Saturday, March 31, 2007

TJX data breach: At 45.6M card numbers, it's the biggest ever

TJX data breach: At 45.6M card numbers, it's the biggest ever
Jaikumar Vijayan

March 29, 2007 (Computerworld) After more than two months of refusing to reveal the size and scope of its data breach, TJX Companies Inc. is finally offering more details about the extent of the compromise.

In filings with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission yesterday, the company said 45.6 million credit and debit card numbers were stolen from one of its systems over a period of more than 18 months by an unknown number of intruders. That number eclipses the 40 million records compromised in the mid-2005 breach at CardSystems Solutions and makes the TJX compromise the worst ever involving the loss of personal data.

In addition, personal data provided in connection with the return of merchandise without receipts by about 451,000 individuals in 2003 was also stolen. The company is in the process of contacting individuals affected by the breach, TJX said in its filings.

"Given the scale and geographic scope of our business and computer systems and the time frames involved in the computer intrusion, our investigation has required a substantial period of time to date and is not completed," the company said.

Framingham, Mass.-based TJX is the owner of a number of retail brands, including T.J.Maxx, Marshalls and Bob's Stores. In January, the company announced that someone had illegally accessed one of its payment systems and made off with card data belonging to an unspecified number of customers in the U.S., Canada, Puerto Rico and potentially the U.K. and Ireland.

At the time, TJX said it believed the intrusion took place in May 2006 but wasn't discovered until mid-December -- seven months later. A few weeks later, the company revised those dates and said that an investigation by IBM and General Dynamics, two companies it hired in the wake of the breach discovery, believed the intrusion may have taken place in July 2005.

Several banks and credit unions around the country and in the other affected regions had to block and reissue thousands of payment cards as a result of the breach.

In its filing, TJX confirmed that its systems were first accessed illegally in July 2005 and then on several occasions later in 2005, 2006 and even once in mid-January 2007 -- after the breach had already been discovered. However, no data appears to have been stolen after Dec. 18, when the intrusion was first noticed.

The systems that were broken into were based in Framingham and processed and stored information related to payment cards, checks and merchandise returned without receipts. The data breach affected customers of its T.J.Maxx, Marshalls, HomeGoods and A.J. Wright stores in the U.S. and Puerto Rico. Also affected were customers of its Winners and HomeSense stores in Canada and TK Maxx stores in the U.K.

It is hard to know exactly what kind of data was stolen because a lot of the information accessed by intruders was deleted by the company in the normal course of business. "In addition, the technology used by the intruder has, to date, made it impossible for us to determine the contents of most of the files we believe were stolen in 2006," the company said. It did not elaborate on the technology it was referring to.

Customer names and addresses were not included with any of the payment card data believed stolen from the Framingham systems, TJX said. Also, the company "generally" did not store Track 2 data from the magnetic stripe on the back of payment cards for transactions after September 2003, TJX said. Also by April 3, 2006, the company had begun to mask payment card PIN data and "some other portions of payment card transaction information" as well as check transaction information, the company said.

"We are continuing to try to identify information stolen in the computer intrusion through our investigation, but other than the information provided ... we believe that we may never be able to identify much of the information believed stolen," TJX said.

The company has so far spent about $5 million in connection with the breach, although it is hard to say what other costs may be incurred, the company warned. It cited several lawsuits that have been filed against it since the breach was announced. The company was sued recently by the Arkansas Carpenters Pension Fund, one of its shareholders, for its failure to divulge more details about the breach.

Avivan Litan, an analyst with Stamford,Conn.based Gartner Inc., expressed surprise at the scope of the breach. "I had heard rumors that it was bigger than CardSystems, but I was still somewhat shocked it was actually this big."

The number involved in the breach "makes this the biggest card heist ever," she said. "It proves there are still very sophisticated cybercriminals out there at large who have the potential to wreak havoc on pure-payment systems and who have already stolen millions of dollars from consumers and financial institutions," she said.

"If this isn't a wakeup call for stronger card and payment system security, I'm not sure what is," she said.

