Tales from the Trail

Washington Extra – Major breach

pentagonIn this post-9/11, ultra-high security era, it is hard to believe that the bomb-proofing specs of a new Defense Department building in the DC area would be on public view. Then again, the Internet is a tough beast to manage.

Reuters reporters Mark Hosenball and Missy Ryan discovered the sensitive information about Mark Center — where 6,400 Defense Department personnel are scheduled to move later this year — on a public website maintained by the Army Corps of Engineers.

Out of concern for the security of personnel who will work there, Reuters is not disclosing most of the details in the 424-page document stamped “For Official Use Only.”

But Hosenball and Ryan found an alarming detail on Mark Center: It is designed to resist threats posed by vehicle bombs detonated outside the building’s security perimeter carrying the equivalent of 220 pounds of TNT. That is far less than the amount of explosive used in the 1993 bombing of New York’s World Trade Center and 1995 bombing of the Alfred Murrah Federal building in Oklahoma City.

A Corps spokesman said the public posting was a mistake and that the government was working to take it down. But he acknowledged that it might have been sitting there since the document’s date -2009. Little comfort to 6,400 employees.

United States 0-2 in world sports arena

The United States has now lost out on two huge world sporting events in the past two years. And in each instance to first-time winners.

It may be an unintended consequence of the fight against terrorism. The very security policies aimed at protecting the United States from attack, might be working to bench it in contests to host world sporting events due to some concerns that foreign fans, players, even officials may have trouble entering the United States for the games. SOCCER/WORLD

FIFA awarded the 2022 World Cup to Qatar, the smallest country ever to host the soccer finals,  over competitors Australia, Japan, South Korea and the United States.

McCain, Napolitano shoot it out, rhetorically speaking, over US-Mexico border

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USA-SECURITY/When Arizonans John McCain and Janet Napolitano started arguing over border security in the Senate on Wednesday, it sounded briefly like the pair could be heading for a modern day shootout at the O.K. Corral.

But it ended in a Mexican stand-off instead, with each cow poke flanked by an imaginary posse of sympathetic sheriffs.

The trouble started when McCain, a Republican senator, got his chance to ask questions at a hearing of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs.

Karzai appeals to U.S. taxpayers

karzai1Afghan President Hamid Karzai is taking a page from the playbook of American politicians campaigning for public office: talk to the taxpayers.

Karzai is on a campaign to give the boot to tens of thousands of foreign private security guards working in Afghanistan. He’s already put the U.S. government on notice that the private security firms operating in his country will be disbanded within four months.

On Sunday, the Afghan leader took his case directly to the American people.

“I am appealing to the U.S. taxpayer not to allow their hard-earned money to be wasted on groups that are not only providing lots of inconveniences to the Afghan people but actually are, God knows, in contact with Mafia-like groups and perhaps also funding militants and insurgents and terrorists through those funds,” Karzai said on in an ABC “This Week” interview.

U.S. Supreme Court closes front entrance, by 7-2 vote

The Supreme Court’s famous front entrance, at the top of its marble steps and under the words “Equal Justice Under Law,” will be closed to the public.

Starting Tuesday, visitors will no longer be able to enter the building through the front doors at the top of 44 marble steps on the plaza directly across from the U.S. Capitol. On days when there are arguments in major cases like abortion or free speech rights, the line to hear the arguments often stretches well beyond the plaza.

USA-COURT/SOTOMAYORInstead, visitors will enter the building through ground-level side doors, going through a new screening facility that has been built as part of the Supreme Court’s  modernization project.

Attorney General Holder in virtual shouting match over Christmas bomber

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder rarely raises his voice. But at the very end of a three-hour congressional hearing on Tuesday he was in a virtual shouting match with Virginia Republican Representative Frank Wolf.

Wolf, questioning whether valuable intelligence was lost, was furious about the initial hourlong interrogation of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the Nigerian man captured after trying to ignite a bomb aboard a U.S. commercial jetliner on Christmas Day last year. USA/

“There were so many things that were missed,” Wolf said during the hearing.

TSA defends extra airport screening for kids, elderly

Almost every traveler through U.S. airports has seen little children and the elderly go through extra screening and often are left shaking their heads in disbelief that those individuals could be a threat and questioning whether someone else is slipping through the cracks.

AIRLINES-SECURITY/However, the acting head of the Transportation Security Administration Gale Rossides told Congress that all sorts of dangerous items are smuggled with kids and older travelers.

“Every day I will tell you that we see things coming through checkpoints in the United States that are amazing, either on their persons, in wheelchairs, in canes, people will conceal long knives, swords in canes,” Rossides told the Senate Homeland Security Committee.

DHS chief tries to allay fears about airport full-body scanners

After the failed attempt to blow up up a U.S. commercial jet with a bomb hidden in a passenger’s underwear on Christmas Day, U.S. authorities have been racing to deploy full-body scanners in airports and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano has been working in overdrive to allay fliers’ concerns about their privacy.

The Department of Homeland Security and Transportation Security Administration plan to have some 450 full-body imaging scanners — known as Advanced Imaging Technology machines  — deployed this year and Napolitano has been ramping up her public appearances over the last couple of days offering a defense for the need to beef up aviation security with the devices.

“I went through one in California, in San Francisco and I saw the image and I’m very comfortable with it,” she said in response to a caller to National Public Radio’s Diane Rehm Show on Tuesday. “We always offer passengers the option to go the standard way with the greater likelihood of an actual pat down.”

Democrats may face a new challenge: rising conservatism

The Democratic Party’s hopes of retaining control of Congress in November are already reeling from a spate of Senate retirements and the political flap surrounding last month’s failed bomb attack on a Detroit-bound airliner. Now comes a potential new hurdle: growing conservatism among the American public.

Gallup polling data show that conservatives became the biggest potential voting bloc in 2009. Forty percent of Americans called themselves ‘conservative’ last year, compared with 36 percent who said they were ‘moderate’ and 21 percent who described themselves as ‘liberal.’
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The findings, which have an error margin of 1 percentage point, come from an aggregate of 21 separate Gallup and USA Today/Gallup surveys, spanning nearly 22,000 interviews.

Gallup polling data also show that the number of Americans calling themselves moderate has fallen over the past decade, while conservatives and liberals have gained ground.