U.S. Sees Drop in Terrorist Threats
Al Qaeda Focusing Attacks in Iraq and Europe, Officials Say
By Dana Priest and Spencer Hsu
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, May 1, 2005; A01
Reports of credible terrorist threats against the United States are at their lowest level since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, according to U.S. intelligence officials and federal and state law enforcement authorities.
The intelligence community's daily threat assessment, developed after the terrorist attacks to keep policymakers informed, currently lists, on average, 25 to 50 percent fewer threats against domestic targets than it typically did over the past two years, said one senior counterterrorism official.
A broad cross section of counterterrorism officials believes al Qaeda and like-minded groups, in part frustrated by increased U.S. security measures, are focusing instead on Americans deployed in Iraq, where the groups operate with relative impunity, and on Europe.
Though some are expressing caution and even skepticism, interviews last week with 25 current or recently retired officials also cited progress in counterterrorism operations abroad and a more experienced homeland security apparatus for a general feeling that it is more difficult for terrorists to operate undetected. The officials represent federal intelligence and law enforcement agencies, state and local homeland security departments and the private sector.
"We are breathing easier," said U.S. Capitol Police Chief Terrance W. Gainer, whose officers guard one of al Qaeda's expressed targets, and who is regularly briefed by the FBI and CIA. "The imminence of a threat seems to have diminished. We're just not as worried as we were a year ago, but we certainly are as vigilant."
"I agree," said John O. Brennan, acting director of the National Counterterrorism Center, told of Gainer's assessment. "Progress has been made."
Brennan also said the initial post-Sept. 11 belief that there were large numbers of sleeper cells in the United States turned out to be "a lot of hyperbole." Some people believed "there was a terrorist under every rock."
But some intelligence analysts caution that the drop-off in terrorist-related planning, communication and movement could be a tactical pause by al Qaeda and related terrorist groups. No one suggests the threat has gone away.
Brennan and others fear most what they are not hearing or seeing, especially the possibility that al Qaeda has acquired chemical or biological weapons and adapted in ways that have evaded detection. Analysts also say a flood of new terrorists motivated by the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq may try to travel here and reverse the relative calm of today's environment, as they are doing in Europe.
But for now, most officials acknowledged a change in perception, for the better. Most of these officials declined to speak on the record, for fear, as one put it, "that something will go boom" and the public will blame them for being complacent.
On Jan. 6, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge signaled the change in threat level during his last roundtable discussion with reporters, weeks before he stepped down. Asked to explain the decline in suspected terrorist activity in the prior months, he responded:
"Your characterization of it as being a significantly different threat environment, based on what we historically have heard, is absolutely correct," Ridge said. "So there certainly is a diminution, reduction in the amount of intelligence, and the decibel level is lower."
Evidence of a lower decibel level is pervasive.
Behind closed doors, the weekly, classified "hot spot" briefings for congressional intelligence committees are consumed less by domestic terrorist threats than they have been, said people who have attended the meetings. "It's not as forefront in people's minds," one such official said. "There's not the same concern as there was a year ago about an imminent threat."
Some federal law enforcement officials say they know of no major counterterrorism cases soon to be made public.
The House Homeland Security Committee voted last week to reopen Reagan National Airport to private aircraft and to eliminate the color-coded warning system that is one of the icons of the post-Sept. 11 era. The number of secure briefings for lawmakers has dropped too, said Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), a member of the House Homeland Security Committee who has been critical of excessive security in Washington. "That in itself is an indication there is less to report."
Life in Washington seems closer to normal, especially after the tightened security before last November's election. The validity of top officials' publicly stated belief that terrorists wanted to attack during the pre-election period is now hotly debated within the counterterrorism community. But the rotating checkpoints around the Capitol have become less disruptive, and a booming real estate market is a concrete symbol that people are not afraid to move to a potential ground zero.
Business sectors also note a change in broader public behavior. Hotel occupancy, room rates and revenue in Washington so far this year are the highest since 2001, the D.C. Convention and Tourism Corp. reported.
Counterterrorism officials said the atmosphere, particularly in the Washington area, also has calmed because they are less jittery and less inclined to warn the public about every vague, unsubstantiated threat. In the past, they feared being accused of missing something.
With 3 1/2 years of experience, their ability to cull serious from baseless threats has matured, officials said.
"People are more hesitant to pull the trigger, and now think, 'Let's wait a day or two' to investigate," said John Rollins, former chief of staff for DHS's intelligence unit and now an analyst at the Congressional Research Service.
The intelligence community now can better identify the "unreliable and bogus threats," said NCTC's Brennan. "We don't have to go into crisis mode. In the past, we had a lot of brush fires developing. Now, we can deal with it with a better filter."
There is also the broad recognition that "the sky can't be falling every day," said one senior Washington law enforcement official.
U.S. officials, including Brennan, also express growing confidence in improved domestic security. They believe improvements in border security, counter-surveillance tactics and information sharing among law enforcement agencies would make it difficult for the Sept. 11, 2001, attack plotters to evade detection today.
Counterterrorism squads have also begun learning how to recruit informants and follow leads that do not necessarily lead to arrests, an official in the field said. "They thought they would be rounding up terrorists every week," said one senior counterterrorism official who helped train such a squad outside Washington. "But they weren't. There was some frustration," but the same officers are now learning intelligence tradecraft, he said.
Police are also honing counterterrorism efforts, working with businesses nationwide to screen for suspicious activity involving the acquisition of certain kinds of materials, vehicles, training and licenses that have figured into terrorist plots.
Public vigilance remains high, at least in major cities, officials said. This winter, for example, FBI agents were called to investigate when workers at a Northern Virginia hospital grew suspicious of two men who asked about nighttime staffing levels, ostensibly because they were considering whether their new doughnut shop should stay open 24 hours.
It turned out the men had, in fact, obtained a new doughnut franchise, two security officials said.
"Could what happened with the 9/11 operators in the pre-event stage happen today and nobody pick up on it? No, I don't think so," said Cathy Lanier, head of special operations for the D.C. Police Department. "If they went through the same surveillance practices, forged documents, they would be picked up somehow. Along the line, there would be red flags, and I would say there is probably a good chance the red flags would have come through the public and not law enforcement or other sources."
Even if the threat has eased, officials throughout the government acknowledge major shortcomings in homeland security. Borders remain porous, chemical plants are poorly protected, the quality of baggage inspection is uneven, and countless other vulnerabilities have not been addressed.
Some officials also express a nagging worry that analysts simply have less information to sift through, or less time to concentrate on it given the bureaucratic transitions in the intelligence community.
"There's been a kind of constant non-action, or non-tension whatever you want to call it," one state homeland security adviser said. "There's not a whole lot of new stuff."
Several officials in urban areas that are considered prime targets, said they worried most about what law enforcement is not detecting. "I'm not so comforted" by the drop in intelligence warnings coming out of Washington, said one senior U.S. intelligence official based elsewhere. "I'm concerned about what is going on under our radar scope. And I'm worried about the radar scope."
Michael A. Mason, the assistant director in charge of the FBI's Washington field office, said that as far as he is concerned, there has been no drop in the threat level.
"The desire to harm Americans is certainly still out there whether that is wrapped around a specific threat or not," Mason said.
D.C. Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey, who co-chairs the homeland security committee for the International Association of Chiefs of Police, cautions that "complacency can settle in the further we get from 9/11. We tend to think everything is normal. I don't feel that way."
Ramsey said he believes the Homeland Security color code will never go below its current level of yellow, which denotes an "elevated" threat level.
"We will never be at green again," Ramsey said. "Normal was redefined on 9/11. Normal is yellow."
Staff writers Sari Horwitz, Dan Eggen, John Mintz and Allan Lengel and researcher Julie Tate contributed to this report.
Saturday, April 30, 2005
Attacks kill 50 across Iraq
BAGHDAD (AP) — Less than two weeks ago, the U.S. military praised an Iraqi raid to clear insurgents from an area southeast of the capital as evidence of the country's progress in assuring its own security. On Friday, the insurgents struck back.
In one of a series of highly coordinated attacks across Iraq, militants detonated a roadside bomb in the town of Madain, 12 miles southeast of Baghdad, then sent two suicide car bombers from two different directions into police as they arrived to investigate. At least two more car bombs detonated, one near the city hospital and another targeting a police patrol.
Altogether, insurgents set off at least 17 bombs in Iraq on Friday, killing at least 50 people including three U.S. soldiers in strikes aimed at shaking Iraq's newly formed government. An audio tape by one of America's most-wanted insurgents, Abu-Musab al-Zarqawi, warned President Bush there was more bloodshed to come.
The attacks, which also wounded 114 Iraqis and seven Americans, came as political leaders were trying to curb the insurgency by including all of Iraq's main religious and ethnic groups into an uncertain new Shiite-dominated government that takes office Tuesday. Most of the bombing targets were Iraqi security forces and police, whom insurgents accuse of collaborating with the Americans.
An association of Sunni Muslim clerics believed to have links with the insurgency, saw little prospect for peace as long as U.S. forces remain in Iraq.
"We don't believe that the government will solve the problems of an occupied Iraq. We don't trust the government," Harith al-Dhari, head of the Association of Muslim Scholars, told Turkey's Anatolia news agency. "We don't see hope because the occupation is continuing."
U.S. officials had hoped the new Cabinet approved Thursday would help dent support for the militants within the Sunni Arab minority that dominated under ousted leader Saddam Hussein and is now believed to be driving the insurgency. However, the lineup excludes Sunnis from meaningful positions and leaves the key defense ministry in temporary hands.
