Channel: NBC Connecticut
Browsing All 57608 Browse Latest View Live
Mark channel Not-Safe-For-Work? cancel confirm NSFW Votes: (0 votes)
Are you the publisher? Claim or contact us about this channel.

Police Pursuit Ends in Bozrah, 1 in Custody


One person is in police custody following a pursuit that ended in Bozrah.

State police said they used stop sticks during the pursuit that ended on Route 82. Troop K was involved in the chase that started at 4:20 p.m. when police responded to a person reported as an "unwanted party" on Dr. Foote Road.

When police tried to talk to the suspect, he took off. Police said a stun gun was deployed. Minor injuries were reported. 

Route 82 is closed. 

No other information was immediately available.  

Insurance Companies Say Nathan Carman's Boat Was Altered


Two insurance companies said in a court filing that they should not pay for Nathan Carman's $85,000 claim because his boat was altered and made unsafe. 

National Liability & Fire Insurance Co. and Boat Owners Association of the United States have asked for a declaratory judgment in U.S. District Court in Rhode Island.

Carman and his mother Linda, from Middletown, were reported missing after they were not seen following a boat trip the pair took on Sept. 18.

On Sept. 18, Nathan Carman, 22, and his mother Linda Carman, 54, were reported missing after heading out on a fishing trip with the boat named Chicken Pox and failing to return from the waters off Point Judith in Rhode Island.

On Sept. 24, the U.S. Coast Guard suspends the search for the mother and son after six days. The Coast Guard searched an area near Block Island, a search that expanded through 62,000 square miles. The search expanded from the coast of Rhode Island to New York and as far as New Jersey.

On Sept. 25, Nathan Carman was found alive on a life raft by a Chinese freighter called Orient Lucky about 115 nautical miles off Martha's Vineyard. The man was wearing a life vest and had an emergency bag of food and water. There was no sign of his mother, Linda Carman.

He is interviewed by the U.S. Coast Guard via telelphone.

On Sept. 26, Petty Officer 3rd Class Nicole Groll said during a news conference that the chances of Linda Carman surviving are minimal.

On Sept. 27, Nathan Carman arrived in Boston after he was missing at sea for a week. He said he heard a "funny noise" coming from the boat's engine compartment and when he went to go look, it was filling up with water.

On the same day, a search warrant was issued for Nathan Carman's Vermont home.

On Sept. 28, police release the search warrant affidavit into Nathan Carman's home. The search warrant affidavit reads that police "believe that evidence relating to the crime of RIGL 46-22-9.3 {Operating so as to endanger, resulting in the death} will be located inside Nathan's residence located at 3034 Fort Bridgemon Road in Vernon, Vermont."

A friend of the family told investigators that Linda Carman said the pair was going fishing at Striper Rock, which is located approximately 20 miles off of the Block Island shoreline, according to the affidavit.

However, another witness told police that Nathan Carman said they were going fishing at the Canyons, which is approximately 100 miles off the Block Island shore, the affidavit reads.

When Carman was rescued about 100 miles off shore of Martha's Vineyard, he told investigators he and his mother were fishing on the Block Canyon for tuna, the affidavit said.

Sources close to the investigation also said that Nathan Carman is a person of interest into his wealthy grandfather's homicide in 2013.

Photo Credit: necn

Syrian Family in Ledyard Waiting for Relatives


Refugee families bound for the United States are now in a holding pattern after President Trump's executive order on immigration. That includes a Syrian family headed to the Northeast with help from volunteers in New London.

"They said sorry, America is closed," said Holly Popa, of New London, describing what a family of Syrian refugees was told as they tried to board a plane Saturday from Turkey to the Northeast.

Popa was working to get them to Ledyard to live with their relatives, also refugees. She chose not to identify the family to not interfere with their refugee status.

That family is in search of a better life from a war-torn Syria. But Popa said in Turkey it wasn't much better. Their children couldn't get an education.

She said it took three to four years of grueling interviews to get them a legal OK to come to U.S. for a better life. They gave up their home, jobs, obtained the proper legal documents, packed up all of their belongings and had tickets to fly.

"I was in shock with what happened to them," Popa said. "It felt like my heart was ripped out. It just doesn't feel like this is the America I knew and grew up in, and the reasons my grandparents came here."

Popa's grandparents came from Lebanon decades ago to find the American dream.

Ron Ward is a co-leader of Start Fresh, a group that helps bring refugees to New London. He said there's a two family-home ready to accept refugee families that's sitting vacant.

"We had put the word out to the refugee network that we were ready to accept new families, and arrangements just could not happen in the timing," Ward said.

