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Radioactive 'Dirty Bomb' Plot FoiledAssociated Press by Ted Bridis June 11, 2002
WASHINGTON (AP) - The U.S. government has arrested an American citizen accused of conspiring with al-Qaida terrorists to build and detonate a radioactive "dirty" bomb in this country, possibly in the nation's capital.
Attorney General John Ashcroft said that Abdullah Al Mujahir, a former Chicago street gang member who also goes by the name of Jose Padilla, was in the custody of the U.S. military and was being treated as an enemy combatant.
A Justice Department official said that under U.S. legal rules, Mujahir can be held indefinitely an as enemy soldier. But there are no plans to impose a military tribunal or otherwise press U.S. criminal charges against Mujahir, said this official, discussing the case only on grounds of anonymity.
Lt. Col. Rivers Johnson, a Pentagon spokesman, said Mujahir would not be eligible for trial by a military tribunal set up under Defense Department rules issued in March because those tribunals are for alleged terrorists who are not U.S. citizens.
Ashcroft, who was in Moscow on other business, made the announcement through a television hookup. He said Mujahir, who converted to Islam, was arrested May 8 as he flew from Pakistan into Chicago's O'Hare International Airport. The 31-year-old is a native of New York City who moved to Chicago at age 4.
"We have disrupted an unfolding terrorist plot to attack the United States by exploding a radioactive dirty bomb," he said, adding that the government's suspicions about Mujahir's plans came from "multiple, independent, corroborating sources."
In a picture-taking session with visiting Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, President Bush said in response to a question: "We have a man detained who is a threat to the country and that, thanks to the vigilance of our intelligence-gathering and law enforcement, he is now off the street, where he should be."
Deputy Attorney General Larry Thompson, asked at a news conference here whether authorities had identified any co-conspirators in the United States, replied, "We're not going to comment on that."
FBI Director Robert Mueller said, "Our principal interest is in preventing future terrorist attacks. This instance is an example of prevention."
Another senior administration official speaking on condition of anonymity said Mujahir was trained by al-Qaida in Afghanistan and Pakistan to wire explosives and to research radioactive dispersal devices. He was not believed to have had a bomb at the time of his apprehension.
"We have no information that suggests this advanced beyond planning stages," said White House press secretary Ari Fleischer.
Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, appearing at a news conference with Thompson and Mueller, said officials could not say with certainty that the nation's capital was the likely target, although he said Mujahir "did indicate knowledge of the Washington, D.C. area."
A "dirty bomb" would not result in a nuclear explosion, but experts say such a device could release relatively small amounts of radiation over several city blocks. Its most devastating effect would be in the panic it likely would cause. For that reason, it has been called an ideal terrorist weapon.
Mujahir was taken Monday morning to a high-security Navy brig in Charleston, S.C., said Johnson, who also said that Mujahir was transferred from Justice Department custody in New York City.
Mujahir had a lawyer in New York but his access to a lawyer probably will be severely restricted now that he is in military custody, Johnson said. He said the alleged al-Qaida operative was being held separately from other prisoners at the brig.
Ashcroft said Mujahir had served prison time in the United States in the early 1990s, then traveled to Afghanistan and Pakistan during 2001 and met with al-Qaida officials. Ashcroft said Mujahir "trained with the enemy, including studying how to wire explosive devices and researching radiological dispersion devices."
Ashcroft said al-Qaida apparently believed that Mujahir would be permitted to travel freely within the United States because of his U.S. citizenship and because he carried a U.S. passport.
The probable target of Mujahir's plans to detonate the bomb was Washington, according to a U.S. official, who also spoke on condition of anonymity.
Another government official who asked not to be named publicly said the intelligence that led to Mujahir's arrest came from captured al-Qaida leader Abu Zubaydah during recent interrogations.
This official said Mujahir is a former Chicago street gang member who converted to Islam after serving time in the United States, and met with an al-Qaida leader in 2001, before returning to the United States.
Said Ashcroft: "We have acted with legal authority both under the laws of war and clear Supreme Court precedent, which establishes that the military may detain a United States citizen who has joined the enemy and has entered our country to carry out hostile acts."
Mujahir discussed several terrorist plans with Abu Zubaydah, the bin Laden lieutenant now in U.S. custody, according to a U.S. official.
Mujahir first met with Abu Zubaydah in Afghanistan in 2001, and traveled to Pakistan at Abu Zubaydah's request, the official said, adding that he was one of a group that traveled with Abu Zubaydah to several locations in Pakistan.
Mujahir and another unidentified associate researched dirty bombs in Lahore, Pakistan, the official said.
"The radiological device plan articulated by (Mujahir) Padilla and his associate was in the planning stages, and no specific time was set to occur," the official said.
At Abu Zubaydah's behest, he also traveled to Karachi, Pakistan, to meet with several senior al-Qaida operatives, to discuss the plan, the official said. Mujahir also was interested in plans to bomb hotel rooms and gas stations in the United States, the official said.
It was unclear whether any of these meetings took place after Sept. 11.
Bush, based on recommendations from Ashcroft and White House counsel Al Gonzales, designated the suspect as a combatant in papers signed late Sunday. That designation allowed the Defense Department to take custody of Mujahir from the Justice Department.
