National security wrap

Image courtesy of Flickr user Thomas Hawk.

The Beat

Jakarta unrest

Violence erupted in Jakarta last Friday night resulting in one death (from asthma-related complications) and dozens injured as police attempted to control mass protests. A 150,000 strong rally took to the streets demanding the arrest of Jakarta’s Chinese Christian governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama for allegedly blaspheming the Quran. Although most demonstrators were well-behaved and the protest began peacefully, a group of extremists began attacking police and destroying property after the sun went down. Interestingly, the Jakarta police attempted to appease the protestors by deploying hijab-wearing female officers on the frontline. Indonesia’s federal lower house, The People’s Representative Council, is opening an investigation into the riots and whether local police officials were involved in instigating them. For further analysis on the demonstrations, see John McBeth’s piece on religious extremism in Indonesia.

Big data, big problems

Technology website Recode has an interesting podcast out that explores the implications of big data, including the ongoing debate about data driven policing. Guest speaker DJ Patil, the United States’ first Chief Data Scientist, discussed some of the findings from the Police Data Initiative he helped launch in 2015. The initiative examined data practices of local police departments. Patil argues for more effective analysis of dispatch data so that  officers are given time to ‘decompress’ following high-intensity incidents, in order to improve decision-making when they’re back on the beat.

CT Scan

UN under fire in Mali

Jihadist group Ansar Dine have carried out a series of attacks in Mali over the past two weeks. The al-Qaeda linked group targeted UN camps and vehicles, French armed forces and several Malian National Guard posts. The Long War Journal highlights an uptick in violence in the West Africa region, with over 175 al-Qaeda linked attacks taking place this year alone. For a more detailed take on the UN mission in Mali and its challenges, check out this report from the International Peace Institute.

Juggling threats

While all eyes are on Daesh and efforts to evict the group from Mosul and Raqqa, the campaign to target al-Qaeda leadership quietly continues. US officials confirmed on 2 and 4 November successful air strikes targeting Haydar Kirkan, a senior facilitator and courier, and Faruq al-Qatani, al-Qaeda’s emir for eastern Afghanistan. Several US news outlets also reported that law enforcement agencies had identified potential al-Qaeda plots, possibly linked to Qatani, in the lead-up to Election Day.

Analysts are concerned US policymakers may be underestimating the threat posed by al-Qaeda. Bruce Hoffman, speaking a recent conference at the Washington Institute, expressed concerns about a ‘hostile takeover’ as Daesh begins to lose territory (and influence). Al-Qaeda may position itself to syphon recruits from Daesh and reassume leadership of the broader jihadi movement.


Eye in the sky

Ron Nixon, writing for The New York Times, has an interesting take on the controversial use of drones for border security in the US. According to the US Government Accountability Office, the CBF currently operates at least nine MQ-9 Predator B drones out of airfields in Arizona, North Dakota, Texas, and Florida. While Customs and Border Protection officials are keen to expand the use of drones to police US borders, a 2014 audit (PDF) of the program recommended that ‘the $443 million that CBP plans to spend on program expansion could be put to better use by investing in alternatives, such as manned aircraft and ground surveillance assets’.

Orban’s headache

In Hungary, a proposal to amend the constitution in order to reject the EU’s refugee quota failed to pass parliament on Tuesday. Leaders of the anti-immigration Jobbik party refused to support the bill over disagreements on the country’s controversial ‘cash-for-residency’ program, which allows foreigners to acquire permanent residency by purchasing government bonds. In a meeting with Prime Minister Viktor Orban, Jobbik leader Gábor Vona argued the proposals didn’t go far enough, stating that ‘Jobbik can only support a constitutional amendment as long as it rejects all forms of migration and migrant settlement. We want neither poor nor rich migrants to be settled in Hungary’.

First Responder

Vax on, vax off

It’s been a big week for vaccine research across the globe. On Monday, researchers at the DoD-run Walter Reed Army Institute of Research in Maryland announced a new phase of human trials for its experimental Zika vaccine. The vaccine underwent successful primate trials in August. It’s engineered to trigger an immune response using the virus’ protein shell, which is recognised by the immune system despite using an inactive form of the virus.

Strengthening the bioweapons convention

The Eighth Review Conference of the Biological Weapons Convention got underway on 7 November in Geneva. The conference, which occurs every five years and spans just over two weeks, brings UN countries together to review and update the convention in light of technological developments. Analysts have called for a restructuring of the treaty and highlighted the need for more frequent consultation to keep up with the rapid pace of research and development.

Lastly, check out this cool infographic from the American Museum of Natural History which tracks population growth from 1AD.