A Thoughtful, Analytical Approach to NGO Security

Held by the Taliban - An interview with David Rhodes

This MSNBC video interview with David Rhodes on his kidnapping by the Taliban is a little light but worth watching if you have the bandwidth. Rhodes reveals that his Taliban captors 'googled' him and his family members in their quest for information.



Aid Workers: Dying on the Front Line

I’m not sure who created this little video or what their motivation was but if you find that intellectual appeals for NGO security fail it can’t hurt to try appealing to emotion.

Why are ambulances targeted in Gaza?

After last weeks killing or a paramedic in Gaza I found myself wondering how and why such incidents happen. Sure, being a medic in Gaza is dangerous work. They place themselves in harms way in order to save others and unfortunately crossfire doesn’t discriminate.

Could there be other reasons for attacks on ambulances and medics in Gaza? The video link below suggests there is. Watch it carefully. What do you see?



If this video is in fact what it purports to be there is cause for concern. First is that the ambulances seem to show up before the violence starts. They don’t appear to be responding to an incident. Rather, they seem to know in advance that trouble is coming. How neutral and impartial are you if you become the de facto medical support for one side?

Second and more important is the issue of the ambulance itself. The ambulance is clearly marked as such and even has UN markings. Despite this the gunmen are clearly using it as transportation. Using ambulances to transport combatants is a violation of the Geneva Convention.

It doesn’t take many incidents like this to lose the acceptance that humanitarian organizations depend upon to ensure their safety and security.

A Short History of Congo

Thanks to kiwanja for pointing out this excellent videographic mapping of the war in Congo. It maps the relationship between the war, raw resources, and militias.

Women, War, Aid and Reconstruction in Afghanistan

I just ran across this interview with Kathy Ullyott, Homemakers Magazine’s editor-in-chief. I had the pleasure of meeting Kathy during her visit to Kabul. She struck me as thoughtful and perceptive. This interview does nothing to change that opinion. If you want an understanding of the challenges in Afghanistan that extends deeper than ‘body count’ headlines you owe it to yourself to take the time to listen to all six parts of the interview.


Part 1



Part 2



Part 3



Part 4



Part 5



Part 6

You can also find a three part text transcript of the interview with additional photos at Digital Journal 1, 2. Part 3 should be out shortly.

The Taliban and Propaganda of the Deed

The Insurgency Research Group has an excellent analysis of the significance of the Taliban attack on Sunday's Afghan National Day parade. The whole post is worth reading but don't do it yet. Read the following paragraph first and then watch the No Comment TV video.

The incident on Sunday demonstrates a classic propaganda of the deed partnership in which the insurgents with growing skill select a media-significant target and with witless incomprehension international reporters beam the most sensationally damning images of the event around the world so as to deliver the worst possible interpretation. There is no need for a Taliban subtext or even a photo caption, the images speak powerfully for themselves sending messages of a stricken regime put to flight in their gilded uniforms by the daring fighters of the Taliban.






OK. Now go ahead and read the whole post.

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".

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!

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

A Calmer Look at Fitna, the Movie

Viewed by some in the Islamic world as symbols of western influence INGOs are vulnerable to the sometimes violent backlash over perceived insults to Islam. Attacks on INGO compounds after the release of the now infamous Danish cartoons and the erroneous TIME magazine article claiming that an American military prison guard had flushed a copy of the Quran down a toilet highlight just how vulnerable we are. Most physical security measures cannot survive a sustained assault by hundreds of angry protesters. Host country security personnel are generally reluctant to open fire on their fellow countrymen nor would most INGOs want them to. Frequently underpaid and undermanned security forces may lack the breadth and depth required to protect all the potential targets in their country. All of which begs the question of how do organizations whose security relies primarily upon acceptance maintain security when they are no longer accepted?

Unfortunately I don't have any easy answers but I am hoping the following clip by Radio Netherlands Worldwide will help cooler heads prevail if the Geert Wilders 'Fitna' film is released. The version below is in English but there are Arabic and Indonesian versions as well. Link to these, email copies to friends, show them at your next staff meeting and maybe, just maybe, we can counter some of the hype and propaganda that Geert Wilder thrives on.

Very rarely has a film sparked off as much pre-release controversy as Dutch MP Geert Wilder’s ‘Fitna, the movie’. Even without knowing what’s in it, 'Fitna’ has got the world asking questions. Questions about the man who made it and his motives, about the country he lives in where his film is allowed. Questions about that country’s government – which issues warnings about the film but does nothing to stop it. And questions about the position of Muslims in The Netherlands. The central character in this film is also struggling with these questions, and decides to travel to The Netherlands in search of answers.


In Case of Emergency - ICE



In Case of Emergency (ICE) is a program that encourages people to enter emergency contacts in their cell phone address book under the name "ICE". This enables first responders, (paramedics, firefighters, police officers, and of course NGO security officers) to quickly search an unresponsive victims phone for the ICE contact who can identify the victim, provide emergency medical information, and next of kin details.

