Saturday, December 31, 2005
Chalabi Named Iraq Oil Minister
Fuel Crisis Spurs Mandatory Leave For Incumbent
By Jonathan Finer and Naseer Nouri
Washington Post Foreign Service
BAGHDAD, Dec. 30 -- As a fuel crisis deepened in Iraq, the government replaced its oil minister with controversial Deputy Prime Minister Ahmed Chalabi, whose poor performance in the Dec. 15 elections was a setback in his recent attempt at political rehabilitation.
The oil minister, Ibrahim Bahr Uloom, was put on a mandatory, month-long leave. He had previously threatened to resign over the government's recent decision to increase gasoline prices sharply, a move that has outraged motorists and sparked attacks on gas stations and fuel convoys.
Violence has escalated across Iraq since the elections. On Friday, two U.S. soldiers were killed, one by a bomb south of Baghdad and another by small-arms fire in the western city of Fallujah. Two mortar shells hit near a bus station in the capital, killing five people and wounding 24, police at the scene said.
Threats by insurgents seizing on the unpopularity of the gasoline price increase led to a shutdown this month of the country's most productive oil refinery, in Baiji, north of Baghdad. Assim Jihad, an Oil Ministry spokesman, said the shutdown would cost $20 million a day until the refinery reopened. Meanwhile, foul winter weather has halted oil exports from the southern city of Umm Qasr, Iraq's only major seaport. Many of Iraq's largest power plants, already struggling to meet even a fraction of the country's energy demands, run on refined fuels.
"If these issues are not solved soon, the country will be facing an uncontrollable situation," Jihad said. "Dr. Chalabi will be here for the short term, but this will need to be solved by the new government, by the Ministry of Defense and by the coalition forces."
Chalabi, whose government portfolio already includes heading the country's energy committee and overseeing security for oil infrastructure such as refineries and pipelines, will temporarily take the reins of Iraq's only major industry. He had briefly led the Oil Ministry earlier this year while the current government was being assembled.
Jihad suggested that Uloom would probably resign rather than return, meaning Chalabi's appointment would last until the parties that prevailed in the recent elections formed a new government.
Negotiations toward that end continued Friday in the northern city of Sulaymaniyah between Abdul Aziz Hakim, who heads the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, a dominant Shiite Muslim party, and Kurdish leaders. Also Friday, an ally of the influential Shiite cleric Moqtada Sadr, whose political followers joined the Supreme Council's election ticket, said Shiite parties should pursue an alliance with Iraq's Sunni Arabs, rather than with Kurds.
Iraq's leaders have said no major decisions would be made while the composition of a new governing coalition was being determined.
"I don't think there will be any drastic changes," said Chalabi aide Haidar Moussawi when asked about Chalabi's intentions for his new post. "But I will say we have seen a lot of problems facing the industry with security and weather, and the focus will be on trying to get things under control and exports back to a level Iraq can do."
Once tabbed by some U.S. officials as a future leader of Iraq, Chalabi suffered a series of blows following the U.S.-led invasion, beginning when intelligence he provided to the Pentagon about Iraq's alleged weapons of mass destruction proved false. He was later accused of passing U.S. secrets to the government of Iran. But in recent months, several U.S. officials have praised Chalabi's technical expertise and ability to facilitate agreements among feuding factions within the government.
"He has proven himself quite capable and experienced in dealing with all aspects of Iraq's energy sector and is well-qualified for this position," a U.S. official said on the condition that he not be named because he was commenting on an Iraqi government decision.
Based on preliminary results from the December elections, Chalabi received 8,645 votes in Baghdad, well below the threshold a top U.N. official suggested this week would be required to win a seat.
Moussawi said Friday that Chalabi could still end up in the parliament, depending on how officials interpret a technical detail of election rules relating to how remaining seats are allocated after each party meeting a specific threshold is awarded its seats.
"There is still confusion, even today at the election commission, about this, but we are hearing the party will have at least one seat," Moussawi said.
Meanwhile, in Baghdad, mortar shells fell a few minutes apart late Friday afternoon -- one on a cafe and the other on the roof of a car -- in a crowded section of the city center. Sadoon Ali, 48, was playing backgammon in a nearby restaurant when he heard the explosion. "We were standing there wondering what happened when another explosion surprised us," he said.
A man who police said was drunk and angry because a friend had been wounded in the explosion began firing shots into a crowd, sending people scattering in all directions and wounding one man in the left leg.
Also in Baghdad, the government of Sudan said it would close its embassy to meet a demand issued by the insurgent group al Qaeda in Iraq, which claimed to have abducted six Sudanese citizens last week, the Associated Press reported. Five of the men were shown in a video released by the group in recent days. Insurgents have carried out a wave of abductions and attacks that they say is designed to compel diplomats to leave Iraq.
Special correspondent Omar Fekeiki contributed to this report.
Posted by politicalstuff at 10:37 AM
The DeLay-Abramoff Money Trail
Nonprofit Group Linked to Lawmaker Was Funded Mostly by Clients of Lobbyist
By R. Jeffrey Smith
Washington Post Staff Writer
The U.S. Family Network, a public advocacy group that operated in the 1990s with close ties to Rep. Tom DeLay and claimed to be a nationwide grass-roots organization, was funded almost entirely by corporations linked to embattled lobbyist Jack Abramoff, according to tax records and former associates of the group.
During its five-year existence, the U.S. Family Network raised $2.5 million but kept its donor list secret. The list, obtained by The Washington Post, shows that $1 million of its revenue came in a single 1998 check from a now-defunct London law firm whose former partners would not identify the money's origins.
Two former associates of Edwin A. Buckham, the congressman's former chief of staff and the organizer of the U.S. Family Network, said Buckham told them the funds came from Russian oil and gas executives. Abramoff had been working closely with two such Russian energy executives on their Washington agenda, and the lobbyist and Buckham had helped organize a 1997 Moscow visit by DeLay (R-Tex.).
The former president of the U.S. Family Network said Buckham told him that Russians contributed $1 million to the group in 1998 specifically to influence DeLay's vote on legislation the International Monetary Fund needed to finance a bailout of the collapsing Russian economy.
A spokesman for DeLay, who is fighting in a Texas state court unrelated charges of illegal fundraising, denied that the contributions influenced the former House majority leader's political activities. The Russian energy executives who worked with Abramoff denied yesterday knowing anything about the million-dollar London transaction described in tax documents.
Whatever the real motive for the contribution of $1 million -- a sum not prohibited by law but extraordinary for a small, nonprofit group -- the steady stream of corporate payments detailed on the donor list makes it clear that Abramoff's long-standing alliance with DeLay was sealed by a much more extensive web of financial ties than previously known.
Records and interviews also illuminate the mixture of influence and illusion that surrounded the U.S. Family Network. Despite the group's avowed purpose, records show it did little to promote conservative ideas through grass-roots advocacy. The money it raised came from businesses with no demonstrated interest in the conservative "moral fitness" agenda that was the group's professed aim.
In addition to the million-dollar payment involving the London law firm, for example, half a million dollars was donated to the U.S. Family Network by the owners of textile companies in the Mariana Islands in the Pacific, according to the tax records. The textile owners -- with Abramoff's help -- solicited and received DeLay's public commitment to block legislation that would boost their labor costs, according to Abramoff associates, one of the owners and a DeLay speech in 1997.
A quarter of a million dollars was donated over two years by the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians, Abramoff's largest lobbying client, which counted DeLay as an ally in fighting legislation allowing the taxation of its gambling revenue.
The records, other documents and interviews call into question the very purpose of the U.S. Family Network, which functioned mostly by collecting funds from domestic and foreign businesses whose interests coincided with DeLay's activities while he was serving as House majority whip from 1995 to 2002, and as majority leader from 2002 until the end of September.
After the group was formed in 1996, its director told the Internal Revenue Service that its goal was to advocate policies favorable for "economic growth and prosperity, social improvement, moral fitness, and the general well-being of the United States." DeLay, in a 1999 fundraising letter, called the group "a powerful nationwide organization dedicated to restoring our government to citizen control" by mobilizing grass-roots citizen support.
But the records show that the tiny U.S. Family Network, which never had more than one full-time staff member, spent comparatively little money on public advocacy or education projects. Although established as a nonprofit organization, it paid hundreds of thousands of dollars in fees to Buckham and his lobbying firm, Alexander Strategy Group.
There is no evidence DeLay received a direct financial benefit, but Buckham's firm employed DeLay's wife, Christine, and paid her a salary of at least $3,200 each month for three of the years the group existed. Richard Cullen, DeLay's attorney, has said that the pay was compensation for lists Christine DeLay supplied to Buckham of lawmakers' favorite charities, and that it was appropriate under House rules and election law.
Some of the U.S. Family Network's revenue was used to pay for radio ads attacking vulnerable Democratic lawmakers in 1999; other funds were used to finance the cash purchase of a townhouse three blocks from DeLay's congressional office. DeLay's associates at the time called it "the Safe House."
DeLay made his own fundraising telephone pitches from the townhouse's second-floor master suite every few weeks, according to two former associates. Other rooms in the townhouse were used by Alexander Strategy Group, Buckham's newly formed lobbying firm, and Americans for a Republican Majority (ARMPAC), DeLay's leadership committee.
They paid modest rent to the U.S. Family Network, which occupied a single small room in the back.
'Red Flags' on Tax Returns
Nine months before the June 25, 1998, payment of $1 million by the London law firm James & Sarch Co., as recorded in the tax forms, Buckham and DeLay were the dinner guests in Moscow of Marina Nevskaya and Alexander Koulakovsky of the oil firm Naftasib, which in promotional literature counted as its principal clients the Ministry of Defense and the Ministry of Interior.
