Tag Archives: disaster preparedness

NASA finds 90 percent of largest near-Earth asteroids

NASA finds 90 percent of largest near-Earth asteroids; finds fewer medium-sized asteroids – The Washington Post.

LOS ANGELES — If you’re worried about a killer asteroid wiping out Earth, NASA has some good news.

The space agency said Thursday it has identified more than 90 percent of giant near-Earth asteroids, including ones as big as the one thought to have killed the dinosaurs eons ago. None poses a danger to the planet in the next several centuries.

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(no/Associated Press) – In this undated artist’s rendition released Thursday Sept. 29,2011 by NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory, showing WISE, (Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer), NASA on Thursday Sept. 29,2011 said its sky-mapping spacecraft called WISE has discovered 911 of 981 of the largest asteroids and has found more than 90 percent of the biggest asteroids that might pose a threat to Earth.

“We know now where most of them are and where most of them are going. That really has reduced our risk” of an impact, said Amy Mainzer of the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

NASA researchers also downgraded their estimate of the number of medium-sized asteroids, saying there are 44 percent fewer than previously believed. The downside is that scientists have yet to find many of these mid-sized asteroids, which could destroy a metropolitan city.

“Fewer does not mean none,” Mainzer said. “There are still tens of thousands out there that are left to find.”

The updated census comes from data from NASA’s sky-mapping spacecraft named Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, or WISE, which launched in 2009 to seek out near-Earth objects, galaxies, stars and other cosmic targets.

Unlike previous sky surveys, WISE has sensitive instruments that can pick out both dark and light objects, allowing it to get the most accurate count yet of near-Earth asteroids. The spacecraft takes a small sample of asteroids of varying sizes and then estimates how large the population would be.

For the largest asteroids — bigger than 3,300 feet across — NASA said 911 of the 981 thought to exist have been found. None poses a threat to Earth in the near future, the space agency said.

Previous estimates put the number of medium-sized asteroids at 35,000, but WISE data indicate there are about 19,500 between 330 and 3,300 feet wide. Only about 5,200 have been found and scientists said there is still a lot of work left to identify the potentially hazardous ones.

Results were published in the Astrophysical Journal.

WISE is not equipped to detect the more than a million smallest asteroids that could cause damage if they impact Earth. The spacecraft recently ran out of coolant and is currently in hibernation.

By locating most of the giant asteroids, NASA has fulfilled a goal set by Congress in 1998. More recently, the space agency has been asked to find 90 percent of asteroids that are at least 460 feet in diameter — slightly smaller than the Superdome in New Orleans — by 2020.

Don Yeomans, who heads NASA’s Near-Earth Object Program Office, said that goal is about 35 percent complete.

Huge Floods in Manila as Typhoon Hits Philippines

Huge Floods in Manila as Typhoon Hits Philippines – TIME.

(MANILA, Philippines) — Massive flooding hit the Philippine capital on Tuesday as typhoon winds and rains isolated the historic old city where residents waded in waist-deep waters, dodging tree branches and debris. At least seven people were killed.

Authorities ordered more than 100,000 people across the country to shelter from Typhoon Nesat’s rains and wind gusts of up to 106 miles (170 kilometers) per hour. Schools and offices were shuttered, and thousands were stranded by grounded flights and ferries kept in ports.(See photos of Typhoon Roke hitting Japan earlier this year.)

The typhoon made landfall before dawn over eastern mountainous provinces of Isabela and Aurora, which face the Pacific Ocean, then headed inland through farmlands north of Manila, the government weather bureau said. It was packing sustained winds of 87 mph (140 kph).

The first reported death was a 1 year old who drowned in the central island province of Cataduanes after falling into a river, the government disaster agency reported. As the typhoon moved into Manila, a mother and child were killed after their house was hit by a falling tree in the suburb of Caloocan, and four were reported killed by a collapsing wall in the suburb of Valenzuela.

Four fishermen were missing while more than 50 others were rescued along eastern shores after their boats overturned in choppy seas. Forecasters warned of 12-foot-high (4-meter-high) waves.

Along downtown Manila’s baywalk, cars and buses were stuck and residents waded through floodwaters as waves as high as palm trees washed over the seawall, turning a six-lane highway into a huge brown river.(See more on how hurricanes are named.)

Sidewalks and entrances to buildings were swamped and vehicles struggled to navigate the narrow streets.

Manila Hospital moved patients from its ground floor, where waters were neck-deep, spokeswoman Evangeline Morales said. Hospital generators were flooded and the building had no power since early Tuesday.

Visibility in the city was poor, with pounding rains obscuring the view. Emergency workers were evacuating river areas in the city that are notorious for flooding.

An Associated Press photographer said soldiers and police in trucks were moving thousands of residents, mostly women and children, from the Baseco shanty facing Manila port after many houses were washed away. Male family members were reluctant to leave saying they wanted to guard their property.

Residents in one neighborhood of Quezon City, a Manila suburb, were fleeing their homes due to rising water from the nearby San Mateo River, radio reported.

In the financial district of Makati, a billboard fell on two cars and a bus, causing injuries.

With its immense 400-mile (650-kilometer) cloud band, the typhoon threatened to foul weather across the entire main island of Luzon as it moves across the Philippines toward the South China Sea late Wednesday or early Thursday toward southern China.

Heavy downpours and winds prompted the closure of government offices, schools and universities in the capital, while scores of domestic flights were canceled and inter-island ferries grounded, stranding thousands. The Philippine Stock Exchange and U.S. Embassy were also closed Tuesday. Waters at the gates of the embassy compound, which is located along Manila Bay, reached chest-deep.

A tornado in Isabela’s Maconancon town ripped off the roofs of at least five houses, injuring two people, police said.

Power was cut in many parts of Luzon, including in Manila, where hospitals, hotels and emergency services used generators. Tree branches and torn tarpaulins littered the flooded streets. Traffic was light as most people stayed indoors.

About 112,000 people were ordered to leave their homes in five towns prone to flash floods and landslides in central Albay province. By Monday, more than 50,000 had moved to government-run evacuation centers and relatives’ homes, officials said.

“We can’t manage typhoons, but we can manage their effects,” Albay Gov. Joey Salceda said.

Authorities were monitoring farming communities at the base of Mayon volcano in Albay, about 212 miles (340 kilometers) southeast of Manila.

Tons of ash have been deposited on Mayon’s slopes by past eruptions, and mudslides caused by a typhoon in 2006 buried entire villages, leaving about 1,600 people dead and missing.

The typhoon bore down on the Philippines exactly two years after nearly 500 people died in the worst flooding in decades in Manila, a city of 12 million, when a tropical storm hit.

Residents commemorated the anniversary by offering prayers and planting trees Monday.

