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Thursday, July 12, 2007

Terror Nation
Posted by Jill | 6:38 AM
CNN is reporting that a plane bound for London landed at JFK Airport this morning and a business class passenger was detained. The report is that a flight attendant saw this passenger on an employees-only van and reported his presence in business class as suspicious, resulting in the diversion. Nothing from the news web sites yet and I just didn't want to sit and listen to Michael Chertoff.

Meanwhile, the New York Times is reporting today just how easy it is to get one's hands on materials for a dirty bomb -- not in Russia, not in Iran, but right here in the good old USA:

Undercover Congressional investigators set up a bogus company and obtained a license from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in March that would have allowed them to buy the radioactive materials needed for a so-called dirty bomb.

The investigators, from the Government Accountability Office, demonstrated once again that the security measures put in place since the 2001 terrorist attacks to prevent radioactive materials from getting into the wrong hands are insufficient, according to a G.A.O. report, which is scheduled to be released at a Senate hearing Thursday.

“Given that terrorists have expressed an interest in obtaining nuclear material, the Congress and the American people expect licensing programs for these materials to be secure,” said Gregory D. Kutz, an investigator at the accountability office, in testimony prepared for the hearing.

The bomb the investigators could have built would not have caused widespread damage or even high- level contamination. But it still could have had serious consequences, particularly economic ones, in any city where it was set off.

The undercover operation involved an application from a fake construction company, supposedly based in West Virginia, that the investigators had incorporated even though it had no offices, Internet site or employees. Its only asset was a postal box.

Nuclear Regulatory Commission officials did not visit the company or try to interview its executives in person. Instead, within 28 days, they mailed the license to the West Virginia postal box, the report says.

That license, on a standard-size piece of paper, also had so few security measures incorporated into it that the investigators, using commercially available equipment, were able to modify it easily, removing a limit on the amount of radioactive material they could buy, the report says.

With that forged document, the auditors approached two industrial equipment companies to arrange to buy dozens of portable moisture density gauges, which cost about $5,000 each and are used to read the density of soil and pavement when building highways. The machines include americium-241 and cesium-137, radioactive substances commonly used in industrial equipment. Auditors, convinced they had enough evidence to prove their point, called off the ruse before the devices were delivered.

But if they had gone ahead with the plot — which would have required extracting the radioactive materials from the machines and combining them, a job that could harm anyone in close contact — they could have built a bomb that would have contaminated an area about the length of a city block, according to the regulatory commission.

Yes, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission will send you a license for nuclear material -- to a postal box. No confirmation or background check necessary.

Aren't you glad that six years after 9/11, George W. Bush is on the case? /snark

UPDATE: Now CNN is reporting that the man in question is an executive platinum traveler with the airline who boarded the employee shuttle:

According to Russ Knocke, with the Department of Homeland Security, American Airlines security officials identified the man as an executive platinum traveler with the airline who purchased his round-trip ticket on April 19.

Knocke did not say whether the man had proper identification when he boarded the employee shuttle and passed through the employee access-only entrance.

Anthony Loynes, one of the 188 passengers aboard the flight, told CNN the pilot told passengers the plane was making the unannounced stop because the plane did not have enough fuel to make it to London.

Shortly after landing, Loynes said, security officials boarded the plane and left with a man of "Middle Eastern descent." A woman sitting next to the man was also questioned, he added.

UPDATE: CNN TV is now discussing the incident as "a misunderstanding", which somewhat contradicts the Annie Jacobsen-like ominous tone of the above article on the network's web site.

AND ANOTHER UPDATE: 1010 WINS is saying now that the man in question is, in fact, an employee of the airline.

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