Iran, TikTok: Two pings on the war that’s in progress


These pings will be brief.  Things are moving quickly at the moment.  That doesn’t mean they’ll continue moving quickly.  The vicissitude aisle is always having a blue-light special.  But the OODA loop is tightening, and if that isn’t a recognized sign that the conflict is underway, it will be when this is wrapped for the history books.

Ping One: Iran and the Biden administration

Readers will be aware that Saudi Arabia and Iran recently effected a rapprochement in relations, brokered by China.  The Biden administration not only wasn’t disturbed by that; it seemed to point out that it had basically through of it first, offering a favorable view of such a prospect last year.

Fewer may know that the Saudis are also mending fences with the Assad regime in Syria.  This puts Riyadh on the opposite side of the Syria problem from Washington’s.

These consideration have to factor into any assessment of what Iran is doing now, as Iran-backed groups in eastern Syria mount multiple drone attacks – at least four in less than two days – on U.S. forces in the area.

It’s quite reasonable to conclude that Iran feels free to do this because the Biden administration has promptly accepted Saudi Arabia’s ground.-shaking realignment with Iran.

But there are more reasons for Iran to view U.S. power with diminished interest.

One is something General Mark Milley, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, said in a congressional hearing on Thursday.  Instead of vowing, in unadulterated language, that the U.S. would not allow Iran to get a bomb, he told Congress the Biden administration wouldn’t allow Iran to obtain a “fielded nuclear weapon.”

This sounds for all the world like Team Biden will tolerate a few warhead tests on the side, but draws the (new, shifted-goalpost) line at fielded weapons, stocked and ready for operational use.

That wording, of course, doesn’t occur in a historical vacuum.  The U.S. has been tolerating warhead tests (and rocket tests, and missile tests) from North Korea for years.  In fact, there’s little doubt at this point that North Korea has usable nuclear weapons.

So Iran can have in its mind’s-eye a picture of what it looks like to refrain from crossing a “fielded nuclear weapon” threshold with the United States.

Not only does Milley’s wording not leave Iran in doubt; it doesn’t even leave Iran confused.  “OK, do it Gangnam style and it’ll be fine.”

There’s another point to be made on this.  It’s arresting that Milley would testify to Congress in this altered language just at the time China has taken Iran on as a fence-mending client.  North Korea has benefited for decades from being China’s client – and benefited in this exact regard:  having the latitude to develop nuclear weapons.  The only interruption to that career of Chinese enabling was the brief period when Trump changed the “China” dynamic by going directly to Pyongyang.

Foreign policy mavens may eventually talk themselves around to the conclusion, but we can get to it with more dispatch here:  Iran (and indeed all of Asia) has reason to see China as a uniquely effective patron, specifically versus the United States.

But there’s a bit more.  The Biden administration is doing yet another thing at the same time.  It’s drawing down the U.S. force level in the Middle East below what’s sufficient to counter an Iranian move quickly.  (Don’t take my word for it; retired Marine Corps General Zinni, former CENTCOM commander, agrees.)  This is touted as rebalancing to Europe and the Far East, as the places to take the stand against Russia and China.

The proximate reason for reporting on that in the news is that we’re going to rotate an A-10 squadron into the CENTCOM theater to replace (not augment) some of the strike-fighters we’ve been keeping there for the last 30 years.

The A-10 is a tremendous weapon system; I’m a huge fan.  But you can’t send the A-10 into Iran, or anywhere else there’s a fight going on, for interdiction bombing.  (I’m even concerned about its survivability over time if used for workhorse response to ground threats against our troops in Iraq and Syria.  There’s a lot of comparatively modern air defense floating around the theater now.)

Iran can read the Wall Street Journal too.  Iran may not have had to read the Wall Street Journal; the likelihood is high that U.S. military planning is under intensive intelligence surveillance by most of Asia today.  It’s quite possible Tehran was aware of our drawdown plans weeks or months ago, before the American public heard about them.

So when Iran’s militias are ramping up attacks on our troops in Syria, it’s reasonable to deduce that the Iranian regime is doing this because it’s the regime’s highest priority, and the mullahs see an opportunity opened up by the extreme weakness exhibited by the United States.

Ping Two: The real problem with TikTok

All of the public debate about TikTok, including the questioning of TikTok’s CEO this week in Congress, is focused on TikTok’s well known profile as a “big-sucking-sound” data collector.

That is a valid concern, and it’s not to minimize it that I call another problem with TikTok the “real” problem.  Both problems are problems.  But one is largely generic and replicated across the infosphere with all of the FAANGS plus the rest of their little brothers and sisters.

The other is really freaking TikTok.  In a nutshell, it’s this.  TikTok users have all downloaded an app to their devices.  Those devices, via the app, are now connected to a CCP-controlled mothership.

Anybody can spy on you.  Apple, Google, Facebook – they all do it 24/7.  Spying is one problem here, and we’ve been giving it intense scrutiny.

But the problem we’re not looking at is weaponization of those millions of app-linked user accounts and their host devices.

What is an app?  It’s code, downloaded to your device.  Do you know what’s in every line of code downloaded in the TikTok package?  No, you don’t.  Maybe someone does, but it isn’t the average user, of whom there are tens of millions in the United States.

Could a CCP-controlled entity at some point send out malware to awaken lines of code that have been lying dormant in your account’s TikTok app memory for months or years?  Of course.  If there were a reason for you even to see an alert on that, it would just be couched as a software update.

What do you think the CCP could cause millions of devices in the U.S. to do, in such an exploit?