"Based on the facts in this case and the importance of protecting sources who helped us get him, the determination was made that DOD is best for his detention," an official said, speaking on condition of anonymity. This official said the administration does not know how close the suspect was to obtaining a so-called "dirty bomb."
Expert Says Hezbollah in Charlotte, N. C.The Charlotte Observer by Gary L. Wright June 11, 2002
(6/10/02) - A government expert on terrorism testified this morning that two Lebanese brothers accused of aiding Middle Eastern extremists were members of a Hezbollah support cell in Charlotte.
"It couldn't be more clear. This is a Hezbollah cell...engaging in criminal activity to support Hezbollah.," said Matthew Levitt, a former FBI counterintelligence expert.
Levitt also identified Mohamad Youssef Hammoud, one of the brothers on trial, as the cell's leader. Levitt said he reached his opinion after reviewing prosecution evidence, which included seized anti-American and anti-Israeli videos, books and pamphlets as well as wiretaps conducted by the FBI and Canadian intelligence.
Levitt described some of the seized materials as "radical literature" that was anti-American.
Prosecutors also showed jurors a photograph of Mohamad Hammoud. In the background were pictures of the Ayatollah Khomeini, Iran's deceased leader; Hasan Nasserallah, Hezbollah's general secretary; and Shaykh Muhammad Husayn Fadlallah, Hezbollah's spiritual leader.
Levitt said the members of the Charlotte cell were sending money to the military commander of Hezbollah. "They were clearly sending money to people involved in terrorist operations," he said.
During cross-examination, defense lawyer Deke Falls told Levitt that Fadlallah has a Web page with his phone and fax numbers and an email address.
Levitt responded: "The White House has that too, but I don't think you can call the president direct."
Levitt is an expert on terrorism in the Middle East and works at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. The defnese lawyers, during cross-examination, sought to portray the institute as pro-Israel.
Hammoud and his brother, Chawki Youssef Hammoud, are accused of aiding Hezbollah, the Lebanese nationalistic group the U.S. government has labeled a terrorist organization.
Authorities believe the Hammouds were part of a cell that smuggled cigarettes and committed other crimes, then sent some of the proceeds to Hezbollah.
If convicted, Mohamad Hammoud faces as much as 30 years to life in prison. Chawki Hammoud faces up to 14 years.
Under Secretary of Energy Under ScrutinyNew York Times by David Firestone June 7, 2002
(6/6/02) - Before he was named under secretary of energy by President Bush last year, Robert G. Card was a top executive of the companies whose multibillion-dollar contracts his office now controls. Those companies performed some of the nation's most sensitive and expensive jobs, cleaning up highly toxic waste from nuclear weapons factories.
Now, with the storage of that waste becoming a political issue in races around the country, Mr. Card has come under scrutiny for decisions that could add millions of dollars to the contracts of his previous employers. Critics in Congress and elsewhere are calling for an investigation into his ties to the nuclear cleanup industry.
Senator Harry Reid, Democrat of Nevada, wrote to the Office of Government Ethics last week, raising questions about Mr. Card's actions, saying he believed they might violate Bush administration guidelines and federal statutes governing conflicts of interest.
''Until those questions are answered, the integrity of Mr. Card's decisions will be in doubt, including those related to Yucca Mountain,'' Mr. Reid said.
Yucca Mountain is the Nevada site recently chosen by the Energy Department for long-term storage of nuclear waste, a decision opposed by Mr. Reid and most Nevada officials. Because very few companies are able to build such a repository, opponents of the site have said that Yucca Mountain will be a windfall for Mr. Card's former employers, the Kaiser-Hill Company and CH2M Hill Inc.
Energy Department officials note that Mr. Card has divested himself of his former companies' stock and renounced his pension benefits, and they suggest that his critics are motivated by their political disagreement with the Yucca Mountain decision.
Late yesterday, the Office of Government Ethics issued a letter disagreeing with Senator Reid's claims. The letter, based on the Energy Department's assurances to the office that Mr. Card had not participated in any matter relating to his former employers, said Mr. Card's actions had been proper.
''We do not believe that CH2M Hill, Kaiser-Hill, or Kaiser Group Holdings Inc. was a party or represented a party in any of the matters discussed above in which Under Secretary Card participated,'' Amy Comstock, director of the ethics office, wrote. ''Accordingly, it appears that none of Mr. Card's actions violated any ethics statutes or regulations.''
But Mr. Card's critics, who include Democratic elected officials in Nevada and South Carolina who are at odds with some of his decisions, say his ties to the industry make it impossible to determine whether his favorite projects are good public policy or favors to old colleagues. Mr. Reid said he would pursue an inquiry into Mr. Card's role.
Most accusations against Mr. Card involve contracts by his former companies to clean up two of the country's biggest environmental hazards: the Rocky Flats Site near Denver and the Hanford Site in Washington State, both of which processed plutonium for nuclear weapons before closing. CH2M Hill, where Mr. Card was a director and senior vice president, has a $2.2 billion contract to manage radioactive waste storage tanks at Hanford and decommission them as the waste is processed. Mr. Card was chief executive of Kaiser-Hill, which is half-owned by CH2M Hill and which has a $4 billion contract to clean up Rocky Flats.
