Entries in Department of Homeland Security (32)


Report: Unsupervised TSA Agents Fail to Screen Bags for Bombs

Scott Olson/Getty Images(HONOLULU) -- Unsupervised TSA agents at an international airport repeatedly failed to screen bags for explosives before putting them on flights with hundreds of passengers, according to a new report from the Department of Homeland Security's Inspector General.

"Without ensuring that baggage is screened as appropriate, TSA risks the safety of the traveling public by allowing unscreened baggage on passenger aircraft," the report says.

The Inspector General's report, which focused on Hawaii's Honolulu International Airport, in part blamed the security failures on lack of supervision from TSA managers at security screening locations, something that DHS Acting Inspector General Charles Edwards said also could have contributed to hundreds of luggage thefts blamed on TSA screeners across the country, as detailed in a recent ABC News investigation.

"Theft and other misconduct by TSA employees has long been a key concern for the Office of Inspector General and our investigators have worked hard to bring individual wrongdoers to justice," Edwards said in a statement to ABC News. "Our audit revealed a lack of effective and consistent supervision of TSA screeners by their managers, as well as inconsistent adherence to operating procedures. These are conditions that can contribute to criminal activity, including the theft of airline passengers' valuables."

The IG's report, released Tuesday, says that for some months in late 2010, some TSA workers at Honolulu International Airport cleared luggage for transport without first properly screening it for dangerous materials in the airport's well-traveled overseas terminal.

"Among other things," the report says, "evidence shows [TSA screeners] opening bags, placing notices of inspection inside, and transporting them back to the airline without screening them."

The report comes two weeks after an ABC News investigation revealed that 381 TSA agents have been fired since the agency's founding a decade ago for allegedly stealing from passengers. As part of the investigation, ABC News tracked an iPad that was purposefully left behind at an airport security checkpoint to the home of a TSA agent, who was later fired for the alleged theft.

Another former TSA employee, Pythias Brown, served three years in prison for theft and said he stole approximately $800,000 worth of cash and merchandise from travelers before he was caught.

"It was very commonplace, very," Brown told ABC News. "It was very convenient to steal… [TSA agents] didn't think it was okay, but they did it and said, 'I don't care. They ain't paying me. They're treating me wrong.' But when people started seeing they could profit off of it, then it became massive."

The agency disputes that theft is a widespread problem, however, saying the number of officers fired "represents less than one-half of one percent of officers that have been employed" by TSA.

The IG's report said its review was done after the TSA was tipped off to the failed security procedures by a "confidential source." The TSA launched their own investigation into the incident and "took personnel actions" against employees who allegedly acted improperly.

After its review, the IG gave the TSA four recommendations, all of which the Inspector General said the TSA agreed to implement to enhance security checks and screener supervision. But the TSA took issue with the IG's conclusion that the failures would not have occurred if some of the recommendations had already been in place, saying that it wasn't any procedures that made the screeners decide to circumvent protocols.

The report also said the TSA claimed Honolulu was the only travel hub where procedures were not followed, but the IG said the agency "did not provide evidence to support this assertion, nor did it demonstrate it reviewed all airports."

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Audit Finds Problems with DHS Drone Program Management

JOEL SAGET/AFP/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) does not have an adequate plan for running the fleet of drones the agency uses on the southern and northern borders, according to a report by the Department of Homeland Security’s Inspector General.

The agency, which includes the Border Patrol, has been using unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) since 2004 to patrol remote areas of the border.

The review by the Inspector General’s office found that CBP’s Office of Air and Marine, which operates the nine unarmed Predator drones, did not effectively manage the resources they have, according to the report released Monday.  Each unarmed Predator system costs about $18 million.

“CBP procured unmanned aircraft before implementing adequate plans to do the following: Achieve the desired level of operation; Acquire sufficient funding to provide necessary operations, maintenance, and equipment; and Coordinate and support stakeholder needs,” the report said.

The drones are used for a wide array of border enforcement operations, including looking for drug tunnels and interdicting suspected drug smuggling boats, and have also been used for reconnaissance after natural disasters such as floods. Although the program provides unique capabilities to CBP, the program needs better oversight, the review found.

“CBP had not adequately planned resources needed to support its current unmanned aircraft inventory. Although CBP developed plans to use the unmanned aircraft’s capabilities in its Office of Air and Marine mission, its Concept of Operations planning document did not adequately address processes,” the review said.

The audit found that lack of qualified staff and other factors reduced the number of hours CBP was actually able to fly the drones, which the Inspector General noted should have been about 10,600 hours to meet minimum mission requirements.

