Category Archives: Homeland Security

Now A Warning? Same Old News About Russian Interference Without Any New Response

No, it’s NOT okay.  Merely because it isn’t thought the Russians actually changed any voting results doesn’t mean things are hunky-dory for the 2018 elections.  Today’s ‘news’ is in reality old news.  Consider the following excerpts from times gone by:

September 22, 2016 – “Democrats Dianne Feinstein and Adam Schiff, ranking members of the Senate and House Intelligence Committees, issue a joint statement declaring that based on information they received during congressional briefings, they believe that Russian intelligence agencies are carrying out a plan to interfere with the election. They call on Putin to order a halt to the activities.” [CNN]

September 29, 2016 –  “There have been hacking attempts on election systems in more than 20 states — far more than had been previously acknowledged — a senior Department of Homeland Security official told NBC News on Thursday.  The “attempted intrusions” targeted online systems like registration databases, and not the actual voting or tabulation machines that will be used on Election Day and are not tied to the Internet.The DHS official described much of the activity as “people poking at the systems to see if they are vulnerable.”  “We are absolutely concerned,” the DHS official said. “The concern is the ability to cause confusion and chaos.” [NBC]

Fast forward to 2017, and the story remains essentially the same, albeit with more details.  In September 2017 the Department of Homeland Security finally got around to officially notifying the states they’d been hacked.

“The Department of Homeland Security said earlier this year that it had evidence of Russian activity in 21 states, but it failed to inform individual states whether they were among those targeted. Instead, DHS authorities say they told those who had “ownership” of the systems — which in some cases were private vendors or local election offices.” [NPR]

Yes, it took ten months for the Department of Homeland Security to officially tell the states what was going on.  And now…. this is “news:”

February 7, 2018:  “The U.S. official in charge of protecting American elections from hacking says the Russians successfully penetrated the voter registration rolls of several U.S. states prior to the 2016 presidential election.

In an exclusive interview with NBC News, Jeanette Manfra, the head of cybersecurity at the Department of Homeland Security, said she couldn’t talk about classified information publicly, but in 2016, “We saw a targeting of 21 states and an exceptionally small number of them were actually successfully penetrated.”  [NBC]

Indeed, this isn’t coming as news to the 18 states that volunteered for the free cyber-hygiene scans offered by the Obama Administration’s Department of Homeland Security in 2016.  However, a person would have to wonder what happened to the two states which refused the free scan offer, and why we keep getting what is at best a repetition of the same warnings issued at least a year ago.

And what has happened since November 2016? It would be far easier to track what has NOT been done.  For example, there has not been a single cabinet level meeting concerning the issue of Russian interference.  There has not been a single report issued by the current administration issued on the subject of Russian interference.  There has been nothing done by the current administration to implement the sanctions overwhelmingly enacted by the 115th Congress against the Russians for their interference — their continuing interference.  And yes, the Russians did in fact hack into some voter rolls. [TheHill] And yes, the Russians are still at it. [NYT]

How do we know this? Because CIA Director Mike Pompeo says he’s reasonably certain the Russians will meddle in the 2018 midterms. [BBC/Politico]  The Secretary of State Rex Tillerson says we’re going to be a target in 2018 (and there’s probably nothing we can do about it.)’ [WashExam]

So once more it’s time to refer to the only comprehensive report on Russian interference issued from Washington so far — the Cardin Report:

“A Senate Foreign Relations Committee Democratic staff report released Wednesday and commissioned by U.S. Senator Ben Cardin (D-Md.), the Committee’s ranking member, details Russian president Vladimir Putin’s nearly two decades-long assault on democratic institutions, universal values, and the rule of law across Europe and in his own country. The report comes one year after Senator Cardin introduced the Counteracting Russian Hostilities Act of 2017, which served as the basis for the sanctions package signed into law last August, and makes a series of recommendations to adequately bolster U.S. and European defenses and counter the growing Kremlin threat to democratic institutions.”

It is well past time for the administration to take action.  One obvious suggestion would be for the administration to do something more efficacious than publishing a list of Forbes’ Richest Russians and apply additional sanctions as a response to continuing Russian interference in our political systems and institutions.  “Name and Shame” has obviously NOT stopped Russian efforts.  As the Cardin Report points out, the timidity of the US reaction to Russian activities as compared to actions taken by European nations has a source, in the White House:

“Despite the clear assaults on our democracy and our allies in Europe, the U.S. government still does not have a coherent, comprehensive, and coordinated approach to the Kremlin’s malign influence operations, either abroad or at home. Although the U.S. government has for years had a patchwork of offices and programs supporting independent journalism, cyber security, and the countering of disinformation, the lack of presidential leadership in addressing the threat Putin poses has hampered a strong U.S. response.”  [CardinReport pdf]

So, the British have publicly chastised the Russians for their meddling and have taken steps to secure their cyber-systems and election procedures.  The Germans upgraded the cooperation between the government and the campaigns, taken stronger measures against bots and trolls, and issued strong warnings of consequences for any additional Russian games.  The Spanish cracked down on Russian based organized crime groups, especially those seeking to use the country for money laundering.  The French took direct action to address cyber-hacking and smear campaigns.  The Nordic states have adopted a “whole society” approach to address Russian propaganda and cyber efforts. The Baltic states have employed public information campaigns, strengthened cyber-security systems, and reduced their energy dependence on Russian sources. [Cardin] If most of our western allies can take active measures to address Russian interference, the question remains — Why has the US done so little?  The Cardin Report conclusion that the lack of presidential leadership has not been helpful takes on more credibility.

