Today's news

  • CybersecurityRussian hackers gained access to unclassified White House e-mails

    Reports that Russian hackers gained access to unclassified e-mails to and from President Barack Obama during last October’s White House e-mail breach, are adding to concerns regarding the security of government communications systems. “This attack is a red flag that they really need to improve their security procedures. It’s quite serious,” said Kevin Mitnick, a former hacker. “The cyber threat against U.S. interests is increasing in severity and sophistication,”Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said last Thursday.

  • Border security More money, different approach offer opportunities to border security tech companies

    The number of border agents has reached roughly 21,000, up from 5,000 two decades ago. In fiscal year 2012, spending for border and immigration enforcement totaled almost $18 billion — 24 percent more than the combined budgets of the FBI, the DEA, the Secret Service, the U.S. Marshals, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (total: $14.4 billion). One major trend driving the border security industry is the government’s shift from large-scale border security infrastructure projects to small unit security systems.

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  • CBPCBP IA eliminates Tomsheck’s integrity program division

    Customs and Border Protection Internal Affairs (CBP IA) created a new division named the Threat Mitigation Division (TMD). According to an internal document, this new division — officially launched on 13 April — merges the Integrity Program Division (IPD) with the Counterintelligence and Operations Liaison Group (CIOLG).The stated mission of the new Threat Mitigation Division at CBP IA is, “To identify internal and external threats to CBP’s mission, information and people, and to develop and implement strategies to mitigate the identified threat.”

  • Face recognitionUsing “average” photo improves smartphone face recognition

    Face recognition security on smartphones can be significantly improved if users store an “average” photo of themselves, according to new research. A research team found that combining different pictures of the user, rather than a single “target” image, leads to much better recognition across all kinds of daily settings.

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  • Basic researchNew MIT report details benefits of investment in basic research

    By Abby Abazorius

    In 2014, European researchers discovered a fundamental new particle which sheds light on the origins of the universe; the European Space Agency successfully landed the first spacecraft on a comet; and Chinese researchers developed the world’s fastest supercomputer. As these competitors increase their investment in basic research, the percentage of the U.S. federal budget devoted to research and development has fallen from around 10 percent in 1968 to less than 4 percent in 2015. A new report by MIT researchers examines how funding cutbacks will affect the future of scientific studies in the United States. The report also highlights opportunities in basic research which could help shape and maintain U.S. economic power, and benefit society.

  • STEM educationTo improve diversity in STEM, fix higher education: Study

    Protecting national economic prosperity has been federal officials’ rationale for implementing programs to increase the numbers of U.S. youth preparing for careers in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) sectors. The United States, however, will make little progress toward changing the predominately white-male face of its science and technology workforce until higher education addresses the attitudes, behaviors, and structural practices that undermine minority students’ access and success at college, a new study suggests.

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  • Quick takes // By Ben FrankelSTEM education, STEM jobs, and immigration

    Senator Jeff Sessions (R-Alabama) is a leading critic of immigration reform which would legalize the status of undocumented immigrants, and a chief proponent of limiting the number of legal immigrants allowed into the United States. One of his arguments is that Americans with college STEM degrees cannot get a job in their fields because these jobs are taken by skilled foreigners. There are two problems with Sessions’s argument: First, his definition of “STEM job” is so narrow, that Apple CEO Tim Cook and a Noble Prize scientist who works as a university professor would not be regarded as holding STEM jobs; second, his argument contradicts what basic economic teaches: Skilled immigrants contribute to American prosperity and security, and the labor market is not a zero-sum proposition.

  • Coastal infrastructureMiami Beach luxury real estate market is booming in the face of rising sea levels

    By 2100, sea levels could rise by as much as six feet. Miami Beach, with its dense population and low altitude, is on the list of U.S. cities at greatest risk. This recognition has not slowed down the region’s luxury real estate market. To help drain city streets during high tides and floods, Miami Beach is installing an eighty pumping system units expected to cost between $300 and $500 million.Scientists are skeptical of plans to solve the city’s flood and tackle sea level rise problem with pumps, saying the only solution is rebuilding and retrofitting some city infrastructure at higher levels – and moving some neighborhood inland. “If you spend [the money] on the easy stuff, you’re not going to have any money left for the hard stuff,” says one geologist. “So my concern is the longer-term sea level rise that’s going to get real expensive — and if we’re all broke because we blew all that money saving a few places that should have been moved.”

