A man is detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), agents early on October 14, 2015 in Los Angeles, California.
John Moore/Getty Images
John Moore/Getty Images
In two weeks, 39-year-old Rottanak Kong will board a plane to Cambodia. He’ll be accompanied by dozens of other Cambodians with deportation orders.
Kong — along with many in his situation — has not returned to Cambodia since his family left as a refugees. They fled the brutal Khmer Rouge regime, which killed more than two million people.
He was detained by U.S. Immigration Customs and Enforcement in mid-October. More than a decade ago, he was arrested for joyriding and sentenced to a year in prison, according to his lawyer. Because of that arrest, he is being deported.
“There’s a flaw in our system,” said Chen Kong-Wick, his sister. “How can you deport someone that came here as a political asylum — as a refugee — and now they’re being sent to a country that they know nothing of?”
More than 70 Cambodians who have been detained by ICE will be sent to Cambodia soon, according to immigration advocates.
Earlier this fall, ICE detained more than a hundred Cambodians while the agency tried to secure the necessary travel documents from Cambodia to deport them. Until recently, it was uncertain whether Cambodia would allow these detainees to repatriate. Cambodia has had a history of not taking many deportees back, making it a “recalcitrant” country. This left many of detainees in a legal limbo waiting in ICE detention centers for a ruling on their deportation.
For months, legal and immigration organizations tried to fight these round-ups, describing them as some of the “biggest raids” on Cambodians ever.
A lawsuit filed earlier this year by Asian Americans Advancing Justice, Asian Law Caucus and Asian Americans Advancing Justice, Los Angeles, argues that ICE shouldn’t have detained Kong and others without repatriation orders. The suit also notes that many of the detained Cambodians have lived most of their lives in the U.S.
“We are looking into this,” said Laboni Hoq, the litigation director of Asian Americans Advancing Justice, Los Angeles.“We still believe that when they rounded people up, [ICE] didn’t have reasonable basis to believe they’d be deported. Whether they have identified reasons since they’ve been rounded up, we don’t know. That’s something only ICE knows.”
An ICE official said that the agency does not comment on removal flights, but that “aliens are removed because they do not have lawful status to remain in the United States.”
“International law obligates each country to accept the return of its nationals ordered removed from the United States,” said Brendan Raedy, an ICE spokesman. “The United States itself routinely cooperates with foreign governments in documenting and accepting its citizens when asked, as do the majority of countries in the world.”
Many advocates connect these roundups and deportations to a larger diplomatic quarrel between the U.S. and Cambodia.
Rottanak Kong sits with his wife Phetnakhone Keovixay, who he met in the seventh grade.
Courtesy of Chen Kong-Wick
Courtesy of Chen Kong-Wick
In September, the U.S. Department of State announced it would stop issuing visas on high-ranking officials from Cambodia, and in October, Cambodia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation said it would interview 26 Cambodians in the U.S. who were facing deportation. Radio Free Asia reported that Cambodia’s foreign minister, Prak Sokhon, said he’d requested, unsuccessfully, that deportees be “given job training in the U.S. before being sent home” and that the U.S. only deport people who have done so voluntarily.
“We think that the raids are part of this escalation of pressure on countries to take their nationals back and the people detained are sort of being used as a bargaining chip,” says Jenny Zhao, a staff attorney with Asian Americans Advancing Justice, Asian Law Caucus.
Like many in his predicament, Rottanak Kong is far removed from life in Cambodia. He doesn’t have a strong grasp of Khmer and his wife lives in the U.S. His sister Chen Kong-Wick worries what his life will be like.
“Using the word ‘nightmare’ doesn’t fully capture this,” Kong-Wick said. “Having a nightmare assumes you wake up, and the tragic story is over.”
Yemeni children fill jerry cans with clean water in Sanaa, Yemen.
Mohammed Hamoud/Getty Images
Mohammed Hamoud/Getty Images
For the past couple days, Johan Mooij has been holed up in his basement.
He’s the country director for CARE in Yemen, and the recent airstrikes sent him underground for safety.
Despite the destruction, disease and starvation he’s witnessed in his two months in Sanaa, he’s also seen countless examples of hospitality, concern and care among the Yemeni people — as well as signs of progress in controlling cholera.