As under secretary for energy, science and environment, Mr. Card supervises the Office of Environmental Management, which is in charge of cleaning up nuclear waste sites and manages the contracts of his old companies. In March, that office said it was sending $433 million from an $800 million discretionary cleanup fund to Hanford, much of which would go to expedite CH2M Hill's cleanup work.
On March 6, in testimony to a Congressional committee, Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham said Mr. Card played a major role in the decision. The extra financing for Hanford's cleanup came about because of an agreement between Mr. Card and the State of Washington, Mr. Abraham said, after ''a top-to-bottom review that Under Secretary Card and Assistant Secretary Roberson completed.''
Mr. Card took the microphone at that hearing to describe the expedited cleanup work, and people who met in February with Gov. Gary Locke of Washington, a Democrat, to discuss the financing confirmed that Mr. Card was present and played a leading role in the talks.
Mr. Card declined to be interviewed. An Energy Department spokesman, Joseph Davis, said that while Mr. Card had a role in working with Hanford officials to accelerate the cleanup, he had not been involved in deciding how much money would be sent to the site for the accelerated program, or how much would go to CH2M Hill. That decision, Mr. Davis said, was made solely by Assistant Secretary Jessie Roberson, who reports directly to Mr. Card.
At Rocky Flats, the project he supervised in the private sector, Mr. Card has taken a vocal public role in urging that the cleanup be hastened and the plutonium there be shipped to South Carolina for processing, a decision applauded in Colorado but unpopular in South Carolina. The contract with Kaiser-Hill provides a $340 million incentive if the company can complete the cleanup by 2006. That provision, negotiated by Mr. Card while at Kaiser-Hill, has led to accusations by South Carolina officials that Mr. Card is trying to benefit his former company at state expense.
''How are we supposed to be comfortable that we're getting a fair shake in South Carolina when the man we're negotiating with is a former employee of the company that clearly stands to gain financially if Rocky Flats is closed on a timely basis?'' Gov. Jim Hodges of South Carolina, a Democrat, asked on Tuesday. The Energy Department's general counsel wrote to Governor Hodges this year that Mr. Card had severed his financial ties to Kaiser-Hill, other than his vested interest in its pension plan. On Tuesday, Mr. Davis said that Mr. Card had volunteered to forgo any benefits from the pension plans at the two companies, which combined would provide about $2,400 a month beginning in 2018.
But federal ethics rules require presidential appointees to go even further than selling stock in their previous employers, as Mr. Card did. As a condition of his appointment, Mr. Card agreed to recuse himself from department matters in which he was involved ''personally and substantially'' while at Kaiser-Hill or CH2M Hill.
Department officials say his recusal and his divestiture of company stock means that there is neither a conflict nor an appearance of one.
''The department's legal counsel has reviewed all of the critics' charges and found no basis to them,'' Mr. Davis said. ''I think various opponents of the department's position on Yucca Mountain are trying to rehash unfounded and baseless allegations. In a word, I believe it's unfair.''
But Mr. Card's critics are calling for a further investigation. Earlier this year, Representative Shelley Berkley, a Nevada Democrat and another opponent of the Yucca Mountain plan, asked the department for documents on Mr. Card's role, which she has turned over to Congressional investigators. She said she was concerned about a potential windfall to one of Mr. Card's former employers if the mountain storage site is built.
N.C. Does Not Want Nuclear Waste EitherThe Charlotte Observer by Bruce Henderson June 6, 2002
(6/4/02) - Four Southern states and a regional radioactive waste agency filed suit before the U.S. Supreme Court Monday, seeking $90 million for North Carolina's failure to build a controversial disposal facility.
The Southeast Compact Commission for Low-Level Radioactive Waste Management has tried to recover its investment in the N.C. facility since 1999. That's when legislators scrapped a Wake County site and withdrew from the seven-state compact, which was formed to find a regional solution to disposal of low-level waste.
The waste ranges from lightly contaminated rags to research wastes that decay in a few days to nuclear plant parts. It's handled separately from the highly radioactive used nuclear fuel that's proposed for burial in Yucca Mountain, Nevada.
Alabama, Florida, Tennessee, Virginia and the compact commission filed suit Monday. The compact's two remaining member states, Georgia and Mississippi, didn't sign on. The site would have accepted wastes from all member states.
The suit asks the high court to enforce sanctions the commission levied against North Carolina a few months after it withdrew. The sanctions amounted to $80 million the commission invested in preparatory work for the N.C. disposal facility and $10 million in lost revenue from the never-opened site.
The Supreme Court refused last June to hear a similar suit by the compact because member states weren't plaintiffs. To bypass lower courts, such actions must involve states suing each other.
North Carolina broke a contract by not building the disposal facility, as the state agreed to do in 1986, the suit says. The N.C. facility was originally to open in 1991, replacing an existing site in Barnwell, S.C., that is still in business.
The lawsuit says the compact was exercising its authority to levy administrative remedies and sanctions, said Carter Phillips, the Washington attorney representing the states and compact commission.
Despite a total investment of $120 million, including $30 million from North Carolina, the state never licensed a site. Amid political opposition and questions about the geologic quirks of the Wake County site, legislators pulled the plug three years ago.
The remaining compact states still regard North Carolina as a member until the dispute is resolved, Phillips said. South Carolina left the compact in 1995.
