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Entries in Department of Homeland Security (8)

Thursday
Aug232012

Police Spend $50 Million in Taxpayer Funds for Convention Security 

Jupiterimages/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Armored trucks. Digital Sandbox software upgrades. EOD X-ray machines.

If it sounds like a techie's dream come true, think again: These gadgets are all part of a slew of new gear for police in Tampa, Fla., and Charlotte, N.C. -- courtesy of Congress -- as they ramp up security detail ahead of their political conventions.

Nearly 50,000 people are expected to descend on Tampa for the Republican National Convention, and 35,000 in Charlotte for its Democratic National Convention. The events are so big and politically charged that the Department of Homeland Security declared them "national special security events," handing over major security reins to the U.S. Secret Service.

For local police, Congress gave each city a $50 million grant to spend on boosted security measures that would make any tech fan jealous.

In Tampa, more than half of the grant was used on personnel costs, according to documents released by the city of Tampa. That included housing, food and transportation for the estimated 3,000 out-of-town officers who are coming to help from more than 60 different state agencies, including the Florida National Guard.

In order for all the officers to act like a united force, they'll need to dress like one: That's why Tampa spent $534,600 on new police uniforms, according to city documents.

"From a strategic perspective, it makes sense," said Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn. "It magnifies the number of officers on the street ... [to create] a perception of overwhelming force."

The khaki-colored uniforms have an American flag on one shoulder with the particular department patch on the other, Buckhorn said. They also have the officer type printed across the chest -- like "sheriff," "police" or "trooper" -- and out-of-town officers will get to keep them after the four-day Republican convention wraps.

Also on the list of purchases in Tampa: $2.3 million for closed-circuit cameras; $5.9 million in upgraded police radios and multichargers; and more than $790,000 for a fleet of new vehicles, including an armored truck, about 200 Kona Race Light 7005 aluminum bicycles and several Bobcat utility vehicles.

In Charlotte, the city is also doubling down on its federal security grant.

One of its big-ticket expenses was a new central command center at the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department, because a "single space large enough to hold such operations does not exist at CMPD Headquarters," according to documents released by the department.

The more-than-$1.7 million renovation project turned three adjacent conference rooms into one giant space, adding new plumbing, electrical work, video monitors and furniture along the way. The center will help coordinate between local police and the approximately 3,400 out-of-town officers who are helping at the three-day Democratic convention.

The Charlotte-Mecklenburg police also bought a high-tech EOD x-ray machine, which boasts a price tag of $64,325. The portable machine will allow a squad of trained explosives officers to check questionable boxes at the convention for a "quick and safe response to unattended packages," according to the department.

Like in Tampa, the Charlotte police force is not complete without its vehicles. The city used more than $146,000 of its grant for new wheels -- including brand new Chevrolet Tahoes, Ford F-250s and leased Harley-Davidson police motorcycles. It also purchased more than $303,500 worth of bikes for its mobile units.

Charlotte police wouldn't go into detail about numbers, but police department spokesman Robert Tufano emphasized its "tremendous" planning and coordination will play a big role in security plans.

"The goal of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department is to develop a seamless security plan that will ensure a safe environment for the community, dignitaries and event participants," he said.

The Republican National Convention will be held Aug. 27 to 30 at the Tampa Bay Times Forum, and the Democratic National Convention will take place Sept. 4 to 6 at the Time Warner Cable Arena and Bank of America Stadium.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Tuesday
May012012

DHS Steps Up Secret Service Prostitution Scandal Oversight

Hemera/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- The Department of Homeland Security's independent watchdog agency has stepped up its oversight of the Secret Service's investigation into the Colombia prostitution scandal.

A DHS official emailed ABC News Monday on behalf of acting Inspector General Charles Edwards to say that late last week the agency "notified the USSS of our intent to conduct a comprehensive review of this matter." The email followed an ABC News report that revealed that the inspector general's office had taken a back seat in the probe—leaving the Secret Service's own internal affairs division in control of the investigation into the conduct of its agents during what has been described as an alcohol-fueled night of partying in Colombia.

Normally, allegations that Homeland Security employees engaged in serious misconduct are a matter for the Inspector General's office to look into. But the agency previously told ABC News that it would instead be monitoring the Secret Service review.

The approach appeared to be the result of a special carve-out for the Secret Service forged a decade ago—setting it apart from the standard described in a 2009 internal DHS memo, which specifically asserts that the Inspector General is "statutorily responsible for conducting and coordinating all investigations" of wrongdoing by other Homeland Security employees. Sen. Charles Grassley told ABC News he was not comfortable allowing the Secret Service's own agents to oversee the investigation, especially because it remains unclear whether the raucous behavior in Colombia was a one-time lapse or the sign of a broad systemic problem.

