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News Briefs, part 1

Yeltsin Gives Security Agency Controversial New Powers

Los Angeles Times

President Boris N. Yeltsin has broadened the powers of the successor agency of the KGB to allow searches without warrants, legalize electronic surveillance and revive gathering of foreign intelligence, it was disclosed Thursday.

Yeltsin's move, which brings into law another sweeping revision of the Communist-era spy agency, was branded by human rights activists and democratic reformers as an effort to bring the hated KGB to life again.

In a terse dispatch released in the middle of the night, the independent Interfax news agency reported without elaboration that Yeltsin had signed the Federal Security Services Act on Monday.

Because Yeltsin had proposed the measure to expand the investigative powers of the Federal Counterintelligence Agency, his signature came as no surprise. But the legislation had been approved by the Russian Parliament in late February, and the delay in presidential endorsement had stirred some expectations that its scope might be narrowed.

Rampant corruption and soaring crime are paramount concerns for most Russians struggling through the country's chaotic economic transition. Those fears allowed and encouraged the increasingly conservative Parliament to pass the presidential proposal to strengthen the state's hand. It won endorsement from the 450-member lower house of Parliament, the Duma, with little debate and only 36 dissenting votes.

Bomb Trial Witness Says He Had No FBI Love Interest


The government's star witness in the sedition case against Sheik Omar Abdel-Rahman and 11 others Thursday denounced defense suggestions he had a romantic relationship with his female FBI handler, but he admitted he got information from her that he fed to other FBI agents.

In a three-hour cross-examination, defense lawyer John Jacobs tried to get the witness, Emad Salem, to admit that the investigation into a group of radical Muslims allegedlly plotting to blow up New York City landmarks was improper and that FBI agents failed to adequately supervise him.

Brandishing firecrackers, a cardboard box of bootleg tapes and photographs of the World Trade Center bombers, Jacobs forced Salem to admit that he had exchanged gifts with Nancy Floyd, his FBI handler, and met her for lunch and alone in his apartment. He also testified that he had recorded many of their emotionally charged conversations.

D'Amato Apologizes on Senate Floor for Mockery of Ito


A chastened Sen. Alfonse D'Amato, R-N.Y., apologized on the Senate floor Thursday for racially mocking O.J. Simpson trial Judge Lance Ito, saying, "My remarks were totally wrong and inappropriate. I know better."

D'Amato said in an interview that he sent Ito a private note of apology expressing regret and sorrow over the "profound pain" his remarks caused the judge. "I am sorry. I know better. I have no excuses," D'Amato told Newsday. "I don't blame people for laying into me now."

D'Amato also said he also personally apologized to Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii - who was wounded and lost his arm in World War II as a member of the U.S. military's legendary Nisei unit - and wrote a letter of regret to other Asian members of Congress.

D'Amato's act of contrition was the second in as many days after his appearance Tuesday on Don Imus's nationally syndicated morning radio show in which he launched into a Pidgin English mockery of Ito, a Japanese-American. "Judge Ito loves the limelight," D'Amato said, plunging ahead despite Imus pleading for him to stop. "Little Judge Ito."

D'Amato's apology Wednesday - "If I offended anyone, I'm sorry" - only seemed to outrage members of the Japanese-American community even more.