Sunday, July 15, 2007

Mother Accused Of Throwing Baby Into Moving Car During Fight

Mother Accused Of Throwing Baby Into Moving Car During Fight
POSTED: 7:22 pm EDT July 14, 2007
UPDATED: 7:30 pm EDT July 14, 2007

A woman in Orlando, Fla., is accused of throwing her 2-month-old baby into a moving car during an argument with the child's father, according to police.

Witnesses said Eva Jean Platt was arguing with her son's father when she tossed the baby as he was preparing to leave in his car.

The 2-month-old hit the window and fell to the ground, according to witnesses.

The infant is being treated for a fractured skull and bleeding in the brain.

Platt was transported to the Orange County Jail and is being held on a $1,000 bond.

Watch Local 6 News for more on this story.

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Russia withdraws from arms treaty

Russia withdraws from arms treaty

MOSCOW, Russia (AP) -- Russia on Saturday suspended its participation in a key European arms control treaty that governs deployment of troops on the continent, the Kremlin said, a move that threatened to further aggravate Moscow's already tense relations with the West.

President Vladimir Putin signed a decree suspending Russia's participation in the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty due to "extraordinary circumstances ... which affect the security of the Russian Federation and require immediate measures," the Kremlin said in a statement.

Putin has in the past threatened to freeze his country's compliance with the treaty, accusing the United States and its NATO partners of undermining regional stability with U.S. plans for a missile defense system in former Soviet bloc countries in Eastern Europe.

Under the moratorium, Russia would halt inspections and verifications of its military sites by NATO countries and would no longer limit the number of its conventional weapons, the Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

In Brussels, NATO spokesman James Appathurai condemned the decision. "NATO regrets this decision by the Russian Federation. It is a step in the wrong direction," Appathurai said.

The treaty, between Russian and NATO members, was signed in 1990 and amended in 1999 to reflect changes since the breakup of the Soviet Union, adding the requirement that Moscow withdraw troops from the former Soviet republics of Moldova and Georgia.

Russia has ratified the amended version, but the United States and other NATO members have refused to do so until Russia completely withdraws.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Russia could no longer tolerate a situation where it was complying with the treaty but its partners were not, and he expressed hope that Russia's move would induce Western nations to commit to the updated treaty. Watch a report on Moscow's decision »

"Such a situation contradicts Russia's interests," Peskov told The Associated Press. "Russia continues to expect that other nations that have signed the CFE will fulfill their obligations."

The treaty is seen as a key element in maintaining stability in Europe. It establishes limitations on countries' deployment of tanks, armored combat vehicles, artillery, attack helicopters and combat aircraft.

Withdrawal from the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty would allow Moscow to build up forces near its borders.

But Russian military analysts have said the possibility of suspending participation in the treaty was a symbolic rising of ante in the missile shield showdown more than a sign of impending military escalation.

Pavel Felgenhauer, a Moscow-based defense analyst, said the moratorium probably won't result in any major buildup of heavy weaponry in European Russia. Russia has no actual interest in the highly costly build up of forces because it faces no real military threat and has no plans to launch an attack of its won, he said.

But, he said, it could mean an end to onsite inspections and verifications by NATO countries, which many European nations rely on to keep track of Russian deployments.

For the United States, the moratorium will mostly be a symbolic gesture, he said, since the U.S. has an extensive intelligence network that keeps close track of Russian forces. But it will still be seen as another unfriendly move in Washington, Felgenhauer predicted.

"This will be a major irritant," he said. "It will seriously spoil relations. The kind of soothing effect from the last summit with Putin and (President) Bush will evaporate swiftly," he said referring a summit between the leaders earlier this month at the Bush family home in Kennebunkport, Maine.

Felgenhauer also said that there is no provision under the treaty for a moratorium, suggesting Russia was acting illegally. "This is basically non-compliance, and this is an illegal move," he said.

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

© 2007 Cable News Network.

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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Fighting for their home

Fighting for their home
Slidell family's residence was sold at auction because of a $1.63 tax bill they didn't even know about.
Sunday, July 15, 2007
By Charlie Chapple
St. Tammany bureau

In 1996, the St. Tammany Parish Sheriff's Office mailed a paltry $1.63 property tax bill for the Slidell-area home of Kermit and Dolores Atwood that never reached its destination.

The seemingly innocuous, misaddressed bill was the start of a bizarre legal ordeal that threatens to leave the couple homeless and now stands at the door of the state Supreme Court.

The chain of events that followed the wayward property tax bill, including the eventual sale of the home at a sheriff's tax sale, is described by Dolores Atwood as "seven years of emotional hell."

"I don't know how much more I can endure," said Atwood, 69, while sitting in a FEMA trailer in front of her Katrina-ravaged brick home on Dauphine Street, just north of Slidell.

"I wake up in the middle of the night, and it's on my mind," she said. "All this should have never happened."

But it did, all because of the $1.63 tax bill that Atwood and her husband, Kermit, never received. And they still face the threat of losing their property because of the bill, which was mailed to a defunct address and returned undelivered to the Sheriff's Office.

The couple cling to the hope that recent state court decisions, which say their home should never have been put up for a tax sale, withstand further appeals by a land company tenaciously pursuing a lawsuit to obtain the property.

Sold behind their backs

The Atwoods' nightmare began when they learned in 2000 that their four-bedroom, two-bath home had been sold in 1997 through a tax sale for the $1.63 in unpaid taxes, plus 10 cents interest and $125 in costs associated with the sale.

"We found out about it seven days after the three-year redemption period ended," during which delinquent taxpayers can reclaim their property, Atwood said. She then complained to the sheriff's and assessor's offices that she never received the bill and knew nothing about it.

The house, which the couple has owned mortgage-free since 1968, previously was totally state homestead exempt, meaning there was no tax bill, Atwood said. The couple's mailing address during that time changed from a rural route and mailbox number to 4122 Dauphine St. because of the implementation of the parish's 911 emergency phone system. The tax bill mailed to the rural route address was returned as undeliverable to the Sheriff's Office which, after advertisements of delinquent taxes in the parish's legal journal, put the property on the auction block.

"The Sheriff's Office could have easily found us," Atwood said. "We're in the phone book. We didn't go anywhere . . . And we never thought about telling the assessor's office about our address change because we've never had to pay property taxes before."

After learning about the couple's plight, Assessor Patricia Schwarz Core got the state Tax Commission to nullify the tax sale because the bill was mailed to a nonexistent address.

"We thought it was over and everything was fine," Atwood said.

But two years later in 2002, when the couple decided to sell the house and got a $90,000 offer, "we learned there was a lien on our property," Atwood said.

It wasn't a lien, but a notice of pending litigation that was attached to the property's listing in courthouse records, Tax Commission attorney Deborah L. Crain said. However, like a lien, "it does cloud the title to the property," Crain said.

The notice was placed on the property by Jamie Land Co., which had bought the property rights from American Land Investments a month after American Land acquired it at the tax sale.

Jamie Land Co. also had sued the Atwoods and the Tax Commission to get the property shortly after the commission annulled the sale.

Atwood said that because the couple didn't have a clear title to their property, they couldn't sell their house in 2002. When Katrina hit, the stormed toppled trees onto the home. "We didn't have insurance," Atwood said. "Since we didn't have clear title, we couldn't qualify for Road Home or a mortgage to fix the house."

The 2,100-square-foot house with a 900-square-foot double garage sits in disrepair surrounded by tall weeds on the lot, which measures 150 feet by 185 feet. Atwood, who said she lives on a $800 monthly Social Security check, stays alone in a FEMA trailer in front of the house. Her husband, 71 and on a respirator, lives with relatives.

"My husband said we aren't spending another dime on it until we know it's definitely ours," she said.

'She's gone through hell'

The Atwoods did get help from the Tax Commission, whose staff attorneys are defending the commission's decision to nullify the sale. Core got Slidell lawyer Gary Duplechain to represent the Atwoods.

"I sure hope for her sake that it's all over soon," Core said. "She's gone through hell."

In May 2006, state Judge Patricia Hedges upheld the commission's action to nullify the tax sale and ruled that the title to the property belongs to the Atwoods.

But Jamie Land, headed by James A. Lindsay II of Bush, appealed. Last month, a three-judge panel of the state 1st Circuit Court of Appeal, in a 2-1 decision, upheld Hedges' decision. Jamie Land asked the court to rehear the case, but Monday the court denied the request.

Jamie Land attorney John Davidson said the company plans to ask the state Supreme Court to hear the case. Unfortunately for the Atwoods, it still could be a while before the case is resolved, Crain said.

Lindsay, the company president, said he did not want to pursue a long court case over the property. "I've been trying to settle this from the very beginning," Lindsay said. "I've offered to settle for very little. Every time we meet in court, we beg to settle."

Lindsay said he's made offers, ranging from $2,000 to $5,000, to settle the case and drop the lawsuit. "I've got about $20,000 in this and I would settle right now for $5,000," Lindsay said. He said he doesn't want to see Atwood suffer, but "I have rights too," adding that the commission gave him no notice when it annulled the tax sale.

