Saturday, June 03, 2006

Names and credit-card numbers of 243,000 customers were on a laptop stolen from an Ernst & Young employee

CNNmoney credit-card numbers stolen
Names and credit-card numbers of 243,000 customers were on a laptop stolen from an Ernst & Young employee.

NEW YORK ( - The names and credit-card numbers of 243,000 customers were on a laptop computer stolen from an employee of accounting firm Ernst & Young, according to sources familiar with the matter., which is owned by Expedia (Research) and Ernst & Young, its auditor, began notifying customers that their information was stolen last week.

The theft occurred in February, according to news reports, but Ernst & Young only recently was able to determine what was on the computer's hard drive.

A spokesman from Ernst & Young declined to confirm the exact date of the theft.

"The security and confidentiality of our client information is of critical importance to Ernst & Young and we regret any inconvenience or concern this incident may have caused and their customers," Ernst & Young said in a statement.

Ernst & Young added that the computer was password-protected there was no indication the information had been accessed or misused.

Other personal items were stolen as well, according to the accounting firm.

"The crime appears to be a random theft, and we have no indication that the thief was specifically targeting the laptop or any information contained on it."


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Friday, June 02, 2006

Feds to city: drop dead
Feds to city: drop dead
Homeland honcho cuts funds by 40%

BY MICHAEL SAUL in New York and MICHAEL McAULIFF in Washington

A new report from the Homeland Security Department deems that New York City has no national icons that deserve special protection from potential terrorist threats.
The city was stunned yesterday to find that its share of federal anti-terror funds was slashed nearly in half by bureaucrats who said it has no national icons to protect and lousy defense plans.

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff determined, however, that cities that have never been targeted by Al Qaeda — like Louisville, Atlanta and Omaha — deserve whopping increases.

"This is a knife in the back," fumed a furious Rep. Pete King (R-L.I.), chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee. "As far as I'm concerned, the Department of Homeland Security has declared war on New York."

Mayor Bloomberg ridiculed Homeland Security's reasoning.

"When you stop a terrorist, they have a map of New York City in their pocket. They don't have a map of any of the other 46 places or 45 places [that get funding]," he fumed.

The city will get $125 million from the feds' high-threat bank account, a 40% cut from the $207 million it received last year. The Homeland money pot was smaller overall this year, but the rest of the country is being trimmed just 14%.

The lowball dollar amount puts at risk the NYPD's plan to build a "ring of steel" of security measures around lower Manhattan — surveillance cameras, computerized license plate readers and vehicle barriers.

The NYPD had asked the feds for $89.1 million for the system, modeled after London's security program. London's system gained worldwide recognition last summer when police cameras provided images of the bombers who attacked its transit system.

Heaping insult on injury, Homeland Security reviewers slammed some of the city's key anti-terror programs as among the worst in the nation — including the vaunted NYPD counterterrorism unit.

Emergency plans for the police, fire, hospitals and other city departments were considered so inferior that "a special condition will be included in the grant award prohibiting drawdown of funds ... until they have been approved through DHS," Homeland's assessment concluded.

"These are the same bean counters who think that the Statue of Liberty, Empire State Building and Brooklyn Bridge are not national monuments or icons," scoffed Bloomberg spokesman Jordan Barowitz.

A Homeland Security spokesman insisted New York's cut was based on a powerful new matrix that crunches millions of bits of data to figure out where money is most needed.

"We're quite frankly getting highly sophisticated in our ability to analyze threat," said Russ Knocke.

Knocke would not address specifically why a threat-based assessment cut funds for a city that has been attacked twice and targeted repeatedly by Islamic terrorists.

"It's not so much fighting the last war, it's taking in the threat picture today," he said. "We've got to apply dollars where they will have the greatest impact."

But a document obtained by the Daily News that explains what Homeland Security reviewers were looking at in their analysis suggests key data were missing.

For instance, in the category "national monuments and icons," the feds list none. For banking and finance businesses, they could find only four worth more than $8 billion, when the Bloomberg administration estimates there are at least 20.

"How do you leave every single landmark in the most famous city in the world off of that list?" said Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.), who along with King was demanding a meeting with Chertoff.

Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) blamed the White House and said, "I don't think the President should come back and express solidarity with New York until there is more funding."

Bloomberg said the city wouldn't change its approach. "We're going to continue to do what it takes to keep this city safe and then worry about the money," he said.

With Alison Gendar and Dorian Block

More money to guard nothing

The fire chief of Charlotte, N.C., admits his city doesn't have any national monuments in danger of being bombed. And a spokesman for Omaha is "not aware" of a single credible threat against his municipality since 9/11.

Yet these cities are among 15 that received an increase in homeland security funding this year, while New York City's allotment was slashed.

Most of the lucky localities are using their windfall to buy equipment, beef up training or create emergency response plans.

In Louisville, Ky., for instance, the money will go toward creating a new communication system for first responders to a disaster.

A spokeswoman drew on the failure of FDNY radios in the World Trade Center attack on 9/11 — even though the tallest building in Louisville tops out at 35 stories.

Here's how some cities are faring under the new budget:

Jacksonville, Fla. 2005 funds: $6.8 million. 2006 funds: $9.2 million. Increase: 26%. Major landmark: Alltel Stadium, home of Jacksonville Jaguars.

St. Louis; 2005 funds: $7 million. 2006 funds: $9.2 million. Increase: 23.6%. Major landmark: Gateway Arch.

Louisville, Ky.; 2005 funds: $5 million. 2006 funds: $8.5 million. Increase: 41.2%. Major landmark: Churchill Downs race track.

Omaha 2005 funds: $5.1 million. 2006 funds: $8.3 million. Increase: 38.2%. Major landmark: Offutt Air Force Base.

Tracy Connor


Pork 1, Antiterrorism 0

The New York Times
Pork 1, Antiterrorism 0

If Al Qaeda is planning on following up its 2001 attacks on New York and Washington with an assault on Nebraska, the Department of Homeland Security's new urban areas security grants are brilliant. But, of course, the White House, Wall Street and densely populated urban areas are the most likely terrorist targets, and these are precisely the places the department dangerously shortchanged this week. The new grants, which slash spending for New York and Washington by 40 percent — and shower money on Omaha and Louisville — are more about pork barrel politics than security. Given how important the stakes are in protecting the nation against terrorism, they are also a disgrace.

Scarce antiterrorism money should be rigorously aimed at the places most at risk of attack, but the Bush administration and Congress have consistently refused to do so. While efforts to protect subway riders in New York City and federal workers in downtown Washington are badly underfinanced, places that would be bizarre targets have been swimming in federal funds. The Northwest Arctic Borough, an Alaskan area of 7,300 people, spent $233,000 a while back to buy decontamination tents, night vision goggles and other equipment.

This week, the Department of Homeland Security has skewed things even further against Americans who live in the places that are most likely to be attacked. New York's share of the urban areas security program falls to $124 million from $207 million last year, and Washington's falls to $46 million from $77 million.

There appear to be serious problems with the department's evaluation process. Rather than having impartial antiterrorism experts make recommendations, it relied on anonymous "peer reviewers" recommended by governors, mayors and local homeland security departments. The panels appear to have been too focused on politics, and not enough on safety. The resistance to financing operating costs, like police overtime, ignores the fact that day-to-day groundwork does the most to combat terrorism.

Some of the specifics of the decision process are downright bizarre. New York City's evaluation found that it had no "national monuments or icons." The department concedes that omitting the Statute of Liberty was an "oversight," but it still seems unaware that to many would-be terrorists, the biggest American icon of all is simply — New York.

The responsibility for the bad allocations lies with President Bush and Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff. But Congress also has a poor record in this area. Representatives of high-population states like New York, California and Texas have continually lost out in their efforts to enact a more risk-based formula. Congressmen from the areas that have been shortchanged this week are vowing to fight. Representative Peter King, a New York Republican who is chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, says he wants New York to be "made whole," either by adjusting the most recent grants or finding money from other budgetary sources.

When President Bush and the Republican Party were looking for a backdrop for their 2004 national convention that symbolized America's war on terror, they came to New York City, not Omaha. Mr. Bush and Mr. Chertoff owe the American people a system that recognizes the vulnerability of places like New York and Washington not just when the television cameras are rolling, but when the money is being handed out.


Bush & Republicans once again putting up false issue to con voters: Gay Marriage Ban Amendment that has no chance of passing

Bush to back gay marriage ban amendment

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Bush will promote a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage on Monday, the eve of a scheduled Senate vote on the cause that is dear to his conservative backers.

The amendment would prohibit states from recognizing same-sex marriages. To become law, the proposal would need two-thirds support in the Senate and House, and then be ratified by at least 38 state legislatures.

It stands little chance of passing the 100-member Senate, where proponents are struggling to get even 50 votes. Several Republicans oppose the measure, and so far only one Democrat — Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska — says he will vote for it.

The Senate Judiciary Committee approved the amendment on May 18 along party lines after a shouting match between a Democrat and the chairman, Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa. He bid Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., "good riddance" after Feingold declared his opposition to the amendment and his intention to leave the meeting.

Bush aides said he would be making his remarks on the subject Monday.

A slim majority of Americans oppose gay marriage, according to a poll by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press from March. But the poll also showed attitudes are changing: 63% opposed gay marriage in February 2004.

Those poll results don't reflect how people might feel about amending the Constitution to ban gay marriage.

The Massachusetts Supreme Court decided to legalize such marriages in 2003. A year later, San Francisco issued thousands of marriage licenses to gay couples.

This November, initiatives banning same-sex marriages are expected to be on the ballot in Idaho, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Virginia and Wisconsin. In 2004, 13 states approved initiatives prohibiting gay marriage or civil unions, with 11 states casting votes on Election Day.

Bush benefited as religious conservatives turned out to vote and helped him defeat Democratic Sen. John Kerry in 2004. In Ohio, an initiative rejecting the legality of civil unions won handily. The same state tipped the election to Bush.

"The president firmly believes that marriage is an enduring and sacred institution between men and women and has supported measures to protect the sanctity of marriage," White House spokesman Ken Lisaius said.

Bush has lost support among conservatives who blame the White House and Congress for runaway government spending, illegal immigration and lack of action on social issues such as the gay marriage amendment.

Opponents of the amendment objected to Bush promoting a measure they said amounts to discrimination.

