Sunday, August 30, 2015

Immigration Shift Shows India, China Outpacing Mexico

 JAMIE STENGLE



In this photo made Saturday, Aug. 22, 2015, children of Asian Indian decent sing at the Karya Siddhi Hanuman Temple in Frisco, Texas. Immigrants from China and India, many with student or work visas, have overtaken Mexicans as the largest groups coming into the U.S., according to U.S Census Bureau.


DALLAS — Siddharth Jaganath wanted to return to India after earning his master's degree at Texas' Southern Methodist University. Instead, he built a new life in the U.S. over a decade, becoming a manager at a communications technology company and starting a family in the Dallas suburb of Plano.
"You start growing your roots and eventually end up staying here," the 37-year-old said.
His path is an increasingly common one: Immigrants from China and India, many with student or work visas, have overtaken Mexicans as the largest groups coming into the U.S., according to U.S. Census Bureau research released in May. The shift has been building for more than a decade and experts say it's bringing more highly skilled immigrants here. And some Republican presidential candidates have proposed a heavier focus on employment-based migration, which could accelerate traditionally slow changes to the country's ever-evolving face of immigration.
Mexicans still dominate the overall composition of immigrants in the U.S., accounting for more than a quarter of the foreign-born people. But of the 1.2 million newly arrived immigrants here legally and illegally counted in 2013 numbers, China led with 147,000, followed by India with 129,000 and Mexico with 125,000. It's a sharp contrast to 2000, when there were 402,000 from Mexico and no more than 84,000 each from India and China. Experts say part of the reason for the decrease in Mexican immigrants is a dramatic plunge in illegal immigration.
"We're not likely to see Asians overtake Latin Americans anytime soon (in overall immigration population). But we are sort of at the leading edge of this transition where Asians will represent a larger and larger share of the U.S. foreign-born population," said Marc Rosenblum, deputy director of the U.S. Immigration Policy Program for the Washington-based Migration Policy Institute.
The national trend is evident even in Texas, where the number of Mexican immigrants coming to the border state each year has dropped by more than half since 2005, according to the Office of the State Demographer. In that time, the number of people from India coming to Texas has more than doubled and the number from China has increased more than fivefold, though both still comfortably trail Mexican immigrants.
Asian immigrants have flocked to Texas' large urban and suburban areas, including the Dallas suburb of Collin County, the home to many major businesses. Laxmi Tummala, a real estate agent in the area and a U.S.-born child of Indian immigrants, has witnessed a buildup in Indian restaurants, grocery stores, clothing outlets and worship centers.
"All of that is extremely accessible now," Tummala said.
While much of the discussion among GOP candidates this summer has centered on illegal immigration, they have also touched on immigrant skill levels. Donald Trump has proposed kicking out the estimated 11 million people who are in the U.S. illegally before allowing the "good ones" and "talented" ones back in. Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio both have said that the legal immigration process should focus more on letting in workers the country needs rather than reuniting families.
Increasing the flow of highly skilled immigrants would likely have a big impact on those coming from India and China. The majority of them who are 25 and older who arrived within three years of the 2013 numbers had a bachelor's degree or higher, according to the Migration Policy Institute. Mexican immigrants only had 15 percent, up from 6 percent in 2000.
China and India's growing economies have given immigrants access to travel and the ability to pay for an education abroad. Hua Bai came to University of Texas at Dallas from China last year to work on a master's degree in marketing and information technology management. The 25-year-old said that given the right opportunity, she'd like to stay in the U.S.
"If I get sponsorship I'd consider living here and working here," she said. "It all depends on the job opportunities."
Without revisions in immigration policy, experts say the change to the overall immigrant population will be slow. One reason is that the number of Mexicans who become legal permanent residents is about twice the number of Indian and Chinese people who do, according to Michael Fix, president of the Migration Policy Institute.
But a rising number of Chinese and Indians will become permanent residents, given the current rate of about half of people here on temporary work visas obtaining that status, Fix said.
Jaganath was among that group, inspired to come to the U.S. because the country is a leader in his career field.
"That was a following-the-dream type of thing for me," he said.

New Orleans, Gulf Coast Marks Katrina Milestone

 Rebecca Santana and Kevin McGill



Musicians lead the procession during a wreath laying ceremony at the Hurricane Katrina Memorial, on the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, Saturday, Aug. 29, 2015. (Image: Gerald Herbert/AP)


