TIME Security

Report: Feds Using Airplanes to Target Criminal Suspects’ Cell-Phone Data

Cessna taxiing
Wellsie82—Moment Open/Getty Images

Devices on planes said to simulate cell towers and trick phones into reporting data

The Justice Department is using equipment on board aircraft that simulates cell towers to collect data from criminal suspects’ cell phones, according to a report Thursday.

The Wall Street Journal, citing unnamed sources familiar with the operations, reports that a program operating under the U.S. Marshals Service is said to use small aircraft flying from five different airports around the country. Devices aboard those planes called “dirtboxes” essentially trick the suspects’ cellphones into thinking they’re connecting to legitimate cell towers from big wireless carriers like Verizon or AT&T, allowing the feds to scoop up personal data and location information about those targeted.

However, the report details those devices could be gathering data from “tens of thousands” of Americans in a single flight, meaning nonsuspects are likely to be included in the data roundup. The new report could shed some light on earlier reports of mysterious “phony” cell towers that security researchers have found around the country.

Read more at the Wall Street Journal

TIME Government

Report Details Secret Service Mishaps in White House Breach

White House at midday
Allan Baxter—Getty Images White House at midday

One of several blunders, according to a Homeland Security report

An intruder was able to climb the White House fence and enter the premises in September because of a number of mishaps, like faulty alarm systems and officers not even spotting him, according to a summary of a Homeland Security report Thursday.

Members of Congress were briefed on the report Thursday, according to the New York Times, which obtained its executive summary. The report is said to detail the security lapses that allowed Omar Gonzalez, who is charged in the Sept. 19 breach, to enter the White House. Among them, an officer who was stationed with an attack dog on the North Lawn was busy talking on a personal cell phone in a van and had not seen the man climb the fence.

Julia Pierson, who was the Secret Service director at the time of the incident, later resigned.

Read more at the New York Times

TIME Congress

Boehner Reelected As House Speaker

After extending their party’s House majority to the largest margin in decades, the top Republican Congressmen will all return to leadership roles for another two years.

House Speaker John Boehner, Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, Whip Steve Scalise and Republican Conference Chairman Cathy McMorris Rodgers all ran unopposed. National Republican Conference Chairman Greg Walden will continue to serve as the head of the effort to elect more House Republicans. The leadership election reaffirmed the election this summer following the primary loss of former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor.

Despite her party’s losses, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi is all but certain to win reelection to her post on November 18. She lived up to her reputation as a fundraising powerhouse, raising over $100 million for Democrats this cycle.

Across the Capitol, Senate Democrats and Republicans voted Thursday to keep Nevada Senator Harry Reid and Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell as their parties’ leaders.

 

 

 

TIME Immigration

Report: Obama Set to Go It Alone on Immigration

Sara Ramirez, of Gaithersberg, Md. rallies for comprehensive immigration reform outside the White House in Washington D.C. on Nov. 7, 2014.
Jacquelyn Martin—AP Sara Ramirez, of Gaithersburg, Md., rallies for comprehensive immigration reform outside the White House in Washington, D.C., on Nov. 7, 2014

The White House could make the move as early as next week

President Barack Obama is poised to unilaterally overhaul American immigration policy, according to several reports Thursday, in a long-anticipated move that would ignore his Republican critics and could allow up to 5 million undocumented immigrants to stay in the country.

The New York Times, citing unnamed Administration officials, reports that Obama intends as early as next week to announce plans to substantially refocus immigration enforcement involving some 12,000 agents and reduce the risk of deportation for millions of immigrants.

As many as 3.3 million parents of children who are American citizens or legal residents would be able to obtain legal work documents under the plan, the Times adds. Many immigrants with high-tech skills or who came to the U.S. as children could also be affected by the plan.

Obama has infuriated Republicans by pledging executive action on immigration if Congress does not pass a comprehensive reform bill. TIME’s Alex Altman wrote this week on the widely expected move, as well as the likely pushback from the soon-to-be Republican-controlled Congress:

The pressure on Obama to delay executive action is likely to build. Republican leaders say that skirting Congress to go it alone would ignite a controversy that jeopardizes the chances for cooperation between the President and the new GOP Congressional majority on a host of issues. “It’s like waving a red flag in front of a bull,” Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell said. Immigration will be a touchstone in confirmation hearings for Loretta Lynch, Obama’s pick for Attorney General. Tea Party conservatives in the Senate signaled they plan to use the hearings to press Lynch on her views of the President’s executive authority on immigration.

Enacting sweeping changes to immigration law just weeks after the party was rebuked by voters at the polls could spark a blowback from voters. In one recent survey, conducted by Republican pollster Kellyanne Conway, 74% of respondents said they preferred Obama to work with Congress to retool a broken immigration system rather than maneuvering around the legislative branch.

