Saturday, May 20, 2006

Martin Dardis, Watergate Investigator who followed the money that linked the Watergate burglars to Nixon, Dies

The New York Times
Martin Dardis, 83, Watergate Investigator, Dies

PALM CITY, Fla., May 19 (AP) — Martin F. Dardis, chief investigator for the Dade County state attorney, who linked the Watergate burglars to President Richard M. Nixon, died here on Tuesday. He was 83.

The cause was vascular disease, said his daughter, Erin Dardis.

Mr. Dardis traced money found on the Watergate burglars to the Committee to Re-Elect the President. That discovery led to the uncovering of further misdeeds, which eventually forced Nixon to resign.

In 1972, Mr. Dardis was tipped off to a Miami bank's cash connection with the Watergate burglars and subpoenaed its records. He learned that one burglar, Bernard L. Barker, had worked with the Central Intelligence Agency during the Bay of Pigs and held an account with a recently deposited $25,000 check from a major Republican fund-raiser.

Bob Woodward, who reported on Watergate for The Washington Post, has called that check the "connective tissue" that linked the burglars to Nixon's re-election campaign.

Mr. Dardis later said he was misrepresented in Carl Bernstein's and Mr. Woodward's book and subsequent movie, "All The President's Men," in which he was portrayed by Ned Beatty. Mr. Dardis told The Miami Herald last year that the movie had made him seem like a shabbily dressed "buffoon."

Mr. Dardis, a high school dropout who lied about his age to join the Army at 16, was awarded a Bronze Star, two Purple Hearts and Silver Stars for gallantry after rescuing an American pilot in World War II.


Word Play - It depends on what the definition of "amnesty" is!

According to the Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of Law 1996 edition, the definition of Amnesty is:
"an act of clemency by an authority (as a government) by which pardon is granted esp. to a group of individuals "

Word Play
Bush is trying to redefine the meaning of amnesty. Can he convince his base to accept it?
By Richard Wolffe and Holly Bailey

May 16, 2006 - At the heart of President Bush’s Oval Office address on immigration was an attempt to play definitional politics. Many presidents try to redefine controversial words when they get into trouble. President Bush has often revised and expanded what the war on terror means. But for now the word that the White House finds most troubling is “amnesty.”

For several weeks Bush’s aides have grumbled about their conservative critics hurling around the word “amnesty” with little regard for what the word means or how it translates into immigration policy. So the president attempted to write his own definition on Monday as he tried, once again, to sell his plan on illegal immigrants.

“We must face the reality that millions of illegal immigrants are here already,” he explained. “They should not be given an automatic path to citizenship. This is amnesty, and I oppose it. Amnesty would be unfair to those who are here lawfully, and it would invite further waves of illegal immigration.”

If that wasn’t enough, the president took a second stab at defining amnesty by describing something it isn’t. “Some in this country argue that the solution is to deport every illegal immigrant, and that any proposal short of this amounts to amnesty,” he said. “I disagree.”

In fact, the president supports one form of amnesty and one form of an automatic path to citizenship. He just opposes amnesty for all illegal immigrants. His plan is what he described as “a rational middle ground” (as opposed to the irrational extremes). “That middle ground recognizes there are differences between an illegal immigrant who crossed the border recently, and someone who has worked here for many years, and has a home, a family, and an otherwise clean record,” he said.

Bush’s explanation of the policy options is a significant redefinition of the word “amnesty”. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, amnesty is “the act of an authority (as a government) by which pardon is granted to a large group of individuals.” By most measures, the group of individuals covered by the president’s middle ground is large.

The president’s prospects in this debate depend far less on photos of troops on the border, and far more on his ability to convince his base that they have misunderstood the term “amnesty.” In legislative terms, Bush supports the broad thrust of a compromise drawn up by Senators Mel Martinez of Florida and Chuck Hagel of Nebraska. That deal allows eventual citizenship for illegal immigrants who can prove they have been in the United States for at least five years. They would also have to pay a fine, back taxes, learn English and undergo a criminal background check. It may not be a full amnesty for all, but it can easily be considered a partial amnesty.

Bush’s aides say that doesn’t mean the president is adopting the Martinez-Hagel compromise. “We are supportive,” said one senior aide, “but it doesn’t mean we are endorsing every crossed T or dotted I.” Why not? Mostly because he wants to maintain some wiggle room in what everyone expects to be a fraught negotiation with Republicans in the House, who oppose any path to citizenship for illegal immigrants.

More than anything, Bush’s immigration proposal will be a test of whether or not the White House has any political muscle to flex in Washington, particularly with wayward Republicans in Congress. In some respects, however, he just can’t win. Many GOP lawmakers have been strongly critical of Bush in recent weeks for not being more forthcoming on the specifics of what he will and will not accept in an immigration bill. Now he has laid out some specifics, there’s something else that House Republicans want to know: Would he veto a bill without a worker program? The White House won’t say.

The more Bush gives in to Congress and talks about what he wants, the more skeptical his party seems to be. “I am happy to see President Bush go beyond talk and take some action,” Sen. Jeff Sessions, a longtime Bush ally, said in a statement to reporters last night. “But…calling out the National Guard, significant as though they may be, will not change the pervasive illegality of our current immigration system to one that works.”

Several House Republicans spoke out after the presidential address to urge Bush to focus only on border security, not his proposed worker program or partial amnesty. “While I appreciate the president’s willingness to tackle big problems, I have real concerns about moving forward with a guest worker program or a plan to address those currently in the United States illegally until we have adequately addressed our serious border security problems,” House Majority Whip Roy Blunt said in a statement to reporters.

Meanwhile, other Republicans raised questions about logistics. Should we deploy National Guard troops along the border at a time when the force is under increased pressure thanks to the war in Iraq? Some lawmakers, including Senate Judiciary Chairman Arlen Specter, expressed concern about involving guardsmen in what has traditionally been a law enforcement-only activity. Specter, while calling the president’s pitch “very helpful,” told reporters “we will have to legislate carefully” to make sure the guardsman aren’t involved in law enforcement “or activities which are inappropriate.”

While lawmakers dive into the weeds of legislative language and immigration rules, President Bush is likely to evoke the big picture. This is a highly personal issue for him, say his aides, who point out that he has been fine-tuning almost every line of Monday’s TV address for the last three weeks.

Moreover, his thinking on immigration has been shaped by several factors: his dismay at Europe’s turmoil over immigration, his experience as Texas governor and his own recent reading of the history books—especially several volumes about William Jennings Bryan and the 1920s restrictions on immigration. The president believes those restrictions contributed in part to the depression of the 1930s. “He keeps coming back to the point that we shouldn’t forget our own history,” said one senior White House aide, “and what has made our own country what it is today.”



Prison-Based Gerrymandering

The New York Times
Prison-Based Gerrymandering

Prison inmates are barred from voting in 48 states. Even so, state legislatures typically count the inmates as "residents" to pad state legislative districts that sometimes contain too few residents to be legal under federal voting rights law. This unsavory practice exaggerates the political power of the largely rural districts where prisons are built and diminishes the power of the mainly urban districts where inmates come from and where they inevitably return.

Prison-based gerrymandering has helped Republicans in the northern part of New York maintain a perennial majority in the State Senate and exercise an outsized influence in state affairs. A recent ruling by the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit has pushed this little-known problem into the public eye and could one day be remembered as the beginning of the end of the practice.

The court held that prison inmates did not have the right to vote, as the plaintiffs were contending. But the court expressed interest in the question of whether counting minority inmates in prison as residents there, instead of in their home districts, unfairly diluted the voting power of minority voters in urban districts. The issue was referred to the lower court for consideration, and this in turn has already led to a broader public discussion of the role that inmates play in the political process.

New York State's Republican leadership dismissed the court's ruling out of hand and tried to argue that counting inmates as residents of a prison's district was legal and no different than counting college students at their dormitories. That's absurd. Students live in dormitories voluntarily — and can actually vote. Inmates cannot vote, and their home districts lose representation when they are counted elsewhere.

Voters who come to understand how this system cheats them are unlikely to keep rewarding the politicians who support it.


Guard stint to last two years

Guard stint to last two years

SACRAMENTO (AP) — President Bush's planned deployment of National Guard troops to the Mexican border would last at least two years with no clear end date, according to a Pentagon memo obtained Friday by The Associated Press.

The one-page "initial guidance" memo to National Guard leaders in border states does not address the estimated cost of the mission or when soldiers would be deployed. But high-ranking officials in the California National Guard said they were told Friday that deployments would not begin before early June.

While the military document makes clear the troops would remain under the command of their governors, it also indicates a high degree of federal control over operations. It states that the National Guard Bureau's Army and Air Directories "will serve as the states' focal points for force-planning, training, organizing and equipping their forces."

Guardsmen in "all other states, territories and the District of Columbia" will serve a supportive role, according to the memo.

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who has not yet decided whether to commit troops to the mission, led a conference call with the governors of Arizona, New Mexico and Texas to discuss the memo along with other issues concerning the president's plan.

"There still remains a lot of unanswered questions that the governor is concerned about," Adam Mandelsohn, Schwarzenegger's communications director. "Most specifically, the outstanding funding issues and whether there is a commitment to the two-year time frame," he said.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry and Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano said they would support the deployment of National Guard troops to the border, while New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, a Democrat, has been more critical of the plan.

A spokeswoman for Perry said the governors agreed to send a letter asking the Bush administration to clarify issues such as funding, rotation and troop levels that would be stationed in each of the states.

Napolitano is more concerned about Arizona being reimbursed by the federal government, said Dennis Burke, a Napolitano co-chief of staff. "Our concern is the check in the mail."

