Terrorism and counterterrorism

  • U.K. terror suspects protected by anonymity rules

    Two U.K. terror suspects – one an al-Qaeda recruiter, the other involved in the Nairobi shopping mall attack last year – escaped British detention in 2007, but are still protected by court-imposed anonymity orders. Seven men suspected of terrorism will be released into the community in the next few weeks when the control measures restricting their movements expire. These men, too, will benefit from court-ordered anonymity. Security experts say that as is the case with two suspects who absconded in 2007, some or all of the seven terrorism suspects will be in a position to evade surveillance by using their anonymity.

  • Florida teenager faces bioterrorism charges

    Jesse Korff, 19, of Labelle, Florida is facing federal charges in New Jersey for selling poison through a black marketplace on the underground Internet. Law enforcement says from November 2013 through 15 January this year, Korff produced, stockpiled, and sold abrin for use as a weapon. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) considers abrin, which is extracted from the seeds of the rosary pea plant, a subset of biological agents and toxins posing a threat to public health and safety. Small doses of abrin are potentially lethal to humans if ingested, inhaled, or injected.

  • Foreign jihadists in Syria encouraged to return home to engage in terrorism

    Thousands of foreign fighters are traveling to Syria to fight the Syrian government in the country’s civil war. About 500 of those are from Britain, and many of these individuals are already known to British intelligence service, MI5. One British Muslim who had joined ISIS but then defected, says many of those Britons, along with other Europeans and Americans, are being trained as jihadists and then encouraged by their trainers to return home to launch terrorist attacks. Manuel Valls, France’s interior minister, said jihadists are the “biggest threat that the country faces in the coming years.”

  • Aussie police uncovers vast money laundering operation used by terrorists, criminals

    Terror groups are known to rely on money laundering operations to finance their activities. A recent operation by an Australian government taskforce has revealed the scope of money laundering operations within the country’s borders. The investigation, which has uncovered forty money laundering operations in Australia, has so far seized $26 million in cash, seized $30 million worth in houses and other assets, and has intercepted drug shipments worth at least $530 million.

  • Assad bolsters al-Qaeda affiliates in Syria with secret oil deals, prisoner release: Western intelligence

    Western intelligence agencies say that President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, in a complex double game, has provided funds to and cooperated with al-Qaeda-affiliated terrorist organizations in Syria even as these organizations fight the Syrian military. The regime has two goals in pursuing this policy. The first is to persuade the West that the uprising is inspired and led by Islamist militants, including al-Qaeda and its affiliates, in order to weaken, and even stop, Western support for the rebels. The second is to allow the jihadists to gain the upper hand in the internal fighting among rebel groups. The regime believes that if the rebellion is seen to be led by Islamist fundamentalists rather than secular and moderate Syrians, more non-Alawite Syrians would side with the regime against the rebels, even if grudgingly.

  • Judge denies defense request to see whether NSA surveillance led to terrorism charges

    U.S. District Judge Sharon Johnson Coleman on Friday ruled that lawyers for Adel Daoud, a 20-year old resident of Hillside, a suburb west of Chicago, who was charged with plotting to set off a powerful bomb outside a crowded Chicago bar, will not be allowed to examine whether the investigators who initiated the sting operation which led to Doud’s arrest relied on information gleaned from NSA surveillance programs. Attorneys for Daoud had asked Judge Coleman to instruct prosecutors to disclose “any and all” surveillance information used in Daoud’s case, including information disclosed to a U.S. Senate’s Select Committee on Intelligence. In a brief ruling posted late Friday, Coleman denied the motion, writing that the defense had “failed to provide any basis for issuing such an order.” Prosecutors would not confirm whether the FBI had initiated its operation against Doud as a result of a tip from the NSA, but they did say that even if such surveillance did exist, they have no plans of using it at trial and the defense was not entitled to it.

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  • Judge says DHS made “mistake” placing Malaysian woman on terrorist watch no-fly list

    Rahinah Ibrahim, 48, was prevented by TSA agents from boarding a plane in San Francisco in 2005 because his name showed up – erroneously –on the government terrorist watch no-fly list. She was eventually allowed to leave the country, but has not been allowed to re-enter the United States since. Last Tuesday, U.S. District Judge William Alsup ruled that DHS made a “mistake” when it put Ibrahim, a former Stanford University Ph.D. student, on the list, and that the government must give her an opportunity to apply for reentry to the United States. Ibrahim’s challenge of the government’s actions is believed to have been the first trial of its kind in the country. It was held before Judge Alsup without a jury.

