Tag Archives: national security

#NatSecSoundoff: When asked to critique U.S. national security reporting, Thornberry stays (respectfully) mum

By Jennifer-Leigh Oprihory

WASHINGTON — During last week’s Capitol Hill press gaggle, House Armed Services Committee Chairman Rep. William “Mac” Thornberry, R-Texas, turned a chance to offer constructive criticism to national security reporters into a moment of praise for their work and empathy for the challenges they face.

“I think, in general, you know, journalists do a very good job – and certainly better than at any time in our history – of reporting events that happen around the world,” he said.

When asked how well the media has been covering the national security beat, Thornberry opted to stand aside.

“I think I am not very well-positioned to critique somebody else’s job,” he told the small group of reporters and staffers who sat around a table and along the walls of a Rayburn House Office Building conference room.

“I have a big enough problem just trying to critique myself at my own job.”

He empathized with the seeming sensory overload that he said is encountered by reporters and politicians, alike.

“I think all of us — including me — have a harder time seeing the bigger trends because there’s a constant barrage of new, individual events and developments,” he said. “One of the challenges of the intelligence community, one of the challenges for us, you know, as policymakers, is to just kind of … take into account these individual events that we get barraged with every day and see the broader trends that you can do something about. And that’s hard.”

He said that the onus of sifting through this commotion to uncover important patterns doesn’t just fall on journalists.

“It’s up to all of us,” he said. “It’s part of the information age.”


Four minutes to midnight: Hope for American detainees in Iran may fade with nuclear talks

By Jennifer-Leigh Oprihory

WASHINGTON — Rayburn House Office Building Room 2172 was filled with reporters, congressmen and human rights activists on Tuesday morning.

But the presences that dominated the room were those of four American citizens stranded thousands of miles away, held prisoner by the Islamic Republic of Iran.

The House Foreign Affairs Committee convened the morning hearing to gather stories from family members of the four Americans currently imprisoned in Iran: former Washington Post Tehran Bureau Chief Jason Rezaian, former U.S. Marine Sergeant (E-5) Amir Hekmati (who served from 2001-2005), Christian Rev. Saeed Abedini and U.S. government contractor Robert Levinson.

The hearing was held ahead before the committee voted to approve H. Res. 233, a bill that condemns Iran’s refusal to release these detainees and demands transparency about “any other United States Citizens that have disappeared within its borders.”

The prisoners’ relatives testified that the window for their release may close once U.S.-Iran nuclear talks end and Iran no longer needs them as leverage.

“I think if the [nuclear] talks fail and there is no deal, that we could lose the engagement and the constructive talks that we’re having right now,” Daniel Levinson, son of Robert Levinson, said. “Those could cease, and then we’re back to square one.”

Even if the U.S. succeeds in striking a deal, he said, any “sense of urgency” to bring back his father and the other witnesses’ loved ones could disintegrate as soon as it is inked.

The timeline hasn’t caused the detainees’ families to lose hope.

Levinson said his family is encouraged by the Rouhani administration’s attempts at engaging with the United States — albeit not concerning his father’s status.

“We believe that, if the Iranian government had the will and motivation to locate my father and send him home, they most certainly could,” his prepared testimony reads, calling Iran’s engagement with the U.S. “ by far our best opportunity to bring my father home safely.”

Despite the fact that his case was historic in its severity — including a now-annulled death sentence — Amir Hekmati’s sister, Sarah, draws inspiration from the unprecedented communication occurring between the U.S. and Iran today.

“It is … the first time in decades that the United States and Iran are having conversations with each other instead of conversations with third parties,” she wrote in her prepared testimony. “Now is the time that this issue could and should be resolved.”

Naghmeh Abedini, whose husband was imprisoned for participating in a Bible study and whose release is allegedly contingent on his conversion to Islam, said she and her family are relying on their Christian faith to get them through.

“I know that God is with us in this journey, but I also know that God can use men and women to bring about freedom and justice,” her prepared testimony reads.

Jason Rezaian’s brother, Ali, said he appreciated the help from Washington Post staff and the Obama administration on his brother’s behalf, but still expressed concerns about his brother’s health and the conditions of his imprisonment. He noted that their mother was absent from the hearing because she is in Tehran trying to monitor Jason’s espionage trial, which began last week.

“Let me be very clear: The charges against Jason are false,” he said. “With the help of this committee, and others from around the world, I believe Uncle Jason and [Rezaian’s 7-year-old son] Paxton can still see an A’s game in Oakland together this summer.”


Mikulski to Attorney General Lynch: ‘Restore that trust’ between police, communities

By Jennifer-Leigh Oprihory

WASHINGTON – Attorney General Loretta Lynch said Thursday that improving police-community relations is important in the wake of incidents in Baltimore, Ferguson, Missouri and elsewhere, but the Justice Department’s primary goal is to protect Americans from terrorists and other national security threats.

“Our most important objective must continue to be protecting the American people from terrorism and other threats to our national security,” she said.

The hearing marked Lynch’s first testimony on the Hill since her April 23 confirmation as Eric Holder’s replacement at the Department of Justice. A few days earlier, she had visited Baltimore in the wake of uprisings stemming from the April 19 death of Freddie Gray in Baltimore Police Department custody. Six officers have been charged. The Justice Department has launched an investigation of the Baltimore Police Department at the request of the city’s mayor.

Lynch identified improving police-community relations as one of her chief priorities in her new post, alongside “safeguarding our national security” and “defending the most vulnerable among us.”

Maryland Democratic Senator Barbara Mikulski, a Baltimore native, urged Lynch to help bridge the gap between police departments and wary communities during a Thursday hearing by the Senate Appropriations Committee’s Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies.