NEW ORLEANS (AP) — The Gulf Coast and New Orleans observed the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, one of the deadliest storms in American history, in ways both devout and festive. Church bells rang and brass bands played as people across the storm-ravaged coast remembered the past and looked to the future.
"Some people said that we shouldn't come back. Some people said that we couldn't come back," said New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu. "Yet 10 years later here we are. Still standing."
The storm killed more than 1,800 people and caused $151 billion in damage, in one of the country's deadliest and most costly natural disasters. Many of the dead came in New Orleans when levees protecting the city burst, submerging 80 percent of the Crescent City in water.
The dead and those who still struggle to rebuild were not far from anyone's thoughts Saturday, from Mississippi where church bells rang out to mark when the storm made landfall to a commemoration at the New Orleans memorial containing bodies of people never claimed or never identified.
As the church bells rang, 80-year-old Eloise Allen wept softly into a tissue as she leaned against her rusting Oldsmobile.
"I feel guilty," said Allen, whose house in Bay St. Louis was damaged but inhabitable after the storm. "I didn't go through what all the other people did."
Saturday was a day to remember what "all the other people" went through. Those who were lifted from rooftops by helicopters, those who came home to find only concrete steps as evidence of where their house used to be, those whose bodies were never claimed after the storm.
But the mourning Saturday was balanced by a celebration of how far the region has come.
At the Smoothie King Center in New Orleans, thousands of people gathered to take part in an evening of prayer, music and speeches including by former President Bill Clinton. He had helped raise money for Katrina victims.
He weighed into a debate that has bubbled up during the Katrina anniversary about whether New Orleans' post-Katrina story is one of a city resurrected or of people left behind. Tourism in the Crescent City is booming, real estate prices have skyrocketed and the city's population continues to grow after Katrina. But the recovery has been uneven with many neighborhoods — especially African-American ones — still struggling. Clinton said the city should be happy and celebrate its progress but at the same time keep working.
"Have a good time New Orleans. You earned it," Clinton said. "And tomorrow wake up and say 'Look at what we did. I bet we can do the rest too.'"
In Biloxi, Mississippi, clergy and community leaders gathered at a newly built Minor League Baseball park for a memorial to Katrina's victims and later that evening the park hosted a concert celebrating the recovery.
During a prayer service at a seaside park in Gulfport, former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour praised volunteers who worked on the Katrina recovery. He said more than 954,000 volunteers came from around the country to Mississippi in the first five years after the storm, and many were motivated by faith.
"They thought it was God's command to try to help people in need," Barbour said.
Katrina's force caused a massive storm surge that scoured the Mississippi coast, pushed boats far inland and wiped houses off the map.
Glitzy casinos and condominium towers have been rebuilt. But overgrown lots and empty slabs speak to the slow recovery in some communities.
In New Orleans' Lower 9th Ward, residents and community activists gathered Saturday at the levee where Katrina's storm waters broke through and submerged the neighborhood.
Once a bastion of black home ownership, it still hasn't regained anywhere near its pre-Katrina population. But a day of events illustrated how attached the residents who have returned are to their community.
After the speeches were done, a parade snaked through the neighborhood while music played from boom boxes and people sold water from ice chests under the hot sun.
Clarence Davis' family home was four blocks from the levee. He evacuated before Katrina and eventually returned to the region, but now lives in the suburbs. He came back Saturday just to find old faces from the neighborhood but he couldn't bring himself to see the vacant lot where his house used to be.
"The family home is what kept us together and it's gone," he said. His family is scattered now in Houston, Atlanta and Louisiana as are many of his neighbors.
Thousands of volunteers spread out across New Orleans, echoing the volunteers that helped the city and region recover after Katrina and still come to the city to this day.
In a city where people form strong bonds over neighborhoods, from the Lower 9th Ward, to Broadmoor, to Gentilly and Lakeview, many choose to stay local on Saturday in one of the many neighborhood events across the city.
"New Orleans will always be in my blood," a silver-haired Juanita Fields said Saturday in what was the badly flooded Pontchartrain Park, an African-American neighborhood near Southern University New Orleans.
She recounted her post-Katrina experiences — fear and thirst in a sweltering Superdome, eventual transport to Kansas — with humor, grace and at times defiance. She finally returned in 2012. She is happy about the city's recovery, but not about the unevenness of that recovery that saw the city's poorest suffer. She believes some "grieved themselves to death," over the destruction and their inability to return or rebuild.
But she's optimistic that the city will continue to recover. "It will. It's going to take us a while."
Kevin McGill reported from Bay St. Louis and Gulfport, Mississippi.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Up To 50 Bodies Found In Austria As Migrant Crisis Rages

Nina Lamparski



© Heinz-Peter Bader/Reuters A truck in which up to 50 migrants were found dead sits on a highway near Pandorf, Austria, August 27, 2015.


