Surging Terrorism in Africa

On February 17, 2022, French President Emmanuel Macron announced the withdrawal of French forces from Mali, a country in West Africa rife with terrorist activity. Previously, the French military had a leading role in counterterrorism efforts in West and North Central Africa, which has seen a surge in support from Al-Qaeda branches and ISIS affiliates. France instead moved its efforts to Niger — another hotbed for jihadists — where four U.S. members of a U.S. special operations team were killed in an ISIS ambush in 2017.

While ISIS has no territory in Syria and Iraq since the success of Operation Inherent Resolve, its affiliates — ISIS in the Greater Sahara and ISIS in West Africa — have increased terrorist attacks in the region. According to Flashpoint Intel, Nigeria and West Africa have the most ISIS activity globally. “Although the degree to which ISIS controls its local affiliates remains a subject of some debate, Nigeria (and West Africa more broadly) is now arguably the most active hub for ISIS military operations worldwide, accounting for 41 percent of claimed attacks around the globe.”

As extremist activity in West and North Central Africa increases, the U.S. is combating the issue by providing training to some African forces. However, with coups in Mali, Burkina Faso, Chad, Guinea, and Sudan, instability makes it more challenging to work with new governments against terrorism in the last year. Additionally, the Russian military contractor, Wagner Group, is currently working with the Malian government.

For this brief, we analyzed the deteriorating situation in West and North Central Africa, ISIS, and Al Qaeda activity in the region, and how less of a western presence in the area could result in a potential haven for terrorists.

The Situation in West and North Central Africa

The Sahel, a region made up of Burkina Faso, Cameroon, the Gambia, Guinea, Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, and Senegal, faces a mounting hunger crisis. According to a February 14, 2022, report from Action Against Hunger, hunger threatens 27-35 million people in the region. However, analysts note that Action Against Hunger’s report was released before the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which has resulted in food prices rising globally.

Per the Global Terrorism Index, Burkina Faso has the fourth-highest level of terrorist activity in the world, surpassing even Syria.

In addition, Nigeria, Mali, and Niger rank in the top ten countries for terrorism.

Terror Attacks in April

From April 3, 2022 – to May 1, 2022, there were several terrorist attacks in the Sahel. The unidentified groups are part of Al Qaeda or ISIS. We refer to them as unknown groups because we could not determine which terrorist organization the attackers support.

On April 3, 2022, an unidentified armed group attacked the gold mine in Burkina Faso, killing 20.

On April 8, 2022, an unidentified armed group attacked a military base in Burkina Faso, killing 16.

On April 13, 2022, five soldiers were killed by an unidentified armed group in Benin.

On April 21, 2022, ISIS in West Africa claimed responsibility for a bombing that killed 30 people in Taraba State, Nigeria.

On April 21, 2022, ISIS in West Africa attacked the Nigerian village of Kornari but was repelled by the Nigerian Armed Forces.

On April 22, 2022, ISIS in West Africa claimed responsibility for a second bombing of a bar in the Nukkai area of Jalingo, Nigeria. Around a dozen people were reportedly injured.

On April 23, 2022, ISIS claimed an attack that took the lives of three police officers in Kogi, Nigeria.

On April 24, 2022, an unidentified terrorist group or groups simultaneously attacked three military bases in Mali. The attack reportedly killed six and injured twenty.

On April 26, 2022, at least one police officer was killed in an attack by an unidentified armed group in North Benin.

In an April issue of al-Naba, which is ISIS’ weekly magazine, the group called for more jihad in Central and West Africa.

Photo Credit: Michael Barak

Additionally, with the approach of Eid al-Fitr, a religious holiday celebrating the end of Ramadan on May 1, 2022, there will likely be a heightened risk for attacks throughout the region.

U.S. Military Support in West and North Central Africa

Since 2005, U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) has hosted one of the largest special operations exercises called Flintlock; this exercise has included many countries in the Sahel. This year, Cote d’Ivoire hosted the training in February, which was “designed to strengthen the ability of key partner nations in the region to counter violent extremist organizations, collaborate across borders, and provide security for their people.” Cameroon and Niger participated in Flintlock this year, but Mali and Burkina Faso, both taken over in military coups, were not part of the exercises.

In April 2022, dozens of African military leaders met at Fort Benning in Georgia for the African Land Forces Summit. Burkina Faso, Guinea, Sudan, and Mali, all countries with recently overthrown governments, were absent from the event.

The U.S.’s most vital relationship in the Sahel is with Nigeria. The U.S. continues to provide security aid, and in April 2022, the U.S. approved the sale of 12 AH-1Z Attack Helicopters to the country.

Analysts could not determine any other security aid for other Sahel countries from the U.S. in April.

Wagner in Mali

In January 2022, AFRICOM Commander General Stephen J. Townsend confirmed that Wagner Group had deployed in Mali. On April 19, 2022, the first Russian “adviser” was reportedly killed by a roadside bomb while conducting operations in the town of Hombori, Mali.

Wagner’s presence has led to reported atrocities in Mali, as reported by The Independent. “The French military says it has videos of Russian mercenaries burying bodies near an army base in northern Mali, which it says is part of a smear campaign against the French who handed the base to Malian forces earlier this week.”

Mali is currently led by Colonel Assimi Goïta, who was trained by U.S., German, and French forces.


We assess that support for terrorism in West and North Central Africa will increase as groups like Al Qaeda and ISIS exploit high food prices, resource shortages, and government instability. While Nigeria has a more established military to conduct counterterrorism operations in the Sahel, countries like Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger, Guinea, and Cameroon lack that security infrastructure, which will make them more vulnerable targets to terrorists.

