Homeland Security official resigns after comments linking blacks to ‘laziness’ and ‘promiscuity’ come to light

The Washington Post reports: A political appointee in the Department of Homeland Security abruptly resigned after the disclosure Thursday he previously made derogatory remarks about black people and Muslims on conservative talk radio.

Rev. Jamie Johnson, who was appointed the head of the DHS’s Center for Faith-Based & Neighborhood Partnerships in April, appeared on the program in 2008. The comments resurfaced Thursday after CNN published a report about them with audio snippets.

Johnson’s incendiary comments about black people came on the show “The Right Balance,” on Accent Radio Network, CNN reported. An unidentified speaker on the show said “a lot of blacks are anti-Semitic” and asked Johnson why.

Johnson extolled the economic successes of American Jews and said “it’s an indictment of America’s black community that has turned America’s major cities into slums because of laziness, drug use and sexual promiscuity,” according to a recording posted by CNN. [Continue reading…]

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U.S. dragged into Putin’s battle against Bill Browder

The Daily Beast reports: Vladimir Putin has dragged the Trump Administration into his campaign to silence critic and former investment fund manager Bill Browder, at least for the moment.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency officials were scrambling on Monday to explain whether and why Browder’s permission to enter the United States had been revoked after the government of Russian President Vladimir Putin issued an INTERPOL alert called a “diffusion” requesting his arrest.

The former U.S. ambassador to Russia, Michael McFaul, called on President Donald Trump and the State Department to deal with this “outrageous” issue immediately. “Fix this now. Now. Do not join Putin’s campaign against @BillBrowder,” McFaul urged on Twitter.

Amid potentially embarrassing claims about whether Interpol and the U.S. government had been duped by Russian officials, spokespersons at both agencies refused repeated requests to explain the situation. [Continue reading…]

The Associated Press reports: Browder said he was checking in to a flight to the United States on Sunday when he discovered he wasn’t able to travel. He said Putin had issued “an abusive Interpol arrest warrant” for him.

“I received a notification from DHS that my Global Entry was rejected on the 19th and a notification from the airline that my ESTA wasn’t valid after that,” Browder said.

The Electronic System for Travel Authorization, or ESTA, is administered by the Homeland Security Department and determines the eligibility of visitors to travel to the U.S. under a visa waiver program. Global Entry is a U.S. Customs and Border Protection program that allows low-risk travelers to have expedited clearance.

The State Department said Monday that Browder had never held a visa, and that many British citizens use the visa waiver program. In a separate statement, Homeland Security’s Customs and Border Patrol agency said Browder was “manually approved” to travel to the United States on Oct. 18.

The agency did not say whether Browder was on an Interpol list, but noted that “when possible matches to derogatory information are found, applications will be vetted through normal” customs procedures.

In response to Browder’s Sunday tweet, Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain, R-Ariz., and Maryland Sen. Ben Cardin, the top Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, asked the Homeland Security Department to review the action. In a separate letter, New York Rep. Elliot Engel, the top Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, asked the State Department to reverse it. [Continue reading…]

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The Jones Act waiver for Puerto Rico just expired and won’t be renewed

HuffPost reports: The Jones Act waiver for Puerto Rico expired on Sunday night and “it is not being extended at this time,” Department of Homeland Security spokesman David Lapan told HuffPost on Monday.

DHS had temporarily waived the Jones Act ― an arguably outdated law that imposes exorbitant shipping costs on the U.S. island ― on Sept. 28. The waiver has meant that Puerto Rico has been able to import food, fuel and supplies more quickly, and for half the costs, in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria.

With the 1920 law back in effect, the island will go back to paying much higher shipping costs to import supplies. The Jones Act requires that all goods shipped between U.S. ports be carried by American-owned and operated ships, which are more expensive vessels than others in the global marketplace. That’s meant that Puerto Rico pays double the costs for goods from the U.S. mainland compared with neighboring islands ― and that U.S. vessels are making bank. [Continue reading…]

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John Kelly’s personal cellphone was compromised, White House believes

Politico reports: White House officials believe that chief of staff John Kelly’s personal cellphone was compromised, potentially as long ago as December, according to three U.S. government officials.

