The Wire

  • Black Bear Sightings Continue to Increase in Alabama

    Excerpt from an Outdoor Alabama news release:

    Add Jackson, Limestone, Marshall, Morgan and St. Clair counties to the growing list of black bear sightings in Alabama in 2018. In recent years, bears have also been recorded in Chambers, Elmore, Jefferson, Lee, Macon and Tallapoosa counties. These recent sightings are more evidence of the state’s expanding black bear population.

    Biologists from the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources say the increase in sightings may be due to a combination of factors including changes in bear distribution, habitat fragmentation, seasonal movement and the summer mating season. However, most spring and summer bear sightings are of juvenile males being pushed out of their previous ranges by their mothers and other adult males.

    Historically, a small population of black bears have remained rooted in Mobile and Washington counties. Baldwin, Covington and Escambia counties on the Florida border host yet another population of bears. In northeast Alabama, bears migrating from northwest Georgia have established a small but viable population.

    “While seeing a black bear in Alabama is uncommon and exciting, it is no cause for alarm,” said Marianne Hudson, Conservation Outreach Specialist for the Alabama Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries (WFF). “There has never been a black bear attack on a human in Alabama.”

    Black bears are typically secretive, shy animals that will avoid human interaction. Occasionally, a curious bear will explore a human-populated area in search of food.

    “If you are lucky enough to see a bear, simply leave it alone,” Hudson said.

  • Rep. Byrne Releases Statement on Russia

    From a Bradley Byrne news release:

    Congressman Bradley Byrne (R-AL) issued the following statement regarding President Donald Trump’s meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, this morning in Helsinki.

    Congressman Byrne said: “I applaud President Trump’s decision to start a dialogue with President Putin and I’m glad he is making it a priority. However, we must remember that Russia is not an ally – economically or militarily. They are an adversary. The United States should not tolerate actions by the Russians that intervene in our domestic affairs or pose a threat to our national security.”

  • Alabama Recreational Red Snapper Season Closes July 22

    Excerpt from an Outdoor Alabama news release:

    The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, Marine Resources Division (MRD) announces the closure of Alabama state waters to the harvest of red snapper by private anglers and state-licensed commercial party boats at 11:59 p.m. Sunday, July 22, 2018. The quota of 984,291 pounds issued under NOAA Fisheries’ Alabama Recreational Red Snapper Exempted Fishing Permit (EFP) is expected to be met by the closure date.

    “Alabama anglers fished extremely hard on the good weather days during the season,” said Marine Resources Director Scott Bannon. “That level of effort, coupled with larger average-sized fish harvested this year as compared to last year, resulted in a daily harvest rate two times higher than 2017, which prompted an earlier than anticipated closure.

    “The purpose of the EFP was to demonstrate Alabama’s ability to establish a season and monitor landings within a fixed quota and I think we have shown we can do that,” said Bannon.

    Anglers are reminded of the following:

    — Possession of red snapper in Alabama waters while state waters are closed is prohibited regardless of where the fish were harvested.
    — Alabama anglers may fish in federal waters off the coast of Alabama (outside of 9 nm) and land in a state that is open to the landing of red snapper, but they must adhere to the open state’s rules and not transit in Alabama state waters with red snapper on board.
    — The season for federally-permitted charter for-hire vessels will close at 12:01 a.m. July 22.

2 years ago

40 years ago Alabama’s AG sent a legendary, three-word response to KKK threats

(Photo: Flickr User Arete13)
(Photo: Flickr User Arete13)
(Photo: Flickr User Arete13)

Exactly 40 years ago this week, the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) dubbed Alabama’s then-attorney general an “honorary nigger” and basically threatened to kill him. 29-year-old AG Billy Baxley promptly issued his response on official State of Alabama letterhead: “kiss my ass.”

So what led to this exchange?

On Sunday, September 15, 1963, members of the KKK planted over a dozen sticks of dynamite below the steps of Birmingham, Alabama’s 16th Street Baptist Church. In what Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. called “one of the most vicious and tragic crimes ever perpetrated against humanity,” the dynamite exploded and killed four young black girls and injured 22 other churchgoers.

The four girls killed in the bombing. Clockwise from top left, Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson and Carol Denise McNair. (Photo: Wiki)
The four girls killed in the bombing. Clockwise from top left, Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson and Carol Denise McNair. (Photo: Wiki)

In 1965, FBI director J. Edgar Hoover identified five men as suspects in the bombing. However, the investigation was closed in 1968 without any charges being filed.

It later came to light that Hoover had blocked some of the evidence in the case from being made public and subsequently shut down the investigation.

Alabama Attorney General Bill Baxley chose to reopen the case in 1971. In spite of the FBI’s lack of cooperation and limited evidence, Baxley successfully prosecuted Robert Edward Chambliss, one of the initial suspects named by the FBI. Chambliss was convicted and sentenced to multiple life terms in prison.

“I wanted to try to solve that case and do something about the people who killed the little girls,” Baxley later told PBS. “It took us a couple of years to really get on the trail of the right people… (Chambliss) was the ringleader. He was responsible for 30 or 40 bombings over a two or three-decade period in Birmingham. His nickname was dynamite Bob and he was very proud of it.”

The KKK was furious the Baxley chose to reopen the case. Infamous white supremacist leader Edward R. Fields, the Grand Dragon of the New Order Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, made their displeasure known in a scathing letter.

