Analysis: Experts warn ISIS may be using COVID-19 crisis to stage global resurgence

ISIS IraqTerrorism experts have issued warnings that the Islamic State may be exploiting the global instability caused by the novel coronavirus pandemic to stage a worldwide resurgence. Indeed, there are signs that Islamic State activity has been intensifying in Asia, Africa, the Middle East and even Europe, in recent days.

On April 28, the Islamic State said it was responsible for a suicide attack in the Iraqi city of Kirkuk, which injured four people. The attack targeted the Information Protection Agency, which is the de-facto intelligence agency of the local Kurdish-led government in northern Iraq. It is estimated that the Islamic State commands at least 20,000 armed fighters in Iraq and Syria. Between April 15 and 21 alone, the Islamic State carried out at over 30 operations across Iraq, according to reports.

On the same day, April 28, a motorist who appears to have deliberately rammed his vehicle into two police motorcyclists in Paris said he had pledged allegiance to the Islamic State. Earlier this month, police in the German city of Frankfurt arrested three alleged members of the Islamic State, who were in the process of planning a bomb attack aimed to kill large numbers of civilians. These attacks follow a reported “uptick in propaganda] by the Islamic State, aimed at a European audience.

On April 17, an Islamic State-linked group in the Philippines ambushed a military convoy and executed 11 soldiers after capturing them. The soldiers were attempting to arrest or kill a senior commander of the militant group. And on April 24, the government of Mozambique announced that the Islamic State is present and active there, after a group or armed militants killed 52 civilians in a village in Cabo Delgado, which is Mozambique’s oil-rich region.

Meanwhile, Islamic State publications and media messages describe the novel coronavirus as a divine form of retribution against atheist China, as well as against “polytheist” Iran, and the “crusaders” of Europe. Some Islamic State outlets have urged the group’s followers to refrain from venturing into heavily infected regions. But more recent messages have asked for an “insurrection” to coincide with the Ramadan, which will last for most of May.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 30 April 2020 | Permalink

DHS warns of rise in attacks by violent extremists amidst COVID-19 pandemic

Coronavirus COVID-19The Department of Homeland Security has warned law enforcement departments across the United States that violent extremists are mobilizing against health restrictions imposed to combat the novel coronavirus. This is the third warning known to have been issued by the DHS in the past month about the potential of violence by domestic violent extremists, as America continues to battle the pandemic.

The latest warning was issued on Thursday, April 23, in the form of a memorandum, which was communicated to law enforcement personnel throughout the US. The memorandum was marked ‘unclassified/law enforcement sensitive’ and was accessed by Politico, which reported on it on Thursday. It comes as a self-styled ‘Liberate’ movement is forming in several American states, which aims to pressure government officials to end lockdowns across the country.

The memorandum states that “recent incidents and arrests nationwide illustrate how the COVID-19 pandemic is driving violent actors —both non-ideologically and ideologically motivated— to threaten violence”. It goes on to cite arrests of violent extremists who have issued threats against elected and appointed government officials. There have also been threats made against government facilities, including police stations and federal buildings, by people protesting the lockdowns.

A man, described in the DHS report as an “anti-government extremist”, was arrested earlier this month after he threatened to kill the governor of New Mexico, Michelle Grisham, over her decision to impose ‘stay at home’ orders. Another man was arrested in Florida after he threatened to take action against the COVID-19 lockdown by blowing up the headquarters of the Orlando Police Department. Last month, the Federal Bureau of Investigation uncovered a plot by a white supremacist and anti-government radical to blow up a medical facility in the Kansas City, Missouri, area. On March 23, the DHS issued another report stating that American white supremacists were exploring ways to weaponize the coronavirus as early as January.

The latest DHS memorandum warns that the danger posed by domestic violent extremists will continue to escalate “until the virus is contained and the normal routine of US societal life resumes”.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 24 April 2020 | Permalink

Belgian spy agencies say radical groups trying to exploit COVID-19 to sow chaos

VSSE GISS BelgiumThe two main intelligence agencies of Belgium have published a declassified report in which they warn that domestic groups on the far left and far right of the political spectrum are using the COVID-19 pandemic to destabilize society. Among other things, these groups are spreading disinformation in order to incite violence and spread disillusionment with the Belgian authorities’ response to the coronavirus, according to the report.

