Perverting the Purpose of Congressional Oversight

Early in my son’s elementary school career I routinely got notes from his teachers asking me to stop by the following morning.

“What happened,” I would ask him? I’d listen to his story.

The next morning I would talk with the teacher.

Only after I’d heard both sides, I’d make up my own mind about what actually happened and how I should react.

You will find an analogy in the charges and counter-charges between the Democrats and Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee over the FBI’s surveillance of Carter Page.

I am convinced that the truth lies in the middle – between what I call “dueling memos”.

The specifics of the Carter Page FISA warrant and the two memos that claim to interpret that surveillance are of less consequence. The incontrovertible fact is that both Democrats and Republicans on the Committee have abused Congress’s important oversight role for transparently political motives.

The committee’s objective should have been to determine the facts on a bi-partisan basis and in co-operation with Department of Justice (DOJ) and FBI.

If they concluded the foreign intelligence surveillance process permitted an abuse of Mr. Page’s constitutional rights, they should have worked with DOJ and the FBI to craft a legislative remedy to prevent similar future abuse and then brought an amendment to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) during the recent Patriot Act renewal process.

Putting the Brakes on Intelligence Activities

The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) was passed in 1978 — in the wake of disturbing revelations of US intelligence abuses leaked to the press associated with the Vietnam War and the Watergate scandal – writ large.

In testimony before a 1975 committee chaired by Idaho Senator Frank Church (D), Americans were shocked to learn the US Army had spied on Americans in America.

Further, the Church Committee and other Senate committees – including the Watergate investigation — uncovered CIA domestic operations against anti-Vietnam War protesters. These activities violated several US laws.

More alarming, press leaks and Congressional investigation found the 1961 Bay of Pigs fiasco was not the only CIA conducted attempted coup against a foreign government or assassination of foreign leaders.

It was clear to Congress much closer oversight over the national intelligence community was urgently needed. Intelligence oversight that strictly balances national security with protecting the rights of individual Americans began with the first Permanent Senate Select Committee on Intelligence in 1976 leading to the 1978 legislation.

To protect the national security, the legislation established a system of permanent congressional oversight of each individual intelligence agency in the US government and over any co-operation or co-ordination between the separate intelligence agencies.

To protect the rights of individual Americans who might come under scrutiny from one or more of these intelligence agencies, Congress established the Federal Intelligence Surveillance Court system.


The nature of intelligence assumes that most of the oversight would be conducted “behind closed doors” by members of Congress and others with appropriate security clearances and safe guards.

As citizens, we should be able to trust the committee members are acting in our (collective) best interests.

Oversight is intended to continuously improve the performance of our intelligence agencies:

  • Insure sufficient resources (budget) are allocated to each agency’s mission
  • Insure each agency is fully compliant with Constitutional and lawful restrictions
  • Insure investigation of any potential overreach or unlawful conduct by any agency personnel is dealt with through civil service administrative practices
  • Identify any opportunities for improved outcomes for the national security

Dueling Memos

In my career, I have taken many corporate management teams through detailed post-mortems. These exercises are conducted after situations that have perceived to be extraordinarily successful of to have failed.

The objective is not to find fault or award promotions.

The objective is to find facts and to use those facts to develop corrective actions driven by those facts.

The facts of the FISA warrant to monitor the electronic communications of Carter Page should have been investigated and adjudicated by the House Intelligence Committee exactly in the manner suggested by FBI Director Christopher Wray. He asked for, and was refused, an opportunity to provide a briefing to clarify why and what triggered the FBI interest in Mr. Page.

In closed door testimony a flow chart of events should have been examined — each step in the flow chart annotated with the factual evidence and surrounding circumstances.

Those circumstances would, obviously, include any discipline meted out to FBI officers determined to have violated policy or law.

The FBI Director would, also, have pointed to any steps in the process requiring procedural or legal improvement.

