January 23, 2022 Newsletter #11.0

Good morning everyone,

If you didn't see from one of my most recent posts, beta testing for the app and website begin in March. I cannot express how excited I am to have this long running dream become a reality and to be able to give you all the news you want without the risk of being Zucked. Got a few long form pieces at the end I think you will all enjoy. This was a pretty busy week...

So with that, let's dive in:



Kurdish SDF forces in al-Hasakah the day after the jailbreak as fighting continues in the city. (PHOTO: Mohammed Hassan)

Thursday, January 20, 2022: An Islamic State attack and jailbreak at the al-Sina'a Prison in al-Hasakah, Syria, which is known for holding thousands of jihadists, has reportedly left dozens dead as Kurdish forces continue to clash with militants who have fled into the city, marking what is considered to be the largest ISIS attack in the country in years. The incident began late Thursday night when militants detonated a VBIED at the front gate of the prison while gunmen stored the premises, firing on guards. Meanwhile, prisoners began to riot and overpower the guards inside. Over the next several hours an unknown amount of prisoners escaped while intense clashes broke out between militants and Kurdish forces. Fighting spilled over into Friday as Kurdish forces tried to regain control of the prison. During this time dozens of escapees were recaptured or killed. Meanwhile, fighting spread to the city as militants holed themselves up in buildings, drawing in American close air support through Apache attack helicopter strikes. 

Intense fighting has continued on to Sunday, where Kurdish SDF forces and YAT counter-terrorism forces have been carrying out mop-up operations to eliminate remaining militants. American forces are on the ground at the prisoner providing security as air support continues. According to the Syrian Observatory of Human Rights, the incident has killed at least 39 Kurdish personnel while at least 77 militants have been killed with over 125 prisoners recaptured. There have been reports of civilian casualties due to the fighting, with local media reporting at least five. 

Table of Contents


    • Houthi Drones Target Abu Dhabi, UAE

    • Mexican Photojournalist Shot Dead Outside His Home

    • Yemen Airstrike Leaves Dozens Dead

    • Cold Response Exercises Ready to Begin in Norway


    • NATO Rejects Russia's Demands on Troop Withdrawal from Bulgaria and Romania

    • Biden Talks About Current Situation

    • UK. Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia Greenlight Weapons Shipments to Ukraine

    • Unknown Drone Activity Over Sweden

    • Canadian SOF Reportedly Sent to Ukraine

    • Ukraine MOD Reports Iskander Missile Systems Along Border


    • Russian Cyber Warfare

    • Chinese Naval Modernization

    • Guinea Transitional Council Post Coup




Monday, January 17, 2022: Three people were killed after Houthi loitering munitions and missiles targeted Abu Dhabi's airport, causing portions of it to set fire, and a nearby oil refinery, hitting fuel tankers and causing them to explode. According to Defense News, a Houthi missile was intercepted by a Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) System at the Al-Dhafra Air Base, marking its first operational use in the field. Saudi Arabia also reported that a number of missiles were launched towards its country, but were intercepted. The Saudi-led Coalition has responded by carrying out dozens of airstrikes in Yemen in retaliation.



By @Narcotic.Void

Monday, January 17, 2022: Mexican photojournalist Margarito Martínez Esquivel was shot dead outside his home in Tijuana on Monday. Esquivel was well known for his coverage of crime and security issues in the border city. His 16 year old daughter reportedly heard the gunshots that killed her father before she rushed out to see his dead body. Media rights group Yo So Soy Periodista (I Am a Journalist) said Martinez had received threats from people connected to organized crime. This is the second time a journalist has been killed in Mexico this year. Mexico is one of the most dangerous places for journalists to work, with more than 100 journalists having been killed since 2000. 



Friday, January 21, 2022:  Doctors Without Borders has reported at least 82 people were killed and over 250 others were wounded after Saudi-led airstrikes targeted a Houthi-run detention center mainly used to house migrants in Sadaa, Yemen. The Coalition denied that it was involved. Meanwhile, another Saudi-led airstrike targeted a telecommunications hub in Hodeida, killing three nearby children and causing a nation-wide internet blackout. These strikes came amid the ramped up airstrike campaign by the Coalition following the attack against Abu Dhabi.