The president outlined his plan Monday night as part of a national address on curbing illegal immigration, pledging to gain control of the border and give up to 12 million illegal immigrants a chance at citizenship.

He proposed deploying 6,000 troops at a time to the border in two-week rotations. The deployments would be temporary, he said, until enough Border Patrol agents were hired to secure the mission. He asked Congress to add 6,000 more Border Patrol agents by the end of his presidency.

The White House also said the troops would be financed with part of the $1.9 billion requested from Congress this year to supplement border enforcement.

The memo sent Friday to Guard leaders went further, stating that units would remain in a "federally funded" mission for "up to one year, with a force reduction to 3,000 during the second year."

The document described an "end date" for the mission when the U.S. Border Patrol operation "gains independent operational control of the (southwest border) and National Guard forces are no longer required for this mission."

The memo said the Guard units' missions will focus on "surveillance, reconnaissance, aviation, intelligence, engineering, training, vehicle dismantling, linguistics ... transportation and logistics."

They will not be asked to perform law-enforcement functions, but rather provide "vetted and pre-coordinated support to law enforcement."

Find this article at:


Anonymity of air marshals at risk

USA Today
Report: Anonymity of air marshals at risk

WASHINGTON (AP) — A report to be taken up by Congress next week is harshly critical of the Federal Air Marshal Service, concluding that more steps need to be taken to preserve the anonymity of the marshals.

The draft report by the House Judiciary Committee, a copy of which was provided to The Associated Press on Friday night, identified several policies by the service that the report concluded undercut the goal of preserving the marshals' anonymity.

The report, entitled "Plane Clothes: Lack of Anonymity at the Federal Air Marshal Service Compromises Aviation and National Security," cites the service's dress code, which is supposed to prevent marshals from drawing attention to themselvec.

"In practice, however, many federal air marshals indicate that the dress code actually draws more attention to the identity of the federal air marshals because of its rigid requirements that prevent federal air marshals from actually blending in with their surroundings," the report says.

The report also faults the service for requiring marshals to stay at designated hotels and show their credentials upon checking in. It said that in one instance, the Sheraton Fort Lauderdale Airport Hodel in Florida designated the service "company of the month" because of the number of rooms it had reserved at the hotel.

"This public designation essentially advertises for any terrorist wishing to attack a location populated by a concentration of federal air marshals that such a target is the Sheraton Fort Lauderdale Airport," the report says, referring to the hotel.

And the report raised questions about boarding procedures by marshals, expressing concern that these procedures could give away the identity of the marshals.

The committee, which initiated its investigation into the service in May 2004, said its staff interviewed 30 federal air marshals across the country.

"An overwhelming majority of the interviewed air marshals stated that most concerns centered around threats created by the service's own policies to preserving anonymity and safety," the report says.

The report also found the service's policy banning marshals from criticizing the service too broad, expressing concern that it was being usud "as a retaliatory mechanism against those who vocalize legitimate concerns" about the service's policies.

Dave Adams, a spokesman for the service, said he had not seen the report. But he did say that the service "fully cooperated and addressed" concerns and inquiries made by the committee chairman, Wisconsin Republican Jim Sensenbrenner.

Adams said that the service provided a 29-page formal response, as well as a follow-up briefing in November 2004. The cervice has not0been contacted by the committee on any substantive issue since then, he said.

"Anonymity of the air marshals in our No. 1 concern," Adams said. "But the boarding of air marshals is set by federal regulations, which Congress sets."

The committee is expected to vote on the draft report next week.

ABC News first reported on the committee's findings Friday.


4 Men Cleared of Terrorism Links but Still Detained; No Explanation Or Timetable for Release Given
4 Men Cleared of Terrorism Links but Still Detained
No Explanation Or Timetable for Release Given
By Josh White and Julie Tate
Washington Post Staff Writers

The May 5 release of Chinese Muslims from the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, leaves four men there who have been cleared of all connections to terrorism but continue to live in a legal limbo, with no indication of when they will be freed, according to the captives' attorneys and military documents.

The government considers the men ready for outright release -- "no longer enemy combatants" (NLECs) in military jargon. In fact, 38 detainees, 5 percent of the 759 prisoners ever held at Guantanamo Bay, have officially earned NLEC status since the island prison opened in early 2002.

They are men such as Zakirjan Hassam, an Uzbek refugee who was sold to U.S. forces in Afghanistan for $5,000 in May 2002 by people he mistakenly believed would shelter him. He ended up in Guantanamo Bay the following month and is still there today.

According to the U.S. military, Hassam is not an enemy, and a military tribunal decided in 2004 that his stay at Guantanamo Bay had been based on inaccurate information. There is no evidence that Hassam took up arms against anyone or that he ever supported terrorism, and his only apparent link to alleged terrorist groups were conversations with fellow detainees during his imprisonment at Guantanamo Bay, according to testimony by Hassam that is not disputed by the government.

"He's lost four years of his life for being in the wrong place at the wrong time and for being sold to U.S. forces," said Christopher Moore, a New York lawyer who represents Hassam.

Earlier this month, the government released five Chinese Uighurs who were among the last nine NLECs at Guantanamo Bay. After years of detention and, ultimately, government efforts to find them a home in a third country, the men were sent to Albania. The U.S. had feared that they would be jailed or tortured if returned to China.

Beijing, which considers Uighur separatists to be terrorists, demanded that they be returned.

The accounts of NLECs, contained in hearing transcripts, show that many were rounded up by profiteers along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border and sold to U.S. or Northern Alliance forces. Some were Arabs who stood out in local populations, while others were arrested by overzealous Pakistani police forces seeking to cooperate with the U.S. effort to root out terrorists. The Uighurs were in transit to other countries or training for action against the Chinese government.

"In Afghanistan they heard that American forces are providing $25,000 to capture each Arab and $15,000 to capture each Afghan," Haji Shahzada, an Afghan NLEC who was released last year, told his military tribunal.

The NLECs are from 14 countries. One was captured in Mexico. Half are from Afghanistan, with the others from Pakistan, France, the Maldives, Jordan, Sudan, Algeria, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Egypt, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Turkey and China.

"Nobody ever asked who I am, what did I do, or where did I live," said Padsha Wazir, an Afghan detainee who was released. "They just handcuff me. . . . It has been three years, and it shouldn't take that long for Americans to find the truth."

In fact, Pentagon officials say that 121 of the approximately 460 detainees currently at Guantanamo Bay are now eligible for release or transfer to the custody of their home countries. The government still considers 104 of them threats to the United States and its allies. They are scheduled to be returned to the control of other nations, where they probably would be imprisoned. Many are waiting to go to Afghanistan, where the United States is helping to build a prison for some of them.

U.S. military officials have decided that they can free 13 other detainees, though they have not been given NLEC status. The remaining four are NLECs. But there are no immediate plans to release them.

Just this week, 15 other detainees were released into the custody of the Saudi government.

"At Guantanamo, the United States only holds enemy combatants that were members of or supporting Taliban, al-Qaeda and associated forces," said Navy Lt. Cmdr. J.D. Gordon, a Pentagon spokesman, who added that detainees' status is regularly reviewed. "We have no interest in detaining anyone longer than necessary."

The 38 NLECs earned their status through the military's Combatant Status Review Tribunal process between August 2004 and March 2005. Those hearings allowed detainees to learn the unclassified allegations against them and to tell their personal stories to a panel of military officials.

While their identities have not been released, The Washington Post obtained the NLECs' testimony, with names redacted, through a Freedom of Information Act request and compared it to the testimony of named detainees released by the Pentagon to the Associated Press in March.

Mustaq Ali Patel, a French detainee who was released in March 2005, told his hearing panel that he was simply trying to visit Afghanistan when he was arrested at the Iranian border. He said he was beaten by Afghan government officials who threatened to kill him if he did not say he was a Saudi citizen.

"I just want to say that I want to go home, and please set me free," Patel told his captors. "I have nothing to do with this; there's nothing more they could've written badly about me, except that I lied."

Gordon, the Pentagon spokesman, said that "everyone who is or has been detained at Guantanamo was sent there for a valid reason." He noted that of the 10,000 people captured in and around Afghanistan since 2002, fewer than 10 percent have ended up at Guantanamo Bay.

But many cases take years to resolve.

Fethi Boucetta, for example, is an Algerian national who was arrested in Pakistan when local authorities came looking for another man. According to his tribunal records, Boucetta sought asylum in Pakistan in 1996 after leaving Algeria to avoid military service. A doctor who was teaching at an embassy in Pakistan, Boucetta had not entered Afghanistan after 1992 and told a military representative that he did not organize or belong to any extremist groups, as U.S. officials alleged.

"They went to his house and asked to speak with somebody else, and Fethi said he didn't know that person and that he wasn't there," said Danielle R. Voorhees, a U.S. lawyer representing Boucetta, who is still held at Guantanamo Bay. "Pakistani police came back with Americans in plain clothes, and they said they wanted to question him. That's when he was arrested."

According to his attorneys, Boucetta was told in May 2005 that he was no longer considered an enemy combatant and could go home, but he has learned nothing since of efforts to have him released. His first contact with his wife in Algeria in four years was a telephone conversation in late April.

"It's easy for us to say 'Just release him,' but it's a difficult situation," said Don Degnan, another lawyer who represents Boucetta. "There's not a lot of First World countries that want a Guantanamo detainee released into their country."

Lawyers from the Justice Department have told federal judges that there are continuous discussions with other nations about transferring detainees but that the government has a strict policy of not releasing them to countries likely to mistreat them. The same lawyers have said that they do not want any of the men, even those not considered threats, released in the United States.

