Archive for the ‘government spending’ Category

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BTC Commentary – There are reasons why there is a bloodless, unenthusiastic delivery amid the Congress when it comes to the enactment and furtherance of Real ID related matters in 2011. DHS, consumed by the new ability to electronically X-Ray search everything in sight, held their nose as they kicked implementation down the road to 2013.  Is it possible that the smell of the “dead” law is now so repellant that even the neo-con sympathetic, Sen. Joe Lieberman, has raised concerns toward the problem of legal cadaver management?

It might be beneficial to dust off one or two of the aged arguments surrounding Real ID’s effectiveness to improve domestic national security. It is resoundingly unconvincing that “failure” to implement Real ID regulations will put Americans at risk to spontaneously combust in fiery acts of sheer domestic TERROR, as Senator Grassley has complained.

It might be a good idea to put yourself in the shoes of a government agency who doesn’t yet have a national operating budget to continue through the rest of 2011.  DHS, like every other federal agency or program, will be making hard decisions like, which shoestrings to go without.

GHETTO FABULOUS GOVERNMENT

Arianna Huffington, a naturalized citizen and immgrant to the United States, has not been shy in pointing out the great problems of America’s nosedive into 3rd world status.  She points to the excesses of financial mismanagement and underrepresentation of domestic financial interests by the US Congress’.

Our government is considering, in a matter of weeks, a temporary shut down.  It may result in a sober and humiliating moment of silence for our leaders to reconsider the indebted future they are handing off to their children and grandchildren.  They might find they will not escape a form of instant karma, where they lose temporary power and the efficacy of their jobs.  The may feel the damaging pains of purposelessness experienced by whordes of America’s underemployed.  The lights may go down for a few days. The aides/interns, whose education debt vastly outspends their hourly wage earnings, might play frisbee and chase squirrels on the Captiol Hill lawns.  Free recreational diversion is more positive than thinking about how to recover from shortages to pay their car note or college loans.  Seething fiscal conservatives may continue to flash the $40 million daily bill Americans get to intervene in the Libyan revolution.  A government shutdown might be a great way to concretely inform Congress that the American people are broke.  [If we don’t get paid, no one else gets paid either.]

Middle Eastern and North African interventions to date don’t help the majority of Americans pay bills.

An intervention simply holds up a flashy powerful veneer. Who are we fooling?  The joke should go, how many 1st world nations does it really take to unscrew a North African dictator from his regimen?  Is that really any of our business, when we should be exiting Iraq and Afghanistan? Our idle occupying forces are now killing civillians for sport. We have truly lost our way!

It further amazes that an increase of US humanitarian aid has not really been mentioned as prolifically towards the cause of Japan’s disaster stricken state.  It boggles the mind why other nations are not yet on the scene to assist in staving off the volatile nuclear reactors.  We provided war ships.  Where is our nuclear crisis management?  The world is filled with resources for war; yet a much more far reaching problem of nuclear wastewater fallout into the seafood chain is not so much a priority?  I guess the world will just have to eat it!  Our humanitarian focus is really plied more on unwilling Libyans, from a much less willing American public who were ignored in due process.

We’ve been reduced to a ghetto fabulous gunmetal facade against a failing economic structure; where JP Morgan and Citibank owns most of the debt and China owns us and employs their own.

The prospects for Real ID truly pale in competition of the list of immediate federal fiscal priorities.

EQUAL TIME: Aviation Security: Policy Responses to Address Terrorism Threats c/o Heritage.org

National ID Bashing with Cato’s Jim Harper 

c/o Cato@Liberty 

Here’s a window onto the upside-down way government spending works. The Department of Homeland Security has sent a letter to states begging them to spend federally provided money on implementing REAL ID, the national ID law.

“DHS is regularly asked by members of Congress, as well as the Office of Management and Budget, if these funds are needed by the states, and whether these funds should be reallocated to other efforts,” writes Juliette Kayyam of DHS’ Office of Intergovernmental Affairs. “As both the states and the Federal government face increasingly tough budgeting decisions, it is more important than ever that these available funds be utilized.”

