National security wrap

The Beat

Darknet rising

A new RAND report has found that the dark web’s illicit drug trade is booming despite attentive law enforcement and persistent fraud in online marketplaces. Following Silk Road’s closure in 2013 cryptomarkets fragmented and spawned a number of short-lived successors. Amid police takedowns and exit scams, transactions have tripled while revenues have doubled. At an estimated monthly turnover of US$12–21.1 million, online platforms remain a niche medium compared to the US$2.3 billion raked in by offline markets. Nonetheless, there’s room for continued growth in online illicit drug trade, especially if established cartels were to try their hand at building new digital supply networks. Creative workarounds, such as OpenBazaar’s decentralised peer-to-peer network, may continue to frustrate law enforcement efforts in a similar vein as online digital piracy.

Duterte Harry feels lucky

Philippine President Duterte continues his hard-line campaign against illicit drugs and public corruption. On Sunday, Duterte named over 150 officials—including police, mayors, judges and military personnel—allegedly linked to the drug trade, and gave them 24 hours to surrender to the authorities. Nearly 50 individuals listed have since turned themselves in. In a Tuesday follow-up the President threatened to impose martial law and wage ‘constitutional war’ against the Philippine judiciary should it interfere in his efforts to eradicate the Philippine’s drug problem.

CT Scan

More in Pakistan

It has been a big week for CT watchers, with more acts of terrorism carried out in Belgium and Quetta, and a foiled plot a little closer to home. Two articles over at The Diplomat explore what the Quetta attack means for Pakistani authorities and the links between the attacks claimants, Jamaat-ul-Ahrar and ISIS. For an understanding of how the Islamic State indoctrinates its new recruits, see Jacob Olidort’s recent report (PDF) for the Washington Institute.

Financing summit kicks off in Bali

The 2016 Counter-Terrorism Financing Summit, co-hosted by AUSTRAC and Indonesia’s Transaction Reports and Analysis Center, continues in Bali today. Check out the partnership’s 2016 regional risk assessment here (PDF). Recently, Australia’s been taking steps to curb terrorist financing, particularly in the online world—including pushing to regulate the online currency bitcoin, and forming a new cyber team within AUSTRAC.

Right-wing extremism

Australian authorities moved on Saturday against a Melbourne man affiliated with right-wing movement Reclaim Australia. Phillip Galea was previously charged after police found mercury, Tasers, and instructions for manufacturing explosives in November last year. With all the media attention on Islamist extremism, are we missing another threat?—RUSI argue in their Lone-Actor Terrorism Report (PDF) that ‘right-wing extremists represent a substantial aspect of the lone-actor threat and must not be overlooked’.


Syrian refugees continue to flow

A recent study published in the Washington Quarterly outlines five policy options to tackle the ongoing Syrian Refugee Crisis. The grimly titled ‘The Syrian Refugee Crisis: Bad and Worse Options’ takes stock of Syria’s bleak situation noting that the civil war has produced 6 million refugees, which is approximately 40% of the world’s 15 million refugees. Over the past five years more than half the country’s pre-war population of 21.5 million has been displaced with millions fleeing to nearby Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt and even Iraq. The report’s proposed solutions run the gamut from opening up borders, increasing humanitarian aid, establishing ‘safe zones’, resolving the war or simply closing ‘the gates’. The authors conspicuously rule out the West’s present inertia on moral and strategic grounds—hence the ‘worst option’.

And the winner is…

Defence electronics company Elbit Systems of America (a subsidiary of an Israeli-based parent company) has taken out the top gong in the Government Security News’ annual border security awards. Elbit System’s Integrated Fixed Tower technology tracks and identifies items of interest along the US–Mexico border allowing border security forces to respond to incursions. The company’s initial deployment was in the Nogales Arizona Area of Responsibility, which has recently seen multiple drug seizures.

First Responder

Zika heads north

Zika has been making headlines again after an outbreak in Florida last week, with at least 21 infected. Alex Thompson, writing for VICE, notes that states that could be hit hardest (Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Texas) possess some of the most restrictive abortion laws—‘if Zika spreads in the coming months, many pregnant women could be compelled to give birth to children with severe brain impairment unless they can afford to travel to a more permissive state’. On the counterpunch front, researchers from Harvard and the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research have made some progress with a Zika vaccine, carrying out successful animal trials.

Going for gold

Staying in the Northern hemisphere, Craig Welch in a report for National Geographic catalogues some of the dangers of a warming Pacific Ocean, including ‘the blob’—a patch of warm water disrupting the ecosystem along the American West Coast. The dangers of rising temperature and sea levels took centre stage at the Olympic opening ceremony on Friday, with several performances dedicated to raising awareness of the issue.

Closer to home, the ACT government has released its climate change adaption strategy, ‘Living with a Warming Climate’, outlining a three-pronged approach to tackle climate change: considering climate impacts for essential services, proactively building resilience, and promoting understanding across communities.