Buckham, a graduate of the University of Tennessee, had worked for DeLay since 1995, after serving in other congressional offices and then as executive director of the Republican Study Committee, a group of fiscally conservative House members.
Their other dining companions were Abramoff and Washington lawyer Julius "Jay" Kaplan, whose lobbying firms collected $440,000 in 1997 and 1998 from an obscure Bahamian firm that helped organize and indirectly pay for the DeLay trip, in conjunction with the Russians. In disclosure forms, the stated purpose of the lobbying was to promote the policies of the Russian government.
Kaplan and British lawyer David Sarch had worked together previously. (Sarch died a month before the $1 million was paid.) Buckham's trip with DeLay was his second to Moscow that year for meetings with Nevskaya and Koulakovsky; on the earlier one, the DeLay aide attracted media attention by returning through Paris aboard the Concorde, a $5,500 flight.
Former Abramoff associates and documents in the hands of federal prosecutors state that Nevskaya and Koulakovsky sought Abramoff's help at the time in securing various favors from the U.S. government, including congressional earmarks or federal grants for their modular-home construction firm near Moscow and the construction of a fossil-fuel plant in Israel. None appears to have been obtained by their firm.
Former DeLay employees say Koulakovsky and Nevskaya met with him on multiple occasions. The Russians also frequently used Abramoff's skyboxes at local sports stadiums -- as did Kaplan, according to sources and a 2001 e-mail Abramoff wrote to another client.
Three sources familiar with Abramoff's activities on their behalf say that the two Russians -- who knew the head of the Russian energy giant Gazprom and had invested heavily in that firm -- partly wanted just to be seen with a prominent American politician as a way of bolstering their credibility with the Russian government and their safety on Moscow's streets. The Russian oil and gas business at the time had a Wild West character, and its executives worried about extortion and kidnapping threats. The anxieties of Nevskaya and Koulakovsky were not hidden; like many other business people, they traveled in Moscow with guards armed with machine guns.
During the DeLays' visit on Aug. 5 to 11, 1997, the congressman met with Nevskaya and was escorted around Moscow by Koulakovsky, Naftasib's general manager. DeLay told the House clerk that the trip's sponsor was the National Center for Public Policy Research, but multiple sources told The Post that his expenses were indirectly reimbursed by the Russian-connected Bahamian company.
DeLay spokesman Kevin Madden said the principal reason for his Moscow trip was "to meet with religious leaders there." Nevskaya, in a letter this spring, said Naftasib's involvement in such trips was meant "to foster better understanding between our country and the United States" and denied that the firm was seeking protection through its U.S. contacts.
Nevskaya added in an e-mail yesterday that Naftasib and its officials were not representing the ministries of defense and interior or any other government agencies "in connection with meetings or other lobbying activities in Washington D.C. or Moscow."
A former Abramoff associate said the two executives "wanted to contribute to DeLay" and clearly had the resources to do it. At one point, Koulakovsky asked during a dinner in Moscow "what would happen if the DeLays woke up one morning" and found a luxury car in their front driveway, the former associate said. They were told the DeLays "would go to jail and you would go to jail."
The tax form states that the $1 million came by check on June 25, 1998, from "Nations Corp, James & Sarch co." The Washington Post checked with the listed executives of Texas and Florida firms that have names similar to Nations Corp, and they said they had no connection to any such payment.
James & Sarch Co. was dissolved in May 2000, but two former partners said they recalled hearing the names of the Russians at their office. Asked if the firm represented them, former partner Philip McGuirk at first said "it may ring a bell," but later he faxed a statement that he could say no more because confidentiality practices prevent him "from disclosing any information regarding the affairs of a client (or former client)."
Nevskaya said in the e-mail yesterday, however, that "neither Naftasib nor the principals you mentioned have ever been represented by a London law firm that you name as James & Sarch Co." She also said that Naftasib and its principals did not pay $1 million to the firm, and denied knowing about the transaction.
Two former Buckham associates said that he told them years ago not only that the $1 million donation was solicited from Russian oil and gas executives, but also that the initial plan was for the donation to be made via a delivery of cash to be picked up at a Washington area airport.
One of the former associates, a Frederick, Md., pastor named Christopher Geeslin who served as the U.S. Family Network's director or president from 1998 to 2001, said Buckham further told him in 1999 that the payment was meant to influence DeLay's vote in 1998 on legislation that helped make it possible for the IMF to bail out the faltering Russian economy and the wealthy investors there.
"Ed told me, 'This is the way things work in Washington,' " Geeslin said. "He said the Russians wanted to give the money first in cash." Buckham, he said, orchestrated all the group's fundraising and spending and rarely informed the board about the details. Buckham and his attorney, Laura Miller, did not reply to repeated requests for comment on this article.
The IMF funding legislation was a contentious issue in 1998. The Russian stock market fell steeply in April and May, and the government in Moscow announced on June 18 -- just a week before the $1 million check was sent by the London law firm -- that it needed $10 billion to $15 billion in new international loans.
House Republican leaders had expressed opposition through that spring to giving the IMF the money it could use for new bailouts, decrying what they described as previous destabilizing loans to other countries. The IMF and its Western funders, meanwhile, were pressing Moscow, as a condition of any loan, to increase taxes on major domestic oil companies such as Gazprom, which had earlier defaulted on billions of dollars in tax payments.
On Aug. 18, 1998, the Russian government devalued the ruble and defaulted on its treasury bills. But DeLay, appearing on "Fox News Sunday" on Aug. 30 of that year, criticized the IMF financing bill, calling the replenishment of its funds "unfortunate" because the IMF was wrongly insisting on a Russian tax increase. "They are trying to force Russia to raise taxes at a time when they ought to be cutting taxes in order to get a loan from the IMF. That's just outrageous," DeLay said.
In the end, the Russian legislature refused to raise taxes, the IMF agreed to lend the money anyway, and DeLay voted on Sept. 17, 1998, for a foreign aid bill containing new funds to replenish the IMF account. DeLay's spokesman said the lawmaker "makes decisions and sets legislative priorities based on good policy and what is best for his constituents and the country." He added: "Mr. DeLay has very firm beliefs, and he fights very hard for them."
Kaplan did not respond to repeated messages, and through a spokesman for lawyer Abbe Lowell, Abramoff declined to comment.
No legal bar exists to a $1 million donation by a foreign entity to a group such as the U.S. Family Network, according to Marcus Owens, a Washington lawyer who directed the IRS's office of tax-exempt organizations from 1990 to 2000 and who reviewed, at The Post's request, the tax returns filed by the U.S. Family Network.
But "a million dollars is a staggering amount of money to come from a foreign source" because such a donor would not be entitled to claim the tax deduction allowed for U.S. citizens, Owens said. "Giving large donations to an organization whose purposes are as ambiguous as these . . . is extraordinary. I haven't seen that before. It suggests something else is going on.
"There are any number of red flags on these returns."
Hailing Indian Tribe's Hiring of Lobbyists
Buckham and Tony Rudy were the first DeLay staff members to visit the Choctaw Reservation near Meridian, Miss., where the tribe built a 500-room hotel and a 90,000-square-foot gambling casino. Their trip from March 25 to 27, 1997, cost the Choctaws $3,000, according to statements filed with the House clerk.
DeLay, his wife and Susan Hirschman -- Buckham's successor in 1998 as chief of staff -- were the next to go. Their trip from July 31 to Aug. 2, 1998, was described on House disclosure forms as a "site review and reservation tour for charitable event," and the forms said it cost the Choctaws $6,935.
Buckham, who was then a lobbyist, arranged DeLay's trip, which included a visit to the tribe's golf course to assess it as a possible location for the lawmaker's annual charity tournament, according to a tribal source. Abramoff told the tribe he could not accompany DeLay because of a prior commitment, the source said.
One day after the DeLays departed for Washington, the U.S. Family Network registered an initial $150,000 payment made by the Choctaws, according to its tax return. The tribe made additional payments to the group totaling $100,000 on "various" dates the following year, the returns state. The Choctaws separately paid Abramoff $4.5 million for his lobbying work on their behalf in 1998 and 1999. Abramoff and his wife contributed $22,000 to DeLay's political campaigns from 1997 to 2000, according to public records.
A former Abramoff associate who is aware of the payments, and who spoke on the condition of anonymity to protect his clients, said the tribe made contributions to entities associated with DeLay because DeLay was crucial to the tribe's continuing fight against legislation to allow the taxation of Indians' gambling revenue.
An attorney for the tribe, Bryant Rogers, said the funds were meant not only to "get the message out" about the adverse tax law proposals but also to finance a campaign by Buckham's group within "the conservative base" against legislation to strip tribes of their control over Indian adoptions. "This was a group connected to the right-wing Christian movement," Rogers said. "This is Ed Buckham's connection."
In March 1999, after the tribe had paid a substantial sum directly to the U.S. Family Network, Buckham expressed his general gratitude to Abramoff in an e-mail. "I really appreciate you going to bat for us. Remember it is the first bit of money that is always the hardest, but means the most," Buckham said, according to a copy. He added: "Pray for God's wisdom. I really believe this is supposed to be what we are doing to save our team."
During this period, a fundraising letter on the U.S. Family Network stationery was sent to residents of Alabama, announcing a petition drive to promote a cause of interest to Abramoff's Indian gambling clients in Mississippi and Louisiana, including the Choctaw casino that drew many customers from Alabama: the blocking of a rival casino proposed by the Poarch Creek Indians on their land in Alabama.
