Public Safety

  • Law enforcementGrowing unease about local police agencies employing military gear

    A two-decade-old Pentagon program — the 1033 Program — makes available to state and local police military equipment that the military no longer wants. Without state or local oversight, state and local law enforcement, and even natural resources departments, can make requests through a designated state coordinator, who, with Pentagon officials, has final say on granting equipment requests. About $5.4 billion worth of equipment has been distributed since the program began in 1997. State lawmakers in many states want their states to have more of a say in what military gear law enforcement agencies in the state should get. Law enforcement in Florida requested, and received, forty-seven mine-resistant vehicles and thirty-six grenade launchers, while police in Texas received seventy-three mine-resistant vehicles and a $24.3 million aircraft.

  • BlimpsAirship maker suing the U.S. Navy for loss of an advanced blimp in roof collapse

    Aeroscraft Aeronautical Systems has filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Navy following the destruction of their Aeros airship. It was destroyed when a roof a 300,000 square foot Second World War-era hanger at Tustin Marine Corps Air Station in Tustin, California, collapsed. Aeroscraft is seeking to reclaim all losses as well as an unspecified amount meant to compensate the company for the $3 billion capital financing plan which was halted after the airship was destroyed. The base closed in 1999, but the property is still owned by the Navy, which leased buildings and hangars on the base to private companies.

  • FirefightingFighting fires with low-frequency sound waves

    A thumping bass may do more than light up a party — it could flat out extinguish it, thanks to a new sound-blasting fire extinguisher by George Mason University undergrads. The fire extinguisher uses low-frequency sound waves to douse a blaze. Their sound-wave device is free of toxic chemicals and eliminates collateral damage from sprinkler systems. If mounted on drones, it could improve safety for firefighters confronting large forest fires or urban blazes.

  • FirefightingTethered robots to be the “eyes” of firefighters in “blind” conditions

    Researchers have developed revolutionary reins which enable robots to act like guide dogs, which could enable that firefighters moving through smoke-filled buildings could save vital seconds and find it easier to identify objects and obstacles. The small mobile robot — equipped with tactile sensors — would lead the way, with the firefighter following a meter or so behind holding a rein. The robot would help the firefighter move swiftly in “blind” conditions, while vibrations sent back through the rein would provide data about the size, shape and even the stiffness of any object the robot finds.

  • CounterterrorismFBI needs to improve intelligence capabilities, hire more linguists: Report

    The FBI needs to improve its intelligence capabilities and hire more linguists to counter evolving threats to the United States, according to a 9/11 Review Commission reportexamining the bureau’s progress since the 9/11 attacks, which was released Wednesday. “Many of the findings and recommendations in this report will not be new to the FBI,” the report said. “The bureau is already taking steps to address them. In 2015, however, the FBI faces an increasingly complicated and dangerous global threat environment that will demand an accelerated commitment to reform. Everything is moving faster.”

  • RadicalizationU.S. scrambling to identify, locate recruits to radical Islamist ideology

    Nearly 3,000 Europeans have traveled to Syria and Iraq to fight alongside the Islamic State (ISIS), but social media and court records suggest just about two dozen Americans have made it to the Middle East to fight with the group. Another two dozen or so have been stopped by the FBI and charged before they could fly to Turkey and cross over into the Syrian territories controlled by ISIS.

    U.S. law enforcement, with no clear understanding of how Americans are being recruited, are scrambling to identify U.S. residents attracted to radical Islamic ideology before those individuals try to travel or worse- launch an attack on U.S. soil.

  • Flood forecastingColorado deploys latest flood forecasting technology

    Colorado governor John Hickenlooper has raised concerns about House Bill 1129, a 5-year, $10 million proposal to implement a new technology which would assist with predicting the direction and intensity of wildfires and floods. Scientists have spent twenty years working on the proposed technology for Colorado, saying it is finally ready for implementation. The technology uses rainfall estimation, precipitation forecasting, and water modeling along with hundreds of thousands of atmospheric data points to predict the direction, speed, and intensity of floods, with up to 12-hour notice. As advancements in technology and computing allow for more accurate flood predictions, some variables remain a challenge for hydrologists.

