Saturday, February 17, 2007

Warmest January ever recorded worldwide in 2007: US scientists

Yahoo! News
Warmest January ever recorded worldwide in 2007: US scientists

World temperatures in January were the highest ever recorded for that month of the year, US government scientists said.

"The combined global land and ocean surface temperature was the highest for any January on record," according to scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's National Climate Data Center in Asheville, N.C.

The combined global land and ocean surface temperature was 1.53 degrees Fahrenheit (0.85 Celsius) warmer than the 20th-century average of 53.6 degrees F (12 C) for January based on preliminary data, NOAA said.

The figures surpass the previous record set in 2002 at 1.28 F (0.71 C) above average.

Land surface temperature was a record 3.40 F (1.89 C) warmer than average, while global ocean surface temperature was the fourth warmest in 128 years, about 0.1 F (0.05 C) cooler than the record established during the very strong El Nino climate phenomenon in 1998.

A moderate El Nino started in September and continued into January before weakening, NOAA said.

El Nino is an occasional seasonal warming of the central and eastern Pacific Ocean that upsets normal weather patterns from the western seaboard of Latin America to East Africa, and potentially has a global impact on climate.

"The presence of El Nino along with the continuing global warming trend contributed to the record warm January," NOAA said.

"The unusually warm conditions contributed to the second lowest January snow cover extent on record for the Eurasian continent," it said.

"During the past century, global surface temperatures have increased at a rate near 0.11 F (0.06 C) per decade, but the rate of increase has been three times larger since 1976, or 0.32 F (0.18 C) per decade, with some of the largest temperature increases occurring in the high latitudes of the Northern Hemisphere," it said.


House Republicans defend Bush in oil royalty error

House Republicans defend Bush in oil royalty error
By Tom Doggett

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - House Republicans on Friday sought to deflect blame off the Bush administration for not acting earlier to fix faulty oil drilling contracts that could cost the government billions in lost royalty fees, saying former President Bill Clinton's administration was at fault for issuing the leases.

The dispute centers around drilling contracts the Interior Department gave oil companies in 1998 and 1999 to search for crude in the Gulf of Mexico. The contracts accidentally omitted language that would have ended a waiver of royalties for the companies if the price of oil exceeded about $38 a barrel, as it has in the current market.

The royalty relief was provided at a time when oil prices were very low, and incentives were needed to make it more profitable for companies to drill in the expensive deeper Gulf waters. Companies normally pay royalties based on 12.5 to 16.7 percent of the value of the oil they find on federal leases.

The department's inspector general, Earl Devaney, said the oil price threshold was left out due to a bureaucratic mistake. Nonetheless, the error already has cost the government $1 billion in lost royalties and the total loss could reach $10 billion over the life of the leases.

At a House Natural Resources Committee hearing on Friday looking into the issue, Republicans put the blame on the former Clinton administration for writing the faulty drilling contracts in 1998 and 1999.

"This is not a Bush-cronyism deal" with oil companies, said Republican Rep. Steve Pearce.

Democrats on the panel acknowledged the contracts were signed during Clinton's last term. But they faulted Bush administration officials at the Interior Department for not correcting the contracts when the error was brought to their attention several years later.

"What we want to know is what this administration is going to do to fix this mistake," said Democratic Rep. Ed Markey.

The Interior Department has reached new lease terms with half a dozen oil companies to begin paying royalties on their oil discoveries going forward, but not any past royalties.

About 40 oil companies have yet to sign new contracts.

Markey criticized the department for not supporting legislation that would require oil companies with the disputed leases to negotiate new terms and pay back royalties.

Devaney, the Interior Department's inspector general, said there was plenty of blame to go around.

"I would say mistakes were made in both administrations," he said.

"Although we found massive finger-pointing and blame enough to go around, we did not find a 'smoking gun' or any evidence that the omission of price thresholds was deliberate," Devaney said.


Friday, February 16, 2007

Cheney's Retaliatory '02 Leak Investigations Opened Libby To Prosecution

Here is the beginning of my post.

National Journal
Cheney's Call
By Murray Waas, National Journal

Early on the morning of June 20, 2002, then-Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Bob Graham, D-Fla., received a telephone call at home from a highly agitated Dick Cheney. Graham, who was in the middle of shaving, held a razor in one hand as he took the phone in the other.

The vice president got right to the point: A story in his morning newspaper reported that telephone calls intercepted by the National Security Agency on September 10, 2001, apparently warned that Al Qaeda was about to launch a major attack against the United States, possibly the next day. But the intercepts were not translated until September 12, 2001, the story said, the day after the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

Because someone had leaked the highly classified information from the NSA intercepts, Cheney warned Graham, the Bush administration was considering ending all cooperation with the joint inquiry by the Senate and House Intelligence committees on the government's failure to predict and prevent the September 11 attacks. Classified records would no longer be turned over to the Hill, the vice president threatened, and administration witnesses would not be available for interviews or testimony.

Moreover, Graham recalled in an interview for this story, Cheney warned that unless the leaders of the Intelligence committees took action to discover who leaked the information about the intercepts -- and more importantly, to make sure that such leaks never happened again -- President Bush would directly make the case to the American people that Congress could not be trusted with vital national security secrets.

"Take control of the situation," Graham recalls Cheney instructing him.

Graham told the vice president that he, too, was frustrated over the leaks. But his attempt to calm Cheney down was unsuccessful.

On that morning in June 2002, Cheney could not have known that his complaints to Graham about the leaking of classified information would help set events in motion that eventually would lead to the prosecution of his own chief of staff, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, as the result of a separate leak investigation.

Libby, who stands accused of trying to conceal his role in disclosing the identity of an undercover CIA officer, Valerie Plame, in 2003, is now on trial in federal court in Washington on five counts of perjury, making false statements, and obstruction of justice. Testimony and evidence at Libby's trial has raised questions as to whether Cheney himself authorized the selective leaking or declassification of information, including whether Cheney may have encouraged Libby to disclose Plame's CIA identity to reporters.

And when Graham received Cheney's phone call nearly five years ago, he had no idea that the vice president was not acting on impulse or entirely out of anger. Although administration officials have said that the White House was legitimately concerned that the NSA intercept leak could harm the war on terrorism, they also saw the incident as an opportunity to undercut congressional oversight and possibly restrict the flow of classified information to Capitol Hill. Libby, two administration officials recalled in interviews, was among the aides advising Cheney on this strategy of neutralizing the Hill.

After Cheney ended his call with Graham that morning, the White House was far from done.

The private complaint was followed by a very public rebuke.

Later that day, then-White House press secretary Ari Fleischer read from a prepared statement: "The president [has] very deep concerns about anything that would be inappropriately leaked that could ... harm our ability to maintain sources and methods and anything else that could interfere with America's ability to fight the war on terrorism."

And Bush himself later said, in reference to an entirely different leak, that whoever in government disclosed details of his administration's covert NSA surveillance program had committed a "shameful act" that had the effect of "helping the enemy." Attorney General Alberto Gonzales raised the possibility of prosecuting journalists.

As a result of the White House pressure over the NSA intercept leak in June 2002 -- applied through Cheney's phone call -- Graham and then-House Intelligence Committee Chairman Porter Goss, R-Fla., asked the Justice Department to investigate whether any members of Congress (including themselves) or their staffs were responsible for the leak. Prosecutors and FBI agents later zeroed in on Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., who was then the ranking member on Senate Intelligence, as the person most likely responsible for disclosing the information to the press.

After a lengthy investigation, the Justice Department did not charge Shelby. Later, Justice referred the matter to the Senate Ethics Committee, and in a referral letter dated July 20, 2004, the department said it had "investigated the unauthorized disclosure of classified information" and had "produced evidence and information" concerning Shelby's conduct. In November 2005, the Ethics Committee wrote Shelby to say it had "dismissed the matter referred to it by DOJ."

Shelby insists that he did not leak any classified information, and he in turn decried as prosecutorial abuse the leaks from federal law enforcement officials suggesting that he, Shelby, had done something wrong.

In a statement prepared in response to questions for this story, Shelby said: "At no time during my career as a United States senator and, more particularly, at no time during my service as chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, have I ever knowingly compromised classified information." He added: "We have provided the investigation with our full cooperation."

Although no charges were brought in the investigation of the leaked NSA intercepts, the probe helped to pave the way for the appointment of a special prosecutor to investigate leaks out of the White House and, specifically the Office of the Vice President, in the Plame matter, according to administration, congressional, and law enforcement officials interviewed for this story.

"They [the administration] set the prosecutorial machinery in motion themselves, and the public support for it, before it came back to bite them," said a federal law enforcement official.

Graham, for one, believes that Cheney and Libby's strident demands to investigate leakers in Congress made it all but impossible for the White House to do anything less than cooperate fully with any criminal investigation of the Plame leak.

"They [the administration] would have had a certain exposure to hypocrisy if they hid behind executive privilege" when the Plame investigation began, or if they had fought the appointment of a special prosecutor, Graham said. "It made it politically untenable to avoid having a strong investigation, because they had demanded it of us. With us, they said we should call out the meanest, leanest dogs. The example that they set with us became the boomerang that came around and hit them."

At Libby's trial, Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald has attempted to show that Libby lied about leaking Plame's identity in 2003 because Cheney's office wanted to discredit Plame's husband, former Ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV, who was a strong public critic of the administration's decision to go to war in Iraq.

Wilson had traveled to Niger in February 2002 on a CIA-sponsored mission to investigate allegations that Saddam Hussein's regime had attempted to procure weapons-grade uranium from the African nation. Wilson reported to the CIA that from what he could learn the allegations were almost certainly untrue. In a July 6, 2003, op-ed in The New York Times, Wilson charged that the Bush administration had "twisted" intelligence information when it cited the alleged Niger-Iraq connection in the president's State of Union address earlier that year.

White House officials had claimed that they were not warned by the CIA that the agency had discredited the intelligence information before the president's speech.

