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March 9 2013

March 11, 2013




Obama renews offer to cut social safety nets

By Richard Cowan

WASHINGTON | Mon Mar 4, 2013 1:49am EST


(Reuters) – President Barack Obama raised anew the issue of cutting entitlements such as Medicare and Social Security as a way out of damaging budget cuts, a White House official said on Sunday, as both sides in Washington tried to limit a fiscal crisis that may soon hit millions of Americans.

Signaling he might be ready to explore a compromise to end automatic spending cuts that began late Friday, Obama mentioned reforming these entitlement programs in calls with lawmakers from both parties on Saturday afternoon.

“He’s reaching out to Democrats who understand we have to make serious progress on long-term entitlement reform and Republicans who realize that if we had that type of entitlement reform, they’d be willing to have tax reform that raises revenues to lower the deficit,” White House senior economic official Gene Sperling said on Sunday on the CNN program “State of the Union.”

Republicans have long argued that the only way to tame budget deficits over the long haul is by slowing the cost of sprawling social safety net programs.

These include the Social Security retirement program and Medicare and Medicaid healthcare programs for the elderly, disabled and poor that are becoming more expensive as a large segment of the U.S. population hits retirement age.

While Obama also has proposed some savings on these programs, he has insisted that significant new tax revenues be part of the deficit-reduction formula, an idea Republicans so far reject.

Budget fights in Congress took their most serious turn in years on Friday when $85 billion in indiscriminate spending cuts known as “sequestration” began to kick in after both parties failed to agree on how to stop them.

Democrats predict the automatic cuts could soon cause air-traffic delays, meat shortages as food safety inspections slow down, and hundreds of thousands of furloughs for federal workers.

As the budget battles rage on in Washington, sources said Obama plans to nominate on Monday Sylvia Mathews Burwell to head to White House Office of Management and Budget. A veteran of the Bill Clinton White House, Burwell is president of the Walmart Foundation, which handles the corporation’s charitable efforts.

Neither Sperling nor White House spokesmen would provide further details on Obama’s conversations on Saturday with members of Congress, and they did not identify the lawmakers to whom the president spoke.

Obama’s mention of entitlement reform may help bring Republicans to the table to halt the cuts. Republican leaders also made soothing noises on Sunday about the need to avoid a government shutdown on March 27, when funding runs out for most federal programs.



House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner, interviewed on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” said he “absolutely” would do whatever it takes to keep the government operating. Toward that end, he will seek House passage this week of a “continuing resolution” to fund the government through September 30, when the fiscal year ends.

Lately, some rank-and-file Democrats and Republicans have been sending signals that they are willing to compromise to end a two-year-old deadlock over tax and entitlement reforms.

Last week, conservative Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said he was open to raising $600 billion in new tax revenue if Democrats accepted significant changes to Medicare and Medicaid as part of a long-term budget deal.

A few days later, liberal Democratic Senator Ben Cardin of Maryland told Reuters that he had discussed with Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid the possibility of replacing the automatic spending cuts with a mix of entitlement reforms and tax increases.

“Democrats know we have to do entitlement reforms and Republicans know they have to do revenues (increases),” Cardin said.

Now that they are in place, the $85 billion in spending cuts must be carried out by September 30 if no alternative is found. Half of those cuts would hit the military with the rest scattered over thousands of other domestic programs.

Economists have warned that such a heavy dose of belt tightening over such a short period will slow U.S. economic growth and potentially cost 750,000 jobs.

Speaking of the search for alternatives, Boehner said on “Meet the Press:” “I don’t think anyone quite understands how it gets resolved.”

No matter how Obama and Congress resolve the 2013 battle, this round of automatic spending cuts is only one of a decade’s worth of annual cuts totaling $1.2 trillion mandated by the sequestration law.



Deep divisions between Democrats and Republicans have soured previous negotiations.

Slamming the door on Democrats’ demands for new tax hikes, Boehner said that Obama “got $650 billion of higher taxes on the American people on January the first. How much more does he want?” He was referring to the higher tax rate that began in the new year on households making more than $450,000 a year.

“It’s time for the president and Senate Democrats to get serious about the long-term spending problem that we have,” Boehner said.

In the meantime, both Democrats and Republicans were hoping to win the immediate fight over the automatic spending cuts so that they are best positioned in any upcoming battles over long-term budget deficits.

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell on Sunday played down the severity of the automatic cuts, describing them as modest.

“We’re willing to talk to him (Obama) about reconfiguring the same amount of spending reduction over the next six months,” McConnell said on CNN. “The American people look at this and say: ‘Gee, I’ve had to cut my budget more than this,’ – probably on numerous occasions over the last four years because we’ve had such a tepid economy now for four long years.”

At the heart of Washington’s persistent fiscal crises is disagreement over how to slash the budget deficit and gain control of the $16.7 trillion national debt, bloated over the years by wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and government stimulus for the ailing economy.

Government red ink also rose over the last decade after the enactment of across-the-board tax cuts in 2001 and 2003 secured by President George W. Bush.

(Additional reporting by Will Dunham and Philip Barbara; Editing by Alistair Bell, Philip Barbara and Eric Beech)


Despite Sequester, House Panel Proposes DoD Budget Hike

Defense News

March 4, 2013



U.S. House Republicans have unveiled a government-wide 2013 spending measure that would fund the Pentagon in 2012 at a higher level than it requested, despite the so-feared sequester cuts that began on Friday.

The Defense Department appropriations bill is attached to the House GOP leadership’s offering to what will be the next messy political fight in Washington: a struggle over an expiring funding bill that threatens to shut down the federal government.

Over half of the $982 billion continuing resolution (CR) introduced Monday by House Appropriations Committee Chairman Rep. Hal Rogers, R-Ky., would fund DoD for the remainder of fiscal 2013. It proposes $518.1 billion for the Pentagon’s base budget, which would be $2 billion larger than the Obama administration’s request.

All components of the massive continuing resolution have been adjusted to account for the so-called sequestration cuts, which were triggered Friday and are set to reduce projected defense and domestic spending by about $1 trillion over a decade.

For the Afghanistan conflict, the fight against al-Qaida and other overseas contingencies, the House panel proposes $87.2 billion for the remainder of 2013. It also includes a full Department of Veterans Affairs spending bill.

The House passed a 2013 defense appropriations bill last session; the Senate, however, never took up a Pentagon spending bill.

Sources confirmed in recent weeks that staff from the House and Senate Appropriations committees have huddled over the contents of a final DoD appropriations bill. Those talks were spawned late last year when it was a possibility — though a longshot — that congressional leaders might opt for an omnibus appropriations bill to replace the current CR.

That never transpired, but “they got pretty close” to hammering out a compromise version of a 2013 defense appropriations bill, one House GOP source said last month.

“The legislation will avoid a government shutdown on March 27, prioritize DoD and Veterans programs, and allow the Pentagon some leeway to do its best with the funding it has,” Rogers said in a statement “It is clear that this nation is facing some very hard choices, and it’s up to Congress to pave the way for our financial future.” Rogers said.

“But right now, we must act quickly and try to make the most of a difficult situation. This bill will fund essential federal programs and services, help maintain our national security, and take a potential shutdown off the table. This CR package is the right thing to do, and it’s the right time to do it.”


House Armed Services Committee Vice Chairman Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, told reporters last Friday that the chamber’s DoD appropriations bill would give the Pentagon some needed fiscal maneuverability.

A CR means federal agency leaders largely are unable to fully fund certain programs and accounts, while also lacking the authority to transfer monies among accounts.

Giving DoD an actual appropriations bill would remove those limits, Thornberry said.

The House bill would “add flexibility and update [budget] categories that [would] reduce some of the damage of having a CR and a sequestration at the same time,” he said.

Pentagon and White House officials have warned for months that the sequester cuts would hit military operations and maintenance (O&M) accounts hard. They said the across-the-board 10 percent cut to all non-exempt accounts in fiscal 2013 would cause much planned maintenance and training to be canceled or severely scaled back.

The House CR appears to provide some relief: It calls for $173.5 billion in O&M, which is $1.4 billion below the administration’s request but a $10.4 billion hike over current levels.

On procurement, the bill’s proposed $100.4 billion level would be $4.21 billion below 2012 levels and $1.3 billion smaller than the administration’s request.

For all research and development accounts, the House bill proposes $70 billion. That would be $2.5 billion below last year’s levels but $521 million above the administration’s request.

