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Monday, 29 March 2004


Skeleton in Clarke's closet
By Boston Herald editorial staff
Thursday, March 25, 2004
Former counterterrorism official and now tell-all author Richard Clarke was at it again yesterday, scorching Bush administration officials in testimony before the national Sept. 11 commission.
We'd like to know how Clarke squares his contention that he was the only one in the Bush administration truly committed to thwarting terrorism before the Sept. 11 attacks with this: It was Clarke who personally authorized the evacuation by private plane of dozens of Saudi citizens, including many members of Osama bin Laden's own family, in the days immediately following Sept. 11.
Clarke's role was revealed in an October 2003 Vanity Fair article. ``Somebody brought to us for approval the decision to let an airplane filled with Saudis, including members of the bin Laden family, leave the country,'' Clarke told Vanity Fair. ``My role was to say that it can't happen unless the FBI approves it. . . And they came back and said yes, it was fine with them. So we said `Fine, let it happen.' ''
Vanity Fair uncovered that the FBI never fully investigated the passengers on those privately chartered flights (one of which flew out of Logan International Airport after scooping up a dozen or so bin Laden relatives.) But Clarke protested to Vanity Fair that policing the FBI was not in his job description.
Isn't that convenient?
The same sanctimonious Clarke who now claims National Security adviser Condoleezza Rice didn't even know what al-Qaeda was, could have stopped the bin Laden airlift singlehandedly.
Why didn't he appeal to Rice, or even President Bush [related, bio] himself in one of those one-on-ones in the Situation Room, to block the flights? Surely it would have been helpful to determine - without a shred of doubt - that those passengers knew nothing about the Sept. 11 plot or the modus operandi of their notorious relative.
By all accounts, Clarke made hundreds of decisions in the days after Sept. 11, many clear-headed and right.
Approving those special flights seems like a wrong one, but it was a judgment call made in the aftermath of the worst terrorist attack on U.S. soil in history.
Perhaps it was the best decision he could make under the circumstances. It's too bad Clarke cuts no one in the Bush administration the same slack he so easily cuts himself.


Conspiracy (A theory)
By Doron Rosenblum
How did the State of Israel, once one of the most promising, riveting and admired countries in the world, plunge from the heights of promise and hope into the depths of despair, bereavement and failure? What caused a country where, everyone agrees, there are intelligent people - and in any event, human material of equal caliber to that of any other country - to deteriorate, willingly and with full awareness, down the slope of the sewage of history? What made it become, gradually but systematically, one of the most hated, most isolated and most miserable places to be on the planet? Why did a country that was established as a "refuge" and a "haven" turn into a trap in which the routine of life has become a routine of death and which is defined, according to the findings of a comprehensive public opinion survey, as "the country most dangerous to peace in the world"?
These questions have been contemplated for the past three years from every possible angle in an effort to understand and explain why, in this period especially, hardly any step taken by the government of Israel improves the country's lot or turns out to be useful. Why is the country striding along on a march of folly which has seen few precedents in human history? Why is it being swept from one idiotic decision to another? Why does it repeatedly act in explicit contradiction to the interests of its inhabitants?
In these past three years in particular, there is no mine that Israel has failed to step on, no opportunity it hasn't missed, no path it hasn't embarked on in the certain knowledge that it will be harmful.
Following the liquidation of Sheikh Ahmed Yassin this week, for example, one commentator informed us that "the security bodies are deploying for what is known as damage assessment" (!) in the wake of the act they decided on. The defense minister explained that the "wave of hits" was intended to meet the "wave of escalation in terrorist attacks that will follow in its wake." He thus made it clear what underlies this series of decisions, which can be called "cost-damage" (as opposed to "cost-benefit"). They seem not to be driven by clear and rational considerations of benefit but by vague and uncontrollable "planning" impulses, accompanied by a silent prayer that it will be possible to contain their damage. It's like someone who is mentally ill and takes into account his own attacks of madness, and deploys to absorb them.
The attempt to explain rationally and conventionally the dynamics at work here has long since failed. So much so, in fact, that the only explanation the political and military analysts on television could come up with this week was: "They're doing XXX and hoping something good will come of it."