TJX's disclosure comes just days after six Florida residents were arrested for allegedly launching a multimillion-dollar statewide credit card fraud ring using information stolen from the company. Losses experienced by Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and other retailers because of the fraud have so far totaled at least $8 million.


White House use of outside e-mail raises red flags

White House use of outside e-mail raises red flags
Todd R. Weiss

March 29, 2007 (Computerworld) For official government business, staff members in the Bush White House use government-issued e-mail accounts where all communications are then stored, archived and preserved for eventual inclusion in the National Archives.

But for several years, some high-ranking Bush staff members have also apparently been using outside e-mail accounts for nongovernmental, political communications. Those accounts, through the Republican National Committee (RNC) and the 2004 Bush-Cheney re-election campaign, allowed the officials to keep up with both their official and political responsibilities while not violating the Hatch Act. That law forbids many government officials from engaging in political activities from their workplaces.

While the focus of those particular incidents is on the White House, the issue is one that should be getting close scrutiny from businesses across the nation, experts said.

The concern is that if company communications are being conducted outside official corporate e-mail systems, there's no way to control their security, preservation or use, something that can leave companies vulnerable to a wide variety of legal problems and regulatory compliance issues.

In the White House case this week, the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform sent letters Monday to the chairmen of the RNC and the former Bush-Cheney 2004 campaign committee, asking them to explain more about the use of the outside e-mail accounts. In the letters, Oversight Committee Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) said his group wants to know what's been done to preserve the contents of the outside e-mail accounts used by government officials for possible review and to assure that "no e-mails involving official White House business have been destroyed or altered.

"Congressional investigations have revealed that White House officials have used nongovernmental e-mail accounts, including those maintained by the RNC, to conduct official White House business," the letters said. "The Committee has questions about who has access to these e-mail records and how the RNC protects them from destruction or tampering. The Committee also directs you to preserve all such records because of their potential relevance to congressional investigations. Such e-mails written in the conduct of White House business would appear to be govemmental records subject to preservation and eventual public disclosure."

The Oversight Committee first learned of the outside e-mail accounts during investigations of White House contacts with convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff, which found "that many of the e-mail exchanges between Jack Abramoff and White House officials were conducted via nongovernmental e-mail accounts. In at least one [incoming message to Abramoff], the e-mails indicate that these nonofficial accounts were being used because 'to put this stuff in writing in their [White House] e-mail system ... might actually limit what they can do to help us.'"

Waxman today sent a similar letter to White House Counsel Fred Fielding (download PDF), asking for "information and a briefing regarding the e-mail policies of the White House" next week.

White House records fall under the Presidential Records Act of 1978, which was established to govern and manage the collection and use of all presidential records.

White House spokesman David Almacy said the outside e-mail accounts were set up to allow legitimate political activities to be conducted by appropriate staff members without using White House accounts, which would be illegal under the Hatch Act. "It was specifically set up that way so that people weren't using their official accounts for political activities," he said. Only certain White House staff members have such outside accounts, including those who regularly communicate with outside political groups, he said.

The creation and use of the outside e-mail accounts has been reviewed by White House lawyers, he said.

Since 2004, e-mails to and from White House staff members sent through the RNC e-mail system are archived and saved, he said. White House staff members are not able to access other home or other personal e-mail accounts on their work-issued computers because access is blocked, he said. "The reason primarily is presidential records and security. We want to be able to control what people bring onto their [work] computers. From a presidential records perspective, this is something that we take very seriously," Almacy said.

The White House e-mail case should be a wake-up call for businesses that face similar situations, said John Alber, a technology lawyer at Bryan Cave LLP in St. Louis. The problem, he said, is that all business communications must be securely archived and stored in the event of lawsuits, government inquiries or other legal scenarios. When such records aren't tightly controlled, any large unsubstantiated gaps in the stored data can mean disaster in court, he said.

A major issue is that virtually every business is overwhelmed today by the volume of electronic records and communications, he said. His own law firm is experiencing 60% increases in e-mail storage requirements each year for its 800 attorneys and other staff members. "It is nowadays a de facto document repository," he said of the law firm's Microsoft Exchange server system. "It is often that [some legal documents] only exist in an e-mail repository right now in Exchange," which wasn't designed for the long-term storage and archiving of such documents.