"The compact unfairly and illegally attempted to force N.C. to construct a low-level nuclear dump before questions about serious environmental, public health and safety concerns were answered," said John Bason, a spokesman for the N.C. Department of Justice, which will defend the state.
The state Radiation Protection Commission concluded two years ago that North Carolina doesn't need its own disposal site.
Most of the 65 to 70 N.C. waste sources send their rubbish to Barnwell or to a private facility in Utah.
Al-Qaida Threatens New Hits on U.S.Associated Press June 6, 2002
(6/3/02) - CAIRO, Egypt - A spokesman for al-Qaida has threatened more attacks on Americans and Jews in a message published by the pan-Arab daily Al-Hayat on Sunday.
"We confirm our continuation in working to attack Americans and Jews, and targeting them, both people and buildings," Al-Hayat quoted Sulaiman Abu Gaith as saying.
"What will come to the Americans, God willing, won't be less than what has come. America should be ready and on high alert and fasten the seat belts, as with the will of God, we will come to them from where they didn't expect," Abu Gaith was quoted as saying. The newspaper did not give Abu Gaith's whereabouts.
Nuclear Watchdogs GrowlAssociated Press May 30, 2002
SENECA, S.C. (AP) - A recent incident where a contract worker with a criminal record entered a vital area of the Oconee Nuclear Station here has prompted a nuclear watchdog group to call for a suspension of unescorted trips.
The Nuclear Control Institute wants the federal agency that regulates nuclear plants to stop letting people into certain areas without an escort before a background check is completed.
``The Oconee security breach clearly shows that neither the Nuclear Regulatory Commission nor Duke Energy has fully absorbed the lessons of Sept. 11,'' Paul Leventhal, president of watchdog group, wrote in a May 21 letter.
Leventhal said allowing nuclear plants to grant temporary unescorted access to contract workers before the FBI is able to complete background checks, which typically take 30 days, is a serious security concern. The checks should be for ``not only for domestic criminal activities but also for signs of affiliation with international terrorist organizations,'' Leventhal said.
Oconee Nuclear Station spokeswoman Dayle Stewart said the March incident involved a contract employee who worked for a contractor doing work during maintenance and a refueling outage on Unit 1.
The worker was only in a vital area one time for a few minutes and was escorted by a qualified employee, Stewart said.
She said she couldn't release details of the worker's criminal record because it is a personnel matter. She said the worker is no longer at the plant.
Plant officials verify a worker's identity, character references, and past employment before a temporary badge is issued, Stewart said. A psychological exam also is required, she said.
In addition, anyone entering a protected area must first pass through metal and explosive detectors. ``It is not as case of someone easily being able to get temporary access,'' Stewart said.
The NRC has received the request from the Nuclear Control Institute and ``will take whatever action we deem appropriate,'' commission spokesman Victor Driggs said.
``We've taken numerous actions since Sept. 11 to increase security at the nation's nuclear plants,'' he said.
Nuclear Power Plants on Alert StatusAssociated Press May 25, 2002
WASHINGTON (AP) - The government put the nation's nuclear power plants on a heightened state of alert late Friday because of information gained by the intelligence community, according to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
The intelligence did not specify that there is a threat directed against nuclear power plants or outline any plot, said NRC spokeswoman Beth Hayden.
But the NRC sent a special advisory to 103 nuclear power plants to be cautious.
``This advisory is telling them to be on the lookout and to report anything suspicious to the operations center,'' Hayden said.
Hayden noted that since Sept. 11 the nuclear power plants have already been directed to increase security patrols, augment security forces, install barricades and look for suspicious people trying to conduct surveillance on the plant.
Yucca Mountain Press ConferencePublic Citizen Press Release May 24, 2002
WASHINGTON, D.C. - James Cromwell, long-time Native American rights activist and Oscar nominated-actor, joined environmental, public interest and religious groups at a press conference outside the Capitol today to urge lawmakers and regulators to reject two dangerous proposals for radioactive waste facilities in the Great Basin. The event took place as the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee gathered for the third and final Senate hearing on the Yucca Mountain nuclear dump.
"The proposals for radioactive waste dumps at Yucca Mountain and on the Skull Valley Goshute Reservation in Utah put us all at risk - today and for generations to come," Cromwell said. "We cannot afford to be silent on these important issues."
The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) is proposing to dump 77,000 tons of high-level nuclear waste from commercial power reactors and DOE nuclear sites at Yucca Mountain in Nevada. The project is opposed by the Western Shoshone and Paiute people for whom Yucca Mountain is a sacred site. The DOE's dose modeling, used to determine "acceptable levels" of radiation release from the proposed repository, does not adequately take into account traditional Native American lifestyles and would impose a disproportionate toxic burden on indigenous communities in the area. The Senate is expected to vote on the Yucca Mountain proposal later this summer.
Similarly, Private Fuel Storage, a consortium of commercial nuclear utilities lead by Minnesota's Xcel Energy, is seeking a license from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to open a "temporary" storage facility for 44,000 tons of high-level waste on the Skull Valley Goshute Reservation in Utah. The community there is divided over the issue. Private Fuel Storage has paid undisclosed amounts of money to supporters of the project, while tribal opponents have launched lawsuits against the Bureau of Indian Affairs and intervened with the NRC in an effort to stop the dangerous project. The NRC is expected to rule on the Private Fuel Storage license application before the end of this year.