Whether or not the new FBI Director and the oversight committee found process or legal improvements were required:

  • there’d have been no need for disclosure of national security secrets
  • no loss of public confidence in the FBI and
  • no personal platform for either Devin Nunes (R) or Adam Schiff(D) individual political ambitions

Most importantly, the American people would be reassured that all the elected representatives and the government agencies were working effectively protect national security and individual privacy — simultaneously.


The media frequently mentions the “FISA Courts” while reporting on National Security Agency (NSA), FBI and other intelligence activities that may involve US citizens.

Below is a brief description of the court’s purpose and how it works.

FISA Courts

The Federal Intelligence Surveillance Courts are commonly referred to as FISA Courts – because they were created by the FISA legislation.

The judges of the FISA Court hear and rule on requests for warrants to allow domestic national law enforcement and counter-intelligence agencies to conduct electronic surveillance of a US citizen who they claim could be or could become an agent of a foreign government or non-state actors (terrorists).

FISA Court judges are chosen by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court from the various US District Courts around the nation and serve a 7 year term before returning to US District Court responsibilities.

Under the law, the judges are bound by law to apply a much higher standard than a normal criminal surveillance warrant. Criminal courts require a reasonable investigative suspicion to prove the need for the warrant. The FISA Court judge must see concrete evidence that a surveillance warrant against an individual is justified.

To further protect the rights of the individual suspect, FISA warrants expire after 90 days. If the FBI or the National Security Agency (NSA) applies for a renewal of a surveillance warrant, they must show the judge that the expiring warrant got results – i.e. added new evidence to the initial affidavit to the court.

FISA Abuses

FISA judges are not perfect people, either. It is possible that they make mistakes.

There have been a number of instances in which Congress has stepped in to place limits on the FISA Courts.

In 2002 and 2005 when the Bush Administration went beyond the letter of the law in pursuing terror suspects Congress stepped in limit NSA surveillance activities.

Similarly, in 2011 Congress felt that the Obama Administration had abused its power when it secretly authorized the National Security Agency to conduct bulk searches of the “meta-data” of US citizen’s phone records.

While partisan members of the Intelligence Committees expressed concern over the “excesses” of these previous administrations, the investigation of the alleged abuse and the drafting of corrective legislation was performed thoughtfully and in a bi-partisan manner committed to properly protecting the privacy of American citizens – while, also, protecting the national security.


Time for a Four Star Cyber General

Cyber is everywhere in our lives today and it is our greatest strategic weakness.

In 2015, the FBI and Department of Homeland Security determined Chinese sources, likely the Chinese Army, hacked the federal government’s Office of Personnel Management stealing 21.5 million applications for security clearances. Not only were vital statistics like social security number and credit history vacuumed up but, also, family relationships and social networks. Not even such a blatant and dangerous data security breach spurred the government beyond holding a couple of face saving Congressional hearings. —

Wikileaks disclosed information hacked from the CIA that exposed our ability to track terrorists through their cell phones. The result tipped off the terrorists who’ve returned to more primitive but harder to track methods of communication.

Global “ransom ware” attacks on hospitals have done little to prompt even a single Congressional hearing.

Equifax Credit Bureau was so careless with data they collect from all Americans involuntarily that hackers roamed undetected through their huge credit databases for nearly four months stealing the information of nearly half of the American people – using — what appears to be — a specific set of selection criteria. The government’s response: Consumers can sue Equifax.

The Security and Exchange Commission’s EDGAR System was hacked a year ago (August, 2016). It is likely that some person or persons or country unknown had access to the financial reporting data of every publically traded American or multi-national corporation before that information was made public, as required by law. Congress and the American people were not told until the appointment of a new SEC Chairman in September, 2017.

For almost a year, hackers were able to use (or sell)”insider trader information” to trade on specific stocks before the company’s public announcement of earnings. Such trading is a federal crime.

Just last week, the Department of Homeland Security released a list of 21 states where Russians successfully or semi-successfully hacked into state election systems prior to the 2016 Presidential election.

Taken together these are hostile acts against the nation and the people of the United States – as surely as if those bits and bytes were bullets.

In this war of bits, bytes, and the dark web, there is no “frontline” and Congress is not doing its job: Building an army to protect you and I – the American people – from a nefarious global network of economic terrorists.

