October 21, 2021

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Former Army Green Beret Sentenced for Russian Espionage Conspiracy

15 min read
<div>A Virginia man and former Army Green Beret was sentenced today to XX years in prison for conspiring with Russian intelligence operatives to provide them with U.S. national defense information.</div>
A Virginia man and former Army Green Beret was sentenced today to XX years in prison for conspiring with Russian intelligence operatives to provide them with U.S. national defense information.

More from: May 14, 2021

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  • Defense Management: DOD Needs to Establish Clear Goals and Objectives, Guidance, and a Designated Budget to Manage Its Biometrics Activities
    In U.S GAO News
    The Department of Defense (DOD), in its response to unconventional threats from terrorists, uses biometrics technologies that identify physical attributes, including fingerprints and iris scans. However, coordinating the development and implementation of biometrics and ensuring interoperability across DOD has been difficult to achieve. Biometrics also is an enabling technology for identity management, a concept that seeks to manage personally identifiable information to enable improved governmentwide sharing and analysis of identity information. GAO was asked to examine the extent to which DOD has established biometrics goals and objectives, implementing guidance for managing biometrics activities, and a designated budget. To address these objectives, GAO reviewed documentation, including DOD biometrics policy and directives, and interviewed key DOD officials involved with making policy and funding decisions regarding biometrics.DOD established, in October 2006, the Principal Staff Assistant, who is the Director of Defense Research and Engineering, and an Executive Committee as part of its attempts to improve the management of its biometrics activities. However, as of August 2008, it had not established management practices that include clearly defined goals and objectives, implementing guidance that clarifies decision-making procedures for the Executive Committee, and a designated biometrics budget. First, while DOD has stated some general goals for biometrics, such as providing recognized leadership and comprehensive planning policy, it has not articulated specific program objectives, the steps needed to achieve those objectives, and the priorities, milestones, and performance measures needed to gauge results. Second, DOD issued a directive in 2008 to establish biometrics policy and assigned general responsibilities to the Executive Committee and the Principal Staff Assistant but has not issued implementing guidance that clarifies decision-making procedures. The Executive Committee is chaired by the Principal Staff Assistant and includes a wide array of representatives from DOD communities such as intelligence, acquisitions, networks and information integration, personnel, and policy and the military services. The Executive Committee is responsible for resolving biometrics management issues, such as issues between the military services and joint interests resulting in duplications of effort. However, the committee does not have guidance for making decisions that can resolve management issues. Past DOD reports have noted difficulties in decision making and accountability in the management of its biometrics activities. Third, DOD also has not established a designated budget for biometrics that links resources to specific objectives and provides a consolidated view of the resources devoted to biometrics activities. Instead, it has relied on initiative-by-initiative requests for supplemental funding, which may not provide a predictable stream of funding for biometrics. Prior GAO work on performance management demonstrates that successful programs incorporate such key management practices, and for several years, DOD reports and studies have also called for DOD to establish such practices for its biometrics activities. Similarly, a new presidential directive issued in June 2008 supports the establishment of these practices in addition to calling for a governmentwide framework for the sharing of biometrics data. DOD officials have said that DOD's focus has been on quickly fielding biometrics systems and maximizing existing systems to address immediate warfighting needs in Afghanistan and Iraq. This focus on responding to immediate warfighting needs and the absence of the essential management practices have contributed to operational inefficiencies in managing DOD's biometrics activities, such as DOD's difficulties in sharing biometrics data within and outside the department. For example, in May 2008 GAO recommended that DOD establish guidance specifying a standard set of biometrics data for collection during military operations in the field. These shortcomings may also impede DOD's implementation of the June 2008 presidential directive and the overall identity management operating concept.
