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Mexican Diplomat Charged With Helping Smuggle Arabs Into U.S. by Terence P. Jeffrey
Arabic television al Jazeera on Dec.19 (2003) aired an audio tape purportedly from al Qaeda's second in command Ayman al-Zawahri, saying his group was chasing Americans everywhere, including the United States. "America has been defeated (by) our fighters despite all its military might, its weaponry ... With God's help we are still chasing Americans and their allies everywhere, including their homeland," said the speaker, believed to be Zawahri who the United States says is Osama bin Laden's deputy. The warning came as a U.S. intelligence official said U.S. authorities were studying a terror threat to New York City and were "very concerned" by the volume of threats to U.S. interests at home and overseas. "Americans have become unable to defend themselves and even to protect their biggest criminals and leaders such as (Deputy Defense Secretary Paul) Wolfowitz," the speaker said in apparent reference to an attack on a hotel Wolfowitz stayed at in Baghdad in October. "How can we excuse you after all the warnings that we gave you. You reap what you sow," he said, addressing the American people. Al Qaeda has repeatedly urged Americans to oppose the policies of President Bush. There was no way to independently verify the voice on the tape was Zawahri. Jazeera and another Arab satellite television station, Al Arabiya, have broadcast similar messages said to be from Zawahri and bin Laden. In October, the CIA said its analysis determined a Jazeera audio tape was like the voice of bin Laden. In August, the CIA said an Arabiya tape was likely the voice of Zawahri. The speaker said attacks against U.S. occupation troops in Iraq were carried out by Muslim militants and ordinary Iraqis, denying that only supporters of deposed Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein were behind the resistance. The resistance is "true and genuine and coming from the Iraqi people," said the tape released days after U.S. forces captured Saddam in Iraq. He threatened Arab countries that provided "bases and help" to U.S. forces to fight Muslims to be ready for "judgment day," saying the United States was getting ready to withdraw from the region. Egyptian-born Zawahri joined up with al Qaeda leader bin Laden in 1998 and was indicted in New York two years ago in connection with the 1998 embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania.
Authorities are evaluating a surge of information related to possible terrorist threats to a number of cities in the United States, including New York City, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C. Threat information is coming from intelligence intercepts, interrogation of recent detainees and other methods, sources say. Sources say the threat to New York City possibly involves a female suicide bomber, but no specific target has been identified and intelligence sources are still evaluating the credibility of this threat. The New York City Police Department released a statement saying it has "no credible intelligence pointing to a specific or imminent terrorist threat" in the city. In the threats received for other cities, including Los Angeles and Washington, no mode of attack has been identified and no location or specific cells were named.
The new design for Ground
Zero's soaring 1,776-foot Freedom Tower was unveiled Dec. 19 (2003)
as a twisting structure with an airy, suspension-cable top that
will provide an "exclamation point" at the tip of
Manhattan. After all the shouting over who would control the
building's design, it was David Childs, developer Larry
Silverstein's handpicked architect, who showed off a hybrid
building that had been worked out in thorny negotiations with
Ground Zero master planner Daniel Libeskind. "What was
terribly important from the beginning was that it be a building
that was unique to New York - not a building that could be
located in any other city," Childs said at the unveiling at
Federal Hall on Wall Street. "We wanted it to be inventive,
in the true American spirit of invention both in terms of its
structure and its technology, to advance the science of
architecture." The inventive part comes in the unoccupied
upper reaches of the tower, which are made from an open-air
network of cables similar to the suspension system of the
Brooklyn Bridge. The cables also provide added safety by
transferring part of the load of the massive tower - projected to
be the world's tallest - back into the building's concrete core,
"providing a redundancy of structure terribly important in
case of some accident, in case a column is missing."
Other Freedom Tower features include:
* The structure takes the form of a parallelogram that twists and narrows as it rises.
* It includes 62 stories of offices, topped by an observation deck and a rebuilt Windows on the World restaurant.
* The building will have windmills inside the cable structure to make electricity, as well as other environmentally friendly features.
* The top will be lit and could also be used for light shows or a display similar to the "Tribute in Light" memorial.
Childs said the tower will reclaim the skyline as "the final exclamation point at he tip of the island." Gov. Pataki, who forced Childs and Libeskind to come to a compromise on the tower, attended the unveiling press conference, along with Mayor Bloomberg. Bloomberg said it would "dramatically reclaim a part of the New York City skyline," and Pataki said the building "will show the world that freedom will always triumph over terror." "It's spectacular; it is also very practical," Silverstein said. Libeskind took the podium after Childs, saying his master plan "has been given form by David Childs and now we can truly move forward." Libeskind had originally wanted to design the building himself and had later fought fiercely with Childs in an uneasy collaboration. But yesterday, he seemed to want to distance himself from the tower. Asked to discuss the tower's design, he said, "I'm not the architect of this building. You have to ask Mr. Childs." Libeskind had insisted the building be asymmetrical in form and evoke the Statue of Liberty, with its upraised torch. While the new building is topped by an off-center 276-foot spire, Childs scarcely mentioned it in a lengthy discussion of the tower's features. The new design eliminates some of the angular shapes in Libeskind's original drawings and replaces Libeskind's visions of gardens atop the office space with windmills, in addition to giving the building more of a twisting shape and adding the crisscrossing steel cables. Libeskind said his role now will be to maintain the "guardianship of the master plan." "When the politicians and architects and investors are long gone," he said, "I'll still be on Rector Street [in his office] making sure that every building on this site is dedicated to a very special moment in our history." Silverstein said the tower's cornerstone will be laid by Sept. 11 next year and the building will be finished by early 2009. The cost of the construction is estimated at $1.5 billion, said Charles Gargano, vice chairman of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, the public agency that owns the site. Insurance on the Twin Towers is expected to pay much of the cost. Gargano said the Port Authority, once headquartered at the World Trade Center, plans to occupy one-third of the building's 2.6 million feet of office space. Pataki has also said he would move his Manhattan offices to the tower.
Libyan leader Moammar
Gadhafi appeared eager to do away with his weapons programs, U.S.
officials said Dec. 20, 2003. Those secret meetings over recent
months led to the surprise announcement that Libya would cease
work on its programs to develop nuclear, chemical and biological
weapons, including an effort to refine uranium for use in nuclear
devices, the officials said. President Bush said the ouster and
capture of Saddam Hussein and U.S. efforts to check weapons
pursuits by North Korea and Iran played a role in Gadhafi's
decision. Gadhafi's son said his father went ahead after
receiving assurances that the United States was not plotting
against him. Libya also claimed it had acted on its own to serve
as an inspiration for the rest of the world. Senior intelligence
officials, including one on the inspection team that went to
Libya, briefed reporters on the chain of events that led to the
announcement. They spoke on condition they not be identified.
Most significant among the discoveries was that Libya had built a
working centrifuge for uranium enrichment. To make weapons-grade
uranium, a raw form of the substance can be passed through a
series of centrifuges that slowly create a product capable of
nuclear fission. Such programs need hundreds of centrifuges,
called a cascade, to make significant quantities of uranium over
a reasonable time. The inspection teams saw only one or a few
centrifuges, and the Libyans denied that any enriched uranium had
been produced. The intelligence officials refused to say how
Libya obtained centrifuge technology. Both Iran and North Korea
are thought to have the technology, as are a number of companies
and U.S. allies. Before their meetings with Gadhafi, the American
and British intelligence officers were whisked around Tripoli,
the capital, by Libyan security officials, sometimes changing
cars before arriving at the sites of meetings with Gadhafi.
Gadhafi was described as agreeable, laying out proposals for
disarming and allowing inspections. He provided information about
Libyan weapons programs that Western intelligence agencies had
been unaware of. The Libyans had chemical weapons and medium-range
missiles from North Korea and, at a minimum, a program to make
uranium for nuclear weapons. U.S. intelligence agencies lack
information that Libya had enriched the uranium to make a nuclear
weapon or possessed biological weapons. For all the Libyan
cooperation, officials acknowledged there still could be
undisclosed weapons and programs.
So far, the United States has learned that Libya had:
_Tens of tons of mustard agent, a World War I-era chemical weapon, produced about 10 years ago.
_Aircraft bombs capable of dispersing the mustard agent in combat.
_A supply of Scud-C ballistic missiles made in North Korea. The weapons can hit targets 500 miles away.
Bush said that if Libya shows it is serious in honoring its commitment, there was the possibility of U.S. help in making Libya "a more free and prosperous country." The United States has a 17-year embargo in place against Libya and continues to list Libya among nations that sponsor terrorism. Britain's foreign secretary indicated that Washington may lift the embargo.
Iran hailed Libya's decision to scrap its weapons of mass destruction program and called for pressure to be placed on Israel to do the same. "Iran believes that the whole world should move along the path of destroying such weapons," Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi told a news conference. Asefi urged the international community to press harder on Israel to comply with international law on its alleged nuclear program. "It is the time for the world to push for Israel's disarmament as the main threat to the region," he said.
Knesset Member - 'Israel Should
Give Up' Its Nukes
Would Israel Ever Give Up The Bomb?
By Bradley Burston
The United States did not let Israel in on its secret talks with Libya over the past few months that led to Libya's declaration of its intention to stop the development of weapons of mass destruction, according to senior political sources in Jerusalem.
Dec. 20, 2003 -- Al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden slammed the US-led war in Iraq as "a new crusade" against Muslims, in an audiotape attributed to him by the Dubai-based Al-Arabiya satellite channel. "This war is a new crusade against the Islamic world," he said, referring to Iraq, according to Al-Arabiya, which aired parts of the tape interspersed by commentary. "It is a fateful war for the entire (Islamic) nation, with dangerous repercussions and negative effects on Islam and Muslims whose scope only God knows," the voice said. "Here's America now screaming and staggering before the whole world ...seeking succor from the lowliest people, begging (to enlist) mercenary soldiers from east and west," said the voice in an apparent reference to US efforts to expand the US-led coalition in Iraq. "What you did to America comes as no surprise ... for you are the scions of those great knights who carried Islam to the east, up to China," the man purported to be bin Laden said, seemingly alluding to guerrilla attacks on US forces in Iraq. Al-Arabiya did not give a date for the tape, but it appeared to be several months old. The man purported to be bin Laden lashed out at "collaborator governments formed by America," citing as an example that of Mahmud Abbas, the Palestinian prime minister who stepped down on September 6, suggesting that the tape was recorded before then. "It is no secret that any government formed by America is a collaborator, traitor government, like all the governments of the region, including those of (Afghan President Hamid) Karzai and Mahmud Abbas, which were set up to thwart jihad (holy war)," the voice said. "The roadmap (a US-backed Middle East peace blueprint) is no more than a new link in the chain of the conspiracy aimed at ending the blessed intifada. The jihad should continue until an Islamic government that rules on the basis of Allah's law (Islamic law) is set up (in Palestine)." "(Voices) in Iraq, as before in Palestine, Egypt, Jordan, Yemen and others are calling for a peaceful democratic solution in dealing with apostate governments," he said, referring to the West. "We need to be aware of the seriousness of this humiliating, errant path which contradicts the law of God...Those who have entered the 'assembly of idolatry' -- legislative assemblies -- have torn down Islam," the voice on the tape said. "They are making a big mistake. God knows that Islam has nothing to do with their actions. Islam is the religion of God and the legislative assemblies are the religion of the 'age of ignorance'," he added. "Age of ignorance" is an Islamic term used to refer to the pre-Islamic era, fourteen centuries ago. The remarks were similar to those attributed to him in an audiotape aired by Qatar's Al-Jazeera television on October 18. The bin Laden tape came just a day after Al-Jazeera aired a similar tape purported to be from his right-hand man Ayman al-Zawahiri, in which he said the Americans were beginning to stagger under the blows of Al-Qaeda. A US intelligence official said in Washington that CIA analysts had concluded that the Zawahiri tape was "most likely" authentic.
The United States issued a new warning that terrorists may be plotting attacks against hotels used by Westerners, foreign embassies and other facilities in Uzbekistan. The State Department said al-Qaeda and allied groups were active in the region, and US citizens should carefully weigh risks to their safety before deciding to travel to the country. "The US government has received information that terrorists may be planning attacks against hotels in Uzbekistan frequented by Westerners, and against foreign embassies and other organizations, facilities, and institutions associated with or representing foreign interests," the department said. The warning, contained in a public announcement, updated threat information from a similar alert issued on September 29, which also warned about possible terror attacks on Western targets. The Dec. 17 (2003) warning is similar to September's caution, adding possible threats against embassies and other facilities as well as that to hotels. "Supporters of extremist groups such as the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), al-Qaeda, and the Eastern Turkistan Islamic Movement continue to remain active in the region," the announcement said. "These groups have expressed anti-US sentiments and may also attempt to target US government or private interests in Uzbekistan. Terrorist groups do not distinguish between official and civilian targets." "US citizens should increase their security awareness and avoid, if possible, locations where Americans and Westerners generally congregate in large numbers." IMU militants, believed to have been supported and trained by al-Qaeda, attacked Uzbekistan's southern border in 2000 and are blamed for bomb blasts in Tashkent in 1999 aimed at destabilizing Uzbek President Islam Karimov's secular government. The Eastern Turkistan Islamic Movement is a Uighur extremist movement based in China's far-western Xinjiang province. It was designated a terrorist organization by the US State Department in 2002. The group, which allegedly has links to al-Qaeda, is blamed for bombing buses, movie theaters, department stores and hotels in the region and, according to US officials, has components in Turkey, Kazakhstan, Pakistan and other central Asian states. Karimov lent support to the US anti-terror campaign war and the Iraq war, despite skepticism over his stance among the people of his country. The president keeps tight control on the country's media and has been widely criticized for using torture and indiscriminate imprisonment to stifle his opponents.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security on Dec. 21 (2003) raised the national threat level to orange, indicating a high risk of terrorist attack, and said threat indicators are "perhaps greater now than at any point" since Sept. 11, 2001, with strikes possible during the holidays. Some of the intercepted communications and other intelligence mentions New York, Washington and unspecified cities on the West Coast, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. Authorities also are concerned about dams, bridges, nuclear plants, chemical facilities and other public works. Thousands of state and local law enforcement agencies have received an FBI advisory urging special notice of sites that could be a conceivable target and potential security upgrades, the official said. "We expect al-Qaida will strive for new attacks designed to be more devastating than the Sept. 11 attack, possibly involving nonconventional weapons such as chemical or biological agents," the State Department advised. Credible intelligence sources "suggest the possibility of attacks against the homeland around the holiday season and beyond." Recent reporting reiterates that al-Qaida continues to consider using aircraft as a weapon. Flights originating overseas and arriving in US airports are thought to be of particular concern under the current alert status. The Pentagon resumed round-the-clock combat jet air patrols over New York, Washington, D.C., and Los Angeles and planned random patrols over other major U.S. cities. The alert level had stood at yellow, an elevated risk and in the middle of the five-color scale, since May 2003.
Intelligence gathered by the U.S. government indicates al-Qaida terrorists have a keen interest in striking targets that are far from major cities, such as power plants, dams and even oil facilities in Alaska. The Pentagon said it is broadening air patrols throughout the country. In addition, the military is deploying surface-to-air missile systems in the Washington area and is considering locating more anti-aircraft systems in the New York City region, a defense official said, speaking on condition of anonymity. Some of the intelligence "chatter" dealt with threats against remote facilities, according to law enforcement and intelligence officials speaking on condition of anonymity. One specific threat, they said, was against oil facilities in Valdez, Alaska, where tankers load Prudhoe Bay oil destined for the continental United States. Other threats are more general, mentioning nuclear plants in rural areas and other electric facilities, major dams, bridges or chemical plants, the officials said. One official cautioned that most of the reports were uncorroborated some were from only a single informant or communications intercept and may be unconnected to a larger al-Qaida plot. But local officials boosted security at many such facilities, including the Port of Valdez where armed Coast Guard patrol boats were more visible and ship boardings were on the increase. Other intelligence points to possible attacks in cities such as New York, Washington or Los Angeles, which have been targeted by terrorists before. Aircraft continue to be a favored al-Qaida method, particularly aircraft originating from overseas and those carrying cargo both of which have less security than U.S. passenger aircraft. Officials say there also seems to be interest in targeting holiday events that draw large crowds, such as college and professional football games and New Year's celebrations and parades.
New intelligence information indicates that al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden and his top deputy personally approved the suspected terrorist attack plan that led the government to raise the nation's terror threat assessment this week. The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said U.S. intelligence agencies had gathered detailed information about the plan, in which they said al-Qaida operatives would hijack foreign airliners and fly them into targets in the United States. In some instances, the intelligence is so detailed as to include specific flight numbers, they said. Security forces have put several U.S. airports under intense scrutiny specifically naming Newark International Airport in New Jersey. The U.S. officials said the new intelligence indicated that bin Laden himself had approved the most recent plan for major attacks, along with Ayman al-Zawahiri, his deputy. The officials said al-Qaida seems particularly interested in Tappahannock, Va., a tiny town of 2,016 people with no military base or major infrastructure. Such an attack would be intended to generate widespread fear that no one was safe, even in small rural towns, they said. In addition to big cities like New York and Los Angeles, al-Qaida has targeted Las Vegas, the officials said, because of its economic value as the nation's No. 2 vacation destination and as home to large conventions and trade shows beginning next month. Other possible targets include important infrastructure facilities, such as nuclear power plants and dams. The officials mentioned oil transport facilities at Valdez, Alaska, as a particularly likely target. The new intelligence adds details to information about the al-Qaida plot, which quoted U.S. officials as saying the terrorist threat assessment was raised because of indications that al-Qaida operatives may now be fully trained and licensed pilots for some foreign airlines, ideally positioning them to carry out suicide attacks. The officials said the threat alert would remain at orange, or high, through the end of January. Al-Qaida remains intent on attacking large gatherings of people with chemical or biological weapons. Most troubling, the officials said, were indications that al-Qaida may already possess a radiological weapon, or so-called dirty bomb. Experts said a potent dirty bomb could spread radioactive material for a half-mile in all directions. While a dirty bomb may not be particularly deadly, the psychological impact of such a device could be devastating, experts said.
