Friday, August 26, 2005

GOP Hopefuls for '08 Breaking from Bush

Republican senators with White House ambitions have begun to break with President Bush on a variety of issues to prove their independence from the second-term president.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee staked out his own ground on the issue of stem-cell research. Sen. George Allen of Virginia publicly disagreed with Mr. Bush's refusal to meet a second time with anti-war activist Cindy Sheehan.

Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska compared the war in Iraq to the Vietnam War, an analogy that is anathema to Mr. Bush. Sen. John McCain of Arizona has long disagreed with the president's tax cuts and confidence in Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld.

"As the incumbent president gets into his second term, a lot of people who lust after his job are trying to differentiate themselves -- not so much from him as from each other," said David Keene, chairman of the American Conservative Union.

"They're trying to define themselves in the public mind in a way that will give them a leg up in the next election," he said. "George Bush doesn't have to run again, so there's less fear of disagreeing with him."

Yet none of these senators has positioned himself as more conservative than the president, a move that might appeal to disaffected sectors of the Republican base.

"It's a real dilemma for these Republican senators," said Democratic strategist Mary Anne Marsh. "They're trying to differentiate themselves from Bush on certain issues. And yet the Republican activists who dominate the nominating process are sticking with Bush on those issues."

Analysts from both parties said Republicans would do well to tap into the biggest sources of discontent among conservative Republicans -- lax immigration laws and excessive federal spending. Although no candidate has taken a prominent stance against the expansion of government under Mr. Bush, a dark horse is strongly challenging the administration on immigration.

Rep. Tom Tancredo, Colorado Republican, adamantly opposes Mr. Bush's plan to grant legal status to millions of Mexicans who illegally entered the U.S. Although Mr. Tancredo's White House prospects are considered remote, his candidacy could pull the Republican field rightward in the way former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean pulled the Democratic field leftward in last year's primaries.

"Given how far out front he is on immigration, Tancredo could force the entire field to take a tougher stance," Mrs. Marsh said.

Mr. Keene said: "I don't think he's a serious candidate for the nomination, but he may be more serious in his ability to affect the outcome of things than some of the others."

After criticizing the president's immigration policy in 2002, Mr. Tancredo said he was told by Bush adviser Karl Rove "never to darken the doorstep of the White House."

By contrast, the Republican senators who are considered White House contenders have been careful to preserve their overall working relationships with Mr. Bush, even as they disagree with him on individual issues.

The possible exception is Mr. Hagel, who in recent weeks significantly has sharpened his criticism of Mr. Bush's Iraq policy.

"Hagel's mistake is that he's attempting to stake out his ground on foreign and defense policy, whereas most people are going to agree with Bush on these issues," Mr. Keene said. "It may be a political tin ear. Or it may be a desire to get on the tube and get press, because he certainly does that."


Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Who? What?

Report: Bin Laden Injured in Afghanistan Attack

Kabul, 24 August (AKI) - Osama bin Laden has been wounded in Afghanistan, according to two different reports carried by various Islamic websites. Referring to the al-Qaeda leader as Abu Abdullah, the second message, which appeared on Wednesday, said: "Mullah Ahmadi, military leader of the Badr brigades, which form part of the al-Qaeda organisation in Afghanistan, has confirmed that Sheikh Abu Abdullah has been injured in his left leg."

It follows a previous message on several Islamic websites saying the fugitive terrorist leader was injured while taking part in an attack on a Spanish military base in Afghanistan.

The second message relaying the news is titled "Confirmation of the injury of Sheikh Abu Abdullah in the Al-Khulud expedition" and adds other details, specifying that the injury was to the left leg and claiming it was sustained "when the Sheikh went out onto the battlefield to lead the expedition during which the Spanish base was attacked and which was named the Al-Khulud expedition."

"The source has promised to broadcast soon a video of the expedition, which lasted four hours," the message continues, before concluding: "Therefore we ask Allah to heal the Sheikh and make him well again. Don't be miserly in praying for him."

Last week a Spanish helicopter crashed in Afghanistan, killing all 17 military personnel on board. Another helicopter taking part in the same training exercise made an emergency landing following the crash, injuring several other Spanish soldiers. Spain has dispatched additional troops to replace those killed and injured, but there has been no report of a subsequent attack on a Spanish base in Afghanistan.


Monday, August 22, 2005

Robertson: Let's Kill Chavez

Pat Robertson Calls for Assassination of Chavez

Christian Broadcasting Network's The 700 Club host Pat Robertson ... founder of the Christian Coalition of America has called for the assassination of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez Frias.

