House passes law to improve sharing of threat information

From the Associated Press:

Legislation passed by the House Tuesday (H.R. 553) would require DHS to produce a declassified version of threat information for state and local first responders who don’t have the security clearance to view classified material.  The measure would also require portion marking, where certain classified parts of a document might be blacked out but the rest of the information would remain unclassified.

Steven Aftergood, a secrecy expert with the Federation of American Scientists, said the Harman bill sends an important message that classification should not be a barrier to keeping local officials informed about threats.  But he said the bill doesn’t cover the CIA or the Pentagon, the biggest sources of classified data. “This is not the systemic change that we need but it is an urgent part of the larger problem and I hope it will elevate classification reform in the administration agenda.”

The bill, which passed by a voice vote, passed the House in the last session of Congress but wasn’t taken up by the Senate.  The bill now goes to the Senate.  I’ll update this post as the bill status changes.

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New bill calls for quarterly reports from DHS grant recipients

From Government Security News:

A bill that would require recipients of homeland security grants to file quarterly reports to Congress on precisely how they spent those funds has been filed by Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-NY) and co-sponsored by five other congressmen.

The measure, H.R. 625, was introduced on Jan. 21 and referred to the House Homeland Security Committee. It is intended to provide greater transparency on how DHS grant monies are actually expended.

I’ll update this post when the status changes.

Report proposes tougher chemical security regulations

From HSToday:

President-elect Obama’s most ambitious legislative initiative in the area of homeland security during his years in the US Senate was a bill co-sponsored with Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) to toughen federal standards and oversight of security at US chemical plants. Though Obama’s 2006 bill, called the Chemical Safety and Security Act of 2006, was never enacted, Obama has continued to make chemical security a centerpiece of his policy proposals on homeland security.

The current law on national chemical security, passed as a temporary bill in 2006, is due to expire in October 2009. Many prominent Democrats, including President-elect Obama, have criticized the interim bill for lacking stringent standards and enforcement power.

A new report from the Center for American Progress, a progressive Washington, DC think tank from which several key advisors of the Obama transition team have been drawn, outlines a broad program of chemical security reforms currently being discussed in prominent Democratic party policy circles. The report, titled Chemical Security 101, provides a detailed preview of the regulatory proposals that may emerge both in Congress and from the new administration itself in the coming year.

The report recommends that Congress establish a comprehensive chemical security program rooted in identifying, developing, and leveraging the use of alternative technologies that could remove the threat of a catastrophic toxic gas release by generating chemicals at the point of use rather than transporting and storing them.  In addition the report also calls for incentives to industry to encourage migration to the alternate technologies.

The report also recommends building in greater oversight capacity and ensuring equal enforcement.  This, the report acknowledges, will entail a harder line on regulating industry. “Chemical companies should not receive special treatment just because they participate in voluntary industry security programs, as proposed in some recent bills before Congress,” it says.

[Note: Because of the close relationship some of Obama’s advisers have with the Center for American Progress, this think tank may have a hand in shaping quite a bit of homeland security policy in the new administration.  They have a weekly national security newsletter for those interested.]

Bush administration disregards reporting law

From the New York Times:

The Bush administration has informed Congress that it is bypassing a law intended to forbid political interference with reports to lawmakers by DHS. The August 2007 law requires the DHS chief privacy officer to report each year about Homeland Security activities that affect privacy, and requires that the reports be submitted directly to Congress “without any prior comment or amendment” by superiors at DHS or the White House.

But newly disclosed documents show that the Justice Department issued a legal opinion last January questioning the basis for that restriction, and that DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff later advised Congress that the administration would not “apply this provision strictly” because it infringed on the President’s powers.

Several members of Congress reacted with outrage to the administration’s claim, which was detailed in a memorandum posted this week on the Web site of the Office of Legal Counsel at the Justice Department.

EFF sues over telecom immunity for wiretapping

From Wired magazine’s Threat Level:

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) filed a brief Thursday claiming that the government’s attempt to give retroactive immunity to the companies that helped the Bush administration’s warrantless spying program violates the Constitution by ripping from the courts the power to hear citizens’ grievances against the government.

The EFF’s brief, filed in response to a September decision in the EFF’s case against AT&T, argues that Congress had no right to pass legislation granting immunity, since the courts have a fundamental duty and right to hear citizens’ complaints that the government violated their Constitutional rights.

TSA meets initial passenger aircraft cargo screening goal

From HS Daily Wire:

It’s not everyday that a government agency beats a Congressional deadline, but TSA just has.  Congress mandated through the 9/11 law that 50 percent of cargo on passenger carrying aircraft be screened by February 2009 and 100 percent of cargo be screened by August 2010; And now, four months before the first deadline, TSA says it’s currently screening all cargo on more than 90 percent of all passenger carrying aircraft in the U.S.

President Bush says he may ignore parts of Defense bill

From CQ Politics:

President Bush, in signing the defense policy bill Tuesday, issued a statement indicating he reserves the right to heed or disregard four of its provisions as he sees fit.  So-called “signing statement” typically assert the limits of Congress’s power over the executive branch.

Every president since Ronald Reagan has repeatedly engaged in the practice, but none as frequently as Bush, who has objected to more than 1,000 provisions of laws he has enacted, according to a 2007 Congressional Research Service report.

The disputed parts of the $611 billion bill include:

  • A ban on the use of U.S. funds authorized in the measure “to exercise control of the oil resources of Iraq.”
  • A requirement that the U.S. government initiate negotiations with Baghdad on an agreement to share costs of combined military operations in the Iraq war zone.
  • A provision providing certain personnel authorities to a Wartime Contracting Commission.
  • A provision that would create in the Pentagon an office called the director of Operational Energy Plans and Programs.