• The past as prologue: The Galant affair

    On Monday, General Benny Ganz replaced General Gabi Ashkenazi as the IDF chief of staff; in the four months leading to Ganz’s appointment Israel witnessed a bitter fight over the government’s preferred candidate, General Yoav Galant; pragmatists in the higher echelons of Israel national security establishment resolved to do all they can to prevent Galant, a hawk’s hawk, from becoming chief of staff; the pragmatists’ main worry: the moderate Ashkenazi served as a break on the government’s more hawkish tendencies, and they were afraid that Galant would only reinforce these tendencies, leading to an unnecessary attack on Iran; the pragmatists succeeded, and Galant’s nomination was killed, but it now appears that the more moderate elements in Israel’s defense establishment took extreme measures — including forging documents — to achieve their goal

  • High-speed derailment

    Sophisticated high-speed commercial trains such as France’s TGV, Japan’s Bullet trains, and China’s Shanghai Maglev that travel up to 311 mph are leaving the United States in the dust; this week, President Obama proposed a 127 percent increase on public transit spending to create jobs and stimulate the economy despite Republican plans to reduce the $1.5 trillion deficit; Republican lawmakers, governors say the development of high-speed rail should left for the private market

  • Libya rocked by massive anti-government demonstrations

    Thousands of anti-government protesters demonstrate in Tripoli and Benghazi ahead of Thursday “Day of Anger” mass rally in the capital; the protesters are said to have thrown stones and petrol bombs, and set vehicles alight. Witnesses said police used rubber bullets and water cannon to disperse them; Colonel Gaddafi is the Arab world’s longest-serving leader, having ruled oil-rich Libya since a coup in 1969; he has always insisted that the country is run by a series of peoples’ committees, though most outside observers believe it is a police state with him firmly in control; this popular anti-government wave in the region began with the overthrow of Tunisia’s leader, Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, in January; last week, President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt resigned; in recent days there have also been anti-government demonstrations in Yemen, Bahrain, and Iran

  • Boston has new pot-hole weapons

    In a typical year, the city of Boston fills about 19,000 potholes; the city now has two new pot-hole weapons in its arsenal: a $151,300 Pro-Patch Pothole Patcher truck, and a new iPhone and Android app, called Street Bump, which would automatically report potholes to the city by sensing when a car has hit a bump (the app has not been released yet, but test-drives are already being conducted)

  • Canadian police push limits of civilian UAVs laws

    A local police department in Ontario, Canada is exploring the use of small unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and pioneering civil aviation laws for future use of these aerial drones; in 2007 the Kenora Police Department set a new precedence when photographs of a homicide scene, taken from a UAV, were admitted as evidence in a trial for the first time; unlike the large drones used in Afghanistan these smaller UAVs are not practical for surveillance and are primarily used to record photos for trials and provide aerial reconnaissance in hostage situations or bomb threats; the small UAVs are equipped with several cameras including digital still, video, and Forward Looking Infrared (FLIR) camera; the Canadian government is working on developing regulations for the use of these UAVs in civilian airspace

  • New DHS budget includes more money for airport scanners

    As lawmakers are trimming the budgets of many programs and agencies in an effort to reduce the deficit, funding for airport scanners has increased; overall discretionary funding for DHS has grown 0.7 percent to $43.2 billion, and includes more funding for full-body scanners; the Obama administration’s budget request allocates $77 million for the purchase of 275 additional full-body scanners; each scanner costs $280,000 and the additional order will bring the total number of scanners deployed at U.S. airports to 1,275; the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has introduced new software that projects a non-gender specific image to ease concerns over privacy issues that sparked a backlash last year

  • Airport Screeners allowed to unionize and bargain collectively

    John Pistole, the head of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), last Friday announced that he would authorize unions to bargain on behalf of the TSA’s 45,000 airport screening officers; unions will be allowed to bargain collectively over specific issues including regulations on vacation time and shift assignments, workplace transfers, and recognition for good work; topics that unions usually bargain for like pay, retirement, benefits, disciplinary standards, job qualification rules, safety equipment and where it is deployed will not be open to negotiation; this unique arrangement is designed to allow DHS the flexibility to quickly reassign screeners, change procedures, and alter equipment in response to a security threat; Pistole hopes that this arrangement will boost employee morale and performance; in surveys on employee morale and job satisfaction, TSA often performs poorly compared to other government agencies

  • Chechen warlord claims responsibility for Moscow airport bombing

    Doku Umarov, the notorious head of the Chechen extremist group Caucasus Emirate, claimed responsibility for the 24 January suicide bombing at Moscow’s airport that left thirty-six people dead and 180 injured; Umarov promised further attacks and spoke of his organization’s ability to carry out operations “whenever and wherever [they] want”; Umarov’s group is also responsible for the March 2010 bombing in the Moscow Metro and derailing a train in November 2009; Caucasus Emirate seeks to establish a Muslim nation in the Caucasus region and expel Russia