"If companies aren't worried about this, they'd better get worried," Alber said. "It's truly important stuff. Everybody has this problem. It's simply because of the way we do business. Almost everybody's behind the curve."

Michele Lang, a staff attorney for legal discovery software vendor Kroll Ontrack Inc. in Eden Prairie, Minn., said "there are a whole bunch of lessons" for businesses to take away from the unfolding White House e-mail case.

"Corporate America is having this very same problem with employees using [free consumer e-mail accounts from] Google, Yahoo or Hotmail," Lang said. By doing so, those employees are often storing sensitive corporate information with free services that don't have the data security, compliance and archiving that companies should mandate, she said.

"That's a scary situation for corporate America. Definitely there are loads of landmines here for the government ... and for corporate America to navigate."


Friday, March 30, 2007

Bedtime for Gonzo

Huffington Post
Paul Abrams
Bedtime for Gonzo

Although it may turn out that the US Attorney firings were "only" blatantly political, and not criminally corrupt, the lies are knee-jerk reactions of the Bush Administration, and its roots go deeply into the entire rightwing enterprise that has been created in the last 30 years. Why, one might ask, would they coverup "nothing"?

From their tin ear to the terrorism threat prior to 9/11, to the denial of the human contribution to global warming, and from the SwiftBoating of John Kerry to the "they will follow us home" claim for prolonging the war they lost in Iraq, the Bush Administration's addiction to lying (or, as his predecessor, Nixon, called it, "misspeaking") arises from two underlying contradictions in the radical rightwing playbook.

First, very much like Yasser Arafat who would say one thing in English for the world press, and another in Arabic for his constituents, the radical rightwing have one message for their own groups feeding their faithful the red meat of hatred of anything "foreign" or multilateral, scorn for anything scientific, and derision for anything that limits their vision of a unilaterally acting United States on the world stage or domestic policies that put the public interest over their private interests. Gingrich wanted to dismantle several US departments, and did cancel the Office of Technology Assessment whose role was to provide Congress the same factual understanding of technology as the Congressional Budget Office does for tax and budget policies. He also wanted social security and medicare to "wither on the vine". Bush et al. ignored Richard Clarke's warnings of a terrorist attack because taking that seriously would have meant dollars spent on personnel, and not on their big-technology purchases for Star Wars.

On the other hand, the American people want almost none of that, and the rightwing knows it. Every time the rightwing has tried to be honest about their intentions, they lose. As proof of that observation, note that when they came after Social Security and Medicare in the '90s, they called it "saving" those programs, whereas in fact their proposals gutted them. (Frank Luntz, their wordsmithing guru, taught them to say, "we are just decreasing the rate of increase", but the truth they were proposing absolute decreases). They passed very few of the 9/11 Commission recommendations---because to do so would cost their patrons money---but they have learned the refrain that they care about the safety of the American people. Or, just recall John Bolton explaining why someone (himself) who proclaimed that it would be fine if the UN Secretariat's top floors were demolished, stated at a rightwing belief tank to establish his bona fides, ought to be UN Ambassador, as he tried to do at his confirmation hearing.

So, living with two truths (actually, two lies) is second nature to the radical rightwing. They cannot do what they want to do straightforwardly, and so they become trained dissemblers. With enough practice, they can do it and likely pass a lie detector test. Belief helps---they believe their cause is so just that any means employed is justifiable. Valerie Plame was "fair game". Terry Schiavo's dignity was also fair game. Lying about the impact of medicare reductions on the elderly---fair game. Taking us into Iraq to (they thought) bolster their domestic political power---fair game.

Mr. Gonzales's kneejerk reaction to deny the political nature of the dismissals was right out of their playbook. There is a suggestion in the blogs (BradsBlog) that these attorneys were replaced in states where they could make mischief in the 2008 elections (e.g., Arkansas and Hillary Clinton; New Mexico and Bill Richardson). Oh, did I forget to mention the Florida 2000 vote? Fair game.

