Public Safety

  • Despite 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.”

  • Israel 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.

  • U.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.

  • How to verify a comprehensive Iran nuclear deal

    With the negotiation between the P5+1(the United States, European Union, Britain, France, Russia, and China) and Iran resuming yesterday (Wednesday) about a set of parameters for an eventual Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the shape of a final deal about Iran’s nuclear program has emerged. Many important provisions of a final deal, however, remain to be negotiated in the coming months. David Albright, the president of the Institute for Science and International Security, says that a critical set of these provisions involves the adequacy of verification arrangements which would be in place to monitor Iran’s compliance with a deal. Tehran’s long history of violations, subterfuge, and non-cooperation requires extraordinary arrangements to ensure that Iran’s nuclear program is indeed peaceful.

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  • U.S. says South Africa’s weapon-grade uranium not sufficiently secure

    In the early 1990s South Africa’s former apartheid government dismantled the country’s six nuclear bombs and its nuclear weapons-making infrastructure as it began planning the transformation of the country into a democracy. The nuclear fuel, extracted from the country’s nuclear weapons, has over time been used to make medical isotopes, but roughly 485 pounds remain. A November 2007 breach at the Pelindaba nuclear research center, where the nuclear fuel is stored in a former silver vault, alarmed U.S. officials, who had reason to believe the culprits were after the center’s fuel inventory. Incentives from the Obama administration for South Africa to convert its nuclear-weapons fuel, have been rejected by South Africa.

  • Assad regime continues to employ chemical weapons

    Syrian government troops had used chemical weapons against civilians and rebels on many occasions, culminating in an August 2013 deadly chemical attack against civilians in Ghouta, a Damascus suburb. That attack killed more than 1,200 people. Syria joined the OPCW in 2013 in the face of a threat of a U.S. military attack, admitting to owning about 1,300 tons of chemical weapons and ingredients for making toxic gas and nerve agents, and agreeing to give up this stockpile and destroy, under supervision, its chemical weapons production infrastructure. Western intelligence services have always suspected that Assad has not come clean, and that the regime still keeps secret chemical stockpiles. The continued use of chemical weapons in Syria means that the Assad regime agreed to refrain from developing new chemical weapons, but not from using existing inventory.

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  • Washington State county considering levy to fund new emergency-radio network

    Voters in King County, Washington, which includes Seattle, will be asked in a special 28 April election to approve a levy for a new emergency-radio network to expand coverage throughout the county and replace outdated equipment used by police, fire, medical, and other emergency personnel. The levywould raise $246 million over nine years and cost $0.07 per $1,000 of assessed property valuation beginning in 2016. The levy proposed would increase the number of transmission towers from twenty-six to forty-six and replace 19,000 radios and 117 dispatch consoles.

  • Fusion centers, created to fight domestic terrorism, suffering from mission creep: Critics

    Years before the 9/11 attacks, law enforcement agencies throughout the country, alarmed by the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, began to monitor and investigate signs of domestic terrorism. That increased monitoring, and the need for coordination among various law enforcement agencies, gave rise to the fusion centers. A new report, which is supported by current and former law enforcement and government officials, concludes that post-9/11, fusion centers and the FBI teams which work with them shifted their focus from domestic terrorism to global terrorism and other crimes, including drug trafficking.Experts say that at a time when the number of domestic terrorism threats, many of which are linked to right-wing extremist groups, is surging, law enforcement must refocus their attention on the threats from within.

  • Yemen chaos makes the country a haven for an al-Qaeda affiliate

    Over the past year, while ISIS gained control of vast territories in Syria and Iraq, U.S. drone strikes and military raids in Yemen drove al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) into hiding. The current chaos in Yemen’s multi-sided war, however, has allowed AQAP militants to recreate a haven which counterterrorism experts say could help it launch terrorist attacks. U.S. officials acknowledge the changes on the ground, but say U.S. strategy has not changed. “Our efforts have to change their character but remain steady in their intensity,” said Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter.

  • Growing worries about proliferation of “killer robots”

    Fully autonomous weapons have not yet been developed, but technology is moving toward increasing autonomy. Such weapons would select and engage targets without further intervention by a human. Governments are increasingly recognizing the potential dangers posed by these fully autonomous weapons, and during a meeting last week, numerous governments expressed support for the need to ensure meaningful human control over targeting and attack decisions in warfare.

  • San Antonio emergency teams train for worst scenarios

    Community Emergency Response Teams (CERT) in San Antonio, the sixth largest city in the United States, are worried that the large population and size of the metropolis could pose a major problem in an emergency situation. The area is already at risk of tornadoes and fires, but teams have recently completed training for a wide variety of imaginable scenarios. In training, participants learn plans and functions for traffic direction, logistical assistance, and search and rescue.

  • U.S. expects improving relations with Cuba to facilitate return of fugitives

    A 2013 State Department report discredited earlier U.S. claims that Cuba armed separatists in Colombia and Spain, but reaffirmed the country’s role in providing refuge to criminals who have fled U.S. courts (and jails).”We see the reestablishment of diplomatic relations and the reopening of an embassy in Havana as the means by which we’ll be able, more effectively, to press the Cuban government on law enforcement issues such as fugitives. And Cuba has agreed to enter into a law enforcement dialogue with the United States that will work to resolve these cases,” a State Department spokesman said.

  • Strong evidence that Syrian government used chemicals in attacks on three cities

    Evidence strongly suggests that Syrian government helicopters dropped barrel bombs filled with cylinders of chlorine gas on three towns in Northern Syria in mid-April 2014, Human Rights Watch said earlier this week. These attacks used an industrial chemical as a weapon, an act banned by the international treaty prohibiting chemical weapons that Syria joined in October 2013. The Syrian government is the only party to the conflict with helicopters and other aircraft.

  • Scientists develop deep borehole disposal (DBD) method to deal with nuclear waste

    Technologies which will enable nuclear waste to be sealed five kilometers below the Earth’s surface could provide a safer, cheaper and more viable alternative for disposing of the U.K.’s high level nuclear waste. Scientists calculate that all of the U.K.’s high level nuclear waste from spent fuel reprocessing could be disposed of in just six boreholes five kilometers deep, fitting within a site no larger than a football pitch. The concept — called deep borehole disposal — has been developed primarily in the United Kingdom, but is likely to see its first field trials in the United States next year.

  • Police use of Stingray technology raises privacy advocates’ ire

    Detective Emmanuel Cabreja, a member of the Baltimore Police Department’s Advanced Technical Team, recently testified that the unit owns and operates a Hailstorm cell site simulator, the latest version of the Stingray — a device which mimics a cellphone tower to force phones within its range to connect. For years, law enforcement agencies have used Stingrays to find wanted suspects, but until recently, the technology was largely unknown to the public, partly because law enforcement officers were banned from revealing such information to judges and defense attorneys.