Judicial Watch • Homeland Security

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As the tenth anniversary of the September 11 attacks approaches the U.S. government still lacks a system to adequately protect the nation, despite investing hundreds of billions of dollars and huge amounts of manpower to fulfill the mission.This may seem unbelievable to most Americans considering that a monstrous federal agency (the Department of Homeland Security—DHS) with more than 200,000 employees and a $50 billion annual budget was created after the 2001 terrorist attacks. Never the less, typical of government, the investment has not quite paid off for U.S. taxpayers.A new congressional audit released this week reveals that DHS must still address “weaknesses” and “gaps.”Over the years a number of probes, conducted by the same investigative arm of congress (Government Accountability Office—GAO) have reached similar conclusions. You’d think that DHS would have ironed out most of the kinks, considering the nation’s safety is at stake and all.Among this probe’s findings is that DHS still lacks an effective system to detect foreigners who overstay their visas like some of the 9/11 hijackers did or a reliable tool to detect explosives in luggage at airports. Despite investing huge sums of money, the agency has failed miserably to develop enhanced explosive detection technology that could help prevent another terrorist attack.DHS has also failed to ensue that air cargo screening is being properly conducted, the GAO found. This is nothing new and in fact has been documented in various audits over the years. As early as 2007, federal investigators found that only a small percentage of air cargo bound for the U.S. from foreign countries is inspected.Separate probes have exposed shameful lapses in security at many of the nation’s busiest airports. During covert exercises, guns and bombs regularly got past inept airport screeners from the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), the Homeland Security agency created after 9/11 to secure mainly aviation. The agency also came under fire for approving background checks for a dozen illegal immigrants working in sensitive areas of a busy U.S. airport.These are all serious lapses that have occurred over the years and continue to take place. That’s why this latest tenth anniversary GAO report doesn’t bother making recommendations. In fact the GAO points out that it has made “about 1,500 recommendations to DHS” and the agency has “addressed about half of them.”

Four years and tens of millions of dollars later, the inept Homeland Security agency charged with protecting the nation’s public buildings from a potential terrorist attack or other violent acts still can’t do its job adequately.It’s yet another unbelievable—but true—story of how the U.S. government pours huge sums of taxpayer dollars into perpetually troubled agencies with little oversight and nothing to show for the investment. In this case the Federal Protective Service (FPS) can’t fulfill its mission despite getting $35 million to improve its notoriously deficient security system.With 1,200 full-time employees and 13,000 contract guards, the FSP is responsible for protecting 9,000 public facilities around the U.S. as well as the 1 million federal employees and members of the public who work in and visit them. But the agency, which has a $1 billion annual budget, has come under fire over the years for lacking properly trained guards who don’t carry out their duties.In fact, a few years ago a congressional probe revealed that security was so dismal at buildings guarded by the FSP that investigators easily smuggled explosive materials into ten facilities and constructed lethal devices that they carried around undetected. Incompetent guards failed to detect the explosives even though the brief cases that stored them went through the conveyer belt of an X-ray machine. In some instances guards didn’t even bother looking at the X-ray image as the explosives slipped by.The government’s solution was to give the FSP big bucks to correct the problem. But years later virtually nothing has changed, according to a new federal audit published this week by the investigative arm of Congress. In fact, the FSP created a flawed system that lacks a process to verify training and certification for more than 13,000 contract guards and doesn’t incorporate crucial security measures that were supposed to be implemented last year.It gets better. The system that was supposed to miraculously improve the agency’s performance was only supposed to cost $21 million, but the FSP has already blown $35 million and now claims it will take an additional $22 million before it works properly. Congressional investigators put it mildly by characterizing it as “significant expenditures” for a system that “is not functional.”

