Friday, October 31, 2014

"No Specific Credible Threats" Means No Specific Credible Security Measures

The Department of Homeland Security announced this week that it has heightened security around federal buildings in response to last week's attack by a lone nut on the Canadian parliament in Ottawa, and other global events. Needless to say, this heightened security - whatever it may consist of - is "not based on any specific, credible information at this time indicating any active plot against government officials and law enforcement in the United States."

Doesn't pretty much every public warning or security advisory ever put out by DHS say that it is not based on any specific credible threat information? Yes, they do. In fact, let me Google that for you.

Threats aside, what does this "heightened security" mean for my fellow Feds in the many government office buildings in and around Washington DC? Realistically speaking, it means nothing. The government agency responsible for security of the federal government's 9,500 workplaces, the Federal Protective Service, is just as under-resourced this week as it has been for many years now, and it is simply not equal to the task of heightening security at all those places.

In particular, it lacks the personnel to provide more than a token presence at most government buildings. According to DHS's written testimony before a House subcommittee in May of this year, “FPS directly employs more than 1,000 law enforcement officers, inspectors, and special agents who are trained physical security experts and sworn Federal law enforcement officers. Approximately 13,000 FPS-contracted [Protective Security Officers] staff guard posts at FPS-protected Federal facilities.” That's 13,000 guards for 9,500 office buildings, minus the few belonging to agencies that provide their own building security. You do the math.

And that's putting the best spin on the situation. The head of the employees union that represents FPS put it more bluntly in an interview with Federal News Radio:
David Wright, president of the American Federation of Government Employees Local 918, told the panel buildings security reviews have also suffered because of understaffing at the agency. Wright, who works as an FPS inspector, said the organization is top-heavy and more employees need to be deployed to the field.

All told, more than 21 percent of staff is assigned to headquarters staff, "which robs federal buildings of necessary security," Wright testified.

Meanwhile, he said, employees in the field struggle to perform all their duties. Most inspectors are assigned to oversee an average of nearly two dozen buildings and are responsible for conducting security assessments, overseeing contractors and a host of other duties.

"How do inspectors accomplish all their tasks? They don't, because there are simply not enough of them," Wright said.

A bit too blunt, perhaps. However, the General Accountability Office agrees that FPS is a troubled agency.

This week's announcement by DHS is obviously more security theater than anything else. When DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson calls on Congress and the Administration to give FPS the funding it needs to truly heighten security around federal buildings, then I'll get interested.

Until then, keep calm and carry on, you Feds, and don't expect to see any more security presence than usual.

The Ultimate Horror of Our Times

Friday, October 17, 2014

Most Eyebrow-Raising Headline of the Week (This Week, It's a Tie)

Can caffeine withdrawal make a camel homicidal?

"Camel kills American owner at wildlife park in Mexico resort" - The Guardian World

While it was unclear why the animal attacked, a Tulum civil defense official said some versions suggest the camel was upset at not getting a soft drink.

“One version is that he would always give him a Coca-Cola to drink, and apparently, that day he didn’t give him the Coca-Cola,” 

Do those two look fastidious about not exchanging body fluids?

"Two male strippers in quarantine after flying with Ebola-stricken nurse" - New York Post

Friday, October 10, 2014

Poetry Under Oath

This Document Dump Friday seems a good time to look back at the best literary treatment of the Monica Lewinsky scandal, which was a volume of 'found poetry' (this sort of thing) taken from Clinton's and Lewinsky's sworn testimony and called Poetry Under Oath.

A sample:

'In the Context of Her Desire'

She raised the issue with me
In the context of her desire
To avoid testifying

Which I certainly understood

Not only because there were
Some embarrassing facts
About our relationship

That were inappropriate

But also because a whole lot
Of innocent people were
Being traumatized
And dragged
Through the mud
By these Jones
With their

Now, that is emotionally evocative literature.

More Previously Restricted Clinton Documents Coming Out Today

It's a drizzly Friday afternoon in Washington before a three-day weekend, and that means one thing - document dump!