"You, Bush, we will not rest until we avenge our dignity," al-Zarqawi said in the audiotape that was posted on the Internet. "We will not rest while your army is here as long as there is a pulse in our veins." He threatened more attacks against U.S. forces and warned against collaborating with Americans.
In Washington, an intelligence official said the tape appeared to be genuine.
In separate statements, posted on a Web site known for its militant content, al-Zarqawi's al-Qaeda in Iraq group claimed responsibility for two of the days most deadly assaults — four suicide car bombings in a Baghdad neighborhood and four other bombings in Madain, south of the capital. The claims could not be verified.
The deadliest of Friday's attacks were multiple bombings in the small Baghdad neighborhood of Azamiyah, where at least 20 Iraqis were killed and 65 wounded, and in Madain, were 13 died and 30 were injured.
Despite the day's bloody toll, the U.S. military maintained that attacks are diminishing overall in Iraq.
"We see these attacks as another desperate attempt by the terrorists to discredit the newly formed Iraqi government" and "drive a wedge between the Iraqi people and their right to choose their own destiny," the military said in a statement.
Gen. Wafiq al-Samarie, Iraq's presidential adviser for security affairs, urged Iraqis to stand up to insurgents.
"Today too many car bomb attacks took place, but this is not the end," he said in an interview with al-Jazeera television. "Our people should stand up against these criminals. ... Security is everybody's responsibility."
At least 13 car bombs exploded in and around the capital Friday, killing at least 23 Iraqi security force members and wounding 31, the U.S. military said. Iraqi police said they included six suicide attacks.
In the worst attack, four suicide car bombings took place within minutes in Azamiyah, said police chief Brig. Gen. Khalid al-Hassan. The first hit an Iraqi army patrol, the second a police patrol, and the third and fourth exploded at separate barricades near the headquarters of the police special forces unit.
The Azamiyah blasts killed 15 soldiers and five civilians, Col. Hussein Mutlak said. The injured included 30 troops and 35 civilians, he said.
Policemen crouched in fear after the explosions, which set fire to the special forces headquarters. One residential building was severely damaged, its white fa
Ecade blackened and its first-floor shops completely destroyed.
An Iraqi soldier who had rushed to the scene vented his anger against the insurgents, saying: "These people aren't soldiers."
A nearby hospital was filled with seriously wounded Iraqis lying in beds with blood-soaked sheets.
As Louay Mohammed Saleh writhed in pain, covered with bandages, his uncle said the police officer was in a patrol rushing to one of the bomb sites when another bomb exploded near his car.
"I'm dying," Saleh screamed.
In another highly coordinated attack, insurgents detonated a roadside bomb in Madain, then sent two suicide car bombers from two different directions into police special forces as they arrived to investigate, said police Lt. Jassim al-Maliky. At least two more car bombs detonated in the area, one near the city hospital and another targeting a police patrol, police said.
In Baqouba, 35 miles north of Baghdad, a suicide attacker blew up an ambulance packed with explosives near a police special forces patrol, killing four Iraqis, including two policemen, said police Brig. Gen. Adel Molan. Twenty Iraqis were injured, including four police, he said.
Also in Baqouba, an Iraqi man armed with grenade walked out of the city's al-Aqsa mosque and threatened to throw it at Iraqi and U.S. forces surrounding the building, the U.S. military said. They opened fire and killed the man, the military said.
Ali Fadhil, of the city's U.S.-Iraqi joint operations center, identified the man as a Sunni cleric believed to be a senior member of al-Zarqawi's al-Qaeda in Iraq terrorist group.
"Imam Abdul Razaq Rashid Hamid ... came out from the mosque with two hand grenades as our forces were surrounding the mosque," Fadhil said. "He threw one of the grenades at the forces while blowing himself up with the second one."
The two accounts could not immediately be reconciled.
West of Basra, about 340 miles southeast of Baghdad, a roadside bomb targeting an Iraqi border guard patrol killed one soldier and wounded two, said Iraqi Lt. Col. Abdul Hadi al-Najar.
At least nine more Iraqis were killed and nine wounded in other scattered violence, including bombings, shootings and mortar fire, officials said.
One American soldier was killed and two others wounded in a car bombing about 18 miles north of the capital, the military said. Two more U.S. soldiers were killed in another car bombing near Diyarah, about 30 miles south of Baghdad.
At least seven American soldiers were wounded in the attacks in and around the capital, said military spokesman Greg Kaufman.
At least 1,575 members of the U.S. military have died since the beginning of the Iraq war in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count.
Posted by politicalstuff at 11:29 PM
Mrs. Bush Steals Show at Reporters' Dinner
By ELIZABETH WOLFE, Associated Press Writer 21 minutes ago
First lady Laura Bush stole the show with a surprise comedy routine that ripped President Bush and brought an audience that included much of official Washington and a dash of Hollywood to a standing ovation at a dinner honoring award-winning journalists.
The president began a speech late Saturday at the 91st annual White House Correspondents' Association dinner, but was quickly "interrupted" by his wife in an obviously planned ploy.
"Not that old joke, not again," she said to the delight of the audience. "I've been attending these dinners for years and just quietly sitting there. I've got a few things I want to say for a change."
The president sat down and she proceeded to note that he is "usually in bed by now" and said she told him recently, "If you really want to end tyranny in the world, you're going to have to stay up later. "
She outlined a typical evening: "Nine o'clock, Mr. Excitement here is sound asleep and I'm watching `Desperate Housewives'." Comedic pause. "With Lynne Cheney. Ladies and gentlemen, I am a desperate housewife."
The line earned particularly rambunctious applause from the area of the Hilton Washington hotel ballroom where actor James Denton from the hit ABC show sat.
Laura Bush added that she and her husband obviously were destined to be together as a couple because "I was the librarian who spent 12 hours a day in the library and yet somehow I met George."
The guest professional comedian, Cedric the Entertainer, next came to the microphone to deliver one-liners, but not before conceding the first lady was a hard act to follow.
Joining the Bushes were Vice President Dick Cheney and wife, Lynne. News organizations hosted show business and sports stars such as Goldie Hawn, Richard Gere, Jane Fonda, Mary Tyler Moore, tennis sisters Venus and Serena Williams and a few supermodels.
Award winners announced earlier this month:
_Ron Fournier of The Associated Press, the Merriman Smith Award for presidential coverage under deadline pressure for his stories on Bush's victory over John Kerry.
_Susan Page of USA Today, the Aldo Beckman Award for her stories on the presidency and the presidential campaign.
_Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams of the San Francisco Chronicle, the Edgar A. Poe Award for a series of stories on athletes' steroid use.
Presidents since Calvin Coolidge have attended the dinner hosted by the association, which was established in 1914 as a bridge between the press corps and the White House.
On the Net:
White House Correspondents' Association: http://www.whca.net
Posted by politicalstuff at 11:25 PM
Florida girl has abortion blocked
By Jeremy Cooke
BBC News, New York
A pregnant 13-year-old girl in Florida has been told she cannot have an abortion because she lacks the maturity to make such a decision.
A state court granted an injunction which prevents the girl from terminating her pregnancy.
She is three months pregnant and had planned to have an abortion on Tuesday of this week.
The American Civil Liberties Union says it will launch an urgent appeal against the ruling.
'Too young to choose'
Florida's department of children and families intervened and took the matter to court, arguing the teenager, who is under the care of the state, is too young and immature to make an informed medical decision. Judge Ronald Alvarez in Palm Beach accepted that argument and has granted a temporary injunction and psychological evaluation, which effectively blocks her from terminating the pregnancy.
It is a case which, once again, plays into the heated and divisive debate about abortion in America.
The judge's ruling comes in spite of Florida state law which specifically does not require a minor to seek parental consent before an abortion.
The American Civil Liberties Union 's executive director in Florida, Howard Simon, said forcing a 13-year-old to carry on an unwanted pregnancy to term, against her wishes, is not only illegal and unconstitutional, it is cruel.
Story from BBC NEWS:
Posted by politicalstuff at 11:18 PM
Friday, April 29, 2005
Media coverage of president's press conference largely ignored Bush's trust fund contradiction
Most major televised media outlets failed to note that President Bush, in his one-hour press conference on April 28, made two flatly contradictory statements about the viability of U.S. treasury bonds, in which the Social Security trust fund is invested. Repeating a claim made in his recent travels throughout the country in support of Social Security privatization, Bush said that the treasury bonds owned by the trust fund represent worthless IOUs from the U.S. government. But he later touted those same bonds for holders of his proposed private accounts looking for a safe investment that would be "backed by the full faith and credit of the United States government." No reporter challenged Bush on the contradiction during the press conference, and only George Stephanopoulos, host of ABC's This Week, noted it in the post-conference analysis.
And CBS News anchor Bob Schieffer did the rest of TV news media one better -- specifically noting that Bush mentioned treasury bonds as a safe investment, while failing to note that he has repeatedly disparaged treasury bonds when talking about the trust fund and did so again last night. Schieffer later commended Bush's performance in the press conference, saying "I think it's fair to say he did not step on his own story."
The Social Security trust fund is invested entirely in treasury bonds that, according to law, have been purchased with surplus payroll tax revenues. During the press conference, Bush dismissed the Social Security trust fund as little more than "file cabinets full of IOUs." Earlier in the press conference, however, Bush advocated an option that would allow wary private account holders to invest solely in those same treasury bonds, because they "are backed by the full faith and credit of the United States government." Bush has used the "file cabinet" rhetoric in the past, such as at an April 15 town hall meeting in Ohio and when he visited the Bureau of Public Debt in West Virginia on April 5. His argument that the Social Security trust fund is a myth has been echoed by various conservatives in the media (here, here, and here).