By @Tessaron_news

NATO Exercise "Cold Response" is set to commence mid-February. 30,000 NATO troops will be conducting joint landing operations in Norway above the Arctic Circle, while two Carrier Strike Groups, comprised of the USS Harry S. Truman and the HMS Prince of Wales, will lead the fleet amid soaring tensions with Russia. The presence of such strategic assets is something to be aware of in the coming weeks as Moscow waits the formal written responses from the US and NATO as to its security demands.



Friday, January 21, 2022:  NATO has rejected Russia’s demands to withdraw forces from Bulgaria and Romania, stating the alliance “will not renounce its ability to protect and defend each other, including with the presence of troops in the eastern part of the Alliance." This was part of Russia’s security guarantees that they have been pushing for where they want NATO forces and equipment out of alliance members who joined after 1997.  



Wednesday, January 19, 2022: United States President Joe Biden spoke about the current situation between Ukraine and Russia on Wednesday, here are the key points:

  • When speaking about the possibility of a Russian invasion, he said that “My guess is [Putin] will move in. He has to do something,” and warned that “He's never seen sanctions like the ones I promised will be imposed if he moves.”

  • Biden suggested that a response to Russia depends on their actions, saying “I think what you’re going to see is that Russia will be held accountable if it invades, and it depends on what it does. It’s one thing if it’s a minor incursion, and then we end up having a fight about what to do and not do, et cetera.”

  • The distinction between “invasion” and “minor incursion” was not taken likely by Ukraine, in which an anonymous Ukrainian defense official told CNN that “Kiev is stunned” and that this “gives the green light to Putin to enter Ukraine at his pleasure.”

  • Biden also stated “But if they actually do what they're capable of doing with the forces amassed on the border, it is going to be a disaster for Russia if they further invade Ukraine. And that our allies and partners are ready to impose severe cost and significant harm on Russia and the Russian economy.” 

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki attempted to clear up any misunderstandings by the President’s statements, saying “President Biden has been clear with the Russian President: If any Russian military forces move across the Ukrainian border, that's a renewed invasion, and it will be met with a swift, severe, and united response from the United States and our Allies. President Biden also knows from long experience that the Russians have an extensive playbook of aggression short of military action, including #cyber attacks and paramilitary tactics. And he affirmed today that those acts of Russian aggression will be met with a decisive, reciprocal, and united response.”



Photo of an NLAW system

The United Kingdom announced that it will be increasing #Ukraine’s “self-defence” capabilities by supplying NLAW anti-armor weapons and sending a “small” contingent of advisors to carry out weapons training. Meanwhile, Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia have jointly announced that they will be sending Javelin anti-armor systems and Stinger anti-aircraft missiles to #Ukraine, stating “In light of Russia's increase in military pressure in and around Ukraine, the Baltic States have decided to answer Ukrainian needs and to provide additional defense-related assistance. This aid will further enhance Ukraine's capability to defend its territory and population in case of possible Russian aggression." Estonian Minister of Defense Kalle Laanet also stated “Today Ukraine is at the forefront of separating Europe from the military conflict with Russia. Let´s face it — the war in Ukraine is ongoing and it is important to support Ukraine in every way we can so that they can resist the aggressor.”



Last week, Swedish police confirmed that unknown “drones have been observed over the Forsmark and Oskarshamn nuclear power plants.” While little information has been provided as to what type of drone, they have been described as a “larger model that withstands wind as it blows hard in the area.” They noted that the drones did not drop anything or land. The plants are in two separate parts of the country, with Forsmark being located north of Stockholm along the Gulf of Bothnia while Oskarshamn is south of Stockholm across from Gotland Island, which has seen a massive Swedish military presence due to increased Russian military presence in the Baltic region.

However, authorities confirmed this week that an unidentified drone was also seen over the Ringhals nuclear power plant to the west on Saturday while Swedish media have reported that a fixed wing “military type” drone with a wingspan of 2 meters was spotted over Stockholm’s parliament building and Royal Castle. Sweden’s intelligence service SÄPO has taken over the investigation and has not provided any information about possible suspects. It is speculated by some that the drones have been launched by Russian military or merchant/pipe laying vessels that have been transiting the Baltic and North Seas.



Monday, January 17, 2022: Canada has deployed a “small contingent” of operators from the Canadian Special Operations Regiment to Ukraine, according to Global News citing military sources. The operators have reportedly been tasked with deterring “Russian aggression in Ukraine, and to identify ways to assist the Ukrainian government,” as well as “helping to develop evacuation plans for Canadian diplomatic personnel in the event of a full-scale invasion.” When reached out for comment by the Global News, the military did not confirm nor deny their presence, stating “special forces operators have been involved in Canada’s broader assistance to Ukraine.”