As one part of an effort to counter Wilson's allegations and to discredit him, Libby and other Bush administration officials told reporters that Wilson's wife selected him to go on the CIA mission, suggesting nepotism.

Libby's trial has also brought Cheney's role to center stage. According to evidence and testimony, Cheney selectively leaked and declassified intelligence information to bolster the administration's case for war and later to defend against charges that he had misrepresented prewar intelligence.

Before the trial, both Cheney and Libby denied that the vice president had authorized or even known that Libby had spoken to reporters about Plame. But at the trial, FBI agent Deborah Bond testified that Libby said in an interview with her that on July 12, 2003, Libby might have spoken to Cheney about the possibility of divulging Plame's name to reporters before he actually did so later that day.

Would Journalists Testify?
In the leak investigation of the NSA intercepts, the FBI agent in charge of the probe, Jack Eckenrode, repeatedly complained to senior Justice Department officials that he was stymied because he could not compel interviews or grand jury testimony from the journalists who received the leak. Without obtaining such testimony, Eckenrode said, he stood little chance of identifying the culprit and bringing any charges.

Two senior Justice Department officials at the time, Deputy Attorney General Larry Thompson and Criminal Division head Michael Chertoff, refused to approve subpoenas for the journalists. They also argued that Eckenrode's case was circumstantial, according to sources close to the investigation. It is unclear whether then-Attorney General John Ashcroft was involved in decisions on whether to subpoena journalists. Chertoff, now secretary of Homeland Security, declined to comment for this story. Thompson, who is no longer at Justice, did not return a phone call seeking comment.

Eckenrode and other investigators kept pressing the argument that they could not know whether they had a good case unless they compelled the testimony of journalists. Some investigators voiced concerns that two GOP political appointees -- Thompson and Chertoff -- had turned them down on subpoenas for a probe whose chief suspect was a Republican senator.

Later, when Eckenrode was placed in charge of the Plame investigation, he privately complained that once again he was coming close to cracking the case, only to have prosecutors fail to bring any charges because of their inability to question journalists.

Eckenrode scored an early success in the Plame investigation by convincing NBC Washington bureau chief and Meet the Press moderator Tim Russert to speak to him. The FBI agent worked Russert the same way Russert might work a news source: Eckenrode mentioned that he had met Russert when his church group had taken a tour of NBC's Washington studios, and he spoke about how both of them came from Irish-Catholic backgrounds.

What Russert had to say to Eckenrode was central to the Plame probe because Libby was telling the FBI that when he talked to reporters about Plame working at the CIA, he was merely repeating rumors that Russert had told him about Plame during a July 10, 2003, telephone conversation.

Russert responded that Libby was lying -- that, in fact, he and Libby had never discussed Plame at all.

But when Fitzgerald attempted to take Russert's testimony under oath, Russert initially refused and NBC sought to quash a subpoena from prosecutors. For Eckenrode, it was a replay of the NSA leak case, when a Fox News correspondent had identified Sen. Shelby as his source to the FBI, only to refuse to testify under oath.

For several months in 2003, the Justice Department oversaw the Plame leak investigation. As evidence mounted that Libby and White House Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove might have played roles in leaking information about Plame, two senior Justice Department officials -- Christopher Wray, who was then head of the Criminal Division, and James B. Comey, who had just been named deputy attorney general -- persuaded Ashcroft to recuse himself from the matter and to allow Comey to appoint a special prosecutor. (Rove had earlier served as a consultant to three of Ashcroft's political campaigns.)

Senate Democrats were also pressing for a special prosecutor. Because Cheney had personally pushed for a criminal investigation of senators and their staff over the NSA intercepts, the Democrats insisted that the White House endure similar scrutiny over the leak of Plame's identity, according to several senior congressional staffers involved in the process.

With Fitzgerald's appointment as special prosecutor, Eckenrode found a sympathetic ear for his complaint that leak probes often went nowhere because suspects knew that reporters would never be forced to testify. Although the men agreed that reporters should be compelled to testify only as a last resort, Fitzgerald assured Eckenrode that he would demand such testimony if necessary.

Fitzgerald's resolve was displayed later in the Plame case when he pursued contempt charges against then-New York Times reporter Judith Miller. She refused to testify after being subpoenaed and ended up spending 85 days in jail. Miller finally agreed to testify about her conversations with Libby about Plame -- after Libby called her in jail and encouraged her to do so.

The irony that Libby, once the vice president's top aide, was accused of concealing his role in leaking information to the press has not been lost on some. Graham said in an interview: "It's hard to believe that the chief of staff to the vice president was acting as a rogue agent. What we have learned from the trial validates the suspicion that Libby was not just operating as a lone ranger. He was carrying out what the vice president wanted him to do, which was to besmirch Joe Wilson. I think Libby has been a conspirator in one of the most reprehensible and damaging breaches of American security in modern history."

Craig Schmall, who was a CIA briefing officer for both Cheney and Libby, has testified at Libby's trial that on the morning of July 14, 2003, when journalist Robert Novak outed Plame's covert identity in his newspaper column, Schmall commented to Cheney and Libby, "I thought there was a grave danger leaking the name of a CIA officer. Foreign intelligence services where she served now have the opportunity to investigate everyone whom she had come in contact with. They could be arrested, tortured, or killed."

Huge Stakes
By 7:30 in the morning on that June day in 2002 when Cheney called Graham, the chairmen and ranking members of the Senate and House Intelligence committees met in a secure room in the Capitol. They discussed how to prevent fallout from the administration's threat that they could not be trusted with classified information. Present at the meeting were Graham, Goss, Shelby, and Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California, then the ranking Democrat on the House panel. Senior aides were excluded.

The four lawmakers emerged from their meeting and told their staffs that they had decided to take the unprecedented step of requesting the Justice Department to conduct a criminal inquiry into whether they, any other members of their committees, or their aides were responsible for leaking the NSA intercepts to the media.

A key participant in the events recalled in an interview: "It was a hastily made decision, made out of a sense of panic... and by people with bleary eyes."

Another person involved recalled: "There was a real concern that any meaningful oversight by Congress was very much at stake. The political dynamic back then -- not that long after September 11 -- was completely different. They took Cheney's threats very seriously."

Graham said, "Looking back at it, I think we were clearly set up by Dick Cheney and the White House. They wanted to shut us down. And they wanted to shut down a legitimate congressional inquiry that might raise questions in part about whether their own people had aggressively pursued Al Qaeda in the days prior to the September 11 attacks. The vice president attempted to manipulate the situation, and he attempted to manipulate us." Graham added: "But if his goal was to get us to back off, he was unsuccessful."

Graham said that Goss shared his concerns. In 2003, according to Graham, he speculated to Goss that the White House had set them up in an effort to sabotage the joint September 11 congressional inquiry. Graham says that Goss responded: "I often wondered that myself."

Goss, who would later serve as CIA director under President Bush, declined to comment for this article. Graham, citing a lifelong friendship with Goss, refused to say anything else regarding his private discussions with Goss.

Megan McGinn, a spokeswoman for Cheney, said that the vice president would not comment on his conversations with Graham and Goss. But she added, "As president of the Senate, the vice president has discussions with members on various issues." She also said there would be no comment on the Libby case because it "is a matter before the courts."

At the time of Cheney's phone call in June 2002, Graham and other lawmakers on the Intelligence committees suspected that the vice president viewed the leaking of the NSA intercepts as an opportunity to try to curtail what he believed were nettlesome congressional inquiries.

If that was, indeed, the vice president's main purpose for his angry call to Graham, it was not the first time that Cheney had sought to use a press leak as a pretext for constraining a congressional probe.

A recently declassified memo handwritten by Cheney more than 30 years ago when he was an aide to President Ford shows him considering whether to press the Justice Department to pursue criminal charges against The New York Times and reporter Seymour Hersh after the newspaper published an article revealing a highly classified espionage program against the Soviet Union. The memo was uncovered for a soon-to-be-aired documentary by the PBS program Frontline.

When the Justice Department balked at prosecuting anyone, Cheney adroitly tried to exploit the news report for other ends. He wrote under the heading "Broader ramifications": "Can we take advantage of it to bolster our position on the Church committee investigation? To point out the need for limits on the scope of the investigation?"

At the time, a select committee headed by then-Sen. Frank Church, D-Idaho, was investigating the CIA -- an unprecedented and historic inquiry that revealed everything from CIA-sponsored coups against foreign governments to attempted assassinations of foreign leaders, to illegal domestic spying.

Weighing the Costs
In the NSA leak probe, the FBI focused primarily on news reports from June 2002 that on the night before September 11, 2001, the National Security Agency had intercepted two Arabic-language messages suggesting that terrorist attacks against the United States were imminent. The messages that were overheard said, "The match is about to begin" and "Tomorrow is zero hour." But they were not translated until September 12.

The messages were discussed at length by Lt. Gen. Michael Hayden, who was NSA's director, during a joint closed-door session of the House and Senate Intelligence committees on June 19, 2002. Not long after the hearing concluded, CNN aired a report disclosing the two messages. The next morning, The Washington Post and USA Today published more-detailed reports. It was then that Cheney called Graham, and that Graham then met with Goss, Shelby, and Pelosi.

Senior intelligence officials have insisted that even if the messages had been translated immediately, authorities most likely could not have prevented the 9/11 attacks. But they said that the leak revealed possible sources and methods of intelligence-gathering, and therefore was a major security breach.

The FBI swarmed over Capitol Hill, interviewing virtually every senator and House member who served on the Intelligence committees, as well as the staffs of both panels. Before long, investigators began to focus on Shelby. And as they did, Shelby, who had initially supported the investigation, took to denouncing it.

In August 2002, when the FBI inquired about having members of Congress and their staffs take polygraph examinations, Shelby began to pointedly voice opposition to the investigation, telling the press: "I don't know who among us would take a lie detector test. First of all, they're not even admissible in court, and second of all, the leadership [of both parties] has told us not to do that." More broadly, he complained: "Here we are investigating the FBI for huge failures, and now we're asking them to investigate us."

