US Officials: China Tops List of Security Threats 

Top U.S. officials are sounding new alarms about China, warning that Beijing, more than Russia, poses the most serious long-term threat to the United States. 

 

The officials, from the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security and the Justice Department, say the Chinese are increasingly targeting U.S. vulnerabilities in cyberspace, as well as leveraging some members of the Chinese diaspora to steal secrets and threaten U.S. national security. 

 

“This is the most severe counterintelligence threat facing our country today,” Bill Priestap, assistant director of the FBI’s Counterintelligence Division, told the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday. 

 

“We need an even broader response,” he said, warning that U.S. actions to date have not been adequate. “What hangs in the balance is not just the future of the United States, but the future of the world.” 

 

Justice Department officials said that between 2011 and 2018, more than 90 percent of the department’s nation-state espionage cases involved China, and that the pace of Chinese operations was increasing. 

“The playbook is simple: Rob, replicate and replace,” Assistant Attorney General John Demers told lawmakers. “Rob the American company of its intellectual property, replicate that technology, and replace the American company in the Chinese market and one day in the global market.” 

Previous warnings 

 

Priestap and Demers were neither the first nor the most high-ranking U.S. officials to warn of the threat posed by China. 

In September, U.S. Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats cautioned that Beijing’s “methodical” approach, combined with its prowess in cyberspace, was more dangerous to the U.S. than Russia’s election-meddling efforts. 

 

“China benefits from a relatively stable U.S.-China relationship and international system that is more predictable and less contentious,” Coats said at the time. 

But the latest warnings came as the U.S. is locked in a trade dispute with Beijing, and with tensions rising over the detention of a key Chinese communications executive.  

Huawei Chief Financial Officer Meng Wanzhou was picked up in Canada and is free on bail as she awaits possible extradition to the U.S. on charges of fraud involving U.S. sanctions against Iran. 

 

China has demanded her release, and U.S. President Donald Trump told the Reuters news agency Tuesday that he would consider intervening if it would benefit U.S. national security or allow him to close a trade deal with Beijing. 

‘Not a tool of trade’

Pressed during Wednesday’s Senate Judiciary hearing on whether Trump’s comments could harm U.S. efforts to hold China accountable, Demers insisted there would be no impact on the Justice Department’s actions. 

 

“What we do at the Justice Department is law enforcement. We don’t do trade,” Demers said of Meng. “We are not a tool of trade when we bring the cases.” 

 

Regardless of the outcome of the case or U.S.-China trade negotiations, U.S. security and intelligence officials believe the threat from China will continue to grow.  

“Our economy is built on a common fabric of cross-cutting systems. To our adversaries, including China, this is a vast web of interconnected targets,” Chris Krebs, director of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, told lawmakers Wednesday. 

 

Marriott hacking 

 

One of the latest victims of Beijing’s opportunism appears to have been Marriott, the U.S.-based international hotel chain, whose database, including personal and financial information and passport numbers, was hacked in September. 

 

Reuters, The New York Times and other U.S. news outlets, citing government sources, have reported the breach carries the hallmarks of Chinese intelligence rather than criminal activity. 

 

The reports said the hackers are suspected of working for China’s Ministry of State Security, based on the similarity of their methods to those in previous Chinese incursions. 

 

A spokesman for China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs told the Times, “China firmly opposes all forms of cyberattack and cracks down on it in accordance with the law.” He said if evidence was offered, Chinese officials would investigate. 

 

However, the threat from China goes beyond hacking, cyberattacks and intrusions.  

 

Officials said Beijing was also using some members of the Chinese diaspora, such as tech workers and students, to help target U.S. companies, universities and other research institutions. 

 

“They think of them as simply an extension of their power,” the FBI’s Priestap said of the Chinese nationals in the U.S.   

 

“Some, I think, are not knowledgeable in the least and are completely unwitting of doing anything in furtherance of their government’s aims,” he said. “Others, either through direct or other softly applied pressure, understand that they have an obligation to meet.” 

 

Marissa Melton contributed to this report. 

US Officials: China Tops List of Security Threats 

Top U.S. officials are sounding new alarms about China, warning that Beijing, more than Russia, poses the most serious long-term threat to the United States. 