A Media Matters for America analysis of the major cable and broadcast network coverage following the press conference revealed that Stephanopoulos was the sole commentator to note the president's contradictory trust fund rhetoric.
About seven minutes into ABC's press conference analysis, Stephanopoulos said:
STEPHANOPOULOS: He [Bush] got caught in a contradiction here. When he was talking about the treasury bonds and the overall Social Security system, he called them a file cabinet of IOUs. Yet, when they're in the individual accounts, they're backed by the full faith and credit of the United States.
From Schieffer's analysis of the president's press conference:
SCHIEFFER: He said at one point in the news conference that he certainly believes any reform package ought to include the idea of creating personal savings accounts. He said one option that those who choose the personal savings account might want is to invest only in treasury bills. He said that would ensure that it would be a safe investment for them. I believe that's the first time he's said that.
But the president came on television tonight because he wanted to talk about Social Security, and I think it's fair to say he did not step on his own story. I think there was no bigger headline than what he said about urging these reforms in Social Security tonight.
Posted by politicalstuff at 5:21 PM
Fair and Balanced Fox: "Blame liberals for high oil and gas prices!"
On the April 28 edition of Fox News Live, as Fox News host David Asman promoted Fox's upcoming Saturday show Forbes on Fox, by saying it would "focus in on exactly who's responsible for high gas prices -- it's not who you might think," the on-screen text read: "Blame liberals for high oil and gas prices!"
Posted by politicalstuff at 5:19 PM
Here is the beginning of my post.
The Washington Times
'Miracle' needed to win back Senate
By Charles Hurt
Published April 29, 2005
Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid raised a few eyebrows yesterday on the Senate floor when he said it would take a "miracle" for Democrats to win enough races next year to take back the Senate.
"I would like to think a miracle would happen and we would pick up five seats this time," he said during a floor debate over the filibusters of President Bush's judicial nominees. "I guess miracles never cease."
Republicans were delighted by what they called an "admission" from the highest-ranking elected Democrat in the country.
"After listening to Senator Reid's political spin about judicial nominees for the last several weeks, it is good to hear him come back to reality -- if even for a brief moment," said Brian Nick, spokesman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee. "Senator Reid can do the math: A Democratic Party, plus no ideas, plus obstruction, plus over-the-top partisan rhetoric equals continued minority."
Partisans on both sides of the aisle privately acknowledged that it was a fairly stunning remark.
But Democrats pointed out that Mr. Reid was making a larger point about the so-called "nuclear option" that Republicans have threatened to use to unclog the filibusters -- that Republicans might one day regret abolishing the filibuster for judicial nominees.
"If the Republicans keep abusing their power, it won't take such a miracle," said Phil Singer, spokesman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.
Jim Manley, spokesman for Mr. Reid, noted that his boss "also said he believes in miracles."
"As a small-town boy from Searchlight, Nevada, who rose to become Democratic leader of the U.S. Senate, Senator Reid has shown that we can overcome the odds and is certain that we can win back the Senate," Mr. Manley said.
Posted by politicalstuff at 5:17 PM
Computer-maker Dell to expand outsourcing
Tech giant to hire another 2,000 people in India, make it a hub
The Associated Press
April 29, 2005
BANGALORE, India - Computer-maker Dell will hire another 2,000 people by the end of the year to make India a hub for its software development and back-office work, its top executive said Friday.
“It has been a very exciting time here in India, running customer support and internal software development centers,” Dell Inc. Chief Executive Kevin Rollins told reporters in Bangalore, India’s technology hub.
Dell will increase its staff strength in India to 10,000 by January from nearly 8,000 at present, he said.
Less than two years ago, Round Rock, Texas-based Dell moved support for some customer calls back to the United States from Bangalore, citing “customer complaints.”
On Friday, Rollins said the November 2003 decision was due to the company’s internal management issues.
“Then, we were doing too much, too fast in too many places. We had to prioritize and refine,” he said.
Scores of Western companies have been cutting costs by shifting software development, engineering design and routine office functions to countries such as India, where English-speaking workers are plentiful and wages are low.
Dell runs three call centers in India, a product testing center for corporate customers and a global software development center.
“Over time, our Indian operation has grown in technical complexity and so we are making it a center of competency for software and support,” Rollins said.
Dell plans to open more offices in India to shift technology work and to tap India’s growing computer market, he said.
“As we move to increase our revenues to $80 billion in three to four years’ time, our growth will increasingly come from outside the U.S.,” he said.
Dell employs a total of 53,000 people and its revenue reached $49.2 billion in the fiscal year ending in January 2005.
Kevin Rollins email address: Kevin_Rollins@Dell.com
Posted by politicalstuff at 5:12 PM
Latest reports tell tale of two economies
Housing continues to soar even as overall expansion slows
By Martin Wolk
Chief economics correspondent
When Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan and his central banking colleagues hold their next meeting Tuesday, they will confront a series of recent reports telling a tale of two economies.
Even as the housing sector continues to soar, everything else about the economy seems to be just muddling along.
This week’s initial estimate of gross domestic product for the first quarter confirmed a sequence of reports on retail sales, manufacturing orders and consumer confidence suggesting that the economy slipped into a soft patch in March, cooling a bit sooner and more sharply than forecasters had expected.
Meanwhile new-home sales surged to record levels, indicating that the nation’s long housing boom still has some steam left despite rising short-term interest rates.
“I would say this is a little bit of a soft patch,” said Gus Faucher, senior economist at Economy.com. “We’re not going to see a big acceleration in growth, but we are not going to slow from these levels. We are kind of in the soft landing phase.”
Most economists agree the GDP slowdown to an estimated 3.1 percent rate from 3.8 percent in last year’s fourth quarter is nothing to get alarmed about but more of an expected and even desired outcome of the Fed’s 9-month-old tightening cycle, with a bit of a push from high oil prices.
“If you put it in historical context, this is a very positive number,” said Rich Yamarone of Argus Research, who is not known as one of the more bullish economists on Wall Street. “The economic expansion continues with very few inflationary pressures.”
Frank Fernandez, chief economist for the Securities Industry Association, described the slowdown as a “moderate cyclical downturn” and stressed that it is not a “prelude to outright recession.”
He sees GDP growth slowing to 3.3 percent this year and 2.5 percent next year, compared with 4.4 percent last year.
“I think the economy is going to slow further,” agreed Quincy Krosby, chief investment strategist for The Hartford. “It’s a global synchronized slowdown,” driven at least in part by higher oil prices, she said.
But she said the slow growth means that inflation is not a major concern, so the Fed will not have to raise interest rates more aggressively.
In fact, crude oil prices fell sharply this week, closing below $50 a barrel for the first time in two months, which should make central bankers more confident that inflation is unlikely to rise much higher from current levels.
As a result, the Fed will almost certainly raise short-term interest rates another quarter-point Tuesday and probably again June 29 at the mid-year meeting of policy-makers. That would bring the benchmark overnight lending rate to 3.25 percent, compared with 1 percent when the rate-hike cycle began in mid-2004.
Although the GDP report including an inflation reading that was slightly higher than expected, Faucher said noted that the Fed is unlikely to express concern because there is still enough slack in the labor market that there is little apparent pressure to boost wages.
The housing market, however, is beginning to trigger more alarm bells.
“It’s gotten more and more speculative,” said Ethan Harris, chief U.S. economist at Lehman Bros. “The housing market seems very divorced from economic fundamentals now. It does feel like what was a moderate so-called bubble forming in the economy has become a much-bigger disconnect.”
Like many analysts who look at the market, Harris sees not a national bubble but a number of regional markets that are developing overheated conditions, including much of California, much of Florida and possibly parts of the Northeast.
For now, the growing housing market is helping to pull the rest of the economy along -- like a compact car towing a huge trailer, as Harris describes it. Residential investment grew at a brisk 5.7 pace in the latest quarter, but housing sales boost consumer spending and economic activity in many other ways as well.
Harris does not see a collapse anytime soon, it is easy to envision a scenario where regional housing markets run into trouble and further cool the national economy, he said.
Harris pointed out that investor activity in housing appears to have accelerate substantially over the past two years, with one industry trade group estimated that more than more than one-third of all homes purchased last year were either for investment purposes or second homes.
“If you look to the year ahead that is the thing I’m watching most closely in terms of risks to the economy,” said Harris.
While long-term rates remain near their lowest levels in 40 years, Harris points out that a growing number of buyers are relying on adjustable-rate mortgages either because they are planning to “flip” the home or because that is the only way they can afford to buy.
Some of these mortgages are “hybrids” with low introductory rates that could jump substantially as the Fed continues to push rates higher.
“At some point we’re going to see one of these regional markets run into trouble, and that could spread into the other hot markets,” Harris said. And that could lead to a downturn in consumer psychology and a further economic slowdown, he said.
Posted by politicalstuff at 5:10 PM
Bush Backs Abortion Measure
He Urges Senate to Enact House Bill on Parental Notification
By Mike Allen
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, April 29, 2005; A04
President Bush is urging the Senate to take up a bill passed by the House this week that makes it a federal crime -- complete with possible fines and jail sentences -- for doctors or other adults to help patients under 18 evade parental-notification requirements by crossing state lines for an abortion.
Opponents call it "the grandmother incarceration act" for the penalties that could be imposed on non-parents who travel with minors to end a pregnancy. But conservative groups say the measure is a way to ensure that the will of state legislatures is carried out, because it is now possible for a young woman to travel from one state to another with less restrictive laws to avoid having to tell a parent she plans to have an abortion.