A committee summary of the bill notes it contains “common-sense decisions to save taxpayer dollars where possible, in areas that will not affect the safety or success of our troops and missions.”

That list includes: “$4 billion in savings from rescissions of unused prior-year funding; $515 million for unjustified Army growth funding; and $500 million for excess inventory of spare parts and secondary items.”

Senate Democratic leaders and Appropriations Committee leaders have yet to announce their plan for moving the upper chamber’s CR.

It remains unclear whether that bill will also feature a full defense appropriations bill.

HASC Chairman Rep. Howard “Buck” McKeon, R-Calif., told reporters Friday, “if we do [another] CR or an omnibus [appropriations to fund the all agencies], that doesn’t give them the authority” to transfer funds within their own budgets. Giving the Pentagon that authority would help ease some pain associated with the $46 billion it must cut under sequestration before Oct. 1, McKeon said.

“The secretary of the Army told me he’ll have to cut 40 percent from operations and maintenance,” which would mean big training cancellations, McKeon said. “This cannot be allowed to happen.”




Cybersecurity: The Role of DHS

Tom Ridge Sees Department as Focal Point for Collaboration

By Jeffrey Roman, March 4, 2013. Follow Jeffrey @ISMG_News


Tom Ridge, the first Homeland Security secretary, sees the role of the Department of Homeland Security as a focal point for collaboration among the various agencies on cybersecurity.

Proposals from the White House and Capitol Hill would to varying degrees give DHS more sway in developing cybersecurity policy for the civilian part of the federal government, as well as collaborating with industry to create voluntary security standards for the nation’s critical IT infrastructure.

Ridge, a former House member and governor of Pennsylvania, says the biggest challenge exists with how DHS can work with private industry in order to advance security needs of both the public and private sector.

“Because … if you’re looking to try to preserve government continuity of operations, the infrastructure that the government relies upon is generally owned by the private sector,” Ridge says in an interview with Information Security Media Group [transcript below].

“DHS will have some form of role in trying to collaborate and ensure the exchange of information between the public and the private sector to the benefit of both,” he explains.

As far as being prescriptive in directions, Ridge can’t see how any agency can identify precise procedures and approaches to managing risk.

“In my judgment, the most effective means of reducing the risk … is making sure that you have this very robust exchange of information between the public and private sector,” Ridge says.

In the interview, Ridge discusses the:

•Critical need for the government and industry to share cyberthreat information;

•Bipartisan nature of the new leaders of the Senate and House Homeland Security committees;

•Prospects for passage of cybersecurity legislation in the just-convene 113th Congress.

Ridge recently was named chairman of the advisory board of anti-malware startup TaaSERA. He also chairs the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s National Security Task Force.

Ridge served in the House of Representatives from 1983 to 1995, leaving Congress after being elected Pennsylvania’s governor, a post he held until 2001. He resigned as governor shortly after the 9/11 terrorists attacks, when President Bush asked him to become assistant to the president for homeland security. With the creation of DHS in 2003, Ridge became its first secretary, serving until 2005.


The Role of DHS

ERIC CHABROW: President Obama is going to increase authority to the Department of Homeland Security to help direct government-wide IT security, at least among civilian agencies. Some on Capitol Hill, such as Arizona Senator John McCain, oppose giving DHS such clout. What’s the appropriate role for DHS in safeguarding the government’s IT security?


RIDGE: DHS’s role in terms of what we’re seeing in government security is shared responsibility. Quite frankly, I could argue that among all the agencies they may be assigned responsibility, I’m not quite confident that they have the breadth and depth of experience to oversee what the rest of the federal government is doing. Having said that, I think they can be a focal point for collaboration among the various agencies. The biggest challenge that exists right now is not only the government’s relationship with the agency and how they can act with the private sector in order to advance security needs of both the public and private, because, frankly, if you’re looking to try to preserve government continuity of operations, etc., the infrastructure that the government relies upon is generally owned by the private sector. DHS will have some form of role in trying to collaborate and ensure the exchange of information between the public and the private sector to the benefit of both.


CHABROW: I’ll get to that in a moment. I would just like to expand a little bit more on DHS itself. What should the role be, just as a coordinator among the various agencies, or should it have a little more clout there?


RIDGE: Candidly, I don’t know how any federal agency can be prescriptive in terms of identifying precisely the procedures and approaches that the government and/or the private sector takes in order to reduce the risk of malicious malware being embedded and exploited in the system. I think hackers and technology move quicker than prescriptive directions. In my judgment, the most effective means of reducing the risk – and we’re just about managing the risk, as you and I know that intrusions are going to continue forever and ever – is making sure that you have this very robust exchange of information between the public and private sector. Horizontal would be public to public, agency to agency, with vertical [being] federal government to private sector and private sector up to the feds.


Public/Private Sector Relationship


CHABROW: Let’s talk a little bit about the private sector. I know you testified on Capitol Hill against the government regulating the private sector. But what should that relationship be?


RIDGE: The best example I can relate to is the comprehensive arrangement that the Department of Defense has with several thousand of its contractors and subcontractors, where they have, after they experimented with a pilot program, developed a means by which there’s continuous flow by directional flow of information between their contractors and DOD. I think that’s one of the means by which you enhance information sharing and, frankly, you reduce the risk.


Prospects for Cyber Legislation


CHABROW: We’re going to need federal law to do that and there are some hang-ups getting that through Congress. What should Congress do and what’s feasible legislation that can get enacted?


RIDGE: Frankly, Congress is very close to a solution. You now have two new chairmen. You have Congressman McCaul over in the House side. You have Senator Tom Carper on the Senate side. It’s interesting. You’ve got a Republican and a Democrat, both known to be very practical in their orientation. I think this is one area, in spite of what appears to be bipartisan gridlock, I’m optimistic that sometime during the course of this year we can marry the ideas that frankly are fundamental to the legislation that both chambers offer next year to come up with a solution.


At the end of the day, I think the epicenter of the solution has more to do with information sharing than anything prescriptive, but I think there’s a way we can get it done this year, and I fully intend on being as involved as I possibly can because I chair the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Taskforce on Homeland Security, and the past couple of years we’ve been focused on both supply-chain security and IT. I hope to be involved in that. I’m optimistic. I know both men and I think there’s a desire to get something done, and I suspect it will be done.


Addressing Privacy

CHABROW: Do you think the privacy issue will be addressed to get many lawmakers to support the bill?


RIDGE: You’re onto something major here. Whenever you’re dealing with the digital world, this proprietary corporate information or private individual information, that’s an issue that has to be dealt with directly and carefully, but I don’t think that’s going to be an impediment to the kind of solution that I think government and corporate America is looking to develop.



CHABROW: Would you say the same thing about liability, not providing too much protection, as some critics of some of the legislation have said?


RIDGE: This whole question of liability is a fascinating one to me because there have been people who have written articles who have said, “If some of these software providers were going to be held legally liable because of their failure to embed detection software or other better means of resisting attacks, should they be held liable?” Frankly, I think that will need to be a separate discussion. I think the key point right now is let’s start sharing information to combat the hackers and then let’s start talking about how we can incentivize the private sector, frankly, to do more and to do better. These are the software that are more resistant to these kinds of attack.


That’s where it’s a natural lead into TaaSERA, because here’s an opportunity for the digital world to, I don’t say, necessarily change from the proactive security where they look for signature-based malware, but to do what the intelligence and law enforcement agencies are doing and kind of do it with a little more behavior analysis and anticipation on an attack. That’s the kind of innovation that I think government and the private sector longs for and one of the reasons I think TaaSERA has some great market potential.


Hybrid Legislation

CHABROW: Do you see more narrowly focused legislation on cybersecurity going through Congress this year than a broad, omnibus Cybersecurity Act?


RIDGE: Yes. I see a hybrid. You probably followed very closely with what was contained in the House bill and the Senate bill. I think much of the House bill, married with about 75 percent or 80 percent of the Senate bill, is a good baseline and gets us about almost all the way there. There are some details to be worked out, but I do see a piece of cyber legislation coming out of the Congress this year.


DARPA wants UAV systems that can be based on small ships

Mon, 2013-03-04 01:13 PM

By: Mark Rockwell


Government researchers are looking for ways to convert small ships into mobile bases from which long-endurance unmanned aerial vehicles could perform intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions.

Traditional airborne intel, surveillance and recon (ISR) aircraft like helicopters have their purposes, said the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), but also a host of limitations, including distance and flight time. Manned and unmanned fixed wing aircraft can fly farther and longer, but require large or fixed land bases with runways longer than a mile, it said. Building those bases, or deploying carriers, said the agency, is also expensive, and requires substantial diplomatic and security commitments.