Atwood said if there were offers to settle, she is totally unaware of them. Besides, why should she settle? Atwood said. The state has nullified the tax sale, and the courts have upheld the action, she said.

"I don't owe him 50 cents, not with what he's put me through," Atwood said. "This should have long been over with."

Lindsay said he sued because the Tax Commission exceeded its authority when it voided the sale.

Sale ruled 'null and void'

In the recent appeal court ruling, Judges Robert D. Downing and Jefferson Hughes said it's "uncontradicted" that the Atwoods "did not receive notice of the tax sale due to an incorrect address, even though the correct address was readily ascertainable."

Citing other court decisions, the two judges said "due process requires that the property owner be properly notified before property can be sold for taxes. If notice requirements are not followed, the sale is null and void."

"When a notice is returned unclaimed, the tax official cannot sit back and do nothing, but has a duty to notify the property owner," the judges stated, again citing prior court decisions. "Failure to do so makes the tax sale null and void." And a newspaper notice is "not a reasonable means to send notice," the judges said, and "personal service or mailed notice is constitutionally required if such is reasonably ascertainable."

Jamie Land argued that once the three-year redemption period has expired, the state Constitution allows only the courts to annul a tax sale. Therefore, the commission lacked the authority to void the sale of the Atwoods' property, the company contends.

Judge John T. Pettegrew, in a dissenting opinion, agreed with the company. Pettegrew said the Constitution grants the sole power and authority to the courts to annul a tax sale after the redemption period has expired.

"In my humble opinion, the majority's decision would grant carte blanche authority to the Louisiana Tax Commission, without notice to anyone else, to cancel tax sales for the past 100 years," Pettegrew said.

And that, Davidson said, is the bigger issue in the case and a major reason the company continues to pursue its suit.

"Look, I don't blame her for being mad about it," Lindsay said. "But when you get down to it, it was her who didn't pay her taxes."

Had she received or known about the bill, the $1.63 would have been paid, Atwood said.

"And we wouldn't have had to go through this hell," she said.

. . . . . . .

Charlie Chapple can be reached at or (985) 898-4828.

© 2007 New OrleansNet LLC. All Rights Reserved.

US Airports Report Spike in Near Misses

US Airports Report Spike in Near Misses

NBC -- Airports, air traffic controllers and airlines are struggling with a spike in delays, cancellations and near-misses, when planes come within 500 feet or less of one another.

At Fort Lauderdale on Wednesday, the National Transportation Safety Board said a Delta Airlines flight that had just touched down, had to quickly take-off again to avoid a United Airlines plane instructed to taxi on the same runway.

"Our information now is that they passed about 100 feet vertically from each other," said Robert Sumwalt, Vice Chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board.

In the northeast alone since may, there have been more than five near misses.

Thursday night at Newark’s Liberty International, Rich Domich, a sports news executive, said the Continental commuter jet he was on had just landed when it experienced a close call with a 747 taking off.

"We slam on the breaks, we roll, we take a right and then there's another jar that he's applying the breaks and we look up and you just see that plane right in front of you," said Domich.

So far, Continental Express is calling it a non-incident and the FAA says it is reviewing the air traffic control tape.

The FAA admits a shortage of air traffic controllers and an increase in air travel are taxing an already strained system.

"You are flying in some of the most congested airspace we have with airports that do not have an adequate air traffic control system until we go to the next generation," said FAA administrator Marion Blakey.

But lawmakers said something needs to be done now.

New York Senator Charles Schumer said, "How could the FAA let this happen? How can the FAA say that it's the guardian of our skies when things have deteriorated so dramatically?"

Questions. Frustrations and challenges as America takes to the skies in record numbers.

Created: 7/13/2007 9:40:35 PM
Updated: 7/13/2007 10:25:28 PM
Edited by Josh Sanchez, Corporate Intern

© 2007 NBCNC. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, rewritten, or redistributed.

First Coast News -- WTLV NBC-12 and WJXX ABC-25 -- 1070 East Adams Street, Jacksonville, FL 32202 -- (904)354-1212

Refugee numbers rise, bolstered by Iraqis

Refugee numbers rise, bolstered by Iraqis
Report: Number grew by nearly 2 million and is at highest level since 2001
The Associated Press
Updated: 9:06 a.m. ET July 11, 2007

WASHINGTON - The number of refugees worldwide increased by nearly 2 million last year, driving the total to nearly 14 million, the highest level since 2001, the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants reported Wednesday.

The rise was due in part to a continued exodus from Iraq, where 790,000 people left last year. Syria took in 449,000 and Jordan 250,000, the private refugees committee said.

Some 80,000 went to Egypt, while the United States accepted 202 Iraqi refugees for resettlement.

Almost 1.7 million Iraqis
At the end of 2006, there were 1,687,800 Iraqi refugees. Helping to boost the overall refugee total was that registration in Pakistan revealed an addition of nearly 1 million Afghans, to an overall total of 2,161,500.

At the same time, the number of refugees around the world who are being “warehoused” —denied a right to work and confined to camps — for 10 years or more grew to 8.8 million.

While the overall number of refugees rose last year, the high figure is not unprecedented. There were nearly 15 million refugees in 2001 and 14.5 million in 2000.

Overall, the committee said, the situation for refugees worsened in all four categories it uses for measuring their well-being: physical protection, detention, freedom of movement and right to earn a livelihood.

The best grades went to Canada and Benin, on the west coast of Africa, each receiving three As and one B.

Two countries, Russia and Tanzania, on the other hand, were graded F in all four categories while the United States was given an F for forcible return of Haitians without proper screening for asylum seekers and a D for wholesale detention of asylum seekers.

On the other hand, the United States was accorded an A for freedom of movement and the right to work.

The Arab countries that hosted most Iraqi refugees were criticized for serious violations of their rights, with Jordan receiving an F for forcible return of Iraqis to Iraq.

Historically, Afghanistan is the country that generated the most refugees and asylum seekers, 3,260,300, beginning in 1980, while the Palestinian territories generated almost as many, 3,036,400. Iraq was third, with 1,687,800.

The committee describes itself as a 96-year-old non-governmental organization that has served refugees and immigrants, defended the rights of refugees, asylum seekers and internally displaced persons.

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Saturday, July 14, 2007

White House rebuffs Congress on Tillman
White House rebuffs Congress on Tillman
Administration won’t release some papers relating to ex-NFL player’s death
The Associated Press
Updated: 8:17 p.m. ET July 13, 2007

SAN FRANCISCO - Two influential lawmakers investigating how and when the Bush administration learned the circumstances of Pat Tillman’s friendly-fire death and how those details were disclosed accused the White House and Pentagon on Friday of withholding key documents and renewed their demand for the material.

The White House and Defense Department have turned over nearly 10,000 pages of papers — mostly press clippings — but the White House cited “executive branch confidentiality interests” in refusing to provide other documents.

House Oversight Committee Chairman Henry Waxman, D-Calif., and Tom Davis, R-Va., the committee’s top-ranking Republican, said Friday the documents were inadequate. They insisted that the Defense Department turn over the additional material by July 25 and asked that the White House do likewise.

Tillman, a San Jose native, turned down a lucrative contract with the NFL’s Arizona Cardinals to join the Army following the Sept. 11 attacks. He was killed April 22, 2004, by friendly fire in Afghanistan.

Allegations of a cover-up
Although Pentagon investigators determined quickly that he was killed by his own troops, five weeks passed before the circumstances of his death were made public. During that time, the Army claimed he was killed by enemy fire.

Tillman’s family and others have said they believe the erroneous information peddled by the Pentagon was part of a deliberate cover-up that may have reached all the way to President Bush and then-Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld. The committee said Friday it had scheduled a second hearing on Tillman’s death for Aug. 1, this time to probe what senior Pentagon officials knew and when.

Rumsfeld and Richard Myers, the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, were among those the committee invited Friday to appear.

Renewed request for papers
The White House has turned over nearly 1,100 pages of documents and the Defense Department nearly 8,500 pages since the committee requested information from them in April, part of an inquiry into why Tillman’s family and the public were misled.

“The document production from the White House sheds virtually no light on these matters,” Waxman and Davis wrote to White House counsel Fred Fielding, part of a renewed request for additional papers.

The committee made public a letter last month in which Fielding said the White House was holding back certain papers “because they implicate executive branch confidentiality interests.” He added the White House had blacked out portions of “purely internal e-mails between White House personnel.”

Argument used in fired attorneys case
The White House’s argument for withholding some papers is the same one it used last month as it rejected congressional subpoenas for documents in the firings of eight U.S. attorneys. Executive “confidentiality” is a lesser claim than “executive privilege” — more a polite way of declining than a firm refusal — and thus still leaves room for negotiation, congressional staffers involved in the matter said.

Fielding added the White House had blacked out portions of “purely internal e-mails between White House personnel.”

Waxman and Davis fired back that “these are not appropriate reasons for withholding the documents from the committee.” And they charged that the White House had simply held other papers back.