Despite getting more than $1 billion from the U.S. government to bolster security, the nation’s passenger train system—known as Amtrak—remains vulnerable to a terrorist attack because the money wasn’t spent efficiently to adequately protect the most vulnerable stations.It’s the last thing Americans need to hear in the tumult of an epic budget crisis and record-high unemployment, that tax dollars were wasted by yet another incompetent government agency with a bloated budget. It’s an old, worn out story that gets repeated way too often.In this case the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) failed to ensure that more than $1 billion in grants were appropriately spent to secure Amtrak’s 22,000 miles of passenger rail lines or its 500 stations sprinkled throughout 46 states. Nearly 30 million passengers use Amtrak annually and, to protect them from becoming victims of a terrorist attack, Homeland Security officials singled out high-risk stations in need of protection.Then they doled out the tax dollars but never bothered to follow up that the projects got done, according to a DHS Inspector General investigation. DHS never required Amtrak to develop a corrective action plan to address its biggest vulnerabilities, approved lower risk projects and didn’t document roles and responsibilities for the grant award process. “As a result, some rail stations and the traveling public may be at a greater risk to a potential terrorist attack,” the IG wrote in a report that was recently made public with extensive redactions.Investigators visited four high-risk stations and observed that Amtrak did not take actions to mitigate some of the “more critical vulnerabilities” that had been identified years ago. As an example, they said that at one unnamed station “terrorists could access….” The information was redacted for security reasons, no doubt. Other examples were completely blacked out in the report.The bottom line is that, $1 billion taxpayer dollars later, the nation’s train system is quite vulnerable to a terrorist attack. In fact, in its report the DHS Inspector General warns that terrorists will continue to target trains (remember Madrid and Mumbai?), explaining that “passenger rail stations are especially attractive to terrorist targets because of the large number of people in a concentrated area.” Furthermore, a terrorist attack in these areas with high passenger and cargo volumes could lead to a significant loss of life and economic disruption.Homeland Security officials took their spanking gracefully, essentially agreeing with the IG’s findings and promising to right the wrong. The agency concurred with all of the IG’s recommendations, which include ridiculously basic things like ensuring that “Amtrak uses grant funds to protect rail stations from terrorism.”

It may seem inconceivable but nearly a decade after the worst terrorist attack in U.S. history the government has yet to develop or implement an adequate security program to keep foreign extremists from carrying out a sequel.Two recent reports illustrate this astounding failure by the government to protect the nation from a catastrophe similar to September 11, 2001. Several of the Middle Eastern terrorists who carried out that horrific foray entered the U.S. legally and remained in the country with expired visas while they planned their sophisticated plots.With that in mind, Congress allocated huge chunks of money to develop a reliable security system that would prevent a repeat. Incredibly, as the tenth anniversary of 9/11 approaches, critical gaps in the program allow terrorists to continue entering the U.S. It’s as if no lesson has been learned from the tragedies that violently ended the lives of thousands of innocent Americans.The lapse was brought to light recently after authorities discovered that two Iraqi nationals with terrorist ties had been living in Kentucky for several years. The men were granted visas to enter the U.S. despite having fingerprints that linked them to roadside bombs in Iraq. Kentucky Senator Rand Paul called for an investigation and last week the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee held a hearing to look into the matter.After the hearing Paul said he remains “deeply concerned” that the U.S. continues issuing visas despite a backlog that hinders the screening process and allows potential terrorists to enter the country. “If our screening process is broken because of a backlog, then let’s fix it,” Paul suggested. “By continuing to allow people into the country without having all relevant information, we put ourselves in grave danger.”A separate federal audit made public on the same day of the senate hearing reveals that four “gaps” cripple the security program that’s supposed to prevent terrorists from entering theUnited States. Keep in mind that multiple federal agencies have joined forces and spent millions of taxpayer dollars over the last decade to perfect the failing system.Whether it’s bureaucracy, incompetence or a combination of both, it’s not effective and terrorists continue to enter the U.S. with government-approved visas like the 9/11 hijackers. Why? Because the U.S. doesn’t share information about known and suspected terrorists with foreign governments, doesn’t address the use of fraudulent travel documents—including easily counterfeited or doctored low-quality passports—and fails to combat corruption among immigration officials that allow terrorists to pass through checkpoints.Those who refuse to believe that their government can be so negligent need only read the summary of the 44-page report issued by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), the investigative arm of Congress. It offers appalling details and examples of the seriousness of the matter. Agencies mentioned in the in the report include the departments of State, Defense, Justice and Homeland Security.

