The Bush-Cheney Tapes: Fresh Evidence For George W. Bush's Ranking As the Worse U.S. President
President Feared Gestapo-style U.S. Torture Hurt His "Compassionate Conservative" Image
"The National Security Agency has released hundreds of pages of long-secret documents on the 1964 Gulf of Tonkin incident..." --"Vietnam War Intelligence 'Deliberately Skewed,'" Secret Study Says, N.Y. Times, December 2, 2005
"One former senior official, who served in Bush's first term, (said that) after September 11 he was told that Bush felt that `God put me here' to deal with the war on terror.
Bush saw the (2002 Republican Congressional) victory as a purposeful message from God that `he's the man.' Publicly, Bush depicted his reelection as a referendum on the war; privately, he spoke of it as another manifestation of divine purpose." -- "Up In the Air," Seymour Hersh, The New Yorker, November 28, 2005
WASHINGTON, DECEMBER 9, 2045: The National Security Agency has released hundreds of pages of long-secret telephone transcripts of conversations between former President George W. Bush and his Vice-President Richard Cheney, that occurred in December 2005, at a low point in the Bush Presidency.
These tapes provide the first confirmation of reports by Seymour Hersh, a well-known New Yorker journalist. Hersh had reported that Mr. Bush refused to pull out of Iraq, despite the massive evidence that his intervention was a fiasco strengthening America's enemies, partly because he believed his policy was divinely-inspired.
The tapes are also noteworthy for revealing Mr. Bush's hitherto unknown concerns about the damage done to his personal image from his identification with torture. While the President had no moral qualms about torturing people without evidence of their guilt, he apparently did fear that doing so might hurt his image as a "compassionate conservative." He is heard on the tape expressing concern that he was looking like an "idiot" for claiming the U.S. didn't torture even as his Administration lobbied for torture; and he feared appearing "weird" because the U.S. was practicing the same near-drowning technique - called "waterboarding" - that was commonly used by the Nazi Gestapo in World War II.
This material will not only be a boon for historians of the Bush-Cheney Presidency, but also lexicographers interested in the etymology of the common use of their names. Both men's names have become epithets among the younger generation who, according to a recent poll, agree with the statement that "the world would be a far better place today had George W. Bush and Richard Cheney never been born" by a margin of 95-5. A majority of 85-15 agreed with the statement that "George W. Bush and Richard Cheney would have been found guilty of crimes against humanity had international laws forbidding torture, to which the U.S. was a signatory, been applied to them."
"Bush" is defined by the new Webster's as "1. adj. foolish, stupid, dumb; 2. n. an individual with native intelligence who is mentally lazy and emotionally disengaged, and has no idea of the immense damage he does. 3. n. an insecure leader needing constant praise who is indifferent to the fate of his own descendants and future generations."
"Cheney", is defined as "1. adj. venal; evil 2. n. a torturer and war criminal, responsible for torturing other human beings without evidence of their guilt in violation of international law, human decency, and common sense. 3. n. a vulgar, foul-mouthed, deceptive, secretive, opportunist with no moral center."
Polls show that Mr. Bush is regarded by the public and historians alike as by far the worst leader in American history. His name is cursed globally because his Administration accelerated the global warming and other biospheric problems which have in recent decades killed so many millions, impoverished so many tens of millions more, led to the disappearance of numerous coastal regions and much of Bangladesh, and caused mass migrations and diseases on a scale never before seen in human history.
And he is hated in his own country for having amassed a huge government debt which Americans today are still repaying, and for his wrong-headed intervention in Iraq - which fatally weakened the U.S. military, needlessly killed thousands of young Americans, and vastly increased the Muslim terrorism which has killed hundreds of thousands of American citizens. Historians date the decline of America to Mr. Bush's Administration (2000-2008).
Discussing the significance of the tapes, Harvard historian John Adams explained:
"These tapes are significant because they occurred in December 2005, the period which launched the psychological meltdown which occurred during Mr. Bush's final three years in office. Bush, regarded as second-rate `junior' to his far more successful father throughout his life, had finally begun to feel like a man in his own right after winning re-election in 2004. But then things fell apart for him in 2005.
"The President is revealed in these tapes as a deeply insecure man who compensated for his inner feelings of inadequacy with a surface bluster and superstitious belief that he was acting on God's orders. These conversations give a clearer insight into why he did so much damage between 2006 and 2008, accusing his critics of having "stabbed America in the back", and sowing a legacy of national discord. Fearing that he had failed his lifelong psychological project of becoming a man worthy of respect in his own right, he just didn't give a psychological damn anymore.
"And finally, these tapes reveal that Richard Cheney is commonly regarded `as the most powerful Vice-President in U.S. history' because Mr. Bush was psychologically dominated by him. They help explain why he continued to rely on Mr. Cheney despite his disastrous and wrong-headed advice on Iraq, defense and energy policy, and torture, and the indictment of Mr. Cheney's chief of staff for perjury. These tapes also confirm that Mr. Cheney possessed a mean streak and unusual foul-mouthed vulgarity. This had been suspected after he lost control of himself and snarled "go fuck yourself!" to a respected Senator on the floor of the U.S. Senate, but its extent has not been revealed until now.
The full transcript of a December 9 conversation between Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney follows:
BUSH: "Dick, I understand the Democrats criticizing us, that's just politics. But you need to go down to Congress and talk turkey to the Judases on our side of the aisle. Remind them how I said before the last election that I listen to the greatest Father of them all here. How could anyone in their right mind not understand that when the Big Man talks, I have to listen? They need to understand that pulling out is not an option unless we want to lose His favor. And if that happens, they face eternal damnation! They need to get rational here. Have they lost their minds? Can't they think any more? Are they really willing to ignore the evidence that we are only doing what He wants?
CHENEY: "Mr. President, I am on my f___g way!
BUSH: Take 'em through the evidence, Dick. Logically. First I lose the popular vote in 2000. But He ensures that a Republican Supreme Court puts me in anyway. Second by making me President when 9/11 happens, not that gutless Al Gore, He ensures that America has a strong leader to combat those godless fanatics. Third, the Democrats put up a brainy war hero in 2004. But He so addles his brain - "I voted for the bill after I voted against it", letting the Swifties kneecap him - that I win in a walk. And the number He does on Dan Rather! Hoo boy! Fourth, He is presently protecting America. It's been a certified miracle there have been no more 9/11s given how fouled up Homeland Security has become.
"These are facts, see. Anyone with half a brain can see what they mean. And ask them this, Dick: is your seat in Congress worth a lifetime in Hell? How much more evidence do they need to see that God put me here to deal with the war on terror? I want you to ask each one of them directly: do you really expect the President of the United States, who has accepted Jesus Christ as his personal Savior, to disobey the Lord Our God? What are they thinking? Are they nuts? Failure is not an option, not for anyone who wants to sit at the right hand of God for the rest of time!
CHENEY: "I hear you, Mr. President, and don't worry about a f____g thing. By the time I'm done with those p___ies, they'll be eating out of our hands. And as for the Democrats, we'll have one basic message for them: "go f_____ yourself!" We're going to shove that talk of troops withdrawals right up their big fat Democratic a___es! Big time! They'll be f___g squealing for mercy like Iraqi prisoners, the a___h___s! Can you imagine that c___ Pelosi (NB: Nancy Pelosi, leader of House Democrats) challenging your leadership? That b___h is actually the perfect symbol for those Democrats: they have no b___s! Heh, heh. Get it?"
BUSH: "Heh, heh. Yeh. And look Dick, remind them that as good a man as my father was, when he left office Saddam did not. It took me - and my Great Helper In the Sky - to do what my earthly father could not. I'm the man, Dick! Chosen by our Heavenly Father!"
CHENEY: "F___ g A, Mr. President! You know I loved your father, but he just didn't have your b__s when the s___t hit the fan. History will record that you're more of a f___ ing man than your father ever was. I was there, Mr. President, and he and that p____sy Brent (National Security Advisor Brent Scowcroft, a former mentor to the opportunistic Cheney, who said in 2005 he no longer knew who the formerly centrist Cheney was) were p____g in their pants at the idea of overthrowing Saddam. It took a man like you to stick it right up Saddam's a____ hole."
BUSH: "Right, Dick. I hear you. But I gotta ask you about one thing. This whole torture business. I know we've got to torture, but I sound like an idiot. On the one hand you've got me saying we never torture. On the other, you've got me saying we need to torture so bad that I'm going to veto the Defense Bill because of the anti-torture clause. (An amendment submitted by Senator John McCain disallowing torture.)
"I don't get it. How can I both say we never torture and lobby for torture at the same time? And I'm worried that it doesn't really work with the `compassionate conservative' thing. I mean it looks funny."
MR. CHENEY: "Mr. President, torture is a defining hallmark of this Administration. It is what we are f___ all about. Strength. Standing up to f___g terrorism! Your ability to torture people who oppose this nation is non-f___g negotiable. The problem is that sanctimonious p____k McCain, who's just trying to position himself for 2008. I know the a___hole was tortured in Hanoi and all that. But g____n it, he needs to get over it, to stop being a f___g cry-baby and start thinking of his country! It helped us then to beat up on those a__holes the North Vietnamese for torturing. But now we need a free hand to f___g do it ourselves."
MR. BUSH: "Yeh, yeh, McCain! `Please don't torture me, please don't torture me!' He's pitiful. But we've still got a problem here, Dick. I mean I was watching this World War II movie the other night, and the Nazi GESTAPO (emphasis added) was ducking people in water. And the next day I read in the Washington Post that we're doing the same thing, calling it `waterboarding'. It looks weird. I mean, the Gestapo?
