Government

  • Advancing microbial forensics to respond to global biological outbreaks

    Much as human DNA can be used as evidence in criminal trials, genetic information about microorganisms can be analyzed to identify pathogens or other biological agents in the event of a suspicious disease outbreak. Biological outbreaks can include natural occurrences, accidental, or negligent releases from laboratories, biocrimes aimed at individuals or small groups, or acts of bioterrorism and biowarfare intended to affect large populations. The tools and methods used to investigate such outbreaks belong to an emerging discipline known as microbial forensics, but the field faces substantial scientific and technical challenges, says a new report.

  • Debate continues over controversial lawsuit-killing Louisiana oil bill

    Governor Bobby Jindal (R-Louisiana) is facing a difficult decision over whether or not to veto a measure which would kill a contentious lawsuit filed by the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East (SLFPA-E) against ninety-seven different oil and gas companies regarding long-term environmental damage claims, including those of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon explosion.

  • State, Political Community and Foreign Relations in Modern and Contemporary Syria
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  • DHS’s intelligence framework and analytic planning process ineffective: GAO

    A new Government Accountability Office(GAO) reportsays DHS’s intelligence framework and analytic planning process are ineffective, raising concerns about the department’s ability to coordinate and prioritize intelligence strategies despite having systems put in place for integrating intelligence and analytic activities.

  • Egypt: The Gaullist option (update)

    On Sunday, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi was sworn in as Egypt’s president. On 3 July 2013, Sissi, then the commander of the Egyptian army, ousted President Mohammed Morsi, the leader of the Muslim Brotherhood. Egypt’s experience with former generals as heads of state is not reassuring. Sissi’s predecessors — Gamal Abdel Nasser (1956-70), Anwar Sadat (1970-81), and Hosni Mubarak (1981-2011) – did little to modernize Egypt and make it economically self-sufficient and politically stable. In 1958, when General Charles de Gaulle was called back to lead France, he conditioned his return on deep structural reforms, reforms which replaced the inherently ungovernable Fourth Republic with the stable and effective Fifth Republic. The United States should encourage President Sisi to consider de Gaulle’s example and use his authority and broad powers in ways that Nasser, Sadat, and Mubarak did not – to modernize Egypt and put it on a path leading to economic prosperity, political stability, and social cohesion.

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  • Recession-related cost measures blamed for U.S. infrastructure lagging development

    In an alarming fall, the United States is currently ranked 19th in the quality of its infrastructure, according to the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Report. Additionally, the American Society for Civil Engineers (ASCE) has given the country a D+ on its annual Infrastructure Report Card, arguing that $3.6 trillion is needed by 2020 for maintenance and upgrades.

  • States have consistently negotiated with terrorists to get back their citizens

    The prisoner exchange with the Taliban has been met with criticism from some quarters, but, in fact, there is nothing unique about it, as the record shows that states around the world do negotiate with terrorists in order to get back their citizens or advance other goals. For example, since the early 1980s, Israel has freed nearly 8,000 Palestinian terrorists, and Palestinian and Arab prisoners, for fewer than twenty Israelis — soldiers and citizens who were held captive by Hezbolla and Hamas, and the bodies of several dead Israelis soldiers Hezbollah held as bargaining chips. Experts say that arguments can be made for or against theBergdahl exchange on its merits, but what cannot be argued is that the exchange should not have been made because it involved negotiations with terrorists.

  • Improved performance of facial recognition software

    Who is that stranger in your social media photo? A click on the face reveals the name in seconds, almost as soon as you can identify your best friend. While that handy app is not quite ready for your smart phone, researchers are racing to develop reliable methods to match one person’s photo from millions of images for a variety of applications.

  • Expatriate Jihadists operating in Syria explain views, alarm West

    More than 3,000 Westerners — among them 70 Americans — are believed by intelligence and counterterrorism officials to have traveled to Syria to join the war against the government of president Bashar al-Assad. Many of them engaged in what they believe is a holy war. This increase in the number of expatriate jihadists has led to a more aggressive response by security officials. In Britain, the Home Office stripped more than twenty individuals of their citizenship, and in just the first three months of this year there was a spike of more than forty “Syria-related arrests.”

