JANUARY 2018 NEWSLETTER: WHAT IF...

JANUARY 2018 NEWSLETTER: WHAT IF...

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2017 saw a prevalence of political crises and unresolved disputes between countries. The war on terror continues to be fought both at home and abroad. We also saw record highs for the values of crypto-currencies. After such a year, what does 2018 hold? In Brasidas Group’s first newsletter of the year, we look at potential events or “grey swans” that could occur given the right circumstances.

Most articles discuss potential armed conflicts that could occur in various regions across the world. The situation on the Korean peninsula has worsened as both leaders swap insults and threats that could lead to armed, and potentially nuclear, conflict. The Middle East has also become a tinderbox as multiple countries and political organizations have put themselves in unwavering positions. The diplomatic crisis within the Gulf Cooperation Council member countries has been unresolved since June 2017 and threatens to lead to conflict in the absence of fruitful discussions. The U.S. decision to move its embassy to Jerusalem has also sparked anger in the region, as Palestinian leaders are determined to counter this change in the status quo. This could consequently spark another conflict between Israel and Palestinian militant factions.

Russia has also been the subject of intense scrutiny over its alleged interference in democratic elections, not just in the U.S. but in other Western countries. However, this could just be masking other aspects of Russia’s policy to destabilize the West via a potential encroachment of territory in the Baltic States as well as a pivot in policy towards Turkey, both of which are examined in our newsletter.

On the U.S. political front, President Trump continues to act unabashedly in handling domestic and international policymaking. As such, one only wonders what would happen if Trump were impeached and the world were to face a presidency under Vice President Mike Pence. Meanwhile, Europe is facing domestic and political challenges with right-wing political parties gaining traction and Brexit occupying the time of policymakers in Brussels. In the face of such issues, would Europe be capable of responding to a coordinated terrorist attack on several European cities by ISIS? Lastly, the growth in value of Bitcoin, particularly toward the end of 2017, has led to a proliferation of the world’s first crypto-billionaires. Can cryptocurrency mania lead to the development of the world’s first fiat crypto-currency? The above scenarios, though unlikely, are still possible. Brasidas Group, as part of its commitment to knowing tomorrow’s news today, examines the potential for such scenarios and their implications in shaping 2018.

Annual Cocktail in Belgrade

Annual Cocktail in Belgrade

Brasidas Group was pleased to host its annual cocktail in Belgrade on 8 December 2017, honoring our clients, partners, and employees. We were joined by representatives of some of the best known and most successful companies in Serbia, as well as representatives of both Serbian and international organizations. 

Brasidas opened its office in Serbia over three years ago and we consider this affiliate office a success story in every respect. 

This year was truly important for us, as we changed our organizational structure by creating an IT department dealing with deep web and dark net research in Belgrade. We believe that combining classic information gathering, which relies on human intelligence, with advanced IT technology is crucial in today's world. In this way, we are making a concerted effort to provide our clients with the most reliable, timely and accurate information out there. 

We also used the occasion to mark the ten-year anniversary of Brasidas Group, which now has a presence in the USA, Switzerland, and Serbia. Over the past decade, we successfully completed more than 2,000 projects in over 90 countries. It goes without saying that this would not be possible without close collaboration with our clients and partners, to whom we are most grateful. 

We spent a wonderful evening with our guests in Belgrade's Aeroklub and are looking forward to hosting them again in 2018.

Brasidas Team Members Capture First Place at DevTech Hackathon

Brasidas Team Members Capture First Place at DevTech Hackathon

Brasidas Group is pleased to announce that two of its team members, Dusan Mladenovic and Milos Radic, recently won first place in the Cloud & IoT Hackathon organized by DevTech in Belgrade. The hackathon took place in the offices of DevTech, a cloud strategy consulting company based in Novi Sad, Serbia.

The objective of the hackathon was to find solutions that would integrate Cloud, IoT (internet of things), and artificial intelligence (AI) in order to improve aspects of the average citizen’s daily life.  These specific aspects included the following: ecology; helping people with disabilities; and workplace safety. Participants had 48 hours to create a proof-of-concept solution and present it to the jury and other teams.  

All teams worked to create innovative and interesting solutions that have the potential to be developed further in order to truly help make people’s lives better. Dusan and Milos swept the competition with their ecology-related solution, adding a Bitcoin to their cache. Brasidas Group welcomes the initiative displayed by these two cyber analysts and is proud to support all employees in their extracurricular activities.