What they are discovering, but not admitting, is that their beliefs do not overcome reality. Iraq, Katrina, Global Warming. Scooter Libby had his comeuppance. This time, it is Bedtime for Gonzo.


Suicide bombers kill 130 in Iraq

Suicide bombers kill 130 in Iraq
By Ahmed Rasheed

BAGHDAD, Iraq (Reuters) - Suicide bombers killed nearly 130 people in a crowded market in a Shi'ite district of Baghdad and a mainly Shi'ite town on Thursday, one of the bloodiest days in Iraq in months.

The upsurge in sectarian violence threatens all-out civil war and Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, a Shi'ite, called for restraint and urged Iraqis to work with security forces to prevent the violence spiraling out of control. Bombs earlier this week in northern Iraq sparked mass reprisal killings.

Two suicide bombers wearing vests packed with explosives killed 76 people in a market in the Shaab district of northern Baghdad, police and medical sources said, in what appeared to be the latest of a string of attacks on Shi'ite districts and towns blamed on al Qaeda. More than 100 were wounded.

"It is impossible to tell the exact number of dead because we are basically counting body parts," said a Health Ministry official in Baghdad, who asked not to be named.

Most of the victims were women and children, who had been out shopping in the crowded market before the start of the nightly curfew, he said.

At about the same time, three suicide car bombs exploded within minutes of each other in Khalis, 80 km (50 miles) north of Baghdad, killing 53 people and wounding 103, police said.

There has been a spike in bloodshed, particularly outside the Iraqi capital, in recent days. Violence between majority Shi'ites and minority Sunnis has killed tens of thousands in the past year.

On Tuesday two truck bombs killed 85 people in a Shi'ite area of Tal Afar in northern Iraq. In the hours after those blasts Shi'ite gunmen, including police, shot dead up to 70 Sunni Arab men in reprisal.

The top U.S. commander in Iraq, General David Petraeus, confirmed on Thursday police appeared to have carried out "retribution killings" after the bombings, which he blamed on al Qaeda. Iraq's Sunni vice-president urged the Shi'ite-led government to do more to purge the security forces of militias.

In Khalis, one car bomb exploded in a commercial area and a second at a police checkpoint leading to the police headquarters and court building, police said. A third bomber attacked police patrols rushing to the scene.

"It was a scene of horror. There were charred bodies and human remains scattered about," said one policeman who spoke on condition of anonymity.


A survivor of the Shaab market blast in Baghdad, Wissam Hashim Ali, 27, told Reuters the market had been "very, very crowded" at the time of the blasts.

"I saw heads separated from the bodies and legs blown off," he said in hospital, where he was receiving treatment for his wounds.

Maliki's office said in a statement the prime minister condemned the bombs and called on Iraqis "not to let evil-doers have their way and to cooperate with security forces, who are determined to cleanse Iraq of terrorism".

New U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker told his swearing-in ceremony that "terrorists, insurgents and militias continue to threaten security in Baghdad and around the country" and called Iraq America's "most critical foreign policy challenge".

The U.S. Senate, following the House of Representatives, passed a war-funding bill on Thursday that sets a goal of withdrawing all U.S. combat soldiers from Iraq within a year.

President George W. Bush, who has vowed to veto the measure, is sending up to 30,000 additional troops to Iraq, most of them to support a major security crackdown under way in Baghdad, epicenter of the violence.

While this crackdown has succeeded in reducing the number of deaths in the capital, violence has surged elsewhere.

(Additional reporting by Dean Yates and Claudia Parsons in Baghdad)


Ex-aide disputes Gonzales statements on firings

Ex-aide disputes Gonzales statements on firings
By Thomas Ferraro

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales wrongly claimed he was not involved in the firing of federal prosecutors, his former chief of staff told Congress on Thursday.

Kyle Sampson also said he shared vital information with Justice Department colleagues about the dismissal of eight of the nation's 93 U.S. attorneys last year, despite assertions to the contrary by the attorney general.

"I never sought to conceal or withhold any material fact on this matter from anyone," Sampson, who helped orchestrate the ousters, told the Senate Judiciary Committee.

"Others in the department knew what I knew about the origins and timing of this enterprise," Sampson said.

