Monthly Archives: June 2014

Cyber-Warriors: US and China

On May 19th, 2014 the Justice Department unveiled 31 charges against five members of China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA), involving breaking six laws, from relatively minor counts of identity theft to economic espionage, which carries a maximum sentence of 15 years. This is the first time the government has charged employees of a foreign government with cybercrime. The accused are unlikely ever to stand trial. Even so, the Justice Department produced posters with mugshots of the men beneath the legend “wanted by the FBI”. They may never be punished, but that is not the point. Google any of their names and the mugshots now appear, the online equivalent of a perp walk.

That China’s government spies on the commercial activities of companies in America is not news in itself. Last year Mandiant, a cyber-security firm based in Virginia, released a report that identified Unit 61398 of the PLA as the source of cyber-attacks against 140 companies since 2006. But the indictment does reveal more details about what sorts of things the Chinese cybersnoops have been snaffling.

Hackers stole designs for pipes from Westinghouse, an American firm, when it was building four nuclear power stations in China, and also took e-mails from executives who were negotiating with a state-owned company. They took financial information from SolarWorld, a maker of solar panels; gained access to computers owned by US Steel while it was in a trade dispute with a state-owned company; and took files from Alcoa, an aluminium producer, while it was in a joint venture with another Chinese government-backed firm. ATI, another metal firm, and the United Steelworkers union were hacked, too.

American firms that do business in China have long lobbied behind closed doors for Uncle Sam to do something about Chinese hackers. America’s government has hitherto followed a similar logic, pressing China in private. The decision to make a fuss reflects the failure of that approach. When the existence of Unit 61398 became public its troops paused for a while, then continued as before.

Confronting the PLA’s hackers comes at a cost. China has pulled out of a bilateral working group on cyber-security in response to the indictments. Global Times, a Chinese English-language daily, denounced America as: “a mincing rascal”. But doing nothing has a cost, too. Companies like Westinghouse and US Steel have a hard enough time competing with Chinese firms, without having their business plans and designs pinched by thieves in uniform. Nor is the spying limited to manufacturers: tech companies have been targeted by the same group…

Second, America’s spying on Huawei, a Chinese maker of telecoms and networking equipment, makes China’s government doubt that America follows its own rules.

Chinese spying: Cybersnoops and mincing rascals,  Economist, May 24, at 28

Barclays Toxic Landfill

The lawsuit filed by New York’s top securities regulator against Barclays, alleges that it favoured high-speed traders using its “dark pool” trading venue, while misleading other investors.The 30-page complaint gives examples of what Eric Schneiderman, the state attorney-general, claims were the bank’s practices.

The lawsuit claims that Barclays took advantage of its institutional investor clients, known as “the buy side.”  The complaint quotes a former director as saying: “[T]he way the deal would work is [Barclays] would invite the high frequency firms in. They would trade with the buy side. The buy side would pay the commissions. The high frequency firms would pay basically nothing. They would make their money off of manipulating the price.“Barclays would make their money off the buy side. And the buy side would totally be taken advantage of because they got stuck with the bad trade . . . this happened over and over again.”

It also quotes a former Barclays director as saying: “There was a lot going on in the dark pool that was not in the best interests of clients. The practice of almost ensuring that every counterparty would be a high frequency firm, it seems to me that that wouldn’t be in the best interest of their clients . . . It’s almost like they are building a car and saying it has an airbag and there is no airbag or brakes.”…

The same day Barclays’ then-head of equities sales noted in reference to the analysis that some in the industry viewed Barclays’ dark pool as a “toxic landfill” and so “[i]f we can help ourselves we should[;] it’s in our control”.

The attorney-general alleges the bank’s “Liquidity Profiling” surveillance system failed to protect clients from predatory high-speed trading tactics…“Barclays has never prohibited a single firm from participating in its dark pool, no matter how toxic or predatory its activity was determined to be.”

