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June 22 2013

June 24, 2013

22June2013

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NSA Implementing ‘Two-Person’ Rule To Stop The Next Edward Snowden

Andy Greenberg, Forbes Staff

6/18/2013 @ 2:23PM

 

On Tuesday, National Security Agency Director Keith Alexander told a congressional hearing of the Intelligence Committee that the agency is implementing a “two-person” system to prevent future leaks of classified information like the one pulled off by 29-year-old Booz Allen contractor Edward Snowden, who exfiltrated “thousands” of files according to the Guardian, to whom he has given several of the secret documents.

After NSA Leaks, Senators Re-Introduce Bill To Reduce Patriot Act Secrecy Andy GreenbergAndy Greenberg Forbes Staff

Intel Leaker Edward Snowden Attacks NSA’s Distinction Between Americans And Foreigners Andy GreenbergAndy Greenberg Forbes Staff

As Bradley Manning’s Trial Begins, Attorneys Spar Over His ‘Arrogance’ Versus ‘Good Intentions’ Andy GreenbergAndy Greenberg Forbes Staff

“We have to learn from these mistakes when they occur,” Representative Charlies Ruppersberger said to Alexander in the hearing. “What system are you or the director of national intelligence administration putting into place to make sure that if another person were to turn against his or her country we would have an alarm system that would not put us in this position?”

“Working with the director of national intelligence what we’re doing is working to come up with a two-person rule and oversight for those and ensure we have a way of blocking people from taking information out of our system.”

That “two-person rule,” it would seem, will be something similar to the one implemented in some cases by the military after Army private Bradley Manning was able to write hundreds of thousands of secret files to CDs and leak them to WikiLeaks. The rule required that anyone copying data from a secure network onto portable storage media does so with a second person who ensures he or she isn’t also collecting unauthorized data.

It may come as a surprise that the NSA doesn’t already have that rule in place, especially for young outside contractor employees like Snowden. But Alexander emphasized that Snowden was one of close to a thousand systems administrator–mostly outside contractors–who may have had the ability to set privileges and audit conditions on networks.”This is a very difficult question when that person is a systems administrator,” Alexander responded. “When one of those persons misuses their authority it’s a huge problem.”

Alexander added that the system is still a work in progress, and that the NSA is working with the FBI to collect more facts from the Snowden case and to implement new security measures in other parts of the U.S. intelligence community.

When asked how Snowden had gained such broad access to the NSA’s networks despite only working for Booz Allen for three months, Alexander said that he had in fact held a position at the NSA for the twelve months prior to taking that private contractor job.

The questions about the NSA’s lack of leak protections came in the midst of a conversation that largely focused on the NSA’s justification for the broad surveillance those leaks revealed. In the hearing, Alexander claimed that more than 50 attacks have been foiled with some help from the NSA’s surveillance programs such the collection of millions of Americans’ cell phone records and the collection of foreigners’ Google-, Facebook-, Microsoft- and Apple-held data known as “PRISM,” both disclosed in Snowden’s documents. One newly-revealed bombing plot targeted the New York Stock Exchange, and another involved an American donating money to a Somalian terrorist group.

Of those more than 50 total cases, ten of those plots involved domestic collection of phone records, according to Alexander. But when Representative Jim Himes questioned in how many cases that collection was “essential,” his question went unanswered.

Alexander also fended off criticisms that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act court system, which oversees the NSA’s requests to use data it’s collected–often from Americans–is a “rubber stamp process” that approves nearly all of the NSA’s actions. That court reported in April that it had received 1,789 applications for electronic surveillance in an annual report to Congress. One request was withdrawn, and forty were approved with some changes. The other 1,748 others were approved without changes.

“I believe the federal judges on that court are superb,” Alexander told Congress. “There is, from my perspective, no rubber stamp.”

But a significant portion of the hearing also focused on the NSA’s security vulnerabilities highlighted by Snowden’s leaks, rather than its surveillance. Representative Michelle Bachmann emphasized that the NSA should answer “how a traitor could do something like this to the American people,” and how to “prevent this from ever happening again.” She asked Alexander how damaging the leaks were to the NSA’s mission, and he responded that they were “significant and irreversible.”

Snowden has taken refuge in Hong Kong, where he conducted a live Q&A on the Guardian’s website Monday. In that conversation, he wrote that “the consent of governed is not consent if it is not informed,” and that “truth is coming, and it cannot be stopped.”

At the hearing, a member of the committee ended with a personal question about that young leaker’s fate: What’s next for Snowden?

FBI deputy director Sean Joyce answered, simply, “Justice.”

 

Government Executive Analysis: Are 50 Foiled Terrorist Plots Worth Your Privacy?

http://www.govexec.com/technology/2013/06/analysis-are-50-foiled-terrorist-plots-worth-your-privacy/65114/

By Brian Fung

June 18, 2013

 

In the most candid explanation of the National Security Agency’s surveillance program to date, agency head Gen. Keith Alexander said Tuesday that his organization’s listening activity has helped foil more than 50 terrorist plots against the United States and its allies. One of those involved Najibullah Zazi’s attempt to blow up the New York City subway; another concerned an early-stage plan, news of which was previously withheld from the public, to blow up the New York Stock Exchange.

Alexander and other witnesses before the House Intelligence Committee made sure to highlight key details of these foiled attacks. Understandably so: The more we focus on the program’s successes, the less harshly we might be inclined to judge its alleged excesses. But what exactly is the tradeoff being made here, and how do these revelations address concerns about the potential for NSA over-spying?

We now know at least this much: Of the millions of phone numbers that the NSA could summon for intelligence purposes under Section 215 of the Patriot Act, about 300 specific numbers were actually “queried” from the database in the course of federal investigations. (This database is made up of the same telephone metadata Verizon has been handing over to the government on a daily basis since 2006, the subject of NSA leaker Edward Snowden’s initial bombshell.) Twenty-two officials are responsible for approving these queries within the NSA, and the agency doesn’t require special court authorization to inspect the phone numbers in question.

The NSA says it takes steps to rule out accidental snooping on U.S. citizens. Among the most important? Inspecting the area code, said John Inglis, the NSA’s deputy director. If the number begins with “301,” for example, you’d know it was a Maryland number.

“That would be your only insight as to whether this would be attributable to a U.S. person,” Inglis said, adding that if the person was simply exercising their First Amendment right to free speech, “that is not a reason to approve a query.”

Inglis didn’t elaborate on how the NSA would go about determining whether the subject was in fact exercising free-speech rights (Would they send an agent to interview the suspect? Tap his lines?), but he assured lawmakers that the phone-records program had “a very narrow purpose.”

(It’s not entirely clear, but these minimization procedures seem to be separate from those applied to PRISM, the NSA surveillance program that summons data from tech companies under Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.)

Yet despite Inglis’s insistence that from this database the NSA can only retrieve phone numbers—and that “queries” approved by the 22 agency officials would return only those phone numbers that the first number dialed—statements by other officials at the hearing seemed to suggest that connecting metadata to specific individuals was a trivial matter.

Take one of the four cases the officials highlighted as plots disrupted by either the 215 program (the phone records) or the 702 program (the business records). Using the 215 program, said FBI Deputy Director Sean Joyce, law-enforcement officials were able to positively identify an individual who was providing financial assistance to a listed terrorist group in Somalia. Not only that, but the FBI was also able to identify that suspect’s coconspirators.

We already know that metadata acts as a kind of digital fingerprint, and it takes little more than a couple of data points to connect anonymized metadata to a specific person.

Even President Obama hinted at how flimsy the “it’s only metadata” argument is in his interview with Charlie Rose last night:

“[Critics will] say, you know, ‘You can—when you start looking at metadata, even if you don’t know the names, you can match it up, if there’s a call to an oncologist, and there’s a call to a lawyer, and—you can pair that up and figure out maybe this person’s dying, and they’re writing their will, and you can yield all this information.’ All of that is true. Except for the fact that for the government, under the program right now, to do that, it would be illegal.”

That any abuse of the system would be treated after the fact as a crime doesn’t do anything to assuage Americans worrying that the crime is possible in the first place. It’s also not outrageous to say, as my colleague Conor Friedersdorf does, that the tradeoff we’ve made between liberty and security is out of balance, and that maybe we’ve let our fear of terrorism get the better of us.

 

 

Welsh: Sequestration continues to drain crucial capabilities from America’s Air Force

Posted 6/19/2013

by Master Sgt. Angelita Colón-Francia

Secretary of the Air Force Public Affairs

 

6/19/2013 – ARLINGTON, Va. (AFNS) — The Air Force’s top officer reported on the growing strain sequestration has put on readiness, personnel and modernization to a group of civic and industry leaders attending the Air Force Association’s monthly breakfast here, June 17.

Sequestration has hit the Air Force hard, said Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Welsh III.

Like the rest of the Defense Department, the Air Force has seen severe reductions in funding, leading to concerns about critical mission factors including the readiness of pilots and aircraft that aren’t flying today.

“We’ve got folks sitting in fighter squadrons looking out of windows at aircraft that they haven’t touched since the first of April,” Welsh said.

Currently, the Air Force has stood down 33 squadrons, 12 of which are combat-coded fighter and intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance units. Another seven squadrons have been reduced to a basic mission capable rating.

Even before sequestration, there was a readiness crisis in the Air Force, Welsh said. The severe cutbacks required by the sequester will further downgrade force readiness beyond the current fiscal year if a budget agreement is not reached.

“We can’t just all of a sudden accelerate training and catch up,” he said. “It costs up to 2 1/2 times as much to retrain a squadron as it does to keep it trained.”