To overcome those challenges and expand the Department of Defense’s options, DARPA launched the Tactically Exploited Reconnaissance Node (TERN) program. The program, it said, looks to combine the strengths of both land- and sea-based approaches to supporting airborne assets using smaller ships as mobile launch and recovery sites for medium-altitude long-endurance (MALE) fixed-wing UAVs.

The program is named after the family of seabirds known for flight endurance – many species migrate thousands of miles each year – TERN aims to make it much easier, quicker and less expensive for DoD to deploy ISR and strike capabilities almost anywhere in the world, it said.

“It’s like having a falcon return to the arm of any person equipped to receive it, instead of to the same static perch every time,” said Daniel Patt, DARPA program manager. “About 98 percent of the world’s land area lies within 900 nautical miles of ocean coastlines. Enabling small ships to launch and retrieve long-endurance UAVs on demand would greatly expand our situational awareness and our ability to quickly and flexibly engage in hotspots over land or water.”

To familiarize potential participants with the technical objectives of TERN, DARPA is set to host a Proposers’ Day on Tuesday, March 20, 2013, in the DARPA Conference Center. Registration closes on Wednesday, March 18 at 12 p.m. ET.

DARPA said it wants proposals that would design, develop and demonstrate a MALE UAV and an associated automated launch and recovery system. The UAV would have to carry a 600-pound payload and have an operational radius of 600 to 900 nautical miles from its host vessel. The launch and recovery system would have to fit Littoral Combat Ship 2 (LCS-2)-class ships and other surface combat vessels as feasible.


Key technical challenges include:

Devising a reliable launch and recovery technique that enables large aircraft operations from smaller ships, even in rough seas;

Designing an aircraft with range, endurance and payload comparable to emerging land-based unmanned aircraft, while still meeting the demands of the maritime environment;

Ensuring the entire system can operate with minimal, and preferably reversible, ship modifications and minimal personnel requirements for operations and maintenance; and

Packaging the system to fit into the limited space aboard ships.


DARPA wants to roll out TERN in three phases over approximately 40 months, culminating in a full-scale launch and recovery demonstration.


“We’re trying to rethink how the ship, UAV and launch and recovery domains – which have traditionally worked in parallel – can synergistically collaborate to help achieve the vision of base-independent operations for maritime or overland missions,” Patt said.



Pilot Reports ‘Drone’ Sighting at JFK

By ABC News

March 5, 2013

The Federal Aviation Administration is looking into a report by an Alitalia pilot who said he saw a “small, unmanned or remote-controlled aircraft” on final approach to New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport.

The Alitalia plane was on final approach about 1:15 p.m. Monday, when the pilot saw the unmanned aircraft approximately four to five miles southeast of the airport, the FAA said in a statement.

“We saw a drone, a drone aircraft,” the pilot can be heard telling the control tower on radio calls captured by the website Later in the recording another pilot reports a similar sighting.

The FAA is investigating the pilot’s claim and the FBI is taking a preliminary look into this incident. The Joint Terror Task Force is also investigating, a source familiar with the investigation told ABC News.

The unmanned aircraft was flying at an altitude of approximately 1,500 feet, but the pilot did not take evasive action and the Alitalia flight landed safely, according to the FAA.


Credit rating agencies shrug off sequester, say more cuts needed

The Hill

By Peter Schroeder – 03/04/13 04:33 PM ET


Credit rating agencies are shrugging off sequestration, saying the U.S. government will need to do more to reduce the deficit if it wants to prevent a downgrade of the nation’s credit rating.

While the agencies say the $85 billion in automatic spending cuts represent at least a step towards deficit reduction, they argue much more is needed to prevent the United States from losing its “AAA” rating.

“It’s not the most ideal outcome,” said David Riley, Fitch Rating’s global managing director for sovereign ratings, on CNBC Europe. “You’d rather have intelligent cuts and some revenue measures as well … but we don’t live in an ideal world, and it’s better to have some deficit reduction than none at all.”

The agencies view it as a positive sign that Congress did not simply scrap the unpopular sequester. Erasing the cuts without coming up with an alternative, something pushed by some liberal lawmakers, would have added to the deficit and debt and further pressured agencies to downgrade the nation’s credit rating.

At the same time, the agencies say they are worried that Washington’s inability to replace the sequester with targeted deficit reduction underlines concerns about the U.S. government’s dysfunction, a concern that led Standard & Poor’s to downgrade the U.S. in 2011.

The S&P downgrade came just days after Congress approved a hike in the nation’s debt limit in August 2011. The months-long debate caused stocks to dip and raised serious doubts about the ability of Republicans and Democrats to come together on fiscal issues.

It also led to the sequester, a series of cuts meant to be triggered only if Congress could not come up with a better deficit-reduction plan.

In downgrading the U.S. credit rating, S&P cited “political brinksmanship” and said Washington’s actions in the debate made the nation “less stable, less effective, and less predictable than what we previously believed.”

Watching both parties continue to butt heads on fiscal issues, S&P is confident they made the right call.

“The political discord around this process was a factor in lowering the credit rating,” said John Piecuch, a spokesman for the rater. “We believe that the events since then have validated our opinion.”

Agencies are raising similar concerns with the sequester.

Just days before Friday’s deadline, Fitch said allowing sequestration to occur would “further erode confidence” in policymakers’ ability to strike the broader deficit deals needed to get the country’s debt under control.

In addition, while the sequester will reduce spending and the deficit in the short term, U.S. deficits are expected to rise toward $1 trillion again by 2023.

The sequester reduces defense and non-defense discretionary spending, but does nothing to curtail Medicare spending, a key driver of the deficit.

The Congressional Budget Office found the deficit will drop to $430 billion by 2015 partly because of the sequester, and will continue to fall if spending caps remain curtailed by the budget cuts. (The “fiscal cliff” deal in January also improved the nation’s outlook by bringing in an additional $600 billion in revenue.)

Yet the CBO finds deficits will rise again in later years as entitlement costs continue to skyrocket and the population ages.

Raters say Congress will need to make even tougher choices to rein in debt and deficits if the country is to keep its top-shelf ratings.

The overarching concern from credit raters is getting the nation’s debt-to-GDP ratio on a sustainable course.

According to Fitch, assuming Congress leaves the sequester fully in place, policymakers would still need to track down another $1.6 trillion in deficit reduction to get the nation’s debt on a sustainable course. Actually driving down that ratio would require another $3 trillion in deficit reduction.

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke struck a similar note when he testified before Congress last week.

He warned that while the sequester cuts might improve the nation’s finances in the short term, they do nothing to address the actual drivers of long-term fiscal woes. He called on Congress to replace the sequester with longer-term fiscal reforms that actually address those issues.

“The difficult process of addressing longer-term fiscal imbalances has only begun,” Bernanke added.

Credit raters are not weighing in on whether Congress should raise taxes, reduce spending or lower entitlement benefits to improve the nation’s fiscal trajectory.

Both Fitch and Moody’s Investors Service still give the U.S. their top rating, but both have placed it on a negative outlook, effectively warning that Washington will need to address the nation’s long-term debt issues in 2013 or face a downgrade.


Senate Democrats Seek Wider Scope, May Add Appropriations Bills

By Kerry Young

Roll Call Staff

March 6, 2013, 5:03 p.m.



Mikulski, the Appropriations chairwoman, has been tapped by Reid to craft a Senate package that includes more spending bills than the House-passed measure.

The continuing resolution that will come out of the Senate will almost certainly be a larger and more complicated measure than the stopgap funding measure the House coped with this week.

How far Democrats in the Senate hope to take the bill remains an open question, however, with lawmakers trying to balance concerns over the effects of the sequester on federal agencies and spending on major regulatory initiatives with the fundamental need to fund the government through the rest of the fiscal year.

Conservatives in both chambers appear willing to include more appropriations bills in the Senate version of the fiscal 2013 spending package, as long as the $85 billion slice to the federal budget under the sequester is preserved. The fiscal 2013 measure (HR 933) that went through the House on Wednesday combines Defense and Military Construction-Veterans Affairs bills with a stopgap CR for the rest of federal agencies, giving the military-related programs some ability to soften the blunt impact of the sequester.

