Garbage Dump Now Home to 'God's Work'

Law enforcement officers are scouring through mountains of debris to find remains and mementoes of the Sept. 11 victims. Logan Airport is trying out a new high-tech tool to boost security. A public defender's office worker fired after assisting the FBI's anthrax investigation won't get his job back.

‘God’s Work’ in a Garbage Dump

N E W Y O R K, Jan. 15 — Atop a man-made hill 14 miles from Manhattan's truncated skyline, an army of 300 police officers, FBI agents, and sanitation and construction workers sifts through dirt, rock, steel and concrete left from the World Trade Center.

Twenty hours a day, the work goes on at Fresh Kills, the 175-acre landfill on Staten Island. Shut down by the city last year, the landfill was reopened after the Sept. 11 attacks.

Four months later, more than 1 million tons of debris have been trucked and barged in for systematic sifting and analysis. When human remains are found, they are put in plastic bags, tagged and sent to the medical examiner's office for DNA typing.

"This is not a garbage dump; it's a special place," Chief of Detectives William Allee said. "It is sacred ground to all of us. We're doing God's work and I feel honored to be here."

The work has an assembly-line routine. Grappling derricks heft twisted steel and chunks of concrete from the barges. In 6-ton loads, the debris is carted by truck to five sorting centers where it is sifted by size.

Then, with a practiced precision that can identify quarter-inch-diameter scraps, FBI agents and forensic specialists in protective white uniforms and respirators scan the flotsam rolling past on conveyor belts. They hit the "panic button" to interrupt the flow when they spot something important — such as a bit of human remains.

Fresh Kills, its name taken from the Dutch words for fresh stream, opened in 1948 as a "temporary" site. The dump took in 2 billion tons of refuse over its lifetime and was called on again after the tragedy.

Among the 649 victims identified so far, about 50 were identified from remains retrieved at Fresh Kills, said Allee, who is in charge of daily operations. Most of the 3,000 remains are fragmentary; two partial bodies have been recovered there.

At another location, detectives wearing face masks decontaminate personal property to be returned to victims' families. Baskets arranged alphabetically on a long table contain identification cards, credit cards, drivers licenses and other documents.

Hundreds of shoes, books, wallets, pieces of jewelry and clothing are catalogued and shelved. Other debris includes a tennis racket, a stuffed animal and a scooter.

Detective Ed Galanek said he wants to believe the owners lost them while escaping to safety. "That's the trick we tell ourselves," he said.

Nearby, police experts pry apart the wreckage of a smashed car — one of more than 1,000 in the vast junkyard of vehicles retrieved from the streets around the twin towers.

Cars, taxicabs, police cruisers and ambulances are stacked two and three deep. Not far away are some 90 ladder trucks and fire engines — scorched and battered monuments to the 343 firefighters killed that day.

The devastation of the trade center was so vast that almost no furniture from within the towers survived. "In four months here I have yet to see a desk, a chair or a filing cabinet," Allee said.

A few items stand out, such as the broken remains of a bronze statue by Auguste Rodin. The work had been in the offices of Cantor Fitzgerald, a brokerage that lost hundreds of employees.

Richard Marx, an FBI agent who leads a contingent of about 30 agents, declined to say whether any box cutters or other evidence related to the hijackers had been recovered.

But he said there still was a remote chance that the so-called "black boxes" — the cockpit voice recorders and flight data recorders — might be found.

"We won't know until we're through with all this what we've got here," Marx said. "This is the biggest crime scene in history."

—The Associated Press

Logan Security Going High Tech

B O S T O N, Jan. 15 — A pager-sized device that's more likely to be found in a Wall Street briefcase than on a state trooper's belt could become an important new weapon in the war against terrorism.

Logan International Airport is the first in the nation to test the BlackBerry as an electronic gateway to state and federal criminal databases, giving law enforcement officers the kind of information backup they've long said they lacked.

The wireless devices, made by Waterloo, Ontario-based Research in Motion since 1999, generally are used by businesspeople to check e-mails or surf the Internet when they are away from their desks.

The devices being used at Logan are packaged with a software that enables officers to send encrypted queries to state and federal databases over a wireless network and get responses in less than a minute.

