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Impeach Bush

Ag Dept. Used Credit Cards to Buy $7.7 million in personal items
By EMILY GERSEMA
The Associated Press
Friday, July 11, 2003; 6:14 PM

WASHINGTON - Agriculture Department employees used government credit cards to pay tuition for bartender school, to buy Ozzy Osbourne concert tickets, lingerie and tattoos and to make a down payment on a car.

A random audit by the department's inspector general of just 300 of the 55,000 department employees who carry the government credit cards showed they had charged $7.7 million in personal purchases in a six-month period from Oct. 1, 2001, to March 31, 2002.

The cards are intended to cover travel expenses, but many were used routinely whether the employees were traveling or not, according to the audit released Friday. Among the uses were paying for 900 purchases at Wal-Mart, Kmart and Target and making car payments.

The cardholders took out $196,000 in cash on the cards, which cost the department more than $137,000 in bank fees, the audit said.

Sometimes workers used the cash to pay off personal debts and then to repay the bank that is on contract to provide the department with the credit card accounts, according to the report.

"As a result, improper charges, if unpaid, could negatively impact the department in the form of lost rebates from the contractor bank if the delinquencies were eventually written off," auditors warned.

They also said that as of December, 1,549 former employees were found to have still-active cards in their possession.

The auditors found the department has no policy for disciplining workers over the misuse of cards and is inconsistent when it does punish them. In most cases, the agency either suspends the worker for a few days, sends a letter of reprimand, restricts travel or requires the employee to undergo counseling.

Julie Quick, a department spokeswoman, said administrators were informed which cardholders have been misusing the cards and expects them to be reprimanded.

Quick said she isn't aware of whether any employees were fired but said workers are being advised how to use the cards properly. Also, credit limits have been lowered and cash advances restricted, she said, "but the important point for us is that we've established an across-the-board zero tolerance for misuse of the cards."

Clyde Thompson, the department's associate assistant secretary for administration, agreed to the audit's findings in a written response and said new policies to guard against credit card abuse will be fully implemented by February. Some of the new policies will go into effect by September and November this year, he said.

"We also will remind employees that travel card misuse is a serious offense, and USDA will take action against employees who abuse government credit cards," Thompson wrote. He did not specify the types of penalties that employees would face.

Sen. Charles Grassley, who has criticized the Pentagon for its problems with credit card abuse, said the Agriculture Department has an obligation to take swift action to prevent its workers from misusing cards.

"It's obviously unacceptable for federal employees to use government travel cards to go to bartending college, and it's wrong for employees who don't travel for their government work to use government travel cards," said Grassley, R-Iowa. "The agencies who allow this kind of abuse must be held accountable."

Grassley and Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., led an effort last year to include provisions in the Defense Department's budget to prevent credit card abuse.

Last year, audits by the General Accounting Office revealed federal workers have used the cards at adult clubs, brothels, sporting events and to buy jewelry.

The findings prompted the Bush administration in October to cancel thousands of credit cards at the Defense Department. Also, the Education Department blocked payments to thousands of businesses. Paychecks were docked to collect unpaid bills.

The Agriculture Department tried to block payments on certain purchases as the inspector general's office worked on the latest audit. Nevertheless, the auditors said they are still finding instances where the cards were used to buy goods at stores including The Gap, Cigarettes for Less and the Oregon Liquor Store.

On the Net:

USDA Inspector General: http://www.usda.gov/oig/home.htm

© 2003 The Associated Press

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Scott Ritter calls for Regime Change in US
Yahoo News/AP
EDITH M. LEDERER
Tue Jul 15, 1:53 AM ET

UNITED NATIONS - Former U.N. weapons inspector Scott Ritter released a new book, accusing President Bush (news - web sites) of illegally attacking Iraq (news - web sites) and calling for "regime change" in the United States at the next election.

Ritter criticized key figures caught up in the U.S.-led war at Monday's U.N. news conference. He said Bush lied to the American people and Congress about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction; U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan (news - web sites) lacked courage; former chief weapons inspector Hans Blix was "a moral and intellectual coward."

Ritter, a former U.S. Marine, was a weapons inspector in Iraq from 1991 to 1998. He has been a vocal critical of the Bush administration's policy on Iraq.

Ritter said he wrote "Frontier Justice, Weapons of Mass Destruction and the Bushwacking of America" to educate people. The 209-page paperback, published by Context Books, has on its cover a picture of Bush in jeans and a cowboy hat, behind the wheel of a truck.