Among those who provided information to the FBI incriminating Shelby was Fox News correspondent Carl Cameron. He told investigators that Shelby shared information about the intercepts shortly after the June 19 hearing, according to sources close to the investigation.

Immediately after Shelby spoke with him, Cameron told the FBI, he watched as Shelby walked down a Senate office building hallway and conversed with Dana Bash, then a producer, and now a correspondent, for CNN. Cameron was not privy to the Shelby-Bash conversation, but CNN later ran a story about the intercepts based on information that was almost identical to what Shelby had told Cameron. Cameron, who indicated that he was irked that Shelby shared the information with a competitor, also told investigators that he delayed a broadcast of his story because he wanted to make sure that he was not compromising intelligence sources and methods, according to these sources.

A congressional staff member, the sources said, recounted to the FBI that Shelby told the staffer about the NSA intercepts -- that Al Qaeda was about to attack the United States, but that the intercepts were not translated until after September 11. Shelby indicated to the staffer that the issue should be brought to the press's attention, although the staffer said that Shelby did not provide specific details of the information that the senator wanted divulged, the sources said.

The investigation stalled when investigators were unable to compel Cameron, Bash, and other reporters to provide evidence or to testify before a federal grand jury on the sources for their stories.

One senior Justice Department member familiar with deliberations on the case said that some Justice officials were not convinced that the leak probe rose to the level of importance of issuing subpoenas or jailing journalists. This official said: "You have to weigh the costs... versus the benefits. We could have ended up with a reporter going to jail, and still ended up without the ability to make the case -- either because the reporter would refuse to testify or because, even with their testimony, we were unable to make a case."

Lucy Dalglish, the executive director of the Reporter's Committee for Freedom of the Press, said in an interview that she agreed with the decision. "The public is better served when reporters are not required to act as investigative agents for the government," she said.

Dalglish asserted that although the Libby trial has demonstrated that some "leaks are done in the service of slimy political dirty tricks," there are a vastly greater number of "journalists working heroically... in the service of the public good" and "who are at risk of going to jail or are already in jail."

In the case of the NSA intercepts leak, CNN indicated that it would not cooperate with the federal criminal inquiry. Reporters for The Washington Post and USA Today probably would not have cooperated either. And although Cameron voluntarily provided information to the FBI, Fox News executives balked at allowing him to testify before a grand jury.

Graham says that even if Shelby had leaked information about the intercepts to the press, Graham believes with some degree of certainty that certain executive branch officials did so as well. Although CNN broke the story, the next-day stories in The Post and USA Today contained details that Hayden had not disclosed to the Intelligence committees, Graham said. "That would lead a reasonable person to infer the administration leaked as well, or what they were doing was trying to set us up... to make this an issue which they could come after us with."

War of Leaks
Regarding the Plame investigation, in sharp contrast to the NSA leak case, Fitzgerald and Eckenrode were able to obtain the voluntarily testimony of a score of journalists, most importantly columnist Robert Novak, who told Fitzgerald who his sources were. In other instances, when journalists refused to comply, Fitzgerald and his prosecutors pursued contempt charges.

Evidence presented by prosecutors during Libby's trial has detailed Cheney's role in directing Libby and others to selectively leak or declassify intelligence information to discredit Wilson, other administration critics, and the CIA, while defending the Bush administration's actions.

One such instance was when Cheney -- with the direct approval of President Bush -- instructed Libby to leak to the press portions of a still-classified National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. Such a disclosure, Cheney and Libby hoped, would prove that the CIA had provided the White House with erroneous intelligence. Later, Cheney directed Libby to leak portions of a highly classified CIA debriefing of Wilson upon his return from Niger -- which Cheney and others mistakenly thought was a CIA cable.

The Times' Miller testified that during a June 23, 2003, meeting with Libby -- the first time that she said Libby had shared information with her about Plame -- he "appeared to be agitated and frustrated and angry" about what he described as a "perverted war of leaks" initiated by the CIA against the White House.

The main justification for invading Iraq had been that Saddam possessed weapons of mass destruction. But with inspectors unable to find any evidence of an Iraqi WMD program, the White House blamed the CIA for faulty intelligence. Senior CIA officials, in turn, said that the White House had often misrepresented accurate intelligence information.

It was during that volatile time, on July 6, 2003, that Wilson wrote his New York Times op-ed alleging that the administration had distorted intelligence information about Iraq's purported attempt to procure uranium. When Cheney and Libby learned that Wilson's wife worked at the CIA, and might even have played a role in selecting him for the Niger mission, they perceived his allegations as one more effort by the CIA to shift blame away from the agency.

Four days later, on July 10, 2003, Mary Matalin, a senior aide to Cheney at the time, warned Libby that Wilson was a "snake" and that his "story has legs," Deputy Special Prosecutor Peter Zeidenberg said in court at Libby's trial.

Matalin then suggested a course of action, according to Zeidenberg: "We need to address the Wilson motivation. We need to be able to get the cable out. Declassified. The president should wave his wand."

Two days later, on July 12, 2003, Cheney and Libby flew together to the Norfolk naval base in Virginia, where they attended ceremonies to christen the USS Ronald Reagan.

On the way home on Air Force Two, the two men sat alone in a front compartment as Cheney counseled Libby on what to say to the press. One bit of advice: Provide reporters with details of the CIA debriefing of Wilson's Niger mission.

The vice president told Libby that the president had waved his wand.

Upon landing at Andrews Air Force Base, Libby and Cathie Martin, a press aide to Cheney, searched for a private room so that Libby could call Time magazine's Matthew Cooper and other reporters. Later from home, he also spoke to Judith Miller.

It was toward the end of conversations with both reporters that Libby told them that Wilson's wife worked for the CIA, Miller and Cooper testified.

Before the trial, Cheney denied that he ever authorized anyone to provide information about Plame to the media -- or that he even suggested such a thing. But FBI agent Deborah Bond testified that on the return trip from Norfolk, the vice president might indeed have talked with Libby about revealing Plame's CIA connection to the press. "Mr. Libby told us he believed they may have talked about it but he wasn't sure," Bond told the court.

As Bond testified, Libby furiously scribbled notes on a yellow legal pad. If he looked like one of the accomplished attorneys at the defense table, it was because Libby is one, too. A graduate of Phillips Academy Andover, Yale University, and Columbia Law School, Libby had been, just before going to work for the vice president in 2001, the managing partner of the Washington office of an international law firm then named Dechert, Price, and Rhoads.

But as Graham points out, Libby, who as the vice president's chief of staff had vigorously demanded leak investigations of others, became a victim of his own "boomerang that had come around."

Scooter Libby was not just another lawyer at the defense table anymore. He was in the dock. -- Previous coverage of pre-war intelligence and the CIA leak investigation from Murray Waas. Brian Beutler provided research assistance for this report.


Auditors: Billions squandered in Iraq

Yahoo! News
Auditors: Billions squandered in Iraq
By HOPE YEN, Associated Press Writer

About $10 billion has been squandered by the U.S. government on Iraq reconstruction aid because of contractor overcharges and unsupported expenses, and federal investigators warned Thursday that significantly more taxpayer money is at risk.

The three top auditors overseeing work in Iraq told a House committee their review of $57 billion in Iraq contracts found that Defense and State department officials condoned or allowed repeated work delays, bloated expenses and payments for shoddy work or work never done.

More than one in six dollars charged by U.S. contractors were questionable or unsupported, nearly triple the amount of waste the Government Accountability Office estimated last fall.

"There is no accountability," said David M. Walker, who heads the auditing arm of Congress. "Organizations charged with overseeing contracts are not held accountable. Contractors are not held accountable. The individuals responsible are not held accountable."

"People should be rewarded when they do a good job. But when things don't go right, there have to be consequences," he said.

Also testifying Thursday were Stuart Bowen, the special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction, and William H. Reed, director of the Defense Contract Audit Agency.

The appearance before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee came as Congress prepares for a showdown with President Bush next month over his budget request of nearly $100 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

So far, the Bush administration has spent more than $350 billion on the Iraq war and reconstruction effort.

The Army, which handles most of the Iraq contracting, said Thursday it had not reviewed the latest contract figures.

"The U.S. Army, along with the Departments of Defense and State, continue to help thousands of Iraqis daily with reconstruction projects to provide them with better lives," said spokeswoman Mary Ann Hodges. "We look forward to examining its findings and applying some of its recommendations in the future."

Senate Democrats said recently cited cases of waste were "outrageous rip-offs of the American taxpayer" and introduced legislation Thursday to stiffen punishment for war profiteers and cut down on cronyism in contracting.

According to their testimony, the investigators:

_Found overpricing and waste in Iraq contracts amounting to $4.9 billion since the Defense Contract Audit Agency began its work in 2003. Some of that money has been recovered. An additional $5.1 billion in expenses were charged without proper documentation.

_Pointed to growing Iraqi sectarian violence as a significant factor behind bloated U.S. contracting bills. Iraqi officials, they said, must begin to take primary responsibility for reconstruction efforts. That is an uncertain goal, given the widespread corruption in Iraq and the local government's inability to fund projects.

_Urged the Pentagon to reconsider its growing reliance on outside contractors in wars and reconstruction efforts. Layers of subcontractors, poor documentation and lack of strong contract management are rampant and promote waste even after the GAO first warned of problems 15 years ago.

Walker complained that GAO investigators have difficulty getting basic detail about reconstruction contracts such as expenses and subcontractors involved because many Pentagon divisions fail to consistently track or fully report them.

"It's absolutely essential if Congress wants to make an informed decision on authorizations and appropriations that we get this information," he said. "We're talking about billions of dollars and thousands of American lives at stake."

Rep. Henry Waxman (news, bio, voting record), D-Calif., the committee chairman, has pledged scores of investigations of fraud, waste and abuse — with subpoenas if necessary — on the administration's watch.

Of the $10 billion in overpriced contracts or undocumented costs, more than $2.7 billion were charged by Halliburton Co., the oil-field services company once headed by Vice President Dick Cheney.

