National security wrap

The beat

Pandemic creating new opportunities for organised crime

Organised crime groups have been capitalising on the Covid-19 pandemic to boost their images and their businesses. In Italy, the mafia has been delivering food packages to locals affected by restrictions on movement and shortages of essential supplies. This may seem benign, but experts point out that it’s part of a ‘classic mafia’ tactic of stepping in during a crisis when governments leave a void. Drug cartels in Mexico have been using the same method to strengthen their foothold in local communities.

Online drug dealers nabbed in WA

Police in Western Australia have broken up a network of online drug dealers who were allegedly using encrypted apps to sell a variety of narcotics. The six-month operation culminated in the execution of 47 search warrants and the arrests of 60 people operating out of dozens of properties. Many of the suspects were reportedly dealing drugs over online forums and using code words in an effort to avoid being caught.

CT scan

Terror groups spread Covid-19 propaganda

Covid-19 lockdowns have been exploited by terrorist organisations to consolidate power and further expand their territories. Nigeria’s Boko Haram terrorist group, for example, has declared that ‘it is evil that brought about this pandemic’ and proclaimed that its extremist version of Islam was an ‘anti-virus’. The Islamic State has also pushed for its members in Syria and Iraq to promote similar coronavirus-related propaganda as well as attack the West.

UK contemplates stricter counterterrorism measures

The UK government has introduced a new counterterrorism and sentencing bill to parliament that would apply to both convicted and suspected terrorists. The bill would impose longer sentences, extend monitoring periods up to 25 years, introduce tougher investigation measures, and lower the burden of proof from ‘balance of probabilities’ to ‘reasonable grounds’. UK police have come out in support of the proposed legislation, but civil rights groups have criticised it, saying it is ‘a cause of concern for all who care about the future of our democracy and justice’.


States disagree over border closures

Trade Minister Simon Birmingham wants Australia’s state borders to reopen as soon as possible to help rescue the tourism sector, but some state leaders are still hesitant to do so. With the exception of the ACT, NSW and Victoria, all other state borders that were closed to stop the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic will remain shut. Prime Minister Scott Morrison has expressed his willingness to allow people to take domestic holidays by July, while health authorities at the national level say they never advised the states to close their borders.

Trump to paint it black

The Trump administration has awarded Fisher Sand and Gravel, a construction firm in North Dakota, a US$1.3 billion contract to build a 67-kilometre-long wall along the border with Mexico in Arizona. The decision comes after years of reciprocal public support between President Donald Trump and the company, which has also donated to the campaigns of Trump allies. The wall will be painted black at the president’s request, a move that engineers say will increase its cost by hundreds of millions of dollars and cause higher maintenance expenses.

First responder

Coronavirus inquiry resolution adopted at World Health Assembly

In what’s been described as a diplomatic victory for Australia, an impartial, comprehensive and independent review of the coronavirus outbreak will go ahead after a unanimous vote at the World Health Assembly. Led by the EU and Australia, the motion garnered support from more than 120 countries and passed once China lent its support. The review will investigate the source of the virus and draw out lessons learned from the response to it. The coordination and timing of the review, as well as which WHO committee will conduct the investigation, are yet to be determined as different countries continue to manage different stages of their outbreaks.

Philippines responds to typhoon amid pandemic

Typhoon Vongfong made landfall last week in the Philippines, where response efforts were complicated by the coronavirus pandemic. Additional evacuation centres were set up to allow for social distancing, and evacuees were required to wear masks and emergency personnel required to wear personal protective equipment. The Philippines faces an average of 20 typhoons a year, so future storms will continue to challenge pandemic control measures and disaster responses.