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Thursday, April 03, 2008

Free Internet Press Newsletter - Thursday April 3 2008 - (813)

Thursday April 3 2008 edition
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U.S. Defense Contracts For Body Armor Filled Without Initial Tests
2008-04-03 02:18:34

Government auditors said Wednesday that nearly half of 28 contracts to manufacture body armor for Army soldiers were completed without the gear ever going through an initial test.

Nearly $3 billion worth of body armor did not go through early inspections known as "first article testing," or FAT, that are performed before major production to ensure that a company can meet the contract's requirements and to catch any defects, according to a report by the Defense Department's inspector general. Contracting officials say the initial testing is done to save time and money.

"Army contracting officials did not require or perform FAT for 13 of the 28 Army contracts and orders reviewed," the report said. As a result, the Defense Department "has no assurance" that the equipment produced under the 13 contracts "met the required standards," the report said.

Officials with the inspector general's office said its auditors did not test the armor or look for flaws after it was made and put into use. The Army manager who oversees the body armor program told Defense Department officials that "the Army has no evidence of deaths that can be attributed to defective body armor."

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Commentary: Belatedly, The Bad-News Bearer
2008-04-03 02:18:03
Intellpuke: This commentary was written by Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank and appeared in the Post's edition for Thursday, April 3, 2008.

It's (semi) official: We're in a recession.

The Federal Reserve chairman didn't come right out and say it in his appearance before the Joint Economic Committee Wednesday, but in his carefully hedged, deliberate mumbo jumbo, Ben Bernanke delivered a message as stark as bread lines and shantytowns.

"It now appears likely that real gross domestic product will not grow much, if at all, over the first half of 2008, and could even contract slightly," he testified.

It didn't take an economics Ph.D. to crack Bernanke's code: Two quarters of economic contraction is the common definition of a recession. "Am I correct in understanding that you now believe a recession is possible?" asked the committee chairman, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-New York). 

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In Economic Drama, Bush Is Largely Offstage
2008-04-03 02:17:33
The first hint that President Bush might be detached from the nation’s economic woes was in February, when he conceded that he had not heard about predictions of $4-a-gallon gasoline.

Then Bush went to Wall Street to warn against “massive government intervention in the housing markets,” two days before his administration helped broker the takeover of the investment bank Bear Stearns.

Now Bush is in Eastern Europe, one of eight foreign trips he is taking this year. As he delivered his farewell address to NATO on Wednesday, Senate Democrats and Republicans were holed up in the Capitol, scrambling to produce a bill to help struggling homeowners, the kind of government intervention Bush had cautioned against.

For a man who came into office as the nation’s first M.B.A. president, Bush has sometimes seemed invisible during the housing and credit crunch. As the economy eclipses Iraq as the top issue on voters’ minds, even some Republican allies of the president say Bush is being eclipsed and is in danger of looking out of touch.

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U.S. Alarmed As Some Exports Go Where They Shouldn't
2008-04-02 16:12:15
Roadside bombings of American troops in Iraq were occurring with unnerving regularity when military investigators made a disturbing discovery: American-made computer circuits sold to a trading company in the United Arab Emirates had turned up in the bomb detonators.

That finding set off a clash with Washington, D.C., last year when the Bush administration cited the diversion of the computer circuits to Iran, and eventually Iraq, as proof that the United Arab Emirates were failing to prevent American technology from slipping into the wrong hands. Administration officials said aircraft parts, specialized metals and gas detectors that have a potential military use had also moved through Dubai, one of the emirates, to Iran, Syria or Pakistan.

The diplomatic face-off, which drew little public attention, prompted the United States to threaten tough new controls on exports to the United Arab Emirates, an ally. The nation had invested billions to become a global trading hub and had begun a campaign to burnish its image in the United States after the uproar in 2006 over a proposal to allow a Dubai company manage some American port terminals.

The administration backed down only after the emirates promised to pass their own export control law, but it is unclear that much has changed nearly a year after the confrontation.

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U.S. States Suing EPA Over Global Warming
2008-04-02 16:11:39
Officials of 18 states are taking the EPA back to court to try to force it to comply with a Supreme Court ruling that rebuked the Bush administration for inaction on global warming.

In a petition prepared for filing Wednesday, the plaintiffs said last April's 5-4 ruling required the Environmental Protection Agency to decide whether to regulate greenhouse gas emissions, including carbon dioxide, from motor vehicles.

