Category Archives: General discussion and debates

ISIL victories and Iraqi military weakness

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The swift pace of the ISIL advance in northern Iraq has taken everyone by surprise. On 10 June the ISIL launched a major assault on western Mosul which later led to the capture of most of the city. The pace of the ISIL victory was matched by the almost unbelievable collapse of the Iraqi police and military. Reports of mass desertions and withdrawals circulated all day and it seemed as if the Iraqi Army was nothing but a force in name only. Very little resistance was offered and by days end ISIL had launched incursions deep into Salah ad Din and Kirkuk governorates. The collapse of the military and police is, on one hand, not too surprising to persons familiar with the conditions they work under. The security forces work long hours, are poorly paid and resourced, lack access to good intelligence and have a generally weak leadership who are better at fleeing than taking the initiative. Desertions among low level police and military personnel have become an increasing phenomenon recently in light of growing militant activity since 2012. In the face of a committed, battle hardened, well-resourced and ideologically driven insurgency the security forces have had little to respond with.

The battle is not yet won, however, and ISIL still has much to do if it is to maintain control of its new found territory. Iraq does have elite forces, such as the Tigris Command and Golden Brigades, at its disposal. There are also the Shiite militias and pro-government tribes scatterred throughout the centre and south which Prime Minister al-Maliki can call upon. The military also has heavy weapons, armour and an air force with which it will use to defend its primary cities located along the Samarra to Kirkuk line. Further north, the Kurd Peshmerga forces are present and on heightened alert. They are well trained and confident and are likely to stop any ISIL advance towards its territory (it should be noted that ISIL are unlikely to seek to engage the Kurds at present). With this in mind ISIL planners may seek to advance before withdrawing to defendable positions in the north. They have already looted millions of dollars worth of government materiel, which will boost its insurgency for years to come. Retreating back to Mosul and holding the city from the inevitable counter-attack would seem to be a logical option. Then again, given the frailty the Iraqi forces have shown to date, the ISIL may well be emboldened to further their assault southwards, even towards the capital.


Article by Andre Colling, via The Roving Eye. Follow Andre @AndreColling

 

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China, the Tiananmen tragedy and the ‘Tank Man’ – 25 years on

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The anonymous ‘Tank Man’ bringing an armed column to a halt on 5 June 1989

On 5 June 25 years ago, a lone man stood on Beijing’s Chang’an Avenue and brought a column of tanks to a halt. It has become an enduring symbol of individual bravery to the world and possibly the most censored image in the People’s Republic of China.

This famous stand, which can be viewed here, came after the bloody crackdown on protesters in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square on 3 and 4 June, in which hundreds, if not thousands, of demonstrators died after the military used lethal force to disperse the crowds. The “Tank Man” is believed to have not been a student protester or intellectual activist but merely a working citizen of Beijing horrified by the massacre (which had occurred throughout the city) and betrayed that the ‘People’s Army’ could have committed such atrocities against its own countrymen.

The Chinese Spring

The Tiananmen Square Massacre and the protests preceding it shook the ruling Communist Party of China (CPC) to its core and redefined China for over a quarter century. The resulting existential fear has continued to permeate the CPC, which remains terrified of dissent and, despite claims to the contrary, still opts for a policy of suppression. Unfortunately this fear has blinded party officials to addressing the issues which underpinned the protests in 1989 and which continue to plague the middle kingdom to this day.

The ’89 protests began following the death of Hu Yaobang on 15 April, a former CPC General Secretary who was ousted by party hardliners. Protests initially began as commemorative demonstrations by students among which Hu was a deeply popular figure associated with political and economic reform. These demonstrations quickly began to change into protests over corruption within China’s ruling elite and subsequently became a pro-democracy campaign calling for reform. Although the protests rapidly spread to over 400 cities around China, the heart and centre of those heady days was to be found in Tiananmen Square in central Beijing, where at the peak of the protests over 1 million demonstrators were gathered, thousands of which occupied the square on a permanent basis. The square lies in the centre of the capital, flanked by both the former imperial headquarters, the Forbidden City and the Hall of the People, headquarters of the CPC, making the square the geographical centre of China’s soul and a powerful symbol in its own right.

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Tiananmen Square during the 1989 protests

As the protests grew and attracted support from liberal academics, workers and eventually party members, the CPC central committee grew impatient and jittery. In May of that year, USSR leader Mikhail Gorbachev travelled to Beijing for an official state visit; however, the mass occupation of Tiananmen Square forced China’s leadership to relocate the official reception at the last minute from the Hall of the People to the airport. This greatly embarrassed CPC leadership, causing a loss of face in front of a world power during an important time in geopolitics, namely the détente between the USA and the USSR in the final days of the Cold War.

