Category Archives: Homeland security

Could sequestration endanger bioscience lab?

A New York Times article on the political realities of the federal government’s automatic spending cuts indicated that the planned National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility in Manhattan could be jeopardized. “The $1 billion project’s first big infusion, $404 million, will happen only if sequestration can be undone,” the article said, noting that this could put political pressure on Kansas Sens. Pat Roberts and Jerry Moran.

Roberts thinks NSA program is needed

Though he doesn’t like the press coverage of the National Security Agency’s surveillance program, or how President Obama has handled the leaks, Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., thinks the program is needed. “The Constitution is not a suicide pact,” Roberts said at a Rotary Club meeting Monday in Salina. “The danger is still out there.” Roberts, who previously served as chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said he gives “the benefit of the doubt to the NSA,” but he acknowledged that “this has been a public-relations nightmare.”

Don’t surrender civil liberties

What is most troubling about the NSA’s data-collection program “is that Americans are not particularly troubled by any of it,” columnist Leonard Pitts wrote. “According to a new poll by the Pew Research Center and the Washington Post, most of us – 56 percent – are OK with the monitoring of metadata, a process then-Sen. Joe Biden called ‘very, very intrusive’ back in 2006.”

Moore tornado a warning not to build NBAF in Kansas?

The long-awaited groundbreaking occurred last week in Manhattan for the first phase of the $1.2 billion National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility, which will be a big win for the state and national security. But a commentary in the San Antonio Express-News warned about the “folly of building a federal research lab handling the most dangerous pathogens on Earth in the heart of Tornado Alley,” calling the choice of Manhattan a case of “politics trumping safety.” John Kerr, who had chaired the effort to try to lure the lab to San Antonio, concluded: “Proponents of the Kansas site blandly insist that the NBAF has been redesigned to withstand a tornado. The images of destruction from Oklahoma suggest that unless the entire 500,000-square-foot facility is built underground, at a cost running into the billions, it could not withstand even an EF-3 tornado. Building it in Kansas is the equivalent of playing Russian roulette with Mother Nature.” When such concerns were raised in 2009, Kansans noted the Texas county vying for NBAF historically registered more tornadoes than Kansas’ Riley County and that Texas led the nation in tornadoes and came in second for hurricanes.

Kansas’ bad ranking for preparedness unfair, officials say

State officials are objecting to a national report that ranked Kansas and Montana as the worst-prepared states in the nation for public health emergencies, terrorism incidents and natural disasters. The “Ready or Not?” report by the nonprofit group Trust for America’s Health said that Kansas meets only 3 of 10 readiness criteria, and it blamed the low ranking in part on funding cuts in state and local public health programs, insufficient staffing at the state’s public health laboratory, and the state’s inability to meet preparedness standards set by the Emergency Management Accreditation Program, the Kansas Health Institute News Service reported. Gov. Sam Brownback complained that the report “does not provide an accurate and thorough picture of the state’s readiness.” Robert Moser, secretary of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, faulted the changing indicators used in the ranking and its all-or-nothing scoring system. “No matter the score, the report presents a skewed view of public health readiness, draws inaccurate conclusions and in no way indicates the actual preparedness level in Kansas,” Moser said in the statement.

Thank you, veterans

Last week’s election was made possible by the courage and sacrifice of America’s veterans. On this Veterans Day and every day, they deserve our gratitude and praise. In a commentary in the Opinion pages of the Sunday Eagle, Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., notes with alarm that more veterans have died by suicide since 2001 than have been killed serving in Afghanistan, and that this year the Army is averaging one suicide per day. “No less concerning is the amount of time it takes for veterans to begin receiving the benefits they were promised for their service – from disability compensation and pension benefits to education benefits and health appointments,” Moran writes, restating his commitment to use his seat on the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee to help them.

Too much access to anthrax?

In the wake of the suicide of anthrax suspect Bruce E. Ivins, some critics argue that the government’s response to the anthrax mailings of 2001 was counterproductive: Previously, Ivins was one of only a few dozen military researchers with access to high-grade strains of anthrax.