No American is Safe:

Almost every aspect of daily American life is connected to the World Wide Web.

When you:

  • Apply for a job
  • Apply for a mortgage or rental approval
  • Watch television
  • Shop – online and off
  • Buy groceries at the local grocery store
  • Dial 911 an emergency
  • Catch up with friends
  • Make a medical appointment
  • Pay the basic monthly bills
  • Save for retirement etc.

The details of every transaction are collected by numerous public and private interests – irrespective of your Constitutional right to privacy. Under the best of circumstances, this data is summarized and sold to better “target” you as a customer.

In the hands of a criminal this data can be used to steal your identity. It can be used to blackmail you into – for example — spying against your employer, your neighbors or friends. It might allow a health insurance company illegal access to your genetic profile.

Protect Our National Infrastructure

There is no part of the infrastructure that we all depend on that does not, also, depend on technology:

  • Weather forecasting
  • Water storage and transport
  • Power generation and transport
  • Farming
  • Air travel
  • Rail travel
  • Ocean and river craft
  • Your family car
  • Corner gas station
  • Hospitals
  • Police Stations
  • Jails
  • Military Installations and Military Hardware etc.

It is not classified information that our government, private and public utilities and other quasi-government agencies have acknowledged their vulnerability to cyber attack.

Stop for a moment and think what the consequences would be if, for example, your electric utility provider were held for ransom by a hostile government or non-state-actor. Denied electric power, many activities we take for granted would quickly stop. What would the social consequences be if gasoline pumps stopped pumping, grocery stores couldn’t refrigerate or even checkout your groceries, ATMs could not dispense cash, and credit card transactions could not be verified across a wide section of America.

Every automaker and others including Apple and Google are working on the “inevitable” driverless car — navigation via the Internet. WHAT IF a terrorist or state actor hacked into the driverless car fleet and turned our interstate highways into real-time bumper cars?


Several states have started to regulate autonomous vehicles, remote home security and other technologies that could put Americans at risk. Not so Congress.

Congress is worried about other things: for example, to build or not to build a wall on our southern border.

Daily reports of massive data breaches, repeated theft of Americans personal data by criminals and hostile state actors, over several years, haven’t prompted Congress or the President – past or present – to take the necessary steps to protect every day Americans from this new and potent threat.

Congress and state governments have been repeatedly briefed on the vulnerabilities of our power grid and communication systems to cyber attack. But none of those briefings have moved Congress to debate or legislate additional cyber security measures outside the reactive Homeland Security Department’s Computer Emergency Reaction Term.

It is well past time that Congress acts pro-actively to establish a cabinet level CYBER SECURITY Department to coordinate all military, intelligence, law enforcement and private sector cyber security initiatives.

Every American has a right to expect Congress to take all steps necessary to protect the life, liberty, privacy and security of every citizen.

As much as we expect our military to be one step ahead of our potential enemies – so must our cyber sleuths.

Graphic courtesy of

A Crucial Balancing Act: DACA and Enhanced Border Security

President Trump has invited an explosion in Congress with his recession of the 2012 Obama Executive Order that protected undocumented aliens who were brought to the United States by their parents when they were still children and before 2007.

There is majority public support for legislation to protect the “DACAs” (Deferred Action [for] Childhood Arrivals).

Three bills have been entered into Congressional hopper – the bi-partisan Senate Dream Act 2017, the House Recognizing America’s Children Act and the House Dream Act.

Nancy Pelosi, embolden by her meeting with President Trump, insists House Democrats will settle for nothing less than their Dream Act – which broadens the categories of eligibility beyond President Obama’s Executive Order and offers Dreamers a direct path to American citizenship.

The two other bills take a more measured approach — offering at first provisional legal status to work, travel, go to school, etc. Only after serving several years of provisional status would “Dreamers” earn a right to apply for permanent residency and eventually citizenship — hardly a “get out of jail free” card.

Initial reaction on Capitol Hill suggests that there is broad support, in Congress, for DACA-fix legislation – limited in scope and purpose.

