Today's news

  • Border securityHouse delays vote on “the toughest border security bill ever”

    The House was supposed to vote on Wednsday on what Republicans have called “the toughest border security bill ever,” but the bill encountered harsh criticism from different sides of the GOP caucus. Some complained the measure does not address the pressing issue of immigration reform, while others complained it was the first step on slippery slope toward such reform. The border security bill, Secure Our Borders First Act (H.R. 399), sponsored by House Homeland Security Chairman Michael McCaul (R-Texas), would impose harsh penalties for federal agencies that fail to meet certain requirements. One mandate aims for DHS to achieve “operational control,” or prevent illegal entry across the southern border, within five years. If DHS fails to achieve that objective, political appointees at the agency would be prohibited from traveling in government vehicles, receive reimbursement for nonessential travel, or receive pay increases or bonuses.

  • TerrorismWomen more active in extremist Islamist groups than previously thought

    About 10 percent of ISIS recruits from Europe, and about 20 percent of recruits from France, are women. Though they tend to play a supportive role in the Islamic extremism narrative, women can be just as radical. “What’s very striking is that she’s not an exception; she’s an example of a trend,” one expert says of Hayat Boumeddiene, the 26-year old partner of Paris gunman Amedy Coulibaly. “There tends to be an assumption with women that they’re doing it under influence, they’re being forced or tricked. But I think there’s a more complicated story here, feelings of alienation.”

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  • RadicalizationNYPD’s radicalization report criticized

    In a Sunday morning interview on 970 AM The Answer, New York Police Department(NYPD) deputy commissioner for Intelligence and Counterterrorism John Miller criticized a 7-year old report on Islamic radicalization in New York City. The report, “Radicalization in the West: The Homegrown Threat,” published by the NYPD Intelligence Division under former police commissioner Ray Kelly, came under fire after a series of articlesdetailed some of the division’s counterterrorism operations, including the monitoring of prominent Muslims and Muslim communities in New York City. Those articles contributed to the closure of the unit, which conducted the NYPD’s surveillance operations on New York’s Muslim communities.

  • ISISWhy the fight against Islamic State is not the success we’re told it is

    By Scott Lucas

    Ministers from twenty-one countries gathered in London on January 22 to discuss the fight against Islamic State (IS). They had their photo opportunity and issued their statements. US secretary of state, John Kerry, told them that almost 6,000 jihadists had been killed, and almost 700 square kilometers of Iraqi territory retaken. But at the end of the day, all of this had precious little to do with the issue of how to confront IS’s political, military, and social expansion. There are alternatives that could really challenge the IS: an Iraqi Kurdistan with real international recognition and support, an Iraqi government answering to all communities, a Syrian opposition supported in a political vision that overcomes not only the jihadists but the Assad regime. But the London summit proved these things are still out of reach — or at least too much for the allies to openly contemplate.

  • BioterrorismGenetic safety switches curb bioterror risk

    The potential threat of bioterrorism using man-made biological organisms could be curbed, thanks to a new method. Synthetic biologists — who can design and modify the DNA of living organisms to give them novel, useful functions — have devised a way of containing their products to help ensure that they work only as intended.

  • Drone securityNew technology proves effective in thwarting cyberattacks on drones

    Engineering researchers from the University of Virginia and the Georgia Institute of Technology have successfully flight-tested scenarios which could threaten drones, including ground-based cyber-attacks. The demonstration of U.Va’s System-Aware Cybersecurity concept and Secure Sentinel technology was part of a research project led by U.Va. engineers to detect and respond to cyber-attacks on unmanned aerial systems.

  • Invisibility cloakInvisibility cloak closer to reality: Concealing military airplanes, and even people

    Since the beginning of recorded time, humans have used materials found in nature to improve their lot. Since the turn of this century, scientists have studied metamaterials, artificial materials engineered to bend electromagnetic, acoustic, and other types of waves in ways not possible in nature. Now, Hao Xin, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Arizona, has made a discovery with these synthetic materials that may take engineers one step closer to building microscopes with superlenses that see molecular-level details, or shields that conceal military airplanes and even people.

