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March 19, 2019
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A simple data analysis disproves the argument for building a border wall

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Sometimes the end justifies the means. Other times it clearly doesn’t. But in the new bizarro world that is the modern day U.S. political climate, increasingly the means has become the new end itself.

Currently taking center stage for this phenomenon is the now notorious border wall. President Trump is insisting we need a border wall; Democrats of course insisting we don’t.

The better question here might be a border wall for what end goal exactly? What problem is the wall supposed to solve and would it actually do the job? If you wade through the president’s soundbites and campaign rally chants around illegal immigration, the answer would seem to be we should erect a wall to deal with the growing crime and drug issues flooding into our nation at the hands of malicious illegal immigrants. The bad hombres if you will.

In fact, we’re told by the president that the invasion on our border has become such a dire issue that it’s a crisis worth shutting down the government over, leaving a trail of 800,000 American families as political pawns along the path of this game of chicken. But is there really a historic attack on our borders of would-be criminals looking to raid America?

During a recent trip to Rio Grande, Texas, which sits at the border of Mexico, the president remarked that we have never seen so many Border Patrol apprehensions “ever in our history.” Fortunately, for our dedicated border patrol agents, who incidentally under the shutdown are no longer getting paid, that statement is not at all true.

A look at the actual apprehension data from the Department of Homeland Security tells us just how rudely inaccurate the comment was. Turns out border apprehensions have fallen by a pretty staggering 76% from their peak of 1.67M back in 2000. In fact, the last several years have seen apprehension figures drop so significantly they now match levels not seen in nearly 50 years.

Driving the massive reduction in apprehensions back to early 1970’s levels were a few key changes: (1) A tripling of border patrol agents from around 6,000/7,000 levels in the late 90’s to north of 19,000, (2) investment in a “virtual fence” of mobile and fixed surveillance technologies (radar, drones, sensors, mobile and fixed cameras, night-vision goggles, etc.), which agents have called a “game changer,” and (3) some targeted fencing courtesy of the Secure Fence Act. These investments (along with an improving Mexican economy) seemed to have had the desired effect, driving down border apprehensions dramatically from their chaotic peak.

But, wouldn’t fewer apprehensions mean more illegal immigrants must be getting through the border? Why would lower apprehensions also mean lower “invasions” of illegal immigrants? Well, because intuition and the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) tells us so. According to the CBP website (which is a division of the Department of Homeland Security): “It may seem counterintuitive, but high apprehension numbers are evidence of a border out of control, where there are few barriers, real or perceived, to entry into the U.S. High apprehensions are seen as evidence of low deterrents to violate U.S. law.”

Further validation of this comes when you examine annual apprehensions per Border Patrol agent, per year. If we had just doubled or tripled agents and they were still being overwhelmed at the same rate they were in the 1990’s or early 2000’s, we might have a true national crisis on our hands. On the contrary, in 1993, Border Patrol agents averaged 313 apprehensions per agent during the year, but in 2017 that figure had plummeted to just 16 border apprehensions per agent. A 95% reduction we’ve likely never taken a moment to either recognize, or tie back to the previous border security investments that were made.

If apprehension data can be taken as a reasonable barometer for illegal immigration activity, and illegal immigration activity has dropped significantly over the last several years, then you might even expect to see a leveling off of the growth of undocumented immigrants already residing within the U.S. The most recent data from Pew Research (generally recognized as the best at tracking this) confirms just that, suggesting that the number of undocumented immigrants in the U.S. not only peaked around 2007, but seems to be in a gradual decline since then, dropping from 12.2M to 10.7M. This makes sense given the apprehension data above.

But even if illegal immigration is in significant decline, and the total number of undocumented immigrants living in the U.S. is also declining, then the goal of the wall must presumably be to keep out the abundance of murderers, rapists, and drug smugglers that the president has frequently reminded us are pouring across the border and committing crimes at alarming rates. The challenge here is that appears to also not be the case. Though the majority of heroin and other opioids abused by Americans do originate in Mexico, the president’s own Department of Justice confirmed in 2018 in a 164-page report that only a small percentage of these drugs are seized outside of legal Ports of Entry (e.g. via illegal immigrants), and that the majority comes into the country through legal Ports of Entry either in privately owned vehicles or on tractor trailers, where it’s typically mixed in with legal goods being trucked into the U.S.