"The American family is under attack from all sides: crime, drugs, pornography, and one of the least talked about but equally as destructive -- gambling," said the group's letter, which was signed by then-Rep. Bob Riley (R), now the Alabama governor. "We need your help today . . . to prevent the Poarch Creek Indians from building casinos in Alabama."
Asked about the letter, Rogers said "none of us have seen" it and "the tribe's contributions have nothing to do with it." A spokesman for Riley said that he could not recall the circumstances behind the letter, but that he has long opposed any expansion of gambling in Alabama.
DeLay, meanwhile, saluted Choctaw chief Philip Martin in the Congressional Record on Jan. 3, 2001, citing "all he has done to further the cause of freedom." DeLay also attached to his remarks an editorial that hailed the tribe's gambling income and its "hiring [of] quality lobbyists."
Throughout this period, the U.S. Family Network was paying a monthly fee of at least $10,000 to Buckham and Alexander Strategy Group for general "consulting," according to a former Buckham associate and a copy of the contract. While DeLay's wife drew a monthly salary from the lobbying firm, she did not work at its offices in the townhouse on Capitol Hill, according to former Buckham associates.
Neither the House nor the Federal Election Commission bars the payment of corporate funds to spouses through consulting firms or political action committees, but the spouses must perform real work for reasonable wages.
"Anytime you [as a congressman] hire your child or spouse, it raises questions as to whether this is a throwback to the time when people used campaigns and government jobs to enrich their families," said Larry Noble, executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan watchdog group, and a former general counsel of the FEC.
Research editor Lucy Shackelford; researchers Alice Crites, Madonna Lebling, Karl Evanzz and Meg Smith; and research database editor Derek Willis contributed to this report.
Posted by politicalstuff at 10:36 AM
Friday, December 30, 2005
U.S. to Probe Contractor's Web Tracking
By ANICK JESDANUN, AP Internet Writer
Unbeknown to the Bush administration, an outside contractor has been using Internet tracking technologies that may be prohibited to analyze usage and traffic patterns at the White House's Web site, an official said Thursday.
David Almacy, the White House's Internet director, promised an investigation into whether the practice is consistent with a 2003 policy from the White House's Office of Management and Budget banning the use of most such technologies at government sites.
"No one even knew it was happening," Almacy said. "We're going to work with the contractor to ensure that it's consistent with the OMB policy."
An official with the contractor, WebTrends Inc., said later Thursday, however, that although a cookie may be used, no data from it is actually sent back to the company.
The development came a day after the National Security Agency admitted it had erred in using banned "cookies" at its Web site. Cookies are small data files that can be used to track Internet users. The acknowledgments followed inquiries by The Associated Press.
The White House's Web site uses what's known as a Web bug to anonymously keep track of who's visiting and when. A Web bug is essentially a tiny graphic image — a dot, really — that's virtually invisible. In this case, the bug is pulled from a server maintained by WebTrends and lets the traffic analytic company know that another person has visited a specific page on the site.
Web bugs themselves are not prohibited.
But when these bugs are linked to a cookie — so that a site can tell if the same person has visited again — a federal agency using them must demonstrate a "compelling need," get a senior official's signoff and disclose such usage, said Peter Swire, a Clinton administration official who helped draft the original rules.
But Jason Palmer, vice president of product management for Portland, Ore.-based WebTrends, insisted the cookies are not used in such manner.
Cookies from the White House site are not generated simply by visiting it, according to analyses by the AP and by Richard M. Smith, a security consultant in Cambridge, Mass., who first noticed the Web bug this week.
Rather, WebTrends cookies are sometimes created when visiting other WebTrends clients. Smith said his analysis of network traffic shows such preexisting cookies have then been used when visiting the White House site.
But WebTrends officials say they do not aggregate information about visitors across multiple sites.
Palmer said the browsers are designed to pull preexisting cookies automatically, and that the company has no choice in the matter. But he insisted the company doesn't use the information.
In any case, Almacy said, no personal data are collected.
In a statement, WebTrends added that the analysis performed at the White House site is typical among organizations for improving user experience.
The Clinton administration first issued the strict rules on cookies in 2000 after its Office of National Drug Control Policy, through a contractor, had used the technology to track computer users viewing its online anti-drug advertising. The rules were updated in 2003 by the Bush administration.
Although no personal information was collected at the time, Swire said, concerns were raised that one site's data could be linked later with those from the contractor's other clients.
"It all could be linked up after the fact, and that was enough to lead to the federal policy," Swire said.
Nonetheless, agencies occasionally violate the rules inadvertently. The CIA did in 2002, and the NSA more recently. The NSA disabled the cookies this week and blamed a recent upgrade to software that shipped with cookie settings already on.
Posted by politicalstuff at 1:16 AM
Homeland Security poorly managed: audit
Nearly three years after President George W. Bush created the Department of Homeland Security after the September 11 attacks, the sprawling agency still faces management problems that were partly to blame for the poor response to Hurricane Katrina, an internal audit showed.
In a report issued on Wednesday, the inspector general outlined a series of problems with the agency that was created in early 2003 in the largest reorganization of the federal government in 50 years.
Inspector General Robert Skinner said Hurricanes Katrina in August and Rita, a month later, exposed weaknesses in the Federal Emergency Management Agency's information systems and its management of contracts and grants.
"When one considers that FEMA's programs are largely administered through grants and contracts, the circumstances created by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita provides an unprecedented opportunity for fraud, waste, and abuse," the report said.
It said while Homeland Security was taking steps to manage spending for Katrina, the size of the response and recovery efforts created "an unprecedented need for oversight."
The hurricanes highlighted problems at the top at FEMA. Its former director, Michael Brown, initially praised by Bush for doing "a heckuva job" quit amid a hail of criticism over his agency's slow response to Katrina.
Rep. Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, the senior Democrat on the House Committee on Homeland Security, urged department leaders to fix problems identified in the report.
"Poor leadership at the department and findings of fraud, waste and abuse at FEMA tell me that our local communities are still being left in the dark," said Thompson, whose state was hit hard by Hurricane Katrina.
In a response attached to the audit, Homeland Security officials said the department had formed a task force to ensure financial controls were in place in the recovery effort.
Homeland Security spokesman Russ Knocke said reorganization at FEMA was one of the department's top priorities.
"The American public will be hearing from us in short order about how we intend to build the capability of FEMA into a 21st century agency with 21st century capabilities ... and restore the agency's core focus on response and recovery missions," he said on Thursday.
Knocke said the department would detail the changes early next year. Some changes to FEMA could include state-of-the-art communications equipment and improved capabilities to track emergency supplies -- like through bar codes -- in order to better distribute goods in an emergency.
As part of an effort to have FEMA focus mainly on response and recovery, the department has also created a new preparedness directorate that will be responsible for consolidating all preparedness functions, Knocke said.
The creation of Homeland Security merged all or parts of 22 different agencies. The audit said the department had made progress toward building a single and efficient organization.
"However much remains to be done," the report said. Some top challenges include securing U.S. borders, including developing an automated entry-exit system and identifying and deporting illegal immigrants.
The department's Transportation Security Agency needed to improve training, supervision and technology for airport security screeners, it said.
(additional reporting by Deborah Charles)
Posted by politicalstuff at 12:53 AM
Thursday, December 29, 2005
Bush’s Secret Spying Program: Good News For Guilty Terrorists
At today’s press briefing, White House spokesman Trent Duffy was asked about a story in today’s New York Times, which reported that Bush’s warrantless domestic spying program could undermine key terrorism prosecutions:
Q The New York Times reports today that there are several legal challenges based on the NSA wiretaps. Are you concerned that these challenges could jeopardize the cases against people you guys have already described as very bad people?
MR. DUFFY: …[W]e decline to comment on any pending cases, but I don’t think it should serve as any surprise that defense attorneys are looking at ways to represent their clients; that’s what defense attorneys do.
Duffy’s right, criminal defense lawyers are looking for ways that their clients can avoid conviction. And Bush’s actions have given them an easy way to do it. The program violated federal criminal law — the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. As a result, any information collected by the program is inadmissible in court. (This principle is called the exclusionary rule.) If that information is critical to the government’s case, a guilty terrorist might be found not guilty.
What’s worse, if what the administration says is true, none of this was necessary. If all of the surveillance targeted people associated with al Qaeda, as the administration claims, it would have been easily approved by the FISA court. That process would not have delayed the surveillance since a warrant can be obtained up to 72 hours after the surveillance starts.
The Bush administration says the program is justified because it made us safer. The opposite appears to be true. The program has made us less safe by needlessly complicating the prosecution of terrorist suspects.
Posted by politicalstuff at 12:34 AM
Presidents all the same when scandal strikes
Two of the most powerful moments of political déjà vu I have ever experienced took place recently in the context of the Bush administration's defense of presidentially ordered electronic spying on American citizens.
First, in the best tradition of former President Bill Clinton's classic, "it-all-depends-on-what-the-meaning-of-is-is" defense, President Bush responded to a question at a White House news conference about what now appears to be a clear violation of federal electronic monitoring laws by trying to argue that he had not ordered the National Security Agency to "monitor" phone and e-mail communications of American citizens without court order; he had merely ordered them to "detect" improper communications.
This example of presidential phrase parsing was followed quickly by the president's press secretary, Scott McLellan, dead-panning to reporters that when Bush said a couple of years ago that he would never allow the NSA to monitor Americans without a court order, what he really meant was something different than what he actually said. If McLellan's last name had been McCurry, and the topic an illicit relationship with a White House intern rather than illegal spying on American citizens, I could have easily been listening to a White House news conference at the height of the Clinton impeachment scandal.
