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News Briefs

With Taliban Gone, U.S. Looks to Embassy
NEWSDAY -- Kabul, Afghanistan

In the 1980s, as the United States was working to overthrow the Soviet-backed communist government here, the Afghan communists struck back by arresting Afghans who worked at the U.S. Embassy. They jailed about 10 embassy employees, said Ghulam-Sakhi Ahmadzai, the chief security official of the embassy’s Afghan staff.

“They sentenced me because they said I was a CIA agent,” recalled Ahmadzai, a quiet, dapper man who said he is “about 58 years old. Nothing is very exact in Afghanistan.”

Ahmadzai spent nine years in jail -- and was more than once beaten for his choice of employer, he said, before being freed in 1992.

This fall, Washington again campaigned to overthrow an Afghan regime, and the embassy’s Afghan staffers again were caught in the middle. In the past two months, they have been threatened, and the embassy attacked and burned by pro-Taliban rioters.

U.S. Airlines Seek Ways to Meet Deadline for Stricter Bag Checks

In less than two months, Congress has ordered, all checked bags at U.S. airports must be screened for explosives.

That’s a tall order, but one way to meet it, federal officials say, is to step up the practice of matching every bag that goes into the belly of a plane to a passenger on board.

Airlines historically have resisted baggage-matching, which they do on international flights, because of the complexity of the airline system and the sheer volume of luggage. They fear delays, especially on connecting flights. But it’s one of the few options available to the airlines and the government if they are to meet Congress’ new mandate that all checked luggage -- 1.4 billion bags a year -- be screened for explosives by Jan. 18.

The deadline is among the most conspicuous examples of how difficult it will be to establish from scratch a brand-new federal agency that will have tens of thousands of employees and will be responsible for standardizing security at 420 airports and coordinating security among air, land and sea travel.

Immigrant Smuggling Ring Broken Up, Ashcroft Announces

Federal law enforcement officials have broken up a large illegal immigrant smuggling ring that used a Los Angeles-based bus company to transport immigrants from U.S. cities near the Mexican border to locations around the Western part of the country, Attorney General John D. Ashcroft announced Monday.

Thirty-two people were indicted in “Operation Great Basin,” including the president and other corporate officers of Golden State Transportation, a regional bus company, and six alleged smugglers, Ashcroft said. They were charged with “transporting and harboring illegal aliens for profit,” he said.

“We will not tolerate violations of our borders,” Ashcroft told reporters Monday. “Operation Great Basin serves as a warning. ... U.S. law enforcement is ready to find you ... and prosecute you.”

No one answered the telephone at Golden State’s headquarters. The company is partially owned by Sistema Internacional de Transporte de Autobuses Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Greyhound Lines Inc., said Lynn Brown, a spokeswoman for Greyhound.