Massachusetts TSA Agent Busted With Child Pornography Pleads Guilty

December 23, 2011

BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS – A former employee of the U.S. Transportation Security Administration has pleaded guilty to having thousands of child pornography images and videos on his home computers.

Federal prosecutors said Andrew Cheever, 34, of Lowell entered his plea on Monday and faces up to 10 years in prison when he is sentenced on March 22.

Authorities said Cheever made the images available on the Internet using peer-to-peer file sharing software.

Cheever had worked for the TSA since 2007 and was a security checkpoint screener at Logan International Airport until he was taken into custody in September.

He no longer works for the TSA.

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TSA Now Targeting Cupcakes – Frosting Now A “Security Risk”

December 23, 2011

BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS — A Peabody woman says a cupcake she tried to take on a flight with her sparked a potential security threat this week.

Rebecca Hains says she was going through security at the airport in Las Vegas when a TSA agent pulled her aside and said the cupcake frosting was “gel-like” enough to constitute a security risk.

She said she was able to pass through Logan International Airport security with two cupcakes, but she was stopped on the way back when she tried to return with one of them.

“In general, cakes and pies are allowed in carry on luggage,” said TSA spokesperson James Fotenos, adding they were looking into why this cupcake was confiscated.

Hains said she had received the cupcakes as a gift and after eating one on the trip out west, decided to save the other for the flight back.

She contacted the cupcake company, Wicked Good Cupcakes of Cohasset, which said it will ship her a new batch free of charge.

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TSA Now Targeting Travelers Cakes

December 23, 2011

NEW YORK – Joe Maltese visited his in-laws in upstate New York this month.

And when the Tequesta man was preparing to fly back home, his mother-in-law put a boxed chocolate cake along with some boxes of Christmas ornaments inside his suitcase.

“I didn’t even know the cake was in there until I got home,” said Maltese, who is the marketing manager for Home Safe, a Lake Worth-based charity for abused and neglected children.

It was a chocolate cake made by Hannaford, the supermarket chain. But what Maltese noticed most of all was that about a third of the cake was missing.

“It was a clean cut,” he said. “And my wife asked me, ‘Did you already have a piece of the cake?’ “

He didn’t. He just figured that his mother-in-law must have sent him part of a cake.

Except that when his wife called her mother, she said she hadn’t cut into the store-bought cake before putting it in the suitcase.

That’s when Maltese began wondering.

There was also a “Notice of Bag Inspection” form in his suitcase from the U.S. Transportation Security Administration to inform him that the contents of his bag had been checked before his flight from Albany.

“Are times that tough where TSA inspectors have to eat travelers’ food?” he asked. “Or did the inspector conduct a taste test to make certain it wasn’t contraband or a bomb?”

Maltese went online to see if there was any guidance on the TSA website.

He found a holiday travel advisory that advised passengers not to carry-on snow globes or gift baskets if they have salsa, jams or salad dressings in them.

“You can bring pies and cakes through the security checkpoint,” the site said, “but please be advised that they are subject to additional screening.”

Additional screening for cakes? So maybe his chocolate cake in his checked bag was really seen as a potential terrorist threat, he thought.

(Note to air travelers: If you plan on transporting TooJay’s most popular chocolate cake, you might consider wiping out the words “The Killer” spelled on top of its killer cake.)

Then again, this might not have had anything to do with terrorism.

Two months ago, TSA fired a screener at the Newark, N.J., airport for scribbling a bit of commentary on the inspection form after discovering a sex toy among the belongings inside the luggage of a female traveler.

“Get your freak on girl,” the note said.

And last weekend, hip-hop performer Freddie Gibbs, who is known as Gangsta Gibbs, was amused to discover that a TSA screener had written “C’mon son” inside his suitcase, which contained a bag of marijuana.

“The TSA found my weed and let me keep it,” Gibbs told his Twitter followers after he landed in Denver.

After I informed TSA about the mystery of Maltese’s chocolate cake, an agency official told me that a video record is kept of the screening areas, and the tapes would be reviewed to see if a TSA screener had removed part of the man’s cake.