The House’s bill effectively would cap fiscal 2013 spending at about $984 billion, a roughly $59 billion cut from the previous budget year’s spending, effectively entrenching the sequester for the current fiscal year.

Rep. Mick Mulvaney, R-S.C., said he doesn’t object to adding other spending bills as long as the total cost of the package stays the same. “I’m more interested in the top-line number,” Mulvaney said.

The challenge in the days ahead will be to devise a Senate package that can do more than win the needed GOP support for passage. To advance, the measure also would need to be written in a way that doesn’t spark a Republican backlash. That makes some of the more controversial bills, such as the Financial Services and Labor-Health and Human Services-Education measures, less likely to be included in a continuing resolution that will pick up after the current stopgap funding plan expires March 27.

“It depends on the structure of it, but the important thing is the overall cap,” said Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona, a conservative freshman Republican with a long track record in the House of opposing spending measures.

Tom Cole of Oklahoma, a House GOP appropriator, endorsed this approach. “That’s fine,” Cole said. “We will negotiate it out, we’ll avoid a government shutdown.”

With the public blessing of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., Senate Appropriations Chairwoman Barbara A. Mikulski, D-Md., has been trying to craft a package that would contain more spending bills than the two contained in the House bill.

Sen. Richard C. Shelby of Alabama, the ranking member on the Appropriations Committee, said he was in conversations with Mikulski and was optimistic that other provisions could be added in the Senate. “We’ve got to see what’s doable,” he said. “I don’t think it will be an omnibus. I don’t think so. But it might be some kind of a hybrid. I’d call it a hybrid, smaller than a minibus.”

New spending bills added to Mikulski’s measure may still reflect the cuts made by the sequester, but they would move money around within the cap to allow agencies to better manage these reductions. Leaving an agency running under a CR means it will be cutting spending while still following budget marching orders that Congress set in late 2011 when it cleared the fiscal 2012 appropriations laws (PL 112-55, PL 112-74).


Among the clear candidates for the Senate’s fiscal 2013 bill are those from the Commerce-Justice-Science subcommittee and the Agriculture and Homeland Security measures. Staff members and appropriators largely worked out House-Senate compromise agreements for these two last years. Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, the ranking Republican on the Transportation-Housing and Urban Development Appropriations Subcommittee, said she hoped her panel’s bill could be added to the package but that an obstacle remained.

“I just don’t know if we are going to be able to resolve all of the issues with high-speed rail,” Collins said.

The differences over numerous such issues present serious hurdles to efforts to expand the scope of the funding resolution, and questions over the funding for issues with sharp partisan division, such as implementation of the Affordable Care Act and new financial regulations, provide even steeper barriers.

“I don’t think we would want any game-breakers,” said Sen. Dan Coats of Indiana, the ranking Republican on the Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee.

Among the bills facing such a challenge are the Financial Services measure, which would cause a fight about funding the 2010 Dodd-Frank overhaul (PL 111-203) of the financial services industry, and the Labor-Health and Human Services-Education measure, which would spark debate about money to be spent on the 2010 health care overhaul (PL 111-148, PL 111-152). The Interior-Environment measure also has been marked by some deeply partisan splits.

Other bills may be excluded from Mikulski’s measure because they contain unresolved issues, said Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, the ranking Republican on the Energy-Water Appropriations Subcommittee. With 13 or 14 items still to be worked out on his panel’s bill, he said, it’s “not at the head of the line.”


White House Cybersecurity Czar: New Executive Order A ‘Down Payment’

Michael Daniel says President Obama’s Executive Order on Cybersecurity sets the stage for cybersecurity legislation for protecting critical infrastructure


By Kelly Jackson Higgins, , Darkreading

Mar 05, 2013 | 10:34 PM



SAN FRANCISCO — RSA CONFERENCE 2013 — The White House’s top cybersecurity official here last week confirmed what experts had been speculating since President Obama issued an executive order for shoring up the security of critical infrastructure earlier this month: The order lays the groundwork for still-needed cybersecurity legislation.

“The executive order is really a down payment — a down payment on a lot of the hard work that [has been done],” Michael Daniel, special assistant to the president and cybersecurity coordinator, told attendees during a special White House forum session on the executive order at the RSA Conference. “There are things the executive order can’t do, such as direct agencies to do things they don’t already have [the authority] to do in the first place.


“We definitely need Congress to act and update our laws so we can see progress in cybersecurity,” he said.

Daniel says the president has taken a personal interest in cybersecurity, as have his top staffers, signaling just how important an issue it is in the national interest, as well as globally. “Within the White House itself, you can see the president is personally interested in this issue, as well as the chief of staff and the national security adviser. It has become a lot of the focus of our policy efforts,” he said. “Internationally, you can see this, too. It’s now not just about engineering arrangements … it’s an issue of statecraft and international diplomacy.”

Meanwhile, the threat is escalating, he noted. “The attack surface continues to grow” with more network-attached devices, he said, and the attackers are becoming more sophisticated. “It’s not just simple worms and viruses anymore,” and the malware is harder to detect and is more dangerous, he said.

“It’s not just website defacements or even denial-of-service attacks, but moving up to actual destructive attacks, things like what happened with Saudi Aramco this past summer,” Daniel said. “All of these trends mean the environment is getting more dangerous, and that’s why the president felt compelled to act in this space. The level of the threat simply demanded it.”

The executive order is based on three “pillars,” he said: information-sharing, privacy, and a framework of standards.

Daniel said the executive order is aimed at improving the amount of, quality of, and timeliness of threat information the federal government shares with the private sector. “We’re focusing on where the government has specific threat information related to companies or assets or systems so we do a better job at pushing out that information to those particular entities that have been targeted, and we’re going to do that in a classified and unclassified level,” he said.

A key component here is expanding the information-sharing process it uses with the defense industrial base to “all critical infrastructure sectors,” he said. “This program enables us to use particularly classified information and classified signatures in a way that enables [us] to give that information and protect critical infrastructure, but still protect sources of and methods used by which those signatures were derived.”

Daniel said privacy and cybersecurity go hand in hand. “Privacy and cybersecurity are really two sides of the same coin. You can’t have privacy these days without good cybersecurity,” he said.

The framework/standards piece of the executive order is more about best practices, he said. The order calls for the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) to interface with private industry to determine how to take existing security best practices and get them adopted more widely across the nation’s critical infrastructure, he said. A preliminary framework is due from NIST in eight months, and a final framework in one year, he said.

“This is not about technology or techniques. It’s about best practices for cybersecurity that are already out there and making sure all critical infrastructure is following those,” he said. “It has to be industry-driven. It won’t work unless we get heavy participation and enthusiasm from industry.”

One the security framework is finalized, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security will launch a voluntary program for adoption of the framework. Also in the works are incentives for companies to adopt it, he said.

Regulatory bodies, meanwhile, will have to review their current regulations and requirements to determine whether they are in line with the framework. If so, they “don’t need to do anything else,” he said. But if there are any gaps or conflicts, they must align them, which may or may not require new regulations, depending on the issues, he said.

The executive order requires periodic reviews of the framework given the rapid pace of change in the threat landscape, he said.



New Wave of DDoS Attacks Launched

Are Community Institutions Adequately Prepared?

By Tracy Kitten, March 6, 2013. Follow Tracy @FraudBlogger


Hacktivists have formally launched their third wave of distributed-denial-of-service attacks on U.S. banking institutions.

On March 5, Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Cyber Fighters announced on the open forum Pastebin that banks and credit unions should brace for ongoing attacks beginning March 6.

“During running Operation Ababil Phase 3, like previous phases, a number of American banks will be hit by denial of service attacks three days a week, on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday during working hours,” hacktivists claim in their most recent post.

And while experts have warned institutions of all asset sizes to maintain strong online guards, this newest wave of attacks is just starting to garner serious attention from community banks and credit unions. That’s because smaller institutions, such as University Federal Credit Union and Patelco Credit Union, were among those hit during the hacktivists’ second wave of attacks.

“The NCUA’s warning has highlighted DDoS attacks as a concern worthy of consideration,” says Richard Reinders, information security officer for Lake Trust Credit Union, a $1.5 billion non-profit institution based in Michigan. “It has provided needed attention to the issue, so the results from it so far are positive.”

Reinders is referring to a recent alert from the National Credit Union Administration, which notes that DDoS attacks are often waged as tools of distraction to conceal fraud. “Credit unions should voluntarily file a Suspicious Activity Report if an attack impacts Internet service delivery, enables fraud, or compromises member information,” the alert states. “DDoS attacks may also be paired with attempts to steal member funds or data.”