MR. CHENEY: "Mr. President, I told you how the media has reported that Condi (Secretary of State Condelezza Rice) is as popular as a f___ing "global rock star" these days! Those stupid Japs went crazy for that idiotic P.R. gimmick of having that fat Jap (NB: a nationally-known Sumo wrestler) meet her plane. Plus, as you so wisely predicted, nothing goes over better with those politically correct European a___ holes than a Negro gal.
Just yesterday she had those s___head NATO Defense ministers saying torture was a non-issue after just meeting with her for an hour! If anyone can make torture a non-f____g issue, Mr. President, she can. And the best part of it is she won't be like that p___k (NB: former Secretary of State) Colin Powell, judasing you out later on. She's loyal, Mr. President!"
BUSH: "Oh, yeah, isn't Condi a great gal! Condi'll do anything I ask her. Anything! Can you imagine a former provost for Stanford University willing to justify torture? Now that's loyalty!"
MR. CHENEY: "Mr. President, the basic issue is f___g simple. Torture is the only way to get information, g_____ it! How are we to stop those motherf___g ragheads if we're not allowed to torture their sorry little a___s? The great leaders of history like yourself were not weak p___ies worried about `human rights'. You know as well as I do it's the winners who write the f___g history books. When we prevail in Iraq, noone is going to remember your killing that d___h__d McCain's amendment."
MR. BUSH: "Well, I know one thing, Dick. We're going to win in Iraq, no matter what the N.Y. Times says. Of course, they're godless atheists, they can't understand. But I know that My Father did not bring me this far to fail me now. Why would He do that? It just doesn't make sense. People need to use their heads, darn it! I can't even imagine pulling out of Iraq. It would make a mockery of me and everything this Administration stands for. Not going to happen!"
MR. CHENEY: "Of course, Mr. President, withdrawal is a non-f____ starter. The only way we can lose is if those spineless a____holes in Congress force us out. And if that happens, we'll make sure that every American knows that our brave young boys were stabbed in the back here at home by the f_____ Democrats. We are going to f____ these b____ds so badly that they'll be p___ing in their pants! F___ them, Mr. President, you have nothing to worry about! Your place in history is secure!
MR. BUSH: "Well, Dick, I'm sure you're as right on this as you have been on everything else!"
To explore the impact of these tapes on the younger generation, these transcripts were shown to a group of college students studying American politics at Georgetown University.
"Boy, I never understood the real meaning of the word bush before. What an idiot Bush was! How could he keep Cheney around after he totally screwed up on the war in Iraq, energy policy, torture and so much else?," asked Stacey Kelly, a freshman.
And the Vice-President - what a cheney!," said David Brown, a second-year student. "How could America allow itself be so identified with torture?," he added. "Why wasn't this cheney seen as the national disgrace he was? Couldn't people see that he shamed and dishonored an entire nation, turned the world against us, and vastly increased the torture of Americans?"
"Don't be bush, dude!," George Smith, also a second-year student, said. "All those cheney lobbyists and corporations were getting rich. They kept the Republicans in control of Congress to the very end, so impeachment wasn't on the table. It would have taken a revolution to turn things around!
"The bottom-line is that a large segment of the public was so afraid of terrorism that they turned to the President to protect them, even though his incompetence was the greatest ally the terrorists had. Given this, it would have taken alot more integrity and courage than either the mass media, Democrats, or other opinion-leaders possessed to tell the real truth to the American people.
"Reading these transcripts just confirms what we already know, dude. Those venal idiots are dead and gone, but we're still here, paying for their bush and cheney mistakes. And our kids and grandkids will still be paying for them for a long time to come. It's cheney, man, really cheney. If only they'd never been born."
Saturday, December 10, 2005
Valerie Plame Said to Leave Job at CIA
Valerie Plame Reportedly Leaves Job at CIA As Investigation of Bush White House Continues
By PETE YOST
The Associated Press
WASHINGTON - Valerie Plame, the CIA officer whose exposure led to a criminal investigation of the Bush White House, spent her last day at the spy agency Friday.
Neither the agency nor Plame's husband would confirm her departure, but two people who have known Plame for a number of years confirmed she was leaving.
Married to Bush administration critic and former U.S. Ambassador Joseph Wilson, Plame was working at agency headquarters in Langley, Va., in 2003 when her CIA status was disclosed by conservative columnist Robert Novak. That triggered a probe that led to the recent indictment of Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff, I. Lewis Libby.
Plame had served for many years at overseas postings for the CIA, and her employment remained classified when she took a headquarters desk job, traveling overseas periodically.
She was an employee in the CIA's Counterproliferation Division.
"Her career was arbitrarily and whimsically destroyed by a mean political trick," said Vincent Cannistraro, a former chief of operations for the CIA's Counterterrorism Center.
Plame's CIA connection was disclosed eight days after her husband accused the Bush administration of twisting prewar intelligence to exaggerate the Iraqi threat.
In the preface to the paperback edition of his book, "The Politics of Truth," Wilson says that he and his wife were the focus of a "Republican smear machine."
Deputy White House chief of staff Karl Rove, President Bush's top political adviser, remains under investigation in the Plame probe. Libby, who resigned from the government the day of his indictment, has pleaded not guilty to five counts of perjury, obstruction of justice and lying to the FBI.
Plame has been cast by Bush administration defenders as "just a desk jockey at the CIA, someone who wasn't really undercover and a manipulative Mata Hari who aspired to bring down the Bush administration. All of that is false," said former CIA officer Larry Johnson, a friend of Plame. "At the end of the day, she was betrayed by her own government and they show no signs of remorse."
Posted by politicalstuff at 1:42 AM
Death toll from bird flu hits 70 as Thai boy dies
By Panarat Thepgumpanat and Maggie Fox
BANGKOK/WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A Thai boy has become the 70th person to die of bird flu, authorities said on Friday, as reports warned a flu pandemic could cost the U.S. economy hundreds of billions of dollars as well as millions of lives.
China has also reported a new case of H5N1, the fifth person in the country known to have been infected with the deadly virus. The 31-year-old woman farmer, who lived in Heishan county of Liaoning province, has since recovered.
Chinese officials were accused of concealing bird flu outbreaks in several provinces for many months this year, according to comments from a leading virologist in Hong Kong published in Canada's Globe and Mail newspaper on Friday.
The death of the 5-year-old boy from the central province of Nakhon Nayok, 110 km (70 miles) from Bangkok, took Thailand's bird flu death toll to 14 out of 22 known cases since the virus swept through large parts of Asia in late 2003.
It was not certain how the boy caught the virus, which usually strikes those in close contact with infected fowl or their droppings. The boy, who died in hospital on Wednesday, was not known to have had direct contact with chickens.
"We believe that the boy contracted the virus from his surroundings because, although his family does not raise chickens, there are chickens raised in his neighborhood," said Thawat Suntrajarn, head of the Health Ministry's Disease Control Department.
That would follow the usual pattern of human infections of the virus, which has not yet shown signs of evolving into a form which could pass easily from person to person.
Experts say that is the great fear. If the H5N1 virus did acquire that ability, it could set off a pandemic which could kill millions of people without immunity to the new strain.
The virus is now endemic in poultry in parts of Asia and countries around the world are preparing plans to deal with a pandemic that could cause massive economic losses.
China has reported more than 30 outbreaks of bird flu and two deaths among cases where the virus has spread to humans.
Beijing has promised resources and openness in fighting bird flu after being widely criticized for an initial cover-up of the SARS virus in 2003.
But Guan Yi of the University of Hong Kong, one of the world's leading experts on the subject, told the Globe and Mail newspaper that bird flu was "out of control in China".
"Quite honestly, some provinces have the virus and they still haven't announced any outbreak. I can show direct evidence, even though China is still trying very hard to block my research," the newspaper quoted him as saying.
However, the World Health Organization (WHO) said it had seen nothing to suggest China was hiding cases of bird flu.
"We don't have any evidence China is concealing anything ... We don't have any information to substantiate claims Guan Yi is making, but clearly he is a respected scientist," said WHO spokeswoman Maria Cheng in Geneva.
A pandemic could cause a serious recession in the U.S. economy, with immediate costs of between $500 and $675 billion, according to two new reports.
New Jersey based WBB Securities LLC predicted a pandemic could cause a one-year economic loss of $488 billion and a permanent economic loss of $1.4 trillion to the U.S. economy.
The World Bank has predicted a pandemic could cost the global economy $800 billion a year.
If the virus mutates into a form which passes between humans, it is likely to closely resemble the 1918 pandemic strain of flu that killed anywhere between 20 million and 100 million people, separate reports released by WBB and the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) said.
This means 30 percent of the population would be infected and more than 2 percent would die, the report from the CBO said.
"Further, CBO assumed that those who survived would miss three weeks of work, either because they were sick, because they feared the risk of infection at work, or because they needed to care of family or friends," the report reads.
The CBO said a pandemic could deal a $675 billion hit to the U.S. economy.
(Additional reporting by Kanokwan Boonngok in Bangkok; Richard Cowan, Susan Heavey and Maggie Smith in Washington; Emma Graham-Harrison in Beijing; Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva and David Ljunggren in Ottawa)
Posted by politicalstuff at 1:40 AM
Entergy appeal for New Orleans aid rejected
By Richard Cowan and Chris Baltimore
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Bush administration has denied requests from Entergy Corp. for $350 million in federal aid to help rebuild the company's electric generating facilities in storm-ravaged New Orleans, according to documents obtained by Reuters on Friday.
"We believe that transferring federal tax dollars to the bondholders and shareholders of a private firm is inappropriate," said Allan Hubbard, President George W. Bush's top economic adviser who also chairs a White House council on rebuilding the Gulf Coast following Hurricane Katrina.
Hubbard conveyed the message in a November 18 letter to Entergy Corp. Executive Vice President Curt Hebert, who is a former chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.