Noting that auditors still have $300 billion of Iraq spending to review, Waxman said the total amount of waste, fraud and abuse "could be astronomical."

"It's no wonder that taxpayers all across our country are fed up and demanding that we bring real oversight to the 'anything goes' world of Iraq reconstruction," he said.

Rep. Tom Davis, R-Va., the top Republican on the panel, pointed to ongoing, "systemic" problems in Iraq contracting. "This much is clear: Poor security, an arcane, ill-suited management structure, and frequent management changes have produced a succession of troubled acquisitions," Davis said.


On the Net:

House Oversight and Government Reform Committee:

House committee memorandum analyzing Iraq contracting costs:


CIA sounded out Italy about "renditions" in 2001

CIA sounded out Italy about "renditions" in 2001
By Phil Stewart

ROME (Reuters) - The CIA spoke with Italy's spy chief about kidnapping terrorism suspects in Italy and flying them abroad days after the September 11 attacks, according to testimony being used to prosecute U.S. and Italian agents.

A former Italian intelligence chief's testimony obtained by Reuters records this conversation taking place about 16 months before prosecutors say the CIA grabbed a radical Muslim cleric in Milan and flew him to Egypt, where he says he was tortured.

A Milan judge is expected to decide on Friday whether to indict 26 Americans, most of them believed to be CIA agents, and six Italians for kidnapping. Washington and Rome have never acknowledged any role in the affair.

"(The CIA station chief in Rome) asked my opinion, 'What do you think' about the hypothesis of carrying out the strategy of so-called renditions," Gianfranco Battelli, head of military intelligence agency SISMI back in 2001, told prosecutors.

The deposition of Battelli, who stepped down long before the abduction and is not a defendant, says the CIA official "made explicit reference to the possibility of grabbing a terrorist suspect in Italy, taking him to an airport and from there boarding him to a foreign country".

If Judge Caterina Interlandi orders a trial, it would be the world's first criminal case over renditions -- one of the most controversial aspects of U.S. President George W. Bush's "war on terror".

Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr, also known as Abu Omar, says he was tortured under interrogation in Egypt after being grabbed off a Milan street, driven to a U.S. military base in northern Italy and flown to Egypt.


The case is being closely watched in Europe. The European Parliament approved a report on Wednesday saying governments helped conceal secret U.S. transfers of terrorism suspects.

A court in Munich issued arrest warrants last month for 13 suspected CIA agents accused of kidnapping a German of Lebanese descent and flying him to an Afghanistan jail, where he too says he was tortured.

The Italians linked to the Nasr case have been defending themselves tooth-and-nail, in the process making compromising statements about their American counterparts and each other.

All claim to have personally refused to help the CIA in the kidnap itself, except an Italian police officer who says he was told by the CIA's Milan station chief that the purpose was to recruit the imam as an informer -- not abduct him.

Battelli said he told the CIA chief he was on his way out of office and that the CIA should talk with his successor.

That man, Nicolo Pollari, is the highest-level Italian official facing indictment. He denies any wrongdoing.

Pollari has complained that evidence proving his innocence is being kept classified by Prime Minister Romano Prodi.

Prodi told one paper this month his government "is against any rendition but the case that you refer to concerns state secrets". Prodi, who took office in May, said the files were classified by his predecessor, Silvio Berlusconi.

Italian Deputy Prime Minister Francesco Rutelli said the government on Thursday asked Italy's constitutional court to examine whether prosecutors had violated state secrecy laws by obtaining classified documents to push their case.

"There's no intent for a controversy, it is an act that has to be taken on the part of the government," Foreign Minister Massimo D'Alema told a news conference explaining the government's move.

Nasr was released from an Egyptian prison on Sunday four years after his suspected rendition. He says he was tortured with electric shocks, beatings, rape threats and genital abuse.

"I've been reduced to a wreck of a human being," he told Italy's ANSA news agency.


Thursday, February 15, 2007

A Prewar Slide Show Cast Iraq in Rosy Hues

The New York Times
A Prewar Slide Show Cast Iraq in Rosy Hues

WASHINGTON, Feb. 14 — When Gen. Tommy R. Franks and his top officers gathered in August 2002 to review an invasion plan for Iraq, it reflected a decidedly upbeat vision of what the country would look like four years after Saddam Hussein was ousted from power.

A broadly representative Iraqi government would be in place. The Iraqi Army would be working to keep the peace. And the United States would have as few as 5,000 troops in the country.

Military slides obtained by the National Security Archive under the Freedom of Information Act outline the command’s PowerPoint projection of the stable, pro-American and democratic Iraq that was to be.

The general optimism and some details of General Franks’s planning session have been disclosed in the copious postwar literature. But the slides from the once classified briefing provide a firsthand look at how far the violent reality of Iraq today has deviated from assumptions that once laid the basis for an exercise in pre-emptive war.

The archive, an independent research institute at George Washington University, has posted the slides on its Web site,

August 2002 was an important time for developing the strategy. President Bush had yet to go to the United Nations to declare Saddam Hussein’s supposed weapons programs a menace to international security, but the war planning was well under way. The tumultuous upheaval that would follow the toppling of the Hussein government was known antiseptically in planning sessions as “Phase IV.” As is clear from the slides, it was the least defined part of the strategy.

General Franks had told his officers that it was his supposition that the State Department would have the primary responsibility for rebuilding Iraq’s political institutions.

“D.O.S. will promote creation of a broad-based, credible provisional government — prior to D-Day,” noted a slide on “key planning assumptions.” That was military jargon for the notion that the Department of State would assemble a viable Iraqi governing coalition before the invasion even began.

“It was a way of forcing the discussion, to get clarity of how we and State were going to deal with the governance issue,” Col. John Agoglia, a Central Command planner at the time, said in an interview.

As it turned out, it was months before the command’s planners began to receive some of the clarification they were hoping for. The Bush administration put aside the idea of establishing a prewar provisional government for fear it would marginalize Iraqi leaders who had not gone into exile. Colonel Agoglia said he did not begin to get a sense of what the postwar arrangements would be until Jay Garner, a retired three-star general, was tapped by the Bush administration in January 2003 to serve as the first civilian administrator in postwar Iraq.

Another assumption spelled out in the PowerPoint presentation was that “co-opted” Iraqi Army units would heed the American appeals to stay in their garrisons and later help United States to secure the country.

Based on this and other hopeful suppositions, the command’s planners projected what the American occupation of Iraq might look like. After the main fighting was over, there was to be a two- to three-month “stabilization” phase, then an 18- to 24-month “recovery” phase.

That was to be followed by a 12- to 18-month “transition” phase. At the end of this stage — 32 to 45 months after the invasion began — it was projected that the United States would have only 5,000 troops in Iraq.

Now, those projections seem startlingly unrealistic given the current troop buildup, in which the United States currently has about 132,000 troops in Iraq and is adding about 20,000 more. But the projections, former military planners say, were intended to send the message to civilian policy makers that the invasion of Iraq would be a multiyear proposition, not an easy in-and-out war.

As it turned out, the assumptions on Iraqi and American forces were quickly overturned, partly as a result of new American policy decisions. Instead of staying in garrisons, many of the Iraqi soldiers fled after the war began. Senior American commanders hoped to quickly recall the Iraqi troops to duty anyway, but that option vanished in May 2003 when L. Paul Bremer III, Mr. Garner’s successor, issued an edict formally disbanding the Iraqi Army.

The message that the United States should gird itself for a substantial multiyear occupation seemed to be superseded when General Franks issued new guidance to his commanders a week after the fall of Baghdad on April 9 that they should be prepared to reduce the American troops in Iraq to a little more than a division by September 2003 — some 30,000 troops.

A series of ad hoc decisions and strategy changes followed as the insurgency grew and security deteriorated. A new military plan is now being put into effect, which the White House asserts may yet salvage a positive outcome. Almost four years after the invasion, however, the “stable democratic Iraqi government” the United States once hoped for seems to exist only in the command’s old planning slides.


Ex-aide says Rice misled Congress on Iran

Ex-aide says Rice misled Congress on Iran
By Carol Giacomo, Diplomatic Correspondent

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Controversy over a possible missed U.S. opportunity for rapprochement with Iran grew on Wednesday as former aide accused Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice of misleading Congress on the issue.

Flynt Leverett, who worked on the National Security Council when it was headed by Rice, said a proposal vetted by Tehran's most senior leaders was sent to the United States in May 2003 and was akin to the 1972 U.S. opening to China.

Speaking at a conference on Capitol Hill, Leverett said he was confident it was seen by Rice and then-Secretary of State Colin Powell but "the administration rejected the overture."

Rice's spokesman denied she misled Congress and reiterated that she did not see the proposal.

Separately, Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns warned Iran it risked further U.N. and other sanctions if it did not halt uranium enrichment as the U.N. Security Council demanded.

He stressed there was still time for diplomacy before Iran reached a critical point in its nuclear capability and said conflict with Iran was not inevitable.

Washington remains patient and committed to negotiations with Tehran and its carrot-and-stick approach with other major powers is influencing Iran's internal debate, Burns told the Brookings Institution think tank.

Leverett, speaking at a conference hosted by the New America Foundation think tank, said the 2003 overture "was a serious proposal" for a comprehensive agenda for U.S.-Iranian rapprochement.

"The Bush administration up to and including Secretary Rice is misleading Congress and the American public about the Iran proposal," he said.

Testifying before a U.S. Congress committee last week, Rice, said about Leverett's previous public comments on the Iranian proposal: "I don't know what Flynt Leverett's talking about."

She faulted him for not telling her, "We have a proposal from Iran and we really ought to take it."

On Wednesday, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said: "What she said is she has no recollection of having seen it. She has said that repeatedly."

Leverett and others have represented the proposal as a missed opportunity that could have defused tensions with Iran which have grown to the point that the U.S. administration has been forced to deny it plans military action against Tehran.

Leverett said Rice should apologize for calling his competence into question.