That’s right: Tough budget times make it imperative to spend more money.

States don’t want to implement REAL ID, and the American people don’t want a national ID, but the DHS bureaucracy is rattling cages to try to get money spent purely for the sake of spending. It’s flabbergasting.

City to remove red-light camera

c/o Daily Journal, San Mateo County



The city of San Carlos will likely remove its single red-light camera because it is losing more than $2,000 each month at the current location and has no other intersections that warrant that type of enforcement, according to officials.

In October, the City Council considered switching the camera at westbound Brittan Avenue and Industrial Road to Holly Street after learning the area had a significant number of violations. But a new traffic signal looping system installed at the site improved traffic flow. A new survey in March showed the violations had been completely eliminated, according to Police Chief Greg Rothaus.

Besides, if the city moves the existing camera, it must extend the current contract with Redflex beyond its Oct. 27, 2011 end date.

With no need for enforcement and no desire to continue a program that loses money, the City Council Monday night will consider giving Redflex, Inc. written notice not to automatically renew the contract.

Currently, the city pays Redflex a fixed fee of $5,870 monthly through November 2010 no matter how many violations occur — a model which lets the city avoid the scrutiny of jurisdictions who pay nothing for their systems but receive revenue exceeding a pre-defined amount.

San Carlos pays another $2,000 in expenses each month used for personnel costs associated with the program, bringing the total annual cost to approximately $94,440.
The city lost approximately $70,000 over the two years, Rothaus told the City Council when the issue first arose in October.

Although the city will benefit by not running an average monthly deficit of $2,213, Assistant City Manager Brian Moura said city officials were swayed more by the lack of need.

Fusion centers constitute a new piece in a vastly more powerful police apparatus. They give the executive branch an incredible physical reach into state and local communities.

c/o Thomas Cincotta for The Public Eye

The Department of Homeland Security’s network of fusion centers operate under the auspices of state police or even large local police forces, thus sidestepping the guidelines enacted under the Privacy Act of 1974 that limit information sharing by federal agencies. Yet fusion centers have a national command center feel, with mosaics of television monitors, and desks for all the police agents assigned to work together and enjoy face time — the county sheriff, local police officers, the FBI, National Guard (restricted by law to drug-related missions), state police, Department of Homeland Security, and the civilian intelligence analysts. The FBI field office may rent space to fusion centers, and even helps run the Los Angeles fusion center, but it rarely plays a visibly lead role. Still, all the analysts are tied into federal information-sharing networks.

Since Homeland Security launched the program in 2003, these centers have evolved largely independently of one another. At first glance, smaller, more diffuse centers might seem to pose a smaller threat to civil liberties than a KGB-like national force. In truth, however, this decentralized network may be more dangerous, because it obscures lines of authority, subverts Congressional oversight and privacy guidelines, and turns numerous state and local police into intelligence agents.

Around the world, the War on Terror has served as an “indispensable Trojan Horse [enabling] intensified surveillance for all sorts of purposes.”[3] As early as 1978, the Public Eye reported on an effort to bring the U.S. intelligence bureaucracy under one Director of National Intelligence that unsurprisingly failed amidst fresh memories of COINTELPRO – the FBI’s spying and dirty tricks program targeting activists— and Richard Nixon’s enemies list. By the 2001 attacks, memories of the domestic spying controversies of the 1970s had dimmed and calls for a national intelligence agency reemerged. Congressional sponsors of legislation that created the Department of Homeland Security wanted a fully functional intelligence organization within DHS, but the Bush administration preferred to realign organizations already under the authority of the FBI director, director of Central Intelligence, and the new director of national intelligence. As a result, Congress did not initially give DHS itself the capacity to produce raw intelligence.[4][5] But today fusion centers give DHS the capacity to produce, not just receive, intelligence.

