The Shadow War ~ by Jim Sciutto

Wow – good book! It’s nonfiction and about spying as well as other matters in the age of digital weapons. The author, Jim Sciutto, is Chief National Security Correspondent for CNN. This is his second book. The title makes the book sound like some serious revelations of secrets are in store for the reader. Ignore that – the book is not terribly sensational as the events are rather well known events with additional details. The shocker is in how Sciutto puts them together. The book has very high ratings and reviews from people I trust including Fareed Zakaria and James Clapper (author of Facts and Fears my review on this site).

The Shadow War: Inside Russia’s and China’s Secret Operations to Defeat America
By Jim Sciutto
May, 2019 – 316 pages
Read by Jim Sciutto – 9h 24m
Rating 9 / politics – social sciences

(read and listened)

I still enjoyed it tremendously in part because it wasn’t too speculative or based on unreliable sources.

The book opens with an an introductory chapter (Chapter 1) in which Sciutto goes through some background and definitions.

“… hybrid warfare, in short, a strategy of attacking an adversary while remaining just below the threshold of conventional war—what military commanders and strategists refer to as the “gray zone”—using a range of hard-and soft-power tactics: from cyberattacks on critical infrastructure, to deploying threats to space assets, to information operations designed to spark domestic division, to territorial acquisition just short of a formal invasion. This is warfare conducted in the shadows—a Shadow War—though with consequences as concrete and lasting as those of all-out war.” (page 10)

“This is a book about what happens when the enemies of the West realize that while they are unlikely to win a shooting war, they have another path to victory.” (pg 10)

So the bulk of the book is a review of events from the Russian cyber attack on Estonia in 2007 to the Russian meddling in the US election of 2016 and beyond.

In a way it’s like the old Brinksmanship games of the Cold War only with the added threats of the digital age.  Russia has changed only in that its wants it’s old empire back.  China continues to seek its rightful place in the world.  These countries are dictatorships where political opposition is eliminated one way or another the minute it is perceived as any kind of potential threat – it’s nipped in the bud.   

Each chapter has a final section called “Lessons” which is a very nice touch – like, what do we learn from this? What’s the take-away?

The last chapter of the book, “Winning the Shadow War” is the best chapter. It admits we are losing this “Shadow War” and then suggests our options; what can we do? That comes down to three broad ideas. We can:
1 harden our physical defenses (military)
2 increase deterrence (like sanctions)
3 take offensive action – what shadowy things can we do *without* becoming like them by losing privacy for instance –
* At the moment, we can’t really do anything until they’ve done something – 9/11 was the stimulus for the airplane security we have today. Trying to do that prior to 9/11 would have failed – so that kind of viable prevention was unavailable.

 Chapter 2 “Opening Salvo” (Russia) – Chaos in Estonia as a result of insufficient assistance from the free world (NATO/EU/US as leader) to the nations newly liberated from the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991. Now Russia wanted her empire back whether it be from Tsarist or Soviet times. There were more attacks to come.

Chapter 3 “Stealing Secrets” (China) – old ways and new – for what? For money and techie/military advance as well as personal economics. Method – presence in US places as well as phishing and hacking from China to gain info – Boeing was a huge target. China can be vicious in dealing with perceived enemies – especially Americans. The goal is “allow us to rapidly catch up with US levels… To stand easily on the giant’s shoulders.” Agents are very patriotic but still out for personal gain.

Chapter 4 – “Little Green Men (Russia) Lots of background here- leads directly into the US 2016 elections. . Ukraine uprising, plane downings, Crimea, etc. Alexander Hug, the head of the Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine from the Office for Security and Cooperation in Europe – (civilian and loosely connected to NATO) recounts his experience and thoughts. There had been warnings that Russia was angry about NATO and Ukraine. The West misread Russia who misread the West. Ukraine erupted in the EuroMaidan. – Putin blamed US, especially Obama and Hillary Clinton (which led to Russia helping Trump). And Russia went after annexing Crimea. Does history repeat itself – with the USSR absorbing these states 70 years ago? Who will lead the opposition?

Chapter 5: “Unsinkable Aircraft Carriers” (China) – China Sea and China’s new man-made islands. Old territorial disputes. Background in their goal of maritime power and territorial sovereignty and integrity. China wants to become a “global military power.” This is in part because they see the US as being far superior and, as such, a threat. Besides, there are a lot of valuable resources under that water.

Chapter 6 – War in Space (Russia and China) – There are more challenges from space every year – 1. Russian or Chinese space efforts can exploit US and world cyber dependence; 2. they can increase the physical threat to world targets, and; 3. there is too much dangerous debris up there.

Chapter 7. “Hacking an Election (Russia) – Yes, there was interference from Russia. Has our response been enough to maintain the integrity of our elections? We don’t know yet. We do have to be more vigilant for sure.

Chapter 8 – “Submarine Warfare” (Russia and China) The Arctic Circle is vulnerable to the Shadow War in several ways and for good reason. With global warming more oil is within reach. Submarines can do more than ever and Putin brags on Russian rights and their submarine prowess (drone submarines?) in several places world-wide. China’s naval forces have increased dramatically over the last couple decades. America’s years of dominance is over.

Chapter 9 “Winning the Shadow War” – At the moment we are losing it. What can we do – many good suggestions including knowing what we are up against, set limits, increase deterrents, enhance our own defenses, work to ease tensions, and finally, get some offensive strategies and tactics going.

I do wonder what the US has done in terms of Shadow spying and techie knowledge. We were quite active ini those ways during WWII and the Cold War – I’m sure we didn’t quit but Sciutto never says.

Epilogue: The book winds up nicely.

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