howdy folks-Clem Lane here. Lots of news out there tonight…..
“RACE AGAINST TIME”/US TO BEEF UP AIR MARSHAL FORCES OVERSEAS-From Brian Ross and Anna Schechter: “President Barack Obama has ordered a ‘surge’ of federal air marshals to be in place by Feb.1 in what officials said was a ‘race against time,’ with other suicide bombers believed to be in the terrorist pipeline, federal officials told ABC News. Under a preliminary plan, the officials said the already existing federal air marshal force of more than 3,200 personnel would be deployed almost exclusively to overseas flights flown by U.S. carriers. Domestic high-risk flights will be covered by agents from other federal law enforcement agencies who were trained as air marshals in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.” Appearing on WORLD NEWS, Ross told WORLD NEWS anchor Diane Sawyer that air marshals might have prevented the Christmas Day incident: “They watch and observe passengers as they board the flights. We’re told that the suspect, (Umar Farouk) Abudlmutallab displayed many signs that would have caused him to be stopped. He was nervous, rubbing his forehead and had a 1000 yard stare, enough to trigger suspicions about him.”
NEWARK AIRPORT SECURITY BREACH: The man who caused Sunday’s security breach at Newark Airport remains unidentified but ABC News has learned what was caught on tape by Continental Airline cameras, since the TSA’s cameras were NOT rolling. As David Muir reported on World News, “It all began when an unidentified man entered Newark’s Terminal C through a passageway meant for arriving passengers only, walking right past a podium where a TSA security worker was supposed to be stationed.” The breach happened in just over 2 minutes:
–5:20 p.m. surveillance images owned by Continental Airlines show the TSA officer responsible for preventing entry into the secure area of the concourse inexplicably walking away from his post.
– 5:21 p.m. a man who had been caught on camera loitering nearby walked through the exit lane into the sterile area.
–5:22 p.m. the TSA officer was back at his podium and at 5:23 p.m. a bystander was seen telling the TSA officer what happened.
The TSA has placed the officer on administrative leave. Aaron Katersky reports further on the security camera mess, “the entire episode should have been recorded on cameras set up inside the terminal that are owned by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, the government agency that runs the airport, but the cameras were not working properly. It was TSA’s responsibility to have noticed the breakdown. But Port Authority says TSA did not inform it about the faulty cameras until 6:40 p.m., at which point the TSA sought images from a redundant set of cameras owned by Continental.” Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) has called the two hour gap between the breach and confirmation “unacceptable.” (thanks to Yvonne Lai for this entry)
PORTLAND FLIGHT SCRAMBLE AND MIAMI INCIDENT-Two incidents today….Authorities say two F-15 fighter jets escorted a commercial flight bound for Hawaii back to Portland International Airport after a passenger became disruptive. A spokesman for North American Aerospace Defense Command says the fighter jets intercepted Hawaiian Airlines flight 39 at about 1 p.m. Wednesday, shortly after the pilot decided to turn around. So what did the passenger do? The TSA released a statement which read in part “The captain made a decision to return the plane to Portland due to a suspicious passenger who made threatening remarks and refused to store his carry-on bag”. The man was escorted away and the plane refueled and headed west to Hawaii again. The second incident involved a Northwest Airlines flight going from Miami to Detroit. The TSA released the following statement: “While Northwest Airlines Flight 2485 taxied prior to departure from Miami International Airport (MIA), a passenger was heard making inappropriate remarks and acting disruptively. The flight crew made the decision to return the plane to the gate. Local law enforcement and TSA met the aircraft upon its return and all passengers were deplaned. The passenger and three travel companions are being questioned by Miami Dade County police. The aircraft, bound for Detroit Wayne County International Airport (DTW), was swept with negative results and has been cleared for departure.” Miami-Dade police would only confirm to Miami affiliate WPLG that they removed an unruly passenger from Flight 2485.
