"There is a sense of increased stress and reduced morale among LLNL technical employees in the weapons program, stemming from a (perceived, at least) combination of reduced resources and increased work requirements," notes the August 2013 assessment of the lab. "We recommend attention to the potential danger that activities that are important for long-term stockpile stewardship may be dropped in favor of seemingly urgent near-term requirements."
There's always the chance that nuclear scientists might be sitting on warheads reading "The Hollow Men" and listening to Josh Ritter (below), depressed that they're babysitting aging weapons that could destroy humankind. But it's more likely that America's "great speedup" has managed to make its way to US nuclear labs. As Mother Jones reported back in 2011, while overall American productivity has skyrocketed since the 1970s, only the top one percent of earners are seeing the gains. For everyone else, wages have remained frustratingly stagnant. Naturally, the potential consequences of an administrative assistant at McDonalds feeling overworked are not quite the same as a guy in charge of the US nuclear stockpile.
"This reminded me of the time after the collapse of the Soviet Union, when there was some danger that engineers might be tempted to shop their expertise around and take it to other governments, which posed a proliferation hazard," says Steven Aftergood, director of the Federation of American Scientists' Project on Government Secrecy. He adds that "I wouldn't overstate its significance, but it's out of the ordinary and I don't recall seeing these concerns about morale before."
While this is only a brief evaluation of one nuclear site, it's hard to imagine that things have gotten much better since August. During the government shutdown, 6,000 employees at LLNL were forced to suspend their research and several other nuclear labs shut down. There has also been a series of cost overruns and a high-profile, embarrassing security breach at a different nuclear site last year, which involved an 82-year-old nun. LLNL did not respond to a request for comment.
"All the sites are having trouble," Aftergood adds. "This is a small window into a world that we don't normally see."
With Healthcare.gov plagued by technical difficulties, the Obama administration is bringing in heavyweight coders and private companies like Verizon to fix the federal health exchange, pronto. But web security experts say the Obamacare tech team should add another pressing cyber issue to its to-do list: eliminating a security flaw that could make sensitive user information, including Social Security numbers, vulnerable to hackers.
According to several online security experts, Healthcare.gov, the portal where consumers in 35 states are being directed to obtain affordable health coverage, has a coding problem that could allow hackers to deploy a technique called "clickjacking," where invisible links are planted on a legitimate web page. Using this scheme, hackers could trick users into giving up personal data as they enter it into the web site, potentially placing Americans at risk of identity theft or allowing fraudsters to file bogus health care claims. And it's not just the federal exchange that has security problems. Some of the 15 states that have established their own online exchanges aren't using standard encryption throughout their Obamacare websites—leaving user information at risk.
"I am working with Senator Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) on bipartisan legislation to facilitate the sharing of cyber related information among companies and with the government and to provide protection from liability," Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) told Mother Jones in a statement. "The legislation will...still maintain necessary privacy protections." NSA's Alexander threw his weight behind this kind of bill in September: "If we can't work with industry, if we can't share information with them, we can't stop [cyber attacks]" he told the Washington Post.
Privacy advocates aren't happy to see that the "zombie bill" is returning—it's been killed and resurrected twice since it was originally introduced by Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) in 2011. "This summer has confirmed that any information that goes into the NSA will be shrouded by secrecy and there will be no oversight," says Michelle Richardson, a legislative counsel with the ACLU. "Since this is a domestic issue, the NSA is more likely to get involved...and companies haven't provided concrete examples that they even need this legislation, especially when it's this broad."
The way CISPA was written earlier this year, it would have given US companies the legal protection to share cyberattack incidents with the government, which could then help companies better defend sensitive information, such as the design for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter and US electrical grids. The way the law stands now, cyber attack information is only supposed to be shared in emergencies, otherwise it can be a violation of laws like the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) and the Wiretap Act. Tech companies, including Google and Facebook, have quietly supported CISPA in the past—possibly because, according to Snowden, they were already being forced to share user information with the US government, anyway, and CISPA would protect them from lawsuits.
Privacy advocates and many Senate Democrats took issue with the bill's broad language, which set no limits on what the government could do with the personal information it obtained as long as it fell under the national security umbrella. "CISPA would've allowed NSA to get its hands on even more private and sensitive data," says Mark Jaycox, a policy analyst for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, noting that he hasn't seen the latest draft of the bill so can't comment on it.
Feinstein's office told Mother Jones that the new version of the bill will have "tight limitation on what kind of information is shared" and "the goal is to allow and encourage the sharing only of information related to identifying and protecting against cyber threats, and not the communications and commerce of Americans." She also said that she believes "the lead responsibility within the federal government should be with a civilian department or agency"—not the Department of Defense.
