Entries in security (50)


Obama Secret Service Agent Arrested in Iowa

Thinkstock/Getty Images(DECORAH, Iowa) -- A U.S. Secret Service agent assigned to President Obama’s security detail was arrested Aug. 13 in Decorah, Iowa, for driving under the influence, sources tell ABC News.   

Daniel L. Valencia, 40, was pulled over by a Decorah city police officer and later arrested after it appeared he had been drinking, said Chief Bill Nixon.  No accident occurred, and no one was injured.

Nixon said the agent was booked and later released.

Secret Service spokesman George Ogilvie confirmed the identity of the agent and said he was off-duty at the time of the incident, which will now be reviewed by the agency’s Office of Professional Responsibility.

Ogilvie said the agent remains employed, but would not comment further about his current status.

Obama visited Decorah on Monday, Aug. 15, as part of his three-day, three-state Midwest bus tour.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


TSA Full-Body Scanners: No More Naked Images

Scott Olson/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- The days of full-body scanners producing revealing images of travelers are numbered, the Transportation Security Administration announced in a statement on Wednesday.

Through a software update, the TSA is phasing out "passenger-specific images" in favor of a generic body outline.

Potential threats will be identified on the generic body outline. If a possible threat is found, passengers will go through an additional screening. Currently, the agency uses about 500 full-body scanners in 78 airports. They operate using two types of technology -- millimeter wave and backscatter.

The TSA says it will install the new software on 241 millimeter scanners at 40 airports in the coming months, and it anticipates testing software updates for backscatter machines in the fall. Currently, 38 airports use a total of 247 backscatter machines.

"[The] TSA constantly strives to explore and implement new technologies that enhance security and strengthen privacy protections for the traveling public," TSA Administrator John Pistole said in a statement. "This software upgrade enables us to continue providing a high level of security through advanced imaging technology screening, while improving the passenger experience at checkpoints."

Civil liberties groups and passenger rights organizations have long criticized the body scanners, saying that the machines invade the privacy of innocent travelers. They have also questioned the necessity, safety and reliability of the technology.

"It's a step in the right direction. However, our stance remains the same in that we feel that the TSA should immediately discontinue the use of these scanners," said Brandon Macsata, executive director of the Association for Airline Passenger Rights. "We feel that there are more beneficial ways, more cost-effective ways to improve and maintain security at airports."

The Key Changes:

  • Images will no longer need to be viewed by TSA agents in a remote location.
  • Passengers will see the same images that the TSA sees.
  • If no suspicious items are detected, "OK" appears on the monitor and no body outline is shown. If a suspicious item is detected the passenger undergoes a patdown, the same type of patdown that would be given if the passenger opted not to go through the scanner.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


TSA Moves to Reduce Screening for Some Passengers

Scott Olson/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- The agency that has come under criticism for patting down the elderly and infants, says it is ready to try a new approach for some passengers.

The Transportation Security Administration announced Thursday a pilot program which it says will move towards “risk-based, intelligence driven” security screening.

TSA Spokesman Greg Soule told ABC News that this pilot is an effort to “focus more on passengers we know less about, and not focus our resources as much on passengers who are less of a risk.  However, there will continue to be an element of randomness and unpredictability.”

The pilot program will begin this fall, initially with Delta Airlines at its hubs in Atlanta and Detroit, and with American Airlines at its hubs in Dallas and Miami.  The airlines, working with the TSA, have identified frequent flyers, passengers who “who have an extensive travel history”, according to Soule.

The airlines will be contacting these passengers to ask if they want to participate in the pilot program. Those who agree will have an indication on their boarding pass that they are part of this program. When they’re traveling, they’ll be directed to a special security lane for expedited screening.

The TSA, for security reasons, would not say what kind of screening these passengers might be able to forgo. It’s unclear, for example, whether these travelers would be able to leave on their shoes, leave laptops in their cases, and bring through their water bottles. Also, TSA has made it clear that there are no guarantees that the passengers won’t be subject to full screening.

In a statement, TSA Administrator John Pistole said “TSA will continue to incorporate random and unpredictable screening measures throughout the airport and no individual will be guaranteed expedited screening.”

Also eligible for the new program will those who are already in the Custom and Border Protection’s Trusted Traveler programs. Those asked to participate will be U.S. citizens.

TSA says it plans to expand the program to other airports, and other airlines, including United, Southwest, JetBlue, USAirways, Alaska and Hawaiian Airlines.

Pistole said, “These improvements will enable our officers to focus their efforts on higher risk areas.” Enhancing identity-based screening is another common sense step in the right direction as we continue to strengthen overall security, and improve the passenger experience whenever possible.”