“I think this is why this country has been able to keep up for so long,” he says.
NPR spoke to Mooij by phone on Tuesday, after he was able to leave his basement.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
How dire is the situation in Yemen?
I’ve worked in areas where 1,000 or 10,000 people need to be fed. But never in a situation where millions depend on food aid.
Up to about two or three months ago, 7 million people were depending on food aid. That means they need to get food [distributions] every month or they will die.
The U.N. is now forecasting that at the beginning of next year, 10 million people will be in severe need of food.
A Saudi-led blockade cut off Yemen’s citizens from food but it was eased in late November. Has that helped?
The harbors were opened again for humanitarian supplies but not commercial food supplies. The humanitarian supplies cannot compensate for the commercial supplies. It means more and more people will not be able to get food because there’s not enough food coming into the country. We have been saying for the past five weeks, the blockade needs to be totally lifted or we will be close to a disaster.
What would happen?
There are no words to describe what will happen if 10 million people will not be able to get food.
How are people coping?
The Yemeni in general are very hospitable. They will share as long as they have something they can share. But the supplies are running out.
What’s the solution?
The international community cannot continue to provide so many people with food and other items. We’re advocating for parties to find a way to come together with an understanding. Or at least have a ceasefire so we have time to find solutions.
The world’s worst cholera outbreak is now in Yemen and could reach 1 million people this year. How are people getting the medical care they need?
Cholera is not a complicated disease. It comes through contaminated water. If you catch it in time, you can treat it quite easily with an IV drip [to replenish lost fluids].
There are specialized clinics throughout the country. Doctors Without Borders and government clinics have been active in running them. Up to 800,000 people now have had some form of cholera. But only a few thousand people have died because of the effectiveness of treatment. Recently about a month ago, the clinics were downscaling because they saw less patients.
So basically dealing with cholera, we are doing quite well. But there’s one major condition: you need clean water. If there’s no fuel coming into the country to make the water pumps work, then people will have to go back to filthy water again. That will make cholera will increase again.
How are aid groups assisting with injuries from the airstrikes?
I can speak for the couple of hospitals in Sanaa. The World Health Organization is providing some support and equipment. In general, there is enough capacity to deal with the injuries. Considering all the fighting that took place, we’re talking about hundreds of wounded, not thousands. As terrible as it is, the hospitals can deal with the trauma.
That seems hard to believe in a war with so much physical violence.
It’s hard to get a total picture of how many injuries there are. In a meeting, I heard that maybe 250 were injured. In a news report, I saw it was saying up to 400. It’s not quite clear how many people died. Some were brought to the hospital but most people were buried without being reported.
Are there enough medical workers?
One major issue is that salaries have not been paid for over a year at the hospitals. So medical staff often work without payment and it’s incredible that they are willing to work.
What’s happening on the ground that’s surprising to you?
When the former president died yesterday, we were in our basements but we heard the shooting and violence slowing down. Today was quiet. There was no more shooting. It was almost a normal day. People say this cannot last, something will happen. But nobody knows.
CARE is one of many aid groups on the ground. What are you now working on?
We are providing food distribution and water and sanitation projects for 1.8 million people in the cities of Sanaa, Hajjah, Taiz and Aden. CARE is also handing out cash vouchers to families so they can purchase food at the local market.
Is it too dangerous to go out on the streets?
If it’s impossible to work, we’ll ask our staff to stay at home and protect themselves. In those areas where there’s fighting or the risks are too high, we will hibernate, as we call it. But we’ll scale up where we can. It’s the willingness of our staff in dangerous situations to do what they want to do most: help people in need.
Are there any people who you’ve met who are making a difference who give you hope?
We have been hiding in our basement for the last couple of days. One of our staff members came to our door and said, “My wife cooked you a meal.” And I said, “But you have to look after your family. Don’t.”
But he said, this is what we do, this is our hospitality, this is who we are. It’s a confirmation that the Yemeni have a true spirit of sharing. In his thinking, he needed to look after me. Which I appreciated very much.
How have you been doing work from your basement over the past couple of days?
Don’t worry, my basement has carpet and some couches and a place to sleep. We even have Internet in the basement so we can do a bit of work. But today, [because of a cease in the fighting] it was great to be out for a couple of hours. But certainly tonight I will be standing in the basement again.
