DHS’s BioWatch program aims to provide early indication of an aerosolized biological weapon attack. Until April 2014, DHSpursued a next-generation autonomous detection technology (Gen-3), which aimed to enable collection and analysis of air samples in less than six hours, unlike the current system (Gen-2), which requires manual intervention and can take up to thirty-six hours to detect the presence of biological pathogens. A GAOreport found that DHS lacks reliable information about BioWatch Gen-2’s technical capabilities to detect a biological attack, and therefore lacks the basis for informed cost-benefit decisions about upgrades to the system.
DHS’s BioWatch program aims to provide early indication of an aerosolized biological weapon attack. Until April 2014, DHS pursued a next-generation autonomous detection technology (Gen-3), which aimed to enable collection and analysis of air samples in less than six hours, unlike the current system (Gen-2), which requires manual intervention and can take up to thirty-six hours to detect the presence of biological pathogens.
DHS is taking steps to address the capability gap which resulted from the April 2014 cancellation of Gen-3 by exploring other technology upgrades and improvements to the Gen-2 system.
A Government Accountability office (GAO) was asked to review the technical capabilities of the currently deployed BioWatch system (Gen-2); the Gen-3 testing effort; and the characteristics of autonomous detection as a possible option to replace the current BioWatch system.
GAO says it analyzed key program documents, including test plans, test results, and modeling studies. GAO assessed Gen-3 testing against best practices, reviewed relevant literature, and discussed the BioWatch program and testing efforts with key agency officials and national laboratories staff.
BioWatch Gen-2: Unreliable information
A Government Accountability office (GAO) report found that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) lacks reliable information about BioWatch Gen-2’s technical capabilities to detect a biological attack, and therefore lacks the basis for informed cost-benefit decisions about upgrades to the system.
DHS commissioned several tests of the technical performance characteristics of the current BioWatch Gen-2 system, but the department has not developed performance requirements which would enable it to interpret the test results and draw conclusions about the system’s ability to detect attacks. GAO notes that although DHS officials said that the system can detect catastrophic attacks, which they define as attacks large enough to cause 10,000 casualties, they have not specified the performance requirements necessary to reliably meet this operational objective.
In the absence of performance requirements, DHS officials said computer modeling and simulation studies support their assertion, but none of these studies were designed to incorporate test results from the Gen-2 system and comprehensively assess the system against the stated operational objective. Additionally, the GAO report says, DHS has not prepared an analysis that combines the modeling and simulation studies with the specific Gen-2 test results to assess the system’s capabilities to detect attacks.
Finally, GAO found limitations and uncertainties in the four key tests of the Gen-2 system’s performance. Because it is not possible to test the BioWatch system directly by releasing live biothreat agents into the air in operational environments, DHS relied on chamber testing and the use of simulated biothreat agents, which limit the applicability of the results.
“These limitations underscore the need for a full accounting of statistical and other uncertainties, without which decision makers lack a full understanding of the Gen-2 system’s capability to detect attacks of defined types and sizes and cannot make informed decisions about the value of proposed upgrades,” the report says.
GAO notes that the actions and decisions DHS made regarding the acquisition and testing of a proposed next generation of BioWatch (Gen-3) partially aligned with best practices GAO previously identified for developmental testing of threat detection systems. For example, best practices indicate that resilience testing, or testing for vulnerabilities, can help uncover problems early. DHS took steps to help build resilience into the Gen-3 testing, but the report says that future testing could be improved by using more rigorous methods to help predict performance in different operational environments.
DHS canceled the Gen-3 acquisition in April 2014, but GAO identified lessonsDHS could learn by applying these best practices to the proposed Gen-2 upgrades.
According to experts and practitioners, the polymerase chain reaction (PCR), which detects genetic signatures of biothreat agents, is the most mature technology to use for an autonomous detection system. DHS is considering autonomous detection as an upgrade to Gen-2, because according to DHS, it may provide benefits such as reduction in casualties or clean-up costs. But the extent of these benefits, GAO says, is uncertain because of several assumptions, such as the speed of response after a detection, whih are largely outside of DHS’s control. As a result, the effectiveness of the response and the number of lives that could be saved is uncertain. Further, an autonomous detection system must address several likely challenges, including minimizing possible false positive readings, meeting sensitivity requirements, and securing information technology networks.
GAO recommends that DHS not pursue upgrades or enhancements for Gen-2 until DHS reliably establishes the system’s current capabilities. GAO also recommends DHS incorporate best practices for testing in conducting any system upgrades.
DHS has generally concurred with GAO’s recommendations.
