Conservative groups seeking information from the Environmental Protection Agency have been routinely hindered by fees normally waived for media and watchdog groups, while fees for more than 90 percent of requests from green groups were waived, according to requests reviewed by the Conservative Enterprise Institute.
CEI reviewed Freedom of Information Act requests sent between January 2012 and this spring from several environmental groups friendly to the EPA’s mission, and several conservative groups, to see how equally the agency applies its fee waiver policy for media and watchdog groups. Government agencies are supposed to waive fees for groups disseminating information for public benefit.
“This is as clear an example of disparate treatment as the IRS’ hurdles selectively imposed upon groups with names ominously reflecting an interest in, say, a less intrusive or biased federal government,” said CEI fellow Chris Horner.
For 92 percent of requests from green groups, the EPA cooperated by waiving fees for the information. Those requests came from the Natural Resources Defense Council, EarthJustice, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, The Waterkeeper Alliance, Greenpeace, Southern Environmental Law Center and the Center for Biological Diversity.
Of the requests that were denied, the EPA said the group either didn’t respond to requests for justification of a waiver, or didn’t express intent to disseminate the information to the general public, according to documents obtained by The Washington Examiner. CEI, on the other hand, had its requests denied 93 percent of the time. One request was denied because CEI failed to express its intent to disseminate the information to the general public. The rest were denied because the agency said CEI “failed to demonstrate that the release of the information requested significantly increases the public understanding of government operations or activities.”
Similarly, requests from conservative groups Judicial Watch and National Center for Public Policy Research were approved half the time, and all requests from Franklin Center and the Institute for Energy Research were denied. “Their practice is to take care of their friends and impose ridiculous obstacles to deny problematic parties’ requests for information,” said Horner. Freedom of Information Act requests from CEI forced the EPA to release emails under the the “Richard Windsor” alias former EPA administrator Lisa Jackson used to conduct government business.
CEI has also filed FOIA requests for emails, text messages and instant messages from Jackson and EPA nominee Gina McCarthy. Horner said he believes the EPA has denied CEI’s requests because his think tank is the most active group seeking to hold the agency accountable. “This is a clear pattern of favoritism for allied groups and a concerted campaign to make life more difficult for those deemed unfriendly,” he said. “The left hand of big government reaches out to give a boost to its far-left hand at every turn. Argue against more of the same, however, and prepare to be treated as if you have fewer rights.” Update: An earlier version incorrectly called the Natural Resources Defense Council the “National Resources Defense Council.”
A worldwide gang of criminals stole $45 million in a matter of hours by hacking their way into a database of prepaid debit cards and then draining cash machines around the globe, federal prosecutors said Thursday – and outmoded U.S. card technology may be partly to blame.
Seven people are under arrest in the U.S. in connection with the case, which prosecutors said involved thousands of thefts from ATMs using bogus magnetic swipe cards carrying information from Middle Eastern banks. The fraudsters moved with astounding speed to loot financial institutions around the world, working in cells including one in New York, Brooklyn U.S. Attorney Loretta Lynch said.
She called it “a massive 21st-century bank heist” carried out by brazen thieves.
One of the suspects was caught on surveillance cameras, his backpack increasingly loaded down with cash, authorities said. Others took photos of themselves with giant wads of bills as they made their way up and down Manhattan.
Here’s how it worked:
Hackers got into bank databases, eliminated withdrawal limits on pre-paid debit cards and created access codes. Others loaded that data onto any plastic card with a magnetic stripe – an old hotel key card or an expired credit card worked fine as long as it carried the account data and correct access codes.
A network of operatives then fanned out to rapidly withdraw money in multiple cities, authorities said. The cells would take a cut of the money, then launder it through expensive purchases or ship it wholesale to the global ringleaders. Lynch didn’t say where they were located.
It appears no individuals lost money. The thieves plundered funds held by the banks that back up prepaid credit cards, not individual or business accounts, Lynch said.
She called it a “virtual criminal flash mob,” and a security analyst said it was the biggest ATM fraud case she had heard of.
There were two separate attacks, one in December that reaped $5 million worldwide and one in February that snared about $40 million in 10 hours with about 36,000 transactions. The scheme involved attacks on two banks, Rakbank in the United Arab Emirates and the Bank of Muscat in Oman, prosecutors said.
The plundered ATMs were in Japan, Russia, Romania, Egypt, Colombia, Britain, Sri Lanka, Canada and several other countries, and law enforcement agencies from more than a dozen nations were involved in the investigation, U.S. prosecutors said.
The accused ringleader in the U.S. cell, Alberto Yusi Lajud-Pena, was reportedly killed in the Dominican Republic late last month, prosecutors said. More investigations continue and other arrests have been made in other countries, but prosecutors did not have details.
An indictment unsealed Thursday accused Lajud-Pena and the other seven New York suspects of withdrawing $2.8 million in cash from hacked accounts in less than a day.
Such ATM fraud schemes are not uncommon, but the $45 million stolen in this one was at least double the amount involved in previously known cases, said Avivah Litan, an analyst who covers security issues for Gartner Inc.
Middle Eastern banks and payment processors are “a bit behind” on security and screening technologies that are supposed to prevent this kind of fraud, but it happens around the world, she said.
