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Airport shooting reignites security debate before French election

PARIS Police questioned and then released relatives of a man shot dead at a Paris airport, as investigators sought clues on why he attacked an army patrol in an incident that has pushed security to the forefront of France’s election campaign.

Paris prosecutor Francois Molins said late on Saturday that the man, named as 39-year-old Ziyed Ben Belgacem, had shouted he was there to “die for Allah” when he tried to seize a gun from a woman air force member on patrol at Orly airport.

After throwing down a bag containing a can of petrol and putting an air pistol to the head of the soldier, he was shot three times by her colleagues.

More than 230 people have died in France in the past twoyears at the hands of attackers allied to the militant Islamist group Islamic State, making security a key issue in the two-round presidential election on April 23 and May 7.

Emmanuel Macron, the centrist frontrunner, told France 2 television on Sunday it was “essential” to maintain the current state of emergency, in force since November 2015 . He reiterated that he would strengthen military operations and intelligence against Islamist militants.

Conservative Francois Fillon said France was in a “situation of virtual civil war” and spoke out against the idea of lifting the state of emergency, as floated by the justice minister last week.

Far-right candidate Marine Le Pen, running on an

anti-immigration, anti-European Union ticket, told a rally that the government was “overwhelmed, stunned, paralysed like a rabbit in the headlights.”

IN AND OUT OF PRISON

Belgacem, who had been in and out of prison for theft and drug offences according to judicial sources, was already on the authorities’ radar . They said he became a radicalised Muslim when he served a prison term several years ago for drug-trafficking.

He had been reporting regularly to police under the terms of a provisional release from custody, and did not have the right to leave the country.

Several hours before he was killed, Belgacem had shot and wounded a police officer with his air pistol when he was stopped for a routine traffic check north of Paris, officials said . He then fled the scene.

He later entered a bar where he was a regular customer in Vitry-sur-Seine on the other side of Paris, and opened fire with his air gun without hitting anyone . He also stole a car before arriving at the airport.

Belgacem’s father, who was initially detained by police but released late on Saturday, denied his son had been involved in terrorism.

“My son has never been a terrorist . He has never prayed: he drinks . And, under the influence of alcohol and cannabis, this is what happens,” the father, whose name was not given, told Europe 1 radio.

He said he had received a phone call from his son in which Belgacem referred to shooting the police officer, saying: “I ask your forgiveness . I screwed up with a policeman.”

An autopsy showed the presence of cannabis and cocaine in Belgacem’s body, as well as an alcohol blood level of 0.93 grams per litre, a judicial source said on Sunday.

The legal limit for alcohol while driving in France is 0.5 g/l.

An earlier search of Belgacem’s home had found several grams of cocaine, the prosecutor said.

Belgacem was born in Paris, according to the prosecutor . French media said his family was of Tunisian origin.

A brother and cousin of Belgacem were also questioned by police and then released on Sunday, the judicial source said.

(Writing by Richard Balmforth; Editing by Mark Trevelyan and Sandra Maler)

US military leak exposes ‘holy grail’ of security clearance files

US Military Leak Exposes 'holy Grail' Of Security Clearance Files NEW YORK — A unsecured backup drive has exposed thousands of US Air Force documents, including highly sensitive personnel files on senior and high-ranking officers. Security researchers found that the gigabytes of files were accessible to anyone because the internet-connected backup drive was not password protected.

The files, reviewed by ZDNet, contained a range of personal information, such as names and addresses, ranks, and Social Security numbers of more than 4,000 officers . Another file lists the security clearance levels of hundreds of other officers, some of whom possess “top secret” clearance, and access to sensitive compartmented information and codeword-level clearance1. Phone numbers and contact information of staff and their spouses, as well as other sensitive and private personal information, were found in several other spreadsheets.

The drive is understood to belong to a lieutenant colonel, whose name we are not publishing . ZDNet reached out to the officer by email but did not hear back.

The data was secured last week after a notification2 by MacKeeper security researcher Bob Diachenko. Among the most damaging documents on the drive included the completed applications for renewed national security clearances for two US four-star generals, both of whom recently had top US military and NATO positions.

US Military Leak Exposes 'holy Grail' Of Security Clearance Files US Military Leak Exposes 'holy Grail' Of Security Clearance Files

Both of these so-called SF86 applications3 contain highly sensitive and detailed information, including financial and mental health history, past convictions, relationships with foreign nationals, and other personal information. These completed questionnaires are used to determine a candidate’s eligibility to receive classified material. Several national security experts and former government officials we spoke to for this story described this information as the “holy grail” for foreign adversaries and spies, and said that it should not be made public.

For that reason, we are not publishing the names of the generals, who have since retired from service. Nevertheless, numerous attempts to contact the generals over the past week went unreturned. “Some of the questions ask for information that can be very personal, as well as embarrassing,” said Mark Zaid, a national security attorney, in an email .

The form allows prospective applicants to national security positions to disclose arrests, drug and alcohol issues, or mental health concerns, among other things, said Zaid. Completed SF86 forms aren’t classified but are closely guarded . These were the same kinds of documents that were stolen in a massive theft of sensitive files4 at the Office of Personnel Management, affecting more than 22 million government and military employees.

