News In Brief

Energy secretary Bill Richardson defended security for US nuclear weapons research even as the latest edition of News-week quoted an unidentified official as saying Chinese spies had penetrated deeper than first reported. Appearing on NBC's "Meet the Press," Richardson sought to deny that researcher Wen Ho Lee had been fired as a result of published reports on loose security at the Los Alamos, N.M., nuclear laboratory. Meanwhile, China's Xinhua news agency reported that while Wen did travel to China to meet that country's scientists, no secrets were passed.

The US military's key communications infrastructure linking combat, intelligence, and command forces is vulnerable to attacks from cyberspace, a new report warned. The National Research Council said the Defense Department's "words regarding the importance of information systems security have not been matched by comparable action" and that a military culture prone to treating security as a lesser priority was complicating the problem. Urgent changes in defense policy were needed, it said.

Former Associated Press correspondent Terry Anderson announced plans to sue Iran for $100 million for the years Islamic fundamentalist revolutionaries held him hostage there. His lawsuit also seeks unspecified punitive damages. It claims Anderson's captors were members of Hizbullah, the Iranian-backed militant Islamic organization. Iran's ambassador to the UN, Seyed Mohammed Nejad Hosseinian, denied that his government had supported the hostage-takers.

Gasoline prices have surged nearly 8.5 cents per gallon at the pump over the past two weeks, reflecting a rise in crude-oil prices, the widely watched Lundberg survey reported. The sharpest increase, averaging 14 cents, was in the Midwest. The smallest - a nickle - was in the West. The increases reflect last week's announcement that major oil-exporting nations plan to cut production by 2 million barrels a day.

The Clinton administration vowed to get tough on corporate tax shelters, announcing plans to impose stiff new penalties for practices considered to be illegal. Deputy Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers said proposals in the administration's current budget statement would free the Internal Revenue Service to impose liability penalties for substantial understatement where tax shelters are used.

Two snowmobilers died and two others were missing after an avalanche roared down a mountain slope at Turnagain Pass, about 60 miles southeast of Anchorage, Alaska. officials said. Turnagain Pass, and nearby areas south of Anchorage, have received several feet of wet snow in the past week. The National Weather Service warned that heavy snow followed by warm temperatures had increased the likelihood of a slide.

The field for the men's collegiate basketball championship was narrowed to the "final four" as Duke, Michigan State, Connecticut, and Ohio State earned berths in the NCAA tournament. The semifinal and final games will be played at St. Petersburg, Fla., beginning Saturday.

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