In particular, they expressed doubt that the two documents they’d received on communications between the White House and Pentagon on Tillman’s death were the only ones of their kind. One was simply a packet of newspaper clippings.

“Corporal Tillman’s death was a major national story,” they wrote. “It is not plausible that there were no communications between the Defense Department and the White House about Corporal Tillman’s death.”

“The committee was fully aware that certain documents were withheld as our letter to them made clear last month — along with our offer to discuss possible accommodation that meets the committee’s interests while respecting separation of powers principles,” Blair Jones, a White House spokesman, said Friday evening. “We continue to offer an opportunity for the committee to move forward in a spirit of accommodation, rather than conflict.”

Friendly fire suspected from start
Waxman and Davis complained to Defense Secretary Robert Gates of a “failure to provide a complete production to the committee.” For instance, the committee received no documentation on how Rumsfeld learned of Tillman’s death.

They said the Pentagon had not produced any papers from, among others, the offices of Gen. John Abizaid, then head of Central Command.

A week after Tillman died, a top general sent a memo to Abizaid warning that it was “highly possible” that Tillman was killed by friendly fire. The memo made clear that the information should be conveyed to the president. The White House said there is no indication that Bush received the warning.

Two days later, the president mentioned Tillman in a speech to the White House correspondents dinner, but he made no reference to how Tillman had died.

A White House spokeswoman did not immediately respond to requests for comment Friday.

Separately, Waxman asked the Republican National Committee for copies of e-mail communications that involved Tillman and White House officials. That request was an outgrowth of the oversight committee’s finding last month that 88 White House officials had e-mail accounts with the RNC, and that the administration may have committed extensive violations of a law requiring that certain records be preserved.

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

© 2007

Bush admits administration leaked agent name
Bush admits administration leaked agent name
President seeks to put Libby issue to rest
The Associated Press
Updated: 11:47 a.m. ET July 12, 2007

WASHINGTON - President Bush on Thursday acknowledged publicly for the first time that someone in his administration likely leaked the name of a CIA operative, although he also said he hopes the controversy over his decision to spare prison for a former White House aide has "run its course."

"And now we're going to move on," Bush said in a White House news conference.

The president had initially said he would fire anyone in his administration found to have publicly disclosed the identity of Valerie Plame, the wife of former Ambassador Joseph Wilson and a CIA operative. Ten days ago, Bush commuted the 30-month sentence given to I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby by a federal judge in connection with the case.

Libby, the former chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney, had been convicted of lying and obstruction of justice in the CIA-leak case.

Bush would not directly address answer a question about whether he is disappointed in the White House officials who leaked Plame's name.

"I'm aware of the fact that perhaps somebody in the administration did disclose the name of that person," Bush said. "I've often thought about what would have happened if that person had come forth and said, 'I did it.' Would we have had this endless hours of investigation and a lot of money being spent on this matter? But, so, it's been a tough issue for a lot of people in the White House. It's run its course and now we're going to move on."

He also defended the decision to commute Libby's sentence. "The Scooter Libby decision was, I thought, a fair and balanced decision," Bush said.

Full Libby pardon?
In comments shortly after the commutation was announced, the president left open the possibility of an eventual pardon for Libby.

"As to the future, I rule nothing in and nothing out," the president said a day after commuting Libby's 2 1/2-year prison term in the CIA leak case.

Bush said he had weighed his decision carefully to erase Libby's prison time for lying and obstruction of justice. He said the jury's conviction should stand but the prison term was too severe.

"I made a judgment, a considered judgment, that I believe was the right decision to make in this case," the president said. "And I stand by it."

Chief Bush spokesman Tony Snow has said Bush was satisfied with his decision to commute Libby's sentence.

"He thought any jail time was excessive. He did not see fit to have Scooter Libby taken to jail," Snow said.

The spokesman told reporters at a White House briefing last week that even with Bush's decision, Libby has a felony conviction on his record, two years probation, a $250,000 fine and probable loss of his legal career. "So this is hardly a slap on the wrist," Snow said. "It is a very severe penalty.

While Democrats criticized the president, Snow said Bush was "getting pounded on the right for not granting a full pardon."

U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton, who sentenced Libby to prison, declined Tuesday to discuss the case or his views on sentencing. "To now say anything about sentencing on the heels of yesterday's events will inevitably be construed as comments on the president's commutation decision, which would be inappropriate," the judge said in an e-mail.

Clemency timing
With prison seeming all but certain for Libby, Bush suddenly spared Vice President Dick Cheney's former chief of staff. His move came just five hours after a federal appeals court panel ruled that Libby could not delay his prison term. The Bureau of Prisons had already assigned Libby a prison identification number.

Asked whether Cheney — who calls Libby a friend and who has enormous influence within the White House — had pressed for Bush to commute Libby's sentence, Snow said, "I don't have direct knowledge. But on the other hand, the president did consult with most senior officials, and I'm sure that everybody had an opportunity to share their views."

"I'm sure that the vice president may have expressed an opinion. ... He may have recused himself. I honestly don't know," Snow said.

However, the president made the decision without seeking any advice from the Office of the Pardon Attorney at the Justice Department, the White House had previously said.

Snow defended Bush's decision to not follow the usual course of running the matter past the Justice Department, saying details of the case were still fresh in everybody's mind, and that the president did not need to be brought up to date on details.

Democrats have charged cronyism in Bush's sparing Libby jail time. But Snow said, "The president does not look upon this as granting a favor to anyone, and to do that is to misconstrue the nature of the deliberations."

© 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

© 2007

Bush Distorts Qaeda Links, Critics Assert

July 13, 2007
Bush Distorts Qaeda Links, Critics Assert

BAGHDAD, July 12 — In rebuffing calls to bring troops home from Iraq, President Bush on Thursday employed a stark and ominous defense. “The same folks that are bombing innocent people in Iraq,” he said, “were the ones who attacked us in America on September the 11th, and that’s why what happens in Iraq matters to the security here at home.”

It is an argument Mr. Bush has been making with frequency in the past few months, as the challenges to the continuation of the war have grown. On Thursday alone, he referred at least 30 times to Al Qaeda or its presence in Iraq.

But his references to Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, and his assertions that it is the same group that attacked the United States in 2001, have greatly oversimplified the nature of the insurgency in Iraq and its relationship with the Qaeda leadership.

There is no question that the group is one of the most dangerous in Iraq. But Mr. Bush’s critics argue that he has overstated the Qaeda connection in an attempt to exploit the same kinds of post-Sept. 11 emotions that helped him win support for the invasion in the first place.

Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia did not exist before the Sept. 11 attacks. The Sunni group thrived as a magnet for recruiting and a force for violence largely because of the American invasion of Iraq in 2003, which brought an American occupying force of more than 100,000 troops to the heart of the Middle East, and led to a Shiite-dominated government in Baghdad.

The American military and American intelligence agencies characterize Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia as a ruthless, mostly foreign-led group that is responsible for a disproportionately large share of the suicide car bomb attacks that have stoked sectarian violence. Gen. David H. Petraeus, the senior American commander in Iraq, said in an interview that he considered the group to be “the principal short-term threat to Iraq.”

But while American intelligence agencies have pointed to links between leaders of Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia and the top leadership of the broader Qaeda group, the militant group is in many respects an Iraqi phenomenon. They believe the membership of the group is overwhelmingly Iraqi. Its financing is derived largely indigenously from kidnappings and other criminal activities. And many of its most ardent foes are close at home, namely the Shiite militias and the Iranians who are deemed to support them.

“The president wants to play on Al Qaeda because he thinks Americans understand the threat Al Qaeda poses,” said Bruce Riedel, an expert at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy and a former C.I.A. official. “But I don’t think he demonstrates that fighting Al Qaeda in Iraq precludes Al Qaeda from attacking America here tomorrow. Al Qaeda, both in Iraq and globally, thrives on the American occupation.”

Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a Jordanian who became the leader of Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, came to Iraq in 2002 when Saddam Hussein was still in power, but there is no evidence that Mr. Hussein’s government provided support for Mr. Zarqawi and his followers. Mr. Zarqawi did have support from senior Qaeda leaders, American intelligence agencies believe, and his organization grew in the chaos of post-Hussein Iraq.

“There has been an intimate relationship between them from the beginning,” Mr. Riedel said of Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia and the senior leaders of the broader Qaeda group.

But the precise relationship between the Al Qaeda of Osama bin Laden and other groups that claim inspiration or affiliation with it is murky and opaque. While the groups share a common ideology, the Iraq-based group has enjoyed considerable autonomy. Ayman al-Zawahri, Osama bin Laden’s top deputy, questioned Mr. Zarqawi’s strategy of organizing attacks against Shiites, according to captured materials. But Mr. Zarqawi clung to his strategy of mounting sectarian attacks in an effort to foment a civil war and make the American occupation untenable.

The precise size of Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia is not known. Estimates are that it may have from a few thousand to 5,000 fighters and perhaps twice as many supporters. While the membership of the group is mostly Iraqi, the role that foreigners play is crucial.

