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September 12 2015

September 14, 2015




12 September 2015


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Defense issues dominate Congress’ return to DC

By Leo Shane III, Staff writer 9:52 a.m. EDT September 4, 2015


Summer vacation is all but over, and Congress already had a lot of defense homework for its fall session.

National security issues are expected to dominate much of the discussion on Capitol Hill for the rest of September, with controversial votes in both chambers throughout the month. But whether that means any progress will be made on the annual defense budget bills remains to be seen.

Here are the top issues on the schedule:

The Iran deal

Congress has until Sept. 17 to vote on President Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran, which trades increased oversight of Iran’s nuclear fuel procession for international sanction relief.

Republican lawmakers have come out strongly against the measure and appear close to having enough votes in the House and Senate to disapprove of the deal. But already, enough Senate Democrats have signaled the support needed to sustain a presidential veto of that disapproval, allowing the deal to move ahead.

On Sept. 9, just a day after the congressional session resumes, a coalition of anti-Iran groups will gather on the National Mall to try to lobby lawmakers to oppose the deal. Presidential candidates Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Donald Trump are scheduled to speak at the event.

Meanwhile, Republican leaders in the House and Senate are planning a host of oversight hearings on the deal in the days to come, picking apart the proposed relief and restrictions it contains.

But the moves appear unlikely to sway Obama’s backers, several of whom held national press conferences in August to explain their support for the controversial plan.

The budget


Just two weeks after the Iran deal deadline comes the end of the fiscal year, and the end of budget authorities for dozens of federal programs. If a compromise can’t be reached, another partial government shutdown could be in the offing.

For now, that doesn’t appear likely. Democrats and Republicans have said a shutdown would be an economic and political disaster, and have already begun discussions about a continuing resolution to keep programs operating at least at fiscal 2015 funding levels while the budget fights continue.

But congressional leaders appear no closer to reaching a long-term budget solution, in large part because of the fight over defense spending for fiscal 2016.

GOP lawmakers have pushed plans that would add tens of billions to temporary war funding accounts to get around spending caps for the Defense Department next year. Obama has vowed to veto that move, calling it a gimmick that does not fix any of the underlying budget problems for other agencies.

Senate Democrats have blocked all the budget proposals on Capitol Hill as a result, leaving both sides accusing the other fiscal stubbornness.

Until a solution is found, Pentagon programs will be forced to operate on temporary, lower-than-inflation funding levels, a headache that Defense Secretary Ash Carter has called problematic for national security planning and “embarrassing” for the country.

Defense authorization bill

Negotiations on the annual defense authorization bill stalled in July just before the summer congressional break began, but lawmakers are still hopeful they can complete that work by the end of the fiscal year.

To do so, they’ll have to work through a series of differences between the respective draft bills passed by the House and Senate, none of which were considered major early in the summer but several of which have proven complicated enough to stall a compromise.

House lawmakers have objected to Senate plans to trim housing allowances and raise some Tricare pharmacy co-pays, while the Senate has insisted on including new language related to closing the detention facilities at Naval Base Guantanamo Bay in Cuba and its own version of defense acquisition reform.

The conference committee is also negotiating how to work through some budget points of order with the measure’s sweeping military retirement reforms, which would replace the current 20-year all-or-nothing system with a 401(k)-style investment option for all troops.

GOP defense lawmakers had pointed to the end of September as a hopeful point for passing a final authorization bill, as a way to show they could manage the budget process better than Democrats who were ousted from control of the Senate last year. They still have a few weeks left to meet that goal.


Air Force Reforms Would Speed Up Technology Acquisitions

By Sandra I. Erwin

Sep 7, 2015


Silicon Valley may have become a top destination for Pentagon officials seeking to lure the tech industry. Outreach is important, says the Air Force’s point man on procurement reforms. But he is convinced that many innovative companies will never work with the Defense Department until they see real change in how the Pentagon does business.

“It’s not enough to make visits and then come back to D.C. and keep doing what we’ve been doing for 100 years,” says Camron Gorguinpour, Air Force director of transformational innovation.

Defense Secretary Ashton Carter has made it a priority to recruit nontraditional vendors from the tech sector.”We want to be talking to small and big companies that don’t want to do business with us. We want to know what we can change,” Gorguinpour tells National Defense. “This is not a defense industry conversation. It’s an American conversation. We just ignore the fact that most of America is not engaged in that dialogue.”

The Air Force is testing a new contracting approach that it believes will help lower the cost of its information systems and harness the latest technology trends. To motivate contractors and encourage new entrants to the market, the Air Force is promising to speed up the procurement cycle and to use simpler contracting mechanisms that come with less red tape than traditional weapon programs.

“The secretary asked us to look at innovative ways to acquire information systems,” says Gorguinpour. His boss, Assistant Secretary for Acquisition William LaPlante, has set a goal to rid Air Force programs of costly proprietary software and adopt “open systems architectures” that can be rapidly updated with commercial technology.

The Air Force a year ago came under fire when a Senate panel concluded the service wasted more than a billion dollars on a logistics information technology program called the expeditionary combat support system because of poor management. The ECSS was terminated in 2012 after eight years in development.

On the heels of the ECSS probe, the Air Force decided it needed to completely rethink its acquisition process for IT programs.

“We are creating a brand new acquisition system for open architecture systems,” Gorguinpour says. The test case for this new method is a planned upgrade of the Air Force “distributed common ground system,” which is used by commanders to collect, analyze and distribute battlefield intelligence.

The Air Force has invited companies to showcase their software in a virtual environment that simulates the DCGS. If a vendor can demonstrate that the product works and the government agrees to buy it, the contracting process is reduced dramatically compared to the conventional approach. “It’s the way we ought to be doing business,” he says. “It sounds simple but it’s not the way things work now.”

Open architecture is an overused catchphrase at the Defense Department, often mentioned as the solution to the Pentagon’s IT modernization problems. “Everyone wants the app store model for building a platform,” says Gorguinpour. “The problem is that we tell our program offices to use our standard acquisition process and move to open architecture systems. It takes years to add the capability.”

A central feature of an open system architecture as envisioned by the Air Force is that the government owns the “technical baseline.” That gives the Air Force control of the basic standards and more freedom to bring in new suppliers.

The new acquisition process is designed to work with shorter timelines. “We want to get down to 30 days to field,” he says. The idea is to host events — known as “plugfests” — where vendors can demonstrate products and to use fast-track contracting. Companies that are interested in bidding for work would be invited to join consortiums that specialize in specific areas. “We think we could probably get the process from demonstration to contract award down to less than a month,” he adds. A DCGS plugfest in July, for instance, attracted 19 companies, 15 of which were nontraditional, and contracts will be awarded this month.

