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Reporters on the job

CLOAK-AND-DAGGER REVIVAL: It's hip to be a spy, as Moscow-based Fred Weir reports in today's story (page 7). But it's also becoming mandatory. A close friend tells Fred that Russian diplomats are being given new undercover duties. Specifically, all Russian foreign ministry personnel must now report their contacts with foreigners, as was the case in Soviet times. "This is not just top-level folks, but all staff, at home or abroad. Reports must include not only official contacts, but any social interaction," says Fred. The wife of a diplomat told him: "Now if we invite you and your family for dinner to our home, we will have to file a full report on that, what we did, what we discussed. It's the same if we come to your place."

Several Russian diplomats quietly confirmed this mandate. But the Russian Foreign Ministry declined to comment.

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POLLING DATA? WHAT POLLS? Reporter Ben Lynfield wanted to get a bead on how Palestinians view the current cease-fire (this page). So, he called Khalil Shikaki, a leading Palestinian pollster and political scientist, and asked for the latest readings. "He said that he couldn't give me a precise answer," says Ben. "Shikaki can't take a poll now because the people he sends out to do the surveys can't get past Israeli checkpoints. He can't get a reading," Ben says. "In a way, accurate polls are yet another casualty of this conflict."

David Clark Scott World Editor

THE BEST OF THE REST..

NOKIA LOVEBIRDS: The electronic tweeting of mobile phones is becoming so widespread in Australia that some birds are mimicking the sound as part of their mating and territorial songs, reports The Associated Press. Australia has six so-called mimic birds and one of the highest numbers of cellphones per capita in the world. As a result, Australian bower and lyre birds are increasingly hearing - and copying - the ringing of mobile phones in rural areas, according to Queensland Museum bird expert Greg Czechura.

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