Security Brief

Security Brief: Boeing 737 Safety Systems Under Scrutiny; Terror in Christchurch

Federal transportation officials are examining the aircraft giant’s safety reports.

A Boeing 737 MAX 8 is pictured outside the factory on March 11, 2019 in Renton, Washington. (Photo by Stephen Brashear/Getty Images)
A Boeing 737 MAX 8 is pictured outside the factory on March 11, 2019 in Renton, Washington. (Photo by Stephen Brashear/Getty Images)

The 737 Max. An eye-opening report by the Seattle Times describes how the Federal Aviation Administration outsourced key components of its safety analysis of Boeing’s 737 Max jet to the airplane manufacturer. That safety analysis understated the risk posed by key systems that have been implicated in two recent crashes of the jet, which has resulted in the plane’s grounding by aviation authorities around the report.

According to the Seattle Times, the safety analysis authored by Boeing engineers–and which was used by the FAA to certify the jet–understated the power of an automatic anti-stall system that has been implicated in the two crashes. That report also did not describe how the system would be reset after it was activated and appears to have downplayed the risk posed by the anti-stall system’s failure.

Scrutiny of Boeing’s analysis of the jetliner’s safety systems comes amid a new report that the U.S. Department of Transportation is investigating the FAA’s approval of the 737 Max for passenger travel, the Wall Street Journal reports.

Meanwhile, examination of flight data from the Ethiopian Airlines disaster a week ago suggests “clear similarities” with a crash off Indonesia last October, Ethiopia’s transport minister told journalists.  “Clear similarities were noted between Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 and Indonesian Lion Air Flight 610, which would be the subject of further study during the investigation,” she said.

Christchurch. The death toll in last week’s deadly terrorist attack targeting a pair of New Zealand mosques has climbed to 50 people, authorities there announced.

While the identities of the victims have not been released, the dead include a Syrian refugee and his teenage sons, a Pakistani academic and a goalkeeper on the national futsal team, CNN reports.

The man accused of carrying out the attacks, Brenton Harrison Tarrant, made a court appearance over the weekend, during which he flashed a white power symbol, the Daily Beast reports.

As authorities in New Zealand investigate the attack, a debate has already begun over whether it should lead to additional gun-control measures. On Monday, the country’s prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, said that her cabinet had agreed “in principle” on a package of new gun-control rules.

In the United States, former intelligence and national-security officials are questioning whether Western allies need to step up their intelligence-sharing efforts to include more information about white nationalist groups that are increasingly organizing online with disregard for national borders, the Washington Post reports.

The alleged gunman spent the run-up to the attack sharing information about the plot online, and appears to have been steeped in the online rhetoric of far-right groups. The shooter livestreamed the attack via Facebook and posted a sprawling manifesto immediately prior to the shooting, in what was a terrorist attack tailor made for the internet-era, FP’s Elias Groll writes.

Middle East

Iran. Iranian intelligence operatives are preparing so-called “target packages” to carry out assassinations and terrorist attacks in the event of war between the United States and Iran, Yahoo News reports. That claim comes from current and former U.S. intelligence officials and is detailed in a slew of recent indictments targeting Iranian intelligence operatives. Those cases include the former Air Force officer Monica Witt, who supplied information “used to prepare for assassinations of U.S. and Israeli intelligence personnel in Europe,” Yahoo reports.

Not just Khashoggi. More than a year before the killing of Jamal Khashoggi, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia authorized a secret campaign to silence dissenters, including the surveillance, kidnapping, detention and torture of Saudi citizens, The New York Times reports.

Course correction in Syria. The U.S. military is crafting plans to keep nearly 1,000 forces in Syria, U.S. officials said, a shift that comes three months after President Trump ordered a complete withdrawal and is far more than the White House originally intended, the Wall Street Journal reports.

In a rare statement, Gen. Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, denied the Journal story.

The memo. A newly declassified memo from the run-up to the Iraq war argued that “an effort to overthrow the regime in Baghdad could unravel if we’re not careful, intersecting to create a ’perfect storm’ for American interests,” the Wall Street Journal reports.

