Watchdog One – Week in Review – February 10, 2018

More links, less pontification. Welcome back to another abbreviated edition of 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 other memo
Here’s CNN’s breakdown of Trump’s refusal to release the Democratic response to the Nunes memo [CNN]

– Here’s the Project on Government Oversight’s Executive Director applauding the fact that at least the members of the House Intelligence Committee will gain access to the underlying classified documents that inspired the Nunes memo. [POGO]

The White House’s internal version of extreme vetting
– David Frum asks “Why Didn’t the White House See Domestic Violence as Disqualifying?” [The Atlantic]

Here’s Politico’s take on how the White House is handling its crisis of the week. [Politico]

But wait, there’s more [Washington Post]

How much of your money the Federal Government will spend over the next two years
– The folks at ClearanceJobs see defense spending as the winner in the budget deal, which means… more jobs for folks with a security clearance. (No clearance? Try the White House). [ClearanceJobs]

– Veronique de Rugy at Reason opines that “The Senate budget deal proves Republicans love government spending” [Reason]

The budget will allow Medicare to pay for a range of new benefits and services including managed care and home-delivered meals [Forbes]

Fig Newmans got a tax break [Bloomberg]

The DACA can got kicked down the road [CNN]

MEANWHILE…

The DoD’s internal watchdog testified that there are fewer members of the military being found guilty of misconduct
The Department of Defense’s acting Inspector General, Glenn Fine, testified on Capitol Hill (video) Wednesday about the procedures for investigating misconduct by senior leadership in the military. The DoD IG released data on Wednesday as part of Fine’s prepared statement that suggests that fewer members of the military are being found guilty of misconduct. But that’s due in part to the fact that more cases are being dismissed as not credible, the Associated Press’ Lolita C. Baldor reports. “There were 803 complaints filed in the fiscal year that ended last Sept. 30, compared to 787 the previous year. But just 144 were deemed credible and investigated by the IG, and 49 senior officials were eventually found guilty of misconduct.” [Read more from the AP via The Washington Post]

The DoD released its new harassment policy
On Thursday, the DoD released Instruction 1020.03: Harassment Prevention and Response in the Armed Forces. A department press release explained that this is a comprehensive policy that included sexual harassment and harassment through social media, before reminding us all that all DoD policy ultimately comes down to improving the military’s ability to kill people and break things: “The department’s policy strives to provide an atmosphere of dignity and respect and an environment free from discrimination, harassment and assault, to increase the readiness and lethality of the armed forces.” [Read more from DoD]

Related: Sexual assault reports doubled at West Point [Army Times]

Related: ‘Continuum Of Harm’: The Military Has Been Fighting Sexual Assault In Its Ranks For Decades, But Women Say It’s Still Happening [Task & Purpose]

President Trump set the ball in motion for formalized “extreme vetting”
On Tuesday, the President signed a memorandum establishing a “National Vetting Center” that in addition to seeking to coordinate “efforts to identify individuals who present a threat to national security, border security, homeland security, or public safety,” also creates a new director-level position to be designated by the Department of Homeland Security. DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said in a statement, “The National Vetting Center will support unprecedented work by DHS and the entire U.S. intelligence community to keep terrorists, violent criminals, and other dangerous individuals from reaching our shores.” [Read more from the White House]

The first meeting of the “Cuba Internet Task Force” took place
Created by a Presidential memorandum late last year, the task force is part of the Trump administration’s tougher stance on Cuba. In its inaugural meeting, members of the task force agreed to… meet again, and to form some subcommittees which will make some recommendations within six months. This is somewhat ironic because, as Reuters reports, under the Obama administration’s improved relations with Cuba in 2015-2016, “Cuba significantly expanded internet access, introducing Wi-Fi hotspots in public spaces and connecting more homes to the web. A handful of independent, web-based news outlets emerged too, chipping away at state media. Several of those outlets have said they want nothing to do with Trump’s free press initiative, which they fear creates the impression they are mouthpieces of the United States.” [Read more from Reuters]

Related – Cuba hands note of protest to U.S. over internet task force [Reuters]

The US continued to be at war in Syria
Syria and Russia condemned the United States’ military presence in Syria as ‘illegal’ Thursday after an overnight confrontation in which U.S. warplanes bombed pro-Syrian-government forces as they approached an American-supported base,” reports the Liz Sly in the Washington Post. “U.S. forces targeted the pro-government troops with airstrikes and artillery after they launched an attack against a base belonging to the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces in the eastern province of Deir al-Zour, according to Col. Thomas F. Veale, a U.S. military spokesman.” [Read more from The Washington Post]

Related: US Secretary of Defense James Mattis on the “perplexing situation” that led to the attack in Syria. [DoD]

INVESTIGATIONS & REVELATIONS

US Secretly Negotiated with Russians to Buy Stolen NSA Documents – and the Russians Offered Trump-Related Material, Too [The Intercept]

ICE Wants to Be an Intelligence Agency Under Trump [The Daily Beast]

Russians penetrated U.S. voter systems, top U.S. official says [NBC News]

Inquiry of Soldiers’ Deaths Urges Curtailing West Africa Missions [New York Times]

 

BITS & BOBS

CBP Ensures Pest-free Flowers for Valentine’s Day [CPB]

Senators Ponder How to Break Criminal Justice Logjam [Roll Call]

Former Homeland Security Investigations Special Agent Sentenced to Prison for Accepting Bribes to Dismiss Indictment Against Colombian Narcotics Kingpin [DOJ]

Latest Wells Fargo Penalties Add Fuel to Dodd-Frank Debate [Roll Call]