Excerpts from John Aglionby, Lawsuit alleges Barclays misled dark pool clients, Financial Times, June 26, 2014

Geopolitics of Nuclear Weapons: India

The United States, Britain and others have argued that nuclear-armed India should join the secretive 48-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) – established in 1975 to ensure that civilian atomic trade is not diverted for military purposes.  But other NSG states have voiced doubt about accepting a country that built up a nuclear arsenal outside a 189-nation treaty set up four decades ago to prevent states from acquiring such weapons of mass destruction.

Days ahead of the June 26-27 NSG meeting in Buenos Aires, India said it was ratifying an agreement, a so-called Additional Protocol, with the International Atomic Energy Agency to expand oversight over its civilian nuclear programme.  The United States said this marked another “important step in bringing India into the international non-proliferation mainstream”. But some critics questioned the step’s significance, as it would not affect India’s nuclear weapons programme and sensitive atomic fuel activities.  They said the Indian agreement was a much weaker version of a deal most other IAEA members have, giving the U.N. watchdog wide inspection powers to make sure there are no covert nuclear activities in a country.  “India’s version of the Additional Protocol is a paper tiger,” said Daryl Kimball of the U.S.-based Arms Control Association, a research and advocacy group….

The diplomatic tussle centres on whether the emerging power should be allowed into a key forum deciding rules for civilian nuclear trade, even though it never joined the 1970 Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), under which it would have to give up its nuclear weapons…

India – Asia’s third-largest economy – would need the support of all NSG states to join the cartel that has a pivotal role in countering nuclear threats and proliferation.  If India eventually were to become a member, it would boost its standing as an atomic power. It would be the only member of the suppliers group that has not signed up to the NPT.

Supporters say it is better if the country is inside than outside the NSG as it is already an advanced nuclear energy power and will in future become a significant exporter as well.  Those who are sceptical argue it could erode the credibility of the NPT, which is a cornerstone of global nuclear disarmament efforts.

Diplomats have said that China and some others have been doubtful. Beijing’s reservations are believed to be influenced by its ties to its ally Pakistan, India’s rival, which has also tested atomic bombs and is also outside the NPT, analysts say.

Excerpts,Nuclear Suppliers Group to discuss ties with India,Reuters, Jun 24, 2014

Texas is Thirsty for Nuclear Waste

The company operating Texas’ only radioactive waste dump site is asking state regulators to allow disposal of depleted uranium and triple the capacity of a burial site that accepts waste from dozens of states.  Although Waste Control Specialists says the uranium stored at its West Texas site would have only low-level radioactivity, opponents say the proposal would get the company another step closer to handling more dangerous material that wasn’t part of the original license. The company has already been in talks with county officials about high-level waste disposal.

Meanwhile, the Dallas-based business has also asked the state to reduce the money it’s required to have available to fund potential liability at the site — to about $86 million from $136 million.”The public should be paying attention, but they’re not,” said state Rep. Lon Burnam, a Fort Worth Democrat who has taken an active role in monitoring how the state handles radioactive waste. “We have less and less financial assurances and greater threat for more harm.”…

Environmental groups have long worried about the local geology and contamination of underground water sources near the site, which can accept low-level waste from compact members Texas and Vermont as well as 36 other states.  The site could soon be the resting place for hotter material that’s being stored at Texas’ four commercial nuclear reactors.

In March, Texas Gov. Rick Perry asked lawmakers to explore establishing a location in Texas to store the high-level radioactive waste from these reactors. Two months earlier, House Speaker Joe Straus directed lawmakers to examine the economic impact of permitting such a site.  McDonald said the company has had conversations with Andrews County officials about high-level waste storage. Officials in Loving County, the nation’s least populous county, have interest in building a storage site there

Excerpts from BETSY BLANEY, West Texas site seeks to bury depleted uranium, Associated Press, June 14, 2014

Battle Against Nuclear Waste in Australia

Muckaty Station in the Northern Territory [Australia] was nominated in early 2007 as a site to store low and intermediate radioactive waste under a deal negotiated with the Aboriginal Ngapa clan.