Right now, the TSA makes virtually no distinctions between passengers being screened. Ever former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld yesterday got a pat down at Chicago’s O’Hare airport. Rumsfeld tweeted about it -- "It takes those of us with two titanium hips and a titanium shoulder a bit longer to get through TSA."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


$1 Billion Airport Security Program Has Yet to Catch a Terrorist

MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- The Department of Homeland Security plans to spend a total of $1 billion on a controversial airport security program that, despite being in use for at least seven years, has yet to nab a known terror suspect or thwart a potential attack.

The U.S. government has already spent approximately $750 million on the Screening of Passengers by Technique (SPOT) program, which in part trains airport security officers to look out for "micro-expressions" of travelers that may betray nefarious planning, and plans to add another $254 million to the program in 2012, according to a report published Wednesday by the Government Accountability Office's Director of Homeland Security and Justice Issues Stephen Lord. ABC News previously reported critics' concerns with the unproven science behind the SPOT program.

According to the GAO report, since DHS started collecting data in 2004, the SPOT program has led to hundreds of arrests of travelers suspected of immigration violations, drug possession, false documents and other offenses, but not a single one of the arrests was identified as terror-related. In fiscal year 2010, 50,000 people were singled out by the SPOT program, but only 300 eventually were arrested -- none on terror charges, the GAO said. A previous GAO report found that at least 17 known terrorists traveled through at least 23 U.S. airports in the SPOT program without being detected.

This year the DHS's Science and Technology Directorate completed a four-year study on SPOT and found that while it was better than random screening at spotting criminality, the directorate's study "was not designed to fully validate whether behavior detection can be used to reliably identify individuals in an airport environment that pose a security risk."

In a hearing Wednesday before the House Oversight and Government Reform Subcommittee on National Security, Transportation Security Administration Assistant Administrator John Sammon was asked if the program has ever been successful in thwarting a potential terror attack. Sammon recounted the story of an Orlando man who was spotted due to irregular behavior before he was able to place a bag with explosives on the checked bag conveyor belt.

"So, one?" asked subcommittee member Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-TX).

But before Sammon could answer, Lord, who was also a witness, interjected and told the subcommittee the Orlando man was actually reported by other travelers and a ticket counter employee -- and had nothing to do with the SPOT program.

The TSA readily admitted that the SPOT program was implemented "before first determining whether there was a scientifically valid basis" for it, the GAO report said, and the DHS "may be years away from knowing" the answer.

However, another witness, former director of security at Tel Aviv Ben Gurion International Airport Rafi Ron, defended the use of behavioral observation in security, which is used widely in Israeli airports.

"I think that the investment in behavior observation certainly makes sense," Ron said. "We need to spend more attention on people than just items. Observing behavior is one of the basic tools that can be used at the airport."

The SPOT program is based in large part on the work of Dr. Paul Ekman, a retired psychology professor at the University of California, who devised a system that identifies facial "micro-expressions" and body movements that are out of the ordinary.

"Micro-expressions, the wonderful thing about them, is they're universal," Dr. Ekman told ABC News in January. "There are seven different emotions and it doesn't matter your language or your culture, if you have one of those emotions it is going to appear in your face and if you're trying to conceal it, it may well leak out in a micro-expression."

Other behavioral science experts said they were skeptical.

"The scientific research shows that it's very hard to detect whether somebody's up to no good just by looking at their behavior," Dr. Maria Hartwig, an assistant professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York and an expert in the psychology of deception and its detection, said in January.

In its conclusion, the GAO reported suggested the DHS study the viability of the SPOT program further.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Cities on High Alert as July Fourth Nears: 'Threat Is Very Real'

COmstock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Although no specific plot has been identified, revelers this Fourth of July can expect extraordinary security -- from expanded patrols and SWAT units to biological weapon response teams and undercover officers mingling with celebratory crowds.

"It's absolutely not a joke," said New York police Sgt. Thomas Horvath, who took ABC News on patrol around New York City's waterways. "The threat is very real. On the day of the [July 4] event, we're going to put out basically every asset we have."

And those assets will likely include a boat designed for the NYPD that detects radiation from a nuclear bomb or radiological "dirty" bomb.

Its sophisticated equipment monitors all radiation readings in the area. Any suspicious readings can be instantly sent to the Brookhaven laboratory in Washington D.C. for analysis by nuclear physicists. There are only two such boats in the world.

This year, police are especially concerned because evidence from Osama bin Laden's compound revealed that he wanted to kill Americans on July Fourth or by the 10th anniversary of Sept. 11.

"We all know that the Fourth of July is a signature holiday," Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck said Friday. "Some of our enemies abroad would like to exploit that."

With tourism season going full tilt and this week's attack on a hotel in Afghanistan, police are boosting patrols in hotels too.

