Thursday, November 30, 2006

Incident: Suspension/Evacuation, Sudan

The UN temporarily evacuated 240 staff members following fighting between government forces and rebels in Malakal (South Sudan). Other NGOs in the area, including Medair and World Vision, also evacuated staff.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Good Airplane Seats

NGO security consultants often find themselves on airliners winging their way to an assignment. For those long, cross-ocean flights, before I book tickets I always check This is a fantastic resource for finding which seats have the most leg room, which ones to avoid, and which carriers offer power ports for your laptop (when you get lucky with a business class upgrade). Just select an airline and aircraft type to view a color-coded seat map. Although you won't find every carrier in the world listed, just the major ones, this site is a must for the frequent traveler.

Talking in Code

Article on Iraqis using codes when scheduling appointments to prevent possible abductions. Not a bad tactic considering the circumstances.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Abductions in Nigeria

BBC article on abductions of ex-pat oil workers in Nigeria. This has been going on for a while, and is a lucrative revenue source for anti-government forces. A British oil worker was killed during a rescue attempt last week, and it's interesting to read a quote from an oil company security official that says the government should not conduct any rescue operations. Up until now, all of the abductions have been resolved with negotiations - with speculation that good-sized ransoms have eventually been paid. A potential NGO security concern is what happens if the oil companies create hard enough targets to prevent or substantially decrease employee abductions. Will the militants look elsewhere for softer targets? This could create an adverse situation for humanitarian organizations, considering the deep pocket oil companies appear to have already set a "pay for release" precedent.

Kidnappings, Violent Crime Surge in Haiti

After a lull, it appears the situation in Haiti is deteriorating again. Reuters article about the kidnapping problem, with upwards of a 100 people abducted in November (more than double October's total).

Incident: Suspension, Myanmar

The Myanmar government has ordered the ICRC to stop humanitarian work within the country. ICRC had been mulling over its options due to recent restrictions by the government, and as of yesterday implicitly stated it was considering withdrawing. It appears the military regime won the game of who would blink first, unfortunately at the expense of ICRC's beneficiaries.

Incident: Warehouse looting/Evacuation, Chad

Aid agencies in Abeche are considering evacuating non-essential staff following the looting of a WFP warehouse and continued clashes between government and rebel forces. Update - A decision has been made to start evacuating non-essential staff from Abeche.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Perception of Consequences Among Cultures

One of my interests is applying cognitive psychology to security. The field of how people think, perceive their surroundings and act is pretty fascinating and there's a large body of cognition research that is directly applicable to the practice of humanitarian security. It's part of what I call "The Inner Game of Security" (shamelessly stolen from the title of Jeff Gallwey's classic book, The Inner Game of Tennis, first published in 1972).

To give you an example, here's a link to some recent research that talks about the differences between how Asian and European/American cultures make decisions and reason about consequences. In summary, Asians tend to take more of a holistic approach while Americans lean toward analytical reasoning, not taking as much context into consideration.

I'll be posting more about cognitive psychology in the future. In the meantime, if you're interested, check out Cognitive Daily and Mixing Memory. Two great blogs that discuss cognition research (usually in fairly easy to understand language).

ISAF Vehicle Signs

In a press release the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan announced it would be installing signs on vehicles that say "Please Keep Back." The signs will be written in Pashtun and Dari. This is a clear response to the increasing number of suicide bombing attacks staged against military vehicles. The implicit message is "stay away from our trucks or we'll shoot."

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Bomber attacks Afghan hotel

A suicide bomber killed at least 15 people and wounded 24 in a hotel restaurant in Urgun, Paktika province. The bomber was apparently targeting local officials in the restaurant. Whether this represents a change in tactics from focusing attacks on vehicles and convoys remains to be seen.

So far there this year there have been 102 suicide bombings in Afghanistan that have killed 241 people (mostly civilians). Last year there only about 20 such attacks. And while the number of suicide bombings has increased dramatically, they still pale in comparison to Iraq, where over 1,300 people have been killed this year from around 160 attacks.

