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February 8 2014

February 10, 2014




Insurer Sued Over Data Breach

Expert Predicts Healthcare Breach Suits Will Be Common in 2014

By Marianne Kolbasuk McGee,

February 1, 2014


A class action lawsuit has been filed against insurer Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey in the wake of data breach late last year involving the theft of two unencrypted laptop computers that affected nearly 840,000 of its members.

Privacy and security attorney David Navetta of the Information Law Group, who is not involved in the case, says the Horizon lawsuit is likely the first of many breach-related suits in healthcare and other industries that will be filed this year.

“2014 is potentially the year of the data and privacy lawsuit,” he says. “Small wins” in lawsuits in other industries, such as retail, are fueling the filing of more cases in all sectors, Navetta says.

Dozens of lawsuits have already been filed in the wake of the Target breach, he notes. “There are little chinks in the armor, and it’s creating an atmosphere that didn’t exist in 2011, or 2012, and was starting in 2013,” he says.

The plaintiffs in the Horizon case, Karen Pekelney and Mark Meisel, are suing the insurer for failing to adequately secure and safeguard its members’ sensitive personally identifiable information, which includes names, dates of birth, Social Security numbers, addresses, medical histories, test and laboratory results, and insurance information.

Horizon notified almost 840,000 members about the incident when it occurred. Those members whose Social Security numbers may have been exposed are being offered free credit monitoring and identity theft protection for one year, the company said (see: Unencrypted Laptops Lead to Mega-Breach).

The plaintiffs allege Horizon acted negligently in safeguarding members’ information and violated the Fair Credit Reporting Act and the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act. They are seeking unspecified damages.

A Horizon spokesman tells Information Security Media Group: “This lawsuit is without merit and Horizon BCBSNJ intends to vigorously defend itself.”


Floodgates Open?

Navetta notes that many breach-related lawsuits, including healthcare cases, have been dismissed early in the discovery phase, while others have been settled out of court. But for many plaintiffs in these breach cases, settlements can be substantial “wins,” Navetta says.

“There’s blood in the water, and the floodgates are open,” he says.

Navetta points to the 2011 court ruling in favor of payment card breach victims affected by a 2007 incident involving Hannaford, a northeastern U.S. grocery chain. A court decision partially overturned a district court ruling that dismissed 26 individual lawsuits against Hannaford (see Hannaford Breach Ruling: What it Means). The ruling meant victims of the Hannaford payment card breach can sue for damages resulting from the costs of card replacement, theft insurance and other “reasonable” mitigation efforts.

Litigation and government enforcement actions related to breaches are heating up in healthcare, he points out.

Breach cases like those targeting Horizon, as well as a recent complaint filed against medical testing firm LabMD by the Federal Trade Commission, are putting a spotlight on the importance of data protection and prompt breach notification, Navetta says. They also are calling attention to the need for cyber-insurance.

“These cases are very expensive for companies to fight, and these situations can potentially put smaller healthcare organizations out of business,” he says.

LabMD’s CEO Michael Daugherty announced on Jan 28. that his Atlanta-based medical testing laboratory would be winding down operations due to the cost of its battle with the FTC over the agency’s security breach case against the company (see: Lab Shutting Down in Wake of FTC Case).


RSA: Malware Impacts 45 Retailers

No Connection with Target, Neiman Marcus Breaches

By Jeffrey Roman, January 31, 2014. Follow Jeffrey @gen_sec


Security vendor RSA has uncovered a point-of-sale malware operation originating from the Ukraine that has stolen payment card and personal data from 45 small and midsize retailers. Some 50,000 cards were affected, RSA says.

The malware used in these attacks is less sophisticated than what was used in the breaches at Target Corp. and Neiman Marcus and has no connection to those attacks, an RSA spokesperson tells Information Security Media Group.

Beginning Oct. 25 and ending the last week of January, when the command-and-control server went offline, the malware scraped payments card data from infected POS systems, RSA says in a blog.

The company confirms to Information Security Media Group that 45 retailers were affected, but it declines to name those that were attacked.

Impacted companies are mostly based in the U.S., although malware infection activity has been detected in 10 other countries, RSA says.

RSA has notified the Federal Bureau of Investigation regarding the malware operation, and has been in communication with the victim companies, the blog says.


ChewBacca Malware

The company’s investigation has determined that the malware responsible for stealing payment card data is “ChewBacca,” which it describes as a relatively new, private Trojan that features simple keylogging and memory-scraping functionality.

The memory scanner incorporated in “ChewBacca” operates by dumping a copy of a process’ memory and searching it for card magnetic stripe data, RSA says. If a card number is found, the memory scraper extracts and logs it on the hackers’ command-and-control server.

The command-and-control server’s IP address is concealed. Also, traffic is encrypted and it avoids network-level detection, RSA says.

“The ChewBacca Trojan appears to be a simple piece of malware that, despite its lack of sophistication and defense mechanisms, succeeded in stealing payment card information from several dozen retailers around the world in a little more than two months,” RSA says in the blog.

RSA recommends retailers mitigate these types of threats by developing comprehensive monitoring and incident response capabilities. Retailers also should consider encrypting or tokenizing data at the point of capture and ensure that it’s not in plain text view on their networks, RSA says.


Keystone XL Review Sees Little Impact on Climate

Analysis Finds Project Wouldn’t Likely Change Amount of Oil From Canadian Oil Sands





Updated Jan. 31, 2014 6:59 p.m. ET

WASHINGTON—An Obama administration analysis of the Keystone XL pipeline said it probably wouldn’t alter the amount of oil ultimately removed from Canadian oil sands, boosting the pipeline’s backers by suggesting it would have little impact on climate change.

An Obama administration analysis of the Keystone XL pipeline application shows the project wouldn’t likely change the amount of oil ultimately removed from Canadian oil sands. Alicia Mundy joins the News Hub.

The release of the long-awaited report is one of the last steps before the up-or-down decision by President Barack Obama, who must juggle conflicting demands from supporters heading into midterm elections.

The Keystone XL pipeline, which would carry oil from Canadian oil sands into the U.S. Midwest on the way to Gulf coast refineries, has become a potent symbol both for environmentalists who say it would accelerate global warming and for unions and business leaders who see it as a way to stoke North America’s development as an energy-producing superpower.

The environmental analysis released Friday by the State Department, which is responsible for assessing the project, weighed in at 11 volumes. It said that “approval or denial of any one crude-oil transport project, including the proposed project, is unlikely to significantly impact the rate of extraction in the oil sands.”

The finding that the oil would be extracted and delivered anyway—possibly by rail if not pipeline—left environmentalists disappointed.

“I will not be satisfied with any analysis that does not accurately document what is really happening on the ground when it comes to the extraction, transport, refining and waste disposal of dirty, filthy, tar-sands oil,” said Sen. Barbara Boxer (D., Calif.), chairman of the Senate environment and public works committee and a White House ally.

