A Thoughtful, Analytical Approach to NGO Security

CCF Aid Worker Killed in Afghanistan

On 30 November Mohamad Shar (52) was killed when a suicide bomber attacked a passing vehicle. Shar had been working for Christian Children's Fund (CCF) for 18 months. He leaves behind a wife and six children.

Its difficult to understand the impact that Shar’s loss will have on his family. Shar wasn’t the target of the suicide attack but it is his family and the families of other victims who suffer the consequences.

Below is the story of Sami’s family. Sami was also killed in a suicide attack in Kabul on either 29 or 30 November. It may well have been the same attack killed Shar.



Mother (the first woman): My lovely son, oh my son my son.

Anchor: This is Sami’s family. Sami, who had worked for six years as a cleaner in Kabul city, was killed yesterday by suicide attack while he cleaned the street. Sami left five children behind. His oldest child is seven years. According to Sami’s wife he was the sole breadwinner of the family. After him there is no one to help this family.

Sami’s wife: My husband was a cleaner and he is dead now. He was supporting us and providing food. I am asking Karzai what should I do with my orphan children now and how should I feed them.

Anchor: These children are waiting for their father to come home. They do not understand that their father is never returning.

Eldest daughter: My uncle came and said Daddy had hurt his leg only then they brought his dead body.

Eldest son: He took his bicycle and his bag to bring food for us.

Anchor: Sami had two brothers and his brothers say they are not able to help the children. They are street cart porters and barely make a living (for their own families).

Eldest brother: I heard Sami was injured. When I arrived there I saw his body was torn into pieces.

Second brother: I went and saw his body was torn into pieces. The body was bleeding all the way to the cemetery. Why? We are all terrorized. Nothing left for us. Oh fear Allah; fear Quran! Why are they doing this to us?

Anchor: This is the second attack in this street. The first one killed five city cleaners and injured seven.

Mumbai Blasts

As word comes in about the scope of the terror attacks in Mumbai you might want to check out these close to real time sources:



MumbaiHelp is willing to assist with trying to connect families to relatives in Mumbai.

If you search #mumbai in Twitter you will receive the latest tweets. If that’s too overwhelming try the CNN Twitter feed or BreakingNewsOn

If you have a good connection try IBNlive.

Terrorism Fatalities

terrorfatalities


The above chart is based on information from the MIPT Terrorism database. Unfortunately the database does not segregate aid worker fatalities.

N.B. The figures for 2007 only include the first three quarters for the year.

Massive Suicide Blast Targets Indian Embassy in Kabul

More Cartoons and More Threats

A Norwegian newspaper recently published a drawing of a man with Turban, having his clothes open and displaying a t-shirt with the text: "I am Mohammed, no one dares to print me”. The artist says that the half naked caricature represents the naked face of terrorism. However, it is fairly obvious that others may interpret the cartoon differently.
 
The drawing seems to be circulating quickly on Arabic websites. 



In an apparently unrelated, but likely synergistic threat, AQ seems to include Norway as well as other EU countries on its target list as the story below highlights.



NGOs would be wise to monitor the situation closely. Any indicator of negative reactions to the new cartoon should be taken seriously and any necessary risk reduction and mitigation measures implemented.

Islamabad Bomb Damages Local NGO

The building of a local NGO, Devolution Trust for Community Empowerment, was damaged in an apparent VBIED attack on the Danish Embassy in Islamabad. Dozens of its staff were reported to have been injured by flying glass. A spokesperson for the NGO said that the organization had been concerned about their location across the street from the embassy.
more

Black Swan Lessons - You Can't Graph the Future

Something about most UN and NGO security reports has always made me uneasy. Don’t get me wrong. It’s not that they aren’t thorough. A lot of work goes into fact checking and ensuring that what they say is ’correct’. It’s just that the typical security report is a comprehensive list of recent past incidents combined, if we are lucky, with their assessed causes. Incident statistics are then charted and 'trends' are identified. This always made me a little nervous.

To be fair I never really knew why it made me nervous until I read “The Black Swan”. Nicholas Taleb raises several points that help explain my unease.

The first is that more information is not necessarily better. Its very easy to get bogged down in detail that has no real relevance to the issue at hand.

The second factor is what Nicholas calls the Ludic Fallacy. In brief this is the assumption that the unexpected can be predicted by extrapolating from statistics based on past observations. Nicholas argues that while this holds true for theoretical models based on games of chance it seldom holds true in the real world for the following reasons:

We don’t know what we don’t know. (See the Unknown Unknown)
Very small (perhaps imperceptible) changes in the variables can have a huge impact in the outcome. This is commonly referred to as the Butterfly Effect.
Theories based on experience are fundamentally flawed as events that have not occurred before (or are outside living memory) cannot be accounted for.

