Swarm Geopolitics: Everything, Everywhere, All at Once: Hamas, Houthis, SMERSH, Spies, Ecuador and Organized Crime
As we enter 2024, we are beginning to see many aspects of geopolitics that have been lurking in the dark, which are now illuminated by the flash of media cameras. Remember that only nine months ago, President Xi and Putin were taped coming out of a dinner speaking of “changes not seen in 100 Years”. Well, we are now seeing what they meant. Conflicts and crises are emerging across the globe. They seem unconnected. What could the Hamas attack on Israel, the problems with Houthis in the Red Sea, the outbreak of crime gang violence in Ecuador, and the rehabilitation of Russia’s global crime/spying network (SMERSH) have to do with one another? Surely, it’s all just coincidental. I think not.
The strategy Russia and China are pursuing is simple and clever. America is a formidable superpower. You can’t take on America’s military might directly and expect to win. Instead, the idea is to make trouble for the US and NATO on multiple fronts at once, usually by relying on proxies or places that the US does not take seriously or cannot easily respond to. In practical terms, Russia and China have aligned with small militias that are problematic for the West but which usually can’t do that much damage. However, with China and Russia quietly supplying superpower level intelligence, capabilities, and capital, these entities can wreak havoc. This way China and Russia can create expensive and difficult problems everywhere and all at once for the US. This is a different kind of swarm strategy. It’s flies irritating a lion.
In Unherd in October, I laid out the case that the Hamas attack on Israel was hugely empowered by its access to Chinese technology including drones and from ground intelligence made possible by access to Iranian satellite imagery. The more we learn, the clearer is is that Hamas did not act alone. As time has passed, more is coming to light. There are increasing concerns that hackers from China and Russia, perhaps military hackers, also managed to corrupt the imagery flowing into Israel’s situation rooms which is why Israel did not immediately respond even as Hamas was executing its plans and its victims. Is it possible that the Israeli Sit Room observers were watching a false feed? This possibility alone has created an incredible scare in the West that other secure data supply chains may have been compromised. You think your cameras are sending a live feed over highly secure systems but, maybe all you are seeing is a time-accurate but entirely fake video. Could fake video feeds flow into official situation rooms elsewhere? Perhaps yes. This is a whole different level of fake news.
Some even suggest that the Hamas attack was underpinned by a “reverse Stuxnext.” For those who don’t remember, Iran’s efforts to produce fissile material were stymied when their centrifuges failed to produce it. It took ages to figure out what was going wrong. Someone had infected their seemingly highly secured systems with a virus called Stuxnext. One imagines a modern James Bond who no longer carries a gun but has a simple thumb drive. All he has to do is insert it into a laptop that’s connected to a high-security network. It seems that we now know it was a Dutch national called Erik van Sabben who was working for a heavy transport company in Dubai and recruited by the Dutch equivalent of the CIA (the AIVD and MIVD). He apparently “planted (it) on a water pump that the Dutch national installed in the (Iranian) nuclear complex in Natanz, which he had infiltrated. It’s unclear if Van Sabben knew exactly what he was doing, but his family said he appeared to have panicked at around the time of the Stuxnet attack,” according to one press report. He came to an untimely end riding a motorcycle just two weeks after leaving Iran. The Iranian scientists took