There are some activities good old Average Americans can do to help rectify this situation.  (1) Get informed.  Read the Cardin Report.  (2) Evaluate the suggested steps the US could take to directly confront Russian interference. (3) Contact Senators and Representatives to let our lawmakers know that the public IS interested in Russian operations in the US.  (4) Contact those Representatives to tell them the American public (and their constituents in particular) insist the administration implement and enforce the sanctions enacted by Congress.

Perhaps there’s a sufficient number of phone calls, post cards, e-mails, and constituent meetings which will prevent the Russian Meddling from being an annual event in the American press, each time reminding us that nothing has been accomplished thus far to prevent Russian activities to sow discord, dissension, and advance the demolition of American political institutions.  We should not only hope so, but also work to make this happen.

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Filed under elections, Homeland Security, Nevada politics, Politics

Meanwhile! Back At The Ballot Boxes

Not that I’m unconcerned about sexual harassment (etc) BUT there’s another story which is getting lost behind the steady drip of the Mueller Investigation and the deluge of harassment stories — not to put too fine a point to it, but the Russians played havoc with our election in 2016 and the Congress of the United States hasn’t done squat about it.

The House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence seems perfectly happy to make charges and counter-charges about “collusion” without apparently looking all that deeply into what espionage techniques and strategies were applied by the Russians, and what was the outcome. Nor have I heard one peep out of them about how to better secure our election institutions and systems against incursions.  Given White House water boy Devin Nunes is in charge of the committee, I don’t suppose we’ll get that much out of this outfit, and that’s both a tragedy and a missed opportunity.

While the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence manages to sound more organized and focused,  there’s not much emerging from that quarter either.   Again, the committee seems to have Republicans intent on proving there’s “nothing to see here,” and Democrats hoping to find the smoking arsenal.  Again, the conspiracy/collusion segment is only part of the story, and while it’s important so too is the notion that we need to find out what the Russians did, how they did it, and how we can prevent this from happening in future elections.

Then there’s the Senate Committee on the Judiciary.   Chairman Charles Grassley (R-IA) seems rather more interested in absolving Republicans and the President from responsibility for or knowledge of Russian activities than in finding out exactly what happened in 2016.   I wouldn’t want to hang by my hair for as long as it will take to get this outfit to determine what laws were broken, or eluded, by Russians — nor how we might want to modify our statutes to prevent future problems.  The House Judiciary Committee is essentially AWOL on all manner of topics, case in point the “calendar” for the subcommittees is almost blank for the month of December with one FBI “oversight” hearing, and one session with Deputy AG Rod Rosenstein.  The Chairman appears to be more concerned with disparaging the Mueller Investigation than with determining how to identify and prevent foreign incursions into our elections.

Remember back on September 22, 2017 the Department of Homeland Security finally informed 21 states that their elections systems had been hacked in some way, shape, or form:

“The federal government on Friday told election officials in 21 states that hackers targeted their systems before last year’s presidential election.

The notification came roughly a year after officials with the United States Department of Homeland Security first said states were targeted by hacking efforts possibly connected to Russia. The states that told The Associated Press they had been targeted included some key political battlegrounds, such as Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Wisconsin.

The A.P. contacted every state election office to determine which ones had been informed that their election systems had been targeted. The others that confirmed they were targeted were Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Iowa, Maryland, Minnesota, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, Texas and Washington.” (emphasis added)

21 states, notified a year after the fact was bad enough — but not only was the information belated, but some of it wasn’t even accurate.

“Now election officials in Wisconsin and California say DHS has provided them with additional information showing that Russian hackers actually scanned networks at other state agencies unconnected to voter data. In Wisconsin, DHS told officials on Tuesday that hackers had scanned an IP address belonging to the Department of Workforce Development, not the Wisconsin Elections Commission.

California Secretary of State Alex Padilla (D) said in a statement Wednesday that DHS gave his office additional information saying hackers had attempted to target the network of the California Department of Technology’s statewide network and not the secretary of state’s office.”

So, we might expect the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee to be looking into this?  No, the Chairman, Sen. Ron Johnson is more interested in finding out if members of the Mueller team are biased against the current President.  The “logic” appears to be that because Special Counsel Mueller REMOVED those who made prejudicial statements in text messages therefore the investigation is prejudiced.  It doesn’t get more bass-ackwards than this.   Can we expect oversight regarding the slowness and inaccuracy of the DHS response to election hacking?  Under the current Senate leadership probably not.