After Sept. 11 and the anthrax attacks, the Bush administration greatly increased bioterror funding as well as the number of workers and labs with access to deadly biopathogens — hundreds of people now work with these once tightly restricted substances.

The move arguably increases the chances that another twisted individual will carry out a plot from within, and makes it much more difficult to narrow the list of suspects.

“We are putting America at more risk, not less risk,” said Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Mich., chairman of a House panel looking into safety lapses at bioresearch labs.

Stop delaying on Gitmo cases

gitmoA federal judge overseeing Guantanamo Bay lawsuits said this week that after nearly seven years of detention, the detainees must have their day in court, Associated Press reported.
“The time has come to move these forward,” said Judge Thomas F. Hogan. He ordered the Justice Department to “set aside every other case that’s pending in the division and address this case first.”

Gates wants to get on with tankers

gatesrobertRep. Todd Tiahrt, R-Goddard, doesn’t appear to be making much progress in persuading Defense Secretary Robert Gates, a native Wichitan, that the Air Force tanker contract needs a pro-Boeing do-over. “All I can say is that I think it would be a real shame if the tanker were to get delayed yet again,” Gates said Monday in Alabama, where the Northrop Grumman-EADS tankers would be assembled. “We’re long past due in terms of getting on with this program.”

Gates added that the Pentagon was required by law only to consider the technology, capability and costs of the bids. “I think that some things unrelated to what the law says we can consider are being thrown into the mix, at least on Capitol Hill . . . and that’s a concern,” Gates said.

Where’s outrage about torture memo?

waterboarding“In another era, a memo declassified just the other day would have been accounted a ‘smoking gun,’ and the nation would have been abuzz with speculation about whose heads would roll and how far. Nowadays? Ho-hum,” columnist Tom Teepen wrote about the Bush torture memo.
The 2003 memo by John Yoo, then a deputy in the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, claimed that contrary laws could not bar the president from authorizing the abuse of detainees. Another memo by Yoo the previous year narrowed the definition of torture to acts that caused major organ failure or equivalent injury. The torture memo helped “drag the nation into international disrepute as a torturing power answerable neither to international law, treaty commitments nor even its own laws and Constitution,” Teepen wrote. Yet will anyone be held accountable?

Boarding plane should not involve pliers, pain

pliersPost-Sept. 11 airport security remains a work in progress, but this is ridiculous: Before a woman could board a February flight out of Lubbock, Texas, she had to remove her nipple jewelry, which required pliers. At least the Transportation Security Administration already has decided to change its procedures, which apparently were followed in this case, to give passengers the option to remove their piercings or be visually inspected. “TSA acknowledges that our procedures caused difficulty for the passenger involved and regrets the situation in which she found herself,” the agency said in a statement.

Boeing virtual border fence a boondoggle

bordervirtualfence.jpgThe rush to build a “virtual fence” along the U.S.-Mexico border has become a boondoggle. Big surprise. The Bush administration is having to scale back and scrap some its plans after its test phase of the project hasn’t worked as planned, the Washington Post reported. The Boeing Co. was paid $20.6 million for a 28-mile pilot project, but it has been beset with problems. Among them: Boeing used inappropriate software — which the government has paid Boeing an additional $65 million to replace — and rain and other environmental factors trigger the radar systems. As a result, we’re going to spend millions more on the project, and its first phase likely won’t be deployed until 2011 instead of 2008, as planned. But will it even work then?

What the Sept. 11 report left out

sept11reportA new book, “The Commission: The Uncensored History of the 9/11 Investigation,” by New York Times reporter Philip Shenon, sets out to reveal what the official Sept. 11 commission report left out: evidence of incompetence at the highest levels of government.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice comes in for harsh criticism. “Whatever her job title, Rice seemed uninterested in actually advising the president,” Shenon writes. “Instead, she wanted to be his closest confidante — specifically on foreign policy — and to simply translate his words into action.”

And New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani got kid-gloves treatment from the commission because of his hero status despite evidence that he failed to prepare New York for a terrorist attack.

