Watchdog One – Week in Review – January 27, 2018

Welcome back to the Watchdog One weekly, by Jason Mojica. Please make sure to follow us on Twitter: @watchdog_one / Tell your friends to SUBSCRIBE / Send us tips: tips@watchdogone.org / Let us know what you think: editor@watchdogone.org.

THIS WEEK WE HEARD A LOT ABOUT…

The great and / or terrible deal to reopen the government
– Here’s Chirs Cillizza’s take on who won and who lost [CNN]
– Here’s an important follow up on that tiny little language change in the temporary budget that provides a wide berth for intel shenanigans. [Federation of American Scientists]

The Attorney General being interviewed by Mueller’s team
– Here’s Michael S. Schmidt & Maggie Haberman on the first member of Trump’s cabinet to be questioned as part of the Russia probe [NYT]
What, me worry? [CNN]

Trump reportedly failing to fire Mueller last June
– Schmidt & Haberman broke the story, attributing it to “four people told of the matter” [NYT]
– Democrats said they’d try to leverage the budget negotiations to keep Mueller from being fired [NYT]
– Republicans reportedly shrugged it off [Politico]

President Trump attended Klaus Schwab’s little meeting of the minds in Switzerland
“Apocalypse Trump is Unleashed on Davos” [Breitbart]
– “Trump Steals Thunder from Davos Elite” [Infowars]

Some FBI agents’ text messages
Lost [Fox News]
Found [Washington Post]

MEANWHILE…

The Justice Department threatened to subpoena 23 states, cities, and other jurisdictions over info they may be holding back from immigration authorities
The DOJ sent a slew of nastygrams on Wednesday to mayors, chiefs of police, and other local government officials demanding “documents that could show whether each jurisdiction is unlawfully restricting information sharing by its law enforcement officers with federal immigration authorities,” according to a DOJ press release. The letters threatened subpoenas in the event of noncompliance with the request and more specifically 8 U.S.C. 1373, and reminded the recipients that they could be made to return FY2016 grants and be subject to other bureaucratic unpleasantness. It’s hard to imagine the timing was an accident, as the US Conference of Mayors was having its Winter meeting in Washington, DC and a had a meeting on the books with President Trump. A number of the mayors promptly pulled out. Those that attended the meeting with Trump, got a stern talking to according to Citylab, as well as, of course, an assessment of the size of the crowd. “The mayors who choose to boycott this event have put the needs of criminal, illegal immigrants over law-abiding America,” said the president to attendees. “So let me tell you, the vast majority of people showed up.” [Read more at Citylab]

Related: Video of President Trump’s remarks to the US Conference of Mayors Winter Meeting [C-Span]

A video of border patrol agents doing an immigration check on a Greyhound bus in Florida has gotten a bit of attention
The video, shared on Twitter by the Florida Immigrant Coalition, has been viewed more than 2.3mm times, and has prompted a joint statement of outrage at the CPB by members of Congress. But this is not new, reports the L.A. Times. “Customs and Border Protection officials say they are following federal regulations. The Immigration and Nationality Act allows immigration officers to conduct searches, without a warrant, within 100 miles of any U.S. border. The entire state of Florida is within 100 miles of the coast.”  [Read more from the L.A. Times]

ICE will soon be tracking your licence plate
“The Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency has officially gained agency-wide access to a nationwide license plate recognition database” reports The Verge. “The system gives the agency access to billions of license plate records and new powers of real-time location tracking, raising significant concerns from civil libertarians.” [Read more from The Verge]

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau dropped an investigation into a payday loan company that donated to the guy who’s running the CFPB
The CFPB investigation into World Acceptance Corporation was prompted by a 2013 ProPublica story, which detailed how the company used legal loopholes to conceal the true cost of its installment loans – in some cases having an effective interest rate of 182 percent. On Monday, World issued a press release saying that they’d received a letter from the CFPB letting them know the investigation had been completed. Mick Mulvaney, who currently runs the CFPB as its acting head (something of a side-gig in addition to his Cabinet-level role as the director of the Office of Management and Budget), received donations from the World Acceptance Corporation’s PAC on at least 3 occasions while he was in the US House of Representatives reports the International Business Times. [Read more from IBT]

The CFPB also dropped a lawsuit against four payday lenders [CNN]

Rex Tillerson put pressure on Russia over Syria’s chemical weapons
Visiting Warsaw on Saturday, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson continued to hold Russia accountable for the use of chemical weapons inside Syria. Earlier in the week, Tillerson laid out his case in Paris, after signing on to the International Partnership Against Impunity for the Use of Chemical Weapons.

“There is simply no denying that Russia, by shielding its Syrian ally, has breached its commitments to the United States as a framework guarantor. It has betrayed the Chemical Weapons Convention and UN Security Council Resolution 2218, and on these occasions has twice vetoed UN Security Council resolutions to enforce the Joint Investigative Mechanism and continue its mandate,” said Tillerson. “Russia’s failure to resolve the chemical weapons issue in Syria calls into question its relevance to the resolution to the overall crisis.”