  • Coast Guard works to prevent rising mission-related deaths

    Admiral Robert Papp, the commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG), announced that the service is conducting a comprehensive review and may eliminate certain missions and capabilities, in light of the sharp increase of mission related deaths; in the past two years, fourteen Coast Guard aviators and one Maritime Safety and Security Team (MSST) member have died in accidents that occurred during routine missions; Admiral Papp is concerned that service members are overburdened by training for too many different skill sets and have had inadequate time to master them; since 9/11 USCG has added missions and capabilities without a corresponding increase in service personnel; Papp cites a helicopter crash in July 2010 that killed three aviators as evidence; the crash occurred during a routine mission in which the team was flying from Astoria, Oregon to Sitka, Alaska

  • Obama asks for $43.8 billion for DHS -- 2 percent increase over 2011

    TSA hopes to buy more full-body scanners; already TSA has deployed nearly 500 of the scanners at 78 airports, and Obama’s budget proposed having as many as 1,275 installed by the end of 2012; the proposed budget also includes additional funds, about $3 billion, better to protect against a chemical, biological, nuclear, or radiological attack as well as critical infrastructure like power grids

  • Iraqi defector admits he duped U.S. about Saddam's WMD

    On 5 February 2003, Secretary of State Colin Powell spoke before the UN Security Council, making the case for tough measures against Saddam Hussein — including a U.S. invasion to topple him; one of the key revelations in Powell’s speech was that in order to evade detection of its WMD program, Iraq had constructed mobile biowarfare labs; as was the case with many other assertions in Powell’s speech, this assertion, too, was false; the CIA analysts who wrote Powell’s speech relied on an Iraqi defector code-named Curveball, who was considered unreliable by German and Israeli intelligence; the man who pulled off one of the greatest confidence tricks in the history of modern intelligence now admits that everything he had said about the inner workings of Saddam Hussein’s biological weapons program was a flight of fantasy

  • U.S. and Turkey meet to expand counter-terrorism partnership

    Last week DHS secretary Janet Napolitano met with Turkey’s state minister Hayat Yazici to strengthen ties between the two countries and increase coordination to combat terrorism; Turkey is a critical ally in the Middle East and has worked closely with the United States in Iraq and Afghanistan; last month, Turkey arrested a wanted Saudi terrorism suspect who was on the Saudi Interior Ministry’s list of eight five most wanted terrorists; the meeting comes as Napolitano is working with her European counterparts to secure the global supply chain, prevent terrorists from exploiting it, and protect its critical infrastructure; Turkey has worked closely with the United States on Project Global Shield, an international effort to interdict shipments of dangerous chemicals used in improvised explosive devices (IEDs)

  • PATRIOT Act extended by nine months

    In a move last Tuesday which surprised the Republican leadership in Congress, 26 Republicans — seven of them freshmen — voted against the extension of the PATRIOT Act, which expires 28 February; the measure was defeated when the Republican leadership attempted to force it through a fast-track procedure that required a two-thirds majority, but the vote — 277 for and 148 against — fell short; the House last night, in 275 to 144 vote under regular procedure, extended the Act by nine month; the extension includes special “roving” wiretaps, which allow law enforcement officials to use one search warrant to monitor a suspect’s calls, even if he or she skips from phone to phone; traditional search warrants only apply to a single telephone line; the Senate is yet to act on the bill

  • Study shows more non-Muslim terrorists in U.S.

    A new report found that the number of American Muslims involved in terrorist acts dropped by more than half compared to 2009; in 2010 twenty American Muslims were arrested for terrorism, down from 2009’s peak of forty-seven; in 2010 there were more than twenty plots by non-Muslims compared to the ten Muslim Americans arrested for domestic plots; the report supports the argument that fears of domestic radicalization are exaggerated, and was released after the American woman calling herself “Jihad Jane” pled guilty to recruiting terrorists to kill a Swedish cartoonist; Representative Peter King is preparing for domestic radicalization hearings in the House’s Homeland Security committee

  • Iran faces anti-government protests Monday

    Opposition groups in Iran are calling for massive demonstrations on Monday; the Iranian government, which brutally suppressed anti-government demonstrations following the disputed 2009 elections, vowed to stifle the opposition and not allow the demonstrations to take place; Reza Pahlavi, the eldest son of the last shah of Iran who was deposed in the 1979 revolution, said that the outcome in Egypt must be “emboldening” for his country; U.S. National Security Adviser Tom Donilon said: “By announcing that they will not allow opposition protests, the Iranian government has declared illegal for Iranians what it claimed was noble for Egyptians”