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July 2, 2022 4:46 pm

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Michael Novakhov - SharedNewsLinks℠

American spy agencies review their misses on Ukraine, Russia

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WASHINGTON (AP) — The question was posed in a private briefing to U.S. intelligence officials weeks before Russia launched its invasion in late February: Was Ukraine’s leader, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, made in the mold of Britain’s Winston Churchill or Afghanistan’s Ashraf Ghani?

In other words, would Zelenskyy lead a historic resistance or flee while his government collapsed?

Ultimately, U.S. intelligence agencies underestimated Zelenskyy and Ukraine while overestimating Russia and its president, even as they accurately predicted Vladimir Putin would order an invasion.

But Kyiv, Ukraine’s capital, did not fall in a few days, as the the United States had expected. And while American spy agencies have been credited with supporting Ukraine’s resistance, they now face bipartisan pressure to review what they got wrong beforehand — especially after their mistakes in judging Afghanistan last year.

Intelligence officials have begun a review of how their agencies judge the will and ability of foreign governments to fight. The review is taking place while U.S. intelligence continues to have a critical role in Ukraine and as the White House ramps up weapons deliveries and support to Ukraine, trying to predict what Putin might see as escalatory and seeking to avoid a direct war with Russia.

President Joe Biden’s administration announced it would give Ukraine a small number of high-tech, medium-range rocket systems, a weapon that Ukraine has long wanted. Since the war began on Feb. 24, the White House has approved shipping drones, anti-tank and anti-aircraft systems, and millions of rounds of ammunition. The U.S. has lifted early restrictions on intelligence-sharing to provide information that Ukraine has used to strike critical targets, including the flagship of the Russian navy.

Lawmakers from both parties question whether the U.S. could have done more before Putin invaded and whether the White House held back some support due to pessimistic assessments of Ukraine. Sen. Angus King, an independent from Maine, told officials at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing last month that “had we had a better handle on the prediction, we could have done more to assist the Ukrainians earlier.”

Ohio Rep. Mike Turner, the top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, said in an interview that he thought the White House and top administration officials had projected “their own bias on the situation in a way that lends itself to inaction.”

The Senate Intelligence Committee sent a classified letter last month to the Office of the Director of National Intelligence asking about how intelligence agencies assessed both Ukraine and Afghanistan. CNN first reported the letter.

Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines told lawmakers in May that the National Intelligence Council would review how the agencies assess both “will to fight” and “capacity to fight.” Both issues are “quite challenging to provide effective analysis on and we’re looking at different methodologies for doing so,” Haines said.

While there is no announced timetable on the review, which began before the committee’s letter, officials have identified some errors. Several people familiar with prewar assessments spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive intelligence.

Despite its vast advantages, Russia failed to establish air superiority over Ukraine and failed at basic tasks such as securing its battlefield communications. It has lost thousands of soldiers and at least eight to 10 generals, according to U.S. estimates. Russian and Ukrainian forces are now fighting in fierce, close quarters combat in eastern Ukraine, far from the swift Russian victory forecast by the U.S. and the West.

While Russia has entered recent proxy wars, it had not directly fought a major land war since the 1980s. That meant many of Russia’s projected and claimed capabilities had not been put to the test, posing a challenge for analysts to assess how Russia it would perform in a major invasion, some of the people said. Russia’s active weapons export industry led some people to believe Moscow would have many more missile systems and planes ready to deploy.

Russia has not used chemical or biological weapons, as the U.S. publicly warned it might. One official noted that the U.S. had “very strong concerns” about a chemical attack, but that Russia may have decided that would cause too much global opposition. Fears that Russia would use a wave of cyberattacks against Ukraine and allies have not materialized so far.

Other Russian problems were well-known, including low troop morale, a prevalence of drug and alcohol abuse among troops, and the lack of a noncommissioned officer corps to oversee forces and deliver instructions from commanders.

“We knew all of those things existed,” said retired Lt. Gen. Robert Ashley, the former director of the Defense Intelligence Agency. “But it just became a cascading effect of how overwhelming all of that became when they tried to do even the most simple of operations.”

