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Washington in brief

Lawyers: Did NSA spy on clients?

By wire services
Published December 29, 2005

WASHINGTON - Lawyers for an Islamic scholar, a Fort Lauderdale computer programmer and an Ohio trucker want federal judges to determine whether evidence used against their clients was gathered by a secret domestic spying program.

Jonathan Turley, a George Washington University law professor, said Wednesday there "seems to be a great likelihood" that Ali al-Timimi, a northern Virginia Islamic cleric convicted for exhorting followers after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks to wage war against U.S. troops overseas, was "subject to this operation."

Attorney Kenneth Swartz of Miami also said he wants to know whether any evidence was gathered by the National Security Agency without a warrant and used to convince a secret court to authorize six years of wiretaps of his client, Adham Amin Hassoun.

Late Wednesday, attorney David Smith said he also will incorporate the NSA wiretaps into his appeal on behalf of Iyman Faris, a truck driver convicted of plotting to destroy the Brooklyn Bridge.

Last month, Hassoun and Jose Padilla, a U.S. citizen held for nearly four years as an "enemy combatant," were charged with raising money to support violent Islamic fighters outside the United States.

President Bush has said that within days of the Sept. 11 attacks he authorized the NSA to conduct warrantless intercepts of conversations between people in the U.S. and others abroad who had suspected ties to al-Qaida.

White House spokesman Trent Duffy said Wednesday that the administration would not comment on pending cases.

NSA inadvertently used banned "cookies'

NEW YORK - The National Security Agency's Internet site has been placing files on visitors' computers that can track their Web surfing activity despite strict federal rules banning most of them.

These files, known as "cookies," disappeared after a privacy activist complained and the Associated Press made inquiries this week, and agency officials said they had made a mistake.

"Considering the surveillance power the NSA has, cookies are not exactly a major concern," said Ari Schwartz, associate director at the Center for Democracy and Technology, a privacy advocacy group in Washington, D.C.

Don Weber, an NSA spokesman, said the cookie use resulted from a recent software upgrade. Normally, the site uses temporary, permissible cookies that are deleted when users close their Web browsers, he said, but the software in use shipped with persistent cookies already on.

Audit: Storm response shows Homeland woes

WASHINGTON - Weaknesses in FEMA's response system during Hurricane Katrina were just one symptom of major management challenges at the Homeland Security Department, an internal report concludes.

The report by the department's inspector general also questions Homeland Security's ability to oversee billions of dollars worth of contracts it awards annually.

FEMA, an arm of the Homeland Security Department, was singled out as a top concern by investigators who pointed to the agency's "overburdened resources and infrastructure" in dealing with Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

Investigators said several key FEMA programs are inadequate.

"Based on our work related to prior emergency response efforts, we have raised concerns regarding weaknesses" within those programs, the audit by Homeland Security Inspector General Richard L. Skinner said.

[Last modified December 29, 2005, 00:52:13]

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