Climate change affecting stability across West Africa and Sahel: UN security council

By  | Published on 31/01/2018 | 8:29 AM

In a statement, the council president expanded concerns over the links between climate and violence in Africa to two regions that cover 26 countries


French soldiers talk to locals in southern Mali. Since 2014, the French have led Operation Barkhane, a military effort to fight terror in the Sahel (Photo: TM1972/Wikipedia)

The UN Security Council has identified climate change as a driver of conflict across West Africa and the Sahel, in a statement published on Tuesday.

It expands on a 2017 resolution linking the dramatic shrinking of Lake Chad to the rise of Boko Haram and other armed groups in the region.

Water scarcity and desertification pit farming, pastoralist and fishing communities against each other for dwindling resources, analysts warn. As traditional livelihoods become harder to sustain, some people are seeking violent solutions.

The statement noted “the adverse effects of climate change and ecological changes among other factors on the stability of West Africa and the Sahel”, two regions that together span 26 countries. The security council, the UN’s most powerful body, “emphasises the need for adequate risk assessments and risk management strategies”.

Janani Vivekananda, climate change and security expert at consultancy Adelphi, described it as “a significant and positive step”.

She told Climate Home News: “Now, Lake Chad can’t be seen as the standalone example of climate security recognized by the UNSC. This points to an emerging coherence in how the UNSC recognizes the root causes of threats to peace and security.”

That needs to feed into humanitarian and peacebuilding action on the ground, she added. “There could be much stronger efforts to ensure all funds and programmes implemented are both conflict-sensitive and climate-sensitive”

Creeping desertification and worsening droughts are placing strain on natural resources and communities that depend on them across the Sahel. As well as Boko Haram, the security council statement condemned attacks by Jama’at Nasr al-Islam wal Muslimin (JNIM), which operates in the area.

A meeting of climate security experts in the Hague, December 2017, identifiedthe Lake Chad basin and Sahelian country Mali as two priority areas for action.

Lake Chad remains one of the starkest examples of how climate change impacts can create fertile conditions for terrorism and organised crime. The lake’s area has reduced by 90% in four decades, due to reduced rainfall and growth in water demand as the basin’s population boomed to 17 million.

Report: Boko Haram terrorists thriving on climate crisis

Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim, a community advocate from Chad, told the World Economic Forum last week that the rainy season used to last six months and is now only two or three.

“Everybody knows that [a lack of] rain is impacting crops and crops is food security,” she said. “The consequence is conflict between communities… Boko Haram is the famous one. How about the local and regional conflict between farmers, fishermen and pastoralists for resources? People are dying.”


The Sahel is a region defined by its low rainfall, running through parts of 14 different countries across the southern edge of the Sahara desert (Map: T L Miles)

Water supplies are becoming more erratic, agreed Mohammed Bila, who monitors water levels for the Lake Chad Basin Commission. Two or three years of normal rainfall are typically followed by a year or two of drought.

“What we have seen is that any time there is a reduction of the size of the lake, the number of conflicts increases between the different user groups,” he told Climate Home News.

“The most recent conflicts, the Boko Haram, could be attributed to a long period of deprivation. Over 25 years, the livelihood groups don’t have stability… all the children born within this period, they grow up with deprivation, they haven’t seen anything good. These are the ones who are easily misdirected to these violent conflicts.”

Increasingly, these conflicts cross borders, he added. The Lake Chad basin straddles four countries: Nigeria, Niger, Chad and Cameroon.

Solutions range from community-level adaptations to heavy engineering. In the first category are efforts to use water more efficiently and create jobs that are less reliant on water. In the second, an ambitious proposal to divert water from the Ubangi River along a 2,400km canal into Lake Chad, raising the water level an estimated one metre.

Nigeria president Muhammadu Buhari is hosting a meeting in Abuja 26-28 February on restoring Lake Chad’s ecosystem and creating sustainable livelihoods.