— Read more in Biosurveillance: DHS Should Not Pursue BioWatch Upgrades or Enhancements Until System Capabilities Are Established, GAO-16-99 (23 November 2015)
by Angel Rabasa, Cheryl Benard
Related Topics: Europe, Religious Fundamentalism, Syria, Terrorism
Throughout history, factors of radicalization have involved social and economic conditions and issues of identity. Patterns of Islamist radicalization in Europe reflect the historical experience of European Muslim communities, particularly their links to their home countries, the prevalence of militant groups there, and the extent to which factors of radicalization in Muslim countries transfer to European Muslim diasporas. Eurojihad examines the sources of radicalization in Muslim communities in Europe and the responses of European governments and societies. In an effort to understand the scope and dynamics of Islamist extremism and terrorism in Europe, this book takes into account recent developments, in particular the emergence of Syria as a major destination of European jihadists. Angel Rabasa and Cheryl Benard describe the history, methods, and evolution of jihadist networks in Europe with particular nuance, providing a useful primer for the layperson and a sophisticated analysis for the expert.
PONGARA, Gabon — U.S. Marines and Gabon’s Agence Nationale des Parcs Nationaux, or ANPN, worked together Sept. 14-25, at the Pongara National Forest to help the nation’s fight against wildlife trafficking.
At the request of the Gabonese government and through coordination with the U.S. Embassy in Libreville, the Marines and sailors with Special-Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force Crisis Response-Africa, trained with ANPN park rangers in infantry tactics to help build the nation’s capacity to counter trafficking of ivory and other animal-related products.
The training comes at a time when the elephant population has been dramatically decreasing across central Africa – faster than the elephants can reproduce, according to multiple news sources.
An Aug. 20 BBC news article reported the forest elephant population is down to 15,000 from 22,000 in Gabon’s Minkebe National Park, which is approximately the size of Delaware, due to high demand for the elephants’ ivory tusks.
Gabon contains almost half of all the elephant population in central Africa estimated to be nearly 100,000. This “presents an enticing target for traffickers, especially as wildlife populations fall elsewhere” according to a June 28 National Geographic article.
In February 2014, President Barack Obama outlined initiatives in the National Strategy for Combating Wildlife Trafficking that calls for combined efforts to reduce the demand for these products while simultaneously curbing the illegal trade industry.
The strategy calls for “combined efforts from nonprofits, corporations, individuals, and foreign government partners, to make that happen.”
Gabonese President Ali Bongo Ondimba is determined to rid the country of this problem and recently requested outside assistance to counter the activities that are destroying elephant populations in the central African region.
Staff Sgt. Ryan Nikzad, the SPMAGTF-CR-AF Gabon team leader, and his team of five Marines and sailors were in Pongara’s National Forest training 14 park ranger supervisors using the “train the trainer” model.
“Before the training started, the ANPN leadership took all of us out to areas where elephants and other wildlife roam and the tour goes to show their dedication to preserve the wildlife here,” said Nikzad. “Most of these guys have taken part in this type of training in past rotations. They are fighting criminals who have military-type skills and the tactical training we teach them, coupled with the train-the-trainer approach, will ultimately assist them in their fight.”
SPMAGTF-CR-AF Det. A is based out of Naval Air Station Sigonella, Italy, where they stage and prepare for theater security cooperation missions into various countries in Africa. This specific iteration is manned by Marines and sailors from 3rd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, permanently based out of Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, N.C., and Coast Guardsmen from various stations across the United States.
- Written by Arron Daugherty and James Bargent
- Thursday, 24 September 2015
Italian police arrested 15 suspected Barrio 18 members in Milan and other nearby cities in northern Italy, reported AFP.
The group — which was mostly comprised of Salvadorans but also reportedly included two Italians — is accused of crimes including extortion, drug trafficking, armed robbery and the attempted murder of a rival from the Mara Salvatrucha (MS13) gang.
An Italian judge ordered the arrests following an investigation that began in January 2014 after a female Salvadoran accused one of the group’s members of sexually assaulting her, according to AFP.
SEE ALSO: Barrio 18 News and Profile
Central American gangs like Barrio 18 and MS13, which are known as “maras,” have been operating in Italy for years, particularly in northern immigrant communities, the report added.
InSight Crime Analysis
Over the last two years, security forces in both Italy and Spain have noted the expansion of the MS13 in Europe, and these latest report confirms they are not alone — their great rivals in Barrio 18 have also crossed the ocean.
The key question surrounding this development is whether the spread is a result of Central American migrants bringing mara street gang culture with them and setting up autonomous networks, or whether these new European based factions are running criminal operations with maras in Central America, suggesting the gangs have made the leap into transnational organizations.