 

The officials, from the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security and the Justice Department, say the Chinese are increasingly targeting U.S. vulnerabilities in cyberspace, as well as leveraging some members of the Chinese diaspora to steal secrets and threaten U.S. national security. 

 

“This is the most severe counterintelligence threat facing our country today,” Bill Priestap, assistant director of the FBI’s Counterintelligence Division, told the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday. 

 

“We need an even broader response,” he said, warning that U.S. actions to date have not been adequate. “What hangs in the balance is not just the future of the United States, but the future of the world.” 

 

Justice Department officials said that between 2011 and 2018, more than 90 percent of the department’s nation-state espionage cases involved China, and that the pace of Chinese operations was increasing. 

“The playbook is simple: Rob, replicate and replace,” Assistant Attorney General John Demers told lawmakers. “Rob the American company of its intellectual property, replicate that technology, and replace the American company in the Chinese market and one day in the global market.” 

Previous warnings 

 

Priestap and Demers were neither the first nor the most high-ranking U.S. officials to warn of the threat posed by China. 

In September, U.S. Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats cautioned that Beijing’s “methodical” approach, combined with its prowess in cyberspace, was more dangerous to the U.S. than Russia’s election-meddling efforts. 

 

“China benefits from a relatively stable U.S.-China relationship and international system that is more predictable and less contentious,” Coats said at the time. 

But the latest warnings came as the U.S. is locked in a trade dispute with Beijing, and with tensions rising over the detention of a key Chinese communications executive.  

Huawei Chief Financial Officer Meng Wanzhou was picked up in Canada and is free on bail as she awaits possible extradition to the U.S. on charges of fraud involving U.S. sanctions against Iran. 

 

China has demanded her release, and U.S. President Donald Trump told the Reuters news agency Tuesday that he would consider intervening if it would benefit U.S. national security or allow him to close a trade deal with Beijing. 

‘Not a tool of trade’

Pressed during Wednesday’s Senate Judiciary hearing on whether Trump’s comments could harm U.S. efforts to hold China accountable, Demers insisted there would be no impact on the Justice Department’s actions. 

 

“What we do at the Justice Department is law enforcement. We don’t do trade,” Demers said of Meng. “We are not a tool of trade when we bring the cases.” 

 

Regardless of the outcome of the case or U.S.-China trade negotiations, U.S. security and intelligence officials believe the threat from China will continue to grow.  

“Our economy is built on a common fabric of cross-cutting systems. To our adversaries, including China, this is a vast web of interconnected targets,” Chris Krebs, director of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, told lawmakers Wednesday. 

 

Marriott hacking 

 

One of the latest victims of Beijing’s opportunism appears to have been Marriott, the U.S.-based international hotel chain, whose database, including personal and financial information and passport numbers, was hacked in September. 

 

Reuters, The New York Times and other U.S. news outlets, citing government sources, have reported the breach carries the hallmarks of Chinese intelligence rather than criminal activity. 

 

The reports said the hackers are suspected of working for China’s Ministry of State Security, based on the similarity of their methods to those in previous Chinese incursions. 

 

A spokesman for China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs told the Times, “China firmly opposes all forms of cyberattack and cracks down on it in accordance with the law.” He said if evidence was offered, Chinese officials would investigate. 

 

However, the threat from China goes beyond hacking, cyberattacks and intrusions.  

 

Officials said Beijing was also using some members of the Chinese diaspora, such as tech workers and students, to help target U.S. companies, universities and other research institutions. 

 

“They think of them as simply an extension of their power,” the FBI’s Priestap said of the Chinese nationals in the U.S.   

 

“Some, I think, are not knowledgeable in the least and are completely unwitting of doing anything in furtherance of their government’s aims,” he said. “Others, either through direct or other softly applied pressure, understand that they have an obligation to meet.” 

 

Marissa Melton contributed to this report. 

US Ramps Up Worksite Arrests of Undocumented Immigrants

U.S. officials increased workplace raids in the first full fiscal year under the Trump administration, leading to the arrests of thousands of undocumented workers, while the number of indicted managers remained on par with the figure from 2017.

