The New York Times
By TIM ROEMER
AMERICANS have clearly had enough of the Bush administration's record: 7 in 10 say the nation is headed in the wrong direction. But with the 2006 Congressional elections fast approaching, Democrats must not get so irrationally exuberant that they lapse into old, bad habits.
In January, President Bush's adviser Karl Rove outlined the issues he believes will lead Republican candidates to victory in November: national security, the economy and taxes, and the courts. Democrats cannot allow Republicans to define the terms of the debate. Instead, they should take a page from history and from a different Karl.
In 1946, Karl Frost, an advertising executive, suggested a simple slogan to the Massachusetts Republican Committee: "Had Enough? Vote Republican!" Frost recognized that these simple words could unite his national party and blame its opponents, who controlled Congress, for causing or failing to solve the many problems facing the country, including meat shortages, economic difficulties and labor unrest. The strategy worked: in 1946, both houses of Congress flipped.
Sixty years later, Democrats would be smart to turn Karl Frost's slogan on Karl Rove's strategy.
"Had Enough? Vote Democratic!" is a slogan that spotlights the many mistakes in Iraq, the mismanagement of Hurricane Katrina and the mangling of fiscal responsibility with "bridges to nowhere." Indeed, you can see and hear Democratic candidates rallying their voters at Jefferson-Jackson Day Dinners with a passionate and rhythmic chorus:
"The administration said Iraqis would greet us with roses as liberators, yet our soldiers are attacked with homemade bombs and rocket-propelled grenades. Had Enough? Vote Democratic.
"The administration said it was prepared for a hurricane in New Orleans, yet our government's feeble response prompted Bangladesh to offer us $1 million in aid. Had Enough? Vote Democratic!
"The administration said it would bring competency to our federal budget, yet our nation faces catastrophic deficits. Had Enough? Vote Democratic!"
And if you want to fire up the base, you can string together references to Jack Abramoff, Abu Ghraib and the Dubai ports deal. "Had Enough?" works well on classic campaign materials like buttons and bumper stickers while its simplicity makes it a cinch to "go viral" on the Internet.
"Had enough?" will speak to both Democrats and disillusioned Republicans. Liberals can use "Had Enough?" to reach out to voters enraged over the incompetent management of Iraq. Moderates might use "Had Enough?" to persuade swing voters on fiscal issues. And the implicit rejection of neoconservative politics will appeal to all voters who seek to spurn tainted Republican candidates.
"Had Enough?" also pre-empts Democrats' worst habits. Too often we've made campaigns complicated and policy-heavy. We love to unveil 40-page position papers and wonky diagrams. "Had Enough?" clears a broad path through such minutiae. "Public sentiment is everything," Abraham Lincoln said 150 years ago. "With public sentiment, nothing can fail; without it nothing can succeed."
Karl Frost's simple words can serve as the cavalry charge to help win the coming electoral battles — something Democrats are in an incredibly strong position to do. But make no mistake: new ideas matter. Democrats will also need the artillery of a disciplined, focused set of core proposals to complement their criticism of Republican excesses.
As we head into the midterm elections, Democrats should finally understand, as Lincoln and Frost did before, that you must win the majority before you can make public policy.
Tim Roemer is a former Democratic congressman from Indiana.
Saturday, April 29, 2006
The New York Times
Bush approves Dubai defense purchase
By Caren Bohan
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President George W. Bush approved Dubai's $1.24 billion takeover of Doncasters, a British engineering company with U.S. plants that supply the Pentagon, the White House said on Friday.
The decision, announced by White House spokesman Scott McClellan, followed a congressional uproar over security fears that scuttled another Dubai state-owned company's plan to acquire operations at major U.S. ports.
The interagency Committee on Foreign Investments in the United States sent its confidential recommendation on the Dubai takeover of Doncasters to Bush on April 13.
"The president this morning accepted the committee's recommendation," McClellan said. "The committee recommended approval of the transaction after closely scrutinizing it and concluding that it would not compromise our national security."
Posted by politicalstuff at 1:51 AM
Bush Rejects Calls for Tax on Oil Profits
President Bush Nixes Calls for Tax on Oil Profits, Says It's Not the Way to Calm U.S. Anxieties
By JENNIFER LOVEN
The Associated Press
WASHINGTON - President Bush said Friday that taxing enormous oil industry profits is not the way to calm Americans' anxieties about pain at the gas pump, and that his "inclination and instincts" are that major oil companies are not intentionally overcharging drivers.
Bush's remarks suggested the former Texas oilman is unlikely to take harsh action against oil companies despite public anger about the rising cost of fuel. Gasoline is averaging $2.92 a gallon across the country, up 69 cents from a year ago, according to AAA's daily fuel gauge report.
With politicians concerned the issue could tilt what are expected to be close midterm elections this fall, the president and many in Congress have been rushing to offer solutions, most of which would offer little immediate relief.
Some Democrats have viewed this week's announcement by major oil companies of huge first-quarter profits as a chance to renew their push for a windfall profits tax. But though a few Republicans, including Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, have said the idea ought to be examined, Bush and most GOP lawmakers strongly oppose it.
"The temptation in Washington is to tax everything," the president said in a wide-ranging news conference.
Instead, Bush called on Congress to ease regulations that make it difficult to expand the nation's refining capacity. He also urged oil companies to plow their profits into finding and producing more energy, such as by building natural gas pipelines or pursuing renewable energy sources all ventures that could further boost the companies' bottom lines.
Three days ago, the president announced a series of steps, including calling on his administration to investigate possible price gouging. But he admitted Friday that he thinks it's probably not happening.
"I have no evidence that there's any rip-off taking place," Bush said. "It's the role of the Federal Trade Commission to assure me that my inclination and instincts is right."
The president has supported the rolling back of some oil industry tax breaks that were enacted with his support just eight months ago. That tax break recission is part of a broader gas price-relief plan offered by the Senate GOP leadership, but House Republicans signaled this week they won't go along.
Bush called reporters to the Rose Garden to trumpet recent positive economic reports. But, aware that high gas prices are one of the reasons that good news hasn't sunk in with much of the public, he acknowledged fuel costs threaten to derail economic progress and used a driving metaphor to make the point that tax cuts are the key to continued strength.
"With gas prices on the minds of Americans, we need to keep our foot on the pedal of this strong economy," the president said.
Iran's suspected desire to build nuclear weapons dominated the president's half-hour session with reporters, during which Bush and his two top economic advisers stood facing a blazing sun.
The International Atomic Energy Agency said Friday that Tehran had ignored the U.N. Security Council's deadline for it to stop all activities related to enriching uranium. But Iran pledged anew to continue with its nuclear program, which it insists is only for peaceful energy production, with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad saying his nation "won't give a damn" about Security Council resolutions.
"Today's IAEA report should remind us all that the Iranian government's intransigence is not acceptable," Bush said.
The Bush administration wants the Council to impose economic or political sanctions on Iran for its defiance. But with Council members Russia and China opposing such a move, the president would not discuss sanctions.
He merely stressed that "the diplomatic process is just starting" on devising a strategy for dealing with Iran, and noted he talked earlier Friday with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who is also due back at the White House next week. Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns plans to meet in Paris next Tuesday with counterparts from Britain, France, Germany, China and Russia, while Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is to confer at U.N. headquarters May 9 with those countries' foreign ministers.
Bush also declined an opportunity to be directly critical of Ahmadinejad's escalating rhetoric. Bush's aides believe Iran is digging an international hole for itself with such statements, and that it will help the U.S. case with its allies to let it do so without reciprocating.
Turning to problems at home, Bush promised his administration is using the lessons of Hurricane Katrina to prepare for June 1 start of the next hurricane season. "I feel pretty good about the coordination," he said.
Though his advisers have rejected, at least for now, abolishing FEMA as a Senate panel proposes, Bush left the door open. Of the numerous recommendations from White House and congressional inquiries, Bush said "we ought to take them all seriously. The objective is to respond to these natural disasters as well as we possibly can. ... My attitude is, let's make it work."
Posted by politicalstuff at 1:50 AM
Federal Govt's disastrous handling of the Katrina housing crisis is looking more and more like an attempt to force displaced families into the streets
The New York Times
Still Battering the Katrina Homeless
The federal government's disastrous handling of the Katrina housing crisis is looking more and more like an attempt to force displaced families into the streets. The latest chapter came when the Federal Emergency Management Agency informed many families who had expected to have their rent paid for a year that they would soon be forced to assume their own housing costs or to leave their homes and apartments.
This is not the first time the families and the communities that have struggled to house them have been whipsawed by the federal government. They have been peppered with policy changes and letters written in clotted bureaucratese.
Things got off to a disastrous start soon after the hurricane, when the federal government concentrated on grotesquely expensive trailer parks and hotel housing — and then on short-term leases for private housing that frightened away potential landlords. The common-sense approach would have been to furnish displaced families with at least 12 months' worth of rent vouchers through the Department of Housing and Urban Development, as was done after other disasters. That way, the families could have settled into functioning communities, where they could have found schools for their children and perhaps gotten jobs.
The Bush administration avoided making HUD the star of the resettlement effort because that would have built a constituency for the voucher program, which ideologues in Congress have been busy trying to destroy. This result was on display this week in a Times article by Shaila Dewan, which showed deepening confusion among already devastated families who fear that the next stop will be a homeless shelter.
Posted by politicalstuff at 1:47 AM
The New York Times
U.S. Steps Into Wiretap Suit Against AT&T
By JOHN MARKOFF
SAN FRANCISCO, April 28 — The government asked a federal judge here Friday to dismiss a civil liberties lawsuit against the AT&T Corporation because of a possibility that military and state secrets would otherwise be disclosed.
The lawsuit, accusing the company of illegally collaborating with the National Security Agency in a vast surveillance program, was filed in February by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a civil liberties group.
The class-action suit, which seeks an end to the collaboration it alleges, is based in part on the testimony of Mark Klein, a retired technician for the company who says Internet data passing through an AT&T switching center in San Francisco is being diverted to a secret room. There, Mr. Klein says, the security agency has installed powerful computers to eavesdrop without warrants on the digital data and forward the information to an undisclosed place.