US officials fear that commercial aircraft from Europe and Latin America will be hijacked and used to attack targets in the United States, a high-level European official said. "They are concerned about several specific flights -- not just flights from Europe but also from Latin America," the official said on condition of anonymity. White House spokesman Scott McClellan said Dec. 22 (2003) that US officials had information indicating that "al-Qaeda seeks to use aircraft as weapons in suicide-type attacks" similar to those carried out on September 11, 2001.
To prevent future terrorist attacks, industry and government officials are increasingly focused on the vulnerability of cargo planes. A Transportation Security Administration spokesman said extra law enforcement now patrolling the perimeters of airports was specifically put in place to fortify air cargo facilities. An official with Mexico's Civil Aviation Office said his government has also stepped up inspections and security at air freight terminals. The warning from the Department of Homeland Security about a possible al-Qaida attack this holiday season was focused more heavily on the threat from foreign commercial airliners, according to U.S. officials. But cargo planes were also cited as a special concern. Security experts and pilots said Dec. 23 (2003) that the cargo industry's surveillance of airports, planes, freight and of the warehouse employees packing boxes remains dangerously inadequate, particularly among small- and mid-sized companies. They also noted that the U.S. government has even less control over cargo and passenger planes originating in other countries, and that the most lax standards domestically generally exist at smaller airports. Very few cargo planes are equipped with reinforced cockpit doors. Also, there are no flight attendants, passengers or air marshals who might help defend against an attack. Congress recently passed a bill allowing cargo pilots to carry guns, but that has not alleviated all of pilots' concerns. James Shilling, a full-time pilot for a major cargo carrier and consultant to the Coalition of Airline Pilots Association, said he would like to see the TSA screen and conduct background checks on every person that has direct access to cargo planes. He also advocates screening all cargo, but says the technology must be affordable and efficient. Stricter government standards requiring expensive equipment might force smaller carriers out of business, he said. Some experts said it is unrealistic to consider physically inspecting every piece of freight that passes through the system.
Countries that account for
more than 90 percent of U.S. beef exports have barred American
beef products after Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman announced
the first case of mad cow disease in the United States,
officially known as bovine spongiform encephalopathy, on December
23, 2003. An investigation into the nation's first case of mad
cow disease could take months, the U.S. Agriculture Department,
after it quarantined a second cattle herd in Washington state.
The discovery of the deadly, brain-wasting disease in a four-year-old
Holstein dairy cow in rural Washington state has cut off U.S.
exports of beef, sent food company stocks tumbling and shaken
consumer confidence. More than two dozen nations that buy U.S.
beef have halted shipments. The USDA's investigation to determine
how the Holstein cow became infected will take time, said Ron
DeHaven, the USDA's chief veterinarian. Earlier in the week, the
USDA quarantined a herd of 4,000 animals at another farm in
Mabton, Washington, where the infected cow lived before it was
slaughtered on Dec. 9. DeHaven also said it was "premature"
to speculate whether the infected cow may have originated in
Canada. In May, Canadian officials reported the discovery of a
single case of mad cow disease in a Black Angus cow in Alberta.
The investigation by the USDA and the Food and Drug
Administration could be broadened to other states, he said.
"Potentially many states could be involved" in the
probe, DeHaven said. An FDA official said the investigation was
focusing on the source of the livestock feed consumed by the
Holstein cow. "We assume it was infected very early in life
because the average incubation period is generally four or five
years," said Stephen Sundlof, the FDA's chief veterinarian.
Sundlof said all firms in Washington state that manufacture
livestock feed are currently in compliance with FDA regulations.
Since 1997, the agency has banned the use of cattle remains as an
ingredient in feed for other cows.
http://www.usda.gov/ and http://www.aphis.usda.gov/lpa/issues/bse/bse.html
How Corporate Power Taints Safety Rules by Anne Lappe
Japan Blasts US Safeguards Against Mad Cow By Kenji Hall
Cow parts - including hooves, bones, fat and innards - are used in everything from hand cream and antifreeze, to poultry feed and gardening soils. In the next tangled phase of the mad cow investigation, federal inspectors are concentrating on byproducts from the tainted Holstein, which might have gone to a half-dozen distributors in the Northwest, said Dalton Hobbs, spokesman for the Oregon Department of Agriculture. Now, it's the secondary parts, the raw material for soil, soaps, candles, that are being recalled. Los Angeles-based Baker Commodities, Inc., announced it has voluntarily withheld 800 tons of cow byproduct processed in its Seattle and Tacoma, Wash., plants, said company spokesman Ray Kelly. The company, like other "renderers," takes what is left of the cow after it is slaughtered and boils it down into tallow, used for candles, lubricants and soaps, and bone meal used in fertilizer and animal feed. If the U.S. Food and Drug Administration determines that the material is tainted, the company's loss could total $200,000, Kelly said. "It's obviously a tragic thing for the whole beef industry, but it's definitely a sizable hit for us," he said. Darling International, Inc., the nation's largest independent rendering operation in the U.S., has also been contacted by the FDA. But officials at their Tacoma and Portland plants, as well as at their international headquarters in Irving, Texas, declined to comment on how their operation has been affected. "Our first priority was to make sure it didn't go into the food supply," said Hobbs, reiterating that meat sent to two Oregon distributors was recalled earlier in the week. But tracing all of the sick cow's parts to their final destination, including numerous possible incarnations in household products, has proved challenging. "It's like the old Upton Sinclair line - 'We use everything but the squeal,'" Hobbs said. "We have nearly 100 percent utilization of the animal. But when you have so many niche markets, it makes it incredibly challenging to trace where this one cow may have gone." Companies that use bone meal from cows to create fertilizers, a kind of soil popular with rose growers, may find themselves under the spotlight. At the height of Britain's mad cow epidemic in the 1990s, three victims of the human form of mad cow were found to be gardeners. In 1996, the Royal Horticultural Society of London released an advisory, cautioning gardeners to wear face masks after it was reported that the dust from the bone-meal soil could carry the mutated protein. But there was no conclusive evidence the gardeners died from inhaling soil containing the infected cow tissue. A far greater risk is the cow material - including roughage and offal - used in animal feed and pet foods. Giving cow feed to cows was outlawed but feeding it to poultry is still legal. Some farmers, he said, are still in the habit of feeding their cows "chicken litter" - the remains of the poultry feed, scooped off the ground,feathers and all.
On Dec. 24 (2003), Air France canceled Christmas flights from Paris to Los Angeles after U.S. intelligence found the name of at least one person suspected of having links to extremist groups on the passenger list. U.S. intelligence officials told their French counterparts that members of the al-Qaida terrorist network would try to board the planes over Christmas, said a French judicial official, speaking on condition of anonymity. The seven questioned men, who all had tickets for Air France Flight 68 to Los Angeles, were on a watch list provided by U.S. authorities, an Interior Ministry spokesman said. But all were released after questioning. None of the passengers on the canceled flights, including those questioned at the airport, were known to French intelligence authorities or found to have links with Islamic extremist groups, the official said. French authorities also investigated a man from Tunisia whose name was supplied by American intelligence. But the judicial official said man was in Tunisia with no plans to leave for the United States. He has no criminal record and does not belong to any radical Islamic groups. Air France resumed service to Los Angeles on Dec. 26, though the initial flight, AF068, was delayed for nearly three hours by security checks amid heightened airline vigilance.
Suicide attackers detonated two massive bombs as President Pervez Musharraf's convoy passed on a congested road Dec. 25 (2003), killing 14 people and getting close enough to crack the windshield on his limousine in the second attempt on his life in 11 days. Musharraf was unhurt, but the attack raised troubling questions about the Pakistani leader's ability to hold on to power and keep an Islamic radical movement at bay. Officials said the attackers tried to ram the motorcade in two pickup trucks, each loaded with 45 to 65 pounds of explosives, as it passed two gas stations on a main road at about 1:40 p.m. in Rawalpindi, a bustling city near the capital, Islamabad. Witnesses reported seeing body parts, shattered cars and broken glass along the route. "There was a vehicle that approached me, my car," Musharraf said. "A policeman stopped it, it exploded, I saw it. The only thing happened was we went faster, but in the process in front of us there was another bomb that blasted. Again nothing happened to us and we went through the debris. We stopped safe and secure." Two policemen and at least two suicide attackers were among those killed, said Abdur Rauf Chaudry, an Interior Ministry spokesman. At least 46 people were wounded, including several police officials traveling in a van at the back of Musharraf's motorcade. It happened just just 10 days ahead of a summit of South Asian leaders to be held in Islamabad, and on the same road where a bomb Dec. 14 also narrowly missed the president. In the first attempt, high-tech devices in Musharraf's limousine apparently delayed the explosion by jamming the bomb's electronic trigger. No suspects have been identified in either attack, although Musharraf has blamed both on Islamic extremists angered by his support for the U.S.-led war in neighboring Afghanistan. Pakistan backed Afghanistan's hard-line Taliban regime before Musharraf switched sides following the Sept. 11 terror attacks. The attacks also raised questions about the murky issue of succession in this nuclear-armed nation. A pro-American four-star general, Mohammed Yousaf Khan, is next in line to take command of the army. Musharraf's ally, Zafarullah Khan Jamali, is prime minister but with little power. Musharraf still enjoys popular support after ousting the ineffective government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in a bloodless 1999 coup. In April 2002 a bomb aimed at his motorcade in the southern city of Karachi failed to detonate. Three Islamic militants were sentenced to 10 years in prison. The latest attack came a day after Musharraf agreed with a coalition of Islamic parties on a timetable for stepping down as army chief but staying on as president.
Pope John Paul II in his Christmas message of 2003 asked Christ to save the world from war and terrorism "the great evils" afflicting mankind at the start of the third millennium. "Save us from the wars and armed conflicts which lay waste whole areas of the world, from the scourge of terrorism and from the many forms of violence which assail the weak and the vulnerable," he said. "Save us from discouragement as we face the paths to peace, difficult paths indeed, yet possible and therefore necessary."
Terrorists planned to attack the Vatican with a hijacked plane on Christmas Day, Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi was quoted as saying. Berlusconi told Milan's Libero newspaper of a "precise and verified news of an attack on Rome on Christmas Day." Security has been tightened around the Vatican in recent weeks amid reports that churches could become terrorist targets.
Since the start of the
nuclear era, highly radioactive waste has been crossing
continents and oceans in search of a secure and final resting
place. Nearly all countries produce nuclear waste, some types of
which can remain radioactive for thousands of years, but they
cannot agree on the best way to store it. Most high-level waste,
the most dangerous kind, is spent fuel from the over 400 nuclear
power reactors in more than 30 countries. The dismantling of
nuclear weapons adds to the pile. Even nuclear-free states
produce waste from industry, hospitals providing radiation
therapy, and research centers. Some nuclear plants are already
running into the limits of their storage capacity. And since the
September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States attention has
turned to individual plants and whether these can be protected
from terrorist attacks. European Union countries plan to build
repositories by around 2020, but some have not even started
considering sites. In 2001 Finland became the first and so far
only EU state to decide on a site for a final storage. The United
States plans to deposit waste from its 103 nuclear plants beneath
the Yucca Mountain in Nevada. The site should open in 2010, but
faces local protests and legal hurdles. Critics say big central
repositories would again increase the risk of accidents or theft
because the nuclear waste has to be transported to them from each
plant. Mohamed ElBaradei, head of the International Atomic Energy
Agency (IAEA), suggested in early December that countries should
consider shared storage, even though no state should be forced to
deal with another's atomic waste.
Enough plutonium to make five nuclear bombs has gone missing from Sellafield in Cumbria in the past 12 months, it has been revealed. The official report which lists "materials unaccounted for" at the UK's nuclear sites found that 19.1kg of the highly toxic substance was apparently missing from the reprocessing plant. At the Dounreay plant in Caithness, meanwhile, the annual audit recorded a surplus 1.16kg of highly enriched uranium, which can also be used to make nuclear weapons. Spokesmen for each plant were quick to play down the figures, saying they were estimates and "gave rise to no concern over either the safety or security" of the sites. But independent nuclear experts have expressed concern. After the latest figures were revealed, Dr Frank Barnaby, a nuclear consultant who used to work at the Aldermaston atomic weapons factory in Berkshire, said: "In reprocessing, a small amount of material is bound to be lost in the process, but 19kg is a very significant amount of plutonium. The company might say this is not a cause for concern, but if they cannot be sure where the plutonium is, how can they say it has not been stolen? "If a terrorist group were to claim it had stolen 5kg of plutonium from Sellafield, the authorities could not say with any certainty that they had not taken it. It's a very unsatisfactory situation indeed. This amount of material could be made into five or six nuclear weapons." The latest criticisms of the nuclear industry come after scientists found the teeth of children in Northern Ireland were contaminated with plutonium from the Sellafield nuclear plant. The research, published earlier this month, found traces of the radio active material in every single milk tooth of 3000 children studied. Scientists believe leaks and discharges into the sea have put the material into the food chain over recent decades. The day after the research was published, British Nuclear Fuels admitted that "lightly radioactively contaminated" pipes from Sellafield had been washing up on beaches in Northern Ireland.
A top US lawmaker expressed concern that the al-Qaeda terror network may be deliberately spreading false information about security threats in the United States in a bid to wrong-foot US authorities and maximize public panic. "It's a very inexpensive way for terrorists to do great damage and inflict costs on the United States of America," U.S. Rep. Christopher Cox said. Asked if the elevated terror alert over the Christmas holiday could have been caused by al-Qaeda releasing disinformation, Cox, a California Republican and chairman of the House of Representatives Select Committee on Homeland Security, replied: "That concerns me a great deal. That's a very real possibility." He added that US color-coded threat alert warning system might need to be refined as a result of such manipulations by terrorists. Cox said the current "one-size-fits-all" nature of the security alert system needs to be limited to particular areas under threat rather than the whole nation. He said the current elevated alert would remain through the New Year holiday based on a sizable spike in intelligence activity, but "was not specific as to any date, time or place." "It is both quantitative and qualitative. There's more of it, and there are specific references to trying to destroy things here in the United States over the holiday season." Cox said while "there's good reason" this time for raising the alert level, his House committee would like to see the system further refined, to more narrowly share information rather than place the entire nation on alert. "Right now, the color code level is a one-size-fits-all notion. It applies to a quarter-billion people in America ... even though, no matter how general the threat, we can be certain that the country is not threatened in a homogenized way everywhere," Cox said.
Saudi Arabia has arrested two Islamic suicide pilots who were preparing to fly two light aircraft into a packed British Airways jet, a British newspaper said, quoting a senior opposition politician. The suspected suicide pilots were arrested in the last few weeks after they were found red-handed with aircraft loaded with explosives near Saudi Arabia's main airport in the capital Riyadh, The Mail on Dec. 28, 2003, said. "My understanding is that they were found on the flight line and that the plan was to fly them into a passenger jet either about to land or take off," said Patrick Mercer, the opposition Conservative spokesman for Homeland Security, according to the newspaper. Mercer, who said he had been informed of the plot by an "unimpeachable" source, intended to raise the matter at the House of Commons immediately after Members of Parliament returned from their Christmas break on January 5, the newspaper reported. Mercer claimed, according to the same source, that the Saudi authorities tried to cover up the incident near King Khalid International Airport and withheld information from authorities abroad. "These terrorists are potent and inventive and I very much hope the British government will take note of these developments," Mercer was quoted as saying. "They must defend our airspace and issue timely, accurate and meaningful warnings to both airlines and passengers," he was quoted in the report as saying. Both British Airways and the Foreign Office, which said it had checked with "relevant agencies," were unable to confirm the arrests. "We never comment on security matters," a BA spokesman said.
The British government Dec. 27 (2003) confirmed that MI6 had organised Operation Mass Appeal, a campaign to plant stories in the media about Saddam Husseins weapons of mass destruction. The revelation will create embarrassing questions for Tony Blair in the run-up to the publication of the report by Lord Hutton into the circumstances surrounding the death of Dr David Kelly, the government weapons expert. A senior official admitted that MI6 had been at the heart of a campaign launched in the late 1990s to spread information about Saddams development of nerve agents and other weapons, but denied that it had planted misinformation. There were things about Saddams regime and his weapons that the public needed to know, said the official. The admission followed claims by Scott Ritter, who led 14 inspection missions in Iraq, that MI6 had recruited him in 1997 to help with the propaganda effort. He described meetings where the senior officer and at least two other MI6 staff had discussed ways to manipulate intelligence material. The aim was to convince the public that Iraq was a far greater threat than it actually was, Ritter said. He said there was evidence that MI6 continued to use similar propaganda tactics up to the invasion of Iraq earlier this year. Stories ran in the media about secret underground facilities in Iraq and ongoing programmes (to produce weapons of mass destruction), said Ritter. They were sourced to western intelligence and all of them were garbage. Kelly, himself a former United Nations weapons inspector and colleague of Ritter, might also have been used by MI6 to pass information to the media. Kelly was a known and government-approved conduit with the media, said Ritter. Huttons report is expected to deliver a verdict next month on whether intelligence was misused in order to promote the case for going to war. Hutton heard evidence that Kelly was authorised by the Foreign Office to speak to journalists on Iraq. Kelly was in close touch with the Rockingham cell, a group of weapons experts that received MI6 intelligence. Blair justified his backing for sanctions and for the invasion of Iraq on the grounds that intelligence reports showed Saddam was working to acquire chemical, biological and nuclear weapons. The use of MI6 as a back channel for promoting the governments policies on Iraq was never discovered during the Hutton inquiry and is likely to cause considerable disquiet among MPs. A key figure in Operation Mass Appeal was Sir Derek Plumbly, then director of the Middle East department at the Foreign Office and now Britains ambassador to Egypt. Plumbly worked closely with MI6 to help to promote Britains Middle East policy. The campaign was judged to be having a successful effect on public opinion. MI6 passed on intelligence that Iraq was hiding weapons of mass destruction and rebuilding its arsenal. Poland, India and South Africa were initially chosen as targets for the campaign because they were non-aligned UN countries not supporting the British and US position on sanctions. At the time, in 1997, Poland was also a member of the UN security council. Ritter was a willing accomplice to the alleged propaganda effort when first approached by MI6s station chief in New York. He obtained approval to co-operate from Richard Butler, then executive chairman of the UN Special Commission on Iraq Disarmament. Ritter met MI6 to discuss Operation Mass Appeal at a lunch in London in June 1998 at which two men and a woman from MI6 were present. The Sunday Times is prevented by the Official Secrets Act from publishing their names. Ritter had previously met the MI6 officer at Vauxhall Cross, the services London headquarters. He asked Ritter for information on Iraq that could be planted in newspapers in India, Poland and South Africa from where it would feed back to Britain and America. Ritter opposed the Iraq war but this is the first time that he has named members of British intelligence as being involved in a propaganda campaign. He said he had decided to name names because he was frustrated at an official cover-up and the misuse of intelligence. What MI6 was determined to do by the selective use of intelligence was to give the impression that Saddam still had WMDs or was making them and thereby legitimise sanctions and military action against Iraq, he said. Recent reports suggest America has all but abandoned hopes of finding weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and that David Kay, head of the Iraq Survey Group, has resigned earlier than expected, frustrated that his resources have been diverted to tracking down insurgents.
