House passes ‘clean’ homeland security funding

About a third House Republicans joined with Democrats on Tuesday to pass legislation fully funding the Department of Homeland Security through this year’s end.

Some more conservative Republicans opposed the move, refusing to vote for a bill that doesn’t defund or otherwise roll back President Obama’s executive actions on immigration. But the GOP leadership – speaker John Boenher, R-Ohio; Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, D-Bakersfield; and Majority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La. – all voted for it. The vote was 257-167.

From Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Dublin:

“For the past three months, House Republicans have been playing a dangerous game in which the American people are on the losing end. Today, reason prevailed and the games are finally over. The people charged with protecting our national security deserve more than uncertainty. It is outrageous that Homeland Security funding was held hostage to a partisan debate. This is not how we should govern.

“Americans are rightly sick of the politically manufactured crises they’ve come to expect from this Tea-Party-led Congress. I am grateful to finally move past this brinkmanship and address real challenges. It’s time to get to work doing what the American people sent us here to do, creating economy-boosting jobs that pay enough for hard-working families to get ahead.”

From Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Turlock:

“The top priority of Congress is to ensure the safety of the American people. Today’s vote ensures that our homeland security agents and personnel have the certainty and long term funding necessary to do their critical work of keeping us all safe. I do not support the President’s unilateral executive action on immigration as it flies in the face of the United States Constitution and ignores the will of the people. However, we cannot hold hostage funding for our national security and I will continue to push for a full debate on every aspect of immigration reform.”

From Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto:

“Once again, Leader Pelosi has led the House out of a dire situation by providing the Democratic votes necessary to avert a dangerous partial shutdown of the Department of Homeland Security. The agency will be fully funded through the remainder of the fiscal year, and the American people can be assured that key national security operations will not be interrupted.”

From Rep. Sam Farr, D-Carmel:

“Our national security will not be shut down. Thankfully enough Republicans put their country before their party and joined with the Democrats to pass a clean DHS bill. Funding for our national security should never be held hostage in a political debate. Those upset by the President’s immigration plan should instead work with us to fix our broken system.”


Pool report from President Obama at Stanford

Here are the pool reports I’ve filed today from President Obama’s visit to Stanford University for the White House Summit on Cybersecurity and Consumer Protection. Click here for our main story on the overall summit.

Stanford University President John L. Hennessy began speaking at11:31 a.m. to introduce the President. Hennessy said Obama understands the challenges of cybersecurity, as “an avid Blackberry user” and the first president to be electronically connected, he had to give that up upon taking office.

President Obama came to the podium at 11:33 a.m. to a standing ovation, with students in the balcony roaring.

“Yes we can,” he echoed a particularly enthusiastic audience member’s call.

The President praised the Stanford campus’ beauty. “I’ve got to admit, I kind of want to go here – I was trying to figure out why a really nice place like this is wasted on young people who don’t fully appreciate what you’ve got.” He also thanked the university for hosting this summit, and noted that members of his administration including Valerie Jarrett, Susan Rice, Penny Pritzker and others are Stanford alumni who “bleed Cardinal red.”

“This is the place that made nerd cool,” he said. “I was thinking of wearing some black-rimmed glasses with some tape in the middle, but I guess that’s not what you do anymore.”

“But, I’m not just here to enjoy myself.”

The President said the economy continues to recover, with an unprecedented streak of job creation and middle-class earnings starting to rise. “More than any other nation on earth, the United States is positioned to lead in the 21st century,” he said, and that means leading in technological innovation.

The President noted Stanford and its environs were the birthplace of Hewlett-Packard, the mouse, and the internet itself, “innovations for cloud computing, student projects here became Yahoo! and Google. Those were pretty good student projects.”
He said if all companies traceable back to Stanford formed their own nation, “you’d have one of the largest economies in the world, and a pretty good football team as well.”

“Just as we’re all connected like never before, we have to work together like never before, both to seize opportunities and to meet the challenges of this information age,” he said.

LOTS more, after the jump…
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Lawmakers seek update on power station attack

Silicon Valley’s House members want an update on the Department of Homeland Security’s investigation of the sniper attack on PG&E’s Metcalf power substation last April.

METCALF plant 020614Reps. Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose; Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto; and Mike Honda, D-San Jose; wrote a letter Thursday to Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson.

“Although the damage from the Metcalf incident was largely contained, the potential for a catastrophic attack impacting both our electric grid and communications infrastructure is evident,” the lawmakers wrote. “As we understand it, rolling blackouts throughout our region were narrowly averted. The Metcalf attack, while sophisticated, was relatively small. A larger attack is not difficult to imagine and the effects could be crippling.”