"This is fundamentally both a civil rights and religious freedom issue and the president's position of supporting amending the constitution is just dead wrong," said Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State. "This is simply to give ammunition to the so-called religious right just to show that the president is still with them."

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FEC fines Frist's 2000 Senate campaign

FEC fines Frist's 2000 Senate campaign

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Federal Election Commission has determined that Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist's 2000 Senate campaign violated federal campaign finance laws.

The federal agency fined Frist 2000, Inc., $11,000, according to a lawyer representing Frist's campaign and a watchdog group. Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington had filed a complaint last year against Frist's 2000 campaign committee and received the FEC's findings Thursday.

The FEC found that Frist 2000, Inc., failed to disclose a $1.44 million loan taken out jointly by the campaign and Frist's 1994 campaign committee.

The Tennessee Republican, who was elected to the Senate in 1994, is not seeking another term and is weighing a possible bid for the presidency in 2008.

Federal law requires full disclosure of any loans taken out by campaign committees. Frist's 1994 campaign committee did disclose the loan to the FEC in January 2001, but the 2000 campaign did not, according to the FEC.

In an agreement reached with the Frist campaign committee, the agency said Frist 2000, Inc., violated the law by failing to report the loan in its January 2001 campaign finance report and did not properly report the repayment of the loan in a July 2001 report.

Jason Torchinsky, a lawyer representing Frist 2000, Inc., said the campaign settled the FEC complaint. "What the FEC suggested, we believe would have resulted in double reporting of the loan," Torchinsky said.

Melanie Sloan, executive director of the watchdog group, praised the FEC action.

"We have campaign finance laws, and everyone's supposed to abide by them," she said. "It's such a clear area of the law."

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New 'Iraq massacre' tape emerges

New 'Iraq massacre' tape emerges

New footage
The BBC has uncovered new video evidence that US forces may have been responsible for the deliberate killing of 11 innocent Iraqi civilians.

The video appears to challenge the US military's account of events that took place in the town of Ishaqi in March.

The US said at the time four people died during a military operation, but Iraqi police claimed that US troops had deliberately shot the 11 people.

A spokesman for US forces in Iraq told the BBC an inquiry was under way.

The new evidence comes in the wake of the alleged massacre in Haditha, where US marines are suspected of killing up to 24 Iraqi civilians in November 2005 and covering up the deaths.

The incident is being investigated by the Pentagon.

The US military has announced that coalition troops in Iraq are to have ethical training following the furore surrounding the alleged killings.

For the next 30 days, they would receive lessons in "core warrior values", a military statement said.

The news of ethical training for US-led troops is likely to be greeted with cynicism by many Iraqis, the BBC's Ian Pannell in Baghdad says, as the troops have long been accused of deliberately targeting civilians.


The video pictures obtained by the BBC appear to contradict the US account of the events in Ishaqi, about 100km (60 miles) north of Baghdad, on 15 March 2006.

The US authorities said they were involved in a firefight after a tip-off that an al-Qaeda supporter was visiting the house.

According to the Americans, the building collapsed under heavy fire killing four people - a suspect, two women and a child.

But a report filed by Iraqi police accused US troops of rounding up and deliberately shooting 11 people in the house, including five children and four women, before blowing up the building.

The video tape obtained by the BBC shows a number of dead adults and children at the site with what our world affairs editor John Simpson says were clearly gunshot wounds.

The pictures came from a hardline Sunni group opposed to coalition forces.

It has been cross-checked with other images taken at the time of events and is believed to be genuine, the BBC's Ian Pannell in Baghdad says.

Story from BBC NEWS:


Army takes blame for Katrina flood

Army 'to blame' for Katrina flood

The US Army Corps of Engineers says it was responsible for the failure of New Orleans flood defences during Hurricane Katrina.

Levees and floodwalls failed because of engineering and design problems, the Corps said in a report.

More than 1,300 people died when Hurricane Katrina swept across five states last August and more than three-quarters of the city was flooded.

The report came as Mayor Ray Nagin was sworn in for his second term.

Mr Nagin, 49, was narrowly re-elected in May, winning 52% of the vote. He was sworn in at the Convention Centre, where thousands sheltered during the hurricane.

The ceremony came on the same day as the official start of the hurricane season.


The US Army Corps of Engineers oversees flood control projects nationwide and was responsible for the levees in New Orleans.

The 6,000-page report said that when Hurricane Katrina hit, New Orleans had a system of levees inconsistent in quality and design.

In May, an independent probe by the University of California, Berkeley, found that New Orleans flood protection was routinely under-funded.

Engineers also failed to account for poor soil quality which led to subsidence, causing some sections to be up to 60cm lower than others, the report said.

New research published in the Nature journal has revealed that parts of the city were sinking much faster than previously thought before Hurricane Katrina hit.

Parts of the report on the Corps, which was compiled by the Interagency Performance Evaluation Task Force, have been released already, but this final version is the most in-depth.

It urged the Corps to adopt a new approach on assessing worthwhile projects "without reducing everything to one measure such as dollars".

Corps head Lt-Gen Carl Strock said the Corps had to admit to "a catastrophic failure", saying he was "enormously troubled by the suffering of so many".

The Corps says it is committed to fixing the flood defences, the Associated Press news agency reported.

Story from BBC NEWS:


One Fifth of Guantanamo inmates on hunger strike

One Fifth of Guantanamo inmates on hunger strike
By Jane Sutton

MIAMI (Reuters) - The number of prisoners on hunger strike at the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay navy base grew by more than a dozen to 89 on Thursday, a spokesman for the controversial detention center said.

Six of those were being force-fed through tubes pushed into their stomachs via their noses, including three who had refused food since August, said Navy Cmdr. Robert Durand.

The U.S. military considers detainees to be on a hunger strike when they have skipped nine consecutive meals, and the number meeting that definition grew to 89 on Thursday from 75 on Monday, Durand said.

The U.S. naval base in southeast Cuba holds about 460 foreign men suspected by the United States of being al Qaeda and Taliban conspirators. Hunger strikes have waxed and waned since shortly after the first prisoners arrived in 2002.

Detention camp officials have called the hunger strikes an attempt by the prisoners to gain media attention, to protest their indefinite detention and to put pressure on the United States to release them.

Their lawyers say it is a sign of despair.

Only 10 of the prisoners held at Guantanamo as enemy combatants have been charged with crimes, and the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to rule by the end of June whether those war crimes trials are constitutional.

Military officials said 287 Guantanamo prisoners have been freed or transferred to other governments, and negotiations are going on to return more than 100 others to their homelands for continued detention.


FBI wants Internet records kept 2 years

FBI wants Internet records kept 2 years: source
By Jeremy Pelofsky and Michele Gershberg

WASHINGTON/NEW YORK (Reuters) - The Federal Bureau of Investigation wants U.S. Internet providers to retain Web address records for up to two years to aid investigations into terrorism and pornography, a source familiar with the matter said on Thursday.

The request came during a May 26 meeting between U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and FBI Director Robert Mueller with top executives at companies like Google Inc., Microsoft Corp. and Time Warner Inc.'s AOL.

"I think there is less of a willingness to passively go along with this type of request than there might have been a year ago," said the source, mentioning the recent uproar over a report that telephone companies had provided call records to the National Security Agency.

A Justice Department spokesman confirmed the meeting but was not immediately available to comment on how long law enforcement officials wanted the records retained.

"This meeting was an initial discussion for the Attorney General to gather information and to solicit input from Internet service provider executives on the issues associated with data retention," said spokesman Brian Roehrkasse.

The source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Gonzales presented blurred images of child pornography and explained why he thought retaining data was important to those investigations. At issue was Internet protocol addresses.

When one industry executive questioned how long the government wanted the records kept, Mueller said for two years and that the data would also be used for anti-terrorism purposes, said the source.

The Justice Department has tangled before with Internet companies over gaining access to records, subpoenaing search data from Google to defend an online pornography law. The government cut the size of its demand and Google acquiesced.

In that instance, Microsoft and Yahoo Inc. had turned over search information after receiving assurances that no specific customer data was involved.

The IP address is key to unlocking what a person does online, what site they visited what terms they searched, who they e-mailed and what they downloaded, the source noted. Internet providers usually change the address data within several days to several weeks.

Two big high-speed Internet service providers, Verizon Communications and Comcast Corp., also attended the meeting last week, the source said.

The Justice Department spokesman said Internet companies would retain the information and the government would only gain access to the records through legal means like a subpoena. "Internet service providers would retain the information," Roehrkasse said.

If Congress is going to be asked to pass legislation ordering Internet providers to retain data they won't be asked for content of that data but rather addresses e-mails were sent and sites they visited, Roehrkasse said.

Recommendations are expected to be submitted to Gonzales in the next several weeks, according to another source.

Data retention is a "complicated issue with implications not only for efforts to combat child pornography but also for security, privacy, safety, and availability of low-cost or free Internet services," said Microsoft senior security strategist Phil Reitinger.

Google spokesman Steve Langdon said proposals by the United States and European Union on data retention "require careful review and must balance the legitimate interests of individual users, law enforcement agencies, and Internet companies."

The Justice Department's chief privacy officer on Thursday met with a group of officials from rights groups including the Electronic Privacy Information Center, the Center for American Progress, Cato Institute, the Center for Democracy and Technology, Roehrkasse said.

The American Civil Liberties Union was also invited but did not attend, he said. Other Justice Department officials were meeting with victims rights groups and law enforcement groups to discuss the same issues.

(Additional reporting Deborah Charles in Washington, Daisuke Wakabayashi in Seattle and Eric Auchard in San Francisco)


Thursday, June 01, 2006

Bush's Homeland Security to New York: We don't care if you all die!

The New York Times
Security Cuts for New York and Washington

WASHINGTON, May 31 — After vowing to steer a greater share of antiterrorism money to the highest-risk communities, Department of Homeland Security officials on Wednesday announced 2006 grants that slashed money for New York and Washington 40 percent, while other cities including Omaha and Louisville, Ky., got a surge of new dollars.

The release of the 2006 urban area grants, which total $711 million, was immediately condemned by leaders in Washington and New York.

"When you stop a terrorist, they have a map of New York City in their pocket," Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg of New York said. "They don't have a map of any of the other 46 or 45 places."

In Washington, Mayor Anthony Williams said: "It was very shortsighted for the federal government to gut our homeland security funding program, even more so because so many dollars continue to be spent in rural areas that are far less likely to emerge as targets."

