Head of Congressional 9/11 Probe Quits
The head of a joint congressional investigation into why U.S. intelligence agencies failed to detect the plot that led to the Sept. 11 attacks on America has resigned, U.S. government sources said on Monday.
Britt Snider, a retired CIA inspector general, was hired in February to conduct the review for the Senate and House intelligence committees.
Some members of the panels had objected to his selection, saying Snider was too closely tied to the spy agency and CIA Director George Tenet to conduct an impartial review.
Snider resigned on Friday and his deputy Rick Cinquegrana will fill in as the acting head of the investigation, sources told Reuters on condition of anonymity.
Snider's parting was not amicable and resulted from a confrontation with the congressional committees over his handling of a personnel matter, sources said.
Snider was apparently aware of an issue of potential wrongdoing regarding one of the members of his team and did not inform the committees about it, sources said.
Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Bob Graham, a Florida Democrat, would not comment on Snider's departure because it was "an internal personnel matter," his spokesman, Paul Anderson, said.
Sen. Richard Shelby, an Alabama Republican who is committee vice chairman, also declined to comment. "He [Snider] has left his position and because it is a personnel issue we're not commenting," Shelby's spokeswoman, Andrea Andrews, said.
Congressional aides said Snider's departure was not expected to affect the pace of the investigation and the committees still hoped to hold the first hearing next month.
Snider could not immediately be reached for comment.
The House and Senate intelligence committees took the unusual step of agreeing to conduct a joint investigation as the least disruptive method of inquiry at a time of war, so testimony and information would not have to be presented twice.
The goal of the investigation was to review intelligence failures and establish remedies for the future.
In the Sept. 11 attacks, four planes were hijacked and crashed into the World Trade Center in New York, the Pentagon near Washington, and a field in Pennsylvania, killing about 3,000 people.
The attacks were widely viewed as an indictment of the intelligence agencies, which failed to detect the plot. Since the attacks, funding for intelligence operations is increasing and agencies are under pressure to fix shortcomings.
The United States has blamed Saudi-born militant Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda network for the attacks and launched a war on terrorism to wipe them out.
Atlanta Federal Buildings Fail Security Test
W A S H I N G T O N, April 29 — Four Atlanta federal buildings have flunked security tests by congressional investigators working undercover.
The investigators were able to easily sneak briefcases and packages past security checkpoints.
One investigator was able to obtain two different security badges and a guard's after-hours access code. One pass allowed the investigator to carry a firearm in the buildings.
The findings are contained in a General Accounting Office report obtained today by media outlets.
The report will be discussed Tuesday at a congressional hearing in Atlanta.
The chairman of the House intelligence subcommittee on homeland security, Republican Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, called the report "pretty alarming."
The General Services Administration is responsible for security at federal buildings.
A spokesman said the GSA wants to work with Congress and other agencies to improve security.
—The Associated Press
Concerns About Four Flights
P H I L A D E L P H I A , April 29 — A jet that took off for Florida was forced to return to the airport because several passengers of Middle Eastern appearance had purchased one-way tickets for cash, passengers said today.
"The FBI had a list. They knew who the people were. They were trying to track the people to their seats," said Jack Clark, who was sitting next to one of the people removed.
The incident was one of four Sunday in which air travelers of Middle Eastern appearance or descent were questioned by the FBI. The other flights were in Houston, Washington, D.C., and Baltimore.
In all cases, the passengers were freed after questioning.
In Philadelphia, passenger Glenn Mattes said five or six men were escorted off the US Airways jet bound for Orlando, Fla. Clark said a federal agent told passengers the men had purchased one-way tickets for cash "and that's what alerted them."
"The agent explained to us what was going on. At that point everyone is clapping and cheering," Clark said.
FBI spokeswoman Linda Vizi wouldn't confirm the passenger accounts but said the suspicious passengers were interviewed and released early today without being charged.
"We were able to determine their travel plans were legitimate and their identities were legitimate," Vizi said. "We have checked out the documentation of these individuals and everything is in order."
In Houston, several staff members from the Saudi Embassy were detained when they tried to board a flight at Bush Intercontinental Airport. They were released after they produced diplomatic passports, Houston FBI spokesman Bob Doguim said today.
The men said they had come to Houston on a day trip for the visit of Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah, who was in the state for a meeting with President Bush. The flight was delayed.
Pete Gulotta, an FBI spokesman in Baltimore, said airport security officials asked his office to check the names of seven Middle Eastern men boarding a plane at Baltimore-Washington International Airport. After checking, airport officials were told there was no reason to detain the men, who were going to Dallas, Gulotta said.
A group of 11 Pakistani musicians was pulled off a United Airlines plane and questioned at Washington's Dulles International Airport, which caused them to miss their flight to Los Angeles, FBI spokesman Chris Murray said today.
