Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Terrorism Alert: A System Shows Gaps

March 21, 1989
New York Times
Craig R. Whitney

LONDON, March 20— The furor over whether the British authorities failed to pass along warnings about a new kind of terrorist bomb in time to prevent the destruction of a Pan Am jumbo jet has revealed a serious lack of coordination between governments and airlines on terrorism, diplomats and officials here say.

Among the questions that have been raised is whether Pan Am's Frankfurt office passed on a warning that it received from the West German authorities on Nov. 10 that terrorists had hidden bombs in portable radio cassette-recorders. Such a device blew up Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, on Dec. 21, and all 259 people on board and 11 more on the ground died in the crash.

Another question is why the British Department of Transport waited until Nov. 22 to warn British airlines and airports, but no others, of the bomb threat. It prepared on Dec. 19 a more complete warning, with photographs, for American and other foreign carriers, but waited until after Lockerbie and after Christmas to send it out, by mail. That one did not reach Pan Am's London office until Jan. 17. Differing Warning

An official close to the investigation said tonight that the Nov. 22 warning was not identical to one sent by the Federal Aviation Administration in Washington to American airlines four days earlier, and that American officials were asking why the British had not sent theirs to the F.A.A.

Pan Am has acknowledged receiving the original warning from West Germany on Nov. 10, after the police there discovered a Palestinian bomb-making network using sophisticated explosives and Toshiba portable cassette players. The airline said it had stepped up its security in Frankfurt as a result.

Flight 103 originated in Frankfurt, and both the British investigators and the Federal Bureau of Investigation say they believe that the bomb was in a piece of baggage loaded into a hold container there. Pan Am will not say when or even whether its office in Frankfurt passed on the West German information to headquarters in New York or to Heathrow Airport in London. The Pan Am Boeing 747 left Heathrow on the final leg to New York an hour before the explosion blew it apart at 31,000 feet.

Even if employees in both places had been fully alert to the danger on Dec. 21, there is no guarantee they could have found the bomb in the baggage. A Department of Transport spokesman, Paul McKie, said today that the department could not confirm an ABC News report that the department had acknowledged, on Dec. 29, that baggage from the plane from Frankfurt had not been screened again at Heathrow before being loaded onto the 747, as required. Possible Misinformation

Both the British alerts on radio cassette bombs, on Nov. 22 and Dec. 19, stressed how difficult they would be to detect. Paul Channon, the Transport Minister, has acknowledged that ''maybe'' the Dec. 19 warning ''should have been sent out by telex,'' and the color photographs of the device that delayed the mailing sent out later.

A comparison of the full texts of the Nov. 22 message and the Dec. 19 bulletin shows that the later one gave security staff members some pointers on how to detect radio casette players concealing bombs.

First of all, it said, an altered set would not play when turned on. A jack plug for the aerial would arm the device. When X-rayed, it would show more wiring than normal. Additional batteries used to arm the explosive device would rattle around inside. ''Any item about which a searcher is unable to satisfy himself/herself must, if it is to be carried in the aircraft, be consigned to the aircraft hold,'' the bulletin said.

That is where the bomb that destroyed Flight 103 was. But Mr. Channon has excused both the delay and the possible misinformation by saying that since it almost certainly was loaded in Frankfurt, not Heathrow, ''the sad fact is that nothing my department did or could have done would have made the slightest difference.''

Mr. Channon is not in charge of the painstaking investigation into the crash, which has pieced together thousands of fragments of wreckage and has now identified the piece of baggage in which the tape recorder was contained, but not whose baggage it was or who put the bomb into it. 'A Lot to Be Desired'

But an American official close to the investigation said that the confusing statements from the Department of Transport had shaken confidence in Washington, where Transportation Secretary Samuel K. Skinner dispatched aides to Britain and West Germany last week to review the state of international cooperation on terrorism. ''It's obvious that there is a lot of information out there, but a lot to be desired on the way it comes together so it can do some good,'' he said.

