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News Briefs

Thirsty States Ask Feds To Help Get the Salt Out


California, Texas and other thirsty states don’t need a divining rod to find water. There’s the ocean -- if only it weren’t so salty.

Desalination is a technology that’s finally becoming economically viable in the transformation of seawater and brackish groundwater into potable usable water. But municipal water authorities say they’re going to need help from the feds.

A group of large municipal water authorities has formed a coalition and hired a lobby shop -- the Furman Group -- to try to persuade Congress and the Bush administration to kick in for a new federal desalination program. To the tune of perhaps $1 billion over 10 years, Hal Furman said.

“It’s going to require a major effort,” said Furman, a deputy assistant secretary of the Interior during the Reagan administration.

Furman says that the local water authorities would be paying about 85 percent of the total costs. He adds that the federal government already provides assistance for other water supply and treatment programs.

While he says “it’s not inconceivable” that the coalition could at least get the program authorized during the current Congress, Furman acknowledges that its “biggest challenge” is probably getting the attention of Congress and the administration.

FBI to Aid Probes Into Iraq Museum Looting


More than two dozen FBI agents in Iraq will help conduct criminal investigations into widespread looting at the National Museum of Antiquities and other cultural sites, U.S. law enforcement officials said Thursday.

FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III said the teams would aim to capture thieves, recover stolen artifacts and cooperate with Interpol, the international law enforcement organization, to track sales “on both the open and black markets.”

“We recognize the importance of these treasures to the Iraqi people and ... to the world as a whole,” Mueller said. “We are firmly committed to doing whatever we can in order to secure the return of these treasures to the people of Iraq.”

The FBI’s looting investigation comes amid growing international furor over the ransacking of Iraqi museums and libraries that went unchecked by U.S. soldiers, resulting in the loss of countless artifacts from Mesopotamia and other ancient civilizations.

Antiquities experts meeting in Paris on Thursday said there was strong evidence that many of the looters were highly organized and had keys to museum vaults, raising suspicions that organized crime may have had a hand in the thefts.

Rumsfeld, Myers Fault War Critics, Endorse Embedded Reporting


Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and his top military officer returned to one of their favorite recent themes Thursday, criticizing the media’s coverage of the war in Iraq as at times “inaccurate” and “conflicting.”

Asked at a “town hall” meeting with Pentagon employees about the perception that the media gave a negative view of the war, Rumsfeld complained that not long ago, “people were saying that the plan was terrible and ... there weren’t enough people, and ... there were going to be, you know, tens of thousands of casualties, and it was going to take forever.”

But he described two very different sides to the coverage. On the one hand, he specifically criticized “retired military officers” who opined on television and newspapers “that constantly, you know, blare big headlines of ’Henny Penny: The Sky Is Falling,’ ’It’s Just Terrible,’ ’Isn’t It Awful.’ ”

On the other, Rumsfeld strongly endorsed the reports that came from the hundreds of journalists “embedded ” with units fighting the war. “The American people were able to see slices of what took place,” he said. “They could see accurate presentations and representations and written accounts of what the men and women in uniform were doing.”

Shuttle Investigators Call Heat Shield Inspections ‘Inadequate’


The board investigating the Columbia space shuttle disaster Thursday issued its first recommendations to NASA, saying that the agency’s existing methods of inspecting the crucial heat shielding on the leading edge of the shuttles’ wings were “not adequate.”

In urging a more thorough and scientifically advanced inspection of the carbon composite on the leading edges, the board was reflecting its prevailing theory about the event that triggered the destruction of the Columbia and its seven crew: that a breach in the left wing’s heat shield allowed superheated gas to penetrate the structure and caused the plane to disintegrate as it re-entered the atmosphere.

The board also criticized NASA’s recent agreement with a government spy satellite agency to capture detailed satellite images of orbiting space shuttles whenever the opportunity presents itself. The board urged that imaging of orbiting shuttles be a “standard requirement.”

Some board members, including former astronaut Sally Ride, have expressed bafflement that NASA managers refused to seek photographs of the space shuttle in orbit after the left wing was struck by foam debris during launch.