The Memo: 28 May—2 Jun 2024

The Memo from 28 May—2 Jun 2024: Summary of incidents, ranging from terrorism, covert actions, organised crimes to cybersecurity incident.

The Memo: 28 May—2 Jun 2024

In brief:

  • Philippines intensifies efforts against long-running Maoist insurgency.
  • Military assaults on Dawlah Islamiyah prompt evacuations; BIFF surrenders.
  • Police neutralised two suspects in a Tanjung Malim shootout.
  • China warns of foreign espionage targeting its rare-earth industry.
  • Mossad pressured ICC prosecutor to obstruct Israel war crimes charges.
  • Hackers linked to China target military and government networks.

Terrorism and insurgency

  1. The Philippines

i. Two Army soldiers were wounded, and various guns and war items were seized in two gunbattles in Balbalan town, Kalinga province, on Friday, May 31. The clashes with the New People’s Army (NPA) rebels occurred in Barangays Balbalan Proper and Balantoy. The military seized an M14 Armalite rifle, a Springfield rifle, assorted guns, two improvised explosive devices (IEDs), blasting devices, and personal belongings. In Balantoy village, soldiers seized an M16 Armalite rifle, a backpack, an IED, blasting caps, medicines, anti-government documents, and personal items.

Why it matters: The Philippine Maoists, Asia's longest-running communist insurgency, appear to be on the defensive as Manila intensifies counter-insurgent operations and development initiatives. The latest skirmishes highlight the persistent conflict between the Philippine military and the New People’s Army (NPA), the military wing of the outlawed Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), which has been rebelling against Manila since 1969.

ii. The military launched air and ground assaults against suspected Dawlah Islamiyah terrorists in Maguindanao del Sur, prompting residents to evacuate. Strikes involved helicopter gunships and artillery, causing about 50 families to flee. The operation targeted local terrorist groups, reportedly killing a sub-leader and recovering firearms. Recently, eight BIFF members surrendered, turning over weapons due to intensified military pressure and difficult living conditions.

Why it matters: The recent kinetic operations demonstrate continuous efforts to dismantle terrorist groups like Dawlah Islamiyah and BIFF, linked to IS. The capitulation of militants under escalated operational pressure indicates that protracted military engagements are successfully degrading these groups' operational capacity and morale. However, the application of force in complex environments may lead to unwanted collateral damage.

Organised Crimes

1. Malaysia

Police neutralised two armed suspects in a shootout at Tanjung Malim rest stop on the North-South Expressway. The suspects, pursued by Bukit Aman and Perak police, fired at officers, prompting return fire. Both men were found dead in the vehicle. Authorities were still searching for six additional suspects.

Why it matters: The pursuit and exchange of gunfire likely indicate that the suspects were assessed as high-threat individuals, potentially linked to organised crime or other high-risk activities. This incident likely represents a high-stakes police operation aimed at targeting suspects involved in serious criminal activities.

Covert Actions

i. China

China's Ministry of State Security warns that foreign espionage agencies are targeting its rare-earth industry, committing acts of theft and sabotage that threaten national resource security. The ministry vows to enhance security measures to protect this strategic sector. Despite possessing the world's largest reserves and dominating global supply, China's rare-earth industry faces significant espionage, with foreign entities using various methods to acquire sensitive information and technology. This ongoing intelligence threat compels China to prioritize the high-quality development and secure management of its rare-earth resources.

Why it matters: The espionage accusations and counter-claims of environmental damage and sanctions will likely exacerbate tensions between China and Western countries. China's dominance over the rare-earth market underscores the strategic competition for these critical resources, which are essential for advancing technology and sustainable practices.

ii. The ICC

Mossad director Yossi Cohen allegedly pressured ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda to abandon a war crimes investigation into Israel. Cohen's covert operations, authorised at a high level, involved intimidation and attempts to compromise Bensouda. Despite these efforts, the ICC pursued charges, highlighting Israel's intense efforts to obstruct the court's activities.

Why it matters: In today's age of precarious surveillance and security, states infiltrating tribunals should not come as a surprise. The actions of a state intelligence agency attempting to influence or intimidate an ICC prosecutor undermine the principles of international justice and the rule of law. This case highlights the worrying impact of potential coercion or intimidation on international legal bodies, affecting future investigations and jeopardising the safety of legal officials worldwide.

Significant cybercrime and security issues

i. South China Sea

Hackers target military and government networks for espionage, aiming to collect intelligence and disrupt critical infrastructure. Bitdefender Labs' analysis of cyber-attacks on South China Sea organisations suggests a new threat actor likely linked to China, using techniques like Gh0st RAT and spear-phishing.

ii. Global

COFENSE researchers discovered hackers weaponising Microsoft Office documents to deploy malware, exploiting features like macros and Python scripting. Malicious actors use embedded links, QR codes, and VBA macros to deliver phishing and malware. Despite Microsoft's security updates, these tactics continue to threaten businesses.

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