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  • Air Pollution: Opportunities to Better Sustain and Modernize the National Air Quality Monitoring System
    In U.S GAO News
    The ambient air quality monitoring system is a national asset that provides standardized information for implementing the Clean Air Act and protecting public health. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and state and local agencies cooperatively manage the system, with each playing different roles in design, operation, oversight, and funding. For example, EPA establishes minimum requirements for the system, and state and local agencies operate the monitors and report data to EPA. Officials from EPA and selected state and local agencies identified challenges related to sustaining the monitoring system. For example, they said that infrastructure is aging while annual EPA funding for state and local air quality management grants, which cover monitoring, has decreased by about 20 percent since 2004 after adjusting for inflation (see fig.). GAO found inconsistencies in how EPA regions have addressed these challenges. GAO's prior work has identified key characteristics of asset management, such as identifying needed resources and using quality data to manage infrastructure risks, which can help organizations optimize limited resources. By developing an asset management framework that includes such characteristics, EPA could better target limited resources toward the highest priorities for consistently sustaining the system. Annual Inflation-Adjusted EPA Funding for State and Local Air Quality Management Grants Air quality managers, researchers, and the public need additional information so they can better understand and address the health risks from air pollution, according to GAO's review of literature and interviews GAO conducted. These needs include additional information on (1) air toxics to understand health risks in key locations such as near industrial facilities; and (2) how to use low-cost sensors to provide real-time, local-scale air quality information. EPA and state and local agencies face persistent challenges meeting such air quality information needs, including challenges in understanding the performance of low-cost sensors. GAO illustrated this challenge by collecting air quality data from low-cost sensors and finding variability in their performance. EPA has strategies aimed at better meeting the additional air quality information needs of managers, researchers, and the public, but the strategies are outdated and incomplete. For example, they do not clearly define roles for meeting additional information needs. GAO's prior work on asset management suggests that a more strategic approach could help EPA modernize the system to better meet the additional information needs. By developing a modernization plan that aligns with leading practices for strategic planning and risk management, such as establishing modernization goals and roles, EPA could better ensure that the system meets the additional information needs of air quality managers, researchers, and the public and is positioned to protect public health. The national ambient air quality monitoring system shows that the United States has made progress in reducing air pollution but that risks to public health and the environment continue in certain locations. The system consists of sites that measure air pollution levels around fixed locations across the country using specific methods. Since the system began in the 1970s, air quality concerns have changed—such as increased concern about the health effects of air toxics. GAO was asked to evaluate the national air quality monitoring system. This report examines the role of the system and how it is managed, challenges in managing the system and actions to address them, and needs for additional air quality information and actions to address challenges in meeting those needs. GAO reviewed literature, laws, and agency documents; conducted a demonstration of low-cost sensors; and interviewed EPA officials, selected state and local officials, representatives from air quality associations, and stakeholders. GAO is making two recommendations for EPA to (1) establish an asset management framework for the monitoring system that includes key characteristics and (2) develop an air quality monitoring modernization plan that aligns with leading practices. In written comments on the report, EPA generally agreed with the recommendations. For more information, contact J. Alfredo Gómez at (202) 512-3841 or gomezj@gao.gov.
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  • Science & Tech Spotlight: Tracing the Source of Chemical Weapons
    In U.S GAO News
    Why This Matters Some governments are suspected of using chemical weapons despite international prohibitions under the Chemical Weapons Convention. For example, sarin and VX nerve gas have been identified in attacks. Most recently, Novichok nerve agent was used in 2020. Technologies exist to identify chemical warfare agents and possibly their sources, but challenges remain in identifying the person or entity responsible. The Technology What is it? According to the Global Public Policy Institute, there have been more than 330 chemical weapons attacks since 2012. Such attacks are prohibited under the Chemical Weapons Convention. A set of methods called forensic chemical attribution has the potential to trace the chemical agent used in such attacks to a source. A set of methods called forensic chemical attribution has the potential to trace the chemical agent used in such attacks to a source. For example, investigators could use these methods to identify the geographic sources of raw materials used to make the agent, for example, or to identify the manufacturing process Such information can aid leaders in deciding on whether or how to respond to a chemical weapons attack. Figure 1. Forensic chemical attribution process How does it work? Forensic chemical attribution is a three-step process, though the third step is being developed (see Fig. 1). First, a sample is taken from a victim or the site of an attack. Second, the sample's chemical components are analyzed and identified (see Fig. 2), either at a mobile lab or at one of 18 authorized biomedical labs worldwide. Common identification methods are: Gas chromatography, which separates chemical components of a mixture and quantifies the amount of each chemical. Mass spectrometry, which measures the mass-to-charge ratio of ions (i.e., charged particles) by converting molecules to ions and separating the ions based on their molecular weight. Nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR), which can determine the structure of a molecule by measuring the interaction between atomic nuclei placed in a magnetic field and exposing it to radio waves. NMR works on is the same principle as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) used in medical diagnostics. In the third step—still under development—investigators use the data from the forensic chemical identification and analysis and identification methods from step two to develop a "chemical fingerprint." The fingerprint can be matched to a database of information on existing methods or known sources to identify chemical agents (i.e., Source A matching Sample 1 of Fig. 2). However, a comprehensive database containing complete, reliable data for known agents does not exist. How mature is it? Forensic chemical analysis and identification (i.e., Step 2 of