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web posted August 23, 1999

Ex-counterintelligence chief defends espionage suspect Lee

Investigators targeted nuclear weapons physicist Wen Ho Lee as an espionage suspect largely because he is a Chinese-American, says the former chief of counterintelligence at the Los Alamos National Laboratory.

"This case was screwed up because there was nothing there -- it was built on thin air," Robert S. Vrooman, a former CIA operations officer who retired from Los Alamos in March 1998, told The Washington Post in an interview appearing on August 17.

Even though much of the investigation remains classified, Vrooman added in a written statement provided to the Post that "it can be said at this time that Lee's ethnicity was a major factor" and that government agents still do not have a "shred of evidence" that Lee leaked nuclear secrets to China.

Energy Secretary Bill Richardson has denied that Lee's ethnicity was a factor in the investigation and Lee's subsequent firing.

Vrooman made his remarks less than a week after Richardson recommended disciplinary action against him for failing to remove Lee from the laboratory's top-secret Division X or to deny him access to secret information after he came under suspicion of espionage.

Vrooman countered that the decision to allow Lee to keep working was made in 1997 by the Energy Department's chief intelligence officer, Notra Trulock -- the same official who had identified Lee as the government's main suspect.

The week also saw the Los Alamos lab suspended it's director of public affairs after officials learned of a database that rated as "pro" or "con" responses to the spy scandal by a number of government officials, media figures and academics.

Sylvia Brucchi said she authorized subordinates to create a "key players" database in March to help lab executives know "who our friends are," according to stories in the Albuquerque Journal and Santa Fe New Mexican.

But she said the ratings were made by another staffer without her knowledge and that she only learned of them the week before. She declined to name the staffer.

"I never asked for, nor authorized anybody to rate any official or anybody, period," Brucchi told the New Mexican.

The database of 149 names, biographies, comments and photographs contains pro-con designations for 67 people.

It gave a "pro" rating to those who appeared to be skeptical of the espionage allegations. Those who appeared to think the allegations were serious and that the lab was the source of the leaks were given a "con," rating. It also listed some as "neutral."

Lab director John C. Browne said in a written statement that the database was created at the direction of a "senior public-affairs manager."

"The database was never used, and there was no plan for its use other than to help track media coverage of the espionage crisis," Browne said. "It was never circulated outside the public-affairs office, and the laboratory's senior management and the University of California were unaware of its existence until the end of last week."

Breaking a long public silence, Vrooman told the Post he does not believe China obtained top secret information about U.S. nuclear warheads from Los Alamos or any other Energy Department laboratory. Hew said the data could have been stolen from documents distributed to "hundreds of locations throughout the U.S. government" and private defense contractors.

In the written statement, Vrooman said Lee "was identified by the Department of Energy's Office of Counterintelligence as the prime suspect based on an, at best, cursory investigation at only two facilities, Los Alamos and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory."

Lee, a Taiwanese-born nuclear physicist and naturalized U.S. citizen, was fired in March for alleged violations of Los Alamos' security regulations. He has denied ever passing secrets to China, and he has not been charged with any crime.

The Justice Department has not decided whether to charge him with transferring classified information from the secure computer system at Los Alamos to his more vulnerable desktop computer.

"I have been an outspoken critic of the flawed investigation that identified Mr. Lee as the prime suspect in this case," Vrooman told the Post. "I do not agree with Mr. Trulock or with the secretary of energy that the information obtained by the Chinese came from the Department of Energy. I consider disciplinary action against me to be retaliation for opposing them on this issue."

Court declines to end Starr probe

The federal court panel that appointed Independent Counsel Ken Starr split over whether to end the five-year independent counsel investigation, voting 2-1 to keep it alive on August 18.

Judge Richard D. Cudahy dissented from his fellow judges, saying that with President Bill Clinton already impeached and acquitted, and no prosecutions pending against others, "this is a natural and logical point for termination."

"An endless investigation, which the passivity of the majority invites, can serve no possible goal of justice and imposes needless burdens on the taxpayers," Cudahy wrote in an opinion.

The independent counsel statute calls for the three-judge panel appoints the independent counsel to periodically review the status of the investigation and decide whether to keep it alive.

Starr's probe was reviewed by the judges in 1996, 1998 and this year. All previous reviews have ended with the three-judge panel voting 3-0 to continue.

Starr's controversial investigation of the Clintons led to the president's impeachment by the House of Representatives and eventual acquittal by the Senate. It was the first impeachment of a president since Andrew Johnson in 1868.

