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Countering WMD Disinformation: A Global Partnership Initiative

The spread of disinformation about chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear (CBRN) weapons and related materials sows distrust, disrupts diplomacy, and threatens non-proliferation gains and goals. While CBRN-related disinformation in not a new phenomenon, disinformation about weapons of mass destruction (WMD) being spread in the context of Russia’s war in Ukraine is of particular concern, given its prominence in justifying the initial invasion and potential to contribute to conflict escalation and undermine non-proliferation regimes. Moreover, a major target of the disinformation campaign in Ukraine has been the peaceful and legitimate international cooperation and capacity building efforts supported by members of the Global Partnership (GP). Although there is a growing body of research and efforts to disrupt disinformation in general, GP partners recognize that more must be done to address and counter threats posed by CBRN/WMD disinformation in a comprehensive way. Given the unique and wide-ranging consequences of CBRN disinformation, a consensus decision was taken by GP members at the Global Partnership Working Group (GPWG) meeting in Nagasaki, Japan in November 2023 to launch a coordinated, innovative, evidence-based GP approach to counter this persistent and growing challenge.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our Approach:

Pioneered and funded by Global Affairs Canada (GAC)’s Weapons Threat Reduction Program, this 18-month pilot project aims to provide a comprehensive, coordinated, multi-institutional and multi-disciplinary approach to understanding and countering state-sponsored or state-adjacent WMD disinformation across the entire CBRN threat spectrum. This GP Initiative is being delivered in close collaboration with the G7 Rapid Response Mechanism (RRM), which has a mandate to strengthen coordination to identify and respond to diverse and evolving foreign threats to democracy, including disinformation. To deliver the project, a team of four expert implementing partners has been assembled, comprised of the Atlantic Council Digital Forensic Research Lab (DFRLab), The Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security (JHCHS), King’s College London (KCL), and One Earth Future’s Open Nuclear Network (OEF/ONN). A Steering Group of 8 GP members (i.e. Canada, European Union, Georgia, Germany, Italy, Ukraine, United Kingdom and the United States) provides strategic insight and overarching support to guide the work and helps to identify opportunities to collaborate with and/or leverage other counter disinformation initiatives.  

Project Goals:

This initiative aims to provide a more solid evidence-base for GP members and partners to identify, understand, and develop mitigation strategies for WMD-related disinformation, in whatever context it arises. It will support collective GP efforts to shed light on and raise awareness about the harmful effects of WMD disinformation, including with countries in the Global South, and ultimately help to reduce the impacts of hostile CBRN disinformation efforts. This campaign is initially focused on CBRN disinformation in the context of the Russian Federation’s war against Ukraine but will expand and remain adaptable to focus on other high-priority CBRN disinformation threats.

This initiative’s activities and outcomes are framed around four key inter-connected pillars:

  1. Detect ~ focuses on real-time detection to swiftly recognize and isolate disinformation narratives and networks
  2. Analyze and Anticipate ~ research teams are analyzing disinformation campaigns and narratives to facilitate pattern recognition and strengthen proactive strategies against future CBRN disinformation efforts.
  3. Understand Impact and Policy Approaches ~ tools are being developed to address disinformation narratives pre-emptively and gather data on direct and indirect impacts and harms of disinformation attacks
  4. Raise Awareness and Build Capacity ~ data from the other pillars are being translated into training initiatives, briefings, educational material and more to improve government ability to combat CBRN disinformation attacks.

This initiative is a coordinated GP-led and GP-driven effort to provide members and partners with tools and information to more effectively combat disinformation attacks. DFRLab, JHCHS, KCL and OEF/ONN regularly engage with the Steering Group to discuss priorities and findings to ensure the initiative remains focused on the most relevant threats and developing easy-to-use trainings and other materials for government officials and other stakeholders to efficiently identify, mitigate and build resilience to disinformation campaigns.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Current Activities:

In the initial phase, the focus is on mapping and identifying ongoing disinformation campaigns to provide a baseline of narratives. The implementers have developed an initial taxonomy of strategies, tactics, and narratives being used in disinformation campaigns about CBRN in Ukraine. This taxonomy will be used to map how various approaches are used together in pro-Kremlin news media articles extracted from the EUvsDisinfo database and potentially other sources. The implementers are also engaging with expert and policy-making networks to socialize the initiative, aiming to elevate awareness of the risks that disinformation presents in the CBRN domain as well as the best practices to combat the threat.

Watch out for the initiative's website and twitter page, which will be launched in the coming weeks! These tools will help keep you up to date on the current activities of the initiative, important developments and any upcoming events relevant to the project

Ways to Engage

This initiative prioritizes engaging with external partners, end-users, and other implementers working on countering disinformation campaigns. We are hoping to use this platform to highlight the various work done to counter and combat disinformation attacks by both our initiative and others in the field. If you would like further information or to discuss ways to coordinate and collaborate, please contact Trevor Smith (trevor.smith@international.gc.ca), Lucia Mullen (lmullen3@jhu.edu) or Ben Wakefield (bwakefield@jhu.edu). Experts from law enforcement, military, industry, international organizations, government and regulatory agencies and academia convened to share information, case studies and best practices on issues related to risk management, public/private partnerships and challenges in implementing effective chemical security.