On foreign policy, domestic issues, relationships with Congress, and even their selection of White House Christmas cards and china patterns, presidents are as different as night and day. But when caught with a hand in the cookie jar and their survival called into question, administrations circle the wagons, fall back on time-worn but often effective defense mechanisms, and seamlessly morph into one another.
First, we get a president bobbing and weaving like Muhammad Ali. He knows he can't really tell the truth and he knows he can't rely only on lies. The resulting dilemma leads him to veer from unintelligible muttering to attempts to distract, and then to chest-beating bravado and attacks on his accusers.
Soon, he begins taking trips abroad and appearing at the White House podium with foreign leaders with minimal command of English, allowing him to duck for cover whenever scandal questions arise.
Of course, the president can't carry the entire stonewalling burden alone. The next actors to enter the stage typically are the president's press secretary and the White House counsel's office. Serious scandals tend to spawn congressional investigations and independent counsels. As Clinton quickly learned, and Richard Nixon before him, the best way to short-circuit such endeavors is to force the investigators and lawyers to fight like dogs for every inch of ground they get.
By using the White House counsel's office to bury investigators in a sea of motions, pleadings and memoranda, an administration can drag out an investigation to the point of exhaustion. By the time the investigation actually slogs through this legal maze to bring real charges or issue a report, the courts, public and media are so sick and tired of hearing about it that the final charges fall stillborn from the press.
A critical component of White House Scandal Defense 101 is rallying the partisan base. This keeps approval ratings in territory where the wheels don't start falling off. The way to achieve this goal is you go negative and you don't let up. If you're always attacking your accusers, the debate becomes one of Democrat vs. Republican, rather than right vs. wrong. Anyone who questions the legality of the decision to wiretap thousands of Americans unlawfully is attacked, as either an enabler of terrorists or a bitter partisan trying to distract a president at war.
Yet another tactic is to shore up your congressional base in order to avoid or at least control pesky oversight investigations. A president's job here is made far easier if his party maintains a majority in one or both houses. Even if your party doesn't enjoy control of either the House or the Senate, you can still achieve your desired goal, as did Clinton — America's master scandal handler. You've just got to work harder at it.
The signs are everywhere that the Bush White House is busily implementing all parts of this defense strategy. It would be refreshing if it decided to clear the air and actually be honest about its post-Sept. 11 surveillance. However, that's unlikely. The problem this president faces, as did his predecessors, is that full disclosure would lead to the remedy stage. No president wants to fight that end-game.
—Former U.S. attorney and congressman Bob Barr practices law in Atlanta. His Web site: www.bobbarr.org
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Posted by politicalstuff at 12:27 AM
Bush Team Rethinks Its Plan for Recovery
New Approach Could Save Second Term
By Peter Baker and Jim VandeHei
Washington Post Staff Writers
President Bush shifted his rhetoric on Iraq in recent weeks after an intense debate among advisers about how to pull out of his political free fall, with senior adviser Karl Rove urging a campaign-style attack on critics while younger aides pushed for more candor about setbacks in the war, according to Republican strategists.
The result was a hybrid of the two approaches as Bush lashed out at war opponents in Congress, then turned to a humbler assessment of events on the ground in Iraq that included admissions about how some of his expectations had been frustrated. The formula helped Bush regain his political footing as record-low poll numbers began to rebound. Now his team is rethinking its approach to his second term in hopes of salvaging it.
The Iraq push culminated the rockiest political year of this presidency, which included the demise of signature domestic priorities, the indictment of the vice president's top aide, the collapse of a Supreme Court nomination, a fumbled response to a natural disaster and a rising death toll in an increasingly unpopular war. It was not until Bush opened a fresh campaign to reassure the public on Iraq that he regained some traction.
The lessons drawn by a variety of Bush advisers inside and outside the White House as they map a road to recovery in 2006 include these: Overarching initiatives such as restructuring Social Security are unworkable in a time of war. The public wants a balanced appraisal of what is happening on the battlefield as well as pledges of victory. And Iraq trumps all.
"I don't think they realized that Iraq is the totality of their legacy until fairly recently," said former congressman Vin Weber (R-Minn.), an outside adviser to the White House. "There is not much of a market for other issues."
It took many months, and much political pain, for that realization to sink in. In the heady days after reelection, Bush and Rove sketched out an ambitious agenda to avoid the traditional pitfalls of second-term presidents. They settled on four domestic priorities for 2005: remaking Social Security, revising the tax code, cracking down on court-clogging litigation and easing immigration rules. As the year ends, only some litigation limits have passed, and Social Security, tax and immigration plans are dead or comatose.
As Bush focused on Social Security the first half of the year, the cascading suicide bombings in Iraq played out on American television screens. It was summer by the time Bush decided to shift public attention to Iraq. A speech at Fort Bragg, N.C., failed to move the political needle. Bush then escaped to Texas for August -- a vacation shadowed for weeks by a dead soldier's mother named Cindy Sheehan, then brought to an abrupt halt by Hurricane Katrina.
Plans to rebuild public confidence on Iraq were shelved as the president was consumed by the hurricane and the fiasco over Harriet Miers's Supreme Court nomination. Then after I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Vice President Cheney's chief of staff, was charged with perjury in the CIA leak case, Democrats forced an extraordinary closed-door Senate session to demand further investigation of the roots of the Iraq war.
That proved a galvanizing moment at the White House, according to a wide range of GOP strategists in and out of the administration. Rove, Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman and White House strategic planning director Peter H. Wehner urged the president to dust off the 2004 election strategy and fight back, according to officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity to share internal deliberations. White House counselor Dan Bartlett and communications director Nicolle Wallace, however, counseled a more textured approach. The same-old Bush was not enough, they said; he needed to be more detailed about his strategy in Iraq and, most of all, more open in admitting mistakes -- something that does not come easily to Bush.
Although Rove raised concerns about giving critics too much ground, the younger-generation aides prevailed. Bush agreed to try the approach so long as he did not come off sounding too negative. Peter D. Feaver, a Duke University specialist on wartime public opinion who now works at the White House, helped draft a 35-page public plan for victory in Iraq, a paper principally designed to prove that Bush had one.
Bush went into campaign mode, accusing Democrats of hypocrisy for voting to authorize the war and then turning against it. When Rep. John P. Murtha (D-Pa.) proposed pulling troops out of Iraq, the White House issued an unusually harsh and personal response comparing him to liberal filmmaker Michael Moore. The original draft, officials said, had been even tougher.
Within a few days, though, the president shifted tone. Writing off 30 percent or more of the public as adamantly against the war, his advisers focused on winning back a similar-size group that had soured on Iraq but, they believed, wanted to be convinced victory was possible.
The White House employed every bully pulpit the president has -- speeches to military, diplomatic and political audiences; interviews with key television anchors; Cheney's surprise trip to Iraq; private briefings for congressional centrists; a prime-time Oval Office address on Dec. 18 that reached 37 million people; and an East Room news conference.
The humility theme was woven into speeches, often in the first two minutes to keep viewers from turning away. Aides had noticed that anger at Bush after Hurricane Katrina subsided somewhat after he took responsibility for the response. The idea, one senior official said, was like fighting with a spouse: "You need to give voice to their concern. That doesn't necessarily solve the division and the difference, but it drains the disagreement of some of its animosity if you feel you've been heard."
Better yet, from the White House perspective, Democrats helped frame the choice when House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) endorsed Murtha's withdrawal plan and party Chairman Howard Dean declared it impossible to win in Iraq. "For most of the year we were debating events," the senior official said. "Now we're debating Democrats."
The president received the results he wanted. His approval ratings rose eight percentage points in the latest Washington Post-ABC News poll, to 47 percent.
Bush, who had plenty to be morose about through the fall, responded with vigor as well. Instead of heading immediately to bed after the Oval Office address, as he usually does, he stuck around to chew through themes for his upcoming State of the Union address, another high-ranking administration official said.
No one in the White House expects the speech to include anything of the magnitude of Social Security. As one aide put it, instead of home runs, Bush will focus on hitting singles and doubles. "The lesson from this year," said Grover G. Norquist, a GOP activist close to Rove, "is you cannot do anything dramatic unless you have 60 votes" in the Senate, where Republicans are five shy of the count needed to break a filibuster.
With the federal deficit projected to top $340 billion and both Iraq and the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina demanding substantial new money, officials are discussing bigger spending reductions than Bush has advocated in the past and changes to how government puts together its budget. On the other side of the equation, administration officials pushing for health care, education and other initiatives are squeezed.
Despite the gain in polls, some advisers see trouble ahead. Bush's top aides are telling friends they are burned out. Andrew H. Card Jr., already the longest-serving White House chief of staff in a half-century, is among those thought to be looking to leave. Rove's fate is uncertain, as he appears likely to remain under investigation in the CIA leak case, people close to the inquiry said.
Some are concerned that although Bush has changed his approach, he has not changed himself. He has been reluctant to look outside his inner circle for advice, and even some closest to Bush call that a mistake because aides have given up trying to get him to do things they know he would reject.
As they end a difficult year, advisers said they know they cannot take the recent political progress for granted. "We view this as not mission accomplished," one top aide said. "It's going to need to be sustained."
Posted by politicalstuff at 12:25 AM
Key Enron figure pleads guilty
By Jeff Franks
HOUSTON (Reuters) - Enron's former chief accountant, Richard Causey, on Wednesday pleaded guilty to securities fraud in exchange for a maximum seven-year jail sentence for his role in the financial scandal that led to the 2001 collapse of the power-trading giant.