Further Russian influence in West and North Central Africa could compromise some U.S. partnerships with African countries. Burkina Faso could follow the same path as Mali and rely on the Wagner Group to support its new government, giving Russia more influence in the Sahel. With the Russia-Ukraine War, Wagner could send Malians to fight on behalf of the Russian state, as it has with Syrians and Libyans.

The less involvement the U.S. has in the Sahel, the more potential for the region to become a sanctuary for terrorist activity. While Al Qaeda and ISIS affiliates have not attacked U.S. soldiers in Niger since 2017, if they are successful in gaining territory, like they were in Syria in 2014, they may set up a government similar to the one that plotted and then attacked the U.S. and its allies.

Adversarial Alliances Wreak Havoc on Americans

The recent Consumer Price Index (CPI) number and the food shortages remind us how geopolitics and the global trade supply chains reveal themselves at our kitchen tables. The CPI increased 8.5% over the previous year due to price hikes on common commodities Americans rely on for survival and significant repercussions on our groceries from a struggling agriculture supply chain. The war in Ukraine, the China and Russia alliance, and unstable economic and social policies in the US directly contribute to the financial pains faced by families and small businesses across America.

China Betting and Winning the Farm

Wheat, eggs, chicken, and other meat prices continue to rise, wreaking havoc on household budgets. Wheat prices doubled due to the absence of Ukrainian and Russian wheat from the US market, resulting in higher costs for bread, cereals, flour, oils, and other baked goods. On February 8, 2022, 16 days before the Russian invasion of Ukraine, China and Russia announced their agreement for China to import Russian wheat and barley. This should have been an early indicator that Vladimir Putin would take actions that would result in western sanctions coming against himself and Russia and China’s potential foreknowledge. China decided to ease the impact of sanctions on Russia and, on February 24, 2022, publicly called for parties to “exercise restraint” and accused the US of “fueling fire” in the tensions.

China’s interest in agriculture and food supplies dates much further back as their 1.4 billion citizens require China’s close attention to food security and supply. By 2021, China indicated its goals were to possess farmland equivalent to the size of Ireland, which is approximately 16.5 million acres, despite China having less than 10% of the world’s land suitable for substantial revenue-generating crops. As of early 2020, Chinese investors owned an estimated 192,000 acres of agricultural land in the US, valued at $1.9 billion. This farmland is often located close to military bases. China’s Fufeng Group USA is headquartered in Chicago, Illinois, with its corporate headquarters in Hong Kong and most other production facilities in northeastern China. Fufeng Group manufactures bio-fermented products made from corn used in animal feed and pharmaceuticals and is attempting to open a factory 13 miles from Grand Forks Air Force Base, North Dakota. Ross Kennedy, the founder of Fortis Analysis, states, “Grand Forks is home to one of the largest intelligence and surveillance and reconnaissance wings we have anywhere in the world.”

FBI Director Christopher Wray addressed the China Initiative Conference in February 2020, where he described the Chinese threat as “diverse” and “multi-layered.” Wray added, “They’ve shown that they are willing to steal their way up the economic ladder at our expense.”

Beijing Dabeinong Technology Group’s US director for international business, Mo Hailong, and several co-conspirators were arrested in 2013 with Pioneer and Monsanto seed corn samples while trying to board a plane for China. The FBI became suspicious after Hailong was seen crawling through Iowa cornrows on two separate occasions, pocketing transgenic seeds and mailing them to China.

In 2017, the US Customs and Border Protection National Security Division and the US Attorney’s office in the District of Kansas prosecuted Weiqiang Zhang on three counts, including conspiracy to steal trade secrets and interstate transportation of stolen property. Zhang, a Chinese national and US legal permanent resident, worked as a rice breeder for Ventria Bioscience in Junction City, Kansas, and studied biotech crop production at Kansas State University. US Customs and Border Protection officers found genetically engineered rice seed samples, valued at $75 million, in Zhang’s luggage as he prepared to leave the US for China in August 2013. Zhang used USDA letterhead to send counterfeit letters inviting six researchers in China to tour the Ventria facility and several others, including the Dale Bumpers National Rice Research Center in Stuttgart, Arkansas. Zhang’s accomplice, Wengui Yan, worked at the US Department of Agriculture research center as a research geneticist and pled guilty to making false statements to the FBI when questioned about plans to send US rice samples to China.

China’s consistent and relentless drive for hegemonic control solidifies its pursuit of economic, information, and military advantages over the US as the last standing superpower. Their reach into US universities and academic and economic research institutions go far beyond sending their best and brightest to get an American education. China’s Communist Party (CCP) funds Confucius Centers and Cultural Centers in partnerships with US Education Institutions as information and cultural exchanges. At the same time, their strategic purpose is reconnaissance and influence among the students and faculty.

Recent Congressional efforts offer opportunities to deny foreign investment and ownership of US farmland through The Agricultural Foreign Investment Disclosure Act and the Agricultural Intelligence Measures (AIM) Act. AIM intends to establish an intelligence-gathering office within the USDA. However, despite the CCP announcing their plans to take over high-tech industries, with agriculture being at the top of the list, US policymakers, intelligence officials, and the Department of Justice failed to protect our intellectual sovereignty.