The EPA has instead done nothing, they said.

"The EPA's failure to act in the face of these incontestable dangers is a shameful dereliction of duty," said  Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley.

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Stocks Fluctuate After Bernanke Comments
2008-04-02 16:10:38
Wall Street fluctuated Wednesday after Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke said he didn't expect the nation's investment banks to suffer the same damage from the global credit crisis that felled Bear Stearns Cos. 

Bernanke, testifying before Congress, said he doesn't anticipate a repeat of the situation that brought Bear Stearns  close to collapse last month because of too many investments in risky mortgage-backed securities. The nation's fifth-largest investment bank ran into severe liquidity problems, prompting the Fed to orchestrate its sale to JPMorgan Chase & Co. 

''I think he assuaged investors' fears of any more investment banks failing,'' said Jim Herrick, director of equity trading at Baird & Co.

The Fed chairman's comments appeared to offer investors some assurance about the health of the financial system, giving them adequate reason to hold on to huge gains logged during a big rally on Tuesday. It also offset Bernanke's testimony that the economy may contract in the first half of the year - a trend that would mean the U.S. is in a recession.

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Space Shuttle Retirement Could Mean Loss Of 8,600 NASA Jobs
2008-04-02 16:10:01
Retiring the space shuttle in 2010 could result in the loss of 8,000 jobs among NASA contractors and 600 Civil Service workers at the agency, NASA said Tuesday.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration, under orders from Congress, released its first estimates of job losses as it continued the transition from the shuttle program to the Constellation program. That program is developing a new generation of spacecraft and rockets to service the International Space Station and carry people to the Moon and, later, Mars.

NASA’s associate administrator for space operations, William H. Gerstenmaier, cautioned that the job losses might appear worse than they would end up. As the agency gears up for the Constellation program, Gerstenmaier said in a telephone news conference, a potentially large number of employees could transfer to new openings developing, building and operating Constellation spacecraft and rockets.

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United Airlines Cancels 31 Flights For Inspections
2008-04-02 16:09:24

United Airlines temporarily removed its fleet of Boeing 777 aircraft from service to allow for inspections, resulting in cancellation of 31 flights, the airline said Wednesday.

The inspections, of part of the fire suppression system in the cargo hold, were ordered by the airline after United workers found that scheduled checks of the equipment had not been performed, said Megan McCarthy, a spokeswoman for United. She said 52 aircraft were taken out of service beginning at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday evening. Inspecting all of the aircraft is expected to take 24 to 36 hours, she said. By Wednesday morning, 14 inspections had been completed.

She said none of the inspections conducted by noon on Wednesday had turned up any problems with the fire suppression systems.

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U.S. Congress Fast-Tracks Work On Homeowner Relief
2008-04-02 02:55:11
Casting aside partisan differences, Senate Democratic and Republican leaders said on Tuesday that they would work urgently on a package of legislation to help millions of homeowners at risk of foreclosure, with the hope of bringing a bill to the floor as early as Wednesday afternoon.

The new pledge of cooperation was the latest sign of fast-growing consensus among Congress, the Bush administration and financial regulators that broader government action was needed to prevent a torrent of new foreclosures and further collapse of the housing and residential mortgage markets.

And it reflected the mounting pressure on Congressional Republicans and the White House to extend a helping hand to average Americans after the Federal Reserve’s intervention in the near collapse and proposed sale of Bear Stearns, the New York investment bank, to JPMorgan Chase.

As lawmakers worked Tuesday to refine details of the package, the new spirit of collaboration raised hopes of swift action on broader measures that some Democrats say could potentially help as many as 1.5 million homeowners by refinancing riskier adjustable-rate mortgages into traditional 30-year loans.

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Teleportation, Time Travel, And Aliens - A Vision Of Tomorrow Today
2008-04-02 02:54:24
Even the most outlandish science fiction could become fact, says City University of New York Professor and noted physicist Michio Kaku.

Einstein gave hope to scientists chasing the most outlandish theories when he famously declared: "If at first, the idea is not absurd, then there is no hope for it."

He then proved the existence of black holes and the notion that time passes more slowly the faster you travel.

Now one of the world's most distinguished physicists has scrutinized some of science fiction's other concepts, such as teleportation and forcefields, and is convinced that they too can become reality.

