Friday, June 21, 2013

FBI & Drone----Weekend News

FBI under pressure to explain drone use, as Obama names new director

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    April 3, 2013: In this photo provided by The U.S. Geological Survey, the USGS THawk drone is shown being used during a survey of abandoned solid waste in the Mojave Preserve. (AP)
As President Obama prepares to nominate a new FBI director, the bureau is coming under rising pressure from lawmakers to explain the limits of its recently disclosed drone fleet. 
Civil liberties-minded senators on both sides of the aisle have fired off sharply worded letters and statements in recent days criticizing the FBI for deploying surveillance drones without clear guidance on how to protect privacy rights. 

Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., was the latest to scrutinize the bureau, sending a letter on Thursday to outgoing Director Robert Mueller asking a string of questions about his agency's drone use. 
"I am disturbed by the revelation that the FBI has unilaterally decided to begin using drone surveillance technology without a governance policy, and thus without the requisite assurances that the constitutional rights of Americans are being protected," Paul wrote. 

Mueller acknowledged Wednesday, during a Senate hearing, that the bureau has a limited number of drones that it uses for surveillance on U.S. soil. He stressed they are used in a "very, very minimal way and very seldom." Newly released documents show that the FBI has sought and received permission from the FAA at least four times to fly surveillance drones inside the U.S. since 2010. 

The use of non-lethal drones for surveillance purposes is rapidly getting off the ground among local law enforcement agencies and other groups. Mueller, in acknowledging that the FBI, too, has obtained surveillance drones, said the bureau is in the "initial stages" of drafting rules and regulations for their use. 

Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., took umbrage at that fact, saying that while drones have the potential to help law enforcement agencies, constitutional rights must come first. 
"I am concerned the FBI is deploying drone technology while only being in the 'initial stages' of developing guidelines to protect Americans' privacy rights. I look forward to learning more about this program and will do everything in my power to hold the FBI accountable and ensure its actions respect the U.S. Constitution," he said in a statement. 
The issue is likely to follow Obama's new nominee to lead the FBI, Jim Comey. Obama plans to nominate the former federal prosecutor on Friday. 

Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, who originally asked Mueller about the drone program, also wrote a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder on Wednesday seeking "clarification" regarding a prior response from the department that did not disclose the FBI's drones. He, too, asked Holder to explain when the FBI began using them, what checks are in place for the program and whether any are capable of being armed. 

FBI spokesman Paul Bresson clarified earlier this week that the aircraft are only used in "very limited circumstances to support operations where there was a specific operational need." 
He cited an example of a hostage situation in Alabama earlier this year where a drone helped law enforcement. He said they are only used to conduct surveillance "on stationary subjects." And the bureau must obtain FAA approval first. 

 Study: Gov’t losing billions on ‘inefficient’ tax subsidies that don’t curb climate change

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    Coal-fired power plants are seen with the U.S. Capitol looming in the background. (AP)
As America's debt rises to unsustainable levels, the U.S. government is losing billions every year on energy tax subsidies that do little to combat climate change. 

That's according to a tough report released this week by the National Research Council. The non-partisan academic report, sponsored by the Treasury Department, concluded that current tax policies are a "poor tool" for addressing climate change -- and a costly one. 
It found energy subsidies in 2011 and 2012 cost $48 billion, with limited results. 
"Very little if any GHG (greenhouse gas) reductions are achieved at substantial cost with these provisions," the report concluded. 

The report coincided with a renewed call for action from President Obama on climate change. During a wide-ranging speech in Berlin on Wednesday, the president called climate change the "global threat of our time" and demanded "bold action" to address it. 
It's unclear whether the findings will spur Congress to find more effective tax policies, or to simply move away from using the tax code as an anti-climate change tool. 
The latest report acknowledged that tax policy can be an effective way to address climate change. It suggested the "most efficient way" to tackle the issue would be to charge for emissions, an option many Republicans oppose on the grounds it would be costly to businesses. 
But the National Research Council said the existing hodgepodge of tax rules isn't really working. 
"The committee has found that several existing provisions have perverse effects, while others yield little reduction in GHG emissions per dollar of revenue loss," the report said, while acknowledging that many of the policies it reviewed were not designed with emissions reduction as the primary objective. 

Some of the policies, though, are aimed in large part at curbing energy use, to limited effect. The study looked at tax credits for renewable electricity, and found the impact was "small" -- translating to about a .3 percent emissions reduction. 
The study said this credit was among "the most costly." 

It also looked at energy-efficiency credits for home improvements, and determined they are "unlikely to produce major savings" in emissions. 
Further, the council looked at biofuels credits and found they had a "counterintuitive" effect. Though it might seem "obvious" that subsidizing biofuels would reduce emissions since they rely on renewable resources, the study said, other findings showed the credits "encouraged the consumption of motor fuels" by lowering prices. 

The National Research Council is part of the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering. The study was completed at the request of Congress. 
The study did not look at all tax policies and their effect on emissions. But it looked at energy-sector provisions and said the most comprehensive study shows their "combined impact is less than 1 percent of total U.S. emissions."

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