Causey, 45, had been scheduled to go on trial next month with former Enron chief executives Ken Lay and Jeff Skilling, facing the possibility of more than 20 years behind bars, but now may cooperate with federal prosecutors against them in a switch legal experts said could hurt his former bosses.
U.S. District Judge Sim Lake postponed the start of the trial to January 30 from January 17 after Causey's plea, at the defense's request.
"He was poised to be a very key part of the defense. He is one of the most honest and decent men you can ever get to know," Skilling lawyer Daniel Petrocelli said outside court.
"They broke an innocent man," he said, referring to pressure from prosecutors.
With Causey's plea, 16 former Enron executives have pleaded guilty to crimes related to the company's failure.
"For the remainder of his life he will regret the damage and the hurt that so many people suffered as a result of this tragedy," Causey attorney Reid Weingarten told reporters outside the federal courthouse in downtown Houston.
Causey pleaded guilty to a single count of securities related to false filings and statements about Enron's financial performance. He also agreed to forfeit $1.25 million as part of a sentence that Lake said would be set April 21.
"Did you knowingly deceive the investing public?" Lake asked Causey, who replied, "Yes, your honor."
When asked if he knew he knew that giving false public documents and statements was illegal, Causey said, "Yes." He appeared relaxed throughout the hearing and before it began winked and smiled at his wife, who wept after it was all over.
Whether Causey will testify in the trial of Lay and Skilling is uncertain, but his deal with prosecutors calls for them to request a seven-year prison sentence that could be reduced to five years if he cooperates fully.
Causey was a key figure in the huge financial scandal that drove Enron to bankruptcy in December 2001 amid revelations the company had used off-the-books partnership deals to hide billions of dollars in losses and inflate profits.
The scandal opened a window on corporate accounting misdeeds and abuses generally that led to a toughening of federal security laws. It also tainted the Bush administration because Lay had been a close ally of the Bush family for years and one of its biggest political donors.
Causey, after joining Enron from accounting firm Arthur Andersen in 1991, worked closely with Lay, Skilling and former Chief Financial Officer Andy Fastow, who has pleaded guilty to fraud in exchange for a likely 10-year sentence and is cooperating with prosecutors.
Fastow created the off-the-books deals that Enron used to meet its earnings targets and has admitted making millions of dollars from the partnerships, often at Enron's expense.
Prosecutors charge that Causey and Fastow wrote what is known as the "global galactic" agreement, ensuring the Fastow partnerships would not lose money in the deals, which would have made the way Enron accounted for them illegal.
Before the plea deal, Causey would have faced 36 charges including conspiracy, fraud, insider trading, money laundering and making false statements on financial reports, but prosecutors said all but the one count would be dismissed if terms of the plea bargain are fulfilled.
Skilling and Lay will face 35 and 11 criminal counts, respectively.
Attorneys following the case said Causey's turn was generally bad news for Skilling and Lay.
"Less rope is needed for two necks, as the government's noose tightens," former federal prosecutor Jacob Frenkel said. "The government always benefits from the addition of high-level insiders who would have been party to conversations with most senior executives."
Lawyer Jamie Wareham said Causey would make a good witness if called by prosecutors to testify.
"It's a bad development for Lay and Skilling in the main because Causey is a likable, chubby, hail-fellow-well-met kind of guy," said Wareham, global chairman of the litigation department at Paul, Hastings, Janofsky & Walker.
"He just has a demeanor about him that you would like to have as a defense lawyer sitting next to you."
But Petrocelli said Causey would be a good defense witness because he would tell the truth about Enron.
"The fact is, it was a great company," he said.
(With additional reporting by Deborah Charles in Washington and Ben Berkowitz in New York)
Posted by politicalstuff at 12:15 AM
Tuesday, December 27, 2005
Secret surveillance up sharply since 9/11
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Federal applications for a special U.S. court to authorize secret surveillance rose sharply after the September 11, 2001, attacks, and the panel required changes to the requests at an even greater rate, government documents show.
President George W. Bush acknowledged this month he had secretly ordered the National Security Agency to eavesdrop on the international phone conversations and e-mail of Americans suspected of links to terrorists without approval from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.
The domestic spying order has set off a furious debate over whether the war on terrorism gives Bush a blank check when it comes to civil liberties and whether the president, in fact, broke the law.
The Justice Department's reports to the U.S. Congress on the surveillance court's activities show the Bush administration made 5,645 applications for electronic surveillance and physical searches from 2001 through 2004, the most recent year for which figures are available. In the previous four years, the court received a total of 3,436.
The 11-judge panel modified 179 of the Bush administration's requests. By contrast, only one was modified in the preceding four years. The court has reportedly handled almost 20,000 applications since it was set up and has rejected only a handful.
Reasons for the modifications were not stated and could range from minor alterations to more substantive changes.
The highly classified court was set up by the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA, in the wake of Cold War spy fears and President Richard Nixon's misuse of U.S. intelligence agencies to spy on the anti-Vietnam War movement and other political dissidents.
The Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations has filed a Freedom of Information request with federal agencies seeking government records relating to Bush's executive orders authorizing surveillance of Americans.
The group said on Tuesday it also filed a similar request with the Justice and Energy Departments for information on the secret radiation monitoring of Muslim sites in six U.S. cities, first reported by U.S. News and World Report.
The magazine reported last week that more than 100 sites, including private homes, were monitored without court approval as required by FISA.
"We are concerned that, under this secretive program, our government has overstepped constitutional bounds by intruding on private property without any probable cause or valid court orders," CAIR's national legal director, Arsalan Iftikhar, said in a statement.
Bush has said FISA was intended for "long-term monitoring" and that the government after September 11 needed to move "faster and quicker" to protect Americans.
Bush said he had reauthorized the domestic spying program more than 30 times since the September 11 attacks and would continue to do so.
In Crawford, Texas, where Bush is spending the holidays, his spokesman, Trent Duffy, defended what he called a "limited program."
"This is not about monitoring phone calls designed to arrange Little League practice or what to bring to a potluck dinner," he told reporters. "These are designed to monitor calls from very bad people to very bad people who have a history of blowing up commuter trains, weddings, and churches."
After some of the FISA judges expressed concern about the legality of the domestic spying program, the Bush administration agreed to provide them with a classified briefing, probably early next month.
(Additional reporting by JoAnne Allen)
Posted by politicalstuff at 11:59 PM
Bush Presses Editors on Security
By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
President Bush has been summoning newspaper editors lately in an effort to prevent publication of stories he considers damaging to national security.
The efforts have failed, but the rare White House sessions with the executive editors of The Washington Post and New York Times are an indication of how seriously the president takes the recent reporting that has raised questions about the administration's anti-terror tactics.
Leonard Downie Jr., The Post's executive editor, would not confirm the meeting with Bush before publishing reporter Dana Priest's Nov. 2 article disclosing the existence of secret CIA prisons in Eastern Europe used to interrogate terror suspects. Bill Keller, executive editor of the Times, would not confirm that he, publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. and Washington bureau chief Philip Taubman had an Oval Office sit-down with the president on Dec. 5, 11 days before reporters James Risen and Eric Lichtblau revealed that Bush had authorized eavesdropping on Americans and others within the United States without court orders.
But the meetings were confirmed by sources who have been briefed on them but are not authorized to comment because both sides had agreed to keep the sessions off the record. The White House had no comment.
"When senior administration officials raised national security questions about details in Dana's story during her reporting, at their request we met with them on more than one occasion," Downie says. "The meetings were off the record for the purpose of discussing national security issues in her story." At least one of the meetings involved John Negroponte, the director of national intelligence, and CIA Director Porter Goss, the sources said.
"This was a matter of concern for intelligence officials, and they sought to address their concerns," an intelligence official said. Some liberals criticized The Post for withholding the location of the prisons at the administration's request.
After Bush's meeting with the Times executives, first reported by Newsweek's Jonathan Alter, the president assailed the paper's piece on domestic spying, calling the leak of classified information "shameful." Some liberals, meanwhile, attacked the paper for holding the story for more than a year after earlier meetings with administration officials.
"The decision to hold the story last year was mine," Keller says. "The decision to run the story last week was mine. I'm comfortable with both decisions. Beyond that, there's just no way to have a full discussion of the internal procedural twists that media writers find so fascinating without talking about what we knew, when, and how -- and that I can't do."
Some Times staffers say the story was revived in part because of concerns that Risen is publishing a book on the CIA next month that will include the disclosures. But Keller told the Los Angeles Times: "The publication was not timed to the Iraqi election, the Patriot Act debate, Jim's forthcoming book or any other event."
Posted by politicalstuff at 11:55 PM
Democrats: DHS Hasn't Fulfilled Own Pledges
Democrats Charge That Homeland Security Department Has Failed to Fulfill Its Own Promises
By LARA JAKES
The Associated Press
WASHINGTON - The Homeland Security Department, created in response to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, has failed to fulfill 33 of its own pledges to better protect the nation, according to a report released Tuesday by House Democrats.
The report concludes that gaps remain in federal efforts to secure an array of areas, including ports, borders and chemical plants. There also are still delays in the department's sharing terror alerts and other intelligence with state and local officials, the review said.
Compiled for 13 Democrats on the House Homeland Security Committee, the report analyzes public statements and congressional testimony on Bush administration security goals since 2002.
Responding, Homeland Security spokesman Russ Knocke said the department is prioritizing resources and programs based on "today's greatest threats."
"Rather than looking backward at yesterday's threats, we are building upon what we have already accomplished to meet evolving threats," said Knocke.
According to the Democrats, since the department began operating in March 2003, it has failed to:
Compile a single, comprehensive list prioritizing protections for the nation's most critical and potentially vulnerable buildings, transportation systems and other infrastructure.
