A Thoughtful, Analytical Approach to NGO Security

WVI Employment Fraud Warning

World Vision International is warning that fraudulent recruiters are bilking applicants out of "training" and "recruitment" fees. If you have received any of these bogus offers please help out by forwarding them to emp_fraud@wvi.org.

Vacancy - Security Officer - DRC

World Vision Democratic Republic of the Congo requires a Security Officer for its operations in eastern DRC. What really stands out about this position is they are asking for knowledge and skills "acquired through a combination of formal schooling, self-education, prior experience, or on-the-job training". So if you don't have a university degree but you have a lot of experience and capability this would be a good place to apply.

Kudos to WV for recognizing that learning is not limited to universities.

Vacancy - Risk Management Advisor - Sri Lanka

GTZ is seeking a Risk Management Advisor (read Safety and Security Advisor) for its projects and programs in Sri Lanka.

IFRC Releases Two New Security Manuals

IFRC has released "Stay Safe", its new security manual. I've only taken a quick look at it but so far it looks good. There is also a security manager's version.

Learning to Think Analytically with Video Games

According to Wired US intelligence agencies are using custom video games to teach analytical thinking. Despite what the graphics might suggest the games' emphasis is on critical thinking skills and the use of the analytical process rather than violence.

I'd love to see an NGO version of something like this. It shouldn't be too hard to come up with an interesting story with a humanitarian slant that would challenge the players reasoning. Perhaps based on Darfur with the player attempting to shift through opposing claims and counter claims. Or how about a scenario based in Gaza?

Only the eight principles of intelligence analysis can save him? Oh my Gawd! I don't remember them! I'm hoping that its Richards J. Heuer's eight step Analysis of Competing Hypotheses otherwise little DIA dude is doomed.

Vacancy - Field Security Advisor - Kenya/Somalia

UNDP is looking for a field security advisor for Somalia. The current duty station is listed as Kenya but you'll be expected to relocate to Somalia when the security situation permits.

Vacancy - Regional Safety and Security Advisor ANSO - Afghanistan

ANSO a project to support security awareness and security management capability amongst Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) in Afghanistan is seeking a regional safety and security advisor. The incumbent will be responsible for managing a regional office and supervising up to ten national staff. ReliefWeb has more details.

Candidates should send a covering letter and Curriculum Vitae with the reference code “AFG 3408” to Thomas Gies at recruitment.gies[at]dwhh[dot]de .

NGO Security Scenario - Valuables Snatched

In homage to NGO Security's Security Scenario videos I offer the following. Unfortunately (perhaps fortunately) I can't find any video for this scenario so you'll have to read the article below. I swear it is real!

A staff member has refused to report to working claiming to have been victimized by one of the snatchers. The remaining staff of your organization have requested that you brief them on the risks. Identify the two threats in this scenario. What are the probabilities associated with each. How do explain the risks to the staff. How do you deal with the absent staff member.

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.

Action Against Hunger Leaves Sri Lanka in Protest

ACF has made the difficult decision to withdraw from Sri Lanka due to lack of confidence in the government's investigation into the massacre of 17 ACF staff two years ago. This couldn't have been an easy decision for ACF. Concerns over the impact of their withdrawal on beneficiaries must weigh heavily. However, ACF's action may well help raise the profile of attacks on NGOs in Sri Lanka and help end the culture of impunity that grips the island.

I applaud ACF for making morally courageous choices under difficult circumstances.

Kidnapped UN Workers Released in Pakistani Raid

Vacancy - Safety and Security Coordinator - Sudan

IRC is looking for a safety and security coordinator to support its operations in West Sudan. The position is based in El Fasher but the incumbent will be expected to support sites across Darfur so travel will be extensive.


