TIME National Security

Police, NSA Investigating Report of Shots Fired

This Sept. 19, 2007 file photo shows the National Security Agency building at Fort Meade, Md.
Charles Dharapak—AP The National Security Agency building at Fort Meade, Md., on Sept. 19, 2007

Damage was reported to the National Security Agency building

(FORT MEADE, Md.) U.S. Park Police are investigating whether a reported shooting along the Baltimore-Washington Parkway caused the damage that was reported to a nearby National Security Agency building.

Police spokeswoman Sgt. Lelani Woods said that the NSA reported damage to one of its buildings close to the parkway on Tuesday. She said it is too early to say whether the damage is related to the report of gunfire nearby.

NSA spokesman Ian Brennan says no injuries have been reported, and that state and local authorities are investigating.

Earlier Tuesday, Maryland Transportation Authority Police were investigating shots fired on the Inter-County Connector about 12 miles from the NSA. Police say one vehicle was hit, and one person was injured by broken glass.

Police would not say whether the shootings were related or whether the NSA was targeted.

TIME Military

Concern Over Iran’s Nukes Drowns Out Its Growing Role in Iraq

Tehran helps Baghdad try to retake Tikrit as U.S. watches

Consternation over Iran boiled Tuesday on Capitol Hill as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared Tehran’s push for nuclear weapons “could well threaten the survival of my country.” But over at the Pentagon, the Iran focus wasn’t on Netanyahu but Iraq. That’s because Iran is playing a key role in Baghdad’s fight to retake Tikrit from the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria, while the U.S. is confined to the sidelines.

After the U.S. invested $26 billion rebuilding the Iraqi army over the past decade, some Pentagon officials found it disconcerting to see Iranian-backed Shi’ite militias leading the charge into Saddam Hussein’s hometown. The Iranians, of course, are relishing the opportunity: Hussein was running Iraq when it launched the eight-year Iran-Iraq war that ended in a stalemate in 1988 with roughly 200,000 killed on each side.

American concern is justified: having Iranian-backed Shi’ite forces storm largely-Sunni Tikrit risks turning the conflict against the Sunni ISIS forces into a sectarian conflict that could balloon into a civil war. “It’s absolutely key that [the Iraqi government] make sure that they have provisions in place to accommodate the Sunnis,” Army General Lloyd Austin, chief of the U.S. Central Command, told the House Armed Services Committee Tuesday. “That lack of inclusion is what got us to this point, and I think the only way that we can ensure that we don’t go back there is if we have the right steps taken by the government.” Fewer than 1,000 of the 30,000 fighters battling ISIS for Tikrit are Sunni tribal fighters, according to Iraqi estimates.

The populations of both Iran and Iraq are primarily Shi’ite. Since Saddam’s hanging in 2006, the Sunnis of western Iraq have been treated poorly by the Shi’ite-dominated government in Baghdad. Many Sunnis welcomed ISIS’s move into the region last year, when it killed more than 1,000 Iraqi Shi’ite troops who had been stationed at a base known, when the Americans were there, as Camp Speicher. Some of the Shi’ites attacking Tikrit are bent on revenge for the slaughter, which could exacerbate intra-Muslim tensions.

Iran, according to reports from the front and Pentagon officials, is backing Iraqi forces with air power, artillery fire and advisers guiding Shi’ite militiamen, who account for perhaps 10,000 of the fighters trying to retake Tikrit. “This is the most overt conduct of Iranian support, in the form of artillery and other things,” Army General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, told the Senate Armed Services Committee later Tuesday. “Frankly, it will only be a problem if it results in sectarianism.”

Meanwhile, the U.S. — which has conducted thousands of air strikes against ISIS targets since August — has been grounded in the battle to retake Tikrit. The daily U.S. tally of air strikes launched Wednesday ticked off targets around al Asad, Bayji, Mosul, Ramadi and Sinjar. But there were no strikes in or around Tikrit, although U.S. drones are keeping a nervous eye on the fighting (“We have good overhead imagery,” is how Austin put it).

