Posted by Kashmir Hill, Forbes Staff · December 16, 2011 3:43 PM
· 1 reaction
Apparently, a TSA officer getting fired for leaving a personalized note in a passenger’s bag has not deterred other employees at the Transportation Security Administration from editorializing on the contents of the bags they screen. This time, though, the TSA officer did the passenger a favor, by not turning him in for traveling with illegal substances. Indiana rapper Freddie Gibbs had packed marijuana in his checked luggage; when his bag was screened, the TSA officer must have noted Gibbs’ unique interpretation of the “mile high club.” On the official note informing Gibbs that his bag had been inspected, the officer allegedly wrote, “C’mon son.”
Gibbs did not take the avuncular advice very seriously, instead providing photographic evidence of his possession and transportation of illegal substances over state lines via Twitter:
Gibbs tweeted about the note on Wednesday, likely after flying to Denver to perform that night. While certainly a less intrusive note than “Get Your Freak On, Girl” (the one left by a TSA officer who discovered a vibrator), I imagine this TSA officer is going to get into double trouble for both leaving the note, and failing to act after finding something illegal in someone’s bag.
“ TSA takes all allegations of inappropriate conduct seriously and is investigating this claim,” says a spokesperson for the TSA. ” Should the claims be substantiated, TSA will take appropriate disciplinary steps and refer the alleged possession of an illegal substance to law enforcement.”
Friends, this is why we don’t tweet evidence that can be used against us (and those who did us a favor) in a court of law.
Given that two notes to figures with large online audiences have surfaced, I’m now starting to wonder how often other people (without Twitter accounts or blogs to showcase their notes) are getting personalized messages from officers.
Posted by Terrill Smith · December 14, 2011 4:09 PM
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The Senate on Wednesday defeated each party’s version of a constitutional amendment that would have required a balanced federal budget.
The rival proposals would have prohibited Congress from spending more each year than it receives in revenue. But each one fell well short of the two-thirds majority needed to send them to the states for ratification.
Republicans of every stripe, from Tea Party favorite Sen. Rand Paul (Ky.) to centrist Sen. Olympia Snowe (Maine), came down to the floor throughout Tuesday and Wednesday to express support for Sen. Orrin Hatch’s (R-Utah) plan, arguing it represented the last chance to keep the United States from falling into the sort of crisis in which Europe is currently embroiled.
“We must prevent what’s happening in Europe from happening here,” said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) prior to the party-line 47-53 defeat of the GOP bill. “That’s just what our balanced-budget proposal would do.”
Although both proposals possessed characteristics associated with balanced-budget amendments, they differed by including rules regarding taxation designed to alienate members across the aisle.
The Democratic proposal, S.J.Res 24, would have prohibited Congress from lowering taxes on millionaires and would have created a “lock box” for the Social Security Trust Fund.
Republicans dismissed it, prior to its 21-79 defeat, as a “cover” to allow Democrats to say they supported a balanced-budget amendment when they did not.
It is a “weak alternative to the Republicans’ amendment,” concluded Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.).
The Republicans’ plan, S.J.Res.10, meanwhile, drew fire from Democrats for its provision to ban Congress from raising taxes without a two-thirds majority and for attempting to implement a cap on government spending of 18 percent of the gross domestic product.
Democrats said those riders turned the amendment into an unpalatable political document.
“Balancing the books is a simple equation, yet Sen. Hatch’s proposal goes a number of steps further and seemingly tries to shrink government altogether,” said Sen. Mark Udall (Colo.), the author of the Democratic plan.
Several Democrats also voted against both bills, decrying the attempts to tamper with the Constitution over budgetary matters.
“I have never seen the solemn duty of protecting the Constitution treated in such a cavalier manner as it is today,” said Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.). “I wish those who so often say they revere the Constitution would show it the respect it deserves rather than treating it like a blog entry.”
The votes were called by Democratic leadership to fulfill the mandate from the summer’s debt-ceiling accords that both chambers debate and vote on a balanced-budget amendment.