The report isn’t the last word on the matter. Now begins a final State Department study to determine whether the pipeline project is in the nation’s broader interests. Eight separate agencies have up to three months to weigh in.

The report makes no recommendations on TransCanada Corp.’s TRP -0.02% permit request, leaving Secretary of State John Kerry and Mr. Obama the space to draw their own conclusions about whether the pipeline should get built.

They are free to reject the pipeline based on this more sweeping analysis, in which the environmental report is but one data point. In the next review, they will take into account a consideration that may affect the president’s legacy: He has sought to take a leading global role in the effort to combat climate change.

Under the executive order governing the permit review, Mr. Kerry is empowered to make the final call.

But presidential aides have said Mr. Obama has told them he will make the final decision on Keystone.

Addressing Keystone at his regular press briefing, White House spokesman Jay Carney said the report didn’t represent a decision “but rather another step in the process.”

Mr. Obama could wait until after the November elections, but he is under pressure from the Canadian government and a handful of pro-Keystone Democratic senators not to delay further. A few Democratic senators who are up for re-election this year have warned that they will push legislation forcing a decision if the review stretches much longer.

In a statement Friday, pro-Keystone Sen. Mary Landrieu (D., La.), said, “This new study underscores what has been said all along about the Keystone XL pipeline: It’s time to build. This single project will inject billions of dollars into Louisiana and national economies, and reduce our dependence on oil from hostile countries.”

Republicans have also grown impatient with the lengthy Keystone review process. Citing Mr. Obama’s pledge to use his executive authority—his “pen”—to boost the economy, GOP lawmakers have urged him to approve the pipeline now.

“Mr. President, no more stalling, no more excuses. Please pick up that pen you’ve been talking so much about and make this happen. Americans need these jobs,” Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said Friday.

Mr. Carney at the White House said that “there is a process that is in place, and that must be honored.”

Keystone has had a tangled history. TransCanada, which operates oil and natural-gas pipelines, first applied for a permit in 2008. In January 2012, the Obama administration rejected the application. At the time, Mr. Obama said a deadline that had been imposed by Congress didn’t allow enough time to determine the project’s environmental impact.

TransCanada reapplied in May 2012, after proposing to reroute the line to avoid an environmentally sensitive part of Nebraska, setting in motion the environmental report that was just released.

Mr. Obama isn’t the only leader with his legacy at stake. Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who is struggling in opinion polls, has aligned himself closely with Keystone. Mr. Harper’s natural-resources minister, Joe Oliver, said the report made him “more confident” the project will be approved.

“We’re very pleased with the release and being able to move to this next stage of the process. It’s been long in getting here,” said Russ Girling, TransCanada’s chief executive.

The pipeline has exposed divisions within the Democratic Party that could reverberate in the U.S. midterm elections in November.

Labor unions see the project as an engine for job creation. Environmentalists view it as a symbol of U.S. dependence on fossil fuels and worry that extraction of the oil from Canadian oil sands will release large amounts of carbon dioxide, exacerbating global warming. Both groups are pillars of the Democratic political coalition, which is aiming for a large turnout in November.

Dan Weiss of the liberal think tank Center for American Progress said the report released Friday “ignores evidence” that Keystone would spark greater production at Canadian oil sands.

“It’s like giving up on the interdiction of cocaine traffic into our country, because drugs are going to get in anyway,” Mr. Weiss said.

—Chester Dawson 
and Alistair MacDonald contributed to this article.



Obama Is Still Likely To Nix Keystone Pipeline, But That’s Not Bad For Oil Industry

Ken Silverstein, Contributor

2/02/2014 @ 8:03AM |14,519 views


The proposed Keystone XL Pipeline is coming to a pivotal point. Now that the Department of State has said that construction of the line that would transport Canadian tar sands to the U.S. would not wreak ecological havoc, President Obama must decide whether to proceed or not. What will he do?

It’s all speculation but using deductive logic, one can try and draw a conclusion. Despite the merits — or lack of them, depending on your viewpoint — Obama is unlikely to move forward. He has said that if construction of the 1,600 mile line would lead to greater greenhouse gas emissions than otherwise, he would deny the permit. And even though the State Department has written that this would not be the case, the president is indebted to the environmental movement, owing nothing politically to an oil industry that tried twice to defeat him.

That decision, in some measure, would be political. But it would also be environmental. That is, President Obama’s strongest and most confident statement during his State of the Union was about climate change — that it is man-made and that the science is settled, he said. With that, his Environmental Protection Agency has moved aggressively to curb carbon dioxide emissions from future coal plants, creating proposals that would require them to be as clean as combined cycle natural gas plants. A similar proposal is expected by summer for existing units.

For the president to appease his environmental base, he need not proclaim his official decision; on paper, he has 90 days to decide but the five-year history of this project suggest more delays are coming. He just needs to stay busy doing other, pressing things that heads-of-state do. And before it would get it to him, it must be given a thorough review by his Secretary of State John Kerry, who as a U.S. senator was vocal about curbing heat-trapping emissions.

None of this is necessarily bad news for the oil industry, which says that construction of the $12 billion Keystone XL Pipeline would create about 20,000 — temporary — jobs. The same State Department report that essentially blessed its construction says that if the network is not developed, the tar sands would then likely make their way into this country via the rail system.

“Approval or denial of any one crude oil transport project, including the proposed project, remains unlikely to significantly impact the rate of extraction in the oil sands, or the continued demand for heavy crude oil at refineries in the United States,” says the study, released Friday.

Beyond the economic impact, the oil industry points out that the roughly 900,000 barrels of crude that would flow from Canada would help ease imports from more distant sources like the Middle East. And, if TransCanada TRP -0.02%, the architect of the would-be line, were so inclined, it would pipe its fuel westward before having it shipped to Asia. That would create even more emissions that a direct link to the Lower 48.

Meantime, Canada is working behind the political scenes in the U.S. to placate the Obama administration’s fears. The respective energy cabinet minister and secretary have discussed how to achieve reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. As for the U.S., President Obama’s goal is to cut them by 17 percent by 2020, from  2005 levels — and the president has said that the nation is on target to get there.

Canada, meanwhile, has said it would agree to match those objectives. In a statement, its Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver said that five exhaustive studies are enough and that the conclusions are apparent — that the line does not create any additional greenhouse gas emissions because the gooey tar sands would be developed regardless and that they would be exported, somewhere.

“The case for Keystone XL, in our view, both pre and post this report, is as strong as every,” adds TransCanada’s Chief Executive Russ Girling, in a conference call.

