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Archive for October, 2021

Homeland Security Secretary Mayorkas Tests Positive for COVID-19

Homeland Security Director Alejandro Mayorkas.

By Steve Neavling

Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, who is fully vaccinated, tested positive for COVID-19 on Tuesday. 

“Secretary Mayorkas tested positive this morning for the COVID-19 virus after taking a test as part of routine pre-travel protocols,” spokesperson Marsha Espinosa said in a statement, CBS News reports. “Secretary Mayorkas is experiencing only mild congestion.”

Mayorkas plans to work from home. In the meantime, contact tracing is underway. 

On Saturday, Mayorkas attended the annual National Police Officers’ Memorial Service at the U.S. Capitol with President Biden, First Lady Jill Biden, FBI Director Christopher Wray and other high-ranking officials. 

Mayorkas had a COVID-19 scare in July, when he worked from home after having close contact with a DHS employee who tested positive for the virus. 

Mayorkas had planned to appear before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday. It’s unclear if he still plans to appear remotely. 

Fake DEA and FBI Badges Seized

By Allan Lengel

Fake DEA and FBI badges were seized last month.

Real DEA badge

U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers seized eight fake DEA badge and one FBI badge at the Chicago International Mail Branch.

Days later, CBP officers found 26 fake DEA badges destined for places including Washington, Iowa, Kentucky, Florida, California, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Virginia, Indiana, Ohio, Illinois and Texas, Fox 29 of Texas reports.

The badges came from China.

“Unfortunately, there is the propensity for drug traffickers to portray themselves as police in an attempt to rob, other drug narcotics distributors,” Richard Sanchez, DEA special agent in charge of the Rio Grande Area, tells the station.

“Unfortunately in our day and age, replication of DEA badges as well as law enforcement badges, in general, are readily available for purchase.”

Assaults Against Law Enforcement Up in 2020, FBI Stats Show

By Allan Lengel

Assaults against law enforcement are up in 2020, the FBI reports.

Chicago Police Department squad car.

More than 60,000 law enforcement officers were assaulted in the line of duty last year, up 7.2 percent from 2019, CNN reports, citing an FBI report released Monday. Of those assaulted, about 30 percent suffered injuries.

The FBI reported in May that 93 officers were killed in the line of duty last year, 46 of which were the result of felonious acts.

There were 245 Covid-19 deaths among police officers in 2020. 

FBI Arrives in Haiti to Help Negotiate for Release of 17 Missionaries Who Were Kidnapped

By Steve Neavling

FBI agents are in Haiti to help negotiate for the release of 16 American missionaries and one Canadian who were abducted by a gang Saturday. 

The agents arrived on Sunday, just hours after confirmation that 17 Christian missionaries, including five children and several elderly people, were abducted at a checkpoint Saturday, The Miami Herald reports.

“The welfare and safety of U.S. citizens abroad is one of the highest priorities of the Department of State,” the State Department said in a statement. “We have been in regular contact with senior Haitian authorities and will continue to work with them and interagency partners. We will provide additional information as we are able.”

The “400 Mawozo” gang is known for extorting businesses and kidnapping people for ransom. It’s responsible for about 80% of the kidnappings that occur in Haiti, according to Gédéon Jean, who runs the Center for Analysis and Research in Human Rights in Port-au-Prince. 

In April, the gang abducted Roman Catholic clergy. 

“This is the type of kidnapping that 400 Mawozo do; we call it a collective kidnapping where they kidnap any entire bus or car,” Jean said.

Biden Supports DOJ Prosecuting Trump Allies Who Defy Subpoena to Testify

U.S. Capitol

By Steve Neavling

President Biden said he supports prosecuting Trump allies and officials who defy subpoenas to testify before the House Select Committee that is investigating the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol. 

“I hope the committee goes after them and holds them accountable,” Biden told CNN’s Kaitlan Collins on Friday.

