March 8th, 2012
A Washington Post Investigation
The top-secret world the government created in response to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, has become so large, so unwieldy and so secretive that no one knows how much money it costs, how many people it employs, how many programs exist within it or exactly how many agencies do the same work.
These are some of the findings of a two-year investigation by The Washington Post that discovered what amounts to an alternative geography of the United States, a Top Secret America hidden from public view and lacking in thorough oversight. After nine years of unprecedented spending and growth, the result is that the system put in place to keep the United States safe is so massive that its effectiveness is impossible to determine.
The investigation's other findings include:
* Some 1,271 government organizations and 1,931 private companies work on programs related to counterterrorism, homeland security and intelligence in about 10,000 locations across the United States.
* An estimated 854,000 people, nearly 1.5 times as many people as live in Washington, D.C., hold top-secret security clearances.
* In Washington and the surrounding area, 33 building complexes for top-secret intelligence work are under construction or have been built since September 2001. Together they occupy the equivalent of almost three Pentagons or 22 U.S. Capitol buildings - about 17 million square feet of space.
* Many security and intelligence agencies do the same work, creating redundancy and waste. For example, 51 federal organizations and military commands, operating in 15 U.S. cities, track the flow of money to and from terrorist networks.
* Analysts who make sense of documents and conversations obtained by foreign and domestic spying share their judgment by publishing 50,000 intelligence reports each year - a volume so large that many are routinely ignored.
These are not academic issues; lack of focus, not lack of resources, was at the heart of the Fort Hood shooting that left 13 dead, as well as the Christmas Day bomb attempt thwarted not by the thousands of analysts employed to find lone terrorists but by an alert airline passenger who saw smoke coming from his seatmate.
They are also issues that greatly concern some of the people in charge of the nation's security.
"There has been so much growth since 9/11 that getting your arms around that - not just for the CIA, for the secretary of defense - is a challenge," Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said in an interview with The Post last week.
In the Department of Defense, where more than two-thirds of the intelligence programs reside, only a handful of senior officials - called Super Users - have the ability to even know about all the department's activities. But as two of the Super Users indicated in interviews, there is simply no way they can keep up with the nation's most sensitive work.
"I'm not going to live long enough to be briefed on everything" was how one Super User put it. The other recounted that for his initial briefing, he was escorted into a tiny, dark room, seated at a small table and told he couldn't take notes. Program after program began flashing on a screen, he said, until he yelled ''Stop!" in frustration.
"I wasn't remembering any of it," he said.
Underscoring the seriousness of these issues are the conclusions of retired Army Lt. Gen. John R. Vines, who was asked last year to review the method for tracking the Defense Department's most sensitive programs. Vines, who once commanded 145,000 troops in Iraq and is familiar with complex problems, was stunned by what he discovered.
"I'm not aware of any agency with the authority, responsibility or a process in place to coordinate all these interagency and commercial activities," he said in an interview. "The complexity of this system defies description."
The result, he added, is that it's impossible to tell whether the country is safer because of all this spending and all these activities. "Because it lacks a synchronizing process, it inevitably results in message dissonance, reduced effectiveness and waste," Vines said. "We consequently can't effectively assess whether it is making us more safe."
The Post's investigation is based on government documents and contracts, job descriptions, property records, corporate and social networking Web sites, additional records, and hundreds of interviews with intelligence, military and corporate officials and former officials. Most requested anonymity either because they are prohibited from speaking publicly or because, they said, they feared retaliation at work for describing their concerns.
The Post's online database of government organizations and private companies was built entirely on public records. The investigation focused on top-secret work because the amount classified at the secret level is too large to accurately track.
Today's article describes the government's role in this expanding enterprise. Tuesday's article describes the government's dependence on private contractors. Wednesday's is a portrait of one Top Secret America community. On the Web, an extensive, searchable database built by The Post about Top Secret America is available at washingtonpost.com/topsecretamerica.
Defense Secretary Gates, in his interview with The Post, said that he does not believe the system has become too big to manage but that getting precise data is sometimes difficult. Singling out the growth of intelligence units in the Defense Department, he said he intends to review those programs for waste. "Nine years after 9/11, it makes a lot of sense to sort of take a look at this and say, 'Okay, we've built tremendous capability, but do we have more than we need?' " he said.
