Friday, May 27, 2005

Militant Islamism lures teenage recruits in Europe

By Mark Trevelyan, Security Correspondent
BERLIN (Reuters) - Some European Muslims are being drawn towards militant Islamism while still in their teens, in a trend which is increasingly worrying security services.

Police and intelligence officials say they are concerned about evidence that disaffected young Muslims, born and bred in Europe as children of immigrant families, are easy targets for radicalisation.

Examples include the radical Dutch "Hofstad Group" linked to the accused killer of film maker Theo van Gogh, and a group of young Muslims recruited in France to fight in Iraq.

"Radical Muslims are becoming younger," said a Dutch security source who said some youths were being drawn into militant circles as early as the age of 14.

"We think these young people are not feeling at home here in this country. They are outsiders in our society, in our culture, and they also do not feel at home with their parents, who are guest workers from the 1960s and 1970s," he told Reuters.

"Radical Islam gives them a perspective they can be important, they can have a role, and gives them a feeling they can have a stronger identity."


In France, intelligence chief Pierre de Bousquet told Le Monde newspaper in an interview this week that alongside experienced militants, there was a new danger from "boys with no combat experience" who were nevertheless radicalised and ready to take part in jihad, or holy war.

He said five young men from a single Paris district had already died in Iraq, one in a suicide attack. A handful were jailed in Iraq or Syria and around 10 others were missing.

"The French jihadist is more unpolished, younger, but more radicalised and committed than a few years ago. The ease with which these young people can be brainwashed to go and serve as cannon fodder is worrying," de Bousquet said.

Officials and analysts cite schools, mosques, prisons, youth associations and above all Internet sites and chatrooms as forums where militant ideas can be spread.

Max-Peter Ratzel, head of the European Union's police agency Europol, noted the trend in an interview with Reuters this month and said it reflected the "vulnerability of young people".

In testimony last month to a U.S. Congressional subcommittee, European security analyst Claude Moniquet said the latest generation of militants was radicalising much faster than its predecessors.


"Where (previously) security services faced terrorist structures mostly made up of experienced jihadists, often with Afghan experience in common, between 25 and 40 years old, more and more we now find very young people, who by definition have no 'past' in Islamist circles," he said.

"What we are now awaiting is the emergence of a new generation of terrorists: kids who were 12 to 15 years old on Sept. 11, 2001, and who have taken a year or two to make the same ideological progress that leads to violence, and which took their elders 10 years or more."

The need to better understand the climate in which disenchanted youngsters turn towards violence -- what a senior British official called "the sea in which the terrorists swim" -- is a frequent refrain among security officials.

The murder of Dutch film maker Van Gogh, shot and stabbed as he cycled to work last November, provided a case study of how a young home-grown group can emerge with deadly effect.

Dutch-Moroccan Mohammed Bouyeri, 26, was charged with the killing and 12 other men, aged 18 to 27, have been arrested as suspected members of the militant Islamist "Hofstad Group".

Another youth with alleged links to the group, 18-year-old Samir Azzouz, was acquitted in April of planning attacks on Schiphol airport, a nuclear reactor and government buildings. But the judge said Azzouz, found with machinegun cartridges, mock explosive devices and electrical circuitry, had "an above-average interest in religious extremist violence".

With the arrests of the Hofstad group, Dutch authorities believe they have removed an important threat but remain concerned about the wider trend of radicalising Muslim youth.

"They seem integrated in our society but still they have the feeling they don't really belong here ... At this age you want to revolt, you want to be radical sometimes," the Dutch security source said. "They can become dangerous. We see some developments and we do not exactly know where it will end."

Former counterterrorism czar cites creeping complacency

By Chris Strohm

Former U.S. counterterrorism czar Richard Clarke said Thursday he fears the government and public are falling into a false sense of complacency about security needs while Iraq is becoming a new breeding ground for terrorism against the United States. He also believes another wave of attacks will eventually hit the country.

"It's been 44 months since 9/11 and there is, in some locations around the country and in popular opinion, a growing sense of complacency," Clarke said during a keynote speech at the 2005 Government Security Conference in Washington. "We can't get back to normal. We can never get back to normal."

Clarke cited several examples of how he believes the government and public are letting down their guard, including resuming general aviation at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, allowing airports to replace federal passenger and baggage screeners with private workers, and failing to adopt regulations for chemical plants that have lethal gases.

Clarke said the main reasons for complacency are that there has not been another attack in the United States and the government consistently talks about how many senior al Qaeda leaders have been captured or killed.

"Someday they will come back; there will be a second wave," he said. "And if we are complacent -- if we think because we've [crossed] out all the names on our chart, if we think that we don't have to reduce our vulnerabilities and improve our security here at home -- we will suffer another major attack."

He cited four main indicators to gauge whether the terrorist threat still exists: the number of attacks in the world; the number of terrorists; the amount of money they have; and the amount of support they receive in Islamic countries. He said all of these indicators are on the rise, proving that the terrorist threat is growing.

"If you believe that we're destroying al Qaeda and its related organizations, I think you're wrong," he said. "If you believe that even if we succeeded in doing that we'd be OK because there are no other threats in the world, I think you're wrong."

He also said he is worried that a second generation of terrorists is growing up in Iraq while the U.S. government focuses on capturing or killing known insurgents like Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who is the most wanted man in Iraq.

"What I fear happening today is that while we are all happily crossing out al-Zarqawi and others on our organizational chart of al Qaeda, we have alienated the Islamic world, our popularity is at an all-time low [and] we have destroyed whole cities in Iraq like Fallujah."

He said if 1 percent of people in grow to hate America, then that would be enough "to pose a major threat."

"Whether you think we should have gone into Iraq or not, I think you need to accept the reality that we may be converting parts of Iraq into a new breeding ground for terrorism. There are over 40,000 insurgents now in Iraq," he said.

Clarke also said some actions by federal agencies and Congress are encouraging complacency.

The Homeland Security Department announced this week that it plans to reopen Reagan National Airport to certain precleared general aviation aircraft. The airport was closed to general aviation after the 9/11 attacks, mainly at Clarke's request, he said.

"I don't think it should reopen for general aviation," Clarke told reporters after his speech. "I think that if the Defense Department or the Secret Service sees a general aviation aircraft now going toward the White House ... they know it's a problem because no general aviation aircraft should be there."

"If, in the future, general aviation aircraft are allowed in that zone ... then you won't be sure when you see an aircraft whether it's hostile or not," he added. "By the time you figure out whether or not it actually did go through the security procedures, it could hit the White House."

Clarke objected to the use of private screening companies, saying the creation of the Transportation Security Administration represented "the one great thing that we have done since 9/11 to increase security" and "an example of how the government can work."

TSA is accepting applications from airports to replace federal screeners with a privatized workforce. Congress required the agency to give airports the option of using private screening companies again, as long as those companies provide screening services that are at least as good as the federal workforce.

Clarke noted that the government has yet to mandate security improvements at chemical plants, and a report this week from the Government Accountability Office shows that federal efforts to secure cargo coming into U.S. ports are lacking.

"There's complacency when people see the federal government not responding to obvious threats," Clarke said.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Terrorist missile threat prompts officials to inspect Canadian airports

Jim Bronskill
Canadian Press

OTTAWA (CP) - The threat of an airliner being destroyed by a shoulder-fired missile has prompted federal security officials to quietly survey the country's airports to gauge the risk.

Transport Canada teamed up with the U.S. Transportation Security Administration to conduct the "vulnerability assessments" at major Canadian air facilities. The agencies are concerned about possible terrorist use of Man-Portable Air Defence Systems, or MANPADS - small missile launchers long found in conflict zones.

"It's a potential threat, and that's enough for us to take it seriously," said Vanessa Vermette, a Transport Canada spokeswoman.

The international teams began visiting airports early last year and Canadian officials continue to carry out the studies, Vermette said. She declined to reveal what facilities, or how many, were involved.

"We can't really confirm which airports have had assessments because that would just leave it open to which airports have not."

