Posts tagged ‘Homeland Security’

ARCTIC: Ex-Coast Guard Chief Named U.S. Special Arctic Envoy

Getting Serious.

Arctic ice in Greenland. NASA photo by xxxxxxxx

Arctic ice in Greenland. (NASA photo)

Secretary of State John Kerry announced Papp’s appointment Wednesday (July 16). Admiral Papp retired as commandant in May after 39 years in the Coast Guard. Among his accomplishments was restoring the heavy ice breaker Polar Star to service. “I could not be happier that he agreed to postpone his well-deserved retirement and join our effort in a cause about which he is both passionate and wise,” Kerry said in a statement.

The United States is one of eight nations with territory in the Arctic that make up the Arctic Council, which deals with issues such as climate change, the environment, shipping, oil and gas and indigenous peoples.  The Arctic is growing hotter faster than any part of the globe. Global warming has melted sea ice to levels that have given rise to what experts describe as a kind of gold rush scramble to the Arctic, according to the Associated Press.

Next year the U.S. will take over the revolving chairmanship of the council. “The United States is an Arctic nation and Arctic policy has never been more important,” Kerry said. U.S. officials estimate the Arctic holds 13 percent of the world’s undiscovered oil reserves and 30 percent of undiscovered gas deposits.

Polar bears need ice to hunt (NOAA photo by K. Elliott, 2005)

Polar bears need ice to hunt (NOAA photo by K. Elliott, 2005)

Former Alaskan Lieutenant Governor Fran Ulmer was also named special adviser of Arctic Science and Policy.  She is currently chair of the President’s U.S. Arctic Research Commission.

July 17, 2014 at 11:49 pm Leave a comment

AROUND AFRICA: Nigeria and Cameroon Battle Boko Haram, Kenyan Governor Arrested, Ebola Out of Control

HOT SPOTS

Nigeria Blast

Nigeria's location (CIA World Factbook)

Nigeria’s location
(CIA World Factbook)

An explosion at a shopping mall in Abuja, Nigeria’s capital, has killed 21 and injured 17, according to officials.

No organization has claimed responsibility for the attack at the Emab Plaza mall in Abuja’s upscale Wuse 2 neighborhood, the Associated Press reported, but many in Nigeria are blaming the radical Islamist group Boko Haram, which is behind a wave of bombings, killings and kidnappings.

On Monday (June 23) a bomb at a medical college in the northern city of Kano killed eight people. At least 14 more were killed last week in a bomb blast in Damaturu, a state capital in Nigeria’s violence-wracked northeast. That attack came at a World Cup television viewing site. In May, twin car bombs at Jos in the central part of the country left more than 130 people dead. A car bomb at a bus station killed 24 more in the Christian quarter of Kano.

According to the AP, two separate explosions in Abuja in April killed more than 120 people and wounded about 200 more at a busy bus station. Both of those blasts were claimed by Boko Haram.

Meanwhile, government officials are cautioning Nigerians to be on the alert in the wake of the Abuja blast.  A government spokesman told Voice of America that the government will continue warning Nigerians about the dangers posed from terrorists.  “We have issued the alert earlier on. It’s an ongoing event. Even yesterday we have a security awareness programs with principals of schools, an initiative that was introduced by the government,” said the spokesman Mike Omeri. “We have also been campaigning on the media for citizens to be more careful and they should be alert even before the World Cup, and the venues for viewing should be more secured.”

But critics say the government and security forces have not been doing enough — including finding and rescuing hundreds of high school girls kidnapped in April by Boko Haram. Despite worldwide condemation and pledges  to provide assistance in locating and returning the girls, they still remain prisoners, their whereabouts uncertain. According to the Canadian news site CBC News, of 395 students who were at the secondary school in the village of Chibok, near the Cameroon border, on April 14, 219 remain unaccounted for. Meanwhile, witnesses say, Islamic extremists have abducted 60 more girls and women and 31 boys from villages in northeast Nigeria.

Cameroon’s Boko Haram Crackdown

Cameroon (CIA World Factbook)

Cameroon
(CIA World Factbook)

Cameroon, Nigeria’s neighbor to the south, has been having its own troubles with Boko Haram militants and this week Cameroon’s military killed 10 suspected Boko Haram members in a clash near the border town of  Mora. Officials said they also arrested 50 Nigerian businessmen on suspicion of collaborating with Boko Haram.

More is just across the border with Nigeria’s Borno state, where the Boko Haram insurgency has raged for five years. The group opposes Western teaching in Nigeria’s schools and wants to create Islamic state practicing strict Sharia law.

