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In another case of the CIA plucking a citizen from a foreign country based on suspicion, officials from Italy, Germany, Spain and Switzerland all cooperated in the effort to kidnap Egyptian cleric and terrorism suspect Osama Moustafa Hassan Nasr from a Milan street in 2003. Nasr was released from an Egyptian prison in 2007, claiming he was tortured while there. (Associated Press)

Sens. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) and Chuck Schumer (D-NY) have introduced legislation that would tighten laws on lobbyists that work for foreign-owned companies, requiring lobbying operations to disclose more aspects of those relationships than current law demands. The proposed review of foreign influence on American lobbying comes during an election season in which Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) has come under scrutiny for employing several individuals on his campaign staff that have track records of foreign lobbying. (New York Times)

A senior British intelligence agent left top secret documents containing information on al Qaeda on a train, officials said Wednesday. The file was retrieved and given to the BBC. This comes after the loss of a laptop containing data on 600,000 recruits by Britain's Ministry of Defence, prompting critics to hurl charges of lax security at Prime Minister Gordon Brown. (Reuters)

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Does liking porn disqualify a judge from hearing a porn case?

Maybe so, in the case of Judge Alex Kozinski, the chief judge of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco.

Kozinski -- who is just one rung below the U.S. Supreme Court -- yesterday delayed the obscenity trial he was presiding over of Hollywood adult filmmaker Ira Isaacs, whose work includes scenes of bestiality and defecation. (Although Kozinski is an appeals court judge, he was sitting as the trial judge in this case.)

The Los Angles Times found the judge had a Web site with some pretty freakish scenes of his own, which he was sharing with friends and family.

Among the images on the site were a photo of naked women on all fours painted to look like cows and a video of a half-dressed man cavorting with a sexually aroused farm animal. He defended some of the adult content as "funny" but conceded that other postings were inappropriate.

Kozinski, 57, said that he thought the site was for his private storage and that he was not aware the images could be seen by the public, although he also said he had shared some material on the site with friends.

When a reporter from the Times asked the judge about the images, "the judge said he didn't think any of the material on his site would qualify as obscene."

"Is it prurient? I don't know what to tell you," he said. "I think it's odd and interesting. It's part of life."

He has since taken the site down.

Kozinski, appointed by President Regean in 1985, has been mentioned as a possible candidate for the U.S. Supreme Court. He is considered a judicial conservative on most issues.

When it comes to matters of porn and computer privacy, Kozinski is no hypocrite.

In September 2001, Kozinski was a fierce opponent of any effort by Washington bureaucrats to monitor his computer, prompting Leonidas Ralph Mecham, the director of the Administrative Office of the Courts, to remark to the New York Times that "Kozinski had shown 'great interest in keeping pornography available to judges,' especially of what Mr. Mecham called 'the more homosexual and exotic varieties.'"

Judge Kozinski said Mr. Mecham's comment about ''homosexual'' Web sites appeared to refer to an incident in 1998 when one of his law clerks downloaded a Web site for a San Francisco gay bookstore and the Administrative Office complained. ''I don't think we need bureaucrats in Washington looking over our shoulders for this kind of thing,'' Judge Kozinski said.

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals based in San Francisco has a long tradition of being the country's most liberal. It's backed medical marijuana and struck the words "Under God" from the Pledge of Allegiance.

So the feds are not only looking into former Rep. John Sweeney (R-NY), but also his ex-wife?

That's sure how it looks, since they subpoenaed files about Sweeney and the fundraising firm run by his wife, Gayle Ford Sweeney - who was married to the upstate New York Republican until shortly after he left office in 2006.

As speculation mounts that John Sweeney is the latest target in Jack Abramoff's lobbying ring, the New York Times noted that Abramoff investigators have found a pattern of money funneled to Congressional spouses.

Take Rep. John Doolittle (R-CA). The FBI raided his house last year and he's opting not to run for reelection. Doolittle's wife, Julie, was running a one-person company that got large payments from campaign funds and PACs run by Doolittle. In addition, Abramoff's firm paid Doolittle's wife, Julie, $67,600 to plan an event that was ultimately canceled.

Or look at Tom Delay, the former Rep. from Texas. His wife was running a group called the Delay Foundation for Kids. It's donors? Well, whaddya know. They were a diverse set of special interest who appeared to be seeking favors from Tom Delay.

Sweeney's wife was campaign and fundraising consultant who got a cut of the money raised for her husband.

She was also taking a salary from Sweeney's friend and lobbyist Bill Powers's firm. And she left Sweeney just a few months after voters kicked him out of office.

We'll be interested in hear what the feds find in all that paperwork.

The Jack Abramoff investigation is a gift that keeps on giving.