  • Growing Jihadist threat demands new U.S. strategy to combat terrorism: RAND study

    There is a growing terrorist threat to the United States from a rising number of Salafi-jihadist groups overseas, according to a new RAND study. Since 2010, there has been a 58 percent increase in the number of jihadist groups, a doubling of jihadist fighters, and a tripling of attacks by al Qaeda affiliates. The most significant threat to the United States, the report concludes, comes from terrorist groups operating in Yemen, Syria, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. There is a medium-level threat from terrorist groups operating in Somalia, Iraq, Libya, Lebanon, Nigeria, and Algeria. There is also a low-level threat from Salafi-jihadist groups operating in such countries as Tunisia, Mali, and Morocco.

  • Floridian is first known American suicide bomber in Syria

    Floridian resident Moner Mohammad Abusalha is the first known American suicide bomber in Syria’s civil war. His death last May came as a surprise to U.S. counterterrorism agencies, which had lost track of him once he entered Syria. Some 12,000 foreign fighters have so far taken part in the Syria civil war — 3,000 of them from Western countries — and the inability to track these foreign fighters reflects a troubling blind spot for Western intelligence agencies. U.S. intelligence services are further hampered by legal restrictions which limit the monitoring of U.S. citizens and their communications.

  • With massive presence of foreign fighters, Syrian conflict resembles 1980s Afghanistan war

    A new report by the Soufan Groupestimates that in just three years, 12,000 foreign fighters have traveled to Syria to support various rebel groups fighting the government of President Bashar al-Assad. U.S. and Israeli intelligence previously estimated that there were 7,000 foreign fighters in Syria at the start of 2014. Security experts are comparing the situation to the influx of foreign fighters into 1980s Soviet-occupied Afghanistan, which saw 10,000 foreign fighters battle the Soviets in the decade-long conflict that spawned al-Qaeda.

  • House passes measure requiring review of intelligence sharing practices

    In the bill is the first legislation written in response to shortcomings revealed by the Boston marathon bombings,the House of Representatives last Friday approved a measure which requires the FBI, DHS, and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence to review their information sharing practices and report back to Congress within ninety days. Post-bombing investigation concluded that had intelligence agencies shared information on Tamerlan Tsarnaev, one of the suspects in the Boston Marathon bombings, prior to the incident, local law enforcement authorities may have been able to monitor Tsarnaev’s actions.

  • DHS relaxes employment rules for H-1B visa spouses

    Last month DHS proposed two new rule changes which would allow H-4 dependent spouses of highly skilled immigrant workers who hold an H-1B, E, or L visas, to work legally in the United States. Current regulations prohibit work authorization for spouses of said visa holders. Some immigration advocates say the proposal is too narrow since getting employers to sponsor an H-1B visa applicant is already challenging.

  • Urgent need: Dirty bomb detection technology which does not rely on helium

    It has taken 4.7 billion years for Earth to accumulate our helium reserves, but these reserves are dwindling at an alarming rate, and will be exhausted by around 2025. The supplies we have originated in the very slow radioactive alpha decay that occurs in rocks, and there is no chemical way to manufacture helium. The Department of Defense and other agencies use Helium-3 (He-3) to detect neutrons emanating from Special Nuclear Material (SNM) in order to counter the threat of nuclear-fueled explosives such as dirty bombs. Since the supply of He-3 is rapidly drying up, the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) awarded a $2.8 million contract to Alion Science and Technology to develop a replacement technology which will detect neutrons without relying on He-3.

  • Federal oversight of ammonium nitrate exceedingly weak

    A new Government Accountability Office(GAO) report found that the federal government has no way of fully knowing which chemical facilities stockammonium nitrate, a widely used fertilizer which was the cause of the explosion last year at a West, Texas fertilizer plan, which resulted in the death of fourteen people – and which was used by Timothy McVeigh in Oklahoma City twenty years ago. Poor data sharing with states, outdated federal policies, and numerous industry exemptions have contributed to a weak federal oversight. Without improved monitoring, regulators “will not know the extent to which dangerous conditions at some facilities may continue to exist,’’ the GAO report said.