The House in November voted 261-165 for a version of the amendment — a clear majority, but also short of the two-thirds needed to send the amendment to the states for ratification. The amendment was supported by 236 Republicans and 25 Democrats, while four Republicans and 161 Democrats opposed it.
Posted by John Merline, Investor's Business Daily · December 13, 2011 12:27 PM
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Each year, the federal government hands approximately $10 billion over to the richest 1% of Americans — mainly to rich retirees — according to an IBD analysis of data on various federal transfer programs. And these payments are growing, adding to the income inequality that politicians like President Obama frequently complain about.
The bulk of the taxpayer money going to the richest 1% came from Social Security and Medicare, which provide benefits to retirees regardless of their income.
Using IRS data, IBD found that the top 1% of income earners claimed approximately $7 billion in Social Security benefits in 2009. That year, the program paid super-rich seniors — those with adjusted gross incomes exceeding $10 million — an average of $33,000 each.
Medicare, meanwhile, paid roughly $2.6 billion in health care subsidies for the richest 1% of enrollees, based on calculations using Medicare enrollment, overall Medicare spending and premium data. (Medicare does not track spending by enrollee income.) And if you consider that 5% of Medicare enrollees have more than $1 million in savings, the amount taxpayers spend to subsidize retiree health benefits skyrockets.
In addition, some studies have found that Medicare has "led to net transfers from the poor to the wealthy" — as a paper published by the National Bureau of Economic Research put it — because of how it's financed and because the rich tend to live longer than the poor.
The rich also get hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars via a wide variety of other federal programs, including farm subsidies, unemployment insurance, conservation programs and disaster housing payments. The richest 1%, for example, claimed a total of about $400 million in jobless benefits in 2009. The reason for these billions in payments to the wealthy is that many federal transfer programs don't have income limits on benefits.
"This is not an accidental loophole in the law," Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., noted. "To the contrary, this reverse Robin Hood-style of wealth distribution is an intentional effort to get all Americans bought into a system where everyone appears to benefit." In November, Coburn issued a report focused on federal subsidies going to millionaires.
In addition to direct payments, the top 1% claimed about $31 million in tax credits for buying electric cars, $469 million in home energy credits, and $111 million in child care credits, according to IBD's analysis of IRS tax return data.
What's worse is that this government transfer of wealth from working families to the rich has increased over the past three decades.
"Shifts in the distribution of government transfer payments (since 1979) contributed to the increase in after-tax income inequality," according to a recent study by the Congressional Budget Office. The rapid growth in Medicare, for example, "tended to shift more transfer income to middle- and upper-income households."
The CBO also found that while the poorest fifth of households got 54% of federal transfer payments in 1979, they received just 36% in 2007. Several political leaders and policy groups have proposed changes to reduce federal payments to the super rich.
House Majority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, for example, has proposed cutting Medicare subsidies to the wealthy to help pay for an extension of the payroll tax cut.
President Obama's bipartisan debt commission suggested slowing the growth of Social Security benefits for higher earners. Obama himself has claimed to support some form of means testing. "I have said that means-testing on Medicare," he told reporters in July, "would make a difference."
And Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, among others, promises to change Medicare to a defined contribution plan, which would give seniors a set amount of money toward health coverage, thereby reducing Medicare dollars going to the rich.
Ironically, it's Democrats — who decry income inequality the most — who tend to strongly oppose means-testing these programs. They fear that doing so would undermine public support for them.
Posted by Terrill Smith · December 12, 2011 9:43 PM
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Jen Rubin makes the case today that the anti-piracy bills pending in the House, the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), and Senate, the Protect Intellectual Property Act (PIPA), are likely unconstitutional. The bills essentially call for censorship of online speech in such a way, and with so little recourse for those accused of "infringing" on intellectual property rights, that the bills will likely not survive the scrutiny of the courts even if they do survive in Congress. But if Congress does pass these laws, it will be a testament to the enormous power and influence of two Democratic special interest groups—the Hollywood lobby, comprised of the Motion Picture Association of America and the Recording Industry Association of America, and the trial lawyers.