In one unusual NLEC case, lawyers have asked federal courts to order the government not to release their client so that he will not be sent to his native Egypt, where they fear he would be arrested, jailed and possibly tortured.

Late last year, Justice Department lawyers said that Ala Abdel Maqsud Muhammad Salim, an NLEC still held at Guantanamo Bay, would be released to Egypt. But, in January, they filed a motion stating that new information warranting further investigation had resulted in there no longer being "immediate plans to transfer, repatriate, or release" him.

Salim -- also referred to in documents as Alladeen -- was born in Egypt in 1967 and spent his first 22 years there, a period that included several arrests that never resulted in charges, according to briefs filed by his Washington-based attorney, Carol Elder Bruce. He left Egypt for Saudi Arabia in 1989 and later went to Pakistan, where he worked for the Islamic Relief Organization distributing aid to Afghanistan. He was arrested by Pakistani authorities in 2002 and transferred to U.S. custody; he was later sent to Guantanamo Bay.

At Guantanamo Bay, Bruce asserts in legal papers, Salim was interrogated by Egyptian officials who chained him to the floor and threatened to harm him when he is released. "We will take you somewhere and they will never see you again," Bruce wrote, quoting Salim's interaction with the Egyptian delegation.

In a November hearing, U.S. District Judge James Robertson expressed concern that the United States would "release" Salim to Egypt, where he could face pressure from the government because he had been detained at Guantanamo Bay.


Fifteen Guantanamo Saudis freed

Fifteen Guantanamo Saudis freed

Fifteen Saudi Arabians have arrived home after being released from the United States military detention camp at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.

Relatives of the freed men gathered at Riyadh airport to meet them.

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said an understanding had been reached with the Saudi government over their release.

About 460 detainees are held at Guantanamo, which opened after the US-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001.

Detainees are being held without charge or trial.

Mr McCormack said: "We were able to assure ourselves that if these people were returned to Saudi Arabia that they wouldn't be tortured and they would be treated humanely."


Saudi Arabia's Interior Minister Prince Nayef said the kingdom was trying to secure the release and return of the remaining Saudi detainees at Guantanamo Bay.

He said that the 15 men "will be made subject to the country's laws", comments that suggest the men may be put on trial.

Eight Saudis have previously been released from Guantanamo Bay, but jailed back home.

At least five of them were freed by Saudi Arabia last year after they completed their jail terms.

It is believed that about 100 of the detainees at Guantanamo Bay are Saudi nationals.

Family members of the returnees gathered at King Khaled airport to meet the plane, while reporters were kept away from the scene.

Story from BBC NEWS:


Hemingway papers link Cuba and US

Hemingway papers link Cuba and US

Cuba is sending the US copies of more than 20,000 papers relating to the Nobel Prize winning American writer, Ernest Hemingway.

The move is part of a deal on restoring Hemingway's legacy that, correspondents say, has united the usually feuding governments of Havana and Washington.

The papers sent to the US Library of Congress include copies of Hemingway's letters and some of his famous novels.

Hemingway spent much of his time living in Cuba between 1939 and 1960.

Marta Arjona, the head of Cuba's National Heritage Council, said US had received an "invaluable" gift relating to that period.

She told Cuba's Communist Party newspaper Granma that the move was part of an agreement, reached in 2002, to restore and digitalise some 11,000 documents relating to Hemingway.

The documents sent include copies of letters in which Hemingway outlines his stance on World War Two and the Spanish Civil War.

Copies of his novels, For Whom the Bell Tolls and The Old Man and the Sea - inspired by his time in Cuba - have also been sent to the US.

The originals are expected to remain at a museum at the writer's former house in Havana, Cuba.

Under the agreement, US experts have travelled to Cuba to help restore the museum, Ms Arjona said.

Story from BBC NEWS:


Pentagon secret spending said at post-Cold War high

Pentagon secret spending said at post-Cold War high
By Jim Wolf

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Pentagon's spending on secret programs has hit its highest point since the end of the Cold War, a Washington-based research group said in a report released this week.

Classified programs appear to account for about $30.1 billion, or 19 percent, of the acquisition funds sought in the Defense Department budget for fiscal 2007, according to the report by the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessment.

In real terms, the 2007 request was for more classified spending than in any defense budget since 1988, near the Cold War's end, when the Pentagon received an inflation-adjusted $29.4 billion for such projects, it said.

Classifying Pentagon programs means they get less oversight by Congress, watchdog groups and the media.

The record of such programs has been mixed, said Steven Kosiak, the report's author, noting that the F-117 "Stealth" fighter jet and the radar-evading B-2 bomber were among the successes.

But reduced oversight has contributed to failures like the U.S. Navy's A-12 attack aircraft, canceled in 1991, Kosiak noted.

Secret programs also have tended to spawn "fringe science" -- like antimatter weapons, psychics and telepathy -- because they were protected from outside scrutiny, said Sharon Weinberger, author of "Imaginary Weapons: A Journey through the Pentagon's Scientific Underworld."

She contends that the Defense Department, citing a need for secrecy to protect national security, is in effect shielding "bad science" from peer review at a net loss to taxpayers.

In his study, Kosiak said classified funding sought for Pentagon purchases had more than doubled in real terms since fiscal 1995, when it reached a post-Cold War low.

Since 1995, funding for classified acquisition programs has grown at a faster rate than funding for acquisition programs overall -- up 64 percent in real terms, the report said.

The Air Force's fiscal 2007 budget request contained the biggest share of the Pentagon's classified acquisition funding -- more than three-quarters of the total.

Classified programs account for about 44 percent, or $14.1 billion, of the Air Force's procurement request and 39 percent, or $9.6 billion, of its research and development request, Kosiak said, citing Pentagon budget documents.


Democrats ask Bush for intelligence update on Iran

Democrats ask Bush for intelligence update on Iran
By David Morgan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Senate Democrats asked President George W. Bush on Friday to order a new U.S. intelligence report on Iran to avoid the errors that plagued prewar assessments on Iraq.

Five Democrats, headed by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, wrote to Bush requesting a new National Intelligence Estimate, or NIE, while the United States is involved in an international diplomatic effort to get Iran to curb its nuclear ambitions.

The Democrats want an NIE, the intelligence community's most authoritative written judgment, to address several points including Iran's nuclear program and its military and defense capabilities.

The United States and European countries suspect Iran is seeking to develop nuclear weapons but Tehran insists it aims only to develop a peaceful nuclear energy program.

A hastily prepared 2002 NIE on prewar Iraq, released as the Bush administration made its case for war, concluded on the basis of faulty evidence that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction.

No such weapons have been found and critics, including Democrats, have accused the Bush administration of politicizing intelligence to justify its march to war.

"In order to avoid repeating mistakes made in the run-up to the conflict in Iraq, we must have objective intelligence untainted by political considerations and policy preferences," said the Democrats, who included ranking members of the Senate intelligence, armed services and foreign relations committees.

Administration officials were not immediately available for comment on the letter.

U.S. officials stress the importance of diplomacy in public remarks about Iran, but at the same time, have said they are not taking possible military action off the table.

The Senate Intelligence Committee has sought to examine the quality of U.S. intelligence on Iran. But a committee staff member said the effort was sidelined by the need to complete the panel's probe of prewar Iraq intelligence.

The Bush administration produced an NIE on Iran about a year ago. That document extended the U.S. estimate of Iran's likely development of nuclear arms to 2015 from early in the next decade.

Air Force Gen. Michael Hayden, Bush's nominee for CIA director, acknowledged on Thursday the U.S. intelligence community needed to earn back public confidence after the Iraq WMD breakdown.

But Hayden, whose nomination is expected to win the Senate Intelligence Committee's endorsement next Tuesday, said Iran intelligence was being compiled on a broader basis and would follow new guidelines that emphasize dissenting views and grade the confidence behind specific intelligence claims.

"I think it's unfair to compare what it is we believe we know about Iran with what it is we prove to know or not know about Iraq," Hayden said at his Senate confirmation hearing.

The Democrats' letter asks that a new NIE address 10 specific issues including Iran's foreign policy and the objectives of its government; its relationship with terrorism; prospects for international support for diplomacy, sanctions and military action; and Iran's expected reaction to each option.


Some Iraq war vets go homeless after return to US

Some Iraq war vets go homeless after return to US
By Daniel Trotta

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The nightmare of Iraq was bad enough for Vanessa Gamboa. Unprepared for combat beyond her basic training, the supply specialist soon found herself in a firefight, commanding a handful of clerks.

"They promoted me to sergeant. I knew my job but I didn't know anything about combat. So I'm responsible for all these people and I don't know what to tell them but to duck," Gamboa said.

The battle, on a supply delivery run, ended without casualties, and it did little to steel Gamboa for what awaited her back home in Brooklyn.

When the single mother was discharged in April, after her second tour in Iraq, she was 24 and had little money and no place to live. She slept in her son's day-care center.

Gamboa is part of a small but growing trend among U.S. veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars -- homelessness.

On any given night the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) helps 200 to 250 of them, and more go uncounted. They are among nearly 200,000 homeless veterans in America, largely from the Vietnam War.

Advocates say the number of homeless veterans is certain to grow, just as it did in the years following the Vietnam and Gulf wars, as a consequence of the stresses of war and inadequate job training.

Homeless veterans have remained in the shadows of the national debate about Iraq, although the issue may gain traction from the film "When I Came Home," which won an award this month for best New York-made documentary at the city's Tribeca Film Festival.

