Securing everything

The Security Research Division of the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) has published a brochure detailing cooperation between Germany and Israel in the area of civil security. It features research projects covering transport security, preparation for CBRN attacks, detection technologies, transport security, crisis management and surveillance.

Click here to view the brochure (pdf).

As with the EU Security Research Programme, in which Israel is also deeply involved, the research has the twin objectives of enhancing security and developing technologies that can be profitably brought to the rapidly expanding Homeland Security market.

As the foreword to brochure notes:

“The BMBF now funds a diverse spectrum of German-Israeli research projects… These projects thus form an important foundation for the further development of international markets for security solutions and for future collaboration in research. Productive exchange in these German-Israeli projects makes an indispensable contribution to further raising the security standards in the two countries for the benefit of the citizens”.

Unlike the EU security research programme, which also claims to be wholly focussed on “civil” security, Israel’s largest military contractors do not appear to be directly involved.

More information on EU research subsidies for Israeli military and security contractors will follow shortly…

Article by Ben Hayes for the Economist’s “European Voice” newspaper, published 2 December 2010.

The robot armies at our borders

The EU is entering a new, and disturbing, phase in its efforts to police its borders.

In a hi-tech upgrade to ‘Fortress Europe’, the EU is developing drone planes, satellite surveillance systems, unmanned ground and marine vehicles, even combat robots, to be deployed to ‘defend’ Europe from migrants.

The policy is the result of a convergence in the EU’s ‘industrial competitiveness’ strategy, which has identified the global ‘homeland security’ market as one in which Europe should prosper, and an EU approach to migration control that places the prevention of refugees and undocumented migrants from crossing borders above any other objective, principle or approach.

In this upgrade, the defence sector, the surveillance industry and quasi-autonomous EU bodies such as Frontex and the European Defence Agency are joining forces.

More than €50 million in EU funds from the security research component of the Commission’s seventh framework programme for research (FP7) has already been allocated to the adaption of military surveillance techniques to Europe’s borders – and the programme is still in its infancy. Defence giants such as BAE Systems, Finmeccanica, Thales, EADS, Dassault Aviation, Sagem and Israel Aircraft Industries (IAI) feature in numerous consortia. At least six EU-funded projects envisage the use of ‘drones’ (or unmanned aerial vehicles, UAVs) for border control; others promise an array of surveillance and detection technologies.

They have names such as Seabilla, Sectronic and Talos, and ‘24/7 blue and green border situation awareness’ is their objective. Talos – a €20 million partnership between PIAP (a Polish producer of combat robots), IAI (the state-owned manufacturer of Israeli drones) and others – is field-testing “a mobile, modular, scalable, autonomous and adaptive system for protecting European borders” that will “take measures to stop the illegal action almost autonomously with supervision of border guard officers” – combat robots (or ‘Robocops’ perhaps?) in plainer terms.

It would be comforting to dismiss this research as a meeting of science fiction and science fancy, but the US has already deployed an equivalent – Predator drones – along its border with Mexico, part of an $850m (€624m) investment that also includes a ‘virtual fence’.

The determination to create a similar virtual fence in Europe is very real. The European Council has endorsed the European Commission’s Eurosur proposals for a hi-tech European border surveillance system and Frontex is now investing in fixed surveillance and border-drone technology (expressions of interest are currently being invited for UAV demonstration projects).

The European Defence Agency is also involved, by funding manufacturers to develop collision-avoidance systems and other measures needed to ensure the drone programme does not fall foul of rules on the use of drones in civilian airspace. At least seven member states are exploring how they might use drones for civilian security purposes.
There has been little comment so far about these plans in general or, specifically, about Europe’s intended deployment of drones, a technology now synonymous with ‘targeted assassinations’. The UN, though, has spoken forthrightly about the US’s drone programme: Phillip Alston, the UN’s special rapporteur on extra-judicial killings, has accused it of giving the CIA a “licence to kill” and encouraging a “Playstation mentality” that devalues human life.

The hi-tech vision of the EU’s military researchers might be a less discomforting prospect if there were some assurance that the drones and other systems would simply be used to detect and rescue those on the overloaded and ramshackle boats and rafts in which so many perish.

But a sense of comfort is impossible, amid reports – for example – of European naval patrols “deliberately overturning” boats carrying migrants and of EU-sponsored Libyan patrols opening fire on Italian fishermen.

The EU’s interventions may already be making the sea more dangerous; drones and other robotic tools will add to the risks of a Playstation mentality developing along Europe’s borders.

The EU stands on the cusp of a shameful investment in a dystopia.

Ben Hayes is a project director for the civil liberties group Statewatch.

