Government

  • House overwhelmingly votes for overhauling NSA phone metadata bulk collection program

    The House yesterday voted overwhelmingly to ban the bulk collection of American phone metadata, as lawmakers increase the pressure to reform one of the more controversial data collection programs of the National Security Agency (NSA). The program was revealed as a result of Edward Snowden’s leaks. The House voted 338-88 in favor of the USA Freedom Act — the second time the House has voted for a more restrictive data collection scheme. Supporters of surveillance reform are more confident that there will be a majority in the Senate to support a similar measure. The House bill has already gained the support of the White House and the intelligence community. The Senate does not have much time, as the Patriot Act – which includes Section 215 which governs the NSA surveillance program – expires at the end of the month. Leading civil liberties organizations, however, have criticized the bill as not going far enough.

  • Crumbling infrastructure to blame for growing number of derailments: Experts

    Transportation industry analysts say the increase in the number of derailments is due to a crumbling transportation infrastructure and a lack of interest in funding rail transportation. Amtrak, a federally subsidized for-profit corporation, has been the target of conservative legislators who want to cut government spending. “The problem that you have — and you’ve had it since 1976 and even before — is that there’s never been an investment program that would bring the infrastructure up where it belongs on existing capacity,” says Amtrak CEO. While derailments are usually due to equipment failures, human and environmental factors can contribute to train accidents.

  • Jihadi recruits are attracted to radicalism, not brainwashed or manipulated: Researchers

    The notion that jihadists are brainwashed or manipulated individuals has been the foundational tenet for many de-radicalization programs in the United States. Scholarly research on terrorism, however, shows that most jihadists are aware of their actions. They tend to join terrorist organizations because they believe they are defending what they see as a just cause. Furthermore, homegrown Western jihadists tend to be self-recruiters who actively seek out violent action before they become fully radicalized into violent ideologies.Researchers and psychologists, therefore, recommend a moreholistic approach to de-radicalization, and approach which takes terrorists and radicals as individuals who first acknowledge the presence of a radical ideology, are attracted to its message, and make themselves available as potential recruits.

  • Iran deal supporters: Comparisons with 1994 North Korea deal not applicable

    Critics of the nuclear agreement between Iran and the P5+1 powers charge that the negotiations, and the impending deal, repeat the mistakes the United States made in the nuclear deal it signed with North Korea in 1994. Supporters of the administration say there is no comparison between what happened twenty years ago and now. One example: the Agreed Framework between the United States and North Korea was a 4-page general document which did not include and reference to enforcement mechanisms should North Korea decide not to comply with the agreement. The emerging agreement with Iran, on the other hand, is a 150-page document dominated by intricate technical specifications and detailed procedures for inspection and verification, followed by specific benchmarks and definitions of violations and non-compliance and the resulting penalties which would be imposed on Iran should such violations occur.

  • The FBI violated its own rules in surveillance of anti-Keystone XL pipeline activists

    More than eighty pages of internal FBI documents dated from November 2012 to June 2014, obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, reveal that the FBI breached its own investigation rules when it spied on protesters opposing the controversial Keystone XL pipeline. Agents in the FBI’s Houston field office failed to get approval before they cultivated informants and opened files on pipeline protesters — a violation of guidelines designed to prevent the agency from becoming excessively involved in sensitive political issues.

  • U.S. chemical plants vulnerable to terrorist attacks, putting millions of Americans at risk

    The chemical sector is a vital part of the U.S. economy, representing almost 2 percent of U.S. gross domestic product (GDP) and is the nation’s greatest exporter. The prominence and importance of the chemical industry as well as the proximity of its facilities to densely populated areas make it a particularly vulnerable target for terrorist attacks, hence the DHS interest and safety rules. The slow implementation of the Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards (CFATS) as part of homeland security and anti-terrorism measures is leaving chemical plants vulnerable and putting at risk the safety of American citizens, according to research.

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  • LA to require seismic standards for new cellphone towers

    Last Friday Los Angeles became the first U.S. city to approve seismic standards for new cellphone towers, part of an effort to reduce communications vulnerabilities in case a large earthquake should strike. The Los Angeles plan requires new freestanding cellphone towers to be built to the same seismic standards as public safety facilities. Cellphone towers are currently built only strong enough not to collapse during a major earthquake. There are not required to be strong enough to continue working.