— The Associated Press
Oklahoma City Manual for Dealing With Terror Attacks
O K L A H O M A C I T Y, April 29 — Within hours of the Sept. 11 attacks, federal officials wanted advice from the city that lived through what had been the worst act of terrorism on American soil. That's when rescue workers, city leaders and families of Oklahoma City bombing victims realized how much they had to say. Their suggestions have turned into a 45-page booklet detailing what other cities should do if terrorists attack. "If, God forbid, something like this happens again, you could grab that book," said retired U.S. Army Gen. Dennis Reimer, director of the Oklahoma City National Memorial Institute for the Prevention of Terrorism. The guide is the latest project for the institute, which is funding research to develop a faster anthrax vaccine and sensors that could set off a shrieking alarm if they detected biological chemicals. The book offers advice on everything from dealing with families searching for loved ones to creating a memorial to honor the dead. The institute published its first copies of the guide April 19, the seventh anniversary of the bombing, and plans to make several hundred more for cities across the country. "Oklahoma City — Seven Years Later: Lessons for Other Communities" tells cities to develop a plan and hold drills in case terrorists strike. It describes how to set up centers for the media and donation collection. And it suggests setting up a family assistance center — out of sight of the disaster — where relatives will "first deal with the medical examiner and funeral directors. "There may be continued hope for survivors. Do not treat victims' families as if the death of their loved ones is a foregone conclusion until it truly is." Other projects funded by the institute include the development of an anthrax vaccine that would be lifesaving if the person exposed took it within 72 hours. Scientists at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center, Harvard University and other schools received a $2.48 million grant from the terrorism prevention institute for the three-year project, which began before the anthrax mail scare last fall. The current anthrax vaccination requires six shots during 18 months. "That's a little bit too little too late if you're really facing a serious threat of anthrax," Reimer said. "I think we recognize that after the very serious scare that took place after 9-11." Another project has an Oklahoma State University researcher creating sensors that could detect dangerous chemical or biological agents, including nerve gas or anthrax spores. The devices would sit inside city water lines or in building air ducts. "If it sensed something that was extremely harmful, it would be like a fire alarm," Reimer said. "It would let people know they were in a danger area." Other researchers at OSU are trying to create battery-cooled firefighter uniforms so firefighters could withstand heat longer. And a University of Tulsa professor is developing a way to protect the 911 system. The institute began operating in 2000 after receiving a $15 million appropriation from Congress. As a nonprofit organization, it also accepts donations.
—The Associated Press
Long Investigation Led to Postman’s Arrest
N E W Y O R K, April 29 — For years, Ahmed Abdel Sattar seemed a friendly, mild-mannered postman — who happened to know a lot of terrorists. Now the government says there was a reason for that: He was a terrorist, too. Sattar is being held without bail on charges of helping a blind Egyptian cleric deliver a message of hate across the world from behind bars. But while the charges are new, Sattar is a familiar face to government investigators. Nearly a decade ago, the government suspected Sattar used his postal job to track down the home address of an FBI terrorism investigator. In recent years, the government now alleges, he exchanged phone calls with a "who's-who" of Egyptian extremists to coordinate terrorist directives. All of this is beyond belief to Sattar's wife and friends, who say the 42-year-old father of four has led a law-abiding life in Staten Island. Any associations Sattar had with people the government considers extremists, they say, were a reflection of his Muslim beliefs and an assertion of his constitutional rights. "I know my husband better than anybody. All the stuff they said is not true," said his American-born wife, Lisa. "My phone has been ringing nonstop with people who are prepared to come forward on behalf of my client," said his lawyer, Kenneth Paul. Among those friends, he said, are a pediatrician, a university professor, a real estate executive and a retired city housing official. In an indictment filed this month, authorities allege Sattar delivered messages from the federal prison cell of Sheik Omar Abdel-Rahman. The blind cleric, a leader of the Egyptian-based Islamic Group terrorist organization, is serving a life term on charges of conspiring to blow up New York landmarks in 1993. Sattar is accused of relaying directives from Abdel-Rahman's Minnesota prison cell, under the guise of serving as an interpreter for the sheik's lawyers. One of those lawyers, Lynne Stewart, and two others have also been charged, and Abdel-Rahman has been moved to an undisclosed federal prison. All four defendants were charged with conspiring to provide material support and resources to the terrorist organization. If convicted, they could face 5 to 20 years in prison on each count. The government says the jailhouse messages included an edict "mandating the bloodshed of Israelis everywhere." Prosecutor Joseph Bianco said court-ordered telephone wiretaps found Sattar talking with "a virtual who's-who of the Islamic Group's top leadership." Sattar's relationship with the sheik dates back a decade. He helped Abdel-Rahman speak publicly after his 1993 arrest, and he attended the sheik's 1995 trial on off-days from work. He also translated jailhouse interviews for journalists and arranged for Abdel-Rahman to preach to his followers from prison until the government restricted the sheik's communications. Sattar arrived in the United States in 1985, became a citizen in 1989 and joined the postal service a year later. Investigators have been tracking him since Middle East terrorism arrived on U.S. shores with the assassination of extremist rabbi Meir Kahane on Nov. 5, 1990. As the government tells it in court papers, Sattar was among several men who regularly attended the trial of El Sayyid Nosair, the man charged with shooting Kahane. Prison records showed Sattar visited Nosair in jail seven times, including once with Mahmoud Abouhalima, a man later convicted in the February 1993 World Trade Center bombing. After Nosair was acquitted of all but gun charges, Sattar was among a group of men at a victory celebration at a Brooklyn mosque, according to an FBI informant. The party included two other men later convicted in the 1993 trade center bombing, the government said. The government also suspects Sattar used his job to track down an FBI investigator. At a mosque meeting in 1993, Sattar said he knew the home address of Agent John Anticev, the informant reported. Anticev confirmed that he was approached by a uniformed Sattar near his home, court records show. The agent said the incident disturbed him enough that he moved his family. Yet none of the charges against Sattar accuse him of any role in the 1993 trade center attack, or in the plot to blow up New York landmarks. And the government has said the charges do not allege any involvement in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Sattar's lawyer also noted that the government does not allege his client relayed any instructions to commit specific terrorist acts. "To use the government's own theory of this case," Paul said, "my client is in the middle, communicating from party to party."