Is there any other way to explain the deliberate escalations that have only intensified the waves of terrorism, the crushing of the Palestinian Authority (followed by the crocodile tears over the "anarchy that has been created" without the PA), the foolish "deals" that only strengthened Hezbollah, the hasty, hot-headed military operations, executed with the total abandonment of the security of the country's citizens? Or the fact that "at the end of the day" (as they like to say in the army), every day is worse than the one before, every year is harder than the last?
What's going on here? What's behind it?
Some will say that there is method to the madness: It's all a brilliant Machiavellian ploy by Messrs. Sharon & Mofaz to preserve the true apple of their eye - the settlements - even if the world turns topsy-turvy. Others will say that it's all inertia, the work of lowbrow generals who don't know any other way. There's nothing of genius here, just stupidity. Still others will put it down to shehur, witchcraft, the evil eye. It's just that our luck has turned around, you see, because from a certain stage the slice of bread always falls with the buttered side down. Some will say: we have found ourselves dastardly enemies - irrational, murderous, lacking the ability to compromise, without creativity or flexibility, and that their madness has somehow clung to us.
There is no explanation that hasn't been heard in the past three years, apart from one: conspiracy.
Maybe there's a mole.
Yes, a mole. A kind of planted spy - a destructive worm virus, a Trojan horse.
Let's put it this way: We have here a march of folly that is so systematic, so consecutive and so determined that there's no way it's happening by itself. Because if it were accidental, wouldn't there have to be the occasional random success as well? So maybe it's really not accidental. Maybe there's someone who's running the show - craftily, brilliantly.
Who is it? That's not clear. But that's the whole point. We don't know and we don't suspect. But maybe he's sitting there, way up at the top of the decision-making process, deeply dug in: an impeccable fellow, supposedly, above all suspicion; known even as a fervid patriot, ostensibly - preferably of the type who has gone through all the stages of Israeli involvement since his youth, including an impressive military career.
"Decent," seemingly, and even "simple-minded" outwardly, driven purportedly by passion and wrath, he succeeds in tapping brilliantly into all the psychoses and paranoias of the Israelis and in making them follow blindly his proposals, recommendations and decisions - however loony and harmful they may be. The motive is one: to cause, within the shortest possible time, the greatest and longest-lasting damage.
Let's say violence springs up on the Palestinian side - stone-throwing, roadblocks, firebombs. Our friend coils himself for action: here's a great chance to drag Israel into a "policy of escalation." Why shouldn't it cut off its nose to spite its face?
The tanks are already rolling, shells are flying, casualties are falling, the blood stirs up the passions. And when buses start to explode there is no longer anyone to stop the targeted liquidations. In fact, they're so targeted that they will cause Israel its most severe image damage: there's always a kid who gets killed, or a pregnant woman, and always, somehow, just as the cameras are rolling.
If it's proved beyond any doubt that these "targeted" assassinations also summon up horrific revenge attacks, worse than anything we have known, our friend will see to it that the idea is adopted and turned into permanent policy; and not only that, he will also see to its implementation - like pouring oil on the flames - whenever some sort of calm looms, some kind of respite, even if only because of mutual exhaustion. When it appears, for a moment, that the sides have already fought themselves silly, like two punch-drunk boxers, our malicious friend starts to get worried. Why should the stock market be bullish? Why should shoppers go back to the malls? Why should nature lovers take up hiking again? Why give some political process a chance? Right off he will douse them with a pail of water and get them back into action, for another round. Good morning, targeted assassination! Good morning, Israel! Good morning, Zaka! Good morning, red alerts!
Endlessly creative, our molish buddy will propose trapping Israel so that it will not emerge well from any situation. It will always fall over some tripwire that it has prepared itself in advance: "no" to the building of a fence until the number of dead soars into the hundreds; "yes" to a fence only along a route that generates international protest; "no" to Abu Mazen and to negotiations with the most moderate elements; "yes" to Nasrallah and to gestures and deals with the most extreme element. In the wake of appalling terrorist attacks against women and children, he will suggest a "moderate response," of all things, and that we build ourselves up from the feeling of victimization; following semi-legitimate guerrilla attacks on the army and on strategic targets he will propose that we "go ape"; give the option of negotiations in return for concessions and withdrawals in return for eternal war, he will opt for the latter. And so on and so forth. The sky's the limit.
