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News Story

CBP to End Surveillance Blimp Program Over High Costs

CBP’s surveillance climbs. Photo via CBP.

By Steve Neavling

CBP is discontinuing a seven-year-old program that funds the use of surveillance blimps in the Rio Grand Valley. 

U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar said the Tactical Aerostats and Re-Locatable Towers (TAS) program has become too costly, GovernmentTechnology.com reports

“It’s a self-inflicted wound because you all went ahead and got into contracts with vendors and you are paying too much, and I’ve been telling you for years to slow down and lower the price,” Cuellar said about Border Patrol leadership. 

The aerostats, equipped with radars and high-resolution and infrared cameras, can fly up to 5,000 feet. 

Cuellar said private contracts were paid too much. 

“The balloon is already paid for and all you are doing is paying millions of bucks to bring it up and down,” Cuellar said of the TAS contract.

CBP’s budget for the program has been $29 million a year since 2013. 

Cuellar is hoping to eventually revive the program by ending the use of private contracts to reduce the costs. 

“So what are they going to do with these aerostats now? So there’s a lot of questions once they get fully staffed at Homeland. I want to go into this,” Cuellar said.

Biden’s Homeland Security to Combat Domestic Violence Extremism with New Funds

Alex Gakos/Shutterstock.com

By Steve Neavling

The Biden administration plans to boost funding from the Department of Homeland Security to help study and prevent the rise of domestic violence extremism. 

“We have successfully advocated for additional funds. We intend to keep building on preventing domestic terrorism departmentwide,” a DHS official told NBC News.

The DHS’s Office of Targeted Violence and Terrorism Prevention provides funding for projects aimed at combating domestic extremism. The Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol underscores the threats from rising extremism. 

Under the Trump adminstatoin, the office provided $500,000 to allow American University to study the “growing threat of violent white supremacist extremist disinformation.” But the Trump administration also canceled a grant aimed at studying neo-Nazis. 

The Trump administration has been accused of ignoring the threats of domestic terrorism, a term that DHS didn’t use under Trump, according to Elizabeth Neumann, the former DHS’ assistant secretary for counterterrorism and threat prevention.

“We did expand domestic terrorism prevention under Trump, but when it came to questions of how we could change the domestic terrorism statute to charge people more easily, there were no adults at the White House who were willing to go there, nor was anyone willing to define the threat,” Neumann said.

Biden’s DHS isn’t shying away domestic violent extremism. 

“Domestic violent extremism poses one of the gravest threats to our homeland, and Secretary [Alejandro] Mayorkas has made clear that combatting it is a top priority. Our primary responsibility is to protect the safety and security of the American people, which means taking actions to prevent violence before it occurs,” a DHS spokesperson said.

Selfless TSA Agent Helps Family After They Flew to the Wrong Portland

TSA Office Martin Rio. Photo via TSA.

By Steve Neavling

A confused family found themselves in the wrong Portland after a travel agent booked them a flight to the wrong city.  

Instead of flying to Portland, Maine, the family of three landed 3,000 miles away in Portland, Oregon. 

That’s when TSA Officer Martin Rio came to the rescue. Asked to interpret for the Spanish-speaking travelers at a checkpoint, Rios figured out what had happened. 

“Martin is always quick to help out his team members,” Supervisory TSA officer Kaitlyn Arnold said in a news release. “He has a very positive attitude and is always smiling. I know I can always count on Martin to be dedicated to the mission.”

The confused and disheartened family spent the night in a terminal. Rios walked the family to the ticket counter and helped them buy the correct tickets. 

But the family was low on finances, so Rios dug into his pocket and covered the travel expenses. 

“[Rios] is a go getter and the fact that he chose to support these passengers in their time of need was no surprise to both his team and our leadership,” Senior TSA Manager Jeremy Alanis said. “Martin is, and has been since day one, a shining example of what it means to be a team player. [He’s] the kind of officer and person any airport in the country would be proud to have as a member of their team.”

Rios was awarded the PDX’s Make the Connection Quarterly Award for his actions. 

Oregon Man Accused of Stealing FBI Agent’s Guns, Ammo, Body Armor from Government Car

By Steve Neavling

A convicted felon from Oregon was arrested after authorities say he stole a rifle, pistol, ammunition and body armor from an FBI agent’s government car and then tried to sell the rifle to undercover investigators in exchange for cash and two pistols. 

Michael Stuart Francher, 29, is accused of making multiple trips to steal the items from the agent’s car, which was parked outside the agent’s Lane County home, on Jan. 11, according to court records reviewed by The Oregonian.  

After several weeks, Francher met with undercover investigators in a hotel room in Eugene to swap the rifle for $3,000 and two pistols, the ATF said. During the meeting, he told investigators he had stolen the rifle and that it had belonged to law enforcement, according to the ATF.  

After the swap, Francher was leaving the hotel when he tripped and fell after spotting officers, who then arrested him. 

While searching Francher’s car, police also found about a half-pound of meth and the agent’s ballistic vest and body armor. 

Francher has been charged with theft of government property and being a felon in possession of a firearm. He was ordered to remain jailed pending a trial. 