Homeland security officials said the grants were a result of a more sophisticated evaluation process, combined with a smaller overall allocation of money from Congress.

For the first time, they said, teams of law enforcement officials from around the nation evaluated the effectiveness of the spending proposals submitted by the 46 eligible urban areas, cutting grants for cities that had shoddy or poorly articulated plans.

"We want to make sure we are not simply pushing dollars out of Washington," said Tracy Henke, assistant secretary for grants and training. "The reality is you have to understand that there is risk throughout the nation."

The net effect was that the grant to New York City, which was $207.6 million last year, will drop to $124.5 million this year. Washington will see its grant dollars drop to $46.5 million this year from $77.5 million.

While some cities lost money, other gained. Money for Louisville, Omaha and Charlotte, N.C., jumped by about 40 percent, with grants to each of about $8.5 million. Money for Newark and Jersey City, which received a combined grant, rose 44 percent, to $34 million. Chicago, Atlanta and the Los Angeles area each received smaller, but still sizable increases, an action that drew praise.

"Finally, risk-based funding is kicking in," Representative Jane Harman, Democrat of California, said in a statement. "Los Angeles, the top terrorist target on the West Coast, is beginning to get the necessary funding to protect its people and critical infrastructure."

Gail Braun, grant administrator in Omaha, said she was pleased that the department also recognized the needs of smaller cities. In Omaha, Ms. Braun said, the $8.3 million will be invested primarily in emergency communications equipment and training.

"Any kind of an attack can happen here in the Midwest as well," she said. "We want to make sure we can respond or prevent it in the first place."

Representative Peter T. King, Republican of New York, who is chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security, said the allocation formula was flawed.

"This is indefensible," Mr. King said. "It's a knife in the back to New York, and I'm going to do everything I can to make them very sorry they made this decision."

He said senior department officials who had briefed him about the grants made clear that they were unimpressed with the city's plan.

For example, New York spends a large share of its grant money to cover overtime costs for police officers who are guarding high-risk targets, like bridges or the subways, a recurring expense.

New York, in the coming year, also intended to spend about $80 million in grants to install a security camera system in the Wall Street area, allowing the police to monitor details as small as license plates, an approach similar to the so-called Ring of Steel in London, said Paul J. Browne, the deputy police commissioner.

But the emphasis on spending on recurring costs — like overtime — was cited as a factor in the relatively low rating the city's application received, one federal official said.

New York officials were given a one-page tally that explained, in part, how the region's risk-based standing was calculated. The document said the region had no "national monuments or icons," four banking or financial firms with assets of over $8 billion, 28 chemical or hazardous material sites, as well as nearly 7,000 other possible important, high-risk targets, like hospitals or major office buildings, a tally that some city officials said had major omissions or errors.

"It's outrageous that these bean counters don't think the Statue of Liberty, Empire State Building and Brooklyn Bridge are national monuments or icons," said Jordon Barowitz, a spokesman for Mayor Bloomberg.

The $711 million in so-called Urban Area Security Initiative grants was one piece of a larger $1.7 billion pool awarded to states on Wednesday, which is hundreds of millions less than was available last year.

Over all, New York State will get $183.7 million, a 20 percent drop from last year. That means that the state's per capita share of grant money, which totals $2.78 a person, will drop to an even lower level compared with some rural states, like Wyoming, which will get $14.83 a person this year, according to a calculation by Representative Carolyn B. Maloney, Democrat of New York.

In the first three years that grants were made, New York and Washington received more than any other urban areas. To date, New York has collected $404 million, while Washington has $167 million, compared with $71 million for Houston, $120 million for Chicago, $12.8 million for Charlotte, which all received increases this year.

Ms. Henke, while not explicitly making this point on Wednesday, did say that the department had taken into account regions that had the most work to do to raise their level of preparedness to a national standard.

"It does not mean in any way that the risk in New York is any different or changed or any lower," she said.

Diane Cardwell contributed reporting from New York for this article.


Judge Orders Ashcroft, DOJ To Come Clean on Attorney-Client Surveillance
Judge Orders Ashcroft, DOJ To Come Clean on Attorney-Client Surveillance
Shayana Kadidal

Yesterday a judge ordered the Bush Administration to finally come clean about spying on some attorney-client conversations.

As The New York Times reports, the order means that the administration "cannot dodge" a "persistent and unwelcome question: Are members of the United States trial team and likely witnesses -- including Mr. Ashcroft and Robert S. Mueller III, the F.B.I. director -- aware of any secret government monitoring of communications between the plaintiffs and their lawyers?"

That crucial question has been simmering for months because the Bush Administration has vigorously fought to avoid answering it in court, even though US law protects the confidentiality of attorney-client conversations. The case, Turkmen v. Ashcroft, was filed against former Attorney General John Ashcroft on behalf of people detained after the September 11th attacks, and brought by my organization, the Center for Constitutional Rights, and attorneys from Covington & Burling, our pro bono co-counsel. (Yesterday's order also applies to the companion case, Elmaghraby v. Ashcroft, brought by the Urban Justice Center and the law firms Koob & Magoolaghan and Weil Gotshal & Manges.)

Before diving into the details of this case, it's important to view this order in the context of the administration's illegal spying program. When the Program is challenged, the administration has simple talking points: Say it prevents terrorism, and say everything else is classified. But both points are false.

Several experts and newspapers have demonstrated that massive, warrantless surveillance is ineffective - more likely to waste time on dead ends than catch high-level terrorists. And many aspects of the government's domestic spying are basically the opposite of classified; they have been heavily promoted by the President and senior administration officials. Yet the secrecy arguments continue to pop up whenever the administration is under pressure to reveal potentially damaging information, or when it is challenged in court.

Government attorneys tried to play the "secrecy card" in this case, but the Judge explicitly rejected the administration's claims as unbelievable, concluding that:

"Any claim that sensitive secrets would be revealed by the government's disclosure of whether conversations between plaintiffs and their counsel in this case were monitored is hard to fathom."

In coming to this conclusion, the Court cited President Bush's promotion of the NSA program, noting that "the government's electronic surveillance of individuals suspected of links to terrorism has received widespread publicity and has even been acknowledged by the president of the United States." In other words, the administration has already divulged so much about the program that it cannot plausibly claim secrecy prevents them from disclosing whether our clients and we were eavesdropped upon. So much for the secrecy card.

But the government's attempt to hide potential surveillance of American attorneys could have far-reaching consequences. Michael Winger, a member of the Turkmen v. Ashcroft trial team and Special Counsel at Covington & Burling, explained today why the administration's position is problematic for due process and potential surveillance in other cases:

It's the government's position which makes these surveillance issues a huge problem now. The law is straightforward: if the government intercepts attorney-client communications in a case involving the government, then it has to make full disclosure. That means saying what was intercepted, who heard or read the interception, and what was done with the information. Based on those facts, a court decides what to do about it. I think that historically the Department of Justice has been quite scrupulous about these things. But this administration evidently has the view that if it claims national security, it doesn't have to disclose anything to anyone. The government offered to make some disclosures in the Turkmen case, but very limited. If that position holds up, then anyone with a foreign client suing the U.S. government has no way of knowing whether anyone is listening to telephone conversations, or who, or who gets told. But Judge Gold rejected the government position.

That rejection means that John Ashcroft, Robert Mueller, the government attorneys and their supervisors must all state whether they have any knowledge of surveillance or monitoring of the opposing attorneys and plaintiffs. The order also requires the government to state whether any information from surveillance will be "used in any way by the United States in its defense of these cases and, if so, identify the information that will be so used."

The surveillance issue has been an unwelcome distraction from the underlying civil rights case, challenging the profiling and detention policies of the US government. It is an important civil rights challenge that the administration has been fighting hard to beat back.

CCR filed the suit in April 2002 against senior US officials and employees of a detention center in Brooklyn, charging that the government used racial profiling to arrest people after the September 11 attacks on the pretext of minor immigration violations, and treated them as terror subjects based on their ethnicity and religion, subjecting them to prolonged and brutal detention. The arrests targeted male Muslim non-citizens from Arab and South Asian countries who had overstayed their visas or otherwise appeared to be out of status. Under Justice Department policies devised in the aftermath of the attacks, these individuals were deemed to be of "special interest" to the government's terrorism investigation, notwithstanding the absence of any evidence linking them to terrorism. On the pretext of minor immigration violations, the INS held them in detention for months while the FBI cleared them of any links to terrorism. In the end, all were released and deported: not a single one of the hundreds of "special interest" detainees was ever charged with having any link to terrorism. The suit also charges that some detainees were improperly assigned to the Administrative Maximum Special Housing Unit, kept in solitary confinement with the lights on 24 hours a day, placed under a communications blackout so that they could not seek the assistance of their attorneys, families, and friends, subjected to physical and verbal abuse, forced to endure inhumane conditions of confinement including repeated unjustifiable strip-searches, obstructed in their efforts to practice their religion, and videotaped during meetings with their attorneys.

The Turkmen case was one of the first challenges brought to this administration's post-9/11 policies, and it neatly demonstrates most of the failures of those policies. With the intelligence agencies caught off guard by 9/11, the government relied on broad-brush, profiling methods to arrest hundreds of people and threw vast amounts of resources at investigating and detaining them, all without a shred of real evidence establishing probable cause to suspect them as terrorists. Like the warrantless NSA wiretapping, this turned out to be a huge waste of effort: of the hundreds of detainees, none turned out to have any link to terrorism. And throughout the process, the government attempted to stifle judicial scrutiny of their actions, by denying the detainees access to lawyers in the first weeks after 9/11, barring the press from their immigration court hearings, and recording their conversations with lawyers in the prison. The revelation of the NSA program indicates that this surveillance may have continued even after our clients were deported.

By intimidating clients and lawyers alike from challenging the government's unconstitutional behavior in court, this kind of surveillance is part and parcel of the government's attempts to wrap a wall of secrecy around all its counterterrorism efforts, diminishing the accountability of law enforcement by removing judicial and media oversight. The end result, predictably, has been ineffective law enforcement. Yesterday's ruling is a first crack in that wall.


Fear of Failing: How can the Democrats win if the party is scared of its own shadow?

Fear of Failing
How can the Democrats win if the party is scared of its own shadow?
By Michael Hirsh

May 31, 2006 - A good therapist, we know, can sometimes help a person who’s lost his confidence or mental balance. But what do you do when an entire party needs therapy?

