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By Compiled from wire service reports by Robert Kilborn and Ross Atkin / March 24, 2004



Senior officials from both the Bush and Clinton administrations began testifying before the special commission investigating government shortcomings in detecting and deterring the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Scheduled to appear before the panel were Secretary of State Powell and Defense Secretary Rumsfeld and their counterparts from the Clinton White House, Madeleine Albright and William Cohen. The review was televised and attended by some family members of attack victims. In a preliminary report, the panel concluded that a secret diplomatic mission, involving Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan's Taliban rulers who reneged on a plan to expel Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in 1998, allowed the terrorists to elude capture. The report also said the Clinton administration had indications of terrorist links to bin Laden and attack planner Khalid Sheikh Mohammed as early as 1995.

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Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge announced a government initiative to begin testing ways to screen rail passengers and their luggage this spring. The project, to be conducted at an undetermined Amtrak commuter rail station, takes on heightened importance in the aftermath of the March 11 terrorist railway bombings in Madrid. Improving rail security is one of the challenges the Senate Commerce Committee was expected to take up Tuesday.

NASA said Monday it would launch an investigation into why a potentially dangerous space shuttle flaw was only now discovered. Before shuttle flights are resumed next March, gears in a braking mechanism that were installed backward will be replaced or refurbished, NASA said. The shuttle has been grounded since the Columbia tragedy two years ago. The braking mechanisms, used in landing the shuttle, were not in a stress-prone position, however, and never failed. Meanwhile, NASA reported that Opportunity, one of the two Mars rovers, had managed, after first failing, to climb out of the crater it has explored for almost two months.

The Supreme Court sidestepped a decision on a six-year-old Everglades pollution case, likely returning the controversy to a lower federal court in Florida. At issue is the government's right to regulate clean water, a point raised when the Miccosukee Indian tribe accused a water district of dumping pollutants from a pump west of Fort Lauderdale.

The delinquency rate of some consumer loans dropped in last year's final quarter, but the percentage of late credit card payments (30 or more days past due) rose 4.43 percent - a record increase, a new report by the American Bankers Association said.

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