  • Lone wolvesMore lone-wolf attacks committed by extremists/supremacists than Jihadists

    Internal documents from the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) reveal that more Lone Wolf attacks are committed by white supremacists and individuals with extreme right-wing ideologies than by Islamic extremists. Citing academic research, the agency attributes 17 percent of lone-wolf attacks worldwide to white supremacists causes. Islamic extremists account for 15 percent of such attacks, while left-wing radicalism and “black power” groups followed with 13 percent. Anti-abortion activism accounts for 8 percent and nationalism/separatism causes make up 7 percent, while 40 percent of lone wolf attacks showed no clear ideological motivation.

  • Chemical weaponsDestruction of 780,000 chemical munitions stockpiled in Colorado begins

    This week Sandia National Laboratories’ Explosive Destruction System (EDS) began safely destroying stockpile chemical munitions for the U.S. Army. The project to destroy 560 chemical munitions at the U.S. Army Pueblo Chemical Depot in Colorado with EDS is a prelude to a much larger operation to destroy the stockpile of 780,000 munitions containing 2,600 tons of mustard agent, stored at the Pueblo depot since the 1950s.

  • African securitySouth Africa refuses to give up cache of weapon-grade uranium

    In the 1980s, White minority-ruled South Africa built six nuclear bombs. In 1990s the F. W. de Klerk government began planning the transformation of the country into a democracy. As part of the transition, the country’s nuclear weapons, and nuclear weapons-making infrastructure, were dismantled under IAEA supervision. TheWhite-minority regime and, since 1994, the democratically elected South African government, have both held to, and refused to give up, the 485 pounds of weapon-grade nuclear fuel – some of it extracted from the dismantled weapons and some of it already produced but not yet put in warheads. Despite pressure by successive U.S. administrations, South Africa says it is determined to keep its weapon-grade nuclear fuel.

  • Patriot ActPrivacy concerns potentially an obstacle to 1 June Patriot Act reauthorization

    With the USA Patriot Act set to expire on 1 June, lawmakers are debating whether the bill, which allows the National Security Agency (NSA) to collect bulk metadata of U.S. phone records, should be extended. The act was last renewed in 2011, before former NSA contractor Edward Snowden revealed details of the U.S. intelligence agency’s surveillance activities. The debate around the reauthorization of the Patriot Act focuses on Section 215 of the law, used by the NSA to mass collect phone records in an effort to locate terrorists who might be calling supporters in the United States.

  • SurveillanceJustice Department takes first step toward expansion of search warrants’ reach

    The Justice Department has taken a first step toward allowing judges to grant warrants for remote searches of computers located outside their district, or when the location is unknown. On Monday, the Judicial Conference Advisory Committee on Criminal Rules approved an amendment to Rule 41 by an 11-1 vote. The existing provision allows judges to approve search warrants only for material within the geographic bounds of their judicial district, but the FBI has said it needs the rule updated to address the increasingly complex digital realities of modern day.

  • ForensicsRecovering obliterated serial numbers in metals

    Law enforcement agencies use serial numbers to track ownership of firearms and build criminal cases. Serial numbers, however, can be removed by scratching, grinding or other methods. Analysts typically try to restore the numbers with acid or electrolytic etching or polishing, because deformed areas behave differently from undamaged material. These methods, however, do not always work. Researchers have now demonstrated a technique for mapping deformation in metals that can recover destroyed serial numbers on metal objects such as firearms, a common challenge in forensics.

  • ForensicsFrench experts rule out foul play in 2004 death of Yasser Arafat

    A French prosecutor yesterday announced that French medical and forensic experts have ruled out poisoning as the cause of the 2004 death of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. The prosecutor of the western Paris suburb of Nanterre said the experts, following a thorough examination, found there was no foul play in Arafat’s death. The findings by the French experts are identical to findings by a different French team and to the findings of Russian experts. A Swiss team, however, initially said that their test results of personal affects left behind by Arafat led them to conclude that radioactive poisoning was “more consistent” as an explanation of Arafat’s death.

  • Chemical weaponsMetal-organic framework quickly destroys toxic nerve agents

    First used 100 years ago during the First World War, deadly chemical weapons continue to be a challenge to combat. Scientists have developed a robust new material, inspired by biological catalysts, which is extraordinarily effective at destroying toxic nerve agents that are a threat around the globe. The material, a zirconium-based metal-organic framework (MOF), degrades in minutes one of the most toxic chemical agents known to mankind: Soman (GD), a more toxic relative of sarin. Computer simulations show the MOF should be effective against other easy-to-make agents, such as VX.