The discovery raises concerns that hackers or foreign governments may have had access to data on Kelly’s phone while he was secretary of Homeland Security and after he joined the West Wing.

Tech support staff discovered the suspected breach after Kelly turned his phone in to White House tech support this summer complaining that it wasn’t working or updating software properly.

Kelly told the staffers the phone hadn’t been working properly for months, according to the officials. [Continue reading…]

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San Juan Mayor: ‘Dammit, this is not a good news story,’ Cruz says in response to statement by acting head of Homeland Security

 

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Trump claims he’s doing a heck of a job to help Puerto Rico

David A Graham writes: Amid a roiling humanitarian disaster in a U.S. territory, President Trump has one clear, overriding message for the people of Puerto Rico and the rest of the United States: He, Donald Trump, is doing a phenomenal job.

Here’s Trump Friday morning:


And Thursday morning:


And Tuesday morning:


The president is not the only person to make this claim. On Thursday, acting Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke called herself “very satisfied” with the response to Maria. [Continue reading…]

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U.S. denies request for Puerto Rico shipping waiver

Reuters reports: The Trump administration on Tuesday denied a request to waive shipping restrictions to help get fuel and supplies to storm-ravaged Puerto Rico, saying it would do nothing to address the island’s main impediment to shipping, damaged ports.

The Jones Act limits shipping between coasts to U.S. flagged vessels. However, in the wake of brutal storms, the government has occasionally issued temporary waivers to allow the use of cheaper, tax free, or more readily available foreign flagged ships.

The Department of Homeland Security, which waived the act after hurricanes Harvey and Irma, did not agree an exemption would help this time.

On Monday, U.S. Representative Nydia Velázquez and seven other representatives asked Elaine Duke, acting head of Homeland Security, to waive the nearly 100-year-old shipping law for a year to help Puerto Rico recover from Hurricane Maria.Gregory Moore, a spokesman for Customs and Border Protection, an office of Homeland Security, said in a statement that an assessment by the agency showed there was “sufficient capacity” of U.S.-flagged vessels to move commodities to Puerto Rico.

“The limitation is going to be port capacity to offload and transit, not vessel availability,” Moore said.

The government’s rationale for a waiver after the storms hit Texas, Louisiana and Florida was to ease movement of fuel to places along the U.S. East Coast and make up for temporary outages of high capacity pipelines.

“The situation in Puerto Rico is much different,” Moore said in the statement, adding that most of the humanitarian effort would be carried out with barges, which make up a large portion of the U.S. flagged cargo fleet.

Puerto Rico has long railed against the Jones Act, saying it makes the cost of imported basic commodities, such as food, clothing and fuel, more expensive.

“Our dependence on fossil fuel imports by sea is hampering the restoration of services,” said Juan Declet-Barreto, an energy expert at the nonprofit group the Union of Concerned Scientists. The refusal to allow the waiver “is raising fears on the island that they are going to be left behind in this disaster.” [Continue reading…]

Nelson A. Denis writes: After World War I, America was worried about German U-boats, which had sunk nearly 5,000 ships during the war. Congress enacted the Merchant Marine Act of 1920, a.k.a. the Jones Act, to ensure that the country maintained a shipbuilding industry and seafaring labor force. Section 27 of this law decreed that only American ships could carry goods and passengers from one United States port to another. In addition, every ship must be built, crewed and owned by American citizens.

Almost a century later, there are no U-boats lurking off the coast of Puerto Rico. The Jones Act has outlived its original intent, yet it is strangling the island’s economy.

Under the law, any foreign registry vessel that enters Puerto Rico must pay punitive tariffs, fees and taxes, which are passed on to the Puerto Rican consumer.

The foreign vessel has one other option: It can reroute to Jacksonville, Fla., where all the goods will be transferred to an American vessel, then shipped to Puerto Rico where — again — all the rerouting costs are passed through to the consumer.

