Public Safety

  • 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.

  • Researchers use seismic signals to track above-ground explosions

    Seismology has long been used to determine the source characteristics of underground explosions, such as yield and depth, and plays a prominent role in nuclear explosion monitoring. Now, however, some of the same techniques have been modified to determine the strength and source of near and above-ground blasts. Thus, researchers have determined that a tunnel bomb explosion by Syrian rebels was less than sixty tons as claimed by sources. Using seismic stations in Turkey, the researchers created a method to determine source characteristics of near-earth surface explosions. They found the above-ground tunnel bomb blast under the Wadi al-Deif Army Base near Aleppo last spring was likely not as large as originally estimated and was closer to forty tons.

  • Robots to the rescue in disaster situations

    Real-life disaster scenarios have awakened the robotics community to the limitations of existing emergency-response robots. EU-funded researchers are redoubling efforts to ensure that disaster response robots can better support rescue workers in future emergencies. Research in the lab and on-site simulations have helped in improving the capabilities of emergency-response robots in recent years. When real disaster strikes unexpected, however, complications lay bare the limitations of test scenarios. In light of the lessons learned following the Fukushima nuclear accident, researchers are following a range of different pathways to advance emergency-response robotics.

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  • House-approved NSA reform bill fails in Senate

    Earlier this morning (Saturday), for the second time in less than a year, the Senate rejected a bill to end the National Security Agency’s (NSA) bulk collection of American phone metadata records. The House-approved USA Freedom Act failed to reach the 60-vote threshold required to bring the bill to a vote on the floor (the vote was 57-42 in favor – three votes short). The bill’s opponents used different procedural maneuvering, lasting until the early morning hours Saturday, to block the bill itself from coming to a vote. The failure to pass the House bill – or any bill dealing with bulk collection – means that Senate, when it reconvenes on 31 May, will have only a few hours to decide the fate of Section 215 of the Patriot Act – the section which governs data collection and which has given the NSA and FBI broad domestic surveillance powers – before it expires on midnight that day. Senate GOP caucus is deeply divided on the issue, but House Republicans and Democrats exhibit a rare accord.

  • U.S. may support nuke conference proposal challenging Israel’s nuclear program

    Israeli officials expressed concerns that the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty Review Conference, which ends today in New York after month-long deliberations, will approve decisions which would pose a major challenge to Israel’s unacknowledged nuclear weapons program. Arab states have already tried, in previous Review Conferences, to push for resolutions calling for making the Middle East a WMD-free zone, in effect, requiring Israel, the only nuclear-armed state in the region, to disarm. Israel’s position, supported by the United States and other countries, is that the nuclear arms issue should be dealt with as only one element of the regional security context. Until the 2010 Review Conference – these conferences meet every five years – the United States, acting on understandings reached between Richard Nixon and Golda Meir in September 1969, supported Israel’s position without much quibbling. In 2010, however, there appeared to be differences emerging between Israel’s and the U.S. approach to regional nuclear disarmament. Israel is worried that the United States, now in negotiations with Iran over the latter’s nuclear program, would support a Spanish compromise proposal which, in Israel’s view, is too close to Egypt’s original proposal which Israel finds unacceptable.

  • U.S. security would be enhanced by minimizing role of nuclear weapons: Report

    Nuclear weapons remain the most potent destructive force known to humanity. Yet, U.S. nuclear policies and doctrines remain encumbered by cold war beliefs in the potential utility of nuclear weapons, even though the United States enjoys a dominant geopolitical position in the world, underpinned by a conventional military superiority greater than any ever known before. A news report argues that U.S. security interests would be better served if the role of nuclear weapons in U.S. strategy were minimized, and the United States, in its declaratory and weapon-development policies, would make it clear that U.S. nuclear weapons would serve only to deter other countries’ use of nuclear weapons against the United States and its allies.

  • Exercise simulates home-grown terrorists, nuclear incident

    In a geopolitical environment with proliferating threats, a Defense Department whole-of-government exercise held 5-8 May provided a realistic way for federal, state, and local experts to interact in simulated situations involving mock home-grown terrorists and a nuclear incident. This year’s Nuclear Weapon Accident Incident Exercise, or NUWAIX 2015, took place on Naval Base Kitsap-Bangor located on the Kitsap Peninsula in the state of Washington. The goal of the exercise was to coordinate the efforts of federal, state, and local agencies in mitigating the consequences of an incident involving a U.S. nuclear weapon in DoD custody at a military base in the continental United States.

  • DHS S&T completes Virtua Shooter robotic device, delivers it to ICE

    The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Science and Technology Directorate (S&T) the other day announced the successful completion of a robotic device that tests multiple types of handguns and ammunition. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents will use the device to supplement manual testing of the weapons by laboratory staff.

  • Non-traditional roboticists to help bolster national security

    The past ten years have seen an explosion of robotics advances from small businesses and individuals, thanks in part to lower manufacturing costs and the global rise of community workshops such as makerspaces and hackerspaces, which serve as incubators for rapid, low-cost collaboration and innovation. Unfortunately, the small-scale robotics community has tended to fly under the radar of traditional federal agencies and commercial technology providers, which generally rely on multi-year, multi-million-dollar contracts for technology development. DARPA’s Robotics Fast Track foresees cost-effective development of new capabilities by engaging cutting-edge groups and individuals who traditionally have not worked with the federal government.

  • Obama halts transfers of military equipment to local police departments

    Since Congress launched the 1033 Program in 1997 to make military equipment that the Pentagon no longer wants available to state and local police. About $4.3 billion worth of equipment has been distributed. Between FY2009 and FY 2014, five federal agencies spent $18 billion on programs which provided funds and resources aiming to provide military equipment and tactical resources to state and local law enforcement agencies. The White House announced yesterday that it will ban federal transfers of armored vehicles, bayonets, grenade launchers, ammunition of .50-caliber or higher, and some types of camouflage uniforms to local police departments.

  • INL training military for response to radiological hazards

    Military branches from across the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) sent candidates for an intensive Radiological Hazards and Operators Training and Field Exercise course (RHOT) conducted by the U.S. Army Medical Center and School. These students were brought to the Department of Energy’s Idaho National Laboratory (INL) site where they begin training to use radiological monitoring equipment, perform radiological calculations, and implement protective measures. Two weeks of intense training have transformed these responders into a cohesive unit able to work together to take decisive actions to secure and survey an area for radiological hazards.

  • Former agent sues FBI for retaliating against him for criticizing anthrax letters investigation

    Richard L. Lambert, a former senior FBI agent who, for four years, ran the investigation into the 2001 anthrax attacks, has sued the FBI, accusing the agency of trying “to railroad the prosecution of [Bruce E.] Ivins” – the main suspect in the attacks — and, after Ivins’s 2008 suicide, of creating “an elaborate perception management campaign” to bolster its claim that Ivins was guilty. Lambert’s lawsuit also charges that the FBI and the Justice Department forced the Energy Department’s lab in Oak Ridge, Tennessee to dismiss him from his job as senior counterintelligence officer there in retaliation for his critique of the FBI’s conclusions in the anthrax case.