Massacre of ‘89

By June of 1989, China’s ruler, Deng Xiaoping, and the rest of the CPC leadership decided that the protests needed to end and ordered the army to clear the square. However, when army leaders were summoned before China’s leadership and given their order, one refused. Maj. General Xu Qinxian, leader of the powerful 38th Group Army based in the Beijing Military Region, refused, claiming that the demonstrations were a political problem and not the military’s responsibility. This instilled a new fear in the CPC: that the military might not support the party and could even revolt if the protests grew in strength. Gen. Xu was soon arrested and the order to end the protests by any means necessary was enforced.

On the evening of 3 June, tanks rolled into Beijing. At approximately 22:00, soldiers began firing on protesters as the army marched towards Tiananmen Square. By the time the sun rose on Beijing on 4 June, thousands were left dead (although the government claims the figure is in the low hundreds) and hundreds imprisoned. Tiananmen Square had been cleared.

25 years on – Everything’s changed, nothing is different

Fast forward 25 years and the scars of the Tiananmen Massacre remain. The CPC has attempted to scrub the 1989 protests from China’s history; they are not taught in schools and are censored from all media, including internet searches. Yet shades of the massacre still permeate modern-day China. Tiananmen Square is now one of the most heavily protected, if not the most strictly guarded place in the world, with a 24/7 armed police presence and the highest concentration of security cameras on the planet. In the first week of June every year, China embarks on an unrivalled censorship campaign; this year, the majority of online Google services were rendered inaccessible from the mainland.  The square has become a symbol of dissidence in the People’s Republic, which to the ruling caste remains unconscionable.

The ’89 protests were the closest that the CPC has come to losing power in China, and the memory of that time still haunts the leadership. While China has had a spectacular economic rise since then, dissent is not tolerated. The vast majority of China’s defense budget is spent on internal security apparatus; the country employs over 2 million internet censors and the People’s Armed Police (a separate paramilitary branch of the armed forces, not to be confused with the conventional police service) is believed to number almost 1.5 million

Yet despite this expenditure, China still experiences well over 100,000 protests every year, focusing on everything from environmental issues to labour disputes, and most notably the continued corruption within the political elite. There has also been a marked increase in separatist activities stemming from the country’s restive Xinjiang and Tibetan provinces.

Furthermore, in the special administrative region of Hong Kong, 3 /4 June 2014 saw the largest Tiananmen Massacre memorial demonstration thus far, with over 180,000 people attending the candle-lit vigil.

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Annual candlelight vigil in Hong Kong remembering those killed in the Tiananmen Massacre

Tiananmen of Tomorrow

With the rise of the internet and China’s increased economic clout resulting in Chinese nationals travelling, studying and working abroad, the CPC is facing ever-increasing challenges in maintaining the status quo, as increasing numbers citizens are able to circumvent the party’s control of the flow of information. While it is currently believed that fewer citizens of China are aware of the 1989 massacre than ever before, the government is under increasing pressure to reform, root out corruption, adapt to the contemporary age and provide China’s rising middle class with the trappings of the West. Furthermore, as the nation’s economy slows, the excessive expenditure on internal security apparatus becomes increasingly difficult to justify. With these issues, which mirror the grievances of ‘89, creating cracks in the CPC’s facade of social harmony, whether the People’s Republic will be able to maintain the status quo without being doomed to repeat the mistakes of history remains to be seen.


Analysis by Brendan von Essen, follow him @AsiaPacRisk

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Brazil FIFA World Cup: There is such a thing as bad publicity

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How accurate is the negative international media coverage of the security risks for the FIFA World Cup?

The international media has increasingly focused on Brazil ahead of the upcoming FIFA World Cup, scheduled to take place in 12 host cities from 12 June to 13 July. Most press coverage has been negative, highlighting crime and unrest in the country. Indeed, there have been a number of issues in the country that have raised some doubts over whether the event will pass off seamlessly. Such concerns include recent protests and rioting in Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo, high crime rates in major cities, and delays in completing World Cup construction projects. Despite all of these issues, a factor that has been largely ignored is the role of media reporting on such international events. Although there are considerable social and economic problems in Brazil, the international media has tended to present security concerns in an unpragmatic discourse that is unhelpful for persons attending the World Cup.