The Homeland Security agency primarily responsible for shielding the country from foreign threats and removing dangerous illegal immigrants has been quite busy confiscating internet websites that help users download copyrighted music and movies.Its part of the Obama Administration’s effort to regulate the internet and control its content, though the official explanation is that the government simply wants to crack down on piracy and protect intellectual property. The feds are seizing the domains seemingly at will, according to industry insiders who claim that many don’t even host copyrighted material.So far Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has shut down 128 file-sharing music and movie websites as part of “Operation In Our Sites.” Anyone who clicks on the confiscated domains is greeted with a message that says they’ve been seized by ICE-Homeland Security investigations and reminds that copyright infringement is a federal crime that carries penalties of up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.Six websites were seized over the weekend, according to a blog that covers digital issues and has closely tracked the government operation since it was launched last year. All were shut down without warning because they were “associated with copyright infringement and counterfeiting.” The owner of one domain said the seizure was “pointless” and will soon be back with a different name.Halting the unauthorized sharing of hip-hop tunes may seem strange for a federal agency that claims on its web site to have a primary mission of promoting homeland security and public safety through the criminal and civil enforcement of federal laws governing border control, customs, trade and immigration. All the while, ICE fails to do its most important job of deporting violent illegal immigrant criminals and punishing companies that knowingly hire large numbers of undocumented workers.A number of cases in the last year help illustrate the agency’s shortcomings in these areas. For instance a drunken illegal alien with a criminal history and a revoked license killed a nun inVirginia because ICE released him on his own recognizance after two previous arrests. Judicial Watch has sued the Department of Homeland Security for records related to how the agency dropped the ball in the tragic case.A few weeks after the nun’s death another illegal alien, released by the agency while he awaited deportation, killed two people in a working-class Massachusetts city. A number of similar cases have also been reported through the years.ICE has also been derelict in punishing companies that hire large numbers of illegal immigrants, even after audits determine rampant violations. Internal ICE records obtained by a Houstonnewspaper last year reveal that the agency has allowed hundreds of companies throughout the U.S. to get away with hiring illegal aliens by closing audits that determine high percentages of workers with “questionable” documents. Maybe if the businesses download pirate music, they’ll get busted.

Almost a decade after Middle Eastern terrorists with expired visas attacked the U.S., the government has failed to implement a security measure to adequately track foreigners like them who enter the country legally but never leave.As a result nearly half of the nation’s estimated 12 million illegal immigrants actually entered the U.S. legally but overstayed their visa, according to a new federal report. That’s because the agency responsible for keeping the nation safe—the Department of Homeland Security—can’t keep track of immigrants who remain in the U.S. after their visas expire.This clearly creates a huge national security issue because terrorists can plot more attacks from within. In fact, dozens of foreigners convicted of terrorism since the 2001 attacks had overstayed their visas, according to the report, which was published by the investigative arm of Congress known as the Government Accountability Office (GAO).The GAO launched its probe after learning from an independent study that 4 to 5.5 million immigrants had entered the country legally and overstayed their authorized periods of admission. In the course of the probe, GAO investigators interviewed a number of high-ranking Homeland Security officials, visited various field offices and reviewed a mountain of documents.They found that the Department of Homeland Security’s program to identify visa violators by comparing entry and exit data is inefficient and can only process around half of the potential overstays it detects. Currently, the system has a backlog of about 1.6 suspected foreigners who remained in the U.S. past their visa period, the probe found. Some could very well be Islamic extremists.This may seem unbelievable, especially since most of the 9/11 hijackers capitalized on this weakness in the system to plan the murder of thousands of Americans. The massive loophole is precisely why the Homeland Security agency (Immigration and Customs Enforcement—ICE) in charge of tracking down foreigners who overstay visas is well funded by Congress to the tune of 70-plus million dollars annually.The agency doesn’t dispute the findings or the recommendations made by GAO investigators, who suggest establishing a “time frame for completing overstay enforcement planning” and “performance measurement mechanisms,” among other things. In other words don’t wait another decade to implement security measures that actually work.