The documentary tells the story of Iraq war veteran Herold Noel as he lived in his car. It will get a screening in June at the U.S. Capitol in Washington.

U.S. Rep. Bob Filner, a California Democrat, calls it a "national disgrace" that homelessness among veterans has not been solved and held an informal hearing on Thursday to highlight the issue.

"We've seen the same thing with Agent Orange and Gulf War syndrome," Filner said of ailments from prior wars. "The bureaucracy is denying that there's anything wrong. First it's deny, deny, deny. Then they admit it's a small problem. And later they admit it's a widespread problem.

"We're not talking about a lot of money (to solve the problem) compared with overall spending on the war in Iraq. We're spending a billion dollars every two and a half days," he told Reuters.


One theme of the documentary is that veterans who risked their lives in war are too easily discarded by society once they are out of the military. The film shows Noel being denied housing by New York City's housing agency.

Gamboa had a similar experience.

"They put me in this roach-infested hotel. I was there for 10 days," Gamboa said. "Then they said I wasn't eligible to stay in a shelter because I could stay with my sister, who lives in a studio apartment with her husband. And I haven't spoken to her in six years."

Now her luck is improving.

Unlike many low-ranking soldiers, Gamboa received army training with civilian applications -- logistics -- and started a job with a fancy Fifth Avenue clothing store this week.

And despite an Army snafu that nearly denied her U.S. citizenship, the Guatemalan-born Gamboa, who moved to Brooklyn as a child, took her oath before the U.S. flag on Friday.

Military recruiters target poor neighborhoods like Gamboa's Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn. Young adults with few job skills join the Army. When they get out, many have fallen behind their contemporaries, experts say.

The stresses of combat and military life contribute to post traumatic stress disorder, substance abuse and mental illness, which are especially taboo subjects to soldiers trained not to admit failure easily.

About half of all homeless veterans suffer from mental illness, and more than two-thirds suffer from alcohol or drug abuse problems, the VA says.

Gamboa has avoided those pitfalls, but female veterans are three times more likely to become homeless than women in the general population, the American Journal of Public Health reported.

Repeated deployments -- a hallmark of the Iraq war -- and separation from family can also portend future problems.

"Then the downward spiral begins with substance abuse and problems with the law," said Amy Fairweather of Iraq Veteran, which helps war veterans in San Francisco.

"If you wanted to put together all the repercussions that put people at risk for homelessness, you couldn't do better than the Iraq war."


Friday, May 19, 2006

The Lie Lives On ... and On ... and On

The Huffington Post
The Lie Lives On ... and On ... and On
Larry Beinhart

The Republican Senator tossed General Michael Hayden a big, fat softball of a question: "Do you think that if you had this program ...." of wiretaps without warrants, "... in place before September 11th you might have prevented it?"

General Hayden jumped right on it. He said that yes, if he had his secret powers then, that he has today, he could have stopped al Qaeda's plot.
Then he said, there were two guys in San Diego ...

He was referring to Nawaf al Hazmi and Khalid al Mihdhar. George Bush also talks about them when he wants to justify wiretaps without warrants.

The truth is that Nawaf al Hazmi and Khalid al Mihdhar are the poster boys for missed opportunities. If the NSA, the CIA, the FBI and the White House had not screwed up so royally, mostly by cherishing their secrets, they would have had al Hasmi and al Mihdhar several times over.

Here are the facts.

Both of them were in the NSA and CIA files. They'd fought in Bosnia. They'd been to Afghanistan. They had friends and relatives who were jihadists and who were in Al Qaeda and they had associations with bin Laden.

In December, 1999 the NSA picked up several names in relation to an upcoming meeting in Kuala Lumpur, the capitol of Malaysia. They got al Mihdhar's full name but only al Hazmi's first name, Nawaf. They could have figured out who he was if they had checked in their own data base. But they didn't.

The CIA tracked al Mihdhar when he traveled from Yemen to the meeting in Kuala Lumpur, arriving on January 5th, 2000. The CIA had the event under surveillance. Al Mihdhar was photographed there. The team noted that some of the terrorists, including al Mihdhar and al Hazmi, flew to Bangkok on January 8th, where they lost track of them. Also in January, the CIA found out that al Mihdhar had a US passport.

The top people in the CIA and the FBI, including it's director, Louis Freeh, were briefed by the Counterterrorism Center (CTC) on the meeting.

In March, the CIA's Bangkok office reported that al Hazmi had left Thailand on January 15th and flown to Los Angeles. He was accompanied by al Mihdhar, though that did not show up on the flight report.

Here is what had not happened.

The CIA did not put either al Hazmi or al Mihdhar on the State Department TIPOFF watch list. So they were not picked up when they entered the US. Al Mihdrar later left the US and went to Yemen, because he missed his family. Then returned to participate in the 9/11 attacks. He was not picked up leaving or returning.

The CIA did not give their names to the FBI. So they were not tracked when they entered the United States. They spent two months in Los Angeles. Then they went to San Diego. In both places they associated with radical Muslims and made radical mosques the center of their lives.

They also lived with an FBI informant. Al Hazmi got picked for speeding in Oklahoma. His license was in his real name. When the trooper ran it, nothing came back. Remember, that at this point, he was known as a terrorist associated with Osama bin Laden and bin Laden was known to be trying to organize an attack on America.

Al Hazmi and Al Mihdhar both bought their tickets over the internet using credit cards in their real names.

Then came September 11th, 2001 and this is what happened on that day:

Nawaf al Hazmi set off the alarms for both the first and second metal detectors and was then hand-wanded before being passed. [to board the plane they were about to hijack] ...

Khalid al Mihdhar, and Majed Moqed were flagged by CAPPS.The Hazmi brothers were also selected for extra scrutiny by the airline's customer service representative at the check-in counter. He did so because one of the brothers did not have photo identification nor could he understand English, and because the agent found both of the passengers to be suspicious. ...

Mihdhar and Moqed placed their carry-on bags on the belt of the X-ray machine and proceeded through the first metal detector. Both set off the alarm, and they were directed to a second metal detector. Mihdhar did not trigger the alarm and was permitted through the checkpoint.

... We asked a screening expert to review the videotape of the hand-wanding, and he found the quality of the screener's work to have been "marginal at best." The screener should have "resolved" what set off the alarm; and in the case of both Moqed and Hazmi, it was clear that he did not.

The 9/11 Commission Final Report

These are the people that General Hayden uses to justify the gigantic wiretaps without warrants program and the telephone data collection program.

It is an insult to our intelligence. It shows contempt, absolute contempt for the senate and the media. It shows that he is right to have that contempt. Since no one called him out on it. No one said it was a ridiculous and foolish assertion. Unsupported by the facts. Indeed, the facts point in the other direction.

It was secrecy that did us in. We had the information. It was incompetence that did us in. Including General Hayden's own.


Economic Outlook Worsens; Most Now Say Economy's Getting Worse

ABC News
Economic Outlook Worsens
Most Now Say Economy's Getting Worse

May 16, 2006— - Pessimism about the direction of the economy has grown to its highest level in seven months, apparently pushed by high gasoline prices and a weakening job market.

Fifty-six percent of Americans now believe the economy's getting worse, up nine points in the last month to its highest level since October. Just 14 percent believe it's improving, while about three out of 10 say it's holding steady.

Ratings of current economic conditions have similarly declined recently. The ABC News/Washington Post Consumer Comfort Index is now at -17 on its scale of +100 to -100, a new low for the year and down 10 points since mid-April.

Nevertheless, confidence is still stronger than it was last fall, when the index bottomed out at -23 after Hurricane Katrina. And its recent slide has moderated, with the index essentially flat this week compared with last.

Despite the impact on economic views, many Americans are adapting to higher gas prices, perhaps helping to keep consumer confidence from dipping even lower. Gas now averages $2.95 a gallon, but the number who say it's causing them financial hardship is 57 percent, down 13 points since last month, according to a separate ABC/Post poll out today. And more said they'd cut back on driving when prices spiked last fall than say so now.

EXPECTATIONS -- Americans have expressed more pessimism than optimism about the direction of the economy since January 2004, as well as on average in polls dating back to 1981. But the level of pessimism is unusually high this month, 18 points above the 25-year average. As noted, pessimism is up nine points from last month and 17 points from the start of the year, to its highest level since October 2005.

INDEX -- The weekly CCI, measured separately from expectations, is based on Americans' current ratings of the national economy, the buying climate and their personal finances. This week 33 percent rate the economy positively, down nine points since early April to its lowest since November 2005, and 33 percent call it a good time to buy things, unchanged from last week to again match its post-November low.

As is usually the case, many more, 58 percent, say their own finances are in good shape.

TREND -- As noted, at -17, the CCI is at its low for the year and is now eight points below its long-term average in polls since December 1985, -9. It's been as high as -7 this year, as recently as four weeks ago, but retreated as gas prices climbed.

Its all-time high was +38 in January 2000; its all-time low, -50 in February 1992.

GROUPS -- As usual, the CCI is higher in better-off groups. It's +31 among higher-income Americans while -67 among those with the lowest incomes, 0 among college graduates while -56 among those who haven't finished high school, -10 among whites but -57 among blacks and -11 among men while -23 among women.

Regionally, the index continues to be better in the West, at -9, compared with -24 in the Midwest and -18 in the Northeast and South. Confidence remains far higher among Republicans (+22) than independents (-24) or, particularly, Democrats (-41).

Republicans also are much less pessimistic about the direction of the economy. Thirty-four percent say it's getting worse, compared with 56 percent of independents and 77 percent of Democrats.