SEPTEMBER 2017 NEWSLETTER: Global Security Challenges

SEPTEMBER 2017 NEWSLETTER: Global Security Challenges

Security has become a shared global concern over the past decade, as it has become evident that no single nation has all the necessary resources to protect its citizens.  As such, the need for intelligence sharing is more vital now than in any other point in history.  Indeed, while technological advancements have brought the world closer together in the figurative sense, they have created new types of threats that can be launched remotely and have a devastating impact on entire societies. 

The Rise of Family Office Event in Luxembourg

The Rise of Family Office Event in Luxembourg

Brasidas Group AG attended the annual Luxembourg for Family Office event at Château de Septfontaines, held on 29 and 30 June 2017.

Themes of this event included the growing need for succession planning in family offices, wealth preservation for the next generation, with discussions centering around necessary elements for their successful implementation, including professional and high caliber staff a with clear understanding of long-term family office business strategy.  During the course of two days, various experiences and strategic views of family offices were exchanged, and the participants had the opportunity to learn more about social, ecological & environmental impact investing, geopolitical risk analysis, and risk mitigation, including security and fraud investigation.

Ms. Diana Diels, president of the Luxembourg for Family Office, opened the event with her talk “The Rise of Family Offices, the Rise is Still Ongoing,” during which she discussed the importance of preparation and planning for the preservation of family wealth over generations.

Her talk was followed by Mr. Eduard von Kymmel, Head of VP Fund Solutions, who introduced Reserved Alternative Investment Funds (RAIFs) to the audience and described the benefits that those funds bring compared to other types of funds.

The participants had the opportunity to learn more about circular economy and its impact on the ecosystem during the talk by Mr. Jeannot Schroeder, a partner at PROgroup. Mr. Schroeder discussed the economic and societal rationale for moving toward a more circular economy, as well as the importance of a complete overhaul in the way we think about recycling and reusability of materials.

Following Mr. Schroeder’s talk, Ms. Larissa Best shared her experience with leading and advising small- to medium-sized companies, which represent the backbone of the European economy. Ms. Best emphasized the importance of filling the financial gap extant in Europe and the USA for these types of enterprises for the growth of both economies.

Mr. Andrej Bastar, CEO of Brasidas Group AG, spoke about the significance of proactive risk mitigation for family offices during his talk “Hope for the Best, Prepare for the Worst: Proactive Risk Mitigation for Family Offices.”  Mr. Bastar emphasized that for family offices, proactive threat and risk assessments should be done on a regular basis and as a preemptive measure to mitigate risk.  His talk included examples of diverse client cases for family offices that Brasidas Group AG has successfully dealt with in the past, including blackmail, travel safety, and security; due diligence on fund managers; investments; and geopolitical risk mitigation.

Lastly, Mr. Christian Schattenmann, Fund Manager at Bamboo Capital Partners, presented the project of electrification in Africa. His talk, “Leapfrogging Energy with Smart Virtual Grid: How Data is Driving Electrification in Africa,” was centered on off-the-grid households, alternatives to grid electrification, solar energy, and data gathering throughout Africa.

The day ended pleasantly with a networking lunch, aimed at catching up with old friends and networking with new ones.

The First National Conference on Cyber Security – Partnerships for a Secure Cyber Space

The First National Conference on Cyber Security – Partnerships for a Secure Cyber Space

On 12 June 2017, Brasidas Group took part in a conference titled “The First National Conference on Cyber Security – Partnerships for a Secure Cyber Space” at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Belgrade. The event was organized by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), a security-oriented intergovernmental organization. The first public-private partnership in the cybersecurity domain in Serbia was announced at the event, with over 120 representatives of state institutions, the private sector, academia, and civil society organizations attending.

The event was opened by the State Secretary of the Serbian Ministry of Foreign and Internal Trade and Telecommunications, Tatjana Matic; the head of the OSCE Mission to Serbia, Andrea Oricio; General Manager of Microsoft for Serbia and Montenegro, Zeljko Vujinovic; and Director of the DiploFoundation, Jovan Kurbalija. The first three speeches stressed the importance of international cooperation between the public and the private sectors in making cyber space more secure.

DiploFoundation is a non-profit organization based in Malta, with offices in Geneva and Belgrade, focused on capacity development, especially in the area of internet governance. This organization has worked with the Geneva Centre for the Democratic Control of Armed Forces (DCAF) and the Petnica Science Center, located near Valjevo, Serbia, on creating a Serbian security platform “Nexus” under the auspices of the OSCE. Expanding on prior speeches, Mr. Kurbalija stressed the importance of what he facetiously called “beer-to-beer” networking. Speaking about cooperation on cyber security initiatives, he stated that the government needs to be close enough to support the private sector, but far enough to let them take the initiative.