The media’s catch-22

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Whenever a country is assigned the responsibility of staging an international event, media attention on the host country is boosted. The media is responsive to its readers; when foreign interests in the country increase, whether it be a result of investment projects or the number of foreign nationals intending to visit a host country, the number of international stories on the country is likely to rise. The international media will generally seize the increased public attention to shed light on existing social, economic and/or political issues in the host country. However, there are several factors that limit the depth of coverage that journalists can provide on foreign countries. One of the obstacles to providing thorough analysis includes the imperative of providing succinct stories to match the generally superficial interest of a local audience reading about a foreign country. Moreover, the notion that ‘no news sells like bad news’ has gravity, particularly when the media is focusing on foreign countries. As a result, a number of news media agencies have provided diluted, neatly packaged summaries of ongoing issues in host countries that do not reflect realistic threats for foreign nationals in the country.

World “Crime” Cup?

Crime

Brazil has invested over US$855 million in security improvements and 57,000 troops, as well as 100,000 police, will be deployed for the tournament. In light of major security upgrades in the host cities, the crime risk will be somewhat mitigated. Nevertheless, it is important to note that Brazil’s cities have high crime rates by international standards. The following statistics illustrate the security gap in Brazil compared to developed countries.

Crime stats

While socio-economic and security problems in a host country may be credible, the international media has tended to overstate the security threats to foreign visitors, particularly when developing countries are scheduled to hold high-profile international events. Violent crimes are stressed in the news, hinting that foreigners are frequently victimised. However, in countries with high crime rates like South Africa and Brazil, locals residing in low-income districts generally face the greatest risk of being targeted in violent crime incidents. Thus, the major concern for visitors is petty crime in tourist areas and public transport hubs; opportunistic criminals may use the anonymity of large crowds for pickpocketing or bag-snatching.

Moreover, when considering the amount of resources that are typically invested in boosting security for internationally significant events, the risk of foreign nationals being victimised may be reduced. Indeed, when South Africa hosted the 2010 World Cup, reports of both violent and petty crime significantly declined. Reports indicate that crime dropped by over 11 percent during the month-long event. The reduction in crime was preceded by a swathe of negative media coverage on South Africa, suggesting that the tournament would be marked by violent crime (in fact, there was a spike in crime incidents only in the months following the event). Nevertheless Even if overall crime rates significantly decrease in Brazil for the tournament, crime will continue to be a concern in the country. However, contrary to be international media’s emphasis on violent forms of crime in Brazil, petty crime is a more pervasive concern for foreign nationals.

Civil unrest

Civil unrest

Protests and strike action over government spending on the World Cup, among other grievances, have been increasing in the run-up to the tournament. National unity and ‘animacao’ (animation) over the World Cup are certainly not at an all-time high in the country. Indeed, local residents seem to be in competition with the international media over who is more critical of the upcoming games. Nevertheless, the most vocal critics who have called for disruptive protests during the tournament form a small minority; many Brazilians remain apathetic about the international event.

Numerous media sources have pointed to the unrest during the FIFA Confederations Cup (FCC) in Brazil in June 2013 as a gauge of what to expect during the World Cup. The FCC was marked by persistent, disruptive and at times violent protests. Although the initial campaign has lost momentum, associated gatherings have since taken place regularly in the lead up to the World Cup. However, the numbers of people protesting in recent months have not come anywhere close to the number of people who participated in FCC protests. It is likely that smaller protest groups will try to gather near high-profile locations associated with the World Cup. However, in light of the increased security measures expected in the vicinity of stadiums, Fanfests and other tourist hotspots, the likelihood of widespread violent unrest occurring or significantly affecting World Cup proceedings is fairly low.

It is also important to remember that increased protest action in a host country before a major international event is not uncommon (cf. London 2012 Olympics and the 2004 Olympics in Greece). Social movements and interest groups often view the increased media attention as a platform for airing grievances. In addition, threatening civil disorder ahead of an important event like the World Cup is an effective tool for gaining concessions from governments who are determined to prevent any major glitches during such high-profile events. This means that the social, economic and/or political circumstances driving protests may not necessarily all be worsening in Brazil; the mere fact that the media has a piqued interest in the country is one of the key variables goading unrest. Thus, the more the media reports on demonstrations, the more that activists will be emboldened to continue demonstrations in the coming weeks.

Capacity issues

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Perhaps the most widespread issue that may affect foreign nationals in Brazil during the tournament is infrastructural shortcomings. The international media has provided a cursory acknowledgement of such concerns. Several construction projects and development plans for the event will not be completed by 12 June. There are concerns over public transport improvements, delays in completing stadiums (in Sao Paulo, Cuiaba and Curitiba) and insufficient mobile and internet network coverage in major cities. Such shortcomings mean that the capacity to respond to potential emergencies may be compromised. However, infrastructural inadequacies are more likely to just be a point of frustration for visitors in Brazil.

