The following story was written by Major Matt Cavanaugh, a U.S. Army Strategist currently assigned as an Assistant Professor teaching military strategy at the U.S. Military Academy. This piece is a featured entry from the Art of Future Warfare project’s “Great War” war-art challenge that called for a fictional front-page style dispatch from the outbreak of the next major global conflict.
“Fear Paralyzes Pacific as Army Major Awaits Hearing”
The New York Times, pages A1, A3
Tuesday, August 8, 2023
By Jeffrey Gettleman
With reporting by Kyle Somerset in Sydney, Stephen Kearney in Wellington, Nellie Sibbitts in Singapore, and Jack Shapiro in Boston.
Even with Global Gabriel, Army Maj. Morgan Maltz could not have foreseen this.
Maltz is currently in military custody, awaiting his second appearance before a military judge, following Saturday night’s Federal Bureau of Investigation raid on his home in Crystal City, Virginia. He is likely unaware that his alleged treason and espionage has put the Pacific region on pause; millions of Hawaiians, Australians, New Zealanders and other islanders have been forced into protective measures unseen in over eighty years. Sources within the Pentagon have confirmed that Maltz faces charges for passing unprecedented amounts of top-secret data to either the Chinese or Israeli government, from Global Gabriel, an advanced artificial intelligence software program and military strategic decision-making tool. Though the leak appears to have taken place over several months, it is believed that some of the information obtained the Global Gabriel data theft is connected to Thursday’s alleged Chinese attack on the Defense Department’s Global Information Grid near Guam. After this attack and other recent hostile remarks between the Chinese and US governments, US military forces in the Pacific, commanded by Gen. Robin Melvin, are on their highest alert. A Pentagon official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss classified matters, has confirmed that the US is considering continuous combat air patrols for Pacific Air Forces based on Guam for the duration of the crisis. Multiple sources, including Xinhua-Al Jazeera, are reporting the Chinese Second Artillery Corps stands on full alert with missiles capable of accurately ranging the entire Pacific. This has paralyzed the Pacific since it was first reported on Saturday; the region is putting life on hold. Schools are cancelled in Honolulu; Canberra and other major cities in Australia are rehearsing air raid-style drills for the first time since 1942. John Brumby, long time President of the Australia China Business Council in Sydney is “more worried than Hong Kong 2016.” The government of New Zealand has even created a public service video on “what to do in the event of a missile strike” and declared a temporary suspension of the Wellington earthquake cleanup and capitol relocation to Auckland.
“Quiet, but not a loner”
Little is known about Maj. Morgan Maltz. His sister, reached for comment, said, “I can’t believe that my brother could have done this,” and “the rush to call him a loner and traitor is just wrong. He may be quiet, but not weird and certainly not a traitor.” Maltz is a 2005 gradate of West Point and played tight end on the football team. He fought as a field artillery officer in the 2007 “Surge” in Iraq, and twice in Afghanistan which public records indicate earned him three Bronze Stars in all. He changed his job in the Army in 2012 to become a “Strategist,” which is a senior staff officer. An article in the Fayetteville Observer in October 2016 briefly records an alcohol-related car crash near Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Maltz’s Facebook page records that he was passed over for promotion to Lieutenant Colonel in 2021 and that he is divorced. Despite these career and personal setbacks, Maj. Maltz changed his Army job in June 2022 to the newly formed “Information Strategist” corps, an offshoot of the Strategist career field, which the Army created to address the growing importance of Big Data, public media, and individual information to support military operations; the field apparently draws on recent academic interest in humetrics, at the nexus of the “advanced quantified self” movement, behavior psychology and economics, sociology, and technology. This placed Maltz onto the support staff of the Chairman of the Joint Chief’s Global Gabriel artificial intelligence system, a Defense Advanced Research Project that supports national security decision-making by producing sophisticated, real-time wargaming assessments, and which leverages access to both secret and publicly available humetric data. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Grace Hughes recently provided her first testimony on the system: “We are one useful step closer to really knowing, and anticipating, our enemies, and the American people should feel more secure.” It was early this year, in this role with Global Gabriel, that Maltz learned he was scheduled to lose his job with the Army in the summer of 2024, one year before achieving full 20-year military retirement eligibility. Military prosecutors appear convinced this was the motive that pushed Maltz to commit treason and espionage, both of which carry the death penalty in the military legal system.
Information leak leads to Pacific grid attack?
Although details are still murky, Maltz’s actions appear connected to last Thursday’s destruction of the US fiber optic cabling network hub under the Pacific Ocean, roughly 10 nautical miles from Guam. The single explosion shut down a significant amount of US military information, including central Pacific command communications. Though the Chinese government officially denied involvement, sources inside the State Department confirm the US believes that Chinese agents posing as fishermen and using high-tech submersibles were responsible for planting the explosives. An unidentified individual using the Twitter account @US_Gov_Lk posted images on Saturday claiming to be secret US State Department cables that identify the perpetrators as Chinese People’s Liberation Army special operations forces. Pentagon sources allege these explosives were likely planted several months ago and relied on remote detonation.