Iran has reportedly dispatched commanders notorious for their killings of Sunnis to the fight. That may lead Tikritis to view those seeking to free their city from ISIS’s grip not as rescuers but as bloody vengeance-seekers.

As the U.S. and Israel work to keep Iran’s nuclear genie bottled up, both Washington and Tehran have said they are not operating together inside Iraq. “We don’t coordinate with them,” Austin, whose command oversees U.S. military forces inside the country, repeated Tuesday.

In other words, they’re allied, but not allies. “The battle between Iran and ISIS doesn’t turn Iran into a friend of America,” Netanyahu told Congress on Tuesday. “Iran and ISIS are competing for the crown of militant Islam … They just disagree among themselves who will be the ruler of that empire.”

TIME National Security

U.S. Intel Chief: Roughly 40 Americans Have Returned From Syria

Director Of Nat'l Intelligence James Clapper Speaks At Council On Foreign Relations
Bryan Thomas—Getty Images Director of National Intelligence James Clapper speaks at the Council on Foreign Relations on March 2, 2015 in New York City.

James Clapper said the U.S. faces more global challenges than at any time in his half-century career in the intelligence community

About 40 Americans have returned from the jihadist battlefields of Syria — but they don’t pose a threat to American security, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said on Monday.

Clapper said during a question-and-answer session at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York City that about 180 Americans have attempted to travel or have succeeded in traveling to Syria since the ongoing conflict began. But he said the Americans who have returned went for “humanitarian purposes or some other reasons that don’t relate to plotting” and they have not shown “nefarious” intentions.

“If they come back, and they are not involved in plotting, or don’t have nefarious purpose, that’s their right and privilege as an American citizen to come back,” Clapper said. The office of the Director of National Intelligence did not immediately respond to a request for more information.

About 20,000 foreign fighters from more than 90 countries are believed to have gone to Syria, where the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) has seized large swaths of territory. That has raised fears of radicalized fighters returning to carry out attacks in their home countries.

Last week, the FBI arrested three Brooklyn men and charged them with attempting to provide material support to ISIS. Two of the three men allegedly planned to travel to Syria, and the FBI said the men had discussed coordinating possible domestic attacks.

On Monday, Clapper said the U.S. faces more global challenges than at any time in his half-century career in the intelligence community.

“I’ve been in one capacity or another in the intel business for 52 years, and I don’t remember a time when we have been beset by more crises and challenges around the world and the diversity of these crises and challenges than we have today,” said Clapper, a retired Air Force lieutenant general. That comment came days after he told the Senate Armed Services Committee that 2014 was the most lethal year for global terrorism on record.

In 2014, 13,000 attacks killed 31,000 people around the world, up from 11,500 attacks and 22,000 killed a year earlier, Clapper said at the Senate hearing on Thursday. Fifty percent of those attacks took place in Iraq, Afghanistan or Pakistan — and ISIS was responsible for more of the attacks than any other group.

Clapper clarified on Monday that the terror assessment he gave Congress was not at odds with a statement from Secretary of State John Kerry, who drew criticism for telling a House subcommittee last week that global violent conflict is lower than it has ever been, saying that Americans were “safer than ever.”

Kerry “was thinking of a different context,” Clapper said. “What he was thinking about was the more cataclysmic case in point of — case with the Cold War. And he’s right; in that context we are a safer country. But I was looking at more the here and now, you know, what happened in 2014 and what kind of what we project out in the next year.”

TIME Military

Army: Too Many Regulations Lead to Too Many Lies

The Last U.S. Troop Brigade In Iraq Departs Country After Over Eight Years Of War
Lucas Jackson / Pool / Getty Images U.S. troops getting a last-minute briefing before leaving Iraq in 2011.

Top civilian suggests it’s time to trim the service’s rules

Routine lying by Army officers—forced to tell untruths because of excessive rules and the service’s can-do culture—is leading the Army brass to review the regulatory burden. They’re hoping to return truth-telling to the nation’s biggest military service.

“Are we asking our soldiers to do too much in insufficient time? I do think it’s a legitimate question,” Army Secretary John McHugh told TIME on Tuesday. “I suspect some smart, appropriate housecleaning on our regulatory requirements for training would serve a useful purpose.”