Nesat is the 16th cyclone to lash the Philippines this year. The geography of the archipelago makes it a welcome mat for about 20 storms and typhoons forming in the Pacific each year.

Associated Press writer Oliver Teves, photographer Bullit Marquez and videographer Joeal Calupitan contributed to this report.

'Old Faithful' Sunspot to Fire Off More Flares

‘Old Faithful’ Sunspot to Fire Off More Flares, Scientists Say | Solar Flares & Coronal Mass Ejections | The Sun & Space Weather | Space.com.

Sunspot 1283 Storms
A giant plume of ionized gas called plasma (to the right) leaps off the sun from sunspot 1283 in this photo snapped by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory. This sunspot spouted four solar flares and three coronal mass ejections from Sept. 6-8, 2011.
CREDIT: NASA/SDO/AIA

An active region of the sun that blasted out powerful solar storms four days in a row last week likely isn’t done yet, scientists say.

Officially, the flare-spouting region is called sunspot 1283. But space weather experts have dubbed it “Old Faithful,” after the famous geyser in the United States’ Yellowstone National Park that goes off like clockwork. And the solar Old Faithful should erupt again before it dissipates, researchers said.

“It still has a fair amount of complexity,” said solar physicist C. Alex Young of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. “So we still have a pretty good chance of seeing some more stuff from this one.” [Photos: Sunspots on Earth’s Closest Star]

 

An active sunspot

Sunspots are temporary dark patches on the solar surface caused by intense magnetic activity. Some last for hours before disappearing; others linger for days, weeks or even months.

Powerful solar storms often erupt from sunspots. These include radiation-flinging solar flares and phenomena known as coronal mass ejections (CMEs) — massive clouds of solar plasma that can streak through space at up to 3 million mph (5 million kph).

From Sept. 5-8, sunspot 1283 produced four big flares and three CMEs. Two of the flares were X-class events and two were M-class flares. (Strong solar flares are classified according to a three-tiered system: X-class are the most powerful, M-class are of medium strength and C-class are the weakest.)

While the rapid motion previously observed in sunspot 1283 seems to have died down a bit, Young said, the sunspot looks poised to erupt again sometime soon.

“There’s a good probability that we’re still going to see at least another M-class flare, possibly another X-class flare,” Young told SPACE.com.

It’s not uncommon for sunspots to pop off a number of powerful flares in quick succession the way 1283 has done, he added. That seems to be the natural order of things.

“When you see one big flare, your chances of seeing another one are pretty good,” Young said.

A photo of a sunspot taken in May 2010, with Earth shown to scale. The image has been colorized for  aesthetic reasons. This image with 0.1 arcsecond resolution from the Swedish 1-m Solar  Telescope represents the limit of what is currently possible in te
A photo of a sunspot taken in May 2010, with Earth shown to scale. The image has been colorized for aesthetic reasons. This image with 0.1 arcsecond resolution from the Swedish 1-m Solar Telescope represents the limit of what is currently possible in terms of spatial resolution.
CREDIT: The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, V.M.J. Henriques (sunspot), NASA Apollo 17 (Earth)

Learning more about solar storms

Solar flares directed at Earth can cause temporary radio-communication blackouts. CMEs have even greater destructive potential; they can spawn geomagnetic storms that disrupt GPS signals, radio communications and power grids. [Sun’s Wrath: Worst Solar Storms in History]

So researchers are working hard to better understand sun storms, with the aim of one day being able to predict them with a great deal of accuracy and a long lead time. But they’re not there yet.

“We still have a long way to go to really have the kind of forecasting capabilities that we have with terrestrial weather,” Young said.

That’s not to say scientists aren’t making progress. Indeed, they’ve learned a lot about solar eruptions lately, Young said. And the knowledge base will continue to grow, he added, as a fleet of sun-watching spacecraft beam home more and more observations of Earth’s star.

“We’re really in a great time right now in terms of the data that we have,” Young said, citing the contributions of spacecraft such as NASA’s STEREO and Solar Dynamics Observatory, as well as SOHO, a collaboration between NASA and the European Space Agency. “It’s going to be pretty exciting, from a solar physics and a space weather point of view.”

All of these eyes on the sun should be treated to quite a show over the next several years. Solar activity has been ramping up over the last few months as the sun works toward a maximum in its 11-year activity cycle.

Scientists expect the peak of the current cycle, which is known as Solar Cycle 24, to come in 2013.

U.S. Defense Lawyers Are Crippling Nation's ability to wage Cyberwar

Cyberwar, Lawyers, and the U.S.: Denial of Service – By Stewart Baker | Foreign Policy.

Lawyers don’t win wars. But can they lose one?

We’re likely to find out, and soon. Lawyers across the U.S. government have raised so many show-stopping legal questions about cyberwar that they’ve left the military unable to fight or even plan for a war in cyberspace. But the only thing they’re likely to accomplish is to make Americans less safe.

No one seriously denies that cyberwar is coming. Russia pioneered cyberattacks in its conflicts with Georgia and Estonia, and cyberweapons went mainstream when the developers of Stuxnet sabotaged Iran’s Natanz uranium-enrichment plant, setting back the Islamic Republic’s nuclear weapons program more effectively than a 500-pound bomb ever could. In war, weapons that work get used again.

Unfortunately, it turns out that cyberweapons may work best against civilians. The necessities of modern life — pipelines, power grids, refineries, sewer and water lines — all run on the same industrial control systems that Stuxnet subverted so successfully. These systems may be even easier to sabotage than the notoriously porous computer networks that support our financial and telecommunications infrastructure.

And the consequences of successful sabotage would be devastating. The body charged with ensuring the resilience of power supplies in North America admitted last year that a coordinated cyberattack on the continent’s power system “could result in long-term (irreparable) damage to key system components” and could “cause large population centers to lose power for extended periods.” Translated from that gray prose, this means that foreign militaries could reduce many of U.S. cities to the state of post-Katrina New Orleans — and leave them that way for months.

Can the United States keep foreign militaries out of its networks? Not today. Even America’s premier national security agencies have struggled to respond to this new threat. Very sophisticated network defenders with vital secrets to protect have failed to keep attackers out. RSA is a security company that makes online credentials used widely by the Defense Department and defense contractors. Hackers from China so badly compromised RSA’s system that the company was forced to offer all its customers a new set of credentials. Imagine the impact on Ford’s reputation if it had to recall and replace every Ford that was still on the road; that’s what RSA is experiencing now.

HBGary, another well-respected security firm, suffered an attack on its system that put thousands of corporate emails in the public domain, some so embarrassing that the CEO lost his job. And Russian intelligence was able to extract large amounts of information from classified U.S. networks — which are not supposed to touch the Internet — simply by infecting the thumb drives that soldiers were using to move data from one system to the next. Joel Brenner, former head of counterintelligence for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, estimates in his new book, America the Vulnerable, that billions of dollars in research and design work have been stolen electronically from the Defense Department and its contractors.