The report (pdf) was published on Wednesday on the website of the State Security Service (VSSE), Belgium’s primary civilian intelligence agency. The agency said it co-authored the report with the General Intelligence and Security Service (GISS), which is the main military intelligence service of Belgium. The document warns that political extremists are spreading disinformation —some of it produced and distributed online by foreign intelligence agencies— that propagates unfounded conspiracy theories. The disinformation is designed to turn groups of people against each other, undermine the state and spread hatred against medical experts.

Among the most active distributors of disinformation is the Brussels page of the worldwide anarchist website Indymedia, says the report. Earlier this month, posts on the page urged Belgians to commit acts of violence targeting police officers, and to sabotage infrastructure such as telecommunications, which can disrupt the work of first responders and other emergency workers. Posts on the page also urged readers to act quickly “while law enforcement is busy” with the pandemic.

Groups from the far-right are also active in spreading race-themed disinformation online, according to the VSSE/GISS report. For example, a white nationalist group calling itself the Knights of Flanders has been promoting conspiracy theories that connect COVID-19 with flu vaccines. Other groups have posted information claiming that Muslims have been instructed by religious figures to “cough in the faces of infidels”. Some far-right groups are claiming that personal protective equipment is deliberately being made scarce as part of a secret government plan to intimidate the population and exterminate elderly people.

Finally, a small number of —mostly far-right— groups is spreading messages that criticize Western responses to the coronavirus pandemic and praise the Russian government’s efforts to combat the disease. Among them is a new organization known as “Squadra Europa”, which has branches in several European countries, including Belgium, said the report.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 23 April 2020 | Permalink

Extremist groups see coronavirus pandemic as opportunity to spread chaos: report

Islamic StateExtremist groups around the world are capitalizing on the novel coronavirus pandemic to rally their members around a common cause and spread chaos and violence, according to a new report. In an article published on Tuesday, veteran reporter Bridget Johnson, currently the managing editor for Homeland Security Today, writes that the world’s most active militant groups have issued numerous edicts and proclamations about COVID-19.

Johnson explains that most militant groups “have shown some concern” about their members’ health and wellbeing amidst the pandemic. The Islamic State was arguably the first Islamist group to instruct its members to take precautions against COVID-19. Johnson writes that the group began highlighting the threat of the virus in January, when an article in Al-Naba­, the Islamic State’s weekly newsletter, expressed “growing concern about the spread of the infectious virus”. The militant group has since prescribed that “the healthy should not enter the land of the epidemic and the afflicted should not exit from it”, and has advised its members to wash their hands and “cover the mouth when yawning and sneezing”.

In the past month, the Afghan Taliban have been carrying a “COVID-19 awareness campaign” in areas under their control. The campaign centers on community events that feature the distribution of masks, soap and informational pamphlets to families, writes Johnson. Taliban commanders have also been issuing regular warnings and threats against those who are caught resorting to price gouging or hoarding food and supplies. In recent communiques, the Taliban have called the coronavirus “a decree of Allah” and have urged their followers to respond to it “in accordance with the teachings of the Holy Prophet”, including daily readings of the Quran, repenting and reciting prayers.

Al-Qaeda publications have described COVID-19’s spread in Muslim communities as “a consequence of our own sins and our distance from the divine methodology, [our widespread] obscenity and moral corruption”. The group has also instructed its followers to view the coronavirus as “a powerful tsunami” that has the potential to ruin the American economy. A recent article by al-Qaeda propagandists stressed that the group’s co-founder, Osama bin Laden, “would often inquire about the economic impact of the [September 11] attacks, unlike most others who would limit the discussion to casualties”, according to Johnson. She adds that al-Qaeda has called on its members to “turn this calamity into a cause for uniting our ranks, [because] now is the time to spread the correct Aqeedah [creed], call people to jihad in the Way of Allah, and revolt against oppression and oppressors”.