An intelligence assessment by Ukraine’s Ministry of Defense reports that 36 Iskander short-range ballistic missile systems have been positioned along the border, further stating that the Capital of Kiev and other vital targets are within range. The assessment, which was shared to CNN, also stated that the build up of forces is “almost complete” ahead of what they believe will be “offensive operations."




By Atlas

Microsoft announced that they have “identified evidence of a destructive malware operation targeting multiple organizations in Ukraine” and that “This malware first appeared on victim systems in Ukraine on January 13, 2022.” They added that the malware is “designed to look like ransomware but lacking a ransom recovery mechanism, is intended to be destructive and designed to render targeted devices inoperable rather than to obtain a ransom.” To me this sounds very similar to NotPetya.

Throughout the Ukrainian Civil War, Russian hackers took to testing and perfecting cyberattack methods against the country on a digital battlefield. The first major attack came about in May, 2014, as the Ukrainian presidential election was underway. Here, Russian hackers utilized advanced cyberespionage malware to hack into and disable Ukraine’s Central Election Commission just days before the election. Later in the year, a similar occurrence happened ahead of parliamentary voting. In 2015 and 2016, spear phishing emails, which target specific people, that contained BlackEnergy and KillDisk malware disabled and destroyed parts of Ukraine’s power grid, leaving hundreds of thousands of residents without power. By 2017, hackers released their most devastating virus that had far reaching consequences.

Ukraine has been a particularly easy target for Russia since much of the country’s computers run on pirated software, which lacks standardized security programing and regular patches to update cybersecurity in the emergence of new threats. In recent years, Ukraine has become so intertwined with European and global networks, the weak software they are running offers a backdoor for hackers to extend their attacks in a quick and efficient manner across vast areas and cyber spaces. Cyber attacks, by notable groups such as Fancy Bear, Cozy Bear and Turla, give Russia an insight on how western powers respond to such incidents and how strong their cyber defenses are, allowing them to learn and adapt new methods.

Russia’s latest and most dangerous cyber weapon took its form in a malicious malware called NotPetya, which was based off of an older type of ransomware called Petya. The concept of Petya was quite simple in nature: the malware infects a computer, usually through faux emails with PDFs, encrypts its data, and offers to release it back at a price, typically in BitCoin. The way Petya gains access to a computer is if a victim agrees to the Windows User Access Control that says the file will make changes to their computer when trying to access the PDF. From there, the malware hijacks the master file table and encrypts the hard drive of a computer. After, it demands a payment in order for the data to be released back, but sometimes the encryption blocks access to the filesystem that allows people to pay, meaning that all is lost for their computer.

NotPetya, however, is much more dangerous. While appearing as Petya ransomware with requests for payment, it is just a semblance. NotPetya spreads and gains access without human intervention, meaning that a person doesn’t need to give it permission through fake emails. Instead, it utilizes a backdoor planted in M.E.Doc, a popular accounting software package that's used universally by companies across Ukraine. From M.E.Doc, the malware spreads on its own to other computers using EternalBlue and EternalRomance, two programs created by the National Security agency to bypass Windows security. Data and files are then permanently encrypted or destroyed. Messages of payment to regain access are fake and will do nothing to save a computer. Then, using a program called Mimi Katz, NotPetya extracts admin logins, passwords, and credentials from the computer's memory and RAM to gain access to broader networks and spread to other devices, where more data and files are permanently encrypted.

Western intelligence have widely agreed that hackers within the GRU, Russia’s foreign intelligence agency, who go by the name “Sandworm” were behind the NotPetya attack, which began on June 28, 2017. Sandworm has also been linked to several other high profile attacks, such as interference in the United States’ 2016 election,  the hacking of France’s election in 2017, the cyberattack on the 2018 Winter Olympics, and the attacks on Ukraine’s power grid. Preparations for the attack began months earlier, when Russian hackers infiltrated company servers of Linkos Group, a small, family-run Ukrainian software business, through M.E.Doc backdoors. Unbeknownst to the company, it would become patient zero.