The Air Force Research Laboratory is setting up a consortium and companies will be invited to participate. “By early October we hope to have the consortium in place,” says Gorguinpour. “It is not static. Companies can join any time. The model is picking up steam,” he says. “We don’t yet know what the process will be to join the Air Force consortium because it hasn’t been established yet.”

The Army for years has worked with industry consortiums. Several were created to focus on areas like munitions and vertical lift technology. The Air Force is creating its own version. The contracting method commonly used with consortiums is called “other transaction authority.”

The Air Force’s former military procurement adviser says these initiatives were the result of leaders’ increasing frustration at rising costs and excessive dependence on prime contractors for technology upgrades.

The push to open architectures started about five years ago as Air Force officials realized major weapon systems were being managed entirely by prime contractors that controlled the technology baseline, says Air Force retired Lt. Gen. Charles R. “CR” Davis.

“Dr. LaPlante saw this the day he came in,” Davis tells National Defense. Since the 1990s, the Air Force had gradually turned over the management of weapon systems to contractors for development, fielding and upgrades. “They own it, they manage it, they have total systems performance responsibility,” he says. “The DCGS was a victim of that.”

The Air Force in the 1990s began to turn over the management of several large complex systems to prime contractors. “That sounded good in the beginning, but you’re beholden to the contractor for the system’s life. And it gets more expensive the older the systems get,” Davis says.

The DCGS has a core software architecture, and “you are held to that.” Open systems architecture is a phrase that is used a lot, says Davis, “but I never saw anybody execute any open systems architectures except for a few projects in the labs and at Hanscom Air Force Base.”

Before becoming the Air Force’s top acquisition adviser, Davis was the commander of the Electronic Systems Center at Hanscom Air Force Base in Massachusetts.

The center used the consortium approach successfully to upgrade radar, Davis says. “A team of contractors collectively came up with defined interfaces between the receiver, transmitter, power supply, various components and processors in the radar. Different companies would build pieces but they had to comply with the interface between major components.”

This approach requires the Air Force to own the baseline, he says, “If you can incentivize contractors to work together in a common interface, you can do open systems. The basic architecture has to be defined by the Air Force. This puts you on a path when you’re not beholden to a single contractor.”

A similar process was used for unmanned aircraft ground control stations that were deployed at Beale Air Force Base, California. A consortium built the interfaces, and several contractors supplied data links for drones and control systems. “These are things the Air Force can do without changes in the law or relief from the office of the secretary of defense,” says Davis. “This has promise for systems like the next generation JSTARS [radar aircraft] and future ICBM upgrades.”

This push to reform the procurement process, however, could quickly come to a screeching halt unless the Pentagon makes some fundamental chances in acquisition policies.

At some point, the process and policies start to collide with these plans for reform, Davis says. Innovative companies will come forward with new products. “But the minute anyone demands any cost and pricing data, the contracting community starts contesting the commercial pricing of these companies, and the services demand some access to the intellectual property: That’s where the system breaks down.”

The Pentagon procurement red tape — particularly requirements to document what a product costs and share internal company data with the government — is going to continue to keep many companies away from the defense market, he says. “This was a problem we had on multiple systems when I was there. I don’t think they’ve done anything to solve that yet. At some point the Defense Department is going to have to look at a system it wants and decide that, if it has value, it is willing to pay what the vendor asks for,” he adds. “That’s going to have to be part of the discussion if they’re going to take advantage of the capabilities that are out there in Silicon Valley.”

The use of “other transaction authority” contracting is well suited to small R&D projects and studies, he says. “They’re quick to do. They’re very good for maturation or developmental activity.” The innovation the Pentagon wants from the tech industry, though, will require more than OTA contracting. The Pentagon has to figure out how to do commercial contracting for high-tech products, says Davis. “I’ve read all the laws Congress has written on commercial items, the letters on defense pricing. They have not solved the commercial pricing issue yet,” he says. “If innovations take off and consortiums start turning out decent ideas, you’re going to have to figure out how to move to a commercial buyer approach. That’s going to be tough to do because there are so many policies and restrictions right now. It will be a very challenging thing to take advantage of available technology until they solve all the process issues.”


A Nuclear Inspector’s View: Give the Iran Deal a Shot

We’ll have to hold our noses to vote yes, but it buys us needed time.

By Charles Duelfer

| 09/08/15, 08:29 PM EDT


The best thing that can be said about the Iran nuclear deal is there is a chance it may succeed — at least for a while. I would put the odds at much less than 50-50, maybe 1 in 3, but they may be enough to hold your nose and vote for the deal, accompanied with an explanation of why it stinks.

Bear in mind, if the deal does fall apart it makes a big difference when that happens. If things go south after Iran has reduced its enriched uranium to 300 kilograms and reconfigured its Arak reactor so it cannot produce plutonium, as is required under the agreement, then the time bought is substantial — and that’s a better outcome. Still, for now there is a long list of things that make the agreement really odorous. Prominent are:


1 The agreement will begin with a lie on the part of Iran.

The negotiators agreed to minimize the issue of Iran’s previous work in designing and testing the nuclear weapon components. They dubbed them PMDs for “possible military dimensions” of the Iranian program. Iran has denied them and blocked attempts by the International Atomic Energy Agency to investigate them. Compelling evidence indicates they have accomplished a lot, particularly at the Parchin military site where access by the IAEA has been obstructed. Imagery shows evidence the Iranians have cleansed the area so that IAEA will not discover what they did. IAEA, in its private road-map arrangement with Iran, hopes to clarify this by December — long after the vote in Congress. Secretary of State John Kerry has pre-emptively said this doesn’t matter: We know what Iran did; what matters is the future, not the past. However, if the first thing Iran does is present a false declaration of previous work, which serves as a baseline for future inspections (albeit unrelated to the nuclear-material supply-chain monitoring), it does not bode well for the future compliance by Iran with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. Not to mention the embarrassment to senators who will have recently voted to support the agreement.


2 Iran is interpreting the agreement as giving it relief over its missile program.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, who is not seen in Washington as a “hard-liner,” stated emphatically in a Tehran news conference on Aug. 29, “We have formally announced that we are not committed to these provisions [related to missiles] mentioned in the U.N. resolution 2231. In the JCPOA itself, we have explained that a violation of the U.N. resolution does not mean violation of the JCPOA.” In annex B of U.N. Security Council Resolution 2231 is the following line: “Iran is called upon not to undertake any activity related to ballistic missiles designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons including launches using such ballistic missile technology, until the date eight years after the JCPOA Adoption Day or until the date on which the IAEA submits a report confirming the Broader Conclusion, which ever is earlier.” So already, Iran is whittling away at what has been agreed.