Officials visited Halifax International Airport for briefings and inspections on the MANPADS issue last December, said Gina Connell, a spokeswoman for the city's airport authority.

Citing security reasons, she declined to provide details.

The missile devices, about two metres in length and weighing some 15 kilograms, can be bought on the black market for anywhere from a few hundred dollars for older models to upwards of a quarter-million dollars for newer ones, says a recent U.S. Congressional Research Service report.

It is believed that dozens of aircraft have been hit by the portable weapons.

The U.S. report cites six possible incidents in which large turbojet airliners came under attack. In two cases the planes were destroyed, killing a total of 171 people.

Jacques Duchesneau, president of the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority, underscored the concern about MANPADS in a speech last November.

"These weapons can be cheaply obtained, are easily carried and easily concealed."

Duchesneau noted that some suggest commercial aircraft, whose engines give off much less heat than military jets, are much harder for MANPADS to target, and question whether even a direct strike could take out a large plane.

"Honestly, though, I hope we never have to learn the hard way whether this is true," Duchesneau said.

"The fact that this past August two men were arrested and charged in New York State in a plot to purchase a shoulder-fired missile from an undercover agent demonstrates that we must exercise constant vigilance."

The Congressional Research Service report says most believe "no single solution exists" to the emerging problem.

It lists several options, including installation of defensive devices on planes, improving airport security and strengthening efforts to keep the missile launchers from spreading.

Transport Canada has worked with American counterparts on "a number of security initiatives," Vermette said.

"It's very much a knowledge-sharing kind of environment. And they've been doing their own research into things like anti-missile technology."

Canada is also working with other G-8 countries to develop means of countering the potential MANPADS threat.

Vermette declined to say whether any changes had been made to Canadian airports as a result of the evaluations done to date

Interpol says world should prepare for bioterrorism

By Michele Kambas
NICOSIA (Reuters) - Bioterrorism is a credible threat which authorities worldwide have underestimated, the world's top law enforcement agency warned on Wednesday.

Interpol says the world is largely unprepared for the possibility of attacks with crude biological agents -- some of which can be developed in a kitchen -- that militant groups have developed a heightened interest in.

"We, as police, cannot afford to be unprepared for the eventual use of biological agents by terrorist groups," Interpol president Jackie Selebi told a regional conference in Cyprus.

The world intelligence community has long warned that the militant group al Qaeda could try to use biological weapons such as anthrax, ricin, smallpox, plague or Ebola.

Al Qaeda manuals on preparation of biological agents were discovered at the group's training camps in Afghanistan after the U.S. invasion in 2001.

"I do not want to scare everybody to say there is going to be a bio-terrorist attack. I am simply saying that, dealing with the issue of terrorism, you must deal with the issue of terrorism in its totality, including the possible use of biological agents," Selebi told journalists.


Biological agents are easy to make, carry and conceal but do not, at the moment at least, have the capacity to claim large numbers of casualties at once.

Interpol has a dedicated unit working on raising awareness of the threat, developing training programs and encouraging new legislation in jurisdictions where a prosecution for using bio-agents is possible only once the agent is actually deployed and therefore far too late.

"Failing in this area is not an option. The consequences of such failure are far to dire to contemplate," he said.

Asked if Interpol members were now prepared to counter the threat, Selebi replied: "They are being prepared."

The devastating effects of deliberate use of biological agents to inflict harm manifested itself with the anthrax scare of 2001, in which five people died in the United States after exposure to barely-visible flecks of the bacteria.

Last month, a British court jailed a man with suspected links to al Qaeda on charges of plotting bomb or poison attacks in London. Police believed the poison that would have been deployed was ricin, extracted from castor beans and fatal even in doses of less than a milligram.

In March, a U.S. presidential commission suggested al Qaeda had made advances in developing a virulent biological warfare agent they called Agent X.

The commission also said U.S. intelligence had long believed that al Qaeda had trained its members in producing toxins obtained from venomous animals and botulinum, a toxin more commonly known for its association with improperly canned food.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Nicaragua on Alert for al-Qaida Suspects

Associated Press Writer

MANAGUA, Nicaragua -- El Salvador and Nicaragua said Tuesday they were on the alert for two al-Qaida terror suspects, but U.S. and Interpol officials downplayed the reports.

Officials in El Salvador and Nicaragua said they were on the lookout for a Yemeni man known only as Altuwiti and Ahmed Salim Swedan, a 36-year-old Kenyan on the FBI's list of most-wanted terrorists.

But they said there was no evidence that the suspected al-Qaida figures were within their borders. Salvadoran Immigration Department spokesman Ramon Hernandez said there was no evidence they were even in Central America.

U.S. Homeland Security official Marc A. Raimondi said the agency "has no hard information at this time about the whereabouts of these individuals."

Angel Miguel Barquero, in charge of Interpol in San Salvador, said no new warnings had been issued recently on the two men.

Nicaragua's Interior Ministry, which is in charge of internal security, announced earlier Tuesday that it had alerted all border posts because the two suspected terrorists were "possibly" in Central America.

Nicaraguan Deputy Interior Minister Avil Ramirez said his country received the report from El Salvador, the only Latin American nation with troops in Iraq and which in the past has received al-Qaida-type threats.

Hernandaz said El Salvador issued a similar alert based on information from "international intelligence organizations, and since Monday, all immigration officials have been alerted and have their photos and their names to avoid that they enter the country."

He declined to name which organization had supplied the information.

The spokeswoman for Guatemala's immigration department, Lorena Rosales, said her agency had checked the report and said "it's a false alarm."

Swedan was indicted on Dec. 16, 1998, for alleged involvement in the 1998 bombings of U.S. Embassies in Tanzania and Kenya. The U.S. State Department has offered a reward of up to $5 million for information leading to his arrest.

There have been repeated rumors, but only a few glimmers of hard, public evidence of terrorist suspects passing through Central America.

In the only known confirmed case, U.S. and Panamanian officials said Saudi native and alleged top al-Qaida operative Adnan El Shukrijumah was in Panama for 10 days in April 2001, five months before the Sept. 11 attacks.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

FAIR Legislative Round Up

House Approves Department of Homeland Security Funding Bills
Last week, the House approved two measures critical to funding Department of Homeland Security (DHS) operations for fiscal year 2006.

The House overwhelmingly passed the Department of Homeland Security Appropriations Act for Fiscal Year 2006, H.R. 2360, last Tuesday by a vote of 424-1. Last Wednesday, the House approved the Department of Homeland Security Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2006, H.R. 1817, by a vote of 424-4.

The authorization bill (H.R. 1817) establishes or continues programs within the Department of Homeland Security and permits funding up to a certain level for specific programs and activities. The appropriations bill (H.R. 2360) decides the actual spending.

Senate action on these measures is uncertain at this point.

Immigration-related Amendments:
Several immigration-related amendments were offered and adopted during consideration of these measures. Follow the vote links in this update to see how your representative voted and to send free pre-written vote-based messages!

Border Security Funding Increase - The appropriations bill (H.R. 2360) provides $19.4 billion to fund border security operation for 2006, which is an 11 percent increase over 2005 spending. Included in that figure is funding for 1,000 additional border patrol agents, 200 immigration enforcement agents, 150 criminal investigators, and 1,920 detention beds.

Funding Approved to Implement REAL ID Driver's License Requirements - The House approved (226-198) an amendment by Rep. David Obey (D-WI) to H.R. 2360 providing $100 million to fund grants under the REAL ID Act to assist states in conforming with minimum driver's license standards. These standards will help keep licenses out of the hands of illegal aliens and the terrorists among them.

State/Local Immigration Enforcement Encouraged - By voice vote the House approved an amendment by Homeland Security Chairman Chris Cox (R-CA) and Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI) to H.R. 1817 authorizing up to $40 million to be appropriated for FY 2006 to reimburse states and localities for costs associated with having state and local law enforcement trained and certified by DHS' Immigration and Customs Enforcement to enforce federal immigration laws.
The House also approved (242-185) Rep. Charlie Norwood's (R-GA) amendment to H.R. 1817 to clarify the existing authority of state and local enforcement personnel to apprehend, detain, remove, and transport illegal aliens in the routine course of duty. Norwood's amendment also requires DHS to establish a training manual on this matter and set forth simple guidelines for making that training available.

