National security wrap

The beat

Weapons old and new

The increasing frequency of acid attacks in the UK has sparked calls for legislation to impose stronger punishments on perpetrators. Despite some blaming migrants for ‘importing cultures tolerant of such attacks’, the use of acid as a weapon in Britain can be traced back to the early 19th century. Meanwhile, the British police have decided to equip more officers with Tasers following ‘an increase in violent crime and attacks against police officers’.

Corruption, ethics in the Trump administration

The White House will soon have an anticorruption specialist: Ty Cobb, hired as in-house counsel on the Russia probe, is said to be an experienced white-collar lawyer. Cobb headed a drug enforcement and organised crime task force during the 1980s, and later defended Democratic Party fundraiser John Huang (against campaign finance law felony charges) and alleged CIA whistleblower Mary McCarthy. His most recent employer, law firm Hogan Lovells, cites media characterising him as ‘the big gun on whom powerful people rely’. The appointment comes as the US government’s departing ethics chief had a swipe on his way out the door: ‘It’s hard for the United States to pursue international anticorruption and ethics initiatives when we’re not even keeping our own side of the street clean. It affects our credibility.’

Festival fever: who are you and what music do you like?

After being denied tickets to Tomorrowland (one of the world’s largest electronic music festivals) for security reasons, some of the affected would-be purchasers have lodged complaints with the Belgian Privacy Commission. It turns out the Belgian federal police were given access to buyers’ data for the past six years. The grounds on which decisions were made, and whether privacy rights were violated, are now being investigated.

CT scan

Indonesia: unwanted telegrams

Messaging app Telegram has agreed to work with the Indonesian government to shut down terrorist-related channels on its platform. The app, which has over 100 million users, is the ‘preferred communications platform’ of several terrorist organisations due to its highly sophisticated encryption features.

Telegram’s CEO, Pavel Durov, announced the plan to work with Indonesian authorities after the Ministry of Communication and Information Technology threatened to block use of the app entirely. The ministry’s move comes amid heightened concerns about the spread of ISIS affiliates in Southeast Asia after ISIS-linked violence in the Philippine city of Marawi.

Who you gonna call? The ADF

On Monday, Prime Minister Turnbull announced a range of proposals to increase the ADF’s role in domestic counterterrorism. The first review of ‘Defence’s contribution to domestic counter-terrorism … since 2005’ will make it easier for the ADF to be called out and will increase interaction and training between the ADF and state police.

Cleaning up Mosul

Despite ISIS’s defeat at Mosul, the fighting has left its mark. Images of the devastation of the old city show the enormous rebuilding effort that lies ahead.


Pakistan takes control in Rajgal Valley

Major General Asif Ghafoor of Pakistan has said he was forced to resort to ‘unilateral border management’ in order to control border movement and terrorist activity around the Rajgal Valley, a northwestern section of the Pakistan–Afghanistan border. The operation, known as Khyber-4, involves placing fences along the borders between Pakistan and both Afghanistan and Iran, which will include ‘either forts or a checkpost every 1.5 kilometres’.

India goes in to bat for Bhutan

Fears are mounting over rising tensions in the Doklam/Donglang disputed region. Indian and Chinese troops are currently locked in a standoff that some fear has the potential to escalate. It all started in June when China attempted to complete an infrastructure project in Doklam, an area that Bhutan also claims. That prompted a response from India, a strategic ally of Bhutan. Though India says its troops ‘are in “non-combative mode”’, there’s rising international concern that a peaceful resolution may not be reached.

Border walls need not apply

Brandon Judd, president of the US National Border Patrol Council, on Monday credited US president Donald Trump with a significant reduction in trespassers crossing the US–Mexico border. Judd appeared on C-SPAN and called the turnaround ‘nothing short of miraculous’. A report by US Customs and Border Protection reveals a 53% decrease in illegal aliens crossing into US territory compared with data from June 2016.

First responder

Humanitarian concerns in Sudan

Professor Samuel Totten, an expert in genocide, details the difficulty in ensuring food reaches the Nuba Mountains in Sudan. The Nuba Mountains are home to the Nuba people, who have been bombarded with almost daily aerial attacks by the government of Sudan since June 2011. Little progress has been made in the area for myriad reasons. Currently no aid organisations are attempting to deliver aid to the region—even though the conflict has been a focal point for humanitarians for almost half a century. Perhaps another visit by George Clooney, like the one in 2012, would help bring attention to the crisis.

Myanmar: development versus human rights

This week, IRIN News released a story detailing a ‘glaringly dysfunctional’ United Nations mission in Myanmar. It’s an excellent case study on how competing philosophies can cause tension, instability and suspicion between UN agencies. The situation in Myanmar is exceedingly difficult, however, as even top UN officials are being ‘snubbed’ by the Myanmar government.

Flash flooding

This footage of flash flooding in Cornwall on Tuesday reminds us of the power that nature possesses. Readers who have spent some time in Canberra might remember the city’s 1974 flood, which had some ghastly results.