3 The written agreement is one thing, but what the IAEA inspectors can do and what they are willing to report is quite another.

Judgment about Iranian compliance will depend largely on the director general of the IAEA. He will be under enormous pressure from all sides. This happened to the U.N. Iraq weapons inspectors. (I was there). They had to balance physical evidence with political support and consequences. The current director general of the IAEA, Yukiya Amano, has demonstrated some resolve. His predecessor, Mohamed ElBaradei, did not, and the Norwegians blessed him with a Nobel Peace Prize. Amano will be replaced in a couple years. The politics of picking a successor will be tough. Russia will play a powerful role.


4 Lifting sanctions is a one-way process, no matter what is said about the written provisions for “snap-back.”

Once countries are making money and building long-term economic and financial relationships with Tehran, it will be very difficult to walk that back. Tehran knows this and can calculate how much compliance is required as time passes to keep the transactions going. Tehran will have learned from Saddam’s experience. Sanctions can be eroded — especially with help from Russia. Russia happily voted for sanctions on Iraq and just as happily broke them making lots of money — up to and including Putin’s office. Sanctions on Iraq were crumbling swiftly prior to Sept. 11, 2001.


5 At this point, sadly, it seems John Kerry is correct: It’s the best we can do.

The United States does not have the influence — positive or negative — to produce a more definitive outcome. We depend on a coalition of “like-minded” countries, including China and Russia. Otherwise, sanctions will not be enforceable. The experience in Iraq is not encouraging. Saddam was able to divide the Security Council and some members gladly cooperated with Saddam’s breaking of the sanctions. This was detailed in the report on Iraqi weapons of mass destruction (the so-called Duelfer report) and the investigation of the U.N. oil for food program headed by former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker. Probably, we did not focus hard enough and soon enough on the growing Iran nuclear problem — a problem that existed before the current administration took office. Tehran played a long game. It’s hard to see why it won’t continue to play a long game. Again, Kerry is correct: Yes, Iran will be a virtual nuclear weapons state at the end of this agreement, but it already is one now. Maybe this agreement will buy some time.


6 We are stuck with it.

The administration is in charge of foreign policy and national security. It has done what it considers to be best under the circumstances. Kerry argues that to turn this down now would hurt the U.S. even more. He’s probably right. Maybe it would have been better if we had been more demanding in inspection procedures and let the Iranians walk away. But that’s not what happened and that’s not where we are.


Having said all the above, what would make it better?


I would like to know that, aside from the nuclear deal with Iran, we have a very vigorous game plan for taking on (or out) those elements we know are attacking U.S. interests — namely the Iran Revolutionary Guard Corps and particularly its leader, Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani. The IRGC and forces under his leadership have killed many more Americans than Islamic State, including hundreds in Iraq. Why should he be treated any differently than other enemies who have killed Americans, i.e., Al Qaeda? We don’t let Al Qaeda get away with it. Iran will modify its behavior only if there are consequences. We have shown positive consequences, its time to amp up the negative consequences as well.

It seems to this observer that we have simply ceded that option and left it to other countries on the other side of the Persian Gulf. They are increasingly realizing that the U.S. cannot or will not do more. They have to fill the gap.

If one or more of the issues I cite here goes wrong with the deal, it will likely crumble, which is why I put the odds of success at less than 50-50. But the deal probably will buy at least some time. That’s better than nothing — especially if we use that time to erode the capacity of those dedicated enemies of the United States in Tehran embodied by the IRGC. Selective use of “hard power” may also have its role.



Federal contractors tell Obama: Stop picking on us

By Lydia Wheeler – 09/10/15 06:00 AM EDT


Federal contractors say they are being unfairly targeted as President Obama pushes an agenda that’s focused on raising wages and creating safer workplaces.

Since 2009, the President has issued 13 executive orders that have led to 16 regulations applying to companies that do business with the government.

The directives range from Obama’s announcement of a higher minimum wage for employees of contracting firms, to new rules requiring companies to report labor violations as part of the bidding process.

The latest order, signed by the president this week, would require contractors to offer paid sick leave.

“He’s using the federal contracting community as a messaging board because those are the types of policies he’d like Congress and State and local legislators to adopt,” said Alan Chvotkin, executive vice president and counsel at the Professional Services Council (PSC), a trade group that represents the government technology and professional service industries.

Though the PSC backs some of the policies behind the executive orders, including the latest on paid leave, Chvotkin said contractors take issue with record keeping that’s required to prove compliance with the orders.

“It’s very much a throwback to the industrial age of the ’60s than the progressive human resources environment of the 21st century,” he said, explaining that the majority of employers now allow their workers to take time as they see fit.

Citing burdensome reporting requirements, business groups have called on the administration to withdraw the rules recently released as a result of the President’s July 2014 executive order requiring federal contractors to disclose any violations of 14 federal labor laws and equivalent state laws they’ve had in the last three years.

In August, the PSC joined the National Defense Industrial Association, Aerospace Industries Association and the Information Technology Industry Council in writing a letter to White House officials asking the administration to back off.

“At a time when government budgets are under siege, cost efficiency is essential, and there is a broad agreement about the need for the government to open its aperture to enable access to the full marketplace of capabilities, this rapid growth in compliance requirements is becoming untenable,” their letter said.

Chvotkin said the PSC has yet to get a response.

In a statement to The Hill, Jamal Brown, the White House Office of Management and Budget press secretary, said the federal government only does business with companies that comply with laws that protect workers’ safety, wages and civil rights.

“At the same time, this Administration has worked to remove and streamline burdensome requirements imposed by previous administrations on federal contractors,” he said. “As part of this effort, last year the Office of Management and Budget, after extensive engagement and feedback from federal contractors, issued guidance to agencies to further improve performance, simplify the federal procurement policies, and drive innovation.”

Associated Builders & Contractors (ABC) said the President has long treated the federal contracting marketplace as a testing ground to implement sweeping changes he can’t get through Congress.

“By circumventing congressional authority, the Obama administration has increased regulatory burdens that drive up costs on taxpayer-funded projects and discourage small businesses from pursuing federal contracts,” Geoff Burr, ABC’s vice president of government affairs, said in a statement to The Hill.

“The president’s latest proposal is of particular concern to the construction industry because it contradicts the U.S. Department of Labor’s (DOL) long-established policy of crediting sick leave as a fringe benefit for employees performing work on contracts subject to the Davis-Bacon Act,” he said.

The law, which passed in 1931, requires contractors and subcontractors to pay their laborers and mechanics employed under a federal contract no less than the locally prevailing wage and fringe benefits.

