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Archive for the ‘Homeland Security’ Category

Pulling a Partisan Hit from Terrorism—But it Seems Fair

Wednesday, December 30th, 2009

doddThe Washington Examiner reports that Senator Chris Dodd (D-CT) amended the Homeland Security appropriations act earlier this year to reduce spending on screening and explosive detection. The money went to firefighters, which the Examiner says are a “pet constituency of his.”

One of the breakdowns in security that appears to have allowed a bombing attempt on a U.S.-bound plane Christmas day was screening capability. Whatever screening he got did not pick up a small parcel of explosives that he had secreted on his body.

Some background information on this report is in order. The Examiner is a fairly partisan paper favoring conservatives and Republicans, and Dodd is widely regarded as vulnerable in his upcoming election. This is a partisan hit on the Senator.

But it sure seems fair. If there were an outbreak of fires, you can bet Senator Dodd would be front and center bragging about putting money into fire prevention.

As you can see from the copy of the amendment below, Dodd’s amendment was cosponsored by Senator Lieberman (D-CT) and Senator Carper (D-DE). Lieberman is chairman of the Governmental Affairs and Homeland Security Committee, which will soon be holding hearings on the Detroit terrorism incident. He might ask himself, or his fellow Connecticut senator, some questions. In fairness, it’s unlikely that this money would have made the difference.

But it’s up to you Connecticutians (Connectors?) to decide what you think of your senators and how they moved around that homeland security money.

Here, as promised is the amendment:

SA 1458. Mr. DODD (for himself, Mr. Lieberman, and Mr. Carper) submitted an amendment intended to be proposed to amendment SA 1373 proposed by Mr. Reid (for Mr. Byrd (for himself, Mr. Inouye, and Mrs. Murray)) to the bill H.R. 2892, making appropriations for the Department of Homeland Security for the fiscal year ending September 30, 2010, and for other purposes; as follows:

On page 77, between lines 16 and 17, insert the following:

SEC. __ (a) The amount appropriated under the heading “firefighter assistance grants” under the heading “Federal Emergency Management Agency” under by title III for necessary expenses for programs authorized by the Federal Fire Prevention and Control Act of 1974 is increased by $10,000,000 for necessary expenses to carry out the programs authorized under section 33 of that Act (15 U.S.C. 2229).

(b) The total amount of appropriations under the heading “Aviation Security” under the heading “Transportation Security Administration” under title II, the amount for screening operations and the amount for explosives detection systems under the first proviso under that heading, and the amount for the purchase and installation of explosives detection systems under the second proviso under that heading are reduced by $4,500,000.

(c) From the unobligated balances of amounts appropriated before the date of enactment of this Act for the appropriations account under the heading “state and local programs” under the heading “Federal Emergency Management Agency” for “Trucking Industry Security Grants”, $5,500,000 are rescinded.

Countering Terrorism Isn’t Easy

Saturday, December 26th, 2009

This holiday week’s “attempted act of terrorism” on a U.S.-bound flight reveals the difficulty of getting counterterrorism right. Terrorists use the element of surprise—stuff we haven’t thought of, or timing and locations that we can’t defend—to pull off attacks that instill fear.

We’ll learn what kind of explosive or incendiary material Nigerian traveler Abdul Farouk Abdulmutallab failed to ignite, and security measures will be installed to better foreclose this attack in the future. But many efforts to thwart terrorism miss the mark or overshoot their goal.

There are dozens of bills in Congress that touch on terrorism one way or another. Two of the most prominent illustrate how tough counterterrorism is.

H.R. 2159, the Denying Firearms and Explosives to Dangerous Terrorists and its Senate counterpart, S. 1317, are intended to let the U.S. Attorney General deny the transfer of firearms and explosives to terrorists. But this can only work against known terrorists, and it can’t work against terrorists when they’re just entering the country from overseas as in this case.

Commenters on these bills argue that they are overly broad and would deny the Second Amendment rights of U.S. citizens who aren’t terrorists. If they don’t actually prevent a likely attack, and if they undermine rights, that’s a classic example of our country hurting itself because of overreaction to terrorism fears.

Countering terrorism isn’t easy, and there are many more security measures that don’t work than ones that do. It’ll take a little steel in our spines and a little ice water in our veins to continue staring down the terrorist threat. While we do that, it’s important to continue enjoying our American birthright of freedom and opportunity.

One commentator’s take turns away from fear and overreaction in a way that I think is interesting: This episode isn’t something to fear, says Spencer Ackerman. It’s an example of terrorists’ desperate bid for relevance.

Earmark Funds Going to “Scam Artist”?

Thursday, October 15th, 2009

advenovationThat’s the allegation made by a commenter on Rep. Bart Stupak’s (MI-1) requests for $1,900,000 to go to Advenovation, Inc.

The money would fund “research to combine robotics technology, machine vision and sensors with software to create platform-independent robots with advanced vision and sensing capability.” Sounds neat!

But is the proposed recipient a legitimate, reliable business? The public is entitled to investigate.

A comment posted yesterday—apparently by the owner of Advenovation—argues that the allegations about the company are false and that another company is at fault for alleged nonpayments.

What more can we learn about this earmark and the proposed recipient? That’s up to you, America. Anyone who knows something about this is welcome to comment or edit the wiki article about the proposed earmark.

In the meantime, here’s the current vote on it. Click to vote, comment, learn more, or edit the wiki article.

FY 2010 Spending Under Way

Sunday, June 21st, 2009

The nitty-gritty of the fiscal year 2010 spending process is getting under way. By the beginning of the new fiscal year October 1st, Congress is supposed to pass twelve appropriations bills, spending the money in the U.S. treasury on all the operations of the government for the year.

