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web posted March 27, 2000

Gore's e-mail system had separate, longer glitch, says White House

In the wake of the announcement of a criminal probe by the Justice Department, White House officials said March 23 that a second, separate computer problem affecting the Office of the Vice President may have resulted in thousands of e-mail messages escaping the investigative reach of Congress, the Justice Department and the Office of the Independent Counsel.

That separate glitch may still be unresolved, and may have first occurred earlier than the problem with incoming White House e-mail that struck between August 1996 and June 1998, according to the White House officials. Although the contents of those e-mail messages are not known, they could include correspondence regarding the vice president's fund-raising activities, which have been the subject of an investigation by both Congress and a Justice Department task force.

There is no indication that Gore had any knowledge of the problem, but House Government Reform Committee Chairman Dan Burton (R-Indiana) has said he wants to know why the White House was not more forthcoming about the computer problems, and whether threats were made against contractors operating the e-mail system.

In testimony before the House committee, the White House administrator in charge of managing the computer system said he is in negotiations with an outside contractor to sift through back-up tapes in an effort to recreate incoming e-mails from August 1996 to June 1998, but estimated that it would cost $2.3 million and take 211 days -- conveniently well after the November elections.

The e-mails, which some have estimated to number in the hundreds of thousands, may pertain to ongoing investigations by Congress, the Office of Independent Counsel and the Justice Department, and may have included information regarding former White House intern Monica Lewinsky, as well as campaign finance matters that may involve Gore, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee.

White House officials Mark Lindsay and Laura Callahan also said they asked contract staffers not to discuss the computer problems, but rejected claims that those staffers had been threatened.

Earlier in the day, three Northrop Grumman contract employees, charged with operating the e-mail system, said both Lindsay and Callahan had threatened to have them jailed if the problem was disclosed.

"It's not something that I did. It's not something that I condone and it's not something that I would ever permit if it came to my knowledge," said Lindsay, an assistant to the president and director of White House management and administration, of the alleged threats.

All of the contract employees who testified before the panel said the problem was technical in nature, but the White House nonetheless wanted to keep it a secret.

The problem in the automated record management system, known as ARMS, resulted in the improper scanning, logging and archiving of incoming, external e-mails to nearly 500 White House personnel -- many of them high-ranking.

Those e-mails subsequently were not handed over in response to subpoenas by Congress, the Office of Independent Counsel or the Justice Department.

Lindsay, along with Callahan -- a career civil servant who at the time the problem surfaced served as the White House webmaster -- testified before the panel that they were simply following standard White House operating procedures when they instructed the Northrop Grumman team to remain quiet on the issue while the problem was diagnosed and repaired.

When asked why some on the team -- including Robert Haas, a systems administrator who said he was told there would be a "jail cell with his name on it" if he disclosed the problem -- recalled having been threatened during a meeting on the issue, Callahan said: "He may be either having a bad recollection or having an overactive imagination with regard to having the threat being made to him."

At the time the e-mail problem was discovered, June 1998, Lindsay was responsible for ensuring the White House operating systems were Y2K compliant.

"I did say that this was a matter that needed to be kept in bounds with those people who needed the information to repair the system," he added, noting that he didn't want to hear of any "water cooler talk" while the White House was under investigation for several matters, including alleged campaign finance improprieties and the Monica Lewinsky affair.

The problem was one of many with the e-mail system and initially was not given priority because of Y2K compliance testing, he said.

Callahan said she became alarmed when, shortly after the problem was discovered, Northrop Grumman employee Betty Lambuth, a manager on the project who no longer works at the White House, came to her with an e-mail exchange between Lewinsky and another woman, Ashley Raines.

"I was very concerned why all of a sudden we had a specific e-mail being brought to my attention when we hadn't even determined the size and scope of the problem," Callahan said. Lambuth said that the e-mail had been found by Haas. At the time, the team was in a "diagnostic mode," Callahan said.

"Whether e-mails were lost or not was a technical conclusion that had not been reached yet. What I asked be done was to conduct an investigation to determine the nature of the problem," Lindsay added.