Article Disclaimer: This article originally appeared on Climate Home News and was retrieved on 01/31/2018 and republished here for information and educational purposes only. The views and contents of the article remain those of the authors. We will not be held accountable for the reliability and accuracy of the materials. If you need additional information on the published contents and materials, please contact the original authors and publisher. Please cite the authors, original source, and INDESEEM INCORPORATED accordingly. If you have any question or concern, please send us an email at


Libya burns dirty oil for electricity as Islamic State disrupts gas plans

By Richard Nield | Published on 03/01/2018 | 9:31 AM

Amid conflict since Muammar Gaddafi was deposed in 2011, gas pipelines have been shelved, leaving two new power plants reliant on burning crude


Port city Tobruk is some 400km from the nearest gas pipeline (Pic: Flickr/DYKT Mohigan)

Libya is turning to crude oil to solve electricity shortages, as the threat from Islamic State holds back gas infrastructure development.

Two new plants at Ubari in the southwest and Tobruk in the northeast are primarily designed to run on gas. But in the absence of pipelines to deliver the fuel, both will instead burn oil, emitting roughly double the greenhouse gases.

In the instability since former leader Muammar Gaddafi was toppled in 2011, the imperative to address frequent power blackouts is taking priority over environmental protection.

“It’s more a strategy of necessity than a deliberate approach to burn oil for power,” Richard Mallinson, analyst at London-based Energy Aspects told Climate Home News. “In a more stable environment they’d aim to have everything connected up when it came on stream. But they have an urgent need for power.”

The 640MW power plant at Ubari is expected to be commissioned in the coming weeks. Gas fields in the southwest are connected by pipeline to an export terminal in Mellitah, but the pipeline stops about 300km short of Ubari.

The 650MW Tobruk plant has a similar problem. Libya’s main gas pipeline runs along the Mediterranean coast between the capital Tripoli and Libya’s second city, Benghazi, but it stops about 400km short of Tobruk.

Libya bucks the global trend away from oil-fired power generation, which in most parts of the world is used as a last resort. Even oil-rich nations see more value in exporting the product than squandering it in inefficient power plants.

“Oil is gradually being phased out,” said Mallinson. “Saudi Arabia, Iran and Iraq have all had a lot of oil-fired generation, but they are trying to displace it with gas so they can sell their oil.”

Stalled gas plan

Libya’s government didn’t plan things this way. In 2007, they drew up a gas strategy that included extending the domestic gas supply network.

But most of those infrastructure projects are on hold, developers deterred by the threat from Islamic State (IS) militants. Fuel supply to existing facilities is inconsistent.

Meanwhile consumer demand is rising. The state-run General Electricity Company of Libya (Gecol) imposes rolling scheduled blackouts in an attempt to prevent the network going down completely.

Often there are unscheduled blackouts too, due to parts of the country refusing to shut down when scheduled or to attacks on power infrastructure by disgruntled local groups or political factions.

Report: Photos reveal Iraq oil fires burning behind ISIS retreat

On 12 January 2017, the Zawiya power plant in the northwest was forced to switch to diesel generation when protesters shut down gas supplies to the facility.

The subsequent fall in output caused 12-hour power outages in Tripoli and a three-day blackout across the south of the country. Had gas supplies been cut for any longer, the results would have been a “total blackout,” said Gecol at the time.

Gecol’s efforts to encourage more moderate consumption and coordinated load shedding failed to prevent further unplanned outages throughout the year. There were blackouts across the country in late June and July as summer power demand peaked. Parts of the south were without electricity for up to a week at a time.

Power production is not the only aspect of environmental protection that is suffering from the vacuum of authority at the heart of Libyan politics. Environment policy on both a national and local level is essentially non-existent.

“There’s uncollected waste in Benghazi and Tripoli, the sewerage system has collapsed, and I suspect there’s no regulation of fishing,” said Geoff Porter, head of US-based North Africa Risk Consulting. “The environmental degradation we’re seeing in Libya is a direct consequence of the complete collapse of the state.”

Poor outlook

State authority in Libya is divided several times over. The parliament in Tobruk has for almost two years refused to endorse the cabinet nominated by the internationally recognised executive in Tripoli that was formed following the Libyan Peace Agreement in December 2015.

The previous internationally recognised government, formed in 2014 and based in the eastern town of Baida, continues to exert authority over certain parts of the country. Factions from its predecessor in Tripoli also reject the 2015 peace deal.

All this is made considerably more difficult by the fragmentation of military capacity between hundreds of militias. The Libyan National Army is national only in name and is not recognised by the Tripoli government, but its leader Khalifa Haftar is keen to fashion a key role for himself in any political settlement.

