Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said Monday the Obama administration was honoring its pledge to cut red tape and speed the flow of rebuilding aid to the Gulf Coast, with more than $895 million in infrastructure funds set aside for Louisiana since President Barack Obama took office.
The latest pledge of money - $32 million - was announced during her second visit in five months to Southern University at New Orleans, which was virtually wiped out by Hurricane Katrina nearly four years ago. Only a few buildings have been renovated to date, and some classes and school activities are still held in trailers at a nearby campus.
The money is to replace four buildings. The school and Federal Emergency Management Agency had previously not come to terms on the level of damage caused by the Aug. 29, 2005 storm and levee breaches.
"It's really awesome," Chancellor Victor Ukpolo said.
Shortly after taking her post earlier this year, Napolitano ordered a fresh look at hurricane recovery efforts that had been marred by red tape, finger-pointing and hard feelings by officials at all levels. The review prompted, among other things, joint federal-state teams to resolve project disputes.
From USA Today, on a new set of charges for a known hacker:
Federal authorities in New Jersey on Monday charged accused TJX hacker Albert Gonzalez and two unnamed Russians with also cracking into the computer systems of Heartland Payment Systems, 7-Eleven, Hannaford Bros. and two unidentified companies.
Gonzalez, 28, of Miami, is now at the epicenter of the largest data breach criminal case in U.S. history. He was previously charged on May 2008 and August 2008 by federal authorities in eastern New York and Massachusetts, suspected of breaching data systems linked to more than 2,500 stores owned by the TJX (TJX) retail chain, parent of T.J. Maxx. TJX reported losing more than 94 million payment card transactions. Gonzalez pleaded not guilty and is awaiting trial.
He faces the Heartland charges beyond that. "This investigation marks the continued success of law enforcement in tracking down cutting-edge hacking schemes," Ralph Marra, acting U.S. Attorney of New Jersey said in a statement.
From the Wall Street Journal, on preparing for H1N1:
With about 55 million U.S. children heading back to school in the next few weeks, concerns are growing that the H1N1 swine flu will spread even further than it already has. Identified by scientists four months ago, the virus has already turned up in nearly every corner of the world, from Argentina to Iran. It defied public-health officials' predictions of a lull in the warm summer months, proliferating in military units and children's summer camps.
More than two million people are believed to have contracted the new flu in the U.S.; 7,511 had been hospitalized and 477 had died as of Aug. 13, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. World-wide, 177,457 people have been confirmed with the disease, and 1,462 deaths had been reported as of Aug. 12, according to the World Health Organization.
A vaccine against the new flu is under development, but it is unlikely to be widely available before the flu season gets under way. That could leave many people scrambling to protect themselves and their children.
Here is what you need to know:
How dangerous is the H1N1 swine flu?
2 PM Local
U.S. Coast Guard Commandant Admiral Thad Allen will participate in a media availability about Arctic Domain Awareness
Fairbanks International Airport
General Aviation Hanger
6459 Airport Way
Overall, more than $400 million has been obligated under this Administration toward the repair and replacement of educational facilities and projects throughout Louisiana.
Thanks to a concerted effort by FEMA, our Gulf Coast Rebuilding Office, and all the federal agencies involved, Gulf Coast communities have a strong ally in their rebuilding efforts.
Certainly, when we look back on the last four years, there’s much to learn from. But right now:
- We have the right people in place
- We are cutting through bureaucratic red tape and getting decisions made faster, and
- We are addressing the most difficult challenges head-on rather than working around them.
Last February, we committed to working to help resolve the lingering problems that many families were having with housing. Since then, we have assisted more than 3,200 Louisiana households move out of FEMA temporary housing and into more suitable, longer-term, functional housing.
Overall, roughly 99 percent of households displaced by hurricanes Katrina and Rita have found longer-term means of housing.
Back in March, we created two teams to aid in the resolution of disputed projects. The Joint Expediting Team and the Unified Public Assistance Project Decision Team together have since resolved 73 disputed projects. And two weeks ago, we announced an additional avenue for fairly and promptly resolving public assistance projects through independent arbitration panels.
We've made significant progress over the past seven months, but at the same time, we all acknowledge how far we still need to go.