Popa said the refugees already in New London County are afraid of their standing, despite getting to the U.S. legally. They're afraid they might be sent back.

"Because of their status," Popa said. "Their refugee status. With a refugee status, they're in the works of getting their green cards. All of our refugees. And this could put a damper on it."

Saturday at 7 p.m., Fresh Start, along with Connecticut College, is showing a documentary of a refugee camp in Jordan, Ward said. Current events are already generating a larger audience, he added. The showing will be at Connecticut College.

Photo Credit: NBC Connecticut

CT Republicans Side with Trump on Immigration, Refugee Orders


The most influential Republican in the Connecticut General Assembly, and the Chairman of the Connecticut Republican Party each say they support President Donald Trump's executive orders on immigration and refugees.

One of the orders temporarily blocks citizens of seven mainly Muslim countries from entering the United States and put restrictions on Visa issuances, while the other indefinitely blocsk Syrian refugees from being resettled in the United States.

“Could he have rolled it out better? Absolutely," said Sen. Len Fasano, the Republican President Pro Tem, in the divided Connecticut State Senate. "Could he have made some exemptions for kids? Certainly."

Fasano says the orders are meant to protect American citizens, while ensuring those enter the country aren't looking to do harm.

He described the orders as, "fair," and said, "He doesn’t want some act to happen under his watch and he’s going to put in those safeguards to do the best he can to make sure that those folks who are coming to our shores are well vetted.”

Connecticut Republican Party Chairman, JR Romano, said the orders were mischaracterized by those who opposed them, which he said led to demonstrations.

“The truth is, hitting a pause button to ensure the safety of American families, I think is necessary," he said during an interview.

Romano also said the executive orders fall short of anything resembling a ban on Muslims, even though the countries targeted are all majority Muslim nations.

“This isn’t a Muslim issue, this is a cultural issue, that we have to have a bigger conversation about.”

Richard Kay, the Oliver Ellsworth Legal Scholar at the UConn School of Law, said the orders are vague, and hit on numerous issues that could be challenged in court. He said the orders are set up for what could be a mixed bag of results.

Kay said groups opposing the actions could have standing on equal protection and constitutional grounds, but said any challenge that that policies are bans on religion might be harder to prove.

“Just to say it singles out Muslims is hard to do when this is really a small group of Muslims in the world who are affected by this. A great majority of others live in other countries, India, Indonesia.”

The ACLU received record donations as of Monday afternoon, north of $24 million. The Executive Director of the ACLU in Connecticut, David McGuire, said the group can be expected to be on the legal front lines for the duration of the Trump presidency if such actions continue.

“All of these things do run afoul of the constitution. We’re talking about religious liberty, equality, the things that our country is built on so we do expect to be active over the next coming months and years.”

Photo Credit: NBC Connecticut

Blumenthal Prepared to Block Supreme Court Nominee


Connecticut U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal said Monday that would block a nominee for the high court if that individual doesn't meet what he described as, "mainstream" standards.

“I hope there is a nominee who is a mainstream thoughtful, responsible, legal thinker," Blumenthal said.

The move to block President Donald Trump's Supreme Court nominee would come after a full year of blockades put up against Merrick Garland, President Barack Obama's pick to fill the void left by the death of Antonin Scalia.

Blumenthal said if the nominee doesn't meet his standards, then he would work to make sure that nominee doesn't get seated on the high court.

“An extremist, out of the mainstream jurist or legal thinker will be blocked," he warned.

When asked to describe what "mainstream," meant, Blumenthal said that would apply to someone who is, "willing to adapt the constitution to changing times but standing foursquare for basic rights; the First Amendment, the right to privacy.”

When reached for comment, a spokeswoman for Sen. Chris Murphy said he would reserve judgment on a pick before one is named.

Photo Credit: AP

Trump Names New Acting ICE Director


Thomas D. Homan on Monday was named acting director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), replacing Daniel Ragsdale.

The announcement was made in a release from Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly.  

Since 2013, Homan has been executive associate director of ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO).

He led ICE's efforts "to identify, arrest, detain, and remove illegal aliens, including those who present a danger to national security or are a risk to public safety, as well as those who enter the United States illegally or otherwise undermine the integrity of our immigration laws and our border control efforts," according to the release.

Homan is a 33-year veteran of law enforcement and has nearly 30 years of immigration enforcement experience, according to the release.

He has served as a police officer in New York; a U.S. Border Patrol agent; a special agent with the former U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service; and a supervisory special agent and deputy assistant director for investigations at ICE.  

