Posts Tagged ‘department of homeland security’

Corporate and national security interests align in battle over CISPA

Posted on: April 23rd, 2012 by Teddy Wilson 3 Comments

Photo: Flickr/University of Exeter

After privacy activists and internet companies joined forces to derail the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), they are now on opposing sides in a fight over another piece of legislation seeking to regulate the internet. The Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA) was introduced into the House of Representatives as HR 3523, and has 112 cosponsors. The legislation is scheduled to be voted on by the House on Wednesday. While lawmakers and corporate interests supporting the bill say it is necessary to help prevent cyber attacks, opponents claim that it is a federal overreach on par with SOPA.

Introduced by Michigan Republican Rep. Mike Rogers, CISPA was referred to the United States House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence and was voted out of committee in December. The committee released a statement pointing to a number of reasons it believes the bill should be supported. The claims include that it helps businesses defend themselves from attacks, it keeps the federal government’s hands off the internet, protects Americans’ privacy, does not impose new federal regulations or mandates, and was written in the open in a bipartisan way.

If enacted it would allow the United States government and private companies to communicate about cyber security threats and share information. Opponents point to a clause in the bill stating that the information will be shared “notwithstanding any law,” which means that CISPA trumps any federal or state privacy law that currently prohibits disclosure of private information. In addition there are no limitations on what the information can be used for or how long it can be stored. The legislation also lacks transparency, as the sharing authorized by CISPA is exempt from the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

Unlike SOPA, internet and technology companies have been very supportive of the proposed law. Companies including AT&T, IBM and Verizon are supporting the legislation, and those and 25 other companies have written letters to Congress in support of CISPA. Tim McKone, AT&T executive vice president, wrote that AT&T supports CISPA “as an important and positive step in strengthening cybersecurity collaboration. The sharing of cyber threat and attack information is an essential component of an effective cyber-defense strategy, and the legislation helps to provide greater clarity for private sector entities.”

Some of the same companies that led the fight against SOPA and the Protect Intellectual Property Act (PIPA) are supporting CISPA. Joel Kaplan, the Vice President of U.S. public policy at Facebook, wrote that CISPA “removes burdensome rules that currently can inhibit protection of the cyber ecosystem, and helps provide a more established structure for sharing within the cyber community while still respecting privacy rights.” Behind the scenes, Google helped craft the legislation. Rep. Rogers told the Hill that Google has “been helpful and supportive of trying to find the right language in the bill.”

Digital Trends has compiled a list of more than 800 companies and organizations that have provided either direct or indirect support for CISPA. In addition to internet and telecom companies, supporters include technology giants such as Microsoft and powerful defense contractors such as Lockheed Martin. Hundreds of companies are represented by powerful trade groups that support CISPA including the the Business Roundtable, Information Technology Industry Council, and National Cable & Telecommunications Association.

The Business Roundtable, which includes Bank of America, ExxonMobil, and General Electric as members, spends millions lobbying congress every year. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, in 2011 the group spent $12.2 million lobbying on a range of issues from taxes to immigration. Among the legislation that the Business Roundtable has lobbied on is CISPA. Only Cisco Systems (also a member of the Business Roundtable) and National Cable & Telecommunications Association have lobbied as much the Business Roundtable for CISPA.

It is not just corporate interests that have been lobbying for CISPA. The National Security Agency (NSA) has been pushing to expand its role in preventing cyber attacks to the private sector. NSA officials have argued for expanded legal authority for the agency, and the ability to monitor the internet traffic of companies involved in critical infrastructure systems designated by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). While the NSA has issued reassurances that private information will not be monitored, the Obama Administration has blocked attempts by the agency to expand its role.

A grassroots coalition of civil liberties organizations and online activists have organized in opposition of CISPA, but without online giants such as Facebook and Wikipedia they have been unable to generate much public outcry. Organizations such as Electronic Freedom Foundation (EFF), the Sunlight Foundation, and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) have been mobilizing online activists through social media, and encouraging people to contact their representatives in congress to urge them to vote against the bill.

