National security wrap

The beat

Free Wi-Fi providers to be compelled to hand over user data

Australian police now have the power to compel communications companies to hand over user data. The Guardian has revealed the extent to which last year’s controversial Assistance and Access Act allows police to access user data and compel cooperation from ‘designated communications providers’, which includes social media companies, device manufacturers, telecommunications companies, retailers and providers of free Wi-Fi.

Almost a thousand arrests made in one-day crackdown in Brazil

Police in Brazil have arrested more than 900 homicide suspects in a single day during ‘Operation Cronos’. The initiative started in August last year with a focus on domestic-violence-related deaths. During the first phase, individuals were also arrested for firearm and drug possession.

Criminals caught in the act in Suva courthouse

Two police officers in Fiji have been suspended while an investigation continues into allegations that they allowed prisoners on remand to have sex with their partners in toilets in the courthouse in Suva. The court’s chief registrar referred the matter for internal investigation. Fijian police have been reprimanded by judges in the past for allowing prisoners to mingle with family members and eat lunch outside the courtroom.


Chinese border guards search Russian phones

Chinese border guards have been accused of randomly seizing and searching Russian citizens’ smartphones. Russia has demanded an official explanation, and the Russian consulate in Guangzhou has issued an advisory stating that guards at the city’s main international airport had randomly selected travelers to confirm their reasons for travelling and searched their phones for compromising photos, videos and messages.

‘We Build the Wall’ project close to completion

The group that raised money on a GoFundMe page to build a section of wall between Mexico and the US has said that construction is nearly complete. The 800-metre stretch of wall will cost between US$6 million and US$8 million. It’s built on private land owned by the American Eagle Brick Company along part of the Mexican border with New Mexico and Texas. ‘We Build the Wall’ has raised over US$20 million for the project, which aims to connect to sections of existing fencing.

Serbian troops on alert after Kosovan police raids

Tensions escalated between Kosovo and Serbia on Tuesday when Kosovan police arrested dozens in raids in Serb-populated areas. The raids targeted organised crime and smuggling, which increased substantially after Kosovan authorities imposed a 100% tariff on Serbian goods. Serbia responded by placing its troops along the border on ‘combat alert’.

CT scan

Terrorists turn to fire

US geopolitical intelligence group Stratfor has examined the increasing use of arson as a weapon by terrorists. Recent examples include the launching of incendiary balloons from Gaza against Israel, arson attacks on a mosque and synagogue in the US, and the Islamic State group’s burning of farms in Iraq and Syria. IS has lit fires using remotely activated ignitors and there’s concern that tactic may be picked up by other extremists.

Nigeria dismisses deadly attack as ‘fake news’

More than 20 people have been killed in an ambush by Boko Haram fighters in Nigeria, according to news agency reports. Civilians were being transported by the military to displacement camps in Damboa in northeast Nigeria. IS claims that the attack was carried out by what it called the Islamic State West Africa Province faction of Boko Haram. But the Nigerian Army has denied the attack took place, saying the reports are ‘fake news’. Despite a recent escalation in violence, the Nigerian military regularly downplays the severity of insurgent attacks.

Ghana on alert after Burkina Faso church attack

Gunmen have killed four people in an attack on a church in Burkina Faso, the latest in a series of assaults on Christians in the country. No one has claimed responsibility for the attack, but the government is blaming terrorist groups operating in the Sahel region. Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire have strengthened patrols on their northern borders as insurgents in Burkina Faso push further south. Churches in Ghana are starting a ‘vigilance strategy’ and some are considering installing body scanners in response to the violence.

First responder

World Mosquito Program prevents spread of dengue fever

The World Mosquito Program, led by Australian professor Scott O’Neill, says the introduction of Wolbachia-infected mosquitoes in Cairns has been a resounding success, with no reports of locally acquired cases of dengue fever in the north Queensland city since 2014. Scientists have trialled a program which infects mosquitoes with Wolbachia, a bacteria that reduces a mosquito’s ability to pass on the fever. The program’s success has important implications for Australia’s neighbours in Southeast Asia and the South Pacific, where there are regular dengue fever outbreaks.

Texans to carry guns after natural disasters

Legislators in Texas have passed a bill that will allow licensed gun owners to carry firearms for up to a week after a natural disaster occurs. Those who have defended the bill say that gun owners will be able to keep their handguns if they have to evacuate their homes, meaning they won’t be taken by looters. Critics say the law will put more pressure on the emergency services.

Norway and Russia hold joint maritime rescue exercise

Norway and Russia have held a joint search and rescue exercise in the Barents Sea, one week after both countries organised separate military exercises in the area. Although Scandinavian states have a fraught relationship with Russia, the Arctic is a region where NATO member states and Russia have been able to cooperate in emergency-response and pollution-mitigation exercises.