The leaders of Ethiopia, Sudan and Yemen formed an anti-terror axis on Dec. 29 (2003) in the fight against extremists operating in the Horn of Africa. Ethiopia's Prime Minister Meles Zenawi announced the pact as the three countries attempt to shed their image as a haven for Islamic militants. They will share information and experience in fighting terrorists in a bid to boost efforts to hunt down suspected al-Qaeda members or supporters in the Horn, the leaders said. Among groups the three countries will target is the Somali extremist group Al Ittihad which has been linked to Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda terror network. Al Ittihad, which operates from Somalia, was placed on the US list of terrorist groups after the September 11 attacks. It has been accused of harbouring al-Qaeda terrorists who fled Afghanistan after the collapse of the Taliban. Sudan and Ethiopia also accused Eritrea of "destabilising" the Horn of Africa, but said they would welcome Eritrea as a member of their alliance. Yemen and Eritrea have also faced problems over ownership of a group of islands in the Red Sea, known as the Hanish. Eritrea has described the alliance as an "axis of belligerence" and accused the countries of conspiring against the tiny Red Sea state.
The FBI is warning police nationwide to be alert for people carrying almanacs, cautioning that the popular reference books covering everything from abbreviations to weather trends could be used for terrorist planning. In a bulletin sent Dec. 24 (2003) to about 18,000 police organizations, the FBI said terrorists may use almanacs "to assist with target selection and pre-operational planning." It urged officers to watch during searches, traffic stops and other investigations for anyone carrying almanacs, especially if the books are annotated in suspicious ways. "The practice of researching potential targets is consistent with known methods of al-Qaida and other terrorist organizations that seek to maximize the likelihood of operational success through careful planning," the FBI wrote. The FBI noted that use of almanacs or maps may be innocent, "the product of legitimate recreational or commercial activities." But it warned that when combined with suspicious behavior such as apparent surveillance a person with an almanac "may point to possible terrorist planning." "I don't think anyone would consider us a harmful entity," said Kevin Seabrooke, senior editor of The World Almanac. He said the referencebook includes about a dozen pages out of its 1,000 pages total listing the world's tallest buildings and bridges but includes no diagrams or architectural schematics. "It's stuff that's widely available on the Internet," he said.
U.S. government on Dec. 29 (2003) ordered foreign airlines to place armed marshals on selected flights to and from the United States to thwart attacks. The Department of Homeland Security issued the aviation emergency orders on aircraft flying to, from and over the United States.
Dec. 29, 2003 -- Israeli police, military and security forces are presently on their highest alert status at road blocks, ports and border crossings as the country braces for a possible mega-terror attack. "At the present time we have intercepted over 50 specific terror threats, " David Baker, a spokesperson for the Prime Minister's Office, told the INA. "One of these threats could be a mega-terror attack targeting our cities and towns on New Year's Eve." Israeli intelligence officials have information that terror groups are planning a major non-conventional attack on New Years Eve, possibly targeting holy sites, kindergartens, apartment buildings and hospitals, security officials said in Jerusalem. Police have been told to prepare for three possible scenarios: an air or sea-based attack or a ground assault involving several simultaneous suicide bombings, the officials said. Senior intelligence officials know which of the three scenarios is most likely, but are reluctant to share the information with police officers to prevent leaks, the officials said. The warnings are connected to Israels killing of a senior Islamic Jihad terrorist in the Gaza Strip on Dec. 25. Following the airstrike, Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz said the death had prevented a mega-terror attack, but security officials said the warnings are still relevant. Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia suggested that Palestinians would respond to recent IDF anti-terror operations by murdering more Israeli men, women and children. He made his comments to journalists four days after Israeli forces destroyed a weapons smuggling tunnel in southern Gaza and eliminated a known terror chief planning a "mega-attack." IAF helicopter gunships killed senior Palestine Islamic Jihad terror chief Makled Hamid and four others in his vehicle. Israel said it had intelligence that Hamid was reportedly planning a "mega-attack" against Jews. Security officials in the United States remain on a Code Orange terror threat status - the second highest alert in the nation. US police, military and security teams are presently equipped with WMD kits to monitor both ground and air for traces of radiation and biological substances. "We're still concerned," a senior U.S. law enforcement official said yesterday. The official cautioned that the passing of Christmas without an attack had not diminished heightened fears of terrorism on U.S. soil. "There's a lot of little pieces of information that we've been able to obtain, and we're in the process of analyzing that intelligence and ascertaining what it may mean," a senior US law enforcement official said. "Some of it was associated with New Year's Day," the source added.
Authorities in Deland, Florida, have contacted the Department of Homeland Security after a marked Florida Department of Transportation truck was stolen from a goverment maintenance yard. Detectives said someone caught on a security camera broke into the FDOT facility. After failing to successfully hotwire a few pickup trucks he jumped into a large asphalt pavement repair truck and plowed through the gates. A supervisor made the discovery of the missing truck Dec. 28, 2003. Officials said it is the first theft of its kind in recent memory. With the country on high terror alert, local authorities said they are not taking any chances and immediately notified the Department of Homeland Security in Tallahassee, Florida, and began an investigation. The Yellow 1995 Ford truck has the Department of Transportation emblem on both sides of the vehicle and the tag number 23963. The truck was found abandoned at a condominium complex in Palm Coast and will be processed for evidence then returned to the FDOT.
Health officials are limiting what they will say about deaths from the current flu outbreak, citing a new federal medical privacy law that carries the prospect of $10,000 fines. Interpretation of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, a law by Congress that took effect in April 2003, requires health providers, insurance companies and pharmacies to limit disclosures of patient medical information. HIPAA in its purest form would say nothing would be released, but there is this caveat that you can release information for the public good. Most states have taken the position that the public is helped by the release of more information, such as the risk factors in those most seriously affected. "Honesty and information doesn't cause panic. Lack of information causes panic," said Dr. Robin McFee, director of Nova's Center of Bioterrorism and Weapons of Mass Destruction Preparedness.
Terror strikes from the
sea could be even more catastrophic than those from the air,
intelligence officials say. They fear a hijacked oil tanker could
be rigged with explosives or a radioactive dirty bomb could be
smuggled ashore in a shipping container. But almost 5,000 ships
and about four out of every five of the nation's ports, ferry
terminals and fuel-chemical tank farms failed to meet a Dec. 31,
2003 deadline for submitting security plans showing how they will
deal with those potential threats. Security measures to prevent
attacks at seaports and inland waterways have fallen far behind
efforts to protect airports and airplanes since the 2001
terrorist attacks. Congress last year ordered the maritime
shipping industry to tighten security amid fears that an attack
on a port could kill thousands, cause tremendous property damage
and cost tens of billions of dollars in lost revenue to the U.S.
economy. Coast Guard officials said the deadline for submitting
the plans was met by about 5,200 of 10,000 ships told to submit
them and only 1,100 of 5,000 port facilities - despite a
potential fine of $25,000. December 31, 2003 also was the
deadline for airports to start screening all airline baggage
electronically for explosives. But Deputy Homeland Security
Secretary James Loy told Congress two months ago that the
deadline would not be met at five airports. "A handful"
of airports still don't have the screening equipment installed,
said Darrin Kayser, a Transportation Security Administration
spokesman. One reason ships, ports and other facilities were
missing their deadline is they were given too little time, said
Maureen Ellis, a spokeswoman for the Association of American Port
Authorities. The government didn't finalize what it wanted until
Oct. 22, though the industry was told July 1 they had six months
to submit the plans. Ellis also said some ports found the
regulations and requirements to be "overwhelming." The
"plan review approval form" for cruise ship terminals,
for example, is 20 pages long. The plans have to be implemented
by July 1, 2004 when the Coast Guard can start turning away ships
and shutting down ports that don't comply. James Carafano, a
homeland security expert with the Heritage Foundation, thinks
major ports will meet the July deadline. Otherwise, he said,
"the economic consequences are too horrifying to contemplate."
The Coast Guard estimates that meeting the new requirements will
cost $7.4 billion over the next decade.
http://www.uscg.mil/hq/g-m/mp/index.shtml Coast Guard's port security
http://www.aapa-ports.org/ Association of American Port Authorities
http://www.americanwaterways.com/ American Waterways Association
Three international flight routes -- London Heathrow to Dulles International Airport, and Paris and Mexico City to Los Angeles -- are the focus of an intense manhunt for al Qaeda terrorists being carried out by intelligence and law enforcement authorities on three continents, U.S. officials said Jan. 4, 2004. In the past two weeks, the more than 15 flights that have been canceled, delayed, turned around or escorted by U.S. fighter aircraft were identified by an inexact combination of dates, flight numbers and routes obtained through intercepted communications and through interrogations with al Qaeda detainees and other credible informants in U.S. and foreign custody, intelligence officials said. Some information used to make a decision to cancel or delay a flight was verified or judged credible only shortly before takeoff or after the plane had departed, said intelligence officials. They described the nature of the hunt as extremely fast-paced and based on fragmentary information. But some policymakers and airline industry representatives had complained publicly about the cancellations and the significant financial pain they are causing for airlines, as well as the headaches for travelers. "They provided just generalities and no details of names, groups or circumstances whatsoever," said a spokesman for Mexican President Vicente Fox. "The Mexican government had no other option but to cancel the flights. It is the moral responsibility of the United States government to provide more information." Complete passenger manifest lists are usually not available to U.S. authorities until an hour or less before takeoff. Some airlines do not turn over the complete passenger manifest until the door is "wheels up," or the aircraft is closed, with all passengers on board, and it is headed for the runway for takeoff, said one FBI official. "To the extent we can scrub [names] in advance, we do," the official said. Intelligence officials, however, said they believed potential hijackers would likely travel under clean aliases. U.S. officials must check manifests using a dozen watch lists because the planned consolidation of such data has yet to be completed. "Every time you cancel flights, every one indicates a win for the other side," said an aviation security expert and former director of security for Northwest Airlines. "I don't think canceling flights and rescreening of passengers builds confidence. It does the opposite."
Foreigners entering U.S. airports and seaports from all but 28 nations began getting their fingerprints scanned and photographs taken Jan. 5, 2004. All 115 U.S. airports that handle international flights and 14 major seaports are covered by the program, under which Customs officials can instantly check an immigrant or visitor's criminal background. Inkless fingerprints will be taken and checked instantly against a national digital database for criminal backgrounds and any terrorist lists. The process will be repeated when the foreigners leave the country as an extra security measure and to ensure they complied with visa limitations. Photographs will be used to help create a database for law enforcement. The travel data is supposed to be securely stored and made available only to authorized officials on a need-to-know basis. A similar program is to be installed at 50 land border crossings by the end of next year. The U.S. system consists of a small box that digitally scans fingerprints and a spherical computer camera that snaps pictures.The U.S. system consists of a small box that digitally scans fingerprints and a spherical computer camera that snaps pictures.
What are the scenarios that could upset the bull stock market in 2004? Hefty hurdles lie ahead that could derail the upturn, analysts say. Higher inflation, rising interest rates and a slowdown in the rate of economic growth are all distinct possibilities. A further weakening of the dollar is a near certainty, which could undermine U.S. financial assets, including stocks. The dollar needs to be watched because ordinarily this big a decline in the dollar leads to rising inflation and interest rates as well as the possibility of a decline in stock prices. The last time we had a decline of this magnitude in the dollar was in 1987, causing a Wall Street crash and record drop in the Dow. The real show-stopper would be a domestic terrorist attack, a successful one that clearly undermines consumer confidence and the capital markets.
Consumer debt has more
than doubled in the past 10 years to record levels, making it
hard for many families to cope. Consumer debt hit a record $1.98
trillion in October 2003, according to the most recent figures
from the Federal Reserve. That debt which includes credit
cards and car loans, but not mortgages translates to some
$18,700 per U.S. household. At the same time, the government says
the nation's savings rate dropped to just 2 percent of after-tax
income in the first half of the year. That means many people lack
the means to deal with financial emergencies, much less their
eventual retirement. What's surprising about the nation's debt is
that it has continued to rise despite record numbers of mortgage
refinancing from 2001 to 2003, many of them yielding cash that
consumers have used to pay down credit card balances. Consumer
bankruptcies have exceeded 1 million a year since 1996, hitting a
record of 1.54 million in 2002. Bankruptcy filings totaled 1.25
million during the first nine months of 2003 and could set a new
record when full-year tabulations are done by the Washington-based
American Bankruptcy Institute. Americans currently spend a near-record
18.1 percent of their after-tax income to cover debts, including
mortgages. That limits their ability to borrow more to spend
more, and consumer spending accounts for about two-thirds of the
economy. In the long run, it's a ticking time bomb. At some point
when you get a sharp setback in the economy or a spike in
interest rates, the high debt causes instability.
Analysts and investors
reacted with surprise to new figures showing the nation's labor
market remains stagnant. The puzzle, both for those who gauge the
job market up close and those who sift through numbers, is
figuring out what the disappointing figures released by the
government Jan. 9 (2004) say about where the economy is headed.
"You wouldn't know that things are better based on the
number of people who are either meeting with us or all the other
job groups," says Jaffe, manager of InfoPLACE, a career
counseling center at the Cuyahoga County Public Library branch in
Maple Heights, Ohio. "It sort of cuts across class and
experience and education," says Jaffe, comparing the changes
to the layoffs in the 1980s that focused mostly on northeast
Ohio's factory jobs. Now, assembly line workers and executives
"are both in the same boat." The figures reported by
the government point to the breadth of the job cuts and the
slowness of the recovery. The national unemployment rate fell in
December. But employers did almost no hiring, with the drop in
the jobless rate largely reflecting the fact that more than 300,000
Americans gave up looking for work. The 1,000 new jobs created
were far below the 150,000 new jobs economists expected. That is
considered a key level because it is enough to absorb new
entrants to the labor market and begin to offset existing
unemployment. The average unemployed worker continues to spend
nearly 20 weeks looking for a job, the report said. One of the
few was hiring by temporary employment agencies, often one of the
first sources of new jobs in a recovery, which added 30,000 new
positions in December. The lack of job growth
partly reflects the fact that companies are moving job overseas,
even as they squeeze more productivity out of remaining U.S.
workers, economists said. The increased productivity, due in
large part to new technology in the workplace, has helped drive
the economy's resurgence. But some economists said the new
employment figures make them question how much longer that can
continue. "When people are fired or there's attrition in the
labor force or workplace, employers are saying we've got to get
the same work done with fewer people. ... It's certainly not
sustainable," said the research director for the Economic
Policy Institute. The squeeze to get more out
of rank-and-file workers points to a recovery that is benefiting
wealthier consumers, while doing little for those at the lower
end of the scale, said an EPI economist.
Similar doubts were noting that continued hiring by temporary
agencies would swell the ranks of workers holding mostly lower
paid jobs with fewer benefits.
http://www.epinet.org/ Economic Policy Institute
Crude oil futures prices rose nearly 4 percent Jan. 5, 2004, nearing $34 a barrel. Analysts and traders attributed the surge in prices to soaring natural gas futures prices, which in turn boosted heating oil futures and pushed the rest of the crude complex higher. The weak dollar also is pushing energy prices higher, analysts said.
The U.S. airline industry accused the Bush administration Jan. 8, 2004, of recklessly driving up the cost of oil by purchasing unnecessarily large amounts of petroleum for the nation's strategic reserves at a time when prices are already high. "The government is out buying fuel, it appears, without much regard for the impact that it is having on prices," said James C. May, the chief executive of the Air Transport Association, the industry's main lobbying group. May, speaking to a group of reporters at the association's headquarters in Washington, said oil purchases made by the Energy Department were adding enough demand to the world marketplace to drive up the price of oil by more than $6 per barrel, a major concern for airlines since jet fuel is their second biggest expense after labor. Industry analysts attribute the high price of oil to tight supplies, rising demand because of the improving economy and fears about international terrorism. A report last March said that President Bush's decision after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks to aggressively boost oil reserves had drained supplies and caused energy prices to rise. Each dollar increase in the price of oil translates into an additional 2-3 cents per gallon for jet fuel, according to the airline trade group. May said the industry was in the process of crafting a formal complaint to the Bush administration about its fuel purchasing policies. May does not oppose the policy of filling the reserve, but he said the government "needs to be a little more careful about how it goes about buying fuel on the open market."