In the book, Ritter notes that the Bush administration's stated reason for launching the war was to rid Iraq of weapons of mass destruction. The book argues that there is no evidence that Iraq possesses, produces or concealed nuclear, chemical or biological weapons. Therefore, Ritter argues that "the United States carried out an illegal war of aggression."

Bush, responding Monday to similar charges about the lack of evidence of illegal Iraqi weapons, insisted: "When it's all said and done, the people of the United States and the world will realize that Saddam Hussein (news - web sites) had a weapons program."

Ritter said Bush's real goal was to get rid of Saddam Hussein's regime. "What is needed in America is regime change," Ritter writes. "Anything but Bush and (Vice President Dick) Cheney."

At the news conference, Ritter accused France and Germany of failing to get a Security Council or General Assembly resolution calling the war illegal and demanding a U.S. withdrawal.

Ritter had kind words for Mohamed ElBaradei, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency. He said ElBaradei was "much more honest" than Blix about appraising Iraq's nuclear weapons and the threat they posed.

Copyright © 2003 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. Copyright © 2003 Yahoo! Inc. All rights reserved.

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Core of weapons case crumbling
BBC
By Paul Reynolds
Last Updated: Sunday, 13 July, 2003, 23:48 GMT 00:48 UK

Of the nine main conclusions in the British government document "Iraq's weapons of mass destruction", not one has been shown to be conclusively true.

The confusion evident about one of the claims, that Iraq sought uranium from Niger despite having no civilian nuclear programme, is the latest example of the process under which the allegations made so confidently last September have been undermined.

The CIA has admitted that the claim should not have been in President Bush's State of the Union speech.

President George W Bush in State of the Union address  
It turns out that the CIA and the British intelligence agency MI6 passed each other like ships in the night and did not share information.

Correspondents attending a Foreign Office briefing last week were astounded when an official remarked that there had been no duty on Britain to pass its information on Niger, which it obtained from "a foreign intelligence service", to Washington as it was "up to the other intelligence service to do so."

Apparently there is a protocol among intelligence services which could not be broken despite the grave nature of the information and the use to which it was put - in this case, to help justify going to war.

Even a CIA statement of explanation issued late last week was not quite correct.

It said that the President's famous 16 words were accurate in that the "British Government report said that Iraq sought uranium from Africa."

Mr Bush did not in fact simply mention a British "report" on the uranium.

He actually said that the British had "learned" that Iraq had sought these supplies. He therefore hardened up the position.

Democratic Senator Carl Levin said on Sunday that this suggested intent by the White House to exaggerate the threat from Iraq.

The nine main conclusions and the broad evidence which has emerged about them are these:

1. "Iraq has a useable chemical and biological weapons capability which has included recent production of chemical and biological agents."

No evidence of Iraq's useable capability has been found in terms of manufacturing plants, bombs, rockets or actual chemical or biological agents, nor any sign of recent production.

A mysterious truck has been found which the CIA says is a mobile biological facility but this has not been accepted by all experts.

2. "Saddam continues to attach great importance to the possession of weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missiles... He is determined to retain these capabilities."

He may well have attached great importance to the possession of such weapons but none has been found. The meaning of the word "capability" is now key to this.

If the US and UK governments can show that Iraq maintained an active expertise, amounting to a "programme", they will claim their case has been made that Iraq violated UN resolutions.

3. "Iraq can deliver chemical and biological agents using an extensive range of shells, bombs, sprayers and missiles."

Nothing major has been found so far. There was one aircraft adapted with a sprayer but its capability was small.

4. "Iraq continues to work on developing nuclear weapons... Uranium has been sought from Africa."

The UN watchdog the IAEA said there was no evidence for this up to the start of the war and none has been found since. It is possible, though, that a case could be made from a shopping list of items needed for such a programme.

These include vacuum pumps, magnets, winding and balancing machines - all listed in the British dossier. No details about these purchasing attempts have been provided.

A claim that aluminium tubes were sought for this process was not wholly accepted by the British assessment though it was by the American and has subsequently not been proved.

The uranium claim is currently under question, though the British Government stands by its allegation.

5. "Iraq possesses extended-range versions of the Scud ballistic missile."

No Scuds have been found. The British said Iraq might have up to 20, the CIA said up to 12.

6. "Iraq's current military planning specifically envisages the use of chemical and biological weapons."

That may have been the case but direct evidence from serving Iraqi officers will be needed to prove it.

7. "The Iraqi military are able to deploy these weapons (chemical and biological) within 45 minutes of a decision to do so."

The 45 minute claim is currently under question. It is said to come from "a single source" probably a defector or Iraqi officer. It has not been proven.

8. "Iraq... is already taking steps to conceal and disperse sensitive equipment."

