Public Safety

  • South 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.

  • Privacy 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.

  • Justice 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.

  • Recovering 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.

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  • French 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.

  • Metal-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.

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  • ISIS employed crude chemical weapons against Kurdish peshmerga

    Kurdish sources in Iraq have said they have evidence that Islamic State (ISIS) used chlorine gas as a chemical weapon against Kurdish peshmerga fighters. The Kurdistan Region Security Council said the chlorine gas was spread by a suicide truck bomb attack on 23 January in northern Iraq. Iraqi officials and Kurds fighting in Syria have made several similar allegations since last fall about ISIS using chlorine chemical weapons against them. In the previous Islamist insurgency in Iraq – in Anbar province, in 2006-2007 – there was evidence of chemical use by the insurgents. The insurgents in 2006-2007 were members of al-Qaeda in Iraq, which later transformed itself into ISIS.

  • Iran letter may be a failed experiment or a sign of things to come

    Senator Tom Cotton (R-Arkansas) sparked a political firestorm with his 9 March open letter to the leaders of Iran, co-signed by forty-six of his colleagues. The letter warns Iranian negotiators that President Obama’s successor could cancel any agreement with the United States not approved by the Senate as a formal treaty. Cotton’s observations on U.S. treaty law are facile at best, the stuff of an elective constitutional law course. It is not the substance that has rankled so many Washington observers, however, it is the form. Many described the letter as a “breach of protocol,” as if it has been out of institutional politesse that members of Congress have historically refrained from this kind of direct communication with foreign leaders. That understates the case considerably. Established constitutional doctrine holds that presidents have exclusive authority to engage foreign governments on the nation’s behalf. If this principle – sometime called John Marshall’s “sole organ” doctrine, after Chief Justice Marshall – is not followed, and if politics does not stop at the water’s edge, the result will be a free-for-all foreign policy, a scaling up of the polarization already endemic to domestic politics. No one should welcome the prospect, but it may become a fact of life. Expect presidents to up the ante by taking more aggressive unilateral measures, further reducing the possibility of inter-party cooperation. The 9 March letter may be a peek at a new kind of politics beyond the water’s edge, requiring new kinds of navigation.

  • Likelihood of Calif.’s Big One within next 30 years higher than previously thought: USGS

    The U.S. Geological Surveypredicts a 7 percent chance of a magnitude 8.0 or greater earthquake hitting California within the next thirty years. This is up from 4.7 percent from the last forecast. The reason for the increased estimate is due to better understanding of how different faults are connected.The new forecasts are not meant to startle the average citizen, but property developers and homeowners should be informed. City planners will consider these predictions when forming new building codes and the California Earthquake Authority will use the predictions to evaluate insurance premiums.

  • U.K.: 3 London girls who traveled to Syria to join ISIS not regarded as terrorists

    Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, commissioner of the Metropolitan police(Met), has announced that the three London girls who allegedly stole jewelry from their parents to fund a trip to join the Islamic State (ISIS) may return to the United Kingdom without fear of being prosecuted for terrorism. “We have no evidence in this case that these three girls are responsible for any terrorist offenses,” said Mark Rowley, the Met’s chief of counterterrorism. “They have no reason to fear, if nothing else comes to light, that we will be treating them as terrorists.”

  • Sandy Hook commission’s final report calls for changes likely to prove controversial

    Shortly after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, Governor Dannel P. Malloy appointed a commission to make recommendations on how to prevent future school shootings throughout the country. Since then, there haves been more than 100 school shootings in the United States. Some recommendations from the Sandy Hook commission likely to face opposition include: allowing ammunition purchases only for registered firearms; requiring people to renew their firearm permits at regular intervals; limiting the amount of ammunition that could be purchased at any given time; and requiring gun clubs to report “negligent or reckless behavior” with a firearm to state officials.

  • Many active-shooter drills in schools now involve more realistic scenarios

    Some active shooter drills in schools now involve someone firing shots and people pretending to be shot. Many police officials and security consultants believe lessons are better learned when the real scenario can be replicated. This growing trend in active shooter response training encourages would be targets to explore other options to deal with a live shooter besides hiding and locking classroom doors. The trend toward options beyond the traditional lockdown gained traction after the 2007 Virginia Tech shooting, where an armed student broke into classrooms, killing thirty-seven people many of whom were trying to hide.

  • Latest version of laser weapon system stops truck in field test

    Lockheed Martin’s 30-kilowatt fiber laser weapon system successfully disabled the engine of a small truck during a recent field test, demonstrating the rapidly evolving precision capability to protect military forces and critical infrastructure. The company says that the ground-based prototype system, — called ATHENA, for Advanced Test High Energy Asset — burned through the engine manifold in a matter of seconds from more than a mile away. The demonstration represents highest power ever documented by a laser weapon of its type

  • Prize competition for tracking first responders indoors

    The Department of Homeland Security’s Science and Technology Directorate (S&T) yesterday announced the Department’s first crowdsourced prize competition in support of the first responder community. The Indoor Tracking of the Next Generation First Responder prize competition seeks innovative ideas for solving the challenges of real-time, accurate indoor tracking of first responders during an incident. S&T says it is looking for innovate solutions that will help first responders with basic questions such as “where am I?” and “where is my team?”

  • Nuclear forensics to the aid of nuclear detectives

    Fans of the popular TV series “CSI” know that the forensics experts who investigate crime scenes are looking for answers to three key questions: “Who did it; how did they do it; and can we stop them from doing it again?” The field of nuclear forensics has similar goals and uses similar techniques — but with even higher stakes. “In nuclear forensics, we want to know first, is someone able to put together the parts to make a nuclear weapon and set it off?” says one researcher. “And second, if one is set off, can we find out who did it, how they did it and are they going to do it again? Like traditional forensics, we’re looking for nuclear signatures, just like fingerprints; we’re looking for the technological and material clues and evidence to tell us what somebody had done to make this unfortunate thing happen.”