As a result, it was decided a team meeting should be held to walk through the White House standard operating procedures. "There were already people in the hallway starting to discuss this," said Callahan. "And Mr. Lindsay said we needed to be careful because it was sensitive."

"The big deal is not that a computer technician made a mistake," panel chairman Burton earlier in the hearing. "The big deal is how the White House reacted to it."

The technical problem was not made public until February, when former contract employee Lambuth accused White House staff of a coverup in a lawsuit filed by the conservative legal group Judicial Watch.

As part of that lawsuit and a subsequent investigation by Burton's committee, Lambuth claimed she had been threatened with jail if she revealed the existence of the problem. "I was told by a couple of different people that we were not to talk to anyone," she said.

"We were not to talk to our spouses other than those of us who already knew about this particular project. They did tell me that if any of us did talk about this that my staff would be fired, would be arrested and would go to jail," she said.

Some of them felt so threatened by their initial meeting with Callahan and Lindsay that they requested legal counsel, according to Steven Hawkins, the Northrop Grumman program manager.

The technical problem was to be kept so secret that it came to be known as "Project X," and the team, led by Lambuth, held a series of furtive technical meetings at a nearby Starbucks coffee house and Lafayette Park, across the street from the White House, to keep the issue confidential.

Lambuth, who was taken off the project in July 1998, has provided an affidavit to Burton's committee that states some of the e-mails contained information regarding various matters under investigation either by Congress or the Justice Department, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation background files controversy, Lewinsky, trade mission information and campaign finance matters.

But Haas said that while he was instructed to conduct a search for e-mails by or about Lewinsky in June 1998, he had not seen e-mails on any other issue. "I found that and I've done no other searches," he said.

The White House has turned over more than 7,000 pieces of e-mail in response to subpoenas in those matters. And most of those who testified said they did not believe the problem was actually caused by the White House, nor did the White House tell them to destroy any e-mails.

"We didn't know enough about what was going on to be able to say that the White House was obstructing anything," said John Spriggs, a Northrop Grumman senior engineer for electronic mail.

During a lengthy question-and-answer session, the technical team was asked to estimate the number of e-mails that may have been missed in subpoena requests, and whether White House staff could have deleted e-mails before they could be scanned into the archival system.

"It's pretty clear that if we didn't find out about this problem independently we were never going to be told by the White House," Burton said.

Meanwhile, in a legal filing in the Judicial Watch lawsuit, the Justice Department said, "as a result of these allegations, the (campaign finance) task force has begun an investigation into whether subpoenas issued to (the Executive Office of the President) by the task force were fully complied with, and whether persons were threatened with retaliation in order to prevent the existence of the affected e-mails from becoming known to the task force."

Retired Supreme Court judge criticizes Nisga'a treaty but chief says he's heard it before

A retired Supreme Court of Canada judge says the landmark Nisga'a treaty may be unconstitutional, but the president of the Nisga'a Tribal Council says he's heard it all before.

"It's been stated by other individuals," said Chief Joe Gosnell. "But we have to bear in mind also that there have been a number of individuals, including constitutional experts, who say the treaty is within the constitutional framework of the country."

Gosnell was responding to comments made by Willard Estey, a retired Supreme Court of Canada judge, in an interview with the National Post.

Estey was one of several speakers to address the Senate sub-committee on Aboriginal Peoples on March 23.

Estey said the treaty, which has been ratified already by the federal and B.C. governments, creates an independent Nisga'a state with powers that could in some instances supercede those of British Columbia and Ottawa.

The former justice wants the Senate, which may ratify the treaty in April, to delay its implementation until the Supreme Court of Canada has pronounced on its validity.

The B.C. Liberal party and a group known as the B.C. Fisheries Survival Coalition have launched a court challenge, which is expected to be heard in May in B.C. Supreme Court.

That challenge seems likely to find its way to the country's highest court, but that could take at least a couple more years.

"What (Estey) has stated is nothing new," Gosnell said.