Tancredo Amendment to Discourage Illegal Alien Sanctuary Policies Gains New Support - For the third year in a row, Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-CO) offered his amendment to withhold homeland security funding from states and localities that refuse to share immigration-related information with federal authorities. His amendment to the appropriations bill (H.R. 2360) failed by a 165-258 vote. While it was defeated, this vote represents a gain of 17 yea votes since last considered in 2004, and 63 more yea votes since first consideration in 2003.
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Unite to Fight Against Illegal Immigration Summit - Las Vegas, Memorial Day Weekend
Mark your calendars and attend the Unite to Fight Against Illegal Immigration Summit this Memorial Day weekend (May 27-28) in Las Vegas, Nevada.

This will be a huge event with dozens of speakers, brainstorming, and planning for victory! Meet and hear the best speakers and activist in the country.

FAIR's Western Field Director Rick Oltman will be there, as will representatives from other groups including 9-11 Families for Secure America, American Immigration Control Foundation, California Coalition for Immigration Reform, American Patrol, The Arizona Minutemen, The Yuma Patriots, Latino-Americans for Immigration Reform, American Resistance, Defend Colorado Now, and many others!

Visit the Wake Up America Foundation web site for details!

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New Cosponsors of Key Bills
The following members recently signed on to good immigration reform legislation. Click on the bill numbers to learn more about the legislation and to send FREE faxed messages in support of these bills to your legislators. If your legislators are listed below, please follow your faxes up with phone calls to thank them.

Thank these members for supporting good reform legislation!

H.R. 1219 - Legislation to Eliminate the Diversity Visa Lottery Program

Rep. John Sullivan (R-OK)
H.R. 1986 - Military Assistance on the Border

Rep. Richard Baker (R-LA)

Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-GA)

Rep. Jeb Bradley (R-NH)

H.J.RES.46 - Citizenship Reform Amendment

Rep. Nathan Deal (R-GA)
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Recent Floor Statements

On May 16, Rep. Bob Filner (R-NC) commented on A Smarter Approach To The Border
On May 17, Rep. Tom Price (R-GA) commented on Border Patrol And Illegal Aliens
On May 18, Rep. Pete Sessions (R-TX) commented on Providing For Consideration Of H.R. 1817, Department Of Homeland Security Authorization Act For Fiscal Year 2006
On May 19, Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-CA) commented on Department Of Homeland Security Appropriations Act, 2006
Upcoming Events

The House Homeland Security Committee will hold an oversight hearing on "Training More Border Patrol Agents: How the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Can Increase Training Capacity Most Effectively." When and Where: May 24, 2:00 p.m., 210 Cannon House Office Building.

The House Judiciary Committee Subcommittee on Immigration, Border Security and Claims Subcommittee will hold a hearing on "Diversity Visa Program." When and Where: May 25, 2:30 p.m., 2141 Rayburn House Office Building.

The Senate Judiciary Committee Immigration, Border Security and Citizenship Subcommittee will hold a hearing on "The Need for Comprehensive Immigration Reform: Serving Our National Economy." When and Where: May 26, 2:30 p.m., 226 Dirksen Senate Office Building.

The House Judiciary Committee Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security Subcommittee will hold an oversight hearing on the "Implementation of the USA PATRIOT Act: Sections 505 and 804," addressing national security, jurisdiction over crimes at U.S. facilities abroad, and material witness provisions of the Criminal Code. When and Where: May 26, 2:00 p.m., 2141 Rayburn House Office Building.
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* For breaking immigration news, visit the Stein Report.
* Fax your legislators for free from FAIR's Legislative Action Center.
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(202) 328-7004

Qaeda Letters Are Said to Show Pre-9/11 Anthrax Plans

Written by New York Times


WASHINGTON, May 20 -Al Qaeda operatives in Afghanistan began to assemble the equipment necessary to build a rudimentary biological weapons laboratory before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, letters released by the Defense Department show.

The operatives were not immediately able to obtain a sample of the deadly anthrax strain that they wanted to reproduce in their laboratory, according to the letters.

The letters are among the documents recovered in late 2001 after the invasion of Afghanistan that United States intelligence officials have frequently cited as evidence that Al Qaeda was working to develop biological weapons.

The letters, recently made public as a result of a Freedom of Information Act request, detail a visit by an unnamed Qaeda scientist to a laboratory at an unspecified location where he was shown "a special confidential room" with thousands of samples of biological substances.

The scientist tried to buy anthrax vaccines, which would be necessary to protect any Qaeda members working with the material. He also bought a sterilizer, a respirator and an air-contamination detector, one letter said.

"The conference was found to be highly beneficial for our future work," the letter said. "I finalized all the accessories required for the smooth running of our bioreactor."

A separate handwritten letter includes a detailed list of additional equipment that would be necessary, like an incubator and a centrifuge, as well as a crude layout of a four- or five-room laboratory.

The letter specifies a training program for the staff, lasting six to eight months for senior workers and two to four months for technicians.

The letters appear to be the same documents referred to in the report of a special presidential commission on intelligence failures and unconventional weapons led by former Senator Charles S. Robb of Virginia and Judge Laurence H. Silberman of the federal appeals court.

The report, released in March, describes a biological weapons program that "was extensive, well organized and operated two years before the Sept. 11."

Two biological weapons experts who have read the letters said in interviews Friday that the letters suggested that the laboratory construction was at an early stage and that it would have most likely been at least two to three years, if not more, before the Qaeda team would have been able to produce enough anthrax to use as a weapon.

"They were moving to try to get the right stuff," said D. A. Henderson, an expert on biological weapons who is a former top scientific adviser to the Health and Human Services Department. "But not in a very sophisticated way."

The second of the two experts, Dr. Milton Leitenberg, a senior research scholar at the University of Maryland School of Public Policy, said many of people who were involved in the effort had been arrested or, in one case, killed.

"It is not likely that anything is going on right now," said Dr. Leitenberg, author of "The Problem of Biological Weapons" (2004). "And in the three years they were working on this, as best as is known, they did not succeed in obtaining a pathogen or reach the stage of growing the pathogen in the laboratory."

The writer of the two letters is widely believed to be Abdur Rauf, a Pakistani microbiologist who is known to have attended a conference before 2001 sponsored by the Society for Applied Microbiology, said a biological weapons researcher who insisted on anonymity because of his work investigating Al Qaeda.

One letter was written on a notepad from the Society for Applied Microbiology, a prominent British organization of microbiologists.

All the names on the letters are blacked out on the copies that were released to Ross Getman, a lawyer from Syracuse who filed the Freedom of Information Act request.

At the same camp where the letters were found, officials recovered articles from medical journals that detailed an approach to isolating, culturing and producing bacteria, including anthrax.

The second letter says that so far no toxic sample of anthrax needed for the laboratory had been secured.

"Unfortunately," it says, "I did not find the required culture of b. anthrax, i.e. pathogenic. However, I have started correspondence with [name blacked out] for the supply of the culture."

Terror suspect claims Osama bin Laden and others will soon set up Muslim caliphate state

By JAMAL HALABY Associated Press Writer

(AP) - AMMAN, Jordan-An alleged militant on trial for a terror conspiracy targeting the U.S. and Israeli embassies claimed Monday that terror masterminds Osama bin Laden and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi would soon set up a Muslim caliphate state.

Abed al-Tahawi's made the statement in brief remarks to reporters before the military court convened to hear the prosecution sum up its case in his trial.

"Although they accuse them of being terrorists, the heroes Osama bin Laden and Abu Musab Zarqawi will come back to the scene soon to set up an Islamic caliphate state," he said.

Al-Tahawi, 50, and 15 other men - including one at large who being tried in absentia - are charged with conspiring to carry out terrorist attacks and possessing automatic rifles. If convicted on both counts, the defendants could face the death penalty.