We would like to congratulate you, you are now and honorary nigger. We hope that you are proud of yourself now, you WHITE NIGGER. We hope you are soon blessed with the same condition that the nigger lover Kennedy contracted, which is dead……. a long time dead…

“I took it as a threat,” recalls Baxley. “He called me a traitor to my race and how dare I prosecute or investigate these white Christian patriots and blah, blah, blah, blah. And so they demanded a response. So I sat down and wrote them a response.

THE ATTORNEY GENERAL
STATE OF ALABAMA

February 20, 1976

“Dr.” Edward R. Fields
National States Rights Party
P. O. Box 1211
Marietta, Georgia 30061

Dear “Dr.” Fields:

My response to your letter of February 19, 1976, is – kiss my ass.

Sincerely,

BILL BAXLEY
Attorney General

“Well, that’s the way I felt — then and now,” says Baxley, now a private attorney. “I think the ironic thing about the letter, the way it got public was the Klan released it. I never would’ve released it. I would’ve been afraid that my mother would’ve thought it was terrible of me using bad language, so I didn’t tell anybody that I wrote it – just a couple of people in the office knew. But they went nuts when they got it. And they published it in their hate publication that came out every week or so.”

Four decades later, Baxley’s letter lives on as another fascinating moment in Alabama’s long and complex civil rights history.

1
2 years ago

Alabama native, Apple CEO Tim Cook defies U.S. government, defends iPhone privacy

Apple CEO Tim Cook
Apple CEO Tim Cook

Alabama native and Apple CEO Tim Cook sent a clear message to the federal government Wednesday morning, warning his customers of the danger lurking in their iPhones’ “backdoor.”

The Auburn graduate stated in an open letter that Apple will fight a federal court order that compels the manufacturer to build a “master key” for the data held on its mobile devices.

The case before the court involves the iPhone 5C that belonged to San Bernardino shooter Syed Rizwaan Farook. The FBI can’t guess Farook’s PIN code, and if they try too many incorrect codes, the phone may wipe itself. Each time they make a guess, the iOS operating system also adds a delay before they can try another one.

As a result, a federal judge in California ordered Apple to aid the FBI by creating a special version of the iPhone software that investigators could load onto the handset, allowing them to bypass the phone’s security mechanisms. This special software would bypass or disable the auto-erase function, remove the artificial delays between guess attempts, and make it possible to automatically make those guesses via Wi-Fi or some other means that avoids someone having to physically type each one.

While this may seem like a harmless request in furtherance of national security, Cook argues that the court’s demands put Apple customers at risk and sets a dangerous precedent for the invasion of privacy.

Apple, like many other companies, has used encryption to protect customers’ data from nefarious sources.

For many years, we have used encryption to protect our customers’ personal data because we believe it’s the only way to keep their information safe. We have even put that data out of our own reach, because we believe the contents of your iPhone are none of our business.

But the tech giant is not merely being obstructionist. In fact, the company has complied with every step of the investigation that proceeded through proper Fourth Amendment channels.

We have great respect for the professionals at the FBI, and we believe their intentions are good. Up to this point, we have done everything that is both within our power and within the law to help them. But now the U.S. government has asked us for something we simply do not have, and something we consider too dangerous to create. They have asked us to build a backdoor to the iPhone.

This “backdoor”, Cook fears, would inevitably fall into the wrong hands and put every single iPhone user in danger of being hacked.

The government suggests this tool could only be used once, on one phone. But that’s simply not true. Once created, the technique could be used over and over again, on any number of devices. In the physical world, it would be the equivalent of a master key, capable of opening hundreds of millions of locks — from restaurants and banks to stores and homes. No reasonable person would find that acceptable.

While the Federal government may mean to use this backdoor to do good in this instance, many skilled hackers and terrorists would not use the power so benevolently. To quote the late Milton Friedman, government policies must be judged by their results and not by their intentions. Cook understands that while the government means well, this policy would do great harm and violate individual’s civil liberties.

While we believe the FBI’s intentions are good, it would be wrong for the government to force us to build a backdoor into our products. And ultimately, we fear that this demand would undermine the very freedoms and liberty our government is meant to protect.

To find justification, the FBI is reaching back to the All the Writs Act of 1789, which authorizes United States federal courts to “issue all writs necessary or appropriate in aid of their respective jurisdictions and agreeable to the usages and principles of law.” Here, the court is not acting in a way “agreeable to the usages and principles of law”; it is running afoul the very principles on which this nation was founded.

Cook rightly describes the actions of the feds as “chilling” and postulates that the government, with this power, could “extend this breach of privacy and demand that Apple build surveillance software to intercept your messages, access your health records or financial data, track your location, or even access your phone’s microphone or camera without your knowledge.”

Yes, this sounds like a slippery slope. Yes, this logic goes beyond the reasoning for the program’s use in the case at hand. But just look at history. When the government is given an inch, it takes a mile.

The Fourth Amendment was enshrined in the Bill of Rights because of colonial experience with tyrannical government. The British issued writs of assistance that functioned as general warrants, allowing officials to search anywhere without having to obtain a specific warrant. John Adams wrote that colonials were “ready to take Arms against Writs of Assistants,” and said that the British violated their sacred rights as Englishmen.

“Opposing this order is not something we take lightly,” Cook wrote. “We feel we must speak up in the face of what we see as an overreach by the U.S. government.”

“While we believe the FBI’s intentions are good, it would be wrong for the government to force us to build a backdoor into our products,” Cook concludes. “And ultimately, we fear that this demand would undermine the very freedoms and liberty our government is meant to protect.”