The bill creates two federal crimes, each of which can carry a $100,000 fine, one year in jail or both. The bill's first section covers the transportation of a minor for an abortion. The second section requires the abortion provider to notify a minor's parent or legal guardian if she lives in a state with a parental-involvement law.
House Judiciary Committee Chairman F. James Sensenbrenner Jr. (R-Wis.) said during the floor debate that the bill is "vital to parental rights."
Tony Perkins, president of the conservative Family Research Council and father of three daughters, said in an interview that the bill was one of his group's top priorities for the year and called it "a recognition of parental authority."
Nancy Keenan, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, countered that the bill is "a bureaucratic nightmare" and is part of a multi-track strategy by conservatives that includes packing the judiciary with judges sympathetic to their views.
The bill, the Child Interstate Abortion Notification Act, passed the House on Wednesday night by 270 to 157, with 216 Republicans in favor and 145 Democrats against. Crossing party lines were 54 Democrats who supported the bill and 11 Republicans who opposed it. The bill makes an exception if the abortion is necessary to save the life of the minor. The House passed similar bills in 1998, 1999 and 2002, but none passed the Senate.
Bush, who comments on only a small fraction of bills that pass either chamber, said in a written statement that the law would "protect the health and safety of minors by ensuring that state parental involvement laws are not circumvented."
Lobbyists on both sides agreed that the measure will have a tougher time in the Senate, although Senate Republicans announced in January that it was one of their top 10 priorities for the year. A similar but not identical Senate bill has 37 co-sponsors. No committee action is required on the House bill, and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) could put it on the floor at any time.
Douglas D. Johnson, legislative director of the National Right to Life Committee, said he is cautiously optimistic about Senate passage because of support for parental notification in public polls, and what he called "the realization among some Democratic lawmakers that they need to stop taking marching orders from extreme pro-abortion pressure groups."
The House bill has a provision, not in the Senate version, that requires an out-of-state abortion provider to notify one parent with three exceptions: if the patient shows documentation that she has exercised a judicial bypass provision; if she signs a statement saying she is a victim of neglect, or physical or sexual abuse, by a parent; or if her life is in danger.
Warren M. Siegel, director of adolescent medicine and chair of pediatrics at Coney Island Hospital in Brooklyn, N.Y., said in an interview that the law could lead minors to have later-term abortions because they might be more hesitant to consult an adult. "It's an unreasonable burden to have physicians know all the legal loopholes and laws in the 49 states that they don't practice in," he said.
Posted by politicalstuff at 5:09 PM
Racial Data Sought for Bush Event
Secret Service Says Request Is Routine
By Dana Milbank
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, April 29, 2005; A09
The Secret Service has requested racial information on journalists and guests scheduled to attend a reception tomorrow night with President Bush.
White House reporters said they were offended that after furnishing the customary information -- name, date of birth and Social Security number -- they were also asked for the race of each person expected to attend the small reception scheduled before the White House Correspondents' Association's annual dinner.
The Secret Service said that it has been routine for many years to request such information of people who will be near the president, and that the information allows for quicker and more accurate searches of criminal databases. The policy has not been applied universally, however; such information is not requested of the people who greet the president and first lady at White House Christmas parties, for example, and is not always asked of people who have appointments in the White House complex.
After officers of the White House Correspondents' Association provided the Secret Service with names, dates of birth and Social Security numbers of those who would attend the VIP reception, an agent called back to ask for racial identities. "It's offensive on the face of it," said Edwin Chen, a Los Angeles Times White House reporter who is secretary of the association and who provided the information. "Why do they need to have race?"
Knight Ridder reporter Ron Hutcheson, the association's president, said. "I just don't understand the need for it. There may be one, but I don't know what it is."
A spokesman for the Secret Service, Lorie Lewis, said it is routine for the agency to request all five main "identifiers" used in the FBI's National Crime Information Center database: name, birth date, Social Security number, sex and race. If all five were not requested before, "it may have been a mistake or an omission," she said.
Lewis said the request has nothing to do with racial profiling. "The Secret Service does not and will not tolerate racial or cultural bias," she said. "The standard background checks are not designed to profile individuals involved with the event. Rather, it provides for a more thorough and timely search of the national law enforcement databases."
A White House official from the Clinton administration said race was not a field in the form it used to clear visitors into the executive mansion. A Bush White House spokesman referred calls to the Secret Service.
The agency has become more rigorous in all aspects of security since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. White House correspondents are not always subject to the same security measures as the public because agents know the journalists.
Anecdotal evidence suggests the Secret Service is more frequently asking for racial information from journalists. The Arizona Daily Star complained last year after a Bush-Cheney campaign official, on Secret Service instruction, called to ask for a photographer's race before she was allowed to photograph Vice President Cheney.
Also last year, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that journalists covering a presidential debate there were asked to disclose their race on a media credential application. In October, the Rocky Mountain News reported that journalists covering a Bush appearance in Colorado were asked to provide race and gender. And last month, the Orange County Register reported that Cheney's staff requested race and gender information before the vice president would meet with the newspaper's editorial board.
Officials from the White House Correspondents' Association had conflicting recollections about whether the racial information had been requested for past receptions.
Posted by politicalstuff at 5:07 PM
Two Detail Bolton's Efforts to Punish Dissent
By Dafna Linzer
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, April 29, 2005; A02
A former senior Bush administration official told Senate staff members yesterday that John R. Bolton, the president's nominee for ambassador to the United Nations, sought to punish two State Department officials for disagreeing with him on nonproliferation issues, congressional sources said. And a former CIA chief, disputing Bolton, said the nominee had tried to fire a national intelligence officer who believed Bolton was exaggerating evidence on Cuba, they said.
John S. Wolf, who served as assistant secretary of state for nonproliferation and as President Bush's senior envoy to the Middle East until last year, and Alan Foley, who ran the CIA's weapons of mass destruction office, were two of six people who were interviewed by staff members on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Bolton's nomination before the panel has been stalled by allegations that he bullied intelligence analysts, harassed colleagues and exaggerated threats posed by Cuba, Syria, North Korea and Iran.
The allegations, some of which remain unsubstantiated, caused enough concern among committee members, including several Republicans, that a vote has been delayed until May 12 to allow time to investigate. The White House has responded with a forceful lobbying and public relations campaign, and is considering ways to push through the nomination on the Senate floor even if it fails in committee.
In a news conference last night, Bush said Bolton's "blunt" style would serve him effectively in trying to tackle U.N. reform. The president would not directly comment on allegations about Bolton, except to say they had been addressed by the Senate.
On Wednesday, the committee's Republican chairman, Sen. Richard G. Lugar (Ind.), predicted Bolton would be approved by the committee and sent to the full Senate for a successful confirmation. The Republicans dominate the panel with 10 of the 18 seats.
But yesterday, Sen. George V. Voinovich (R-Ohio), whose concerns promoted the delay in the committee's decision, told a luncheon of the Cleveland Club that he was still undecided. "I am concerned about people's interpersonal skills," he said in response to a question about Bolton.
In the past three weeks, the panel has been told about four instances in which people said Bolton sought to remove officials who disagreed with him. In his own testimony, Bolton said he lost confidence in two intelligence analysts who disagreed with his assertions about Cuba and he tried to have them reassigned. He has not fully responded to questions about the cases involving State Department officials.
Wolf, who worked directly for Bolton in the current administration and in the President George H.W. Bush administration, is no longer on close terms with his former colleague. He would not comment yesterday on the substance of his 75-minute testimony, which was described by two committee staff members.
Wolf has already said publicly that Bolton, as undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, targeted a young career officer who was close to former secretary of state Colin L. Powell and whom Bolton mistakenly accused of concealing a cable.
In an interview yesterday with Republican and Democratic staff members, Wolf elaborated on that incident in 2003 and told the committee for the first time that Bolton demanded disciplinary actions against other career officials who offered views that differed from his own. To protect the officials' privacy, Wolf did not name them to the committee staff or describe the nature of the views they offered.
State Department spokesman J. Adam Ereli said yesterday that the issue of Bolton's management style had already been raised and dealt with by the committee.
Foley, who until September 2003 ran the CIA's Weapons Intelligence, Nonproliferation, and Arms Control Center, known as Winpac, spoke to the committee by phone yesterday for an hour.
Committee sources said he confirmed testimony provided by Stuart Cohen, the former acting director of the National Intelligence Council, that Bolton had tried to fire the national intelligence officer for Latin America who disagreed with Bolton's assertions about an alleged bioweapons programs in Cuba.
"Foley told us that Bolton's chief of staff, Fred Fleitz, called him up and said that Bolton wanted the analyst fired," one committee investigator said. Bolton has denied that he sought to fire the officer.
The committee also interviewed Thomas Hubbard, the former ambassador to South Korea, who reiterated earlier statements that he did not approve a controversial speech Bolton gave on North Korea, as Bolton had testified in his confirmation hearing.
Also yesterday, Democrats on the committee sent Bolton two dozen additional questions to answer. Most of them are resubmissions of previous queries he did not fully address.
Posted by politicalstuff at 5:05 PM
Apr 28, 10:07 PM EDT
Kansas Anti-Abortion Bill Veto Sticks
By CARL MANNING
Associated Press Writer
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) -- Anti-abortion lawmakers failed Thursday to override Gov. Kathleen Sebelius' veto of a bill imposing additional regulations on clinics that perform abortions.
The state House vote was 82-42 - two votes short of the minimum needed to send the bill to the Senate, where some supporters felt they had the votes to put the legislation into law.