You can view the original article on

Wired has revealed details of NATO plans to issue biometrically backed identification cards to 1.65 million Afghans by next May. Local and NATO forces are already compiling “biometric dossiers on hundreds of thousands of cops, crooks, soldiers, insurgents and ordinary citizens”.

According to Wired, there are two primary biometric projects underway in Afghanistan.

“One is run by NATO forces, and uses the fingerprint readers, iris scanners and digital cameras of the Biometric Automated Toolset (.ppt) to capture information on detainees and other “persons of interest.” The U.S. military says it has assembled 410,000 of these biometric dossiers in the past year-and-a-half.

The second project, the Afghan Automated Biometric Identification System (AABIS), run by the Afghan government, collects data on Afghan National Army and police recruits.

Fingerprints, irises and faces are all scanned into Crossmatch Jump Kits. The kits are periodically brought back to Kabul, where the data is dumped into the AABIS mainframe — and cross-checked with biometric records from the Afghan National Detention Facility, Kabul Central Police Command, Counternarcotics Police of Afghanistan and FBI prison enrollments from Kabul, Herat and Kandahar.

As the report observes: “It’s a high-tech upgrade to a classic counterinsurgency move — simultaneously taking a census of the population, culling security forces of double agents and cutting off guerrilla routes”.

Starting in September, the entire 2,000-mile US-Mexico border will be monitored by drones, the Christian Science Monitor has reported.

The EU is headed the same way. Subject to drone manufacturers and operators getting clearance from European air traffic controllers, the EU’s borders could be buzzing with UAVs within a few years. Not that any of this is being debated by, for example, the European parliament.

Human Recognition Systems (“the UK’s leading independent identity management and biometric specialists”) has entered into partnership with defence giant Thales and the UK Home Office to find “the airport security technology of the future” (a.k.a. INSTINCT-Technology Demonstrator 2).

INSTINCT-TD2 is described as “a government initiative to discover, trial and showcase emergent airport security technologies, solutions and ideas” (see HRS press release).

UK Security Minister Baroness Pauline Neville-Jones says: “The threat to our security is real and is evolving, and technology can play a key role in reducing that threat. This project shows how the Government is working with industry to find those innovative and emerging technologies.”

As are governments everywhere…

The EU is also holding its annual security research conference this month, from 22-24 September in Ostend, see conference website.

SCR ’10 is focussed on the EU’s R&D programme (the security research component of FP7) and includes plenary sessions on “Halfway through FP7”,  “After Lisbon: The continuum of internal and external security” and “Security as a pre-requisite for prosperity”.

In addition, there are dedicated sessions on Maritime Security, Standardisation, CBRN, Cybersecurity, Transport Security, Security of the Citizens (sic), Security of Infrastructures, Restoring Security, Improving Security, Security and Society and the coordination of EU Security Research.

As with the Berlin security research conference, “ethics and justice” are squeezed into a single session (on Security and Society). The words privacy, human rights, governance and accountability do not appear anywhere in the conference programme.

The conference also includes a “brokerage event” and exhibition to “facilitate networking between companies, scientific experts, operators and policy makers”. More than one thousand participants are expected.

The European Journalism Centre (EJC) and the European Commission are co-organising a one and a half-day briefing tackling the “current state of play on security research, its challenges and its opportunities in the future”.

The fifth German Security Research conference, organised by the Fraunhofer Group for Defence and Security, is under way in Berlin, see conference website and programme (pdf).

The eight conference sessions cover Security of Transport Systems, Building Protection, Surveillance and Control (2 sessions), Security-Related Legal and Ethical Principles, Detection of Hazardous Materials (2 sessions), Protection of Supply Networks and Security of Communication Networks.

While the inclusion of a session on legal and ethical principles is a welcome addition to the overwhelming focus on security technology, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that society should be (re-)oriented toward “future security”, and not the other way around.

Public spending is being slashed across Europe in what is being heralded as a new “age of austerity”, yet defence and homeland security spending continues to break records with every passing year. At the same time, the overwhelming majority of Europeans are safer now than they’ve ever been.

With so few people challenging the bankruptcy of the “politics of fear”, the Guardian’s Simon Jenkins has written several refreshing articles on needless defence spending and the growing power of the security lobby in the UK.

Jenkins’ arguments are no less relevant to a European Union now committed to increases in military and security expenditure in perpetuity. Here’s a snapshot of what he says:

On Homeland Security…

Events such as the G8, the Olympics and the World Cup offer massive paydays for the security industry. Charles Hill, formerly of Scotland Yard’s art and antiquities squad, was this week quoted complaining that “virtually nothing” was being spent on security for Britain’s museums “during the Olympics”, leaving the door wide open to criminals. This is despite the police budget for just two weeks of games having risen to £800m, reputedly dwarfing what even Beijing spent in 2008. The new security minister, Lady Neville-Jones, is said to be “conducting a review” of Olympic security. Might she reduce it?