In short, even the best security experts in and out of government cannot protect their own most precious secrets from network attacks. But the attackers need not stop at stealing secrets. Once they’re in, they can just as easily sabotage the network to cause the “irreparable” damage that electric-grid guardians fear.

No agency has developed good defenses against such attacks. Unless the United States produces new technologies and new strategies to counter these threats, the hackers will get through. So far, though, what the United States has mostly produced is an outpouring of new law-review articles, new legal opinions, and, remarkably, new legal restrictions.

Across the federal government, lawyers are tying themselves in knots of legalese. Military lawyers are trying to articulate when a cyberattack can be classed as an armed attack that permits the use of force in response. State Department and National Security Council lawyers are implementing an international cyberwar strategy that relies on international law “norms” to restrict cyberwar. CIA lawyers are invoking the strict laws that govern covert action to prevent the Pentagon from launching cyberattacks.

Justice Department lawyers are apparently questioning whether the military violates the law of war if it does what every cybercriminal has learned to do — cover its tracks by routing attacks through computers located in other countries. And the Air Force recently surrendered to its own lawyers, allowing them to order that all cyberweapons be reviewed for “legality under [the law of armed conflict], domestic law and international law” before cyberwar capabilities are even acquired.

The result is predictable, and depressing. Top Defense Department officials recently adopted a cyberwar strategy that simply omitted any plan for conducting offensive operations, even as Marine Gen. James Cartwright, then vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, complained publicly that a strategy dominated by defense would fail: “If it’s OK to attack me and I’m not going to do anything other than improve my defenses every time you attack me, it’s very difficult to come up with a deterrent strategy.”

Today, just a few months later, Cartwright is gone, but the lawyers endure. And apparently the other half of the U.S. cyberwar strategy will just have to wait until the lawyers can agree on what kind of offensive operations the military is allowed to mount.

***We’ve been in this spot before. In the first half of the 20th century, the new technology of air power transformed war at least as dramatically as information technology has in the last quarter-century. Then, as now, our leaders tried to use the laws of war to stave off the worst civilian harms that this new form of war made possible.

Tried and failed.

By the 1930s, everyone saw that aerial bombing would have the capacity to reduce cities to rubble in the next war. Just a few years earlier, the hellish slaughter in the trenches of World War I had destroyed the Victorian world; now air power promised to bring the same carnage to soldiers’ homes, wives, and children.

In Britain, some leaders expressed hardheaded realism about this grim possibility. Former Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin, summing up his country’s strategic position in 1932, showed a candor no recent American leader has dared to match. “There is no power on Earth that can protect [British citizens] from being bombed,” he said. “The bomber will always get through…. The only defense is in offense, which means that you have got to kill more women and children more quickly than the enemy if you want to save yourselves.”

The Americans, however, still hoped to head off the nightmare. Their tool of choice was international law. (Some things never change.) When war broke out in Europe on Sept. 1, 1939, President Franklin D. Roosevelt sent a cable to all the combatants seeking express limits on the use of air power. Citing the potential horrors of aerial bombardment, he called on all combatants to publicly affirm that their armed forces “shall in no event, and under no circumstances, undertake the bombardment from the air of civilian populations or of unfortified cities.”

Roosevelt had a pretty good legal case. The 1899 Hague conventions on the laws of war, adopted as the Wright brothers were tinkering their way toward Kitty Hawk, declared that in bombardments, “all necessary steps should be taken to spare as far as possible edifices devoted to religion, art, science, and charity, hospitals, and places where the sick and wounded are collected, provided they are not used at the same time for military purposes.” The League of Nations had also declared that in air war, “the intentional bombing of civilian populations is illegal.”

But FDR didn’t rely just on law. He asked for a public pledge that would bind all sides in the new war — and, remarkably, he got it. The horror at aerial bombardment of civilians ran so deep in that era that Britain, France, Germany, and Poland all agreed to FDR’s bargain, before nightfall on Sept. 1, 1939.

Nearly a year later, with the Battle of Britain raging in the air, the Luftwaffe was still threatening to discipline any pilot who bombed civilian targets. The deal had held. FDR’s accomplishment began to look like a great victory for the international law of war — exactly what the lawyers and diplomats now dealing with cyberwar hope to achieve.

But that’s not how this story ends.

On the night of Aug. 24, 1940, a Luftwaffe air group made a fateful navigational error. Aiming for oil terminals along the Thames River, they miscalculated, instead dropping their bombs in the civilian heart of London.

It was a mistake. But that’s not how British Prime Minister Winston Churchill saw it. He insisted on immediate retaliation. The next night, British bombers hit (arguably military) targets in Berlin for the first time. The military effect was negligible, but the political impact was profound. German Luftwaffe commander Hermann Göring had promised that the Luftwaffe would never allow a successful attack on Berlin. The Nazi regime was humiliated, the German people enraged. Ten days later, Adolf Hitler told a wildly cheering crowd that he had ordered the bombing of London: “Since they attack our cities, we will extirpate theirs.”

The Blitz was on.

In the end, London survived. But the extirpation of enemy cities became a permanent part of both sides’ strategy. No longer an illegal horror to be avoided at all costs, the destruction of enemy cities became deliberate policy. Later in the war, British strategists would launch aerial attacks with the avowed aim of causing “the destruction of German cities, the killing of German workers, and the disruption of civilized life throughout Germany.” So much for the Hague conventions, the League of Nations resolution, and even the explicit pledges given to Roosevelt. All these “norms” for the use of air power were swept away by the logic of the technology and the predictable psychology of war.

***American lawyers’ attempts to limit the scope of cyberwar are just as certain to fail as FDR’s limits on air war — and perhaps more so.

It’s true that half a century of limited war has taught U.S. soldiers to operate under strict restraints, in part because winning hearts and minds has been a higher priority than destroying the enemy’s infrastructure. But it’s unwise to put too much faith in the notion that this change is permanent. Those wars were limited because the stakes were limited, at least for the United States. Observing limits had a cost, but one the country could afford. In a way, that was true for the Luftwaffe, too, at least at the start. They were on offense, and winning, after all. But when the British struck Berlin, the cost was suddenly too high. Germans didn’t want law and diplomatic restraint; they wanted retribution — an eye for an eye. When cyberwar comes to America and citizens start to die for lack of power, gas, and money, it’s likely that they’ll want the same.

More likely, really, because Roosevelt’s bargain was far stronger than any legal restraints we’re likely to see on cyberwar. Roosevelt could count on a shared European horror at the aerial destruction of cities. The modern world has no such understanding — indeed, no such shared horror — regarding cyberwar. Quite the contrary. For some of America’s potential adversaries, the idea that both sides in a conflict could lose their networked infrastructure holds no horror. For some, a conflict that reduces both countries to eating grass sounds like a contest they might be able to win.