At every stage, our friend will ask himself: How else can I be harmful? What haven't I done yet? What extra dimension can I inject into the conflict? What new layer can be added to it? We succeeded in elevating the conflict from a territorial dispute into a war of chaos involving decentralized communities and organizations. Well done, yes, but now it's time to elevate it to the religious plane, the apocalyptic level, so that the damage will extend not only into the next generation, but for untold generations down the line.
Our friend looks around and asks himself: What single action can I take in order to place Israel at the cutting edge in the war of civilizations against the whole of Islam? How can I upgrade the existential threats: from mere bombs and shooting by local ragamuffin groups to the gunsights of Al-Qaida? And how can I, by the same twist of the blade, cause the most effective publicity damage? His eye catches sight of the most adored religious leader, who is also old, sick and crippled. And the rest is the un-end of history: today the war of Gog and Magog; tomorrow the Apocalypse.
The holidays are approaching. Pleasant azure skies above, a dry desert wind, flowers blooming across the land. A moment of quiet. The economy is showing a bit of improvement. The fingers of our friend are beginning to itch. Then a brain wave: he goes over to the beehive and kicks it as hard as he can. A vast swarm of bees hides the light of the sun. And, as a morale boosting bonus, he also makes sure to inform the public that in his view, the war will go on for 20 years at least (without deducting the past three years).
And again he looks around: what else, what else ... A mischievous glint in his eye: the Temple Mount?
Hey, that's an idea, too ...
Who's the mole? And furthermore: why is he doing it? In whose service is he operating? A messianic organization? Spectra? Smersh? The cult of the devil? The angels of hell? One might think he's working in the service of the Palestinians, were it not for the suspicion that an equally malicious mole is operating at their highest levels, too, and is constantly undermining their best interests.
So, who is he? And, above all, what's his motive? What's he after? It's not clear. It might all really be just an unfounded theory, a ridiculous thesis with no foundation of any kind. But tell me, in the light of what's going on, does anyone have a better explanation?
Where a foreign passport and an American accent don't help
By Daphna Berman
Students from the U.S. often think police here are too involved with terror to deal with drugs - until they get caught and thrown in jail.
When Yaakov came to study in a Jerusalem yeshiva for a year, he never thought he would spend 10 months in an Israeli prison. Neither did Michael, a yeshiva student from California, or Sarah, a seminary student from New York. But that didn't prevent the three American teens from being arrested and thrown in the Israeli prison system - a place, they soon discovered, where a foreign passport and an American accent didn't come to their rescue. "I never thought I would get caught," Sarah, a petite blond who doesn't look a day over 15 told Anglo File this week. "It always seemed like the police and the IDF were using their intelligence to bust Hamas, not a bunch of American kids."
Israel, she says, seemed to be a giant playground without rule, law, or consequence - a place where it was acceptable to smuggle drugs over international borders. According to Caryn Green, a social worker who deals with English-speaking teens in Jerusalem, many of the North American yeshiva students who get caught in the world of Israeli drug smuggling think that crime here is somehow safer than back home. "The streets look different, the police look different, and kids don't really think of it all as real," she explains. "Drinking rules are more lenient, which gives the impression that everything is more lenient, and so the environment makes them feel less vulnerable."
Many of the kids have abandoned an Orthodox lifestyle, and as one former drug dealer from Jerusalem added, "you've already defied God, which is the ultimate rule of any Orthodox kid - after that, drugs don't seem to bad."
As director of Crossroads, an organization for troubled Anglo youth located off Jerusalem's Zion Square, Green deals with kids who "get picked up all the time" for drug-related interrogations. In the three years since she founded the organization, nine teenagers from abroad have been sentenced to prison terms, four of whom were arrested at Ben-Gurion International Airport for drug smuggling. And although most of these yeshiva students have used or abused drugs before they arrived in Israel, the run-in with the police here, she says, is usually their first.
Spoiled princess
Sarah first smoked marijuana on her 13th birthday, and began dealing drugs two years later. But as the daughter of a wealthy New York businessman who describes herself as a "spoiled little princess," she says she was never motivated by a desire for added income. She helped friends deal as well, but she never asked for commission or her fair share of the profit. "I didn't want money, and I didn't need money," the 20-year-old said this week. "It was always about fun."