CIA Director Leon Panetta, who was also interviewed by The Post last week, said he's begun mapping out a five-year plan for his agency because the levels of spending since 9/11 are not sustainable. "Particularly with these deficits, we're going to hit the wall. I want to be prepared for that," he said. "Frankly, I think everyone in intelligence ought to be doing that."
In an interview before he resigned as the director of national intelligence in May, retired Adm. Dennis C. Blair said he did not believe there was overlap and redundancy in the intelligence world. "Much of what appears to be redundancy is, in fact, providing tailored intelligence for many different customers," he said.
Blair also expressed confidence that subordinates told him what he needed to know. "I have visibility on all the important intelligence programs across the community, and there are processes in place to ensure the different intelligence capabilities are working together where they need to," he said.
Weeks later, as he sat in the corner of a ballroom at the Willard Hotel waiting to give a speech, he mused about The Post's findings. "After 9/11, when we decided to attack violent extremism, we did as we so often do in this country," he said. "The attitude was, if it's worth doing, it's probably worth overdoing."
March 8th, 2012
March 8th, 2012
Washington (CNN) -- The Senate narrowly rejected a Republican-sponsored measure Thursday that would have bypassed the Obama administration's current objections to the Keystone XL pipeline and allowed construction on the controversial project to move forward immediately.
Fifty-six senators voted in favor of the amendment -- four short of the 60 required for approval. Eleven Democrats joined a unanimous Republican caucus in backing the plan.
The proposed 1,700-mile long pipeline expansion, intended to carry crude oil from Canada's oil sands to the U.S. Gulf Coast, has become a political lightning rod. Supporters, including the oil industry, say it's a vital job creator that will lessen the country's dependence on oil imported from volatile regions.
Opponents say the pipeline may leak, and that it will lock the United States into a particularly dirty form of crude that might ultimately end up being exported anyway.
The measure has sharply divided key Democratic constituencies. Labor unions largely back the plan while environmentalists oppose it.
President Barack Obama rejected a bid in January to expedite the pipeline, arguing that a decision deadline imposed by Congress did not leave sufficient time to conduct necessary reviews. Administration officials have said the president may still eventually give the project a green light, though critics accuse him of trying to delay a final decision until after the November election.
Obama personally lobbied wavering Democrats to block passage of the amendment.
"He made some calls," White House Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters before the vote. "The president believes that it is wrong to play politics with a pipeline project whose (exact) route has yet to be proposed."
While the amendment would have approved the construction of most of the pipeline expansion, it would not have allowed any work to begin immediately in Nebraska. Dave Heineman, Nebraska's Republican governor, cited environmental concerns in opposing the original route of the proposed expansion.
For their part, congressional Republicans blasted the president for twisting the arms of fellow Democrats.
"By personally lobbying against the Keystone pipeline, it means the president of the United States is lobbying for sending North American energy to China and lobbying against American jobs," House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said at a news conference.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, said Obama is "out of touch" on the issue.
"At a moment when millions are out of work, gas prices are skyrocketing, and the Middle East is in turmoil, we've got a president who's up making phone calls trying to block a pipeline here at home," he said. "It's unbelievable."
Republican presidential front-runner Mitt Romney called the decision a "no-brainer."
"How in the world can you have a president who doesn't understand the importance of getting energy from our next-door neighbor?" he said.
Democratic opposition to the Republican measure was complicated by reports last week that former President Bill Clinton came out in favor of building the pipeline.
March 8th, 2012
BLS note: Typically, if homeowners allow coverage to lapse on their home, while the bank requires coverage, the bank can force-place the coverage which then covers only the interest of the bank. Now, the Government will step in and take over this process, which means nothing less than yet another bureaucratic layer of costly regulations and tax-funded personnel, as mandated by the government.
While some banks have, indeed, abused this process with their mortgage customers in the past, allowing the government to come in and take over is nothing less than yet another avenue allowing the government into what should be a corporate process only.
The simple remedy, beforehand, was designed to make it onerous for the bank to get involved in the insuring process, by making premiums high and thereby easily discouraging a homeowner's irresponsibility in not maintaining their own coverage.
Ergo, this is but another step into the great Nanny State that the US government has finally become.
The practice of banks forcing expensive homeowners insurance on borrowers could come to an end after Fannie Mae told lenders it would seek to oversee such policies itself.
For many homeowners who are required to buy insurance as a condition of getting or keeping a mortgage, there is no choice as to insurer, terms or price. They end up with “force-placed insurance,” controversial policies that are purchased by the bank or mortgage servicer on the homeowners’ behalf.