You’d think the Republicans would be the ones in need of professional help. This is a party burdened with a president so unpopular he barely has a base to stand on—Bush seems to be bypassing the lame-duck stage and heading straight for dead duck: a Vietnam-scale quagmire in Iraq and a post-Katrina rot of incompetence and corruption that is infecting the very foundations of the presidency and the GOP’s control of Congress. Not surprisingly, the Republicans are at each others' throats over this loss of prestige and popularity. Neoconservatives and traditionalists are fighting bitterly over foreign policy. Moderates and conservatives are battling over immigration and deficits. And when the maverick John McCain declares his candidacy for 2008 sometime in the next year, the Republicans will be shrieking at each other in public over abortion and other social issues.

But at least the GOP is engaged in a war over real policy choices. It is an emotional debate, often a hysterical and ill-informed one, but it is a fight among adults who know what they believe in and who have the guts to battle for it. By contrast the Democrats, ostensibly the party poised to exploit this GOP civil war, don't seem to remember what it is like to behave as adults. They resemble nothing so much as ill-adjusted adolescents, afraid of their own shadows, much less the presidency. What are they afraid of? Themselves, essentially: their past, their own left, the populist rhetoric of their leaders (Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, Howard Dean, Al Gore), the left-wing loony stigma represented by “Fahrenheit 9/11” filmmaker Michael Moore (every Dem’s favorite bugaboo). Above all they fear seeming and looking soft. They are all afflicted with varying degrees of megalophobia, a fear of assuming power. Even Dr. Melfi of “The Sopranos” wouldn’t take this case.

This psychological disability has been long in the making, of course. When it comes to national security, it has been eating at the heart of the Democratic Party since its biggest debacle, Vietnam, which destroyed the Dems' prideful self-image formed during World War II and the cold-war containment consensus. But never has this Democratic dysfunction been so apparent as now, the moment when the Dems should be striding confidently into the limelight to seize control of the national agenda. And none are more pathetically afflicted than those who purport to be the “new” Democrats, the “strong” ones, the ones who want to “resurrect” the gloried intestinal fortitude and moral fiber of FDR, Harry Truman and JFK.

The “strong” ones are actually the most timid. They are the ones who so fear that a leftie like Nancy Pelosi will become speaker of the House, they actually question whether it would be a good idea for the Dems to take control in 2006. They are the ones who think they can outhawk Bush on Iraq and promotion of democracy around the world, but they are mainly driven by a fear of criticizing the premises of his foreign policy, which is to say, his war on terror. While nitpicking and nattering over Bush’s “errors of execution,” they still embrace his fundamentals. In other words, they all continue to sound like unreconstructed John Kerrys, frightened of seeming soft. When they get together, this fear is virtually all they talk about. It is a fear that reeks from the party’s new draft platform for 2006, causing Leslie Gelb, the former president of the Council on Foreign Relations, to crack to liberal hawk Peter Beinert recently: “If you have to say you’re tough, you’re not.”

The champion of this “new” breed of Dem tough guys, of course, is Hillary Clinton, who every week, it seems, finds some new way of pandering to the right in her long, stealth march to the 2008 nomination. All in an apparent effort to escape her own shadow, her supposed liberal excesses from the early '90s.

One reason for the persistence of these Democratic phobias has been the party’s abysmal inability, a year and a half after the fact, to reckon with the real reason for Kerry’s loss in the 2004 campaign: once again, fear. Kerry’s campaign was driven by a fear of his shadow (his antiwar activism after Vietnam), of seeming too strident by attacking, even when he himself was being attacked (first by Karl Rove’s “senator flip-flop” campaign, then by the Swift Boat veterans). How else can one explain the inexplicable—the spectacle of a Silver Star winner made to look wimpy by two men who avoided combat? Simple: He was terrified of speaking out. His campaign even toned down the convention speech of that most mild-mannered of presidents, Jimmy Carter.

I hold no brief in this fight, being neither Democrat nor Republican. But here is a message to those few Democrats who retain their self-confidence and sanity (I’m not sure who you are, but there must be some): Come back from the shadows. If you can look past your fears, America’s entire national-security apparatus is out there making your case for you.

Talk to any responsible official or officer in the military, intelligence or diplomatic community. Most will tell you that Bush got most of the war on terror wrong (at least after the Taliban fell), that he invented a war of choice in Iraq and failed to finish the war of necessity against Al Qaeda. The toughest hombres in the country—not least some recently retired generals—are saying the “war president” has no clothes, that he has been, in effect, a disastrous war president. This is what I hear every week now as a reporter, from officials who identify themselves as Republican, Democrat or independent. It is what the facts, sadly, bear out: look at where the precipitous war in Iraq has brought us, and the new violence that is arising out of the unfinished business against the Taliban and Al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Yet the vast majority of Democratic leaders cannot bring themselves to say this—Hillary most prominently of all.

Sift through the wreckage of the neoconservative program that Bush adopted. Its central tenets—pre-emptive attacks on rogue regimes, unilateralist disdain for international legitimacy and institutions, the cavalier attitude that war and military solutions should be the primary, or default, approach to foreign problems—are all gone with the wind. What’s left? Effectively the foreign policy of pragmatic global leadership invented by such Democrats as FDR, Truman, JFK and Scoop Jackson, and largely endorsed by Republicans such as Dwight Eisenhower, Richard Nixon and, yes, even Ronald Reagan.

To oversimplify, its tenets are: Stand up for democracy and freedom, yes, but keep the international system on your side. Make use of the United Nations whenever you can, though not necessarily bending it to your needs when possible. Create as many allies as you can. Listen. Accommodate. Be magnanimous. Above all, make sure you have more guys on your side than your adversaries have on theirs. It is the policy that Bush, chastened and weakened by Iraq, has followed on Libya and North Korea, and it is the policy he now appears to be pursuing on Iran, having agreed to talk to Tehran. And it is largely Democratic in origins and practice.

But to get to the point where they can hark back to this simple program, and confidently embrace it without protesting too much about how tough they are, Democrats must first have the courage to strip bare the GOP’s failures. They must believe they're every bit as good on national security as their rivals. This courage is frankly not in evidence. Five and half years on we see the Republicans, as brazen and full of self-confidence as ever about their national-security credentials, and the Democrats, as timid and full of self-doubt as they ever have been over the same issue. Hence, the need for a good therapist, one with a very large office.

No one looks like a wimp when he or she tells the truth. And the public is crying, pleading for someone to tell the truth. The Democratic hawks seem to think that if they confront Bush over the fundamentals of his foreign policy, they will be forced to admit it was wrong to go into Iraq at the moment and in the way we did. And if they have to admit that, then they must back immediate withdrawal from Iraq. Nonsense. Most Americans now know, without being told, that American prestige is on the line in Iraq. And that any withdrawal will be slow and painful. This is now settled U.S. policy, and it will be followed by whoever the next president is, Democrat or Republican.

The country is desperate for adult leadership, for competence and authority—above all, for an honest reckoning with all that’s gone wrong. And the country isn’t getting it. Maybe that helps to explain the Al Gore revival under way. Here, at least, was someone who can remember what adulthood was like—what it was like to hold power. Most of his Democratic colleagues appear to have forgotten.


Stolen data on vets include addresses, phone numbers

Stolen data on vets include addresses, phone numbers
By Tom Vanden Brook, USA TODAY

WASHINGTON — The Veterans Affairs Department lost more personal data on 26.5 million veterans than it first acknowledged last week, according to a memo released Wednesday. In addition to Social Security numbers and birthdates, files stolen from a VA analyst's home last month included addresses and phone numbers in many cases, the memo said.

One file containing more than 6,700 records pertaining to veterans exposed to mustard gas was lost, said the memo, which was written by a VA privacy officer. The VA gave the memo to the House Veterans' Affairs Committee at the request of Rep. Bob Filner of California, the panel's acting ranking Democrat. USA TODAY obtained the memo from the committee.

Privacy experts say the Social Security numbers could be used to open fraudulent credit cards or bank accounts.

"These types of data contain more than limited financial information. The codes contain information about veterans' medical conditions," Filner said in a statement.

Joe Davis, a spokesman for the Veterans of Foreign Wars, said the VA needs to do a better job of reaching out to affected veterans. He said it's particularly important for the department to contact older veterans and their families to encourage them to monitor their bank and credit card accounts.

"It's maddening that the VA is not more forthcoming," Davis said.

Matthew Burns, a spokesman for the VA, said the department has taken aggressive steps to secure its data, including personnel changes in the department from which the data were lost.

"VA's initial and primary efforts have focused on notifying veterans and some spouses whose most sensitive and identifiable information ... may have been compromised," Burns said.

The VA said it was dismissing the analyst, and his supervisor has resigned. Dennis Duffy, the acting head of the division in which the analyst worked, has been placed on administrative leave.

Also Wednesday, VA Secretary Jim Nicholson named former Maricopa County, Ariz., prosecutor Richard Romley as his new special adviser for information security.

A department analyst had taken the data home on computer disks and an external storage device, the memo said. On May 3, burglars stole the disks, memory device and a laptop computer from the analyst's suburban Washington home. Nicholson has said that the crime appeared to be random and that the data were not a target.

The memo noted that the information was written in a code that requires training and software to access. The VA says it has not received reports of stolen data being used for fraudulent purposes.

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S.D. Abortion Ban Oppponents Petition
S.D. Abortion Ban Oppponents Petition
The Associated Press

PIERRE, S.D. -- An abortion rights group Tuesday submitted more than twice the number of the signatures needed to hold a statewide vote in November on whether to repeal South Dakota's ban on abortion.

The Legislature earlier this year passed the strictest abortion law in the nation, banning all abortions except those necessary to save a woman's life. The law, scheduled to take effect July 1, makes no exceptions for rape or incest.

The measure was aimed at sparking a court fight that supporters hope will lead to the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision that established the right to an abortion.

The South Dakota Campaign for Healthy Families said it turned in more than 38,000 signatures for a statewide referendum. The South Dakota secretary of state's office will check the validity of the signatures and determine whether the measure qualifies for the ballot.

Jan Nicolay, co-chairwoman of the South Dakota Campaign for Healthy Families, said she believes it would be the nation's first statewide election on abortion since Roe v. Wade. Opponents of the ban decided to pursue a popular vote instead of filing a lawsuit.

"We would prefer this be dealt with by the people of the state of South Dakota and not spend a lot of money fighting a legal battle," Nicolay said.