In a transcript of his August 22 The 700 Club broadcast Robertson says:

"There was a popular coup that overthrew him [Chavez]. And what did the United States State Department do about it? Virtually nothing. And as a result, within about 48 hours that coup was broken; Chavez was back in power, but we had a chance to move in. He has destroyed the Venezuelan economy, and he's going to make that a launching pad for communist infiltration and Muslim extremism all over the continent.

You know, I don't know about this doctrine of assassination, but if he thinks we're trying to assassinate him, I think that we really ought to go ahead and do it.

It's a whole lot cheaper than starting a war ... and I don't think any oil shipments will stop. But this man is a terrific danger and the United ... this is in our sphere of influence, so we can't let this happen.

We have the Monroe Doctrine, we have other doctrines that we have announced. And without question, this is a dangerous enemy to our south, controlling a huge pool of oil, that could hurt us very badly.

We have the ability to take him out, and I think the time has come that we exercise that ability.

We don't need another $200 billion war to get rid of one, you know, strong-arm dictator. It's a whole lot easier to have some of the covert operatives do the job and then get it over with."


Border 'Security'?

Security Fears Grow at Southwest Border
With no detention space, crossers released

HARLINGEN, Texas -- In a storefront courthouse in the baking-hot Rio Grande Valley, next to a ''beauty academy" and across from a sleepy coffee shop, US Immigration Judge David Ayala is a study in effortless efficiency. He pulls blue files one by one from a tall stack, announces the name of an undocumented immigrant caught slipping across the US border, and orders the defendant deported.

There are no cries of protest. The defendants are nowhere to be found. Other than the thwack of a stamp and the judge's voice, the only other sound in the tiny courtroom is the quiet hum of an air conditioner, as Ayala goes through the motions before a Department of Homeland Security prosecutor and a reporter.

Unlike undocumented Mexicans, most of whom are quickly returned to their country after they are arrested, almost all non-Mexicans are charged and released in the United States if they do not have a criminal record and are not deemed a security threat. But like this day, few of the immigrants show up to face charges that they entered the country illegally.

When their names are called, 98 percent of all undocumented aliens ordered to appear at Harlingen Immigration Court do not answer. They are weeks into their new lives in all corners of the United States.

The no-show rate, the highest of those for all 53 immigration courts in the country, has deteriorated as undocumented, non-Mexican immigrants have been crossing the border in exponentially increasing numbers, many from known terrorist breeding grounds such as Pakistan.

High-ranking federal officials, including retired Admiral James Loy of the Coast Guard, who served as deputy secretary of Homeland Security until March, have warned Congress that terrorists might exploit the porous border with Mexico to enter the United States, where they can take their chances with immigration officials who often have no choice but to release non-Mexicans.

Such infiltration ''is a concern for us," said Roy Cervantes, the US Border Patrol spokesman in Harlingen.

Nationwide, the number of non-Mexicans who are entering the country illegally is skyrocketing, according to the Department of Homeland Security. Through Aug. 9, for the first 10 months of fiscal 2005, a total of 135,097 non-Mexicans had been apprehended out of 1.02 million undocumented immigrants arrested overall. In all of fiscal 2004, the number of non-Mexicans apprehended was 75,392; in fiscal 2003, the figure was 49,545.

The arrivals are coming from all over the globe, using smugglers in Mexico and the United States to ferry them to river crossings and to guide them along dangerous desert trails in their quest for a better life. The inability of the Border Patrol to stem the tide has provoked a fierce debate about immigration policy and security priorities. The governors of New Mexico, Bill Richardson, and of Arizona, Janet Napolitano, both Democrats, declared states of emergency along their southern borders this month.

Big-business interests are concerned that an aggressive federal crackdown on immigration could affect the estimated 10 million undocumented workers in the United States, and who provide a steady source of low-cost labor.

But many lawmakers from border states and others, such as the Minutemen volunteers who monitor the borders, are sounding an alarm.

''The borders are worse today than they have ever been," said US Representative John Culberson, a Houston Republican who has filed a bill to create an armed volunteer militia that would be supervised by border-state governors. ''There's an absolute invasion going on."

Other observers, such as the executive director of the League of United Latin American Citizens, Brent Wilkes, suggest that the outcry against the growing influx of non-Mexican immigrants, many of them from Central and South America, is rooted in racial bias.

''We get concerned when we feel like the security issue is used as a ruse to crack down on Hispanic immigrants who are economic refugees," Wilkes said. ''There's a lot of people playing up the threat of terrorists coming across the Mexican border."

Immigration officials say they are doing the best they can with what they have. But if they do not release most non-Mexican immigrants, federal officials say, the alternative is to detain tens of thousands of them in a time-consuming deportation process whose difficulties are compounded by a shortage of detention space. With 19,500 beds nationwide all filled, the result ''forces us to make some very difficult decisions," said Dean Boyd, a spokesman for Immigration and Customs Enforcement for the Department of Homeland Security.

