Government

  • Flaws in U.K. counterterrorism laws allowed Mohammed Emwazi to escape – and become “Jihadi John”

    Before Mohammed Emwazi, the British-Kuwaiti Islamic State (ISIS) fighter now known as “Jihadi John” traveled to Syria and began beheading victims, including American journalist James Foley, he was on the radar of British intelligence officials. He described the pressure he was experiencing from surveillance in a series of e-mails to the Mail on Sunday newspaper between December 2010 and 2011. He said that the pressure of being watched was getting to him. British administrative court documents suggest Emwazi was part of a radical West London recruitment network for terrorist groups in East Africa. By 2013, drone strikes, gains by African Unionforces, and infighting within al-Shabaab had made it difficult for foreign fighters to participate in the insurgency in Somalia. Emwazi’s West London group soon pivoted their efforts on fighting the Assad government in Syria.

  • Western Sahara conflict reaches British court

    Europeans are familiar with efforts, some of them successful, to label agricultural and consumer products produced by Jewish settlers in the West Bank as coming from the Palestinian West Bank, not from Israel, in order to allow consumers to make an educated decision about whether or not they wish to support Israel’s continuing occupation of that territory. A similar effort is now underway in the United Kingdom to label produce coming from Western Sahara. The campaign, launched by campaigners for the freedom of Western Sahara, aims to weaken Morocco’s claim to, and control of, the disputed territory. Morocco, which took control of the territory after Spain, in 1975, ended its colonial rule, regards the Western Sahara as the kingdom’s “southern provinces.” The indigenous Saharawi people want self-determination by establishing an independent state called the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR).

  • Boko Haram announces it is now allied with Islamic State

    Nigeria’s Islamist group Boko Haram has declared its allegiance to Islamic State. The leader of the group, Abubakar Shekau, announced the move in in a Saturday online Arabic audio message with English subtitles. Earlier on Saturday, five bomb explosions killed at least fifty people in the northeastern Nigerian cities of Maiduguri, Baga, and Borno. Boko Haram used five teenagers – four girls and one boy – to carry out the suicide attacks. The Nigerian military proved no match for Boko Haram, but since early February, when Chadian and Cameroonian forces joined the fight, Boko Haram has been losing ground. Security analysts noted that Boko haram fighters are massing at a headquarters in the northeastern town of Gwoza, in what appears as a preparation for a showdown with the multinational forces.

  • Lack of evidence-based terrorism research hobbles counterterrorism strategies

    The Global Terrorism Database at the University of Maryland estimates that groups connected with al-Qaeda and the Islamic State committed almost 200 attacks per year between 2007 and 2010. That number has increased to about 600 attacks in 2013. As terrorism becomes more prevalent, the study of terrorism has also increased, which, in theory, should lead to more effective antiterrorism policies, and thus to less terrorism. The opposite is happening, however, and this could be partly due to the sort of studies which are being conducted. The problem: few of these studies are rooted in empirical analysis, and there is an “almost complete absence of evaluation research” concerning anti-terrorism strategies, in the words of a review of such studies.

  • Agriculture groups say bill would disrupt farming operations, decrease food production

    The Legal Workforce Act(LWAH.R. 1147), introduced by U.S. Representative Lamar Smith (R-Texas) and approved this week by the House Judiciary Committee, could disrupt farming operations if it passes Congress. LWA requires employers in the United States, within three years, to use E-Verifyto verify whether employees are legally allowed to work in the country. Ag industry groups say that passing LWA without some sort of immigration reform for agricultural workers could lead to a $30 billion to $60 billion decrease in food production. The ag industry also notes that each of the two million hired farm employees supports two to three fulltime American jobs in the food processing, transportation, farm equipment, marketing, retail, and other sectors.

  • Texas lawmakers propose bills to bolster border security

    On Monday, more than thirty Texas State House members joined local officials of border towns at the state Capitol to present their solutions to enhancing safety along the Texas border with Mexico. Three bills now being debated would add state police to the border, create a “DPS Officer Reserve Corps” using retired state troopers to assist police work like background investigations, toughen penalties for smugglers, build southbound checkpoints, and create a border protection unit.

  • Gen. Petraeus's plea agreement highlights disparate application of national-security laws: Critics

    General David Petraeus’s agreement to plead guilty to a misdemeanor charge of mishandling classified information in exchange for a prosecutor’s recommendation he serve no jail time has raised some concerns about fairness when prosecuting those who leak classified government information. “The issue is not whether Gen. Petraeus was dealt with too leniently, because the pleadings indicate good reason for that result,’’ says lawyer Abbe Lowell. “The issue is whether [other leakers] are dealt with far too severely for conduct that is no different. This underscores the random, disparate and often unfair application of the national-security laws where higher-ups are treated better than lower-downs.’’

