WASHINGTON, March 30 (UPI) -- The CIA had dispatched agents to Libya to provide intelligence and contact anti-government rebels, unidentified U.S. officials told The New York Times.
The Times said Wednesday clandestine CIA operatives had been in Libya for several weeks along with a sizable contingent of British intelligence agents and special-forces troops.
Despite President Obama's public statements that U.S. ground forces would not get involved in the Libyan rebellion, the West in general has had limited intelligence capabilities in Libya and also needs hard information to guide NATO-led air missions.
"We didn't have great data," U.S. Army Gen. Carter Ham told the newspaper in an e-mail. "Libya hasn't been a country we focused on a lot over past few years."
The officials told the Times U.S. and British agents were not in particularly close contact with the anti-government rebels, but targeting information provided to NATO air forces could diminish the effectiveness of Moammar Gadhafi's military and hasten his departure from power.
The White House issued a statement Wednesday declining comment on the matter and reiterating that a decision to provide arms to the rebels had not been made.
Obama seeks one-third drop in oil imports
WASHINGTON, March 30 (UPI) -- U.S. President Barack Obama called Wednesday for cutting oil imports by a third as Republicans said he is blocking offshore oil drilling.
In a speech at Georgetown University in Washington, Obama said, "We cannot keep going from shock to trance on the issue of energy security. ... The United States of America cannot afford to bet our long-term prosperity and security on a resource that will eventually run out."
He set the "reasonable, achievable and necessary" goal of reducing oil imports by a third within a decade.
"We boast one critical, renewable resource the rest of the world cannot match: American ingenuity," the president said.
Obama said his administration's "Blueprint for a Secure Energy Future" is based on increasing domestic oil production, developing alternative energy and boosting efficiency.
He said he is "encouraging offshore oil exploration and production -- as long as it's safe and responsible."
Obama also said he is telling federal agencies to purchase only alternative fuel, hybrid, or electric vehicles by 2015.
One critic, Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash., chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, said Tuesday the administration has created a "'drill nowhere new' plan" when the nation needs a "'drill smart' plan."
He introduced three bills that would force the administration to sell more offshore leases and issue drilling permits within a set time frame.
"These bills will directly reverse Obama administration actions that have locked up America's vast offshore oil and natural gas resources," Hastings said.
Heather Zichal, deputy assistant to the president for energy and climate change, told reporters later a Department of Interior report released Tuesday shows about 70 percent of offshore leases and 50 percent of onshore leases remain idle.
Zichal said the administration would explore incentives, "so that when a company is going out proactively and developing aggressively on their leases, there are additional opportunities we have to extend those lease sales."
Hastings and other Republicans plan to introduce other energy bills to encourage faster development of onshore drilling, coal, renewable energy and hydroelectric power, Hastings promised. Similar measures will likely be filed in the Senate this week, Republicans said.
Japan seawater radiation 3,355 times limit
TOKYO, March 30 (UPI) -- Radioactive iodine-131 3,355 times the legal limit was detected in a seawater sample near the damaged nuclear plant in Japan, the country's nuclear agency said.
The concentration found Tuesday was the highest so far in seawater from the earthquake-crippled Fukushima Daiichi plant, indicating radiation from reactor cores may have been leaking steadily into the Pacific Ocean, Kyodo News reported.
Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency spokesman Hidehiko Nishiyama said Wednesday the exact cause for the high levels was not known but stressed polluted seawater poses no immediate health risks because fishing isn't occurring in the evacuation-designated area within 12 miles of the plant and radiated substances would be "significantly diluted" by the time they are consumed.
"It is important that we keep monitoring radiation data, find out what caused the pollution as soon as possible and take measures to prevent the radiation levels from rising further," Nishiyama said.
The iodine-131 level in the sea was about 1,850 times the legal limit Saturday but the density fell to around 28 times by Monday.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano said it would take "a considerable amount of time" before temperatures of fuel rods in the facility's reactor cores are lowered in a stable manner.
The International Atomic Energy Agency released a statement Wednesday saying the situation "remains very serious."
"In Unit 1, water has continued to be pumped into the condenser with 3 pumps (6.5 ton/hour each) and the water level has reduced from 40 cm to 20 cm," the IAEA said in its briefing on the nuclear accident, giving a clear indication things are moving the wrong direction in a hurry.
Tsunehisa Katsumata, chairman of plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co., said the utility will write off four of the six reactors at the plant, The New York Times reported.
"We have no choice but to scrap" the No. 1, 2, 3 and 4 units at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station, Katsumata told a news conference.
Analysts said the decision was inevitable, given the damage the units sustained since the earthquake and tsunami, but the announcement was the first time the company acknowledged that much of its facility is given up for lost, the Times said.
Katsumata said the Nos. 5 and 6 units were operational but any restart would depend on consultation with the government and local residents.
Edano said Wednesday all of the reactors at the nuclear plant should be scrapped, Kyodo reported.
Asked whether all six reactors should be decommissioned, Edano said: "I believe it is very clear from the viewpoint of society. That is my perception."
Before decommissioning can take place, TEPCO workers and the government must bring the plant's overheating reactors under control, which will take time, Edano said.
"Unfortunately, some time is needed before the situation is brought under control and we can be sure that people are safe from radiation," Edano said, indicating residents from the evacuation zone will not be allowed to return soon.
Poll: Support for Tea Party has slipped
WASHINGTON, March 30 (UPI) -- The Tea Party movement has slipped in public esteem since the current U.S. Congress was seated in January, a poll released Wednesday said.
About one-third of those surveyed for the CNN/Opinion Research poll said they have a favorable view of the Tea Party, down 5 percentage points since December. The group with unfavorable views has ratcheted up 4 points to 47 percent.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said the poll shows the public "doesn't care much about the Tea Party."
The Tea Party has dropped the most in popularity among U.S. residents in the bottom half of the income distribution, CNN said. Since October, its favorability rating has dropped 15 points among people with incomes below $50,000 and 5 points among those making more than $50,000.
"This is the first time that a CNN poll has shown the Tea Party's unfavorable ratings as high as those of the two major parties," said CNN Polling Director Keating Holland. "It looks like the rise in the movement's unfavorable rating has come mostly among people who make less than $50,000."
The poll of 1,023 people was conducted by telephone March 11-13. The margin of error is 3 percentage points.