. If you’re not already subscribed to The D Brief, you can do that here. And check out other Defense One newsletters here. On this day in 1939, the Nazis and the Soviets agreed to carve up Poland.
Happening today: State of the Space Force. Defense One’s State of Defense series continues today with State of the Space Force. Be sure to catch Vice Chief of Space Operations Gen. David Thompson’s conversation with Tara Copp at 12:30, followed by Rep. Doug Lamborn’s conversation with Jacqueline Feldscher at 1 p.m., and a panel discussion on “preparing for war in the atmosphere” at 1:30. The event is free and virtual; if you haven’t already registered, you can do that here.
China’s global investment machine—aka the “Belt and Road” program—is slowing down, and now the World Bank is expecting far less growth from the world’s second-largest economy, which is still slowly pulling itself out of the pandemic as it faces a “real-estate crunch,” according to the Wall Street Journal, reporting Monday.
What’s going on: “Tens of billions of dollars of loans have gone sour, and numerous development projects have stalled,” the Journal reports. Meanwhile, “Many economists and investors have said the country’s lending practices have contributed to debt crises in places like Sri Lanka and Zambia.” And those perceptions are certain to apply pressure on Xi Jinping and the upcoming party congress in October.
Consider: “Nearly 60% of China’s overseas loans are now held by countries considered to be in financial distress, compared with 5% in 2010,” according to one economist.
About that World Bank forecast: China’s economy is now expected to grow by only 2.8% in 2022, which is down from the bank’s 4.3% forecast for Beijing three months ago. Meantime, and perhaps surprisingly, “Growth in developing East Asia and the Pacific outside of China is forecast to accelerate to 5.3% in 2022 from 2.6% in 2021,” the bank says. Read on, here.
China has its eye on the U.S. midterm elections. The company formerly known as Facebook (now, Meta) announced Tuesday that it took down a “Chinese-origin influence operation” that it says “was the first one to target US domestic politics ahead of the 2022 midterms.”
What to know, according to Meta: “It targeted people on both sides of the political spectrum,” including President Joe Biden and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, e.g., through about 20 different accounts. However, “Few people engaged with it and some of those who did called it out as fake,” the company says. One of the posts, for example, complained, “I can't live in an America on regression!”
But perhaps most telling, “these accounts largely stuck to a shift pattern that coincided with a nine-to-five, Monday-to-Friday work schedule during working hours in China,” and “They appear to have had a substantial lunch break, and a much lower level of posting during weekends,” Meta says.
Notable: A larger Russia-based “influence campaign” was also taken down from Facebook’s platforms, the company says. That one used more than 1,600 accounts and they “targeted primarily Germany, and also France, Italy, Ukraine, and the United Kingdom.” Those posts usually criticized Ukraine, praised Russia, said sanctions against Moscow would “backfire,” etc.
“This is the largest and most complex Russian-origin operation that we’ve disrupted since the beginning of the war in Ukraine,” Meta says, and added the campaign—which featured spoofed websites—“presented an unusual combination of sophistication and brute force.” Read more in the full report (PDF) here.
Related reading: A former U.S. Army reservist has been convicted of spying for China, Military Times reports. Ji Chaoqun enlisted in 2016 and said he had no affiliation with any foreign government, but evidence presented during the trial shows that while he was serving, “acted as an agent reporting directly to high-ranking intelligence officers in China’s Ministry of State Security,” according to MT. More, here.
Lastly today: The CIA is celebrating its 75th anniversary this year. So the legendarily secretive agency is doing what pretty much every entity does these days—it’s starting a podcast.
It’s called “The Langley Files,” and the first episode—hosted by men who call themselves Dee and Walter—just posted last week. In that pilot, Director Bill Burns noted a bit in his opening remarks about why it’s all happening. “I'm convinced, as I know you are,” he told Dee and Walter, “that in our democracy, where trust in institutions is in such short supply, that it's important to try to explain ourselves as best we can and to demystify a little bit of what we do.” (The hosts, for their part, spend the last few minutes of the first episode explaining their intention and goals for the program.)
The agency’s mission, according to Burns: “Our job is to tell policymakers what they need to hear, not what they want to hear,” he says on the podcast. To mark the CIA’s 75th year, Burns encouraged listeners to reflect “on what we got right and what we got wrong over those years through the Cold War and then the war on terror in the two decades since 9/11.”
He also flagged “major power competition with rising powers like China,” and how America’s spies also “have to deal with declining powers, not just rising ones, like Russia,” whose leader, Vladimir Putin “demonstrates every day that declining powers can be at least as disruptive as rising ones.” Catch the first episode here.
Related reading (and listening):
- “Marking 75 years, the CIA opens a new museum and launches a podcast,” NPR reported Monday;
- “The CIA renovated its museum. The public still can’t go see it,” the Washington Post reported Saturday;
- And former Acting CIA Director Michael Morrell has current Deputy CIA Director David Cohen on the “Intelligence Matters” podcast this week as the two discuss that 75th anniversary.