The foundation has filed documents obtained by Mr. Klein that ostensibly show detailed technical information on N.S.A. technology used to divert Internet data. He has also said in a deposition that employees of the agency went to the switching center to oversee special projects.
The company has declined to address the suit publicly, saying it will have no comment on matters of national security or customer privacy.
In its action Friday, the government filed a statement of interest asserting military and state secret privilege in asking the judge, Vaughn R. Walker, to dismiss the suit. Separately on Friday, AT&T also filed two motions to dismiss.
The government's filing said the authorities "cannot disclose any national security information that may be at issue in this case." The document went on to say that the filing should not be construed as either a confirmation or a denial of any of the claims made by the civil liberties group about government surveillance activities.
Elsewhere in the document, however, the government said President Bush had explained that after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, he authorized the security agency to intercept communications into and out of the United States by people linked to Al Qaeda and related organizations. The agency is ordinarily prohibited from intercepting the telephone and digital communications of American citizens without a warrant from a special intelligence court.
Responding to the filing, Cindy Cohn, legal director for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, said, "We think the government's right to conduct this program should be considered separately from the issue of whether a telecommunications firm has the right to break the law."
The government's interest, Ms. Cohn said, is an indication that the lawsuit is not frivolous.
The court plans to hear the various motions on May 17.
Earlier this year, the foundation asked the government to examine the documents that the group was preparing to submit to the court related to Mr. Klein's testimony. At the time, the government chose not to intervene, and the documents were filed under seal.
The documents, which include affidavits, lists of equipment and technical specifications related to tapping fiber-optic network links, have been obtained independently by a number of news organizations. They refer to a similar installation in an AT&T facility in Atlanta, and Mr. Klein has said he believes there are related eavesdropping facilities attached to AT&T centers in San Jose, Los Angeles, San Diego and Seattle.
Posted by politicalstuff at 1:45 AM
Ohio lawmaker focus of probe: paper
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Federal prosecutors this week indicated they would pursue a wide range of allegations involving Republican lawmaker Robert Ney of Ohio and his dealings with convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff, the Washington Post reported in its Saturday edition.
The lawmaker also faces another challenge next week because for the first time since his 1994 election to Congress, he will have to compete for his party's nomination, the paper wrote.
Ney, of the eastern district of Ohio, has been under investigation by federal authorities in Florida and in Washington, D.C., over business that helped Abramoff and two partners buy a Fort-Lauderdale-based casino cruise line.
The congressman has not been named, but law enforcement sources have confirmed that he is the "Representative No. 1" identified in plea agreements with Abramoff and others.
In those court documents, the unnamed lawmaker, who denies any wrongdoing, is accused of accepting "a stream of things of value" in exchange for official actions," the Post reported.
Posted by politicalstuff at 1:43 AM
Army colonel charged in Abu Ghraib scandal
By Will Dunham
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Army on Friday charged Lt. Col. Steven Jordan, who headed the interrogation center at Iraq's Abu Ghraib jail, with maltreatment of detainees, interfering with investigators and other counts, making him the highest-ranking person charged in the scandal.
The Army Military District of Washington said Jordan faced 12 criminal counts relating to seven different charges. Prosecutors said he subjected detainees to forced nudity and intimidation by military working dogs and later lied about it to investigators.
Ten low-ranking soldiers have been convicted in military courts in connection with the physical abuse and sexual humiliation of detainees at Abu Ghraib. Two officers senior to Jordan at Abu Ghraib have been disciplined by the Army, but neither faced criminal charges.
The charges against Jordan include cruelty and maltreatment of detainees, dereliction of duty, wrongful interference with an investigation, making false official statements, willfully disobeying a superior officer and others. Jordan is a reservist currently on active duty assigned to the Army Intelligence and Security Command, the Army said.
Images of the abuse, including naked detainees stacked in a pyramid and others cowering before snarling dogs, first became public on April 28, 2004 -- two years ago to the day before the charges were brought against Jordan.
Jordan was in charge of the military's Joint Interrogation and Debriefing Center at Abu Ghraib in the fall and winter of 2003 at the height of the detainee abuse. It was a chaotic time when the jail's detainee population was ballooning and the insurgency was intensifying.
WIDER PROBE URGED
"It's gratifying that the military is beginning to focus on the role of more senior officers in the torture scandal. But this is but a step. The problems are just so clearly systemic that they need to be looked at more comprehensively," said Hina Shamsi, a lawyer with the rights group Human Rights First.
The Abu Ghraib scandal triggered international condemnation of the United States and undermined America's public image as it waged the war in Iraq. Abu Ghraib, located outside Baghdad, previously was a notorious torture center under deposed Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.
Prosecutors said Jordan disobeyed orders from generals during the investigation not to have contact with others involved in the scandal, failed to properly train and supervise subordinates and ensure that they acted lawfully, and used methods on prisoners without higher approval. They also accused him of filing fraudulent receipts for car repairs.
Shamsi called for close scrutiny of the roles of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and other senior Pentagon civilian leaders in crafting policies that may have led to torture and abuse, as well as on Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, the top U.S. commander in Iraq at the time whom last year the Army cleared of wrongdoing in the Abu Ghraib scandal.
"One of the critical remaining questions is the doctrine of command responsibility that says that commanders are responsible for the acts of their subordinates if they knew or should have known that wrong was occurring and didn't do anything to prevent it," Shamsi said.
The Army last year removed from command, fined and reprimanded Col. Thomas Pappas, former military intelligence chief at Abu Ghraib. Also last year, it demoted to colonel and relieved of her command former Brig. Gen. Janis Karpinski, the former top officer at the prison.
The next step in the military justice system for Jordan is a hearing to decide whether the case should proceed to a court-martial.
Posted by politicalstuff at 1:42 AM
Public pressure mounts on US to act on Darfur
By Sue Pleming
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Public pressure is growing on the Bush administration to work harder to stop atrocities in Sudan's Darfur region, even as options narrow over how to tackle what the United States labels genocide.
In the build-up to "Save Darfur" rallies across the United States this Sunday, five lawmakers were arrested in the capital on Friday for protesting outside Sudan's Embassy.
President Bush endorsed this weekend's rallies and met Darfur advocacy groups organizing the demonstrations, which will draw Hollywood's elite, musicians, religious leaders and politicians from all sides.
"They agree with thousands of our citizens -- hundreds of thousands of our citizens -- that genocide in Sudan is unacceptable," said Bush after meeting rally organizers.
"I want the Sudanese government to understand the United States of America is serious about solving this problem," he said.
The rallies are organized by a coalition of more than 160 religious and humanitarian groups. They coincide with a Sunday deadline for the warring factions in Darfur to reach agreement at peace talks dragging on in Abuja, Nigeria.
Political analysts are pessimistic there will be a deal by the deadline set by the African Union, which has about 7,000 struggling troops in Darfur that the United States would like to augment with U.N. peacekeepers.
Sudan's government has said it will accept U.N. peacekeepers only if there is a deal in Abuja. If the talks fail, political analysts caution there will be even fewer options over how to handle Darfur.
"The options on Darfur are definitely running out," said Africa expert Princeton Lyman of the Council on Foreign Relations, a former U.S. ambassador to South Africa.
Sudan is accused by U.N. and U.S. officials of arming militias, who have raped, pillaged, and killed tens of thousands, and driven some 2 million villagers into camps. Sudan has denied the charge and says there is no genocide.
State Department deputy spokesman Adam Ereli told Reuters he was still hopeful of a deal in Abuja. "We have a fighting chance, folks are at the table and working hard," he said.
The Bush administration says it has taken the international lead on Sudan, but many experts say it has not been tough enough on Khartoum or in enlisting other major powers such as Russia or China.
Bush announced new sanctions on Thursday against people suspected of aiding genocide in Darfur.
A Zogby International poll of U.S. voters last month showed that 70 percent would support a U.S.-backed no-fly zone in Sudan, to prevent aerial attacks on civilians, and 59 percent believed more could be done diplomatically.
Sudan expert John Prendergast said Washington needed to push Sudan's government harder to accept a U.N.-led force for Darfur, and he predicted Sunday's rallies would have "a decisive impact" in pressuring Bush to take a stronger line.
"There is a growing network of citizen groups which is trying to get change. We will see in the next few weeks who wins this battle," he said.
Lyman said the Bush administration should push the African Union to do more.
"The African Union has to be confronted and told that it is not toeing the line," Lyman said. "Khartoum is not feeling any pressure at the moment. None."
The Darfur conflict has attracted activists from all sides of the political and religious spectrum -- from Jewish leaders such as Nobel Prize winner Elie Wiesel to evangelicals and liberals and conservatives alike.
Darfur has also become a major rallying cry on campus. The University of California in March voted to pull out of funds that invest in nine firms doing business in Sudan.
MTV's college network is participating in Sunday's Washington rally and introducing a video game on Darfur. "Our campaign is powered by college students who are not about to let the first genocide of the 21st century happen on their watch," said network representative Ross Martin.
Posted by politicalstuff at 1:41 AM
US radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh charged with fraudulently obtaining prescription drugs; gets off easy
US radio pundit on drugs charge
US radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh has been charged with fraudulently obtaining prescription drugs.
The move comes after an investigation into the commentator that began over two years ago.
Mr Limbaugh admitted on air in October 2003 he was addicted to prescription painkillers after Florida authorities began an investigation into him.
The problem stemmed from spinal surgery several years ago and he has sought treatment for it, he said.
Mr Limbaugh, 55, was charged with illegally obtaining prescriptions, or "doctor shopping", after presenting himself at the Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office.
He was later released on $3,000 (£1,643) bail, according to his lawyer, Roy Black.
Deal with prosecutors
Mr Black said his client had filed a written plea of not guilty and denied the charge.
But under a deal with prosecutors, the charge will be dropped in 18 months if Mr Limbaugh continues to seek treatment for his addiction.
Mr Limbaugh has also agreed to make a $30,000 payment to the state of Florida to offset the public cost of the investigation.
