December 29, 2009

The return of terror politics

Posted: 05:50 PM ET

From Jim Acosta, CNN

Washington (CNN) - When President Obama spoke out on the terrorism scare in Detroit, Michigan, he entered a debate that had already begun over his administration's new approach to combating terrorism.

"As a nation we will do everything in our power to protect our country," Obama said while vacationing in Hawaii. "We will continue to use every element of our national power to disrupt, to dismantle and defeat the violent extremists who threaten us, whether they are from Afghanistan or Pakistan, Yemen or Somalia, or anywhere where they are plotting attacks against the U.S. homeland."

Umar Farouk AbdulMutallab is being held for allegedly trying to blow up a flight carrying 300 passengers on Christmas Day. Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula claimed responsibility Monday for the attack, saying it was in retaliation for U.S. strikes on Yemeni soil.

On Sunday, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano initially gave something of a thumbs up to the government's handling of the Detroit terror scare.

"One thing I want to point out is that the system worked. Everybody played an important role here. The passengers and crew of the flight took appropriate action," Napolitano said on CNN's State of the Union.

Within minutes, Republicans went on the attack.

"Earlier today Secretary Napolitano said the system worked. in fact the system did not work," Rep. Peter King, R-New York, said on CBS' "Face the Nation."

When pressed, Napolitano later dialed back her remarks.

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Filed under: Politics • President Obama • Terrorism

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Reports: Costs, privacy obstruct widespread use of screening systems

Posted: 03:26 PM ET

Via The Washington Post

By Robert O'Harrow Jr. and Spencer Hsu

Washington Post Staff Writer

When alleged terrorist Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab casually boarded his flight for Detroit on Christmas Day, he unwittingly confirmed repeated warnings about the chronic, costly shortcomings of government efforts to create better systems to screen travelers for bombs, weapons and other threats.

The incident follows a long series of public and confidential government findings that the massive push for new high-technology systems - some of them promising almost science-fiction-like abilities to detect and communicate threats - often has fallen short, and that billions of dollars were being wasted on systems that do not work or are behind schedule.

In the months after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, federal officials pledged to use information technology to identify terrorists, while also creating new machines that would automatically detect explosives, sense whether passengers were lying, and scan other materials for threats.

The Department of Homeland Security and intelligence agencies have spent billions of dollars to develop security systems, including more than $795 million for research and development of high-tech checkpoint screening equipment.

But government watch lists failed to identify Abdulmutallab as a likely terrorist, even though his name was put in one of the most important government databases after his father had warned officials that he could be a threat. And none of the high-tech screening equipment under development by the Homeland Security Science and Technology Directorate was used to screen him.

According to government reports, mismanagement of research, concerns about privacy, the high costs of installation and, in some cases, opposition from industry and Congress have hindered the widespread deployment of 10 systems at airports in the United States and abroad.

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Filed under: Terrorism

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PETN: The powder at the center of airline terror alert

Posted: 02:58 PM ET

(CNN) - The Christmas Day airline terror alert has brought focus on PETN, a substance till now largely unknown to the public.

The white powder is said to be central to the alleged plot by Umar Farouk AbdulMutallab to bring down a passenger aircraft, carrying 300 passengers, as it prepared to land in Detroit. But just what is PETN?

What does PETN look like?

Pentaerythritol tetranitrate, to give it its full name, is a fine white powder that resembles sugar or salt. It does not compress down very well.

How easy is to obtain?

The core chemical in PETN is hard to make or get your hands on.

How volatile is PETN?

Not very. Although it is an explosive, you have to hammer it or ignite it to make it go off. And since it is not volatile, it is perfect for a terrorist on a long haul flight.

As Sidney Alford, a UK explosives expert, explained to CNN's senior international correspondent Nic Robertson: "It wouldn't go off accidentally. If I was carrying a pocketful of just neat powder in my pocket, it blowing up would be the last of my worries."

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Filed under: Crime • Larry King Live • Terrorism

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December 27, 2009

New Detroit scare declared 'non-serious'

Posted: 07:31 PM ET

(CNN) - A security alert aboard a Northwest Airlines jet ended Sunday after investigators determined the incident - the second in two days involving a Detroit, Michigan-bound flight - was "non-serious," federal authorities said.

The crew of Northwest Flight 253 reported a "verbally disruptive" passenger Sunday and requested police meet the plane when it arrived from the Netherlands, the airline told CNN. The man was questioned by police after the plane landed in Detroit early Sunday afternoon.

The Amsterdam-to-Detroit flight is the same one targeted Friday in what prosecutors called a failed attempt to blow up a jetliner. Sandra Berchtold, a spokeswoman for the Joint Terrorism Task Force in Detroit, said Sunday's alert was caused by a passenger who "spent a lengthy time in the restroom."

"This raised concerns, so an alert was raised," she said. "JTTF investigated, and the investigation shows that this was a non-serious incident and all is clear at this point."

The passenger spent about an hour in the bathroom and got upset when he was questioned by the crew of the flight from Amsterdam, Netherlands, according to government sources. Law enforcement agents questioned the man Sunday.

The jet had the same designation - Flight 253 - as the one on which a Nigerian man is accused of attempting to set off an explosive device Friday, said Scott Wintner, a spokesman for the Wayne County Airport Authority. Winter told CNN the flight "requested emergency assistance and was pulled aside upon arrival in Detroit."

The jet was taken a long distance from the terminal and "completely engulfed" by emergency vehicles and heavily armed police once it landed, said Don Graham, who was waiting for relatives to arrive at the airport.

The flight arrived about 12:34 p.m., said Susan Elliott, a spokeswoman for Delta Air Lines, which owns Northwest. The 257 passengers were allowed to leave the aircraft about an hour after the jet landed, she said.

Filed under: al Qaeda • Crime • Larry King Live • Terrorism

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May 20, 2009

"Terrorist Rehab" and "Thought Security." What??????

Posted: 03:28 PM ET

Full disclosure: Kieran Baker, author of this article, is the husband of LKL Sr. Producer Nancy Baker.  He's also a producer for "PBS-Now" when Nancy lets him work.

I've been in Riyadh all week attending Saudi's first conference on 'thought security'. The meeting began with a 'made-for'-Saudi TV event, a mixture of rapture and sobriety, where survivors and policemen were honored for their role in their fight against violent extremism here in the Kingdom.

When they say 'thought security', what they really mean is the 'influence of deviant ideas', something that began perhaps over a decade ago, but only came to prominence (or was officially recognized here) in 2003 when the attacks by al Qaeda on Western compounds rocked Riyadh.

Up till then Saudis held sympathies for the al Qaeda struggle, seeing it more in terms of Islamic brotherhood or solidarity than 'real' terrorism, but the events of 2003 – 2006 dramatically altered that thinking and brought them, head to head against al Qaeda. With this conference comes an intellectual examination of that struggle and a look at how best to defeat 'deviant thoughts' or extremism in the future.

CLICK HERE to read more and watch the video.

Filed under: Terrorism

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