Sue Gordon, the former principal deputy director of national intelligence, said analysts may have relied too much on counting Russia’s inventory of military and cyber tools.

“We’re going to learn a little bit about how we think about capability and use as not one and the same when you assess outcome,” she said at a recent event sponsored by The Cipher Brief, an intelligence publication.

Zelenskyy has received worldwide acclaim for refusing to flee as Russia sent teams to try to capture or kill him. But before the war, there were tensions between Washington and Kyiv about the likelihood of an invasion and whether Ukraine was prepared. One flashpoint, according to people familiar with the dispute, was that the U.S. wanted Ukraine to move forces from its west to bolster defenses around Kyiv.

Until shortly before the war, Zelenskyy and top Ukrainian officials discounted warnings of an invasion, in part to tamp down public panic and protect the economy. One U.S. official said there was a belief that Zelenskyy had never been tested in a crisis of the level his country was facing.

Lt. Gen. Scott Berrier, the current director of the DIA, testified in March that “my view was that, based on a variety of factors, that the Ukrainians were not as ready as I thought they should be. Therefore, I questioned their will to fight. That was a bad assessment on my part because they have fought bravely and honorably and are doing the right thing.”

In May, Berrier distanced his own view from that of the entire intelligence community, which he said never had an assessment “that said the Ukrainians lacked the will to fight.”

There was ample evidence of Ukraine’s determination before the war. Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea and the eight-year conflict in the Donbas region had hardened public attitudes against Moscow. Ukrainian forces had received years of training and weapons shipments from the U.S. across several administrations along with help bolstering its cyber defenses.

U.S. intelligence had reviewed private polling suggested strong support in Ukraine for any resistance. In Kharkiv, a mostly Russian-speaking city near the border, citizens were learning to fire guns and training for guerrilla warfare.

Rep. Brad Wenstrup, a member of the House Intelligence Committee, saw that determination firsthand during a December trip. Wenstrup, R-Ohio, witnessed a military ceremony where participants would read the names of every Ukrainian soldier who had died the previous day on the front lines in the Donbas, the region in eastern Ukraine where Moscow-backed separatists have been fighting Ukrainian government forces since 2014.

“It showed to me that they had a will to fight,” he said. “This has been brewing for a long time.”

___

Associated Press writer Lolita C. Baldor contributed to this report.

Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.


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Michael Novakhov - SharedNewsLinks℠

Deadly secret: Electronic warfare shapes Russia-Ukraine war

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KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — On Ukraine’s battlefields, the simple act of powering up a cellphone can beckon a rain of deathly skyfall. Artillery radar and remote controls for unmanned aerial vehicles may also invite fiery shrapnel showers.

This is electronic warfare, a critical but largely invisible aspect of Russia’s war against Ukraine. Military commanders largely shun discussing it, fearing they’ll jeopardize operations by revealing secrets.

Electronic warfare technology targets communications, navigation and guidance systems to locate, blind and deceive the enemy — and direct lethal blows. It is used against artillery, fighter jets, cruise missiles, drones and more. Militaries also use it to protect their forces.

It’s an area where Russia was thought to have a clear advantage going into the war. Yet, for reasons not entirely clear, its much-touted electronic warfare prowess was barely seen in the war’s early stages in the chaotic failure to seize Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv.

It has become far more of a factor in the current fierce fighting in eastern Ukraine, where shorter, easier-to-defend supply lines let Russia move electronic warfare gear closer to the battlefield.

A Ukrainian intelligence official called the Russian threat “pretty severe” when it comes to disrupting reconnaissance efforts and commanders’ communications with troops. Russian jamming of GPS receivers on drones that Ukraine uses to locate the enemy and direct artillery fire is particularly intense “on the line of contact,” he said.

Ukraine has had some success countering Russia’s electronic onslaught. It has captured important hardware — a significant intelligence coup — and destroyed at least two multi-vehicle mobile electronic warfare units.