Of course this is not a panacea. It comes with the usual caveat; you'll need to adapt the system to your local context and your organization's methodologies. For instance it might not be appropriate in Afghanistan where Taliban supporters have been known to search the phones of passers by for foreign names. However, with a little bit of adjustment you should be able to use this idea to help ensure the safety and security of your staff.

If you want additional videos like the one above W. David Stephenson has done a number of videos at least one of which I have used before. You can find out more at his website or at his YouTube channel. Don't be put off by the Homeland Security 2.0 label he uses. His short videos are intended help empower ordinary people during times of emergency or disaster.

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?

Disarming Afghans

This short AlJazeera piece outlines largely unsuccessful disarmament efforts in Afghanistan.



Unfortunately, any disarmament effort is likely to fail as long as average Afghans feel that the government cannot provide effective security for their families and communities.

Family Statement Regarding Cyd Mizell, Aid Worker Held in Afghanistan

Cyd Mizell's father asks for his daughters safe return in this video statement.



If your connection is too slow for the video you can read the text of the statement below.

SEATTLE, Feb. 3 /CNW/ -- The family of Cyd Mizell, an American aid worker currently being held in Afghanistan, today released the following statementfrom her father, George Mizell: "I am Cydney's father. My family and I want to thank all those who have shown their deep concern for the safety and well being of my daughter, Cydney Mizell, and Muhammad Hadi. I am indebted to the Afghan people for their support of Cydney and Muhammad. "My family and I love Cyd very much. I'm confused why my daughter would be taken because she's a gentle, caring and respectful person. "When we talk to Cyd, she tells us about the friends she's made and the kindness that's been shown to her and her desire to help them. "To those people who are holding our daughter, please let Cyd come home. Each day that passes without knowing about Cyd is difficult for our family andfriends. "We ask that you work with us so Cyd can come home. Cyd knows how to contact us and her co-workers. All of us are waiting to hear from you."

For further information: Bill Curry, spokesman for the Mizell family, +1-206-697-3684 Web Site: http://www.onlinefilefolder.com

Christina Lamb - Flak Jackets and Suicide Attacks

Christina Lamb is interesting in her own right but that's not why I think you should watch this video. Its worth watching it just for her short description of what it is like to be in a survivor of suicide attack. I firmly believe in visualization as a tool for preparing people for traumatic events. Gaining insight from people who have been through the experience helps do this but you need to concentrate on the emotions and feeling of the event. She also talks about trusting your instincts when working in dangerous areas.

Of course Christina has lots of other interesting insights as well so if, like me, you are a spending a lazy Saturday recouping from a hectic week grab yourself a coffee and watch the whole thing.

Afghan Security Tight After American Kidnapped

Cyd Mizell, an aid worker with the Asian Rural Life Development Foundation, and her driver, Abdul Hadi, were reportedly kidnapped in Kandahar on 26 January. This short AP video has a plea from her organization for her quick release.



According to relief web hundreds of Afghan women in Kandahar demonstrated to protest the kidnapping and demand her safe release.

Courage, Passion and Lifelong Learning

This video, from the always inspirational TED Talk series, isn't even remotely connected to security. Watch it anyway... especially if, like me, your cynicism sometimes gets the better of you.

Deja Vu in Gaza

OK, I'm dating myself here but I find the the scenes on the Gaza - Egypt border very reminiscent of the exodus from East Berlin after the Berlin Wall came down. This is a very interesting development.

Colombian Hostages Talk of Captivity

Two Colombian hostages, freed by the FARC after six years in captivity, describe what it was like to be a hostage. For a more in-depth interview from a former kidnap victim check out "Being Buried Alive - Surviving a Kidnapping".

People and Power - Burning Issues

An Al Jazeera report from Balochistan, where nationalists struggle for greater control over their region's natural resources.


Being Buried Alive - Surviving a Kidnapping

In this video from the Frontline Club BBC Gaza correspondent Alan Johnston describes what it was like to be kidnapped and how he dealt with 114 days in captivity. Well worth watching if you or a family member have even a small chance of being kidnapped.

Front Line: Accessible Security for Human Rights Defenders

I like Front Line more and more as time goes on. They get it. They put a lot of effort into making their security related materials accessible and understandable. Their newly updated website is clean, easy to navigate, and full of valuable resources. They have a good primer on security for human rights workers, and a great manual titled "Digital Security and Privacy for Human Rights Defenders".

Even their site licence is a breath of fresh air. They have a nice simple Creative Commons licence. Front Line understands that its job is protecting people not content. Try comparing their licence to the pages of unfriendly legalese found on the websites of some large NGOs.

Front Line is also making good use of internet video as these two examples released on YouTube demonstrate.


Video: Front Line - Protection of Human Rights Defenders


Video: NGO in a Box - Security Edition

Unreported World - Sri Lanka Killing for Peace 2007

This video by Sandra Jordan and Siobhan Sinnerton is an excellent summary of the security situation in Sri Lanka.

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