Roll Call: The News Source of Capitol Hill Since 1955
May 26, 2015

NSA Could Begin Winding Down Bulk Surveillance Today

“The Patriot Act provisions that have allowed the National Security Agency to vacuum up Americans’ phone records officially expire on June 1. But the Obama administration says the NSA must begin preparing to end its bulk-telephone-spying program as soon as Friday,” National Journal reports.

“A Justice Department memo circulated among congressional offices Wednesday and obtained by National Journal said Congress needs to fully settle its differences over the expiring spy provisions this week in order to avoid an operational interruption to the NSA’s mass-surveillance program.”

“The Friday deadline articulated by the Justice Department aligns with a March order from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which authorizes the NSA program on 90-day intervals. That order instructed the Obama administration to submit to the the court by May 22 a renewal application if it intended to continue the bulk spying in some fashion.”

State-Defense Rivalry Hinders US Fight Against ISIL

David Ignatius: “The United States…is afflicted with its own internecine quarrels that impede effective action in Iraq. These are mundane turf battles among different branches of government, rather than sectarian feuds, but they’ve hindered the U.S. campaign. This is the kind of interagency tension — State Department vs. Pentagon with a cautious White House in the middle — that’s all too familiar in Washington. But it has to stop.”

“Obama decided to base his “presidential envoy” at the State Department, rather than the White House. That was an attempt to placate a turf-conscious Pentagon and avoid a policy czar who would bulldoze opposition, like a reborn Richard Holbrooke. But it was a mistake, which from the start impeded coordination of policy… The point is that the president has to appoint someone to coordinate this fight and install that person at the White House with authority to speak for the administration.”

Cyber Attacks on Financial System Pose Increasing Threat

“US regulators are increasingly concerned about the threat that cyber attacks pose to financial stability after assaults on Sony Pictures and Target highlighted the proliferating range of techniques used by digital raiders,” according to The Financial Times.

“On cyber security, the annual report from the Financial Stability Oversight Council said ‘the prospect of a more destructive incident that could impair financial sector operations’ was even more concerning than recent breaches that have compromised financial information.”

“The regulators’ report pointed to the troubling implications of last year’s attack on Sony Pictures — which the US blamed on North Korea — noting that the company’s computers were apparently rendered inoperable, suggesting that attackers had reached a new level of sophistication.”

Honoring Heroes Past and Present


Army Pfc. Johnny Allen places an American flag in front of a marker in Section 12 during the “Flags In” ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Va., May 21, 2015. Allen is assigned to the U.S. Army’s 3rd U.S. Infantry, Company C, known as the Old Guard. (U.S. Army photo by Rachel Larue)

On Memorial Day we honor the men and women who lived and died for their country. In preparation for this day of remembrance, members of the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment place American flags at the graves of U.S. soldiers buried at Arlington National Cemetery. Similar observances and tributes around the nation help us remember the service and sacrifice of our fallen military members.

On this day we also pay tribute to all those who continue to bravely serve both in the U.S. and around the globe. That’s more than 2 million men and women who serve in America’s all-volunteer military force and another 3 million who are their husbands, wives, sons and daughters.

Some of their stories have been collected in a new documentary that takes an in-depth look at a new generation of military family that has learned to cope with having loved ones deployed for multiple tours over many years. Understanding the challenges for those deployed, and families left at home, is another way to pay tribute this Memorial Day and all year.

Here’s a sneak peak at the documentary ‘The Homefront’, which will air on PBS at 9 p.m. Eastern Time on Memorial Day, Monday, May 25.

McConnell Betting Freedom Act Won’t Reach 60 Votes in Senate

National Journal reports that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) “will allow a vote on a House-passed measure that would effectively end the National Security Agency’s bulk collection of Americans’ call records.”

“McConnell has no desire to see the USA Freedom Act—a measure he repeatedly has denounced as something that could help terrorists kill Americans—pass. Instead, he hopes to watch it fail to accrue the 60 votes necessary to advance. That could jolt more senators toward his preference of extending unhindered the Patriot Act’s three surveillance provisions due to expire June 1.”

“Such a sequence—a vote on the Freedom Act followed by a vote for a clean renewal—could give McConnell what he wants. But in addition to banking on the Freedom Act’s failure, McConnell is gambling that the Senate can move quickly enough to catch House lawmakers before they skip town Thursday.”

How Will NSA Surveillance Reform Fare in the Senate?

Daniel DePetris argues that while Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) may claim that he will not bring the USA Freedom Act to a vote in his chamber, “he will be the pragmatic legislator that he’s always been throughout his career: looking for where the most votes are and allowing a full and open debate. Right now, USA Freedom appears to have the most votes.”

