Government

  • 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.

  • Climate change and the origins of the Syrian war

    A new study says a record drought that ravaged Syria in 2006-10 was likely stoked by ongoing man-made climate change, and that the drought may have helped propel the 2011 Syrian uprising. Researchers say the drought, the worst ever recorded in the region, destroyed agriculture in the breadbasket region of northern Syria, driving dispossessed farmers to cities, where poverty, government mismanagement, and other factors created unrest that exploded in spring 2011. A growing body of research suggests that extreme weather, including high temperatures and droughts, increases the chances of violence, from individual attacks to full-scale wars. Researchers project that man-made global warming will heighten future conflicts, or that it is already doing so. The new study, combining climate, social, and economic data, is perhaps the first to look closely and quantitatively at these questions in relation to a current war.

  • House votes for one-week extension of DHS funding

    On Friday, just hours before the partial shut-down of DHS, the House Republican leadership, with the help of Democratic lawmakers, managed to secure a majority for a one-week extension of the funding for the department. The vote for a one-week extension passed 357 to 60 — but not before a humiliating defeat for Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and members of the GOP House leadership. The leadership was convinced it had the votes for a three-week extension, but that proposal was defeated when more than fifty Republican lawmakers bolted and voted against the bill – and their leaders. Democrats lawmakers then came to the help of the speaker, voting for the one-week extension on what they regard as a tacit understanding that toward the end of this week the House will vote on a “clean” extension of the DHS budget to the end of the fiscal year.

  • FBI’s biometric data center key to identifying Jihadi John

    The FBI is unlikely to release details of how, working with allies in the United Kingdom, it managed to accomplish the task of identifying “Jihadi John” with only video footage of the suspect’s hidden face and a voice with a British accent. Identifying Mohammed Emwazi, a Kuwaiti-born, British-educated man in his mid-20s, was likely done at the FBI’s Criminal Justice Information Services Division(CJIS), which houses the bureau’s Biometric Center of Excellence(BCE). At BCE, the FBI uses the $1.2 billion dollar Next Generation Identification(NGI) software to scan photos, aliases, physical traits, fingerprints, and voiceprints. The software is interoperable with the Pentagon’s Automated Biometric Identification System(ABIS) and DHS’s Automated Biometric Identification System(IDENT).

  • U.S. imposes sanctions on three Nigerian Hezbollah operatives

    Nigeria is home to a small Shiite Lebanese population, many members of which emigrated for work in the mid-1900s.Roughly five million Shiites living in Nigeria support the Islamic Movement in Nigeria (IMN), an organization initially funded by Iran in the early 1980s to establish an Iranian-style revolution in Nigeria.Last Thursday, the U.S. Treasury Department imposed sanctions on three Nigerians of Lebanese descent, accusing them of being part of Hezbollah’s Foreign Relations Department (FRD) in the Nigerian capital Abuja.Hezbollah is operating in at least forty-five countries, eleven of which are in Africa.

  • The CIA bolsters cyber operations

    The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) is planning to join the growing list of U.S. intelligence and security agencies which have redefined their missions to include cyber operations — in the CIA’s case, cyber espionage. Current and former agency officials say the new effort will be part of the broad restructuring of an intelligence service long defined by its human spy work. The shift also reflects the increasing role cyber plays in intelligence gathering, with allies and adversaries relying on smartphones, social media, and other technologies to communicate.

  • France asks social media companies to help in fighting radicalization, terrorism

    The French government has asked leading social media and tech firms, Google, Facebook, and Twitter to work directly with French law enforcement during investigations and to immediately remove terrorist propaganda when authorities alert them to it.The Islamic State (ISIS), along with other Islamist militant groups, are using social media to disseminate their violent messages, recruit new followers and fighters, and share videos of executed hostages. Roughly 20,000 foreign fighters, including 3,400 from Western nations, have joined ISIS and other extremist groups in Syria and Iraq.

  • Muhammadu Buhari, challenger for Nigeria's presidency, vows to defeat Boko Haram

    Muhammadu Buhari, the leading challenger for the Nigerian presidency, has committed himself to defeating Boko Haram Islamist insurgents in northern Nigeria by providing the military and security forces with better equipment, more training, and more accurate intelligence. Buhari, a former military leader – and, for about twenty months in 1982-83, the country’s leader – asserted that if the government of President Goodluck Jonathan had deployed the same resources to fighting Boko Haram as it had to secure its own political survival, the Nigerian army would have by now rescued the more than 270 schoolgirls abducted by the extremist movement in Chibok last April. In recent weeks the Islamist insurgents have been pushed back in several places, but Buhari pointedly questioned claims by the Nigerian army chief that the war was almost over.

  • Security at U.S. chemical plants, and monitoring that security, still fall short

    Security experts, citing a critical Senate report, are warning that the effort by industry and the government to secure U.S. chemical facilities against terrorist attacks has so far been lackluster at best. The Senate report, sponsored by former Senator Tom Coburn (R-Oklahoma), found that after eight years and $595 million dollars spent on efforts to further chemical plant security, there had been only thirty-nine compliance inspections of the 4,011 national facilities at risk. In any event, the current chemical facility security policies apply only to a fraction of the facilities which produce, store, or transport toxic materials around the country. The experts hope that H. R. 4007, which reformed and renewed the 2007 Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards (CFATS), and which became Public Law No: 113-254 on 18 December 2014, will improve and accelerate the security work needed at U.S. chemical facilities.