There have also been indications of discontent from officials in other countries with an interest in the investigation. Alexander Prechtel, a spokesman for the West German federal prosecution authority, said, ''If the British authorities know more than we do, then they are not fulfilling their pledges of keeping us closely informed.''

The investigation is being run not by Scotland Yard, though its anti-terrorism branch is involved, but by a detective chief superintendent of the Strathclyde police force, the largest in Britain outside London, from the town of Lockerbie, a village of about 3,500 people near the English border.

Over the weekend, the Transport Department advised airlines again to be on the alert for luggage and passengers carrying electronic devices aboard airplanes, citing a ''high and continuing risk'' that they could conceal explosives.

The department said it had originally issued the warning on Feb. 18, two days after the investigators determined what had brought down Pan Am 103. Until the weekend, it apparently had not been enforced, even at Heathrow.

First 10 Results, Google Images: Airport Security after 9/11

First 10 Results, Google Images: Airport Security

A ‘Romantic’ Now in Trouble Over an Airport Kiss

January 10, 2010
New York Times
Al Baker and Liz Robbins

When a man ducked past security at Newark Liberty International Airport last Sunday to kiss his girlfriend goodbye, the breach in security shut down one of the country’s busiest airports, delayed flights through Monday and prompted an intensive manhunt from New Jersey detectives that ended on Friday evening on a street in Piscataway, N.J.

But the man police sought was not even home. He was at the gym.

When Haisong Jiang, a 28-year-old Rutgers University graduate student, returned, the police arrested him.

On Saturday, some of Mr. Jiang’s roommates described him as a “romantic” now trying to secure a lawyer after the dizzying turn of events. His actions might have seemed innocently romantic to him, his friends said. But the incident was yet another lapse in airport security that frustrated harried travelers in the wake of the failed plane bombing on Christmas and incensed one New Jersey lawmaker over the leniency of Mr. Jiang’s potential penalty.

According to a statement from the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, Mr. Jiang would be charged with defiant trespass. He was issued with a summons and told to appear in Newark Municipal Court.

It is a “petty disorderly persons offense,” said Paul M. Loriquet, a spokesman for the Essex County district attorney’s office, explaining that such an offense did not qualify to be prosecuted in federal court and only carries a maximum sentence of 30 days in jail.

In an interview on Saturday, Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg, of New Jersey, said he was hoping that the United States attorney’s office would consider bringing federal charges because the penalty Mr. Jiang is facing, “is hardly noteworthy and would not discourage people who want to break through the perimeter.”

The senator said the trouble the security breach caused far outweighed the punishment: 1,600 people stuck in the airport for six hours; flights delayed and an “incalculable” loss of money. And then for five days after the incident, New Jersey law enforcement officials searched exhaustively for the man caught on a grainy surveillance video, one which Sen. Lautenberg had released on Thursday.

The video showed that Mr. Jiang was able to step past security last Sunday when a guard, identified by a law enforcement official as Ruben Hernandez, left his post. The guard has been on administrative leave since Tuesday, and he faces disciplinary action, according to the Transportation Security Administration.

Without Mr. Hernandez watching, Mr. Jiang was able to slip into an area of people who had already cleared security and embraced a woman in a puffy coat and kissed her. When security officials were alerted that someone had breached a secure area, they took steps to lock down the terminal.

Ning Huang, 33, a former Rutgers graduate student and a friend of Mr. Jiang’s identified the woman as Mr. Jiang’s girlfriend. Mr. Huang did not provide the woman’s name, but said she is a former Rutgers student who has dated Mr. Jiang for about a year and now lives in Los Angeles.

“He loves her very much,” Mr. Huang said on Saturday, outside the two-story house Mr. Jiang shares with five roommates. Mr. Huang added that his friend “just wanted to say goodbye to his girlfriend, so it was a very emotional moment. I don’t think he realized what he’s doing.”

Andy Riu, a friend of Mr. Jiang, also came to the Piscataway house after word spread on a soccer league’s online message board that Mr. Jiang would miss a scheduled 2 p.m. pickup game because he had been arrested.

“I think this man is very romantic,” Mr. Riu said.

