Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Aid workers in Sri Lanka face escalating risk and red tape

Christian Science Monitor article on NGO challenges in Sri Lanka.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

MSF Murder Suspect Released

The primary suspect in the 2004 murders of 5 MSF staff members in Afghanistan was released on bail. The suspect was previously acquited due to lack of evidence but was still being held in custody. His release was prompted by Afghan law that sets a maximum amount of detention time.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Incident: Helicopter crash (fatalities), Nepal

A helicopter carrying 24 people, including workers from the World Wildlife Fund and Nepalese diplomats is missing in Nepal's eastern district of Taplejung. Local residents reported hearing explosions after the aircraft departed. Weather conditions are preventing rescuers from locating the crash site. 9/25/06 Update - The BBC is reporting a search party has located the aircraft wreckage and there are no survivors. Seven WWF staff members were on the helicopter. Condolences to family, friends and colleagues. 9/27/06 Update - A number of news accounts and additional information from this Nepal blog site.

Friday, September 22, 2006

War Contingency Plans

The Nation has a speculative article about the U.S. carrying out military action against Iran. From an NGO security perspective, this begs the question of what implications would an attack have on humanitarian organizations? Events such as the outcry over Danish cartoons that depicted Muhammed, recent riots in Kabul, and the storming of UN offices in Beirut, have clearly demonstrated there can be considerable backlash against NGOs; even with acceptance strategies in place and the organization not involved with the trigger event. Reading the winds, over the next few weeks the prudent security officer should think through some "what if" scenarios and start looking at contingency plans. While hopefully nothing will happen in the coming months, it never hurts to have a good plan, just in case.

Iraq Aid Worker Fatalities

The NGO Coordination Committee in Iraq (NCCI) states that 73 aid workers have been killed in the country since 2003. This includes, "Staffs and Activists of International organisations (IO), United Nations (UN) Agencies and Non-Governmental Organisations." The total number is likely lower due to unreported incidents, especially among local NGOs.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

New Iraq Kidnapping/Bombing Tactic

Iraqi insurgents are now kidnapping people, covertly packing their cars with explosives, releasing them, and then remotely blowing up the unsuspecting drivers when they are in proximity of a target. As Iraq seems to be a proving ground for terrorist tactics, if this new technique becomes successful, it will likely be adopted in other places.

U.S. Military "Africa Command"

Interesting Asia Times article on U.S. military preparations to set up an "Africa Command." Lots of security implications for NGOs if the U.S. government starts to have a greater involvement in Africa in the name of its war on terror.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Incident: Abductions, Ethiopia

Two international Red Cross workers (Irish and Ethiopian) were kidnapped at gunpoint in a remote part of eastern Ethiopia. As a result, ICRC has shut down operations in the region for the first time in 11 years. A few more emerging details here. 9/25/06 Update - ICRC says the two abducted workers have been released and are unharmed.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Incident: Mine (fatalities), Afghanistan

Nick writes in with a pointer to a news story about three Afghan aid workers killed, and a fourth wounded, when their car hit a mine south of Kabul. The NGO they worked for was not identified. Condolences to family, friends and colleagues. 9/21/06 Update - A reader writes in that the victims were security staff associated with a USAID project. Any additional confirmation on this would be appreciated. 9/24/06 Update - An email from ANSO states this was not an NGO security incident. "The 3 killed and 1 wounded (all National Staff) were NOT aid workers. They belonged to a Private Security Company that was protecting a water project of a contractor (Not NGO). They were attacked during their guard shift rotation for which they travelled on the same road at the same time every day."

ANSO Afghanistan Update

Christian Willach, the ANSO Operations Coordinator, writes in with the following:

I would like to take this opportunity to address some issues that have arisen over the last weeks.

In the last weeks and months, we have been asked frequently, whether NGOs are being specifically targeted in Afghanistan. So far, I would have to say that we cannot see any indication of a specific targeting of NGOs as part of a concentrated campaign throughout the country. It has to be stated though, that we are not operating alone and that the mood in some parts of the country has swung against the International Community as a whole and in that context, the NGOs can easily be “caught up” in dissatisfaction of the local population in their perceived lack of development. The NGO Community is not a primary target of the ongoing insurgency but we all have to accept that we are no longer seem to be viewed as neutral and impartial by parts of the population and most AGEs.