"It's the kind of vote that's going to come back and haunt legislators who voted against it and the governor," said Mary Kay Culp, executive director of Kansans for Life. "The people of Kansas understand the need for this."
The bill would have required clinics to obtain an annual license from the Department of Health and Environment, hire surgeons as their medical directors and report patient deaths to the state within the day. It also would have required state standards for equipment, medical screenings, ventilation and lighting.
Peter Brownlie, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri, said the bill's "only purpose is to make access to reproductive health care in Kansas difficult."
"We will make our thousands of supporters know the legislators courageous enough to stand with the governor on this," he said.
In her veto message, Sebelius, who supports abortion rights, criticized lawmakers for choosing "pure politics over good policy." She said standards for abortion providers should be set by medical professionals rather than the Legislature. It was the same argument she made when she spiked a similar bill in 2003.
In Florida, meanwhile, a conservative religious rights advocacy group filed complaints asking two state agencies to discipline an Orlando clinic that it alleges mishandled an abortion involving a live birth.
The Liberty Counsel asked that the EPOC clinic have its license revoked, be ordered to stop performing abortions and that its doctors be disciplined. The complaints were filed Wednesday with the Florida Department of Health and state Agency for Health Care Administration.
The complaints allege unsanitary conditions at the clinic, that a doctor wasn't present and a lack of postoperative care for a woman receiving an abortion.
According to the complaints, a 22-weeks-pregnant woman alleged she received medication to induce contractions, but that no doctor was present when she returned the following day and began to go into labor.
The fetus, delivered live, died shortly afterward, the complaints said.
Dr. James Pendergraft, who owns the clinic, didn't return a phone call. A spokeswoman, Marti Mackenzie, said, "It absolutely never happened."
Besides Kansas, lawmakers in Texas, Virginia and West Virginia were considering bills this year to regulate clinics that perform abortions, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
The group said 26 states require some abortions be performed in hospitals or other facilities, while 23 states apply certain restrictions on abortion providers.
Associated Press Writer Mike Schneider contributed to this report from Orlando, Fla.
Posted by politicalstuff at 5:03 PM
Opposition leader: Blair failed to make honest case for war
CARDIFF, Wales (AP) — Conservative Party leader Michael Howard said Friday that British voters should punish Tony Blair over the Iraq war, claiming the prime minister's justification for the U.S.-led invasion epitomized his "track record of not telling the truth."
The Conservatives strongly supported the war two years ago. But Howard said in an interview with The Associated Press that a confidential memo released Thursday revealed that the government had deceived the British public by not revealing doubts about the legality of the military action.
"I'm criticizing him for not telling the truth and for not having a plan" for securing the peace afterward, Howard said.
"He has a track record of not telling the truth. That's why character and trust are an issue in this election," said Howard, who repeatedly has called Blair a liar.
Iraq has been high on the campaign agenda for May 5 elections all week, since a Sunday newspaper first reported leaks of a government memo indicating doubts about the war's legality since it was not authorized by the United Nations.
Succumbing to relentless opposition and media pressure, Blair on Thursday published the confidential March 7, 2003, memo in which Attorney General Lord Goldsmith said existing U.N. Security Council resolutions provided "a reasonable case" for military action against Iraq, but advised that a new resolution authorizing force would be the "safest legal course."
Ten days later — and just three days before the war began — the attorney general made a written statement to Parliament that said without reservation that military action would be legal without a new resolution. Opponents have questioned whether Goldsmith was leaned on to change his mind. Blair insists the advice was consistent.
Until Blair released the text, Howard told AP, "we didn't know that the advice was full of caveats and warnings, we didn't know that it changed so much."
Blair would have lost the crucial vote in the House of Commons on going to war without the support of most of the Conservative members.
Though Howard wasn't the party leader then, he hasn't disavowed the war but has hit on issues such as Blair's use of what proved to be flawed intelligence — depicting Blair as deceitful.
"We know that the intelligence said on its face that it was limited, sporadic and patchy," Howard said. "He (Blair) said the intelligence was extensive, detailed and authoritative. There's no way you can match up those two sets of words."
Despite the dominance of Iraq as a campaign issue, Blair's Labour Party has stayed comfortably ahead in opinion polls.
A Populus survey for The Times newspaper on Friday put Labour at 40%, for the third day running. The main opposition Conservatives were up one point at 32% and the Liberal Democrats, the only major party to oppose the U.S.-led invasion, were unchanged at 21%.
Populus interviewed 1,429 adults by telephone between April 24-27, with a margin of error of three percentage points. But most of the interviews would have been done before the text of the summary of the memo was leaked to a television station. The poll could not measure any reaction to the publication of the full text on Thursday.
Blair, who also was campaigning in Wales Friday, referred to Iraq and other controversies of his eight years in office, saying "of course there are disappointments and disillusions and problems, that is life."
"But taking everything together I believe this country is stronger, better, fairer, than the one we inherited from the Conservatives in 1997," he said.
Posted by politicalstuff at 4:47 PM
** Buried in President Bush's recent 2,000 page spending bill is a three-sentence provision creating an eight-member "Sunset Commission" that would decide every ten years whether federal programs not "producing results" should be eliminated. For Bush and big business, that could mean no more nettlesome EPA, FDA or SEC. The panel will be stacked with corporate lobbyists and overseen by Bush budget man Clay Johnson, who as the head of state appointments for then-Gov Bush in Texas, replaced all three members of the state environmental-protection commission with reps from Monsanto, the Texas Beef Council and the oil industry. Once again, the Bush Administration's deregulatory fervor makes Reagan and Gingrich look mild by comparison.
** ExxonMobil CEO Lee Raymond recently admitted that his company--number two on the Fortune 500 list, with $25 billion in cash on hand--has so much money they don't even know how to spend it. The energy bill recently passed by the House, which gives $8 billion in tax breaks to the very people who are profiting from a surge in gas prices, will make Exxon even richer. "Each dollar jump in the price of a barrel of oil adds another half billion in earnings," writes Fortune magazine. "If oil simply stays where it is now, Exxon's cash could approach $40 billion in 12 months." Instead of investing some of that largess into developing alternative energy sources, Exxon has pumped $8 million into forty bogus think tanks perpetuating the propaganda that global warming is a hoax and "could actually save lives."
** Not only do they drive ostentatious combat-ready jeeps, but Republicans are also bad drivers. A new report found that volunteers who drove VIPs from one lavish party to the next at last year's Republican National Convention in New York racked up $138,279 in car repairs. The sixty vehicles loaned by General Motors were used for less than three weeks--resulting in an average of $6,585 in damages per day. Mayor Bloomberg personally donated $7 million for the convention Host Committee that shepherded Congressmen, governors and lobbyists, around town--at considerable risk it now appears.
** Joe Scarborough and Rush Limbaugh recently attacked Senator Ted Kennedy for releasing a statement commemorating "the sad anniversary of the Abu Ghraib torture scandal." You see, those are actually Kennedy code words for let's throw a world-class prison party. "These guys are happy as hell to be celebrating this today," Limbaugh charged. Much better to take Rush's approach circa May 2004, when he compared the release of the prison photos to "anything you'd see Madonna, or Britney Spears do on stage...I'm talking about people having a good time...You ever heard of the need to blow some steam off?"
** And then there's Sean Hannity, who apparently so fears his puppy dog Fox News co-host Alan Colmes that he actually coaches his guests to withstand Colmes' notoriously brutal cross-examinations. On a March 31 broadcast Hannity instructed two of Terri Schiavo's former nurses on how to sound fair and balanced: "Just say, 'I'm here to tell what I saw.' No matter what the question, 'I'm here to tell you what I saw. I'm here to tell you what I saw.'" On air, one of the nurses responded, "I don't have any opinion or judgments. I was there." Hannity was thrilled. "We got the points out. It's hard, this isn't easy." Passing off blatantly robotic Republican programming as professional journalism ain't easy.
Posted by politicalstuff at 4:42 PM
Bush's Press Conference: Little News, One Big Problem
There was not much news in George W. Bush's fourth primetime press conference. He acknowledged he could do nothing much about the high price of gas except to plead with the Saudis and other oil producers to boost production. He predictably called on Congress to pass an energy bill that would lead to more drilling and an expansion of nuclear power. While paying lip service to conservation, he only referred to developing technology that would save energy; he did not mention changing consumption patterns.
On Social Security, Bush stuck with privatized accounts, but he also advocated--in the only substantial news of the evening--means-testing cost of living adjustments for Social Security benefits, raising the prospect of real cuts for a majority of future beneficiaries. He tried to sugarcoat this hard-to-swallow news two way. First, he vowed that future recipients will receive benefits equal or greater to those being handed out today. But that was spin, for this carefully constructed explanation ignored the need to boost benefits to keep pace with inflation. Equal benefits would mean reduced benefits in real terms. Second, he suggested those who opt for a private account would end up making enough to compensate for the cuts, but polls show that a majority of Americans do not buy this argument. It may make policy sense--though not political sense--to turn Social Security into an outright welfare program: benefits for those who need them, less or none for the well-off. But Bush's vague proposal won't sell on Capital Hill or beyond. How many Republicans are eager to snatch benefits from middle- or high-income Americans? Minutes after Bush finished, Senator Sam Brownback, a conservative Republican from Kansas, was asked whether he would support a sliding scale for cost of living increases in Social Security benefits, and he said, "I don't think that's the route we ought to be going."
So with the two free throws Bush had before the questioning began, he failed to score. And during the course of the hour-long press conference, he misled the public on several key facts.