A day later, I received an email back:

“We reviewed the videotape for the entire period of time that the passenger’s bag would have gone through the screening process. At no time did we see anything resembling a cake removed from any suitcase. There was a suitcase with boxes, and those boxes were not opened. I can’t guarantee that was the passenger’s cake, but I want to stress that nobody opened a box with a cake or anything resembling a cake.”

I broke the news to Maltese.

“I swear there was a piece missing from that cake,” he said.

Does this qualify as a Christmas miracle?

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Westerly Rhode Island Police Go Door To Door With Locksmiths Entering Homes Without Warrant

December 23, 2011

WESTERLY, RHODE ISLAND – National Grid says technicians are continuing to work on a natural gas outage in Westerly and that some restorations will be made overnight Thursday into Friday morning.

70 technicians will be working through the overnight hours to turn gas back on, and starting at 5 a.m. Friday 200 technicians will again be going door to door to continue making restorations.

Main Street and Canal Street are among the areas affected. Not only are those streets filled with homeowners, but businesses are also impacted by the issue.

“It’s going to be devastating to be without heat or power for this holiday season. It’s our crunch, time,” said Molly Silva, a business owner.

If no one is home at the time, police officers along with a locksmith have been entering homes to shut the valves off.

“Thank God no snow, no frost, no freezing temperatures yet. We just hope for the best. Hopefully we can get some things going for Christmas. I have a meal to prepare, hopefully we are good to go by then,” said Westerly resident Mallory Carpenter.

Graves said the company hopes to relight pilots for all customers over the course of Friday and Saturday. Customers have been without gas since Wednesday when the company detected air in the distribution system.

Officials said this is not an easy fix, and expect the process at least a day or so. Right now, no homes are in danger.

National Grid is asking that anyone in that area who does not have natural gas to please call 1-800-640-1595.

Emergency shelter available for affected families

Due to the natural gas service interruption in parts of Westerly, the Westerly Police Department and the American Red Cross opened an emergency overnight shelter at 6:00 p.m. Thursday.

The Shelter, at the Westerly Senior Center, 39 State Street, will provide a meal and overnight accommodations for those families affected by the gas service interruption.

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Savage Beast Andre Curry Charged After Binding His 1 Year Old Daughter With Tape – “This Is Wut Happens Wen My Baby Hits Me Back”

December 21, 2011

CHICAGO, ILLINOIS – A 21-year-old Chicago man was charged Tuesday with aggravated domestic battery after he posted a photo of his 1-year-old daughter bound in duct tape on Facebook.

Andre Curry, 21, of the 6100 block of South Racine Avenue, was charged with aggravated domestic battery, officials said.

The photo Curry allegedly posted to his profile showed little girl with her hands bound by blue tape. Another strip of tape covered her mouth.

A caption with the photo read, “This is wut happens wen my baby hits me back.”

The photo has since been removed, but it’s not known if the man took it down or if it was reported as abusive to the social networking site. A post on Facebook about its website security says content that is “hateful, threatening, or pornographic; incites violence or contains nudity or graphic or gratuitous violence” is not allowed on the site.

Chicago police and DCFS have been investigating since being notified of the photo on Dec. 14, said police spokesman Michael Sullivan.

DCFS spokesman Jimmie Whitelow confirmed the agency is investigating allegations of abuse in the case. DCFS has had no prior contact with the family. Whitelow would not comment on whether there were other children in the family

Curry is expected Wednesday in bond court.

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Billions Of Our Tax Dollars Spent Arming Local Cops For War – Only Obvious Targets Are Us…

December 21, 2011

WASHINGTON, DC – Nestled amid plains so flat the locals joke you can watch your dog run away for miles, Fargo treasures its placid lifestyle, seldom pierced by the mayhem and violence common in other urban communities. North Dakota’s largest city has averaged fewer than two homicides a year since 2005, and there’s not been a single international terrorism prosecution in the last decade.