Videotapes to prove CIA innocence also showed guilt

Videocamera How ironic — and possibly illegal. The CIA initially videotaped all its interactions with an injured top al-Qaida operative because it was concerned that he might die while in custody and the CIA wanted to be able to prove that it didn’t kill him, the New York Times reported. But after the CIA starting using waterboarding and other torture techniques on the operative, it wanted to destroy the tapes to avoid a scandal and possible legal proceedings. By destroying the tapes, the CIA is now facing just that, as Attorney General Michael Mukasey wisely has ordered a criminal probe into possible obstruction of justice.

Waterboarding hurts our national security

Waterboarding Not only is waterboarding torturous to detainees and not an effective method of gathering reliable intelligence, it is corrosive to United States foreign policy and national security, as it is making other countries less likely to support us in future endeavors.
International polls show that it already has had an effect on some of our biggest allies. In Germany, 85 percent of the population think we are violating international law; in Great Britain, 65 percent think the same way.
With as many international missteps as we’ve had over the past few years, we could stand to keep a few friends.
Posted by Kristin Mehler

Wrongly suspected of terrorism

A Hutchinson News interview with former Halstead resident Brandon Mayfield is a sobering depiction of what it was like to be wrongly suspected and detained by the FBI after the Madrid train bombings in 2004.
“To feel certain someone is following and listening to you, and breaking into your home but not announcing they’re there is pretty unsettling. It hurt me to know this is the kind of country I’m living in,” Mayfield said.
Of his recent victory in federal court in his challenge of the constitutionality of parts of the USA Patriot Act, Mayfield said, “I was euphoric. It was even sweeter than our settlement with the government on the underlying portion of the suit. I was happy to be a part of the whole process, to try to assert our constitutional rights. This was not just for me. This was for everyone.”
Posted by Rhonda Holman

Patriot Act ruling a victory for liberty, rule of law

Congratulations to Brandon Mayfield (in photo), who grew up in Halstead and Hutchinson, for his legal victory Wednesday. A federal judge ruled as unconstitutional two provisions of the USA Patriot Act that allowed the government to conduct surveillance and searches of American citizens without showing probable cause.
Mayfield, now an attorney in Portland, Ore., was wrongly jailed in 2004 in connection with the Madrid train bombings. He received an apology and $2 million settlement from the government last November. Wednesday’s ruling was the result of a second lawsuit challenging the Patriot Act.
In making her ruling, U.S. District Judge Anne Aiken wisely noted: “For over 200 years, this nation has adhered to the rule of law — with unparalleled success. A shift to a nation based on extraconstitutional authority is prohibited, as well as ill advised.”
Posted by Phillip Brownlee

Leavenworth not rolling out welcome mat for terrorists

“I think I speak for a lot of people in town when I say that we don’t want hundreds of terrorists brought in here.”
— Donna Raymond, quoted in a Chicago Tribune article about how Leavenworth residents are uneasy about the prospect of detainees at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba being moved to the military prison at Fort Leavenworth
Posted by Phillip Brownlee

At least make Tenet return his medal of freedom

Former CIA Director George Tenet and several other top CIA officials should be held accountable for not taking stronger action against al-Qaida prior to Sept. 11, the CIA’s inspector general recommended in a report released Tuesday. The report, which the CIA tried to withhold, also faulted the agency for its lack of cooperation with the FBI. At least 50 CIA officers knew of intelligence reports in 2000 that two of the Sept. 11 hijackers might have been in the United States, but none notified the FBI.
The report didn’t conclude that there was “a single point of failure” or a “silver bullet” that would have allowed the CIA to prevent the Sept. 11 attacks, the New York Times reported. But it fault the CIA for mismanaging resources devoted to counterterrorism, and it said that Tenet and other named CIA officials “did not discharge their responsibilities in a satisfactory manner.”
Posted by Phillip Brownlee