However, Brian Weiss, a spokesman for Feinstein, could not confirm that two of the biggest privacy problems raised in the House version of CISPA—that personally identifiable information would be shared and the NSA could get it—had been written out of the new bill. There is "no final language" yet, he said. Richardson from the ACLU notes that "some of the Republican's proposals have been very anti-privacy, and there's been a pretty big gap between the Senate Republican approach and [Feinstein's.]" (Chambliss's office confirmed they were working on the bill, but did not provide any additional details.)
Even if the bill makes it to the floor, it could still be a tough sell—Obama threatened to veto the House version of CISPA earlier this year and almost 400 websites staged an online blackout in protest in April. "I think it will be very difficult to move information-sharing legislation forward given the events of the last several months," says Richard Bejtlich, the chief security officer at Mandiant, a company that offers cybersecurity services for Fortune 100 companies. He also notes that his firm's big report on China's secret-hacking unit was effective without listing personally identifiable information.
"It would have been complicated to pass a bill before the leak and nows it's even harder," Richardson agrees. "That being said, I think we need to keep a very careful eye on it to make sure a deal isn't struck in the Senate. Sometimes these things suddenly start moving."
The just-concluded government shutdown and debt ceiling crisis revealed a deep and profound split within Republican ranks, as tea party crusaders pushed for brinkmanship to thwart Obamacare and establishment-minded GOPers freaked out over the historic hit their party was receiving in public opinion polls. Even after the conflict was settled (at least for a few months)—with the congressional Republicans essentially waving a white flag—the civil war within GOP and conservative circles continued unabated. Once the deal went down, mainstream GOPers immediately blamed the "suicide caucus" for harming the party and pledged to block future shenanigans of this sort, and tea partiers in and out of Congress dismissed the "surrender caucus" and vowed to continue the fight as the next D-Days approach (January 15 for funding the government, and February 7 for the debt ceiling).
This ugly episode hasn't resolved the tensions within the GOP and the conservative movement—it has exacerbated them. Here is a list of post-deal quotes from key players in this civil war that show the internecine battle is not likely to end soon.
Update: TPM reports that Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) has "no objections" to the Senate voting on the bill today, and will not attempt to block or delay it. He added, "There's nothing to be gained from delaying this vote one day or two days."
Update 2: Politico reports that the Senate will be voting first on the bill, sometime Wednesday afternoon or early evening.
Senate leaders have forged an 11th-hour deal to end the government shutdown and raise the debt ceiling, and House Speaker John Boehner is expected to bring the bill up for a vote, Politico and other media outlets reported Wednesday morning. If the bill passes and arrives on President Obama's desk by the October 17 deadline, the US government will reopen until January 15, and the debt ceiling will be raised until February 7, delaying the budgetary and debt ceiling crises and leaving President Obama's signature health care bill largely intact.
Many concessions that tea partiers attempted to extract from the Obama administration in exchange for reopening the government and raising the debt ceiling are not expected to be included in the bill. Conservative Republicans had, over the course of the budget fight, demanded a one-year delay to Obamacare, a delay or repeal of the act's tax on medical-device manufacturers, and a "conscience clause," which would have allowed employers to block their employees from buying health insurance that covers birth control. None of those measures are expected to appear in the Senate's bill. The only concession Republicans seem to have won is a slightly stricter set of rules for verifying the incomes of Americans who are receiving subsidized health insurance under Obamacare.
According to the Wall Street Journal, the final bill won't include a GOP proposal that would stop the Treasury Department from using extraordinary measures to raise the debt ceiling. But it will include back pay for federal employees who missed paychecks during the shutdown and establish a committee tasked with working out a longer deal ahead of the new January 15 and February 7 deadlines. The bill also reportedly includes a provision that could make it harder to use the debt ceiling as a bargaining chip: At the next deadline, Congress would be required to pass a bill if it wants to block the ceiling from increasing. Otherwise, the ceiling would go up automatically.
The House is expected to vote on the proposed bill first, which would allow the Senate to skip some of its cumbersome procedures and quickly move to a final vote. Politico calls this "an extraordinarily risky play" because the majority of House Republicans are expected to oppose the bill. However, Robert Costa of the National Review reported that Boehner has agreed to pass the bill with mainly Democratic votes. There's still a chance that Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) could go rogue and filibuster the bill in the Senate, dragging out the debate past the October 17 deadline, but his office has not said whether or not he will do so, according to the Wall Street Journal.