But that hasn’t stopped authorities in Fargo and its surrounding county from going on an $8 million buying spree to arm police officers with the sort of gear once reserved only for soldiers fighting foreign wars.

Every city squad car is equipped today with a military-style assault rifle, and officers can don Kevlar helmets able to withstand incoming fire from battlefield-grade ammunition. And for that epic confrontation—if it ever occurs—officers can now summon a new $256,643 armored truck, complete with a rotating turret. For now, though, the menacing truck is used mostly for training and appearances at the annual city picnic, where it’s been parked near the children’s bounce house.

“Most people are so fascinated by it, because nothing happens here,” says Carol Archbold, a Fargo resident and criminal justice professor at North Dakota State University. “There’s no terrorism here.”

Like Fargo, thousands of other local police departments nationwide have been amassing stockpiles of military-style equipment in the name of homeland security, aided by more than $34 billion in federal grants since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, a Daily Beast investigation conducted by the Center for Investigative Reporting has found.

The buying spree has transformed local police departments into small, army-like forces, and put intimidating equipment into the hands of civilian officers. And that is raising questions about whether the strategy has gone too far, creating a culture and capability that jeopardizes public safety and civil rights while creating an expensive false sense of security.

“The argument for up-armoring is always based on the least likely of terrorist scenarios,” says Mark Randol, a former terrorism expert at the Congressional Research Service, the nonpartisan research arm of Congress. “Anyone can get a gun and shoot up stuff. No amount of SWAT equipment can stop that.”

Local police bristle at the suggestion that they’ve become “militarized,” arguing the upgrade in firepower and other equipment is necessary to combat criminals with more lethal capabilities. They point to the 1997 Los Angeles-area bank robbers who pinned police for hours with assault weapons, the gun-wielding student who perpetrated the Virginia Tech massacre in 2007, and the terrorists who waged a bloody rampage in Mumbai, India, that left 164 people dead and 300 wounded in 2008.

The new weaponry and battle gear, they insist, helps save lives in the face of such threats. “I don’t see us as militarizing police; I see us as keeping abreast with society,” former Los Angeles Police chief William Bratton says. “And we are a gun-crazy society.”

“I don’t see us as militarizing police; I see us as keeping abreast with society.”

Adds Fargo Police Lt. Ross Renner, who commands the regional SWAT team: “It’s foolish to not be cognizant of the threats out there, whether it’s New York, Los Angeles, or Fargo. Our residents have the right to be protected. We don’t have everyday threats here when it comes to terrorism, but we are asked to be prepared.”

The skepticism about the Homeland spending spree is less severe for Washington, D.C., Los Angeles and New York, which are presumed to be likelier targets. But questions persist about whether money was handed out elsewhere with any regard for risk assessment or need. And the gap in accounting for the decade-long spending spree is undeniable. The U.S. Homeland Security Department says it doesn’t closely track what’s been bought with its tax dollars or how the equipment is used. State and local governments don’t maintain uniform records either.

To assess the changes in law enforcement for The Daily Beast, the Center for Investigative Reporting conducted interviews and reviewed grant spending records obtained through open records requests in 41 states. The probe found stockpiles of weaponry and military-style protective equipment worthy of a defense contractor’s sales catalog.

In Montgomery County, Texas, the sheriff’s department owns a $300,000 pilotless surveillance drone, like those used to hunt down al Qaeda terrorists in the remote tribal regions of Pakistan and Afghanistan. In Augusta, Maine, with fewer than 20,000 people and where an officer hasn’t died from gunfire in the line of duty in more than 125 years, police bought eight $1,500 tactical vests. Police in Des Moines, Iowa, bought two $180,000 bomb-disarming robots, while an Arizona sheriff is now the proud owner of a surplus Army tank.

The flood of money opened to local police after 9/11, but slowed slightly in recent years. Still, the Department of Homeland Security awarded more than $2 billion in grants to local police in 2011, and President Obama’s 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act contributed an additional half-billion dollars.