He said he had left the National Security Council, which advises the president on security issues, in March 2003 before the Iranian proposal was received. He returned to the CIA where he previously worked and soon after left government. Hence, he was not in a position to make this case directly to Rice, he said.

Leverett said Powell, in a conversation about the Iranian proposal, told him he "couldn't sell it at the White House." This was evidence it had been discussed there, he said.

The proposal was transmitted in May 2003 by the Swiss ambassador in Tehran, Tim Guldimann, who represented U.S. interests there. Washington has not had diplomatic relations with Iran since two years after the 1979 Islamic revolution.

According to a copy of the proposal posted on The Washington Post Web site and cited by Leverett, it contains considerable detail about approaching issues of central interest to the United States and Iran.

This included an end to Iran's support for anti-Israel militants and acceptance of Israel's right to exist.

It carried a cover letter from Guldimann, who said the proposal was approved by Iran's supreme religious leader, Ayatollah Ali Khameini, and then-President Mohammed Khatami.


GOP vs. GOP in House Iraq debate

GOP vs. GOP in House Iraq debate
By Kathy Kiely, USA TODAY

WASHINGTON — The Democrats now control the House, but for two hours Wednesday, they took a back seat as Republicans argued amongst themselves over President Bush's Iraq policy.

Rep. Walter Jones, a Republican whose North Carolina district includes the Marine Corps' Camp Lejeune, led a dozen GOP lawmakers who spoke against the president's plan to commit 21,500 more troops to Iraq. Several said they were doing so despite their personal affection and admiration for the president.

"I am personally very high on President Bush, but on the matter of the troop escalation, I am not in agreement," said Rep. Howard Coble, R-N.C. "The Iraqi people were given a choice between freedom and civil war. Unfortunately, they chose the latter."

At the same time, the president took to the airwaves to try to sell his policy at a televised news conference.

The extent of the Republican opposition to Bush's plan is the only suspense left in the debate. Drafted by Jones and two senior Democrats, the resolution states support for the soldiers, but opposition to a troop increase. The resolution is all but certain to win approval on Friday.

"We will lose some," conceded House Republican leader John Boehner of Ohio.

Rep. Wayne Gilchrest, a Maryland Republican who spoke against Bush's policy Wednesday, predicted in an interview that there will be between 20 and 40 Republican defectors when the roll is called. In 2002, six Republicans (along with 126 Democrats) voted against giving the president the power to go to war.

The Republican critiques of the Bush policy were at times pointed. "More of the same on steroids," is how Rep. Tom Davis, R-Va., described it. They demonstrated how deeply disillusionment has set in since the heady days when lawmakers celebrated the massive turnout for Iraq's first free elections.

"Unfortunately, it seems that the Americans want a unified and secure Iraq more than the Iraqis do," said Rep. Ric Keller, R-Fla.

The Republican opposition also prompted sharp retorts from colleagues who support the president's policy.

"Whose side are you on?" said Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn. "Are you on the side of freedom or are you on the side of allowing the terrorists to get the upper hand?"

Rep. Zach Wamp, R-Tenn., said the troop increase is necessary to "the defense of liberty and our way of life."

"This is a religious conflict," Wamp said. "We're at war with Islamic jihadists."

The Republicans favoring the resolution run the political gamut. Centrists argued that diplomatic and political initiatives would be a better alternative to a troop increase.

"I believe that surges will continue to be unsuccessful without a comprehensive diplomatic strategy," said Rep. Mike Castle, R-Del.

Fiscal conservatives questioned how the nation will pay its bills "if we keep trying to run the whole world," as Rep. John Duncan, R-Tenn., said.

Some Republicans who oppose the troop increase, including Rep. Phil English, R-Pa., expressed frustration that Democratic congressional leaders did not allow them to offer amendments. "I will vote in favor of the resolution as offered as narrow and inadequate as it is; but I can't help but express my frustration that the Democrat leadership has squandered an opportunity to allow a full and fair debate with real amendments," English said.

That may cost the resolution some Republican support. Rep. Heather Wilson, R-N.M., a former Air Force captain and the only female veteran in Congress, said Wednesday that even though she is "skeptical of the Baghdad mission" she will vote against the resolution because it "leave unanswered the question of whether we will fund the bullets and body armor for troops who are not there yet but are going."

Wilson's comments prompted an unscheduled appearance on the House floor by an agitated Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md. He insisted that soldiers in battle will have funds and armaments available.

"No one in this Congress will not support them," Hoyer said.


Justice Official Bought Vacation Home With Oil Lobbyist
Justice Official Bought Vacation Home With Oil Lobbyist
By Susan Schmidt and James V. Grimaldi
Washington Post Staff Writers

A senior Justice Department official who recently resigned her post bought a nearly $1 million vacation home with a lobbyist for ConocoPhillips months before approving consent decrees that would give the oil company more time to pay millions of dollars in fines and meet pollution-cleanup rules at some of its refineries.

Sue Ellen Wooldridge, former assistant attorney general in charge of environment and natural resources, bought a $980,000 home on Kiawah Island, S.C., last March with ConocoPhillips lobbyist Don R. Duncan. A third owner of the house is J. Steven Griles, a former deputy interior secretary, who has been informed he is a target in the federal investigation of Jack Abramoff's lobbying activities.

A spokeswoman for the Justice Department said yesterday that Wooldridge sought and received approval from a career ethics official in her office before buying the vacation property. Wooldridge's lawyer and officials at ConocoPhillips said that Duncan had no role in negotiating the consent decrees and never lobbied Wooldridge.

Wooldridge, who earlier served in senior positions at the Interior Department, lives with Griles in Virginia. Her investment with Griles and the oil lobbyist took place on March 13, 2006, property records show, during a wide-ranging Justice Department criminal investigation that involves Griles and lobbyists at Interior. The joint purchase and Wooldridge's role in the consent decrees were reported yesterday by the Associated Press.

Stephen Grafman, an attorney for Wooldridge, said his client owns a 25 percent share of the vacation property. "She used her own money," Grafman said. He said that Wooldridge was called in November before a grand jury investigating Abramoff and Griles but that she is not under investigation.

In November 2006, ConocoPhillips reached proposed consent decrees with the federal government and four states that would modify an agreement the company had reached with the Environmental Protection Agency in 2005 to settle charges it was violating the Clean Air Act. The proposed changes, which must be approved by a federal judge overseeing the case, would give the company more time to install equipment and processes that would cost an estimated $525 million to cut emissions at some refineries.

Wooldridge, as head of the Justice Department's environmental division, signed the agreements on behalf of the federal government.

In lobbying disclosure forms filed last year, Duncan -- ConocoPhillips's vice president for federal and international affairs -- said he lobbied Congress on revisions to the Clean Air Act. He did not report lobbying the Justice Department or other federal agencies.

Duncan "was not involved at all" in the consent decrees, said ConocoPhillips spokeswoman Kristi Desjarlaif, who said the negotiations were handled by company lawyers. Nevertheless, Duncan sought approval from the company's legal division last year when he sought to invest with Griles and Wooldridge. "Our legal division said she needed to get clearance from DOJ ethics officials," said Desjarlaif, something she said Wooldridge was already pursuing.

Wooldridge submitted her resignation from Justice last month, three days after Griles's lawyer was informed by the department's criminal division that Griles faces potential criminal charges in connection with his dealings with Abramoff. A Justice spokeswoman has said that Wooldridge returned to the private sector and that her departure was voluntary.

Wooldridge and Griles "do own a small condo together," said Griles's attorney, Barry M. Hartman. Of the South Carolina property, he said: "This is a shared investment among people who have been close personal friends for years. What exactly is wrong with three close personal friends sharing a vacation/rental home?"

Griles, who resigned his deputy's job in 2005 and now is a mining and energy lobbyist, was a lightning rod for criticism during his four years at Interior. Sources close to the federal probe have said he is being investigated for making possibly false statements about a job offer from Abramoff, who lobbied Interior heavily on behalf of Indian tribal clients with casinos.

Griles was harshly criticized in a 2004 report from Interior's inspector general for maintaining ties to lobbying clients who had business before the department. Inspector General Earl E. Devaney found that Griles had used his official position in dealings with clients of his former firm even as he continued to receive payments from the firm amounting to more than $1 million. His report did not draw conclusions about whether Griles broke any law or ethics rules. The Office of Government Ethics, in reviewing the findings, said that, with two possible exceptions, Griles did not violate ethics rules.

Wooldridge, who was deputy chief of staff to the interior secretary and later became solicitor at Interior, provided ethics advice to Griles and advised then-Secretary Gale A. Norton on how she should handle the inspector general's allegations. She did not tell the inspector general of her personal relationship with Griles, according to sources familiar with the investigation. About August 2002, according to the inspector general's report, Wooldridge replaced Griles's special assistant as his ethics screener, a role in which she helped him determine when he should recuse himself from matters that posed a conflict of interest. After Griles's departure from Interior, Wooldridge disclosed to investigators in the Abramoff probe that she and Griles began dating in February 2003, sources familiar with the probe said.

Wooldridge and Griles both filed amended financial disclosure reports late last year that reported thousands of dollars in gifts and trips they gave one another in 2003. During that time and afterward, Wooldridge was contacting investigators, answering questions and writing a memorandum defending Griles's activities as deputy at Interior.

The memo, dated Feb. 8, 2004, concerned Griles involvement with a bid by some former clients to gain concessions to extract coal-bed methane in the Powder River basin of Wyoming and Montana. Griles had contacted EPA officials to urge that a dispute over an environmental study not delay the project.

In the memo, Wooldridge argued to the inspector general and to the Office of Government Ethics that Griles's actions were not a violation because they were not a "particular matter involving specific parties."

Norton took no action against Griles at the time of the inspector general's report and declared that he had been "cleared" of any wrongdoing.

Norton's handling of the matter angered members of Congress, including Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.), who had initiated one aspect of the investigation. Lieberman said the report had painted a "disturbing picture of repeated questionable conduct."

Research editor Alice Crites and staff researcher Karl Evanzz contributed to this report.