If you're wondering why lawyers and Hollywood folks would get behind legislation to censor the Internet, you only need to listen to former Senator Chris Dodd, now the head of the MPAA, who last week explained to Variety that the lobby is only asking for the same kind of power to censor the Internet as the government has in the People's Republic of China:
"When the Chinese told Google that they had to block sites or they couldn't do [business] in their country, they managed to figure out how to block sites."
Indeed, that is precisely the kind of abuse of power we are already seeing from the collaboration between Hollywood and the government on this issue. Last week a tech website reported on a website seizure by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement at the behest of the Recording Industry:
The US government has effectively admitted that it totally screwed up and falsely seized & censored a non-infringing domain of a popular blog, having falsely claimed that it was taking part in criminal copyright infringement. Then, after trying to hide behind a totally secretive court process with absolutely no due process whatsoever (in fact, not even serving papers on the lawyer for the site or providing timely notifications -- or providing any documents at all), for over a year, the government has finally realized it couldn't hide any more and has given up, and returned the domain name to its original owner. If you ever wanted to understand why ICE's domain seizures violate the law -- and why SOPA and PROTECT IP are almost certainly unconstitutional -- look no further than what happened in this case.
Even in China they are calling it the “Great Firewall of America.” At least the Chinese are enjoying the irony of the U.S. government moving toward a legal regime that would give it carte blanche to seize and take down websites on the basis of "infringement." Tech Dirt, the site that reported on the above domain seizure, quotes one Chinese blogger on Sina Weibo subversively commenting on the progress of SOPA and PIPA in Congress:
It looks like that we can finally export our technology and value to the Americans. We’re strong, advanced, and absolutely right!
Posted by Huffington Post · December 12, 2011 4:54 PM
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A government watchdog said Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac improperly foreclosed on homeowners and cost the government billions of dollars by not holding major banks to strict underwriting requirements.
The report released Tuesday also said the Federal Housing Finance Agency gave "undue deference" to Fannie and Freddie officials and didn't scrutinize more than $35 million in bonuses and compensation to Fannie and Freddie executives.
FHFA's inspector general had previously released each of the findings on an individual basis. But the semi-annual report to Congress sketched a portrait of abuse at the two mortgage giants that the government failed to stop.
Fannie, Freddie and the FHFA didn't respond to the report. But they have responded to similar allegations in previous reports.
Fannie and Freddie own or guarantee about half of U.S. mortgages, or nearly 31 million loans. The Bush administration seized control of the mortgage giants in September 2008.
Like banks, the mortgage giants relaxed lending standards during the housing boom and didn't thoroughly check incomes and assets weren't properly checked. High-interest loans, some with low "teaser" rates, were doled out to risky borrowers.
The inspector general report found that Fannie and Freddie did not force banks to repurchase mortgages when they failed to meet strict underwriting requirements. That decision cost the government billions of dollars.
When a senior examiner at FHFA raised "serious concerns" about Freddie' process for reviewing Bank of America's mortgages, senior Freddie managers disagreed, according to the report. The managers also said they feared losing business from Bank of America if the government became more aggressive in getting money back for bad mortgages, the report said.
The report also found:
_ Fannie knew about allegations of improper foreclosure practices by law firms as far back as 2003 but did not act to stop them.
_ Fannie failed to establish an "acceptable and effective" way to monitor foreclosure proceedings between 2006 and early 2011.
_ FHFA failed to oversee the government's signature foreclosure-prevention program, the Home Affordable Modification Program. As a result, it cost the government extra time and resources to fix it.
Fannie officials said they told a government official about false foreclosure practices in 2006. That unnamed official, who now works for Fannie's regulator, the Federal Housing Finance Agency, said he couldn't recall the conversation, the report said.
And both mortgage giants have defended executive bonuses and compensation as necessary to keep talented officials.
Posted by Sarah Chacko, Federal Times, and Jorge Fitz-Gibbon, The (Westchester, N.Y.) Journal News · December 12, 2011 10:17 AM
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The federal government spends $40 billion a year on highway construction but does not track how many projects are over budget, how much goes toward overruns or whether the record is getting better or worse.