Nearly three years after the feds flipped the corrupt Washington lobbyist, we've learned just today that former U.S. Rep. John Sweeney (R-NY) may be the next lawmaker in the cross hairs of the feds' ongoing investigation.

Sweeney's ties to Abramoff over the years may have been overshadowed by Sweeney's more colorful scandals that repeatedly involved booze and women half his age.

In 2001, Sweeney was among a handful of lawmakers who took a trip to the Northern Marianas -- Abramoff's infamous client -- and failed to disclose that the trip was privately funded. While there he parroted Abramoff's favorite line -- that reports of sweatshops there were overblown.

In March 2006, DOJ investigators pulled some of Sweeney's financial records from the House clerk and reviewed them along with a handful of others linked to Abramoff.

Back then, when records showed Sweeney had taken $2,000 from Abramoff's firm, he gave that money away to a local hospital to publicly cleanse himself of ties to the convicted felon.

With the latest news that the feds have raided the firm of Sweeney's political mentor, Bill Powers, has the Abramoff investigation zeroed in on Sweeney? The New York Times suggested as much today, but it cited no source for that proposition. So it's not immediately clear what the connection is between Sweeney and Powers and Abramoff. Powers was a chairman of the state GOP throughout the 1990s, and Sweeney was one of his executive directors before being elected to Congress. The New York papers are reporting Sweeney may have steered big federal grants to Powers' clients while Sweeney was still in Congress.

By the way, Sweeney's then wife (now ex-wife) went to work for Powers' firm a few years after he was elected to Congress, and left the firm shortly after he lost his reelection bid. More on that shortly.

Success in Iraq is critical to U.S. national interests, which is why we've insisted on sending our best and brightest civilians there: loyal Republicans, young GOP political operatives, and in the case of Owen Cargol, a man who fancies himself "a rub-your-belly, grab-your-balls, give-you-a-hug, slap-your-back, pull-your-dick, squeeze-your-hand, cheek-your-face, and pat-your-thigh kind of guy."

As Inside Higher Ed reports today, Cargol resigned back in April as the first chancellor of the American University in Iraq, apparently for health reasons, but he'd been forced out of a previous position as president of Northern Arizona University after just four months for allegedly sexually harassing a NAU employee:

Cargol's 2001 resignation stemmed from allegations made by a Northern Arizona employee who alleged that Cargol, while naked in a locker room, grabbed the employee's genitals, the Arizona Republic reported. In a subsequent e-mail to the employee, Cargol described himself as "a rub-your-belly, grab-your-balls, give-you-a-hug, slap-your-back, pull-your-dick, squeeze-your-hand, cheek-your-face, and pat-your-thigh kind of guy."

The American University in Iraq, located in Sulaimaniya in the Kurdish-controlled north, was heralded as a progressive step towards democratization. It selected Cargol as its first chancellor in 2007, though why is unclear since, as Inside Higher Ed notes, his "checkered past. . . could have been revealed to university organizers in a simple Google search."

AU-I is a private, non-profit institution, but it was started with $10.5 million from the U.S. government and its board --which hired Cargol -- is stacked with prominent names:

Iraqi President Jalal Talabani is chairman of the Board of Regents; and Barham Salih, Iraq's deputy prime minister, is president of the Board of Trustees. Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq and a counselor to former U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, sits on the board. So too does Fouad Ajami, head of Middle Eastern studies at Johns Hopkins University.

Agresto, the new interim chancellor, brings his own bona fides. As detailed in Imperial Life in the Emerald City, Agresto has close connections to Rumsfeld and Vice President Dick Cheney's wife, Lynne Cheney, with whom Agresto served during a stint at the National Endowment for the Humanities. A self-described neoconservative who was "mugged by reality" in Iraq, Agresto "knew next to nothing about Iraq's educational system" when he arrived with orders to rebuild it, The Washington Post reported.

How Agresto and his colleagues came to select Cargol to head AU-Iraq is unclear, but Cargol's decision to reinvent himself as an administrator in the Middle East preceded his work in Iraq. Before he took the chancellor's post, Cargol was provost of Abu Dhabi University, a private institution in the United Arab Emirates.

We've enjoyed cataloging the dubious record of former Rep. John Sweeney (R-NY).

Maybe he's best known for helping to instigate the "Brooks Brothers Riot" with other Republicans during the Florida recount in December 2000.

Yet at home in upstate New York, he has also been accused of beating his wife, getting conspicuously drunk with college kids, drunk driving and taking free trips from Jack Abramoff.

Now he may be getting roped directly into the Jack Abramoff investigation, as the feds are looking into whether he steered a series of grants to his longtime friend and lobbyist Bill Powers, an elder statesmen of the New York State GOP.

The New York Times reports:

Federal law enforcement agents have raided the offices of an influential lobbying firm in Albany as part of the latest investigation connected to the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal in Washington.