State trooper Barry Newell carries his BlackBerry on patrols around Logan. With the device, Newell can check whether a suspicious person is on the FBI's terrorist watch list — without using a radio, dispatcher, cruiser or computer.

"The beauty of this system is you can do it yourself," Newell said.

Logan officials are using the system as part of their effort to strengthen security after terrorists boarded two passenger jets at the airport on Sept. 11 and crashed them into the World Trade Center.

The BlackBerry patrols began two months ago after Aether Systems Inc., which makes the PocketBlue software, offered to let Logan try the $89-a-month devices for free. Aether said airports in three other major cities are considering similar tests but declined to name the cities.

—The Associated Press

Toy Boats Carry Child’s Hope

T A M P A, Fla., Jan. 15 — An 8-year-old boy had a single wish for the set of toy boats he built to carry a message for the victims of Sept. 11 — he wanted them to sail out to sea as far as possible.

The Coast Guard decided to help Justin Clark complete his project, carrying his 16 boats into the Gulf of Mexico on a routine patrol mission Monday.

"We'd be going out anyway, so we might as well help Justin out," said Petty Officer Robert Suddarth in St. Petersburg. "It doesn't hurt us to do it. It's a very positive thing to do."

Justin built the 8-inch-long boats out of pine with his grandfather's help.

Each boat carries a note asking that anyone who finds it throw the vessel back in the water, and adds: "I would really appreciate it if you would say a little prayer, in your own way, for the families of the September 11 tragedy or our people overseas who are protecting our freedom."

"I hope they get somewhere far away," Justin said. "The only place I don't want them to land is Afghanistan."

—The Associated Press

Firing of Anthrax Informant Upheld

W A S H I N G T O N, Jan. 15 — The Supreme Court has turned down a free speech appeal — in the case of a man who was fired after secretly helping the FBI investigate an anthrax threat.

Daniel Rupp initially was praised by his employer, the federal public defender in Wichita, Kan., for notifying the FBI after a man allegedly talked to him at a gun show about anthrax and his anger toward the government.

But Rupp was told to let federal agents handle the matter from there because of a potential conflict.

Rupp was fired after the public defender's office learned he had met another half-dozen times with the FBI about the case.

Lower courts upheld Rupp's firing as proper, noting he wasn't fired for reporting the threat. An appeals court said that it was not free speech to help the FBI when Rupp told his boss he would no longer do so.

—The Associated Press

Palestinian Professor Fighting Dismissal

T A M P A, Fla., Jan. 15 — A Palestinian professor said Monday he will fight the University of South Florida's decision to fire him because of alleged links to terrorists.

At a news conference attended by supporters from national Muslim and civil rights organizations, Sami Al-Arian said he intends to take his impending dismissal to binding arbitration.

"I am not the culprit here," said Al-Arian, who wrote a formal response to the school's December notice of its intent to fire him.

Al-Arian has never been charged with a crime and has denied any connection to terrorists. He once headed the World and Islam Studies Enterprises, a think tank that was based at the university until the FBI raided it in 1995 and froze its assets.

His brother-in-law, Mazen Al-Najjar, spent more than three years detained by the Immigration and Naturalization Service as a threat to national security.

USF President Judy Genshaft issued a statement Monday saying she is reviewing Al-Arian's letter, but would not say when she would make a final decision.

"This is a unique case of how one person's activities outside the scope of his employment have resulted in harm to the legitimate interests of the university," Genshaft said.

She has said she considers Al-Arian, a tenured computer science professor, a security risk whose anti-Israel views have cost the university financial support.

Genshaft moved to fire him in December, saying he did not make it clear his political views were not those of the university's and returned to campus after being told to stay away.

Al-Arian's attorney, Robert McKee, said the USF Board of Trustees is also being asked to reconsider its support for the professor's dismissal. McKee and Al-Arian criticized the board for not giving the professor an opportunity to present his side of the story.

Al-Arian, 44, has been on paid leave since a September appearance on Fox News Channel's The O'Reilly Factor prompted a series of death threats against him. University benefactors also objected, dozens of them withdrawing their financial gifts to the university until Al-Arian was gone.

"What we are seeing is vigilantism," said Ray Busch, an attorney for the Washington-based American Muslim Council. "We are seeing people singled out."

—The Associated Press