Law enforcement officials say the armored vehicles, assault weapons, and combat uniforms used by their officers provide a public safety benefit beyond their advertised capabilities, creating a sort of “shock and awe” experience they hope will encourage suspects to surrender more quickly.

“The only time I hear the complaint of ‘God, you guys look scary’ is if the incident turns out to be nothing,” says West Hartford, Conn., Police Lt. Jeremy Clark, who organizes an annual SWAT competition.

A grainy YouTube video from one of Clark’s recent competitions shows just how far the police transformation has come, displaying officers in battle fatigues, helmets, and multi-pocketed vests storming a hostile scene. One with a pistol strapped to his hip swings a battering ram into a door. A colleague lobs a flash-bang grenade into a field. Another officer, holding a pistol and wearing a rifle strapped to his back, peeks cautiously inside a bus.

The images unfold to the pulsing, ominous soundtrack of a popular videogame, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2. Though resembling soldiers in a far-flung war zone, the stars of this video are Massachusetts State Police troopers.

The number of SWAT teams participating in Clark’s event doubled to 40 between 2004 and 2009 as Homeland’s police funding swelled. The competition provides real-life scenarios for training, and Clark believes it is essential, because he fears many SWAT teams are falling below the 16 hours of minimum monthly training recommended by the National Tactical Officers Association.

“Luck is not for cops. Luck is for drunks and fools,” Clark said, explaining his devotion to training.

One beneficiary of Homeland’s largesse are military contractors, who have found a new market for their wares and sponsor training events like the one Clark oversees in Connecticut or a similar Urban Shield event held in California.

Special ops supplier Blackhawk Industries, founded by a former Navy SEAL, was among several Urban Shield sponsors this year. Other sponsors for such training peddle wares like ThunderSledge breaching tools for smashing open locked or chained doors, Lenco Armored Vehicles bulletproof box trucks, and KDH Defense Systems’s body armor.

“As criminal organizations are increasingly armed with military-style weapons, law enforcement operations require the same level of field-tested and combat-proven protection used by soldiers and Marines in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other high-risk locations,” boasts an Oshkosh Corp. brochure at a recent police seminar, where the company pitched its “tactical protector vehicle.”

The trend shows no sign of abating. The homeland security market for state and local agencies is projected to reach $19.2 billion by 2014, up from an estimated $15.8 billion in fiscal 2009, according to the Homeland Security Research Corp.

The rise of equipment purchases has paralleled an apparent increase in local SWAT teams, but reliable numbers are hard to come by. The National Tactical Officers Association, which provides training and develops SWAT standards, says it currently has about 1,650 team memberships, up from 1,026 in 2000.

Many of America’s newly armed officers are ex-military veterans from the front lines of Iraq and Afghanistan. Charles Ramsey, who was police chief in Washington, D.C., on 9/11, upgraded the weaponry when he moved to Philadelphia in 2008. Today, some 1,500 Philly beat cops are trained to use AR-15 assault rifles.

“We have a lot of people here, like most departments, who are ex-military,” Ramsey says. “Some people are very much into guns and so forth. So it wasn’t hard to find volunteers.”

Some real-life episodes, however, are sparking a debate about whether all that gear also creates a more militarized mind-set for local police that exceeds their mission or risks public safety.

In one case, dozens of officers in combat-style gear raided a youth rave in Utah as a police helicopter buzzed overhead. An online video shows the battle-ready team wearing masks and brandishing rifles as they holler for the music to be shut off and pin partygoers to the ground.

And Arizona tactical officers this year sprayed the home of ex-Marine Jose Guerena with gunfire as he stood in a hallway with a rifle that he did not fire. He was hit 22 times and died. Police had targeted the man’s older brother in a narcotics-trafficking probe, but nothing illegal was found in the younger Guerena’s home, and no related arrests had been made months after the raid.

In Maryland, officials finally began collecting data on tactical raids after police in 2008 burst into the home of a local mayor and killed his two dogs in a case in which the mayor’s home was used as a dropoff for drug deal. The mayor’s family had nothing to do with criminal activity.

