Tag Archives: Barend Lutz

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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The growing threat of kidnapping in Mexico – Part 2

Mex soldierIs there a link between the war on drugs and kidnapping in Mexico?

As noted in part one of this blog series, 2013 marked the biggest year-on-year increase in the number of kidnapping cases reported per month since 2008. There are numerous theories that attempt to explain this apparent rise in kidnappings in the country and determine whether this trend will continue or even be further accelerated in years to come. A number of these theories examine the link between ongoing ‘war on drugs’ in Mexico, including the arrests of high-value targets (HVTs), such as top cartel leaders, and increases in violence and other forms of crime, such as kidnapping. Part two of this series provides a brief overview of these theories.

The war on drugs in Mexico

In 2006, Mexico’s former president, Felipe Calderon, launched an extensive anti-narcotics strategy in an effort to combat drug trafficking in the country. Under incumbent president Enrique Pena Nieto, the so called ‘war on drugs’ is continuing with his anti-crime strategy. Although Nieto declared that his strategy would be more holistic and focus on addressing the socio-economic roots of violent crime, to date there hasn’t actually been as much of a change in strategy as was proclaimed or even anticipated. The recent arrests of high-ranking transnational criminal organisation (TCO) figures, such as the 22 February arrest of Sinaloa cartel’s highest-ranking member, Joaquin Guzman (also known as El Chapo), illustrate that Nieto has not entirely abandoned the ‘kingpin strategy’ that was utilised by his predecessor.

Government focus on kidnapping

The fight against kidnapping in Mexico also forms a central part of the war on drugs and Nieto’s holistic anti-crime strategy. Nieto has promised to halve kidnappings during his term in office; however, evidence of this has not yet been seen. The government sees the threat of kidnapping as a serious concern. In January 2014, Nieto’s government re-pledged themselves to the fight against kidnapping with the launch of the National Anti-Kidnapping Strategy (Estrategia Nacional Antisecuestros). This strategy includes a ten-step action plan focusing on technological and legal improvements, the creation of additional anti-kidnapping units, and a focus on the ten states most impacted by the crime; these include Durango, Mexico, Guerrero, Michoacan, Morelos, Tabasco, Oaxaca, Veracruz, Tamaulipas and Zacatecas. According to government sources, as many as 74 percent of kidnappings occur in these states; however, it should also be noted that it is estimated that only one in ten cases of kidnapping is ever reported and all kidnapping statistics could therefore be misrepresentative of the actual threat.

To what extent the new National Anti-Kidnapping Strategy will come to fruition is still to be seen. Many have criticised the plan for being too broad and lacking specifics on exactly what is to be done to reduce the kidnapping threat in the country. However, the fact that the government has acknowledged the extent of this threat in Mexico is a positive sign as more resources will be made available to traditionally under sourced anti-kidnapping units. In recent months, increased concerns over the anti-kidnapping strategy have been raised; these include the continued use of the kingpin strategy and the effect that the ongoing war on drugs has on kidnapping in the county. The two most prominent concerns are examined below.

Diversification of cartel tactics

TCOs such as Mexico’s major drug cartels have been increasingly diversifying their operations beyond traditional drug trafficking in recent years. Cartels are expanding into new segments of the ‘criminal industry’ and also investing in business outside of the scope of its existing operations. Beyond drug trafficking, criminal groups are branching out into prostitution, piracy, human trafficking, human organ harvesting, illegal mining and logging, merchandise, oil and mineral theft, kidnapping for ransom and extortion, and various other illicit activities.

Traditionally in business, there are two dimensions of rationale for diversification in any industry; these are defensive or offensive strategies. In the case of organised crime in Mexico, it has been argued that the ongoing war on drugs has forced cartels to adopt a more defensive strategy in order to spread the risk as their traditional (drug trafficking) markets are contracting. According to this argument, the police and army crackdown on drug traffickers in recent years, including the arrest of major cartel leaders, has inadvertently forced cartels to peruse other avenues of revenue.

