Officials Urge Public to Take

Precautions Against Attacks

Top federal officials issued their most pointed advice since Sept. 11, 2001, on precautions the public should take against terrorist attacks. They warned that every home should be stocked with three days' water and food in case of a strike with chemical, biological or radiological weapons.

They also recommended that families designate a room where they would gather in the event of such an attack and have on hand duct tape and heavy plastic sheeting to seal it, as well as scissors, a manual can opener, blankets, flashlights, radios and spare batteries. The officials said they believe the al Qaeda terrorist network might particularly be targeting New York and Washington.

Although much of the information in the briefing had been offered to the public on government Web sites, the news conference was an effort to emphasize it. The briefing came after officials had raised the national terrorist threat index to indicate a "high risk" of attack by the al Qaeda network on U.S. targets here and abroad, and officials suggested privately that they did not want the gravity of the current threat overlooked.

-- John Mintz

Shuttle's Left Wing Probably

Was Pierced During Reentry

The shuttle Columbia's left wing was likely pierced as it reentered Earth's atmosphere over Hawaii, allowing super-hot plasma to seep through its superstructure, NASA engineers said.

In their first significant finding, the engineers said that it was not possible for heat damage from a missing tile to create the dramatic temperature increases registered by some of Columbia's internal sensors in the minutes before it disintegrated over east Texas on Feb. 1. Sensors noted a 30-degree increase in the left wheel well just before the accident.

The engineers said the temperature increase probably resulted from the wing being pierced, though it is still unclear how or exactly when it occurred.

Investigators have been looking a wide range of potential causes for the disaster, which claimed the lives of seven astronauts.

-- Kathy Sawyer

$397 Billion Spending Measure

Gains House, Senate Approval

The House and Senate hastily approved a 3,000-page, $397.4 billion spending package, the largest appropriations bill ever, loaded with money for special-interest projects covering everything from shiitake mushrooms to beaver management.

While few lawmakers knew exactly what was in the bill, the House voted 338 to 83 Thursday to provide immediate spending increases for programs such as national defense, homeland security, space exploration and the Securities and Exchange Commission. Farmers, ranchers and students in poor school districts are big winners, too. To make room for some of the new spending, the Treasury and Commerce departments' budgets were cut. The Senate later approved the package by a 76 to 20 vote.

With the threat of war in Iraq looming, President Bush has told lawmakers he will seek an additional $20 billion for the Pentagon soon. Democrats, meanwhile, vow to tack more spending for homeland security onto the president's request.

The $397.4 billion bill touches virtually every part of government and covers fiscal 2003, which began Oct. 1.

-- Jim VandeHei and Juliet Eilperin

Greenspan Says Tax Cuts

Would Be 'Premature'

Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan, differing sharply with President Bush and his economic advisers, told Congress it would be "premature" to cut taxes to stimulate the lagging U.S. economy because the major factor hurting growth is the uncertainty posed by a possible war with Iraq.

His testimony before the Senate Banking Committee was the first time he has spoken publicly about the administration's proposed 10-year, $665 billion package of tax cuts and is likely to make it more difficult to sell a plan President Bush says is needed to spur the economy. The proposal's centerpiece is cutting the taxation of corporate dividends, an idea Greenspan endorsed Tuesday as a way to improve long-term economic growth -- but not short-term stimulus. It should not be passed, he said, unless the revenue loss is offset by other tax increases.

In testimony before a House committee Wednesday, Greenspan stressed the need to ensure that "growing budget deficits" don't "again become entrenched."

Rising budget deficits already have made some members of Congress uneasy about the president's growth package.

-- John M. Berry

and Jonathan Weisman

Ailment Linked to Grain Protein

Far Less Rare Than Thought

Celiac disease -- a chronic ailment caused by an immune reaction to gluten, a protein found in wheat and several other grains -- is far more common than doctors have been taught.

New research is revealing that celiac disease may be one of the most common genetic diseases, affecting as many as 2 million Americans. A national survey estimated that 1 in 133 Americans has it.

Most doctors misdiagnose celiac disease. It is now clear that the textbook description of this once-obscure ailment is woefully incomplete and describes only a minority of cases. Below the tip of the celiac iceberg is a diverse world of illness that may include thousands of people suffering from various, seemingly unrelated, conditions, such as anemia, osteoporosis, infertility, irritable bowel syndrome and chronic fatigue.

About 40 percent of the afflicted report no symptoms, although the disease may have inapparent effects, such as loss of bone mass, subtle changes in mood and infertility. In close relatives of people with celiac disease, the ailment was especially common, with a prevalence of 1 in 22, according to a paper appearing in the Archives of Internal Medicine.

The new estimate does not come from a rigorous epidemiological study, but from a survey of several heterogeneous groups: blood donors, relatives of people with celiac disease, West Virginia schoolchildren, and routine medical clinic patients. In all, 13,000 people from 32 states were tested.

-- David Brown

Leader of an Islamic Charity

Has Plea Deal in Terrorism Case

The leader of an Islamic charity pleaded guilty to illegally diverting contributions intended for the poor to armed fighters in Bosnia and Chechnya as part of a plea agreement in which prosecutors dropped all terrorism-related charges against him.

In a sudden end to the first high-profile prosecution of an official of a U.S.-based Muslim charity, the government also agreed to reduce Enaam Arnaout's potential 20-year prison sentence if he cooperates in future terrorism investigations.

The plea bargain came after a judge ruled that prosecutors had failed under rules of evidence to show why assertions in a 102-page document should be brought before a jury. That filing sought to show intimate ties between Arnaout's foundation and the al Qaeda terrorist network and other extremist groups over a 15-year period.

Arnaout, 41, admitted that, as head of the Benevolence International Foundation, he solicited money to help orphans and widows that was then used to buy boots, tents, uniforms and an ambulance for fighters in Bosnia-Herzegovina and uniforms for fighters in Chechnya. But he did not concede that his $4-million-a-year charity was connected to terrorism in any way.

-- Robert E. Pierre