Nurtured by more than $327 million in direct grant funding from 2004 through 2008, fusion centers won an additional $250 million in President Barack Obama’s stimulus plan to be spent by 2010 on upgrading, modifying, or constructing sites. DHS currently has 41 officers deployed at fusion centers and hopes to have an officer at every fusion center in the country by the end of 2010. By the end of 2008, governors, mayors, and police chiefs had established 72 operational centers within the United States and its territories, covering 49 states, District of Columbia, and Guam. Additionally, fusion centers in Idaho, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands are in the final stages of development.

INFORMATION COLLECTION FORCE

Fusion centers facilitate the collection of massive amounts of information. DHS – itself comprised of 225,000 people in 22 separate agencies – uses fusion centers, information sharing, and agency integration as a “force multiplier” to tap into the potential of 718,000 state and local police in over 15,000 departments, plus local emergency responders, who could collect more data than 12,000 FBI agents. “There is never enough information when it comes to terrorism,” says Major Steven G. O’Donnell, deputy superintendent of the Rhode Island State Police.[11] Unfortunately, the intelligence could be worthless and often is.

Fusion centers ostensibly complement the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Forces, which bring together local law enforcement with federal law enforcement components like Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Customs and Border Patrol, the Secret Service, and Transportation Security Administration. These two parallel systems for interagency coordination – one under DHS, the other under the Department of Justice – raise questions about redundancy and waste. At the same time, though, the information from fusion centers gives DHS leverage and access to other federal intelligence.

MISSION CREEP LEADS TO THOUGHT CRIME

Fusion centers gather, mine, and “fuse” data to help police fight crime and FBI agents stop terrorism. Data streams in from multiple sources, including intelligence groups, the federal government, other states, private databases, and open sources. Moreover, analysts scrutinize daily crime and 911 reports for patterns. Tips may come in to fusion center tip lines from citizens or police officers. Fusion centers also respond to requests for analysis from law enforcement agencies in the field, primarily investigators seeking to spot trends in areas like drug crime, gang activity, or theft.

It is a universe marked by redundancy. Information currently flows from fusion centers into a national “information sharing environment” such as the Homeland Security Information Network (HSIN), Protected Critical Infrastructure Information (PCII) Program, and Homeland Secure Data Network (HSDN – for classified data), which all sit alongside the Department of Justice’s Regional Information Sharing System (RISS), the FBI’s Regional Data Exchange and eGuardian, the Naval Investigative Services’ Law Enforcement Information Exchange (LInX) and the Law Enforcement Intelligence Unit’s (LEIU) LEO network (LEIU is a private organization of public law enforcement officials, including chiefs of police).

In the absence of purely terrorist activity, DHS’s emphasis on “ensuring that our communities are not places where violent extremism can take root” may invite fusion centers to identify local threats based on political rhetoric that is critical of government policies. Evidence suggests this is already happening. In February 2009, North Central Texas Fusion System issued a “Prevention Awareness Bulletin” calling on law enforcement to report the activities of Muslim civil rights organizations and antiwar protest groups. In March 2009, the Missouri State Highway Patrol was forced to halt the distribution of a report prepared by the Missouri Information Analysis Center that linked extremists in the modern militia movement to supporters of third-party presidential candidates such as Congressman Ron Paul of Texas and former Congressman Bob Barr of Iowa. The report also said that some militia members subscribe to anti-abortion beliefs or oppose illegal immigration – suggestions that created a public uproar among law-abiding groups concerned that they were being lumped in with violent, dangerous people.[20]

The Virginia Fusion Center identified “subversive thought” as a marker for violent terrorism. Furthermore, the Virginia Fusion Center’s 2009 Threat Assessment identified “subversive thought” as a marker for violent terrorism and thus targeted “university-based student groups as a radicalization node for almost every type of extremist group.”[21] In words reminiscent of “communist front” theory dating to the Cold War, Virginia Fusion Center analysts warned of the Muslim Brotherhood’s alleged strategy of boring from within by infiltrating different Islamic organizations and obtaining leadership roles. DHS also monitored the D.C. Anti-War Network and shared information with the Maryland State Police – most likely through the fusion center – during a year-long infiltration of Baltimore area peace and social justice organizations in 2007-2008.[22]