The Department of Homeland Security has quietly eliminated a post-9/11 counterterrorism program that required men from Muslim countries with active terrorist organizations to register with federal authorities upon entering the United States.Known as the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System (NSEERS) the program was created to intercept Islamic terrorists like the ones who hijacked airplanes and murdered thousands of Americans in 2001. Most were men who entered the U.S. with legal visas and would have been required to register with immigration authorities under NSEERS.Active terrorist organizations like Al-Qaeda operate in all of the countries listed on the now-defunct Homeland Security NSEERS list. They include Afghanistan, Algeria, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Egypt, Eritrea, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, North Korea, Oman, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates and Yemen.In a largely unnoticed federal register note announcing the end of NSEERS, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano asserts that its “redundant” and “no longer provides any increase in security” because her agency has implemented “several new automated systems” that capture the same arrival and exit data of nonimmigrant travelers to the U.S.Madam Secretary further explains in the announcement that there’s been an evolution in terrorism that evidently makes NSEERS unnecessary. “As threats to the United States evolve, DHS seeks to identify specific individuals and actions that pose specific threats, rather than focusing on more general designations of groups of individuals, such as country of origin.”This certainly sounds like it could be yet another move by the Obama Administration to placate Muslims. After all, throughout the counterterrorism program’s six years an army of politically-connected Islamic rights groups decried it as unfairly promoting racial profiling.In the last year the administration has heeded to many of their calls by launching an aggressive Muslim outreach effort that includes national security meetings with extremist groups, ordering the nation’s space agency (NASA) to focus on Muslim diplomacy and a special order allowing the reentry of two radical Islamic academics whose terrorist ties long banned them from the U.S.The Justice Department also created a special Arab-American and Muslim Engagement Advisory Group to foster greater communication, collaboration and new level of respect between law enforcement and Muslim and Arab-American communities. The fruits of its laborwere evident during a weekend raid on a Florida mosque with terrorist ties. Federal agents conducted it under new rules of engagement to assure cultural sensitivity towards Islam.

State and county officials who think they can drop out of a mandatory federal program that checks the immigration status of local arrestees have been misled by the Department of Homeland Security’s ambiguous orders.At least that’s the explanation offered by the agency’s beleaguered leader, Janet Napolitano, who finally clarified the matter to a growing number of local officials trying to get out of theSecure Communities program. Launched a few years ago, the initiative requires local authorities to check the fingerprints of arrestees against a federal database. The idea is to deport dangerous criminals, many of whom have fallen through the cracks over the years.But some local leaders refuse to participate in Secure Communities, mainly to protect illegal immigrants who they assert contribute to society. California has even created legislation to let any municipality in the state opt out of Secure Communities and Maryland’s MontgomeryCounty is on the verge of doing the same thing. These sorts of efforts have been going on for months as Napolitano, the Obama official in charge of protecting the nation’s safety, watched from the sidelines.This week she finally spoke out after a federal lawmaker accused the Department of Homeland Security of lying to counties and states by telling them that participating in Secure Communities was optional. Calling the agency’s actions “dissembling and deceiving,” theCalifornia congresswoman has ordered an investigation. If Napolitano knew about the lies, “something has to be done about her,” according to the congresswoman, Zoe Lofgren.Napolitano fired back, acknowledging that there has been “confusion” over the matter and that communications from her agency were “subject to misinterpretation.” However, Madame Secretary made clear that local governments cannot “exclude themselves” from participating in Secure Communities.

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