What’s more, cheating is easy and strategically profitable. America’s compliance will be enforced by all those lawyers. Its adversaries’ compliance will be enforced by, well, by no one. It will be difficult, if not impossible, to find a return address on their cyberattacks. They can ignore the rules and say — hell, they are saying — “We’re not carrying out cyberattacks. We’re victims too. Maybe you’re the attacker. Or maybe it’s Anonymous. Where’s your proof?”

Even if all sides were genuinely committed to limiting cyberwar, as they were in 1939, history shows that it only takes a single error to break the legal limits forever. And error is inevitable. Bombs dropped by desperate pilots under fire go astray — and so do cyberweapons. Stuxnet infected thousands of networks as it searched blindly for Iran’s uranium-enrichment centrifuges. The infections lasted far longer than intended. Should we expect fewer errors from code drafted in the heat of battle and flung at hazard toward the enemy?

Of course not. But the lesson of all this for the lawyers and the diplomats is stark: Their effort to impose limits on cyberwar is almost certainly doomed.

No one can welcome this conclusion, at least not in the United States. The country has advantages in traditional war that it lacks in cyberwar. Americans are not used to the idea that launching even small wars on distant continents may cause death and suffering at home. That is what drives the lawyers — they hope to maintain the old world. But they’re being driven down a dead end.

If America wants to defend against the horrors of cyberwar, it needs first to face them, with the candor of a Stanley Baldwin. Then the country needs to charge its military strategists, not its lawyers, with constructing a cyberwar strategy for the world we live in, not the world we’d like to live in.

That strategy needs both an offense and a defense. The offense must be powerful enough to deter every adversary with something to lose in cyberspace, so it must include a way to identify attackers with certainty. The defense, too, must be realistic, making successful cyberattacks more difficult and less effective because resilience and redundancy has been built into U.S. infrastructure.

Once the United States has a strategy for winning a cyberwar, it can ask the lawyers for their thoughts. But it can’t be done the other way around.

In 1941, the British sent their most modern battleship, the Prince of Wales, to Southeast Asia to deter a Japanese attack on Singapore. For 150 years, having the largest and most modern navy was all that was needed to project British power around the globe. Like the American lawyers who now oversee defense and intelligence, British admirals preferred to believe that the world had not changed. It took Japanese bombers 10 minutes to put an end to their fantasy, to the Prince of Wales, and to hundreds of brave sailors’ lives.

We should not wait for our own Prince of Wales moment in cyberspace.

Typhoon Roke

Typhoon Roke : Natural Hazards.

Typhoon Roke

acquired September 20, 2011 download large image (6 MB, JPEG)
acquired September 20, 2011 download GeoTIFF file (60 MB, TIFF)
acquired September 20, 2011 download Google Earth file (KMZ)

Typhoon Roke promises to bring unwelcome rain to areas of Japan still recovering from Typhoon Talas, which triggered landslides and floods across the Kii Peninsula in early September 2011. The new typhoon has the potential to trigger additional landslides and floods, particularly as rainwater builds up behind mud dams formed by landslides during Typhoon Talas. Fearing floods from two rivers, officials in the city of Nagoya ordered the evacuation of 80,000 people and advised more than a million more to evacuate, said The Japan Times.

Typhoon Roke was on its way to becoming a very strong storm when the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Aqua satellite acquired this image at 1:45 p.m. local time (4:45 UTC) on September 20, 2011. The storm is large and well-formed, with a distinct eye. An hour after the image was taken, Roke had winds of 176 kilometers (109 miles) per hour per hour (95 knots), making it a Category 2 storm. Seven hours later, the storm intensified to Category 4, with winds reaching 213 kilometers (132 miles) per hour ( 115 knots).

Roke was moving northeast toward the Japanese island of Honshu at 35 kilometers per hour (22 miles/hour) and was forecast to come ashore on September 21, according to the Japan Meteorological Agency. Roke could bring as much as 500 millimeters (20 inches) of rain to parts of Japan.

  1. References

  2. Japan Meteorological Agency. (2011, September 20). Tropical cyclone information. Accessed September 20, 2011.
  3. The Japan Times. (2011, September 20). Nagoya orders 80,000 out as typhoon nears. Accessed September 20, 2011.
  4. Unisys Weather. (2011, September 20). Typhoon Roke. Data from Joint Typhoon Warning Center. Accessed September 20, 2011.

NASA image courtesy Jeff Schmaltz, MODIS Rapid Response Team at NASA GSFC. Caption by Holli Riebeek.

Instrument: 
Aqua – MODIS

Post-9/11 U.S. intelligence reforms take root but problems remain

Post-9/11 U.S. intelligence reforms take root, problems remain | Reuters.

(Reuters) – U.S. intelligence agencies will forever be scarred by their failure to connect the dots and detect the September 11 plot, but a decade later efforts to break down barriers to information-sharing are taking root.

Changing a culture of “need-to-know” to “need-to-share” does not come easily in spy circles. Some officials say they worry, a decade later, about a future attack in which it turns out that U.S. spy agencies had clues in their vast vaults of data but did not put them together, or even know they existed.

Yet significant changes, both big and small, have broken down barriers between agencies, smoothed information-sharing and improved coordination, U.S. intelligence experts say.

From issuing a blue badge to everyone working in the sprawling intelligence community to symbolize a common identity, to larger moves of mixing employees from different agencies, the goal is singular — to prevent another attack.

“We’re much further ahead,” David Shedd, Defense Intelligence Agency deputy director, said of the ability to connect the dots compared with 10 years ago. Still, signs of a plot to attack the United States could be missed again.

“My worst fear, and I suspect probably one that would come true, is that in any future would-be or actual attack, God forbid, we will be able to find the dots again somewhere because of simply how much data is collected,” Shedd said.

The political response to the failure to stop the attack was the 2002 creation of the Department of Homeland Security, pulling together 22 agencies to form the third largest U.S. Cabinet department behind the Pentagon and Veterans Affairs.

That was followed by the creation in late 2004 of the Director of National Intelligence to oversee all the spy agencies, as recommended by the bipartisan 9/11 commission.

Previously, the CIA director held a dual role of also overseeing the multitude of intelligence agencies. But in the aftermath of the 2001 attacks, policymakers decided that was too big of a job for one person to do effectively.

‘THERE ARE PROBLEMS’

Critics argued then and now that the reforms were the government’s usual response to crises — create more bureaucracy. But others see much-needed change.

“It has been a tremendous improvement,” said Lee Hamilton, who was the 9/11 commission vice chair. “It’s not seamless, there are problems, and we’ve still got a ways to go.”

