National security wrap

The Beat

Carfentanil ban in China

Carfentanil is a powerful opioid used as an elephant tranquillizer. Despite being 10,000 times stronger than morphine, it was possible last year to order kilograms of it on the open Chinese market, all with zero questions asked. That will change as of 1 March, when Beijing’s new ban targets the drug and three of its analogues.

Overdoses caused by synthetic painkillers are reaching crisis-levels in America, and the US Drug Enforcement Administration hailed Beijing’s move as a potential ‘game-changer’.  In January, the DEA announced plans to set up shop in Guangzhou, in an effort to better understand the emerging drugs. China’s National Narcotics Control Commission sometimes deliberates for nine months prior to similar action, so the expedited four-month decision this time round highlights the effectiveness of increased international cooperation.

Looking to the inside…

If you’re a fan of long articles and even longer runs, take a look at GQ’s feature on the San Quentin Prison Marathon. Amidst the race-day excitement we get a glimpse of the inmate competitors, each running to feel free.

Rounding out this week’s peek into prison life, The Marshall Project brings us a mother’s account of visiting her son on death row. The piece is sobering, and especially so when read alongside the regret held by one of the attending jurors.

CT Scan

Hate crimes on the rise in the US

Jewish Community centres in the US have seen an unprecedented rise in bomb threats since the start of this year. Reaching their peak on Monday, 11 Jewish centres were forced to close after receiving threatening phone calls. President Trump has been asked on several occasions to comment on the perceived rise in anti-Semitism in the US, finally declaring that such ‘horrible’ acts ‘must stop’.

In related news, a new website has been launched by Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) that anonymously tracks hate crimes in the US. The website,, documents hate incidents against individuals who identify as AAPI. With 917 hate groups currently operating from the US, readers should sadly expect to see a lot more where this came from.

Measuring terrorist sympathies

Recent research by the International Centre for Counter-Terrorism uses public opinion data to explore what ‘sympathy’ and ‘support’ actually mean when it comes to terrorism, which helps to illuminate what’s motivating the 1% of Muslims who support groups like al-Qaeda and the Islamic State.

Finally, readers who are interested can follow the offensive to retake Mosul from IS via this live blog over at The Washington Post.


74 ashore

The bodies of at least 74 refugees have washed up on the shores of Zawiya, a Libyan city on the Mediterranean Sea. A rubber boat with a capacity of 120 was found nearby; its engine had been removed by traffickers, according to an International Organisation for Migration spokesperson. EU leaders will undoubtedly feel vindicated after their decision earlier this month to crack down on people smugglers who facilitate the perilous journey from Libya across the Mediterranean.

Pakistan–Afghanistan border crackdown

The death toll’s been no less grim in Pakistan this past week. Border security forces in Peshawar killed 11 suspected militants thought to be trying to cross the border from Afghanistan on Sunday. The Pakistani officials were enforcing Pakistan’s new border policies issued following last Thursday’s suicide bombing at a Sufi shrine, which killed 90 and wounded hundreds. The new policy tack includes shoot-on-sight orders when it comes to illegal entrants, and the indefinite closure of the Torkham and Chaman border checkpoints.

Border boss

Check out this photo journal of Sgt Conchita Lopez, 28, who’s one of 10 badass women in the Mexican State Border Police in Tapachula near the Mexican-Guatemalan border. Her unit looks after the rights of migrants crossing the border, many of whom are fleeing violence, poverty and trafficking.

First Responder

Fiji remembers

This week marks one year since Cyclone Winston devastated Fiji, leaving 44 dead and over AU$2.5 billion worth of damage. Some green shoots have sprung up post-storm: 230 school children in Ra province will soon return to their classrooms for the first time, in buildings designed to withstand category five cyclones and sustain wind gusts of 250km/h. And, as ‘recovery is not just about rebuilding buildings – it’s about people’, Red Cross has also provided psychosocial support and will grow community resilience through disaster management and preparedness education.

The spirit of recovery has been captured in a song about Cyclone Winston by local band Breeze Tukana Brothers. If you happen to be in Suva on Friday, swing by the Civic Centre to hear their performance.

Disaster tech

This week, Nokia showcased its ‘Nokia Saves Lives’ initiative, a suite of capabilities including an instant LTE network that brings data connections to disaster-struck areas; a control centre capable of collating received data and providing insights; and connected, video camera-equipped drones.

On that last point, drones are really taking off as a disaster response tool. Showing the value of such cool tech, Italy’s fire service was this week honoured by the inaugural Rome Drone Awards for their innovative use of drones during rescue efforts after recent earthquakes and avalanches.