After sixteen years of bi-partisan failure to pass such a bill what is different this time?

Passing a small, targeted immigration bill will benefit both political parties going into the 2018 mid-term elections.

Politics Makes Strange Bedfellows

Does President Trump think he can trade a DACA law for his often promised southern “border wall”? It’s possible but not realistic.

More realistically — the Republican majority in Congress knows it cannot afford to lose this opportunity to partially rebuild its relationship with Hispanic voters. But the GOP must also be responsive to its own base – which has used its votes repeatedly to demand enhanced border security first and granting legal status second.

Democrats will seek political advantage in the mid-term elections by supporting a “clean DACA law” (effectively an amnesty) that would attract more Hispanic support from the US citizen brothers and sisters of the Dreamers — even at the expense of further erosion of their traditional organized union, blue collar base in the mid-west.

Representatives and senators in the center of both parties have a clear common interest. The majority want a bill they can pass, the President will sign, and that they can defend to their constituents during the 2018 primary and general elections.

Senators as philosophically opposed as Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) and Diane Feinstein (D-California) have both acknowledged that only a DACA Fix that includes steps to strengthen our border security meets all three conditions.

Effective Border Security Doesn’t Mean Walls

A wall on our southern border — even if Mexico or Congress was willing to pay for it – will not secure our borders.

Fact is every year since 2007 more than half of the illegal immigrants to the USA have been airport arrival “visa overstays”.

Technology, not concrete, is the solution to our 360 degree land, air, and sea border security problem.

  1. Strengthen E-Verify

The 1986 Immigration Reform Act (aka Simpson Mazzoli) attempted to balance compassion for some two million illegal aliens who had been in the country for many years with stronger border security and enforcement measures.

The 1986 legislation defined as a crime any USA employer hiring/employing a person who could not prove they had the legal right to work (and live) in the United States.

To help employers stay “on the right side of the law”, Congress mandated the development of an electronic verification system – E Verify — every employer would need to use to verify every new employee’s “work authorization status”.

The bureaucracy took a different approach than the law required while subsequent Congresses just looked the other way.

Participation in the E-Verify System is voluntary unless the employer is a federal contractor – or in some states a state contractor. There is only limited enforcement even for federal contractors.

Any other employer can enroll to use the system on a voluntary basis with little risk of being subjected to enforcement action by Homeland Security.

Under current Homeland Security policy, even if a new hire is “non-compliant” – determined not to have work authorization – termination is not required only strongly suggested.

Congress should give Homeland Security twelve months from date of passage of new Border Security legislation to deliver an E-Verify System that is tested, proven and works.

Once tested and proven, the system must be made mandatory for all newly hired workers – every employer, everywhere – with significant civil and criminal penalties for employers that violate it.

Restricting the E-Verify mandate to new hires will protect those working without papers in the USA today – i.e. DACA’s parents – from termination because of status.

No DACAs could move from provisional status to permanent resident status until E-Verify is successively implemented, rolled out nationally and demonstrated to work – including employer enforcement.

  1. Discourage Illegal Entry with Improved Tracking Technology at Every Border

Simultaneously, Customs and Border Security must
improve its ability to electronically track arrivals and departures of tourists and other foreign nationals with temporary (time fenced) visas.

Currently, a photo is taken of every airport arrival and stored with passport information collected prior to and upon arrival.

Today, Homeland Security has no way to track where a “visitor” goes once they cross the border or walk out of the airport. It’s just too easy to blend in and stay – get a job, rent an apartment, or buy a car.

  • Congress should authorize the Attorney General to determine the Constitutionality of attaching a GPS tracking device to all foreign passports in the United States to ensure timely departures.
  1. Eyes in Sky

High tech surveillance is part of 21st century life – at the mall, the airport, the stop light, on the freeway – rendering walls historic artifacts.

Congress needs to increase funding for technology already used by Border Patrol including satellites, in the ground sensors, and drones to patrol remote stretches of both the southern and northern borders.