The Grinch, played by Jim Carrey, conspires with his dog Max to deprive the Whos of their favorite holiday in the live-action adaptation of “Dr. Seuss’ How The Grinch Stole Christmas.”
Getty Images/Getty Images
Getty Images/Getty Images
Then he got an idea, an awful idea. The Grinch got a wonderful, awful idea.
I know just what to do, the Grinch laughed in his throat. All it will take is a few keystrokes.
But of course he didn’t actually muse. Because the Grinch in this case is a bot. It’s automatic. It doesn’t snooze.
Online scammers with an arsenal of cyber bots are stealing Christmas by buying up the most popular toys of the season and selling them for a hefty markup on third-party sites such as Amazon and eBay.
While the demand for the hottest toys is particularly high this time of year, shoppers are competing against a growing army of bots. For years, scalpers have taken advantage of software robots to scoop up event tickets, but now scammers are employing the same tactics to cheat Christmas shoppers, says MSNBC anchor and economics correspondent Ali Velshi.
“Regular people could never buy them at face value,” he tells Here & Now’s Robin Young. “The idea that it was bots — scalpers using algorithms — to buy up all the tickets in the first place, and then sell them either via a third-party vendor or independently to people, and this has now moved its way into the hot holiday toy sales industry.”
Sen. Chuck Schumer is calling on retailers to crack down on “Grinch bots” who use complex software to identify the product page of a popular toy before it even goes on sale. The program rapidly purchases thousands of products before customers have time to buy them. Oh, the Whomanity!
“Grinch bots cannot be allowed to steal Christmas, or dollars, from the wallets of New Yorkers,” Schumer said. “Middle class folks save up — a little here, a little there — working to afford the hottest gifts of the season for their kids but ever-changing technology and its challenges are making that very difficult. It’s time we help restore an even playing field by blocking the bots.”
Velshi says consumers are encountering hundreds of percent markups over retail on these products. For instance, the must-have Fingerlings, the interactive animal-shaped toys, sell at a retail price of $14.99, but have been showing up on websites for as much as $1,000. The Super Nintendo NES Classic Edition, which is currently out of stock on most sites, is being sold for nearly $13,000 by third-party sellers.
Schumer wrote a letter to the National Retail Federation and the Retail Industry Leaders Association this week urging them to investigate infiltration of their members’ websites by these computer programs. Both retail associations agreed to heed the New York Democrat’s call.
“Retailers want to ensure that items purchased from their stores and online are purchased legitimately. The industry is committed to taking precautions to mitigate fraud and illegal transactions to ensure American consumers have a safe and secure holiday shopping experience,” Christin Fernandez, a spokesperson for the Retail Industry Leaders Association, said in a statement.
Last year, Congress tried to block cyber scalping by passing the Better Online Ticket Sales Act of 2016, but that law only applies to event tickets.
“There is simply no competition between a bot and even the most organized human,” Omri Iluz, co-founder and CEO of PerimeterX, a Silicon Valley-based startup that designs anti-bot technology, told Consumer Reports, adding that bots aggressively mine thousands of sites at hundreds of times per second, preparing to pounce when a product is launched.
Velshi says people should find out the retail price of a product before they begin shopping to avoid being scammed.
“The problem is these bots find out things are popular before people do themselves,” he says. “So by the time you’ve decided this is all the rage because you’ve heard about it from your kid’s friends or from someone else, it’s hard to” buy it.
While avoiding the “holiday who-be what-ee” may explain the appeal of online shops, Velshi says maybe this year, consider the store to keep away from bots.
Alex Bowen poses in front of a griddle at a Waffle House in West Columbia, S.C., on Thursday. When Bowen found the only worker at the empty restaurant asleep, he took his meal into his own hands.
After a night of drinking, South Carolina man Alex Bowen couldn’t sleep and decided to get something to eat early Thursday. The Waffle House in West Columbia, S.C., fit the bill, so he stepped inside and waited 10 minutes at the register, but still nobody attended to him, he tells local news station WIS-TV.
That was when he realized there was an employee there, the worker just happened to be fast asleep in a corner booth. And Bowen didn’t waffle.
“They looked tired, Bowen tells WOLO-TV, an ABC affiliate in Columbia, “I was like, ‘go ahead and rest fam, I got this.'”