“Resource shortfalls of qualified staff and equipment coupled with restrictions imposed by the Federal Aviation Administration, weather, host airfields, and others have resulted in CBP scheduling just 7,336 flight hours for its seven unmanned aircraft and limited actual flight hours to 3,909 hours,” the report noted.

“CBP has not adequately planned to fund unmanned aircraft-related equipment. The procurement funding category includes aircraft and related equipment, such as ground control stations, ground support equipment, cameras, and navigation systems,” the report said. “This approach has resulted in insufficient equipment to perform UAS missions.”

“CBP does not have an adequate number of ground control stations to ensure safe operations,” the report said, on the finding that only 3 of 4 bases where the Predators fly from, National Air Security Operations Centers, did not have a mobile backup ground control station as required. The review by the Inspector General said only one of the operations centers had a waiver to operate without the mobile ground station.

“Unfortunately, this report clearly shows that CBP is not managing its unmanned aircraft program effectively. The agency is spending money without adequate or proper planning, resulting in expensive aircraft spending most of the time idle on the ground,” said Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., the ranking member of the House Homeland Security Committee.

The inspector general has recommended that no additional Predators be purchased until reforms can be implemented.

In a letter in response to the IG’s findings, CBP said they concurred with four recommendations made by the inspector general to improve the program.

“CBP’s Unmanned Aircraft System program provides command, control, communication, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance capability to support personnel and capabilities on the ground.  CBP concurred with the recommendations in the Inspector General’s report and is committed to continuing to improve the UAS program,” CBP spokesman Michael Friel said.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


DHS: Hackers Mounting Organized Cyber Attack on US Gas Pipelines

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- For the past six months, an unidentified group of hackers has been mounting an ongoing, coordinated cyber attack on the control systems of U.S. gas pipelines, prompting the Department of Homeland Security to issue alerts.

According to U.S. officials, it's unclear if a foreign power is trying to map the gas systems or if hackers are attempting to harm the pipelines. A previous attack on the oil and gas sector seemed to originate in China.

The hackers are using a technique called "spear-phishing," according to the DHS, in hopes of stealing passwords and gaining access to the pipelines' control systems. Spear-phishers send targeted emails to specific individuals that seem to come from friends or associates, and when opened, attachments or links in the emails release malware into the victim's computer.

"Various sources provided information to the Industrial Control Systems Cyber Emergency Response Team," stated the DHS in a recent newsletter, "describing targeted attempts and intrusions into multiple natural gas pipeline sector organizations. Analysis of the malware and artifacts associated with these cyber attacks has positively identified this activity as related to a single campaign with spear-phishing activity dating back to as early as December 2011."

According to the DHS, the spear-phishers, who were first detected in March, have targeted a small, select group of employees at U.S. gas companies.

DHS officials and a spokesman have acknowledged they are working with the FBI to find out who may be behind the intrusions and malicious emails.

"The cyber intrusion involves sophisticated spear-phishing activities targeting personnel within the private companies," DHS spokesman Peter Boogaard said in a statement. "DHS is coordinating with the FBI and appropriate federal agencies, and DHS's Industrial Control Systems Cyber Emergency Response Team (ICS-CERT) is working with affected organizations to prepare mitigation plans customized to their current network and security configurations to detect, mitigate and prevent such threats."

Boogaard said ICS-CERT has been working with "critical infrastructure owners" in the oil and gas industry since March 2012 to combat the cyber attacks. According to Homeland Security officials, in recent weeks ICS-CERT has held several classified briefings with oil and gas sector companies and organizations to share information about the intrusions.

The oil and gas sector has been targeted before. In February 2011 the computer security firm McAfee discovered a computer intrusion labeled "Night Dragon" that was traced to China. As part of that attack, individuals tried to obtain sensitive data and financial documents from the oil and gas companies about bids and future drilling exploration projects.

The FBI declined to comment on the case when contacted by ABC News.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


FBI Warns of Homegrown Violence After Afghan Massacre

Mamoon Durrani/AFP/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Federal authorities have issued a warning there could be "acts of violence" in the United States sparked by the recent massacre of 16 civilians in Afghanistan allegedly by an American soldier.

"The FBI and DHS [Department of Homeland Security] are concerned that this event could contribute to the radicalization or mobilization of homegrown violent extremists [HVEs] in the homeland, particularly against U.S.-based military targets which HVEs have historically considered legitimate targets for retaliation in response to past alleged U.S. military actions against civilians overseas," the FBI and DHS said in a joint "awareness bulletin" to law enforcement agencies on Wednesday.

