Saturday, May 27, 2006

08: “Honor the Fallen This Memorial Day!”


After the guns became silent, the cleanup began. It started with the wounded -- thousands of wounded. Those not already in hospitals in the many barns nearby, and not already on their way back to Virginia as Lee pulled his men back from the costly repulse at Gettysburg, those that still lay on the blood soaked fields, and among the tress and rocks of this ground were gathered up and swiftly borne away to fill the hospitals again.

First the living, and then the dead. The somber task of burying the Union dead began before the battle was done, and continued for well over a day. In most cases, they were buried where they fell.

The grave diggers were often criticized for their levity while going about their grim work, but in reality, it was simply a mechanism to deal with the horrors of so many mangled bodies…and if the sight of that didn’t reach you, the smell surely would. And so they would make small jokes about how this one smelled, or what he looked like he did back home: farmer, merchant, teacher, schoolboy…

After the Union dead were interred, it would take two more days to bury the Confederate dead. Meanwhile, there were tens of thousands of horses, mules and livestock that were rotting on the battlefield. They, too, had to be disposed of. There were a large number of dead horses in the small garden of the Widow Leister farm, where Major General Meade made his headquarters. Slaughtered by Confederate artillery that overshot its intended mark on Cemetery Ridge, the horses died by the dozen on the reverse slope. Later, Lydia Leister would burn their bones, and sell the ash/bone mix as fertilizer. She made about $30.

Local attorney David Wills realized almost immediately not just the importance of the battle, but the importance of the battlefield. He began to buy up portions of it for a memorial association he founded. By mid-summer, he had contacted Pennsylvania Governor Andrew Curtin, and obtained approval to go ahead and construct a “National Soldiers and Sailor’s Cemetery” at Gettysburg. A location on the west slope of Cemetery Hill, adjacent to the old Evergreen Cemetery was obtained, and a design was approved. A group of local African-Americans won the contract to disinter the Union dead from their makeshift graves on the battlefield and after identification of the remains at least as to the state for which the soldier had fought, reinter them in the new cemetery.

When that task was finally completed in the 1880s, there were 3,577 men from fourteen northern states buried in that graveyard. Since then, veterans and fallen from all of America’s wars have added more than 3,000 interments to that number.

For all of that, only one person has truly caught the essence of the events here, and the cost, and what the men bought with their blood. And on a cool November afternoon in 1863, he put the matter quite clearly:

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But in a larger sense, we can not dedicate -- we can not consecrate -- we can not hallow -- this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember, what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- that from these honored dead we may take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion -- that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain -- that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

He put no hate in his speech, nor disrespect of the enemy. He placed the enormous toll of the battle into the perspective of the new United States that would emerge from the war – a new nation that was no longer divided by the issue of slavery, a nation united.

In Europe at the time, the nationalist movement had been underway for a half-century or more, and resulted in wars between nations. In America, our civil war defined how we, the United States of America, would be viewed by those outside our nation, and how we would perceive ourselves. It gave us an identity that all Americans could claim, a single spirit, a national unity.

In all of America’s other major wars combined (The Revolution, War of 1812, Mexican War, Spanish American War, WW I, WW II, Korea, Viet Nam, Gulf War I), the total killed is approximately 590,360.

In the Civil War, approximately 617,000 Americans fell in combat, or from accident or disease while serving. Almost a million more were wounded. Countless more were starved in Prisoner of War Camps.

There must be something about this “experiment in Liberty” that we call a nation that drives men and women to sacrifice themselves in such numbers for it.

Visit a National Cemetery or an observance of Memorial Day this weekend. Whatever you do, do something to honor those who gave their lives in the service of this nation, so “…that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

VNVets

“With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation's wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan--to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations.” -- President Abraham Lincoln

"
Without a decisive naval force we can do nothing definitive, and with it, everything honorable and glorious." --President George Washington

Copyright © 2006: VNVets Blog; All Rights Reserved.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

07: “More on Latest VA BOHICA”


Caution, this is not for the Type A personality.

A CNN report, partially reprinted below, indicates the VA sat on the information of the theft of the records of over 26 million veterans and some spouses of veterans in a home burglary in Virginia. The burglary was May 3rd and the information was not released until yesterday almost 3 weeks later!

