Government

  • U.S. surveillance policies cost U.S. tech sector more than $35 billion in sales

    New report says the U.S. tech industry has under-performed as a result of concerns about the U.S. government’s electronic surveillance. The report estimates that the total economic impact on the U.S. tech sector of U.S. surveillance practices exceeds $35 billion annually. The report recommends policymakers level the playing field for the U.S. tech sector by implementing a series of reforms such as increasing the transparency of its surveillance practices, opposing government efforts to weaken encryption or introduce backdoors in software, and strengthening its mutual legal assistance treaties with other nations.

  • Snowden fallout: Revelations forced U.K. to pull out agents from “hostile countries”

    The British security services had to pull out agents from “hostile countries” as a result of information the Chinese and Russian intelligence services obtained when they gained access to the millions of top-secret NSA files Edward Snowed was carrying with him when he fled to Honk Kong and then to Russia. Snowden assured journalists who interviewed him that the Chinese and Russian intelligence services would not be able to access these files because he encrypted them with the highest encryption methods available. Security experts commented that he was either naïve or disingenuous – because he must have known, or should have known, that the cyber capabilities these two countries would make it relatively easy for them to crack the encrypted files he was carrying with him. We now know that these security experts were right.

  • ISIS's new recruits more than make up for militants killed by coalition forces

    For almost every Islamic State militant killed by U.S. and coalition forces, a new fighter is recruited by ISIS supporters in the Middle East or abroad. U.S. officials have boasted that the coalition’s airstrikes are inflicting great harm on ISIS, using a series of different numbers to support their case. Experts say focusing on the enemy body count ignores some trends that are not in favor of coalition forces. “The strength of ISIS continues to grow, so they’re getting more in from recruits than they are losing through casualties,” says one expert.

  • Administration rejects criticism of NSA’s surveillance of foreign hackers

    Just two years after the Edward Snowden leaks exposed the NSA’s domestic surveillance program, another report released last Friday from the Snowden files shares information about the NSA’s efforts to track foreign hackers. As with the NSA’s controversial foreign surveillance program which kept metadata records of suspected foreign terrorists’ conversations with Americans, the NSA’s hacker program may incidentally gather Americans’ private information from the files of foreign hackers.

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  • Focusing on how, rather than why, individuals make the transition to terrorism

    Intelligence and counterterrorism officials have spent tremendous effort to understand why people become Islamist terrorists and commit acts of violence. Up till the 1980s, a significant number of terrorism scholars argued that terrorists are “driven” or “pushed” to commit violence because of an internal imbalance or a psychological abnormality rooted inside the individual. In recent years, scholars have suggested that the roots of terrorism are not in the individual, but in the social environment in which terrorists live and act. The debate goes, leading scholars to argue that the concerns of law enforcement officials should be less about why terrorists exist or commit violence, and more about the how, when, and where does the transition to terrorism take place.

  • Texas flood exposes serious weaknesses in high-tech warning systems

    The Memorial Day weekend flood in Texas was a test for regional flood warning systems employed by local and federal emergency agencies. Hays County officials issued three “reverse 911” notifications to residents residing in homes along the Blanco River. The National Weather Servicesent out flash flood warnings to registered local cellphones. Yet the disaster flood, which caused tens of millions of dollars in property damage in Blanco and Hays counties and killed more than a dozen people, exposed serious weaknesses in high-tech warning systems.

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  • Abbott signs sweeping border security bill

    To Gov. Greg Abbott (R-Texas), signing a sweeping, multimillion-dollar border security bill hundreds of miles from the Rio Grande made sense. “Here in Houston, there are more than 20,000 dangerous gang members that are associated with cross border traffic-related crime,” Abbott said Tuesday as he was flanked by lawmakers and peace officers at a Texas Department of Public Safety facility. “More than 100,000 of those gang members operate across the state of Texas.”

  • Administration asks court for six more months of NSA bulk metadata collection

    Just four hours after President Barack Obama vowed to sign the USA Freedom Actwhich limits the NSA’s domestic bulk data collection program, his administration asked the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance (FISA) court to ignore a ruling by the second circuit court of appeals declaring the bulk surveillance program unauthorized, and instead grant the NSA power to continue bulk collection for six months. In its request, the administration pointed to a six months transition period provided in the USA Freedom Act as a reason to permit an “orderly transition” of the NSA’s domestic bulk collection program.

  • Iran’s refusal to allow inspection of military sites could derail nuclear agreement

    As the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council— the United States, Britain, France, Russia, and China — plus Germany near a deal to ease international sanctions if Iran agrees to restrictions and monitoring of its nuclear activities, diplomats say Iran’s refusal to provide inspectors access to its military bases could set back the negotiations, which have been in the works for over twenty-months. Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken has publicly said that U.S. officials want IAEA inspectors to be given “anywhere, anytime” access to sites where nuclear work is suspected, adding that the Obama administration will not accept a deal unless access is granted “to whatever Iranian sites are required to verify that Iran’s program is exclusively peaceful — period.”