  • More drone operators, for example, to spot irregular arrivals faster and guide border patrol agents to apprehend them.
  • Ground level sensor technology can be more effective than walls.
  1. A Tamper-proof Internal Identification System

Homeland Security must be given a deadline to negotiate a plan with the states to issue technically sophisticated drivers’ licenses and other internal identification documents.

  • Congress first mandated a tamper-proof “National ID” following 9/11 but it has never been implemented.
  • Adding technical sophistication to our (state issued) internal identity documents will prevent the possibility of unauthorized immigrants using our air travel system – reducing the terrorist threat as well.
    • Some states currently issue Driver’s Licenses to undocumented aliens but those licenses must meet federal guidelines that insure TSA can quickly identify them as not authorized for air travel.

Tamper-proof national identification documents are, also, a defense against the growing national threat from counterfeiting and identity theft.

None of these four steps would deny sanctuary to anyone currently in the United States.

Build Public Confidence for Immigration Reform

If the public saw each step implemented, tracked and succeeding — public confidence in the government’s ability to secure our borders would grow.

Simultaneously, Congress could use the two or three years required to implement and assess the effectiveness of these first border security steps to develop a thoughtful set of next steps to fairly resolve the status of DACA’s parents and other undocumented immigrants.

Securing the border along with resolving the legal status of those who have been living in the shadows of America for many years would
build public confidence in the government’s ability to manage our immigration system.

Public confidence is the necessary pre-requisite to a comprehensive 21st century immigration reform plan.

Graphic courtesy of


Firearms Transaction Record

Honor Orlando with One Small Step toward Unity of Purpose

After I turn off the lights each night, I repeat the basic prayer of my faith followed by a brief, extemporaneous chat with God. It was just after 1 AM Sunday morning when I asked God to do what he can to achieve peace on earth.

At that very moment the largest mass shooting in the history of the United States was taking place across the country.

How can it be that 49 people were murdered in an Orlando, Florida, night club? How can it be that 53 people who went out for a good time on Saturday night – ended up fighting for their lives in Orlando hospitals on Sunday?

Then the “other shoe dropped”. The killer who pledged allegiance to ISIS — was known to the FBI but still was able to buy a military-style assault rifle from a legitimate gun dealer.

Massacres Have One Common Denominator

Watching the breaking news, I was struck by the sounds recorded by law enforcement. The rat-a-tat-tat – the speed and the volume or shots fired.

It sounded like a Hollywood war movie!

It’s the same sound we heard in the videos of Fort Hood, Sandy Hook, Tucson, San Bernardino, Charleston, Aurora and a dozen other instances in the last 8 years.

There is a common denominator: A semi-automatic, military-style assault rifle (AR-15). We learned after Aurora that you can buy this type of weapon at Wal-Mart!

To the best of my knowledge there are no wars going on in Aurora!

Democrats could not resist the urge to politicize the tragedy. They took to the Floor of the House of Representatives shouting “Shame” at the Republican Majority. They ignored the fact they failed to pass any meaningful gun control legislation when they were in the majority in both the House and the Senate. This is an Election Year and gun control is a perpetual issue to rouse voters.

Not a Time for Typical Politics

When I work on a new strategic direction with a corporate client I start with the facts. Focusing on facts avoids inter-personal tensions and political agendas from side-tracking the discussion.

All the participants are focused externally – listening more than talking — until they all come to a consensus about what to do with those facts. It is a first step in building the trust necessary to take more significant, risky actions.

People are scared.

What they want are solutions not posturing.

Our leaders must avoid political finger pointing and focus instead on quiet conversation that allows the evidence to lead us to constructive consensus, which would build a new multi-pronged strategy to combat all forms of domestic terrorism.

It is a fact – based on ample evidence – federal gun purchase background checks do not work to make us safer. 80 percent of Americans agree they must be strengthened.

Background Checks Are Not Gun Control

Congress passing legislation to expand and strengthen background checks could be a confidence building step toward a new homeland security strategy.

