National security wrap

The beat

Meth and cocaine plot foiled

Cooperation between NSW State Crime Command, the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission, the US Drug Enforcement Administration and Mexico’s federal police has thwarted a plot to import drugs into Australia from Central and South America. Five people were arrested and are facing charges. The group planned to import 100 kilograms of meth and cocaine from Mexico (street value $50 million) and 500 kilograms of cocaine from Columbia (street value $150 million).

No ‘fighter drug’ for IS fighters

Italian police and the US DEA have cooperated to seize 24 million pills of the painkiller Tramadol, dubbed the ‘fighter drug’. Prosecutors assume they were part of a ‘narcotics trafficking ring’ bound for Libya, from where ISIS would have sold the pills to its fighters. This video shows the Calabrian police in action, seizing the shipment in the port of Gioia Tauro, in Italy’s south.

Fighting animal cruelty

Indonesia’s West Java province is set to ban traditional fights between wild boars and dogs, arguing that traditions that have a negative impact on people’s lives need to ‘be eliminated or forgotten’. In other parts of the world the fight against animal cruelty has also been stepped up: Florida Senator Tom Lee is pushing for amendments to the state’s constitution to ban greyhound racing, and the Australian Capital Territory is looking to impose a similar ban next year. The need for heightened animal protection was underlined in the US when officers found 56 wounded and abandoned dogs at a possible dog-fighting farm in Mississippi earlier this week.

CT scan

Syrian army retakes Deir ez-Zor city

The Syrian army has retaken full control of Deir ez-Zor city from IS. Supported by Russian air strikes, the Syrian army ‘advanced swiftly in a final push’ to claim the last IS-held pockets. On Friday, state media announced the fall of the city, which had been mainly in IS hands since 2014. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights estimates that IS still controls 40% of the oil-rich Deir ez-Zor province.

Islamic State in Somalia

The US Africa Command has conducted two drone strikes against IS positions in Somalia. The strikes, part of President Donald Trump’s new counter-terrorism strategy in the region, targeted a remote mountain village in the northern Puntland region. IS has growing support in the northern part of the country, as an alternative to al-Qaeda-linked al-Shabaab. Training, weapons and other assistance are provided by IS-linked groups based in southern Yemen. A US Army statement said the strikes were carried out ‘in coordination with Somali government forces’.

The bollards debate

Last week’s Manhattan attack has again ignited discussion on the use of bollards to protect against vehicle attacks in urban areas. Several cities have already taken steps to deny vehicle access to high-risk areas.


UN concerned about ‘catastrophic’ border closures in Yemen

Saudi Arabia has closed off all borders with Yemen after intercepting a missile headed for Riyadh on Saturday. The Saudis responded by ordering air strikes in Sanaa, a province of Yemen containing the headquarters for the Houthi rebels thought to be responsible for the missile. The United Nations has stated that the closure of the borders is endangering the lives of 7 million people who rely on aid in war-torn Yemen. Complicating the situation further, Yemen’s president is currently under house arrest in Riyadh due to the ongoing conflict in Yemen between the Houthis and the internationally recognised government.

India goes underground

India’s Border Roads Organisation has organised a seminar to discuss the possibility of building underground tunnels to improve the movement of troops and supplies along the Line of Actual Control that separates India from China. Current plans indicate that 17 tunnels will be constructed, which will allow supplies to be moved during poor weather to isolated areas such as Doklam.

Let me take a selfie … at the DMZ

National Geographic has a piece showing how the demilitarised zone (DMZ) between North and South Korea has become a tourist attraction, despite the fact that it is arguably the world’s most dangerous border. Photojournalist David Guttenfelder believes that the boundary ‘limits imagination and empathy and connection’, because South Koreans and North Koreans never get to see the other side.

First responder

Strategic resilience

The city of Atlanta has released a resilience strategy in partnership with the Rockefeller Foundation’s 100 Resilient Cities project. The strategy was informed by input from over 7,000 residents, and contains valuable observations about the stark economic and racial divides in the city. The strategy is organised around four visions, and lists 55 short- and long-term policy goals. Melbourne and Sydney are the only Australian cities that are part of the 100 Resilient Cities network.

Institutional and societal resilience

The Foundation for European Progressive Studies has released a working paper by Sinan Ülgen that assesses the resilience of institutions and society in Turkey following a roll back of democratic norms and in the wake of stalled talks on accession to the European Union.

Hollywood’s new romance with disaster flicks

Rachel Kraus from Mashable investigated the new trend of climate-change-inspired disaster films that are flooding the box office. The big question is whether they’re having a positive influence. Professor Roman Bartosch from the University of Cologne says that while these films can increase the will of audiences to act, ‘such changes in behavior hardly last’. Passive consumption of disaster movies may serve as an outlet for people to simultaneously express their concerns about climate change and their apathy towards the political processes required to do something about it.