Under the order, the DOL is expected to issue regulations by Sept. 30, 2016. Legal experts expect them to draw legal challenges.

Because the federal mandate only ensures paid leave for employees working on public jobs, Lawrence Prosen, a partner at the D.C. office of Thompson Hine, said it could create a discrimination issue, since contractors typically take on both public and private projects.

“Let’s say you build Humvees and you have a line of production that’s building Humvees for the government and the next line over are employees building the commercial version and they wouldn’t be subject to this,” he said. “Hypothetically speaking, I can see where a class of people could get together and say this is not fair.”

Despite industry outcry, proponents say the executive orders are needed to push for broader changes in society.

David Madland, managing director for economic policy at the Center for American Progress, pointed to the equal employment opportunity executive order that President Lyndon B. Johnson signed in 1965 prohibiting federal contractors from discriminating against workers based on their gender or race.

What started as a mandate for federal contractors, he said, later became law.

“For a long time, presidents have made significant changes in the way we do government contracting because they have the authority to do so and see this as a way to make change,” he said.

As for the industry’s argument that the orders are overly burdensome, Madland said that’s a way to avoid actually opposing the policy change.

“For most employers, paying a higher minimum wage is not a paperwork burden,” he said. “They’re trying to hide behind process arguments.”


Exclusive: 50 Spies Say ISIS Intelligence Was Cooked

09.09.159:00 PM ET

Written byShane Harris Nancy A. Youssef 


It’s being called a ‘revolt’ by intelligence pros who are paid to give their honest assessment of the ISIS war—but are instead seeing their reports turned into happy talk.

More than 50 intelligence analysts working out of the U.S. military’s Central Command have formally complained that their reports on ISIS and al Qaeda’s branch in Syria were being inappropriately altered by senior officials, The Daily Beast has learned.

The complaints spurred the Pentagon’s inspector general to open an investigation into the alleged manipulation of intelligence. The fact that so many people complained suggests there are deep-rooted, systemic problems in how the U.S. military command charged with the war against the self-proclaimed Islamic State assesses intelligence.

“The cancer was within the senior level of the intelligence command,” one defense official said.

Two senior analysts at CENTCOM signed a written complaint sent to the Defense Department inspector general in July alleging that the reports, some of which were briefed to President Obama, portrayed the terror groups as weaker than the analysts believe they are. The reports were changed by CENTCOM higher-ups to adhere to the administration’s public line that the U.S. is winning the battle against ISIS and al Nusra, al Qaeda’s branch in Syria, the analysts claim.

That complaint was supported by 50 other analysts, some of whom have complained about politicizing of intelligence reports for months. That’s according to 11 individuals who are knowledgeable about the details of the report and who spoke to The Daily Beast on condition of anonymity.

The accusations suggest that a large number of people tracking the inner workings of the terror groups think that their reports are being manipulated to fit a public narrative. The allegations echoed charges that political appointees and senior officials cherry-picked intelligence about Iraq’s supposed weapons program in 2002 and 2003.

The two signatories to the complaint were described as the ones formally lodging it, and the additional analysts are willing and able to back up the substance of the allegations with concrete examples.

One person who knows the contents of the complaint said it used the word “Stalinist” to describe the tone set by officials overseeing the military’s analysis.

Some of those CENTCOM analysts described the sizeable cadre of protesting analysts as a “revolt” by intelligence professionals who are paid to give their honest assessment, based on facts, and not to be influenced by national-level policy. The analysts have accused senior-level leaders, including the director of intelligence and his deputy in CENTCOM, of changing their analyses to be more in line with the Obama administration’s public contention that the fight against ISIS and al Qaeda is making progress. The analysts take a more pessimistic view about how military efforts to destroy the groups are going.

The large number of analysts who complained to the Pentagon inspector general hasn’t been previously reported. Some of them are assigned to work at CENTCOM, the U.S. military’s command for the Middle East and Central Asia, but are officially employed by the Defense Intelligence Agency.

The complaints allege that in some cases key elements of intelligence reports were removed, resulting in a document that didn’t accurately capture the analysts’ conclusions, sources familiar with the protest said. But the complaint also goes beyond alleged altering of reports and accuses some senior leaders at CENTCOM of creating an unprofessional work environment. One person who knows the contents of the written complaint sent to the inspector general said it used the word “Stalinist” to describe the tone set by officials overseeing CENTCOM’s analysis.

Many described a climate in which analysts felt they could not give a candid assessment of the situation in Iraq and Syria. Some felt it was a product of commanders protecting their career advancement by putting the best spin on the war.

Some reports crafted by the analysts that were too negative in their assessment of the war were sent back the chain of the command or not shared up the chain, several analysts said. Still others, feeling the climate around them, self-censored so their reports affirmed already-held beliefs.

“While we cannot comment on the specific investigation cited in the article, we can speak to the process. The Intelligence Community routinely provides a wide range of subjective assessments related to the current security environment. These products and the analysis that they present are absolutely vital to our efforts, particularly given the incredibly complex nature of the multi-front fights that are ongoing now in Iraq and Syria,” said Air Force Col. Patrick Ryder, U.S. CENTCOM spokesman. “Senior civilian and military leadership consider these assessments during planning and decision-making, along with information gained from various other sources, to include the insights provided by commanders on the ground and other key advisors, intelligence collection assets, and previous experience.”

Two of the officials who spoke to The Daily Beast said that analysts began airing their complaints in October in an effort to address the issue internally and only went to the inspector general when that effort failed. Some of those who complained were urged to retire, one official familiar with the report told The Daily Beast. Some agreed to leave.

In recent months, members of the Obama administration have sought to paint the fight against ISIS in rosy hues—despite the terror army’s seizure of major cities like Mosul and Fallujah.

“ISIS is losing,” John Allen, the retired Marine general charged with coordinating the ISIS campaign, said in July.


Russian hacker group exploits satellites to steal data, hide tracks

By Ellen Nakashima September 9 


A group of sophisticated Russian-speaking hackers is exploiting commercial satellites to siphon sensitive data from diplomatic and military agencies in the United States and in Europe as well as to mask their location, a security firm said in a new report.

The group, which some researchers refer to as Turla, after the name of the malicious software it uses, also has targeted government organizations, embassies and companies in Russia, China and dozens of other countries, as well as research groups and pharmaceutical firms, said Stefan Tanase, senior security researcher at Kaspersky Lab, a Moscow-based cybersecurity firm with analysts around the world.

Turla has used this technique for at least eight years, which reflects a degree of sophistication and creativity generally not seen among advanced hacker groups, Tanase said.