The national broadcast media (as usual) is currently chasing the newest shiny object — which members of the Congress can or cannot keep their hands to themselves and their “little soldiers” zipped inside the “barracks.”  This is an important topic — but to continue to focus on the salacious and to continue to ignore the insidious is not in the best interest of this country and its institutions.

There are questions introduced last August which remain unresolved, and for which we should demand answers:

  1. What was the extent and nature of Russian hacking (and meddling) in the US election of 2016?
  2. Will the United States deploy safeguards and countermeasures to address thee Russian activities?
  3. Will the frustrations of state governments with the quality of information shared by DHS be alleviated? Will states receive up to date and accurate information so they can prevent hacking and meddling?
  4. What measures should be taken to prevent future hacking and meddling, and to give the states the support they need to deal with forms of assault as yet undeployed by the Russians?

The Mueller Investigation can explore and illuminate the extent to which criminal statutes may have been broken in regard to the 2016 election, but it cannot determine how the US analyzes, evaluates, and prepares for the next round of elections.  That should be the function of Congress, but then we seem to have one so focused on giving tax breaks to the wealthy and so determined to cut Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid they can barely pay attention to the transgressions of their own members (speaking of Farenholdt here) while chasing conspiracy theories about the “Deep State” opposition to the administration.

Perhaps in the midst of asking our Senators and Representatives about the “questions of the day,” we should squeeze in a couple of questions (see above) that have been sitting on the shelves since last Summer?

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Filed under Congress, Homeland Security, House of Representatives, Politics, Senate, Voting

The Russians Are Already Here: Contrasts and Comparisons

A peek at the past — Most people know that Japanese forces attacked the US Naval Base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii on December 7, 1941.  The US entered World War II immediately.  President Franklin Roosevelt delivered his famous “Day of Infamy” speech to Congress on December 8th.  While most Americans recognize the first lines of the speech, it’s time to remind ourselves of Roosevelt’s remarks later in his brief address:

“No matter how long it may take us to overcome this premeditated invasion, the American people in their righteous might will win through to absolute victory.

I believe I interpret the will of the Congress and of the people when I assert that we will not only defend ourselves to the uttermost, but will make very certain that this form of treachery shall never endanger us again.

Hostilities exist. There is no blinking at the fact that that our people, our territory and our interests are in grave danger.”

At the end of the war in 1945 there wasn’t much public appetite for additional war investigations, but Congress did act.  A resolution adopted on September 6, 1945 called for the formation of a joint committee on the Investigation of the Pearl Harbor Attack.  One of the results of the investigations and other efforts was the passage of the National Security Act of 1947, which among other things consolidated the military into the Department of Defense and established the Central Intelligence Agency.   In other words, after an attack on the US, we were capable of thorough investigations, even when public sentiment was divided on the results, identifying problems, and legislating proposed solutions.

On September 11, 2001 radical terrorists attacked targets in New York City, Washington, DC, and attempted a third attack thwarted by passengers.  The 9/11 Commission was established by PL 107-306 on November 2002.  The commission was independent, bipartisan, and directed to publish a full and complete account, and mandated to make recommendations to prevent future similar attacks on the US and its citizens.

These are two of the most commonly cited examples of US responses to attacks on the United States as people try to evaluate current attacks on our country and our responses to those assaults.  While these are useful markers, and excellent examples of our capacity for both action and self-reflection, they aren’t precisely analogous to present Russian attacks on American institutions. To repeat the obvious, the two major previous attacks were physical and highly visible. They were both ‘mechanical’ in the sense that the main elements of the attacks were either weapons or weaponized aircraft.

Notes about the present — By contrast, the Russian assault on US (and other western nations) is better seen as an extension of the Cold War between the US and the former USSR.  Any investigation of Russian activities must, of necessity, be broader than the more focused investigations of December 7th and September 11th.  It must also take into consideration the weaponized use of non-mechanical forms of assault.  It challenges our ability to reflect on the nature, extent, strategy, and tactics of the current attacks.

We have not responded all that well to this assault.   For one thing, the weapons used relied on our own strengths.  We have an open and engaged environment with constitutionally protected freedoms of speech and press.  This very environment was used to foment discord, and disinformation — and that was the point.

In January 2017 the US intelligence services released a public summary of their findings concerning Russian interference in the 2016 elections.  Two of those findings should be especially concerning:

“In unequivocal language, the report pins responsibility for the election attack directly on President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, ruling out the possibility that it was ordered by intelligence officials or simply carried out by Kremlin supporters.

 United States officials believe Mr. Putin wants to damage the image of American democracy to make it less attractive to Russians and their neighbors.”

In light of these remarkable conclusions, the US response has been equally remarkably tepid, partisan, and confused.