Install monitors at borders and every international seaport and airport to screen for radiation material entering the country.
Install surveillance cameras at all high-risk chemical plants.
Create one effective network to share quickly security-related intelligence and alerts with state, local and private industry officials.
Track foreign visitors through a computerized system that takes their fingerprints and photographs as they enter and exit the country.
"It would be one thing if the department didn't identify security lapses in the first place, but a more troubling situation when they make promises to the American people and then leave them unfulfilled," Rep. Bennie G. Thompson of Mississippi, the committee's top Democrat, said in a statement accompanying the report.
Although the department has missed many of the original deadlines it set for some programs, it is working to complete them.
In June, for example, Homeland Security for the first time agreed to pursue federal security regulations for chemical plants that have been mostly policed by private industry.
And last week, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said the department will have finished the entry portion of the system to track foreigners named US-VISIT by the end of the year at 115 airports, 14 seaports and 150 land crossings into the country.
On the Net:
Homeland Security Department: http://www.dhs.gov/dhspublic/index.jsp
House Homeland Security Committee Democrats:
Posted by politicalstuff at 11:50 PM
Clinton Impeachment Included in Textbooks
For Today's Students, Clinton Impeachment Is One for the History Books
By BEN FELLER
The Associated Press
WASHINGTON - The impeachment of former President Clinton is in a gray area of history, too long ago to be a current event, too recent to be judged in perspective.
Yet history is already judging Clinton in the place where millions of students get their information about him textbooks.
Seven years after he was impeached in a scandal of sex, perjury and bitter politics, Clinton has become a fixture in major high school texts.
The impeachment is portrayed in the context of his two-term tenure, a milestone event, but not one that overshadows how Clinton handled the economy, crime and health care.
The most commonly used texts give straightforward recaps of Clinton's toughest days, with some flavor of how it affected the nation. Absent are any the lurid details of his relationship with Monica Lewinsky that spiced up daily news reports and late-night talk shows as the scandal and impeachment played out in 1998 and early 1999.
"It should not be in the book for titillating purposes or settling scores," said Alan Brinkley, the Columbia University provost who has written or contributed to several history text books. "It should be in the book because of its significance to our recent history."
Clinton was president from 1993 to 2001, the growing-up years of today's high school students. Even today's oldest high school students were only 10 or 11 during the height of the scandal, and today's middle schoolers were just approaching or entering first grade.
So, for students, the impeachment is literally a subject for the history books.
"This is very difficult for everybody, because it's so fresh," said Gilbert Sewall, director of the American Textbook Council, an independent research group that reviews history texts used in schools. "It's easier to nail down history like the transcontinental railroad. With Clinton, you're dealing with material that has by no means been settled."
The House impeached Clinton on charges of lying to a federal grand jury and obstructing justice to conceal his affair with Lewinsky, a White House intern. Although he was acquitted in a Senate trial, Clinton was branded as the second president impeached for conduct in office.
The topic is covered briefly in middle school texts. McGraw Hill's "The American Journey" offers a description that is representative of other accounts balanced and methodical.
"Although there was general agreement that the president had lied, Congress was divided over whether his actions justified impeachment," the book says.
In McDougal Littell's "The Americans," a high school text, the topic merits two paragraphs. The same book gave more space to the impeachment of Andrew Johnson in 1868.
"The American Vision," a McGraw Hill high school book written by Brinkley and others, spends five paragraphs on Clinton's impeachment and one more on his uncertain legacy.
"Compression is a tremendous challenge," Brinkley said. "Five paragraphs on a topic is a lot for all but the most important issues."
Sometimes, the language gets blunt.
"A History of the United States," a Pearson Prentice Hall high school text, refers to the impeachment scandal as "a sorry mess" that diminished Clinton and his rivals.
Polls showed most Americans did not believe Clinton's "tortured explanations of his behavior," the book says, but also did not think his offenses warranted his removal.
By the time students get to college, the textbooks, as expected, offer more sophisticated detail of the impeachment and the way it all changed American public life.
Yet at all levels, the salacious details of the Lewinsky affair are nowhere to be found.
Middle school texts describe it as "a personal relationship between the president and a White House intern." In high school books, it is Clinton's "improper relationship with a young White House intern," or Clinton "denied having sexual relations" with an intern.
Students don't need the bawdy details to grasp the impeachment struggle, said Allan Lichtman, a presidential historian and professor at American University. But they do need textbooks that present the issue with as much depth as is practical, he said.
"The books not only influence the students, they influence the teachers," he said. "And given that many students don't go on to college and even those who do may not revisit the material the textbook may be their most significant impression."
On the Net:
American Textbook Council: http://www.historytextbooks.org/
Posted by politicalstuff at 11:48 PM
Graz removes Schwarzenegger's name from stadium
VIENNA (Reuters) - Californian Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's Austrian home town of Graz removed his name from the city's stadium over Christmas, amid anger over his decision to deny clemency to a death row inmate.
Austrian news agency APA showed the stadium's entrance displaying only its historical name, "Graz-Liebenau," and quoted an anonymous city official as saying Schwarzenegger's name had been removed overnight to avoid a public furor.
Graz city officials were not reachable on Monday, a holiday in Austria.
Left-wing politicians launched a petition drive in Graz to have the town rename the stadium because the Austrian-born governor allowed the execution of death-row inmate Stanley Tookie Williams this month.
Williams, an ex-leader of the Crips gang who supporters say had redeemed himself by campaigning against gang violence, was executed by lethal injection on December 13 after Schwarzenegger and the courts rejected all of his appeals.
While conservative mayor Siegfried Nagl opposed renaming the stadium, a city council majority of social democrats, communists and greens supported it. That prospect prompted Schwarzenegger to turn the tables and withdraw his name himself.
On December 19, Schwarzenegger demanded Graz stop using his name on the stadium and in promotions and returned a "ring of honor" he had been awarded by city officials in 1999, saying politicians in his hometown appeared to have rejected him.
Schwarzenegger, a former body building champion and Hollywood star, trained at the stadium as a young man. It was renamed in his honor in 1997.
Posted by politicalstuff at 11:47 PM
A Shared Uncertainty
Hurricane Unites Evacuees on Both Sides Of New Orleans's Divide of Race and Class
By Blaine Harden
Washington Post Staff Writer
NEW ORLEANS Joseph and Kesa Williams have come home once since Hurricane Katrina chased them off to Atlanta. Once was all they could bear.
Inside their ruined house on Delery Street in the Lower Ninth Ward, they found ceilings collapsed, possessions rotted and mold triumphant. They had expected as much from watching TV news. Much more disturbing was the abandoned-graveyard feel of the entire neighborhood, where working-class black families have owned houses for generations.
"From what I could see, nothing was happening," said Joseph Williams, 32, who has a new job as a probation officer in suburban Atlanta. "The only thing I found in my house that was worth taking was my high school class ring. I threw it back on the floor and we left."
Across town, Gary and Bea Quaintance, together with their son, Steven, 16, have moved back into their house on Memphis Street in Lakeview, a white middle-class neighborhood that was also wrecked by Katrina. Theirs, though, is an isolated, post-apocalyptic style of housekeeping. Lakeview is a neighborhood in name only, especially at night. The Quaintances are the only family on their block.
Armed with a portable propane heater and a gasoline generator, they sleep on the unflooded second floor. The house beneath them has been stripped of its stinking contents and gutted to the studs. There's no kitchen, no washing machine, no nearby stores and no neighbors to see the Christmas lights Gary Quaintance has strung around the house. Still, it is home.
"If you can't get back home, then you are living your life in limbo," said Bea Quaintance, 47, who raised her two college-age daughters on Memphis Street and is determined to finish raising her son there.
This is a wrenching holiday season for exiles from Memphis and Delery streets. Local politicians plead with them to come home, even as a panel of urban experts warns that both streets lie in neighborhoods too ruined and too flood-prone for immediate reconstruction.
The future of New Orleans teeters on choices made by families such as the Williamses and Quaintances. The sum of their private deliberations will determine the size of the reconstituted city, reset its racial balance and dictate its politics.
While white families from Memphis Street are more likely to return than are black families of Delery Street -- primarily because houses in Lakeview sustained less damage -- the storm has united evacuees on both sides of the city's formidable divide of race and class. What they share is uncertainty, which, like the mold in vacant houses, has mushroomed in the nearly four months since the hurricane. Decisions about coming home are vexed by fear of another storm, worry about money and doubt about government help. The passage of time and the power of distance also make it more difficult to leave new addresses where, despite loneliness and unfamiliarity, there is no risk of drowning in your attic.
So far, only the Quaintance family has returned to Memphis Street. Most others from their block are waiting. At least four are trying to sell. On Delery Street, where bulldozers will soon raze the many houses now marked with red "UNSAFE" stickers, no one is back and former residents say returning is all but impossible.
"I ain't coming back," said Judith Jordan, 53, a grocery store cashier who lived for 20 years on Delery with her brother and mother before the storm sent them away to Shreveport, La. "None of us is coming back."
Jordan has returned home once, with her brother John in early December. They found their wooden one-story house tilted off its foundation. It had that red sticker of doom on it: "Partial Collapse Possible. Do Not Enter." They took some pictures and drove back to Shreveport.
A Shrinking City
Politicians have yet to agree on a master plan for redeveloping the city or for deciding which neighborhoods should not be rebuilt.
What is clear is that New Orleans, which was two-thirds black and one-third poor before the storm, will shrink dramatically. Consulting groups have guessed that the city, once it is rebuilt, will lose about half its pre-Katrina population of 470,000. Right now, less than a quarter of that number live in the city, most in areas that sustained little damage from the hurricane.