  • Infrastructure protectionNew climate change projections for Australia

    CSIRO and the Australian government’s Bureau of Meteorology the other day released climate change projections for Australia which provide updated national and regional information on how the climate may change to the end of the twenty-first century. The projections are the most comprehensive ever released for Australia and have been prepared with an emphasis on informing impact assessment and planning in the natural resource management sector. Information has been drawn from simulations based on up to forty global climate models.

  • YemenYemen upheaval hobbles U.S. counterterrorism efforts there

    Following the abrupt resignation of Yemen’s president, prime minister, and cabinet after Iran-backed Shi’a Houthi rebels took over the presidential palace, the United States has halted some counterterrorism operations against al-Qaeda militants operating inside the country. The move has dealt a blow to what President Barack Obama recently called a successful counterterrorism partnership between Yemen’s president Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi and the United States. “The [Yemeni government’s] agencies we worked with . . . are really under the thumb of the Houthis. Our ability to work with them is not there,” said a senior U.S. official closely involved in monitoring the situation.

  • Nuclear security U.S.-Russian nuclear security cooperation victim of growing bilateral tensions

    One of the greatest benefits brought about by the end of the cold war was the agreement been the United States and the former Soviet republics to cooperate closely in securing the large, and not-always-well-protected, Soviet nuclear stocks. The 1991 Cooperative Threat Reduction agreement, aka the Nunn-Lugar program after the two former senators — Sam Nunn [D-Georgia] and Richard Lugar [R-Indiana]) — who persuaded fellow lawmakers to fund it, has facilitated to achievement of important security measures: dismantling of thousands of nuclear warheads, securing facilities in Russia where weapon-grade material is stored, and finding suitable jobs for tens of thousands of Russian nuclear scientists, engineers, and technicians. More than two decades of cooperation in guarding weapons-grade stockpiles have now come to an end, the result of tensions over Russia’s role in Ukraine. Experts say the end of U.S.-Russia nuclear cooperation leaves the world “a more dangerous place.”

  • RadicalizationIslamic radicalization takes place in prison, but the numbers are small: Experts

    In the wake of the terrorist attacks in Paris nearly three weeks ago, terrorism experts say that in addition to monitoring mosques known for extremist views, there is a need to investigate the role of prisons in the recruitment and radicalization process.”Prisons have been called universities of crime for a long time,” says one expert, so the “idea is simply being applied to terrorism so prisons might become universities of radicalization, and in some cases that has proven to be true.” The same expert notes, however, that while the connection between prison and Islamic radicalization is undeniable, “millions of prisoners have gone through Western penal systems and only about fifty went on to commit terror crimes.” He adds: “We shouldn’t think that prisons are manufacturing terrorists like automobile parts — if so, they’re doing a lousy job.”

  • SurveillanceThe many problems with the DEA's bulk phone records collection program

    By Hanni Fakhoury

    Think mass surveillance is just the wheelhouse of agencies like the NSA? Think again. One of the biggest concerns to come from the revelations about the NSA’s bulk collection of the phone records of millions of innocent Americans was that law enforcement agencies might be doing the same thing. It turns out this concern was valid, as last week the government let slip for the first time that the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) had also been collecting the phone records of Americans in bulk since the 1990s.

  • Coastal infrastructureMiami Beach to raise West Avenue in the face of sea-level rise

    City planners in Miami Beach will begin the first phase of a two-part project to raise West Avenue between 1.5 to two feet during the next few years in an effort to prepare the area in the face of sea-level rise. The project will coincide with stormwater drainage and sewer improvements which include installing more pumps to prevent flooding from rain and high tides.

  • InfrastructureBoston's aging pipes leak high levels of heat-trapping methane

    The aging system of underground pipes and tanks that delivers natural gas to Boston-area households and businesses leaks high levels of methane, with adverse economic, public health, and environmental consequences. Now a group of atmospheric scientists at Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) has produced hard numbers that quantify the extent of the problem.