Statement from FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, M.D., on the agency’s scientific evidence on the presence of opioid compounds in kratom, underscoring its potential for abuse [FDA]

 

FLORIDA MAN

Joseph Daneil Hudek, a Florida man who consumed marijuana edibles, tried to open the exit door of a plane en route to China, and then started a brawl with flight attendants and passengers who tried to stop him pled guity to four felonies in federal court on Friday. According to a DOJ press release, “The plane had just passed over Vancouver Island and was over the Pacific Ocean when Hudek came out of the first class bathroom and in an agitated state attempted to raise the lever of the exit door of the aircraft. Two flight attendants attempted to stop Hudek and he threw one to the floor and punched the other. When a passenger attempted to assist the flight attendants, HUDEK hit him over the head with a wine bottle.” [Read more at Q13 Fox]

Watchdog One – Week in Review – February 3, 2018

Welcome back to an abbreviated edition of 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 Memo
– Here’s the Nunes memo annotated [Politico]
– Here’s a touch of detail about the counter memo from the Democrats [NYT]
– Lawfare has put together a timeline of the life and times of Devin Nunes, from the transition to #MemoDay [Lawfare]
– Mother Jones has put together a timeline of Jeff Sessions’ recusal violations from Bill O’Reilley to #MemoDay [Mother Jones]
666: The Memo of the Beast [CNBC]

MEANWHILE…

Victor Cha’s ideas about how to avoid the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Americans didn’t sit too well with the Trump administration
A couple of hours before President Trump gave his first State of the Union on Tuesday, in which he would use as props a North Korean defector and the parents of a young American whose trip to the DPRK led to his untimely demise, the Washington Post reported that the man widely expected to become the next US Ambassador to South Korea was no longer in consideration for the role, largely due to disagreements over North Korea policy. “Victor D. Cha, an academic who served in the George W. Bush administration, raised his concerns with National Security Council officials over their consideration of a limited strike on the North aimed at sending a message without sparking a wider war — a risky concept known as a “bloody nose” strategy,” the Post reported. Just as the news was sinking in that a very sane person was no longer being considered for what is arguably the country’s most important diplomatic post at this time, and moments before the SOTU was about to begin, the Post dropped an op-ed by Cha himself. In the piece, Cha argues against… well, making moves that could quickly escalate into “a war that would likely kill tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of Americans.” He says he empathizes with the hope of some Trump officials that a military strike would shock the regime of Kim Jong Un into taking the US seriously and lead to its denuclearization, but that “there is a point at which hope must give in to logic. If we believe that Kim is undeterrable without such a strike, how can we also believe that a strike will deter him from responding in kind? And if Kim is unpredictable, impulsive and bordering on irrational, how can we control the escalation ladder, which is premised on an adversary’s rational understanding of signals and deterrence?” [Read more from Cha at The Washington Post]

Trump’s SOTU gave us a new term to unpack: “campaign of maximum pressure”
If you were in receipt of the news about Cha’s conflict with the Trump administration over its ideas about how to solve a problem like North Korea, aspects of the President’s speech took on a more ominous tone. “North Korea’s reckless pursuit of nuclear missiles could very soon threaten our homeland. We are waging a campaign of maximum pressure to prevent that from happening,” said President Trump. “Past experience has taught us that complacency and concessions only invite aggression and provocation. I will not repeat the mistakes of past administrations that got us into this dangerous position. We need only look at the depraved character of the North Korean regime to understand the nature of the nuclear threat it could pose to America and our allies.” And then, as an example of said depraved character, President Trump recounted the story of American university student Otto Warmbier as the cameras turned to his crying parents in the audience. “You are powerful witnesses to a menace that threatens our world, and your strength inspires us all. Tonight, we pledge to honor Otto’s memory with American resolve.” [Read more from the SOTU transcript at WhiteHouse.gov]

A group of Senators politely told Trump they are alarmed by the disturbing, superficial, fiscally irresponsible Nuclear Posture Review
Their words, not ours. 16 Democratic Senators signed on to a letter that urges President Trump to reconsider… pretty much everything contained in the leaked version of the now-released Nuclear Posture Review. “The sole purpose of our nuclear arsenal should be to deter nuclear attack against the United States, our allies and partners,” wrote the Senators. “However, the reported policies outlined in your forthcoming Nuclear Posture Review increase the risk of a nuclear arms race and raise the real possibility of nuclear conflict. As the world’s greatest nuclear power and the only nation that has ever used nuclear weapons in combat, we have a unique responsibility to continue to lead the international community towards eventual nuclear disarmament.” [Read more from the letter at Senate.gov]

Joe Kennedy talked tough on drugs
Proving he’s no Jack Kennedy, the representative from the 4th district of Massachusetts, gave the Democratic response to the SOTU on Tuesday night with the conviction of someone who has been led to believe that he really knows how to connect with an audience. Kennedy talked of an America that fights for all its citizens, “because the greatest, strongest, richest nation in the world shouldn’t have to leave anyone behind.” He referenced in particular the plight families of people suffering through opioid addiction, and suggested that the Democrats offer a healthcare system that offers “mercy” to addicts. Lee Fang at the Intercept points out that this is a bit rich, considering Kennedy’s, “most consequential action as a federal legislator… was to push a bill that gave the opioid industry a shot at watering down prescription guidelines first implemented by the Obama administration.” [Read more at the Intercept]

Jeff Sessions talked tough on drugs
Seeming to presage that the president would talk about the need to crack down on “dealers and pushers” in his SOTU, on Tuesday, Jeff Sessions announced a “surge” of DEA Special Agents, Diversion Investigators, and Intelligence Research Specialists to crack down on prescription drug diversion. For the next month-and-a-half these folks will “focus on pharmacies and prescribers who are dispensing unusual or disproportionate amounts of drugs.” To do this, the DOJ says it will utilize data from approximately 80 million transaction reports it collects every year from prescription drug manufacturers and distributors. We’re curious how the DOJ will define “unusual” or “disproportionate,” so we asked. However, the agency did not respond to our request for comment.

