Public Safety

  • Smart-gun technology faces many hurdles

    At last Wednesday’s Seattle International Smart Gun Symposium, lawmakers, smart-gun industry representatives, and gun-safety advocates met to discuss the future of “authorized” guns which only discharge in the hands of pre-authorized owners. Representatives from Sentinl, maker of an add-on fingerprint sensor for existing handguns; TriggerSmart, an RFID-enabled system for existing and brand-new guns; and Allied Biometrix, a firm developing fully integrated biometric sensors which unlock a gun once they sense an individual’s “reflexive actions” and “grip style,” attended the event, though these companies do not yet have a ready-for-market product.

  • U.S. plan to train “moderate” Syrian rebels raises troubling questions

    The U.S. reluctance to become decisively committed to the complex quagmire in Syria is understandable. However, its plan to insert a U.S.-trained-and-equipped “moderate rebel” force into the mix is deeply concerning — on several levels. While U.S. efforts to support rebel groups to date have been less than successful, there is so much that could go wrong with this course of action, and so little that could go right. There are no easy solutions to an issue as complex as Syria. The uncoordinated, short-term actions of some of the regional states have simply exacerbated what was already a hideously difficult operating environment. If there hasn’t been a military solution to the problem that has worked in the nearly four years of the conflict, then the introduction of another 15,000 armed rebels over several years, with an indistinct aim, is unlikely to do much more than further muddy the treacherous waters.

  • France faces up to problem of Islamist radicalization in prisons

    Since this month’s Paris attacks, counterterrorism officials have focused their attention on French prisons where, they believe, a significant number of the country’s extremists adopted their radical Islamist ideology. About 7.5 percent of the French population is Muslim, but Muslims make up more than half the inmates in French prisons. Extremists often find it easier to spread violent ideology in prison than outside of prison. Most prisoners spend up to nine hours a day together working and later in the prison yard, with minimal supervision. Prison guards, who say they find it difficult to spot extremists, are each typically responsible for 100 prisoners.

  • Does Obama face the prospect of boots on the ground in Yemen?

    For the past three years the Obama administration has been deeply reluctant to engage in Yemen, Iraq, or Syria with significant deployment of ground troops. The preferred option has been termed “remote control” with greater reliance on armed drones, privatized military, special forces, and other means. The turmoil in Yemen exposes one core problem with this approach: The drone operations in Yemen, which were run both by the CIA and U.S. Joint Special Operations Command, were highly dependent on intelligence on AQAP obtained by Yemeni government security and intelligence branches. Furthermore, they had the approval of the government in Sana’a so the Obama administration could claim legitimacy for its actions. With the ousting of the Hadi government, both elements are now in question — the intelligence will probably dry up and if some kind of reasonably stable government replaces Hadi then a new regime could claim infringement of sovereignty. If that regime is Houthi-dominated, as seems likely, then while the Iranian-supported Shi’a Houthi have little liking for AQAP, they are equally opposed to U.S. policy. When the air strikes against Islamic State started last August, Western leaders said that that was as far as it would go. This is clearly not the case and not only is mission creep already happening in Iraq and Syria, it now looks highly likely in Yemen as well.

  • Severe-weather warnings most effective if probability included: Study

    Risk researchers find that the public may respond best to severe weather warnings if they include a probability estimate, an important finding not only for the present but also for the longer-term future as climate change brings more frequent and severe threats. As severe storm and other disaster warnings become more frequent, new research in this field could become critical for reducing weather-related injury and death.

  • No technologies currently available to track, disable small drones

    Monday’s drone incident on the White House lawn exposed a security gap that Secret Service and counterterrorism officials have been studying for years, but for which they have yet to develop a solution. Four days before the incident, lawmakers examining White House security protocols in response to a series of intrusions, were warned by a panel of experts that the Secret Service’s inability to identify and disable drones remained a top vulnerability, according to people with knowledge of the discussions.Security experts say proposals for a higher fence around the White House, together with increased surveillance and environmental sensors, are not enough to easily to identify and disable a drone before it lands.

  • Belgium confronting home-grown jihadist threat

    Belgium is Europe’s biggest per capita contributor of fighters to Syria and law enforcement officials fear that at least seventy of 350 Belgian fighters have returned home equipped with skills they learned on the battle field. The Belgian government had brought the concern to national attention in an October document warning about the “danger of violent jihadism that threatens to spread in our society.” Belgian officials have not found a link between the Paris attacks earlier this month and planned attacks in Belgium in the following days – attacks thwarted by swift police preemptive action — but common elements include: a clustering of radicals in a small area, the connection between petty criminality and jihadist violence, and the role of prison as an incubator for extremism.

  • Need for oil the most important reason for interfering in another country’s war

    Researchers have for the first time provided strong evidence for what conspiracy theorists have long thought — oil is often the reason for interfering in another country’s war. Civil wars have made up more than 90 percent of all armed conflicts since the Second World War, and the research builds on a near-exhaustive sample of sixty-nine countries which had a civil war between 1945 and 1999. About two thirds of civil wars during the period saw third party intervention either by another country or outside organization. The researchers found that the decision to interfere was dominated by the interveners’ need for oil over and above historical, geographical, or ethnic ties.

  • CODE program would allow UAVs to fly as collaborative teams

    The U.S. military’s investments in unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) have proven invaluable for missions from intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) to tactical strike. Most of the current systems, however, require constant control by a dedicated pilot and sensor operator as well as a large number of analysts, all via telemetry. These requirements severely limit the scalability and cost-effectiveness of UAS operations and pose operational challenges in dynamic, long-distance engagements with highly mobile targets in contested electromagnetic environments. DARPA’s CODE program is offering the opportunity to participate in discussions to help develop groundbreaking software enabling unmanned aircraft to work together with minimal supervision.

  • Boomerang: Democrats say they would delay vote on Iran sanctions bill

    Senator Robert Menendez (D-New Jersey) announced during a Senate hearing yesterday (Tuesday) that he and other Senate Democrats would not support bringing the sanctions bill he cosponsored with Senator Mark Kirk (R-Illinois) to the floor until at least 24 March. Menendez has led a small group of Democrats who were critical of the administration’s handling of the talks with Iran over the latter’s nuclear program talks. The bi-partisan approach to the sanctions issue collapsed in the face of what Democrats considered to be a clumsy politicization of the issue by Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), Israel’s prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and Israel’s ambassador to the United States, Ron Dermer. Dermer suggested to Boehner the idea of inviting Netanyahu to speak in front of Congress to criticize the administration’s policy. Netanyahu is lagging in the polls behind the center-left camp in the 17 March parliamentary elections in Israel, and Dermer, one of Netanyahu’s closest political advisers, believed the speech would boost Netanyahu’s standing in Israel. The process of the invitation was not less problematic than the invitation itself: In an unprecedented break with protocol, Boehner and Dermer did not bother to consult with, or even inform, the White House or the Department of State that they were arranging for a foreign head of state to speak before Congress.

  • NYC Russian spy ring busted

    In a federal complaint unsealed Monday, prosecutors say that Russian spies used talk about books, or tickets for sporting events or concerts, as code words for conducting espionage against the United States. On Monday in New York, law enforcement arrested one of the men, Evgeny Buryakov, 39, who posed as an employee in the New York City office of a Russian bank. The two other men listed in the complaint, Igor Sporyshev and Victor Podobnyy, had diplomatic immunity and no longer live in the United States. U.S. officials said the men were gathering intelligence related to possible U.S. sanctions on Russia and U.S. efforts to develop alternative energy resources, in addition to trying to recruit Americans in high positions.

  • Women 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.”

  • NYPD’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.

  • New 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 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.