The Times provides no source for the Abramoff link. Other reports do not explicity tie in the raid with Abramoff, but note the DOJ investigation is run from Washington rather than Albany.

From the Albany Times Union
A federal criminal investigation is focusing on the relationship of lobbyist William D. Powers and former U.S. Rep. John E. Sweeney in connection with a series of federal grants that were steered to Powers' clients, according to several people familiar with the probe. ...

Several people familiar with the case said it is centered on a period when Powers' clients received the earmarks while Sweeney's then-wife, Gayle, was working for Powers' Albany-based lobbying firm.

The FBI swarmed the Albany office of the lobbying firm run by Powers, a former head of the New York Republican Party and longtime patron to both Sweeney and former New York Gov. George Pataki.

Double-parking their cars, about 15 agents descended on the State Street suite of the former party official, William Powers, and herded the employees into a room while the agents searched for files.

Sweeney appears to be getting most of the investigators' attention. The New York Daily News reports:

The agents issued grand jury subpoenas for records about the firm; ex-Republican Rep. John Sweeney; Sweeney's campaign committee and leadership PAC; Sweeney's ex-wife, Gayle, who worked for Powers; and Gayle Sweeney's former fund-raising firm, Creative Consulting. The Daily News obtained copies of the subpoenas and the FBI confirmed being at the offices.

Abramoff is set for sentencing in September. Does this suggest that three-year-old investigation still has legs?

Just when we thought the Gibbons' saga was over, it all starts again.

Throughout his very messy and public divorce with his wife of 22 years, Nevada Gov. Jim Gibbons has repeatedly denied having an affair -- despite being seen cavorting around town with two married women half his age and a suspicious friendship he had struck up with Kathy Karrasch, a neighbor of the Gibbonses and the estranged wife of a Reno podiatrist.

But the Reno Gazette-Journal uncovered documents this week that reveal that in just 6 weeks the governor exchanged 867 personal text messages with Karrasch, making their relationship seem a little more than friendly:

With the intense volume of messages between March 3, 2007 and April 9, 2007, Gibbons wracked up $130 in cell phone charges for the state, which he promptly reimbursed when his chief of staff brought the personal messages to his attention. The text messages occurred throughout the day and night, on weekends and work days.

On one Friday, for example, Gibbons exchanged 160 text messages with Karrasch starting at 8:30 a.m. and ending at 11:45 p.m. On another night, Gibbons exchanged 91 messages between midnight and 2 a.m. with her.

The records also revealed 42 phone calls between Gibbons and Karrasch, mostly on the weekends and evenings. The records include two lengthy phone calls during working hours.

In a sensational motion filed two weeks ago by her attorney, Dawn Gibbons had attempted to unseal the couples' divorce proceeding, and accused her husband of having an "infatuation and involvement" with the unnamed woman who "for years stalked the man who could give her the public persona and prestige that apparently she craves."

On Monday of this week, the attorneys for Jim and Dawn Gibbons released a joint statement and stated that, "[t]he parties have agreed that there will be no further Public comment from either side while the parties attempt to resolve issues related to the divorce action."

Retired Army Lt. Levonda J. Selph pleaded guilty in federal court Tuesday for directing a $12 million building contract to a confidant in exchange for $4,000 cash and a trip to Thailand. Selph has promised to cooperate in the pending investigation. The contractor was not named in the court documents. (Associated Press)

As the Iraqi and American governments wrangle over the depth of mission and length of time American forces will stay present in Iraq, one crucial point of negotiation involves the presence of defense companies in the country. While contractors have come under intense scrutiny in Baghdad, especially after the massacre of 17 Iraqis at the hands of Blackwater guards last year, the U.S. government is requesting immunity from Iraqi law for the private companies. (AFP)

Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) sent a letter to Sec. of State Condoleezza Rice on Tuesday asking her about the department's position on the future of defense contracts with the likes of Blackwater, and how much the U.S. military plans to lean on the private, largely unregulated companies in Iraq and elsewhere. (Washington Independent)

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A convicted hedge fund manager, set to start his 20-year prison term next week, disappeared into the night, in what investigators suspect is a faked suicide.

The Wall Street Journal reports this morning that Samuel Israel III, the former chief of Bayou Management LLC, disappeared on Tuesday. His car was found near Bear Mountain Bridge over Hudson River, with an enigmatic message written in dust on his car: "suicide is painless."

Despite the ominous note, no body has been recovered and no witnesses saw anyone jump from the bridge:

[Bruce] Cuccia, [a New York state police investigator] said that, since 1980, more than 40 people have jumped to their deaths from the bridge, which marks one of the deepest points of the Hudson River. He said it would be impossible to survive the 150-foot fall.

The bodies of almost all jumpers are found quickly, Mr. Cuccia said. "I will be satisfied in a few days that if the body doesn't come up, he didn't jump," he said.