Abu Ayyub al-Masri is an Egyptian militant who emerged as the successor of Mr. Zarqawi, who was killed near Baquba in an American airstrike last year. American military officials say that 60 to 80 foreign fighters come to Iraq each month to fight for the group, and that 80 to 90 percent of suicide attacks in Iraq have been conducted by foreign-born operatives of Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia.

At first, Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia received financing from the broader Qaeda organization, American intelligence agencies have concluded. Now, however, the Iraq-based group sustains itself through kidnapping, smuggling and criminal activities and some foreign contributions.

With the Shiite militias having taken a lower profile since the troop increase began, and with Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia embarking on its own sort of countersurge, a main focus of the American military operation is to deprive the group of its strongholds in the areas surrounding Baghdad — and thus curtail its ability to carry out spectacular casualty-inducing attacks in the Iraqi capital.

The heated debate over Iraq has spilled over to Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia as well. Mr. Bush has played up the group, talking about it as if it is on a par with the perpetrators of the Sept. 11 attacks. War critics have often played down the significance of the group despite its gruesome record of suicide attacks and its widely suspected role in destroying a Shiite shrine in Samarra in February 2006 that set Iraq on the road to civil war.

Just last week, Mr. Zawahri called on Muslims to travel to Iraq, Afghanistan and Somalia to carry out their fight against the Americans and appealed for Muslims to support the Islamic State in Iraq, an umbrella group that Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia has established to attract broader Sunni support.

The broader issue is whether Iraq is a central front in the war against Al Qaeda, as Mr. Bush maintains, or a distraction that has diverted the United States from focusing on the Qaeda sanctuaries in Pakistan while providing Qaeda leaders with a cause for rallying support.

Military intelligence officials said that Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia’s leaders wanted to expand their attacks to other countries. They noted that Mr. Zarqawi claimed a role in a 2005 terrorist attack in Jordan. But Bruce Hoffman, a terrorism expert at Georgetown University, said that if American forces were to withdraw from Iraq, the vast majority of the group’s members would likely be more focused on battling Shiite militias in the struggle for dominance in Iraq than on trying to follow the Americans home.

“Al-Masri may have more grandiose expectations, but that does not mean he could turn Al Qaeda of Iraq into a transnational terrorist entity,” he said.

Michael R. Gordon reported from Baghdad, and Jim Rutenberg from Washington.

Copyright 2007 The New York Times Company

Dollar Recovers From All-Time Low

Dollar Recovers From All-Time Low
Friday July 13, 5:29 pm ET
By Jackie Farwell, AP Business Writer
Dollar Plummets to All-Time Low Vs. Euro, Recovers After Late U.S. Data

NEW YORK (AP) -- The dollar clawed back from an all-time low against the euro Friday after a dismal showing this week amid worries about the strength of the U.S. economy.
The 13-nation euro broke through the $1.38 mark for the first time Friday, climbing as high as $1.3813 before falling back to $1.3789 in late New York trading.

The euro bought $1.3783 late Thursday.

The dollar, which has been under pressure all week, weakened Friday after the U.S. Commerce Department reported that retail sales in June fell by 0.9 percent compared with the previous month. That marked the biggest drop since August 2005, and it came as demand for cars, furniture and building supplies plummeted.

The dollar recovered some after the Reuters/University of Michigan index of consumer sentiment showed an increase to 92.4 for mid-July from 85.3 in June.

U.S. economic data are being scrutinized closely for hints on the U.S. Federal Reserve's future interest rate course.

The Fed has left its benchmark rate unchanged at 5.25 percent for a year after two years of steady increases.

The European Central Bank, meanwhile, has raised rates steadily and is expected to do so again to 4.25 percent in September. The Bank of England last week increased its benchmark rate to 5.75 percent, a six-year high.

Higher interest rates, a weapon against inflation, can bolster a currency by giving better returns on fixed-income investments.

Concerns about the strength of the U.S. economy, fueled largely by woes in the subprime housing sector, have boosted the euro against the dollar. Rising interest rates and economic slowdown in the U.S. have lead to more defaults in so-called subprime mortgages, loans to borrowers with weak or spotty credit histories.

The British pound continued to trade around 26-year highs against the dollar Friday, rising to $2.0336 from its level late Thursday of $2.0304.

The dollar slipped against the Japanese currency to 122.03 yen from 122.41 yen. On Thursday, Japan's central bank left its key interest rate unchanged at half a percent.

The Canadian dollar lost ground against the dollar Friday, having reached a 30-year high earlier this week. The U.S. dollar bought 1.0476 Canadian dollars, up from 1.0469 late Wednesday.

The dollar fell against the Swiss franc, dropping to 1.2022 from 1.2037.

AP Business Writer Matt Moore in Frankfurt, Germany, contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2007 Yahoo! Inc. All rights reserved.
Copyright © 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. The information contained in the AP News report may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without the prior written authority of The Associated Press.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Carmona says Bush officials muzzled him

Carmona says Bush officials muzzled him
By KEVIN FREKING, Associated Press Writer
Wed Jul 11, 4:04 AM ET

President Bush's most recent surgeon general accused the administration Tuesday of muzzling him for political reasons on hot-button health issues such as emergency contraception and abstinence-only education.

Dr. Richard Carmona, the nation's 17th surgeon general, told lawmakers that all surgeons general have had to deal with politics but none more so than he.

For example, he said he wasn't allowed to make a speech at the Special Olympics because it was viewed as benefiting a political opponent. However, he said was asked to speak at events designed to benefit Republican lawmakers.

"The reality is that the nation's doctor has been marginalized and relegated to a position with no independent budget, and with supervisors who are political appointees with partisan agendas," said Carmona, who served from 2002 to 2006.

Responding, the White House said Carmona was given the authority and had the obligation to be the leading voice for the health of all Americans.

"It's disappointing to us if he failed to use his position to the fullest extent in advocating for policies he thought were in the best interests of the nation," said Deputy Press Secretary Tony Fratto. "We believe Dr. Carmona received the support necessary to carry out his mission."

Confirmation hearings are scheduled to be held Thursday for Dr. James. Holsinger Jr., the Kentucky cardiologist Bush nominated as the nation's 18th surgeon general. The nomination has been criticized by gay rights groups.

Carmona testified Tuesday at a hearing of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. Also appearing were Drs. C. Everett Koop, who served as surgeon general from 1981-1889, and David Satcher, who served from 1998-2001.

"Political interference with the work of the surgeon general appears to have reached a new level in this administration," said committee Chairman Henry Waxman, D-Calif.

Koop is probably the most recognized former surgeon general. He talked about AIDS as a public health issue rather than a moral issue, which won him many admirers and some critics. He said President Reagan was pressed to fire him every day, but Reagan would not interfere.

Koop said that after he left office he had more access to the secretary of Health and Human Services than his successor, Satcher, and that embarrassed him. "Dr. Carmona was treated with even less respect than Dr. Satcher," Koop said.

A report condemning secondhand smoke was a hallmark of Carmona's tenure.

Another report, on global health challenges, was never released after the administration demanded changes that he refused to make, Carmona said.

"I was told this would be a political document or you're not going to release it." Carmona said. "I said it can't be a political document because the surgeon general never releases political documents. I release scientific documents that will help our elected officials and the citizens understand the complex world we live in and what their responsibilities are."

He refused to identify the officials who sought the changes.

Carmona said he believed the surgeon general should show leadership on health issues. But his speeches were edited by political appointees, and he was told not to talk about certain issues. For example, he supported comprehensive sex education that would include abstinence in the curriculum, rather than focusing solely on abstinence.

"However, there was already a policy in place that didn't want to hear the science, but wanted to quote, unquote preach abstinence, which I felt was scientifically incorrect," Carmona said.

Copyright © 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. The information contained in the AP News report may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without the prior written authority of The Associated Press.

Official: Iraq Gov't Missed All Targets

Official: Iraq Gov't Missed All Targets
Jul 9, 9:45 PM (ET)

WASHINGTON (AP) - A progress report on Iraq will conclude that the U.S.-backed government in Baghdad has not met any of its targets for political, economic and other reform, speeding up the Bush administration's reckoning on what to do next, a U.S. official said Monday.

One likely result of the report will be a vastly accelerated debate among President Bush's top aides on withdrawing troops and scaling back the U.S. presence in Iraq.

The "pivot point" for addressing the matter will no longer be Sept. 15, as initially envisioned, when a full report on Bush's so-called "surge" plan is due, but instead will come this week when the interim mid-July assessment is released, the official said.

"The facts are not in question," the official told The Associated Press, speaking on condition of anonymity because the draft is still under discussion. "The real question is how the White House proceeds with a post-surge strategy in light of the report."

The report, required by law, is expected to be delivered to Capitol Hill by Thursday or Friday, as the Senate takes up a $649 billion defense policy bill and votes on a Democratic amendment ordering troop withdrawals to begin in 120 days.

Also being drafted are several Republican-backed proposals that would force a new course in Iraq, including one by Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Ben Nelson, D-Neb., that would require U.S. troops to abandon combat missions. Collins and Nelson say their binding amendment would order the U.S. mission to focus on training the Iraqi security forces, targeting al-Qaida members and protecting Iraq's borders.