The conventional thought is that that the exploration and the transport of Canadian oil sands is about 20 percent dirtier than other petroleum forms. EPA’s assertion is that the tar sands are thicker than other non-refined products and that it takes more energy to create gasoline, diesel and solvents. The potential for corrosion and subsequent spills is also greater, it says, adding that they would be more difficult to clean up.

“I take Obama at his word,” says Pat Parenteau, law professor at the Vermont Law School and senior counsel at its Environmental and Natural Resources Law Clinic. “Saying no to Keystone would be the most powerful single thing that Obama could do to make good on his pledge, and carve his name in the history books.”

In President Obama’s world, those words will have resonance. He is not sold on the Keystone Pipeline — politically, environmentally or economically. With this recent milestone, a final decision is scheduled but it is not imperative. The line may get built, although not on Obama’s watch.



Battles Loom in Many States Over What to Do With Budget Surpluses


In a year when three dozen governors are up for election, unexpectedly robust revenues from taxes and other sources are filling most state coffers, creating surpluses not seen in years and prompting statehouse battles over what to do with the money.

After so many years of sluggish revenues, layoffs and draconian service cuts, governors and legislators are eager to use the newfound money to cut taxes, restore spending or, in some cases, pay down debts or replenish rainy-day funds for future recessions. But though revenues are improving, lawmakers are likely to find that there is not enough to pay for everything they want to do, experts say.

“The states are going to have what seems like extra money,” said Scott D. Pattison, executive director of the National Association of State Budget Officers. “Expectations will be high, but the money is not going to be enough to satisfy everyone’s expectations.”

While Republicans are tending to advocate more tax cuts and Democrats are more often pushing to restore spending on education and other programs, the differences between the two camps are not always so stark, with some governors outlining plans that appeal across party lines.

Joining Republican anti-tax stalwarts like Dave Heineman of Nebraska and Scott Walker of Wisconsin in calling for more tax cuts, for instance, is a Democrat, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of New York.

And while Democratic governors like Jay Nixon of Missouri and John W. Hickenlooper of Colorado are pushing for significantly more education spending, so are Republican governors in Kansas, Georgia and Idaho, among others.

In Kansas, Gov. Sam Brownback, among the most conservative, is calling for full-day kindergarten for all students. In her State of the State address, Gov. Susana Martinez of New Mexico, a Republican, talked about increasing teacher salaries.

“Next to their parents, the adults children see most in their life are their teachers,” Governor Martinez said. “We should support our teachers with additional pay.”

Still, Ms. Martinez’s view was not shared by her fellow Republicans in Missouri, where Republican legislators sharply criticized Governor Nixon’s proposal to increase education spending by $493 million. “It is really unfortunate that this governor’s only solution is to throw money at problems,” said Tim Jones, the speaker of the Missouri House.

In some states where one party controls both the governor’s seat and the legislature, intraparty battles are looming over how to use the surpluses.

One example is in California, where Gov. Jerry Brown, a Democrat, called in his State of the State address for more money to go into a rainy-day fund rather than into renewed spending — over the loud objections of some Democratic legislators who want to restore more of what had been trimmed in recent years.

“For a decade, budget instability was the order of the day,” Mr. Brown said. “A lethal combination of national recessions, improvident tax cuts and too much spending created a financial sinkhole that defied every effort to climb out.”

Darrell Steinberg, the Senate president pro tem and a fellow Democrat, shot back, saying that while putting some money into the rainy-day fund was laudable, the governor’s plan shortchanged crucial needs. “We must invest in the people of California, especially those living in the economic margins,” he said. “I’ve proposed and remain committed to a balanced framework of ‘a third, a third, a third,’ where we divide the surplus into reserves, repayment and reinvestment.”

Jostling among Republicans over how to spend the surpluses is also underway in Michigan, where Gov. Rick Snyder, a conservative Republican, announced a $791 million budget surplus and called for additional spending on education and infrastructure, as well as tax cuts. In response, the Republican-dominated Senate Finance Committee approved a bill that put specific numbers on the governor’s proposal, cutting the state’s income tax from 4.25 percent to 3.9 percent by 2017.


State of the States

States are seeing these surpluses because early projections by their budget officers are proving to have been too conservative. An overall strong year for the stock market and a general economic uptick are generating more income, property and sales tax revenues than expected. At the same time, a milestone is about to be reached: In the coming months, budget officials expect that state revenues will climb back to their pre-recession level, even accounting for inflation.

The result: Optimism about digging out of the recession is occurring at the same moment surpluses are landing. But many experts in state finances say governors and legislatures may be too eager to spend the new money rather than paying down debt, bolstering shaky pension systems or setting aside money for the next downturn.

States got a taste of improved revenues last year, when estimates of how many investors would sell holdings by the end of 2012 to avoid new tax regulations proved too low — leading to a sharp rise in state revenues, 5.7 percent nationwide.

Fearing that this had been an isolated bump, most states again were very conservative in their revenue estimates for the current fiscal year. Now that actual revenues are being collected, the projections are turning out to be low.

“It seems that the bump was not just a one-time bump,” said Eileen Norcross, a senior research fellow at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University in Virginia, who specializes in state and local finances. “The rate of growth in 2014 for revenues was slower than in 2013, but still significant.”

Gov. Sam Brownback of Kansas is seeking funding for full-day kindergarten for all students. Chris Neal/Topeka Capital-Journal, via Associated Press

With memories of recent deficit struggles still fresh in their minds, many governors are joining Mr. Brown in talking about putting at least some money into rainy-day funds, including governors in Michigan, Colorado and Hawaii, among others.

And while several governors, including Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, have called for more attention to state pension debt, few have yet to offer specifics. One exception was Gov. Sean Parnell of Alaska, a Republican, who wants to transfer $3 billion from state reserves for the state’s pension system.

There has also been ample talk in legislatures this month about infrastructure, much of it fairly vague but some aimed at specific projects. This is a sizable switch from recent years, when borrowing for large capital projects like bridges and highways had all but vanished amid budget shortfalls.

“With huge pressure to deal with some of these infrastructure issues, I think you will see that getting more attention in the coming months,” said Mr. Pattison of the budget officers association.

Still, state officials and analysts caution that trying to gauge the outcome of a legislative session by a governor’s opening address can be foolhardy. Political give-and-take, as usual, will shape the outcomes.

“I actually think most states, if they look pretty honestly at it, would have a hard time making a case for big new tax cuts or big new expenditures,” said Nicholas Johnson, vice president for state fiscal policy at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

“Managing ongoing services and undoing some of the worst things done during the recession will account for all or more than all of the revenue growth out there,” he said. “We are going up, but we are not free and clear yet.”



Posted: 5:36 p.m. Monday, Feb. 3, 2014

170 research jobs could move to Wright-Patt

Virginia lawmakers are fighting effort to move the Air Force Office of Scientific Research to Ohio.