Will Brazil pull-off a hat-trick?

Although there are security concerns over how the upcoming tournament will play out, the international media has generally misplaced emphasis on the risks in the country, suggesting that existing problems in the country will suddenly worsen during the World Cup. By oversimplifying the issues in Brazil, international attention is drawn to risks less likely to affect foreign nationals, instead of highlighting more credible security and travel risks.

For further, balanced, information regarding the main risks associated with travel to Brazil during the World Cup, including specific host city information, please click here.

 


Analysis by Lara Sierra-Rubia, follow her @AmericaAnalyst

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Protect yourself and your company against the new GOZeuS and CryptoLocker malware threat

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The National Crime Agency (NCA) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) have both issued statements this week warning PC users with Windows operating systems of two new malware threats: GameOver ZeuS (GOZeuS) and CryptoLocker.

Find out more about this malware threat and how you can protect yourself and your business against it here.


 Article by Frances Nobes, follow her @FrancesNobes

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Ukraine: Elections after the “Maidan revolution”

 

Maidan revolution. Ukraine.

Ukraine will hold a countrywide presidential election on 25 May, followed by a second round of voting on 15 June should no candidate achieve an outright majority. The election will not only proceed amid major political upheaval in the country, precipitated by the 22 February 2014 ousting of President Viktor Yanukovych, but also comes amid increasing insecurity in eastern Ukraine where armed groups continue to defy the country’s interim leadership and menace its armed forces.

For a free, detailed security analysis of the outlook for Urkaine following the upcoming elections, please click here.


Analysis by Louw Nel, follow him @Euraspect

 

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Tracking Kenya’s terrorism threat

Although the terrorist attack against Nairobi’s Westgate shopping complex in September 2013 fixed the attention of both the international community and international media on the threat of Islamist extremism and associated terrorist activity in Kenya, the threat was neither novel nor fully transnational. Through tracking the frequency and distribution of terrorist attacks, as well as both planned and foiled attacks in the country since 2011, the dynamics of Kenya’s terrorism threat, specifically that of the Somali-based Islamist sect al-Shabaab as well as an emerging domestic threat, are clearly apparent.

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To view an interactive version of this map, please click here. Please note that the map in the link may in due course be amended, updated or deleted.

Becoming a concrete target

Following a series of kidnappings targeting foreign aid workers and tourists in the north of the country, the Kenya Defence Force (KDF) launched ‘Operation Linda Nchi’ in Somalia in October 2011. The operation was mandated to eliminate al-Shabaab strongholds within Somalia in an effort to increase security along the countries’ shared border. Despite operating in conjunction with forces loyal to the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) of Somalia and subsequently the Federal Government of Somalia, which replaced the TFG in August 2012, Operation Linda Nchi was an independent intervention on the part of Kenya to address the protracted insecurity and high spillover potential in Somalia. Although there had been sporadic attacks linked to al-Shabaab operatives along Kenya’s border areas prior to the operation, specifically in the vicinity of the Dadaab refugee camp complex, the operation flagged Kenya as a direct enemy of al-Shabaab, leading to the group publically threatening to conduct reprisal attacks on Kenyan soil. From October 2011 into 2012, Kenya experienced an uptick in low-level attacks, including grenade attacks and improvised explosive device (IED) blasts along border areas, including in districts such as Mandera, Garissa and Wajir, as well as sporadic low-level incidents in Nairobi.

These attacks were predominantly directed at four target types, namely:

  • Security interests
  • Religious sites
  • Entertainment establishments
  • Crowed public venues

A Dynamic Threat: External and internal happenings

In the interim, KDF, Somalia and African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) forces continued to advance on al-Shabaab strongholds in Somalia. In September 2012, the group withdrew from its last major stronghold in Kismayo, having been driven from Mogadishu in 2011. Rather than spelling defeat for the group, al-Shabaab quickly adapted, adopting increasingly guerrilla tactics within Somalia; this coincided with an increase in terrorist-style attacks within Kenya’s border areas. Although these attacks in Kenya were frequently attributed to Somali-based militants linked to al-Shabaab, it became increasingly apparent that the group had not only established and consolidated an operational presence in Kenya, but had developed a growing sympathiser community in the country.

