May 31, 2018

Best of the Week — First Winner

Mind-blowing exclusive: Security troops on US nuclear base took LSD

After five years exposing the struggles of the U.S. Air Force’s nuclear missile corps – security lapses, leadership and training failures, morale problems – Bob Burns uncovered an exclusive that was mind-blowing in every sense of the word: Airmen guarding a base in Wyoming had bought, distributed and used LSD.

Burns, a Washington-based national security writer, knew from his previous reporting on the missile corps that illegal drug use was a recurring problem and that the Air Force was reluctant to discuss it.

When the court martial proceedings began in 2016 he started filing FOIA requests for the transcripts and supporting legal documents. It took the Air Force well over a year to finish responding to Burns’ requests, but by January 2018 he had the bulk of the records he needed to piece together the story, including trial transcripts and related documents, with descriptions of drug experiences of airmen, ranging from panic to euphoria.

For his extraordinary revelation that some of the nation’s most deadly weapons were in the hands of hallucinating airmen, Burns takes this week's Beat of the Week award.

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April 13, 2018

Best of the Week — First Winner

AP Exclusive: EPA's Pruitt spent millions on security, travel

Environmental Protection Administrator Scott Pruitt’s lavish spending and deep concerns about security had put his future in the Trump Cabinet in jeopardy. But what was the cost to taxpayers?

AP beat reporter Michael Biesecker, whose aggressive coverage of Pruitt began more than a year ago when Trump nominated him for the EPA post, began working sources still at the agency and those who had left in search of the answer. His findings – that Pruitt spent about a whopping $3 million on security in the first year – win the Beat of the Week award.

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Jan. 28, 2022

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP links security scanners used in Europe to Chinese authorities

reported exclusively on how Nuctech, a Chinese company with links to the military and government, has made major inroads in the market for security scanners in Europe. That raises concerns that China could exploit the equipment to sabotage key transit points or get illicit access to data.Because there is so little transparency about where Nuctech equipment has been purchased — and the company refused to confirm or deny information about its customers — the story required a lot of legwork.Kinetz, Brussels-based investigative reporter, received leaked internal communications from a competitor of Nuctech and scoured public procurement databases — which don’t provide comprehensive information — as well as parliamentary testimony in multiple languages for clues about where the equipment had been sold.AP reporters across Europe reached out to airport and customs authorities and dug into national databases to try to get a record of Nuctech purchases. Kinetz also received exclusive analysis about Nuctech’s ownership structure from a Dutch data company. The story generated interest in Europe, and member of the European Parliament reached out for more detail on AP’s reporting about how European Union funds contributed to Nuctech bids. https://aplink.news/e3e

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May 10, 2019

Best of the States

AP Exclusive: California synagogue hadn’t used security funds received shortly before shooting

After a gunman opened fire in a Southern California synagogue on Passover, killing a woman and wounding a man, his 8-year-old niece and the rabbi leading the service, the inevitable question was asked: Could anything have been done to stop the violence?

Reporters Don Thompson and Adam Beam in Sacramento and Julie Watson in San Diego combined to report exclusively that the synagogue itself had recognized security deficiencies and even received a state grant to address them.

But it hadn’t spent the money, the AP team revealed.

For their exclusive follow-up to a crime that generated global attention, Thompson, Watson and Beam win this week’s Best of the States.

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Sept. 03, 2021

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP: Breaches of voting software raise election security concerns

broke the news that copies of confidential software for a widely used voting machine had been released publicly during an event held by supporters of former President Donald Trump, leading to wider concerns about election security.After a local elections clerk in Colorado leaked confidential information about her county’s voting machines, Cassidy, an Atlanta-based state government reporter, began calling her sources to get a sense of what the breach could mean for other states that used the same voting machines produced by Dominion Voting Systems. Her source reporting uncovered yet another leak, this time in a county in Michigan where Trump allies had challenged his election loss. The software copies ended up being distributed publicly at a symposium hosted by the CEO of MyPillow, Mike Lindell, a major Trump supporter who has helped spread his lies of election fraud.The software leak from Antrim County, Michigan, had not previously been reported until Cassidy learned of it. Election security experts said taken together, the leaked software could provide hackers with a “practice environment” to probe for vulnerabilities in Dominion machines, which are used in 30 states. https://aplink.news/kj8

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Oct. 13, 2016

Best of the States

Barely half of illegal border crossers caught

More than two years ago, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson ordered a comprehensive review of border security and, as part of that effort, commissioned a report looking at who and what gets into the U.S. from Mexico. It was completed in May but never publicly released.

San Diego correspondent Elliot Spagat took note last month when The Arizona Republic and Fox News did stories about the secrecy surrounding the report. He also noted that U.S. House border security subcommittee Chairwoman Martha McSally sent a letter to Johnson demanding that the taxpayer-funded study be made public.

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Jan. 18, 2019

Best of the Week — First Winner

Multiformat exclusive: Thousands of child and adolescent brides enter US – legally

You know your scoop has touched a nerve when it gets tweeted by both Ann Coulter and Chelsea Clinton.