"My goal is to redefine the mission and set the stage for a significant but gradual drawdown of our troops next year," said Collins.

GOP support for the war has eroded steadily since Bush's decision in January to send some 30,000 additional troops to Iraq. At the time, Bush said the Iraqis agreed to meet certain benchmarks, such as enacting a law to divide the nation's oil reserves.

This spring, Congress agreed to continue funding the war through September but demanded that Bush certify on July 15 and again on Sept. 15 that the Iraqis were living up to their political promises or forgo U.S. aid dollars.

The official said it is highly unlikely that Bush will withhold or suspend aid to the Iraqis based on the report.

A draft version of the administration's progress report circulated among various government agencies in Washington on Monday.

White House Press Secretary Tony Snow on Monday tried to lower expectations on the report, contending that all of the additional troops had just gotten in place and it would be unrealistic to expect major progress by now.

"You are not going to expect all the benchmarks to be met at the beginning of something," Snow said. "I'm not sure everyone's going to get an 'A' on the first report."

In recent weeks, the White House has tried to shore up eroding GOP support for the war.

Collins and five other GOP senators - Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, Judd Gregg of New Hampshire, Robert Bennett of Utah, John Sununu of New Hampshire and Pete Domenici of New Mexico - support separate legislation calling on Bush to adopt as U.S. policy recommendations by the Iraq Study Group, which identified a potential redeployment date of spring 2008.

Other prominent Republican senators, including Richard Lugar of Indiana, George Voinovich of Ohio, Chuck Hagel of Nebraska and Olympia Snowe of Maine, also say the U.S. should begin redeployments.

Several GOP stalwarts, including Sens. Ted Stevens of Alaska, Christopher Bond of Missouri, Jon Kyl of Arizona and James Inhofe of Oklahoma, said they still support Bush's Iraq strategy.

Kyl said he would try to focus this week's debate on preserving vital anti-terrorism programs, including the detention of terror suspects at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba. The defense bill is on track to expand the legal rights of those held at the military prison, and many Democrats want to propose legislation that would shut the facility.

"If Democrats use the defense authorization bill to pander to the far left at the expense of our national security, they should expect serious opposition from Republicans," Kyl said.

As the Senate debate began, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee arranged to run television commercials in four states, beginning Tuesday, to pressure Republicans on the war.

The ads are to run in Kentucky, Maine, Minnesota and New Hampshire, according to knowledgeable officials, but the DSCC so far has committed to spending a relatively small amount of money, less than $100,000 in all. Barring a change in plans that means the ads would not be seen widely in any of the four states.

The targets include Sens. Norm Coleman of Minnesota, Collins of Maine, Sununu of New Hampshire and the Republican leader, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. All face re-election next year.

The boost in troop levels in Iraq has increased the cost of war there and in Afghanistan to $12 billion a month, with the overall tally for Iraq alone nearing a half-trillion dollars, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service, which provides research and analysis to lawmakers.

The figures call into question the Pentagon's estimate that the increase in troop strength and intensifying pace of operations in Baghdad and Anbar province would cost $5.6 billion through the end of September.


Associated Press reporters Pauline Jelinek, Andrew Taylor, Matthew Lee and Jennifer Loven contributed to this report.

Copyright 2007 Associated Press. All right reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

© 2007 IAC Search & Media. All rights reserved.

Report: Gonzales knew of FBI violations

Report: Gonzales knew of FBI violations
By LAURIE KELLMAN, Associated Press Writer
Tue Jul 10, 7:16 PM ET

Democrats raised new questions Tuesday about whether Attorney General Alberto Gonzales knew about FBI abuses of civil liberties when he told a Senate committee that no such problems occurred.

Lying to Congress is a crime, but it wasn't clear if Gonzales knew about the violations when he made his statements to the Senate Intelligence Committee.

One Democrat called for a special counsel to investigate. President Bush continued to support his longtime friend.

"He still has faith in the attorney general," White House spokesman Scott Stanzel told reporters.

On April 27, 2005, while seeking renewal of the broad powers granted law enforcement under the USA Patriot Act, Gonzales told the Senate Intelligence Committee, "There has not been one verified case of civil liberties abuse" from the law enacted after the 9/11 terror attacks.

Six days earlier, the FBI had sent Gonzales a copy of a report that said its agents had obtained personal information to which they were not entitled.

Several of the reported violations were referred to the President's Intelligence Oversight Board and copied to other officials. The heavily redacted documents, obtained by the Electronic Frontier Foundation under the Freedom of Information Act, include referrals to the board dating back to 2004. Several referrals were copied to then-Attorney General John Ashcroft.

One was sent to Gonzales, dated April 21, 2005 — less than a week before he testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee.

It was not clear whether Gonzales ever saw the documents reporting the violations, and several Justice Department officials said Tuesday they could not remember discussing specific cases with him before an internal March report by Inspector General Glenn A. Fine that outlined the problems.

Jim Baker, director of the department's Office of Intelligence Policy and Review, said he had briefed Gonzales and predecessors about what he described as "violations of law, regulation, policy by the FBI."

"They have happened in the past," Baker said. "I don't remember discussing these specific ones. But I have discussed and informed attorneys general — including this one — about mistakes the FBI has made."

The new developments were first reported by The Washington Post, which said the violations included unauthorized surveillance and an illegal property search.

In a conference call Tuesday with reporters, Assistant Attorney General Kenneth Wainstein described the violations outlined in the documents as mistakes — not intentional acts of abuse or misconduct.

"That's not in any way to say that mistakes are not significant. It is a concern," Wainstein said.

Still, "Any human endeavor has the potential of mistakes," Wainstein said. "When intelligence investigations are done at the pace and the rapidity and the urgency that they're done now after 9/11, there are the possibilities of mistakes."

The FBI documents released show that many of the possible violations were the result of wrong phone numbers or of Internet provider companies giving agents more information than was requested. A June 1, 2005, memo from the FBI's general counsel, for example, indicates that a special agent had "erroneously issued" a National Security Letter for an incorrect phone number in an investigation.

"However, he did so in good faith," the memo concludes. "Further, immediately upon reviewing the subscriber information, he discontinued his review of the records and properly sequestered the information."

The documents were released by the Electronic Frontier Foundation. The San Francisco-based privacy advocacy group filed a Freedom of Information Act request for the records earlier this year after Justice Department auditors found the FBI had misused its authority to investigate in some terrorism and spy cases.

Rep. Jerrold Nadler, a longtime critic of the Patriot Act, called for a special counsel.

"Providing false, misleading or inaccurate statements to Congress is a serious crime, and the man who may have committed those acts cannot be trusted to investigate himself," said Nadler, D-N.Y.

Each of the FBI's violations cited in the reports copied to Gonzales was serious enough to require notification of the President's Intelligence Oversight Board, which helps police the government's surveillance activities, the Post reported.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., pointed out what he said was another inconsistency: the Justice Department's accounting of when Gonzales became aware of the FBI's abuses of the National Security Letters — which allow agents to secretly obtain private information on ordinary Americans in terrorism investigations.

According to the department, Gonzales became aware of the abuses prior to March 9 this year from a report by Justice's inspector general on that date documenting them. Gonzales had been receiving reports of FBI abuses in terrorism investigations for months before that, according to the Post.

Leahy said the contradictions warrant further inquiry and he would be asking Gonzales about them before the attorney general's scheduled testimony before Leahy's committee July 24.

"It appears the attorney general also failed to disclose the truth about when he first knew of widespread abuses by the FBI of National Security Letters," Leahy said.


Associated Press writer Lara Jakes Jordan contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. The information contained in the AP News report may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without the prior written authority of The Associated Press.

Many Homeland top jobs empty, report finds

Many Homeland top jobs empty, report finds
Congressional study says 138 vacancies leaves nation less ready for an emergency
Spencer S. Hsu, Washington Post
Monday, July 9, 2007

(07-09) 04:00 PDT Washington -- The Bush administration has failed to fill roughly a quarter of the top leadership posts at the Department of Homeland Security, creating a gaping hole in the nation's preparedness for a terrorist attack or other threat, according to a congressional report to be released today.

As of May 1, Homeland Security had 138 vacancies among its top 575 positions, with the greatest voids reported in its policy, legal and intelligence sections, as well as immigration agencies, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the U.S. Coast Guard. The vacant slots include presidential, senior executive and other high-level appointments, according to the report by the House Homeland Security Committee.

A Homeland Security spokesman challenged the report's tally, saying that it was skewed by a sudden expansion this spring in the number of top management jobs. Before then, only 12 percent of positions were unfilled in a department that has always been thinly staffed at headquarters, spokesman Russ Knocke said.

The findings have stoked fresh concern among some in Congress about the four-year-old department's progress in overcoming management problems, dating to its troubled 2003 merger from 22 components.