  • ClimateAs climate warms, vast amounts of carbon may be release from long-frozen Arctic soils

    Scientists estimate there is more than ten times the amount of carbon in the Arctic soil than has been put into the atmosphere by burning fossil fuels since the start of the Industrial Revolution. To look at it another way, scientists estimate there is two and a half times more carbon locked away in the Arctic deep freezer than there is in the atmosphere today. Now, with a warming climate, that deep freezer is beginning to thaw and that long-frozen carbon is beginning to be released into the environment.

  • CybersecurityEfforts to improve cyber information sharing between the private sector, government

    Lately, Obama administration officials having been venturing West to encourage tech firms to support the government’s efforts to improve cyber information sharing between the private sector and government agencies. The House of Representatives last week passed two bills to advance such effort. The Protecting Cyber Networks Act and the National Cybersecurity Protection Advancement Act of 2015 authorize private firms to share threat data such as malware signatures, Internet protocol addresses, and domain names with other companies and the federal government. To the liking of the private sector, both bills offer companies liability protection for participating in cyberthreat information sharing.

  • DronesDespite persistent questions, support for use of drones against terrorists remains strong

    The CIA counterterrorism program which captured, interrogated, and tortured al-Qaeda suspects in secret prisons was criticized by lawmakers, including Senate Democrats who questioned the secrecy of the program. Many of those same lawmakers overwhelmingly support CIA targeted drone missions aimed at killing terror suspects and militants in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Yemen, and Somalia. Some lawmakers say it is time to move the drone program to the Pentagon. “I can understand when it was a very small operation why it would be done by the intelligence agency, such as U-2s and other reconnaissance aircraft, for many years,” says Senator John McCain (R-Arizona). “Now it’s reached the point where it’s an integral part of the conflict and a very essential one, so I think it should be conducted and oversight and administered by the Department of Defense.”

  • SyriaIsrael attacks in Syria, destroying Hezbollah-bound arms

    The Israeli Air Force (IAF) launched two attacks on targets located inside Syria army bases – the first attacks took place on the night between Wednesday and Thursday, and the second wave of attacks took place the night between Friday and Saturday. The targets destroyed in the attacks were Iran-made long-range missiles which the Assad regime stored and maintained for Hezbollah, the Shi’a Lebanese militia. Since January 2013, the IAF conducted ten such attacks – the attacks Wednesday night and Friday night were attacks number nine and ten.

  • Border securityLawmakers want more attention to be paid to security along the northern border

    Over the years, concerns over U.S. border security have largely focused on the southern border, where hundreds of thousands of illegal migrants have been apprehended and millions of dollars in illegal drugs have been seized by border patrol agents. One reason for the inattention to the northern border is that it is not associated with highly charged issues such as immigration, day laborers, and violent drug traffickers.Scotty Greenwood, a senior adviser to the Canadian-American Business Council, is not surprised that the southern border gets more attention than the northern border. “The political theater isn’t as intense when you’re talking about what a good job we do.”

  • CBPCBP IA Operation Hometown reduces violence and corruption: Tomsheck shuts it down -- Pt. 5

    By Robert Lee Maril

    Operation Hometown appears to be yet another example in a series of programs at Customs and Border Protection (CBP) demonstrating blatant dysfunctionality and mismanagement within the Department of Homeland Security. Meticulously designed to target border violence and corruption among CBP employees, Operation Hometown was labeled a success in reaching its stated objectives. CBP Internal Affair’s (IA) James F. Tomsheck,however, shut the program down. As Congress and President Obama debate various aspects of a new federal immigration policy,few politicians are willing to acknowledge the serious problems at CBP Internal Affairs – but they should, as these problems may directly impact the success of any or all new immigration reforms.

  • EarthquakesNepal shows its vulnerability after devastating earthquake

    By Simon Redfern

    For some time scientists have realized that the Kathmandu valley is one of the most dangerous places in the world, in terms of earthquake risk. And now a combination of high seismic activity at the front of the Tibetan plateau, poor building standards, and haphazard urbanization have come together with fatal consequences.