Jet-crash mystery deepens
By PAUL KORING
Jan. 4, 2004 -- Qatar-based Al-Jazeera television aired an audiotape attributed to Osama bin Laden in which he appeared to refer to the December 13 capture of Saddam Hussein and at least one other recent development. Gulf leaders "know that their turn is coming" after seeing "the capture of their former comrade in treason and collaboration with America," the speaker purported to be the Al-Qaeda terror chief said. Listing US-led "conspiracies" against the Islamic nation, the voice also referred to the "Geneva peace initiative", an unofficial Israeli-Palestinian peace plan which was officially unveiled in the Swiss city on December 1. The man said to be bin Laden also spoke of the triple suicide bombings last May in Riyadh, citing "the Riyadh bombings in Rabih al-Awal this year" -- the date according to the Muslim calendar. The man said to be bin Laden lashed out at Gulf Arab rulers for cooperating with the United States and charged that Saudi leaders had launched their crackdown on Islamist militants "before the Riyadh bombings in Rabih al-Awal this year." They had done so at Washington's behest "in the hope of winning its approval," the voice said. The last bin Laden audiotape, aired by Al-Jazeera on October 18, 2003, appeared to be several months old. The Dubai-based Al-Arabiya satellite channel aired an audiotape attributed to bin Laden on December 20, but Al-Jazeera said it was the same one it had run more extensively two months earlier. In the new tape, the speaker said to be bin Laden warned that unless the United States was stopped, it would go on occupying Saudi Arabia and the entire oil-rich Gulf region after Iraq. "There can be no dialogue with the occupiers except with weapons," the speaker said. He urged Muslims to resort to jihad, or holy war, to "repel the huge conspiracies woven against our nation" -- from "the crusaders' occupation of Baghdad using the weapons of mass destruction deceit ... to the fierce attempt to crush the jihad and the mujahedeen in beloved Palestine using the deceit of the roadmap and the Geneva peace initiative." The United States was feverishly going after "those who raise the banner of jihad under the guise of fighting terrorism, with the help of the hypocrites, because they all know that jihad is the potent force that can thwart all plots," the speaker said. "The occupation of Iraq is only a link in the chain of evil of the Zionists and crusaders. The total occupation of the other Gulf countries will follow on the path of control and hegemony over the entire world." "Today Baghdad and tomorrow Riyadh and so on." The speaker also lashed out at the United States for urging Muslim countries to reform their education systems. "The Americans' intentions have also transpired through their statements about the need to change the beliefs, curricula and ethics of Muslims -- to make them more tolerant, as they put it," the speaker said.
North Korea offered on Jan. 6, 2004, to freeze its nuclear program, including weapons and energy development. North Korea has said before it is willing to freeze its "nuclear activities" in exchange for U.S. aid and being removed from Washington's list of terrorism-sponsoring nations. It specified it would not test or produce nuclear weapons and even stop operating its nuclear power industry "as first-phase measures of the package solution." In a commentary carried by the official KCNA news agency, North Korea called the offer "one more bold concession" aimed at resolving the international standoff. The Bush administration has said it wants evidence that North Korea is beginning to dismantle its nuclear weapons programs before it delivers any concessions.
Kashmiri militant groups and Islamic hard-liners vowed to continue fighting Indian rule on Jan. 6, 2004, expressing outrage at Pakistan's agreement with India to work toward a solution in the divided region. The Pakistan-based wing of the Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front, which seeks a Kashmir independent of both India and Pakistan, called the agreement Pakistan's "worst surrender." "Pakistan has committed itself to suppress and kill the Kashmiri freedom movement," its chief, Amanullah Khan said. "It is a blow to the freedom struggle. But it will go on. Movements do not finish on government orders. In the past we had to fight only Indians, now it seems Pakistan has also committed itself to suppress our movement."
With huge New Year's Eve celebrations and college football bowl games only days away, the U.S. government during December 2003 dispatched scores of casually dressed nuclear scientists with sophisticated radiation detection equipment hidden in briefcases and golf bags to scour five major U.S. cities for radiological, or "dirty," bombs, according to officials involved in the emergency effort. The call-up of Department of Energy radiation experts to Washington, New York, Las Vegas, Los Angeles and Baltimore was the first since the weeks after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. It was conducted in secrecy, in contrast with the very public cancellation of 15 commercial flights into this country from France, Britain and Mexico -- the other major counterterrorism response of the holiday season. U.S. officials said they remain worried today -- in many cases, more concerned than much of the American public realizes -- that their countermeasures would fall short. Even now, hundreds of nuclear and bioweapons scientists remain on high alert at several military bases around the country, ready to fly to any trouble spot. Pharmaceutical stockpiles for responding to biological attacks are on transportable trucks at key U.S. military bases. The terrorism crisis began late on Dec. 19 (2003), when analysts assembled what they described as extremely specific intelligence. One fear was that al Qaeda would hijack and crash an overseas flight into a U.S. city or the ocean. Another was that terrorists would shoot down an airliner with a shoulder-fired missile. U.S. officials also became concerned that a large, open-air New Year's Eve celebration might be targeted. While the perimeters of football stadiums can generally be secured, outdoor celebrations are much more vulnerable, they said. The Homeland Security Department sent out large fixed radiation detectors and hundreds of pager-size radiation monitors for use by police in Washington, New York, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Chicago, Houston, San Diego, San Francisco, Seattle and Detroit. Homeland Security also ordered the dispatch of scores of Energy Department radiation experts to cities planning large public events. One of them was Baltimore, where Coast Guard and Energy Department personnel patrolled the waterfront with sophisticated radiation detectors in preparation for a New Year's Eve party at the Inner Harbor. Dozens of others fanned out in Manhattan, where, on New Year's Eve, up to 1 million people were scheduled to gather in Times Square. Still others converged on Las Vegas, home of a huge yearly New Year's Eve party on the Strip, and around Los Angeles, where the Rose Bowl parade on New Year's Day draws as many as 1 million people. The Energy Department scientists proceeded to their assigned locations to take covert readings with their disguised radiological equipment in a variety of settings. "Our guys can fit in a sports stadium, a construction site or on Fifth Avenue," one Energy Department official said. "Their equipment is configured to look like anybody else's luggage or briefcase." Starting on Dec. 22, the teams crisscrossed those cities, taking measurements 24 hours a day. FBI agents persuaded businesses in some cities -- including hotels and truck-rental firms in Las Vegas -- to voluntarily turn over lists of guests or customers for comparison with terrorism watch lists. On Dec. 29 in Las Vegas, the searchers got their first and only radiation "spike," at a rented storage facility near downtown. The finding sent a jolt of tension through the nation's security apparatus; the White House was notified. The experts rechecked the reading with a more precise machine that told them that inside the cinderblock storage unit was radium, a radioactive material used in medical equipment and on watch dials. As rare snow fell on the city that early morning, FBI agents secured the industrial neighborhood around the site, and a small army of agents and scientists converged on the business. Soon the renter of the storage closet in question, a homeless man, happened on the odd scene and asked the officers not to cut his padlock. He supplied the key. The scientists sent in a robot to snag a duffel bag in which the man had been storing a cigar-size radium pellet -- which is used to treat uterine cancer -- since he found the shiny stainless-steel object three years before. Not knowing what the object was, he had wrapped it in his nighttime pillow. Officials said he has not exhibited any signs of ill health, yet. The man, whose name could not be obtained, was released. Five tense hours after their radiation detectors had spiked, officials concluded there was no security crisis in the storage locker.
Explosions rock Conway,
Arkansas chemical plant
http://www.katv.com/ ABC Little Rock
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http://www.arkansasnbc.com/ KPOM NBC Fayetteville
[Note that these links do not archive stories]
Thailand is investigating links between a wave of violence in the mainly Muslim south and foreign militant groups and has asked Indonesia to monitor Thai Muslim students for signs of radicalism, officials said on Jan. 8, 2004. Some officials said they were convinced those responsible for a series of attacks since Jan. 4 had ties to foreign groups such as Jemaah Islamiah, the Southeast Asian network linked to al Qaeda. Officials said the separatist Gerakan Mujahideen Islam Pattani may be behind the coordinated assault on an army weapons depot, which killed four soldiers, and the burning of 21 state schools. One of its leaders, Jehbemae Buteh, was among four suspects being hunted and believed to be hiding in Malaysia. "We believe Buteh is the leader of the group attacking southern Thailand," Pallop Pinmanee, deputy chief of the Internal Security Operations Command, said in a radio interview. Jemaah Islamiah is seeking a pan-Islamic state encompassing Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and the southern Philippines. Thailand has put three southern provinces, where most Muslims speak Malay, under martial law, since the attacks. Thailand asked Jakarta to monitor Thai Muslim students studying in Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim nation, for signs of militancy following the attacks. Indonesia was also asked to check student bank accounts for money that might have been sent by terrorist groups, Justice Minister Phongthep Thepkanjana said. "What we have been told is that many Thai Muslim students studying in Indonesia behave well during class, but after class they are very radical in political movements," he told reporters after meeting Indonesian police chief Da'i Bachtiar in Bangkok. Thailand's south has a reputation for lawlessness, where gunrunners supply insurgents as far away as Sri Lanka and Indonesia. Muslim separatist movements fought a low-scale war there in the 1970s and 1980s before taking up an amnesty offer. The latest violence has sparked fears of a revived insurgency in the south, home to most of Thailand's six million Muslims, about 10 percent of the country's population.
The International Monetary Fund warned that the gaping US budget deficit, ballooning trade imbalance and falling dollar were posing a serious threat to the health of the global economy. It sounded the alarm in a critical report on US fiscal policy, which rounds on the Bush administration's tax cuts in 2003. The IMF urged Washington to get its house in order by raising taxes and cutting spending. Debt is expected to reach 40% of the US economy, which the report described as "an unprecedented level of external debt for a large industrial country" that would push up global interest rates and slow growth. The IMF also said the deficits could deter private investment within the US, hurt long term productivity growth and endanger social security programs.
British police arrested a man before Christmas 2003 who was suspected of preparing himself for a suicide bombing and who had links to al Qaeda, the Sunday Times newspaper said. The paper, which did not give a source, said the man in his late twenties was arrested after leaving notes to his family saying he planned to "martyr" himself. The paper said he was an Algerian asylum seeker. The man had also shaved off all his body hair -- a religious act often observed by would-be suicide bombers so that they are "clean" before entering heaven, the paper said. "I hope you treat me as a hero and a martyr," the man wrote to his sister and mother. The letter was discovered by police on a raid at his home, which the paper said was in the north of England. British police declined to comment on the story. In December, police remanded a British Muslim in custody over charges of having explosives and conspiring with convicted "shoebomber" Richard Reid to carry out terror attacks. The paper said the latest suspect was believed to have been charged with unrelated terrorist offences.
Al-Qaida-linked groups are training and recruiting militants to carry out suicide attacks that have become Osama bin Laden's "greatest achievement" as his brand of extremist Islam spreads around the world, a terrorism expert said Jan. 7, 2004. The greatest threats include Al Ansar Al Islami in Iraq, Jemaah Islamiyah in Southeast Asia, Al Ansar Mujahidin in Chechnya, the Taliban in Afghanistan and the Salafi Group for Call and Combat in Algeria, Rohan Gunaratna told a Southeast Asian outlook forum. Gunaratna said a fresh batch of Jemaah Islamiyah terrorists will graduate Jan. 15 from a camp in the southern Philippines. Based in Indonesia, Jemaah Islamiyah is an al-Qaida funded regional group believed responsible for the 2002 Bali nightclub bombings that killed 202 people, among other terrorist attacks in the region. The camp is run by the secessionist Moro Islamic Liberation Front, or MILF, which is fighting for an independent Muslim homeland in Mindanao, Gunaratna said. He did not elaborate on the number of graduates or where he got his information, but Indonesia intelligence has also said there's a recruiting drive for the group, thought to have about 3,000 members. Sidney Jones, the Indonesian project director for the Brussels-based International Crisis Group, supported Gunaratna's assessment on the Philippines being a Jemaah Islamiyah training ground. "There are several MILFs, all using the same name," Jones said, adding that these factions were not the same as the group now conducting peace negotiations with Manila. Despite the arrest of Jemaah Islamiyah's alleged operations chief Hambali in Thailand in 2003, Jones said there were a number of key group operatives still at large, including Azahari Husin and Nordin Mohamed Top. The two men are accused of planning the Bali bombings. Gunaratna, author of "Inside al-Qaida: Global Network of Terror," said the bulk of the terrorist attacks expected in 2004 will come from these groups trained and financed by bin Laden and not the network itself. "Small, disparate organizations mounting operations are in many ways Osama bin Laden's greatest achievement," said Gunaratna. Before the Sept. 11, 2001 strikes in the United States, the al-Qaida network launched an attack every two years; since then, there has been one al-Qaida-linked attack every three months, Gunaratna noted. He predicted that pace will continue through 2004, with the growing threats coming from the smaller, regional terrorist organizations. "As the memory of 9/11 recedes, the West is likely to witness another mass casualty attack on Western soil," Gunaratna said. In a paper presented at the forum, he said: "The threat of terrorism and its associated groups will persist throughout 2004." Maritime targets are vulnerable to attack, he said, adding "almost all the attacks will be suicide vehicle bombings, an al-Qaida hallmark." If left unchecked, Iran could emerge as a training ground for al-Qaida terrorists, Gunaratna predicted.
North Korea hinted Jan. 9 (2004) that it would not follow Libya in renouncing weapons of mass destruction, calling such expectations a "hallucination" and "foolish." "The United States is hyping recent developments in some Middle East countries," a North Korean Foreign Ministry spokesman said, in an apparent reference to Libya's renouncing of WMD and the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. North Korea "has never been influenced by others and this will not happen in the future," he said. "To expect any 'change' from the DPRK stand is as foolish as expecting a shower from clear sky," the spokesman said, referring to North Korea by its official name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. "It is the historical truth that peace is won and defended only with strength."
Pilots and air-traffic-control officials are expressing concern that U.S. fighter jets being deployed to escort some passenger flights could be creating unnecessary risks to commercial aviation. Military fighters have shadowed at least a dozen commercial flights since U.S. officials raised the nation's terror alert level on Dec. 21 (2003), two sources who track the operations said. Typically, fighters are used to keep an eye on flights that, for a range of reasons, have been deemed suspicious by U.S. counterterrorism and intelligence officials. Since the Sept. 11 attacks, fighters have raced to check out suspicious flights about 1,600 times, according to the North Atlantic Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD). Most of the flights were small, private planes. Capt. Stephen Luckey, chairman of the Air Line Pilots Association's security committee, said the benefits of fighter-jet escorts might not be worth the potential risks. "Everyone needs to look very carefully at this," says Luckey, whose union represents more than 50,000 commercial pilots. He said some pilots worry that even with strict rules of engagement that limit when military fighters can shoot at suspicious civilian aircraft, there is a risk of an accidental shoot-down. When nimble fighter jets zoom up and down in areas normally reserved for civilian aircraft, that increases the chances that a fighter could collide with another jet, Luckey said. Air traffic controllers periodically have raised such concerns with NORAD. In a few cases, the unusual mix of military and commercial flights in the same airspace has created confusion and led to concerns about safety. Controllers working for the Federal Aviation Administration guide airline traffic and ensure that jets do not come too close to one another. The NORAD flights work with the civilian controllers, but the fighter pilots have the authority to select their own flight paths. For military and government officials, the 9/11 attacks raised the jarring possibility that in an extreme emergency, fighter jets might have to shoot down a commercial airliner, perhaps killing innocent passengers to save many other people on the ground. Air Force Gen. Ralph Eberhart, chief of the U.S. Northern Command as well as NORAD, has said that the military has taken several steps to try to minimize the chance of downing an innocent civilian aircraft. Eberhart is one of two Air Force generals who have authority to order fighters to shoot down a civilian aircraft if the president or other high-level officials cannot be contacted quickly enough. He said that NORAD conducts drills up to four times a week and that pilots repeatedly are quizzed on the rules governing when they can shoot. Air Force Lt. Col. Roberto Garza, a NORAD spokesman, said that an FAA liaison officer now is stationed in NORAD's Air Warning Center in Cheyenne Mountain, Colo., to improve communication between the two agencies. Garza declined to discuss the procedures that NORAD pilots follow when they follow commercial jets or the rules under which they might shoot one. Eberhart has said only that "we respond according to each situation." Luckey said he believes that before shooting at a jet, the military must not only be certain that the aircraft has been hijacked; officials also must be convinced that it is heading for a sensitive target such as a nuclear plant or government building. The basic rules for intercepting a civilian flight are more well known. All civilian pilots are taught that if a military jet flies alongside and rocks its wings back and forth, the pilot must follow the fighter pilots' instructions. Luckey and other pilots said they have no doubt that the fighter escorts are necessary to protect commercial flights against airborne terrorism. But they said there have been several glitches in such operations. Several pilots said that in a few instances in the months after the Sept. 11 attacks, fighter jets got so close to airline flights that the commercial pilots were forced to take evasive action to avoid collisions.
An appeals court has ruled that the New York City Fire Department cannot edit out statements about emergency workers' personal feelings when it releases documents and audiotapes showing the response to the 2001 terrorist attacks. The State Supreme Court's Appellate Division partially reversed a lower court ruling that directed disclosure of the firefighters' and emergency workers' oral histories, but ordered the removal of their personal expressions of feeling, opinions and recommendations. In its 5-0 ruling made public Jan. 8 (2004), the appeals court ordered that the workers' expressions of personal feelings should be restored, saying they did not fall into any category that makes public agency documents exempt. But the court did not require the city to divulge the firefighters' opinions and recommendations about the attacks, concluding that such material is covered by an exemption under state law. The appeals court ruled in response to a request by The New York Times to obtain tapes of 911 calls made from the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, as well as firefighters' internal interviews following the attacks. Lawyers for both the Times and the city said they were considering appeals. There is no timetable yet for when the city might release the records.
