Today's news

  • Aviation securityRenewed interest in defending civilian airlines raised by MH17 downing, Israel flight ban

    The 48-hour ban on international flights to and from Ben Gurion International Airport in Israel was the result of a Hamas rocket landing in Yahud, a small town about a mile-and-a-half from the airport. The likelihood of a rocket fired from Gaza landing on the runways or terminal at Ben Gurion airport is small not only because of the inaccuracy of these rockets, but also because of the effectiveness of Iron Dome, Israel’s anti-rocket defense system. A much greater threat to civilian aviation is posed by surface-to-air missiles – either shoulder-mounted anti-aircraft missiles (or MANPADS, for man-portable air defense systems) or the much more powerful truck-mounted systems such as the SA-11, or BUK system, which Ukrainian separatists used to bring down flight MH17.

  • TerrorismMore Westerners join ISIS following the group’s successes in Iraq

    Of the 10,000 foreign fighters who have already joined militant groups in Syria and Iraq, 3,000 hold European or other Western passports, making it easy for them to travel across most borders. U.S. officials report that as many as 100 foreign fighters hold U.S. passports, leading to worries that foreign fighters may return to the United States to launch an attack.

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  • 911 dispatch systemsPlans for nationwide 911 dispatch centers advance

    Municipalities across the country are planning to connect 911 dispatch centers in an effort to improve information sharing. Plan is to connect dispatchers via the Internet, which will allow centers quickly to transfer calls, 911 text messages, photos, videos of accident scenes, and other information. The technology is part of a “Next Generation 911” initiative already being implemented across the country.

  • GridThe smart grid offers convenience, but it also makes cyberattacks more likely

    Recent efforts to modernize the electric grid have increased communication between utilities and consumers, enhanced reliability, and created more opportunities for green energy producers; but it has also elevated the risk of cyberattacks. Proposed smart grids rely on technology that has created millions of new access points; and though more access points within the grid allows renewable energy generators to supply utilities, they also present opportunities for hackers to breach the system.

  • Nuclear weaponsSandia makes sure U.S. nuclear weapons deterrent remain effective, credible

    It may sound strange to say that nuclear weapons must survive radiation. Sandia National Laboratories says, however, that as part of its mission of ensuring the nation’s stockpile is safe, secure, and effective as a deterrent, the laboratory must make sure crucial parts can function if they are hit by radiation, especially a type called fast neutrons. Sandia developed a new way to do that after its facility for creating fast neutrons, the Sandia Pulsed Reactor (SPR), was shut down due to increased post-9/11 security concerns about its highly enriched uranium.

  • Infrastructure protectionUsing natural, engineering solutions to help U.K. address extreme weather events

    The United Kingdom is seeing increased seasonal flood damage not only from coastal and river surges, but from rising groundwater as well. The scale and unpredictability of these events in recent years, while devastating, can also serve as a helpful mirror of future climate change and its predicted effects in the longer term. Experts say that natural solutions, such as reforestation, to improve flood defenses and attempts to keep water in place may provide both short and long term solutions.

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  • WaterDrought-driven use of underground water threatens water supply of western U.S.

    Scientists find that more than 75 percent of the water loss in the drought-stricken Colorado River Basin since late 2004 came from underground resources. The Colorado River is the only major river in the southwest part of the United States. Its basin supplies water to about forty million people in seven states, as well as irrigating roughly four million acres of farmland. Monthly measurements in the change in water mass from December 2004 to November 2013 revealed the basin lost nearly 53 million acre feet (65 cubic kilometers) of freshwater, almost double the volume of the nation’s largest reservoir, Nevada’s Lake Mead. More than three-quarters of the total — about 41 million acre feet (50 cubic kilometers) — was from groundwater. The extent of groundwater loss may pose a greater threat to the water supply of the western United States than previously thought.

