Public Safety

  • USAF nuclear-missile officers alleged to have regularly cheated on readiness tests

    Three former U.S. Air Force officers have alleged that USAF officers responsible for operating nuclear-armed missiles at Malmstrom Air Base in Montana have, for many years, been cheating on monthly readiness tests, and were never punished for it. The former officers claim that cheating is the norm and that officers who did otherwise are the exception.The officers who made the allegations added, though, that misconduct on tests did not impair the safety of the nuclear weapons or the Air Force’s ability to launch missiles if ordered.

  • Last meals on death row may indicate guilt or innocence

    Can last meals reveal more about individuals on death row than their taste preference? A new study examined whether an individual who has accepted guilt — by apologizing or confessing — is more likely to indulge in a last meal. The study found that those who denied guilt were 2.7 times more likely to decline a last meal than those who admitted guilt. Furthermore, those who were admittedly guilty requested 34 percent more calories of food and were more likely to request brand name, comfort-food items.

  • The basis for a permanent deal: deep, verifiable changes to Iran’s nuclear program

    A new study says that only broad and verifiable changes to Iran’s current nuclear program could serve as a basis for a permanent nuclear deal between Iran and the international community. Among the changes: reducing the number of Iran’s uranium-enrichment centrifuges from the current 19,500 to no more than 4,000, and limiting Iran to one enrichment site; converting the heavy-water reactor being built in Araq to a light-water reactor fueled by low-enriched uranium; and imposing a tight, intrusive inspection regime for at least twenty years.

  • CBP flew its drones on behalf of other agencies

    The U.S. Customs and Border Protection(CBP) operates the largest drone fleet in the United States. The Defense Departmenthas a much larger fleet, but it is prohibited from operating its drones in the United States for law enforcement missions. The FAA is working on opening U.S. skies for public and commercial drone traffic, but for now CBP is the only agency permitted to operate drones on a daily basis within the nation’s borders. Released documents show that agencies not allowed to operate drones borrowed them from CBP.

  • Restrictive concealed weapons laws correlated with an increase in gun-related murders

    It may make sense to assume that states in which there are tight laws on weapons would make that state a safer place and one with less gun crime, but recent research argues that the very opposite is true. Research shows that in states with more restrictive concealed carry weapons (CCW) laws there is actually an increase in gun related crime. The author notes that his study looks solely at gun crime, rather than violent crime, which is the case in similar research.

  • Turkeys inspire smartphone-capable early warning system for toxins

    Some may think of turkeys as good for just lunch meat and holiday meals, but University of California, Berkeley bioengineers saw inspiration in the big birds for a new type of biosensor which changes color when exposed to chemical vapors. This feature makes the sensors valuable detectors of toxins or airborne pathogens. The technology can be adapted so that smartphones can help analyze the color fingerprint of the target chemical. In the future, it could potentially be used to create a breath test to detect cancer and other diseases.”

  • Judge denies defense request to see whether NSA surveillance led to terrorism charges

    U.S. District Judge Sharon Johnson Coleman on Friday ruled that lawyers for Adel Daoud, a 20-year old resident of Hillside, a suburb west of Chicago, who was charged with plotting to set off a powerful bomb outside a crowded Chicago bar, will not be allowed to examine whether the investigators who initiated the sting operation which led to Doud’s arrest relied on information gleaned from NSA surveillance programs. Attorneys for Daoud had asked Judge Coleman to instruct prosecutors to disclose “any and all” surveillance information used in Daoud’s case, including information disclosed to a U.S. Senate’s Select Committee on Intelligence. In a brief ruling posted late Friday, Coleman denied the motion, writing that the defense had “failed to provide any basis for issuing such an order.” Prosecutors would not confirm whether the FBI had initiated its operation against Doud as a result of a tip from the NSA, but they did say that even if such surveillance did exist, they have no plans of using it at trial and the defense was not entitled to it.

  • House approves $447 for Cyber Command

    The House of Representatives approved a fiscal 2014 stop-gap budget last Monday (it approved to full spending bill on Wednesday), which allocates $447 million to the Defense Department’s Cyber Command. This is more than twice the $191 million budget for Cyber Command in 2013.