In the privacy versus security battle, the federal government, and the rest of the world, now knows where the largest tech company stands.

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3 years ago

‘We’re at war’ — Alabama mosque reports jihadist messages to FBI

(Photo: Edward Musiak)
(Photo: Edward Musiak)
(Photo: Edward Musiak)

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — A local Muslim leader has informed the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) that members of his mosque have received “suspicious messages” on their social media accounts, including at least one message that mentioned “war,” according to an Associated Press report.

Ashfaq Taufique, president of the Birmingham Islamic Society, told the AP that an unknown individual sent friend requests to members of his mosque, followed by messages. One of the messages said, “We are at war and we must stick together.”

Taufique says he informed the FBI out of fear that his mosque would be incorrectly associated with extremists.

“(I reported the messages) because of the special time we are in we didn’t want to take a chance,” he said.

One of the Birmingham Islamic Society’s former members left the United States to join ISIS last year, although the mosque’s leaders say she had withdrawn from the community long before radicalizing.

The girl, Hoda Muthana, a 20-year-old former college student from Hoover, was radicalized through social media and ultimately abandoned her family to move to ISIS-controlled Syria.

A recent study by George Washington University’s Program on Extremism identified Muthana as one of ISIS’s most active recruiters online.

Here’s how the group operates on the Internet, according to the study:

ISIS Activists and sympathizers are active on a variety of platforms — open forums, private messaging apps, and the dark web — but Twitter is by far the platform of choice. The Program on Extremism identified and monitored approximately 300 American supporters of ISIS on Twitter, including some individuals now in Syria and Iraq. These accounts can be divided into three categories: noes, amplifiers and shout-outs.

NODES:
Nodes are the leading voices in the ISIS Twittersphere. They enjoy a prominent status and are the primary content creators for the network. A group of two or three clustered users will often swap comedic memes, news articles and official ISIS tweets, allowing them to pool followers and more easily spread content both to new audiences and throughout their network.

AMPLIFIERS:
Amplifiers largely do not generate new content but rather retweet and “favorite” material from popular users. Ultimately, because they post little, if any, original content, it is often unclear whether these accounts correspond to real-life ISIS sympathizers or are programmed to post automatically.

SHOUT-OUTS:
Shout-out accounts primarily introduce new, pro-ISIS accounts to the community and promote newly created accounts of previously suspended users, allowing them to quickly regain their pre-suspension status. A unique innovation of the online ISIS scene, they tend to have the largest followings in the Twitter landscape and play a pivotal role in the community’s resilience, despite frequent account suspensions.

CHARACTERS:
— Nearly 1/3 of the tracked accounts are purportedly operated by women.
— Most American ISIS supporters online communicate in English.
— Many accounts use avatars of black flags, lions and green birds (a symbol of martyrs).
— Increasingly avatars feature Americans arrested on terrorism charges, killed waging jihad abroad, or committing attacks in the U.S.

Muthana is reportedly one of the Islamic State’s “nodes.”

Her father, Mohammed, and his wife moved to the United States from Yemen in 1992. All of his children were born here and are American citizens. He told Buzzfeed in an in-depth report that he “controls his kids” like “every family,” but that ISIS “found somehow, some way to (get) through” to his daughter.

More details on their story can be found here.


1
3 years ago

Illegal aliens arrested in Alabama for running ‘sex trade operation’

Humberto Erazo-Medrano, 42, and Ricardo Castaneda, 33, were arrested for their participation in an ongoing "sex trade operation." (Photo: Albertville Police Department)
Humberto Erazo-Medrano, 42, and Ricardo Castaneda, 33, were arrested for their participation in an ongoing "sex trade operation." (Photo: Albertville Police Department)
Humberto Erazo-Medrano, 42, and Ricardo Castaneda, 33, were arrested for their participation in an ongoing “sex trade operation.” (Photo: Albertville Police Department)

ALBERTVILLE, Ala. — Two illegal aliens were arrested in Alabama over the weekend for their participation in what authorities are describing as an “ongoing sex trade operation.”

Ricardo Castaneda, 33, and Humberto Erazo-Medrano, 42, were taken into custody after Albertville police, Marshall County Sheriff’s deputies, the FBI and the Dept. of Homeland Security executed a search warrant on a residence in Albertville.

“Officers and agents located multiple items which supported suspicions of an ongoing sex trade operation at the residence,” a spokesperson for the Albertville Police Department said in a press release. Law enforcement officials did not provide any further details in announcing the arrests, but they are believed to have been made in conjunction with the takedown of a multi-state prostitution ring.

Authorities were not immediately able to verify Mr. Erazo-Medrano’s and Mr. Castaneda’s country of origin.

Their arrests come on the heels of months of national headlines detailing the illicit activities of illegal aliens in various parts of the United States.

According to police, Ramiro Ajualip, a 27-year-old illegal Mexican immigrant living in Alabama, confessed to raping a ten-year-old Alabama girl in March of 2015. But while the story received some local coverage at the time, the national media only recently brought renewed attention to the attack as a result of controversial comments made by Republican presidential contender Donald Trump.

According to police, Ajualip raped and sodomized the young girl, then threatened her life in an attempt to keep her quiet. She later broke down and revealed the vicious attack to her parents.

“You know, (it was) a 10-year-old child that probably has no idea what`s really going on,” said Russellville Police Chief Chris Hargett. “It`s sad because now that child is going to be scarred for the rest of her life.”

