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FBI, Education Department Probed Aid Applications For Terrorists August 31, 2006

Posted by notapundit in Main, US News.
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By Ben Feller

WASHINGTON (AP)–Searching for terrorists, the FBI and the U.S. Education Department’s investigative arm have secretly vetted people applying for college aid, documents show.

The goal of “Project Strike Back” was to determine if terrorism suspects, through identity theft or other means, illegally obtained college aid to finance their operations.

The data-mining project was first disclosed by the Medill School of Journalism.

The secret effort began right after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the U.S. The program was shut down this June, nearly five years later, according to documents obtained through Medill’s Freedom of Information Act request.

Under the program, the FBI gave names to the Education Department’s Office of Inspector General, which ran them through databases of millions of financial aid applications to determine if student aid had been sought or obtained.

Fewer than 1,000 names were checked against the databases, said Cathy Milhoan, spokeswoman for the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

“In the post 9-11 world, it’s the job of the FBI to connect the dots and follow our investigation wherever it leads us,” Milhoan said. “We appreciate the effort of everyone – the Department of Education, the IG, and every other citizen out there that’s helped us.”

She added that the data-mining is legal and limited: “We’re not out there arbitrarily pulling citizens’ information. We do it in accordance with the law.”

Medill’s disclosure of the review of students’ records is the latest revelation in a broad, and controversial, effort by the Bush administration to mine data. Advocates say the work is aimed at saving lives.

But critics have accused the administration of overstepping its bounds – such as by authorizing warrantless surveillance on some international phone calls, collecting telephone records on U.S. citizens and accessing an international database of financial information.

“This is going to be quite an unwelcome surprise to college students and their families,” said Terry Hartle, senior vice president for the American Council on Education, an umbrella lobbying group for higher education.

Hartle said law enforcement owes the public an explanation.

“If it’s a carefully designed, targeted initiative that really goes after people the government is concerned about, it’s hard to object,” he said. “But it’s another case where we don’t exactly know what the boundaries are of the government’s activities. They have provided very little detail about who is being examined. It’s the ambiguity that’s troubling.”

The inspector general also reviewed the records of schools and lenders to determine if the federal financial aid program has been defrauded, according to documents. Any details developed were to be turned over to the FBI and the Justice Department.

Bush: Must Be Consequences For Iran’s Defiance August 31, 2006

Posted by notapundit in Main, US News, White House, World News.
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SALT LAKE CITY (AP)–U.S. President George W. Bush said Thursday that Iran is responding with “further defiance and delay” to demands for it to abandon its nuclear program and said there must be consequences for its action.

Bush made his remarks in a speech to thousands of veterans at the American Legion convention in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Bush put the nuclear standoff with Iran in a larger context, saying the violence in Lebanon this summer makes Tehran’s designs on the world stage clear. He blamed Iran for supporting the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, for helping to destabilize Iraq by sponsoring insurgents and supplying components for improvised explosive devices, and for denying basic human rights to millions of its own people.

“The world now faces a grave threat from the radical regime in Iran,” the president said. “We know the depth of suffering that Iran’s sponsorship of terrorists has brought. And we can imagine how much worse it would be if Iran were allowed to acquire nuclear weapons.”

Bush delivered his starkest threat yet to Tehran.

“There must be consequences for Iran’s defiance,” he said, “and we must not allow Iran to develop a nuclear weapon.”

Thursday was the deadline for Iran to heed the U.N. Security Council demand to stop enrichment.

Alaska Fog Blocks US Missile Defense System Test August 31, 2006

Posted by notapundit in Main, Military News, US News.
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VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, California (AP)–A key test of the U.S. missile defense system was postponed Thursday because of fog in Alaska, authorities said.

An interceptor missile was supposed to have been launched from this California base on a near-collision course with a missile lifting off from Kodiak Island in Alaska.

However, Kodiak was socked in by fog and the launch was put off until Friday at the earliest, Vandenberg spokesman Jack Hokanson said.

The interceptor, launched from an underground silo, will carry a smaller “kill vehicle” to be released in space. It is designed to lock on to an approaching enemy missile and fly into the warhead at 18,000 miles per hour (28,960 kph).

The test is designed to see how well the kill vehicle’s optical sensors work and will be considered a success even if no collision occurs, officials said.

Senate Panel To Block Bush Nominee For Broadcasting Agency August 31, 2006

Posted by notapundit in Congress, Main, Politics, US News, White House.
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WASHINGTON (AP)–The Senate Foreign Relations Committee doesn’t plan to act on President George W. Bush’s re-nomination of the head of the agency that oversees U.S. government broadcasts, who is accused of misusing government money, overbilling for his time and hiring a friend as a consultant.

A summary of a report by the State Department’s inspector general released Tuesday said Kenneth Tomlinson misused government funds for two years as chairman of the Broadcasting Board of Governors, which oversees the Voice of America, Radio Free Europe and other U.S. government broadcasting abroad.

On Wednesday, Andy Fisher, spokesman for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said the Committee had taken no action on the January 2005 nomination while the investigation was under way “and does not intend to now.”

Tomlinson, who has dismissed the allegations, can remain in office at least until Congress adjourns later in the year. His future on the board beyond that wasn’t clear.

California Legislature OKs Bill For Electoral Vote Change August 31, 2006

Posted by notapundit in Main, Politics, US News.
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SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP)–The California Legislature passed a bill that would give California’s 55 electoral votes to the winner of the national popular presidential vote, rather than the candidate who captured the state – but for now, the measure stands a slim chance of becoming reality.

That’s because it could go into effect only if states with a combined total of 270 electoral votes – the number now required to win the presidency – agree to the same process.

Similar legislation is pending in Colorado, Illinois, Louisiana and Missouri – which have a combined 50 electoral votes. With California’s 55, the legislation would still be less than halfway there.

The movement is a reaction to the 2000 presidential contest, when Democrat Al Gore won the nationwide popular vote but lost the presidency to George W. Bush, who won more Electoral College votes. Gore also won California that year.

Democrats control the California Legislature. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican, has yet to take a public position on the bill, passed Wednesday.

Supporters said the move would boost California’s relevance in national elections. California is a key fundraising state for presidential candidates but is often not visited in general campaigning because it is safely Democratic.

“Candidates don’t come to California,” said Assemblyman Rick Keene of Chico, one of the few Republican supporters of the measure. “We are currently disenfranchised in the electoral process.”

But many Republicans criticized the bill.

“This is a way of amending the Constitution through the back door,” said Assemblyman Chuck DeVore, a Republican from Irvine.

Critics also argued that campaigning would focus on heavily populated areas at the expense of other parts of the state.