Colonel Chioka Pierre told Voice of America that Nigeria security forces have been conducting sweeps as part of an intensified crackdown on violent incidents, believed to be connected to Boko Haram.  He said they have been searching more than half a dozen border villages to prevent incursions or to stop militants from using Cameroon as a hideout or launching pad for attacks.  He said local residents were cooperating with the military to root out Boko Haram suspects in the area.

Kenya: Governor Charged

A regional governor in Kenya has been arrested and charged with terrorism and murder over attacks attacks in the Lamu district in which scores of people were killed.

Issa Timamy was charged over the attacks on the Mpeketoni town area. He faces several charges including murder. Kenya’s president has blamed the attacks on political networks, despite claims of responsibility by the Somali Islamist group al-Shabab, according to the BBC.

At least 60 people were killed in the attacks earlier in June killed, as gunmen descended on hotels and a police station.

HEALTH

Ebola Outbreak

Electron micrograph of an Ebola virus virion. (Centers for Disease Control)

Electron micrograph of an Ebola virus virion.
(Centers for Disease Control)

NPR is reporting that an Ebola outbreak in West Africa is now the largest and most deadly wave of that virus ever recorded. The first cases were confirmed in Guinea in March. Health in West Africa officials thought they had the disease under control, but they did not. A rash of new cases has popped up in the neighboring countries of Sierra Leone and Liberia.

Meanwhile, the World Health Organization is calling for “drastic action” and announced an 11-nation summit meeting of the growing crisis.

As of Sunday, 635 cases of haemorrhagic fever – most confirmed to be Ebola – including 399 deaths have been reported across Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, AFP reported via The Guardian. This week the medical charity Doctors Without Borders (MSF) said the outbreak of the virus, which is deadly in up to 90% of cases, was “out of control,” AFP said.

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June 26, 2014 at 11:59 pm Leave a comment

FOOD FOR THOUGHT: Ian Fleming, Future Threat Predictor

Bombs, James Bombs.

Ian Fleming

Ian Fleming

Reading a 50-year-old paperback spy novel, purchased for half a buck at the local library’s used book shelf, we were struck by the prophetic nature of the following passage about two NATO nuclear bombs held for ransom by terrorists.

Bond reached in his pocket for another cigarette. It couldn’t be, yet it was so. Just what his Service and all the other intelligence services in the world had been expecting to happen. The anonymous little man in the raincoat with a heavy suitcase–or golf bag, if you like. The left luggage office, the parked car, the clump of bushes in a park in the center of a big town. And there was no answer to it. In a few years’ time, if the experts were right, there would be even less answer to it. Every tin-pot little nation would be making atomic bombs in its backyards, so to speak. Apparently there was no secret now about the things. It had only been the prototypes that had been difficult–like the first gunpowder weapons for instance, or machine guns or tanks. Today these were everybody’s bows and arrows. Tomorrow, or the day after, the bows and arrows would be atomic bombs. And this was the first blackmail case … if they couldn’t be stopped in time, there would be nothing for it but to pay  up.

"Thunderball" cover.

“Thunderball” cover.

Ian Fleming, British novelist, former journalist and wartime planner and intelligence officer wrote those words 53 years ago in the 1961 James Bond novel “Thunderball.”

In a world where China, India, Pakistan and North Korea all have nuclear weapons, terrorists turn jetliners into weapons of mass destruction and the biggest threats come, not from rival nations, but non-state actors, loosely organized international organizations like al Qaeda, Fleming’s fantasy threat seems oddly prophetic. His words leave us with something to ponder in our time. They give us some food for thought.

*** *** ***

Food for ThoughtFood for Thought is an occasional musing at 4GWAR about activities in the homeland security, counter terrorism and special operations world.

 

 

June 24, 2014 at 11:16 pm Leave a comment

UNMANNED SYSTEMS: Defense Industry Looks to Public Safety Sector to Revive Flat U.S. Market

 Not Quite Ploughshares.

Let Us Beat Swords into Plowshares, a sculpture by Evgeniy Vuchetich in the United Nations Art Collection

Let Us Beat Swords into Plowshares, a sculpture by Evgeniy Vuchetich in the United Nations Art Collection

And He shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people: and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.” Book of Isaiah, Chapter 2, Verses 3-4.

The U.S. defense industry isn’t quite making ploughshares yet, but as U.S. defense spending has declined, the unmanned systems sector has been talking up the capabilities of its robots, ‘droids and drones to help find lost hikers, track fleeing crime suspects and assist firefighters in remote wilderness areas.