The bodies of between 20 and 50 migrants were found in a truck in Austria on Thursday, highlighting the dark side of Europe's migrant crisis as regional leaders struggle to stem the massive flow of people desperately trying to reach the EU.
The gruesome discovery on a motorway near the Slovakia and Hungary borders was thought to be the worst tragedy on land in Europe's worst migrant crisis since 1945.
Police said the vehicle -- which had the markings of a Slovakian poultry company and bore Hungarian number plates -- contained between 20 and 50 bodies.
It was not yet clear how they had died.
"Today is a dark day... This tragedy affects us all deeply," Interior Minister Johanna Mikl-Leitner said at a press conference.
She said Austria would tighten border controls and intensify police checks on international trains, and called on the other 27 EU member states to show "zero tolerance" for people smugglers.
The deaths came a day after at least 55 migrants were found dead in stricken boats in the Mediterranean, adding to a toll of more than 2,300 people who have drowned while attempting to reach Europe by sea.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Balkan leaders, meeting in Vienna to discuss how to tackle the escalating crisis, reacted with shock to the Austrian tragedy.
"We were all shaken by the horrible news that up to 50 people lost their lives because they were in a situation where people-smugglers did not care about their lives," Merkel said.
"This is a warning to us to tackle this migrants issue quickly and in a European spirit, which means in a spirit of solidarity, and to find solutions."
- Western Balkans route -
European leaders have come under fire for failing to tackle the arrival of several hundred thousand migrants this year, many fleeing hotspots such as Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.
The western Balkans has become a major route for migrants and refugees trying to cross over into EU member state Hungary. Most then try to make it to wealthier European countries like Germany and Sweden.
Speaking at the Vienna meeting, Serbia's Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic said outside money provided so far was insufficient to handle the large numbers.
"This is a problem of the European Union and we (the transit countries) are expected to come up with an action plan," Dacic said.
"I think the European Union has to come up with a plan first," he said. "I have to be very direct here. Please understand, we are bearing the brunt of the problem."
This was echoed by his counterpart from Macedonia, which last week declared a state of emergency and shut its border with Greece for three days after being unable to cope.
"Unless we have a European answer to this issue, none of us should be under any illusion that this will be solved," Nikola Poposki said.
Reiterating his call for a reform of the Dublin Accords "to distribute refugees fairly within the EU", Germany's Foreign Minister Frank Steinmeier said Berlin would contribute one million euros to help the Balkans cope with the migrants, as well as food and other supplies.
But he also called on governments there "to help manage the expectations of your citizens and provide them with a realistic picture of their virtually non-existent chances of being granted asylum in Germany."
Almost 40 percent of asylum-seekers in Germany are from the western Balkan countries, Steinmeier said.
- Hungary barrier -
The daily number of people crossing into Hungary hit a record 3,000, including nearly 700 children, latest police figures showed.
Lawmakers are set to debate next week whether to deploy troops to stem the influx, after violence erupted briefly at a refugee processing centre near the Hungarian border town of Rozke.
Alarmed by the growing humanitarian disaster, UN chief Ban Ki-moon has urged countries "in Europe and elsewhere to prove their compassion and do much more to bring an end to the crisis".
UN refugee chief Antonio Guterres and French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve called for the urgent creation of more so-called "hotspots" -- processing centres to sort refugees fleeing war from economic migrants who are simply in search of a better life.
Hamstrung by a lack of a coherent European response, governments have at times taken contradictory approaches to the problem.
While Hungary's right-wing government is building a 175-kilometre (110-mile) razor-wire barrier to keep migrants out, a Czech minister has called for the passport-free Schengen zone to be closed with the help of NATO troops.
Meanwhile Germany, which is preparing to receive a record 800,000 asylum-seekers this year, has eased the application procedure for Syrians fleeing the brutal civil war.
But Berlin's largesse has not been welcomed by everyone at home, particularly in the east where a spate of attacks has targeted refugee centres.
On a visit to a migrant shelter in the eastern town of Heidenau, Merkel was greeted by about 200 protesters, some booing and shouting "traitor, traitor" and "we are the mob".
However, she vowed: "There will be no tolerance of those who question the dignity of other people."

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Britain Reopens Embassy In Tehran