However, in a related trend, disenfranchised youth among the country’s Muslim population were proving increasingly susceptible to religious fundamentalism. Most noteworthy was the formation of the Muslim Youth Centre (MYC) and subsequent emergence of the al-Hijra cell. The MYC was initially an informal advocacy group focused on voicing the socio-economic grievances of Muslim communities, particularly those of unemployed youth, and establishing branches in Nairobi, Mombasa and Garissa. The group’s ideology was heavily influenced by Sheikh Aboud Rogo, an open al-Shabaab sympathiser. Soon the group publically declared its allegiance to al-Shabaab; however, its overall rhetoric maintained an internal focus on perceived infidels within Kenya.Although Kenyan security authorities have yet to explicitly link the MYC to attacks in the country, the group continues to allude to its involvement in a number of incidents, having released a statement inciting jihad in December 2012.

Looking Beyond Westgate

Throughout 2013, low-level and crude attacks continued; however, it was in September 2013 that al-Shabaab exhibited its capacity to conduct a coordinated and sophisticated assault in Kenya. The four-day siege of the Westgate shopping complex in Nairobi, which resulted in the deaths of 67 people, re-established al-Shabaab’s position on the global terrorism map, since the group previously demonstrated its capacity to conduct transnational attacks in the 2010 Kampala, Uganda bombings. Yet, while the attack solidified the connection between terrorism in Kenya and al-Shabaab, the group has since only claimed responsibility for a further two assaults in the country; these include the recent grenade attack targeting a Chania Travellers bus at the Coast Bus Terminus, located on Mwembe Tayari Road, central Mombasa on 3 May and the grenade attack targeting the Tandoori bar in Diani Beach in January. In the period following the Westgate attack, there have been more than ten confirmed terrorism attacks and several more foiled and planned incidents, all of which remain unclaimed.

With a return to low-level assaults and al-Shabaab only publically claiming two attacks despite having explicitly established its campaign against Kenya in the Westgate incident, extreme consideration with regard to the domestic threat is warranted. Of particular concern is the rise of low-level attacks in Nairobi’s Eastleigh suburb, seen in 2012 and subsequently in 2014. These have been often linked to al-Shabaab’s operational presence; the suburb hosts a predominantly Somali community and local security authorities connected the attacks to al-Shabaab-aligned operatives therein. That being said, al-Shabaab has never formally claimed responsibility for assaults in Eastleigh; moreover, it seems unlikely that the group would target a community which hosts a potentially lucrative source of diaspora revenue. While the group’s involvement cannot be entirely discounted at this point, contrary intelligence suggests that these attacks were a consequence of other dynamics fuelling terrorist activity in Eastleigh, including growing communal tensions between Kenyan and Somali residents, poor relations between small-scale Kenyan businesspeople and their Somali counterparts, or emerging turf wars between rival matatu (minibus) drivers.

Such community-based tensions are becoming more relevant amid accusations of growing prejudice against Somali populations within Kenya’s security authorities. This is particularly relevant in light of the recent large-scale security operation, ‘Operation Usalama Watch’, launched in Nairobi and Mombasa and aimed at identifying al-Shabaab operatives and sympathisers within the country. The operation commenced on 25 March with a refugee relocation programme stipulating that all refugees of Somali nationality residing in the country’s urban centres should return to Kenya’s two main refugee camps, specifically, the Dadaab and Kakuma refugee camps. Since then, security forces have conducted several security sweeps in the cities in an effort to identify individuals aligned with al-Shabaab and other Islamist extremist groups known to operate in the country. The sweeps have been met with much controversy and allegations of police brutality, specifically relating to the detention of some 3000 Somali nationals in the Moi International Sports Centre in Nairobi. The operations and ensuing allegations have increased tensions; these are assessed as having the potential to motivate reprisal attacks.

It cannot be denied that al-Shabaab remains a prominent threat to Kenya. Moreover, with Kenyan authorities reiterating the KDF commitment to operations in Somalia, the threat is unlikely to be nullified in the near-term. However, with growing tensions between Somali and Kenyan communities coinciding with more aggressive rhetoric by domestic Islamist extremist groups, taking place in a context of asserted prejudice within the security apparatus, Kenya may be increasingly vulnerable to a home-grown terrorism threat.


 

Article by Gabrielle Reid, follow her @Reid_on_Africa

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Another bombing in Abuja: There are no heroes in this war, just victims and villains

A recent post from our Chief Africa Analyst, Ryan Cummings’ blog.

Laud Of War

At around 19:30 local time on the evening of 1 May, reports began filtering in of another suspected terrorist attack in Nigeria’s capital, Abuja. The incident occurred within the city’s Nyanya district; where, less than three weeks ago, a bombing targeting a crowded bus station killed in excess of 70 people and left scores others wounded.

