National security wrap

The Beat

The riot will be tweeted

It has long been held that social media can be used to detect disruptive events—like riots—before more conventional reportage. While companies like Dataminr have sold that idea to first responders the world over, their proprietary data is sometimes siloed from the academic community.

Now, researchers at Cardiff University have proposed an ‘end-to-end integrated event detection framework’ that plugs into Twitter. Back-tested against police reports from the August 2011 riots in England, the system sometimes flagged threats an hour earlier than the police could. Gizmodo had the chance to speak with one of the co-authors about the need to ensure that this predictive power is used prudently.

A year of ACIC

The Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission is celebrating its first birthday by running through its greatest hits. Most recently, the organisation released the Illicit Drug Data Report 2015-16—Justice Minister Keenan heralds the report here.

The black market for Indonesian owls; blame Harry Potter

New figures from the Global Ecology and Conservation journal detail a disturbing trend: Pottermania is fueling a dramatic uptick in the number of wild-caught owls for sale—an illegal practice—in the bird markets of Java. The researchers write: ‘Whereas in the past owls were collectively known as Burung Hantu (“Ghost birds”) in the bird markets they are now commonly referred to as Burung Harry Potter (“Harry Potter birds”).’

Sadly, Indonesia’s not the only country where people want their own Hedwig. Thanks a lot, Potter.

CT Scan

NSW hotline: new approach with old results?

It seems NSW’s new de-radicalisation hotline (mentioned in last week’s wrap) has already come under sharp criticism from experts, who accuse the initiative of having ‘various structural and operational problems’. Chief among them is the lack of evaluation framework, which makes it difficult to measure the results–interestingly, not the first time such a criticism has been made.

Recently, CT expert Clarke Jones also criticised Australia’s de-radicalisation policy framework, saying it needed to be re-examined to bring together government-led and community-level programs aimed at countering violent extremism. Instead, Jones is working to get further funding for the ANU Intervention Support Hub, which works to support community-based initiatives to co-design programs that build cohesion to ‘mitigate young people’s vulnerability to extremist ideology’.

The Islamic Republic of Australia

To celebrate the release of self-described ‘serial blasphemer’ Sami Shah’s new book, ‘The Islamic Republic of Australia’, ABC’s Radio National kicked off a 5-part series, looking at the experiences and place of Islam within Australia. First up in the series, ‘Breaking up with Islam’, examines Shah’s experiences, as an ex-Muslim immigrant from Pakistan, in navigating the complex, and often miss-understood, nature of Australia’s Muslim community. Originally broadcast in July 2016, the series includes podcasts on radicalisation, Islam and free speech, Muslim women and renouncing Islam.


Italy’s migrant woes

Diplomatic tensions are simmering in Western Europe this week as Italy attempts to manage an unprecedented influx of migrants from North Africa. 85,183 migrants have arrived in Italy since January, up 20% from this time last year. Italy has threatened to close its ports and impound NGO rescue ships unless other EU countries provide more support. Much to Rome’s disappointment, however, France and Spain refused its request for them to allow rescue boats to dock at their ports. Adding to Italy’s ire, Austria revealed on Tuesday that it has deployed four Pandur armoured vehicles and has 750 troops on standby to apprehend migrants near the Italian border.

The European Commission responded on Tuesday by announcing €34 million to help Italy manage the migrant influx, and the creation of a code of conduct for NGOs undertaking rescue operations in the Mediterranean. Brussels also pledged an additional €46 million to assist Libyan authorities to counter people smuggling.

Camels at the border

Across in India, border security and environmental sustainability are being addressed along the same vein. Indian Border Security Force has started using camel carts to deliver water to trees at the ‘green wall’ they’re building in Rajasthan along the border with Pakistan. The plan is for every battalion along the border between Bikaner and Jaisalmer to have six to eight camel carts.

First Responder

Australian attitudes revealed

Last week, Plan International Australia released its report, Challenging Negative Attitudes About the Food Crisis in East Africa (PDF). The organisation investigated social media comments on 100 stories from 16 news outlets, finding that they revealed ‘eight common negative attitudes to the emergency’. Those included a view that famine was caused by overpopulation, that people in the developing world should help themselves, and that famine-affected people ‘deserve it’. Public discourse on the topic has been described as ‘ill-informed and sometimes ugly’. The report aims to dispel the myths surrounding each of these attitudes and hopes to turn around the negativity and ‘compassion fatigue’ that can impede humanitarian responses.

Volcanic progress

Volcanology currently trails meteorology and other fields when it comes to forecasting, but a research team hopes to change that by working on a new, more ‘accurate and data-driven approach’. By using data assimilation (a system model combined with real-word data points) and satellites, scientists are overcoming some of the volcanic complexities that have hindered accurate predictions. In more good news, scientists now have access to satellite data covering all the earth’s surface—rather than just some of it.

Modern day firefighting

A moving piece in The Guardian this week looks at firefighting in Britain, exploring how drastic funding and personnel cuts has increased the pressure on a service that is taking on ‘a wider public-protection role’. It’s well worth a read.