“It’s a really easy way to turn digits into cash,” Litan said.
Some of the fault lies with the ubiquitous magnetic strips on the back of the cards. The rest of the world has largely abandoned cards with magnetic strips in favor of ones with built-in chips that are nearly impossible to copy. But because U.S. banks and merchants have stuck to cards with magnetic strips, they are still accepted around the world.
Lynch would not say who masterminded the attacks globally, who the hackers are or where they were located, citing an ongoing investigation.
The New York suspects were U.S. citizens originally from the Dominican Republic, lived in the New York City suburb orf Yonkers and were mostly in their 20s. Lynch said they all knew one another and were recruited together, as were cells in other countries. They were charged with conspiracy and money laundering. If convicted, they face 10 years in prison.
Arrests began in March.
Lajud-Pena was found dead with a suitcase full of about $100,000 in cash, and the investigation into his death is continuing separately. Dominican officials said they arrested a man in the killing who said it was a botched robbery, and two other suspects were on the lam.
The first federal study of ATM fraud was 30 years ago, when the use of computers in the financial community was growing rapidly. At the time, the Bureau of Justice Statistics found nationwide ATM bank loss from fraud ranged from $70 and $100 million a year.
By 2008, that had risen to about $1 billion a year, said Ken Pickering, who works in security intelligence at CORE Security, a white-hat hacking firm that offers security to businesses.
He said he expects news of the latest ring to inspire other criminals.
“Once you see a large attack like this, that they made off with $45 million, that’s going to wake up the cybercrime community,” he said.
“Ripping off cash, you don’t get that back,” he said. “There are suitcases full of cash floating around now, and that’s just gone.”
At his press conference this week, President Obama tried to reassure Americans about ObamaCare. Instead, he displayed either an incredible lack of understanding about his own law, or something far worse.
Asked about increasing Democratic concern over what Sen. Max Baucus called a looming ObamaCare “train wreck,” Obama claimed that it’s all much ado about very little.
But almost nothing he said in defense of ObamaCare was accurate. Among his statements:
“A huge chunk of it’s already been implemented.”
In fact, all that’s been implemented so far are a few PR-friendly changes like a mandate to cover children up to age 26 and a more generous Medicare drug benefit.
Democrats put off the bulk of the law – the massive market regulations, the government-run exchanges, mandates to buy coverage, and various taxes and fees – until 2014, both to hide its true costs and to avoid any unpleasantness before the 2012 elections.
“For the 85% to 90% of Americans who already have health insurance… they don’t have to worry about anything else.”
Really? The Congressional Budget Office expects 7 million workers – and possibly as many as 20 million – will lose their employer coverage because of ObamaCare. That’s plenty to worry about.
The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services said millions of seniors will get dumped from their private Medicare Advantage plans by 2017 thanks to sharp payment cuts required by the law.
And small businesses now providing coverage face huge rate hikes thanks to ObamaCare’s many market regulations and benefit mandates. Maryland’s biggest insurer, nonprofit CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield, said ObamaCare will force rates up by 15% next year.
“The other stuff’s been implemented and it’s working fine.”
That’s only true if you ignore the fact that ObamaCare’s high-risk pools have been a disaster, attracting a third as many people as predicted while costing far more than the administration budgeted.
Or the fact that Obama had to issue more than 1,200 waivers to companies who said the law’s initial insurance market rules would have forced them to cancel coverage for millions of workers.
The overly complicated small-business tax credit has also been a bust, with only about 5% of eligible firms taking advantage of it. And so on.
“We’re going to be able to drive down costs… and that will save the country money as a whole over the long term.”
Except, Obama’s own health care number crunchers say ObamaCare will force national health spending up 7.4% in 2014, and add billions in costs over the next decade. The Congressional Budget Office says it will add massively to federal health spending.
And the architects of Obama’s reform wrote in the New England Journal of Medicine about how, despite ObamaCare, “health costs remain a major challenge.”
It all leads one to wonder: Is Obama just dangerously misinformed about ObamaCare? Or is he willfully misleading the country?
The Tsarnaev family, including the suspected terrorists and their parents, benefited from more than $100,000 in taxpayer-funded assistance – a bonanza ranging from cash and food stamps to Section 8 housing from 2002 to 2012, the Herald has learned.
“The breadth of the benefits the family was receiving was stunning,” said a person with knowledge of documents handed over to a legislative committee today.
The state has handed over more than 500 documents to the 11-member House Post Audit and Oversight Committee, which today met for the first time and plans to call in officials from the Department of Transitional Assistance to testify.
“I can assure members of the public that this committee will actively review every single piece of information we can find because clearly the public has a substantial right to know what benefits, if any, this family or individuals accused of some horrific crimes were receiving,” said state Rep. David Linsky (D-Natick), the committee’s chairman.
Linsky’s committee has requested documents from the DTA, the state’s Medicaid director and Health and Human Services Secretary John Polanowicz. But so far the committee has not released the records publicly, citing a privilege the DTA is asserting under state law.
Transitional assistance officials also told the Herald tonight that the agency was conducting its own investigation into whether Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s family ever notified the DTA about his extended trip to Russia, and has since expanded its probe to include a full history of the benefits received by the entire Tsarnaev family.