The other two judges -- senior appellate Judge Peter Fay and U.S. Circuit Judge David Sentelle -- said the court has received Starr's assurances that his office's work continues. The court did not seek more detail because it does not have the authority to supervise his office, they wrote in their opinion.

Their opinion noted that Starr's investigation has been "unusually productive," yielding 24 indictments, 16 convictions and the impeachment of Clinton.

Cudahy was appointed by President Jimmy Carter in 1979 while Fay was appointed a federal appeals judge by President Richard Nixon and Sentelle by President Ronald Reagan.

Starr's office declined to comment.

The court's opinion was issued as questions were raised about whether Starr would leave the job before his office writes its final report. The law that created Starr's post expired June 30, but did not stop the work of existing independent counsels.

Starr's associates say Starr has made no secret of his desire to step down after five years on the job but they say no final decision has been made. His staff has had theoretical discussions with Justice Department attorneys about how his unfinished work would be handled if he left, say Justice Department sources.

Starr could be in for some criticism for failing to be available to answer questions if he left before a final report is issued but a former Starr deputy said it would be fine for him to leave now.

"I think it's perfectly proper for him to leave. You could criticize somebody at any point along the line when they want to leave but if anybody has paid his dues, Ken Starr has," said Sol Wisenberg, who was a former deputy independent counsel on Starr's team.

Starr was told by Justice Department officials they probably would be unable to take over his unfinished investigation of the Clintons, the official said.

One legal scholar says the Justice Department shouldn't take over Starr's probe.

"One of the ideas of the reporting requirement is that it's supposed to be an independent report of this independent special prosecutor, and therefore I think it's much more appropriate and it was envisioned that the report would be completed by someone outside the department," said Stephen Saltzberg, a former deputy assistant attorney general.

That could leave the door open for one of Starr's deputies could finish the investigation and make the final report.

Starr resigned once before in February 1997 to take a job at Pepperdine University in California. But he rescinded it within days after coming under heavy criticism for leaving the post before his investigation was completed.

There would be one immediate benefit for Starr if he left early: Justice Department officials say they'd be less likely to follow through on a far-reaching investigation of his controversial tactics.

Among Starr's unfinished business: issuing a final report to the court that appointed him on his entire investigation and wrapping up loose ends of two criminal probes. Sources say they include the White House travel office firings and an alleged effort by Democratic party fundraiser Nathan Landow to influence Kathleen Willey's grand jury testimony. She's accused the president of groping her in the White House.

Sources say it's highly unlikely Starr would indict either the president or the first lady.

Bradley cockroach wins easy victory

In a dramatic runoff on August 19, two cockroaches, designated a "Bill Bradley" and an "Al Gore" roach, were pitted against one another in a race sponsored by the New Jersey Pest Control Association. The Bradley cockroach won easily.

Spokesman, Alan Caruba, said, "It was astonishing. The Bradley roach showed all the moves of the real Bill Bradley when he played basketball, quickly moving from the starting line and making a swift dash for the finish. The Gore roach appeared to be dazzled by the speed of Bradley."

Meeting on the Rutgers University Cook College campus for their 52nd annual Clinic, more than 600 pest control professionals from throughout New Jersey gathered for a day-long series of sminars on the newest techniques for the control of insect and rodent pests, as well as for panel discussions on issues affecting the profession. At noon, the Association conducted its l0th annual "New Jersey Cockroach Derby" with a series of races using giant Madagascar "Hissing" cockroaches, some as big as three inches in length.

A special race was conducted during this political year as the candidates compete for their party's nomination. "The Bradley-Gore race theme, reflected, of course, the fact that former Senator Bradley served New Jersey for eighteen years," said Caruba. He conceded that his roach was "a favorite son."

Previously, in 1992, a race between a Bush and a Clinton cockroach ended with the Clinton cockroach barely gaining a victory. "He won it by the length of an antenna," said Caruba.

Feds want authority to secretly crack personal computer codes

The Clinton administration reportedly plans to ask Congress to give police authority to secretly go into people's personal computers and crack their security codes.

Legislation drafted by the Justice Department would let investigators get a sealed warrant from a judge to enter private property, search through computers for passwords and override encryption programs, The Washington Post reported on August 20.

The newspaper quoted an August 4 department memo that said encryption software for scrambling computer files "is increasingly used as a means to facilitate criminal activity, such as drug trafficking, terrorism, white-collar crime and the distribution of child pornography."

Under the measure, investigators would obtain sealed search warrants signed by a judge as a prelude to getting further court permission to wiretap, extract information from computers or conduct further searches.

Privacy advocates have objected to the plan, dubbed the Cyberspace Electronic Security Act by the Justice Department. "They have taken the cyberspace issues and are using it as justification for invading the home," James Dempsey, an attorney for the Center for Democracy and Technology, told the Post.