“For us, it was very surprising,” he said in a phone interview from Bucharest, Romania. “We’ve never seen a malicious operation that hijacked satellite” connections to obtain data and to cover its tracks. “This is the first group that we believe has done it. It allows you to achieve a much greater level of anonymity.”

Although Kaspersky has not linked Turla to the Russian government, other security firms have done so.

The Turla malware originated from a “sophisticated Russian-government-affiliated” hacker group that “we call Venomous Bear,” said Dmitri Alperovitch, co-founder and chief technology officer of CrowdStrike, an Irvine, Calif.-based cybersecurity technology firm.

Turla specializes in diplomatic and military targets in the United States, Europe, Middle East and Central Asia to gain political and strategic intelligence, he said. Turla is not the Russian group that is believed to have hacked the State Department, White House and Pentagon over the past year, Alperovitch said. That group was dubbed Cozy Bear by CrowdStrike.

Turla’s tactic exploits the fact that older satellites do not encrypt data streaming to Earth, and it relies on unsuspecting users of satellite Internet service providers around the world, Tanase said.

Here’s how the scheme works: Turla infects a target’s computer by planting malicious software on a Web site that the group knows the user frequents. When the user visits the site, his computer is compromised. This is called a “watering hole” attack.

Once Turla has gained control of the user’s computer and identified data of interest, the hacker instructs the infected computer to send the stolen data to the Internet address of an innocent satellite user — someone who is online using Internet service provided by the satellite company.

Turla then hijacks the stream of data as it is being sent down from the satellite to the innocent user’s computer by spoofing the user’s Internet address. The data is sent to a command server controlled by Turla, but the location is effectively hidden as it can be anywhere in the range of the satellite beam, which can be thousands of miles.

Moreover, Tanase said, Turla tends to use satellite Internet connections in Middle Eastern and African countries. He thinks this is an effort to avoid the scrutiny of researchers and law enforcement.



US Spy Chief ‘Pretty Confident’ He’ll Know If Iran Cheats on Nuclear Deal

September 9, 2015 By Patrick Tucker


The intelligence community has created tools especially to keep tabs on Tehran, DNI Clapper says.

America’s top spy says he’s “pretty confident” that the U.S. will be able tell whether Iran is cheating on the proposed nuclear deal, thanks in part to special new tools the intelligence community has developed to buttress inspections and international monitoring efforts.

As opponents of the deal rallied a mile south on the National Mall, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper framed the choice in stark terms: either take the deal — and trust in the intelligence community’s ability to monitor Iran’s behavior — or see Tehran obtain nuclear arms.

“If you ask me, given a choice between a state sponsor of terror with a nuclear capability and one without it, I would probably pick the latter,” he told the crowd at the Intelligence in National Security Alliance summit at the Washington, D.C., convention center.

In what could be a preview of his testimony on Capitol Hill tomorrow, Clapper said that he’s already told lawmakers about the intelligence community’s ability to supervise Iran’s adherence to the deal.

“We were were required, within five days after the deal was struck, to submit to the Congress a very detailed assessment of our capabilities, what we could do, and where we had lesser capabilities to monitor the agreement,” Clapper said. “I come away pretty confident—I won’t say 100 percent, but pretty confident—that we can, in fact, verify, through our own sources what the International Community will be able to … observe and monitor.”

Clapper’s assurances apparently convinced some lawmakers, at least. On Aug. 13, ten former and current Democratic members of the House Intelligence Committee published a letter urging their skeptical colleagues to check out the IC’s findings.

“We are confident that this monitoring and the highly intrusive inspections provided for in the agreement — along with our own intelligence capabilities — make it nearly impossible for Iran to develop a covert enrichment effort without detection. You need not take our word for it; please arrange a time to visit the Office of House Security in HVC 301 where you can read the assessment of our intelligence agencies for yourself,” the letter said.

Still, some lawmakers either did not avail themselves of the opportunity or didn’t like what they read. Yesterday, Republican presidential contender Ted Cruz, speaking in Houston, likened the deal to trusting a drug kingpin. “Have any of y’all seen the movie ‘Scarface?’… This is the equivalent of law enforcement picking up the phone and calling Tony Montana and saying, ‘Hey Tony, you got any drugs?’ ‘I don’t got no drugs.’ ‘Thank you, Tony.’ That is essentially the Iranian nuclear inspection regime,” Cruz said.

Clapper said the policing and enforcement measurements go a bit beyond a telephone call.

“We are fielding some independent capabilities that I can’t go into—despite my protestations about transparency—that will enable us, I think, to have some good insight into the nuclear-industrial enterprise of Iran, if I can call it that,” he said.



The Rules of Cyberspace Just Got A Bit Clearer

September 9, 2015

By Alex Grigsby Council on Foreign Relations


The UN’s new recommendations guiding state activity in cyberspace break new ground in three important areas.

As Politico noted in June, the United Nations Group of Governmental Experts on Information Security (GGE) agreed to consensus document laying out its recommendations to guide state activity in cyberspace. Politico called the document a “breakthrough” because it enshrines a series of norms that the U.S. government has been promoting. At the time the article was published, it was hard to determine whether the champagne-popping was necessary given that report wasn’t made public. Late last month, the UN released the text of the 2015 GGE report.

As with many UN reports, this one is filled with recycled language from previous reports and General Assembly resolutions. The sections that speak to the threats in cyberspace, the need for confidence building measures, and the importance of capacity building are largely pilfered from the 2013 report and don’t really convey anything new. However, there are some exceptions. The U.S. was successful in getting its preferred norms with respect to critical infrastructure–States should respond to requests for assistance, and refrain from cyber activity that intentionally damages or impairs critical infrastructure or computer emergency response teams–adopted by the group. On the surface, getting everyone to agree to not attack critical infrastructure is great. But it’s hard to see what additional clarification this new norm provides. Each state classifies critical infrastructure differently–the United States has sixteen sectorsJapan has thirteenCanada has tenGermany has nine–and many of these sectors are defined so broadly, that any disruptive or destructive cyber incident is likely to affect some form of critical infrastructure. For example, the North Korea incident against Sony was probably an attack against critical infrastructure, given that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security classifies motion picture studies as part of it’s commercial facilities sector. Moreover, as David recently pointed out, there’s already a norm against disruptive or destructive cyber activities. It’s called Article 2(4) of the United Nations Charter, which prohibits the threat or use of force.

