► The House Committee on Homeland Security’s Subcommittee on Cybersecurity, Infrastructure Protection, and Security Technologies held a hearing yesterday afternoon on the West, Texas, fertilizer plant explosion and the light the incident shed on the inspection of chemical facilities. Homeland Subcommittee Chairman Patrick Meehan (R-PA) noted that the West plant was not registered with the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards (CFATS) program, nor was the DHS aware of the plant. A Government Accountability Office report was presented at the hearing, detailing the government’s progress in implementing CFATS. Before the hearing, the White House released the Executive Order on Improving Chemical Safety and Security. The order directs government agencies to establish a regional pilot program where best practices will be tested. Agencies will also identify ways that the DHS can gain access to information about at-risk chemical facilities.
► U.S. embassies in the Middle East that are usually open on Sundays will be closed on August 4 due to unspecified security concerns, according to the U.S. State Department. CNN reports that the closures are due to “more than the usual chatter” about terrorist activities. According to an article in The Guardian, the embassies to be closed include those in Abu Dhabi, Baghdad, and Cairo.
► President Obama met with lawmakers yesterday afternoon to discuss reforming the National Security Agency (NSA) surveillance program that allows the government to spy on phone conversations. According to CBS news, some lawmakers in attendance supported the program, claiming that it is necessary to protect the nation from terrorists. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) represented a contingent that wants to see the program disbanded. “I made it clear I want to end the bulk phone record collection program because I think it is an intrusion on privacy and I am open, for example, on areas like these emergency authorities to make sure that our government is in a position to get information needed to protect the public,” Wyden told CBS.
► Also in the news: UN inspectors are headed to Syria to view sites of alleged chemical weapons attacks. The Arkansas Attorney General says that school districts may not train teachers to be security officers. The head of the NSA asks elite hackers in attendance at the Black Hat conference in Las Vegas to join the government in bolstering the nation’s cybersecurity defenses.