US President Shannon Kent, convening a hasty press conference aboard Air Force One, said that the harm to US military capabilities and threat to Americans and allies “will not stand.” He stressed the US would withhold action until he personally discussed the situation with his Chinese counterpart, yet would continue the “sharpest economic pressure” the United States has mobilized to date. Experts have taken to calling this option the “total economic blockade” or “TEB” for short. The US Congress voted Friday afternoon to support President Kent’s instantaneous seizure of Chinese-national funds. US Secretary of State Taylor Strobel, speaking from an emergency meeting of affected nations of the Trans-Pacific Partnership in Auckland, New Zealand, said, “My Chinese counterpart and I will meet on this crisis soon and are confident that this dispute will subside very shortly.”
In response, Chinese President Xu Qilang vowed yesterday “to stand against this unprecedented financial containment.” The Chinese reaction on Weibo (a social microblogging site in China similar to Twitter) has been overwhelmingly positive as the phrase “no more” has been logged a record 320 million times. In China,“no more” is often a reference to President Xu’s first major foreign policy speech from this past April in which he famously said with passion uncharacteristic for a national leader, “we are the Middle Kingdom, we will be pushed around no more by the West. How can you dream when others are smothering you?”
Analysts believe China’s leadership is under significant domestic pressure for economic reasons. Despite officially becoming the world’s largest economy last year, recent economic growth has slowed significantly to roughly 5% as the Chinese manufacturing industry has hemorrhaged jobs and industry-leader Foxconn in particular has lost several major contracts despite an ambitious robotization strategy.
American containment versus Chinese information denial
Academics provide perspectives, but few answers on the missile crisis. Harvard Professor Stephen Walt commented that “Maltz will ultimately end up a political signal for the Chinese, and this prosecution will serve as a barometer for the intensity of the rivalry between the two great powers.” Toshi Yoshihara of the US Naval War College assessed that the Chinese, having achieved naval dominance in their surrounding seas, now seek “control of the blue water to Guam” and that “the attack on our grid clearly fits with the Chinese Anti-Access Information Denial strategy.” Yoshihara believes this “A2ID” strategy has been successful: “The Chinese A2ID is working and this we can see as they swallow up more islands, more information grids, more land-based missile sites.”
US military leaders agree with Yoshihara and are clearly concerned with the loss of connectivity to the Department of Defense Global Information Grid, which is a global undersea network of fiber optic cables scheduled to transition to an airborne balloon network in 2026. The current commander of US Pacific Command, Army Gen. Stacy Leach, was unavailable for comment, but his predecessor, Adm. Kelly Johnson testified last year before the Senate Armed Services Committees about undersea information cables, calling them “America’s strategic Achilles heel.” Kelly warned that the “modernization schedule to high-altitude balloons is too slow, which we may come to regret.”
Some academics do not believe the blast site was coincidental. Former Director of the New Zealand Centre for Strategic Studies, Peter Cozens, said: “we’ve been watching the Chinese expand their influence steadily across the Pacific for years, and we’re just seeing the fruits of this economic island hopping take hold – they want, and they are going to get, Guam.” In June, what was thought to be the automatic renewal of the relationship agreement between the United States and several small Pacific Island states, known as the Compact of Free Association, in place since after World War II, was put on indefinite hold after negotiations became strained. Political winds have shifted, as Guam, the Federated States of Micronesia, and the Republic of the Marshall Islands have been the recipients of massive amounts of Chinese immigration and investment. Pro-Chinese governors now control each set of islands; each opposes a continued relationship with the United States. Procedural votes and deliberations are ongoing; the final vote on continued US military presence is scheduled for October.
Impact on Election 2024
Particularly in the US, political scientists interpret this missile crisis and confrontation as an extension of domestic politics run amok. With two months to Election Day, outgoing US President Shannon Kent, in the words of one Republican pollster, appears to be “trying to steer clear of decisive action to avoid hurting his Democratic party’s chances.” Prescott Jackson, the 75-year old Republican reformer currently trails the upstart 44-year old Democrat Stewart Bledsoe by 10 percentage points in most polls. While Bledsoe continues to avoid comment, his challenger Jackson has added his own father’s service on Okinawa during the Pacific War to his stump speech. Jackson spent the weekend, particularly the Sunday interview shows, forcefully arguing that the Kent administration “already turned our back on Taiwan” and that “if this Chinese aggression goes unpunished, we will lose the Koreans and Japanese, and if we lose them, all our allies will question the value of American guarantees.” Jackson’s interview with YouTubeCBS’s “Sunday Spotlight” was unambiguously clear: “My father spilled blood in the Pacific, we fought battles in the Pacific, we made peace in the Pacific, and now we walk out on the Pacific? Not in my administration. Not while this is the America I grew up in. I won’t let this stand.”
Political observers believe polling indicates this is the single issue that gives Jackson the potential for a “September surprise.” Public humetrics measurements record that Americans are “taking to the virtual streets” to protest the alleged Chinese espionage and undersea sabotage. One flash public poll showed that 96% of Americans believe Maj. Morgan Maltz was “certainly guilty” or “probably guilty.”
Maltz’s lone public statement on his alleged crimes came while being tucked into a large black vehicle for transfer from Arlington to southern Virginia. He shouted: “I didn’t hurt anyone.”
The Pacific sits on knife’s edge hoping Maltz’s comment stays true.
Image: US Navy, Leah Eclavea