"The prosecutors and I agree that there shouldn't be a criminal prosecution, and we agree there shouldn't be any court proceedings," Mr Black told Reuters news agency, adding that his client was pleased the case was over.
"He's just happy that it's finally ended and he can go back to his normal life," he said.
The case attracted widespread attention in 2003 because the popular radio commentator had been a tough critic of drug offenders.
Story from BBC NEWS:
Posted by politicalstuff at 1:38 AM
The New York Times
Ex-Head of F.D.A. Faces Criminal Inquiry
By GARDINER HARRIS
WASHINGTON, April 28 — Dr. Lester M. Crawford, the former commissioner of food and drugs, is under criminal investigation by a federal grand jury over accusations of financial improprieties and false statements to Congress, his lawyer said Friday.
The lawyer, Barbara Van Gelder, would not discuss the accusations further. In a court hearing held by telephone on Thursday, she told a federal magistrate that she would instruct Dr. Crawford to invoke his Fifth Amendment right against compelled self-incrimination if ordered to answer questions this week about his actions as head of the Food and Drug Administration, according to a transcript of the hearing.
Dr. Crawford did not reply to messages seeking comment, and Kathleen Quinn, an F.D.A. spokeswoman, declined to comment.
Dr. Crawford resigned in September, fewer than three months after the Senate confirmed him. He said then that it was time for someone else to lead the agency.
The next month, financial disclosure forms released by the Department of Health and Human Services showed that in 2004 either Dr. Crawford or his wife, Catherine, had sold shares in companies regulated by the agency when he was its deputy commissioner and acting commissioner. He has since joined a Washington lobbying firm, Policy Directions Inc.
The criminal investigation was disclosed at a court hearing in a lawsuit over the F.D.A.'s actions on the emergency contraceptive Plan B, a subject of bitter contention during Dr. Crawford's tenure as acting commissioner and commissioner. After the pill's maker, Barr Laboratories, applied three years ago to sell the pill over the counter, the agency repeatedly delayed making a decision on the application.
While many lawmakers, abortion rights advocates and former F.D.A. officials said the delays had resulted from politics, Dr. Crawford and other agency officials said their concerns were scientific and legal.
An advocacy group, the Center for Reproductive Rights, sued the agency in federal court in New York over the delays. Many such suits are quickly dismissed, but a federal judge allowed the case to proceed, giving the center the right to interview top F.D.A. officials, including Dr. Crawford.
Dr. Crawford was scheduled to be questioned under oath on Thursday, but on Wednesday Ms. Van Gelder, who is his personal lawyer, asked for a delay, saying she would instruct him to invoke his Fifth Amendment rights. Dr. Crawford previously declined to answer questions from the Government Accountability Office about Plan B.
Ms. Van Gelder told Magistrate Judge Viktor V. Pohorelsky of the District Court for the Eastern District of New York on Thursday that Dr. Crawford had been represented by Justice Department lawyers in the reproductive rights center's suit.
According to the transcript, she said that Dr. Crawford was under criminal investigation and that the issue of his financial disclosures "is within the grand jury."
Before Dr. Crawford's confirmation, the secretary of health and human services, Michael O. Leavitt, promised that the F.D.A. would act on the Plan B application by September 2005, a promise that led two Democratic senators, Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York and Patty Murray of Washington, to relent in their efforts to delay the nomination. But after he was confirmed, Dr. Crawford announced an indefinite delay that has remained in effect.
Simon Heller, a lawyer for the reproductive rights center, noted that the F.D.A. had long insisted that its actions regarding Plan B were not unusual.
"It would be remarkable if the Justice Department was conducting a criminal investigation of Plan B and at the same time asserting in a civil case that everything done was normal," Mr. Heller said.
Posted by politicalstuff at 1:35 AM
FBI Probes Contractor, Ex-Lawmaker Ties
FBI Probes Whether Defense Contractor Provided Prostitutes, Limos, Hotel Suites to Ex-Lawmaker
By MARK SHERMAN
The Associated Press
WASHINGTON - FBI agents are investigating whether a defense contractor provided prostitutes, limousines and hotel suites to a lawmaker who has been convicted on bribery charges, two federal officials said Friday.
Investigators have contacted Washington-area escort services, two hotels and a limousine company in recent weeks, one official said.
The allegations were raised by Mitchell Wade, another defense contractor who also has pleaded guilty to charges stemming from the bribery conspiracy involving former Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham, the officials said. Cunningham is serving a prison term of eight years, four months after pleading guilty in November to taking $2.4 million in homes, yachts and other bribes.
Wade is cooperating with investigators as part of his plea agreement in February. He has told them that Brent Wilkes, a San Diego defense contractor who has been identified as a co-conspirator, secured prostitutes, limousines and suites at two Washington hotels for Cunningham, the officials said. They spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigation is continuing.
Wilkes, founder of ADCS Inc., has not been charged. Mike Lipman, his attorney, did not return messages left seeking comment. Reginald Brown, Wade's attorney, declined comment Friday.
One official said agents have been checking out investigative leads, but so far have been unable to confirm that, even if true, the prostitutes were part of the bribery scheme. Investigators have not turned up evidence that other lawmakers were involved, the official said.
The investigation, spawned by reports of the former California congressman's extravagant lifestyle, is continuing both in Washington and San Diego, the officials said.
Justice Department and FBI spokesmen declined to comment on the investigation.
The allegations involving prostitutes have previously been reported by The Wall Street Journal and The San Diego Union-Tribune.
Posted by politicalstuff at 1:35 AM
Friday, April 28, 2006
No Outcry About Lobby Scandal, Lawmakers Say; Republicans See Little Risk In Pushing Modest Ethics Bill
No Outcry About Lobby Scandal, Lawmakers Say
Republicans See Little Risk In Pushing Modest Ethics Bill
By Jeffrey H. Birnbaum and Thomas B. Edsall
Washington Post Staff Writers
The scandal surrounding disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff has been a Washington obsession for months, but Republican lawmakers who returned from a two-week recess this week said they felt free to pass a relatively tepid ethics bill because their constituents rarely mention the issue.
The House is scheduled to vote today on ethics legislation to increase lobbyists' disclosures and require lawmakers to own up to the earmarks, or narrow projects, that they insert into appropriations bills. But the measure would not restrict the gifts or meals provided by lobbyists as House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) had proposed in January, nor would it expand the number of enforcers of lobbying rules and laws.
Lawmakers acknowledge that the bill is more limited in its scope and impact than the provisions promised by congressional leaders immediately after Abramoff's guilty plea to federal charges of bribery, conspiracy, tax evasion and mail fraud nearly four months ago. But they say they do not feel compelled to push more stringent measures partly because voters do not appear to be demanding them. "We're all being rushed into a bill," said Rep. David L. Hobson (R-Ohio). "We panicked, and we let the media get us panicked."
Rep. Nancy L. Johnson (R-Conn.), a former ethics committee chairwoman, said passage of the bill will have no political consequences because "people are quite convinced that the rhetoric of reform is just political."
Some Republican leaders assert that lawmakers are hearing little from constituents about the congressional corruption scandal, even though it has received considerable media attention. Jo Maney, spokeswoman for Rep. David Dreier (R-Calif.), a chief architect of the House ethics bill, said: "Many members have told him [Dreier] that they are not hearing about corruption and lobbying reform at home. They hear more about immigration, gas prices." Still, Dreier and Hastert "feel strongly" that the ethics bill "is the right thing to do" and that it will "improve the public's perception of the integrity of the House of Representatives," Maney added.
A Washington Post-ABC News poll this month showed that 63 percent of Americans called "corruption in Washington" important to their vote. Democrats are eager to use the lobbying controversy as part of their campaign to win back control of Congress this year, and they contend that the corruption issue can be a powerful Election Day weapon.
A poll this month by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press showed the public giving Democrats an edge on the ethics issue. Twenty-eight percent of Americans said they think the Republican Party governs in an honest and ethical way, compared with 36 percent who said the Democrats are more ethical, according to the survey. By a ratio of 45 percent to 28 percent, respondents said that Republicans are influenced more by lobbyists and special interests than are Democrats.
Democratic strategists say that the ethics issue does not carry a lot of weight by itself. They say that, to win over voters, they must link Republicans' alleged coziness with lobbyists to failures in Washington to address specific public needs, such as health-care coverage and economic security. "It is up to us to show the public what this means to them," said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). For example, she said: "If [we] want to reduce our dependence on foreign oil, and therefore improve our national security situation, you can't do it if you are a Republican because you are too wedded to the oil companies."
Republicans won back control of the House and the Senate in 1994 after making Democratic political corruption part of the larger issue of arrogance of power and poor performance in government, according to Michael J. Malbin, executive director of the nonpartisan Campaign Finance Institute. The Democrats' burden now, he said, is to make that larger connection to voters.
Republicans counter that Democrats have ethical problems of their own that blunt their effort to portray the GOP as the party of corruption. Two Democratic congressmen are facing separate, official inquiries about their connections to private pleaders: Reps. Alan B. Mollohan (W.Va.) and William J. Jefferson (La.). Both say they have done nothing wrong.
"The Democrat party runs a real risk here of being the pot that calls the kettle black," said Tracey Schmitt, press secretary of the Republican National Committee.
Some lawmakers and political analysts believe that voters could punish incumbents during the November elections if Congress passes a minimalist ethics bill. The chances of such a backlash could rise, these critics say, if there are more indictments or guilty pleas later this year. Abramoff and two former aides to Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Tex.) are cooperating with federal authorities in a wide-ranging investigation of political favors done in return for gifts, trips, payments and campaign contributions. DeLay, a once-powerful House majority leader, is fighting a criminal indictment in Texas on charges of political money laundering.
Some congressional historians assert that GOP leaders would be taking a risk in assuming that the lobbying bill is of such low voter priority that they could push through a modest plan without paying a political cost. "When you combine [the ethics issue] with the general dissatisfaction with the way in which we are governed," said L. Sandy Maisel, a professor of government at Colby College, "I think the breaking point might be near."