The letter was part of a bitter exchange between the White House and Entergy last month. Entergy has warned of more than $1 billion in damages, and its New Orleans unit was forced into bankruptcy.
An Entergy spokeswoman noted that the U.S. has "made money available to ConEd (the New York utility) after (the attacks of September 11, 2001), the airlines and other private business."
An administration official, who asked not to be identified, also warned that any attempt by lawmakers to aid Entergy by inserting federal dollars into must-do spending bills speeding through Congress next week would raise a red flag.
"There are administration officials who are keeping their eye out very closely for this kind of thing and I think it's very safe to anticipate strong opposition should someone (in Congress) suggest it," the official said.
The tension between the White House and Entergy comes as Gulf Coast lawmakers have been clamoring for more aggressive federal aid to clean up and rebuild the region. About $62 billion in emergency aid has been appropriated, with much of that unspent.
Since the late-August destruction from Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans-based Entergy has been waging an aggressive lobbying campaign for federal aid. It is the primary supplier of electricity to the New Orleans area, where large parts of the city are still without power.
A November 16 letter to the White House from Entergy warned that its board of directors was poised to "consider whether to continue to finance Entergy New Orleans."
The administration official told Reuters that Entergy has alluded to the possibility the city of New Orleans might have to take over the utility's operations.
In September, the company, a large U.S. utility operating in Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas, approached the White House seeking $500 million in aid to help the company rebuild power plants and power lines destroyed by Hurricane Katrina, according to the administration official.
Hebert delivered a revised request for aid, this time for $350 million, at a November 15, meeting with Hubbard and Don Powell, who oversees federal efforts to rebuild the Gulf Coast.
In rejecting that request, Hubbard noted Entergy Corp.'s 2004 revenues of $10 billion and $29 billion in assets. Saying the Bush administration respects "the right of your board to decide how to allocate financial resources, such as last year's $909 million in earnings," Hubbard added that it was "inappropriate to transfer taxpayer resources to those investors after the fact for a risk they chose to take."
In a seven-page, single-spaced response dated November 28, Hebert said, "We are very disappointed by your response. Without immediate federal assistance, it is unlikely that Entergy New Orleans can continue as a viable commercial entity."
In a footnote, Hebert says the utility was "somewhat disappointed" by Hubbard's references to Entergy's revenues. "We fail to understand how this is relevant to this policy debate," Hebert said.
Hebert told Hubbard that utility rates are set by state commissions, and that state commissions provide ways to recover storm-related costs.
Hebert also mentioned that "the failure of a federally designed and built levee system" is partially to blame for Entergy's current predicament.
But the administration official countered that Entergy has "certain contractual obligations" to the city of New Orleans.
"Any company that has a contract needs to live up to their responsibilities to their customers," the official said.
Posted by politicalstuff at 1:35 AM
Friday, December 09, 2005
Jury Duty Scam
The following is from the NYC Department of Investigation. The provided
contact information in the notice is for the NYC Inspector General's
office. If you are outside NYC, and you encounter this problem, you
should notify your local Inspector General's office.
ADVISORY FROM THE INSPECTOR GENERAL’S OFFICE
Law enforcement agencies have been receiving reports of a new
identity theft scheme. Callers, identifying themselves as United States
court employees, have been contacting members of the public by
telephone, and telling them that they have been selected for jury duty.
The caller then asks for personal information including names, social
security numbers, dates of birth, and credit card numbers. The callers
have threatened fines if the person refuses to provide the requested
All members of the public should be aware that the United States
court system does not contact members of the public by telephone and
does not ask for personal information over the telephone. If you
receive a telephone call like the one described above, do not provide any of
the requested information as this is an attempt to obtain personal
information so that your identity can be used fraudulently.
If you have already been contacted and provided personal
information, you should obtain and carefully review your credit reports
and monitor all account statements. Also, please notify the Inspector
General’s Office at (212) 825-5904.
Posted by politicalstuff at 2:38 PM
U.S. Nobel winners fret over Bush research policies
Roy J. Glauber and John L. Hall believe the White House focuses on research's political consequences rather than science.
STOCKHOLM (AP) — Two American Nobel Prize winners said Thursday they are worried about President Bush's attitude toward science and accused his administration of ignoring important research findings.
"There is a measure of denial of scientific evidence going on within our administration, and there are many scientists who are not happy about that," said Roy J. Glauber, who shared this year's physics prize with fellow American John L. Hall and Germany's Theodor W. Haensch. Their research on the quantum nature of light has resulted in more precise optical clocks and measuring systems, and is used in today's satellite positioning systems.
Glauber also said some U.S. Congress members are more concerned about the political consequence of research projects than their scientific importance when they decide where to allocate money.
"(The projects) are not evaluated scientifically, they are only evaluated politically," Glauber said, but did not give details on specific projects. He spoke at a news conference after the three physics laureates gave a lecture to students and fellow researchers at Stockholm University.
Hall agreed that the attitude toward science in the Bush administration "does not go in the right direction."
"I think to put a gloom and doom spin on it is probably a little bit of overreacting, but it is a worrying time," Hall said.
A large part of the U.S. scientific community has accused Bush of spending too little on research and appointing people who are not qualified for top government science positions.
Administration officials have dismissed such concerns as misguided and accuse some scientists of playing politics — of attempting to undermine Bush administration policies by claiming they are based on bad science.
Ahead of last year's presidential election, 48 Nobel laureates signed a letter endorsing Democratic candidate John Kerry.
All five of this year's American Nobel laureates met with Bush at the White House in November, but Glauber said the meeting did not focus much on science.
"He didn't seek or ask our advice on any issue as far as I can remember," Glauber said.
Nobel Peace Prize laureate Mohamed ElBaradei, meanwhile, arrived in Oslo, to accept the award he shared with his International Atomic Energy Agency for their drive to curb the spread of nuclear weapons.
"Our work is crucial to our survival, and I think the Nobel Prize is a shot in the arm for us," ElBaradei said.
Speaking of the Iran's nuclear program, ElBaradei said there was still time for dialogue.
"The Iranians are getting the message clearly: That the world is concerned about their nuclear program, that they need to show more transparency," he said.
In a special Nobel lecture on Wednesday, literature laureate Harold Pinter slammed Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair, saying they should be prosecuted for the invasion of Iraq.
The Nobel Prizes in physics, chemistry, medicine and literature and the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic sciences will be handed out Saturday in Stockholm. The Nobel Peace Prize will be presented on the same day in Oslo.
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Posted by politicalstuff at 1:22 AM
FEMA Official Criticizes Trailer Plan for Evacuees
Lump-Sum Payments to Victims Urged
By Spencer S. Hsu
Washington Post Staff Writer
The federal government's second-ranking disaster official in Louisiana yesterday criticized the Federal Emergency Management Agency's program to house Hurricane Katrina evacuees in trailers, calling the effort wasteful and counter to the long-term interest of more than 100,000 displaced families.
Instead of spending as much as $140,000 for each trailer and site for a family to use for 18 months, the government should hand out in a lump sum the $26,200 that Congress has approved for storm victims, Scott Wells, a FEMA official and the federal coordinating officer for Louisiana, told senators.
"This would allow [evacuees] to quickly get on with rebuilding their lives and afford them an immediate permanent housing solution. It also saves the U.S. taxpayer hundreds of thousands of dollars," Wells told the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee in written remarks he submitted. "Temporary housing is not cost effective or customer-oriented."
The blunt assessment from the top deputy to Coast Guard Vice Adm. Thad W. Allen, who is in charge of the disaster response, is the first rebuke by a top FEMA official of one of the government's biggest recovery initiatives, which is bogged down more than three months after the Aug. 29 storm.
FEMA spokeswoman Nicol Andrews said that Wells spoke for himself but added that the program is under review.
"I think Mr. Wells would agree, since he has led dozens of disasters, that FEMA programs work well in the large majority of the 50 to 60 disasters declared in this country every year," Andrews said. "However, [Homeland Security Secretary Michael] Chertoff and [FEMA Acting Director R. David] Paulison have committed to review how those programs work in catastrophic situations and how they may be improved overall."
She added that Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco (D) requested the trailers so state residents could return while they await reconstruction. Heavily damaged areas lack other housing, and not all victims are eligible for the full amount of aid.
FEMA awarded without competition more than $1 billion to four firms for temporary housing within days of the storm, but determined later that they could not meet production goals. Housing analysts condemned creation of "FEMAville" evacuee encampments, and local communities balked at hosting them.
Under fire from Congress, FEMA is rebidding the contracts, but 125,000 trailers remain on order. As of Wednesday, FEMA has installed 39,000 trailers and mobile homes. An additional 20,000 are in place or await sites.
Meanwhile, about 1.6 million families are approved for FEMA hurricane assistance. About 800,000 households have received cash aid, and 519,000 families have gotten help with their rent, at a total cost of $3.3 billion.
A federal court in New Orleans is set to hear a request today to order a temporary halt to FEMA's plans to stop paying for 41,000 hotel rooms for evacuees, beginning Dec. 15. The class-action lawsuit was brought by 14 evacuees who say the agency has failed to provide other assistance as required under law.
FEMA says it is trying to move families into a three-month, $2,368 rental aid program and end the hotel subsidy, which costs more than $2,000 a month per room. But apartment industry and low-income housing advocates say that program, too, has been poorly implemented, with little notice or guidance to landlords or evacuees.
"I have long believed that it would have been far more effective at this stage for FEMA to have given vouchers for housing and to assist people in finding private-sector housing," said Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), chairman of a panel investigating the response. "I think it still is a possibility."
Wells's testimony came as House and Senate members stepped up criticism of the efforts by FEMA and the Department of Housing and Urban Development in the Gulf, and top FEMA officials in Gulf states described a listing of problems.