Photo Credit: Mark Wilson, Getty Images (File)

Connecticut Mosques on High Alert After Quebec Shooting


Mosques in Connecticut are on high alert following the attack in Quebec City on Sunday night after a gunman killed six people and injured several others at a mosque during evening prayers

"These acts are against human life and the sanctity and sacredness of life so it was very troubling," said Zahir Mannan, with the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community at the Baitul Aman Mosque (House of Peace) in Meriden. 

Mannan said worshippers have turned to prayer after the incident. They want to reach out to others in hope of preventing hate crimes from happening.

“It’s through togetherness and love and tenderness honor and fighting for what is right in the best way possible which is through dignified dialogue and respect. And we’re hoping that changes people’s hearts,” said Mannan.

The Meriden mosque knows violence first hand. In November of 2015, a man fired gunshots through the mosque’s walls hours after the terror attacks in Paris.

No one was hurt in that incident, but the mosque plans to have extra security on hand during events.

“Whether its womens meetings, youth meetings or mens meetings or general collective meetings we want to have security at each of those,” said Mannan.

Another mosque in Berlin, the Islamic Association of Greater Hartford, has already added an additional 15 surveillance cameras to their property in the last few weeks, bringing the total to about 25 cameras.

They are also discussing the possibility of hiring more security.

Demonstrators Hold 'Resist Trump' Rally in Bridgeport


In Connecticut's largest city, Bridgeport, a "Resist Trump" vigil was held on Monday night.

“Trump is wrong," said vigil participant and Bridgeport resident Lauren Gray. "Trump is just flat out wrong.”

More than one hundred people held a "Vigil for Resistance", organized by the Make The Road Connecticut group, at McLevy Green Park. 

“This is a moment to reflect," said organizer Julio Lopez. "But this is also a moment to fight.”

Lopez' group is aiming to turn Bridgeport into a sanctuary city, in which local authorities would agree not to contact federal agencies that could put undocumented people and refugees in danger of deportation.

"There’s a movement building," said Lopez. "There’s a lot of people excited in the worst way possible."

But the focus of the Monday's vigil was on protesting Trump's travel ban, which impacts immigrants and refugees-- mostly from Muslim-majority nations.

"We want our president to see that we are coming together to fight for justice," said Bridgeport resident Aracelis Hidalgo, who attended the vigil with her two year old daughter.

Quietly waiting just outside the gathering was Terry Sullivan, a Trump supporter, who backs the president's latest executive action.

"I came here to speak to people and say that we need to get along and to work together on immigration, on racism," said Sullivan.

As for Bridgeport potentially becoming a sanctuary city, the group that organized the vigil will present a resolution to the city council on Feb. 6. It is unclear what would happen after that.

“We can’t be screaming at each other. We all have to talk. We’re all in this," said Gray. 

Photo Credit: NBC Connecticut

State Department of Transportation Unveils New Website


The Connecticut Department of Transportation is transforming drivers’ commute by launching their new website CT Travel Smart. A new way to get verified, real-time personalized commute information to Connecticut drivers.

“The goal is to move traffic along as best we can,” said CT DOT Transportation Supervising Engineer, John Korte.

The Connecticut Department of Transportation has spent months and $150,000 upgrading the website. State officials said the federal government funded 80 percent of the project and Connecticut picked up the rest of the bill. The goal is to keep traffic moving and in turn, help the economy move in the right direction.

“We want the public to be empowered. We want them to travel smart and that's why we put this website together,” said Kevin Nursick, DOT Director of Communications.

The key difference drivers will notice with CT Travel Smart is their ability to have easy access to personalized driving details.

“Filter by incidents, road work, delay,” said Richard Launder, the Connecticut Department of Transportation Engineer “All this information directly to you when it only applies to the routes that you take.”

People can view the entire state or just a region they choose to see. If they want their drive to be specific, they can sign up online and create certain routes and save individual cameras to their profile.

“Filter specific roadways, you can specifically go to certain towns,” said Launder.

The website can be accessed by a desktop computer or by a cell phone. Drivers can also sign up to receive personalized alert messages about their saved routes, or certain roads.

“Instantly, either on their phone or by text, so they are informed right away,” said Launder.

The Connecticut Department of Transportation has eyes in the sky, using the state’s 350 traffic cameras, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 350 days a year.

“Everything gets piped back here literally through fiber optic networks. So we have a real-time information here,” said Nursick.

Officials said the difference with the CT Travel Smart website is that DOT can connect drivers to pertinent information within seconds.

“It is real time verified information. It definitely helps them make better decisions with their travel routes,” said Korte.

The Department of Transportation wants to know what people think of CT Travel Smart. You can visit the website here and provide the department with feedback.