Welsh emphasized the Air Force’s efforts to continue to save where possible.

“We’re looking for every option for where you can cut money — every modernization/recapitalization program,” Welsh said.

Regardless of reductions, the service cannot perform its air superiority mission with today’s aging F-15 and F-16 fighters, and limited number of F-22s, the chief of staff said, making the new F-35 non-negotiable.

“When we truncated our F-22 buy, we ended up with a force that can’t provide air superiority in more than one area at a time,” Welsh said. “The F-35 is going to be part of the air superiority equation whether it was intended to be, originally, or not.”

Welsh pointed out other countries will begin flying stealthy, highly-advanced fighters in the coming years, and if the U.S. doesn’t have the aircraft to counter them in a high-end fight it will be in trouble.

There’s nothing else that can do what the F-35 can, he said.

“Out there where people fight and die, for real, if a fourth-generation aircraft meets a fifth-generation aircraft, the fourth-generation aircraft may be more efficient, but it’s also dead,” Welsh said.

 

 

Government Executive Pentagon Financial Execs in Uncharted Waters, Survey Shows

http://www.govexec.com/management/2013/06/pentagon-financial-execs-uncharted-waters-survey-shows/65180/

By Charles S. Clark

June 19, 2013

11:54 AM ET

 

Budget uncertainty, low morale and obstacles to audit readiness are combining to confront Defense Department financial executives with an unprecedented storm of challenges, according to a survey released on Wednesday.

 

Ninety-four percent of the 1,006 respondents said the current environment of planned defense budget cuts and across-the-board cuts due to sequestration made their challenges greater than ever, according to the 11th annual survey by the American Society of Military Controllers and Grant Thornton LLP, titled “Navigating Through Uncertainty.”

The survey also found that across-the-board cuts are harming efforts to achieve the congressionally required audit-readiness of financial management programs. Cost information is vital for knowing “which cuts matter and which ones don’t,” the survey found. More than 61 percent said they had some level of confidence that their organizations would meet the 2014 deadline, as compared to nearly 13 percent who had little or no confidence in achieving this goal. But when asked about their parent organizations, the executives’ confidence in those organizations dropped more than 29 percentage points.

Respondents also said the returns on investments in information technology have not been as high as expected because the new systems added complexity and increased workload. And the managers have less choice in acquisition strategy, which may limit the benefits from contracts. They favor greater focus on elimination of redundancy than on acquisition initiatives.

“These survey results suggest there is a real risk that investments in audit readiness may not be enough to meet the aggressive audit deadlines facing Defense financial management executives,” said Grant Thornton Global Public Sector Managing Principal Srikant Sastry. “In light of limited resources, Defense agencies may need to move directly to audit before we’ll know for sure.”

The survey methodology encompassed face-to-face interviews with 35 defense financial leaders, and online responses from 1,006 defense financial professionals, including 6 percent active-duty uniformed personnel, 89 percent defense civilian employees, 1 percent retirees, and 4 percent other (primarily academics and employees of private-sector companies). Of the active-duty respondents, 58 percent were officers. Sixty-seven percent of the civilian respondents were GS-12 or above.

http://www.govexec.com/management/2013/06/pentagon-financial-execs-uncharted-waters-survey-shows/65180/

 

Government Executive Is a Sequester Tipping Point Coming?

http://www.govexec.com/management/2013/06/sequester-tipping-point-coming/65033/

By Niraj Chokshi

June 17, 2013

 

When $85 billion in broad spending cuts went into effect in March the world didn’t end. Kids weren’t kicked out of school en masse, hundreds of thousands weren’t laid off, the economy didn’t tank. Sequestration was overhyped and the deluge never came. But it may begin to pour this summer.

The across-the-board reductions may gain more visibility this summer largely as big defense cuts go into effect. Starting in early July, the Defense Department will begin 11-day furloughs for hundreds of thousands of its civilian employees nationwide, and the local reports are rolling in.

In Wyoming, more than 400 people will be affected, according to The Billings Gazette. In Montana, more than 500 at Malmstrom Air Force Base will see furloughs, according to The Great Falls Tribune. And nearly five times as many will be affected in Minnesota, according to The Minneapolis StarTribune.

Starting July 1, [Air Reserve electrician Dustin] Hawkins will be among more than 2,400 federal Department of Defense employees in Minnesota forced to work a reduced, four-day week for several months. Those furloughs will be spread across 63 sites statewide, but Duluth’s 148th Fighter Wing, Camp Ripley in Little Falls and St. Paul’s 133rd Airlift Wing — the units with the highest concentration of federal employees — face the brunt of the cutbacks.

Some federal furloughs have already begun, but the onslaught of Defense Department furloughs—roughly 680,000 civilian employees in total—will take a more noticeable toll. Under the heading “it’s just the beginning,” Bank of America economists wrote in a recent analyst note that the effects on government-worker income seem to be coming.

We expect aggregate government-worker income to decline in May given that furloughs started in late May. The first day of government wide furloughs was on May 24, when roughly 115,000 federal workers, or 5% of the total federal work force, stayed home without pay. However, with the majority of the furloughs not kicking in until the beginning of July, including the Pentagon’s 680,000 furloughs beginning July 8, the real income shock will not show up until the July personal income and outlay report on Aug. 30.

Other economists have said that the furloughs will begin to affect growth this quarter. And the effects of sequestration won’t be manifested in furloughs alone. Even nongovernment employees will feel the effects as July Fourth celebrations are canceled in several states.

http://www.govexec.com/management/2013/06/sequester-tipping-point-coming/65033/

 

Top Secret Defense Contractors No Longer Being Reinvestigated

http://www.govexec.com/contracting/2013/06/top-secret-defense-contractors-no-longer-being-reinvestigated/64904/

By Kedar Pavgi

June 14, 2013

 

“Funding shortfalls” are forcing the Defense Department to suspend most periodic reinvestigations of contractors cleared for top-secret status in some national security jobs starting Friday through the remainder of fiscal 2013, according to a recent announcement.

The Defense Security Service, the agency that manages the reinvestigations, said the cuts would affect “most top secret periodic reinvestigations” but would exempt reinvestigations for contractors recognized as “key management personnel” and those needed for priority programs.

“Requests for initial personnel security clearances and Secret PRs are not affected by the suspension,” the agency said.

The agency also noted that the reinvestigations of industry personnel with access to “mission essential” intelligence would also be exempted. For example, the cuts will not affect people in positions similar to that held by recent National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden, a top-secret cleared employee with contractor Booz Allen Hamilton.

The move was designed to push the costs of the reinvestigations—which can be thousands of dollars each—to the next fiscal year, according to the Federal Times.

Top Secret level individuals must be reinvestigated every 5 years, and Secret level personnel every 10 years, according to DSS. Spokeswoman Cindy McGovern told Government Executive that the agency has oversight of investigations for contract personnel in the National Industrial Security Program, which includes contract employees at the Energy and Defense departments and the CIA.

According to Bloomberg Businessweek, more than 1.7 million Americans have or are eligible for a Top Secret clearance.

 

Pentagon Leaders Put Support Contractors on Notice for Deep Cuts

http://www.govexec.com/contracting/2013/06/pentagon-leaders-put-support-contractors-notice-deep-cuts/64715/

By Elaine M. Grossman

June 12, 2013

 

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and his top budget deputy on Tuesday signaled they intend to make deep cuts in contractor personnel who help manage programs in almost every sector of the Pentagon bureaucracy.

The Defense Department today employs an estimated 700,000 service contractors who, in many cases, work side-by-side with the civilian and military workforce at installations across the country and worldwide.

The new shift can be expected to return some clout into the hands of civil service employees who work at half the cost or even less, reversing a decades-old trend of farming out program management increasingly to pricey hired hands in the defense industry.

“We are currently reviewing all contractors, all the contracts we have,” Hagel testified at a Senate Appropriations Defense Subcommittee hearing.

To some extent, the secretary said, “we have no choice” about using contractors for functions that the Defense Department cannot perform itself.

“Contractors are part of any institution. We need them [for] certain skills, certain expertise,” Hagel said. “But there’s no question that we’re going to have to make some rather significant adjustments.”

Hagel told the panel he was recently briefed on the results of the Pentagon’s high-level “Strategic Choices and Management Review,” which he will continue to assess before making some fresh budget decisions.

Among the possible targets for cuts in coming years could be the modernization of nuclear platforms: A new Long-Range Strike bomber aircraft, replacements for today’s Ohio-class ballistic missile submarines, updated ICBMs or cruise missiles. Each of these efforts could also be affected by any move to reduce contractor support personnel.

The “skimmer” review — so named for its “SCMR” acronym — was to address how best to apportion $500 billion in congressionally mandated funding reductions over the next decade. If lawmakers repeal the 2011 Budget Control Act, lesser but nonetheless substantial cuts remain expected in 2014 and beyond.

Hagel made the remarks after Senator Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), the subcommittee chairman, said he is “concerned about the cost of the contractor workforce.”

“Recent reports have again emphasized that the average contract employee costs two to three times as much as the average DOD civilian employee for performing similar work,” Durbin said.

By way of example, the senator cited news reports that the self-proclaimed leaker of classified documents on government surveillance programs was a well-paid contractor working for the National Security Agency, despite what some critics see as thin credentials. The agency is a component of the Defense Department.

“Edward Snowden, who was an employee of Booz Allen, [was] working for one of our premier national security agencies as a contract employee,” Durbin said. “The story that’s told is that he was a high school dropout, that he didn’t finish his military obligation — though he attempted — and dropped out of community college. And it’s also reported that he’s being paid in the range of $200,000 a year as a contract employee.”