First, the current investigations of the matter are fragmented.  Instead of following the precedent of an independent commission (such as the 9/11 commission)  or even a bipartisan investigative panel (such as the Pearl Harbor committee) the Congress established a special counsel to investigate possible violations of US statutes, and relied on standard (and partisan) congressional committees to conduct a wider range of inquiries into the wider aspects of the Russian attacks.

Secondly, the partisan nature of the Congress has interfered with the efficient and efficacious collection of evidence and testimony in regard to the nature and scope of the Russian assault on our democracy.   Perhaps no committee has been such a signal example of what partisanship can do to an important investigation as the House Intelligence Committee.  The Senate Judiciary Committee’s efforts directed by Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA) are questionable:

“Grassley’s role in the congressional probes into Russian meddling in the 2016 election has perplexed and concerned members of his own party, Republican staffers on the committee told The Daily Beast.

The probe appears to have already missed one of its own deadlines. And rather than publicly needling potential Russian meddlers, Grassley has primarily used his bully pulpit to rip an opposition-research firm and the FBI.”

In short, Senator Grassley seems at present to be more concerned with casting doubt on a specific dossier and its origins than on conducting an independent investigation.   A reasonable person could easily conclude that the current Congress has failed to create an atmosphere in which the conclusions of its various panels will be accepted as credible by the general public.  Of all the failures of the 115th Congress, this may well be the one with the most lasting deleterious effect.

The Russians are here, and the 115th Congress has neither demonstrated its interest in focusing on specific problems and solutions as the Congress in 1945 after the attack on Pearl Harbor, nor the interest in exploring the nature, scope, and specifics of the attacks of September 11th.   Perhaps this is an example of the greatest danger posed by Putin’s assault on democratic institutions?

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Filed under Homeland Security, Nevada politics, Politics, public safety

Nymphaea Tetragona in the White House

I am coming to the conclusion that the occupant of the Oval Office is the Great Orange Marshmallow.  Talks “tough.” Acts like a dainty and fragile Purple Water Lily.  The Nymphaea Tetragona with a smart phone reacts to the UK’s three terrorist attacks in a short span of time with his cringing call for a “travel ban” to add a “layer of safety.”  Don’t let the facts get in the way. Facts like noting the Manchester Bomber was born in the UK.

Every time Nymphaea Tetragona tweets his insecurities into the public domain some thugs around the world take comfort.  He’s playing straight into their narrative.  ISIS, or whatever name they are giving themselves these days, would love for the western nations to bestow legitimacy on their criminal activities by calling for a “War on Terror,” or a Clash of Civilizations — as if Daesh were even remotely civilized.

What’s needed is a realistic view of Daesh — they are losing control of their territory in the Middle East and lashing out, calling for their affiliates to Take Action.  They are little more than a well armed street gang.  They are not “Islamic” any more than the Ku Klux Klan is Christian.  They are, again, a well armed criminal enterprise.  They would love to be romanticized into a Force recognized by great powers.  They aren’t. They are cowardly bombers and thugs.  Any self-disrespecting cowardly thug would be pleased to see their “cause” in the headlines, their actions elevated to the category of military operations.  However, bombing kids and their parents at a concert, or driving a van into pedestrians isn’t remotely a military operation — it is cowardly, it is criminal.

Instead of travel bans and other dysfunctional responses we need to operate as a national anti-gang operation.  No, joining a street gang is NOT a venture into “belonging” and “affiliation;” it is to brand oneself as a criminal.  No, seeking self fulfillment by accepting criminal behavior as a lifestyle choice isn’t a productive route; it merely serves to degrade the person adopting it.   It would be helpful if politicians would stop playing into the romanticized version of what is, as presented, simply a matter of criminal behavior on the part of some very dysfunctional people.

We know what doesn’t work.  Demonizing and marginalizing members of specific religious or ethnic groups doesn’t work — it plays into the criminal narrative; it gives credence to the criminal slogans and propaganda.  Failure to acknowledge the sources of criminal behavior is counter-productive — it allows dictatorial governments which support radical ideologies to operate with impunity.  (Even if such governments offer our delicate Purple Water Lily a welcome worthy of four repetitions of Pomp and Circumstance. )

What might be much more productive would be developing better working relationships with communities in which there are youth at risk.  Improving the economic situations for those youth — better education, better job training, better visions of what their lives can be like in this society.  This is not to be accomplished by encouraging the outrageous ranting of white supremacists spewing hate and rattling their 2nd Amendment equipage.

It certainly won’t be accomplished by following the lead of the Purple Water Lily, Great Orange Marshmallow, cringing with his smartphone, tweeting out misinformed and much mistaken whines about “keeping safe,” protected from threats real and imagined, comforted by a “strong Dear Leader” whose tweets are substitutes for information, analysis, and reflection.

We don’t need to accept substitutes. We don’t need to accept the overinflated self importance of the criminal elements.  We don’t need to play follow the leader with a person who leads from a position of weakness and fear.  We DO need to redouble our efforts to be that City on A Hill, a beacon of enlightenment and reason.