The 2001 attacks involving airliners hijacked by al Qaeda operatives killed nearly 3,000 people in New York, Pennsylvania and the Pentagon. Various U.S. intelligence and law enforcement agencies had come across bits of information suggesting an impending attack but failed to put the pieces together.

The CIA had information about three of the 19 hijackers at least 20 months before the attacks; the National Security Agency had information linking one of the hijackers with al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden’s network; the CIA knew one hijacker had entered the United States but did not tell the FBI; and an FBI agent warned of suspicious Middle Eastern men taking flying lessons.

Have the reforms made America safer? Officials say yes, and point to the U.S. operation that killed bin Laden in Pakistan in May that demanded coordination among intelligence agencies and the military. But there is an inevitable caveat: no one can guarantee there will never be another attack on U.S. soil.

On Christmas Day 2009, a Nigerian man linked to an al Qaeda off-shoot tried unsuccessfully to light explosives sewn into his underwear on a flight to Detroit from Amsterdam. It turned out U.S. authorities had pockets of information about him.

President Barack Obama used a familiar September 11 phrase to describe the 2009 incident as “a failure to connect the dots of intelligence that existed across our intelligence community.”

Roger Cressey, a former White House National Security Council counterterrorism official, resurrected another September 11 phrase: “It was a failure of imagination.”

The intelligence community had not seen al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, a Yemen-based al Qaeda off-shoot, as capable of striking the U.S. homeland. If the “underwear bomber” threat had originated in Pakistan “they would have gone to battle stations immediately,” Cressey said.

Some proposed changes in how authorities would respond to another successful attack still are pending. For example, creation of a common communication system for police, firefighters and other emergency personnel remains tangled up in political wrangling in Congress over how to implement it.

“This is a no-brainer,” Hamilton said. “The first responders at the scene of a disaster ought to be able to talk with one another. They cannot do it today in most jurisdictions.”

Former leaders of the 9/11 commission issued a report card saying nine of its 41 recommendations remain unfinished.

WHERE’S THE POWER?

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence has experienced growing pains as overseer of the 17 spy agencies, churning through four chiefs in six years.

Tensions over turf, confusion about the DNI’s role, and problems herding agencies with very powerful chiefs of their own all came to a crescendo when retired Admiral Dennis Blair, the third DNI, tried to assert authority over CIA station chiefs, who represent the agency in different countries.

“The position of chief of station is one of the crown jewels of the CIA, and they don’t want anyone playing with their crown jewels,” said Mark Lowenthal, a former senior U.S. intelligence official.

After a dust-up with CIA Director Leon Panetta, who now is defense secretary, it was Blair who was sent packing.

“I think the mistake that some have made is to have viewed the DNI and the Director of CIA as an either/or proposition rather than the power of the two working together,” the DIA’s Shedd said in an interview in his office.

“There is a history of where that hasn’t worked so well, I believe it is working much better today,” said Shedd, who has worked at the DNI, CIA and National Security Council.

Intelligence experts say in the current administration, Obama’s top homeland security and counterterrorism adviser John Brennan arguably has more power than any of them because he has the president’s ear. It’s a reminder that, bureaucratic reform or no, personalities count in making national security policy.

The improved sharing of secret data has led to yet another set of problems. The deluge of bits and bytes has subjected intelligence analysts to information overload as they try to sift through it all for relevant pieces.

“Our analysts still are spending way too much time on finding the information rather than on the analysis of the information,” Shedd said. “There is just too much data to go find it all.”

The intelligence community wants a system developed that would automatically process information from multiple agencies and then make the connections for the analysts.

But greater inroads into sharing data across agencies does not guarantee that another attack will be averted.

The threat has evolved and officials now are increasingly concerned about a “lone wolf” plot by an individual, not tied to any militant group, that may be more difficult to uncover.

“Those threats will not come to our attention because of an intelligence community intercept,” said John Cohen, a senior Department of Homeland Security counterterrorism official.

“They will come to our attention because of an alert police officer, an alert deputy sheriff, an alert store owner, an alert member of the public sees something that is suspicious and reports it,” Cohen said.

One measure of the success of post-9/11 reforms is that a decade later the United States has not had a similar attack.

“Now that could be luck, that could be skill, we don’t really know,” Hamilton said. “But in all likelihood what we have done, including the establishment of the Department of Homeland Security and the transformation in intelligence and FBI, has certainly been helpful.”

(Editing by Warren Strobel and Will Dunham)

Can we count on cell networks in disasters?

Can we count on cell networks in disasters? | Signal Strength – CNET News.

Andrea Mancuso was working just north of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, when two planes struck the towers. Soon after, she was the only person around who seemed to have cell phone service.

“I walked from downtown to Lincoln Center (about 4.5 miles) before I was able to hail a cab with four strangers,” she said. “Everyone was upset, and no one had a cell phone signal except me. I passed my phone around like a hot potato all the way to Harlem. Everyone including the cab driver graciously and tearfully called their families.”

Her story, of course, is not unique. For hours, family members and co-workers frantically tried to contact people they knew in Lower Manhattan.

The network failure could partially be pinned on infrastructure damage. Cell towers were destroyed in the attacks, along with switching equipment used for landline phones. But another cause of the problem was the huge surge in traffic from people trying to find loved ones or letting others know they were OK.

Since 9/11, wireless networks have been tested time and again, and their performance has been shaky. A major blackout in the Northeast in 2003, Hurricane Katrina in 2005, and the Minneapolis bridge collapse in 2007 put strains on local networks. Cellular service in New York City even ground to a halt last month because of a minor earthquake centered several hundred miles away.

Undoubtedly, with each crisis, operators have learned more about what they can do to keep service up and running. But there’s a flip side to that growing expertise: we’re more dependent than ever on cell phones.

In September 2001, there were between 118 million and 128 million wireless subscribers who owned cell phones, according to data compiled by the CTIA Wireless Association. At the end of 2010, it was 302 million, or more than 96 percent of Americans. To keep up with the surge, wireless operators have spent billions of dollars upgrading their networks, adding more than 125,000 new cell sites since the end of 2001.

 

Related stories:
Hurricane Irene’s challenge for cell phone networks
Cell service jammed after East Coast earthquake
Wireless operators accelerate upgrade plans

But is that enough? Despite anecdotal evidence to the contrary, industry experts interviewed by CNET believe that carriers have made huge strides on network reliability by doing simple things like expansion and adding generator backups, and complex things like forming emergency response units. They believe we’re in far better shape than we were 10 years ago…to a point.

“There’s no question the networks are in a much better position today than they were in 2001 to handle a significant crisis, even in the face of a staggering increase in users,” said Charles Golvin, an analyst at Forrester Research. “But it’s also important for people to make contingency plans for communications, in case the network isn’t working.”

