Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Incident: New Avian Flu Strain, China

Researchers have identified a new strain of the H5N1 bird flu virus in China. There is concern the new "Fujian-like virus" may be resistant to vaccines, cause greater outbreaks in poultry stocks, and be one more step toward a mutated strain that could easily be passed among humans.

Monday, October 30, 2006

James Oiler Passing

James Oiler, a CARE staffer, passed away over the weekend in Uganda. James had been with CARE since 1996 and served in a number of different positions (including performing various security assignments). He knew the ins and outs of humanitarian work in Africa quite well and was highly regarded. I met James at a seminar a couple of years ago, and right off he struck me as a kind, warm and caring individual. Deepest condolences to his family, friends and colleagues. James will be greatly missed.

Incident: Abduction, Gaza

A 34-year-old Spanish aid worker with the Cooperation Assembly for Peace was abducted outside of Khan Younis. A female co-worker was left unharmed at the scene. No groups have claimed responsibility. 10/31/06 Update - Roberto Vila Sexto was released unharmed.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Rogue Elephant Risks

In some parts of the world, elephants show up on threat assessments. In fact there's a statistical classification called HEC (for Human Elephant Conflict) for incidences of elephant attacks. The New York Times has a fascinating and lengthy article on the subject - including a detailed look at rogue elephants and psychological speculation about their behavior.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Top 10 Ways to Steal a Car

More oriented to the U.S. and other Western countries, but some of the techniques are universal. Some good, common sense, basic security measures are discussed.

South Africa Burglar Signals

Interesting report from OSAC about criminals using strategically placed beverage cans outside a residence to indicate the difficulty of committing a burglary. Different can colors represent levels of difficulty:
  • Red: May encounter resistance, be prepared to use armed force
  • White: Easy target
  • Green: All clear, nobody home
Signs and signals other than cans may also be used. Something for guards and staff members to consider when practicing situational awareness.

Evacuation planning in Chad

As rebels advance on N'djamena, word on the street is several NGOs are establishing trigger points for staff evacuations. The events of the next week should be telling.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Incident: Expulsion, Sudan

Jan Pronk, UN envoy to Sudan, is being expelled because of comments he posted in his blog that were critical of the Sudanese military. The lesson learned here is be careful what your organization or its staff says on the Internet (either officially or unofficially). Someone in a position of influence may be reading and take offense.

On more of a security-related note, always review organization Web sites and blogs during an assessment to see if there is any information that could possibly compromise security. Depending on the circumstances you may also want to do a little Googling of key staff members, checking if any sensitive information can easily be found online.

Aid agency warns of 'powder keg' in Darfur camp

Press release from Merlin including a few details of their evacuation from Gereida three weeks ago and the current camp situation.

New ODI Humanitarian Policy Group Reports

A whole series of HPG papers entitled "Providing aid in insecure environments: trends in policy and operations" (by Abby Stoddard, Adele Harmer and Katherine Haver) are now available. Including summary of findings, full findings, and field reports from Afghanistan (Farahnaz Karim), Iraq (Alexandre Carle and Hakim Chkam), North Caucasus (forthcoming), and Somalia and Somaliland (Joakim Gundel). Essential reading for the NGO security practitioner.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Incident: Suspensions, Russia

Seventy-seven foreign NGOs, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, were forced to suspend activities Thursday after a registration deadline expired. Although Russian government officials have insisted the suspensions are temporary and work will resume once official paperwork has been submitted, a number of NGOs feel the suspensions are heavy-handed and the latest in a series of attempts by the government to exert greater control over humanitarian organizations. (I've yet to see a complete list of all of the organizations, but will post a link when one shows up. In the meantime, if you speak Russian, here's a link to the Justice Ministry, who made the announcement.)

Incident: Arrests, Sudan

The UN is reporting two staff members from an INGO were arrested in Sudan for taking photographs without permission. Seperately, the UN also reported armed bandits had tried to break into an NGO compound in West Darfur.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Architecture and Security

Bruce Schneier is one of my favorite security writers. He's well known and respected in cryptography and computer security circles and about five years ago started commenting on more mainstream, general security topics. Schneier is a critical thinker and doesn't pull any punches when it comes to "security theater" (his term for public relations or emotional-driven security measures that really don't accomplish much). His writing is informative and entertaining. In his latest blog entry, he talks about architecture and security. Worthwhile reading when thinking about "hardening" office facilities.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Drones in DRC

A short article about camera-equipped unmanned aircraft (commonly called "drones") being used by the European Union Force in the Democratic Republic of Congo. As reconnaissance drones become more widely used, it's inevitable NGOs will start to use recorded data. Either drones flown exclusively for humanitarian missions or bits of relevant data from military missions being shared. As a security practitioner, if you're in a conflict zone and have a working relationship with a military presence that uses drones, keep this technology in the back of your mind as a possible information source for certain circumstances (evacuations, abductions, etc.).