This was followed by a lecture by Melissa Hathaway of the Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center. She highlighted several ideas, such as seeing investing in cyber security as a tax, as well as the interconnectedness of cyber security and actual security. Discussing channels of cooperation between the public and the private sectors on cyber security matters, Ms. Hathaway briefly discussed public-private partnerships, while pointing out the Israeli example as one that has proven to be especially effective. She underscored, however, that there is no “one-size-fits-all” solution and that Serbia has to design one based on its local conditions (e.g. the availability of talent).

Brasidas Group was pleased to take part in the conference and we remain devoted to helping promote developments in IT sector in Serbia.

US-Iranian Relations following the Iranian Presidential Elections - Too Early for Optimism

US-Iranian Relations following the Iranian Presidential Elections - Too Early for Optimism

On 19 May 2017, incumbent Iranian president Hassan Rouhani won reelection by an overwhelming majority over hardliner Ebrahim Raisi, possibly indicating a significant lean towards genuine reform in the country.  Although President Rouhani’s victory is encouraging with respect to Western relations, this should not be construed as a clear indication of U.S.-Iranian rapprochement.  Despite the Iranian population’s apparent lean toward reform, as evidenced by recent election results, the intentions of the country’s most influential political figure, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, remain unknown.   Khamenei is fully aware that opening Iran to the U.S. and the West can potentially call into question the future of the theocratic government and erode the authority of hardliners.  Furthermore, considering that Khamenei is 78 years old, a major concern lies in who will replace him and what the implications of this replacement will be for the country’s domestic and foreign policy.

Apart from hardliners, major concerns remain regarding the intentions of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), the autonomous branch of the armed forces in charge of guarding the legacy of the Iranian Islamic revolution.  Since the 1979 revolution, the IRGC has emerged as a center of political and economic power in Iran, as the organization has created a large commercial empire controlling most of the country’s economy.  Thus, there is reason to believe that opening up Iran to the West may potentially chip away at the IRGC’s power structure and control.  This is already becoming evident in recent privatization efforts led by Rouhani, intended to pay down corporate debts and steadily reduce IRGC interests in major Iranian enterprises.  However, reduced shareholdings resulting from these privatizations have not caused IRGC to completely relinquish its control over Iranian companies, despite its minority positions therein, as Iranian corporate ownership structures have and will continue being a convoluted system of grey eminence influence that the West cannot completely understand.  As such, the IRGC will likely continue following its mandate for preserving the Islamic Revolution through military and economic advancement at any cost, independently of the Iranian central government.

Since the end of the Cold War, there has been a strong anti-Iranian sentiment among U.S. Republicans, who have opposed any dialogue with Iran.  Most continue to staunchly oppose the Obama administration’s Iranian nuclear deal.  President Trump appears to act in line with this anti-Iranian sentiment as he has been against rapprochement with Iran and the nuclear deal since his campaign.  Also, unlike his predecessor, President Trump appears more focused on pro-Israeli and pro-Saudi policies--two of Iran’s main regional rivals, whose positions are equally threatened by the effects of U.S.-Iranian rapprochement.  This anti-Iranian stance was recently demonstrated on 20 May 2017, just one day after the Iranian elections, during President Trump’s incendiary speech in Saudi Arabia calling for Iran’s isolation.  Apart from this sort of rhetoric, there has not been a major move made against Iran by the new administration.  However, President Trump’s open support of Saudi Arabia and Israel may serve to break away the loosely held status quo.

Notwithstanding, despite their long history of hostility, the U.S. and Iran currently maintain many common interests, including the need to secure the flow of oil through the Persian Gulf, curbing the Afghan drug trade, and combating Islamic extremist groups such as ISIS, Al-Qaeda, and the Taliban.  The U.S. also understands that maintaining a positive relationship with Iran will help dissuade them from pursuing the development of nuclear weapons, as per the 2015 nuclear deal, though the IRGC must remain sanctioned and their activities closely monitored.  Reintroducing Iran to the West could help Europe lessen its oil dependency on Russia.  Moreover, could serve as an infrastructural, trading, and energy conduit to Azerbaijan and other Central Asian countries. 