While Australia does not use nuclear power, it needs a site to store waste, including processed fuel rods from the country’s only nuclear reactor at Lucas Heights, on the outskirts of Sydney,…..Opponents have fought against the dump for years, with a trial starting in the Federal Court in Melbourn in June 2014 alleging Muckaty’s nomination was invalid due to a failure of the government and the land council to obtain the consent of all Aboriginal owners.  “What we’re here to say is ‘no more’ and that this process was so legally flawed that it is invalid,” Ron Merkel, who is representing traditional owners, told the court.  “The opposition is in no small part based on a spiritual affiliation to the land and that radioactive waste will poison the land,” he said in comments cited by Australian Associated Press

In Australian Federal Court, Aborigines continue the fight against radioactive waste dumping on their land, Agence France Presse, June 3, 2014

Graves for Nuclear Waste – Fukushima

The central government [of Japan] is compiling a generous compensation plan to overcome the reluctance of two towns to host intermediate storage facilities for radioactive waste from the Fukushima nuclear disaster.  Measures being considered for the municipalities of Okuma and Futaba include buying or renting properties at inflated real estate values and covering the costs to relocate the grave sites of relatives.

Okuma and Futaba are hosts to Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant. The two towns and the Fukushima prefectural government have not given their consent for the intermediate storage facilities, with many residents fearing the facilities will become permanent fixtures in their backyards.  The waste, expected to fill the equivalent of 23 Tokyo Domes, is currently being kept temporarily in various locations in Fukushima Prefecture where decontamination work has been conducted.

The government under then Prime Minister Naoto Kan announced in August 2011 that intermediate storage facilities would be needed to take in the waste from those locations.  However, little progress has been made on constructing intermediate storage facilities, and the government says the delay has affected further decontamination efforts and overall reconstruction in Fukushima.

Large parts of Okuma and Futaba continue to have high levels of radiation, and prospects are dim that residents who fled the areas can return to their homes in the near future. The radiation levels have also pushed down real estate values in the two municipalities.  Under the central government’s compensation plan, the real estate values will be calculated on the assumption that the land and buildings will one day be available for use after radiation levels have fallen far enough for the evacuation orders to be lifted.  Government compensation will be separate from the compensation that local residents can receive from TEPCO.

Residents have also raised concerns that they would be unable to visit graves in Okuma and Futaba if the intermediate storage facilities are constructed there.  The central government’s plan would not only cover the costs of moving the gravestones and remains away from the storage facilities, but it would also pay for memorial services that would be needed in line with the transfer. In addition, the government would provide support if the local communities decide to construct a new cemetery in a location where radiation levels are comparatively low.

For families that do not want to move the graves, the central government will consider allowing the graves to remain at their current sites. The intermediate storage facilities could be designed to avoid such grave sites, and family members would be allowed to visit the graves even after the facilities are completed.

Government sweetening the pot for storage of Fukushima radioactive waste, THE ASAHI SHIMBUN, May 18, 2014

A New GPS for the Military

Teaming up with Northrop Grumman as its primary contractor, DARPA is working today to integrate micro-electro-mechanical systems, called MEMS, and atomic inertial guidance technologies, forming a new “single inertial measurement unit” in a project designated the “Chip-Scale Combinatorial Atomic Navigator” — C-SCAN.

Translated into plain English, what C-SCAN aims to accomplish is to create a chip that performs the functions today served by orbiting GPS satellites. The chip would constantly “know” where it is in space-time, and would have this knowledge without having to ping a satellite (and maintain line-of-sight communication with a satellite) to do it… Elimination of the need to rely on satellites to determine one’s location would similarly enable the use of “GPS-like” technology for getting directions within buildings and underground — for example, in subway systems…