According to Pentagon data compiled three years ago, “contract employees comprised 22 percent of your department’s workforce but accounted for 50 percent of its cost, $254 billion,” he said.

Defense Comptroller Robert Hale, also testifying at the session, said the figures Durbin cited appeared to be accurate.

“But let me say, whether or not a contractor or a civilian is cheaper or better, it really depends on the circumstances,” Hale testified. “There are some cases where we simply don’t have the skills in the Department of Defense that we need, or it’s a short- term job, [and it] wouldn’t make any sense to grow them.”

In fact, he noted, the Pentagon still lacks an indigenous capability to perform financial audits on its own hundreds of billions of dollars in annual spending, despite intense criticism and promised remedies over dozens of years.

“I’m hiring a lot of contractors because they know how to do audits,” Hale said. “We don’t yet.”

Noting that the Defense Department has put most new hires on hold and civilians have not received pay raises since 2011, the chairman suggested it is time to consider whether investing more in the department’s own non-uniformed work force might be more cost-effective than using contractors.

“If we’re setting out to save money, has the civilian hiring freeze resulted in more or fewer contract employees?” Durbin asked. “And if so, how are you tracking the cost ramifications? Has contractor pay in the Department of Defense increased during the civilian hiring freeze?”

“I don’t disagree with any of your general analysis on contractors,” Hagel said, noting that Defense spending has significantly grown across the board over the past decade in which the U.S. military has been involved in two major conflicts.

“The money flowed into different departments and institutions, because we felt they were required for the national security of this country,” he said. However, he added, “there will come a time, and it is now, where we’re going to have to make some hard choices in the review of those.”

The Defense leaders promised to provide to Durbin additional data on how many contractor personnel support the department and their average salaries, when available.

 

Fear of thinking war machines may push U.S. to exascale

Congress readies a bill, but funding estimates are below other nations

Patrick Thibodeau

June 20, 2013 (Computerworld)

 

WASHINGTON — Unlike China and Europe, the U.S. has yet to adopt and fund an exascale development program, and concerns about what that means to U.S. security are growing darker and more dire.

China’s retaking of the global supercomputing crown was the starting point for discussion at an IBM-sponsored congressional forum this week on cognitive computing.

Cognitive computing systems have the capability of taking vast amounts of data and making what will be, for all intents, thoughtful decisions.

Efforts to draw attention to exascale in the U.S. House are being led Rep. Randy Hultgren (R-Ill.), who talked about China’s new 33.89-petaflop system, Tianhe-2.

“It’s important not to lose sight that the reality was that it was built by China’s National University of Defense Technology,” said Hultgren, who is finalizing a bill “that will push our nation toward exascale.”

Hultgren is introducing legislation, the American Supercomputing Leadership Act, to require the U.S. Department of Energy to develop a coordinated exascale research program. The bill doesn’t call for a specific spending level, but one source said about an annual appropriation of $200 million, if not more, will be sought.

That amount of money is well short of what’s needed to build an exascale system, or a computer of 1,000 thousand petaflops. Each petaflop represents one thousand trillion floating point operations per second.

Earl Joseph, an HPC analyst at IDC, said that “$200 million is better than nothing, but compared to China and Europe it’s at least 10 times too low.”

Joseph said that it’s his guess that the world will see an exascale system by 2015 or 2016 “installed outside the U.S. It will take a lot of power and it will be large, but it will provide a major capability.”

Lawmakers, at a recent hearing, were told by HPC researchers that the U.S. needs to spend at least $400 million annually to achieve exascale capabilities in a reasonable time, possibly by end of this decade.

 

If the U.S. falls behind in HPC, the consequences will be “in a word, devastating,” Selmer Bringsford, chair of the Department. of Cognitive Science at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, said at the forum. “If we were to lose our capacity to build preeminently smart machines, that would be a very dark situation, because machines can serve as weapons.

“When it comes to intelligent software, the U.S. is preeminent and we simply cannot lose that because the repercussions in the future, defense-wise, would be very bad,” said Bringsford.

The risk is not just in the technology, but in the people as well. The U.S. abandoned its efforts to develop a super collider in the 1990s. Europe built the Large Hadron Collider near Geneva, and consequently this research facility draws physicists from around the world.

U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah (D-Penn.) told of meeting with post-doctoral physicists doing his work in at the European facility. There was once a time when that same work was done in the U.S., said Fattah.

“We can’t afford to retreat as a nation in investment in big science,” said Fattah, “and there is no more important investment than high performance computing.”

Joseph makes a similar point. As exascale capability arrives outside the U.S., he said, “we will likely start to see top researchers around the world either move to, or spend a lot of their time at these exascale sites.”

The emergence of big data, the ability to take the sum total of something and not just a sample, will only be better enabled by exascale systems.

David McQueeney, vice president of IBM research, told lawmakers that HPC systems now have the ability to not only deal with large data sets but “to draw insights out of them.” The new generation of machines are being programmed to understand what the data sources are telling them, he said.

“So instead of having to predetermine what the function of that machine is, you actually built a machine whose intention is to learn,” said McQueeney.

 

New Obama climate plan may draw from panel’s recommendations

Thu, Jun 20 2013

By Valerie Volcovici

 

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Clues about what to expect in a White House package of climate measures expected within weeks might be found in a report given to the president in March by a blue-chip team of scientists and business leaders.

The President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST), led by President Barack Obama’s chief science adviser John Holdren, listed six major components that should be central to the administration’s second-term climate change strategy.

The document outlined a mix of measures that different federal agencies could take on, such as power plant emissions standards by the Environmental Protection Agency and more research and development for carbon capture by the Department of Energy.

“We gave him a series of suggestions. It is his internal team – led by Holdren – that is looking at those and other ideas as they develop the strategy,” said PCAST member Daniel Schrag, director of the Harvard University Center for the Environment.

Heather Zichal, Obama’s energy and climate policy adviser, confirmed on Wednesday that an announcement on climate change measures is coming within weeks, and gave the most details so far of what might be in, and out, of the package.

The administration plans to feature policies that don’t require congressional action or extra funding, such as moves to expand energy efficiency standards for appliances, accelerate clean energy development on public lands and use the Clean Air Act to tackle greenhouse gas emissions, Zichal said.

Soon after his re-election in November, Obama tasked PCAST, whose members include Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt, with making recommendations on a climate change agenda that he could roll out after inauguration.

Ernest Moniz, then a professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and now U.S. Energy Secretary, was a member at the time the report was put together but has stepped down.

Schrag said the group rushed to outline recommendations by March. The plan was released by the White House on March 22 as a nine-page report and blog post.

While he does not know which of the group’s recommendations Obama will ultimately use, Schrag said PCAST focused on politically feasible measures.

The main recommendations included climate change preparedness; shifting away from coal use and regulating power plants; providing incentives for clean energy and energy efficiency; continued research and development; international engagement; and conducting energy reviews every four years.

“These changes are not particularly expensive. The opportunities and issues such as using energy more efficiently which we recommend can only benefit the economy,” said PCAST member Mario Molina, a Nobel Prize-winning professor of chemistry at the University of California at San Diego.

The group also recognized that shale gas production should play a major role in reducing carbon emissions in the short and medium term, but said regulations should be developed in some cases to reduce methane leakage and ensure water safety.

Among the measures it suggested to give incentives to clean energy user were extending tax credits now available to wind farms to other forms of renewable energy, and lengthening the time between renewals from two years to five or 10.

PCAST said that the White House should also engage in international cooperation on climate and energy issues. That suggestion bore fruit this month with the agreement between the United States and China to reduce hydrofluorocarbons, a potent greenhouse gas.

The recommendations also gave equal weight to measures aimed at helping the nation adapt to the impacts of climate change.

Their suggestions include developing plans to update U.S. infrastructure to make transportation, energy and water delivery systems more resilient to extreme weather, and to create a central commission to oversee national preparedness efforts.

“We talked to the president a variety of times about climate change and it was clear that there has been a crystallization in the administration’s mind that we are needing to be prepared to cope with climate impacts,” said Rosina Bierbaum, Dean of the University of Michigan School of Natural Resources and Environment.

The PCAST recommendations can be found here: here

 

(Editing by Ros Krasny and Eric Walsh)

 

Pentagon to Wireless Industry: We Need Our Spectrum

NextGov

By Bob Brewin

June 19, 2013

 

The Defense Department must retain exclusive access to some spectrum in order to support military training and other critical national security needs, Pentagon Chief Information Officer Teri Takai told participants in a wireless forum sponsored by the Washington Post yesterday.

On June 14, President Obama detailed plans for governmentwide spectrum sharing with commercial carriers, an effort he views as an economic imperative.

In a memo titled “Expanding America’s Leadership in Wireless Innovation,” Obama called on the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, which manages federal spectrum, to “identify opportunities for agencies to relinquish or share spectrum” in a wide swath of frequencies currently used by Defense and civil agencies to support the operation of key mission critical systems.

“Expanding the availability of spectrum for innovative and flexible commercial uses, including for broadband services, will further promote our nation’s economic development by providing citizens and businesses with greater speed and availability of coverage, encourage further development of cutting-edge wireless technologies, applications, and services, and help reduce usage charges for households and businesses,” Obama said in the memo.

But in her comments Tuesday, Takai warned there needs to be a balance between supporting the growth of the wireless industry and Defense missions. “We have to weigh not only our responsibility to the nation, but also our operational responsibility,” she said.

While she didn’t identify specific frequency bands considered critical, she said, “I think it’s important from a national security standpoint to recognize that we have a certain amount of spectrum that we utilize which is exclusive to us from a national security and an interference perspective.’