Chemical Security is a Global Responsibility

With a steady increase in the diversion of chemical precursors for use in explosive devices and chemical weapons around the world, it is evident that one community cannot counter these threats alone. Instead, the most effective chemical security practices involve a wide range of partners from industry, policymakers, regulators, law enforcement, military, customs officials, civil society, and academia. Facilitating multi-sector engagement and dialogue is paramount to understanding the evolving and emerging threats and to improving our collective response to identified needs.  

The ‘Global Congress on Chemical Security & Emerging Threats’ (GC) was conceived to promote this very goal of establishing a chemical security community of practice that transcends borders, sectors and institutions. Launched in 2018, the Global Congress was established in response to a call by the Chemical Security Working Group of the G7 Global Partnership Against the Spread of Weapons and Materials of Mass Destruction to foster an international community of chemical security experts.  

The GC is an international network of more than 1,600 experts who work together to address the threat of chemical and explosives terrorism. Now in its sixth year, the network continues to grow and expand, ensuring holistic and multi-sector dialogue as a collective response to the chemical and explosive threat worldwide. Since its launch, the GC has steadily become INTERPOL’s largest counter terrorism initiative. By leveraging the Organization’s unique position, capacity, and capability to connect law enforcement globally, the GC effectively brings together subject matter experts from all areas of the chemical security supply chain. By providing a platform for multi-sector global cooperation and partnership, the GC enables members to build relationships, exchange expertise, share important information on emerging threats and innovative best practices, and ultimately enhance capabilities. The diverse range of stakeholders facilitates a comprehensive approach to closing gaps that are being exploited by criminals and terrorists to acquire chemical and explosive precursors.

Best summarized by INTERPOL’s Counter-Terrorism Director, pro tempore, Catherine Colthart: “Breaking down silos and strengthening our relationships across every area of the chemical supply chain is the only way we can secure dangerous chemicals from getting into the wrong hands. Chemical security is a global responsibility, and the focus of this network remains in supporting the partnerships that enable law enforcement and the international community to tackle this threat effectively.”

Cross sectoral partnerships formed within the network have been conducive to several important success stories and connections established through this forum have been instrumental in the sharing of important and time sensitive information, which have in turn yielded stronger operational results. For example, partnerships established within the GC have been instrumental in heightening the number of INTERPOL Purple and Orange notices published by Member Countries. Owing to these relationships, imminent threats to public safety and information on modus operandi can be processed and published in demonstrably short timeframes, thus leading the information to be disseminated to INTERPOL’s 196 member countries in a timely manner. In addition, several network members from private industry and law enforcement have identified shared goals and began collaborative relationships to address chemical security challenges.

A private chemical company in the United States improved its policies and procedures for transporting chemical goods following the 2022 Plenary Meeting. This came as a direct result of sharing best practices and viewing INTERPOL’s awareness raising video, ‘The Watchmaker’, which highlighted potential vulnerabilities across the supply chain.

As the threat landscape continues to evolve, it is important to ensure that key actors in the field of chemical security regularly meet and exchange information, to provide consistent input to global dialogue. This is achieved through regular participation at the Global Congress Plenary Meetings (GCP). The GCP Meeting is an integral convening point for the network, enabling members to discuss the latest trends and threats, as well as effective best practices being employed worldwide.

Building Bonds, Breaking Barriers: 5 Years of Chemical Security Excellence

In October 2023, the fourth GCP Meeting brought together more than 300 chemical security experts from over 80 countries in Bangkok, Thailand. As the GC celebrated its fifth anniversary, the 2023 event constituted the largest event to date and saw a significant expansion of members from across untapped regions and sectors. The meeting provided a platform for new and existing network members to engage in collaborative and productive dialogue to improve chemical security globally.

Experts from law enforcement, military, industry, international organizations, government and regulatory agencies and academia convened to share information, case studies and best practices on issues related to risk management, public/private partnerships and challenges in implementing effective chemical security.

Under the theme of ‘Chemical Security in Action’, the plenary meeting also focused on emerging threats including the nefarious use of 3D printing, biological toxins, pharmaceutical-based agents, and Artificial Intelligence (AI). Presentations highlighted the potential risks of AI as well as how it may be used as a preventive measure to counter chemical and explosive threats. Moreover, the network examined case studies and success stories of how the latest innovation in technology and cybersecurity can be used to proactively detect and thwart cyber and physical threats.

The importance of public/private partnerships was at the heart of the dialogue, with presentations highlighting several success stories from bolstering these partnerships and how this has been achieved through the Global Congress Network. Law enforcement officials and industry pioneers provided insights into technological advancements including tools, platforms and practices used to detect and ensure the secure transport of dangerous goods and materials and how these procedures can support the prevention of diversion of hazardous materials.