There's speculation that the lower fatality rate in Afghanistan is due to bombers not receiving as much training and not having as sophisticated of support networks (including guides to select targets) that are present in Iraq. Obviously both of these factors could be fairly easily addressed and if they are, the lethality of attacks will almost certainly increase.

From an NGO perspective, the trend is worth watching. In the future, simply avoiding military vehicles and convoys may not be a sufficient enough security measure to optimally decrease the risk from suicide bombing attacks.

Incident: Shooting (fatality), Lesotho

A Dutch aid worker with the Clinton Foundation was shot and killed in Maseru. Samuella Jacobina Verwey, was shot by an unknown gunman or gunmen as she got out of a taxi with her husband and two US colleagues outside the gate of the trade minister's house in the capital city. Their taxi driver was wounded in the attack and is in critical condition. A motive has yet to be established. Condolences to family, friends and colleagues.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Iraq Insurgency Has Funds to Sustain Itself

New York Times article about a classified US government report on how the insurgency in Iraq is now self-sustaining financially, raising $70 to $200 million a year from illegal activities to support its activities. Some $36 million is estimated to be generated from kidnappings alone.

Iraq is turning into a proving ground for insurgent strategies and tactics, with the successful ones starting to be adopted in other parts of the world (Afghanistan immediately comes to mind). Security implications to humanitarian organizations arise when an insurgency starts deriving a dependable amount of money from illegal acts that impact NGOs (such as kidnappings, theft, corruption, and coercion). While financial losses to a single organization might not seem significant, the same losses experienced by a number of NGOs quickly compounds. And soon this becomes part of an insurgency's revenue generating portfolio.

In humanitarian circles, there's often a tendency to dismiss many criminal acts as simple banditry - with no motives other than personal gain. Based on the Iraq experience, it may be worthwhile to look beneath the surface at criminal activities in places with an active insurgency. How you think about your security measures may change.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Incident: Robbery/Abduction, Darfur

A local driver working for Christian Reformed World Relief Committee was abducted following a two vehicle convoy being stopped by armed men in Shaba. One vehicle managed to turn around and escape, while passengers in the other vehicle were robbed of personal possessions. Following the robbery the men stole the vehicle, forcing the driving to accompany them. He was later released unharmed.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Hamas resumes suicide bombings

After two years, it appears Hamas has resumed suicide bombing in Gaza. A 57-year old woman blew herself up, lightly wounding three Israeli soldiers. The attack comes several weeks after a radical faction threatened to resume suicide attacks in response to Israeli shelling of Beit Hanun.

NGOs risk expulsion for flouting rules

Burundi joins the growing list of countries putting more scrutiny on humanitarian organizations. In this case a government representative says 32 INGOs are at risk of expulsion for not complying with annual report requirements. Some concern has been voiced that this could be the start of increased government controls on aid organizations.

Avian Flu Incidence Map

World Food Program map of global Avian Flu incidences through mid-November (in PDF format). Coincidentally posted today as the United States celebrates Thanksgiving and eating turkeys.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Foreign NGOs Have Their Own Agenda

Foreign NGOs Have Their Own Agenda (October 5, 2006)
This Yemen Times piece recognizes the important contribution that foreign NGOs can make to the development of their local counterparts, particularly those in fledgling democracies. But the author cautions against relying too heavily on foreign groups whose agendas may not necessarily align with domestic needs. The author calls, instead, for greater popular support for local NGOs which, once better equipped, can play a more formative role in engaging their fellow citizens in domestic political, economic and cultural affairs.

Humanitarian Work is the Task of Aid Workers, Not Soldiers

Humanitarian Work is the Task of Aid Workers, Not Soldiers, Security Council Team Told (November 16, 2006)
Alarmed at how military forces increasingly encroach upon their working space, local NGOs in Afghanistan have called for "a clear line between [NATO] soldiers and aid workers." Critics argue that military involvement often impedes, rather than complements, the work of aid agencies. The army's use of aid as a tool to generate negativity towards insurgents actually increases the security risks of aid workers and ultimately harms those who need help the most.