A series of selfies posted to his Facebook page chronicle what Bowen did next, going behind the counter and getting to work on his own meal.
Apparently a Waffle House regular, he knew just what he wanted and what went into it.
“Got hot on the grill with a double Texas bacon cheesesteak melt with extra pickles,” Bowen tells WIS-TV. “When I was done I cleaned the grill, collected my ill-gotten sandwich and rolled on out.”
Bowen admits he wouldn’t have been so brazen if not for the vodka. And while he didn’t initially leave money for the food, he did return later that day delivering $5, WIS-TV reports.
Waffle House released a statement to the station saying the sleeping employee has been suspended for one week.
Waffle House, a popular chain throughout the southern United States, prides itself on remaining open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Its service is, in fact, so reliable that emergency officials have reportedly developed something called The Waffle House Index, which measures the severity of a storm based on whether Waffle House stays open; if one shuts down — that’s when you know things are bad.
Bowen, an army veteran who now works as a flooring installer tells WOLO-TV, he never expected the Facebook post of his escapade to go viral (it had more than 5,000 shares on Tuesday.)
“I’m a bit overwhelmed with calls, and emails and messages,” he says.
Even Waffle House is reaching out.
While the company did say customers should never go behind the counter for safety reasons, they are not holding it against Bowen.
“Obviously Alex has some cooking skills, and we’d like to talk to him about a job since we may have something for him,” Waffle House said.
Former Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili (center) greets his supporters after escaping a van headed for jail in Kiev on Tuesday.
Around dawn Tuesday, masked Ukrainian law enforcement officers attempted to detain former Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili. By sunset, they still had not succeeded. In the hours between, chaos consumed several streets in Kiev, where hundreds of supporters rallied to Saakashvili’s defense as he sought to escape law enforcement and broadcast his calls for resistance against the Ukrainian president.
The Security Service of Ukraine now has given Saakashvili until Wednesday morning to turn himself in for allegedly assisting criminal organizations. The country’s prosecutor general, Yuri Lutsenko, has demanded the controversial politician come in for questioning, calling him a “fugitive from justice,” according to The Guardian.
Given the drama that unfolded at his apartment building Tuesday, however, it’s unlikely that Saakashvili plans to make this process easy on Ukrainian authorities.
The day began with agents storming Saakashvili’s apartment building in downtown Kiev. He initially escaped their grasp by fleeing to the building’s rooftop, where he shouted to supporters who had already begun to mass on the street below. There, with emphatic gestures fit for a campaign rally, he protested his treatment by President Petro Poroshenko, a former ally whom he now casts as a corrupt thief of Ukrainian funds.
“They want to kidnap me, because I rallied to the Ukrainian people’s defense,” he told them, as translated by The New York Times. “They wanted to kidnap me unnoticed, but they failed to do this.”
Indeed, if Ukrainian officials had expected Saakashvili’s detainment to go smoothly and quickly, they were to be disappointed on both counts.
By the time officers had wrangled the former Georgian president and pushed him into the van waiting to transport him to jail, a large, restive crowd was waiting for them, too. For more than an hour, Saakashvili’s supporters refused to budge from around the van, despite attempts by a substantial riot police contingent to dislodge them.
Eventually, those supporters broke into the vehicle and wrenched the man free.
Ukrainian Security Service officers pushed Mikhail Saakashvili into a van parked outside his apartment building, although they were outnumbered by a crowd of his supporters.
Evgeniy Maloletka/AP (2): Sergei Chuzavkov/AFP/Getty Images
Evgeniy Maloletka/AP (2): Sergei Chuzavkov/AFP/Getty Images
The Times describes what happened next:
“With a Ukrainian flag draped across his shoulders and a pair of handcuffs still attached to one of his wrists, Mr. Saakashvili then led hundreds of supporters in a march across Kiev toward Parliament. Speaking through a bullhorn, he called for ‘peaceful protests’ to remove Mr. Poroshenko from office, just as protests had toppled the former president, Viktor F. Yanukovych, in February 2014.”
The scene recalled an opposition rally this past weekend in Kiev’s Independence Square, where thousands of demonstrators listened as Saakashvili called for the establishment of a permanent protest camp against the Ukrainian president. On Tuesday, he repeated his calls for Poroshenko’s ouster: “I urge you” to remove him, Saakashvili said through his bullhorn. “You should not be afraid.”
