Government

  • Projects using federal funds to adopt siting, building codes informed by sea-level rise

    Following remarks about climate change in his recent State of the Union speech, President Barack Obama issued an executive orderlast week directing federal, state, and local government agencies, using federal funds, to adopt stricter building and siting standards to reflect scientific projections that future flooding will be more intense and frequent due to climate change. Already, post-Superstorm Sandy, FEMA and (HUD) developed updated elevation standards for New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Maryland, and Rhode Island based on climate change projections, and required any approved projects to reflect those projections or local elevation requirements if they were tougher.

  • France faces up to problem of Islamist radicalization in prisons

    Since this month’s Paris attacks, counterterrorism officials have focused their attention on French prisons where, they believe, a significant number of the country’s extremists adopted their radical Islamist ideology. About 7.5 percent of the French population is Muslim, but Muslims make up more than half the inmates in French prisons. Extremists often find it easier to spread violent ideology in prison than outside of prison. Most prisoners spend up to nine hours a day together working and later in the prison yard, with minimal supervision. Prison guards, who say they find it difficult to spot extremists, are each typically responsible for 100 prisoners.

  • Ex-wife of ISIS leader transferred cash for ISIS in Lebanon

    An investigation has revealed that for months Saja al-Dulaimi, the Iraqi ex-wife of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the head of the Islamic State, had been siphoning cash through Lebanon to the militants under a fake name. Dulaimin and al-Baghdadi were married for about six years, and people in the know say that the union may have been typical of some traditional marriages – weddings aimed at solidifying political ties or relationships between different families.

  • Does Obama face the prospect of boots on the ground in Yemen?

    For the past three years the Obama administration has been deeply reluctant to engage in Yemen, Iraq, or Syria with significant deployment of ground troops. The preferred option has been termed “remote control” with greater reliance on armed drones, privatized military, special forces, and other means. The turmoil in Yemen exposes one core problem with this approach: The drone operations in Yemen, which were run both by the CIA and U.S. Joint Special Operations Command, were highly dependent on intelligence on AQAP obtained by Yemeni government security and intelligence branches. Furthermore, they had the approval of the government in Sana’a so the Obama administration could claim legitimacy for its actions. With the ousting of the Hadi government, both elements are now in question — the intelligence will probably dry up and if some kind of reasonably stable government replaces Hadi then a new regime could claim infringement of sovereignty. If that regime is Houthi-dominated, as seems likely, then while the Iranian-supported Shi’a Houthi have little liking for AQAP, they are equally opposed to U.S. policy. When the air strikes against Islamic State started last August, Western leaders said that that was as far as it would go. This is clearly not the case and not only is mission creep already happening in Iraq and Syria, it now looks highly likely in Yemen as well.

  • Chinese ownership of a methanol plant worries Louisiana parish residents

    Roughly 150 petrochemical companies and seventeen refineries operate in a zone between Baton Rouge and New Orleans, an area locals call “Cancer Alley” due to the health concerns that have arisen during the past few decades of industrialization. Residents of St. James Parish have voiced their opposition to a proposed methanol plant in the parish. The plant will be operated by Yuhuang Chemical Inc., a subsidiary of Chinese natural gas giant Shandong Yuhuang. Recently, Shandong Yuhuang, parent company of the proposed plant in St. James, has received bad press in China for reportedly neglecting environmental laws, including releasing toxic emissions in the city of Heze, which environmentalists have connected to rising cancer rates and contaminated water.

  • Individuals face privacy hurdles, pitfalls while navigating in the information age

    We leave a trail of data, both knowingly and unwittingly, with every swipe of a credit card, post on social media and query on a search engine. Researchers detail the privacy hurdles people face while navigating in the information age, and what should be done about privacy at a policy level. The researchers call for policies that seek to balance power between individuals and data holders.

  • No technologies currently available to track, disable small drones

    Monday’s drone incident on the White House lawn exposed a security gap that Secret Service and counterterrorism officials have been studying for years, but for which they have yet to develop a solution. Four days before the incident, lawmakers examining White House security protocols in response to a series of intrusions, were warned by a panel of experts that the Secret Service’s inability to identify and disable drones remained a top vulnerability, according to people with knowledge of the discussions.Security experts say proposals for a higher fence around the White House, together with increased surveillance and environmental sensors, are not enough to easily to identify and disable a drone before it lands.

  • Russian secret agents implicated in nuclear poisoning of a critic of Putin

    Alexander Litvinenko, a Russian dissident and a vocal critic of President Vladimir Putin, died in London on 23 November 2006 after suffering from radioactive polonium-210 poisoning. An inquest has established that on 1 November 2006 he ingested large quantities of the radioactive material, surreptitiously put in his tea by two agents of the Russian Federal Protective Services. A nuclear expert testifying at the inquest said that less than a millionth of a gram of polonium would be enough to kill a human being.