One of the primary vulnerabilities in today’s hi-tech, ultra-accurate weapons systems, you see, is their dependence upon GPS signals to guide them to their destinations. American “smart bombs” and guided missiles all depend greatly on GPS to know where they are, and to get where they’re going. American dominance in drone technology, similarly, depends on GPS.  Problem is, while we know this is a problem, the “bad guys” know it, too — and can sometimes hack GPS signals so as to confuse, and even hijack, American weapons systems. Case in point: in 2011, Iran boasted that it had commandeered and captured a Lockheed Martin RQ-170 Sentinel — one of our most advanced “stealth” surveillance drones — in flight over Iranian territory. The Iranians didn’t have to shoot the drone down, either. Instead, they forced it to land in Iran, and captured it intact. According to Iranian engineers, this was accomplished by first jamming communications with the Sentinel’s remote controllers, then “spoofing” GPS signals, tricking the drone into landing at what it thought was its home base in Afghanistan — but what was actually an Iranian airfield.

Drones equipped with a future C-SCAN technology would be less likely to fall victim to such a trap. While their communications might be cut off, forcing them to default to autopilot and return to base, they’d at least return to the right base, because an internal chip would tell them how to get there.

Current weapons systems often include internal gyroscopes, granted, that perform some of the functions that C-SCAN aims to perfect. But as DARPA observes, present-day gyroscopes are “bulky” equipment, “expensive,” and don’t perform with the kind of accuracy that DARPA wants to see.  The objective, therefore, is to explore cutting edge technologies to put gyroscope-like functionality on a chip, resulting in “small size, low power consumption, high resolution of motion detection and a fast start up time” — all loaded onto one small microchip….

Microchip-based guidance could be the solution the military is seeking to an oft-discussed problem with the nation’s newest generation of Mach 7 railguns, whose great range, speed, power — and cheapness — make them an attractive weapons system… if we can only figure a way to guide their projectiles accurately

Rich Smith, Why Is the U.S. Government Working Frantically to Get Rid of GPS?, Motley Fool, June 15, 2015

Pakistani Courts and the CIA Drone War

A judge at the High Court in Islamabad, Pakistan, has ordered the Pakistani police to open a criminal investigation into the CIA’s involvement in a drone strike that killed three people, including a teenager, on December 31 2009. Ruling in the case of Kareem Khan, a resident of the country’s North Waziristan region whose brother and son were among the dead, Justice Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui ordered police to examine whether Jonathan Banks, former CIA station chief in Islamabad, and John Rizzo, former CIA General Counsel, are guilty of committing murder, waging war against Pakistan and offences under the provisions of the Terrorism Act 1997 for their involvement in authorizing the New Years’ Eve strike.

Mr Khan first brought the case in 2011 with support from the Foundation for Fundamental Rights (FFR) in Pakistan. In February this year Mr Khan, who has been an outspoken critic of the covert US programme, was illegally detained for ten days by unknown men in police uniforms, ahead of a European trip where he spoke to parliamentarians about the civilian impact of the US drone programme.Commenting on the judgement, Kareem Khan said: “Today’s order is a victory for all those innocent civilians that have been killed in US-led drone strikes in Pakistan. I also feel heartened that people like me in Waziristan might now also be able to get justice for the wrongs being done to them. I sincerely hope that the authorities now do their job and investigate the culprits”.

Jennifer Gibson, attorney for legal charity Reprieve, which is assisting Mr Khan, said: “Today’s decision marks a crucial first step in finally providing justice for people like Kareem – the innocent victims of the CIA’s illegal drone wars. The message is clear – there can be no impunity for the killing of innocent people. The police in Pakistan should move to launch their investigation as soon as possible.”

Pakistani High Court orders police to investigate CIA drone strikes, Reprieve Press Release, June 5, 2014

Cheap Wild Meat: Nigeria

Just as the bush meat delicacy is gaining acceptance in all parts of the country [Nigeria] and fast becoming a source of living for many Nigerians, infrastructural development, including roads construction, have also contributed greatly in threatening plant species with most plants going into extinction.  It is a common site when travelling across the country to see hunters, women and children displaying bush meat on the highway for sale.