In the cases, where NGOs implement programs in which funding is being released too slowly, the beneficiaries will mostly not look at the organization or ministry that delayed the funding release but will turn to the NGO with accusations of misappropriation. This dissatisfaction can easily be used by AGEs to convince the local population of the bad influence of the International community. This dissatisfaction (possibly heated up by AGE agitators) can result in NGOs being targeted.

Other incidents directly involving NGOs have no political background but are motivated by personal, criminal or “business related” matters. Because of an underdeveloped safety and security umbrella by National and International security forces and a judicial system that is not fully functional yet, many incidences occur in a culture of impunity.

In general; ANSO does not see a concise campaign against NGOs but we are long past the stage, where we have been excluded from the targeting because of our values (impartiality and neutrality) and the nature of our work (humanitarian and development).

After a big and serious incident (e.g. Abduction of female NGO staff member in 2005, various riots, significant suicide attacks, etc.), the NGO Community is very concerned and many organizations are implementing mitigation measures in order to protect staff as much as possible. But this awareness seems to quickly dissipate after a couple of weeks. ANSO strongly advises all NGOs to be aware of the context we are all working and living in. By no means do we suggest a “bunker mentality” but we recommend a sensible and constant reevaluation of the situation with an implementation of mitigating measures and the use of “common sense”. Please consider that safety and security standards not only help keeping your staff safe but also help with a continued implementation of your projects as well as projects by other NGOs working beside you.

Incident: Detentions, Singapore

ActionAid had several of its staff detained in Singapore as they tried to attend the annual IMF/World Bank meetings. The Singapore government has detained or denied entry to representatives from a number of organizations. Whether the individuals attempting to enter the country knew they were on a blacklist or not is unknown.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Incident: Shooting (fatalities), Somalia

A Catholic nun from Italy and her guard were shot and killed at a children's hospital in Mogadishu. There is speculation the attack was related to Muslim controversy over a recent speech given by the Pope. Condolences to family, friends and colleagues. 9/1806 Update - More details here.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Sri Lanka "Disappearances"

The Asian Human Rights Commission has a disturbing report about Sri Lankan citizens being abducted by heavily armed men in unmarked white vans. In most countries facing an insurgency, as the war becomes dirtier, death squads and disappearances start to become common. With government respect for humanitarian organizations appearing to be on the decline in Sri Lanka, this could become a valid security concern, especially for national staff.

Rescue workers at risk

For those who strive to save the world's sick and wounded, this summer has been among the worst of times. Too many days begin with desperate calls from our field colleagues, telling us still more humanitarian workers have been ambushed, kidnapped or killed while in the line of service. By Jan Egeland, United Nations undersecretary general for humanitarian affairs and emergency relief coordinator.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Incident: Abductions, Afghanistan

Word on the street is a Colombian and two Afghans working for a French NGO were abducted west of Kabul on Sunday. More details when/if they become available. 9/17/06 Update: As mentioned in the comment below, although some media sources are calling the disapperances abductions, ANSO states there is no firm evidence that the staff members have indeed been abducted. At this point kidnapping remains one of several possible causes of the disappearances. 9/20/06 Update - Madera, the NGO employing the missing aid workers, has confirmed the staff members have been abducted. Details aren't available, but the workers are said to be alive and in good health.

Incident: Shooting (fatality), Afghanistan

A national staff employee of the UN Habitat program was shot and killed as he drove from a remote village into the capital of Farah province (UN press release here). Condolences to family, friends and colleagues.

Nepal Security Incidents Map

The latest OCHA map showing security incidents in Nepal from August 15 to 28 is available here.

Incident: Shooting (fatality), Sri Lanka

A World Concern national staff member was shot and killed in the Trincomalee District while riding an organization motorcycle. The death is under investigation and no motives or suspects have been identified. Condolences to family, friends and colleagues.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Security Manual Links

If you've checked out all of the NGO security manuals in the recommended readings, here are some links to a few other references you might not have encountered before. I can't emphasize enough the importance of being exposed to security practices outside the NGO community to broaden your knowledge base. You'll find the best security practitioners in any field take a multi-discipline approach to their work.