Gaza. Israeli armed forces carried out airstrikes in Gaza, wounding four. Israel said the strikes were in retaliation for rocket fire on Tel Aviv Thursday–which was the first time the city has come under fire since 2014.


Sundar, call your office. The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff accused Google of benefiting the Chinese military through its work on artificial intelligence in partnership with Chinese universities. “We watch with great concern when industry partners work in China knowing that there is that indirect benefit,” Gen. Joseph Dunford told Congress last week. “Frankly, ‘indirect’ may be not a full characterization of the way it really is, it is more of a direct benefit to the Chinese military.”

Amid intense scrutiny of Google’s work in China, analyst Elsa Kania has a good breakdown of Google’s relationship with Chinese research institutions.

Turmoil at big blue. Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg lost two key deputies as he seeks to integrate the company’s disparate services, the New York Times reports.

The next shoe to drop. American prosecutors are investigating whether Facebook may have broken the law by sharing customer data with other technology companies, the New York Times reports.

A new propaganda front. Users of Reddit, the online link aggregator and message board, say the platform is becoming increasingly inundated with pro-China propaganda, BuzzFeed reports. Comment threads on news critical toward China become inundated with pro-Chinese viewpoints, and stories that present the country in a negative light will often be downvoted en masse to ensure that they receive less attention.

Batten down the hatches. The U.S. Navy has recently declined to make public its flag officer assignments out of fear that the individuals will be targeted for cyber attack, USNI News reports.  

Defend forward. NSA Director Paul Nakasone, who also leads U.S. Cyber Command, told lawmakers last week that cyberattacks emanating from China, Iran, and North Korea are increasingly sophisticated and that the United States is taking increasingly aggressive action in response, the AP reports.

Secure the vote. The Defense Department’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency launched an effort to build a secure, open-source voting system that is aimed at improving the integrity of American voting infrastructure, Motherboard reports.

Back door. Researchers discovered a back door in Switzerland’s computerized voting system that would allow an attacker to modify votes, Motherboard reports.

Election meddling. A U.S. official told CNN that Russia attempted to interfere in the 2018 midterm election by targeting American elections systems.

Upping the ante. The United States told Germany that it will curtail the amount of intelligence it shares with its ally if Huawei is allowed to supply technology for the German 5G telecom system.

The upshot. American officials are placing intense pressure on allies to ban Huawei from its telecommunications networks, but that campaign is making little headway, the New York Times reports. “The United States is not ready to admit defeat, but its campaign has suffered from what foreign officials say is a scolding approach and a lack of concrete evidence that Huawei poses a real risk,” the paper reports. “It has also been hampered by a perception among European and Asian officials that President Trump may not be fully committed to the fight.”

Snowden. The investigating news outlet the Intercept announced that it is shutting down its database of leaked documents supplied by the whistleblower Edward Snowden. The outlet is seeking an academic or research institution to house the material.

The AI overlords. IBM used a huge set of images from the photo-sharing site Flickr to improve its artificial intelligence algorithms and annotated the images of human beings for facial geometry and skin tone, NBC reports.

State secrets. Attorney General Bill Barr invoked the controversial state secrets privilege to counter a lawsuit by Twitter seeking to make public additional information about government surveillance requests, Politico reports.

Beto was a hacker. Beto O’Rourke, the Texas Democrat running for president, was a member of the infamous hacking collective Cult of the Dead cow as a teenager, writing under the pseudonym “Psychedelic Warlord,” Reuters reports.


Special relationship. Boeing’s intermingled interests with the U.S. government are coming under new scrutiny, as the aerospace giant and U.S. regulators face criticism for appearing slow to react to the crash of a Boeing 737 Max 8 jet in Ethiopia.

Stonewalled. Sen. Chuck Grassley’s demand for Justice Department documents on its probe of possible links between the Trump campaign and Moscow has left William Evanina’s nomination to head the National Counterintelligence and Security Center in limbo for the past year, frustrating the nation’s top intelligence leaders and even some fellow Senate Republicans.

The Pentagon’s empty throne. A good number of people in the defense community thought this would be the week that Patrick Shanahan finally escaped the dubious distinction of being America’s longest-running acting secretary of defense. It was expected that President Donald Trump would officially nominate Shanahan to replace James Mattis as Pentagon chief on Friday. But that didn’t happen, Foreign Policy’s Lara Seligman reports.