Even some seasoned Democrats seem a bit skittish about the idea. Over a sea-bass lunch Friday with congressional leaders in the Old Family Dining Room of the White House, Obama told Boehner that his patience in waiting for the House to act on immigration had run out. At that point, according to a source familiar with the meeting, Vice President Joe Biden piped up to ask how long Republicans would need to craft immigration legislation — prompting the President to shoot Biden a look that closed the discussion.

Read more at the New York Times

Read next: How Ellis Island Changed Before It Closed

TIME 2014 Election

The Politics Behind Mary Landrieu’s Pipeline Power Play

Senator Mary Landrieu (D-LA) holds a news conference with fellow committee member Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) on the Keystone XL pipeline in Washington on Nov. 12, 2014.
Gary Cameron—Reuters Senator Mary Landrieu, Democrat of Louisiana, holds a news conference with fellow committee member Senator Joe Manchin, Democrat of West Virginia, on the Keystone XL pipeline in Washington on Nov. 12, 2014

The Louisiana Democrat's move may be too little too late

Democrat Mary Landrieu’s attempt to force President Barack Obama to authorize construction of the Keystone XL pipeline is the latest in a political thrust-and-parry exchange between the three-term Senator and GOP Representative Bill Cassidy, her opponent in next month’s Senate runoff election in Louisiana. But Landrieu’s gambit may be too little too late, election watchers say.

The frantic maneuvering started Wednesday morning when Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell promised Cassidy a spot on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee if Cassidy beats Landrieu in the December runoff. Landrieu chairs the committee and has touted her tenure there as a symbol of her influence on Capitol Hill.

In response, Landrieu took to the floor of the Senate and gave a nearly three-hour speech calling for the body to take a vote on her bill, which would require Obama to clear the final bureaucratic and regulatory obstacles preventing construction of the pipeline.

The next move came from across the Capitol building, when House Speaker John Boehner and majority leader Kevin McCarthy fast-tracked Cassidy’s three-page bill to authorize the pipeline straight to the floor of the House, bypassing the committees that normally would have weighed the proposal. Cassidy’s bill (which matches the Senate language) will get a House vote on Friday.

When the Senate votes as early as Tuesday on Landrieu’s bill, it will be the first time in six years that both chambers of Congress will vote on the pipeline, according to the Washington Post.

“It’s been a dizzying 24 hours for a supposed lame-duck legislature as it relates to Louisiana,” says Joshua Stockley, an associate professor of political science at the University of Louisiana at Monroe.

Landrieu’s gambit may help her re-election chances, but it comes at a cost. Forcing a Keystone vote in Congress will give McConnell and Boehner an unexpected win on the list of issues they want to tackle when the GOP takes control of both chambers of Congress early next year. White House press secretary Josh Earnest signaled Wednesday that the President would oppose the legislation, as he has in the past.

“We have indicated that the President’s senior advisors at the White House would recommend that he veto legislation like that,” said Earnest. “And that does continue to be our position.”

And it’s not even clear how much Landrieu’s push will help her chances. “Landrieu’s task is continuing to separate and distance herself from the President,” says Stockley. “Does Keystone help make that argument? Yes, but I would argue that’s been somewhat neutralized. Cassidy is going to be able to come back and say, ‘My language, my bill, I voted on it too.'”

“She’s going to have to do something more significant than the Keystone pipeline to beat Representative Cassidy,” he adds.

In last week’s race, Landrieu nabbed the top spot with 42% of the vote, compared with 41% for Cassidy and 14% for Tea Party candidate Rob Maness. She is facing an avalanche of ads and outside spending she can’t match (she lost the financial support of the group designed to get her elected, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee) and an opponent bolstered by Maness’s conservatives. As TIME’s Denver Nicks notes, Landrieu’s team believes she’s got a shot if she wins 30% of white voters, up from just 18% she received in the general elections last week. Of course, Landrieu has won runoffs before, in 1996 and 2002, and has expressed hope for pulling out another victory.

“Are you a lost cause?” NBC’s Kasie Hunt asked Landrieu on Wednesday. “I don’t believe I am,” she replied.

TIME Senate

Elizabeth Warren Joins Senate Democratic Leadership

Harry Reid, Elizabeth Warren
Susan Walsh—AP Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass. listens as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nev., speaks to reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Nov. 13, 2014, after Senate Democrats voted on leadership positions for the 114th Congress.

The progressive leader joins the Democratic leadership in a newly created role

The Senate Democrats voted in new leadership on Thursday, including progressive standard-bearer Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) who will take on a newly created role.

