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Jan. 15, 2002 at 12:51 PM
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Mideast-watchers in Washington are speculating hard about the sudden trip of veteran Saudi Ambassador Prince Bandar. He went to the White House for an unscheduled meeting, came out and flew immediately back to Riyadh. This has revived the old rumor that the popular Prince Bandar might be moving on from the Washington post he has graced for more than a decade. Israelis suggest that the sudden flurry may relate to their theory that Osama bin Laden is heading home to Saudi Arabia. Israeli intelligence sources say that bin Laden escaped overland through Iran and then through the same shipping route that they say Lebanon-based terrorist Imad Mughniyeh set up for the Palestinian arms-smuggling ship Karine A.

"They seek him here, they seek him there; those Frenchies seek him everywhere.

Is he in heaven, or is he in hell? -- that damned elusive Pimpernel."

The Italians think that Islam's own Scarlet Pimpernel is now in Somalia, a place where they have strong connections as the former colonial power. The Indians think he is in Kashmir, but then they would, wouldn't they? The Russians say they have reason to suspect he is heading for Chechnya, not that they have ever needed an excuse to step up the bombing. Cyprus, on the other hand, has told foreign ambassadors in a special security briefing, that they believe al Qaida is regrouping in camps in the Lebanon and Cyprus security has been put on high alert against possible terrorist strikes against U.S. and British interests on the island.

Not everybody in India is talking about the crisis with Pakistan. Robert Vadra, son-in-law of Sonia Gandhi and the late Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, has taken out an ad in the Times of India asserting that his father and brother do not speak in his name. He claims his father, Rajinder Vadra, and his brother have been misusing his name to get favors like jobs and college admissions. "I did talk to them about this. But things reached a point when I realized that I would have to do something about it before things got out of hand," Robert Vadra says, insisting that he married Priyanka, heiress to India's most famous name, because he loved her and not for favors. His father retorted with a sneer against the Italian-born Sonia Gandhi, who still leads the opposition Congress Party: "I am not scared of any Italian mafia," and claims his son denounced him "because I was against the marriage."

Meanwhile on the cyber-front, Pakistani computer hackers have made several attempts to break into Indian security sites, including databases linked to India's nuclear weapons program, Indian security officials are complaining to their U.S. and British counterparts. Suggesting that Pakistani computing skills are too crude, they suspect that Pakistan has brought in Chinese experts to help break the Indian security codes. So far Indian counter-espionage teams, reinforced with hastily conscripted computer experts from the Institutes of Information Technology in Bangalore and Hyderabad, have fought off hacking attempts at the Indira Gandhi Center for Atomic Research, the Nuclear Science Center and the Bhabha Atomic Research Center. No word so far that the Indians computer jocks have gone onto the offensive against Pakistani nuclear sites, but it would be odd if they had not.

Undeterred by the rejection of proposals that the Russian capital be shifted from Moscow to St. Petersburg, the Speaker of Russia's Federation Council Sergey Mironov is proposing that the two cities share the functions of capital, and a draft law is now before the Russian Parliament, the Duma. President Vladimir Putin, a staunch St P patriot, has called for some ministries to be 'de-centralized' to his home city. Meanwhile more sons of the old Tsarist capital are being slipped into more and more seats of power. Other regions, with an eye to Putin's favor, are appointing St P natives to be their representatives on the Federation Council. The Tuva Republic picked Mezhprombank head Sergei Pugachev, and Tula selected Anatoly Vaskov, who used to work alongside Putin as a fellow aide to St P Mayor Anatolii Sobchak. Irkutsk has picked Dmitrii Mezentsev, president of the Center for Strategic Research, yet another veteran of the St P mayor's team. One or two Muscovites do make the cut. The region of Pskov, for example, picked Nikolai Medvedev. He's not from St P, but -- surprise, surprise -- he used to run the public office of President Putin's election bureau.

Holland's National Archive and census office in Maastricht was brought to a halt after a 32-year old civil servant, who has not been identified and faces disciplinary action, crashed the 20-computer system by downloading vast amounts of online pornography. The computers had been running slow for weeks. National Archive director Philip Maarschalkerweerd explained that the incident came to light when "one of our employees said his computer had frozen and called the help desk. The systems manager saw porn pictures appearing on the screen. He immediately realized what had happened. We don't collect information of that kind."

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