Haftar’s forces have enjoyed some success in forcing IS militants from the town of Derna in the northeast and more recently from Benghazi. Militias from Tripoli and Misrata, backed by US air power and French and British military expertise, have meanwhile forced IS from its base in the town of Sirte.

But IS cells continue to threaten the security of key infrastructure and the safety of workers, particularly those from overseas. This makes it extremely difficult to rehabilitate existing infrastructure, let alone build new facilities.

The Ubari power plant was due to come on stream in November. But project partners Enka Teknik and Siemens withdrew their staff from the plant in November after three Turkish workers and a South African, all Siemens employees, were kidnapped outside Ubari airport.

In September, UN Libya envoy Ghassan Salamé published an action plan to heal political divisions and restore functional government. It is a tall order.

Article Disclaimer: This article originally appeared on Climate Home News and was retrieved on 01/26/2018 and republished here for information and educational purposes only. The views and contents of the article remain those of the authors. We will not be held accountable for the reliability and accuracy of the materials. If you need additional information on the published contents and materials, please contact the original authors and publisher. Please cite the authors, original source, and INDESEEM INCORPORATED accordingly. If you have any question or concern, please send us an email at

What does the economic nationalist agenda of “Trumplomacy” means for US Foreign Policy?


Source/Credit: BBC News 2017. GETTY IMAGES. ~ Trump with Mohammed bin Salman, Saudi Deputy Crown Prince

Opinion|Analysis Politics | Domestic & Foreign Policy: 

By Jenkins Macedo | June 10, 2017 | 08:50 PM

As a nation, we have reached a pivotal point in our history since President Trump took office as the 45th President of the United States. Everything we know about democracy, diplomacy, national security, and foreign policy are sandwiched in an unpredictable president. He keeps his fellow citizens at the edge thinking “what he’s going to do next?” His tweets and retaliatory posts on social media keep their blood flowing curious and eager about whom he’s going to blame next or what his next unpredictable actions would be? One can fairly say that this theatrical drama and his undisputed use of social media is, in fact, part of his overall scheme to mislead the American populace.

Overall, the Trump’s presidency has not had a good start and it is highly likely that this administration will not have a happy ending either before the next presidential elections or sooner. It is highly predictable that the American populace will continue to be entertained with what seems to be the largest reality show being staged until the next elections and the events of today will form a critical part of the electoral processes in November 2020. But for now, we will continue to be massaged by Tweets and “Covfefe” from the White House and who knows maybe he might likely response to this article, which will be highly welcomed.

On February 23, 2015, the White House Chief Strategist Stephen K. Bannon and the White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus spoke at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), during which Bannon said the US Media is “adamantly opposed to” the president’s economic nationalist agenda accusing the media as the main opposition to the Trump’s administration. Bannon emphatically stated that the Trump’s administration is at war with the media and the relationships between this presidency and the corporatist media is not going to get better over time the relationship will get worse. And to be frank, this is happening and it is only happening because of it is part of their plan. It worked during the campaign and it seems to be working during the early phase of his administration.

In that brief interview broadcasted on CNN, Bannon along with Priebus outlined the so-called economic nationalist agenda of the Trump’s presidency in which he (Bannon) highlighted the three pillars of the President’s strategic plan to include national security and sovereignty, economic nationalism, and lastly the deconstruction of the administrative state. To these three pillars of Trump’s economic nationalist agenda, Bannon mentioned that the Trump’s administration will continue to fight with the corporatist globalist media and that fight will get worse each day. This new political order according to Bannon and Priebus is meant to bring economic prosperity to America through the creation of “high paid” jobs. Bannon noted that this will also involve the United States regaining its sovereignty as a nation. It is all going to be America First. It is all going to be to “Make America Great Again” – a campaign promise that Trump used to sweep his way to the White House defeating Hillary Clinton.

Will pulling the US out of several multilateral agreements bring economic prosperity? Can economic nationalism be achieved without pulling the US out of major global treaties making us look and appear like idiots? We are a nation with an economy but should that be an economy with an isolated nation? Can we be a nation that promotes economic nationalism without closing our borders? Trump’s family claims he has a desire to protect the environment but his actions so far distance from their perceptions of what they think he is. There are no “alternative facts” to climate science.