Saying He Was Misled by Defense, Judge in Libby Case Puts Some Evidence Off-Limits

The New York Times
Saying He Was Misled by Defense, Judge in Libby Case Puts Some Evidence Off-Limits

WASHINGTON, Feb. 14 — The lawyers defending I. Lewis Libby Jr. against perjury charges rested their case on Wednesday, but not before suffering a series of defeats in rulings by the presiding judge.

The judge, Reggie B. Walton, expressed in the strongest terms yet that he had been misled by the defense team about whether Mr. Libby would take the stand in his own defense.

Judge Walton said he “believed all along in the process that Mr. Libby was going to testify” and that his lawyers were now “playing games with the process.”

He made his remarks with the jury out of the courtroom as he ruled that the defense would no longer be able to use some evidence, including something the jury had already heard: a statement the government agreed to saying Mr. Libby, as chief of staff and national security adviser to Vice President Dick Cheney, “worked long hours, received daily intelligence briefings and attended many meetings concerning important matters of national security.”

Mr. Libby faces five felony charges that he lied to a grand jury and F.B.I. agents investigating the leak of the identity of a C.I.A. operative, Valerie Wilson, to reporters in the summer of 2003 .

Mr. Libby denied under oath that he had passed information to reporters about Ms. Wilson, and his lawyers have put forward as a part of his defense the assertion that he was too preoccupied with the crush of vital national security issues to have remembered any conversation about Ms. Wilson or her husband, Joseph C. Wilson IV, a former ambassador.

Judge Walton said his ruling meant that the chief defense lawyer, Theodore V. Wells Jr., would not be able to make that argument to the jury. Mr. Wells will be permitted to tell the jury that Mr. Libby had “a lot on his plate,” Judge Walton said. But because Mr. Libby is not testifying, Mr. Wells cannot argue that those issues were of greater importance in Mr. Libby’s mind “as compared to the issue of Valerie Plame and Ambassador Wilson.”

The identity of Ms. Wilson, who is also known by her maiden name, Valerie Plame, first became public in July 2003 after The New York Times published an Op-Ed article by Mr. Wilson saying the White House had distorted intelligence to justify invading Iraq.

The conclusion of the defense case means the jury will hear closing arguments when they return on Tuesday and will probably begin deliberating Wednesday after instructions from the judge.

Before the jurors departed on Wednesday afternoon, they filed into the courtroom, all but one wearing bright red T-shirts with a white valentine heart over their clothes, to the uncertain laughter of many in the courtroom.

But as one juror, a retired North Carolina schoolteacher, rose to speak, Judge Walton became visibly anxious that the juror might say something inappropriate that could threaten the trial. Jurors are not supposed to speak and are supposed to make any concerns known through notes to the bench.

The juror said they were wearing the shirts to express their fondness for the judge and the court staff on Valentine’s Day. He then added, to the judge’s growing discomfort, that they were unanimous in this sentiment, but they would all be independent in judging the evidence in the Libby case.

The sole juror who apparently declined to wear the shirt was a woman who had been a curator at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

In their three-day presentation that concluded on Wednesday, defense lawyers offered a spare and indirect attack on the prosecution’s case. In addition to keeping Mr. Libby off the stand, they announced they would not present Mr. Cheney as a witness. The possibility of Mr. Cheney’s taking the stand was strongly suggested by the Libby team as well and was greatly anticipated as the first time a sitting vice president was to testify in a criminal trial.

The prosecution, beginning three weeks ago, presented testimony from Mr. Cheney’s former communications director, a senior state department officials and two C.I.A. officials who said they had told Mr. Libby about Ms. Wilson. They also presented the testimony of two reporters who said Mr. Libby had discussed Ms. Wilson with them.

The testimony of a third reporter, Tim Russert of NBC News, was a pivotal part of the prosecution case, and defense lawyers tried in vain on Wednesday to persuade Judge Walton to have him recalled in order to challenge his credibility.

The judge ruled against two motions for Mr. Russert’s recall. Mr. Russert, in his testimony, said he had not told Mr. Libby about Ms. Wilson, as Mr. Libby had asserted.

Mr. Wells had argued that Mr. Russert may have been biased in favor of the government because of an agreement his lawyer reached with prosecutors. Before Mr. Russert agreed to testify for the government, he challenged the subpoena from Patrick J. Fitzgerald, the chief prosecutor, arguing that his testimony would violate deeply-held principles that a reporter should not discuss his confidential conversations.

But at the time, Mr. Russert had already talked with the F.B.I. about his conversations with Mr. Libby, and Mr. Wells asserted that Mr. Fitzgerald had agreed not to raise the matter because it would have exposed Mr. Russert as a hypocrite, undercutting his television statements that he was standing up for the First Amendment.

Judge Walton took the unusual step of questioning Mr. Russert’s lawyer, Lee Levine, who said he and Mr. Russert had never discussed the agreement with the prosecutor not to raise the conversation with the F.B.I. agent. Judge Walton then ruled it was irrelevant to the case.

Mr. Libby’s lawyers vigorously protested Judge Walton’s rulings, intent on creating an appeals record if Mr. Libby is convicted.

Judge Walton said he would be shocked if he were reversed on appeal over his rulings about Mr. Libby’s not testifying.

If that happens, he said, “I’ll hang up my spurs.”


Bush order allows Guantanamo trials to move ahead

Bush order allows Guantanamo trials to move ahead

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President George W. Bush on Wednesday issued an executive order that will allow cases against prisoners at Guantanamo Bay to move forward and be considered by military tribunals, the White House said.

The executive order authorizes the establishment of military commissions, fulfilling a technical step required by the Military Commissions Act of 2006, which Bush signed into law last October.

Military prosecutors have filed charges against an Australian, a Yemeni, and a Canadian held at the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, where foreign terrorism suspects are being held.

"Now those charges can be reviewed and, as appropriate, trials will be able to proceed before the military commissions established by this executive order," said Gordon Johndroe, a spokesman for the White House National Security Council.


Anne Frank's family sought U.S. visa, letters show

Anne Frank's family sought U.S. visa, letters show
By Tom Hals

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The father of Anne Frank, the Jewish girl whose diaries of life hiding from the Nazis became world famous, sought money and help obtaining a U.S. visa from a wealthy New York friend in hopes of escaping Europe, according to documents released on Wednesday.

Frank asked for $5,000 from college friend Nathan Strauss Jr., whose father at the time owned Macy's department store, as he tried to escape Holland with his wife, mother-in-law and daughters Margot and Anne, according documents from the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research in New York City.

"This is the first concrete evidence that he did actually pursue the possibility of escape from Holland," said David Engel, a New York University professor.

A YIVO volunteer discovered the correspondence among the millions of documents in its archives in mid-2005, but the institute had to resolve copyright issues before putting them on display.

The letters, telegrams and government documents date from April to December 1941 and show efforts by Otto Frank to get to the United States and Cuba before going into hiding in 1942, a period Anne Frank described in her diary before she eventually died aged 15 in a German concentration camp in 1945.

"It is for the sake of the children mainly that we have to care for. Our own fate is of less importance," Otto Frank wrote in a letter to Strauss, who was the head of the U.S. Housing Authority. "You are the only person I know that I can ask."

Frank asked for $5,000 to cover a deposit related to getting a U.S. visa, but the money was ultimately not needed because the visa was not granted.


Strauss, who is now dead, and his wife made several appeals to government contacts, according to the documents. They also show the Franks received help from Julius Hollander, Otto Frank's brother-in-law, who was living in Boston.

If her father had sought help sooner, "Anne Frank could be a 77-year-old woman living in Boston today, a writer. That is what the YIVO's documents suggest," said Richard Breitman, a professor at American University.

However, Otto Frank decided to try to escape just as the Nazis were making it more difficult to leave and the United States was making it more difficult to enter, Breitman said.

Cuba issued Otto Frank a visa on December 1, 1941, according to the documents, but it was canceled 10 days later when Germany declared war on the United States.

The following summer, as Jews were being sent from Amsterdam to Nazi camps, the Frank family went into hiding for two years before being discovered and sent to concentration camps. Otto Frank survived the camp but died in 1980.

Engel said one of the most striking findings for historians was the timing of his efforts to escape the Netherlands, which he didn't pursue until a year after the Nazi invasion.

He said there was evidence that Frank may have been blackmailed by a member of the Dutch Nazi Party, who approached Frank with a letter of denunciation in April 1941. Just 12 days later, Frank contacted Strauss seeking help getting to the United States.

"So circumstantially there is reason to speculate about this as a possible trigger for the events," said Engel.


Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Right-Wing Attack Puts Bloggers' Lives in Danger

Huffington Post
Lane Hudson
Right-Wing Attack Puts Bloggers' Lives in Danger
READ MORE: Catholic Church

The ramifications of Bill Donohue and the Catholic League's reckless rhetoric has materialized in the form of death threats to bloggers Amanda Marcotte and Melissa McEwan. This is what happens when the ultra-right wing is given the megaphone of mainstream media. It is also a complete break down in the responsibility that the media has in vetting those who are given a platform to spread a message.

This is also evidence that ultra-right wing organizations that create messages based on hate and fear find sympathetic audiences with people who think more like citizen-militia than the loyal Catholics that Bill Donohue claims to represent. It is no wonder that there has been no mainstream Roman Catholic group, nor the Church itself, to step forward to support Donohue in his illegal, unethical scalp-seeking tirade against Senator Edwards' bloggers.

Bill Donohue must immediately rescind his hateful comments against these two young women and call on the hate-mongers, which he is responsible for inciting, to cease their threats against Amanda, Melissa, and their families. Call him at 212-371-3191 and demand this.

Donohue's attacks on junior staffers are completely unprecedented. It is a new low. His actions have the effect of putting their lives in danger and he must not be allowed to get away with it.


Conservatives lose latest Darwin battle in Kansas

Conservatives lose latest Darwin battle in Kansas
By Carey Gillam

TOPEKA, Kansas (Reuters) - The Kansas Board of Education on Tuesday threw out science standards deemed hostile to evolution, undoing the work of Christian conservatives in the ongoing battle over what to teach U.S. public school students about the origins of life.