The dismissals have triggered a firestorm, fanned by charges the firings may have been politically motivated, and calls for Gonzales to resign.

The administration contends the dismissals were justified, based largely on performance or policy differences. Newly disclosed documents also show loyalty was a factor.

While Sampson defended the firings overall, he voiced regret near the end of the all-day hearing about the ouster of one of the prosecutors, David Iglesias of New Mexico.

"In hindsight, I wish that the department hadn't gotten down this road at all," Sampson said. "That's one of the reasons I resigned" this month.

Iglesias was ousted largely for what now appear to be questionable complaints he inadequately pursued election fraud.

His dismissal came after Iglesias resisted what he described as pressure from two U.S. Republican lawmakers to bring charges in a probe involving New Mexico Democrats. The two lawmakers deny it.


Gonzales, in what could be a make-or-break bid to keep his job, is to appear before the committee next month.

President George W. Bush has voiced support for Gonzales, but also told him to go to Capitol Hill to ease concerns.

White House spokeswoman Dana Perino, after Sampson's testimony was completed, said, "The president continues to have confidence in the attorney general and believes he can overcome these challenges."

The investigation is part of a drive by the new Democratic-led Congress to increase oversight over how the administration operates.

At a March 13 news conference, Gonzales said, "The mistake that occurred here was that information that he (Sampson) had was not shared with individuals within the department who were then going to be providing testimony and information to the Congress."

Gonzales also had said he was not involved in discussions about the firings. But he sought to clarify his position after the recent disclosure of an internal document showed otherwise.

Subsequently, Gonzales said he was not involved in deliberations over which prosecutors should go, only getting involved at the end. U.S. attorneys serve at the pleasure of the president.

Sampson said, "I don't think the attorney general's statement that he was not involved in any discussions about U.S. attorney removals is accurate."

He testified that Gonzales "was aware of this process from the beginning in early 2005. ... Ultimately he approved both the list and the notion of going forward and asking for these resignations." He said both Gonzales and former White House counsel Harriet Miers were directly involved in at least one of the reviews.

Congressional subpoenas have been authorized for Miers, Bush political adviser Karl Rove and other White House aides. The president has vowed to oppose any attempt to compel sworn testimony from them.

(Additional reporting by Tabassum Zakaria and James Vicini)


Arab leaders urge Israel to take peace offer

Arab leaders urge Israel to take peace offer
By Wafa Amr and Andrew Hammond

RIYADH (Reuters) - Arab leaders on Thursday endorsed a 5-year-old peace plan to end conflict with Israel, and the Israeli prime minister said he saw a "revolutionary change" in the Arab world.

The endorsement at a two-day Arab summit came amid a U.S. push to restart the Middle East peace process, and Washington described it as "very positive".

The Palestinian president warned of more violence if the "hand of peace" was rejected and the prime minister of Israel, which turned down the plan in 2002, described the summit as "a serious affair".

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Saudi Arabia, which hosted the summit, was the Arab country that would "eventually determine the Arabs' ability to reach a compromise with Israel", Israeli media quoted him as saying.

"This process has brought the influential countries in the Arab world to begin to realize that Israel is not the biggest of all their troubles. This is a revolutionary change in their perception."

Speaking at the end of the summit, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas urged Israel not to waste the chance for peace.

"I reiterate the sincerity of the Palestinian will in extending the hand of peace to the Israeli people ... We should not waste more chances in the history of this long and painful cause," Abbas told the closing ceremony in Riyadh.

The plan, endorsed in a general communique read at the end of the summit, offers Israel normal ties with Arab states in return for withdrawal from land seized in the 1967 war and the creation of a Palestinian state.

The summit also agreed to set up an Arab committee to follow up the initiative, headed by Saudi Arabia.

"The willingness of the Saudis to lead, to intervene is certainly interesting," Olmert said.

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said the Arabs should use the plan "as a point of active diplomacy and as a way of energizing the push for peace in the Middle East".


Rejected by Israel when it was originally proposed at a Beirut summit in 2002, the plan faces important hurdles.