The agency tasked with carrying on the investigations, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, reported data Tuesday for fiscal 2018 showing its agents: 

— Opened 6,848 worksite investigations, compared with 1,691 in fiscal 2017.

— Arrested 2,304 people, compared with 311 in FY2017. 

Investigations led to the indictments of 72 managers and the convictions of 49, compared with 71 and 55 the year before, indicating a slightly higher success rate in prosecuting managers in FY2017 (77 percent) versus FY2018 (68 percent).

The annual data came days after a New York Times report alleging a hotel and golf club in New Jersey owned and frequently visited by U.S. President Donald Trump, employs undocumented workers.

Trump has focused much of his administration’s nearly two years in power on significantly changing the U.S. immigration system — mainly, arresting and deporting undocumented immigrants and whittling the U.S. refugee and asylum programs in the name of “national security.”

“Reducing illegal employment helps build another layer of border security, and reduces the continuum of crime that illegal labor facilitates, from the human smuggling networks that facilitate illegal border crossings to the associated collateral crimes, like identity theft, document and benefit fraud, and worker exploitation,” said Derek N. Benner, executive associate director for Homeland Security Investigations at ICE.  

The agency reported earlier this year that it was carrying out an increased number of investigations, so the surge came with something of a warning. 

But America’s Voice, which documents reports of large worksite immigration raids on its blog, highlights how workers’ families can be caught off guard.  

 

In Paris, Texas, Hildebrando Torres Jimenez told The Texas Tribune he feared for his daughters, both U.S. citizens, after his arrest at work.

Business fines

Despite the disparity between the number of employees facing legal consequences and their employers and business owners being charged, businesses were ordered to pay more than $10.2 million in judicial fines, forfeitures and restitution, and another $10.2 million in civil penalties in FY2018, according to ICE. 

 

There are procedures available for businesses to verify workers’ documentation. However, some employees get by with fake or stolen authorizations, while in other cases, managers turn a blind eye to the issue in favor of maintaining their workforce. 

 

In September, for example, James Brantley pleaded guilty of tax fraud, wire fraud and employment of unauthorized immigrants at his Bean Station, Tenn., slaughterhouse and meatpacking plant. Ninety-seven of his employees were detained in the raid. 

US Ramps Up Worksite Arrests of Undocumented Immigrants

U.S. officials increased workplace raids in the first full fiscal year under the Trump administration, leading to the arrests of thousands of undocumented workers, while the number of indicted managers remained on par with the figure from 2017.

The agency tasked with carrying on the investigations, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, reported data Tuesday for fiscal 2018 showing its agents: 

— Opened 6,848 worksite investigations, compared with 1,691 in fiscal 2017.

— Arrested 2,304 people, compared with 311 in FY2017. 

Investigations led to the indictments of 72 managers and the convictions of 49, compared with 71 and 55 the year before, indicating a slightly higher success rate in prosecuting managers in FY2017 (77 percent) versus FY2018 (68 percent).

The annual data came days after a New York Times report alleging a hotel and golf club in New Jersey owned and frequently visited by U.S. President Donald Trump, employs undocumented workers.

Trump has focused much of his administration’s nearly two years in power on significantly changing the U.S. immigration system — mainly, arresting and deporting undocumented immigrants and whittling the U.S. refugee and asylum programs in the name of “national security.”

“Reducing illegal employment helps build another layer of border security, and reduces the continuum of crime that illegal labor facilitates, from the human smuggling networks that facilitate illegal border crossings to the associated collateral crimes, like identity theft, document and benefit fraud, and worker exploitation,” said Derek N. Benner, executive associate director for Homeland Security Investigations at ICE.  

The agency reported earlier this year that it was carrying out an increased number of investigations, so the surge came with something of a warning. 

But America’s Voice, which documents reports of large worksite immigration raids on its blog, highlights how workers’ families can be caught off guard.  

 

In Paris, Texas, Hildebrando Torres Jimenez told The Texas Tribune he feared for his daughters, both U.S. citizens, after his arrest at work.

