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Syrian Workers, Iranian Spies, Jihadi Brides: RAND Weekly Recap

February 22, 2019

This week, we discuss job opportunities for Syrian refugees; a former U.S. intelligence officer charged with spying for Iran; national efforts to reduce the risk of terrorism; how Russia's foreign policy decisions affect its economy; the complex cases of jihadi brides; and the unintended consequences of countering opioids.

Workers in a textile factory in Turkey

Workers in a textile factory in Turkey

Photo by seyephoto/Shutterstock

Syrian Skills: A Missed Opportunity

A chemist working as a mechanic. A firefighter tailoring clothes. An IT specialist doing odd jobs. Many Syrian refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey are finding ways to get by, but they aren't working in their chosen fields. This is a missed opportunity for everyone, say RAND experts. Taking advantage of refugees' skills can increase economic opportunities for host countries—even as it improves the lives of Syrian families.

Monica Elfriede Witt wanted poster, photo courtesy of FBI

Photo courtesy of FBI

Iran's Efforts to Spy on the U.S.

Last week, Monica Witt, a former U.S. intelligence officer, was charged with spying, allegedly sharing dossiers about her colleagues with Iranian hackers. How big a catch would Witt be for Iranian intelligence? And more broadly, what does this say about Tehran's cyber ambitions? RAND's Heather Williams, who served on the National Intelligence Council, recently sat down with NPR to answer these questions and more.

A woman speaking in a community meeting, photo by Hero Images/Getty Images

Photo by Hero Images/Getty Images

How to Strengthen Terrorism Prevention

National capabilities for terrorism prevention are relatively limited, according to new research. Most rely on local or non-government efforts, and only a subset receive federal support. To address gaps in capability, the most effective path for the federal government would be to strengthen, broaden, and sustain this local and nongovernmental capacity.

Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a business forum, Delovaya Rossiya, in Moscow, February 6, 2019, photo by Maxim Shemetov/Reuters

Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a business forum in Moscow, February 6, 2019

Photo by Maxim Shemetov/Reuters

Russia's Power Quest Is Costly

Prosecuting war in eastern Ukraine. Propping up Assad in Syria. And now, flying nuclear bombers in Venezuela. Moscow's great-power quest has taken an economic toll on Russia, say RAND experts. If the Kremlin really wants to gain influence in the international forums that matter, it should consider prioritizing its economic interests and backing away from “economy-destroying dictators.”

British mother Tareena Shakil, who took her 14-month-old son to Syria to join ISIS fighters, was jailed for six years on February 1, 2016

British mother Tareena Shakil, who took her 14-month-old son to Syria to join Islamic State fighters, was jailed for six years on February 1, 2016

Photo by West Midlands Police/Reuters

The Complicated Cases of Jihadi Brides

Women who married ISIS militants were in the headlines this week after making public appeals to return home to Western countries. Two of them, British-born Shamima Begum and American-born Hoda Muthana, were barred from coming back. RAND's Antonia Ward weighed in last year on the complex issues surrounding returning “jihadi brides.” The role of women in ISIS is unclear, she says. That means they may need to be assessed differently than their male counterparts.

A used needle sits on the ground in a park where there were raids to break up heroin and fentanyl drug rings in Lawrence, Massachusetts, May 30, 2017, photo by Brian Snyder/Reuters

A used needle sits on the ground in a park, where there were raids to break up heroin and fentanyl drug rings, Lawrence, Massachusetts, May 30, 2017

Photo by Brian Snyder/Reuters

Countering Opioids Can Have Unintended Consequences

The pain medicine OxyContin was reformulated in 2010 to make it more difficult to crush or dissolve. But this had unintended consequences, including a rise in hepatitis C infections as drug abusers switched from taking OxyContin to injecting heroin. RAND's David Powell says this is evidence of a pivotal turn in the opioid crisis. It could lead to rising rates of other infectious diseases tied to injection drug use, such as HIV.

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