As for the rest of the city, the first attempt at a recovery plan was released last month. It said that since the population was certain to shrivel, so should the city's footprint. The plan said safer, higher-elevation and less damaged neighborhoods deserve first crack at limited resources, while terribly damaged neighborhoods are sent to the end of the queue. It roped together the Lower Ninth Ward, which was 98 percent black, and parts of Lakeview, which was 94 percent white, into a kind of no man's land, where reconstruction should be delayed pending "significant study."
"Neighborhoods should be redeveloped as whole units and not piecemealed back together lot by lot," according to the plan. It warned against the "jack-o'-lantern syndrome," with homeowners rebuilding on abandoned blocks.
The plan -- which city leaders requested and which was put together by the Urban Land Institute, a research group in Washington -- kicked up an enormous fuss.
Black leaders, in particular, said it would disproportionately zero out their neighborhoods. The City Council unanimously rejected the plan. Mayor C. Ray Nagin, facing reelection next year along with the council, also backed away from it.
A revision of the plan, expected to be made public next month, cushions the sharp elbows of the Urban Land Institute, said Reed Kroloff, dean of Tulane University's architecture school and a member of the panel working on the revised blueprint.
If approved by the mayor's Bring New Orleans Back Commission, it would give residents a year to prove which neighborhoods are viable. They would do so by voting with their feet, moving back home and spending money to rebuild. After a year, the city or a yet-to-be-created redevelopment authority would decide if a neighborhood is on the road to recovery or should be bought out.
To Return or Not
If anyone should be able to figure out when to return home, it is Ron Martinez, 49, an architect who grew up in the city. He has been all over New Orleans since the flood, helping clients decide whether to rebuild.
Yet, as he weighs the risks of bringing his wife and two children back to Memphis Street, he says he cannot make an informed decision.
"I flat don't know what to do right now," said Martinez, who shortly after the storm bought a house in the suburb of Destrehan, about a 40-minute drive west of New Orleans. "A lot of things that are out of my control have to happen before I say I am rebuilding my house."
When the White House and Congress moved decisively this month to pay to rebuild the city's levees, the overriding concern of Martinez and of many of his Lakeview neighbors was finally addressed. The 17th Street Canal, just half a mile from Martinez's house, was breached during the storm and deluged Lakeview. Levee reconstruction would include barriers and pumping stations to stop a storm surge from pouring into Lakeview through the canal.
"That put me a little more at ease, but it really didn't change my thinking," Martinez said.
He has not yet heard whether he will receive a low-interest reconstruction loan from the federal Small Business Administration, although many of his neighbors in Lakeview have had their applications approved.
More important, Martinez and his wife worry that their block and surrounding streets will not be rebuilt as the comfortable and serene neighborhood they loved.
"We don't want to be surrounded by a bunch of nasty, empty houses," Cathy Martinez said.
She and her husband have settled, for the moment, on a holding pattern. They plan to use their flood insurance money, combine it with a loan and pay off the mortgage on the Memphis Street house, which was worth about $600,000 before the storm.
"I will own the place outright, and that will take pressure off me to decide when to get back in," Ron Martinez said.
'Just Come Back'
Next door to the empty Martinez house, Gary and Bea Quaintance said they never considered waiting to see whether Memphis Street would come back. They have lived there for 29 years and think the best way to get back home is simple.
"Just come back," said Gary, 53, a retired police officer who with his wife owns a dry-cleaning business and print shop, both wrecked by Katrina. "If I got to get up in the morning and it is vacant lots around here, it is no big deal."
He laughed when informed that a plan by urban experts does not approve of his rush to return home to an abandoned street.
"The city gave me a building permit," he said. "Why should I wait until the whole block is ready to rebuild? It is hard enough for me to coordinate with a Sheetrock man, a plumber and an electrician."
Nearly every day since the Aug. 29 storm, he and his wife have been plotting their return: hiring contractors, collecting insurance, securing permits, clearing trash, cleaning the pool.
They rented a duplex about 35 minutes away on the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain, but mostly they work out of their Chevy Suburban, which is stuffed with rebuilding supplies, snacks and cold drinks. Bea keeps a running to-do list on the dashboard. On a recent day, it told her to order kitchen cabinets, price drywall and have a mammogram.
Since Gary knows carpentry (he built much of the house himself), he and wife say that a $150,000 flood insurance payment should cover rebuilding costs. They have not heard whether their application for a $75,000 rebuilding loan from the Small Business Administration will be approved. If not, they will rebuild anyway -- no matter what the neighbors do.
The Quaintances will not be lonely pioneers for long, said Jay Batt, City Council member for Lakeview.
"Even before the federal government announced that it would rebuild the levees, we printed up 3,000 signs for people who are rebuilding and coming back," he said. "We quickly ran out of signs."
On a recent cold, wet Saturday in Atlanta, Joseph and Kesa Williams left their two kids with a babysitter in the suburbs and drove downtown to Morehouse College to hear Nagin make a pitch for them to return home.
"The New Orleans swagger is coming back," the mayor told the Williamses, along with more than 2,000 of his displaced constituents, most of them black.
In a promise that cuts to the core of racial politics in the city, Nagin said every neighborhood would be rebuilt. While there are no precise numbers, New Orleans is now a much whiter place than it was before the storm.
When time came for questions, it seemed that the mayor's upbeat tone had infuriated the exiles. Their questions were tearful and accusatory, and many of them were driven by racial suspicion. One woman wanted to know why a black mayor has so many white staff members.
"I don't see where that meeting had any results whatsoever," Williams said after he and his wife had driven back out to their sparsely furnished apartment in the suburbs, collected their kids and eaten pizza in the dining room. "It was just a rant-and-rave kind of thing."
Joseph and Kesa Williams have the cold comfort of clarity. They say they won't go back home.
It's not that they have fallen in love with Riverdale, their new home town south of Atlanta. Kesa commutes 2 1/2 hours round trip a day to the city and says traffic is "horrible." Joseph misses his kin from the Lower Ninth Ward. They have moved to the Dallas area, and he wants to join them there.
As they see it, the deck is stacked against blacks returning to New Orleans.
"Your upper-class white neighborhoods are first in line and we are very last," said Kesa, who works in Atlanta as an accountant.
While she and her husband insist they are not going home, the family histories of most of New Orleans's black exiles suggest that ties of blood, time and culture will draw many back.
"This is one of the most rooted black populations in the United States," said William H. Frey, a demographer at the University of Michigan. Nearly nine out of 10 blacks in New Orleans were born in Louisiana, according to Frey's analysis of census figures. He said that nearly all of them have family ties to the city that reach back several generations.
"I think these people in exile will hold out, hoping to return, longer than residents of any other city might," said Frey, adding, though, that there are limits. "Once they get a year down the road, and they still can't come back, I would say the chances of return fall sharply."
Joseph and Kesa Williams have found higher-paying jobs in Atlanta than they had in New Orleans, and their daughter, Kayla, 8, is in what they say is a better school. Being chased out of town by a hurricane has turned out better than they thought it would. But that doesn't make them any less upset about what they see as the bizarrely inequitable treatment of their ruined neighborhood.
The low-lying section of the Lower Ninth Ward where the Williamses lived was the last neighborhood in the city to be reopened, in part because a second flood, caused by Hurricane Rita in September, inundated the area.
Even after that water was gone, though, authorities did not allow residents to even look at the houses until the first week of December.
"Why did it have to take three months?" Joseph Williams asked on the night after they listened to Nagin's come-on-home speech. "Was it really that much of a hazard in the Ninth Ward, or was it political?"
School Draws Families Back
Before Katrina, nearly all elementary-school-age children on Memphis Street attended St. Dominic School.
Without the Catholic grade school, Ron and Cathy Martinez, along with several other parents who have been forced from Lakeview, feared that the neighborhood would not come back to life. It was social glue for parents, with an endless offering of dinners, holiday parties and after-school meetings.
Now the school is coming back, defiantly so, even as politicians and urban planners bicker about redevelopment mechanisms.
"Our community has a pulse," Ron Martinez said.
After Thanksgiving, he and his wife pulled their children, Evan, 11, and Marcelle, 10, out of a Catholic school in suburban Destrehan -- and began driving them to St. Dominic's temporary location at Holy Rosary Academy, about two miles from the ruins of Lakeview, in a part of New Orleans where flood damage was not severe.
By the first of the year, St. Dominic will have lured back about half of the 625 students it had before Katrina, along with 27 of its 42 teachers. Students and teachers are back in class because the school's principal, Adrianne LeBlanc, decided in the days after the storm that any long-term closing was unacceptable.
"If we had waited for the city and the federal government to do everything for us, we would be waiting for a good long while," she said.
LeBlanc lived in Lakeview, and her one-story house was wrecked by the storm. "It's as ugly as sin and will have to be knocked down," she said.
But she has not had time to deal with it. Five days after Katrina, she began rounding up displaced teachers and parents, finding a temporary school building and lining up contractors to fix the flooded school in Lakeview.
"In the first weeks, I would start answering e-mails and making phone calls at 6 a.m. and turn off the computer at 2 a.m.," she said.
Since the school reopened at its temporary location in late October, she has cut her hours. She now works 6 a.m. to midnight. Her new urgent mission is finding Catholic schools around the country to send desks, books and other supplies.
LeBlanc said it would be wonderful for Lakeview -- and St. Dominic -- if the government could guarantee that by next summer the city won't flood again. Wonderful, she said, but not necessary.
"We are going to be back in that school come August, come hell or high water," she said.