Thanks to the law, the price of goods from the United States mainland is at least double that in neighboring islands, including the United States Virgin Islands, which are not covered by the Jones Act. Moreover, the cost of living in Puerto Rico is 13 percent higher than in 325 urban areas elsewhere in the United States, even though per capita income in Puerto Rico is about $18,000, close to half that of Mississippi, the poorest of all 50 states.

This is a shakedown, a mob protection racket, with Puerto Rico a captive market. The island is the fifth-largest market in the world for American products, and there are more Walmarts and Walgreens per square mile in Puerto Rico than anywhere else on the planet. [Continue reading…]

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Trump administration to replace travel ban with more targeted restrictions

The Wall Street Journal reports: The Trump administration is preparing to replace its controversial travel ban—which sought to bar almost all travel to the U.S. from six countries—with more targeted restrictions affecting a slightly larger number of countries, people familiar with the process said.

Rather than ban travel altogether from the nations on the new list, the order is set to create restrictions that vary by country, based on cooperation with U.S. mandates, the threat posed by each country and other factors.

Administration officials, in a briefing to reporters on Friday, described the new rubric in general terms, but didn’t say how many countries would be affected or name any of them. People familiar with the situation told The Wall Street Journal before the briefing that the total was likely to be around eight or nine.

The existing travel ban expires Sunday. A recommendation on the new rules has been sent to President Donald Trump, who could make changes. A final decision is expected before the deadline, and once he signs off on the rules, the White House plans to make public the list of countries and the restrictions for each.

The Department of Homeland Security originally flagged 17 nations as failing to comply with standards, such as informing the U.S. of known terrorists and issuing reliable passports. Facing the prospect of being included in a travel ban, about half of those nations made changes that brought them into compliance, the people familiar with the process said. [Continue reading…]

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21 states told they were targeted by Russian hackers during 2016 election

The Washington Post reports: The Department of Homeland Security contacted election officials in 21 states Friday to notify them that they had been targeted by Russian government hackers during the 2016 election.

Three months ago, DHS officials said that people connected to the Russian government tried to hack voting registration files or public election sites in 21 states, but Friday was the first time that government officials contacted individual state election officials to let them know they were targeted.

Officials said DHS told officials in all 50 states whether they were hacked or not.

“We heard feedback from the secretaries of state that this was an important piece of information,” said Bob Kolasky, acting deputy undersecretary for DHS’s National Protection and Programs Directorate. “We agreed that this information would help election officials make security decisions.”

He said it was important that the states shore up their systems now “rather than a few weeks before” the 2018 midterm elections. [Continue reading…]

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U.S. bans use of Kaspersky software in federal agencies amid concerns of Russian espionage

The Washington Post reports: The U.S. government on Wednesday moved to ban the use of a Russian brand of security software by federal agencies amid concerns the company has ties to state-sponsored cyberespionage activities.

In a binding directive, acting homeland security secretary Elaine Duke ordered that federal civilian agencies identify Kaspersky Lab software on their networks. After 90 days, unless otherwise directed, they must remove the software, on the grounds that the company has connections to the Russian government and its software poses a security risk.

The Department of Homeland Security “is concerned about the ties between certain Kaspersky officials and Russian intelligence and other government agencies, and requirements under Russian law that allow Russian intelligence agencies to request or compel assistance from Kaspersky and to intercept communications transiting Russian networks,” the department said in a statement. “The risk that the Russian government, whether acting on its own or in collaboration with Kaspersky, could capitalize on access provided by Kaspersky products to compromise federal information and information systems directly implicates U.S. national security.” [Continue reading…]

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FBI and DHS warned of growing threat from white supremacists months ago

Foreign Policy reports: The FBI and the Department of Homeland Security in May warned that white supremacist groups had already carried out more attacks than any other domestic extremist group over the past 16 years and were likely to carry out more attacks over the next year, according to an intelligence bulletin obtained by Foreign Policy.