By Barrie Barber

Staff Writer



A proposal to explore relocating the Air Force Office of Scientific Research and 170 jobs to Wright-Patterson from Virginia has stirred opposition among that state’s congressional delegation and led some scientists to cry foul.

Advocates say a move makes sense in part because Wright-Patterson is home to four directorates of the Air Force Research Laboratories and the Air Force Institute of Technology.

Opponents say the move would threaten the Air Force’s basic science research and severely restrict access to key federal research agencies, universities and defense contractors in the Washington, D.C., region.

Caroline C. Whitacre, Ohio State University vice president for research, said AFRL and Ohio State University, the University of Dayton, and Wright State University would all potentially benefit from a move. “It certainly brings jobs to Ohio,” she said. “I think this would have a huge impact on the research communities in the area.”

Michael Gessel, Dayton Development Coalition vice president of federal programs, said in an email the potential move “could ensure better integration of basic research into the broader science and technology aims of the Air Force — which will ultimately lead to improved safety of our troops and more effective weapons systems.”

“Increasing the value of basic research to the Air Force is the best way of ensuring robust funding in the future,” he wrote.

Three Virginia congressional lawmakers sent a letter last month to Air Force Materiel Command leader Gen. Janet Wolfenbarger asking the Air Force to reject a move in part because the northern Virginia region is home to government agencies such as the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the Office of Naval Research and the National Science Foundation, a litany of defense contractors and Virginia Tech and George Washington University. U.S. Sens. Tim Kaine and Mark Warner, and U.S. Rep. James P. Moran, all Democrats, signed the letter.

“We believe the research synergies achieved here cannot be replicated at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base,” the trio wrote. “We fear the impact that such a move would have on current and future research efforts, not just for the Air Force but for the wider academic and defense communities.”

With challenging budgetary times, AFMC and the Air Force are reviewing how best to use tax dollars, and are in the “very early stages of determining what, if any, changes might be made” at AFOSR, according to Ron Fry, an AFMC spokesman.

The American Physical Society, a scientific physics association, and the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Inc., have pushed back against a relocation.

Relocating the Office of Scientific Research would alter the agency’s culture with a shift in focus from basic to applied science and severely limit access to key federal basic research offices in and around Arlington, Va., APS President Malcolm R. Beasley wrote in a recent letter.

Most of the office’s staff would not move to Ohio and would likely be replaced by other AFRL employees, he wrote.

“The loss of institutional knowledge, combined with the shift from basic to applied research and the loss of AFOSR’s oversight of AFRL’s basic research program, would cripple the Air Force’s long term basic research program,” Beasley said in the letter.

The leader of the University of Dayton Research Institute dismissed the concerns.

“The thought that a move would eliminate basic research … makes no sense at all,” said Mickey McCabe, UDRI executive director and vice president of research. The Air Force would continue to fund basic research at universities nationwide, he said.

Even so, in an era of tight budgets, the Air Force needs assurances the money invested will lead to new aircraft and national security-oriented capabilities, he said.

“Being located next to four great directorates at AFRL, the interaction between those four directorates and AFOSR I think would be invaluable,” he said.

Adam Howard, chief of staff for U.S. Rep. Mike Turner, R-Dayton, said in an email the congressman “is working with the Ohio congressional delegation to address the Virginia delegation’s letter and ensure that politics doesn’t interfere with the important allocation of the Air Force’s mission.”



Travel spending drops 18 percent in 2013

Trends suggest 2014 totals will be even lower

Feb. 4, 2014 – 06:00AM | By ANDY MEDICI | Comments


Federal travel spending fell 18 percent from fiscal 2012 to 2013 — from $8.5 billion to about $6.9 billion — as measured by data from the General Services Administration’s SmartPay charge card program.

The 2014 number could be even lower, according to federal data and experts. The SmartPay program has more than 2.5 million card holders across the government. There are no comprehensive governmentwide travel spending numbers.


But travel spending in fiscal 2014 is already about 33 percent lower than at the same time last year at $890 million compared to $1.3 billion. GSA has canceled for the second year its annual Expo conference and has transitioned its SmartPay training forum into a virtual format, citing continued low levels of spending on travels and conferences.

Frank Benenati, spokesman for the Office of Management and Budget, said part of the drop can be attributed to agencies rethinking how and where to have conferences and by using technology to reduce the need for travel. “Agencies will continue to identify savings moving forward, while balancing the need for conferences and travel,” Benenati said.

Sequestration played a role as well, he acknowledged. However, the administration has taken steps to reduce unnecessary travel spending it is important to recognize the critical role that conferences and federal travel play in conducting federal business, he said.

“Moving forward, we are continuing to sharpen our understanding of the value of travel and conference attendance to mission critical departmental activities and the opportunities to reduce expenditures, as they are central to continued good stewardship of the taxpayer dollar,” he said.

In May 2012, OMB released a memo directing agencies to reduce travel spending by 30 percent compared with 2010 levels and to maintain those levels through 2016. Agencies also have to report annually on any conference spending in excess of $100,000, and employees must seek senior management approval for conference spending.

Government funding legislation passed in January codified the rules into law and required agencies to notify its inspector general of any conference that cost more than $20,000 and provide the IG with details of the conference.

The General Services Administration saw the biggest percentage drop of any agency, where travel spending fell 57 percent – from $14 million to $6.4 million in 2013 – partly because of strict new controls put in place in 2012.

The Defense Department saw travel spending fall by more than $1 billion from fiscal 2012 to 2013 – a drop of almost 19 percent – because of a combination of travel restrictions and expanded use of teleconferencing, according to the Defense Department.

Spokesman Nathan Christensen said DoD also increased its internal controls to review vouchers for valid travel spending and automated more of its training programs so that workplace education can be done on site.

He added employees will still be able to travel when required to obtain needed training or accomplish DoD objectives but that continued budget cuts will mean DoD will continue with strict oversight of travel expenditures.

Rick Singer, the executive director of the Society of Government Travel Professionals, said he was not surprised by the dip in fiscal 2014 spending caused by the government shutdown but that spending does appear to be leveling off.

He said increased reporting requirements may also serve as a continued drag on federal travel spending, which he expects to be flat

“Congress continues to require more transparency and accountability in regards to conference spending, which may cause agencies to restrict conference travel until they sort how to comply,” Singer said.

Scott Lamb, director of government sales for Hilton Hotels, said OMB travel restrictions and tight budgets will push federal officials to look very carefully at all travel spending in 2014 – keeping travel spending flat.

He said the hotel industry is looking at expanding into other areas to offset continued federal travel cuts as well as for ways to get as much of the remaining federal business as possible.