AIRPORT SCANNERS/HEALTH RISKS?-With airport scanners using x-rays about to deployed at airports throughout the country, health concerns are surfacing. Lisa Stark, reporting tonight on WORLD NEWS, notes that “exposures to X-rays, to radiation can increase the risk of cancer but the machine’s manufacturers, and an independent study say the scanners pose little risk.” The difference between these scanners and medical X-rays, Stark tells us, is that “most of the radiation does not enter the body, but bounces off the skin’s surface.” But one prominent scientist who has studied the issue extensively, David Brenner from the Columbia University Medical Center, suggests “pregnant women avoid the machines” according to Stark. Privacy concerns are also at issue-specifically as it pertains to the scanned pictures of children. Stark tells us it’s a brewing controversy in Great Britain “so no one under age 18 goes through a scanner there and in the US no one under the age of 11.” Still not convinced of the scanner’s safety? Stark reminds that the “machines are optional-any worried passenger can choose a pat down instead.”
NIGERIAN INDICTED FOR CHRISTMAS DAY TERROR ATTEMPT- Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the 23-year-old Nigerian accused of trying to blow up a Detroit-bound Northwest flight on Christmas Day was indicted today by a federal jury in Detroit on six counts including trying to use a weapon of mass destruction and attempted murder. If convicted, he could be facing life in prison. Jake Tapper, reporting for WORLD NEWS, notes that “on Friday Adbulmutallab will be arraigned and informed of his rights as a criminal defendant…and that is alarming news to many conservatives.” Tapper tells us the controversy stems from how Mr. Abdulmutallab is classified. “This man is an enemy combatant” says Marc Theissen, a former Bush Administration senior advisor, “…and he should be treated as such” Tapper explains: “The conservatives argue for military commissions, where defendants have fewer rights. Once in the criminal justice system, they say, the government loses the opportunity to get intelligence.” The White House begs to differ. Tapper: “The White House points out first that the Nigerian has already provided valuable intelligence. They also argue that even the Bush Administration successfully prosecuted terrorists-so-called 20th hijacker Zacarais Moussaoui and shoe-bomber Richard Reid-not in military commissions but in civilian criminal courts.” Tapper also noted in his close the apparent support for the decision to pursue charges in criminal court from Secretary of Defense Robert Gates in yesterday’s National Security meeting, according to White House sources, with Gates “saying that really there’s very little variation in interrogations between what FBI officials can do and what Pentagon officials can do, unless of course you use those enhanced interrogation techniques that of course President Obama has banned.”
BRENNAN REPORT RELEASED TOMORROW- Jake Tapper reports that “The White House says that an unclassified version of the review of intelligence failures that led to the failed Christmas Day attempt to explode Northwest Flight 253 will be released Thursday. The review, conducted by White House homeland security adviser John Brennan, will pinpoint the various failures of the intelligence community to "connect the dots," as President Obama put in on Tuesday.”
HEALTH CARE REFORM/DEMS 2010-Health-care reform. With the Democratic Party still working on a compromise, news today that one of the few Republican supporters of the President’s plan has changed his mind. California’s Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger said today “health care reform, which started as noble and needed legislation, has become a trough of bribes, deals and loopholes. You’ve heard of the bridge to nowhere. This is health care to nowhere.” Jon Karl, reporting for WORLD NEWS, explains what prompted the Schwarzenegger about-face: “Schwarzenegger is lashing out because he says the bill hits California with big Medicaid costs and gives special treatment to Nebraska, thanks to a back-room deal negotiated by its Democratic Senator Ben Nelson.” Whatever the Democrats decide upon in terms of health-care reform, they might want to be quick about it. Karl says “It’s only going to get harder as the party faces a brutal election season.” That election season will be without a number of Dems-Karl reports that “in just the last 24 hours, four leading Democrats have called it quits, leaving the political arena. Senators Chris Dodd(CT) and Byron Dorgan(ND), as well as the governor of Colorado and the party’s top candidate for governor in Michigan.” What’s going on Rick Klein? Klein notes that “across the board Democrats are just looking at the 2010 environment and saying this is just not something I want to run in.” Republicans sense an opportunity. Karl noted on WORLD NEWS that “some Republicans are now predicting opposition to health care will help them win back the House just as they did in the 1994 Republican landslide…Democrats say no chance.” While the North Dakota loss spells trouble for the Democrats in a traditionally Republican state, no such worries about Connecticut. Karl noted in his close that “Connecticut Senator Chris Dodd was so politically damaged that Democrats actually have a better chance of keeping his seat Democratic now that he is not running for re-election.”