"The process seems to be regurgitating old concerns that have been responded to by the Nisga'a Tribal Council over the past four years.

"We were constantly reminded (by the federal and provincial government) in negotiations that this treaty should in no way, shape or form infringe upon or override the Constitution and Charter of Rights."

Gosnell maintained the treaty "absolutely does not" take precedence over either.

Mike Scott, Reform party critic for Indian Affairs and Northern Development, said Estey is saying what Reform has said since the treaty was concluded.

"What we have said and others have said is that this agreement as it is presently written is unconstitutional in that the government of Canada and the provinces do not have the right to cede legislative authority," said Scott."

Peter Smith, a spokesman for B.C.'s Aboriginal Affairs ministry, said there are two sides to the debate and the province has obtained its own opinions from leading constitutional experts who say the treaty is within the Canadian constitution.

"The provincial government takes the view that Nisga'a is within the Canadian Constitution and we don't agree with the opinion and the position of the former justice of the Supreme Court."

The deal gives about 5,000 Nisga'a - about half of whom live outside the treaty area - about $253-million in cash, 2,000 square kilometres of land in northwestern British Columbia and self-government powers that some have likened to municipal-style government.

The Nisga'a have been trying to reach a land-claims agreement for more than 100 years.

But they were rebuffed by governments for decades until court rulings over the past three decades affirmed the concept of aboriginal rights and title and renewed the treaty battle.

Unlike the rest of Canada, treaties were never signed in B.C. with the exception of one on Vancouver Island and another in northeastern B.C. around the turn of the century.

INS agent accused of espionage may not be Cuban spy

Federal investigators have conceded that a senior immigration official charged with espionage may not be a Cuban spy after all, The Miami Herald reported on March 24.

Investigators have filed no evidence in court showing Mariano Faget ever passed secrets to the Cuban government, the newspaper said, citing an unidentified senior law enforcement official familiar with the case.

Richard Gregorie, senior litigation counsel at the U.S. Attorney's Office in Miami, declined comment to the Herald.

FBI officials said Faget still violated the Espionage Act by revealing classified information to a friend and lying about his contacts with Cuban officials over a 14-month period.

Faget, 54, a Cuban-born supervisor in the Miami office of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, has pleaded innocent.

FBI spokesman Terry Nelson said a news release announcing Faget's arrest may have created the misleading impression that he is charged with spying for Fidel Castro's government. The news release was entitled: "Operation False Blue Cuban Spy Case."

"The title does not reflect the facts of the case at this time," Nelson said. "The title does reflect the violation of the Espionage Act, and to a lay person, espionage and spying are synonymous."

According to a federal indictment, Faget was regularly consulted about immigration cases involving FBI informants and counterintelligence sources.

He had secret clearance at the INS for 12 years but never informed the agency about becoming executive vice president of America-Cuba Inc., a company formed with New York businessman and Cuban citizen Pedro Font to recruit trade with Cuba if the United States lifts its trade embargo.

Faget should have submitted an outside employment form reflecting his ties to America-Cuba and Font, its president, the indictment said.

Faget was introduced to Cuban government officials by Font, met with them at least three times and talked to them by phone without reporting his contacts to the FBI or INS, the indictment said.

He was caught in an FBI sting February 11 when he was shown secret documents, was told "very sensitive" information that a Cuban official was about to defect and then called Font 12 minutes later, investigators said.

In a second call, Faget promised to keep Font informed while he was traveling in China, the indictment said.

The false-statement counts charge Faget lied about contacts with Cuban government officials and lied on a 1998 INS form saying he had no foreign business connections.

Trial for Faget is scheduled for April 24.

Elian's relatives face deadline to accept expedited appeal

Attorney General Janet Reno has sent a letter to attorneys for the Miami relatives of Elian Gonzalez giving them what amounts to an ultimatum -- if they do not agree to expedite the appeals process, the boy's temporary custody status will be revoked this week.

Attorneys from the boy's legal team say they must respond by noon Monday to the Justice Department ultimatum.