Rebuilding the Gulf Coast, and making it stronger and more resilient, is a long-term project that requires the engagement of federal state and local government, communities, faith groups, and the private sector.
Today, I shared the message that this Administration is committed to rebuilding in the long term. Our expectations are high, and I look forward to coming back to see more signs of progress soon.
Here's the current situation as reported by the National Hurricane Center (NHC):
Hurricane Bill is currently located about 1080 miles east of the Lesser Antilles, and is moving west-northwest at about 16 MPH.
Maximum sustained winds have increased to 90 MPH, and some strengthening is forecast during the next 48 hours. Bill could become a “major hurricane” by Wednesday. The NHC classifies a “major hurricane” as any storm that reaches category three strength, with sustained wind speeds between 111-130 MPH.
Because it’s still so far offshore, no watches or warnings are currently in effect for Bill.
Click here for the latest public advisory on Bill.
Tropical Depression Ana
Tropical Depression Ana is currently located about 75 miles south of San Juan, Puerto Rico and is moving west-northwest at about 28 MPH. The storm is expected to continue on this track, with a reduction in forward speed, over the next day or two.
Maximum sustained winds are near 35 MPH, and though little change in strength is forecast during the next 24 hours, Ana could degenerate into a tropical wave later today.
A Tropical Storm Watch is now in effect for Puerto Rico, The U.S. Virgin Islands, The British Virgin Islands, and The Dominican Republic from Punta Palenque to the Northern Haiti/Dominican Republic Border. A Tropical Storm Watch means that tropical storm conditions are possible within the watch area, and in this case within 24 hours.
Click here for the latest public advisory on Ana.
The NHC has issued its final public advisory on Claudette.
Rainfall continues across the Florida Panhandle and southern Alabama as Claudette moves inland. Claudette will weaken as it continues its track northwestward through Alabama. The center of Claudette is expected to move over Southwestern Alabama through the day Monday and into Northeastern Mississippi by Monday night.
Maximum sustained winds are near 30 MPH.
All information in the above posted was drawn from the National Hurricane Center.
From the Houston Chronicle, an op-ed written by Secretary Napotlitano:
As a former U.S. attorney, attorney general and governor of Arizona, I spent more than 15 years working in the Southwest and watching the challenges of our shared border evolve over time. Since the beginning of the Obama administration, our response to these challenges has evolved as well.
The change is needed.
For the past eight years the federal government approached the Southwest border as having a set of problems that were somehow independent from our nation's broader challenges with immigration, security, counternarcotics enforcement and international cooperation.
But there's a more strategic, more cooperative path, and we are taking it.
The Obama administration's approach is to view border security, interior immigration enforcement and counternarcotics enforcement as inextricably linked.
At the top of our border security mission is combating violence by Mexico-based drug cartels. To be sure, we haven't seen anything like Mexico's cartel violence here in the U.S. But the smuggling organizations are transnational, and the Obama administration is giving this issue the highest-level attention.
Over the past six months, we have forged a true partnership with Mexico's President Felipe Calderon, while building stronger relations with agencies across the federal government, and at the state, local and tribal level.
From Federal Computer Week, on Secure Flight:
Aug 14, 2009 Airlines will start asking passengers to provide their birth dates and gender on Aug. 15 as the Transportation Security Administration continues to take over from airlines the responsibility of screening travelers against subsets of the government's terrorist watch list.
The additional information will be required from passengers as part of TSA's Secure Flight passenger vetting program. However, if passengers aren't prompted to provide the additional information by a particular airline, they shouldn't worry as it won't affect their travel, TSA said in a statement.
As part of that multibillion-dollar, multi-phase information technology program, aircraft operators will be required to provide every passenger's information to TSA.
That agency, which is part of the Homeland Security Department, will then compare that information to the relevant watch list subsets and tell the airline whether it is authorized to print a boarding pass.
From the Associated Press, on current storm activity:
Tropical Storm Claudette made landfall on the Florida Panhandle near Fort Walton Beach early Monday while Hurricane Bill became the first hurricane of the 2009 Atlantic season.