Senior FEMA aides warned then-Director Michael D. Brown in June 2004 that response teams were unprepared and understaffed. After the hurricane, they found that Gulf state and local officials lacked familiarity with national emergency plans, and that programs for individuals are confusing, inadequate and contradictory, Wells said.
Posted by politicalstuff at 1:16 AM
The New York Times
Before 9/11, Warnings on Bin Laden
By SCOTT SHANE
WASHINGTON, Dec. 8 - More than three years before the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, American diplomats warned Saudi officials that Osama bin Laden might target civilian aircraft, according to a newly declassified State Department cable.
The cable was one of two documents released Thursday by the National Security Archive, a research organization at George Washington University that obtained them under the Freedom of Information Act. The other was a memorandum written five days after the 2001 attacks by George J. Tenet, then director of central intelligence, to his top deputies, titled "We're at War."
The June 1998 cable reported to Washington that three American officials, the State Department's regional security officer, an economics officer and an aviation specialist had met Saudi officials at King Khalid International Airport in Riyadh to pass along a warning based on an interview Mr. bin Laden, the Saudi-born leader of Al Qaeda, had just given to ABC News.
They said he had threatened in the interview to strike in the next "few weeks" against "military passenger aircraft," mentioning surface-to-air missiles. The cable said there was "no specific information that indicates bin Laden is targeting civilian aircraft," but added, "We could not rule out that a terrorist might take the course of least resistance and turn to a civilian target."
Part of the Tenet memo had been reported previously in Bob Woodward's 2002 book, "Bush At War." The eight-paragraph Tenet letter was a call to arms, declaring "a worldwide war against Al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations" and saying that the effort would require "our absolute and total dedication."
The 2001 document echoed an earlier memo about Al Qaeda that Mr. Tenet had sent on Dec. 4, 1998, to top C.I.A. officials and other intelligence agencies, stating: "We are at war. I want no resources or people spared in this effort." But the national 9/11 commission concluded last year that the 1998 memo had "little overall effect" on mobilizing the agencies to fight terrorism.
Posted by politicalstuff at 1:04 AM
The New York Times
Time Reporter Is Questioned in Leak Case
By DAVID JOHNSTON
WASHINGTON, Dec. 8 - A Time magazine reporter met on Thursday with the special counsel in the C.I.A. leak case to answer questions about her conversations last year with a lawyer for Karl Rove, the senior White House adviser, a senior editor of the magazine said.
The reporter, Viveca Novak, met with the prosecutor, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, for more than an hour at the office of Ms. Novak's lawyer, Henry F. Schuelke III.
Jim Kelly, Time's managing editor, said Ms. Novak's account of her testimony, in a deposition, would appear in the magazine on Monday.
Mr. Fitzgerald sought to question Ms. Novak about conversations she had with Robert D. Luskin, a lawyer for Mr. Rove, who has been under scrutiny in the investigation into the disclosure of a C.I.A. officer's identity.
Mr. Luskin testified in a deposition last Friday about his conversations with Ms. Novak, said people who had been briefed on the matter. Mr. Luskin said Thursday that he would not discuss the deposition, first disclosed by CNN on its Web site.
What information the prosecutor hoped to learn from Ms. Novak and Mr. Luskin was not publicly known, but lawyers in the case had suggested that the information could be used by Mr. Luskin to help Mr. Rove explain his belated disclosure of a conversation with another Time reporter, Matthew Cooper.
Ms. Novak agreed to cooperate with the investigation, the magazine said. Mr. Cooper waged a lengthy legal battle resisting Mr. Fitzgerald's effort to obtain his testimony, but in the end he answered the prosecutor's questions about his conversations with Mr. Rove and I. Lewis Libby Jr., then chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney.
"We thought that Matt Cooper's involvement was it for Time magazine," Mr. Kelly said. "Obviously other people are involved."
Mr. Fitzgerald has focused on why Mr. Rove did not disclose until a second grand jury appearance, in October 2004, his conversation with Mr. Cooper. It was in that conversation, Mr. Cooper said, that Mr. Rove spoke about the C.I.A. officer.
Posted by politicalstuff at 1:01 AM
US, UN condemn Iranian leader's Holocaust comments
By Carol Giacomo
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Comments by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad expressing doubt about the Holocaust and suggesting Israel be moved to Europe are appalling and reprehensible, the U.S. State Department said on Thursday.
"These latest remarks ... are clearly appalling and reprehensible. They certainly don't inspire hope among any of us in the international community that the government of Iran is prepared to engage as a responsible member of that community," deputy spokesman Adam Ereli said.
At the United Nations in New York, Secretary-General Kofi Annan expressed shock at the comments attributed to Ahmadinejad, his spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.
Annan noted the U.N. General Assembly last month passed a resolution rejecting "any denial of the Holocaust as an historical event, either in full or in part."
He said all nations should educate their populations about the Holocaust in which "one third of the Jewish people were murdered, along with countless members of other minorities."
Iran's official IRNA news agency quoted Ahmadinejad as saying: "Some European countries insist on saying that Hitler killed millions of innocent Jews in furnaces ... Although we don't accept this claim."
"If the Europeans are honest they should give some of their provinces in Europe ... to the Zionists, and the Zionists can establish their state in Europe," he said.
Annan last month canceled a trip to Tehran because of Ahmadinejad's call in October "to wipe Israel off the map."
Ereli said the remarks appeared to be part of a "consistent pattern of rhetoric that is both hostile and out of touch with the values that the rest of the international community lives by."
The State Department spokesman said Iran had pledged to uphold international norms and must be held to those standards but he declined to say what, if any, action the United States might be inclined to take in response.
Ahmadinejad's comments were reported by IRNA news agency from a news conference he gave in the Saudi Arabian city of Mecca.
Six million Jews were killed by Germany's 1933-1945 Nazi regime. Ahmadinejad's remarks drew swift rebukes from Israel and Germany as well.
The United States accuses Iran of sponsoring terrorism, interfering with Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts and developing a nuclear weapon under the cover of a program Tehran insists is aimed only at producing energy for civilian use.
Britain, France and Germany, with U.S. backing, have been trying to defuse the nuclear issue through diplomatic negotiations but Iran increasingly has toughened its stance, dimming chances for a compromise.
(Additional reporting by Evelyn Leopold at the United Nations)
Dean says new Iraq strategy needed
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Democratic Party chief Howard Dean said on Thursday his comment that the United States could not win the war in Iraq was reported "a little out of context," but a new strategy would be needed to triumph there.
Dean was attacked by President George W. Bush and Republicans earlier this week for telling a Texas radio station that "the idea we're going to win this war is an idea that unfortunately is plain wrong."
"It was a little out of context. They kind of cherry-picked that one the same way the president cherry-picked the intelligence going into Iraq," Dean told CNN.
"We can only win the war, which we have to win, if we change our strategy dramatically," he said. "We can and we have to win the war on terror. We can't do it with this approach, with this leadership the president is showing."
Democrats have offered a range of ideas on Iraq, from quick withdrawal of troops to a gradual drawdown to Connecticut Sen. Joseph Lieberman's backing of Bush.
White House spokesman Scott McClellan said Dean's remarks reflected the Democratic Party's problem developing an approach to Iraq.
"You have a lot of disarray and disagreement within the Democratic Party," he said. While Bush emphasized a plan for victory, he said, Democrats emphasized "immediate withdrawal of troops or artificial timetables. That's a plan for defeat."
Dean said Democrats were beginning to rally around a concept of strategic redeployment in Iraq. That plan would gradually phase out most U.S. troops over the next two years, withdraw them from urban areas and bring home National Guard forces within six months.
The idea that Democrats do not have a coherent plan for the future of Iraq was "mostly press gobbledygook," Dean said.
"The press wants to focus on the differences. The differences are pretty small, perhaps Senator Lieberman excepted," he said. "We may have some small disagreements on timing. We know the direction we're going on is a very different direction than the president."
Posted by politicalstuff at 12:56 AM
How common is US abuse of detainees?
By Mark Sappenfield, Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor
Any analysis of America's record on detainee abuse in the war on terror begins with a single set of numbers: Amid the handling of an estimated 70,000 detainees, military officials say they have found fewer than 600 credible allegations of abuse.
It is a rate of 1 investigation for more than 100 detainees, and for the Pentagon, it is a point of pride - apparent proof that abuses are the work of a misguided few.
Outside the Pentagon, however, those numbers - and the positive assessment - are open to doubt. As the world, and increasingly the country's lawmakers, look at how America has treated those captured in the war against terror, many have come to the conclusion that, as one expert puts it: "The one thing we know is that we don't know everything."
Clearly, this is the first time that the health and status of detainees have been such a pressing issue for the American public, and the military justice system is straining to meet the desires for a more open process. Taken together with President Bush's decision to exempt certain prisoners from the protections of the Geneva Conventions, it has brought the fog of war to the cellblock, as activists and attorneys alike wonder whether the military is faithfully investigating abuse and meting out appropriate punishments.
"The ability of anyone to get a handle on it is becoming impossible," says Eugene Fidell, president of the National Institute of Military Justice here, which studies trends in military law. "The net effect is that public opinion is lost in a fog, and I don't think that's healthy."
From the military's perspective, it has done its job as best it can. Of the 600 investigations conducted by military officials, about 450 have been closed, yielding 280 punishments, which ranged from imprisonment to admonishment.
"This is the most investigated Army in history," says Maj. Wayne Marotto, an Army spokesman. "We've taken every allegation of detainee abuse seriously."
Moreover, the Pentagon has taken the unprecedented step of impaneling a dozen reviews of detainee abuse. The latest, chaired by Vice Adm. Albert Church, found "no policy that condoned or authorized either abuse or torture."