  • Terrorists’ personality traits indistinguishable from traits of the general population: Experts

    Social scientists and psychologists have not found a personality trait that visibly marks a potential for violent extremism, making it difficult to identify members of a group who may take up arms in support of a common cause. “As of now, there is no specific terrorist profile,” said one expert, who studies violent radicalization. “They come in all shapes and sizes.”Another experts writes that“There are no psychological characteristics or psychopathology that separate terrorists from the general population.”

  • DHS deportations undermine efforts to get immigrants to provide leads on radical suspects

    DHS counterterrorism teams rely on cooperation from immigrant communities to obtain leads on radical individuals and pending terrorism plots, but many of these communities are becoming more wary of federal law enforcement as the number of deportations increase. “It’s ironic that you’ve got them coming in and trying to get information from our communities even as they’re detaining and deporting us at an alarming rate,” says one immigration activist. “That trust is just not going to be there. You can’t have it both ways.”

  • New airport security technologies raise privacy concerns

    Researchers are developing surveillance technologies better to help airport security officials scan passengers and luggage for contraband and suspicious behavior. Privacy advocates say these expensive and ambitious projects, meant to increase public safety and ease air travel delays, risk intruding on passengers’ privacy.“What starts in the airport doesn’t stay there,” says a technology expert at the ACLU.

  • Does Iran deal advance or undermine global nonproliferation efforts? Experts disagree

    The White House already points to the potential Iran deal as one of the highlights of Obama’s legacy, as it fulfills both the Obama doctrine of advancing U.S. interests through engagement with America’s adversaries and the vision of a world gradually retreating from furthering nuclear weapons ambitions. Nuclear nonproliferation experts, however, question whether an Iranian nuclear deal, as laid out in the framework agreement reached last month, advances or sets back the nonproliferation agenda and Obama’s vision of ridding the world of nuclear threat.

  • Court rules NSA bulk metadata collection exceeded Patriot Act’s Section 215

    On Thursday, a three-judge panel from the New York-based 2nd Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals overturned an earlier ruling by Judge William Pauley, which found that the controversial NSA bulk collection of domestic phone metadata was legal and could not be subject to judicial review. That section, which the appeals court ruled the NSA program exceeded, will expire on 1 June. The judges did not address the issue of whether the NSA program violated the Constitution, instead waiting for Congress to decide how to proceed after the program’s 1 June expiration.

  • Garland, Texas exhibit, terrorist attack highlight tensions between free speech and public safety

    The Muhammad Art Exhibit in Garland, Texas, and the foiled attack on it by two Phoenix followers of ISIS, highlight the tensions between protecting Americans’ freedom of speech and preserving public safety. Some legal scholars argue that the American Freedom Defense Initiative (AFDI), the anti-Muslim hate group which organized the event, crossed the line from “defamation” to “fighting words” or “incitement,” so local officials could have prevented the event from taking place in order to protect public safety. Other scholars argue that the AFDI message, vile and repugnant though it is, is protected under the First Amendment and that the group should have been allowed to go ahead with its event.

  • Nuclear forensics science helps thwart terrorist use of nuclear materials

    A nuclear weapon in the hands of terrorists is the stuff of nightmares, especially for U.S. agencies charged with preventing a devastating attack. When security or law enforcement agents confiscate nuclear or radiological weapons or their ingredients being smuggled domestically or internationally, they must quickly trace them back to their source. This is where the science of nuclear forensics comes in. With funding from DHS, Oregon State University has launched a new graduate emphasis in nuclear forensics in OSU’s Department of Nuclear Engineering and Radiation Health Physics.

  • NSA accepts proposed Congressional curbs on bulk data collection

    The NSA’s domestic bulk phone metadata collection program, authorized under Section 215 of the U.S.A. Patriot Act, is set to expire on 1 June. Congress is now gearing up to pass new legislation, called the USA Freedom Act, to curb the NSA’s ability to store domestic phone metadata, instead keeping the information with telecommunications companies. NSA officials have welcomed the proposed restrictions, saying many within the agency doubted the effectiveness of its bulk metadata collection program.