Leslee Unruh, an abortion opponent who lobbied for the ban, said she believes South Dakotans will do what is right. "I believe we are a pro-life state," she said.

Opponents of the ban need close to 17,000 valid signatures to put the issue on the ballot.


From the Internet to the White House: Political Veterans Work to Organize Bipartisan 2008 Ticket With Online Balloting
From the Internet to the White House
Political Veterans Work to Organize Bipartisan 2008 Ticket With Online Balloting
By Jim VandeHei
Washington Post Staff Writer

A group of old Washington hands has launched a campaign to remake Internet politics, taking a forum that until now has been associated with ideologues and angry partisans and using it to start a movement culminating in a bipartisan presidential ticket in 2008.

The group is called Unity08, and no one would accuse its founders of thinking small. They include Democrats Hamilton Jordan and Gerald Rafshoon, who gained political fame for their role in electing Jimmy Carter 30 years ago, as well as Doug Bailey, a media adviser to former president and representative Gerald R. Ford (R-Mich.). They are being joined by former Maine governor Angus King, an independent.

Their goal is to offer an alternative to the two major party choices -- a unity ticket that will emerge after secure, online balloting that they hope will include millions of Americans. In an announcement statement, Unity08 said its efforts are a reaction to a system that has "polarized and alienated the American people" through partisanship and interest-group politics.

Unity08's organizers estimate that if 20 percent of the voting public signs on -- hardly a modest goal but only slightly more than what independent H. Ross Perot won in his dramatic 1992 presidential campaign -- then "our voters will decide the 2008 elections."

This is different from Perot and his budget charts. Unity08's founders said they do not want to create a third party but, rather, force Democrats and Republicans to revamp themselves by becoming more issue-focused, responsive and candid. These are the same traits millions of Americans say they clamor for each election but never seem to find. "What we are trying to do is to create a forum for people who are in the middle who have been left out of politics," Bailey said.

The 2004 elections proved the Internet can energize politics. Former Vermont governor Howard Dean went from obscurity to front-runner almost overnight as liberals organized -- and contributed money -- over the Internet in ways the political establishment did not anticipate. Now, Internet strategy is central to the campaign plans of both parties. Its potential is unlimited -- if highly uncertain -- in shaping future elections.

Yet the blogosphere is often dominated by voices from the ideological extremes. Jordan, Rafshoon, Bailey and King are betting that the Internet has room for an activist middle, as long as the process is controlled by the people -- especially the young. Their theory is that most Americans are fed up with both parties, a belief backed by recent polling data, and are eager to shake up the political process if they can find an outlet.

Noting that about 85 percent of Americans use the Internet, Rafshoon said that "they can't all be extremists. There has got to be room out there for us."


CIA Leak Case Heats Up Hazy Summer; Capital Awaits Word of Whether Rove Will Be Indicted

ABC News
CIA Leak Case Heats Up Hazy Summer
Capital Awaits Word of Whether Rove Will Be Indicted

WASHINGTON, May 31, 2006 — - Thermometers have finally hit the 90's, and Washington is getting the lazy, sultry look that comes as May dissolves into June.

We Washingtonians tend to slow down, but the news doesn't. And it won't this summer either, with a decision expected from Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald that will finally determine whether a top White House aide will face serious federal charges in the CIA leak case.

Those old enough to remember Watergate will recall the fiercely hot summer of '74, when scandal revelations brought down Richard Nixon's presidency.

Now Washington waits to see what this summer holds for the Bush White House. No one believes the scandal will approach the grand scale of Watergate, but when it hits it will certainly qualify as breaking news.

The Fitzgerald investigation has already produced the indictment of I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Vice President Cheney's former chief of staff.

Will there be more indictments? Will President Bush's top political aide, Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove, escape indictment and continue plotting strategy for Republicans to maintain control of Congress? Or will Rove be indicted and, as Libby did, turn in his White House pass?

Many in Washington who are in a position to know believed we would have an answer by now. But Fitzgerald never set a deadline, so he doesn't have to meet one.

Fitzgerald, so we are told, is carefully, very carefully, sifting through evidence of what happened three years ago when Rove spoke to two reporters about undercover CIA officer Valerie Plame.

Rove appeared five times before the grand jury that heard evidence in the case. He said he did not consciously mislead the grand jury when he failed to disclose a conversation with Time Magazine reporter Matthew Cooper. Rove said it was simply a faulty memory that caused him not to reveal his conversation about Plame, the wife of former ambassador Joseph Wilson, a caustic critic of President Bush who accused the president of using faulty intelligence to help justify the Iraq War.

Fitzgerald has assembled evidence that Rove was active during that period in July 2003 in defending the president's reasons for going to war.

But Rove's lawyer, Robert Luskin, said: "It does not follow that he [Rove] was necessarily involved in some effort to discredit Wilson personally. Nor does it prove that there was even an effort to disclose Plame's identity in order to punish Wilson."

Plame's outing as a CIA officer was what led to Fitzgerald's investigation. He set out to discover whether administration officials knowingly revealed Plame's connection to the CIA.

It is unclear whether that would actually have been a crime, and in fact, no one has been accused by the special prosecutor of doing that.

Libby was indicted on charges of perjury, making false statements and obstructing justice. In other words, Libby is charged with covering up something that may or may not be a crime.

It appears that Fitzgerald is considering similar charges against Rove. If anyone other than Rove is in danger of indictment, we don't know about it.

Rove's fate is an obsessive topic in Washington because he has been such an important player in GOP electoral victories, not just for George Bush but for Republicans on Capitol Hill as well. Even Democrats acknowledge Rove is a grand master at political chess.

It would be a stunning blow to Republicans if his talents are not available this fall, when Democrats will challenge them for control of both Houses of Congress. And even though Rove recently lost some of his responsibilities at the White House, the president still relies heavily on him for political advice.

Clearly, this is not an easy call for Fitzgerald. If it had been, Rove would already be cleared or indicted.

Past forecasts of a timetable for Fitzgerald's decision have proved wrong. What is the new forecast? We asked a lawyer who was at one time involved in the case and who does not want to make predictions with his name attached.

"Soon," he said, "Fitzgerald can't delay this much longer."

What does soon mean, we asked.

"Oh," he said, "one hot day when you least expect it."


On the Low Road to November

The New York Times
On the Low Road to November

Republicans are trying to rally their far-right base for the fall elections with a mean-spirited sideshow threatening to the Constitution: a ban on same-sex marriage.

The Senate Judiciary Committee has endorsed the amendment, which would write bigotry into the nation's charter, by a 10-to-8 vote along party lines, and the full Senate is expected to take it up soon. Since the measure's language covers not only marriage but the "legal incidents" of marriage, its approval could jeopardize civil unions, domestic partnerships and other legal protections that many state and local governments now provide for same-sex couples and their children.

No one, including the G.O.P. strategists urging its fast-tracking, expects the amendment to get the two-thirds Congressional approval needed to send it to the states for consideration. Two years ago, when Republicans staged a Senate vote on the same dismal amendment just before the Democratic convention, it ran into unexpectedly broad opposition. Some conservatives correctly opposed grabbing power from the states by suddenly federalizing marriage law. Supporters of the amendment could muster only 48 votes, well shy of the 60 required to cut off debate and avoid a filibuster.

Plainly, the real purpose of this rerun is to provide red meat to social conservatives, and fodder for commericals aimed at senators who vote to block the atrocious amendment.

It is sad that Senator Arlen Specter, the Republican chairman of the Judiciary Committee, who personally opposes the measure, chose to lend his gavel and vote to speed it to the floor. He got angry when Senator Russell Feingold, the Wisconsin Democrat, objected in forceful terms to both the amendment and the politically motivated scheduling. Mr. Specter and the other members of his committee who approved the amendment have no reason to be angry — just ashamed.


Justice Dept. Is Criticized by Ex-Official on Subpoenas

The New York Times
Justice Dept. Is Criticized by Ex-Official on Subpoenas

Subpoenas issued last month to reporters for The San Francisco Chronicle were criticized yesterday by a former chief spokesman for Attorney General John Ashcroft as a "reckless abuse of power."

The former spokesman, Mark Corallo, made similar statements in an affidavit filed in federal court yesterday. He said Mr. Ashcroft's successor, Alberto R. Gonzales, had acted improperly in issuing the subpoenas.

"This is the most reckless abuse of power I have seen in years," Mr. Corallo said in an interview. "They really should be ashamed of themselves."

The subpoenas, part of an effort to identify The Chronicle's sources for its coverage of steroid use in baseball, would not have been authorized by Mr. Ashcroft, Mr. Corallo said. "You just don't ride roughshod over the rights of reporters to gather information from confidential sources," he added.

Mr. Corallo left the Justice Department in 2005. His public relations firm represents, among others, Karl Rove, President Bush's top political adviser. A spokeswoman for Mr. Ashcroft, who also stepped down in 2005, declined to comment on Mr. Corallo's sworn statement, which was submitted with the reporters' motion to quash the subpoena.

Brian Roehrkasse, a Justice Department spokesman, said he could not address the subpoena to the Chronicle reporters. Subpoenas, he said, are "handled consistent with Justice Department guidelines and on a case-by-case basis on facts specific to the case that only those in the Justice Department would be aware of."

Mr. Gonzales has in recent weeks hinted that the Justice Department may move beyond subpoenas for journalists' sources, and pursue the criminal prosecution of reporters under espionage laws for publishing classified information.

Mr. Corallo said the department's attitude toward news organizations "is starting to look like a policy shift, a policy shift for the worse."

Specialists in journalism and First Amendment law said that Mr. Corallo's statement was itself significant evidence of a shift.

"This illustrates in an unmistakable fashion," said Mark Feldstein, director of the journalism program at George Washington University, "that the Gonzales Justice Department has moved so far away from the mainstream of established legal opinion and case law when it comes to press freedom that even judicial conservatives are disturbed by it."

The Chronicle reporters, Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams, submitted Mr. Corallo's sworn statement along with their motion to quash the subpoenas, which was filed yesterday in Federal District Court in San Francisco.

The articles in The Chronicle that gave rise to the subpoenas had quoted, apparently verbatim, transcripts of grand jury testimony from prominent athletes, including the baseball stars Barry Bonds and Jason Giambi. Whoever provided those transcripts to the reporters may have violated grand jury secrecy rules or a judge's order.