Long time unmanned aircraft makers like AeroVironment and Insitu held briefings at last month’s big robotics industry conference in Orlando, Florida, about how their unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) could assist police looking for evidence or firefighters battling wildfires. The shift to the commercial market was the talk of the Association of Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) gathering in Orlando.

Wall Street and industry analysts say the U.S. defense market is flat and while manufacturers may be looking hopefully to the commercial market, business will be slow until the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) finally decides how to integrate unmanned aircraft into the National Air Space.

All this and more is covered in an Aviation Week article your 4GWAR editor co-authored with Mike Fabey in Washington and Christina Mackenzie in Paris. The story Saving Grace: Robotic systems target civil market as defense lags, is the June 16 Defense Technology Edition of Aviation Week.

AeroVironment's Qube quadcopter in action. (Courtesy AeroVironment, Inc.) s www.avinc.com

AeroVironment’s Qube quadcopter in action.
(Courtesy AeroVironment, Inc.) s http://www.avinc.com

June 18, 2014 at 11:57 pm Leave a comment

FRIDAY FOTO Extra (May 23, 2014) UPDATE

Wearin’ of the Green. 

UPDATES with link to AP story on Air Force report about a botched security drill at another ICBM site last summer.

U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Brittany Y. Auld

U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Brittany Y. Auld

We know we’ve run photos in the past of the sniper camouflage outfit known as a ghillie suit, but this one caught our eye. With the red plastic training rifles and all green smoke, it looks more like a special effects scene from a science fiction movie than an important security exercise at an Air Force nuclear missile base.

But as kooky as the scene in this photo may appear, it illustrates part of a key training session: keeping the nation’s intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) sites secure.

Here we see the opposing forces — the pretend bad guys — capturing a missile payload transport vehicle during a “recapture and recovery exercise” at Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota. The exercise involved a mock hijack of a payload transporter and the necessary steps for the 91st Security Forces Group to recover the vehicle.

Such exercises evaluate the missile base’s response force and their abilities to deny hostile intruders access to Minot’s Minuteman III nuclear missiles and their launch area. The drills also hone skills for recovering control of critical equipment if attackers do gain access.

UPDATE: The necessity of such exercises has been underscored by an Air Force internal report on  the security team’s “botched response” to a simulated attack at another Air Force base last summer, according to an exclusive report by the Associated Press. (See it here)

For more photos, click here.

May 23, 2014 at 11:46 am Leave a comment

COUNTERRORISM: Malayasian Jet Disappearance Still a Mystery UPDATE

Looking for Answers

A Malaysian Airlines Boeing 777-200ER taking off from Paris in 2011. (Photo by Laurent ERRERA via Wikipedia)

A Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777-200ER taking off from Paris in 2011.
(Photo by Laurent ERRERA via Wikipedia)

UPDATES with U.S. military’s participation in the search, adds photos, video link.

There are more questions than answers in the continuing mystery of a Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777-200ER which disappeared last Saturday (March 8).

While we at 4GWAR are not going to report every new development – there are many rumors and far too much speculation flying around the Internet – we will note significant updates as they occur.

It turns out that the two people on board Flight MH370 travelling with stolen passports were identified as Iranian men, but INTERPOL, the international police agency, says there is nothing to indicate either man was involved in a terrorist plot. Nevertheless, the revelation that these two were able to fly with stolen travel documents exposed a major gap in airline security and is expected to goad more nations into checking the INTERPOL database of stolen passports and travel documents before allowing passengers to board. Last year, INTERPOL, officials said, one billion travelers were able to board flights without having their passports checked against the database.

Military aircraft and naval vessels from at least eight nations — including the U.S.Navy (see below) — have joined the search in and around the South China Sea. So far, no debris or wreckage has been spotted. Confusing and contradictory information from Malaysian authorities about what they know has angered the families of missing passengers and frustrated the Chinese government among others.

Malaysian authorities say the missing plane and its 239 passengers and crew may have flown hundreds of miles west of its scheduled flight plan after it disappeared from local radar. And a Chinese government agency said one of its satellites may have spotted the missing plane’s wreckage.

A U.S. Navy MH-60R Sea Hawk helicopter lands aboard the guided-missile destroyer USS Pinckney (DDG 91), to swap crews before resuming search and rescue operationsin the Gulf of Thailand for missing Malaysian airlines flight MH370.  (U.S. Navy photo by Senior Chief Petty Officer  Chris D. Boardman)

A U.S. Navy MH-60R Sea Hawk helicopter lands aboard the guided-missile destroyer USS Pinckney (DDG 91), to swap crews before resuming search and rescue operations in the Gulf of Thailand for missing Malaysian Airlines flight MH370. (U.S. Navy photo by Senior Chief Petty Officer Chris D. Boardman)

The USS Pinckney and USS Kidd – both Arleigh Burke-class destroyers with the U.S. Seventh Fleet — are on station in the Gulf of Thailand conducting search-and-rescue operations, the Pentagon said Monday (May 10).