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Filed under Foreign Policy, Homeland Security, Politics

>And then there was the Conference Report vote: GOP drops national security ball

>”Return with us now to those wonderful days of yesteryear” when the Republican Party was associating itself with “national security” as a source of its strength…except when it wasn’t. On October 15, 2009 members of the GOP House caucus had an opportunity to vote on the conference report on H.R. 2892, the funding bill for the Department of Homeland Security. Did the entire caucus vote in favor of additional monies for explosives’ screening devices? Not. So. Much.

The conference committee report passed 307-114. As you scroll down the voting list note that only six of those votes against the conference report came from the Democratic side of the aisle. The conference committee report then went to the U.S. Senate on October 20, 2009, in which one might have expected that Senator John Ensign (R-NV), he who was so anxious to “discuss” national security during his turn in the CNN barrel, would have voted for it. Not. So. Much. Senator Ensign was one of 19 members of that august debating society to vote against the passage of the funding for the Homeland Security Department, including money for the Transportation Security Administration. Joining Senator Ensign in opposition to funding the DHS (TSA) were:

Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL)
Senator John McCain (R-AZ)
Senator Jon Kyl (R-AZ)
Senator Johnny Isakson (R-GA)
Senator Saxby Chambliss (R-GA)
Senator Mike Crapo (R-ID)
Senator James Risch (R-ID)
Senator Evan Bayh (D-IN)
Senator Jim Bunning (R-KY)
Senator Roger Wicker (R-MS)
Senator Richard Burr (R-NC)
Senator James Inhofe (R-OK)
Senator Thomas Coburn (R-OK)
Senator Jim DeMint (R-SC)
Senator Bob Corker (R-TN)
Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX)
Senator John Barrasso (R-WY)
Senator Mike Enzi (R-WY)

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Filed under Ensign, Homeland Security

>Ensign Votes To Strip Over The Road Bus Security Funds


The next time Senator John Ensign (R-NV) gives a speech during which he calls for “national vigilance,” or wants us to “engage in the war on terror,” someone needs to gently remind him about his vote on July 7, 2009 to eliminate the appropriations for the Over The Road Bus Security Assistance recommended by the Transportation Safety Administration. [roll call 218]

The McCain amendment (S.Amdt 1400 to S.Amdt 1373) would have stripped a program that funds the development of security plans for intercity and charter bus services, the development of vulnerability assessments, preparing security plans, implementing response training, training front-line personnel to be aware of potential security threats, providing live or simulated exercises for improving responses, launching public awareness programs, modifying over the road buses to improve security, installing cameras and surveillance equipment on buses, terminals, garages, and bus facilities.

A person would think that planning, training, and equipping to improve over the road bus security would be a priority after the terrorist attacks of 9/11, or are the Republican tired of the whole “security thing” now that they don’t control Congress or the White House?

Why else would they try to strip out funding for modifying terminals and facilities to improve security? Are they tired of issues like isolating and protecting bus drivers? Improving emergency communications systems linking the bus drivers to their operation’s centers? Are they all over being concerned about funding projects to detect chemical, biological, radiological, or explosive matter on buses? [TSA]

The American Bus Association reports that independent bus operators provide 631 million passenger trips each year; and more people travel by bus in a two week period than travel by train in a year. 2007 estimates for bus ridership were around 700 million total passenger trips. [ABA]

One can’t help but imagine that not so long ago the Republicans in the Senate would have been supporting the Over The Road program, and citing this admonition from the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials: “The nation’s public transportation systems are vulnerable to disruption from natural disasters and security-related incidents. Funding assistance from the Department of Homeland Security is needed to protect critical public transportation infrastructure from terrorists’ attack and to improve surveillance and detection. Inter-agency communications capabilities need to be improved. And a joint program involving police, fire and transportation agencies at the local and state level and justice, homeland security and transportation agencies at the Federal level needs to be developed to improve emergency response capabilities.” [AASHT]

But, perhaps, that was then and this is now?

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Filed under Ensign, Homeland Security, public transportation

>Coffee and the Papers: Campaign Leftovers


Election leftovers: Nevada didn’t quite set a voting turnout record in 2008, with nearly 80% participating – but, it was close; 80.1% of the electorate cast ballots. The record was 84.6% in 1980. [SFC] Voters put the State Senate in Democratic hands with at 12-9 advantage; Democrats control the state Assembly with a veto proof 28-14 count. [SJMN] Meanwhile, the “Talking Point Du Jour” for the GOP is that no matter what the election results “this is a center-right nation.” [TP] The logic escapes me. When the GOP win elections they promptly pronounce that the results prove this is a center-right nation, and when they lose they just as quickly declare that the election returns don’t actually matter – that we’re really a center-right nation in spite of the results.

