- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 18, 2009

HOUSE

Intelligence panel to probe CIA

The House intelligence committee said Friday that it will investigate whether the CIA broke the law by not informing Congress promptly about a secret program to deploy teams of killers to target al Qaeda leaders.

Committee Chairman Rep. Silvestre Reyes, Texas Democrat, said the hit-team plan, which was never carried out, is among several intelligence operations that will be investigated as part of a broad inquiry into the CIA’s handling of disclosures to Congress about its secret activities.

“I intend to make this investigation fair and thorough, and it is my goal that it will not become a distraction to the men and women of the CIA,” Mr. Reyes said.

CIA spokesman Paul Gimigliano said the agency shares that goal and will work closely with the committee on its review.

The House intelligence committee will examine concerns that the CIA failed to inform the Senate and House intelligence committees about former President George W. Bush’s wiretapping program, harsh interrogation techniques and the destruction of interrogation videotapes, according to a committee aide.

The inquiry will also focus on how the CIA handled disclosures about the 2001 downing of a small plane carrying American missionaries over Peru and on other cases, said the aide, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly.

ENVIRONMENT

Oil lease sale to proceed

The Obama administration plans to move ahead with an oil lease sale in the Gulf of Mexico next month despite legal questions about whether the proposal and other offshore drilling plans initially drawn up under President George W. Bush went through a full environmental review.

The decision comes three months after a U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington blocked similar lease sales in Alaska, saying the Bush administration did not properly study the environmental consequences. The Alaska drilling was part of a five-year plan to expand drilling around the country, including in the Gulf.

The court did not say whether its ruling also applied to Gulf drilling, but many experts watching the case said they believed the decision could be read as covering the entire program, not just the Alaska portion.

Interior Department spokeswoman Kendra Barkoff said the agency has sought clarification from the courts. But after not getting further guidance, Secretary Ken Salazar decided to move ahead, Ms. Barkoff said.

“We’re planning as if it doesn’t affect the Gulf, but if the court provides direction otherwise, we will follow it,” she said.

The sale would pave the way for drilling in some 18 million acres in the western Gulf near Texas. The area comes as close as nine miles from shore in some parts and stretches as far as 250 miles out in places.

ECONOMY

Unemployment at 26-year high

Unemployment topped 10 percent in 15 states and the District of Columbia last month, according to federal data released Friday. The rate in Michigan surpassed 15 percent, the first time any state hit that mark since 1984.

The Federal Reserve this week projected that the national unemployment rate, currently at a 26-year high of 9.5 percent, will pass 10 percent by the end of the year. Most Fed policymakers said it could take “five or six years” for the economy and the labor market to get back on a path of long-term health. To get there, consumers must return to a regular spending groove and housing prices need to start rising again.

Home to the nation’s struggling auto makers, Michigan has been clobbered by lost factory jobs. Its jobless rate of 15.2 percent in June was the highest in the country.

Still, the U.S. Labor Department said it’s the first time in 25 years that any state has suffered an unemployment rate of at least 15 percent. In 1984, it was West Virginia.

The state unemployment report underscores the damage that the longest recession since World War II has inflicted on companies, workers and communities.

The other 14 states where unemployment topped 10 percent last month were Alabama, California, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Nevada, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Carolina and Tennessee.

WILD HORSES

Animals get more space

Galloping to the aid of the nation’s wild horses and burros, the House voted Friday to rescue them from the possibility of a government-sponsored slaughter and give them millions more acres to roam.

But the effort may get penned up in the Senate.

The bill passed the House, 239-185, with Republican opponents arguing that it underscored wrongheaded Democratic priorities by focusing on animals instead of people at a time when the nation’s unemployment rate is approaching double digits.

An estimated 36,000 wild horses and burros live in 10 Western states. Federal officials estimate that is about 9,400 more than can exist in balance with other rangeland resources. Off the range, more than 31,000 other wild horses and burros are cared for in corrals and pastures.

The plan aims to reduce the number of animals kept in holding pens awaiting adoption and to reduce the stress on land currently set aside for them.

Supporters mobilized after the Interior Department announced last year that it might have to kill thousands of healthy wild horses and burros to deal with the growing population on the range and in holding facilities.

From wire dispatches and staff reports.

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