Today, the House plans to vote on a bill that would require lobbyists to file quarterly instead of semiannual disclosures and to include in those reports the donations they give to federal candidates and political action committees. Lobbyists would also have to make public the amount of any gift that they give to lawmakers or congressional aides. In addition, appropriations bills would have to list any earmarks that they contain, as well as the sponsors of those projects. Ethics training would become mandatory in the House under the legislation.
Government watchdog groups have complained that the legislation would not change much about how lawmakers and lobbyists interact. "It's a reform bill in name only, and they're hoping no one will notice," said Melanie Sloan, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.
Tom Fitton, president of Judicial Watch, a conservative public interest organization, said one reason for the bill's weakness is that the public is not riled up about lobbying abuses. "The American people take the view that both parties are involved and there's not much surprising about it," he said.
Staff writer Jonathan Weisman contributed to this report.
Posted by politicalstuff at 2:05 AM
Katrina Report Rips the White House Anew
Katrina Report Rips Bush Administration Anew; Senators Say Changes Unlikely Before Storm Season
By LARA JAKES
The Associated Press
WASHINGTON - A Senate inquiry into the government's Hurricane Katrina failures ripped the Bush administration anew Thursday and urged the scrapping of the nation's disaster response agency. But with a new hurricane season just weeks away, senators conceded that few if any of their proposals could become reality in time.
The bipartisan investigation into one of the worst natural disasters in the nation's history singled out President Bush and the White House as appearing indifferent to the devastation until two days after the storm hit.
It said the Homeland Security Department either misunderstood federal disaster plans or refused to follow them. And it said New Orleans for years had neglected to prepare for large-scale emergencies.
"The suffering that continued in the days and weeks after the storm passed did not happen in a vacuum; instead, it continued longer that it should have because of and was in some cases exacerbated by the failure of government at all levels to plan, prepare for and respond aggressively to the storm," concluded the report.
It was titled "Hurricane Katrina: A Nation Still Unprepared," sober words for the future.
The Senate inquiry is the third major federal report on the government failures exposed by the Aug. 29 storm, which killed more than 1,300 people and which the Senate Budget Committee says has so far cost the federal government $103 billion.
The report follows similar inquiries by the House and White House and comes in an election year in which Democrats have pointed critically to the administration's Katrina response.
The senators concluded that only by abolishing the Federal Emergency Management Agency which Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, called a "bumbling bureaucracy" and replacing it with a stronger authority could the government best respond to future catastrophes.
But the two lawmakers who led the inquiry, Collins and Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., said such an overhaul could not be completed by the June 1 start of the hurricane season.
"As a practical matter, that's just five weeks away, and it's not going to happen," Collins told reporters. "But that doesn't mean that we should continue in the long term to operate with a system that's failed, that is so clearly flawed."
Looking ahead to approaching hurricane season, Collins added: "We're clearly better prepared than last year, but are we prepared enough? No, we're not."
Underscoring the hurdles the proposals face, eliminating FEMA got a cool reception from the White House as Bush traveled to the still-ravaged Gulf Coast to view rebuilding efforts in New Orleans and Mississippi.
"My thoughts are is that we've got to make sure it functions well. We're coming into a hurricane season," he said in an interview with "NBC Nightly News."
Earlier, White House homeland security adviser Frances Fragos Townsend, said, "Now is not the time to look at moving organizational boxes around."
Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco said: "FEMA is injured. It's going to take more than surgery and a cast to mend it. To restore the nation's confidence in times of crisis, the call for help must be answered and it must be answered quickly."
Besides dumping FEMA, the report makes 85 other recommendations, from clarifying who's responsible for maintaining New Orleans levees to demanding better plans for protecting or evacuating elderly and poor victims.
The report calls for more funding for disaster planning and response, but does not specify how much or where the money would come from.
The Bush administration says it has been working to prepare for what the National Hurricane Center has predicted will be an active decade for hurricanes. It is rebuilding New Orleans levees, prodding local governments to update evacuation plans and hire emergency workers, and creating databases to order and track food and other supplies needed during disasters.
Though the new report singles out officials from New Orleans to Washington for blame and lambastes Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff in particular it gives Bush a mixed review for his performance. It credits the president for declaring an emergency before the hurricane's landfall, but faults him for waiting until two days after it hit to return to Washington and convene top officials to coordinate the federal response.
Lieberman, in an addendum, took sharper aim at Bush, who he said appeared distracted from the disaster as it unfolded. "The president is, after all, the commander in chief not only in terms of international crises, but in terms of catastrophes here at home," he said.
Not all the senators who participated in the seven-month inquiry agreed with its central recommendation to create a National Preparedness and Response Authority but keep it within the oversight of Homeland Security Department to draw on the larger department's resources.
Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., said FEMA needs to be stripped out of the larger department and restored as an independent Cabinet-level agency. "That's how it was done in the past and it worked as we hoped," said Lautenberg, a member of the Senate panel.
But Robert Latham, director of Mississippi's emergency response efforts, said lingering funding and manpower problems should be addressed before such a drastic step is taken.
"Changing the name of something doesn't fix a problem, other than maybe fixes a perception," Latham said. "Maybe FEMA has taken such a bashing that the name recognition itself will be hard to overcome."
On the Net:
Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee: http://hsgac.senate.gov/
Posted by politicalstuff at 2:03 AM
The New York Times
Bush Set to Approve Takeover of 9 Military Plants by Dubai
By JIM RUTENBERG and DAVID E. SANGER
WASHINGTON, April 27 — President Bush is expected on Friday to announce his approval of a deal under which a Dubai-owned company would take control of nine plants in the United States that manufacture parts for American military vehicles and aircraft, say two administration officials familiar with the terms of the deal.
The officials, who were granted anonymity so they could speak freely about something the president had not yet announced, said that the final details had not yet been set and that Mr. Bush might put conditions on the transaction to keep military technology in the United States.
But his action is almost certain to attract scrutiny in Congress, because of the political furor that erupted over the administration's approval of a deal earlier this spring that would have given another Dubai-owned company, Dubai Ports World, leases to operate several American port terminals through its acquisition of a British company, the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company.
Dubai Ports agreed to drop the port deal after it became clear that Republicans were abandoning Mr. Bush and opposing the takeover.
In this case, the plants in question are owned by Doncasters Group Ltd., a British company that is being purchased for $1.2 billion from the Royal Bank of Scotland Group by Dubai International Capital, which is owned by the United Arab Emirate government.
Because the plants make turbine blades for tanks and aircraft, the deal was reviewed by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, which sent it on to Mr. Bush himself for a decision, a step used only when the potential security risks or political considerations are particularly acute.
Administration officials alerted Congress that the deal would go through the committee's review process in an effort to head off the kind of public debate that surrounded the ports deal.
Opponents of the ports transactions argued that the terrorists involved in the Sept. 11 attacks had filtered money through the United Arab Emirates, where Dubai is the major shipping center. Mr. Bush argued that blocking the deal would have sent the wrong message to a friendly Arab state. His support, however, was not enough to quell the political furor.
One official who was briefed on the Doncasters transaction said there would be provisions in the agreement protecting American military secrets. But it was unclear whether that would satisfy Congressional objections. With nine Doncasters plants in Georgia and Connecticut making parts for American military contractors, the prospect of a takeover by the Dubai company has already caused nervousness among some lawmakers.
Representative John Barrow, Democrat of Georgia, likened the Doncasters deal to "outsourcing" part of the nation's industrial-military complex.
But Representative Peter T. King, Republican of New York, the chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security and one of the foremost critics of the ports deal, said on Thursday that he would not necessarily have a problem this time around, in large part because the White House had given the deal a thorough review.
"It's a significant improvement over what happened before," Mr. King said. "It's been much more thorough, much more detailed."
A senior Republican Congressional aide who was granted anonymity because he was not authorized to talk about the matter, said he did not believe the president's approval of the deal would cause quite the same stir as the ports deal.
Posted by politicalstuff at 2:01 AM
The New York Times
Prosecutor Weighs Charges Against Rove in Leak Case
By ELISABETH BUMILLER and DAVID JOHNSTON
WASHINGTON, April 27 — Patrick J. Fitzgerald, the special prosecutor in the C.I.A. leak case, is expected to decide in the next two to three weeks whether to bring perjury charges against Karl Rove, the powerful adviser to President Bush, lawyers involved in the case said Thursday.
With the completion of Mr. Rove's fifth appearance before the grand jury on Wednesday, Mr. Fitzgerald is now believed to have assembled all of the facts necessary to determine whether to seek an indictment of Mr. Rove or drop the case.
Lawyers in the case said Mr. Fitzgerald would spend the coming days reviewing the transcript of Mr. Rove's three hours of testimony on Wednesday and weigh it against his previous statements to the grand jury as well as the testimony of others, including a sworn statement that Mr. Rove's lawyer gave to the prosecutor earlier this year. The lawyers were granted anonymity so they could speak about the internal legal deliberations in Mr. Rove's case.
A lawyer with knowledge of the case said that Mr. Rove had known for more than a month that he was likely to make another appearance before the grand jury, and that he had known since last fall that he would be subject to further questions from Mr. Fitzgerald before the prosecutor completed his inquiry.
Mr. Rove was relieved of his day-to-day domestic policy duties at the White House in a staff shake-up last week, but White House officials say the change was unrelated to his legal complications.
Randall Samborn, a spokesman for Mr. Fitzgerald, declined to comment.
Mark Corallo, a spokesman for Mr. Rove, said Mr. Rove would be cleared. "We're confident at the end of this that Mr. Fitzgerald is going to find that Karl has been totally truthful and not only has done nothing wrong but has done everything right," Mr. Corallo said.
Mr. Fitzgerald must specifically decide whether Mr. Rove misled the grand jury in testimony he gave in 2004 about his conversations with reporters about Valerie Wilson, the intelligence officer at the heart of the C.I.A. leak case.
In his February 2004 testimony, Mr. Rove acknowledged talking to the columnist Robert D. Novak about Ms. Wilson, but he did not tell the grand jury about a second conversation he had about her with Matthew Cooper, a Time magazine reporter. Mr. Novak revealed her name and C.I.A. employment in a column on July 14, 2003.