Meanwhile, Islamic State publications in countries such as India have been pointing out that, with soldiers and police officers “deployed in streets and alleys” during the coronavirus pandemic, jihadists have “easy targets”. Islamic State members are also being urged to “intensify the pressure” while national governments around the world are “preoccupied with protecting their countries”, something that will inevitably distract them in the coming weeks and months, writes Johnson.

In the United States the Department of Homeland Security, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the National Counterterrorism Center have issued several warnings regarding threats made by racially motivated violent extremists (RMVEs) in connection with the pandemic. The warnings state that RMVEs have discussed weaponizing the virus and using it to infect members of racial or ethnic minorities. Some white supremacist theorists have utilized online forums to discuss their hope that the responses to the pandemic by governments around the world “could crash the global economy, hasten societal collapse, and lead to a race war”. Other RMVE groups have been promoting conspiracy theories blaming ethnic and religious minorities —primarily Jews— for the coronavirus pandemic, writes Johnson.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 16 April 2020 | Permalink

US Pentagon’s top general says COVID-19 has natural origins, but questions remain

Mark MilleyThe United States Department of Defense’s top general has said that “the weight of evidence” gathered by Western spy agencies points to COVID-19 having “natural” origins, but this is not yet conclusive. Ever since the emergence of the novel coronavirus, prominent scientists have dismissed rumors that it could be a synthesized bioweapon. According to reports, this question is being carefully examined by Western intelligence agencies.

At a press conference on Tuesday, US Army General Mark Milley, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was asked by a reporter whether the Pentagon had “any evidence that the [novel corona]virus began in a Chinese lab and maybe was released accidentally”. General Milley response was as follows: “There’s a lot of rumor and speculation in a wide variety of media, blog sites, etc. It should be no surprise to you that we’ve taken a keen interest in that and we’ve had a lot of intelligence [experts] take a hard look at that. At this point it’s inconclusive, although the weight of evidence seems to indicate natural. But”, added the general, “we don’t know for certain”.

On the same day General Milley made these comments, an extensive report on the subject by Yahoo News’ National Security and Investigations Reporter Jenna McLaughlin said that the US Intelligence Community continued to actively gather information on the outbreak. Citing “nine current and former intelligence and national security officials familiar with ongoing investigations” on the novel coronavirus, McLaughlin said that American intelligence agencies had been gathering information on the outbreak “as early as November” of last year. Scientists working for US spy agencies had quickly dismissed the theory that the virus had been deliberately weaponized. A consensus appears to be forming that the virus is “of natural origin”, according to the report.

However, American and other Western spy agencies are “still weighing the possibility” that the virus may have escaped from a government laboratory in Wuhan, where it was being studied by scientists. McLaughlin quotes one American intelligence official who says: “we are actively and vigorously tracking down every piece of information we get on this topic [and] are writing frequently to update policymakers”. At this point, adds the official, the US Intelligence Community “has not come down on any one theory”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 15 April 2020 | Permalink

US Pentagon bans use of Zoom teleconferencing app due to espionage concerns

Zoom softwareThe United States Department of Defense has barred its employees from using Zoom, a popular video teleconferencing application, due to concerns that foreign spies may be using the software to collect intelligence. The Pentagon made the announcement less than a day after the US Senate advised its members to refrain from using Zoom. The video teleconferencing software is owned by Zoom Video Communications, Inc., a NASDAQ-trading software firm headquartered in Jan Jose, California. It has become popular in recent weeks, due to the increasing reliance on telework resulting from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

But security experts have raised concerns about the privacy and security of Zoom users. On March 30, the Federal Bureau of Investigation issued a warning stating that hackers could exploit a number of security weaknesses in Zoom’s software. The following day, the FBI warned that malicious users could use Zoom to “steal sensitive information, target individuals and businesses performing financial transactions, and engage in extortion”. On April 9, Time magazine cited “three US intelligence officials” in claiming that American counterintelligence agencies had “observed the espionage services of Russia, Iran, and North Korea attempting to spy on Americans’ video chats” on Zoom. Their aim was to acquire “financial, personal, product development, research, and intellectual property information and leads” on US government and corporate targets, said Time. On the same day, a memo by the Sergeant-at-Arms of the US Senate advised senators and their staff members to refrain from using Zoom for congressional business.

