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web posted September 4, 2000

FBI agents stripped of media IDs at neo-Nazi trial

Seven undercover federal agents, who posed as journalists to photograph protesters at a civil trial targeting the neo-Nazi Aryan Nations group, were stripped of their media passes on August 31 following a reporter's complaint.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation agents had obtained the media credentials earlier in the week in the trial aimed at bankrupting one of the most potent forces in the U.S. white supremacist movement.

Capt. Ben Wolfinger of the Kootenai County Sheriff's department said he had not hesitated to issue the media passes to the agents -- who at the time were dressed in photographer's vests and carrying camera equipment but identified themselves as FBI.

But Sheriff Rocky Watson ordered the passes revoked after a reporter covering the trial from the Spokane Spokesman Review complained about the situation.

"I didn't think it was going to that big an issue," Wolfinger said. "So we have revoked those passes and are taking them as they are showing up today."

"What happened is they were here trying to blend in with the media so they would take photos of the protesters who are here protesting the trial."

An FBI spokesman in the agency's Salt Lake City regional office, which dispatched the agents, had no immediate comment.

There have been very few protesters and no reports of problems at the closely-watched trial that began August 28 under tight security.

The case was brought by the Southern Poverty Law Center on behalf of local woman Victoria Keenan and her son who claim Aryan Nations security guards beat them in 1998. The Keenans, who are white and part Native American, say they were driving past the compound when their car backfired. A truckload of armed guards, believing a gun had been fired at them, chased after the pair and shot at their car.

Eventually, the two were forced into a ditch, where Victoria Keenan said one man struck her with the butt of a gun and another hit her son as he cowered on the floor. Two men were sentenced to prison for the attack.

Waco whistleblower threatened with indictments

The former prosecutor who warned Attorney General Janet Reno of a possible cover-up within her own department has been told he is being targeted for prosecution by Waco Special Counsel John C. Danforth.

Former assistant U.S. Attorney Bill Johnston's attorney, Michael Kennedy, said his client has been threatened with indictments on charges including obstruction of justice and perjury.

"This law office and Mr. Johnston believe that he was unfairly targeted for his frequent criticism of the U.S. government and for blowing the whistle on the government's efforts to mislead the public about the government's use of pyrotechnic devices against the Branch Davidians," Kennedy said in a statement August 31.

The investigation of Johnston reportedly stems from pretrial notes he made in 1993 that show he may have been present at a meeting where "military rounds" were discussed.

Johnston didn't pass the notes to Danforth's office because he was concerned they would be misconstrued and used to falsely implicate him, two government sources told The Associated Press on the condition of anonymity. Kennedy said Johnston wasn't at the meeting.

Jan Diltz, a spokeswoman for Danforth's office in St. Louis, declined to comment on the reports.

Johnston, who resigned from the U.S. Attorney's office in Waco in January, was involved in the Branch Davidian case from the beginning.

In 1993, he helped draft the search warrant that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms attempted to execute on Feb. 28 of that year in a botched raid that turned into a gunbattle. Four federal agents and six Davidians were killed. The following year, Johnston helped to convict nine Davidians in the deaths of the agents.

Johnston has been at odds with Justice officials since he paved the way for filmmaker Michael McNulty to review evidence sifted from the ruins of the burned Branch Davidian compound. The compound caught fire during a siege April 19, 1993, that ended a 51-day standoff between the sect and federal agents. Sect leader David Koresh and some 80 followers died inside.

McNulty's discovery of a spent pyrotechnic tear gas canister forced the FBI last year to recant its long-standing denials that potentially incendiary devices had been fired at the compound.

The about-face triggered investigations by Congress and the special counsel appointment by Reno. Danforth was asked to review government actions in the standoff and to determine if there was a government cover-up.

Johnston wrote Reno a letter on August 30, 1999, stating that government lawyers had known about the potentially incendiary devices for years. Ten days later, he was pulled from the case. In 1993, Johnston also bypassed his supervisor and wrote to Reno about the FBI's handling of the crime scene at the burned compound.

Johnston said in a written statement that Danforth's prosecutors have tried to "coerce" him into pleading guilty over the past year, The Washington Post reported in Friday editions.

"Mr. Danforth's prosecutors and investigators have lied to me, made me false promises, cursed me with profanity and threatened to throw me in jail," Johnston said in the statement. He said one prosecutor told his law partner his life was over. "Not my career, mind you; my life."

Danforth has twice brought Johnston before a federal grand jury for questioning since his resignation in January.

Canadian PM defends 'unholy' jab at conservatives

Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien and his Liberals scrambled to explain August 31 why it's "unholy" for the conservative Canadian Alliance to recruit separatists but okay for his party to do it.

