National security wrap

The beat

Surveillance state

A new police camera system in New Jersey is raising serious privacy concerns. The city of Newark plans to install over 300 surveillance cameras to create a ‘virtual block watch’. The new cameras allow anyone with an email address and an internet connection to watch whatever activities Newark’s Citizen Virtual Patrol captures. To date, more than 1,600 members of the public have registered.

Mugshot exploitation

Owners of the infamous website have been arrested on charges of extortion, money laundering and identity theft. The website had for years profited from others’ humiliation by publishing mugshots and then demanding payment for their removal. The scheme earned the owners more than US$2 million in fees over a three-year period. California’s Attorney General described the scheme as exploitation, saying ‘Those who can’t afford to pay into this scheme to have their information removed pay the price when they look for a job, housing, or try to build relationships with others.’

Interpol issues

A Russian human rights activist was arrested by Spanish police in Madrid on a Russian Interpol arrest warrant. Bill Browder was later released after the Interpol Secretary General in Lyon advised Spanish police to disregard the notice. The arrest exposes tricky aspects of Interpol’s role. Commentaries on the arrest argue that international law enforcement potentially allows authoritarian states to undermine Western democracies’ own laws—such as prosecuting activism, which is protected by law in most Western countries.

CT scan

Money money money

Iran’s parliament debated joining the International Convention for the Suppression of Financing of Terrorism. Some lawmakers derided the bill as ‘colonial’, but the chamber eventually forwarded the bill to committee for evaluation. The bill is an attempt to get Iran off the Stopping terrorist financing is notoriously difficult because terrorists continually find new ways to access money. Some of these ideas have been floated online by pro-Islamic State and al-Qaeda, as SITE Intelligence reports here, here and here.

Amnesty no more

Kenya launched an operation to capture al-Shabaab militants who had returned to Kenya under a 2015 amnesty but had failed to surrender to police. The operation will also target community members suspected of hiding returnees. The amnesty has had mixed success—some blame returnees for ongoing al-Shabaab attacks, while others note that registered returnees have

Joint CT exercise

India and Nepal kicked off a two-week counterterrorism exercise in the Himalayas. Though terrorism isn’t a significant threat in the region, the porous Nepal–India border has long concerned India.


Iran to leave Syrian border zones

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has declared that only Syrian forces should be present in the country’s border regions with Israel and Jordan. Fearing conflict between Israeli and Iranian troops, Moscow expressed its support for withdrawing Iranian troops after Israel launched strikes against Iranian units in Syria. It isn’t in Russia’s interests to see a proxy war in Syria that would escalate tensions and undermine the Assad regime. Russia, with the US and Jordan, has backed a tenuous ceasefire in the border region since July last year.

Water woes

India inaugurated a new dam that will divert the Kishanganga River from Pakistan, which could create a severe water crisis in Pakistan. The World Bank stepped in to facilitate talks with India and Pakistan, but no agreement was reached. The Indus Rivers System Authority in Pakistan has since warned of acute water shortages. Late last year, the Pakistan Council for Water Resources warned that the country may run dry by 2025.

North Korean smuggling activities ‘widespread’

Japan’s Foreign Ministry recently released four photos showing a Chinese-flagged ship transferring fuel to a North Korean tanker in contravention of UN Security Council resolutions. The North Korean tanker, Ji Song 6, has been blacklisted for smuggling fuel into North Korea. This is the fifth reported case of an illicit transfer in the Sea of Japan, suggesting that North Korea’s smuggling activities may be increasing.

First responder

Crisis collaboration

Monsoon rain and floods struck more than 20 districts in Sri Lanka earlier this week, causing mass internal displacements. According to Relief Web, the flooding affected some 153,000 people. Despite the devastation, there has been a positive display of collaboration between first responders. Sri Lanka’s Disaster Management Centre successfully coordinated the rescue operations of the Sri Lankan Army, Navy and Air, as well as safe transfer of people to medical clinics.

International Day of UN Peacekeepers

Tuesday was International Day of UN Peacekeepers, marking 70 years of UN peacekeeping operations. Ukraine capitalised on the occasion to advocate for the deployment of a UN peacekeeping mission in its eastern region of Donbas. The US Ambassador to Ukraine agreed, saying that ‘UN peacekeepers should replace Russian troops’. And earlier this month, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said that a UN mission could help stabilise the region and assist in the implementation of the Minsk agreement. Russia allegedly uses humanitarian conveys to send weapons and ammunition to militants in the region.