Homeland Security was reorganized in 2005 by its current secretary, Michael Chertoff, then suffered a breakdown at multiple levels in responding to Hurricane Katrina that August, which prompted a new congressional overhaul.

"One of the continuing problems appears to be the over-politicization of the top rank of Department management," concludes the report by the committee, chaired by Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss. "This could lead to heightened vulnerability to terrorist attack."

Thompson said vacancies have weakened morale and reflect an over-reliance on contractors. Thompson also called the report a warning "that we can expect more vacancies to occur than what we have been accustomed to" at the close of the administration, when many top personnel will leave their posts.

Rep. Tom Davis, R-Va., the ranking Republican on the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, agreed that the inability to fill jobs is creating problems within Homeland Security offices. While walking his district Sunday, Davis said, he met constituents employed at an immigration agency who described lowered morale at work because of the vacancies.

Of the 138 vacant positions, Homeland Security provided no explanation for 70, according to the House report. Seven others had tentative or pending appointees and 60 were under recruitment.

A major focus of the current department leadership, Knocke said, is preparing a competent bench of managers by 2009, when a new presidential administration will come into power. Department officials said they have replaced officials whose qualifications and political backgrounds were called into question in favor of more seasoned personnel.

For Deputy Secretary Michael Jackson, "planning for the transition is a huge part of how he spends his time each day," Knocke said, "to ensure that we have the right caliber of leaders in the number two and three positions at our component agencies and program offices, so that they are well trained, well-experienced and ready."

Nevertheless, congressional auditors, management consultants and academic experts on government have warned that efforts to improve Homeland Security management are being undercut by several trends. The department faces high turnover because top officials are in high demand by a private sector willing to pay lucrative salaries. It depends heavily on contractors, yet its staff to manage them is overstretched. And partisan political combat over homeland security issues has made jobs less attractive.

This article appeared on page A - 8 of the San Francisco Chronicle

© 2007 Hearst Communications Inc.

Military files left unprotected online

Military files left unprotected online
By MIKE BAKER, Associated Press Writer
Wed Jul 11, 6:37 PM ET

Detailed schematics of a military detainee holding facility in southern Iraq. Geographical surveys and aerial photographs of two military airfields outside Baghdad. Plans for a new fuel farm at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan.

The military calls it "need-to-know" information that would pose a direct threat to U.S. troops if it were to fall into the hands of terrorists. It's material so sensitive that officials refused to release the documents when asked.

But it's already out there, posted carelessly to file servers by government agencies and contractors, accessible to anyone with an Internet connection.

In a survey of servers run by agencies or companies involved with the military and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, The Associated Press found dozens of documents that officials refused to release when asked directly, citing troop security.

Such material goes online all the time, posted most often by mistake. It's not in plain sight, unlike the plans for the new American embassy in Baghdad that appeared recently on the Web site of an architectural firm. But it is almost as easy to find.

And experts said foreign intelligence agencies and terrorists working with al-Qaida likely know where to look.

In one case, the Army Corps of Engineers asked the AP to promptly dispose of several documents found on a contractor's server that detailed a project to expand the fuel infrastructure at Bagram — including a map of the entry point to be used by fuel trucks and the location of pump houses and fuel tanks. The Corps of Engineers then changed its policies for storing material online following the AP's inquiry.

But a week later, the AP downloaded a new document directly from the agency's own server. The 61 pages of photos, graphics and charts map out the security features at Tallil Air Base, a compound outside of Nasiriyah in southeastern Iraq, and depict proposed upgrades to the facility's perimeter fencing.

"That security fence guards our lives," said Lisa Coghlan, a spokeswoman for the Corps of Engineers in Iraq, who is based at Tallil. "Those drawings should not have been released. I hope to God this is the last document that will be released from us."

The Corps of Engineers and its contractor weren't alone:

• The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency — which provides the military with maps and charts — said it plans to review its policies after the AP found several sensitive documents, including aerial surveys of military airfields near Balad and Al Asad, Iraq, on its server.

• Benham Companies LLC is securing its site after learning it had inadvertently posted detailed maps of buildings and infrastructure at Fort Sill, Okla. "Now, everything will be protected," said Steve Tompkins, a spokesman for Oklahoma City-based Benham.

• Los Alamos National Laboratory and Sandia National Laboratories, two of the nation's leading nuclear laboratories, closed public access to their file transfer protocol servers after the AP contacted them about material posted there. Both said the change was unrelated to the AP's inquiry.

The AP has destroyed the documents it downloaded, and all the material cited in this story is no longer available online on the sites surveyed.

The posting of private material on publicly available FTP servers is a familiar problem to security experts hired by companies to secure sites and police the actions of employees who aren't always tech-savvy. They said files that never should appear online are often left unprotected by inexperienced or careless users who don't know better.

A spokeswoman for contractor SRA International Inc., where the AP found a document the Defense Department said could let hackers access military computer networks, said the company wasn't concerned because the unclassified file was on an FTP site that's not indexed by Internet search engines.

"The only way you could find it is by an awful lot of investigation," said SRA spokeswoman Laura Luke.

But on Tuesday, SRA had effectively shut down its FTP server. The only file online was a short statement: "In order to mitigate the risk of SRA or client proprietary information being inadvertently made available to the public, the SRA anonymous ftp server has been shutdown indefinitely. In the coming months, a new secure ftp site will be introduced that will replace the functionality of this site."

Bruce Schneier, chief technology officer of BT Counterpane, a Mountain View, Calif.-based technology security company, said the attitude that material posted on FTP sites is hard to find reflects a misunderstanding of how the Internet works.

"For some, there's sort of this myth that 'if I put something on the Net and don't tell anybody,' that it's hidden," Schneier said. "It's a sloppy user mistake. This is yet another human error that creates a major problem."

File transfer protocol is a relatively old technology that makes files available on the Internet. It remains popular for its simplicity, efficiency and low cost. In fact, several agencies and contractors said the documents found by the AP were posted online so they could be easily shared among colleagues.

Internet users can't scour the sites with a typical search engine, but FTP servers routinely share a similar address as public Web sites. To log on, users often only need to replace "http" and "http://www" in a Web address with "ftp."

Some are secured by password or a firewall, but others are occasionally left open to anyone with an Internet connection to browse and download anonymously. Experts said that when unsophisticated users post sensitive information to the servers, they would not necessarily know it could be downloaded by people outside of their business or agency.

"What they don't realize is that every time you set up any type of server, you have that possibility," said Danny Allan, director of security research for Watchfire, a Waltham, Mass.-based Web security company. "Any files that you are putting on the server you want to monitor on a continuous basis."

Allan said he and others in the security industry have watched for more than a decade as files — including credit card information, sensitive blueprints of government buildings and military intelligence reports — spread through the public domain via unsecured FTP servers.

A spokeswoman for the U.S. Central Command, which oversees the war in Iraq, declined to say if material accidentally left on the Internet had led to a physical breach of security.

But among the documents the AP found were aerial photographs and detailed schematics of Camp Bucca, a U.S.-run facility for detainees in Iraq. One of the documents was password-protected, but the password was printed in an unsecure document stored on the same server. They showed where U.S. forces keep prisoners and fuel tanks, as well as the locations of security fences, guard towers and other security measures.

"It gets down to a level of detail that would assist insurgents in trying to free their members from the camp or overpower guards," said Loren Thompson, a military analyst with the Virginia-based Lexington Institute. "When you post ... the map of a high-security facility that houses insurgents, you're basically giving their allies on the outside information useful in freeing them."

The Corps of Engineers expressed a similar concern when it learned that the AP had downloaded the details about the fuel infrastructure upgrade at Bagram from a contractor's FTP site. Spokeswoman Joan Kibler said that kind of information "could put our troops in harm's way."

The AP's discovery led the agency to ask all its contractors to immediately put such material under password protection. In fact, all the agencies and contractors contacted by the AP have either shut down their FTP sites, secured them with a password or pledged to install other safeguards to ensure the documents are no longer accessible.

"We saw that there have been instances where some documents have been placed on FTP sites, and they haven't had any safeguarding mechanisms for them," Kibler said. "We've determined that those documents need to be safeguarded, so we've amended our practices here to require that any of those types of documents have restricted access when they're placed on FTP sites."

Documents found by the AP about Contingency Operating Base Speicher near Tikrit, Iraq, describe potential security vulnerabilities at the facility and paraphrase an Army major expressing concerns about a "great separation between personnel and equipment" as the base prepared for the military's current counterinsurgency push.

"For force-protection reasons and operational security, that's sensitive stuff," said Lt. Col. Michael Donnelly, a military spokesman based at Speicher. "That's for a need-to-know basis. The enemy regularly takes that stuff and pieces it together for their advantage."

The information about Camp Bucca, Bagram Air Base and Contingency Operating Base Speicher was found on the FTP server of CH2M Hill Companies Ltd., an engineering, consulting and construction company based in Englewood, Colo.

"None of the drawings are classified and we believe they were all handled appropriately per the government's direction," said CH2M Hill spokesman John Corsi. But the company added a password protection to its FTP site after the AP's inquiry and referred the direct request for the documents to the government.