A rush to pass new wiretapping law

It might be, as President Bush argued, that the new law giving spy agencies expanded wiretapping powers is needed to prevent another 9/11 attack. But in rushing through the legislation, Congress didn’t do justice to Fourth Amendment civil liberty concerns.
The law gives intelligence agencies greater authority to monitor foreign-to-foreign calls that happen to pass through U.S.-based call "switches." That seems appropriate. The grayer territory is how the law allows greater surveillance of Americans calling abroad.
Under the law, an American who is phoning or e-mailing someone in London or Paris, say, could have his communication monitored by authorities without a warrant, as long as they could reasonably claim that their target of surveillance was the person on the foreign end of the line.
What’s disconcerting is how this important change was rushed through (much like the Patriot Act) with a minimum of debate, and with many Democrats caving out of political fear of being blamed in the likely event of another terror attack.
At least Congress put the new law on a six-month timeline for renewal. These broad spying powers must be accompanied by strict oversight.
Posted by Randy Scholfield

So now we rely on gut checks?

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said this week he had a "gut feeling" that there was a higher threat of an al-Qaida terrorist attack in the United States this summer. But he also said he saw no need to raise the threat level.
Seems a bit sketchy, but maybe that’s because fully one-quarter of top Homeland Security positions are vacant, according to a House oversight committee, which warned that the vacancies made the United States much more vulnerable to attack.
Maybe Chertoff should consult his gut about the need for new hires.
Posted by Randy Scholfield

Cheney fingerprints all over wiretapping program

Big surprise: Vice President Dick Cheney was a key figure behind the administration’s warrantless wiretapping program, the Washington Post reported. Cheney met with Justice Department officials in March 2004 and told them that he disagreed with their legal objections to the program, according to congressional testimony submitted this week by former Deputy Attorney General James Comey. The next day, White House counsel Alberto Gonzales and Chief of Staff Andrew Card were dispatched to the hospital bed of Attorney General John Ashcroft to try to convince him to reauthorize the program; Ashcroft refused.
Comey said that eight Justice Department officials, including FBI Director Robert Mueller, were prepared to quit if the White House did not back down, which it eventually did. But he said that Cheney’s office later blocked the promotion of a senior Justice Department lawyer because he raised concerns about the program.
Posted by Phillip Brownlee

Even TB attorney could cross border

It doesn’t give you much confidence in our border security that tuberculosis patient Andrew Speaker was able to get into the United States. His passport had been flagged so that he would be detained and isolated at the border. But when Speaker and his fiancee flew into Montreal and drove across the border into New York, they were stopped for just two minutes and then allowed to pass through. The inspector who let him through was removed from duty, but our borders must have significant weaknesses if a person with flagged passport is allowed in.
Posted by Andie Clum

JFK plot may be overstated but still dangerous

Congratulations to law enforcement officials for arresting three suspects who were allegedly plotting to blow up fuel storage tanks and pipelines at Kennedy International Airport in New York City. Well done. But there is grumbling that the authorities overstated the scope and abilities of the alleged terrorists to make the arrests seems more significant. In announcing the charges, U.S. Attorney Roslynn Mauskopf described a plot that "could have resulted in unfathomable damage, deaths and destruction." But court filings portray the arrested men as not having much operational capability to actually carry out their scheme, the New York Times reported. Other experts also have dismissed the claim that the planned attack could have resulted in the catastrophic chain reaction, the Times reported. That said, one lesson of Sept. 11 is that law enforcement has to treat terrorism plots with deadly seriousness. Even small-time terrorist wannabes can do great harm.
Posted by Phillip Brownlee

Why not also sue the maker of the plane seats?

The American Civil Liberties Union is suing a Boeing subsidiary for supposedly aiding the CIA in torture activities. Jeppesen Dataplan allegedly helped the CIA transport terrorism suspects overseas where they were eventually tortured.
Representatives for Jeppesen said the company doesn’t provide actual flights, just flight services such as flight plans. They have not admitted to working with the CIA and said they do not make a practice of asking clients about the purpose of their trip.
But the ACLU said that companies “are not allowed to have their heads in the sand, and take money from the CIA to fly people, hooded and shackled, to foreign countries to be tortured.”
Posted by Andie Clum