The bush meat business, according to Mrs Janet Efe, a bush meat merchant a long Okpela-Benin road, has come to stay. “There is no job for our husbands and children and rather than going into robbery and other dubious trades it is better they hunt in the forest where the animals roam about.”  She said that so long as human beings exist, animals will always be available for people to eat.

Bush meat is a recognised trade at rural and urban centres. Wild animals’ meat is the main source of cheap protein for the majority of rural communities in Nigeria. Over 80 per cent of the population are rural dwellers who depend on bush meat, compared with urban dwellers that depend on abattoir supplies of cow and other ruminant meat…

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the present level of information on the status of non-fish aquatic animal resources in Nigeria is still scanty and limited to a few inventories of wild stocks in the National Parks. A holistic approach to their management and conservation is required and recognition that the conservation of aquatic animals, including fish, is important because of their genetic resources, biological, and food values and the socio-economic implications of their extinction.

Excerpts from ALEX ABUTU, Nigeria: Biodiversity – Nigeria’s Wasting Goldmine, AllAfrica, May 21, 2014

Seals Better than Pigs: Seal Hunting

A (World Trade Organization) WTO appeal panel has upheld a decision that the European Union’s ban on the import of seal pelts, oil and meat is justified on moral grounds…The ruling, released Thursday in Geneva by the WTO’s Appellate Body, is one more blow to an industry that has been dying for years as a result of a successful campaign by animal-rights activists to convince international buyers that the Canadian seal hunt is inhumane.

The appeal body reversed some minor portions of a WTO panel decision, but agreed that the EU’s ban on seal products “is necessary to protect public morals” as spelled out in the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade.  The appeal body agreed with the earlier panel decision that the ban on seal pelts imposed by the EU in 2010 undermines the principles of fair trade, but is justified because it “fulfills the objective of addressing EU public moral concerns on seal welfare.”

Canada and Norway had argued that the ruling sets a dangerous precedent because trade decisions were being made on the basis of morality rather than conservation and science. The federal Conservative government, and the two opposition parties, agree that the seal hunt, which is largely based in Newfoundland, is humane, sustainable and well-regulated…. The sealers say Canada has the highest standards for animal-welfare practices of any hunt in the world. The animal-rights groups, on the other hand, point to reports by veterinary and zoology experts who say the clubbing and shooting of seals in Canada is inhumane and should be prohibited.

The Canadian government set the quota for the seal slaughter this year at 400,000. But it is estimated that fewer than 55,000 of the animals have been killed by hunters as the season nears an end. Rebecca Aldworth, the executive director of Humane Society International/Canada, said… “I think it’s clear that the sealing industry is already over. The only question is whether the Canadian government will continue to keep it on artificial life support in the form of government subsidies, or whether it will invest in a one-time buyout of the commercial sealing industry.

Excerpts from GLORIA GALLOWAY, Canada loses bid to block European ban on seal products,  Globe and Mail, May 22, 2014

Nuclear Waste: Germany to South Carolina

The U.S. Department of Energy said on June 4, 2014 it will study the environmental risk of importing spent nuclear fuel from Germany that contains highly enriched uranium, a move believed to be the first for the United States.  The department said it is considering a plan to ship the nuclear waste from Germany to the Savannah River Site, a federal facility in South Carolina.  The 310-acre site already holds millions of gallons of high-level nuclear waste in tanks. The waste came from reactors in South Carolina that produced plutonium for nuclear weapons from 1953 to 1989.

The Energy Department said it wants to remove 900 kilograms (1,984 pounds) of uranium the United States sold to Germany years ago and render it safe under U.S. nuclear non-proliferation treaties.  A technique for the three-year process of extracting the uranium, which is contained in graphite balls, is being developed at the site in South Carolina, according to the Energy Department.

[The radioactive waste to be imported to the United States from Germany consists of 152 30-tonne CASTOR casks containing 290,000 graphite balls from the  AVR gas-cooled prototype reactor, stored at the Juelich research center [Forschungszentrum Jülich (FZJ)], and 305 CASTOR casks containing 605,000 graphite balls from the THTR-300 reactor, stored at the Ahaus waste site. While the waste contains some US-origin highly enriched uranium (HEU), the amount is unclear as the material was irradiated and has been in storage for over 20 years since the reactors closed.]