The result is a patchwork pattern of planning lapses and design errors that sends some states back for more money again and again, an investigation by 22 Gannett newspapers shows.
The government stepped up scrutiny of major projects over $500 million after Boston's disastrous Big Dig highway-tunnel project. Completed in 2007 after two decades, it ran $12 billion over budget.
Most projects, however, aren't subject to the tighter rules. Of 136,000 federally funded projects in the pipeline, 87 were defined as major and accounted for $1.6 billion in fiscal 2011, according to Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) documents.
Federal Highway Administrator Victor Mendez says his agency monitors highway programs through offices in each state. State transportation departments (DOTs) are responsible for managing highway and interstate projects, which are usually at least 80% federally funded. "The buck stops with the state DOT," Mendez said.
Kenneth Mead, former Transportation Department inspector general, wants states' performance tracked and posted online. "Ultimately, if the feds are writing these checks, what comes with that is the responsibility to report on what use that money is being put to," Mead said.
Gannett obtained construction costs for 21 federally funded highway projects through Freedom of Information Act requests. About half finished within 5% of the original contract, but the others had significant overruns:
•Reconstruction of Interstate 287 in New York is two years late and $78 million, or 14.4%, over budget. The work has cost taxpayers $72 million a mile.
•In Louisiana, 8 miles of an I-49 extension north from Shreveport have cost $96 million, 9% over budget. Overruns include a $2.5 million mistake calculating how much dirt to remove. .
•Two projects to redo 18 miles of I-295 in South Jersey are a combined $22 million over budget — 15%.
From 2001 to 2010, more than half of state contracts ran over budget and 45% finished late, according to an analysis by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, a non-profit group that advocates for improved transportation. Mendez said the report is "misleading" because it examined tracking processes, not cost and schedule information.
By law, the FHWA can't withhold money from poor performers.
House Transportation Committee Democrats want to publicize states' performance and link it to federal highway funding. House Highways and Transit Subcommittee Chairman John Duncan, R-Tenn., is interested.
"I like things like that — giving people more money for doing things better or faster and penalizing people if something goes wrong, or if a project runs late or over budget in some way," Duncan said.
The TSA said Saturday that it is planning its own advocacy service.
“The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) strives to provide the highest level of security while ensuring that all passengers are treated with dignity and respect,” the agency stated Saturday night. “TSA has programs in place for the screening of people with all types of disabilities and medical conditions and their associated equipment.”
TSA spokeswoman Kristin Lee said that last week senior leadership talked to several national groups that advocate for those with medical conditions, including colostomy bags. After the first claim, another woman reported she was stopped because of a bulge that was a colostomy bag.
Lee said that after consulting with advocates for those with various medical conditions, the TSA is planning to establish a toll-free telephone hotline in January for passengers that may need help during screening.
“This hotline will give passengers direct access to guidance and information specific to persons with disabilities or medical conditions, which they will be able to call prior to flying,” the TSA stated. “Additionally, TSA regularly trains its workforce on how to screen travelers with disabilities and medical conditions and has customer service managers at most airports to answer questions and assist passengers.”
Under the Schumer-Gianaris proposal, an advocate could be summoned in person by passengers if they feel they were inappropriately searched.
“While the safety and security of our flights must be a top priority, we need to make sure that flying does not become a fear-inducing, degrading, and potentially humiliating experience,” Schumer said.
Gianaris and Schumer were scheduled to make the announcement Sunday with relatives of the women who made the claims.
“I appreciate the TSA’s work to keep air passengers safe, but passengers should not be humiliated and degraded during their travels,” Gianaris said.
A week ago, an 85-year-old woman said she was injured and humiliated when she was strip searched at the airport after she asked to be patted down instead of going through a body scanner, allegations that transportation officials denied.
Lenore Zimmerman said she was taken to a private room where she said female agents made her take off her pants and other clothes after she asked to forgo the screening. She had worried it would interfere with her defibrillator. She missed her flight and had to take one 2 1/2 hours later, she said.
