February 26, 2020

Understanding Russian Subversion


Patterns, Threats, and Responses

by Andrew RadinAlyssa DemusKrystyna Marcine


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Research Questions

  1. How and why does Russia undertake subversive activities and campaigns to further its interests?
  2. What are the characteristics of Russian subversive efforts, and how do they change based on the intended target audience?
  3. How have states responded to and punished Russian subversion and have these measures been effective?
  4. What policies should be adopted to address Russian subversion?

Since 2014, Russia has undertaken a wide range of subversive activities intended to influence the domestic politics of the United States, its partners, and its allies. This Perspective synthesizes previous work, discussing what subversion is and the capabilities used to undertake it today. The authors explain the interconnected Russian interests that inspire use of subversion—defense of the country and regime, being recognized as one of the world's great powers, maintaining a sphere of interest, stopping European Union and NATO enlargement, and encouraging economic prosperity. They trace the origins of Russian subversion in Soviet and post-Soviet history and examine how Russia engages in military, economic, information, cyber, and political subversion, drawing on recent events, such as attempts to influence elections in other countries, including the United States. To address Russian subversion, the authors propose focusing defensive activities on the greatest vulnerabilities, ensuring that any punishments of Russian actions are closely and clearly linked with particular acts of subversion, conducting additional research on when Russian subversion is effective, and improving rapid attribution of subversion.

Key Findings

Russian subversion lacks a single organizing principle

  • Instead, Russian foreign policy interests motivate different forms of subversion; Russian subversive capabilities vary greatly across countries and activities; Russian subversion often lacks strong centralized command and control; and the effectiveness of Russian subversive efforts remains largely unknown.

Investing in defensive activities probably cannot eliminate all vulnerabilities to Russian subversion

  • It may be cheaper and easier for Russia to find new avenues of subversion than for the West to address vulnerabilities. Existing punishments fall into two categories: They either affect Russia too little to change its decisionmaking or are not linked closely enough to Russian subversive activities. These issues underscore the need to develop punishments that are more explicitly linked to Russian behavior.

There is significant uncertainty about when and to what extent Russian subversion is effective

  • Without understanding the actual effects of subversion, it is difficult to fully articulate a proportionate response or to understand how this response should be prioritized among other U.S. efforts. Such an evaluation may be difficult but is possible through further study.

Attribution limits the effectiveness of Russian subversion

  • A delay in attribution can therefore be almost as harmful as a lack of attribution.


  • U.S. programs to build resilience should focus on the most vulnerable countries and institutions.
  • Punishments should be more clearly linked to specific subversive activities, and statements identifying the behavior required to lift the punishment should be explicitly stated.
  • Undertake efforts to better understand the effectiveness of Russian subversion. Responses to subversion have costs, and evaluating the effectiveness of Russian subversion is essential to determine whether to accept such costs.
  • Rapid attribution is critically important—it makes covert activities overt and makes it harder for Russia to deny its actions.
  • Evaluate existing U.S. and ally vulnerabilities, trace past U.S. efforts, and consider where U.S. assistance may be the most effective.

National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence Requests New Ideas; RAND Responds


February 21, 2020

“Send us your ideas!” That was the open call for submissions about emerging technology's role in global order put out last summer by the National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence (NSCAI). RAND researchers stepped up to the challenge, and a wide range of ideas were submitted. Ten essays were ultimately accepted for publication.

The NSCAI, co-chaired by Eric Schmidt, the former chief executive of Alphabet (Google's parent company), and Robert Work, the former deputy secretary of defense, is a congressionally mandated, independent federal commission set up last year “to consider the methods and means necessary to advance the development of artificial intelligence, machine learning, and associated technologies by the United States to comprehensively address the national security and defense needs of the United States.”

The commission's ultimate role is to elevate awareness and to inform better legislation. As part of its mission, the commission is tasked with helping the Department of Defense better understand and prepare for a world where AI might impact national security in unexpected ways.

Following this mandate, its commissioning of outside-the-box input came with an unusually broad and public request: “We need to hear original, creative ideas that challenge the status quo, shake our assumptions, and will cause us to reconsider the arguments we've already heard and hear new arguments in a different light.”