The meeting agenda was highly driven by the established call for abstracts process for the GCP Meetings, which enables the most pertinent topics to be brought to the forefront of the dialogue and gives the network a robust voice in developing the meeting agenda. This process continues to generate engaging, relevant topics that directly impact global chemical security while showcasing sector-specific capabilities, perspectives, tools and research that cater to the evolving chemical security landscape.

Global Dialogue Driving Global Solutions

While the proven success of the GCP meetings continues to increase, they remain only the centrepiece of a far-reaching mechanism. The overall success of the GC is defined through the partnerships, information sharing, and continuous dialogue that happens outside the confines of the GCP meetings. Additional activities and products are developed under the GC umbrella, which aim to operationalize the network by leveraging sector-specific expertise and peer-to-peer exchange as well as promoting an ongoing, dynamic dialogue. as well as through engagement in the additional activities organized under the GC umbrella. A range of virtual and smaller in-person activities support the Global Congress network year-round, enabling consistent information sharing and peer-to-peer exchange. These activities naturally feed into the preparation of the annual GCPs by enabling further dialogue, promoting better understanding of regional developments in the threat landscape, and developing key themes in preparation for the wider, global discussion.

GC Webinars provide network members with an opportunity to further explore chemical security issues, emerging threats, and recent events through deep dives into topics of interest to the network. The webinars are highly attended by network members eager to hear from experts to discuss case studies and sector-specific mitigating strategies and best practices that could improve chemical security worldwide. Whilst webinars were first established in a response to the COVID-19 pandemic, they have proven pivotal in maintaining dialogue and for ensuring that the GC co-implementing partners can cast a wider net amongst the chemical security community.

The GC Global Knowledge Hub was launched in 2021 and offers a complementary, digital platform to maintain active engagement and dynamic dialogue among GC members. This online platform serves as a key mechanism to operationalize and leverage the expertise of the Global Congress Network and serves to foster communication and information sharing between members.

Through GC engagements, the GC network is the foundation of an ongoing matchmaking process with the wider chemical security community. Members of the Global Congress network who identify knowledge and capacity gaps can request technical assistance and seek support from relevant skillsets across the Network. This process creates new systems that support peer-to-peer learning and capacity building.

Building public-private partnerships and developing opportunities for collaboration across sectors are the core objectives of the GC and is the measure for successfully operationalizing the network. It is only by tapping into the capabilities of the network that tangible operational and strategic-level outcomes can be achieved. While the GC is greatly positioned to promote and foster partnerships as well as the secure exchange of knowledge and information among key stakeholders, the network continues to invest in further developing its capabilities and having an active role in driving positive change for global chemical security.

In support of these goals, the GC Advisory Bodies – the Steering Committee and Industry Advisory Group – were established to provide strategic advice to the network and ensure that multi-sectoral and multi-national perspectives are reflected in GC programming activities. Members help to identify emerging threats and trends across the different sectors, key areas and opportunities for collaborations among countries and agencies to counter threats to chemical security, and the means of achieve those objectives.

Established in 2022, the Steering Committee helps guide discussions on identifying opportunities for engaging in cross-sectoral collaborations to better counter security threats. The committee acts as a multi-sectoral, multi-national advisory body for the congress priorities and activities, and currently represents 10 different sectors and 15 countries. The Industry Advisory Group was established in 2020 to address the needs and challenges faced by the chemical industry sector and ensure stronger representation at GC initiatives. Comprised of a select number of leading industry subject-matter experts, the IAG provides insights and advice on threats, trends, and opportunities for the private sector, as well as for the wider GC network.

With the support of the IAG, the GC is currently developing projects and targeted products that cater to the respective needs of the wider network. The three products, listed below, are intended to be used as resources for the whole GC Network, in response to the needs and capability gaps of its members.

  • A Factsheet on How to Identify Suspicious Transactions or Request for Quotes (RFQs): a factsheet on how to identify suspicious transactions or RFQs developed by leveraging existing lessons learned and tips.
  • Technical Guidance for How to Neutralize Chemicals or Categories of Chemicals: technical guidance for how to neutralize chemicals or categories of chemicals during an emergency or crisis situation.
  • Chemical Security Minimum Standards or Recommendations: non-regulatory minimum standards or recommendations that chemical facilities and transportation companies could use to inform their security plans.

The Global Congress has effectively etched its place in the global chemical security landscape. As we work towards becoming the world’s leading platform on chemical security, the Global Congress will continue to leverage the strengths of its membership and effectively address global needs and counter threats from the strategic level to the frontline. As we know, countering these threats cannot be achieved in a vacuum. Chemical Security is indeed a global responsibility, and it depends on the active engagement and commitment of all countries, sectors, and stakeholders. To join the Global Congress Network or for any other queries related to the initiative, please contact   chemcongress@interpol.int.

 

The Global Chemical Congress is an international network of more than 1,500 experts. It is jointly led by INTERPOL, the U.S. Cybersecurity, and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), the U.S. Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) and the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and implemented in cooperation with the G7 Global Partnership Against the Spread of Weapons and Materials of Mass Destruction. The Global Congress receives additional support from Global Affairs Canada and the U.S. Department of State.