Photo Credit: NBC Connecticut

State Lawmakers Push Back on Proposed Mileage Tax


From gas, to car taxes, to Department of Motor Vehicle fees, it already costs a lot of drive.

And so, there wasn't a lot of love at the state transportation committee public hearing in the Capitol today for an idea that would tax your mileage.

"This has really gotten under the skin quite frankly of a lot of people and has been very unpopular," said Toni Boucher (R-26th District).

It seems many Republicans and Democrats are against the idea of a tax, not to mention the privacy concerns with the government knowing where you are driving. Plus, as the state seeks out sources of money, one of its goals is to tax "out of staters" to give nutmeggers a break. That's tough to do if there is no enforcement power over non-Connecticut residents.

Right now, the state has a $300,000 grant from the Feds to study the mileage tax, but it has to put up $300,000 of its own money for the study in order to get the grant money. While some may be ok with that idea, they weren't very well represented at the legislative office building in room 1e today.

"I don't understand how anyone can support a study about a program that no one supports," said Len Suzio (R-13th District).

Other options to raise revenue include tolls and a higher gas tax.

Photo Credit: NBC Connecticut

30-Year-Old Man Killed in Hartford Shooting


A 30-year-old Hartford man is dead after a shooting in Hartford Monday night, according to police.

Police identified the victim as Darren Crittenden.

Deputy Chief Brian Foley said police responded to 114 Ashley St. just after 10 p.m. after receiving a 911 call reporting a serious assault with a firearm. Police said Crittenden lived at the address.

Officers who arrived at the scene found an unresponsive man suffering gunshot wounds. First responders performed CPR and Crittenden was taken to Saint Francis Hospital, where he was pronounced dead at 10:21 p.m., police said.

Foley said police found multiple shell casings at the scene. No one is in custody and police have not released a suspect description at this time.

The Hartford police major crimes division is investigating.

Photo Credit: NBC Connecticut

Man Seriously Hurt After Being Hit by Car in North Haven


A 37-year-old Wallingford man was seriously injured when he was hit by a car in North Haven Monday night.

Police said the victim, who was not publicly identified, was trying to cross Washington Avenue near Scrub Oak Road around 6:30 p.m. when he was struck. He was taken to the hospital with severe injuries, police said.

The driver of the vehicle stayed on scene and is cooperating with investigators, police said.

The road was closed for several hours. The South Central Connecticut Traffic Unit is investigating.

Photo Credit: Stringr

Lawmakers Consider Hartford Whalers License Plates


Don't honk your horn. Instead, cue up Brass Bonanza, because there could soon be a Hartford Whalers commemorative license plate in front of you. 

The state Transportation Committee held a public hearing on the proposal Monday.  

Those pining for the beloved hockey team since they left Connecticut in 1997 call a Hartford Whalers license plate an epic idea 20 years in the making. 

"The Whalers were very popular and there are other accessories out for them as well, like clothing, so why not put (it) on vanity plates," Debbie Simao, of Ellington, said. 

The idea has been in the works for the last year and a half thanks to several groups, including the Whalers Booster Club and legislative staff, and the plan would be to donate proceeds from the plate to charity.  

You can get updates on the status of the bill through the Connecticut General Assembly Web site.

Photo Credit: Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

2 Suspects in Bridgeport Homicide Charged with Murder


Two men have been arrested on murder charges in connection with a Bridgeport homicide investigation, police said Monday.

Bridgeport police said that Miguel Rivera, 33, was shot and killed in front of 323 North Avenue on Dec. 24, 2016. Through investigation police secured arrest warrants for two men – Xavier Rivera, 34, and Moises Contreras, 29.

On Jan. 24 Contreras was arrested at his mother’s home in Bridgeport. He is charged with murder, first-degree unlawful restraint, criminal possession of a pistol/revolver, carrying a pistol without a permit and unlawful discharge of a firearm. 

Rivera was arrested on Jan. 31 and faces the same charges. Both men were held on $750,000 bonds.

Photo Credit: Bridgeport Police Department

Couple Fears Travel Ban Will Keep Guests From Their Wedding


A West Hartford couple said they're feeling the "sting" from President Donald Trump's executive order on immigration and it's affecting a very special day for them.

Michelle Kayser and fiancé Mohamed Suliman have nearly all the details of their April wedding planned. Almost all of them.

The couple said they did not plan for President Donald Trump's executive order to restrict immigration from seven majority Muslim countries. One country on the list, Sudan, is where some of Mohamed's relatives and wedding guests live.

"Twenty or 30 were supposed to come," said Michelle Kayser.

Including one special guest.

"Actually a groomsman, so that affects our wedding a lot," said Kayser.