Let us briefly discuss the three so-called pillars of Trump’s economic nationalism agenda and see how that impact our foreign policy.

1.     National Security and Sovereignty

There is no question about the importance of both national security and sovereignty. In fact, these two aspects are interrelated and very critical to the very existence of the nation-state. With the rise of extremism and terrorism here and abroad, Trump’s views on immigration and foreign policy seem to be widely informed by what he’s presented by the US media. His executive orders especially the 90 days suspension of admission of refugees and other immigrants from mostly Muslims-dominated countries in North Africa and the Middle East were entirely unguided by sound critical judgment and lacks the constitutional support.

The issuance of executive orders to ban immigrants including refugees from certain countries without seeking experts’ advice undermined the credibility of the national security he sought to ensure and protect. The idea to take precautionary measures to ensure that national security of all Americans is protected is our constitutional right. However, the manner in which the President orchestrated the so-called ban on immigrants and refugees from mostly Muslim-dominated countries contributed entirely to his failure to garnered national support from the American populace including its legal systems and the very constitutional basis of the President’s executive orders on immigrants and refugees. You cannot ensure our sovereignty as a nation without ensuring national security because both are intertwined.

This does not mean establishing discriminatory tendencies that would foster and promote disunity, factionalism, and the abuse of human rights. We can engage in multilateral and bilateral trade without infringing on our national security and sovereignty. It has worked in the past and there is no reason it can’t work today. The idea to withdraw the US from major treaties and agreements in hope of redefining our positions at the negotiation tables with other nations and partners when it comes to trade, national security, and sovereignty undermine the very basis of our national heritage as a nation of immigrants. America is a country that respects freedom, justice, liberty, and the rule of Law. Trump’s stands to make America great again by simply renegotiating trade terms that solely meet our conditions and criteria demonstrate to the rest of the world who we are as a nation.

For years, the US has played and continue to play several different roles when it comes to the international stage in the areas of protecting our national security interests abroad. The roles we play abroad with our allies changed in relations to the political landscapes at home. At some point, we played the role as an imperialist state demonstrated by our powerful diplomatic relations and the signatures of our military industrial complex – the appetite and willingness to use military force in instances where the powerhouse of our diplomatic envoys failed to yield favorable results in the name of our national security interests.

With this in mind, we intervened in other countries as both the judge and the executioner of justice and indirectly imposing our protectionist and interventionist mentality in an effort to influence their political and economic systems for the sole purpose of enhancing our national security interests. Has the “America First” economic nationalist doctrine that paved the way for Trump to enter the White House made any significant change about how the world view us?

2.     Economic Nationalism

What is economic nationalism really? Is economic nationalism really an economic theory or a political theory meant to cast the blames of our economic failures and shortcomings on foreigners and other countries? Trumpononics is an emerging unconventional term that linked to the current economic nationalism platform of the Trump’s administration and its attitude and approach towards existing and future foreign trade and international treaties and agreements. The Trump’s administration seems to be confused when it comes to the definition of trade. The question that needs to be asked is that in the modern global economy one can argue that countries don’t trade, but rather individuals, businesses, and entities within those countries are the ones that trade. The main reason for this is that governments do not have the capacity and ability to “balance” trade between other countries. Trump argued during both the GOP presidential primaries and the general elections that trade agreements between the US and other nations were “unfair and unbalanced.” He claims that the unfair and unbalance negotiations done in the past administrations had led to the economic disparities in the US and was costing Americans big time.

He cited deals with China, India, Mexico and a bunch of other nations including Canada and the European Union are “very bad, unfair, and unbalanced.” The President even cited trade deficits as an indicator of economic prosperity, but the economists seem to disagree with him. This is because over and over again our trade deficits were lower during periods of economic recession plus the US trade deficit is offset by investments surplus which is directly linked to our ability to attract foreign investors. Adam Smith author of the Wealth of Nations, noted that “nothing, however, can be more absurd than this whole doctrine of the balance of trade, upon which, not only these restraints but almost all the other regulations of commerce are founded.”

Trump has also misunderstood and incorrectly framed international trade as the single most important attribute for the exportation of manufacturing jobs from the US to China and India. A study conducted at the Center for Business and Economic Research at Ball State University in 2017 indicates that about 85% of manufacturing job losses were attributed to technological change. As noted by Adam Smith, the attempt to balance trade between nations will likely result in trade wars because it is impossible. Good luck trying to make trade equal across the board.

