Today's news

  • DHS fundingHouse votes for one-week extension of DHS funding

    On Friday, just hours before the partial shut-down of DHS, the House Republican leadership, with the help of Democratic lawmakers, managed to secure a majority for a one-week extension of the funding for the department. The vote for a one-week extension passed 357 to 60 — but not before a humiliating defeat for Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and members of the GOP House leadership. The leadership was convinced it had the votes for a three-week extension, but that proposal was defeated when more than fifty Republican lawmakers bolted and voted against the bill – and their leaders. Democrats lawmakers then came to the help of the speaker, voting for the one-week extension on what they regard as a tacit understanding that toward the end of this week the House will vote on a “clean” extension of the DHS budget to the end of the fiscal year.

  • BiometricsFBI’s biometric data center key to identifying Jihadi John

    The FBI is unlikely to release details of how, working with allies in the United Kingdom, it managed to accomplish the task of identifying “Jihadi John” with only video footage of the suspect’s hidden face and a voice with a British accent. Identifying Mohammed Emwazi, a Kuwaiti-born, British-educated man in his mid-20s, was likely done at the FBI’s Criminal Justice Information Services Division(CJIS), which houses the bureau’s Biometric Center of Excellence(BCE). At BCE, the FBI uses the $1.2 billion dollar Next Generation Identification(NGI) software to scan photos, aliases, physical traits, fingerprints, and voiceprints. The software is interoperable with the Pentagon’s Automated Biometric Identification System(ABIS) and DHS’s Automated Biometric Identification System(IDENT).

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  • African securityU.S. imposes sanctions on three Nigerian Hezbollah operatives

    Nigeria is home to a small Shiite Lebanese population, many members of which emigrated for work in the mid-1900s.Roughly five million Shiites living in Nigeria support the Islamic Movement in Nigeria (IMN), an organization initially funded by Iran in the early 1980s to establish an Iranian-style revolution in Nigeria.Last Thursday, the U.S. Treasury Department imposed sanctions on three Nigerians of Lebanese descent, accusing them of being part of Hezbollah’s Foreign Relations Department (FRD) in the Nigerian capital Abuja.Hezbollah is operating in at least forty-five countries, eleven of which are in Africa.

  • EpidemicsTracking, mapping epidemics in order to limit their spread

    Researchers are using the new Biosurveillance Gateway Web site to map epidemics in order better to understand and prevent deadly diseases. The Web site relies on lab databases and tools from around the world, so that registered health officials and researchers can track outbreaks better to predict how a pathogen might spread in the United States and elsewhere. Though still in its beta state, the Web site provides spread information and mapping on a variety of diseases, including ones that only infect animals or plants. Theoretical computational software is integrated into the maps to help predict what a future epidemic might do, and the histories of recorded outbreaks across the globe are presented for comparison.

  • In the trenchesQuantum radar can detect stealth aircraft

    A prototype quantum radar that has the potential to detect objects which are invisible to conventional systems has been developed by an international research team. The new breed of radar is a hybrid system that uses quantum correlation between microwave and optical beams to detect objects of low reflectivity such as cancer cells or aircraft with a stealth capability. Because the quantum radar operates at much lower energies than conventional systems, it has the long-term potential for a range of applications in biomedicine including non-invasive NMR scans.

  • Rare earth materialsRecycling valuable rare earth metals from old electronics

    Rare earth metals are valuable ingredients in a variety of modern technologies and are found in cell phones, hard disk drives in computers, and other consumer electronics, which are frequently discarded for newer and more up-to-date versions. U.S. consumers disposed of 3.4 million tons of electronics waste in 2012. Continuously increasing global demand for new consumer electronics in turn drives demand for rare-earth metals, which are difficult and costly to mine. Scientists have developed a two-step recovery process that makes recycling rare earth metals easier and more cost-effective.

  • EarthquakesNew map outlines landslide risks in western Oregon

    Landslides are already a serious geologic hazard for western Oregon. During an earthquake, however, lateral ground forces can be as high as half the force of gravity. The Coast Range is of special concern because it will be the closest part of the state to the actual subduction zone earthquake, and will experience the greatest shaking and ground movement. New landslide maps have been developed that will help the Oregon Department of Transportation determine which coastal roads and bridges in Oregon are most likely to be usable following a major subduction zone earthquake that is expected in the future of the Pacific Northwest.

