Public Safety

  • Israel conducted tests to assess the impact of dirty bombs

    Between 2010 and 2014, Israeli scientists at the Dimona nuclear reactor conducted a series of experiments, under the code name “Green Field,” to examine the consequences of a dirty-bomb explosion in Israel. The purpose of the experiments was defensive – to measure the likely effect of a dirty bomb and evaluate countermeasures. The experiments did not evaluate to offensive potential of a dirty bomb.

  • Mapping organized crime, terrorism hotspots in Eurasia

    More than a quarter of all the drugs produced in opium-rich Afghanistan pass through Eurasia. Drug trafficking in the region has been linked to the strength of such terrorists groups as the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, Islamic Jihad Union, and al-Qaeda. The illicit sale of weapons is common in the area, and locals are drawn into human trafficking rings either for forced labor or sexual exploitation. As organized crime plays an increasing role in funding terrorism, researchers aim to pinpoint hotspots in Eurasia where drug trafficking, human trafficking, and terrorism coincide. The research team, selected to receive a $953,500 Minerva grant from the U.S. Department of Defense’s Minerva Research Initiative, will examine the connections between terrorism and organized crime in Central Asia, South Caucasus, and Russia.

  • Better flood-warning system

    On Memorial Day evening, Houston, Texas suffered massive flooding after getting nearly eleven inches of rain in twelve hours. Rice University civil engineering professor Philip Bedient is an expert on flooding and how communities can protect themselves from disaster. He directs the Severe Storm Prediction, Education and Evacuation from Disasters Center (SSPEED) at Rice University. Bedient designed the Flood Alert System — now in its third version — which uses radar, rain gauges, cameras, and modeling to indicate whether Houston’s Brays Bayou is at risk of overflowing and flooding the Texas Medical Center. He says more places need those types of warning systems.

  • Senate passes surveillance reform

    The U.S. Senate yesterday voted 67-32 to pass the House’s USA Freedom Act which would end the NSA collection of bulk metadata of Americans’ phone records. The bill will now head to the White House for the president to sign. The USA Freedom Act shifts the responsibility for keeping the phone records from the government to hundreds of separate phone carriers – but important questions remain. Thus it is not entirely clear how many records the carriers will keep, and for how long, and under what circumstances will they allow law enforcement to view these records. Senator Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky), the Senate majority leader, who supported the reauthorization of the Patriot Act, said that the USA Freedom Act is “a resounding victory for those who currently plotted against our homeland. It does not enhance the privacy protections of American citizens, and it surely undermines American security by taking one more tool from our war fighters, in my view, at exactly the wrong time.”

  • Forest managers hampered in efforts to control costly wildfires by using prescribed burns

    Fighting wildfires is costly. The U.S. government now spends about $2 billion a year just to stop them, according to the National Interagency Fire Center. This is up from $239 million in 1985. Forest managers would prefer to use prescribed burns every few years to help prevent costly wildfires and rebuild unhealthy ecosystems, but hurdles like staffing, budget, liability, and new development hinder them.

  • Broad NSA surveillance powers, granted in 2006, expired on midnight

    The NSA’s broad domestic surveillance authority, granted to the agency when the Patriot Act was first reauthorized in 2006, expired on midnight after the Senate failed to extend Section 215 of the Patriot Act, which governs surveillance, or approve the House’s USA Freedom Act, which modified Section 215. The Senate did vote, 77-17, to take up the House bill on Tuesday. The failure of the Senate to do extend or modify the NSA’s surveillance power was the result of the unyielding position of Senator Rand Paul (R-Kentucky), and also the result of a miscalculation by Senator Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky), the majority leader, who believed that the prospect of the expiration of Section 215 would lead opponent of the surveillance programs, supporters of the current program, and supporters of the House’s USA Freedom Act to agree to a few weeks extension of Section 215 to allow for more negotiations among senators and between senators and House member. The Senate did vote, 77-17, to take up the House bill on Tuesday. It remains to be seen, however, how many, and what type, of amendments McConnell would allow to be brought to the floor, and, if some of these amendments are approved, whether House members would agree to any modifications to the USA Freedom Act.

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  • U.S. to increase annual military aid package to Israel from $3 billion to nearly $4 billion

    The U.S. defense aid to Israel will increase after 2017 from the current $3 billion a year to between $3.5 and $4 billion a year, according to both American and Israeli sources. The substantial increase in the military aid package to Israel is the direct result of the negotiations with Iran — and the fact that Sunni states in the region, such as Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States, will themselves see a major quantitative and qualitative increases in U.S. military aid to them, thus risking the erosion of the Israeli military’s “qualitative edge.” Only last year, the administration, in an effort to accommodate congressionally mandated cuts in the defense budget, informed Israel that the only changes to the package would be adjustment for inflation.

