CIA objected to tape destruction




WASHINGTON &

The CIA official who gave the command to destroy interrogation videotapes apparently acted against the direction of his superiors, the top Republican House Intelligence Committee member said Wednesday.




"It appears he hadn't gotten authority from anyone," said Rep. Pete Hoekstra, R-Mich., speaking to reporters after the first day of closed testimony in the committee's investigation.




Hoekstra said that raises the troubling prospect that there's a thread of unaccountability in the spy culture.




"I believe there are parts of the intelligence community that don't believe they are accountable to Congress and may not be accountable to their own superiors in the intelligence community, and that's why it's a problem," he said.




Hoekstra spoke after the CIA's acting general counsel, John Rizzo, testified behind closed doors for nearly four hours as the first witness in what committee officials have said will be a long investigation.




The man at the center of the controversy, Jose Rodriguez, had been scheduled to appear Wednesday, but his lawyer's demand for immunity delayed his testimony. Rodriguez was the head of the CIA's National Clandestine Service, the CIA branch that oversees spying operations and interrogations. He gave the order to destroy the tapes in November 2005.




"" The Associated Press




The tapes, made in 2002, showed the harsh interrogation by CIA officers of two alleged al-Qaida terrorists, both of whom are known to have undergone waterboarding, which gives the subject the sensation of drowning.




The White House approved waterboarding and other "enhanced" techniques in 2002 for prisoners deemed resistant to conventional interrogation. The CIA is known to have waterboarded three prisoners and has not used the technique since 2003. CIA Director Michael Hayden prohibited it in 2006.




A congressional official who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the ongoing investigation said the document trail the committee is following strongly suggests Rodriguez knew destruction would be against the advice and wishes of his superiors.




"If you look at the documents, you get very close to a direct order (not to destroy the tapes) without it being, 'Jose, you're not going to do this,'" the official said.




The official said the committee will try to determine whether any CIA officials suggested "with a wink and a nod" that the tapes should be destroyed.




Rizzo told the committee that CIA lawyers had concluded destroying the tapes would be legal but that he advised against it, the official said. Then-CIA Director Porter Goss also recommended against the tapes' destruction, said the official, information confirmed by several former intelligence officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because of an ongoing Justice Department criminal investigation into the matter.




Rizzo, who has been acting general counsel since 2004, participated in at least two key meetings about the tapes.




After Goss took over as CIA director in 2004, Rizzo asked him whether he opposed destroying the videotapes. He said he did, according to one of the former intelligence officials. Goss' objection was primarily informed by his political career; he thought destroying the tapes would look suspicious, the official said.




Rizzo was also at a meeting in early November 2005 when Rodriguez told Goss that the tapes had been destroyed.




At the meeting it was decided that Rizzo would inform White House counsel Harriet Miers, Rodriguez would tell the leaders of the intelligence committees on Capitol Hill, and Goss would inform the director of national intelligence, according to former intelligence officials.




But intelligence committee leaders said they were not informed until more than a year later. Few committee members even knew the tapes had existed until CIA Director Michael Hayden announced their destruction to CIA employees in an e-mail on Dec. 6.




"I don't have any indication Mr. Rodriguez has talked to Congress about the tapes," committee chairman Sylvestre Reyes, D-Texas, said following Wednesday's hearing.




Reyes said the CIA has given the committee access to more than 300 pages of documents, but that there are many more to review.




Hoekstra said Rodriguez must testify to the committee to determine on whose authority the tapes were destroyed, and he said the panel will consult with the Justice Department on whether granting Rodriguez immunity would undermine its own investigation.




"If there appears to be any criminal activity taking place, the last thing we would want to do is get in the way of a successful prosecution," Hoekstra said.




Former congressman charged in conspiracy involving terror fundraising ring




WASHINGTON &

A former congressman and delegate to the United Nations was indicted on charges of working for an alleged terrorist fundraising ring that sent more than $130,000 to an al-Qaida supporter who has threatened U.S. and international troops in Afghanistan.




Mark Deli Siljander, a Michigan Republican when he was in the House, was charged Wednesday with money laundering, conspiracy and obstructing justice for allegedly lying about being hired to lobby senators on behalf of an Islamic charity that authorities said was secretly sending funds to terrorists.




The 42-count indictment, unsealed in U.S. District Court in Kansas City, Mo., accuses the Islamic American Relief Agency of paying Siljander $50,000 for the lobbying &

money that turned out to be stolen from the U.S. Agency for International Development.




The charges paint "a troubling picture of an American charity organization that engaged in transactions for the benefit of terrorists and conspired with a former United States congressman to convert stolen federal funds into payments for his advocacy," Assistant Attorney General Kenneth Wainstein said.




Siljander, who served in the House from 1981-1987, was appointed by President Reagan to serve as a U.S. delegate to the United Nations for one year in 1987.




Giuliani pins his hopes for GOP nomination on a victory in Florida




NEW YORK &

Republican Rudy Giuliani challenged political convention in shrugging off early primaries while staking his presidential candidacy on delegate-rich, later-voting states, a strategy that could be a colossal failure or a masterful calculation.




The former New York mayor is suffering from money woes and hasn't won a single primary. Other Republicans have been gobbling up delegates and national media attention, but Giuliani has won one key bet he placed long ago: Even after the first few contests, there would no clear front-runner in the GOP field.




As his opponents spent time, money and energy battling in Iowa, New Hampshire, Michigan and beyond, Giuliani shifted his resources to Florida, where he hopes its winner-take-all Jan. 29 primary will hand him 57 delegates and catapult him overnight to the top of the race for the nomination. He has no delegates so far.




Mitt Romney, who won the Michigan primary Tuesday, leads the delegate race with 42, followed by Mike Huckabee with 32 and John McCain with 13. It takes 1,191 to win the nomination.




Giuliani did not always pin his hopes on Florida. Initially, his campaign plan was multi-pronged, until he decided to abandon efforts in early voting Iowa and New Hampshire. His strategists originally thought he had a good shot at winning an early state or two, and at one point he gained ground in New Hampshire &

spending a chunk of cash there &

and was also a leader in South Carolina polls.




New species of palm tree that flowers itself to death discovered in Madagascar




ANTANANARIVO, Madagascar &

A self-destructing palm tree that flowers once every 100 years and then dies has been discovered on the Indian Ocean island of Madagascar, botanists said today.




The name of the giant palm and its remarkable life cycle will be detailed in a study by Kew Gardens scientists in the Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society published today.




"It's spectacular. It does not flower for maybe 100 years and when it's like this it can be mistaken for other types of palm," said Mijoro Rakotoarinivo, who works for the London botanical gardens in Madagascar.




"But then a large shoot, a bit like an asparagus, grows out of the top of the tree and starts to spread. You get something that looks a bit like a Christmas tree growing out of the top of the palm," he said.




The branches of this shoot then become covered in hundreds of tiny white flowers that ooze with nectar, attracting insects and birds.