"I have deployed officers at a number of hotel locations around the city," New York Police Department Chief Ray Kelly said. "We are on alert. No question about it."

Kelly told ABC News that he'd been preparing for an attack similar to the one in Afghanistan and in Mumbai, India, where terrorists assaulted hotels for hours with small arms and weapons.

The U.S. Park Police will be on the case over the holiday weekend, too, said Teresa Chambers, chief of the U.S. Park Police, which oversees security on the National Mall.

The Park Police and FBI will have extra units and patrols on alert. Backpacks and coolers will be checked as people go through them looking for contraband, alcohol, fireworks and weapons.

"Within the United States Park Police, every tactical aspect that we have available and every uniformed person will be working," Chambers said. "What's important is what you won't see -- plainclothes officers, enhanced technology, a coordinated regional effort. It's the best security plan I've ever seen."

The FBI will be operating its command center at the FBI Washington field office, and the FBI's National Capital Response Squad, with units trained in crisis response, will be on the watch during the holiday weekend.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


TSA Defends Frisking of 95-Year-Old Woman

Jean Weber(WASHINGTON) -- A woman who objected to airport screeners she claims insisted that her ailing 95-year-old mother remove her adult diaper claimed Monday that airport security then insisted that the daughter also undergo frisking, which prevented her from escorting her mother to the plane.

Jean Weber of Destin, Fla., said the Transportation Security Administration lied when they issued a statement Monday denying that they demanded Weber's mother, Lena Reppert, remove her diaper so a thorough body search could be conducted.

Reppert, who weighs 105 pounds and suffers from leukemia, was at Northwest Florida Regional Airport on June 18. Her daughter brought her to the airport so that her mother could travel to relatives in Michigan who were going to care for her.

Having her mother endure such an embarrassing search upset Weber.

"I was in tears, just sobbing," Weber told ABC News.

Weber said her mother was "stoic" throughout the ordeal that lasted about an hour and says the elderly woman remained calm. The search began in a glass cubicle next to the security line, but was moved into a private room.

Weber says her crying, however, triggered another alarm and a suspicious behavior specialist was brought in due to her emotional response.

"They stood me up and patted me up and down and all over," Weber says.

A TSA spokesperson said the agency could not comment on the circumstances of this particular situation, but said the TSA does have behavior detection officers. However, "The TSA would not indicate [to a passenger] what behaviors would trigger and necessitate behavior detection officers to take further action such as additional screening," according to the spokesperson.

Weber says the agents were respectful and acting by the book, but questions their common sense.

"My reaction was, 'Do you people have any common sense?'" Weber says. "There's no way my 105-pound frail mother can be a threat to national security. That's insane."

Greg Soule, a spokesperson for the TSA , says in a statement, "In no instance would our officers ask a passenger to remove an adult diaper. Various options to proceed through the checkpoint were presented to the passenger and her daughter during private screening."

Soule says the TSA will not disclose further details out of respect to the passenger's privacy.

Weber calls the TSA's claim about not removing the diaper "a lie."

Though she is not wheelchair-bound, Reppert was using a wheelchair due to her instability without her cane or walker. While going through security, Weber says a TSA agent conducted a pat-down and felt something suspicious that they believed merited further inspection.

Weber told the agents she did not have an extra diaper with her, but complied with the request to remove it, leaving her mother without protection.

The TSA is standing by the conduct of their officers. "We have reviewed the circumstances involving this screening and determined that our officers acted professionally, according to proper procedure and did not require this passenger to remove an adult diaper," the TSA statement said.

In its statement, the TSA also said, "While every person and item must be screened before entering the secure boarding area, TSA works with passengers to resolve security alarms in a respectful and sensitive manner."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


TSA to Change Pat Down Procedure for Children

Comstock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has come under fire for security pat downs given to small children, and now the agency says changes will be made.

"As part of our ongoing effort to get smarter about security, Administrator [John] Pistole has made a policy decision to give security officers more options for resolving screening anomalies with young children and we are working to operationalize his decision in airports," said TSA spokesman Nicholas Kimball. "This decision will ultimately reduce -- though not eliminate -- pat downs of children."

Some argue the pat downs are too invasive.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Amtrak Steps Up Security Following Iowa Train Sabotage

Spencer Platt/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Amtrak says it is taking additional security countermeasures after someone tried to derail a train carrying highly flammable ethanol Sunday in Iowa.

Iowa Interstate Railroad CEO Dennis Miller said a lock was cut off a track switch box just outside Menlo, a town that sits along the rail line between Des Moines, Iowa, and Omaha, Neb. The track was also "gapped open" about 2 inches, and a black bag was used to cover the switch signal so the tampering would be harder to notice. Miller said the switch tampering, and the creation of the gap in the tracks, clearly indicated to him that someone was trying to derail one of the 130-car trains that were running the track last Sunday.