A formal security qualification or appropriate security management training.
Practical field experience in staff safety & security management in an NGO in an area of conflict.
Previous UN and/or NGO experience.
3 to 5 years security related experience with humanitarian agencies, military or peacekeeping experience.
Previous overseas experience in conflict and/or post conflict environments.
Competency and training experience in field based communications systems such as Codan and VHF radio, Motorola and fixed and mobile satellite systems.
Instructor level experience in the training of security/safety related subjects.
Experience in management and building capacity of staff.
Computer proficiency in Word, Excel, PowerPoint and ideally in Access and other database/mapping systems.
Willingness to travel extensively in Darfur (60-70% of work time).
Proven ability and experience interacting with all parties while upholding humanitarian principles like impartiality and neutrality.
Strong interpersonal skills.
Excellent English oral and written communication skills.
Arabic skills a plus.

Black Swan Lessons - The Unknown Unknown

For a brief period, while I was an analyst, I worked for a General who was inclined to say, “tell me what you know, tell me what you think you know, and tell me what you don’t know”. Of course he missed a category of information. It was what we later came to call the ”unknown unknown”. Nicholas Taleb refers to this category of information as silent evidence. It is the vast body of information that we are not aware of, and even worse, are not aware that we are not aware of it.

Does this matter to the NGO security analyst? Of course! If we fail to acknowledge the existence of silent evidence we fool ourselves into believing we know the world better than we really do. We track incidents and develop models to try and predict the future without thought to how incomplete our models are. Worse, if we are naïve enough to believe our models we unknowingly leave ourselves exposed to future unknown risks.


Lesson Learned: I don’t know as much as I think I do. No matter how much information I have the vast bulk of it, the hidden silent evidence, remains below the surface. From this morass of unseen circumstance can spring forth all manner of unanticipated surprises.

Learning Lessons from a Black Swan

Over the past few weeks I've been reading Nassim Nicholas Taleb's "The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable". It has been a very difficult read for me. Not so much because his ideas are complicated... they are, but Taleb explains them very well. No, my difficulty has been that the book challenges, even destroys, ideas that I have long held dear.

I've learned (maybe I should say I'm trying to learn) a lot from Black Swan. Taleb's ideas are changing my view of the nature of knowledge, analysis, and prediction. Over the next few posts I hope to outline some of the lessons that I think NGO security officers can take from this book. It won't be easy and I'm sure that I'll get a lot wrong.

For this post however, I'll take the easy way out. This video clip is of the Taleb himself, explaining the term "Black Swan".

CARE Safety and Security Handbook Removed Update

At the request of CARE I've deleted all links to the CARE Safety and Security Handbook. The handbook remains available at the CARE website if you are seeking it. You can also find it at any number of other public sites.

This may also be a good time to remind everyone that this is a personal blog that represents my viewpoints and mine alone. It does NOT/NOT represent the views of any organization that I have worked for, work for, or may work for in the future.

All copyrighted material linked to remains the property of the respective copyright holders.


The problem with being a security officer is that you spend much of your time dealing with the dark side of human nature. War, conflict, crime, accidents, violence, deceit, and trauma are all part of the daily grind. Every now and then its good to raise ones head out of the muck and mire and look for something positive. For me Avaaz.org is one of those things.

Vacancy - Close Protection Officer - Gaza

United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) is looking for a Close Protection Officer.

Humanitarian Mapping on Mobile Phones?

Hmmm. This video looks interesting. It purports to be of an Android mobile phone application called MapMaker for creating maps in disaster zones. Here is what the person who posted the video on YouTube says about the application:

Map Maker is an Android application for creating maps in a disaster zone. It is designed to allow aid workers to quickly and easily create a map of the area they are working in. After a disaster such as a hurricane or earthquake the landscape can change so fundamentally that existing maps are rendered out of date. Knowing things like which roads are passable, where field hospitals are and suitable aircraft landing areas makes it far easier to manage an emergency.

Unfortunately the video has no audio and there are very few details. If this turns out to be more than vapourware I'd like to see some additions to support NGO security. Labels and tags for minefields, no-go areas, checkpoints, safety hazards etc. would be very nice.

If the creator of this program is out there listening I'd love to beta test this!

Afghanistan Non-Government Organization Safety Office Quarterly Data Report

ANSO has released it's quarterly data report titled "Afghanistan Non-Government Organization Safety Office Quarterly Data Report (January 1st 2008 - March 31st 2008)".