The rapid and sudden withdrawal of the US from international trade will not only impact the global economy but will significantly disrupt the US economy and even worse when the current government lacks strategic focus and operational objectives, which will also make the US marketplace and investment favorability less attractive to current and potentials businesses and entities. The use of domestic immigration policies and reforms to restrict the number of immigrants that come to this country is also being used to propagate the economic nationalist tendencies within the US Senate, which argues that immigration harms the current US labor forced because bringing people in this country via our immigration system increases the supply of labor.

Personally, I failed to comprehend the argument that the Trump’s administration is making against immigration because immigration is an integral component of economic growth which is enshrined in our 300 years history as a nation of immigrants. The use of protectionism as a mechanism of economic nationalism is not only a backward gear that Trump is putting this country into, but could be used to promote racial discriminatory policies for the sole purpose of enriching Wall Street Corporatist Banks and the 1%, while everyone else gets left at the margins of societal mayhem.

Along the lines of the US foreign policy, economic nationalism will cause significant disruption to our current allies and global partners which will effectively serve as a barrier for future military and non-military corporations within the global north and south. Trade with other nations especially those involved with companies and businesses that are based in the US will be more challenging and complex and could lead to the collapse of small businesses that outsource workforce. US companies and entities with offices abroad will be impacted by harsh economic constraints and challenges which would, in turn, affect their operations abroad. While some may consider this an opportunity for those companies to relocate to the US and extend their operations at home, their international market landscape would be severely impacted due to Trump’s economic policy.

3.     Destruction of the administrative state

Trump’s appointments of his cabinet members speak more into how he intends to deconstruct the administrative state by appointing individuals with no background and experience relevant to the offices appointed to in addition to their disposition when it comes to major issues relevant to their appointed offices. Trump’s strategic positions on national defense and security are well funded, however, at the expense of other equally important issues such as climate change, international trade, etc. It is interesting that he prioritized national security, but in the same token fails to comprehend that climate change is just not a global security threat, but also a national security issue. When a US coastal city is swept away as a result of rising sea levels and terrestrial coastal storms – maybe he will realize that climate security is a paramount component of national security.

The Trump’s administration statement is clear. Yes, I am your president, but I don’t care about what you think and how you feel as long as I keep pleasing my supporters by staging “campaign-like” speeches to reassure them that he is the president of the United States but only for those who supported him. It is one thing to run for the office of president of the United States as a candidate for a political establishment and it is a completely different ball game when you get elected. I don’t think Trump has reached the point where he realizes he’s not just President who is a so-called Republican but is indeed the President of the United States of America.

A new era for development


On the island of Lesbos, Greece, a newly arrived refugee from Syria is carried by a volunteer, himself a former refugee. The UN’s role in supporting refugees is one of the most visible reminders of why the UN is needed © UNICEF/UNI197517/Gilbertson V

By Jeremy Greenstock Chairman, United Nations Association – UK, Natalie Samarasinghe Executive Director, United Nations Association – UK

Making the SDGs count will require global cooperation, public involvement and effective institutions that transcend the buzzwords of “partnerships”, “engagement” and “reform”

The adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the Paris agreement on climate change in 2015 – a year marked by instability and violence – is testament to the UN’s enduring ability to forge global solutions.

Since 1945, the UN has worked to realise the vision expressed in its Charter of “social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom”. Most people today live longer, healthier and freer lives. For all their flaws, the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) were arguably the most successful anti-poverty initiative in history. Over the past 15 years, the goals have served as a development blueprint, generating programmes and funding that have helped to lift over a billion people out of extreme poverty, fight hunger and boost health and education.

The extent to which the UN deserves credit for these developments is debated. But there are areas where its impact is obvious, in the targeted campaigns on maternal and infant health and on school enrolment for example. Less successful areas – such as gender equality and a fairer trade system – are invariably those that require greater political will and cultural compromise, and broader social and structural transformation.

As we embark on the SDGs, the context for progress is dramatically different from that of 2000. Today, we are witnessing the fading effect of the UN’s guiding principles in restraining nationalistic ambitions, as well as rising big power tensions and cross-border extremism. Recent conflicts have broken the 70-year downward trend in casualties and contributed to the biggest displacement crisis since records began.

