Bulletin From The Borderlands
01 May 2023
Note from Lethal Minds:
Bulletin From The Borderlands is a joint project between Lethal Minds and some of the most talented OSINT analysts and independent journalists working today. Our goal is to provide you with a clear, accurate, and informative view of the world, free from censorship or bias. The Bulletin will bring you the facts, our analysis, and our evidence. We hope you find our work helps you better understand the complicated and increasingly volatile world in which we live.
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The Bulletin Team:
Kitbag Conversations : A team of retired Marine and Army Intelligence analysts and the founders of the Croatoan Report and Kitbag Conversations, foreign policy and security affairs podcasts. The Team Leader for Bulletin From The Borderlands.
Analyze Educate : Brodie Kirkpatrick (Analyze & Educate) is a Marine Corps infantry veteran. He attends San Jose State University and is pursuing a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science. He runs Analyze & Educate, a podcast and associated social media pages discussing geopolitics, armed conflicts, news, and history. In his capacity with Lethal Minds he is the assistant lead for the Bulletin From the Borderlands, Americas Desk chief, and an editor.
Meridian News : Meridian News is a project dedicated to sharing and aggregating open source intelligence, stories from individuals experiencing history, and amplifying underreported global news.
Sino Talk : Sino Talk is China watcher with extensive experience living and studying in China. In another life, he was a Marine intelligence analyst.
The Expeditionary Intelligence Group : The Expeditionary Intelligence Group Instagram page is a project delivering flash news utilizing open-source intelligence combined with human asset contributions and geographic intelligence to provide the general public with objective bias-free global news that tells the whole story based on the facts and on-the-ground insights they feel are missing from a lot of mainstream news reporting.
S2 Forward : A serving US Marine and Intelligence analyst, S2 Forward is focused primarily on the Mid East and Central Asia.
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In This Issue:
The Americas :
The Americas: Covered in this issue by Brodie Kirkpatrick (Analyze & Educate).
Haiti’s gang problem comes into the light as a group of civilians engage in vigilante justice in Port-au-Prince. Latin America is moving away from the United States and towards Russia and China. This movement has been led by a group of left-wing populist leaders that have come to power in recent years. Lastly, the Department of Justice charges 44 people in connection to the operation of a Chinese overseas “police station”.
Europe : Ukrainian and Russian forces are still fighting for the city of Bakhmut, with Russian military and Wagner forces gaining little ground at immense cost. Ukrainian military units made a series of tactical retreats from some outlying areas of the city due to Russia’s renewed assaults to take the city and difficulties in supplying units in these areas. However, Ukrainian forces appear to still hold the city’s western districts even though Russian artillery units subjected the area to ‘severe bombardment for at least two days. Senior Ukrainian military officials also stated that Russian forces resorted to the destruction of entire buildings or city blocks due to constantly losing street battles with Ukrainian forces. British intelligence said the renewed assaults is the result of improved cooperation between the Russian military and the Wagner Group. The Russian defense ministry released a statement that Wagner Group fighters captured two more districts on the northern and southern outskirts of the city. However, Wagner forces appear to be the main effort in a renewed assault on the city center with Russian paratroopers relieving and supporting them on the city’s flanks. Various sources indicate Russian and Wagner forces control between 50 percent to 80 percent of Bakhmut, although the veracity of some of the sources cannot be independently verified. Russian officials stated the capture of Bakhmut will enable its military to conduct future offensives deeper into Ukraine. However, both Ukrainian and several western defense officials said Bakhmut now only holds symbolic importance due to the ongoing battle.
In France, the largest anti government protests in decades have rocked the Macron government during a continued conflict over the retirement age. In Belgium, security forces have conducted a series of raids against individuals suspected of terrorist activities, and in Ukraine, Chinese parts are increasingly being discovered in Russian military equipment.