That’s a really good question.  But those devices are also connected to a lot of other things, such as your credit card and bank accounts, and even more basically, your web browser of choice, your telecom carrier, and – most basically of all – the nearest telecom access point for the device service.  The devices can be connected instantly to the 911 emergency system.  Think for a few minutes about the ways the connections of millions of users could be exploited.

(Consider, as a thinking aid, the dangers reported by military cybersecurity analysts attending surveillance drones bought from China.  The drones weren’t just passively taking in the data intentionally collected by their U.S. users.  They were apparently acting on remote “orders” to seek additional data – e.g., from police operating systems – and send it back to China.  If a Chinese mothership can remotely tell a device to execute such a command, it can tell it to perform even more active tasks, such as emitting signals or sounds, or attacking systems it has access to.  Your phone could be used in such a way by a remote command capability that was activated through your TikTok app.)

In a scenario like this, the CCP may care to some extent where you’ve been over the last week, and how you’ve been using your money or searching the web.

But what the CCP really cares about is where you are right now, and what transmitter or satellite you’re linked to.  The CCP isn’t as interested in you as it is in your device, and the “battlespace” characterization of all the data points – the “true-right-now” data points –  your TikTok account gives the CCP running access to.

This is how hybrid warfare will be fought.  TikTok, per se, in its basic function, doesn’t by itself give the CCP leverage in the hybrid battlespace.  TikTok on your device and millions of others’ – that’s what confers the leverage.  It’s because of all the other things you and your device are a moving hub for.

I heard a few days ago that some half of Americans are on TikTok.  That may be an overestimate, but say there are at least 100 million.  That’s 100 million accounts on devices walking around between Boston and San Francisco, potentially being set up for weaponization against the “Internet of things” and the Internet of Everything Else by the Chinese Communist Party.  I would suggest not dismissing the gravity of that.

Feature image:  The A-10 Thunderbolt II (the “Warthog”), photographed in a professional setting.


5 thoughts on “Iran, TikTok: Two pings on the war that’s in progress”

  1. The small US military presence, in Eastern Syria, is there to protect the theft of crude oil from Syria. They will have to leave. The body bags will fill up if the troops are not pulled out. They are surrounded on an island. The kindest comment I can make about Milley is he isn’t George Marshall. Very Best Regards OC.

  2. Well, I hope all the ‘huge’ benefits we’ve garnered from our ill-advised thirty-plus year sojourn into eastern Europe and the Middle East as the undisputed-exceptional-indispensable whatever, have been worth the trillions of dollars spent and owed, the collapse of our urban societies, and the impending disintegration of our alliances.
    I don’t see a (good)way outta this one. . .

  3. Obama’s Mid-East policy was to bring about the rise of the Islamic Republic of Iran simply to be a counterweight to America’s friendship with KSA. (A marriage of convenience at best.)

    Every president after he left office, also left DC. Until Obama, who bought a house in DC which seems to be his main residence (unlike his beach mansions which are supposed to be underwater by now, according to the global warming crowd.)

    This is his third term, with the purpose of diminishing America. He hates America, and our founding ideals. He, along with the WEF crowd, are fine with the rise of communist China and radical Islamist Iran. Fraudident Joe* is merely a puppet, content to be a mere baron, as long as he has his estates.

    Tik-Tok, et al., are at best the Big Brother surveillance state, with the ability to shut any disruptive person down.

  4. 1. The only reason that oil was developed in Saudi Arabia (at least when it was) happened as a result of the Dept of State all but forcing some oil companies to form a consortium and look for/develop oil there.
    2. If you think that sanctions on Iran have been effective, well it sure does appear that base oil (used to make lubricants) is being imported from Dubai but is mostly Iranian and just blended with Dubai base oil.
    3. Keeping Iran and Saudi Arabia in the same pot will be harder than herding cats. They hate each other, and Iranians hate all Arabs. Kissinger worked wonders to keep both Iran and SA as our allies at the same time in the 60’s/70’s.
    4. We really don’t need Middle Eastern oil any longer. We do want the keep the Straits of Hormuz open so that Europe can receive Qatari LNG, and the products from the two major GTL plants there, Pearl (Shell) and Oryx (Sasol), sulfur free base oil and diesel being the two many products. Qatar is also a source of Helium which we produce only a fraction of these days since Anadqrko formation gas field was depleted.
    5. Interesting on the A-10’s. A year ago I asked a friend who is a retired A-10 squadron commander in regards to using BRRRRT in Ukraine. Those planes were designed for one way mission with a chance of return vs. Commies in Europe. Their sturdiness was to get them to targets more than anything else. They have been successful in real live situations since 1991 but only after achieving air dominance with little chance of SAM’s being located (after being destroyed)

  5. Russia-backed Assad wants all the illegal occupiers out of Syria. Perhaps he lets Iran send a message to US? The real challenge is Erdogan, with UAE & Egypt applying pressure too.
    “Not an occupation” is not a serious statement.

    Ankara to Moscow: Our Military Presence in Syria Aimed at Fighting Terrorism. Friday, 24 March, 2023 […]Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar […] Days earlier, Akar had declared that Turkish military presence in Syria was aimed at combating terrorism and protecting Türkiye’s borders and Syria’s territorial integrity. The deployment is not an occupation, he stressed. […] Syrian President Bashar al-Assad had demanded the withdrawal of Turkish forces from northern Syria as a condition to meeting Erdogan as part of Russian-sponsored efforts to normalize ties between Ankara and Damascus. […]

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