Obama identified three bands used by Defense for operation of radars, battlefield communications and command and control systems as candidates for sharing or outright auction: 1755-1850 MHz band, 5350-5470MHz and 5850-5925 MHz bands.

Among other things, Takai said Defense needs spectrum to support training in the United States, noting that 80 percent of training occurs around domestic military bases. “The safety of our men and women overseas is really based on their . . . ability to train,” she said.

She suggested spectrum could be shared geographically based on population density or time. To do that, she said, requires knowing who owns the spectrum, and when and where they’re using it.

“There’s certainly opportunity for us to do spectrum-sharing in, for example, rural areas, where we don’t have the bases,” Takai said. “Unfortunately, those aren’t the areas where there’s the commercial demand.”

Retired Air Force Brig. Gen. Bernie Skoch, now a defense industry consultant, said the public is increasingly dependent on wireless devices and services and “few of us want to be or are ‘off the grid’ in RF spectrum anymore.”

“Sharing arrangements only work when they are scrupulously [designed and managed]. No one likes learning, exactly when they need spectrum, that someone else needs it at the same time and in the same area,” he said.

‘That is exactly what happens in disasters: Everyone wants it there and then. And no one likes seeing their UAV crash because someone didn’t anticipate that at [a given moment] their remote vehicle will experience interference from a user 300 miles away,” he said.

“In my view, one could provide infinite spectrum to the public and it wouldn’t be enough,” Skoch warned. And once Defense spectrum is repurposed to a public use, the department will have a hard time getting it back, he said.

http://www.nextgov.com/mobile/2013/06/pentagon-wireless-industry-we-need-our-spectrum/65216/

Sequester sparks laid-off workers’ suit

Politico

By: Austin Wright

June 20, 2013 05:04 AM EDT

 

Defense contractor L-3 Communications faces a class action lawsuit over its handling of layoffs at an Army airfield in Georgia, sparking renewed anger in Congress over an issue that first flared up during last year’s presidential campaign.

Three former L-3 employees are suing the company, charging they were laid off without the 60 days of notice required under the federal WARN Act. It’s a first test for the 1988 law since the Obama administration alerted contractors last year the federal government would pick up their legal costs if they were sued for WARN Act violations as a result of contracts modified or canceled under sequestration.

Already, the case is drawing the ire of the powerful Republican chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, who’s still seething after being outmaneuvered on the issue last year. “During the presidential campaign, the Obama White House foresaw sequestration triggering massive layoffs across the country,” Rep. Buck McKeon said in a statement to POLITICO.

“Affected industries were bound by law to notify their workers ahead of sequestration layoffs,” McKeon continued. “Instead, in the most cynical of moves, the White House offered taxpayer money to companies to stop them from issuing layoff notices, warnings due days before the election.”

The California congressman, of course, had political motivations of his own: At the time, Lockheed Martin and other defense contractors were threatening to send pre-election WARN notices to tens of thousands of workers across the country — putting their entire workforces on alert even though only a fraction were ultimately at risk of being laid off.

The problem, they said, was that they didn’t know which fraction.

On Capitol Hill, Republicans were counting on the blanket notices to reinforce the GOP narrative that the economy was sputtering under Obama in the final weeks before Election Day.

But contractors backed off after the White House Office of Management and Budget issued its memo, saying legal costs associated with the WARN Act could be passed on to the government — as long as the layoffs were the result of sequestration and companies followed other aspects of the law.

Throughout the squabbling, New York-headquartered L-3 stayed quiet — and had little to say about the lawsuit filed against it last week. “We haven’t yet seen the suit and do not comment on matters of litigation,” said spokeswoman Jennifer Barton.

The three former employees sued for themselves and other former employees facing similar circumstances. The three worked for L-3 as part of a contract to provide maintenance and support to Hunter Army Airfield, which serves Fort Stewart in Georgia and has seen its budget slashed as a result of this year’s fiscal uncertainty.

“Aviation maintenance services, to include the efforts being performed at Hunter Army Airfield, Ga., have not been isolated from the budget situation being experienced by the Army,” said Dan O’Boyle, a spokesman for the Army’s Redstone Arsenal. “As a result, there has been less work required from all contractors providing aviation maintenance services for the Aviation and Missile Command’s Logistic Center.”

One of the three former employees named in the lawsuit specifically asked a co-worker who handled human resources about the WARN Act, according to the complaint. The employee, Teofilo Mariano Jaquez, got a letter from L-3 on April 10 terminating his employment, citing the government’s intent to “eliminate positions,” the complaint says.

He asked why he wasn’t provided 60 days of notice, saying he was entitled to such notice under the WARN Act. “I don’t know what that is,” he was told, according to the complaint. “You should ask corporate.”

The other two former employees named in the suit got letters on May 3 notifying them of the possibility of layoffs because of an “unforeseen business circumstance.” Within two weeks, both of them received letters terminating their employment, effective immediately, according to the complaint.

The three are seeking wages and other compensation they would have earned during their 60-day notice period.

The WARN Act, which applies to companies with more than 100 employees, allows for exceptions due to unforeseeable business circumstances — a condition that isn’t thoroughly defined in the law.

It also remains to be seen whether the government would be on the hook for L-3’s legal costs, in accordance with OMB’s memo.

“The WARN Act is a law intended to help workers and skilled laborers,” McKeon said. “Offering companies taxpayer money to ignore that law is disappointing and wasteful.”

 

 

Can the cloud provide the best strategy for security?

GCN.com

Posted by William Jackson on Jun 20, 2013 at 6:02 AM

Security is evolving from a do-it-yourself operation — loading software on a device or attaching a box to a network — to managed, hosted services leveraging the anytime/anywhere scalability of the cloud for large-scale analytics that were not practical before.

No one yet is seriously suggesting getting rid of firewalls and antivirus detection, but it has been painfully obvious for some time that by themselves, they are not adequate protection. Intelligence-based security is being touted as the way to counter more complex attacks against high-value targets, and the emergence of cloud computing now offers a way to gather enough intelligence and analyze big data fast enough to effectively spot malicious activity.

“We do not look for malware, we do not look for exploits,” said Dmitri Alperovitch, CTO of CrowdStrike, which has announced its first cloud-based security offering. “We look at what is being done, rather than how.”

The CrowdStrike Falcon Platform is one of the latest in a growing number of services offering security from the cloud, rather than security for the cloud. Another recent announcement in this field is the integration of global attack data into Risk I/O’s cloud-based platform, which uses big data and predictive analytics to help prioritize vulnerability data. Other companies with cloud-based security services include the Appthority, Check Point, Fortinet, Okta, Symantec, Veracode and Zscaler.

Moving security out of the box and even out of the enterprise can help to address a new generation of adversaries using layered attacks to methodically find weaknesses, penetrate systems, escalate privileges and then quietly observe and export data. Intelligence is needed not just to detect these attacks, but to respond to them.

In the past, knowing who you were up against wasn’t necessary to security. You spotted the attack, and you blocked it. But, “if you are being targeted by a determined adversary, they are not going to stop because you block them,” Alperovitch said. “They are going to keep it up until they get in. They can spend years at it.”

CrowdStrike’s approach to active defense has a decidedly military and intelligence flavor. It takes a strategic view with an emphasis on knowing your enemy, not just the weapon. Most of the more than 4,000 organizations tracked for its Adversary Intelligence database are nation-sponsored. Its goal is not to stop every malicious attempt.

“You can’t block every attack,” Alperovitch said. “And sometimes blocking is not the best strategy.” If you spot and identify someone engaged in spying or espionage, the best strategy might be to string him along and watch him, “to better understand his tradecraft.”

The goal is to raise the bar for attackers, making their craft more difficult and expensive. This can mitigate one of the great advantages attackers have; it is dramatically cheaper to launch an attack than it is to defend against it, resulting in a very high return on investment for successful attacks. Recognizing sophisticated techniques “doesn’t eliminate all activity, but it dramatically raises the cost of intrusion,” Alperovitch said.

It is too early to say what impact the cloud and big data analytics will have on security, and it’s a pretty safe bet that it won’t solve every problem. But it is an attractive option for concentrating resources where they are most needed.

 

Scientists create high-resolution 3-D atlas of human brain

Washington Post

By Meeri Kim, Published: June 20

A 65-year-old woman’s brain was cut into 7,400 slices to create the most detailed three-dimensional atlas of the human brain ever made, bringing researchers one step closer to reverse-engineering the brain’s convoluted circuitry.

Brain atlases are essential reference tools for researchers and physicians, to determine which areas are “lighting up” during a task or thought process, or during image-guided surgery. The better the atlas resolution, the better doctors can target ever-smaller parts of the brain and their individual function.

 

The atlas creators, who are from Canada and Germany, have made the ultrahigh-resolution model — 50 times more detailed than a typical scan — publicly available in a free online format. The authors also published their work in the journal Science on Thursday.

The atlas, called BigBrain, offers a common basis for open, worldwide scientific discussion on the brain, said author Karl Zilles of the Heinrich Heine University Düsseldorf.

Zilles pointed to a novel treatment for Parkinson’s disease called deep brain stimulation, where electrical impulses are sent through electrodes implanted into specific points in the brain. He said BigBrain may open the doors for more accurate localization of electrode placement and thus render treatment more effective.

After staining and digitizing the thousands of plastic-wrap-like slices, the nearly cellular resolution map revealed the network of layers, fibers and microcircuits of the woman’s brain.

While variation exists among brains, across ages and individuals, they have largely the same distribution of brain structures and anatomy, said author Alan Evans of McGill University’s Montreal Neurological Institute. There are “subtle shape changes among individuals,” but all atlases start from one representative brain and go from there.