Related: Sessions’ new crackdown on drug prescribers won’t stop the opioid crisis [Think Progress]

Mick Mulvaney defanged the Office of Fair Lending and Equal Opportunity
On Thursday, the Washington Post’s Renae Merle broke the story that the acting head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Mick Mulvaney, stripped the office responsible for pursuing discrimination cases of its enforcement powers. “The Office of Fair Lending and Equal Opportunity has headed up some of the CFPB’s most high-profile cases, including a 2015 settlement against Hudson City Savings Bank, a New Jersey-based bank accused of racially discriminating against minority mortgage borrowers,” the Post reported. “The bank was required to provide $25 million in loan subsidies in what the CFPB called the country’s largest settlement in a redlining case.” The office transferred inside the Director’s Office, becoming part of the Office of Equal Opportunity and Fairness. In a statement provided to Watchdog One, the CFPB argued that the agency is merely finding efficiencies. “The Bureau’s statutory mandate includes the supervision and enforcement of fair lending laws and regulations, and the Bureau will continue to perform those functions. The fact is, it never made sense to have two separate and duplicative supervision and enforcement functions within the same agency – one for all cases except fair lending, and the other only for fair lending cases,” read the statement from John Czwartacki, Senior Advisor to the Acting Director. “By announcing our intent to combine these efforts under one roof, we gain efficiency and consistency without sacrificing effectiveness. And by elevating the Office of Fair Lending to the Director’s Office, we have enhanced its ability to focus on its other important responsibilities.” [Read more from The Washington Post]

Here’s Mulvaney’s original email to CFPB staff [Watchdog One].

Related: Consumer protection bureau structure upheld in blow to Trump’s deregulation efforts [CNBC]

A Texas Republican has threatened to subpoena the DHS over documents related its use of Kaperski software
Texas Republican Lamar Smith – chairman of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee – wants to know where his documents are. On Thursday, Smith threatened to subpoena the department if they didn’t turn over documents that his committee asked for in December relating to the department’s ban on the use of cyber security products by the Russia-based company Kaperski. The DHS apparently told committee staff that they wouldn’t be turning over any more documents due to pending litigation – presumably Russia-based Kapersky’s legal challenge on the federal government’s ban on its products filed on January 17. [Read the letter at house.gov]

INVESTIGATIONS & REVELATIONS

White House seeks 72 percent cut to clean energy research, underscoring administration’s preference for fossil fuels [Washington Post]

Lesson of 2017: Political campaign season truly never ends [Center for Public Integrity]

Administration’s Syria Policy Envisions Continued U.S. Presence [Congressional Research Service]

INTERNET OF THINGS: Enhanced Assessments and Guidance Are Needed to Address Security Risks in DOD [GAO]

The THIRTY-EIGHTH quarterly report by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction [SIGAR]

BITS & BOBS

Pentagon to expand GITMO after Trump orders it remain open [Inside Defense]

Husband of former Trump household aide scores government job [Politico]

Trump appointee tells coal industry that his job is to be ‘an advocate’ for coal [Think Progress}

Why the CDC director had to resign [Politico]

Congressman’s Bill Would Force Trump Administration to Fulfill Pledge to Study Racial Disparities in Auto Insurance Pricing [ProPublica]

Amid low morale, highest-ranked career official at State to step down [Politico]

US Mission to the UN dissed Russia on Twitter [Politico]

FLORIDA MAN

This week, United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, Benjamin G. Greenberg, sentenced a Florida man with two concurrent two-month sentences for “intimidating a flight attendant of an aircraft in flight in the United States.” According to a DOJ press release, Michael Anthony Minko, 36, of White Springs, Florida took Xanax (or its generic equivalent) and “drank an excessive amount of whiskey from a bottle in his possession,” while onboard a Spirit airlines flight. He then “cursed, used abusive language, made verbal threats and exhibited threatening actions.” In a rare moment of solidarity between employees of a budget airline and the people who fly it, “a flight attendant and three passengers used plastic flex cuffs to secure Minko’s hands behind his back.”

 

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]

 

Watchdog One – Week in Review – January 20, 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 “shutdown” of the Federal Government
– Here’s a handy chart of who gets sent home as a result [Washington Post]
Here’s what happens to FEMA, coming off a historic (or as we like to say, “an historic”) year of natural disasters. [Washington Post]

FISA passing in the Senate
– Here’s how your favorite Senator voted [US Senate]
– Here’s how US Government-run Voice of America reported it to international audiences [VOA]

A CIA officer who got arrested at JFK for one thing but is “suspected” of others
– The official DOJ press release here. [DOJ]
– “Sources familiar with the case” expand on things here. [NBC News]
– Read the full complaint here. [DOJ]

Bannon getting subpoenaed by Mueller
Here’s Michael Schmidt on the story. [NYT]
Here’s Breitbart on the story, which they apparently got from… Michael Schmidt. [Breitbart]

MEANWHILE…

The House solution to avert the shutdown stands to give Trump new powers
The temporary spending bill that passed in the House Thursday night included language that would give the Trump administration the power to shift intelligence money from one project to another without notifying congress. That’s according to Ryan Grim at The Intercept, who broke the story a day before The Washington Post’s hedgier version of it, which was later corrected to say that, in fact, “the president would still have to notify Congress of any changes made to the budget, and could not operate fully in secret.” Whether that correction is indeed correct is unclear. In any case, it certainly got Senator Wyden’s attention, who Tweeted, “It would be extraordinarily dangerous for the Senate to give this administration new powers to work around Congress, particularly now, with the IC’s vast spying authorities and the most political CIA director in memory.” Keep your eye on any proposed solutions to the current government shutdown to see if this language survives.  [Read more from The Intercept]