Nowhere are those decisions more evident than in Harlingen. In the first nine months of fiscal 2005, which ends on Sept. 30, 16,376 undocumented immigrants failed to appear at court. Only 214 of them were Mexican. In fiscal 2004, 9,166 immigrants did not appear, or 88 percent. In fiscal 2003, the no-show number was 4,868, again a national high at 88 percent.

In the sprawling Rio Grande sector, which includes Harlingen and covers 320 miles of the river, 68,438 non-Mexican immigrants from 65 countries have been arrested this fiscal year, Cervantes said. That number amounts to much more than double the 26,437 non-Mexican immigrants who had crossed illegally into this sector for all of fiscal 2004.

In the border city of Brownsville, 25 miles downriver from Harlingen, the Border Patrol chief, Ernesto Castillo, said the 202 agents in his busy station are insufficient to do the job. The agents from Brownsville are averaging about 60 arrests a day, Castillo said, including three whom he watched being detained recently on a patrol of the levee along the Rio Grande.

Two of the immigrants, a married Mexican couple who spoke no English, clutched each other as agents tended to a deep, bloody wound that the 24-year-old woman had suffered by falling in a drainage ditch. The two were returned to Mexico later that day.

Nationwide, the failure-to-appear rate for fiscal 2005 stood at 36 percent on June 30, or 68,634 of the undocumented immigrants who had been arrested.

In fiscal 2004, the 54,261 suspects who did not appear in court included 530 from Pakistan, 206 from Iran, 164 from Jordan, 93 from Iraq, 80 from Yemen, and 29 from Afghanistan, according to Justice Department figures.

Boyd said that undocumented aliens from a ''special-interest" country, a term the government uses to describe a potential base for terrorists, undergo careful screening and are not released until investigators are confident they do not pose a security threat. ''Because someone comes from Pakistan, that doesn't necessarily mean anything," Boyd said. ''It could be a family with children."

However, the numbers of illegal immigrants from such countries are raising questions about the adequacy and consistency of US border protection. ''I think there's a lack of urgency about this in the White House and Congress," said Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, a nonpartisan think tank based in Washington. ''This has the potential to be a really big deal, and there's going to be political hell to pay."

Culberson, the Houston Republican, went further. ''Any day now, we will confront massive truck-bomb explosions in our major cities and catastrophic loss of life inflicted by Middle Eastern terrorists who will laugh at us that they had simply walked across our border and we let them do it," he said.

Under Culberson's plan, which has 50 cosponsors in the House, volunteers from anywhere in the country could join a state's Border Protection Corps and ''use any means and any force authorized by state law to prevent" illegal immigration. Corps members would be subject to background checks for criminal history and mental illness, he said.

Wilkes, of United Latin American Citizens, bitterly criticized the proposal. ''If you give these people any means necessary to make arrests, when the crime the immigrants is committing is a misdemeanor, it's outrageous; it's sick," Wilkes said.

Border Patrol officials, meanwhile, pointed to a recently implemented program, called ''expedited removal," as a success story. Begun in 2004 in Tucson and in Laredo, Texas, the program was expanded in July to target a huge increase in undocumented Brazilians crossing the lower Rio Grande Valley. As a result, Cervantes said, the flow of Brazilians, who had become the largest non-Mexican group entering the area, has been dramatically curbed.

To qualify for ''expedited removal," an undocumented immigrant must not have a criminal past, must not be a juvenile, must not be an asylum seeker, and must have been arrested within 100 miles of the border and 14 days since crossing the boundary, according to Salvador Zamora of US Customs and Border Protection, an arm of the Homeland Security Department.

Since July, 757 Brazilians have been flown back to their country at US expense, the Border Patrol said. Zamora added that the hope is eventually to extend ''expedited removal" along the entire southwestern border.

Meanwhile, the ebb and flow of the immigration battle is evident at the Border Patrol station here, where most of the undocumented, non-Mexican aliens are released to the street after being questioned and given a court notice.

Once outside the station's chain-link fence, many of the immigrants board a shuttle sent from the Harlingen bus station, where they depart for destinations throughout the country, Cervantes said.

''They've been constantly here," said Jose Degollado, who works at the bus depot.

In Brownsville, Castillo shook his head when asked if he had become frustrated by the no-show rate at court. ''Our job," he said, ''is to apply the law."


Sunday, August 21, 2005

If It Walks Like a Duck...

GOP Senator Hagel Says Iraq War Looking Like Vietnam

WASHINGTON - A leading Republican senator said Sunday the war in Iraq is looking more like the Vietnam conflict from a generation ago.

Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel, who received two Purple Hearts and other military honors for his service in Vietnam, reaffirmed his position that the United States needs to develop a strategy to leave Iraq.

"Stay the course is not a policy," said Hagel, a possible White House contender in 2008. "By any standard, when you analyze 2 1/2 years in Iraq ... we're not winning."

Sen. George Allen, R-Va., another possible candidate for the GOP nomination for president in 2008, said the formation of a constitution guaranteeing basic freedoms would provide a rallying point for Iraqis.

Political leaders in Baghdad were working to complete the draft of the new constitution in time for the Monday night deadline for parliamentary approval.

"The terrorists don't have anything to win the hearts and minds of the people of Iraq. All they care to do is disrupt," said Allen, who appeared with Hagel on ABC's "This Week."

Hagel said more U.S. troops is not the solution.

"We're past that stage now because now we are locked into a bogged-down problem not unsimilar, dissimilar to where we were in Vietnam," Hagel said. "The longer we stay, the more problems we're going to have."

Allen said that unlike the communist-guided North Vietnamese that the U.S. fought, the insurgents in Iraq have no guiding political philosophy or organization. Still, Hagel argued, the similarities are growing.

"What I think the White House does not yet understand — and some of my colleagues — the dam has broke on this policy," Hagel said. "The longer we stay there, the more similarities (to Vietnam) are going to come together."


Cruising with a Cult

Cruise Tries to Recruit Oprah to Scientology

YOU could argue that she is the most influential woman in America, not least because her daily television program reaches into the living room of almost every home in the US.

Television insiders insist she can single-handedly turn books into bestsellers and mere celebrities into megastars. But now, glamorous talk show host Oprah Winfrey has become the target of the controversial Church of Scientology.

The campaign is being led by its most famous disciple, 43-year-old Tom Cruise, who is doing everything in his considerable power to convert her to the cultish faith. Cruise recently bought a house two doors away from Oprah in the glamorous suburb of Santa Barbara, California. The two are close friends. Winfrey regularly sings Cruise's praises on her show, and it was there that he chose to make his first public declaration of love for his new fiancee, 26-year-old Katie Holmes, in a toe-curling spectacle.

But the wooing of Oprah Winfrey to the Scientology cause has not been left to Cruise alone.

Fellow Scientologist and Pulp Fiction star John Travolta, 51, whom she also repeatedly favours on her television program, recently presented her with a $700,000 Bentley car for her birthday.

Oprah would be a huge catch for the Scientologists, one internet site announced this week, and you can almost see Cruise's eyes gleaming at the prospect. Another adds: "If Oprah falls into the hands of Scientology, who can tell what influence she might have on the population? The prospect is terrifying."

The Church of Scientology has a controversial reputation. One American judge described its founder, science-fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard, as a pathological liar.

Scientology may not be quite as hip in Hollywood at the moment as Kabbalah, the ultra-fashionable Jewish mystical group beloved of Madonna, but it is regarded by many as being more powerful - and it is clearly on a recruitment drive for another star disciple.

Scientology already counts among its celebrity followers Travolta's actress wife Kelly Preston, former Cheers star Kirstie Alley, Lisa Marie Presley, and Nancy Cartwright - the voice of cartoon character Bart Simpson.

Travolta, who also has a house in Santa Barbara near Winfrey, vehemently denies claims followers of Scientology are brainwashed into blind adherence to its principles.

"That is garbage," Travolta says. "Do you really believe that I would stand for something like that? The courses help me solve my problems. I also attend religious counselling where, with a spiritual guide, I tackle personal problems."

But most of the focus is on the cult's biggest star, Cruise, who now uses his considerable power and influence in Hollywood - not to mention his estimated $US400m fortune - to bring notable new recruits into the Scientology fold.

Founded by the late L. Ron Hubbard in 1955, Scientology is defined by a belief in the power of a person's spirit to clear itself of past painful experiences through self-knowledge and spiritual fulfilment.

This is achieved through intensive counselling. Scientologists believe humans are an exiled race from outer space called Thetans and claim to have eight million followers worldwide (though some critics would argue its true membership is only about 50,000).

Scientology is extremely sensitive to criticism. It uses the vast funds it accrues from members to defend itself vigorously. The church's appetite for rich and influential supporters knows few bounds - Winfrey aside. The TV host is not Cruise's only prey when it comes to wooing the rich, powerful and famous.

Just two years ago, Cruise is believed to have made a determined effort to convince James Packer of the benefits of Scientology, just as he did with his second wife, actress Nicole Kidman, and his subsequent girlfriend, Penelope Cruz. None of those attempts worked, however, which accounts for his current fascination with Oprah.