Hackers Tailored Malware to Retailers

Investigations Continue Into Neiman Marcus, Target Cyberattacks 3 Comments




Feb. 5, 2014 9:30 p.m. ET

Government investigators looking into the cyberattacks on Neiman Marcus Group andTarget Corp. TGT +1.42% believe the malicious software used in the heists was specifically tailored to exploit vulnerabilities in each retailer’s checkout systems.

The malware behind the two attacks is different, William Noonan, a top official in the Secret Service’s cyber operations division, said Wednesday at a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee hearing in Washington.

The Secret Service investigations into both breaches are ongoing, but the details of the software make clear retailers face an organized and persistent threat from hackers hoping to steal credit-card data.

To properly modify the software, hackers would have to develop intimate knowledge of the system and the security protocols in place. In the case of Neiman Marcus, the hackers appeared to have entered their system sometime in early 2013 to perform reconnaissance before implanting the malware that would carry out an attack that exposed data from up to 1.1 million cards, the retailer said.

The malware that compromised 40 million credit and debit cards at Target also appears to have been tailored to that retailer.

The hackers that attacked the discounter appear to have gotten in by using credentials stolen from a heating and air-conditioning contractor, a person familiar with the matter said. Target previously said the attackers gained entry with credentials stolen from a vendor, but didn’t say which kind. On Wednesday, the company declined to comment.

“This continues to be a very active and ongoing investigation,” Target spokeswoman Molly Snyder said.

Cybersecurity blogger Brian Krebs reported the identity of the vendor earlier Wednesday, saying it was Fazio Mechanical Services, a Pennsylvania-based provider of heating and air-conditioning systems. Fazio didn’t respond to a request for comment.

While Target and Neiman Marcus suffered the most visible recent attacks, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Secret Service have warned that other retailers have been hit as well. Phillip Smith, a former Secret Service agent now with cybersecurity firm Trustwave Holdings, said a number of companies have been infiltrated and have software in their systems doing reconnaissance.

The reconnaissance involves getting into the point-of-sale system, watching how it processes transactions and figuring out how to best steal the data. The practice is leading to more sophisticated customization, Mr. Smith said.

“It’s not an off-the-shelf type of malware,” said Mr. Noonan, the Secret Service official. “The criminals are modifying and molding specific types of malware.”

Mr. Noonan described the gangs behind the attacks as being loosely affiliated but highly coordinated. He likened them to the heist movie “Ocean’s Eleven.” The groups have specialists in areas of infiltrating systems, designing malware, mapping networks and selling stolen data, and they employ them to work on different phases of the attack, he said.

The attacks on Target and Neiman Marcus appear to be unrelated, based on tactics and malware used, according to people familiar with the matter.

Assault on California Power Station Raises Alarm on Potential for Terrorism

April Sniper Attack Knocked Out Substation, Raises Concern for Country’s Power Grid



Feb. 4, 2014 10:30 p.m. ET

SAN JOSE, Calif.—The attack began just before 1 a.m. on April 16 last year, when someone slipped into an underground vault not far from a busy freeway and cut telephone cables.

Within half an hour, snipers opened fire on a nearby electrical substation. Shooting for 19 minutes, they surgically knocked out 17 giant transformers that funnel power to Silicon Valley. A minute before a police car arrived, the shooters disappeared into the night.

A sniper attack in April that knocked out an electrical substation near San Jose, Calif., has raised fears that the country’s power grid is vulnerable to terrorism. WSJ’s Rebecca Smith has the details. Photo: Talia Herman for The Wall Street Journal

With over 160,000 miles of transmission lines, the U.S. power grid is designed to handle natural and man-made disasters, as well as fluctuations in demand. How does the system work? WSJ’s Jason Bellini has #TheShortAnswer.

To avoid a blackout, electric-grid officials rerouted power around the site and asked power plants in Silicon Valley to produce more electricity. But it took utility workers 27 days to make repairs and bring the substation back to life.

Nobody has been arrested or charged in the attack at PG&E Corp.’s PCG +0.46%Metcalf transmission substation. It is an incident of which few Americans are aware. But one former federal regulator is calling it a terrorist act that, if it were widely replicated across the country, could take down the U.S. electric grid and black out much of the country.

The attack was “the most significant incident of domestic terrorism involving the grid that has ever occurred” in the U.S., said Jon Wellinghoff, who was chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission at the time.

The Wall Street Journal assembled a chronology of the Metcalf attack from filings PG&E made to state and federal regulators; from other documents including a video released by the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Department; and from interviews, including with Mr. Wellinghoff.

The 64-year-old Nevadan, who was appointed to FERC in 2006 by PresidentGeorge W. Bush and stepped down in November, said he gave closed-door, high-level briefings to federal agencies, Congress and the White House last year. As months have passed without arrests, he said, he has grown increasingly concerned that an even larger attack could be in the works. He said he was going public about the incident out of concern that national security is at risk and critical electric-grid sites aren’t adequately protected.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation doesn’t think a terrorist organization caused the Metcalf attack, said a spokesman for the FBI in San Francisco. Investigators are “continuing to sift through the evidence,” he said.

Some people in the utility industry share Mr. Wellinghoff’s concerns, including a former official at PG&E, Metcalf’s owner, who told an industry gathering in November he feared the incident could have been a dress rehearsal for a larger event.

“This wasn’t an incident where Billy-Bob and Joe decided, after a few brewskis, to come in and shoot up a substation,” Mark Johnson, retired vice president of transmission for PG&E, told the utility security conference, according to a video of his presentation. “This was an event that was well thought out, well planned and they targeted certain components.” When reached, Mr. Johnson declined to comment further.

A spokesman for PG&E said the company takes all incidents seriously but declined to discuss the Metcalf event in detail for fear of giving information to potential copycats. “We won’t speculate about the motives” of the attackers, added the spokesman, Brian Swanson. He said PG&E has increased security measures.

Utility executives and federal energy officials have long worried that the electric grid is vulnerable to sabotage. That is in part because the grid, which is really three systems serving different areas of the U.S., has failed when small problems such as trees hitting transmission lines created cascading blackouts. One in 2003 knocked out power to 50 million people in the Eastern U.S. and Canada for days.

Many of the system’s most important components sit out in the open, often in remote locations, protected by little more than cameras and chain-link fences.

Transmission substations are critical links in the grid. They make it possible for electricity to move long distances, and serve as hubs for intersecting power lines.

Within a substation, transformers raise the voltage of electricity so it can travel hundreds of miles on high-voltage lines, or reduce voltages when electricity approaches its destination. The Metcalf substation functions as an off-ramp from power lines for electricity heading to homes and businesses in Silicon Valley.

The country’s roughly 2,000 very large transformers are expensive to build, often costing millions of dollars each, and hard to replace. Each is custom made and weighs up to 500,000 pounds, and “I can only build 10 units a month,” said Dennis Blake, general manager of Pennsylvania Transformer in Pittsburgh, one of seven U.S. manufacturers. The utility industry keeps some spares on hand.

