This Brosnan Risk Consultants (BRC) Strategic Intelligence Briefing covers the period from April 20th to May 2nd, 2021 and discusses issues related to recent economic, political, socio-cultural, and/or environmental events that may have an effect on property, travel, commercial, logistical, medical, and retail security throughout the United States or other global markets.
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The Russians are Hitting Us on All Fronts
While Russia had been undertaking a sustained offensive against the U.S. throughout Putin’s tenure, senior U.S. officials have noted an uptick since President Biden came to office, along with his recent announcement of wide-ranging sanctions against Russia as retribution for the SolarWinds cyber-attacks and efforts to interfere in the 2016 and 2020 elections.
Two of the most recent notable incidents have focused on direct and indirect attacks against U.S. interests in Europe and Eastern Europe/Balkans. First, the Russians have stepped up their propaganda efforts in these areas, feeding disinformation to press outlets across the region.
While in Europe the internet is the main source of news for most people, in Eastern Europe there is much greater reliance on local newspapers and outlets. The Russians have been able to leverage their influence and contacts with these outlets to promote anti-U.S. messaging to a much larger extent, drawing on the racial and political issues currently at play in the U.S.
In addition, U.S. officials have noticed an uptick in the medical condition that has come to be known as Havana Syndrome. This is the covert microwave attacks first noticed by American diplomats at the U.S. and Canadian embassies in Havana in 2016/2017, and later found in Russia and other locations. While instances of this had waned in recent years, cases have been noticed in Eastern Europe as of late.
As for a response, the U.S. is currently attempting to determine the best course of action as it had taken aggressive steps recently to punish Russia and put them on notice moving forward. With the myriad domestic challenges facing the U.S. due to the George Floyd case and an ongoing spate of shootings by police of African Americans, it is unclear what the next step will be in the near term.
According to senior local, state, and federal law enforcement officials, police departments nationally are reeling from the blow back of not only Derek Chauvin’s trial, but also the spate of recent officer-involved-shootings in which African American individuals have been shot and/or killed. These concerns center more on the unintended consequences of these acts, and the apparent kneejerk reaction by politicians to rush through reform efforts for the police on a national level. While these leaders concede that there is a need to address inadequacies in the system, the training provided to officers, and the means of engagement on the streets, they are quite worried that some of the decisions and policies being considered could undermine law enforcement for the foreseeable future, making it difficult to not only meet their mission but also encouraging new officers to join the ranks.
Central to this is the concern over efforts to either curb or get rid of the qualified immunity protections that police are afforded. Police leaders point out that while Derek Chauvin clearly crossed a line and needed to be prosecuted for his actions, there are many more instances in which officers are not necessarily incorrect or criminally libel and are at risk for being sued by individuals for doing their jobs. The leaders are not looking to protect officers guilty of crossing the line, but rather, they want to support the vast majority of officers who could either become victims of frivolous lawsuits or decide the risk of such a lawsuit is so great that it would impact on their ability/willingness to carry out their mission.
Addressing the sense of victimization and helplessness, which both police and minorities feel, has been recognized as something that needs to be done in tandem. However, the fear is that the current environment is not conducive to any type of constructive dialogue.
The manner in which the George Floyd/Derek Chauvin trial took place, with not only Maxine Waters (D-California) and President Biden stating that the jury needs to “make the right verdict” and the former calling for violent protests if Chauvin was not found guilty, sets a dangerous precedent irrespective if Chauvin can use such statements to justify an appeal. For it is also community leaders who are also allowing the emotionally charged atmosphere steer their remarks to their constituencies. This, in turn, makes it next to impossible for law enforcement and government leaders to have constructive dialogue with them, either in public or private.
A further concern is that all the good that has been done over the past 5-10 years in policing and enhancing the security of neighborhoods, towns, and cities, could be lost, forgotten, or ignored, by a press that is looking for the next incident that could spark unrest. The tension that exists on the streets is palpable to law enforcement, making it difficult to engage in dialogue or try to address problems. It also creates uncertainty on both sides of the equation, with police suspicious of everyone they stop and those being detained thinking and reacting out of concern for their lives.
Law enforcement leaders have not conceded defeat but are continuing to press forward. That said, it is expected that if qualified immunity is rescinded on a national level, or more broadly on a regional or local level, we will see a large number of experienced, long serving law enforcement leaders retiring out of fear that they could become victims, jeopardizing their family's wellbeing and futures. This has already happened to some degree with police chiefs either retiring or moving to quieter towns in order to avoid such a possibility. In turn, filling these positions has been challenging given the experienced cadre of leaders are not willing to take a chance.
Frustrations with the Biden Administration’s Pace of Appointments
Senior officials in various national security agencies have expressed ongoing and mounting concern related to the relatively slow pace of appointments by the Biden Administration for senior positions. It was noted that this trend was not blamed on Senate confirmation for the positions, but simply the naming of people for key positions. In one instance, it was noted that at State Department, the only senior positions made to date have dealt with China and Mexico; and this is only because of the current crises in both locations.
Other areas of the world facing challenges are still without senior level policy officials to guide not only policy formation but also the day-to-day running of the offices, both in the U.S. and abroad. With the recently announced aggressive policy against Russia, there are concerns that without people in positions able to guide and implement policy and programs, the U.S. could face a difficult and hazardous situation in the near term.
U.S. Withdrawal from Afghanistan’s Potential Impact on CT Operations
The U.S. Embassy in Afghanistan announced on Tuesday that all nonessential staff should evacuate the country as concerns over an escalation in violence mount. The Taliban previously placed a deadline for all troops to withdraw from the country. This deadline is fast approaching, set to occur next week on May 1. Earlier this month, President Biden confirmed that the withdrawal will not be complete until September 11, creating concerns over the safety of US personnel in the country who remain at risk of a Taliban attack.
The terrorist organization has threatened to escalate attacks if the U.S. fails to withdraw troops by the May 1 deadline. The U.S. Embassy stated that it plans to remain deeply engaged in the diplomacy and support of the Afghan government and its people, promising to deliver economic and humanitarian assistance despite the withdrawal. U.S. officials have stated that they urged the Taliban to refrain from attacking the U.S. and its allies as the withdrawal occurs.
This issue will be a key indicator regarding the future problems the U.S. and the West will face vis-à-vis terrorist operations abroad and targeting the Homeland, as well as the potential that Afghanistan could once again serve as a base of operations. Senior U.S. officials are greatly concerned by this fact, with the U.S. being viewed as running away. The reality of the situation on the ground, i.e., the limited numbers of U.S. soldiers and the like, are not the real issue at play. Rather, it is the optics and how they will resonate outside the U.S. moving forward. There is an expectation that regardless of the agreements put in place with the Taliban, over time the situation will worsen, and we will start to see threats rising from the region, and groups coalesce once again.
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