This is a focus of the current American and British investigation being carried out in Iraq by the Iraq Survey Group. One Iraqi scientist has come forward to say that he hid blueprints of centrifuges under his roses but that was in 1991.

If a pattern of concealment can be established, it would add to the credibility of the allegations that Iraq wanted to defy the UN.

9. "Iraq's chemical, biological, nuclear and ballistic missile programme are well funded."

Evidence will be needed from serving Iraqi officials backed up by documents. Again, if a pattern of funding can be established, a case against Iraq could be made but if the actual programmes did not exist, was the funding of much use and in any case, how much was it?

President Bush and Prime Minister Blair will be meeting in Washington later this week when they will discuss their strategy to justify the claims.

© BBC 2003

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Budget Deficit May Surpass $450 Billion
Yahoo News/Washington Post
Jonathan Weisman
Jul 15, 8:33 AM ET

War, tax cuts and a third year of a flailing economy may push this year's budget deficit past $450 billion, according to congressional sources familiar with new White House budget forecasts. That would be 50 percent higher than the Bush administration forecast five months ago.

The deficit projection due out today is nearly $50 billion more than economists anticipated just last week, and it underscores the continuing deterioration of the government's fortunes since 2000, when the Treasury posted a $236 billion surplus. That represents a fiscal reversal exceeding $680 billion.

"It's shock and awe," said a senior Republican Senate aide.

The 2003 forecast -- part of the White House's annual midterm budget update -- easily tops the previous record $290 billion deficit of 1992, even when adjusted for inflation. The red ink now exceeds the entire military budget. Measured against the size of the economy, however, the deficit still has not reached the levels of the Reagan era. It also may prove slightly inflated, because it includes some White House policy proposals that may not be enacted this year.

Still, the political ramifications began to manifest themselves even before the new numbers were officially released. Yesterday, the nonpartisan Concord Coalition, a deficit watchdog group, declared the first six months of this year "the most fiscally irresponsible in recent memory," as Congress and the administration embarked on "a schizophrenic pursuit of small government tax policies and big government spending initiatives. . . . Policymakers need to stop the hemorrhage of red ink, face up to the necessary trade-offs and negotiate a new balanced budget plan."

The 2003 budget deficit -- for the fiscal year ending Sept. 30 -- was exacerbated by the $79.2 billion emergency spending bill enacted at the outset of the Iraq (news - web sites) war, which foresees $42 billion in spending in fiscal 2003. It also includes the initial costs of the 10-year, $350 billion tax cut enacted in May. The cost this year of the tax cut plan will exceed the president's initial proposal by more than $30 billion. The White House projection also includes some anticipated costs from the 10-year, $400 billion prescription drug benefit for Medicare still being hashed out in Congress.

But Republicans and many independent economists say the sluggish economy and rising jobless rate remain the largest factors in the worsening fiscal picture. Tax revenue has fallen for three straight years, a streak not seen since the Depression. Through June, tax collection is below the amount of taxes collected in the same period in 1999, according to the Congressional Budget Office (news - web sites).

"I consider this an amazing phenomenon," said CBO Director Douglas Holtz-Eakin.

The White House deficit projection for fiscal 2003 tops a House Democratic forecast that put the year's deficit at $416 billion. The Congressional Budget Office's midyear forecast, due out in August, will put the deficit closer to $400 billion, according to two congressional sources, but that figure will not include the cost of the prescription drug bill if a final agreement has not been reached by then.

For fiscal 2004, the White House and other deficit forecasters may diverge sharply. The White House budget office will project a slightly improved deficit for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1, although it will likely still top $400 billion. That figure, however, will not include the continuing cost of the occupation of Iraq.

In contrast, private-sector forecasts, which include war cost projections, estimate the deficit will be as high as $475 billion in 2004. The CBO is likely to project a deficit next year close to $500 billion, according to congressional sources.

The rising tide of red ink has put Republicans on the defensive. Asked yesterday about growing war costs and budget deficits, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer (news - web sites) cited the terrorist attacks on New York and the Pentagon (news - web sites) in 2001, saying: "What was the cost of September 11th? What is the cost of a country that is attacked? What is the price that the American people would have to pay if something like that were ever to happen again?"

Rich Meade, the House Budget Committee's chief of staff, sent out talking points yesterday to gird GOP lawmakers, staff and the press for the deficit figures. They suggested that the deficits are being fueled by excess government spending, not tax cuts, and will be reversed only by the economic growth that three successive years of tax cuts are supposed to fuel.