McHugh’s call for a housecleaning comes after a pair of retired Army officers, in a study last week, concluding that fibbing is rampant in the service. While Army officers “respond with indignation at any whiff of deceit,” the study found that within 20 minutes of sitting down to discuss the Army’s integrity they were sharing tales of deception they had told—and were hearing from others wearing Army green.

The Army bureaucracy, Leonard Wong and Stephen J. Gerras concluded in Lying to Ourselves: Dishonesty in the Army Profession, has piled demands atop officers amid two wars for everything from creating computerized “storyboards” in a war zone whenever a soldier engages the enemy, to sexual-harassment training.

“People did not report enemy contact because they knew the storyboard was useless and they didn’t want to go through the hassle,” one senior officer said.

When it comes to mandatory sexual-harassment training (also required in war zones), one captain said he “called the platoons and told them to gather the boys around the radio and we said, ‘Don’t touch girls.’ That was our quarterly SHARP [Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention] training.” (More officers’ views here.)

Based on interviews with commanding officers, the study concluded that they know their subordinates are lying to them. That nurtures a moral rot that could harm the force. “Tolerating a level of dishonesty in areas deemed trivial or unimportant also results in the degradation of the trust that is vital to the military profession,” say the authors, both now professors at the war college. “Once the bar of ethical standards is lowered, the malleability of those standards becomes a rationale for other unethical decisions.”

Ordering up new requirements—something the U.S. military’s bloated headquarters know how to do—seems to turn the Army from G.I. Joe into your crazy uncle, researchers said. “When it comes to requirements for units and individuals, the Army resembles a compulsive hoarder,” the study says. “It is excessively permissive in allowing the creation of new requirements, but it is also amazingly reluctant to discard old demands.”

Officers interviewed by the authors at several Army outposts said this forces them to prioritize requirements and jettison those they deem less important. “It’s a systemic problem throughout the entire Army,” one officer complained. “We can probably do two or three things in a day, but if you give us 20, we’re gonna half-ass 15 and hope you ignore the other five.”

McHugh, the Army’s top civilian, agreed that there are too many regulations. “I’d be less than shocked if there are those that have outlived their usefulness,” he said at a breakfast meeting with reporters. “We need an open discussion about what it means to be an Army officer, what values do you need to display, and how do you display them, which brings us into some of the findings about dishonesty within certain officer ranks.”

McHugh says he plans to discuss the matter with top Army officers, which will likely lead to a weeding out excess requirements so officers won’t have to fudge (at least so much). “What we need to do is take a holistic view,” McHugh said. “I believe, from what I know about the issue right now, that there’s some gains to be made in that area.”

TIME Military

An Extraordinary Pentagon ‘Bull Session’ Over ISIS

DOD Chief Ashton Carter Travels To Middle East
Jonathan Ernst—Pool/Getty Images New Defense Secretary Ashton Carter begins Monday's anti-ISIS strategy session in Kuwait.

New defense chief convenes Kuwait confab to confirm war plans

College, where new Defense Secretary Ashton Carter has spent as much time as at the Pentagon, loves bull sessions. That’s just what Carter did Monday, summoning U.S. military and diplomatic brainpower to an unusual closed-door session in Kuwait where some of America’s finest Middle East minds gathered to debate how to defeat the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS).

Sure, the more than two dozen attendees sat at a government-issue T-shaped table, complete with their names on placards, instead of sitting cross-legged on the floor. But, at the start of his second week on the job, Carter made clear he is as interested in listening as he is in talking. “This is team America,” he declared, before reporters were ushered out of the room.

At the end of the six-hour session, Carter declared ISIS “hardly invincible,” and gave no hint of any major change in U.S. policy, despite calls from some congressional Republicans for more robust military action. “Lasting defeat of this brutal group,” Carter said, “can and will be accomplished.”

No revamped war plan was expected to surface during the session, although Carter said the U.S. needs to step up its social-media duel with ISIS, and that certain unnamed allies need to do more. Rather, aides said, Carter was seeking to dive deeply into the current U.S. strategy, understand its logic and see if it can be improved.