Taking the above into account, the road to rapprochement will remain full of obstacles despite the positive election results in Iran.  Though the future is impossible to predict, starting a new phase of rivalry with Iran would deprive both the U.S. and Iran of significant economic opportunities.  Hostility with Iran resulting from U.S. policies could potentially isolate the latter, as none of the other major global players would support such policies insofar as they are implemented without any indication of Iranian aggression.  The E.U., Russia, China, India, Japan, and South Korea each have an interest in a successfully implemented nuclear agreement and expanding trade with Iran.  

Furthermore, perceived U.S. animosity toward Iran can risk pushing the country to strengthen relations with China and Russia, with which it already maintains a peculiar alliance in Syria.  The most dangerous scenario would involve Iranian public opinion shifting back to the control of hardliners due a rebirth of anti-American sentiment among the Iranian general population.  This could lead to the abandonment of the nuclear agreement and potentially drag the U.S. into a quagmire war with Iran. Given the delicate balance and potential grim scenarios, the need for stability between the U.S and Iran is now more important than ever.


Image Credit: Al-Jazeera 2017

100 Days of Trump - Quarterly Newsletter

100 Days of Trump - Quarterly Newsletter

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Dear readers, 

It has been 100 days since President Trump assumed office in the White House. In any presidency, these 100 days are generally characterized as a “honeymoon” period, during which the incoming president capitalizes on the momentum of his successful campaign, as well as the surge of popularity with his electorate in order to lay out his agenda. Throughout his electoral campaign, then-candidate Trump made many promises to the American people regarding his future agenda once in the White House. Indeed, within days of his inauguration, President Trump exercised his executive power, often in the form of executive orders, to institute changes and reverse policies from the previous administration, which is not uncommon for incoming presidents to do. 

However, sitting in the Oval Office firing off tweets about domestic and foreign policy is much different than firing contestants on his previous television show, The Apprentice. Keeping campaign promises is always difficult for a newly elected president; as such, in our first article, we examine whether President Trump can use his brash businessman style to deliver on his promises in the political arena of Washington, DC. 

President Trump entered the White House with a mandate to change the way government operates in Washington, DC. This strong message galvanized his supporters, who were looking for someone “anti-establishment,” a message that President Trump seized and ran with. Within days, President Trump started signing executive orders that would reduce business regulations, in line with his campaign promise to ostensibly improve America’s business environment. Whether these changes hurt or help the U.S. economy in the long-term is explored in our article regarding how these changes in the domestic economy will impact America’s standing in the global investment environment. 

In addition, President Trump had to endure setbacks in the formation of his cabinet. Several cabinet nominees underwent difficult confirmation hearings. Some were unable to keep their positions – for example, then-National Security Advisor Michael Flynn had to resign after less than a month in the position for misleading the administration regarding his communications with Russian officials prior to the presidential inauguration. One of the more interesting cabinet picks, however, has been that of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. With no prior experience in government or diplomatic affairs, President Trump’s selection for arguably one of the more important roles in the cabinet is examined in greater detail in our newsletter. 

During these 100 days, President Trump has had to familiarize himself with the ins and outs of the important role that America plays in the field of foreign affairs. He often campaigned with the promise of putting “America first” before other states’ interests. However, it has become clear that America’s interests, actions, and behavior are so intertwined with various international actors that it will be difficult for him to act solely on the basis of America’s interests, as promised. This conundrum is examined in greater detail, especially with respect to how his “America first” policy will affect relations with China. In addition, we raise questions about President Trump’s largely incoherent strategic policy towards China as well as a Middle East policy that similarly appears undefined and undelineated. 

Lastly, President Trump has raised ire through his executive order banning immigrants originating from six predominantly Muslim countries, as well as suspending the U.S. refugee program. Many citizens, organizations, and other countries decried the order, particularly in the context of human rights. Comparisons to President Trump’s immigration order are made to similar policies followed in European countries, thus bringing into question whether his immigration policies are indeed as radical as the media portray them to be. 

President Trump’s first 100 days have been beset by several policy stumbles and media distractions. However, in his eyes, there have also been many gains in the “win” column. Irrespective of his take on these supposed “successes,” his actions and decision-making have made it difficult for policy advisers, government leaders, and others to have a clear view of America’s strategic policy. What is certain is that President Trump has given us an interesting first 100 days to write about. One can only imagine what his presidency will bring over the next three years and eight months. 

We hope our readers enjoy our first newsletter of the year. 