Still, it wasn't until Sarah arrived in Israel that she began to smuggle drugs internationally. In December of 2003, the young seminary student traveled to Amsterdam with some friends, who were also yeshiva students; her parents knew where she was going, but decided they didn't want to know why. Three months later, the apartment she was living in was raided: Sarah was arrested, along with Yaakov, and four other American teenagers. "I called my parents and expected to be out in 24 hours," she recalls. "That's the way it was for most of my life - if I got caught smoking in school, they couldn't do anything to me because my parents funded the school. I just figured my parents could sort this out."
After hours of interrogation, hunger, cocaine withdrawal, and a night spent in a holding cell in Jerusalem's Russian Compound, Sarah realized that neither her American citizenship nor her parents' money could come to her rescue. She remained in the holding cell for a month, and was then transferred to Neveh Tirza prison for women in Ramle, where she remained for another two weeks with an American friend, also there on drug-related charges. But Sarah was, by her own estimations, relatively lucky.
The guards at the prison, she says, felt bad for her and gave her preferential treatment-partially because she didn't speak Hebrew, but also because she has the pretty innocence of a young girl. In the Russian Compound, she was allowed to bring in a television, and in Neveh Tirza, her father would bring food from the outside for Shabbat, despite prison regulations. "My time in jail was pretty cushy," she admits. "I think they were also afraid of putting us with Israelis."
In many ways, though, Sarah's experience was atypical of North American yeshiva students who have run-ins with the Israeli penal system. She had the luxury of hiring a private attorney that her friend Yaakov, who was arrested the same day, did not, and says that as an innocent looking female, she was given leniencies her male friends were denied. Most nights in Neveh Tirza, she watched MTV with one of prison guards. After a month-and-a-half of incarceration, Sarah was released to nine months of drug rehabilitation, which she has since completed. She's now finishing her obligatory community service at a Jerusalem soup kitchen.
A god on the streets
Yaakov, like Sarah, was no newcomer to the drug scene when he left his home in Brooklyn to study in a Jerusalem yeshiva three years ago. Over the course of two years, he traveled to Amsterdam three times, personally smuggling between 12 to 14 kilograms of high quality marijuana, estimated at NIS 2 million. He had several people selling and smuggling drugs for him during that period as well, and was by his own estimates, a king in the English-speaking downtown Jerusalem crowd. "It starts as an easy way to make money, but it turns into a life style where people are always looking for you, needing you, and looking to get drugs from you," Green explains.
Being "a god on the streets," she adds, becomes addictive. The police arrested Yaakov in January 2003 - five days after his last and final trip to Amsterdam, and a week before his 18th birthday. "I thought I was invincible," he recalled this week on the telephone from his apartment in Brooklyn. "I kept thinking, `you can't touch me, I'm an American.' But after a few days, I realized they could touch me."
He says he was beaten, interrogated and deprived of a lawyer. At the age of 18, Yaakov was sentenced to 15 months in the Israeli prison system, 10 of which he served. "Prison was like a Third world country," he says. "People were piled into rooms, there were mice running around, bed bugs, mosquitoes, and during the summer, it was hot as hell." He says he got used to prison life quickly, learned to speak Hebrew "the hard way," and gained a reputation as "the crazy American."
Michael, meanwhile, joined him in prison soon after, and though the two yeshiva students knew each other only in passing before their incarceration, they became quick friends. They took cold showers in the winter, slept through the stifling Be'er Sheva heat in the summer, and though they were allowed visitors twice a month, Michael refused. "The visiting room was gruesome - it was like a cage - and I didn't want anyone to come down to see me," he said this week, also from his apartment in New York.
Michael is hesitant to provide details of his drug-dealing past over the phone, but admits, like Sarah and Yaakov, to have traveled to Amsterdam with friends to bring back mass quantities of drugs. "I would never have done this in the U.S., but Israel just seemed like it was Mardi Gras every day," he says. Michael was also 18 at the time of his imprisonment, and he served nine months in prison. He spent his days reading, "getting a little more knowledge, and learning not to make the same stupid mistakes again."
Michael is now a college student with hopes of becoming a lawyer. "Prison showed me a different world," he says. "It showed me a world with consequences."

Revived to die another day?
Mar 26th 2004
From The Economist Global Agenda
European Union leaders have relaunched their plan to give the EU a written constitution, which had looked doomed after the collapse of talks last December. The leaders now seem ready to compromise but what about their voters and parliaments?