Finally, on April 10, Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Robert Carver (US Air Force) issued an official statement prohibiting the use of Zoom software by the Department of Defense’s military and civilian employees, including contractors. Carver said Pentagon employees could still make use of the Zoom for Business application, because it had been issued a provisional authorization under the US Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program. He added that Pentagon employees could still utilize Zoom for their personal use.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 14 April 2020 | Permalink

British spy agencies foresee a more assertive China after COVID-19 pandemic

MI6British intelligence agencies are advising policymakers that China will become “more assertive” after the world emerges from the coronavirus pandemic, while some government officials are urging a re-examination of London’s relationship with Beijing.

According to The Guardian newspaper, analysts from Britain’s external and domestic spy agencies, the Secret Intelligence Service (MI6) and the Security Service (MI5), expect that the Chinese government will aggressively promote a narrative that favorably compares its response to COVID-19 to that of Western nations. The goal of this narrative, according to British intelligence officials, will be to demonstrate the alleged superiority of China’s centralized one-party state over the pluralistic decision-making system that is prevalent in Western nations.

In response to this narrative by Beijing, the British government should adopt a more “realistic view” of its relationship with China and re-examine its dependency on the Chinese industry, especially in strategic areas of the economy, such as hi-tech research and production, as well as digital telecommunications and artificial intelligence. The Guardian said that the consensus in the British intelligence community continues to be that London acted wisely by giving the Chinese telecommunications hardware firm Huawei a 35 percent share in the construction of Britain’s 5G telecommunications network earlier this year, as the move does not compromise British strategic interests. Additionally, London should be careful not to criticize Beijing at the moment, given that much of the medical supplies that the country needs to defend itself the coronavirus are produced in China.

However, after the COVID-19 crisis, Britain is likely to re-examine its relationship —economic and political— with China, with the help of its intelligence agencies, said The Guardian. The paper reported that a group of conservative members of parliament have already formed a semi-official ‘China-skeptics block’. These parliamentarians reportedly wrote a letter to British Prime Minister Boris Johnson last week, urging him to “rethink [Britain’s] relationship with China”, taking “a strategic view of Britain’s long-term economic, technical and security needs”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 13 April 2020 | Permalink

Analysis: Will COVID-19 cause food shortages in the United States?

National Guard COVID-19The food supply chain in the United States has so far been able to endure the pressures caused by SARS-CoV-2. Grocery stores across the nation remain generally well-stocked, even if in some cases (like in Nevada and Arizona), the National Guard has been brought in to help with restocking. Shortages in certain types of foods, such as canned soup or pasta, are the result of unprecedented demand, rather than a breakdown in the food supply chain. Overall, therefore, there are no signs of systematic food shortages across the nation. However, disruptions —some of them severe— are likely to be experienced in the coming weeks.

COVID-19 IMPACT ON FARMS

Disruptions are likely to be felt first in the area of fresh produce, for two reasons. First, because large agricultural facilities are beginning to experience major shortages in personnel, as seasonal farmworkers —most of them from Central and South America— are unable to travel north due to the cessation of international travel in the Americas. Second, because —just like medical personnel across the country— agricultural workers are facing severe shortages in personal protective equipment (PPE), which is essential for keeping them healthy in a pandemic. Until now, major Q QuoteCOVID-19 outbreaks have been occurring in densely populated urban centers. But as the disease continues to spread, it is only a matter of time before the virus reaches rural farming areas and enters farms, which are the beginning of the food supply chain. Many automated agricultural facilities, such as grain and soybean operations in the American Midwest, do not require large numbers of human laborers, and will thus suffer little disruption from the spread of the pandemic. However, this is not the case with fruits and vegetables, such as tomatoes or grapes, which require human pickers to extract them. The progression of the disease in rural regions of Florida and California, which produce over 20% of total US agricultural value, will be a critical factor. As an illustration, is worth pointing out that two farms in California supply over 85% of all carrots in the US market. If COVID-19 affects the production and distribution capacity of global producers of fresh fruits and vegetables, like the Florida-based Fresh Del Monte Produce, the ramifications are likely to be felt across the world for more than a year.