While Democrats complain about the deficit, House Budget Committee spokesman Sean M. Spicer said, they have pushed for Medicare drug coverage that would cost more than twice the amount that the pending bills envision.

But Senate Budget Committee Democratic aides said yesterday that the $450 billion deficit understates the problems, because it is offset by more than $150 billion in Social Security (news - web sites) taxes that are being spent on other programs. If those taxes were not included, the deficit would jump from about 4.2 percent of the gross domestic product to 5.6 percent, a level rivaling the Reagan-era deficits.

The White House budget "is going to put the best face they can on the deficit in the long run, maybe plus it up a little this year to look honest and on the level," said Rep. John M. Spratt (S.C.), the Budget Committee's ranking Democrat. "In truth, as bad as it may seem, it's actually worse."

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White House Welcomes Tenet Taking Blame
By JOHN SOLOMON
The Associated Press
Saturday, July 12, 2003; 5:27 AM

WASHINGTON - President Bush on Saturday welcomed CIA Director George Tenet's mea culpa for letting Bush make allegations in a January speech about Iraq's nuclear weapons program - charges the administration later admitted were unfounded.

"The president is pleased that the director of Central Intelligence acknowledged what needed to be acknowledged, which was the circumstances surrounding the State of the Union speech," White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said. "The president said that line because it was based on information from the intelligence community, and the speech was vetted."

Bush asserted in his State of the Union address in January that Iraq had sought nuclear materials from Africa. Nearly six months later, the White House acknowledged the charge was false, and the tempest that followed has shadowed Bush on his trip here.

Bush remains confident in the CIA director, Fleischer said. He spoke to reporters in Abuja, Nigeria as Bush visited AIDS patients, reiterating the administration's broader claim that Saddam Hussein "was pursuing numerous ways to obtain nuclear weapons" before the U.S. invasion.

In a carefully scripted mea culpa, the White House on Friday blamed the CIA for its January misstep and Tenet finished the job hours later with a dramatic statement accepting responsibility.

The statement on Iraq seeking nuclear material "did not rise to the level of certainty which should be required for presidential speeches, and CIA should have ensured that it was removed," Tenet said.

"It was a mistake," he added.

The one-two punch was designed to quell a growing political storm, fueled in part by members of Congress and Democratic presidential hopefuls, that challenged the credibility of the administration's arguments that Iraq was trying to reconstitute its nuclear weapons program before the U.S. invasion in March.

Administration officials said that despite the miscue they did not expect Tenet to resign. He is the lone holdover from the Clinton administration and, while distrusted by some conservatives, has enjoyed Bush's confidence.

"I've heard no discussion along those lines," CIA spokesman Mark Mansfield said Friday night when asked whether Tenet might consider resigning.

The current controversy evolves around Bush's assertion in his State of the Union address that Iraq had tried to buy uranium from the African country of Niger. A month later, the administration retracted the allegation after learning that the British intelligence it was based upon had been forged.

Tenet acknowledged Friday that the CIA had tried unsuccessfully for months to substantiate the British allegation and that State Department intelligence analysts believed the claim was "highly dubious," yet neither stopped Bush from making the claim in a single sentence of his annual address to the nation.

"These 16 words should never have been included in the text written for the president," Tenet conceded in a statement.

"Let me be clear about several things right up front," he said. "First, CIA approved the president's State of the Union address before it was delivered. Second, I am responsible for the approval process in my agency. And third, the president had every reason to believe that the text presented to him was sound."

The director took his cue from Bush and Rice, who hours earlier blamed the error on the CIA.

"I gave a speech to the nation that was cleared by the intelligence services," Bush told reporters in Uganda. If the CIA director had concerns about the information, "these doubts were not communicated to the president," Rice added.

Key members of Congress called for someone to be held accountable.

"The director of central intelligence is the principal adviser to the president on intelligence matters. He should have told the president. He failed. He failed to do so," said Senate Intelligence Committee chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan.

Tenet said there were "legitimate questions" about the CIA's conduct, and he sought in his statement to explain his agency's role.

He said CIA officials reviewed portions of the draft speech and raised some concerns with national security aides at the White House that prompted changes in the language. But he said the CIA officials failed to stop the remark from being uttered despite the doubts about its validity.

"Officials who were reviewing the draft remarks on uranium raised several concerns about the fragmentary nature of the intelligence with National Security Council colleagues," Tenet said. "Some of the language was changed. From what we know now, agency officials in the end concurred that the text in the speech was factually correct that the British government report said that Iraq sought uranium from Africa."

CIA officials recognized at the beginning that the allegation was based on "fragmentary intelligence" gathered in late 2001 and early 2002, the director said.

