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News Briefs

Senate Committee Questions Clinton’s Pardon of Deutch


The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Thursday launched an inquiry into former President Clinton’s pardon of former CIA director John Deutch, sending a letter to CIA Director George Tenet to determine whether he or anyone else in the U.S. intelligence community was consulted beforehand.

A senior intelligence official responded Thursday night that neither Tenet nor anyone else at the CIA had any knowledge of the pardon in advance. The official also disclosed that Deutch’s CIA security clearances -- suspended by Tenet in August 1999 as punishment for Deutch’s home computer security violations -- have been revoked within the past week.

Clinton pardoned Deutch on Jan. 20 for mishandling hundreds of highly classified intelligence documents on unsecure home computers linked to the Internet, making them vulnerable to cyber-attack.

The pardon caught Justice Department officials by surprise. It came less than a day after they had secured Deutch’s signature on a plea agreement -- nullified by the pardon -- in which he admitted to a misdemeanor for unauthorized retention of classified material and agreed to pay a $5,000 fine.

“I am very disturbed by what appears to be a subverting of the judicial process in the case of former director Deutch,” Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), chairman of the intelligence committee, said Thursday. “If John Deutch had already agreed to plead guilty to a criminal violation, I just don’t understand why the president would undermine his own Department of Justice.”

Scientists Develop Plastic Which Regenerates Itself


For years, scientists have tried to find an easier way to repair plastic -- to make a tennis racket that lasts longer, a surfboard that patches easier or a fiber-glass auto body that could give a vintage Corvette a look as elegant as the day it rolled off the assembly line.

Wednesday, researchers reported they had taken a step toward finding a way to repair fiberglass and other composite materials without tedious drilling, plugging, patching and sanding. They have developed a “self-healing” form of plastic.

Using high-tech materials and a low-tech concept inspired by the human body, the scientists devised a process that can continuously repair and regenerate the chemical soup that makes up most plastics by activating special resin-filled capsules stored within the material itself.

The process, with potential commercial applications ranging from increasing the life of an implanted prosthesis to creating more durable spacecraft, is one of many efforts underway to develop new types of plastics, metals and other “smart materials” that have been updated using the latest technology to have desirable properties.

Bush Seeks Review of Civilian Inclusion in Military Exercises


President Bush said Thursday that the Defense Department should review its policy of inviting civilians to participate in military exercises, a practice that resulted in the presence of 16 civilians aboard a nuclear-powered submarine when it surfaced beneath a Japanese trawler off Hawaii last Friday.

As Bush spoke, National Transportation Safety Board investigators in Hawaii said they plan to interview all of the civilians, two of whom offered Thursday the first eyewitness accounts of what happened aboard the USS Greeneville. Those accounts shed little light on why the submarine’s crew failed to spot the 190-foot fishing boat Ehime Maru before performing an emergency surfacing maneuver.

In an interview on NBC-TV’s “Today” show, the eyewitnesses, John Hall and Todd Thoman, said the crew carefully checked the surface for ships before the maneuver. They also insisted that the civilians were under tight supervision by Navy personnel throughout their time on the ship.

The two men, who were in Hawaii in connection with a golf tournament that had been planned to benefit the Battleship Missouri Memorial in Pearl Harbor, said they could not explain why the Greeneville’s crew failed to spot the fishing boat, which sank almost immediately after the collision.

The Coast Guard rescued 26 people from the trawler, a training vessel for a Japanese vocational high school. Three crew members, two teachers and four students are still missing.

Hong Kong’s Finance Chief Promoted to No. 2 Position


Financial Secretary Donald Tsang was handed the No. 2 job in Hong Kong’s government Thursday in the first major leadership reshuffle since the territory was handed back to China nearly four years ago.

Tsang’s appointment to the post of chief secretary follows last month’s sudden announcement that Anson Chan -- an outspoken defender of democratic values -- planned to retire well before her term was to expire.

Antony Leung, 49, the head of J.P. Morgan Chase & Co.’s Asia-Pacific operations, was picked to succeed Tsang as financial secretary, a post viewed as the third-most powerful in the government. Both appointments required confirmation by the Chinese regime in Beijing.

Tsang, 55, a respected career civil servant, takes over the territory’s chief administrative position at a crucial time for the fragile political experiment that has allowed Hong Kong to exist as a largely democratic region, but one under Chinese sovereignty -- an experiment known as “one country, two systems.”