There appears to be no attempt to assess value for money from an industry that has vastly expanded since 9/11. If an incident occurs, it is a reason for spending more on security. If no incident occurs, it justifies what is already being spent. Britain has little by way of a libertarian tradition to resist the onward creep of the risk-aversion agencies dealing with safety, surveillance and security, all manifestations of a rising public paranoia…

The public should be invited to reject the politics of fear, that sees life as a perpetual terror of what might happen and a perpetual investigation of what has. It should not be asked to regard every child as a victim and every adult a paedophile, a terrorist or a mass murderer. The government should stop spending stupid amounts of money on a security lobby now running amok through the public sector.

Read the full article here

On defence…

Labour lacked the guts to admit that it was crazy to plan for another Falklands war. It dared not admit that the procurement executive was fit for nothing but appeasing weapons manufacturers. No armies were massing on the continent poised to attack. No navies were plotting to throttle our islands and starve us into submission. No missiles were fizzing in bunkers across Asia with Birmingham or Leeds in their sights. As for the colonies, if it costs £45bn to protect the Falklands, Gibraltar and the Caymans, it must be the most ridiculous empire in history. It would be cheaper to give each colony independence and a billion a year.

Lobbyists reply that all defence expenditure is precautionary. You cannot predict every threat and it takes time to rearm should one emerge. That argument might have held during the cold war and, strictly up to a point, today. But at the present scale it is wholly implausible…

Whenever I ask a defence pundit against whom he is defending me, the answer is a wink and a smile: “You never know.” The world is a messy place. Better safe than sorry. It is like demanding crash barriers along every pavement in case cars go out of control, or examining school children for diseases every day. You never know. The truth is, we are now spending £45bn on heebie-jeebies.

For the past 20 years, Britain’s armed forces have encouraged foreign policy into one war after another, none of them remotely to do with the nation’s security. Asked why he was standing in an Afghan desert earlier this year, Brown had to claim absurdly that he was “making London’s streets safer”. Some wars, as in Iraq, have been a sickening waste of money and young lives. Others in Kosovo and Afghanistan honour a Nato commitment that had nothing to do with collective security. Like many armies in history, Nato has become an alliance in search of a purpose…

There are many evils that threaten the British people at present, but I cannot think of one that absolutely demands £45bn to deter it. Soldiers, sailors and air crews are no protection against terrorists, who anyway are not that much of a threat. No country is an aggressor against the British state. No country would attack us were the government to put its troops into reserve and mothball its ships, tanks and planes. Let us get real.

I am all for being defended, but at the present price I am entitled to ask against whom and how. Of all the public services that should justify themselves from ground zero, defence is the first.

Read the full article here

European Commission press release, 10 June 2010

The European Commission has initiated negotiations to sign research contracts worth EUR 324 million with 108 successful space and security research consortia. They represent strategic domains for the EU’s competitiveness and contribute to the implementation of a range of policy objectives, including the fights against terrorism and climate change, and the furthering of sustainable development, industrial renewal, economic recovery, leading to the implementation of the 2020 strategy. As a global actor and major space power, the EU relies on space and security research for strong border protection and enhanced environmental monitoring. Therefore funds also support the continued development of Europe’s Global Monitoring system for Environment and Security (GMES).

European Commission Vice-President Antonio Tajani, Commissioner for Industry and Entrepreneurship, said: “In a time of crisis, strategic investments are essential for sustainable future growth. Security is a pre-requisite for business, and space is full of endless possibilities. This type of research is at the heart of the industrial renewal that Europe needs. It demonstrates the added value of European investments in high-end technology for innovation, and as a means to dealing more effectively with the major challenges that confront us.”

In cooperation with the Research Executive Agency (REA), 108 successful project proposals have been short-listed from amongst 732 proposals received in the third of six planned calls for proposals under the Space and Security themes of the Seventh Framework Programme for Research (FP7). They comprise 68 space and 40 security research projects: EUR 114 million for the FP7 space theme, and EUR 210 million for the FP7 security theme.

In the space domain, the short-listed Earth observation projects include support for the EU’s efforts to fight climate change by monitoring deforestation in Africa, whilst in the area of space exploration, research is set to improve the accuracy and robustness of spacecraft when landing on other planets. International cooperation has increased in space research, in particular with the United States, with American Universities and Research Centres, and major public research institutions such as the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) participating in a total of 15 proposals. The space domain also sees a high participation rate of 20 percent of Small and Medium Sized Enterprises (SMEs), compared to the FP7 average of 16 percent SME participation.

