National security wrap

The beat

Drone force for WA police

The Western Australian government is set to deploy a new fleet of drones to assist the state’s police in criminal investigations and search and rescue operations. Police Minister Michelle Roberts confirmed that over the next two years 60 pilots will be trained to navigate the air wing’s newest assets. The drones will be equipped with high-definition video-recording cameras, thermal imaging technology, floodlights and speakers.

Beached narcotics in the South of France

Police have been forced to close six beaches along France’s Atlantic coast after recovering 872 kilograms of cocaine that washed ashore in the last month. Police will continue to patrol the beaches and have conducted local area searches to deter people from retrieving the packages for personal use or profit.

US police granted access to DNA database

A federal judge in Florida has granted the Orlando Police Department a search warrant to access the more than one million user profiles from open-source genealogy database GEDmatch. The warrant effectively overrides the recent changes to GEDmatch’s terms and conditions, which attempted to restrict police access to user databases to cases where users had given consent.


EU establishes first permanent border security corps

The EU is to establish its first uniformed stand-alone border security force. Under the plan, the European Border and Coast Guard Agency, Frontex, will have 10,000 border guards by 2027, giving it the ‘right level of ambition to respond to the challenges facing Europe in managing migration and its external borders’. Frontex has already launched its first recruitment drive for over 700 border guards, who will commence duties in 2021.

Turkish forces fire at Syrian protesters

Turkish soldiers opened fire on Kurdish protestors in northeastern Syria during a joint patrol in the town of Kobane. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, two people were killed and seven others injured as protesters threw stones and old shoes at Turkish troops. Turkey is continuing its cross-border offensive against Kurdish fighters, with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan stating that they won’t leave Syria until other countries pull out and the Kurdish fighters have left the border region entirely.

Electronic device searches now illegal

A US federal judge has ruled that the seizure of travellers’ electronic devices by customs officers is unconstitutional without a warrant or reasonable suspicion, as it would otherwise violate the Fourth Amendment. The judgement marks the end of a lawsuit filed in 2017 against homeland security agencies on behalf of people who allegedly had their devices searched at the US border without a warrant. Authorities must now demonstrate ‘legitimate suspicion of illegal activity’ before they’ll be able to search travellers’ electronic devices.

CT scan

Australian citizen jailed in Vietnam for terrorism

An Australian man has been jailed for 12 years on terrorism charges by a Vietnamese court. Chau Van Kham belongs to the banned anti-government Viet Tan group, which was designated a terrorist organisation by the one-party regime in 2016. Kham denies the terrorism charges, claiming he was on a fact-finding mission and that his activities were peaceful. Viet Tan called the trial a sham and accused the government of ‘criminalising human rights advocacy’.

Business as usual for IS

According to BBC Monitoring, Islamic State is trying to prove that the death of its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, has not significantly weakened the group and that it’s business as usual. In the 10 days after al-Baghdadi’s death, IS claimed a total of 60 attacks, which is nine fewer than it claimed in the same timeframe leading up to the IS leader’s death. The organisation’s propaganda machine is reinforcing the message of continuity under the new leadership of Abu Ibrahim al-Hashemi al-Qurashi.

Domestic workers a target for terrorist recruiters

Three Indonesian domestic workers in Singapore have been charged in Singapore with financing terrorism. According to Singapore’s Ministry of Home Affairs, one woman was prepared to die as a suicide bomber and all three promoted IS propaganda online and donated money to IS militants overseas. Radicalisation of domestic workers is becoming an increasing concern for Singaporean authorities as IS turns its attention to Asia, hoping to recruit lonely, alienated and underpaid domestic workers who are living outside their home countries.

First responder

Bigger fires and longer fire seasons are the new normal

The former chief of California’s Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, who commanded the response to the state’s worst-ever wildfires last year, said that the unprecedented fires in California and eastern Australia are the ‘new normal’.  Ken Pimlott said the experiences of firefighters in both countries were nearly identical, with crews, equipment and budgets being stretched by longer and more intense fire seasons.

Breakthrough in vaping illness investigation

US health officials say that they’ve found the likely culprit behind the vaping illness that has killed 39 people. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention identified vitamin E acetate as a ‘potential chemical of concern’, after finding the substance in all 29 lung tissue samples from tested patients. Officials, however, cautioned it may take further animal studies to verify that the compound is the actual cause of the epidemic.

Decoding African DNA for a cure

Nigerian biotech start-up 54gene is set to build the first African commercial DNA biobank. The company plans to collect over 100,000 data samples by the end of 2020, which will be used to inform genetic research and improve the diversity of treatment plans. African DNA currently accounts for only 2% of the genetic samples used in medical research, which means that pharmaceutical drugs tend to be biased towards European populations and therefore have a lower efficacy for African populations.