Some critics question whether the department has fully developed a clear plan to dispose of the radioactive waste.”They’re proposing to extract the uranium and reuse it as fuel by a process that has never been done before,” said Tom Clements, president of SRS Watch, a nuclear watchdog group in South Carolina….

Sources told Reuters in May that German utilities were in talks with the government about setting up a “bad bank” for nuclear plants, in response to German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s decision to close them all by 2022 after Japan’s Fukushima nuclear disaster.

Excerpt from  Harriet McLeod, German nuclear waste may be headed to South Carolina site, Reuters, June 4, 2014

Synthetic Biology and the Military

Twist Bioscience announced that it raised $26 million in a Series B financing to commercialize the company’s semiconductor-based synthetic gene manufacturing process. Nick and Joby Pritzker, through their family’s firm Tao Invest, led the round, with participation from ARCH Venture Partners, Paladin Capital Group, Yuri Milner and additional strategic corporate and venture investors. All existing investors participated in the round.

The company also received a $5.1 million contract from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to fund development of Twist’s technology platform for the large-scale, high-throughput construction of genetic designs. DARPA granted the contract under the Living Foundries: 1000 Molecules Program, which seeks to build a scalable, integrated, rapid design and prototyping infrastructure for the facile engineering of biology…

Said Emily Leproust, Ph.D., chief executive officer of Twist Bioscience. “Today, we have all the necessary components in place to automate and scale our synthetic gene manufacturing process and staff strategically, with the goal of bringing our first products and services to the market in 2015.”

According to to Twist Bioscience “At Twist Bioscience, our expertise is synthetic DNA. We have developed a proprietary semiconductor-based synthetic DNA manufacturing process featuring a 10,000-well silicon platform capable of producing synthetic biology tools, such as oligonucleotides, genes, pathways, chassis and genomes. By synthesizing DNA on silicon instead of on traditional 96-well plastic plates, our platform overcomes the current inefficiencies of synthetic DNA production, and enables cost-effective, rapid, high-quality and high throughput synthetic gene production. The Twist Bioscience platform has the potential to greatly accelerate the development of personalized medicine, sustainable chemical production, improved agriculture production as well as new applications such as in vivo diagnostics, biodetection and data storage. 

Twist Bioscience Secures $31.1 Million,  PRESS RELEASE, May 27, 2014

 

Amazon Protected Areas: 215 Million Fund

Brazil’s government, the World Wildlife Fund and various partners are expected to unveil an agreement that would establish a $215 million fund for conservation of protected jungle in the Amazon rainforest.  The fund, which seeks to ensure conservation of over 90 protected areas in the Amazon, comes as renewed developmental pressures mount in the region, resulting last year in an uptick in deforestation figures after years of record lows.

Under the terms of the agreement, partners in the fund will make annual contributions to help Brazil meet financing needs for the protected lands, whose combined area totals more than 60 million hectares, or an area 20 percent larger than Spain.  Contributions, partners said, will be contingent upon conditions required of Brazil, including audits of the government body that will administer the fund and continued staffing and financing of government offices required to administer the rainforest areas.

Money from the fund would be used for a range of basic conservation measures, including fences and signs to delineate protected areas and to pay for vehicles used to patrol them…

Brazil’s government through 2012 made large inroads against deforestation, largely through strict environmental enforcement and financial measures that blocked credit for companies and individuals caught doing business with loggers, ranchers, farmers or others known to exploit illegally cleared land.

In recent years, however, the government has made changes to environmental agencies and regulations that critics say make it easier for would-be developers to target protected areas. The government has also altered borders of some parkland to make way for infrastructure projects, including hydroelectric dams on various Amazon tributaries.

Financing for the new fund, expected to pay out over 25 years, was secured from private and public sources including the German government, the Inter-American Development Bank, the World Bank, philanthropists and the Amazon Fund, an existing facility financed mostly by the Norwegian government and administered by Brazil’s national development bank.