Under the Justice Department's internal guidelines, subpoenas to the press for confidential sources require authorization by the attorney general. Under Mr. Ashcroft, Mr. Corallo said, he and others also had authority to deny such requests.

Mr. Corallo said that in three years as the department's press secretary and public affairs director, he approved a single subpoena to the press, involving what he called a serious national security matter, and turned down many more. One of those he refused, he said in the court filing, concerned "a public corruption case involving leaks of grand jury information."

Mr. Gonzales has defended his decision to issue the subpoenas. "I think it was information that was necessary, that we needed to have in connection with that investigation," he told the editorial board of The Houston Chronicle last month.

Mr. Corallo said he had used a different standard, one rooted in Justice Department policy.

"It has to be a matter of grave national security or impending physical harm to innocent people," he said, "not just, well, this is the only way we're going to be able to get this information."


Election Panel Won't Issue Donation Rules

The New York Times
Election Panel Won't Issue Donation Rules

WASHINGTON, May 31 — The Federal Election Commission has decided not to issue rules to regulate so-called 527 organizations that used millions of dollars in private donations to become powerful voices in the 2004 presidential election.

A federal judge had told the commission that it had two choices: issue uniform rules or issue a fuller explanation of why it was dealing with 527-related cases one by one even as the 2006 elections near. The commission voted 4 to 2 not to appeal the judge's ruling, and chose the second option.

Its chairman, Michael E. Toner, a Republican, dissented, saying, "The failure to issue rules has fostered uncertainty about what is legally permissible and has undermined the McCain-Feingold law" that governs campaign financing.

The vote by the panel set the stage for another round of court battles that could affect the 2006 Congressional elections, as well as the 2008 presidential race.

Advocates of changing campaign financing — and some Republicans — have been prodding the commission and Congress to regulate the 527 groups, named after a section of the tax code. Critics term the groups' operations an end run around the McCain-Feingold ban on the largely unregulated contributions to federal candidates that is known as soft money.

In the 2004 election, the groups spent money in a way that parties were no longer permitted to do, prompting watchdog groups to call them "shadow parties."

The 527 groups largely aided Democratic candidates through benefactors like the billionaire George Soros. But at the end of the campaign, the best-known group was probably the Swift Boat Vets for Truth organization that attacked Senator John Kerry.

Some advocates of changing campaign finance had pinned their hopes on the commission, recognizing that stiff Democratic opposition in the Senate had made the passage of measures to regulate 527 organizations difficult.

The decision this week grew out of a case brought by Representatives Christopher Shays, Republican of Connecticut, and Martin T. Meehan, Democrat of Massachusetts, and the Bush-Cheney '04 campaign.

In March, Judge Emmet G. Sullivan of Federal District Court gave the commission his two options to address the question.

"Case-by-case adjudication appears to be a total failure," Judge Sullivan wrote in March.

He later elaborated, saying, "Cases arising from the 2004 campaign have languished on the commission's enforcement docket for as long as 23 months, with no end in sight, even as the 2006 election campaign has begun."

Although it has acted on some questions related to 527 groups, the commission has not resolved several complaints by Democracy 21 and other campaign finance groups against some of the biggest organizations.

Fred Wertheimer, president and chief executive officer of Democracy 21 and a lawyer involved in the 527 suit, said the decision was not satisfactory.

"We expect the F.E.C. to act quickly," Mr. Wertheimer said, "and we also expect to be back in federal court to get this matter resolved and to stop the 527's from spending unlimited amounts of money."

Laurence E. Gold, associate general counsel for the A.F.L.-C.I.O., said it would be disastrous for unions and nonprofit organizations if the commission decided to redefine the 527 groups as federal political action committees, because those fall under the umbrella of McCain-Feingold limits.

Mr. Toner said his agency's action raised the stakes on bills in Congress. A lobbying bill approved by the House includes restrictions on 527 groups, but it is unclear whether it will emerge from the conference committee. The Senate's lobbying package has no such component, and many Senate Democrats oppose such a measure.

"Absent Congressional action," Mr. Toner said, "no one should be surprised if 527 soft-money spending in '06 and '08 becomes one of the driving forces in determining which candidates are elected."


Sun Micro to cut up to 5,000 jobs

Sun Micro to cut up to 5,000 jobs

US computer company Sun Microsystems is to cut up to 5,000 jobs, or 13% of its workforce worldwide, in an attempt to turn around five years of losses.

The firm aims to eliminate the jobs over the next six months, which it said should yield annual cost savings of up to $590m (£313m).

But the restructuring plan is expected to cost Sun up to $500m over the next few financial quarters.

The firm wants to regain market share from rivals Dell and Hewlett-Packard.

New boss

At the end of April, Sun's co-founder and chief Scott McNealy announced he was stepping down.

Former chief operating officer Jonathan Schwartz took the helm as chief executive.

That news came as the US firm revealed third quarter losses had widened to $217m (£121.4m) from $28m at the same time a year ago.

Shares in the company are currently languishing at about 90% lower than the highs hit during the dotcom boom of 2000.

Sun is the world's fourth biggest maker of server computers, used to operate websites and corporate networks.

In June 2005 it made a move to boost its earnings by buying a major player in the data storage market, Storagetek, for $4.1bn.

Last year it also announced a tie-up with web search engine giant Google, aimed at challenging the dominance of Microsoft's Office suite of word processing and spreadsheet software.

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New Orleans 'sinking even faster'

New Orleans 'sinking even faster'

Parts of New Orleans had been sinking much faster than previously thought before Hurricane Katrina hit last August, new research suggests.

Subsidence may explain why some levees were easily breached by floodwaters, the study in the Nature journal says.

It says some very low-lying areas of the US city should not be rebuilt, describing them as "death traps".

US engineers say the city is prepared for the start of the hurricane season, which officially starts on Thursday.

However, some storm experts think the work of rebuilding the levees is incomplete.

US meteorologists say there could be up to five major storms during 2006, but the season will not be as devastating as 2005.

Last August saw Hurricane Katrina sweep across five states, killing more than 1,300 people.

'Death traps'

The study to be published on Thursday in the British science magazine was produced by a University of Miami team.

The people in St Bernard got wiped out because the levee was too low. It's as simple as that
Roy Dokka
Study co-author

It is based on new satellite radar data taken from 2002 to 2005, which show that New Orleans sank by an average of 0.22 inches (0.5cm) a year during that period.

But the study says some low-lying areas are subsiding by more than one inch (2.54cm) a year - raising concerns about the city's future.

The scientists name overdevelopment, drainage and natural seismic shifts as the main causes.

"My concern is the very low-lying areas," said lead author Tim Dixon, geophysicist at the University of Miami.

"I think those areas are death traps. I don't think those areas should be rebuilt," he said.

The study says the areas of the city most at risk are Lakeview, Kenner and St Bernard Parish.

According to the report, one of the city's levees has sunk by more than 3 ft (0.91m) since its construction three decades ago.

"The people in St Bernard got wiped out because the levee was too low. It's as simple as that," sid co-author Roy Dokka from the Louisiana State University.

The study says the new evidence should be taken into account when rebuilding the city's defences.

Story from BBC NEWS:


US plans "significant" Pakistan missile sale

US plans "significant" Pakistan missile sale
By Jim Wolf

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Bush administration said Wednesday it was planning to let Pakistan buy advanced Boeing Co. Harpoon anti-ship missiles and related equipment valued at up to $370 million in "a significant upgrade" of the Asian nation's existing weapons systems.

Of the total "Block II" Harpoon missiles sought by Pakistan, 50 would be for launch from submarines, 50 from surface ships and 30 by air, the Pentagon's Defense Security Cooperation Agency said in a notice to Congress required by law.

The equipment would provide "a significant upgrade to Pakistan's existing systems and allow for improved target acquisition," said the agency, which handles U.S. government-to-government weapons sales.

The notice does not mean that a sale has been concluded. In addition, Congress can interfere.

"This proposed sale will contribute to the foreign policy and national security of the United States by helping to improve the security of a friendly country that continues to be a key ally in the global war on terrorism," the agency added.

Chicago-based Boeing describes the advanced Harpoon as capable of knocking out coastal defenses, surface-to-air missile sites and exposed aircraft as well as ships in port. It uses a satellite-aided inertial navigation system.

The upgraded targeting capability "significantly reduces the risk of hitting noncombatant targets, thus improving Pakistan's naval operational flexibility," the agency told Congress.

Pakistan, which has fought three wars with neighboring India since partition of British India in 1947, plans to use the Harpoon on its Lockheed Martin Corp. P-3 maritime surveillance aircraft, surface ships and submarines, the agency said.

The Bush administration last June signed a 10-year defense pact with India outlining expanded two-way defense trade, missile-defense cooperation plans and increased opportunities for technology transfers and weapons co-production.

Last year, Pentagon officials gave India a classified briefing on Patriot Advanced Capability (PAC-3) short-range missile defense systems built by Bethesda, Maryland-based Lockheed and Raytheon Co. of Waltham, Massachusetts.


Fundraiser admits funneling money to Bush campaign

Fundraiser admits funneling money to Bush campaign
By Bill Frogameni

TOLEDO, Ohio (Reuters) - A top Republican fund-raiser who is the leading figure in an Ohio political scandal pleaded guilty on Wednesday to illegally funneling money to President George W. Bush's 2004 reelection campaign.

In an appearance in federal court, rare coin dealer Tom Noe admitted to three counts of violating campaign finance laws.

He wrote checks to two dozen Republican supporters so they could attend a $2,000-a-plate Bush fund-raising dinner held in the state capital of Columbus on October 30, 2003.

Noe's scheme netted $45,400 for the Bush campaign and he became a top fund-raiser for the party in Ohio, raising more than $100,000 for Bush and other Republicans. Bush beat Democrat John Kerry in Ohio by 118,000 votes, a victory that was pivotal to his reelection.

"I came here today in order to accept responsibility," Noe, 51, told the judge.

Prosecutors recommended Noe receive between 24 and 30 months in prison. U.S. District Judge David Katz may not impose a sentence until after Noe's separate trial on state charges of stealing millions from a rare coin investment for Ohio's worker compensation fund.

The Republican National Committee, in a statement, said it would "continue to fully cooperate with the investigation" and said: "We'll make appropriate transfers as directed by the court."