"These two programs stem from the same highly flawed processes and policies by which public health and safety play second fiddle to the profit-motivated interests of the nuclear industry," said Joan Claybrook, president of Public Citizen, a nonprofit consumer advocacy organization. "The Yucca Mountain and Private Fuel Storage projects must be stopped. We are calling for a thorough review and reorientation of nuclear waste policy."
Added Rev. Ron Steif, director of the United Church of Christ's Justice and Witness Ministries, "Christians, and people of all faiths, are entrusted by God to protect the people and resources of the earth. U.S. nuclear policy has historically and consistently sacrificed the land, health and traditional ways of Native Americans, and we have a moral obligation to oppose this latest attempt to dump deadly nuclear waste in the homelands of the indigenous peoples of the Great Basin region."
Speakers at the press conference also raised concerns about the dangers of transporting nuclear waste to the Great Basin, which is distant from most nuclear reactors. The DOE has indicated that shipments would pass through 44 states and the District of Columbia. Nuclear waste transport containers have not been physically tested to ensure they can withstand a crash. An accident or terrorist attack involving a high-level radioactive waste shipment could be catastrophic.
"The risks of transporting deadly nuclear waste, the environmental justice impacts and the long-term health effects of both these projects are untenable," Cromwell said.
Sens. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and John Ensign (R-Nev.) also spoke at the press conference.
The Yucca Mountain and Private Fuel Storage proposals are widely opposed by safe-energy advocates. The Indigenous Environmental Network (IEN), a network of 200 indigenous organizations, traditional societies and communities across North America, also opposes these projects. IEN's statement is online at http://www.ienearth.org/nuclear_waste.html
Terrorists Will Use Weapons of Mass DestructionNew York Times by P. Shenon, D. Stout May 22, 2002
WASHINGTON, May 21 Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld warned today that terrorist states will inevitably be able to attack the United States with weapons of mass destruction.
"Let there be no doubt, it is only a matter of time before terrorist states armed with weapons of mass destruction develop the capability to deliver those weapons to U.S. cities, giving them the ability to try to hold America hostage to nuclear blackmail," Mr. Rumsfeld told senators at a hearing on the Pentagon budget. "With the power and reach of weapons today, we have little margin for error and we need defenses that can deter and defend against such attacks."
Mr. Rumsfeld's warning, while not surprising, was nevertheless sobering. It was the second statement of concern about national security in two days from a high official. On Monday, the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation warned that suicide bombings like those that have left hundreds dead in Israel are "inevitable" on American soil.
"I think we will see that in the future I think it's inevitable," said the director, Robert S. Mueller III, whose agency is under siege by critics in Congress and elsewhere who contend that the bureau failed to follow up on clues that might have prevented the Sept. 11 terrorism attacks.
Mr. Rumsfeld told a Senate Appropriations subcommittee that Iraq, Iran, Syria, Libya and North Korea are working on weapons of mass destruction and can be expected to supply them to terrorists to which they are linked. Terrorists, Mr. Rumsfeld said, "inevitably will get their hands on them and they will not hesitate to use them."
Mr. Rumsfeld's remarks were not startling in view of the Bush administration's often-expressed concerns about terrorists, but they served as another reminder of how the world has changed since the days of the cold war and, more specifically, since Sept. 11.
Mr. Mueller, who spoke on Monday to a conference of the nation's district attorneys, did not identify which terrorist groups might be considering such attacks in the United States, nor did he provide any specific time frame when they might occur.
His comments came a day after Vice President Dick Cheney issued a similarly vague public warning about the likelihood of new terrorist strikes, saying that another attack by Al Qaeda was "almost certain" but that it could happen "tomorrow or next week or next year." Mr. Cheney made no reference to the possibility of suicide bombings here.
Mr. Mueller apparently did not know that his warnings would be made public. Administration officials said that his remarks and those of Mr. Cheney, coupled with warnings last weekend from intelligence agencies that they had detected terrorist communications suggesting a new attack was being planned, were not part of any campaign by the White House to raise public alarm.
Nor, they said, were the warnings intended to deflect criticism over intelligence failures before Sept. 11. The F.B.I. has been the target of intense criticism after the disclosure that an agent in the bureau's Phoenix office warned last July that Al Qaeda terrorists might be training in American flight schools.
Mr. Mueller suggested that the F.B.I. and other agencies would not be able to stop new terrorism attacks in the United States or against American targets overseas because of the difficulty of recruiting informers who had penetrated the inner circle of terrorist groups.
His warnings came as the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee confirmed news reports that a group of "extremists" may have entered the United States in recent weeks aboard container ships that docked in American ports.
"We had an instance in which 25 extremists, as they were described, jumped on ships outside of the United States, hid in the container cargoes until they got to the United States and then disembarked," the lawmaker, Senator Bob Graham, a Florida Democrat, said in an interview on CNN. "And they've been lost in the American population."
Mr. Graham offered no other details on the search for the men, but Congressional aides said the senator was referring to information gathered from the Coast Guard and intelligence agencies about a group of Middle Eastern men who had apparently jumped ship between late March and May 15 in ports in Miami, Port Everglades, Fla., Long Beach, Calif., and Savannah, Ga.