Cruise is now so in thrall to the Scientologists that he insists his children - and anyone who wants to be close to him - also embrace its bizarre teachings. These include a claim that Scientology can free individuals of the negative views implanted in humans by aliens centuries ago. Indeed, some movie insiders say that Cruise's passion for the cult has grown to such extraordinary proportions in the past year that it now pervades every single part of his life.

On the set of his latest film, War Of The Worlds, Cruise demanded that a Scientology tent - complete with volunteer ministers - should be available at all times to help any sick and injured among the movie's cast and crew.

There are suggestions Scientology lies behind his sudden engagement to the beautiful Katie Holmes.

There's no doubt Holmes has fallen under the spell of the church since meeting Cruise. The young former Dawson's Creek TV star has already announced her conversion to Scientology.

She is also seldom to be seen without her Scientology minder, a shadowy 29-year-old woman called Jessica Feshbach Rodriguez, whose family is one of the church's largest financial donors. Holmes now calls Rodriguez her best friend, even though they have known each other for only a matter of weeks.

Bizarrely, a series of red blotches on Katie Holmes's face, which suddenly appeared after she met Cruise, were alleged by some critics to be the result of a niacin-based detoxification process performed by the Church of Scientology - although this process was officially denied by the organisation.

Holmes says it is ludicrous to suggest that she has been press-ganged into adopting Scientology by her new fiance.

She says: "Tom doesn't put pressure on people. He is the kindest, smartest, most adoring man."

Not everyone is convinced. One US commentator said this week: "Holmes, who was previously a sweet, thoughtful, articulate young woman, now comes across as a zombie." He adds: "It can only be more worrisome for her parents as they see the steady hold Tom Cruise and Scientology have taken of their beloved daughter."

So pervasive is Scientology's influence in Cruise's life that he is believed to have placed the education of his adopted children with Nicole Kidman - Isabella, 12, and Conor, 10 - in the hands of Cass and Marian Cruise, two of his three sisters, who both converted to the religion over a decade ago. They are reported to be placing heavy emphasis on the teachings of Scientology.

Bella Cruise, as his daughter is known, has recently been listed in the Scientology bulletin for completing what it calls the basic course. Like Kidman, Holmes, too, comes from a Catholic family, but Holmes agreed to convert to Scientology - something that Kidman, however, always refused to do.

Actress Penelope Cruz, whom Cruise dated after his separation from Kidman, also took Scientology courses during their three-year relationship, but she, too, declined to convert - which many Hollywood insiders believe was one cause of their break-up.

You can hardly get to speak to Cruise these days without going through a Scientologist, one industry professional claims.

Cruise's third sister, Lee Anne De Vette, another convert to Scientology, has taken charge of his public relations this year, replacing the respected movie industry figure, Pat Kingsley.

A convert to Scientology in 1987 in the wake of his first marriage to actress Mimi Rogers, Cruise claims that its teaching helped him to overcome his dyslexia.

According to members of the group, Cruise has reached the sixth of eight "Operating Thetan" levels and is trusted enough to know almost all the secret truth of the universe. Oprah Winfrey beware.


Thursday, August 18, 2005

Just Between Friends

Border Tension Rises Between US and Mexico

Political tension over illegal immigration and crime along the US-Mexico border worsened this week, as Vicente Fox, Mexico's president, complained of a lack of co-operation from US officials after two US states declared emergencies along their borders with Mexico.

"My call to the US . . . is that instead of signals we make proposals, instead of working each on their own side we work together," Mr Fox said in Mexico's Sonora state, which borders Arizona.

Citing drugs-related violence on the US side of the border, Mr Fox asked: "If all the drugs that cross there arrive in the markets for consumption, what's being done on that side?"

Tony Garza, the US ambassador to Mexico and a friend of President George W. Bush, responded on Tuesday night that violence "from Matamoros to Tijuana" was "destroying the social and economic fabric of our border communities".

"The longer that violence continues, the tougher it becomes for many Americans to talk about Mexicans as our trusted partners with mutual interests," he said in a speech in Denver.

Tension over illegal immigration and border-area violence reached high levels of both governments last week, when Bill Richardson, New Mexico's governor, declared a state of emergency along his state's international border, prompting criticism from Mexico's foreign ministry. Janet Napolitano, Arizona's governor, did the same this week.

Ms Napolitano said that the "flood of unauthorised immigration" had led to hundreds of deaths - which have risen sharply this year - an increase in violent crime, and trespassing that had "damaged vegetation, wildlife and livestock".

