Government

  • DHS top priorities: addressing terrorism, cyberthreats, and extreme weather risks

    In its second quadrennial review, DHS outlined the department’s efforts to enhance the five homeland security objectives detailed in the first review, issued in 2010. Combating terrorism remains DHS’s primary mission, but recent disasters, including the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010, Hurricane Sandy in 2012, and domestic terrorism events such as the Boston Marathon bombings in 2013, along with cyberthreats against the nation’s infrastructure, have led the agency to adopt a risk-based approach to significant threats from both terrorism and natural disasters.

  • Proposed bill would extend tax exemption to civilians in combat zones

    A bipartisan bill introduced in May would extend the same tax credit available to military personnel serving overseas to civilian federal employees serving in combat zones. Most civilians working abroad in combat zones are employees of the Defense and State departments, the intelligence community, and the U.S. Agency for International Development.

  • State, Political Community and Foreign Relations in Modern and Contemporary Syria
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  • Dozens killed in north Nigeria as Boko Haram car bomb explodes in marketplace

    Dozens killed after Boko Haram car bomb attack in north-eastern city of Maiduguri, the birthplace of Islamist militant group. In May 2013 the Nigerian president announced a state of emergency in three north-eastern states, and the Nigerian military deployed tens of thousands of troops to the area in an effort to fight Boko Haram. That campaign has been a complete failure. The extremists have been attacking with more frequency and deadliness in recent months, defying assurances by Nigerian security forces and government that they were getting the situation under control.

  • Congress debates BioShield funding while medical schools debate bioterrorism training

    Just as researchers urge medical schools across the United States to include bioterrorism preparedness courses in their curricula, Congress is debating whether to continue spending on Project Bioshield, an initiative launched in 2004 to incentivize otherwise unprofitable research on treatments for rare outbreaks or bioterror agents such as anthrax and botulinum toxin.

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  • Privacy advocates worried about new Senate cybersecurity bill

    Privacy groups are concerned that a new Senate cybersecurity bill could give the NSA unrestricted access to personal information of Americans. The Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act (CISA), a counterpart to the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA) which passed the House in 2013, would create a “gaping loophole in existing privacy law,” several privacy advocacy groups wrote in a letter to lawmakers.

  • Jury selection begins in trial of two friends of Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev

    Azamat Tazhayakov and Dias Kadyrbayev, two friends of Boston bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, are set to go on trial on charges of impeding the investigation into the deadly attack. Opening statements are scheduled for 7 July. Law enforcement says Tazhayakov and Kadyrbayev admitted they took Tsarnaev’s backpack from his dormitory room three nights after the bombing after they saw photographs of Tsarnaev on the news identifying him as one of the suspects. The backpack contained fireworks that had the black powder scooped out.

  • U.S. needs better intelligence cooperation with African states for effective counterterrorism strategy

    The U.S. focus on counterterrorism efforts in Africa will require forming long-term partnerships with nations, an all-hands-on-deck commitment from all U.S. military branches, and a strong investment in intelligence, and surveillance technologies to face significant challenges created by the continent’s size and scope. Forming intelligence partnerships with Africa’s fifty-four countries, all with their own civil and military traditions, mixed with multiple languages and cultures is complex.

  • Drones are cheap, soldiers are not: a cost-benefit analysis of war

    Cost is largely absent in the key debates around the use of unmanned drones in war, even though drones are a cost-effective way of achieving national security objectives. Drones will never completely replace soldiers, but the drone-vs.-human being debate is becoming less important in the current strategic climate. The operating environments where drones are deployed — countries such as Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen — do not emphasize “hearts and minds” strategies where the human element has traditionally been valued as a force multiplier. Instead, objectives in these countries involve attacks on specific individuals, with operational data obtained by signal intelligence beforehand. Human contact becomes even less desirable given that a key tactic of combatants in these weak states is attrition with the aim of creating low-level civil conflicts. The end goal of these actions is to inflict high economic costs to the adversary. As a result, this remote and analytical method of engaging militarily leads to substantial cost efficiencies.