No Plans to Return
St. Dominic is a magnet pulling displaced Lakeview families back into the geographical orbit of New Orleans.
Ron and Cathy Martinez are considering selling their house in Destrehan and buying one in nearby Metairie or in a higher, safer neighborhood of the city. Their three closest Lakeview friends, who also had children at St. Dominic and fled the storm for Texas, Florida and Baton Rouge, La., will also be moving back to the New Orleans area come January.
This clustering around the edges of the city is part of a pattern documented by a recent Los Angeles Times analysis of address changes after the hurricane. It showed that about 60 percent of white middle-class residents of the metropolitan area did not flee for distant parts of the country.
There is a stark difference, though, between suburban life in greater New Orleans and the desolate homestead existence now on offer back on Memphis Street.
On a recent evening in Destrehan, Ron Martinez made it clear he had no immediate intention of hauling his family back there. He said he admires the grit and determination of the Quaintance family, but he will not join them, at least for a while.
"I am not so tied to that piece of property that I cannot live somewhere else," he told his family.
His daughter, Marcelle, heard him and said, "But I love that house."
"You can love another house," her father said.
Database editor Sarah Cohen in Washington contributed to this report.
Posted by politicalstuff at 11:39 PM
'Birthright citizenship' policy change stirs debate
By David Crary, The Associated Press
NEW YORK — A proposal to change long-standing federal policy and deny citizenship to babies born to illegal immigrants on U.S. soil ran aground this month in Congress, but it is sure to resurface — kindling bitter debate even if it fails to become law.
Miguel Gomez and his wife, Guadalupe, from Mexico, pose with their U.S.-born children, Michael and Susan, in the kitchen of their San Diego home. Miguel Gomez and his wife, Guadalupe, from Mexico, pose with their U.S.-born children, Michael and Susan, in the kitchen of their San Diego home.
At issue is "birthright citizenship" — provided for since the Constitution's 14th Amendment was ratified in 1868.
Section 1 of that amendment, drafted with freed slaves in mind, says: "All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States."
Some conservatives in Congress, as well as advocacy groups seeking to crack down on illegal immigration, say the amendment has been misapplied over the years, that it was never intended to grant citizenship automatically to babies of illegal immigrants. Thus they contend that federal legislation, rather than a difficult-to-achieve constitutional amendment, would be sufficient to end birthright citizenship.
With more than 70 co-sponsors, Georgia Republican Rep. Nathan Deal tried to include a revocation of birthright citizenship in an immigration bill passed by the House in mid-December. GOP House leaders did not let the proposal come to a vote.
"Most Americans feel it doesn't make any sense for people to come into the country illegally, give birth and have a new U.S. citizen," said Ira Mehlman of the Federation of American Immigration Reform, which backs Deal's proposal. "But the advocates for illegal immigrants will make a fuss; they'll claim you're punishing the children, and I suspect the leadership doesn't want to deal with that."
Deal has said he will continue pushing the issue, describing birthright citizenship as "a huge magnet" attracting illegal immigrants. He cited estimates — challenged by immigrant advocates — that roughly 10% of births in the United States, or close to 400,000 a year, are babies born to illegal immigrants.
"It's an issue that we are very concerned about," said Michele Waslin, director of immigration policy research for the National Council of La Raza, a Hispanic advocacy organization that opposes any effort to revoke birthright citizenship.
"This was always seen in the past as some extreme, wacko proposal that never goes anywhere," she said. "But these so-called wacko proposals are becoming more and more mainstream — it's becoming more acceptable to have a discussion about it."
Alvaro Huerta of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles said his organization opposes Deal's proposal and is girding for a battle for public opinion.
"This is red meat for conservatives," he said. "They throw out these issues they know aren't winning issues, and they create an environment of anti-immigrant sentiment. We need to do better job of educating people why it's wrong."
According to a survey last month by Rasmussen Reports, a non-partisan public opinion research firm, 49% of Americans favor ending birthright citizenship, and 41% favor keeping it. The margin of error was plus or minus 4 percentage points.
Rep. Tom Tancredo, R-Colo., a leading proponent of tougher measures to stop illegal immigration, believes public opinion could shift further in favor of Deal's measure.
"Any issue that has a 'damn right' response, you can go with," Tancredo said. "You ask if we should stop illegal immigrants from coming onto this country and having a baby here who is an American citizen, and most people say, 'Damn right.'"
However, Tancredo acknowledged that Deal's measure faces major obstacles. Though he believes the House GOP leadership will eventually allow the proposal to come to a vote, Tancredo said it could flounder in the Senate or draw a veto from President Bush, who has sought to steer a middle course on some immigration issues.
The best strategy, Tancredo suggested, might be to avoid presenting the measure as a separate, stand-alone bill and instead add it to a broader piece of legislation that the Senate could not disregard.
Tancredo, Deal and others have noted that the United States is among the relatively few wealthy nations that allow birthright citizenship.
However, Lucas Guttentag, director of the American Civil Liberties Union's Immigrants' Rights Project, said some Western European nations with different policies have suffered problems.
"Look at Germany — the children of guest workers are not citizens," he said. "That creates enormous social and racial tensions. That's the opposite of where we want to go."
Guttentag also said the federal courts would probably strike down any measure that challenged the 14th Amendment's citizenship guarantees.
"It's a far-fetched, fundamentally misguided and unconstitutional proposal," he said. "It's not the kind of proposal that gets taken seriously by those who actually want to grapple with immigration issues."
Some critics of current policy refer to U.S.-born children of illegal immigrants as "anchor babies" because — when they reach adulthood — they can sponsor their parents for legal permanent residency. Immigrants-rights groups say the number of such cases is smaller than critics allege, but authoritative statistics are scarce.
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Posted by politicalstuff at 11:35 PM
Air marshals stretched thin
By Alexandra Marks, The Christian Science Monitor
NEW YORK — They're America's flying enforcers, the federal air marshals — the last line of defense in the case of an attack on an airborne plane.
But since two marshals shot and killed an unarmed mentally ill man earlier this month, problems within the small, secretive agency have again come to light. The Federal Air Marshal Service is beset by persistent challenges from morale to training to top-heavy management, sources say — so much so that the nation risks having too few marshals to protect commercial aviation.
Although the exact number of air marshals is a closely guarded secret because of national-security concerns, two officials within the service provided estimates to the Monitor out of concern that, as one of them put it, "the public is at risk." Both sources spoke on condition of anonymity because they risked sanctions by speaking openly. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA), which oversees the service, counters that the public, even during the heavily traveled holiday season, is adequately protected.
"We'll be the first to admit that we can't be on every flight," says TSA spokesman Dave Adams. "But [for people traveling by air], this holiday season there's a good chance that there will be a federal air marshal on one of their connecting flights."
On average, about 25,000 to 30,000 commercial airline flights take off each day. The service's goal, which is called the Flight Coverage Index, is to ensure that air marshals are on 3% of the flights, according to several sources. But they contend that goal is rarely reached because there aren't enough marshals.
A published estimate has put the total of air marshals at roughly 3,000; the Monitor's two independent sources contend that the number of active, frontline marshals ranges from 1,900 to 2,100. And in some of the service's 21 field offices, as many as 25% of them are grounded for health and other reasons, says one of the sources. Since they work in teams and fly what the TSA calls "targeted, critical flights" — such as New York-Los Angeles and from Latin America — covering the requisite number of flights can be challenging.
Those numbers are not accurate, says the TSA's Mr. Adams, who says frontline personnel do not have access to the same information as management. Furthermore, he says, the TSA has made strides in addressing many of the concerns.
Still, hundreds of air marshals plan to leave the service and that could jeopardize the public, the sources say.
"If you're a politician or a bureaucrat, this is a great program to make people feel good and to show that you're doing something to make them safer," says Andrew Thomas, an aviation-security expert at the University of Akron. "But obviously, there's a big difference between what's presented to the public and how the program actually works."
The service, created in 1968 to deal with the threat of hijackers, had dwindled to 33 active marshals prior to the 9/11 terrorist attacks. In their aftermath, Congress ordered that the numbers be increased significantly, reportedly to around 5,000. Thousands of law-enforcement officers applied.
But they soon found themselves in what many believed was an untenable security situation, says a former air marshal. They were required to wear jackets at all times — which some marshals referred to as the "kill me first" dress code because it made them stand out. They had to identify themselves to airline personnel, often in front of passengers. They complained of long hours, unresponsive management, and no coherent way to report problems — as well as the lack of a career path.
Many of those who complained found themselves retaliated against, either given desk jobs or investigated more than once for alleged infractions of policy, sources say. As a result, the American Civil Liberties Union sued on behalf of one air marshal. In the meantime, the service was bumped from agency to agency within the Department of Homeland Security, compounding management problems.
After peaking at 4,800 in 2002, sources say, the force shrank dramatically, due to attrition and compounding health problems from excessive flying.
While the TSA has changed some of the most controversial policies, like the required dress code, the service still "lacks adequate management controls to help ensure that mission-related incidents that affect air marshals' ability to operate discreetly are recorded, tracked, and addressed," the Government Accountability Office said in a November report. It also recommended the service do more to ensure a good career path to help with "retention and morale."
To address those issues, the service has set up a working group of marshals from around the country so they can bring their concerns to management in Washington, according to Adams. Earlier this month, it tested a new program that would have air marshals also work alongside local law enforcement in patrolling trains, bus stations, and ferries. That would allow the service to expand and create more ground-based career opportunities.
"We're actually taking a wait-and-see attitude with this," says John Amat, executive vice president of the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association, which represents about 1,300 air marshals.
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Posted by politicalstuff at 11:33 PM