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Dispatches The Buzz

The Buzz

9/11 report After 20 months of work, the 9/11 commission on July 22 released its much-anticipated, 567-page critique of the intelligence failures that led to the deadliest terrorist attack in U.S. history. Without singling out either the Bush or Clinton administrations, the commissioners identified systemic problems that prohibited numerous government agencies from sharing information that might have prevented nearly 3,000 deaths.

"The most important failure," according to the report, "was one of imagination. We do not believe leaders understood the gravity of the threat."

Among the panel's recommendations: a new cabinet-level intelligence director to coordinate the information coming from more than a dozen different agencies that collect intelligence both at home and abroad. The panel also wants to strengthen congressional oversight of America's spy agencies and remove term limits for lawmakers who sit on intelligence committees in both the House and Senate.

President Bush, who received a briefing on the report shortly before its 11:30 a.m. release, said he appreciated the "constructive" work of the commission and its "very solid, sound recommendations about how to move forward."

Though commissioners were all smiles during a Thursday morning Rose Garden ceremony, they have signaled they are ready to get tough, if necessary, to see that their recommendations are enacted. While most government panels simply disband when their work is done, the 9/11 commission plans to remain intact, lobbying Congress and speaking out across the country on behalf of national security reform.

Berger investigation Sandy Berger, national security adviser during President Clinton's second term, admitted taking classified documents from the National Archives last September while he was supposedly reviewing for them for release to the 9/11 commission. Some of those documents, classified "codeword" - a higher level of classification than the nation's nuclear secrets - have since gone missing, and Mr. Berger is under criminal investigation by the Justice Department.

Mr. Berger immediately quit his volunteer post as John Kerry's top adviser on national security, and Mr. Kerry insisted he had no knowledge of the 10-month-old investigation. Republicans, however, questioned whether Mr. Berger had used the classified information during a February press briefing designed to make Mr. Bush look weak on national security. Shortly after Mr. Berger's resignation, the Kerry campaign removed an anti-terrorism plan from its website, leading to speculation it had been based on classified information.

In addition to the criminal investigation, House Government Reform Committee Chairman Tom Davis (R-Va.) said he will open hearings into the Berger affair, citing the panel's "constitutional responsibility to find out what happened and why."

AIDS Where the United States goes, others follow - at least when it comes to fighting AIDS. British Prime Minister Tony Blair unveiled a three-year, $2.8 billion plan to help AIDS victims around the world. The funding is only a fraction of what the United States has committed - $15 billion over five years, with $2.4 billion this year alone. Mr. Blair immediately won praise from the United Nations and former South African President Nelson Mandela and could be more influential than Mr. Bush in rallying other Western leaders to put their money where their mouths are. Mr. Bush has so far drawn disdain for his abstinence-friendly AIDS policies.

Conservatives and Christian activists are unhappy with the Bush administration's pick of Vietnam to receive special AIDS funding. A latecomer to the AIDS cash trough, Vietnam's repressive government could shift AIDS money to meet other state goals (like abortions), they worry, and will make it difficult to promote faith-based AIDS relief.

Sudan Pope John Paul II and British Prime Minister Tony Blair joined other world leaders in demanding an end to attacks on Darfur residents in Sudan, a crisis that has already left 10,000 dead and more than 1 million Sudanese homeless. The Vatican compared the situation to "Rwanda in slow motion" and dispatched an envoy to the region. Mr. Blair said he might order troops into Sudan to avoid genocide. Khartoum claims it is trying to disarm militias in Darfur, but a bipartisan group of U.S. lawmakers, along with Human Rights Watch, say they have evidence Khartoum is arming the militias as a means of ethnic cleansing. Darfur hardships put white lawmakers and black comedians on the street together outside the Sudanese Embassy in Washington - and briefly behind bars. About a dozen U.S. protesters have been arrested in a growing daily vigil against Sudan's militant Islamic government.

Iraq July casualties in Iraq matched figures for June despite upheaval following the June 28 power handover. A day-long firefight on July 22 between insurgents and U.S. and Iraqi forces in Ramadi remarkably resulted in no U.S. casualties. Thirteen Marines and one Army soldier were wounded; 25 insurgents died in the battle. Kidnappings continued following the release of Filipino hostage Angelo dela Cruz, as militants promptly nabbed three Kenyans, three Indians, and an Egyptian. U.S. allies are higher-profile but Iraqis have more to fear from kidnappers: The Interior Ministry says 10 to 30 abductions take place per day, and the Iraqi Medical Association reports that 200 doctors have been abducted since the end of the war.