NEWS AND ANALYSIS:
U.S. intelligence agencies are closely monitoring Russian military activities in Libya for signs that Moscow may soon build a military base in the divided North African state.
Intelligence reports indicate that Russia is planning to expand its Syrian bases at Tartus and Hemeimeem to Libya.
The possible Russian move into Libya represents the most recent failure stemming from the policies of President Obama that backed Islamist rebels who overthrew and killed Libyan strongman Moammar Gadhafi in 2011.
Mr. Obama has said that the failure to prepare for the aftermath of the ouster of Gadhafi was the worst mistake of his presidency. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also came under fire for failing to provide security for Americans who were attacked and killed in Benghazi after Gadhafi’s fall.
The push for a Russian military presence in Libya is being led by retired Maj. Gen. Khalifah Haftar, whose militia forces, the Libyan National Army, control eastern Libya. Russian private military forces have been operating in eastern Libya since March 2017, including the RSB Group that has deployed several dozen armed mercenaries to join forces with Haftar militias.
News reports from Libya stated recently that the RSB Group mercenaries are engaged in advance work, scouting locations for a Russian military base in Tobruk or Benghazi.
In addition to RSB, the notorious Wagner Group of Russian mercenaries also is operating in eastern Libya, reportedly to service Gen. Haftar’s Russian-supplied weaponry. Wagner mercenaries also are helping set up an intelligence network for the general’s forces.
Libya under Gadhafi supported international terrorism, including the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103, which killed 259 people over Lockerbie, Scotland. In 2003, after the U.S. invasion of Iraq, however, Gadhafi decided to collaborate with the U.S. and Britain in giving up his nuclear weapons program in exchange for closer trade and diplomatic relations with the West.
The regime came down in 2011 as the result of the Obama administration’s policies that opposed the Gadhafi government and backed Islamist rebels.
The country spiraled into a failed state and since 2014 has been divided between two governing bodies: the Council of Deputies based in Tobruk and the Islamist General National Congress based in Tripoli. Sections of the country, which has large oil reserves, remain under the control of numerous Islamist militias.
The head of the Libyan government in Tobruk, Prime Minister Abdullah Al-Thini, said in an Arabic news interview June 27 that the U.S., Britain and Italy are “enemies of the Libyan people” because they have backed the forces promoting political Islam in Libya. Observers say the United States should back Gen. Haftar in a bid to prevent Russia from taking control over Libya.
CHINESE POLITICAL WARFARE
China under President Xi Jinping is engaged in political warfare against the United States, according to a think tank study.
Under Mr. Xi, who is also general secretary of the Communist Party of China and chairman of the Central Military Commission, power has been centralized and new structures for conducting political warfare operations have been set up, according to a report on political coercion by the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments.
The report quotes one of Mr. Xi’s closest political allies, Vice President Wang Qishan, as saying the Chinese leader has one message: “Ensuring the leading role of the Communist Party in all aspects of life the party, government, military, society, education, north, south, east, west — the party leads everything.”
As a result, China today is ruled by a communist dictator with extraordinary personal power whose political ideology has been enshrined in the constitution, the report said. Any notion that China could evolve into a more democratic system is now viewed as “exceedingly remote.”
“A key conclusion is that, as Xi Jinping directs political warfare operations against the United States and its allies and partners, there is little resistance from the party or from any other quarter in China,” the report said.
Chinese political warfare against the United States aims to influence overseas Chinese to accept Beijing’s policies and to insulate them from what Beijing regards as the corrupting influence of Western democracies.
Senior U.S. leaders in politics, government, media, business, educational institutions, law enforcement and defense forces also are major targets of China’s political warfare efforts.
The Chinese are engaged in operations that seek to shape U.S. policies through influencing the government, media, academia and other organizations to accept and support Beijing’s worldview.
“A typical theme is the inexorable rise of China to dominate the Indo-Pacific and surpass the United States, implying it is futile for locals to resist,” the report said. “In all of these political warfare operations, Chinese agencies strive to communicate a consistent Marxist-Leninist ideological narrative.”
Key political warfare operations have included the mobilization of overseas Chinese to oppose anti-Beijing views, funding pro-Chinese groups and institutions with hundreds of millions of dollars, and providing funds to key former foreign officials and other influential people who can back Beijing policies.
Another major effort has been “large-scale information operations to build influence within and coerce Western media organizations,” the report said.
The Chinese also are conducting coercive trade and investment operations designed to influence U.S. policies.
Other Chinese political warfare operations include efforts to apply Chinese communist law within the United States, penetrating research institutes to steal cutting-edge technologies and carrying out sophisticated cyberoperations.
“China’s political warfare operations are well organized and centrally coordinated by key parts of the Chinese Communist Party infrastructure in Beijing,” the report concludes.
The report, “Countering Comprehensive Coercion Competitive Strategies Against Authoritarian Political Warfare,” was made public this week.
CHINA SOUGHT APPLE SECRETS
China sought to gain access to computer giant Apple’s secret plans for self-driving cars, according to a federal criminal complaint.
FBI agents arrested a fired Apple hardware engineer, Xiaolong Zhang, as he attempted to board an airliner for China on July 7 in San Jose, California. He was charged with economic espionage in a theft of Apple trade secrets.
The FBI complaint in the case, unsealed Monday, stated that during paternity leave in April, Mr. Zhang downloaded large amounts of Apple’s secret data on autonomous vehicle development and a short time later announced that he was quitting after two years working at the California company. The engineer worked on designing and testing circuit boards and analyzing sensor data for the Apple vehicle project.
During the leave from April 1 to April 28, Mr. Zhang traveled to China and announced on April 30 to his Apple supervisor that he was moving to China and would work at a Chinese autonomous-vehicle maker.
The information he downloaded included engineering schematics and technical reports that investigators believe were supplied to a Chinese company called Xiaopeng Motors, based in Guangzhou, which is developing an autonomous electric car. The company, also known as XMotors, has an office in Silicon Valley.
Apple security officials became suspicious that Mr. Zhang had stolen trade secrets from its autonomous-vehicle project and called in the FBI.
FBI agents interviewed Mr. Zhang on June 28 and, under questioning, he admitted to taking Apple files and placing them on his wife’s laptop computer, the complaint states.
Apparently through a surveillance operation, the FBI learned that Mr. Zhang had purchased a “last-minute, round-trip” airline ticket to Beijing, and FBI agents arrested him after he passed through security at San Jose International Airport. A recent Pentagon report on Chinese technology acquisition said autonomous-vehicle technology is a priority target for Beijing,
“The technologies China is investing in are the same ones that we expect will be foundational to future innovation in the U.S.: artificial intelligence, autonomous vehicles, augmented/virtual reality, robotics and blockchain technology,” the report said. “Moreover, these are some of the same technologies of interest to the U.S. Defense Department to build on the technological superiority of the U.S. military today.”
• Contact Bill Gertz on Twitter at @BillGertz.