For Saakashvili, it has been a winding road that has led to this.
As president of Georgia, a former Soviet republic, he spent nearly a decade in office campaigning against state corruption and perceived aggression by the Kremlin. What began as a popular tenure, though, ran aground on a brief, disastrous border war with Russia in 2008 and increasing fears of an authoritarian streak in Saakashvili. By the time he left power and the country entirely in 2013, he was deeply unpopular with the Georgian people.
That did little to stall his popularity in Ukraine, where he was soon granted citizenship and appointed by Poroshenko to the governorship of Odessa province. Yet even that was not to last: Saakashvili stepped down last year, protesting what he said was rampant corruption and obstruction by Kiev.
In turn, Saakashvili was stripped of his citizenship while he was out of the country. Added to the fact that Georgia has also stripped its ex-president of his Georgian citizenship, charging him with abuses of power and pursuing his extradition to face those charges, the move effectively rendered Saakashvili stateless.
Still, he managed to barge back into Ukraine across the Polish border earlier this year — again with the help of a crowd of supporters over law enforcement objections. He has served as a painful thorn in the side of Poroshenko’s government ever since.
Saakashvili addresses his supporters after escaping from law enforcement and leading them on a march toward the Parliament building in Kiev on Tuesday.
And all the while, Moscow has looked on with thinly veiled glee.
“What’s going on in Kiev today is Ukraine’s headache,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Tuesday, according to a Washington Post translation. Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine and has supported separatists in eastern Ukraine against Poroshenko’s government. Still, Peskov added, “you wouldn’t want to wish that guy on your worst enemy.”
In comments Tuesday, however, prosecutor general Lutsenko accused Saakashvili — once known as a staunch enemy of Russia — of now working with pro-Moscow factions in order to incite political discontent. He alleged the politician has been receiving money from a group associated with Yanukovich, a pro-Russian president who was removed from office in 2014.
As the Ukrainian news agency UNIAN reports, Lutsenko said authorities have “uncovered, made public and, I am sure, will punish the criminal actions of those who seek to destroy Ukraine for Moscow money.”
Tank and the Bangas’ live show never fails to make an impression.
The first time the NPR Music team encountered the band, it was early 2017 and our staff was sifting through entries to our Tiny Desk Contest. It’s easy to disappear into a crowd of more than 6,000, but the band’s entry immediately distinguished itself through its palpable joy and arresting charisma and was, not long after, named the winner of our contest.
As the closing act of our party at the 9:30 Club in Washington, D.C. — and so coming full circle in a breakout year — Tank and the Bangas made no less of an impression on the crowd. Tank and the Bangas presented a whirligig of styles and sounds, drawn together by strong friendships and led by Tarriona “Tank” Ball’s commanding performance. She asks nothing less than the full engagement of an audience — and she always gets it.
Even at the end of our seven-act anniversary concert, the 9:30 Club audience met Tank and the Bangas on its level. The band played four songs — including “Quick,” the song that won it the Tiny Desk Contest — and Tank brought the staff of NPR Music onstage for a toast and, of course, a dance party.
NPR Music is many things, but sharing the joy of musical discovery has been and always will remain our central goal. Tank and the Bangas’ sound is unified by a similar aim. The joy we felt watching their video for the first time is the same spirit they find in playing every song.
- “Come Down” by Anderson .Paak
Director: Colin Marshall; Producers: Colin Marshall, Benjamin Naddaff-Hafrey; Technical Director: Josh Rogosin; Live Mix Engineer: Shawn “Gus” Vitale; Supervising Producer: Mito Habe-Evans; Managing Producers: Bob Boilen, Jacob Ganz, Jessica Goldstein, Abby O’Neill; Creative Director and Producer: Peter Glantz; Concert Videographers: Bronson Arcuri, Kara Frame, Nickolai Hammar, Morgan Noelle Smith, Maia Stern, Niki Walker; Production Assistant: CJ Riculan; Editor: Annabel Edwards; Special Thanks: The 9:30 Club; Executive Producers: Anya Grundmann, Keith Jenkins.