Mixed Messages?

Still, one Midwest community bank executive, who asked not to be named, says as recently as January, smaller institutions were getting mixed messages about their need for concern. While regulators and banking associations such as the Financial Services Information Sharing and Analysis Center had issued warnings about DDoS attacks linked to fraud, federal investigators suggested hacktivists’ attacks were the primary worry, the executive says.

“We spoke with the FBI a couple weeks ago about DDoS attacks on community banks, and they basically stated that the smaller community banks have not, and most likely will not, be targeted by DDoS attacks,” the executive told BankInfoSecurity in early February, shortly after Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Cyber Fighters announced plans to halt its attacks. “They didn’t feel banks our size and smaller needed to spend a lot of time and resources on this issue.”

That perspective, however, has evolved among some executives since late January, when the attacks shifted and mid-tier institutions were among the hacktivists’ new targets.

Reinders says credit unions are heeding regulators’ warnings. “Credit unions are definitely talking about it, but it seems there is some hesitancy to discuss specifically what they do at this point.”


Phase 3

Experts say banking institutions should do more of the same to prepare for this newest wave of attacks. The lessons learned during phase one, which hit in September and October, taught the industry how to collaborate and brace. Strikes waged against them during phase two, which hit in December and January, were less tasking for that reason, says Rodney Joffe, senior technologist for online security provider Neustar Inc.

In addition to sharing information about the attacks suffered, financial institutions have been more closely collaborating with Internet service providers to scrub and block traffic. Some also have implemented measures to turn off access to certain parts of their online sites, such as search functions, when DDoS activity is detected. These precautions, and others, have helped ensure sites are not completely taken offline by an attack, experts say.

Mike Smith, a security evangelist and DDoS specialist at Web security provider Akamai, says the banking institutions and third-party providers like Akamai have improved efforts to deflect the hacktivists’ botnet, known as Brobot. “At this point in the attack campaign, most larger banks and their DDoS mitigation providers are able to defend themselves successfully against Brobot, or at least minimize the effects of any outage that they might have. This means that the QCF have to adjust tactics in order to get the impact that they are after.”

Hacktivists have not yet launched their proverbial big guns, Joffe suggests, and the time the hacktivists took off during the month of February was likely spent regrouping and building their botnet, which dealt a more powerful blow when it returned from its four-week hiatus on Feb. 25.

“This is the last al-qassam’s ultimatum to U.S. government, and, we announce that if the insulting films are not removed in the following days the Operation Ababil will be started again next week, March 5, 2013,” the group stated in a Feb. 26 post about its new attacks.

In the March 5 posting, the group vowed to fulfill its promise. It also seems hacktivists did some preparation work this time around before officially announcing their plans for more attacks.

“We started seeing activity on Friday and it continued over the weekend,” Joffe told BankInfoSecurity on Feb. 25. “That indicated an attack was being prepared, and it matched the kind of activity we had seen before.”

The botnet’s increased activity over the weekend of Feb. 23 did give security firms some forewarning, Joffe said. But that the attacks started on a Monday and were not previously announced did give them an element of surprise, he added.

Dan Holden, director of the security engineering research team for DDoS prevention provider Arbor Networks, says the Feb. 25 attacks reveal Izz ad-Din al-Qassam’s botnet has grown, and that should be a concern for institutions of all sizes. Among the latest targets: Bank of America, PNC Financial Services Group, Capital One, Zions Bank, Fifth Third, Union Bank, Comerica Bank, RBS Citizens Financial Group Inc. [dba Citizens Bank], People’s United Bank, University Federal Credit Union, Patelco Credit Union and others.


Hacktivist Demands

In addition to the National Credit Union Administration, the Office of the Comptroller for the Currency also issued a warning about DDoS attacks, and the possibility that the attacks could be used to mask fraud taking place in the background.

Still, it wasn’t until Izz ad-Din al-Qassam widened its attack net in late January that smaller institutions started to take serious notice, Reinders says. Not fully understanding what the hacktivists are after is breeding concern, he adds.


Hacktivists continue to pin the reason for their strikes on YouTube’s inability or unwillingness to remove links to a movie trailer deemed offensive to Muslims. “If the offended film is eliminated from the Internet, the related attacks will also be stopped,” the group says in its March 5 post.

They also explain why they stopped their attacks, albeit a brief cease fire. “While running the phase 2 of Operation, a main copy of the insulting film was removed from YouTube and that caused the phase 2 to be suspended,” Izz ad-Din al-Qassam claims. “al-Qassam cyber fighters measured this act positively and a bit sign of rationalism in the U.S. government and for this reason suspended the operation for one month. That also was an opportunity for U.S. government to think more about the topic and remove other copies of the film as well.”

As links to the offensive movie trailer remain active, the group says it has decided to reignite its DDoS efforts.

But Smith, like Joffe, suggests the break was taken to give the group time to build their botnet.

“When the QCF have lost enough Brobot nodes that they are no longer able to impact their targets, they are forced to go into a development phase to recruit new Brobot nodes and recon additional targets for application denial-of-service vulnerabilities that require a lower volume of attack traffic.”


As drone use grows, so do privacy, safety concerns


Ann Zaniewski, Detroit Free Press1a.m. EST March 7, 2013

DETROIT — Last September, a gunman barricaded himself on the top floor of his West Bloomfield, Mich., home. He had already killed one police officer and fired shots at others.

Oakland County Sheriff Michael Bouchard sent a deputy to a Brookstone store to buy a $300 Parrot A.R. Drone 2.0 App-Controlled Quadricopter.

Bouchard hoped that the camera-equipped, remote-controlled drone, with its ability to hover in midair, would allow police to see inside the house without putting more officers’ lives at risk.

“I was unwilling to send my people into a firefight without having any kind of information on what they were going into,” Bouchard recalled.

Perhaps best known for their role in military operations overseas, an increasing number of drones are taking to U.S. skies. Most are much smaller and far less sophisticated than the Predator drones used by the U.S. military.

They can be deployed in a police standoff, sent up to give firefighters real-time information on a fire or used by a real estate company to create an aerial video tour of a home for sale.

A federal law enacted last year streamlined the process for public agencies, including police departments, to get drone licenses and paved the way for commercial use. About 7,500 small, commercially operated drones — not including drones flown by public bodies — will be active in the U.S. in about five years, according to the Federal Aviation Administration.

As domestic drone use has grown, so have concerns about privacy, safety, regulation and the potential for abuse, including fears of unwarranted spying on people by police agencies or even by other citizens. Lawmakers in several states, including Michigan, are weighing rules to regulate the use of drones.


“The bill is really designed to make sure that we’re protecting people’s rights,” said state Republican state Rep. Tom McMillin of the drone legislation he intends to introduce next week. “We don’t want Big Brother flying over watching all our activities.”


Less-expensive options

The FAA has allowed drones, also known as unmanned aerial systems, to be used domestically for years for environmental monitoring, firefighting, disaster relief and search and rescue. The Department of Homeland Security uses them to monitor borders and ports.

Drones can be equipped with high-powered cameras, microphones, infrared devices and other high-tech tools.

A technically advanced cousin of remote-controlled model planes, the commercial and hobbyist versions range in price from less than $100 to thousands of dollars, depending on their size and sophistication. Drones available for purchase online or in stores today for hobbyists range in size from about 5 inches wide up to 3 or 4 feet.

Ryan Calo, a privacy law expert and professor of law at the University of Washington, said the widespread use of drones in the U.S. seems inevitable.

“Often when the cost of surveillance goes down, people do more of it. It’s expensive to have a helicopter. It’s expensive to have a plane. It’s less expensive to have a drone,” he said.

The cost of drones versus helicopters makes them appealing to cash-strapped police departments.

At the barricaded gunman scene in West Bloomfield, the quadricopter, designed to be controlled by a smartphone or tablet, was not stable enough to be useful. But Bouchard said the incident was a perfect example of when a similar device could be valuable to law enforcement.

He also pointed to a train derailment years ago that spewed toxic fumes in the air, preventing a helicopter from getting close.

“When people hear the word drone, I think they think of what’s being deployed in the Middle East,” Bouchard said. “High altitude, many hours of orbiting and, in some cases, carrying a lethal payload. … What we picked up from Brookstone is what you can pick up for your 10-year-old kid.”

Harry Arnold, 51, of Detroit is the founder of Detroit Drone, specializing in aerial photography and video. He is getting aerial footage of the ongoing construction of a Wayne State University building in Detroit on Feb. 2.