Business fines

Despite the disparity between the number of employees facing legal consequences and their employers and business owners being charged, businesses were ordered to pay more than $10.2 million in judicial fines, forfeitures and restitution, and another $10.2 million in civil penalties in FY2018, according to ICE. 

 

There are procedures available for businesses to verify workers’ documentation. However, some employees get by with fake or stolen authorizations, while in other cases, managers turn a blind eye to the issue in favor of maintaining their workforce. 

 

In September, for example, James Brantley pleaded guilty of tax fraud, wire fraud and employment of unauthorized immigrants at his Bean Station, Tenn., slaughterhouse and meatpacking plant. Ninety-seven of his employees were detained in the raid. 

Venezuela’s Maduro Says US-Linked Assassination Plot Uncovered

Venezuela’s socialist President Nicolas Maduro said Wednesday he’s uncovered an assassination plot that leads directly to the White House.

Maduro repeated his frequent warning that a U.S. invasion is imminent — this time giving some details but no evidence.

He accused President Donald Trump’s National Security Adviser John Bolton of overseeing a plot to replace him with a dictator. He alleged that Washington is using “dirty dollars, bled from the U.S. empire” to train 734 mercenaries with in neighboring Colombia to carry out the plot.

“I have no doubts that the U.S. administration including John Bolton has plans for Venezuela,” Maduro said on state TV. “I also have absolute and unending faith in the Venezuela’s armed forces.”

Venezuela is in a historic economic crisis after two decades of socialist rule. The United States has imposed financial sanctions on Maduro and dozens of top officials to press for what it calls a return to democracy.

The crisis is driving tens of thousands of Venezuelan migrants into neighboring Brazil, Colombia and other nations.

“We are facing a fact that affects all of our nations,” said Alejandro Ordonez, Colombia’s ambassador to the Organization of American States said Wednesday.

Maduro’s comments follow the arrival in Venezuela on Monday of two of Russian Tu-160 nuclear-capable bombers, drawing criticism from U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

“The Russian and Venezuelan people should see this for what it is: two corrupt governments squandering public funds, and squelching liberty and freedom while their people suffer,” Pompeo tweeted.

Maduro said the plot against him includes Colombia’s newly elected President Ivan Duque and Brazil’s conservative President-elect Jair Bolsonaro, who takes office in January.

Maduro’s second term begins January 10, following elections this year many foreign nations reject as illegitimate.

While taking a forceful tone, Maduro left open the option for dialogue with rival nations for a peaceful solution, calling on anybody in Trump’s administration to sit down for talks.

“Venezuela does not kneel down, does not surrender. Venezuela will continue in peace and democracy,” Maduro said. “Let the American empire know!”

Venezuela’s Maduro Says US-Linked Assassination Plot Uncovered

Venezuela’s socialist President Nicolas Maduro said Wednesday he’s uncovered an assassination plot that leads directly to the White House.

Maduro repeated his frequent warning that a U.S. invasion is imminent — this time giving some details but no evidence.

He accused President Donald Trump’s National Security Adviser John Bolton of overseeing a plot to replace him with a dictator. He alleged that Washington is using “dirty dollars, bled from the U.S. empire” to train 734 mercenaries with in neighboring Colombia to carry out the plot.

“I have no doubts that the U.S. administration including John Bolton has plans for Venezuela,” Maduro said on state TV. “I also have absolute and unending faith in the Venezuela’s armed forces.”

Venezuela is in a historic economic crisis after two decades of socialist rule. The United States has imposed financial sanctions on Maduro and dozens of top officials to press for what it calls a return to democracy.

The crisis is driving tens of thousands of Venezuelan migrants into neighboring Brazil, Colombia and other nations.

“We are facing a fact that affects all of our nations,” said Alejandro Ordonez, Colombia’s ambassador to the Organization of American States said Wednesday.

Maduro’s comments follow the arrival in Venezuela on Monday of two of Russian Tu-160 nuclear-capable bombers, drawing criticism from U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

“The Russian and Venezuelan people should see this for what it is: two corrupt governments squandering public funds, and squelching liberty and freedom while their people suffer,” Pompeo tweeted.