DATA-MINING AND PRIVATE DATABASES

Fusion centers reflect the tendency of surveillance systems to grow both in depth – with reams of information on any one person – and in breadth by broadening the variety of sources of personal data that they draw on. With unprecedented access to criminal, intelligence, and private sector databases, fusion centers give local authorities an exceptional capacity to monitor behavior and select individuals or communities for intervention. Accordingly, fusion centers responded with vigor to the FBI and Department of Homeland Security’s 2006 guidelines urging them to “obtain access to an array of databases and systems.” Although the guidelines listed only public information assets, such as motor vehicle databases, state fusion centers now contract with private data brokers to access private information like unpublished cell phone numbers, consumer credit profiles, insurance claims, car rentals, and real estate sales. In 2009, DHS announced a new arrangement with the U.S. Department of Defense that allowed select fusion center personnel to access terrorism-related information from the Department of Defense’s classified network.

The rise of cyberspace, mobile telephones, and a nearly universal reliance on credit and debit cards has, as James Rule put it, “created cornucopias of actionable personal data to tempt the surveillance appetites of institutions.”[28] For instance, in Massachusetts, the Commonwealth Fusion Center website boasts access to Accurint, Lexis-Nexis, LocatePlus, and Autotrack, a product of Atlanta’s Choicepoint, the giant private data aggregator that moved aggressively into the domestic intelligence market after 9/11.[29] Autotrack permits subscribers to browse through more than 17 billion current and historical records on individuals and businesses with as little as a name or social security number as a starting point. In Maryland, authorities similarly rely on a data broker called Entersect, which maintains 12 billion records on about 98 percent of Americans. Systems like fusion centers feed on steady diets of supposedly “actionable” personal information– all accessed without a warrant.

Most government data mining today occurs in a legal vacuum outside the scope of the Fourth Amendment barring unreasonable searches.

State governments established fusion centers with federal dollars in the absence of any legal framework, and their data mining occurs in a legal vacuum outside the scope of the Fourth Amendment, which bars unreasonable searches.[30] Although data mining can have real consequences for individuals tracked, there are no legal guarantees for the accuracy or appropriateness of the data or the searches, no redress for people injured by being falsely identified as posing a threat, and no judicial or legislative oversight. Some fusion centers purge data searches after one or five years, but no one is responsible for doing so. Fusion center records are also beyond the reach of the Privacy Act of 1974, which regulates and gives individuals access to the files of federal agencies.

Most government data mining today occurs in a legal vacuum outside the scope of the Fourth Amendment barring unreasonable searches.

RESIST MASS SURVEILLANCE

The logic of surveillance systems is to grow. Because there is no “natural limit” to the incorporation of personal information in systems of mass surveillance, our only defense is collective action to impose limits on the post-9/11 intelligence apparatus.[33]

An engaged Congress which takes its oversight role seriously must enact a new series of legal protections on the scale of those of the 1970s. (See Constitution Project proposals.) Just as Americans’ fought for reform in the 1970s, it will take investigations by Congress, state legislatures, attorneys generals, journalists, and citizens to expose the current practices of fusion centers and build the political pressure necessary for change. Lawyers representing protestors and defendants in terrorism cases can also play a key role in discovering how these institutions are monitoring their clients. Lastly, just as DHS engages academia in promoting troublesome theories of intelligence-led policing and violent radicalization, civil libertarians must respond in kind. In a free society, civil liberties must be the cornerstone of antiterrorism policy, not an afterthought, as it has been in the development of fusion centers.

c/o Underground News>>CNN

Washington (CNN) — The Department of Homeland Security has more contractors working for it than full-time employees, a situation two members of Congress said Tuesday was “unacceptable, untenable and unsustainable.”

Sen. Joseph Lieberman, the chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, and ranking Republican Susan Collins said they were “astounded” to learn there are more than 200,000 contractor employees at the department.
The civilian work force of Homeland Security numbers 188,000, according to an estimate provided to the senators by Homeland Security.