While such sessions often happen without public notice in Washington, convening one abroad — and publicly detailing its purpose and attendees — marks a shift in how the Pentagon is conducting business under its new chief.

Those at the session included Army General Lloyd Austin, who as head of U.S. Central Command, oversees the anti-ISIS campaign, and Air Force General Philip Breedlove, NATO’s military chief. Diplomats attending included retired Marine general John Allen, now the White House’s envoy responsible for ISIS, and U.S. ambassadors in the region.

The Pentagon instructed those attending to leave their PowerPoint presentations at home and be ready to face questions from Carter. These kinds of sessions — especially when senior officials are visiting from the capital — often turn into subordinates’ show-and-tell rather than tough questions with frank answers. “We had an incisive, candid, wide-ranging discussion—there were no briefings,” Carter said afterward. “It was the sharing of experience and ideas and expertise and it made me very proud of the American team here in this region.”

Carter, a physicist by training, has spent much of his career lecturing on college campuses, including at Harvard, Oxford and Stanford. Between academic gigs, he also has served tours inside the Pentagon, including as deputy defense secretary from 2011 to 2013.

Carter plainly wants the war on ISIS to end differently than the wars the U.S. launched in Afghanistan (in 2001) and Iraq (in 2003), where battlefield successes turned into nation-building quagmires. “If we are to have a defeat of [ISIS] … it needs to be a lasting defeat,” he told U.S. troops at Kuwait’s Camp Arifjan before Monday’s session began. “What we discuss here, and what I learn here, will be important to me as I formulate our own direction in this campaign and as I help the President to lead it.”

Assuming Carter heard something that could help turn the tide against ISIS, getting the White House to listen to his advice could prove challenging. President Obama’s first two defense chiefs, Robert Gates and Leon Panetta, made no secret of their disdain for White House interference in Pentagon planning, and Pentagon officials cited such micromanagement as a problem during Chuck Hagel’s recently concluded tenure.

TIME Congress

Why Congress Is Feuding With Obama Over the Homeland Security Budget

Jeh Johnson Holds News Conference On DHS Appropriations Bill
Alex Wong—Getty Images U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson pauses during a news conference February 23, 2015 in Washington, DC.

President Barack Obama warned a gathering of state governors on Monday that the Department of Homeland Security would furlough tens of thousands of employees nationwide if Congress failed to replenish the agency’s funds by Friday.

“We can’t afford to play politics with our national security,” Obama said during a winter meeting of the National Governors Association.

But the political fight over Homeland Security funding shows no signs of letting up due to the hot-button politics of immigration. That was made clear Monday evening when a procedural vote that needs at least 60 senators to avoid the threat of a filibuster fell too short, with just 47 in support and 46 against. Here’s a refresher on how lawmakers got to this point:

Where’s the spending bill?

A bill to fund the Department of Homeland Security passed the House last month, with one essential caveat: None of the money could be used to implement Obama’s executive order to defer deportations of some 5 million undocumented immigrants. Imposed by House Republicans, that restriction is a non-starter for Senate Democrats, who have blocked the bill.

What happens if the agency doesn’t receive funding by Friday?

Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said the department would run out of funds by Friday, forcing it to furlough upwards of 30,000 DHS employees. Employees deemed essential to national security, who make up roughly 80 percent of the workforce, will continue to work without paychecks.

Are there any signs of compromise on the horizon?

Several prominent Republicans, including Sens. John McCain and Lindsay Graham, have broken rank in recent days, urging their counterparts to fund the agency without restraints and let the immigration fight play out in the courtroom. Last week, a Texas judge temporarily suspended Obama’s executive orders and ruled that states could challenge the administration’s immigration policy in court.

McCain hailed the decision as an “exit sign” for lawmakers, though lawmakers have yet to steer toward this off ramp in significant number. They may choose to punt on the issue instead, releasing a temporary spurt of funding for Homeland Security while girding for another round of debate.

TIME 2016 Election

Republican Presidential Hopefuls Stay Out of Senate Fight on Immigration

Sen. Rubio (R-FL) Discusses Obama's Shift In Cuba Policy
T.J. Kirkpatrick—Getty Images Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) reacts to U.S. President Barack Obama's announcement about revising policies on U.S.-Cuba relations on December 17, 2014 in Washington, DC.

