National security wrap

Image courtesy of Pixabay user tookapic.

The Beat

Crimes that make you say…huh?

It’s a close race for the week’s kookiest crime.

In California, three individuals were arrested for grand theft, after some US$300,000 worth of avocados were pilfered. ‘We take these kinds of thefts seriously,’ the local Sheriff’s office told The Los Angeles Times. Millennials—who’ve long suspected that there must be some daylight robbery in the avocado industry—may be feeling strangely validated, but avocado theft isn’t an entirely new phenomenon.

While avos are a good start, the most nefarious heist may in fact be further north in Yukon, Canada. Police there are investigating the theft of a mummified human toe, a garnish which is slipped into cocktails at a local pub. (Wait, what?!) As the furious victim, renowned ‘Toe Captain’ Terry Lee, carefully explained, ‘Toes are very hard to come by.’ The Sourtoe Cocktail is apparently very popular, with over 100,000 people having tasted it.

UN debate on Transnational Organised Crime

For the attention of the policy buffs out there, the UN has uploaded the latest videos from the 19 June high-level debate on transnational crime. The debate looked at implementation issues around the Convention against Transnational Crime. Commentators hoped that it would help to strengthen the UN’s response to organised crime, delicately-bound as it must be in a multilateral framework.

CT Scan

What can web platforms do to counter extremist content online?

Tech companies have again come under fire for ‘facilitating terrorism’, with the charge being that they inadequately protect against extremist content online. Writing for The Financial Times, senior vice-president and general counsel of Google, Kent Walker, details four ways Google will go about tackling this issue. The tech giant is set to bolster their tech-based efforts to identify extremist and terrorist-related videos; increase the number of independent experts in YouTube’s Heroes program; take a ‘tougher stance’ on videos that don’t directly violate Google policies; and expand YouTube’s role in counter-radicalisation efforts, building on their Creators for Change program.

Experts working in the realm of digital free speech argue that instead of scrambling to take down offensive and/or extremist content online, governments should instead encourage web platforms to ‘create tools so that all users can control their online experiences’. But the problem with this approach is that it doesn’t address people who actively seek out hate speech, such as Dylann Roof.

Artificial Intelligence and countering terror

Delving ever-deeper into the online world, Facebook recently shared its CT policy, detailing several ways the social media company uses artificial intelligence to fight terrorist activity. Alongside sophisticated algorithms used to find words, images and videos, Facebook still needs a human touch so has put together a 150-strong team, including CT experts, who are dedicated to tracking down extremist propaganda online.


North Korean soldiers defect

Two North Korean soldiers have defected to the South within one week of each other. The first marched across the heavily guarded DMZ last Tuesday, surrendering himself to South Korean border guards. The second took a less orthodox approach by swimming across the Han River west of Seoul, strapping Styrofoam to his shoulders to stay afloat. The South Korean Marine Corps spotted the soldier in the river on Sunday. South Korean military officials have now taken in the soldiers for questioning to establish their motivations for defecting and the routes they took to escape.

Af-Pak border fence

Pakistan has announced that it will construct a fence along its 2,400km border with Afghanistan. Construction will commence in areas considered most vulnerable to militant incursions. Pakistan is also planning to build 338 border posts and forts by 2019. Kabul opposes the move that would fortify the border, aka the Durand Line, which it has never recognised.

Zayn at the BoRdErZ

Believe it or not, the US once saw Zayn Malik as a potential national security threat. The former One Direction singer recalls being subjected to hours of questioning the first few times he entered the US due to his Muslim roots. Given the spate of terror attacks in England, Zayn says he understands why such precautions are taken.

First Responder

A deadly bushfire in Portugal

A massive bushfire has killed more than 60 people in central Portugal. Caused by dry thunderstorms, it has been suggested that highly flammable eucalyptus trees (imported from Australia in the 1700s) may have exacerbated the fire. Tragically, many people died in their cars as they tried to outrun the fire, and questions are already being asked about whether authorities closed-off access roads early enough.

Feeding Guatemala

CSIS has released a sobering new report (PDF) that analyses why Guatemala faces ‘some of the most alarming food-security challenges in the Western Hemisphere’. Chapter 1 of Tracking Promises: Analyzing the Impact of Feed the Future in Guatemala, explains how climate change, unequal land distribution, population growth and rising food prices have created a food security emergency, despite Guatemala’s significant GDP growth over the last 15 years.

The US’s Feed the Future initiative credits its programs for reducing malnutrition and poverty in target countries by as much as one third (PDF). But deep foreign aid cuts set out in the US administration’s 2018 budget don’t bode well for the programs’ future: according to reports, the Bureau for Food Security could lose 68% of its funding, and Feed the Future 50%.