Previously, the committee acted on behalf of the defunct Bush campaign to make a charitable contribution of $6,000, which represented Noe's and Noe's wife's contributions to the president's and Republican Party's 2004 campaign, a spokesman said. Individual contributions to a candidate cannot exceed



The state scandal involving Noe relates to a $50 million investment in rare coins Noe was permitted to make on behalf of Ohio's worker's compensation bureau. He has pleaded not guilty to 53 charges of mishandling and stealing from the fund, and goes on trial on August 29.

Ohio's Republican Gov. Bob Taft, who is nearing the end of his second, and final, term with record-low public approval ratings, admitted last year to receiving illegal gifts, and was ordered to pay a fine. Those gifts included golf outings paid for by Noe and others.

Democrats eager to make gains in November's congressional elections have charged Republicans, who hold majorities in both houses of Congress, with creating a climate of public corruption.

U.S. Rep. Bob Ney of Ohio is among several Republican officeholders being investigated for ties to lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who pleaded guilty in January to fraud and is cooperating in an investigation into a conspiracy to bribe members of Congress in return for legislative favors.

Twelve of Ohio's 18 U.S. representatives are Republicans and Ney and U.S. Sen. Mike DeWine face strong challengers in November.

"When you take a negative mood, an economy that's not doing as well as the national economy, scandal and corruption, an extremely unpopular incumbent Republican governor -- mix all those things together and they give the Democrats some hope that this year they can begin to take back some aspects of state government," political analyst Herb Asher of Ohio State University said.

"It's definitely a challenging environment that we're operating in right now," Ohio Republican Party spokesman John McClelland said. "This is nothing new. It's time the Democrats realized this election is about more than Tom Noe and Bob Taft."


Wednesday, May 31, 2006

John Stossel Is A Pathological Liar
David Sirota
John Stossel Is A Pathological Liar

Webster's Medical Dictionary defines a "pathological liar" as "an individual who habitually tells lies so exaggerated or bizarre that they are suggestive of mental disorder." Next to this definition should be this picture - a photo of a self-important, smarmy looking, all-too-coiffed ABC News "reporter" named John Stossel.

You may have noticed that Stossel is out hawking a book called "Myths, Lies, and Downright Stupidity : Get Out the Shovel--Why Everything You Know is Wrong" purporting to debunk those things. Instead, what we see is that Stossel is spewing them - and using his media platform as a megaphone of dishonesty. Stossel, in many ways, is exactly why I wrote my new book Hostile Takeover : How Big Money and Corruption Conquered Our Government--and How We Take It Back - to strip bare the opportunists, shills and half-wits who dominate our political debate and show them for what they really are: pathological liars.

Here's what I mean. According to the right-wing, Scaife-owned Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, Stossel appeared on ABC's "The View" to talk about his book's assertion that the minimum wage supposedly hurts low-income workers. The host was surprised that someone could make such a ludicrous claim. "Why does raising the minimum wage -- this one I don't get -- actually hurt poor people?," she asked Stossel. "I don't understand that one at all."

Stossel replied with a straight face: "The truth is that people on the margins lose jobs when minimum wages go up. We used to have people washing windshields at gas stations. We don't anymore because of the minimum wage. There's no opportunity for kids, for entry-level workers."

Mind you, Stossel is making this claim at the very same time President Bush is claiming we need a guest worker program because there are actually too many entry-level, low-wage jobs that aren't being filled. But beyond that, the actual data exposes Stossel's pathological lying. As I note in my new book's section on this very lie about minimum wages supposedly hurting the job market:

"In a comprehensive 2004 study, the nonpartisan Fiscal Policy Institute reported that since 1997, states that had boosted their minimum wage above the federal minimum actually created jobs faster than those that did not. In higher minimum wage states, employment grew by 50 percent more than it did in states still at the pathetic federal level. Even in tough economic times, the minimum wage doesn't hurt jobs: Princeton University economist David Card found that even the minimum wage increases during the 1990-91 recession 'were not associated with any measurable employment losses.' As Republican Sen. Arlen Specter (PA) once noted, "history clearly demonstrates that raising the minimum wage has no adverse impact on jobs."...In Oregon, for instance, the state raised its minimum wage in 1998, and the average earnings of newly-employed welfare recipients climbed by 9 percent, while the percentage of welfare recipients who found a job actually rose."

Stossel's latest pathological lie followed one from a few weeks ago when he used ABC's Good Morning America to claim that it is a "myth" that "women earn less" than men for "doing the same work." Yet, as Media Matters noted, the Bureau of Labor Statistics' (BLS) 2004 wage data shows definitively that women earned on average 80.4 percent of men's weekly median earnings in virtually every occupation listed regardless of job title. Again, Stossel used ABC's airwaves to peddle a pathological lie.

This all may seem surprising. After all, how could one of the major networks employ a person with such disdain for the truth and then call him a "journalist?" It's a good question - but Stossel has made a nice career behaving this way. For instance, Stossel has tried to deny the scientific consensus surrounding global warming, despite 928 peer-reviewed scientific papers on global warming published between 1993 and 2003 all concluding that global warming is real, and human-caused.

It was Stossel who penned a column during the Hurricane Katrina energy crisis entitled "In Praise of Price Gouging." Instead of being a "consumer watchdog" as he is regularly billed, Stossel was using his platform to publicize all sorts of reasons why we were supposed to believe that oil companies' use of a natural disaster to profiteer was somehow patriotic and heroic.

Similarly, as I note in my book, Stossel has self-righteously used the airwaves to rail against people who file lawsuits. "We all have pain and suffering in our lives," Stossel has said. "And if each time we hang onto it until we get some kind of compensation, society can't work." Yet, it was Stossel who filed a high-profile case himself in which he sued a wrestler for $200,000 for slapping him during an interview. "I asked for as much as I could get," Stossel told newspapers, apparently too downright stupid to see just how much of a hypocrite he was showing himself to be.

For his patholgical lying, Stossel is now regularly honored by fringe-right-wing groups like the Heritage Foundation - you remember, the group repeatedly nailed (here and here) for publicly trumpeting deliberately inaccurate data as fact. And yet, despite these accolades from hyper-partisan lie machines, Stossel retains the veneer of journalistic credibility/objectivity thanks to ABC's continued willingness to let him pollute the airwaves with his "myths, lies and downright stupidity" - without giving so much as a smidgeon of airtime to experts who would actually challenge this pathological liar with the facts.

Because of his unfettered access to the airwaves and the refusal of his media sponsors to actually question his factually inaccurate assertions, Stossel's book has risen up the bestseller list, with consumers led to believe it is a beacon of truth-telling that will show us the world as it actually is. The right-wing apparatus that fetes Stossel is undoubtedly promoting his book as a supposedly virtuous, sincere look at the facts, thus fueling even more sales, furthering other media buzz about him and furthering Stossel's reach. Meanwhile, Stossel's campaign to turn his pathological lies into assumed fact goes on, increasingly debasing our political debate, intensifying the disconnect of the media discourse from actual facts. It is a sick cycle, indeed - and it highlights why American politics seems more and more divorced from reality: because the media debate that frames American politics presents pathological liars like Stossel as credible voices.

Stossel urges us on the cover of his book to "get out the shovel" - he's right, you'll need one to dig out from the steaming piles of dishonest B.S. this ABC News "reporter" is leaving in his wake.


Osama Tape Appears Fake, Experts Conclude: US government fabricating evidence to manipulate American public, scholars say

Osama Tape Appears Fake, Experts Conclude

US government fabricating evidence to manipulate American public, scholars say.

Duluth, MN (PRWEB) May 30, 2006 -- The latest audio tape attributed to Osama bin Laden appears to be one more installment in a succession of evidence fabricated by the US government to deceive the American people, according to Scholars for 9/11 Truth. "This tape is only the latest in a series of fabrications intended to mislead the American people," said James H. Fetzer, the society's founder. "The closer we get to revealing the truth about 9/11, the more furiously the government fights to conceal it!" He said members of Scholars and other experts had detected evidence of fakery.

In this new recording, a voice attributed to Osama bin Laden asserts that Zacarias Moussaoui was not involved in 9/11, which he knew to be the case because he had personally assigned the 19 hijackers involved in those events. The Osama of this tape thereby implicitly confesses his responsibility for orchestrating the attacks. However, in a tape released on December 27, 2001, the authenticity of which is not in doubt, Osama denied having had anything to do with 9/11. "Moreover," Fetzer added, "some of the 19 hijackers he 'personally assigned' have turned up alive and well."

To be sure, this new tape is not the first one in which bin Laden appears to take responsibility for the attacks. As David Ray Griffin, a prominent member of Scholars, points out, "The Osama on the video tape that appeared on December 13, 2001, confessed to planning the 9/11 attacks. But he is far darker and much heavier than the real Osama bin Laden. People can see the difference by looking up 'The Fake bin Laden Video Tape' on Google."

Griffin's point is supported by a work-in-progress by members of Scholars for 9/11 Truth, which appears on its web site under the heading, "9/11: Have we been lied to?" It offers evidence of fakery in some of the videos based upon various physical properties of the figures that are presumed to be Osama, pointing out that there are differences in the ears, cheeks, eyebrows, length of the nose and shape of the nostrils. "The use of computer analysis can 'fine tune' these questions of facial characteristics," Fetzer said, "but the gross differences already show they are not the same."

Content Inconsistencies

"Another problem with the video of December 13, 2001," Griffin pointed out, "was that its stocky bin Laden praised two of the alleged hijackers, Wail M. Al-Shehri and Salem al-Hazmi, by name, and yet both the London Telegraph and the Saudi embassy reported several days after 9/11 that al-Hazmi was still alive and working in Saudi Arabia. Given the fact that the earlier video in which Osama confessed was clearly a fake, we should be suspicious of this latest apparent confession."

A professor at Duke, Bruce Lawrence, who has published Messages to the World: The Statements of Osama bin Laden, expressed profound skepticism about a tape that was released January 17, 2006, in a report that appeared two days later. "There's nothing in this from the Koran," Lawrence said. "He's, by his own standards, a faithful Muslim who quotes scripture in defense of his actions. There's no quotation from the Koran in the excerpts we got, no reference to specific events, no reference to past atrocities." Lawrence also observed the tape ran only 10 minutes, whereas the shortest previous tape, at 18 minutes, was nearly twice as long.

Fetzer noted that many of the same anomalous properties are found in the latest tape. "Compared to Osama's past performances," he observed, "this message is too short, too direct, and full of falsehoods. It was even described on CBS News by Bob Schieffer as 'almost American'." A translation of the text of the tape has also been released by IntelCenter, a private company that does contract work for the US government. "I suppose I would be accused of being a 'conspiracy theorist' to suggest there is any connection," Fetzer added.