The path to the White House does not lead through Congressional gridlock.

As Congress heads toward a showdown over immigration and the budget for the Department of Homeland Security, the three Republican Senators who are considering running for president are staying on the sidelines.

Sens. Rand Paul, Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz are hanging back from the fight, letting others like Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions lead the strategy and take the megaphone. Top national Republican strategists say that’s a smart move, given the difficulty of scoring a clean win in this legislative mess.

“The main disadvantage of being a sitting senator is that your opponents and the media force you to own every controversy during every legislative fight, even though some outcomes are usually out of your control,” said Kevin Madden, a senior aide in former Gov. Mitt Romney’s presidential campaigns.

The Homeland Security funding fight is also a particularly bad one to champion. The current Republican strategy is to risk a shutdown of the agency in an attempt to force President Obama to override his own executive actions to defer deportations for millions in the U.S. illegally. But many of the related programs are paid for by fees, which means a shutdown won’t affect them, while polls show the public will blame Republicans for a shutdown.

“This is working out exactly the way the President and Democrats want it to work out,” says Rob Jesmer, a top member of FWD.us, a pro-immigration reform group, and former executive director of the National Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee.

“We’re not going to look very good,” he added of Republicans. “No one is going to look very good. The sooner this gets behind us the better it is.”

The fight has already caused headaches for one potential White House suitor. After he simply noted that Republicans don’t have enough votes in the Senate to pass a bill override Obama’s executive actions, Rubio faced headlines in conservative media that said he had “caved,” “folded” and “retreated,” even though he had stopped short of actually calling for a spending bill without conditions.

Paul and Cruz, meantime, haven’t paid any price back home for laying low.

Ray Sullivan, a chief of staff of former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, says that Cruz faces “no negative ramifications” in the state by going bold on the immigration fight. “From my standpoint, most Texans didn’t notice the difference and appreciated the willingness to take principled stands to try to shrink the size and scope of the federal government,” he says of the 2013 government shutdown, in which Cruz played an outsized role.

“If you’re looking at it in the context of who’s going to be blamed, who’s fault is it and what’s the political ramifications of it, to me it’s clear: we’re here because of Obama, we’re here because of Senate Democrats,” says Scott Jennings, a top GOP consultant based out of Kentucky. “I would stay focused on Barack Obama. This is his fault, we’re here because of him.”

“I think that’s how people here in Kentucky view it,” he adds.

Paul, Cruz and Rubio have portrayed themselves as disrupters and outsiders who came to fix Washington. That message is reinforced by a hard-line position on Obama’s “executive overreach.” Even if the particular strategy is ineffective, voters may be more focused on a broader theme each of the prospective candidates presents. Madden, the Romney aide, notes that whatever image the candidate creates may be more important than any particular D.C. bout.

“Primary voters in early states that shape the presidential field respond more to their overall sense of where a candidate is on big issues,” says Madden. “Are they strong on national security? Smart and in touch on the economy? They tend to shape those opinions based on what they see and hear from candidates in Iowa and New Hampshire instead of what’s taking place on the floor of the Senate.”

But the Homeland Security battle is a reminder of Washington’s “gridlock and breakdown,” according to Sullivan, and could help a governor candidate who not only takes principled stands but delivers results in his or her state.

“Members of Congress who are running or contemplating running for president will be weighted down by their association with Washington DC,” he says. “Our party has generally nominated governors who are far outside of the Beltway.”

TIME Military

The Pentagon Spills the Beans: Stupidity, or Strategy?

Dozens of ISIL militants killed in Iraq's Mosul
Emrah Yorulmaz / Anadolu Agency / Getty Images ISIS members set fire to tires Sunday to mask their escape after clashing with Kurdish peshmerga forces outside Mosul.

Lawmakers pounce on disclosures, which have been known for months

Back on Dec. 10, lawmakers wanted to know how many Iraqi troops would be needed to drive the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) from Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city. Brett McGurk, the State Department’s special presidential envoy for defeating the militant group, said a force of 20,000 to 25,000 would be a “reasonable” estimate of its size.

