Federal government notifies Florida and 20 other states of election hacking

The federal government on Friday told election officials in Florida and 20 other states that hackers targeted their systems before last year’s presidential election.

The notification came roughly a year after U.S. Department of Homeland Security officials first said states were targeted by hacking efforts possibly connected to Russia.

The states confirming they had been targeted included some key political battlegrounds, such as Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Wisconsin. The others confirming they had been targets were Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Iowa, Maryland, Minnesota, Oklahoma, Oregon and Washington.

It does not mean that sensitive voter data was manipulated or results were changed.

Hackers targeting a system without getting inside is similar to a burglar circling a house checking for unlocked doors and windows. Even so, the widespread nature of the attempts and the yearlong lag time in notification from Homeland Security raised concerns among some election officials and lawmakers.

For many states, the Friday calls were the first official confirmation of whether their states were on the list — even though state election officials across the country have been calling for months for the federal government to share information about any hacks, as have members of Congress.

“It is completely unacceptable that it has taken DHS over a year to inform our office of Russian scanning of our systems, despite our repeated requests for information,” California Secretary of State Alex Padilla, a Democrat, said in a statement. “The practice of withholding critical information from elections officials is a detriment to the security of our elections and our democracy.” 

U.S. Sen. Mark Warner, of Virginia, the top Democrat on a committee that’s investigating Russian meddling in last year’s election, has been pushing the department for months to reveal the identities of the targeted states. He said states need such information in real time so they can strengthen their cyber defenses.

“We have to do better in the future,” he said.

Homeland Security said it recognizes that state and local officials should be kept informed about cybersecurity risks to election infrastructure.

“We are working with them to refine our processes for sharing this information while protecting the integrity of investigations and the confidentiality of system owners,” it said in a statement.

The government did not say who was behind the hacking attempts or provide details about what had been sought. But election officials in several states said the attempts were linked to Russia.

The Wisconsin Election Commission, for example, said the state’s systems were targeted by “Russian government cyber actors.” 

Alaska Elections Division Director Josie Bahnke said computers in Russia were scanning election systems looking for vulnerabilities.

A spokeswoman for the National Association of Secretaries of State said the group has requested a list of the states where there were hacking efforts. In most cases, states said they were told the systems were not breached.

Federal officials said that in most of the 21 states the targeting was preparatory activity such as scanning computer systems.

The targets included voter registration systems but not vote tallying software. Officials said there were some attempts to compromise networks but most were unsuccessful. Only Illinois reported that hackers had succeeded in breaching its voter systems.

Other states said their cybersecurity efforts turned back efforts to get to crucial information.

“There are constant attempts by bad actors to hack our systems,” Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate, a Republican, said in a statement. “But we continue to deflect those attempts.” 

Colorado said the hacking wasn’t quite a breach.

“It’s really reconnaissance by a bad guy to try and figure out how we would break into your computer,” said Trevor Timmons, a spokesman for the Colorado secretary of state’s office. “It’s not an attack. I wouldn’t call it a probe. It’s not a breach, it’s not a penetration.” 

Earlier this year, a leaked National Security Agency report detailed that hackers obtained information from a company that provided software to manage voter registrations in eight states.

The May report said hackers sent phishing emails to 122 local election officials just before the November 2016 election in an attempt to break into their systems.

The latest disclosure to the states comes as a special counsel investigates whether there was any coordination during the 2016 presidential campaign between Russia and associates of Donald Trump.

Trump, a Republican who defeated Democrat Hillary Clinton in the presidential election, has called the Russia story a hoax. He says Russian President Vladimir Putin “vehemently denied” the conclusions of numerous American intelligence agencies.

For states that were told they were not targets, the news brought relief.

“This is one time we like being at the bottom of the list,” said Lisa Strimple, a spokeswoman for Nebraska’s secretary of state.

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Social media explodes over Kylie Jenner’s pregnancy news

Kim Kardashian’s half-sister Kylie Jenner is pregnant, TMZ, People magazine and Buzzfeed reported.

The reports followed Jenner’s Snapchat appearing to have a baby bump. Rapper Travis Scott, 25, is the 20-year-old reality television star’s boyfriend.

People magazine reported the baby girl was due in February and a source told them “the family has known for quite some time.” 

Social media exploded with reaction Friday night.

Tyga on Snapchat: “That’s my kid.” Millions of reactions on social media followed.

These are a few of the reactions on Twitter:


Everyone: “Kylie Jenner’s new show is SO boring”
Kylie: *Gets pregnant*

— Rachel (@Zaniewski97) September 22, 2017

Kylie Jenner is pregnant with a child, or as they are known in Hollywood, a spin-off

— elan gale (@theyearofelan) September 22, 2017

the day before the world is supposed to end it is announced that kylie jenner is pregnant?? thank GOD for tomorrow take me away I’m so ready pic.twitter.com/XATrQWKvRL

— sam (@samcolvin_) September 22, 2017

Kylie Jenner is 20, has a half-billion $ company, is pregnant and I’m over here getting judged by Netflix asking if I’m still watching.