Critics of the Bush administration have asserted that the revelation was retaliation against her husband, Joseph C. Wilson IV, a former diplomat who had publicly accused the administration of twisting some of the intelligence used to justify going to war with Iraq.
Mr. Rove later voluntarily told the grand jury about the conversation with Mr. Cooper, and said that he had forgotten about it in the rush of his daily business. But Mr. Fitzgerald has long been skeptical of Mr. Rove's account of his forgetfulness, lawyers in the case say. On Wednesday Mr. Fitzgerald questioned Mr. Rove about how he came to remember his conversation with Mr. Cooper.
Robert D. Luskin, Mr. Rove's lawyer, issued a statement on Wednesday declaring that Mr. Rove had testified "voluntarily and unconditionally" about a matter that had arisen since Mr. Rove's last grand jury appearance, in October 2005. Mr. Luskin was evidently referring to the testimony of Viveca Novak, a former reporter at Time magazine, who has said that she told Mr. Rove's lawyer in early 2004 that she believed that Mr. Rove had been a source for Mr. Cooper.
Mr. Rove admitted from the outset to investigators that he spoke to Mr. Novak on July 9, 2003, about Ms. Wilson. It was in that conversation that Mr. Rove first learned the name of Ms. Wilson from Mr. Novak, lawyers in the case said.
Mr. Rove's conversation with Mr. Cooper occurred two days later. In that conversation, Mr. Rove did not mention Ms. Wilson's name, but, Mr. Cooper said, Mr. Rove did say that she worked at the C.I.A.
Mr. Fitzgerald did not learn of Mr. Rove's conversation with Mr. Cooper until long after the investigation had begun, when a search of Mr. Rove's e-mail messages uncovered one that he had sent to Stephen J. Hadley, then the deputy national security adviser, about the Cooper conversation.
It is still not publicly known why Mr. Rove's e-mail message to Mr. Hadley was not turned over earlier, but a lawyer in the case said White House documents were collected in response to several separate requests that may not have covered certain time periods or all relevant officials. Mr. Rove had no role in the search for documents, which was carried out by an administrative office in the White House.
Also on Thursday, a federal judge refused to dismiss charges against I. Lewis Libby Jr., the former top aide to Vice President Dick Cheney who was indicted on perjury and obstruction charges in the leak case last year.
The judge, Reggie B. Walton of Federal District Court, turned down a motion by lawyers for Mr. Libby who challenged Mr. Fitzgerald's authority to handle the case.
Posted by politicalstuff at 1:59 AM
Pentagon: Iraq Troop Reductions on the Way
U.S. Could Be Down to 100,000 by End of Year
By JONATHAN KARL
April 26, 2006 — - As the top U.S. commander in Iraq suggested today that the United States would soon reduce the number of troops in Iraq, Pentagon planners said to ABC News that they hoped to pull more than 30,000 troops out by the end of the year, and possibly by as early as November.
The reductions depend on political and security progress in Iraq.
In a surprise visit to Baghdad, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld hailed progress toward the formation of a new Iraqi government as a "turning point" that would enable the United States to turn over more responsibility to the Iraqis.
Gen. George Casey, commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, called the recent selection of new Iraqi leaders, including incoming Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, a major step toward a partial withdrawal of U.S. troops.
In late December, Rumsfeld announced a reduction in U.S. troops that brought the number down from 150,000 to 132,000, and suggested more withdrawals would be coming. Casey suggested at the time that reductions would come by March, and the Pentagon had started planning to bring the number of troops down to 100,000 by the end of the year.
Instead of further reductions, 650 troops were added in March because of worsening violence and political deadlock. Plans for further withdrawals were frozen.
With the political deadlock in Iraq now apparently broken, Casey said today: "I'm still on my general timeline."
Pentagon officials said they were once again for troop withdrawals. First, the 650 extra troops sent to Iraq in March are expected to leave shortly and head back to Kuwait. Second, a recommendation from Casey is expected within weeks on more substantive reductions, possibly as many as 10,000 troops.
Depending on conditions in Iraq, Casey would initiate additional reductions by the end of the summer. Officials caution, however, that the reductions depend entirely on making progress in Iraq.
On the plane ride to Baghdad, Rice told reporters, "It's the Iraqis who are now in a position to deal with their problems in ways that I think they've not been in the past."
Posted by politicalstuff at 1:55 AM
The New York Times
G.M. Entangled in Pay-for-Publicity Dispute
By PHILIP SHENON
WASHINGTON, April 27 — A public relations firm has apologized to General Motors after acknowledging that it may have offered money to former Labor Secretary Robert B. Reich in exchange for public comments supporting the automaker's employee buyout program. The offer would violate General Motors's policy against payments to opinion makers.
The firm's president, Richard Strauss of Strauss Radio Strategies in Washington, would not say if other commentators were offered payment for public support of the troubled automaker's buyout plan, which is intended to reduce sharply its work force of 113,000 hourly employees.
Mr. Reich, who was labor secretary under President Bill Clinton and is now a professor at the University of California, Berkeley, had complained publicly about the incident, which he said occurred three weeks ago. He described the offer of payment as a new instance of how "corporate America is paying pundits to shill for them."
Neither Mr. Strauss nor Mr. Reich would respond to questions about how much money might have been offered. A spokesman for General Motors said the company had a strict policy barring payment to outside commentators to promote its interests.
In a statement on Wednesday, Mr. Strauss said, "I may have mentioned the possibility of an honorarium" to Mr. Reich "out of deference and respect to him and his position."
While Mr. Strauss insisted that he did not "recall making an offer of money," he said that he had apologized to General Motors "for any misinterpretation that resulted from my conversations with Secretary Reich," adding that he was "fully aware that G.M. does not pay money or any other compensation for opinions." His statement was prepared in response to a reporter's questions.
In recent months, the practice by companies of hiring supposedly independent outside commentators to promote their interests has come under scrutiny in Washington.
Jack Abramoff, the Republican lobbyist at the center of an influence-peddling scandal here, paid at least two outside writers for opinion articles supporting the interests of his lobbying clients. And the Bush administration acknowledged last year that it paid outside writers and commentators to promote the Education Department policy known as No Child Left Behind.
On his personal blog on April 7 and in a subsequent article for The American Prospect magazine, Mr. Reich said, "A public relations firm working for General Motors phoned to ask if I'd say on the media that the buyback G.M. was offering its employees was a good deal for them."
"G.M.'s public relations firm said they'd offer me money if I did this, as a show of respect," he wrote. "I told them I'd look at the deal and make up my own mind, and I told them to keep the money."
He described the offer of payment as "an integrity buyout" and said that "if we've got to the point in this country when big corporations feel free to offer what are essentially bribes to columnists and commentators, we're really in trouble."
A spokesman for General Motors, Steve Harris, said the company had a firm policy of not paying outside commentators to make statements in support of it and its products. "We're not paying anybody," Mr. Harris said.
In the case of Mr. Reich, he said, "there apparently was a misunderstanding" with Strauss Radio.
Mr. Harris said that General Motors, through outside public relations firms, did try to provide news organizations with the names and contact information for independent specialists who might support its policies — in this case, the buyout offers — but that they received no compensation. Last month, G.M. announced a landmark deal with the United Automobile Workers union to offer buyouts to all 113,000 hourly workers in the United States.
"I've looked at the deal, and I don't know whether G.M.'s buyback offer is a good deal for its employees," Mr. Reich wrote in The American Prospect. "That depends on whether the alternative is a G.M. bankruptcy, in which case anyone who bailed out early and got some cash would be better off."
But he left no doubt about his disapproval of the offer from the public relations company.
"It just seems wrong for a company — or its representative — to offer money to someone like me to express a view the company wants expressed in the media," he wrote, adding, "It's one thing to offer an employee buyout; it's quite another thing to offer an integrity buyout."
Mr. Strauss, a former radio reporter who worked in the Clinton White House to promote its policies on radio, said in his statement that he had a "warm relationship with Robert Reich" that dates from the 1990's and that "this relationship may account for the misinterpretation, as I didn't provide the level of detail I could have with him."
He said that whatever the offer to Mr. Reich, "there was never any attempt to influence or pay for anyone's opinion."
On its Web site, Strauss Radio says that its client list includes several of the nation's largest companies, including Coca-Cola, I.B.M. and Hewlett-Packard, and that it has also done work for several federal agencies, including the Defense Department, the Treasury Department and the Voice of America.
Posted by politicalstuff at 1:53 AM
No computer 'trace' of offenders
Details of more than 20 of the 80 most dangerous foreign prisoners freed without facing deportation cannot be found on the national police computer.
They include one murderer and a rapist. A source told the BBC police may not have sufficient details to run a check.
Officials are trying to trace hundreds of foreigners released without being considered for deportation since 1999.
But Home Office minister Hazel Blears insisted the most serious offenders would be out on licence and monitored.
Home Secretary Charles Clarke is due to give a written update to the House of Commons speaker on what has happened to some of the 1,023 foreign prisoners released between 1999 and last month.
Ms Blears said she was unable to say whether all the offenders were registered on the national police database or not, but added that every offender would have been registered by the Prison Service.
"Things don't just have to be on the police national computer," she told BBC Two's Newsnight.
"Clearly the Prison Service will have a record of who they were, when they came in, what their sentence was, and all those sources of information will be being used to make sure that they're being tracked properly."
She said the foreign inmates would have been dealt with in exactly the same way as British ones.
"What I can say to you is that the police are going through every single one of these individuals," she said.
"The people who've committed serious offences will be on licence and will be being monitored and the public should be reassured about that."
Newsnight reported that the Association of Chief Police Officers has appealed to regional police forces to search their own databases for the 20 foreign nationals who could not be found on the national system.
But it appears unclear whether their details are not listed or just have not shown up during checks.
I have to tell you that when your job is to defend the safety of the public that is a major failure and accordingly I'm afraid he has to go
David Davis, shadow home secretary
The Police National Computer stores details of convictions and cautions but one official told the BBC no trace of 20 of the 80 most serious offenders had been found because police were given only surnames, or names with multiple spellings.
Probation records are thought to have provided the best guide to their whereabouts, because many are under supervision or on licence.
Immigration files have also been reviewed.