In the security domain, the short-listed projects include two large demonstration projects targeted at urban mass transportation and maritime border security, alongside projects furthering exchange of information to fight organised crime, mitigation of chemical, biological radiological and nuclear threats, and actions against money laundering, and counterfeit medicines. International cooperation is also strong in security research, with 40 project proposals bringing with them a total of 550 partners from 36 countries.

Throughout FP7 (2007-2013), EUR 1.4 billion and EUR 1.35 billion have been reserved for space and security research, respectively. With the third call, the number of space research projects is set to rise to 114, and the number of security projects to reach 130.

In July 2010, the European Commission foresees the publishing of the fourth FP7 space and security calls for proposals. Reflecting the political importance given to strategic R&D investment, a positive funding trend is anticipated.


We’ll do our best to report any dodgy projects on this blog.

Interesting article from Defense Technology International (Volume 4, Issue 4) describing advances in olfactory surveillance.

Sniff And Tell, Science Watch, 1 April 2010 by Michael Dumiak

Nanoparticle gel and integrative data are the latest tools being tested for security in military and civilian infrastructures. They hold the potential of snaring everyday criminals such as drug smugglers and terrorists like the foiled underwear bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab.

Detection equipment is getting smaller, more integrated and easier to use, says Steven Bell, a physical chemist at Queens University of Belfast, Northern Ireland. Bell produced a prototype gel swab tester that relies on handheld Raman spectrometers to detect trace elements of explosives, drugs, or chemical and biological agents.

Bells background is in Raman spectroscopy, an electromagnetic spectrum-scanning technique that focuses a laser onto a sample. The scanner collects the laser light scattering off the sample surface. Some of this light undergoes a change in energy state. The pattern of energy change identifies the chemical bonding within the sample.

Raman spectroscopy is an old science. Recent advances in optoelectronics, Bell says, such as small lasers, small spectrometers, and high-efficiency detectors, make using it in the field more practical. Its gone from an instrument that would fill a room to one thats a handheld.

One problem with Raman spectroscopy has been that the light scattering is minuscule. The way around this is to use a surface-enhancera device that magnifies the signal from the sample.

Bells team uses silver and gold nanoparticles for this, a common technique. What his team is doing, though, is putting the particles in a polymer gel. They remain active but are accessible to light, he says.

What he has in mind are stamp-sized pads with a protective covering over the gel. Peel back the covering, expose the gel and swab it on the surface to be tested.

The other challenge is canceling out background noise and focusing on the material of interest, a process akin to putting a tuner on a radio.

We have a long list of target molecules we are working our way through, developing modifications which promote binding of our targets of interest and discourage binding of interfering materials, Bell says.

Target molecules include underground drugs, chemical and biological weapons and substances like PETN (pentaerythritol tetranitrate), the explosive Abdulmutallab concealed in his skivvies before boarding the Northwest Airlines flight to Detroit last Christmas in Amsterdam.

Bells swab detection, and techniques like it, will be good for targeted searches. But they dont solve the problem of mass infrastructure such as airports, rail stations or even military checkpoints. This is the challenge Wolfgang Koch is putting his mind to at the Fraunhofer Institute for Communication, Information Processing and Ergonomics of Wachtberg, Germany.

Kochs team developed a data-fusion system for tunnel-like spaces such as hallways or corridors using ready-made laser scanners, video cameras and tracking sensors. Its about data integration. The principal problem with chemical sensors and sniffersthe artificial equivalents of nosesis poor resolution, he says. We are not able to localize smell, associate the smell to an individual and track him as he moves.

This data fusion aims to tie the input from different types of sensors together in a meaningful way, freeing human security from some of the workload inherent to routine tasks so they can be more observant. Access areas like corridors mean people enter and leave naturally. We can equip the hall with chemical sensors. They are not expensive, you can have several of them in a sniffing wall, Koch says. Data-fusion algorithms combine output of all sensors at all times and combine them with the position of all persons at all times. You can associate trace signatures with an individual. A suspect can then be electronically tagged with a label, followed and questioned. The next step for Koch is to set up a pilot project with the system.

There will likely be no single solution to security in airports, rail stations and other areas people pass through. It does seem that some type of data linking will be necessary, given the rapidly expanding universe of scanners and sensors.

Not everyone is happy about this. The academic activist group Transnational Institute (TI) of Amsterdam, for one, warns of a NeoConOpticon, its term for the rise of a security-industrial complex (think military-industrial complex) in Europe. TI decries the mania for surveillance systems – a splendid discussion for classrooms and dissertations, no doubt, but one that loses traction in the real world of crime and terrorism.

Koch sees the issue of heightened security from a different perspective. It gives us back a piece of normality in the infrastructure.

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