In 2018, Francher was convicted of theft, unlawful use of a motor vehicle, attempting to elude police, possession of meth and criminal trespass. In 2017, he was convicted of burglary and reckless burning. 

FBI Special Agent in Charge of Albuquerque Field Office Is Retiring

Special Agent James Langenberg

By Steve Neavling

James C. Langenberg, the special agent in charge of the FBI’s Albuquerque Field Office, is retiring after 25 years with the bureau. 

His last day is Saturday. 

“It has been an honor and a privilege serving as the special agent in charge of the Albuquerque Division,” Langenberg said in a statement. “Throughout my career, I have focused on the people, the partnerships, and the mission. The entire FBI team enabled me to succeed in New Mexico, and I will be forever grateful for their enduring support.”

His replacement has not yet been announced. 

Langenberg said he spent the last two years focused on national security threats. 

During his career with the bureau, Langenberg helped reduced crime working on the Violent Crime and Gang task forces and the FBI’s new Guardian squad, which investigates possible threats and shares intelligence with local, state, tribal and federal agencies. 

“On behalf of the Office of the U.S. Attorney, I extend our congratulations to an exemplary partner in our mission to defend justice and reduce violent crime in the District of New Mexico,” acting U.S. Attorney Fred Federici of the District of New Mexico said. “Jim Langenberg led the FBI’s Albuquerque Field Office with dignity, integrity, experience and, most importantly, a resolve to make our state a safer place to live and work. He has been steadfast in his commitment to ensuring the success of the Department’s operations and objectives. His presence will be sorely missed, but we wish him all the best in the next chapter of his life.”

U.S. Marshal Sonya K. Chavez added: “SAC Langenberg has not only been a strong partner for us at the United States Marshals Service, he has shown our wonderful state and its citizens that he is truly committed to doing all he can to make our communities stronger. His commitment to public service and to the people of New Mexico will leave a long-lasting impression here that will be remembered and appreciated long after he has retired.”

Langenberg’s career with the FBI began in 1996, when he was assigned to the Albuquerque Field Office investigating white collar crime, counterintelligence, and violent crime. He also was a member of the office’s SWAT team and a certified sniper. 

Rapper Kodak Black Offers to Pay College Tuition for Children of Slain FBI Agents

FBI Special Agents Daniel Alfin and Laura Schwartzenberger

By Steve Neavling

The popular rapper Kodak Black is offering to pay the college tuition of the children of the two FBI agents who were killed last week while trying to serve a search warrant at a Florida home.

Black, who was recently pardoned by President Trump, reached out to the FBI to make the offer to the three children because he “knows what it’s like to lose loved ones and grow up in a single-parent home, and he wants to make sure the mourning families don’t ever have to worry about sending their kids to college,” TMZ reports

Agents Daniel Alfin and Laura Schwartzenberger were fatally shot by a man accused of possessing child pornography. Alfin had a 3-year-old, and Schwartzenberger’s children were 4 and 9.

Black, whose legal name is Bill Kapri, was pardoned last month by Trump. In 2019, he was sentenced to 46 months in prison on federal weapons. 

It wasn’t immediately clear if the families accepted Kodak’s offer. 

Navy Veteran Accused of Helping Mastermind Jan. 6 Riot Worked for FBI, Lawyer Says

Trump supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday. Photo via Shutterstock.

By Steve Neavling

A Navy veteran accused of helping orchastrate the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol previously worked for the FBI and had top-secret security clearance, his attorney said. 

Thomas Edward Caldwell, a 66-year-old retired lieutenant commander and alleged leader of the far-right Oath Keepers militia group, worked as a section chief for the FBI from 2009 and 2010, his attorney Thomas Plofchan said in a motion urging the judge to release his client on bond, Newsweek reports.

“He [Caldwell] has been vetted and found numerous times as a person worthy of the trust and confidence of the United States government, as indicated by granting him Top Secret clearances,” Plofchan wrote on Monday.

Caldwell was arrested in Virginia on Jan. 19 on federal counts of conspiracy destruction of government property, obstruction of an official proceeding, and violent entry or disorderly conduct. He’s accused of coordinating with members of the Oath Keepers. 

The claims about his FBI service and high security clearance raise serious concerns about alleged insurrectionists’ ties to military and law enforcement.

Biden Administration Plans to Remove Most of Trump’s U.S. Attorneys

court

By Steve Neavling

The Biden administration plans to soon remove nearly all of the U.S. attorneys appointed by President Trump, but will allow a couple of federal prosecutors to stay on so they can continue working on highly sensitive investigations.

One of the prosecutors who will remain is U.S. Attorney David Weiss, who is overseeing the investigation into President Joe Biden’s son Hunter Biden, The Washington Post reports. The other prosecutor is Michael R. Sherwin, who is handling the insurrection-related prosecutions.  

Trump made a similar purge during his first year as president. 

Some Trump-appointed U.S. attorneys have already stepped down or have announced they are planning to resign. 

Biden may begin asking dozens of federal prosecutors to resign as early as Tuesday.