AGRICULTURAL DISRUPTIONS IN WESTERN EUROPE

Western Europe, which is ahead of the US in the spread of the disease, is already experiencing unprecedented disruptions in agricultural production. The closing of international borders has prevented millions of seasonal farmworkers from Eastern Europe, whom agricultural facilities in Western Europe rely on to pick fruits and vegetables each year, from traveling west. Italy and Britain havQ Quotee begun issuing calls for unemployed workers to form “land armies” and volunteer to pick produce in farms. The French government has called “for hairdressers, waiters, florists and others temporarily unable to work” due to the pandemic “to head to the nation’s fields and start picking”. And in Germany, the authorities have launched a website that solicits volunteers to work in farms across the nation. However, as only 16,000 have volunteered so far, the German government is now working on a plan to allow undocumented immigrants to make up the remaining 284,000 farmworkers that are needed to salvage this year’s crop.

DISRUPTION IN THE GLOBAL FOOD EXPORT SYSTEM

It is unrealistic to expect that these glitches will not eventually make their way to the US. Moreover, just like Western Europe, the US relies heavily on imported foods. The global nature of the pandemic is also beginning to cause major disruptions in food exports, as air and ship cargo dwindles dramatically. Already, the shortage of refrigerated containers used to transport meat and other food supplies from China to North America has prompted a drop in imports of over 25%. Meanwhile, India, which is the world’s largest exporter of rice, has completely halted exports due to logistical problems and labor shortages caused by the pandemic. The world’s second and third largest exporters of rice, Thailand and Vietnam, are likely to soon follow suit. Kazakhstan, which is among the world’s largest exporters of wheat flour, has now banned all exports of that product. Brazil, the largest exporter of coffee, sugar and soybeans in the world, has warned that it is facing an unprecedented shortage of farmworkers, truck drivers, and even spare parts for farm equipment. And Russia, which is the world’s largest exporter of wheat, has said that it will soon be forced to severely restrict exports for the same reasons as Brazil. These developments prompted the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization to warn last week that food shortages, coupled with growing trade barriers between nations, “will create extreme volatility” in global food supply. Read more of this post

Pentagon study warned about global crisis caused by ‘novel respiratory disease’

DoD Pandemic reportA United States Department of Defense report warned about the danger of a global crisis caused by a “novel respiratory disease”. The existence of the 2017 study adds to the mounting skepticism about President Donald Trump’s repeated assertions that the coronavirus pandemic “blind- sided the world” and “came out of nowhere”.

The 103-page report is titled USNORTHCOM Branch Plan 3560: Pandemic Influenza and Infectious Disease Response, and was presented to the leadership of the US Northern Command headquarters in January 2017. It discusses the possible causes of a “clinically severe pandemic” and outlines the complications that it is likely to cause around the world. It also proposes an array of possible responses to such a crisis by the US military. A draft of the report was published online by The Nation earlier this month. The American newsmagazine said that it obtained the report from “a Pentagon official who requested anonymity to avoid professional reprisal”.

The Department of Defense study bases its analysis on data acquired from recent pandemics, such as the 2012 Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (MERS coronavirus) and others. It discusses “coronavirus infections” and warns that “[t]he most likely and significant [pandemic] threat is a novel respiratory disease, particularly a novel influenza disease”. The report then goes on to describe the medical supply shortages that would be caused by a coronavirus pandemic. It does so with a stunning degree of accuracy that mirrors the situation that the US is currently experiencing due to COVID-19. For instance it states that global “[c]ompetition for, and scarcity of, resources will include […] non-pharmaceutical Medical Countermeasures”, namely medical masks, gloves and other personal protective equipment needed by healthcare workers.