Both gangs are also well established in parts of the United States and the US government has already designated the MS13 a transnational criminal organization, ranking them alongside criminal groups such as the Mexican cartels. However, despite evidence of cross-border collaboration in criminal activities, the decentralized nature and highly localized and territorial focus of the maras has always cast doubts on this classification.
There have also been reports of the Spanish maras coordinating with their counterparts in the Americas, but even if this level of cooperation were to expand, it is unlikely they would have the capacity to coordinate serious transatlantic criminal operations. If they were to seek to establish control over transnational activities such as drug trafficking in Europe, they also would likely encounter formidable opposition; in Spain drug trafficking and associated activities such as contract killing is largely controlled by offshoots of Colombian cartels, while Italy is the domain of powerful and well-connected mafias such as the ‘Ndrangheta.
The Department of State has designated Algerian citizen Abu Ubaydah Yusuf al-Anabi as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist under Executive Order (E.O.) 13224, which targets terrorists and those providing support to terrorists or acts of terrorism. As a result of the designation, all property subject to U.S. jurisdiction in which al-Anabi has any interest is blocked and U.S. persons are prohibited from engaging in transactions with him or to his benefit.
Abu Ubaydah Yusuf al-Anabi is an Algerian al-Qa’ida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) member. He is the leader of AQIM’s Council of Notables and serves as AQIM’s Media Chief. In an April 25, 2013 video, al-Anabi called for armed conflict by violent extremists against French interests throughout the world, presumably in response to France’s Mali intervention.
- Written by Michael Lohmuller
- Tuesday, 14 July 2015
An ammunition heist from an Air Force base in Uruguay points to corruption in the country’s security forces, and further indicates that the generally peaceful country serves as a prominent source of weapons for South America criminal groups.
Investigations by Uruguayan authorities found that roughly 18,000 pieces of ammunition stolen from the Santa Bernardina Air Base ended up in the hands of criminal groups in Brazil; including Rio de Janeiro’s notorious Red Command (Comando Vermelho), reported El Pais.
The munitions theft — believed to have occurred sometime between November 2014 and February 2015 — was made public on June 21 by Congressional delegate Jaime Trobo.
According to investigations, the stolen ammunition weighed between 650 and 750 kilograms, and was removed from the base through its main gate using a truck. During the months the robbery is believed to have taken place, security cameras, motion sensors, and electric fences guarding the base’s weapons depot were not functioning.
Around 20 soldiers are under investigation. Mid-ranking soldiers and officers are also expected be implicated as investigations progress, reported El Pais. It is also possiblemore ammo was stolen than initially believed.
In 2007, the Uruguayan Air Force experienced a similar weapons theft, which resulted in four soldiers, three civilians, and one prison inmate being charged for stealing and organizing the weapons’ sales to Brazilian criminal groups.
InSight Crime Analysis
The theft of such a large amount of ammunition from an active Air Force base could not have occurred without complicity on the part of corrupt soldiers and officers.
SEE ALSO: Coverage of Arms Trafficking
While such instances of corruption are less common among Uruguay’s security forces, they are not without precedent. In 2012, around 20 police officers came under investigation for removing over 200 firearms from police stockpiles and selling them to Brazilian criminal groups. More recently, in April, three policemen and a businessman were arrested on suspicions they were trafficking guns to Brazil’s Red Command.
According to a 2009 report by the Small Arms Survey, while having the highest per capita civilian gun ownership in South America (one firearm for every three people), Uruguay has a relatively small collection of modern small arms (61,000). However, much of this inventory was found to be useless, owing to reductions in military personnel. The report also documented a surplus of around 80,000 outdated rifles, sub-machine guns, and light machine guns, which serve no function in Uruguay’s national strategy and whose status was unknown.
The existence of such surplus weapons stocks may prove too tempting an opportunity for some corrupt military officials. Neighboring Brazil offers a prime market, where evidence suggests groups like the Red Command have been seeking to obtain ever more powerful weapons. In 2013, 40 percent of weapons seized in Rio de Janeiro were listed as “category A” — including rifles, machine guns, and submachine guns — representing a 33 percent increase since 2009.
Guatemala’s 40-year civil war laid the groundwork for many criminal organizations, including several that spawned from state intelligence and military services. These organizations, collectively known as Illegal Clandestine Security Apparatuses (Cuerpos Ilegales y Aparatos Clandestinos de Seguridad – CIACS), are still operational, assisting in drug trafficking and illegal adoptions, the making of false passports and contraband. They include several ex-generals and former high-ranking intelligence officers, and their connections to the private side security services in Guatemala, plus their understanding of how to penetrate and corrupt the government make them useful partners and potent individual actors in the underworld.