By Arthur Macmillan, AFP
An Iranian protester breaks a security camera inside the British embassy after storming into the compound in Tehran on November 29, 2011
Britain's foreign secretary reopened his country's embassy in Tehran on Sunday in a long-awaited step signalling better relations four years after a mob stormed the compound, forcing its closure.
Philip Hammond's trip comes five weeks after Britain and five other world powers struck a deal with Iran to end a 13-year dispute over the Islamic republic's disputed nuclear programme.
He entered the embassy at noon (0730 GMT) and held a ceremony shortly afterwards in its garden with Ajay Sharma, the new charge d'affaires who will be Britain's top diplomat in Tehran.
Iran's embassy in London will also reopen on Sunday. The two countries are expected to appoint ambassadors in the coming months.
Hammond was to later hold a press conference with Mohammad Javad Zarif, Iran's foreign minister and lead negotiator in the nearly two years of talks that have ended Tehran's isolation from the West.
"Arrived in #Tehran. First British Ministerial visit since 2003. Historic moment in UK-Iran relations," Hammond tweeted.
European officials have been quick to visit Tehran since July 14, when the nuclear agreement with Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States was announced in Vienna.
The deal will see the lifting of economic sanctions imposed on Iran, in exchange for curbs on its atomic activities.
The deal has sparked a flurry of interest from countries seeking to re-connect with the oil-rich Islamic republic, whose 78 million population is also seen as a largely untapped market for other industries.
The thaw between Britain and Iran began with the June 2013 presidential election victory of Hassan Rouhani, a moderate who reached out to the West.
"President Rouhani's election and last month's nuclear agreement were important milestones. I believe that we have the potential to go much further," Hammond said before his arrival.
Following the 2011 embassy attack, Britain said it could not have happened without the tacit consent of the Iranian regime at the time.
It erupted after Iran's parliament voted to expel the British ambassador and reduce trade relations in retaliation for sanctions against Iran's banking sector.
Students rampaged for hours through the diplomatic compound in downtown Tehran, tearing down the British flag, ripping up pictures of Queen Elizabeth II and trashing offices. Staff were seized by protesters.
Diplomatic relations were reduced to their lowest possible level, with Britain expelling Iran's officials.
- UK trade delegation in Tehran -
"Reopening our embassies is a key step to improved bilateral relations," Hammond said.
"In the first instance, we will want to ensure that the nuclear agreement is a success, including by encouraging trade and investment once sanctions are lifted."
He said London and Tehran should also be ready to discuss challenges including extremism, regional stability, and the spread of the Islamic State jihadist group in Syria and Iraq.
"This move does not mean that we agree on everything. But it is right that Britain and Iran should have a presence in each other's countries," Hammond added.
Plans to reopen the embassy were announced in June last year.
Sharma was appointed in a non-resident position in November 2013 and has since visited Iran 12 times.
Hammond and treasury minister Damian Hinds are visiting Tehran with a small trade delegation for the two-day visit.
It includes the Institute of Directors, the British Bankers' Association, Shell Upstream International and the Confederation of British Industry, to discuss future trade opportunities.
Hammond follows his Italian, French and German counterparts who travelled to Iran with business delegations after the nuclear deal.
Europe is keen on renewing trade ties with Iran and most countries have diplomatic representation in Tehran.
But the United States, which led the nuclear talks, has not had diplomatic relations with Iran since 1979 following the 444-day hostage crisis that followed the storming of its Tehran embassy.
Britain's foreign secretary reopened his country's embassy in Tehran on Sunday in a long-awaited step signalling better relations four years after a mob stormed the compound, forcing its closure.
Philip Hammond's trip comes five weeks after Britain and five other world powers struck a deal with Iran to end a 13-year dispute over the Islamic republic's disputed nuclear programme.
He entered the embassy at noon (0730 GMT) and held a ceremony shortly afterwards in its garden with Ajay Sharma, the new charge d'affaires who will be Britain's top diplomat in Tehran.
Iran's embassy in London will also reopen on Sunday. The two countries are expected to appoint ambassadors in the coming months.
Hammond was to later hold a press conference with Mohammad Javad Zarif, Iran's foreign minister and lead negotiator in the nearly two years of talks that have ended Tehran's isolation from the West.
"Arrived in #Tehran. First British Ministerial visit since 2003. Historic moment in UK-Iran relations," Hammond tweeted.
European officials have been quick to visit Tehran since July 14, when the nuclear agreement with Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States was announced in Vienna.
The deal will see the lifting of economic sanctions imposed on Iran, in exchange for curbs on its atomic activities.
The deal has sparked a flurry of interest from countries seeking to re-connect with the oil-rich Islamic republic, whose 78 million population is also seen as a largely untapped market for other industries.
The thaw between Britain and Iran began with the June 2013 presidential election victory of Hassan Rouhani, a moderate who reached out to the West.
"President Rouhani's election and last month's nuclear agreement were important milestones. I believe that we have the potential to go much further," Hammond said before his arrival.
Following the 2011 embassy attack, Britain said it could not have happened without the tacit consent of the Iranian regime at the time.
It erupted after Iran's parliament voted to expel the British ambassador and reduce trade relations in retaliation for sanctions against Iran's banking sector.
Students rampaged for hours through the diplomatic compound in downtown Tehran, tearing down the British flag, ripping up pictures of Queen Elizabeth II and trashing offices. Staff were seized by protesters.
Diplomatic relations were reduced to their lowest possible level, with Britain expelling Iran's officials.
- UK trade delegation in Tehran -
"Reopening our embassies is a key step to improved bilateral relations," Hammond said.
"In the first instance, we will want to ensure that the nuclear agreement is a success, including by encouraging trade and investment once sanctions are lifted."
He said London and Tehran should also be ready to discuss challenges including extremism, regional stability, and the spread of the Islamic State jihadist group in Syria and Iraq.
"This move does not mean that we agree on everything. But it is right that Britain and Iran should have a presence in each other's countries," Hammond added.
Plans to reopen the embassy were announced in June last year.
Sharma was appointed in a non-resident position in November 2013 and has since visited Iran 12 times.
Hammond and treasury minister Damian Hinds are visiting Tehran with a small trade delegation for the two-day visit.
It includes the Institute of Directors, the British Bankers' Association, Shell Upstream International and the Confederation of British Industry, to discuss future trade opportunities.
Hammond follows his Italian, French and German counterparts who travelled to Iran with business delegations after the nuclear deal.
Europe is keen on renewing trade ties with Iran and most countries have diplomatic representation in Tehran.
But the United States, which led the nuclear talks, has not had diplomatic relations with Iran since 1979 following the 444-day hostage crisis that followed the storming of its Tehran embassy.