In discussing Social Security, Bush once more said that come 2041 the program will be "bankrupt." That makes it sound as if there will be no money available for retirees. At that point in time--or, according to estimates produced by the Congressional Budget Office, in 2051--the program will be able to give retirees 70 percent of the scheduled benefits. That's a problem, but it's not bankruptcy. Bush also repeated another false factoid about Social Security, claiming that "every year we wait" to reform Social Security it costs an additional $600 billion. As the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities and others--including the American Academy of Actuaries-- have pointed out, this is a phony number. The actuaries noted that when members of the public hear such a figure they are likely to "be misled into believing that the program's financial situation is deteriorating and the cost of restoring actuarial balance is increasing, even if this is not the case."
Talking about energy, Bush pushed for drilling in the Alaska wilderness, and he used an untrue argument that proponents of drilling have been tossing around for years. He said that the wilderness area encompasses 19 million acres, yet the drilling would only affect 2000 acres. Sounds like a drop in the bucket. But this 2000-acre figure was discredited long ago, for it only covers the area on which equipment touches the ground. It does not include, for example, all the land that would be used for pipelines and roads. By this method of measurement, a car takes up only several square inches of space--the area where the rubber hits the road.
Overall, the the press conference was not a grand performance--for either Bush or the reporters. The questions were not that sharp. And Bush was usually able to pull the rip cord for his same-old rhetoric. Asked about the controversial practice of renditions--under which terrorist suspects are sent by the CIA to other countries where torture may be conducted--he said, "We operate under the law," and he asserted, "We're going to do everything we can to protect us." One reporter simply wondered what Bush's view of the economy is at the moment. In response, Bush discussed the hardship imposed on small business by high gas prices. What about the National Education Association's lawsuit against the No Child Left Behind Act. The legislation is working, he insisted. North Korea and nuclear weapons? We're working through the six-party talks, he responded. John Bolton? A fine fellow who "isn't afraid to speak his mind." No one asked him to defend Tom DeLay or the administration's fantasy budget numbers.
On Iraq, Bush didn't deviate from his happy-talk approach: "I believe we're making really good progress." He declined to address the fact that insurgent attacks have returned to the high levels of last year. And he has yet to acknowledge in public that various military experts say that the insurgency can continue for years (perhaps decades) and that it could also take several years to train an Iraqi security force. When might US troops be withdrawn? As soon, he said, as Iraqis are "able to fight." Asked about the rise in the number of terrorist attacks worldwide last year--statistics that the State Department refused to release--Bush ran for cover, repeating his index-card rhetoric that it is necessary to fight terrorists abroad so they do not have to be confronted at home. It was a non sequitur. He refused--yet again--to criticize Russian leader Vladimir Putin for taking antidemocratic steps, noting that both he and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice recently had good chats with "Vladimir" about democracy. He refused to denounce Russia's decision to supply Iran with highly-enriched uranium for a nuclear power plant. He noted that "Vladimir is trying to help" Iran with its power needs and that Russia would collect the uranium after it was used. "I appreciate that gesture," he added. How understanding.
Perhaps the most interesting exchange came after NBC's David Gregory asked Bush to comment on the remark of a social conservative who said that the Democrats' filibustering of Bush's judicial nominees was an "attack against people of faith." Did Bush agree with that? Bush first replied that he believed that those who oppose his nominees do so because they "don't like the judicial philosophy of the people I'm nominating." But when Gregory pressed him about that particular remark, Bush said, "I don't agree with it." Was this a purposeful slap in the face of the James Dobson crowd? Chris Matthews breathlessly asked later. Probably not. But, no doubt, the White House was already figuring out what wet-kiss to plant on the social conservatives to make up for this moment.
With this press conference, Bush likely did little to boost his record-low approval ratings. And he did not do much to help his crusade to remake Social Security. He might have even shot himself in the foot--all while reporters looked on and rarely forced him into any difficult moments. Perhaps next time--if Bush ever schedules another primetime Q&A with the press--White House reporters can just ask Bush to talk for an hour about whatever is in the newspaper that day and see what happens.
Posted by politicalstuff at 4:31 PM
Photos of War Dead Released by Pentagon
Often, little context is provided and the faces of soldiers carrying coffins are blacked out.
By John Hendren
Times Staff Writer
April 29, 2005
WASHINGTON — Reversing a policy under fire, the Pentagon released photographs Thursday of flag-draped caskets bearing American soldiers killed in combat.
The pictures, taken by military photographers, were released in response to a Freedom of Information Act request by Ralph J. Begleiter, a University of Delaware professor and former CNN correspondent, who sought all photos of the caskets of soldiers who died in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan since October 2001.
The release reversed a policy that critics said had allowed Pentagon managers to conceal the reality of hundreds of coffins arriving home in U.S. military cargo planes.
The Defense Department made the photos public with few dates or locations and little context, making it unclear whether the individuals in any of the hundreds of pictures died in Iraq, Afghanistan or elsewhere. The faces of soldiers accompanying the coffins were blacked out.
"Each individual picture is looked at for Privacy Act and security reasons," said Navy Lt. Cmdr. Gregory Hicks , a Pentagon spokesman. "Individual judgments were made to black out some faces and identifiable information to protect privacy."
Plaintiffs in the case said there was no reason for the Pentagon to black out the faces, other than to make the images unusable. The Pentagon, they pointed out, routinely posts pictures — including identifiable shots of individual soldiers — on its Web page. The Pentagon said soldiers in those pictures had given permission for their images to be used, but those in the coffin photos were under the impression that they would not be publicly released.
It was the second release of vivid shots of camouflage-clad soldiers bearing the coffins of slain troops. The Air Force, responding to another FOIA request, released 361 photos in April from Dover Air Force Base in Delaware. The Pentagon continues to refuse to allow journalists to photograph the arriving coffins independently.
The ban on such photos was imposed before the 1991 Persian Gulf War by Defense Secretary Dick Cheney. Analysts said it was prompted by embarrassment after President George H.W. Bush was shown by three television networks in split-screen images. In one box, the president chatted breezily with White House reporters, sometimes joking. In the second frame were somber images of returning caskets from the U.S. assault on Panama.
Begleiter filed the FOIA request a year ago and then filed a lawsuit in October, seeking to force the release of the pictures. By releasing the pictures, the Pentagon preempted a ruling by U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan.
"This is an important victory for the American people, for the families of troops killed in the line of duty during wartime, and for the honor of those who have made the ultimate sacrifice for their country," Begleiter said in a statement.
"This significant decision by the Pentagon should make it difficult, if not impossible, for any U.S. government in the future to hide the human cost of war from the American people."
Posted by politicalstuff at 4:17 PM
Detainee Questioning Was Faked, Book Says
U.S. Military Denies Staging Interviews
By Carol D. Leonnig
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, April 29, 2005; A21
The U.S. military staged the interrogations of terrorism suspects for members of Congress and other officials visiting the military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to make it appear the government was obtaining valuable intelligence, a former Army translator who worked there claims in a new book scheduled for release Monday.
Former Army Sgt. Erik Saar said the military chose detainees for the mock interrogations who previously had been cooperative and instructed them to repeat what they had told interrogators in earlier sessions, according to an interview with the CBS television program "60 Minutes," which is slated to air Sunday night.
"They would find a detainee that they knew to have been cooperative," Saar told CBS. "They would ask the interrogator to go back over the same information," he said, calling it "a fictitious world" created for the visitors.
Saar worked as a translator at Guantanamo from December 2002 to June 2003. During that time, several members of Congress reported visiting the base, but military officials said they do not know precisely how many toured it.
Saar also told CBS, and claims in his upcoming book, "Inside the Wire," that a few dozen of the more than 750 men who have been held at the U.S. Navy base at Guantanamo Bay were terrorists, and that little valuable information has been obtained from them.
A spokesman for the U.S. military's Southern Command, which oversees Guantanamo Bay operations, dismissed the allegation of mock interrogations.
"I can say that we do not stage interrogations for VIP visits at Guantanamo," said Col. David McWilliams. "I don't want to characterize or comment on what Sergeant Saar believes. He's written his book."
A Defense Department official familiar with interrogations said Saar would not be privy to interview strategies. He noted that interrogators often ask the same questions in separate sessions to check a detainee's account.
Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) said she was "initially impressed" by interrogations she saw on a tour of Guantanamo Bay in February 2004 with members of the Homeland Security Committee. The delegation watched through mirrored glass as interrogators spoke in conversational tones and rewarded cooperative detainees with ice cream. Now, she believes, "we were duped."
"The amount and depth of the torture that's been alleged and corroborated leaves no doubt in my mind that what we saw was a staged interrogation," Norton said.
Michael Ratner, president of the Center for Constitutional Rights, which has led the legal challenge of detainees' imprisonment and alleged abusive interrogation techniques, said Saar's claims support lawyers' suspicions that the official tours of Guantanamo were phony.
"They couldn't show people what they were really doing, because what they were really doing was illegal and inhumane," Ratner said. "It's such a fraud. It reminds me of the special concentration camps set up in World War II. They would take the Red Cross there to see there was an orchestra and all sorts of nice things."
Saar also alleges in his book that he witnessed female interrogators use sexual humiliation and taunting in an effort to get detainees to talk. The general tactics he described were corroborated by Army officials, who have acknowledged disciplining two female interrogators for such acts. Numerous detainees have alleged they were victims of similar sexually suggestive interrogations.
Researcher Julie Tate contributed to this report.
Posted by politicalstuff at 3:35 PM
Thursday, April 28, 2005
Radar alert sends Bush into White House bunker
By Thomas Frank and Alan Levin, USA TODAY
A blip on a radar screen that was probably caused by a cloud or a flock of birds prompted security agencies Wednesday to evacuate President Bush and Vice President Cheney from the White House.
