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Security Brief: EUCOM, EMH2, and W/T, Week of January 10, 2022

Week of Monday, January 10, 2022 | Issue 1

Federica Calissano, Martyna Dobrowolska, Iris Raith, Pètra van de Gevel, EUCOM Team; Alyssa Schmidt, Benjamin Maher, Emergency Management, Health, and Hazards (EMH2) Team; Annabelle Hueber, Dja Camara, Weapons and Tactics (W/T) Team


Pope Francis[1]


Date: January 10, 2022

Location: Vatican City

Parties involved: Pope Francis; Catholics; Protestants; Christians; Anti-vaccine movements; QAnon movement

The event: Pope Francis stated his support for international COVID-19 vaccine campaigns, calling health care a “moral obligation,” and countering ideological or theological arguments against current pandemic measures. The Pope also advocated for better vaccine accessibility in poor countries. It can be inferred that Pope Francis does not share the objections of some Catholics and Christians based on concerns of violations of human rights, such as freedom of religion or belief.[2]

Analysis & Implications:

  • It is unlikely members of anti-vaccine movements worldwide, among them some Catholics and Christians, will change their views on COVID-19 vaccines based on the Pope’s statement. Vaccine skepticism is very likely fueled by anti-vaccine misinformation campaigns, which likely increase their concerns about the safety of COVID-19 vaccines. If members of these anti-vaccine movements continue to resist COVID-19 vaccine campaigns, the goal of full immunization in Europe and in other regions will almost certainly not be achieved.

  • Increased vaccine accessibility will likely increase vaccination rates and limit the transmission of the virus, likely lessening the effects of the pandemic. Vaccinated individuals are likely to have less severe symptoms, likely reducing hospitalizations and alleviating healthcare systems’ strain.

  • The debate around human rights and imposing vaccines will likely continue since both Christian and Catholic parts of the international community will likely disagree with Pope Francis' stance on vaccine campaigns. Christians and Protestants, as opposed to Catholics who recognize the Pope as their spiritual leader, will very likely disregard his statement. The right to religious freedom will likely cause more conflict around possible future mandatory vaccinations.

  • Members of the QAnon movement will likely leverage the Pope's message to support their conspiracy theory that the vaccine campaign is a ploy to give people the "mark of the beast" and usher in the "new world order" through mind control. The Pope will likely be framed as an anti-Christ figure as part of a plan to mislead Catholics. The QAnon movement will very likely reinforce their worldview by tying in other existing conspiracy theories related to the Pope.

Date: January 11, 2022

Location: France

Parties involved: French President Emmanuel Macron; French government; Social media users; Social media platforms; French law enforcement; French constitutionalists

The event: President Macron expressed his support for penalizing online actors that deploy “fake news” and propaganda according to existing French legal precedent. He stated that social media users should be held legally accountable like journalists are.[3] This legal measure would run contrary to existing Section 230 protections provided by US law, where the globally most-used social media platforms are based.[4] Within the COVID-19 pandemic context, it is also possible that the proposal may have additional human rights implications, such as freedom of expression.[5]

Analysis & Implications:

  • The legal penalization of online actors for spreading disinformation will very likely prevent fake news fueled by hate speech from interfering in future French political elections. If online actors continue to spread fake news without being held accountable, far-right groups will very likely achieve high status in the French political agenda by focusing on people’s racist or anti-immigration grievances. If far-right groups achieve higher status in politics, their ideologies will almost certainly become normalized.

  • Information warfare will very likely impact the French government’s ability to successfully reach audiences that are skeptical or critical of public policy or institutions. In the event of a national emergency, some audiences will likely ignore government measures based on existing or future information operations. There is a roughly even chance that the proposed legal measure will deter criminal behavior in groups that currently engage in these tactics.

  • President Macron’s current proposal will likely be framed as undemocratic and extreme by legitimate actors who have human rights concerns. Threat actors with feigned human rights concerns will likely frame the proposal in a similar manner. In the COVID-19 pandemic context, the countermeasure could likely lead to the prosecution of actors mistakenly spreading misinformation in the form of outdated governmental or scientific recommendations. Proving intent will likely be met with human rights challenges of freedom of opinion or expression.

  • President Macron’s proposal is very likely only political rhetoric as the legality and plausibility of French law competing with existing US protections without an international treaty is very unlikely. The drafting and implementation of the policy will likely receive criticism from French constitutionalists about whether the legal measure infringes on rights or liberties protected by existing French law. The policy’s enforcement will likely have practical challenges such as the arrest of opposing politicians, international actors abroad, and minors.