On Capitol Hill Tuesday, Amtrak Chief of Police John O'Connor announced that the company is expanding its comprehensive rail security efforts to provide increased right of way protection to detect and deter terrorists seeking to derail passenger trains. 

O'Connor said threats against rail transportation are very real and "[t]he recent events after the death of [Osama] bin Laden serve as a stark reminder that these threats continue to be viable." He emphasized the terrorists' interest in derailing trains is of particular worry to Amtrak, which "operates high-speed rail trains where catastrophic losses could occur."

Amtrak said the additional security countermeasures would focus first on passenger trains, particularly those operating on the Amtrak-owned Northeast corridor. Amtrak said it already had security in place, which were focused on the threat of improvised explosive devices, or IEDs, in a station or on a train, or on an active shooter scenario.

Protecting stations is difficult, but protecting thousands of miles of train track is even more challenging, O'Connor said. Historically, Amtrak has used a range of security strategies, such as high security fencing, bollards, blast curtains, access control and technologically driven initiatives to protect stations, bridges and tunnels. Amtrak is exploring the expanded use of these strategies for right of way protection.

Since the U.S. raid on the bin Laden compound in Pakistan, Amtrak has bolstered track security actions, expanded patrols and reinforced employee awareness programs, O'Connor said. Journals found in bin Laden's compound after he was killed contained evidence of al Qaeda's desire to target trains and subways in the United States.

The FBI is now investigating the Iowa incident, but Bureau sources said early indications are that the incident is not a terrorism related.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Facebook Users Careless with Sensitive Information, Survey Finds

NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- People are still providing too much information about themselves to third parties on the Internet, especially social networking websites like Facebook.

“We found that almost 10 million people are still not using the privacy controls on Facebook,” said Jeff Fox with Consumer Reports, whose latest State of the Net survey finds widespread carelessness by Internet users. For example, Fox said, many people won’t think twice before posting their child’s name and photo on the website, and “that’s not a great idea,” he said.

Millions are exposing too much personal information, according to the report, a mistake that could lead to identity theft and other crimes.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Janet Napolitano Hails US Border Security in Post-9/11 World

Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Nearly a decade after five of Osama bin Laden's followers infiltrated the U.S. and carried out the terrorist attacks of 9/11, top lawmakers and Homeland Security officials Wednesday hailed improvements in border security but warned of the threat still posed by those who enter the country legally and overstay their visas.

"One of the great achievements since 9/11 is the extent to which we have secured our borders against those who would come in to do us harm," said Senate Homeland Security Chairman Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., at a committee meeting in Washington.

"Despite a lot of congressional effort and DHS effort, we still lack an exit system that will effectively identify people who've overstayed their visas in real time," he said. "This both undercuts the legitimacy of the law we have...but it also threatens our security."

The Pew Hispanic Center estimates that between 4 million and 5.5 million -- nearly half -- of all undocumented immigrants living in the U.S. entered the country legally and then remained beyond the expiration of their visas.

A new Government Accountability Office report released Wednesday concluded that 36 percent of the roughly 400 individuals convicted of terrorism-related crimes in the U.S. since 2001 were "overstays."

"Despite the killing of Osama bin Laden, we must never forget that the battle against Islamic extremism is still very much on," said Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, the ranking member of the Senate Homeland Security Committee.

The GAO found that Immigration and Customs Enforcement -- the agency responsible for enforcing visa overstays -- has allotted only three percent of its workforce to investigating individuals who have not left the U.S. when their visas expired.

The agency has arrested approximately 8,100 people who have overstayed, according to the report. But a GAO examination of a computerized U.S. immigration system that tracks U.S. visitors found a backlog of 1.6 million potential overstays that had not yet been reviewed.

The Department of Homeland Security is considering ways to beef up its tracking of the arrival and departure of immigrants and share the information with other agencies, officials said.

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, though, said that stepping up investigations of those who overstayed visas or entered the country illegally was costly and labor intensive, especially if they had not committed a crime to make themselves more easily identifiable.

Napolitano said she has asked Congress for additional funds to sustain enforcement programs and hire more officers, but because of federal budget constraints, some of the requests have been turned down.

Still, apprehensions of illegal migrants crossing the nation's borders, a key indicator of illegal immigration, have plummeted, down 47 percent in the past four years, according to the Department of Homeland Security.

The number of Border Patrol agents has more than doubled since 2004, unmanned aerial drones patrol the U.S.-Mexico border from California to Texas and construction has been completed on all but three miles of the southern border fence approved by Congress.

"The steps that have been taken constitute the most comprehensive and dedicated effort to border security that our country has ever deployed," Napolitano told the Senate panel Wednesday.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

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