Here's a closer look at the three components of the ABC/Post CCI:

NATIONAL ECONOMY -- Thirty-three percent of Americans rate the economy as excellent or good; it was 35 percent last week. The highest was 80 percent on Jan. 16, 2000. The lowest was 7 percent in late 1991 and early 1992.

PERSONAL FINANCES -- Fifty-eight percent say their own finances are excellent or good, unchanged from last week. The highest percentage was 70 percent on Aug. 30, 1998, matched in January 2000. The lowest was 42 percent on March 14, 1993.

BUYING CLIMATE -- Thirty-three percent say it's an excellent or good time to buy things, also unchanged from last week. The highest percentage was 57 percent on Jan. 16, 2000. The lowest was 20 percent in fall 1990.

METHODOLOGY -- Interviews for the ABC News/Washington Post Consumer Comfort Index are reported in a four-week rolling average. This week's results are based on telephone interviews among a random national sample of 1,000 adults in the four weeks ending May 14, 2006. The results have a three-point error margin. The expectations question was asked of 500 respondents May 3-14; that result has a 4.5-point margin of error. Field work was done by ICR-International Communications Research of Media, Pa.

The index is derived by subtracting the negative response to each index question from the positive response to that question. The three resulting numbers are added and divided by three. The index can range from +100 (everyone positive on all three measures) to -100 (all negative on all three measures). The survey began in December 1985.

Click here for PDF version with charts and data table.


House ethics panel breaks deadlock, approves first Abramoff-related probe

House ethics panel breaks deadlock, approves first Abramoff-related probe

WASHINGTON (AP) — In a burst of activity that ended 16 months of political gridlock, the House ethics committee Wednesday launched a flurry of investigations — focusing on a Republican linked to convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff and a Democrat at the center of a separate bribery probe.

The bribery investigations of Reps. Bob Ney, R-Ohio, and William Jefferson, D-La., will determine whether they violated House rules, but the probes only add to their legal woes. The Justice Department already is conducting bribery investigations of Ney and Jefferson, both of whom have denied wrongdoing.

By targeting a member of each party, committee leaders avoided allegations of partisanship in a year when Democrats are trying to make Republican misconduct a major campaign issue. Despite the inclusion of Jefferson, House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi called the announcement "long overdue."

The investigations disclosed by the Republican ethics chairman and the senior Democrat on the evenly divided committee were only two of four separate announcements.

The committee leaders also approved an inquiry into whether other lawmakers were involved in a bribery scandal that landed former Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham, R-Calif., in prison with an eight-year sentence. And they said they would have investigated payments of former Majority Leader Tom DeLay's overseas travel — had he not decided to leave Congress next month.

Ney's former top aide pleaded guilty last week to conspiring to corrupt the congressman on behalf of Abramoff and his clients. Two businessmen have pleaded guilty to bribing Jefferson to promote a company's operations in Africa.

Ney said he welcomed the investigation.

"For the last 15 months, all I have asked for is an opportunity to have the facts surrounding the Abramoff matter to be reviewed by the appropriate investigative bodies in order to have this matter addressed once and for all," Ney said in a statement.

He has stepped aside as chairman of the House Administration Committee because of the investigation by the Justice Department.

Jefferson's office had no immediate comment; the lawmaker has previously denied wrongdoing.

The simultaneous investigations of Ney and Jefferson give a bipartisan tone at a time when Democrats are trying to make a campaign issue out of Republican misconduct.

The committee of five Republicans and five Democrats had been in a partisan deadlock since the beginning of last year. The House GOP leadership removed two GOP members of the committee and the Republican chairman after they had admonished DeLay for his conduct. Since then, the committee has fought over committee rules and staffing, and failed to get a sixth vote to begin any investigation.

In April, the committee's top Democrat, Rep. Alan Mollohan of West Virginia, stepped down from the committee after published reports questioned his role in steering federal money to non-profit group led by his supporters. Mollohan had feuded constantly with the current chairman, Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash.

Replacing Mollohan was Rep. Howard Berman, D-Calif., who earlier was the committee's top Democrat. Berman had good relations with Republicans on the panel.

Ney's former top aide, Neil Volz, admitted he conspired to corrupt Ney, his staff and other members of Congress with trips, free tickets, meals, jobs for relatives and fundraising events.

Volz said he engaged in a conspiracy, the intent of which was "to influence members of Congress in violation of the law." He enumerated 16 actions he said his old boss took on behalf of Abramoff clients.

In addition, Volz wrote, Abramoff gave the congressman and his staff numerous tickets to concerts and sporting events in the Washington, D.C., area; regular meals and drinks at restaurants including Abramoff's restaurant Signatures and unreported use of Abramoff's box suites at the MCI Center Arena in Washington and Camden Yards Stadium in Baltimore for political fundraisers for Ney and for candidates and political organizations he supported.

As for Jefferson, a Louisville, man pleaded guilty in federal court this month to bribing the congressman with more than $400,000 in payments, company stock and a share of the profits to promote a Kentucky company's high-tech business ventures in Africa.

Vernon L. Jackson was the second person to plead guilty to charges of bribing the eight-term Democrat to promote iGate's Inc.'s broadband technology — in Nigeria, Ghana and Cameroon.

Hastings and Berman said investigators will look at allegations that Ney received gifts, travel benefits, campaign contributions and other items of value from Abramoff and his associates — and the relationship of any favors to Ney's legislative actions.

They said the Jefferson investigation will focus on whether the lawmaker or his family got cash, stock shares, agreements for future profits or other benefits from several individuals or iGate Inc. — and how any such favors affected his legislative actions.

The committee leaders cited serious allegations about DeLay's overseas trips. The Associated Press and other news organizations have reported that some travel was paid by Abramoff and his clients, despite House rules prohibiting lawmakers from accepting trips financed by lobbyists.

"But for his imminent resignation from the Congress ... we would have recommended to our colleagues on the committee the formation of an investigative subcommittee to conduct a formal inquiry into those allegations," Berman and Hastings said.

DeLay, who is under indictment in Texas on charges of campaign finance improprieties, said he is leaving Congress on June 9.

Cunningham's case has evolved into a wide federal investigation involving money, power and sex, with questions about whether other lawmakers were tied to the bribes by federal contractors.

The committee decided that "In light of those continuing reports and the seriousness of the potential rules violations," an investigation should get underway to determine whether other House members or employees were implicated in the scandal, the leaders said.

The investigative subcommittee for Ney will be led by Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, and include Reps. Gene Green, D-Texas, Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., and Xavier Becerra, D-Calif.

The Jefferson probe will be headed by Rep. Melissa Hart, R-Pa. and include Reps. Stephanie Tubbs Jones, D-Ohio; Tom Latham, R-Iowa and Adam Schiff, D-Calif.

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Senator Judd Greg: Critical border-security money diverted

Senator: Critical border-security money diverted
By Kathy Kiely, USA TODAY

WASHINGTON — A key Republican leader said Wednesday that President Bush is forcing lawmakers to choose between putting National Guard troops on the U.S.-Mexican border and giving the law enforcement officers already there the cars, planes and other equipment they need to do their job.

Delivering an unusual public critique of the administration's border-security priorities, Senate Budget Chairman Judd Gregg, R-N.H., announced that $1.9 billion the Senate approved last month for equipment is being diverted to pay for the deployment of up to 6,000 National Guard troops. Bush announced plans to send the Guard troops to the border in a nationally televised speech Monday.

Gregg, who also chairs a subcommittee in charge of funding border security, said in a Senate floor speech that an effort to repair or replace aging equipment for the Border Patrol and Coast Guard "is essentially dead." He predicted that border agents will be hamstrung.

"A lot are going to be sitting in cars that don't run and planes that don't take off," he told reporters.

White House deputy chief of staff Joel Kaplan said this week that the administration will work with Gregg and other members of Congress to determine how to best allocate the $1.9 billion. "We think, obviously, that we've got a good approach for how to most effectively spend that money to secure the border," Kaplan said.

Gregg's criticisms came as Bush's call for a comprehensive immigration bill continued to win support in the Senate, even as it attracted brickbats from some in the president's own party.

House Judiciary Chairman F. James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., told reporters that he was not impressed by Bush's Oval Office address. "I was very disappointed by the president's speech," he said. "I don't think he gets it."

Sensenbrenner is sponsor of an immigration bill that focuses on border security and stricter penalties for employers who hire illegal immigrants. Bush says he wants a broader approach. The president has called for expanded opportunities for foreigners to work in the USA and legal status for many of the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants now in the USA — both key components of the bill now being debated in the Senate.

Gregg said he favors the expanded "guest worker" program, but he took the administration to task for not backing up its promises. "They made these commitments in the budgets they sent up," he said. "What they failed to do was fund these commitments."

Amid much fanfare last month, the Senate approved Gregg's amendment providing $1.9 billion for upgrades to border-security equipment. Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., said the 59-39 vote demonstrated that "we are serious about tightening the border, and we will provide the resources, the personnel and capital infrastructure to do just that."

According to an inventory provided by Gregg's office, planes used for border surveillance are more than 40 years old, more than 1,700 border patrol vehicles are not usable, and the only unmanned aerial surveillance vehicle on the Southwest border was lost in a crash last month. Also included in the $1.9 billion was funding for expanding fencing on the border and more Coast Guard patrol boats.

The money was in a $92 billion emergency funding bill now before a House-Senate conference committee. Gregg said he has no hope of finding more funding for border-security equipment. He said other Republicans on the panel told him, "Good luck getting this money."

