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WASHINGTON: Search for WMDs slowed by Iraq, Afghanistan wars

The effort to keep weapons of mass destruction out of the hands of terrorists has been slowed by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to the head of U.S. special forces. Fewer elite commandos are available for the hunt and their expertise has been degraded by "the decreased level of training," Adm. Eric Olson said. They now have only a "limited" capability for this mission, he said. Meanwhile, the threat of extremists acquiring and using chemical, biological or nuclear arms "is greater now than at any other time in history," Olson told the Senate Armed Services Committee in a written response to a question posed by lawmakers after a hearing March 16 on his command's budget. Olson is privy to the latest intelligence on terrorist attempts to get weapons technology. His assessment - which has not been officially released - offers a window into one of the military's most secret missions: the use of elite commandos to blunt the efforts of terrorist groups and rogue states to get hold of the world's deadliest weapons. Al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden told a Time magazine reporter in 1998 that acquiring weapons of mass destruction "for the defense of Muslims is a religious duty." "It would be a sin for Muslims not to try to possess the weapons," he said. This threat has since only magnified, then-director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair told a congressional committee in February. "The time when only a few states had access to the most dangerous technologies is over," he said. Often dual-use, these technologies are "widely available." While there's no evidence al-Qaida or other terrorist groups have acquired these weapons, al-Qaida's pursuit of them appears unabated, according to a study by Harvard University's Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs. The need for a strong commando force to keep ahead of this threat "reflects the 'one percent doctrine' of thinking at the highest levels of the government," Belfer study author Rolf Mowatt-Larsen said in an interview. "If you had a probability of just one percent of a terrorist organization getting WMD, this is one of the few capabilities to have ahead of the threat that is not just nice to have, but required," he said. The Joint Special Operations Command that's under Olson's purview includes the Army Delta Force and the Navy's Seal Team Six. As the mission in Iraq and Afghanistan winds down, training for counter-proliferation must "be redoubled," he told the armed services panel. "We need to redeploy, reconstitute and retrain forces returning from overseas," he wrote.


MEXICO: Massacre probers missing

A law enforcement official investigating this week's massacre of 72 migrants in northern Mexico was missing Friday, while possible car-bomb explosions rocked a television station and police station in the same violence-torn state. Tamaulipas officials said Roberto Suarez, an agent for the state prosecutor's office, went missing Wednesday. That was a day after Mexican marines found the slain migrants on a ranch outside the town of San Fernando. A San Fernando police officer was also reported missing Friday. The case is now run by the federal attorney general's office.


PERU: Officials say Journalist in spy swap faked records

A Peruvian journalist deported by the U.S. to Russia in a spy swap was accused on Friday of falsifying documents in Peru, and a prosecutor said she will be questioned by police if she returns. Anti-corruption prosecutor Jorge Luis Caldas said his office filed a complaint against Vicky Pelaez for allegedly altering her birth and marriage records. He said if she comes back to this South American country, she could be detained if authorities find evidence of a crime. Pelaez, 55, a columnist for El Diario La Prensa in New York, was deported to Russia in July with her husband, Mikhail Vasenkov, 65, who U.S. authorities said had long used the false name Juan Lazaro. Peru's foreign minister previously warned that Vasenkov could be charged with lying on his Peruvian citizenship application if he returns to Peru, where the couple lived before moving to the United States. Lawyers for the couple previously said the pair planned to return to Peru, where they met in the 1980s.

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