Peter Swire, the White House's chief counselor for privacy, told the newspaper the administration supports encryption as a way to provide privacy for computer users.

"But it has to be implemented in a way that's consistent with other values, such as law enforcement," Swire said. "In this whole issue we have to strike the right balance."

The administration has for years been seeking a law to require computer makers to include a so-called Clipper Chip in their products that would give police a "back door" into computers despite any encryption software they may contain.

In a backlash, more than 250 members of Congress have signed on as co-sponsors to legislation that would prohibit mandating such back-door devices on computers.

Clinton charges GOP tax cuts would jeopardize national parks

Wrangling continued between the White House and Republicans over tax cuts, with President Bill Clinton charging that the GOP's "risky tax plan" could jeopardize funding for national parks.

In his radio address on August 21, Clinton called for putting $1 billion in next year's budget for his "lands legacy" initiative, which would be used to acquire or improve 110 parks and historic sites in 40 states and territories.

He also called for making the $1 billion annual funding permanent beginning in 2001.

"In too many places, vital pieces of this heritage are disappearing. Once lost, they can't be replaced," Clinton said.

Republicans in Congress have cut Clinton's request by two- thirds, and the president charged that they were sacrificing preservation efforts to fund their $792 billion tax cut, which he has vowed to veto.

"The Republican leadership's risky tax plan would actually roll back our progress," Clinton said. "It would cut funding to our national parks, even threaten to shut some of them down."

But a key Republican House leader fired back that "there isn't a single aspect" of the GOP tax cut plan that will hurt the environment.

"This is just one more attempt by President Clinton to scare the American public with threats of dire consequences if sound Republican ideas are implemented," said Rep. J.C. Watts (R-Oklahoma.) "So far, not a single one of his dire predictions has come true."

Republicans insist that because tax collections are outpacing expenditures, taxes should be reduced to return this "overpayment" to the American people. They have also accused Clinton of trying to use the surplus on new spending programs that will expand the reach of the federal government.

"We believe the American people deserve a refund when they overpay their taxes," said Sen. Pete Domenici (R-New Mexico) in the GOP's radio address. "(Clinton) wants to keep all the money in Washington and give none back to overtaxed American families."

Clinton's "land legacy" plan also has critics who say it represents more of a failed policy of government ownership of land.

"The federal government owns too much land. It owns 29 percent of the country," said Myron Ebell of the Competitive Enterprise Institute. "We don't need more federal land. We need better federal land management, and we need to help private landowners be better stewards."

In his radio address, Clinton also announced that the U.S. Forest Service has reached an agreement to buy more than 9 000 acres of grassland in Montana north of Yellowstone National Park for $13 million.

The land will provide a winter grazing ground for the park's bison heard, as well as protecting underwater springs that feed Old Faithful and other Yellowstone geysers, Clinton said.

"We'll ensure that Old Faithful remains faithful for years to come," he said.

Murdering black people? Don't worry, you are welcome in Canada...

The Canadian government is planning to circumvent immigration laws in order to welcome an unspecified number of African war crime suspects to a Francophonie summit in Moncton, N.B.

So serious are the allegations against certain members of the delegations from Togo, Burkina Faso, Rwanda and Burundi that their eligibility for visas under the Immigration Act is in doubt.

Section 19 of Canada's Immigration Act denies entry into Canada to "persons who are or were senior members of or senior officials in the service of a government that is or was, in the opinion of the minister, engaged in terrorism, systematic or gross human rights violations or war crimes or crimes against humanity."

But instead of barring the delegates, high-level Justice and Foreign Affairs officials met last week and decided the leaders will likely enter Canada under the Foreign Missions and International Organizations Act, sources said.

This falls under the jurisdiction of Foreign Affairs and overrides the Immigration Act.

Once admitted, the leaders will also enjoy full diplomatic immunity, and will not face the risk of being arrested for their alleged crimes.

"The Francophonie is a recognized international organization," said Sean Rowan, a spokesman for the Department of Foreign Affairs. "Its members have a certain immunity."

Canadians of Burundian, Rwandan, and Congolese origins have written to Jean Chretien, the Prime Minister, and Lloyd Axworthy, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, to ask that the delegations from Rwanda and Burundi be blocked from entering Canada.

"It will tarnish the image of Canada if they welcome these people," said Kagwi Chira, who co-ordinates a Montreal discussion group for Burundians.

"There are victims, people who were killed, people who survived and were traumatized," said Mr. Chira. "It's like turning the knife in the wound."