Military officials said they could jeopardize troop security and refused to release them.

Other files found by the AP didn't appear to pose an immediate threat to troop security, but illustrated advanced military technologies. The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency posted PowerPoint presentations outlining military GPS systems, including plans to combat GPS jammers. Files from Los Alamos give an early look at a developing technology to combat enemy snipers in urban environments, including one file describing the levels of security behind the new program.

Dean Carver, a counterintelligence officer with the federal Office of the National Counterintelligence Executive, part of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, said at a recent security conference that such trade secrets — even those dealing with a basic technology — are often a common target for foreign espionage because they can be used to advance a country's own military technology.

"Every military-critical technology is sought by many foreign governments," said Carver, mentioning China and Russia as the leading culprits of snooping on the Internet.

Christopher Freeman believes he may have witnessed such hunting for secrets. While working on an internal security review at his job with the city of Greensboro, N.C.., Freeman watched as a computer with an electronic address from Tehran, Iran, accessed the city's FTP server and downloaded a file that contained design drawings for the area's water infrastructure.

He said that while there's no way to know if there was malicious intent behind the download, "when you think of Iran, you think of all the bad stuff first."

"It could have been anyone," Freeman said. "It opened our eyes to show that we're not just little old Greensboro. We're a part of the global community."

That was years ago, and it led Freeman to start looking for FTP sites he thought should be secure. He found a manual describing how to operate a Navy encryption device on the server of the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command. He also found photographs and graphics detailing the inner workings of missiles designed at Sandia.

"It's not something that had any business being on a FTP site," said Sandia spokeswoman Stephanie Holinka of the material Freeman found. The agency has shut down its FTP site while a security upgrade is put in place, she said.

Many sites housed raw data, presentations and documents that didn't have security classifications, while other documents were clearly marked to prevent public release. The manual of the encryption device tells users to "destroy by any method that will prevent disclosure of contents or reconstruction of this document." A warning says exporting the document could result in "severe criminal penalties."

"The military is often criticized for making too many things secret, but when you're enabling an enemy to find out how you use encryption devices, you easily could be helping them to defeat America," said Thompson, the military analyst.

Freeman, who showed the AP the documents from Sandia and the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command, said he made a conscious effort to avoid information labeled classified but still managed to accidentally download files from Sandia with "top secret" classifications, forcing him to wipe his computer hard drive clean and notify authorities.

Freeman passed along his findings to the FBI and the Department of Defense and later aided investigators in securing the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command site. After getting calls from a contractor and the Army Materiel Command asking about what he found online, Freeman has sought legal representation from Denner Pellegrino, a Boston-based firm that specializes in cyber crime.

"This is a treasure trove for terrorists," Freeman said. "They can just waltz in and browse. I'm by no means a high-tech person. I'm not a programmer. I don't know hacking. I'm just a slightly above-average computer user."

FBI officials declined to specifically discuss Freeman and what he told the agency. But Mark Moss, a Charlotte-based FBI agent who focuses on online security, said foreign intelligence agencies spend a lot of time on the Internet because online intelligence-gathering is cheap, quick and anonymous.

"If they steal your technology through the Internet, it's overseas in an instant," Moss said. "It's the perfect conduit."

Copyright © 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. The information contained in the AP News report may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without the prior written authority of The Associated Press.

Bogus company got license for nuke materials, report says

updated 4:29 p.m. EDT, Thu July 12, 2007
Bogus company got license for nuke materials, report says

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Government investigators created a bogus company to obtain a license for radioactive materials that could have been used to build a dirty bomb, a report CNN has obtained shows.

The report, to be the subject of a Senate hearing Thursday, exposed holes in the Nuclear Regulatory Commission's licensing system, which the NRC says it has since plugged.

Investigators with the Government Accountability Office altered the license and took initial steps a terrorist could have used to build a moderate-sized dirty bomb

Within 28 days, investigators created the bogus company without leaving their Washington offices and obtained a license to buy equipment containing nuclear materials. They changed the license to get access to an unrestricted amount of nuclear material and got commitments from two suppliers for machines containing radioactive material.

From those machines, enough radioactive material -- americium 241 and cesium 137 -- could have been extracted to create a dirty bomb -- a non-fissile bomb that nonetheless would create chaos by distributing radioactive material over an area, congressional staffers said.

"Although we had no legitimate use for the machines, our investigators received, within days of obtaining a license from NRC, price quotes and terms of payment that would have allowed us to purchase numerous machines containing sealed radioactive source materials," the GAO report says.

Sen. Norm Coleman, R-Minnesota, criticized the NRC, saying it "has a pre-9/11 mind-set in a post-9/11 world --- focusing just on preventing another Chernobyl. The reality is that terrorists are interested in using a dirty bomb to wreak havoc in this country."

Coleman said the GAO could have prolonged their effort, "generating dozens of fake licenses. ... In other words, the amount of radiological materials involved in the sting was but a demonstration amount, and it could have been considerably larger and considerably more dangerous."

The NRC said Wednesday the materials involved in the sting were some of the least dangerous radioactive material but that it has fixed loopholes found by the GAO investigation.

"The GAO pointed out an area where our process could be improved to strengthen these protections on the less risky materials," NRC spokesman Eliot Brenner said. "We moved rapidly to fix this. Now, any new applicant for a license for these far less dangerous materials will get a visit from the NRC or have to come to see us and prove their bona fides."

The sort of bomb the GAO could have put together with the devices it could have bought "would have the radiation equivalent of a CAT scan to the chest and stomach," Brenner said. "The risk posed by these materials is small, but we are committed to seeing that they cannot be used by terrorists."

After the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks the NRC focused on tightening restrictions regarding the most dangerous nuclear materials, he said.

© 2007 Cable News Network LP, LLLP. A Time Warner Company. All Rights Reserved.

Flight Attendant Boots Gwinnett Mom, Baby From Plane

Flight Attendant Boots Gwinnett Mom, Baby From Plane
POSTED: 4:51 pm EDT July 11, 2007
UPDATED: 8:21 pm EDT July 11, 2007

GWINNETT COUNTY, Ga. -- A Gwinnett County mother says she wants answers and action after she and her baby were kicked off a plane.

Kate Penland said she was glad to board the plane in Houston after an 11-hour delay to visit her father in Oklahoma. But she said a rude and aggressive flight attendant caused her to get to Oklahoma a day late.

Penland thinks her 19-month-old son, Garren, has a bubbly personality. But Penland said when they were aboard a Continental Express plane, a flight attendant became annoyed by Garren’s personality when he kept saying three words.

“As we started taxiing, he started saying ‘Bye, bye plane,’ said Penland. “At the end of her speech, she leaned over the gentleman beside me and said, ‘It’s not funny anymore. You need to shut your baby up.’

In disbelief, Penland asked the woman if she was kidding. It was then, Penland said, the flight attendant went too far.

“She then said, ‘You know, it’s called baby Benadryl. And I said, 'Well, I'm not going to drug my child so you have a pleasant flight.'

Penland said when the other passengers began speaking up on her behalf, the flight attendant got angrier and soon announced they were turning around and that Penland and Garren were going to be taken off the plane.

“I was crying, I was upset and I was thinking, ‘What am I going to do? I don’t have anything with me, I don’t have anymore diapers for the baby, no juice, no milk,” said Penland.

The young mother said she later learned the flight attendant told the pilot that she had threatened her. Penland said that never happened.

Express Jet Airlines released a statement that said, "We received Ms. Penland’s letter expressing her concerns and intend to investigate its contents."

A fellow passenger told Channel 2's Rachel Kim none of the other passengers had problems with Garren and that Penland never threatened the flight attendant.

Penland is considering legal action.

Copyright 2007 by All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Bush dismisses CIA leak as old news

Bush dismisses CIA leak as old news
By JENNIFER LOVEN, Associated Press Writer
Thu Jul 12, 7:34 PM ET

President Bush always said he would wait to talk about the CIA leak case until after the investigation into his administration's role. On Thursday, he skipped over that step and pronounced the matter old news hardly worth discussing.

"It's run its course," he said. "Now we're going to move on."

Despite a long history of denouncing leaks, Bush declined to express any disappointment in the people who worked for him and who were involved in disclosing the name of a CIA operative. Asked about that during a wide-ranging news conference, the president gave a dodgy answer.

"It's been a tough issue for a lot of people in the White House," he said.

He didn't even acknowledge the undisputed fact that someone working for him was the source, saying only that "perhaps somebody in the administration did disclose the name of that person."

The investigation was launched to determine who leaked the identity of Valerie Plame, a former CIA operations officer who had served overseas and is married to a key administration critic on the war, Joseph Wilson.

Shortly before Plame's cover was blown in 2003, Wilson had accused the Bush administration of manipulating intelligence to exaggerate the threat from Iraqi weapons and thus help justify the war.

Wilson has said he believes his wife's identity was disclosed to punish him and to undermine his credibility.

After a two-year probe, Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald indicted Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, on charges of obstruction of justice and of lying to investigators and the grand jury about the leak. He was convicted in March on all but one count. Ten days ago, Bush commuted Libby's 30-month prison sentence, while leaving other penalties in place.