Dogfight. The battle between Lockheed Martin’s F-35 and Boeing’s F-15EX is being fought by lobbyists in and around Congress, which is beginning to review the Pentagon’s fiscal 2020 budget request. Tens of billions of dollars are up for grabs over the coming decade.

Veto. President Donald Trump vetoed a congressional resolution that would have ended his national emergency declaration at the U.S.-Mexico border. The fight over Trump’s attempt to use military funds to build a wall at the border is now likely to head to the courts, Vox reports.

War over Yemen. The Republican-controlled Senate passed a measure to end U.S. support for the Saudi-led coalition’s war in Yemen, a resolution that will likely require a veto from President Donald Trump to maintain American involvement in the war.

U.S. Military.

‘A lost cause.’ Between Saturday night and early Sunday, the U.S. Air Force’s 55th Wing called off a 30-hour, round-the-clock sandbagging effort to stop the flooding at Offutt Air Force Base, the home of U.S. Strategic Command, because the floodwaters were rising too fast.

Grounded. The Air Force in February grounded 60 C-130H Hercules cargo aircraft after a review found their pre-1971 propeller blades could be susceptible to dangerous cracking and needed to be replaced.

‘Cyber siege.’ A U.S. Navy review concludes that the service and its contractors are under “cyber siege” and frighteningly ill-equipped to deal with a large volume of attacks on their digital infrastructure, the Wall Street Journal reports. The review “depicts a branch of the armed forces under relentless cyberattack by foreign adversaries and struggling in its response to the scale and sophistication of the problem.”

Arsenal ships. The U.S. Navy wants to build two large naval drones that will be packed with weapons and sensors, the Drive reports.

Cost plus 50. Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan said the Pentagon is not planning to bill allies for the full cost of stationing U.S. troops inside their borders and an additional 50 percent surcharge.


Caper. A dissident group known as Cheollima Civil Defense, which has as its aim to overthrow the Kim regime in North Korea, is thought to have been behind a daring raid of North Korea’s embassy in Spain, the Washington Post reports.

Crypto bros. North Korean hackers have stolen at least $571 million from cryptocurrency exchanges, CyberScoop reports.

State of diplomacy. With North Korean officials threatening the return of nuclear and missile tests, Washington’s diplomatic opening toward Pyongyang, premised on President Donald Trump’s personal rapport with his North Korean counterpart, faces renewed scrutiny. “While personality has often played a role in high-stakes diplomatic negotiations in the past—for better or worse—experts say successful negotiations depend just as much on professionals who carefully prepare the groundwork,” FP’s Robbie Gramer and Michael Hirsh write.  

War of words. Afghanistan’s top national-security official accused U.S. officials attempting to negotiate a peace agreement with the Taliban of attempting to undermine the country’s government and unseat its democratically elected president. Those negotiations are being led by former former U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad, and that has led to intense suspicion in Kabul of his role in the diplomatic opening. “Perhaps all of this talk is to create a caretaker government, of which he will then become the viceroy. We’re only saying this because this is the perception,” Hamdullah Mohib told CBS, referring to Khalilzad.  

Afghanistan. Some 22 Afghan troops are dead following an attack on checkpoints in Qaisar district, Al Jazeera reports. The attack caused some Afghan troops to cross into Turkmenistan seeking safety. The Taliban claimed to have captured 72 Afghan soldiers.

Friendly fire. An American airstrike destroyed an Afghan army base, killing six soldiers and wounding nine others, the New York Times reports.

Duterte’s drug war. The Philippines is set to leave the International Criminal Court amid scrutiny of the country’s stepped up policing of the country’s drug trade, AFP reports.

Myanmar. Amid intense scrutiny of Myanmar’s violent campaign against the country’s Rohingya minority, Facebook has banned a number of pages promoting violence and those belonging to armed groups. “But Facebook’s intervention has brought unintended consequences that have troubled humanitarian groups and conflict experts in Myanmar,” the New York Times reports.

“The bans, they say, have swept up pages crucial for protecting some of the country’s most vulnerable communities. And some worry that they will further tilt control of information about the conflict toward the military, which rights groups consider to be guilty of far graver atrocities than the rebels.”