The team was chiefly limited by computing power and capacity. To map the human brain with 1 micron spatial resolution, which has been done for mouse brains, the atlas would take up 21,000 terabytes of data — essentially rendering it impossible to navigate. By comparison, BigBrain, with its 20 micron resolution, comprises about a terabyte of data. Prior MRI-based atlases had resolution of 1 millimeter.

Richard Leigh, a Johns Hopkins neurologist, said he’s looking forward to test-driving BigBrain for his research on stroke recovery. With the microscopic detail available, Leigh can see which particular groups of neurons are growing through stroke treatment rather than just a general fuzzy area.

Evans was in Seattle on Wednesday working with the Allen Institute for Brain Science. Created by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, who has committed $500 million since its start in 2003, the Allen Institute has assembled a less-detailed human brain atlas of its own.

BigBrain is part of the European Union’s Human Brain Project that brings together specialists in neuroscience, medicine and computing to decipher the mysteries of the brain.

President Obama announced in April an initiative to map the human brain, describing it as a way to discover cures for neurological disease and strengthen the economy.

 

 

Contractor that handles public’s Medicare queries will do same for Affordable Care Act

Washington Post

By Susan Jaffe, Published: June 20

 

Within days, the company that handles a daily average of more than 60,000 calls about Medicare will be deluged by new inquiries about health insurance under the Affordable Care Act.

The six Medicare call centers run by Vangent, a company based in Arlington County, will answer questions about the health-care law from the 34 states that opted out of running their own online health insurance marketplaces or decided to operate them jointly with the federal government.

 

The Department of Health and Human Services estimates that Vangent’s call centers will receive 42 million calls about the federal marketplaces this year, a daily average of up to 200,000; plus answer 2,400 letters and 740 e-mails, and host 500 Web chats daily. Customer service representatives will take consumers through the process — from shopping for a plan to enrolling.

Running the 800-Medicare call centers may provide valuable experience, but Vangent’s track record reveals that it was slow to adapt when changes in the Medicare program caused dramatic spikes in demand.

“It’s going to be huge,” said Bonnie Burns, a training and policy specialist at California Health Advocates. “The number of calls they are likely to get will probably dwarf anything they saw in Medicare.”

Vangent declined requests for interviews.

The company will begin its new operation by the end of June.

The marketplaces, also called exchanges, will offer private health policies for individuals and small businesses, and government subsidies for many people for coverage beginning next year. Enrollment starts Oct. 1.

Vangent, a subsidiary of General Dynamics Information Technology, will run both Medicare and the federal health exchange call centers under a contract worth $530 million in its first year. The company, which was awarded the HHS contract in April, eventually may open as many as eight additional call centers and triple its staff to more than 13,000, government officials said.

Explaining plan options and subsidy eligibility won’t be easy. Three years after President Obama signed the landmark health legislation into law, nearly half of Americans still know little about how it affects them, according to a recent Kaiser Family Foundation poll. (Kaiser Health News is an editorially independent project of the foundation.)

Shortly after the prescription drug benefit was introduced in 2006, the HHS inspector general found that 44 percent of callers reported problems accessing information — despite a similar 2004 finding — and 21 percent of callers waited so long for responses that they hung up. When Medicare introduced a new prescription drug discount card in 2004, the Government Accountability Office reported that 29 percent of the call-center answers were inaccurate and 10 percent of the calls were disconnected.

HHS officials said that the company’s performance in the Medicare call centers has improved and noted that the average time to answer calls is less than three minutes, down from more than eight minutes in 2007.

“We’re building on our past experiences to ensure enrollees in the health insurance marketplace are able to accurately receive information,” HHS spokeswoman Joanne Peters said.

Some advocates for Medicare beneficiaries say that some problems persist at the Medicare call centers, despite improvements.

Fred Riccardi, program director at the Medicare Rights Center, a patient advocacy group based in New York, said that some beneficiaries who call the group’s free national help line reported that 800-Medicare representatives neglected to explain the option to appeal when benefits are denied, or the prescription limits of some drug plans.

Still, Burns said Vangent’s past work could be an advantage. “They’ve had successes and failures over the years and have some sense of what they’re dealing with,” she said.

An HHS official said call-center representatives would “undergo extensive training” about the health law and basic insurance issues but could not provide more details. The official also said that HHS would evaluate Vangent’s performance through a number of factors, including customer satisfaction.

Neither Vangent nor HHS would provide specific requirements of the contract or a copy. Employment ads for the call centers’ “temporary customer service representatives” seek applicants who have a high school diploma or equivalent and six months of telemarketing or secretarial experience.

An HHS spokeswoman said that customer service representatives will answer questions by reading from HHS-approved scripts and provide state-specific information. However, she would not provide examples of the scripts or say whether they were tested with consumers.

Neither Vangent nor HHS has announced that the company is getting help. But last month, the president of Maximus, a company that processes Medicare appeals, told investors that his firm received a government contract to operate the call centers with Vangent. Maximus officials declined to comment on that announcement or provide a copy of the contract.

“It’s going to take a lot of tender loving care to explain to folks how to handle this, how to make the right choices, how to participate,” said Richard Montoni, president of Maximus. “With the passage of time, those additional speed bumps will be ironed out and we will be out there running these programs as intended.”

— Kaiser Health News

Kaiser Health News is an editorially independent program of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonprofit, nonpartisan health policy research and communication organization not affiliated with Kaiser Permanente.

 

 

Apple antitrust trial ends; ruling could be broad

Washington Post

By Cecilia Kang, Published: June 20

 

NEW YORK — The Justice Department on Thursday concluded its antitrust trial against Apple over alleged price-fixing of digital books, with a federal prosecutor saying the creator of the iPhone and iPad engaged in an “old-fashioned, straightforward” conspiracy and Apple’s lead attorney warning that a ruling against the company “will send shudders throughout the business community.”

U.S. District Judge Denise Cote’s ruling in the Justice Department’s first major antitrust trial in more than a decade is expected to have broad consequences for the Internet economy. The Justice Department’s action against Apple, which it calls the “ringleader” of a cartel with book publishers to raise e-book prices, shows the Obama administration’s desire to create clear rules for powerful Silicon Valley firms that have been largely unbridled of regulations.

On Thursday, for instance, the Federal Trade Commission said it would launch a probe into patent-holding companies that may use lawsuits to unfairly edge out competition, a problem particularly seen in the high-tech industry.

The suit against Apple and five publishers focused on the book-publishing business, which is undergoing a dramatic transformation as consumers increasingly turn to e-reading devices. And the business deals struck between Apple and publishers are also echoed across many industries as Internet companies race to provide videos, radio and other media offerings over the Web.

“All across the digital economy, we see companies trying to dampen competition with business practices that were clearly recognized as illegal in the physical economy,” said Mark Cooper, a director at the nonprofit Consumer Federation of America.

All five publishers in the trial — Penguin, HarperCollins, Simon & Schuster, Hachette and Macmillan — have settled.

“When an antitrust case goes to trial, especially after every party but one has settled in the U.S. and Europe, the outcome is strongly precedential,” Cooper said.

Cote did not comment about her thinking during closing arguments for the three-week trial at U.S. District Court in Manhattan. The court’s judges typically take two months to arrive at a final decision after trial.

With such weight on the case, Apple’s attorney, Orin Snyder of Gibson Dunn, vigorously argued to the judge that the company’s deals with publishers were legal. And Apple portrayed itself as the underdog, trying to jump into a market dominated by Amazon.

“The government is taking perfectly sensible business agreements to infer sinister conduct,” Snyder said in closing remarks. “If Apple is found liable . . . that precedent will send shudders throughout the business community.”

Apple has promised a dogged legal battle and is prepared to appeal if Cote rules against it. Some experts say the case could reach the Supreme Court.

At the heart of the lawsuit are two allegations by the government: Apple wanted to lift prices for e-books, and it facilitated a conspiracy with publishing houses to achieve that goal. “Apple directed and oversaw a conspiracy to raise e-book prices and prevent low-price competition,” Justice Department attorney Mark Ryan said in his closing remarks.

Some experts wonder whether Apple’s determination is worthwhile. The company could face financial damages. The publishers that settled with the government agreed to $122 million in damages to states that had joined the federal suit. Cote has wide latitude to restrict future business practices. After Microsoft settled its antitrust cast with the Justice Department a dozen years ago, it had to open its campus to auditors, who were stationed in its Redmond, Wash., offices to ensure proper remedies were carried out.

The trial revealed much about the highly secretive company. Testimony by Apple executives and e-mails by Steve Jobs, Apple’s late co-founder and CEO, show the business tactics the company pursued to break into a market dominated by Amazon.

At first, Jobs didn’t want to sell digital books through the iTunes bookstore, according to two days of testimony by Eddy Cue, senior vice president of Internet software and services. But convinced that the iPad would create a rival platform to Amazon’s Kindle, Jobs became deeply involved in the creation of iBooks, from the way pages turn to the look of the iBooks retail platform, Cue said.

The Justice Department called Cue the “chief ringleader of the conspiracy.” Prosecutors presented evidence of Cue racing to clinch deals with the biggest publishing houses in six weeks between December 2009 and the launch of the iPad on Jan. 27, 2010. According to the evidence, Cue made more than 100 calls to top publishing executives to coordinate a change in how e-books were priced. He flew to New York and sent numerous e-mails to Penguin, HarperCollins, Hachette, Simon & Schuster and Macmillan.

Jobs was intimately involved in the formation of iBooks, and Cue kept him closely informed throughout his negotiations.