A former diplomat was sent by the CIA to the region to check on the allegations and reported back that one of the Nigerien officials he met "stated that he was unaware of any contract being signed between Niger and rogue states for the sale of uranium during his tenure in office," Tenet said.

"The same former official also said that in June 1999 a businessman approached him and insisted that the former official meet with an Iraqi delegation to discuss 'expanding commercial relations' between Iraq and Niger. The former official interpreted the overture as an attempt to discuss uranium sales," Tenet said.

The diplomat sent to the region has alleged he believed Vice President Dick Cheney's office was apprised of the findings of his trip. But Tenet said the CIA "did not brief it to the president, vice president or other senior administration officials."

Tenet said that when British officials in fall 2002 discussed making the Niger information public, his agency expressed their reservations to the British about the quality of the intelligence.

A CIA report last October mentioned the allegations but did not give them full credence, stating "we cannot confirm whether Iraq succeeded in acquiring uranium ore."

Because of the doubts, Tenet said he never included the allegations in his own congressional testimonies or public statements about Iraqi efforts to obtain weapons of mass destruction.

© 2003 The Associated Press

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CIA Got Uranium Reference Cut in Oct.
By Walter Pincus and Mike Allen
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, July 13, 2003; Page A01

CIA Director George J. Tenet successfully intervened with White House officials to have a reference to Iraq seeking uranium from Niger removed from a presidential speech last October, three months before a less specific reference to the same intelligence appeared in the State of the Union address, according to senior administration officials.

Tenet argued personally to White House officials, including deputy national security adviser Stephen Hadley, that the allegation should not be used because it came from only a single source, according to one senior official. Another senior official with knowledge of the intelligence said the CIA had doubts about the accuracy of the documents underlying the allegation, which months later turned out to be forged.

The new disclosure suggests how eager the White House was in January to make Iraq's nuclear program a part of its case against Saddam Hussein even in the face of earlier objections by its own CIA director. It also appears to raise questions about the administration's explanation of how the faulty allegations were included in the State of the Union speech.

It is unclear why Tenet failed to intervene in January to prevent the questionable intelligence from appearing in the president's address to Congress when Tenet had intervened three months earlier in a much less symbolic speech. That failure may underlie his action Friday in taking responsibility for not stepping in again to question the reference. "I am responsible for the approval process in my agency," he said in Friday's statement.

As Bush left Africa yesterday to return to Washington from a five-day trip overshadowed by the intelligence blunder, he was asked whether he considered the matter over. "I do," he replied. White House press secretary Ari Fleischer told reporters yesterday that "the president has moved on. And I think, frankly, much of the country has moved on, as well."

But it is clear from the new disclosure about Tenet's intervention last October that the controversy continues to boil, and as new facts emerge a different picture is being presented than the administration has given to date.

Details about the alleged attempt by Iraq to buy as much as 500 tons of uranium oxide were contained in a national intelligence estimate (NIE) that was concluded in late September 2002. It was that same reference that the White House wanted to use in Bush's Oct. 7 speech that Tenet blocked, the sources said. That same intelligence report was the basis for the 16-word sentence about Iraq attempting to buy uranium in Africa that was contained in the January State of the Union address that has drawn recent attention.

Administration sources said White House officials, particularly those in the office of Vice President Cheney, insisted on including Hussein's quest for a nuclear weapon as a prominent part of their public case for war in Iraq. Cheney had made the potential threat of Hussein having a nuclear weapon a central theme of his August 2002 speeches that began the public buildup toward war with Baghdad.

In the Oct. 7 Cincinnati speech, the president for the first time outlined in detail the threat Hussein posed to the United States on the eve of a congressional vote authorizing war. Bush talked in part about "evidence" indicating that Iraq was reconstituting its nuclear weapons program. The president listed Hussein's "numerous meetings with Iraqi nuclear scientists," satellite photographs showing former nuclear facilities were being rebuilt, and Iraq's attempts to purchase high-strength aluminum tubes for use in enriching uranium for nuclear weapons.

There was, however, no mention of Niger or even attempts to purchase uranium from other African countries, which was contained in the NIE and also included in a British intelligence dossier that had been published a month earlier.

By January, when conversations took place with CIA personnel over what could be in the president's State of the Union speech, White House officials again sought to use the Niger reference since it still was in the NIE.

"We followed the NIE and hoped there was more intelligence to support it," a senior administration official said yesterday. When told there was nothing new, White House officials backed off, and as a result "seeking uranium from Niger was never in drafts," he said.