It also warns that dire shortages in medical equipment will be hampered by inadequate logistical support and will have “a significant impact on the global workforce”. Furthermore, the Pentagon study appears to anticipate a “worldwide competition” for ventilators and other hi-tech medical devices associated with intensive care units, as well as a scarcity of hospital beds. It ominously states that “even the most industrialized countries will have insufficient hospital beds” to accommodate the numbers of those who will need to be hospitalized due to having been infected by the virus.

Two weeks ago, The Washington Post reported that, starting in January of this year, the US Intelligence Community repeatedly warned the White House about “a virus that showed the characteristics of a globe-encircling pandemic” requiring “swift action to contain it”. The paper cited “a US official who had access to intelligence reporting” about the coronavirus, who said that “the system was blinking red” in January.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 06 April 2020 | Permalink

Israel mobilizes its intelligence machinery to combat COVID-19

Israel COVID-19The intelligence agencies of Israel are playing an increasingly important role in the Jewish state’s effort to combat the effects of the novel coronavirus pandemic in its territory. Israel’s intelligence agencies are known to be very secretive, but the government has gone out of its way to advertise their participation in the national effort to limit the spread of the virus.

Earlier this week, an Israeli television station aired an interview with an individual whose face was hidden, and was only identified as the director of technology for the Israeli external intelligence agency Mossad. He said that the secretive spy agency had managed to secure 100,000 coronavirus testing kits, 25,000 N-95 masks and 100 ventilators. The material had been acquired “from unnamed countries” by Mossad officers, he said. The officers had to “race to [foreign] factories” and secure these critical supplies after they had been “ordered by other countries”, he added. The agents then had to coordinate secret airlifts so that the medical material could be transported to Israel in time.

It has also been disclosed by the Office of the Prime Minister that the Israel Institute for Biological Research, which works closely with the Mossad and other Israeli intelligence agencies, has been making “significant progress” in developing a vaccine against COVID-19. One of the institute’s mission is to develop and produce defenses against biological and chemical threats. However, it has been alleged that it also produces chemical and biological weapons, as well as poisons and antidotes for use by the Mossad.

Meanwhile, several units of the Israel Defense Forces are helping to retrofit CPAP and BiPAP machines, which are designed to help treat sleep apnea, so that they can be used as ventilators. They include Unit 81, which is the technology unit of Israel’s Military Intelligence Directorate (AMAN). Additionally, state-owned defense contractors, such as Israel Aerospace Industries, are re-purposing production lines for weapons systems so that they can be used to manufacture ventilators.

As of Friday morning, nearly 7,000 Israelis had tested positive for COVID-19. It was reported that 36 Israelis had died and 338 were believed to have recovered from the disease.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 03 April 2020 | Permalink

US spy agencies conclude China intentionally concealed COVID-19 data

Trump and XiThe United States Intelligence Community has concluded that the Chinese government intentionally withheld and even fabricated crucial data about infections and deaths from COVID-19, according to reports. Consequently, the official numbers relating to the novel coronavirus outbreak in China allegedly represent a considerable under-reporting of both total cases and total deaths.

This claim was published on Wednesday on the website of the American news agency Bloomberg. The news agency cited “three [anonymous] US officials” in its report. The officials said that a summary of the evidence against China had been communicated to the White House in a classified report. The classified report is believed to conclude that the official Chinese numbers about COVID-19 are “intentionally incomplete”.

The claims against China include the accusation that the government in Beijing repeatedly changed the methodology it used to record and track cases —for instance by excluding asymptomatic COVID-19 carriers from the list for several months. There are also claims that the number of deaths owing to the virus may be much higher than official statistics show. This could be especially true in the city of Wuhan, in China’s east-central Hubei province, where the novel coronavirus is believed to have originated.