Politico inserted Senator John Ensign (R-NV) into its “The Biggest Losers” list – and he wasn’t even running. His NRSC is announcing “victory” because the Democrats didn’t get the 60 seats necessary to break the Roadblock Republican filibuster machine in the Senate. “The Promise” may be broken? The Las Vegas Sun reports that Ensign plans to campaign for Senator Harry Reid’s opponent in 2010, whomever that may be. [Pol] The Anchorage Daily News has the understated headline of the year: “Pollsters miss mark in Alaska elections.” By a mile. “The Obama Effect bit the pollsters who foretold small victory here” (Nevada) [LV Sun]

The Portland Oregonian is calling their Senate race for Democrat Jeff Merkley. With 80% of the vote counted, Merkley led by more than 4,000 votes. Most of the counties remaining to be tallied were those in which voting trends heavily toward Merkley (Multnomah, Lane). The Minnesota race between Coleman and Franken is headed to a recount, and the “election” of convicted felon Ted Stevens will send that mess into the Senate. Senator Mitch McConnell will call for Stevens’ resignation IF his appeals fail – further dragging out the drama. Stevens is scheduled to appear on February 25 in the U.S. District Court for sentencing, which is the starting date for the appeals process. [Roll Call sub req] The double standard applies here: Democrats are supposed to resign upon indictment – Republicans should only resign after the exhaustion of the appeals process.

If you haven’t already, click on the New York Times interactive map series (voting shifts), indicating that there is a thin band of counties in the U.S. that voted ‘more Republican’ than in past elections. Should this shift continue the GOP appears to be headed toward ‘regional’ party status. [HuffPo] Note: These are not counties that necessarily gave a majority to President-elect Obama, but which trended more Democratic than in previous elections. Jonathan Martin sums up: “Beyond demography, the party is now, thanks to the outgoing president and some members of Congress, perceived by many voters as either incompetent, corrupt or just not standing for much.”

Glenn Greenwald has a provocative piece, “Equating Clinton’s ‘scandals’ with George Bush’s,” in which he castigates the Beltway Blowhards for continuing the false equivilancies between “a stain on a dress” and “the stain George Bush and Dick Cheney have left on the Constitution, our political values, and our national image.”

Bushonomics: Remember when the Republicans told us that the ‘fundamentals of the economy were sound’ because of high productivity? Bloomberg News reports this morning that measurement of efficiency rose during the 3rd quarter at “a slower pace than in the previous three months as the economy slumped, a sign employment may take a bigger hit.” “Non-farm output last quarter dropped at a 1.7 percent pace, almost as much as the decline in hours worked, leading to the slowdown in productivity. The economy overall shrank at a 0.3 percent pace from July to September, the most since the 2001 recession.” Macy’s, Target Group, and The Gap have all posted October sales declines. [Blmbrg] The news on the employment front isn’t good either: The number of U.S. workers collecting unemployment benefits increased by 122,000 (3.84 million) for the week ending October 25th, the highest level in 25 years. New jobless claims are up 45%, continuing claims are up 46%. [MrktWtch] Once more, with feeling: The top 1% of this country’s population can’t spend enough fast enough to keep the other 99% fully employed.

“Slower spending hurt services sector in October” [NYT] “Retail sales worst in decade; shoppers cut back” [Reuters] “Toyota hacks forecasts as U.S. automakers seek help” [Reuters] “Employers taking closer look at retirement plans” [Reuters] “Hedge fund results seen going from bad to worse” [Reuters]

Homeland Insecurity: “Unwatched” Cutbacks and confusion over building security leave (government) workers wondering who’s guarding the doors? [GovExec] “Better Interagency Coordination and implementing guidance for section 311 could improve U.S. anti-money laundering efforts” [GAO report] “Security grants to have fewer requirements: DHS eases rules amid criticism from struggling local officials” [WaPo] “Chemical plant safety” [Newsday]

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Filed under Economy, Homeland Security, Politics

>Homeland Insecurity: Reid, Dem Leaders, Question Bush FY 2009 Budget Cuts


Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and a considerable number of fellow Senate Democrats sent a letter to President George W. Bush on Wednesday, December 19, 2007 expressing their concern that the administration would do unto the FY 2009 homeland security budget what it had done to the FY 2008 version: trim, cut, and slash.

Information leaked out that there were several key government programs scheduled to “take a hit,” among them Transit Security Grant Program, the Emergency Performance Management Grant Program, and the Port Security Grant Program. The extent of the cuts aren’t known at present, but it’s a fair assumption that if the President cut the State Homeland Security Grant program in half in the last budget that he will do that again in the next version. This does have importance for Nevada governmental agencies.

During FY 2007 Nevada received $2.3 million for Emergency Management Performance grant functions, and $5.6 million from SHSG (State Homeland Security Grant) funds. Not having any major transit points or ports obviously means the state isn’t a major beneficiary of these funds, but given the Administration’s proclivity for proposals like shipping nuclear waste on Nevada rail lines it would be seemly for the Administration to give some consideration to the kinds of emergencies this activity might engender.