Incident: Abduction, Haiti

A US missionary was kidnapped as he left his church in northern Haiti and freed unharmed after two days in captivity. Kidnappers initially demanded $80,000 but then lowered the amount to $5,000 (this seems to be standard practice in Haiti). It is unknown if a ransom was paid.

Incident: Suspension, Sri Lanka

The Australian Red Cross announced it was temporarily suspending field activities in and around Jaffna due to hostilities between the LTTE and Sri Lankan military. Staff is still continuing program work in the area that doesn't involve field visits.

Incident: Abduction, Philippines

Xinhua reports, "A U.S. aid worker and his three companions have been kidnapped by their bodyguards on Jolo Island, southern Philippines, local media reported on Wednesday." The aid worker is an engineer and program manager for Growth With Equity, a USAID project. Although not widely reported by mainstream international media, the radical Islamic Abu Sayyaf Group has been responsible for a large number of violent incidents in the southern part of the Philippines. It remains to be seen the motivation for this abduction. 10/19/06 Update - More details here; the abduction looks criminal versus political. 10/20/06 Update - The abductees appear to have been released unharmed.

Incident: Carjacking, Darfur

A Medair vehicle was carjacked outside the organization's clinic in the Durti camp. Unidentified armed men took the vehicle, leaving four staff members unharmed. These types of incidents continue to be on the rise in the region.

Pickpocket prevention

Bob Arno has spent the last 35 years researching how pickpockets work. He travels the world, purposely having his wallet stolen so he can learn how street criminals work (it also hones his skills for some the entertainment jobs he does on the side). He's has some excellent information on how criminals operate and ways to keep your valuables safe here.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Incident: Suspension, Somalia

The UN announced it was suspending all missions to Mogadishu and had withdrawn foreign staff from much of Somalia due to threats and increasing insecurity.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Incident: Abduction, West Bank

An American student associated with Project Hope has been reported kidnapped in the Nablus area. Michael Leighton Phillips had been teaching English in West Bank refugee camps. Details are limited at this time. ("A" writes in to differentiate between Project Hope, a Canadian NGO, and Project HOPE, the Millwood, Virginia-based NGO. Thanks for the correction.) 10/12/06 Update - The student was released unharmed after being held for a day.


NS writes in about a new incident tracking system from the Information Management and Mine Action Programs (iMMAP, part of the Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation). Called OASIS, for Operational Activity Security Information System, the plan is for the software to be rolled out and tested in Afghanistan and Darfur in the near future.

From the description it looks pretty good.
The biggest challenges will be getting NGOs to use a single incident tracking system (as well as inputting quality data) and ensuring trained staff positions are allocated.

Incident: Assault, Darfur

An MSF team was attacked by masked, armed men on a road between Zalingei and Nertiti near the central Jabel Marra region in Darfur. Three Sudanese staff were beaten and one international female staff was sexually harassed.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Incident: Shooting (fatality), Iraq

The national staff program director for the Baghdad office of American NGO Life for Relief and Development (LIFE), was shot and killed at a sectarian militia checkpoint. He had recently received death threats and was attempting to travel to a safe location. Condolences to family, friends and colleagues.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Incident: H5N1 in Swine, Indonesia

The H5N1 avian flu strain has been found in two pigs on the island of Bali. This is a concern, since swine are susceptible to a variety of human influenza strains and could serve as a conduit for H5N1 to mutate into a new form that could easily pass on to humans.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Why people make stupid decisions

I believe that critical thinking, decision-making processes, and statistical analysis should all be covered in basic humanitarian security training. Unfortunately, most training tends to be at the surface level, and never delves into what I'd call the deeper, "inner game" of security. To get a taste of what I'm talking about, check out this post on a relatively new blog called Bad Analysis.

Annan warns on Darfur

"Sudan's war-torn region of Darfur has reached a critical stage, with humanitarian groups at risk of withdrawing or drastically reducing their operations unless security conditions improve rapidly, Secretary-General Kofi Annan warns in his latest report to the Security Council." More here.

Security situation in eastern Chad still extremely volatile

UNHCR briefing on security incidents, especially vehicle thefts from humanitarian organizations, in Chad.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Incident: Grenade attack, Sri Lanka

The Red Cross reported a grenade exploded outside of its offices in Jaffna. There was "material damage" but no injuries.