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October 17, 2002
 
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On the Home Front
Jets on High Alert
Also: Foreign Visitors to Face Fingerprinting; Training for Terror; Sheriff Seeks Limelight
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Military Jets 7 Times as Busy as Before Sept. 11

H E R N D O N, Va., Aug. 13 — The military sent fighter jets to chase suspicious aircraft 462 times between Sept. 11 and June, nearly seven times as often as the 67 scrambles from the same period a year earlier.

More frequent scrambles are also faster in the tense new environment because the North American Aerospace Defense Command communicates better with the Federal Aviation Administration.

On Sept. 11, flight controllers suspected around 8:25 a.m. ET that American Airlines Flight 11 from Boston's Logan Airport had been hijacked, but NORAD wasn't notified until 8:40 a.m. — six minutes before the plane struck the World Trade Center in New York City.

Today, NORAD would know instantly of a suspected hijacking, officials said Monday.

"NORAD is now linked up telephonically 24 hours a day, seven days a week, so anything that's an anomaly or a suspected anomaly that's found in the system, NORAD knows about it as quickly as we do," said David Canoles, FAA's manager of air traffic evaluations and investigations.

At a NORAD operations center in Cheyenne Mountain in Colorado Springs, Colo., a noncommissioned officer listens to conversations on the FAA network from all over the United States, said Maj. Douglas Martin, NORAD spokesman.

"If he hears anything that indicates difficulty in the skies, we begin the staff work to scramble," Martin said. Before Sept. 11, the FAA had to telephone NORAD about any possible hijackings.

In June, Air Force jets scrambled three times to intercept small private planes that had wandered into restricted airspace around the White House and around Camp David, the presidential retreat in Maryland.

Jet fighters approaching a suspicious plane might radio the pilot, dip their wings or simply identify the aircraft and break off, Martin said. No intercepted planes have been fired upon since Sept. 11, he said; for that, an order must come from President Bush or Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

FAA officials held news conferences Monday in Boston, New York and Washington, giving chronological accounts of the terrorist attacks and how they forced an unprecedented shutdown of the U.S. skies.

Air traffic controllers didn't notice anything odd Sept. 11 until communications fell silent with Flight 11's pilot 25 minutes after the plane took off at 8 a.m.

"We considered it at that time to be a possible hijacking," air traffic manager Glenn Michael said.

The FAA notified NORAD 15 minutes later; three minutes after that, NORAD was told United Airlines Flight 175 had been hijacked.

The first two military interceptors, Air Force F-15 Eagles from Otis Air Force Base in Massachusetts, scrambled airborne at 8:52 a.m., too late to do anything about the second jet heading for the Trade Center or a third heading toward the Pentagon.

Mike McCormick, air traffic control manager at the New York Center — the main control center for the area — made the unprecedented decision at 9:04 a.m. to declare "ATC Zero," meaning that no aircraft could fly into, out of or through the airspace over New York and the western Atlantic.

He made the decision after the second plane, United Flight 175, crashed into the World Trade Center. McCormick said the Boeing 757's transponder was working and he knew where it was headed, even before the Newark Airport Control Tower picked it up visually as it turned and headed back toward the twin towers.

At 9:45 a.m., after the World Trade Center and the Pentagon had been struck by the hijacked planes, the FAA ordered all of the more than 4,000 aircraft in the skies over the United States to land at the nearest airport.

The Associated Press

Fingerprinting of Some Foreign Visitors to Begin Sept. 11

W A S H I N G T O N, Aug. 13 — The Justice Department has chosen Sept. 11 as the starting date for a new program that will require tens of thousands of foreign visitors to be fingerprinted and photographed at the border, U.S. officials announced Monday.

The security program, developed by the Immigration and Naturalization Service, will begin at several unnamed ports of entry and will mostly affect those from Muslim and Middle Eastern countries.

After a 20-day testing period, all remaining ports of entry will implement the new system on Oct. 1, 2002.

Attorney General John Ashcroft said the program will correct some of the problems that led to the Sept. 11 attacks.

