Wednesday federal headlines – August 21, 2013

The Morning Federal Newscast is a daily compilation of the stories you hear Federal Drive hosts Tom Temin and Emily Kopp discuss throughout the show each day. The Newscast is designed to give users more information about the stories you hear on the air.

  • Four State Department security bureau employees have been cleared of security failures in last September’s attack on the compound in Benghazi, Libya. They’ll all get new assignments. An internal review concluded no breach of duty occurred. Among the four are Eric Boswell, assistant secretary of state for diplomatic security; Charlene Lamb, deputy assistant secretary responsible for embassy security; and Raymond Maxwell, deputy assistant secretary of state who oversaw Libya, Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco. A spokeswoman says no other are under investigation. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three others were killed in the terrorist attack. (Associated Press)
  • The Obama administration has rejected even limited U.S. military intervention in Syria. That’s because officials can’t figure out who the good guys are. The Chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff lays out the non-intervention case in a letter to Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.). Gen. Martin Dempsey says administration officials don’t think the rebels battling Syrian President Bashar El Assad would support U.S. interests if they succeeded in taking over. Dempsey says the Syrian civil war is not between two sides but among many groups. He argues U.S. military aid would offer no strategy for peace. (Associated Press)
  • President Barack Obama chided the Securities and Exchange Commission for slow implementation of new financial laws. He spoke to an agency with lots of holes in its leadership. The Wall Street Journal has found the SEC is plagued with executive turnover. Chairman Mary Jo White is the third boss in nine months. Three of five commissioners have left since December. In the past year, four of the agency’s five divisional chiefs have stepped down. Since June, four regional directors and enforcement chiefs have left. They had a combined 103 years of experience. An insider tells the Journal, employees are worn down by the turnover and hectoring by Congress. (Wall Street Journal)
  • An explosion has injured eight people at the Earle Naval Weapons Station in Middletown, N.J. Seven were treated at area hospitals and released, including a civilian firefighter. One sailor stayed to undergo surgery for a broken arm. The Navy hasn’t released the victims’ names. A spokeswoman says the explosion was accidental and that nearby ammunition and ordnance were not affected. The blast occurred in a boathouse where the victims were doing maintenance on an aluminum utility vessel. (Associated Press)
  • The National Security Agency can track 75 percent of Americans’ Internet communications as it hunts for foreign threats. The Wall Street Journal reports, the NSA also keeps the content of some emails between U.S. citizens and filters domestic phone calls made over the Internet. The agency has limited authority to spy on Americans. Officials tell the Journal the NSA discards much of the data that does not involve foreigners. Meanwhile, the NSA is still trying to assess the damage done by former contractor Edward Snowden. Sources tell NBC News the agency does not know exactly how many documents Snowden took or what they are. (Wall Street Journal)
  • A military judge brings some closure to the three-year-old WikiLeaks saga today. She’ll sentence Army Pvt. Bradley Manning for leaking classified information to the web site. Prosecutors want Manning to spend 60 years in prison for violating the Espionage Act and other laws. Manning’s defense attorneys are hoping for 25 years. They have tried to paint a sympathetic portrait of a gay and idealistic, if misguided, soldier in a repressive military culture that ignored signs of mental illness. Manning apologized to the courtroom last week, saying he thought he was helping and not hurting people. (Associated Press)
  • The Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit has dealt what federal whistleblower advocates are calling “a major blow.” In Kaplan v. Conyers, the panel considered the rights of two Defense Department employees who appealed to the Merit Systems Protection Board after they were suspended and demoted. Because the two held sensitive positions, the Appeals Court says, the Board has no authority to review their cases. Federal employees’ unions and advocates say they’re disappointed. They say the Court potentially has ended due process rights of tens of thousands of national security employees. (U.S. Court of Appeals)
  • Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan says the court hasn’t really “gotten to” email. She told an audience at Brown University in Rhode Island yesterday that justices prefer pens and paper. She says they’re not “necessarily the most technologically sophisticated people.” But Kagan says the members are trying to understand new technology as they grapple with legal issues concerning data and privacy. She says some justices tried their hands at gaming while deliberating a case about violent video games. She says “it was kind of hilarious.” (Associated Press)
  • The Pentagon says same-sex spouses of service members can line up for official identification cards beginning Sept. 3. Navy Lt. Cmdr. Nate Christensen says service members will have to show a valid marriage certificate from a state or country that recognizes same-sex marriages. TRICARE also opens to same-sex spouses that day. Christensen says other benefits, including allowances for basic housing and family separation, are retroactive from the date of the Supreme Court’s decision on the Defense of Marriage Act, June 26. (Defense Department)
  • The IRS is doing a poor job of managing its software licenses. It’s not paying for all the licenses employees are using. In other cases, it’s not using all the licenses it is paying for. Those are among the conclusions of a new audit by the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration. The IG found the IRS lacks policies and procedures for software license management. It also lacks the tools necessary to automate software license management. That inattention exposes the agency to potential fines and recoveries by software vendors. The IG, J. Russell George, recommends the IRS technology shop acquire the tools necessary to get licensing under control. (Treasury)
  • IBM has agreed to acquire Trusteer, an Israeli software company specializing in preventing financial fraud. IBM says the addition will help it provide more trustworthy cloud computing services. Trusteer specializes in protection of Web applications, mobile devices and end-user computers. It claims special expertise in advanced persistent threats and malware. Most of its customers are banks. As part of the deal IBM will establish a new cybersecurity research lab in Israel with 200 scientists and developers. IBM recently won a spot on $1 billion Interior Department multiple- award cloud computing contract. (IBM)