None of the reviews found evidence that torture and abuse were part of any servicewide policy. Yet critics note that each of the reviews was initiated by the Pentagon, and they note that certain questionable interrogation techniques migrated from one detention facility to another. The review by former Defense Secretary James Schlesinger concluded that the scandal went beyond a few rogue soldiers: "There is both institutional and personal responsibility at higher levels."
The question, say some analysts, is whether senior leaders knowingly neglected to provide clear standards as to what were acceptable interrogation tactics. When the administration elected not to afford Geneva protections to detainees taken in Afghanistan, "there was a lot of uncertainty," says William Banks, director of the Institute for National Security and Counterterrorism at Syracuse University in New York.
The result, many say, is the scandal that now encompasses Iraq, Afghanistan, and Guantánamo Bay. "The main reason that the abuse was so widespread was the lack of clarity, and the lack of desire to be clear," says Jumana Musa of Amnesty International.
An amendment by Sen. John McCain (news, bio, voting record) (R) of Arizona seeks to provide that clarity. In recent years, the Army has revised its field manual to eliminate much of the ambiguity over which techniques are permissible during interrogations. But those rules apply only to the Army. Senator McCain wishes to apply the Army's code to any detainee held in a Defense Department-run facility - as well as intelligence agencies such as the CIA.
That is a significant point, given that the CIA's activities remain an almost complete mystery. "One gap in the investigations to date is what was the role of 'other government agencies,' primarily the CIA, in detainee abuse," said Sen. Carl Levin (news, bio, voting record) (D) of Michigan at a May hearing.
The amendment, which was attached to the 2006 Defense appropriations bill, passed the Senate 90 to 9, and it appears the motion would enjoy overwhelming support in the House, making it likely that Congress could override a presidential veto. The White House, concerned about Congress diluting its authority to run the war as it sees fit, is seeking a compromise with McCain.
Interestingly, though, Americans in general appear conflicted about the use of torture against suspected terrorists. Some 61 percent of respondents said that torture could be justified at least on rare occasions, according to a new AP-Ipsos poll.
Despite the public uncertainty over the use of torture, the scandal surrounding it has clearly come at a cost for the American soldier. The military's investigations have pointed to low-level troops, leading Senator Levin to suggest that "only an independent review can fully and objectively assess both the institutional and personal accountability for the abuse of detainees."
In addition, the allegations have tarnished the image of the troops. The Pentagon, citing its data, says it's an unfair reputation. Yet with the constant emergence of allegations of torture and degrading treatment, the Pentagon has been hard pressed to win over public opinion with its statistics.
The problems partly stem from the military-justice system itself, say some analysts. In a country that has become accustomed to openness in its legal proceedings, the military's modes of justice tend toward the unfamiliar: "It is a system of military justice that Lord [Horatio] Nelson would largely recognize," says Mr. Fidell, referring to the late 18th-century British naval legend.
Commanders in the field have an enormous amount of discretion in disciplinary actions, and their decisions are "largely unreviewable," Fidell says. Moreover, the various services have different rules and compile their data separately, meaning that a marine and a soldier standing side by side would be subject to two different legal authorities.
It is not a system built to be transparent, partly because it has never needed to be. But freedom-of-information legislation in the 1970s has changed the public's expectations.
Posted by politicalstuff at 12:46 AM
Thursday, December 08, 2005
New Grand Jury in CIA Leak Case Hears From Prosecutor
By Carol D. Leonnig
Washington Post Staff Writer
The CIA leak investigation returned to a more active stage yesterday as a special prosecutor presented information to a grand jury for the first time in six weeks.
Special Counsel Patrick J. Fitzgerald's decision to enlist a new grand jury comes as he continues to investigate possible criminal charges against senior White House adviser Karl Rove. Rove faces possible legal consequences for not telling investigators for months that he had provided information about CIA operative Valerie Plame to Time magazine reporter Matt Cooper in July 2003.
Rove disclosed the conversation only after Cooper was subpoenaed to testify about their discussions, said sources familiar with Rove's account. Rove maintains that he initially forgot about the contact, the sources said.
Yesterday was the first time a grand jury has met to consider the case since Oct. 28, when a previous grand jury indicted I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Vice President Cheney's chief of staff. Fitzgerald, who arrived with four deputies, an FBI agent and boxes of files, declined to comment on the three-hour session as he left the courthouse. No witnesses were seen entering the grand jury room.
But several legal experts and sources involved in the case said Fitzgerald was probably providing the new grand jury with a primer on what has been learned in the investigation and what remains unresolved. They said the prosecutor's move into a more active probe could spell trouble for Rove, or for other people enmeshed in more recent developments in the case.
Fitzgerald has spent two years investigating whether White House officials knowingly disclosed Plame's identity and undercover status in 2003 to discredit allegations made by her husband, former ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV, that the Bush administration twisted intelligence in the run-up to the Iraq war.
The term of the previous grand jury expired on the day it indicted Libby on five felony counts of lying, perjury and obstruction of justice. Fitzgerald said then that he would continue to look into lingering issues, and he privately told Rove's attorney that Rove remained under investigation.
Two other revelations have been made since then. Washington Post Assistant Managing Editor Bob Woodward disclosed that, unbeknown to Fitzgerald, an administration source had told him about Plame's CIA role in June 2003, before Libby allegedly disclosed similar information to another reporter. In a Nov. 14 deposition, Woodward answered questions under oath from Fitzgerald about the mid-June 2003 conversation with his source. The source, whose identity has not been revealed, had testified much earlier in Fitzgerald's investigation but did not mention the conversation, said two sources familiar with the investigation.
Time magazine disclosed on Nov. 27 that one of its reporters, Viveca Novak, would soon answer Fitzgerald's questions about conversations she had with Rove attorney Robert Luskin in 2004. Sources familiar with the case said Luskin told Fitzgerald in October that those conversations would help buttress Luskin's argument that Rove did not intentionally conceal his contacts with reporters from the grand jury.
Novak is scheduled to give a deposition under oath to Fitzgerald today, two sources close to the case said.
Luskin declined to comment on the grand jury session yesterday. "What I can say is, there's been no change in Karl's status since late October," he said. At that time, Fitzgerald told Luskin that Rove remained under investigation but that he would hold off on charging him because of information Luskin had provided late that month.
Randall D. Eliason, who headed public corruption prosecutions in the U.S. attorney's office in Washington, said Fitzgerald would not go through the trouble of repeating information to a new grand jury unless he is considering criminal charges or there are significant, potentially criminal matters he wants to resolve.
"The fact that Fitzgerald is going through the effort to re-present is certainly a sign that the investigation is active," Eliason said.
Posted by politicalstuff at 12:59 AM
Politics or Not, Bronx Warmly Receives Venezuelan Heating Oil
By Michelle Garcia
Washington Post Staff Writer
NEW YORK -- A green Citgo tanker truck chugged up a hill with a grim view of tenement buildings, elevated subways and treeless sidewalks to deliver Venezuelan heating oil, a "humanitarian" gift from Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.
Moments before the orange-gloved worker snaked the hose to a Bronx tenement, Eartha Ferguson, a manager and resident of a low-income building, said: "I call it a gift of survival. It comes at a good time, a very needed time."
Chavez's gift, which arrived on Tuesday and is being distributed this week, may be nothing more than a chance to tweak the nose of the Bush administration, which has long opposed the South American leader. But few residents in the South Bronx, where 41 percent live on incomes below the federal poverty line, are inclined to worry about international politics.
Citgo Petroleum Corp., which is controlled by the Venezuelan government, signed a deal with three Bronx housing nonprofits to sell 5 million gallons of heating oil at 45 percent below the market rate, an estimated savings of $4 million. The discounted oil will heat 75 Bronx apartment buildings, housing 8,000 low-income working poor and elderly tenants.
Officials with Mount Hope Housing Co., Fordham Bedford Housing Corp. and VIP Community Services -- which have organized tenants and rehabilitated low-income apartments for several decades -- say savings from the cheap oil will allow them to reduce rents temporarily and invest in neighborhood social programs.
"A lot of families are struggling," said Lenice Footman, who hopes her $600 monthly rent will be reduced. Neighbor Dionne Morales agreed, saying she is overlooking the criticism directed at Chavez. "If he can give oil to my country and help the lives of my community, I'm impressed," she said.
Chavez has sold the discounted oil in two U.S. markets, New York and Massachusetts. Citizens Energy Corp., a Boston-based nonprofit cooperative, bought 12 million gallons at a steep discount after U.S. oil companies ignored its written plea for help. Similar oil deals are in the works for other parts of New York and some New England states.
Americans face record prices for heating oil this winter, with a gallon selling for $2.41 -- a 38 percent increase from this time last year. Congress declined to provide additional funding for the federal Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program, and Citizens Energy and other housing advocates expect that families, especially in the Northeast, will exhaust their benefits by Christmas.
White House spokesman Scott McClellan said in a recent briefing that the Bush administration expects the recently passed energy bill and efforts to expand capacity to help address the shortfall. "All of us have a role to do to help address high energy prices," he said. "And we are taking action to do so."
But on the second snow day in the Bronx, where scrawled graffiti warns pedestrians of rats, fleas and maggots, it did not escape the notice of tenants that a foreign government stepped in after Congress did not.
"The government should have done it," said Shirley Manuel, 52, a tenants' rights activist, wrapped up tightly in her wheelchair. "This is their country, this is their people -- they should be taking care of their own."
Rep. Jose E. Serrano (D-N.Y.), who brokered the oil deal, brushed aside suggestions that Chavez was playing petro politics.
"To those who say this is to score political points," he told a shivering crowd when the first oil arrived, "I invite any American corporation that wants to score points with my community to start this afternoon."