Energy Impacts on America’s Economy

The high cost of diesel for farmer’s tractors and gasoline for trucks bringing food and goods to market compounds these price increases. Oil prices and energy markets supply the world’s most important economic factor in fuel for industries to produce goods, trucks and planes for delivery, farming for food, and a variety of other items vital to citizens’ lives and the American economy. The rising gasoline prices will not subside until US policies make it more advantageous for domestic oil companies to meet the surging demand. The supply shortage and the COVID-induced energy consumption pushed the Biden administration back to OPEC, which includes Russia, requesting an increase in oil production. The US imported 700,000 barrels of crude oil from Russia in 2021. Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, President Biden signed an Executive Order (EO) banning the import of Russian oil, liquified natural gas, and coal to the US. This decisive action gathered bipartisan and allied nations’ support, depriving Russia of significant economic revenue as the third-largest oil producer behind the US and Saudi Arabia. Over 30 additional countries representing over half the world’s economy supported this ban, announced additional economic sanctions on Russia, and cut off Russia’s access to high-tech technology. The EO removed those 700,000 barrels, and hundreds of thousands more effectively left the global market for the US and those 30 countries. The sanctions and refusal to buy Russian oil had two impacts:

1) The US and those 30 countries will not reduce their oil, natural gas, or coal consumption and will be forced to purchase from other countries or create those inventories themselves. The US reverted to requesting oil imports from Venezuela and likely Iran to offset the drop in supply during a sustained demand. The reduction in supply and sustained, or increased demand, results in increased prices, especially from two adversarial countries of the US closely aligned with Russia and China.

2) Many countries staunchly against the Russian invasion of Ukraine are unable to offset their energy consumption costs without Russian oil. While Russian oil exports to Europe have dropped, Turkey and India took Russia’s oil exports higher, despite President Erdogan calling Russia’s military action on Ukraine “unacceptable” and Turkey continuing to supply its Bayraktar TB2 unmanned aerial vehicles, which carry lightweight, laser-guided bombs used to destroy Russian armored vehicles. Overwatch has not determined if this continued import of Russian oil has the inability to offset their oil consumption through other means or if the presumed reduction of buyers of Russian oil resulted in a negotiated price reduction following supply and demand principles.

Our Assessment

While China and Russia impact the US economic standing and stability through trade and market expansion, their actions alone are not the cause of America’s domestic economic position. Expansive and sweeping stimulus spending in response to COVID-19 and the irresponsible price and wage controls led to an imbalance in the volume of US dollars in circulation for the same or decreased amount of goods. Also, the Producer Price Index (PPI) rising faster than the CPI is a historical indicator of more inflation to come. US policy must control government spending and implement price controls to allow the consumer to balance the supply and demand of goods. Additionally, removing constraints on the production industries within the US would lead to more goods in our market and possible exports to countries still enticed to trade with Russia and China.

China and Russia remain aligned to leverage their combined economic, information, and military warfare tactics to erode America’s power and influence around the world and that of other democracies aligned with us. Overwatch edition #2 serves as a good reference for further insight.

US policy concerning Russia and its continued actions will play significant roles in US perception and our economic position and power. The DOJ’s cessation of the China Initiative removed the only public, concerted effort to combat Chinese intellectual property theft, trade secrets, military technology, and continued nationalist propaganda within American businesses and educational institutions. Overwatch will continue monitoring the US midterm elections regarding economic policies and stabilization of the current economic crisis and whether China or Russia will employ propaganda to influence public sentiment and support.

Americans will continue to feel the effects of rising food and energy prices until domestic budgetary prudence and a long-term strategy is enacted to boost the US economy and strengthen our global standing.

Weapons Shortages and a Humanitarian Crisis in Ukraine

Loading content...

Could Due Diligence Have Mitigated Risk in $449M Ponzi Scheme?

On April 14, 2022, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) announced charges and a temporary restraining order against Las Vegas businessman Matthew Beasley, Jeffrey Judd, and Christopher Humphries for their alleged involvement in a $449 million scheme regarding personal injury settlements. According to the SEC, Beasley, Judd, and Humphries — all based in the Las Vegas area — “told hundreds of investors, including many in their own church community, that they would earn 12.5 percent quarterly returns by making purportedly risk-free investments in J&J Consulting Services.”

Silver Law Group, which deals in Securities Arbitration and Investment Fraud, explained the scam as follows, “Schemers sold victims lawsuit settlement contracts pursuant to third-party lawsuits. Investors were promised high returns in a short period of time and the contracts were described as scarce.” This type of scheme is known as a Ponzi scheme after 1920s fraudster Charles Ponzi, who was also known for selling investors swampland in Florida.

Per the FBI, contracts for the J&J Consulting Services scheme were sold at rates from $80,000-$100,000.00. Instead of honoring their commitment to investors, Beasley, Judd, and Humphries used the money to fund luxurious lifestyles, purchasing high-end vehicles and homes, boats, and a jet.

Investors’ money was wired to Mr. Beasley’s Interest On Lawyers’ Trust Account (IOLTA).

FBI agents paid a visit to Mr. Beasley’s residence in March to talk to him about his alleged involvement in the Ponzi scheme.

When the FBI arrived at his home, Mr. Beasley was positioned at glass French doors, showing only half his body to agents. When an agent flashed his credentials, Mr. Beasley moved into full view, pointing a gun at his own head.

Agents ordered him to drop the weapon. Beasley chose to aim the firearm in their direction. In result, authorities shot him in the chest and shoulder. Mr. Beasley barricaded himself inside his home for multiple hours. Eventually, he admitted to the FBI that the investments he put together were part of the Ponzi scheme.

Photo of Mr. Beasley’s home where the incident took place

Photo Credit: Google Maps

Overwatch focused on using open-source intelligence techniques to investigate Mr. Beasley for this brief. Our primary focus was to see whether performing due diligence on Mr. Beasley could have mitigated some risk and prevented investors from losing money.

Matthew Beasley’s Legal and Business Background    

Mr. Beasley graduated from the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law. Established in 2011, his practice, Beasley Law Group, P.C., is located in Las Vegas, Nevada. Beasley Law Group, P.C., specializes in Divorce and Family Law, Business, Accident and Injury, Real Estate, and Lawsuit and Dispute.