Ms Napolitano, a Democrat, also said the US federal government had "failed in its responsibility" to secure the international border, and that Arizona would put $1.5m (€1.2m, £831,000) of its emergency fund towards fighting the problem. She also said the move was part of "close work" on sharing resources and intelligence with Sonora.

An outbreak of severe violence between drug gangs in Nuevo Laredo, on the border with Texas, recently led the US to close its consulate there.

The consulate re-opened last week, despite the assas sination of a city councillor. Mr Garza said he closed the Nuevo Laredo consulate partially to punish Mexico "for its failure to control violence in the region". Mexican politicians described it as an "over-reaction".

Gerónimo Gutiérrez, Mexico's minister for US relations, said: "It's important to differentiate between the specific public security problem in Nuevo Laredo, which is important, and the broader concept of security on the border.

"We should avoid the perception that the border is out of control along all its length."

He told the Financial Times that Mexican and US governments would announce new measures for clamping down on "coyotes", who smuggle migrants across the border, within the next few months.


Our Neighbor's Cooperation (Complicity)

Mexico Funds Staging Areas for Illegals

The Mexican staging area for illegal aliens that New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson demanded this week be bulldozed is among hundreds of similar sites along the border sponsored and maintained by the Mexican government.

Many of the sites are marked with blue flags and pennants to signal that water is available. Others, such as the Las Chepas site that Mr. Richardson denounced, are a collection of old, mostly abandoned buildings or ranch houses where illegals gather for water and other supplies -- sometimes bartering with smugglers, or "coyotes," for passage north.

Las Chepas, law-enforcement authorities said, also is a center for drug smugglers looking to move marijuana and cocaine into the United States.

Rafael Laveaga, spokesman for the Mexican Embassy in Washington, yesterday said his government "has a duty and obligation by law to protect Mexican citizens at home and abroad."

He said record high temperatures in the desert areas south of New Mexico and Arizona this year had resulted in the death of many illegal aliens.

"We try to spread the word on the dangerous conditions these people will face in the desert, along with reports of historically high temperatures," he said. "What we are doing is part of an effort to prevent those deaths."

Many of the Mexican aid stations are maintained by Grupo Beta, a Mexican governmentfunded humanitarian organization founded in the early 1990s. Driving through the desert regions south of the border in brightly painted orange trucks, Grupo Beta's job is to protect migrants along the border, not arrest them.

In April, Grupo Beta worked with the Mexican military and the Sonora State Preventive Police to move would-be illegal aliens out of the desert areas just south of the U.S. border to locations east and west of Naco, Ariz., to avoid the Minuteman Project volunteers holding a vigil on the border.

A branch of Mexico's National Migration Institute, Grupo Beta also helped pass out fliers warning migrants that the Minuteman volunteers, whom they described as "armed vigilantes," were waiting across the border to hurt them.

In addition to the aid stations, the Mexican government has distributed more than a million copies of a 32-page handbook advising migrants how to cross into the United States. The book, known as "Guia del Migrante Mexicano," or "Guide for the Mexican Migrant," contains tips on avoiding apprehension by U.S. authorities.

Aid stations for illegal aliens also exist in the United States, many of them established and supplied by various humanitarian organizations such as Humane Borders, a Tucson faith-based group that targets illegal aliens who the organization said might otherwise die in the desert.

Humane Borders, established in 2001, has 70 water stations along the U.S. side of the border, each with two 50-gallon tanks next to a 30-foot-mast with a blue flag.

Many are on well-traveled migrant routes. Others have been placed, with permission, on property owned by Pima County, Ariz.; the National Park Service; the Bureau of Land Management; and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Another U.S. group, known as No More Deaths, set up an aid camp last month near Arivaca, Ariz., helping stranded border-crossers with food, water and medical assistance. The Ark of the Covenant camp will remain in operation through September.

The group has received much of its support from Presbyterian churches in Arizona and elsewhere. Last year, 500 volunteers -- including doctors and nurses -- took part in a similar camp. A second camp has been established on the Mexican side of the border, across from Douglas, Ariz., also sponsored by No More Deaths and a Mexican group that operates drug- and alcohol-rehabilitation centers.

More than 110 illegal aliens have died in Arizona's desert this year.

Mr. Richardson, in declaring a state of emergency in four New Mexico counties because of rising immigration, border violence and drug smuggling, called on the Mexican government to bulldoze Las Chepas, across the border from Columbus, N.M.

The state of Chihuahua responded by calling for increased dialogue to improve security in the region, saying it would "offer all the support we can to continue our good relationship with our northern neighbor."

The Mexican Foreign Relations Secretariat said Mr. Richardson's declaration did not "jibe with the spirit of cooperation and understanding" and called for a meeting to promote "appropriate actions."