On the plus side
There’s reason for that guarded optimism. Carriers have added spectrum and high-capacity connections from their cell towers to the wired networks that transport voice and data traffic. And they’ve hardened their networks with equipment that can withstand heavy wind and rain, as well as ensure that the equipment remains functional when commercial power is lost.

In fact, all the major wireless carriers have increased the number of cell sites with backup power supplies. They’ve also increased the number of cell sites on wheels that they can roll into locations that have had infrastructure damage.

“A good proportion of the cellular bay stations across all the major carriers now have some kind of battery or generator for backup power,” said Gerard Hallaren, an equities analyst at JRPG Research. “That wasn’t the case back in 2001.”

Verizon Wireless, for example, has for years been installing backup generators and batteries to many of its cell sites. During the 2003 blackout that kept much of the Northeast in the dark for hours, Verizon’s customers could still communicate when customers from other carriers could not.

There’s also that human element, in terms of specialized units that can quickly move into an area.

“In the event of a natural or man-made disaster, like 9/11, we have multiple groups within AT&T who are equipped to respond quickly to repair and restore network capabilities,” AT&T spokesman Mark Siegel said. “Our network disaster recovery team is a great example of that. They were deployed after 9/11 to assist in restorations, and we’ve invested $600 million in our NDR team since its formation.”

There are also new services. Enhanced 911, which allows 911 operators to locate callers on a cell phone, is a prime example. A decade ago, cell phones in the U.S. didn’t yet support the technology. Today, every phone sold in the U.S. is capable of providing location information to emergency 911 operators.

While it was gaining popularity in Europe and elsewhere in 2001, SMS text-messaging services in the U.S. weren’t used much by wireless subscribers because they worked only within carrier networks. This meant that on September 11, 2001, if someone wanted to send a text message to a family member or loved one, they were able to send it only to someone who subscribed to the same carrier.

A few months later, in November 2001, carriers began to connect their networks for text messaging, allowing subscribers on different networks to exchange texts. Today, more than 187 billion text messages cross U.S. wireless networks each month.

Text messaging has become a critical form of communication during a crisis. In the lead-up to Hurricane Irene on the East Coast last month, wireless operators and public-safety officials were asking consumers to use text messaging during the storm instead of making voice calls to help alleviate network congestion.

Text messaging is a better way of communicating in a crisis for several reasons. To start, the messages are small and consume only a small amount of network resources. Second, messages are sent on a cell phone’s signaling channel. This means that they’re in a separate “lane” from voice and data messages, so they may have a clear path when the voice network is congested. And if the network is too congested even to send a text, the message can be stored. When service resumes, the message is sent.

The technology has become such a ubiquitous and reliable form of communication during an emergency that the Federal Communication Commission is working on rules to allow 911 call centers to accept SMS text messages, as well as photos, videos, and data communications, to provide more information to first responders for assessing and responding to emergencies.

Congestion problem
The biggest problem wireless networks face today in a crisis is a rapid increase in usage. The networks don’t have enough capacity to handle the surge in call volume. Cellular networks are designed to handle a certain amount of calls in each cell site or region, with wireless operators carefully calculating how much usage is needed to serve the average usage volume while having just enough capacity to handle spikes in demand.

The problem occurs when a disaster hits, and thousands of people all at once pick up their phones to call someone, send a text message, update Twitter, and so on. There simply isn’t enough capacity in the network to allow everyone in a cell site to make a phone call at the same time.

Steve Largent, the president of the CTIA Wireless Association, argues that more wireless spectrum is needed to ensure that more “lanes” for data can be opened up for wireless operators to direct traffic to during a crisis.

“Crisis situations are a perfect example of why it’s so important that the government makes more wireless spectrum available,” he said.

While more spectrum could help, it’s unclear if it would ever be cost-effective for wireless operators to configure their networks to withstand the highest demand for network resources. Analyst Gerard Hallaren said most networks are designed to handle only about 20 percent to 40 percent of maximum traffic, with 40 percent being on the conservative side.

“It’s just economic insanity for any carrier to try to solve the congestion problem,” he said. “It’s cost-prohibitive to build a network that could serve 330 million at the same time. A service like that would cost hundreds of dollars a month, and people are not willing to pay that much for cell phone service.”

That said, the carriers say they’ve made improvements to their networks and are trying to alleviate the issue.

“We continue to build redundancies into our network and increase capacity so that it is not overwhelmed by ‘sudden calling events,'” AT&T’s Siegel said.

New generations of cellular technology have also helped make wireless more available during a crisis. The move from 2G to 3G, and now to 4G, will offer carriers more efficiencies in how they use their spectrum, which could also be a benefit during an emergency to alleviate network congestion.

The other major difference between September 2001 and now is that the mobile Internet as we know it today did not exist. Third-generation, or so called 3G, wireless networks were not deployed, and most people did not have access to the Internet from their cell phones. Facebook, Twitter, and other social-networking apps that people access easily from their cell phones today to share pictures, updates, and other information weren’t even invented back then. While this traffic also increases the load on networks, sometimes it’s easier for users to get through to these sites than to make voice connections via their cell phones.

“People have so many more ways of communicating with each other now to tell someone where they are or that they are all right,” Forrester’s Golvin said. “Having these communication alternatives is a huge improvement over where we were a decade ago.”

Public-safety officials had their own communications challenges responding to the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. Tomorrow CNET will explain the problems first responders had that day and why the public-safety community is still waiting for their own wireless network.

Hurricane Irene from space

Short Sharp Science: Irene from space: covers Atlantic coastline.

Caitlin Stier, contributor
irene.jpg
(Image: NASA)

Hurricane Irene is expected to strike North Carolina Saturday before heading up the coast – potentially hitting the New York metropolitan area and impacting a swath of 55 million people.

The category 2 storm has sustained winds topping off at 165 kilometres per hour. Storm trackers were worried Irene would strike as a category 3 hurricane, but the storm weakened overnight. The National Hurricane Center is not currently forecasting an increase in intensity before it makes landfall.

Several states have declared states of emergency and evacuations have been ordered for residents as far north as New Jersey. Previous rainfall combined with a new moon tide on Sunday could heighten the slow-moving storm’s impact.

Strong hurricane strikes in the northeast are rare but the impending storm raises questions about the readiness of New York City considering the torrential rains and storm surge possible with intense hurricanes. The city is preparing for a potential shutdown of the subway system if sustained winds reach 63 kilometres per hour.

This image from the International Space Station shows the giant storm over the Caribbean on Monday. NASA satellites show the diameter of the storm is about one-third of the entire Atlantic coastline.

Lee's remnants brings fresh flood worries to East Coast

Lee’s remnants brings fresh flood worries to East – Yahoo! News.

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. – As the leftovers from Tropical Storm Lee brought welcome wet weather to farmers in the Southeast, many areas of the East Coast were getting soaked Wednesday, bringing new concerns about flooding.

