Sincerely held beliefs. The U.S. Defense Department announced today it would change the military’s policy on outward displays of religious beliefs, allowing service members to grow beards or wear turbans as long as it doesn’t interfere with the country’s defense mission. Service members must ask for a special waiver under the new policy to wear religious clothing, seek prayer time, or participate in a religious practice. According to a Pentagon statement, “expression of sincerely held beliefs” will not be used for “adverse personnel action” against any military service personnel. But Christians in the armed services have complained in recent years about persecution, especially since the military ended its “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy toward gay members. Last month, the Senate passed a bill that would strengthen and protect the religious freedom of military members and chaplains.
Flushed? The government has sued the company it hired to provide background checks for contract workers, alleging the company failed to provide adequate investigations in at least 665,000 cases. United States Investigations Services (USIS) is the same company whose background checks helped Edward Snowden, the now-famous former CIA analyst, and Aaron Alexis, the Washington Navy Yard shooter, get their security clearances. But neither Snowden nor Alexis are mentioned in the government’s complaint. According to documents filed yesterday, the government accuses USIS of “dumping” cases—passing them on to federal officials before doing quality reviews—to boost profit. Government lawyers cite company emails, including one that read, “Shelves are as clean as they could get. Flushed everything like a dead goldfish.”
Unlawful and ineffective. A government privacy panel has issued the strongest rebuke yet to the Obama administration over the National Security Agency’s electronic surveillance programs. In a report issued today, the five-member Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board said collecting U.S. phone records is an unlawful invasion of privacy and ineffective to boot. “We have not identified a single instance involving a threat to the United States in which the telephone records program made a concrete difference in the outcome of a counterterrorism investigation,” the report said. “Moreover, we are aware of no instance in which the program directly contributed to the discovery of a previously unknown terrorist plot or the disruption of a terrorist attack.” President Barack Obama announced changes to the spying program last week in hopes of making it more palatable to the public, but he declined to end it altogether.
Busted. Federal prosecutors have arrested and charged five alleged mobsters, one of whom is thought to have been involved in the largest cash theft in American history. Vincent Asaro is accused of participating in a 1978 heist at New York’s JFK International Airport that netted about $5 million in cash and $1 million in jewels. The loot would be worth about $20 million today. The robbery at the Lufthansa cargo terminal was made famous in the 1990 film Goodfellas. Only two other people thought to be involved in the crime were prosecuted. Other suspects are now dead, and only a fraction of the money was ever recovered.