The bulletin noted that there is no specific threat at this time and said it is "unlikely" the recent killings and other "high-profile perceived offenses against Islam" would motivate any homeland extremist to violent action.  "However," the bulletin says, "[the killings] will likely be incorporated into violent extremist propaganda and could contribute to an individual's radicalization to violence."

High level federal officials have repeatedly warned that one of the greatest threats facing the American homeland comes from self-radicalized, homegrown terrorists who may be inspired by -- but have little to no contact with -- major terrorist groups.

In December, a Congressional report released by the staff of Rep. Peter King, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, said such homegrown terrorists were a "severe and emerging threat" to the U.S. military at home and said military communities in the U.S. "have recently become the most sought-after targets of violent Islamist extremists seeking to kill Americans in their homeland."

Tensions at home and abroad have been strained since an American soldier was accused of systematically murdering 16 Afghan civilians -- mostly women and children -- in the middle of the night Sunday, apparently in an unprovoked attack in Kandahar.

The soldier, identified only as a staff sergeant hailing from Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington state, surrendered when he returned to his base in Afghanistan and has since been moved to Kuwait.

The killings have sparked several heated protests in Afghanistan during which Afghans burned an effigy of President Obama as well as the cross.

Speaking of the alleged killing spree, Obama said Tuesday, "The United States takes this as seriously as if it were our own citizens and our own children who were murdered."

"The killing of innocent civilians is outrageous and it's unacceptable. It's not who we are as a country and it does not represent our military," he said. 

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


DHS Creates Accounts Solely to Monitor Social Networks

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- An online privacy group is suing the U.S. Department of Homeland Security accusing it of not releasing records from the agency's covert surveillance of Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites.

The DHS creates accounts solely to monitor social media sites and establish a system of records of the information gathered. The agency does not post information, seek to connect with other users, accept invitations to connect or interact with others according to a statement on their website.

The agency scans social media sites for a list of words that include "dirty bomb," "hostage," "exercise," "task force," "explosion," "lockdown," "riot," "nuclear threat," "brown out," "meth lab," "cain and abel" and "brute forcing."

Several countries and cities, including North Korea and Mexico, are also flagged as key words.

In a statement, the DHS said that the National Operations Center (NOC) "will gather, store, analyze, and disseminate relevant and appropriate de-identified information to federal, state, local, and foreign governments, and private sector partners authorized to receive situational awareness and a common operating picture," said the statement.

In April 2011, the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) requested records from the DHS of the agency's social network monitoring program. The agency has an obligation to locate the records and notify the requestor if the records are available for release.

Marc Rotenberg, EPIC's executive director, told ABC News that the requests have gone unanswered.

On Dec. 20, EPIC filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit against the DHS.

"We want to know how they're collecting information online, what they're collecting online and if there's legal basis to do this," Rotenberg told ABC News.

"We are trying to understand what the circumstances are when the DHS is engaged in tracking to social media sites," Rotenberg added.

The DHS declined to comment on the issue.

Former FBI agent and ABC News consultant Brad Garrett said this initiative is nothing new.

"One of the biggest overlooked areas of the federal government when it comes to crime and terrorism is diligently searching public source information," said Garrett.

Garrett said the DHS can see online information that's not available to the public as long as they have legal authority, in the form of a search warrant, to do so. But often people leave private information open to the public.

"People today are very open about their thoughts and feelings on a number of different topics. It amazes me the amount of information people will write about themselves online. There's a false security about the anonymity of sitting in front of a computer screen and saying things you wouldn't say in public or in front of your parents or your spouse," said Garrett.

Garrett said the DHS should be monitoring social media sites.

"It's one of those things that the government should be doing as long as they're obeying the law. I can't tell you how many bad guys have been caught because they do something bad and then post about it online," Garrett said.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


National Emergency Alert Test: Total Failure?

Stockbyte/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- The Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Communications Commission held its first nationwide test of the Emergency Alert System Wednesday at 2 p.m. ET.

While many viewers and listeners experienced the test without a hitch, as soon as 2 p.m. hit there were reports of problems in cities across the country. Some people never saw an alert, others said the audio was distorted and there were even claims that Lady Gaga’s song “Paparazzi” was playing instead of the correct audio.

The alert was supposed to run for about 30 seconds. However, for many stations it lasted much longer.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency released a statement saying data from the test was being collected.

“Only through comprehensively testing, analyzing, and improving these technologies can we ensure an effective and reliable national emergency alert and warning system,” the statement said. “We … look forward to working with all our stakeholders to improve this current technology and build a robust, resilient, and fully accessible next generation alerting system that can provide timely and accurate alerts to the American people.”

