Government

  • SurveillanceHouse-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.

  • Nuclear weaponsU.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.

  • Domestic terrorismExercise 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.

  • SyriaAfter capture of Palmyra, ISIS holds sway over half of Syria

    Islamic State is now holding sway over half of Syria’s landmass – although that half of Syria contains only a small fraction of the country’s population – following the Islamists’ capture of Palmyra, a city of 50,000 also known as Tadmur, on Wednesday. Even more important than controlling a largely empty desert, the seizure of the Arak and al-Hail gas fields near Palmyra brings ISIS into control of much of Syria’s electricity supply. Analysts say that the rapid collapse of regime forces in Palmyra, where these forces were expected to make a stand, is another indication that the regime, in the face of advances by anti-regime forces, is cutting its losses in order to retrench in the country’s northwest.

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  • InnovationWinners announced in innovation prize competition

    The Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Science and Technology (S&T) Directorate yesterday announced the winners of S&T’s first innovation prize competition: The Vreeland Institute of Copake, New York, and Certa Cito of Rochester, New York. The competition, “Indoor Tracking of the Next Generation First Responders.” focused on the challenge of keeping track of first responders when they are inside buildings, tunnels and other structures.

  • DHS bills markupHouse committee to markup eleven Homeland Security bills

    The House Committee on Homeland Security will today markup eleven Homeland Security bills. The committee will consider the legislation passed last week from a Subcommittee on Oversight and Management Efficiency markup, a Subcommittee on Emergency Preparedness, Response, and Communications markup, and other homeland security related bills.

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  • Analysis // SyriaEndgame in Syria: Assad forces in retreat as rebels increase pressure

    The attention to developments in Iraq caused many to miss the more important developments to the north, where the Assad regime, for the first time since the Syrian rebellion began four years ago, appears to be weakening in the face of the growing effectiveness of the rebel forces and the accelerating disintegration of what remains of the Syrian military. Military analysts say that the regime may soon be forced to abandon Damascus and concentrate its dwindling forces in the northwest coastal region of Syria which is controlled by Alawites, but the Alawite region may not be a safer haven for Assad, though. Since March, the rebels have defeated the Syrian military in a series of important battles, and have been pressing their westward advance. There is a growing sense in the region that the situation in Syria is changing, and that these changes do not favor President Assad.

  • Water75 percent of L.A. County water systems vulnerable to drought, other challenges

    Despite the importance of potable water to the quality of life, economy, and ecosystems in Los Angeles County, surprisingly little is known about the 228 government and private entities which deliver water, and how vulnerable or resilient they are to withstanding pressures from droughts and climate change. Innovative maps in a Water Atlas compiled by UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation show which areas are most threatened. The Water Atlas finds that 75 percent of community drinking water systems in Los Angeles County exhibit at least one indicator of supply vulnerability due either to dependency on a single type of water source, local groundwater contamination, small size, or a projected increase in extreme heat days over the coming decades.

  • SurveillanceHouse overwhelmingly votes for overhauling NSA phone metadata bulk collection program

    The House yesterday voted overwhelmingly to ban the bulk collection of American phone metadata, as lawmakers increase the pressure to reform one of the more controversial data collection programs of the National Security Agency (NSA). The program was revealed as a result of Edward Snowden’s leaks. The House voted 338-88 in favor of the USA Freedom Act — the second time the House has voted for a more restrictive data collection scheme. Supporters of surveillance reform are more confident that there will be a majority in the Senate to support a similar measure. The House bill has already gained the support of the White House and the intelligence community. The Senate does not have much time, as the Patriot Act – which includes Section 215 which governs the NSA surveillance program – expires at the end of the month. Leading civil liberties organizations, however, have criticized the bill as not going far enough.

  • Rail safetyCrumbling infrastructure to blame for growing number of derailments: Experts

    Transportation industry analysts say the increase in the number of derailments is due to a crumbling transportation infrastructure and a lack of interest in funding rail transportation. Amtrak, a federally subsidized for-profit corporation, has been the target of conservative legislators who want to cut government spending. “The problem that you have — and you’ve had it since 1976 and even before — is that there’s never been an investment program that would bring the infrastructure up where it belongs on existing capacity,” says Amtrak CEO. While derailments are usually due to equipment failures, human and environmental factors can contribute to train accidents.

  • RadicalizationJihadi recruits are attracted to radicalism, not brainwashed or manipulated: Researchers

    The notion that jihadists are brainwashed or manipulated individuals has been the foundational tenet for many de-radicalization programs in the United States. Scholarly research on terrorism, however, shows that most jihadists are aware of their actions. They tend to join terrorist organizations because they believe they are defending what they see as a just cause. Furthermore, homegrown Western jihadists tend to be self-recruiters who actively seek out violent action before they become fully radicalized into violent ideologies.Researchers and psychologists, therefore, recommend a moreholistic approach to de-radicalization, and approach which takes terrorists and radicals as individuals who first acknowledge the presence of a radical ideology, are attracted to its message, and make themselves available as potential recruits.

  • Iran dealIran deal supporters: Comparisons with 1994 North Korea deal not applicable

    Critics of the nuclear agreement between Iran and the P5+1 powers charge that the negotiations, and the impending deal, repeat the mistakes the United States made in the nuclear deal it signed with North Korea in 1994. Supporters of the administration say there is no comparison between what happened twenty years ago and now. One example: the Agreed Framework between the United States and North Korea was a 4-page general document which did not include and reference to enforcement mechanisms should North Korea decide not to comply with the agreement. The emerging agreement with Iran, on the other hand, is a 150-page document dominated by intricate technical specifications and detailed procedures for inspection and verification, followed by specific benchmarks and definitions of violations and non-compliance and the resulting penalties which would be imposed on Iran should such violations occur.

  • SurveillanceThe FBI violated its own rules in surveillance of anti-Keystone XL pipeline activists

    More than eighty pages of internal FBI documents dated from November 2012 to June 2014, obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, reveal that the FBI breached its own investigation rules when it spied on protesters opposing the controversial Keystone XL pipeline. Agents in the FBI’s Houston field office failed to get approval before they cultivated informants and opened files on pipeline protesters — a violation of guidelines designed to prevent the agency from becoming excessively involved in sensitive political issues.

  • Chemical plant safetyU.S. chemical plants vulnerable to terrorist attacks, putting millions of Americans at risk

    The chemical sector is a vital part of the U.S. economy, representing almost 2 percent of U.S. gross domestic product (GDP) and is the nation’s greatest exporter. The prominence and importance of the chemical industry as well as the proximity of its facilities to densely populated areas make it a particularly vulnerable target for terrorist attacks, hence the DHS interest and safety rules. The slow implementation of the Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards (CFATS) as part of homeland security and anti-terrorism measures is leaving chemical plants vulnerable and putting at risk the safety of American citizens, according to research.

  • Seismic standardsLA to require seismic standards for new cellphone towers

    Last Friday Los Angeles became the first U.S. city to approve seismic standards for new cellphone towers, part of an effort to reduce communications vulnerabilities in case a large earthquake should strike. The Los Angeles plan requires new freestanding cellphone towers to be built to the same seismic standards as public safety facilities. Cellphone towers are currently built only strong enough not to collapse during a major earthquake. There are not required to be strong enough to continue working.