Government lawyers said if the attorneys don't agree in writing by noon Monday, confirming their intention to file legal briefs before the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta by April 3, that the Justice Department will move to revoke the boy's temporary custody status on Thursday.

Reno issued a written statement on March 24, saying the Justice Department is "not willing to wait through an open-ended appeals process that could prolong separation of this child from his father."

"We cannot risk the harm that a prolonged separation might create," Reno said, willing to risk the harm that living in a Communist regime brings.

"From the beginning, we have been mindful of the fact that at the center of this case is a 6-year-old boy who has been through a terrible ordeal. We are concerned for him and will continue to try to resolve this matter in a way that avoids additional trauma to him."

Reno said the government has proposed a solution that allows Elian's Miami relatives adequate opportunity to appeal their case, while "working to achieve a reunion between Elian and his father."

Federal attorneys originally had given the boy's relatives until noon on March 24 to agree to speed up the appeals process and asked the Miami relatives to commit to quickly returning Elian to his father, Juan Miguel Gonzalez, if their appeal did not prevail.

"As of this moment, they have not agreed to comply with these terms," Reno said.

Sources say an expedited schedule could reduce the normal appeals process from two to three months to two to three weeks.

The attorney general said the Justice Department then sent the letter to the attorneys representing the Miami relatives "setting forth the next steps." She did not elaborate on what those steps were.

But those familiar with the letter said Reno told the attorneys they have one more chance to comply with U.S. District Judge K. Michael Moore 's decision, upholding an Immigration and Naturalization Service decision to return Elian to his father.

Linda Osberg-Braun, one of the attorneys representing the boy's Miami relatives, said the Justice Department informed them in the letter that if their team does not comply, Elian's temporary status in the United States will be revoked Thursday, March 30.

If that's the case, the boy would have to be presented in person March 28 to INS officials in Miami to make arrangements.

Osberg-Braun said lead appeals attorney Kendall Coffey is working on a response to the government.

In her statement, Reno said, "We agree with Judge Moore that 'each passing day is another day lost between Juan Gonzalez and his son.'"

Elian has been living with his Miami relatives since late November, when he was found floating on an inner tube off the Florida coast. His mother and 10 others drowned after their boat capsized en route from Cuba to Florida.

Elian's father has renounced the relatives attempts to win a political asylum hearing for the boy and he has demanded he be reunited with his son.

Lawyers for Elian's relatives had responded to the government's ultimatum by counter-proposing that an arbitration panel decide "the best interests of the child."

U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Commissioner Doris Meissner flatly rejected that proposal.

"That is not an option I'm prepared to entertain," Meissner. "There is no place for an arbitration panel."

Meissner said her decision to send Elian back to Cuba at his father's request was "within my discretion" and is now upheld by a federal court.

Lawyers representing the boy's Miami family had offered arbitration as an alternative to the lengthy appeals process that they have vowed to take all the way to the Supreme Court.

The attorneys said they would work with the INS in selecting the arbitrator, suggesting former Sen. Bob Dole or former Sen. George Mitchell for the position.

"If the INS would agree at last to provide a day in court to this small child, the result would be not only a fair determination of what's right for Elian, but a much faster resolution than is possible through further court battles," the attorneys wrote.

A public plea from the boy may be the final tactic the family has to employ. And the family spokesman hinted Friday that that such a statement could be just days away.

Members of Miami's large Cuban-American community, some with walkie-talkies, have been keeping close watch on Elian's Florida home and threatening protests if the U.S. government makes any sudden move to send the boy back to Cuba.

"We're not calling the people out as long as we see that Elian's case remains in the courts and the government is not moving to suddenly take Elian back to Cuba," said Ramon Saul Sanchez, head of the Democracy Movement, a Cuban exile organization.

"We have used civil disobedience in the past, but only when it has been absolutely necessary," Sanchez said.

He said preserving Elian's rights and maintaining peace in the community was a delicate balance. "There are things we can control and there are certain things we can't control. There are very, very deep emotions involved here and people will react."

