Daily Archives: October 4, 2009

Police chiefs endorse anti-terror community watch

Community Watch Terror

AP – Los Angeles Police chief William Bratton talks to the media during a news conference introducing iWatch,

Associated Press | Oct 3, 2009

by Eileen Sullivan And P. Solomon Banda

DENVER – A store clerk’s curiosity about why Najibullah Zazi was buying large quantities of beauty supply products indicated that something about the transaction wasn’t quite right — and it’s an example of the kind of citizen vigilance that can combat terror, a police commander said Saturday.

Los Angeles police Cmdr. Joan McNamara cited this summer’s incident as police chiefs meeting in Denver adopted a model for a nationwide community watch program that teaches people what behavior is truly suspicious and encourages them to report it to police.

Federal authorities allege Zazi, 24, tried to make a homemade explosive using ingredients from beauty supplies purchased at Denver-area stores. He has been jailed in New York on charges of conspiracy to detonate a weapon of mass destruction in a plot that may have targeted New York City. Zazi has denied the charges.

Zazi reportedly told an inquisitive clerk he needed a large amount of cosmetic chemicals because he had “lots of girlfriends.” While his purchases weren’t reported to authorities because suppliers often buy large quantities, the police chiefs hope a coordinated publicity effort will make people think differently about such encounters.

Los Angeles police Chief William Bratton, who developed the iWatch program with McNamara, called it the 21st century version of Neighborhood Watch.

The Major Cities Chiefs Association, headed by Bratton and composed of the chiefs of the 63 largest police departments in the U.S. and Canada, endorsed iWatch at the group’s conference Saturday.

iWatch would have provided an easy way for that Colorado store clerk and others to report suspicious activity so police could launch investigations earlier, McNamara said.

“That clerk had a gut instinct that something wasn’t right,” she said.

Using brochures, public service announcements and meetings with community groups, iWatch is designed to deliver concrete advice on how the public can follow the oft-repeated post-Sept. 11 recommendation, “If you see something, say something.”

Program materials list nine types of suspicious behavior that should compel people to call police, and 12 kinds of places to look for it. Among the indicators:

_If you smell chemicals or other fumes.

_If you see someone wearing clothes that are too big and too heavy for the season.

_If you see strangers asking about building security.

_If you see someone purchasing supplies or equipment that could be used to make bombs.

The important places to watch include government buildings, mass gatherings, schools and public transportation.

The program also is designed to ease reporting by providing a toll-free number and Web page the public can use to alert authorities. Los Angeles put up its Web site this weekend.

“It’s really just commonsense types of things,” Bratton said, adding that his department is providing technical assistance to other agencies that want to adopt the program.

But American Civil Liberties Union policy counsel Mike German, a former FBI agent who worked on terrorism cases, said the indicators are all relatively common behaviors. He suspects people will fall back on personal biases and stereotypes of what a terrorist looks like when deciding to report someone to the police.

“That just plays into the negative elements of society and doesn’t really help the situation,” German said.

After the Sept. 11 attacks, the Bush administration proposed enlisting postal carriers, gas and electric company workers, telephone repairmen and other workers with access to private homes in a program to report suspicious behavior to the FBI. Privacy advocates condemned this as too intrusive, and the plan was dropped.

Bratton and McNamara said privacy and civil liberties protections are built into this program.

“We’re not asking people to spy on their neighbors,” McNamara said.

If someone reports something based on race or ethnicity, the police will not accept the report, and someone will explain to the caller why that is not an indicator of suspicious behavior, McNamara said.

The iWatch program isn’t the first to list possible indicators of suspicious behavior. Some cities, like Miami, have offered a public list of seven signs of possible terrorism. Federal agencies also have put out various lists.

Other efforts encourage the public and law enforcement to report such signs through dozens of state-run “fusion centers” across the country. One such center, the Colorado Information Analysis Center, has a form on its Web site to report suspicious activity.

Bratton hopes the iWatch program becomes as successful and as well known as the Smokey Bear campaign to prevent wildfires.

“There he is with his Smokey the Bear hat, similarly here, we hope that this program, even though it’s in its birthing stages right now, in a few years will become that well known to the American public.”


On the Net:

Major chiefs: http://www.majorcitieschiefs.org

Los Angeles Police Department: http://www.lapdonline.org

Los Angeles iWatch Web site: http://www.iWatchLA.org




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A Secret Society, Spilling a Few Secrets
In the hallways of the grand lodge headquarters, the walls are crowded with framed photographs of Masons past and present, but mostly past: Hubert H. Humphrey, the former vice president; and William J. Bratton, the former police commissioner who is now the chief of police in Los Angeles.