Authentic Voice/Fake Content

Informed that Reuters news agency has reported confirmation that the voice on the tape is indeed that of Osama bin Laden, Fetzer replied, "The fact that the voice is his does not prove that the tape is authentic. We have had phony tapes before using voices that were authentic. Mark Bingham, a passenger on Flight 93, is supposed to have called his mother and said, 'Hi, Mom, this is Mark Bingham!' His mother confirmed it was his voice, but does anyone seriously believe that Mark Bingham would have used his last name in identifying himself to his mother?"

Griffin agreed, adding, "Back in 1999, William Arkin published an article entitled, 'When Seeing and Hearing isn't Believing' (which can also be accessed on Google). Describing the new technology of 'voice morphing' (or 'voice synthesizing'), Arkin explained that, if audio technicians have a recording of your voice, then they can create a tape in which your voice‹your authentic voice!‹says anything they wish."

In a press release on April 22, 2006, the Scholars observed that a tape played at the trail of Zacarias Moussaoui included discussion among the passengers about using a drink cart to break down the cabin door alleged to have been picked up on a cockpit voice recorder, which does not record conversations in the passenger cabin. "This is not the first and certainly will not be the last time that the American government plays the American people for suckers," Fetzer said.

"We have just acquired new evidence that the Pentagon video tapes were processed and manipulated in an apparent effort to distort or conceal what happened there on 9/11," Fetzer observed. "Apparently, whenever the government feels the need to bolster the official myth about 9/11, it simply fabricates a new tape! Anybody who wants to keep score
should visit our web site."

Scholars for 9/11 Truth is a non-partisan society of experts and scholars dedicated to exposing falsehoods and establishing truths about the events of 9/11. It maintains a web site at, where it archives its studies, documents, records and evidence.


College Door Ajar for Online Criminals: Hackers discover that universities are rich in personal data and easier prey than banks

Los Angeles Times
College Door Ajar for Online Criminals
Hackers discover that universities are rich in personal data and easier prey than banks.
By Lynn Doan
Times Staff Writer

Computer systems at universities across the nation are becoming favorite targets of hackers, and rising numbers of security breaches have exposed the personal information of thousands of students, alumni, employees and even college applicants.

Since January, at least 845,000 people have had sensitive information jeopardized in 29 security failures at colleges nationwide. In these incidents, compiled by identity theft experts who monitor media reports, hackers have gained access to Social Security numbers and, in some cases, medical records.

"There are so many examples within the last year demonstrating that these universities are just real, true, vulnerable targets," said Michael C. Zweiback, an assistant U.S. attorney in Los Angeles who prosecutes hackers. "All of a sudden, it seemed like we were adding on another university every week to look into."

Although comprehensive statistics on breaches of college computer systems aren't collected by a single entity, industry experts agree that the situation is growing worse.

Computer security is an increasing concern for all types of private groups and government agencies. Last week, the Department of Veterans Affairs confirmed that electronic records of up to 26.5 million veterans and some spouses were stolen from the home of a federal employee.

Cyber security officials say hackers are realizing that colleges hold many of the same records as banks. But why hack a bank, one official asked, "when colleges are easier to get into?"

Colleges accounted for the largest percentage, roughly 30%, of computer security breaches reported in the media last year, according to ChoicePoint, a consumer data-collecting firm in Georgia.

[Editor's Note: Not mentioned in the article is the fact that in 2005, criminals set up fake businesses that purchased private information from ChoicePoint, the company providing the information used in this article, potentially affecting over 145,000 US residents. And despite that serious breach, the US Dept. of Justice recently awarded a 5 year $12 Million contract to ChoicePoint to provide investigative analysis software to the FBI.]

FBI Special Agent Kenneth McGuire said that five years ago, his cyber crime unit in Los Angeles worked on one to three college hacking cases at a time. On a recent afternoon, his team was working with six colleges whose systems had been hacked.

Arif Alikhan, who oversees computer hacking cases for the U.S. attorney in Washington, said that when he was chief of cyber crime in Los Angeles between 2001 and 2005, his caseload doubled.

And for the first time in seven years, colleges identified security as the most critical issue facing their computer systems, according to a survey of about 600 colleges released this month by Educause, a nonprofit group that promotes information technology use. In a 2000 survey, security wasn't even among the top five concerns.

Hackers are drawn to colleges for various reasons.

In March, 41 Stanford University applicants hacked into the admissions system to see if they had been accepted. A man accused of hacking into USC's admissions system last year said he was only trying to prove that it was vulnerable.

In December, hackers appear to have broken into a system at the University of Washington to find a place to store their music files.

The openness that's rooted in the nature of academic institutions is partly to blame.

"Students want to be downloading MP3's. Professors want a system for general research," McGuire said. "Whenever you have such large portals to information open, you're going to have vulnerability to attacks."

Erich Kreidler, who teaches an engineering class at USC, said he posts everything online, including grades and final exams. "It's about convenience," he said.

But convenience can have a price.

Last month, the University of Texas discovered illegal access to 197,000 Social Security numbers of students, alumni and employees. Days later, a San Diego man was charged with hacking into the USC admissions system in June 2005.

Ohio University confirmed its third security breach since April, together compromising 360,000 personal records and a number of patented data and intellectual property files.

And Sacred Heart University in Connecticut reported last week that a security breach has compromised the Social Security numbers and some credit card numbers of 135,000 people — some of whom never applied to, worked at or attended the university.

Like many universities, a spokeswoman said, Sacred Heart collects personal information from college entrance exams, college fairs and recruiting firms. Robert M. Wood, chief information security officer at USC, said the college's computer system is scanned by hackers an estimated 500,000 times a day.

"It's pretty much a lot of doorknob rattling," he said. "But occasionally, they find an open door."

USC has reported two security breaches in the last year.

The University of California doesn't track security breaches, but ChoicePoint has logged five hacking incidents at UC campuses since January 2005. The California State University system reported at least 24 breaches since July 2003.

In March, an 18-year-old New Jersey man was convicted of breaking into a dozen systems at San Diego State. He was sentenced to three years' probation and must pay the school $20,000 in restitution.

John Denune, technology security officer for San Diego State, said the 2003 hack exposed the Social Security numbers of more than 200,000 people. The hacker wiggled his way through an outdated system in the drama department to reach the financial aid system.

Targets of hacking have been obscure, such as 1,700-student Anderson College in South Carolina, and well-known, such as Notre Dame. Finding the money to pay for security upgrades has been a major challenge for several schools.

"A university is fighting for every dollar to maintain a good education standard," said Rick Jones, an information security consultant in Los Angeles. "It doesn't necessarily allocate a security budget — at least not until it gets hit a couple times."

One identity theft protection firm in Arizona is catering to the college crowd. LifeLock, which charges consumers $10 a month to protect personal data, ran a full-page newspaper advertisement after the recent University of Texas hack, targeting those affected.

"We told everyone, 'You have been victimized once by the university. Take steps today,' " said Todd Davis, chief executive of LifeLock.

LifeLock has also forged partnerships with the University of Oklahoma and Arizona State University and is in talks with two other institutions.

As hacks ensue, college officials have had no choice but to increase security.

San Diego State doubled its computer security staff after the disastrous hack of 2003, said Denune, the campus security chief.

"Increasing security is expensive, it's time-consuming, and unless someone really sees the threat, it's easily put aside," he said. "This was a wake-up call."

Other colleges now require students to download anti-virus and firewall software before connecting to campus systems.

At Purdue University in Indiana, which reported two security breaches last year and two this year, students must change their passwords monthly to access class schedules, grades and e-mail.

The efforts are part of SecurePurdue, a program the college launched a year ago to counter the rising attacks, said Steve Tally, IT spokesman for the university.

"Universities are very attractive to hackers," he said. "Purdue has a very good name internationally and, unfortunately, it's brought us the kind of attention we don't want."

In 2004, the college began phasing out the use of Social Security numbers to identify students and employees.

In response to last year's hack, USC has reprogrammed its admissions system and requires users to change their passwords more often.

A technical security department created three years ago routinely scans computers connected to USC's network looking for machines that aren't equipped with updated anti-virus software.

At some colleges, new security measures have sparked complaints from students inconvenienced by lengthy virus scans and password prompts. But others say too much security is better than too little.

Tyler Dolezal was one of the 197,000 individuals whose Social Security numbers had been exposed in April's breach at the University of Texas. Dolezal has spent the last month trying to place fraud alerts with credit reporting agencies — a process that turned out to be unexpectedly complex because Dolezal, 18, hasn't established credit.

"These college systems hold really sensitive information on a whole lot of people," Dolezal said. "That needs to be protected as much as possible."


Computer hacking

Since January 2005, 15 universities in California have reported computer security breaches of personal records, affecting 614,080 individuals. Below is a sampling of those incidents:

Campus: USC

Individuals Affected: 270,000

Incident: July 8, 2005: Hack to online application database exposes names, addresses and Social Security numbers of students.


Campus: UC Berkeley

Individuals Affected: 100,000

Incident: March 11, 2005: Stolen computer compromises names and Social Security numbers of students and applicants.


Campus: Sonoma State

Individuals Affected: 61,709

Incident: Aug. 8, 2005: Computer hack exposes names and Social Security numbers of all students, faculty, staff and applicants from 1995 to 2002.


Campus: Cal State Chico

Individuals Affected: 59,000

Incident: March 14, 2005: Computer hack exposes names and Social Security numbers of current, former and prospective students, faculty and staff.


Campus: USC

Individuals Affected: 50,000

Incident: Nov. 11, 2005: Stolen computer server compromises names, Social Security numbers and other personal information of employees, donors and patients of the Keck School of Medicine.


Campus: Cal Poly Pomona

Individuals Affected: 31,077

Incident: July 29, 2005: Hack of two computer servers exposes names and Social Security numbers of current and former faculty, staff, students and applicants.


Campus: Stanford University

Individuals Affected: 10,000

Incident: May 11, 2005: Computer network breach compromises Social Security numbers and other personal information of recruiters and students.


Campus: UC Davis

Individuals Affected: 50

Incident: April 3, 2006: Stolen briefcases compromise names, addresses and Social Security numbers of health clients.

Sources: ChoicePoint, news reports