East Asia and Oceania:
In Northeast Asia, Taiwan is in the early stages of the 2024 presidential elections, with the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) choosing Daniel Lai as their candidate. However, the Kuomintang is still in the process of selecting their candidate, with billionaire Terry Gou and New Taipei Mayor Hou You-yi being the most viable candidates. China continues to conduct significant number of aircraft flights in and around Taiwan—to include flying the TB-001 UAS around the island, indicating the drone’s long-range capabilities. South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol visited Washington D.C., where U.S. President Biden promised to allow South Korea to have more insight into nuclear planning and to deploy nuclear submarines to the country. South Korea also pledged not to pursue a nuclear weapons program of its own even though the idea is very popular among the country’s population.
Within Southeast Asia, the Philippines and the United States finished conducting Balikatan exercise. The United States deployed and used Patriot Air Defense, HIMARS, and Javelin Anti-Tank Guided Missile systems for the first time during the exercise as way to increase the Philippines ability to defend its territory. The exercise comes as the Philippines is concerning to allow more bases under the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement to provide ‘360-protection.’ Thailand also received its newest LPD, the HTMS Chang – a Type 071E LPD – from China. While the LPD would increase Thailand’s ability to conduct amphibious operations, it does show Thailand’s increasing reliance on China for military equipment.
In the Oceania region, the Australian Defense Minister recently said that economic coercion is a bigger threat to the country than invasion. The comments come after Australia released its Defense Strategic Review, which said its defense ally, the United States, is no longer the unipolar power in the region. Leaders of Pacific Island nations are watching the outcome of ongoing congressional debate regarding foreign aid to see if the Pacific Partnership Strategy will be fully funded.
Bangladesh and Japan also increased their relationship to a strategic partnership to enable Japan to deepen its relationship with the country. The new government of Nepal pledged they will prioritize enhancing its relationships with China and India to balance between both regional powers.
Central Asia and the Mid East:
Over the past week, the United States confiscated an oil tanker reportedly transporting Iranian oil - Iran responded in kind by seizing an oil tanker heading for Houston, Texas. The oil tanker seized by Iran, however, belongs to China which was under lease to Turkey. This provides China the opportunity to negotiate peace between Iran and the United States.
Since the release of the last bulletin, all eyes have been on Sudan as shortly after the release intense fighting broke out between the government forces and the Rapid Security Force. This fighting has further exacerbated Sudan’s domestic issues such as the displacement crisis, access to essential services, etc. Many have begun to speculate that the fighting and tactics deployed by the RSF could be signaling a possible coup within the nation, prompting many in the international community to green-light evacuation operations for the embassy and other government personnel. The Lethal Minds Journal plans to provide special coverage on the situation on top of what’s included in this month’s bulletin as the situation continues to develop.
The Big Points:
The Highlight: The House Is On Fire And The Emperor Has No Clothes
Africa has stepped back into civil conflict this week, with a spiraling civil war in Sudan, and with a resumption of fighting between two of Ethiopia’s major ethnic groups. Asia has stayed in full swing, with China testing out a blockade of Taiwan, and the US and the Philippines running their largest joint exercise to date. In Ukraine, Yevgehni Prigrozhin (the head of Wagner Group) has made a series of statements online demanding ammunition from the Russian government. According to Prigrozhin, Russian forces in the region are short of ammunition and will soon have to withdraw or face destruction. This flies in the face of a recent propaganda “visit” by Putin to Ukraine, where the president of the Russian Federation was assured that Russian forces were making great successes in turning around recent battlefield failures.
Chinese political police have been arrested for running a secret police station in downtown Manhattan. Investigation by the US Department of Justice has revealed several other illegal police stations across the US.
Iranian troops seized a Chinese cargo vessel en route to the US in the Persian Gulf.
Japan’s government is preparing legislation to open up its arms industry for foreign export.
Wagner forces have been documented supplying arms to militias in Sudan.
Stuck Between Gangs & An Unelected Government
Last Monday, an unusual scene occurred in Port-au-Prince, Haiti where a crowd of civilians killed a group of gang members that had been detained by police. A widespread gang issue has plagued the capital city. This incident is a perfect display of the lack of the rule-of-law in terms of both gang and vigilante violence in Haiti.