Spring was the goal for the timing of the counteroffensive, assuming the Iraqi army and their Kurdish peshmerga allies had enough troops and training by then. That timetable was a target freely, if privately, expressed by Pentagon officials since late last year, and surfaced in numerous press reports.

So why did a pair of influential Republican senators explode when they heard that an anonymous Pentagon official had relayed those same two key facts to reporters during a background briefing last Thursday?

“Never in our memory can we recall an instance in which our military has knowingly briefed our own war plans to our enemies,” John McCain of Arizona, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, also a member of the panel, wrote President Barack Obama on Friday. “These disclosures not only risk the success of our mission, but could also cost the lives of U.S., Iraqi, and coalition forces.”

Graham has served as an Air Force lawyer, so perhaps he can be forgiven for hyperbole. McCain, a onetime Navy pilot shot down over Vietnam and held as a prisoner for more than five years, surely knows better. There is only one way to take an enemy-held city: surround it with overwhelming force, and then attack it until the foe buckles, or choke it until he starves.

Everyone paying attention, on both sides of the fight against ISIS, has known for months that the battle for Mosul is going to be the climactic clash. “Certainly, ISIS knows that Mosul is the center piece of any counteroffensive,” Jack Keane, a retired four-star Army general, told Fox News on Sunday. “They know that. We’ve been knocking off lines of communications and isolating Mosul now for weeks, with air power, too. They know we would like to do that probably before Ramadan or do it after. So, timing is something that they can figure out themselves.”

Both sides also know that it’s better to launch a counteroffensive sooner rather than later, thereby limiting the defenses ISIS can dig and build, which narrows the timeframe down to the spring.

The U.S. military knows that it cannot support its Iraqi allies in that fight without being confident they will prevail. Their training and outfitting will take at least several more weeks. The arrival of the Muslim holiday of Ramadan (June 17) and summer (June 21), pretty much shuts the window on the operation about that time, Pentagon officials say, citing religious sensitivities and heat. By default, that leaves the April-May timeframe cited by the Pentagon briefer Thursday as the soonest the counteroffensive to retake Mosul could be launched if it is to be attempted before fall.

The official from the U.S. Central Command, which oversees U.S. forces in Iraq, heavily caveated the timing of the Mosul operation in his telephone Q&A with Pentagon reporters from Centcom headquarters in Tampa. “The mark on the wall that we are still shooting for is the April-May timeframe,” he said, implying the timing wasn’t new and wasn’t secret. Beyond that, he said more than once, the U.S. and its allies would delay the assault if the Iraqi forces are “not ready, if the conditions are not set, if all the equipment that they need is not physically there.”

The fact is, the U.S. has routinely telegraphed offensive operations before launching them. There was a flurry of stories detailing the “shock and awe” bombardment that would open the 2003 invasion of Iraq before it began. “If asked to go into conflict in Iraq, what you’d like to do is have it be a short conflict,” Air Force General Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in response to a question from TIME at a breakfast two weeks before it started. “The best way to do that would be to have such a shock on the system that the Iraqi regime would have to assume early on the end was inevitable.”

The U.S. military also offered previews of coming destruction before the battle for Fallujah in Iraq in 2004, and in advance of the offensive against the Taliban in Marjah, Afghanistan, in 2010.

Leaking word of such attacks in advance, Pentagon officials say, can convince enemy fighters to abandon the fight. But they concede it can also stiffen the backbone of others. Such a tactic can also encourage the non-ISIS population in Mosul to rebel against the occupiers.

So just how many Iraqi troops will retaking Mosul require? “We think it’s going to take in the range between 20,000 and 25,000,” the Central Command official said Thursday. He wasn’t risking the success of the eventual mission. He was simply echoing what McGurk told Congress more than two months ago.