The alert was triggered at 10:35 a.m. when government radar screens showed a dot — mistaken for an airplane — about 30 miles south of Washington and moving slowly toward the city, said Federal Aviation spokeswoman Laura Brown.
Brown said the dot disappeared after about 10 minutes. She said it was not an aircraft but probably a cloud or several birds, which frequently show up on radar.
Security helicopters on patrol around the capital quickly determined that an airplane hadn't flown into restricted airspace, Homeland Security Department spokesman Brian Roehrkasse said.
Armed Secret Service officers surrounded the White House compound as Bush was taken from the Oval Office to a bunker underneath the building. White House spokesman Scott McClellan said Bush was in the Presidential Emergency Operations Center for only "a very short time."
Cheney was taken Wednesday to a secure location that was not disclosed.
The last time that either Bush or Cheney is known to have been in the bunker was on Sept. 11, 2001. Both spent part of the day there following the terrorist attacks. Bush has also been in the bunker on at least one other occasion before Wednesday, according to McClellan. It's "not the first time," he said, declining to elaborate.
Several federal agencies, including the Secret Service and FBI, have been monitoring radar around Washington since 9/11.
Wednesday's incident occurred as a congressional committee was approving a measure to allow private planes to fly within a mile of the White House and land at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport. Private planes have been barred from using the airport since 9/11 because their passengers, luggage and crew are not screened.
The Transportation Security Administration is developing a plan to gradually allow private planes to use the airport, TSA chief David Stone told lawmakers last month.
But the House transportation committee took its own step yesterday, approving a bill that would require the airport to be open to private planes within 60 days of the bill's approval.
"This sends a very clear message that we want something done," said House aviation subcommittee chairman John Mica, R-Fla.
The flight restriction has sent private planes to Dulles International Airport — 45 minutes from downtown Washington — or smaller airports in the area. But National Airport, a 10-minute drive from downtown Washington, "is hugely more convenient," said James Coyne, president of the National Air Transportation Association, which represents business charters.
Since 9/11, the TSA and FAA have allowed about 250 small planes, most of them carrying elected officials, to land at National if passengers are cleared by security and a law officer is on board.
Contributing: Judy Keen
Posted by politicalstuff at 12:51 PM
Soldier who fought assignment to Iraq gets honorable discharge, drops lawsuit
POTSDAM, N.Y. (AP) — The Army honorably discharged an officer who had gone to court to challenge his assignment to Iraq, saying he had properly resigned more than a year earlier.
Carl Petitto, 32, dropped his lawsuit against the Army after securing his honorable discharge, which took effect Thursday.
"I feel like I have a new lease on life," said Petitto, who resigned as a 1st Lt. Reserve Commissioned Officer to run two health care centers in rural northern New York.
After serving 14 years of active and reservist duty for the Army and Navy, Petitto filed for resignation in February 2004.
His lawyer said the military failed to respond for nearly a year, then denied the application. He was to report for duty on March 24 and faced deployment to Iraq for at least a year and a half.
An Army spokeswoman said she was not familiar with details of the case and could not immediately comment.
In November, the Army canceled mobilization orders for a Hawaii man who had been called for duty in Iraq 13 years after being discharged from the Army Reserves. He was told the problem had been caused by "an internal computer discrepancy."
That same month a former Army captain won his case after challenging his assignment to Iraq. He challenged his assignment to Iraq, saying he had properly resigned after eight years of service.
Posted by politicalstuff at 12:51 PM
A Quick Look at Bush's Press Conference
President Will Address Social Security, Energy in Primetime
Apr. 28, 2005 - President Bush will hold a news conference today at 8:30 p.m. ET in the East Room of the White House, his first prime-time news conference since April 13, 2004.
White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan said the press conference has been planned for a couple of weeks and that it will address Social Security reform and energy policies. Bush's "60 stops in 60 days" tour ends Sunday. Bush is expected to declare the tour "a success," and to lay out some specific ideas for "moving the bipartisan debate forward."
President Bush's press conference today will be his:
sixth since Election Day, Nov. 2, 2004
fourth since Inauguration Day, Jan. 20, 2005
fourth prime-time press conference since taking office in 2001
Counting today, Bush has held 17 solo press conferences at the White House since taking office in January 2001. This figure counts only press conferences when the president appeared alone at the White House, not on a foreign trip or with a foreign leader. A full list of his press conferences appears below.
President Bush has notably increased the frequency of his time in front of the White House press corps since his re-election. He has held a press conference every month since Election Day, and in all, six of his 17 total solo press conferences have come since Nov. 2, 2004.
President Bush's Press Conferences
The president's last press conference came on Wednesday, March 16, before the president left for his ranch in Crawford, Texas, for a 10-day trip over the Easter holiday.
The last five press conferences have all come around a major event or just before he leaves for a vacation.
Nov. 4, 2004 (2 days after the election)
Dec. 20, 2004 (before leaving for Crawford for Christmas)
Jan. 26, 2005 (post-inauguration and before the Iraqi election and State of the Union)
Feb. 17, 2005 (before leaving for Europe)
March 16, 2005 (before leaving for Crawford for Easter)
Before Election Day, President Bush's last press conference at the White House was April 13, 2004, in the East Room in the evening.
President Bush's solo White House press conferences:
April 28, 2005
March 16, 2005
Feb. 17, 2005
Jan. 26, 2005
Dec. 20, 2004
Nov. 4, 2004
April 13, 2004 (prime-time)
Dec. 15, 2003
Oct. 28, 2003
July 30, 2003
March, 6, 2003 (prime-time)
Nov. 7, 2002
July 8, 2002
October 11, 2001 (prime-time)
May 11, 2001
March 29, 2001
February 22, 2001
Posted by politicalstuff at 12:49 PM
Spitzer Sues Intermix Over 'Spyware'
By MICHAEL GORMLEY, Associated Press Writer 52 minutes ago
New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer on Thursday sued a major Internet marketer, claiming the company installed "spyware" and "adware" that secretly install nuisance pop-up advertisements which can slow and crash personal computers.
Shares of the company, Intermix Media Inc. of Los Angeles, fell 55 cents, or 11 percent, to $4.25 in midday trading on the American Stock Exchange.
Spitzer said the suit combats the redirecting of home computer users to unwanted Web sites and its own Web site that includes ads, the adding of unnecessary toolbar items and the delivery of unwanted ads that pop up on computer screens. After a six-month investigation Spitzer concluded the company installed a wide range of advertising software on countless personal computers nationwide.
"Spyware and adware are more than an annoyance," Spitzer said. "These fraudulent programs foul machines, undermine productivity and in many cases frustrate consumers' efforts to remove them from their computers. These issues can serve to be a hindrance to the growth of e-commerce."
An Intermix spokesman didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.
Spitzer's civil suit accuses Intermix of violating state General Business Law provisions against false advertising and deceptive business practices. He also accuses them of trespass under New York common law.
The company is accused of downloading ads and software that directs ads to a computer based on the user's activities. Spitzer's investigators said the downloads then attach to computers, often slowing their operation and crashing the computers as well as interfering with use of the computer through pop-up ads. Often the downloads were made without notice when a user visited a Web site, played a game or accepted a screen saver. Sometimes the user was asked permission through an often vague reference in a lengthy licensing agreement which could be misleading or inaccurate, investigators said.
Spitzer, after taking on Wall Street and the insurance industry, is taking a harder look at Internet companies he feels are stunting the growth of Internet commerce, or e-commerce.
"We are looking across the industry at these practices because it really does go to the core of e-commerce," said Kenneth Dreifach, chief of Spitzer's Internet Bureau, "Increasingly, people don't feel in control."
The advertisers, which include Fortune 500 companies, aren't targeted.
The programs sometimes omitted "un-install" applications and couldn't be removed by most computers' add/remove function, Spitzer said.
More than 3.7 million downloads were made to New Yorkers alone and although there is no national estimate, Spitzer seeks a nationwide resolution of the case.
"When dealing with these types of online practices, effectively you're talking about a nationwide resolution because it's very difficult if not impossible to isolate your practices based on a state," said Assistant Attorney General Justin Brookman.
Dreifach said negotiations with the company didn't result in a settlement. And more cases are possible.
"One of Internet users' biggest frustrations today is unwanted software that sneaks onto computers without their owner's consent and cannot be uninstalled," Ari Schwartz, the Associate Director Center for Democracy and Technology, "The practices alleged in this case are widespread on the Internet."
On the Net:
Posted by politicalstuff at 12:47 PM
But Did He Inhale?
Anti-Castro Majority Leader Tom DeLay enjoys a fine Cuban cigar
By KAREN TUMULTY
Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. And sometimes, according to House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, a cigar is an economic prop to a brutal totalitarian regime. Arguing against loosening sanctions against Cuba last year, DeLay warned that Fidel Castro "will take the money. Every dime that finds its way into Cuba first finds its way into Fidel Castro's blood-thirsty hands.... American consumers will get their fine cigars and their cheap sugar, but at the cost of our national honor."
DeLay has long been one of Congress' most vocal critics of what he calls Castro's "thugocracy," which is why some sharp-eyed TIME readers were surprised last week to see a photo of the Majority Leader smoking one of Cuba's best—a Hoyo de Monterrey double corona, which generally costs about $25 when purchased overseas and is not available in this country. The cigar's label clearly states that it was made in "Habana." The photo was taken in Jerusalem on July 28, 2003, during a meeting between DeLay and the Republican Jewish Coalition at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem.