The United States is keeping eight airports and other unspecified facilities on high alert for terrorist attack, after lowering the general threat level to "elevated" from "high". Announcing the lowering of the threat level Jan. 9 (2004), after 19 days of intense nationwide security precautions, Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge said that the United States would however "maintain particular vigilance around some critical resources and locales." Without giving details he said most of the increased security would involve "the private sector" and this included airlines, US media reported. Sources told The Washington Post those facilities included eight airports, including those in Washington, New York, Los Angeles and Las Vegas. A government official told USA Today privately that "certain airports as well as the cities of New York, Washington and Los Angeles will continue to have increased security." A few of the many hundreds of dams, bridges and chemical plants that received heightened protection during the higher alert will continue to be treated with extra vigilance, USA Today quoted the official as saying. The move signals a major departure in US strategy on internal security, in which officials "communicate quietly with local officials who need to ramp up security in specific areas" rather than issue costly blanket alerts encompassing the entire country, the Post noted. The change reflects narrower, more "sophisticated" risk assessments concerning specific facilities, locations and types of infrastructure, homeland security sources said.
Microsoft Flight Sim Inquiry Raises Terror Alert By Andrew Orlowski
Under a new proposal, the White House would decide what and when the public would be told about an outbreak of mad cow disease, an anthrax release, a nuclear plant accident or any other crisis. The White House Office of Management and Budget is trying to gain final control over release of emergency declarations from the federal agencies responsible for public health, safety and the environment. The OMB also wants to manage scientific and technical evaluations - known as peer reviews - of all major government rules, plans, proposed regulations and pronouncements. Currently, each federal agency controls its emergency notifications and peer review of its projects. But the OMB says peer review policies in various agencies vary dramatically. And a senior OMB official says his office has been ordered by Congress to take "a greater role in evaluating what the agencies do." On Jan. 9 (2004), a nonpartisan group of 20 former top agency officials sent a letter to the OMB asking the White House watchdog agency to withdraw its proposal, saying it "could damage the federal system for protecting public health and the environment." One of the signers, David Michaels, said: "It goes beyond just having the White House involved in picking industry favorites to evaluate government science. Under this proposal, the carefully crafted process used by the government to notify the public of an imminent danger is going to first have to be signed off by someone weighing the political hazards." Michaels, a former assistant secretary for environment, safety and health at the Department of Energy, is now a research professor at George Washington University's School of Public Health. He added: "OMB is not a science agency. The ramifications of it attempting to insert itself into a time-proven system of having the most knowledgeable scientists available evaluate proposed policy or regulations is a disaster in the making." In addition to Michaels, the letter is signed by two former Environmental Protection Agency administrators, a former secretary of labor, two former heads of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, a former assistant labor secretary in charge of mine safety and health, and 13 other former senior officials of both political parties. The letter referred to a Nov. 18 conference sponsored by the National Academy of Sciences on the OMB's plan. "Speaker after speaker warned that implementation of this proposal would lead to increased costs and delays in disseminating information to the public and in promulgating health, safety, environmental and other regulations, while potentially damaging the existing system of peer review," the letter said. There is wide concern among those in the science offices at the EPA and Occupational Safety and Health Administration that their agencies' responses will be based more on political realities than on the genuine merits of the OMB's proposal. The OMB was created in 1970 to evaluate all agency budget, policy, legislative, regulatory and management issues on behalf of the president. Many in the scientific community worry that the OMB's selection process for reviewers will taint impartiality. In lengthy comments to the OMB, Cohen and a co-signer, Robert Wells, president of the 60,000-member Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology, also questioned the OMB's proposed involvement in screening emergency public health announcements. Michael Taylor, former deputy commissioner at the FDA under the first Bush administration, warned that the OMB's involvement in the dissemination of information on "imminent health hazards" is dangerous. "OMB's proposal says it gets to weigh in on any agency statement that would have a significant impact on an industry. Any FDA warning or recall would have that nationwide impact. The OMB's actions are needed, according to a senior OMB official, because "federal agencies have inconsistent peer review policies." The OMB says it has been ordered by Congress to take a greater role in evaluating what the agencies do. "Congress, in the Information Quality Law, required OMB to engage in oversight of the information quality activities of federal agencies," the senior OMB official said. "Peer review is one of the critical activities agencies use to assure quality control of information during pre-dissemination review." The OMB's attempt to take control of the release of emergency information surprises even its critics. There were headlines across the country when the EPA's inspector general confirmed that the White House's Council on Environmental Quality had forced downplaying of actual hazards from the collapse of the World Trade Center buildings. "Incredibly, OMB's response to this widespread criticism about political interference in public health decisions is to come right out and explicitly propose to take authority over release of emergency information away from health, safety and environmental officials and transfer it into the hands" of John Graham, said Winifred De Palma, regulatory affairs counsel for Public Citizen. "OMB has no statutory or other express legal authority to impose this type of control on the agencies," De Palma said. "If the plan is implemented, it will mean that political considerations, and not public health, will be the administration's primary concern in the deciding whether to release health and safety information to the public in emergency situations."
Saddam's POW Status A Deal To Hide Past US Dirt? By Hamza Hendawi
Swiss authorities who arrested eight suspected supporters of al-Qaida based their investigation in part on telephone numbers stored in terrorists' cell phones found in Saudi Arabia, according to a court document and Swiss newspapers. Some of the suspects aided the travel from Afghanistan to Saudi Arabia of those involved with the May 12 suicide attacks in Riyadh that killed 35, the Geneva daily Le Temps reported Jan. 12, 2004. The eight suspects described only as non-Swiss were picked up Jan. 8 in simultaneous raids in five Swiss cantons, or states, police said. They were believed to be the first arrests outside Saudi Arabia in the May bombings aimed at Westerners. Saudi and American officials have blamed al-Qaida for the May attack and a Nov. 8 suicide car bomb that killed 17 people and wounded 122 at a compound for foreign workers in Riyadh. Swiss officials disclosed they had begun their investigation eight days after the May bombing, in part because one of the victims was a Swiss citizen. A Swiss supreme court ruling in October said the Swiss investigation was launched in part because of cell phone calls of one of the alleged terrorists in Saudi Arabia. "A number was found in the memory of the mobile telephones of one of the alleged terrorists of an al-Qaida cell that could be assigned to 'X,'" according to court documents. The person referred to only as "X" in the court document was an unidentified woman living in Switzerland who was cleared of any wrongdoing in a subsequent investigation. The court ruling said only that the woman's number "was in the mobile telephone of an organizer of the attack" and that she was astonished by the fact and disavowed any connection to anyone who might be involved in such attacks. Le Temps said the investigation was "started because of the telephone numbers found on the mobile phones of the alleged terrorists in Saudi Arabia." It said the raids followed "several months of phone taps and thousands of hours of surveillance." Those arrested in Switzerland are being held on suspicion of providing logistical support to a criminal organization, police said. The weekly SonntagsZeitung said the suspects had provided al-Qaida with documents and money but that they possibly were also prepared to carry out suicide attacks themselves. Swiss authorities refused to disclose the identities or the nationalities of the suspects, but Swiss newspapers said they were from Egypt, Somalia, Yemen, Morocco, Algeria, and Bosnia. Hansjuerg Mark Wiedmer, spokesman for the Swiss Federal Prosecutor's Office, declined to comment on the newspaper reports. Le Temps said the suspects were primarily veterans of fighting in Afghanistan and that they had helped some of the May 12 attackers travel through Switzerland to Saudi Arabia. "The terrorists cannot travel directly from to Saudi Arabia from Afghanistan, because they would be spotted by the Saudi security services," the paper said. The most recent Swiss internal security report, published by the Federal Police Office in July 2002, said there was no evidence the hijackers in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks used Switzerland as a logistics or training base, but noted that some had transited through the country. Swiss authorities have also said senior leaders of al-Qaida have used Swiss cell phones to communicate in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Although these were the first al-Qaida-linked arrests in Switzerland, neighboring countries have made dozens since the Sept. 11 attacks. Europe has a growing Muslim population and is seen as a potential breeding ground for extremists. Swiss officials have blocked 82 bank accounts containing $28 million in connection with investigations into al-Qaida and the Taliban militia, which formerly ruled Afghanistan. They also continue to investigate the defunct Al-Taqwa Management Organization, a financial firm operating on Islamic principles that was based in Switzerland until it was liquidated in December 2001. The U.S. government says Al-Taqwa, which was renamed the Nada Management Organization, helped fund bin Laden's terrorist network.
An outbreak of deadly
avian flu in Vietnam which may have killed as many as 12 people
could be the precursor to an influenza pandemic, experts admitted
Jan. 12, 2004. "The ingredients are there that the pandemic
can occur," Klaus Stohr, project leader of the World Health
Organization's global influenza program, said in an interview
from Geneva. "We can hope for the best but we are preparing
for the worst." Public health authorities have been
predicting for some time that the world is overdue for a new
pandemic, which would sweep the globe, killing millions and
causing far-reaching social and economic disruption. The most
deadly example of an influenza pandemic was the Spanish Flu of
1918-19, which killed between 20 million and 40 million people
worldwide. Recent outbreaks of avian influenza of the H5N1
subtype in South Korea, Japan and now Vietnam - and repeated
transmission of the virus to humans - may be laying the
groundwork for that dreaded event, influenza experts warned.
"The more times that there are outbreaks amongst poultry and
the more times that there are human exposures and human cases of
H5N1, the more opportunities there are for this influenza virus
to mutate to the point where it is well adapted for human-to-human
transmission," noted Dr. Danuta Skowronski, an influenza
specialist at the British Columbia Centre for Disease Control.
Health Canada is maintaining a high level of vigilance,
monitoring the situation on a constant basis, said Dr. Arlene
King, director of the immunization and respiratory infections
division. "Certainly it represents a concern and a health
threat. And that's why we take these things very seriously."
Two southern provinces in Vietnam are in the grips of an H5N1
influenza outbreak among poultry stock. The virus, which is fatal
in virtually all chickens it infects, has killed about 40,000
chickens so far, WHO says. The Vietnamese government is culling
an additional 30,000 birds in a bid to contain the outbreak. But
in other parts of Vietnam, the virus has attacked humans.
Laboratory testing has confirmed H5N1 infection in two children
and an adult in the capital, Hanoi. WHO spokesman Dick Thompson
said the organization is investigating a total of 14 suspected
cases of bird flu in humans in Hanoi and surrounding provinces.
All but one of the cases were children. Twelve of the 14 cases -
including 11 children - have died. Officially, the WHO says there
is no evidence of human-to-human transmission of this strain of
influenza, though Stohr admitted there may have been "some
very inefficient transmission from human-to-humans." But
some of the infections date back to late October, a worrisome
sign. The longer bird flu is in contact with humans, the greater
the chance it will acquire the ability to spread among them. And
WHO is aware that these 14 cases may not be the entire iceberg.
"There is a concern that there could be more cases out
there, both in humans and in chickens," Thompson admitted,
saying the WHO has asked other countries in the region to be on
the lookout for "any unusual patterns of death in chickens
or humans, influenza-related." For a pandemic to occur, a
strain of influenza which has never before circulated among
humans has to break out of nature and develop the ability to
spread not just from animals to humans, but from human to human
as well. Virtually no one would have any real immunity to such a
virus, meaning it would spread like wildfire around the globe,
rendering huge numbers of people sick. Most people recuperate
from influenza. But some go on to develop pneumonia and die, as
Canadians have been reminded this severe flu season. Health
Canada estimates between 9,000 and 51,000 Canadians could die in
the next pandemic, if a vaccine is not available. Such widespread
illness and death would cause massive disruption to the health-care
system and would tax the ability of governments around the globe
to maintain essential services, experts predict. "A pandemic
of influenza will make SARS look like a cakewalk in comparison,"
Skowronski said. There are two ways an animal influenza virus can
acquire the ability to spread within the human population -
through a chance mutation that would give it that skill, or by
what's called reassortment. If a person who was sick with a human
influenza virus also became infected with the H5N1 virus, the two
could swap some genetic material, and a new and deadly human
virus could be formed. Given that it is currently influenza
season, that second option is particularly worrisome. "It's
a bad time for this to be happening," said Richard Webby, a
leading influenza virologist based at St. Judes Children's
Hospital in Memphis, Tenn. "It's very, very concerning."
Stohr said the WHO has alerted its influenza network to the
situation and will begin work on vaccine development within days.
That process automatically kicks in when two or more human cases
of avian influenza are discovered. Some facts about pandemic
influenza: What is it? Flu pandemics occur when a new influenza
virus arises and acquires the ability to spread within the human
population. The entire global population could be susceptible.
Huge numbers of people fall ill and millions die. How often do
they happen? Pandemics are unpredictable. But experts estimate
about three per century. When was the last? 1968-69. When was the
worst? The notorious Spanish Flu of 1918-19, which is believed to
have killed 20-40 million people worldwide. When is the next due?
No one knows. But experts believe one could occur anytime. What
will it mean? Huge portions of the population will be sick,
virtually at once. Hospitals will be swamped. Staffing essential
services will be a serious challenge. It's estimated between 9,000
and 51,000 Canadians could die, if a vaccine is not developed in
time. Quote: "My view is that in the course of the last few
years we have seen an acceleration of events with pandemic
potential. And with this H5N1 virus, which has a high propensity
of mutating, spreading relatively rapidly in an unprecedented way
in Asia and which has been causing death and disease in humans in
the course of the last few years . . . there is good reason to be
concerned." - Klaus Stohr, project leader of the World
Health Organization's global influenza program.
Due to Mexico's proximity to the United States, the country is potentially exposed to bio-terrorist attacks, said Sanjiv Chopra, director of Continuous Medical Education at the Harvard School of Medicine. Josť Luis Arredondo, director of Livemed Institute, an organization dedicated to the continuous education of medicine in Mexico, said that Mexican physicians have limited information on biological agents-such as anthrax, botulism, plague, tularenia, and viruses that cause hemorrhaging-that could be used as weapons. Authorities of the Secretariat of Health have said that Mexico is a founding member of the Global Group of Health Security, in which the United States, France, the European Union participate, as well as the World Health Organization.<P>Arredondo, researcher at the National Institute of Pediatrics of the Health Secretariat, added that "the risk for Mexico is that it could be used as a trampoline to spread an epidemic to the United States."
AMERICA AT RISK: THE STATE OF
A report detailing how the Bush administration has failed to take aggressive action to protect the homeland.
The president's budget for 2005 will seek from Congress increases of almost 13 percent for the Treasury Department's Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, known as FinCen, and of around 4 percent for the Office of Foreign Assets Control, called OFAC. FinCen analyzes and shares a network of financial information with law enforcement and intelligence agencies to help to investigate and track down terrorist financiers and money launderers. OFAC is responsible for ordering U.S. banks to block assets of suspected terrorist financiers and for enforcing economic sanctions against countries, such as Cuba, and against suspected drug overlords. There has been criticism by some lawmakers, including Republicans, about how OFAC does its job and how the Treasury Department handles the campaign against financiers of terror. Democrats complain about the administration's huge budget deficits, which the White House budget chief estimated will mushroom to $500 billion this year, a record in dollar terms. FinCen's 2004 budget stands at $57.2 million, which the president wants to increase next year to $64.5 million, said FinCen's director, William Fox. The agency has 277 full-time employees, and the 2005 budget would seek to add 14 positions, to 291, Fox said. Treasury officials had no details of how the roughly $7.3 million extra would be used. The department said, however, that some of the money would go toward making a secured, electronic system of financial records more widely available to law enforcement; designing a new system that would include advanced analytical tools; and hiring more people who analyze information and who deal with outreach and regulations matters. For OFAC, the president's proposal would provide an extra $800,000 over its current budget of $21.7 million. Treasury didn't say how the extra money would be used. Senate Finance Committee Chairman Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, and Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., the committee's ranking Democrat, sent a letter just before Christmas citing widespread misgivings about sloppy record keeping and lax enforcement inside OFAC. A recent report by the General Accounting Office, the investigative arm of Congress, said Treasury needed to do a better job tracking the money that terrorists use to bankroll violence.
Despite a Pentagon probe into alleged overcharging for fuel delivered to Iraq, the Army awarded Vice President Dick Cheney's former company a contract Jan. 16 (2004) to rebuild Iraq's oil industry. Halliburton won a competitive bid to rebuild the oil industry in southern Iraq, a contract worth up to $1.2 billion over two years, the Army Corps of Engineers said in a statement. The Army gave Halliburton subsidiary KBR a no-bid contract to rebuild oil infrastructure throughout Iraq shortly after the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq last March. The Army opened that contract for competitive bids last fall and split it into one for northern Iraq and one for southern Iraq. The northern Iraq contract, worth up to $800 million, went to a joint venture of California-based Parsons Corp. and the Australian firm Worley Group Ltd. Just days before the Army's award to Halliburton, Pentagon auditors asked for an investigation into possible criminal wrongdoing involving the no-bid KBR oil industry reconstruction contract. Officials in the Defense Department's Office of Inspector General haven't decided which investigators will do the work, the office said in a statement. The Defense Contract Audit Agency last month questioned KBR's charges for gasoline it bought in Kuwait and trucked into Iraq for the civilian market. KBR charged more than double the price for gasoline brought in from Kuwait than it did for gas trucked in from Turkey. Auditors said KBR may have overcharged the Army by $61 million between May and September. Halliburton has denied any wrongdoing and said the Army approved its subcontract with a Kuwaiti supplier, the Altanmia Marketing Co. The Army told auditors the high price was justified because KBR had to get fuel deliveries going quickly to avert a fuel crisis in Iraq. The oil contract probe will focus mainly on possible wrongdoing by government officials, not Halliburton, a senior defense official has said. Democrats have demanded further investigations and criticized the Halliburton contracts as evidence of the Bush administration's rewarding its corporate friends. Cheney ran Halliburton from 1995 until he quit in 2000 to become Bush's running mate, and the company's executives have donated thousands of dollars to the Bush campaign. White House and Pentagon officials say political considerations do not affect the Defense Department's contract decisions. Cheney, a former defense secretary, is not involved in those decisions.