Haiti’s Gang Problem
Haiti’s issue with criminal organizations comes amid the backdrop of a political crisis. The country lost 10 of its 30 senators in January, who represent 11 million people. The country’s prime minister and president, Ariel Henry, assumed both roles after the assassination of President Jovenel Moise in 2021. This is the first time Haiti has been without elected representatives since 1986. The assassination of Moise was a major event in Haiti and has not yet been resolved, despite many suspects being indicted. Many have also accused Henry of playing a role in the killing.
Taking advantage of all the chaos, Haiti’s gangs have been able to thrive. Roughly 200 gangs exist in the country, with half of them in the capital city. Individual gangs typically number in the hundreds and control about 60% of Port-au-Prince. Gangs act as de facto governments in the areas they control and engage in crimes such as extortion, kidnapping, and drug trafficking. Haitian politicians are known to be affiliated with many of the larger gangs as well. One incident in September 2022 saw the G9 gang, one of the most powerful in Haiti, seize Port-au-Prince’s main fuel depot and key highways. The Haitian National Police (PNH) weren’t able to retake the terminal for two months.
Clashes between gangs and with security forces are common. A wave of violence between gangs from February 27th-March 9th left over 187 people killed. Members of the PNH routinely fight with gangs in the country, although the police are not making much progress against them. There are also the issues of corruption amongst law enforcement and police gangs, street gangs made up of law enforcement officers.
On April 24th, PNH officers stopped and searched a minibus in the neighborhood of Canape-Vert. They seized multiple weapons and detained over a dozen gang members. At this time, civilian vigilantes were able to capture the detained gang members and burned 13 of them to death as the police officers watched.
This willingness to fight gangs may be an emerging trend in Port-au-Prince. A resident uf Canape-Vert told the Associated Press that “[the neighborhood’s residents] are planning to fight and keep their neighborhood clean of these [gang members]”. Throughout the year, multiple cases of civilians lynching gang members have been reported as well1.
Moving Away From the West
In recent months, we have seen some Latin American governments move away from the United States. This movement has been led by leaders of the “pink tide”, a political wave in Latin America that sees countries coming under the leadership of left-wing populist politicians. A consequence of the region moving away from the United States is the deepening of ties with China and Russia. One key player to observe is Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and his advocacy for BRICS.
What Is BRICS?
BRICS is an economic alliance that was formed in 2009. First coined by economist Jim O’Neil, the acronym stands for the alliance’s five member states: Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa, which joined in 2010. O’Neil believed that by 2050, these five countries would collectively dominate the world economy. As of 2022, the alliance accounted for 40% of the world’s population, 25% of global GDP, and 70% of global GDP growth. BRICS is typically placed in competition to the G7, another forum comprising the world’s seven largest IMF advanced economies.
The group became a subject of conversation after the Russian invasion of Ukraine early last year. After the United States and EU sanctioned Russian energy exports, those exports were re-directed towards China, India, and (to an extent) Brazil at a discounted price. The imposition of heavy sanctions on Russia after the invasion led some nations operating outside of the G7, NATO, or EU to fear Western sanctions as well. Membership in BRICS is seen by some as a hedge against sanctions and this has likely played a role in 19 other nations expressing some sort of interest in joining the alliance. Also worth noting is the fact that last year, China invited 13 countries to BRICS, including Argentina. Indonesia, Nigeria, Thailand, and the UAE.
Looking Towards the East
Since taking office on the first day of 2023, Brazilian President Lula, as he is commonly known, has led Latin America in slowly moving away from the US dollar. Lula has stepped up his criticism of the dollar’s hegemony. He recently stated that every night he lies in bed and wonders why the world is committed to keeping the dollar as the reserve currency. In March, he signed a deal with China that established bilateral trade with their respective currencies, the Real and the Yuan, instead of the US Dollar. This will account for $150 billion worth of trade between Brazil and China each year.