Fewer people are trying to sneak across the Southwest border, while more undocumented immigrants are being picked up in the interior of the country, according to data released by the Homeland Security Department. It’s the most comprehensive data to date on how arrest patterns have changed dramatically under the Trump administration.
Two major network news divisions are addressing problems at the organizations after unrelated incidents. ABC News president James Goldston denounced his own journalists on Monday for a botched story about the federal investigation of President Trump’s inner circle. NBC News is facing skepticism from staff as the organization addresses the backlash over the Matt Lauer sexual harassment scandal.
The ruined castle of La Mothe-Chandeniers in central western France. The crowdfunding site Dartagnans organized an effort to buy the chateau for 500,000 euros.
Guillaume Souvant/AFP/Getty Images
Guillaume Souvant/AFP/Getty Images
Add this to the list of things bought with the collective purchasing power: A chateau in the French countryside, complete with moat.
The platform used to raise the funds announced on Friday that the castle had been purchased by milliers d’internautes – that is, thousands of Internet users, who each paid at least 50 euros (about $60) to “adopt” the chateau and help restore it. In just 40 days, the site raised the 500,000 euros it needed to buy it.
C’EST FAIT ! La Mothe-Chandeniers appartient à des milliers d’internautes. Par cet achat collectif nous pensons la préservation & le développement du patrimoine de demain et prouvons que la force citoyenne est toujours la + grande. Continuons 2e palier😍🚀https://t.co/ipl1guMSAepic.twitter.com/RPd8IGzqUD
— Dartagnans (@DartagnansFR) December 1, 2017
“It’s done, it’s historic!” it said. “The Château de la Mothe-Chandeniers now belongs to thousands of Internet users. Through this collective purchase, we believe in the preservation and development of the heritage of tomorrow and prove that civic strength is always the greatest.”
According to the campaign’s organizers, the chateau dates to the 13th century, before it was looted and abandoned during the French Revolution. In 1809, a rich Parisian entrepreneur bought and restored it; later, a squire of Emperor Napoleon III undertook a massive, Romantic-style reconstruction. In March 1932, a fire broke out, destroying the roof and causing the chateau to be abandoned once more.
Sweeping aerial video of the castle (with requisite dramatic music) makes it look both amazing and decrepit. Trees grow where the roof would be, and the stone walls are mottled with moss. The building is almost entirely open to the elements.
The campaign organizers say they’ve been contacted by a number of film and television production companies about renting the castle.
Sadly, a suite at the castle is not part of the deal for the thousands of donors, though a gift of at least 60 euros (about $71) gives each patron a membership card and “access to part of the castle.” The real gift, the campaign explains, is that patrons can become investors in a company that will own the castle, “collectively decide its future.”
Dartagnans, the platform used to raise the funds, was specifically designed for campaigns like this, which it calls “participative patronage.” Its goal is to engage people in collectively financing the protection of France’s patrimoine — its cultural heritage. In exchange, patrons get gifts and tax deductions.
If you want to join the internauts and buy into La Mothe-Chandeniers, it’s not too late to join the second tier of contributors. The site says that all new contributors can also become co-owners.
It’s not too late to buy a part of La Mothe-Chandeniers — prospective chatelains have 20 days to buy in. But why stop there? The Dartagnans site has an array of other castles, churches, and hydraulic rams to adopt.
The Army, Navy, Marines and Air Force all regularly fail to submit required crime data to the FBI for inclusion in national databases, but the Air Force has shown improvement over the past several years, according to a new report released by the Department of Defense Office of the Inspector General.
The inspector general looked at more than 2,500 criminal convictions in 2015 and 2016 that the military was required to report to the FBI. They found persistent lapses during that two-year period, ranging from a 14 percent failure rate for Air Force convictions to a 41 percent failure rate for Army convictions.
All told, hundreds of military criminal convictions and fingerprint records were not shared with the FBI. That means they would not show up in gun-purchase background checks or criminal record searches by law enforcement agents.
The high rate of failure is not exactly news to the inspector general’s office, which has sounded an alarm about military crime reporting many times before.
“Our report again identified serious deficiencies throughout the DoD in reporting criminal history information to the FBI,” Glenn Fine, principal deputy inspector general said in a statement emailed to NPR. “It is critical that the DoD fully implement our recommendations to correct past deficiencies and prevent future lapses in reporting.”