But, in fact, politics is very much part of this deal. The Bush administration has made no secret of its dislike for Chavez and his populist, left-wing politics, nor of its desire to see him turned out of office. Chavez, in turn, was a featured speaker at a demonstration in Argentina this year, in which he denounced President Bush's policies in Latin America.
Last week, Citgo bought full-page ads in The Washington Post and the New York Times, lauding Venezuela's role in heating the homes of the nation's poor. El Diario/La Prensa, New York's major Spanish-language newspaper, published a front-page photo of Chavez wearing a Santa Claus hat above the words, a "Gift from Chavez to the Bronx."
In September, Chavez traveled to the Bronx and spent several hours with 17 community groups. Flanked by Serrano and Jesse L. Jackson, Chavez proposed selling heating oil at below market rates and laid out plans to invest some of Venezuela's oil revenue in health and environmental programs in the Bronx.
"I fell in love with the Bronx and New York," Chavez said that day. "I have met the soul of the American people."
No love lost between 2 fiends: book
By ADAM NICHOLS
DAILY NEWS STAFF WRITER
Osama Bin Laden detests Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda was never connected with the Iraqi dictator, according to a new book based on interviews with friends and family of the terror network leader.
The information shoots holes in the Bush administration's claims that Al Qaeda was closely allied with Saddam, one of its justifications for going to war with Iraq.
Writer Peter Bergen spent more than eight years - and conducted 50 interviews - getting the low-down on the world's most reviled terrorist.
His book, "The Osama Bin Laden I Know: An Oral History of Al Qaeda's Leader," will be published in January. An excerpt appears in next month's Vanity Fair.
Khaled Batarfi, a childhood friend of Bin Laden, told Bergen he saw Bin Laden six months before Iraq invaded Kuwait. Batarfi said Osama, a Saudi national, told him, "'We should ... prepare for the day when eventually we are attacked. This guy [Saddam] can never be trusted.'
"He doesn't believe Saddam is a Muslim. So he never liked him or trusted him," Batarfi said.
Hamid Mir, Bin Laden's Pakistani biographer, said that when he interviewed the Al Qaeda leader in 1997, "He condemned Saddam Hussein in my interview" and denounced the Iraqi dictator as a "socialist motherf-----."
Bergen's research suggests Al Qaeda was a shambles after 9/11 but the fall of the Taliban and the Iraq war brought it back to life by becoming a rallying cry for jihadists.
Interviewees claim there was no relationship between Bin Laden and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi - the head of Al Qaeda in Iraq - before last year.
Bergen also writes that Bin Laden narrowly escaped being killed during a U.S. assault on his hideout in the Tora Bora area of Afghanistan.
He also reports Bin Laden has become a father again since 9/11, fathering a daughter named Safia - after a woman who lived in the time of the Prophet Muhammed and killed a Jewish spy.
Posted by politicalstuff at 12:55 AM
Cash up in smoke: Clean-air aid went all over
This series was reported and written by
the Daily News Investigative Team:
RUSS BUETTNER, HEIDI EVANS,
ROBERT GEARTY, BRIAN KATES,
GREG B. SMITH
and Assistant Managing Editor
RICHARD T. PIENCIAK
Most of the FEMA millions used to help city residents buy clean air equipment to deal with the noxious residue of the 9/11 terrorist attacks was spent in neighborhoods far from Ground Zero, a Daily News computer analysis shows.
Satellite photos indicate that the horrific plume flew across the East River to downtown Brooklyn, thinning and rising as it continued on a southeasterly course toward Manhattan Beach, Breezy Point in Queens, then out to sea.
But people far from that route - in the Bronx, upper Manhattan, Queens, and on Staten Island - gobbled up big portions of the clean air goodies, supposedly to cleanse their homes of World Trade Center soot.
In Washington Heights, more than 6% of households in four zip codes had claims approved by FEMA and the state Department of Labor, which administered the program.
Within that uptown area - where the plume obviously never neared - 4,652 homes were approved to collect $5.3 million in equipment.
The FEMA data, obtained by The News under the federal Freedom of Information Act, doesn't show whether people picked up their government checks after they were approved, though other records suggest that nearly all did.
Using the FEMA data, The News was able to combine zip codes with census data and identify neighborhoods where the highest percentage of households were approved to get free air conditioners, air purifiers, air filters and vacuum cleaners.
Residents of lower Manhattan, for example, collected 14% of the $131 million FEMA says was paid out in the air program.
But the rest of the results documented how participation did not follow the flight of the unhealthy ash from Ground Zero.
No dust floated over central Queens, but residents there scored thousands of government-financed appliances.
In Flushing, Elmhurst, Hillcrest, and Rego Park, 5,211 households were approved to receive $6.3 million.
In Brooklyn, the spending pattern suggests the plume somehow went around the northern neighborhoods of Park Slope, Cobble Hill and downtown on its way south to Borough Park, Sunset Park, Bensonhurst and Coney Island.
Only 1% to 3% of households in those northern Brooklyn neighborhoods were approved for reimbursements, but residents farther south were much more likely to bring home federally financed electronics.
In Borough Park, 18% of households were given approval. In one zip code alone - 11219 - 4,711 homes were okayed to collect $6.3 million.
The percentages of households in neighboring zip codes that claimed to be drowning in dirty Ground Zero particles were staggering: 16% in New Utrecht; 13% in Sunset Park; 12% in Bath Beach, and 11% in Sheepshead Bay, Brighton Beach, and Ocean Parkway.
And in a zip code comprised mostly of Starrett City, some 8 miles from Ground Zero - and again well off the plume's path - one-in-10 households were cleared to receive a FEMA-backed check, representing 614 residents for grants totalling $633,495.
Before officials limited the program, in June 2002, to the city's five boroughs, checks totaling $206,736 were approved for 188 residents outside city limits, upstate and on Long Island. The non-city zip code with the most recipients was in Glen Oaks, L.I., where 53 people were cleared to get $52,461. Close behind was the Orange County town of Monroe, where 26 were approved for $36,634, and the Rockland County town of Monsey, where 27 applications were approved for $31,819.
There are other oddities in FEMA records that suggest fraud by applicants, absurdly poor recordkeeping or applicants who had listed work addresses.
In 10020, made up exclusively of Rockefeller Plaza, six people were approved for $7,199 worth of air devices. The Census Bureau says there's only one residence in the entire zip code.
Zip codes where the 2000 Census found no dwelling units also show up as receiving free equipment. A lower Manhattan zip code that the Postal Service lists as devoted exclusively to American Express' offices at the World Financial Center had 22 residents approved to receive $17,463. FEMA also reported four approved claims totaling $4,400 within a special zip code that, according to the Postal Service, receives only "contest mail."
Even stranger, FEMA records show that 21 clean air claims totaling $22,795 were approved in a special zip code assigned to state government offices at the Trade Center.
Finally, FEMA records show that within the zip code comprised exclusively of the Trade Center - which had no residences before the attacks - 1,759 people were approved to receive $1.9 million under the program.
State Labor Department spokesman Robert Lillpopp did not return calls seeking comment on The News' zip-code analysis.
Posted by politicalstuff at 12:53 AM
FEMA official warned about unprepared teams
WASHINGTON (AP) — FEMA's top official was told more than a year before Hurricane Katrina that the agency's emergency response teams were unprepared for a major disaster and were operating under outdated plans, documents show.
Then-FEMA chief Michael Brown at a press conference Sept. 9, after Hurricane Katrina.
Additionally, e-mails obtained Wednesday by The Associated Press indicate that Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff tried to call Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco the afternoon before Katrina hit. The e-mails indicate she could not be immediately reached and may have been napping.
A spokeswoman for the governor said Wednesday that Blanco was getting personal items at her residence when Chertoff called. "There was no time for napping," Denise Bottcher said.
An 11-page memo to Michael Brown, former head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, from June 2004 described teams of national response managers that were not prepared and were getting "zero funding for training, exercise or team equipment."
Those responders "provide the only practical, expeditious option for the (FEMA) director to field a cohesive team of his best people to handle the next big one," wrote William Carwile, one of FEMA's federal coordinating officers.
As for the plans that response teams use during an emergency, Carwile wrote: "Revision should be a priority since not one word of response doctrine ... has been published in over two years."
Carwile told Senate aides in a meeting this week that his memo largely was ignored at FEMA's headquarters, as were four budget requests over an 18-month period for money for the teams. He said each team needed about $1.2 million for training and equipment, according to an aide who attended the meeting.
Brown resigned from FEMA on Sept. 12, under fire in the wake of the government's sluggish reaction to Katrina and questions about his own professional experience in responding to disasters.
FEMA's two national response teams are sent from Washington only during catastrophic events. The teams include FEMA's most experienced emergency managers, who coordinate response and recovery operations with state officials, and assign tasks to other federal agencies.
FEMA spokeswoman Nicol Andrews said one team was sent to Louisiana on Aug. 27, two days before Katrina hit.
The teams were redesigned this May 2005 to make them "more responsive and more nimble," Andrews said. She said the agency budgeted $6.2 million last year to boost similar response operations.
Asked if any of the changes reflected Carwile's concerns, Andrews said: "It certainly addressed the process of making them more efficient and effective."
Carwile, who retired from the agency in October, wrote the memo on behalf of the agency's other regional coordinating officers.
He planned to testify Thursday at a Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee hearing on FEMA's response operations.
The committee's top aide, Michael Bopp, questioned Carwile during the meeting this week and said the former FEMA official described himself as "very uncomfortable that the teams weren't ready to go."
"You have your most senior operations people within FEMA telling you, loud and clear, what needs to be changed to make the response and recovery to major disasters to be effective, and nothing is ever done," Bopp said. "That is a real failure in management."
A separate batch of federal documents details Chertoff's efforts to get in touch with Blanco as Katrina neared the Gulf Coast.