The searches come amid mounting pressure from the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats for Mr Clarke to resign over the issue.
Shadow home secretary David Davis accused Mr Clarke, who has apologised, of a "major failure" and said he "had to go".
"Charles knew about this from July of last year - 10 months ago, his assertion - and we only got to the point of doing anything about it... two weeks ago," he told BBC One's Question Time.
"And in that time, the number of people being released had actually increased - it accelerated to nearly 300 - and what's more, they only gave the names of the thousand people who'd been released to the police to track down two days ago.
"I have to tell you that when your job is to defend the safety of the public that is a major failure."
On Thursday, Prime Minister Tony Blair robustly defended Mr Clarke and two of his Cabinet colleagues who have been under pressure in recent days.
He laughed off claims that he had suffered his own "Black Wednesday" the day before.
He was speaking after nurses booed Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt at the Royal College of Nurses' conference over job cuts, Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott admitted to having had an affair and Mr Clarke faced calls to quit in the Commons.
Story from BBC NEWS:
Posted by politicalstuff at 1:51 AM
Inter Press Service News Agency
In Terror War, Not All Names Are Equal
NEW YORK, Apr 20 (IPS) - A major government watchdog group is charging that Muslim charities are being shut down for supposedly backing terrorist causes, while giant firms like Halliburton are receiving the full protection of U.S. law for allegedly breaking government sanctions against doing business with Iran -- a country designated as a sponsor of terrorism.
"There is unequal enforcement of anti-terrorist financing laws," says the Washington-based non-profit OMB Watch.
The group says the USA Patriot Act gives the government "largely unchecked power to designate any group as a terrorist organisation". And once a charitable organisation is so designated, all of its materials and property may be seized and its assets frozen. The charity is unable to see the government's evidence and thus understand the basis for the charges.
Since its assets are frozen, it lacks resources to mount a defence. And it has only limited right of appeal to the courts. So the government can target a charity, seize its assets, shut it down, obtain indictments against its leaders, but then delay a trial almost indefinitely.
Kay Guinane, OMB Watch's director of Nonprofit Speech Rights, told IPS, "The real tragedy behind closure of Muslim charities is the fate of people in need of humanitarian assistance, who are doing without because the funds have been frozen by the U.S. and sit in the bank, benefiting no one."
"The U.S. government could demonstrate its good faith by releasing these funds to other charities or aid agencies," she suggested.
Thus far, OMB Watch says, the effort has resulted in the government shutting down five charities that support humanitarian aid in Muslim areas without disclosing any official finding that they were aiding terrorist organisations. There has only been one indictment, no trials, and no convictions.
They include two Chicago-area Islamic charities, the Global Relief Foundation and the Benevolence International Foundation, the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development in Texas, the Islamic American Relief Agency and the Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation.
OMB Watch says that dozens of charitable groups have been investigated since 2001. The organisations shut down were not on any government watch list before their assets were frozen, it adds.
The result is that Muslims have no way of knowing which groups the government suspects of ties to terrorism. "Organisations and individuals suspected of supporting terrorism are guilty until proven innocent," it says.
To support its claim that the government is applying the law unevenly and targeting Muslim-American groups, OMB Watch cites the government's "velvet glove" treatment of the Halliburton Corporation, a giant defence contractor once headed by Vice Pres. Dick Cheney.
Halliburton has been under investigation by the Treasury Department, which oversees the terror-financing campaign, and the Department of Justice since 2001 for doing business with Iran, which is listed as a sponsor of terrorism.
But, says OMB Watch, rather than seizing and freezing assets "pending an investigation", Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) and the Justice Department sent an inquiry to Halliburton requesting "information with regard to compliance".
Halliburton sent a written response explaining why it felt it was in compliance with the law. Halliburton's defence seemed to rest on the fact that its dealings with Iran were done through a Cayman Islands subsidiary, not its U.S.-based entity.
Over two years later, in January 2004, OFAC sent a follow-up letter requesting additional information, to which Halliburton responded that March. In July of that year, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Texas sent a grand jury subpoena requesting documents and the case was referred to the Justice Department.
On Sep. 22, 2005, the Progressive Caucus in the House of Representatives wrote to Pres. George W. Bush, asking that Halliburton be suspended from hurricane relief contracts for a host of reasons, including "dealing with nations that sponsor terrorism".
The White House took no action and Halliburton received no-bid contracts valued currently at 61.3 million dollars, and growing, to provide clean-up, rebuilding and logistical assistance to victims of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.
Last year, an organisation called Halliburton Watch charged that the handling of the case against the company raises serious legal questions. For example, "If Halliburton were a charity, would its assets have been frozen like the U.S.-based Muslim charities?"
"Even though little is known about the evidence OFAC relied on to freeze and seize assets of Muslim charities, it appears there is much stronger evidence against Halliburton -- what legal distinction is OFAC making. If U.S. charities formed Cayman Island subsidiaries, could they avoid the USA PATRIOT Act, IEEPA, and Executive Order restrictions on dealings with groups or countries linked to terrorism?" the group asked.
Halliburton has also become the poster child for waste, fraud and abuse among U.S. contractors in Iraq. To date, it has received more than 12 billion dollars in contracts there, many of them on a no-bid basis.
The company failed to account for 43 percent of its Middle East expenses, with one billion dollars of those being considered "unreasonable" and another nearly half-billion in the "unsupported" category, according to Defence Department auditors.
Critics say the government's anti-terror financing campaign is a product of the paranoid Islamophobia that has gripped the U.S. since 9/11. They also say is has had its desired effect: to scare Muslim-Americans into abandoning one of the premier tenets of Islam -- giving to those in need.
The government denies these charges, saying it is merely trying to cut off funding to a wide variety of so-called charitable organisations that funnel money to groups that practice terrorist tactics. The Treasury Department cites Pres. Bush's pledge to ensure "that Arab Americans and American Muslims feel comfortable maintaining their tradition of charitable giving".
Meanwhile, Muslim charities report a precipitous decline in contributions. Contributions that do arrive come increasingly in cash from anonymous givers. And donors who happen to be Muslim are increasingly turning to the large household names like Oxfam and Save the Children, which may conduct programmes in predominantly Muslim areas abroad.
Leaders of the Muslim charitable community in the U.S. have had numerous meetings with officials at the Treasury Department, and together developed a set of "guidelines" for charitable organisations and their donors.
But these guidelines lack any specificity regarding Muslim philanthropy and could be applied to any charitable organisation. They also provide no safe harbour from being shut down. OMB Watch told IPS, "A group could comply 100 percent and still be shut down 'pending an investigation'."
Leaders of the Muslim philanthropic community in New Jersey asked the Treasury Department at the start of Ramadan in 2004 to issue a "white list" of "approved" charities. But the request was denied.
The government claimed it was impossible to fulfill. "Our role is to prosecute violations of criminal law," a spokesman said, adding, "We're not in a position to put out lists of any kind, particularly of any organisations that are good or bad."
But government critics also claim that Treasury's campaign is reminiscent of the activities of John Ashcroft's Justice Department in the months following the terrorist attacks of Sep. 11, 2001 on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon.
The government then launched its "Global War on Terror" by rounding up thousands of "Middle Eastern-looking" men and women, sending them to jail without charges or access to lawyers, holding many in solitary confinement, but accusing none of them with terror-related crimes, convicting no one, and ending up deporting some for non-criminal immigration violations. (FIN/2006)
Posted by politicalstuff at 1:10 AM
Inter Press Service News Agency
Farmers Fight Ban on Poppy Growing
Ahmad Ihsan Sarwaryar, Nadeem Kohistani and Zubair Babakarkhel - Pajhwok Afghan News*
KABUL, Apr 25 (IPS) - Agitated poppy farmers in western Herat province say they will not destroy their crops unless the Afghan government provides them with alternative sources of income.
''I will not stop growing poppy despite the ban by the government because I've no other source of livelihood,'' asserted Ghulam Sakhi, 45, from the Nahr-i-Farhad area of Rabat Sangi district. ''They (the government) should first kill me and 12 members of my family before they destroy my farms,'' he added.
The protesting farmer was addressing the provincial governor, Said Hussain Anwari and the police chief, who were touring the area, inspecting a poppy eradication campaign that was underway.
Security forces had manually flattened over 800 acres of poppy fields in Herat province just three weeks before farmers were due to harvest the opium -- the raw material for the production of heroin.
Sakhi accused counter-narcotics officials of putting up a show before the governor and police chief. Only poor growers have been targeted while the government has spared all those with influence, he charged.
Asadullah, another farmer, said the authorities have razed poppy crops on three acres of his land. "This is injustice," he declared. "I will not let them touch my remaining farms. How shall I manage the expenses of my eight-member family?" he asked.
But Herat governor Anwari repeated the official line: poppy cultivation is illegal, and the crops must be destroyed. At the same time, he promised to support the farmers by providing them with seeds and fertilisers. The governor said a dam was being built in the area at a cost of 40,000 US dollars to help farmers irrigate their fields.
Immediately after his election in late 2004, Afghan president Hamid Karzai had identified counter-narcotics as the top priority of his government. He is quoted saying that "the fight against drugs is the fight for Afghanistan", according to Washington-based Congressional Research Reports, a think-tank.
Last year, U.S., British and Afghan officials implemented a new strategy to provide viable economic alternatives to poppy cultivation and to disrupt corruption and narco-terrorist linkages. The Taliban, which had banned opium cultivation when it was in power, are behind Afghanistan's emergence as the world's largest producer.
The U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime has estimated that the country accounted for 87 percent of global opium, with a harvest of 4,100 metric tonnes in 2005.
Some 3.5 million or 10 percent of the Afghan population is involved in the opium trade, which accounts for 52 percent of the nation's legal gross domestic product of 5.2 billion dollars. Most of this money goes to drug trafficking networks rather than to the farmers and labourers who cultivate the fields in remote mountains areas.
Afghan police and counter-narcotics forces have cracked down on drug traffickers. In mid-April, round-up operations in Deshu district, in lawless Helmand, yielded "4,160 kg of opium, 47 kg of heroin, 80 kg of morphine, 1,362 kg of ammonium chloride, and 1,150 kg of sodium chloride," according to an official statement.