Tenet raised no personal objection to the ultimate inclusion of the sentence, attributed to Britain, about Iraqi attempts to buy uranium in Africa. His statement on Friday said he should have. "These 16 words should never have been included in the text written for the president," the CIA director said.

Bush said in Abuja, Nigeria, yesterday that he continues to have faith in Tenet. "I do, absolutely," he said. "I've got confidence in George Tenet; I've got confidence in the men and women who work at the CIA."

There is still much that remains unclear about who specifically wanted the information inserted in the State of the Union speech, or why repeated concerns about the allegations were ignored.

"The information was available within the system that should have caught this kind of big mistake," a former Bush administration official said. "The question is how the management of the system, and the process that supported it, allowed this kind of misinformation to be used and embarrass the president."

Senior Bush aides said they do not believe they have a communication problem within the White House that prevented them from acting on any of the misgivings about the information that were being expressed at lower levels of the government.

"I'm sure there will have to be some retracing of steps, and that's what's happening," White House communications director Dan Bartlett said. "The mechanical process, we think is fine. Will more people now give more, tighter scrutiny going forward? Of course."

A senior administration official said Bush's chief speechwriter, Michael J. Gerson, does not remember who wrote the line that has wound up causing the White House so much grief.

Officials said three speechwriters were at the core of the State of the Union team, and that they worked from evidence against Iraq provided by the National Security Council. NSC officials dealt with the CIA both in gathering material for the speech and later in vetting the drafts.

Officials involved in preparing the speech said there was much more internal debate over the next line of the speech, when Bush said in reference to Hussein, "Our intelligence sources tell us that he has attempted to purchase high-strength aluminum tubes suitable for nuclear weapons production."

Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, in his Feb. 5 presentation to the United Nations, noted a disagreement about Iraq's intentions for the tubes, which can be used in centrifuges to enrich uranium. The U.N.'s International Atomic Energy Agency had raised those questions two weeks before the State of the Union address, saying Hussein claimed nonnuclear intentions for the tubes. In March, the IAEA said it found Hussein's claim credible, and could all but rule out the use of the tubes in a nuclear program.

Staff writer Dana Milbank contributed to this report from Nigeria.

© 2003 The Washington Post Company

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Report: FAA Searched 8 Hours for Tex. Democrats
By SUZANNE GAMBOA
The Associated Press
Friday, July 11, 2003; 8:12 PM

WASHINGTON - Federal Aviation Administration employees knew of a Texas political dispute when they helped find a state legislator's plane last month, federal investigators said Friday.

The investigators also said that an FAA employee advised a staffer of House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas, where to locate the plane without asking why the information was being requested.

"This report makes clear that the FAA was used to search for a private plane to pursue a partisan political end," said Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., who requested the investigation. "This strikes me as a clear abuse of the federal government's resources - and an invasion of privacy - and one that shouldn't happen again."

In May, a group of Democratic legislators left Texas for Ardmore, Okla., and stayed in a hotel for four days to block a vote on a congressional redistricting bill pushed by DeLay. Republicans tried to round up the Democrats with the help of law enforcement.

The investigation was conducted by the Transportation Department's inspector general, Kenneth Mead, who released the report Friday evening.

Mead concluded that at least 13 FAA employees helped look for the plane belonging to state Rep. Pete Laney over eight hours May 12.

The first employee contacted by the Texas Department of Public Safety was told by the caller that "over 50 Texas legislators were in hiding and that the governor of Texas had issued a warrant for their apprehension," the report said.

Two Fort Worth air traffic controllers also knew why the search was on and made mention of it in conversations with the Texas public safety officers and another air traffic controller in Texas.

Investigators found that a senior FAA employee, David Balloff, advised an unnamed DeLay staffer that the plane belonging to Laney was due to land in Ardmore about seven minutes from the time of their conversation.

The information proved key in helping Texas Republicans track down the Democrats. Balloff did not ask the staffer why she wanted to know the plane's location. In a follow-up phone call, Balloff told the staffer the plane's location the previous day, May 11.

Balloff told investigators he "felt used" when he learned the next day "why they were calling." A biography on the Transportation Department's Web site says Balloff was a three-time elected member of the Tennessee State Republican Executive Committee.

A separate inquiry by the inspector general's office in the Department of Homeland Security found that a division of that department spent about 40 minutes searching for the plane. It concluded that the assistance had "no reducible effect" on the center's mission. It also concluded that the employees who assisted in the search believed the plane was missing.

The Justice Department also is investigating its employees' involvement in the search for the lawmakers.

Democrats have been pressing several federal agencies to release more records and documents of conversations related to the search and to investigate whether federal resources were misused.