According to the AP:
The 10,000 pages of records from the Clinton administration were expected to be released Friday. They touch on the Whitewater investigation into the Bill and Hillary Clinton's land dealings in Arkansas; Bill Clinton's affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky; the 1993 death of deputy White House counsel Vince Foster; and the pardons Bill Clinton granted in his final hours as president.

Watch this site - Clinton Library, previously restricted documents.

This will be the sixth dump of previously restricted Clinton documents. The best tidbits from the last dump were reported on by the WaPo here, back in June.

This new dump looks like it could be more embarrassing for Hillary than previous ones.

Most Eyebrow-Raising Headline of the Week

"Dwarf given children's colouring book by waitress as he ate dinner with his fiancée"

It was only when the waitress heard James's deep voice that she realised her embarrassing blunder - Evening Standard, 10/10/14

Thursday, October 9, 2014

White House Denies Surpressing Scandal Investigation Before 2012 Election

Obama donor, Obama, and Obama aide (UK Mail photo)

The young man on the right is not Napoleon Dynamite, by the way. He's actually the son of an Obama contributor and he currently works in the State Department as a teenage Policy Advisor, but maybe not for much longer, depending on how the latest Washington sex-and-politics scandal develops.

Dach posted this photo on Instagram

I see he uses his big boy name of Jonathan on his business card, but he goes by the more age-appropriate "Jonny" in the State Department phone book, and by "darkwingdach" on his Tumblr account, which is called, I kid you not, Let's Get Dangerous.

Dangerous? Have you ever seen a less dangerous-looking individual? I hope the prostitutes in Cartagena have a Kid’s Menu of reduced rates, because that boy should not have been charged full price.

The WaPo explains how Dach-Darkwing-Danger-Dynamite got his job:
Dach’s father, Leslie Dach, is a prominent Democratic donor who gave $23,900 to the party in 2008 to help elect Obama. In his previous job as a top lobbyist for Wal-Mart, he partnered with the White House on high-profile projects, including Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move!” campaign.

I've discovered that Dach did some work for Michelle's youth fitness campaign himself, as you can see here.

Don't feel sorry for him. His father can always find him a job at Wal-Mart if the Washington thing doesn't work out.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Lydia, Oh Lydia, That Encyclopedia

I found this photo on Twitter (here), and thought it way too good not to share.

That young lady is following in a long tradition of educational body art, something that was celebrated way back in 1939 in a song written by Harold Arlen and Yip "Brother Can you Spare a Dime" Hapburg.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Most Eyebrow-Raising Headline of the Week

"Coast Guard gives WWII vet a Viking funeral at sea" - Navy Times

It took about 20 minutes to burn, he said. The family said some last words, and one crew member read a nautically themed Alfred Lord Tennyson poem, "Crossing the Bar"

Unlike John Kerry, I Do Not Look Good In A Bunny Suit

SecState Kerry, setting a good example in this time of Ebola 

Shall we ban travelers from West Africa from entry into the United States? It seems the inevitable next step in containing the Ebola outbreak. We would not be alone, not by any means.

Saudi Arabia has already refused visas to "more than 7,000 would-be pilgrims from Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone" as well as to anyone who visited those countries recently, according to the Nigerian embassy in Bern. Air France, British Air, and the airlines of some African nations have suspended flights to West Africa.

Why hasn't the U.S. done likewise? And if we did, would that be enough to prevent the importation of more travelers who have been exposed to Ebola?

The NYT is running an opinion piece today by the director of policy studies for the Center for Immigration Studies who points out that there may be over 13,000 holders of U.S. visas from the most affected countries. How would we ban them from entry?

Here's the key paragraph from the Op-Ed piece: Bar People From Areas Affected by Ebola Until Threat Is Over :
The total number of visas issued to citizens of Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone is not large relative to other countries. But it’s a large enough group to worry about. Based on State Department nonimmigrant visa issuance statistics [here], I estimate that there are about 5,000 people in Guinea, 5,000 people in Sierra Leone and 3,500 people in Liberia who possess visas to come to the United States today (or who could be in the U.S. right now). Additional steps need to be taken to protect our communities.