Global economic power has shifted east and south, and financial volatility has triggered crises on all continents. Twenty years ago, 93 per cent of the world’s poor lived in low-income countries. Now, the Institute of Development Studies reports that 72 per cent are in middle-income countries. This should generate a re-think in development assistance and trade/investment approaches.

Inequality has emerged as a key challenge. While the number of people in the working middle class (living on more than $4 a day) almost tripled between 1991 and 2015, the gap between rich and poor has barely narrowed. This year, Oxfam reported that the world’s richest 62 people own as much as the poorest 50 per cent. Many experts acknowledge that lifting the ‘next billion’ out of extreme poverty, and improving the lot of those who fall just outside that definition, will be much harder.

Aid – as a concept and practice – is increasingly challenged, driven by domestic pressures in donor countries, but also by calls for transparency and results by people in recipient countries. It is also a much smaller element of the funding mix, as foreign direct investment, remittances and portfolio equity flows have grown.

The impact of conflict, human rights abuses, poor governance and climate change on development is now more widely understood and accepted. This is clear from the range of issues covered by the SDGs.

The number of development actors, too, has increased. New institutions, regional organisations, companies and NGOs are now heavily involved in policy-making, delivery, financing and evaluation. In many environments, they are the leading actors.

And then there is the growing voice of the people, who are making themselves heard by taking to the streets, to social media and movements, and to the ballot box, where populist leaders are increasingly gaining ground.

This latest volume in UNA-UK’s global development goals series brings together authors – from the UN, national governments, business, academia and civil society – to provide an appraisal of the SDGs and the context for achieving them, as well as evidence-based recommendations on implementation. From the range of issues covered, four themes emerge:

  • This is a universal agenda – the goals require all 
 countries, developed and developing, to undertake 
 programmes within their own borders and to work
 together on major structural reforms, such as 
 improvements to international financial and tax systems.
  • This is a local agenda – targets need to be prioritised 
 and adapted at the community level. This is a key 
 lesson from the MDG period, during which gains on 
 the ground were often delivered by small-scale NGOs 
 that understood their beneficiaries and worked closely 
 with them.
  • This is a collective agenda – implementing the goals 
 will require global cooperation on a scale and 
 intensity that transcends traditional concepts of 
 ‘partnership’. The global mobilisation to tackle HIV/
 AIDS and CFCs are two examples of successful cross-
 sectoral collaboration.
  • This is a people’s agenda – civil society is more 
 than NGOs. People must be involved in the design, 
 delivery, monitoring and evaluation of the SDGs 
 on an ongoing basis. This will improve effectiveness 
 as well as accountability, and sufficient time, money 
 and energy must be spent on facilitating meaningful 

What role should the UN play in this? The last two articles in this volume focus on institutional change and leadership. Both are vital to addressing the reforms needed, as well as the bigger question of whether the UN should move away from on-the-ground delivery over the next 15 years and focus on capacity building, advocacy and funding.

In this regard, the appointment of a new Secretary-General in 2016 offers opportunities. UNA-UK has played a leading role in 1 for 7 Billion – the global campaign for a selection process that genuinely engages all UN member states and civil society.

International peace is invariably at the top of any Secretary-General’s agenda, but this has been reinforced by the selection process, which has hitherto put the decision in the hands of the Security Council, guided by five rich military powers, instead of the wider UN membership that is more development-oriented. This time, broader involvement, including by civil society and the media, is likely to result in more emphasis on development, particularly in the first ‘implementation’ year of the SDGs.

A better selection process, along with a single term of office, could give the next post-holder a stronger mandate to deliver on these commitments, and free her or his hand in making high-quality appointments, particularly a Deputy Secretary-General who could focus on the development system.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was instrumental in galvanizing support for the SDGs. It is only fitting that his successor takes up the mantle by generating serious debate on the structural and operational changes needed at the UN to achieve them.

Article Disclaimer: This article was published by Sustainable Goals and was retrieved on 04/21/2017 and posted at INDESEEM for information and educational purposes only. The views and contents of the article remains those of the authors. Please cite the original source accordingly.