“Steve was nearing the end of life when we launched the iPad. . . . I wanted to be able to get that done in time for that because it was important to him,” Cue said, in a rare personal note.

To achieve that goal,Evidence presented during the trial showed that Apple went along with frustrated publishers who wanted to change the way the digital books industry functioned. The book publishers wanted to have more control over prices offered to consumers and proposed an “agency model” in which they could determine retail prices and Apple got a 30 percent cut of sales. At the time, Amazon had about a 90 percent share of digital books and set prices at $9.99.

Key to Apple’s agreement to the new model — and at the center of the Justice Departments’s case — were so-called Most Favored Nation clauses that ensured Apple would get matching rates offered to rivals. Justice Department attorneys argued that the MFN clause in e-books contracts kept prices artificially high because Apple’s rivals weren’t motivated to drop prices below the $12.99 to $14.99 range targeted by iBooks and publishers.

Apple’s Cue agreed that some prices went up, particularly for best sellers and new releases, which publishers were holding back from Amazon because of its price cap.

“Wow, we have really lit the fuse on a powder keg,” Jobs wrote in an e-mail to Cue, dated Jan. 30, 2010.

But Apple has argued that average e-book prices have gone down. Some economists brush off that notion, saying the most desired books have increased in price.

In his closing arguments, Ryan urged the judge to focus on evidence that he argued demonstrated a conspiracy. “The issue in this case is collusion,” he said. “We have no quarrels with the agency model. We have no quarrels in general with MFNs.”

 

 

U.S. probing contractor that vetted NSA leaker

Washington Post

By Thomas Heath, Published: June 20

 

The Falls Church-based government contracting firm that performed a background investigation into Edward Snowden before he disclosed details of a secret federal surveillance program is under criminal investigation by the Office of Personnel Management, according to Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.).

McCaskill said Thursday at a Senate hearing that the investigation into USIS, whose original name was US Investigations Services, is based on the “systemic failure to adequately conduct investigations under its contract” with the federal government.

In a statement, USIS said it “has never been informed that it is under criminal investigation.” The company said it received a subpoena for records from OPM’s inspector general in January 2012 and fully cooperated with “the government’s civil investigative efforts.”

The company declined to confirm whether it had screened Snowden, saying the thousands of investigations it conducts for the government are confidential.

Snowden was working for another Virginia government contractor, Booz Allen Hamilton, when he disclosed details of National Security Agency surveillance of U.S. citizens. The case has thrown a spotlight on the government’s reliance on contractors for sensitive tasks. In 2011, more than 4.2 million government and contract workers had security clearances, and more than a third of them had top-secret access.

McCaskill spokesman Drew Pusateri said McCaskill was told of the investigation by OPM’s inspector general.

Patrick McFarland, the inspector general for OPM, told the committee that there are concerns about USIS’s background check into Snowden. “Yes, we do believe that there — there may be some problems,” McFarland said at the hearing, according to the Reuters news agency.

According to its Web site, privately held USIS has 100 contracts to provide background checks for more than 95 federal agencies. The company was established in July 1996 “as a result of the privatization of the investigative branch of the Office of Personnel Management,” according to the Web site.

The company’s has more than 6,700 employees, and its clients include the departments of Justice, State, Homeland Security and Defense, plus about a dozen intelligence agencies, including the NSA and the National Reconnaissance Office. USIS is part of Altegrity, which is in turn owned by Providence Equity Partners.

 

 

Budget cuts hit security checks for defense contractors

Reuters

Wed, Jun 19 2013

By Mark Hosenball

 

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A budget shortfall has forced a Pentagon security unit to sharply cut back on regular investigations used to update security clearances for defense contractor employees.

In a little-noticed announcement posted on its website on June 7, the Defense Security Service said that “due to a funding shortfall,” it has been obliged to suspend “most” routine re-investigations of defense contractor employers cleared at the “Top Secret” level, at least through the end of September.

The announcement came two days before Edward Snowden went public in a video released by Britain’s Guardian newspaper as the source of leaks about the U.S. government’s top-secret surveillance of phone and Internet activity.

Snowden was a contractor for Booz Allen Hamilton working as a systems administrator at a National Security Agency facility in Hawaii.

The leaks have alarmed the U.S. intelligence community and have raised questions about whether the government is doing enough to vet individuals for security clearances.

A Senate Homeland Security subcommittee has scheduled a hearing for Thursday to examine the security clearance process, at which Defense Security Service Director Stan Sims and other U.S. officials are scheduled to testify.

A person familiar with the matter said that because Snowden worked as a government employee and contractor for the NSA and Central Intelligence Agency, his security clearances would have been handled by them, rather than the Defense Security Service.

But the Defense Security Service announcement shows how the government has been forced to recently scale back its oversight of security clearances in general for contractors.

A government source familiar with the matter said the policy change was related to automatic federal spending cuts known as sequestration that began earlier this year when Congress failed to agree on an alternative deficit reduction plan.

If a scheduled reinvestigation is delayed or canceled due to the budget crunch, clearance holders will be allowed to hold their clearances, officials said. “Nothing will happen to them,” said Cindy McGovern, a spokeswoman for the Defense Security Service.
The security service is a Defense Department agency responsible for authorizing, and then paying for, background investigations which the government conducts to determine defense contractors’ eligibility for security clearances.

The agency itself does not investigate contractor personnel, but commissions investigations from the Office of Personnel Management. That agency then employs its own contractors to conduct investigations in the field.

Under government rules, both government and contractor employees with clearances at the Top Secret level are supposed to be re-investigated every five years to ensure that problems have not cropped up in their finances, backgrounds or behavior.

It is these routine re-investigations for Top Secret clearance holders that the Defense Security Service says it is being forced to suspend.

McGovern said that, in general, budget restrictions will force personnel at the agency to cut back their working weeks, and hence their pay, to four days per week, starting in July.

She declined to comment on the case of Snowden, who is believed to be hiding in Hong Kong and is under criminal investigation for the leaks. Snowden had a clearance for “Top Secret/Sensitive Compartmented Information.”

The Defense Security Service’s announcement said that despite the budget crunch, five-year re-investigations will continue for “key management” contractor personnel as well as people needing access to “mission essential” information “directly supporting the Intelligence Community.”

 

 

Here’s How Edward Snowden Got ‘Top Secret’ Clearance

By DAVID FRANCIS, The Fiscal Times June 21, 2013

A Senate Homeland Security Subcommittee met Thursday afternoon to examine the government’s process for granting security clearance.

The purpose of the meeting was to figure out how someone like Edward Snowden, the NSA leaker, could get access to some of the most secret information in the country.

The subcommittee failed in that regard: Merton Miller, associate director of investigations at the Office of Personnel, said he had no information on Snowden’s specific case. OPM Inspector General Patrick McFarland said he did have information on Snowden, but couldn’t reveal it to the committee just yet.

That’s not to say that the committee lacked revelation. Six witnesses and three lawmakers revealed a security clearance system so broken that it would be comical if a 29-year-old wasn’t hiding in Hong Kong and leaking American secrets to the press.

 

They include:

•87 percent of background checks are never fully completed. OPM uses the information it has to make a judgment on whether to approve these checks.

•There are no uniform guidelines across the government for different levels of clearance. This means that top-secret clearance at one agency means something completely different at another.

•Within each agency, there are no strict guidelines for determining security clearance.

•USIS, a private contractor, conducts 65 percent of all U.S. government background checks.

•USIS, which conducted a background check on Snowden, is now under investigation by OPM’s IG for failing to conduct proper background checks.

•OPM has already paid USIS $200 million this year.

•The $1-billion-dollar fund that OPM uses to pay for background checks has never been audited.

•OPM’s IG said they have not been granted access to documentation on the fund.

•Miller said the documentation did not exist.

•Even if it did exist, OPM’s IG said he didn’t have the staff to audit the fund.

•OPM’s IG was unable to answer the first two questions he was asked without extensive consultation with members of the audience.

•One question was passed from one witness, then to another, who called someone named Stanley Sims out of the audience to answer it.

•I didn’t catch Sims’ title, but he did say there are more than 10,000 private facilities in the United States that have security clearance.

•Eighteen OPM investigators have been convicted of falsifying information contained in investigations they’ve conducted. Eleven work for OPM, while the other seven work for private contractors.

•Forty other investigators are currently being investigated for falsifying background checks.

•When asked if there are more than 40, IG McFarland said, “I believe there may be considerably more. I don’t believe we’ve caught it all by any stretch.”

•Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) asked Miller why OPM so heavily relied on contractors.

•He answered because they were cheaper than hiring government workers.

•She asked him for a cost-benefit analysis proving this.

•He said there is no cost benefit analysis.

•McCaskill again asked how he knew they were cheaper.

•Because they are cheaper, Miller said.

•”I’m tired of this assumption that contractors are cheaper. I just think it’s easier,” McCaskill then said.

 

With that, Thursday’s matinee of the absurd lowered its curtain.

Little was revealed about Snowden. But the hearing did prove what McCaskill said in her opening statement: OPM is a “government agency where there is rampant fraud, limited accountability, and no respect for taxpayer dollars.” It also revealed how easy it was for Snowden to get access to the nation’s most sacred secrets.

“This situation we have with Snowden,” Sen. Jon Tester (D-MO) said, “we shouldn’t be surprised at all.”

 

 

DP&L’s owner to build $20M backup power supply here

Dayton Daily News

Posted: 12:05 a.m. Wednesday, June 19, 2013

By Thomas Gnau – Staff Writer

Moraine —

A subsidiary of the company that owns the Dayton Power & Light Co. said it will spend $20 million in the Dayton area to build a backup power supply at a local generating station. The goal is to stabilize electric power to the area and beyond.