The murder of Kate Steinle, a young San Francisco girl who was shot by an illegal alien who had been convicted of seven felonies but never deported, also sparked a national conversation about so called sanctuary cities. Sanctuary cities do not enforce federal immigration laws, often allowing criminal illegal aliens to be released back onto the streets, rather than working with federal law enforcement to have them deported.

Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions has frequently lambasted the Obama Administration for not cracking down on sanctuary cities, choosing instead to allow widespread de facto “amnesty.”

“What the American people know and what the families of victims of violent crime know is that this Administration has consistently and steadfastly placed the goal of amnesty above the goal of public safety,” Sen. Sessions said earlier this year. “If this Administration spent one-tenth of the effort on enforcement and protecting people from crimes and punishing people who are criminals who violate our immigration laws, rather than on amnesty, we’d be a lot safer today. Many of the people who have been injured, robbed, or killed by illegal aliens would be alive today. That’s just fact and everybody knows it.”

Sen. Sessions also sponsored a bill to “end the mass release of criminal aliens, return law and order to devastated communities, and ensure the consistent and uniform application of federal law. The proposal, which builds on legislation introduced by House Immigration and Border Security Subcommittee Chairman Trey Gowdy, is named after Detective Michael Davis and Deputy Danny Oliver, two local law enforcement officers who were murdered by an illegal alien with an extensive criminal history.”

In the last two years, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has released back onto the streets 76,000 convicted criminal aliens. There are currently 169,000 criminal aliens at large in the United States who have criminal convictions and were formally and lawfully ordered deported.

The Obama Administration’s tolerance of sanctuary cities has also resulted in another 10,000 potentially deportable arrested aliens being released by local law agencies since January of 2014. 121 of the criminal aliens who’ve been ordered deported in the last few years and were released by Immigration and Customs Enforcement have now been charged with additional homicide offenses.


1

Byrne: National security should be top priority when considering Syrian refugees (Opinion)

Congressman Bradley Byrne (R-AL1)

Congressman Bradley Byrne (R-AL1)
Congressman Bradley Byrne (R-AL1)

When considering whether to vote in favor of legislation, I often ask myself a simple question: Is this in the best interest of the American people? I believe that should be a guiding principle for all our elected officials when they are faced with a major decision.

Recently, President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry announced a plan to increase the number of refugees allowed into the United States. Under their plan, the Obama Administration plans to accept at least 10,000 refugees from Syria.

As soon as I heard this news, I had major concerns about the impact this decision would have on the American people and the national security of our country. Let me explain why.

Currently, Syria is home to a major conflict between the regime of President Bashar al-Assad, fighters with the Islamic State, and many different factions of rebels who wish to overrun the government. This brutal fighting has resulted in a mass exodus of Syrian people looking to escape their war torn country.

That’s where President Obama’s decision comes into play. As defined by the Immigration and Nationality Act, a refugee is someone who is unable or unwilling to return to his or her home country because of a “well-founded fear of persecution.” The federal government has a process for screening and accepting these individuals before allowing their admission into the US, and the Syrian people can certainly make a strong case to be admitted.

However, I have serious concerns about the threat of terrorists infiltrating the refugee system and entering the United States. Groups like the Islamic State have made clear that they would attempt to disguise terrorist operatives as refugees.

I am not the only one who has these concerns. In fact, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper recently called the migrant issue a “huge concern” and said that “we don’t put it past the likes of [the Islamic State] to infiltrate operatives among these refugees.”

At a recent House Homeland Security Committee hearing, officials from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and Department of Homeland Security (DHS) implied that bringing in a large number of Syrian refugees would represent a threat to our national security. DHS officials have even admitted that Syria does not have a computer database to check the criminal and terrorist records of these refugees.

The issue is especially of interest to those of us in Southwest Alabama because Mobile is home to one of the 190 State Department refugee affiliates. This means Syrian refugees could be placed in our local community.

That is why I sent a letter to the Department of State asking for information about the screening process the refugees would be required to go through. In response to my letter, I was invited to attend a classified briefing to learn more about the screening process. Unfortunately, I left the briefing with many of the same concerns.

So after listening to the concerns of my constituents and getting more information from the State Department, I decided to support H.R. 3573, the Refugee Resettlement Oversight and Security Act. This bill would require approval from both the House and the Senate before refugees could be admitted to the United States. The bill would also give Congress the authority to block any inadequate refugee resettlement plan.

There is simply no way to know for sure that terrorist groups, like the Islamic State, are not going to infiltrate the refugee process, and the Refugee Resettlement Oversight and Security Act will ensure that Congress, and in turn the American people, have the final say when it comes to increasing the number of refugees.

On this issue, like many others, I can’t help but ask myself: Is this in the best interest of the American people? At this point, it seems clear the answer is no.


Congressman Bradley Byrne represents Alabama’s 1st District.

1
3 years ago

Roby: Hillary Clinton’s emails threatened national security (Opinion)

YH Hillary Benghazi emails

By now you’ve heard the news that the U.S. Department of Justice is taking possession of the personal, secret server former Secretary of State Hilary Clinton used to conduct official email correspondence. Clinton’s decision to finally surrender the server to authorities comes in the wake of revelations that classified, “Top Secret” materials were indeed contained in emails on her private account, counter to her previous claims.

But, what makes this development so significant? Why does it matter to the FBI whether Clinton used her own private system to conduct email correspondence?