The Bush administration asked a federal court Jan. 16 (2004) not to force the release of a U.S.-born suspected terrorist and said it will immediately appeal the case to the Supreme Court. The administration wants the high court to take on the case of Jose Padilla, a former gang member and convert to Islam who was arrested in Chicago in May 2002 in connection with an alleged plot to detonate a radioactive "dirty bomb." The Justice Department filed a late request with a federal appeals court in New York, asking that a ruling ordering Padilla's release be put on hold. An appeal was expected later at the Supreme Court, Deputy Solicitor General Paul D. Clement told the appeals court judges. The cases raise basic legal and constitutional questions about the breadth of executive power and the rights of terror suspects to defend themselves in court and represent the most significant civil liberties issue to reach the high court since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. The 2-1 appeals court ruling in the Padilla case held that his detention was not authorized by Congress and that Bush could not designate Padilla as an enemy combatant without that authorization. The Pentagon could release Padilla or transfer him to civilian authorities who can bring criminal charges, the appeals court said. Or Padilla might be held as a material witness in connection with grand jury proceedings, the court said. A material witness is someone thought to have information about a crime. "Presidential authority does not exist in a vacuum, and this case involves not whether those responsibilities should be aggressively pursued, but whether the president is obligated, in the circumstances presented here, to share them with Congress," it added. Unlike the Padilla case, the government has won its argument in lower courts that Hamdi may be held indefinitely without access to a lawyer or the U.S. court system. Hamdi, who grew up in Saudi Arabia, was picked up while fighting with Taliban troops in November 2001 and held with other battlefield detainees at the military prison camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Authorities later transferred him to a U.S. naval brig in South Carolina after discovering he was born in Louisiana. Padilla is locked up at the same prison. Both men are classified as enemy combatants, a term the Bush administration contends means they are ineligible for ordinary legal protections. Both men have lawyers who are acting on their behalf, but one has never met his client and the other has not been allowed to see him for a year and a half. The Bush administration says it is reluctant to allow enemy combatants access to lawyers because that could greatly inhibit efforts to obtain information from them about potential terrorist operations. The Supreme Court separately has agreed to consider the legal rights of other battlefield prisoners at Guantanamo Bay.
Court's has denied the press' right to access the complete oral
histories and interviews taken of firefighters and other workers
about 9/11 as well as access to phone calls made to 911 on that
day. Before the records of the oral histories are released to the
press, all mention of the opinions and recommendations of those
interviewed will be deleted first, so the press will only get
"personal expressions of feelings". Additionally,
transcripts of tapes of the calls that people made to 911 on that
day will not be released at all because the Court said they would
invade the privacy of the surviving families - even though
surviving family members indicated to the Court that they waived
such rights to privacy. There is one higher court in New York
that this decision could be appealed to, the Court of Appeals,
but there have been no reports on whether the New York Times
plans on appealing it. These same records will not even make it
to the 9-11 Commission without deletions. The deal the 9-11
Commission made with NYC is that Commissioners will be able to
view the records in NYC in their entirety but will only be able
to take back redacted portions and without names of people
interviewed, etc. We can not count on the 9-11 Commission to
release to the public even the redacted portions of records they
Jan. 19, 2004 -- The FBI has concluded a man named Al-Qahtani would have been the '20th hijacker'. The young Saudi said he had arrived in Orlando to meet a friend. But when pressed for details by an alert immigration inspector, "his story fell apart," says one law-enforcement official. The inspector put the Saudi on a flight out of the country. That incident, in late August 2001, was fateful. The FBI has since concluded that the would-be visitor, who carries the common Saudi name of al-Qahtani, may well have been the elusive "20th hijacker" who was supposed to be aboard United Airlines Flight 93, which crashed in the fields of Pennsylvania on the morning of 9/11. The story of al-Qahtani is one of several new details of the 9/11 plot uncovered by the federal panel probing the terrorist attacks. At the time the inspector turned al-Qahtani away, there was no sign he was connected to terrorism. But after 9/11, agents began looking into other Mideasterners who had tried to enter the United States in the preceding months and soon focused on the Orlando, Fla., incident. One item grabbed their attention: 9/11 ringleader Muhammad Atta was at the Orlando International Airport that same day and made a call on a pay phone to a Mideastern country apparently concerned that his guest did not get off the airliner. A surveillance camera captured Atta making the call. Months later, a Saudi by the same name of al-Qahtani was captured by U.S. troops in Afghanistan and flown to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where investigators later ID'd him as the man in Orlando. Some federal officials are eager to talk about the Orlando incident, saying it illustrates that at least one federal inspector was on the ball before 9/11. The inspector, a 58-year-old Vietnam vet named Jose Melendez-Perez, is slated to be the star witness at a hearing of the 9/11 panel next week. Investigators believe that while al-Qahtani was not the only Qaeda operative who tried and failed to join the 9/11 plot, he may have been the last. His rejection in Orlando explains why Flight 93 had only four hijackers aboard while the three other hijacked planes each had five. The smaller size may have enabled the plane's passengers to battle the hijackers, forcing Flight 93 to crash rather than hit its intended target, either the White House or the Capitol. But investigators say the incident also raises new questions about why there was not more follow-up into what al-Qahtani was up to and why his case was not pieced together with other developments that summer, including the arrest in Minneapolis the week before of Zacarias Moussaoui. The Feds once thought Moussaoui was the 20th hijacker, a theory they quietly abandoned last year when they concluded al-Qahtani was more likely the real one.
Citigroup, the world's biggest bank and financial services group, on Jan. 20 (2004) reported a 17 per cent jump in annual net income to $17.85-billion for 2003, a record for a publicly traded company. The record profits come as other big banking groups attempt to copy Citigroup's model by turning themselves into broadly based financial supermarkets. Citigroup's model had been validated by the planned merger of JP Morgan Chase and Bank One. JP Morgan's deal follows Bank of America's recently agreed acquisition of FleetBoston, fuelling expectations of a wave of banking mergers. Bank One reported net income up 16 per cent at $978-million, while Wells Fargo enjoyed a 10 per cent rise in net income to $1.6-billion. Citigroup International, which operates in 95 countries outside the US, increased annual net income by 18 per cent to $4.91-billion. Citigroup's record annual net income topped the $17.72-billion Exxon Mobil earned in 2000. But the record may not stand for long. Exxon Mobil, which reports earnings at the end of the month, earned $14.86-billion in the first three quarters of 2003.
World oil prices have
surged to a post-Iraq-war high, pumped up by a huge gas refinery
blast in Algeria, an icy US winter and low crude oil stockpiles.
New York's light sweet crude contract for delivery in February
2004 jumped to $36.20 a barrel on Jan. 20, 2004. At least 27
people were killed and 72 injured when a huge explosion ripped
through a liquefied natural gas plant near the eastern Algerian
port of Skikda. The nearby port was closed as well as a refinery.
It is 335,000 barrels a day that are not leaving the port,
affecting mostly France and Italy. Traders were also worried
about the threat of a general strike by workers in oil-rich
Nigeria, although there were signs that a mass walk-out might be
averted. Nigeria is Africa's biggest oil producer and the fifth-biggest
exporter within the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries
(OPEC) cartel, producing more than two million barrels per day.
China's fast-growing economy has overtaken Japan to become the
world's second largest consumer of crude oil after the US,
according to the International Energy Agency (IEA). The US
remains by far the biggest oil user, consuming more than 20-million
barrels per day.
http://www.iea.org/ International Energy Agency
President Bush and House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) have decided to oppose granting more time to an independent commission investigating the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, virtually guaranteeing that the panel will have to complete its work by the end of May, officials said. A growing number of commission members had concluded that the panel needs more time to prepare a thorough and credible accounting of missteps leading to the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. But the White House and leading Republicans have informed the panel that they oppose any delay, which raises the possibility that Sept. 11-related controversies could emerge during the heat of the presidential campaign, sources said. With time running short, the 10-member bipartisan panel has already decided to scale back the number and scope of hearings that it will hold for the public, commission members and staffers said. The commission is rushing to finish interviews with as many as 200 remaining witnesses and to finish examining about 2 million pages of documents related to the attacks. Public hearings in coming months will include testimony from key Cabinet members in the Bush and Clinton administrations. The likely roster will include Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, CIA Director George J. Tenet, former secretary of state Madeleine K. Albright, former defense secretary William S. Cohen, and the current and former directors of the FBI, two officials said. The next hearing, scheduled over two days beginning Jan. 26 (2004), will focus on border and aviation security issues. Commission representatives are also negotiating to secure private testimony from President Bush, former president Bill Clinton, Vice President Cheney and former vice president Al Gore. None of the four would be likely to be asked to testify publicly, several sources said. The statute that created the panel in late 2002 requires commission members to complete a report for the president and Congress by May 27, with another 60 days available after that to issue supplemental documents or tie up loose ends, officials said. The commission has been beleaguered by organizational problems and fights with the Bush administration and New York over access to documents. "We need at least a few more months to complete our work," said commission member Timothy J. Roemer, a former Democratic congressman from Indiana who has pushed for more time. "We have a breathtaking task ahead of us, and we need enough time to make sure our work is credible and thorough." But the White House and Hastert's office made clear during discussions over the past two weeks that they would strongly oppose any extension of the deadline, which would require congressional approval, officials said. One source described the issue as "dead in the water." The commission's handling of the deadline has angered a group of relatives of Sept. 11 victims, who argue that the panel has not been aggressive enough in demanding more time and in seeking key documents and testimony from the Bush administration. Several relatives have also strongly criticized the commission's executive director, Philip Zelikow, because of his ties to national security adviser Condoleezza Rice and other Bush administration officials. Zelikow has recused himself from issues connected to his role as an administration adviser in the early weeks of Bush's term, but he was also interviewed several months ago as a witness by the commission, officials said. Commission member Jamie Gorelick, a Democrat who served in the Clinton Justice Department, has also been interviewed as a witness, officials said. Kristen Breitweiser, whose husband, Ronald, was killed at the World Trade Center, said the interviews underscore a conflict-of-interest problem at the commission and cast serious doubts on the panel's credibility. "We've had it," said Breitweiser, who met with several commission leaders last week. "It is such a slap in the face of the families of victims. They are dishonoring the dead with their irresponsible behavior."
Project to modify the
avionics control system on the aircraft to limit the space into
which an aircraft can fly.
Lie-detector glasses offer peek at future of security By R. Colin Johnson
A House committee
recommended legislation Jan. 21 (2004) that would provide for
fast special elections if a terrorist attack killed or
incapacitated many House members. The measure would require
expedited elections under "extraordinary circumstances"
when the speaker of the House announces that vacancies in the 435-member
chamber exceed 100. The bill, approved 18-10, stipulates that
parties choose candidates within 10 days of that announcement and
that state elections be held within 45 days. The legislation has
also been approved by the House Administration Committee and now
goes to the full House for consideration. Lawmakers have been
considering the ramifications of mass casualties in Congress
since the Sept. 11 attacks in 2001. The Senate would be less of a
problem because governors can appoint senators when vacancies
arise prior to an election. Vacancies in the House are filled by
special elections. Some lawmakers, and an independent commission
created after the 2001 attacks, have backed the idea of a
constitutional amendment that would give the states the
flexibility to fill House vacancies either by special elections
or appointment. But House Judiciary Committee Chairman James
Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., the main sponsor of the legislation, has
opposed the amendment route, saying the House should maintain its
status as a popularly elected body. His bill, he said, would
"protect the people's right to chosen representation."
Several Democrats on the panel questioned whether 45 days was
enough time to prepare for a special election and urged that
hearings be held before they act on the bill.
The bill is H.R. 2844 http://thomas.loc.gov/
Iran's secret service had
contacts with Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda network ahead of the
Sept. 11 attacks on the United States, a German court heard Jan.
22, 2004. Two members of Germany's Federal Criminal Police told a
court in Hamburg a former Iranian spy had informed them of the
contacts and had also said he tried to warn Washington about the
attacks in mid-2001, but the CIA had not believed him. The police
officers were speaking at the trial of a Moroccan accused of
aiding the Sept. 11 attacks. The Iranian, identified only by his
cover name Hamid Reza Zakeri emerged as a surprise witness,
postponing the verdict which had been expected to clear the
defendant. His credibility is under scrutiny by the presiding
judges. The witness himself was not in court, but presiding judge
Klaus Ruehle read out passages from an interview with him and
questioned the two German investigators who had listened to his
testimony. The Iranian said he had been in a department of the
Iranian intelligence service that was "responsible for
carrying out terrorist attacks globally," one of the
officers said. "In 2001, a delegation with Osama bin Laden's
son was in Iran," the officer said, quoting the witness. The
witness has been summoned to appear on Jan. 29 at the trial of
Moroccan Abdelghani Mzoudi, accused of aiding the Sept. 11
attackers. Mzoudi was expected to be cleared of several thousand
counts of aiding and abetting murder and membership of a terror
organization in a verdict originally due Thursday, but postponed
after the emergence of the Iranian witness. The sudden new
evidence may threaten Mzoudi's chances of acquittal. The police
officers told the court the witness had implicated Mzoudi and had
said the Iranian secret service had worked with al Qaeda in 1996
in an attack in Saudi Arabia that killed several U.S. citizens.
He had also said it was an Egyptian, Saif al Adel, the military
head of al Qaeda, who planned the Sept. 11 attacks. Prosecutors
say Mzoudi, an electrical engineering student based in Hamburg
where three of the suicide pilots had lived, handled money for al
Qaeda, helped cover for group members' absence and trained at an
al Qaeda camp in Afghanistan himself. However, he was released
from custody after German investigators informed the court of
secret testimony which the trial judge presumed to have come from
key al Qaeda figure and U.S. captive Ramzi bin al-Shaibah. That
testimony suggested Mzoudi did not belong to the core group of
plotters based in Hamburg. Prosecutors, who are calling for a 15
year jail term, did not say how they had found their new witness
only three days before the verdict was due. German investigators,
asked by judges to assess the credibility of the witness, said he
had been keen to be paid for his cooperation, although he had not
openly demanded money. Ruehle said he and the other four
presiding judges would continue to assess the credibility of the
new witness on the trial's next scheduled sitting. He had told
them he had left Iran in mid-2001 and warned the U.S. embassy in
Azerbaijan of the impending attacks, informing officials that he
had been employed by the CIA since 1992. The new witness also
referred to what he said was an al Qaeda message urging that
Mzoudi "be eliminated" lest he implicate other al Qaeda
members. On the same day, fellow Moroccan Mounir El Motassadeq is
also expected to hear whether an appeal against his conviction
last February on similar charges has been successful. Motassadeq
was sentenced to 15 years, but could win a retrial.
Fresh arrests of al-Qaeda members in Iraq support the claim that the terrorist group is attempting to stir up even more trouble in the U.S.-occupied country. Hasan Ghul was captured on Jan. 23 (2004) by Kurdish forces in Northern Iraq after they were tipped off by the C.I.A., a U.S. official said. He is now in U.S. custody. Ghul is a "big al-Qaeda facilitator-operator," says the official. He's pegged as ranking in the top 20 of the group's hierarchy. The U.S. official continues: "Hes very high up in the al-Qaeda food chain ... He was just coming into the country, we think probably to foment troublebut he didnt quite get the oportuntity. The Kurds got him and turned him over us." Also captured was Husam al Yemeni, whom a U.S. official in Iraq says was supplying money to the anti-American resistance and commanding attacks against coalition forces. Yemeni, says another U.S. intelligence source, is "an al-Ansar guy" and an aide to Abu Mousab al-Zarqawi. Al-Ansar is the home grown Iraqi terror group and Zarqawi allegedly ran its operations in northern Iraq before the American forces battered its operatives during the war though many Ansar terrorists escaped U.S. forces and later dispersed in Iraq. Intelligence sources believe that since then, Zarqawi has re-emerged in Iraq to lead forces allied to al-Qaeda in the armed resistance to the U.S. occupation. Al-Yemeni, says one source, is a " senior guy," someone with the capacity to "make stuff happen, a planner. He wasnt conducting attacks himself, probably, but he was helping mastermind them."
U.S. and Texas law
enforcement agencies are investigating the shooting of a security
guard outside an ammonia terminal on the Texas Gulf Coast, a law
enforcement official said Jan. 24, 2004. A security guard at the
BASF Corp. ammonia terminal in Freeport, 60 miles south of
Houston, was shot late Jan. 23 by a man in a pickup truck parked
outside the terminal's fence and within sight of a multistory
ammonia tank, said Henrietta Gonzalez, chief of the Freeport
Police Department. The guard was listed in good condition today
at an area hospital where he was recovering from a gunshot wound
to the shoulder, said BASF spokesman Tim Fitzpatrick. Agents from
the FBI, U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Texas Department
of Public Safety and U.S. Coast Guard were in Freeport
investigating the shooting, Gonzalez said. Chemical plants and
refineries have tightened security since the Sept. 11, 2001,
attacks for fear they may be targets in a future attack. An FBI
spokesman was not immediately available to comment. The guard
spotted the pickup truck while making his rounds outside the
terminal's grounds. When confronted, the truck driver, whom the
guard described as having a heavy accent, said he was taking
pictures of the lights of the ammonia terminal and adjacent port,
Gonzalez said. The guard said he turned away to make a radio call
and then looked back to see the driver pointing a handgun at him.