But the Transportation Security Administration said in a statement Saturday no strip search was conducted.
“While we regret that the passenger feels she had an unpleasant screening experience, TSA does not include strip searches as part of our security protocols and one was not conducted in this case,” the TSA stated.
“Private screening was requested by the passenger, it was granted and lasted approximately 11 minutes,” the statement read. “TSA screening procedures are conducted in a manner designed to treat all passengers with dignity, respect and courtesy and that occurred in this instance.”
The private screening wasn’t recorded.
On Sunday, the TSA stated that a misunderstanding led to the removal of the woman’s back brace. The TSA said the equipment was mistaken as a money belt. Refresher courses are planned for JFK employees, the TSA stated.
“We work regularly with a coalition of advocacy groups that represent those with disabilities and medical conditions to help TSA understand their conditions and adapt screening procedures accordingly,” the TSA said.
A review of closed-circuit television at the airport showed that proper procedures before and after the screening were followed, TSA spokesman Jonathan Allen said in a statement.
Posted by Becket Adams · December 09, 2011 3:45 PM
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The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has agreed to drop its lawsuit against Boeing, in which it had accused the aircraft maker of “violating federal labor law” by daring to open an aircraft production plant in South Carolina (a Right to Work state).
Some would view this as a victory. However, as is usually the case, these victories never come without a price. What did it cost Boeing?
“On Wednesday night, the union announced that 74 percent of its 31,000 Boeing workers in Washington State had voted to ratify a four-year contract extension that includes substantial raises, unusual job security provisions and a commitment by Boeing to expand aircraft production in the Puget Sound area,” reports the New York Times.
“The case was always about the loss of future jobs in the Seattle area,” said Lafe Solomon, the NLRB’s acting general counsel, in regards to dropping the lawsuit against Boeing. “This agreement has resolved that issue. There is job security in the Washington area.”
So, all they wanted was “job security” and for that they were willing to threaten a major lawsuit against the company for expanding?
“When I first read the NYT headline, I cheered. But the NLRB’s decision is actually somewhat of a mixed blessing,” writes Tina Korbe of Hotair.
“Just the threat of the case was clearly a powerful tool in the union’s negotiation of its contract renewal. Note that Boeing has agreed to expand aircraft production in the Puget Sound Area. That’s probably a sound business decision in the current climate: Better to agree to expand production in a state beset with union strife than to have to face a hostile NLRB.”
Considering how this case went down, though, you might want to be prepared to see this tactic repeated again and again. It seems to have worked this time and there is little reason to think that it won’t work again.
“If there was still any lingering doubt that the Obama administration was in the back pocket of unions, that should end today,” writes Philip Klein of the Washington Examiner.
A lawsuit that was brought at the behest of the union is now ended at the behest of the union.
While some people will now like to forget this whole episode, it’s important to remember what happened here. As I noted last week, this has all the characteristics of a shake down. The South Carolina factory that was at the center of this case — that we were told represented an illegal retaliation against the union — still remains open. But Boeing has agreed to build another airplane model at a unionized factory in Washington state and to offer the union a raft of salary and benefit increases. The union got paid, so now the Obama administration can withdraw its lawsuit. Talk about Gangster Government.
Of course, as would be expected from a professional mega-corporation, Boeing publicly applauded the NLRB’s decision to drop that lawsuit.
“We have maintained from the outset that the complaint was without merit and that the best course of action would be for it to be dropped,” said Tim Neal, a Boeing spokesman. “Today that happened. Boeing is grateful for the overwhelming support we received from across the country to vigorously contest this complaint and support the legitimate rights of businesses to make business decisions.”
But here’s the thing: although the NLRB dropped the lawsuit, they were still able to use it to squeeze an increase in benefits and salaries out of Boeing.