Never fearful of the bold and the new, RAND quickly hosted a competition within its ranks for best ideas. It worked. After presenting a number of insightful essays for consideration, nine were accepted for publication by NSCAI's media partner on this effort, War on the Rocks (WOTR), and a tenth was accepted by The Strategy Bridge. Both are highly regarded national security policy publications. The essays range in scope and subject matter, from military deception, to open-source research (meaning that it would be freely and publicly available even with matters of national security), to how to train AI soldier robots, to the role of chess in AI, among other detailed proposals.

The NSCAI sought new, challenging ideas on any of five topics that they called “prompts”: finding or creating a coherent vision of the future of war and competition; understanding what capabilities are needed to better develop AI; how institutions, organizational structures, and infrastructure will affect the development and adoption of AI; establishing norms about emerging technology; and the population's support, as well as the private sector's involvement.

Each prompt has subsets, noting specific queries and ways in which to address them such as, “What might happen if the United States fails to develop robust AI capabilities that address national security issues?”

Here's a rundown of RAND essays that answer some of the different questions posed:

Jasmin Leveille writes about embracing open-source military research to win the AI competition. “Unless the U.S. government significantly leads or trails the AI community—which is unlikely—it faces only minor risks in releasing its algorithms,” he argues. Otherwise, “The alternative to an open research strategy risks leaving the United States trailing by a wide margin.”

Danielle Tarraf writes that our future lies in making AI robust and verifiable. She argues for more AI verification to inure trust: “Algorithms are fragile, and the very science of verification to certify that they perform as desired is still inadequate, especially where black box AI algorithms are concerned. We should not trust what is not robust, and we cannot trust what we cannot verify.” To that end, she says, science needs to catch up to engineering.

Edward Geist and Marjory Blumenthal write on military deception: AI's killer app. They say that technologies of misdirection are winning: “Rather than lifting the ‘fog of war,' AI and machine learning may enable the creation of ‘fog of war machines'—automated deception planners designed to exacerbate knowledge quality problems.”

Daniel Egel, Eric Robinson, Charles Cleveland, and Christopher Oates write on AI and irregular warfare: an evolution, not revolution. They ask if AI will change the ways wars are fought. “The United States should proactively shape AI's impact on the next generation of irregular warfare to our advantage through a few key steps,” they say. These steps include better capturing innovation in the commercial ecosystem; recruiting and retaining personnel capable of leveraging AI capabilities; and working with allies (international coordination).

Rand Waltzman and Thomas Szayna discuss managing security threats to machine learning. “The rush to implement and field insecure systems containing advanced machine learning components introduces dangerous vulnerabilities that will be exploited by nefarious actors in ways we have barely begun to understand,” they write. In short, they argue, “It is high time that the issue of vulnerabilities in machine learning technologies is treated as a critical national-level concern.”

Patrick Roberts writes on AI for peace. He says, “The United States should apply lessons from the 70-year history of governing nuclear technology by building a framework for governing AI military technology.” Going further, he argues, “An AI for Peace program should articulate the dangers of this new technology, principles (e.g. no kill, human control, off switch) to manage the dangers, and a structure to shape the incentives for other states (perhaps a system of monitoring and inspection).”

Andrew Lohn writes about what chess can teach us about the future of AI and war. “[Chess] has been teaching military strategists the ways of war for hundreds of years and has been a testbed for AI development for decades,” he notes. In combat “AI-enabled computers might be an equalizer to help underdogs find new playable options.”

James Ryseff writes about how to recruit talent for the AI challenge. He says, “The Defense Department (DOD) directly competes with American technology companies for a limited pool of cyber and AI talent—a competition it all too often loses.” To win, “the Defense Department's success in deploying the most innovative AI technology will depend on its ability to embrace a culture of creativity, innovation, and self-improvement.”

Thomas Hamilton writes about how to train your AI soldier robots. “As the capabilities of AI-enabled robots increase, how will we organize, train, and command them—and the humans who will supervise and maintain them?” he asks. It may go beyond human emulation. “Robots with new, sophisticated patterns of behavior may require new forms of organization,” Hamilton writes. Ultimately, “The optimal unit structure will be worked out through experience. Achieving as much experience as possible in peacetime is essential. That means training.”