He was shot as he moved to run away and the driver sped off. The
guard told police the gunman was a man of Middle Eastern descent.
The man was driving a white pickup with tinted windows and a
black stripe. The injured guard managed to drive to the nearest
plant gate where an off-duty sheriff's deputy working security at
the plant called police.
Authorities continued to investigate how an unarmed security guard came to be shot in the shoulder outside a sprawling chemical plant in Freeport. Officers were looking for a man with dark hair and a heavy black moustache driving a white Chevrolet pickup with a club cab. Guard Robbie House told investigators he approached the truck on a dirt road in a field near Texas 36 and FM 1495 about 9 p.m. and asked the driver if he could help him. The driver, whom House said had a heavy accent, said he was taking pictures of the lights at the plant. House told investigators he reached to radio his dispatcher and saw the driver point a revolver at him. The guard said he started to jump aside, the gun fired and a bullet struck him in the right shoulder. The shooter drove quickly away, he said. Freeport Police Chief Henrietta Gonzalez said House reported that the truck didn't have a front license plate and the lowered tailgate blocked the back plate. The shooting happened about a half mile from the BASF chemical plant, Gonzalez said.
Texas coast eyed by terrorists
Did plant security guard
makeup story about shooting?
Guard: I didn't shoot myself By Michael Wright
The top U.S. military commander in Iraq said (Jan. 25, 2004) devastating car bombings against Western troops had raised fears that the al Qaeda network had a hand in the bloodshed. "It is the frequency of the attacks and the types of attacks that are being conducted. You have Nassiriya, you have Karbala, quite complex attacks with car bombs," he said. "Those are typically tactics al Qaeda has been using. That causes us to look with a little bit more focus, trying to establish what their operating capability is in the country." Violence has gripped Iraq since U.S.-led troops toppled Saddam in April and then set out to stabilize the country. Guerrillas have killed 240 American soldiers since major combat was declared over on May 1, 2003.
A leading foreign al-Qaeda member was killed by Pakistani troops in one of the fiercest operations in the northwestern tribal area in October 2003, military officials said. Ahmed Saeed Abdur Rehman Khadar, a Canadian national, was among the eight terror suspects killed in the operation in South Waziristan, military spokesman Major General Shaukat Sultan said on Jan. 25, 2004. Khadar was an Egyptian-born Canadian, he said, contradicting an earlier report that he was a Canadian-born Egyptian. Khadar was killed in the Pakistan army operation on October 2 in which 18 others were also arrested, he said. "The record with us says he was a Canadian national," the general said adding that genetic testing established the identity of the militant who was also known as "al-Canadi." Earlier, Information Minister Sheikh Rashid said the identification of Khadar was established after DNA testing because his body had been badly mutilated during the operation. Security officials said Khadar was an "established al-Qaeda operative" and was among the network's senior leadership. He was operating in Afghanistan but his specialisation was not known, they said. General Shaukat said the investigation was going on. A senior security official earlier said Khadar's son was also injured in the operation but his condition was stable. Speaking on condition of anonymity, the security official declined to say whether the injured son of Khadar was in US or Pakistani custody. "We don't speak on these issues," he said. Khadar is the second among the eight suspects killed in South Waziristan tribal region to be identified by the US and Pakistani authorities. Earlier, another suspect was identified as Hasan Mahsum, who was described by China as its top terrorist along with 10 other ethnic Uighur Muslim separatists, all from China's western Xinjiang region, on its first-ever list of "terrorists". Mahsum was identified as a leader in the East Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM), which China said was a terrorist group. The October operation in the remote Angoor Adda town in South Waziristan, a rugged region with a population of around 400,000, was one of the fiercest launched by Pakistani troops in the hunt for suspected al-Qaeda fugitives since Pakistan joined the Unites States in the war on terrorism two years ago. Two Pakistani soldiers were also killed in a gunfight with the suspects. The rugged tribal terrain has been in the spotlight as a haven for al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters fleeing US military operations across the border in Afghanistan. Angoor Adda faces Afghanistan's Shkin district and is just 15 kilometers (9 miles) from the Afghan town of Barmal, part of which was reportedly controlled by the Taliban. More than 500 al-Qaeda and Taliban suspects have been rounded up in Pakistan since Pakistan joined the US-led war against terrorism, which led to the ouster of the hardline Taliban regime in Afghanistan in November 2001. The majority of those arrested are now in the US custody at the US Guantanamo Bay detention center in Cuba.
Jose Melendez Perez said a smartly dressed, yet arrogant Saudi citizen gave him "the chills" as he questioned him at Orlando International Airport in Florida on August 4, 2001. Al-Qahtani raised suspicions after arriving on a Virgin Atlantic plane from London on a journey which began in Dubai, Melendez Perez said. He was carrying 2,800 dollars, had no return air ticket, no hotel reservation and appeared unable to speak English, Melendez Perez said. The suspect said he was meeting a friend who would give him money, and inform him of his onward travel plans, but several times changed his story. "There was a gut feeling that something wasn't right ... the more questions I asked, the less plausible answers I get," Melendez Perez said. Young, with a well groomed moustache, the suspect was in impeccable physical condition, Melendez Perez said, adding that he was arrogant, had a military bearing and appeared to be familiar with interview techniques. "When the subject looked at me ... he give me the chills," Melendez Perez said. Melendez Perez placed the suspect under oath but he refused to answer questions through an interpreter. After consulting with superiors Melendez Perez decided to deny entry to the suspect. As he was escorted to a flight out of the United States, the suspect told customs officers, in English: "I'll be back." Commission member Richard Ben-Veniste revealed that September 11 ringleader Muhammad Atta was also at Orlando airport on August 4, 2001, possibly to meet al-Qahtani. That fact, and other secret evidence not admissible in public, suggested al-Qahtani would have been the 20th hijacker and the intended fifth hijacker on Flight 93. "It is extremely possible and probable that Mohamad al-Qahtani was to be the 20th hijacker" Ben-Veniste told Melendez Perez. "It is entirely plausible to suggest that your actions in doing your job efficiently and competently may well have contributed to saving the Capitol or the White House and all the people who were in those buildings, those momuments to our democracy, from being included in the catastrophe of nine-11." Reports have suggested the four hijackers were on Flight 93 were challenged by passengers, before the flight hit the ground. Newsweek has reported that a Saudi man named al-Qahtani was captured by US troops in Afghanistan and flown to the detention camp at Guantanamo Bay where investigators later identified him as the man in Orlando. US authorities declined to confirm the report. Melendez Perez was also shown documentation by the commission on the entry into the United States of Atta, and suggested that the fact he had a wrong kind of student visa, was impeccably dressed and appeared too old to be a student should have alerted officers to refuse him entry into the United States.
U.S. authorities missed
some obvious signs that might have prevented some of the Sept. 11
hijackers from entering the country, the federal commission
investigating the attacks said Jan. 26, 2004. Government
officials have said the 19 hijackers entered the country legally,
but the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United
States said its investigation found at least two and as many as
eight had fraudulent visas. The commission also found examples
where U.S. officials had contact with the hijackers but failed to
adequately investigate suspicious behavior. For example, Saeed al
Ghamdi was referred to immigration inspection officials in June
2001 after he provided no address on his customs form and only
had a one-way plane ticket and about $500. Al Ghamdi was able to
persuade the inspector that he was a tourist. The panel also
found that six of the hijackers violated immigration laws by
overstaying their visas or failing to attend the English language
school for which their visas were issued. And Khalid Sheikh
Mohammed, believed to be the mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks,
exploited the fact that customs officers did not routinely
collect fingerprints for a visa even though federal authorities
in New York indicted him in 1996 for his role in earlier
terrorist plots. He never entered the country and was apprehended
after the attacks. At the start of a two-day hearing on border
and aviation security, the commission staff issued a statement
saying FBI Director Robert Mueller had
testified that all of the hijackers came "lawfully from
abroad," while CIA Director George Tenet described 17 of the
19 hijackers as "clean." "We
believe the information we have provided today gives the
commission the opportunity to reevaluate those statements,"
the commission staff said. Among those it heard from was customs
agent Jose E. Melendez-Perez. He said that suspected Sept. 11
ringleader Mohamed Atta raised enough red flags including
having the wrong student visa that he should been blocked
from entering the United States. He explained that Atta's age and
impeccable clothes appeared to contradict his story about being a
student. "I would have recommended refusal," said
Melendez-Perez. Melendez-Perez is credited with stopping a man
who U.S. officials believe may have planned to be the 20th Sept.
11 hijacker. The man, identified by federal officials only as al-Qahtani,
was stopped at Florida's Orlando International Airport in late
August 2001. Melendez-Perez said he became suspicious when al-Qahtani
provided only vague answers about what he was doing in the United
States. U.S. officials then put al-Qahtani on a plane back to
Saudi Arabia. He wound up in Afghanistan, where he was captured
by U.S. forces. He now is being held with other captives at the U.S.
naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The commission detailed other
government missteps prior to September 2001:
_Three of the hijackers, al Ghamdi, Khalid al Mihdhar and Hani Hanjour,
submitted visa applications with false statements about never previously
applying for a visa that could have been easily verified.
_One hijacker, Ziad Jarrah, entered the United States in June 2000 on a
tourist visa, and then enrolled in flight school for six months. He never
filed an application to change his status from tourist to student. Had
immigration officials known, they could have denied him entry on three
Suspected Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed received a U.S. visa a few weeks before the attacks, despite a 1996 indictment linking him to earlier plots, but there is no evidence he entered the country, investigators said. "KSM, as he is known, obtained a visa to visit the United States on July 23, 2001, about six weeks before the 9/11 attacks," said a written statement by several commission staff members who spearheaded the investigation. Mohammed took advantage of a third-party U.S. visa processing system to submit his application and photo in Saudi Arabia, using a false Saudi passport and name, according to the statement, read by commission senior counsel Susan Ginsburg. Mohammed was arrested in Pakistan nearly a year ago and is now in U.S. custody.
The Sept. 11 hijackers probably seized control of four aircraft using pocket or utility knives, not box cutters, an investigation has confirmed. The hijackers were allowed to carry the knives through passenger screening checkpoints, rather than box cutters that were banned, a preliminary report from the panel investigating the attacks said Jan. 27, 2004. Rules at the time would have allowed the 19 hijackers to carry such items onto aircraft, even though nine of them were selected for more rigorous screening by a computer program designed to identify potential threats to security. Only one of the many airport checkpoints through which the 19 hijackers passed - that at Dulles International -- was subject to video surveillance. But of the five who passed through it on their way to board American Airlines 77, three set off metal detectors and two were hand-wanded by screeners after setting off alarms a second time. "Our best working hypothesis is that a number of the hijackers were carrying permissible utility knives or pocket knives," Phillip Zelikow, the staff director of the inquiry told the second day of public hearings on Capitol Hill. "According to the (security screening) guidelines on Sept. 11, if such a knife were discovered ... the item would be returned to the owner and permitted to be carried on the aircraft," Zelikow said. Commission investigators determined that "at least two knives like this were actually purchased by hijackers and have not been found in the belongings the hijackers left behind," he added.
The Federal Aviation Administration focused on the danger of explosives aboard planes rather than a suicide hijacking before the Sept. 11 attacks even though its own security officers warned terrorists might try to crash an airliner, a federal panel said. The FAA's Office of Civil Aviation Security considered the risk of a suicide hijacking at least as early as March 1998, says the preliminary report by The National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, which was released Jan. 27, 2004.
The tape of Flight attendant Betty Ong revealed the terrorists' strategy of using Mace or pepper spray to keep most passengers in the back of the jet. "I think we're getting hijacked," Ong said from her seat in the back of American Airlines Flight 11. "The cockpit's not answering their phone, and there's somebody stabbed in business class. ... I think there's Mace." The tape of Ong's call to an airline communications center in North Carolina was played publicly for the first time at a hearing by the independent U.S. commission investigating the 9/11 attacks. "Our Number 1 (attendant) got stabbed, our purser got stabbed; we don't know who stabbed who," Ong said. "We can't get up to business class because we can't breathe." Ong's call came in to the airline's reservations office in Cary, N.C., about 8:20 a.m. that day. Nydia Gonzalez, who testified before the panel Tuesday, kept Ong on the phone for 23 minutes. Much of Ong's call was not recorded.
At a two-day hearing, the federal commission investigating the Sept. 11 attacks revealed U.S. authorities had numerous opportunities to stop the hijackers, including many face-to-face encounters. The missteps included miscommunications about al-Qaida operatives dating back to the mid-1990s, hijackers who were allowed to repeatedly enter the United States even with false or the wrong visa papers, and missed chances to stop suspects at airport security checkpoints despite warning signs. The errors documented by the commission date back to just after the 1993 World Trade Center bombings and continued until the fateful day in 2001. The panel found airline security stopped nine of the 19 hijackers on the day of the attacks but let them go. The panel also found FBI and CIA officials did not share knowledge about al-Qaida or played down that information with customs, immigration and FAA officials. Consequently, some of the hijackers escaped capture despite questioning by customs officials after they submitted improper visa forms or acted suspiciously. The commission said if military intelligence were shared about al-Qaida and their tendency to travel on Saudi passports, authorities would have known to stop them. "The evidence is pretty damning," said Michael Greenberger, director of the Center for Health and Homeland Security at the University of Maryland. "There were many signals to the White House that we were in a state of high danger in the summer of 2001, yet no leadership was exercised to shake the agencies down." Two known al-Qaida operatives were on a special terrorist watch list known as Tipoff, but airline officials were unaware because it was separate from the FAA's list of people barred from flying. A former FAA official acknowledged at the hearing he had not known until this week that Tipoff existed. The panel faces a May 27, 2004 deadline. It wants two more months to complete its work but faces resistance from House GOP leaders and the Bush administration. They fear the process could become too politicized if it's released in the days near the November elections.
A convicted neo-Nazi bank
robber is expected to name several other suspects in the Oklahoma
City bombing when he testifies in the trial of Terry Nichols.
William Krar and Judith Bruey assembled a frightening arsenal in three rented storage units in this East Texas town, and federal authorities are trying to figure out why. A raid in April 2003 found nearly two pounds of a cyanide compound and other chemicals. Authorities also discovered nearly half a million rounds of ammunition, more than 60 pipe bombs, machine guns, silencers and remote-controlled bombs disguised as briefcases, plus pamphlets on how to make chemical weapons, and anti-Semitic, anti-black and anti-government books. The findings have led to one of the most extensive domestic-terrorism investigations since the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing. Federal investigators believe conspirators may remain free, and one question lingers: What did the couple intend to do with the weapons? In November, Krar pleaded guilty to possessing a dangerous chemical weapon. He could go to prison, but the law does not specify a minimum or maximum. Bruey pleaded guilty to conspiracy to possess illegal weapons and could get up to five years in prison. The couple remain in jail. Sentencing is expected sometime in February 2004. Krar and Bruey moved to a house in Tyler from New Hampshire about two years ago, though federal authorities do not know why. They soon rented space at Noonday Storage and for more than a year visited their units each morning, spending hours unloading U-hauls of military surplus items or picking through piles of bathing suits and beer coolers they said they resold at shops and markets. "We never had any problems out of them and never suspected anything out of them," said Teresa Staples, who owns the storage business in this community of 500 people about 100 miles southeast of Dallas. A mistake led the FBI to Krar two years ago. Krar mailed a package to a self-described militia member in New Jersey. The package included several phony documents U.N. and Pentagon ID cards, a Social Security card, birth certificates from three states and a note: "We would hate to have this fall into the wrong hands." But that was exactly what happened. The package was mistakenly delivered to a man in New York City, who notified authorities. It was traced back to Krar, and the intended recipient, Edward Feltus, 56, of Old Bridge, N.J., pleaded guilty to aiding and abetting the transportation of false identification documents. He could get up to 15 years in prison. Krar's attorney, Tonda Curry, acknowledges that Krar owned illegal weapons, but said there is no evidence he planned to use them. "It was not a situation where they were at arm's reach, ready to respond to some invasion. They were miles away stored," she said. "Nothing I've seen from the government or from him indicates that the United States as a country had any reason to be afraid of Bill Krar." But federal investigators believe Krar's past behavior indicates his potential for domestic terrorism. In 1985, Krar was arrested in New Hampshire for impersonating a law enforcement officer, according to the FBI. He stopped paying federal income taxes in 1989. His ties to New Hampshire's white supremacist and anti-government militia groups in the mid-1990s were investigated by federal agents. Firefighters battling a blaze at a New Hampshire storage building in June 2001 discovered thousands of rounds of ammunition and four guns. Some belonged to Krar. An employee at another New Hampshire storage company told investigators she feared Krar because he was "wicked anti-American," often ranting about government corruption and how he hated police officers and Americans in general because they were "money-hungry grubs," according to an FBI affidavit. Last January 2003, a Tennessee state trooper stopped Krar for a traffic violation and found in his rental car two handguns, a grenade, handcuffs, a gas mask, 16 knives and 40 wine-like bottles filled with an unknown substance. Most curious were handwritten notes that listed "meeting places," including hospitals or Wal-Marts in Pennsylvania, Virginia, Tennessee, Mississippi and Louisiana. The notes also outlined a code for referring to the level of danger, from "Lots of light storms are predicted" to "Tornadoes are expected in our area Things very hot. Lay low or change your travel plans." Krar told investigators the code was part a plan to help his girlfriend escape her ex-husband. Despite the warning signs, Krar was not fully investigated until the fake documents went to the wrong address.
Departing BBC director
general Greg Dyke says he was shocked by the findings of the
Hutton Inquiry and does not accept all of the report.