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Bush Signs $70B Tax-Cut Package; Democrats Label Bill a Boon to Wealthy Americans
Bush Signs $70B Tax-Cut Package
Democrats Label Bill a Boon to Wealthy Americans
By Bill Brubaker
Washington Post Staff Writer

President Bush today signed a $70 billion, election-year tax-cut package, predicting it will bring a "strong lift" to the economy and "help millions of Americans who are saving for the future."

Republicans hope the legislation, which extends existing tax cuts on dividends and capital gains as well as changes to the alternative minimum tax, will give their party a boost heading into the midterm congressional elections in November.

Democrats quickly labeled the bill a boon to wealthy -- not average -- Americans.

"Today's really a good day to be a millionaire, but it's a bad day if you want to be a millionaire," Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid (Nev.) said at a news conference minutes after Bush signed the bill. "That's because President Bush just signed with the stroke of a pen a bill that sealed the fate of those trying to get ahead."

The signing on the White House's South Lawn, at a table decorated with stars and stripes and the words "Tax Relief for All Americans," comes as public confidence in GOP governance has plunged to the lowest levels of the Bush presidency, according to a Washington Post-ABC News poll.

"The opponents of these tax cuts were wrong when they voted against them the first time," Bush said, referring to Democrats who opposed tax cuts passed by the Republican-controlled Congress in 2001 and 2003. "They've been wrong to oppose the extension of tax relief in the face of overwhelming evidence that the tax cuts have helped grow the economy and create millions of new jobs."

Bush said the tax cuts have benefited Americans at all income levels.

"If you have a mutual fund for your family, these tax cuts made you better off," he said. "If you have an IRA or 401(k), these tax cuts will help provide a better retirement. If you're a senior who depends on dividend income to make ends meet, these tax cuts have led to a better check each month. At all levels of income, the tax cuts on dividends and capital gains are letting Americans keep more of their own money and live a better life."

Democrats opposed the legislation, saying the tax cuts on dividends and capital gains are mostly benefiting wealthy Americans.

"If you want to look at why the Republican Party is down in the dumps and why the president's numbers are down in the dumps," Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said this afternoon, "it's that the American people are beginning to understand that when they talk about tax cuts, they're not talking about helping middle-class people. They're talking about helping the wealthiest corporations and individuals among us."

The bill extends for two years the 15 percent tax rate for dividends and capital gains, which was due to expire at the end of 2008. It extends through 2006 changes to the alternative minimum tax, which were designed to increase the tax burden of wealthy Americans but has also struck upper-middle income families. And it extends through 2009 a tax cut that gives small businesses a write off -- up to $100,000 -- for equipment and other depreciable assets.

Among other provisions, the bill also eliminates, for 2010, the $100,000 income limitations on converting traditional IRAs to Roth IRAs.

The signing ceremony was attended by many prominent Republicans including Vice President Cheney, Treasury Secretary John Snow, House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (Ill.) and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (Tenn.).


In Congress, a Budget Divide; Differences in House, Senate Versions May Make Deal Difficult
In Congress, a Budget Divide
Differences in House, Senate Versions May Make Deal Difficult
By Shailagh Murray
Washington Post Staff Writer

After two setbacks, the House finally approved a fiscal 2007 budget early yesterday morning, but differences with the Senate version may be too considerable for Congress to reach a final agreement.

The blueprint provides for $2.8 trillion in spending on entitlement programs and general operation of the government during the fiscal year that will begin Oct. 1. The House snubbed two of President Bush's top budget priorities: a major expansion of tax-free health savings accounts and curbs in the growth of Medicare spending for the elderly. But in a final-hour bid for votes, GOP leaders agreed to provide extra spending for popular health, education and other social programs to win over moderate Republicans.

The 218 to 210 vote was a victory for House Majority Leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio), who assumed his post in February after Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Tex.) resigned from the leadership job under an ethics cloud. After two embarrassing failures, Boehner and his allies bartered and cajoled throughout Wednesday to bridge a narrow but persistent vote gap. The House has passed a budget every year since the Congressional Budget Act took effect in 1975, but the Senate and House have not always agreed on a final version.

"We successfully worked with conservatives, moderates, and appropriators alike to come together as a team and pass a responsible budget that controls spending," Boehner said in a statement after the vote.

A final agreement with the Senate appears out of reach, however, because of significant differences in funding priorities. The House budget would allow more than $7 billion in extra domestic funding, but the money would have to be shifted from other accounts, in keeping with Bush's bottom-line limits on discretionary spending on general government operations. The Senate exceeded Bush's caps by at least $16 billion.

"Clearly, at this point in the year it's going to be tough to get a conference agreement," said House Budget Committee Chairman Jim Nussle (R-Iowa). But he said that he and Senate Budget Committee Chairman Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) will begin discussions immediately.

Democrats said the House budget fails to provide adequate funding for veterans' care, education, public health and environmental protection. "This shamefully shortsighted budget resolution cuts crucial investments in our nation and our people," said Democratic Whip Steny H. Hoyer (Md.).

Democrats pounced on a late-night statement by House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.), who declared: "Well, folks, if you earn $40,000 a year and have a family of two, you don't pay any taxes. So you probably, if you don't pay any taxes, you are not going to get a big tax cut."

Many such families indeed pay no federal income taxes, but Democrats said they pay plenty of Social Security and Medicare taxes.

"On the House floor early this morning, Speaker Hastert demonstrated how out of touch Republicans are with everyday Americans when he made the preposterous claim that working families pay no taxes," House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said.

Throughout the spring, GOP leaders had struggled to reconcile two warring factions in the House Republican Conference. Conservatives believe federal spending has spiraled out of control, and want to impose strict fiscal discipline. But moderates and other Republicans facing tough election campaigns this fall believe that too much belt-tightening could prove politically disastrous in November.

In March, 17 Republicans -- many of them viewed as top midterm targets by Democrats -- signed a letter seeking a 2 percent increase in non-security, non-emergency discretionary appropriations over fiscal 2006 levels. Several in the group offered a substitute budget that would have increased Bush's budget request for education and health accounts by $7.16 billion -- equal to the funding enacted in the fiscal 2006 appropriations bill for the Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education departments, plus a 2 percent inflationary increase.

After negotiations between Boehner and the group, led by Rep. Michael N. Castle (R-Del.), GOP leaders amended the budget rule with language that "recognizes the need" to increase funding for the appropriations bill to the level that Castle and his group had sought.

Staff writer Jonathan Weisman contributed to this report.


The Senate and the General

The New York Times
The Senate and the General

Watching the confirmation hearing yesterday for Gen. Michael Hayden as director of the Central Intelligence Agency, it was hard to see past the sorry sight of a four-star general taking what should be a civilian job. But the hearing produced important — and disquieting — news about President Bush's decision to spy on Americans without a warrant.

It seems certain that General Hayden will be confirmed. Senator Pat Roberts, the Intelligence Committee chairman, made it clear that this would be yet another rubber-stamp session when he arranged to have the full committee briefed on domestic spying just one day earlier. If he had been genuinely concerned about checks and balances, rather than simply trying to smooth the way for the confirmation, he would have insisted on a full briefing four and a half years ago, when he learned of the surveillance program.

General Hayden, who we still think should not be given this job, did say some reassuring things. He was, for instance, properly critical of the way Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld created his own intelligence agency before the war in Iraq. That office dedicated itself to producing unequivocal claims about Iraqi weapons.

General Hayden also said that intelligence analysis should acknowledge dissent and be candidly ambiguous when justified — and that politicians have to accept that ambiguity.

But the National Security Agency's domestic surveillance, which General Hayden ran while he led the agency, loomed over the proceedings. General Hayden could not explain coherently why he testified in 2002 that he had no authority to listen to Americans' phone calls without a warrant, when the president had already given him that authority.

General Hayden's appearance also made it clear that the one warrantless spying operation Mr. Bush has acknowledged — listening to calls between the United States and other countries — is not the only one. And he testified that he did not, as Mr. Bush has said, design the N.S.A. operation, which violates the 28-year-old legal requirement for a warrant for any domestic wiretapping.

The hearing drove home again that the spying is being conducted outside the constitutional system of checks and balances.

General Hayden said N.S.A. lawyers decided whether individual surveillance jobs were justified, with periodic reviews by the Justice Department. That is no comfort. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales enthusiastically subscribes to Mr. Bush's imperial vision of the presidency, as well as the president's disregard for the balance of powers. Mr. Gonzales's department recently quashed an investigation by its ethics office into the conduct of the Justice Department officials who approved the spying program.

Mr. Roberts repeated Mr. Bush's claim that the issue here is whether the United States spies on Al Qaeda or not. It's hard to believe that even the senator doesn't know how absurd that is. No one objects to collecting intelligence on Al Qaeda. The issue is whether it will be done legally, and whether Congress will step up to this challenge of its duties and powers. General Hayden's hearing did not provide much hope on either front.


Hayden defends eavesdropping

Hayden defends eavesdropping
By David Morgan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Gen. Michael Hayden, President George W. Bush's nominee for CIA director, strongly defended a domestic eavesdropping program on Thursday, saying it protected the country against terrorism and did not violate Americans' civil rights.

At a seven-hour confirmation hearing before the Senate Intelligence Committee, Hayden began with a plea not to make the CIA a political football. He won strong support from Republicans, while most Democrats seemed wary about attacking him.

The toughest questions came from Oregon Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden and focused on Hayden's role as architect of Bush's domestic spying program and his own credibility.

Wyden said Hayden had not kept Congress fully informed of the eavesdropping program and had made misleading statements in previous appearances before Congress.

"General, having evaluated your words, I now have a difficult time with your credibility," Wyden said.

"So with all due respect, general, I can't tell now if you've simply said one thing and done another, or whether you have just parsed your words like a lawyer to intentionally mislead the public."

