November 2nd, 2010
By: Kimberly Kindy
Since the attempted bombing of a U.S. airliner on Christmas Day, former Homeland Security secretary Michael Chertoff has given dozens of media interviews touting the need for the federal government to buy more full-body scanners for airports.
What he has made little mention of is that the Chertoff Group, his security consulting agency, includes a client that manufactures the machines. The relationship drew attention after Chertoff disclosed it on a CNN program Wednesday, in response to a question.
An airport passengers’ rights group on Thursday criticized Chertoff, who left office less than a year ago, for using his former government credentials to advocate for a product that benefits his clients.
“Mr. Chertoff should not be allowed to abuse the trust the public has placed in him as a former public servant to privately gain from the sale of full-body scanners under the pretense that the scanners would have detected this particular type of explosive,” said Kate Hanni, founder of FlyersRights.org, which opposes the use of the scanners.
Chertoff’s advocacy for the technology dates back to his time in the Bush administration. In 2005, Homeland Security ordered the government’s first batch of the scanners — five from California-based Rapiscan Systems.
Today, 40 body scanners are in use at 19 U.S. airports. The number is expected to skyrocket at least in part because of the Christmas Day incident. The Transportation Security Administration this week said it will order 300 more machines.
In the summer, TSA purchased 150 machines from Rapiscan with $25 million in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds. Rapiscan was the only company that qualified for the contract because it had developed technology that performs the screening using a less-graphic body imaging system, which is also less controversial. (Since then, another company, L-3 Communications, has qualified for future contracts, but no new contracts have been awarded.)
Over the past week, Chertoff has repeatedly talked about the need for expanding the use of the technology in airports, saying it could detect bombs like the one federal authorities say Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, a 23-year-old Nigerian, carried onto the Detroit-bound aircraft.
“We could deploy the scanning machines that we currently are beginning to deploy in the U.S. that will give us the ability to see what someone has concealed underneath their clothing,” Chertoff said Wednesday in an interview on CNN. The incident on the Detroit-bound plane provided “a very vivid lesson in the value of that machinery,” he said.
December 30, 2009
By Mary Wisniewski
Privacy advocates worry that new body-scanning security equipment due to come to O’Hare Airport next year will interfere with passengers’ rights to keep their body images to themselves.
But the former head of security for the Federal Aviation Administration believes the scanners, which see through clothing, are long overdue.
We should have had them in already,” said Billie Vincent, now CEO and president of Aerospace Services International Inc., an electronics security company. He said the technology should be used for secondary screening of passengers selected for extra inspection. “It’s a very necessary part of the system. O’Hare needs it.”
Chicago Aviation Commissioner Rosemarie Andolino said Tuesday that the Transportation Security Agency plans to bring full-body scanners to the airport in the first half of the year — possibly by April. She did not give details on how the scanners would be deployed.
Body-scanning technology, which can reveal plastic or chemical explosives or non-metallic weapons, might have prevented the Christmas Day attempt to blow up a jetliner that landed in Detroit. The suspect in that case, who was believed to have hidden explosive material in his trousers or underwear, didn’t go through a full-body scan when his flight began in Amsterdam, though the Dutch airport has such a unit.
The scanner “could have been helpful in this case, absolutely,” said Evert van Zwol, head of the Dutch Pilots Association.
“It’s incredible that this guy wasn’t subject to more than routine scans,” said Vincent.
Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the Nigerian accused of trying to ignite explosives aboard the Northwest Airlines jet, had been on a “watch list,” but not on a no-fly list. His father, a banker, had reported to the U.S. Embassy in Nigeria about his son’s extremist views.
Ed Yohnka, director of communications for the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois, said it’s puzzling that full-body scanners are being seen as a solution, when officials had knowledge about Abdulmutallab that they didn’t use.
“Because that intelligence was not acted upon, the best we can do is subject thousands and perhaps millions of Americans to a virtual strip search simply for getting on an airline flight?” said Yohnka. “That doesn’t make sense to me.”
The scanners have been installed at only a small number of airports around the world, in large part because of privacy concerns. Last June, the U.S. House voted 310-118 to prohibit the use of whole-body imaging for primary screening, limiting it to secondary screening.