The co-sponsors of CISPA include seven lawmakers from the Texas congressional delegation. Rep. Michael Burgess, Rep. John Carter, Rep. Michael Conaway, Rep. Henry Cuellar, Rep. Ralph Hall, Rep. Michael McCaul, and Rep. Pete Olson are all co-sponsors. One notable congressman is not among the list of cosponsors. Rep. Lamar Smith who was the architect and primary supporter of SOPA, has not signed on to cosponsor CISPA. As the Texas Independent reported, because of SOPA, Smith was targeted by online grassroots activists for defeat in the Texas Republican primary.

According to information compiled by MapLight, campaign contributions from interest groups supporting CISPA are twelve times the amount of contributions from groups opposed. During the 2012 election cycle $31.5 million has been contributed by supporters compared to the $2.5 million from opponents. Burgess received $84,750 in campaign contributions from supporters of CISPA. Carter received $120,000, Conaway received $68,250, Cuellar received $51,400, Hall received $79,434, McCaul received $159,044, and Olson received $72,300 all from supporters of CISPA.

Top stories photo credit: Flickr/photosteve101

Texas company stands at the forefront of emerging domestic drone market

Posted on: March 9th, 2012 by Teddy Wilson No Comments

Montgomery County Sheriff's officer with Vanguard Defense Industries made Shadowhawk unmanned aerial vehicle

Unmanned aerial vehicles, otherwise known as drones, are big business. With the war in Iraq over and the war in Afghanistan scheduled to draw down, defense contractors that manufacture drones are looking domestically to replace the revenue created from a decade of conflict in the Middle East.

According to one study, UAV spending will almost double over the next decade from current worldwide UAV expenditures of $5.9 billion annually to $11.3 billion, totaling just over $94 billion in the next ten years. The United States is leading the way, as the study finds that it will account for 77% of the worldwide RDT&E spending on UAV technology over the next decade, and about 69% of the procurement.

The public knowledge of drones has typically been limited to the use of them in war zones in the Middle East and the controversial targeted killing of American citizens. With the passage of H.R. 658, the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012, America’s airspace is primed for an influx of drones. Within nine months the FAA is required to submit a plan on how to safely provide drones with expanded access.

As the domestic skies open up, so do possibilities for defense companies to take advantage of the emerging market. The primary customer of drones is the military; the Department of Defense has spent $8.5 billion on unmanned aircraft technology so far. Law enforcement agencies are also increasingly utilizing the technology.

According to an article in the Courier of Montgomery County, the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office is waiting for the right moment to use a drone it purchased last fall from Vanguard Defense Industries. The estimated $500,000 piece of equipment was paid for through a Department of Homeland Security grant, and costs for operations are approximately $40 per hour.

Michael Buscher, founder and CEO of Vanguard Defense Industries, served for more than twenty years in the United States military, and is a veteran of both the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. After retiring from the military Buscher was convinced that there were “major gaps” in the unmanned services. He thought that there was a market for rotary systems, drones that operate similarly to helicopters, which he believes is the best system.

After contacting several defense contractors it became apparent to Buscher that those companies were not interested in rotary systems, mainly because the companies felt they could make more money in fixed wing technologies. They also criticized the rotary systems for the difficulty they had in stabilizing a camera image. In 2009 Buscher built a prototype and in 2010 Vanguard signed its first multimillion dollar contract. An oil and gas company purchased one of the drones to use as an early warning device for their platforms operating off the coast of Africa in the Gulf of Aden.

Vanguard is a member of the Association of Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, a trade group that according to its website is “devoted exclusively to advancing the unmanned systems and robotics community.” The AUVSI works closely with the U.S. House Unmanned Systems Caucus, otherwise known as the “Drone Caucus.” According to the group’s website, its mission is “to educate members of Congress and the public on the strategic, tactical, and scientific value of unmanned systems.”

According to data from the Center for Responsive Politics, this year AUVSI has spent $280,000 lobbying Congress. Before 2011 essentially all of the AUVSI lobbying efforts were in issues dealing with national defense, but last year AUVSI lobbying interests included aviation, airlines, airports, transportation, and homeland security. This year the majority of AUVSI lobby efforts have been for provisions on unmanned aircraft systems in both the House and Senate versions of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act.