Harry Arnold paid more than $4,000 to make and equip the four-propeller drone he uses in his home-based business, Detroit Drone. He takes aerial images for construction companies and other clients.

For safety reasons, Arnold said, he welcomes better regulations over civilian drone use.

“For right now, there’s no law stopping a 13-year-old from buying one of these at Best Buy and flying over (Comerica Park). … I want to see it be regulated before aforementioned 13-year-old flies his drone around (Comerica Park) during the first inning because he thinks he will be cool and he crashes and hurts everybody, and all of a sudden, drones are illegal,” he said.


Legal issues

Under the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012, Congress directed the FAA to develop guidelines for safely accelerating the integration of drones into the national airspace system by September 2015. Calo said the act was intended to streamline the process by which public and private entities can get licenses to fly drones.


Since 2007, the agency has issued 1,428 certificates of authorization allowing for drone use to police departments, universities and other public bodies. According to the FAA, 327 of those permits were still active as of Feb. 15.

Private companies, such as drone manufacturers, can fly drones for testing, demonstration and training after getting an experimental airworthiness certificate from the FAA.

Hobbyists and recreational users of model aircraft currently don’t need any special licensing but are encouraged to follow guidelines that are outlined in a 1981 circular. The guidelines say model aircraft should be operated at a site that is a “sufficient distance from populated areas” and not flown above 400 feet.

Right now, there are no provisions for commercial, for-hire unmanned aircraft operations, but Calo said that’s expected to change.

Many states aren’t waiting for the federal government to address concerns about privacy. Lawmakers in more than 25 states have proposed legislation related to drone use.

Some cities, fearful of abuse, have banned or considered banning their use by law enforcement. Police in Seattle recently scrapped plans to use two high-tech drones following protests from residents.


Data collection

In Michigan, McMillin is working on legislation that would prohibit government use of drones except under limited circumstances.

It is based on model legislation created by the American Civil Liberties Union, which says that law enforcement should only use the devices with a warrant or in emergency situations when a person’s safety is imminently threatened. The bill also sets parameters on how data is collected, used and retained.

The technology behind drones is evolving quickly, McMillin said.

“I think there’s probably going to be legal issues tomorrow that we don’t know about today. … It’s uncharted territory, for sure,” he said.

A Jan. 30 Congressional Research Service report prepared for members of Congress outlined some of the legal questions.

“Several legal interests are implicated by drone flight over or near private property. Might such a flight constitute a trespass? A nuisance? If conducted by the government, a constitutional taking?” the report asked.

Courts have generally upheld the principle that people do not enjoy a reasonable expectation of privacy in public, even on portions of their own property visible from a public vantage. The Fourth Amendment to the Constitution protects against unreasonable searches and seizures by the government.

An ACLU report about drones says the U.S. Supreme Court has allowed some warrantless aerial surveillance from manned aircraft but has not taken a position on whether the Fourth Amendment limits government use of drone surveillance.

“I think the nexus is this concept of what is public, and what is private?” said Shelli Weisberg, legislative director for the ACLU of Michigan. “Just because you’re out in public, does it mean that nothing you’re doing is private? Is the conversation with the person you’re walking with private? Those are the things that will be (eventually) tested by the courts.”

Both Weisberg and Calo said that when it comes to drones, current privacy law is inadequate.


“If the idea (is) that these things are going to follow folks around or patrol a particular neighborhood, there isn’t much in American privacy law that stands in the way. That’s both on the Constitutional law side and the civil law side,” Calo said.


Privacy isn’t the only concern.

This week an Italian airline pilot reported spotting a small, black drone hovering just a few hundred feet from his passenger plane as it made a final approach for a landing at New York’s JFK Airport.

The pilot reported the drone was flying at about 1,800 feet some 3 miles from the airport, according to various published reports.

Although the plane landed safely, the incident drew the attention of the FAA and counterterrorism officials in New York and at the FBI.



New Sanctions Imposed on North Korea as it Warns of Pre-emptive Nuclear Attack



Published: March 7, 2013 66 Comments


The United Nations Security Council approved a new regimen of sanctions on Thursday against North Korea for its underground nuclear test last month, imposing penalties on North Korean banking, travel and trade in a unanimous vote that reflected the country’s increased international isolation.

The resolution, which was drafted by the United States and China, was passed 15-0 in a speedy vote hours after North Korea threatened for the first time to launch a pre-emptive nuclear strike against the United States and South Korea.

“The strength, breadth and severity of these sanctions will raise the cost to North Korea of its illicit nuclear program,” the United States ambassador to the United Nations, Susan E. Rice, told reporters after the vote. “Taken together, these sanctions will bite and bite hard.”

Li Baodong, the ambassador from China, whose support for the new sanctions angered the North Korean government, told reporters the resolution was aimed at the long-term goal of denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula.

“This resolution is a very important step,” he told reporters. Mr. Li called passage of the resolution “a reflection of the view and determination of the international community.”

The resolution, which was drafted three weeks after the Feb. 12 underground test by North Korea, is the Security Council’s fourth against the reclusive North Korean government. It contains new restrictions that will block financial transactions, limit North Korea’s reliance on bulk transfers of cash, further empower other countries to inspect suspicious North Korean cargo, and expand a blacklist of items that the country is prohibited from importing. The sanctions also place new constraints on North Korean diplomats, raising their risk of expulsion from host countries.


Asked if she thought the sanctions would break the pattern of North Korean defiance of earlier punishments imposed by the Security Council, Ms. Rice said: “The choice lies with the decision that the North Korean leadership makes.”

She dismissed the North’s vows of a pre-emptive nuclear strike, saying “North Korea will achieve nothing by continued threats and provocations.”

In recent days, with the resolution set to pass, North Korea characterized the sanctions as part of an “act of war” in its escalating invective against the United States and its allies. Earlier this week it declared the 1953 armistice that stopped the Korean War null and void and threatened to turn Washington and Seoul into “a sea in flames” with “lighter and smaller nukes.”

The combative country has often warned that it has the right to launch pre-emptive military strikes against the United States, claiming that the western power wants to start a war on the Korean Peninsula. But on Thursday the North ratcheted up the hostile language by talking about pre-emptive nuclear strikes for the first time, citing the continuing joint American-South Korean military exercises as a proof that the United States and its allies were preparing for “a nuclear war aimed to mount a pre-emptive strike” on North Korea.

“Now that the U.S. is set to light a fuse for a nuclear war, the revolutionary armed forces of the DPRK will exercise the right to a pre-emptive nuclear attack to destroy the strongholds of the aggressors and to defend the supreme interests of the country,” a spokesman of the North Korean Foreign Ministry said in a Korean-language statement carried by the North’s official Korean Central News Agency. He used the acronym for his country’s official name, Democratic People’s republic of Korea.

The spokesman said that North Korea was no longer bound by the 1953 armistice ending the Korean War — and its military was free to “take military actions for self-defense against any target any moment” — starting from Monday, when it declared the cease-fire was terminated.

The resolution the United Nations adopted to impose more sanctions against the North “will compel the DPRK to take at an earlier date more powerful second and third countermeasures as it had declared,” the spokesman added, without elaborating.

In the past, whenever the United Nations considered more sanctions, North Korea’s typically strident rhetoric had grown harsher with threats of war. The threats were just that, and analysts said the message was meant as much for its home population, to whom they said the young leader Kim Jong-un sought to inspire a sense of crisis, as it was meant to unsettle the region to force Washington to engage it with concessions.

Photos filed by news agencies from the North Korean capital, Pyongyang, and carried in South Korean media on Thursday showed buses covered with military camouflage and university students rushing out of their classroom building in military uniforms in a military exercise.

Few analysts believe that North Korea would launch a military attack at the United States, a decision that would be suicidal for the regime. But officials in Seoul feared that North Korea might attempt an armed skirmish to test the military resolve of Park Geun-hye, South Korea’s first female president, who took office less than two weeks ago.

On Wednesday, in an uncharacteristically blunt response to North Korea’s threat, a South Korean Army general called a news conference and warned that if provoked, South Korea would strike back at the top North Korean military leadership. The two Koreas’ front-line units exchanged artillery fire after North Korea launched a barrage against a South Korean border island in 2010.

In the same year, 46 South Korean sailors were killed when their navy corvette sank in an explosion the South blamed on a North Korean torpedo attack.