Although proving a direct link between the diversification of cartel operations and the war on drugs can be tenuous, this theory has received credence with various scholars and members of the Mexican government. According to this theory, the countrywide increase in kidnappings can in part be linked to this diversification.

Splintering of cartels and the rise of ‘super-powered’ street gangs

mexican-cartel-map

Another related trend contributing to escalating violence and the rise in kidnappings in the country is the fracturing of cartel networks. Since the 1980s, Mexican cartels have begun to fracture into smaller, geographically compact regional networks. This process of splintering (also referred to as ‘balkanisation’) has affected the operations of major cartels. There are various drivers for this balkanisation, including inter- and intra-cartel violence, external pressure from governments (including the arrest of cartel leaders), changes in drug production operations and the evolving global drug industry.

This balkanisation can in turn lead to the rise of what has been called super-powered street gangs. These smaller localised gangs could replace (or at least supplement) cartels as the major drivers of violence in Mexico in years to come. Hyper-local groups are able focus all their attention on a small area of operation and potentially control these areas more effectively than large cartels. They utilise an assortment of tools from social media, to contacts in government, the local community and police to spread fear and maintain control.

Tactics of these smaller street gangs often differ from that of the large cartels. Although most of these gangs are also involved to some degree in the drug industry, other forms of crime, such as kidnapping, and specifically express kidnapping, is often more lucrative for these smaller gangs. The rise of these groups can therefore be seen as a contributing factor in the ongoing increase in kidnapping.

Historically, the kingpin strategy has also been blamed as a contributing factor for the apparent splintering and decentralisation of violence. The most common critique of the strategy states that the killing or arrest of an organisation’s leader creates a void. This void in turn can lead to the internal fracturing of a cartel and allows rival groups (internally or externally) to challenge the cartel; this often results in violent conflict. Also, as mentioned above, this could provide opportunities for smaller groups to gain a foothold in the industry. Larger gangs can also split, as happened with the Gulf Cartel. This cartel was dominant in large parts of north eastern Mexico until 2010, when a split within the organisation saw its armed wing, Los Zetas, form its own cartel and subsequently supplant the Gulf Cartel as the foremost organised crime group in the north east. In turn, extensive infighting within Los Zetas occurred between 2010 and 2012 and lead to fracturing within the group. It should be noted that today this group is believed to generate about 50 percent of its revenue through traditional drug trafficking; the rest of the revnue comes from low-level criminal activities such as extortion, kidnapping, theft, piracy and other licit and illicit activities. It can be argued that this business model has been pursued due to fractioning within the group and also as a diversification strategy.

Findings and Forecast

It is important to note that although the above-mentioned theories have received strong support, proving a direct link between the war on drugs, including the arrest of cartel leaders and a change in kidnapping rates, is tenuous. Theories surrounding the diversification of cartel operations and the potential splintering of large cartels can be seen as contributing factors to the increase in crimes such as kidnapping; however, with the limited information available, the link is speculative at best. The problem lies in the dictum; correlation does not necessarily imply causation. There might be unknown lurking variables that play a crucial part in explaining and forecasting kidnapping trends in Mexico. The theories above should therefore be seen as guidelines towards the truth, but not as empirical proof in and of themselves.

However, with the information available, one can make a number of well-supported forecasts for kidnapping in Mexico. Firstly, it should be noted that the increasing focus of the government on kidnapping, and the launch of the Anti-Kidnapping Strategy, will eventually bolster anti-kidnapping units at a state level. It could also lead to a decrease in kidnappings in the long-term. However, this plan is still vague and will take time to implement. As such, the potential benefit from this plan is not expected to be seen in the coming months.

The government is also expected to continue its traditional approach to the war on drugs and use of the kingpin strategy in coming months. Most of the major heads of cartels have been arrested, but as new leadership arises, this strategy will continue. This in turn could continue to lead to increases in kidnappings countrywide, according to the theories posited above.