One Congressional aide stressed that the information had not been confirmed. A Coast Guard spokesman had no comment about Mr. Graham's account.
Government analysts and private counterterrorism specialists have long worried that militant Islamic groups like Hamas or Islamic Jihad might someday unleash a wave of suicide bombings in this country in an effort to pressure the United States to limit its support for Israel.
Their concerns have grown in the wake of the dozens of suicide bombings in Israel in the last 18 months in which Palestinians, many only teenagers, have strapped explosives to their bodies and walked into pizzerias, discos, malls and other places where Israeli civilians gathered.
Law-enforcement officials believe that an embittered Palestinian immigrant came within hours of detonating a nail-studded bomb in the New York City subway system in 1997, in what would have been the first such attack. The suspect, Ghazi Ibrahim Abu Maizar, was convicted of the plot two years later, though it was never clear if he was acting at the suggestion or behest of a terrorist group.
During the trial, which Mr. Abu Maizar clearly saw as a chance to publicize the plight of Palestinians, he testified he had intended the bomb to kill as many Jews as possible.
"I lived under the Israeli Army occupation for 20 years, facing all kinds of suffering from the aggression of the Israeli Army," he testified in explaining his actions. Law-enforcement officials in New York say that Mr. Abu Maizar had planned to detonate the bomb in a subway station or on a subway line in a Brooklyn neighborhood where large numbers of Orthodox Jews live.
Mr. Mueller's warnings came during a question-and-answer session with the National Association of District Attorneys, which is meeting this week in Alexandria, Va., outside Washington. Aides said that Mr. Mueller did not realize that a reporter from The Associated Press was in the audience. F.B.I. officials later confirmed the accuracy of the quotations cited by the A.P.
On Capitol Hill, the debate continues to center on how to investigate previous warnings and the government's responses to them in the months and years before Sept. 11.
There was new concern among lawmakers over how the Bush administration had responded to the arrest in Minnesota last August of Zacarias Moussaoui, who has since been described as the "20th hijacker" in the Sept. 11 attacks.
Confirming reports in The Star Tribune of Minneapolis and The Wall Street Journal, the Federal Aviation Administration acknowledged on Monday it had received a warning in August from the F.B.I. about Mr. Moussaoui's arrest. But the agency said it issued no warning to airlines because there was no evidence to suggest he was part of a terrorist plot.
Rallying behind the White House, House Republican leaders said they opposed creating an independent commission to investigate how the government dealt with terrorism warnings before Sept. 11.
The Republican opposition made it unlikely that a proposal for an outside group to scrutinize the performance of the government would soon be approved by the House, leaving the House and Senate intelligence committees to make their own investigation.
Representative Dick Armey of Texas, the House majority leader, said he opposed an outside inquiry. Last weekend, he said, "This is a professional matter of national security, utmost national security importance."
"It should be handled professionally, it should be handled carefully, and it should be handled quietly," he said.
Other lawmakers, led by Senators Joseph I. Lieberman and John McCain, are pushing to create a 14-member independent commission. Mr. Lieberman, a Connecticut Democrat, and Mr. McCain, an Arizona Republican often at odds with the administration, have said they may try to push legislation through shortly after Memorial Day.
Cheney Says New U.S. Attacks 'Almost Certain'Reuters May 20, 2002
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Vice President Dick Cheney said on Sunday that a new attack on the United States was ``almost certain'' as U.S. intelligence officials picked up signals that a fresh al Qaeda strike could be in the works.
Speaking in two television interviews, Cheney also sought to blunt criticism the Bush administration failed to pick up hints last summer that critics believe might have helped prevent the Sept. 11 attacks.
``In my opinion the prospects of a future attack against the United States are almost certain,'' Cheney said on NBC's ``Meet the Press'' program. ``(It's) not a matter of if, but when.''
``We don't know if it's going to be tomorrow or next week or next year, partly because I think we're having some success at disrupting the organization, making it more difficult for them to carry out their operations,'' he added. ``But the prospect of another attack against the United States is very, very real.''
A White House official said on Saturday U.S. intelligence officials have detected ``enhanced activity'' that points to a potential new attack against the United States or American interests abroad.
The FBI also warned of a possible plot by Saudi-born militant Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda network, which the United States believes carried out the Sept. 11 attacks, to detonate bombs in U.S. apartment buildings.
The comments came as The New York Times reported U.S. intelligence agencies had intercepted a series of messages among al Qaeda operatives indicating the group was attempting to launch an attack as big as or bigger than the one on Sept. 11.
Quoting unnamed intelligence and law enforcement officials, the Times characterized the communications as vague but disturbing, saying they were so general they have left President Bush and U.S. officials uncertain about the timing, location or method in any new potential attack.
'THERE WERE FAILURES'
On Sunday, Cheney acknowledged the U.S. government failed to anticipate the Sept. 11 attacks, which killed more than 3,000 people in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania, and partly blamed a system that did not adequately coordinate information from intelligence services and domestic law enforcement.
``There's no question but what there were failures. We obviously did not know what was about to happen. We were unable to prevent it,'' he told ``Meet the Press.''
But Cheney also voiced anger at what Bush has called ''second-guessing'' by Democrats who last week pounced on the disclosure that the president had received an Aug. 6 briefing evoking the possibility of al Qaeda hijacking.
