National security wrap

The beat

Restoring voting rights in Florida

An estimated 1.5 million Floridians will be eligible to vote again after the state’s legislature passed Amendment 4, changing the felon voting laws. Florida was one of three states that banned felons from voting for life, leaving one in 10 adults and one in five African-Americans resident in the state unable to vote. Rights could be restored through individual petitions for clemency, but it was a lengthy and arbitrary process. Now they will automatically regain voting rights upon the completion of their sentences, except in cases of murder or sex crimes. It is the largest mass enfranchisement in the US since 1920 when women won the right to vote.

El Chapo faces the music

A 12-strong jury will determine the fate of Mexican drug cartel boss Joaquin ‘El Chapo’ Guzman when his trial on drug trafficking charges commences in a district court in New York next week. The Mexican drug lord’s trial poses significant security risks and the New Yorkers selected for jury service will be transported to and from the court by armed US marshals. The 61-year-old Guzman is being held in solitary confinement due to his successful prison escapes in Mexico. Part of the Brooklyn Bridge was shut down in order to transfer him to the courthouse.

Peru’s former top cop arrested over baby-trafficking ring

Peruvian police have arrested former national police chief Raul Becerra over his involvement in a baby-trafficking ring. Becerra’s partner, Cintia Tello, is the alleged leader of the ring, which consisted of a dozen people (including doctors and hospital workers) who persuaded poor and vulnerable women to sell their babies. The ring also targeted illegal abortion providers. Police are investigating whether the babies were destined for illegal foreign adoption or organ trafficking.

CT scan

Egypt to consider burqa ban as part of counterterrorism strategy

Egypt is considering banning the wearing of the burqa as a counterterrorism measure after a series of attacks by militants reportedly using full-face veils to disguise their identity and evade security personnel. A draft of the new law is currently up for debate in parliament. If the legislation is approved, Egypt will be the second Muslim country, after Algeria, to ban women from wearing the full-face veil in all public places. Under the proposed law, a fine of 1,000 Egyptian pounds (A$77) would be imposed on offenders.

Sudan to cooperate with the FBI

Sudan’s Council of Ministers has agreed to a joint counterterrorism program with the FBI despite the country’s having been on a US State Department list of state sponsors of terrorism since 1993. Human traffickers make use of Sudan’s porous borders to transport illegal migrants through the country before heading to Europe. Sudan has been a US partner in the global war on terrorism since 9/11 and is working to be taken off the list of state sponsors of terrorism.

New York subway bomber charged

A man who was inspired by Islamic State to blow himself up in New York City’s busiest subway station has been convicted of terrorism offences. Akayed Ullah, a Bangladeshi immigrant whom prosecutors described as a self-radicalised lone wolf, was seriously hurt during the attempted suicide bombing in a subway tunnel under Times Square, which also caused minor injuries to commuters.


New Caledonia says ‘non’ to independence—for now

New Caledonia voted to remain part of France on Sunday. Promised in the 1998 Noumea Accords—which ended a period of ethnic violence—the referendum garnered a 56% ‘non’ vote and a record 80% participation rate. Many observers considered the result a decisive victory for the status quo. However, New Caledonia’s pro-independence leaders expect that a second and third referendum will be held in 2020 and 2022 given the closeness of the vote. Following the New Caledonia result, there are reports from French Polynesia that pro-independence campaigners there will also now call for a referendum.

Lying at the border

To help identify illegal crossings, the EU will trial a ‘smart’ lie-detection system at four border crossings in Greece, Hungary and Latvia. The system, known as ‘iBorderCtrl’, first assesses ‘official documents, social media activity and biometric data’. Then, controversially, it asks several questions while analysing 38 micro-gestures associated with lying. Those deemed to have lied will be referred for questioning by customs officials.

Border tensions between Venezuela and Colombia

Venezuela has deployed additional troops to its border with Colombia after three soldiers were killed and 10 injured in an attack allegedly carried out by a Colombian paramilitary group on the weekend. The attack occurred in Amazonas state and comes only weeks after Colombia protested to the Maduro government in Caracas about a cross-border incursion by Venezuelan soldiers. Such hostile incidents along the 2,200-kilometre border have become more frequent and are contributing to worsening diplomatic relations between the two countries.

First responder

Village radio stations to track tsunamis
Flinders University researcher Paul Gardner-Stephen has created a natural disaster early-warning system using satellite TV receiver hardware and small radio transmitters. These ‘village radio stations’ can be set up in remote locations at very little cost and have been successfully tested in Vanuatu. Once the system is in place, locals will be able to access the alerts using their mobile phones or radios. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres highlighted the need for better preparedness for tsunamis in a message to mark World Tsunami Awareness Day this week.

Smog towers to fight India’s air pollution
A start-up in New Delhi has patented the world’s largest and most effective air purifier, a 12-metre ‘smog tower’ to help combat the city’s air pollution. The solar-powered device will suck in air and purify it using a highly effective particulate filter, generating air that’s up to 99.99% clean. Toxic air would be recycled continuously with the help of 48 fans. According to the World Health Organization, 14 of the world’s 20 most polluted cities are located in India.

Earthquakes trigger volcano alert in Italy
Sicily was struck by a series of earthquakes last week, which triggered fears of a fresh eruption by Europe’s largest active volcano, Mount Etna. The earthquakes were followed by storms, landslides and flooding on the Italian island. Extreme weather has battered Italy over the last several weeks, claiming more than 30 lives across the country. Relief efforts have been hampered by the continuous rain.