But wait! There’s one more takeaway from this whole ordeal. Miss Korbe of Hotair explains:
…this could make it easier for the NLRB to follow through with its plans to institute snap elections and other disastrous policies. South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham said he would block any Obama nominee to the NLRB as long as the Board pursued the case against Boeing. Now that the NLRB has dropped the case, Republican opposition to new nominees might not be as unwavering. An NLRB filled with Obama appointees would be even more biased toward unions than the Board we have now.
Indeed, as the 2012 election quickly approaches, it might benefit the GOP presidential hopefuls to consider the lessons learned from this ordeal. Perhaps if one enterprising candidate makes a strong case against the union biased NLRB, he (or she) could easily secure the GOP nomination.
Source: "Rich States, Poor States," by Stephen Moore and Arthur B. Laffer/Becket Adams
Posted by Fox News · December 08, 2011 2:44 PM
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Attorney General Eric Holder suggested Thursday that weapons lost during the course of the failed "Fast and Furious" gunrunning operation will continue to show up at crime scenes in the U.S. and Mexico "for years to come."
Holder, in testimony on Capitol Hill that comes as the congressional investigation into the program expands, decried the "gun-walking" tactic used in the operation as "inexcusable" and "wholly unacceptable." But a day after an influential senator called for the resignation of one of Holder's top deputies over the scandal, Holder denied department leaders played any role in the crafting of "Fast and Furious."
He continued to assert that top Justice officials were not told about the "inappropriate tactics" until they were made public.
Still, the top law enforcement official in the country conceded that, as a result of "Fast and Furious," guns lost by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives remain in the hands of criminals.
"Although the department has taken steps to ensure that such tactics are never used again, it is an unfortunate reality that we will continue to feel the effects of this flawed operation for years to come," he said. "Guns lost during this operation will continue to show up at crime scenes on both sides of the border."
Congress has been investigating "Fast and Furious" for nearly a year. Scrutiny of the program intensified after guns from the program were found at the scene of Border Patrol agent Brian Terry's murder.
Republican lawmakers in recent weeks have complained about inconsistencies in the Justice Department's public accounting of the program over the past year. Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, the ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, on Wednesday pointed to those alleged inconsistencies in calling for the resignation of Lanny Breuer, chief of the department's criminal division. Grassley accused Breuer of withholding information about gunwalking tactics used in a Bush administration-era program known as Wide Receiver, and of not being forthcoming about whether he saw a Justice letter to Congress in February that inaccurately claimed ATF was not letting illegal guns walk across the U.S.-Mexico border.
Though Breuer denies seeing the memo, Grassley pointed to emails that show he was sent a draft of the letter.
The Justice Department is standing by Breuer, and Holder testified Thursday that department heads were not aware of the program early on.
"The documents produced to date also belie the remarkable notion that this operation was conceived by department leaders, as some have claimed," Holder said. "It is my understanding that department leaders were not informed about the inappropriate tactics employed in this operation until those tactics were made public and, as is customary, turned to those with supervisory responsibility over the operation in an effort to learn the facts."
Holder said such a program "must never happen again," but effectively urged lawmakers to move on -- and tackle the broader issue of the flow of firearms into Mexico.
"We cannot afford to allow the tragic mistakes of 'Operation Fast and Furious' to become a political sideshow or a series of media opportunities," he said. "Instead, we must move forward and recommit ourselves to our shared public safety obligations."
He used the occasion to prod Congress to support efforts to give the Justice Department broader legal tools to track firearms purchases.
But Republican lawmakers continued to put pressure on Holder about how he's responding to the operation.
"This project was failed and flawed from the beginning," said Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., questioning why Holder has not terminated the "many people involved" with the program.
"Mr. Attorney General, the blame must go to your desk," Issa said.
Holder later said that he's "ultimately responsible" for actions in the department, but stressed the actions he's taken to get to the bottom of the operation once he learned about it.
Despite the controversy over the inaccurate February letter from Justice, Holder also stated: "Nobody in the Justice Department has lied."
Posted by Catherine Herridge · December 07, 2011 4:02 PM
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Sen. Susan Collins on Wednesday blasted the Defense Department for classifying the Fort Hood massacre as workplace violence and suggested political correctness is being placed above the security of the nation's Armed Forces at home.