Meanwhile, a 2018 study by the Cato Institute – not particularly known for being a bastion of Democratic party stances – examined criminal activity in the state of Texas based on immigration status. Turns out, not only are illegal immigrant arrest and conviction rates not higher than native-born Americans, they are appreciably lower. The below chart shows that conviction rates for crimes (includes homicides, sex crimes, and larceny) committed by illegal immigrants was about 50% lower than those of native-born Americans (as a % of their respective populations).

Looking at arrests instead of convictions yields a similar outcome, where total arrests of illegal immigrants for those same crimes were 40% lower than those native to the U.S.

In our current meme-driven culture, where many conservatives are quick to remind everyone that all lives matter, the irony should not be lost that that principle seems to step aside here for a disturbing fixation on anecdotal headline crimes from a group that actually looks to be a dramatically safer member of the community.

A couple decades ago we clearly had a border crisis. Illegal immigrants were pouring into the border and border patrol was overwhelmed trying to control the hemorrhaging. But the sustained reduction since then to early 1970’s levels is perhaps the rare example of the public sector actually helping address a problem.

Now if the stated goal was, for example, to get illegal immigration to as close to zero as possible because it otherwise (1) creates an undue economic burden on the country and/or (2) is an unfair jumping the line over those trying to enter legally, those are reasonable assertions that would potentially win over voters beyond the campaign choir. But that’s not the conversation coming out of the White House, probably because it’s difficult to build fiery bite-size campaign slogans and chants around “BUILD THE WALL TO FURTHER REDUCE ANNUAL AGENT APPREHENSIONS FROM 16 TO 0!” No doubt it’s a bit messy, and not nearly as frothy.

So if we don’t have a border invasion crisis…and existing undocumented immigrants seem to be both declining in numbers and a much safer part of the population…is the purpose of building a wall then really just to fulfill a campaign rally promise? It feels like the answer to that is yes.

Consequently, we end up left with a situation where we’ve actually done an encouraging about face on border security from the legitimate crisis of 18+ years ago – yet the repeatedly peddled need is to “build-the-wall.” But building the wall is undoubtedly not a well-reasoned means to some clear end, but rather the end goal itself, perpetually requiring the salesman to navigate the thin ridge between ignorant and dishonest cliffs.

News Source = techcrunch.com

Department of Justice indicts 12 Russian intelligence officers for Clinton email hacks

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Just days before President Trump is set to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin, the Department of Justice has leveled new charges against 12 Russian intelligence officers who allegedly hacked the Democratic National Committee and the presidential campaign of Hillary Clinton .

The charges, released by Rod J. Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general who’s leading the investigation into Russian election tampering because of the recusal of Attorney General Jeff Sessions from the investigation.

In January of last year, the intelligence community issued a joint statement affirming that Russia had indeed tampered with the U.S. presidential elections in 2016.

Now the investigation is beginning to release indictments. Three former campaign aides for the president’s campaign have already plead guilty, and the president himself is under investigation by Special Investigator Robert Mueller for potential obstruction of justice.

According to the indictment the Russians used spearphishing attacks to gain access to the network of the Democratic National Committee and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

Rosenstein also said that Russia’s military intelligence service was also behind the leaks that distributed the information online under the aliases Guccifer 2.0 and DCLeaks.

Read the full indictment below.

 

News Source = techcrunch.com

The United States needs a Department of Cybersecurity

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This week over 40,000 security professionals will attend RSA in San Francisco to see the latest cyber technologies on display and discuss key issues. No topic will be higher on the agenda than the Russian sponsored hack of the American 2016 election with debate about why the country has done so little to respond and what measures should be taken to deter future attempts at subverting our democracy.