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


9/11 Threat Still Under Investigation But Aspects ‘Eliminated’

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Officials from multiple agencies tell ABC News that after six days of the U.S. government pushing its law enforcement and intelligence agencies to full tilt, no significant evidence has turned up to confirm the recent terror threat allegedly aimed at Washington, D.C. and New York.

While some officials remain concerned about the rest of this week in particular, a number of sources say they are almost ready to exhale a little.

“We are getting close to a sigh of relief,” one official said.

Despite the threat information not being confirmed at this time, FBI Director Robert Mueller and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said on Tuesday that the threat was still ongoing.

“The threat has not been resolved and until it is resolved it is an outstanding threat that we are following up on.  Even though Sept. 11 has now passed, we do not believe that that necessarily means we should back down,”  Mueller told the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee.

“[The FBI], Department of Homeland Security, NCTC [The National Counterterrorism Center], the intelligence agencies are pursuing that as heavily as we have over the last several days and will continue to do so until it’s resolved,” Mueller said.

“We consider it an ongoing threat and we continue to lean forward into confirming that threat,” Napolitano said.

Last week, the DHS and FBI issued a joint bulletin based on threat information from a credible source that there was an ongoing plot to detonate vehicle-born bombs in New York City or Washington, D.C.  The threat prompted a massive police show of force in the cities and sent the intelligence community into a race to try and run the threat information to ground.

Mueller told the Senate Committee Tuesday some actions the FBI has taken: “Since we first had word of that threat we have conducted hundreds of interviews.  We have been pursuing a number of leads and consequently there.  As a result of that, we’ve been now able to eliminate some aspects where we thought that we ought to be looking in order to determine whether it was indeed a valid threat.  But there’s still work to be done.”

Matthew Olsen, the recently confirmed director of the National Counterterrorism Center told the Senate panel, “We’re not prepared to say that it’s been resolved and will continue to work to analyze it and share information about it.”

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Napolitano: Revised Pat-Down Policy for Kids Is Months Away 

Kevin Moloney/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Testifying before the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee, Defense Secretary Janet Napolitano said Tuesday that the TSA would begin enforcing a revised pat-down procedure for children under the age of 12.

She said that soon, DHS would begin a more “risked based” approach to passenger screening.

According to Napolitano, although there will still be some random checks, even for children under the age of 12, there will also be certain changes recognized by the general public in the months to come.

At the hearing, Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., had expressed personal displeasure with some examples of TSA screening. He pointed to an instance in which an eight-year-old girl had to be patted down due instructions relating to a child suicide bomber in Kandahar.  He stressed the importance of putting “some sense” into the security procedures.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


9/11 Anniversary Terror Plot? Feds Question, Clear 300 People

Somodevilla/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- The FBI has questioned and cleared some 300 people since Friday and still no hard evidence has emerged to corroborate early alarms of a potential Sept. 11 anniversary terror attack, U.S. officials told ABC News, leaving potentially deadly questions unanswered and security still on high alert.

Last week, intelligence emerged from what several officials called a single "credible" source that there was an ongoing plot to launch a vehicle-born bomb attack on New York City or Washington, D.C., prompting a federal bulletin to law enforcement, public announcements by top U.S. officials and a nationwide manhunt for three men.  Since the alarm was first raised, the CIA, FBI and a number of federal and local agencies have been unable to find any evidence to back up the original information.

And though none of the men have been found, the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks passed relatively without incident on Sunday.  Federal and local law enforcement officials said that at least for a while, they won't be backing off the heavy, high-profile security that surrounded the anniversary.

According to former White House counter-terrorism advisor and ABC News consultant Richard Clarke, the business of pulling back on the massive security effort without a resolution to the bomb plot could be tricky business.

"They have to unwind the heavy security very slowly and in gradual steps -- make it appear that some of the heavy security has gone away while actually keeping a lot of surveillance the public won't see," Clarke said.

In New York, police officials said they would maintain the tough security at least through Monday morning.

"The threat for me is fundamentally the same.  It hasn't changed.  We don't have really additional information to add," NYPD Commissioner Raymond Kelly told ABC News' New York affiliate WABC-TV on Sunday, referring to the alleged bomb plot.  "But there's no reason to lessen our alert status."

The FBI will continue its expanded security effort through the day and perhaps as long as it takes to investigate the alleged bomb plot, law enforcement officials told ABC News.  The Department of Homeland Security is following suit, maintaining additional security at major transportation hubs and federal buildings.

In addition to the FBI interviews, a public alert about the potential plot also drew hundreds of citizen reports about suspicious packages and individuals.

