National security wrap

Image courtesy of Flickr user Piero Sierra

The Beat

High in the sky

A seven news exclusive reveals Queensland police drones have located a $4.5 million cannabis crop in Springbrook national park. The new aerial capability is described a ‘real game changer’ for drug law enforcement, offering cheaper, faster and safer means to identify concealed crops. With a $30 per hour fuel cost, drones compare favourably to the $500 hourly operating costs of helicopter aerial surveillance. Drones also save on time and risk over foot surveillance operations—armed police patrols require keen bushcraft skills to spend weeks scouting a location, risking potential armed engagement and/or serious injury from booby-traps. The successful bust will likely encourage existing trends in federal and state law enforcement procurement vis-à-vis unmanned systems.

Public is the new black?

The US Deputy Attorney-General has announced a decision to reduce and ultimately discontinue the use of private prisons to house federal inmates. The new policy, detailed in a memo, is scathing of privately run prisons, noting that they ‘compare poorly to our Bureau facilities’. Criticisms included limited cost savings, lower security levels and the failure to provide basic rehabilitative services—such as job training and education programs—that are essential to counteracting recidivism. This tentative step, however, affects a small fraction of the federal prison population as most state-based private prisons will remain in business.

CT Scan


Twitter announced last Thursday the suspension of 235,000 accounts for promoting terrorism. Michael S Smith II, an advisor in the Congressional Taskforce on Terrorism and Unconventional Warfare, explains that ISIS recruiters can ‘identify prospective recruits by monitoring the activities of the account’s followers, especially those who retweeted, liked, or replied favourably’. Smith notes that while Twitter’s focused on suspending ISIS-linked accounts, the same effort hasn’t been reproduced in regards to other terror groups exploiting the platform. RAND’s also released a new report examining ISIS debates on Twitter. The report identifies patterns amongst groups of Twitter users, arguing that countermessaging should be tailored for specific communities. The Institute for Strategic Dialogue’s latest report, The Impact of Counter-Narratives (PDF), explores specific countermessaging initiatives in more detail.

Nigeria update

US Secretary of State John Kerry paid a visit to Nigeria on Tuesday amidst the country’s ongoing battle with Boko Haram. Immediately following the visit, reports from Nigeria’s military forces surfaced claiming to have fatally wounded militant leader Abubakar Shekau in an airstrike. Jacob Zenn, writing for the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Monitor, explores recent divisions between the group’s newly-announced leader Abu Musab al-Barnawi and the ousted Shekau—who’s pledged to lead loyal followers under Boko Haram’s original moniker, Jamatu Ahlis Sunna Lidawatti wal Jihad.


Schengen agreement under pressure

In a recent speech, EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker called for European solidarity over the refugee crisis and free movement of people within the union, including Turkish citizens. Juncker controversially declared that national borders are the ‘worst invention ever’ (starting 10 mins:20 seconds), drawing a swift rebuttal from British PM Theresa May. Juncker’s broadsides against tightening border security are seemingly at odds with pronouncements from Italian, German and French leaders following a Monday meeting in Italy. French President Francois Hollande concluded the session by stressing close security cooperation and controlled ‘frontiers’ to combat terrorism.

Turkey invades Syria

Turkey has commenced a major cross-border offensive into northern Syria. Turkish special operations forces, aircraft and armour coordinated with US warplanes and Syrian rebels against ISIS opposition. The Ankara-backed Syrian Free Army has captured the border town Jarablus and its surroundings, removing the last remaining ISIS stronghold along the Turkish border. Earlier this week, Turkish artillery struck multiple ISIS positions following mortar attacks and a devastating suicide bombing in Gaziantep that killed 54 people—including 22 children—at a Kurdish wedding.

In other border news, North Korean troops are laying fresh landmines alongside the demilitarised zone. That may be to deter frontline soldiers from defecting, as South Korean loudspeakers boasted about a recent high-profile defection.

First Responder

Building smart

Managing rapid urbanisation’s a huge challenge for policymakers around the world. Analysts over at Brookings provide three policy recommendations to assist with the implementation (PDF) of India’s ‘Smart Cities Mission’—tailoring solutions to local capacities, improving capability across all levels of government (city, central and state), and making India’s urban areas attractive to investors.

Baton down the hatches

This month’s flooding in Louisiana’s caused at least 13 deaths and damage to some 60,000 homes—many of them uninsured. Obama’s Tuesday visit to the southern state was met with calls for the federal government to assist locals with recovery. Samantha Montana, writing for Vox, argues that US emergency management systems ‘do not have the ability to deal with so many disasters at once’. She stresses the need for community engagement at all stages of disaster management, noting that the recovery period can often be more taxing than the immediate disaster.

Recovery and risk reduction’s not just an issue for the US either—UNDP Africa’s Excellent Hachileka highlights the need for effective risk reduction plans in the Horn and Southern Africa, where poor planning can exacerbate the impacts of crop failure and worsen food insecurity.

Last but not least, check out this nifty tool (beta) from Climate Signals where you can track climate events across the world.