For good reason. There is now clear evidence of Russian interference in the election with Special Counsel Mueller’s 37-page indictment of 13 Russians yet the attack on US sovereignty and stability has gone largely unanswered.  The $120 million set aside by Congress to address the Russian attacks remains unspent. We expelled Russian diplomats but only under international pressure after the poisoning of a former Russian spy and his daughter.

Recent sanctions are unlikely to change the behavior of the Putin administration. To put it bluntly, we have done nothing of substance to address our vulnerability to foreign cyberattacks. Meanwhile, our enemies gain in technological capability, sophistication and impact.

Along with the Russians, the Chinese, North Koreans, Iranians and newly derived nation states use cyber techniques on a daily basis to further their efforts to gain advantage on the geopolitical stage. It is a conscious decision by these governments that a proactive cyber program advances their goals while limiting the United States.

Krisztian Bocsi/Bloomberg via Getty Images

We were once dominant in this realm both technically and with our knowledge and skillsets. That playing field has been leveled and we sit idly by without the will or focus to try and regain the advantage. This is unacceptable, untenable and will ultimately lead to potentially dire consequences.

In March of this year, the US CyberCommand released  a vision paper called “Achieve and Maintain Cyberspace Superiority.” It is a call to action to unleash the country’s cyber warriors to fight  for our national security in concert with all other diplomatic and economic powers available to the United States.

It’s a start but a vision statement is not enough.  Without a proper organizational structure, the United States will never achieve operational excellence in its cyber endeavors.  Today we are organized to fail.  Our capabilities are distributed across so many different parts of the government that they are overwhelmed with bureaucracy, inefficiency and dilution of talent.

The Department of Homeland Security is responsible for national protection including prevention, mitigation and recovery from cyber attacks. The FBI, under the umbrella of the Department of Justice,  has lead responsibility for investigation and enforcement. The Department of Defense, including US CyberCommand, is in charge of national defense.  In addition, each of the various military branches  have their own cyber units. No one who wanted to win would organize a critical  capability in such a distributed and disbursed manner.

How could our law makers know what policy to pass? How do we recruit and train the best of the best in an organization, when it might just be a rotation through a military branch? How can we instantly share knowledge that benefits all when these groups don’t even talk to one another? Our current approach does not and cannot work.

Image courtesy of Colin Anderson

What is needed is a sixteenth branch of the Executive — a Department of Cybersecurity — that  would assemble the country’s best talent and resources to operate under a single umbrella and a single coherent policy.  By uniting our cyber efforts we would make the best use of limited resources and ensure seamless communications across all elements dealing in cyberspace. The department would  act on behalf of the government and the private sector to protect against cyberthreats and, when needed, go on offense.

As with physical defense, sometimes that means diplomacy or sanctions, and sometimes it means executing missions to cripple an enemy’s cyber-operations. We  have the technological capabilities, we have the talent, we know what to do but unless all of this firepower is unified and aimed at the enemy we might as well have nothing.

When a Department of Cybersecurity is discussed in Washington, it is usually rejected because of the number of agencies and departments affected. This is code for loss of budget and personnel. We must rise above turf battles if we are to have a shot at waging an effective cyber war. There are some who have raised concerns about coordination on offensive actions but they can be addressed by a clear chain of command with the Defense Department to avoid the potential of a larger conflict.

We must also not be thrown by comparisons to the Department of Homeland Security and conclude a Cybersecurity department would face the same challenges. DHS was 22 different agencies thrust into one. A Department of Cybersecurity would be built around a common set of skills, people and know-how all working on a common issue and goal. Very different.

Strengthening our cyberdefense is as vital as having a powerful standing army to defend ourselves and our allies. Russia, China and others have invested in their cyberwar capabilities to exploit our systems almost at will.

Counterpunching those efforts requires our own national mandate executed with Cabinet level authority. If we don’t bestow this level of importance to the fight and set ourselves up to win, interference in US elections will not only be repeated …  such acts will seem trivial in comparison to what could and is likely to happen.