A 2009 Energy Department report said that “physical damage of certain system components (e.g. extra-high-voltage transformers) on a large scale…could result in prolonged outages, as procurement cycles for these components range from months to years.”

Mr. Wellinghoff said a FERC analysis found that if a surprisingly small number of U.S. substations were knocked out at once, that could destabilize the system enough to cause a blackout that could encompass most of the U.S.

Not everyone is so pessimistic. Gerry Cauley, chief executive of the North America Electric Reliability Corp., a standards-setting group that reports to FERC, said he thinks the grid is more resilient than Mr. Wellinghoff fears.

“I don’t want to downplay the scenario he describes,” Mr. Cauley said. “I’ll agree it’s possible from a technical assessment.” But he said that even if several substations went down, the vast majority of people would have their power back in a few hours.

The utility industry has been focused on Internet attacks, worrying that hackers could take down the grid by disabling communications and important pieces of equipment. Companies have reported 13 cyber incidents in the past three years, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis of emergency reports utilities file with the federal government. There have been no reports of major outages linked to these events, although companies have generally declined to provide details.

“A lot of people in the electric industry have been distracted by cybersecurity threats,” said Stephen Berberich, chief executive of the California Independent System Operator, which runs much of the high-voltage transmission system for the utilities. He said that physical attacks pose a “big, if not bigger” menace.

There were 274 significant instances of vandalism or deliberate damage in the three years, and more than 700 weather-related problems, according to the Journal’s analysis.

Until the Metcalf incident, attacks on U.S. utility equipment were mostly linked to metal thieves, disgruntled employees or bored hunters, who sometimes took potshots at small transformers on utility poles to see what happens. (Answer: a small explosion followed by an outage.)

Last year, an Arkansas man was charged with multiple attacks on the power grid, including setting fire to a switching station. He has pleaded not guilty and is undergoing a psychiatric evaluation, according to federal court records.

Overseas, terrorist organizations were linked to 2,500 attacks on transmission lines or towers and at least 500 on substations from 1996 to 2006, according to a January report from the Electric Power Research Institute, an industry-funded research group, which cited State Department data.

To some, the Metcalf incident has lifted the discussion of serious U.S. grid attacks beyond the theoretical. “The breadth and depth of the attack was unprecedented” in the U.S., said Rich Lordan, senior technical executive for the Electric Power Research Institute. The motivation, he said, “appears to be preparation for an act of war.”

The attack lasted slightly less than an hour, according to the chronology assembled by the Journal.

At 12:58 a.m., AT&T fiber-optic telecommunications cables were cut—in a way that made them hard to repair—in an underground vault near the substation, not far from U.S. Highway 101 just outside south San Jose. It would have taken more than one person to lift the metal vault cover, said people who visited the site.

Nine minutes later, some customers of Level 3 CommunicationsLVLT +5.85% an Internet service provider, lost service. Cables in its vault near the Metcalf substation were also cut.

At 1:31 a.m., a surveillance camera pointed along a chain-link fence around the substation recorded a streak of light that investigators from the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s office think was a signal from a waved flashlight. It was followed by the muzzle flash of rifles and sparks from bullets hitting the fence.

The substation’s cameras weren’t aimed outside its perimeter, where the attackers were. They shooters appear to have aimed at the transformers’ oil-filled cooling systems. These began to bleed oil, but didn’t explode, as the transformers probably would have done if hit in other areas.

About six minutes after the shooting started, PG&E confirms, it got an alarm from motion sensors at the substation, possibly from bullets grazing the fence, which is shown on video.

Four minutes later, at 1:41 a.m., the sheriff’s department received a 911 call about gunfire, sent by an engineer at a nearby power plant that still had phone service.

Riddled with bullet holes, the transformers leaked 52,000 gallons of oil, then overheated. The first bank of them crashed at 1:45 a.m., at which time PG&E’s control center about 90 miles north received an equipment-failure alarm.

Five minutes later, another apparent flashlight signal, caught on film, marked the end of the attack. More than 100 shell casings of the sort ejected by AK-47s were later found at the site.

At 1:51 a.m., law-enforcement officers arrived, but found everything quiet. Unable to get past the locked fence and seeing nothing suspicious, they left.

A PG&E worker, awakened by the utility’s control center at 2:03 a.m., arrived at 3:15 a.m. to survey the damage.

Grid officials routed some power around the substation to keep the system stable and asked customers in Silicon Valley to conserve electricity.

In a news release, PG&E said the substation had been hit by vandals. It has since confirmed 17 transformers were knocked out.

Mr. Wellinghoff, then chairman of FERC, said that after he heard about the scope of the attack, he flew to California, bringing with him experts from the U.S. Navy’s Dahlgren Surface Warfare Center in Virginia, which trains Navy SEALs. After walking the site with PG&E officials and FBI agents, Mr. Wellinghoff said, the military experts told him it looked like a professional job.

In addition to fingerprint-free shell casings, they pointed out small piles of rocks, which they said could have been left by an advance scout to tell the attackers where to get the best shots.

“They said it was a targeting package just like they would put together for an attack,” Mr. Wellinghoff said.

Mr. Wellinghoff, now a law partner at Stoel Rives LLP in San Francisco, said he arranged a series of meetings in the following weeks to let other federal agencies, including the Department of Homeland Security, know what happened and to enlist their help. He held a closed-door meeting with utility executives in San Francisco in June and has distributed lists of things utilities should do to strengthen their defenses.

A spokesman for Homeland Security said it is up to utilities to protect the grid. The department’s role in an emergency is to connect federal agencies and local police and facilitate information sharing, the spokesman said.

As word of the attack spread through the utility industry, some companies moved swiftly to review their security efforts. “We’re looking at things differently now,” said Michelle Campanella, an FBI veteran who is director of security for Consolidated Edison Inc.ED +0.28% in New York. For example, she said, Con Ed changed the angles of some of its 1,200 security cameras “so we don’t have any blind spots.”

Some of the legislators Mr. Wellinghoff briefed are calling for action. Rep. Henry Waxman(D., Calif.) mentioned the incident at a FERC oversight hearing in December, saying he was concerned that no one in government can order utilities to improve grid protections or to take charge in an emergency.

As for Mr. Wellinghoff, he said he has made something of a hobby of visiting big substations to look over defenses and see whether he is questioned by security details or local police. He said he typically finds easy access to fence lines that are often close to important equipment.

“What keeps me awake at night is a physical attack that could take down the grid,” he said. “This is a huge problem.”

—Tom McGinty contributed to this article.



