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News Briefs

Intelligence Reformers In Senate Firm On New Director’s Power

Senate authors of a plan to reorganize U.S. intelligence agencies on Monday defeated efforts to reduce the power of a new national intelligence director as the leadership unveiled a separate plan on how the Senate could better oversee intelligence and domestic security activities.

With lawmakers hoping to gain approval this week for a measure based on the recommendations of the Sept. 11 commission, the backers of the legislation won a series of significant votes, including their push to disclose the total amount of spending by U.S. intelligence agencies.

“The public has a right to know at least that,” said Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, D-Conn., and a chief author of the bill that seeks to centralize intelligence gathering.

The ability of the sponsors to hold off challenges from some of the most senior and powerful members of the Senate illustrated the momentum behind the reorganization and the influence of the leaders of the Sept. 11 commission and the relatives of those killed in the attacks, who have been lobbying against changes to the legislation.

U.S. Coordinates Efforts To Stop Counterfeit Goods

The Bush administration unveiled an initiative on Monday intended to combat piracy of intellectual property and the sale of counterfeit goods by foreign companies.

Presented by senior officials from four agencies, the plan calls for a coordinated effort to stop the importing of designer knockoffs and counterfeit products, which account for 7 percent of all goods in the global marketplace, the commerce secretary, Donald L. Evans, said.

Although the announcement came less than a month before the election and in a week in which domestic policy issues have come to the forefront, Evans said politics had nothing to do with its timing.

“I don’t accept this notion at all that we are just now getting around to it,” Evans said. “We have had a lot of new initiatives.”

The measures announced Monday include a toll-free number aimed at making it easier for businesses to protect products from piracy as well as publication of a “name and shame” list of companies that make or trade fake designer products.

France To Reprocess U.S. Weapons-Grade U.S. Plutonium

France is poised to take possession of 300 pounds of weapons-grade plutonium from the United States for reprocessing into fuel, an operation that its opponents contend creates a risk of nuclear terrorism.

Two vessels carrying the deadly cargo from South Carolina were expected to dock at a secure area of the French port of Cherbourg as early as Monday night.

From there, the cargo -- enough to make 20 nuclear bombs -- is to be taken to a secure plant at nearby La Hague. It will then be loaded onto armored, unmarked trucks and escorted by French security forces to a factory 700 miles away at the southeastern town of Cadarache, where it will be turned into fuel for nuclear reactors.

The project to turn weapons-grade plutonium into fuel was initiated by President Bill Clinton with an agreement with Russia in September 2000 to neutralize 34 tons of plutonium from American and Russian weapons dating from the Cold War.

But that was before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks heightened concerns about the risks of other terrorist attacks, even nuclear-related terrorism. Islamic militants have openly expressed their desire to secure material to make a nuclear weapon, and have even discussed stealing or attacking plutonium shipments in France. Critics say it would be far wiser merely to bury the nuclear material in the United States than to ship it long distances for reprocessing.

Mount St. Helens Spews Steam, But Many Anticipate A Bigger Blow

Heightening the suspense around what a quivering Mount St. Helens may do next -- and delighting the thousands of tourists flocking there -- the volcano on Monday morning spewed a giant column of steam and then sputtered out another picturesque puff later in the day.

But those events, coming after the mountain erupted Friday for the first time in 18 years, were still less serious than what scientists closely monitoring the mountain had anticipated, and the scientists were still saying Monday that a more significant eruption was likely.

In 1980, a massive eruption of Mount St. Helens in southwestern Washington killed 57 people, dumped tons of ash on towns across the region and set off one of the most powerful landslides in history. Scientists say that even if their predictions, which have led them to issue a “code red” alert for an imminent eruption of the mountain, come true, any further eruptions would be far less devastating than the explosion of 1980.

“There may be some explosions, and some of those explosions may be relatively large, larger than we’ve seen,” Jake Lowenstern, a volcanologist with the U.S. Geological Survey, said during a news conference on Monday afternoon.

At 9:47 a.m. Monday, a steam plume soaring between 1,000 feet and 2,000 feet above the lip of the mountain’s crater -- or about 10,000 feet into the air -- billowed into the sky. Scientists said the likely cause was “hot material” in the mountain coming into contact with glacier water, causing a boiling beneath and a burst of steam. Ash is the greatest health concern for downwind towns, but little was emitted during the steam explosion, scientists said. But anticipated eruptions, foreshadowed by recent tremors and a steady swarm of earthquakes, could contain more ash, they said.