The Brasidas Editorial Team 

Deep Web Hackathon: Hacking in the Dark

Deep Web Hackathon: Hacking in the Dark

Following the success of its conference, Deep Web Demystified: A Journey Through the Hidden Internet, Brasidas Group sponsored its first hackathon, titled Hacking in the Dark, at Belgrade’s StartIt Center on 31 March 2017. Eight teams participated in the 48-hour event with the objective of developing innovative solutions to address the challenges of gathering information from the Deep web and Darknet and turning this into actionable intelligence. 

Brasidas Group CEO Andrej Bastar and Chief of Global Research Anthony Iglesias formed part of the mentorship team that provided guidance throughout the event.  As Andrej explained to the teams at the event kickoff:

“Threats range from the acquisition and trade of illegally obtained Intellectual Property from technology companies, jihadist activities against oil and gas companies, and widespread fraudulent insurance claims made with stolen identities, among others.  Although penetration testers and systems administrators work tirelessly to establish defenses against these threats, even the best firewalls can be hacked.  The only solution is a proactive approach to monitor and identify threats before they happen, and turn information into actionable intelligence in order to maximize awareness and minimize risk.”

The teams worked tirelessly to develop solutions, such as combining big data and predictive analysis in order to identify potential triggers in global political and economic events; analyzing chatter that gives momentum to social upheavals (e.g. the Arab Spring); and engaging in sentiment analysis to see where markets may be moving.  These teams worked toward the ultimate goal of identifying information today, before it becomes a headline in tomorrow’s news.  Plenty of energy drinks, snacks, and catered meals were on hand, as well as comfortable sofas and pillows, in order to ensure that the teams had everything they needed to work on their solutions throughout the event. 

At the end of the hackathon, eight impressive solutions were presented by the teams, ranging from geotagging dark net websites, creating machine learning tools that analyze forum chatter, to tracking Bitcoin transactions in the Deep web and creating a mobile app to search the Darknet.  The jury, made up of industry experts and Brasidas Group members, was duly impressed, and agreed that the most difficult part of the event was choosing a winner. After difficult deliberation, Team Satoshi Corp. won the hackathon with a modular solution that would allow for monitoring forums, tracing Bitcoin transactions, and searching the Deep web.  Teams Sudo and 515 walked out with second and third place, respectively.

Brasidas Group will be working with select members from the winning teams in our efforts to develop a full-fledged platform that will be able to search the Deep web,  helping identify potential threats to clients. As Brasidas Group COO Christian Ruehling stated:

“Our goal is to develop a competitive advantage with the development of innovative approaches to the deep web research. We truly believe in the IT sector in Serbia and its potential, and we will continue investing in the sector through numerous activities planned in the future with our partner, StartIt Center.”  

Brasidas Group would like to thank its partners at Startit Center, without whom this event would not have been as successful as it was.

We firmly believe that the value of intelligence gathering is in the combination of human and cyber intelligence, and we look forward to helping bring the two closer together to better serve our clients.

 

About Brasidas Group AG

Brasidas Group AG is an independent, international business intelligence and risk assessment consultancy headquartered near Zürich, Switzerland, and with offices in Belgrade, Serbia and New Jersey, U.S.A. The group offers premium, customized services that are based on tenets of discretion, reliability, and timeliness in delivering actionable information. Brasidas Group specializes in providing public and private sector clients with business intelligence and risk assessment solutions for effective strategic planning in the international marketplace, leveraging proven research methods and strong human intelligence capabilities supported by the enabling of technology platforms. It offers clients a competitive advantage by placing a strategic information-gathering network at their disposal. With these resources on hand, clients are able to make informed decisions with confidence. Most importantly, Brasidas Group operates with complete discretion, as maintaining the privacy and confidentiality of clients and sources is a priority.

 

 

Russian-Turkish Rapprochement - Tactical Maneuver or Strategic Partnership?

Russian-Turkish Rapprochement - Tactical Maneuver or Strategic Partnership?

Russia and Turkey are restoring their ties following months of crisis over the downing of a Russian aircraft by Turkey over Syria in November 2015.  The relations between these two countries subsequently deteriorated, and Moscow imposed a number of sanctions on Turkey, suspending the visa-free travel regime for Turkish citizens, restricting the import of certain Turkish products, and banning charter flights.  In June 2016, Turkish President Erdogan apologized and expressed regret for the downing of the Russian bomber in a letter addressed to Russian President Vladimir Putin.  This has initiated a Russian-Turkish rapprochement, leading to Erdogan and Putin meeting in August 2016 in Saint Petersburg.