Maplecroft Maps

Check out Maplecroft Maps, a series of interactive global maps that display information about conflict risk, Avian Flu, HIV/AIDS and other themes of interest to safety and security practitioners. Select a map type from the drop down list box and data is shown at the country level. You don't appear to need a user name and password to view the maps, but the company says free registration will give you access to additional information. (Tip: If you use Google Earth, Maplecroft also provides KMZ files for a number of its maps that you can overlay on Google Earth satellite images. Pretty slick.)

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Incident: Attack (fatalities), Nigeria

Gunmen attacked the office of a local NGO (Academic Associated Peaceworks) in Port Harcourt, killing two staff members and wounding two others. The attack appears to have been a targeted assassination of a former militant, killed during the incident, who was working for the aid organization. Other staff members in the office were hit by stray bullets. Condolences to family, friends and colleagues. (Additional details here.)

Incident: Abduction, Gaza

ICRC confirmed that two Italian Red Cross aid workers have been abducted in Khan Yunis. The two unidentified staff members were taken from an ICRC-marked vehicle. No groups have claimed responsibility and authorities are investigating. UPDATE - CNN is reporting the two aid workers have been released unharmed. Shortly before their release, the ICRC announced they were suspending operations in Gaza due due security concerns.

Incident: Suspension, Darfur

The Sudanese government announced it was ordering the Norwegian Refugee Council to leave South Darfur, stating the organization was involved in espionage and publishing misleading information. Ten days ago, the NRC stated it would be suspending operations due to government obstructions.

Incident: Attacks (fatality), Chad

MSF is reporting a staff member has been killed in Chad around the village of Koloy. Another was wounded in an attack in Goz Beida and seven are reported missing (initially 37 MSF staff were unaccounted for). More details as they become available. Condolences to family, friends and colleagues.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Crocodiles kill nine as floods wreak havoc in lawless Somalia

Just a reminder to always consider environmental and natural threats during relief operations...

Incident: Suspension, Central African Republic

Government officials have requested relief agencies temporarily suspend operations in the northwest town of Paoua until military operations against armed groups are completed. Italian NGO COOPI as well as MSF and ICRC are affected.

Incident: Suspension, Darfur

Cross-border fighting has prompted German NGO Welthungerhilfe to suspend operations and evacuate 18 staff from the Chad/Sudan border area.

MSF concerned about the fate of 5,000 displaced persons and 37 staff members who are missing

Attack in eastern Chad forces displaced persons to flee again

MSF concerned about the fate of 5,000 displaced persons and 37 staff members who are missing as violence intensifies and spreads throughout the region.
Paris — The town of Koloye, in eastern Chad close to the Sudanese border, was attacked on November 15, looted and emptied of inhabitants, according to the international medical aid organization Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF).

The 5,000 previously displaced Chadians in Koloye fled the area and are now missing, and MSF also has no news of the whereabouts of 37 staff members. This situation comes in the midst of several weeks of violence against populations that is expanding throughout the region.

A team from MSF went to Koloye yesterday morning and found only two people who had returned to collect a few items. They reported that the assailants had threatened them and ordered them not to return, forcing the people to flee once more.

"The area around Koloye is completely deserted," said Filipe Ribeiro, MSF's head of mission. "The villages 20-30 kilometers before Koloye are partially burned and abandoned. Ten kilometers before Koloye, there are visible signs of people in flight. There is nothing left except shoes and gourds abandoned at the side of the road.

"In Koloye, the dwellings at the entrance of the village have been burned. MSF's clinic was looted and we found bloody compresses there, a clear sign that people were wounded in the confrontation. The pharmacy was destroyed. The tents and water tanks have disappeared or were destroyed. The drugs and supplies are gone."

MSF has no news about the displaced people or about the Chadian members of its team who were managing the program to deliver potable water in the area. MSF is particularly concerned because of the high level of insecurity as attacks and looting of villages are increasing.

In April 2006, the displaced people in Koloye had fled incursions by armed men on their villages along the border with Sudan. MSF provided medical assistance, drinking water, and survival supplies.

In such a context of increasing violence, it is critical that aid organizations like MSF are able to reach affected populations quickly.