"Generally, the Hoyo de Monterrey is considered a very good cigar, especially in those oversizes," says Gregory Mottola, tasting coordinator for Cigar Aficionado magazine. A review of the Hoyo de Monterrey double corona on the website www.topcubans.com raves: "Love at first sight. The beauty of the stick, is matched by it's (sic) paradisiacal even roundness in the smoke. The Hoyo sweet tastes (crushed cacao/coffee, Moroccan leather), give this cigar a childish naughtiness character. This is a smoke full of prestige and smooth class."
DeLay's smoke may have run afoul of his principles, but it did not violate U.S. regulations at the time. However, it would now. Last September, the Treasury Department Office of Foreign Assets Control tightened its prohibitions against U.S. citizens importing or consuming Cuban cigars. Even Americans licensed to bring back up to $100 worth of Cuban goods are no longer allowed to include tobacco products in what they carry. The regulation also noted that Americans are barred not only from purchasing Cuban goods in foreign countries, but also from consuming them in those countries.
Asked about the Majority Leader's consumption of a Cuban cigar, his spokesman Dan Allen replied there has been "no change in our Cuban policy."
originally published Apr. 27, 2005
Posted by politicalstuff at 12:23 PM
Bush signs law targeting P2P pirates
By Declan McCullagh
File-swappers who distribute a single copy of a prerelease movie on the Internet can be imprisoned for up to three years, according to a bill that President Bush signed into law on Wednesday.
The Family Entertainment and Copyright Act, approved by the House of Representatives last Tuesday, represents the entertainment industry's latest attempt to thwart rampant piracy on file-swapping networks. Movies such as "Star Wars: Episode II," "Tomb Raider" and "The Hulk," have been spotted online before their theatrical releases.
The law had drawn some controversy because it broadly says that anyone who has even one copy of an unreleased film, software program or music file in a shared folder could be subjected to prison terms and fines of up to three years. Penalties would apply regardless of whether that file was downloaded or not.
In a statement, Motion Picture Association of America president Dan Glickman said he wanted to "thank the congressional sponsors of this legislation for their strong advocacy for intellectual property rights."
The Family Entertainment and Copyright Act also includes sections criminalizing the use of camcorders to record a movie in a theater, and authorizing the use of technologies that can delete offensive content from a film.
"The protection of intellectual property rights is vital to the movie industry," said Rep. Lamar Smith, a Texas Republican who joined Bush for the signing ceremony. "This bill is necessary to ensure that all those involved in the production of a film, from the director to the set carpenter, are not cheated."
The law's stiff penalties apply to "audiovisual" works, music and software that are "being prepared for commercial distribution." It's not clear how that would apply to fans who redistribute video files of TV shows aired in other countries first, or movies like Shaolin Soccer and Japanese anime flicks that can take years to arrive in the U.S. market.
While some public interest groups have criticized the measure, others characterized it as a modest expansion to a 1997 law that made copyright infringement a crime--even when no money changed hands.
Eric Goldman, who teaches copyright law at Marquette University Law School, said that the Justice Department will likely wield its new criminal enforcement powers responsibly. "I'm not as outraged by the (new law) as I expected to be," Goldman wrote last week.
Posted by politicalstuff at 2:09 AM
Drop in Durable Goods Orders Indicates Slowdown
By Nell Henderson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, April 28, 2005; E01
New orders for big-ticket manufactured goods plunged in March at the steepest rate in more than two years, for a third consecutive monthly drop, the government reported yesterday, adding to other signs of a cooling economy.
The Commerce Department report undercut many analysts' expectations that rising business investment would provide more fuel for economic growth this year just as consumers started to slow their spending because of higher energy costs, rising interest rates, lagging wage growth and loads of debt.
The news also proved disappointing to those who had welcomed the surge in business spending late last year as a sign that the last missing piece of the economic recovery had fallen into place after three years of reluctance to hire and invest.
"There is no longer any question about the economy's sharp slowdown," said Charles W. McMillion, president of MBG Information Services, an economic analysis firm in the District. The report suggests "that the slowdown in spending by hard-pressed consumers is spreading to business investment."
The news is unlikely to change Federal Reserve officials' plans to raise their benchmark short-term interest rate again when they meet Tuesday, to 3 percent from 2.75 percent, to keep inflation contained.
But the weak report strengthens the hand of those Federal Reserve officials and staff who favor sticking to a gradual, or "measured," pace of rate increases and who are considering whether to leave rates unchanged at the Fed's following meeting in late June. By then, they will have economic data for April and May and will have a better sense of the strength of both economic growth and inflationary pressures.
New orders for durable goods expected to last at least three years, such as cars, appliances and aircraft, tumbled 2.8 percent in March, the biggest drop since September 2002, Commerce reported yesterday.
The department also revised its previous estimate for February from a gain to a drop of o.2 percent, which means new orders declined for three months in a row -- the first time that has happened since July through September of 2001, during the last recession.
The durable goods report yesterday added to others that have quickly altered Fed officials' sense of the economy's strength since their last meeting, March 22. They said then that the economy was growing at a "solid" pace and noted rising inflation pressures -- which many investors took as a warning that the Fed might raise rates more aggressively in coming months.
Since then, Fed officials and investors have learned that hiring, retail spending, consumer confidence and durable goods orders all fell last month and that the trade gap widened in February.
"The March decline was as broad as it was deep, with orders falling in machinery, computers, fabricated metals, motor vehicles and aircraft," noted David Huether, chief economist for the National Association of Manufacturers. "This signals that the overall pace of business investment is cooling."
Economists have blamed most of the consumer pullback on energy costs, which rose steeply in March through early April and have stabilized since. The national average price for gasoline rose to a high, not adjusted for inflation, of $2.28 for a gallon of regular by April 11 but had ebbed to $2.23 yesterday, according to AAA.
Fed officials have hoped that the economic slowdown would pass and inflation pressures would ease if energy prices stop rising.
"Most forecasters expect growth to remain solid," Fed Board member Donald L. Kohn said in a speech Friday.
But Kohn's comments also reflected his belief then that "business investment in capital equipment has surged" recently.
Instead, the Commerce report showed that a category called core capital goods, which excludes aircraft and is considered a reliable guide to business investment, fell by 7 percent from January to March, said Paul Ashworth, senior international economist for Capital Economics Ltd., in an analysis for clients. That almost wiped out the 7.9 percent jump from November to January, he said.
The slide in durable goods orders "is a particular concern because with higher energy prices hitting [consumer spending] in the second quarter, we were looking for business investment to drive growth," Ashworth said. "Unfortunately, these figures suggest investment too may be faltering."
Economists debated the reasons for the falloff in investment. Huether, of NAM, blamed congressional inaction on a number of issues for creating uncertainties for business.
"Uncertainty about many key policies that impact economic growth -- energy prices, legal reform, Social Security reform, soaring health care costs, trade issues, tax policy -- are keeping investors on the sidelines," Huether said.
Other economists attributed the pullback to the same forces affecting consumers -- rising interest rates and energy costs.
John Silvia, chief economist of Wachovia Securities, said the numbers reflect the decision of many companies to invest in China and elsewhere abroad rather than in the United States.
Many analysts had expected the economy to slow this year, after several years in which growth was pumped up by tax cuts and super-low interest rates. With high energy prices adding another drag, Silvia is forecasting the economy to grow around 3 percent this year, down from 4.4 percent last year.
Posted by politicalstuff at 2:05 AM
Panel Questions Patriot Act Uses
By Dana Priest
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, April 28, 2005; A07
Members of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence pushed the nation's top law enforcement and intelligence officials yesterday to share more information on the use and effectiveness of the most controversial provisions of the USA Patriot Act.
"I think we need to have more public disclosure in examining and assessing its impact," Sen. Olympia J. Snowe (R-Maine) said. "We are to some extent doing oversight in the dark," Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) said.
Members at the sparsely attended hearing told Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales, FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III and CIA Director Porter J. Goss that the public is not comfortable with roving wiretaps, delayed notification searches and new authorities to obtain the library, credit card and health records of individuals who are not the subject of a criminal investigation but who might be of intelligence value in terrorism probes.
But none of the members at the hearing, one of a series in recent weeks to consider reauthorizing 16 provisions of the act due to expire at year's end, suggested they were concerned enough to vote against renewing the provisions or making them permanent.
"From last week's hearings, it appears that there's broad support for the proposition" that the act's provisions should be made permanent," with some changes, said Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.). Gonzales has proposed some technical modifications.
Civil rights groups and politicians, including conservative organizations, have criticized some provisions as lacking enough checks to avoid abuse. Members said their constituents continue to have fundamental questions, as Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.) put it, about "what agencies within the federal government can, quote, spy, or place American citizens under surveillance . . . Who does what, when?" It was a question easier asked than answered.
"So can the CIA spy on the American people?" Mikulski asked Gonzales.
"The primary responsibility falls upon the Department of Justice, not the CIA."
"Can the CIA spy on the American -- " she tried again.
"No," answered Gonzales, only to be amended later by Mueller. "Surveillance of American citizens for national security matters is in the hands, generally, of the FBI," Mueller told Mikulski. "The investigation or development of intelligence overseas is in the hands of the CIA and NSA [National Security Agency]. And generally, I would say generally, they are not allowed to spy or to gather information on American citizens. But there are limited exceptions to that."
While the National Security Act prohibits the CIA from spying on U.S. citizens in the United States, the agency can, in limited cases, spy on U.S. citizens abroad who are in contact with foreigners who are the target of CIA surveillance for possible terrorism ties.
Posted by politicalstuff at 2:04 AM