One could speculate that the Administration isn’t fond of funding state and local emergency programs since those monies are directed to public sector elements like local and state police, and fire departments. Operating on the assumption that Blackwater USA isn’t quite ready yet to take on all firefighting, EMT activities, and local security management; then one would have to determine that funding local government entities is singularly important if “homeland security” is truly the object. The last Bush Budget didn’t seem too enthusiastic about homeland security projects at the state and local level, and this next edition seems reflective of the same lack of ardor.

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Filed under Bush Administration, Homeland Security, Reid

>Overnight Express News Round Up

>No representation: Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) assisted by stalwart ally Senator John Ensign (R-NV) blocked a measure today that would have given voting rights to the citizens of Washington, D.C. McConnell displayed a strict construction of the U.S. Constitution, not visible during his support of the Bush Administration’s disposal of Habeas Corpus and the 4th Amendment. “I opposed this bill because it is clearly and unambiguously unconstitutional,” McConnell said in a statement. “If the residents of the District are to get a member for themselves, they have a remedy: amend the Constitution.” [WaPo] Following his usual procedure of filibustering all important legislation in the Senate, therefore requiring 60 votes for passage, McConnell prevailed when supporters were three votes short. The cloture motion was defeated 57-42. [roll call 339] Senator Ensign was among the 42 opponents, who may have been fearful that giving the District of Columbia a Congressional Representative might mean that the NRSC would have to eventually face two more Senatorial elections from a predominantly Democratic area. (See also: Gleaner “Ensign casts another proud vote for tyranny”)

Guilt by association and circumstance? (1) Because a man seeking employment as a security guard at Andrews AFB is charged with giving untruthful answers during a background check, the government is proposing to air statements at his upcoming trial from the controversial imam of his mosque. [WaPo] (2) Nalini Ghuman, a musicologist who specializes in the work of British composer Edward Elgar (“Pomp and Circumstance”) was stopped last August at the San Francisco Airport and was refused re-entry into the U.S. without explanation. The assistant professor at Mills College has been trying since then to find out why or how she ended up on a security watch list. Officials took her residency visa, and her application for a new one has been pending since October. A Homeland Security spokesperson said the agency had no choice but to refuse Ghuman’s entry because the State Department had revoked her visa – the State Department refused her inquiries citing “the confidentiality of individual visa records.” Ghuman’s father, a professor emeritus of educational psychology at the University of Wales, was born in India to Sikh parents, her mother is British. Nothing in Ghuman’s background suggests any connection to terrorist organizations. [IHT] (3) Lawyers for Khaled el-Masri, who was abducted by the CIA, interrogated in an isolation cell in Afghanistan, and released without apology or explanation five months later, are asking the U.S. Supreme Court to determine if the Bush Administration has the power to prevent Mr. el-Masri from “seeking recourse in American courts.” Justice Department lawyers have asked the court to dismiss the case to “prevent disclosure of state secrets.” “When Masri filed his suit in federal court, government lawyers told the judge that just confirming or denying the charges would reveal state secrets about how the US is waging its war on terror. The government submitted a classified affidavit to the trial judge, explaining its position. Masri’s lawyers were not permitted to see the affidavit. The judge threw out the suit on state-secrets grounds, and a federal appeals court panel upheld the dismissal on the same grounds.” [CSM] (emphasis added)

What a relief? NSA Director Michael McConnell testified today before the House Judiciary Committee that Americans have not been subjected to warrantless wiretaps “since at least February.” [NYT] This doesn’t exactly explain what was going on from October 2002 to February 2007. However, this is the first Administration public acknowledgment that the wiretapping of Americans has officially ended. This is not stopping the Administration from requesting more wiretapping authority and immunity for telecommunications companies who assisted with domestic wiretapping programs. [USAT]

Unhappy in the Security Department? Two employee satisfaction surveys have shown the Department of Homeland Security as the “most disgruntled” of the federal government. 57% said they were satisfied, compared to 67.5 for the other agencies. The Coast Guard and Secret Service were the most satisfactory, while employees of the Transportation Security Administration and the Science & Technology directorate were the most dissatisfied. Employees in those two agencies feared retaliation, didn’t respect the leadership, and “are convinced that whatever is getting some people promoted, it’s not merit.” [FedTimes]

Ground Zero: NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg is supporting the “James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act” introduced by members of New York’s Congressional delegation. The bill would provide a range of physical and mental health services to ground zero workers, and would reopen the Victim Compensation fund to assist those who have been injured by exposure to the toxic atmosphere at the site. [NYT]

Land of the Midnight Scum? A member of the Alaska Legislature is asking the state attorney general to investigate bribery allegations involving the Pebble Mine project in the western part of the state. [ADN] Further east, Senator Ted Stevens holds the honor of having the most earmark requests in the FY 2008 Defense Appropriations bill. [ADN]