``There is nothing in there that's actionable intelligence,'' Cheney said of the Aug. 6 written analysis, which he said dealt mostly with the history of al Qaeda strikes and did not provide the kind of specific information needed to prevent an attack.
Critics have suggested the White House failed to piece together a string of hints that, in retrospect, appeared to presage the attacks on America.
These include a 1999 report written for the CIA that said bin Laden-linked suicide bombers might slam an explosives-laden plane into the Pentagon, the CIA or the White House and a memo written in July by an FBI agent in Phoenix urging his superiors to investigate Middle Eastern men at U.S. flight schools.
``The fact that the FBI had this explosive memo that was sent from Phoenix ... and it just sat there for months and months -- it was not even transmitted to the CIA ... just shows we have a long way to go in terms of sharing information,'' said Sen. Richard Shelby, the Alabama Republican and vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee.
``I still have a deep sense of anger that anyone would suggest that the president ... had advance knowledge that he failed to act on,'' Cheney said, saying he was not convinced the government could have prevented Sept. 11 even if information like the FBI agent's memo had made its way to the White House.
Speaking on the ``Fox News Sunday'' program, Cheney said it was ``almost impossible'' to create a fool-proof defense against attacks, noting that Israel -- with a vaunted intelligence service and a much smaller geographic area to protect -- had not been able to prevent a string of suicide bombings.
Human Cost of Savannah River SiteThe State by Sammy Fretwell May 20, 2002
(5/19/02) - SYCAMORE - Gordon Johns went to work every day for 33 years, proud that he was part of the nation's effort to win the Cold War.
To him, cleaning the Savannah River Site was as important as the massive facility's primary job: making plutonium and tritium for use in atomic weapons.
"The Savannah River Site played a very important part in security for the entire world," Johns said. "I have some pride knowing I might have had a small part in that.''
But after retiring in 1984, Johns began suffering blackouts. He later was diagnosed with colon cancer, a disease that kills 50,000 Americans a year. From there, his health steadily deteriorated.
By spring of this year, he was bedridden, coughing and gasping for breath.
On March 30, two days after telling his story to The State, Johns died at his home in rural Allendale County.
For former employees at SRS, Johns' struggle is painfully familiar.
Like Johns, they have vivid stories of life-threatening illnesses suffered after working at the nuclear weapons complex near Aiken.
More than 2,000 are seeking federal compensation for diseases they say resulted from their work. The government admitted during the Clinton Administration that its nuclear weapons program probably is liable for some diseases.
Illnesses include colon cancer, lung cancer, breathing disorders, kidney diseases and lymphoma. Relatives of some dead workers said their loved ones nearly starved because of complications from cancer, federal records show.
Many of the sick said they were glad to help the government win the international arms race with the Soviet Union.
It was the price of freedom, they said.
"I would do it again,'' said Edgefield resident Bill Brunson, a retired SRS worker who struggles to breathe.
'YOU DIDN'T ALWAYS REALIZE'
Still, some former workers said they were bothered that they didn't know more about the dangers of working at SRS.
With more information from the government, they might have known how to better cope with radiation and toxic chemicals, Johns said before his death.
"You didn't always realize'' the danger, he said, "until after you ran into contact with it.''
The Savannah River Site's nuclear weapons mission halted after the Soviet Union dissolved and the Cold War ended in 1991.
Today, as the government looks to process plutonium and fabricate more nuclear weapons material at SRS, the legacy of its past remains.
Most of the site's $1.5 billion annual budget is spent managing and cleaning up deadly waste. The facility is one of the world's most contaminated atomic weapons sites.
All told, more than 100,000 people worked at the Savannah River Site after it opened in the early 1950s, Department of Energy spokesman Bill Taylor said. During its peak, the site employed more than 25,000 people at one time, he said.
Taylor said the government now acknowledges that nuclear weapons sites were a threat to their workers. Although SRS stressed safety, he said, some workers became ill after toiling at the 310-square-mile complex of nuclear reactors, support buildings and burial grounds.
"These people did an important job for our national defense,'' Taylor said. "Those who did receive occupational illnesses or injuries are why a program was set up to compensate them.''
Nationally, people have filed more than 26,000 claims seeking compensation of up to $150,000 because of exposure to radiation and some toxic materials at nuclear weapons sites.
So far, virtually none of the $199.6 million paid in claims has gone to SRS workers because it has taken time for the government to get the entire program off the ground, federal officials say.
As those seeking compensation wait for their checks, they have said plenty about life at SRS.
Public meetings with the U.S. Department of Energy the past two years brought overflow crowds of people who detailed their struggles and asked for government help.
Brunson, among those seeking compensation, said he was exposed to an array of contaminated materials during his 30 years at SRS. The materials ranged from asbestos to radioactive substances.
Once, he helped mop up a spill of contaminated water not far from one of the complex's atomic reactors. Because of the water's radioactivity, employees could work on the cleanup for just a limited amount of time.
"Just about everybody on the plant was involved,'' said Brunson, a former maintenance worker. "It took a long time to go through all that.''
Brunson said he was routinely exposed to asbestos that he believes now causes him to gasp for breath, particularly when the weather is hot and muggy.
Some of the exposure came from taking asbestos out of buildings and putting new supplies in, said Brunson, a non-smoker.