Two Navy MH-60R Seahawk helicopters are flying off the ships to aid the search, using forward-looking infrared pods to search at night. A P-3 Orion from Kadena Air Base, Japan, is also being employed in the search. The Orion brings long-range search, radar and communications capabilities to the efforts. It can loiter in the search area for about nine hours at a time.

Additionally, the USNS John Ericsson, an oiler, is providing logistical support. The American ships are working with ships from Malaysia, China and Singapore in the search effort.

To see more photos, click here.

To view a video report from The Pentagon Channel, click here.

March 12, 2014 at 9:02 pm 3 comments

COUNTERTERRORISM: Malaysian Airliner Missing UPDATE

Mystery at Sea.

UPDATES with INTERPOL statement, continuing passport investigation

The search continues for a Beijing-bound Malaysian Airlines jet carrying 239 passengers and crew that disappeared over the weekend without a trace. Aircraft and naval vessels from at least four nations have mounted a massive search in the South China Sea between Vietnam and Malaysia.

The plane diasappeared an hour out of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Vietnamese search planes spotted two large oil slicks near the Gulf of Thailand. (CIA map via southchinasea.org)

The plane disappeared an hour out of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Vietnamese search planes spotted two large oil slicks near the Gulf of Thailand.
(CIA map via southchinasea.org)

Normally, 4GWAR wouldn’t post on such an event but an issue has arisen that has piqued our interest – and concern.

Air traffic control lost contact with Malaysian Airlines Flight MH370 about an hour after it departed Kuala Lumpur Saturday (March 8). There was no indication of trouble from the crew of the Boeing 777- – no distress signal – and no reported weather issues, according to the Associated Press.

Lists of passengers were posted by airport officials in China and by the airline. There were a few discrepancies in passenger names but two people said to be on the plane have come forward to say they are elsewhere in the word and not on the missing plane. In both cases, the persons in question – one from Austria, the other from Italy – said their passports were stolen in Thailand over the last two years, according to Reuters.

The international police agency, INTERPOL, confirmed in a statement Sunday (March 9) that both the Italian and Austrian passports used to board the Malaysian airliner had been reported stolen and had been entered into the massive Stolen and Lost Travel Documents database maintained by the the police organization. But INTERPOL also said no country checked the database between the time they were added to the database and when the missing plane took off. “INTERPOL is therefore unable to determine” how many other times the stolen documents were used “to board flights or cross borders,” the Lyons, France-based agency said.

A Malaysian Airlines Boeing 777-200ER taking off from Paris in 2011. (Photo by Laurent ERRERA via Wikipedia)

A Malaysian Airlines Boeing 777-200ER taking off from Paris in 2011.
(Photo by Laurent ERRERA via Wikipedia)

Meanwhile, INTERPOL said it was checking to see if any of the other passports used to board the plane were stolen and it was working with the countries involved to determine the true identities of the passengers who used the stolen passports. The current head of INTERPOL, Secretary General Ronald Noble, complained that “only a handful of countries worldwide are taking care” to keep people with stolen passports off international flights.

It could be a coincidence, that two people using stolen passports could have wound up on the same flight. Maybe they were fugitives or refugees from their home countries or criminals trying to elude police or smuggle drugs. But U.S. officials are investigating whether terrorist are somehow involved, according to NBC News.

Even if foul play does not prove to be the cause of this baffling incident, the stolen passports indicate a serious flaw in global aviation security measures. What good is having a database to protect the flying public if governments don’t use it consistently? We’ll keep our eye on this still-unfolding story and also keep our fingers crossed that this incident — it it doesn’t have a happy conclusion — is at least not the latest in a string of attacks and attempted attacks on international air travel.

March 8, 2014 at 2:27 pm 1 comment

HOMELAND SECURITY: Shoe Bomb Threat Warning

It’s Not Over, Yet

TSA photo via Wikipedia

TSA photo via Wikipedia

The Department of Homeland Security is warning airlines about a possible shoe bombing threat from overseas. The warning was first reported by NBC News.

While there is no specific threat, DHS said Wednesday (February 19) that it was issuing a warning based on “very recent intelligence” considered credible that assailants would try to attack passenger jets using explosives hidden in shoes, according to the Voice of America.

VOA noted it was the second time in three months that the U.S. Government had issued a warning about possible attempts to smuggle explosives on a commercial jetliner.