The WaPo has chimed in with an article in its Health section that has a hard-core headline (Why hasn’t the U.S. closed its airports to travelers from Ebola-ravaged countries?) but some squishy soft content:
If someone isn't exhibiting symptoms of Ebola, that person is not infectious. And one of the first symptoms of Ebola is a fever. In airports in all of the affected regions and across the world, passengers coming from flights from West Africa are being screened for elevated temperatures.

So, airline passengers are screened for elevated temperature, and so long as they don't seem to have a fever they can board a flight out of the hot zone? What if an infected traveler has taken acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) to lower his fever, like the U.S. National Institutes of Health says it will?

Unless we get serious with travel restrictions and entry screening, more infectious travelers may very well be coming to a city near you.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Utah Man Advocates Violence On Federal Property

Jason "Overwhelming Force" Chaffetz Action Figure

I was going to write up my reaction to yesterday's Oversight Committee hearing on the White House security breach, but then Salon wrote it for me:
The competition for who could make the grander spectacle of themselves was stiff. Rep. John Mica held up an ADT sign and suggested that the Secret Service buy some “inexpensive vegetation” to bolster White House security. Rep. Trey Gowdy cranked his volume knob all the way to eleven and then broke it off. But the winner has to be committee-chair-in-waiting Jason Chaffetz, who demanded to know why, when it comes to fence jumpers, the Secret Service doesn’t use “overwhelming force.”

Exactly so. If you didn't see it live, you can watch the hearing here, on C-Span.

Representative Mica's helpful suggestion to Secret Service Director Pierson was that she reinforce White House security with Spanish Bayonet, a plant that grows in the desert and on sand dunes and which is used as a landscape accent in his home state of Florida. Okay, yeah, thanks.

Representative Gowdy is still the loudest man in Congress. Still annoying, but that's nothing new.

Representative Jason Chaffetz, however, might have broken new ground with his histrionics about wanting "overwhelming force" exerted against any and all White House intruders (no matter how small?). I think he even teared up a little when he said, more than once, that if any Secret Service agent used lethal force "I will have his back." I don't know what he means by that, but he seemed to think it was a muy macho thing to say.

The only grown-up at the hearing was former Secret Service Director Basham, whose opening statement cautioned that, had this latest fence-jumper been shot, the Committee might very well have been grilling Pierson over why her troops killed a mentally disabled veteran who was displaying no obvious weapon. Of course, had that happened, the agent who fired would be reassured to know that Jason Chaffetz will have his back - what does that mean? - while he goes through the criminal, civil, administrative, and personal consequences of using deadly force.

After all the bloodthirsty shouting at that hearing, it seems awfully mild and mundane to go back to the business of the White House's weak perimeter fence. But, there was this interesting article in the WaPo a few days ago in which a National Park Service spokeswoman said that the Secret Service has never given NPS any security standards or criteria for the fence, or even shown any interest in what NPS does with it:

The fence itself is 7 feet 6 inches tall. It is made of evenly spaced iron bars, mounted in a Virginia sandstone base. At the top of the bars — the last physical obstacle between the public sidewalk and the knob on the White House door — are little spear points, called finials.

We haven’t done any other work since 1965,” said Jenny Anzelmo-Sarles, a spokeswoman for the National Park Service, which owns the fence (the White House is technically located in a national park).

And Anzelmo-Sarles said the Park Service couldn’t remember anyone — the Secret Service, the White House, anyone — asking for the fence to be changed. In fact, the Park Service is in the middle of a project that will repaint the old fence and remove the rust, without changing anything else.

“There’s no sort of tension or anything like that in recent memory” over the design of the fence, she said.

That article was published September 23. I hope there has been some tension between NPS and the Secret Service since then.