- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 22, 2009


Obama picks cyber-coordinator

After months of wrangling and delays, President Obama has chosen a national cybersecurity coordinator to take on the formidable task of organizing and managing the nation’s increasingly vulnerable digital networks.

Mr. Obama has tapped Howard A. Schmidt, longtime computer-security executive who worked in the George W. Bush administration and has extensive ties to the corporate world, according to a senior White House official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the announcement will not be made until Tuesday.

Mr. Schmidt’s selection comes more than 10 months after Mr. Obama declared cybersecurity a priority and ordered a broad administration review.

The official said Mr. Obama was personally involved in the selection process and chose Mr. Schmidt after an extensive search because of his unique background and skills. Mr. Schmidt will have regular and direct access to the president on cybersecurity issues, the official said.


Michigan demands anti-carp closures

CHICAGO | The state of Michigan on Monday asked the U.S. Supreme Court to order authorities to close off waterways that could provide an avenue into the Great Lakes for invasive Asian carp.

Closing a lock and dam and other measures should keep the carp from entering the Great Lakes but would also block shippers.

The voracious Bighead and Silver carp are considered a dire threat to the lakes’ $7 billion fisheries and to the quality of the water that tens of millions of people depend on.

The lawsuit demands that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the state of Illinois and Chicago’s sewer authority take more steps to block the carp during flooding and ultimately to separate the Great Lakes from the Mississippi River watershed.

The Army Corps recently performed maintenance on an electric barrier intended to deter the carp from swimming into the lakes, poisoning fish in a long stretch of waterway to ensure the carp would not enter while the barrier was shut off. But scientists have found carp DNA on the lake side of the barrier, which may mean carp have made it into Lake Michigan.

“The actions of Illinois and federal authorities have not been enough to assure us the lakes are safe,” Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox said. “That’s why the waterways must be shut down until we are assured that Michigan will be protected.”

The Supreme Court has jurisdiction over an agreement that controls how much water Chicago can withdraw from Lake Michigan.


Mullen: U.S. must be ready for anything

Diplomacy offers the best way to resolve tensions over Iran’s nuclear program, but the Pentagon must be ready with military options if needed, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said on Monday.

“No resolution is yet in sight, but I fully support the effort to focus on diplomatic solutions to existing tensions” with Iran, Adm. Mike Mullen wrote in a memorandum setting out strategic priorities for the armed forces in 2010.

“My belief remains that political means are the best tools to attain regional security and that military force will have limited results,” Adm. Mullen said.

“However, should the president call for military options, we must have them ready.”


Ex-Sen. Burns leaves hospital

HELENA, Mont. | Former Montana Sen. Conrad Burns has been released from a Washington hospital and moved to a rehabilitation facility to continue recovering from a stroke.

Mr. Burns’ family released a statement through Rep. Denny Rehberg, Montana Republican, saying the 74-year-old was moved from Georgetown University Hospital to the National Rehabilitation Hospital over the weekend.

Doctors say he could spend three to four weeks there before he is released. Mr. Burns suffered a stroke on Dec. 9.

He and his wife recently sold their house in Arlington, Va., and planned to move back to Billings, Mont.


Obama points to contractor cuts

President Obama on Monday touted a plan to cut back on wasteful spending on federal government contractors, a plan he said is on track to save $40 billion per year by 2011.

“Between 2002 and 2008, the amount spent on government contracts more than doubled. The amount spent on no-bid, non-competitive contracts jumped by 129 percent. This is an inexcusable waste of money,” Mr. Obama said.

Shortly after taking office in January, Mr. Obama set a goal for federal agencies to save up to $40 billion per year in contracting costs by 2011.

Since then, “24 departments have identified more than $19 billion in savings for this year alone,” he said.

“Over the past six months, agencies have been making cuts by looking for better deals, by ending contracts and doing work in house, and by opening up no-bid contracts to competitive bidding,” he added.

“Because of these efforts, I’m proud to announce today that we are on track to meet our goals.”


Con man fooled CIA, Playboy says

A con artist convinced the CIA and other U.S. agencies in 2003 that he could decode secret messages sent by al Qaeda through Al Jazeera broadcasts, Playboy magazine reported.

Duped by claims that “bar codes” on Al Jazeera television contained targeting information for al Qaeda attacks, President George W. Bush’s administration raised the terrorism alert and canceled several trans-Atlantic flights in December 2003, the report said, citing former CIA officials.

At the center of the scam was Dennis Montgomery, head of a small software company in Reno, Nev., the magazine said. He persuaded the Central Intelligence Agency and the Department of Homeland Security that his technology could decipher messages with flight numbers and longitudes and latitudes meant for al Qaeda operatives.

With assistance from French intelligence, CIA officials eventually concluded there were no secret messages in Al Jazeera television broadcasts, said the report, published in the magazine’s latest edition.

“A branch of the French intelligence services helped convince the Americans that the bar codes were fake,” it said.


Host apologizes to congresswoman

NEW YORK | MSNBC host Dylan Ratigan apologized Monday for his “very rude” conduct last week during an interview on health care with a Florida congresswoman.

Democrat Debbie Wasserman Schultz was explaining Friday on Mr. Ratigan’s show “Morning Meeting” why she supported health care reform. Mr. Ratigan, who said he has “incredible frustration” with the way the bill treated insurance companies, asked her to explain why stocks for insurers were going up.

Ms. Schultz said she wasn’t a stockbroker, and the answer apparently left Mr. Ratigan unsatisfied. He said he would “give her a brief education.”

“You could be your own guest,” she told him as she tried to get a word in edgewise.

Mr. Ratigan eventually waved her off, saying he didn’t want her to “come on and do talking points.”

On Monday, Mr. Ratigan quoted an e-mail from a viewer who said he was “very rude.” He agreed with the sentiment and apologized to the congresswoman and viewers.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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