National security wrap

Image courtesy of Flickr user Partha S. Sahana.

The Beat

America and guns: it’s complicated

A comprehensive, 79-page publication from the Pew Research Centre aims to quantify ‘America’s complex relationship with guns’ (PDF). The highlights include findings that 30% of American adults own a gun; 44% of respondents personally knew somebody who’d been shot; and around one-third of gun owners keep loaded guns within reach when at home.

Another study, this time from the Pediatrics journal, identifies gun violence as the third leading cause of death for 1–17 year-olds in America. That troubling statistic has led to renewed calls to Congress and the demand that gun violence be addressed as a public health problem.

But, as Bloomberg reports, it’s probably a case of a ‘new study, old story’. Despite the long-accumulating weight of evidence, unambiguous data will have to contend with powerful vested interests, headed by lobbies like the National Rifle Association; the likelihood of policy change remains slim.

Root canal of all evil

Those of us who want to believe that dentistry is a modern evil will find that The New Yorker’s recent feature—‘My dentist’s murder trial’—begins well. And as courtroom drama goes, there’s something for everyone: fake CIA identities, erotic roleplay, spiked coffee and plenty of headlight-spread-pattern forensic analysis.

CT Scan

France’s new counterterror law

Rather than end France’s 19-month temporary state of emergency, the government announced a proposal to make some of its far-reaching powers permanent, including the ability to temporarily close places of worship that allegedly promote extremism. President Macron announced the proposal in the wake of several attempted terrorist strikes—one in Paris and another in Brussels which security officials argue may signal a new phase in Islamist terror—stating that the draft law would strip some oversight powers from judges and give security officials ‘more latitude to act without judicial review’. The announcement immediately came under fire from civil liberties advocates, who argued that the proposed measures undermine the rule of law.

QLD dominates Origin but not CT…

Speaking of curbing civil liberties, proposed CT laws in Queensland advocate granting the police powers to search individuals’ phones, laptops or vehicles following a terrorist attack. The emergency powers would require individuals to provide security codes to phones and laptops and allow police access to Facebook messages and data stored on the cloud. Perhaps Queensland could learn a thing or two from NSW who recently launched a free, online counselling helpline, ‘Step Together’. The hotline, designed in consulted with more than 240 community groups, is intended as a ‘support line rather than a report line’, working with concerned families and friends to combat extremism.


2017 Trafficking in Persons Report

The US State Department released its 2017 Trafficking in Persons Report (PDF) this week. The annual publication tracks international efforts to curb human trafficking, allocating countries to one of three tiers based on their performance against the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000. As The Guardian notes, China has been demoted to Tier 3, relegating it to the ranks of North Korea and South Sudan, for ‘not making significant efforts’ to address human trafficking, its use of forced labour and its repatriation of North Koreans. Surprisingly, Myanmar has climbed to the Tier 2 Watch List for its efforts against child soldier recruitment and enforcement of anti-trafficking laws. Human Rights Watch has criticised the removal of Myanmar and Iraq from the Child Soldier Prevention Act List, given recent evidence of their links to the practice. Rex Tillerson apparently overruled the State Department’s recommendation against that decision on strategic and diplomatic grounds.

Filipino border security

As Marawi enters its fifth week of fighting, the Philippines Bureau of Investigation is recruiting additional personnel to be stationed at the country’s southern borders in Mindanao and Palawan to help curb terrorist infiltration. The 36 new officers will coordinate with the Coast Guard, Navy and Philippine National Police Maritime Group, and will also apprehend human traffickers and people smugglers.

First Responder

Landslide in China

Ten people have died and 73 remain missing after a landslide in China’s Sichuan province on Sunday. Though the authorities have sent 3,000 rescuers to the mountain village, experts say there’s now little chance of finding any survivors. Villagers have complained about the government’s response to the disaster and that authorities did nothing to help them move from an area known to be prone to landslides and earthquakes. This was the province’s biggest landslide since the 2008 earthquake that killed nearly 70,000 people.

Predicting pandemics

Recent research published in Nature revealed that bats—especially those species endemic to northern South America—are the most likely vector for future animal to human virus transmission. As explained by Wired, the research maps ‘past, present and future virus-sharing between humans and other mammals,’ with a view to improving pandemic predictions. Knowing where to prioritise prevention work could be the key to stopping the emergence of the next Ebola or Zika. But the bats aren’t entirely to blame—human intrusions into animal habitats have created opportunities for viruses to ‘jump’ from animals to humans.

Climate Symphony

By using sound to report on climate data, Climate Symphony aims to challenge people to engage emotionally with data. For a not-so-uplifting tune, have a listen to ‘the sound of a dying planet’.