Even as President Donald Trump continues to resist calling out white supremacists for violence, federal law enforcement has made clear that it sees these types of domestic extremists as a severe threat. The report, dated May 10, says the FBI and DHS believe that members of the white supremacist movement “likely will continue to pose a threat of lethal violence over the next year.”

The “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, which attracted hundreds of white supremacists, neo-Nazis, and other members of the so-called alt-right, sparked violent clashes over the weekend. A woman, Heather Heyer, was killed by a car that drove into a crowd of people protesting the rally.

James Alex Fields Jr., the driver of the vehicle that struck Heyer, was arrested and charged with second-degree murder.

Since the outbreak of violence over the weekend, President Trump has been heavily criticized for not condemning racist groups. “We must remember this truth: No matter our color, creed, religion or political party, we are ALL AMERICANS FIRST,” he tweeted.

The FBI, on the other hand, has already concluded that white supremacists, including neo-Nazi supporters and members of the Ku Klux Klan, are in fact responsible for the lion’s share of violent attacks among domestic extremist groups. White supremacists “were responsible for 49 homicides in 26 attacks from 2000 to 2016 … more than any other domestic extremist movement,” reads the joint intelligence bulletin. [Continue reading…]

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Guam Homeland Security releases fact sheet in light of North Korea threats

Pacific Daily News reports: Guam Homeland Security issued a new fact sheet Friday, which the agency says will help residents prepare for an imminent missile threat.

The information was released following this week’s threat by North Korea to launch a missile attack against Guam.

The advice includes tips such as: “Do not look at the flash or fireball – It can blind you” and “Take cover behind anything that might offer protection.”

“Lie flat on the ground and cover your head. If the explosion is some distance away, it could take 30 seconds or more for the blast wave to hit,” the sheet states.

During a press conference at Adelup late Friday afternoon, Gov. Eddie Calvo told reporters that the threat level remains the same and that the island is “safe and sound.”

“There are no changes,” Calvo said. “Everyone should continue to live their lives.”

While the governor said there’s no imminent threat to the island, he said families should still be prepared any situation, including inclement weather, and establish a family emergency plan.

Homeland Security says residents should prepare an emergency supply kit and a family emergency plan. During an imminent missile threat, authorities recommend taking cover as quickly as possible under a concrete structure or below ground after an attack warning is issued.

People should also avoid going outside for at least 24 hours to avoid any possible radioactive material, unless otherwise told by authorities. [Continue reading…]

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Coast Guard chief to transgender personnel: ‘I will not turn my back’

Politico reports: The head of the Coast Guard is pledging he “will not break faith” with transgender personnel, marking the strongest rebuttal yet by a leader of the armed forces to President Donald Trump’s declaration that he wants to ban all transgender troops.

Commandant Paul Zukunft, in remarks to a Washington think tank on Tuesday, cited the story of Coast Guard Lt. Taylor Miller, who was featured last week in The Washington Post, to express his support for transgender members of his service.

“I told Taylor I will not turn my back,” Zukunft told the Center for Strategic and International Studies forum. “We have made an investment in you and you have made an investment in the Coast Guard, and I will not break faith.” [Continue reading…]

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Trump’s handling of Comey firing led Kelly to consider resigning

CNN reports: New White House chief of staff John Kelly was so upset with how President Donald Trump handled the firing of FBI Director James Comey that Kelly called Comey afterward and said he was considering resigning, according to two sources familiar with a conversation between Kelly and Comey.

Both sources cautioned that it was unclear how serious Kelly, then the secretary of homeland security, was about resigning himself.

“John was angry and hurt by what he saw and the way (Comey) was treated,” one of the sources said.

Comey learned of his dismissal on May 9 from televisions tuned to the news as he was addressing the workforce at the FBI office in Los Angeles, law enforcement sources said at the time. Comey made a joke about it to lighten the mood and called his office to get confirmation.