NGOs have been directly targeted for attack on 29 occasions in the first quarter of this year with 16 of those attacks associated to Armed Opposition Groups (AOG) and 13 to criminals. Although comparable to last years figures in volume (30), the attacks of this year have resulted in many more fatalities indicating an escalation in the seriousness of attacks on NGO. This assessment is demonstrated in the fact that NGO incidents attributed to AOG have doubled from in first quarter of 2007 to 16 in the same period this year. The NGO incidents include, amongst others, seven AOG armed attacks which between them resulted in nine fatalities, nine injuries and near total destruction of two NGO compounds; seven armed abductions accounting for 12 persons kidnapped and an additional two fatalities including a female US citizen; and ten serious armed robberies accounting for one additional NGO staff injury and a long list of losses and damages to property. These figures are all higher than last year by a significant margin.

You can download the full .pdf report here.

Security Incidents Map - Nepal - March 08

OCHA Nepal has released a security incidents map for Nepal covering March 2008.


KinderBerg Afghanistan Suspends Operations After Staff Kidnapped

German KinderBerg has reportedly suspended operations for five days after the apparent kidnapping of two staff members near Charikar the capital of Parwan province. The area had previously been considered relatively safe.

Talks with a UN Security Guard

I didn't know whether to laugh or cry when I read this. On the plus side I guess it means there is still lots of work available for NGO and UN security officers.

Darfur, Afghanistan, Beer, and Breakfast

Google Trends can be a useful tool for context analysis. If you've ever wondered why your security budget is dwindling despite the rise in security incidents or why the head office seems to have forgotten you it can be a pretty useful tool.

For those who haven't seen it before Google Trends compares the relative Google search frequency of up to five user specified terms. For example if you want to compare relative search interest in various hot beverages you might enter "coffee, tea, cocoa" and press search. Google Trends returns a nice neat chart that shows how many searches were made for each term over time. It also shows a "news reference volume" chart, or in other words the frequency with which the term has shown up in the media.

Relative frequency of search terms Darfur, Iraq, Afghanistan, Congo and Sweden

The chart above was generated when I compared relative interest in Darfur, Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Congo, with Sweden as a control.
The results were pretty interesting. Searches for Iraq seem to correspond with increases in media coverage. No surprises there. The big surprise for me was Sweden. Google user are more interested in Sweden than they are in Darfur, Afghanistan, and the Congo. Talk about forgotten conflicts!

Flag B is interesting. It marks George Bush's call for more NATO troops in Afghanistan and clearly shows an increase in media coverage of Afghanistan. It even overtook coverage of Iraq for a short while. However, the general public took no notice.

Headlines associated with country comparison

Relative search frequency by region

The regions chart is enlightening. Americans are predominantly interested in Iraq and seem to have forgotten about Afghanistan. The Canadians, who have troops in Afghanistan but not Iraq seem equally interested in both countries. And finally, the Swedes seem to be totally obsessed with Sweden.


Not without trepidation replaced Sweden with "beer" in my search terms. I shouldn't have. I now know that your average computer using westerner is more interested in beer than they are in Iraq and Afghanistan combined. "Darfur?... never heard of it... do they have good beer?"

If you are feeling particularly masochistic try breakfast or worse boobs. For a brief while in 2004 your average Google user was more interested in what was happening in Iraq than what they were going to have for breakfast. That aberration hasn't repeated itself since. Its also interesting to note that while American's seem equally fascinated by Iraq and breasts, Canadians have a distinct preference for the later.

More on Espionage Against Pro-Tibet NGOs

You might recall that a couple of weeks ago NGO Security and humanitarian.info covered cyber attacks on NGO's in Tibet. Now Wired magazine has a more mainstream follow up article on the issue. Most alarming perhaps is that some of the malware used in the attacks was designed to steal PGP encryption keys. PGP is used by many human rights groups to secure their email from prying eyes.

If you'd like to know more about how to protect your organization's information from prying eyes be sure and check out "Digital Security and Privacy for Human Rights Defenders".

Vacancy - Security Coordinator - Afghanistan

International Medical Corps is looking for a security coordinator with 5 years of field security experience in hostile environments and 1 to 3 years in Afghanistan. Prior experience working with an NGO and Advanced First Aid training are also required.