Lula has also been a critic of the International Monetary Fund (IMF). He has accused the bank of “asphyxiating” developing nations by forcing them to cut spending as a condition to receive bailout loans. One particular example of this in the region is Argentina. He has suggested that BRICS’ lender, the National Development Bank, is the avenue in which to cease reliance on the IMF. It is partially because of this, and his dislike of the dollar hegemony, that he has called for the creation of a BRICS trading currency. He stated that the proposed currency would function similar to the Euro.
Brazil’s neighbor Argentina has likewise agreed to pay for Chinese imports in yuan. The country, under President Alberto Fernández, is facing year-on-year inflation of over 100% for the first time in 30 years. Fernández is a Peronist and has used that ideology to try and combat inflation, with little success. Peronism is an Argentine political ideology named after former president Juan Perón that has been described as a blend of nationalism, laborism, and populism.
The move to trade in yuan comes as Argentina is facing a shortage of US Dollars, a supply of which is crucial to keeping the economy afloat. According to the deal signed between Argentina and China, the former paid the yuan equivalent of $1.04 billion for Chinese exports in April. Beginning in May, it will pay the yuan equivalent of $790 million each month2.
DoJ Indicts Chinese Operatives in New York
Last month, the US Department of Justice announced charges against dozens of people linked to China’s national police force, the Ministry of Public Security (MPS). The charges revolve around activities allegedly committed by the defendants on behalf of the Chinese government. This has highlighted Chinese government operations overseas, particularly through illegal “police stations” in other countries.
Overseas Police Stations
The Chinese government began to operate overseas “police stations” in 2016. The main purpose of these outposts is to spy on members of the Chinese diaspora around the world. The stations also attempt to get certain Chinese citizens to “return home”. Typical targets of these efforts are criminal suspects or dissidents, and their families still living in China are sometimes used as leverage by MPS operatives. Other methods used by these police stations include detention and imprisonment. Last year, an official from the MPS announced that 210,000 Chinese citizens were persuaded to return to the country to face criminal investigations in 2021.
Human rights group Safeguard Defenders first drew attention to these outposts in 2022. The group identified 102 overseas police stations in 53 countries. This includes the United States, the United Kingdom, Italy, France, the Netherlands, and Canada. One of the first in the United States was in Lower Manhattan. The station was set up above a noodle shop by America ChangLe Association NY Inc., a non-profit that had its tax-exempt status revoked by the IRS.
The outposts are called “police overseas service stations” by the personnel that staff them. However, the government in Beijing has categorically denied their existence. According to Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin, “The relevant claims have no factual basis, and there is no such thing as an overseas police station”.
On April 17th, the DoJ charged 44 people in connection to the Lower Manhattan police station and its activities. Of those charged, 40 are police officers from the MPS, two are officials with China’s Cyberspace Administration, and two are US citizens. 34 of the MPS officers belonged to a unit called “912 Special Project Working Group”. The two Americans were identified as “Harry” Lu Jianwang, 61, and Chen Jinping, 59. They are both top officials in America. ChangLe and were arrested at their homes in New York. They were charged with conspiring to act as agents of the Chinese government and destroying evidence related to the investigation. The other 42 persons charged are accused of targeting US residents of Chinese origin that hold political beliefs contrary to the ideology of the Chinese Communist Party through a “transnational repression scheme”. They allegedly used fake social media accounts to harass and intimidate their targets. All of the 42 Chinese government agents are believed to be residing in China or elsewhere in Asia and are still at large3.
Haiti will continue to be plagued by multiple simultaneous crises: gang violence, political chaos, starvation, and economic ruin. The unelected government has proven itself unable to solve any of these issues. The acting president has lobbied foreign governments and the UN for assistance, but the outside world is reluctant to act. This is a consequence of prior foreign interventions that had tragic results. The pink tide will continue to lead Latin America away from the broader West and towards the arms of the East. It is not unlikely that we will see more nations follow the examples of Brazil and Argentina by trading in Chinese Yuan. Additionally, China will continue its activities through overseas “police stations” in the United States and elsewhere. However, multiple Congressmen are beginning to draw attention to the issue. The House Select Committee on the Chinese Communist Party will lead the charge in Congress; but their effectiveness in combating these activities by China remains to be seen.
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