"The vulnerabilities of our immigration system became starkly clear on Sept. 11," Ashcroft said. "This system will expand substantially America's scrutiny of those foreign visitors who may present an elevated national security risk. And it will provide a vital line of defense in the war against terrorism."

Congress required the Justice Department develop a stricter entry-exit system in sweeping anti-terrorism legislation signed by President Bush late last year.

Under the new program, the fingerprints of many foreign visitors will be matched against a database of known criminals and a database of known terrorists.

The government says the security system will target:

 All nationals of Iran, Iraq, Libya, Sudan and Syria.

 Nonimmigrant aliens whom the State Department determines to present an elevated national security risk, based on criteria reflecting current intelligence.

 Aliens identified by INS inspectors at the port of entry, using similar criteria.

Some immigration advocates say the program is treating visitors unfairly.

"This is a fancy way of racial profiling," said Carl Baron, an immigration attorney and researcher at the University of Texas. "Just on the basis of where a person is from the government is going to subject them to these measures. You're going to see fewer Middle Easterners willing to come to the United States and I wonder whether that isn't the real agenda."

INS spokesman Bill Strassberger said the criticism was unfounded.

"The real agenda is to improve security in the United States and improve the knowledge of who is coming and what their business is here," Strassberger said. "The terrorists were able to exploit what they perceived as weaknesses. We can make sure that won't happen again."

During a pilot project using the same technology to identify wanted criminals attempting to re-enter the United States, the INS has received an average of about 70 fingerprint "hits" a week. The fingerprinting led to the arrest of more than 2,000 wanted felons between January and July.

The Associated Press

Center Preps First Responders for Terror

A N N I S T O N, Ala. Aug. 13 — Smoke fills the cafeteria as a piercing alarm sounds. Panicked voices scream. Help them.

A few doors away, there's a bomb hidden in an office. Find it. And down the hall, injured bodies litter a room. Who gets treated, and who gets left for dead? Figure it out.

These are a few of the challenges that firefighters, police and other emergency workers face when they come here to a former Army base for a different kind of boot camp. The goal, set well before Sept. 11, is to prepare first responders to handle a terrorist attack.

"We provide advanced hands-on training," said Giles Crider, chief of staff for the Center for Domestic Preparedness, part of the Justice Department. "They can't do that at home."

The idea for the center developed in the wake of a string of terrorist attacks in the 1990s, including the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center, the Oklahoma City bombing and the release of sarin gas in a Tokyo subway. But before Sept. 11, Crider says, the reaction was typically "a big ho hum and a yawn."

Now, with the increased threat and heightened fears, the center is training 10,000 officers each year, many of whom go home to train colleagues who can't spend a week in Anniston. Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge toured the center this summer and spontaneously suggested they double their numbers.

The week culminates with a trip to the "hot zone," where nerve agents VX and sarin gas are released. Trainees climb into Level A biohazard protective suits, complete with individual oxygen tanks and sealed so they will not touch or breath any of the deadly chemicals. They run experiments to determine what gases are present, neutralize the material and collect evidence.

"The reality really sets in," said Oliver Lin-Justiniana, 31, a sheriff's deputy in Columbia, S.C., who went through the training this summer. "You're talking through a gas mask. There's no kidding around."

Across the dusty roads of Fort McClellan, abandoned by the Army in 1999, sits a companion facility, the Noble Training Center, where hospital workers come for training. Run by the Department of Health and Human Services, the center uses a shuttered Army hospital to enact its own real-life scenarios.

The Center for Domestic Preparedness opened in June 1998 with a $2 million budget that had reached $18 million a year ago. A post-Sept. 11 emergency appropriation doubled the center's budget to $35.2 million, and officials there expect it to continue to grow.

Every room offers participants a different scenario. With the exception of the live agent training, where actual chemicals are released, all the situations are simulated, though some are remarkably realistic.

In a fake company mail room, trainees learn to identify a package that may contain anthrax.