Israel objects to key points, including a return to 1967 borders, the inclusion of Arab East Jerusalem in a Palestinian state and the potential return of Palestinian refugees to what is now Israel.

But Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal said Israel was subjecting "not only the region but itself to dangers with unpredictable repercussions" if it ignored peace offers.

The summit came against a tense regional backdrop, amid a standoff between Iran and the west over Tehran's nuclear program.

The United States and other western countries accuse Iran of using its nuclear program, which Tehran says is designed only to produce electricity, as a cover for making nuclear bombs.

The summit warned of the danger of a nuclear arms race in the region, though it also stressed the right of every country to possess nuclear energy for peaceful uses.

(Additional reporting by Souhail Karam)


Senate approves '08 goal to bring troops home

Senate approves '08 goal to bring troops home
By Richard Cowan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Senate on Thursday defied a veto threat by President George W. Bush and joined with the House of Representatives in backing a timetable for withdrawing American combat troops from Iraq.

In a mostly party-line 51-47 vote, the Democratic-controlled Senate told Bush to start withdrawing the troops this year with the goal of getting all combat soldiers out by March 31, 2008.

"The ball is in the president's court. We have done what we needed to do" by passing a bill with even more money for the troops and veterans than Bush requested, said House Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat.

White House spokeswoman Dana Perino called the deadline legislation "well outside the mainstream." But she added, "If they want to compromise -- and I understand that the (House) speaker and the (Senate) majority leader said that they do -- then we're willing to talk to them on ways that their bills can be changed in order to get to the president's desk so that it doesn't meet his veto."

Democrats took control of Congress in January, after elections that largely focused on Republicans' handling of a war that has now claimed more than 3,200 American lives and at least 65,000 Iraqi soldiers and civilians.

The Senate vote marked progress for anti-war Democrats, who just two weeks ago mustered only 48 votes in a failed attempt to set identical deadlines.

Bush has argued that setting a deadline encourages the enemy to wait it out and hurts military commanders' flexibility. He has promised to veto any legislation that sets withdrawal timetables, which Democrats have attached to about $100 billion in war funds for the next six months.


Now, House and Senate negotiators will try to work out a compromise from their two bills. Their most notable difference is that the House bill contains a mandatory September 1, 2008, deadline for redeploying combat troops. The Senate's shorter timetable is a goal, not a requirement on Bush and is designed to win the support of centrist Democrats.

The House bill also requires Bush to certify that troops are properly trained, equipped and rested before being sent into combat. Democrats insist they are enforcing existing standards at a time when the military is stressed after four years of fighting. Republicans accuse them of trying to micromanage and choke off the war.

Democrats' moves to end the war through legislation kicked off another round of accusations from the White House and Congress over which would be to blame if money is not quickly delivered to the troops.

Speaking to reporters after meeting with House Republican leaders, Bush said, "We stand united in saying loud and clear that when we've got a troop in harm's way, we expect that troop to be fully funded."

Reid countered that Democrats were following through on voters' demands last November for better oversight of the war. He said if Bush vetoes whatever compromise the House and Senate craft, "I don't know if you can find any president who has done more to undermine the troops."

The House and Senate hope to negotiate a compromise bill by the week of April 16 and quickly pass it and send it on to Bush.

If Bush does veto the bill, Democrats are not expected to have the two-thirds support in the House and Senate to overturn him.

As a result, Congress quickly would have to come up with a new war-spending bill, with Democrats in a high-stakes gamble over whether to send Bush another bill with conditions on the duration of U.S. troops fighting in Iraq.

(Additional reporting by Caren Bohan and Susan Cornwell)


Tuesday, March 27, 2007

The Politics of Attacking Al Gore

ABC News
The Politics of Attacking Al Gore
Column: Gore Goes to Washington to Speak on Warming; Capitol Quibbles While Ice Sheets Melt
The Associated Press

NEW YORK - Al Gore has taken some heat lately for spreading the word about global warming.

First there were the allegations by a conservative group, the day after Gore collected an Oscar for his movie "An Inconvenient Truth," that his Nashville mansion consumes more than 20 times as much electricity as the average American household. Then there were charges that zinc mining on Tennessee property owned by Gore tarnished his environmentalist credentials.