“Because Section 215 expires on June 1, McConnell will only have until the end of the week to arrive at some sort of compromise in order to retain at least some of the NSA’s authority to search telephone metadata — something that the USA Freedom Act allows the NSA to do, as long as they receive a court order to access the data specific to an authorized counterterrorism investigation. Although McConnell may hope to use the short calendar to pressure his colleagues to support a clean reauthorization, it will be a nearly impossible task for him to pick off enough Senate Democrats to meet the 60-vote threshold. The entire Democratic caucus wants the USA Freedom Act, not an extension of the USA Patriot Act, to be the law of the land.”

Meanwhile, National Journal reports that Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr (R-NC) is working on an alternative to the Freedom Act that “would seek to lengthen the transition from the bulk-records regime to an as-needed system, wherein the NSA could ask for select metadata from telephone companies after getting judicial approval.”

Chart of the Day

Defense One provides this chart showing the gradual rise and recent decline of drone patrols conducted by the Air Force. The reason for the sudden reduction?: “the intense pace has pushed airmen to the breaking point.”

“The Air Force measures its UAV capability by the number of targets it can watch around the clock. Keeping one drone over one target is called an orbit, or combat air patrol (abbreviated CAP). Each CAP generally requires four aircraft, a control station, antennas, and satellite communications — plus pilots, intelligence operators, maintainers, and more.”

“No matter how fast the Air Force buys the drones, the service cannot train pilots and mission technicians quickly enough to meet the ever-growing demand… Their services are so valuable that the Air Force’s request to reduce its CAPs required the approval of Defense Secretary Ashton Carter. The long-term viability of the UAV force factored into the decision-making process.”

USAF Flying Command Post Returned to Service Early


Boeing photo

The U.S. Air Force’s fleet of four E4-B jets plays a vital and little known role in the defense of the nation as an airborne command post.  And when one of the four aircraft is out for routine maintenance, it’s essential to return to service sooner rather than later.

Boeing’s maintenance and repair facility in San Antonio, Texas, met that challenge, delivering the first E4-B it worked on to the USAF earlier than expected, enabling the USAF to return the critical aircraft to operational service right away. Maintenance on the Air Force C-17 Globemaster III and KC-135 aerial refueling tankers, as well as commercial aircraft, also occurs at the San Antonio location.

Based on the Boeing 747-200 commercial airplane, the E-4B’s primary role during a conflict is as an airborne command post under the direction of the President, Secretary of Defense, and the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Boeing built the E-4 fleet and, with the Air Force, has supported the aircraft since the program’s launch in 1974. The company is on contract to maintain the readiness of the aircraft’s systems, bringing each aircraft in for service every four years.


Senate Stalemate on NSA Surveillance Could End Programs

“Without action by the end of the month, provisions of the Patriot Act will expire,” The Hill reports, “which Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) argues would put the United States at a pre Sept. 11, 2001-footing.”

“Yet McConnell has no definite path to extend those provisions. He and other hawkish senators are pressing for an extension of the Patriot Act measures, but they are opposed by other senators, the White House and a majority of House lawmakers in both parties… Observers say it’s increasingly looking like the standoff could result in no action by Congress, which would mean the Patriot Act provisions would lapse.”

“Investigations that have already begun under the law would likely be allowed to continue using the provisions until their conclusion. But after that, it would be over… There are other tools that the government still has at its disposal to collect information — such as grand jury subpoenas or so-called pen registers — but intelligence officials say they would inevitably lose access to some information.”

Military Robotics Competition Raises Questions on War Applications

“Galvanized by the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power disaster in 2011, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency…has invested nearly $100 million into developing robots that could head into disaster zones off limits to humans,” according to The Washington Post.

“Organizers of the DARPA Robotics Challenge are quick to point out that the robots are designed for humanitarian purposes, not war. The challenge course represents a disaster zone, not a battlefield. And although the robots may look like the Terminator and move with the rigidity of Frankenstein’s monster, they are harmless noncombatants, with the general dexterity of a teetering 1-year-old. During the challenge, DARPA officials expect a few of the robots to end up on their keisters looking more helpless than threatening.”

“But although the aim of the contest is to help develop robots to use in humanitarian missions, such as sifting through the rubble after the earthquake in Nepal, officials acknowledge that as the technology advances, they could, one day, be used for all sorts of tasks, from helping the elderly, to manufacturing, and, yes, even as soldiers.”

Why NSA Reform Will Expand Surveillance of Internet Data

Marcy Wheeler explains why the USA Freedom Act that passed the House of Representatives last week “appears to permit the collection smart phone records—that is, records of communication that is sent across the Internet, as well as phone calls facilitated by telecoms providers.”