—The Associated Press
Montana Lab Poised to Lead Bioterror Defense
H A M I L T O N, Mont., April 29 — A laboratory in Montana's Bitterroot Mountains is on track to become the federal government's fourth Biosafety Level 4 research facility, handling the world's most dangerous microbes to help develop defenses against bioterrorism. Rocky Mountain Laboratories, a part of the National Institutes of Health, pioneered research into Rocky Mountain spotted fever and Lyme disease. It now has been approved for a $66 million expansion for bioterrorism research, including upgrades to the maximum security level. It will be the only Level 4 lab in the West. James Musser, a biomedical researcher and a chief of one of the Rocky Mountain labs, said specifics of the expanded research in Hamilton have not been decided. "Because of the limited space in a Biosafety Level 4 facility, one has to carefully choose exactly what kind of pathogens we're going to study," he said. BioLevel 4 labs are the highest level security labs which, among other things, require workers to wear "spacesuit" style contamination jumpers. The government currently has Level 4 labs at Fort Dietrich, Md., Bethesda, Md., and Atlanta. The nonprofit Southwest Foundation for Biomedical Research operates one in San Antonio. Another Level 4 lab is planned at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston. The new lab was planned before Sept. 11 and the string of anthrax attacks that followed, administrator Pat Stewart said. Rocky Mountain already was studying organisms that could be used in biological attacks, and Stewart said existing expertise at the Rocky Mountain complex is the main reason for building the new lab there. Rocky Mountain Laboratories, in a neighborhood of well-kept homes at the foot of the Bitterroot Mountains, began early in the 20th century. It now employs about 230 people and provides some of the best pay in Hamilton, a onetime timber town that is rapidly growing as a wilderness gateway and mountain retreat. Officials have just begun conferring with architects and others involved in developing the new lab. For the community, information about the expansion came during a town meeting lab officials held in February. "You have to view it as a positive thing," said pharmacist Wayne Hedman at Bitterroot Drug. "That is clean industry and a lot of the jobs are high-paying jobs." The new lab may add 50 to 65 positions, Stewart said. Hedman said that besides the economic impact of lab employees, he likes the intellectual enhancement that world-class scientists and their associates bring to this community of 3,700 people. The hazardous nature of the new research does not concern him. "There's enough redundancy, enough backup, in that whole process that I feel very secure," Hedman said. But bookseller Cyndy Gardner said that while she appreciates the Rocky Mountain employees' impact on community life, she questions why the new lab must be built in the "warm, friendly, family-oriented neighborhood" where she is restoring a century-old home. "They need to build it away from town," said Gardner, worried the lab could become a target for terrorists. Stewart said there will be strengthened external security for all of the Rocky Mountain labs, with additional security features for the new building. Measures for dealing with hazards inside it will include airlock buffer zones, chemical decontamination and microfiltration of air. Rocky Mountain Laboratories began during a much simpler time. In 1910, a Bitterroot Valley camp served as the lab for researchers who found that ticks transmitted the disease now known as Rocky Mountain spotted fever. In the 1920s, ticks were ground up at an abandoned school near Hamilton to make vaccine against the disease. Some 20 years later, workers in the buildings that are part of today's lab complex, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, made vaccines that protected troops against typhus and yellow fever during World War II. The agent that causes Lyme disease, another disorder transmitted by ticks, was identified at Rocky Mountain Laboratories in 1982. Following the anthrax attacks last fall, the Bush Administration agreed to spend $100 million to renovate the 35-year-old Fort Collins, Colo., lab belonging to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention by 2006. The enhanced Level 3 lab, which also operates near residential neighborhoods, conducts research on vector-born infectious diseases, such as Bubonic plague, dengue fever, yellow fever, West Nile virus, encephalitis, tularemia and Lyme Disease, many of which could be used as biological weapons. They all are diseases spread by arthropods, or mosquitoes, ticks, fleas, lice and flies.
—The Associated Press