Public Safety

  • Israel launches Operation Solid Rock against Hamas (updated)

    The Israeli government has launched Operation Solid Rock, authorizing the calling up 40,000 reservists as it prepares for a long campaign against Hamas, a campaign which may include land incursions into the Gaza Strip. About 10,000 are being called right away, and they will be sent to Israel’s borders in the east and north, allowing army units now stationed there to move south to engage Hamas in the south. The calling up of 10,000 reservists – about four brigades – indicates that, at this stage at least, Israel contemplates a relatively limited ground operation in Gaza. Militants in Gaza have, in the last three days, been launching nearly 100 missiles and rockets a day at Israeli cities and towns in the south of Israel, for a total of 246 missiles and rockets so far. Most of these rockets fell in empty fields. Forty-six missiles (about 27 percent of the total) were heading toward populated areas, and the IDF’s Iron Domes defense system intercepted forty of them, a 97 percent interception success rate. Six missiles managed to go through the defensive system and exploded in populated areas. During the day Tuesday, the night between Tuesday and Wednesday, and earlier this morning, the IDF has intensified its retaliatory strikes against Hamas and Islamic Jihad targets, attacking and destroying more than 450 targets across the Gaza Strip. The Israel Air Force (IAF) says that so far it has dropped more than 400 tons of explosives on targets in the Gaza Strip. The IAF says that the damage it has so far inflicted on the Gaza strip in the first two days of the current operation is greater than the damage inflicted in the eight days of Operation Pillar of Cloud (14-22 November 2012).

  • Los Alamos lab admits mishandling toxic waste, causing repository radiation leak

    In a letter addressed to the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED), lab officials at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) have admitted to mishandling toxic waste shipped to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) in Carlsbad, New Mexico, the nation’s only permanent repository for plutonium-contaminated waste from government nuclear facilities.

  • Game of marbles inspires nuclear-inspection protocol

    Modern cryptography combined with simple radiation detectors could allow nuclear-weapons checks to be carried out with almost complete security. That is the conclusion of scientists in the United States, who have used computer simulations to show how a beam of neutrons can establish the authenticity of a nuclear warhead without revealing any information about that weapon’s composition or design.

  • Engineering nuclear nonproliferation

    University of Virginia engineering professor Houston Wood’s career demonstrates the important role that engineers can play in making the world a safer place. For more than two decades, Wood has helped governments determine whether nuclear programs in other parts of the world are being dedicated to peaceful or military purposes. In recent years, Wood has been working to determine the break-out time that Iran would require to develop a nuclear weapon if it stopped allowing the International Atomic Energy Agency IAEA) to inspect its nuclear facilities.

  • Firefighters mull using drones in fighting wildfires

    Federal wildland firefighting officials are exploring the deployment of drones to assist in surveillance and reconnaissance missions during a wildfire. Drones sent to survey fire patterns during a wildfire could help keep firefighters out of risky situations by providing real-time information to officials on the ground. Few wildfire officials have used drones in the line of duty, and managers with the U.S. Bureau of Land Management(BLM) and U.S. Forest Servicesay that while the technology has potential, agencies do not have the budget and have not developed protocols to integrate drones into regular firefighting operations.

  • Pentagon should use reduced budget to prepare for "great power conflict": study

    As sequestration takes toll on the Pentagon’s budget, Defense officials must decide how to maintain superior military capabilities. A new study suggests that the Pentagon should focus more on a “great power conflict,” reflective of a newly aggressive Russia and rapidly modernizing China. Such an approach would force the department to modernize its current infrastructure and invest significantly in technological advantages at the expense of unlikely-to-be used ships, aircrafts, and soldiers.

  • Supreme Court cites NIST guidelines in ruling on cell phone searches

    As digital technology transforms twenty-first century life, questions about privacy rights abound. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled on one such question in late June: if you are arrested, can the police search your cell phone without first obtaining a warrant? No, according to the 25 June 2014 ruling in Riley v. California. “Modern cell phones are not just another technological convenience. With all they contain and all they may reveal, they hold for many Americans ‘the privacies of life,’ … The fact that technology now allows an individual to carry such information in his hand does not make the information any less worthy of the protection for which the Founders fought,” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote for the majority.

  • Convergence of chemistry and biology raises concerns about designer toxins

    The convergence of chemistry and biology is providing major benefits to humankind, particularly in health care, alternative energy sources, and in environmental control – and when combined with other advances, particularly in nanotechnology, it is also being exploited in developing improved defensive countermeasures against chemical and biological warfare agents. This convergence, however, has also raised concerns that biotechnology could be applied to the production of new toxic chemicals, bioregulators, and toxins. A new report from OPCW says that the potential for scaling up biological processes for large scale production of chemicals of concern is still limited, but biomediated processes might still be effective for producing weaponizable quantities of toxins which are lethal to humans in microgram or lower dosage.

  • States choose different paths to deploying public alert systems

    Thanks to systems such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) Integrated Public Alert & Warning System (IPAWS), the technology which allows governments to notify residents quickly of an emergency is becoming increasingly cheaper and more effective. Because of this, states are choosing different and unique paths toward deploying such systems within their infrastructure. States are choosing between giving local governments the lead on alert systems or providing extensive state-wide oversight.

  • License plate readers still to reach their full potential

    Systems which automatically read automobile license plates have the potential to save police investigative time and increase safety, but law enforcement officials must address issues related to staffing, compatibility and privacy before the technology can reach its full potential, according to a new study. Addressing these issues will require a clear understanding of the current and potential value of the systems to criminal justice agencies.

  • Iowa to allow public release of information about trains carrying crude

    Iowa officials have announced that they will alert the public about trains carrying one million gallons or more of “extra-flammable” crude oil throughout the state — despite the argument of railroad companies that the information could pose a security threat. Iowa’s decision places the state in the spotlight as a possible model for how the rulings will proceed in the rest of the country.

  • NSA shelved collection program which could have prevented 9/11 attacks: Critics

    Fourteen years ago the NSA research unit developed a collection program called Thin Thread which, its authors say, could have detected the perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks and prevented it. Critics of the program agreed it was a good program, but that it picked up more Americans than the other systemsthen being considered, and was thus deemed too invasive of Americans’ privacy. In the fall of 2000 General Michael Hayden, then-director of the NSA, decided against the program largely because of the legal implications.

  • Pennsylvania cybersecurity group takes down international criminal network

    Over the past month, a coalition of cybersecurity forces in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania made of regional FBI officers and members of Carnegie Mellon University’s CERT cyberteam, took down the Gameover Zeus cyber theft network, which had employed data ransom and theft schemes. The criminal group was able to snatch funds up to seven figures from owners’ bank accounts.

  • Military implications of advances in brain research

    Researchers funded by the Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency(DARPA) have developed a new way to visualize the complete brain in three-dimensional imaging. The breakthrough could advance the field of rapid brain imaging, allowing scientists to see in greater detail how parts of the brain interact on a cellular level and better understand those interactions throughout the brain. A former DARPA program manager recently told a policy group that “It turns out the expert marksman has a brain state, a state that they enter before they take the perfect shot. Can I teach a novice to create this brain state? The answer was yes.”

  • Leaked documents reveal law enforcement hacking methods

    Through the sourcing of a leaked documents cache from the Italian firm Hacking Team, members of the University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab have revealed the methods of law-enforcement hackers. While much of Snowden’s revelations concerned broad international surveillance, documents from Hacking Team reveal more specific methods such as the actual techniques for tapping phones and computers to operate as eavesdropping devices.