In a letter sent Tuesday to the agency’s Secretary Janet Napolitano, Lieberman and Collins said the figure “raises the question of whether DHS itself is in charge of its programs and policies, or whether it inappropriately has ceded core decisions to contractors.”

Although Lieberman, an independent from Connecticut, and Collins of Maine noted that contractors can offer a variety of needed assets and skills to federal agencies, they called the current balance between federal employees and contractors at Homeland Security “unacceptable, untenable and unsustainable,” according to the letter.
Napolitano is slated to appear before the Senate committee Wednesday and is expected to face questions on the subject.
The senators want a unit-by-unit breakdown of where in Homeland Security the contractors are working and have asked for assurances that contractors are not performing “inherently governmental work.”
Clark Stevens, a spokesman for Homeland Security, told CNN Tuesday that “Secretary Napolitano has been strongly committed to decreasing the department’s reliance on contractors and strengthening the federal work force” at Homeland Security.
“Over the past year, we have been actively converting contractor positions to government positions and will continue to build on these efforts at an even more aggressive pace this year. We are working across the department to identify and make additional conversions as quickly as possible while sustaining the work force required to carry out our critical mission,” Stevens said.

c/o ConstitutionCampaign.org

Since the passage of the PATRIOT Act, pervasive citizen surveillance and data collection have been combined as part of an ambitious effort to coordinate national security efforts. Many state governments are in the process of developing warehouses for private and public information in centralized digital hubs called fusion centers, over 70 of which have already been established around the country.

One fusion center of considerable size and concern is the North Central Texas Fusion Center (NCTFS). According the NCTFS, their fusion system user base has expanded to 125 North Central Texas agencies and a centralized hub located in Austin with access to 90 million database records, including open source data. The fusion center intends to allow national security employees to access their user base from remote locations.

According to an ACLU report:

The types of information they seek for analysis has also broadened over time to include not just criminal intelligence, but public and private sector data, and participation in these centers has grown to include not just law enforcement, but other government entities, the military and even select members of the private sector.

Moreover, there are serious questions about whether data fusion is an effective means of preventing terrorism in the first place, and whether funding the development of these centers is a wise investment of finite public safety resources. Yet federal, state and local governments are increasing their investment in fusion centers without properly assessing whether they serve a necessary purpose.

The Texas Department of Information Resources (DIR) is one agency currently responsible for consolidating data from all Texas State agencies into one digital location. The DIR’s consultants, EquaTerra, recently found major defects with IBM’s performance towards the consolidation. One original intention was to save the state money by simply streamlining the data into one location, but it seems IBM has proven unable to fulfill the terms of its contract.

While it is not clear how the information will continue to be used, stored, managed, or disseminated, it is clear that the project is failing standards of efficiency and the flailing project is now costing taxpayers $863 million.

In an effort to solve the problem, the DIR recently decided to reach out to the public for comment. Texans are now being asked to offer input to determine whether moving forward with the data consolidation effort is in their best interests. Texans concerned with the continuance of local fusion center data aggregation should contact the following State officials to document their input:

Governor Rick Perry
Advisor to Department of Information Resources
ATTN: Ed Robertson
ed.robertson@governor.state.tx.us
Phone: (512) 463-1782

DIR Public Information Office
ATTN: Thomas Johnson
P.O. Box 13564
Austin, TX 78711-3564
Fax: (800) 464-1218
Phone: (512) 936-6592

The Peoples’ Campaign for the Constitution’s legal professionals affinity group is pursuing a systematic investigation of fusion centers around the country, with the assistance of lawyers, law students, and paralegals volunteering their time to (a) submit Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests (a model of which has been developed by students at Yale Law School), (b) litigate potential refusals by state governments to disclose requested documents, and/or (c) review responsive documents through a decentralized online process.

If you are a lawyer, law student, or paralegal willing to volunteer time for citizen oversight of domestic spying, please sign up for our legal professionals group and we’ll be in touch.