With the United States standing behind it, South Korea has since vowed to strike back with a deadlier force if North Korea provokes again.

Despite such warnings, however, South Korean officials feared that Mr. Kim, an inexperienced leader eager to build his credentials and gravitas as leader of his “military-first” country might have been emboldened by his country’s recent successful tests of a long-range rocket and nuclear device to believe that he could try an armed provocation with impunity.

In North Korea, where pronouncements are carefully choreographed and timed, the threat on Tuesday to use “lighter and smaller nukes” was read on North Korean television by Gen. Kim Yong-chol. General Kim, the head of the North’s military intelligence, is one of the hard-liners that South Korean officials suspected was deeply involved in the 2010 attacks.

Rick Gladstone reported from New York, and Choe Sang-hun from Seoul, South Korea


Holder: US has no authority to kill Americans with drones on US soil

The Hill

By Justin Sink – 03/07/13 01:46 PM ET

The U.S. does not have the authority to use a drone attack against a U.S. citizen not engaged in combat on U.S. soil, Attorney General Eric Holder told Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) in a Thursday letter.

White House press secretary Jay Carney revealed the letter at his Thursday press briefing. It was sent in response to a 13-hour filibuster Paul held on the Senate floor Wednesday to criticize the administration’s drone policy.

“The president has not and would not use drone strikes against American citizens on American soil,” Carney said.

Reading from the Holder letter to Paul, Carney said: “Does the president have the authority to use a weaponized drone to kill an American not engaged in combat on American soil? The answer is no. The answer to that question is no.”

The new letter from Holder is a slight shift in position from an earlier letter he sent to Paul last week. In that letter, Holder said it was unlikely the U.S. would use a drone attack against in American in the U.S., but that it was possible in response to a September 11, 2001-type attack.

Paul criticized the administration’s position in his filibuster, which he used to block a confirmation vote on Obama’s nominee to lead the CIA, John Brennan.

“No one politician should be allowed to judge the guilt, to charge an individual, to judge the guilt of an individual and to execute an individual. It goes against everything that we fundamentally believe in our country,” Paul said during his marathon effort, which won support from senators on both sides of the aisle.

Brennan is likely to win confirmation, and Paul’s position on drones and filibuster came under criticism on Thursday from GOP Sens. John McCain (Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (S.C.).

The administration’s policies on drones have come under increased scrutiny, and Holder indicated earlier this week that Obama will soon publicly address the issue.

Carney said Thursday that the timing of an Obama address had not been set but would take place in the “coming months.”

The press secretary also criticized Paul for holding up Brennan’s confirmation.

“This debate has nothing to do with the qualifications of John Brennan. Sen. Paul said as much yesterday,” Carney said.

Read more:



Time now to get smart on sequestration, furlough


Posted 3/5/2013 Updated 3/4/2013

by Debbie Gildea, Air Force Personnel Center


3/5/2013 – JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-RANDOLPH, Texas — Former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta notified Congress recently that should sequestration occur, the Department of Defense will initiate furlough for its 800,000-plus civilian employees. Congressional notification is required at least 45 days from a planned furlough, with implementation anticipated for late April, Air Force officials said.

“The potential for sequestration-driven furlough continues to be a sensitive topic of discussion,” said Robert Corsi, Air Force Assistant Deputy Chief Staff for Manpower, Personnel and Services. “It has headlined every news product for months, and Air Force leaders at every level are working to determine how to minimize negative impact on people and the mission.”

In the event of sequestration, furlough will be implemented across the Department of Defense, with all the services working with the Department to execute furloughs similarly, including how and when employees will be notified (subject to applicable laws, regulations and collective bargaining agreements).

“DOD-wide, installation leaders are discussing furlough impact with union representatives to determine the most effective, least disruptive way to implement furlough, should it become necessary,” Corsi said.

If implemented, civilians will be furloughed for no more than 16 hours per pay period. In addition to duty hours and pay impact, furlough will affect employees in other areas, including benefits.

“I encourage all Airmen to study the guidance on furlough and ask questions to be sure you understand how you’re affected, or how your employees are affected,” Corsi said. “Civilians – especially those relatively new to service – will turn first to their supervisors for explanations and guidance.”

To learn more go to the myPers site at and enter “Civilian: Furlough Home Page” in the search window. For other furlough information, visit the Office of Personnel Management site at

Civilian Airmen must also be aware of the impact on leave accrual, benefits and Thrift Savings Plan contributions, particularly if they are planning vacations or nearing retirement, he said.

According to Office of Personnel Management guidance, the accumulation of non-pay status hours can affect the accrual of annual leave and sick leave. For example, when a full-time employee with an 80-hour biweekly tour of duty accumulates a total of 80 hours of non-pay status from the beginning of the leave year (either in one pay period, or over the course of several pay periods), the employee will not earn annual and sick leave in the pay period in which that 80-hour accumulation is reached. If an employee is furloughed for 176 hours (22 days), he or she will lose two pay periods worth of annual leave and sick leave accrual.

“Employees who have extended leave plans need to understand that they will not accrue those hours while on furlough,” Corsi said.

In addition, where TSP contributions are based on a percent of pay, employees will see a reduction in TSP contributions. Employees in the Federal Employee Retirement System will also see a reduction in agency automatic contributions and may experience a reduction in employer-matching contributions, depending on employee contribution amounts, Corsi explained.

While leaders at every level work to develop alternatives to sequestration, the possibility of a furlough must be taken seriously and Airmen must be smart about the impact on their lives, the director said.

“If sequestration and furlough are averted, so much the better. In the meantime, I ask every Airmen to actively prepare for the days ahead and review the information already available. I cannot overemphasize the importance of planning for a potential reduction of income,” said Corsi.



Agency facing ‘tidal wave’ of furlough appeals

Mar. 7, 2013 – 10:21AM |

By STEPHEN LOSEY | 3 Comments

The tiny Merit Systems Protection Board fears it is about to be swamped.

Agency officials expect to be flooded in the coming weeks by thousands of appeals from federal employees looking to evade furloughs. MSPB handles appeals of adverse actions such as furloughs.

MSPB Chairman Susan Tsui Grundmann said that if even 1 percent of federal employees facing furloughs appeal, that would more than double the board’s annual workload of 8,000 cases.

But the agency has bigger problems than that: MSPB is also facing sequestration and may be forced to furlough some of its 204 employees while trying to weather an unprecedented increase in its caseload. Those MSPB employees also have their own rights to appeal their furloughs — to an outside administrative law judge — and MSPB will have to foot the bill for those appeals as well, while already trying to absorb sequestration budget cuts.

“It’s a tidal wave,” Grundmann said. “Everything hitting at the same time. Like other agencies, we don’t really know what’s coming.”


MSPB’s options

MSPB doesn’t have very many options, she said. The agency won’t have the money to bring on temporary employees or rehire retirees. And even if MSPB brought on new temporary employees to take up the slack, Grundmann said, it would take two years to get them fully trained.

The last time MSPB handled a situation even remotely similar to this was after President Reagan fired the striking air traffic controllers in 1981, Grundmann said. About 12,000 fired controllers appealed their firings, and MSPB was able to lump all their appeals together and process them at once.

But those 12,000 appeals came from one agency and dealt with a single personnel action, Grundmann said. The sequestration furloughs will affect hundreds of thousands of employees across dozens of agencies differently, and grouping them together will be nearly impossible, she said.

The government shutdowns in 1995 or 1996 also provide no guidance to MSPB. Because Congress restored back pay to federal employees furloughed during that shutdown, they had nothing to appeal to MSPB.

Grundmann said MSPB took 93 days on average to process a case last year. If its workload is more than doubled, that time could also potentially double, she said.

“I can’t even fathom what that would do to our backlog,” she said. “Some things, I don’t want to think about.”

John Mahoney, a partner at the law firm Tully Rinckey, which represents federal employees before MSPB, said it will be hard to predict how many feds might appeal their furloughs.

“We’ve never had anything like this,” Mahoney said.


Winning the case

If a fed can prove that he was targeted for a furlough because he was a whistleblower, or that furloughs disproportionately fell on members of a particular minority group, Mahoney said that federal employee may have a case for appealing his furlough.

But if virtually everybody in a particular office or agency gets furloughed, an employee’s case would get weaker, he said.

“If everybody gets furloughed, that hurts your appeal,” Mahoney said. “If there’s no prohibited personnel practice, it’s going to be very difficult to win.”