Mr. Beasley’s website,, is currently inactive.

Using the Wayback Machine, analysts first identified proof of a web presence for Beasley Law Group, P.C. website in 2016.

A continued review of the website in question indicates that it had remained the same visually since its creation in 2012.

We performed multiple search queries to locate online data concerning Beasley Law Group, P.C. Reviews of the firm have only been created since Mr. Beasley’s story received international press coverage. There were no online reviews or recommendations before that time, which would be unusual for a law practice in Las Vegas with an 11-year history.

A brief Google search for other Las Vegas attorneys returns hundreds of results, with some firms having as little as three years of activity and listing as many as 86 reviews.

Social Media

Mr. Beasley has a limited digital footprint, consisting of a LinkedIn account with no history of activity and a Facebook profile no other posts other than a profile image.

Mr. Beasley’s Personal LinkedIn Profile

Analysts noted that Mr. Beasley has been an officer in at least five other companies besides Beasley Law Group, P.C., but none of those entities are listed on his LinkedIn account.

Facebook page for Beasley Law Group, P.C.

The Beasley Law Group, P.C., page provided no significant data about Mr. Beasley or his practice, unlike most social media pages for Las Vegas-based law firms.

Analysts identified photos of Mr. Beasley on the social media pages of his relatives. Those photos showed access to a cabin and some expensive sports memorabilia.

Business Affiliations  

Nevada Pro Pest Control, Inc.

Nevada Pro Pest Control, Inc., was incorporated on October 29, 2018, and lists Mr. Beasley as the Registered Agent and Jeffrey Judd, another of the individuals under investigation, as President and Treasurer. Nevada Pro Pest Control is an active business, but analysts could not locate a web presence for the business. This is atypical for most businesses in 2022, let alone one in as competitive an industry as pest control.

Following a court order, the Wells Fargo account tied to Nevada Pro Pest Control, Inc. is frozen until April 22, 2022.

It is currently unclear what part, if any, Nevada Pro Pest Control, Inc., played into the Ponzi scheme to defraud investors in J&J Consulting Services.

Argute, LLC

Argute, LLC, was incorporated on May 23, 2018, and is currently not an active business. However, J&J Consulting Services, Inc., which is under federal investigation, is listed as one of the company’s managing members.

We could not identify an online presence for Argute, LLC.

Other Affiliations

We identified two business entities with ties to Mr. Beasley whose officers, Robert Seik and Ima Jean Nikolich received formal warnings or complaints from government entities.

With Mr. Beasley’s support, Robert Seik set up Desert Flora Investments, LLC, which is no longer an active business. Mr. Seik also owns One Way Drug, LLC, dba Partell Specialty Pharmacy, a pharmacy specializing in mixing and altering drug ingredients to match patient needs.

Mr. Seik received a warning letter from the Food and Drug Administration in February 2019. In the warning letter, Seik was told that at his West facility, his firm did not “receive valid prescriptions for individually-identified patients for a portion of the drug products produced.” In addition, the FDA said that the drug products at his East Facility were packed in “unsanitary conditions.”

The following image is a screenshot of the warning letter Seik received from the FDA.

Further research shows that Mr. Seik received a June 2020 closeout letter from the FDA stating he had resolved the issues at his firm.

The second individual, Ima Jean Nikolich, was a managing member of Endar Nikolich Holdings, LLC, set up by Mr. Beasley. In 2013, the Real Estate Commission of Nevada sent Ms. Nikolich a Complaint and Notice of Hearing to address breaches in her obligation to deal fairly with sellers, misrepresentation of a money transfer in escrow, and moving her office location without informing Nevada’s Real Estate Division.

J&J Consulting Services, Inc.

The subject of the FBI inquiry, J&J Consulting Services, Inc., established in May 2005, has no online website or social media presence. This follows the same pattern we identified with other companies established by Mr. Beasley and Mr. Judd.

Aside from public filings with Nevada’s Secretary of State, analysts could only locate J&J Consulting Services, Inc., on Jeffrey Judd’s personal LinkedIn profile, where he is listed as the President. Before J&J Consulting, Mr. Judd worked at Partell Pharmacy as the Vice President of Sales. Above, we mentioned Partell Pharmacy’s founder, Robert Seik, as someone connected with Matthew Beasley. We couldn’t identify any further ties between Seik and Beasley.


The extremely limited online data about Mr. Beasley suggests a lack of transparency in his law practice and professional life. If investors had researched Mr. Beasley’s firm for its credibility, they would have identified no compelling evidence, such as positive reviews, business connections, or employees, that would indicate Mr. Beasley was a trusted or respected legal source. Performing due diligence such as reviewing Mr. Beasley’s digital footprint, business affiliations, associates, and law firm’s reputation could have likely helped mitigate some risk for investors in this $449 million scheme.

Although the practice of Ponzi schemes has a long history, they continue to be effective as fraudsters capitalize on the digital landscape, especially through social media. By practicing due diligence or consulting experts in open-source intelligence, like Echo Analytics Group, you can potentially protect yourself from being the target of the next scam.

Russia-China Relationship Key Updates

With our January 6, 2022, brief, we assessed, “Cooperation between Russia and China is more about common grievances against the United States. The One China policy insists Taiwan is an inalienable part of China that will eventually reunite with mainland China and its government. Similarly, Russia continues to pursue having Ukraine back under Russian control, as it did before the breakup of Soviet states under the USSR.”

Since then, cooperation between Russia and China has increased internationally, in Ukraine, and in developing new technologies to circumvent U.S.-based systems. Overwatch researched the latest developments in the Russia-China relationship and what it likely indicates for the U.S. and our allies for this updated brief.