By the time he arrived on Capitol Hill this past week to testify about his signature issue, the barbs Gore's congressional adversaries hurled at him sounded relatively benign.

"It seems that everything is blamed on global warming," Republican Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma complained. "How come you guys never seem to notice when it gets cold?"

He then confronted Gore with the number of record cold temperatures measured at U.S. weather stations during the month of January. (This would be the same January that was part of the warmest Northern Hemisphere winter on record.)

"We need to be deliberative and careful when we talk about so-called scientific facts," Republican Rep. Joe Barton of Texas lectured, before enumerating a list of things he believed Gore got wrong in the award-winning documentary.

One of the problems Gore, environmentalists and the scientific community have in conveying the seriousness of global warming is that its most severe effects to date have been felt in the polar regions, far from the places where most politicians and their constituents live.

As Gore mentioned on Capitol Hill, in just the last few months a number of scientific studies have documented alarming environmental changes at both poles. The sea ice layer on the Arctic Ocean has shrunk so dramatically that scientists expect it to disappear completely during the summer months by mid-century. Scientists have seen glaciers in Greenland and Antarctica suddenly accelerate, increasing the rate at which they dump icebergs into the sea and contributing to the rise of the world's seas.

As part of an effort to draw attention to the poles, on March 1 the world's scientific community kicked off the International Polar Year, an intensive research effort and public awareness campaign focused on the Arctic and Antarctic.

"We're seeing the poles change faster than we had anticipated, than we as scientists could have imagined," said Robin Bell, a Columbia University geophysicist who chaired the U.S. national committee for the International Polar Year.

A few years ago scientists felt pretty confident that if anything, the polar ice sheets covering Greenland and Antarctica would grow due to global warming. Their calculations indicated that any melting would be more than offset by a warming-induced increase in snowfall over the South Pole.

Minds started changing in February 2002, when scientists watched in amazement as a Rhode Island-sized chunk of floating ice on Antarctica's coast disintegrated into icebergs and simply drifted away. Around the same time they noticed that Greenland's already growing output of ice into the North Atlantic had increased dramatically, doubling over the decade that ended in 2005.

"We were much more optimistic about the ice sheets a few years ago than we are now," said Penn State glaciologist Richard B. Alley.

Research is starting to help scientists understand what's going on with surging glaciers. One recent study used images from a NASA satellite to track gigantic sub-glacial lakes in Antarctica as they filled with water and then drained. The pools of liquid water presumably act as lubrication between the ice and the land underneath, making the glaciers above them flow much more quickly than they otherwise would. But exactly how remains a mystery.

"We can't predict what this ice stream is going to do based on these measurements, but this is a major step in that direction," said Robert Bindschadler, a NASA scientist who worked on the project.

In "An Inconvenient Truth," Gore dramatically illustrated what the cities of Miami, Calcutta, Shanghai, Beijing and New York might look like in 2100 if the Greenland ice sheet were to melt, raising sea level by 20 feet.

He capped that section of his presentation with a chilling thought: "Think of the impact of a couple hundred thousand refugees," Gore says in the film, conjuring images of New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. "And then imagine 100 million."

Gore's political adversaries have criticized him for evoking such a catastrophic future.

"Nearly every significant statement that Vice President Gore makes regarding climate science and climate policy is either one-sided, misleading, exaggerated, speculative or wrong," said Marlo Lewis, a senior fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute who holds degrees in government and political science.

Lewis contends that there is no scientific evidence to support the notion that melting glaciers could raise sea levels by 20 feet during our lives or those of our children.

That's true, strictly speaking. The U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change recently projected a sea-level rise of between 7 and 23 inches by 2100 a far cry from 20 feet. But those projections explicitly omit any consideration of melting in Antarctica and Greenland, citing the lack of reliable scientific knowledge on the topic.

Yes, it's true: There are some things about global warming that scientists don't understand. But Alley, who has a doctoral degree is in geology, was willing to offer some educated speculation.

"I don't think anyone has come up with anything that would allow you to lose a whole ice sheet in decades," he said.