They have the facts:

  • The Charleston massacre last year demonstrated that an arbitrary three day maximum waiting period is not long enough for a thorough FBI background check.
  • The Orlando killer had been under FBI surveillance for nearly a year (2013-14) as a suspected terrorist but was able to walk into a gun store and walk out with a military assault rifle – no questions asked.
  • The Department of Homeland Security maintains a “no-fly list” of potential terrorists to prevent the use of an airplane as a weapon of mass destruction but Congress has refused – so far –to make it illegal for these people to buy a gun.
  • This policy is in fact: Crazy in its contradiction!

Congress has had more than a dozen opportunities to debate this subject over the last seven years. It’s time to stop talking and listen to the American people!

Amend the background check legislation this week with a simple amendment to the law that honors the memory of those who died in Orlando – while they were just out living their lives.

  • Remove the 72 hour restriction from the background process. The FBI completes the background check when they have all the data required – no matter how long it takes.
  • Integrate FBI interview records and the “no-fly list” with FBI gun background check system.
  • If someone who has been interviewed or surveilled as a potential terrorist attempts to purchase a gun they should be flagged for an FBI interview before any action is taken on the gun purchase application.
  • Similarly, anyone on the “no-fly list” who applies to purchase a gun must be subject to FBI interview and further investigation before any action is taken on the gun purchase application.

This legislation would be a small, politically safe step for Congress. It would be a huge step forward toward building a national consensus on steps that can make our homeland and our homes more secure by following the evidence the FBI and the ATF are developing in Orlando and across the country.

To do less dishonors the lives lost!


USA Doesn’t Need More Security, It Needs Smarter Security

I never expected to find myself sitting on an airplane watching live footage from a police/terrorist shootout taking place in San Bernardino, California.

I was flying from San Francisco to Washington, D.C. — a business – then fun — trip.

I will admit that the ISIS videos promising attacks in Washington and New York gave me a moment of pause before the trip.

But my sense of adventure won out.

Washington streets were bustling. Restaurants were packed with Holiday Season celebrants.

New York was crowded with tourists, theater goers, shoppers from all around the world on the busiest shopping weekend of the year. It took me an hour to walk 10 blocks from 7th and 55 through Times Square to 45th- — on my way to a Broadway matinee — swept along on an ocean of humanity.

Reactions to Terrorist Acts

San Bernardino dominated the news but none of the travelers or “locals” I met seemed overly concerned. None where concerned enough to change their plans.

My random sampling of opinions found no widespread fear of foreigners or of Muslims in particular.

There were maudlin jokes – some mine — but no fear.

A common theme was a desire for smarter government security rather than just more government security – i.e. heavily armed police on every corner.

Smarter Security Requires Exercising Imagination

The San Bernardino attack, the Boston Marathon bombing, the thwarted Times Square bombing, and the thwarted Fort Dix attack all share three common characteristics: inadequate research into visa applications, polite, political correctness, and — most frighteningly — an amazing lack of imagination.

These are exactly the same conditions that made the 9/11 attacks possible.

The 9/11 hijackers entered the US on student and tourist visas. All of these terrorists had been background checked and interviewed before the visas were granted; yet it took extensive post 9/11 investigation to piece together their true identities.

Has the US Consular Service ( put any of the “lessons learned” from the 9/11 post-event investigation into practice to “plug the holes”?

When a seemingly assimilated American citizen of Pakistani descent orders a mail-order bride from Pakistan and that fiancée shows up for her K-1 interview in a black hijab – it is a failure of the visa approval process, plus political correctness (PC), and a failure of imagination not to wonder “why” and perhaps to think “what if” — to not look a little harder into the applicants’ backgrounds.

Traveler Tracking Loophole Must Be Closed

Several of the 9/11 hijackers had over stayed their 90 day U.S. visas, but U.S. Immigration and Border Patrol officials as well as law enforcement had no process, no technical tools to track foreign travelers’ movements within the United States in order to detain and deport them.

The 9/11 Commission pointed to the urgent need for a foreign traveler tracking system more than 10 years ago.

The US government has spent $50 Billion to “harden the homeland” during that time but the tracking system still does not exist.