Chretien kicked off his caucus retreat on August 29 by condemning Alliance Leader Stockwell Day's recruitment of former Bloc MPs Richard Belisle and Nic Leblanc as election candidates.

Calling it "the unholy Alliance," he accused Day of making the same mistake Tory Prime Minister Brian Mulroney did when he recruited soft separatists, only to see his friend Lucien Bouchard lead a group of them across the Commons floor in 1990 to form the Bloc Quebecois.

Chretien said that while Day was willing to get 40 such candidates, he wants "none."

But it was revealed Liberals in two Quebec ridings approached staunch separatist Bloc MP Pierre Brien and caucus colleague Ghislain Lebel.

Brien said the local official told him the recruitment was supported by the Liberal party brass and he would be "welcomed with open arms."

But Public Works Minister Alfonso Gagliano, Chretien's Quebec lieutenant and political organizer, said if local officials made overtures, they acted alone.

"If there was (a move to recruit separatists), I would know about it," he said.

Speaking in French, Chretien said his party welcomes former separatists who clearly believe in Canada and the Liberal party.

Liberal Unity Minister Stephane Dion is a former separatist, as is Amateur Sports Minister Denis Coderre.

Some Alabama students must pass tobacco test to play sports

Schools in a Birmingham, Alabama, suburb have begun testing student athletes for tobacco as well as alcohol and drugs.

"It's a strong statement for us athletically to take a stand against the tobacco industry," said Rush Propst, head football coach at Hoover High School, the largest secondary school in Alabama.

"I just don't think athletes need to smoke. I don't think any kids need to smoke," said the coach.

A new government study indicates that smoking among high school students fell slightly last year and government analysts attributed the drop in part to prevention programs.

The testing is random, but officials say at least half the athletes in all sports will be tested -- and re-tested regularly if they fail. Students get three chances before punishment is imposed.

When an athlete's urine sample tests positive for tobacco, officials will first notify the parents and tell the student to quit:

A second positive test will land the student athlete in a tobacco education course, which will be followed by further testing.

The third offense will get athletes suspended from one-quarter of their upcoming athletic contests.

Hoover's policy stops short of a total ban on student smoking, but it's an incentive for athletes not to smoke. Middle school athletes will also be tested and school district officials say neither parents nor students have objected.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said 34.8 percent of high school students nationwide in 1999 reported they had smoked a cigarette in the previous 30 days. That was down from 36.4 percent in 1997 and the first overall decline since government's first such study, in 1991.

Surgeon General David Satcher said the CDC study offers hope that teen smoking figures had peaked. But he said only 5 percent of American schools have adopted the CDC's guidelines for discouraging smoking.

"Failure to effectively use every intervention strategy available to help our young people would be a tragic mistake," Satcher said in a statement last week.

The federal government wants to cut teen smoking by half, to about 16 percent, by the year 2010.

Hoover is not the first school to test students for tobacco. Students at some schools in Wisconsin and Virginia also face such tests.

As for legal challenges to the testing policy at Hoover, Athletic Director Ron Swann said the courts are on their side.

"If you participate in something after school hours, then you can pretty much put on them the rules that the community wants for you to have on that group of students," said Hoover Athletic Director Ron Swann.

The American Civil Liberties Union concedes that as long as students and parents agree to the testing, it's probably legal, but thinks it could set a dangerous precedent.

"Once Big Brother starts on the path towards chemical testing, who knows when that will end?" said Arthur Spitzer of the ACLU.

Federal court orders scientist Wen Ho Lee to remain in jail

A federal appeals court on September 1 ordered that former Los Alamos scientist Wen Ho Lee remain in jail in New Mexico.

Wen Ho LeeLee was supposed to be released on bail at noon. But at the last minute, prosecutors filed an appeal to block it. The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver stayed the release, pending a further order from the court.

Lee's supporters denounced the government's actions, saying the scientist is no threat.

Victor Hwang, an attorney with the civil rights group Asian Law Caucus said the government should immediately release Lee and later, if Lee is acquitted at trial, clear his name. The San Francisco group filed a friend-of-the-court brief arguing that Lee was the victim of racial profiling.

Lee was fired from the Los Alamos National Laboratory and has been held in solitary confinement since December 10, 1999, at a detention center outside Santa Fe, New Mexico.

The 60-year-old Taiwan native, a naturalized U.S. citizen, faces 59 counts of downloading volumes of nuclear weapons design and testing simulation data from secure computers to a non-secure computer and tapes. Some of those tapes are missing. He is the only Los Alamos employee to be charged.

If convicted on all counts, Lee could be sentenced to life in prison.

The government says Lee compromised national security; Lee was arrested at a time when Congress expressed fear of the Chinese spies in U.S. nuclear labs.