But USA Today reported that the warning is not related to an earlier alert about threats to planes flying to Russia for the Winter Olympic Games. The warning, which involved possible explosives concealed in toothpaste tubes, led the U.S. Transportation Security Administration (TSA) to ban all liquids and gels from the carry-on luggage of passengers bound for Russia from the United States.

Richard Reid explosive shoe (FBI file photo)

Richard Reid explosive shoe
(FBI file photo)

TSA airport screeners have been checking air passengers’ shoes since late 2001 after an attempt by a British man to set off a bomb hidden in his shoe on an American Airlines Boeing 767 flight from Paris to Miami. Richard Reid, a self-proclaimed al Qaeda operative was subdued by passengers and cabin personnel when he failed to ignite the explosives packed into his shoes. He was tried, convicted and sentenced to life in prison.

A former CIA official and CBS security analyst says the latest warning causes him concern. Mike Morell, a former deputy CIA director told CBS This Morning that the fact terrorists appear to be using shoe bombs again is “worrisome” because it suggests “that they may have found a way around the screening that is currently done on shoes.”

Other security experts have said that al Qaeda and affiliated terrorist groups are still fixated on bombing aircraft. In addition to the Reid attempt, bombs were found secreted in air cargo in Europe and the Middle East in 2010; in a passenger’s underwear on a flight bound for Detroit in 2009. And in 2006, British officials broke up an alleged plot to blow up transatlantic airliners with liquid components to be smuggled on board the aircrfaft and combined into an explosive while the plane was in the air. That led TSA to ban all liquids and gels from passengers’ carry-on luggage and then loosen the ban to allow containers carry up to 3 ounces of liquids.

February 20, 2014 at 6:07 pm 1 comment

UNMANNED SYSTEMS: Industry, Academia Developing ‘droids for First Responders

Helping First Responders

Robotic systems aren’t just for helping police pursue fleeing criminals or investigate suspicious packages.

Last summer, the California Air National Guard used a Predator unmanned aircraft like this one to help state authorities monitor the Rim Fire blaze near Yosemite National Park. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Paul Duquette)

Last summer, the California Air National Guard used a Predator unmanned aircraft like this one to help state authorities monitor the Rim Fire blaze near Yosemite National Park.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Paul Duquette)

From monitoring wildfires to patrolling busy harbors, industry, government and academia are exploring how unmanned vehicles can assist emergency responders on land, sea and air.

In addition to research at the University of Hawaii and Oklahoma State University, small companies in Florida and California to big ones in Massachusetts are modifying existing vehicles to aid search and rescue operations or creating new systems with sensors focused on looking for signs of trouble far from first responders.

To learn more about this re-purposing of technology first developed to assist the military, check out our article in the latest (February) issue of Unmanned Systems,  the magazine of the Association of Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (subscription required).

February 11, 2014 at 12:38 am 1 comment

HOMELAND SECURITY: New DHS Chief Cites Syria, “Lone Wolf” Terror Threats

New Boss, New Threats

WASHINGTON – The new head of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) says foreign jihadists streaming into war-torn Syria and self-radicalized “lone wolf” terrorists in the United States have become a top concern for him.

Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson (DHS photo)

Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson
(DHS photo)

DHS Secretary Jeh (PRONOUNCED Jay) Johnson said the department has become “very focused” on foreign fighters heading to Syria, where foreign Islamists have radicalized and complicated the three-year civil war with the Bashar al-Assad regime. The DHS concern is what these fighters will do when they return to their home countries or travel elsewhere, indoctrinated with a violent Islamist mission.

Johnson told a Washington think tank audience Friday (February 7) that Syria was a constant topic of discussion at a recent meeting he attended with European security officials in Poland. “Syria has become a matter of homeland security,” he told the Woodrow Wilson Center in his first major public address since taking charge of the nation’s third largest cabinet-level department in December.

He added that the terrorist threat “is increasingly decentralized” as al Qaeda’s leadership has been killed, captured or driven farther into hiding. But “the threat has evolved” has evolved into al Qaeda offshoots like Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and North Africa’s al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.

Johnson, former Pentagon general counsel under Defense Secretaries Robert Gates ands Leon Panetta, said another major concern to U.S. security officials is the so-called “lone wolf,” a home-grown self-radicalized terrorist behind incidents like the Fort Hood shootings and the Boston Marathon bombing. “They may be the hardest to detect,” Johnson said of home grown terrorists, because they have little – if any – connection to international terror groups and may done nothing to drawn the attention of the FBI or local police. “It is the thing I worry about the most,” Johnson said.

February 7, 2014 at 2:57 pm 1 comment

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