Professor Michio Kaku, of City University in New York, has ruled out time travel for at least a few millennia, but believes invisibility cloaks and telepathy could be possible this century.

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Human-Cow Hybrid Embryo Created
2008-04-02 02:53:46

Britain's first human-animal hybrid embryos have been created, forming a crucial first step, scientists believe, towards a supply of stem cells that could be used to investigate debilitating and so far untreatable conditions such as Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's and motor neurone disease.

Lyle Armstrong, who led the work, gained permission in January from the Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority (HFEA) to create the embryos, known as "cytoplasmic hybrids".

His team at Newcastle University produced the embryos by inserting human DNA from a skin cell into a hollowed-out cow egg. An electric shock then induced the hybrid embryo to grow. The embryo, 99.9% human and 0.1% other animal, grew for three days, until it had 32 cells.

Eventually, scientists hope to grow such embryos for six days, and then extract stem cells from them. The researchers insisted the embryos would never be implanted into a woman and that the only reason they used cow eggs was due to the scarcity of human eggs.

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In Iraq, Attacks On U.S. Forces Soar
2008-04-02 02:52:49
Attacks against U.S. troops and Iraqi security forces soared across Baghdad in the last week of March to the highest levels since the deployment of additional U.S. troops here reached full strength last June, according to U.S. military data and analysis.

The sharp spike in attacks, in response to an ill-prepared Iraqi government offensive in the southern city of Basra  last week, underscores the fragility of the U.S. military's hard-won security gains in Iraq and how easily those gains can be erased.

"Last week was clearly a bad week and shows the tenuous nature of security, which is something we've been stressing for some time now," Navy Rear Adm. Gregory J. Smith, the U.S. military's chief spokesman, wrote in an e-mail response to questions. "Security in Iraq is not irreversible, and any number of actors can affect the level of violence if and when they choose to."

Over the week that began March 25, when the offensive began in Basra, there were 728 attacks against U.S. coalition forces, Iraqi security forces and civilians across Iraq, according to U.S. military data obtained by the Washington Post. Of these, 430 - or almost 60 percent of the attacks - occurred in Baghdad, the major focus of last year's buildup of 30,000 additional U.S. troops. The forces have begun to withdraw, and the rest are to be gone by the end of July.

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U.S. Congressman Ordered To Pay In Wiretap Case
2008-04-02 02:52:10

A U.S. federal judge has ordered Rep. Jim McDermott (D-Washington) to pay nearly $1.2 million to House Minority Leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio), settling a legal dispute over McDermott's actions in leaking the contents of an intercepted 1996 conference call involving Boehner and other Republican leaders.

Chief Judge Thomas F. Hogan, of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, in a ruling issued Monday evening, ordered McDermott to pay legal fees, interest and fines accrued by Boehner over the last 10 years.

McDermott may pay the penalty with campaign funds and money from a defense fund he created in 2000. It will go to Boehner's campaign committee, which paid his legal bills throughout the case.

Hogan had already levied a $60,000 civil fine against McDermott in 2004 for violating federal wiretapping statutes by receiving the intercepted audiotape of the conference call and releasing its contents to several members of the media. McDermott appealed the ruling to the Supreme Court, which last year refused to hear the case.

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Environment: The Green Scare
2008-04-03 02:18:20
When a luxury housing development in Washington state was torched, it seemed an open and shut case. The Earth Liberation Front was to blame. But was it? Does it even exist? And why is the Bush government intent on casting "eco-terrorists" as public enemy number one?

Early last month five large half-built houses on the "Street of Dreams", an opulent development in the quiet Washington state suburb of Woodinville near Seattle, caught fire. Three buildings were gutted and two were seriously smoke-damaged to the tune of about $7 million. The fire brigades took six hours to put the fires out, but no one was hurt.

These were no ordinary houses. Set in an expensive U.K. green belt-style "rural cluster development" area (RCD), they were locally unpopular $2 million, 4,500 square-foot buildings, dubbed "McMonsters". Moreover, they were billed as "green", built to tick every box of the well-heeled ethically conscious families they were aimed at: formaldehyde-free materials, energy-efficient appliances, pervious pavements, extra insulation, recycled wood for windows and doors.