— Tamara Dhia (@tamaradhia) September 22, 2017

Kylie Jenner is pregnant, Mother Nature hates us, Donald trump is president, & y’all tryna hook up with a demonic clown, 2017 on some shit.

— Marcus Perez (@Markaaaay) September 22, 2017


— dorsey.avi (@dorseyshaw) September 22, 2017

“Kylie Jenner and Travis Scott are expecting a baby! ??”

Tyga: pic.twitter.com/oz7ShE3ORP

— DChalla Moore (@VIBEZ_419) September 22, 2017

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Dam failing as scope of Puerto Rico’s disaster becomes clear

Puerto Rican officials rushed to evacuate tens of thousands of people downstream of a failing dam and said they could not reach more than half the towns in the U.S. territory as the massive scale of the disaster wrought by Hurricane Maria started to become clear.

Government spokesman Carlos Bermudez said that officials had no communication with 40 of the 78 municipalities on the island more than two days after the Category 5 storm crossed the island, toppling power lines and cell phone towers and sending floodwaters cascading through city streets.

Officials said 1,360 of the island’s 1,600 cell-phone towers had been downed, and 85 percent of above-ground and underground phone and internet cables were knocked out. With roads blocked and phones dead, officials said, the situation may be worse than they know.

“We haven’t seen the extent of the damage,” Gov. Ricardo Rossello told reporters in the capital.

More than 15 inches of rain fell on the mountains surrounding the Guajataca Dam in northwest Puerto Rico after Maria left the island Wednesday afternoon, swelling the reservoir behind the nearly 90-year-old dam.

Authorities launched an evacuation of the 70,000 people living downstream, sending buses to move people away and sending frantic warnings on Twitter that went unseen by many in the blacked-out coastal area.

“This is an EXTREMELY DANGEROUS SITUATION,” the National Weather Service wrote. “All the areas around the Guajataca River must evacuate NOW. Your lives are in DANGER.” 

The 345-yard dam, which was built around 1928, holds back a manmade lake covering about 2 square miles. An engineer inspecting the dam reported a “contained breach” that officials quickly realized was a crack that could be the first sign of total failure of the dam, said Anthony Reynes, a meteorologist with the U.S. National Weather Service.

“There’s no clue as to how long or how this can evolve. That is why the authorities are moving so fast because they also have the challenges of all the debris. It is a really, really dire situation,” Reynes said. “They are trying to mobilize all the resources they can but it’s not easy. We really don’t know how long it would take for this failure to become a full break of the dam.” 

Maj. Gen. Derek P. Rydholm, deputy to the chief of the Air Force Reserve, said at the Pentagon that it was impossible to say when communication and power will be restored. He said mobile communications systems are being flown in. But he acknowledged “it’s going to take a while” before people in Puerto Rico will be able to communicate with their families outside the island.

Until Friday, he said, “there was no real understanding at all of the gravity of the situation.” 

Across the island more than 15,000 people are in shelters, including some 2,000 rescued from the north coastal town of Toa Baja, including several who were stranded on roofs. Rossello couldn’t say when power might be restored.

The island’s electric grid was in sorry shape long before Maria struck. The territory’s $73 billion debt crisis has left agencies like the state power company broke. It abandoned most basic maintenance in recent years, leaving the island subject to regular blackouts.

“Some transmission structures collapsed,” Rossello said, adding that there was no severe damage to electric plants. He said he was distributing 250 satellite phones from FEMA to mayors across the island to re-establish contact.

Secretary of State Luis Marin said he expects gasoline supplies to be at 80 percent of capacity because the port in the southeastern town of Yabucoa that receives fuel shipments received minor damage.

Hours-long lines formed at the few gas stations that reopened on Friday and anxious residents feared power could be out for weeks — or even months — and wondered how they would cope. Some of the island’s 3.4 million people planned to head to the U.S. to temporarily escape the devastation.

At least in the short term, though, the soggy misery will continue: Additional rain — up to 6 inches — is expected through Saturday.

In San Juan, Neida Febus wandered around her neighborhood with bowls of cooked rice, ground meat and avocado, offering food to the hungry. The damage was so extensive, the 64-year-old retiree said, that she didn’t think the power would be turned back on until Christmas.

“This storm crushed us from one end of the island to the other,” she said.

The death toll in Puerto Rico stood at six but was likely to rise. At least 27 lives in all have been lost around the Caribbean, including at least 15 on hard-hit Dominica. Haiti reported three deaths; Guadeloupe, two; and the Dominican Republic, one.

By Friday afternoon, Maria was passing about 115 miles east-northeast of the southeastern Bahamas with top sustained winds of 125 mph. The storm is not expected to pose a threat to the U.S. mainland.

Israel Molina, 68, found that Maria had ripped away roofing from his Israel Mini Market in San Juan.