Hayden responded: "Well, senator, you're going to have to make a judgment on my character ... I was as full and open as I possibly could be."

Hayden, former director of the National Security Agency, had been expected to face tough questions about the eavesdropping, which the administration has defended as legal and necessary to protect citizens after the September 11 attacks.

Under the program, the NSA monitors international telephone calls and e-mails to or from suspected terrorists without first obtaining a court order.

Bush nominated Hayden, a four-star Air Force general, to replace Porter Goss, who was forced to resign as CIA director this month after clashing with intelligence chief John Negroponte over the spy agency's future.


The committee was not likely to vote on whether to endorse Hayden's nomination to the full Senate until Tuesday at the earliest, a panel aide said.

The full Senate must vote to confirm Hayden as CIA director. Most independent experts said there was little from Thursday's session to suggest he would not easily be confirmed. The committee held a closed session later, where questions might be more pointed but would remain secret.

The administration briefed the whole committee about the eavesdropping program for the first time only on Wednesday. Wisconsin Democratic Sen. Russ Feingold said he emerged from that briefing convinced the program was illegal and Bush had misled the country about it.

As head of the NSA, Hayden crafted and implemented the warrantless eavesdropping program in late 2001. It remained secret until it was leaked to the media in December 2005.

Feingold said he believes the general unintentionally misled Congress during a 2002 joint inquiry into the September 11 attacks, at which Hayden said the NSA would be restricted in tracking an al Qaeda target inside the United States.

"It was a mislead," Feingold said. "I think when you say you had no authority to pursue the target, the average person who knows enough about this would have concluded otherwise."

Maine Sen. Olympia Snowe was the only Republican to complain that Congress had not been sufficiently briefed about the program.

"I happen to believe that, with the programs in question, that the Congress was really never really consulted or informed," Snowe said.

Earlier, facing friendly questions from Missouri Republican Sen. Kit Bond, Hayden said the eavesdropping was narrowly targeted to suspected terrorists, closely supervised and regularly reviewed.

"We have a very strong oversight regime," Hayden said. "Targeting decisions are made by people in the U.S. government most knowledgeable about al Qaeda."

Michigan Democratic Sen. Carl Levin questioned whether Hayden would restore analytical independence and objectivity at the CIA "or whether he will shape intelligence to support administration policy and mislead Congress and the American people."


Four prisoners attempt suicide at Guantanamo camp

Four prisoners attempt suicide at Guantanamo camp

GUANTANAMO BAY U.S. NAVAL BASE (Reuters) - Four Guantanamo prisoners tried to commit suicide on Thursday and several others attacked guards who rushed in to halt one of the attempts, a camp spokesman said.

Three took overdoses of prescription medicine they had apparently been hoarding, and the fourth tried to hang himself, said Cmdr. Robert Durand, a detention camp spokesman. None of the suicide attempts succeeded, he said.

"At this point, I have no idea of motive, no idea of any co-ordination and no idea of any intended message," Durand said.

The attempted hanging took place in a medium-security camp where prisoners live in groups of up to 10 men in long bays lined with metal cots. When guards entered the unit, roommates "tried to prevent them from rescuing the detainee by using fans, light fixtures and other items as improvised weapons," Durand said.

Guards halted the attempted hanging, quelled the disturbance and moved the roommates to a maximum-security area, Durand said.

The three who took overdoses were treated with activated charcoal to absorb and neutralize the medications, and two were held for observation in the camp hospital, Durand said.

The detention camp at the U.S. naval base in Cuba holds about 460 prisoners in five separate compounds. Durand said guards were searching all of the cells for contraband.

The United States has faced criticism from human rights groups and some of its allies for holding prisoners at Guantanamo indefinitely. Some have been there since the camp opened in January 2002.


Senate panel OKs gay-marriage ban

Senate panel OKs gay-marriage ban
By Andy Sullivan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A U.S. Senate panel advanced a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage on Thursday as the committee chairman shouted "good riddance" to a Democrat who walked out of the tense session.

"If you want to leave, good riddance," The Senate Judiciary Chairman, Republican Arlen Specter, told Wisconsin Democratic Sen. Russell Feingold, who refused to participate because, he said, the meeting was not sufficiently open to the public.

"I've enjoyed your lecture too. See you later, Mr. Chairman," Feingold told the Pennsylvania senator before storming out of the private room where the meeting took place.

The testy exchange highlighted tensions over the proposal, which seeks to amend the U.S. Constitution to prevent states from recognizing same-sex marriages.

The measure passed 10-8 on a party-line vote. Specter said he voted for the amendment because he thought it should be taken up by the full Senate, even though he does not back it.

The gay-marriage ban is one of several hot-button social issues Republicans are raising to rally conservative voters ahead of November's congressional elections.

Because the measure seeks to change the Constitution, it must pass both houses of Congress by a two-thirds majority and then be approved by at least 38 states.

The Senate is expected to take up the bill in early June.

The bill's sponsor told reporters he does not expect it to pass the Senate but wanted to keep the issue in the public eye.

"If we quit bringing it up here and talking about it here, in effect we leave the decision-making process to the judicial side," Colorado Republican Sen. Wayne Allard said.

A similar effort failed in the Senate in 2004.

Gay marriage has been a hot topic since a Massachusetts court ruled in 2003 that the state legislature could not ban it, paving the way for America's first same-sex marriages in May the following year.

At least 13 states have passed amendments banning gay marriage while two -- Vermont and Connecticut -- have legalized civil unions. California, New Jersey, Maine, the District of Columbia and Hawaii each offer gay couples some legal rights as partners.

Legal challenges seeking permission for gays and lesbians to marry are pending in 10 states. Most recently, a Georgia state court struck down a state ban on Tuesday.

Just over half of all Americans oppose same-sex marriage, according to a March poll by the Pew Research center, down from 63 percent in February 2004.

Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy, the committee's top Democrat, said the gay marriage ban was a waste of time for a committee that needs to tackle a wide range of other pressing issues, from judicial nominations to oversight of the National Security Administration's domestic-spying program.

"I didn't realize marriages were so threatened. Nor did my wife of 44 years," Leahy said.

Leahy said Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch, who supports the ban, has expressed support for polygamists in his home state of Utah.

"I never said that," Hatch responded. "I know some (polygamists) that are very sincere. ... Don't accuse me of wanting to have polygamy."


Second House panel says FEMA should be independent

Second House panel says FEMA should be independent
By Andy Sullivan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. government's troubled disaster-response agency would recover its status as an independent organization with a direct line to the president under a bill that won approval from a second House committee on Thursday.

By a voice vote, the House Government Reform Committee approved a bill that would pull out the Federal Emergency Management Agency from the Department of Homeland Security. The House Transportation Committee approved the same bill on Wednesday.

Republican leaders in the U.S. House of Representatives have not yet decided whether to support that approach or back an alternate proposal that would keep FEMA within Homeland Security, as the Bush administration wishes and other committees in Congress favor.

FEMA and the Homeland Security Department have been criticized for their lackluster and disorganized response to Hurricane Katrina, which killed 1,300 people and caused at least $80 billion in damage in Louisiana and Mississippi last year.

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff has come under criticism from lawmakers in both parties and FEMA's director during Katrina, Michael Brown, quit after thousands of storm victims were stranded for days in a lawless, flooded New Orleans.

The bill backed by the two committees would remove FEMA from Homeland Security and restore the status it enjoyed before it was absorbed into the mammoth domestic security agency, which is responsible for everything from immigration to airline passenger screening.

"The agency was steadily bled to death by its many new siblings in a parent organization focused on terrorism. That could not happen under this proposal," said Government Reform Committee Chairman Tom Davis, a Virginia Republican.

The committee removed a provision that would have given FEMA's director a five-year term. Davis said the agency could lose clout if a new president took office in the middle of the director's term.

The Homeland Security Department has said that it should maintain control of FEMA because it could better coordinate with the Coast Guard and other areas of the department in future disasters.

That approach is embodied in a bill approved Wednesday by the House Homeland Security Committee, a third committee with some jurisdiction over FEMA. The Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee also supports keeping FEMA within the Homeland Security Department.


Senate says English is national, unifying tongue

Senate says English is national, unifying tongue
By Donna Smith

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Senate agreed on Thursday to make English the national language of the United States and moments later also adopted a milder alternative calling English the country's "unifying language."

Which amendment ends up in the final version of an overhaul of U.S. immigration law will depend on negotiations with the U.S. House of Representatives. Neither would bar the use of Spanish or other languages in government services.

The Senate immigration plan couples tightened border security and enforcement and a guest-worker program with measures giving a path to citizenship to some of the 12 million illegal immigrants, most from Spanish-speaking nations.

"This is not just about preserving our culture and heritage, but also about bettering the odds for our nation's newest potential citizens," said Oklahoma Republican James Inhofe, who sponsored the national language amendment, which passed by a vote of 63-34.

The United States currently has no official language and some lawmakers said they feared Inhofe's amendment would lead to discrimination against people who are not proficient in English. They also said it could hurt efforts to promote public health and safety in other languages.

"Although the intent may not be there, I really believe this amendment is racist. I believe it is directed at people who speak Spanish," Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid of Nevada said.

The issue is politically popular, and in a congressional election year lawmakers strongly supported both measures. Inhofe said opinion polls showed 84 percent of Americans supported making English the national language.

The Senate, by 58-39, also agreed to an alternative offered by Sen. Ken Salazar, a Colorado Democrat, stating "English is the common and unifying language of the United States that helps provide unity for the people of the United States."

