Congress

  • CybersecurityEinstein 3 Accelerated (E3A) deployment gets a push forward

    The two recent network breaches at the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), which allowed the pilfering of sensitive personal information of millions of federal employees, their families, clearance applicants, and contractors, has drawn attention to the Department of Homeland Security’s $3 billion network monitoring program called Einstein. The question now is whether that program is the capable of preventing another intrusion in the future.

  • SurveillanceBill requiring Internet companies to report “terrorist activity” opposed by digital rights groups

    A coalition of digital rights groups and trade associations last week released a joint letter opposing a proposal in the Senate to require U.S. tech firms to police the speech of their users and to report any signs of apparent “terrorist activity” to law enforcement. The letter says that this sweeping mandate covers an undefined category of activities and communications and would likely lead to significant over-reporting by communication service providers. The letter urged senators to remove the “terrorist activity” reporting requirements from the Intelligence Authorization Act (S. 1705).

  • CybersecurityProposed bill would formalize DHS role in securing government networks

    The hacking of the federal Office of Personnel Management (OPM), which resulted in the theft of records of twenty-two million federal employees and their families, has prompted a Senate response. A bipartisan group of U.S. senators has introduced a bill on the heels of that event, updating the original Federal Information Security Management Act (FISMA) and formalizing the role of DHS in securing government networks and Web sites.

  • BudgetHouse Appropriations Committee approves DHS spending measure

    The House Appropriations Committee approved its FY 2016 spending bill funding homeland security programs. The bill provides DHS with $39.3 billion in discretionary funding, which is $337 million below the amount enacted for FY 2015 and $2 billion less than the president’s request. The committee’s consideration of the measure was dominated by acrimonious debate over sanctuary cities, and House appropriators adopted three Republican-sponsored amendments related to the killing of a San Francisco woman by an immigrant who was in the United States illegally after being deported to Mexico several times.

  • BiolabsLawmakers demand answers on labs’ handling of deadly pathogens

    The leaders of the House Energy and Commerce Committee from both parties yesterday sent a letter to the Inspector General of the Department of Health and Human Services demanding answers regarding the Federal Select Agent Program (FSAP). “Select agents” is the term used by the government for viruses, bacteria, and toxins that could be used by terrorists. The committee members directed ten questions to the HHS IG in an effort to learn details about labs that have been fined or faced other enforcement actions, including suspension or revocation of their federal authorizations to work with select agents. “So far we’ve been lucky, but that luck may run out if we don’t get the system fixed,” said Representative Frank Pallone Jr. (D-New Jersey).

  • Terrorism insurance2014 uncertainty over renewal of Terrorism Risk Insurance Act changed consumer behavior

    Terrorism insurance take-up rates dropped off toward the end of 2014, due to the anxiety stemming from the unexpected expiration of the Terrorism Risk Insurance Program Reauthorization Act (TRIPRA). Through much of 2014, there was uncertainty whether Congress would renew the program, which initially passed in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. This uncertainty led customers, and potential customers, to change their insurance buying plans.

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  • IranU.S. assumptions about key elements of Iran deal unrealistically “rosy”: Critics

    Critics of the emerging nuclear deal with Iran say that there ae two major risks which are not adequately addressed in the discussions over the agreement. The first is that Iranians will cheat, and continue to move toward the bomb covertly. The second, more subtle, problem is the combination of the State Department’s habit of tardy reporting, and the nuclear infrastructure and materials Iran will be allowed to keep, which will make its “breakout” time — that is, the time it will need to build a bomb from the point of making a decision to do so — exceedingly short.

  • Tracking terrorHouse Homeland Security Committee to release monthly Terror Threat Snapshot

    House Homeland Security Committee chairman Michael McCaul (R-Texas) on Friday released a new Committee product called the Terror Threat Snapshot. McCall said the snapshot is a new, regular monthly feature which tracks “the escalating and grave threat environment” facing the United States. The Terror Threat Snapshot will be kept up to date on the Committee’s Web site. Additionally, monthly summaries will be available.

  • SurveillanceAdministration asks court for six more months of NSA bulk metadata collection

    Just four hours after President Barack Obama vowed to sign the USA Freedom Actwhich limits the NSA’s domestic bulk data collection program, his administration asked the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance (FISA) court to ignore a ruling by the second circuit court of appeals declaring the bulk surveillance program unauthorized, and instead grant the NSA power to continue bulk collection for six months. In its request, the administration pointed to a six months transition period provided in the USA Freedom Act as a reason to permit an “orderly transition” of the NSA’s domestic bulk collection program.