Ambassador Nikki Haley also took the argument to the UN on Tuesday. “And we know that for years Russia has looked the other way while their Syrian friends use these despicable weapons of war,” she said. Russia is complicit in the Assad regime’s atrocities. Will the Russian Federation say anything at all today about the suffering caused by Assad’s barbaric tactics? Will they hold Assad to account? Of course not. They never do.” [Read more from USMUN]

The Russian Ambassador to the UN says it’s a strange coincidence the recent chemical weapons attack in Syria occurred just before 29 nations were scheduled to meet on the aforementioned French-led partnership against impunity for such attacks, reports CNN [Read more from CNN]

USAID and Mastercard are teaming up to turn refugee camps into “digital communities”
It’s hard to get more Davos than the announcement of a public-private coalition that will “bring together technology, solutions and experience from multiple sectors to transform refugee settlements into digitally-connected communities,” so that’s just what the United States Agency for International Development and multinational financial services company, Mastercard, did on Thursday. It’s easy to be cynical about this and other attempts at achieving “financial inclusion” as an attempt by Mastercard to keep their stock going up and to the right, but this… doesn’t actually sound too bad. [Read more from Business Wire]

Where in the world is Diego Garcia?
“Is Diego Garcia at risk of slipping from Washington’s grasp?” asked The National Interest last fall. If it is, that hasn’t stopped the DoD from awarding a $240mm construction contract there, with an “expected completion date of January 2023.” [Read more from the DoD]

INVESTIGATIONS & REVELATIONS

SIGAR released a long-awaited report on DoD & State Department funding of Afghan forces known to have committed sexual assault
John Sopko has the distinct honor of being one of the few Inspectors General that people can actually name. As the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) he has been something of a provocateur, and his approach has earned him a fair share of enemies. This week SIGAR made public another report that will make a lot of folks unhappy, this one on child sexual assault by Afghan security forces and how the DoD and State Department skirted a US law designed to prevent money from going to folks who do that sort of thing. According to the Washington Post the Pentagon tried to block the SIGAR assessment, which was requested by members of Congress following a harrowing 2015 New York Times story detailing rampant sexual abuse of young boys by Afghan police forces – forces who were being trained and equipped by the US military. The DoD failed to SIGAR from conducting the assessment, but did manage to keep the report – which was delivered for review last February – classified for nearly a year. The report ever so politely suggests to Congress that it “may want to consider prohibiting DoD from applying the notwithstanding clause to the DoD Leahy law.” The “notwithshanding clause” basically says, “we know there’s a law that prohibits this very thing, but this is war so we’re going to make an exception.” It might be one of the only circumstances under which Afghan forces have ever been considered “exceptional.” [Read more from SIGAR]

The Pentagon has a long list of why they’re unhappy with the F-35
Bloomberg’s Anthony Capaccio obtained the F-35 portion of an annual report the DoD’s director of operational testing delivered to senior Pentagon officials on Tuesday. It details a swath of problems with America’s costliest weapons system ranging from the diagnostic system detecting “failures” on parts that have not actually failed to, oh you know, the plane only being available when needed around 50 percent of the time. [Read more from Bloomberg]

Rumsfeld’s ‘snowflakes” were finally set free
This week, after a five-year FOIA fight by The George Washington University’s National Security Archive, 59,000 pages of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s mini-memos have been released to the joy of many. The Intercept dug out the fun fact that, two months after the US invaded Afghanistan, Rumsfeld wanted to know which languages are spoken there, while Politico declared that “Donald Rumsfeld’s snowflake poetry is exactly what America needs right now,” and demonstrated the transformative power of a carriage return. Dig in yourself and see what you can find! [Read more from National Security Archive]

Government IT contracts worth billions are actually receiving proper oversight
Just kidding, they’re not. That’s according to a report from the Government Accountability Office. The fine folks at the Project on Government Oversight have broken down the findings for us:

The 22 agencies being evaluated were asked to identify all of their IT contracts while GAO created an independent list of the agencies’ IT contracts. The agency-provided total was 76,599 contracts worth $14 billion for FY 2016, while GAO found 108,092 worth $18.5 billion. That means 31,493 IT contracts worth $4.5 billion were not being flagged for the FITARA oversight process.

Eight of the reviewed agencies—the Departments of Health and Human Services (HHS), the Interior, Transportation, and the Treasury, as well as the National Science Foundation (NSF), the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the General Services Administration (GSA), and the Office of Personnel Management (OPM)—were the worst offenders, failing to identify over 40 percent of their IT contracts.”

[Read more from POGO]

The US may not be able to make the new nukes the Trump administration wants
As analysts, activists, scientists and pundits weigh in on the implications contained in a leaked draft of the forthcoming Nuclear Posture Review (NPR), the outgoing head of the National Nuclear Security Administration, Frank Klotz, warns that the agency responsible for oversight of the country’s nuclear weapons is already operating at capacity, Defense News reports. In regards to the NPR’s calls for developing new nukes and modifying others, Klotz said, “We’ve never done more than one life extension program at a time, since the end of the Cold War. We’re now doing essentially four.” [Read more from Defense News]

BITS & BOBS

U.S. Attorney’s Office enters settlement with Rite Aid based on improper sales of meth precursor pseudoephedrine [US DOJ]

Combatting the Opioid Crisis – Exploiting Vulnerabilities in International Mail [US Senate – PDF]

Charities see nail clippers, shovels are North Korean no-nos [Washington Post]

Congress may actually fix music royalties [The Verge]

FLORIDA MAN

The US Attorney’s Office and the US Secret Service made an arrest this week in the case of the guy accused of using fake checks to charter planes to get aid to Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria. “According to the complaint, in or around October 2017, Vazquez contacted Miami Air International, a local charter airline. Vazquez again identified himself as Emilio Serralles and claimed to own a company called Puerto Rico Relief Committee. Subsequently, Vazquez chartered multiple flights from Miami to Puerto Rico to purportedly deliver relief supplies. As payment for these flights, Vazquez provided a counterfeit and fraudulent American Express Centurion Bank cashier’s check in the amount of $564,036.05 to Miami Air International, which was rejected as fraudulent by U.S. Trust, Bank of America Private wealth management. [Read more at DOJ – or at the New York Daily News]