Mohammed was born in New York. His parents came to the U.S. From Sudan decades ago. The couple's wedding is the first for his family in the states.

"It seems to be out of our control right now and we are going to keep doing our best to make every one's together for our wedding and have everybody here," said Mohamed Suliman.

The couple who met in the seventh grade said they're working to ensure their special day remains special. And are now planning ways to share the day with those who are forced to miss it.

"It's sad to think as we get closure to our wedding day we're gonna have to think there's going to be empty seats and empty tables at our wedding that we were hoping to be filled by our loved ones," Kayser said.

"I would say love prevails. Where there's a will there's a way," Suliman said.

The couple said they will try whatever is possible within the confines of the new order. If they cannot have their families present, they will turn to online video calls.

Photo Credit: Contributed Photo

New Britain Avenue Closed in West Hartford

Governor Malloy to Hold News Conference on Budget Proposal


Gov. Dannel Malloy will hold a news conference at the State Capitol in Hartford this morning to announce a component that will be included in his upcoming state budget proposal. 

The news conference begins at 10:30 a.m.

Photo Credit: NBCConnecticut.com

Shelton Man Pleads Guilty to Bank Robbery, Admits to Robbing 4 Banks: Officials


A 47-year-old Shelton man pleaded guilty to a bank robbery charge Monday and admitted that he robbed four Chase Bank branches last year, according to the United States Attorney for the District of Connecticut. 

Scott Taylor was accused of robbing the Chase Bank at 184 Main St. in Westport on June 2, the Chase Bank at 1561 Boston Post Road in Milford on June 24, the Chase Bank at 50 Washington St. in Norwalk on July 6 and the Chase Bank at 1855 Main St. in Stratford on July 13. 

During each of the robberies, Taylor handed a teller a note demanding cash and said he had a gun, according to federal officials, who said Taylor stole around $23,300 during the first three robberies and $1,000 during the July 13 robbery. 

Taylor was arrested at the Stratford train station shortly after the July 13 robbery and was found with $998 in cash and 33 folds of heroin, federal officials said. 

He has been detained since he was arrested and he is scheduled to be sentenced by U.S. District Judge Vanessa L. Bryant on May 3.

Photo Credit: Stratford Police Department

US Military Botches Online Fight Against ISIS: Investigation


On any given day at MacDill Air Force Base, web crawlers scour social media for potential recruits to the Islamic State group. Then, in a high-stakes operation to counter the extremists' propaganda, language specialists employ fictitious identities and try to sway the targets from joining IS ranks.

At least that's how the multimillion-dollar initiative is being sold to the Defense Department.

A critical national security program known as "WebOps" is part of a vast psychological operation that the Pentagon says is effectively countering an enemy that has used the internet as a devastating tool of propaganda. But an Associated Press investigation found the management behind WebOps is so beset with incompetence, cronyism and flawed data that multiple people with direct knowledge of the program say it's having little impact.

Several current and former WebOps employees cited multiple examples of civilian Arabic specialists who have little experience in counter-propaganda, cannot speak Arabic fluently and have so little understanding of Islam they are no match for the Islamic State online recruiters.

It's hard to establish rapport with a potential terror recruit when — as one former worker told the AP — translators repeatedly mix up the Arabic words for "salad" and "authority." That's led to open ridicule on social media about references to the "Palestinian salad."

Four current or former workers told the AP that they had personally witnessed WebOps data being manipulated to create the appearance of success and that they had discussed the problem with many other employees who had seen the same. Yet the companies carrying out the program for the military's Central Command in Tampa have dodged attempts to implement independent oversight and assessment of the data.

Central Command spokesman Andy Stephens declined repeated requests for information about WebOps and other counter-propaganda programs, which were launched under the Obama Administration. And he did not respond to detailed questions the AP sent on Jan. 10.

The AP investigation is based on Defense Department and contractor documents, emails, photographs and interviews with more than a dozen people closely involved with WebOps as well as interviews with nearly two dozen contractors. The WebOps workers requested anonymity due to the sensitive nature of the work and because they weren't authorized to speak publicly.

The information operations division that runs WebOps is the command's epicenter for firing back at the Islamic State's online propaganda machine, using the internet to sway public opinion in a swath of the globe that stretches from Central Asia to the Horn of Africa.

Early last year, the government opened the bidding on a new counter-propaganda contract — separate from WebOps— that is worth as much as $500 million. Months after the AP started reporting about the bidding process, the Naval Criminal Investigative Service told the AP that it had launched an investigation. NCIS spokesman Ed Buice said the service is investigating a whistleblower's "allegations of corruption" stemming from how the contract was awarded.