Such was the case with Colleen Long’s multiplatform APNewsBreak that the U.S. approved thousands of requests by men to have their child or adolescent brides admitted to the United States. The story not only pointed to problems in immigration law, but also lax state laws that make immigration by child brides possible.

The story started with a tip from Ron Nixon, AP’s new international investigations editor, who had been told by a source that data requested by the Senate Homeland Security Committee would be startling.

Nixon passed the information to Long, the Washington-based homeland security reporter, who persuaded committee staff to give her the story exclusively. She also went beyond the striking data to give readers a sense of how the issue affects women’s lives, speaking with women who had been married as children. A compelling video accompanied the piece.

On a busy news day, the story was one of AP’s most widely used, fronting many news websites and posted to Facebook by multiple news organizations. The video piece also had a strong showing, receiving thousands of YouTube streams and 27 customer downloads.

For revealing a little-known loophole in immigration policy that raises concerns over security and exploitation, and for connecting the data to women victimized by the policy, Colleen Long wins this week’s Best of the AP.

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July 19, 2019

Best of the States

AP Exclusive: Outdated software makes even new election systems vulnerable to hackers

The source’s text said there was something “really troubling” to pass along.

Tami Abdollah, Washington national security reporter, had just returned to covering cybersecurity – a topic she has followed off-and-on since 2015. What the source told her was big: New election systems purchased across the United States were running on outdated Windows 7 systems, making them vulnerable to hackers.

It was a great tip, but it required a lot of work to determine the scope of the problem. The result was an exclusive text and video package that received huge play and raised alarm among state and national lawmakers. Abdollah revealed that the vast majority of 10,000 election jurisdictions nationwide use Windows 7 or an older operating system to create ballots, program voting machines, tally votes and report counts.

For combining source reporting with meticulous research to break major news on one of the biggest issues ahead of the 2020 election, Abdollah wins this week’s Best of the States award.

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Nov. 01, 2019

Best of the States

Experience, persistence pay off with breaking news: US to collect asylum seekers’ DNA

Immigration and Homeland Security reporter Colleen Long’s ears perked up in early October when she heard agency officials mention “CODIS” as they briefed reporters on the likelihood they would expand their practice of collecting DNA from migrants. 

CODIS, she knew from experience, was an FBI database usually associated with violent crimes, so Long was surprised to hear of its use in connection with migrants whose only crime was crossing the border illegally. Long followed up with detailed questions at the briefing but didn’t get answers, so she kept pressing officials.

Her persistence was rewarded with an advance briefing on the new rule, and additional details about how the DNA policy would be implemented. Long’s story moved hours ahead of the official announcement, becoming one of the most-read stories of the day. 

For making the early connection to the policy implications of the DNA database, then pressing the issue with officials until she had the exclusive details, Long earns this week’s Best of the States award.

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Aug. 16, 2019

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP team defies lockdown to report in all formats from Kashmir

for braving security restrictions and overcoming a complete communication lockdown to report in all formats on life under siege from Indian-administered Kashmir.When New Delhi moved Aug. 5 to revoke the Himalayan region of its statehood, all lines to the outside world were severed. With a strict curfew in place the AP crew overnighted in the office, but transmission in any format was a challenge. Defying the crackdown on movement and filming, the team managed to send photos, video and text with a passenger on a flight to Delhi.Meanwhile, Saaliq, a native Kashmiri himself, spoke to people struggling to buy necessities and to those injured during sporadic protests. His story, some of which he dictated over the phone from a Srinagar hotel, was one of the first reports in the international media that allowed Kashmiri voices to be heard after the dramatic developments. Hussain followed with personal stories of how Kashmiris were coping with life surrounded by armed police and paramilitary soldiers. And with short windows of internet access and many trips to the airport, the AP team managed to move words and images of thousands of protesters, including a widely used photo of a group of women marching after Friday prayers, and security forces patrolling the city. The lockdown continues. While some local media have suggested normalcy has returned to Kashmir, AP offers a critical counter narrative grounded in dogged reporting to show the world what is happening in the disputed region.https://bit.ly/31EKii3https://bit.ly/2H8adH7https://bit.ly/3063jJV

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June 22, 2018

Best of the Week — First Winner

AP first with news of 2,000 kids separated from families at US border

It was the answer to the question everyone was asking, about the biggest story in the world. Just how many children had been separated from their parents at the U.S. border as a result of the Trump administration’s new zero-tolerance immigration policy?

Colleen Long, newly arrived on her Washington beat, got the hugely important scoop, beating all of her seasoned competitors with that very number: nearly 2,000.

Long had just moved to the nation’s capital after more than a decade covering law enforcement in New York, assigned to the Department of Homeland Security. She went right to work grilling sources – anybody she could find.

After speaking to some two dozen people, Long hit pay dirt. A source called and said, “I'm going to give you a big scoop.”

The information put AP more than an hour ahead with the news that, at that point, nearly 2,000 children had been forcibly removed from their families at the border over a six-week period. Long’s competitors – including reporters who have been covering the beat for years – had to wait for the numbers to be released on a conference call later in the day.

For determined, aggressive reporting that yielded a huge payoff, Long wins the Beat of the Week award.

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