"TWELVE weeks to stop Euro superstate", screamed Britain's Europhobic tabloid Sun this week, reporting that European Union leaders--led by the nefarious, cheese-eating President Jacques Chirac of France--had revived their proposals for a written EU constitution and were aiming to get it agreed by June. To the horror of those opposed to "Ever closer union", the constitution would among other things extend the Union's powers and remove national governments' vetoes in many areas. It would also give the EU a full-time president and foreign minister and introduce a charter of fundamental rights.
Talks on the proposed constitution collapsed last December, when the then holder of the EU's rotating presidency--Italy's prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi--failed to resolve big differences over such issues as member countries' voting strengths. After this, it looked like the constitution would not be revived for years. However, now that the capable and diplomatic Irish prime minister, Bertie Ahern, has taken over the EU presidency from the inept and abrasive Mr Berlusconi, the draft constitution has been fished out of the bin and compromise is in the air. In a summit in Brussels on Thursday March 25th, dominated by discussion of anti-terrorism measures (see article), the leaders of the 15 current EU member states and the 10 countries that will join in May committed themselves to agreeing on a final text for the constitution by their next summit on June 17th and 18th.
One of the main objectives of the constitution is to rationalise the EU's voting arrangements so that, as it expands to 25 members and eventually more, it does not suffer near-permanent stalemate. The draft discussed in December included a new, "double majority" voting system in which most measures would be approved if a numerical majority of EU countries voted for them; and if those countries' combined populations were at least 60% of the EU's total. But Poland and Spain insisted on keeping the voting scheme agreed at the Nice summit in 2000, in which each gets almost as many votes as Germany despite having only around half its population. The smaller countries feared that the new voting system would allow the three largest EU members, Germany, France and Britain, to dominate the rest. Now, a compromise is being floated, which among other things would force the big three to win the backing of at least two other countries to block any proposed law. To pass, a law would need the votes of countries representing perhaps 64% of the EU population. And the new voting system would be delayed for a number of years.
There are several reasons, besides Mr Ahern's quiet diplomacy, why the constitution has been revived so soon after it had seemed lost. In the wake of the Madrid bombings, EU leaders have been keen to display their unity. The unexpected victory of the Socialists in Spain's general election, a few days after the bombings, brought to power a new government that is more willing to compromise on voting arrangements--and keen to align itself diplomatically with France and Germany, rather than Britain and America, as the previous, conservative government did.
Some people in France and Germany had seen the collapse of the constitutional talks as an opportunity to push ahead with forming an "inner core" of EU countries that would pursue faster, deeper integration. But, the more they have thought about this, the clearer it has become that there is little of substance that such a core group could achieve. Some proposals, such as unifying their criminal-justice systems, present huge challenges. And anyway, the existing EU treaties limit the ability of any group of countries to push ahead without the others. So they have turned their attention back to reaching agreement on the constitution.
Faced with being the only one still resisting an agreement, Poland's prime minister, Leszek Miller, had begun in recent days to signal his readiness to compromise. But while Mr Miller sat at the summit table on Thursday night, a group of parliamentarians from his Democratic Left Alliance (SLD) met in Warsaw and agreed to break away and form a new party. On returning home, Mr Miller, who has become deeply unpopular as a result of corruption scandals, bungled health reforms and Poland's 20% unemployment rate, announced his resignation (see article). Even if his replacement is equally willing to compromise over the EU's voting arrangements, the Polish parliament and people may not be. The parliament has already passed a motion rejecting anything other than the Nice voting rules. If Poland holds a referendum on the EU constitution, as Mr Miller has suggested it might, the answer might well be Nie.
Mr Chirac has raised the possibility of France holding a referendum to ratify the EU constitution but is now backing off, realising his compatriots might also say Non. And Britain's prime minister, Tony Blair, is under strong pressure from the opposition Conservatives and the Eurosceptic British press to call a referendum. If he continues to resist this, he will only boost the fortunes of the Eurosceptic opposition leader, Michael Howard, ahead of an election expected next year. At last December's summit, shortly before the talks collapsed, Mr Blair won acceptance of his demand that member countries keep their vetoes on such issues as tax, social security and judicial co-operation. However, in the revived talks he will have to fight for them all over again--and if he does not win back all these concessions, the press, parliament and public will give him hell.
