Terrorism and counterterrorism

  • U.S. has been secretly training Syrian rebels for months

    Since late last year, CIA operatives and U.S. Special Forces have been secretly training Syrian rebels to used anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons. the training is being conducted at U.S. bases in Jordan and Turkey, and involves fighters from the Free Syrian Army, a loose confederation of mostly secular rebel groups – many of who deserters from the Syrian military — fighting to take down Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

  • Nevada Sheriff wants DHS to do more before, rather than after, attacks

    Clark County, Nevada, Sheriff Doug Gillespie says DHS needs to make a bigger effort to help local law enforcement work on preventing terrorist attacks, instead of responding to them after the fact. Gillespie used the Boston Marathon bombings as an example of the importance of prevention efforts, noting that the response to the attacks was handled well, but that people were already killed and injured.

  • DHS wants to upgrade BioWatch, but admits the system addresses a receding threat

    The BioWatch program has cost more than $1 billion so far, and DHS wants billions more for upgrading it. The system is designed to detect large-scale bioterror attacks, but DHS, in its revised assessment of bioterror threats to the United States, said that rather than a massive release of germs in an American city – the kind of attack BioWatch sensors were aimed to detect – the more likely bioterror attacks are small-scale releases of anthrax or other pathogens. Such small-scale attack would likely not be picked up by BioWatch. Lawmakers want to know whether investing billions more in the system is worthwhile.

  • Two men charged with planning an “X-ray weapon’’ to kill Muslim enemies of U.S., Israel

    Two men from upstate New York were charged Wednesday with a scheme to build an X-ray weapon to kill Muslim enemies of the United States and Israel. They planned the weapon to kill the designated targets with lethal radiation, and some of the targets were to be killed in their sleep. The indictment says the two wanted to build a powerful X-ray device that could be placed in a truck and driven near a target. The driver would park, leave the area, and activate the device, “killing human targets silently and from a distance with lethal doses of radiation.”

  • Former investigators pushing for new look into TWA flight 800 crash

    Former investigators want to reopen the case of the 1996 TWA Flight 800 crash off the coast of Long Island. They say that new evidence points to a missile strike that may have hit the jet. Theories of an errant missile being fired from a U.S. military vessel – advanced, among others, by Pierre Salinger, who was JFK’s press secretary in the early 1960s — were refuted, but a separate theory of shoulder-fired missile fired by terrorists has lingered.

  • NSA chief: surveillance programs helped prevent terror plots more than 50 times since 9/11

    The National Security Agency (NSA) and Justice Department on Tuesday offered a trenchant defense of the NSA’s surveillance programs. Gen. Keith Alexander, NSA director and commander of the U.S. Cyber Command, told lawmakers that the programs have helped prevent “potential terrorist events” more than fifty times since 9/11. Officials also offered a point-by-point rebuttal of the criticism of the program by civil libertarians, emphasizing that authorities, when they gather phone records, cannot immediately find out the identity or location of the callers.

  • Iran to send a first contingent of 4,000 Iranian Revolutionary Guards to Syria

    In preparation for the attack by Assad forces on rebel-held Aleppo, Iran announced it is sending a first contingent of 4,000 Iranian Revolutionary Guards to Syria to help the Syrian military. Iran’s goal is to help Assad capture Aleppo, and inflict a decisive defeat on the rebels, before U.S., and European, military aid begin to make a difference on the battlefield. Iran has also announced that it and Hezbollah are planning to open up a new “Syrian” front on the Golan Heights against Israel, and the presence of 4,000 Revolutionary Guards in Syria will allow Iran to do so. The United States responded by saying that 3,000 U.S. troops, a detachment of F-16s fighter jets, and batteries of Patriot missiles will remain in Jordan after the joint U.S.-Jordan military exercise they are currently participating in is over.

