National security wrap

The beat


Cosmetics brand Lush has faced heavy criticism for a new campaign attacking police in the window displays of its UK stores. The campaign, using the #SpyCops hashtag, features a ‘model whose face is divided into being a police officer in uniform and an undercover activist’. Despite the backlash, several MPs and lawyers have defended the campaign. Lush says that the campaign isn’t an anti-police, but instead highlights the ‘abuse that people face when their lives have been infiltrated by undercover police’.

Police drones

Police are embracing drones as an everyday crime-fighting tool. The number of US law enforcement agencies with drones has more than doubled in the past two years. The increase has generated innovative approaches to tackling law enforcement, including taking photos of car accidents and searching for missing people and murder suspects. A new type of tethered drone is now being trialled to monitor large-scale events. The drones are connected to a power source on the ground, which enables them to remain in the air indefinitely, eliminating the problem of limited battery life.

DNA solves cold cases

A new law in Indiana requiring anyone arrested for a felony to provide a DNA sample has resulted in several cold cases being solved. In the first three months of 2018, more than 12,000 DNA samples were collected across the state. The FBI’s combined DNA index system linked 244 of the samples to ongoing investigations.

CT scan

Targeting technologies used by terrorists

Australia’s Cyber Security Minister Angus Taylor confirmed that the government’s proposed anti-terror legislation would compel encrypted service providers like Facebook, Apple and Twitter to cooperate with intelligence services. Encrypted messaging services are regularly used by jihadists, but privacy and security concerns about weakening encryption have complicated solutions. Taylor said that the legislation would not include back doors and would be the most comprehensive in the world.

Islamic State’s criminal underbelly

Several stories this week gave rare insights into the criminal side of Islamic State. The ABC reported that priceless antiquities looted and smuggled by Islamic State keep turning up in Western art markets. Multi-country investigations have found evidence of smuggling rings involving Western antiquities dealers and IS.

The UK’s Channel 4 aired a fascinating segment about Aimen Dean, an al-Qaeda operative turned double agent. Dean joined al-Qaeda in 1996 and fought as a jihadist in Bosnia before becoming a spy for MI6. He noted that today’s IS-inspired jihad was not the ‘university-educated’ jihad that he had joined and attracts more criminals and psychopaths.

IS’s irreverent underbelly was confirmed by Abdul Wahid, a Nigerian soldier caught and held hostage by Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS) for three months last year. In an interview with the Guardian, Wahid said that Petit Chapori, the key lieutenant in ISGS, was less believer than thug and that ISGS fighters rarely complied with Islamic requirements like washing before praying. The full article can be found here.


New facial recognition system at the US–Mexico border

The US government is implementing a new facial recognition system at its border with Mexico. The ‘vehicle face system’ records images of people inside vehicles crossing the Nogales border and compares the images to photos on file in government holdings. The system collects a random sample, with no particular scrutiny of more or less suspicious travellers. The project forms part of the broader Biometric Exit program, which seeks to physically verify the visas and identities of foreigners leaving the US before they reach the border checkpoint.

Ethiopia’s path to peace

Ethiopia announced that it will fully accept the 2000 Algiers Agreement with Eritrea, resolving one of Africa’s bloodiest and most protracted post-colonial conflicts. Ethiopia had previously refused to award disputed territories to Eritrea in accordance with the agreement, maintaining a high troop presence in the border town of Badme. The surprise announcement also includes plans to allow foreign investment in state-owned enterprises—such as the national carrier Ethiopian Airlines—and lifts the state of emergency two months early.

Hala’ib triangle tensions

Sudan’s new foreign minister, Al-Dirdiri Mohamed Ahmed, arrived in Cairo to hold bilateral talks with his Egyptian counterpart, with a specific focus on the Hala’ib triangle. The triangle, which lies near the Red Sea in a mineral-rich border region, has been a controversial subject of late. Last month, Sudan filed a complaint with the UN Security Council after Egypt held voting in the triangle during the presidential election. Egypt, meanwhile, outwardly condemned Russia Today for posting an online poll about who owns the Hala’ib triangle, accompanied by a ‘fraudulent’ map that situates the triangle outside of Egypt’s territory.

First responder

Plastic is a threat to security

Tuesday was World Environment Day. The theme for 2018 was ‘beat plastic pollution’. A variety of articles have appeared online, including a particularly disturbing one about a whale that had swallowed 80 plastic bags. According to a UN Environment report, Single-use plastics: a roadmap to sustainability, Papua New Guinea and Australia are the only countries in Oceania that have some sort of legislation banning plastic bags. The growing volume of plastic waste in the oceans is a threat to the many countries in the Pacific that rely on fisheries and aquaculture for both economic and food security. World Environment Day has highlighted the scope of this global problem and raised questions about how the international community should respond to this long-term security risk.

Under the ash

Following the devastation of the Fuego volcano eruption in Guatemala, search and rescue operations are now the sombre task of the day. The National Civil Police and the National Disaster Coordination Agency are conducting rescue operations and delivering emergency food to those in need. Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales declared a state of emergency in the states of Chimaltenango, Sacatepequez and Escuintla.

The intersection of urbanisation, infrastructure and resilience

Countries that are susceptible to floods and cyclones, such as Mozambique, face a greater burden of ensuring that their infrastructure is resilient. The inherent challenges posed by natural disasters are exacerbated by population growth according to the World Bank. Initiatives like the World Bank’s Mozambique Cities and Climate Project aim to help cities build resilience in infrastructure such as drainage, flood-control stations and water-retention basins.