Despite the lack of new insight on the protection of critical infrastructure, the GGE report breaks new ground in three important areas. First, the report explicitly references the possible applicability of the international legal principles of humanity, necessity, proportionality, and distinction, though the wording of the text makes it unclear whether the group reached consensus on whether they actually apply to state activity in cyberspace or merely noted their existence. The U.S. seems to interpret it as endorsing the applicability of these principles to cyberspace, but the Chinese in particular have avoided doing so in the past. At the 2012-2013 GGE, the Chinese blocked any attempt to reference humanitarian law principles in that group’s report on the basis that endorsing their applicability would legitimize armed conflict in cyberspace. If the 2014-2015 group endorsed necessity, proportionality, and distinction, it would represent a considerable shift in China’s position.

(See also: How To Respond To a State-Sponsored Cyber Attack)

Second, the report notes that states should substantiate public accusations of state-sponsored cyber activity, and that “the indication that an ICT activity was launched or otherwise originates from a State’s territory … may be insufficient in itself to attribute the activity to that state.” While this may seem obvious to anyone who cursorily follows the blog, the text was probably inserted at China’s request to get other states to stop accusing it of malicious cyber activity. China regularly asserts that accusing it without proof is “irresponsible and unscientific,” and may be trying to promote a norm against public attribution without strong evidence. The United States has signalled that it is willing to name and shame states that engage in destructive activity (e.g. North Korea), steal intellectual property for commercial gain (e.g. the five PLA indictees), and to establish deterrence. In the future, the United States may need to provide more concrete evidence than the “trust us” approach it’s used in the past.

Third, the report recommends that states “should respond to appropriate requests for assistance by another state whose critical infrastructure is subject to malicious ICT acts.” This recommendation may seem banal, but it’s pretty significant. Many states have established national computer emergency response teams (CERTs) to act as focal points to coordinate national and international responses to cyber incidents. Oftentimes, one national CERTs’ request for assistance from another can go unanswered for days, allowing malicious traffic that could be terminated to go unabated. In the case of the 24/7 point-of-contact network established by the G8 to combat cybercrime, many of the national points of contact don’t even pick up the phone. Creating an expectation that requests for assistance will be answered may actually pressure some into responding. With any luck (and prayers from Duncan Hollis), the expectation could even turn into an obligation to provide assistance, much like the duty to render assistance under the law of the sea.

Are these developments a breakthrough? Not really. Like any diplomatic endeavor, each side will be able to claim that it won. The United States and its allies will trumpet it as a win for their preferred norms. Russia, and to a lesser extent China, will be able to claim that the norms in the report are a step towards the establishment of new international law as Russian GGE expert Andrey Krutskikh did three weeks ago. Nevertheless, there are some nuggets in the GGE report that represent small by but genuinely important steps that clarify what states should and shouldn’t do in cyberspace.


Experts: USAF needs more than 80 to 100 new bombers

10 September, 2015

| BY: James Drew

| Washington DC


A former commander of the USAF’s bomber force says 80 to 100 new Long-Range Strike Bombers are not enough to meet American national security objectives, and the service should consider buying more to rejuvenate its “withering” combat fleet of Boeing B-1s and B-52s.

In his testimony to Congress 9 September, Lt Gen Robert Elder, who directed the 8th Air Force before his retirement, said the production target released by the air force is too few, even though the new aircraft will be more capable.

“Our capabilities are withering and we have less than 100 combat-ready bombers with an average age of 38 years,” he told members of the House Armed Services Committee.

“The newer B-52s remain potent but are few in numbers, and my belief quite frankly is the 80 to 100 aircraft is not going to be enough to replace the B-1 and B-52 fleet, even though it’s capability against the target set will be greater.”

He says there needs to be more aircraft to satisfy the number of rotational commitments currently being experienced.

This view was seconded by the two other witnesses, Washington defence analysts Mark Gunzinger of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments and Rebecca Grant, president of IRIS Independent Research. The witnesses, and some members of congress, also stated the air force should speed up the procurement and beat the current 2030 full operational capability date.

The quantity and schedule concerns come as the air force prepares to award a bomber development contract to either Northrop Grumman or a Boeing-Lockheed Martin team. It also comes one week after the air force stated that the competing bomber designs are more technologically mature and deliverable than previously disclosed.

As of this month, the air force has 158 bombers (63 B-1s, 20 B-2s and 76 B-52) which average 39 years of age, and only 96 are currently funded for combat service. Gunzinger says today’s 20-aircraft B-2 fleet can muster just 12 combat sorties on any given day, and without a sizable order of new bombers, American won’t be able to overcome the air defences of sophisticated adversaries.

“If we don’t buy the LRS-B, well, then the B-2 eventually will not be able to penetrate into China, into Iran, and some other areas. The B-1s and the B-52s already can’t penetrate into those higher threat areas,” he explained.

During the briefing, several lawmakers including Paul Cook and Steve Knight, who both represent aerospace hubs in California, expressed tentative support for the next-generation bomber programme, so long as it doesn’t overrun initial cost estimates was the case with the Lockheed Martin F-22, F-35 and Northrop B-2 projects.

“I will support this, as long as we keep the price down and it accomplishes the mission,” says Knight, who also questioned whether it would be wiser to pursue three overlapping bomber procurement programmes than just one example designed with a 50-year operating life. He says “flying the wings off” a single type makes the US force less flexible to emerging threats.



Intel officials: OPM breach wasn’t an attack

By Rudy Takala (@RudyTakala) • 9/10/15 2:41 PM


Intelligence officials have said that the seizing of information from the Office of Personnel Management wasn’t severe enough to be considered an attack.

“Many times I’ll hear people throw out attack, act of war, and I go, that’s not necessarily in every case how I would describe the activity that I see,” Adm. Mike Rogers, head of U.S. Cyber Command, told a House panel on Thursday.

James Clapper, the director of national intelligence, agreed, saying, “Though it has been characterized by some loosely as an attack, it really wasn’t since it was entirely passive. It didn’t result in destruction or any of those kinds of effects.”

“I wish we wouldn’t characterize it that way,” Clapper said. “The lexicon and terminology is crucial.”

The OPM breach, which involved personnel files on 21.5 million people, has been traced to the Chinese government. However, officials have described the data as a legitimate intelligence target that the U.S. failed to protect. It would be more serious, Clapper said, if China manipulated the data.

“What’s of great concern with respect to the OPM breach … had to do with potential uses of bad data,” Clapper said. “Thus far we haven’t seen any evidence of their usage of that data. Certainly, we’re going to be looking for it.

“We haven’t seen actual use of this data in a nefarious way,” he said. If it was collected for “espionage purposes, I just would caution that we think … about people who live in glass houses, we should think before we throw rocks.”

Rogers said lawmakers need to work on developing more concise policies if they consistency in matters of cybersecurity.