Saudi-born bin Laden has long advocated the creation of a caliphate, where Islam would be the source of the law and the state ruled by a religious leader, known as the caliph - a title taken by the successors of the prophet Muhammad.

Al-Zarqawi, a Jordanian, is al-Qaida's top man in Iraq. He is believed to be directing anti-U.S. attacks and kidnappings in Iraq, and his group has beheaded several hostages. He has been sentenced to death in Jordan for the 2002 killing of a U.S. aid worker in the kingdom.

At the outset of the trial in March, the 15 men in police custody refused to speak when asked to enter their pleas - a sign which the court interpreted as plea of not guilty. The defendants later argued that their guilty confessions were extracted by force by the military prosecution, and demanded chief prosecutor Lt. Col. Mahmoud Obeidat take the witness stand.

Court president Col. Fawaz Buqour rejected the demand during Monday's hearing, but did not give a reason why.

The hearing was adjourned until next Monday when the defense begins.

Obeidat's indictment claims al-Tahawi pursued the ideology of "takfiri" - a policy of killing anybody considered to be an infidel. He recruited his accomplices while preaching in mosques in Irbid, 80 kilometers (50 miles) north of the capital.

The indictment claims the group planned to target a hotel in Irbid favored by Israeli tourists, the Amman home of the director of an annual Jordanian cultural event which hosts western artists and Americans performing at the festival.

The festival usually takes place in July at the Roman ruin city of Jerash, 20 miles (32 kilometers) north of Amman.

It did not say how or when the accused planned to carry out the attacks. They were apprehended in August and September before the attacks were launched


(HOUSTON) United States Attorney Michael Shelby announced that Ronald Allen Grecula, 68, of Bangor, Pennsylvania, was arrested on May 20, 2005, in Houston, Texas, and faces federal felony charges of attempting to provide material support and resources to a Designated Foreign Terrorist Organization, namely, Al-Qaida, in violation of Title 18 U.S.C. Section 2339B. That statute carries a possible penalty of up to fifteen (15) years in prison and a fine not to exceed $250,00.00.

Grecula has been charged for his involvement in attempting to build and sell an explosive device to an undercover officer who was posing as a member of Al-Qaida.

According to pleadings filed in this case, in April 2005, through approximately May 20, 2005, Ronald Allen Grecula, negotiated with a confidential source, and later undercover officers, to build and sell an explosive device to terrorists groups targeting the United States.

Beginning on May 11, 2005, while working under supervision of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in Houston, the confidential source recorded several telephone calls where Grecula discussed his willingness and ability to build and sell a powerful explosive device.

During several conversations, Grecula and the undercover agent discuss Grecula's technical knowledge regarding how to build an explosive device, Grecula's willingness to put on a demonstration, and the need for Grecula and the undercover agent to “be careful” as they planned the venture.

On May 20, 2005, Grecula traveled to Houston, Texas, and attended a one-hour meeting with the undercover agents during which he indicated that he was willing and able to build and sell an explosive device to a group he believed was affiliated with Al-Qaida. The device was to be used against Americans.

Grecula is scheduled for an initial appearance today at 2:00 p.m. in the courtroom of United States Magistrate Judge Calvin Botley.

Following the proceedings, Mr. Shelby will be available to respond to questions from the media outside the courthouse.

This case is the result of a Joint Terrorism Task Force investigation conducted by the Houston office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Abe Martinez and Jeff Vaden.

A criminal complaint is an accusation of criminal conduct, and is not evidence. A defendant is presumed innocent unless and until convicted through due process of law.

Monday, May 23, 2005

U.S. Border Security at a Crossroads

Technology Problems Limit Effectiveness of US-VISIT Program to Screen Foreigners

By Robert O'Harrow Jr. and Scott Higham
Washington Post Staff Writers

The race to tighten the nation's borders began just after the terror attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. Authorities learned that hijackers had lived illegally in the country, renting apartments, taking flying lessons and moving around freely.

Congress demanded changes in border controls and tight deadlines for building a computer network that would screen foreign visitors as they seek to enter or leave the country by scanning their fingerprints and matching them against databases of suspected terrorists.

Pressing to meet that goal, the Homeland Security Department last year awarded one of the most ambitious technology contracts in the war on terror -- a 10-year deal estimated at up to $10 billion -- to the global consulting firm Accenture. In return, the company and its subcontractors promised to create a "virtual border" that would electronically screen millions of foreign travelers.

Documents and interviews with people familiar with the program, called US-VISIT, show that government officials are betting on speculative technology while neglecting basic procedures to ensure that taxpayers get full value from government contractors.

"There's no question we could end up spending billions of dollars and end up with nothing," said Steven A. Camarota, the director of research at the Center for Immigration Studies, a nonprofit group that has been monitoring efforts to improve border controls. "It creates an illusion of security that doesn't exist."

Although the government has already spent or budgeted about $1 billion for the US-VISIT program, the new system is being built on top of aging computer databases and software that government scientists concluded two years ago are out of date, poorly coordinated and ineffective. Among them is a fingerprint system that does not use the government's state-of-the-art biometric standard. As a consequence, millions of dollars are budgeted this year for upgrades, according to budget documents.

The technology problems diminish the current effectiveness of US-VISIT, according to audits and government documents. Today, only a small fraction of foreign visitors -- fewer than 1 percent -- is fully screened by the existing system.

US-VISIT director James L. Williams defended the program's strategy, saying officials plan to phase in new technology over the next decade while taking steps in the next several years to maintain security with current technology. He said people should understand that US-VISIT is in its infancy.

"We're not even close to having a full biometric entry-exit system," he said. "It's an archaic system of technology."

Williams said he is relying heavily on Accenture because the government cannot undertake the complex technological assignment without the expertise of private industry. He said he is proud that the losing bidders have not challenged the award to Accenture and its subcontractors, known as the Smart Border Alliance.

"Accenture was clearly the best value," Williams said.

Accenture was in a strong position even before the bidding began, according to documents and interviews. Its contracting team played a role in shaping the competition. "Limit the number of bidders, and streamline the procurement approach," Accenture officials recommended to Williams in August 2003, three months before the government began requesting bids, according to documents and interviews.

The US-VISIT contract with Accenture and its subcontractors exemplifies a fundamental shift in the arcane world of government contracting, said Steven L. Schooner, a procurement specialist at George Washington University. Increasingly, government is entering into "partnerships" with private companies.

Such partnerships can blur the lines between the government and corporations, Schooner and other contract specialists said.

In this case, the contractor and the government are working together without a clear idea of how the final virtual-border system will work or when it will be completed over the next decade. Such an arrangement is known as an "indefinite delivery-indefinite quantity contract." The government can cancel the project at any point. The contractor is paid for specific tasks along the way, even if the overall system ultimately does not work.

For all those reasons, no one is certain of the final cost.

"Who knows what it will end up being, because the system hasn't been defined yet," said Accenture spokeswoman Roxanne Taylor, adding that the government has the final say. "Isn't that the system of checks and balances?"

Tightening the Borders

The US-VISIT program office, officially known as the United States Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology, started in July 2003. The network it is trying to build is being sold to the public by homeland security officials as the ultimate solution to the nation's chronic border problems.

The US-VISIT system must eventually cover nearly 7,000 miles of borders along Mexico and Canada, including more than 300 land, air and sea ports where travelers make more than 450 million crossings a year.

Copies of an Accenture presentation to US-VISIT officials obtained by The Washington Post describe a futuristic surveillance and intelligence network. The system they envision could rely on databases, digital cameras, face- and voice-recognition systems and electronic-fingerprint readers, all linked by computer. Homeland security officials promised that US-VISIT would communicate quickly and easily with other computer systems.

Eventually all foreign visitors will be required to electronically register their fingerprints and photographs at U.S. embassies and consulates, along with other personal details. That information will then be matched against terrorist, criminal and intelligence files to determine whether the travelers pose threats.

Prospective visitors who flunk the screening process will be denied visas. Those who pass will be allowed into the country and then checked when they leave to make sure they did not overstay their visit. US-VISIT must accomplish its mission without impeding commerce or tourism, according its mission statement.

