- The Washington Times - Friday, February 13, 2009

DRUG CZAR

Seattle police chief to lead drug war

President Obama has selected Seattle’s police chief to be the nation’s next drug czar, an administration official said Thursday.

Gil Kerlikowske will lead the Office of National Drug Control Policy, a position that has in past administrations been a Cabinet-level post, according to an official who would speak only on the condition of anonymity because no official announcement has been made nor has the date been set.

Mr. Kerlikowske joined Seattle’s police force in 2000. He previously worked at the U.S. Justice Department, where he oversaw community policing grants. He also has worked as a police officer in Florida and New York.

PENTAGON

Team to audit aid to Afghan forces

A team of Pentagon auditors will travel to Afghanistan in March to determine whether the United States is doing enough to train and equip local security forces.

The Defense Department Inspector General’s office also plans by April to expand its presence of investigators permanently stationed in Afghanistan, Iraq, Kuwait and Qatar, said Thomas Gimble, the IG’s principal deputy, in congressional testimony Thursday.

The increased oversight comes as U.S. officials question the Kabul government’s ability to defend the nation against Taliban fighters. On Wednesday, eight militants stormed government buildings in the heavily fortified capital, killing 20 people and wounding dozens.

The March trip to Afghanistan had long been in the works and was not in response to the attack, an IG spokesman said.

STATE

Clinton to attend Gaza donor meeting

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has agreed to attend an international donors conference in Cairo in March to help rebuild the Gaza Strip after Israel’s December invasion, Egypt’s foreign minister said Thursday.

Speaking after meeting with Mrs. Clinton, Ahmed Aboul Gheit said the top U.S. diplomat would attend the March 2 meeting, which is being held in coordination with the Palestinian Authority.

A senior State Department official confirmed Mrs. Clinton would be in Cairo but said details were still being worked out.

Preliminary estimates put the damage in Hamas-run Gaza after Israel’s offensive at nearly $2 billion. Saudi Arabia has said it would donate $1 billion, but the U.S. has not yet indicated what it will contribute.

EXTRADITION

Lawmakers target arms merchant

A Russian businessman known as the “Merchant of Death” is a wanted man in Washington.

More than two dozen House lawmakers are pressing the Obama administration to make sure that Viktor Bout is extradited to the U.S. from Thailand, where he was arrested a year ago for conspiring to arm Colombian rebels.

In a Wednesday letter to Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, the members of Congress say Mr. Bout’s lawyers have succeeded in delaying his delivery. Russian authorities want Mr. Bout turned over to them, the legislators say, raising the possibility he might avoid a U.S. courtroom unless the administration makes his extradition a high priority.

“The Congress is making it abundantly clear, the ‘Merchant of Death’ must face justice,” said Rep. Ed Royce of California, the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on terrorism, nonproliferation and trade.

SENATE

Panetta confirmed as CIA director

The Senate confirmed Leon Panetta as director of the CIA on Thursday, placing the nation’s top spy agency in the hands of a government veteran valued for his skills as a lawmaker and policy manager rather than an expert at intelligence-gathering and analysis.

The Senate approved President Obama’s choice on a voice vote. On Wednesday, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence sent Mr. Panetta’s nomination to the full chamber without opposition.

During two days of confirmation hearings last week, Mr. Panetta told senators that the Obama administration would not prosecute CIA officers who participated in harsh interrogations even if they constituted torture as long as they did not go beyond their instructions. However, he would not say whether charges would be sought against those who gave those orders.

NTSB

Geese caused crash, experts find

Safety officials say bird remains in both engines of the US Airways jetliner that ditched into New York’s Hudson River in January have been identified as Canada geese.

The National Transportation Safety Board said Thursday that experts at the Smithsonian Institution who examined 25 samples of bird remains made the determination.

They have been unable to determine how many birds were involved in the crash, in which all crew members and passengers survived.

Canada geese typically range in size from about 6 pounds to 12 pounds. The safety board said the engines on the ditched airliner are designed to withstand a collision with a bird weighing up to 4 pounds without catching fire or being damaged enough to shut down.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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