New surveillance technology can track everyone in an area for several hours at a time

By Craig Timberg, Published: February 5

DAYTON, Ohio — Shooter and victim were just a pair of pixels, dark specks on a gray streetscape. Hair color, bullet wounds, even the weapon were not visible in the series of pictures taken from an airplane flying two miles above.

But what the images revealed — to a degree impossible just a few years ago — was location, mapped over time. Second by second, they showed a gang assembling, blocking off access points, sending the shooter to meet his target and taking flight after the body hit the pavement. When the report reached police, it included a picture of the blue stucco building into which the killer ultimately retreated, at last beyond the view of the powerful camera overhead.

A surveillance system designed by a Dayton, Ohio-based company can track crimes in real time, as they occur. Click Here to View Full Graphic Story

A surveillance system designed by a Dayton, Ohio-based company can track crimes in real time, as they occur.

From 10,000 feet up, tracking an entire city at one glance: Ohio-based Persistent Surveillance Systems is trying to convince cities across the country that its surveillance technology can help reduce crime. Its new generation of camera technology is far more powerful than the police cameras to which America has grown accustomed. But these newer cameras have sparked some privacy concerns.

“I’ve witnessed 34 of these,” said Ross McNutt, the genial president of Persistent Surveillance Systems, which collected the images of the killing in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, from a specially outfitted Cessna. “It’s like opening up a murder mystery in the middle, and you need to figure out what happened before and after.”

As Americans have grown increasingly comfortable with traditional surveillance cameras, a new, far more powerful generation is being quietly deployed that can track every vehicle and person across an area the size of a small city, for several hours at a time. Although these cameras can’t read license plates or see faces, they provide such a wealth of data that police, businesses and even private individuals can use them to help identify people and track their movements.


Already, the cameras have been flown above major public events such as the Ohio political rally where Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) named Sarah Palin as his running mate in 2008, McNutt said. They’ve been flown above Baltimore; Philadelphia; Compton, Calif.; and Dayton in demonstrations for police. They’ve also been used for traffic impact studies, for security at NASCAR races and at the request of a Mexican politician, who commissioned the flights over Ciudad Juárez.

Defense contractors are developing similar technology for the military, but its potential for civilian use is raising novel civil liberties concerns. In Dayton, where Persistent Surveillance Systems is based, city officials balked last year when police considered paying for 200 hours of flights, in part because of privacy complaints.

“There are an infinite number of surveillance technologies that would help solve crimes . . . but there are reasons that we don’t do those things, or shouldn’t be doing those things,” said Joel Pruce, a University of Dayton postdoctoral fellow in human rights who opposed the plan. “You know where there’s a lot less crime? There’s a lot less crime in China.”

The Supreme Court generally has given wide latitude to police using aerial surveillance as long as the photography captures images visible to the naked eye.

McNutt, a retired Air Force officer who once helped design a similar system for the skies above Fallujah, a battleground city in Iraq, hopes to win over officials in Dayton and elsewhere by convincing them that cameras mounted on fixed-wing aircraft can provide far more useful intelligence than police helicopters do, for less money.

A single camera mounted atop the Washington Monument, McNutt boasts, could deter crime all around the Mall. He said regular flights over the most dangerous parts of Washington — combined with publicity about how much police could see — would make a significant dent in the number of burglaries, robberies and murders. His 192-megapixel cameras would spot as many as 50 crimes per six-hour flight, he estimated, providing police with a continuous stream of images covering more than a third of the city.

“We watch 25 square miles, so you see lots of crimes,” he said. “And by the way, after people commit crimes, they drive like idiots.”

What McNutt is trying to sell is not merely the latest techno-wizardry for police. He envisions such steep drops in crime that they will bring substantial side effects, including rising property values, better schools, increased development and, eventually, lower incarceration rates as the reality of long-term overhead surveillance deters those tempted to commit crimes.

Dayton Police Chief Richard Biehl, a supporter of McNutt’s efforts, has proposed inviting the public to visit the operations center to get a glimpse of the technology in action.

“I want them to be worried that we’re watching,” Biehl said. “I want them to be worried that they never know when we’re overhead.”


Technology in action

McNutt, a suburban father of four with a doctorate from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, is not deaf to concerns about his company’s ambitions. Unlike many of the giant defense contractors that are eagerly repurposing wartime surveillance technology for domestic use, he sought advice from the American Civil Liberties Union in writing a privacy policy.

It has rules on how long data can be kept, when images can be accessed and by whom. Police are supposed to begin looking at the pictures only after a crime has been reported. Fishing expeditions are prohibited.


The technology has inherent limitations as well. From the airborne cameras, each person appears as a single pixel indistinguishable from any other person. What people are doing — even whether they are clothed or not — is impossible to see. As technology improves the cameras, McNutt said he intends to increase their range, not the precision of the imagery, so that larger areas can be monitored.

The notion that McNutt and his roughly 40 employees are peeping Toms clearly rankles. The company made a PowerPoint presentation for the ACLU that includes pictures taken to assist the response to Hurricane Sandy and the severe Iowa floods last summer. The section is titled: “Good People Doing Good Things.”

“We get a little frustrated when people get so worried about us seeing them in their backyard,” McNutt said in his operation center, where the walls are adorned with 120-inch monitors, each showing a different grainy urban scene collected from above. “We can’t even see what they are doing in their backyard. And, by the way, we don’t care.”

Yet in a world of increasingly pervasive surveillance, location and identity are becoming all but inextricable. One quickly leads to the other for those with the right tools.

During one of the company’s demonstration flights over Dayton in 2012, police got reports of an attempted robbery at a bookstore and shots fired at a Subway sandwich shop. The cameras revealed a single car moving between the two locations.

By reviewing the images frame by frame, analysts were able to help police piece together a larger story: A man had left a residential neighborhood at midday and attempted to rob the bookstore, but fled when somebody hit an alarm. Then he drove to Subway, where the owner pulled a gun and chased him off. His next stop was a Family Dollar Store, where the man paused for several minutes. He soon returned home, after a short stop at a gas station where a video camera captured an image of his face.

A few hours later, after the surveillance flight ended, the Family Dollar Store was robbed. Police used the detailed map of the man’s movements, along with other evidence from the crime scenes, to arrest him for all three crimes.

On another occasion, Dayton police got a report of a burglary in progress. The aerial cameras spotted a white truck driving away from the scene. Police stopped the driver before he got home and found the stolen goods in the back of the truck. A witness identified him soon afterward.


Privacy concerns

In addition to normal cameras, the planes can carry infrared sensors that permit analysts to track people, vehicles or wildlife at night — even through foliage and into some structures, such as tents.

Courts have put stricter limits on technology that can see things not visible to the naked eye, ruling that they can amount to unconstitutional searches when conducted without a warrant. But the lines remain fuzzy as courts struggle to apply old precedents — from a single overflight carrying an officer equipped with nothing stronger than a telephoto lens, for example — to the rapidly advancing technology.