AES Energy Storage, a subsidiary of AES Corp., said Tuesday it will build the 40 megawatt energy storage facility at Dayton Power & Light’s Tait generating station at Arbor and Carillon boulevards in Moraine. The facility will be connected to the PJM Interconnection, the regional power grid for 60 million people in the Northeast and Midwest, AES said.

The heart of the project is an array of 800,000 D-size batteries. The lithium-ion batteries are similar in size to the batteries that power household flashlighsts or radios, but have a different construction.

It’s the first battery storage site in Ohio, AES said.

The project will bring AES’ energy storage capacity in PJM to more than 100 megawatts, the company said. A megawatt equals 1 million watts and can power about 1,000 average American homes for a year.

Chris Shelton, president of Arlington, Va.-based AES Energy Storage, said the investment represents about $500,000 per megawatt for this type of project, or about $20 million total.

The Tait station facility will be one of six such AES Energy Storage sites in the United States. The company also has a similar site in Chile.

The battery arrays are considered generators because of the service they provide, Shelton said. The site will remain connected to grid and respond to signals from PJM. It will be able to respond immediately to provide stability to power generation in Ohio and the Mid-Atlantic region, a service called “regulation,” he said.

 

And it’s not just for the high demands of summer. “It’s actually important every hour of every day, 24 hours a day,” Shelton said.

Tait Station was chosen for the facility because it has room for it and AES Energy Storage typically likes to work at existing sites, Shelton said. The station has interconnection capacity and is close to existing DPL operations.

Construction on the array started three weeks ago. The array will be up and running in September, Shelton said.

The array’s small, sealed lithium ion batteries are derived from batteries that often serve hybrid vehicles, such as buses, but these batteries will be new, Shelton said. He called the array a “high-performing resource,” with no emissions, no water usage and no fuel use.

The site may result in a permanent new job at the station, depending on demand and work load, Shelton said. There will be about 15 construction jobs for four months there as the array is built.

Tait Station consists of seven gas-and/or oil-fired combustion turbines, four diesel generators with a summer generating capacity of 586 megawatts, according to DPL.

Phil Herrington, DP&L president and chief executive, said in a statement: “Having served within PJM for many years, we are pleased to expand AES’ standing in the market with energy storage assets across West Virginia, Pennsylvania and now Ohio. We look forward to working with the city of Moraine on this project.”

Tait Station’s generating turbines are used during times of peak electricity demand, especially in the summer. The new project will connect through the station but will have an independent agreement with PJM, AES Energy Storage said.

In early May, AES said in a filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission that it plans to close the O.H. Hutchings Generating Station in Miamisburg at the end of May. This new construction is unrelated to that, Shelton said. He declined further comment on those plans.

AES Corp. acquired DPL Inc. in 2011.

 

Hagel discusses ‘State of DOD’ in Nebraska speech

by Karen Parrish

American Forces Press Service

 

6/20/2013 – WASHINGTON (AFNS) — In a wide-ranging speech given today at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, his alma mater, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel talked about the necessity of adapting the nation’s military to operate in a world that’s undergoing far-reaching geopolitical, technological and economic change.

“The world is changing, and America’s national security structure — including our military — must change with it,” he said. “How America responds to the challenges of this new world will direct our future.”

Even as U.S. forces transition to a noncombat mission in Afghanistan by the end of 2014, he said, Syria, Iran and North Korea all remain uncertain security challenges whose volatility requires a range of rapid and flexible response. With defense budgets over the foreseeable future also uncertain, the secretary said, vital strategic choices are unavoidable.

Hagel listed forces he said are “reshaping our world” as:

 

— The rising importance of Asia;

— The outbreak of revolution and sectarian conflict across the Middle East and North Africa;

— The continuing impact of financial crises and recessions in Europe;

— The “astounding diffusion” of global economic power as seen in the rise of China, India, Brazil and other countries; and

— The role of technology in closely linking the world’s people and their aspirations and economies.

 

In the face of rapidly developing and interconnected new threats such as cyber that fundamentally change the face of future conflicts, Hagel said, the military must reset from a defense enterprise structure that still reflects its Cold War design.

“To respond to this necessary effort our military is undertaking a series of important shifts that reflect changing geopolitical dynamics, new threats, new technologies, and new fiscal realities,” he said.

The first such major shift is a renewed emphasis on the Asia-Pacific region, he noted.

“We are undertaking this rebalancing because of the region’s growing importance to America’s future security and prosperity and because of the essential role the United States has played, and continues to play, in helping ensure peace and stability in this part of the world,” Hagel said.

The presence in the region of rising powers such as China, India and Indonesia, Hagel said, illustrates that all nations “have an interest in building a world order based on strong economic ties, mutual security interests, and respect for rules, norms, and the institutions that underpin them,” as well as human rights.

The U.S. rebalance to the Asia-Pacific is not a retreat from other regions, he added, but an acknowledgment of “changing strategic realities that direct increased engagement in Asia and [the] Pacific.”

In Asia and beyond, another shift in U.S. strategy is to build multilateral capabilities, he said.

“Our approach to security in the 21st century is to strengthen alliances, build new partnerships, and forge coalitions of common interest that help resolve problems and, hopefully, prevent conflict,” Hagel said. “We are doing this in Europe through our renewed commitment to the NATO Alliance, and in the Middle East and Latin America. All of these regions will help define the world’s future.”

He said the partnered approach, emphasizing joint exercises and other training activities between both regular and special operations forces, helps further another strategic shift, toward a lighter “footprint.”

A smaller footprint, as the military refers to the forward presence of troops, buildings and equipment, can be much less costly than a larger force and, Hagel noted, “also enables us to respond to crises more quickly and effectively.”

He emphasized the United States will maintain its capacity to meet its commitments and deter aggression, including by maintaining its nuclear “triad” of bombers, land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles and ballistic missile submarines, and by continuing to develop new cyber capabilities.

“At the same time, the most sustainable and wisest approach to our security in the 21st century will be to help allies do more to contribute to their own security and our common interests,” Hagel said.

Turning to defense spending, the secretary noted DOD has for several years been preparing for “an inevitable downturn,” but “a combination of fiscal pressures and a gridlocked political process has led to far more abrupt, deeper and steeper reductions than expected or planned for.”

The department is now grappling with both known and unknown budget factors, he noted, which include:

— Under sequester, a $37 billion cut this fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30;

— An additional sequester cut of another $52 billion next year, and $500 billion over the next decade; and

— The $487 billion, 10-year defense spending reduction agreed to in the Budget Control Act of 2011, which DOD is currently implementing.

“This has produced unprecedented uncertainty,” Hagel said, noting the strategic choices and management review he directed earlier this year is intended to develop choices, options and priorities to deal with and plan for further reductions.

“The department must understand the challenges and uncertainties, plan for the risks — and, yes — recognize there are opportunities inherent in budget constraints,” the secretary said.

He added that Pentagon leaders are studying the review’s findings now and “evaluating the options that have emerged.” More hard work and difficult decisions remain in the weeks and months ahead, he said.

The military must cut back on infrastructure and personnel costs, he said, echoing his own and other defense leaders’ testimony to Congress in recent weeks.

“As we do so,” Hagel added, “we must reassure the bright and patriotic young men and women who join the military that they will be fairly compensated, trained, and regarded as the professionals they are, and they will be given opportunities for career and personal enhancement. And they must be assured that their families will be taken care of.”

Hagel said his ultimate goal is “to ensure that the United States military remains in balance and America remains secure and strong.”

That balance involves strategic priorities, alliances, military capabilities and defense spending, he said.

“But there is one final area where balance must be achieved,” Hagel added, “and that is between America’s military and its other instruments of national power.”

Most of the nation’s pressing security challenges have political, economic, and cultural components, he said, and do not necessarily lend themselves to a military resolution.

Yet, Hagel added, the nation’s leaders “cannot let our military strength atrophy, either, in this very dangerous world. But that will require wise leadership capable of making tough decisions.”

What distinguishes the United States’ military is not its power, he said, but its purpose and commitment to making a better life for all people.

“America is a just, thoughtful and steady nation, worthy of its power, generous of its spirit, and still committed to the profession of peace in a complex yet hopeful 21st century,” Hagel said.

Hagel’s visit to the university is the first stop on a trip to his home state of Nebraska that will also include time at U.S. Strategic Command, headquartered at Offutt Air Force Base near Omaha.

 

Farewell Ceremony for Secretary of the Air Force Michael Donley

As Delivered by Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, Joint Base Andrews, MD, Friday, June 21, 2013

 

Ash, thank you, and to you, Mr. Secretary, General Welsh, and honored guests, departing secretary, America’s Mr. Fix-it, to the family, Gail, friends, past leaders, present leaders of this enterprise, and people who just stumbled in for the afternoon: we welcome you all. And in particular, these men and women in uniform today, who are scattered around this hangar, we welcome you, and we thank you, and we thank your families for what you’re doing, for what you will continue to do.

I have a prepared speech, Mike, but I will set it aside and attempt what all public officials should never attempt, and that is to go off-script, which my public affairs people are scared to death when that happens. But I want to make a couple of comments about Mike Donley, and I cover some of the same things that were so beautifully covered with Mark Welsh’s comments and Ash Carter’s.

So let me begin this way, first, to thank you, Gail and to your family, as Mark and Ash have appropriately done. Everyone here recognizes the family’s role in anyone’s successful life. And so we recognize you today, just as we recognize Mike.