They have accused DeLay and other Republicans of a cover-up for not demanding that the agencies turn over the information or for not conducting congressional investigations.

DeLay spokesman Jonathan Grella said Friday: "The report confirms what we said for weeks - our office inquired as to the location of some wanted legislators, which was public information.

"Accusations of improper activity are as false today as they were when the Democrats first made them," Grella said.

DeLay has come under fire from Democrats who have questioned whether federal resources were used for political purposes. DeLay was the driving force behind a Texas redistricting bill that would have increased Republicans in the Texas delegation. Texas has 17 Democrats and 15 Republicans in Congress.

"When you take this and you couple it with DeLay's request to the Justice Department that U.S. Marshals and FBI be involved, collectively it shows Tom DeLay and Texas Republicans were treating the federal government as an arm of the Republican Party," said Rep. Martin Frost, D-Texas. "That's what's going on here."

Frost said that if Democrats had done the same, "Republicans would be screaming from the rooftops."

DeLay has said his office contacted the Justice Department to determine whether U.S. Marshals and FBI could help round up the lawmakers and was told they could not. However, a Corpus Christi FBI agent called one of the Texas legislators to try to help find the Democrats.

© 2003 The Associated Press

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CIA: Assessment of Syria's WMD exaggerated
Phily.com By WARREN P. STROBEL and JONATHAN S. LANDAY
Knight Ridder Newspapers

July 17, 2003

WASHINGTON - In a new dispute over interpreting intelligence data, the CIA and other agencies objected vigorously to a Bush administration assessment of the threat of Syria's weapons of mass destruction that was to be presented Tuesday on Capitol Hill.

After the objections, the planned testimony by Undersecretary of State John R. Bolton, a leading administration hawk, was delayed until September.

U.S. officials told Knight Ridder that Bolton was prepared to tell members of a House of Representatives International Relations subcommittee that Syria's development of biological, chemical and nuclear weapons had progressed to such a point that they posed a threat to stability in the region.

The CIA and other intelligence agencies said that assessment was exaggerated.

Syria has come under increasing U.S. pressure during and after the Iraq war for allegedly giving refuge to members of Saddam Hussein's regime, allowing foreign fighters to cross into Iraq to attack U.S. troops and for backing Palestinian militant groups that were conducting terrorist strikes on Israel. After Saddam's government fell, some Bush aides hinted that the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad in Damascus might be the next U.S. target.

The objections by the intelligence community come as the Bush administration is defending itself over complaints that it embellished intelligence secrets to justify the war against Iraq.

Bolton's planned remarks caused a "revolt" among intelligence experts who thought they inflated the progress Syria has made in its weapons programs, said a U.S. official who isn't from the CIA, but was involved in the dispute.

He and other officials who provided similar accounts spoke only on the condition of anonymity because of the issue's sensitivity and because they aren't authorized government spokesmen.

The CIA's objections and comments alone ran to 35 to 40 pages, the official said.

Officials declined to provide more details of the disputes over the testimony, some of which was secret and scheduled to be delivered in closed session. The House panel is considering a bill that would toughen trade and diplomatic sanctions against Syria, which is on the U.S. list of terrorist-sponsoring nations.

Officials provided conflicting explanations of why the hearing was canceled.

A Bolton aide said it was because of a scheduling conflict - Bolton was called to a White House meeting Tuesday afternoon - and that the hearing had been reset for September. Others said it was because the bitter dispute couldn't be immediately resolved.

A CIA spokesman declined to comment on the issue.

But other officials in the executive branch and on Capitol Hill said the White House Office of Management and Budget, which coordinates government officials' public statements, wouldn't give final approval to the planned testimony.

The conflict appears to illustrate how battles over prewar intelligence on Iraq have spread to other issues and have heightened sensitivity among Bush aides about public descriptions of threats to the United States.

The White House acknowledged last week that it shouldn't have included in President Bush's January State of the Union address a dramatic contention that Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein was trying to buy uranium for nuclear weapons in Africa. Other administration claims about Iraq's banned weapons program and alleged ties to the al-Qaida terrorist network are now in question.

Several officials said another reason for the cancellation of Bolton's testimony was that he might have been subjected to sharp questioning about Iraq intelligence, a controversy the White House is trying to lay to rest.

There is more attention to "dotting I's and crossing T's," said a State Department official, adding that Bolton's draft statement was the subject of "extensive edits."

Bolton set off a controversy in May 2002 when he asserted in a speech that Cuba has a biological warfare program. A State Department intelligence expert, Christian Westermann, recently told a closed-door Senate Intelligence Committee hearing that available intelligence data don't support that assertion, U.S. officials have said.