In eastern Chad, MSF has been providing medical and material aid to displaced Chadians since December 2005 and to people displaced from the Darfur region of Sudan since 2003. In addition to the 5,000 people who were in Koloye, nearly 25,000 displaced Chadians are still gathered in Dogdoré, where MSF continues to provide medical care, drinking water, and survival supplies. Mobile clinics have also been organized for the Borota displaced persons.

MSF teams also provide assistance to people in Adré, the refugee camps in Farchana and Breidjing, and further north in Iriba, Iridimi, and Touloum. MSF is also working in Goré, southern Chad, providing assistance to people who have fled fighting in the Central African Republic.

Sunday, November 19, 2006


Check out the SmartCharge backup power source for cell/mobile phones. It runs on two common AA batteries and gives you an additional two hours talk time after your main rechargeable battery dies. Priced under $20 USD, this could come in handy during a safety or security incident.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Secure British Passports Hacked

Looks like information stored on the supposedly secure, British RFID passports can be fairly easy to access. A Guardian reporter has a lengthy expose and lists a whole host of security implications.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Fox News Paid Ransom?

World Net News has a story that states Fox News paid a two million dollar ransom for the release of two employees abducted in Gaza this past summer. According to a Palestinian insurgent group, the money then went to buy weapons. Fox is denying the report.

The details of humanitarian worker abductions and their subsequent release are almost always kept under tight wraps. This situation begs the question of how you would handle a post-release situation, where the abductors start making true or false claims about what an NGO did to secure the freedom of a staff member. And what the impact of those statements would be.

World Time Server

Figuring out what time it is in another part of the world for conference calls, meetings, whatever, is always a challenge. One of my favorite Web sites for dealing with this all too common occurrence is the World Time Server. Super simple user interface, nifty maps, and it even generates a link you can send to people so they'll know what time something starts wherever they are.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Sudan Security Incident Database

Human Rights First is tracking NGO-related security incidents in Sudan and has a Web site that lists significant events. I really like the format. Simple and easy to use. With a few enhancements, this would be a good model to emulate for an organization's internal incident tracking system.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Afghan unrest forces aid agencies to curb work, UN team told

ACBAR (Agency Coordinating Body For Afghan Relief) representatives met with a UN Security Council team and told them the worsening security situation is severely hampering aid efforts (hardly a surprise). It will be interesting to see if a cost/benefit threshold is eventually crossed in Afghanistan, prompting an NGO exodus. However considering Darfur, this may be some time in coming.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Sleeping in Airports

A must resource for security officers, humanitarian workers or anyone who does a lot of international travel. Checking this site before departure should be part of your contingency planning...

Friday, November 10, 2006

New Globalstar Sat Phone

Sat phones are finally going on a diet and shrinking like their cellular phone cousins. Yesterday Globalstar announced a new sat phone that is being touted as the smallest, lightest sat mobile on the market. Nice design with some slick features.

Afghanistan Security Incidents

A brief summary of NGO-related security events since the first of November as reported by ANSO .

November 1 - An attempt to stop an International NGO vehicle in the northern region of Sar-e-Pul province failed. Shots were fired but no staff were injured. The incident is being viewed as a robbery attempt.

November 2 - Armed men attempted to kidnap eight national staff members at an IDP camp basic health care clinic in Kandahar province. Seven of the eight managed to escape. No parties have claimed responsibility.

November 5 - Five national staff members working for an Afghan NGO were kidnapped in Paktya province. No parties have claimed responsibility.

Missionary International Service News Agency

Another Web site to add to your collection of NGO security-related bookmarks is the Missionary International Service News Agency (MISNA). This multi-lingual site out of Rome provides news from around the world, including security incidents involving missions, missionaries and church-workers. Many of these incidents are never picked up by mainstream media sources. To access the full text of archive articles requires a paid subscription, but the daily news and searching the archive is free.

Incident: Suspension, Gaza

World Vision announced two of its large-scale programs in northern Gaza have been suspended due to the recent escalation in violence.