"An investigation by the agency's own Office of Professional Responsibility is necessary, but it doesn't provide transparent, independent oversight without an Inspector General's outside perspective," the Iowa Republican said Wednesday. "There's too much at stake to leave any doubts that an independent investigation wasn't conducted."

In an email to ABC News Monday, Edwards said the agency had enhanced its role in the review. In addition to monitoring the Secret Service effort, the Homeland Security investigators and inspectors would also begin their own independent look back at events.

"Last week, with the initial stages of the USSS [U.S. Secret Service] internal investigation nearing completion, we notified the USSS of our intent to conduct a comprehensive review of this matter," the email said. "As we notified the USSS last week, [the Office of Inspector General's] field work is beginning immediately."

The announcement of a comprehensive review comes after independent watchdog agency had been sending mixed signals about what its role would be in the probe. When Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano testified on Capitol Hill last week, she told Grassley there is a standing agreement—"a memorandum of understanding"—between the Secret Service and the Inspector General that governs how internal investigations are conducted. "In these types of cases, where there is alleged misconduct, [the Inspector General] actually supervises the investigation but they use the investigatory resources of the Secret Service. That's how we are managing this one." That is not, however, how the Inspector General's office described the arrangement in response to questions from ABC News last Wednesday, in an exchange that occurred after Napolitano gave her answer to the Senate. Spokeswoman Rachael Norris told ABC News that the Inspector General is "closely monitoring" the Secret Service's investigation and will review it when it has been completed.

"We're monitoring their internal investigation at this time," Norris said. "We are not conducting an additional investigation at this time."

The Inspector General's subordinate apparently dated to 2003, when the Secret Service was moved from the Department of Treasury into the newly created Homeland Security department. Both the Secret Service and the Coast Guard, which was moved from the Transportation Department to DHS the same year, retained their internal investigative powers. On Monday, however, the agency said the only reason it did not launch its own, independent probe was because the Secret Service already had investigators on the ground in Colombia.

"In our oversight capacity, and in recognition that there were already USSS Office of Professional Responsibility investigators on the ground in Colombia, we determined that the USSS was best positioned to immediately initiate the investigation with the full understanding that they would keep OIG informed as the investigation progressed," Edwards said. "We have maintained close contact with the USSS, coordinating with them as their internal investigation continued."

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Wednesday
Oct192011

Senators Upset with TSA and DHS over Airline Screening

Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- There was a rare moment of bipartisanship on Capitol Hill Wednesday when members of the Senate Judiciary Committee expressed their frustrations about airline screening procedures to Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, with Judiciary Chairman Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., calling some of the TSA procedures “baloney.”

Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, raised the issue of passengers not wanting to pass through advanced imaging technology (AIT) screening machines.

“I’ve been getting a lot of complaints lately about the checks…as you pass through the monitoring stations, where people don’t want to go through the X-ray station, and so they line up on the one side where just the open-door station is,” Hatch said.  “And some of your people force them to go over to go through the X-ray station. And then, if they say, ‘Well, I don’t want to do that, I’d rather go through the other one,’ they say, ‘Well, you can do it but then you’re going to have to be patted down.’”

Napolitano attempted to explain to the senators why the pat-down procedures were necessary.

“I can say the answer in one word, and that’s Abdulmutallab,” Napolitano said in reference to underwear bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, who pleaded guilty to terrorism offenses in Detroit last week.

“Others like him who have been trying to bring explosives onto planes, or other material that shouldn’t be on a plane…does not have a metal component -- and, therefore, the magnetometer won’t pick it up,” Napolitano said.  “And so that’s why you see the pat-down procedure has been adjusted to reflect -- I’m sorry -- you know, that plain reality. We actually have been looking nationwide at how we can move people through -- we handle about 1.5 to 1.8 million passengers a day in the U.S. air system -- things that we can do to make it easier for passengers to process through the system, and we continue to look for ways.”

“Sometimes, you get the impression they almost want to make you miss your plane because you have to go through the pat-down,” Leahy groused to Napolitano.

“Children having to go through,” he added. “There’s almost this arrogant disregard for real Americans who have to put up with this baloney."