Claudette, the first named storm to hit the U.S. mainland this year, was weakening as it moved farther inland Monday. But even before its arrival, the storm dumped heavy rains in some areas Sunday. It was not expected to cause significant flooding or wind damage.
Elsewhere, Hurricane Bill had maximum sustained winds near 75 mph but was expected to strengthen.
"We do believe (Bill) could become a major hurricane during the next couple of days," said Daniel Brown, a hurricane specialist for the National Hurricane Center in Miami.
Bill was centered about 1,160 miles east of the Lesser Antilles and moving quickly west-northwest at 22 mph. The first hurricane of the 2009 Atlantic hurricane season ironically shares the same name as National Hurricane Center Director Bill Read.
10:30 AM CDT
Secretary Napolitano will deliver remarks about Gulf Coast rebuilding efforts and participate in a media availability with Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator (FEMA) Craig Fugate and Federal Coordinator for Gulf Coast Rebuilding Janet Woodka
Southern University at New Orleans
6400 Press Drive
New Orleans, La.
National Protection and Programs Directorate (NPPD) Director of Software Assurance Joe Jarzombek will deliver remarks about national efforts for deploying software systems at the annual METROCON Technical Conference
Sheraton Arlington Hotel
1500 Convention Center Drive
10:30 AM PDT
ICE Assistant Secretary John Morton will be participating in a pen and pad with Los Angeles-area media
300 N. Los Angeles Street
Los Angeles, California
12 PM Local
U.S. Coast Guard Commandant Admiral Thad Allen will participate in a media availability about Arctic Domain Awareness
Army National Guard Hanger
500 Bering Street
From the San Antonio Express-News, on yesterday's agreement:
High-ranking U.S. and Mexican government officials signed an agreement in San Antonio on Thursday they say provides an unprecedented level of cooperation between the two countries in fighting cross-border drug crime.
The letter of intent recommends a joint strategic plan in weapons and ammunition trafficking investigations. The letter was signed during the last day of a convention for Border Security Task Force (BEST) teams, which are led by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
The conference also was attended by senior Mexican officials.
"This will leverage the investigative capabilities of both governments and launch a more unified effort in investigating weapons smuggling cases," Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said.
Mexican Attorney General Eduardo Medina-Mora said the deal recognizes shared responsibility for the gun-trafficking problem.
"Mexico is very, very respectful of the legal constitutional framework in the U.S.," he said. "But the Second Amendment was never meant to arm foreign criminal groups, and we should go after the criminals that are illegally shipping weapons into the criminal hands of groups based in our country."
ICE assistant secretary John Morton also announced the first BEST office to open in Mexico for Mexican law enforcement officers and U.S. agents to share information and evidence. ICE has 15 BEST teams along U.S. borders.
From Federal Computer Week, on the new civic network "Our Border":
The Homeland Security Department has created a moderated social network designed to spur informed debate and discussion about topics related to the United States' Southwestern border.
The network named Our Border is hosted on the site Ning.com and is open to everyone. But although posted content is visible to anyone who visits, people need to have an account with the Ning network to participate, DHS said. However, the network is administered and moderated by DHS and all content is reviewed by the department before it's posted, according to the network's content policy.
DHS will use the network to communicate the department's policy, post photos and videos, and engage in dialogue, according to the policies detailed on Our Border. The department administers the network and plans to eventually use Ning's live chat feature on Our Border, according to DHS' privacy impact assessment.
Four discussion groups are currently available on the site: Customs and Border Protection, Comprehensive Immigration Reform, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and Citizenship and Immigration Services.
Also from Federal Computer Week, on Global Entry:
The Homeland Security Department's international registered traveler program is going strong. The program is expanding from seven airports to 20 airports starting Aug. 24, DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano announced.
DHS started the Global Entry international trusted traveler program in June 2008 as a pilot project at three airports. It grew to seven airports last fall.
U.S. citizens and others who want to enroll in Global Entry must submit to a security check and interview and provide a fingerprint. Once enrolled, upon returning to the United States, they can use a kiosk to process their passports and scan their fingerprints. This typically results in less waiting than a manual check by U.S. Customs and Border Protection employees, DHS said.