Incident: Suspension, Darfur

After having operations temporarily suspended by the Sudanese government for two months, the Norwegian Refugee Council announced it would be closing down its Darfur programs. The NRC said this was the fifth suspension without justification since 2004, and that working conditions were becoming impossible. (More info in a Reuters article here.) Considering the security situation in Darfur, it will be interesting to see if the NRC's decision starts a domino effect with other NGOs in the region.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Hamas calls on Muslims to attack U.S. targets

AP article about Hamas calling for attacks on US interests in response to an Israeli attack in Gaza that resulted in civilian fatalities. This marks the first time Hamas has made specific threats against the US. The two things to watch for following this announcement are whether Hamas is now aligning itself with global Islamic extremist movements and if there will be any impact on humanitarian NGOs - especially those perceived to be proxies of the US government.

Controls tighten on media and aid workers in Darfur

Reuters article on increasing controls and pressure on the media and NGOs in Darfur. Interesting figure quoted that there are 14,000 humanitarian workers currently in Darfur, making it the world's largest aid operation.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

NGOs in Afghanistan fear backlash over NATO's humanitarian role

Agence France-Presse has an article on concerns over military forces providing humanitarian aid and blurring the distinction between NGO workers. These same issues have been voiced since the October 2001 US invasion of Afghanistan. In related news, the New York Times has an article about a CIA assessment that paints a bleak picture for the country due to a weak and corrupt government (that would be the Afghan government).

Incident: Expulsions, Eritrea

The International Rescue Committee and Samaritan's Purse were ordered by the Eritrean government to cease operations within the country by mid-November. Both NGOs had been using Eritrea as a base for providing aid to southern Sudan. IRC is appealing the decision.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Incident: Fatalities, Gaza

According to the ICRC, two Palestine Red Crescent Society volunteer paramedics were killed by Israel Defense Forces fire near Beit Lahiya. The paramedics were operating from a clearly marked ambulance and wearing identifying vests. Condolences to family, friends and colleagues.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Perceived vs. Actual Risk

Bruce Schneier has an excellent blog post on perceived versus actual risks. This should be required reading for anyone doing humanitarian security (as well as your organization's senior management).

Friday, November 03, 2006

British Airport Liquid Ban Eased

Starting November 6, Britian and the rest of the EU are following the US's lead in allowing small amounts of liquid to be carried on airliners. More official details here.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

CENTCOM Iraq Assessment Criteria

The New York Times has an article about a leaked United States Central Command confidential briefing. Aside from the numerous political factors, what's interesting is the PowerPoint slide the military uses to represent the current situation in Iraq. It's a good, easy to understand, graphical format that could readily be adapted for NGO security assessments - especially in dynamic, frequently changing situations. Check it out.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Incident: Convoy Ambush, Darfur

The UN reports two separate incidences of convoys being ambushed in Darfur. Non-life threatening gunshot injuries were reported in one of the attacks.

Private Security Sector Seeks Regulatory Changes

We haven't had a post on Private Military Companies (PMCs) in a while, so here's an interesting article on attempts to globally regulate PMCs. The ICRC and Swiss government are sponsoring a meeting this month to start talking about changing international laws and conventions to take into account PMCs.

Aid groups drive to curb deadly gas-guzzling cars

Mail & Guardian article on vehicle safety/risks and the overall environmental threats from using inefficient, high emission vehicles. Food for thought.

Crocodiles and Snakes

Reuters article on how crocodiles and snakes are hampering flood relief efforts in Ethiopia. Sometimes the NGO Security Blog sounds like a broken record on this topic, but always determine if natural threats exist in your context. It's easy to focus on the human threats, especially considering the amount of media coverage they get, and not think about things that sting, gore, trample, kick, or bite.

Benefon TWIG

Cell/mobile phone maker Benefon will be introducing a new GPS-enabled phone by the end of the year called TWIG. GPS in mobile phones is nothing new, but this one is interesting since it can report the location of one TWIG to another (including distance away and direction). This could be a useful tool for keeping track of humanitarian workers in areas with wireless coverage. Cost is estimated at £330 SIM-free.