In two separate instances on the 9/11 anniversary, fighter jets were scrambled to escort passenger planes after passengers on the flights allegedly acted "suspiciously."  But in both cases, the suspicious activity turned out to be non-terror-related -- one case of frequent bathroom trips, another of a couple "making out" in the lavatory, federal officials said Sunday.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Fevered Hunt for Potential Plotters Continues on 9/11 Anniversary

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- On the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2011, terror attacks, the U.S. intelligence and law enforcement apparatus continued a feverish, around-the-clock effort to find evidence to corroborate an unfolding terror plot.

By late Saturday, none was in hand.  However, the picture authorities were working from had been fleshed out substantially since the intelligence from Afghanistan arrived Wednesday.

Authorities now believe, like several self-radicalized American jihadists before them, that the Sept. 11 anniversary plotters journey to jihad began in the U.S., took them to the Afghanistan-Pakistan region in July and had them, according to the CIA informant whose information is the hard bottom of the case, return to the U.S. on Aug. 31 or Sept. 1 to carry out an anniversary bomb plot.

So far, no new intelligence has come in to support or discount the informant's account coming in from overseas.  The process of elimination has been a grueling one for analysts and law officers working around the clock.

Since last Thursday, authorities have feverishly scrubbed communications and travel manifests using a series of computer search formulas to reduce the pool of possible candidates for investigation from several hundred names to a much narrower group, according to law enforcement and intelligence sources.

Now the FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF) has fanned out its resources -- which include those of numerous other agencies -- across the country to find, interview and eliminate people from the pool of potential suspects.

Here is how that process works according to authoritative sources who spoke to ABC News' Pierre Thomas:

The pool of names was culled from hundreds of men who flew into the U.S. from south Asia in August.  That list was developed by running names through all terror watchlists and intelligence files available to the U.S. government.

In sifting and narrowing the names, authorities also used a formula that included the ages of potential cell members -- the informant said they would be in their 30s or 40s -- date of travel, and multiple travel routes to and from the Afghan-Pakistan region.  From among that group, multiple authorities have told ABC News that two identities are of particular interest and appear possible members of the plot.

But whether the credible information that there is a plot is ultimately proven or disproved depends on whether an informant's information, gleaned secondhand from conversation in a house in Afghanistan, can be verified.

The specific travel time frame information comes from the same CIA informant who said three people were dispatched by al Qaeda to carry out a bomb plot in either New York or Washington.

Despite the secondhand nature of the source, the high quality of the information led authorities to deem the threat credible, if uncorroborated, and triggered the massive rapid police response in Washington and New York, and the all-hands intelligence community and law enforcement manhunt.

"What's striking about this particular information is its clarity," a senior official told ABC News.  "Usually intelligence comes in bits and pieces and officials have to connect dots.  Here, I'm told, there were no dots to connect, there was so much detail in one place at one time.  It was all laid out.  If it's a plot it is well-planned and there's an intention to go forward with it.  If it turns out not to be real then it's definitely not.  There is no middle ground."

As Americans begin to remember the 9/11 anniversary on Sunday, officials say they have no choice but to act as if the threat is real and the clock is ticking.

"Al Qaeda again is seeking to harm Americans and in particular to target New York and Washington," said Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in New York Friday.  "We are taking this threat seriously.  Federal, state and local authorities are taking all steps to address it."

Police and federal agents have run down stolen vehicles, stopped suspicious trucks, issued "Be On The Look Out's" (BOLOs) for persons suspected of harboring animosity that could be directed at ground zero or the president, on top of continuing the hunt for terror plotters.

The BOLOs were sent for subjects including a 2003 Afghanistan veteran believed armed with handgun and believed to have crossed the George Washington Bridge Saturday morning heading from New Jersey to New York.

That man, missing since Tuesday from his job, had been located in New Jersey by authorities a day earlier, and was the subject of a JTTF BOLO when his EZPass alerted police he had crossed the bridge.

Authorities have also investigated a stolen van on Long Island, a missing rental van near New York, possible stolen vans in Maryland, wiring boxes on bridges, packages and bags left in boroughs outside of Manhattan, airport security breaches at John F. Kennedy International Airport and suspicious packages at Dulles International Airport -- all seen since Friday night and all given extra scrutiny.

In the midst of the scramble Saturday, a Department of Homeland Security analyst sent out a bulletin that multiple sources in law enforcement say erroneously linked a man to the alleged anniversary plot.  That document was rapidly pulled back, but the JTTF in North Carolina continued to be besieged by calls.

"We found out it came from an overzealous DHS analyst.  Charlotte does have a case on him but he is not one of the three.  DHS is going to get spanked.  Charlotte is getting inundated with calls," one official told ABC News.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

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