  • Local U.S. Muslim communities fight Islamic State's recruitment efforts

    In U.S. cities with larger Muslim populations across the country, local communities are reaching out to fight the threat of Islamic State online propaganda targeting their youth. Recognizing that previous years’ experience of attempting actively to foil plots through espionage and enforcement has damaged the relationship between Muslim-American communities and the government, a new low-key approach is taking shape.

  • Is there a homegrown terrorism trend in Boston?

    Citing several incidents involving Boston-based terrorists, some ask whether homegrown terrorism might be a trend specific to Boston. “Clearly, there have been a number of incidents here, and some of that is because Boston is really an international city,” said former Boston Police Department commissioner Ed Davis. “It seems to be more than a coincidence,” says one scholar. “But there’s no good answer.”

  • U.S. to ratify two long-stalled nuclear terrorism bills

    Deep in the USA Freedom Actwhich was signed into law by President Barack Obama last week, there is a section which will let the United States complete ratification of two-long stalled treaties aimed at preventing nuclear terrorism. “Today, nearly 2,000 metric tons of weapons-usable nuclear materials remain spread across hundreds of sites around the globe — some of it poorly secured,” said former Senator Sam Nunn (D-Georgia), co-chairman of the Nuclear Threat Initiative(NTI). “We know that to get the materials needed to build a bomb, terrorists will not necessarily go where there is the most material. They will go where the material is most vulnerable.”

  • Israelis to gain $120 billion, Palestinians $50 billion over next decade in two-state solution

    The Israeli economy stands to gain more than $120 billion over the next decade in a two-state solution, a possible resolution of the long-standing conflict between Israelis and Palestinians in which the Palestinians gain independence and relations between the Israelis and their neighbors normalize, according to a new RAND Corporation study. Palestinians would gain $50 billion, with average per-capita income rising by about 36 percent. A return to violence, by contrast, would have profoundly negative economic consequences for both Palestinians and Israelis. The estimates are part of a systematic effort to quantify the likely economic and security costs and benefits of five alternative futures for the conflict relative to present trends. Besides the two-state and return-to-violence scenarios, RAND researchers considered three additional alternative futures: a coordinated unilateral withdrawal from the West Bank by Israel, uncoordinated withdrawal where Palestinians do not cooperate with Israeli unilateral moves, and nonviolent resistance by Palestinians.

  • Major defeat for Erdogan as Islamist ruling party loses majority

    Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was not on the ballot in Sunday’s parliamentary elections, but his ambitious agenda for Turkey was – and he lost big. The losses of his Islamist Justice and Development party, or AKP, were the most significant and painful losses in the party’s 20-year history – and the first losses for Erdogan since he emerged in 2002 to dominate the Turkish political scene. Erdogan openly proclaimed that the goal of AKP in Sunday’s election was to win at least 66 percent of the seats in parliament — the number required to make changes to the Turkish constitution. The AKP now has nearly 50 percent of the seats in parliament, short of the constitution-changing threshold. The Turkish voters, however, soundly rejected Erdogan’s ambitious agenda: Not only did the AKP not win the required majority – the party actually lost power. With 99 percent of the votes counted, the AKP had won 41 percent of the vote, down from the 49 percent it won in the last national election in 2011. It will now have only 258 seats in Turkey’s Parliament, compared with the 327 seats it has in the outgoing parliament. There are regional implications for the Erdogan and AKP loses: On Syria, Libya, and other regional issues, a subdued Erdogan and a tamer AKP may be less of an obstacle to more harmony and greater coordination among the key Sunni states in the Middle East, which is good news for the twin efforts to contain Iran’s regional hegemonic ambitions and weaken Iran’s allies, on the one hand, and defeat the nihilistic forces of jihadist Islamist extremism, on the other hand.

  • Mapping organized crime, terrorism hotspots in Eurasia

    More than a quarter of all the drugs produced in opium-rich Afghanistan pass through Eurasia. Drug trafficking in the region has been linked to the strength of such terrorists groups as the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, Islamic Jihad Union, and al-Qaeda. The illicit sale of weapons is common in the area, and locals are drawn into human trafficking rings either for forced labor or sexual exploitation. As organized crime plays an increasing role in funding terrorism, researchers aim to pinpoint hotspots in Eurasia where drug trafficking, human trafficking, and terrorism coincide. The research team, selected to receive a $953,500 Minerva grant from the U.S. Department of Defense’s Minerva Research Initiative, will examine the connections between terrorism and organized crime in Central Asia, South Caucasus, and Russia.