Public Safety

  • 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.

  • 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April election to approve a levy for a new emergency-radio network to expand coverage throughout the county and replace outdated equipment used by police, fire, medical, and other emergency personnel.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.

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  • 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.

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  • 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.

  • Former Israeli PM Ehud Barak invests $1 million in emergency reporting app developer

    Israeli start-up Reporty Homeland Security has raised $1 million from former prime minister and minister of defense Ehud Barak. The company’s technology aims to streamline communication between citizen and government agencies at the same time that it protects the user’s privacy. The company’s application establishes a two-way video and audio connection to the emergency help center, transmitting information which gives the precise location of the person making the report and allowing for an evaluation of the incident report’s credibility.

  • Smartphones could be used for earthquake early warning

    Smartphones and other personal electronic devices could, in regions where they are in widespread use, function as early warning systems for large earthquakes according to newly reported research. This technology could serve regions of the world that cannot afford higher quality, but more expensive, conventional earthquake early warning systems, or could contribute to those systems. The researchers found that the sensors in smartphones and similar devices could be used to issue earthquake warnings for earthquakes of approximately magnitude 7 or larger, but not for smaller, yet potentially damaging earthquakes.

  • Underground impact of a missile or meteor hit

    When a missile or meteor strikes the earth, the havoc above ground is obvious, but the details of what happens below ground are harder to see. Physicists have developed techniques that enable them to simulate high-speed impacts in artificial soil and sand in the lab, and then watch what happens underground close-up, in super slow motion. The research, funded by the Defense Threat Reduction Agency, the research may ultimately lead to better control of earth-penetrating missiles designed to destroy deeply buried targets such as enemy bunkers or stockpiles of underground weapons.

  • California exploring ways to fund ShakeAlert earthquake early warning system

    A 2008 ShakeOutreport predicts that a 7.8 magnetic quake could cause up to $200 billion in damages from buildings and infrastructure collapse, leaving households and most businesses without electricity and water for months. About 50,000 people would be injured, and more than 2,000 could die.The proposed ShakeAlert earthquake early warning system,is similar to systems in Mexico and Japan, which residents have relied on to receive notice about an incoming quake seconds before it arrives.California is exploring many options to fund the ShakeAlert system, with some officials favoring a federal-state partnership.

  • As law enforcement increases use of license plate readers, privacy advocates fret

    Law enforcement agencies across the country have adopted license plate readers (LPRs) to monitor vehicles driving on roads and to locate wanted suspects or suspended drivers.After canceling plans last year to operate its own LPR database, DHS announced last week, through a bid request, that the agency’s ICE is seeking a private sector firm to provide access to already functioning LPR databases for a subscription fee.Privacy advocates argue that the gains made with LPR systems, do not justify the mass monitoring of Americans who drive.