First of all, federal law prohibits storing classified information in unauthorized places, with penalties ranging from a fine to one year in prison. We have stringent security protocols for those who deal with sensitive, classified information because that information could be used to threaten our national security and put those in military or clandestine service at risk. And, in a world with growing cyber security threats, the risk is even greater for digitally stored information.

For example, NBC News recently reported that Chinese hackers had penetrated the private email accounts of many top Executive Branch officials since 2010. The officials’ government accounts were not penetrated, though, because they have a much higher level of security. It is unclear whether Secretary Clinton was among those top officials to have their private emails hacked though an in-house email system like hers is believed to be particularly vulnerable to hackers.

The bottom line is Secretary Clinton deliberately flouted our nation’s protocols with her personal email arrangement and, in doing so, threatened the security of classified, Top Secret information. Her apparent obsession with retaining absolute control of her email came at the expense of national security, and that should concern all Americans.

Secretary Clinton says she already deleted more than 30,000 emails and “wiped” the server housing them, so it’s unclear just how much can be gleaned from what was turned over. But I am hopeful the FBI, Inspectors General and the Select Committee on Benghazi can get to the bottom of it.

It’s worth noting that none of this would have been brought to light without the formation of the Select Committee, the determination of our Chairman, Trey Gowdy, or the diligent work of our investigators.

My colleagues and I are preparing for Secretary Clinton’s appearance before the Select Committee in October. Given these revelations and her previous statements, she will certainly have some explaining to do.


Martha Roby represents Alabama’s 2nd Congressional District. She is currently serving her third term.

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3 years ago

Potential terrorist attack in Alabama on July 4? FBI opens command centers to monitor plots

FBI Swat Team member (Photo: Brendan Smialowski)
FBI Swat Team member (Photo: Brendan Smialowski)
FBI Swat Team member (Photo: Brendan Smialowski)

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — The FBI has established “command centers” at its field offices in Birmingham and Mobile in response to the heightened terrorist threat level going into Independence Day weekend. The FBI and U.S. Department of Homeland security have also issued a joint intelligence bulletin urging law enforcement agencies around the country to be on alert.

A federal law enforcement official told Fox News there are currently no specific threats of attack, but added that ISIS or other terrorist groups could target the holiday weekend in an attempt to generate greater attention.

“Authorities are particularly concerned about soft targets like shopping malls and other areas where there are large gatherings of people and rather light security,” the source said.

The rapid-response command centers being established in Alabama are part of a national network of FBI field offices working together to monitor potential threats and thwart or respond to attacks, if necessary.

“These kind of warnings go out routinely,” explained former CIA deputy director Michael Morell, “but there’s nothing routine about this particular one to me. I wouldn’t be surprised if we’re sitting here next week talking about an attack that took place over the weekend in the United States. That’s how serious this is.”

When asked if Morell’s assessment was hyperbolic, House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Mike McCaul (R-Tx.) said, “I don’t think so. We’re in one of the highest threat environments that I’ve seen in quite some time.

“The chatter, the volume is very high,” he continued. “The recent arrests we’ve had… We’ve rolled up, it seems like every week, a new ISIS follower… The ISIS spokesman called for jihad during Ramadan. Yesterday was the one-year anniversary of the caliphate. And we know they’re possibly targeting Fourth of July parades… All of these things converging together create a scenario that’s almost a perfect storm that greatly concerns me.”

McCaul said the command centers opening in Alabama and other areas of the country are the FBI’s response to the heightened threat level.

“We’ve had the joint terrorism task forces that normally deal with this issue. Command centers are sort of taking it up another step… because of the seriousness of the threat that they see.”

However, not everyone agrees the holiday weekend is cause for an increased level of concern. Terror expert Michael O’Hanlon told Yahoo News he believes officials are just being overly cautious.

“I would just remind people of the tendency of officials that, if there is any doubt or reason for concern, they tend to prefer to sound a little more worried,” he said. “It just makes you seem more prudent. It makes you seem smarter. You don’t have to worry that you forgot to tell people to keep up their guard. But it has the effect of sometimes overstating the threat.”

But Chairman McCaul’s specific mention of parades will likely remind many Alabamians about the story of Hoda Muthana, a 2013 graduate of Hoover High School and UAB student who abandoned her family to join ISIS in Syria. Muthana took to Twitter to urge muslims she left behind in Alabama to attack their “greatest enemy,” and specifically mentioned targeting parades.

“Americans wake up!” she tweeted on March 19. “Men and women altogether. You have much to do while you live under our greatest enemy, enough of your sleeping! Go on drive-bys and spill all of their blood, or rent a big truck and drive all over them. Veterans, Patriot, Memorial etc Day parades..go on drive by’s + spill all of their blood or rent a big truck n drive all over them. Kill them.”

In spite of the warnings in the intelligence bulletin sent out from the Department of Homeland Security, DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson said there’s no reason for individuals to curtail their Independence Day celebrations.

“We continue to encourage all Americans to attend public events and celebrate this country during this summer season,” he said, “but always remain vigilant.”


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4 years ago

Shelby pushes for Department of Justice to investigate Veterans Affairs scandal

Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala.
Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala.

U.S. Senators Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) and Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) are coming together to push for the United States Department of Justice to address recent revelations that veterans have died after being placed on secret waiting lists at VA hospitals.