"Your assistance would be appreciated," Homeland Security senior intelligence analyst Mark Fischer wrote in an e-mail to two of Blanco's press aides. It was dated 12:30 p.m. on Aug. 28, the day before Katrina hit.
"Secretary Chertoff, Department of Homeland Security, is attempting to contact Governor Blanco via telephone," the e-mail said.
Subsequent e-mails between Blanco's aides show their attempts to get the message to the governor. One, at 1:59 p.m. noted: "I think she's asleep now."
At 2:13 p.m., the e-mails show, Blanco deputy press secretary Roderick Hawkins wrote Fischer back to report: "Governor Blanco is unavailable at the present time. However, I have given her staff the numbers you provided in your original message. You may try to reach her at approximately 3 p.m."
Bottcher, the governor's spokeswoman, said Blanco spoke with President Bush that day and talked with Chertoff "several times during the course of the storm." She said Blanco started her day at 4:30 a.m. and worked until after midnight, returning to her residence briefly for some personal items and to make some phone calls.
"No one got confirmation that she was napping," Bottcher said. "There was no time for napping."
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Posted by politicalstuff at 12:46 AM
The New York Times
Fight in House for White House Files on Katrina
By DAVID E. ROSENBAUM
WASHINGTON, Dec. 7 - A new battle over Congressional access to White House files broke out Wednesday over the response to Hurricane Katrina.
Mainly at issue is how President Bush and his chief of staff, Andrew H. Card Jr., responded when they received the first news from Louisiana and Mississippi of dire conditions.
Since Sept. 30, Representative Thomas M. Davis III, Republican of Virginia, chairman of the special House committee investigating the response, and Representative Charlie Melancon, Democrat of Louisiana, have been seeking from the White House "documents or communications, including internal communications" on the threat and government actions. At first, according to letters released by the committee, the White House said providing the documents was impractical because it would require reviewing more than 71 million e-mail messages.
The committee then limited the request to communications to and from Mr. Card; Frances Townsend, the president's domestic security adviser; and their deputies and senior staff members.
The deputy counsel to the president, William K. Kelley, rejected that, suggesting it would "impinge on the separation of powers of the legislative and executive branches." Mr. Kelley offered in a letter on Dec. 6 "a background briefing by one or more senior administration officials."
Beginning with Vice President Dick Cheney's refusal to turn over records of the energy panel he directed, the White House and Congress have constantly fought over access to information. The White House says presidents need confidential and frank advice they cannot obtain if it might become public.
The new confrontation arose at a hearing on Mississippi's recovery. Gov. Haley Barbour, a former chairman of the Republican National Committee and a familiar figure here, said his state's ability to recover had been severely hampered by Congress's delay in approving more money.
Before Mr. Barbour testified, Mr. Melancon said he would make a formal motion next week to subpoena the White House documents. Mr. Melancon recalled that Michael D. Brown, then director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, told the panel that he had warned the White House before the storm that a disaster was looming and that in the immediate aftermath, he had repeatedly contacted the White House to report an out-of-control situation.
Posted by politicalstuff at 12:44 AM
US attacks UN official on 'jails'
Washington has rebuked UN human rights commissioner Louise Arbour for criticising its anti-terror tactics as the alleged secret jails row goes on.
Ms Arbour said reports the US was using secret overseas sites to interrogate suspects harmed its moral authority and she wanted to inspect any such centres.
The US said it was inappropriate and illegitimate for her to question US conduct on the basis of media reports.
The issue is dogging a European tour by US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
She will meet Nato foreign ministers on Thursday for formal talks but at a dinner on Wednesday the jails allegation reportedly already surfaced.
"There were a number of frank interventions, always respectful of Condoleezza Rice as a person," a source briefed on the dinner was quoted by Reuters news agency as saying.
On Wednesday, Ms Rice said American interrogators were bound by an international convention banning the use of torture, regardless of whether they were working in the US or abroad.
Ms Arbour, a former Canadian Supreme Court justice, told reporters in New York on Wednesday that the global ban on torture was becoming a casualty of the US-led "war on terror".
She singled out the reported US policies of sending terror suspects to other countries and holding prisoners in secret detention.
"Two phenomena today are having an acutely corrosive effect on the global ban on torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment," she said.
"There are lots of human rights that can be set aside temporarily in cases of emergencies, lots of them, but not the right to life and not the protection against torture," she added.
The UN human rights commissioner said the theme of Saturday's annual commemoration of the UN's adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948 would be "terrorists and torturers".
She added that the US had played an important leadership role in civil and political rights but that there was now a perception they had withdrawn from the commitment to such liberties, which made it harder for the US to exercise moral leadership.
America's ambassador to the UN, John Bolton, said Ms Rice had already addressed the issue and he roundly criticised Ms Arbour.
It was, he said, "inappropriate and illegitimate for an international civil servant to second-guess the conduct that we're engaged in [in] the war on terror, with nothing more as evidence than what she reads in the newspapers".
Story from BBC NEWS:
Posted by politicalstuff at 12:43 AM
Terri Schiavo's widower takes aim at politicians
By Jane Sutton
MIAMI (Reuters) - Terri Schiavo's widower launched a political action committee on Wednesday aimed at defeating elected officials he accused of exploiting a tragedy for political gain by trying to block court orders that allowed his brain-damaged wife to die.
Michael Schiavo said in a news release that the group, TerriPAC, would raise money to campaign against members of Congress, mostly Republicans, who drafted and voted for legislation to intervene in the case.
Among Republicans it is targeting are Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee, Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania and Rep. Tom DeLay of Texas.
Frist, a medical doctor who appeared to diagnose Terri Schiavo on the Senate floor based on a video clip on the Internet, has said he would not run for re-election in 2006 but many believe he might run for president in 2008.
"I was a lifelong Republican before Republicans pushed the power of government into my private family decisions," Schiavo said in a statement. "And it is not so simple to forget those politicians who shamelessly sought to squeeze political leverage out of my family's most emotional hour."
The Republican National Committee did not return calls seeking comment on Schiavo's effort.
Terri Schiavo, 41, suffered massive and irreversible brain damage during a cardiac arrest in 1990 and died on March 31 this year after a prolonged court battle between her husband and her parents, who wanted her to be kept alive.
The Florida courts granted Michael Schiavo's request to honor what he said were his wife's wishes and halt the tube-feeding that had kept her alive for 15 years.
The decision prompted a fevered public battle over the right to die and government jurisdiction in what the courts had traditionally treated as a family medical decision.
Urged on by conservative Christian supporters, the Republican-led U.S. Congress and President George W. Bush rushed back from vacation in March to enact last-ditch legislation giving the federal courts authority to intervene, which they declined to do.
Michael Schiavo, a nurse who now works at the Pinellas County Jail in Florida, on Wednesday described the Congressional intervention as "a sickening exercise in raw political power."
He teamed with the November Group, a campaign management company in Coral Gables, Florida, that generally works for Democrats, to launch his PAC and set up a Web site, www.TerriPac.org.
Political action committees are private but regulated bodies organized to promote or oppose candidates or legislation. Schiavo's PAC was first disclosed by the Web site Salon.com.
Posted by politicalstuff at 12:35 AM
Congressional Black Caucus to Oppose Alito
Congressional Black Caucus to Oppose Supreme Court Nominee Alito; Group Also Opposed Roberts
By JESSE J. HOLLAND Associated Press Writer
The Associated Press
WASHINGTON - While they don't have a vote, the House's black members all Democrats don't want to see Samuel Alito confirmed as retiring Justice Sandra Day O'Connor's replacement on the Supreme Court.
The one black member of Congress who does have a vote, Democratic Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois, hasn't made up his mind about the New Jersey jurist picked by President Bush for the job.
The Congressional Black Caucus, which includes 42 House members as well as Obama, will announce Thursday its opposition to Alito. It also opposed the nomination of now-Chief Justice John Roberts, but waited until his confirmation hearings to announce that position.
Alito's hearing begins Jan. 9.
President Bush nominated the 55-year-old federal appeals court judge on Oct. 31. If confirmed by the Republican-controlled Senate, Alito would succeed retiring Justice Sandra Day O'Connor. She has often case the swing vote on abortion, the death penalty, affirmative action and other contentious issues.
"The members of the CBC are concerned about Judge Alito's opinions, many in dissent, in race cases where his decisions have disproportionately affected African-Americans," said Rep. Mel Watt, D-N.C., the caucus chairman.
"We are troubled by what appears to be a very conservative judicial philosophy that seems greatly at odds with much of 20th century constitutional jurisprudence," Watt said.
A group of Democratic House women also planned to announce their opposition to Alito on Thursday, along with the National Women's Law Center.
On Wednesday, the top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, urged the Justice Department to release additional documents on Alito's government career.
The department has made public thousands of documents from Alito's career as a government lawyer and an appeals court judge, but some documents have been withheld using exemptions to the Freedom of Information Act, Leahy said.
"The Senate, in the exercise of its constitutional function of advice and consent for presidential nominations, is not subject to those exceptions," Leahy said. "Nevertheless, in the interest of expediting this matter and avoiding any need for delaying our proceedings, we request that you immediately supplement the material already provided."
Leahy wants the department to review the documents in question, determine why they was withheld and whether they can be given in whole or in part to just the committee's senators.
Republicans want a confirmation vote for Alito by Jan. 20.
Posted by politicalstuff at 12:34 AM
Supreme Court Rules in Student Loan Case
By GINA HOLLAND, Associated Press Writer
The Supreme Court ruled unanimously Wednesday that the government can seize a person's Social Security benefits to pay old student loans.
Retiring Justice Sandra Day O'Connor wrote the decision that went against a disabled man, James Lockhart, who had sued claiming he needed all of his $874 monthly check to pay for food and medication.