Ukraine’s own electronic warfare capability is hard to assess. Analysts say it has markedly improved since Russia seized Crimea and instigated a separatist revolt in eastern Ukraine in 2014. Ukraine has also made effective use of technology and intelligence from the United States and other NATO members, helping it sink the battle cruiser Moskva. Allied satellites and surveillance aircraft help from nearby skies, as does Elon Musk’s Starlink satellite communications network.

Electronic war has three basic elements: probe, attack and protect. First, intelligence is gathered by locating enemy electronic signals. On attack, “white noise” jamming disables and degrades enemy systems, including radio and cellphone communications, air defense and artillery radars. Then there is spoofing, which confuses and deceives. When it works, munitions miss their targets.

“Operating on a modern battlefield without data is really hard,” said retired Col. Laurie Buckhout, a former U.S. Army electronic warfare chief. Jamming “can blind and deafen an aircraft very quickly and very dangerously, especially if you lose GPS and radar and you’re a jet flying at 600 miles an hour.”

All of which explains the secrecy around electronic warfare.

“It is an incredibly classified field because it is highly dependent on evolving, bleeding-edge technologies where gains can be copied and erased very quickly,” said James Stidham, a communications security expert who has consulted for the U.S. State and Homeland Security departments.

Ukraine learned hard lessons about electronic warfare in 2014 and 2015, when Russia overwhelmed its forces with it. The Russians knocked drones out of the sky and disabled warheads, penetrated cellphone networks for psychological ops and zeroed in on Ukrainian armor.

One Ukrainian officer told Christian Brose, an aide to the late U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., how Russian info warriors tricked a commander into returning a wireless call from his mother. When he did, they geolocated him in mid-call and killed him with precision rockets, Brose wrote in the book “The Kill Chain.”

In the current war, electronic warfare has become a furious theater of contention.

Russia has engaged in GPS jamming in areas from Finland to the Black Sea. A regional Finnish carrier had to cancel flights on one route for a week as a result. Russian jamming has also disrupted Ukrainian TV broadcasting, said Frank Backes, an executive with California-based Kratos Defense, which has satellite ground stations in the region.

Yet in the war’s early days, Russia’s use of electronic warfare was less effective and extensive than anticipated. That may have contributed to its failure to destroy enough radar and anti-aircraft units to gain air superiority. Some analysts believe Russian commanders held back units fearing the units would be captured. At least two were seized.

Russian commanders may have also limited the use of electronic warfare early in the conflict out of concern ill-trained or poorly motivated technicians might operate it poorly.

“What we’re learning now is that the Russians eventually turned it off because it was interfering with their own communications so much,” said retired Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges, a former U.S. Army commander for Europe. The problems were evident with many Russian troops talking on insecure open radio channels, easily monitored by outsiders.

Russia’s Defense Ministry did not respond to questions for this article.

It’s unclear how much of an edge its electronic assets may now offer. Ukraine’s forces are now more concentrated, which could make them easier to target.

Much depends on whether Russia’s battalion tactical groups “are configured in reality as they are on paper,” said James Rands, of the Jane’s military intelligence think tank. Each group is supposed to have an electronic warfare unit. The Pentagon says 110 groups are in Ukraine.

The Kremlin also claims to have more than 1,000 small, versatile Orlan-10 unmanned aerial vehicles it uses for reconnaissance, targeting, jamming and cellphone interception.

The U.S. and Britain are providing jamming gear. How much it helps is unclear. Neither country has offered details.

Musk’s Starlink is a proven asset. Its more than 2,200 low-orbiting satellites provide broadband internet to more than 150,000 Ukrainian ground stations. Severing those connections is a challenge for Russia. It is far more difficult to jam low-earth orbiting satellites than geostationary ones.

Musk has won plaudits for at least temporarily defeating Russian jamming of those ground stations with a quick software fix. But he has warned Ukrainians to power them down when possible — they are vulnerable to geolocation — and worried on Twitter about redoubled Russian interference efforts.

___

Bajak reported from Boston. AP correspondent Lolita C. Baldor contributed from Washington.


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