Asbestos, an unusually resilient material, was used for decades in industry to insulate and fireproof buildings. Federal studies now show that it can cause cancer and a lung disease known as asbestosis.
Today, Brunson must use air filters, inhalers and mentholatum to help bring oxygen into his lungs. At night, it sometimes is difficult for Brunson to catch his breath while in bed.
"Breathing is my biggest problem now,'' he said. "Some nights I have to get up and sit in my chair.''
Medical experts who examined Brunson said his breathing problems could be the result of working at SRS, records show. He has been diagnosed with asbestosis.
It didn't used to be that way. Brunson said he once took walks, swam and jogged to stay in shape. Now, he can do little more than work sporadically in his yard.
"When you can't breathe, you kind of lose everything,'' he said.
Still, Brunson doesn't regret the work he did at SRS.
A bleeding disorder kept him out of the military and that always bothered his conscience, he said.
"I couldn't join the service and I felt like it was part of my life to help out,'' the 84-year-old Brunson said.
When he has difficulty drawing oxygen into his lungs, Robert Lee Kelly uses a machine to help him breathe.
Kelly said it's not unusual to use the special inhaler three to four times per day.
He, too, believes exposure to toxic chemicals at SRS caused his condition. Sometimes, asbestos was so thick during maintenance work that he could see it in the air.
During a public meeting in December 2000, Kelly told Department of Energy officials the chemicals he was exposed to were so bad, "you couldn't hardly breathe while you were working.''
"I've been having a lot of sickness - shortness of breathe, my bones aching,'' Kelly said in an interview with The State. "But I'm still dragging along. I'm sure we got a hold of some of those chemicals down there.''
Still, Kelly said he had good years at SRS, first as a construction worker and later as an operations employee.
During the early 1950s, Kelly said he brought home $200 to $250 a week, far better than the 50 cents a day farmers in the area made.
Kelly, who grew up on the property where SRS now stands, said he's not upset with the government for the illness he must now deal with.
"I'm not angry,'' the 72-year-old Aiken resident said. "At the time, I needed a job and I was glad for the job. We raised three children and put them through college. I bought me a home out of it.''
Robert Eley, 78, recalls the night a large explosion of radioactive material killed a live oak tree on the SRS property. He also remembers being burned by acid at the site.
And, Eley said, there were years when he was subjected to heavy doses of radiation from his work as a nuclear reactor operator.
Now, Eley suffers from asbestosis because of exposure to air pollutants at SRS, he said. The affliction causes shortness of breath.
"I got sick because I worked there,'' said Eley, a Twin City, Ga. resident.
On trips with his wife, he must haul portable air tanks with him so he can breathe easily.
"It's a damned nuisance,'' Eley said. "A lot of times I have the notion to say, 'To hell with it,' and go ahead and die.''
In addition to breathing problems, Eley said he suffers numbness in his left hand from what he believes was exposure to radiation at SRS.
Mervin Russell, who has colon and lung cancer, said he remembers working around steel pipes so radioactive that they glowed "like a lightbulb.'' He retired from SRS in 1981 after 30 years on the job.
The pipes were submerged in pools of water inside SRS buildings. Periodically, he and his co-workers hauled the pipes out of the water so other workers could repair them.
Today, he has no idea what purpose the pipes served.
Russell also had to haul unknown radioactive material in trucks to a burial ground at SRS.
"We weren't told too much," said Russell, a 78-year-old Bamberg resident. "What we did was supposed to be confidential.''
Russell said he's not bitter about the work. But he said the cancers have slowed him down -particularly the lung cancer.
That's bothersome because he never smoked, Russell said. Simple daily activities can be taxing now, he said. He is unable to tie his shoes without breathing hard. And he no longer has the breath to sing, a once favorite pastime, he said.
"I can't do anything,'' Russell said. "I just don't have any wind.''
'FOR YOUR COUNTRY'
Before he died, Gordon Johns said he wished SRS had paid more attention to worker exposure during the hey day of nuclear arms production.
Johns remembered when he would be allowed to clean tritium-contaminated areas without the proper equipment. He also was exposed to asbestos as thick as snow, as well as to freon and other toxic chemicals.
Those materials put him on his death bed, he said.
"I think we ought to have been debriefed every day about what went on,'' he said, adding that the experience led him to advocate more investigation of chemical pollution around the world.
Even so, the massive weapons complex produced bittersweet memories for Johns, a father and husband who died with his family at his side.
Before his death, Johns told The State that he had a sense of accomplishment that he helped America win the Cold War.
"I think most people are basically glad about having worked there,'' Johns said. "You need to be ready to fight for your country.''
U.S. Intercepting New Attack MessagesNew York Times - by J. Risen, D. Johnston May 19, 2002
WASHINGTON, May 18 American intelligence agencies have intercepted a vague yet troubling series of communications among Al Qaeda operatives over the last few months indicating that the terrorist organization is trying to carry out an operation as big as the Sept. 11 attacks or bigger, according to intelligence and law enforcement officials
In recent months, officials have issued threat alerts regarding nuclear plants, financial institutions and even specific structures like the Seattle Space Needle and the Golden Gate Bridge, even as some counterterrorism experts privately regarded those threats as not based on solid intelligence.