BRRR, IT’S COLD IN HERE: Snow plowing is a 24/7 job across the Midwest as more snow and strong winds move through the region. Barbara Pinto is in Omaha, NE and reports, “the massive arctic blast is bringing bitter cold and bitter consequences. Treacherous temperatures have claimed at least 7 lives, some on icy roads.” And snow removal budgets seem to be the only things melting away, with Omaha’s already depleted and “cities like Des Moines have only a third of theirs left with winter barely underway.” Bitter cold air will keep temperatures below zero in the Dakotas, northern Nebraska and western Minnesota Thursday. Wind chills will bottom out in the -20s, -30s and even -40s across these states.
-The South is also feeling the chill though Florida citrus and strawberry growers seemed to have skirted major crop damage as orange juice futures dropped from a 2-year high today as growers reported minimal damage from freeze warnings last night. Accuweather reports “last night’s freeze may have damaged less than 1 percent of the crop.” Further north, the cold air could bring light snow beginning late tonight in northern Arkansas and spreading to northern Mississippi and Tennessee by early Thursday morning… then moving across Alabama, eastern Tennessee and northern Georgia during the day.
-Snow showers will also continue in Northern New England and western New York tomorrow, with snow from the Midwest system eventually pushing into western Pennsylvania late in the day. On the bright side, at least sunny skies are expected along the I-95 corridor. (thanks to Yvonne Lai for this entry)
GITMO DETAINEE RECIDIVISM-From Luis Martinez: “The Pentagon’s analysis of released Guantanamo detainees they say have returned to terrorism continues to show that the upward trend of the past two reports “has not been reversed.” The analysis looks at released Guantanamo detainees who are confirmed or suspected of having returned to terrorist activities. That’s from Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell who was asked at today’s weekly briefing about a Bloomberg report that a new analysis shows the number had risen to 20 percent from the 14 percent in the report issued last April. Morrell says he could not release the numbers right now because they remain classified, ‘I can't give you the numbers, other than to say that I do not believe that trend has reversed itself’ he said.
A US official confirms to ABC that the Bloomberg report is accurate. Another official says the classified analysis was completed in late December and is in the process of being declassified for future release. It’s the third such analysis. The first one, released in Dec. 2008 showed the recidivism rate was 11 percent. That number trended upward to 14 percent when the second report was released in April, 2009.” More in his note to the Foreign News/Political DLs if you’re interested.
GILBERT ARENAS-The NBA decided today that enough is enough. NBA commissioner David Stern has suspended Washington guard Gilbert Arenas indefinitely after he was photographed last night smiling and pointing his fingers at his teammates as if they were guns. Local and federal authorities are investigating Arenas, who's admitted bringing guns into the team's home locker room. In a statement released today by the NBA, commissioner David Stern said in part “Although it is clear that the actions of Mr. Arenas will ultimately result in a substantial suspension, and perhaps worse, his ongoing conduct has led me to conclude that he is not currently fit to take the court in an NBA game. Accordingly, I am suspending Mr. Arenas indefinitely, without pay, effective immediately pending the completion of the investigation by the NBA.” Karen Travers adds that “A league source told ABC NEWS that the photo, Arenas’ statements to the media and his prolific Twittering about the incident were certainly factors in the suspension and what Stern was referring to when he said ‘ongoing conduct.”
–Accused Holocaust Museum shooter JAMES VON BRUNN died today in a North Carolina prison hospital. Pierre Thomas reports “Source said in addition to the wounds sustained in the shooting, the subject had a long history of illness, including heart issues.” He was 89 and had been awaiting trial on the Holocaust Museum shooting.
–Additional HOLIDAY SHOPPING figures released today focusing on on-line sales and mall traffic. On-line sales info courtesy comscore-$29.1 billion spent on line, 4% increase from last year. December 15 was the busiest day of the year – $913 million in sales. “Cyber Monday” was the second busiest day. Shopping at the mall info-The week after Christmas saw sales at malls rise 15.3% and traffic increase 3.5% compared to a year earlier. ShopperTrak said shoppers using gift cards and looking for bargains were largely responsible as well as pent up demand from the bad weather which slowed shopping. (Charles Herman)
–Former Montreal Expo and Chicago Cub outfielder ANDRE DAWSON was the lone pick for this year’s Baseball Hall of Fame class. Dawson who hit over 400 home runs and had over 300 stolen bases (only Willie Mays and Barry Bonds can say the same) in his twenty-year career got elected in his ninth attempt.