The whistleblower's complaint alleges multiple conflicts of interest that include division officers being treated to lavish dinners paid for by a contractor. The complaint also alleges routine drinking at the office where classified work is conducted. The drinking was confirmed by multiple contractors, who spoke to AP and described a frat house atmosphere where happy hour started at 3 p.m.

One of the most damning accusations leveled by the whistleblower is against Army Col. Victor Garcia, who led the information operations division until July 2016, when he moved to a new assignment at Special Operations Command, also in Tampa. The whistleblower contended that Garcia successfully steered the contract to a team of vendors that included a close friend's firm. The whistleblower requested anonymity for fear of professional retribution.

The AP obtained a screen-grab from a Facebook page that shows Garcia and the friend at a tiki bar in Key Largo two weeks before the winning team was officially announced Sept. 30. The photo was also turned over to NCIS investigators by the whistleblower, who said the photo created a "clear impression and perception of impropriety."

Garcia, a West Point graduate and decorated officer, denied any wrongdoing and described the complaint as "character assassination." Garcia, who moved to his new post two months before the contract was decided, said he scrupulously avoided any discussions about the contract with both his friend and his former deputy. His former deputy served on the five-member panel that reviewed all of the bids.

"Because I was aware of these conflicts of interest, I intentionally kept myself out of that process — with any of these contract processes," Garcia said.

The whistleblower is a senior manager at a company that lost its bid for the work. He told AP that he was investigated for attempting to accept kickbacks on an unrelated government contract. He denied the allegations, which were made four years ago, and no charges have been filed in the case.

The problems with the WebOps operation and the personal bonds underpinning the new contract illustrate challenges awaiting President Donald Trump. He has promised to boost military spending by tens of billions of dollars while also cutting waste at the Defense Department and ensuring that contractors aren't getting sweetheart deals.

Charles Tiefer, a professor at the University of Baltimore's law school and a government contracting expert, reviewed AP's findings and called Central Command's lack of rigorous oversight inexcusable.

"These people should not be wasting the money consigned to defend us against terrorism," said Tiefer, who served on a bipartisan Commission on Wartime Contracting. The commission reported in 2011 that at least $31 billion was lost to waste and fraud in Iraq and Afghanistan.



In a large office room filled with cubicles at Central Command, about 120 people, many of them Arabic language specialists, are assigned to fight IS militants on their own turf: the internet.

The WebOps contract is run by Colsa Corp., based in Huntsville, Alabama. A major challenge for Colsa — and contractors working on other national security programs— is finding people who can speak Arabic fluently and can also get security clearances to handle classified material.

The problem, according to six current and former Colsa employees, is that to engage with operatives of the Islamic State, or their potential recruits, you need to be fluent in language, nuance and Islam — and while Colsa has some Arabic experts, those skills are not widely distributed.

"One of the things about jihadis: they are very good in Arabic," said one specialist who worked on WebOps.

Another former employee said common translation mistakes he personally witnessed, including the "Palestinian salad" example, were the result of the company hiring young people who were faking language abilities.

He mockingly described the conversations between managers and potential hires: "'Do you speak Arabic?'" he mimicked. "'Yes. How do you say 'good morning?' Oh, you can do that? You are an expert. You are hired.'"

A third specialist said she asked a colleague, who was assigned to analyze material written in Arabic, why he was discarding much of it. While watching a soap opera online, the colleague said the material was irrelevant because it was in Farsi or Urdu. But when she checked, it was indeed Arabic. She has since left WebOps to find more meaningful work, she said.

The WebOps Arabic program focuses on Syria, Iraq and Yemen, but for most of the time Colsa has been running it, it has had no Syrian or Yemeni staff, the AP was told in separate interviews with two current employees and one who left recently.

Engaging in theological discussions on social media with people who are well versed in the Quran is not for beginners. Iraq and Syria are riven with sectarian violence between Shiite and Sunni Muslims, who follow different interpretations of Islam. Multiple workers said that WebOps "experts" often trip up on language that is specific to one sect or region.

"People can tell whether you are local, or whether you are Sunni or Shia," said another former worker, so poorly crafted messages are not effective. He said he left WebOps because he was disgusted with the work.

A number of the workers complained to AP that a large group on staff from Morocco, in North Africa, were often ignorant of Middle Eastern history and culture — or even the difference between groups the U.S. considers terrorist organizations. The group was so dominant that colleagues jokingly referred to them as "the Moroccan mafia."