The first U.S. official said that after months of complaining about pressure to skew their analyses, rank-and-file intelligence officials "have become emboldened" by the recent public debate over Iraq.

"People are fed up," he said.

Another official confirmed that the CIA had "a good deal of concern" over the classified portion of Bolton's testimony.

In speeches and congressional testimony over the past year, Bolton has identified Syria among a handful of countries whose alleged pursuit of biological and chemical weapons makes them threats to international stability. His assessments attached more gravity to the danger that Syria poses than did a declassified U.S. intelligence assessment that covered the first six months of 2002.

In testimony in June before the House International Relations Committee, Bolton said U.S. officials are "looking at Syria's nuclear program with growing concern and continue to monitor it for any signs of nuclear weapons intent."

A CIA report submitted to Congress in April contained more cautionary language. Noting that Syria and Russia have reached preliminary agreement on civilian nuclear cooperation, the CIA report said only, "In principal, broader access to Russian expertise provides opportunities for Syria to expand its indigenous capabilities, should it decide to pursue nuclear weapons."

In his June testimony, Bolton asserted that U.S. officials "know that Syria is pursuing the development of biological weapons." The CIA report said only that it's "highly probable that Syria is also continuing to develop an offensive BW (biological weapons) capability."

Finally, Bolton told the congressional committee that "North Korean entities have been involved in aiding Syria's ballistic missile development." The CIA reported that Syria was trying to build Scud-C ballistic missiles "probably with North Korean assistance."

CIA Director George Tenet, in an annual worldwide assessment of threats against the United States that he presented to Congress in February, referred to Syria by name only once, and that was in connection with its support for Palestinian extremist groups.

© Knight Ridder Newspapers 2003

Commentary:
The Bushies have got to be feeling the heat. Not even their allies in Congress want to hear more of their hyped intelligence on Syria. Don't forget, Eagleburger, who was Bush 1's, Sec. of State, said he'd support impeaching Bush if he invaded Syria.

John Dean from Watergate says hyping intelligence is a felony and an impeachable offense. They still don't get it. Maybe Congress needs to turn up the heat.

Is Congress and the CIA trying to stop Bush from lying to the Congress again? It appears so. They've delayed this hearing until September. A possible threat to our national security is being delayed a couple months. Why is Bush still in the White House?

Once again, if Bush had to take us to war again, would anyone believe his intelligence? Would the media, the American people, the Congress, the UN, the world? When a commander in chief is this weak on national security matters he must step down for the good of the country or be force out.


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GAO: Bush Used HHS Funds for Campaign Appearances
By LAURA MECKLER
The Associated Press
Friday, July 11, 2003; 9:18 PM

WASHINGTON - The Bush administration spent hundreds of thousands of dollars from its health and welfare budget to stage presidential events around the country last year - most of which coincided with campaign appearances for Republican candidates.

A report released Friday by the General Accounting Office, Congress' investigative arm, identified 15 trips where the White House asked the Department of Health and Human Services to pick up the tab.

Agreements reached between the White House and HHS allowed for charges totaling about $523,000. So far, the White House has sent HHS bills for eight of the 15 trips totaling just over $250,000. The GAO could not find invoices or other records to explain specifically how the money was spent.

The events were staged on a range of topics that HHS handles: bioterrorism, welfare, fitness, Medicare and prescription drugs. The GAO found that nine of the 15 coincided with political events for Republicans, including gubernatorial campaigns for Scott McCallum in Wisconsin, Bob Taft in Ohio, Jeb Bush in Florida and Mark Sanford in South Carolina.

When the president travels for both official and campaign business, taxpayers generally share the cost with campaign committees.

Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., who requested the report, said an agency charged with helping the sick and the poor should not be indirectly funding politics.

"No one challenges that the president should travel whenever and wherever he wants," Rangel said in a statement. "But if the goal of the trip is partisan politics, then he should charge the cost to his campaign committee, not the taxpayer."

Fourteen of the 15 events were in 2002 before the November election; one was in January 2003.

HHS spokesman Bill Pierce said the taxpayers were in no way funding politics.

"All of these events were in support of major administration policy initiatives," he said. "Instead of just sitting here in Washington, D.C., it's very important to go out and actually talk to the folks in the various states about these things."

Rangel asked the GAO for comparable numbers during the Clinton administration. The GAO found that during President Clinton's entire second term, the White House stages 37 events for which HHS was charged about $101,000. But the GAO said records were incomplete and there could have been others during Clinton's term.

The GAO inquiry did not examine whether other agencies have paid for similar trips during the Bush or Clinton years.

© 2003 The Associated Press

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