  • Philadelphia terror charges highlight mall kiosks security issues

    The arrest last week of Abror Habibov on terrorism finance charges has brought new scrutiny to the oversight and security of mall kiosk businesses. Habibov ran a series of largely unlicensed mall kiosks along the East Coast, where his employees sold kitchen wares and repaired cell phones. He was arrested after being caught organizing support with two other individuals for ISIS operations in Syria. Security analysts say that the qualities which make these small businesses attractive to their owners — low overhead, short-term leases, and low site maintenance — may also serve as an ideal cover for employing members of terrorist groups.

  • DHS shutdown averted as House passes “clean” funding bill

    The House yesterday voted to fund the Department of Homeland Security to the end of the fiscal year, without conditioning the extension on defunding the implementation of Obama’s immigration executive order. The “clean” funding bill passed on a 257-167 vote, with seventy-five Republicans joining all 182 Democrats to avert a shutdown. Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), in a rare move for a speaker, left his chair and went to the House floor to cast a vote in favor of the funding extension. In a speech to the Republican caucus on Tuesday, just before Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu addressed a joint session of Congress, Boehner presented members of the caucus with three options: another stopgap bill, taking up a “clean” bill which has already passed the Senate, and a Friday-into-Saturday shutdown of DHS. Boehner told fellow Republicans that he did not want to run the risk of a DHS shutdown, which, he stressed, “wasn’t an option” with the current level of threats to national security.

  • Texas lawmakers on the Hill lead drive for cybersecurity legislation

    After recent high-profile cyberattacks on the U.S. private sector, Congress has been tasked with passing legislation that will address cybersecurity concerns including how the private sector should report data breaches to regulators and how the U.S. government should respond to state-sponsored cyberattacks. Three Texas Republican lawmakers, through leadership roles in committees and subcommittees, have been charged with exploring solutions to those concerns.

  • Government’s authority to protect consumer privacy questioned

    A case in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuitin Philadelphia could determine what authority the federal government has in protecting consumer privacy on the Internet. Hotel giant Wyndham Worldwide Corp. argued in court that the Federal Trade Commission(FTC) unlawfully tried to enforce cybersecurity standards when the agency brought a case against Wyndham after hackers allegedly stole data from hundreds of thousands of customer accounts in a series of attacks between April 2008 and January 2010.

  • Terrorists shift focus of attacks from air transportation to rail systems

    Terrorists have shifted their focus in recent years away from attacking airlines to attacking subway and rail systems, according to an analysis of terrorist attacks over a 30-year period from 1982 to 2011. The author of the new study notes that in a previous analysis, for the period 1968 to 10 September 2001, he concluded that air travel within the United States entailed a greater risk of a terrorist attack than “virtually any other activity.” Statistically significant evidence, however, points to a growing focus of terrorist attacks against ground mass transit.

  • Clapper: Congress would be blamed if Section 215 is not renewed -- and “untoward incident” occurred

    James Clapper, the director of national intelligence, said that if Congress failed to reauthorize a controversial provision of the Patriot Act by June, then lawmakers who opposed the renewal of the provision – Section215 – would bear the blame if a terrorist attack, which could have been prevented by actions Section 215 permits, happened. Clapper said that if Congress decided not to renew the Patriot Act, or decided to renew it without Section 215, and an “untoward incident” occurred as a result, he hopes “everyone involved in that decision assumes responsibility” and does not just blame the intelligence community.

  • FISA court reauthorizes NSA’s bulk metadata collection until 1 June

    More than a year after President Barack Obama announced that he will work with Congress to curb the National Security Agency’s (NSA) dragnet surveillance program which collects large amounts of U.S. phone metadata, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court approved last week a government request to continue allowing the agency to operate its bulk data collection until 1 June, when the legal authority for the program is set to expire. The required reauthorization of the program every ninety days has already been granted four other times — March, June, September, December — since Obama made his announcement in January 2014.

  • Illinois scrambles to meet Real ID deadline

    State officials in Illinois are working to make driver’s licenses and identification cards comply with the Real ID Act of 2005before commercial air travel restrictions are implemented in 2016. Illinois identification cards do not meet minimum standards mandated by Congress in 2005. The Real ID Act requires states to verify personal information of applicants including birth certificates. The information is then electronically scanned and stored in a federal database, and data can be shared among states and the federal government.