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Emerging Threats and Opportunities

27 May 2020
Emerging Threats and Opportunities
Three soldiers on a field with sun shining behind them

COVID19: Regional Geopolitical consequences

Analysis is turning to the geopolitical shocks and changes that will follow the pandemic. The ASPI Strategist urges Australia to build on Defence relationships with Japan and South Korea to counter this expected great power tension. Foreign Policy concludes general war is unlikely, but warns stronger right-wing political movements could fuel protectionism and hyper-nationalism, inhibiting multilateral cohesion. On a hopeful note, New America offers a new post-COVID19 US strategic policy focussed on soft power tools – security through the enhancement of human well-being rather than through the projection of military power.

US sailors from the USS Theodore Roosevelt who had contracted and recovered from COVID19 have contracted the virus a second time, reports The Diplomat. This situation stresses the challenges for management of deployed personnel, the maintenance of capability and societal concerns about the generation of ‘herd immunity’.

Technology & Cyber Security

The Lowy Interpreter suggests COVID19 disruption has increased vulnerability to cyber attack (noting several effective cyber attacks on high-profile Australian organisations this month). ‘Human vulnerabilities, such as email scams, social engineering and unmonitored malware intrusions’ are inevitably more prevalent, particularly as more work is being performed online and with less security oversight. The Interpreter points to the requirement for cyber security policy to consider the human aspect for risk management.

Russia has banned ‘active-duty military from carrying smartphones or other devices that can store photographs, videos, audio files or geolocations while on duty or during states of emergency’ to improve operational security. This law targets leaks to journalists and similar laws passed in 2019 were aimed at foreign intelligence services. Where deployed forces can communicate with family using deployed IT systems, the necessity of personal electronic devices is diminished, particularly where the risk of exploitation by an adversary outweighs the reward.

Anecdotally, Bellingcat steps through how to track military and intelligence personnel using popular social media application, The Untappd Beer App. The data can help identify patterns of activity and details including the address of military members. This article offers insight into the ways in which such applications target a military demographic and can generate a larger dataset from which to mine information. The article posits both threat awareness but also insights into open-source intelligence collection options pertinent to Army modernisation.

Irregular Warfare and Terrorism

CNN and The Washington Post report that the FBI found a link to Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (ASAP) on the phone of the Saudi Air Force student who attacked a US Military base in Pensacola, Florida last year. A number of other Saudi students on the course were found to have shared Islamist or anti-American content on social media and were sent home. The Pentagon is making changes to the screening of potential foreign candidates for military training programs as a result.

The radicalisation activities of far – right and Islamist extremists share similarities. A special report from ASPI delves into ‘eight major points of similarity which highlight common justifications for violence and comparable mindsets of right-wing and Islamist extremists.’ The author steps through the Christchurch attacker’s triggers for motivation, extremist use of social media to influence and inspire action, the attack timeline, and the response from authorities. If time is short, ASPI has a handy summary of key takeaways here.  An April Policy Brief from the International Centre for Counter-Terrorism – The Hague (ICCT) similarly identifies how online communities transform individual motivations.

Finally, a report from the Global Network on Extremism and Technology concludes that malign non-state actors are using online information operations to exploit community vulnerabilities inflamed by the pandemic (also in this report by SBS). Whether by spreading conspiracy theories, or using propaganda to establish state-building credentials (especially where government management of the pandemic has been poor) ‘calls for extremist violence are being accelerated through crisis narratives.’ Identifying similarities in the motivations and patterns of extremists across causes could help to streamline threat identification, particularly in the employment of AI to scan large volumes of data for threat activity.

Longer Reads

Australia’s Group of Eight universities ‘convened more than one hundred of Australia’s leading epidemiologists, infectious disease specialists, public health thinkers, healthcare professionals, mental health practitioners, indigenous scholars, communications experts, ethicists, philosophers, economists and business scholars’ to develop a’ COVID19 Recovery Roadmap’, which is highly recommended reading to understand the situation, the next steps, and to help manage expectations moving forward. The executive summary is attached.

Podcasts

The Atlantic, ‘The Comforting Appeal of Conspiracy Theories: Why false narratives can sometimes outrun facts.’

The Modern War Institute’s latest MWI Podcast interrogates the origins and evolution of the Islamic State, how the organisation might evolve in the future, the nature of the threat it might pose and the regions most susceptible. Its focus upon understanding Islamic State’s strategy is notable.

The Grattan Institute has published a timely pod on what to expect as COVID19 restrictions are gradually lifted in states around Australia.

In a new pod for the ANU, Professors David Kilcullen and John Blaxland discuss the changed threat posed to Australia by state and non-state actors that have mastered new methods of attack: hybrid and urban warfare, political manipulation and digital technology.

The views expressed in this article and subsequent comments are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Australian Army, the Department of Defence or the Australian Government.

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