Tornadoes spawned by Lee damaged hundreds of homes, and flooding knocked out power to hundreds of thousands of people. Trees were uprooted and roads were flooded. Winds from the storm fanned wildfires in Louisiana and Texas. Lee even kicked up tar balls on the Gulf Coast.

At least four people died in the storm.

Lee was moving north, bringing heavy rain along with it. Flood warnings were in effect Wednesday and Thursday for much of Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Flood watches have been issued for water-logged eastern New York.

Rising waters of a rain-swollen creek forced the evacuation of residents in the northeastern Pennsylvania city of Wilkes-Barre early Wednesday morning.

Officials ordered the mandatory evacuation of about 3,000 residents. Rain from Irene also prompted evacuations there two Sundays ago.

In New Jersey, major flooding was forecast for the Passaic River, which breached its banks during Irene and caused serious damage in some communities.

Lee formed just off the Louisiana coast late last week and gained strength as it lingered in the Gulf for a couple of days. It dumped more than a foot of rain in New Orleans, testing the city’s pump system for the first time in years. The storm then trudged across Mississippi and Alabama. By Tuesday, it had collided with a cold front leaving much of the East Coast wet, with unseasonably cool temperatures.

At one point, flood watches and warnings were in effect from northeast Alabama through West Virginia to New England.

In southeast Louisiana, Red Eubanks used a floor squeegee to clean up his restaurant and bar. His parking lot had been dry — and the headquarters for Livingston Parish sheriff’s deputies and their rescue boat — but the nearby Amite River slowly rose and overflowed its banks.

Water crept into the dining hall and back of Red’s Restaurant and Bar. Eubanks’ son and several friends put the refrigerator, freezers and salad display boxes on cinder blocks to protect them.

“This makes the fifth time I’ve had water in this building in 31 1/2 years,” he said.

In New Jersey, where many residents were still cleaning up after Hurricane Irene, the remnants of Lee were expected to drop anywhere from 2 to 5 inches of rain. Major flooding was forecast on Wednesday for the Passaic River, which breached its banks during Irene and caused serious damage in some communities.

On New York’s Long Island, heavy rain and winds knocked out power to more than 9,000 utility customers for several hours on Tuesday. But Lee’s damage paled in comparison with Irene. At least 46 deaths were blamed on that storm, millions lost power and the damage was estimated in the billions of dollars.

Still, Lee was an unprecedented storm in some places. In Chattanooga, a 24-hour record for rainfall was set with 9.69 inches, eclipsing the previous record of 7.61 inches in March of 1886. By Tuesday, more than 10 inches of rain had fallen in the state’s fourth-largest city, which had its driest August ever with barely a drop of rain.

The soggy ground meant even modest winds were toppling trees onto homes and cars. A tree fell on a Chattanooga woman while she was moving her car, killing her, said police Sgt. Jerri Weary.

In suburban Atlanta, a man died after trying to cross a swollen creek near a dam. Authorities in Alabama called off the search for a missing swimmer presumed dead in the rough Gulf waters and in Mississippi, another man drowned while trying to cross a swollen creek in a car. Two people in the car with him were saved when an alert motorist nearby tossed them a rope.

There were other rescue stories, too. At a flooded apartment complex in Fort Oglethorpe in northwest Georgia, 33 people were saved by boat, Georgia Emergency Management Agency spokesman Ken Davis said.

The American Red Cross set up a shelter for them and other residents displaced in Mississippi, where damage was reported in at least 22 counties.

In Gulf Shores, Ala., black and brown chunks of tar ranging in size from marbles to baseballs washed up on the beach. Brandon Franklin, the city’s coastal claims manager, said samples would be sent to Auburn University for chemical testing to determine if the tar is from last year’s BP oil spill.

Oil from the spill had soiled Gulf Coast beaches during the summer tourist season a year ago, though officials said the tar balls found so far didn’t compare with the thick oil found on beaches then.

BP has sent survey teams to conduct post-storm assessments along coastal beaches to determine what may have developed on the beaches and barrier islands as a result of Lee. The oil giant is prepared to mobilize response crews to affected areas if necessary, spokesman Tom Mueller said.

In Cherokee County in northern Georgia, National Weather Service meteorologists confirmed that it was a tornado that damaged or destroyed about 400 homes. The twister was about a quarter-mile wide, with winds of around 90 mph. It traveled 24 miles on the ground, meteorologist Jessica Fieux said.

One man received minor injuries from flying debris, but otherwise no one was hurt.

Georgia Insurance and Safety Fire Commissioner Ralph Hudgens toured a speedway and other neighborhoods damaged by the tornado.

“Sometimes a house would be hit, and a lot of damage,” Hudgens said. “And then the next door neighbor, nothing.”

The rain was a blessing for some farmers who had been forced to cut hay early and had seen their corn crop stunted by a summer drought.

“Obviously we would like to have this a while earlier,” said Brant Crowder, who manages 600 acres of the McDonald Farm in the Sale Creek community north of Chattanooga. “It’s been hot and dry the last two months.”

As many as 200,000 had lost power across Alabama at the height of the storm, with most of the outages in the Birmingham area, Alabama Power spokeswoman Keisa Sharpe said. Outages were also reported in Georgia, Tennessee and North Carolina.

Meanwhile, in the open Atlantic, Hurricane Katia threatened to bring large swells to the East Coast but was not expected to make landfall in the U.S.

___

Associated Press writers Jay Reeves in Orange Beach, Ala.; Bob Johnson in Montgomery; Ray Henry in Atlanta; Janet McConnaughey in New Orleans and Randall Dickerson in Nashville, Tenn., contributed to this report.

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Remnants of Tropical Storm Lee could flood Atlantic states, Northeast

The remnants of Tropical Storm Lee could bring new floods to the Northeast.

The remnants of Tropical Storm Lee could bring new floods to the Northeast.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Up to 10 inches of rain are expected in Mid-Atlantic states
  • Rainfall amounts of up to 4 inches are forecast for the Northeast
  • Lee is blamed for at least four deaths in the South
  • What remained of Lee was located southwest of Knoxville, Tennessee

Read more about the remnants of Tropical Storm Lee from CNN affiliate WCBS.

Atlanta (CNN) — The remnants of former Tropical Storm Lee were forecast to bring heavy rainfall and flooding along the Appalachians and Mid-Atlantic states as they move up the East Coast on Wednesday.

The system also was expected to dump additional rain on the Northeast, which has yet to dry out after Hurricane Irene last week.

Flood and flash flood watches and warnings were posted from the South through the Appalachians and up into the Northeast as the remnants of Lee tracked north.

Rainfall amounts of up to 4 to 8 inches were expected, with up to 10 inches possible in isolated areas, the National Weather Service’s Hydrometeorological Prediction Center said late Tuesday.

“These rains may cause life-threatening flash floods and mudslides,” the center said.

