National security wrap

The beat

Ergonomics of police body cameras

Victoria Police have begun distributing body cameras to 11,000 frontline officers. Officers won’t be required to tell the public when the cameras are filming. Footage will be kept for 90 days. As body cameras become more popular with police, a new study published in the journal Ergonomics in Design notes that cameras mounted on the head—on glasses or on a hat—provide a better view of a situation than those mounted on the torso, which can be obscured when officers lift their arms.

Prison violence

Figures released by the UK Ministry of Justice show that assaults in prisons in England and Wales are at record highs. In the past year there were 29,485 incidents of assault, 8,429 of which were assaults on prison staff. The mass exodus of experienced prison guards representing more than 70,000 years of cumulative experience in the last decade suggests that there’s a chronic problem.

White supremacists indicted

Federal officials indicted 57 white supremacists from six different gangs in Texas for conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine and other illegal narcotics. The indictment comes a year after the prosecution of 89 white supremacists for drug trafficking, the largest white supremacist gang prosecution in US history. After that prosecution, US Attorney John Parker argued that the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas and Aryan Circle were ‘essentially decimated’. Yet both gangs feature in the latest indictment, speaking to white supremacy’s pervasive influence.

CT scan

Follow the money?

Ministers and experts worldwide gathered in France for a two-day conference on combatting terrorism financing. French officials identified 416 French donors to Islamic State, noting that Daesh brought in about US$2 billion between 2014 and 2016. The conference culminated in more than 70 countries pledging to bolster their efforts to stem the money flows. However, terrorism expert Peter Neumann said governments face challenges in achieving that goal, arguing that governments need to understand why previous efforts have failed. Neumann has said previously that tracking terrorist financing is expensive and difficult—most funds never enter the global financial system or are moved in unnoticeably small transfers.

Telegram from the Ayatollah

Iran banned messaging app Telegram earlier this week. The ban follows a similar move by Russia, which sought to obtain the encryption keys protecting private messages. Telegram is widely used in both countries, but is also the ‘app of choice’ for jihadists because of its end-to-end encryption and unique messaging features. Telegram was used by a suicide bomber in Russia last year, and by jihadists in France and the Middle East.

(Re)Igniting conflict in the Balkans—a clarification

Balkan Insight published the findings of an investigation into Christian extremist Jim Dowson, ‘Britain’s most influential far-right activist’. The investigation found that Dowson was a British nationalist who trains Serb far-right groups for ‘online war’ as part of what some see as an ‘imminent’ Christian–Muslim war in majority-Muslim Kosovo. Kosovo–Serbia is an old conflict flashpoint, and a series of incidents this year has increased tensions between the two countries. Anti-racism organisation Hope Not Hate has an in-depth analysis of Mr Dowson’s connections and operations. Last week we stated that Mr Dowson ‘armed and trained’ these Serb groups. This should have been more accurately stated to be an accusation, as it was in that source publication: ‘a Serbian parliamentarian has accused Dowson and KTI of supplying arms to Serb militias in Northern Kosovo, a charge that Dowson (who was named in the Serb parliament) refutes and claims he is taking legal action against’. We apologise for not being clearer on this matter.


China–India border collaboration

China and India have agreed to a series of measures to address hostilities along their disputed border. Following an informal summit in Wuhan, the two heads of state improved communications along the border, setting up a hotline between their two armies and holding a face-to-face meeting of border personnel in Ladakh on Wednesday. China and India will also revive their annual ‘Hand-in-Hand’ joint military exercise, which was suspended last year during a 73‑day standoff in Doklam. However, analysts worry that the summit’s success will be undermined if measures fail to move past military collaboration, noting the need for dialogue about relations with Pakistan and partnership in non-military spheres such as water management and the economy.

Friendly and not-so-friendly bridges in the Caucasus

Construction began on a ‘friendship bridge’ between Georgia and Armenia. The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development provided €6 million to finance the bridge as part of its efforts to modernise Georgia and ‘upgrade [Georgia’s] infrastructure to EU standards’. EU involvement in Georgia–Armenia relations is being watched closely by Russia, particularly given the widespread protests in Armenia and the resignation of the country’s pro-Russian leader last week.

Hundreds rescued from human trafficking

Interpol rescued nearly 350 victims of human trafficking across 13 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean last month. Operation Libertad was a culmination of more than 30 months’ planning. While successful, the operation’s extent provides a sobering insight into the magnitude of organised crime networks in the region.

First responder

A disaster for critical infrastructure

Natural disasters can cause significant damage to critical infrastructure. The World Bank has highlighted the vulnerability of energy infrastructure to natural disasters and the potential consequences for services such as hospitals and food preservation. The Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) recently held a seminar in Turkmenistan to share international best practices in risk assessment and protecting energy infrastructure. Ambassador Natalya Drozd, Head of the OSCE Centre in Ashgabat, reminded participants that the OSCE had previously highlighted the ‘crucial contribution to security, stability and prosperity’ that regional cooperation to protect energy networks from natural and man-made disasters could make.

Cloudy with a chance of fake news

The Egyptian government has proposed a new law to ban fake weather reports. The ability to forecast weather patterns is important to emergency response teams, who must develop risk management strategies. The Overseas Development Institute highlights the importance of forecasting weather and hazards for decision-making in early action responses, in particular the importance of forecasting data to indicate where funding should be allocated. Egypt’s decision raises the question of whether limiting weather forecasting to the Egyptian government will affect disaster preparedness.

Disaster risk training for women

Natural disasters disproportionately affect women because existing gender inequalities and violence against women are exacerbated in disaster and post-disaster settings. To address this issue, the Indonesian YAKKUM Emergency Unit trains women in disaster management. Women have been trained in evacuation procedures and first aid, empowering them with knowledge of how best to respond during a natural disaster. The project realises the importance of women’s more intimate knowledge of their communities, from understanding high-risk areas to communicating more frequently with other members in the community and caring for their families.