Public Safety

  • Two Queens, N.Y. women arrested for plotting propane tank bomb attacks in New York

    Roommates Noelle Velentzas, 28, and Asia Siddiqui, 31, were arrested Thursday morning and charged with conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction in the United States, according to federal prosecutors. FBI officials say both women, who live in Queens, New York, were radicalized by Islamic State (ISIS) propaganda. A complaint unsealed on Thursday says the women had been communicating with people affiliated with Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. “The investigation has revealed that Velentzas espouses violent jihadist beliefs and has repeatedly expressed an interest in terrorist attacks committed within the United States,” the complaint stated.

  • Bioweapons do not offer the same deterrence value nukes offer: Experts

    Biological and nuclear weapons are both considered weapons of mass destruction, but only nuclear weapons currently serve as a deterrence. Some security experts have proposed the idea of nations adopting non-contagious biological weapons as a new form of deterrence. Critics note that the consequences of starting a global biological arms race are troubling enough, but the concept of replacing nuclear weapons with biological weapons as a form of deterrence is flawed for three main reasons: uncertainty of effects, availability of defenses, and the need for secrecy and surprise.

  • L.A.’s emergency communication system facing many hurdles

    After the 9/11 attacks, the federal government encouraged authorities in large cities to build emergency communications systems that would allow separate agencies to coordinate together quickly and efficiently. The government offered grants to help pay some of the costs of the systems, pending completion of the work by a set deadline. In Los Angeles County, a common communications system is still not a reality years after officials signed up for the federal program. Besides technological hurdles, contracting issues, and constantly changing requirements from the federal government, Los Angeles County is having to deal with firefighters and residents who object the plan citing health and property value concerns with the placement of giant cell towers in their neighborhoods.

  • Improving plutonium identification

    Researchers have developed a new kind of sensor that can be used to investigate the telltale isotopic composition of plutonium samples — a critical measurement for nuclear non-proliferation efforts and related forensics, as well as environmental monitoring, medical assays, and industrial safety. The novel device, based on “transition edge” sensor technology developed at NIST, is capable of ten times better resolution than all but the most expensive and time-consuming of current methods, and reduces the time needed for sample analysis from several days to one day.

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  • Growing unease about local police agencies employing military gear

    A two-decade-old Pentagon program — the 1033 Program — makes available to state and local police military equipment that the military no longer wants. Without state or local oversight, state and local law enforcement, and even natural resources departments, can make requests through a designated state coordinator, who, with Pentagon officials, has final say on granting equipment requests. About $5.4 billion worth of equipment has been distributed since the program began in 1997. State lawmakers in many states want their states to have more of a say in what military gear law enforcement agencies in the state should get. Law enforcement in Florida requested, and received, forty-seven mine-resistant vehicles and thirty-six grenade launchers, while police in Texas received seventy-three mine-resistant vehicles and a $24.3 million aircraft.

  • Airship maker suing the U.S. Navy for loss of an advanced blimp in roof collapse

    Aeroscraft Aeronautical Systems has filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Navy following the destruction of their Aeros airship. It was destroyed when a roof a 300,000 square foot Second World War-era hanger at Tustin Marine Corps Air Station in Tustin, California, collapsed. Aeroscraft is seeking to reclaim all losses as well as an unspecified amount meant to compensate the company for the $3 billion capital financing plan which was halted after the airship was destroyed. The base closed in 1999, but the property is still owned by the Navy, which leased buildings and hangars on the base to private companies.

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  • Fighting fires with low-frequency sound waves

    A thumping bass may do more than light up a party — it could flat out extinguish it, thanks to a new sound-blasting fire extinguisher by George Mason University undergrads. The fire extinguisher uses low-frequency sound waves to douse a blaze. Their sound-wave device is free of toxic chemicals and eliminates collateral damage from sprinkler systems. If mounted on drones, it could improve safety for firefighters confronting large forest fires or urban blazes.

  • Tethered robots to be the “eyes” of firefighters in “blind” conditions

    Researchers have developed revolutionary reins which enable robots to act like guide dogs, which could enable that firefighters moving through smoke-filled buildings could save vital seconds and find it easier to identify objects and obstacles. The small mobile robot — equipped with tactile sensors — would lead the way, with the firefighter following a meter or so behind holding a rein. The robot would help the firefighter move swiftly in “blind” conditions, while vibrations sent back through the rein would provide data about the size, shape and even the stiffness of any object the robot finds.

  • FBI needs to improve intelligence capabilities, hire more linguists: Report

    The FBI needs to improve its intelligence capabilities and hire more linguists to counter evolving threats to the United States, according to a 9/11 Review Commission reportexamining the bureau’s progress since the 9/11 attacks, which was released Wednesday. “Many of the findings and recommendations in this report will not be new to the FBI,” the report said. “The bureau is already taking steps to address them. In 2015, however, the FBI faces an increasingly complicated and dangerous global threat environment that will demand an accelerated commitment to reform. Everything is moving faster.”

  • U.S. scrambling to identify, locate recruits to radical Islamist ideology

    Nearly 3,000 Europeans have traveled to Syria and Iraq to fight alongside the Islamic State (ISIS), but social media and court records suggest just about two dozen Americans have made it to the Middle East to fight with the group. Another two dozen or so have been stopped by the FBI and charged before they could fly to Turkey and cross over into the Syrian territories controlled by ISIS.

    U.S. law enforcement, with no clear understanding of how Americans are being recruited, are scrambling to identify U.S. residents attracted to radical Islamic ideology before those individuals try to travel or worse- launch an attack on U.S. soil.

  • Colorado deploys latest flood forecasting technology

    Colorado governor John Hickenlooper has raised concerns about House Bill 1129, a 5-year, $10 million proposal to implement a new technology which would assist with predicting the direction and intensity of wildfires and floods. Scientists have spent twenty years working on the proposed technology for Colorado, saying it is finally ready for implementation. The technology uses rainfall estimation, precipitation forecasting, and water modeling along with hundreds of thousands of atmospheric data points to predict the direction, speed, and intensity of floods, with up to 12-hour notice. As advancements in technology and computing allow for more accurate flood predictions, some variables remain a challenge for hydrologists.

  • More lone-wolf attacks committed by extremists/supremacists than Jihadists

    Internal documents from the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) reveal that more Lone Wolf attacks are committed by white supremacists and individuals with extreme right-wing ideologies than by Islamic extremists. Citing academic research, the agency attributes 17 percent of lone-wolf attacks worldwide to white supremacists causes. Islamic extremists account for 15 percent of such attacks, while left-wing radicalism and “black power” groups followed with 13 percent. Anti-abortion activism accounts for 8 percent and nationalism/separatism causes make up 7 percent, while 40 percent of lone wolf attacks showed no clear ideological motivation.

  • Destruction of 780,000 chemical munitions stockpiled in Colorado begins

    This week Sandia National Laboratories’ Explosive Destruction System (EDS) began safely destroying stockpile chemical munitions for the U.S. Army. The project to destroy 560 chemical munitions at the U.S. Army Pueblo Chemical Depot in Colorado with EDS is a prelude to a much larger operation to destroy the stockpile of 780,000 munitions containing 2,600 tons of mustard agent, stored at the Pueblo depot since the 1950s.

  • 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.