Man Tackled On Train On Authorities' Radar In 3 Countries

By Elaine Danley And Nadine Achouilesage, Associated Press


 in Arras, northern France. The gunman opened fire on the train wounding several people before American passengers subdued him, according to officials and one of the Americans involved. (Christina Cathleen Coon via AP)
PARIS (AP)— The man who boarded a high-speed Amsterdam-to-Paris train with a Kalashnikov rifle before being tackled by passengers was on the radar of authorities in three countries, had ties to radical Islam and may have traveled to Syria, authorities said.
The attacker was identified by a French official close to the investigation as Ayoub El-Khazzani, 26, who was known to authorities in France, Belgium and Spain. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigation is ongoing.
Officials did not disclose a possible motive for the Friday attack, but Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said Spanish authorities had advised French intelligence about the suspect because he belongs to the "radical Islamist movement." Three people were injured but no one died, and authorities credited brave American, French and British passengers with stopping El-Khazzani, who they said was armed with the assault rifle, nine magazines, a pistol and a box cutter.
El-Khazzani was being questioned Saturday by French counter-terrorism police who confirmed through fingerprints their suspicions that he was the same man who had been brought to their attention in February 2014, according to the French official. French authorities said he had lived in the southern Spanish city of Algeciras, frequenting a mosque which is under surveillance there. He was transferred Saturday morning to anti-terror police headquarters outside Paris and can be held for up to 96 hours.
There were discrepancies between French and Spanish accounts of the gunman's travels.
An official linked to Spain's anti-terrorism unit said the suspect lived in Spain until 2014, then moved to France, traveled to Syria, and returned to France. That official spoke on condition anonymity because he was not authorized to be identified by name.
The French official close to the investigation said the French signal "sounded" on May 10 in Berlin, where El-Khazzani was flying to Turkey. The French transmitted this information to Spain, which advised on May 21 that he no longer lived there but in Belgium. The French then advised Belgium, according to the official close to the investigation, but it wasn't clear what, if any, action was taken after that.
El-Khazzani had the Kalashnikov strapped across his shoulder when a French citizen trying to use the toilet encountered him and tried to subdue him, Cazeneuve said. Bullets started flying and two American servicemen, with help from a friend and a Briton, tackled and disarmed him.
The Briton, businessman Chris Norman, said he was working on his computer when he heard a shot and glass breaking and saw a train worker running. Three Americans— U.S. Airman Spencer Stone and National Guardsman Alek Skarlatos from Roseburg, Oregon, and their friend, Anthony Sadler, a senior at Sacramento State University in California — heard glass breaking at the same time.
"I knew we had to do something or he was just going to kill people," Skarlatos told Oregon television station KEZI. "I mean he wasn't shooting at the time so I figured it was a good time to do it."
Sadler told The Associated Press that they saw a train employee sprint down the aisle followed by a man with an automatic rifle.
"As he was cocking it to shoot it, Alek just yells, 'Spencer, go!' And Spencer runs down the aisle," Sadler said. "Spencer makes first contact, he tackles the guy, Alek wrestles the gun away from him, and the gunman pulls out a box cutter and slices Spencer a few times. And the three of us beat him until he was unconscious."
Norman said he was the fourth to jump into the fray, grabbing the gunman's right arm and tying it with his tie.
Video showed a blood-spattered scene on the train, with the gunman prostrate and shirtless, his hands tied behind his back. Authorities said that in addition to the guns, he had nine loaded magazines for the Kalashnikov. Skarlatos, who served in Afghanistan, said that when he examined the assault rifle, he found that the gunman had tried to fire it but that it didn't go off because it had a bad primer.
Sadler said the gunman remained silent throughout the brief incident. But with the weapons he carried, "he was there to do business," Skarlatos said in an interview shown on French television.
French actor Jean-Hugues Anglade, who cut his finger it to the bone while activating the train's emergency alarm, heaped praise on the Americans, recounting the high emotion of the episode to Paris Match.
"I thought it was the end, that we would die," he said. "Yes, we saw ourselves dying because we were prisoners in this train and it was impossible to escape the nightmare."
The train, in Belgium, was rerouted to Arras in northern France, the nearest station, where El-Khazzani was arrested.
Stone was taken to a hospital in nearby Lille with a hand injury and an unidentified dual French-American citizen with a bullet wound who was helicoptered to another hospital in Lille.
That victim, wounded in the chest, remained hospitalized in intensive care Sunday in "serious but stable" condition, and his life is not danger, according to Patrick Goldstein, head of the emergency service at CHRU Lille hospital.
"There is strictly no change from yesterday. His condition is perfectly stable and there's no surgical procedure planned," Goldstein said on French television BFM, adding that the victim "is an exceptional person with great calm."
Stone, of Carmichael, California, was released from the hospital later Saturday. A heavily guarded caravan was seen arriving Saturday night at the U.S. ambassador's residence in Paris, apparently escorting Stone and Sadler, both 23, and Skarlatos, 22. The three friends had been traveling together in Europe. President Barack Obama telephoned them Saturday to commend and congratulate them, the White House said. They and the Frenchman who first confronted the gunman are to meet Monday with French President Francois Hollande.
French authorities are on heightened alert after Islamic extremist attacks in January left 20 people dead, including the three gunmen. In June, a lone attacker claiming allegiance to Islamic radicals beheaded his employer and set off an explosion at an American-owned factory in France, raising concerns about other scattered, hard-to-predict attacks.
Achoui-Lesage reported from Lille. Associated Press Writer Maggy Donaldson in Lille and Greg Keller in Paris contributed to this report.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Cheating Site Logged Federal Subscribers With Sensitive Jobs

WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. government employees with sensitive jobs in national security or law enforcement were among hundreds of federal workers found to be using government networks to access and pay membership fees to the cheating website Ashley Madison, The Associated Press has learned.



Ing Ashley Madison's Korean web site on a computer screen in Seoul, South Korea. Hackers claim to have leaked a massive database of users from Ashley Madison, a matchmaking website for cheating spouses. In a statement released Tuesday, Aug. 18, 2015, a group calling itself Impact Team said the site's owners had not bowed to their demands. "Now everyone gets to see their data," the statement said.


The list includes at least two assistant U.S. attorneys, an information technology administrator in the White House's support staff, a Justice Department investigator, a division chief, and a government hacker and counterterrorism employee at the Homeland Security Department. Others visited from networks operated by the Pentagon.

Federal policies vary by agency as to whether employees could visit websites during work hours like Ashley Madison, which could be considered akin to a dating website. But such use raises questions about what personal business is acceptable — and what websites are OK to visit — for U.S. workers on taxpayer time, especially those with sensitive jobs who could face blackmail.
Hackers this week released detailed records on millions of people registered with the website one month after the break-in at Ashley Madison's parent company, Toronto-based Avid Life Media Inc. The website — whose slogan is, "Life is short. Have an affair" — is marketed to facilitate extramarital affairs.
Few connecting from federal networks had listed government email accounts when subscribing. But the AP was able to trace their government Internet connections, logged by the website over five years and as recently as June. They encompass more than two dozen agencies, such as the departments of State, Justice, Energy, Treasury and Transportation. Others came from House or Senate computer networks.
Records also reveal subscribers signed up using state and municipal government networks nationwide, including those run by the New York Police Department, the nation's largest. "If anything comes to our attention indicating improper use of an NYPD computer, we will look into it and take appropriate action," said the NYPD's top spokesman, Stephen Davis.
The AP is not naming the government subscribers it found because they are not elected officials or accused of a crime. Many federal customers appeared to use nongovernment email addresses with handles such as "sexlessmarriage," ''soontobesingle" or "latinlovers." Some Justice Department employees also appeared to use prepaid credit cards to help preserve their anonymity but nonetheless connected to the service from their office computers.
"I was doing some things I shouldn't have been doing," a Justice Department investigator told the AP. Asked about the threat of blackmail, the investigator said if prompted he would reveal his actions to his family and employer to prevent it. "I've worked too hard all my life to be a victim of blackmail. That wouldn't happen," he said. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was deeply embarrassed and not authorized by the government to speak to reporters using his name.
Defense Secretary Ash Carter confirmed Thursday the Pentagon was looking into the list of people who used military email addresses. Adultery can be a criminal offense under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.
"I'm aware it," Carter said. "Of course it's an issue because conduct is very important. And we expect good conduct on the part of our people. ... The services are looking into it and as well they should be. Absolutely."
The AP's review was the first to reveal that federal workers used their office systems to access the site, based on their Internet Protocol addresses associated with credit card transactions. It focused on searching for government employees in especially sensitive positions who could perhaps become blackmail targets.
The government hacker at the Homeland Security Department, who did not respond to phone or email messages, included photographs of his wife and infant son on his Facebook page. One assistant U.S. attorney declined through a spokesman to speak to the AP, and another did not return phone or email messages.
A White House spokesman said Thursday he could not immediately comment on the matter. The IT administrator in the White House did not return email messages. While rules can vary by agency, Homeland Security rules, for instance, say devices should be used for only for official purposes. It also prescribes "limited personal use is authorized as long as this use does not interfere with official duties or cause degradation of network services." Employees are barred from using government computers to access "inappropriate sites" including those that are "obscene, hateful, harmful, malicious, hostile, threatening, abusive, vulgar, defamatory, profane, or racially, sexually, or ethnically objectionable."
The hackers who took credit for the break-in had accused the website's owners of deceit and incompetence, and said the company refused to bow to their demands to close the site. Avid Life released a statement calling the hackers criminals. It added that law enforcement in both the U.S. and Canada is investigating and declined comment beyond its statement Tuesday that it was investigating the hackers' claims.
Associated Press writers Alicia Caldwell and Lolita C. Baldor in Washington, Jake Pearson in New York and Raphael Satter in London contributed to this report.
Follow Jack Gillum on Twitter at https://twitter.com/jackgillum and Ted Bridis at https://twitter.com/tbridis