It did not need a great detective to tell that this was arson. A large spray-painted bedsheet left at the scene read: "Built green? Nope black. McMansions in RCDs r not green." It was signed "Elf" - the Earth Liberation Front.

So whodunnit? The Seattle Joint Terrorism Task Force, working with the FBI and the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, said this week that they were indeed working on the theory that it was "eco-terrorism", carried out by a cell of environmentalists using the catch-all title of the Earth Liberation Front.

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The Question: When Is Doomsday?
2008-04-03 02:17:46

It is difficult to say.

Even the 28-strong cult who have spent the past six months hunkered down in a cave in Penza, southeast Russia, waiting for the world to end don't have an exact date in mind. Pavel Kuznetsov, the group's leader, didn't want to be tied to one particular day, and his followers seemed content with his nebulous "April or May" prediction.

Until this week, that is, when 17 of them emerged from their subterranean hiding place. They claimed their recently collapsed roof was God's way of telling them to return to the surface, but a more likely explanation is that they simply tired of hanging around waiting for the Big Day, with, we are told, little more than pickled mushrooms for sustenance.

Few Doomsday cults are willing to name an exact date for our demise. In 1982, Osho, an Indian mystic who encouraged his followers to poison salad bars, predicted that "something totally unpredictable" would "begin sometime between 1993 and 1999". He died in 1990, avoiding the need to eat humble pie.

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NATO Rebuffs Bush On Ukraine, Georgia, But Welcomes Croatia And Albania
2008-04-03 02:17:07
NATO's political leaders agreed Wednesday night to admit Croatia and Albania into the military alliance, but after a vigorous debate they effectively rejected President Bush's bid to put two former Soviet republics on the path to membership.

The invitations to Croatia and Albania will bring NATO membership to 28 countries, the organization's first expansion in six years as it renews its push to integrate Europe under a common security umbrella. The alliance will not, however, accept a third Balkan state, Macedona, because Greece decided to veto its application because of a long-standing dispute over the former Yugoslav republic's name.

The opening of a NATO summit here exposed a major fissure over the future of the alliance as a reinvigorated Russia increasingly flexes its muscles 17 years after the collapse of the Soviet Union. The leaders and their foreign ministers engaged in what a senior U.S. official called "spirited discussion" behind closed doors of Bush's proposal to offer road maps to membership to Ukraine and Georgia, two countries at odds with their former masters in Moscow since democratic revolutions within the past five years.

Russia has firmly opposed membership for the two countries, saying it would target them with nuclear missiles in response. The NATO leaders insisted Russian objections should play no role, but they made clear Wednesday night that there was no consensus for Ukraine and Georgia to move forward at present.

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A Look Inside Al-Qaeda
2008-04-02 16:12:00
The militant is known as Abu Ubaida al Masri, and charting his path reveals his vulnerabilities and those of the terrorist group.

If al-Qaeda strikes the West in the coming months, it's likely the mastermind will be a stocky Egyptian explosives expert with two missing fingers.

His alias is Abu Ubaida al Masri. Hardly anyone has heard of him outside a select circle of anti-terrorism officials and Islamic militants but, as chief of external operations for al-Qaeda, investigators say, he has one of the most dangerous - and endangered - jobs in international terrorism.

He has overseen the major plots that the network needs to stay viable, investigators say: the London transportation bombings in 2005, a foiled transatlantic "spectacular" aimed at U.S.-bound planes in 2006, and an aborted plot in this serene Scandinavian capital last fall.
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Fed Chairman Bernanke Gives Bleakest Assessment Yet Of U.S. Economy
2008-04-02 16:10:51
The chairman of the Federal Reserve, Ben S. Bernanke, presented his bleakest assessment yet of the economy on Wednesday morning, warning a Congressional committee that economic growth was likely to stagnate - and perhaps even contract - over the first half of the year.

In his first public remarks since the Fed orchestrated an unprecedented bailout of the brokerage firm Bear Stearns,  Bernanke defended the central bank’s actions against accusations of “moral hazard” and acknowledged considerable problems in the broader economy.

He also said the Fed’s steps to restore confidence in the credit markets had “helped stabilize the situation somewhat” and would probably stimulate an economic recovery after the summer, but he warned that the current turbulence made the economic outlook difficult to predict.

“The uncertainty attending this forecast is quite high and the risks remain to the downside,” he said Wednesday morning to the Joint Economic Committee.