My iPhone and – consequentially — my car know where I am – latitude and longitude – and pop up the correct time and weather information unbidden.

My iPhone is able to track my every move – literally my every step — without any action on my part.

Congress should invite executives from Apple, Google, Microsoft, IBM etc. plus executives from Fed Ex and UPS to educate them on tracking technology.

Working with the private sector, the government should be able to test a prototype visitor passport tracking system in 30 days or 60 days – 90 days at the most!

Last, but not least, Congress must explain to you and me, the American people, why they have failed to exercise their oversight responsibility for homeland security over the past decade?

It took the deaths of 130 people in Paris to raise concerns. Fourteen Americans died in San Bernardino to focus their attention. That is shameful.

Congress, Action is Urgent.

Technology cannot immunize us against the threat of terrorism but it can aid our law enforcement officials to “level the playing field” against the unknown, unseen, unsuspected would-be terrorist.

It can, also, be a measurable “down payment” on stemming the flow of illegal immigration. Fully 40% of the estimated 11 million undocumented/illegal immigrants in the United States today are “tourists” who overstayed their visas and just blended into the population.

The clock is ticking!

NSA Leak

NSA Leak Case = Metaphor For US Government – Incompetent

The NSA leak case is just a metaphor that describes the entire US Government in a single word – incompetent. USA – the Super Power more like the Super Mouse!

Super Mouse – the entire diplomatic, law enforcement and intelligence community of the United States cannot corral one 30 year old computer hacker! If news reports are to be believed, the NSA, the CIA, the Justice Department and the State Department – none of them are certain about Edward Snowden’s whereabouts.

The Chinese, the Russians and globally insignificant dictators in Latin America are nonchalantly helping this self-styled vigilante to stay one-step ahead of US law enforcement! The mighty mouse squeaked to the Russian bear plaintively: “We extradited yours. Please extradite ours”.

How did this global game of (crumpled) cat and (super) mouse ever get airborne? The Justice Department claims it took the State Department 10 days to process its request to cancel Snowden’s passport – allowing China to get rid of the hot potato claiming his passport was still valid. Please! The distance between the headquarters of Justice and State Departments can’t be more than 2 miles? A couple of hours by carrier pigeon! Less than 10 minutes with lights and sirens flashing!! Less than 2 minutes by telephone call from Attorney General to Secretary of State. The only explanation is total incompetence brought on by bureaucratic paralysis – paperwork trumping purpose!

Back to the beginning – how did a 30 year old man without either a high school diploma or a GED, but with a web history of anti-government statements and a less than honorable discharge from the Army get a top secret security clearance as an intelligence agency computer analyst in the first place? Two words: Bureaucratic incompetence!

The Department of (Federal) Personnel Management (OPM) has been routinely outsourcing background checks since 1996 when President Clinton privatized that function of OPM. Average cost $500. I agree. It’s not necessary to use highly trained investigative talent to do background checks on applicants for janitorial jobs or Smithsonian tour guides and various agency accountants. But when it comes to intelligence agents and the personnel that support them – Americans have an expectation of higher standards. Aren’t you surprised to learn that these background checks are not conducted by the FBI or military investigators?

More shocking – OMP is still accepting top-secret background checks done by the contractor their own Inspector General is investigating for fraud.  Negligent and incompetent!

Mr. Snowden was an employee of Booz Allen working under a contract at the NSA. A contract employee is, by IRS regulation, defined as a temporary worker. It is inexplicable that a temporary employee – in his first month at NSA – gained top-secret, compartmentalized access to live intelligence databases and applications? According to his former chief of staff, not even Leon Panetta enjoyed that access as CIA Director.

The NSA still hasn’t explained to Congress or the American people why NO alarm bells went off while Snowden was downloading FOUR LAPTOPS worth of live intelligence information. NSA does not need to tell the public the details of corrective action. But at least Senator Feinstein and Representative Rogers, as respective Senate and House Intelligence Committee Chairs, should be able to assure the American people that that the problem is understood and corrected.