First Female Graduates Of Ranger School Earn Elite Tab

WASHINGTON (AP) — Capping their history-making week, the first female soldiers to complete the Army's rigorous Ranger School are graduating Friday, putting a spotlight on the debate over opening all combat roles to women.


U.S. Army Army 1st Lt. Shaye Haver speaks with reporters, Thursday, Aug. 20, 2015, at Fort Benning, Ga., where she is scheduled to graduate Friday from the Army’s elite Ranger School. Haver and Army Capt. Kristen Griest are the first two women to complete the notoriously grueling Ranger course, which the Army opened to women this spring as it studies whether to open more combat jobs to female soldiers. (Mike Haskey /Ledger-Enquirer via AP) MANDATORY CREDIT


First Lt. Shaye Haver of Copperas Cove, Texas, and Capt. Kristen Griest of Orange, Connecticut, are pinning on the black-and-gold Ranger tab at a graduation ceremony, along with 94 male soldiers, at Fort Benning, Georgia. Defense Secretary Ash Carter called the women Thursday to congratulate them for finishing the nine-week training program.

Their success casts new attention on the obstacles that remain to women who aspire to join all-male combat units, including the 75th Ranger Regiment. Although Haver and Griest are now Ranger-qualified, no women are eligible for the elite regiment, although officials say it is among special operations units likely to eventually be opened to women.
Griest, 26, is a military police officer and has served one tour in Afghanistan. Haver, 25, is a pilot of Apache helicopters. Both are graduates of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. Of 19 women who began the Ranger course, Haver and Griest are the only two to finish so far; one is repeating a prior phase of training in hopes of graduating soon.
The Army opened Ranger School to female soldiers for the first time this year as service leaders weighed opening more combat jobs to women. How far the military is willing to go toward ending gender restrictions will be evident soon.
Carter said Thursday he will decide by December whether to accept any recommended exceptions to an order, signed by one of his predecessors, Leon Panetta, nearly three years ago that said all positions must be open to qualified women unless service leaders can justify keeping any closed. Any recommended exceptions are due to Carter in October.
Griest told reporters Thursday she hopes her success shows that women "can deal with the same stresses and training that men can." Some current and former military members feel strongly that the Pentagon is going too far to accommodate women.
James Lechner, a retired Army lieutenant colonel and former Ranger, said he questions whether the Ranger course adequately tested the female candidates under combat-simulated conditions and whether it makes sense to open all combat units to women.
"American women certainly serve with honor and distinction, provide some capabilities that males may not be able to provide," Lechner said in a telephone interview. "But when you talk about your fighting units, your combat arms units, especially the infantry, ... you don't need to just have the minimum standards. You need to have as good as you possibly can get."
Janine Davidson, a defense policy analyst at the Council on Foreign Relations and a former Air Force cargo plane pilot, said the success of Griest and Haver and the prospect of the Army fully integrating women into its ground combat force is "policy catching up with reality," given the extensive combat experience women had in Iraq and Afghanistan. It also reflects generational change, she said, which she has heard in conversations with high school students.
"They actually are shocked when they learn that women aren't already doing this kind of stuff - the idea that they themselves would not be allowed to do it," Davidson told reporters Tuesday. Rangers call themselves "masters of special light infantry operations" such as seizing key terrain and infiltrating hostile territory by land, sea or air. They are an arm of Army Special Operations Command and U.S. Special Operations Command.
The Ranger School, which began during the Korean War as the "Ranger Training Command," fails most who enter. For the period between 2010 and 2014, 58 percent of candidates washed out - most of those within the first four days, a phase that includes tests of physical stamina, a land navigation course, and a 12-mile foot march, according to the Ranger training website.
Ranger history pre-dates to the Revolutionary War and includes prominent roles in the War of 1812 and the Civil War. In the June 6, 1944 D-Day landings on the beaches of Normandy, Rangers famously scaled the sheer cliffs of Pointe Du Hoc overlooking Omaha Beach.
Associated Press broadcast correspondent Sagar Meghani contributed to this report.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

California Says Uber's Background Checks Missed Convicted Murderer

REUTERS





Wide range of criminals driving for Uber only came to light after they got cited for offering illegal rides.