News Source = techcrunch.com

Microsoft drops lawsuit after DOJ limits use of gag orders when accessing customer data

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Microsoft said it will drop its lawsuit against the Department of Justice over gag orders placed on companies that prevent them from telling customers when their personal data has been accessed by investigators. Its decision comes after the DOJ issued a new binding policy that requires prosecutors to give more detailed reasons when applying for a gag order and makes it much harder to seek one that lasts indefinitely.

In a blog post about the company’s decision to withdraw the lawsuit, which was filed against the U.S. government in April 2016, Microsoft president and chief legal officer Brad Smith wrote that the DOJ’s new policy “is an important step for both privacy and free expression. It is an unequivocal win for our customers and we’re pleased the DOJ has taken these steps to protect the constitutional rights of all Americans.”

The DOJ now requires prosecutors to “conduct an individualized and meaningful assessment regarding the need for protection from disclosure” and give specific reasons if they decide to apply for a gag order.

Smith said that while secrecy orders may be necessary in some cases, Microsoft’s lawsuit was “based  on a growing and disturbing trend. We highlighted the fact that the government appeared to be overusing secrecy orders in a routine fashion–even where the specific facts didn’t support them–and were seeking indefinite secrecy orders in a large number of cases.”

When Microsoft filed its lawsuit last year, it explained that over an 18-month-period, 2,576 of the legal demands it got from the U.S. government “included an obligation of secrecy,” while 68% appeared to contain “indefinite demands for secrecy.”

“Until today, vague legal standards have allowed the government to get indefinite secrecy orders routinely, regardless of whether they were even based on the specifics of the investigation at hand. That will no longer be true,” Smith wrote.

Microsoft is calling for Senate to advance the EPCA Modernization Act of 2017, which was introduced in July by Senators Mike Lee and Patrick Leahy to update privacy laws for electronic communication information served in third-party service providers, as well as geolocation information.

Featured Image: Bloomberg/Getty Images

News Source = techcrunch.com

DreamHost ordered to provide data on anti-Trump website with considerable court oversight

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On Thursday, a D.C. court ordered DreamHost to comply with the Department of Justice’s request for data related to the anti-Trump protest website disruptj20.org — with some meaningful stipulations.

Following the hearing DreamHost published a blog post hailing the court proceedings as a win, though acknowledging that it still viewed the DOJ’s modified request as “overly broad.” Still, the DOJ won’t be able to obtain all of the information it originally sought, including the IP addresses of more than one million web visitors, and now that process will be heavily overseen by the court.

“Today’s ruling was a step in the right direction,” DreamHost General Counsel Chris Ghazarian told TechCrunch. “We are happy that they decided to retract a lot of the problematic requests but there still are quite a few issues.”

Ghazarian notes that the DOJ’s request for email content and the discussion list named in the warrant are still objectionable, but this week’s events on the whole were a win for not just DreamHost but internet users at large.

“We’re happy that Judge Morin recognized the First Amendment concerns… and will essentially have the court overseeing the process,” Ghazarian said. “To my knowledge I haven’t seen this [kind of oversight] being used.”

That court oversight, designed to protect the privacy of the website’s visitors, is a “minimization plan” that includes detailing which specific individuals in the government will have access to the data and providing information about all methods that the DOJ will employ to probe the data for evidence.

The company hopes that the precedent set by DreamHost’s resistance will inspire other companies who might “blindly comply” with similarly broad government requests to take a stand in the future.

“The de-scoping of the original warrant, combined with the court’s additional restrictions on the use of, and access to, that data, is a clear victory for user privacy,” DreamHost wrote in its blog. On Wednesday, DreamHost filed a sur reply to the DOJ’s decision to limit the scope of the request.

If the web host chooses not to appeal Thursday’s decision, it will proceed in complying with the order over the next few days. “At this point we’re reviewing our options and deciding what we’re going to be doing going forward,” Ghazarian said.

Featured Image: DAMIEN MEYER/AFP Creative/Getty Images

News Source = techcrunch.com

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