Fig.1) is mature for known chemical agents. For example, investigators determined the nerve agent sarin was used in an attack on civilians in 2017. The methods can also identify new agents, as when investigators determined the chemical composition of the Novichok nerve agent after its first known use, in 2018. Forensic chemical analysis and identification methods are also mature enough to generate data that investigators could use as a "chemical fingerprint"– that is, a unique chemical signature that could be used in part to attribute a chemical weapon to a person or entity. For example, combining gas chromatography and mass spectrometry can provide reliable information about the chemical components and molecular weight of an agent. To achieve Step 3, scientists could use this these methods in a laboratory experiment to match impurities in chemical feedstocks of the weapon to potentially determine who made it. In an investigation, such impurities could indicate the geographic origin of the starting material and the process used to create the agent. Figure 2. Example of forensic chemical identification and analysis, showing a match between Sample 1 and Source A. Opportunities An effective international system for forensic chemical attribution can open up several opportunities, including: Defense. Knowing the source of a chemical agent could help nations better defend against future attacks and, when appropriate, take military action in response to an attack.  Legal response. Source attribution may provide information to help find and prosecute attackers or to impose sanctions. Deterrence. The ability to trace chemical agents to a source might deter future use of chemical weapons.  Challenges Chemical database. Creating a comprehensive international database of chemical fingerprints would require funding and international collaboration to sample chemicals from around the world. Finding perpetrators. Matching a chemical to its sources does not reveal who actually used it in an attack. Almost all investigations require additional evidence. Samples. Collecting a sufficient sample for attribution can be challenging, as can storing and transporting it using a secure chain of custody—potentially over great distance—to one of the 18 authorized biomedical labs worldwide. International cooperation. Lack of cooperation can delay investigations and may compromise sample quality.  Cooperation is also essential for creating an international database. Standardization. Attribution methods are complex and require standardized, internationally accepted protocols to ensure results are reliable and trusted. Such protocols do not yet exist for attributing a chemical weapons attack. Policy Context and Questions The following questions are relevant to building an effective, trusted system for tracing attacks using forensic chemical attribution: How can federal agencies promote and contribute to the international standardization of scientific methods for forensic chemical attribution? Which agency or agencies should lead this effort? How can the international community create and implement a framework for cooperation and trust in forensic chemical attribution? What actions could promote or incentivize creation of an internationally accepted database of unique chemical fingerprints for attributing chemical agents to their sources? What can be done to fully identify and address the scientific and technological gaps in current capabilities for attributing a chemical agent to its source? For more information, contact Karen Howard at (202) 512-6888 or HowardK@gao.gov.
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  • Highway Bridges: Federal Highway Administration Could Better Assist States with Information on Corrosion Practices
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found According to the Federal Highway Administration's (FHWA) database of information on bridges' condition, the percentage of deck area, a measure that accounts for the size of a bridge, for National Highway System (NHS) bridges in poor condition has decreased since 2012. However, since 2016, the percentage of deck area for NHS bridges in good condition has also decreased, while the percentage of deck area for bridges in fair condition has increased. Although these data do not indicate the extent to which corrosion affects bridges' condition, studies GAO reviewed and stakeholders GAO spoke with—including FHWA, five selected states, and six associations—indicate a significant relationship between corrosion and bridge condition. (See figure.) Examples of Bridge Corrosion State practices to prevent and manage corrosion vary based on environmental factors and bridge condition. For example, states exposed to sea water and deicing chemicals may clean bridges to remove materials that could accelerate corrosion. Four of the five selected states prioritized rehabilitating and replacing poor condition bridges, while the fifth state said it took steps to address corrosion to preserve and maintain bridges in good and fair condition. States are transitioning to asset management practices that emphasize bridge preservation strategies. However, officials from the selected states said limited information about specific corrosion practices' effectiveness is a challenge to implementing asset management practices. For example, officials from some selected states said they use sealant on bridge decks to prevent corrosion while officials from another said they do not because they do not know how effective it is. FHWA, within the Department of Transportation, helps states address corrosion through research and technical assistance. However, FHWA efforts have generally focused on overall bridge condition and may not meet states' needs to determine the circumstances in which to use specific practices. For example, FHWA's Bridge Preservation Guide identifies practices that can be part of a bridge preservation approach but does not indicate under what circumstances they are most effective. Although FHWA does not endorse specific practices, officials recognize their role in helping states make well-informed decisions regarding bridge corrosion. As states continue transitioning to an asset management approach, providing information about the circumstances under which different corrosion practices are most effective could help states make best use of their resources. Why GAO Did This Study In 2021, U.S. bridges, including those on the NHS, were estimated to need billions of dollars in repairs, including efforts to mitigate the effects of corrosion. House Report 116-106 included a provision for GAO to review the status of states' bridge corrosion-control planning. This report examines: (1) trends in the condition of bridges on the NHS and what is known about how corrosion affects bridge condition, (2) practices states use to address corrosion on NHS bridges and how selected states prioritize efforts to address corrosion, and (3) how FHWA assists states in addressing bridge corrosion. GAO reviewed applicable statutes, regulations, guidance, and studies related to corrosion prevention and management, and analyzed data on NHS bridges. GAO selected five states—Florida, Illinois, Kansas, Rhode Island, and Wyoming—based on factors, such as the percentage of bridge deck area in good and poor condition and geographic diversity. Finally, GAO interviewed FHWA, state transportation, and various association officials and assessed FHWA's actions against internal controls for using quality information.