Following an hours-long leadership vote, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid told reporters he expects “Elizabeth Warren to be Elizabeth Warren” in her new role as the Democratic Policy and Communications Committee’s strategic policy adviser. The role, several outlets are reporting, was created specifically for Warren.

The addition of Warren brings some star power to the Democrat’s senior ranks, though it’s not clear how much clout will come with the new position.

Reid was chosen to continue leading Democrats in the Senate, though at least two of his peers, Sens. Claire McCaskill and Joe Manchin, told reporters they did not cast votes for anyone, according to the Washington Post.

Sens. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and Jon Tester of Montana will also take on leadership roles for the Democrats. Klobuchar will chair the Senate Democratic Steering Committee, and Tester will now chair the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

Reid praised Tester’s victories in two tough elections in announcing the Montanan’s selection to lead the DSCC ahead of the 2016 election. In a statement released by the DSCC Thursday, Tester said he’s accepting the position to “recruit and support candidates who understand the issues facing regular, working Americans.”

The new Democratic leadership team includes four women and three men. When asked about the number of women who now serve beside him in the leadership, Reid said Thursday, “I have seen this institution change for a lot of reasons, but one reason it has changed for the good is because of women.”

TIME Health Care

The Truth About Gruber-Gate

Republicans think they have found a smoking gun that exposes a nefarious plan by the Obama Administration to lie to the public in order to build support for the Affordable Care Act. This week, several videos from 2012 and 2013 have surfaced that show MIT Professor Jonathan Gruber, a former paid consultant to the Administration on health reform, calling the American people “stupid” and saying “a lack of transparency” was crucial to getting the ACA passed in 2010.

“Stupid” is not a great word to use to describe anyone, and Gruber said Tuesday that he regretted the comment. But rather than a smoking gun, Gruber-gate is actually a flash of candor in a debate that was filled with disingenuous statements from both sides. Supporters of the law did, in fact, do their best to obscure unpopular provisions—like new taxes. But Republican opponents were just as deceptive in their efforts to exaggerate the law’s potential negative effects. Neither is excusable.

The American people did not really understand the intricacies of the ACA before it passed. In April 2010, 55% of Americans said they were “confused” by the law, even after it passed and its provisions had been parsed for months in the media. Some of the confusion was due to Washington rhetoric that obscured the true details of the law and some can be blamed on a media that focused more on the politics of the bill than its policies.

It also seems unrealistic to expect average citizens to sort through a piece of legislation as large and complicated as the ACA to judge fact from fiction. Instead, the public largely relied on the opinions and information disseminated by politicians they agreed with generally.

That’s where the party-line deceptions come in. In one video, Gruber says that if the public had really understood that the law would require healthy people to pay for sick people, it wouldn’t have passed. He also says that the penalty for not having insurance is a “tax,” even though Democrats didn’t use that word to describe it because it would have made the law politically unfeasible. In another video, Gruber explains that a new ACA tax on high-cost health plans supposedly levied on insurers would actually be passed through to consumers.

None of these facts are exactly revelatory. Healthy people subsidizing sick people is how health insurance works. Whether it’s perceived as a “tax” or not, nobody wants to pay a financial penalty for not having insurance. And of course it’s true that any company—including an insurer—will try to pass overhead costs on to its customers.

The truth is there was deception on both sides of the debate that preceded passage of health care reform. Two wrongs don’t make a right—transparency is always better and more fair—but such context is necessary when judging Gruber and his remarks caught on tape. Republicans propagated talk of “death panels” and the notion that health reform would “ration” care, putting a board in charge of deciding who could live or die. The ACA does neither. The GOP also peddled the false idea that Democratic health reform was a “government takeover,” an argument that conveniently left out the fact that government dollars account for more than half of all health spending, with or without the ACA. And Republicans cast the entire discussion of the “public option,” a Medicare-like government insurance plan consumers could buy if they wanted to, as socialized medicine for all.

I’ve talked to Gruber many times over the past six years. He’s a good source because he’s smart, candid and was privy to the Democratic behind-the-scenes thinking and maneuvering that preceded passage of the Affordable Care Act. Gruber has always spoken so freely that I suspect the Obama Administration never felt completely at ease with the idea that one of its chief consultants was out there explaining everything, untethered. Comments Gruber made in 2012 about the health law’s subsidy system, which were also caught on tape and which he later described as “off the cuff,” could weaken the government’s case when it defends the law before the Supreme Court next year. (I reached Gruber to discuss this latest video controversy and he declined to comment on the record.) Gruber’s usually willing to talk and often, it seems, he’s not thinking much about the political ramifications of what he says.