On the day of the attack, NotPetya was implemented into Linkos computers and spread like wildfire. Within hours, the self propagating malware spread across the world, infecting devices in Europe, Asia, the Americas, and even back to Russia. For Ukraine, the damage was extensive. In just 24 hours, it is estimated that 10 percent of all computers in the country were wiped. Several hospitals, six power companies, two airports, more than 22 Ukrainian banks, 300 companies, and essentially every federal agency fell victim. Oschadbank, Ukraine’s second-largest bank, was brought down within 45 seconds, leaving 90 percent of their computers locked. Radiation monitors at the abandoned Chernobyl power plant were even disabled.

On a global scale, damages were worse. Shipping giant A.P. Moller-Maersk, which moves a fifth of the world’s freight, faced up to $300 million in damages because of the malware, which seized terminal operations and caused weeks of delay. Unfortunately, the Odessa, Ukraine, office for Maersk had M.E.Doc on a single computer, which gave NotPetya all it needed to access the entire company’s network. Soon after, the malware spread throughout the company, shutting down its website. Operations in  17 of Maersk’s 76 terminals across the world saw their gates disabled, which blocked cargo trucks from entering, and Electronic Data Interchange files wiped, causing cargo to be lost and misplaced. Every single domain controller for the company’s servers was wiped, except for one in Ghana, which happened to suffer a local power outage the same time NotPetya was released, leaving it offline and protected from the malware. From there, Maersk was able to regain files from that one remote domain controller and set the company back on track. In total Maersk lost 45,000 computers, 4,000 servers and 2,000 applications from the attack.

The estimated global cost of damages caused by NotPetya exceeded $10 billion. The White house called it the “most destructive and costly cyber attack in history.” Merck pharmaceutical company was hit the worst, suffering $870 million in damages. FedEx’s European subsidiary TNT Express faced $400 million in damages while French company Saint-Gobain faced $384 million in damages. Global advertising company WPP PLC, law firm DLA Piper LLP, and Mondelez International, parent company of Nabisco and Cadbury, “lost basic systems such as email and systems for invoices and customer orders in the attack” while facing hundreds of millions of dollars in damages. Modelez lost 1,700 servers and 24,000 laptops from the attack, leaving employees having to communicate through social media to run the company.



By @Tessaron_news

This week, the Congressional Research Service provided their analysis of the modernization of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN). In the report, it was noted that The PLAN is the largest naval force in the world with 355 surface combatants, not even including the 85 patrol vessels that carry Anti-Ship Cruise Missiles. The Chinese are aiming to float a 460 ship Navy by 2030. In 2021, the Peoples Liberation Army Navy commissioned 22 vessels, bringing their total number of front line ships to 355. As opposed to the United States which only commissioned 7 vessels this year to bring the total to 296. Although the United States navy does have a number of ships in mothball that could be called upon to boost those numbers to 490 in a time of extreme need the United States has been quickly outpaced by Chinese shipbuilders, not to mention the fact that the American Navy is thinly dispersed globally and the PLAN is concentrated in the Pacific. Meaning a conflict would place the United States at a sharp disadvantage.

According to the report, 2014 was the turning point of American naval dominance when it comes to ship numbers. In 2013, the United States Navy had 2 more ships than the PLAN. However, in 2014, the PLAN had 32 more ships due to an increase in Chinese production and several US ships being retired, after 2014, the United States has been in a double digit deficit to the PLAN. In terms of number of ships, the class of ships that the PLAN has focused in increasing the most has been cruisers, destroyers, frigates, and corvettes. Since 2000, the PLAN has added 38 Cruisers and Destroyers, and 37 Corvettes and Frigates. This make sense considering China’s priority has been complete control within the First Island Chain, which, at this time, does not necessarily require projection of power provided by aircraft carriers and nuclear submarines. Although, as China’s ambitions carry them to the Second and Third Island Chains, these capabilities will continue to increase.

At the forefront of the Chinese fleet are their two active Carriers: CV-16 Liaoning and CV-17 Shandong which each carry a carrier air wing of about 25 J-15 fighters. One of the main modernization goals the Peoples Liberation Army Navy Air Force have been furiously working towards is the ability of their pilots to take off and land at night from their carriers. The report indicates that the PLANAF have a small cadres of pilots who can probably support at least one Carrier Air Wing able to support operations with that nighttime capability. By 2030, the PLAN is expected to commission its first nuclear carrier, the Type 004. This will come after the Type 003 conventionally powered carrier which will be commissioned by 2023.