“Even if the SF86 answers are innocuous, because of the personal information within the form there is always the risk of identity theft or financial fraud that could harm the individual and potentially compromise them,” said Zaid.

One spreadsheet contained a list of officers under investigation by the military, including allegations of abuses of power and substantiated claims of wrongdoing, such as wrongfully disclosing classified information. A former government official, who reviewed a portion of the documents but did not want to be named, said that the document, in the wrong hands, provided a “blueprint” for blackmail. Even officers who have left in recent years may still be vulnerable to coercion if they are still trusted with historical state secrets.

“Foreign powers might use that information to target those individuals for espionage or to otherwise monitor their activity in the hopes of gaining insight into US national security posture,” said Susan Hennessey, a Brookings fellow and a former attorney at the National Security Agency. Government officials use the form as a screening mechanism, said Hennessey, but it also offers applicants the chance to inform the government of past indiscretions or concerns that eliminate the possibility of blackmail in the future, she added. “These are people whose lives can depend on sensitive information being safeguarded, so the notion they would fail to put country over self in that kind of circumstance is far-fetched and supported by relatively few historical examples,” she said. “Still, it is the obligation of the government to keep this kind of information safe, both in order to protect the privacy of those who serve and their families and to protect them against being placed in difficult situations unnecessarily,” said Hennessey.

Though many of the files were considered “confidential” or “sensitive,” a deeper keyword-based search of the files did not reveal any material marked as classified. A completed passport application for one of the generals was also found in the same folder, as well as scans of his own and his wife’s passports and driving licenses. Other data included financial disclosures, bank account and routing information, and some limited medical information.

Another document purported to show the lieutenant colonel’s username and password5 for a sensitive internal Dept . of Defense system, used to check staff security clearances. Another document listed the clearance levels6 of one of the generals.

And, a smaller spreadsheet contained a list of Social Security numbers, passport numbers, and other contact information on high-profile figures and celebrities, including Channing Tatum.

The records were collected in relation to a six-day tour to Afghanistan by Tatum in 2015 . An email to Tatum’s publicist went unreturned. The drive also contained several gigabytes of Outlook email files, covering years worth of emails . Another document purported to be a backup. Nevertheless, this would be the second breach of military data in recent months. Potomac, a Dept . of Defense subcontractor, was the source of a large data exposure7 of military personnel files of physical and mental health support staff . Many of the victims involved in the data leak are part of the US Special Operations Command (SOCOM), which includes those both formerly employed by US military branches, such as the Army, Navy, and Air Force, and those presumably still on active deployment. It’s not known how long the backup drive was active .

Given that the device was public and searchable, it’s not known if anyone other than the security researchers accessed the files.

The Office of Personnel Management, which processes security clearance applications, referred comment to the Pentagon.

A Pentagon spokesperson would not comment in an email Monday.

References

  1. ^ codeword-level clearance (www.documentcloud.org)
  2. ^ after a notification (goo.gl)
  3. ^ so-called SF86 applications (www.cbsnews.com)
  4. ^ a massive theft of sensitive files (www.zdnet.com)
  5. ^ lieutenant colonel’s username and password (www.documentcloud.org)
  6. ^ the clearance levels (www.documentcloud.org)
  7. ^ a large data exposure (www.zdnet.com)

Paris can handle security, says mayor

PARIS Paris showed on Friday that it can offer a safe environment to host the Olympics after an attack was thwarted at the Louvre Museum on the day when the city submitted its bid file to host the 2024 Games, mayor Anne Hidalgo said.

A French soldier shot and wounded a man armed with machetes and carrying two bags on his back on Friday as he tried to enter the Paris Louvre museum in what the government said appeared to have been a terrorist attack.

“I went straight there (to the Louvre museum) with the head of Paris police and what I could see is the serenity and the efficiency of our security forces,” Hidalgo told Reuters on the Place du Trocadero, with the Eiffel Tower lit in blue and red in the backdrop.

Paris is competing with Los Angeles and Budapest to host the 2024 Summer Games . The International Olympic Committee (IOC) will select the host following a vote on Sept .

13 in Lima.

Hidalgo does not believe Paris is the only city concerned by militant attacks.

“The threat exists in all cities across the world . It’s a threat that all cities need to take seriously,” she said.

“This morning, our security forces showed their efficiency and again we showed how resilient Paris is.”

More than 230 people have died in France in the past two years at the hands of attackers allied to the militant group Islamic State .

Therefore the French capital knows how to handle terror threats, Hidalgo explained.

“This capacity to react is an asset for this (Olympic bid),” she said.

“It is important that we can rely on our security forces to counter these threats.”

On Friday, the man trying to enter the Louvre shouted Allahu Akbar (God is greatest) and rushed at police and soldiers before being shot and seriously wounded near the museum’s shopping mall, police said.

The soldier who shot the man was from one of the patrolling groups which have become a common sight in Paris since a state of emergency was declared in November 2015.

Another soldier received a scalp wound in the incident. “I want to spare a thought for the officer who got injured,” said Hidalgo.

“Paris is a city of hope and youth, in which a lot of people come to take root.

“It is a city that reassures, a city from which we can build a bright future.”

Socialist Hidalgo was elected mayor in 2014.

(Reporting by Julien Pretot, editing by Pritha Sarkar)