California prosecutors have broadened their civil lawsuit against popular online ride-sharing service Uber, alleging that its background checks missed people previously convicted of murder and sex crimes, court records show.
The district attorneys of San Francisco and Los Angeles filed an amended complaint against Uber Technologies Inc on Tuesday, which said “systemic failures in Uber’s background check process” came to light after their initial December filing.
The new complaint said registered sex offenders, identity thieves, burglars, a kidnapper and a convicted murderer had passed the firm’s screening process and were driving for the company until they were cited for providing illegal rides.
“I support technological innovation. Innovation, however, does not give companies a license to mislead consumers about issues affecting their safety,” San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon said in a statement on Wednesday.
San Francisco-based Uber said in a statement its screening system has been as effective, and at times more effective, than a different system used by taxi companies.
“We continue to work on improving safety for riders and drivers before, during and after the trip,” it said.
The company added that last year it had rejected more than 600 people who had applied to become taxi and livery drivers in Los Angeles, San Diego and San Francisco because they had been convicted of violent and drunken driving crimes.
In the complaint filed in December, prosecutors contended that Uber drivers work at airports without obtaining authorization and have charged an extra $4 fee to passengers traveling there without paying anything to the airport.
One of the fastest-growing sharing-economy companies, Uber operates its ride-share program in 57 countries and has an estimated value of more than $40 billion.
The firm has been fighting in courts elsewhere in the United States. Earlier this month Uber won the dismissal of a racketeering lawsuit brought by 15 Connecticut taxi and limousine companies seeking to stop Uber from doing business in the state.

Monday, August 17, 2015

IRS: Computer Breach Bigger Than First Thought; 334K Victims

WASHINGTON (AP) — A computer breach at the IRS in which thieves stole tax information from thousands of taxpayers is much bigger than the agency originally disclosed.


The Internal Revenue Service Headquarters (IRS) building is seen in Washington. The IRS says thieves used an agency website to steal tax information from as many as 220,000 additional taxpayers. The agency first disclosed the breach in May. Monday’s revelation more than doubles the total number of potential victims, to 334,000.


An additional 220,000 potential victims had information stolen from an IRS website as part of a sophisticated scheme to use stolen identities to claim fraudulent tax refunds, the IRS said Monday. The revelation more than doubles the total number of potential victims, to 334,000.

The breach also started earlier than investigators initially thought. The tax agency first disclosed the breach in May. The thieves accessed a system called "Get Transcript," where taxpayers can get tax returns and other filings from previous years. In order to access the information, the thieves cleared a security screen that required knowledge about the taxpayer, including Social Security number, date of birth, tax filing status and street address, the IRS said.
The personal information was presumably stolen from other sources. The IRS believes the thieves were accessing the IRS website to get even more information about the taxpayers, which could help them claim fraudulent tax refunds in the future.
"As it did in May, the IRS is moving aggressively to protect taxpayers whose account information may have been accessed," the IRS said in a statement. "The IRS will begin mailing letters in the next few days to about 220,000 taxpayers where there were instances of possible or potential access to 'Get Transcript' taxpayer account information."
In all, the thieves used personal information from about 610,000 taxpayers in an effort to access old tax returns. They were successful in getting information from about 334,000 taxpayers. "The IRS's failure to protect private and confidential information from cyber-attacks risks further fraud for hardworking taxpayers," said Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, chairman of the Senate panel that oversees the IRS. "The agency should act swiftly to alleviate the damage for all those affected."
The IRS isn't the first agency — public or private — to initially underestimate the magnitude of a data breach. The Office of Personnel Management announced earlier this year that hackers had stolen sensitive information on 4.2 million people. The number of affected people has since grown to more than 21 million.
Rep. Peter Roskam, R-Ill., said, "Today's revelation that the IRS didn't fully understand this security breach for months is not confidence-inspiring." Roskam chairs a House subcommittee that oversees the IRS.
The IRS said it is notifying all potential victims and offering free credit monitoring services. The IRS is also offering to enroll potential victims in a program that assigns them special ID numbers that they must use to file their tax returns.
The IRS said Monday that thieves started targeting the website in November. Originally, investigators thought it started in February. The website was shut down in May. On Monday, the IRS did not identify a potential source of the crime. But in May, officials said IRS investigators believe the identity thieves are part of a sophisticated criminal operation based in Russia.
It wouldn't be the first time the IRS has been targeted by identity thieves based overseas. In 2012, the IRS sent a total of 655 tax refunds to a single address in Lithuania, and 343 refunds went to a lone address in Shanghai, according to a report by the agency's inspector general. The IRS has since added safeguards to prevent similar schemes, but the criminals are innovating as well.
The IRS estimates it paid out $5.8 billion in fraudulent refunds to identity thieves in 2013.
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