Viewpoint: How secure are we?

Viewpoint: How secure are we?

By Joe Baker

How secure are we?

By Joe Baker

Senior editor

A security crisis exists in this country which persists despite the horrifying events of Sept. 11 and the much-touted “War on Terrorism.”

The security crisis existed before the attacks and is not much better today despite all the focus on airports and beefed-up forces.

The Paul Revere Forum in Washington, D.C., conducted at the end of last month, heard from several whistleblowers on various aspects of national security.

Bogdan Dzakovic spent 14 years in the Security Division of the Federal Aviation Administration. He says the attacks should never have happened and would not have happened had the FAA done its job.

Dzakovic is a Federal Air Marshal, formerly based in Chicago and now leads what is known as the Red Team. That is a small group of people given the job of flying around the world, conducting simulated attacks on the U.S. civil aviation industry.

“…We were extraordinarily successful in mock destroying aircraft and killing large numbers of innocent people in these simulated attacks,” Dzakovic said. “This occurred with such regularity and ease as to present a frightening picture of the sorry state of aviation security on a world wide basis, including our domestic airports. This was all before 9-11,” he added.

Dzakovic said the highest officials in the FAA were aware of this vulnerability but did nothing. “In 1998,” he said, “I sent a memo through my chain of command to the administrator of the FAA, attempting to have these issues addressed. I have yet to receive a response.”

Again and again, at airport after airport, Dzakovic’s team breached sophisticated security systems with ease. In each case, nothing was done to correct the deficiencies.

In 1999, testing of the bomb detection machines, which cost about $1 million each, was so poor the team started giving notice when they were coming and what they were going to do. Detection soared, but when the notification stopped, it slumped to previous levels. The government is planning to spend $2 billion to install these machines in major airports in the country.

This pattern of behavior, said Dzakovic, represents an ingrained tradition of bureaucratic denial and negligence in the FAA that directly endangers the flying public.

The nuclear threat

Randy Robarge spent 20 years in the nuclear power industry. His last position was at the nuclear plant at Zion, Ill., 35 miles north of Chicago’s Loop. Some 1,100 metric tons of radioactive waste were stored there in the spent fuel pool.

In 1998, Commonwealth Edison requested and was granted permission to cut the size of the security force at the plant. Robarge said he was shocked because even before that, the public was not properly protected from a terrorist attack on the plant.

“The spent fuel pool was located only 50 feet from an unguarded road and housed outside the containment vessel, in a building easily subject to terrorist breach from either a small aircraft or a car bomb,” he said.

Robarge said official claims that nuclear power plants can withstand an airborne assault are not true. “Our government was not telling the truth, and hundreds of thousands of lives were at stake—not to mention the long-term environmental impact any such assault would cause,” Robarge said.

In 1997, Ronald Timm was the senior engineer on a support contract to the U.S. Department of Energy. His group was looking at the possibilities of theft of uranium or plutonium; radiological dispersal to surrounding communities; and rapid construction of a “homemade” nuclear bomb at the facility where it was kept. They were studying 10 DOE sites where nuclear materials are kept.

In January 2000, he contacted the security chief of the department and furnished the Inspector General with more than 200 classified documents citing vulnerabilities. No action was taken. A letter to the new Secretary of Energy in January 2001 had the same lack of result.

“We have been asked ‘Is DOE corrupt?,’ Timm said. “The question is not framed accurately. The Department of Energy is dysfunctional. It has been reported as a dysfunctional bureaucracy by the executive branch and the Congress continuously since 1995, up to and including today,” he said.

Smuggled drugs or terror?

Darlene Catalan is a former special agent with the U.S. Customs Service. She was running an investigation of railroad narcotics smuggling at the California-Mexico border in 1998.

“…We had very high-level information that tons of narcotics were entering the U.S. via pressurized rail tanker cars. We learned that there was a large rail yard in Guadalajara, Mexico that was controlled by the Arellano-Felix cartel, and this was one of the cartel’s largest narcotics distribution points,” Catalan said.

Her task force seized a tank car containing several thousand pounds of marijuana and 34 kilos of cocaine. Several weeks later they identified five more suspected tank cars. These were five to nine tons over weight.

Catalan said pressure testing was needed to determine whether the cars should be bled

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out and checked. Her superiors refused the testing, and the cars were released.

“What does this have to do with national security?,” she asked. “What do you have when you fill one of these cars with 10,000 pounds of ammonia nitrate, 100 pounds of C-4 (explosive), a shaped charge, and place this container under pressure? The world’s largest pipe bomb,” Catalan said.

She explained that a terrorist can easily get these cars moved anywhere by using a telephone or the Internet. They can be put near national monuments or nuclear facilities. These cars can be remotely detonated, and the perpetrators would be nearly impossible to trace.

All these whistleblowers faced reprisals, and many lost their jobs for bringing these shortcomings out in the open. It raises the question of how real is the “War on Terror” and how concerned is this administration about public safety?

As Catalan said: “The American public must demand accountability, and demand that honest cops trying to do their jobs should not be treated in this fashion.”

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