  • Terrorism9/11 Commission: U.S. faces new and dangerous terrorist threat

    The members of the 9/11 Commission, led by Chairman Tom Kean and Vice Chairman Lee Hamilton, released a new report the other day to reflect what they describe as the altered but dangerous terrorist threat facing the United States. Members of the commission say that ten years after the release of the commission’s original report, with increasing threats from the resurgence and transformation of al Qaeda, Syria, and a rapidly changing cyberspace, the commission’s new report calls for a vigorous and proactive counterterrorism effort.

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  • Israel-Hamas war, Day 17Israel destroys al-Wafa hospital in Gaza City; cabinet considering expansion of Gaza operations

    One of the first targets on the first day of the current round of war between Israel and Hamas was al-Wafa hospital in eastern Gaza City. As is the case with other hospitals in Gaza, Hamas used the facility to store rockets and other arms and shelter Hamas fighters, who also use the hospitals’ upper floors for snipers to shoot at IDF soldiers and for rocket launching – some witnessed by a Financial Times reporter. In the case of al-Wafa, the hospital also served Hamas as a command-and-control center. Yesterday (Wednesday), Israel decided that enough was enough, and that allowing Hamas fighters the freedom to operate behind the patients and staff at the hospital, located in central Gaza City, posed too much of a risk for Israeli forces, and Israel Air Force (IAF) planes finished the destruction of the hospital — after the staff heeded IDF warnings and vacated the facility with the remaining patients. A series of powerful secondary explosions proved that the hospital served Hamas for arms storage. The Israeli cabinet is meeting this morning to consider the expansion of the ground war.

  • SpooksU.K. launches inquiry into radiation poisoning of former KGB agent

    British authorities have announced that a public inquiry will be held into the death of former Russian KGB officer who became a British citizen, Alexander Litvinenko.Litvinenko, 43, died in 2006 after he was poisoned with radioactive polonium while drinking tea with two former KGB agents at a London hotel.

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  • Border securityTo stem flow of minors, U.S. goes after human traffickers’ finances

    Many of the 57,000 Central American minors who have crossed the Southwest border since October 2013 did so with the help of smugglers operating as part of a human trafficking network. To bring down these networks, federal agents from DHS and the Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network(FinCEN) are reviewing suspicious bank transactions at U.S. banks, specifically accounts that are experiencing a sudden surge in transfers to Mexico.

  • Border securityEffectiveness of Texas National Guard border troop surge questioned

    Texas governor Rick Perry’s plan to send nearly 1,000 Texas National Guardtroops to the Rio Grande Valley has been applauded by the governor’s supporters, but critics question its effectiveness. Gov. Perry’s decision to send nearly 1,000 guardsmen to the Rio Grande Valley is described as “symbolic,” and top officials in border counties agree that sending more guardsmen to the border would bring little change to the current situation.

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  • WildfiresRemote cameras monitor Montana wildfires

    Fire officials on the Powell District of the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forest, in partnership with the University of Montana, are testing a system of cameras remotely to monitor wildfires. The district has cameras mounted on two fire lookout towers and a third mobile camera that can be deployable as needed. Operators at the Powell Ranger Districtcontrol the cameras to provide multiple viewpoints of the targeted area.

  • Industrial pollutionExtensive corrosion found at chemical tanks of W.Va. site which contaminated region

    Investigators by the U.S. Chemical Safety Board (CSB) have reported that they detected significant corrosion in MCHM chemical storage tanks at the Freedom Industries site responsible for a 9 January contamination of the Elk River which has impacted over 300,000 residents of the area.

  • AviationAirlines suspend international flights to and from Israel

    With the downing by Ukrainian separatists of the MH17 jetliner as a backdrop, several international airlines on Tuesday have halted their flights to and from Israel. Some airlines said they would reconsider the decision after twenty-four hours, other airlines said the flights would be halted indefinitely. It appears that what triggered the decision was a Hamas rocket which landed in the town of Yahood, about a mile or two from Ben Gurion International Airport.