Elsewhere in Farah and Samangan provinces bordering Iran, police claimed to have seized 200 kgs of narcotics and arrested 26 smugglers over three weeks in March-April. Col. Muhammad Ayub Safi of the Border Police Regiment said the drugs were being smuggled into Iran, Afghanistan's western neighbour.
According to Safi, drug traffickers use the long, porous Afghan-Iran border. The Afghan drug trail goes from Iran to Turkey and beyond. All the heroin available on Britain's streets comes from Afghanistan, a report in The Telegraph daily said.
Britain, officially the lead nation in the struggle to cut off the world's opium trade, had contributed 55 million dollars to the campaign by the end of last year. It has pushed for the need to provide farmers with an alternative livelihood while hardliners in Washington have favoured a tougher approach, like spraying crops with poison.
Independent experts have advised against the use of force, and warned that it could push the small farmer into the arms of the Taliban. The Senlis Council, a drugs policy advisory council based in Paris, said farmers in Helmand, Nangarhar and Kandahar have returned to poppy cultivation with a vengeance this year.
The government failed to compensate them for the destruction of vast tracts of poppy crops that had ensured a sharp decline in production last year. Almas Bawar, spokesman for Senlis in Kabul, told Pajhwok Afghan News that their team had seen cheques issued by the government for poppy elimination that had bounced.
The Council on Foreign Relations, a U.S. think-tank, in a new report, ‘Afghanistan's Uncertain Transition From Turmoil to Normalcy', has urged foreign governments not to ''impose (on the country) their own programmes" for the control of the opium trade. ''Economic growth also requires a policy of eliminating narcotics that does not impoverish people. There should be no short-term conditionality of aid on eliminating narcotics. Elimination of narcotics will take well over a decade, and crop eradication is a counterproductive way to start such a programme,'' it has advised.
Afghanistan's spokesman for counter-narcotics, Zalmay Afzali, echoed the view. The alternative livelihood programme ''should not be confined to only seed distribution, we should construct roads, schools, clinics and other basic things for the farmers,'' he said.
(*Released under arrangement with Pajhwok Afghan News)
Posted by politicalstuff at 12:08 AM
Thursday, April 27, 2006
The Phony Rationale for high Oil Price
by Joel Peskoff
Gasoline prices have passed the $3 mark. “At one Chevron station in downtown Los Angeles, motorists had to fork over $3.35 a gallon yesterday for self-serve regular “ (Wall Street Journal, April 18, 2006) But what’s driving these prices? The short answer is that there is no short answer. What is clear is that many of the reasons given for the rapid rise in oil prices do not withstand scrutiny and are nothing more than spin.
The Motley Fool website explains the components that comprise the cost of a gallon of gasoline:
Component April 10, 2006 April 12, 1999
Crude Oil $1.59 $0.35
Refining Cost and Margin $0.63 $0.70
State and Federal Taxes $0.57 $0.48
Distribution and Marketing $0.01 $0.09
Price Per Gallon $2.80 $1.62
As Table 1 shows, the only significant price change is in the price of crude oil. “Since 1869 US crude oil prices adjusted for inflation have averaged $18.59 per barrel compared to $19.41 for world oil prices.” (Source: WTRG Economics) Oil for May delivery rose beyond $71 on the New York Mercantile Exchange on April 19, 2006. However, when one examines the fundamentals, we observe an obvious disconnect. According to the U.S. Dept. of Energy, petroleum stock (the amount of petroleum in storage) is at an eight-year high. Natural gas is at a five-year high in supply. Crude oil supply stock is at all time highs too. Bloomberg reports, “Stockpiles climbed 3.2 million barrels to 346 million last week, the highest since May 1998...” Therefore, today’s high prices are not caused by an oil shortage.
Stocks (Million Barrels)
Stocks Change From Last
04/21/06 Week Year
Crude Oil 345.0 values are down -0.2 values are up 20.6
Gasoline 200.6 values are down -1.9 values are down -10.7
Distillate 115.6 values are up 1.0 values are up 13.0
Propane 32.880 values are up 2.407 values are up 1.346
Chart 1 (source: US DoE)
Chart 1 clearly shows that crude oil stocks are far above average levels. Yet, prices are at record heights. Why?
To answer that question, we need to analyze the reasons given in the media for higher prices and separate out economic factors from baloney.
The main rationales heard for rising oil prices are:
• Shortage of Refineries
• The War in Iraq
• Risk Premium due to Geopolitical turmoil
• Demand from Developing Countries, (particularly China)
Shortage of Refineries
“[OPEC President] Daukoru said a shortage of refineries to turn crude oil into products like gasoline and heating oil was behind a four-year rally that has taken oil from $20 to $72 a barrel and he predicted continued strength. "The market will remain tight and will remain product-driven, not upstream-driven, for the next five years,” he said. (Source)
My only response is huh? A refinery shortage is a reason for crude prices to drop, not rise. If Ben and Jerry’s can’t churn milk into ice cream fast enough, they surely aren’t going to buy more milk at premium prices. Likewise, if refiners cannot convert crude into gasoline fast enough, they’ll cancel shipments not pay extra. It is unimaginable that refiners will pay a premium for new oil when they can’t process what they already have. "It doesn't do a lot of good to have a rise in crude if the refineries can't run it," said Phil Flynn, analyst at Alaron Trading Corp. in Chicago.
It’s important to note that the refinery shortage is a legitimate reason for gasoline prices to rise in general but it does not explain the current gasoline price rise (excluding the effect of crude oil rises.)
(Source: US DoE)
Although gasoline stocks have dropped, it is still within its seasonal average range (Chart 2). (It’s the trend that’s alarming.) According to the Washington Post, “U.S. gasoline demand is higher… [but only] 1.2 percent above a year ago…” In addition, “Distillate inventories, which include diesel and heating oil, dropped 4.6 million barrels to 117.4 million barrels. They remain more than 12 percent above year-ago levels.”
The War in Iraq
Without doubt, the War in Iraq has diminished the world supply of crude oil. However, the extent is exaggerated. According to the CIA, the 2005 Iraqi oil production was 2.03 million barrels a day, while the prewar production was 2.093 million barrels a day. The London-based Centre for Global Energy Studies (CGES) estimated 2005 production at about 1.9 million barrels a day, lower than the 2.6 million it estimated for before the 2003 U.S.-led invasion. The world produces approximately 85 million barrels per day. A loss of 700,000 barrels per day is not responsible for the dramatic price increase. Moreover, as Chart 3 depicts, in May of 2004, a year plus after the U.S. invasion, crude prices were still below $40.
(Source : US DoE)
In addition, oil production gains in Russia have more than made up any loss from Iraq. As one can see in Chart 4, Russia’s production is up by 1.5 million barrels per day since the start of the Iraq War.
The Motley Fool article points to “Risk Premium” as one fact or driving up crude prices. WTRG also points to risk premium as a factor when it said, “During much of 2004 and 2005 the spare capacity to produce oil has been under one million barrels per day. A million barrels per day is not enough spare capacity to cover an interruption of supply from almost any OPEC producer. In a world that consumes over 80 million barrels per day of petroleum products that adds a significant risk premium to crude oil price and is largely responsible for prices in excess of $40 per barrel.”
To understand this argument, let’s review what risk premium is (Finally my MBA comes in handy.) Risk premium is the extra return that an investment must provide over the risk-free rate to compensate for market risk. (The return on Treasury Bills is considered a proxy for the risk-free rate.) When an investor invests in a risky asset – either a stock or commodity, the investor demands a higher overall rate of return in order to compensate for the possibility that that asset may fall in value. Otherwise, the investor will choose to take his or her money and invest it in T-bills.
With respect to oil drilling, drilling must compensate with a risk premium because there is a high probability that a well drilled will be dry. However, that risk premium has been rather constant through the decades and can’t be responsible for the current rise in crude prices.
The risk in today’s world is the risk associated with Iran cutting off supplies due to geopolitical reasons (such as concerns about Iran's nuclear program.) Yet, when we examine this, it also doesn’t follow economic logic. The people exposed to the risk of Iran (as an example) cutting off oil supplies are not the same people benefiting from the risk premium. The users of the oil products are at risk of a supply cut-off while the suppliers face no risk at all. Meanwhile, the producers benefit one-sidedly from higher prices. Saudi Arabia is earning double the value of its oil than it did just a few years ago. However, Saudi Arabia isn’t taking any risk from an Iranian oil cut-off to the West. Should a cut-off arise, they face no economic lose. On the contrary, their oil will be more coveted and they will surely demand higher prices for it then. Likewise, two years ago, Texas oilmen were able to make a handsome profit by selling their oil at $35 per barrel. It does not cost any more to pump a barrel of oil than it did two years ago. However, those oilmen are now able to sell their oil for $72 dollars a barrel. Are domestic suppliers assuming any additional market risk (compared to three-years ago) that they must be compensated with an extra risk premium? I don’t think so. The suppliers are in the cat-bird seat, set to make additional return, not less return, should a world-wide disruption occur.
The only counter-argument to this is that the Texans and Saudis aren’t really demanding any more for their product, since they rely upon the world futures markets to dictate the price. There is some merit to this argument. Speculators in the futures markets are indeed bidding up the price. “Prices are being guided by institutional money managers who are holding between $100 billion and $120 billion in commodities investments. That's at least double the amount three years ago and up from $6 billion in 1999, according to Barclays Capital.” (Source: the Wall Street Journal) Translation: Hedge Funds, who have no economic interest (as opposed to airlines and distillers) for the futures market beyond speculation, are driving the oil market higher. Like the stock speculators of the 1920’s that collaborated to drive individual stocks higher only to unload them at a later date, there isn’t any force on the short side either large enough or that has an interest, in lower prices.
In a traditional market, speculators gamble. They’ll either be right or not. In this market, speculators aren’t gambling, they’re controlling the market and oil suppliers are all too eager to enjoy the higher price. If OPEC wanted to bring prices down, they merely would have to sell oil at the spot price of $50 per barrel and the futures speculators wouldn’t be able to cover their margin calls. But neither OPEC, nor any other supplier has any interest in doing that.