Wednesday, August 17, 2005

'Able Danger'/Brick Wall

Officer: 'Able Danger' Stopped from Informing FBI

WASHINGTON - An Army intelligence officer said Wednesday he does not believe the 9/11 commission pressed hard enough for documentation of claims that military intelligence found a U.S.-based terrorist cell that included Mohamed Atta, who turned out to be the leader of the Sept. 11 attacks, prior to the terrorist strikes.

"I don't believe they ever got all the documents, but then again I don't think that they pressed properly to get all of the documents," Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer said on CBS' "The Early Show."

He says he was associated with a small intelligence unit, called "Able Danger," that had identified Atta and three of the other future Sept. 11 hijackers as al-Qaida members by mid-2000.

He said military lawyers stopped the unit from sharing the information with the FBI out of concerns about gathering and sharing information on people in the United States legally.

"What we were trying to do as good soldiers is we saw a threat, we recognized the fact that they were here in the United States and we felt we should do something even when the lawyers said we couldn't," Shaffer said.

"The problem was at the time the Special Operations Command is very secretive, quiet warriors," he said. "They like doing things quietly. I had to respect their wishes, to respect the sanctity of that information. What I tried to do was bring them together with the FBI so they could discuss this and take the appropriate action."

The commission investigating the Sept. 11 attacks left the Able Danger claims out of its official report and has since said it did not obtain enough information on the operation to consider it historically significant.

In an interview with Fox News Channel and The New York Times distributed Tuesday evening, Shaffer said the panel was not given all the information his team had gathered.

"I'm told confidently by the person who did move the material over that the 9/11 commission received two briefcase-size containers of documents," Shaffer said in the Fox News report. "I can tell you for a fact that would not be ... one-20th of the information that Able Danger consisted of during the time we spent."

Rep. Curt Weldon (news, bio, voting record), R-Pa., vice chairman of the House Armed Services and Homeland Security committees, has said the Sept. 11 commission did not adequately investigate the claim that four of the hijackers had been identified more than a year before the attacks.

Former commission chairman Thomas Kean and vice chairman Lee Hamilton said last week that the military official who made the claim had no documentation to back it up.

Shaffer rejected that remark. "Leaving a project targeting al-Qaida as a global threat a year before we were attacked by al-Qaida is equivalent to having an investigation of Pearl Harbor and leaving somehow out the Japanese," he said in the Fox interview.

In the Times account of the interview, Shaffer said he was "at the point of near insubordination over the fact that this was something important, that this was something that should have been pursued" in describing his efforts to get the evidence from the intelligence program to the FBI in 2000 and early 2001.


Terror Plot Probe Grows

California terror plot goes deeper to prison system

Two men accused of robbery and also suspected of planning a terrorist attack alledgedly wanted to go after an Army event, according to KFI News sources.

Now, a third man has been arrested in the case of the uncovered Muslim terror cell in California.

Law enforcement sources say target lists describe the US Army Association's annual ball at the Westin Hotel in Long Beach. Other targets included synagogues, military facilities and recruiting offices in West Los Angeles and the South Bay.

A high-ranking law enforcement source says Gregory Patterson and Lavar Washington planned to shoot up the recruitment center on the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks and kill as many officers and civilians as possible. A military recruiting center on Santa Monica Blvd. was supposed to be the target of the attack.

Sources say one of the two men charged in the robberies, Levar Washington, bragged to investigators that a number of men were involved in the gun attack plots.

A Pakistani national, Hamad Samana, was arrested last week in connection with the case. Samana is a Liberal Arts major and member of the Cricket Club in Inglewood, California. His connection to the terror attack plots and his affiliations outside of the country or connections to established terror groups, such as Al Qaeda, are not yet known.

The case has opened a new and troubling front for counter-terrorism officials because of a possible connection to a radical form of Islam practiced by a group called Jamiyyat Ul Islam Is Saheeh, an official said. The group's name translates as The Assembly of Authentic Islam.

While little is known publicly about the JIS, as intelligence officials call it, the group has been around for several years and has a presence at Folsom State Prison, where one of the three men in custody, Levar Haney Washington, 25, served time for assault and robbery, according to law enforcement sources.

Washington and another man, Gregory Vernon Patterson, became suspects in the wider terror investigation after Jihadi literature was discovered in Washington's apartment. The literature outlined efforts to recruit young Muslim African-American men for the "Holy War."

Patterson, who has no criminal record, worked at a duty free gift shop at LAX until early this year.

No one has suggested he was surveying the airport as a possible target, but the fact that he worked at the Tom Bradley International Terminal has raised concerns for counter-terrorism officials because LAX is viewed as one of the state's most likely potential targets.

The two men were originally arrested as suspects in a series of gas station robberies.

