• 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.

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  • 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.

  • Best possible antidote to radicalization: Education

    Education is the best possible antidote to radicalization, Professor Louise Richardson told the British Council’s Going Global conference in London last week. Richardson, who was recently nominated as the next vice-chancellor of the University of Oxford, said: “Any terrorist I have ever met through my academic work had a highly over simplified view of the world, which they saw in black and white terms. Education robs you of that simplification and certitude. Education is the best possible to antidote to radicalization.”

  • ISIS closes gates on Ramadi dam, cutting off water to towns loyal to Baghdad

    Global security analysts have warned for some time now that water scarcity due to climate change will be used as a tool of war in regions with poor governance. The on-going wars in Iraq and Syria provide the first examples of the strategic and tactical use of water as a tool of war, as militant groups operating in both countries – and, in Syria, to government of Bashar al-Assad — have been using the denial of water as a tool against areas and populations they regard as hostile. Last month ISIS militants captured a dam on the Euphrates River to the north of the Iraqi city of Ramadi, and last week they began closing most of its gates, cutting water supplies to pro-government towns and villages downstream.

  • Nigerian army should be investigated for war crimes against civilians: Amnesty

    A comprehensive new report by Amnesty International offers detailed evidence to support the charge that the Nigerian military, pervasively and systematically, committed gross human rights violations under the guise of fighting Boko Haram. Among the findings: the Nigerian military has arrested at least 20,000 young men and boys since 2009, some as young as nine years old. In most cases, they were arbitrarily arrested, often based solely on the word of a single unidentified secret informant. Almost none of those detained has been brought to court and all have been held without the necessary safeguards against murder, torture, and ill-treatment. More than 8,000 people were murdered, starved, suffocated, and tortured to death since March 2011 in military-run detention centers. More than 1,200 people were unlawfully killed in extrajudicial executions since February 2012. In order to combat the spread of disease and stifle the stench, over-crowded cells were regularly fumigated with powerful chemicals – with the detainees kept inside the cells during fumigation, leading to hundreds of deaths. Amnesty International calls for the new Nigerian government to ensure prompt, independent, and effective investigations of the top military and defense officials – named in the report – who authorized these measures for potential individual or command responsibility for war crimes. The organization also calls for new government to bring to an end the culture of impunity within the Nigeria’s armed forces.

  • Gambian government expels Hezbollah funder

    Husayn Tajideen, one of three Lebanese brothers sanctioned by the United States for providing financial support to Hezbollah, was accused of “unacceptable business practices that are detrimental to the Gambian economy,” ordered to cease all business operations, and leave the country within thirty days.

  • App offers St. Petersburg residents information on flood levels, storm surges

    Pinellas County, Florida, will unveil a new Storm Surge Protector computer application which would provide residents of St. Petersburg with realistic views of potential flood levels as the 2015 hurricane season approaches. The app will allow people to enter any Pinellas County address and see the property’s evacuation zone and get an animated view of the structure and the water levels to expect in the area under a range of hurricane categories.

  • California’s agriculture feels pain of harsh drought

    The California drought is expected to be worse for the state’s agricultural economy this year because of reduced water availability, according to a new study. Farmers will have 2.7 million acre-feet less surface water than they would in a normal water year — about a 33 percent loss of water supply, on average. Reduced availability of water will cause farmers to fallow roughly 560,000 acres, or 6 to 7 percent of California’s average annual irrigated cropland. The drought is estimated to cause direct costs of $1.8 billion — about 4 percent of California’s $45 billion agricultural economy. When the spillover effect of agriculture on the state’s other economic sectors is calculated, the total cost of this year’s drought on California’s economy is $2.7 billion and the loss of about 18,600 full- and part-time jobs.

  • More than 10,000 ISIS fighters killed since August 2014: U.S.

    Antony Blinken, U.S. deputy secretary of state, speaking at a meeting of leaders from more than twenty countries who are meeting in Paris for discussions on how to combat ISIS, said that more than 10,000 Islamic State fighters have been killed since coalition forces started their campaign against the militant group in Iraq and Syria nine months ago. He said there had been a great deal of progress in the fight against the Islamists, but that they remained resilient and capable of taking the initiative. He said the coalition had made “real gains” and said the ISIS now had 25 percent less territory than when the air strikes began in August, but experts note, however, that even after being pushed back in a few places, the militants still control an area the size of Italy across Syria and Iraq.