Maduro said the plot against him includes Colombia’s newly elected President Ivan Duque and Brazil’s conservative President-elect Jair Bolsonaro, who takes office in January.

Maduro’s second term begins January 10, following elections this year many foreign nations reject as illegitimate.

While taking a forceful tone, Maduro left open the option for dialogue with rival nations for a peaceful solution, calling on anybody in Trump’s administration to sit down for talks.

“Venezuela does not kneel down, does not surrender. Venezuela will continue in peace and democracy,” Maduro said. “Let the American empire know!”

Metaphorical Washington Swamp Overrun by Actual Vermin

Andre Pittman and Gregory Cornes are on a mission to rid Washington of opportunistic vermin.  

  

But their target isn’t corrupt officials or shady political fixers; it’s Rattus Norvegicus, the common Norway rat. 

 

The nation’s capital is facing a spiraling rat infestation, fueled by mild winters and a human population boom. Washington’s government is struggling to keep pace, with the pest control department fielding a record number of calls.  

  

‘Geniuses’

On one recent day, Pittman and Cornes, both veteran Health Department employees, are working within sight of the Capitol, shoveling dry ice pellets into suspected rat burrow entrances. On another, they’re summoned about six blocks north of the White House, at 16th Street and M, where residents have complained of an outbreak. 

 

“Rats adapt to everything. They can be like geniuses,” Pittman said.  

  

On the grounds of a church, Cornes and Pittman poke around, expertly spotting telltale holes and matted dirt trails that signal rat burrows. Cornes uses an instrument like an extra-long Super Soaker to inject poison into the hole, while Pittman watches to see whether the white powder puffs up from other holes and then shovels dirt to block those exits.  

  

At the office building next door, the crew receives a hearty welcome from the security guard.  

  

“The rats would scurry over employees’ feet as they left the building after sunset,” says the guard, who asked that his name not be published so as not to embarrass his employer. “We finally moved all garbage cans away from the door because that’s where they would feed and party.”  

  

Cornes assures him, “We’re winning.”  

The numbers don’t exactly back up Cornes’ confidence. The pest control company Orkin ranks Washington as America’s fourth “Rattiest City,” based on the number of new service calls per year. That’s up one spot from the previous year and just behind Los Angeles and New York; Chicago has been ranked No. 1 for four consecutive years.  

  

While Washington doesn’t boast New York’s famous subway monsters, anecdotal evidence is piling up that the rodents are on the march. In September, a viral video showed security camera footage of a rat pulling a fire alarm, forcing the evacuation of an apartment building. 

 

Back on M Street, Cornes and Pittman discover a network of burrows in a large planter box in front of an office building. They inject poison, causing bushes to shake with fleeing rodents. A baby rat suddenly emerges from the ground and flees around the corner.    

Gerard Brown, head of Washington’s rodent control department, says a string of gentle winters has enabled the rodents to breed constantly. The harsh winters don’t necessarily kill off the rats. Most Norway rats live only about eight months, and they stay warm by burrowing underground or chewing their way into basements. But an extended freeze would choke off their food supply, which limits the rodents’ prodigious breeding. A mature female rat can give birth to one litter per month, with an average of 10 babies per litter.   

  

Washington is also in the midst of a gentrification-fueled economic and population boom. The district’s population just passed 700,000 — more than Vermont or Wyoming. Brown said the number of restaurants, bars and coffee shops has increased 25 percent in two years.

More rat food 

  

“More people with more money means more restaurants, which means more garbage, which means more rat food,” Brown said.   

  

In several ways, Washington is perfectly suited for the critters. It is filled with green space, from the National Mall to the many signature traffic circles; Dupont Circle is apparently a hot spot. 

 

Rats also covet the waterfront, and part of Washington’s gentrification boom has focused on the Navy Yards or the new Wharf Marina — presenting the ultimate rodent attraction of a flourishing waterfront restaurant scene.  

  

This isn’t Washington’s first war on rats. Former Mayor Anthony Williams referenced rat problems in his inauguration speech in 1999. In 1967, a rat gnawing on power station wires knocked out electricity for about a third of Washington for nearly an hour. 