To date, approximately 16,000 members have enrolled in Global Entry at the seven existing locations and in April, DHS signed an agreement for reciprocal treatment with airports in the Netherlands.
This month, the department will add 13 more airports to the program, Napolitano said in a news release Aug. 12.
"Expanding this vital program allows us to improve customer service at airports and concentrate our resources on higher-risk travelers," Napolitano said.
From the Palm Beach Post, on welcoming a new group of citizens and opening a new USCIS facility:
After Kalvin Berice Lindo became an American citizen on Thursday, he kissed his crying wife, took a deep breath and said, "I finally feel like I'm part of the world."
The 55-year-old man, originally from Jamaica, stood proudly with 24 others as they vowed to be great Americans. And though naturalization ceremonies take place at least twice a week in Palm Beach County, this ceremony was even more special because it took place at the grand opening of the new U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services building on Belvedere Road in Royal Palm Beach.
U.S. Rep Ron Klein, D-Boca Raton, and newly inducted USCIS director Alejandro Mayorkas were on hand for the traditional ribbon-cutting ceremony and to congratulate the 25 for their accomplishments.
"It's a wonderful moment you'll remember forever," Klein said. "You have a special responsibility to take it upon yourself to make our country stronger and better."
The 38,000 square foot building, which opened in March, is expected to process 57,000 customers a year. More than one million people become U.S. citizens each year and about 8,000 of those become citizens here in Palm Beach County, said Sharon Scheidhauer, USCIS spokeswoman.
USCIS Office of Citizenship Chief Rebecca Carson will participate in an information session for immigrants interested in learning more about U.S. citizenship and the naturalization process
USCIS Atlanta Field Office
2150 Parklake Drive
From the Associated Press, on a mutual pledge to cooperate in the fight against cartel-related violence:
The U.S. heads of Homeland Security and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives plan to sign a letter of intent with the attorney general of Mexico again pledging cooperation and shared intelligence in the battle against drug cartels and other border violence.
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, Mexican Attorney General Eduardo Medina Mora and ATF's acting director, Kenneth Melson, will meet in San Antonio on Thursday at a border security conference.
The letter of intent isn't as weighty as some previous agreements but was being used by officials to again pledge cooperation to stop escalating cartel-related violence.
From Weather.com, on the latest tropical outlook:
Tropical Depression 2 is slowly but surely gaining organization in the eastern Atlantic and is likely on its way to becoming Tropical Storm Ana.
Meanwhile, what is that big thunderstorm complex to its right? It's a well-developed tropical low that has now emerged off the coast of Africa. It definitely bears watching.
Model run after model run of several models continues to develop this tropical low into an eventual tropical depression, tropical storm and then hurricane.
A model run, by the way, is the time when a computer program produces a possible future weather scenario given the atmospheric conditions at the present time.
Generally speaking, this is done about 2 to 4 times a day (a few weather models, however, are run every 2 to 3 hours).
One such weather model that develops this large disturbance is the GFS (Global Forecast System) model. You can see its depiction of the tropical Atlantic for this coming Sunday morning below.
Take note of what happens to TD 2 (perhaps by then, Ana). It shows an eventual weakening of TD 2 as it approaches the northern Windward Islands.
Meanwhile, the GFS predicts that the tropical low just now off the coast of Africa could very well be a tropical storm or a hurricane by this Sunday. Could this be Bill?
From NextGov, on setting the record straight on the cyber mission:
Reports of a struggle among agencies about who should oversee governmentwide cybersecurity are inaccurate, and the biggest problem in locking down federal networks is recruiting enough information security workers, said Homeland Security Department officials.
"The misconception that concerns me most is that infighting is happening" among the federal agencies involved in cybersecurity initiatives, said Phil Reitinger, deputy undersecretary for the National Protection and Programs Directorate in an interview with Nextgov. "I just don't see that. Are there disputes between agencies? Yes. Are there arguments between components of DHS? Yes. We're people -- that's how it works.
But the degree of collaboration and joint work around the mission is really amazing. There's hard commitment in DHS and across agencies . . . and a deep well of shared experience."