  • Know when to go: a new way to keep firefighters safe from harm

    For a firefighter, knowing when it’s time to evacuate can be the difference between life and death. But that can be a difficult call to make when you’re trying to protect life, property and resources while battling wildfires in arduous weather and terrain. Whether working at the fire’s edge or creating a fire break far from the front, firefighters must maintain situational awareness and monitor impending threats to their safety. When firefighters are unable to properly recognize risks, or they underestimate conditions, the results can be tragic.

  • Obama announces reforms of U.S. intelligence data collection practices

    President Barack Obama on Friday called for a “new approach” by the U.S. intelligence community to the collection of Americans’ phone metadata. The major changes in current practices involve storage of and access to bulk metadata; the presence of a public advocate during FISA court deliberations; new privacy protections for non-Americans; and new restrictions on spying on leaders of allied countries. Obama offered a robust defense of the U.S. intelligence services, saying that there was no evidence they had abused their power, and that many of their methods were necessary to protect Americans. “We will not apologize simply because our services may be more effective,” he said. The president pointedly noted that some countries that “have loudly criticized the NSA privately acknowledge that America has special responsibilities as the world’s only superpower . . . and that they themselves have relied on the information we obtain to protect their own people.”

  • U.S. conducted bioweapon tests in Japan in early 1960s

    The U.S. Army tested biological weapons in Okinawa, Japan in the early 1960s when the United States ruled the prefecture. U.S documents confirmed that the tests, conducted at least a dozen times occurred between 1961 and 1962. The test involved releasing rice blast fungus over rice paddies in order to measure the agent’s effect on production. With hundreds of millions of people dependent on rice as a staple food, failure of rice production could result in mass starvation. The fungus infects crops naturally, and experts estimate it destroys enough rice to feed sixty million people a year.

  • Surviving a nuclear explosion in your city

    During the cold war, scientists modeled every imaginable consequence of a nuclear explosion. Michael Dillon, a Lawrence Livermore Lab mathematician, found a gap in the sheltering strategies for people far enough from ground zero to survive the initial blast but close enough to face deadly radioactive fallout. Dillon’s model’s addresses the most vulnerable people, those who found shelter from the blast in lightweight buildings, or buildings lacking a basement (these buildings are more easily penetrated by deadly radioactive dust). His recommendations:  if adequate shelter is fifteen minutes away, people should remain in their initial, poor-quality shelter no longer than thirty minutes after detonation. If the better shelter is only five minutes away, however, individuals should move there immediately, leaving the closer but unsafe buildings altogether.

  • Autonomous drones to help in search and rescue, disaster relief

    Research could soon enable unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to track down missing persons on search-and-rescue missions, to penetrate curtains of smoke during wildfire suppression, or possibly even to navigate urban landscapes on delivery runs for online retailers like Amazon. It all could be done autonomously with a human acting only as a supervisor. “Drones have gotten a very bad rap for various reasons,” says Kelly Cohen, associate professor of aerospace engineering and engineering mechanics at the University of Cincinnati. “But our students see that unmanned systems can have a positive impact on society.”

  • Carbon nanotubes improve flame-resistant coating

    Using an approach akin to assembling a club sandwich at the nanoscale, researchers have succeeded in crafting a uniform, multi-walled carbon-nanotube-based coating that greatly reduces the flammability of foam commonly used in upholstered furniture and other soft furnishings. In tests, the flammability of the nanotube-coated polyurethane foam was reduced 35 percent compared with untreated foam. As important, the coating prevented melting and pooling of the foam, which generates additional flames that are a major contributor to the spread of fires.

  • NSA’s bulk collection programs’ contribution to thwarting terrorism minimal: study

    There are two questions about the NSA’s bulk information collection programs: are these programs legal? Are they effective? On the second questions, supporters of the programs say these surveillance measures are essential, and as proof they claim these programs helped thwart more than fifty potential terrorist attacks in more than twenty countries around the world. A new in-depth analysis shows, however, that these claims are overblown and even misleading. The study of 225 individuals recruited by al-Qaeda, or a like-minded group, or inspired by al-Qaeda’s ideology, and charged in the United States with an act of terrorism since 9/11, demonstrates that traditional investigative methods provided the initial impetus for investigations in the majority of cases, while the contribution of NSA’s bulk surveillance programs to these cases was minimal.