New conservative party created in Canada in hopes of uniting the right

Reform Party leader Preston Manning presided over a birth and a funeral on March 25 as Reformers said Yes to joining the Canadian Alliance and to burying his beloved party.

Reform members voted a resounding 91.9 per cent in favour of folding their party into the Alliance.

"I can't say how pleased I am," a beaming Manning said minutes after he read the results to huge cheers from more than 400 raucous supporters crammed into Calgary's Metropolitan Centre.

"I was frankly surprised at the size of the majority. The Alliance is now in business."

The vote passed both tests needed to make it a Yes. It surpassed the 66 per cent needed overall and a majority from each of the provinces and territories.

A total of 73,437 ballots were sent out and organizers said 48,838 were mailed back.

Manning told the anxious crowd that waiting for the result all day was like anticipating the recent birth of his newest grandchild.

"That's exactly how I feel this evening. This is a special day for everyone in this room."

The gathering had the electric atmosphere of an election-night headquarters. In the lobby they were selling Reform party memorabilia -- from golf balls and tees to embroidered shirts, pens, key chains, pins, mugs and Frisbees.

Manning, who led the creation of Reform 13 years ago, and others hope to build the Alliance into a broad-based, right-wing party that can defeat the federal Liberals. It's something Reform hasn't come close to doing.

The Yes vote means the Reform party is dead except for its name, which the Alliance will continue to control. Reformers will automatically become members of the Alliance and all of Reform's assets immediately transfer to the new party.

A leadership campaign also begins immediately with Manning and Alberta Treasurer Stockwell Day expected to scrap over control of the new party. Alliance members will pick a leader June 23-24 in Calgary.

Day said he'll run for a seat in Parliament whether he wins the leadership or not.

"I'm committed to the Canadian Alliance for the long term," he told reporters.

"What we've got here is a new movement. Frankly it has become a tidal wave."

Some supporters were already wearing buttons that said: Run. Stock. Run. Others were sporting ones that said: Preston!

Frank Klees, a junior cabinet minister in Mike Harris's Ontario Tory government, all but threw his hat in the ring after the results were announced. He praised Manning for turning Reform over to a new movement but said only he can deliver the all-important Ontario vote.

"I bring something the other two could not. And that is 25 years of political experience on the ground in Ontario," he said.

Klees is seen as a potentially strong contender who might be able to help the Alliance crack the image that it's the same old Reform party wrapped with new ribbon.

Two other men have also expressed interest: B.C. Reform MP Keith Martin and fringe candidate Joe Peschisolido, a Toronto lawyer.

The referendum result was widely expected. Reformers had come to accept Manning's view that the party had to melt down and remake itself if it were to have any chance of defeating the Liberals.

The gathering attracted at least some people who hadn't been drawn to Reform. Azim Jiwani, small businessman from Calgary said he will take out a membership in the new party.

"That really lifted my heart," he said after the vote. "It was a very convincing vote. As a former Tory I feel quite accepted now."

Federal Tory Leader Joe Clark said that little has changed -- even if the Alliance elects a new leader.

"There are a lot of people who simply will not go to the Reform party under one name or another," Clark said shortly before the result was announced.

"There is no reason to believe that anything any of us have seen so far that a change of leader, or a change of name is going to make very much difference."

The key to winning a national government is in Ontario -- an election battleground it has never captured.

Voters in Canada's most populous province haven't embraced Reform, partly because of its image as a regional party and partly because of Manning, who sometimes comes off sounding like an old-style evangelist preacher.

Manning disagrees with that assessment, blaming vote splitting with the Tories for Reform's failure and the Liberals' success.

He has sees the Alliance as a maturing of Reform.

"I kind of liken it to a parent," Manning said Friday. "All of our gang is out of the house now and in one sense you wish it could always be like it was.

"But it isn't. You are raising them to have wings and you can't hang on to youth or adolescence and I don't think a political party can either."

Opposition to the Alliance all but vanished within Reform since the inevitability of the result became apparent at a United Alternative convention in Ottawa earlier this year.

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