Lee’s remains spawn tornadoes in Georgia

As of 11 p.m. ET, the center of what remained of Lee was about 95 miles southwest of Knoxville, Tennessee, and was nearly stationary, the center said. The system had maximum sustained winds of 25 mph, with higher gusts.

To the north, the forecast was unwelcome news for waterlogged Vermont and northern New York, which could receive another 1 to 3 inches of rain with up to 4 inches possible in some spots by Wednesday night.

“We could get flooded again,” Robin Stewart of Paterson, New Jersey, told CNN affiliate WCBS. “We’re real concerned about that.”

Garbage remained piled outside Stewart’s home after flooding from Irene wrecked the first story of her house, WCBS said. Stewart hasn’t had power for more than a week, and she is afraid more rain will flood her home again and keep her in the dark even longer.

“When everybody else is on their way to recovery, we’re getting flooded again,” Stewart said.

Lee left at least four people dead as it crossed Southern states.

In Gwinnett County, Georgia, just outside Atlanta, firefighters said Tuesday they found the body of a man who drowned in a rain-swollen creek near Norcross.

In Baldwin County, Alabama, police said they no longer believe a missing 16-year-old boy is alive. The teen was last seen on a beach near Gulf Shores on Sunday.

A flooding death was also reported in rural northeast Mississippi, where one person drowned after floodwaters swept away a vehicle in Tishomingo County, emergency officials said.

And a woman was struck by a tree and killed in Chattanooga, Tennessee, early Tuesday.

Rainfall totals from Lee included 11.74 inches in Tillman’s Corner, Alabama; 10 inches in Mobile, Alabama; 10 inches in Milton, Florida; 10 inches in LaFayette, Georgia; 15 inches in Holden, Louisiana; and 14 inches in Waveland, Mississippi.

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FEMA funding faces now familiar congressional wrangling

FEMA funding faces now familiar congressional wrangling – CNN.com.

Washington (CNN) — As rescuers raced Tuesday to free people trapped by floodwaters caused by Hurricane Irene, Washington politicians bickered over how to pay for it.

The same budget arguments that nearly brought the first government default in history earlier this month now raise questions about whether the Federal Emergency Management Agency will have enough money to deal with Irene’s aftermath.

FEMA’s Disaster Relief Fund has less than $800 million remaining, and given the pace of operations in the wake of Irene, could run out before the end of the current fiscal year on September 30.

With conservative House Republicans calling for spending cuts to offset any increase in emergency funds — a condition opposed by many Democrats — the ability of Congress to act quickly on the issue remains uncertain.

“The notion that we would hold this up until Republicans can prompt another budget fight and figure out what they want to cut, what they want to offset in the budget, and to pit one section of the country against the other and to delay this and create this uncertainty, it’s just the latest chapter and I think one of the most unsavory ones of our budget wars,” said Rep. David Price, D-North Carolina.

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Irene first made landfall on the U.S. mainland in North Carolina, devastating some coastal areas. Price said GOP efforts led by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor of neighboring Virginia to offset additional emergency funds amount to “an untenable position and one that simply is unresponsive and insensitive to the kind of situation we face.”

Cantor’s spokesman, however, noted that an appropriations bill already passed by the House and awaiting action in the Democratic-controlled Senate includes additional money to replenish the FEMA disaster fund.

“That funding was offset,” said the spokesman, Brad Dayspring. “The Senate has thus far failed to act on that legislation.”

While the appropriations bill is for fiscal year 2012, which begins October 1, the money could be used for disasters that occurred in fiscal 2011.

“People and families affected by these disasters will certainly get what they need from their federal government,” Dayspring said. “The goal should be to find ways to pay for what is needed whenever possible. That is the responsible thing to do. ”

States can request FEMA Disaster Relief Fund assistance once the president declares a federal disaster within their borders. Most of the Eastern and Northeast states hit by Irene already have that designation.

Federal officials say they don’t yet know how much money will be needed for all the emergency operations associated with Irene. After a series of destructive tornadoes earlier this year, including one that leveled a large swath of Joplin, Missouri, FEMA announced Monday that it was not approving new long-term reconstruction projects in order to ensure it has enough money for immediate emergency funding needs.

“Historically, when the balance in our Disaster Relief Fund has been under the range of $1 billion, we have employed this strategy,” a FEMA statement said.

Rachel Racusen, a FEMA spokesperson, said in a statement that the revised funding strategy “prioritizes the immediate, urgent needs of survivors and states when preparing for or responding to a disaster.”

“This strategy will not affect the availability of aid that any disaster survivors are receiving for recent disasters, such as tornadoes or flooding, or our response operations for Hurricane Irene or any event in the coming weeks or months,” Racusen said.

Missouri legislators worried that FEMA was shifting priority from Joplin’s recovery to focus on Irene because of the funding crunch.

“Recovery from hurricane damage on the East Coast must not come at the expense of Missouri’s rebuilding efforts,” Republican Sen. Roy Blunt said in a statement Monday. “If FEMA can’t fulfill its promise to our state because we have other disasters, that’s unacceptable, and we need to take a serious look at how our disaster response policies are funded and implemented.”

To Price, the problem is the Republican demand for spending offsets, which he said ended up pitting regions against each other for needed emergency funding.

“I’m just very impatient and I think the American people are going to be impatient with any attempt to hold these funds hostage to political objectives,” he said.

A Democratic Senate appropriations aide told CNN on condition of not being identified that the FEMA disaster fund was at $772 million on Tuesday morning, and that it would be about a week before the agency can estimate the costs associated with Hurricane Irene.

The House appropriations bill for the Department of Homeland Security, which includes FEMA, will come up in the Senate Appropriations Committee on September 6, according to the Senate aide.

It doubled the original $1.8 billion requested by President Barack Obama for fiscal 2012, adding $850 million for emergency funding that was offset by cuts in other DHS programs including the Coast Guard, first responders and FEMA, the aide said.

In addition, House Appropriations Committee Chairman Robert Aderholt, R-Alabama, added another $1 billion for the Disaster Relief Fund that was offset by cutting funds for a fuel-efficient vehicles program, according to the aide.

Democrats take issue with cuts to Homeland Security funding to offset additional emergency funding, the aide noted. In July, Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-Louisiana, who chairs the Homeland Security Appropriations subcommittee, criticized the House appropriations bill as “short-sighted.”

Even the White House got involved in the fracas, with Press Secretary Jay Carney telling reporters Tuesday that he wished Cantor and other conservative Republicans had the same commitment to spending offsets “when they ran up unprecedented bills and never paid for them” during the administration of President George W. Bush.

That prompted a quick response from Cantor’s office, which said: “The goal should be to find ways to pay for what is needed when possible. In the face of a $14 trillion national debt, that is the responsible thing to do.”