Teddy Roosevelt once said — and I believe it’s inscribed in one of those magnificent stone slabs out on Teddy Roosevelt Island — that the two indispensables in life are character and courage. I begin my remarks this afternoon about Mike Donley because I think that’s where you begin with Mike Donley, character and courage. And a person’s life then flows from that and, as been noted by General Welsh and Secretary Carter, some of those accomplishments that Mike Donley is responsible for.

But one additional piece to all those accomplishments, which Mike Donley always noted, recognized, which is also an indispensable part of a successful life, personal and professional, and that is, it’s a team business. It isn’t one secretary, it is not one person. It’s not one service. It’s all of us.

And the test of leadership is, how do you bring that together? How do you bring that value and that character and that courage and that talent and capability behind one common purpose to make the world a better place? And that essentially is what the profession of arms is. It’s a profession of peace.

And it takes constant leadership. It takes constant attention. But it takes something else, and that is we all work from that special coin of the realm and it’s confidence and trust, and you earn that. You’re not born into anything with trust or confidence. Our leaders here today know that. And everything I have just noted, Mike Donley has lived that. Those words are words that he has lived by and what he is known for.

Here’s an individual who served five presidents, Republican, Democrat presidents. Mike Donley has always understood, the one, again, Teddy Roosevelt indispensable in life, is that national security, our future, our country, is beyond and above politics. And I suspect he was asked more than occasionally, how could you both work in the Bush White House and work as — continued to work as — Secretary of the Air Force under President Obama?

I don’t know what his response would be or was, but I suspect it was very simple. It’s bigger than presidents. It’s bigger than politics. It’s about our country. And if we had more of the Mike Donley attitude and sense of purpose in our country today, we’d probably all be a little better off, if we had that fundamental as the guiding purpose of responsible leadership in this nation. That has been an element of Mike’s personal life, as well as professional life, that I have admired.

I have not had the opportunity to work with Mike Donley that long, but the four brief months that I have had the privilege of serving this country as Secretary of Defense, there is one thing that I am absolutely sure about, when the books of history are written about Mike Donley’s tenure. The four months that I have worked with Mike have not been easy four months for the Air Force or for the Pentagon. I have been impressed, inspired by — he has never shied away from taking the big issues on, straight up, how do we fix it, I’ll take responsibility. That’s a pretty special element of anyone’s life. And that goes back to how I began, the first element of Teddy Roosevelt’s indispensable parts of a life are character and then the courage to live that character and implement that character.

I will miss him. As Mark and Ash have noted, and everyone in this hangar knows, the Air Force will miss him. The Pentagon will miss him. Our country will miss him.

But when Mike and I spent some time alone in my office this week, I gave him notice that he would not be completely untethered from us reaching him — not at all hours, Gail — I don’t think — unless it really gets bad, but — that’s a resource he, like so many of you sitting here today, are resources not only that this country has invested in, but we don’t want to lose. You will have a different life. You deserve a different life, I know. But it is not a life separated from the future of this country. And we all recognize that. And we will find you wherever you are at that apartment complex out in California on the beach — and I know you have big plans for him, doing that — but, Mike, it has been for me personally a great privilege to be part of your team.

And I also note that the Air Force, even though I was probably never smart enough to be in the Air Force — and I don’t want any of my Army friends to be upset with that remark — I didn’t have any choice, actually. The Air Force has been a very big part of my family, starting with the fact that my father served in the 13th Army Air Force in World War II and was a radio operator, tail gunner on a B-25 in the South Pacific for two-and-a-half years. And I don’t know of anything he was more proud of during his lifetime than his service in the Army Air Corps and his association with then what became the United States Air Force.

My brother, Mike, one of my brothers, is a commercial artist, illustrator, and led the Air Force Secretary’s Artist Guild for many, many years. And as Mike and all of our Air Force leaders know, the Pentagon and locations around the world are filled with the Air Force Artist Guild’s paintings of various scenes that reflect on great historical, defining moments in our history that were brought about by the actions of some of America’s greatest men and women and leaders, and many of those capture Air Force, Marines, Army, Coast Guardsmen, Navy, and their greatest accomplishments.

And I can tell you — I think as I have Mike — that my brother, Mike, did that for 14 years. Each of these artists contribute a painting once a year, gratis. Nothing that he’s been more proud of over his career, than that association with the Air Force.

So, to you, Mike, to your family, we wish you well. We know that your transition to a life that will be fulfilled because of not Mike’s title or who he represents, but who he is. And in the end, that’s all we have, is who we are. And that is much shaped by, at the end, your family, and your friends, and your past accomplishments.

And so, we will miss you. You know that. But as I have already noted, you won’t go far. Mike Donley, thank you. Thank you.

 

What They Told Us: Reviewing Last Week’s Key Polls

Rasmussen Reports

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Webster’s Dictionary defines “trust” as “assured reliance on the character, ability, strength or truth of someone or something.” Americans don’t have a lot of it these days as far as the federal government is concerned.

Just 35% of Americans now have a favorable impression of the federal government. That compares to 46% who view their state government favorably and 54% who feel that way about their local government.

Distrust is growing when it comes to the Internal Revenue Service’s targeting of Tea Party and other conservative groups. Sixty-one percent (61%) of voters now believe the IRS actions were politically motivated, and 70% think the orders came from Washington, D.C. Sixty-seven percent (67%) believe it is likely that other government agencies targeted conservative groups as well. All these levels of skepticism are up several points from a month ago.

President Obama and other senior government officials say the National Security Agency’s recently disclosed secret  surveillance program has deterred several terrorist attacks, but only 35% of Americans believe they are telling the truth. Forty-five percent (45%) think instead that they are just trying to justify the government’s spying on the phone and e-mail records of millions of innocent Americans.

Not that Americans are rallying to the man who leaked information about the surveillance program to the media. Just 12% view Edward Snowden as a hero, while 21% consider him a traitor. The majority of Americans think he’s something in between the two or feel it’s too early to decide.

After all, 57% think it is at least somewhat likely that public disclosure of the surveillance program has hurt this country’s national security. Still, only 15% think a reporter who gets leaked information from a government whistleblower should be prosecuted for publishing the information.

“None of the public players comes off looking great in the NSA story,” Scott Rasmussen says in his latest weekly newspaper column. “But there is now an opportunity for a healthy debate on the issue. It’s not partisan. President Obama and former Vice President Dick Cheney are on the same side. The nation needs a serious discussion about what kind of oversight and protection is needed to honor the Constitution while still effectively fighting the terrorists who want to end our way of life.”

Neither political party seems to have a trust advantage as voters increasingly sour on official Washington. Democrats and Republicans are now tied on the Generic Congressional Ballot at 39% apiece. This is the first time since June 2009 that both parties are below 40%.

Americans also are fed up with the so-called “revolving door” through which government officials frequently pass to take jobs with the very industries they regulated. Seventy-five percent (75%) favor at least a five-year ban on regulators working for companies they regulate, including 48% who think regulators should be banned for life from working for the companies they oversee. That’s a 16-point jump from two years ago.

Seventy-three percent (73%) don’t think it’s a good idea to let government regulators pass rules without approval from Congress. At the same time, 75% believe members of Congress should be required to publicly disclose all meetings and contacts with regulators and government officials. After all, just six percent (6%) of voters think Congress is doing a good or excellent job these days.

Meanwhile, the president’s overall job approval ratings fell this past week to their lowest level since last August.
This is despite the fact that the Rasmussen Consumer and Investor Indexes, which measure daily confidence in both groups, have been at or near six-year highs for several days.

Obama’s national health care law has been a point of contention among voters for much of his presidency, and they continue to give the president lukewarm marks for his handling of health care. Just 36% now rate the president’s handling of health care issues as good or excellent, down from 44% in February and the lowest finding this year.

With the health care law scheduled for full implementation by next year, voters are increasingly pessimistic about the short-term prospects for health care in America. Fifty-seven percent (57%) believe the U.S. health care system is likely to get worse in the next couple years, up from 50% last November.

So other than their local government, what do most Americans have faith in these days?

For one thing, 57% say it is not possible to have a healthy community without churches. Eighty-six percent (86%) think it’s good for a community to have a church provide services such as food banks, disaster relief, schools and hospitals.

At the same time (here comes the federal government again), 41% believe that the U.S. Supreme Court is too hostile towards religion.

Most working Americans (71%) would recommend their company as a good place to work, but then 66% feel their company values them as an employee. By comparison, just 16% of voters think most members of Congress care what they think.

In other news this week:

Twenty-nine percent (29%) of Likely U.S. Voters now say the country is heading in the right direction. That’s virtually unchanged from a year ago and consistent with voter attitudes for more than three months now.

— Peace talks between the United States and the Taliban to end the war in Afghanistan have stalled, but just one-in-three voters now consider America’s longest-running war a Very Important voting issue

— Fifty-three percent (53%) of Americans are at least somewhat confident in the stability of the U.S. banking industry today. In July 2008 shortly before the Wall Street meltdown, 68% were confident in U.S. banks. 

— Most Americans say they are paying about the same amount in interest rates compared to last year, but half now expect those rates to rise over the next year.

Most voters believe tax-exempt groups should publicly disclose all of their donors even though most recognize some will be harassed by political opponents. 

— With the U.S. Supreme Court poised to issue several major end-of-the term rulings, more voters than ever (40%) think the justices are too liberal

— With two months to go until the Democratic primary and four months until Election Day, Newark Mayor Cory Booker is in a strong position to become New Jersey’s next U.S. senator

Thirty-seven percent (37%) of New Jersey voters would like to see Governor Chris Christie run for president in 2016, and 44% of voters in his home state would vote for him. 

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