Today's news

  • DHS HQDebate continues over DHS’s St. Elizabeths project

    A Government Accountability Office(GAO) report released at a House hearing last Friday says that Congress should make future funding available for the consolidation of DHS offices at the St. Elizabeths campus in Washington, D.C. Those in favor of continuing the over-budget, behind-schedule DHS project at St. Elizabeths received support from the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, when the committee released its report on the subject last Friday. Not everyone agreed. “It’s been three years since construction began with some funds from the 2009 Stimulus Act,” said Jeff Duncan (R-South Carolina). “What we got were cushy offices for Washington bureaucrats, courtyards with Brazilian ivywood, a living roof and rainwater-flush toilets — driven by a political agenda. We could have used normal plumbing.”

  • IslamAnti-Islamic posters to be displayed on NYC buses, subway stations

    An advocacy group has purchased $100,000 worth of advertising space on a hundred New York City buses and two subway stations to display anti-Islamic messages and images. The campaign features six posters, including one of James Foley, the American journalist beheaded by ISIS in August, and another of Adolf Hitler. In 2012 the MTA rejected the group ad purchase, but a court ruled that the posters were “political” in nature, and therefore covered by the First Amendment.

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  • ImmigrationImmigration hearings hampered by remote technology glitches, raising constitutional issues

    The are currently nearly 400,000 pending deportation cases, shared among just 230 immigration judges in fifty-nine courtrooms. Immigration cases in the southern United States are encountering increasing delays and hardships due to the necessity of having to rely on wireless and mobile technology in order to have proper communication in the courtroom. Some even worry that the problems with the systems in place, including interpreters using teleconference equipment to translate large statements at a time, may be used in appeals on grounds that it is unconstitutional.

  • ResilienceTen years after Hurricane Ivan, Alabama communities are better prepared

    Since Hurricane Ivan struck Baldwin County, Alabama and neighboring communities ten years ago, building officials have adopted better resilience protocols to protect human life and property from future storms. Ivan, which left an estimated $14.2 billion in damages throughout the Gulf Coast, is considered the worst storm to hit Alabama in twenty-five years, and the seventh most costly hurricane ever to affect the United States.

  • In the trenchesSeeing clearly through the fog (and dust and snow) of war

    Degraded visibility — which encompasses diverse environmental conditions including severe weather, dust kicked up during takeoff and landing, and poor visual contrast among different parts of terrain — often puts both the safety and effectiveness of tactical helicopter operations at risk. Current sensor systems that can provide the necessary visualization through obscurants struggle with latency and are too large, heavy, and power-intensive to comply with military rotary wing operations.

  • GunsRequiring background checks for all gun sales would improve safety: Expert

    Given the U.S. Supreme Court’s majority stance against efforts to regulate gun availability and ownership, many policies aimed at lessening gun violence have had at best a minimal impact, according to a new study by a University of Virginia criminologist. One policy not used in Virginia and thirty-three other states, however, would clearly make it more difficult for criminals or unqualified users to obtain guns: requiring a background check for anyone buying from an unlicensed private seller, including those at gun shows and flea markets.

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  • Food safetyBotulism’s genetic triggers found

    Clostridium botulinum bacteria produce the most deadly toxin we know of. Botulinum spores are found throughout the environment. If they contaminate food, under certain conditions they can germinate and reproduce in our food, and generate a neurotoxin. Scientists from the U.K. Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) strategically funded Institute of Food Research have discovered genes that are crucial for its germination, which may present a new way of stopping these deadly bacteria growing in our food.

  • Food safetyDetecting horse-meat fraud in the wake of a recent food scandal

    As the United Kingdom forms a new crime unit designed to fight food fraud — in response to an uproar last year over horse meat being passed off as beef — scientists from Germany are reporting a technique for detecting meat adulteration.

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  • ISISFrench jets attack ISIS targets in Iraq

    French military jets earlier this morning (Friday) have carried out the first strikes by a U.S. ally against Islamic State (IS) militants in Iraq. A statement from the office of President Francois Hollande said the planes had attacked an ISIS depot in north-east Iraq, and that the coming days will see additional French attacks on the Islamist group. The United States has carried out more than 170 air strikes against the Jihadist group in Iraq since 8 August. President Francois Hollande’s office said Rafale planes had carried out the attack and “the objective was hit and completely destroyed.” The statement added that “Other operations will follow in the coming days.”

  • TerrorismU.S. intelligence, leaders unclear on exact danger posed by ISIS

    Considerable discrepancies in the reporting from U.S. intelligence services regarding the strength of the Islamic State (IS) have led critics to the conclusion that the U.S. intelligence community knows little about the terrorists’ actual strength as the United States is in the process of developing a military strategy to defeat the Islamist organization.

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  • TerrorismTwo ISIS supporters arrested in Australia for planning a public beheading in Sydney

    Yesterday (Thursday), the Australian security services, conducting the largest counterterrorism raids in the Australia’s history, arrested fifteen ISIS supporters, charging two of them with planning to grab an Australian citizen and publicly behead him on a Sydney street – while filming the operation for posting on social media. The government says about 100 Australians are actively engaged in activities within Australia aiming to support extremist Islamist groups — recruiting fighters, grooming suicide bomber candidates, and providing funds and equipment.