As was the case with the 14 April attack, the latest incident is likely to have been perpetrated by the Boko Haram Islamist extremist sect. For over a decade, Boko Haram has waged an armed campaign in Nigeria, aimed at toppling the country’s secular government and transforming Africa’s most populous country into an Islamic state governed by Sharia Law. Although the sect predominantly operates in the country’s north east, it has exhibited both the intent and operational capacity to execute attacks across Nigeria, including within the capital.

Although Boko Haram traditionally favoured attacks against state-aligned institutions, such…

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Guide to finding Breaking News like Intelligence Analysts

News

Editor’s note: It should be noted that there are industry specific tools for finding breaking events; however, in an effort to add value to all readers, this article will focus on open-source breaking news collection and analysis.

Breaking News

In the field of intelligence, political and security analysis, gathering and managing relevant and up-to-date information is a core competency. The key word for us is breaking news. Although there are wonderful sources to find popular news, such as Digg and Reddit, and although print media is not necessarily as dead as my Myspace account, these sources are too slow. The idea is to find events faster than this, as they are breaking, so that our analysts can decide if the specific event is relevant. In other words, we need a speedy, but accurate, detection method for finding news that could potentially impact on our clients. Finding breaking news is not only important for the intelligence industry, but for any industry or individual that wishes to stay up to date with global developments. As such, this article on how to find breaking news will begin on broad terms and then narrow in focus, fitting the needs of both the casual newshound and the expert security analyst.

The Big Boys

Big Boys

Firstly, there are a number of big players that warrant mention. These are the news media industry leaders, and although they might not always be the first to run stories, they are generally more reliable than smaller news agencies. However, while an agency may be large, it is not always reliable (I am looking at you, Fox and Xinhua). There are also concerns that press accuracy, specifically in the US, is in decline; hopefully robots will fix this soon. A general tip to follow is that if one is unsure about a source, look for the origin of the story and find at least one more source to corroborate. A good dictum to live by here is Narayan Murthy’s adage: “In God We Trust; everyone else must bring data.” Below is a list of news sources I generally find to be more reliable.

My top picks:

Keep it local

Local

In South Africa we have a saying: local is lekker (local is nice/good). This also applies when finding breaking news. Local and regional news agencies are often the first to run breaking news stories. Although this might sound like common sense, if one is interested in a specific area, it is important to make sure to follow the news agencies from that region. These sources are often invaluable. Even If the news is in a foreign language, just translate the whole site!

At red24, we are split into specific regions. I focus on analysis of South America; as such, below I have provided a breakdown of some of my regional/local sources for Brazil. Other regional sources can also be found here and here.

 

Latin American Herald Tribune

 

Jornal Do Brasil

 

The Rio Times

 

Tribuna de Metropolis

 

Social media is your friend

Twitter

Probably the most powerful tool at your disposal for catching breaking news is Twitter and other social media (SM) channels. People tweet and post about everything, and if you can catch relevant leads before the crowd, you are area already ahead of the game. As with the above-mentioned sources, not all Tweets are equal, and one has to be careful with what one believes. However, optimising Twitter with the help of social media manger programmes and proper twitter lists can help you to weed out unreliable content and stay on top of the news. Furthermore, a quick search in Twitter itself can also provide you with alternative and updated sources.

My favourite SM Tools

For more useful SM-management tools, please click here.

Twitter Lists I use daily

The humble keyword search

Often overlooked, but never to be underestimated, is the keyword search. Depending on your industry, there are multiple significant words that can guide your search for relevant news. You can bookmark a number of Google searches with your keywords, or you can set up alerts, so that these keywords can find you. Keyword searches with Twitter are also essential and the tools above can help you set up these permanent searches. Please note that if you are looking for news in a specific area where English is not the dominant language, by all means search in the local language and on the local version of Google. Here is an example of a common keyword search that I use for finding strikes in Brazil.

List of some the keywords that I search for daily:

  • Clashes
  • Attack
  • Protest
  • Strike
  • Killed
  • Explosion
  • Flooding
  • Fire
  • Demonstration
  • Strike
  • Kidnap
  • Injured

What the future holds

GDELT

As technology improves, more accurate and speedy event detection and analysis software is emerging. Within the field of machine learning and natural language processing (NLP) there are exciting developments that have the potential to change how we collect and analyse news events.

One tool that journalists are already using is social media analysis software that extrapolates meaningful patterns from user-generated content. This software then alerts journalists to potential breaking news automatically. A great example of this type of software is Dataminr, a New York-based company that has a strategic partnership with Twitter, which allows for analysis of the full Twitter Firehose of public tweets (basically all tweets).

