- The Washington Times - Friday, January 16, 2009


Court upholds warrantless spying

A special appeals court for the first time has upheld a Bush administration program of warrantless surveillance.

In a ruling released Thursday, the court embraced the Protect America Act of 2007, which required telecommunications providers to assist the government for national security purposes in intercepting international phone calls and e-mails to and from points overseas.

The decision, which involves the gathering of foreign intelligence, was made in August but only released Thursday after it had been edited to omit classified information.

An unidentified telecommunications company had challenged the law.

The U.S. Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court of Review said the time needed to get a court warrant would hinder the government’s ability to collect time-sensitive information, impeding vital national interests.

The challenge to the law has presented no evidence of any actual harm or any broad potential for abuse, the court’s three judges concluded.


Gown designer remains a mystery

In a break with precedent, the designer of Michelle Obama’s inaugural gown probably will not be disclosed before Inauguration Day, according to a fashion industry insider who requested anonymity.

That will leave fashionistas breathless. The designer of the first lady’s gown traditionally has been revealed in advance - with a great deal of fanfare.

An aide to Mrs. Obama, who asked not to be identified, confirmed that “an announcement may not be made until Tuesday.”


CIA chief cites gains in Pakistan

The CIA has hampered al Qaeda’s free rein in the tribal region of western Pakistan, and Iran appears to be nearing a decision on whether to build a nuclear warhead, departing CIA Director Michael V. Hayden said Thursday.

“The great danger was that the border region between Pakistan and Afghanistan was a safe haven. My belief is that it is neither safe nor a haven,” Mr. Hayden said at the agency’s headquarters in Langley, in what probably was his final briefing for reporters.

President-elect Barack Obama has picked Leon Panetta, a former chief of staff to President Bill Clinton and a former Democratic congressman from California, to head the agency.

Mr. Hayden said the progress in the tribal region was a “big deal.” It is the result, he said, of the Bush administration’s push to dislodge al Qaeda from the enclave the terrorist network established on the Pakistan border after it fled Afghanistan in 2001 following the Sept. 11 attacks.

Mr. Hayden said he leaves office after a decade at senior posts in intelligence agencies with few regrets. As for Osama bin Laden, “We have not killed or captured him. That is a disappointment, rather than a regret,” he said.


Senate designates wilderness sites

The Senate on Thursday voted to set aside more than 2 million acres in nine states as protected wilderness and allow Alaska to build an airport access road through a wildlife refuge.

The 73-21 vote moves Congress closer to one of the largest expansions of wilderness protection in the past 25 years. The legislation heads to the House, where approval is expected.

The measure — a collection of about 160 separate bills — would confer the government’s highest level of protection on land ranging from California’s Sierra Nevada mountain range to Oregon’s Mount Hood, Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado and parts of the Jefferson National Forest in Virginia.

Land in Idaho’s Owyhee canyons, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore in Michigan and Zion National Park in Utah also would win designation as wilderness, and more than 1,000 miles of rivers in nearly a dozen states would gain protections.

The bill also would let Alaska construct the road through the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge as part of a land swap that would give the state a seven-mile easement . In exchange, the state is expected to transfer more than 61,000 acres to the federal government, much of it designated as wilderness.


U.S. nears deal on holding pirates

The Navy plans an aggressive effort to capture pirates off the coast of Somalia with the aid of a country in the region that would agree to prosecute and hold them, a naval commander said Thursday.

Vice Adm. William Gortney, commander of the U.S. 5th Fleet, said the United States is nearing a deal with an unidentified country that would agree to take the pirates into custody once captured by U.S. forces in Indian Ocean and Gulf of Aden waters off the Horn of Africa.

Up to now, U.S. forces in the region have limited their operations to deterrence and disruption because no country including the United States has been willing to hold the pirates.

“The State Department is close on finalizing an agreement,” said Adm. Gortney, who declined to identify the other country involved.


Report hits reviews of medical devices

Some medical devices for sensitive uses, from certain hip joints to a type of defibrillator, have won government approval without a close scientific review, congressional investigators said Thursday.

Although Congress ordered the Food and Drug Administration years ago to resolve the issue, the agency approved 228 medical devices without a full-scale review from 2003-2007, the Government Accountability Office said in a report.

Some devices approved under the less rigorous process have been recalled because of malfunctions and other problems, according to the consumer group Public Citizen. One device was an external defibrillator to assist heart attack victims.


Biden’s son leaves Iraq for inauguration

Vice President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s son is back from Iraq temporarily and will witness his father’s swearing-in.

Lt. Col. Len Gratteri, a Delaware Army National Guard spokesman, said Capt. Beau Biden began a temporary assignment at the Pentagon on Thursday. Details about the assignment or how long it will last weren’t immediately available.

The assignment will allow Capt. Biden to use personal leave time so the former attorney general of Delaware can witness the inauguration of his father and President-elect Barack Obama.

After the inauguration, he is scheduled to return to Iraq, where his unit, the Delaware National Guard 261st Signal Brigade is stationed.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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