• Biosecurity and synthetic biology: it is time to get serious

    Synthetic biology has only been recently recognized as a mature subject in the context of biological risk assessment — and the core focus has been infectious diseases. In the case of biosecurity, we’re already dependent on biology [with respect to food, health etc.] but we still have an opportunity to develop biosecurity strategies before synthetic biology is ubiquitous. There is still an opportunity to act now and put norms and practices in place because the community is still relatively small. “If scientists are not taking care of biosecurity now, other people will start taking care of it, and they most likely will start preventing researchers from doing good science.”

  • What is the online equivalent of a burning cross?

    White supremacy is woven into the tapestry of American culture, online and off. Addressing white supremacy is going to take much more than toppling a handful of Robert E. Lee statues or shutting down a few white nationalist websites, as technology companies have started to do. We must wrestle with what freedom of speech really means, and what types of speech go too far, and what kinds of limitations on speech we can endorse. In 2003, the Supreme Court ruled, in Virginia v. Black, that “cross burning done with the intent to intimidate has a long and pernicious history as a signal of impending violence.” In other words, there’s no First Amendment protection because a burning cross is meant to intimidate, not start a dialogue. But what constitutes a burning cross in the digital era?

  • Iran using Hezbollah as instrument in drive for regional supremacy

    Hezbollah has evolved from a Lebanese terrorist organization into the spearhead of an international militia network led by Iran, a major investigative article has revealed. The group, which is in complete political and military control over Lebanon, “is not just a power unto itself, but is one of the most important instruments in the drive for regional supremacy by its sponsor: Iran,” the article says.

  • Managing extreme speech on social media

    Extreme speech on social media—foul language, threats and overtly sexist and racist language—has been in the spotlight. While such language is not new, recent increases of extreme and offensive posts on social media have led to politicians, celebrities and pundits calling for social media platforms to do more in curbing such speech, opening new debates about free speech in the digital age. A new study shows that while people tend to dislike extreme speech on social media, there is less support for outright censorship. Instead, people believe sites need to do a better job promoting healthy discourse online.

  • Vehicles: Terrorists’ new weapon of choice

    Vehicular terrorist attacks are becoming “more commonplace around the globe.” Terrorists are increasingly relying on low-sophistication tactics like car-ramming and stabbing to kill or injure large groups of people without easy detection or intervention by law enforcement. These assailants often target locations where large numbers of people congregate, particularly on or around major national holidays, when civilians are likely to be outdoors shopping or celebrating.

  • Identifying vulnerabilities posed by synthetic biology

    Given the possible security vulnerabilities related to developments in synthetic biology – a field that uses technologies to modify or create organisms or biological components – a new report by the National Academies of Sciences proposes a framework to identify and prioritize potential areas of concern associated with the field. “While biotechnology is being pursued primarily for beneficial and legitimate purposes, there are potential uses that are detrimental to humans, other species, and ecosystems,” says one of the report’s authors.

  • EC calls for the rejection of “extremism, nationalism, xenophobia and hatred”

    Today, 23 August, is celebrated in Europe as the European Day of Remembrance for Victims of Stalinism and Nazism. It is also called Black Ribbon Day. It commemorates the signing the neutrality pact between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union – a pact which led, a week later, to the joint invasion and division of Poland by the two powers — the opening move of the Second World War. “Extremism, nationalism, xenophobia and hatred can still be heard in public speech in Europe,” the European Commission said earlier today. “Keeping these memories alive is not only a tribute to the victims but also a way to ensure that these ideologies can be forcefully rejected and such atrocities never happen again.”

  • Melbourne Christmas Day terror suspects had “mother of Satan” chemicals: Expert

    A court in Australia was told that volatile chemical explosives, nicknamed “mother of Satan,” were found in the possession of four men accused of plotting a Christmas Day terrorist attack in Melbourne. The Australian reports that federal police chemicals expert Dr. Vincent Otieno-Alego told Melbourne magistrates court on Tuesday that he analyzed substances that could produce up to 2g of triacetone triperoxide (TATP).

  • Islamic State’s Twitter network is decimated, but other extremists face much less disruption

    The use of social media by a diversity of violent extremists and terrorists and their supporters has been a matter of concern for law enforcement and politicians for some time. While it appears that Twitter is now severely disrupting pro-IS accounts on its platform, our research found that other jihadists were not subject to the same levels of take down. The migration of the pro-IS social media community from Twitter to the messaging service Telegram particularly bears watching. Telegram currently has a lower profile than Twitter with a smaller user base and higher barriers to entry, with users required to provide a mobile phone number to create an account. While this means that fewer people are being exposed to IS’s online content via Telegram, and are thereby in a position to be radicalized by it, it may mean that Telegram’s pro-IS community is more committed and therefore poses a greater security risk than its Twitter variant.