The shadow of Iraq by Seumas Milne
Britain: Hutton inquiry whitewashes Blair government over Iraq war By Chris Marsden and Julie Hyland
Lord Hutton Blesses Blair's Attack on BBC's Investigation Of Iraq War Claims By Greg Palast
Judge Who Cleared Blair, Blamed BBC Accused Of Whitewash
The Disgraceful Hutton Whitewash - A Set-Up From Day One From Andrew Rowland
What Hutton Is Really Saying By Michael James
Findings not supported by the evidence, lawyers say By Robert Verkaik
Lord Hutton was "out of his depth" By James Cusick
The British government is considering a plan to break up the BBC and remove its independent status in the wake of a bitter row with the state-funded broadcaster over the Iraq war, a report said. Plans being considered include giving a government media watchdog greater control over the BBC's output, closing BBC outlets which are not considered "public service" and even forcing the corporation to share some of its licence fee revenue with other broadcasters. Such a move would most likely prompt public concern, given that the BBC is still generally revered in Britain for being impartial and accurate. Opinion polls after the Hutton inquiry was published showed that many people considered its verdict a "whitewash", and that they trusted the BBC far more than they did Blair and his ministers.
News Editorials Question Bush's Role in 'Cooking' Up War By Greg Mitchell
Israeli Asher Karni & Nuclear Terrorism Network By William Hughes
The United States must confront broader strategic problems posed by Islamic extremists in Pakistan and Saudi Arabia in addition to stabilizing Iraq and Afghanistan, the head of the U.S. military's Central Command said on Jan. 29, 2004. "Both Pakistan and Saudi Arabia are involved in their own fight against extremists that is crucial to the ability of their nations to maintain control of the internal situation," Gen. John Abizaid, commander of U.S. forces in the region, told reporters. Abizaid said the two "most immediate problems" in what U.S. officials call the global war on terrorism are bringing stability to Iraq and Afghanistan. "I'd also tell you that two broader strategic problems that we have to deal with, that must be dealt with in a broad range, happen to be Pakistan and Saudi Arabia," Abizaid added. U.S. officials are concerned about efforts by Saudi-born Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda network and other Islamic militants to destabilize Saudi Arabia, the world's biggest oil producer, and Pakistan, a key U.S. ally in anti-terrorism operations.
The U.S. military is "sure" it will catch Osama bin Laden this year, perhaps within months, a spokesman declared Jan. 29, 2004, but Pakistan said it would not allow American troops to cross the border in search of the al-Qaida leader. U.S. military spokesman Lt. Col. Bryan Hilferty's prediction about capturing bin Laden comes as the Army readied a spring offensive against Taliban and al-Qaida holdouts. A U.S. official hinted that the offensive might extend into Pakistan. "We have a variety of intelligence and we're sure we're going to catch Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omar this year," Hilferty said. "We've learned lessons from Iraq and we're getting improved intelligence from the Afghan people." Hilferty declined to comment on where he believed bin Laden or Mullah Omar, the former Taliban leader, might be hiding. Earlier this week, the American commander of coalition forces in Afghanistan, Lt. Gen. David Barno, told the British Broadcasting Corp. that he expects bin Laden to be brought to justice by year's end. The spring offensive touted by U.S. defense officials would come just when the new security teams are supposed to be up and running, and warmer weather opens the high mountain passes. Hilferty said he could not talk about future operations.
More Dead Top Microbiologist
From Patricia Doyle, PhD
Dr. Wiley's Death Faces Indictment From Patricia Doyle, PhD
Russia's nuclear forces reportedly are preparing their largest maneuvers in two decades, an exercise involving the test-firing of missiles and flights by dozens of bombers in a massive simulation of an all-out nuclear war. The business newspaper Kommersant said the exercise was set for mid-February 2004 and would closely resemble a 1982 Soviet exercise dubbed the "seven-hour nuclear war" that put the West on edge. Official comments on the upcoming exercise have been sketchy. The chief of Russia's Strategic Missile Forces, Col.-Gen. Nikolai Solovtsov, was quoted by the Interfax-Military News Agency as saying the planned maneuvers would involve several launches of intercontinental ballistic missiles in various regions of Russia, but he wouldn't give further details. Kommersant said the maneuvers would involve Tu-160 strategic bombers test-firing cruise missiles over the northern Atlantic. Analysts describe such an exercise as an imitation of a nuclear attack on the United States. Other groups of bombers will fly over Russia's Arctic regions and test-fire missiles at a southern range near the Caspian Sea, the newspaper said. As part of the exercise, the military is planning to conduct several launches of intercontinental ballistic missiles, including one from a Russian nuclear submarine in the Barents Sea, the Kommersant report said. The military also plans to launch military satellites from the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan and the Plesetsk launch pad in northern Russia a simulation of the replacement of satellites lost in action, Kommersant said. Russia's system warning of an enemy missile attack and a missile defense system protecting Moscow will also be involved in the exercise, it added.
Protests and rallies by
political parties, lawyers and student associations condemning
the recent arrest of nine scientists for their alleged
involvement in the transfer of nuclear technology to Iran, are
sweeping Pakistan, with rights groups urging the government to
follow the rule of law.
Protests Against Arrest of Nuclear Scientists Rock Pakistan by Ahmad Naeem Khan
In the first action from Pakistan's probe into allegations of nuclear proliferation, the government on Jan. 31, 2004, fired the revered founder of the country's atomic program from his job as a top adviser and confined him to his home. The moves against Abdul Qadeer Khan considered a national hero for giving Pakistan its nuclear deterrent against India and the Islamic world its first atomic bomb came as investigators narrow their pursuit of nuclear scientists' black market ties to Iran and Libya. Opposition Islamic parties called the action against Khan baseless and said they would take to the streets in protest against what they labeled yet another case of President Gen. Pervez Musharraf caving in to the West. Khan hasn't been placed under arrest, but authorities have told him to remain at his Islamabad home for security reasons and increased security around him, military spokesman Maj. Gen. Shaukat Sultan said. Six other scientists and security officials also have been detained. At a meeting of Pakistan's National Command Authority, which controls the country's nuclear assets and is chaired by Musharraf, the military said officials were informed the investigation "was nearly concluded and appropriate action will be taken against those found guilty." Khan and Farooq have told investigators they didn't supply any technology to Iran and Libya, and Khan has maintained he did nothing to damage the interests of Pakistan, officials have said. The Pakistani government has focused its probe on individuals, and asserted there was no high-level government or military involvement in any decision to share nuclear secrets. The military reiterated the nuclear program was only intended to deter Pakistan's enemies, saying in a statement that "it would never be in the national interest to share this technology in whatever form with any other country."
British Airways and Air France on Jan. 31, 2004, announced the cancellation of seven flights to and from the United States because of security concerns. The United States has indications of al-Qaida's continued interest in targeting international flights to America, a government official said. BA canceled four flights between Heathrow Airport and Washington on Feb. 1 and Feb. 2 and one from Heathrow to Miami on Feb. 1. Air France canceled two Paris-to-Washington flights. There are no plans to raise the terror alert in the United States because of the latest threats, Homeland Security Department spokesman Brian Roehrkasse said. "We remain concerned about al-Qaida's desire to target aviation, especially international aviation," Roehrkasse said. "The U.S. intelligence community continues to gather specific credible threat information on international flights, as we have done in an ongoing basis in the past few weeks. We have shared this information with our international partners, and will work with them to put in place the appropriate security measures." A government official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said based on threat reporting there are a handful of specific flights on three airlines Air France, British Airways and a U.S.-based carrier that flies internationally that are of concern. The official declined to identify the third airline or provide information about its flights. The department said it could not immediately say why the flights were canceled, or specify the source of the intelligence U.S., British or another government's that led to BA's decision.
Terror threats that led to cancellation of one domestic and six trans-Atlantic flights have passed, and the government has no plans to ground more planes, officials said Feb. 2, 2004. No arrests were made nor weapons seized in relation to the cancellations, and law enforcement officials acknowledged they are unsure whether the steps taken disrupted attacks. Six international flights from the United Kingdom and France and Continental Airlines Flight 1519 from Washington to Houston, site of the Super Bowl, were grounded Feb. 1 and Feb. 2 after security problems were raised by the Homeland Security Department. The international flights canceled included a Continental Airlines flight Feb. 1 from Glasgow, Scotland, to Los Angeles, with a stop in Newark, N.J.; British Airways Flight 223 from London to Dulles for Feb. 1 and Feb. 2 and Flight 207 from London to Miami on Feb. 1; and Air France Flight 026 from Paris to Washington on Feb. 1 and Feb. 2.
Thousands of illegal immigrants, mostly from Central and South America, are being released into the USA almost immediately after they are picked up by the Border Patrol as part of a policy that U.S. officials acknowledge represents a significant gap in homeland security. But deporting illegals from countries other than Mexico - known here as "OTMs" - is far more complicated. Several Central and South American governments have been reluctant to accept groups of people for repatriation. And the Department of Homeland Security, while spending billions of dollars on a range of anti-terrorist programs, has a limited budget for renting detention cells at local jails. The result: With no place to put thousands of captured illegals from Central and South America, the Border Patrol has begun releasing them after giving them written orders to appear at deportation hearings in nearby U.S. cities. Immigration officials acknowledge the exercise is futile: About 86% of those issued such notices never show up for the court hearings. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement says that in 2003, as many as 6,000 illegals entered the USA under the government's "catch and release" policy. Officials in U.S. border towns and other critics say the policy threatens local residents' safety and undermines security along the Southwestern border at a time when counterterrorism officials believe al-Qaeda operatives could be focusing on Mexico as an entry point to the USA. David Venturella, assistant director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, acknowledges that the "catch and release" policy has raised security concerns and even angered federal agents. He says the policy is driven by the lack of federal money to rent space in local jails to detain illegal aliens. There are so many illegal aliens streaming across the U.S.-Mexico border, and so few places to put them, that many captured illegals are in custody only a couple of hours before they are released into the USA, says T.J. Bonner, president of the National Border Patrol Council. Venturella says that besides seeking more money in 2005 for detaining and deporting illegal immigrants, Homeland Security officials are testing several programs aimed at easing the detention crunch. Last summer, immigration and customs officials began attaching electronic monitoring bracelets to illegal aliens that the government no longer could afford to detain in Anchorage, Detroit, Miami and Seattle. So far, nearly all of the illegals who have worn the devices have shown up for immigration court hearings. The monitoring program is scheduled to expand to eight more cities this year. If successful, Venturella says, it could help clear detention space and more effectively manage those who have been released after agreeing to appear in court. Still, the monitoring plan does allow illegals to wander in the USA after they have been caught and released by U.S. agents.
The father of Pakistan's atomic bomb has confessed to selling nuclear secrets to Iran, Libya and North Korea, but authorities have yet to decide if the national hero will go on trial, officials said Feb. 2, 2004. Top scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan was sacked as adviser to the prime minister Jan. 31 and is the main suspect in a two-month investigation into allegations that individuals passed on Pakistan's nuclear weapons secrets to third countries. Seven suspects are still under investigation, but senior former military and intelligence officials -- who experts say must have known about Khan's activities -- are not being questioned. Putting Khan on trial is a sensitive issue in Pakistan, where he is revered as a national hero and the father of not only the country's, but the Islamic world's atomic bomb. "He (Khan) has admitted these things," said a military official on condition of anonymity, referring to allegations Khan peddled nuclear secrets to Iran, Libya and North Korea during the late 1980s and early 1990s. "It has yet to be decided whether he goes on trial or not." But Western diplomats and analysts say a trial would open a "Pandora's box" for Pakistan and in particular its powerful military, which was likely to be implicated in any case. The intelligence community also believes Khan's daughter may have gone abroad with material that could compromise the military. The 69-year-old Khan has been kept under 24-hour watch and has yet to speak publicly since the probe began. Pakistan launched its investigation more than two months ago after the U.N. nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, found evidence pointing to Pakistani involvement in Iran's nuclear program. Designs used in Libyan and North Korean nuclear programs are also believed to have come from Pakistan. Khan was a key architect of Pakistan's atomic program from the 1970s up to the first nuclear tests in 1998. The program was developed in response to India's.
The federal government is citing national security concerns in asking a federal court to delay a lawsuit from the widow of a man killed in the nation's first anthrax attack. The government asked the court to put off the proceedings "to avoid compromising the United States' active investigation of the anthrax attacks of fall 2001 and to avoid public disclosure of sensitive information concerning biological weapons such as anthrax." In their motion filed Jan. 28, 2004, attorneys for the federal government said they were unable to resolve their concerns with Maureen Stevens, who sued the federal government in September, alleging that lax security at an Army lab caused her husband's death. Robert Stevens, an editor for The Sun tabloid, is believed to have contracted anthrax from a tainted letter sent to the Boca Raton headquarters of American Media Inc. He died October 5, 2001, from inhalation anthrax, a rare and particularly lethal form of the disease. Anthrax was also sent through the mail to media outlets in New York and a congressional building in Washington, killing four others and sickening more than a dozen people. Maureen Stevens is seeking more than $50 million in what is believed to be the first lawsuit aiming to hold the federal government accountable for producing and mishandling the deadly strain of anthrax that the lawsuit says killed her husband. Her attorney, Richard Schuler, was not available for comment. Schuler has said that he believed DNA tests on the anthrax found at Stevens' office would prove it was an exact match to the anthrax produced at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases at Fort Detrick in Frederick, Md. The lab develops vaccines and drugs to protect service members from biological warfare agents and has become a focus of the investigation because it is the U.S. military's main anthrax research center. Schuler has been denied access to the DNA tests. Stevens sued the government because she wanted to force authorities to take action on their languishing investigation and provide answers to the victims' families.
Preliminary tests of a white powder discovered in a Senate office building were positive for the potentially deadly poison ricin, the U.S. Capitol Police chief said. Two out of three tests indicate ricin, Chief Terrance Gainer said Feb. 2, 2004, at a late-evening news conference. The third test came out negative, and a fourth, more definitive test was under way, with results expected Feb. 3. Sixteen people who were near where the white powder was discovered in the mail were being decontaminated and would be allowed to go home, Gainer said. "At the moment we're in a wait-and-see position from an analytical point of view in what next steps we may take," he said. That included what, if any decontamination of the Dirksen Senate Office Building would be needed. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist said no symptoms were reported by those near the powder. "Everybody's fine" and there is "no cause for alarm," he said at the news conference. "Nobody is sick, we don't expect anybody to get sick," said Frist, a surgeon before his election to the Senate. The powder was discovered at about 3 p.m. in a mail room near Frist's office on the fourth floor of the Dirksen Building, Gainer said. A congressional official had said earlier the powder was found in Frist's office suite. Another government official said lab tests were being conducted at Fort Detrick in Maryland, but Gainer refused to give any location. Authorities do not know if the substance was found on a letter or a package, the chief said. Ricin, derived from the castor bean plant, can kill within days. Twice as deadly as cobra venom, ricin is relatively easily made. It may be inhaled, ingested or injected. Police found traces of ricin in a north London apartment last January 2003 and arrested seven men of North African origin in connection with the virulent toxin that has been linked to al-Qaida terrorists and Iraq. A package containing ricin was also found at a post facility serving Greenville-Spartanburg International Airport in South Carolina in October 2003. An FBI official said the bureau was awaiting the result of tests at the Fort Detrick laboratory before deciding whether to more fully involved in the case. Mail to congressional offices has been irradiated since deadly anthrax was found in letters sent to the offices of Sens. Tom Daschle and Patrick Leahy in 2001. No one was arrested in those incidents. Frist said irradiation would likely have no effect on ricin because the substance is neither a virus or a bacterium.
Federal investigators focused (Feb. 3, 2004) on identifying the letter or package that may have carried the ricin discovered in a senator's mail room. An initial check in the criminal investigation found no extortion, threat or complaint letter in the office of Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, where the ricin was found, said one federal law enforcement source, speaking on condition of anonymity. There also were no indications of involvement by foreign terrorists such as al-Qaida, which the FBI has said is interested in using ricin in an attack. The powdery white substance was found on a device that opens mail in Frist's office, authorities said. The area in the Tennessee senator's office was quarantined and stacks of mail were to be checked. "We have an open mind about the source of this," said Terrance Gainer, chief of the U.S. Capitol Police Department that is conducting the probe along with the FBI and the multi-agency joint terrorism task force based at the FBI's Washington field office. Gainer said authorities were interviewing members of Frist's staff and others who had access to the mail room. Although it was considered remotely possible that the ricin was physically planted in Frist's office, investigators were concentrating on mail as the likely source. Officials said they are examining whether there is a connection between the substance found in Frist's office and a package containing a vial of ricin that turned up in October in a postal facility in Greenville, S.C. That package had a letter claiming that the author could make more ricin and a threat to "start dumping" large quantities if new federal trucking rules involving rest requirements for drivers went into effect. The FBI offered a $100,000 reward in that case. At the Capitol, an FBI hazardous materials team was helping police isolate and examine the mail in Frist's office and will in the coming days collect other unopened mail in the Capitol complex, said FBI spokeswoman Debra Weierman. The FBI also will do forensic analysis at its laboratory in Quantico, Va., checking evidence for fingerprints, fibers, hair and the like.
The latest ricin discovery comes as the FBI continues its 28-month-old investigation into the fall 2001 mailings of anthrax-laced letters to Senate and news media offices. Five people died and 17 were injured in that attack. The anthrax investigation is ongoing, FBI spokesman Ed Cogswell said. Twenty-eight FBI agents and 12 postal inspectors are assigned full-time to the anthrax case, which has involved some 5,000 interviews and issuance of 4,000 subpoenas. The FBI has focused recently on an intensive scientific effort to determine how the spores were made and narrow the possibilities in terms of who had the means to make them. Authorities have many theories on who might be responsible, ranging from al-Qaida terrorists to a disgruntled scientist to an expert who sought to expose U.S. vulnerabilities to bioweapons attacks.
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