As noted in the introduction, Mexico already has an increasing trend in kidnapping. This trend is partially driven by the above-mentioned theories. As new kidnapping statistics are released, it will become evident to what extent these factors have impacted kidnapping trends. At present, it is anticipated that 2014 will remain consistent with previous years and see a continuation of the trend of increasing year-on-year countrywide kidnappings; there will likely be more abductions in Mexico in 2014 than in 2013. In terms of geographical area, kidnapping rates will remain high in states that have traditionally been badly affected by the crime and increase elsewhere. It is anticipated that there will not be any meaningful decrease in abductions in any particular state.

More free stuff, listen to our Mexico: Kidnapping Overview – January 2014 on SoundCloud


Part three of this series will focus  in more detail on violence and kidnapping in Mexico on a municipal level.

Article by Barend Lutz, follow him @LutzBarend

If you have thoughts and views on why kidnapping in Mexico is increasing, or have any questions about this article, please leave a comment below.

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Pele fears protests could ruin World Cup; but what do the analysts say?

Pele

Security at the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil

The 2014 FIFA World Cup will be held in Brazil from 12 June to 13 July.  In a recent interview, Pele (Edson Arantes do Nascimento), the retired Brazilian football legend, stated that as a Brazilian, the ongoing civil unrest in the country not only saddens him but could also sour the 2014 FIFA World Cup. Pele is one of the most lauded players in the history of football and is frequently ranked the best player ever. However, does his expertise carry over to the field of political and security risk analysis, and will the protests, as he believes, spoil the World Cup?

Brief background on protests

Sporadic protests over socio-economic and labour concerns have been affecting Brazil since June 2013. Although the largest of these corresponded with the FIFA Confederations Cup (FCC) period (15 to 30 June), related gatherings have been ongoing in recent months. The civil unrest was initially motivated by an increase in public transport fares in Rio de Janeiro; however, the campaign soon garnered significant support and momentum. It formed a convenient platform for various civil society groupings to voice their respective grievances, including issues regarding service delivery, concerns over the World Cup, corruption, etc. Despite significantly reduced support for the protest movement following the FCC period, periodic protests continue in the country and violence still remains a considerable concern at related events. Most recent socio-economic demonstrations have focused on Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo. It should be noted that police forces often resort to heavy-handed tactics to disperse protesters (as seen in the video below):

(WarningVideo contains scenes of violence some viewers may find disturbing )

Will there be protests?

Yes, protests by a variety of disparate groups are expected in host cities during the World Cup. These groups have already indicated their intention to disrupt the tournament if their demands are not met. Pele’s views are therefore based on credible concerns. However, it should be noted that disruptions caused by potential protests are anticipated to be largely minimised by government security operations in the 12 host cities. It is red24’s position that these events will not reach the magnitude of those witnessed during the FCC period. This is due, in roughly equal measures, to the large-scale increase in security aimed at limiting disruptions caused by potential protests (the government has invested over US$2.2 billion into World Cup security in 2013 alone) and the placating options that are available to President Dilma Rousseff so as to counter any burgeoning protest movement. Nevertheless, gatherings will still likely be planned in areas that allow for maximum exposure; these include sites associated with the tournament. Further details on planned protests and city-specific protest hotspots can be found at red24.com. These events have the potential to turn violent, as these are often infiltrated by disruptive elements, such as members of the anarchist Black Bloc. A great source for additional views from Brazil, specifically related to the World Cup, can be found on the “A Brazilian Operating in This Area” – blog, by the local journalist, Mauricio Savarese.

What should Pele be concerned about?

According to the red24 2014 Threat Forecast, despite the media focus on protests, the most apparent risk during the World Cup is the high threat from crime in Brazil, particularly in major urban centres. Already-high petty crime rates will likely be elevated, particularly near stadiums, popular tourist areas and transport hubs; violent crime will remain an ever-present concern, mainly in lower-income areas and within cities at night. The government will attempt to reduce this risk through increased surveillance and an overall heightened police presence; however, official efforts are likely to fall short of significantly reducing the risk of crime in host cities.