A longstanding problem receives fresh attention
The Department of Defense has known about pervasive reporting flaws for decades, as NPR has previously reported. But the lapses have received new public scrutiny since a mass shooting that was enabled by a military reporting failure.
In November, Devin Kelley, a former airman, opened fire in a church in Texas and killed 26 people — including a pregnant woman, who under Texas law counts as two victims.
Kelley had been convicted of domestic violence in a court-martial in 2012, which disqualified him from gun ownership. But because the Air Force Office of Special Investigations failed to report that conviction to the FBI, Kelley passed multiple background checks as he purchased the guns he used in the attack.
In response to that shooting, the Department of Defense Office of the Inspector General (or DoD OIG) is evaluating what went wrong at the Air Force, and conducting a broader analysis of crime reporting by the armed services as a whole. That investigation is still underway.
But the newly released report was already in the works: It was announced in February, and the research ended in October, before Kelley’s attack.
Issues across all services, but Air Force improves
The analysis, released to the public on Tuesday, followed up on a previous report that found the Marines, Air Force and Navy frequently failed to submit fingerprints to the FBI between 2010 and 2012. (Army data was not included because of “data validation” issues.) Submitting those fingerprints is mandatory; without fingerprints, a criminal record can’t be added to the FBI’s primary interstate crime database.
The Marines and the Navy have not shown significant improvement since that earlier evaluation. The Marines went from a 30 percent failure rate to a 29 percent failure rate. The Navy’s record grew worse, from 21 percent failure to 29 percent.
But the Air Force was a bright spot. A 31 percent failure rate in 2010-2012 was reduced to a 14 percent failure rate in 2015-2016.
And, according to the report, the same unit that failed to report Kelley in 2012 was unusually successful at sharing crime data with the FBI in 2015 and 2016.
In the cases covered by this report, the Air Force Office of Special Investigations sent 98 percent of felony-level criminal convictions to the FBI — a 2 percent failure rate, at a time when other the branches of the military were failing to report about a third of comparable crimes.
The AFOSI also submitted all but 2 percent of required fingerprints, while the Army missed 21 percent of them and the Navy failed to submit 25 percent.
The DoD OIG report still notes that more than a dozen Air Force felonies were not properly reported, and urges the AFOSI — like every other law enforcement agency it examined — to review its records and processes to pursue full compliance.
Problems with guidelines, training and oversight
The DoD OIG report identifies a number of pervasive problems contributing to the lack of reporting.
For one thing, there are the official guidelines.
The military branches have investigation units that handle most felonies in the armed services. They have guidelines for reporting that match official DoD policy — that is, they note the obligation to submit data to the FBI.
But the Army, Navy and Air Force police and security units that handle misdemeanors had guidance that conflicted with actual policy. Each of those groups had reporting failure rates north of 60 percent, far higher than the rates for felony-level crimes. (The Marine Corps police have no guidance at all — so officers followed guidelines for investigators instead. They had misdemeanor reporting failure rates of about a third, similar to the rates for felonies.)
Then there’s the question of training. Even investigators who are given accurate guidelines might not receive proper instruction. A special investigator in Army police school, for instance, is taught how to take fingerprints in order to solve crimes, but not taught that those fingerprints have to be sent to the FBI.
There’s also the matter of oversight. In many cases, law enforcement organizations had “no mechanism” to ensure officers in the field were properly submitting records. Routine inspections — designed to catch omissions like failures to report — often didn’t check whether data was submitted to the FBI.
At the Air Force OSI, where compliance was the highest, the official guidelines were accurate, training programs taught staff proper procedures (with, in some cases, refresher courses) and there are “several layers of oversight” ensuring compliance, DoD OIG says.
In addition, AFOSI tracks cases in a program that won’t allow the cases to be closed until a “supervisor certifies … that the fingerprint cards and final disposition reports have been submitted to the FBI.”
As part of the DoD OIG report — like in previous reports — all four branches have agreed to review their policies and programs and make changes to ensure that fingerprints and convictions are actually submitted to the FBI as required.
The inspector general has also asked the law enforcement agencies to check their records for crimes dating back to 1998 and, wherever records are available, send the necessary data to the FBI.
NPR has reached out to all four military branches for comment.