Also up north: “The United States has its hopes pinned on Canada’s tar sands for North American security in the oil market. But their “black gold” is an environmental nightmare.” [Alternet] And down South: Rock miners who want more mining around the Everglades hauled in heavy equipment and quarry workers to protest any restrictions on their operations. “The overflow turnout ensured that much of a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers hearing on a new study of mining ordered by a federal judge would closely follow industry script: Mounting economic losses from curbing mining will far outweigh environmental impacts from continued excavation in West Miami-Dade County.” [MiaHrld]

Shot over the Energy Giant’s Bows? The EU is drafting a law that would split Europe’s energy giants into separate production and distribution companies in order to encourage competition in the energy sector. [DerSpiegel] This should give everyone a fairly good idea of exactly who is in favor of a free market economy and who isn’t?

Defense contractors are ready to mount their opposition to proposed changes in procurement policies. “Contractor groups are taking particular aim at provisions in the bill that would push the department to pay more contractors on a fixed-price basis rather than for work hours or materials used. The bill would prohibit the Pentagon from applying special rules for buying commercial services when awarding these so-called time-and-materials contracts. Some procurement experts advising Congress have said the provision will help restrict overuse of the contracts, which have in some cases have resulted in skyrocketing costs.” [GovExec]

“The British are leaving, the British are leaving.” Further cuts in British forces in Iraq may be announced as early as October 8, 2007 when Prime Minister Gordon Brown is scheduled to address the Commons after the summer break. The British have already announced they are withdrawing 500 of their total 5,500. [Guardian UK] The comments of Lord Ashdown, chair of the commission on terrorism, may be more discomfiting to the White House. “Our problem is that we have chosen the wrong mindset, the wrong battlefield, the wrong weapons and the wrong strategies to win this campaign. We have chosen to fight an idea, primarily with force.” [Guardian UK] Iraq’s ambassador to Australia is confident that relations between the two nations would not be damaged if the Labor government withdraws Australian troops from Iraq after the middle of next year. [SMH] Australia now has 575 combat troops and about 1000 support personnel in Iraq.

Taking an errand breakDesert Beacon and Blue Sage Views will not be updated tomorrow so that some real honest to goodness old fashioned work can get done. Thank you for your patience and interest.


Filed under Defense spending, energy, Ensign, Homeland Security, Iraq

>Nevada Test Site Radiation Detection Tests: GAO Releases Report

>Officials involved in the Nevada Test Site project on radiation detection made the papers this morning in regard to the inadequacy of their testing, and this afternoon’s release of the full GAO analysis makes them look even worse. The GAO has now released its report on “next generation radiation testing” online. From the summary: Based on our analysis of DNDO’s test plan, the test results, and discussions with experts from four national laboratories, we are concerned that DNDO’s tests were not an objective and rigorous assessment of the ASPs’ capabilities. Our concerns with the DNDO’s test methods include the following:”

(1) DNDO used biased test methods that enhanced the performance of the ASPs. Specifically, DNDO conducted numerous preliminary runs of almost all of the materials, and combinations of materials, that were used in the formal tests and then allowed ASP contractors to collect test data and adjust their systems to identify these materials. It is highly unlikely that such favorable circumstances would present themselves under real world conditions. Translation: The Department tested the materials, gave the results to the contractors who calibrated their systems to match the data, and then the contractors replicated the DNDO test results.

(2) “DNDO’s NTS tests were not designed to test the limitations of the ASPs’ detection capabilities–a critical oversight in DNDO’s original test plan. DNDO did not use a sufficient amount of the type of materials that would mask or hide dangerous sources and that ASPs would likely encounter at ports of entry. DOE and national laboratory officials raised these concerns to DNDO in November 2006. However, DNDO officials rejected their suggestion of including additional and more challenging masking materials because, according to DNDO, there would not be sufficient time to obtain them based on the deadline imposed by obtaining Secretarial Certification by June 26. 2007. By not collaborating with DOE until late in the test planning process, DNDO missed an important opportunity to procure a broader, more representative set of well-vetted and characterized masking materials.” Translation: The DNDO tests left the “answers out in the open,” giving the contractors a better chance of detecting what had already been detected, rather leading the dog toward the bones.

(3)DNDO did not objectively test the performance of handheld detectors because they did not use a critical CBP standard operating procedure that is fundamental to this equipment’s performance in the field. Because of concerns raised that DNDO did not sufficiently test the limitations of ASPs, DNDO is attempting to compensate for weaknesses in the original test plan by conducting additional studies–essentially computer simulations. While DNDO, CBP, and DOE have now reached an agreement to wait and see whether the results of these studies will provide useful data regarding the ASPs’ capabilities, in our view and those of other experts, computer simulations are not as good as actual testing with nuclear and masking materials.” Translation: Handheld detectors may have worked if “standard operating procedures” were ignored, and instead of applying the standards the agencies settled for computer simulations in lieu of actual operational testing.

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Filed under Homeland Security, Nevada Test Site