A further concern is that of express kidnapping. This form of kidnapping involves victims being held temporarily while they are forced to withdraw money or hand over PIN details so that money can be withdrawn from ATMs. Although the use of bogus taxis or rogue taxi drivers is a primary modus operandi of express kidnappers, incidents are also perpetrated near outdoor and isolated indoor ATMs. In recent years, there have been a number of instances of this short-term form of abduction affecting foreign nationals in Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo and other cities that are set to host World Cup matches. Although somewhat mitigated by an increased security force presence, there is still a credible concern of express kidnapping facing those visiting host cities.

It should also be noted that there is a risk of terrorism at the World Cup that is associated with all international events. Lastly, those visiting host cities are not immune from the prevailing kidnapping for ransom risk.

Brazil security Overview of risks in Brazil

Pele’s concern over protests in Brazil is therefore valid, but it is unlikely at this stage that these gatherings will ruin the World Cup. As seen above, there are various other concerns of which visitors to Brazil should be made aware. However, by adopting a number of commonsense precautions, these risks can be greatly mitigated.

red24 has launched a tailored package of services for visitors to the 2014 World Cup. This has been designed to provide travellers with detailed advice, security updates and 24/7 telephone support during the event. For more information about this package, please click here

Article by Barend Lutz, follow him @LutzBarend

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Flash Mobs in Americas: More Mob than Flash?

flash

Most people love the cheerful surprise of being caught unaware in a flash mob, except maybe these guys. Who would not enjoy jovial choreographed people dancing to Journey? Who can hold back the goose bumps when listening to Ode to Joy preformed, seemingly ad lib, in the streets of Sabadell, Catalonia? However, as with most things, there is a dark side to flash mobs. The most notorious case is the 26 December 2013 violent flash mob that took place in the NYC Kings Plaza Shopping Centre (video). Hundreds of teenagers flooded the mall, attacking customers, trashing shops and playing the ‘knockout’ game, according to some reports. These youth riots are not only taking place in the US, but also in other countries in the Americas.

In Brazil, it is called a rolezinho and mostly occurs in malls in Sao Paulo. Most recently, on 11 January, a rolezinho took place at the Shopping Metro Itaquera. Hundreds of teen participants stormed the mall, looted shops and clashed with police forces. The police consequently used teargas, rubber bullets and batons against the teens. Three people were arrested. The Brazilian teen participants claim that these gatherings are to protest against, ‘all forms of oppression and discrimination against the poor blacks, and also the brutal and cowardly daily action of the Military Police in Brazil’. It should be noted that 10 additional rolezinho’s are already scheduled, via social media networks, to take place in Brazil in January and February.

Security forces in both the US and Brazil react harshly to this kind of protest. Mall security in the US is generally not equipped to handle large-scale uprisings; in most cases, violent clashes occur between participants and security forces. In Brazil, the government response is even harsher; the use of rubber bullets and teargas is common practice in dispersing teens participating in a rolezinho. Mall security, as well as government legislation, has been increased in both countries to deal with future uprisings. Certain malls in the US have even implemented access restrictions to unescorted underage persons.

Violent flash mobs are not a new phenomenon, although incidents have been sparser in the past than in recent months. One example is the mass fight which took place in Boston’s Carson Beach in 2011. It should be noted that the recent increasing trend could just be a social media ‘fad’ that will pass relatively quickly; however, there are those who believe that these mobs are part of a deeper underlying problem. There is an ongoing debate about whether these violent flash mobs are legitimate forms of protest or merely violent riots. The events generally involve youths from marginalised sectors of society and participants often have socio-economic motivations for participation. I find it difficult to view these mobs as part of the legitimate political process, but it is still important to note their concerns, if future incidents are to be avoided.