Christopher Paul and Marek Posard write about artificial intelligence and the manufacturing of reality. They say there are “flaws humans carry with them in deciding what is or is not real. The internet and other technologies have made it easier to weaponize and exploit these flaws, beguiling more people faster and more compellingly than ever before.”

The next phase of the NSCAI's ideas framework is for a few researchers—both from RAND and elsewhere—whose essays were selected for publication in WOTR to testify before the Commission, which, in turn, reports to Congress, the executive branch, and “the American people,” according to Schmidt and Work's original call for entries. Stay tuned. That means RAND researchers could be sharing keen, challenging insights from their advanced work on AI not only via provocative essays; they may be lending their voices, too.

— Thomas Kostigen

Ships Are Skipping China and It’s Causing Turmoil for Trade


February 2020 will come to be remembered as a period of historic disruption to physical supply chains the world over, as the coronavirus wrecks trade.

Dozens of export sailings to ship China-made goods to consumers from the U.S. to Europe -- think handbags, flat-screen TVs, and plastic toys -- have been canned since the coronavirus crisis escalated last month. Those non-shipments are part of a much bigger picture in which every aspect of global shipping -- from oil and gas through to dry-bulk commodities -- has been upended.

The unprecedented gyrations caused by the virus matter because 90% of all trade moves by sea and China has grown into the maritime industry’s main source of cargoes. The disruptions have left toymakers like Hasbro Inc. and fashion houses like the owner of Michael Kors, Versace and Jimmy Choo struggling with their supply chains. Vessels are idling. And exporters to China face diversions as clients there use force majeure clauses in their contracts to walk away. from commitments to buy cargoes.

“All the signs are that there has been a major dislocation in global supply chains and commodity trade as well,” said Caroline Bain, chief commodities economist at Capital Economics. For some products “it’s only going to get worse in February data.”

Even at a most basic level, shippers are struggling to sort out the necessary paperwork required for shipments involving China, snarling some trades in an industry where many transactions need physical documentation to accompany consignments.

All this has come about because the virus has led to hundreds of millions of people being told to stay away from work or education in China, squeezing output in the world’s fastest-growing major economy.

Container vessels that routinely move goods worth hundreds of millions of dollars in single shipments are at the sharp end of the turmoil. The number of blank sailings -- where ships don’t load at a planned location -- has jumped since the outbreak began. AP Moller-Maersk A/S, the world’s largest shipper, has listed at least 27 blank sailings since Jan. 31 on its website.

Almost 600,000 20-foot boxes are currently out of action as a result of the virus according to Alan Murphy, chief executive officer of container shipping analysis company Sea Intelligence, up from about half that amount just under a week earlier. Though rates can vary, using an estimate of $1,000 per container, that means shippers had to stomach a hit of $600 million this week. Ships may either be slowed down in the hope that demand improves in future weeks, or idled until things turn around, Murphy said.

Toy maker Hasbro said in earnings this week that the virus is disrupting its commercial operations in China -- from where it had already been seeking to diversify its supply chain as a result of the trade war. Capri Holdings Ltd. -- which owns Michael Kors, among other brands -- said its outlook may be impacted by the outbreak as it wrestles with potential supply chain issues.

There’s a knock-on effect for exporters in other nations too. Containers are typically used in U.S. and other regions to carry those countries’ exports. The lack of liners hauling containers from Asia, may soon mean countries like the U.S. face a shortage. It’s already getting a little more difficult to get empty ones in Canada, said Greg Northey, a spokesman for industry group Pulse Canada.

Nor is it just retailers. Last week, Hyundai Motor Co. temporarily halted some of its car production because of component shortages caused by the virus. Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV is planning to halt operations at its assembly plant in Serbia due to a lack of parts from China because of the coronavirus, people familiar with the matter said.

The issues afflicting shippers of finished goods are also being felt in energy and commodity markets.

Traders of oil from West Africa, Latin America and the North Sea initially reported weaker demand from China, while some buyers of Saudi Arabia’s barrels have asked to get less than they would normally take for March. There were signs that falling crude prices encouraged some refineries in the Asian country to accelerate purchases.

