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Exxon Mobil’s profit is flat

HOUSTON — Exxon Mobil reported a virtually flat profit for the first quarter Thursday, with strong earnings on its chemical business partly compensating for declines in exploration, production, refining and marketing.

Exxon, the world’s largest publicly traded oil company, reported net income of $9.5 billion, a $50 million increase from the first quarter in 2012, which analysts attributed to a gradual shift from drilling for natural gas to drilling for more profitable oil. Overall gas and oil production volumes fell 3.5 percent, although that trend is expected to reverse by the end of the year because of the imminent startup of the Kearl oil sands project in western Canada.

The company’s total production has barely budged since 2002, despite some major acquisitions, as a result of declines in older fields and the difficulty of exploring for new fields in a world where most oil is now controlled by national oil companies. Exxon Mobil has tried to pivot from oil to natural gas in recent years, but a supply glut and lower prices in the United States have cut into profits.

—Clifford Krauss, The New York Times

Venezuela says US Citizen plotted unrest

Maria Eugenia Diaz contributed reporting.

CARACAS, Venezuela — An American citizen has been arrested by Venezuelan authorities who said Thursday that he had been taken into custody because he was involved in a plot to destabilize the country after the recent presidential election.

Interior Minister Miguel Rodriguez identified the man as Timothy Hallett, 35, and said he had been trained as a spy and was connected to what Rodriguez called right-wing groups seeking to provoke violence.

“The mission was to bring us to a civil war,” Rodriguez said, according to the government news agency, AVN.

Officials with the U.S. Embassy in Caracas said they could not discuss the case because of privacy issues.

Hallett had been in Caracas working on a film, The Associated Press reported. It said his father, Emmet Hallett, of Grosse Pointe Farms, Mich., had urged his son to leave the country because of the political situation.

Hallett was arrested by the intelligence police on Wednesday at the Caracas airport as he was about to leave the country, according to a statement from the Venezuelan government, which said that a search of an apartment where he had stayed found videos and photographs.

—William Neuman, The New York Times

Dissent on panel creating first responder network

WASHINGTON — A $7 billion nationwide public safety communications network, conceived to address the failures of Sept. 11, 2001, is still in the planning stages. But one member of the board overseeing the effort says it is already rife with problems.

Sheriff Paul Fitzgerald of Story County, Iowa, delivered that assessment on Tuesday in blistering remarks to his colleagues at a meeting of the board of FirstNet, the First Responder Network Authority, created by Congress to oversee the building of the system.

Fitzgerald said that the planning effort had already been tainted by secret meetings of small groups of directors, the withholding of financial information from some board members, conflicts of interest in the hiring of consultants and the exclusion of police and fire officials from the planning process.

“In my view, the processes thus far employed by FirstNet are killing our credibility,” Fitzgerald told the board, according to a written copy of his remarks circulated at the meeting.

—Edward Wyatt, The New York Times