Post-human Earth: How the planet will recover from us

New Scientist | Sep 30, 2009

by Bob Holmes

Editorial: Earth will be OK, but for us it’s not so good

WHEN Nobel prize-winning atmospheric chemist Paul Crutzen coined the word Anthropocene around 10 years ago, he gave birth to a powerful idea: that human activity is now affecting the Earth so profoundly that we are entering a new geological epoch.

The Anthropocene has yet to be accepted as a geological time period, but if it is, it may turn out to be the shortest – and the last. It is not hard to imagine the epoch ending just a few hundred years after it started, in an orgy of global warming and overconsumption.

Let’s suppose that happens. Humanity’s ever-expanding footprint on the natural world leads, in two or three hundred years, to ecological collapse and a mass extinction. Without fossil fuels to support agriculture, humanity would be in trouble. “A lot of things have to die, and a lot of those things are going to be people,” says Tony Barnosky, a palaeontologist at the University of California, Berkeley. In this most pessimistic of scenarios, society would collapse, leaving just a few hundred thousand eking out a meagre existence in a new Stone Age.

Whether our species would survive is hard to predict, but what of the fate of the Earth itself? It is often said that when we talk about “saving the planet” we are really talking about saving ourselves: the planet will be just fine without us. But would it? Or would an end-Anthropocene cataclysm damage it so badly that it becomes a sterile wasteland?

The only way to know is to look back into our planet’s past. Neither abrupt global warming nor mass extinction are unique to the present day. The Earth has been here before. So what can we expect this time?

Take greenhouse warming. Climatologists’ biggest worry is the possibility that global warming could push the Earth past two tipping points that would make things dramatically worse. The first would be the thawing of carbon-rich peat locked in permafrost. As the Arctic warms, the peat could decompose and release trillions of tonnes of carbon into the atmosphere – perhaps exceeding the 3 trillion tonnes that humans could conceivably emit from fossil fuels. The second is the release of methane stored as hydrate in cold, deep ocean sediments. As the oceans warm and the methane – itself a potent greenhouse gas – enters the atmosphere, it contributes to still more warming and thus accelerates the breakdown of hydrates in a vicious circle.

“If we were to blow all the fossil fuels into the atmosphere, temperatures would go up to the point where both of these reservoirs of carbon would be released,” says oceanographer David Archer of the University of Chicago. No one knows how catastrophic the resulting warming might be.

That’s why climatologists are looking with increasing interest at a time 55 million years ago called the Palaeocene-Eocene thermal maximum, when temperatures rose by up to 9 °C in a few thousand years – roughly equivalent to the direst forecasts for present-day warming. “It’s the most recent time when there was a really rapid warming,” says Peter Wilf, a palaeobotanist at Pennsylvania State University in University Park. “And because it was fairly recent, there are a lot of rocks still around that record the event.”

By measuring ocean sediments deposited during the thermal maximum, geochemist James Zachos of the University of California, Santa Cruz, has found that the warming coincided with a huge spike in atmospheric CO2. Between 5 and 9 trillion tonnes of carbon entered the atmosphere in no more than 20,000 years (Nature, vol 432, p 495). Where could such a huge amount have come from?

Volcanic activity cannot account for the carbon spike, Zachos says. Instead, he blames peat decomposition, which would have happened not from melting permafrost – it was too warm for permafrost – but through climatic drying. The fossil record of plants from this time testifies to just such a drying episode.

Carbon spike

If Zachos and colleagues are right, then 55 million years ago Earth passed through a carbon crisis very much like the one feared today: a sudden spike in CO2, followed by a runaway release of yet more greenhouse gases. What happened next may give us a glimpse of what to expect if our current crisis hits full force.

Geochemists have long known that when a pulse of CO2 enters the air, much of it quickly dissolves in the upper layer of the ocean before gradually dispersing through deeper waters. Within a few centuries, an equilibrium is reached, with about 85 per cent of the CO2 dissolved in the oceans and 15 per cent in the atmosphere. This CO2 persists for tens or hundreds of thousands of years – what Archer believes will be the “long tail” of the Anthropocene. Until recently, though, climate modellers were a bit fuzzy on what this tail would look like.

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