That’s plenty of time for the low-lifes of the Internet to have used your Social Security Number, Name, and Date of Birth to gain access to your bank account, credit cards, investment accounts, etc.

Here is part of the article from CNN.com:

Theft of vets' data kept secret for 19 days

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Authorities waited almost three weeks to alert the public that personal data on more than 26 million U.S. veterans had fallen into the hands of thieves, a government source said Tuesday.

The data were on a laptop and external drive stolen May 3 in an apparent random burglary from the Montgomery County, Maryland, home of a Department of Veterans Affairs computer analyst, said the government source, who has been briefed on the issue.

The government did not immediately announce the theft because officials had hoped to catch the culprits and did not want to tip them off about what they had stolen for fear they would sell it, the government source said.

On Monday, officials abandoned that plan and alerted the public.

The computer disk contained the names, Social Security numbers and birth dates of every living veteran from 1975 to the present, Veterans Affairs Secretary Jim Nicholson said Monday.

Nicholson told reporters that the FBI and the department's inspector general are investigating the matter.

Nicholson and Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said there was no indication that the information has been misused. The missing data do not include health records or financial information, the department said. They do include some disability ratings and data on some veterans' spouses.

Nicholson said the analyst has been placed on administrative leave during the investigation but that no "ulterior motive" is suspected. The analyst is a longtime department employee but was not authorized to take the information home, he said.

Nicholson disclosed few details about the theft, citing the investigation. But he told CNN earlier, "We think that it wasn't a targeted burglary."They weren't after this [data]," he said. "There's a pattern of these kind of burglaries in this neighborhood."

But the missing information could be gold for electronic identity thieves, who operate hundreds of Internet sites where personal information is bought and sold."It's a pretty dire situation," said Rutrell Yasin, technology editor of Federal Computer Week, which covers computer and information technology issues in the federal government. "You have to hope that information is not in the hands of people who know what to do with it."

Yasin said the theft should be a wake-up call to federal agencies.

"They should certainly have the necessary security on their computers, secure communications links that would protect personal data," Yasin said.

Gonzales and Deborah Platt Majoras, chairwoman of the Federal Trade Commission, lead the Bush administration's identity theft task force. Gonzales vowed federal prosecutors would have "zero tolerance" for anyone implicated in trafficking in veterans' personal data.

"We have no reason to believe at this time that the identity of these veterans have been compromised," he said. "But we feel an obligation to alert veterans so that they can take the appropriate steps to protect this information."

The VA sent a letter to veterans informing them of the stolen data. Anyone with questions can contact the agency at (800) 333-4636 or through the federal government's Web portal, www.firstgov.gov .

The FBI said its Baltimore, Maryland, field office is investigating, and Gonzales said the bureau was working in conjunction with local authorities.

Nicholson vowed to take steps to ensure such a mistake is not repeated, including mandatory security training in the next month for all employees with access to private information.


Lawmakers cite concerns
Lawmakers also expressed concerns about the stolen data.

To read the rest of the story click here.

Now, in addition to the security breach, we have a government agency that inexplicably exposes the people it exists to represent to greater risk and danger of identity theft by withholding information from the veterans for three weeks!

Time to dump the decision makers at the VA! (But we knew that already, didn’t we?)

VNVets

“With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation's wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan--to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations.” -- President Abraham Lincoln


"Without a decisive naval force we can do nothing definitive, and with it, everything honorable and glorious." --President George Washington

Copyright © 2006: VNVets Blog; All Rights Reserved.

Monday, May 22, 2006

06: BOHICA Alert


Our wonderful Department of Veterans Affairs has slipped us another one. An employee took a disk containing the social security numbers of over 26 million veterans home (ostensibly to work on it at home) and had it stolen during a burglary of his home.

Here is vital information from
FirstGov:
Latest Information on Veterans Affairs Data Security
The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has recently learned that an employee, a data analyst, took home electronic data from the VA, which he was not authorized to do. This behavior was in violation of VA policies. This data contained identifying information including names, social security numbers, and dates of birth for up to 26.5 million veterans and some spouses, as well as some disability ratings.