Russia-China Timeline from February 4, 2022, to Present

On February 4, 2022, Russia and China issued a joint statement on their international relations entering a new era. The statement, which was published on the first day of the Beijing Winter Olympics, reads, in part, “The sides reaffirm their strong mutual support for the protection of their core interests, state sovereignty, and territorial integrity, and oppose interference by external forces in their internal affairs. The Russian side reaffirms its support for the One-China principle, confirms that Taiwan is an inalienable part of China, and opposes any forms of independence of Taiwan. Russia and China stand against attempts by external forces to undermine security and stability in their common adjacent regions, intend to counter interference by outside forces in the internal affairs of sovereign countries under any pretext, oppose colour revolutions, and will increase cooperation in the aforementioned areas.”

On February 5, 2022, the South China Morning Post (SCMP) reported on how Russia and China would enhance their partnership with BeiDou and GLONASS, satellite navigation systems. SCMP reporter Liu Zhen wrote, “China and Russia have agreed to coordinate their satellite navigation systems as the two countries solidify their partnership to rival the U.S.-owned GPS.”

On February 25, 2022, one day after Russia invaded Ukraine, China’s Assistant Foreign Minister Hua Chunying said, “China has taken a responsible attitude and persuaded all parties not to escalate tensions or incite war…Those who follow the U.S.’ lead in fanning up flames and then shifting the blame onto others are truly irresponsible.”

On March 7, 2022, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi responded to questions about how China feels toward U.S. sanctions against Russia. Wang said, “The China-Russia relationship is grounded in a clear logic of history and driven by strong internal dynamics, and the friendship between the Chinese and Russian peoples is rock-solid. There is a bright prospect for cooperation between the two sides. No matter how precarious and challenging the international situation may be, China and Russia will maintain strategic focus and steadily advance our comprehensive strategic partnership of coordination for a new era.”

In March 2022, Bloomberg, CBS News, The Financial Times, and The New York Times all reported that the Russian state asked China for military aid for the Russia-Ukraine War. According to comments from U.S. intelligence officials, the inquiry included a request for drones from China.

On March 14, 2022, Russian Finance Anton Siluanov said that Russia would use yuan from its foreign exchange reserves to pay some of its debt.

On March 19, 2022, Chinese Vice Minister Le Yucheng referred to NATO as a “Cold War vestige.”

On April 1, 2022, Chinese Foreign Minister Spokesperson Zhao Lijian said the U.S. holds the most responsibility for the crisis in Ukraine. Lijian said, “As the culprit and the leading instigator of the Ukraine crisis, the U.S. has led NATO in pursuing five rounds of eastward expansions in the next two decades or so since 1999.”

On April 8, 2022, the Chinese state voted against removing Russia from the U.N. Human Rights Council.

On April 10, 2022, the Chinese Ambassador to Indonesia, Deng Xijun, tweeted a photo of Lijian claiming that AUKUS (A strategic partnership between Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) aims to create an “Asia-Pacific NATO.”

On April 11, 2022, China’s Korean Peninsula Affairs Representative and former Ambassador to the United Kingdom, Liu Xiaoming, tweeted, “NATO should immediately stop spreading disinformation and provocative remarks targeting China, and abandon the confrontational approach of drawing ideological lines. NATO has disrupted Europe. It should stop trying to destabilize Asia and the whole world.”

On April 12, 2022, China announced the completion of its satellite navigation system, BeiDou.

Also, on April 12, 2022, Permanent Representative of Russia to International Organizations in Vienna, Mikhail Ulyanov, tweeted, “We held in-depth consultations with our Chinese friends on agendas of Vienna-based int. organisations. The detailed exchange of views proved that our positions are either very close to each other or identical. We agreed on concrete measures aimed at strengthening cooperation.”


We assess that Russia and China will continue to increase cooperation as strategic partners with the intent to undermine the United States and its allies.

Sanctions against China, the world’s manufacturing hub and global leader in rare-earth mining could significantly impact U.S. consumers. With the ongoing Russia-Ukraine War, China could potentially provide military aid to Russian forces, likely resulting in sanctions from the United States. In our March 29, 2022, brief, The CCP is the Most Significant Threat to America; we assessed, “The CCP could use its majority control over rare earth production to further impact U.S. supply chains from companies that rely on rare earth materials for their products. Such a move would likely lead to a significant increase in the price of these products on the U.S. market.”

As the Russia-Ukraine War continues, Chinese officials will support disinformation narratives from Russia and continue to push back against NATO expansion. We also assess that Russia will aid China’s objectives in the Pacific, aligning with their rhetoric and policy against AUKUS. Additionally, U.S.-China relations will continue to deteriorate with the conflict in Eastern Europe and U.S. support for Taiwan, increasing the potential for future conflict.

What Overwatch Discovered About the Two Men Arrested for Impersonating Federal Agents

On April 7, 2022, the FBI arrested Arian Taherzadeh and Haider Ali, for impersonating Federal agents. According to the authorities, Taherzadeh and Ali posed as officers of the Department of Homeland Security and developed relationships with United States Secret Service members. Taherzadeh, 40, and Ali, 35, offered rent-free apartments, gifts, and firearms to the Secret Service agents.

According to reports, the FBI discovered a large repository of body armor, gas masks, multiple weapons, surveillance equipment, a currency counter, and a fingerprint kit at Taherzadeh and Ali’s residence. Taherzadeh illegally obtained the weapons he carried. A domestic violence charge from 2013 meant he was forbidden from having a firearm or ammunition in his possession.

As a result of the arrest, four Secret Service agents have been placed on administrative leave. According to prosecutors, Taherzadeh and Ali “compromised” Secret Service agents who had access to First Lady Jill Biden and the White House.