In 2013, for instance, I asked Gruber if Democrats understood that the ACA would slowly and methodically erode the system under which millions of Americans get health insurance through their jobs. In pitching the ACA, Democrats had been adamant that the law would support and sustain the employer-based system, not erode it. But Gruber knew better and he told me so, likening workers being kicked off job-based health plans to people “falling off a building,” an outcome that architects of the ACA knew was likely and had planned for.

At least one Republican in Congress has called for hearings over Gruber’s newly revealed comments. Buoyed by a midterm election that gave the party a larger majority in the House and a new majority in the Senate, Republicans are hoping that Gruber-Gate might help them dismantle parts of the ACA next year.

What’s significant about Gruber-gate, though, is not that the Obama Administration was less transparent about what the ACA would do than its critics. It’s that Gruber admitted that his side participated in this unseemly dance.

TIME Presidents

George W. Bush Says Bill Clinton Is His ‘Brother From Another Mother’

An unlikely bromance

Former Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton broadcast their unlikely bromance on social media Tuesday when Clinton posted a picture of himself reading Bush’s new book.

Clinton’s #HowAreYouStillNotOnTwitter hashtag is a reference to his President’s Day tweet this year, which ribbed the younger Bush for not having an account. This time, Bush responded. He posted Clinton’s tweet on Instagram with the caption, “Thanks, 42! Hope you like the book about your pal, #41. #HowAreYouSTILLNotOnInstagram #PresidentialGrammers #BrotherFromAnotherMother”.

This is not the first public display of affection between the two former presidents. Clinton often refers to himself as the “black sheep son” of the Bush family, and Bush challenged Clinton to the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge earlier this year. Their bipartisan friendship is all the more remarkable given that Clinton beat Bush’s father, President George H. W. Bush, in the 1992 election, ousting Bush Sr. after only one term in office.

TIME

Morning Must Reads: November 13

Spaceship Makes Historic Touchdown on Comet

The European Space Agency’s Philae lander made an unprecedented touchdown on the surface of a comet after a suspense-packed, seven-hour descent on Wednesday, marking the high point of a $1.3 billion, 10-year mission

5,000 Dead from Ebola

More than 5,000 people have died in the Ebola outbreak, the World Health Organization said, a macabre milestone that coincides with the disease’s return to Mali and an acceleration of its spread in Sierra Leone

Spotify Pays Taylor Swift $500K

The CEO of her record label exclusively told TIME how much Spotify has paid the artist amid an increasingly heated disagreement

Man Arraigned in Hot-Car Death

A Connecticut man whose 15-month-old son died of hyperthermia after being left in a hot car was arraigned on homicide charges

Workers Rescued From Scaffold at 1 World Trade Center

Two window washers were rescued from a scaffold whose cable snapped high above the ground outside 1 World Trade Center in New York City. Rescue workers were able to save them shortly after cutting through glass windows

Turkish Youths Attack American Sailors

A group of Turkish youngsters assaulted three American naval officers in Istanbul on, calling them “murderers and killers” and demanding they leave the country. They belong to a nationalist group called the Turkish Youth Union

There’s Going to Be a Duck Dynasty Musical

The reality stars have commissioned a team of Broadway producers to adapt their tale for the stage. The theatrical rendition of the Robertsons’ life will not actually appear on Broadway but will debut in Las Vegas

Lava Advances on Hawaii Town

The lava flow threatening the Hawaii town of Pahoa continued to advance, devouring its first house and setting an asphalt road on fire. Hawaii Civil Defense officials are currently monitoring three breakouts from the main lava stream

FIFA Clears Russia and Qatar to Host World Cup

A FIFA judge has cleared Russia and Qatar of corruption in their winning bids for the next two World Cups. German judge Joachim Eckert formally closed FIFA’s probe into the 2018 and 2022 World Cup bidding contests

Arkansas Governor to Pardon Son

Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe plans to pardon his own son for a drug crime committed more than decade ago, after his son wrote a letter pleading “Mr. Governor” for “a second chance at life”

Monsanto Reaches $2.4M Settlement With Farmers

Monsanto agreed to pay almost $2.4 million to settle a lawsuit filed by U.S. wheat farmers, after a genetically modified strain of the grain was found in an Oregon field and spooked importers of American wheat

Tribes to Receive Bison Held by Ted Turner

A group of Yellowstone National Park bison is due to finally arrive at a permanent home on a northeastern Montana American Indian reservation on Thursday, almost a decade after they were captured and spared from slaughter

There will be no TIME Subscriber Q and A this week. Please check back next Thursday. And thanks again for commenting.

Michael Scherer
DC Bureau Chief
TIME

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