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U.S. Senate Leaders Agree On Housing Bill
2008-04-02 16:10:16
U.S. Senate leaders announced an agreement Wednesday on legislation to ease the slumping housing market and help millions of families threatened by foreclosure.

The scaled-back proposal released by Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, and Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, of Kentucky, contains an amalgam of ideas aimed at boosting demand for housing and helping homeowners saddled with subprime mortgages avoid foreclosure.

For instance, the plan contains $4 billion in grants to local governments to buy and refurbish foreclosed homes, new authority for states to issue bonds to be used to refinance subprime mortgages and a $7,000 tax credit for people buying new homes or properties in foreclosure.

"It is a robust package," said Reid. "This is good news for the American people."

Economists across the political spectrum sounded skeptical that the measure would have much practical effect to ease the wrenching crisis in the housing market and the wave of foreclosures spreading across the country.

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Zimbabwe State-Run Paper Predicts Run-Off Election
2008-04-02 16:09:44
The main opposition officially claimed victory Wednesday in the presidential election and urged President Robert G. Mugabe to concede, saying its tally showed the challenger Morgan Tsvangirai had won a slim majority.

The country’s state-run newspaper, in the first official acknowledgment that Mugabe had not won the election in the country he has led for 28 years, said no candidate received more than 50 percent and that it expected a runoff vote.

At a news conference, Tendai Biti, general secretary of the opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change, said his side won 50.3 percent of the presidential vote on Saturday It said the final tally was totaled from votes posted at each polling station; party workers took photos of every result and computed the sum.

Four days after the election, the country’s election commission had still not released any of its own results from the presidential election. Biti urged the election commission to publish results swiftly. “There is a vacuum and in a vacuum all sorts of mischief fills in,” he said. The Herald newspaper, published by the government and considered a mouthpiece of Mugabe, published no actual election results from Saturday’s vote and attributed its conclusion of an expected runoff to analysts, but the newspaper report is likely to be perceived as a decision by Mugabe and his key aides to continue his fight to hold on to the presidency rather than yield it to the challenger, Tsvangirai, the M.D.C. leader.

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Intelligence Centers Tap Into Americans' Personal Data
2008-04-02 02:55:25

Intelligence centers run by states across the country have access to personal information about millions of Americans, including unlisted cellphone numbers, insurance claims, driver's license photographs and credit reports, according to a document obtained by the Washington Post. 

One center also has access to top-secret data systems at the CIA, the document shows, though it's not clear what information those systems contain.

Dozens of the organizations known as fusion centers were created after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks to identify potential threats and improve the way information is shared. The centers use law enforcement analysts and sophisticated computer systems to compile, or fuse, disparate tips and clues and pass along the refined information to other agencies. They are expected to play important roles in national information-sharing networks that link local, state and federal authorities and enable them to automatically sift their storehouses of records for patterns and clues.

Though officials have publicly discussed the fusion centers' importance to national security, they have generally declined to elaborate on the centers' activities. But a document that lists resources used by the fusion centers shows how a dozen of the organizations in the northeastern United States rely far more on access to commercial and government databases than had previously been disclosed.

Those details have come to light at a time of debate about domestic intelligence efforts, including eavesdropping and data-aggregation programs at the National Security Agency (NSA), and whether the government has enough protections in place to prevent abuses.

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British Bank, First Direct, Shuts Its Doors To New Mortgage Customers
2008-04-02 02:54:53

One of Britain's best-known banks, First Direct, shut its doors to new mortgage customers Tuesday night amid a growing exodus by lenders that is likely to force up borrowing costs for all home buyers.

First Direct said it was taking the "drastic" step of pulling out of offering mortgages to anyone other than existing customers after being overwhelmed with applications for its home loans following recent price increases by other leading lenders.

Several other lenders, including NatWest and Scottish Widows, also increased borrowing costs Tuesday or tightened their lending rules, raising fears that all first-time buyers will soon require a minimum 10% deposit in order to get on to the housing ladder. That would mean a typical new buyer in London would have to save up around £25,000 ($50,000).

The clampdown on lending will contribute to the fast-evaporating confidence in Britain's property market. Tuesday the Land Registry said the number of properties sold in the final quarter of 2007 was down by nearly a quarter on the year before. Earlier this week Nationwide reported the longest run of monthly falls in house prices since the depths of the property crash in 1992.