  • Belgium confronting home-grown jihadist threat

    Belgium is Europe’s biggest per capita contributor of fighters to Syria and law enforcement officials fear that at least seventy of 350 Belgian fighters have returned home equipped with skills they learned on the battle field. The Belgian government had brought the concern to national attention in an October document warning about the “danger of violent jihadism that threatens to spread in our society.” Belgian officials have not found a link between the Paris attacks earlier this month and planned attacks in Belgium in the following days – attacks thwarted by swift police preemptive action — but common elements include: a clustering of radicals in a small area, the connection between petty criminality and jihadist violence, and the role of prison as an incubator for extremism.

  • Idaho bolsters the state’s cyber defenses

    Idaho’s director of the Bureau of Homeland Security says that cyber threats remain the most important yet least understood risk to government and the private sector. He has announced plans to tackle that vulnerability in the state. The director of the Bureau says that cybersecurity will never be perfect, which makes it imperative for organizations like the Idaho Bureau of Homeland Security to focus on planning that incorporates not just defense, but also detection and the mitigation of damage that has already occurred.

  • Boomerang: Democrats say they would delay vote on Iran sanctions bill

    Senator Robert Menendez (D-New Jersey) announced during a Senate hearing yesterday (Tuesday) that he and other Senate Democrats would not support bringing the sanctions bill he cosponsored with Senator Mark Kirk (R-Illinois) to the floor until at least 24 March. Menendez has led a small group of Democrats who were critical of the administration’s handling of the talks with Iran over the latter’s nuclear program talks. The bi-partisan approach to the sanctions issue collapsed in the face of what Democrats considered to be a clumsy politicization of the issue by Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), Israel’s prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and Israel’s ambassador to the United States, Ron Dermer. Dermer suggested to Boehner the idea of inviting Netanyahu to speak in front of Congress to criticize the administration’s policy. Netanyahu is lagging in the polls behind the center-left camp in the 17 March parliamentary elections in Israel, and Dermer, one of Netanyahu’s closest political advisers, believed the speech would boost Netanyahu’s standing in Israel. The process of the invitation was not less problematic than the invitation itself: In an unprecedented break with protocol, Boehner and Dermer did not bother to consult with, or even inform, the White House or the Department of State that they were arranging for a foreign head of state to speak before Congress.

  • NYC Russian spy ring busted

    In a federal complaint unsealed Monday, prosecutors say that Russian spies used talk about books, or tickets for sporting events or concerts, as code words for conducting espionage against the United States. On Monday in New York, law enforcement arrested one of the men, Evgeny Buryakov, 39, who posed as an employee in the New York City office of a Russian bank. The two other men listed in the complaint, Igor Sporyshev and Victor Podobnyy, had diplomatic immunity and no longer live in the United States. U.S. officials said the men were gathering intelligence related to possible U.S. sanctions on Russia and U.S. efforts to develop alternative energy resources, in addition to trying to recruit Americans in high positions.

  • Patriot Act’s reauthorization an obstacle for cyber information sharing bill

    Recent cyber hacking incidents have persuaded lawmakers to pass a cyber information sharing bill which will help protect U.S. private sector networks. Business groups and federal intelligence agencies insist that information exchange is critical to protecting the nation’s cyber infrastructure. One of the hurdles to passing such a bill is that by 1 June, Congress must reauthorize sections of the Patriot Act which are the basis for the NSA’s most controversial surveillance programs. Many lawmakers consider NSA reform to be essential before they can support the White House’s cybersecurity proposal, which would allow cyber information sharing between the public and private sector.

  • N.C. considering regulations to cope with sea-level rise

    Later this week, researchers peer-reviewing the latest draft report that investigates sea-level rise along North Carolina’s coast, will submit their comments to the state Coastal Resources Commission’s(CRC) Science Panel. The initial 2010 report faced criticism from climate change skeptics and some property developers who claimed the report’s 100-year outlook on sea-level rise was unrealistic. The new report looks at changes along the coast for a period of thirty years.

  • House delays vote on “the toughest border security bill ever”

    The House was supposed to vote on Wednsday on what Republicans have called “the toughest border security bill ever,” but the bill encountered harsh criticism from different sides of the GOP caucus. Some complained the measure does not address the pressing issue of immigration reform, while others complained it was the first step on slippery slope toward such reform. The border security bill, Secure Our Borders First Act (H.R. 399), sponsored by House Homeland Security Chairman Michael McCaul (R-Texas), would impose harsh penalties for federal agencies that fail to meet certain requirements. One mandate aims for DHS to achieve “operational control,” or prevent illegal entry across the southern border, within five years. If DHS fails to achieve that objective, political appointees at the agency would be prohibited from traveling in government vehicles, receive reimbursement for nonessential travel, or receive pay increases or bonuses.