Since the constitution only takes effect if it is ratified by all 25 countries, there is a strong chance that, despite the EU leaders' willingness to compromise, it will fail to get through. In one respect, this would be a shame: the new voting arrangements make sense, as does the idea of giving the Union a fundamental charter outlining its powers, in place of the current hotch-potch of treaties. However, the draft constitution that EU leaders have been discussing, drawn up by a 105-member European Convention, is a terrible mess. It is so hard to understand that even the convention's members struggle to explain it. Whereas it ought to have strengthened the principle of "subsidiarity" (devolving decision-making so it is as close to the people as possible), it does the opposite--making everything subordinate to the Union's objectives, which include various types of "cohesion" (read: Brussels-led harmonisation).
If the citizens of one or other part of Europe send the constitution back to the bin, the EU might be forced to come back with a simpler, more sensible version a few years from now, when its new members have had time to settle in and any problems of an enlarged Union will have had time to emerge. This would be no bad thing.
Copyright ? 2004 The Economist Newspaper and The Economist Group. All rights reserved.

Saudi Arabia
The limits of reform
Mar 25th 2004 | CAIRO
From The Economist print edition
Why six Saudi liberals are in jail, despite talk of change
The chief mufti squeezes the crown prince
Get article background
IF YOU thought that change was coming soon to Saudi Arabia, think again. Consider the six prominent Saudi liberals who have spent the past week in jail. Their crime is that, unlike seven colleagues arrested at the same time but freed soon afterwards, these recalcitrants refused to pledge that they will stop pestering the country's rulers to reform.
There are other countries where simply asking politely for more rights--in this case, by signing several petitions--can land you in prison. But Saudi Arabia had lately shed some of its aura of arch-autocracy. A mix of pressures--home-grown terrorism, criticism from abroad, and the general restlessness of their mostly youthful subjects--appeared to have awakened Saudi princes to the incongruity of running a large, modern state like a family ranch. The past few years have seen the start of a wide-ranging dialogue, in the press and in government-sponsored forums, to find ways to devolve at least a measure of power to commoners.
Tensions were bound to emerge, particularly in the absence of any elected assembly to air differences or frame a legislative agenda. Reform-minded citizens took to probing, to see just how far the establishment, which in Saudi Arabia means the 10,000-odd princes of the al-Saud family and their pampered traditional allies, the Wahhabi clerical hierarchy, would let them go. They soon encountered red lines. In the past year, for example, half a dozen newspaper columnists have lost their jobs for suggesting such things as abolishing the religious police, allowing women to drive cars, and opening the national budget to public scrutiny.
But a strong popular backlash against religious extremism following recent terror attacks, and the tacit backing of some senior princes, had lately encouraged the kingdom's normally quiescent liberals to further boldness. Despite warnings from the authorities, one group of them had the temerity to prepare yet another petition, demanding the right to set up a human-rights commission. (The government recently licensed an ostensibly independent body to monitor human rights, but most of its members are state employees.)
These are the men, most of them academics, now in jail. But their fate is not the only signal that hard-line princes are losing patience. The minister of defence and second-in-line to the throne, Prince Sultan, this week dismissed any idea that the Shura Council, an appointed body that vets laws, might become an elected legislature, on the ground that illiterate people might be voted in. For his part, the chief mufti of the kingdom, Sheikh Abdel Aziz al-Sheikh, declared that liberals were as much of a danger as militant religious extremists. "Those who doubt the nation and its leadership and its faith are the true enemies, whether or not they claim to call for reform," he said. "The nation's reform will come about only through the faith of Islam and a leadership that imposes this faith and God's will."
Liberal reformists have not despaired yet. While one group launched yet another petition, to demand the release of their colleagues, others met Prince Nayef, the owlish interior minister, to make the request personally. Participants at the dawn meeting said that the prince assured them that royal doors would always be open to citizens' complaints but that "foreign agencies" were exploiting the reformers' platform in order to damage Saudi national unity. In other words, to call openly for domestic change is tantamount to treason.
Copyright ? 2004 The Economist Newspaper and The Economist Group. All rights reserved.

Posted by maximpost at 11:16 PM EST

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