Mr. Jiang, who comes from the Jiangxi province of China, said Mr. Huang, is a postdoctoral fellow at the Center for Advanced Biotechnology and Medicine, according to the Rutgers University Web site. He intended to find a job in Los Angeles after graduation so he could be with his girlfriend, Mr. Huang said.

“I just hope this doesn’t affect his future career path.”

Mr. Jiang has not spoken publicly since his arrest. He was held in a building at the airport until about midnight Friday, when he was released on his own recognizance.

No date for his arraignment has been set yet, Esmeralda Cameron, a spokeswoman for the Newark Municipal Court said on Saturday.

Nate Schweber contributed reporting from Piscataway, N.J.

For Immigrants, New Travel Concerns

January 9, 2010
New York Times
Anne Barnard

Eating spiced lamb at a bustling Yemeni restaurant in Downtown Brooklyn, Mahib Alkrizy said that since Sept. 11, 2001, his wife, a religious Muslim who covers her hair, has come to expect being patted down and stared at when she travels by plane.

Around the corner at Abu Yasser Travel Agency, employees waved a reporter away — they were tired of even talking about the Obama administration’s recent decision to impose tougher airline screening measures for people flying from 14 countries, including Yemen.

“People who travel a lot, they’re getting used to it,” said Abdul Alzundani, a clerk at the office of Yemenia, the national airline, nearby.

It was a different story at Odyssey African Market in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn. Evident there, along with the smoked fish and kola nuts that loaded the narrow aisles, was much of the anguish that radiated from Arab-Americans in the days after 9/11.

For Nigerian immigrants, the news that their country was on the list, after a Nigerian citizen was charged with trying to blow up a Detroit-bound airliner on Christmas Day, was a new experience, bringing insult and a creeping fear that they were entering a new era of stigma and scrutiny.

“There is nothing like that in our record!” exclaimed Raymond Owolewa, 73, a retired Metropolitan Transportation Authority worker who brought his children to the United States from Nigeria more than three decades ago and was incensed that Nigeria was lumped in with nations the United States lists as state sponsors of terrorism, like Syria and Iran.

“Every country has radical people,” he added. “But we are not specializing in that.”

Five days after President Obama announced the new rules, it is too early to tell how they will ultimately affect people from Nigeria and the other listed countries, or New York’s Nigerian diaspora, which numbers more than 15,000, according to the Census Bureau. The immediate impact, Nigerians and Yemenis said, is simply inconvenience and fear of stigmatization; travel agents said no one was canceling trips.

But these immigrant communities are uncertain whether there could be, over time, a chilling effect on family visits or business travel. And Nigerians, for whom the problem is freshest, wonder if it is a precursor to more serious challenges like the ones Middle Easterners face, such as increased difficulty getting visas to study and work in America.

Nigeria and Yemen were bound together by the Dec. 25 bombing attempt, when, officials say, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, 19, a Nigerian Muslim working with a Qaeda cell in Yemen, tried to detonate explosives on a plane about to land in Detroit.

Besides Nigeria and Yemen, the rules affect Afghanistan, Algeria, Lebanon, Libya, Iraq, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Cuba, Iran, Sudan and Syria. Anyone flying from those countries, and citizens of those countries flying from anywhere in the world, must undergo a pat-down and a check of their carry-on luggage before boarding. Critics say the rules will simply encourage plotters to recruit bombers in nonlisted countries.

Complicating reaction among Nigerians is the country’s tension between the mostly Christian south and the largely Muslim north. Many Nigerians in the United States are Christians, and their chagrin at the blow to Nigeria’s image was mixed with anger at growing Islamic extremism in the north of their country and concern that ill-informed Americans might now associate such views with all Nigerians.

Many blamed the Nigerian government for making their oil-rich country famous for corruption, e-mail get-rich-quick schemes, and, some argue, fertile ground for Qaeda recruiters.

Oliver Mbamara, of the New York-based Nigerian Lawyers Association, wrote in African Events magazine that Nigeria’s leaders were “turning a blind eye to elements that breed the type of circumstance and environment where the likes of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab thrive.”