Importantly, the affected data did not include any of VA's electronic health records nor any financial information. The employee's home was burglarized and this data was stolen. The employee has been placed on administrative leave pending the outcome of an investigation.

Appropriate law enforcement agencies, including the FBI and the VA Inspector General's office, have launched full-scale investigations into this matter. Authorities believe it is unlikely the perpetrators targeted the items because of any knowledge of the data contents. It is possible that they remain unaware of the information which they possess or of how to make use of it. However, out of an abundance of caution, the VA is taking all possible steps to protect and inform our veterans.

The VA is working with members of Congress, the news media, veterans service organizations, and other government agencies to help ensure that veterans and their families are aware of the situation and of the steps they may take to protect themselves from misuse of their personal information. The VA will send out individual notification letters to veterans to every extent possible. Additionally, working with other government agencies, the VA has set up a manned call center that veterans may call to get information about this situation and learn more about consumer identity protections.
That toll free number is 1-800-FED INFO (1-800-333-4636).

The call center will operate from 8 am to 9 pm (EDT), Monday-Saturday as long as it is needed.

Here are some questions you may have about this incident, and their answers.

I'm a veteran. How can I tell if my information was compromised?

At this point there is no evidence that any missing data has been used illegally. However, the Department of Veterans Affairs is asking all veterans to be extra vigilant and to carefully monitor bank statements, credit card statements and any statements relating to recent financial transactions. If you notice unusual or suspicious activity, you should report it immediately to the financial institution involved and contact the Federal Trade Commission for further guidance.

What is the earliest date at which suspicious activity might have occurred due to this data breach?

The information was stolen from an employee of the Department of Veterans Affairs during the month of May 2006. If the data has been misused or otherwise used to commit fraud or identity theft crimes, it is likely that veterans may notice suspicious activity during the month of May.

I haven't noticed any suspicious activity in my financial statements, but what can I do to protect myself and prevent being victimized by credit card fraud or identity theft?

The Department of Veterans Affairs strongly recommends that veterans closely monitor their financial statements and review the guidelines provided on this webpage or call 1-800-FED-INFO (1-800-333-4636).

Should I reach out to my financial institutions or will the Department of Veterans Affairs do this for me?

The Department of Veterans Affairs does not believe that it is necessary to contact financial institutions or cancel credit cards and bank accounts, unless you detect suspicious activity.

Where should I report suspicious or unusual activity?

The Federal Trade Commission recommends the following four steps if you detect suspicious activity:

Step 1 – Contact the fraud department of one of the three major credit bureaus:
  • Equifax: 1-800-525-6285; www.equifax.com; P.O. Box 740241, Atlanta, GA 30374-0241
  • Experian: 1-888-EXPERIAN (397-3742); www.experian.com; P.O. Box 9532, Allen, Texas 75013
  • TransUnion: 1-800-680-7289; www.transunion.com; Fraud Victim Assistance Division, P.O. Box 6790, Fullerton, CA 92834-6790

Step 2 – Close any accounts that have been tampered with or opened fraudulently.

Step 3 – File a police report with your local police or the police in the community where the identity theft took place.

Step 4 – File a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission by using the FTC's Identity Theft Hotline by telephone:

1-877-438-4338, online at www.consumer.gov/idtheft, or by mail at Identity Theft Clearinghouse, Federal Trade Commission, 600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Washington DC 20580.

I know the Department of Veterans Affairs maintains my health records electronically; was this information also compromised?

No electronic medical records were compromised. The data lost is primarily limited to an individual's name, date of birth, social security number, in some cases their spouse's information, as well as some disability ratings. However, this information could still be of potential use to identity thieves and we recommend that all veterans be extra vigilant in monitoring for signs of potential identity theft or misuse of this information.

What is the Department of Veterans Affairs doing to insure that this does not happen again?