Overwatch performed deep-dive research into Taherzadeh and Ali for this brief. Our research identified Taherzadeh’s social media presence and activity which indicated a high-risk individual pretending to be a federal law enforcement officer online. Additionally, we located Ali’s business interests and researched his overseas travel.

Arian Taherzadeh and the United States Special Police

Taherzadeh is from Kansas City, Missouri. KCTV 5 reported court records returning results for “a man named Arian Taherzadeh who was born in 1981, and a long list of traffic offenses and lawsuits that placed him living at various Platte County addresses from 1999 to 2007.”

In 2006, Taherzadeh registered a business, On Point Productions, LLC, with Missouri’s Secretary of State.

We found no digital footprint for On Point Productions, LLC, until 2019. In 2019, Taherzadeh changed the name of On Point Productions to the US Special Police, LLC.

In March 2019, the International Association of Chiefs of Police listed Taherzadeh as a Special Agent with the U.S. Special Police in the District of Columbia.

Taherzadeh’s LinkedIn account, recently removed from the site, shows him employed by the Department of Homeland Security from 2006 – Present.

In May 2018, Taherzadeh set up another law enforcement-themed entity, USSP, LLC, which stands for United States Special Police. USSP, LLC, is incorporated in the District of Columbia, with a registered address of 1629 K St. NW #300, or about half a mile from the White House.

A LinkedIn profile for USSP was also recently removed. The LinkedIn profile claims USSP has 15 employees and provides “specialized services and operational support” to the intelligence community, defense sector, and law enforcement agencies.

The website for USSP is non-functional, leading to “file not found” messages when clicking links.

Taherzadeh’s Social Media Profiles

Taherzadeh had a significant social media presence with accounts on many different platforms. We focused on the most relevant social media profiles for Taherzadeh for this article, which included profiles identified on Quora, Facebook, and FS6. Additionally, for the United States Special Police, our focus was on Facebook, Yelp, and Crunchbase, which provided the most data about the entity.


Taherzadeh made inquiries on his Quora account under the name Ari Taherzadeh about the weapons US Secret Service, FBI agents, and CIA Case Officers use. The example below, from two years ago, shows that Taherzadeh wrote, “What handgun does Secret Service carry?”


Taherzadeh’s Facebook account is under the username “Ari Eugene,” his middle name. All Taherzadeh’s Facebook posts are about donating money to police fundraisers.

Image/Research Credit: Chris Brenner

We also found a photo of Taherzadeh on a relative’s Facebook account, which will not be identified in this article.

In addition, USSP has a Facebook profile, which contains many law-enforcement themed articles. Most of the articles are reshares from the Police1 Facebook page, a legitimate law enforcement agency resource.


FS6 is a social media forum specific to entrepreneurs. Taherzadeh’s FS6 account lists him as working for a Special Investigations Unit in Washington, DC. The Special Investigations Unit is another name Taherzadeh uses for the U.S. Special Police.


On the United States Special Police Yelp page, the company claims to have specialties in “Special Investigations, SWAT, Special Operations, Patrol and Specialized Security Solutions.”


United States Special Police also has a profile on Crunchbase, a business database. The Crunchbase account shows the entity has 11-50 employees.

Queries on Google Images for USSP Police helped analysts see what the content from the website looked like before its removal. The content is police-themed, similar to the material Taherzadeh posted on social media.

Additional research into Taherzadeh shows that he had three addresses listed under the same phone number.

The phone number correlates with a business established by Taherzadeh, AET Holdings Corp, dissolved in September 2019. Research into AET Holdings Corp suggests it had no affiliation with Taherzadeh’s history of impersonating law enforcement.

Haider Ali and US Limo World

Haider Ali is a Pakistani national. Ali’s first digital footprint is his filing for US Limo World, Inc., which he registered in Virginia in May 2016.

US Limo World’s website is no longer active, but our use of the Wayback Machine, an Internet archive database, returned website reviews for the business that did not correlate with how long the business had been in existence.

In the example below, a 2019 review from Walter Aztezana claims he has used US Limo World for five years. This was false; the business wasn’t registered until 2016. Before 2019, the website featured obviously false reviews, for example, reviews from someone named John Doe that worked at Coca-Cola.

US Limo World had its entity status revoked in 2018.

US Limo World’s Social Media Profiles

US Limo World has a social media presence on Yelp, Flickr, Facebook, and Twitter.


There is only one review for US Limo World on Yelp. The review reads, “DO NOT USE THIS COMPANY. UNRELIABLE AND SHADY. We had a reservation for a pickup this morning at 10:45 am to take us to a winery for a friends bday. If you value your plans, use another company. Received a confirmation email with a confirmation number. When a driver did not show up, we called and were told they had no record of our reservation. They refused to send another bus, and denied that they ever sent the email, despite our repeated offers to forward it to them as proof. Individual on the phone was rude and condescending.”


We identified a Flickr profile for Ali. Ali has several photos of luxury vehicles on the Flickr account, including Mercedes and Lincolns.

The Facebook and Twitter pages for US Limo World provided no meaningful information. While Ali and Taherzadeh are Facebook friends, no other public information was available from Ali’s Facebook page. In addition, Ali does have a Facebook profile with minimal activity.

Evidence of Ali’s International Travel

Laura Rozen, a reporter with an extensive background in foreign policy and national security issues, tweeted that Ali had gone on a “Shia pilgrimage to Najaf, Iraq in May 2019 and Mashhad, Iran in ~August & ~October 2019.” The picture below comes from Bruce Leshan, a reporter at WUSA9.

The blue stamp on the passport in the above photo matches the stamp used at Mashhad International Airport in Iran, shown below, according to Wikimedia commons.

Prosecutors claimed that Ali said he had ties to Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), but those claims have not been verified.