Amnesty International, in its 1999 report on human rights violations in Africa, described the massacres of thousands of unarmed Rwandan civilians by government security forces and armed opposition groups last year. In Burundi and Togo, hundreds of civilians faced a similar fate.

Burundian authorities also jailed at least 9 000 people for prolonged periods without trials.

Canadians of Congolese origin also oppose the Rwandan and Burundian delegations' visit to Canada because both countries have invaded the Congo.

In Burkina Faso, the government of Blaise Compaore, the president, has come under attack for the torture deaths of two prisoners. Criminal suspects have been executed without trial, and human rights abusers have not been brought to justice.

Foreign Affairs and organizers of the Francophonie summit, which is to take place during the Labour Day weekend, refused to release the names of delegates, and spokesmen for Foreign Affairs refused to name the leaders who will enter under the Foreign Missions and International Organizations Act to get around the war crimes provisions of the Immigration Act.

The Rwandan embassy in Ottawa confirmed that Pierre Celestin Rwigema, the prime minister, and Augustin Iyamuremye, the foreign affairs minister, will represent Rwanda.

Chira said that if Canada fails to block the entry of the accused war criminals, authorities should arrest them once they step on to Canadian soil.

"I can't see how these criminals can come to Canada when we're going after Milosevic, and these men are worse," he said, referring to the indictment of Slobodan Milosevic, the Yugoslav president, by the International War Crimes Tribunal.

"It is as if when people die in Africa, nobody cares," he said.

Clinton reminisces about falling in love with Hillary...yeah, I believe it too

As the president told it, it was a long ago love story he didn't want to be a part of so he just decided to walk away.

Bill Clinton, a law student at Yale University, had just broken up with a girlfriend and was on the rebound when he saw fellow student Hillary Rodham.

"And she was an interesting, compelling looking woman, so I followed her out of this class," Clinton told an audience at a dinner on August 21 on Nantucket Island that reportedly raised $100 000 for his wife's expected run for the Senate.

"And I got right behind her and I said, 'No, this is nothing but trouble.' And I turned around and walked off. Didn't say a word to her. And then I kind of stalked her around the law school for two or three weeks, and I'd say, 'No, this is nothing but trouble,' and I'd walk off," he said.

As Clinton later explained on Air Force One as it flew over the island toward his vacation headquarters on Martha's Vineyard, the "trouble" he feared was romantic involvement at a time when he had just regained his independence.

"I thought I would fall in love with her, and I didn't want to fall in love," he told reporters, adding that he sensed it might just happen. "Turned out to be right."

The story of the Clintons' courtship and its aftermath has been told many times. But Clinton recounted it again, with unusual and enthusiastic detail, for the 100 or so diners gathered around the swimming pool of a Nantucket estate.

Clinton had wandered to the rear of the plane to discuss his vacation with the press when a reporter's question prompted him to elaborate on his public musings about his love affair with Hillary. She stayed in the plane's forward cabin.

But there was no mention of whispered and admitted affairs during more than two decades of marriage or the impeachment trial grounded in Clinton's extramarital relationship with former White House intern Monica Lewinsky.

Clinton focused entirely on his ties with his future wife.

He said the romantic standoff came to a head in the Yale Library as he was resisting another student's attempts to recruit him for the university's law journal.

But Clinton was distracted. "All the time I'm staring at Hillary who is at the other end of the room, with a book."

"So in the middle of this guy's passionate entreaty for me to join the law journal, Hillary slams down the book and she walks across the library and says, 'Look, you have been staring at me for weeks -- and I've been staring back. So at least we ought to know each other's name."'

"I couldn't remember my name," the president said to laughter.

At the fund-raiser, he explained why she should succeed retiring Democratic Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan of New York, a state where neither one has ever lived.

It was 1973, he and Hillary had dated for two years and the question arose as to whether she would follow him home to Arkansas or pursue a career amid the big city lights of Chicago or New York.

"Of course I wanted her to go with me," he said.

He added that he was ambivalent because he regarded her as someone with an "enormous potential for public service."

"I was so afraid that I was taking away from her life and from this country the most gifted person I had ever known up to that time."

"I still haven't met anyone I thought was as gifted," the president said.

Fast forward to 1993 as Clinton and his wife prepare to leave the Arkansas governor's mansion and move into the White House. He asked her to decide what they would do and where they would go when his presidency ended.

"And so all she is really doing today is what I thought, for the benefit of the country and for the development of her own potential for service, maybe she should have been able to do in 1973," Clinton said.

"I'm very glad she didn't do it then, and very glad she is doing it today."

The first lady, who stood beside her husband, made the most of his endorsement, saying she was eagerly "pursuing the opportunity."

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