National security wrap

The beat

UK’s first unexplained wealth target released on bail

Zamira Hajiveya, the first target of the UK’s unexplained wealth orders, has been released on bail while she awaits an extradition hearing over embezzlement charges in Azerbaijan. Under the order issued in January, she must explain how she could afford two properties worth £22 million ($39.3 million) or risk authorities seizing them. UWOs allow authorities to seize assets worth over £50,000 ($89,300) that are suspiciously acquired until the owner can explain them. Hajiveya is married to Jahangir Hajiveya, a former chairman of Azerbaijan’s national bank who was jailed in 2016 for fraud and embezzlement.

Police pose as window washers

Police in Melbourne are catching drivers illegally using mobile phones by going undercover as window washers—complete with squeegee, high-vis vest and radio. Many drivers in Victoria use their phones when they’re stopped at red lights, even though the state’s laws apply when a car is stationary but not parked. Although officers didn’t wash any windows, the operation led to 38 infringement notices being issued in an hour.

International backlash over human rights concerns in Tanzania

The World Bank has cancelled a US$300 million educational loan to Tanzania over its policy of expelling pregnant girls from school and preventing them from returning after giving birth. It’s not the only human rights issue causing concern in Tanzania. The World Bank suspended all missions to the country due to the harassment and discrimination facing the LGBTQ community, and the EU has recalled its ambassador because of ‘the deterioration of the human rights and rule of law situation’.

CT scan

US-backed Kurdish militia to resume offensive against ISIS

A ground offensive by the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces against Islamic State in northern Syria will soon resume after the US negotiated an agreement with Turkey that allows the attack to proceed. The SDF, which consists of both Syrian Kurds and Arabs, halted its offensive in October after it was shelled by Turkish artillery. Turkey regards the Kurdish members of the SDF as terrorists aligned with the PKK, which is listed by the US and Turkey as a terrorist organisation.

Non-profit organisations under scrutiny over terror funding

A report by the Australian Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre warns that non-profit organisations are at risk of being targeted by terrorist groups. AUSTRAC has identified suspected links between non-profits operating in Australia and Southeast Asia and foreign terrorist groups, mainly Islamic State and its affiliates. AUSTRAC classified the level of the threat to Australian organisations as ‘medium’. New Zealand ranked low, while Indonesia was in the highest risk category. Indonesia has investigated 300 cases of alleged terrorism-related funding by non-profits, resulting in 39 convictions.

Big tech companies urged to share information on terrorism

The director-general of Britain’s National Crime Agency, Lynne Owens, has called on big tech companies to more effectively share information that could help fight terrorism and organised crime. Owens is urging the Five Eyes intelligence-sharing countries (Australia, the UK, the US, Canada and New Zealand) to ‘speak with one voice’ to compel tech companies to provide law enforcement agencies with access to encrypted messages. The Australian government has new encryption legislation before parliament. If the bill passes, it will give law enforcement agencies greater access to encrypted messages. Tech companies have opposed the legislation, citing security and privacy concerns.


Cheetahs 4 sale

Criminal organisations are using platforms like Instagram and YouTube to facilitate the illegal trafficking of cheetahs from the Horn of Africa. Over the past two months, 11 cheetah cubs have been seized during raids in Somaliland en route to the UAE and Saudi Arabia. The ‘luxury pet’ fashion in Gulf states is fuelling the market in endangered animals. Activist groups are calling on social media companies to do more to address the issue.

Canada opens trilingual border post

The Canada Border Services Agency has unveiled new signs in English, French and the Mohawk language at the Cornwall border crossing between Ontario and New York State. The joint initiative between CBSA and the Mohawk Council of Akwesasne is ‘one more small response’ in the reconciliation process that started following an inquiry by Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Including Mohawk is intended to better reflect the local community. Of the 1.5 million travellers who crossed the border at Cornwall last year, more than 1 million identified as Mohawk.

Border reopens in Cyprus

Two checkpoints opened in Cyprus allowing the first crossings of Greek and Turkish Cypriots in eight years. Cyprus has been divided along ethnic lines for more than four decades and the most recent round of UN-facilitated peace talks collapsed last year. Welcoming the latest development, the UN special representative to Cyprus, Elizabeth Spehar, said the border points would help build trust and confidence between the two communities.

First responder

Climate-change challenge for Australian emergency services

Emergency services in Australia are grappling with the increasingly disruptive effects of unexpected weather conditions associated with climate change. One of the practical challenges they’re facing is a lack of access to US water-bombing planes because of the overlapping fire seasons in the two countries. Rescue service personnel stress the need for hardening of infrastructure, awareness drives to increase preparedness, fire drills and hazard reduction to cope with extreme conditions.

Big data to support disaster response in Africa

The United Nations’ Platform for Space-based Information for Disaster Management and Energy Response has unveiled plans to use big data and advanced satellite technology to assist with disaster prevention and response in African countries. Big data is also being used to fight diseases in Africa; in Zambia, for example, the use of geospatial data and health records has contributed to an 85% reduction in cases of malaria between 2014 and 2017 in its southern province. Meanwhile, Japan is working with Vietnam to build a satellite to aid the latter’s disaster-prevention efforts.

‘Fake’ news causes Indonesia disease panic

The Bali Hotel Association has objected to what it says are false reports of an outbreak of Japanese encephalitis on the tourist island circulating on international news and social media sites this week. A UK media report said the disease had ‘exploded’ in Bali, but the hotel association said that was based on a single case of the disease reported in January. The travel advice issued by Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade says Japanese encephalitis is an ongoing risk in Indonesia, including in Bali, but the danger of infection remains low. Avoid mosquito bites, it says, and talk to your doctor about vaccinations before you go.