“We clearly understand that nation-states use the spectrum of capabilities they have to attempt to generate insights about the world around them,” Rogers said. “That does not mean that the use of cyber for manipulative, destructive purposes is acceptable. That does not mean that the use of cyber for the extraction of massive amounts of personally identifiable information is acceptable. We’re going to have to work our way through, how do we develop all that in a much more defined way than we have to date.”

China and Russia have been collaborating in efforts to collect U.S. intelligence data, and some lawmakers have been frustrated by the country’s lack of response. Experts generally say that the use of hacking for commercial espionage should be considered unacceptable by the U.S., and that sanctions should be placed on foreign companies that benefit from it. However, they point out, it is difficult for the U.S. to criticize political espionage, in which it also engages.



Newest cyber threat will be data manipulation, US intelligence chief says

Spencer Ackerman in New York

September 10, 2015


The FBI director, James Comey, CIA director, John Brennan, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, National Security Agency director Admiral Michael Rogers and Defense Intelligence Agency director, Lieutenant General Vincent Stewart, testify during an open hearing of the House Intelligence Committee on Thursday.

US intelligence chiefs are warning Congress that the next phase of escalating online data theft is likely to involve the manipulation of digital information.

A “cyber armageddon”, long imagined in Washington as a catastrophic event of digitally triggered damage to physical infrastructure, is less likely than “cyber operations that will change or manipulate data”, the US director of national intelligence, James Clapper, told the House intelligence committee on Wednesday.

CIA to make sweeping structural changes with focus on cyber operations

Clapper, backed by the director of the National Security Agency, Admiral Michael Rogers, said that while such efforts had yet to manifest themselves, US business and governmental agencies had entered an era of persistent “low-to-moderate level cyber-attacks from a variety of sources”.

Yet both indicated that US digital networks are currently threatened by wide-scale data theft, like the recent intrusion into the networks of the Office of Personnel Management, not destruction or compromise.

Rogers and Clapper warned that a mutated phase of malicious digital penetrations would undermine confidence in data stored and accessible on US networks, creating an uncertainty that could jeopardize US military situational awareness.

“I believe the next push on the envelope is going to be the manipulation or the deletion of data which would of course compromise its integrity,” Clapper told the House panel.

Rogers testified that while the NSA and its military conjoined twin, US Cyber Command, had clear rules for protecting US networks, its authorities to engage in offensive action online were murkier. In 2013, the Guardian published a secret directive on US digital offensive capabilities and a framework for their use, thanks to the whistleblower Edward Snowden.

There is “still uncertainty about what is offensive and what is authorized”, Rogers said. “That’s a policy decision.”

While noting that offensive cyber attacks were “an application of force” akin to conventional military conflict, Rogers suggested that NSA or Cyber Command require a freer hand, warning: “A purely defensive strategy is not going to change the dynamic we find ourselves in now.”

Rogers also urged new international norms that would prohibit “extracting mass personally identifiable data”, although the Snowden document hoard demonstrates that to be the NSA’s practice worldwide.

Nor should the global community accept data destruction as a national practice, Rogers said – a cyber practice the US and Israel arguably inaugurated by allegedly creating the Stuxnet worm that hijacked and damaged industrial controls for Iranian nuclear centrifuges.

The FBI director, James Comey, joined by Rogers, reprised his plea for surreptitious access into end-to-end encrypted data. Comey argued that technologists had not truly tried to find a mathematical solution that would allow the US government access without subjecting sensitive data to increased insecurity.

Though leading cryptographers have likened Comey’s effort to “magical thinking”, Comey said: “My reaction to that is, really? Have we really tried?”

Clapper testified that there was no consensus within the intelligence agencies as to the ultimate culprit in the mass exfiltration of federal employees’ data at the Office of Personnel Management.

Rogers said the NSA had provided the office with “19 specific recommendations” to forestall a future hack, but did not indicate why the US agencies tasked with protecting government networks did not spot the vulnerabilities before 4 million personnel records were stolen, reportedly by China.

“I don’t think anyone is satisfied with the environment we find ourselves in right now,” Rogers said.


Air Force decides to condemn private land near Area 51

By Keith Rogers

Las Vegas Review-Journal

Posted September 10, 2015 – 11:42amUpdated September 10, 2015 – 5:39pm


With no counteroffer on the table, the Air Force let its final $5.2 million offer expire at 3 p.m. Thursday and asked the Justice Department to condemn the Sheahan family’s Groom Mine property and claims near the classified Area 51 installation.

Groom Mine co-owners Joe and Ben Sheahan had sent an email Thursday morning to an Air Force real estate chief saying they “are willing to sit down and negotiate” a counteroffer for sale of their 400 acres of property and mining claims, within sight of the remote Air Force location.

But at 2:18 p.m., David Walterscheid, real estate transactions chief at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, replied to the Sheahans, saying that according to a July 2014 letter from Joe Sheahan “the owners did not want to make a counteroffer or grant access to the property” for an appraisal.

“We are not prepared to offer more than $5.2M for the property,” Walterscheid said in his reply Thursday to the Sheahans.

Nellis Air Force Base later released a statement from Jennifer Miller, assistant secretary of the Air Force for installations, saying, “After exhausting all reasonable efforts to negotiate a sale and the landowners’ rejection of the Air Force’s offers, the Air Force requested the Department of Justice file a condemnation action in Federal District Court.”

She said an appraisal wasn’t made because the Air Force wasn’t permitted to enter the property. “The Air Force will pay just compensation for the claims as determined by the court based on evidence submitted by the parties. We are proceeding in a manner consistent with the law that will strike an appropriate balance in protecting the rights of the landowners while recognizing the demands of national security,” Miller’s statement reads.

The facility and airstrip known as Area 51 are where cutting-edge spy planes and stealth jets have been tested for six decades on restricted government land along the remote Groom Dry Lake bed, 90 miles north of Las Vegas.

Joe Sheahan said the family interpreted the Air Force’s Aug. 11 final-offer letter to be “an ultimatum. It didn’t leave us much room for a counteroffer.”

He cited a 2014 letter to the Air Force in which he said “we left the door wide open” for a counteroffer. “Clearly in their statement today they were never interested in negotiations,” he said after receiving Walterscheid’s email Thursday afternoon.

In a statement Feb. 22, 2014, by “Groom Mine Owners” about the criteria affecting the sale of the mine, they wrote, “The bottom line is we really are not selling a mine. No, what we are selling is our view and our access. My home is worth a couple hundred thousand dollars give or take, but put that same home on a beach in California and the value sky rockets.

“We’re selling a vacation estate with a great view, a view and access you wish to buy. (location, location, location)!!,” the owners’ statement reads.