Other Research

Washington, DC, does have special police officers (SPOs) that work together with law enforcement. According to CNBC, “Taherzadeh applied to be an armed special police officer or SPO and was denied in March 2019, due to his prior misdemeanor conviction for domestic violence. Taherzadeh was later permitted to obtain a commission as an unarmed SPO, but that expired when he did not provide documents supporting relicensing in December 2021.”

It’s unclear who tipped off Taherzadeh and Ali that there was a pending investigation against them. However, investigators said that they found UPS shipping labels when searching the residence where Taherzadeh and Ali stayed, showing that they were trying to ship away evidence and conceal it.


Taherzadeh’s social media activity indicates that he spent significant time building up a police persona to sell himself as legitimate member of law enforcement. Had Taherzadeh’s targets performed due diligence before engaging with him, for example, by reviewing his professional history, online presence, and criminal record, he might have been identified as a high-risk individual before gaining access to United States Secret Service agents.

Additionally, the large repository of resources and technology that Taherzadeh and Ali had access to warrant significant concern; we currently have no information about how they could have afforded such a surplus of law enforcement-centric gear.

The fake reviews on Ali’s US Limo World website and the poor review on Yelp suggest that Ali has some history of fraud; however, we couldn’t identify any additional evidence of international travel or potential ties to foreign intelligence.

There are no clear indicators of their motives to impersonate Federal agents and/or if they intended to seek access to the first family.

Due to the level of access Taherzadeh and Ali obtained with the United States Secret Service, Federal agencies will likely develop new security measures for their employees to help prevent any similar incidents. Exercising due diligence before developing business relationships can help mitigate risk to prevent fraud and other security-related issues.

Tracking Where the Russian Dark Web Marketplace May Go Next

On Tuesday, the German government took down the world’s largest dark web marketplace, Hydra, with U.S. law enforcement’s assistance. Additionally, the U.S. Department of Treasury placed sanctions on Hydra.

Hydra, which is Russian language-based, was founded in 2015. On Hydra, users could purchase all types of drugs, fake passports, IDs, cybercriminals’ services, fraudulent COVID-19 vaccination cards, weapons, SIM cards, etc. According to the U.S. Department of Treasury, Hydra did $1.3 billion in sales in 2020. Most transactions on Hydra were done using Bitcoin or Monero, both cryptocurrencies. Before authorities shut it down, Hydra had an estimated 17 million customers.

Using open-source intelligence (OSINT), analysts identified possible locations where Hydra sellers and buyers could end up next to continue their illicit activities.

A Brief Overview of  the World’s Largest Dark Web Marketplace — Hydra

Our research shows that Hydra had over 19,000 vendors. While many dark web vendors mail their products through traditional channels, Hydra used a dead drop system. Customers purchasing “treasures” (What Hydra calls its products) would pick them up in obscure locations. Hydra provided its services in Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Moldova. Hydra imitated a legitimate business model, with round-the-clock support for its customers.

Leveraging Russian Dark Web Marketplace Forum Rutor to Connect the Dot

After Hydra shut down, we kept our eyes peeled for evidence of where its buyers and sellers would move.

On Rutor, analysts identified a thread titled: “Search for employees with the outage of Hydra.”

Our analysts identified posts on the thread where users attempt to reconnect with those they worked with at Hydra.

An April 4, 2022, post on the forum from user loki999 reads, Top Shop (Hydra Market) highest pay.

Rutor Deputy Administrator, WD, replies to loki999’s post, saying he has checked the shop, which indicates that loki999 is a verified vendor.

Analysts also located posts where users were considering working together to set up a new storefront.

In a post from April 4, 2022, user Artemja1337 writes, “Comrades, we need a partner on the site, help in creating a store.” SND_VOS replies, “Lets work together.”

Users also suggested that Hydra vendors and customers migrate to an already established dark web market.

Rutor member Supp.shkaf provided the darknet URL to Shkaf, writing that the market has been active since 2017 and has 30,000 users.

There is another dark web marketplace that Hydra users could decide to use is OMG! OMG!

On April 4, 2022, user OMG!OMG! said they run the most advanced dark web marketplace.

Possible Locations of a New Leading Dark Web Marketplace

As we continued our research, we identified two other Russian dark web marketplaces, Matanga and Blacksprut. Based on research conducted, OMG!OMG! currently appears to have the most support as a Hydra alternative from Rutor users.

There is also extensive discussion about Rutor that Hydra could return. However, any return of Hydra would likely be a rebranding with a new name, as German and U.S. law enforcement shut down its servers.

The disruption of Hydra also led to many people who relied on the marketplace losing their jobs. Vendors are offering jobs on Rutor to take advantage of this. In one example, on April 4, 2022, user Sports Service wrote on Rutor, “Guys, the hydra seems to be f***** up, this is of course bad news, but life goes on, if you need work, write to the PM, or by contacts, we will employ.”

Additional review of the comments from Sport Service shows that his post led to connecting with people needing “work” in Russian St. Petersburg, Belgorod, and Nizhny Novgorod.

Aside from encrypted communication apps like Telegram and Wicker, Rutor appears to be the main location for Hydra vendors and customers to rebuild their illicit business and infrastructure.

On April 5, 2022, user Drug Free, thanked Rutor for “getting everyone together,” and made suggestions on what vendors should do next.

User Drug Free wrote, “What should shops do? The first is obviously to try to get everyone together. Thank you Ruthor for this! Second. The most important thing is your customers. They will look for you the way ordinary people look for a circle embroidery site. In search engines and telegram.”

“Therefore, the second thing you have to do is create one-time stub sites in the usual clearnet, at least on garbage construction sites like wix and the like, in Yandex Zen, and so on. Create a telegram channel with the name of your shop.”