Does Vanguard expect that the domestic market for drones will be improved because of this legislation? “We certainly do,” said Buscher. “That legislation is going to be a tremendous help for this market. Law enforcement has been screaming for this product for the past ten years.”

Buscher said that Vanguard projects its domestic sales for next year to be between $35 million and $40 million, which would represent a 25% increase. Despite the projected increase in revenue, Buscher downplayed the reports of a boom in the domestic market for drones. “I don’t see the domestic market as being such a boom,” said Buscher. “Our bread and butter is still going to be overseas foreign military sales.”

Even though Vanguard is based in Texas, Buscher said a significant amount of their business is from out of state entities. Currently Vanguard contracts with eleven different agencies on all levels of government, from local to state to federal.

The use of private and corporate-owned drones has caused airline pilots and civil rights organizations to raise questions about the implications of their usage. United Press International reported that the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) stated that those who operate drones should meet the same training and qualification as pilots.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) raised questions about the “very serious privacy issues raised by drone aircraft” and said that the legislation pushes “the nation willy-nilly toward an era of aerial surveillance without any steps to protect the traditional privacy that Americans have always enjoyed and expected.”

“The interesting thing is that we’ve tried to engage with the ACLU on that issue,” said Buscher. He went on to say that he respects their views and that privacy needs should always be respected, but that he thought that this issue was past debate. “The fact is that you can put far more powerful cameras on helicopters than you can on unmanned aircraft. There are current requirements and we need to leverage those to keep our law enforcement safe. This is an argument that should have been levied 50 years ago.”

Buscher said Vanguard generally sides with the ALPA on safety issues, and touted the training of operators. “Any personnel that operate the aircraft we require to take an FAA Type 2 physical,” said Buscher. “In addition we require ground school and the ground school test. It is the exact same training that a full scale pilot would receive. We are the only company that does this.”

In addressing the safety concerns, Buscher pointed to the company’s integration of safety technology into the design of the drones. “All our unmanned vehicles are currently equipped with a Mode S transponder,” said Buscher. “This allows not only air traffic control but other aircraft to see the vehicle. This is not required or mandated. We thought it was the proper safety measure to take.”

According to Buscher, Vanguard is currently working with eleven different clients, spread out over local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies. While Buscher thought that Vanguard customers would primarily be based in Texas, they have signed contracts with agencies across the United States. Buscher pointed out that they had “received a lot of feedback” from the East Coast.

Currently in development are a number of different power sources that Vanguard hopes to use to increase the flight times of its drones. These include hydrogen fuel cells that are estimated to increase flight time to up to six or seven hours. In addition they are also developing battery cell packs that can last between two and three hours. Currently Vanguard’s drones use gasoline or jetfuel.

The Federal Aviation Administration has requested that drone manufacturers and the public comment on where drone testing facilities should be located. As the Texas Independent previously reported, several Houston area lawmakers requested that acting administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration, Michael Huerta, consider Ellington Field, a small airport in southeast Houston, as a new testing site for unmanned aircraft.

Homeland Security budget includes funding for ‘nationwide deployment’ of Secure Communities

Posted on: February 14th, 2012 by The American Independent 2 Comments
The Department of Homeland Security’s 2013 budget, released Monday, includes overall cuts to the agency, but secures funding for the controversial immigration enforcement program Secure Communities.


Local Sierra Club opposes South Florida immigration detention center

Posted on: February 13th, 2012 by The American Independent 1 Comment

Protesters demonstrate against the Corrections Corporation of America/Southwest Ranches proposal (FLORIDA INDEPENDENT/Marcos Restrepo).

The Broward Group of the Sierra Club last week announced its opposition to the federal immigration detention center set to be built in the South Florida town of Southwest Ranches.


Report: Number of Muslim-Americans indicted for terrorist plots going down

Posted on: February 9th, 2012 by The American Independent 2 Comments
The number of Muslim-Americans indicted for violent plots and/or offering financial support to terrorism declined for the second straight year, according to a study released Wednesday.