The DOJ & DHS exhibited some fuzzy math on terrorism
The Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security released a joint report on Tuesday that claimed, among other things, that approximately 73% of individuals convicted of international terrorism charges (emphasis added) in US courts were foreign-born. This is kind of like saying that most Japanese cars are made in Japan. Still, President Trump ran with it, making an official statement that “nearly 3 in 4 individuals convicted of terrorism-related charges are foreign-born” and connected the stat to the need for immigration reform.
– In response to this, the folks over at Lawfare politely pointed out that, “even excluding domestic terrorism cases, it was possible to support the president’s claim only if one counted as foreign-born terrorism suspects people the United States had actively imported in order to prosecute for terrorism or terrorism-related crimes.” [Read more from Lawfare]

The House refused to decide whether the President should be impeached
The House voted 355-66 to table a motion to impeach President Trump. It was the third attempt by Rep. Al Green (D-TX). [Read more from Roll Call]

The math was less fuzzy at the Department of the Interior
More than three out of four individuals on the National Park System Advisory board quit on Wednesday, citing frustration that Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke “had refused to meet with them or convene a single meeting last year,” according to The Washington Post. [Read more]

HHS is giving healthcare workers so much religious freedom, their heads will spin
On Thursday, two days after President Trump used his Religious Freedom Day proclamation to call attention to the plight of those who have been threatened with “tax consequences for particular forms of religious speech” or forced to “comply with laws that violate their core religious beliefs,” his administration announced a new civil rights division within the Department of Health and Human Services, designed to protect healthcare workers who refuse services on religious or moral grounds. The Washington Post reports that the division “will consider complaints from doctors, nurses and others who feel they have been pressured by employers to ‘perform, accommodate or assist with’ procedures that violate their beliefs. If a complaint about coercion or retribution is found to be valid, an entity receiving federal dollars could have that funding revoked.” [Read more from The Washington Post]

– Earlier this month, in response to a FOIA request from BuzzFeed News, the HHS quietly posted thousands comments the agency had previously withheld regarding a proposed rule that would remove barriers for religious and faith-based organizations to participate in public programs and receive public funding. The majority of the comments we saw were of the copy and paste variety, beginning with the statement, “The mission of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is to put the health and well-being of the public first. But instead of working to ensure everyone has equal access to comprehensive and nondiscriminatory services, HHS is asking for suggestions on how to expand the use of religious beliefs to discriminate and deny patients health care.” [Read more from BuzzFeed News]

A federal judge heard arguments on the Trump White House’s use of encrypted messaging apps
On Wednesday, US District Court Judge Christopher Cooper heard arguments relating to a lawsuit that charges that President Trump and his staff “seek to evade transparency and government accountability,” particularly through the use of “email messaging applications that destroy the contents of messages as soon as they are read, without regard to whether the messages are presidential records.” Politico’s Josh Gerstein writes, “During a 45-minute hearing, Cooper—an appointee of President Barack Obama—sounded uncomfortable with the government’s claim that the courts have no role at all in enforcing the Presidential Records Act. However, the judge also seemed reluctant to embark on an unbounded, free-range inquiry into whether the Trump White House is policing its staff’s compliance with record keeping obligations. And he appeared even more skeptical about delving into claims that the Trump White House is using executive orders to steer policy decisions out of federal agencies whose records are subject to request under the Freedom of Information Act.” [Read more from Politco]

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau will get no money next quarter… kinda
Mick Mulvaney, the Director of the Office of Management and Budget who you’ve seen on TV a lot this week, requested exactly zero dollars for next quarter’s operation of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (of which he is the acting director). That headline might be enough to get your blood up, but when you realize that it’s because the bureau has $177mm currently sitting in the bank (read: $32mm more than it needs), it’s a bit less meaningful. That is, until next quarter. Stay tuned. [Read more from Politico]

A former CIA agent, convicted of leaking classified info to a journalist, was released from federal prison
Jeffrey Sterling, a former CIA agent convicted of leaking classified material to then New York Times reporter James Risen, was released from prison on Tuesday. “The key evidence that persuaded a jury to convict Sterling on nine felony counts consisted of phone records and emails that showed Sterling and Risen had communicated with each other,” Peter Maass explains at The Intercept. “However, those records did not disclose anything about the content of their conversations. All the government knew, and all the jury knew, is that they had communicated.” [Read more from The Intercept]

INVESTIGATIONS & REVELATIONS

The DNI updated its policy on classified leaks
Steven Aftergood, Director of the Federation of American Scientists Project on Government Secrecy, noticed this week that the Director of National Intelligence recently updated its procedures for dealing with leaks of classified information. Most notably, Aftergood points out that, “It presents an expansive definition of an unauthorized disclosure that includes not simply disclosure but also the ‘confirmation’ or ‘acknowledgement’ of classified information to an unauthorized person.” The directive also lays out a three-tiered hierarchy that advises on how and when agencies should engage the DOJ once a leak has occurred.

A US official told Watchdog One that the reason for the update to the original 2007 directive was that this version takes into account the role of the Intelligence Community (IC) Inspector General, a position that did not exist until 2010. The official explained that the directive addresses “how the IC can address an issue in a meaningful, consistent way, when DOJ declines prosecution.”