  • Obama administration wants $500 million to train, equip moderate Syrian rebels

    The Obama administration is planning to escalate U.S. involvement in the Syrian civil war, and has asked Congress for $500 million for the U.S. military to train and equip moderate Syrian rebels. The training program would be the most significant action yet by the United States in the conflict in Syria. Yesterday’s (Thursday) request to Congress comes as the administration is looking for effective alternatives to the jihadist ISIS which is now in control of large swaths of Syria and Iraq. The $500 million request is separate from the $5 billion Counterterrorism Partnerships Fund, of which some $1.5 billion would go toward counterterrorism efforts in countries around Syria — Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, and Iraq. The president also wants to set aside $500 million to “address unforeseen contingencies” in counterterrorism, which administration officials said was a reference to developments in Iraq.

  • Supreme Court: police must obtain a warrant to search suspect’s cellphone

    Earlier this week the Supreme Courtruled that law enforcement must obtain a warrant to search a suspect’s cellphone. Law enforcement argued that no current law makes a distinction between cellphones and the pocket litter (wallets, cigarette packs) which police have always been permitted to search when arresting a suspect, but Chief Justice John Roberts rejected this argument, saying, “That is like saying a ride on horseback is materially indistinguishable from a flight to the moon,” adding: . “Modern cell phones, as a category, implicate privacy concerns far beyond those implicated by the search of a cigarette pack, a wallet or a purse.” Roberts acknowledged that requiring police to seek a warrant could impede some investigations but “privacy comes at a cost,” he said.

  • Congress may modify the amount, manner by which Project BioShield procurements are funded

    In 2004, Congress passed the Project BioShield Act to provide the federal government with new authorities related to the development, procurement, and use of medical countermeasures against chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear (CBRN) terrorism agents. Among other things, the authority allows the government to guarantee a market for CBRN medical countermeasures. Under this provision, the secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) may obligate funds to purchase countermeasures that still need up to ten more years of development. Since 2004, HHS has obligated approximately $3.309 billion to guarantee a government market for countermeasures against anthrax, smallpox, botulism, radiation, and nerve agents. Another provision established a process through which the HHS secretary may temporarily allow the emergency use of countermeasures which lack Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval. The 113th Congress may also consider modifying the amount and manner by which it funds Project BioShield procurements.

  • N.C. “rolling” 30-year sea level rise report gaining support from both sides

    In 2010, coastal developers and Republican legislators in North Carolina were alarmed when a state science panel warned that the Atlantic Ocean is expected to increase by thirty-nine inches along the state’s shores by the end of the century. The state legislature soon ordered a four-year moratorium on official sea-level predictions and gave the Coastal Resources Commission(CRC) guidelines for developing a new official state forecast. In May, Frank Gorham III, chairman of the commission, announced that the next forecast will only predict sea-level rise for the next thirty years, a time span during which model-based predictions about sea level rise along the North Carolina coast – about eight inches — are largely accepted by both sides to the climate change debate. Gorham stresses, however, that he wants a “rolling” 30-year forecast to be updated every five years.

  • Judge rules use of NSA surveillance-based information in terrorist case is legal

    Lawyers for Mohamed Mohamud, a U.S. citizen who lived in Oregon, have been denied a motion to dismiss his terrorism conviction, with the court affirming the legality of the U.S. government’s bulk phone and e-mail data collection of foreign nationals living overseas. Mohamud’s defense team claimed the surveillance violated his constitutional rights, and that federal prosecutors did not make available to the defense evidence obtained via the surveillance. U.S. District Judge Garr King upheld Mohamud’s conviction, saying that suppressing the evidence collected through NSA surveillance “and a new trial would put defendant in the same position he would have been in if the government notified him of the (surveillance) at the start of the case.”

  • Experts debate the vulnerability of Midwest cities to terrorist attacks

    The crises in Syria and Iraq have increased worries about terror cells taking aim at American targets, specifically New York, Boston, and Los Angeles. As larger cities step up their counterterrorism efforts, however, analysts debate whether less populated cities in the Midwest are safe or just as vulnerable to terror attacks.

  • The “militarization of health care” threatening the health of local populations: experts

    The surge in murders of polio vaccination workers in Pakistan has made headlines this year, but little attention has been devoted to the ethical issues surrounding the global health impact of current counterterrorism policy and practice. A new study traces the ways that the war on terror is incorporating medicine into warfare – what the researchers call “the militarization of health care” — threatening the health of local populations, increasing global health disparities, and causing profound moral distress among humanitarian and health care workers.