  • France will not sign off on a nuclear deal with Iran if military sites are off limits to inspectors

    Laurent Fabius, France’s foreign minister, said France will not accept a deal on Iran’s nuclear program if Tehran refuses to allow inspections of its military sites as part of the final agreement. Throughout the negotiations with Iran, France has taken a tougher stance toward Iran than the other negotiating countries, known as the P5 + 1 (the five permanent members of the Security Council – the United States, United Kingdom, Russia, China, and France – and Germany). “France will not accept a deal if it is not clear that inspections can be done at all Iranian installations, including military sites,” Fabius told the national assembly in Paris.

  • Giant surveillance blimp to protect Capitol building

    Lawmakers want to make the Capitol building more secure after existing security measured failed to detect or stop Douglas Hughes who, on 15 April, flew his gyrocopter into the Capitol manicured lawn. Some of these lawmakers want to deploy the Tethered Aerostat Radar System, or TARS – a giant blimp carrying 2,000-pounds radars that can spot an aircraft at a distance of 200 miles. Several TARS are already deployed along the U.S.-Mexico border, and along a 340-mile stretch of the Atlantic coast stretching from North Carolina to Boston. The blimp loiters at about 10,000 feet – but in order not to mar the Washington, D.C. skyline, lawmakers suggest acquiring a blimp which can hover at a higher altitude.

  • QuakeAlert app to be tested by USGS, CalTech

    Santa Monica, California-based Early Warning Labs says that a new technology it developed in partnership with the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) can alert users before shaking strikes their location. The app, called QuakeAlert, will alert users with a countdown to when shaking will strike their exact location and tell the user how severe the intensity of the shaking is expected to be in their location. The app will be available for free once USGS approves the technology.

  • NIST publishes first “roadmap” for public safety communications research

    NIST has published the first “roadmap” for the next twenty years of research needed to establish seamless, broadband public safety communications networks across the United States. The new roadmap, the first of a planned series on relevant technologies, focuses on location-based services to improve situational awareness for police, firefighters, emergency medical services, and other first responders. The roadmap was commissioned by NIST’s Public Safety Communications Research (PSCR) program, which has been performing research, development, testing and evaluation, and creating standards to support first responder communications since 2002.

  • Iowa State to be home to a new, $20 million national center for forensic science

    NIST has awarded a five-year, up to $20 million grant to establish a Forensic Science Center of Excellence to be based at Iowa State University. The new center will be the third NIST Center of Excellence and the only one focused on forensic sciences. Its primary goal will be to build a statistically sound and scientifically solid foundation under two branches of forensics, pattern evidence (including fingerprints and bullet marks) and digital evidence (including data from cell phones and computers).

  • T. K. Jones, Pentagon official who argued U.S. could survive an all-out nuclear war, dies

    Thomas K. Jones (he preferred to be called “T. K.”), the deputy under-secretary of defense for research and engineering, strategic and theater nuclear forces, died at 82. He became famous in 1982, when, in an interview with the LA Times, he argued that if the United States had a more robust civil defense, most Americans would survive an all-out Soviet nuclear attack. “You can make very good sheltering by taking the doors off your house, digging a trench, stacking the doors about two deep over that, covering it with plastic so that rainwater or something doesn’t screw up the glue in the door, then pile dirt over it.” He added: “It’s the dirt that does it.” He concluded the interview by saying:  “Turns out with the Russian approach, if there are enough shovels to go around, everybody’s going to make it.”

  • Israeli military technology sales to Africa increase by 40%

    Israeli weapons exports declined by nearly $1 billion in 214 compared to 2013, but export of Israel-made weapons to African countries increased by 40 percent in 2014 compared with 2013. Israeli armaments industries signed deals worth $318 million in Africa, compared with $223 million in 2013, which itself was an all-time record. Asian and Pacific countries were much larger customers of Israeli arms, though, buying $3 billion worth of Israeli military technology in 2014.

  • Tech companies urge rejection of push by FBI, DOJ for electronic devices “backdoors”

    In a 19 May letter to President Barack Obama, a group of Silicon Valley tech companies, cyber-security experts, and privacy advocacy groups urged the president to reject the implementation of “backdoors” in smartphone and computer encryption. The letter offered evidence of the  strong objection of the tech industry to demands from the Justice Department and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to allow secret backdoor passages into consumer electronics, which would make it possible for law enforcement to read encrypted private communications and data.