John Negroponte has been named by Bush to be the first Director of National Intelligence, a post created by the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Act, recommended by the 9-11 Commission and signed into law in December. If confirmed by the Senate, Negroponte will oversee some 15 agencies, including the CIA, FBI, NSA, Homeland Security Dept., etc. (LAT, Feb. 17)
The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press has called for a "coordinated effort" to pass a federal shield law protecting journalists from revealing confidential sources in the wake of the unanimous decision by a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. That ruling denied an appeal from Judith Miller of the New York Times and Matthew Cooper of Time magazine, who were ordered jailed last fall for up to 18 months for refusing to disclose sources that leaked to them the identity of CIA agent Valerie Plame. Lawyers for both plan to appeal, likely delaying any jail time for at least several weeks or months.
Two weeks ago, WW4 Report cited a little-noted UPI story that the US Air Force has already started flying misions over Iran, to "grid" the country's military and industrial infrastructure for bombing raids. Today comes a report from Israel's Haaretz that bombing may have already begun—even if by accident. "A powerful explosion was heard this morning on the outskirts of Dailam in the Bushehr province. Witnesses said that the missile was fired from an unknown plane 20 km from the city," Iran's Arabic language Al-Alam said. Ominously, the site of the explosion was just 180 kilometers from the Bushehr nuclear reactor, Iran's first, built with Russian assistance. No immediate accusation of a US attack was made, and a spokesman for Iran's Interior Ministry even raised the possibility of "friendly fire"—that an Iranian plane could have accidentally dropped a fuel tank. US officials were circumspect. "We've seen the reports and we're looking into it," said White House spokesman Scott McClellan.
The US has called home its ambassador to Syria in protest of Damascus' supposed links to the Hariri assassination before the facts are even in. In response, Syria and Iran—traditional rivals, but both fearing they could be next for US aggression—have forged a "united front," said media reports today. "We are ready to help Syria on all grounds to confront threats," Iranian Vice-President Mohammad Reza Aref said after meeting Syrian PM Naji al-Otari. Denying any links to the killing, Syrian cabinet minister Buthaina Shaaban said: "To point to Syria in a terrorist act that aims at destabilising both Syria and Lebanon is truly like blaming the US for 9-11." Throwing down the guantlet in unsubtle terms, US Assistant Secretary of State William Burns, visiting Beirut for Hariri's funeral today, called for a "complete and immediate withdrawal" of Syria's 14,000 troops stationed in Lebanon. (BBC, Feb. 16)
Former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri (and 11 others) were killed in a Beirut car bomb attack Feb. 14. Because he had been an outspoken opponent of the Syrian military presence in Lebanon, suspicion immediately fell on Damascus and Damascus-backed armed factions. A previously unknown group, Victory and Jihad in Greater Syria, has apparently claimed responsibility, and authorities are said to be hunting down a Lebanese-based Palestinian refugee, Ahmed Tayseer Abu al-Ads, who is said to have appeared in a video taking credit for the attack. (Lebanon Daily Star, Feb. 16)
Here's what's really sad: the Kyoto treaty on global climate change which takes effect this week--minus the US, the world's major producer of greenhouse gases by far--doesn't even significantly address the problem, activists charge. In fact, some measures are downright counter-productive and could "open up a Pandora's box of impacts we can't even guess at," according to Anne Petermann of the Vermont-based Global Justice Ecology Project.
Robert Jensen of the Univeristy of Texas at Austin has a piece on CommonDreams entitled "Ward Churchill Has Rights, and He's Right," arguing that "The main thesis Churchill put forward in [his controversial essay] is an accurate account of the depravity of U.S. foreign policy and its relationship to terrorism. "
Madrid's landmark Windsor office tower was gutted by fire the night of Feb. 12, and much of downtown Madrid remains closed off by authorities. The fire (apparently caused by a short-circuit) resulted in only seven injuries, none serious--but several of the building's top floors have collapsed, and it is feared the entire 30-story tower could implode unless it is quickly demolished. (EITB24, Spain, Feb. 14)