A recent report by The Department of Veterans Affairs inspector general’s office confirmed that VA hospitals concealed treatment delays for veterans and “boosted performance measures that help determine whether bonuses are deserved.” In total, the report found that 1,700 veterans using the VA hospital in Phoenix were placed on secret wait lists.

The Obama Administration is also looking into the matter and earlier this week announced that veterans will be allowed to seek care at private hospitals in an effort to relieve some of the pressure on backlogged VA facilities.

But Sen. Shelby believes the issues at the VA are serious enough and of such magnitude that the Department of Justice and FBI need to get involved and launch criminal and civil investigations into the allegations.

Sens. Shelby and Mikulski, who are Vice Chair and Chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, plan to insert language into a bill funding the departments of Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies that will make it clear that ample resources are available to the DoJ and FBI to conduct a serious investigation into the VA.

“These allegations are deeply ‎troubling,” Sen. Shelby told Yellowhammer today. “The victims, their families, and the American people deserve answers and accountability. I’m pleased to work with Chairman Mikulski to ensure that the Department of Justice has the full resources to do just that.”

During an Appropriations Committee hearing last week to mark up a bill funding all programs under the Dept. of Veterans Affairs’ jurisdiction, Shelby slammed the Obama Administration for ignoring multiple signs of veterans abuse. The committee appropriated $5 million in additional funding for the VA’s Inspector General to investigate what happened with veterans being denied benefits. But Shelby was already working behind the scenes to escalate the investigation to include the Department of Justice.

“While I commend the Committee’s support for an additional $5 million in funding to the Office of the Inspector General to investigate the VA’s scheduling practices, I also recognize that this is just a starting point,” Shelby said at the time.

Today’s move by Shelby and Mikulski is the next step.


Follow Cliff on Twitter @Cliff_Sims

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4 years ago

Holder exasperated as Alabama and Texas Republicans pepper him with questions


(Above: U.S. Rep. Spencer Bachus questions Attorney General Eric Holder)

After news broke that the U.S. Justice Department had secretly acquired the telephone records of Associated Press journalists during a leak investigation, Attorney General Eric Holder claimed he had actually recused himself from that investigation and had not been involved.

The FBI interviewed Holder in June of 2012 as part of a probe into a leak of classified information to the AP.

“To avoid any potential appearance of a conflict of interest,” Holder later testified, “I recused myself from this matter.”

But Holder did, however, express his support for the investigation of the journalists.

“This is among the top two or three serious leaks that I’ve ever seen,” he said. “It put the American people at risk… Trying to determine who was responsible for that required very aggressive action.”

Rep. Spencer Bachus, R-AL06, questioned Holder at the time about the lack of evidence that he had formally recused himself. There was no letter or other form of documentation stating that he had removed himself from the investigation.

On Tuesday, Bachus resumed that line of questioning during a hearing in the House Judiciary Committee and found that the Justice Department had still not implemented any formal recusal process. Holder responded that he had recused himself “in (his) own mind.”

Here’s an excerpt from the transcript of the exchange between Bachus and Holder, which can be viewed in the video above:

BACHUS: “Have you adopted such a policy?’

HOLDER: “I am not sure that we have formally done so, but in my own mind, I have thought that to the extent I recuse myself in other matters, I would do so and put a writing [sic] together of some sort that would indicate what the basis was for that recusal.”

BACHUS: “I know you just indicated it was conflict of interest or appearance of conflict of interest. Do you not believe, because of that and other cases, that it is essential that there actually be a formal process where there is something in writing with a date and time on it?”

HOLDER: “I think you raised it during the hearing last year and as I said then, I think it’s a good idea. My only concern is –

BACHUS: “As opposed to a good idea, why doesn’t the Justice Department adopt a formal process and do that, particularly in that you are required by law to sign off on any subpoena involving the media? So I just think, particularly in a matter like that, there ought to be a formal recusal.”

After the hearing, Bachus said, “It is now almost a year later and we still don’t have all of the answers. If you don’t have a formal procedure, you have no record of when and why important decisions were made. My expectation was that, as a basic matter of accountability to the public, an official process would be in place by now. Saying that having a policy would be a ‘good idea’ isn’t good enough.”

Bachus also said that Attorney General Holder had not directly answered when asked whether information from media organizations and reporters other than the AP and Jamie Rosen of Fox News had been targeted during the Justice Department’s investigations into “leaks.”

Bachus was not the only Congressman to get under Holder’s skin on Tuesday. Rep. Louie Gohmert, TX01, and Holder got into a heated exchange after Gohmert referenced the the House of Representatives’ decision to hold Holder in contempt in 2012 for refusing to disclose documents related to the Fast and Furious gun-running scandal. (2:30 into the video below)

“I realize that contempt is not a big deal to our attorney general, but it is important that we have proper oversight,” Gohmert said.

“You don’t want to go there, buddy!” Holder replied.

“I don’t want to go there?” the Texas Republican asked. “About the contempt?”

“You should not assume that that is not a big deal to me,” said Holder. “I think that it was inappropriate, I think it was unjust, but never think that that was not a big deal to me. Don’t ever think that.”


Follow Cliff on Twitter @Cliff_Sims

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4 years ago

Hacker infiltrates Auburn University computer network

Hack_750x375

Auburn University confirmed this morning that an unidentified hacker executed a cyber attack on the university’s College of Business network last year.

According to university officials, the hacker accessed the business school’s server between Oct. 21 and Nov. 20, but it is unclear at this point how many times the server was accessed and what information may have been viewed or stolen.