  • WaterInvention slows water evaporation, generates energy

    A new technology offers a positive environmental impact by slowing the evaporation of water from bodies of water such as mining tailings ponds and reservoirs, while simultaneously generating solar energy. The invention, called Hexocover, consists of floating hexagonal plastic panels that sandwich 4-inch balls linked together to form a cover to prevent evaporation. The panel design addresses the need for mobility through the inclusion of a propulsion system as well as GPS, so the panels can be built to be remotely configurable. Further, when configured with solar cells, the panels can generate electricity.

  • ISISU.S. officials: 6,000 ISIS fighters and “more than half” of the group’s leadership killed

    The U.S.-led airstrikes campaign has “taken more than half” of the Islamic State’s (ISIS) leadership, U.S. ambassador to Iraq Stuart Jones said. Jones said the airstrikes were having a “devastating” effect on ISIS. “We estimate that the airstrikes have now killed more than 6,000 ISIS fighters in Syria and Iraq,” Jones said. He added that the airstrikes have “destroyed more than a thousand of ISIS vehicles inside Iraq.”

  • TerrorismRadicalized Muslims from Central Asia flock to Syria to join ISIS

    The Islamic State (IS) is attracting Central Asians to Syria and fostering new links among radicals within the region. Unless the five Central Asian governments develop a credible, coordinated counter-action plan, including improved security measures but also social, political and economic reforms, growing radicalism will eventually pose a serious threat to their stability.

  • Border securitySaudi Arabia constructing 600-mile wall along its border with Iraq

    Saudi Arabia has been busy since September busy building a 600-mile East-to-West barrier which will run along its Northern border with Iraq.The primary purpose of the wall is to keep out Islamic State (ISIS) militants who have claimed that their goals are the eventual takeover of the holy cities of Mecca and Medinia, which lie well inside of Saudi Arabia’s borders.

  • Tornado safe roomsOhio helps resident pay for tornado safe rooms

    In recent years, Ohio has averaged twenty-three tornadoes annually. The state also experienced winds topping 70 mph during Hurricane Ike in 2008, 100 mph in the derecho during the summer of 2012, and near hurricane-force winds along Lake Erie in northeastern Ohio during superstorm Sandy in the fall of 2012. Many Ohio residents living along “Tornado Alley” have rehearsed their escape plans several times to prepare for the next time a tornado touches ground. To offer residents better protection, since 2013 the Ohio Emergency Management Agency(EMA) has been helping qualified homeowners pay for safe rooms which can withstand the most destructive windstorms.

  • Disaster responseDrawing disaster response lessons by comparing quake responses

    Following the devastating 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake which hit the Tohoku region of Japan, many local and provincial governments rushed to aid the people in the area with personnel and materials, providing important relief in a time of crisis. At a recent symposium, some were comparing the response to the 2011 disaster to the response to the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake of 1995 in order to draw lessons and offer guidelines in effective crisis management.

  • EarthquakesFracking-induced tremors lead to changes in building codes, insurance rates

    For its upcoming National Seismic Hazard Map, used by engineers to update building and construction codes and by insurers to set policy rates, the U.S. Geological Survey(USGS) will take into account risks posed by induced or man-made earthquakes. For North Texas, where earthquakes are historically uncommon, an increase in earthquake risk is likely as the Dallas area has suffered more than 120 earthquakes since 2008. Scientists have attributed these earthquakes to nearby fracking operations.

  • InfrastructureEngineers develop world’s longest “flat pack” arch bridge

    Civil Engineers at Queen’s University Belfast in collaboration with pre-cast concrete specialists Macrete Ireland have developed the world’s longest “flat pack” arch bridge. Based on the FlexiArch system, the bridge is unique in that it will be transported to site in flat-pack form but when lifted, will transform under gravity into an arch. A FlexiArch bridge requires little maintenance and should last 300 years, compared to the projected lifespan of up to 120 years that accompanies a conventional bridge.