“Third. Set up an official branch of your shop here on the forum and redirect people from clearnet sites here or to telegrams. Also activate offline work on advertising.”

Other Rutor users discussed how the marketplace that vendors choose to go to should have improved security compared to Hydra.


We assess that Hydra users and customers will most likely migrate to an established dark web market like OMG!OMG!, Matanga, Blackspurt, or pool their resources, setting up infrastructure for a new version of Hydra. Hydra vendors will use channels like Telegram to solicit their goods and services, using the platform as a gateway for customers to go from the open web to dark web storefronts.

While there may be a noticeable disruption in criminal activity from Hydra users and customers, its duration will only last until vendors restore their storefronts and clients. Law enforcement authorities will likely target these vendors but could find their operations increasingly difficult if there are additional security measures on the market they investigate.

Overwatch note: We did not include any URLs to Rutor in this brief, as it is a dark web forum rife with criminal activity.

How AI Will Impact the Economy and Job Market

By 2028, artificial intelligence will be a 997.77 billion dollar industry. According to a McKinsey and Company survey, 56% of companies in the U.S. have adopted AI technology for at least one function in their business. AI jobs, which include fields like data science, machine learning, business intelligence, and data mining, are also in high demand, with a 75% increase from 2017 to 2021. As the world becomes more reliant on advanced computer technologies, AI will have a significant role in shaping the future.

Most industries currently using AI are healthcare, finance, transportation, and manufacturing. However, there are concerns that the rise of artificial intelligence could potentially leave many workers out of a job. Most of these workers are employed in retail, food and hospitality, complex labor jobs, and manufacturing.  For this brief, Overwatch focused on answering the question of what kind of impact more companies adopting AI-based solutions could have on the job market.

Industries Where AI Solutions Will Impact Workers

Many retail stores offer self-service kiosks to save on labor costs and increase efficiency. The self-service kiosk market is projected to grow by $2.9 billion USD from 2020 to 2025. By 2030, according to a study from the Brookings Institution, AI automation will impact 47% of retail workers. Amazon Go is a self-service store automated by digital technology with 24 locations throughout the U.S. Open-source research shows that some restaurants in the food and hospitality industry utilize AI-based solutions. However, there isn’t a significant level of market penetration with companies in the food and hospitality field adopting AI. Through our research, we identified three major restaurant brands exploring digital solutions. In the last year, Taco Bell, Chipotle, and Starbucks have all opened digital-only locations. However, there is currently no data that suggests Taco Bell, Chipotle, or Starbucks had to cut staff to open their new restaurants.

Further research shows that robots deliver food on some college campuses in the U.S. At the University of Tennessee, Starship Technologies has its robots offer food to students. Starship Technologies also works with DoorDash to provide food in various locations in the United States.

While there are some concerns that AI could replace many customer service jobs, a field with an estimated 1.6 million workers, the chances for such a dramatic shift in the industry are unlikely anytime soon. AI Chat Bots that provide customer service have already seen  significant adoption globally and can answer the most standard questions from a consumer.

Where AI Solutions Are Being Utilized the Most

Analysts note that industries utilizing AI the heaviest don’t appear to be phasing out jobs because of the technology.

In healthcare, AI is used to predict disease progression for the chronically ill, program surgical robots, and track patterns in the medical field.

Additionally, PwC reported how AI could store data exponentially, “IBM’s Watson for Health is helping healthcare organizations apply cognitive technology to unlock vast amounts of health data and power diagnosis.  Watson can review and store far more medical information – every medical journal, symptom, and case study of treatment and response around the world  – exponentially faster than any human.”

In finance, AI is used to track fraudulent bank activity, create quicker loan and credit applications processes, and provide customer service, like the AI Chat Bots discussed previously.

With transportation, AI is used with apps like Uber and Lyft. In addition, Google Maps, which has one billion users, utilizes AI. Google says of the AI, “With it, we’re able to map roads over 10 times faster than we could five years ago, and we can bring maps filled with useful information to virtually every corner of the world.”

According to MIT, 60% of manufacturing companies use AI, leading other industries. Manufacturing companies use AI for inventory management, monitoring and diagnostics, quality control, asset maintenance, and assembly line production.

How do Americans feel about AI Adoption?

According to a 2021 poll from the Stevens Institute of Technology, where Americans were surveyed about their attitudes towards AI, most people see the technology playing a great role in the future U.S. economy. “Adults believe AI should play a greater role in a number of tested industries in the future, including technology (66%), manufacturing (61%), logistics (58%), and retail (52%). Despite a general openness to AI playing a larger role in different industries, adults believe that among the specific tasks tested, most are still best accomplished by humans alone or with some degree of assistance from AI.”


Overwatch assesses that AI technology will have different impacts on different aspects of the current US job market. In urban populations, AI implementation will impact information, technology, and professional manager jobs earlier than in rural communities. Adopting AI as primarily responsible for specific functions will be the catalyst for any effects on employment.

AI’s potential to replace low-wage or low-skilled workers through automating portions of their job performance remains widely discussed. Employers may move workers to verify and inspect work performed by AI, while other workers get transferred to other parts of the workforce less susceptible to automation. Replacing the job tasks of these workers will also likely rely on the implementation of robotics and not be a permanent displacement of employment.

High-wage and high-skilled workers will be the demographic most impacted by AI while not necessarily being replaced by AI. AI adoption will force these workers to understand the technology and leverage the output and data to improve customer journeys, product recommendations, medical diagnosis patterns for medical research, and effective utilization of communications and transportation networks.

Predicting AI’s impact on the job market remains premature until its reliability and consistency lead to broader adoption across our economy.