The embassy of China in Washington DC and the White House did not respond to questions about Bloomberg’s report on Wednesday. However, a number of pro-government media executives in China expressed concern in a Business Insider report late on Wednesday that the White House would try to exploit the Bloomberg report in order to “divert attention” from its own failures in preventing a surge of COVID-19 in America. They also claimed that China mobilized its health sector in a far more effective way than the US has done so far.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 02 April 2020 | Permalink

US Department of Homeland Security operations center relocates due to COVID-19

DHSThe National Operations Center of the United States Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is relocating to an emergency facility after a member of its staff tested positive for COVID-19, the illness caused by the novel coronavirus. The information was revealed on Monday by Yahoo News, which said it obtained the information in an internal DHS document.

The DHS National Operations Center facility is housed in the west campus of St. Elizabeths Hospital, a National Historic Landmark built in 1855, which is currently being redeveloped as the new headquarters of the DHS. It operates as the DHS’ main coordination hub for managing and sharing local- and national-level information relating to terrorist threats and other emergency incidents.

For a number of days now, the DHS has placed restrictions on access to the National Operations Center, in an attempt to limit the spread of COVID-19. However, according to Yahoo News, a member of staff who works at the National Operations Center facility has now been diagnosed with having the virus. The news website said it found the information in “an internal DHS document” that it obtained, which is dated March 30. The document is entitled “COVID-19 Placemat” and contains a daily amalgamation of data points relating to if and how various US government agencies have been affected by the pandemic.

Yahoo News said a DHS official confirmed that the National Operations Center would be relocating “to an alternate facility […] as a precaution”. In the meantime the St. Elizabeths Hospital facility would be cleaned and sanitized, said the official, and added that the relocation would “not impact operations”. The “COVID-19 Placemat” did not identify the emergency facility that the National Operations Center personnel will be relocating to, said Yahoo News. But the news website noted that all US government agencies have remote facilities for use in a national emergency, “ranging from nuclear attack to pandemic”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 31 March 2020 | Permalink

Trump administration considering mass expulsions of alleged Chinese spies

United States ChinaThe administration of United States President Donald Trump is considering the possibility of expelling from the country dozens of Chinese diplomats, journalists, and others, who are believed to be undercover spies. The expulsions relate to a spiraling information war between Washington and Beijing, which has erupted in recent weeks as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Earlier this month, the Chinese government announced that it would expel 13 American journalists from three major newspapers, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times and The Washington Post. Beijing also stipulated that all American news organizations operating in China had to provide its government with detailed information about their financial assets, employee structure and other organizational information. The journalists claimed that they were expelled for trying to report about the status of the COVID-19 pandemic inside China.

Around the same time, President Trump and senior members of his administration, including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, began referring to the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2, known as novel coronavirus) as “the Chinese virus” or “the Wuhan virus”. The term refers to the Chinese province where the virus is believed to have originated. President Trump claims that he decided to use the term “Chinese virus” in response to unsubstantiated claims by government officials in Beijing that the novel coronavirus was brought to China by members of the US military.

On Thursday The New York Times reported that the Trump administration was considering expelling from the US a large number of Chinese citizens who work as diplomats or journalists. In some cases, the White House is reportedly considering shutting down the bureaus of some Chinese media outlets in the US. According to a number of administration officials, many Chinese journalists based in the US are in reality undercover intelligence officers, who regularly report to the Ministry of State Security —China’s primary external intelligence agency. Some of these alleged undercover intelligence officers —known in the world of intelligence as ‘non-official cover’— are allegedly embedded with China Global Television Network, the foreign-language arm of the state-owned China Central Television (CCTV), according to some American officials.

On March 2, the Trump administration abruptly imposed quotas on the number of foreign citizens who are permitted to work for Chinese media organizations in the US. The Chinese media groups complied with the new directive in a timely manner, by recalling over 60 of their staff members to China. However, the White House now believes that a significant number of the 100 Chinese journalists who continue to operate in the US are undercover intelligence officers.