Comey, who took Kelly’s call while traveling back from Los Angeles to Washington, responded to Kelly by telling him not to resign, one of the sources said. [Continue reading…]

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A veteran ICE agent, disillusioned with the Trump era, speaks out

Jonathan Blitzer writes: In March, two months after President Trump took office, I received a text message from a veteran agent at Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). I had been trying to find field agents willing to describe what life was like at the agency in the Trump era. This agent agreed to talk. Over the past four months, we have texted often and spoken on the phone several times. Some of our discussions have been about the specifics of new federal policies aimed at dramatically increasing the number of deportations. At other times, we’ve talked more broadly about how the culture at ice has shifted. In April, the agent texted me a screen shot of a page from the minutes of a recent meeting, during which a superior had said that it was “the most exciting time to be part of ice” in the agency’s history. The photo was sent without commentary—the agent just wanted someone on the outside to see it.

The agent, who has worked in federal immigration enforcement since the Clinton Administration, has been unsettled by the new order at ice. During the campaign, many rank-and-file agents publicly cheered Trump’s pledge to deport more immigrants, and, since Inauguration Day, the Administration has explicitly encouraged them to pursue the undocumented as aggressively as possible. “We’re going to get sued,” the agent told me at one point. “You have guys who are doing whatever they want in the field, going after whoever they want.” At first, the agent spoke to me on the condition that I not publish anything about our conversations. But that has changed. Increasingly angry about the direction in which ICE is moving, the agent agreed last week to let me publish some of the details of our talks, as long as I didn’t include identifying information.

“We used to look at things through the totality of the circumstances when it came to a removal order—that’s out the window,” the agent told me the other day. “I don’t know that there’s that appreciation of the entire realm of what we’re doing. It’s not just the person we’re removing. It’s their entire family. People say, ‘Well, they put themselves in this position because they came illegally.’ I totally understand that. But you have to remember that our job is not to judge. The problem is that now there are lots of people who feel free to feel contempt.” [Continue reading…]

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How Trump is stealthily carrying out his Muslim ban

Farhana Khera and Johnathan J. Smith write: Lost amid the uproar over the Trump administration’s travel restrictions on citizens from Muslim-majority countries and the impending showdown at the Supreme Court are the insidious ways that the government has already begun to impose a Muslim ban.

It’s doing so through deceptively boring means: increasing administrative hurdles and cementing or even expanding the current travel restrictions that are not under review at the court. The collective impact of these changes will be that a permanent Muslim ban is enshrined into American immigration policy.

Last month, the Supreme Court agreed to hear two cases that challenge the legality of President Trump’s immigration and refugee executive order. And it buoyed the Trump administration’s xenophobia when it put the temporary ban back in place and denied entry to people who lack a “bona fide relationship” with an American citizen or entity. (Astonishingly, the government claims that grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and the affianced lack such a relationship, but a federal judge in Hawaii has disagreed.)

While these short-term travel restrictions will be at the heart of what the Supreme Court considers this fall, they have never been the president’s ultimate objective. Instead, his endgame, as he repeatedly made clear on the campaign trail, is the “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.” And in a quiet, under-the-radar manner, his administration has been hard at work to make that happen. [Continue reading…]

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Trump blamed Loretta Lynch for letting a Russian lawyer into the U.S.. Here’s how she actually got in

BuzzFeed reports: In the days before her June 2016 meeting with Donald Trump, Jr. and other top Trump campaign aides, Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya was granted a visa by the US State Department to enter the country.

“In Sept. 2015, DHS paroled Natalia Veselnitskaya into the U.S. in concurrence with the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Southern District of New York, allowing her to participate in a client’s legal proceedings,” the Department of Homeland Security said in a statement to BuzzFeed News Thursday night.

“Ms. Veselnitskaya was subsequently paroled into the U.S. several times between 2015 and 2016, ending in February 2016. In June 2016, she was issued a B1/B2 nonimmigrant visa by the U.S. Department of State,” it said.

The statement contradicts remarks made by President Donald Trump earlier Thursday, suggesting that the Russian lawyer had somehow been allowed into the US by former Attorney General Loretta Lynch. [Continue reading…]

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