The Washington Post graphic below, which shows the frequency and lethality of suicide attacks since 1981, illustrates the problem. If we had examined the chart in 2000 would it have led us to predict 9/11(a classic Black Swan)? If we had re-examined it in 2003 would it have led us to predict the sudden increase in the frequency of attacks in 2007? What does 2007 tell us about 2008? Looking at the trend from 1981 to 1989 how many researchers would have concluded that suicide attacks were in decline and opined that such attacks were ineffective in accomplishing the attackers goals.


FORA.tv: Mohammed Hafez on Suicide Bombings in Iraq

I don't normally cover Iraq. There are more than enough pundits doing so. However, in this case I am going to make an exception for one simple reason: Iraq is a testing ground for a new model of war. The lessons learned in Iraq, by both sides, will be used elsewhere in the world. By the very nature of where NGOs tend to work they will be directly and indirectly impacted by this new, rapidly evolving, mode of conflict.

Suicide attacks seem to be a keystone tactic in this new conflict. Suicide attacks have a disproportionate effect on world political developments because of their targets, their apparent unpredictability and inevitability, and most of all the incredible psychological impact. NGOs can no longer be confident that they will not be the target of such attacks. Even when humanitarian workers are not directly targeted the places they frequent inevitably will be. Restaurants, hotels, night clubs, public gatherings, government buildings, and UN complexes have all been attacked by suicide bombers in recent years. To make matters worse suicide bombings are no longer rare events outside Iraq. They have increased in frequency in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and other countries around the world.

In the two video clips below author Mohammed Hafez discusses the strategy and ideology of suicide bombing. They are well worth watching.






Question: How do INGOs, often viewed as proxies of western governments, protect themselves from suicide bombers?

The Globe and Mail "Talking to the Taliban"

"Talking to the Taliban" is a unique look at the attitudes and motivations of the 'average' rank and file Taliban fighter. This six part video series is based on standardized interviews of 42 Taliban insurgents conducted in five districts of Kandahar province, Afghanistan. Topics of discussion ranged from their motivations for fighting, their world view, relations with Pakistan and their views on suicide bombing. This is a view of the Taliban that is stripped of the myth, mystique and misunderstanding.


globeandmail.com: Talking to the Taliban

Has the World Become a More Dangerous Place?

Is the world a more dangerous place to live now than it was ten years ago? How about a hundred years?

According to this first video the answer is yes. In it the University of Hawaii examines the complex issues of armed conflicts, peace-keeping operations and humanitarian relief with the input of former UN and government officials, humanitarian aid workers and PKO experts.



In "A Brief History of Violence" Steven Pinker argues the opposite. His data suggests that we are living in what might very well be the most peaceful time in human history.



So who is right here? Is the world safer? How do our cognitive biases shape our perceptions of the risks we face now versus those faced by our ancestors?

Terrorism, Economic, and Privacy Risk Maps

I love maps. Good maps can be a security analyst's best friend. A good map can summarize an entire analytical report.

A recent post on sources and methods led me to Aon Corporation's Terrorism Threat Map. Risk levels, regions of special risk, religious extremist groups, political extremism, separatist movements, and kidnap risk are all covered in a simple and easy to grasp format. The legends are chock full of information as well. One even contains a concise explanation of the terrorism risk assessment process.

Terrorism Threat Map


Aon's 2008 Political and Economic Risk Map is another that deserves a place on your office wall. Not only does it illustrate the usual war, terrorism, and civil disturbance risks but it also highlights exposure to the current global credit crisis. You can get a copy here but unfortunately you'll have to fill in one of those annoying online forms.

Political & Economic Risk Map 2008


Privacy International's map of Surveillance Societies Around the World isn't nearly as professional as the ones above but it is still effective at pointing out that the world's nosiest governments aren't necessarily where you might think. Although I think Privacy International tends to be somewhat alarmist my biggest problem with their latest report is that they still leave large portions of the world uncovered. Surely Africa, the Middle east, and South Asia deserve greater attention?

Map of Surveillance Societies arounf the World

For extra analytical fun try overlaying the maps. How does surveillance intensity compare to terrorism risk? Kidnap risk?

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This work by Kevin Toomer is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.5 Canada License.
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