The board in the central U.S. state voted 6-4 to replace them with teaching standards that mirror the mainstream in science education and eliminate criticisms of evolutionary theory.

"I'm glad we've taken this step. If we are going to have a well-educated populace, this is important," said board member Sue Gamble.

Similar efforts to weaken the teaching of evolution in public schools have occurred throughout the United States including Pennsylvania, Michigan, Kentucky and Georgia.

But Kansas has been in the forefront of the debate since 1999, when the board voted to sharply reduce the emphasis of evolution in science instruction. A public backlash ultimately led to a reversal of that revision.

The new standards, set to take effect immediately, replace those put in place in 2005 by a conservative majority of the board who challenged the validity of evolution and called it incompatible with religious doctrine.

It is the fourth time in eight years that science standards have been rewritten in Kansas.

"I think it actually curtails the ability of students to learn and to think," said conservative board member Steve Abrams of the latest revision.


Kansas' struggles have been widely lampooned and were depicted in a documentary film entitled "Flock of Dodos." A traveling exhibition, "Explore Evolution," was created by science museums at universities in Kansas, Nebraska and other states to explain, among other things, how children and chimpanzees are "cousins in life's family tree."

The 2005 ruling by Kansas' board outraged scientists across the United States, with the National Academy of Sciences and the National Science Teachers Association refusing the state's request to use copyrighted material in textbooks.

The state's voters reacted by swinging the balance of power on the board to moderates in last year's elections.

The decision to once again rewrite the science standards comes one day after the anniversary of evolution scholar Charles Darwin's birth, who gained fame for his 1859 book "The Origin of Species" and for his theories on how life on Earth evolved.

Some religious groups argue that evolution cannot be proven and clashes with Biblical teachings about how God created the Earth, humans and animals. Teaching evolution misleads and confuses students, opponents say.

Supporters say religion has no valid role in a science class and evolution is the foundation for understanding key concepts in biology and other scientific fields.

The Kansas board was criticized by the Seattle-based Discovery Institute, a group that promotes the concept of "intelligent design," in which an intelligent force -- which some proponents would say is God -- is said to be probably responsible for some aspects of nature.

"You have a board in Kansas that is so extreme," said John West, senior fellow at the Discovery Institute, adding that evolution supporters were "anti-religious."

The institute says Darwin's theories about the survival of the fittest have led some scientists to embrace eugenics and practices such as forced sterilization.


Army Giving More Waivers in Recruiting Criminals

The New York Times
Army Giving More Waivers in Recruiting

The number of waivers granted to Army recruits with criminal backgrounds has grown about 65 percent in the last three years, increasing to 8,129 in 2006 from 4,918 in 2003, Department of Defense records show.

During that time, the Army has employed a variety of tactics to expand its diminishing pool of recruits. It has offered larger enlistment cash bonuses, allowed more high school dropouts and applicants with low scores on its aptitude test to join, and loosened weight and age restrictions.

It has also increased the number of so-called “moral waivers” to recruits with criminal pasts, even as the total number of recruits dropped slightly. The sharpest increase was in waivers for serious misdemeanors, which make up the bulk of all the Army’s moral waivers. These include aggravated assault, burglary, robbery and vehicular homicide.

The number of waivers for felony convictions also increased, to 11 percent of the 8,129 moral waivers granted in 2006, from 8 percent.

Waivers for less serious crimes like traffic offenses and drug use have dropped or remained stable.

The Army enlisted 69,395 men and women last year.

While soldiers with criminal histories made up only 11.7 percent of the Army recruits in 2006, the spike in waivers raises concerns about whether the military is making too many exceptions to try to meet its recruitment demands in a time of war. Most felons, for example, are not permitted to carry firearms, and many criminals have at some point exhibited serious lapses in discipline and judgment, traits that are far from ideal on the battlefield.

The military automatically excludes people who have committed certain crimes. They include drug traffickers, recruits who have more than one felony on their record or people who have committed sexually violent crimes. A felony is defined as a crime that carries a sentence of a year or more in prison.

Bill Carr, the under secretary of military personnel policy, said the military granted waivers selectively and scrutinized a recruit’s full record, the nature of the crime, when it was committed, the degree of rehabilitation and references from teachers, employers, coaches and clergy members.

In many cases, Mr. Carr said, the applicant may have committed the crime at a young age and then stayed out of trouble. To his knowledge, he said, recruits who are issued moral waivers are not tracked once inside the military.

“If the community backs them, we are willing to take a hard look,” Mr. Carr said, referring to the waiver process, which includes checks of local, state and federal records.

The majority of moral waivers are for serious misdemeanors, most often committed by juveniles. As Douglas Smith, the public information officer for the Army’s recruiting command, said, “We understand that people make mistakes in their lives and they can overcome those mistakes.”

Fewer than 3 in 10 people ages 17 to 24 are fully qualified to join the Army. That means they have a high school diploma, have met aptitude test score requirements and fitness levels, and would not be barred for medical reasons, their sexual orientation or their criminal histories.

The Defense Department has also expanded its applicant pool by accepting soldiers with criminal backgrounds and medical problems like asthma, high blood pressure and attention deficit disorder, situations that require waivers. Medical waivers have increased 4 percent, totaling 12,313 in 2006. Without waivers, the soldiers would have been barred from service.

In the last three years, the percentage of moral waivers for all new enlistments in the four services combined has fallen 3 percent, with spikes in the Army and Air Force. In all, 125,525 such waivers have been issued since 2003. The Marine Corps issues far more moral waivers than the Army — 20,750 in 2006 — but only because it has a stricter policy on drug use. It requires waivers for one-time marijuana use while the other services do not. Rules on waivers vary by service.

“The data is crystal clear; our armed forces are under incredible strain, and the only way that they can fill their recruiting quotas is by lowering their standards,” said Representative Martin T. Meehan, Democrat of Massachusetts and chairman of the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Investigations and Oversight. He has requested more detailed data from the Defense Department on the use of waivers.

“By lowering standards, we are endangering the rest of our armed forces and sending the wrong message to potential recruits across the country,” Mr. Meehan said. “Our men and women in uniform represent the best and brightest in America, and we need to keep it that way.”

Aaron Belkin, director of the Michael D. Palm Center, a research institute at the University of California, Santa Barbara, that focuses on the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy regarding homosexuality, obtained the most recent data from the Department of Defense.

Mr. Belkin said the increases in moral waivers in the Army posed a problem only to the extent that the military failed to track these recruits or provide special integration training for them.

Since more than 125,000 service members with criminal histories have joined the military in the last three years, Mr. Belkin said, “you have a sizeable population that has been incarcerated and is not used to the same cultural norms as everybody else.”

“The chance that one of those individuals is going to commit an atrocity or disobey an order is higher,” he said. “Many of those individuals can be good soldiers, but in some cases they have special needs. The military should address those needs rather than pretending they don’t exist.”

Recruiters ask potential recruits to reveal whether they have been arrested or convicted of crimes. City, county and state records are checked, as are federal fingerprint databases. The military searches for convictions but also looks at cases that were dismissed, dropped or settled in some way. If someone is found not guilty, depending on the crime, extenuating circumstances are explored, said Maj. Stewart Upton, a Defense Department spokesman.

The system is far from foolproof, though. Juvenile records can get tricky because of privacy laws; not every state will release sealed information. And if someone has moved to a different state, the criminal history may not always show up.

Decisions on the most serious crimes rise up the chain of command, Mr. Smith said. He said the military invested a lot of money training soldiers and tried to screen its recruits to maximize success.

A General Accounting Office report that looked at attrition from 1990 to 1993 found that service members who were granted moral waivers were more likely to be discharged from the Air Force because of misconduct. But most who were granted moral waivers succeed in completing their term and were more likely to re-enlist.

It is not uncommon for young criminal offenders to turn to the military, hoping for a waiver, experts say, because their records typically narrow their job opportunities.

Beth Asch, a senior economist for the RAND Corporation, said the increase in waivers bore monitoring but was not atypical of what had happened to the military during past recruitment crunches. The moral waivers, Ms. Asch said, particularly for felons, still constitute a relatively small proportion of all enlistments.

“It is something that should be tracked with concern,” she said. “It shouldn’t increase without monitoring but, so far, it is within historic norms.”

John D. Hutson, dean and president of the Franklin Pierce Law Center in New Hampshire and former judge advocate general of the Navy, said the military must tread carefully in deciding which criminals to accept. There is a reason, he said, why allowing people with criminal histories into the military has long been the exception rather than the rule.

“If you are recruiting somebody who has demonstrated some sort of antisocial behavior and then you are a putting a gun in their hands, you have to be awfully careful about what you are doing,” Mr. Hutson said. “You are not putting a hammer in their hands, or asking them to sell used cars. You are potentially asking them to kill people.”


Restoring the Constitution Act of 2007
Bill Would Restore Detainees' Rights, Define 'Combatant'
By Josh White
Washington Post Staff Writer

A group of Senate Democrats introduced legislation yesterday that would restore habeas corpus rights to all detainees in U.S. custody and would narrowly define what it means to be an "enemy combatant" against the United States, a measure designed to challenge laws ushered in by the Republican-controlled Congress last year.

The bill, titled the "Restoring the Constitution Act of 2007," strikes at the core of the Military Commissions Act of 2006 by giving detainees access to U.S. courts. It was introduced by Sen. Christopher J. Dodd (Conn.), a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination.

The bill would also prevent the executive branch from making blanket determinations about who is an enemy combatant and would restrict the president's authority to interpret when certain human rights standards apply to detainees. The legislation would limit the label "enemy combatant" to a person "who directly participates in hostilities in a zone of active combat against the United States" or who took part in the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Should such language become law, it could change the status of numerous detainees who were picked up in U.S. counterterrorism efforts.

The bill would also restore to the detainees numerous rights they lost under the Military Commissions Act, including the right, under a habeas corpus petition, to challenge their detention in federal court.