“I do provide a lot of amusement for people who are taking cellphone pictures of me getting a pat-down,” Leahy told Napolitano. “When I do it, the TSA agent tells them, ‘Well, you know there’s a law against taking photographs.’ Of course, there is no such law. And it’s just one more example. You know, we’ll go through it and we’ll do it and all of that, and maybe miss your plane because they’re annoyed that you actually want to protect your rights. But it’s a shame because you have some very nice people working at TSA, but boy, oh boy.”

“I do have a great crew working at TSA. But I appreciate these concerns,” Napolitano said.

“At the very top, there’s a disconnect with reality,” Leahy said.

“I think we can continue to look into it and to improve. And we will work with you. We’ll look into your complaints,” Napolitano told the senators.  “I understand that and why people get concerned and frustrated when they travel. But I also think we have the safest aviation system in the world, and there’s a reason for that.”

“I always comply, but I’m just saying -- and I don’t ever raise a fuss about it, nor would I,” Hatch told Napolitano, “but it seems to me…maybe I look like a terrorist. I don’t know, but I don’t think so. I’m really very kind and loving, you know.”

“Senator, I will give you that,” Napolitano told Hatch. “You look kind and loving, and we should be able to handle this and also look at some of your [concerns]."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Saturday
Sep172011

DHS Task Force Criticizes Immigration Fingerprint Program

Digital Vision/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- A draft report by a Department of Homeland Security task force has found serious concerns with a deportation program run by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) because of confusion about the program and tensions the effort has created for state and local police.

Police have traditionally run fingerprints through an FBI database to search for an arrestee’s criminal history and any outstanding warrants. Established in 2008, “Secure Communities,” the deportation program, allows the fingerprints to also be searched in ICE’s databases for possible immigration violations.

The program is designed to find criminal aliens and serious violent offenders. But it has generated growing criticism from those who think it turns up low-level criminals or people with no previous record.

“Mixing individuals who have no criminal convictions or who have only low-level convictions with serious offenders is having the unintended consequence of undercutting the credibility of the entire Secure Communities program,” said the report.

The task force was created earlier this year by ICE director John Morton and DHS after criticism from some cities, police groups and immigrant rights groups.  Almost 50 percent of state and local police jurisdictions have begun using the program. DHS intends it to be nationwide by 2013.

The report notes, “Although Secure Communities has resulted in the identification and removal of many individuals posing a risk to public safety, serious concerns have been raised about the program, including its design, activation, implementation and unintended negative impact on local communities.”

The task force findings and recommendations will be reviewed by the Homeland Security Advisory Council, a group that advises DHS leadership. The report recommended that ICE reach out to and work with state and local law enforcement agencies to develop trust in the program.

“To the extent that Secure Communities may damage community policing, the result can be greater levels of crime. If residents do not trust their local police, they are less willing to step forward as witnesses to or victims of crime,” the report noted.

The task force recommended that ICE should focus on criminal aliens who pose substantial public and national security risks.

Under the program ICE has identified more than 77,000 who have been convicted of crimes, including over 28,000 felons linked to violent crimes such as rape and murder. Last year ICE deported 392,000 individuals as part of immigration removal operations, up from 291,000 in fiscal year 2007.

Some members of the Task Force decided to resign from the board rather than agree with all of the findings, including representatives from the AFL-CIO and the American Federation of Government Employees, which represents ICE officials. 

In response to the report, DHS spokesman Matthew Chandler said, “We thank the members of the Homeland Security Advisory Council’s Task Force on Secure Communities for their service. The task force’s draft report has been transmitted to the Homeland Security Advisory Council membership who will review and finalize the task force’s recommendations prior to submission to ICE Director Morton.”

“In order to ensure that all input is received, Director Morton has invited the AFL-CIO, AFGE and others who chose not to include their names on the draft report to meet with him and discuss their concerns as he reviews the final recommendations,” Chandler said.
 
Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Thursday
Aug042011

Nation's Infrastructure Vulnerable to Cyber Attack

John Foxx/Stockbyte(WASHINGTON) -- In past wars, a hostile army would send troops to sabotage a bridge. Now a terrorist can send a suicide bomber to attack a mass transit system. In the future, experts are worried that malicious hackers -- perhaps even working for China, Iran or North Korea -- could bring down America's critical infrastructure with a few keystrokes.

Nuclear reactors, the national electric grid and the banking sector are all attractive targets, according to testimony Tuesday before the House Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations by the director of information security issues at the Government Accountability Office. And while foreign attackers have yet to launch a serious attack on U.S.-based infrastructure, some security experts say that terrorists are looking for ways to make it happen.

The GAO didn't name specific foreign adversaries, but one security expert that spoke to ABC News provided insight into who is trying to obtain high-tech hacking tools.