“Muslim-American Terrorism in the Decade Since 9/11″ (.pdf), the third annual report on this issue, states that 20 Muslim-Americans were indicted for violent terrorist plots in 2011, adding that while “this number is not negligible — small numbers of Muslim-Americans continue to radicalize each year and plot violence. However, the rate of radicalization is far less than many feared in the aftermath of 9/11.”

The report points to warnings about the “terrorist threat,” “the evolution of terrorist tactics” and “the extent of Muslim-American radicalization by al-Qaeda” by federal officials Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, FBI Director Robert Mueller and Congressman Peter King, chairman of the Committee on Homeland Security in the U.S. House.

Researchers found:

Terrorist plots have decreased in each of the past two years, since the spike of cases in 2009. Threats remain: violent plots have not dwindled to zero, and revolutionary Islamist organizations overseas continue to call for Muslim-Americans to engage in violence. However, the number of Muslim-Americans who have responded to these calls continues to be tiny, when compared with the population of more than 2 million Muslims in the United States and when compared with the total level of violence in the United States, which was on track to register 14,000 murders in 2011.

According to The New York Times, “Charles Kurzman, the author of the report for the Triangle Center on Terrorism and Homeland Security, called terrorism by Muslim Americans ‘a minuscule threat to public safety.’ Of about 14,000 murders in the United States last year, not a single one resulted from Islamic extremism, said Mr. Kurzman, a professor of sociology at the University of North Carolina.” The Triangle Center is “a collaborative effort between Duke University, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and RTI International.”

The organization’s report indicates that “2011’s Muslim-American terrorism suspects did not fit any particular demographic profile”:

  • 30 percent were age 30 and older, as compared with 35 percent of all cases since 9/11.
  • 70 percent were U.S. citizens, as compared with 68 percent of all cases since 9/11.
  • suspects came from a variety of ethnic backgrounds – 30 percent Arab, 25 percent white, and 15 percent African-American.
  • 40 percent were converts, as compared with 35 percent of all cases since 9/11.

Nezar Hamze, a registered Republican and the executive director of the South Florida chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, told The Florida Independent earlier this month that accusations tying his organization to Muslim terrorists are ridiculous.

“Unfortunately, right now, to bash Muslims, or bash Islam, has become mainstream GOP strategy,” Hamze said. “You have quote after quote from Republican presidential candidates that are absolutely ludicrous and fringe. It’s unfortunate because if you take those quotes and you replace Islam with Judaism or Christianity it is completely unacceptable, but for some reason it has become mainstream in the GOP to attack Muslims.”

The report issued Wednesday concludes that “almost 200 Muslim-Americans have been involved in violent plots of terrorism over this decade, and more than 400 Muslim- Americans have been indicted or convicted for supporting terrorism,” but it warns that over the decade the surge in Muslim-Amerian terrorism “has not materialized.”

“This study’s findings challenge Americans to be vigilant against the threat of homegrown terrorism while maintaining a responsible sense of proportion,” the report states.

Immigrant advocates praise, criticize Cecilia Muñoz appointment

Posted on: January 11th, 2012 by The American Independent 1 Comment

President Obama’s decision to appoint Cecilia Muñoz to head his Domestic Policy Council Tuesday brings to the forefront the controversy among immigrant advocate organizations about the current administration’s immigration policy. (more…)

Payroll tax bill includes funds for more immigration detention beds

Posted on: December 20th, 2011 by The American Independent No Comments
The congressional showdown over payroll tax cuts and unemployment benefits continues after the GOP-led House voted Tuesday against a Senate bill approved over the weekend.


Homeland Security severs immigration-enforcement ties with Arizona sheriff

Posted on: December 16th, 2011 by The American Independent No Comments

Sheriff Joe Arpaio (Photo: Flickr/Gage Skidmore)

The Department of Homeland Security announced Thursday it is immediately terminating its immigration-enforcement agreements with the office of Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Maricopa County, Ariz.