Libby is still appealing his conviction. And Bush has not ruled out an eventual pardon for the former top White House aide.

But the president appeared eager Thursday to put the entire case in the past. It was costly for his presidency, denting his image as someone who had pledged to restore integrity to the White House.

As it turned out, several administration officials revealed Plame's identity. White House political adviser Karl Rove and Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage were the primary sources for a 2003 newspaper column outing Plame. Former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer also admitted telling reporters about her. Libby was the only one charged in the matter and not for leaking.

"I've often thought about what would have happened had that person come forth and said, `I did it,'" Bush said, despite the fact that Armitage and perhaps the others did just that.

In the beginning stages of the case, Bush said, "I want to know the truth," and pledged to fire anyone found to have leaked. As the investigation wore on, he expressed more weariness than outrage, saying only that someone who "committed a crime" would be fired and calling the case "background noise" he had to ignore.

The question on the CIA leak case was only one of three during the 59-minute news conference that did not deal with Iraq.

The others addressed a new threat assessment from U.S. counterterrorism analysts. It says al-Qaida has used its safe haven along the Afghan-Pakistan border to restore operating capabilities to a level unseen since the months before Sept. 11, 2001.

Nevertheless, Bush said, "Because of the actions we've taken, al-Qaida is weaker today than they would have been."

The president also was asked whether it was appropriate for Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff to say he had a "gut feeling" there might be a terror attack this summer. "My gut tells me that which my head tells as well, is that: When we find a credible threat, we'll share it with you," Bush said.

The president's main purpose for holding the news conference was to present his take on a new report sent to lawmakers on the progress made by the Iraqi government. The interim assessment, required by Congress, shows only mixed results so far, with Iraqis making satisfactory progress on eight benchmarks, mostly in security areas, but unsatisfactory progress on another eight and mixed results on two.

With both chambers of Congress debating legislation to order the withdrawal of U.S. troops by next spring, Bush asked for more time to let his troop-increase plan work. "I believe we are making security progress that will enable the political track to succeed," he said.

The president also sought to make some common cause with his opponents. Bush portrayed the growing number of Republicans who are urging him to change course as agreeing with him.

And he left the strong impression he is leaning toward reducing troop levels, though without offering any specific time frames or promises. He referenced "when" — not "if" — "we start drawing down" and said he would "judge where we need to make any adjustments" after a follow-up report in September. He even noted that, at that point, he will make sure "that al-Qaida and other extremists do not benefit from a decision I might have to make."

At the same time, Bush made clear that while he'll listen to lawmakers, they have little business making war decisions. He said Congress "has got all the right to appropriate money" but not to set troop strength or tell the military how to conduct operations.

"I don't think Congress ought to be running the war," he said. "I think they ought to be funding our troops."

Copyright © 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. The information contained in the AP News report may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without the prior written authority of The Associated Press.

Bush says no shift on Iraq

Bush says no shift on Iraq
By Tabassum Zakaria and Matt Spetalnick
Thu Jul 12, 6:47 PM ET

President George W. Bush put off changing course in Iraq for at least two months on Thursday but the U.S. House of Representatives signaled its frustration by calling for combat troops to leave by April.

An interim White House report released just before Bush spoke gave the Iraqi government a mixed review in meeting political and security goals -- providing more ammunition for war opponents demanding that Bush start ending U.S. military involvement.

In a symbolic move, the Democratic-controlled House voted 223-201 to approve legislation to bring combat troops out of Iraq by April 1, 2008.

Defying a veto threat from Bush, House Democrats hope the vote will put pressure on the Senate to attach a similar troop withdrawal timetable to a military policy bill it is debating.

Two previous efforts either died in the Senate or were vetoed by Bush.

Trying to buy time in the face of a growing revolt among fellow Republicans over his Iraq strategy, Bush urged lawmakers to withhold judgment until he receives a broader assessment in September from Gen. David Petraeus, the top commander in Iraq, and U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker.

"We'll also have a clearer picture of how the new strategy is unfolding, and be in a better position to judge where we need to make any adjustments," Bush told a news conference.

Bush conceded that "war fatigue" had set in among the American public and Congress but that it was premature to talk about bringing U.S. forces home, less than a month after all of an additional 28,000 troops had arrived as part of a new attempt to boost security.

Signaling the next report could be pivotal, Bush said he would consider "making another decision, if need be" at that time.

Holding his first news conference in nearly two months, Bush's tone was at times strident, at times beseeching, as he defended the U.S. role in a war that has claimed the lives of more than 3,600 U.S. troops and tens of thousands of Iraqis.

A USA Today/Gallup poll this week showed more than seven in 10 Americans favor withdrawing nearly all U.S. troops by April, and several surveys show Bush's approval ratings the lowest of any American president in decades.

Bush said he understood opposition to the war but he was the commander-in-chief and would rely on his generals' advice.

"I guess I'm like any other political figure. Everybody wants to be loved -- just sometimes the decisions you make and the consequences don't enable you to be loved," Bush said.


To demonstrate U.S. commitment to the Middle East, Bush said he would send Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Robert Gates to the region in early August.

The White House report is being sent to Congress after several prominent Republicans have broken ranks with Bush on Iraq, adding momentum to Democratic-led efforts to try to force a scaling-back of troop levels more than four years after the U.S.-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein.

Sen. John Warner, a Virginia Republican, said in a statement on Thursday that the Iraqi "government is simply not providing leadership worthy of the considerable sacrifice of our forces, and this has to change immediately."

Senate Majority leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, said the White House report confirmed the Iraq war was "headed in a dangerous direction."

"The Iraqi government has not met the key political benchmarks it has set for itself and Iraqi security forces continue to lag well behind expectations," he said.

In another day of violence, a suicide bomber killed seven guests at a policeman's wedding in northern Iraq. In Baghdad, an Iraqi photographer and driver working for Reuters were killed in what police said was U.S. military action and which witnesses described as a helicopter attack.

Drafted with leading contributions from Petraeus and Crocker, the report gave the Iraqi government a satisfactory grade on eight of 18 goals set by Congress. It showed that on eight of the benchmarks, Baghdad's performance was unsatisfactory, and mixed on two others.

"The White House has spun it cautiously," said Daniel Byman, a security analyst at Georgetown University. "They're portraying it as a glass that's half full. I would say the glass is at best a quarter or a fifth full."

Braced for criticism, Bush said: "Those who believe that the battle in Iraq is lost will likely point to the unsatisfactory performance on some of the political benchmarks. But he added: "Those of us who believe the battle in Iraq can and must be won see the satisfactory performance on several of the security benchmarks as a cause for optimism."

The interim report showed limited progress by the Iraqi government in meeting goals for political reconciliation such as passing a law to share oil revenues. It also painted a picture of Iraqi security forces still plagued by sectarianism and heavily dependent on U.S. troops to conduct operations.

(Additional reporting by Andrew Gray and Thomas Ferraro in Washington and Baghdad bureau)

Copyright © 2007 Reuters Limited. All rights reserved. Republication or redistribution of Reuters content is expressly prohibited without the prior written consent of Reuters. Reuters shall not be liable for any errors or delays in the content, or for any actions taken in reliance thereon.

Mom says she, toddler kicked off plane

Mom says she, toddler kicked off plane
Thu Jul 12, 2:15 PM ET

A woman said she and her toddler son were kicked off a plane after she refused a flight attendant's request to medicate her son to get him to quiet down and stop saying "Bye bye, plane."

Kate Penland, of suburban Atlanta, said she and her 19-month-old son, Garren, were flying from Atlanta to Oklahoma last month on a Continental Express flight that made a stop in Houston.

As the plane was taxiing in Houston en route to Oklahoma, "he started saying 'Bye, bye plane,' Penland told WSB-TV in Atlanta. The flight attendant objected, she said.

"At the end of her speech, she leaned over the gentleman beside me and said, 'It's not funny anymore. You need to shut your baby up,'" Penland told WSB-TV in Atlanta.

When Penland asked the woman if she was joking, she said the stewardess replied, "You know, it's called baby Benadryl."

"And I said, 'Well, I'm not going to drug my child so you have a pleasant flight,'" Penland told the TV station.

Penland said other passengers began speaking up on her behalf, and the flight attendant announced they were turning around and that Penland and Garren were going to be taken off the plane.

Penland and her son were let off the plane and did not complete the trip to Oklahoma, said Kristy Nicholas, spokeswoman for Express Jet Airlines, which flies as Continental Express on behalf of Continental Airlines.

Attempts by the Associated Press to reach Penland under a telephone listing that matched her last name were unsuccessful.

"I was crying, I was upset and I was thinking, 'What am I going to do? I don't have anything with me, I don't have any more diapers for the baby, no juice, no milk," Penland told WSB.

Nicholas said, "We received Ms. Penland's letter expressing her concerns and intend to investigate its contents."

Copyright © 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. The information contained in the AP News report may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without the prior written authority of The Associated Press.