At our September 9 meeting, we discussed the book The Shadow War by Jim Sciutto, CNN anchor. There is a serious underground cold war going on between Western Democracies and the two nations that try to dominate them: Russia and China. This war has the potential to totally undermine our democracies. A few quotes from the book, including page numbers, follows. For a more complete outline contact Steve via our Contact form, or better yet, get the book.
Page 7. The events of the last decade showed two consistent and disturbing lines: growing Russian aggression and consistent Western delusions about Russian intentions. The same pattern is discernible regarding China, which was launching its own inaugural battles in another, arguably more existentially dangerous Shadow War on the United States.
8. US officials, led by President Barack Obama, accepted China’s assurances that Beijing would dial back its cyber theft of US corporate secrets, malicious activity that remains rampant and aggressive today.
9. Obama’s dismissiveness would be replaced by President Donald Trump’s own rose-colored view of Moscow and Putin.
11. Hybrid warfare … a strategy of attacking an adversary while remaining just below the threshold of conventional war … using a range of hard and soft power tactics: from cyber-attacks on critical infrastructure, to deploying threats to space assets, to information operations designed to spark domestic divisions, to territorial acquisition just short of formal invasion.
14. On every front, “the big lie” is an essential part of the strategy. With the invasion of Crimea and Ukraine, that meant denying that what were obviously Russian troops were indeed Russian troops. With meddling in the 2016 US presidential election, that meant spreading fake news via Russian news outlets and social media to sow doubts about Russia’s role and to amplify those US politicians who echo these doubts, including President Donald Trump himself.
39. Russia has carried out (ever) more aggressive attacks on the West, opening new fronts in the Shadow War. Many European diplomats and officials reacted with particular alarm to Russian’s poisoning of a former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter on the streets of Salisbury, England, in March 2018. The weapon, which police believed was smeared on the doorknob of the Skripal’s flat, was the Russia made nerve agent Novichok.
44. [Chinese] hackers sent so-called phishing emails to employees of the target company [Boeing] designed, as the FBI explained “to appear as if it came from a colleague or legitimate business contact.” If the recipient clicked on a link contained in the email, or opened an attachment, an “outbound connection” would be established between the victim’s computer and another in China under the hacker’s control. The hackers would then install malware on the victim’s computer, allowing them to control the computer remotely and — more alarmingly — explore the company’s entire network.
74. [2014 shooting down of a passenger plane by Russian separatists in Ukraine] It catalyzed the Europeans to come together on … tough sanctions.
94. The US and its European partners remained largely in discussion mode as Russian forces solidified their grip in Crimea  and made further territorial gains in Eastern Ukraine.
112. Southeast Asian nations, fearful of being bullied or overpowered by Beijing, have generally welcomed America’s role in defending freedom of navigation in these waters.
145. Space is a new and dangerous front in the Shadow War. Russia, China, and other US adversaries are rapidly developing and deploying offensive capabilities in space designed to undercut the US enormous advantage in the space realm.…
159. Today, everything from bank transactions to stock trades to traffic lights depend on GPS time stamps to function.
186. Russia’s hack of state department systems began, as most cyber intrusions do, with Russian hackers identifying and exploiting a weak link … the State Department’s unclassified email system.
194. One typo and one click, and Russian hackers had taken another step inside the Democratic Party — gaining free rein through tens of thousands of emails to and from the man running the campaign.…
199. US intelligence agencies were not fooled. They had hard evidence of a connection between WikiLeaks and Russia.
202. On October 7 … US intelligence agencies publicly named Russia as the culprit for both the theft of Democratic Party materials and the strategic release of those materials over time to influence the election.
209. The former NSA deputy director believes the US response to Russia’s interference in the 2016 election was weak, therefore inviting future Russian cyberattacks.…
211. Russia has penetrated other critical infrastructure such as power grids, telecommunication systems, and water treatment systems.
230. Russia’s new submarine deployments are a direct challenge to NATO countries to which the US has treaty obligations to defend in the event of war.
234. President Trump is the first American leader since the alliance’s founding to publicly question America’s commitment to defend NATO allies if they are attacked.
245. Most Americans alive today have grown up in a world in which American military dominance is unchallenged and unchallengeable. That period is over. Both China and Russia have steadily and rapidly expanded their military capabilities with the intention of neutralizing the US military advantage as well as effectively barring the US from projecting military power inside their respective realms of influence.…
255. National security officials and policy makers recommend more punishing sanctions. These could include sanctions on whole sectors of the Chinese or Russian economies … Chinese state-run banks … Russian banks.…
260. Russian fake news during the 2016 election found fertile ground in the far corners of the far right, before migrating to larger conservative platforms, and sometimes, right to the US President.…
262. Many US officials believe that educating the US public about these information operations is as important as — or even more important than — any high-tech cyber tools.
274. Ultimately, the Shadow War may be won or lost on the basis of a shared mission — both within the US and among Western Allies. … “The best way to defend against this surely is to have a much clearer concept than we do of what we represent. … Our leadership ideally should be capable of articulating the values of liberal democracy and in language you can easily understand.”
280. Each act of aggression and its aftermath showed both enormous boldness on the part of Moscow and Beijing and plodding equivocation by the US. And the uncertainty of the US response seemed to fuel the next provocation and power grab. Russian and China clearly had a strategy. The US and the West did not.
We also launched our Candidate Evaluation Sheet for the current Presidential candidates. This is based on the QUALITIES WE SEEK IN A LEADER that we completed last spring. The current grid still is in its early stages, but is reproduced below. It might still be altered as we see how it works. The categories are explained below the grid. We completed one candidate, Elizabeth Warren, at our meeting, and will work on the rest in teams as there is time over the next two months.
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Steve Zolno is the author of the book The Future of Democracy and several related titles. He graduated from Shimer College with a Bachelor’s Degree in Social Sciences and holds a Master’s in Educational Psychology from Sonoma State University. He is a Management and Educational Consultant in the San Francisco Bay Area and has been conducting seminars on democracy since 2006.