More than 6,000 flee fresh South Sudan violence into Uganda

UNHCR expresses alarm at deteriorating security situation in South Sudan.

Using Big Data to Predict Terrorist Acts Amid Privacy Concerns


By | October 13, 2016

Before Ahmad Khan Rahami planted bombs in New York and New Jersey, he bought bomb-making materials on eBay, linked to jihad-related videos from his public social-media account and was looked into by law enforcement agents, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

If only the authorities had connected the dots.

That challenge — mining billions of bits of information and crunching the data to find crucial clues — is behind a push by U.S. intelligence and law enforcement agencies to harness “big data” to predict crimes, terrorist acts and social upheaval before they happen. The market for such “predictive analytics” technology is estimated to reach $9.2 billion by 2020, up from $3 billion in 2015, according to research firm MarketsandMarkets.

It’s the stuff of a science-fiction movie like “Minority Report,” in which Tom Cruise played a Washington cop who used technology to arrest people before they carried out crimes. It’s also a red flag for privacy advocates already fighting U.S. spy programs exposed by Edward Snowden and the FBI’s demands that Apple Inc. help it hack into encrypted mobile phones.

The idea is to make sense of the vast and disparate streams of data from sources including social media, GPS devices, video feeds from street cameras and license-plate readers, travel and credit-card records and the news media, as well as government and propriety systems.

‘Fundamental Fuel’

“Data is going to be the fundamental fuel for national security in this century,” William Roper, director of the Defense Department’s strategic capabilities office, said at a conference in Washington last month.

For the first time, the White House released a strategic plan on Wednesday to advance research and development of artificial intelligence technology, including to predict incidents that may be dangerous to public safety.

Weeks before Rahami allegedly carried out the attacks in September, he bought circuit boards, electric igniters and ball bearings — all of which are known bomb-making materials, according to charging documents from the FBI.

In previous years, he was flagged by U.S. Customs and Border Protection and the FBI after he made trips to Pakistan and after his father told police he was a terrorist, before recanting the remark.

Law enforcement agents could have been tipped off that Rahami was moving toward an attack had all of those data points been culled together in one place, said Mark Testoni, chief executive officer and president of SAP National Security Services Inc., a U.S.-based subsidiary of German software company SAP SE.

“This is a big data world now,” said Testoni. He said his company has developed a computer platform for doing predictive analytics that is being used in a limited way by a Defense Department agency and by a national security agency. He declined to name the government customers or specify what they are doing.

The technology to predict events is only in its infancy, Testoni said. National security and law enforcement agencies also have different rules when it comes to obtaining and using data, meaning there are walls between what can be accessed and shared, he said. U.S. law enforcement agencies, for example, need a court warrant to access most data.

Big Brother

Privacy advocates express concern about the “Big Brother” implications of such massive data-gathering, calling for more information and public debate about how predictive technology will be used.

“There’s often very little transparency into what’s being brought into the systems or how it’s being crunched and used,” said Rachel Levinson-Waldman, senior counsel to the National Security Program at the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law. “That also makes it very hard to go back and challenge information that might be incorrect.”

Computer algorithms also fail to understand the context of data, such as whether someone commenting on social media is joking or serious, Levinson-Waldman said.

Testoni’s company and others such as Intel Corp. and PredPol Inc. are among a handful of firms pioneering the use of predictive analytics and artificial intelligence for clients from local police departments to U.S. national security agencies.

More than 60 local police departments in the U.S. have started making use of a service sold by PredPol, which calls itself “The Predictive Policing Company,” to forecast where crimes might occur based on past patterns, said co-founder Jeff Brantingham.

What, Where, When

Its system, developed in collaboration with the Los Angeles Police Department, uses only three types of data: what type of crime occurred, when and where, Brantingham said.

Then, a software algorithm generates the probability of crime occurring in different locations, presented as 500-foot-by-500-foot squares on a computer display or a printed map. With that insight, police departments then can make decisions about how best to apply their resources, such as sending cops to a high-risk area, or which security cameras to monitor, Brantingham said.

PrePol’s system doesn’t make predictions about who will commit a crime, so it stops short of a system that might identify a terrorist in the making.

“Interdicting places is, by and large, an approach that is more in line with protecting civil liberties than interdicting people,” Brantingham said.