The origins of the Illegal Clandestine Security Apparatuses (Cuerpos Ilegales y Aparatos Clandestinos de Seguridad – CIACS) are in Guatemala‘s civil conflict. What began as a fight for land and labor rights in the 1950s became a full-scale civil war in the 1960s. Several guerrilla groups emerged, both urban and rural, some of which included former military officers. Amidst the turmoil, the Guatemalan army seized power and held it until the mid-1980s. Along the way they created an elaborate and somewhat sophisticated intelligence apparatus, the most important part of which was the Estado Mayor Presidencial (EMP).
Principal criminal groups
MS13, Barrio 18, CIACS, Lorenzanas, Mendozas, Leones
The government set up the EMP in the mid-1970s to protect the president and his family. But with time, it evolved into an intelligence gathering service. Staffed by military personnel, most of whom had worked in the military’s most feared intelligence services, it soon turned its attention to opposition forces and political movements who threatened its control over the government and its ability to cover up its past war crimes. The information was placed in files, or “archivos,” giving the EMP its moniker: “los archivos.”
During the 1980s, as the country shifted from military to civilian rule, the EMP worked to keep opposition in check and ensure that past abuses during the civil war went unpunished. It did this by systematically tracking, harrassing, and in some cases arresting human rights workers, union members and student activists, among others. Some faced torture. Others were simply executed or disappeared. One military intelligence document, obtained from Guatemala‘s government archives by the National Security Archives, listed 183 Guatemalans that the EMP disappeared between 1983 and 1985. The EMP was also responsible for the 1990 murder of the anthropologist Myrna Mack in 1990. And its personnel were behind the 1998 murder of Bishop Juan Gerardi, who had led an investigation into war crimes during the country’s civil conflict.
The EMP was abolished in 2003, but it was at the heart of what many called the “hidden powers,” or CIACS, that continued to have a strong hand in running the Guatemalan government for years thereafter. Military intelligence services such as the G-2 and the D-2 were also part of these powers. They drew from their past connections to become a type of parallel government. Some of them took on names like the Cofradia or La Montaña and battled for control with each other over the lucrative businesses they managed. These businesses included providing intelligence and weapons, hitmen services and fake passports to criminal groups. They were facilitators more than operators, and their vast knowledge of the state and political connections within it, made them invaluable to other underworld operators and political parties alike. Some eventually formed their own political movements. A former EMP commander, Otto Perez Molina, is now the Guatemala‘s president.
In 2007, the government opened the door for the United Nations International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), which has been working to dismantle the CIACS. Its case against former Guatemalan President Alfonso Portillo is illustrative of the CICIG’s mixed results. According to the US indictment against the ex-president, retired General Francisco Ortega Menaldo orchestrated at least part of the pillaging of state resources that led to the arrest of the former president and his defense minister.
The US pulled Ortega’s visa in 2002, for his alleged contacts with drug trafficking organizations. He is also thought to have ties to an organization that sells Guatemalan passports to foreigners. However, Guatemalan authorities have never indicted Ortega, and Ortega has consistently denied any wrongdoing or connections to these “hidden powers.” Portillo and two of Ortega’s close associates, however, spent time in jail for embezzlement, and Portillo was extradited to the US where he was convicted of money laundering charges. After spending a year and a half in US prison, Portillo returned toGuatemala in February 2015.
Given his background in the EMP, many expected President Perez Molina not to renew the CICIG’s mandate on coming to power. However, after assuming the presidency, Perez extended CICIG’s mandate for a further two years until September 2015. In April 2015, after much debate and political maneuvering — and amidst a crisis in his administration due to a customs fraud scandal — Perez renewed CICIG’s mandate for another two years.
Membership in the CIACS included active and ex-military officers, special forces operatives, and high-level government officials; many of whom operated in intelligence branches such as the EMP, the G-2 or the D-2. The “Cofradia” or “The Brotherhood,” was composed of an elite group of Guatemalan intelligence officers.
Allies and Enemies
Given the status of their members, the CIACS enjoyed wide support among the Guatemalan government, with considerable access to the president and other leaders.
The Portillo case and the activities of the CICIG notwithstanding, reducing the activities of organized crime in Guatemala to the CIACS may be simplistic and outdated. The CIACS have blended with various criminal enterprises, formed their own or have tried to become legitimate political and economic actors. While their legacy is strong — witness the customs fraud scandal — the CIACS themselves are symbols of how power works inGuatemala: via a mafia-like control over the levers of government bureaucracy.