  • Flood insuranceFlorida lawmakers want homeowners to have more flood insurance options

    Lawmakers in Florida are planning for a future in which coastal communities can no longer depend on the federal government for affordable flood insurance coverage. The Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) flood program is facing insolvency after recent disasters such as hurricanes Katrina and Sandy, so Congress has moved to increaseflood insurance rates across the nation.Legislation proposed by Florida state senator Jeff Brandes (R-St. Petersburg) will give homeowners more coverage options in the local private insurance market. If passed, Brandes’s bill could lower premiums by excluding coverage of a detached garage or covering only the value of a home’s mortgage rather than its full replacement cost.

  • Cyber operationsThe CIA bolsters cyber operations

    The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) is planning to join the growing list of U.S. intelligence and security agencies which have redefined their missions to include cyber operations — in the CIA’s case, cyber espionage. Current and former agency officials say the new effort will be part of the broad restructuring of an intelligence service long defined by its human spy work. The shift also reflects the increasing role cyber plays in intelligence gathering, with allies and adversaries relying on smartphones, social media, and other technologies to communicate.

  • CybercrimeDHS to lead anti-cybercrime campaign

    DHS is gearing up to be the leader in the White House’s campaign to stop cybercrime. President Barack Obama has called cyberspace the “wild west” and that citizens as well as the private sector are looking to the government to be the sheriff. Obama has signed an executive order to promote information sharing between the private and public sector, but many tech companies are hesitant to provide the government cyberthreat information.Under DHS’s proposal, both private companies and government agencies will submit details of previous or current cyberattacks into a shared database hosted by DHS’s National Cybersecurity and Communications Integration Center. Participating entities will then be able to tap into that database to learn about potential attacks targeted at their respective industries.

  • Social mediaFrance asks social media companies to help in fighting radicalization, terrorism

    The French government has asked leading social media and tech firms, Google, Facebook, and Twitter to work directly with French law enforcement during investigations and to immediately remove terrorist propaganda when authorities alert them to it.The Islamic State (ISIS), along with other Islamist militant groups, are using social media to disseminate their violent messages, recruit new followers and fighters, and share videos of executed hostages. Roughly 20,000 foreign fighters, including 3,400 from Western nations, have joined ISIS and other extremist groups in Syria and Iraq.

  • African securityMuhammadu Buhari, challenger for Nigeria's presidency, vows to defeat Boko Haram

    Muhammadu Buhari, the leading challenger for the Nigerian presidency, has committed himself to defeating Boko Haram Islamist insurgents in northern Nigeria by providing the military and security forces with better equipment, more training, and more accurate intelligence. Buhari, a former military leader – and, for about twenty months in 1982-83, the country’s leader – asserted that if the government of President Goodluck Jonathan had deployed the same resources to fighting Boko Haram as it had to secure its own political survival, the Nigerian army would have by now rescued the more than 270 schoolgirls abducted by the extremist movement in Chibok last April. In recent weeks the Islamist insurgents have been pushed back in several places, but Buhari pointedly questioned claims by the Nigerian army chief that the war was almost over.

  • Chemical facilities safetySecurity at U.S. chemical plants, and monitoring that security, still fall short

    Security experts, citing a critical Senate report, are warning that the effort by industry and the government to secure U.S. chemical facilities against terrorist attacks has so far been lackluster at best. The Senate report, sponsored by former Senator Tom Coburn (R-Oklahoma), found that after eight years and $595 million dollars spent on efforts to further chemical plant security, there had been only thirty-nine compliance inspections of the 4,011 national facilities at risk. In any event, the current chemical facility security policies apply only to a fraction of the facilities which produce, store, or transport toxic materials around the country. The experts hope that H. R. 4007, which reformed and renewed the 2007 Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards (CFATS), and which became Public Law No: 113-254 on 18 December 2014, will improve and accelerate the security work needed at U.S. chemical facilities.

  • EbolaAsian herb holds promise as treatment for Ebola virus disease

    New research that focuses on the mechanism by which Ebola virus infects a cell and the discovery of a promising drug therapy candidate. A small molecule called Tetrandrine derived from an Asian herb has shown to be a potent small molecule inhibiting infection of human white blood cells in vitro or petri dish experiments and prevented Ebola virus disease in mice.

  • Coastal infrastructureIPCC sea-level rise scenarios insufficient for high-risk coastal areas management

    The sea-level rise scenarios of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) do not necessarily provide the right information for high-risk coastal decision-making and management, according to new research. Researchers warn that the IPCC scenarios are often inappropriate or incomplete for the management of high-risk coastal areas as they exclude the potential for extreme sea-level rises. This missing information is also crucial for a number of policy processes, such as discussions by G7 countries to establish climate insurance policies and allocations of adaptation funding by the Green Climate Funds.