December 30, 2009
By Paul Joseph Watson
Flight 253 eyewitness Kurt Haskell has astoundingly revealed how the FBI are deliberately hiding the existence of a second man who was arrested following the Christmas Day plane bombing incident after bomb-sniffing dogs detected a possible second explosive device in his luggage.
Appearing on The Alex Jones Show yesterday, Haskell related how after being allowed to disembark from the plane by officials, passengers were detained in customs with their carry-on luggage for six hours while they waited to be interrogated by the FBI.
Bomb sniffing dogs then detected a possible explosive device in the luggage of an Indian man around 30 years old before the man was arrested and led away to an interrogation room.
The probability that there was a bomb in the man’s luggage was all but confirmed when the FBI moved the passengers to another location. “You’re being moved,” the FBI told them, “it is not safe here. I’m sure you all saw what happened and can read between the lines and why you’re being moved.”
The identity of the second man has not been discussed by authorities or the media and Haskell’s description of his own interview with the FBI suggests that the feds are deliberately trying to bury the notion that the bomber had one or more accomplices.
The FBI was not pleased with Haskell when they conducted a follow-up interview yesterday in Michigan. They showed him close-up photographs of various people, including Mutallab, the accused bomber. “They kind of tried to trick me,” Haskell explained. The agents tried to pass off two photos of Mutallab as different people. Kurt asked the agents if they were attempting to impeach his story and smear him.
December 30, 2009
By Angela Greiling Keane
A suspected terrorist’s attempt to blow up a U.S. airliner may override privacy concerns and intensify a push for full-body scanning equipment at airports.
U.S. officials charged a 23-year-old Nigerian man with trying to blow up Northwest Flight 253 as it prepared to land in Detroit on Christmas Day. President Barack Obama said yesterday he ordered a thorough review of the episode and called for new scrutiny of screening policies and technologies.
Metal detectors currently used to screen passengers wouldn’t have found the explosive allegedly carried aboard by the suspect, said former Federal Aviation Administration security chief Billie Vincent. Only more sophisticated devices such as low-level X-rays and millimeter-wave technology would work, Vincent said.
Senator Joe Lieberman, a Connecticut independent, called for more widespread use of the full-body scanners after the aborted attack. “We were very lucky this time but we may not be so lucky next time, which is why our defenses must be strengthened,” Lieberman, chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, said in a statement yesterday.
The committee said it would hold a hearing next month on airline security and how the alleged terrorist got onto the plane.
Companies such as OSI Systems Inc., Smiths Group Plc, Safran SA and L-3 Communications Holdings Inc. may benefit from any requirement that airports get more security equipment. London-based Smiths is the world’s biggest maker of airport scanners. Safran, based in Paris, is the world leader in biometric technologies, such as fingerprint scanners. New York- based L-3 also makes scanners for airport use.
L-3 has “developed a more sophisticated system that could prevent smuggling of almost anything on the body,” said Howard Rubel, an analyst at Jefferies & Co., who has a “hold” rating on the stock. “Speed and privacy issues have slowed its introduction.”
Jennifer Barton, a spokeswoman for New York-based L-3, didn’t respond to a phone call seeking comment.
L-3 rose $1.17, or 1.4 percent, to $86.80 in New York Stock Exchange composite trading yesterday. That was the highest closing price since October 2008. OSI jumped $2.45, or 11 percent, to $24.47 in Nasdaq Stock Market trading. The percentage gain was the biggest since Jan. 29.
OSI’s Rapiscan unit makes machines that can detect liquids and other potential explosives beneath passengers’ clothing. In October, the U.S. Transportation Security Administration placed an order valued at $25 million for Rapiscan’s imaging equipment, the Hawthorne, California-based company said.
December 28, 2009
By Sheena Harrison
A Michigan man who was aboard Northwest Airlines Flight 253 says he witnessed Umar Farouk Abdul Mutallab trying to board the plane in Amsterdam without a passport.