US Department of Commerce - Manual of Security Policies and Procedures
Peace Brigades International - Protection Manual for Human Rights Defenders
US Department of Defense - Minimum Antiterrorism Standards for Buildings
Anti-Defamation League - Protecting Your Jewish Institution: Security Strategies for Today's Dangerous World
Canada Public Works and Government Services - Industrial Security Manual

Feel free to post any other useful, "non-standard" security manuals you know about.

Monday, September 11, 2006

South African Monday Morning Crimes

Police in South Africa have found that Mondays, particularly before noon, have become prime time for armed robberies and cash-in-transit heists. It doesn't take a genius to figure out cash taken in by businesses over the weekend is typically deposited at the bank on Mondays (although obvious, most people wouldn't see the link as securty risk). This is a great example of how incident tracking can reveal threat patterns you can mitigate. It also demonstrates the importance of broader context awareness.

Road Fatalities in Great Lakes Region

A recent WHO study suggests that over a million lives a year are lost as the result of vehicle accidents in the Great Lakes Region of Africa, with over 50 million people injured. A good summary of the report in this news article.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Incident: Boating accident (fatalities), Mali

Two American Peace Corps workers were killed in a boating accident on the Niger River in Mali. Justin Brady and Matthew Costa were electrocuted when the mast of their homemade boat struck a high tension powerline. Condolences to family, friends, and colleagues.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Incident: Warehouse fire, Lebanon

A large fire in the UNHCR's Beirut warehouse destroyed thousands of relief items including tents, blankets and mattresses. A staff member attempting to fight the fire was treated for injuries. The cause of the fire is under investigation. This incident is a good reminder of the importance of performing periodic fire safety inspections, training staff on dealing with fires, and having fire response plans in place.

European NGO Security Research

Humanitarian security adviser (and NGO Security Blog contributor) Alexandre Carle is conducting research on European NGO security practices. If you're an aid worker who has experienced a security event while working for a European humanitarian organization, he'd like to hear from you. Here's more about the study. We look forward to seeing the final report and conclusions.

Introduction to the study

The security of missions is becoming increasingly challenging for all humanitarian actors, and more specifically NGOs, for whom the risk threshold is very often much higher than for most other stakeholders. There is no clear global information about the ways in which NGOs are currently managing this increase in security and crises nor its effectiveness. Practice, experience, tools and needs are different across the various NGOs. In addition, the rapid changes in contexts and the increase in exposure to threats results in a need for ongoing diversification of systems. There is a gap between what NGOs would like to do in terms of security and crisis management and what they are actually able to do.

Objectives of the study

To :
  • Examine how security and crisis are managed by Continental European Humanitarian NGOs at head office and field levels
  • Identify Continental European Humanitarian NGOs future needs with regards to security and crises management
  • Generate recommendations to inform future support mechanisms for NGOs in the humanitarian context
Study methodology

This investigation is in two parts :
  • Research involving 20 European continental humanitarian NGOs, from 9 different countries, using a questionnaire for head office and field levels as well as interviews with HQ and field staff and field visits
  • Random interviews with aid workers who have experienced specific security incidents and who are willing to testify independently
Invitation to participate in the study by testifying about a security event

Are you an aid worker who has some field experience and faced security events when working with European Continental Humanitarian NGOs ?

If so, would you like to take part in this study on security and crisis management ?

The interview will involve five questions via email and you will receive the final report of all findings soon after.

Please contact Alexandre Carle :

Distance challenges faced by NGOs in Iraq

A workshop report by the NGO Coordination Committee in Iraq (NCCI) on remote programming in Iraq. NGO security officers should have a working knowledge of the costs and benefits of remote programming as an alternative when operating in highly insecure environments.