Meanwhile, on March 25, China’s English-language government-owned newspaper The Global Times raised eyebrows by repeating allegations that the novel coronavirus was brought to China by an American cyclist, who visited Wuhan in October of last year to compete in the Military World Games. Such allegations, which propagate the view that the novel coronavirus originated in the US, are quickly growing in popularity in Chinese social media platforms.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 27 March 2020 | Permalink

Pentagon leaders see COVID-19 crisis lasting months, destabilizing regions

Mark Esper MilleyThe United States Department of Defense is working under the assumption that the COVID-19 epidemic will seriously affect the life of the country for “at least several months”, and might cause “political chaos” in parts of the world. This was stated during a virtual town hall for members of the US Armed Forces, which was hosted on Tuesday by Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman General Mark Milley.

General Milley told participants that the Pentagon was planning “for this to be a few months at least”. He added that, according to all indications, the US was looking at “eight to 10, maybe 12 weeks —something like three months” of confronting serious disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. It could be “as late as July”, said Milley, and assured the audience that the Department of Defense was “taking all precautionary measures to be in it for the long-haul”.

Both speakers speculated that the pandemic could destabilize a number of countries around the world, and that the ensuing lack of security could pose threats to US interests. Milley pointed out that acute shortages of critical medical equipment, such as respirators, gloves, masks and ventilators, could cause certain countries to spiral into instability that will “go well beyond the immediate medical issues” and “lead to political chaos”.

On Wednesday, Brigadier General Dr. Paul Friedrichs, who serves as the Joint Chiefs of Staff Joint Staff Surgeon (the Pentagon’s most senior medical professional), said that COVID-19 was spreading too quickly for experts to determine how many troops would eventually end up contracting the disease. However, Dr. Friedrichs cautioned against lightening any restrictions on social distancing before sufficient time passes to “make a dent” on infection rates. Doing so “could be disastrous”, he warned.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 26 March 2020 | Permalink

Spain ‘shifts to a war economy’ and calls on NATO for help with COVID-19

COVID-19 SpainThe government of Spain said on Tuesday it had begun to shift to “a war economy”, as the Spanish Ministry of Defense called on the North Atlantic Treaty Organization for assistance to fight the coronavirus pandemic. The term war economy is used to describe the rapid reorganization of a nation’s production and distribution capacity in response to a direct military threat to its existence.

Spanish officials announced on Tuesday that the rate of COVID-19 illness in the country was growing faster than in Italy. Despite a nationally mandated lockdown, which began on March 14, coronavirus infections exceeded 42,000 yesterday, up from 25,000 on Saturday. Spanish medical facilities announced 514 new deaths in a 24-hour period, bringing the total number of COVID-19-related deaths to 2696. The deaths are reflective of Spain’s desperate struggle to provide sufficient medical supplies for its healthcare workers, or treatment hardware for patients.

On Tuesday afternoon, NATO’s Euro-Atlantic Disaster Response Coordination Center (EADRCC) said it had received “a request for international assistance from the Armed Forces of Spain in their response to the global pandemic”. The EADRCC said in a press statement that the Spanish military had asked its “international partners […] to provide assistance to the Ministry of Defense of Spain”. Spanish media reported that the request included “450,000 respirators, 500,000 rapid testing kits, 500 ventilators and 1.5 million surgical masks”.

Meanwhile the Spanish military helped convert an ice ring in Madrid’s popular Palacio de Hielo mall into a makeshift morgue, in order to accommodate the projected surge in deaths due to COVID-19 in the coming days. The Spanish capital has suffered over 30 percent of all coronavirus-related deaths in the past week. Over the weekend, a nearby convention center was converted into a hospital that can accommodate 5,500 patients.

In neighboring France, the army set up a field hospital on French territory for the first time in the country’s peacetime history. Field hospitals are temporary tent structures designed to provide medical services to wounded soldiers and civilians in a warzone. The erection of field hospital tents in the eastern city of Mulhouse, close to the Swiss and German borders, was described by the French media as an unprecedented sight.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 25 March 2020 | Permalink