Even if these violent flash mobs are only a fad, the incidents serve to illustrate the necessity for common sense personal security. Personal security should always begin with situational awareness. Being aware of your surroundings could give you the necessary time to remove yourself from an emerging dangerous situation, such as a violent flash mob or a person following you and intending to make you the most recent victim of the knockout game. Remember, always trust your instincts. If someone or something makes you uneasy, avoid the person or leave the area. Finally, when you next witness a traditional pleasant flash mob, enjoy the performance, but always remember that not all flash mobs are friendly.

Watch this:
  • For a great 30 minute discussion on How To Stop Teens Engaging In Flash Robs, see this Huffington Post video.

Article by Barend Lutz – Follow him on Twitter @lutzbarend

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A tense environment – Meet the red24 editors

Masters of the semicolon, gatekeepers of all content and pundits of style; their they’re the red24 editorial team.

red24 Editors

Both speed and accuracy are paramount to the effective functioning of a global crisis management company, such as red24. Our analyst teams monitor global events around the clock and are constantly pushing through content as world events occur. However, between the analysts and the world there is a protective cocoon that is our editorial team. This team provides the checks and balances to ensure that errors are spotted and that the calibre of information is kept to a high standard.

In order to highlight the crucial role that the editorial team is playing – here are some silly slipups that fortunately did not make it through our editorial barrier:

1. The exploding desert – Graham spotted one of my alerts and highlighted the difference between ‘multiple explosive devices detonated in the dessert‘ and ‘multiple explosive devices detonated in the desert.

dessert

2. Pretty petty thieves –  Nicola also recently found a nice one ‘… these forms of transport are known to be targeted by pretty thieves.’

ku-xlarge

Firdows provided a range of edits ranging from the bizarre to the ludicrous:

3. The tale of the back-snatchers – The eds have, on countless occasions, saved clients from falling victim to crime, including from back-snatchers; spineless crooks out to steal, not only your bag, but also your lumbar support.

Spineless

4. Sensationalism and the art of not increasing tensions –

– Really Now! – “The country is faced with organising the largest democratic elections on the planet by the end of May”.

– Shut the front door! “Senior drug trafficker Jesus Alfredo Guzman Salazar was arrested in Jalisco state, Mexico, on 21 June. Guzman Salazar is the son of notorious drug trafficker and head of the powerful and deadly Sinaloa cartel, Joaquin Guzman Loera“.

Sensationalism

5. Sometimes, however, inexplicable errors creep through despite our best efforts. 

India: Inclement weather causes ferry to collapse in West Bengal

– According to media reports, tanks fired heavy machinery and anti-aircraft guns in the city’s Bab Amro district.

Machine Tank

 6. Freudian slip with regards to human waste protesters in South Africa,  – “Demonstrations related to service delivery occur frequently in South Africa and mostly affect pooper outlying areas of major urban centres”.

Dung Beetle

Wisdom from Firdows: What the editors aim to do…

A good editor will not try to silence the voice of the writer; rather, an editor will tell you if it’s lacking in consistency or sensationalist or otherwise detracting from your message. The editorial team (lovingly known as ‘ the eds’ by some at red24) aims not to change things indiscriminately or subjectively instead we aim to implement the applicable rules where needed and will defend them till the very end.

 What the editors really do…

Tea breaks.

High tea

If you are an editor or have been saved by an editor in the past, feel free to leave some of your funny edits in the comments. Also let us know which edit is your favourite?

Created by Barend Lutz and the editorial team

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Barend Lutz on Student Protests in Chile

Barend Lutz on Student Protests in Chile

red24′s regional analyst for the Americas, Barend Lutz, writes on the re-escalation of Chile’s Student Movement and the upcoming 2013 elections.

Since April 2011, student groups in Chile have conducted a series of countrywide demonstrations as part of an ongoing campaign against education privatisation and exclusive policies. The movement was particularly active in 2011 and early 2012; however, the activity of involved groups subsided significantly between September 2012 and April 2013. There has been a renewed momentum in recent months, as evidenced by an increase in the frequency and intensity of protests; further protests are expected in the coming weeks.

Follow Barend Lutz on Twitter – @LutzBarend

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