“In many cities throughout the country, and including my own town of Baltimore, and in communities primarily that have significant populations of color, there has been now a tired, worn and even broken trust between the community and the police department,” Mikulski told Lynch during the hearing. “We’ve got to restore that trust.”

Mikulski suggested ethical training courses on the use of force and bias based on race and ethnicity should be mandatory for Department of Justice grant funding of local police departments.

Lynch started off her testimony by aligning herself with law enforcement officers, remembering two who lost their lives on the job in the past week (in New York and Idaho, respectively) and calling for increased sympathy for cops.

“At this particular time in history, it’s important that we take a moment to consider the contributions and the needs of our law enforcement officers across the country,” she said.

But she also said police must be held accountable for their actions.

“When there are allegations of wrongdoing made against individual officers and police departments, the Department of Justice has a responsibility to examine the evidence and, if necessary, to help them implement change,” Lynch said.

Her testimony touched on her visit to Baltimore last week, citing meetings with local authorities and community leaders to brainstorm opportunities for collaboration, and expressing cautious optimism about Baltimore’s police reform efforts thus far.

“Although the city has made significant strides in their collaborative reform efforts with the community oriented policing services office, I have not ruled out the possibility that more may need to be done,” she said.

Mikulski, who serves as vice chairwoman for both the Senate Appropriations Committee and its Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies, also asked Lynch to revisit “the so-called broken window policy” when it comes to policing.

As explained by Mikulski, the theory behind the policy promotes the prevention of major crime through early intervention with youth when they commit lower-scale infractions. But she said that parts of the policy, such as combating issues of truancy and an excess of vacant homes, are being overlooked, resulting in a broken process.

“Now, what seems to happen is the policy has deteriorated where we’ve stopped fixing the broken window and we’ve escalated to frisking,” Mikulski said. “No more fixing, but lots of frisking, and that’s what our folks feel.”

Watch Lynch’s full testimony before the CJS Subcommittee here:

(Video via the CJS Subcommittee website)

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story erroneously stated that, at press time, six police officers had been indicted — rather than charged — in connection with Freddie Gray’s death.

#NatSecSoundoff: GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham tells ‘Meet the Press’ that he’s never sent an email

By Jennifer-Leigh Oprihory

Military gear caches at the local level

By SB Anderson

New York Times today published a great interactive resource for finding out how militarized your local police departments have become, courtesy of Washington. http://nyti.ms/1t2BM79

NYT military gear interactive map

Click for interactive map showing surplus military gear local departments have gotten from Washington.

UPDATED 8/18 MuckRock.com has handy links to state totals for 1033 distribution, by item type, from 2011 thorough March 2013. While the data doesn’t break down by department level, that MuckRock post has a link to a spreadsheet that shows agencies in your state (although not what they received). MuckRock said it has filed a FOIA request for expanded data.

And the Washington Post’s Wonkblog has some interesting tables, including state breakdowns on value of the surplus property by sworn officer. Alabama is No. 1, at $10,000 per officer, compared to Hawaii, in last place, at $161.

FROM THE ARCHIVES: Homeland security grants at work protecting pumpkin festivals, Easter egg hunts and spring training games.

And finally, John Oliver’s take last night on police militarization.

TSA gun confiscations up 21% in first four months of year

By SB Anderson

TSA confiscations Jan 1 to May 1

The number of handguns confiscated at the nation’s airport security checkpoints was up 21% through May 1 compared to a year ago — and 45% compared to 2012, a National Security Zone analysis of Transportation Security Administration data it maintains shows.

Also trending up in the first part of the year: The percentage of guns that were loaded and that had a bullet in the chamber when they were discovered in carry-ons or on the passenger. Some 85% of guns were loaded compared to 82% a year ago, and 30% had a bullet in the chamber, up from 25% in the first part of 2013.

For full story, see Medill National Security Zone.

Top airports, Jan. 1 to May 1 2014 vs. 2013

TSA top airports Jan1 to May1 2014 compared to 2013

SOURCE: National Security Zone analysis of data compiled from the TSA.

U.S. Law enforcement requests for Google user info up 31%; nearly half of all requests globally

By SB Anderson

U.S. law enforcement requests for data about Google users set a new record, data that Google released about the second half of the year yesterday showed.

Wielding subpoenas in 2 out of 3 cases, agencies asked 21,500 times — 59 times a day — for information about nearly 40,000 users and/or accounts. Unlike court orders and warrants, subpoenas are not necessarily issued by a court.

The number of requests was down slightly in the second half of the year (3%) and the number of users/accounts was down a bit more (16%). It is unclear whether the enormous publicity over monitoring of personal data after Edward Snowden released a plethora of explosive NSA documents in the Spring may have been a factor in the slight decline. The drop in the second half of 2013 as the first ever reported on a half-year basis since Google started releasing the data after the second half of 2009.

The data released on Thursday focused on requests that are unrelated to national security, i.e., involving the National Security Agency, FBI and secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. Aggregate data about those cases was released in February after the Obama administration slightly reduced restrictions on public release.

Google has been releasing the so-called “Transparency Reports” since 2009; some of its peers and competitors didn’t follow suit until the last year. The requests from law enforcement in some cases cover just information about an account holder or user, such as address; in other cases, authorities ask for actual content produced by the user (e.g., Gmail, YouTube, etc.). In 2013, at least some data was released in just over 4 in 5 cases.

The U.S. by far remained the leader in requests, accounting for 43% of all requests (up slightly over the first half), distantly followed by France, Germany and India in the second half of the year. The number of countries that made requests was up in the second half of the year, but about half were for 20 or fewer.

Requests by year and number of accounts affected

Broken down by first and second halves of years

Types of orders

For good measure, Google released this animated cartoon about how it deals with warrants.