For now, US-VISIT is relying on several aging and ineffective computer systems that were designed in the 1990s by contractors for the former Immigration and Naturalization Service, which was merged in 2003 into the new Homeland Security Department.

Not long after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the Senate Judiciary Committee asked the Justice Department's inspector general, Glenn A. Fine, to assess the state of INS's technology programs. Fine told Congress he questioned close to $3 billion worth of projects, saying that his review "revealed significant problems that leave gaps in the INS's attempts to secure the nation's borders." At about the same time, the Government Accountability Office, the investigative branch of Congress, came to a similar conclusion about the INS technology.

Today, some of the same officials who were in charge of that flawed technology are in key positions at the US-VISIT program.

One of the programs targeted for criticism was a computer network known as IDENT, which requires travelers to submit prints of both index fingers at U.S. consulates and embassies overseas. IDENT then collects two index fingerprints from those visitors at the U.S. border and matches them against a database to determine whether they are allowed into the country.

Fine's auditors concluded that the system was flawed because it did not effectively link to such fingerprint databases as FBI files or government terrorist watch lists that rely on state-of-the-art, 10-fingerprint systems.

Scientists at the National Institute of Standards and Technology, under congressional mandate to develop biometric standards for screening foreign visitors, recommended the government use 10 fingerprints. Using all 10 prints provides better matching capabilities and interoperability with other databases, the scientists said in their 2003 report.

US-VISIT officials did not heed the scientists' advice. Officials later told Congress they relied on the old fingerprint technology as a stopgap while they overhauled the entire border-security system. They promised to upgrade the two-fingerprint IDENT system.

Last fall, U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Robert C. Bonner said authorities had made improvements to the IDENT system so it could communicate more effectively with the FBI's database.

IDENT has fingerprints on 15,000 suspected terrorists and their alleged associates and about 1 million known criminals or deportees overall; the FBI keeps fingerprint records on 47 million people.

"Before, we had a flashlight, and we were only able to see into small areas with IDENT," Bonner said at a press conference on Oct. 7, 2004. By integrating with the FBI system, Bonner said, "we've turned on the overhead, and we can see it all."

But the government's own studies show IDENT is not fully integrated with the FBI system. One study by the Justice Department's inspector general's office, released three months after Bonner's remarks, concluded that progress toward making IDENT fully interoperable with other systems, including the FBI's, has "stalled."

The technology's limits and the government's desire to avoid long delays curbs the number of people who can be thoroughly screened. This year, homeland security officials expect to check about 800 people out of the roughly 118,000 visitors a day who should be screened against the FBI database, the Justice Department's inspector general said.

"The lack of immediate access to the FBI's full criminal master file creates a risk that a terrorist could enter the country undetected," the inspector general found.

Last fall, Stanford University researcher Lawrence M. Wein testified before Congress that US-VISIT, using IDENT, had no more than a 53 percent chance of catching a terrorist who had altered his or her fingerprints, even if that person was on a terrorist watch list. Wein said authorities should not assume the current two-fingerprint system is sufficient to stop terrorists. "It would be naive to think that these people are not trying to defeat the system," he said.

Rep. Norman D. Dicks (D-Wash.), who has repeatedly questioned IDENT's effectiveness, said homeland security officials should have listened to their experts rather than trying to upgrade the old fingerprint technology. Dicks said homeland security officials opted to use the flawed technology already in place to demonstrate they were making progress.

"They wanted to show they were getting something done," Dicks said. "The problem is, they made a mistake."

US-VISIT also incorporates another technology with interoperability problems: border-crossing cards that have been issued for years to Mexicans who want to visit and work in the United States. The cards are designed to encode the visitors' personal data electronically, but they do not work well with the IDENT system because the two technologies were not designed to interact, US-VISIT officials said.

The cards are manufactured at a six-year-old government plant run by a company called Datatrac Information Services Inc. in the congressional district of Rep. Harold Rogers (R-Ky.), the chairman of the House Appropriations homeland security subcommittee.

In the late 1990s, Rogers had urged government officials to build the card-manufacturing facility in his district, one of the poorest in the nation, according to a congressional aide who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Then, in June 2003, Rogers added language to an appropriations bill emphasizing that new card technology should not be adopted in a TSA pilot program as long as the existing technology is "good enough."

The next month, Datatrac received a 10-year contract extension worth up to $200 million, according to a company press release.

"The cards produced at facilities like the one in Corbin, Ky., are on the cutting edge of technology," Rogers was quoted as saying in the release. "I am pleased the Department has chosen to continue the use of these proven products."

A congressional aide said Rogers did not weigh in on Datatrac's behalf over the contract extension but considered it a "victory" because of the jobs it protected in the district Rogers represents.

The decision to stick with the cards comes with costs. This year, US-VISIT officials requested another $51 million for new technology, including equipment needed to study whether the cards can eventually work well with IDENT, Williams said.

Datatrac's border-crossing cards are often not used as intended, the homeland security department's inspector general reported this year. Border agents are supposed to run the cards through machines that can verify the visitors' identity. Instead, the agents often only eyeball the cards. The machines usually are installed away from the crossing points and used only with visitors who are pulled aside for additional screening.

Datatrac declined to discuss details of its contract.

Rogers declined to be interviewed for this article. He said in a prepared statement: "While the long-term future of the cards is unknown, they currently provide a vital security service along our borders."

'Industry Day'

Datatrac was one of dozens of companies seeking homeland security work on the borders. In 2003, it was part of the Accenture team seeking the contract to create the US-VISIT system.

Homeland security officials running that competition declared their intentions to rely heavily on the private sector. Speaking at a US-VISIT "Industry Day" in July 2003, they called on scores of corporate representatives gathered in suburban Virginia to form teams to address the government's ambitious goals.

US-VISIT officials told the companies they would welcome "direct and candid" comments in the coming months before the formal requests for bids were scheduled to be issued, according to documents that US-VISIT distributed at the session. Those comments could include recommendations for constructing the bid request itself, the document said. The winner would be a government "partner," and together the government and contractor would have shared accountability.

Within weeks, three bidding teams emerged: Computer Sciences Corp., Lockheed Martin Corp. and Accenture. Each had more than a dozen potential subcontractors. The US-VISIT team maintained contact with all three teams over the next few months. But it was Accenture that captured the attention of US-VISIT program director Williams, according to documents and interviews with people involved in the process.

Accenture had once been associated with the now-defunct Arthur Andersen LLP accounting firm. The company, then operating as Andersen Consulting, blossomed during the high-tech boom of the late 1990s, in part by offering governments and businesses solutions to their technology problems.

In 2001, the company renamed itself Accenture. It employed 75,000 people in 47 countries and had revenue of more than $11 billion. Based in Hamilton, Bermuda, the company called itself a "global management consulting, technology services and outsourcing company."

Before long, it was also fashioning itself into a homeland security specialist. In its first three years under its new name, Accenture rose to 24th from 59th in the rankings of the government's prime information technology contractors, its contracts surging to $427 million from $81 million, according to Eagle Eye Publishers Inc., a private company that sells data on federal contracts.

In August 2003, at the same time Accenture executives were offering advice to Williams, they were lobbying Rogers, the chairman of the House Appropriations homeland security subcommittee, documents and interviews show. That committee has a strong say over funding for US-VISIT and other homeland security programs.

Accenture, with help from its subcontractor, Datatrac, secured a meeting with Rogers's chief of staff, according to officials at Rogers's office and Accenture. The Accenture officials downplayed the importance and timing of the meeting, saying in an e-mail "that all the bidders were actively lobbying members of Congress on US-VISIT, so our actions were not unique."

Accenture also raised its profile by hiring former government officials who had personal or professional ties to US-VISIT managers. One of the people Accenture hired as a lobbyist and consultant was Steve Kelman. As chief of procurement policy for the Clinton administration, he helped create rules that eased the outsourcing of government work to private companies. Kelman had worked closely on that project with Williams, who was then at the Internal Revenue Service.

