- The Washington Times - Friday, July 28, 2006

NORAD downgraded to ‘warm standby’

COLORADO SPRINGS — The military is virtually closing the secretive defense complex carved into Cheyenne Mountain that for decades has monitored North American skies for threats, a newspaper reported.

The Denver Post reported late Thursday that the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) operations center will be moved to nearby Peterson Air Force Base, which is home to the U.S. Northern Command created after the September 11 attacks.

NORAD, a joint U.S. and Canadian command, was set up in the 1960s to monitor the skies for threats such as missiles, aircraft and space objects.

Adm. Tim Keating, who commands both NORAD and the U.S. Northern Command, said the government’s best intelligence “leads us to believe a missile attack from China or Russia is very unlikely.”

That, along with the emergence of varied terrorist threats such as suicide bombers, “is what recommends to us that we don’t need to maintain Cheyenne Mountain in a 24/7 status. We can put it on ‘warm standby,’” Adm. Keating told the newspaper.

Border agent pleads to alien smuggling

SAN DIEGO — Border Patrol Agent Oscar Antonio Ortiz was sentenced to five years in prison yesterday after pleading guilty to charges that included conspiracy to bring in illegal aliens and making a false claim to U.S. citizenship.

Prosecutors had sought a sentence of nearly three years, but U.S. District Judge John A. Houston decided a stiffer punishment was required for Ortiz, 29.

“You violated the sacred trust of your comrades,” the judge said. “As a link in the chain, they depended on you.”

Ortiz was arrested in August. He admitted smuggling at least 100 illegal aliens into the country, sometimes by driving them in his Border Patrol truck.

Critics say the case raises questions about the hiring process at the Border Patrol as it grows from 11,700 agents now to 18,000 by the end of 2008 in an effort to tighten the nation’s borders.

Court blocks review in Jefferson case

A federal appeals court yesterday barred the Justice Department from reviewing evidence seized from a Louisiana congressman’s office during an FBI raid on his Capitol Hill office in May.

A three-judge panel ordered a federal trial judge to ensure that Rep. William J. Jefferson, a Democrat, be given copies of seized evidence contained on more than a dozen computer hard drives, several floppy disks and two boxes of paper documents.

The panel said Mr. Jefferson then must be given the opportunity to invoke legislative privilege claims in private with the trial judge before investigators can review the materials.

The search of Mr. Jefferson’s office was part of a 16-month international bribery investigation.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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