Joe Sheahan has said the family feels the negotiations have been disingenuous since they learned recently that Air Force officials had received authorization to condemn their property before a meeting to discuss a possible sale of it in 2014.

Nellis officials said, however, that wasn’t the case.

“The Air Force is required by law to notify Congress and receive approval when it intends to buy property; we received that authorization to buy the property,” a Nellis spokesman wrote in an email Thursday. “However, we did not formally notify Congress about the potential for condemnation until August 2015 when we sent the best and final offer.

“All along, our hope has been a negotiated settlement,” reads the email from Nellis Master Sgt. Sanjay Allen.

Joe Sheahan said that’s not what Walterscheid told him during a speaker-phone conversation Wednesday. “He stated that they had gone to Congress for approval to condemn our property. When asked when this was done, he replied, it was done before the first meeting with us.”

The Air Force contends the family’s activities over the past several years have impeded its effort to use the range for flight tests.

The Sheahans say the Air Force has been the intruder since U-2 spy plane tests were launched in 1955. Prior to that nuclear weapons tests by the Atomic Energy Commission at the Nevada Test Site showered their property with radioactive fallout.

About 20 family members have stakes in the property and 21 mining claims, of which six are patented, meaning the mineral rights are on private property owned by the claimant. Their ancestors mined for silver, lead, copper, zinc and gold at Groom Mine, dating to 1889.


Lamborn: Schriever Air Force Base to get spy satellite center

By: Tom Roeder

Published: September 11, 2015


Schriever Air Force Base has been picked to house a center that will blend ​operations of military and intelligence agency satellites.

U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn, R-Colorado Springs, said he was informed of the Schriever pick Thursday for the new joint interagency combined space operations center. An Air Force Space Command official at Peterson Air Force Base confirmed the congressman’s statement.

Exactly what work will take place at the center is shrouded in secrecy, but officials say that it will formally bring together space assets from agencies such as the National Reconnaissance Office and the National Security Agency with their military counterparts for the first time.

“It’s more important than ever to integrate space operations,” Lamborn told The Gazette in a phone interview from Washington, D.C.

The military’s satellites provide communications, navigation and missile warning for troops around the globe. Intelligence satellites focus on foreign powers, with capabilities to intercept communications and photograph enemy military and civilian sites.

Officials have said the center will start with about 40 military personnel and an unspecified number of civilian workers. Lamborn expects growth.

“It could result in literally hundreds of new jobs in the future,” Lamborn said.

What’s spent on the center will probably come from the government’s secret “black budget” for classified programs.

Andy Merritt, who oversees military affairs for the Colorado Springs Regional Business Alliance, called the center “a very good step for us.”

“It brings new components into the community in a big way,” Merritt said.

The new Colorado Springs center doesn’t replace Space Command’s Joint Space Operations Center for military satellites in California.

Instead, it creates a closer working relationship in orbit between the military and intelligence communities. That need to work together for the agencies has been a hot discussion topic for years. At issue is the increasing ability of American rivals to shoot down satellites in orbit, which is driving agencies to pool resources to protect their expensive birds.

“That partnership is becoming more and more critical,” Lamborn said.

The line between intelligence and missile warning satellites has also faded with the introduction of the Air Force’s Space Based Infrared System.

The satellites record heat signatures on the planet in detail so fine that commanders have looked to exploit the images for intelligence in addition to detecting rockets in flight.

Merritt said the center also further anchors the space business in Colorado Springs, which is already home to the bulk of the military’s satellite operations mission.

“It cements our place as the space operations center for the nation and the world,” Merritt said.


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

Bottom of Form

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan writes this week about the growing divide between the elites and those they govern, and there was more proof of it in our latest polls.

Senate Democrats on Thursday successfully blocked a congressional vote on a resolution rejecting President Obama’s nuclear weapons deal with Iran. Apparently it doesn’t matter that 66% of voters believe any agreement the Obama administration makes with Iran regarding the Iranian nuclear program should be approved by Congress before taking effect.

Sixty-two percent (62%) think Iran is unlikely to uphold its end of the deal that ends some economic sanctions on that country in exchange for cutbacks in the Iranian nuclear weapons program. Both these findings have held steady for several months.

Similarly, the president announced late Thursday that the United States will take in up to 10,000 Middle Eastern migrants to help alleviate the illegal immigration crisis now besetting Europe. Again, no consultation with Congress was deemed necessary even though voters by a 50% to 36% margin don’t like the idea of bringing the migrants here (14% are undecided).

The president’s decision comes at a time when the country is embroiled in a major political debate over immigration. Eighty percent (80%) of voters have a favorable opinion of immigrants who come to the United States to work hard, support their families and pursue the American Dream. The problem is far fewer (54%) now believe that’s the agenda most immigrants have in mind.

Those opposed to allowing the Middle Eastern migrants into the United States fear that violent Islamic extremists will enter the country as well. Coincidentally, while Americans yesterday honored the 14th anniversary of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, belief that the terrorists are winning the long-running War on Terror is near an all-time high.

Most Americans agree that Islamic terrorism is now a bigger threat inside the United States,  and a plurality (47%) believes the U.S. government focuses too little on this potential threat.

The president’s daily job approval ratings remain in the negative teens.

Positive ratings for Congress, meanwhile, have fallen back into single digits for the first time since Republicans took over both the House and Senate in January.  Interestingly, GOP voters are more unhappy with the Congress than Democrats are.

Speaking of the divide between the governed and those who govern, a lot of Republicans think Jeb Bush has more in common with Hillary Clinton than he does with the average voter in his own party.  Just 41% of GOP voters think the former Florida governor is likely to win the Republican presidential nomination next year, compared to 62% who say Donald Trump is likely to be the nominee in our latest Trump Change survey.

Fifty-eight percent (58%) of all voters think Hillary Clinton and Obama hold similar views on most major policy issues. Voters trust Trump more than Clinton when it comes to handling the critical issues of the economy and national security.

Only 27% of voters think the United States is headed in the right direction.

Dwindling confidence in personal finances has consumers holding on to their wallets a little tighter this month.

In other surveys last week:

— Voters express little sympathy for the Kentucky county clerk who refuses to give out wedding licenses to gay couples on religious grounds.

Is there a right way and a wrong way to honor our past? Who should make that call? We decided to find out what America thinks.

— The Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) is set to be revamped soon following reports that scores across the country have fallen to troubling lows. Do Americans think poor SAT scores really mean poor students? Keep in mind: Only 23% of voters think most high school graduates have the skills needed for college.

What do Americans think of Stephen Colbert who made his debut last week as the host of CBS-TV’s The Late Show?

Summer’s over in the minds of many Americans now that the Labor Day weekend is past.

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