  • NRC: storing spent nuclear fuel in cooling pools is safe

    The nuclear reactors now in service in the United States were built with the assumption that the spent fuel would be removed from nuclear the facilities after a few years, but because the government has failed to provide a centralized place to store the spent fuel, utility companies have had to store an ever-growing quantity of it in spent fuel pools on the grounds of the facilities. Scientists argue that it would be safer to move some of the spent fuel into giant steel and concrete casks, where it can be stored dry, with no reliance on water, pumps, or filters to keep them cool. The nuclear industry and the NRC do not agree.

  • Surviving a nuclear explosion in your city

    During the cold war, scientists modeled every imaginable consequence of a nuclear explosion. Michael Dillon, a Lawrence Livermore Lab mathematician, found a gap in the sheltering strategies for people far enough from ground zero to survive the initial blast but close enough to face deadly radioactive fallout. Dillon’s model’s addresses the most vulnerable people, those who found shelter from the blast in lightweight buildings, or buildings lacking a basement (these buildings are more easily penetrated by deadly radioactive dust). His recommendations:  if adequate shelter is fifteen minutes away, people should remain in their initial, poor-quality shelter no longer than thirty minutes after detonation. If the better shelter is only five minutes away, however, individuals should move there immediately, leaving the closer but unsafe buildings altogether.

  • NSA’s bulk collection programs’ contribution to thwarting terrorism minimal: study

    There are two questions about the NSA’s bulk information collection programs: are these programs legal? Are they effective? On the second questions, supporters of the programs say these surveillance measures are essential, and as proof they claim these programs helped thwart more than fifty potential terrorist attacks in more than twenty countries around the world. A new in-depth analysis shows, however, that these claims are overblown and even misleading. The study of 225 individuals recruited by al-Qaeda, or a like-minded group, or inspired by al-Qaeda’s ideology, and charged in the United States with an act of terrorism since 9/11, demonstrates that traditional investigative methods provided the initial impetus for investigations in the majority of cases, while the contribution of NSA’s bulk surveillance programs to these cases was minimal.

  • The Sochi games may be secure, but other parts of Russia may come under terrorist attacks

    While the upcoming Winter Olympics in Sochi will likely be secure, other parts of Russia may come under attack as rebels attempt to grab the global spotlight, experts say. “Muslim separatists would like to draw attention away from the Olympics as well as demonstrate that their struggle continues and that they haven’t been defeated,” Duke’s Michael Newcity says. “Since the Olympic Games are very much a vanity project for Russian President Vladimir Putin, it wouldn’t surprise me to see more bombings — perhaps not at the Olympics, since security will be so tight — but more likely in other parts of Russia.”

  • Iraq and its extremist problem: what now for the troubled state?

    The number of deaths in Iraq from attacks by extremist groups operating under the banner of Islam has been growing steadily since the withdrawal of American troops in 2011. In 2013, nearly 8,900 people died in extremist attacks. The level of casualties has been taken as an indicator of extremist political and military strength. This dreadful statistic is not just the result of the loss of American military, intelligence and political support. As evidenced by recent insurgent activity in Fallujah and Ramadi, Iraq now faces an assault on its sovereign integrity that is testing the organs of the state.

  • Scotland would face terrorist threats even after independence: U.K. cabinet minister

    One of the arguments the Scottish National Party (SNP) makes for Scottish independence from the United Kingdom is that the risk of al-Qaeda-inspired terrorism against Scotland would diminish if Scotland were no longer associated with U.K. foreign policy. A senior cabinet member dismissed these assertions, pointing out that Islamic extremists have attacked smaller states in Europe, including Nordic countries like Sweden and Denmark, which the SNP regularly suggest as a model for an independent Scotland. James Brokenshire, the U.K. security minister, said that while the risk of terrorism against Scotland would not diminish, Scottish independence would make it harder for Police Scotland to fight serious organized crime.

  • Modernizing DHS border enforcement systems may cost more than $1.5 billion

    TECS is the primary DHS system that Customs and Border Protection (CBP) personnel use to screen foreigners against a variety of watchlists, and it manages case files for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). ICE assignments tracked include money-laundering probes, online pornography investigations, and phone data analyses. A GAO audit last month found that the planned $1.5 billion upgrade to TECS now has no foreseeable end-date or final cost estimate.

  • Bioterrorism fears lead scientists to withhold information on new strain of botulism

    The recent discovery of a new strain of botulism, the first in forty years, has alarmed California state health officials. The discovery was published in the Journal of Infectious Diseases in October 2013 — but the genetic sequence of the botulism toxin was removed from the report. The decision to withhold the sequencing information took into consideration the fact that there is currently no antitoxin capable of treating an outbreak of botulism, and that it takes about one to two years to develop an antitoxin. Should the classified information reach the wrong hands, a bioweapon, which can be spread as an aerosol, could be used to cause mass-casualty epidemic.