In his role as a consultant, Kelman helped Accenture draft a document urging Williams's US-VISIT team to give contractors great latitude in designing the system and to limit the number of bid competitors to "2 or 3" as a way to speed the process of choosing a victor. Kelman said his advice focused on linking the winning bidder's pay to its performance.

Williams, who was one of several officials responsible for awarding the contract, recently said he was unaware of Kelman's role. Kelman said in an interview: "I would have thought [Williams] would have known" about Kelman's involvement.

The lines between the government and Accenture continued to blur. On Nov. 28, 2003, the US-VISIT program requested bids from the three teams. Two months later -- and four months before the contract was awarded -- Accenture's team moved into the 13th-floor of a Rosslyn office building, just below the floors occupied by US-VISIT officials.

"The space came available, and someone on the team saw it and realized this would be convenient space if we eventually won the project," said Taylor, the Accenture spokeswoman.

In February 2004, Accenture's team put on a demonstration for Williams in the suburban Virginia parking lot of another Accenture subcontractor. Accenture set up a make-believe checkpoint to simulate a border-crossing post. Williams was told to drive through to test Accenture's technical savvy. He accelerated to 40 miles per hour and passed through electronic sensors.

As Williams drove past the sensors, playing the role of foreign visitor, the system scanned a chip embedded in a mock passport. Moments later, an electronic sign proclaimed that "James Williams" was the man behind the wheel of the car. The show was a rousing success, Williams said.

But Accenture said that the demonstration had little to do with what will eventually be built.

Peter Soh, another Accenture spokesman, said in an e-mail that the "simulation Accenture staged was for demonstration purposes only. It was not a recommended solution or a technology offering, and in no way did it represent what the final US-VISIT solution will look like."

Accenture's team won the contract in May 2004. Company officials said the division working on US-VISIT is Accenture LLP, based in Northern Virginia.

Williams said Accenture officials are playing an important role in shaping the vision for US-VISIT by helping him and his team understand how to buy and organize such a complex system. He said such a role is increasingly common in federal contracting. Of the three bidders, he said, Accenture was consistently the most helpful and convincing.

"Accenture listened well to the approach the government wanted to take and said: 'You're taking the right approach,' " Williams said.

Oversight From Afar

In each of the past three years, numerous questions have been raised about US-VISIT's management, oversight and costs.

In 2003, GAO auditors reported that the costs could rise far above the official $7.2 billion estimate -- likely "in the tens of billions." The report concluded that US-VISIT was a financially "very risky endeavor" because there were not enough government officials to properly manage the program.

In 2004, another GAO analysis said the government's US-VISIT team had not moved quickly enough on its earlier findings, chiding the government for failing to correct "fundamental limitations in the program office's ability to manage US-VISIT." That was in part because the US-VISIT office had only about half the 115 employees that officials said were needed to run the project.

In February, another audit reported that the current US-VISIT system has trouble tracking "the entry and exit of persons entering the United States at air, land, and sea ports of entry." The report said the homeland security department "has not employed rigorous, disciplined processes typically associated with successful programs."

Last week, homeland security officials said the fledgling system has blocked the admission of nearly 600 people and led to the arrest of 39.

"US-VISIT works," Williams said. "The results have shown that it works. We are working hard to meet the congressional and presidential mandates to complete the system."

The US-VISIT program now has 100 government employees.The program has turned to contractors for administrative and clerical support -- 94 people from Mitre Corp. and PEC Solutions Inc.

Today, an official responsible for oversight of the US-VISIT contract works out of an office in her home in Bradenton, Fla.

Dana Schmitt is the director of the Office of Acquisition and Program Management for US-VISIT -- which is responsible for "support, oversight, and control" of Accenture and its subcontractors. Schmitt, a former immigration service official who earns $114,344 a year, said she visits the US-VISIT offices in Rosslyn once every six weeks or so.

She and her supervisors said she can capably handle the job from about 950 miles away. But she said that her program management office has only nine of the 40 government employees she deemed necessary.

US-VISIT officials were interested in Schmitt because of her experience working with large technology projects at the immigration service. She agreed to work on US-VISIT, she said in an interview, as long as she could stay in Florida.

She said she has become good at working with contractors and her colleagues from afar, using conference calls and e-mails. She said she has no trouble monitoring the contract and overseeing the work of her colleagues.

"I can actually tell by tone of voice if people are getting agitated," she said. "It's basically an oversight function. . . . Being in Florida doesn't hamper it."

D. Kent Goodger, a veteran contracting officer for several federal agencies who now teaches procurement rules to government officials, said oversight managers need regular, face-to-face interaction to do their jobs.

"I don't see how she can have such a very important, visible role without having daily contact," he said.

Williams, the US-VISIT program director and Schmitt's boss, described her as immensely talented and an important asset to the project. He said he initially had doubts about allowing her to work from Florida.

"I absolutely had those worries," Williams said. "To me, it became kind of an experiment. So far, it is an experiment that's working very well."

Contracting Rush For Security Led To Waste, Abuse

By Scott Higham and Robert O'Harrow Jr.
Washington Post Staff Writers

After the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, the U.S. government rushed to secure the nation. Billions of dollars were spent to protect Americans with improved passenger screening, bomb-detection machines at airports, radiation monitors at ports and computer networks to identify suspected terrorists at the borders.

Government leaders say the nation is safer than it was before Sept. 11, 2001. But the government's internal audits have repeatedly questioned the cost and effectiveness of the equipment and security systems bought from corporations that received a torrent of money under loosened regulations, limited oversight and tight congressional deadlines.

In February, the Office of Management and Budget found that only four of the 33 homeland security programs it examined were "effective." In March, the Homeland Security Department's inspector general noted "the lack of improvement" in the performance of passenger screeners. In April, the Government Accountability Office reported that "the implementation and transformation of DHS remains high-risk."

Scores of government reports, congressional testimony and interviews with dozens of government and business officials document rising costs and specific flaws in some of the major systems underway:

· The contract to hire airport passenger screeners grew to $741 million from $104 million in less than a year. The screeners are failing to detect weapons at roughly the same rate as shortly after the attacks.

· The contract for airport bomb-detection machines ballooned to at least $1.2 billion from $508 million over 18 months. The machines have been hampered by high false-alarm rates.

· A contract for a computer network called US-VISIT to screen foreign visitors could cost taxpayers $10 billion. It relies on outdated technology that puts the project at risk.

· Radiation-detection machines worth a total of a half-billion dollars deployed to screen trucks and cargo containers at ports and borders have trouble distinguishing between highly enriched uranium and common household products. The problem has prompted costly plans to replace the machines.

"Whenever you try to spend a billion dollars in a hurry, you're vulnerable to people who come to the plate and sell you some things that aren't really well prepared," said Paul J. Werbos, a computer expert at the National Science Foundation who advises U.S. government agencies. "The biggest concern is that we're going to spend a whole lot of money without getting something useful out of it."

Since fiscal 2001, annual spending on contracts managed by the Homeland Security Department or its precursor agencies has more than doubled, to $5.8 billion, according to data from Eagle Eye Publishers Inc., a company that analyzes government contracting data. The beneficiaries include Unisys Corp., Boeing Co., Lockheed Martin Corp., General Dynamics Corp. and Accenture Ltd., along with such lesser-known companies as Veritas Capital Inc. and Datatrac Information Services Inc.

At a recent gathering of contractors in Northern Virginia, the chief contracting officer for one Homeland Security division said he wasn't sure how his agency had spent $700 million -- more than one-third of its budget last year was listed under "other."

John Ely, executive director for procurement at U.S. Customs and Border Protection, said he was confident that the money could be tracked.

"Don't think because we don't know what that is, we couldn't find out," Ely said on March 31.

Ely said he needed to triple his contracting staff. "There's not enough of us," he said.

Agency officials last week blamed the confusion about the spending on the integration of a new computer system and chronic data-entry mistakes that will be fixed.

Contracting specialists say the push on homeland security came at a time when the government was engaged in a broad effort to turn over key functions to corporations. The trend, begun during the Clinton administration to streamline government, included deep cuts to the federal workforce responsible for contracting and oversight.