  • MH17Forensic technology could help U.S. prove case against Russia, Ukrainian separatists

    Over the weekend, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry appeared on several media outlets to make a case against Russia for the country’s support of pro-Russian separatists responsible for the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17. The United States is confident that rebels attacked the airplane with an SA-11 Gadfly 9K37M1 Buk-1M fired missile. For the United States to prove its allegations against Russia and the Ukrainian separatists, Western authorities must first gain full access to the crash site, utilize an arsenal of forensic investigative technology, then gather eye witness accounts. Once the United States can prove its allegations, European partners can then be persuaded to impose tougher sanctions on Russia.

  • ImmigrationWave of illegal children immigrants shifts debate on use of executive powers

    After several immigration bills stalled in Congress, President Barack Obama, in 2012 and 2013, issued a series of executive orders to limit the number of deportations of illegal immigrants. Many who advocated a tougher stance on immigration have charged Obama with failure to consult with Congress. The Obama administration is now trying to find a way to deport Central American illegal immigrants, many of them unaccompanied children, without running afoul of a George W. Bush 2008 law which makes such deportation difficult – and some of his immigration criticswant him to take executive action on the issue, a shift from their usual criticism that he has abused his executive powers.

  • Nuclear wasteFire shuts down nuclear repository, but DOE still recognizes operator for “excellent” performance

    Five days after an underground truck fire closed the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP), the Energy Department (DOE) awarded Nuclear Waste Partnership (NWP), the operating contractor of the nuclear repository, $1.9 million for “excellent” performance during the past year.Shortly after the truck fire, WIPP was shut down because of radiation leak, Still, “No federal or contractor official has lost their job, been transferred, been moved off the WIPP contract or otherwise held accountable. No leadership has changed at the federal level. No company has lost a contract,” noted an industry observer.

  • Nuclear wasteJapan testing underground nuclear waste storage depot, despite local concerns

    Data is being collected at the Horonobe Underground Research Center, in Horonobe, Japan to determine whether the site is able to begin storing radioactive waste in conditions which could last for 100,000 years.Japanese utility systems have produced more that 17,000 tons of “spent” nuclear fuel rods from power plants which are no longer useful but are expected to remain radioactive for around several thousand years.

  • BiolabsLawmaker says CDC made false lab safety pledges

    A house panel is investigating repeated safety lapses at key government laboratories, including an incident in which eighty lab workers were likely exposed to live anthrax bacteria at an Atlanta facility. The group is also investigating the CDC’s responses to the incidents. The committee chairman noted that CDC had in the past offered assurances that it was tightening monitoring of labs’ safety procedures, but that such pledges were not fulfilled.

  • Explosives detectionTiny laser sensor increases bomb detection sensitivity

    New technology under development could soon give bomb-sniffing dogs some serious competition. A team of researchers has found a way dramatically to increase the sensitivity of a light-based plasmon sensor to detect incredibly minute concentrations of explosives. The researchers noted that the sensor could potentially be used to sniff out a hard-to-detect explosive popular among terrorists. The sensor also could be developed into an alarm for unexploded land mines that otherwise are difficult to detect, the researchers said.

  • Nuclear weaponsBarksdale AFB to be upgraded so it could store nuclear weapons on site

    In 2009, the Louisiana congressional delegation successfully fought for locating the Global Strike Command at Barksdale Air Force base. Barksdale, home to the Global Strike Command, is No. 2 on the Air Force’s priority list of nuclear weapons storage areas set to receive an upgrade so Barksdale can safety store the U.S. nuclear weapons and load the weapons onto B-52s. The B-52s stationed at Barksdale AFB currently fly to other installations to load nuclear weapons onboard. Language inserted last week into the bill that funds the Department of Defense (DOD) for FY15 requires the Air Force to develop a detailed plan within ninety days of the bill becoming law on how it will modernize the U.S. five nuclear weapons storage areas, including the one at Barksdale Air Force Base.