Kurt Haskell of Newport, Mich., who posted an earlier comment about his experience, talked exclusively with MLive.com and confirmed he was on the flight by sending a picture of his boarding pass. He and his wife, Lori, were returning from a safari in Uganda when they boarded the NWA flight on Friday.Haskell said he and his wife were sitting on the ground near their boarding gate in Amsterdam, which is when they saw Mutallab approach the gate with an unidentified man.
Kurt and Lori Haskell are attorneys with Haskell Law Firm in Taylor. Their expertise includes bankruptcy, family law and estate planning.
While Mutallab was poorly dressed, his friend was dressed in an expensive suit, Haskell said. He says the suited man asked ticket agents whether Mutallab could board without a passport. “The guy said, ‘He’s from Sudan and we do this all the time.’”
Mutallab is Nigerian. Haskell believes the man may have been trying to garner sympathy for Mutallab’s lack of documents by portraying him as a Sudanese refugee.
The ticket agent referred Mutallab and his companion to her manager down the hall, and Haskell didn’t see Mutallab again until after he allegedly tried to detonate an explosive on the plane.
Haskell said the flight was mostly unremarkable. That was until he heard a flight attendant say she smelled smoke, just after the pilot announced the plane would land in Detroit in 10 minutes. Haskell got out of his seat to view the brewing commotion.“I stood up and walked a couple feet ahead to get a closer look, and that’s when I saw the flames,” said Haskell, who sat about seven rows behind Mutallab. “It started to spread pretty quickly. It went up the wall, all the way to ceiling.”
Haskell, who described Mutallab as a diminutive man who looks like a teenager, said about 30 seconds passed between the first mention of smoke and when Mutallab was subdued by fellow passengers.
“He didn’t fight back at all. This wasn’t a big skirmish,” Haskell said. “A couple guys jumped on him and hauled him away.”
The ordeal has Haskell and his wife a little shaken. Flight attendants were screaming during the fire and the pilot sounded notably nervous when bringing the plane in for a landing, he said.
“Immediately, the pilot came on and said two words: emergency landing,” Haskell said. “And that was it. The plane sped up instead of slowing down. You could tell he floored it.”
As Mutallab was being led out of the plane in handcuffs, Haskell said he realized that was the same man he saw trying to board the plane in Amsterdam.
Passengers had to wait about 20 minutes before they were allowed to exit the plane. Haskell said he and other passengers waited about six hours to be interviewed by the FBI.
About an hour after landing, Haskell said he saw another man being taken into custody. But a spokeswoman from the FBI in Detroit said Mutallab was the only person taken into custody.
December 28, 2009
By Brian Ross and Richard Espositio
American officials have cause to worry there may be more al Qaeda-trained young men in Yemen planning to bring down American jets. Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, charged with the attempted Christmas Day bombing of Northwest Airlines flight 253, told FBI agents there were more just like him in Yemen who would strike soon.
And in a tape released four days before the attempted destruction of the Detroit-bound Northwest plane, the leader of al Qaeda in Yemen boasted of what was planned for Americans, saying, “We are carrying a bomb to hit the enemies of God.”
Yemen has become a principal al Qaeda training ground and the accused suicide bomber told the FBI he was trained for more than a month in Yemen, given 80 grams of a high explosive cleverly sewn into his underpants, undetected by standard security screening. “They know that this is a weakness and an Achilles’ heel in our airport security system,” said ABC News consultant and former counterterrorism czar Richard Clarke.
Law enforcement authorities say tragedy was averted only because the bomb’s detonator did not work. “I think it’s very clear it came very, very close,” said Rep. Pete Hoekstra, ranking minority member of the House Intelligence Committee. “The explosive device went off, it became an incendiary device instead of an explosive device, which is probably what saved that airplane.”
On Sunday, in its first communication since the failed Northwest Airline bombing, Al Qaeda in Yemen released a written statement about the December 17 air strike in Yemen. The statement called on “the people of the Arabian peninsula” to attack American military installations, ships and “spying embassies.” The U.S. Embassy in Yemen was attacked by Al Qaeda-affiliated terrorists in September 2008, and the U.S.S. Cole, a U.S. Navy destroyer, was hit by Al Qaeda in 2000.