  • ISISThree New Yorkers charged for attempting to join ISIS in Syria

    Three New Yorkers were arrested yesterday on terrorism charges after they attempted to join Islamic State (ISIS) militants in Syria, federal authorities said. Two of the men are Uzbek citizens, and one is a Kazakh. The three men also had domestic terror plans, which included plots to kill FBI agents, plant a bomb at Coney Island, and kill President Obama — “if ordered by ISIS.” Documents filed in court provide a detailed account of the logistics involved in recruitment into ISIS, showing the young men grappling with how to evade law enforcement, sneak across borders, and communicate from afar with members of the Islamic State.

  • ImmigrationSpouses of H-1B visa holders may apply for their own work permits

    As the White House works to lift an injunction placed by U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen to prevent the issuing of temporary work permits and deferred deportation to some undocumented parents of American citizens and permanent residents, the Obama administration said on Tuesday that it will move forward with another immigration reform measure it announced last November. Beginning 26 May, spouses of foreign tech workers who hold H-1B visas will be able to apply for work permits of their own.Silicon Valley leaders applauded the measure.

  • HazmatCost of derailments of oil-carrying trains over the next two decades: $4.5 billion

    A 2014 CSX derailment led to roughly 30,000 gallons of Bakken crude oil spilling in and around the James River, West Virginia. Another CSX train derailed last week in the West Virginia town of Mount Carbon. The explosion that followed forced about 1,000 people to evacuate from their homes. The United States will likely experience more oil train derailments as long as Bakken crude oil is transported via rail from the Northern Plains’ Bakken region to U.S. refineries. Oil train accidents often lead to pipeline advocates pushing for more pipelines, but data from PHMSA shows that while oil trains have more frequent accidents, pipelines accidents cause much larger spills.

  • BioweaponsU.K. military last fall evaluated possible Ebola use by terrorists

    In October 2014, during the peak of the Ebola epidemic which terrorized citizens in Liberia, Guinea, and Sierra Leone, security and terrorism analysts considered the probability of the Islamic State (ISIS) or other terror groups weaponizing Ebola and unleashing the virus in New York, Paris, London, or another major city. Many bioweapon researchers played down Martinez’s claim, saying terrorists looking to use Ebola as a weapon would encounter problems. Still, last fall, a U.K. military research unit was tasked with evaluating whether terrorist organizations could use Ebola to attack Western targets.

  • CybersecurityObama’s cybersecurity initiative: a start but businesses – and individuals – need to do more

    By Frank J Cilluffo and Sharon L Cardash

    The linchpin of President Obama’s recently launched cybersecurity initiative is to encourage the private sector to share information to better defend against cyberattacks. Yet U.S. companies have historically been wary of openly talking about their cybersecurity efforts with competitors and with government — for good reason. Many businesses fear that sharing threat-related information could expose them to liability and litigation, undermine shareholder or consumer confidence, or introduce the potential for leaks of proprietary information. For some companies, Edward Snowden’s revelations of sweeping government surveillance programs have reinforced the impulse to hold corporate cards close to the vest. Yet on the heels of a deluge of high-profile cyberattacks and breaches against numerous U.S. companies, we may finally have reached a tipping point, where potential harm to reputation and revenue now outweighs the downside of disclosure from a corporate perspective. Obama’s executive order is thus a spur to get the ball rolling but, frankly, there is a limit to what government alone can (and should) do in this area. Changes in attitudes and behaviors are needed across the board, right down to families and individuals.

  • Public healthAntibiotics spawn new communities of harmful bacteria

    Most people have taken an antibiotic to treat a bacterial infection. Now researchers reveal that the way we often think about antibiotics — as straightforward killing machines – needs to be revised. The research not only adds a new dimension to how we treat infections, but also might change our understanding of why bacteria produce antibiotics in the first place.

  • RelocationOriginal inhabitants of Diego Garcia may be allowed to return

    Following close to two decades of controversy and legal battles, the original inhabitants of the Chagos archipelago territories in the India Ocean, many of whom forcibly removed between 1967 and 1973 in order to allow the construction of military bases by Britain and the United States, may soon see their homeland again after the results of a new feasibility study. More than half of the 1,800 Chagossian people who were removed have died, but many of those remaining would like to return to the island chain, which includes a CIA base at Diego Garcia, one of the main islands.