A raging controversy over legislation requiring U.S. officials to designate foreign "drug kingpins" came to a close last night after Sen. Richard C. Shelby (R-Ala.) dropped his demand for major amendments, clearing the way for a long-delayed House-Senate conference committee meeting today on the fiscal 2000 intelligence authorization act.
Shelby, chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, wanted language granting U.S. firms an automatic right to judicial review if their foreign partners were designated "drug kingpins" under the bill.
But he backed off and accepted creation of a commission of constitutional experts to study the legal ramifications of the bill after Rep. Porter J. Goss (R-Fla.), his House counterpart, refused to compromise on judicial review. Goss and others believe it would undermine enforcement.
The Foreign Narcotics Kingpin Designation Act, as the legislation is formally known, would require U.S. officials to compile an annual list of suspected drug kingpins and take steps to freeze their U.S. assets and bar them from entering the country. The House passed a version of the legislation Tuesday; the Senate passed its version in August and attached it to the intelligence authorization.
Shelby's insistence on amending the bill helped create turmoil on the staff of the Senate intelligence committee. Jim Stinebower said he was fired two weeks ago as the panel's chief narcotics analyst for refusing to back Shelby's amendments. Those amendments, Stinebower said, were being pushed by high-priced lobbyists for businesses in Mexico and Aruba.
Republican sources on Capitol Hill said they also believe that Daniel Gallington was demoted as the committee's general counsel after he failed last month to persuade House members to accept Shelby's amendments.
Shelby aides deny that either Stinebower's dismissal or Gallington's demotion to "senior adviser" had anything to do with the drug kingpin bill. All Shelby wanted to do from the start, they said, was make sure that U.S. firms do not get caught up in a "drug kingpin" dragnet.
FBI DOCUMENTS: As he burrows into the FBI's handling of Chinese espionage, campaign finance and the 1993 siege at the Branch Davidian compound near Waco, Tex., Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) said Wednesday that the FBI seems to have a document problem.
"We found two documents delivered to us late last night in anticipation of today's hearing which we should have gotten a long time ago," Specter said after presiding over a closed-door hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee's administrative oversight subcommittee. "For the past month to five weeks, the FBI found a great many documents at Quantico which should have been turned over a long time ago, and these are matters which we are going to be pursuing."
Specter cited a "long lapse" from December 1997 to November 1998 in the FBI's investigation of Wen Ho Lee, a Chinese American physicist at Los Alamos National Laboratory who was fired in March for security violations shortly after government officials disclosed that he was suspected of espionage.
While Lee has not yet been charged with any crime, Specter said his review of the evidence indicates that Justice Department attorneys erred in not seeking a secret national security surveillance order against Lee.
"Mr. Wen Ho Lee had a great many contacts with scientists from the People's Republic of China and had undertaken a great deal of travel in conjunction with other factors we cannot now specify," Specter said.
Attorneys in the Justice Department's Office of Intelligence Policy Review have said FBI agents "never came close" to meeting the evidentiary standard necessary to obtain a wiretap against Lee.
SATELLITE SNAPS: While skeptics wonder whether a market exists for private-sector spy satellite imagery, Space Imaging Inc.'s Mark Brender says 386,000 people tried to download a high-resolution photograph of downtown Washington within three hours after it was posted on the firm's Web site Oct. 12. The photo marked the first release of imagery shot from 400 miles in space by the IKONOS satellite and produced 8 million Internet hits over the next week, Brender said.
Another test of market strength takes place today, when Space Imaging will begin selling "image chips" on CD-ROM for $10 containing satellite photos of the world's best known sights, from the World Trade Center in lower Manhattan, to the Coliseum in Rome and Tiananmen Square in Beijing.
Vernon Loeb's e-mail address is email@example.com