U.S. Marshalls have taken over the case and launched an international manhunt, a sign that Israel is indeed the latest white-collar criminal to go on the run:

Police in 2006 found one fugitive money manager, Kirk Wright, 37, living in Miami Beach. He had disappeared after his hedge fund collapsed, costing investors $150 million. A federal jury recently found him guilty of defrauding thousands of investors in International Management Associates, including many professional football players.

Mr. Wright had claimed the fund was performing well, when it was actually losing money, and he was spending client's money on jewelry, real estate, cars and a wedding. Over Memorial Day weekend, shortly after being brought to an Atlanta jail, he hanged himself.

In another instance, in January 2006, shortly before being sentenced for stealing at least $27 million from investors, hedge-fund manager Angelo Haligiannis had double-parked his Jeep Cherokee in Manhattan, cut off his ankle monitor and fled. Last fall the 35-year-old was arrested in a luxurious resort on the Greek island of Crete, vacationing with his wife and daughter.

Also last year, Michael Berger, who defrauded clients of his Manhattan Investment Fund, was arrested by Austrian police, driving toward Salzburg five years after he had originally disappeared. Betting that technology and Internet stocks would fall in the late 1990s, Mr. Berger lost roughly $400 million when his hedge fund collapsed in 2000.

If Israel did not in fact jump from the bridge, this will be the second faked suicide attempt for Bayou. Early in the federal investigation, a note was found in the empty offices of the company by a beleaguered investor. The note, penned by Daniel Marino the firm's chief financial officer, began: "This is my suicide note and confession." Marino never attempted suicide.

Police have recently recovered $100 million of the $400 million lost by investors through Bayou. Both Israel and Marino were convicted on fraud charges in 2005 and sentenced to 20 years in prison.

Last week the Senate intel committee released their report on pre-war intelligence in Iraq, which confirmed the disconnect between intelligence information espoused by Bush Administration officials and what was actually known.

The parameters of Phase II were negotiated between Senate Republicans and Democrats, for years, so it was maybe doomed to be a document with glaring omissions. But as damning as parts of the report were (Rumsfeld's false testimony, etc.) it probably could have been a lot worse for the executive branch, had not large swaths of White House communications been excluded from the scope of the investigations.

As Walter Pincus of the Washington Post writes, "the panel did not review 'less formal communications between intelligence agencies and other parts of the Executive Branch.'"

Which basically means that only the speeches and public press statements by senior officials, fell within the purview of the intel. committee's investigation. As Pincus points out, that leaves out a number of the other ways the administration misled the public before going into Iraq:

One obvious target for such an expanded inquiry would have been the records of the White House Iraq Group (WHIG), a group set up in August 2002 by then-White House Chief of Staff Andrew H. Card Jr.

The group met weekly in the Situation Room. Among the regular participants (many have since left or changed jobs) were Karl Rove, the president's senior political adviser; communications strategists Karen Hughes, Mary Matalin and James R. Wilkinson; legislative liaison Nicholas E. Calio; and policy aides led by national security adviser Condoleezza Rice and her deputy, Stephen J. Hadley, as well as I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Cheney's chief of staff.

As former White House press secretary Scott McClellan wrote in his recently released book, What Happened, the Iraq Group "had been set up in the summer of 2002 to coordinate the marketing of the war to the public."

"The script had been finalized with great care over the summer," McClellan wrote, for a "campaign to convince Americans that war with Iraq was inevitable and necessary." [Emphasis ours]

Beyond rehashing sentiments of the Senate intel. committee's purposeful stonewalling and foreshortening of the investigation, Fred Kaplan at Slate takes a different read on the line "less formal communications between intelligence agencies and other parts of the executive branch." Kaplan believes the line addresses the covert pressure the White House placed on the CIA to play up its pro-war intelligence:

Another intriguing point, made fleetingly in the Senate report's preface, is that the committee reviewed "only finished analytic intelligence documents"--not "less formal communications between intelligence agencies and other parts of the executive branch."

In other words (though the authors don't put it in these terms), the committee once again evaded the key question of whether the White House pressured the Central Intelligence Agency into hardening its October 2002 NIE on Iraq.

Unless this question is addressed, the report is beside the point. Its full, ungainly title is "Report on Whether Public Statements Regarding Iraq by U.S. Government Officials Were Substantiated by Intelligence Information." If those same government officials politicized the intelligence information, then the report only perpetuates the sham. (I am not saying this is the case, only that the committee should have investigated whether it is--should have reviewed those "less formal communications.") [Emphasis ours]

In sum, while Phase II shed light on the "lies," or "misstatements," or "misinformation," or "whatever-you-want-to-call-it," of the administration's public claims in the days leading up to the Iraq war, it still leaves much to be desired in terms of scope and accountability.