The Department of Veterans Affairs is working with the President's Identity Theft Task Force, the Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission to investigate this data breach and to develop safeguards against similar incidents. The Department of Veterans Affairs has directed all VA employees complete the "VA Cyber Security Awareness Training Course" and complete the separate "General Employee Privacy Awareness Course" by June 30, 2006. In addition, the Department of Veterans Affairs will immediately be conducting an inventory and review of all current positions requiring access to sensitive VA data and require all employees requiring access to sensitive VA data to undergo an updated National Agency Check and Inquiries (NACI) and/or a Minimum Background Investigation (MBI) depending on the level of access required by the responsibilities associated with their position. Appropriate law enforcement agencies, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Inspector General of the Department of Veterans Affairs, have launched full-scale investigations into this matter.

Where can I get further, up-to-date information?

The Department of Veterans Affairs has set up a special website and a toll-free telephone number for veterans that features up-to-date news and information. Please check this webpage for further updates or call 1-800-FED-INFO (1-800-333-4636).

The VA website mentioned [but not linked!!!!] above has little information of any value.

The Department of Veterans Affairs offers this somewhat insufficient piece from their website:

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has recently learned that an employee, a data analyst, took home electronic data from the VA, which he was not authorized to do. This behavior was in violation of our policies. This data contained identifying information including names, social security numbers, and dates of birth for up to 26.5 million veterans and some spouses, as well as some disability ratings.

Importantly, the affected data did not include any of VA's electronic health records nor any financial information. The employee's home was burglarized and this data was stolen. The employee has been placed on administrative leave pending the outcome of an investigation.

Appropriate law enforcement agencies, including the FBI and the VA Inspector General's office, have launched full-scale investigations into this matter. Authorities believe it is unlikely the perpetrators targeted the items because of any knowledge of the data contents. It is possible that they remain unaware of the information which they posses or of how to make use of it. However, out of an abundance of caution, the VA is taking all possible steps to protect and inform our veterans.

The VA is working with members of Congress, the news media, veterans service organizations, and other government agencies to help ensure that those veterans and their families are aware of the situation and of the steps they may take to protect themselves from misuse of their personal information. The VA will send out individual notification letters to veterans to every extent possible. Veterans can also go to www.firstgov.gov as well as www.va.gov/opa to get more information on this matter. The firstgov web site is being set to handle increased web traffic. Additionally, working with other government agencies, the VA has set up a manned call center that veterans may call to get information about this situation and learn more about consumer identity protections. That toll-free number is 1-800-FED INFO (333-4636). The call center will be open beginning today, and will operate from 8 am to 9 pm (EDT), Monday-Saturday as long as it is needed. The call center will be able to handle up to 20,000 calls per hour (260,000 calls per day).

The Secretary of Veterans Affairs R. James Nicholson has briefed the Attorney General and the Chairman of the Federal Trade Commission, co-chairs of the President's Identity Theft Task Force. Task Force members have already taken actions to protect the affected veterans, including working with the credit bureaus to help ensure that veterans receive the free credit report they are entitled to under the law. Additionally, the Task Force will meet today, 22 May 2006, to coordinate the comprehensive Federal response, recommend further ways to protect affected veterans, and increase safeguards to prevent the reoccurrence of such incidents.

The VA's mission to serve and honor our nation's veterans is one we take very seriously and the 235,000 VA employees are deeply saddened by any concern or anxiety this incident may cause our veterans and their families. We appreciate the service our veterans have given their country and we are working diligently to protect them from any harm as a result of this incident.
I do not know about any of you, but I have a far less than fuzzy feeling about this one. I am not pleased by the response from the VA Secretary who thinks the compromise of your (and your spouse’s) health records is more important than the compromise of your name, date of birth, Social Security number, and the Lord only knows what other personal information.

Apparently the Secretary does not get SPAMMED daily by the unscrupulous @ssholes who inhabit the Internet and use just that information listed above to ruin you financially by stealing your identity.

Further, I appreciate that the FBI and the VA’s Inspector General are starting investigations, but I am more concerned that the Virginia (where the burglaqry occurred) State Police and the local police have stepped up their investigation!

I get no such assurances from the Secretary.

And this from the very government agency built to help you.
Absolutely shameful and criminal.


VNVets

“With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation's wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan--to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations.” -- President Abraham Lincoln


"Without a decisive naval force we can do nothing definitive, and with it, everything honorable and glorious." --President George Washington

Copyright © 2006: VNVets Blog; All Rights Reserved.