Together, the forest zones targeted by the fund are known as the Amazon Region Protected Areas, or ARPA, a program established in 2002 to coordinate financing and conservation strategy in the region.

Whereas previous financing for the effort relied on cumulative fundraising efforts, partners this time agreed to an all-or-nothing approach, borrowed from private-sector financing practices, to build momentum toward a target total. The $215 million is the amount calculated as necessary to help the Brazilian government, over the 25 years, become self-sufficient in terms of financing the rainforest areas.

Excerpts from  PAULO PRADA, Donors commit $215 million for Amazon conservation in Brazil, Reuters, May 21, 2014

U.N. Drones and Robots

The United Nations will move more into the use of high technology including UAVs and EOD (explosive ordnance disposal) robots in peacekeeping operations to confront new challenges and offer the best value for funding in future.  UAVs have been deployed by MONUSCO in the DRC since late last year (2013) to provide added eyes to UN forces there in an ongoing quest to protect civilians.  There are currently over 116 000 UN military, police and civilian personnel from more than 120 countries serving in 16 peacekeeping missions worldwide.

One example of new technology being utilised beneficially came last month (May 2014) during a ferry accident on Lake Kivu. A UN Falco UAV spotted the craft in distress and UN personnel in the DRC were able to immediately despatch speedboats and a helicopter, rescuing 15 people.  “From the second it spotted the sinking ship, the UAV stayed at the scene searching for survivors and providing situational awareness,” said Ameerah Haq, Under-Secretary-General for Field Support.  “This illustrates the flexibility and the ability of UAVs to greatly enhance situational awareness and aid life-saving operations by the provision of real-time imagery to support reaction to incidents.”

The UN has also enhanced its use of thermal imaging, closed-circuit television, night vision abilities and GIS (geographic information systems) data to improve situational awareness to provide better for the safety and security for its peacekeepers.  As part of the ongoing effort by the Departments of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) and of Field Support (DFS) to take advantage of emerging technologies and innovations, a group of five experts is being tasked with advising on how best to use these capabilities.

Excerpts, New challenges spur UN peacekeeping to become a force for the future, DefenceWeb,  June 3, 2014

Protecting Foreign Oil Companies – Somaliland

U.N. experts warn that plans by Somalia’s breakaway enclave Somaliland to deploy special forces to protect foreign oil companies could worsen conflicts in the long unstable Horn of Africa.  A confidential May 27, 2014 letter to the U.N. Security Council sanctions committee on Somalia and Eritrea, obtained by Reuters on May 30, 2014, recommends the panel consider whether the planned armed unit could be viable or not.

“The deployment of an Oil Protection Unit could play into internal and regional conflicts that appear to be brewing within Somaliland and between Somaliland and other regional authorities, if its deployment is not handled carefully or accompanied by mitigating measures,” the coordinator of the expert monitoring group, Jarat Chopra, wrote.  The experts, who monitor sanctions violations, said in July that Western commercial oil exploration in disputed areas and discrepancies over which authorities can issue licenses to companies could cause more fighting in Somalia.  Chopra’s letter repeated that “legal and constitutional discrepancies in respect of oil licensing throughout Somalia have opened the door for potential conflicts between the Federal Government of Somalia and regional authorities, and between regional authorities themselves.”

The overthrow of a dictator in 1991 plunged Somalia into two decades of violence, first at the hands of clan warlords and then Islamist militants, while two semi-autonomous regions – Puntland and Somaliland – have cropped up in northern Somalia.  About a dozen companies, including many multinational oil and gas majors, had licenses to explore Somalia before 1991, but since then Somaliland, Puntland and other authorities have granted their own licenses for the same blocks….

Excerpt, MICHELLE NICHOLS AND LOUIS CHARBONNEA, Exclusive: U.N. experts wary of Somaliland plan for armed oil protection unit, Reuters, May 30, 2014