Although China’s naval modernization effort has substantially improved China’s naval capabilities in recent years, China’s navy currently is assessed as having limitations or weaknesses in certain areas, including joint operations with other parts of China’s military, antisubmarine warfare (ASW), long-range targeting, a limited capacity for carrying out at-sea resupply of combatant ships operating far from home waters, a limited number of overseas bases and support facilities, a need to train large numbers of personnel to crew its new ships, and a lack of recent combat experience. China is working to reduce or overcome such limitations and weaknesses. Although China’s navy has limitations and weaknesses, it may nevertheless be sufficient for performing missions of interest to Chinese leaders. As China’s navy reduces its weaknesses and limitations, it may become sufficient to perform a wider array of potential missions. It is also worth noting that the Chinese are establishing naval bases around the world at an alarming rate. Chine established its first foreign naval base in Djibouti, a mere 3000m from the American naval base. They also are attempting to build a base in the UAE and Equatorial Guinea, being the first Chinese Naval Base on the Atlantic Ocean.


Guinea Transitional Council Following 2021 Coup

By @OurWarsToday2

A military junta has set up a 80-member council to run the country of Guinea following the coup d'état that took place in September of 2021, when the incumbent President, Alpha Condé, was removed from power by Special Forces troops led by Commander Mamady Doumbouya. Condé was ousted from power after years of turmoil in the country and specifically after he changed the constitution to give himself a third term in power. Following the coup, the constitution was dissolved, and Doumbouya cited corruption and mismanagement of the nation as the reasons that precipitated the coup. When he was elected in 2010, Condé was faced with accusations that mining company Sable Mining had been involved in his election win in return for mining rights in the country. Documents released by international NGO Global Witness reported that Sable supported his campaign, organized logistics and strategic meetings, and even bribed his son, who was allegedly involved in the corruption. Fraud and alleged corruption in government and various elections marred Condé’s run as President of Guinea.

Violence stained 2019–2021 as protests broke out against Condé and his government, especially after his third term started following the disputed election of October 2020. Protests, political opponents were cracked down upon. Taxes were hiked while funding for the police and military was slashed, but funding was increased for the President and National Assembly. Much of the anger surrounding the 2019-2021 protests and demonstrations revolved around the conditions of living that had not improved despite the proliferation of mining of rich natural resources such as diamonds, gold, and bauxite, which Guinea is the second-largest producer of. Bauxite is also the world’s main source of aluminum and gallium. Aluminum prices reached a decade high on the world market following the coup. Rampant claims of ethnic conflicts, widespread corruption, and abuses by the military and police have faced the country since 2010, when it held its first democratic election in which Condé was elected. Torture by security forces and abuse of women and children, including female genital mutilation, was an ongoing human rights issue in 2011, according to the United States government. 

The leader of the coup was, Commander Mamady Doumbouya, an ex-legionnaire in the French Army who served in Afghanistan, Ivory Coast, Djibouti, the Central African Republic and close protection in Israel, Cyprus, the UK and Guinea. He reportedly "brilliantly completed" operational protection specialist training at the International Security Academy in Israel, as well as elite military training in Senegal, Gabon, and France. He returned to Guinea in 2018 to serve in anti-terrorism operations and had previously represented Guinea in joint military exercises with American and other West African forces. Doumbouya is among 25 Guinean officials the EU had been threatening to sanction for alleged human rights abuses committed in recent years under President Condé. He seized power after a group of Special Forces soldiers stormed the Presidential Palace and arrested Condé, Doumbouya would speak on state TV shortly after. Following the coup, he was appointed President by the military junta in charge. A transition charter was published which made him the president of the transition over the CNT which will act as a parliament and write the new constitution that will allow for a prime minister. However, Doumbouya and other members of the military junta are ineligible for the next elections. He elected Mohamed Béavogui Prime Minister in October of 2021.

The new body of government, the National Transitional Council (CNT) is being led by Dansa Kourouma, a political activist, doctor, and election observation expert based in West Africa. He has been president and vice-president, and played an executive role in various election monitoring, government accountability, and citizen based groups in West Africa and Guinea since 2014. He will be tasked with agreeing on the date of the next elections. This coup in Guinea was the fourth coup in West and Central Africa in the space of two years, following two in Mali and one in Chad. All stemmed from various issues, but all related to discontent with the ruling government powers and their inability to bring peace and stability to regions plagued by corruption and violence.


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