Auditors are raising questions about more than $700,000 in federal homeland security grants given to local officials in Laurel County, Ky. A report says the county among other things used $11,000 to pay for five black-marble monuments that immortalized a local official and the former commander of Kentucky’s National Guard. Presumably the decorations wouldn’t go far in protecting area residents.

The Center for Investigative Reporting has devoted much of its homeland security project to examining how state and local governments chose to spend the swell of anti-terrorism and preparedness grants Congress began handing out by the billions after Sept. 11. Our map describes dubious investments revealed elsewhere.

Kentucky auditors had already criticized the use of federal readiness funds in Laurel County for a sectional couch, dressers, night stands, three “captain beds,” La-Z-Boys and more. One emergency manager was also accused of overseeing $530,000 worth of contracts awarded to a woman with whom he had private business ties. The two eventually married.

Google confirmed Sept. 14 that it fired an engineer for snooping on teen Internet users by inappropriately accessing call logs from Google Voice, chat transcripts and contact lists. A segment of Google employees have access to such sensitive information for maintenance purposes.

The governor of Pennsylvania apologized after learning that a firm hired by the state’s Office of Homeland Security collected information about harmless political activists. The list of targets included gay and lesbian groups, antiwar and antinuclear protesters and even an organization founded by the governor’s own chief policy advisor that works to promote education.

Just days before parliamentary elections were scheduled to take place in Afghanistan, independent overseers announced that thousands of bogus voter registration cards were discovered in a province southwest of Kabul. Allegations of widespread fraud plagued the country’s most recent presidential election, won last year by Hamid Karzai.

Lawmakers are proposing legislation that would turn private security guards now in charge of protecting federal buildings into public employees. The move follows a series of blistering, high-profile reports that embarrassed the Federal Protective Service and described congressional investigators easily entering sensitive government facilities with bomb-making materials. A guard was found last year asleep at his post after taking painkillers, while a baby was sent through an X-ray machine accidentally on another occasion. One guard was also caught operating an adult website on government computers.

A federal appeals court has abandoned rules it established just last year directing the government to only take from computer hard drives material described in a previously obtained search warrant, as opposed to copying all of the contents. The past ruling said that when specific data couldn’t be extracted by law enforcement, they should rely on an independent party to single out the desired files while observing the owner’s right to privacy and leaving the rest alone.

Judges on the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals have now rejected the requirements, but they still emphasized the government’s need to only use files from a computer search outlined in a warrant.

Flickr image courtesy dog manor

G.W. Schulz is a reporter for Reveal, covering security, privacy, technology and criminal justice. Since joining The Center for Investigative Reporting in 2008, he's reported stories for NPR, KQED, Wired.com, The Dallas Morning News, the Chicago Tribune, the San Francisco Chronicle, Mother Jones and more. Prior to that, he wrote for the San Francisco Bay Guardian and was an early contributor to The Chauncey Bailey Project, which won a Tom Renner Award from Investigative Reporters and Editors in 2008. Schulz also has won awards from the California Newspaper Publishers Association and the Society of Professional Journalists’ Northern California Chapter. He graduated from the University of Kansas and is based in Austin, Texas.