  • U.S. confirms: Assad used chemical weapons against Syrian rebels, civilians (updated)

    The Obama administration has informed Congress a few minutes ago that the U.S. intelligence community has determined that the Assad regime has used chemical weapons on several occasions against both rebel forces and Syrian civilians. The U.S. intelligence community says these attacks, each using small quantities of sarin gas, have killed about 150 Syrians. The president’s deputy national security adviser, Ben Rhodes, told reporters that the president had decided to provide “direct military support” to the opposition. Rhodes said the U.S. military assistance to the rebels would be different in “both scope and scale” from what had been authorized before, which included non-lethal equipment such as night-vision goggles and body armor.

  • U.S. confirms: Assad used chemical weapons against Syrian rebels, civilians

    The Obama administration has informed Congress a few minutes ago that the U.S. intelligence community has determined that the Assad regime has used chemical weapons on several occasions against both rebel forces and Syrian civilians. The U.S. intelligence community says these attacks, each using small quantities of sarin gas, have killed about 150 Syrians.

  • Al Qaeda-affiliated militants training in using shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missile

    A Xerox copy of a 26-page manual with instructions on how to use man-portable air-defense systems, or MANPADS – also called SA-7 — was found in a building in Timbuktu in North Mali which was used by Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb operatives during the 8-month control – April 2012 to February 2013 — of the area by Islamist militants. The Libyan military under Col. Qaddafi had about 15,000 SA-7s, but after the Qaddafi regime fell in November 2011, NATO forces and Libyan militias loyal to the government gained possession of only 5,000 of them. The rest have disappeared into the arsenals of different militias, and have probably found their way to different terrorist organizations in North Africa and the Middle East.

  • U.S. cities preparing for disasters

    In the last year the United States, among other challenges, faced Hurricane Sandy, the Sandy Hook shooting, the Boston Marathon bombings, and Tornadoes in Oklahoma. The future is unpredictable, so cites across the United States are taking steps to be in a better position to respond to disasters.

  • Fast, reliable identification of pathogens

    Life-threatening bacterial infections cause tens of thousands of deaths every year in North America, but current methods of culturing bacteria in the lab can take days to report the specific source of the infection, and even longer to pinpoint the right antibiotic that will clear the infection. Researchers have created an electronic chip that can analyze blood and other clinical samples for infectious bacteria with record-breaking speed.

  • White House to conduct urgent, comprehensive review of U.S. Syria policy

    The White House today and tomorrow is conducting an urgent, and comprehensive, review of U.S. Syria policy, with a major policy announcement expected Wednesday or Thursday. The urgency is the result of changes on the battlefield. Bolstered with thousands of Hezbollah fighters, growing financial support from Iran and Iraq, around-the-clock arms shipments from Iran and Syria, and more direct Iranian involvement in overseeing the regime’s military operations, the Assad government has been able to turn the tide of war in its favor. Senior administration officials believe that arming the rebels may no longer be sufficient to reverse the Assad government’s gains unless the United States takes additional, and more direct, steps like carrying out airstrikes against Syrian forces.

  • The two-track Syria strategy of Iran and Hezbollah

    For Iran and Hezbollah, the preservation of Bashar Assad regime is of supreme strategic importance, but both realize the regime may not survive. Iran and Hezbollah, therefore, employ two parallel strategic tracks. The first, immediate track aims to prop up the Assad regime’s ability to survive and continue governing by providing it with military, economic, political, and propaganda support. The second track, planned as an intermediate- and long-term strategy, aims to make it possible for Syria’s Shi’ites and Alawites to defend themselves by creating a “popular army.” To help the first track, Hezbollah has sent thousands of its best fighters to fight on the side of the Assad regime and help the regime keep its hold over areas in northwest Syria. To advance the second track, Hezbollah, with Iranian funding, is helping the Assad regime build and train a popular army of about 150,000 Alawite and Shi’a soldiers. This army will protect the interests of the Alawite and Shi’a communities – and the interests of Iran and Hezbollah — in Syria if the Assad regime falls.

  • Highly sensitive polymer detects IEDs

    A chemical which is often the key ingredient in improvised explosive devices (IEDs) can be quickly and safely detected in trace amounts by a new polymer created by a team of Cornell University chemists. The polymer, which potentially could be used in low-cost, handheld explosive detectors and could supplement or replace bomb-sniffing dogs.