The official also claimed that the directive did not expand the definition of what the agency considers an unauthorized disclosures, “rather it spells out what is meant [by the term], which includes confirmation or acknowledgment – which would have also fallen under the 2007 version of the directive, though it wasn’t explicitly stated.”

There is, of course, another way of reading the tea leaves on this. Aftergood told Watchdog One that this new directive makes leaks the subject of senior IC attention. “A directive like this sends a message throughout the bureaucracy that dealing with leaks is a priority. That in turn could have implications for how resources are allocated, and how aggressive leak investigations become. The directive may serve a deterrent function all by itself, so that fewer leaks take place, and it may tip the balance in favor of criminal prosecutions, so that more of those also occur.”

The implications for members of the press, who love a good leak, are unclear. “The executive branch, even in the Trump administration, has an interest in being able to communicate candidly with members of the press,” said Aftergood. Sometimes that means going beyond the strict limitations of the classification system and bending the rules a bit. In other words, in real life administration officials are not categorically opposed to all leaks” [Read more from FAS]

Mueller is following the (Russian) money
Jason Leopold and Anthony Cormier of BuzzFeed News revealed on Wednesday that Special counsel Robert Mueller’s team is examining a number of suspicious banking transactions from Russian diplomatic accounts, including two from former Ambassador to the US, Sergey Kislyak. The Russian foreign ministry responded to the story by calling on the US government to crack down on the leakers. [Read more from BuzzFeed News]

The NSA said it accidentally destroyed Bush-era data
“The NSA sincerely regrets its failure to prevent the deletion of this data.” That’s a snippet of the mea culpa from the Deputy Director of Capabilities of the National Security Agency, in regards to the fact that the agency destroyed surveillance data it was under orders to preserve. The story, which was first reported Friday night by Politico, explains that since 2007, “the NSA has been under court orders to preserve data about certain of its surveillance efforts that came under legal attack following disclosures that President George W. Bush ordered warrantless wiretapping of international communications after the 2001 terrorist attacks on the U.S. In addition, the agency has made a series of representations in court over the years about how it is complying with its duties. [Read more from Politico]

Public Citizen detailed the inflow of political money to Trump’s properties during his first year in office
On Tuesday, Public Citizen published a report titled “Presidency for Sale,” documenting “More than 60 trade groups, companies, religious groups, charities, foreign governments, interest groups and political candidates are spending money at President Donald Trump’s properties.” [Read the full report from Public Citizen here]

A DOT audit found that people responsible for sensitive information don’t know what information is sensitive.
The Department of Transportation possesses what its advisory committee once called, “some of the most sensitive and intimately revealing” consumer data, so when a report from the DOT Inspector General on the agency’s protection of privacy information comes in over the transom, it’s worth taking a look at. The auditors determined that 164 of the agency’s 464 computers contain personally identifiable information (PII) about the public and / or DOT employees, and found that there was a “lack of adequate privacy resources in place.” The auditors stated that, “The incomplete privacy plan for a system may result in the inappropriate collection, use, storage, sharing, and/or loss of PII resulting in substantial harm, embarrassment, and inconvenience to individuals and may lead to identity theft or other fraudulent use of the information.” Additionally, they found issues with training regarding privacy: “It became clear in the discussions that the privacy system personnel were not aware of what constitutes sensitive and non-sensitive PII.’ [Read more from the DOT OIG]

Florida Man
U.S. District Judge Marcia G. Cooke sentenced a Florida man to a year in prison for threatening to shoot members of a mosque in Miami Gardens. Gerald Wallace pleaded guilty in October to “one count of obstructing the free exercise of religious beliefs,” which you now know is a thing. [Read more from Courthouse News]

 

Watchdog One – Week in Review – January 13, 2018

Watchdog One – Week in Review – Saturday, January 13, 2018
By Jason Mojica

Welcome back to the Watchdog One weekly. 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

CITY UPON A HILL
The Trump administration started the week by ending Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for roughly 200,000 Salvadorans living in the US, and ended it with the President calling their country a shithole. It’s not like Salvadorans  helped rebuild the Pentagon or anything.

– Here’s a good breakdown TPS holders and how they got here: TPS Holders Are Integral Members of the U.S. Economy and Society (Center for American Progress)

JANUS-FACED
The Justice Department announced on Tuesday that it had revoked the naturalized US citizenship of a New Jersey man– the department’s first denaturalization as part of its Operation Janus, which targets individuals who shouldn’t have been able to successfully secure citizenship in the first place due to having been deported or removed under another identity.

WAIT, WHAT?
From the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Acting Press Secretary Tyler Q. Houlton, commenting on the CBP’s December Southwest Border Migration numbers:

The final border apprehension numbers of 2017, specifically at the southern border, undeniably prove the effectiveness of President Trump’s commitment to securing our borders. This administration has overseen a 40 percent decrease in 2017 compared with the last year of Obama’s presidency. US Border Patrol apprehensions in Fiscal Year 2017 were at the lowest level in 45 years. The significant increase over the last month in the number of family units and unaccompanied children coming across the border illegally highlights the dire need for Congress to immediately adopt responsible pro-American immigration reforms.

So which is it? Is Trump’s master immigration plan leading to a decrease in border crossings, or an increase? As Tal Kopan reports at CNN, the answer is: yes.

– A CPB officer was sentenced to prison on Wednesday on one count of conspiracy to transport aliens within the United States. A DOJ release said that US District Judge Micaela Alvarez “noted that one of his specific job responsibilities was to ensure that individuals who were not authorized to come into the U.S. were prevented from doing so, and he did the exact opposite.” Read more from the DOJ here.

TO SO BADLY SURVEIL
Here’s how folks in the House voted Thursday on reauthorizing FISA. Send your cheers or jeers to your member of congress accordingly.