Olujimi Gureje, who named his dog Umaru as a dig at Nigeria’s president, Umaru Yar’Adua, welcomed the rules and said Nigerians should not be quick to claim discrimination. “You are not Abdul-whatever-his-name-is,” he said, surrounded by African-influenced avant-garde clothing he designs at his boutique in Prospect Heights. “Take responsibility for yourself.”

He said Nigeria had received a wake-up call, and that Mr. Abdulmutallab, from a wealthy family, typified the aimlessness of the country’s young elite.

But more Nigerian-Americans saw the story as every parent’s nightmare. They praised Mr. Abdulmutallab’s father for alerting American authorities to his son’s growing extremism, insisted that Nigeria’s 150 million people were being penalized for a plot that had nothing to do with them, and opined — like many Yemenis — that the rules should apply to all countries.

“It goes to show the relations between powerful nations and weak nations,” said Eman Orji, 50, a paralegal who was buying kola nuts at Odyssey. The United Kingdom, he noted, was not placed on a “no-fly” list after a Briton, Richard C. Reid, tried to blow up a Miami-bound plane in December 2001: “It shows this air of superiority, that we can subject Nigeria to this kind of international humiliation.”

Sheri Adenekan, 39, a home health aide who stopped in for plantains, said, “Because of one person, a lot of people will suffer.”

The Yemeni airline office, despite its inviting pictures of Yemen’s dunes and ornate traditional houses, was deserted Wednesday but for the clerk, Mr. Alzundani. He grew up in New York but sent his wife and family back to Yemen so the children to study Arabic and Islam. Now he worries the new rules will have a very personal effect: loneliness.

His modest, traditional wife, he said, might refuse to visit him if it meant a pat-down or a walk through a machine that let guards see through her clothes.

A Photograph

Airport Security

Updated Jan. 6, 2010
Jonathan Alcom for the New York Times
Under Times Topics

The Department of Homeland Security has spent $40 billion rebuilding the aviation security system since the terror attacks of 2001. Congress pulled responsibility for aviation security out of the Federal Aviation Administration and created the Transportation Security Administration, which also assumed control of security for other modes of transportation. Much work that was formerly done by the airlines or private contractors is now done by federal employees.

The years of effort have created a security net that is much stronger in key areas, from simple things like secure cockpit doors to the routine inspections now done on checked baggage.

But a self-proclaimed terrorist's attempt to bring down a passenger jet headed to Detroit on Dec. 25, 2009, exposed gaps in the system. Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the 23-year-old Nigerian charged in the attempted attack, was able to board a plane even after his father was so alarmed by his son's radical talk that he contacted U.S. officials after his son disappeared while studying abroad.

The incident led to an immediate increase in security efforts at airports. Less than two weeks after the attempted attack, the Obama administration mandated extra scrutiny - including full-body pat downs - for people flying into the United States from 14 mostly Muslim countries. Under the new rules, all citizens of Afghanistan, Algeria, Lebanon, Libya, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Somalia and Yemen must receive a pat down and an extra check of their carry-on bags before boarding a plane bound for the United States, officials said. Citizens of Cuba, Iran, Sudan and Syria - nations considered "state sponsors of terrorism" - face the same requirement.

As officials began another round of struggles to strengthen the country's aviation security system, a review of government audits and interviews with experts inside and outside the government showed that the system has been slow to make some large changes because of a balky bureaucracy, fickle politics and, at times, airline industry opposition. It has also squandered tens of millions of dollars on faulty technology, like high-tech "puffer" machines that repeatedly broke down and flunked the most basic test: they failed to detect some explosives.

As a result, the government has delayed putting in place some of the most important recommendations from the Sept. 11 commission report, which examined the missteps that led to attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon in 2001.

For example, the government has yet to fully deploy a sophisticated method of matching passenger names with terrorist watch lists. And it has still not finished changes that would make it harder for terrorists to sneak bombs into airplane cargo holds, according to government reports.

Officials from both the Obama and Bush administrations argue that the progress is real, and they contend that with additional steps since the Christmas incident, and others under way, a robust security network is in sight.