Then there are emerging machine-coded automated data gathering methods that “crawl” through all open-source media and look for specific relevant events in real time. These can be used for forecasting human societal-scale behaviour,which is the long-term goal of programmes such as the Global Database of Events, Language, and Tone (GDELT). Also, there are programmes such as the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED), which attempts to create a full database of political violence data for developing states. Both these programmes offer real-time analysis and give a glimpse into the future of event detection.

Takeaways

Hopefully you’ve learned some new tricks of the trade for finding relevant breaking news as fast and accurately as possible. However, finding the news is only the first step. The next step is analysing the data, and if you are looking for more guidelines on intelligence analysis, there are some insightful books that every analyst should read.

A final tip for finding breaking news is to embrace change. There are always better, faster and more accurate tools emerging for catching breaking events. If you learn to love change and can keep up with the development of technology, you’re on your way to thinking like an intelligence analyst!


What has been your experience with finding Breaking News? Are there some tactics you’re using besides the ones mentioned here? I’d be interested to hear your experiences and what you’re up to. Please do share in the comments.

Article by Barend Lutz, follow him @LutzBarend

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Chief v Chief: Nigeria and Yemen

Andre

Ryan

Two of red24’s chief analysts, Andre Colling (AC) and Ryan Cummings (RC), go head-to-head in a Q&A covering Yemen’s increasingly likely slide towards failed state status and Boko Haram in Nigeria, respectively. The questions form part of a basic ‘key assumptions check’ and are typically used in the industry as a starting point when reassessing a security environment or the operational capability of an armed group. The answers also provide some insight into the respective security environments of each state.

Nigeria – The Boko Haram threat

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(AC) Ryan, Boko Haram is a prominent, well-funded and well-supported Islamist militant group, based in Nigeria. Why do you argue that it does not have an international focus and that its activity is only (and will only be) Nigeria-focused over the medium-term?

(RC) There is mounting evidence to suggest that Boko Haram has extended its operational footprint outside of Nigeria and may have infiltrated neighbouring countries, such as Niger and Cameroon. Nonetheless, both the sect’s rhetoric and operations suggest that Boko Haram remains a Nigeria-focused, grassroots organisation. In this regard, Boko Haram’s alleged expansion into neighbouring countries is congruent with the group’s domestic agenda, as this expansion has provided the sect with an operational environment in which it can train, recruit and even launch cross-border attacks into Nigerian territory. The status quo will likely endure until such time that the respective governments of Niger and Cameroon adopt a more hardline stance against Boko Haram interests, both within and outside of their respective borders.

(AC) What is the current level of regional security coordination between Nigeria and neighbouring countries?

(RC) To date, the level of security co-operation between Nigeria and its immediate neighbours has been limited to intelligence sharing and joint border patrols. However, these initiatives have been compromised by logistical problems, including staff shortages and poor communication networks. Nevertheless, there are increasing calls by Western governments for more robust regional co-operation, particularly the execution of joint military operations. I believe it will only be a question of time before such initiatives are undertaken.

(AC) What incentives, if any, are there for resource-poor states bordering Nigeria to co-operate against militants?

(RC) The longer the Boko Haram insurgency continues, the higher the risk that the sect could become entrenched within neighbouring countries and possibly export its insurgent operations to these territories. Moreover, an often overlooked aspect of the Boko Haram insurgency is the regional humanitarian crisis it is causing. Since early 2013, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has estimated that at least 470,000 people have been displaced by Boko Haram attacks and reciprocal military offensives in north eastern Nigeria. An estimated 60,000 of the aforementioned number have sought refuge in the neighbouring countries of Chad, Cameroon and Niger, placing a significant burden on areas already experiencing food and resource scarcities. Co-operation against militants among Nigeria’s neighbouring states could help prevent these effects.

(AC) What is the long-term outlook for Nigeria? Can the government end the insurgency?

(RC) I believe that the Nigerian government can end the Boko Haram insurgency, provided that it is willing to change its current counterinsurgency strategy. To date, Nigeria has relied on a military solution to the insurgency, which is problematic, given that the Nigerian armed forces are lacking the requisite resources, training and manpower for such a strategy. In this regard, the country will likely require external assistance, both in the form of training and funding, in order to ensure that the military has the knowledge, numbers and equipment for the execution of successful counterinsurgency operations.

However, most critically will be Nigeria’s willingness to address the structural socio-economic problems that are fuelling the insurgency. By addressing issues such as poverty, unemployment and corruption, which are considered systemic in the country’s north, the government could drain Boko Haram’s grassroots support, upon which the longevity of the sect’s insurgency is dependent. In short, the government needs to make a better offer to the people than any offer from Boko Haram. Until the sect is forced into a position in which negotiation, and not violence, is the primary means of addressing its grievances, Boko Haram will continue to persist with the deadly efficacy it has demonstrated to date.