Are aid groups doing too much newsgathering?

The frontline club introduces "The News Carers: aid groups doing too much newsgathering?", with the following:

Are the media relying too much on aid groups and NGOs to provide pictures and video of the world's forgotten crises? Or does it make no difference where we source our material? Does the public even know the difference?

These are interesting questions but I'd rather switch it around a little. Do NGO's rely too much on mainstream media to get the word out about forgotten crises? How do governments, non-state armed actors, and others view our relationship with the media? How do these perceptions affect NGO security? How do they affect our ability to access those in need?

Appropriate Response to NGO Kidnappings and Abduction

Image of a man in a blindfold

In the past most NGO kidnappings were conducted by criminal groups seeking economic gain. However in at least the past five years we have seen a marked increase in the number of NGOs who have been kidnapped for political reasons. Confusing the issue are indications that some recent kidnappings may have been 'speculative' in nature. That is to say they were carried out by groups that were primarily criminal in nature but with the intent to sell the victim to the highest bidder.

"Experienced Advice Crucial in Response to Kidnappings" outlines the nature of the kidnapping threat and the steps NGOs should take to prepare themselves. Kidnap insurance, crisis management plans, family support, and media liaison plans are all covered in an accessible manner. If you are an NGO security officer the article might be useful for opening a discussion with senior staff. If you are a programme person you should read it and raise any questions you might have with your security officer.

The article was authored by Bob Macpherson, former director of the CARE International Safety and Security Unit, Christine Persaud, and Norman Sheehan. Between them they have a wealth of experience dealing with NGO security issues.

"...we keep them alive, until they are massacred."

The Carnegie Council has an interesting presentation by Jan Egeland, former UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, in which he introduces his book, "A Billion Lives: An Eyewitness Report From the Frontlines of Humanity". Its all good but a couple of quotes really caught my attention.

Jan Egeland on the need for more than just humanitarian aid:

"...in the old days, they said, "Send the Marines." Now it's, "Send the humanitarians. They will keep them alive, and we can maybe forget about it." Well, we keep them alive, until they are massacred."

Jan on humanitarian security in a post UN Bahgdad bombing world:

"...it is a watershed when we go from just preparing ourselves to survive in crossfire with militias, with child soldiers, with drunken soldiers, with mines, and so on—we have lots of procedures to survive in such circumstances, but we do not know how to survive when a well-financed, ruthless organization plans for one month to kill you."

You can watch a video excerpt of the presentation below.

If you have good bandwidth you can watch the full video presentation...
or you can listen to the audio archive...
or if your connection is very slow take a look at the transcript.

Vacancy - Country Security Manager - Afghanistan

CESVI seeks a country security manager for its operations in Afghanistan. Prior experience working as a security manager in Afghanistan is highly desirable. English is essential with Italian being desirable as well.

Send your CV to recruiting@cesvi.org and specify position number 41/2007 CSM AFGH.

Private Security Companies and Local Populations: An Exploratory Study of Afghanistan and Angola

The Swiss Peace Foundation has released a new working paper titled "Private Security Companies and Local Populations: An Exploratory Study of Afghanistan and Angola". Issues surrounding Private Security Companies (PSC's) and NGO security are a hot topic these days. This paper may give you insight as to what your beneficiaries may think about PSC's. The attitudes of your beneficiaries have a direct impact on your organization's acceptance.

Saving Sri Lankan Websites at Risk

Inspired by the demise of the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM) website, government censorship of sites like Tamilnet, and the demise of websites like Tafern, Sanjana Hattotuwa has set up Websites at Risk. His intent is to archive civil society and NGO websites that are at risk of being closed down with little or no notice. These websites are valuable sources of information and lessons learned for humanitarians, researchers and NGO security practitioners.

Sanjana deserves a big round of applause for this initiative.

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?

NGO Security is Compiling a Security Training Directory

NGO Security is compiling a humanitarian security training directory. If you or your organization want to be included in the directory drop them a line. If you know someone who might want to be included please pass the word.

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