Such episodes and the sheer magnitude of the expenditures over the last decade raise legitimate questions about whether taxpayers have gotten their money’s worth and whether police might have assumed more might and capability than is necessary for civilian forces.

“With local law enforcement, their mission is to solve crimes after they’ve happened, and to ensure that people’s constitutional rights are protected in the process,” says Jesselyn McCurdy, senior legislative counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union. “The military obviously has a mission where they are fighting an enemy. When you use military tactics in the context of law enforcement, the missions don’t match, and that’s when you see trouble with the overmilitarization of police.”

The upgrading of local police nonetheless continues. Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio now claims to operate his own air armada of private pilots—dubbed Operation Desert Sky—to monitor illegal border crossings, and he recently added a full-size surplus Army tank. New York Police Commissioner Ray Kelly boasted this fall he had a secret capability to shoot down an airliner if one threatened the city again. And the city of Ogden, Utah, is launching a 54-foot, remote-controlled “crime-fighting blimp” with a powerful surveillance camera.

Back in Fargo, nearby corn and soybean farmer Tim Kozojed supports the local police but questions whether the Homeland grants have been spent wisely. ”I’m very reluctant to get anxious about a terrorist attack in North Dakota,” Kozojed, 31, said. “Why would they bother?”

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US Tax Dollars Pissed Away – For Example: $175,587 Spent To See If japanese Quail Engage In Sexually Risky Behavior When High On Cocaine

December 21, 2011

WASHINGTON, DC – A million dollars is nothing nowadays. Just ask the Pentagon, which spent $20 billion a year on air conditioning in Iraq and Afghanistan over the last decade, or the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which spent more than $240 million on erection-enhancing penis pumps over the same time period. But the government does even stupider things with smaller amounts of money. Like dumping $800,000 into an IHOP franchise for D.C. residents.

Such frivolity but might not spell the death of the republic, but it’s nevertheless a sign of government self-indulgence. In Wastebook: A Guide to Some of the Most Wasteful and Low Priority Government Spending of 2011, Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) lists some of the cheaper but no less wasteful projects currently being funded by the federal government. “As you look at these examples,” writes Coburn, “regardless of your personal political persuasion, ask yourself: Would you agree with Washington these represent national priorities or would you agree these reflect the wasteful spending habits that threaten to bankrupt the future of the American Dream?”

Let’s run down the list, shall we?

Republican and Democratic Party conventions: $17.7 million (each)
A mango-production program for Pakistani farmers that was abandoned after one year and caused many farmers to default on loans taken out in anticipation of increased productivity: $30 million
A project to convert three Air Force radar stations from diesel to wind energy that has since been abandoned: $14 million
The construction of an IHOP in the up-and-coming neighborhood of Columbia Heights (which Coburn refers to as “pancakes for yuppies”): $800,000
A promotional video for an Alaskan bridge that very well might not get built, titled ‘The Knik Arm Crossing, Bridge to Our Future”: $57,390 (out of $15.3 million spent this year on the bridge)
Pension payments to dead federal employees: $120 million
A fourth visitors center on the 54-mile Talimena Scenic Drive that runs between Talihina, Oklahoma (Pop. 2,522) to Mena, Arkansas (Pop. 5,637): $529,689
Funding for video game preservation at the International Center for the History of Electronic Games: $100,000
Aid to China, the U.S.’s biggest lender, for social and environmental programs: $17.8 million
Seed money for the “drug-themed” Mellow Mushroom Pizza Bakery in Austin: $484,000
“Celebrity Chef Fruit Promotion Road Show in Indonesia”: $100,000
Funding for Pakistan’s Rafi Peer Theatre Workshop to create “130 episodes of an indigenously produced Sesame Street”: $10 million
Research funding for the American Museum of Magic to “better understand its various audiences and their potential interest in the history of magic entertainment”: $147,138
Energy efficient home improvement tax credits for children, prisoners, and other people who do not own homes: $1 billion
Research funding for a study to determine if cocaine makes Japanese quail engage in sexually risky behavior: $175,587

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