NOBODY LIKES AN AUDIT
Growing up watching the teevee, most of us have a romantic idea of what listening in on the bad guys looks like. Maybe it’s a former industrial space converted to a high-tech listening post, or maybe its a massive government facility filled with super-nerds. In reality, it’s more likely that this work is being done at an anonymous suburban office park near you, and by third-party government contractors.

The quality of the work being done on one of those contracts and the degree of oversight the Drug Enforcement Agency maintained over it is the subject an audit published on Thursday by the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) at the Department of Justice (DOJ). The contract, which had a $135mm ceiling, was one of two awarded to Conduit Language Specialists in 2012. The job was to provide analytic linguist services for the DEA’s Denver and Phoenix Field Divisions – which primarily involves listening in on and translating Title III wiretaps that are used in Federal criminal investigations.

The OIG found that the DEA allowed some of Conduit’s linguists to work on the sensitive contract without completed background investigations or signed non-disclosure agreements. In addition, the OIG found that Conduit allowed some linguists to work on the contract without required language proficiency test results, and that the DEA spent almost $2.9mm in taxpayer money on linguists that didn’t meet this prerequisite.

During the course of the OIG’s audit, the DEA downplayed these proficiency test results as an “administrative detail.” The OIG responded that, “without the language proficiency results, the DEA cannot ensure it received the required level of service as stipulated in the contract. This disregard for contract requirements affects the credibility and reliability of linguist work, which increases the risk of negatively impacting its investigations.”

In the end, the DEA concurred with most of the report’s recommendations, but the folks at Conduit Language Services remain “disappointed” by the outcome, and challenged the work of the OIG. A Conduit representative told Watchdog One that “this audit didn’t benefit the DEA or our company. It put us both in a very negative light. They don’t have expertise, they look at everything from a far off vantage, and not from where boots are on the ground. It’s easy to have an opinion when you don’t know what the job is.”

The Conduit rep took particular issue with the proficiency test, which she called “expensive and unnecessary.” She explained that that the company’s own methods of determining whether a translator is up to the particular task at hand are superior to the standardized test. “The proficiency requirements don’t validate the job that we do. There are people who say this and mean that. There is no schooling for the type of lingo that you’re going to learn on the street. That’s what the majority of [our work] focuses on, and it goes again to proving that they don’t know the job.”

Conduit’s rep also took issue with the company being held accountable for things that they felt were the DEA’s responsibility. However, the OIG’s report was clear in reminding the contractor that while “the DEA is responsible for ensuring that non-disclosure agreements and security background investigation contract requirements are enforced and completed. Nevertheless, Conduit also had a contractual responsibility to provide the DEA with linguists compliant with the contract terms and conditions in these areas.”

“I guess their job is to read the book and ask if everybody’s doing it according to the book,” said the Conduit representative. “A lot of times, you know, we do what we have to do.”

ADD “PARALLEL CONSTRUCTION” TO YOUR VOCABULARY
Human Rights Watch published a 77-page report this week on the “secret origins of evidence in US criminal cases,” with a special focus on the DEA’s Special Operations Division (and its Darth Vader challenge coin).

“Through a practice known as “parallel construction,” an official who wishes to keep an investigative activity hidden from courts and defendants—and ultimately from the public—can simply go through the motions of re-discovering evidence in some other way. For example, if the government learned of a suspected immigration-related offense by a person in Dallas, Texas, through a surveillance program it wished to keep secret, it could ask a Dallas police officer to follow the person’s car until she committed a traffic violation, then pull her over and start questioning her—and later pretend this traffic stop was how the investigation in her case started.”

Read the full report at HRW.

IF THIS IS A CONSULAR SHIP, WHERE IS THE AMBASSADOR?
With the diplomatic breakthroughs between North and South korea coming fast and furious, the US State Department’s Heather Nauert issued a statement saying that the US “welcomes” the meeting between the DPRK and the ROK “aimed at ensuring a safe, secure, and successful Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang.” The statement goes on to remind everyone that the ROK is on the hook for making sure that North Korea’s participation in the games doesn’t violate sanctions, which means no Nike swag bags for the North Korean delegation. What would be even more useful than a statement from a State Department spokesperson would be if the US Ambassador to South Korea could chime in directly… except that there isn’t one.

US Ambassador to South Korea is just one of 245 positions that President Trump currently has no official nominees for. James Hohmann at the Washington Post breaks them all down.

We say no official nominees, because former Bush administration official and North Korea expert Victor Cha has been rumored to be in the running for the gig since August. Reports emerged last month saying that President Trump “will” nominate Cha, but in the month since then things have been quiet. As they say, 김치국부터 마시지 말라

GLAD WE’RE ALL ON THE SAME PAGE
We’re coming up on the 19th year of the nation’s largest nuclear waste cleanup at the Hanford Site in Washington state. The Department of Energy’s Undersecretary of Science, Paul Dabbar, started the new year by making his first visit to the Hanford site, where he declared that “progress can’t happen at the sake of safety.”

Dabbar, the former Managing Director of J.P. Morgan, was put in charge of the DOE’s environmental and legacy management missions in a reorg that was announced last month, just a week after 6 workers may have been exposed to radiological contamination at the site’s decommissioned plutonium finishing plant. On Thursday, the Tri-City Hearald reported that “Hanford regulators have ordered the Department of Energy not to restart demolition of the nuclear reservation’s highly radioactively contaminated Plutonium Finishing Plant until regulators agree the work can be done safely.”