  • EarthquakesOklahoma scientists warn about fracking-induced earthquakes

    Using stronger language than in the past, the Oklahoma Geological Survey (OGS) announced on Tuesday that the state’s ongoing waves of earthquakes are “very unlikely to represent a naturally occurring process.” The OGS says that fracking was likely a cause for the increased seismicity. The state’s seismicity rate in 2013 was seventy times greater than the rate before 2008, and rapidly grew to about 600 times greater today, according to the OGS. The average oil well in Oklahoma requires about ten barrels of saltwater to be injected for every barrel of oil that can be pumped out.

  • ResilienceBuilding healthier communities essential for recovering from disasters

    U.S. communities and federal agencies should more intentionally seek to create healthier communities during disaster preparation and recovery efforts — something that rarely happens now, says a new report from the Institute of Medicine. By adding a health “lens” to planning and recovery, a community can both mitigate the health damage caused by disasters and recover in ways that make the community healthier and more resilient than it was before.

  • Climate & businessClimate change will worsen natural catastrophes’ impact on corporate creditworthiness: S&P

    Generally, companies have so far managed to mitigate the effects of natural catastrophes through liquidity management, insurance protection, natural disaster risk management, and post-event recovery measures. The more frequent and extreme climatic events many scientists predict, however, could adversely affect companies’ credit profiles in the future. Standard & Poor’s says that greater disclosure of firms’ exposure to extreme natural catastrophes should encourage them to bolster their resilience to these events and thereby aid transparency.

  • RadicalizationMontreal school struggles to explain why its students join ISIS

    Just months after five students at Montreal’s Collège de Maisonneuveleft Canada to join the Islamic State in Syria, a young couple, El Mahdi Jamali and Sabrine Djaermane, who attended the same school, were arrested last Tuesday for what police allege were plans to commit terrorist acts. Since the arrest, school officials have met with terrorism and extremism experts to help analyze if the school itself had been a breeding ground for extremists. Some locals familiar with the school have pointed fingers at Adil Charkaoui, an Islamic leader in Montreal who rents the school’s facilities for a weekend Muslim youth group, and was once probed by federal agents as a suspected al-Qaeda sleeper agent.

  • African securityIncreased al-Shabaab attacks in East Africa a sign of weakness: Experts

    Somali-based al-Shabaab is increasing its guerrilla-style attacks in East Africa, but terrorism experts say the attacks are the results of the group losing its ability to fight and win on the battlefield. In the past few years, the United States has supported, with arms and training, an African Union force to carry out missions against al-Shabaab in Somalia’s major towns and urban areas. That has forced al-Shabaab to retreat to small villages, where they still collect taxes to fund their operations throughout East Africa.

  • Nuclear weaponsTo prevent Iranian nukes, a negotiated deal better than a military strike: David Albright

    David Albright is the founder and president of the Washington, D.C.-based non-profit Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS), and author of several books on fissile materials and nuclear weapons proliferation. In a testimony before the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Wednesday, and an interview with Deutsche Welle on Thursday, Albrights says that there is every reason to be suspicious of Iran because it has cheated on its obligations in the past and has been uncooperative on an ongoing basis. Iran has also built many sites in secret, so any agreement with Iran should have extra insurance — a more powerful inspection and verification tool to try to ferret out any secret nuclear activities or facilities that Iran would build. Still, a negotiated deal, if it includes sufficiently robust inspection and verification measures, would be a more effective way than a military strike to make sure Iran does not develop nuclear weapons.

  • Nuclear weaponsU.S. urged to end “hair-trigger” nuclear weapons alert

    Today, just as at the height of the cold war, U.S. intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) are on hair-trigger status, ready to be fired in minutes in response to a warning of an incoming attack. Several instances of erroneous and misinterpreted warning signals illustrate how this “launch on warning” posture creates a risk of a mistaken launch. The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) has called on President Barack Obama to use the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference — which begins this Monday, 27 April at the United Nations — to announce an end to the cold war practice of keeping U.S. ground-based nuclear missiles on “hair trigger” alert.