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  • Defense Real Property: DOD-Wide Strategy Needed to Address Control Issues and Improve Reliability of Records
    In U.S GAO News
    As required by the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2018, the Department of Defense (DOD) for fiscal year 2019 underwent a financial statement audit. In the military services' full financial statement audit reports for fiscal year 2019, the independent public accountants reported serious control issues related to events that occur during the life cycle of real property, consisting of adding, disposing, reconciling, valuing, and performing physical inventory counts. These control issues affect not only the reliability of financial statement reporting but also the quality of property record data that DOD officials need to make decisions for budget and mission planning, space management, and buying versus leasing options. Further, with DOD having almost half of the government's buildings, better data could help the federal government identify opportunities to dispose of unneeded buildings and reduce lease costs, thus potentially saving it millions of dollars. DOD has not yet developed a comprehensive, department-wide strategy—an element of leading practices for enterprise-wide real property management—to address the reported real property issues. Instead, each of the military services is independently developing corrective actions to address control issues, without applying common solutions among the services or department-wide. A department-wide strategy for remediating control issues would better position DOD to develop sustainable, routine processes that help ensure accurate real property records and, ultimately, auditable information for financial reporting for the department. Additionally, a DOD-wide strategy could help the military services more effectively and efficiently address reported control issues, particularly for those categorized as DOD-wide issues. The Acting Secretary, noting that the services had not accurately accounted for DOD's buildings and structures, required existence and completeness (E&C) verifications to be performed for all real property for fiscal year 2019. Given the lack of department-wide instructions for how to carry out the requirement, the military services independently developed approaches for performing the E&C verifications. Their approaches differed in both scope (what assets were verified) and methodology (how the assets were verified), including the extent to which instructions were written. Reporting and monitoring of the results by service and department-level management also differed. Without department-wide instructions for performing the fiscal year 2019 E&C verifications, the results were not comparable among the military services. Further, DOD and the military services did not obtain the complete and consistent information needed to create a DOD real property baseline or to help ensure that the department's real property records are reliable. DOD-wide instructions would help DOD obtain complete and comparable E&C verifications results, which would help DOD achieve an auditable real property baseline and, ultimately, its objective of an unmodified (“clean”) audit opinion. DOD manages one of the federal government's largest portfolios of real property. This engagement was initiated in connection with the statutory requirement for GAO to audit the U.S. government's consolidated financial statements. DOD's uncorrected deficiencies, including those affecting real property, prevent DOD from having auditable financial statements, one of the three major impediments preventing GAO from expressing an opinion on the accrual-based consolidated financial statements of the U.S. government. This report (1) identifies the real property control issues that independent public accountants reported that may affect the ability of the military services to establish and maintain accurate and complete real property records, (2) examines the extent to which DOD had a strategy to address the control issues, and (3) assesses the extent to which DOD provided guidance for the required E&C verifications during fiscal year 2019 and how each military service implemented the directive. GAO analyzed fiscal year 2019 audit findings, reviewed key DOD documents, and interviewed DOD and military service officials. GAO is recommending that DOD (1) develop and implement an enterprise-wide strategy to remediate real property control issues and (2) issue DOD-wide instructions for the E&C verifications. DOD concurred with GAO's recommendations. For more information, contact Kristen Kociolek at (202) 512-2989 or kociolekk@gao.gov.
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