In court documents filed in July, the Justice Department listed eight nations to which Lee wrote, apparently seeking employment: Australia, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Singapore, Switzerland, Taiwan and China.

The letters were sent in 1993, when Lee had begun to download nuclear secrets from the Los Alamos computers, according to papers filed at the U.S. District Court in Albuquerque.

The government also has said Lee was involved in the design and simulation of nuclear weapons at a Chinese Institute.

But Lee's supporters note that Lee has never been charged with espionage, proving that he is being prosecuted because of his race.

In affidavits unsealed August 31, two former government counterintelligence chiefs said they believe Lee was targeted because he is an Asian American. The same day, leaders of three prestigious scientific organizations expressed their objections to the government's treatment of Lee.

About 30 FBI agents and support personnel searched for more than12 hours Thursday at Lee's home in the Los Alamos suburb of White Rock, looking for any sensitive scientific materials. The search was in advance of Lee's imminent release.

Clinton delays deployment decision on anti-missile shield

President Clinton said September 1 he will let his successor decide whether to begin first-stage construction of a national missile defense shield.

The president made the announcement today during a national security speech at Georgetown University in Washington.

Bill Clinton"We need more tests against more challenging targets," Clinton told university students. "We need this time to determine" whether the system -- if deployed -- would enhance national security."

Clinton called for support for the missile program from both Russia and U.S. allies who oppose the system, fearing it would spark a new arms race.

He also called for research and development work on a system capable of knocking out incoming enemy missiles to proceed at a rapid pace. "The issue is whether we can do more --not to meet today's threats-- but to meet tomorrow's threats to national security," Clinton said.

However, the program has suffered numerous technological setbacks, including a failed flight test of the so-called "kill vehicle" rocket in July, and only one known successful test overall.

Delaying construction of the X-band radar on Shemya Island in the Aleutians gives Clinton and his successor more time to negotiate a deal on the U.S. Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty with Russia.

Clinton had said he would consider four main factors in deciding whether to proceed with the deployment process now: technical feasibility, cost, the urgency of a missile threat against the United States and the impact on arms control of proceeding with missile defense.

By putting off the initial step, Clinton in effect has pushed back the 2005 target date by at least one year.

Other details of Clinton's decision were not immediately available, including whether the 2005 target date has been reset for 2006 or 2007.

China's president says he sympathized with Tiananmen protesters

In a rare admission for a Chinese communist leader, President Jiang Zemin says he sympathized with the passions for freedom and democracy that drove students into Tiananmen Square 11 years ago.

Tiananmen SquareJiang recalled his own days as a student protester against Japan's occupation of China in the 1940s in an interview with CBS' "60 Minutes" television program. The comparison was brought up by correspondent Mike Wallace.

"In the 1989 disturbances we truly understood the passion of students who were calling for greater democracy and freedom. In fact, we have always been working to improve our system of democracy," Jiang said, according to a transcript of the interview broadcast on August 3.

His comments were the most sympathetic portrayal of the student movement by a senior Chinese leader since the leadership ordered tanks and troops to oust the demonstrators. Hundreds, if not thousands, died in the military assault on June 3-4, 1989. The Chinese government has never given a credible account.

Jiang reverted to the party line, however, in defending the crackdown. He accused people he did not identify of trying to "use the students to overthrow the government under the pretext of democracy and freedom."

When asked whether he felt inspired by the courage of the lone protester who faced down a tank during the assault, Jiang said "we fully respect every citizen's right to freely express his wishes and desires.

"But I do not favor any flagrant opposition to government actions during an emergency," Jiang said. "The tank stopped and did not run the young man down."

The "60 Minutes" interview was conducted at the Chinese leadership retreat at the seaside resort of Beidaihe, a first for Western television.

Jiang is due in New York this week to attend a U.N. summit. Polite but at times feisty, Jiang said he agreed to the interview to underscore his government's desire to work with the United States -- even in the aftermath of the U.S. bombing of China's Embassy in Yugoslavia last year.

Given the United States' state-of-the-art military technology, China cannot accept Washington's explanations that the bombing was a mistake, he said. He said he told President Bill Clinton that they will never agree on this.

"The identification marks of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade were too clear for people to miss. So why has there been such an incident? It is still a question. But we have decided to look forward, to improve China-U.S. relations," Jiang said.

Jiang also denied that Wen Ho Lee, the ethnic Chinese scientist accused of mishandling nuclear secrets from a U.S. government lab, was a spy for China.

He turned aside U.S. criticisms of communist authoritarian one-party rule, saying that Americans find it hard to believe Chinese support their government.

"Why must we have opposition parties? You are trying to apply American values and the American political system to the whole world," Jiang said.

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