"I take a backseat to no one when it comes to protecting the country from terrorists," Dodd said in an e-mail statement yesterday. "But there is a right way to do this and a wrong way to do this. . . . In taking away their legal rights, the rights first codified in our country's Constitution, we're taking away our own moral compass, as well."

The Military Commissions Act was originally designed to fix problems in the wartime trial process for detainees in U.S. custody after the Supreme Court struck down the Bush administration's first set of rules. But the act also denied access to U.S. courts to those accused of being foreign enemy combatants.

In a panel discussion Monday night after the screening of an HBO movie about the Abu Ghraib prison abuse, Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), a leading proponent of the Military Commissions Act, said he stands behind the existing law and believes that it will stand up to Supreme Court scrutiny.

The newly proposed legislation, however, has the potential to undercut last year's law before challenges reach the Supreme Court. There is bipartisan support in Congress for restoring the habeas corpus rights of detainees, many of whom have filed court cases with the help of civilian lawyers.

Elisa Massimino, Washington director of Human Rights First, said the new bill would remedy several legal problems her organization has identified in the Military Commissions Act, particularly in the area of habeas corpus rights. She said the definition of "enemy combatant" is "hugely important" because it would draw a line between actual combat and the Bush administration's ambiguous "global war on terror."

"It would go to the question of whether the whole of our counterterrorism effort is going to be considered an actual and legal war," Massimino said. "Congress hasn't taken that issue head-on."


Ex-CIA official indicted over agency contracts

Ex-CIA official indicted over agency contracts

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The CIA's former No. 3 official and a defense contractor were indicted on Tuesday on charges stemming from a federal contracts investigation that landed former Republican congressman Randy Cunningham in jail.

Kyle "Dusty" Foggo, who had been appointed executive director of the agency in 2004 by former CIA Director Porter Goss, was charged with improper conduct involving CIA contracts following a wide-ranging investigation that involved five agencies, including the FBI and the CIA's inspector general.

The indictment was handed up on Tuesday by a federal grand jury in San Diego.

Foggo, who spent 25 years with the CIA, last year denied any wrongdoing and said all contracts he oversaw were properly handled.

Defense contractor Brent Wilkes was indicted on conspiracy charges and accused of giving Cunningham more than $700,000 to help steer government contracts to his San Diego-based company, ADCS, Inc.

"At every step of the process, CIA -- through the offices of inspector general and general counsel -- has cooperated closely with other investigative agencies and the Department of Justice," CIA Director Air Force Gen. Michael Hayden said in announcing the Foggo indictment to agency employees.

Before Foggo resigned from his position last May, the CIA acknowledged that its inspector general was investigating whether Foggo helped steer any agency contracts to his long-time friend Brent Wilkes, a San Diego businessman.

Before becoming executive director, Foggo worked for the CIA as a logistics expert in Frankfurt, Germany, where he helped arrange overseas trips for members of Congress.

Wilkes was said to have hosted poker games at the Watergate and other upscale Washington hotels, including one 1999 party attended by Foggo, Cunningham and a former CIA official nicknamed "Nine Fingers."

A New York-based mortgage banker, John Michael, also was named in the indictment and charged with obstructing justice by lying to a grand jury investigating the case.

Cunningham, of California, was sentenced to eight years and four months in prison in March after pleading guilty in 2005 to accepting $2.4 million in bribes.


Tuesday, February 13, 2007

FBI criticized over 320 missing weapons, laptops

FBI criticized over 320 missing weapons, laptops
By James Vicini

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The FBI had more than 300 weapons and laptops lost or stolen in just under four years, and some of the computers contained sensitive or classified information, the U.S. Justice Department inspector general said on Monday in a highly critical report.

Fewer had gone missing than before a 2002 report in which Inspector General Glenn Fine's office reported 354 FBI weapons and 317 laptops lost or stolen over the previous 28 months, but he said the bureau had done too little to address the problem.

"Our review determined that the FBI has made some progress in improving its controls over weapons and laptops," Fine said. "However, significant deficiencies remain, particularly with regard to the FBI's response to lost or stolen laptops that may contain sensitive information."

It was impossible for the FBI to determine the extent of the damage the losses might have had on its operations or national security, the report said.

The 160 missing weapons and 160 laptops disappeared during the 44 months that ended on September 30, 2005. At least 10 laptops contained sensitive or classified information, including one with personal identifying information on FBI personnel.

The FBI could not determine whether an additional 50 missing laptops contained sensitive or classified information. Seven of those were assigned to the counter-intelligence or counter-terrorism divisions, which handle sensitive national security information.

The FBI also submitted late and inaccurate reports to the Department of Justice about missing weapons and laptops, the report said.

After the 2002 report, the FBI established deadlines for reporting lost and stolen weapons and laptops, entering losses into a computerized criminal justice database and referring them for investigation.

The new review found the FBI has not consistently followed those procedures.

The FBI did an assessment in the case of only a few of the missing laptops to determine the possible damage to its operations and national security, the report said.

It found the bureau did not adequately document its disposal of excess laptops and hard drives to ensure that sensitive or classified information had been erased. The report also found that the FBI failed to consistently ensure departing employees returned weapons and laptops.

The FBI has agreed to most of the 13 recommendations made by the inspector general's office to improve its management controls over weapons and laptops, Fine said.


Monday, February 12, 2007

Dixie Chicks complete defiant comeback after being shunned by country music over anti-Bush comments leading up to the Iraq invasion

ABC News
5 Grammys Mark Dixie Chicks' Comeback
Dixie Chicks Win 5 Grammys, Red Hot Chili Peppers Take Home 4 and Mary J. Blige Wins 3
The Associated Press

LOS ANGELES - The Dixie Chicks completed a defiant comeback on Sunday night, capturing five Grammy awards after being shunned by the country music establishment over the group's anti-Bush comments leading up to the Iraq invasion.

The Texas trio won all the biggest categories, including record and song of the year for the no-regrets anthem "Not Ready to Make Nice." They also won best country album, which was especially ironic considering they don't consider themselves country artists anymore.

"I'm ready to make nice!" lead singer Natalie Maines exclaimed as the group accepted the album of the year award. "I think people are using their freedom of speech with all these awards. We get the message."

Mary J. Blige's comeback also was richly rewarded: She received three trophies for her double-platinum album "The Breakthrough." The Red Hot Chili Peppers won four for their double-disc "Stadium Arcadium."

The Dixie Chicks won all five awards they were nominated for, sweet vindication after the superstars' lives were threatened and sales plummeted when Maines criticized President Bush on the eve of the Iraq war in 2003. Almost overnight, one of the most successful groups of any genre was boycotted by Nashville and disappeared from country radio.

With "Taking the Long Way," the women relied on producer Rick Rubin's guidance for an album that was more rock and less country. (Rubin, who also produced "Stadium Arcadium," was honored as producer of the year.)

The standing ovations the Chicks received Sunday illustrated how much the political climate has changed regarding the Iraq war, and even Bush.

"That's interesting," Maines crowed from the podium after the country award was handed out earlier in the night. "Well, to quote the great 'Simpsons' 'Heh-Heh.'

"Just kidding," added Maines. "A lot of people just turned their TVs off right now. I'm very sorry for that."

Bandmate Emily Robison noted, "We wouldn't have done this album without everything we went through, so we have no regrets."

All the trophies collected by the Dixie Chicks (who shared song of the year honors with songwriter Dan Wilson), Blige and the Chili Peppers contributed to the evening's old-school feel.

The show often derided as The Grannys embraced its baby boomer status as in its 49th year. Maybe the Recording Academy was trying to relieve the industry's glory years 2006 saw a sharp downturn in record sales, a decline that seems to grow each year as fans flock to the Internet and even ringtones to experience their tunes.

The Grammys tried to tap that new technology with its "My Grammy Moment" contest, in which three unknown singers vied for the chance to perform on stage with Justin Timberlake. Viewers determined the winner by voting on the Internet and text messaging, but the winner's performance was forgettable.

The "Moment" also incorporated a bit of "American Idol" into the telecast. Last year the Fox talent contest crushed the Grammys on a head-to-head Wednesday night. So it was no surprise when the Grammys returned to Sunday this year.

Though the show featured a medley with bright new stars such as John Mayer, John Legend and Corinne Bailey Rae, it relied heavily on the classics: Nominee Lionel Richie sang his '80s hit "Hello" and Smokey Robinson sang the Motown classic "The Tracks of My Tears" in a tribute to R&B. Rock and Roll Hall of Famers The Police, who split in 1984, reunited to kick off the show with their rendition of "Roxanne" even though they were not nominated for anything.

Soon afterward, Tony Bennett and Stevie Wonder's dueted on a remake of Wonder's "For Once In My Life" beat out two of the year's biggest songs Nelly Furtado and Timbaland's "Promiscuous" and Shakira and Wyclef Jean's "Hips Don't Lie" for best pop vocal collaboration.

Even some of the more contemporary artists were relegated to singing songs that weren't their own. Christina Aguilera sang the late James Brown's "It's A Man's Man's Man's World" instead of her own nominated songs, while Carrie Underwood, the newcomer with one of last year's most successful albums, crooned "Desperado" and "San Antonio Rose" instead of her signature tune "Jesus, Take the Wheel," which was nominated for song of the year.

For a while, it seemed as if VH1 Classics had taken over the show's production.

But new artists were celebrated, a bit. Chris Brown injected some hot-footed funk with his "Run It," while Underwood was celebrated as the best new artist. And double winners included youngsters John Mayer, T.I. and Ludacris.

Blige was the overall nominations leader with eight. She won best R&B album for "The Breakthrough," her double-platinum triumph, plus best female R&B performance and R&B song for "Be Without You."

A tearful Blige said her album "has not only shown that I am a musician and an artist and a writer, it also shows I am growing into a better human being."

"Tonight we celebrate the better human being because for so many years, I've been talked about negatively," said Blige, who during her 15-year career has often discussed her past substance and self-esteem problems. "But this time I've been talked about positively by so many people."

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