His government benefits had been cut by 15 percent to cover debts he incurred for college in the 1980s.
Lockhart also lost at the San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which said that Congress had eliminated a 10-year time limit on the government's right to seek repayment on defaulted student loans by seizing payments, including Social Security, to individuals.
The Bush administration had maintained that the case was important because outstanding student loans total about $33 billion, which includes about $7 billion in delinquent debt. Of the delinquent loans, about half are over 10 years old, government lawyers have said.
Justices were called on to clarify federal laws that sent conflicting messages about the collection of loans that are more than a decade old.
In a concurring opinion, Justice Antonin Scalia said that Congress "unambiguously authorized, without exception, the collection of 10-year-old student loan debt ... in doing so, it flatly contracted and thereby effectively repealed part of the Social Security Act."
He complained that Congress in passing laws often wrongly claims that these acts cannot be changed in the future. Such an attempt "does no favor to the members of Congress, and to those who assist in drafting their legislation," Scalia wrote.
Groups like the AARP and the National Consumer Law Center had urged the court to safeguard Social Security benefits in the Lockhart case, arguing they "are critical in preserving a measure of financial independence for older and disabled workers."
Lockhart, 67, a former postal worker who now lives in public housing in Seattle, has heart disease, diabetes and other health problems. He has about $77,000 in student loan debt.
O'Connor's ruling, a brief 4 1/2 pages, will likely be one of her last. She is retiring after 24 years.
Also Wednesday, new Chief Justice John Roberts announced his first ruling, in a case involving legal fees. The 9-0 decision backed insurance companies, which argued that they should not have to pay legal fees of a New Mexico couple in a case that was shuffled from state court to federal court, then back to state court.
The student loan case is Lockhart v. U.S., 04-881, and the lawyer fees case is Martin v. Franklin Capital Corp., 04-1140.
On the Net:
Supreme Court opinion in Lockhart v. U.S.:
Posted by politicalstuff at 12:33 AM
Senate Democrats press for papers on Alito
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Senate Democrats on Wednesday pushed for the Justice Department to release more documents about U.S. Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito as some liberal advocacy groups prepared to come out against his nomination.
"For us to remain on the proposed schedule for this nomination, we will need your promptest action on these suggestions," Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, the top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, wrote to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. The confirmation hearings are set to begin on January 9.
Leahy pushed for the release of documents the administration has determined are not covered by a Freedom of Information Act request. He said the Senate was entitled to see the documents, or in some cases edited portions of them, and could handle them on a confidential basis if warranted.
Alito, an appeals court judge picked by President George W. Bush for a lifetime appointment on the high court, has a more conservative record than retiring Justice Sandra Day O'Connor.
His nomination is getting close scrutiny because he could potentially move the court significantly to the right. Democrats want more information about his role as a government attorney in the 1980s.
Several Democratic women in the U.S. House of Representatives, joined by liberal women's advocacy groups, and the Congressional Black Caucus plan to formally announce their opposition to Alito on Thursday.
"We are troubled by what appears to be a very conservative judicial philosophy that seems greatly at odds with much of 20th century constitutional jurisprudence," said Congressional Black Caucus Chairman Rep. Melvin Watt, a North Carolina Democrat.
The House does not vote on Alito but members could add to the political pressure surrounding the nomination.
Conservatives generally back Alito as a highly qualified Princeton- and Yale-educated jurist with a distinguished record. The fate of the nomination will probably come down to a handful of centrist Democrats in the Senate.
An independent Quinnipiac University poll found 41 percent of the 1,230 registered voters surveyed nationwide believed Alito should be confirmed, and 27 percent opposed him. One-third said they were undecided.
By a 55 percent to 35 percent margin, the voters wanted Alito to publicly state his views on abortion. A majority did not support a filibuster -- a parliamentary device that can be used by the minority -- to block the nomination. The survey was taken from November 28 to December 4 and had a margin of error of plus or minus 2.8 points.
Posted by politicalstuff at 12:09 AM
Wednesday, December 07, 2005
Bin Laden still leading war: Zawahri video
By Heba Kandil
DUBAI (Reuters) - Al Qaeda's leader Osama bin Laden is still alive and leading a holy war against the West, the group's deputy leader Ayman al-Zawahri said in an Internet video on Wednesday.
"I bring a message of joy to all Muslims and mujahideen that al Qaeda, thanks to God, is spreading and expanding and strengthening," Zawahri said in a video posted on a Web site frequently used by militants.
"Its prince Sheikh Osama bin Laden, may God protect him, is still leading its jihad," he said, speaking against a white background to an interviewer off-camera who said the interview was to mark the fourth anniversary of the September 11, 2001 attacks on U.S. cities -- carried out by al Qaeda.
"(Qaeda) has transformed into a popular organization confronting a new crusader Zionist campaign, in defense of all violated Muslim lands," said Zawahri, who was wearing a black turban and white robe.
It was not clear exactly when or where the interview was filmed. Bin Laden and his second-in-command, Zawahri, are believed to be hiding in the border regions of Pakistan and Afghanistan and have eluded capture since the 2001 attacks.
Zawahri said the new "crusader" campaign by the United States and its Western allies was failing as evident by U.S. losses in Afghanistan and Iraq.
"America and its crusader allies have not achieved anything. Its forces in the battleground are receiving blows each day."
He discredited Iraq's January elections, saying only half the population turned out to vote, and blasted what he called a weak government that was swept into power.
"The (Iraqi) government is begging Americans not to leave because they know the day Americans leave is the day they are finished."
Four years after the U.S. war on Afghanistan, only the Taliban exercised real power in the country, chaos reigned in its capital Kabul, and legislative elections held in September were fraudulent as they were monitored by a biased United Nations, he said.
"If it wasn't for the Pakistani army's continuous support to Americans, they would have left (Afghanistan) a long time ago and they will leave soon, God wiling."
Zawahri last appeared in October, when he urged Muslims in a video broadcast by Al Jazeera television to help Pakistan's earthquake victims even though its government was an "agent" of the United States.
Posted by politicalstuff at 1:00 AM
Voting Machines Under Scrutiny
States Face a Jan. 1 Deadline to Meet Reliability Standards
By Brian Bergstein
The potential perils of electronic voting systems are bedeviling state officials as a Jan. 1 deadline approaches for complying with standards for the machines' reliability.
Across the country, officials are trying multiple methods to ensure that touch-screen voting machines can record and count votes without falling prey to software bugs, hackers, malicious insiders or other ills.
These are not theoretical problems -- in some states they have led to lost or miscounted votes.
One of the biggest concerns -- the frequent inability of computerized ballots to produce a written receipt of a vote -- has been addressed or is being tackled in most states.
An October report from the Government Accountability Office predicted that steps to improve the reliability of electronic voting "are unlikely to have a significant effect" in the 2006 off-year elections, partly because certification procedures remain a work in progress.
"There's not a lot of precedents in dealing with these electronic systems, so people are slowly figuring out the best way to do this," said Thad E. Hall, a political scientist at the University of Utah and co-author of "Point, Click, and Vote: The Future of Internet Voting."
In North Carolina, more stringent requirements -- which include placing the machines' software code in escrow for examination in case of a problem -- have led one supplier, Diebold Inc., to say it will withdraw from the state, where about 20 counties use Diebold voting machines.
A different type of showdown is brewing in California, where Secretary of State Bruce McPherson says he might force makers of the machines to prove their systems can withstand attacks from a hacker. One such test on a Diebold system -- Diebold machines were blamed for voting disruptions in a 2004 California primary -- is planned.
The state has been negotiating details with Harri Hursti, a security expert from Finland who uncovered severe flaws in a Diebold system used in Leon County, Fla. (He demonstrated how vote results could be changed, then made screens flash "Are we having fun yet?")
Similarly, elections officials in Franklin County, Ohio -- where older voting machines gave President Bush 3,893 extra votes in a preliminary count in 2004 -- recently asked computer experts to test newly purchased touch-screen voting machines from Election Systems and Software Inc.
Such designated hack attempts might be a flawed approach, because a failure proves only that a particular hacker could not break into a machine under certain conditions. That is not the same as opening things up to a broader group of researchers, as software developers sometimes do. Many critics of touch-screen election computers argue that the software should be publicly examined to make sure vote tampering could not occur.
A McPherson spokeswoman said the hacking test would be one of many factors in deciding whether to approve the voting machines. McPherson has released a 10-point plan for certification efforts, including a software code escrow system.
The scrutiny is likely to make California miss a Jan. 1 deadline set under the federal Help America Vote Act of 2002.
That law was aimed at phasing out the punch-card ballots and other old-fashioned systems that proved problematic in 2000. It requires states to improve disability access at polling places in addition to standardizing electronic voting systems.
A report by Election Data Services Inc., a political consulting firm, for the U.S. Election Assistance Commission determined that 23 percent of American voters used electronic ballots in 2004, a 12 percent increase over 2000.
Since then, largely because of warnings from computer security experts and grass-roots activism, many states have began requiring the machines to produce paper receipts that voters can examine. At least 25 states have such rules and 14 more have requirements pending, according to the Verified Voting Foundation.
"There's a long way to go -- making our elections truly trustworthy in this country is a multifaceted problem," said David L. Dill, a Stanford University computer scientist and founder of the foundation. But he added that he expected a "much better situation in 2006" and noted that improving electronic voting has become "a delightfully nonpartisan issue."
Manufacturers insist that their voting machines are reliable and that critics have made too much of isolated problems.
"Anytime there's an issue that happens with a particular voting system, all vendors are painted with the same broad brush," said Michelle Shafer, a spokeswoman for Sequoia Voting Systems Inc. "There are differences from product to product. You need to look at the track record of particular companies."