During a joint session of the Senate and House Homeland Security Committee on Wednesday, the Maine Republican referenced a letter from the Defense Department depicting the Fort Hood shootings as workplace violence. She criticized the Obama administration for failing to identify the threat as radical Islam.
Thirteen people were killed and dozens more wounded at Fort Hood in 2009, and the number of alleged plots targeting the military has grown significantly since then. Lawmakers said there have been 33 plots against the U.S. military since Sept. 11, 2001, and 70 percent of those threats have been since mid-2009. Major Nidal Hasan, a former Army psychiatrist, who is being held for the attacks, allegedly was inspired by radical U.S.-born cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, who was killed in a U.S. drone strike in Yemen in late September. The two men exchanged as many as 20 emails, according to U.S. officials, and Awlaki declared Hasan a hero.
The chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, Connecticut independent Sen. Joe Lieberman, said the military has become a "direct target of violent Islamist extremism" within the United States.
"The stark reality is that the American service member is increasingly in the terrorists' scope and not just overseas in a traditional war setting," Lieberman told Fox News before the start of Wednesday's hearing.
In June, two men allegedly plotted to attack a Seattle, Wash., military installation using guns and grenades. In July, Army Pvt. Naser Abdo was accused of planning a second attack on Fort Hood. And in November, New York police arrested Jose Pimentel, who alleged sought to kill service members returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.
Both Pimentel and Abdo also allegedly drew inspiration from al-Awlaki and the online jihadist magazine Inspire, which includes a spread on how to "Make a Bomb in the Kitchen of Your Mom."
Rep. Peter King of New York, the Republican chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, said military service members are "symbols of America's power, symbols of America's might."
"And if they (military personnel) can be killed, then that is a great propaganda victory for al Qaeda," King told Fox News.
King said there is also evidence that extremists have joined the services.
"There is a serious threat within the military from people who have enlisted who are radical jihadists," King said. "The Defense Department is very concerned about them. They feel they're a threat to the military both for what they can do within the military itself and also because of the weapons skills they acquire while they're in the military."
The witnesses testifying before the joint session include Paul N. Stockton, assistant secretary of defense for homeland defense; Jim Stuteville, U.S. Army senior adviser for counterintelligence operations and liaison to the FBI; Lt. Col. Reid L. Sawyer, director of the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point, and Darius Long, whose son, Army Pvt. William Andrew Long, was shot and killed at an Arkansas military recruitment center in 2009.
A second private was also injured in the Arkansas attack. Both victims had just finished basic training and had not been deployed. They were outside the Arkansas recruitment center when the shooter opened fire from a passing truck. The shooter, Carlos Bledsoe, pleaded guilty to the crime earlier this year.
In a letter to the court, Bledsoe said he carried out the attack on behalf of al Qaeda in Yemen -- the group that was behind the last two major plots targeting the U.S. airline industry.
"My faith in government is diminished. It invents euphemisms ... Little Rock is a drive by and Fort Hood is just workplace violence. The truth is denied," Long testified.
King said the web is the driver of the new digital jihad.
"It enables people -- rather than having to travel to Afghanistan to learn about jihad or to be trained, they can do it right over the Internet," he said. "And this is a growing role."
And while Awlaki and his colleague Samir Khan, who was behind the magazine Inspire, were killed in a CIA-led operation in September, King warned against overconfidence that al Qaeda in Yemen was done.
"This is a definite short-term victory for us. There's no doubt they are going to regroup, that there will be others who will be providing Internet data, inspiration to jihadists in this country, instructions on how to make bombs," he said.
While King was heavily criticized, in some quarters, for launching his hearings 10 months ago on homegrown terrorism, the congressman said the joint session shows the threat is legitimate, and recognized as such by other members of Congress.
"To me it's a validation of what I've been trying to do all year," King emphasized. "There's a definite threat from Islamic radicalization in various parts of our society, including within the military, and we can't allow political correctness to keep us from exposing this threat for what it is."