– Related: Who’s Watching Hanford? EPA Presence Dwindling (Anna King – NW News Network)

MISOGYNY IN THE MILITARY
Dan Lamothe in The Washington Post profiles Marine Col. Scott Jensen, whose efforts a few years back to combat online misogyny, harassment, and retaliation within the military died a death of a thousand bureaucratic cuts. This week he’s been announced as the CEO of the nonprofit Protect our Defenders, which will give him a chance to continue to push for reform, but from the outside.

The move effectively puts Jensen in a position in which he will be speaking out against some of his old bosses.

Jensen acknowledged that some in the military may see that as a betrayal, and said he took the job in part because of his own disappointment with how the Joint Chiefs of Staff and other senior military officials have handled misogyny in the ranks.”

Read more at The Washington Post.

NO GET OUT OF JAIL FREE CARD FOR TRUMP DONOR
Private prison outfit GEO group, who gave generously to the Trump campaign and hired two of Jeff Sessons’ former aides as lobbyists, was not able to make an Equal Employment Opportunity Commision (EEOC) lawsuit go away. Or rather, the EEOC announced this week that it’s going to cost them $550,000 to settle the suit, which alleged sexual harassment and retaliation at two of GEO’s facilities.

FLORIDA MAN
Brandon Clint Russell, a Neo-Nazi National Guardsman from Tampa, Florida was sentenced Tuesday to five years in Federal prison on explosives charges, according the the Justice Department. “In Russell’s bedroom, officers found neo-Nazi and white supremacist propaganda, including a framed picture of Timothy McVeigh on his dresser.  Russell’s closet contained his own military uniform, firearms and ammunition, and camouflage military-type gear containing the name and symbols of “Atomwaffen.”  Law enforcement officers also located various books, military gear and flags throughout the apartment that are commonly associated with white supremacist extremist organizations.”

 

Watchdog One – Week in Review – Jan 6, 2018

Can a newsletter be in beta? Well, this one is. Welcome to the inaugural edition of the Watchdog One Week in Review. We hope that you enjoy this humble attempt to keep tabs not on what politicians are saying, but what the Federal Government is doing. What you’ll find here on a weekly basis is a mix of the esoteric hidden-in-plain sight information that the US government makes available to those who look for it, and highlights from the best accountability journalism being done today. What you won’t find is a rehash of the latest political mini-scandal to dominate the headlines.

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

OIL AND GAS UNLEASHED!
“Secretary Zinke Announces Plan For Unleashing America’s Offshore Oil and Gas Potential” screamed the headline on a Department of the Interior press release that would make Kim Jong Un’s press shop envious. The release explains that the draft proposed program would “consider nearly the entire U.S. Outer Continental Shelf for potential oil and gas lease sales.” Secretary Zinke said in the release that this will provide, “billions of dollars to fund the conservation of our coastlines, public lands and parks.” If you think this sounds like a good idea, you can share your thoughts with the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management online starting Jan 8, or at one of the public meetings being held around the country starting Jan 16.

– Ten Governors from coastal states have already come out in opposition to the plan, including Florida Republican Rick Scott who said in a statement, “I have already asked to immediately meet with Secretary Zinke to discuss the concerns I have with this plan and the crucial need to remove Florida from consideration.” Read more here.

– Meanwhile, a 9¢ per barrel tax on oil that helps fund oil spill cleanup lapsed on Jan 1.
The Washington Post Reports that, although GOP leaders opted not to renew the tax in December, they are considering reinstating it retroactively in an “extenders” bill that would revive several recently expired taxes. Industry officials noted that the U.S. Coast Guard or the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration could always ask Congress to reimpose it if either felt it was needed.Read more in the Washington Post.

SNOW DAZE
It was a snowy, short week in Congress, with just the Senate in session. They swore in Democrats Doug Jones of Alabama, and Tina Smith of Minnesota, and took just one vote: confirming ex-Lockheed executive John Rood to as undersecretary of Defense for policy with 81 yeas and 7 nays (Sanders, Warren, Wyden, Booker, Gillibrand, Harris, and Markey), in spite of a bit of sparring that occurred during his confirmation hearing in November.

MILITARIZED BUSINESS JETS OVER NORTH KOREA
File under: Things We Didn’t Know Were a Thing. The Department of Defense on Tuesday awarded a $33mm contract to Lockheed Martin to continue supporting South Korea’s “Peace Krypton” system: a private jet retrofitted to conduct aerial reconnaissance over the DPRK. While the U2 missions that are still being flown out of Osan Air Base tend to capture the attention of visiting news crews, the Peace Krypton flights have been operating without much fanfare since 1996, when Lockheed first won the contract. The optimistic-yet-ominous sounding Peace Krypton is actually a Raytheon Hawker 800XP business jet, modified to carry a wide range of imagery intelligence and signal intelligence dodads that we won’t pretend to understand. On the homefront, this means about 30 people in Colorado Springs get to keep their jobs.

“NATIONAL SLAVERY AND HUMAN TRAFFICKING PREVENTION MONTH IS HERE!”
That was the exclamation that kicked off the Department of Homeland Security’s Blue Bulletin for January, reminding you that Jan 11 is #wearblueday to raise awareness and help #endtrafficking. More info about the Blue Campaign here.

– Human Trafficking in the Heartland
A federal judge in Ohio unsealed an indictment  on Wednesday charging a fourth man in a labor trafficking conspiracy that reportedly forced minors to work at egg farms there, including one of the nation’s largest: Trillium Farms (whose logo bears an unfortunate resemblance to the biohazard symbol). Pablo Duran Ramirez, a US citizen, was apprehended by the US Border Patrol on New Year’s Eve, according to a press release from the US Attorney’s Office in the Northern District of Ohio. “The indictment unsealed today alleges that Duran Ramirez contracted to provide labor for Trillium Farms while knowing or being in reckless disregard of the fact that some of the workers were being trafficked,” the release said. “Three other defendants have pleaded guilty to participating in the trafficking scheme. Those defendants admitted to recruiting workers from Guatemala, some as young as 14 or 15 years old, falsely promising them good jobs and a chance to attend school in the United States.  The defendants then smuggled and transported the workers to a trailer park in Marion, Ohio, where they ordered them to live in dilapidated trailers and to work at physically demanding jobs at Trillium Farms for up to 12 hours a day.”