A bigger question is why doesn’t the NSA routinely exercise at least the same level of intellectual property security as, for example, Apple Inc.? At Apple, employee bags, purses and laptops are subject to search by security, and passwords watched, to prevent the theft of intellectual property. At NSA, lax security is an example of incompetence nurtured by an environment of anonymity and a lack of accountability.

And Booz Allen is still on the job at the NSA! Booz Allen should have been immediately suspended and all their personnel rescreened.

President Obama has been out and about talking about almost anything else since the Snowden story first broke. He is in an awkward position. I wonder if he named the balls during his golf game last Saturday – as an alternative to actually firing managers at NSA, State, Justice, CIA, and OPM. But, of course, the score is a “state secret”!

If you agree with this blog, forward it to your representative with your own comments.

$1 billion a year to conduct 2 million investigations of people seeking security clearances for jobs doing everything from cleaning offices at the State Department to working as covert operatives overseas. Most of that money goes to contractors like USIS.

Photo Credit: Kacper Pempel/Reuters

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Marco Rubio Says “Enforce Existing Gun Control Laws”

I had the privilege of meeting Senator Marco Rubio (R-Florida) a couple of days ago.   He is gracious, engaging and even more youthful in person than on TV.  He has the practiced charm of a politician who can look you straight in the eye while delivering a non-answer to a simple question.

In the couple of moments I had with him, I told the Senator how disappointed I was that he had voted against the Manchin/Toomey gun safety background check amendment.  The Senator’s response, delivered with a straight face, “We need to enforce the gun control laws on the books today.  That will help to stop gun violence.”   Huh?  With all due respect, Senator, are you serious?

On an average day in America, the sort of day that does not result in a Presidential condolence call or 24 hour news coverage; the Center for Disease Control reports

  • 30 gun related murders
  • 162 survivable gun shot wounds and
  • 53 suicides by gun

That’s about 30,000 gun related deaths a year in the United States even if there are no unthinkable large scale events like Newtown, Aurora and Tucson.

If that’s not a public health emergency, then I don’t know what is!

If there were a flu outbreak that killed a fraction of 30,000 people most Americans would clamor for the government to do something to insure public safety!

Since the December, 2012, Newtown, Connecticut, shootings every single public opinion poll shows that is exactly what the American people are clamoring for in the form of common sense gun licensing laws.  They want stiffer background checks as a matter of public safety – a vaccine – if you will!

  • Even 85% of NRA (National Rifle Association) members believe that stronger and broader background checks are a matter of public safety!

Current federal gun safety law relies on data provided by the states as well as federal records. An applicant must provide proof of identity, proof of American citizenship, and proof that they are at least 21 years old. The background check also verifies that the applicant has never been Takes as little as 5 minutes to complete.

But the background check only applies to federal licensed gun dealers and federal licensed internet dealers (who deliver only through the licensed dealer nearest the customer – for purposes of identification). The background check is not required at gun shows or on private sales between two unlicensed individuals over the Internet.

Manchin/Toomey proposed to strengthened the background check by including all gun show sales and all internet sales between two private individuals (ala Craigslist)

The amendment would, also, strengthen requirements on the states to provide more and more timely data to keep the federal “no sale” data base up-to-date.

Nothing more.

There are no restrictions on – gun model or gun type or ammunition magazines. The amendment specifically forbids the federal government from establishing any sort of registry of the applicants or the results.

Senator Rubio’s staff explains his position as consistent with the phone calls and e-mails to his office – overwhelmingly opposed to the amendment.  When asked, they acknowledge they never stopped counting the calls to wonder why their numbers were so inconsistent with the polling data.

Call me naive, but I assume a smart politician would want to reconcile such widely different numbers before committing.  That’s what a smart business man or woman would do.

Of course, reconciling the perplexing discontinuity should have happened before he voted last week but there is still time.

Public outrage, militant advocates and the terrorizing gun battle on Boston streets will only raise the national drumbeat for sensible gun safety legislation.

Next time, instead of filling the campaign coffers in Nevada, Senator Rubio should take a listening tour through Florida!

Photo Credit: Bradford Thomas/Truth Revolt

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