A lot of them "don't know the difference between Hezbollah and Hamas," said the employee who left to find more meaningful work. Hezbollah is an Iran-backed Shiite group based in Lebanon. Hamas, based in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, is the Palestinian branch of the Sunni Muslim Brotherhood.

Cathy Dickens, a vice president for business management and corporate ethics at Colsa Corp., referred questions to CENTCOM, which declined comment.



To determine whether WebOps actually dissuades people from becoming radicalized, Colsa's scoring team analyzes the interactions employees have online and tries to measure whether the subjects' comments reflect militant views or a more tolerant outlook.

Three former members of its scoring team told the AP they were encouraged by a manager to indicate progress against radicalism in their scoring reports even if they were not making any.

The employee who said she left to find meaningful work recalled approaching a Colsa manager to clarify how the scoring was done shortly after starting her job. She said he told her that the bottom line was "the bread we put on the table for our children."

The boss told her that the scoring reports should show progress, but not too much, so that the metrics would still indicate a dangerous level of militancy online to justify continued funding for WebOps, she said.

She was shocked. "Until my dying day, I will never forget that moment," she said.

She, like other former employees, spoke only on condition of anonymity for fear of retribution from Colsa that could affect future employment.

The manager she spoke to declined to comment. AP withheld his name because of security concerns.

Employees and managers routinely inflate counts of interactions with potential terrorist recruits, known as "engagements," according to multiple workers. Engagements are delivered in tweets or comments posted on social media to lists of people and can also be automated. That automation is at times used to inflate the actual number of engagements, said two former workers, including the one who talked about colleagues faking their language abilities.

The worker who left in disgust explained that a single tweet could be programmed to be sent out to all the followers of a target individually, multiple times. So the targets and their followers get the same tweets tagged to them over and over again.

"You send it like a blind copy. You program it to send a tweet every five minutes to the whole list individually from now until tomorrow," the former employee said. "Then you see the reports and it says yesterday we sent 5,000 engagements. Often that means one tweet on Twitter." The person said that he saw managers printing out the skewed reports for weekly briefings with CENTCOM officers. But the volume made it look like the WebOps team's work was "wow, amazing," he said.

Garcia said Colsa has a done a good job under his watch, that the data is sufficiently scrutinized and the program is succeeding.

In 2014, a group of more than 40 Defense Department data specialists came to Tampa to evaluate the program. Their unclassified report, obtained by AP, identified what one of the authors called "serious design flaws." For instance, the report found that any two analysts were only 69 percent likely to agree on how to score a particular engagement. The author said a rate of 90 percent or higher is required to draw useful conclusions.

The report found that computers would be as accurate or better than analysts, and could evaluate effectiveness more quickly — and cheaply.

What Central Command really needed, the report said, was outside oversight.

"You shouldn't grade your own homework," said the author, a former U.S. military officer and data specialist once stationed at Central Command. The author, one of many people who signed off on the report, spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of professional retribution.

He said the report was given to officers, including Garcia, and to Colsa. The author said the suggestions were not implemented and WebOps managers resisted multiple attempts at oversight. The author said that when he directly appealed to Garcia for outside assessment, an officer under Garcia said the effort would cloud the mission.

"The argument was that WebOps was the only program at Central Command that was directly engaging the enemy and that it couldn't function if its staff was constantly distracted by assessment," he said. The argument worked, he said, and Colsa was not forced or instructed to accept outside oversight.

Garcia disputed that account but would not elaborate on what steps were taken to address the Defense Department data specialists' concerns. The Government Accountability Office issued a report in 2015 on WebOps oversight, but it is classified.



Despite the problems behind the scenes at WebOps, Central Command will play a key role in the new $500 million psychological operations campaign against the Islamic State and other groups. The five-year contract was a hefty commitment to "degrade and ultimately defeat extremist organizations," according to a document detailing the scope of the work. It would run parallel to WebOps.

The request for bids was announced in April. Four separate teams of companies competed for the contract, including one led by defense giant Northrop Grumman.

From the start, competitors complained among themselves that Simon Bergman, an executive with the British advertising firm M&C Saatchi, had an advantage because he was friends with Garcia. Bergman was working with Northrop to prepare the bid.

A former British officer, Bergman was deployed to Iraq while Garcia was there working on psychological operations during the Iraq war. It was well known that the two men were close, and in recent years, contractors often saw Bergman at CENTCOM offices.

In April, defense contractor CACI International held a meeting in Tampa to discuss the bid. Three contractors on the team said a CACI manager warned a roomful of people that Garcia had already told him that he would decide who got the contract. The manager said that Garcia indicated that having Bergman on the team would help.