Last week, the House passed the H.R. 2847, the Commerce/Justice/Science spending bill. It spends about $680 per U.S. family on operations of the Department of Commerce, the Department of Justice, and science-related agencies like NASA and the National Science Foundation.

Bills to fund the Department of Homeland Security have been introduced in both the House and Senate. The House bill, H.R. 2892, and the Senate bill, S. 1298, would both spend about $460 per U.S. family to fund the department.

And bills to fund the legislative branch – Congress itself – have also been introduced in both houses of Congress. The House bill – H.R. 2918 – spends about $38 per U.S. family on the operations of Congress. The Senate bill, S. 1294, comes in at about $33.

As you can see from the budget process timetable, Congress is well behind on the annual spending bills – the House Appropriations Committee was supposed to have reported all the spending bills by June 10th, and the House is supposed to finish work on all the bills by the end of the month. But it’s still ahead of schedule compared to other recent Congresses.

Congress: Guantanamo No-Fly

Friday, June 5th, 2009

In a recent post that was meant to be funny, I noted the proposal to put Guantanamo detainees on the no-fly list. Wrecking people’s day at the airport, the cruelest torture. Get it? Oh well.

Anyway, that proposal – to put former detainees at Guantanamo on the no-fly list – was added to the TSA authorization bill that the House passed yesterday (along with the limits on body-scanners we reported yesterday).

There’s some good reporting on it, and other elements of the debate, at National Journal.

The debate about Guantanamo detainees is an odd one because I don’t find them scary, but it seems that lots of people do.

House Restricts “Strip-Search Machines”

Thursday, June 4th, 2009

As part of the debate on the the Transportation Security Administration Authorization Act, the House voted today to limit the use of “strip-search machines.” We blogged about it here and here.

The roll call vote will soon be up here. You can use it to decide whether to cheer or jeer your member of Congress.

And here’s the text of the amendment as it appeared in the rule governing debate on the bill: (more…)

Congress May Ban TSA Strip-Search Machines

Tuesday, June 2nd, 2009

. . . at least their use for primary screening.

NextGov reports that the House of Representatives may consider limiting airport body scans in the TSA Authorization Act, which is being debated this week.

In the post “Limiting ‘Strip Search Machines,'” we took a look at H.R. 2027, the Aircraft Passenger Whole-Body Imaging Limitations Act, which is the language likely to be considered for the TSA bill.

Here’s a look at the voting on H.R. 2027, the Aircraft Passenger Whole-Body Imaging Limitations Act, and H.R. 2200, the TSA Authorization Act, into which it may be folded.

Click to vote, comment, learn more or edit the wiki articles about the bills.

The Cruelest Torture for Guantanamo Detainees

Wednesday, May 20th, 2009

The torture debate has taken a new twist. A bill introduced in Congress yesterday would subject Guantanamo detainees to one of the cruelest tortures known to man. Nobody should suffer a fate like this, but the bill does have a chance of passing.

H.R. 2503 would put Guantanamo detainees on the Department of Homeland Security’s no-fly list. It’s a form of mistreatment so ghastly, so inhuman – no one should have to suffer such a fate. Getting pulled out of line at the airport, the pat-downs, the puffer machines. Taking your shoes of so they can wand the bottoms of your feet.

H.R. 2503 is a plan so diabolical – I hadn’t imagined that Congress might do such a thing, but it just might.

Here is the current vote on H.R. 2503. Click to vote, torture others with your comments, learn more, or edit the wiki article on the bill.

Congress to TSA: No Cheating

Tuesday, May 19th, 2009

H.R. 2464, introduced yesterday, would prohibit the Transportation Security Administration from giving advance notice to security screeners when they are going to be covertly tested.

Does it need saying that tipping off screeners undermines the value of testing? Does TSA need a law to make it not do that?

Here’s the current vote on H.R. 2464. Click to vote, comment, learn more, or edit the wiki article on the bill.

Do We Want Terrorists In the Country or Out of It?

Sunday, May 10th, 2009

The Sunday morning political shows spent some time today on a bill that was introduced in the House last week. H.R. 2294 is called the Keep Terrorists Out of America Act – OK! OK! I’m for it! With a name like that . . . .

And that’s why the bill has such a name, of course. The bill was introduced by Republican leadership to highlight some challenges that the Obama administration adopted when it pledged to close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay.

You see, there are terrorists and suspected terrorists there. (Heck, a few people in Guantanamo may have become terrorists for being put there!) And they have to be moved. If they can’t be returned to their countries because they would be tortured or killed, they have to go somewhere else, including possibly the United States.

Now, it’s an easy out to throw up your hands and say, “Who cares if they are tortured or killed? They’re terrorists!”

Not so fast. Not all of them are. For example, it’s pretty clear that a group of Uighers, an ethnic group native to China, are not terrorists. They were picked up in Pakistan in late 2001 and have been held in Guantanamo ever since.

Is it OK to send them to China – well-known as a regime that represses minorities and dissidents – to suffer whatever punishment their government wants to mete out? It’s part of our national character not to throw innocent people into the jaws of oppression. We have to figure out what to do with people like this – in Guantanamo but not deserving of being thrown to the wolves.

So there’s complexity here. The Keep Terrorists Out of America Act would require the approval of the relevant State governor and legislature before a person is transferred there from Guantanamo. The answer, of course, is almost always going to be “Hell no!” (We’ve followed Guantanamo NIMBYism in this post.)

So what do you think about the bill? Should this law be passed so something else has to happen to the Guantanamo detainees? (vote “yes”) Or is this a political cheap-shot that muddies the debate? (vote “no”)

Here’s the current vote on H.R. 2294 is called the Keep Terrorists Out of America Act. Click to vote, comment, learn more, and edit the wiki article about the bill.