President George W. Bush backs immigration reform close to what the Senate is considering and visited Arizona on Thursday to press his plan to send up to 6,000 National Guard troops to the Mexican border. While not specifically endorsing the Senate amendment, Bush spoke of the need to unite Americans.

"We've got to honor the great American tradition of the melting pot," Bush said. "Americans are bound together by shared ideals and appreciation of our history, of respect for our flag and ability to speak the English language."


Many of Bush's own Republicans, particularly in the House, oppose giving illegal immigrants a path to citizenship, saying it amounts to amnesty.

The Senate killed an amendment that would have denied a chance for permanent status and eventual citizenship to illegal immigrants who have been in the country less than five years and to any future immigrants who enter the country under the guest-worker program.

Opponents said the amendment, offered by Sen. Jon Kyl, an Arizona Republican, would have gutted the bipartisan bill that allows guest workers an opportunity to seek permanent residence.

Senators are pushing to complete the immigration bill by the end of next week. But it would still face tough negotiations with the House.

Also on Thursday, the Senate rejected an effort to limit Social Security benefits for illegal immigrants who would become permanent residents under an immigration overhaul.

(Additional reporting by Joanne Kenen in Washington)


Senate backs ten fold hike in indecency fines

Senate backs ten fold hike in indecency fines
By Jeremy Pelofsky

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Senate late on Thursday approved boosting fines tenfold to $325,000 on television and radio broadcast stations that violate rules on airing profanity or sexually explicit material.

The measure had languished for almost 16 months, drawing criticism from family groups and conservatives including Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, a likely 2008 contender for the Republican presidential nomination.

Lawmakers demanded higher fines on broadcasters after pop singer Janet Jackson briefly exposed her breast during the 2004 Super Bowl football halftime show broadcast on national television.

"Radio and television waves are public property and the companies who profit from using the public airwaves should face meaningful fines for broadcasting indecent material," said Sen. Sam Brownback, a Kansas Republican and author of the bill.

The Federal Communications Commission is the agency responsible for reviewing indecency complaints and the current maximum fine that can be imposed is $32,500 per violation.

The U.S. House of Representatives more than a year ago passed a bill that would hike fines to as much as $500,000 per violation and require the FCC to consider revoking a station's license after three indecency violations.

House and Senate negotiators will have to work out their differences before any increase can become law.

Federal regulations bar broadcast television and radio stations from airing obscene material and restrict indecent material -- like sexually explicit discussions or profanity -- to late-night hours when children are less likely to be watching or listening.

Those limits do not apply to satellite or cable services.

The FCC fined 20 CBS Corp. television stations $550,000 for the Jackson incident. CBS apologized, but some have argued that the current fines are an insufficient deterrent to broadcasters that earn billions of dollars in revenue annually.

CBS has challenged the fine.


House votes to keep offshore drilling ban

House votes to keep offshore drilling ban
By Tom Doggett

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - In a big win for environmentalists, the U.S. House of Representatives voted on Thursday to keep the congressional ban on natural gas drilling in most federal offshore waters that start just a few miles from state coastlines.

Energy companies have complained for years they need access to the trillions of cubic feet of natural gas in federal waters where drilling is banned to help meet growing gas demand that has lifted natural gas prices amid tighter supplies.

High gas costs have forced many energy-intensive industries to scale back or move their operations to other countries where energy is cheaper. Higher natural gas utility bills have also pinched consumers.

The full House voted 217-203 to reverse last week's move by the House Appropriations Committee to include language in the $26 billion interior and environment spending bill that would have ended the congressional ban on gas drilling in federal waters.

The committee did not change the congressional ban on oil drilling, nor did it address a separate presidential ban in place until 2012 on oil and gas production in most federal offshore waters.

House lawmakers earlier rejected by 279-141 an amendment to the spending measure that would have also ended the drilling ban on oil.

Currently, only the central and western Gulf of Mexico and limited areas off Alaska are open to drilling. The committee's action would allow companies to search for gas in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans and the eastern Gulf of Mexico off the Florida coast.

Supporters and opponents of the gas drilling ban predicted the House vote would be close. With midterm congressional elections months away, voters are angry about high energy prices.

Florida lawmakers were the most outspoken critics of expanding gas drilling in federal waters, arguing that rigs within view of their coastline or a drilling accident would harm the state's valuable tourism industry.

Environmental groups said the ban should stay because it would take about seven years for natural gas to begin flowing from any new leases, which would not affect current prices.

"In the midst of planning summer trips to the beach, Americans deserve energy policies that save families money and protect their favorite vacation spots. Drilling off our coasts won't do either," said Carl Pope, the Sierra Club's executive director.

The American Gas Association said the House vote "signals growing support for re-examination" of offshore drilling restrictions and it "will add tremendous momentum" to other bills moving through the Congress in the coming months to open more federal waters to energy exploration.

Separately, the House removed from the spending bill language that supports, but does not require, mandatory limits on the amount of greenhouse gas emissions linked to global warning that could be spewed by U.S. power plants, oil refineries and other industrial facilities.

The nonbinding global warming provision was similar to language adopted last year by the Senate, but it was dropped from the House bill because it violated House rules that prevent legislating policy on spending measures.

The House also struck language directing the Interior Department to renegotiate drilling contracts the government signed in the 1990s with energy companies that will allow them to avoid paying billions of dollars in federal royalties on their oil and gas production in the Gulf of Mexico.

Opponents to the drilling contract provision argued it also violated House rules against using spending bills to legislate.

The House also adopted on a 237-181 vote an amendment that would eliminate logging subsidies in Alaska's Tongass National Forest.

It also moved on a 222-198 vote to block the Environmental Protection Agency from implementing water rules that environmentalists say would damage streams and wetlands.

The House approved the underlying spending bill 293-128. The Senate now takes up the legislation.


Thursday, May 18, 2006

New Fears of Security Risks in Electronic Voting Systems

The New York Times
New Fears of Security Risks in Electronic Voting Systems

CHICAGO, May 11 — With primary election dates fast approaching in many states, officials in Pennsylvania and California issued urgent directives in recent days about a potential security risk in their Diebold Election Systems touch-screen voting machines, while other states with similar equipment hurried to assess the seriousness of the problem.

"It's the most severe security flaw ever discovered in a voting system," said Michael I. Shamos, a professor of computer science at Carnegie Mellon University who is an examiner of electronic voting systems for Pennsylvania, where the primary is to take place on Tuesday.

Officials from Diebold and from elections' offices in numerous states minimized the significance of the risk and emphasized that there were no signs that any touch-screen machines had been tampered with. But computer scientists said the problem might allow someone to tamper with a machine's software, some saying they preferred not to discuss the flaw at all for fear of offering a roadmap to a hacker.

"This is the barn door being wide open, while people were arguing over the lock on the front door," said Douglas W. Jones, a professor of computer science at the University of Iowa, a state where the primary is June 6.

The latest concern about the touch-screen machines was only the newest chapter in an emerging political and legal fight around the country over voting machines. While some voting officials defend the ease of touch-screens (similar to A.T.M.'s), some advocacy groups argue that optical scan machines, using paper ballots, are far more secure.

The wave of high-tech voting machines was prompted by the 2000 election in Florida, which spotlighted the problems of old-fashioned punch card ballots. But the machines that soon followed have spurred division. Here in Chicago, where voters used both touch-screen and optical-scan systems in a March primary, it took officials a week to tally all the votes because of technical problems and human errors, touching off a flurry of criticism over the Sequoia Voting Systems equipment.

In Maryland this spring, the State House of Delegates passed a bill that would have scrapped touch-screen machines, but the Senate last month took no action on the bill, effectively killing the idea.

This week, Voter Action, a nonprofit group, assisted voters in Arizona in filing for a legal injunction to try to block the state from buying touch-screen electronic voting systems. The suit is among several the group says it has pursued, in states including California, New York and New Mexico.

The new concerns about Diebold's equipment were discovered by Harri Hursti, a Finnish computer expert who was working at the request of Black Box Voting Inc., a nonprofit group that has been critical of electronic voting in the past. The group issued a report on the findings on Thursday.

Computer scientists who have studied the vulnerability say the flaw might allow someone with brief access to a voting machine and with knowledge of computer code to tamper with the machine's software, and even, potentially, to spread malicious code to other parts of the voting system.

As word of Mr. Hursti's findings spread, Diebold issued a warning to recipients of thousands of its machines, saying that it had found a "theoretical security vulnerability" that "could potentially allow unauthorized software to be loaded onto the system."

The company's letter went on: "The probability for exploiting this vulnerability to install unauthorized software that could affect an election is considered low."

David Bear, a spokesman for Diebold Election Systems, said the potential risk existed because the company's technicians had intentionally built the machines in such a way that election officials would be able to update their systems in years ahead.

"For there to be a problem here, you're basically assuming a premise where you have some evil and nefarious election officials who would sneak in and introduce a piece of software," he said. "I don't believe these evil elections people exist."

Still, he said, the company will in the coming months solve the vulnerability, but not before most primary elections occur.

In places where the machines are used, most election officials said they were not worried.

"We're prepared for those types of problems," said Deborah Hench, the registrar of voters in San Joaquin County, Calif. "There are always activists that are anti-electronic voting, and they're constantly trying to put pressure on us to change our system."

Aviel Rubin, a professor of computer science at Johns Hopkins University, did the first in-depth analysis of the security flaws in the source code for Diebold touch-screen machines in 2003. After studying the latest problem, he said: "I almost had a heart attack. The implications of this are pretty astounding."

Gretchen Ruethling contributed reporting from Chicago for this article, and John Schwartz from New York.