Date: January 12, 2022

Location: Catalonia, Spain

Parties involved: Spanish National Intelligence Center (CNI); Former CNI Director Félix Sanz Roldán; National Police Corps (CNP); Former Senior CNP Officer José Manuel Villarejo; Consulting firm Cenyt; Spanish Audiencia Nacional criminal court; Emergency services

The event: Former Senior CNP Officer Villarejo alleged in court that the CNI was responsible for orchestrating the 2017 terror attacks in Barcelona and Cambrils in an attempt to destabilize Catalonia and impede their independence referendum.[6] Along with 27 other defendants including police officers, Villarejo is currently being tried by the Audiencia Nacional criminal court for alleged criminal activity he conducted as director of Cenyt.[7]

Analysis & Implications:

  • These allegations will very likely reignite tensions in the Catalonia region given that it appears the CNI did not fulfill its securitizing tasks as an impartial State entity. Catalans, especially those in favor of partition, will almost certainly have less trust in Spain’s security services, including the police and the CNI. They will likely perceive these national institutions as biased against Catalans. Calls for a referendum regarding an independent Catalonia are very likely to resurface.

  • As distrust and tensions will very likely rise in the Catalonia region, threats to emergency service operations will likely be exacerbated. Response mechanisms will likely be impacted by slowed information gathering as civilian cooperation and information are a key resource in measuring deployment of emergency services. An increased number of vulnerable citizens in the region will likely seek support from third-party, non-State affiliated actors to avoid reliance on biased services. Reliance on non-regulated services will likely create risks of increased social division and violence as non-State agents gain legitimacy.

  • If the CNI did orchestrate the 2017 terror attacks, there is a roughly even chance that related or similar activities are part of the agency’s modus operandi. This plot and its execution would very likely have implications in the current discourse around State and non-State terrorism. Villarejo will very likely continue to make allegations against co-defendants and former colleagues in an attempt to reduce his sentence. The testimony itself will very likely come into question and further investigation into these allegations is almost certainly needed.

Date: January 12, 2022

Location: Europe

Parties involved: International Energy Agency (IEA); Director of IEA Fatih Birol; Germany; Russian gas company Gazprom; Russian President Vladimir Putin; Russian government; Poland; Ukraine; European countries; North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO); Pro-NATO actors; Emergency services; German gas customers

The event: IEA Director Birol claimed that increasing natural gas prices and the natural gas crisis in Europe could be directly attributed to Russian State-owned gas company Gazprom as it has recently been decreasing its gas deliveries. Russian President Putin countered this claim by asserting that German gas customers have been reselling Russian gas to Poland and Ukraine instead of fulfilling the European markets’ needs. This, within the larger geopolitical context of rising tensions between NATO and the Russian government in response to Russian military buildup along the Ukraine border, indicates the existence of continued threats to critical infrastructure and the perception of economic manipulation.[8]

Analysis & Implications:

  • European countries will very likely try to secure gas supplies to distribute them among their population and industries. Governments will very likely compete with each other over an increasing gas demand, almost certainly challenging the European economic recovery in the COVID-19 aftermath. If Gazprom continues to decrease its gas deliveries, European countries will very likely turn to other States and companies for a more stable energy supply to lower gas prices.

  • An increase in natural gas prices, in correlation with lower levels of storage, will likely impact the operations of emergency services. Emergency service capacities will likely be impacted, decreasing services’ efficiency due to increasing costs associated with maintaining critical infrastructure. Non-critical services will likely become de-emphasized and canceled in order to prioritize essential operations. Civilians will likely begin to rely on energy services from providers that sell cheap alternatives, increasing safety risks associated with in-house options, such as liquified petroleum gas, increasing threats of fire, explosion, and risks of respiratory illness and skin irritation.

  • The price and availability of natural gas will very likely continue to have economic consequences, as well as be a point of conflict between Russia, Europe, NATO States, and pro-NATO actors in the Baltics. Without securing other suppliers, Europe will very likely continue to be dependent on Russia’s supplies and cooperation. Around the current Russia-Ukraine conflict, it is very likely that Russia will use political maneuvers, found inside the Diplomatic, Information, Military, and Economic (DIME) framework, to increase Russia’s influence in relation to supplying gas to the European market.

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[1]Pope Francis” by Casa Rosada licensed under Creative Commons

[2] Pope backs COVID immunisation campaigns, warns of ideological misinformation, Reuters, January 2022, https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/pope-backs-covid-immunisation-campaigns-warns-ideological-misinformation-2022-01-10/

[3] Macron: People spreading fake news should be 'held accountable', 'brought to justice', Euronews, January 2022, https://www.euronews.com/2022/01/11/macron-people-spreading-fake-news-should-be-held-accountable-brought-to-justice

[4] §230. Protection for private blocking and screening of offensive material, Office for the Law Revision Counsel United States Code, https://uscode.house.gov/view.xhtml?req=(title:47%20section:230%20edition:prelim)

[5] Universal Declaration of Human Rights, United Nations, December 1948, https://www.un.org/en/about-us/universal-declaration-of-human-rights

[6] Secret service behind Barcelona terror attacks, says ex-cop, The National, January 2022, https://www.thenational.scot/news/19841925.secret-service-behind-barcelona-terror-attacks-says-ex-cop/

[7] Huge blackmail and corruption trial opens in Spain, BBC News, October 2021, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-58897443

[8] Energy monitor blames Russia for worsening Europe gas crisis, ABC News, January 2022, https://abcnews.go.com/Business/wireStory/energy-monitor-blames-russia-european-gas-crisis-82219984

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