Demand from Developing Countries, particularly China is driving up prices
China’s total demand of oil is 6.5 million barrels per day. Its oil demand is projected to reach 14.2 million barrels per day by 2025, with net imports of 10.9 million barrels per day. China consumes about one million barrels per day more each year. At less than 1.5% of world demand, China’s additional demand is a minor factor in the 100% increase in world oil prices over the last two-years.
In summary, there really isn’t any rational reason why current oil prices are rising, except market manipulation by speculators. This is not to say that there isn’t a long-term energy problem that needs to be addressed. Eventually, the world will run out of oil but the current oil pricing is not causally related to that fact. In the short-term, there is plenty of oil.
Posted by politicalstuff at 1:02 AM
Technology behind the Pentagon's controversial data-mining project has been acquired by NSA, and is probably in use
The Total Information Awareness Project Lives On
Technology behind the Pentagon's controversial data-mining project has been acquired by NSA, and is probably in use.
By Mark Williams
In April, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), the advocacy organization for citizens' digital rights, filed evidence to support its class-action lawsuit alleging that telecom giant AT&T gave the National Security Agency (NSA), the ultra-secret U.S. agency that's the world's largest espionage organization, unfettered access to Americans' telephone and Internet communications. The lawsuit is one more episode in the public controversy that erupted in December 2005, when the New York Times revealed that, following September 11, President Bush authorized a far-reaching NSA surveillance program that included warrantless electronic eavesdropping on telephone calls and e-mails of individuals within the United States.
Critics charged that the Bush administration had violated both the Constitution's Fourth Amendment, which protects citizens against unwarranted search or seizure, and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) of 1978, which requires eavesdropping warrants to be obtained from a special court of judges empowered for that purpose.
In February 2006, the controversy intensified. Reports emerged that component technologies of the supposedly defunct Total Information Awareness (TIA) project -- established in 2002 by the Pentagon's Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to develop advanced information technology to counter terrorists, then terminated by Congress in 2003 because of widespread criticism that it would create "Orwellian" mass surveillance -- had been acquired by the NSA.
Washington's lawmakers ostensibly killed the TIA project in Section 8131 of the Department of Defense Appropriations Act for fiscal 2004. But legislators wrote a classified annex to that document which preserved funding for TIA's component technologies, if they were transferred to other government agencies, say sources who have seen the document, according to reports first published in The National Journal. Congress did stipulate that those technologies should only be used for military or foreign intelligence purposes against non-U.S. citizens. Still, while those component projects' names were changed, their funding remained intact, sometimes under the same contracts.
Thus, two principal components of the overall TIA project have migrated to the Advanced Research and Development Activity (ARDA), which is housed somewhere among the 60-odd buildings of "Crypto City," as NSA headquarters in Fort Meade, MD, is nicknamed. One of the TIA components that ARDA acquired, the Information Awareness Prototype System, was the core architecture that would have integrated all the information extraction, analysis, and dissemination tools developed under TIA. According to The National Journal, it was renamed "Basketball." The other, Genoa II, used information technologies to help analysts and decision makers anticipate and pre-empt terrorist attacks. It was renamed "Topsail."
Has the NSA been employing those TIA technologies in its surveillance within the United States? And what exactly is the agency doing, anyway?
The hearings that the Senate Judiciary Committee convened in February to consider the NSA's surveillance gave some clues. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, maintaining the administration's defense against charges that it violated the Fourth Amendment and FISA, told senators, firstly, that Article II of the U.S. Constitution granted a president authority to conduct such monitoring and, secondly, that the Authorization to Use Military Force (AUMF) passed after September 11 specified that the president could "use all necessary and appropriate force" to prevent future terrorist acts. Regarding FISA, Gonzalez claimed, the NSA had sidestepped its requirements to obtain warrants for electronic eavesdropping in particular cases. But, overall, the attorney general said, FISA worked well and the authorities had used it increasingly. The available facts support Gonzalez's contention: while the FISA court issued about 500 warrants per year from 1979 through 1995, in 2004 (the last year for which public records exist) 1,758 warrants were issued.
But when senators asked why, given the fact that FISA had provisions by which government agents could wiretap first and seek warrants later, the Bush administration had sidestepped its requirements at all, Gonzalez claimed he couldn't elaborate for reasons of national security.
Former NASA director General Michael Hayden, in charge when the NSA's surveillance program was initiated in 2002, was slightly more forthcoming. FISA wasn't applicable in certain cases, he told the senators, because the NSA's surveillance relied on what he called a "subtly softer trigger" before full-scale eavesdropping began. Hayden, who is nowadays the nation's second-highest ranking intelligence official, as deputy director of national intelligence, said he could answer further questions only in closed session.
Gonzalez's testimony that the government is making increased use of FISA, together with his refusal to explain why it's inapplicable in some cases -- even though retroactive warrants can be issued -- implies that the issue isn't simply that government agents may sometimes want to act quickly. FISA rules demand that old-fashioned "probable cause" be shown before the FISA court issues warrants for electronic surveillance of a specific individual. Probable cause would be inapplicable if NSA were engaged in the automated analysis and data mining of telephone and e-mail communications in order to target possible terrorism suspects.
As the Electronic Frontier Foundation's lawsuit against AT&T reveals, NSA has access to the switches and records of most or all of the nation's leading telecommunications companies. These companies' resources are extensive: AT&T's data center in Kansas, for instance, contains electronic records of 1.92 trillion telephone calls over several decades. Moreover, the majority of international telecommunications nowadays no longer travel by satellite, but by undersea fiber-optic cables, so many carriers route international calls through their domestic U.S. switches.
With the telecom companies' compliance, the NSA can today tap into those international communications far more easily than in the past, and in real time (or close to it). With access to much of the world's telecom traffic, the NSA's supercomputers can digitally vacuum up every call placed on a network and apply an arsenal of data-mining tools. Traffic analysis, together with social network theory, can reveal patterns indiscernible to human analysts, possibly suggesting terrorist activity. Content filtering, applying highly sophisticated search algorithms and powerful statistical methods like Bayesian analysis in tandem with machine learning, can search for particular words or language combinations that may indicate terrorist communications.
Whether the specific technologies developed under TIA and acquired by ARDA have actually been used in the NSA's domestic surveillance programs -- rather than only for intelligence gathering overseas -- has not been proved. Still, descriptions of the two former TIA programs that became Topsail and Basketball mirror descriptions of ARDA and NSA technologies for analyzing vast streams of telephone and e-mail communications. Furthermore, one project manager active in the TIA program before it was terminated has gone on record to the effect that, while TIA was still funded, its researchers communicated regularly and maintained "good coordination" with their ARDA counterparts.
It's this latter fact that is most to the point. Whether or not those specific TIA technologies were deployed for domestic U.S. surveillance, technologies very much like them were. In 2002, for instance, ARDA awarded $64 million in research contracts for a new program called Novel Intelligence from Massive Data. Furthermore, overall, a 2004 survey by the U.S. General Accounting Office, an investigative arm of Congress, found federal agencies operating or developing 199 data mining projects, with more than 120 programs designed to collect and analyze large amounts of personal data on individuals to predict their behavior. Since the accounting office excluded most of the classified projects, the actual numbers would likely have been far higher.
Beyond these programs, additionally, there exist all the data-mining applications currently employed in the private sector for purposes like detecting credit card fraud or predicting health risks for insurance. All the information thus generated goes into databases that, given sufficient government motivation or merely the normal momentum of future history, may sooner or later be accessible to the authorities.
How should data-mining technologies like TIA be regulated in a democracy? It makes little sense to insist on rigid interpretations of FISA. This isn't only because when the law was passed by Congress 30 years ago, terrorist threats on al Qaeda's scale did not yet exist and technological developments hadn't gone so far in potentially giving unprecedented destructive power to small groups and even individuals. Today's changed technological context, additionally, invalidates FISA's basic assumptions.
In an essay published next month in the New York University Review of Law and Security, titled "Whispering Wires and Warrantless Wiretaps: Data Mining and Foreign Intelligence Surveillance," K. Taipale, executive director of the Center for Advanced Studies in Science and Technology Policy, points out that in 1978, when FISA was drafted, it made sense to speak exclusively about intercepting a targeted communication, where there were usually two known ends and a dedicated communication channel that could be wiretapped.
With today's networks, however, data and increasingly voice communications are broken into discrete packets. Intercepting such communications requires that filters be deployed at various communication nodes to scan all passing traffic with the hope of finding and extracting the packets of interest and reassembling them. Thus, even targeting a specific message from a known sender today generally requires scanning and filtering the entire communication flow in which it's embedded. Given that situation, FISA is clearly inadequate because, Taipale argues, were it to be "applied strictly according to its terms prior to any 'electronic surveillance' of foreign communication flows passing through the U.S. or where there is a substantial likelihood of intercepting U.S. persons, then no automated monitoring of any kind could occur."
Taipale proposes not that FISA should be discarded, but that it should be modified to allow for the electronic surveillance equivalent of a Terry stop -- under U.S. law, the brief "stop and frisk" of a person by a law enforcement officer based on the legal standard of reasonable suspicion. In the context of automated data mining, it would mean that if suspicion turned out to be unjustified, after further monitoring, it would be discontinued. If, on the other hand, continued suspicion was reasonable, then it would continue, and at a certain point be escalated so that human agents would be called in to decide whether a suspicious individual's identity should be determined and a FISA warrant issued.
To attempt to maintain FISA and the rest of our current laws about privacy without modifications to address today's changed technological context, Taipale insists, amounts to a kind of absolutism that is ultimately self-defeating. For example, one of the technologies in the original TIA project, the Genisys Privacy Protection program, was intended to enable greater access to data for security reasons while simultaneously protecting individuals' privacy by providing critical data to analysts via anonymized transaction data and by exposing identity only if evidence and appropriate authorization was obtained for further investigation. Ironically, Genisys was the one technology that definitely had its funding terminated and was not continued by another government agency after the public outcry over TIA.
Posted by politicalstuff at 12:57 AM