First Direct, owned by HSBC, said the decision to temporarily withdraw its mortgages from sale was "not a funding issue" but aimed at restoring normal standards of customer service. It added that it would resume offering home loans to new customers when it had cleared the backlog.

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Bush, Putin Seem To Be On Collision Course
2008-04-02 02:54:07

George Bush and Vladimir Putin Tuesday appeared to be on a collision course ahead of Wednesday's critical NATO summit in Bucharest, Romania, which could determine the future of the alliance and its relationship with Russia.

In a visit loaded with symbolism, President Bush traveled to Kiev Tuesday to declare "strong support" for Ukraine's membership in NATO, in defiance of Moscow which adamantly opposes the alliance's eastwards expansion.

"Helping Ukraine move toward NATO membership is in the interest of every member in the alliance and will help advance security and freedom in this region and around the world," said Bush.

He also backed NATO accession for Georgia and said Russia could not exercise a veto over the Atlantic alliance's membership. The blunt declaration does not bode well for a NATO-Russia meeting on Friday, at the end of the Bucharest summit and a bilateral meeting between Bush and Putin two days later at Sochi, on the Black Sea.

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Pentagon Is Expected To Close Intelligence Unit
2008-04-02 02:53:14
The Pentagon is expected to shut a controversial intelligence office that has drawn fire from lawmakers and civil liberties groups who charge that it was part of an effort by the Defense Department to expand into domestic spying.

The move, government officials say, is part of a broad effort under Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates to review, overhaul and, in some cases, dismantle an intelligence architecture built by his predecessor, Donald H. Rumsfeld. 

The intelligence unit, called the Counterintelligence Field Activity office, was created by Rumsfeld after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks as part of an effort to counter the operations of foreign intelligence services and terror groups inside the United States and abroad.

Yet the office, whose size and budget is classified, came under fierce criticism in 2005 after it was disclosed that it was managing a database that included information about antiwar protests planned at churches, schools and Quaker meeting halls.

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2003 Justice Dept. Memo Gave Immunity To Interrogators
2008-04-02 02:52:37

The U.S. Justice Department sent a legal memorandum to the Pentagon in 2003 asserting that federal laws prohibiting assault, maiming and other crimes did not apply to military interrogators who questioned al-Qaeda  captives because the president's ultimate authority as commander in chief overrode such statutes.

The 81-page memo, which was declassified and released publicly Tuesday, argues that poking, slapping or shoving detainees would not give rise to criminal liability. The document also appears to defend the use of mind-altering drugs that do not produce "an extreme effect" calculated to "cause a profound disruption of the senses or personality."

Although the existence of the memo has long been known, its contents had not been previously disclosed.

Nine months after it was issued, Justice Department officials told the Defense Department to stop relying on it. But its reasoning provided the legal foundation for the Defense Department's use of aggressive interrogation practices at a crucial time, as captives poured into military jails from Afghanistan and U.S. forces prepared to invade Iraq.

Sent to the Pentagon's general counsel on March 14, 2003, by John C. Yoo, then a deputy in the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel, the memo provides an expansive argument for nearly unfettered presidential power in a time of war. It contends that numerous laws and treaties forbidding torture or cruel treatment should not apply to U.S. interrogations in foreign lands because of the president's inherent wartime powers.

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Environment: Disease May Hit Half Of U.K.'s Horse Chestnut Trees
2008-04-02 02:51:53

Almost half Britain's horse chestnut trees could be infected with deadly bacteria, according to a new study that warns the disease has spread much further than experts realized.

A survey of more than 2,600 horse chestnuts across the country found that 49% showed symptoms of the bleeding canker disease, which attacks bark and can kill the tree or require it to be chopped down. Previous estimates said only 5% of trees were affected.

Roddie Burgess, head of plant health at the Forestry Commission, which carried out the new survey, said: "This was the first opportunity we have had to carry out a survey of this type, and the results did take us by surprise."

Commission staff checked the state of 1,385 rural trees and 1,244 in urban locations across England, Scotland and Wales last summer. More than half (54%) of the urban horse chestnuts showed symptoms of the disease and 44% of the rural trees were affected. The symptoms were most common in southeast England, where more than three-quarters (76%) of the trees surveyed showed symptoms. There are thought to be 1 million horse chestnuts in Britain.

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