11 AM CDT
Secretary Napolitano, Mexican Attorney General Eduardo Medina-Mora, Mexican National Public Security System Executive Secretary Jorge Tello Peón, ICE Assistant Secretary John Morton and ATF Acting Director Kenneth E. Melson will participate in a press conference
Grand Hyatt Hotel
Texas Ballroom Salon F (Fourth Floor)
600 East Market Street
San Antonio, Texas
9 AM PDT
Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Administrator Craig Fugate will participate in a media availability for the opening of the new Los Angeles Emergency Operations Center (EOC)
500 E. Temple Street
Los Angeles, Calif.
10 AM PDT
Transportation Security Administration (TSA) Public Affairs Manager Suzanne Trevino will participate in a media availability about paperless boarding pass technology with Continental Airlines representatives
San Diego International AirportTerminal
23707 N. Harbor Drive
San Diego, Calif.
1 PM PDT
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) Director Alejandro Mayorkas will officially open the new USCIS field office in West Palm Beach and participate in a naturalization ceremony
USCIS West Palm Beach Field Office
9300 Belvedere Road
Royal Palm Beach, Fla.
3 PM CDT
TSA Public Affairs Manager Sari Koshetz will participate in a media availability to introduce the new Explosive Detection System (EDS) equipment
White Oak Road
It was a routine stop at the bridge at the Laredo, Texas, border, as an Oklahoma man in a pickup truck was attempting to cross over into Mexico. But a vehicle inspection unveiled much more, as CBP officers discovered a cache of 22 rifles, two shotguns, a 9 mm pistol, ammunition and other weapons parts hidden in the truck.
A subsequent ICE investigation of that failed smuggling attempt led agents to the residence of a former firearms dealer where nearly 1,000 weapons were discovered, along with a large store of ammunition and $30,000 in cash. That routine stop at the Laredo bridge resulted in unraveling a sizable cross-border gun smuggling operation.
It’s exactly the type of investigation that the Border Enforcement Security Task Force (BEST) initiative was set up to tackle. This partnership initiative, led at DHS by ICE, brings together federal, state, local and foreign law enforcement agencies under a shared umbrella with a common goal: To target cross-border crime and associated violence.
With collaboration from CBP, the BEST initiative is the Department of Homeland Security’s response to the increase in violence at the southwest border, where the activities of drug cartels, weapons traffickers and other criminal organizations are taking a toll on communities all along the border.
What is most innovative about the BEST initiative is the way in which it brings law enforcement partners together under one roof with a shared mission. This allows for closer working relationships, more efficient communication and improved coordination among the various entities. Cooperation is key to the success of the BEST initiative.
There are now 15 BEST forces operating on the southern and northern U.S. borders, and they’re getting outstanding results. And right now, from August 11 to 13, 2009, we’re taking a closer look at the progress that has been made, as well as plans for the future, at the BEST Conference in San Antonio, Texas.
This conference, the second of its kind, brings together federal law enforcement officials from a variety of agencies; state and local officials; members of Congress and other elected officials; and our partners from Mexico, Canada, Columbia, and Argentina to discuss the challenges of combating the drug trade, money laundering, gang activity, arms trafficking, human smuggling and other types of cross-border crime.
As assistant secretary for ICE, I am at the conference, meeting with our partners in this successful law enforcement venture—and exploring ways in which we can strengthen these partnerships in order to crack down on criminal activity and tighten security at the borders. I’ll post a wrap-up after the conferences concludes.
John Morton is the Assistant Secretary for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement
One day after President Obama concluded a summit in Mexico, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said Tuesday that securing the Southwest border required targeting several issues at the same time: illegal immigration, drug trafficking and violence in Mexico.
Napolitano said her strategy was unlike the Bush administration's, when "the issue of the Southwest border was walled off from all other issues."
"Our approach is to view Southwest border security, along with enforcement of our immigration laws in the interior of the country, counter-narcotics enforcement and streamlined citizenship processes together," she said. "These things are inextricably linked."
Napolitano said the U.S. government is cooperating with the Mexican government more than ever to battle drug-related violence, citing efforts to stop the drugs flowing north and guns and cash flowing south.
"We have a unique opportunity now with Mexico to really break up these cartels," she said. "Shame on us if we don't take full advantage of that."