– Emily Mills at The Marion Star has more background on the trafficking case, which goes back to 2013.

SURE, YOU COULD READ FIRE AND FURY THIS WEEKEND…
Or you could curl up with a scintillating, just-published data set from the Federal Government. Earlier this week, the State Department published the 35th edition of World Military Expenditures and Arms Transfers. It’s a fascinating data set that reveals, among other things, the countries that have the highest military burden, as defined by the ratio of military expenditures to GDP. The good news is that worldwide that burden is currently about 2-2.5%, down from its high at the end of the cold war of 4.7%.

The Top 10 Countries With the Highest Military Burden
(11 year mean highest based on 2005-2015)

  1. North Korea / 23.3%
  2. Oman / 11.5%
  3. South Sudan / 9.3%
  4. Saudi Arabia / 8.6%
  5. Eritrea / 6.5%
  6. Jordan / 6.2%
  7. Myanmar / 6.1%
  8. UAE / 5.1%
  9. Iraq / 5.0%
  10. Syria / 4.6%

IT’S ONLY MONEY
While the United States didn’t make the above top 10 list (it came in at number 13 with 4.3%), the Congressional Budget Office this week revised upward by $300bn the amount of debt American taxpayers will carry as a result of the recent tax cut. “As a result of those higher deficits, debt held by the public would increase from the 91.2 percent of gross domestic product in CBO’s June 2017 baseline to 97.5 percent,” it said. Or, as the Washington Examiner put it, “The federal debt held by the public will grow to nearly the size of the U.S. economy within 10 years under the GOP tax cut legislation.”

CHURCH AND STATE
On New Year’s Day, FEMA announced that private nonprofit houses of worship are now eligible for disaster relief as community centers. The policy reversal comes after a lawsuit brought by a trio of Texas churches that were denied Federal relief after being damaged by Hurricane Harvey in August. Dena Sher, assistant legislative director for Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, told the Washington Post that while long standing policy treated nonprofits equally, this decision gives houses of worship special treatment, “It’s troubling. We know communities need support as they rebuild and we can’t ignore fundamental principles of religious freedom. But the constitutional principle at stake says each of us gets to decide how and if to support any religion. That’s the promise the constitution makes and we should hold to it in good times and bad.”

– It’s Only Money, Part 2
FEMA’s decision to expand the pool of those eligible to receive federal funds comes after the most recent report from the Department of Homeland Security Office of the Inspector General (OIG) said that FEMA failed to heed previous recommendations from the OIG, and has wasted billions of taxpayer dollars.

– Related: How Harvey Hurt Houston, in 10 Maps (ProPublica)

THE VA’S VERY OWN COMPSTAT
The road to hell is paved with good intentions, and the apparent results of an attempt to measure and grade the quality of care of Veterans Administration hospitals include practices that lower the quality of care and one VA doctor calls, “extremely unethical.” That’s according to a New York Times investigation by Dave Phillips published on Monday that manages to be both shocking and sadly predictable:

Fewer patients meant fewer chances of bad outcomes and better scores for a ranking system that grades all veterans hospitals on a scale of one to five stars. In 2016, administrators began cherry-picking cases against the advice of doctors — turning away complicated patients and admitting only the lowest-risk ones in order to improve metrics, according to multiple interviews with doctors and nurses at the hospital and a review of documents.

Those metrics helped determine both the Roseburg hospital’s rating and the leadership’s bonus checks. By denying veterans care, the ratings climbed rapidly from one star to two in 2016 and the director earned a bonus of $8,120.

Read more at NYT.com

RECRIMINALIZE IT
Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued a memo on Thursday that calls marijuana a “dangerous drug” and marijuana activity a “serious crime.” While a DOJ press release said that the new policy is a “return to law and order,” Maria McFarland Sánchez-Moreno, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance was just one of the many reformers who slammed the new policy, saying that “Jeff Sessions’ obsession with marijuana prohibition defies logic.”

Mad as Hell and Not Going to Take it Anymore
Republican Senator Cory Gardner took to the Senate floor Thursday to denounce the new pot policy (video), saying “I will be putting a hold on every single nomination from the Department of Justice until Attorney General Jeff Sessions lives up to the commitment he made to me in my pre-confirmation meeting with him. The conversation we had that was specifically about this issue of states’ rights in Colorado. Until he lives up to that commitment, I’ll be holding up all nominations of the Department of Justice.” Read more at CNN.

– Related: “Did Jeff Sessions Just Increase the Odds Congress Will Make Marijuana Legal?” (Politico)

NOW YOU SEE IT…
Andrew Bergman and Toly Rinberg at the Sunlight Foundation just published a compelling breakdown of how the Trump administration has reduced the amount of public information available online in its first year, replete with side-by-side comparisons. They report that, “the most significant reduction in access to federal resources occurred at the EPA when its climate change website was removed on April 28, 2017. This is only part of the censorship of climate change Web content that has gone on at the EPA and across federal websites. The site has been down, without a legitimate explanation for more than eight months. A portion has been returned, but with mentions of climate and almost all climate Web resources removed.” Read more and see the examples over at the Sunlight Foundation.

-JTM