Running interference. China blocked an attempt at the U.N. Security Council to designate the head of the terror group Jaish-e-Mohammed as an international terrorist, Bloomberg reports.

Skullduggery. A court in Malaysia dropped charges against an Indonesian women alleged to have taken part in the audacious killing of the brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, who was assassinated in a Jakarta airport using the nerve agent VX.


It’ll work this time! UK Prime Minister Theresa May is expected to put her controversial plan for her country’s departure from the European Union up for a vote in the House of Commons this week. The plan has already been voted down twice.

Should I stay or should I go? The perpetual drama of the UK’s departure from the European Union has leaders on the continent scratching their heads, the BBC reports. With EU leaders set to convene for a summit meeting on Thursday, descriptions of British politics are turning toward farce. Over the weekend, “Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte compared UK Prime Minister Theresa May to the Monty Python knight whose limbs get cut off in a duel, but insists to his opponent that the fight was a draw,” the BBC writes.

The returnees. France repatriated five children of French Islamic State fighters, France 24 reports. French officials said the children were orphans and that their parents had been killed. With the Islamic State all but expelled from its territorial holdings, European officials are grappling with whether to allow citizens from their countries who traveled to Iraq and Syria to fight on behalf of the Islamic State to return to their home countries.

Fort Trump? American officials have made what is being described as a “very serious robust offer” to Poland to build U.S. military base in the country, Defense News reports.

Better together. Germany’s two largest banks, Deutsche Bank and Commerzbank, confirmed rumors that they are in merger talks, DW reports. The German government has pressured the banks to combine after their share prices have experienced major slides.

Still at it. Yellow vest protesters rioted over the weekend in central Paris, setting fire to storefronts along the Champs Elysees. The protests are in their fourth month.


Guaido on tour. Venezuelan opposition leader and National Assembly head Juan Guaido said on Saturday he was launching a “new phase” in his push to oust President Nicolas Maduro, pledging to travel across the country before “reclaiming” the presidential palace.

Blackout. The blackout that plunged Venezuela into darkness for days this month shows how little has changed—and much has gotten worse—since 2016, as the country’s state electricity company Corpoelec suffers from a brain drain of experts, a lack of maintenance and years of rampant corruption.

China is offering Venezuela assistance and getting the country’s grid up and runnign again.

Coercion. Cuban doctors deployed to Venezuela to support that country’s medical system say that they withheld medical care from patients in order to compel them to vote for the Maduro regime in upcoming elections, the New York Times reports.

Meanwhile up north. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s political woes continue, with the premier expected to unveil a cabinet shuffle today amid continuing scrutiny of a corruption inquiry, CBC reports.


Mali attacks. At least 16 soldiers have been killed in a raid on an army camp in central Mali’s Mopti region, amid worsening violence in the African nation. Attacks by fighter groups has worsened almost every year since they first started in Mali in 2012 when rebel fighters and allied Tuareg rebels took over the north and advanced towards the capital Bamako, until a French-led intervention pushed them back the following year.

Algeria protests. Demonstrators crammed streets and squares in central Algiers after Friday prayers, many draped in Algeria’s red, green and white flag, demanding urgent change and an end to the rule of President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, who has been in power for 20 years. Reuters news agency said protesters numbered in the hundreds of thousands, describing the rally as the biggest since the start of the rallies last month.

Violence in DRC. A police officer was killed in DR Congo on Saturday as violence broke out after the crushing defeat of new President Felix Tshisekedi’s party in the previous day’s senate election.

Air war in Somalia. The United States’ new war in Somalia started with a small influx of 50 American troops in 2016 and has ballooned to 500, now spread across the country in small outposts and aided by thousands of forces from neighboring African countries including Kenya and Uganda.

Al Shabab inroads. For the past decade, the terrorist group has targeted marginalised communities along East Africa’s Swahili coast who share historical ties through Islamic culture and ancient trade roots. The group also targets vulnerable unemployed young people in Kenya’s underdeveloped North Eastern Province.

Elias Groll is a staff writer at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @EliasGroll

Lara Seligman is a staff writer at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @laraseligman

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