Government-controlled Fannie Mae, the biggest source of money for U.S. home loans, notified lenders of the planned policy change in a Tuesday bulletin, a copy of which was obtained by Reuters.
“Fannie Mae will soon implement changes to its Lender-Placed Insurance (LPI) requirements to significantly reduce costs to homeowners, taxpayers, and Fannie Mae,” it said, adding that it has issued a request for proposals to insurance companies to compete for the business.
“The (proposal) is structured to ensure that insurance costs are significantly reduced,” Fannie said. Fannie Mae also said it would issue guidelines to mortgage servicers on when and how to obtain what are often called “force-placed” policies, and on what costs would be reimbursable.
In many cases, existing force-placed insurance policies are sold by insurance companies owned by the lenders, or by insurers with which the lenders have a financial relationship. Prices are usually substantially higher than they would be normally.
“Our goal is to reduce costs for Fannie Mae and thereby taxpayers, and to reduce a barrier for homeowners becoming current on their loans,” said Andrew Wilson, a spokesman for Fannie Mae.
New York financial regulators have been investigating the practice, issuing subpoenas in January to roughly two dozen insurers and mortgage servicers.
New York’s Department of Financial Services said it would continue its probe, even with Fannie’s move.
“Force placed insurance has been and will continue to be one of our top initiatives,” the department’s superintendent, Ben Lawsky, said in a statement.
American Banker first reported the details of the Fannie bulletin.
More from Reuters
March 8th, 2012
By Barry Secrest
On Tuesday, Rush began his show with an admonition "not to worry" regarding the exodus of a number of advertisers. Limbaugh went on to explain that the Media has blown much of the facts, surrounding his show, completely out of proportion. The following are a few of his direct words on the subject of his show advertisers:
I want to ask if you will indulge me for just a brief few minutes for some inside baseball stuff before we move on to our review of the issues of the day, politics and so forth, Super Tuesday, the results, and where we are. The reason for this is, once again, so much misinformation about this program and advertisers is in the mainstream media. People are reporting things that, A, are not true, and B, I don't even think the people reporting it have the slightest idea what they're talking about, nor do they have the ability to understand it.
Rush then went on to explain that the number given by the Axis Press of advertisers exiting the show were nothing much more than pie-in-the-sky rhetoric, since there is actually no true way to know, on both a local and national level.
But I know that many of you are spending a lot of time -- God bless you -- on the Web doing what you can to express your support for the program. And judging from the reaction of my own brother, who sends me a note last night, "You really lost 28 sponsors?" No, we have not lost 28 sponsors. "Well, how can they say it?" Because they lie and because they don't understand how it works, and that's what I want to try and explain. In fact, folks, we have three brand-new sponsors that will be starting in the next two weeks. Now, obviously, I'm not gonna tell you who they are today, but we've got three brand-new, full-fledged sponsors starting in the next two weeks.
In fact, most likely as a result of the Conservative backlash towards these sunny-sky advertisers, Limbaugh went on to explain how two advertisers are practically begging to come back. This, also, on the heels of a report that stated Carbonite's stock had dipped by almost 12 points, since their exit of the Rush Limbaugh show.
Two of the sponsors who have canceled have asked to return. We are being very careful about that. Not gonna give you any names here. One of them is practically begging to come back. Everything is fine on the business side. Everything's cool. There is not a thing to worry about. What you're seeing on television about this program and sponsors and advertisers is just incorrect. And let me try to explain how this works. Let's take the claim that we've lost 28 sponsors. Sponsors on this program are both local and national. We deal with the national sponsors on this program. We have 600-plus stations. They sell their own commercials. We don't have anything to do with those sponsors. We don't get paid by those sponsors. We have no idea who those sponsors are.
Finally Rush goes on to make the point that no one is losing money, and that his detractors are actually frustrated that the scenario did not end-up forcing him off of the air.
Nobody is losing money here, including us, in all this. And that is key for you to understand. They are not canceling the business on our stations. They're just saying they don't want their spots to appear in my show. We don't get any revenue from 'em anyway. The whole effort is to dispirit you. It's to make you think the left is being successful in its campaign when it isn't. In fact, the left is so fed up, they can't see straight. They thought they had me. They thought I would be off the air by now. They can't understand why I still am on the air. There is also another rumor going around that I am going to be suspended for a week. It is utter BS.
I would have to suspend myself!
To read the full post please click on this link