Somebody fired rifle rounds last April to take out 17 transformers and 6 circuit breakers, causing $15.4 million in damage at the facility near Coyote Ranch Road in South San Jose. Nobody was hurt and nobody lost power, but circumstances suggest it was a planned attack.

Given the Bay Area’s high concentration of Fortune 500 companies, patent generation and economic productivity, a successful attack on the area’s power grid “would impact not only our region but our country as a whole,” they wrote.

The lawmakers asked Johnson to respond by March 14 with a summary of his department’s work on the incident, including the initial emergency response; work since the incident on improving protection of critical infrastructure, emergency mitigation and coordination with other agencies; recommendations for more improvements; and guidance on whether any congressional action is needed.


Swalwell speaks at social media/disaster hearing

Rep. Eric Swalwell served as the top Democrat at a House Homeland Security subcommittee hearing Tuesday on how the government can use social media and new technologies in disaster relief and recovery.

“Just this past weekend we saw how critical and relevant social media can be in times of crisis following the SFO crash, and it’s our job to figure out how the government can best use technology in a disaster situation to respond effectively and efficiently,” Swalwell, D-Pleasanton, said in a news release. “We have challenges to overcome, such as verifying information as accurate and making more government data open source, and this hearing was a step to learning best practices so we can take advantage of the opportunities presented by social media when disaster strikes.”

Swalwell noted that after the Boston Marathon bombings, a quarter of Americans reportedly looked to Facebook, Twitter and other social networking sites for information. He asked expert witnesses Tuesday how the government can accurately verify information gained from social media and integrate social media into disaster recovery plans with limited resources, while respecting individual privacy.

The Subcommittee on Emergency Preparedness, Response, and Communications heard today from Shayne Adamski, senior manager of digital engagement at the Federal Emergency Management Agency; Suzanne DeFrancis, chief public affairs officer at the American Red Cross; Albert Ashwood, director of the Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management; and Sgt. Greg Kierce, director of the Jersey City Office of Emergency Management & Homeland Security. Swalwell filled in for ranking Democrat Donald Payne, D-N.J., who had joined his Congressional Black Caucus colleagues for a meeting with President Obama.

Read Swalwell’s remarks as prepared for delivery, after the jump…
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TSA delays knife policy; Swalwell declares victory

U.S. Rep. Eric Swalwell is declaring now that the Transportation Security Administration has decided to delay implementing its new policy allowing certain knives and sporting equipment on plans.

Swalwell, a freshman member of the Homeland Security Transportation Subcommittee, had taken a lead role in grilling TSA officials at hearings and organizing other House members to write in opposition to the policy, which they say was revised without adequate input from pilots and flight attendants.

“Today’s announcement by TSA is welcome news for airline passengers and crews,” Swalwell, D-Pleasanton, said in a news release. “I appreciate that TSA Administrator Pistole listened to the 133 Members of Congress who signed our letter asking for this reversal in policy, stakeholders like pilots and flight attendants, and the general public who oppose this disturbing decision. This delay in implementation is a positive step by the Administrator that will allow stakeholders to have their rightful input into a decision that directly affects their safety and that of the flying public.”


ACLU demands cops’ data on cell-phone tracking

The American Civil Liberties Union’s California affiliates sent a letter to more than 50 law enforcement agencies across the state today demanding to know when, why and how police are using mobile phone location data and deploying other surveillance technology to track people.

In the greater Bay Area, the ACLU’s Public Records Act requests went to the police departments in Oakland, San Jose, Fremont, Richmond, San Francisco, Vallejo, San Rafael, Novato, Manteca and Stockton, as well as to the Marin and Solano sheriffs.

EnemyOfTheStateIt’s part of a national ACLU initiative based on revelations that Sprint received over 8 million demands in 13 months for location information; Michigan police sought information about every mobile phone near the site of a planned labor protest; researchers disclosed this spring that iPhones collect and store location data; and the National Security Agency’s general counsel last week suggested to members of Congress that the agency might have authority to collect location information on American citizens inside the U.S.

In addition to collection of mobile phone location data, the ACLU is asking the same questions about police use of information gathered from social networking sites, book providers, GPS tracking devices, automatic license plate readers, public video surveillance cameras and facial recognition technology.

“Unless we require transparency on the part of police agencies, powerful new methods of surveillance will become powerful new methods of invading our privacy,” Northern California ACLU staff attorney Linda Lye said in a news release.

The letter asks police agencies to cough up statistics on how agencies are obtaining, using, storing and sharing personal information; the stated purpose for gathering personal information, guidelines on how long the data is kept, when and how it is deleted, and whether privacy safeguards exist; training materials, policies or protocols provided to officers to guide them in the use of these tools; whether police demonstrate probable cause and get a warrant to access mobile phone location data and to collect other detailed personal information; and data on the effectiveness of the use of digital surveillance in identifying or arresting suspects.