KFI News is reporting that the plot may involve up to 13 individuals who are followers of a Muslim inmate inside the prison system in California.

The story is still developing and the FBI's Joint Terrorism Task Force is now in charge of the investigation.

KFI News is reporting that the investigation is expanding and the plot "goes much deeper."

Over 100 FBI agents are participating in the investigation.


Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Arizona Declares Border Emergency

Gov. Janet Napolitano has followed the lead of her New Mexico counterpart

PHOENIX - Gov. Janet Napolitano on Monday declared a state of emergency along Arizona's border with Mexico, freeing up $1.5 million in disaster funds to help border counties combat booming illegal immigration and drug smuggling.

Napolitano criticized the federal government for "moving too slow" on border security, evolving into a hot-button, election-year issue in Arizona and across the country.

"This is a federal responsibility, and they're not meeting it," Napolitano said. "I've just come to the conclusion (that) we've got to do what we can at the state level until the federal government picks up the pace."

Napolitano's announcement came three days after New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson issued a similar declaration, complaining that the federal government has failed to stem growing smuggling-related violence to the east of Arizona, an increasingly popular illegal immigration corridor. Both governors are Democrats.

The money in Arizona is designated for the state's four border counties - Yuma, Pima, Santa Cruz and Cochise - and will be distributed by the Arizona Division of Emergency Management. The $1.5 million is part of $4 million set aside annually for disasters, such as fires or floods.

Politicians and law enforcement officials in those counties said the money is sorely needed. The state is the busiest illegal crossing spot along the entire Southwestern border.

The declaration is the first time Napolitano has tapped the funds for border issues.

And it comes at a time when federal lawmakers, including some from Arizona, and the Bush administration are pushing a series of immigration reform bills and proposals.

Arizona Republican Sens. John McCain and Jon Kyl have introduced starkly different bills. Kyl's bill would authorize 10,000 new Border Patrol agents and require millions of undocumented immigrants to return to their home countries after five years. The McCain bill would allow undocumented immigrants to stay in the United States if they pay a fine and participate in a guest-worker program.

The long-running battle over securing the U.S.-Mexican border is expected to be a key issue in next year's midterm elections, both nationally and at the state level.

Arizona border counties will be eligible to apply for state money for a wide range of costs, from repairing border fences to paying for overtime for local law enforcement agencies dealing with smuggling-related crime.

State Rep. Russell Pearce, a Republican, accused Napolitano of bowing to public and political pressure.

"This governor clearly is very good at reading polls," Pearce said. "It's a start, but much more has to be done.... This nation is under siege."

Since Oct. 1, the start of the federal fiscal year, U.S. Border Patrol in the Yuma and Tucson sectors reported more than 510,000 arrests, an average of about 1,616 a day, roughly on par with last year. The Border Patrol has reported a steep increase in assaults on agents patrolling in southern Arizona, including a June 30 shooting by masked gunmen with assault rifles that wounded two agents near Nogales, Ariz.

"For years, we've been dealing with international, federal issues at the border with little or no support from the government. We need resources down here," Santa Cruz County Sheriff Tony Estrada said. "We're the guys in the trenches, on the roads, out in the sticks. For too long, we've been raising little red flags, saying we need help, and nobody's paid attention."

His Sheriff's Department, which patrols about 50 miles of border outside Nogales, has a 31-year-old jail designed for 52 inmates but routinely holds 120. On Monday morning, 52 percent of the inmates were Mexican nationals accused of state or local crimes.

Rancher Larry Vance, 49, has lived in Cochise County in southeastern Arizona for more than 31 years. Illegal-immigration arrests peaked along the Southwestern border and in Arizona during 2000, and Vance reported his property was overrun to the point that he slept only two to three hours a night.

Things quieted down recently, Vance said, particularly since March, when the Border Patrol extended its steel fence farther west, past the boundary of his 20-acre property just north of the border.

"She's 10 years too late," Vance said of Napolitano's declaration. "Politicians don't get it. They still don't get it."

Robert Damon, chairman of the Santa Cruz Board of Supervisors, said more is needed to offset the estimated $3 million that illegal immigration costs the county each year, but "any little bit helps."

Kevin Tunell, Yuma County director of public and legislative affairs, estimated illegal immigration costs the county $5 million to $6 million a year, much on jailing undocumented immigrants. "Illegal immigration has had a phenomenal impact on our yearly budget, so any money that comes to us is always welcomed to help plug the hole in the dike," he said

Yuma County Sheriff Ralph Ogden said he hopes to use some of the money to pay for extra police patrols along the Colorado River that borders Mexico, which has become a haven for thieves who prey on undocumented immigrants.