  • Domestic terrorismW.Va. dealing with a growing threat from sovereign citizen movement members

    The FBI classifies some sovereign citizens as terrorists. U.S. law enforcement officials are being warned about members of the sovereign citizen movement — the number one potential terrorist threat in the United States according to a 2014 study by the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism(START). Law enforcement agencies estimate that there are about 100,000 hard-core members of various sovereign citizens groups around the country, with another 200,000 sympathizers. West Virginia police

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  • Countering terrorismTerrorists can be defeated by fighting fear with cooperation

    By Robert Imre

    From anarchists in the 1920s and radical leftists in the 1960s, to fringe, extreme-right Christian bombers or gunmen in the United States in recent decades, or radical Islamists such as Islamic State today, terrorist groups have one thing in common. They seek to shock, while simultaneously portraying themselves as victims. While their beliefs can vary wildly, what they all share is the “propaganda of the deed” in their extreme violent activities. Given that we have seen a number of terrorist groups come and go over the decades, it bears scrutiny how these various groups were successfully stopped, as well as where governments failed. At present, radical Islamic terrorists do not appear to have the capacity to develop well-organized cells in places like Australia or Canada, and will most likely dissipate as previous anarchists and ultra-Marxists did decades ago. The next big question in all of this is how to de-radicalize. What has worked and what has failed in terms of de-radicalization efforts by various governments? Hopefully, the government is engaged in a careful consideration of this, and has thought about how other countries have handled the problem of domestic terrorism.

  • Nuclear labsDeficiencies in U.S. nuclear labs’ emergency preparedness plans: Report

    A recently released study of seventeen U.S. nuclear weapons laboratories by the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board(DNFSB), which examined operations at the labs over the last three years, found deficiencies in emergency preparedness plans. Three New Mexico labs — the Los Alamos National Laboratory(LANL), the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant(WIPP) near Carlsbad, and Sandia National Laboratoriesin Albuquerque — exemplify various gaps in disaster preparedness throughout the nation’s nuclear defense system.

  • EpidemicsScientists develop a new way to prevent the spread of deadly diseases

    For decades, researchers have tried to develop broadly effective vaccines to prevent the spread of illnesses such as HIV, malaria, and tuberculosis. While limited progress has been made along these lines, there are still no licensed vaccinations available that can protect most people from these devastating diseases. So what are immunologists to do when vaccines just aren’t working? Whereas vaccines introduce substances such as antigens into the body hoping to illicit an appropriate immune response — the generation of either antibodies that might block an infection or T cells capable of attacking infected cells — Caltech scientists have approached the problem in a different way: Why not provide the body with step-by-step instructions for producing specific antibodies that have been shown to neutralize a particular disease?

  • TerrorismU.S. launches campaign to combat recruitment of young Americans by militant groups

    The White House, Justice Department (DOJ), DHS, and the National Counterterrorism Center have formed an alliance to combat the recruitment of young Americans to join militant groups like the Islamic State (IS) and Somali-based al-Shabaab.Officials have not released details on the network of community partnerships but local law enforcement officials, religious leaders, teachers, mental health professionals, and parents are expected to help monitor at-risk youths.

  • Airport securityJapan to adopt automated airport gates equipped with facial recognition technology

    More than eleven million people visited Japan last year, the highest on record, and the government is anticipating close to twenty million foreigners in 2020, the year Tokyo will host the Summer Olympics and Paralympics. Japan plans to adopt automated airport immigration gates supported by facial recognition technology, because while the number of foreign visitors continues to increase, the number of immigration officers remains limited, or even shrinks. A general concern with using facial recognition technology at immigration gates is that passports can be valid for a decade, while a person’s appearance may change within that timeframe. Another concern with the proposed system is how facial data image collected will be stored or erased.

  • Seismic safetySF posting seismic warning posters on vulnerable buildings in a retrofitting drive

    In an effort to get property owners to retrofit vulnerable buildings, San Francisco is posting large signs — in English, Spanish, and Chinese, with red letters, and a drawing of a collapsed building — on apartment and hotel complexes that have failed to comply with the city’s seismic safety laws.The San Francisco tactic is similar to what city officials in Berkeley implemented in 2005, when building authorities placed small warning signs on at-risk wooden apartment buildings.

  • EarthquakesSimulating the ground motion of the south Napa earthquake

    Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) seismologists are tapping into LLNL’s supercomputers to simulate the detailed ground motion of last month’s magnitude 6.0 south Napa earthquake. The Napa tremor is the largest to hit the Bay Area since the magnitude 6.9 Loma Prieta event in 1989. Seismic simulations allow scientists better to understand the distribution of shaking and damage that can accompany earthquakes, including possible future “scenario” earthquakes.

  • Nuclear accidentsPreparing the next generation of nuclear emergency responders

    The catastrophic failure of Japan’s Fukushima I Nuclear Power Plant in March 2011 was a turning point in how the scientific community viewed nuclear emergencies. Up to then, the emphasis had been on prevention, not response. Virginia Tech’s Sonja Schmid has won a 2014 National Science Foundation Faculty Early Development (CAREER) Award to study the prospects and problems of creating a global nuclear emergency response plan. Key issues to be addressed in her research are how to convince the world that any nuclear accident is everybody’s problem and how to mobilize an effective international response.

  • Protective gearImproved gas mask protects U.S. soldiers against lethal attacks

    Choking. Watering eyes. Blistering skin. Convulsions. These are all symptoms of a chemical weapons attack that can lead to imminent death. The lethality of such attacks, most recently the one in Syria in August 2013, can send tremors across the globe. For U.S. Army soldiers, however, chemical weapons present a real danger on the battlefield, and one that requires the most advanced technology to keep them safe. Scientists and researchers at the U.S. Army Edgewood Chemical Biological Center (ECBC) have been working toward better protective equipment, including the iconic gas mask.

  • WildfireA Santa Ana Wildfire Threat Index developed

    UCLA atmospheric scientists were instrumental in the creation of the Santa Ana Wildfire Threat Index — a new tool to classify the fire threat potential of the powerful, hot, dry Santa Ana wind, which can turn a spark into an inferno. The index was introduced 17 September by the U.S. Forest Service, in collaboration with UCLA and San Diego Gas and Electric.