"We know that North Korea wants it, we know that Iran wants it and that some of the terrorist groups are interested in it," said Jim Lewis, who is a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

The testimony came on the heels of a report from the security firm McAfee that showed evidence of a five-year cyber data-stealing operation likely conducted by a nation state that targeted more than 70 different governmental, non-profit and corporate entities. While the security firm didn't point any fingers, many other security experts have read the data and suspect China as the point of origin.

The Department of Homeland Security released a warning Thursday that Stuxnet, a worm that used in July 2010 to breach an Iranian nuclear reactor network, could be re-purposed to attack other systems with a similar configuration.

DHS is currently working with the private sector to share information on prevalent attacks, but further legislation is needed to ensure a clear chain of command in the event of a crisis.

Lawmakers in Congress are stalled on legislation that would overhaul the nation's cyber security. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, R-Nev., sent a letter Wednesday to Senate Republican leaders urging them to put cyber security back on the agenda.

In a speech on July 14, Deputy Secretary of Defense William Lynn III said it was "clear" terror groups were "intent on acquiring, refining, and expanding their cyber capabilities."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Friday
May062011

Secret Service Signs Up for Twitter

NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- The United States Secret Service is getting ready to take up residence in the Twitter universe.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has announced that the Secret Service will roll out its official Twitter page on Monday. The unveiling of the page on the popular social networking website follows the recent launch of the Secret Service’s new recruiting website, and officials are hoping that “tweeting” can help with recruitment.

“The internet is a valuable resource for people all over the world,” said Secret Service Assistant Director Mickey Nelson in a statement. “By using social media sites, we hope to supplement our recruitment efforts, while providing an informative, helpful tool to businesses and individuals who are interested in information from our agency.”

Officials say the Twitter page will be used to share press releases, explore the Secret Service’s history, and promote upcoming recruitment opportunities, among other uses.

The page can be accessed by logging on to http://www.twitter.com/SecretService.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Wednesday
Mar022011

Homeland Security a Bureaucratic Behemoth after Eight Years

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Eight years ago Tuesday, the George W. Bush administration completed the largest reorganization and expansion of the federal government since the Cold War with the creation of the Department of Homeland Security.

The move combined 22 disparate federal agencies, from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to the U.S. Secret Service, under a new Cabinet-level office at the White House with a starting budget of $37 billion -- a 90-percent increase in homeland security spending over the year before.

But what began as a small operation, coordinated from inside the White House by first Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge, has grown to a bureaucratic behemoth, with the second-largest combined workforce behind the Department of Defense and a budget of $57 billion requested for fiscal year 2012.

DHS now leads the effort to prevent and disrupt terror attacks, screen airline passengers and cargo across the country, combat the sex trafficking of children, and patrol the borders and cyberspace, among many other duties.

Officials say despite the broad range of responsibilities and steep start-up costs, the agency's work is paying off and getting more efficient every day.

"Our nation is more secure than it was two years ago, and more secure than when DHS was founded," Secretary Janet Napolitano wrote in a blog post to mark the anniversary. "Nonetheless, our work never stops."

Napolitano has heralded recent improvements in administrative efficiency, saving taxpayers close to $1 billion, and reduced reliance on outside contractors by 11 percent, or $420 million.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Friday
Jan142011

Homeland Security Axes Bush-Era 'Virtual Fence' Project

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- The Department of Homeland Security on Friday officially scrapped a Bush-era program designed to use radar technology to detect illegal immigrants crossing the U.S.-Mexico border, according to a DHS official and a congressional source.

The project, called "Virtual Fence," was rolled out under the Bush administration in 2006 with much fanfare about how technology could help secure the border. Illegal immigrants crossing the border would be detected by radar and picked up by remote cameras, which were monitored by border patrol agents.

But numerous internal and congressional reviews found consistent performance problems with the project's systems, which only spanned 53 miles of the vast U.S.-Mexico border. The cameras often provided blurry images, the radar system performed poorly in bad weather, and it often displayed false detections that were unable to distinguish between humans, cars and animals.

There were also cost overruns and the primary contractor, Boeing, repeatedly missed deadlines, officials said.

The system is estimated to cost about $1 billion. If the entire project had been accepted and rolled out, its cost would have exceeded $6 billion.

"We know that we cannot continue to put out millions and millions of dollars of taxpayer's money if we're not confident that it's really not going to work,” Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, who ordered a review of the program upon taking office, said in October.

DHS officials say the program will not be a total loss and that Customs and Border Protection officers and border patrol agents will continue to use some of the systems that have been paid for.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio







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