In gas markets, one Chinese company declared force majeure, potentially allowing it to walk away from contractual commitments. The measure was rejected by Total SA and Royal Dutch Shell Plc. There are now 12 employ liquefied gas carriers sitting off the coast of Qatar, one of the world’s biggest producers. While the precise reasons for the idling vessels aren’t known, the timing coincides with ship diversions, cargo cancellations and reduced demand in Asia since the virus took hold. Oil tankers have been dawdling off China.

Chinese buyers of liquefied petroleum gas that’s used in cooking and heating are re-offering and diverting cargoes elsewhere because of weakening demand.

On top of that, shippers of bulk commodities like coal and iron ore have been battered as the virus delayed the resumption of demand after the typically slow China Lunar New Year period. Day rates for giant freighters to move the two cargoes are earning less than $2,500 a day -- a fraction of what they need even to pay their crew.

“You obviously have lost demand that it’s difficult to recapture,” said Frode Morkedal managing director of equity research at Clarksons Platou Securities AS, an investment banking unit of the world’s biggest shipbroker. “You can’t discharge your ship, you can’t load as fast as you want, so it’s impacting the global supply chain.”

By Alex Longley

February 25, 2020

Seafarers facing unprecedented challenges due to Coronaviurs outbreak


Shipping crippled by the spread of the virus

Ship managers and crew on the frontline of global trade are bravely coping with unprecedented challenges due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak in China. Shipping has been crippled by the spread of the virus over the last month which has seen large parts of the Chinese economy closed down for extended periods.
This is having supply chain and business reverberations globally and has devastated shipping freight rates and cargo demand.

However, the impact on those on the frontline of international business – the seafarers that man the ships that facilitate global trade – has largely been overlooked.

Captain Rajesh Unni, CEO and founder of Singapore-headquartered Synergy Group, one of the world’s leading ship managers, commented: “Seafarers are working under tremendous pressure and doing an amazing job keeping world trade moving. But many are, understandably, anxious about when they can see families again because of restrictions on crew changes and quarantine periods being enforced on arrival at some countries.”

The deadly virus has seen severe restrictions put in place on seafarers calling at ports across the Asia Pacific region.

Crew manning the world’s commercial fleet of tankers, commodity-carrying bulk carriers and container ships are not allowed to leave vessels when calling at ports in China, the epicentre of the virus.

Restrictions preventing crew leaving the ship or denying seafarers access to a visa-on-arrival are also in place at a range of countries including Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Russia, Australia and South Korea.

The logistics of managing crew changes when there are restrictions in place in so many countries has meant in some cases diverting vessels to intermediate ports where crew changes are possible.

“It’s very challenging on some routes because crew changes are not allowed at either end,” said Captain Unni. “But seafarers are a durable bunch. We’re very proud of how they are coping and we are providing all necessary support. I must reiterate that although crew logistics is proving very demanding, we are not facing any operational issues, as of now, and that is testament to the outstanding professionalism of our seafarers in very trying conditions.”

Synergy employs approximately 10,000 seafarers and manages a diversified fleet of almost 300 vessels including some of the most sophisticated container vessels and gas carriers in operation.

Its local offices around the Asia Pacific are working closely with public health authorities to ensure compliance with health precautions and measures including quarantine.

Counselling services have also been made available both to Synergy employees and the wider shipping community via the company’s free mental wellness iCall helpline.

“The welfare and safety of our teams onboard vessels is always of paramount importance,” said Captain Unni. “Our partners at iCall – the free, confidential, multilingual helpline for seafarers and their families - have been updated and trained counsellors are ready to provide any mental health and psychosocial support that crew need. I urge anyone who needs help and support to use this service.”

Synergy crew have been advised to reduce contact with shore personnel and follow standard precautions including maintaining meticulous personal hygiene regimes as recommended by coronavirus authorities.

“The fact that the coronavirus epidemic has effected more people, more quickly than the SARS outbreak 17 years ago is extremely concerning,” said Captain Unni. “In light of which we have all our contingency plans, including, infection control procedures, in place. While we wait and watch, we are extremely grateful for our teams onboard for understanding the situation and for keeping world-trade moving in this difficult time.”