“[I]t’s hard to collect Internet metadata without also collecting content. That’s because communications sent across the Internet are chopped up into little bits called ‘packets’ with addressing information—the metadata the government wants to collect—as well as some content that’s included with each little bit… As far as we know, ever since then, the NSA has used very different legal approaches to collect phone records and Internet records.”

“One potential impact of that gap was exposed during the Boston Marathon attack trial. Witness testimony revealed that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev had no telephony phone records in the weeks leading up to the attack, because his account had been shut down for non-payment. Rather than calling his brother on his AT&T iPhone to plan the attack, Tsarnaev used Skype.”

“And because wannabe terrorists tend to be younger, and are often immigrants, it follows that they might disproportionally communicate via Internet messaging services, rather than calls transmitted via phone providers. That means any phone records program—dragnet or targeted—that doesn’t include Skype (and iMessage, and other online messaging functions) would be largely useless… Unlike Section 215, the USA Freedom Act appears to include those IP packets; unlike current FISC orders, nothing in the bill is limited to ‘telephony.'”

Return to Space Spurs Innovation on Earth


Boeing engineers use the gore weld tool built by Futuramic to assemble the domes that will cap the core stage external tanks. (Boeing photo)

Technology and knowledge gained from pioneering the space frontier has spurred many innovations by scientists, engineers, medical professionals and others to benefit life on Earth. Space exploration also enabled one enterprising Detroit-area automotive supplier to transform the company into a thriving business.

Originally founded in 1955 as a supplier to the booming auto industry, Futuramic Tool and Engineering of Warren, Mich, made a name for itself as a quality parts manufacturer. Leveraging that success, leaders there prepared to transition the company to new capabilities when the automotive industry’s business model began to change radically, threatening revenue and jobs.

In 1998, Futuramic made large investments in new capital equipment more suited to serving the aerospace & aircraft community and worked to earn global quality certifications such as ISO9100 and AS9100.

Most recently, Boeing commissioned the company to design and build the first three major weld tools for NASA’s Space Launch System core stages, which Boeing is building at NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility. In 2013, Futuramic received the Small Business Subcontractor Excellence Award from NASA for work performed on SLS, building the tooling needed for production of NASA’s next big rocket.

Futuramic Vice President John Couch credits foresight and intuitive leadership for changing the course of this family-owned business toward aerospace support. The integration of new technology is enabling innovation in SLS assembly allowing for significant cost manufacturing and checkout reductions never before available for a large rocket.

Futuramic is now part of a growing new industry team supporting space exploration and the production line in New Orleans, at NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility. The footprint of Futuramic will be a part of building the future of human spaceflight beyond Earth to deep space.

Iran Deal Review Bill Heads to Obama for Signature

“The House gave overwhelming approval Thursday to create a congressional review of the potential nuclear power deal with Iran,” The Washington Post reports, “sending the bill to the White House for President Obama’s signature as he heads into the final weeks of negotiations with the Islamic state.”

“If Obama finalizes a pact with Tehran, this legislation grants Congress 30 days to review the nuclear deal. Obama could waive sanctions against Tehran that were imposed by the executive branch but must leave in place sanctions that Congress previously drafted. If the House and the Senate disapprove of the Iran deal, including overcoming a possible presidential veto, then Obama must leave in place those congressionally mandated sanctions. Any other outcome in Congress would allow Obama to go ahead with implementing all aspects of any nuclear deal.”

“In the end, those supporting Obama’s effort to reach a deal and those opposing it largely approved of some congressional review.”

As U.S. Pivots, China Ups Military Capabilities

“After decades of maintaining a minimal nuclear force, China has re­-engineered many of its long­-range ballistic missiles to carry multiple warheads, a step that federal officials and policy analysts say appears designed to give pause to the United States as it prepares to deploy more robust missile defenses in the Pacific,” according to The New York Times.

“What makes China’s decision particularly notable is that the technology of miniaturizing warheads and putting three or more atop a single missile has been in Chinese hands for decades. But a succession of Chinese leaders deliberately let it sit unused; they were not interested in getting into the kind of arms race that characterized the Cold War nuclear competition between the United States and the Soviet Union. Now, however, President Xi Jinping appears to have altered course.”

“Many of those steps have taken American officials by surprise and have become evidence of the challenge the Obama administration faces in dealing with China, in particular after American intelligence agencies had predicted that Mr. Xi would focus on economic development and follow the path of his predecessor, who advocated the country’s ‘peaceful rise.'”

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