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News Briefs

Senate Panel Demands Access To Iraq Documents


The Senate Intelligence Committee, in a letter to Condoleezza Rice, the national security adviser, demanded Thursday that the White House “must lift” its objections to handing over to the panel documents related to intelligence about Iraq and its illicit weapons before the war.

The panel set a deadline of noon Friday for compliance by the White House, the same as it has set for the Central Intelligence Agency, the State Department and the Pentagon to provide documents and schedule interviews that the committee has been seeking for months.

The committee, headed by Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) and Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.) is trying to determine how the Bush administration reached its conclusions about Iraq’s suspected stocks of chemical and biological weapons and its nuclear program.

Among the documents sought by the committee, congressional officials said, are copies of President Bush’s daily brief, a document prepared by the CIA that the White House has until now claimed was off-limits to Congress because of the doctrine of executive privilege.

The congressional officials said the documents also included memorandums between the CIA and the White House discussing disputed claims that Iraq was seeking to obtain enriched uranium from Niger for its nuclear weapons program.

A letter signed by the two senators and released by the committee calls on Rice to authorize the CIA to release documents and allow interviews with individuals whom the panel suggested she had previously declared off limits.

Women with a Toy Gun Shuts Down House Office Building


Two women carrying a Halloween costume and a toy gun passed through a security checkpoint in a House office building Thursday, causing a massive police search and lockdown of the facility.

Staffers and lawmakers said the incident reveals weaknesses in the Capitol complex’s security system.

“I don’t think they had any ill-intent,” said Capitol Police Chief Terrence Gainer, of the women. “It was just an unusual set of Halloween circumstances that unfolded on us.”

The two women, identified only as House employees, had entered the building and put a back pack with the costume and gun on the conveyor belt of a metal detector.

When an officer, who had been distracted by someone asking a question, noticed something that looked like a gun on the X-ray screen, the women had already left the area, police said.

“You could not tell from the X-ray whether it was plastic or real,” Gainer said.

As a result of the confusion, police told occupants of the Cannon House Office Building to remain in their offices while they searched room by room for a possible gunman. They later moved hundreds of people into a large rotunda, where they waited to exit the building.

Scientists Explain Lemmings’ Boom And Bust Cycle


For centuries, people have puzzled over lemmings, the northern rodents whose populations surge and crash so quickly and so regularly that they inspired an enduring myth: that lemmings commit mass suicide when their numbers grow too large, eagerly pitching themselves off cliffs to their deaths in a foamy sea.

Scientists debunked that notion decades ago. But they have never been certain what causes the rapid boom-and-bust cycles that gave rise to it. Now, in a study of collared lemmings in Greenland, being published on Friday in the journal Science, a team of European researchers report that the real reason has nothing to do with self-annihilation and everything to do with hungry predators.

After 15 years of research, the scientists report, they discovered that the combined actions of four predator species -- snowy owls, seabirds called long-tailed skuas, arctic foxes and weasel-like creatures known as stoats -- create the four-year cycles during which lemming populations explode and then nearly disappear.

Congress Fumes as U.S. Finds Chinese Currency Policy Legal


Treasury Secretary John Snow told Congress on Thursday that China is not violating U.S. law by manipulating its currency to gain an unfair trade advantage.

But both Republican and Democratic lawmakers attacked Snow’s report, saying it ignores China’s efforts to depress the value of its currency to make its exports cheaper. They said currency manipulation has contributed to the loss of 2.7 million U.S. manufacturing jobs over the past three years.

“This report is a whitewash,” said Sen. Charles Schumer, co-sponsor of a bipartisan bill that would impose a 27.5 percent tariff on Chinese goods entering the United States.

Bill co-sponsor Sen. Jim Bunning (R-Ky.) said that regardless of what the Treasury report says, it is obvious “the Chinese are cheating.” But Snow defended the Bush administration’s decision to continue putting quiet diplomatic pressure on Chinese officials, rather than publicly declaring them in violation of the law.

“We’re engaged on a number of points” with the Chinese on their currency, called the yuan or the renminbi, Snow said.

Snow presented the Senate Banking Committee with his department’s annual report. It found that China’s tight control of the yuan’s value did not meet the “technical requirements” that would trigger economic sanctions set forth in the Omnibus Trade and Competitiveness Act of 1988.