  • SurveillanceSenate passes surveillance reform

    The U.S. Senate yesterday voted 67-32 to pass the House’s USA Freedom Act which would end the NSA collection of bulk metadata of Americans’ phone records. The bill will now head to the White House for the president to sign. The USA Freedom Act shifts the responsibility for keeping the phone records from the government to hundreds of separate phone carriers – but important questions remain. Thus it is not entirely clear how many records the carriers will keep, and for how long, and under what circumstances will they allow law enforcement to view these records. Senator Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky), the Senate majority leader, who supported the reauthorization of the Patriot Act, said that the USA Freedom Act is “a resounding victory for those who currently plotted against our homeland. It does not enhance the privacy protections of American citizens, and it surely undermines American security by taking one more tool from our war fighters, in my view, at exactly the wrong time.”

  • SurveillanceBroad NSA surveillance powers, granted in 2006, expired on midnight

    The NSA’s broad domestic surveillance authority, granted to the agency when the Patriot Act was first reauthorized in 2006, expired on midnight after the Senate failed to extend Section 215 of the Patriot Act, which governs surveillance, or approve the House’s USA Freedom Act, which modified Section 215. The Senate did vote, 77-17, to take up the House bill on Tuesday. The failure of the Senate to do extend or modify the NSA’s surveillance power was the result of the unyielding position of Senator Rand Paul (R-Kentucky), and also the result of a miscalculation by Senator Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky), the majority leader, who believed that the prospect of the expiration of Section 215 would lead opponent of the surveillance programs, supporters of the current program, and supporters of the House’s USA Freedom Act to agree to a few weeks extension of Section 215 to allow for more negotiations among senators and between senators and House member. The Senate did vote, 77-17, to take up the House bill on Tuesday. It remains to be seen, however, how many, and what type, of amendments McConnell would allow to be brought to the floor, and, if some of these amendments are approved, whether House members would agree to any modifications to the USA Freedom Act.

  • BlimpsGiant surveillance blimp to protect Capitol building

    Lawmakers want to make the Capitol building more secure after existing security measured failed to detect or stop Douglas Hughes who, on 15 April, flew his gyrocopter into the Capitol manicured lawn. Some of these lawmakers want to deploy the Tethered Aerostat Radar System, or TARS – a giant blimp carrying 2,000-pounds radars that can spot an aircraft at a distance of 200 miles. Several TARS are already deployed along the U.S.-Mexico border, and along a 340-mile stretch of the Atlantic coast stretching from North Carolina to Boston. The blimp loiters at about 10,000 feet – but in order not to mar the Washington, D.C. skyline, lawmakers suggest acquiring a blimp which can hover at a higher altitude.

  • Decision makingSocial circles explain why members of Congress vote the way they do

    The standard model of voting behavior basically assumes there is only one factor that matters: where a legislator lives on the liberal-conservative axis. That position, derived from their roll call votes, serves as an ideological marker that presumably summarizes the various forces that can influence the legislators’ votes, including personal preferences, party preferences, and constituent opinion. Researchers developed a new model called “social identity voting” based on social identity theory, which says our identity is partially created and reinforced by the various circles within which we move and the various ideologies with which we identify. In other words, it is not just friends and friends of friends, but also potentially something more subtle — you can identify with a movement without necessarily being part of an explicit “social circle.” The researchers conclude that U.S. Congress members’ social circles are more important in how they vote than their liberal or conservative beliefs or constituents’ opinions.

  • SurveillanceHouse-approved NSA reform bill fails in Senate

    Earlier this morning (Saturday), for the second time in less than a year, the Senate rejected a bill to end the National Security Agency’s (NSA) bulk collection of American phone metadata records. The House-approved USA Freedom Act failed to reach the 60-vote threshold required to bring the bill to a vote on the floor (the vote was 57-42 in favor – three votes short). The bill’s opponents used different procedural maneuvering, lasting until the early morning hours Saturday, to block the bill itself from coming to a vote. The failure to pass the House bill – or any bill dealing with bulk collection – means that Senate, when it reconvenes on 31 May, will have only a few hours to decide the fate of Section 215 of the Patriot Act – the section which governs data collection and which has given the NSA and FBI broad domestic surveillance powers – before it expires on midnight that day. Senate GOP caucus is deeply divided on the issue, but House Republicans and Democrats exhibit a rare accord.

  • DHS bills markupHouse committee to markup eleven Homeland Security bills

    The House Committee on Homeland Security will today markup eleven Homeland Security bills. The committee will consider the legislation passed last week from a Subcommittee on Oversight and Management Efficiency markup, a Subcommittee on Emergency Preparedness, Response, and Communications markup, and other homeland security related bills.