Contractors like Blackwater
face more military oversight
WASHINGTON - A new agreement between the Pentagon and the State Department gives the military in Iraq more control over Blackwater Worldwide and other private security contractors.
The agreement, signed yesterday, spells out rules, standards and guidelines for the use of private security contractors. The agreement also says contractors will be accountable for criminal acts under U.S. law, but leaves the details to be worked out with Congress.
The move to tighten oversight followed Iraqi outrage over a Sept. 16 shooting in which 17 Iraq civilians were killed in a Baghdad square. Blackwater said its guards were protecting diplomats under attack before they opened fire, but Iraqi investigators concluded the shooting was unprovoked.
U.S. commanders on the ground in Iraq later complained that they often do not know security firms are moving through their areas of responsibility until after some hostile incident has taken place.
Some subprime mortgage rates
to be frozen for five years
WASHINGTON - The Bush administration has hammered out an agreement to freeze interest rates for certain subprime mortgages for five years to combat a soaring tide of foreclosures, congressional aides said yesterday.
The aides, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the details have not yet been released, said the five-year moratorium represented a compromise between desires by banking regulators for a longer time frame of up to seven years and mortgage industry arguments that the freeze should last only one or two years.
Another person familiar with the matter said the rate-freeze plan would apply to borrowers with loans made at the start of 2005 through July 30 of this year with rates that are scheduled to rise between Jan. 1, 2008, and July 31, 2010.
The administration said President Bush will speak on the agreement at the White House today.
Grand jury says Capitol cop
set fire in Senate ladies' room
WASHINGTON - A U.S. Capitol Police officer was charged by a grand jury yesterday with setting a fire Nov. 2 in a women's bathroom in the Dirksen Senate Office Building.
The federal indictment of Officer Karen Emory, 36, of Waldorf, Md., did not mention at least six other fires in Senate office buildings since late September. Sgt. Kimberly Schneider, the Capitol Police spokeswoman, said the other six fires remain under investigation.
Emory was charged with one misdemeanor count of willfully injuring property of the U.S. - toilet-roll dispensers and toilet tissue, with damage not exceeding $1,000. If convicted, she faces up to one year in jail.
Feds: Port workers were bribed
in $200M smuggling scheme
NEW YORK - Ten people have been arrested on charges of bribing port workers to smuggle more than $200 million in counterfeit sneakers, handbags and designer jeans from China into the U.S., prosecutors said yesterday.
U.S. Attorney Michael Garcia said authorities, including an undercover agent, had watched the counterfeit ring at the Port Newark-Elizabeth Marine Terminal in Elizabeth, N.J., for more than a year, documenting more than 100 shipping containers with Chinese-made counterfeit goods arriving at the port.
Those arrested on conspiracy and smuggling charges include a federally licensed customs broker, several shipping employees and the owners of a Brooklyn trucking company. If convicted, they could face a maximum of 35 years in prison and millions of dollars in fines.
Cleaning glass in skyscraper,
worker slips, falls to death
MINNEAPOLIS - A man clearing snow off the glass roof of a skyscraper's atrium slipped, crashed through the roof and fell about three stories to his death yesterday, police said.
The man's identity was not immediately released. No one else in the atrium was hurt when the man fell shortly before 2 p.m.
The man was clearing snow off the roof of the IDS Center's Crystal Court, which includes a canopy of glass skylights, a 105-foot ceiling-to-floor water fountain, a food court and retail shops. The building's Web site says the skylights are 121 feet above ground.
"We believe he had his full body harness on," said Jim Durda, vice president and general manager at Inland American Office Management, the Chicago-based manager of the IDS Center. *