So in mid-September, when a photo appeared on Facebook showing Garcia and Bergman together in the Florida Keys, it did not look good in the eyes of many contractors. Garcia's girlfriend captured the old friends inside the Tiki Bar at Gilbert's Resort in Key Largo. They were on her Facebook page, shoulder-to-shoulder, smiling and giving the thumbs up.

Within days, the photos had been taken down from her page.

Two weeks later, the government announced Northrop had won the contract. Its team included M&C Saatchi, Bergman's firm.

A panel led by the U.S. General Services Administration chose the winner of the contract. Chris Hamm, a senior GSA acquisition executive, said a five-member team scrutinized the technical merits of the proposals for the contract. That team was led by two GSA officials and included three military officers — one of whom was Marine Corps Lt. Col. Matt Coughlin, who reported directly to Garcia before Garcia left his post. Coughlin is the information operations' liaison with contractors.

In an interview with AP, Hamm said the contract award was handled properly.

"The process is designed to avoid bias," Hamm said.

But several other contractors on losing teams said Coughlin would clearly have been the person on the panel with the most sway, because of both his technical expertise and the fact that he represented CENTCOM. And given Coughlin's ties with Garcia, they found that troubling.

Garcia said that while the bids were being considered, he stayed away from any discussions of it with Coughlin, his deputy. So he didn't even realize the award announcement was imminent when he went with Bergman to the Keys.

"I wasn't involved with the contracting process at all," Garcia said. "So I had no idea what the timing of the contract was."

When asked why the photo with Bergman was taken off Facebook, Garcia declined to comment.

Bergman said that his friendship with Garcia, one of many he has with military officers, is irrelevant. He noted that M&C Saatchi was only a subcontractor.

"I don't see why my relationship with somebody in the military would have any influence over anything," he said.

The whistleblower complaint however, filed in December with Central Command's inspector general, contended the photo of Garcia and Bergman created a "clear impression and perception of impropriety."

The four-page complaint, now under investigation by NCIS, said the atmosphere at the CENTCOM division, with routine drinking at the office and myriad conflicts of interest, led to an "air of untouchable invincibility."

Several contractors who spoke to AP, among the nearly two dozen either bidding for work or involved in CENTCOM information operations, said they suspected undue influence in the decision for the $500 million contract. In his complaint, the whistleblower alleges that Garcia told him directly at one point that "any team must include Simon Bergman."

All the contractors asked for anonymity to discuss sensitive work because they feared repercussions for their companies.

Colsa, the primary WebOps contractor, was not involved in Northrop's bid. However, nothing prevents Northrop from bringing the company in as a subcontractor.

That's the plan, said several contractors who have been briefed by Northrop. Such a move would provide ample funding to keep WebOps running for up to five more years.

Photo Credit: AP

Guilford Church Stands as Beacon of Hope for Refugees


For decades, First Congregational Church of Guilford has been a beacon of hope on the Connecticut shoreline for refugee families coming to the United States. But now, the church is attempting to chart a new course in the aftermath of President Donald Trump’s executive orders suspending the United States refugee program and banning travel from seven majority-Muslim countries.

“To see actions being taken, which are absolutely clearly anti-immigrant, seems as though it’s against what our country stands for,” Craig Mullet, chair of the church’s board of community and world concerns, said.

Mullet is himself an immigrant, coming to the U.S. in 1999 from South Africa, where he was an anti-apartheid campaigner.

The president’s executive order hits close to home for this nearly 400 year-old congregation.

Since 2000, they’ve assisted refugees from five of the seven countries on the travel ban list, including a Syrian family in 2016.

“We continue to believe that all people have the right to be valued, respected and safe. We think that should permeate all policies” Rev. Sarah Verasco said.

Over the years, the church’s board of community and world concerns has served as something of a liaison for refugees in their new, unfamiliar homes, connecting them to basic services like schools, jobs, housing and clothing.

Ministers said they believe the ban is fundamentally wrong.

“When politics step in and on our faith, on our basic belief system, obviously we speak up” Rev. Dr. Ginger Brasher-Cunningham said.

Because of that, the Christian church in Glastonbury remains firm in its mission of welcoming all and being allies to the Muslim community.

Despite critics who refer to the action as a “Muslim ban,” Trump said the order is “not about religion” but keeping Americans safe

“America is a proud nation of immigrants and we will continue to show compassion to those fleeing oppression, but we will do so while protecting our own citizens and border,” Trump said in a statement on Sunday.

First Congregational Church of Guilford has planned an interfaith forum Sunday that includes Christian leaders, a rabbi and an imam.

Read more here for what the travel ban means and what’s next. 

Photo Credit: Getty Images
Browsing All 57608 Browse Latest View Live