The Global Overview
During September, Chinese advanced persistent threat (APT) groups sustained heightened frequency of espionage operations, particularly against Asia, the Middle East and the US. Their cyber espionage activity is bolstered by frequent and rapid development of their custom toolsets, as well as exploiting ongoing vulnerabilities in software used by strategic sectors. Ransomware operations also saw increase in activity, with new Ransomware-as-a-Service (RaaS) affiliates emerging using well-established ransomware for operations. Ransomware campaigns also had a supply chain compromise element, exploiting contractors and firms with access to sensitive information to extort multiple organisations in one operation. As the political landscape continues to strain between China and competing hegemons, and ransomware affiliates proliferate, these threats will remain in the long term.
In the US government stability risks have increased following House Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s announcement of a formal impeachment inquiry into President Joe Biden on 12 September. The heightened instability is driven by high polarisation and increased factionalism within the Republican party. The sustained failure to pass spending legislation also makes a government shutdown on 1 October highly likely. In Canada, on 18 September, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that the government would pursue allegations of India’s involvement in the killing of the Sikh separatist leader in June. Bilateral tensions with India have thus increased, compromising trade relations. The fallout has also led to domestic unrest amongst Canadian Sikhs and Hindus within the diaspora, increasing ethno-religious tensions in Canada.
In Latin America, Colombia, Peru, and Venezuela faced persistent threats from organised criminal groups. Colombia's ongoing clashes, despite ceasefire talks, highlighted persistent violent incidents and territorial disputes involving groups like the ELN and EMC. In Peru, the government declared a state of emergency on September 19 in parts of Lima and northern Peru to combat rising crime levels, amid escalating investigations into possible abuse of power against anti-government protests earlier this year. Meanwhile, tensions in Guatemala eased after the electoral tribunal reinstated the political party of President-elect Bernardo Arevalo, but concerns lingered about potential policy gridlock and domestic unrest due to his lack of congressional support. In Mexico, internal strife within the ruling MORENA party emerged as Claudia Sheinbaum secured the 2024 presidential nomination, despite allegations of impropriety from her rival. These challenges in the region coincide with increasing political tension as Argentina, Ecuador, and Colombia prepare for upcoming elections, raising the likelihood of domestic unrest.
On 19 September, Azerbaijan launched a 24-hour large-scale military operation resulting in the effective capitulation of ethnic Armenian-controlled Nagorno-Karabakh. Baku's victory has weakened Armenia's position, with Azerbaijan likely seeking to pressure Yerevan into making concessions over the Zangezur corridor. Notably, on 7 September, we published an alert on statements made by a senior Azerbaijani official that Baku has a 'Plan B' to realise the corridor without Armenia's involvement, implying that it is considering military action to create the corridor. On 18 September, Georgian security services claimed that opposition elements are preparing to prompt large-scale civil unrest between October and December 2023 as part of an alleged effort to overthrow the government. The destabilisation allegations will exacerbate ongoing polarisation between the pro-EU opposition and the Georgian Dream government.
East Asia & Pacific
On 18 September, Chinese Vice President Han Zheng met with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York, one of several meetings between high-level officials of both countries this month, indicating a slight stabilisation in tensions. On 19 and 20 September, heatwaves led to the spread of bushfires along the coast of eastern Australia. The start of bushfire season signals an uptick in operational and health-related risks in the country, which could be exacerbated due to the El Nino weather phenomenon, which is bringing hotter and drier weather to Australia and Southeast Asia. Meanwhile, campaigns for the upcoming general election in New Zealand intensified in September, with the centre-right National Party maintaining a healthy lead over the incumbent Labour Party in recent polls.
Following a military coup in which Ali Bongo Ondimba was overthrown as president in Gabon on 30 August, General Brice Clotaire Oligui Nguema was sworn in as president of the transitional government. Elsewhere, France announced its withdrawal from Niger with a deadline set for January 2024, threatening to exacerbate jihadist expansion in the Sahel and increase the risk of attacks in Niger’s Tillabèri region. In Sudan, the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF), threatened to establish a governing authority in RSF-controlled areas amid reports that the Sudanese military will relocate Sudan’s non-military governing operations to Port Sudan (Red Sea state).
Middle East, North Africa and Turkey
On 8 September, a 6.8 magnitude earthquake hit Morocco, notably impacting central provinces, including Marrakech. The event caused significant damage to infrastructure, elevating health, energy and food security risks. On 11 September, Storm Daniel's landfall in north-eastern Libya resulted in the collapse of two dams. This caused widespread flooding in Derna, killing 3,000 people in the city, elevating water and food security risks, as well as domestic unrest risks. In Iran, authorities stepped up repression and arbitrary detentions in preparation for an uptick in domestic unrest before and after the anniversary of Mahsa Amini’s death on 16 September.
This contribution was written prior to the outbreak of war in Israel. This will be covered in more depth in next month's edition. However, Sibylline is suppling free daily update reporting that can be requested via this LINK as well as regular webinars that can be requested via this LINK
Between 8 September and 28 October, France will host the Rugby World Cup. The primary operational and logistical risks during the Rugby World Cup will be activism, domestic unrest, crowd control, mobility disruption, terrorism, crime and cyber. Detailed in Sibylline’s inaugural Events Risk Assessment (ERA), we evaluate these risks and their potential to cause disruption to the Rugby World Cup. On 30 September, Slovakia will hold a parliamentary election. Any government formed after the 30 September election will likely be an uneasy alliance of parties, sustaining the risk of further instability. A government led formally or informally by former prime minister Robert Fico will likely elevate policy and corruption risks. As discussed in Sibylline’s Q3 Energy Quarterly, Europe’s energy security outlook is broadly positive ahead of winter 2023-24, with the EU enjoying unprecedented gas storage levels. However, the continent remains vulnerable to possible shocks.
The domestic environment in Pakistan remained volatile, with the general election being delayed to early 2024 as expected. The period in the run-up to the election will be highly sensitive, with former prime minister Imran Khan remaining in jail and the military establishment keen to control the information space, which will drive risks for journalists. Meanwhile, a row erupted between Canada and India over allegations that the Indian government orchestrated the murder of a high-profile Sikh Canadian citizen in Canada. New Delhi has denied the allegations and has suspended offering new visas to Canadians.
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