Today, government officials often refer to corporations as "partners" rather than contractors. In some cases, companies are even hired to oversee the work of other companies.

"We have allowed the contractors to totally take over the process, and as a result, the costs are getting totally inflated," said D. Kent Goodger, a federal contracting official for 38 years who now teaches federal procurement courses for the Agriculture Department and other agencies. "Right now, it's out of control."

Three years ago, the man whose department was then responsible for leading the efforts to secure the nation's airports questioned whether it was wise to attempt so much in so little time.

"Well, you don't have to be a rocket scientist to figure out you're not going to get from here to there given that kind of production scheme," Transportation Secretary Norman Y. Mineta said in a television interview.

He was roundly criticized for those remarks by the White House and Congress. The deadlines came with consequences.

"Because of the congressional deadlines, it cost a lot more money," said corporate lawyer Angela B. Styles, chief of the OMB's procurement division under President Bush from 2001 to 2003.

"If you had an infrastructure in place with people who knew how to do things quickly, like people from the Department of Defense, you would have had more success," she said. "With the deadlines and the poor acquisition workforce and the public pressure, it was a recipe for disaster from the very beginning."

In an interview Friday, the deputy secretary of homeland security, Michael P. Jackson, said government leaders deliberately chose to team up with companies to jump-start the country's defense against terrorism, an approach he continues to support. He praised government employees and said their efforts have made the country safer. But Jackson acknowledged that "there were problems, and significant ones," with some of the contracts.

Jackson, who was confirmed in March, said he and recently appointed Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff have made it a top priority to enhance oversight and correct the problems.

"It's good government, and it's what we owe the taxpayers," said Jackson, who was the deputy transportation secretary at the time of the attacks. "It's what we have a core responsibility to do."

Deadline-Driven Culture

Two months after the planes struck the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, Bush and Congress took steps toward creating a new security infrastructure. On Nov. 19, 2001, Bush signed a bill directing the government to hire and deploy a federal workforce to screen airline passengers and baggage. The act also called for the creation of the Transportation Security Administration.

To speed up the contracting process, the act exempted government officials from Federal Acquisition Regulation guidelines, long the standard for contracting oversight. Congress also gave the government a series of deadlines for putting improvements in place.

To help meet the deadlines, the TSA awarded a contract to NCS Pearson Inc. to hire 30,000 federal screeners within 25 weeks to replace a patchwork of private security firms at the nation's 429 major airports.

After the federal screeners began their work, reports started to circulate that some had criminal records. Federal auditors later discovered that TSA managers did not have reliable databases to conduct background checks. Employment files were disorganized and kept in hundreds of unsecured boxes.

The cost of the Pearson contract rose to $741 million from $104 million. Auditors blamed much of the increase on the deadlines, the lack of TSA supervisors to manage the contract, poor management by Pearson and weak financial controls at the agency.

Auditors later found that TSA managers lacked their own contract officers or a system to monitor companies. The managers routinely relied on information that was "out-of-date, incomplete, inaccurate, or otherwise unreliable," the GAO reported.

Another federal audit questioned $124 million in spending on the Pearson contract, and the government initially withheld $90 million from the company. The auditors also said that from $6 million to $9 million in spending by a subcontractor appeared "to be attributed to wasteful and abusive spending practices," and cited "the complete breakdown of management controls" at Pearson.

Mac Curtis, the president of what is now called Pearson Government Solutions, said in an interview last week that all issues had been resolved and all money had been paid. Curtis said the contract grew largely because the TSA ordered major modifications, including a doubling of the number of screeners hired, to 62,901. The government also requested that an additional 66,219 be pre-certified for immediate hiring.

The TSA also demanded that the job interviews take place at hotels and conference centers rather than at the company's 2,500 assessment centers, which added significantly to the cost, said Curtis, who noted that his company was responsible for hiring the screeners but not training them.

"We met the mission," Curtis said. "We met the mandates."

TSA officials acknowledged that government decisions drove up the cost of the Pearson contract. "We did not properly identify the requirements," said Lee R. Kair, assistant TSA administrator for acquisition. "There was a real sense of speed on this. That's what led to many of the changes."

The Homeland Security Department's inspector general deployed undercover agents to test the new screeners. Such agents try to smuggle weapons or simulated explosive devices through airport checkpoints. Officials use the results to test vulnerabilities in the system.

Last month, the inspector general said that "the lack of improvement since our last audit [a year ago] indicates that significant improvement in performance may not be possible without greater use of new technology."

Jonathan J. Fleming, the TSA's chief operating officer, said the undercover agents are able to evade screeners and their systems at about the same rate as shortly after Sept. 11, 2001. But he and other government officials said the comparison is unfair because the agents testing the screeners are using more sophisticated techniques.

'A Reasonable Profit'

When Clark Kent Ervin began his work as the Homeland Security Department's first inspector general in early 2003, he quickly realized that the department was about to become one of the top contracting bureaucracies in Washington without the infrastructure to handle the task. Ervin, a Bush supporter from Texas, found that the new department had poorly staffed contracting offices spread across the 22 agencies that were about to be merged to form the department, the largest federal reorganization since World War II.

Ervin said he tried to alert Tom Ridge, who had recently been confirmed to head the Homeland Security Department.

"Two areas that DHS needs to get control of early to minimize waste and abuse are the procurement and grant [federal assistance] management functions," Ervin wrote in the memo on March 18, 2003, 17 days after the department opened its doors.

The memo urged Ridge to train and supervise the department's contract officers and establish a "robust and effective" program to monitor contractors.

"Early attention to strong systems and controls," the previously undisclosed memo said, "will be critical both to ensuring success and maintaining integrity and accountability."

A few weeks later, Ervin said he was told that Janet Hale, the homeland security undersecretary for management, had held up the delivery of the memo. Ervin said he was told that Hale did not want to give Ridge the news that the systems and controls were not in place. Hale said Friday that she did not recall the episode but that she strongly supports efforts to bolster the department's contracting oversight.

"I would not stop a memo from the IG," she said. "It's just not in my disposition."

Ervin said that he then faxed the memo himself to Ridge's office, but that he never heard back from the secretary.

Ridge said in an interview yesterday that he did not recall receiving the memo but that his department addressed the kinds of issues Ervin raised. "I'll give him the benefit of the doubt that he sent it," Ridge said. "Clark raised a lot of alarm bells. It was his responsibility."

Before long, Ervin was investigating a contract the TSA awarded to Boeing that included the delivery and installation of 1,100 explosive detection systems -- stand-alone, minivan-size machines designed to examine passenger baggage. Even though Boeing's bid was the highest, the company won the contract because TSA officials said they thought Boeing had the expertise to best manage such a complicated federal contract under the deadline pressure.

Boeing subcontracted 92 percent of the work, much of it to two firms that made the machines: L-3 Communications Holdings Inc. and InVision Technologies Inc. Boeing hired other companies to install and maintain the devices.

Ervin's auditors would later find Boeing's contract with the TSA to be extremely favorable to the company.

The TSA guaranteed that all of Boeing's costs would be covered. The agency further guaranteed that Boeing's profit would be based on a percentage of those expenses, the auditors found. Such an arrangement, cited in the inspector general's report as a "cost-plus-a-percentage-of-cost" contract, is banned by federal law, Ervin's office later said in a report.

The contract structure removed an important incentive to hold costs down, Ervin said in an interview. The TSA initially estimated the Boeing contract to be worth $508 million. Within 18 months, the cost more than doubled, to $1.2 billion, auditors found.

In September 2004, Ervin's office issued its critical report, saying the TSA failed to meet its obligation to ensure that Boeing got only "a reasonable profit" on its contract.

As the manager of the contract, Boeing received about $82 million in profit from 2002 to 2003, the report said. That was a 210 percent return on the investment the company had made in the project, Ervin's office found; $49 million of the profit was deemed to be "excessive."

The inspector general also found that the TSA gave the company at least $44 million in award fees without evaluating the company's performance. Ervin described those fees to The Washington Post as "bonuses."