Asked if he supports prosecution for those people, Biden responded, “I do, yes.”

Committee leaders said they were taking steps to hold Steve Bannon, a Trump ally and former administration officials, in contempt, for refusing to comply with a subpoena. 

Ultimately, the decision belongs to the Justice Department, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said when asked about it Thursday. 

“That would be up to the Department of Justice, and it would be their purview to determine. They’re an independent agency,” she told reporters at a White House press briefing on October 8. “They’re independent. They would determine any decision on criminal prosecutions. I’d point you to them and, of course, the committee.”

The Justice Department hasn’t said yet what it plans to do. 

“The Department of Justice will make its own independent decisions in all prosecutions based solely on the facts and the law. Period. Full stop,” DOJ spokesman Anthony Coley said Friday. 

40% of TSA Employees Face Potential Termination As Vaccine Deadline Looms

By Steve Neavling

About 40% of TSA’s workforce remains unvaccinated and could be terminated if they don’t roll up their sleeves by the Nov. 22 deadline. 

TSA Administrator David Pekoske told CNN that he’s “very hopeful” that the agency’s roughly 24,000 employees will meet the deadline. But for those who don’t, there are “contingency plans” being developed, he said.

“We have about 60 percent of our workforce has been vaccinated, that that number needs to go quite a bit higher over the next few weeks,” Pekoske said. “We are building contingency plans for if we do have some staffing shortages as a result of this, but I hope to avoid that.”

Pekoske is using town hall meetings to encourage employees to get vaccinated. 

But it may be too late for some employees. The Moderna vaccine, for example, is administered four weeks apart. It takes another two weeks for the patient to be considered fully vaccinated. 

The deadline, created by President Biden’s administration, comes just before the busy Thanksgiving travel period. 

Fired McCabe Wins Back Pension 3 Years After Trump Fired Him Just Before Retirement

Former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, via FBI.

By Steve Neavling

Former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, who was fired just hours before his scheduled retirement in 2018, won back his pension and other benefits. 

McCabe filed a lawsuit against the Justice Department in August 2019, saying he was unjustly terminated at the “unlawful whims” of then-President Donald Trump. McCabe initiated special counsel’s Russia investigation, which Trump baselessly called a “witch hunt.”

On Thursday, McCabe reached a settlement with the Justice Department, which rescinded his dismissal and allowed him to retire with full pension benefits, The Washington Post reports.

“Politics should never play a role in the fair administration of justice and civil service personnel decisions,” McCabe said in a statement through the Arnold & Porter law firm. “. . . I hope that this result encourages the men and women of the FBI to continue to protect the American people by standing up for the truth and doing their jobs without fear of political retaliation.”

One of the firm’s attorney, Murad Hussain, said civil servants have a duty to the Constitution, not a political party or individual. 

“This settlement and the district court’s rulings make clear that attempts to corrupt the federal workforce through partisan intimidation and improper political influence will not go unanswered,” Hussain said.

TSA Seizes Record Number of Guns at Airport Checkpoints This Year

By Steve Neavling

The TSA seized a record number of guns at airport security checkpoints this year, with three months left in 2021 and fewer passengers traveling due to COVID-19. 

In the first nine months of this year, TSA officers stopped 4,495 passengers who tried to carry firearms through checkpoints, setting a 20-year record. The previous record was 4,432 in 2019. 

A decade ago, 1,320 guns were seized. 

“The number of firearms that our TSA officers are stopping at airport checkpoints is alarming,” TSA Administrator David Pekoske said in a statement. “Firearms, particularly loaded firearms, introduce an unnecessary risk at checkpoints, have no place in the passenger cabin of an airplane, and represent a very costly mistake for the passengers who attempt to board a flight with them.”

It’s not entirely clear why more travelers are bringing guns to airports. 

Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport led the nation in gun seizures at 391 this year, followed by Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport with 232 and George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston with 168, the agency said.