“If you turn your country into a totalitarian surveillance state, there’s always some wrongdoing you can prevent,” said Jay Stanley, a privacy expert with the American Civil Liberties Union. “The balance struck in our Constitution tilts toward liberty, and I think we should keep that value.”

Police and private businesses have invested heavily in video surveillance since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Although academics debate whether these cameras create significantly lower crime rates, an overwhelming majority of Americans support them. A Washington Post poll in November found that only 14 percent of those surveyed wanted fewer cameras in public spaces.


But the latest camera systems raise new issues because of their ability to watch vast areas for long periods of time — something even military-grade aerial cameras have struggled to do well.

The military’s most advanced experimental research lab is developing a system that uses hundreds of cellphone cameras to watch 36-square-mile areas. McNutt offers his system — which uses 12 commercially available Canon cameras mounted in an array — as an effective alternative that’s cheap enough for local police departments to afford. He typically charges between $1,500 and $2,000 per hour for his services, including flight time, operation of the command center and the time that analysts spend assisting investigations.

Dayton police were enticed by McNutt’s offer to fly 200 hours over the city for a home-town discount price of $120,000. The city, with about 140,000 people, saw its police force dwindle from more than 400 officers to about 350 in recent years, and there is little hope of reinforcements.

“We’re not going to get those officers back,” Biehl, the police chief, said. “We have had to use technology as force multipliers.”

Still, the proposed contract, coming during Dayton’s campaign season and amid a wave of revelations about National Security Agency surveillance, sparked resistance. Biehl is looking for a chance to revive the matter. But the new mayor, Nan Whaley, has reservations, both because of the cost and the potential loss of privacy.

“Since 2001, we haven’t had really healthy conversations about personal liberty. It’s starting to bloom about a decade too late,” Whaley said. “I think the conversation needs to continue.”

To that end, the mayor has another idea: She’s encouraging the businesses that own Dayton’s tallest buildings to mount rooftop surveillance cameras capable of continuously monitoring the downtown and nearby neighborhoods. Whaley hopes the businesses would provide the video feeds to the police.

McNutt, it turns out, has cameras for those situations, too, capable of spotting individual people from seven miles away.


Rasmussen Reports

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


Bottom of Form

Saturday, February 08, 2014

Republicans are counting on a health care fix to help them capture the Senate, and in several key races, the early signs are favorable to the GOP.

Most voters continue to have an unfavorable opinion of the new national health care law, and 58% expect it to raise health care costs.

Sixty percent (60%) believe most of the current problems with the law are unlikely to be fixed within the next year. But voters remain evenly divided when asked whether they are more likely or less likely to vote for a member of Congress who supports the law.

In several Southern states, however, Obamacare is even more unpopular than it is nationally, and that may spell trouble for Democratic senators who supported the law.

Republican Congressman Tom Cotton holds a five-point lead over one of those senators, incumbent Democrat Mark Pryor, in Rasmussen Reports’ first look at the 2014 race in Arkansas.

Pryor had no Republican opposition in 2008 and was reelected with 80% of the vote. But he, like fellow senators Mary Landrieu of Louisiana and Kay Hagan of North Carolina, finds his job at risk this election cycle.

Across the aisle, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell is in an unexpectedly tight race, running dead even with Democratic challenger Alison Lundergan Grimes in Kentucky. Interestingly, McConnell’s GOP primary rival, Tea Party challenger Matt Bevin, leads Grimes by four points.

Republicans have taken the lead on the Generic Congressional Ballot for the first time this year.

House Speaker John Boenhner unexpectedly pulled the plug Thursday on a GOP immigration reform plan, saying President Obama can’t be trusted to enforce its border control provisions, among others. That plan, providing a pathway to citizenship for those here illegally after the border is completely secured, was causing outspoken division in Republican ranks.

The trust issue has dogged supporters of comprehensive immigration reform from the start. As we reported 48 hours before Boehner’s announcement, only 33% of voters think it’s even somewhat likely the federal government will actually secure the border if the reform plan is passed by Congress. That includes just seven percent (7%) who say it’s Very Likely. And yet most voters for years have put border control well ahead of legalizing the status of those here illegally.

Still, 80% of voters believe a child who is brought here illegally but later earns a college degree or serves honorably in the military should be given a chance to obtain U.S. citizenship. Sixty-five percent (65%) think the military should offer U.S. citizenship to non-citizens who are willing to serve and do so honorably for at least five years.

Speaking of the military, 53% continue to believe women should be allowed to fight on the front lines and perform all the combat roles that men do.

The president’s daily job approval ratings worsened somewhat a week’s end but remain at levels seen for most of the past five years.

Obama’s monthly job approval rating rose a point to 48% in January. That’s up from 45% in November, his lowest monthly approval in two years, but still down eight points from December 2012’s recent high of 56%.

Most Americans agree with the president that mandatory early childhood education is likely to improve student performance, but 60% are not willing to pay any more in taxes to fund nationwide pre-K schooling.

After all, 60% think the federal government should cut spending to help the economy.

Consumer and investor confidence ended the week well below their highs for the new year.

The Rasmussen Employment Index which measures worker confidence rose less than half a point in January, just barely continuing the upward trend it began in November. That signaled the mediocre jobs report the federal government released on Friday.

But 42% of working Americans think they will be earning more money a year from today. That’s down just one point from the highest level of confidence in nearly four years.

Thirty-nine percent (39%) believe that they have a better opportunity for career advancement by staying within their current company.

The 2014 Winter Olympics began in Sochi, Russia this week. What do Americans think of the international competition, and how closely are they paying attention to it?

Sixty-nine percent (69%) are at least somewhat likely to watch some of the 2014 Winter Olympics coverage on television, including 39% who are Very Likely to watch.

Women will be watching figure skating more than any other sport at this year’s Winter Olympics, while men will divide their attention equally between hockey, skiing and figure skating.

In other surveys last week:

— Twenty-nine percent (29%) of Likely U.S. Voters think the country is heading in the right direction.

Most adults think American children need to spend more time in school, but they still oppose extending the school year to all 12 months.

— Fifty percent (50%) think it’s good for children to have a lengthy period off during the summer. Fifty-seven percent (57%) think students learn life lessons during summer vacation that couldn’t be learned in a classroom.

— Sixty-three percent (63%) think Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev should receive the death penalty if convicted, but just 49% believe the use of the death penalty is an effective way to fight terrorism.

— Democratic hopeful Mike Ross has a three-point edge on his best-known Republican opponent, Asa Hutchinson, in Rasmussen Reports’ first look at the 2014 gubernatorial race in Arkansas.

— Forty-nine percent (49%) of Super Bowl viewers said they planned to watch the game intensely, but 43% admitted they would mostly be socializing.


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