National security wrap

Image courtesy of Flickr user Ryan Sorensen.

The Beat

Petrobas probe deepens

Former Brazilian president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva is the latest high-profile politician facing prosecution for his role in the evolving Petrobas corruption scandal. On Tuesday, Judge Sérgio Moro, a central figure in the ongoing Operação Lava Jato (Operation Car Wash) investigation, ruled that Lula must stand trial on corruption and money laundering charges. The development will add to Lula’s mounting troubles, as he’s already facing trial on obstruction charges. Lula’s administration earnt international acclaim for its popular social welfare programs and robust economic management, but allegedly presided over a US$3 billion bribery scheme involving state-owned oil giant Petrobas. Prosecutors have alleged that Lula received US$1.1 million in home improvements and expenses from construction company OAS in a bid to secure inflated contracts with Petrobas.

Local corruption undermines PRC authority

The Chinese government has cracked down on unruly residents in Wukan, a small fishing village in southern Guangdong province. Five years ago residents took to the streets over a land dispute and against corrupt local officials, forcing the central government into granting them local elections. Fast-forward to earlier this month, the government began retracting this concession by jailing and fining elected chief Lin Zuluan for bribery. In response to the new wave of protests, 2,000 police have been deployed to reassert government control over the village.

CT Scan

Big Apple bombings

US police discovered multiple bombs in New York and New Jersey over the weekend. Details are still emerging regarding the alleged perpetrator, Ahmad Khan Rahami, who’s believed to be responsible for planting the series of devices—one of which detonated, injuring 29. New York’s Wireless Emergency Alerts System was used to broadcast a message warning New Yorkers to keep an eye out for the still-at-large Rahami. Mayor Bill de Blasio highlighted the alert’s contribution to the eventual capture of Rahami, who was found sleeping outside a bar and subsequently fired at officers before being apprehended. Crowdsourcing the intelligence function in times of crisis isn’t a new concept. SAIP, designed by the French government after the Bataclan Theatre attacks, was supposed to warn Twitter users in the event of an attack, but took nearly three hours to notify users after the Bastille Day attacks in Nice.

Informal networks

RUSI’s Raffaello Pantucci argues Daesh’s strategy of embracing smaller, lone actor attacks abroad is a product of the digital age. Communication technologies are making it easier for groups to promote their message and reach out through more informal networks.

Assaf Moghadam has an interesting piece over at War on the Rocks on the recent arrest of British Islamist Anjem Choudary. Moghadam highlights the need to better understand how informal networks like Choudary’s collaborate with terror organisations.


Uri attack stirs Kashmir conflict

Tensions are running high between India and Pakistan following the deadliest attack on security forces in Kashmir in over 25 years. On 18 September armed militants assaulted an Indian army base near the town of Uri, killing 17 and wounding a further 20. Border skirmishes have erupted with Indian forces killing up to 12 suspected militants. India has blamed Pakistan for the Uri attack, alleging the militants crossed over from the Pakistani border and carried weapons with Pakistani markings. Indian Home Affairs Minister Rahnath Singh branded Pakistan a ‘terrorist state’ on Twitter while Ram Madhav, a senior official in the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, demanded ‘For one tooth, the complete jaw’. The long-simmering Kashmir conflict reignited in July 2016 after Indian security forces killed popular militant commander Burhan Wani. Since then, a series of incidents have claimed 80 lives.

EU border update

Next month Bulgaria will host the launch of a new European Border and Coast Guard Agency. The agency’s remit is to ‘help provide integrated border management at the external borders’ and will staff a minimum of 1,500 border guards. In his 2015 State of the Union Address, EU President Jean-Claude Juncker set a target of deploying 200 extra border guards and 50 vehicles at the Bulgarian external border by October.

First Responder

SNAPPing the bug

On Wednesday 21 September, the UN General Assembly hosted a meeting to address the threat posed by new strands of resistant bacteria, pledging tighter regulation of antimicrobials, cooperation, and research for alternative medicines. Researchers at Melbourne University are designing a new class of agents based on chains of proteins dubbed ‘structurally nanoengineered antimicrobial peptide polymers’ (SNAPP). The polymers were effective during tests on mice infected with antimicrobial-resistant bugs.

RAND released a report last week, ‘Identifying Future Disease Hotspots: Infectious Disease Vulnerability Index’. The report found that 24 of the world’s most vulnerable countries ‘form a solid, near-contiguous belt from the edge of West Africa to the Horn of Africa in Somalia’. The authors are concerned disease could spread across the belt, exacerbating local crises.

Global resilience

Barack Obama, in his last speech to the UN as president, called upon the international community to ‘press forward with a better model of cooperation and integration’ across global institutions in order to manage the challenges of inequality, technology, disease, climate change, governance, and conflict. On the climate front, 20 more nations are expected to sign the Paris Agreement at the General Assembly meeting this week, bringing the total up to 47 of the 55 needed for the agreement to enter into force.