 

This time, Mayor Muriel Bowser has allocated an extra $900,000 to boost rodent control efforts and increase staffing. The government is also offering financial assistance and incentives for restaurants to buy minitrash compactors that fit in urban alleyways and limit the rats’ access to food.    

At the site near the White House, Pittman and Cornes find the real problem around the back of the office building: a collection of uncovered garbage and compost containers, plus a giant pile of discarded file cabinets — all surrounded by black pellets. 

 

“See all these droppings? All this stuff has got to go,” Pittman tells the building manager.  

  

He could write up a $500 health code violation ($1,000 for a repeat offender) but instead Pittman tells him: “I’ll give you two weeks to get this cleaned up. Then we’ll be back.”  

  

As urban rodentologist Robert Corrigan puts it, “80 percent of any rat control campaign is actually refuse management.” 

 

Corrigan has consulted with Washington and other cities on rodent problems and runs free “rat academies” in Washington for both city workers and residents.  

  

Nighttime trash pickups

Corrigan recommends a radical solution that would be logistically difficult for most major cities: picking up most trash at night.  

  

“The usual early morning pickup plays right into the hands of the rats, which are active all night long,” he said.  

  

Multiple city officials said this would be almost impossible to implement because of  staffing issues and late-night noise concerns.  

  

Corrigan, not a fan of amateurs handling poisons, says the dry ice method, which suffocates the rodents in their burrows, is safe for homeowners to use. He also recommends that residents spray trash bins with a mix of water and 10 percent bleach. Beyond that, the only real solution is the hardest part of the equation — controlling human behavior. 

 

“You’re only as good as your neighbor,” he said. “You can have 10 beautiful houses in a row and if number 11 is a slob, everybody suffers.”

Metaphorical Washington Swamp Overrun by Actual Vermin

Andre Pittman and Gregory Cornes are on a mission to rid Washington of opportunistic vermin.  

  

But their target isn’t corrupt officials or shady political fixers; it’s Rattus Norvegicus, the common Norway rat. 

 

The nation’s capital is facing a spiraling rat infestation, fueled by mild winters and a human population boom. Washington’s government is struggling to keep pace, with the pest control department fielding a record number of calls.  

  

‘Geniuses’

On one recent day, Pittman and Cornes, both veteran Health Department employees, are working within sight of the Capitol, shoveling dry ice pellets into suspected rat burrow entrances. On another, they’re summoned about six blocks north of the White House, at 16th Street and M, where residents have complained of an outbreak. 

 

“Rats adapt to everything. They can be like geniuses,” Pittman said.  

  

On the grounds of a church, Cornes and Pittman poke around, expertly spotting telltale holes and matted dirt trails that signal rat burrows. Cornes uses an instrument like an extra-long Super Soaker to inject poison into the hole, while Pittman watches to see whether the white powder puffs up from other holes and then shovels dirt to block those exits.  

  

At the office building next door, the crew receives a hearty welcome from the security guard.  

  

“The rats would scurry over employees’ feet as they left the building after sunset,” says the guard, who asked that his name not be published so as not to embarrass his employer. “We finally moved all garbage cans away from the door because that’s where they would feed and party.”  

  

Cornes assures him, “We’re winning.”  

The numbers don’t exactly back up Cornes’ confidence. The pest control company Orkin ranks Washington as America’s fourth “Rattiest City,” based on the number of new service calls per year. That’s up one spot from the previous year and just behind Los Angeles and New York; Chicago has been ranked No. 1 for four consecutive years.  

  

While Washington doesn’t boast New York’s famous subway monsters, anecdotal evidence is piling up that the rodents are on the march. In September, a viral video showed security camera footage of a rat pulling a fire alarm, forcing the evacuation of an apartment building. 

 

Back on M Street, Cornes and Pittman discover a network of burrows in a large planter box in front of an office building. They inject poison, causing bushes to shake with fleeing rodents. A baby rat suddenly emerges from the ground and flees around the corner.    

Gerard Brown, head of Washington’s rodent control department, says a string of gentle winters has enabled the rodents to breed constantly. The harsh winters don’t necessarily kill off the rats. Most Norway rats live only about eight months, and they stay warm by burrowing underground or chewing their way into basements. But an extended freeze would choke off their food supply, which limits the rodents’ prodigious breeding. A mature female rat can give birth to one litter per month, with an average of 10 babies per litter.   

