Morning Security Brief: Child Sex-Trafficking Sting, Targeted Killing Program Memo Released, Cyberthreats, and More

By Holly Gilbert Stowell

► The FBI has announced that 168 victims of child sex trafficking were rescued last week during an annual nationwide crackdown, in addition to the arrest of 281 pimps who received state and federal charges. According to the announcement posted on, “Operation Cross Country, an annual law enforcement action that took place last week in 106 U.S. cities, highlights ongoing efforts by the Bureau—together with the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children and our local, state, and federal law enforcement partners—to address the sexual exploitation of juveniles as part of our Innocence Lost National Initiative.” Many of the recovered children were never reported missing, according to an article by CBS News. FBI Director James Comey emphasized that the annual sting is among the most “meaningful work” that the FBI participates in, and added that there is an increasing trend of children being prostituted online. Since the creation of the Innocence Lost Initiative in 2003, approximately 3,600 minors have been rescued.

► A federal court has released a previously secret memo, written by former Justice Department official David Barron, which advocates for the killing of terrorist Anwar Awlaki.  A U.S. drone strike killed Awlaki in Yemen in 2011. The memo, written in 2010, concludes that “Awlaki could be killed as a leader of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula actively plotting attacks against the U.S. and its allies.” However, the memo stated that “there was no precedent for it, nor was there explicit authorization in federal statutes or the Constitution.” The New York Times and the American Civil Liberties Union sued for the document’s release by the U.S. 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals in New York under the Freedom of Information Act, but there remains an ongoing battle for public access to more documents related to the U.S. government’s targeted killing program.

► PCWorld has compiled a list of the eight “scariest digital security stories of 2014 (so far).” Cybersecurity attacks making up the list include the Target breach, the Heartbleed vulnerability, and the rapid expansion of ransomware, a type of malicious software that holds a user’s device or personal Web accounts “hostage” until the hacker is paid a fee. The article also points out breaches at businesses that didn’t make as many as headlines but signify a growing threat, including at Michael’s, eBay, AOL, and restaurant chain P.F. Chang’s. Rounding out the list is the story of Microsoft confessing in March that it had snooped on an employee’s personal e-mail account to find evidence that he had dealt in company trade secrets. Microsoft “revamped its privacy policy after the backlash,” vowing to not search any Outlook user’s e-mail “unless the circumstances would justify a court order, if one were available.”

► Reuters reports that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has “reassigned” the bioterror lab director who was behind the potential anthrax exposure of staff and scientists last Thursday. “Two CDC scientists who are not authorized to speak with press” told Reuters that Michael Farrell, head of the CDC Bioterror Rapid Response and Advanced Technology Laboratory, was “reassigned as the agency investigates the incident,” in which in which as many as 84 employees at the CDC’s Atlanta campus were accidentally exposed to the deadly anthrax virus. Those individuals were forced to either get a vaccine or take powerful antibiotics “with known side effects” to keep the anthrax disease at bay. 


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