  • Israel concerned about Iranian influence in Syria

    Israel remains concerned about Iranian influence in southern Syria, despite high level discussions between U.S. and Israeli security officials in Washington last week. An Israeli media report noted that the delegation shared “sensitive, credible and deeply troubling intelligence,” showing the expanding deployment of Iranian forces in Syria, which estimates put at 500 Iranian army soldiers, 5,000 Hezbollah fighters, and several thousand guerrillas from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq.

  • World’s tech leaders call on UN to ban killer robots

    An open letter by 116 tech leaders from 26 countries urges the United Nations against opening the Pandora’s box of lethal robot weapons. The open letter is the first time that AI and robotics companies have taken a joint stance on the issue. “Lethal autonomous weapons threaten to become the third revolution in warfare,” the letter states. “Once developed, they will permit armed conflict to be fought at a scale greater than ever, and at timescales faster than humans can comprehend. These can be weapons of terror, weapons that despots and terrorists use against innocent populations, and weapons hacked to behave in undesirable ways. We do not have long to act. Once this Pandora’s box is opened, it will be hard to close.”

  • Terrorism deaths by ideology: Is Charlottesville an anomaly?

    Terrorists have murdered 3,342 people on U.S. soil from 1992 through 12 August 2017. Islamists committed 92 percent of all those murders; right-wing terrorists account for 219 murders (6.6 percent of all terrorist deaths), and left-wing terrorism killed 23 people since 1992. If we exclude the 9/11 attack (2,983 deaths) and the Oklahoma attack (168 deaths), then Islamist-inspired terrorists are responsible for 53 percent of terrorist murders in the United States; right-wing terrorists account for 5.7 percent of the total, and left-wing terrorists are responsible for 0.26 percent of the total.

  • Are Islamic State recruits more street gang members than zealots?

    The recent terrorist attacks in Spain and Finland once again compel us to ask: Who joins the Islamic State, and why? Evidence suggests that the radicalization model – that is, a step-by-step process whereby individuals cut themselves off from social networks such as family and immerse themselves in a radical religious counterculture — is, at best, only part of the story. More likely, this model is wrong or not universally applicable. Experts say that the evidence suggests that rather than joining a radically different religious counterculture, individuals are attracted to IS because its actions reaffirm the cultural values of those who are marginalized, or those who exhibit what psychiatrists call “anti-social personality disorders.” Could it be that IS volunteers are drawn to a value system that asserts an aggressive machismo, disparages steady work, and sustains the impulse for immediate gratification? Are they attracted to a culture that promotes redemption through violence, loyalty, patriarchal values, self-sacrifice to the point of martyrdom and the diminution of women to objects of pleasure? In this reading, IS more closely resembles the sort of street gang with which many of its Western and Westernized enlistees are familiar than its more austere competitor, al-Qaeda.

  • How online hate infiltrates social media and politics

    In late February, an anti-Semitic website known as the Daily Stormer — which receives more than 2.8 million monthly visitors — announced, “Jews Destroy Another One of Their Own Graveyards to Blame Trump.” The story was inspired by the recent desecration of a Jewish cemetery in Philadelphia. To whom, and how many, this example of conspiracy mongering may travel is, in part, the story of “fake news,” the phenomenon in which biased propaganda is disseminated as if it were objective journalism in an attempt to corrupt public opinion. Looking at the most-visited websites of what were once diminished movements – white supremacists, xenophobic militants, and Holocaust deniers, to name a few – reveals a much-revitalized online culture. When he was asked about the Philadelphia vandalism, President Trump told the Pennsylvania attorney general the incident was “reprehensible.” But he then went on to speculate that it might have been committed “to make others look bad.” That feeds the very doubt that extremist groups thrive on. And the cycle continues.

  • Pompeo: Iran, Hezbollah presence in Venezuela poses serious threat to U.S.

    CIA director Mike Pompeo warned that Iran and Hezbollah’s growing presence in Venezuela poses a serious threat to the United States. Pompeo said that the chaos in Venezuela has the potential to negatively impact the U.S.“The Cubans are there; the Russians are there, the Iranians, Hezbollah are there.” He continued, “This is something that has a risk of getting to a very, very bad place, so America needs to take this very seriously.”