When the university found out late last year that their server had been compromised, they immediately patched the hole in their security and launched an internal investigation that is still underway. Additionally, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) was made aware of the incident and has gotten involved.

“We truly regret the inconvenience and concern that this cyber attack may cause to our college’s constituents,” Harbert College of Business Dean Bill Hardgrave said in a statement. “We take this incident very seriously and hope that the FBI investigation provides answers.”


RELATED: Auburn University selected for NSA program


It became clear at some point during the university’s investigation that the personal information of students and staff members may have been accessed. The school at that point hired a computer forensics expert to determine the extent of the data breach and to identify which individuals’ information had been compromised. The forensics expert found that the compromised server contained the personal information of just under 14,000 individuals with ties to the school. Social Security Numbers are said to have been part of the data that was compromised, which also included information about what classes current and former students were taking or had taken in the past.

There is currently no evidence suggesting that the personal information files were accessed or used. As a precaution, the university is offering identify theft protection free of charge to individuals impacted by the hack.

“The vulnerable server was repaired immediately, and while the investigation has not revealed any misuse of data, we are prepared to provide all individuals with credit monitoring services,” said Dean Hardgrave.


RELATED: The spy masters at the NSA will soon be taking their orders from an Auburn grad


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GOP civil war battle lines becoming clear

Republican Infighting

Chris Christie ignited a firestorm when he essentially called Sen. Rand Paul and his fellow libertarian-leaning conservatives “dangerous” for their apprehension to the National Security Agency’s surveillance program and the FBI’s use of drones on American soil.

“This strain of libertarianism that’s going through parties right now and making big headlines I think is a very dangerous thought,” Christie said. When asked if he was referring to Paul, Christie said, “You can name any number of people and he [Paul] is one of them.”

Paul’s camp has since then returned fire.

“He needs to talk to more Americans, because a great number of them are concerned about the dramatic overreach of our government in recent years,” Doug Stafford, a Paul adviser, said. “Defending America and fighting terrorism is the concern of all Americans, especially Sen. Paul. But it can and must be done in keeping with our Constitution and while protecting the freedoms that make America exceptional.”

Paul himself said on Sunday that Christie and Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., are “precisely the same people who are unwilling to cut the spending, and their ‘Gimme, gimme, gimme — give me all my Sandy money now,'” Paul said, referring to federal funding some northeastern states received after the hurricane last year. “Those are the people who are bankrupting the government and not letting enough money be left over for national defense.”

And now Paul’s fellow conservative firebrand Sen. Ted Cruz is getting in on the action.

In an appearance on Fox News Channel’s online program “Power Play,” hosted by network contributor Chris Stirewalt, Cruz voiced his support for Paul.

“I am proud to stand side by side with Rand Paul,” Cruz said. “He and I have been fighting over and over and over again in the Senate to defend our constitutional liberties. I’ll say this — some of this tiff, Gov. Christie is entitled to his views, he’s entitled to express his views, I think most Americans don’t care about politicians bickering in Washington. They don’t care about egos and the battles that will happen in the Beltway. What they’re interested in is solving the problems that we’ve got here.”

Cruz justified his stand with Paul by explaining that he and Paul have the same goal in mind.

“Part of the reason so many Americans are frustrated with Washington is we have seen career politicians in both parties — Democrats and Republicans — lose sight of that — lose sight of our basic constitutional protections,” he added. “And it’s why Americans are looking for leaders to stand up – not engage in personal bickering but solve the problems. Address the grave fiscal and economic challenges in this country. Get back to the free market principles this country was founded on and restore constitutional liberties. And I’m proud to stand side by side with Rand Paul fighting to do exactly that.”

While tensions between the conservative and moderate wings of the Republican Party have been simmering now for some time, Christie’s oversized personality and Cruz and Paul’s increasing national profile and refusal to back down have brought the infighting to a new level.

Sens. Paul and Cruz may end up being rivals for the 2016 GOP presidential nomination, but in the mean time they’re laying down some pretty clear battle lines inside the GOP.

“I didn’t start this one and I don’t plan on starting things by criticizing other Republicans,” Paul said in conclusion. “But if they want to make me the target, they will get it back in spades.”

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5 years ago

FBI admits to using drone surveillance in Alabama

www.richard-seaman.comQuestions about the government’s use of drones on American soil became part of the national conversation in March after Sen. Rand Paul’s 13-hour filibuster of Obama’s nomination of John Brennen to head the CIA. Since then, Paul has written two public letters to FBI Director Robert Mueller requesting details on the domestic law enforcement agency’s use of drones to surveil American citizens.

“Given that drone surveillance over American skies represents a potentially vast expansion of government surveillance powers without the constitutionally guaranteed protection of a warrant, it is vital the the use of these drones by the FBI be fully examined,” Paul’s second letter to the FBI reads.

Today, Sen. Paul got an answer.

“Since late 2006, the FBI has conducted surveillance using UAV’s [unmanned aerial vehicles, i.e. drones] in eight criminal cases and two nationals security cases,” the FBI’s public letter to Paul says. “For example, earlier this year in Alabama, the FBI used UAV surveillance to support the successful rescue of the 5-year-old child who was being held hostage in an underground bunker by Jimmy Lee Dykes.”

It’s unclear how a drone was useful in surveilling an underground bunker.

The FBI’s letter also said that their drones are not fitted with weapons, nor do they have any plans to ever arm them. In addition to their public letter to Paul, the FBI also sent a classified letter further detailing their domestic drone program.