Some employees might try to appeal their furlough anyway, to see if they can negotiate a settlement with the agency and shorten their furloughs, Mahoney said. Some feds may have access to an attorney through their union, and some may sign on to a potential class-action lawsuit, he said. Others may file appeals on their own.

“If I’m a federal employee about to lose 20 percent of my pay between now and September, is there a prospect for an alternative dispute resolution settlement negotiation to come up with a more favorable resolution?” Mahoney said. “We’re talking about years, and hundreds of thousands of dollars [possibly spent on fighting furlough appeals]. This is just an administrative nightmare, frankly, for the United States.”


House orders Pentagon to disclose domestic drone use

The Pentagon operates drones abroad that are armed with sophisticated sensors, Hellfire missiles, and laser-guided bombs. The House of Representatives wants to know if they’re used at home.

by Declan McCullagh

| March 7, 2013 5:48 PM PST


The U.S. House of Representatives voted yesterday to require the Defense Department to disclose whether military drones are being operated domestically to conduct surveillance on American citizens.

A requirement buried in a lengthy appropriations bill calls on newly confirmed Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel to disclose to Congress what “policies and procedures” are in place “governing the use” of military drones or other unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) domestically. The report is due no later than 90 days after the bill is signed into law.


The vote on the bill, which was overwhelmingly supported by Republicans and opposed by Democrats, comes as concerns about domestic use of drones have spiked. Sen. Rand Paul, a Kentucky Republican, launched the first filibuster in three years yesterday to call attention to the Obama administration’s drone policy, and CNET reported last weekend that Homeland Security required that its UAVs be capable of “signals interception” and “direction finding” of cell phones in use on the ground.

“I think the drone issue has crystalized many of the public anxieties and frustrations surrounding the decade-old war on terror, including many concerns that have nothing to do with drones,” says Steven Aftergood, who directs the Project on Government Secrecy at the Federation of American Scientists. “The executive branch has been stingy with information, and that has created a vacuum that is now being filled with reactions of all kinds.”

The appropriations measure, which is now before the Senate, notes that the U.S. Air Force has “policies and procedures in place governing the disposition of UAV [surveillance] that may inadvertently capture matters of concern to law enforcement agencies.” The bill says “it is unclear” if other branches of the military — the Navy and Marine Corps operate drones as well, for instance — currently follow “similar policies and procedures.”

Last year, the U.S. Air Force adopted a drone policy (PDF) that says its unmanned aircraft “will not conduct nonconsensual surveillance on specifically identified U.S. persons, unless expressly approved by the Secretary of Defense.” It also says, however, that “collected imagery may incidentally include U.S. persons or private property without consent.”

A National Guard policy (PDF) adopted last year includes similar language, saying neither its manned nor unmanned aircraft may “conduct nonconsensual surveillance on any specifically identified U.S. persons” — unless approved by the Secretary of Defense and permitted by law.

The House’s language stops short of requiring Hagel to disclose whether he or his predecessor have taken the step of approving the targeting of any U.S. citizens for surveillance.

Concern about domestic use of drones is growing, with federal legislation introduced last month that would restrict arming drones, in parallel with similar efforts from state and local lawmakers. The Federal Aviation Administration recently said that it will “address privacy-related data collection” by drones, and Rep. Austin Scott, a Georgia Republican, on Tuesday introduced a bill, H.R. 972, that would require police to obtain warrants before sending drones on domestic surveillance missions.

The prospect of widespread surveillance from the skies concerns civil libertarians, who say the technology billed as securing the United States’ land and maritime borders could be used inside the nation’s borders. Michael Kostelnik, the Homeland Security official who created its drone program, told Congress that the department’s drone fleet would be available to “respond to emergency missions across the country,” and a Predator drone was dispatched to the tiny town of Lakota, N.D., to aid local police in a dispute that started with who owned six cows. The alleged cow-nabber arrested through Predator surveillance lost a preliminary bid to dismiss the charges.

Sen. Paul’s filibuster yesterday, which lasted about 13 hours, may have done the most of any of these recent efforts to raise the profile of drone misuse. Paul attempted to block the nomination of John Brennan, President Obama’s nominee to be CIA director and supporter of overseas use of drone strikes, until the administration answered questions about domestic targeting of civilians.

“I will speak as long as it takes, until the alarm is sounded from coast to coast that our Constitution is important, that your rights to trial by jury are precious, that no American should be killed by a drone on American soil without first being charged with a crime, without first being found to be guilty by a court,” Paul, who was eventually joined by some Republican colleagues and Democratic senator Ron Wyden, said on the Senate floor.

Paul received his response today, when Attorney General Eric Holder responded in a terse letter saying that the president does not have the authority to “use a weaponized drone to kill an American not engaged in combat on American soil.”


Budget wave set to hit House and Senate

March 8, 2013

The Hill

By Peter Schroeder

Capitol Hill will be a flurry of fiscal activity next week, as a host of major budget and spending documents are unveiled and considered by lawmakers.

Both parties and chambers will release competing budget documents next week, starting with the House Republican budget set for public consumption on Tuesday. House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) will host a mark-up of the spending vision Wednesday.

Meanwhile, Senate Budget Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray (D-Wash.) intends to roll out a competing proposal Wednesday, the first from Senate Democrats in about four years. A two-day committee markup sets the stage for its passage Thursday.

The intention is for both budgets to receive respective floor votes before Congress breaks for Easter recess beginning March 22.

Senate Appropriations Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) will release her version of a continuing resolution (CR) on Monday, which would keep the government funded until Oct. 1. The House passed the GOP-crafted version of the CR last week, and Senate Democrats plan to make extensive changes to the measure.

Among the changes, the Senate CR would give the Obama administration more flexibility in implementing the $85 billion in sequester spending cuts, and will add a trio of appropriations bills that would provide funding for the Departments of Commerce, Justice, Agriculture, Homeland Security and science agencies.



Obama budget delayed until April

The Hill

By Jeremy Herb – 03/08/13 11:33 AM ET

The Obama administration will release its 2014 budget more than two months late on April 8, according to congressional sources.


Pentagon officials have informed the House Armed Services Committee that the budget is coming on April 8, said Claude Chafin, a committee spokesman. A Democratic congressional source confirmed that is the planned release date.

The April release means President Obama’s budget will be nine weeks late, as it was due by law on Feb. 4, the first Monday in February.

Republicans have slammed Obama for delaying the budget so far past the deadline.

“This indicates a troubling unwillingness to lead,” Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), the ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee, said of the new delay. “It is odd to me that the president would not have a plan and want the Congress to consider it.”

“Will he ever commit himself to a plan? He has been very effective in criticizing others,” Sessions said. “The budget is so late, it doesn’t give me much confidence. It is almost like he is leading from behind even more that before. ”

Congressional sources said last week that they had been told the budget was coming on March 25, meaning the latest April 8 release date would be yet another delay.

Under the law, the president must submit a budget by the first Monday in February, but Obama has met the deadline only once.

The White House declined to confirm the budget delay at a press briefing on Friday.

“I don’t have a budget date to announce to you,” White House deputy press secretary Josh Earnest said.

But Earnest also pointed the finger at Congress when explaining the lengthy delay in producing a budget document.

“The budget has been delayed because some of the impediments that have been thrown in the path of those working on it,” Earnest said, citing the sequester and the “fiscal cliff” as complicating the budget forecast.

The administration’s budget typically kicks off the annual budgeting process, as Congress then shapes its budget resolution on the president’s request.

But this year that process is reversed, as both House Budget Commitee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and Senate Budget Chairwoman Patty Murray (D-Wash.) are planning to release their 2014 budgets next week.

The House and Senate Armed Services Committees started their 2014 budget hearings with military officials this week without a budget.

A GOP congressional aide said that the delay is fueling what’s already a high level of budget anxiety in the Pentagon due to sequester and the lack of a 2013 budget resolution.

“Budget delays fuel uncertainty in the military, an uncertainty that is already being inflicted through sequester,” the aide said. “It is precisely this kind of uncertainty that the uniformed senior commanders have asked Congress and the Commander and Chief to prevent.”

The White House has blamed the hold-up on the uncertainty caused by fights over the fiscal cliff, sequestration and the continuing resolution to fund the government that expires March 27.

Sessions blasted the administration last week when it appeared the budget would come at the end of March.

“He will be submitting it after the House and Senate have produced a budget proposal and adjourned for Easter. So while the President speaks of his deep concern for American workers and families, he fails to even submit to Congress his financial plan to help those workers and families,” Sessions said.

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