Incident: Abduction (fatalities), Afghanistan

Two national staff guards working for World Vision Afghanistan in Bagdhis Province were abducted from the NGO's office and later found dead. A vehicle, office and communications equipment were destroyed in the attack. World Vision is restricting movement in the area and temporarily relocating staff. Condolences to family, friends and colleagues.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Incident: Suspension, Sri Lanka

Following the murders of 17 of its staff members, ACF has announced it will be suspending reconstruction work in Sri Lanka. The organization will maintain a reduced presence in the country, focusing on emergency assistance. Local employee numbers will be reduced to around 50 from some 200 with expatriate staff cut to seven or eight from 15.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Incident: Laptop seizures, Sudan

The Sudanese government is reported to be seizing laptops entering the country as part of new security measures. Laptops are confiscated, inspected and then supposedly returned to the owner after one day. The government's rationale is to prevent pornography from entering the country. However, once someone has physical access to a computer, passwords, personnel information, financial records and other sensitive organization and personal information can be compromised (also keep in mind it's pretty easy to duplicate a hard drive for more detailed snooping at a later time).

Without knowing all of the details of the seizure program, here are some common sense suggestions if you're headed to Sudan with a laptop:
  • Make sure there's no porn present (remember, deleted files can be restored and you never know what may be kept in your browser cache - not knowing the extent or type of searches the Sudanese are performing, just be aware that rudimentary computer forensics programs can easily access and display all of this data).
  • Keep sensitive information on a separate USB thumb drive or a memory card.
  • Change any passwords (especially organization, banking and retail Web sites) as soon as possible. As a precaution, change passwords again after you leave the country and have access to the Internet over a trusted connection.
  • Use strong encryption to protect sensitive files on the laptop or external storage device (TrueCrypt is one of my personal favorites, since it's free, powerful and can provide elements of plausible deniability - which is essential in places where encrypted files might raise suspicions).
Any readers who've had a laptop seized in Sudan, feel free to share your experiences.

September 2006 CrisisWatch

The latest issue of CrisisWatch is out and is available here.

Incident: Expulsions, Eritrea

The Eritrean government gave the boot to five UN staff members, accusing them of "deploying spy networks, recruiting mercenary agents and providing radio communication facilities." One of the staff members declared persona non grata was the security coordinator for UN agencies in Eritrea. The UN is strongly protesting the move.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Incident: Violence (fatality), Darfur

A 37-year old Sudanese national, running a health center for the IRC, was killed during fighting at Hashaba, North Darfur (more details as they become available). The leath center was also looted during the fighting. This is the 12th humanitarian worker killed in the troubled region since May. Condolences to family, friends and colleagues.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Incident: Bank Account Freeze, Sri Lanka

It appears the Sri Lankan government has frozen the bank accounts of the local NGO, Tamil Rehabilitation Organisation (TRO). The government believes organization monies are being used to support terrorism. TRO denies the allegations. This is an interesting security tactic on the government's part. Especially considering some of the funds frozen were project-specific from partnerships with the UN and large INGOs such as Save the Children and Action Aid.

Book: Security Engineering

One of my favorite security books is "Security Engineering: A Guide to Building Dependable Distributed Systems." Ross Anderson, a professor at Cambridge, wrote the book and when first published in 2001, it instantly became a must have for anyone in the computer security community. Although the book focuses on a variety of technical topics it is very readable and gets you to think more in general about the process of security. Ross's publisher just allowed him to post the entire book online for free (it's also still available in print). Highly recommended if you want to go beyond the standard NGO security readings and get a better understanding of security in technology as well as how to approach it.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Incident: Mine (fatality), Senegal

Jeanette Fournier, a public health worker for ICRC, was killed when her vehicle struck a mine or some type of UXO, northwest of Ziguinchor, in the Casamance region of Senegal. Three others in the vehicle were wounded. Fournier, a Swiss-American, had been working with ICRC since 1980. Condolences to family, friends and colleagues.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Incident: NGO Controls, Sri Lanka

Local and foreign NGOs have been told by Sri Lankan officials they must obtain work permits for expatriate staff within a week. 500 foreign nationals working for about 90 charities had already applied for work permits but were still waiting for them. The government is also insisting relief agencies hand over assets to the military if they leave a conflict area, so equipment cannot fall into the hands of insurgents.