TIME National Security

Homeland Security Chief Warns Mall of America Shoppers After Threat

BLOOMINGTON, MN - JULY 16: (FEATURE STORY ON THE MALL OF AMERICA, 11 OF 15) A large sign hangs above an entrance to the Mall of America July 16, 2002 in Bloomington, Minnesota. The Mall of America is the largest shopping mall in the United States, seeing between 35 and 42 million visitors each year and employing more than 12,000 people. Approximately 520 stores occupy the mall's 4.2 million square feet. The Mall of America will celebrate its 10th anniversary this August. (Photo by Mark Erickson/Getty Images)
Mark Erickson—Getty Images

FBI says there is "no indication" of any specific threat

Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson warned visitors to the Mall of America on Sunday to remain vigilant after the massive shopping center near Minneapolis was singled out for attacks in a new video posted by an Islamist extremist group.

Somalia-based al-Shabab, which claimed responsibility for the deadly siege at the Westgate shopping center in Nairobi in 2013, called for terrorist attacks against malls in the United States, United Kingdom and Canada.

“If anyone is planning to go to the Mall of America today, they’ve got to be particularly careful,” Johnson said on CNN’s State of the Union. “There will be enhanced security there, but public vigilance, public awareness and public caution in situations like this is particularly important.”

FBI spokesman Rich Quinn said “there is no indication of any specific, real threat” against American malls. Still, Tanya Bradsher, assistant secretary for public affairs at the Department of Homeland Security, aimed to clarify Johnson’s remarks: “Sec. Johnson didn’t say that they should not go to the mall, he told shoppers to be extra vigilant and that security was increased.”

[CNN]

 

TIME Congress

Homeland Security Goes on Offense for Fight With Congress

US Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson listens while US President Barack Obama makes a statement to the press after a meeting in the Roosevelt Room of the White House on Oct. 6, 2014 in Washington, DC.
Brendan Smialowski—AFP/Getty Images US Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson listens while US President Barack Obama makes a statement to the press after a meeting in the Roosevelt Room of the White House on Oct. 6, 2014 in Washington, DC.

The Obama Administration made a last-minute public plea for Congress to fund the Department of Homeland Security, sending Secretary Jeh Johnson on a tour of political talk shows Sunday.

As the deadline approaches for the department’s funding, Johnson echoed the administration line that Congress should simply fund the department without conditions.

Republicans in Congress hoped to attach language to the funding bill that would override Obama’s decision to defer deportations for millions in the U.S. illegally — an idea that both Senate Democrats and the president have rejected.

Johnson used appearances on all five Sunday morning political talk shows to press his case:

• On CNN’s State of the Union, he said it was “absurd that we are even having this conversation,” while noting that some 30,000 employees would have to be furloughed as a result of the fight.

• On Fox News Sunday, he called Congress’s effort to block the executive action on immigration through a funding fight is “unacceptable from a public safety, national security view.”

• On ABC’s This Week, he said funding the agency is “imperative” amid the new threats from terrorist groups like al-Shabaab, which this weekend reportedly threatened an attack on Minneapolis’s Mall of America.

• On CBS’s Face the Nation, he said things from cyber-security to the harsh conditions the nation would be affected if “headquarter staff is narrowed down to a skeleton.”

• On NBC’s Meet the Press, he said flat out, “we need Congress to fund the Department of Homeland Security,” listing people and programs that would be placed in jeopardy if funding runs out on Friday.

The five talk-show effort — known in Beltway circles as the “full Ginsburg” after the first person to attempt it — was a sign of how seriously the White House intends to press its advantage on the dispute with Congress. Polls show the majority of Americans would blame Congress if the agency shuts down.

While that would be a public relations disaster, it’s unclear if it would really affect national security much.

The majority of Department of Homeland Security staff would still report for duty—from TSA agents at airports to the men and women of the Coast Guard—but they wouldn’t be receiving a paycheck.

Some Republicans have argued that they should call off the funding fight, given a Texas judge’s decision last week to temporarily block the Administration from going ahead with the deferrals.

Sen. John McCain called the Texas decision an “exit sign” on Face the Nation on Sunday, while Sen. Lindsey Graham called on Republicanson This Week to back the legal challenge to the executive action rather than blocking funding.

“The worst possible outcome for this nation would be to defund the Department of Homeland Security given the multiple threats we face to our homeland and I will not be part of that,” Graham said, adding that Republicans being the face of the partial shutdown would “add gasoline to the fire.”

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