Yemen – The potential failed state

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(RC) Andre, you argue that Yemen is on a path towards failed state status. Is this assessment valid, given the success of the recent National Dialogue Conference?

(AC) I think so. The National Dialogue achieved some limited success, but as recent conflict in the north, persistent tribal violence in the east and Islamist extremist agitation in the south east demonstrate, it has not achieved immediate results. In addition to these challenges, oil income has diminished and the economy is heaving under enormous pressure and reliance on foreign aid. The government is essentially in a state of flux and prone to further instability.

(RC) You touch on the issue of the presence of non-state armed groups that operate within the country. In this regard, who are the major groups?

(AC) There are a number of groups. The Shiite Houthis in the north, AQAP in the east, Harak militants in the south and, of course, the various tribal groupings, most of which are well armed. There are also numerous political parties which have an armed support base, including al-Islah, arguably the strongest opposition group in the country.

(RC) Are any of these groups interconnected and, if so, how do these relationships influence the power dynamic within the country?

(AC) Many, if not most, of these groups share certain ‘commonalities’. For example, there is evidence to suggest that some tribesmen are working with AQAP (in kidnapping operations) and that AQAP members have inter-married with tribes’ people, in order to cement alliances and secure operational ‘space’. Some political parties and tribal groupings are also loosely allied. Al-Islah has a close connection to the al-Ahmer tribe, which is in turn the dominant force in the Hashid Tribal federation. The Hashid comprises a number of smaller tribal groupings who are loyal to opponents of al-Islah and al-Ahmer, such as the Houthis. The government also runs a patronage system through its Ministry of Tribal Affairs, which allegedly pays off certain tribal figures in return for their allegiance or neutrality. The security forces are also split in many areas along tribal lines, while many politicians have split allegiances. Typically, one is loyal to one’s family, tribe, religious order, party and, usually lastly, the state. So in summary, these groups are connected through a complicated mix where alliances are frequently forged or broken in response to political and security developments.

(RC) Are there any discernible shifts in the current alliances which could worsen or improve Yemen’s political and security outlook within the short- to medium-term?

(AC) Discerning shifts in alliances remains a difficult undertaking. While small shifts are frequently occurring in response to security and political developments, major alliance shifts occur less frequently. The last major upheaval occurred in 2011, when elements within the army withdrew support from then-president, Ali Saleh. However, even this split was accepted as a likely outcome, given the entrenched differences that already existed within the ‘unified military command’ and political hierarchy. Similarly, any major political development over the near-term will act to further destabilise and polarise Yemen. Such triggers could include a high-profile political assassination that undermines the recent political gains, or a major advance or capture of territory by one of the major non-state armed groups.

Follow Ryan @Pol_Sec_Analyst and Andre @AndreColling

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Top tips for staying safe at the World Cup

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Ahead of the Brazil World Cup, Nick Piper (red24’s Chief Analyst for the Americas) takes a look at red24’s top security tips for travellers going to the tournament.

 

  • Visit a travel clinic well in advance of your trip to obtain the necessary vaccinations.
  • Arrange to be met on arrival in each host city by a representative from your hotel or a trusted local contact whose identity can be verified.
  • Ideally arrange to arrive during daylight hours
  • Book at least your first night’s accommodation in each host city.
  • Avoid travelling at night, and limit the amount of time you spend walking around cities at night.
  • When possible, leave all important documents in a safe (or safe deposit box) at your accommodation.
  • Only carry certified copies of your passport.
  • Avoid carrying large amounts of cash (only carry enough cash for a day) or wearing expensive jewellery or valuables.
  • Due to the risk of drink-spiking, do not leave drinks unattended or accept drinks from strangers.
  • Only organise a taxi through trusted local sources, such as your accommodation.
  • Do not hail a taxi on the street or enter one that has been hailed by persons you have only recently met.
  • Do not enter a taxi that is carrying other passengers.
  • If it is safe to do so, strongly consider exiting a taxi if it stops to pick up additional passengers.
  • Do not use ATMs on the street, particularly after dark or in a deserted area.
  • If possible, only use ATMs that are located in busy shopping centres, stores, banks and hotel lobbies.
  • In the event that you are a victim of crime, do not resist the demands of the perpetrators.

 


 

Interested in knowing more? Take a look at red24’s briefing on the security risks facing travellers going to the World Cup.

Or sign up directly for red24’s Brazil World Cup package. This is designed to provide travellers with advice, security updates and emergency support – both before and during the tournament.

Article by Nick Piper, follow him @AmericasRisk.