“I’m from here. I believe we have to step up to the task. If everyone leaves, what are we going to do? With all the pros and the cons, I will stay here,” he said, and then paused. “I might have a different response tomorrow.” 

Diana Jaquez, one of the owners of the Coquette hair salon in San Juan’s Santurce area, assessed storm damage with her husband Friday as their children played nearby. She said she hadn’t decided whether to leave the island.

“Business has dropped a lot,” she said. “People have other priorities than looking good.” 

Outside her store, more than 100 people stood in line waiting to get money out of an ATM machine and hoping there would still be some cash left when their turn came. New York plans to send about 240 National Guardsmen and state troopers to assist Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. The state is also sending drinking water, ready-to-eat meals, electrical generators and other supplies.

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Nonprofit group builds tent camp for Civic Towers’ residents

Hurricane Irma impacted South Florida at a time when Miami is struggling with a lack of affordable housing and the gentrification of areas west of the Wynwood neighborhood. 

The Civic Towers, two 17-story buildings with 196 units, provided government subsidized housing in Miami’s Allapattah neighborhood. The City of Miami authorities deemed the property unsafe and now there is a tent city outside.

“We are dropping off food for them,” said Maryann Salas with the Red Cross. 

The Miami Workers Center, a nonprofit organization founded in 1999 to help low-income communities, donated the tents. Some families were sleeping in their cars and outside in the parking lot at 1855 NW 15th Ave., near Jackson Memorial Hospital.  

“We need air mattresses, tents, battery operated fans, sheets, towels, hand sanitizers, water, feminine products,” the nonprofit announced on Facebook using the hash tags “Tent City” and “Femme Village.” 

The Tennessee-based Global Ministries Foundation sold the Section 8 Housing development to the California-based Redwood Housing Partners for $25 million in February. It was a good deal for the Evangelical church. They bought it for $15.6 million in 2011. 

Redwood Housing Partners started a renovation. The towers, near the Marlins  were built in 1982. The City of Miami put a permit hold when they didn’t pay fees. The city lifted the hold after they paid $170,000 in permit fees. 

“Each month, they would tell us, ‘Get ready! You are leaving’,” Adolfo Diaz said. 

Hurricane Irma prompted them to evacuate the federally subsidized project. Diaz and others spent 10 days sleeping in the parking lot until police officers ordered them to leave. Redwood Housing Partners reported proving 80 with hotel rooms.

Marcos Maceo is hoping the Federal Emergency Management Agency will step in, but whatever aid they will provide is temporary. For now, he will be sleeping in one of the tents the nonprofit donated and use one of the three public toilets the city provided. 

“FEMA is going to give us an apartment,” Maceo said. 


Photos from the city inspector’s report on Civic Towers:

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Miami Beach parks workers could be fired for not coming to work quickly enough after Irma

The whipping winds and strong storm surge brought on by Hurricane Irma had South Floridians bracing themselves through the storm that left millions without power.

A portion of Miami Beach deemed evacuation zones prompting people to relocate to safety. The storm even prevented some from getting to work, which did not sit well with Miami Beach officials.

Several parks and recreation workers reached out to Local 10 claiming that on Thursday they received this letter stating their current employment status.

“I write this letter to inform you of the City’s intent to terminate your employment with the city of Miami Beach for failing to show up to work and/or leaving your work assignment prior to being authorized to do so during our current civil emergency conditions, do to hurricane Irma, as you were required to do so,” the letter said.

But the union attorney representing these workers, Michael Baverman, had this to say about the situation.

“They never spoke to anybody and they just sent out a letter saying ‘You didn’t come to work Tuesday at the appropriate time, the city is going to fire you,” he said. 

The letters also include a meeting date where the workers could present their case with Human Resources sometime next week, meanwhile 100 workers could be out of a job.

The city has responded to the letter with a statement that said in part: “In these meetings, employees have an opportunity to provide better understanding why they did not report to work when expected. It is not our intention to terminate any employee who was facing a life safety situation or demonstrates an inability to return to work.” 

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Chaotic moments in San Juan airport as people attempt to flee island

It was a chaotic scene Friday at the airport in San Juan, where there are limited commercial flights off the island.

There was water and structural damage inside the terminal from Hurricane Maria. Windows were shattered and there was no power at the airport.

Meanwhile, the staff was doing its to process travelers. Many are trying to get to the mainland just to let family members know they survived the storm.

“You can’t text, you can’t call you can’t nothing,” a passenger said.

In Puerto Rico the entire island of more than 3 million people, are still without power are 155 mph winds ripped out power poles.

That, plus nearly 30 inches of rain, caused catastrophic damage.

“We need diesel for the generator, we need light, we need water,” Maria Ortiz, who runs a nursing home, said.

Ortiz said her facility runs on a generator, and at the moment, her patients are frail and dehydrated.

“We can’t let them die,” she said. “We can’t let them die.”

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