Even with such limits, privacy and civil liberties groups oppose the use of predicting policing technology as a threat to the Constitution’s promises of equal protection and due process.

‘Fortune-Teller Policing’

“This is fortune-teller policing that uses deeply flawed and biased data and relies on vendors that shroud their products in secrecy,” Wade Henderson, president and chief executive officer of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. “Instead of using predictive technology to correct dysfunctional law enforcement, departments are using these tools to supercharge discrimination and exacerbate the worst problems in our criminal justice system.”

eBay, Amazon

Vast databases that companies have created for online commerce and communications could help law enforcement and national security agencies build predictive systems if they are allowed to tap into them. Technology companies have terms of service that set out how much personal information can be kept and sold to outside companies such as advertisers, and most resist handing over such data to the government unless a court orders them to do so.

Predictive analytics are already being used by companies like eBay Inc., Inc., and Netflix Inc. to crunch their users’ Internet activity to forecast what they might be interested in. Companies like Facebook Inc. and Twitter Inc. have access to over a billion social-media accounts. The storehouse of data on Americans will only grow with digital feeds from Internet-connected appliances and wearable devices.

Social media, in particular, is a valuable tool in tracking potential terrorist attacks, said Eric Feinberg, founding member of the Global Intellectual Property Enforcement Center, which is a private company. His firm has patented technology that can scan for hashtags across different social media platforms and in different languages for communications that indicate terrorist planning.

“Our software is about pattern analysis,” Feinberg said. “We focus on the communications stream.”

‘Open Source Indicators’

The U.S. government is working on initial efforts to gain insight into global social and political trends.

A program under the intelligence community’s research arm called Mercury seeks to develop methods for continuous and automated analysis of intercepted electronic communications “in order to anticipate and/or detect political crises, disease outbreaks, terrorist activity and military actions,” said Charles Carithers, spokesman for the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity.

The agency also previously funded the Open Source Indicators program, which “developed methods for continuous, automated analysis of publicly available data in order to anticipate and/or detect significant societal events,” such as mass violence and riots, mass migrations, disease outbreaks and economic instability, Carithers said.

CIA Forecasts

The CIA draws a distinction between using technology to anticipate events, versus predict them. The agency is using sophisticated algorithms and advanced analytics, along with publicly available data, to forecast events. The initial coverage focuses on the Middle East and Latin America.

“We have, in some instances, been able to improve our forecast to the point of being able to anticipate the development of social unrest and societal instability to within three to five days out,” said Andrew Hallman, the agency’s deputy director for digital innovation.

In its annual report in June, the Defense Science Board said, “Imagine if national leaders had sufficient time to act in emerging regional hot spots to safeguard U.S. interests using interpretation of massive data including social media and rapidly generate strategic options.”

“Such a capability may soon be achievable,” the board said. “Massive data sets are increasingly abundant and could contain predictive clues — especially social media and open-source intelligence.”

Poindexter’s Legacy

If U.S. intelligence agencies develop an advanced system to predict terrorist acts they might call it “Total Information Awareness.” Except that name has already been used, with unhappy results.

Retired Admiral John Poindexter created the “Total Information Awareness” program for the Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency in 2002 to find and monitor terrorists and other national security threats using data and technology.

The program became so controversial, especially over concerns that privacy rights would be violated, that Congress canceled funding for Poindexter’s office in 2003.

Having been there and done that, Poindexter now says predicting terrorism is possible but would require a lot of data, such as banking information, analysis of social media, travel records and classified material.

The system also has to include strong privacy protections that the public can review, said Poindexter, who said he was working on such a “privacy protection application” when his program was canceled.

“You have to develop public trust in the way this is going to work,” said Poindexter, who continued developing the technology after leaving government through Saffron Technology Inc., a cognitive computing company that Intel bought in 2015 for an undisclosed price. Intel declined to comment.

“The government’s priorities should be to solve the privacy issue and start ingesting massive amounts of data into memory bases,” Poindexter said. “You have to get the public on board with the idea that we can collect and search information on terrorist planning that doesn’t have an adverse impact on innocent people.”

Article Disclaimer: This article was published by Insurance Journal and was retrieved on 10/15/2016 and posted here at INDESEEM for information and educational purposes only. The views, ideas, materials and content of the article remains those of the author. Please cite the original article accordingly.


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