USA

The FBI faces a backlog of more than 123,000 hours of untranslated materials gathered in terrorism and espionage investigations since Sept. 11, 2001, according to a new Justice Department audit released Monday. The report found more than one-third of Al Qaeda intercepts authorized by a secret federal court were not reviewed within 12 hours of collection, as required by FBI Director Robert Mueller. The backlog exists despite significant increases in spending and hiring for FBI language services.

In his third request for supplemental storm aid, President Bush asked lawmakers Monday for an additional $7.1 billion to help with relief efforts in Florida and other states hit by major storms, including Jeanne, the remnants of which were headed toward the Caro- linas. Despite billions of dollars in property losses, public officials, builders, and insurers said that tougher building codes, adopted two years ago, have worked to near-perfection this hurricane season, with homes built to the new standards escaping relatively unscathed.

Bush and US Sen. John Kerry, his Democratic challenger, engaged in more verbal jousting leading up to Thursday's first of three presidential debates. In Ohio Monday, Bush said it's tough for him to prepare for the debate because Kerry "keeps changing his positions on the war on terror." Kerry denied shifting positions and questioned his opponent's judgment and patience in dealing with rebuilding and peacekeeping challenges.

Under pressure from regulators, Fannie Mae, the government-chartered mortgage financer, agreed Monday to increase the capital it has on hand, revamp its accounting, and tighten its internal controls as first steps in ensuring its financial soundness. The measures are a response to regulator accusations, made last week, that Fannie Mae, which specializes in loans to low- and middle-income families, was manipulating earnings to meet Wall Street expectations.

With mortgage interest rates still invitingly low, sales of new homes rose 9.4 percent in August, their largest increase since December 2000, the Commerce Department reported Monday. The hottest markets: the West and South, where new home sales rose 19.5 percent and 12.6 percent, respectively.

Ten people were charged Monday in Tampa, Fla., in a seizure of 30,000 pounds of cocaine found Sept. 17 on a boat off South America's Pacific Coast by Coast Guard and Navy patrols. Authorities called the seizure the largest to date of the narcotic at sea. The boat was believed to have come from Colombia and to be headed to the US West Coast.

Smoking by prison inmates and staff in California will be prohibited beginning next year after legislation creating the ban was signed Monday by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R). Backers say they believe the new law will "drastically reduce" prison healthcare costs. Opponents, however, warned that tobacco now will become the No. 1 item of contraband in prisons.

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