In a written statement to The Post, Boeing disputed the inspector general's findings. The company denied that it received a 210 percent profit or that it had received a prohibited "cost-plus-a-percentage-of-cost" contract. A TSA contracting official on Friday said agency officials "do not believe" they used an inappropriate contract.

The company said the contract grew because it and its subcontractors had to remodel airport lobbies and other areas to accommodate the new machines.

Boeing said the TSA recognized this problem and agreed to adjust the contract accordingly. The contract was modified 54 times, Boeing said.

"This was a very challenging program to execute," Boeing said. "Timelines were very tight and Boeing met all of them."

Boeing noted that the TSA, in its response to the inspector general, said the company was "appropriately compensated."

Elaine C. Duke, who was then the TSA's deputy assistant administrator for acquisition, defended the contract and the agency's handling of it. Duke cited the high-risk nature of the work, the technical complexity of the job, competitive market pressures, the congressional mandate and the lack of staff resources -- there were only five employees in the TSA's acquisition office when the contract was awarded.

"One should recognize that these are unique circumstances that have not and will not be repeated," Duke wrote in her response to the inspector general.

Ervin took a different view.

"The bulk of the work was done by subcontractors. Boeing could have been cut out entirely," he said in a recent interview. "They took advantage of a very good deal they got for themselves.

"The government was just inept," he said. "TSA didn't know what they were doing, or they didn't exercise due control over the contract."

At the time of the Boeing contract, the TSA was handling more than $4 billion worth of contracts without enough staff members to ensure the work was being properly supervised, according to federal auditors. Last year, GAO auditors examined 21 contract files at the TSA. They found that several of the contract files, including one covering work by a subcontractor on the bomb-detection machines, "did not contain evidence of government surveillance to ensure cost efficiency," said Bill Woods, who directed the audit.

The GAO later cited a 2003 TSA internal study estimating that the agency needed as many as 628 employees to run its Office of Acquisition, which awards and monitors contracts. A year later, the office still had only 61 people, the GAO found.

Ron Endicott, a former federal contracting official hired as a consultant in 2003 to help assess the TSA's acquisition workforce, said more contracting officials were needed to watch the money.

"The workforce over there was dying on the vine," said Endicott, who retired from the federal government after nearly four decades. "People were working 16 hours a day, six and seven days a week, and a lot of talented people were leaving. It was dangerously understaffed."

Kair, the TSA contracting official, said he now has 83 acquisition employees and plans to hire more.

After the bomb-detection machines were put in airports across the country, some of them began to register false alarms. Screeners were forced to open and hand-check bags. Lines backed up, infuriating passengers and airline managers.

The false-alarm rates have since come down, according to counter-terrorism experts and government scientists familiar with the machines. They say the reason is that the machines have been calibrated to be less sensitive, cutting the false alarms but also making the machines less effective.

"When used the way they're supposed to be used, they're almost as good as a dog," said a government technology expert intimately familiar with the machines, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of retribution. "The big machines have a very high false-alarm rate. As a result, as anybody in counter-terrorism knows, U.S. officials set the standard way too high, and that's bad." The TSA's Fleming disputed that the machines have been made less sensitive, but he said the agency has upgraded the software to improve their effectiveness.

Last month, the GAO issued a report documenting a series of problems with the bomb-detection machines, including poor contract oversight, and said the stand-alone machines were hampered by "operational inefficiencies." The report also faulted TSA officials for not conducting an analysis that might have led them to a better method: installing machines "in-line" with baggage conveyer belts, speeding up and simplifying the process.

Members of Congress are now calling for a new generation of "in-line" machines, which are considered better at detecting explosives because they rely on the latest technology. The cost: an additional $3 billion to $5 billion.

The TSA was forced to choose the lesser technology primarily because of deadline pressure, government scientists and aviation experts said.

"Congress was frustrated. They said, 'We're going to give you a deadline, and you're bloody well going to meet it,' " said Cathal Flynn, associate administer for civil aviation security at the Federal Aviation Administration between 1993 and 2000 who had been working to install bomb-detection machines in airports for years. "Now they have to spend billions of dollars to get these machines out of the lobbies and put the new ones in the baggage lines."

David M. Stone, assistant secretary in charge of the TSA, said the agency is addressing the problems of the past and has made improvements in all areas. "The TSA of today is not the TSA of 2003," he said in an interview Friday.

A High Risk of Failure

Last year, in a confidential report prepared for the House Homeland Security Committee by a GAO auditor on loan to the panel, the entire Homeland Security Department was deemed to be at "high risk" of failure. The auditor noted in his report, a copy of which was obtained by The Post, that without a stronger management system, "the agency will not have the ability to effectively protect our homeland."

Financial controls were so lax, auditor Glenn Davis found, that DHS officials were unsure whether a $1.2 billion budget shortfall was real or simply an "accounting irregularity." The confusion prompted the DHS to impose a hiring freeze last spring on new customs and border agents. A few weeks later, budget managers concluded that the shortfall was an accounting error, the report said.

"The ambiguity about staffing levels calls into question whether the department can be confident that there is sufficient manpower at our borders to prevent the unwanted entry of terrorist factions into this country," Davis wrote in his report. "Weaknesses in DHS financial systems also could expose the agency unnecessarily to excess waste, fraud and abuse."

The report noted that contracting officers were too overwhelmed to track and supervise billions of dollars worth of contracts. "DHS still struggles to compile a detailed and accurate listing of its contracts and to keep track of spending by its agencies," the report concluded. Davis declined to discuss his report.

A GAO report released last month found that the Homeland Security Department's Office of Procurement Operations, which monitors many of the department's contracts, had 19 employees supervising an average of $101 million in contracts each. By comparison, 332 employees at the U.S. Coast Guard, a Homeland Security division that runs its own contracting office, averaged $6.3 million.

"If you don't have controls over major programs, chances are increased you're going to waste a lot of money and waste a lot time and keep doing the same things over and over again," said Michael J. Sullivan, a GAO analyst who directed the Homeland Security Department procurement study. "They need to get staffing up. They need to get training up. They need to get a handle on oversight."

Further limiting oversight: No single official has been given clear responsibility for all of the department's procurement spending, Sullivan's report said. The lower-level managers are often poorly trained. In the past year, only 22 percent of homeland security contracts and programs were being supervised by managers who had the necessary training and certification, the GAO auditors said.

As a result, relatively inexperienced government workers are required to monitor corporations armed with highly skilled contract specialists and lawyers, who increasingly work side-by-side with the government workers.

"What's developed over the last decade is a new culture that has put [contracting officials] in a very vulnerable position," said Goodger, the veteran government procurement official.

"From a contracting perspective, it's not a healthy situation," he said. "Contractors typically will take advantage of government employees."

Homeland Security officials acknowledged that their contract oversight staff has been understrength and said they are working to bolster it. They now have 60 people in their procurement office, and they plan to more than double that number.

"You just have to rebuild the workforce," said Hale, the undersecretary for management. "This is terribly important."

Making 'His Displeasure Known'

As chief of the Homeland Security Department, Ridge grew frustrated by the drumbeat of bad news contained in the audits, particularly from his department's own office of inspector general, according to Ervin. Twice last year, Ridge summoned the inspector general to his office to complain about his reports, according to Ervin.

Ridge was particularly upset with one report documenting problems with a visa-waiver program and another describing difficulties with terrorist watch lists, Ervin said.

"He said he regarded the reports as being unduly critical," said Ervin, whose political appointment expired in December and who now works at a District think tank. "He was trying to make his displeasure known."

Ridge said he never asked Ervin to "modify or mollify" his reports. But he objected to Ervin's methods.

"I said, 'Do you feel obligated to send every report to the Hill? Does everything you do have to end up in a press release?' "

Ervin said he responded that inspectors general do not answer to agency chiefs but to Congress and the public. "His view was, I wasn't part of the team," Ervin said. "I told him that I thought the team was supposed to be the American people."

Database editor Sarah Cohen and researcher Alice Crites contributed to this report.

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