Paul has already issued a followup letter asking for clarification on the FBI’s definition of a person’s “reasonable expectation of privacy,” a line beyond which the FBI assured Paul their drone use would not go.

Fellow potential 2016 presidential contender Chris Christie today criticized Paul and other libertarian-leaning politicians for their views on national security issues.

“This strain of libertarianism that’s going through parties right now and making big headlines I think is a very dangerous thought,” the New Jersey governor said Thursday at a Republican governors forum. When asked if he was referring to Sen. Paul, Christie said, “you can name any number of people and he (Paul) is one of them.”

Paul’s office shot back at Christie in a statement to POLITICO. “He needs to talk to more Americans, because a great number of them are concerned about the dramatic overreach of our government in recent years,” Doug Stafford, a Paul adviser, said. “Defending America and fighting terrorism is the concern of all Americans, especially Sen. Paul. But it can and must be done in keeping with our Constitution and while protecting the freedoms that make America exceptional.”

What do you think? Are you comfortable with the FBI using unarmed drones in Alabama air space?


What else is going on?
1. Wetumpka Tea Party’s Gerritson slams Obama for ‘fake,’ ‘phony’ scandal monikers
2. Study ranks Alabama ‘most honest state’
3. Shelby derides ‘stale Obama policy leftovers’ during Senate floor speech
4. Liberal media criticizes Alabama PSC for opening meeting in prayer
5. Auburn police officer fired for speaking out against ticket and arrest quotas

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5 years ago

Fox News president pushes back against press intimidation

Roger Ailes
Fox News Channel president Roger Ailes late last week penned a letter to Fox News employees vowing to stand strong against what he characterized as attempts by the Obama administration to intimidate investigative journalists.

The letter was written in response to the Obama Justice Department’s decision to secretly look at Fox News reporter James Rosen’s emails and phone records after Rosen broke a story regarding North Korea’s plans to test a nuclear bomb. In order to attain the warrant for Rosen’s emails and phone records, the DOJ labeled Rosen a “co-conspirator” under the Espionage Act — essentially claiming he was a spy for doing what journalists do: dig for information and publish stories on their findings.

The State Department adviser who gave Rosen the information, Stephen Jin-Woo Kim, has already been indicted for “unauthorized disclosure of national defense information.”

Mr. Ailes is the latest in a long line of First Amendment defenders expressing outrage at the DOJ’s decision to label a journalist as a “co-inspirator” for doing their job.

Judge Andrew Napolitano and numerous others have described the Administration’s actions as unprecedented.

“This is the first time that the federal government has moved to this level of taking ordinary, reasonable, traditional, lawful reporter skills and claiming they constitute criminal behavior,” said Napolitano.

The White House Correspondents Association also issued a statement that said, in part:

“Reporters should never be threatened with prosecution for the simple act of doing their jobs. The problem is that in two recent cases, one involving Fox News’ James Rosen and the other focused on the Associated Press, serious questions have been raised about whether our government has gotten far too aggressive in its monitoring of reporters’ movements, phone records, and even personal email.”

The Obama Administration is well known for leaking information to the press, including national security intel, when it is politically advantageous to the president.

David Sanger of The New York Times, for example, was given access to sensitive information regarding the Stuxnet virus that was used to cripple Iran’s ability to develop nuclear weapons.

After reading Sanger’s latest book, Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Dianne Feinstein told the San Francisco Chronicle, “You learn more from the book than I did as chairman of the intelligence committee, and that’s very disturbing to me.”

In short, it appears that Administration mouthpieces are funneled secret information to publish while journalists searching for the truth are labeled as conspirators against the United States.


Ailes letter:

Dear colleagues,

The recent news about the FBI’s seizure of the phone and email records of Fox News employees, including James Rosen, calls into question whether the federal government is meeting its constitutional obligation to preserve and protect a free press in the United States. We reject the government’s efforts to criminalize the pursuit of investigative journalism and falsely characterize a Fox News reporter to a Federal judge as a “co-conspirator” in a crime. I know how concerned you are because so many of you have asked me: why should the government make me afraid to use a work phone or email account to gather news or even call a friend or family member? Well, they shouldn’t have done it. The administration’s attempt to intimidate Fox News and its employees will not succeed and their excuses will stand neither the test of law, the test of decency, nor the test of time. We will not allow a climate of press intimidation, unseen since the McCarthy era, to frighten any of us away from the truth.

I am proud of your tireless effort to report the news over the last 17 years. I stand with you, I support you and I thank you for your reporting with courageous optimism. Too many Americans fought and died to protect our unique American right of press freedom. We can’t and we won’t forget that. To be an American journalist is not only a great responsibility, but also a great honor. To be a Fox journalist is a high honor, not a high crime. Even this memo of support will cause some to demonize us and try to find irrelevant things to cause us to waver. We will not waver.

As Fox News employees, we sometimes are forced to stand alone, but even then when we know we are reporting what is true and what is right, we stand proud and fearless. Thank you for your hard work and all your efforts.

Sincerely,

Roger Ailes


What else is going on?
1. Alabama politicos react to Bonner resignation
2. Handicapping the Upcoming Congressional Race in AL01
3. Jo Bonner to leave Congress, take job at Univ. of Alabama System
4. Hobby Lobby Continues Fight for Religious Liberty
5. AEA Plans to Hire Obama Political Operation for 2014

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