Napolitano also announced an additional $30 million in federal funds for local law enforcement in California and other border states to better fight trafficking and violence. Agencies in California will receive nearly $7.4 million. The money is in addition to $60 million announced in June.
From the Deming Headlight, on the Stonegarden announcement:
Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano took the occasion Tuesday of a Southwest Border Security Conference at the University of Texas at El Paso to announce an additional $30 million for Operation Stonegarden.
The announcement was seen via video conference in five U.S. Border Patrol Stations, including Deming. San Diego, Tucson, and Texas' Del Rio and Rio Grande Valley stations were also online.
Operation Stonegarden, in which the Luna County Sheriff's Office and the Deming Station of the USBP participate, provides funds for equipment and operational costs related to border-area crime. The $30 million is in addition to $60 million already
allocated for the current fiscal year.
"I think that's going to allow state agencies and other municipalities to get involved in coordinating efforts on border violence," said Luna County Sheriff Raymond Cobos, who was at UTEP. "It's a very positive thing."
From the Atlantic Online, a profile of and interview with FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate:
Craig Fugate, the new head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency under President Barack Obama, is an unusual choice for the job, historically speaking. Unlike many of his predecessors, most famously Michael "Heckuva Job" Brown under President George W. Bush, Fugate (pronounced few-gate) has experience in the relevant subject matter. A former firefighter, Fugate managed disasters for 20 years in Florida, the fiasco capital of America. Even more bizarrely for FEMA, often a dumping ground for friends of the powerful, Fugate has no political connections to Obama. Instead, he got his job the old-fashioned way-when Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano was looking for candidates, people kept mentioning his name. He has a reputation for telling it like it is-in a field where "it" is usually bad. And what Fugate has to say may come as strong medicine for his fellow citizens, nine out of 10 of whom now live in a place at significant risk for some kind of disaster.
A bear of a man with a white goatee, an aw-shucks accent, and a voice just slightly higher than you expect, Fugate has no university degrees but knows enough to be mistaken for a meteorologist by hurricane experts. He grew up in Alachua County, smack in the middle of Florida. Both of his parents died before he graduated from high school. As a teenager, he followed his father's example and became a volunteer firefighter. Then he became a paramedic, earning the nickname "Dr. Death" for having to pronounce more people dead on his first day than anyone before him. But he found his calling when he moved into emergency management, in 1989. Obsessively planning for horrible things he could not really control seemed to inspire him. "He is emergency management," says Will May Jr., who worked with Fugate for more than 20 years and is now Alachua's public-safety director. "That's what he does. He spends practically all his waking life working in it, thinking about it, talking about it, planning how to do things better."
10:30 AM CDT
Office of Counternarcotics Enforcement Acting Director John Leech will deliver remarks at the 2009 Border Enforcement Security Task Force (BEST) Conference
Grand Hyatt Hotel
600 E Market St.
San Antonio, Texas
1:45 PM MDT
National Protection and Programs Directorate (NPPD) Control Systems Security Director Sean McGurk will deliver remarks at the 2nd International Symposium on Resilient Control Systems
1784 Science Center Dr
Idaho Falls, Idaho
Today, Yahoo News posted an op-ed on H1N1 co-written by Secretary Napolitano, Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. In the op-ed, the trio outlines progress on planning for a potential fall resurgence of the H1N1 flu virus, their coordination with local jurisdictions for quick response in case of flu outbreaks, and the importance of proper preventative measures to minimize the spread of the H1N1 virus. An excerpt below:
"Parents should talk to their employers and make child care arrangements in case their kids get sick. And if a school closes, learning shouldn't stop. Schools need to create opportunities to learn online and work with parents to find ways for students to bring textbooks and other resources home. If you're an employer, you should plan to get by with a reduced staff. You don't want an employee who's ill to spread flu in the workplace. If you're a medical provider, you should plan to handle more calls and patient visits. An outbreak will bring people who have flu and people who have flu-related symptoms or concerns into your office. To help people get ready for flu season, we've created a "one-stop" website - www.flu.gov. You'll find tips to prevent, and respond to an outbreak and checklists and fact sheets that will help families, businesses and others get prepared."