In an ordinary-looking office where a bomb is suspected, they figure out where trouble lurks. Is it the book out of place on the shelf? The tile falling out of the ceiling? The cell phone lying on the floor? It turns out there's a pipe bomb at the bottom of a garbage can.

In the cafeteria, victims lie on the floor — mannequins with symptoms detailed on paper. Sweltering in biohazard suits, trainees with flashlights affixed to their helmets rush in and figure out who can be saved.

Then they move to decontamination. Trainees learn about the $15,000, state-of-the-art showers their departments can buy to rinse any chemicals off victims. They also learn that a $296 kiddie pool from Wal-Mart will do the trick too.

They tour mock home laboratories. Drano and a collection of match books suggests production of methamphetamine, a common street drug. An aluminum exhaust pipe channeling air from the room suggests anthrax.

Then there's the teddy bear room, where dozens of stuffed bears are lying on the floor. Each one has a label around its neck listing its symptoms, and students have one minute to triage each "patient." Each bear gets a colored tag: red indicates urgent medical attention is needed; green is for the "walking wounded" who can wait; a black tag means the patient is beyond help.

The label on one bear indicates that the patient, a young man in his 20s, has a sucking chest wound, burning in his eyes and labored breathing. It seems clear that he needs urgent medical help.

Wrong.

"Sucking chest wound?" trainer Mellione Richards says. "Black tag, move on."

They leave with a deeper knowledge of both the threats they face and how they would handle them.

"The normal officer out here really doesn't understand the level these terrorists could attack us," said Ronnie Hinson, 28, a sheriff's deputy in Columbia, S.C. "It gives you some information and understanding of what could happen, and what to do if it does."

The Associated Press

N.J. Sheriff Doesn't Shy From Limelight

N E W A R K, N.J., Aug. 13 — For someone who spent years as an undercover cop, Gerald Speziale doesn't seem to mind drawing attention.

The Passaic County sheriff, who angered federal investigators last month when he invited reporters on a raid of a fake-document outfit that failed to capture the alleged leader, is going public with his exploits as a New York City undercover police officer in an upcoming book and film.

"Without a Badge," the tentative title of both projects, chronicles Speziale's days investigating Colombia's Cali drug cartel and other criminal enterprises in South and Central America from 1991 to 1997, when he was assigned to a Drug Enforcement Administration task force.

"We're certainly talking about a major film, and a major star," said David Permut, who is producing the film for Warner Bros., with Antoine Fuqua of Training Day lined up as director.

Speziale, 42, retired early from the NYPD in 1997 because he had been shot while on duty in 1986. He later worked for sheriff's departments in Passaic and Bergen counties, and briefly as chief of police in New Hope, Pa., before Passaic County voters elected him sheriff in November.

On July 31, Speziale sent black-clad deputies in assault gear to raid the Paterson storefront of Mohamed el-Atriss, who the sheriff said was heading a ring that produced so-called international drivers licenses and other phony documents. Speziale had invited several media organizations, including The Associated Press, to watch the raid.

Speziale and the FBI said el-Atriss had provided false documents to two of the Sept. 11 terrorists on American Airlines Flight 77. El-Atriss was not charged with any crime by the FBI after the bureau questioned him, but he remained a suspect in an ongoing investigation.

Deputies arrested three of el-Atriss' employees, but the alleged ringleader had left for Egypt two days before the raid. El-Atriss turned himself in to Egyptian officials, and Speziale's office is seeking his extradition.

A federal law enforcement official told The New York Times that Speziale's raid was a grab for media attention that destroyed an FBI investigation.

On Thursday, New Jersey's attorney general joined its U.S. attorney in announcing a new policy requiring state and local law enforcement agencies to consult with their federal counterparts before seeking warrants in potentially terror-related cases. They denied the new rules were related to Speziale's raid.

Speziale contends the raid was a success because el-Atriss's activities were halted, and says he had kept federal authorities informed about his investigation.

"I'm the scapegoat on this one," he said. "But you know what? It doesn't change me, and I'm going forward."

The Associated Press
 
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