  

Washington is also in the midst of a gentrification-fueled economic and population boom. The district’s population just passed 700,000 — more than Vermont or Wyoming. Brown said the number of restaurants, bars and coffee shops has increased 25 percent in two years.

More rat food 

  

“More people with more money means more restaurants, which means more garbage, which means more rat food,” Brown said.   

  

In several ways, Washington is perfectly suited for the critters. It is filled with green space, from the National Mall to the many signature traffic circles; Dupont Circle is apparently a hot spot. 

 

Rats also covet the waterfront, and part of Washington’s gentrification boom has focused on the Navy Yards or the new Wharf Marina — presenting the ultimate rodent attraction of a flourishing waterfront restaurant scene.  

  

This isn’t Washington’s first war on rats. Former Mayor Anthony Williams referenced rat problems in his inauguration speech in 1999. In 1967, a rat gnawing on power station wires knocked out electricity for about a third of Washington for nearly an hour. 

 

This time, Mayor Muriel Bowser has allocated an extra $900,000 to boost rodent control efforts and increase staffing. The government is also offering financial assistance and incentives for restaurants to buy minitrash compactors that fit in urban alleyways and limit the rats’ access to food.    

At the site near the White House, Pittman and Cornes find the real problem around the back of the office building: a collection of uncovered garbage and compost containers, plus a giant pile of discarded file cabinets — all surrounded by black pellets. 

 

“See all these droppings? All this stuff has got to go,” Pittman tells the building manager.  

  

He could write up a $500 health code violation ($1,000 for a repeat offender) but instead Pittman tells him: “I’ll give you two weeks to get this cleaned up. Then we’ll be back.”  

  

As urban rodentologist Robert Corrigan puts it, “80 percent of any rat control campaign is actually refuse management.” 

 

Corrigan has consulted with Washington and other cities on rodent problems and runs free “rat academies” in Washington for both city workers and residents.  

  

Nighttime trash pickups

Corrigan recommends a radical solution that would be logistically difficult for most major cities: picking up most trash at night.  

  

“The usual early morning pickup plays right into the hands of the rats, which are active all night long,” he said.  

  

Multiple city officials said this would be almost impossible to implement because of  staffing issues and late-night noise concerns.  

  

Corrigan, not a fan of amateurs handling poisons, says the dry ice method, which suffocates the rodents in their burrows, is safe for homeowners to use. He also recommends that residents spray trash bins with a mix of water and 10 percent bleach. Beyond that, the only real solution is the hardest part of the equation — controlling human behavior. 

 

“You’re only as good as your neighbor,” he said. “You can have 10 beautiful houses in a row and if number 11 is a slob, everybody suffers.”

OMG: California Regulators Consider Charge on Text Messaging

California regulators are considering a plan to charge a fee for text messaging on mobile phones to help support programs that make phone service accessible to the poor.

The Mercury News reports Wednesday that the proposal is scheduled for a vote next month by the state Public Utilities Commission.

The wireless industry and business groups have been working to defeat the plan.

Jim Wunderman of the Bay Area Council, a business-sponsored advocacy group, says it would essentially put a tax on conversations.

The newspaper says it’s unclear how much money individual consumers would be asked to pay their wireless carrier for texting services under the proposal. But it likely would be billed as a flat surcharge — not a fee per text.

OMG: California Regulators Consider Charge on Text Messaging

California regulators are considering a plan to charge a fee for text messaging on mobile phones to help support programs that make phone service accessible to the poor.

The Mercury News reports Wednesday that the proposal is scheduled for a vote next month by the state Public Utilities Commission.

The wireless industry and business groups have been working to defeat the plan.

Jim Wunderman of the Bay Area Council, a business-sponsored advocacy group, says it would essentially put a tax on conversations.

The newspaper says it’s unclear how much money individual consumers would be asked to pay their wireless carrier for texting services under the proposal. But it likely would be billed as a flat surcharge — not a fee per text.