But, he added, global temperatures could easily be warm enough by 2100 to make the collapse of one or both ice caps an inevitability at some point after that.

So while its true that our children needn't worry about catastrophic sea level rise, our grandchildren and great-grandchildren may not be so lucky.


Sunday, March 25, 2007

My National Security Letter Gag Order
My National Security Letter Gag Order

It is the policy of The Washington Post not to publish anonymous pieces. In this case, an exception has been made because the author -- who would have preferred to be named -- is legally prohibited from disclosing his or her identity in connection with receipt of a national security letter. The Post confirmed the legitimacy of this submission by verifying it with the author's attorney and by reviewing publicly available court documents.

The Justice Department's inspector general revealed on March 9 that the FBI has been systematically abusing one of the most controversial provisions of the USA Patriot Act: the expanded power to issue "national security letters." It no doubt surprised most Americans to learn that between 2003 and 2005 the FBI issued more than 140,000 specific demands under this provision -- demands issued without a showing of probable cause or prior judicial approval -- to obtain potentially sensitive information about U.S. citizens and residents. It did not, however, come as any surprise to me.

Three years ago, I received a national security letter (NSL) in my capacity as the president of a small Internet access and consulting business. The letter ordered me to provide sensitive information about one of my clients. There was no indication that a judge had reviewed or approved the letter, and it turned out that none had. The letter came with a gag provision that prohibited me from telling anyone, including my client, that the FBI was seeking this information. Based on the context of the demand -- a context that the FBI still won't let me discuss publicly -- I suspected that the FBI was abusing its power and that the letter sought information to which the FBI was not entitled.

Rather than turn over the information, I contacted lawyers at the American Civil Liberties Union, and in April 2004 I filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the NSL power. I never released the information the FBI sought, and last November the FBI decided that it no longer needs the information anyway. But the FBI still hasn't abandoned the gag order that prevents me from disclosing my experience and concerns with the law or the national security letter that was served on my company. In fact, the government will return to court in the next few weeks to defend the gag orders that are imposed on recipients of these letters.

Living under the gag order has been stressful and surreal. Under the threat of criminal prosecution, I must hide all aspects of my involvement in the case -- including the mere fact that I received an NSL -- from my colleagues, my family and my friends. When I meet with my attorneys I cannot tell my girlfriend where I am going or where I have been. I hide any papers related to the case in a place where she will not look. When clients and friends ask me whether I am the one challenging the constitutionality of the NSL statute, I have no choice but to look them in the eye and lie.

I resent being conscripted as a secret informer for the government and being made to mislead those who are close to me, especially because I have doubts about the legitimacy of the underlying investigation.

The inspector general's report makes clear that NSL gag orders have had even more pernicious effects. Without the gag orders issued on recipients of the letters, it is doubtful that the FBI would have been able to abuse the NSL power the way that it did. Some recipients would have spoken out about perceived abuses, and the FBI's actions would have been subject to some degree of public scrutiny. To be sure, not all recipients would have spoken out; the inspector general's report suggests that large telecom companies have been all too willing to share sensitive data with the agency -- in at least one case, a telecom company gave the FBI even more information than it asked for. But some recipients would have called attention to abuses, and some abuse would have been deterred.

I found it particularly difficult to be silent about my concerns while Congress was debating the reauthorization of the Patriot Act in 2005 and early 2006. If I hadn't been under a gag order, I would have contacted members of Congress to discuss my experiences and to advocate changes in the law. The inspector general's report confirms that Congress lacked a complete picture of the problem during a critical time: Even though the NSL statute requires the director of the FBI to fully inform members of the House and Senate about all requests issued under the statute, the FBI significantly underrepresented the number of NSL requests in 2003, 2004 and 2005, according to the report.

I recognize that there may sometimes be a need for secrecy in certain national security investigations. But I've now been under a broad gag order for three years, and other NSL recipients have been silenced for even longer. At some point -- a point we passed long ago -- the secrecy itself becomes a threat to our democracy. In the wake of the recent revelations, I believe more strongly than ever that the secrecy surrounding the government's use of the national security letters power is unwarranted and dangerous. I hope that Congress will at last recognize the same thing.