Bomb drill shows security holes in ports

WASHINGTON

A drill on port security exposed communications problems among government agencies and showed that if ports are closed because of terrorist activity the economic impact would be huge.

About 70 people from the federal government, several port authorities and private companies participated in the exercise developed with former CIA Director James Woolsey and Dale Watson, former director of counterterrorism for the FBI.

“A lot of light bulbs went off,” Peter Scrobe, vice president of the American International Marine Agency insurance company, said yesterday.

“The bottom line is that we’re not totally prepared,” said Scrobe, who participated in the drill.

Participants were given three fictional scenarios to which they were supposed to react. All the scenarios occurred on the same day, meaning participants needed to formulate broad responses.

In one made-up case, a radioactive “dirty” bomb is smuggled into the Port of Los Angeles. In another, a dirty bomb is unpacked in Minneapolis from a freight container that had been shipped through Canada. And in the third, the Georgia Ports Authority arrests three men – one on the FBI’s terrorist watch list – in Savannah for trying to steal cargo.

Participants in the exercise – including representatives from the Transportation Security Administration, the Office of Homeland Security, the Customs Service and the port authorities of New York, New Jersey and Georgia – decided to close ports and border crossings. Foreign trade was halted and a search for bombs began.

The drill revealed a lack of crisis coordination and communication among government and the private sector, said Marc Gerencser, vice president of Booz Allen Hamilton, a management consulting firm that sponsored the drill, recently held in Washington.

Speech, personal security rights clash in case

WASHINGTON

The Supreme Court is considering a case combining the contentious issues of abortion, free speech and violent protest, hearing arguments yesterday on whether federal laws intended to combat organized crime and corruption can be used to punish anti-abortion demonstrators.

Activists like actor Martin Sheen, animal rights groups and even some organizations that support abortion rights are siding with anti-abortion forces because of concerns they too could face harsher penalties for demonstrating.

The court must decide if abortion clinic protesters can be punished for interfering with businesses with large penalties under federal racketeering and extortion laws.

Those laws are intended to combat corruption, not punish demonstrators, the Court was told by Roy Englert Jr., the lawyer for Operation Rescue and anti-abortion leaders. He said if the high court doesn’t intervene, there could be severe punishment for leaders of any movements “whose followers get out of hand.”

An attorney representing abortion clinics in Delaware and Wisconsin and the National Organization for Women said the laws protect businesses from violent protests that drive away clients.

The Supreme Court has dealt with few abortion cases in the decade since it reaffirmed the core holding of its landmark Roe v. Wade ruling that women have a constitutional right to abortion. The last case was two years ago, when justices struck down state “partial-birth” abortion laws because they imposed an undue burden on women’s right to end their pregnancies.

“As hard as people try to say this case isn’t about abortion, it is about abortion,” Joseph Scheidler, one of the protesters challenging the punishments, said after the case was argued.

He said abortion foes are afraid to protest at clinics because they fear being found guilty of racketeering, instead of something less serious like trespassing.

Scheidler and the others were sued in 1986 by the clinics and accused of blocking clinic entrances, menacing doctors, patients and clinic staff, and destroying equipment during a 15-year campaign to limit abortions. They were ordered to pay about $258,000 in damages and barred from interfering with the clinics’ business for 10 years.

The punishments were under the 32-year-old Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, known as RICO, and the Hobbs Act, a 1946 law aimed at crushing organized crime.

In its ruling, the high court must differentiate between protected political activity and that which is illegal.

Bush says terrorism affects global peace

WASHINGTON

In a grim update on terrorism’s global reach, President Bush said yesterday he believes Osama bin Laden’s network was involved in last week’s Kenya attacks, and he complained that terrorists have been able to “stop the peace process” in the Middle East.

Pledging anew to fight terrorism “wherever it exists,” Bush sidestepped the question of whether bin Laden’s al-Qaida organization has infiltrated the West Bank but said terrorism in general has left its mark on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“I am concerned that terrorists have disrupted the ability for peace-loving people to move a process forward,” the president told reporters in a brief exchange about Iraq and the war on terrorism.

Bush said he understands both Israel’s need to fight terrorism and the Palestinian people’s desire to improve their living conditions. He pledged to continue working on both fronts.

“But the net effect of terrorism is to not only stop the peace process, but is to cause suffering amongst all the people of the region,” Bush said. “And that’s why our war against terror must remain steadfast and strong wherever terror exists.”

Since the first days after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on Washington and New York, Bush has said the war against terrorism is a global proposition. His remarks yesterday indicated he believes the Middle East peace process will be in jeopardy until terrorism is curbed.

The remarks were made in advance of a Dec. 20 conference in Washington to plot peace moves in the Middle East. Even as they prepare for the summit of U.S., Russian and European diplomats, administration officials concede there is little chance for headway in the talks amid violence and terror attacks in the region.

Bush was asked whether he is concerned that al-Qaida, feeding off the harsh plight of many Palestinians, may be gaining a foothold on the West Bank.

“I am concerned about al-Qaida anywhere,” the president replied. “I believe that al-Qaida was involved in the African bombings in Kenya. I believe al-Qaida hates freedom.”

U.S. surveillance of Colombia to resume

BOGOTA, Colombia

Denouncing leftist guerrillas in strong terms, Secretary of State Colin Powell praised the peace efforts of President Alvaro Uribe yesterday and said, “The United States stands with Colombia in this struggle.”

Powell spent five hours meeting with Uribe and a host of other Colombian officials and discussed ways in which the United States might broaden its assistance to this beleaguered country, racked by civil war for more than three decades.

Alluding to leftist rebel groups, Powell said, “We should not try to romanticize these groups into charming freedom fighters. They are terrorists.”

As part of an increasingly ambitious plan to battle narcotraffickers, Powell said that early next year the United States hopes to resume anti-drug surveillance flights over Peru and Colombia.

– which could lead to the shooting down of planes flown by suspected traffickers.

The flights have been suspended since the Peruvian military mistakenly shot down a Baptist missionary plane last year, killing an American woman and her infant daughter.

The United States and been working with Peru and Colombia to ensure there will not be repeat of such incidents.

Uribe’s accession last August as president appears to have revitalized U.S. ties with Colombia. American officials had considered Uribe’s predecessor to have been too tentative in dealing with Colombia’s two leftist guerrilla movements – the FARC and the ELN – and with narcotraffickers.

Powell said the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks strengthened American resolve to assist Colombia in its struggle against the FARC and the ELN, as well as a rightist military group known as AUC.

Research suggests fries cause cancer

ADELPHI, Md.

The longer french fries and certain other starchy foods are fried or baked, the higher their level of a possible cancer-causing substance, new federal research suggests.

The substance, called acrylamide, made headlines last spring when Swedish scientists discovered that it forms in fries, potato chips and other high-carbohydrate foods cooked at high temperatures.

Several other European countries confirmed Sweden’s discovery – and now the latest batch of tests, revealed yesterday by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, shows that acrylamide levels vary widely even within the same brand of food.

For example, FDA scientists bought french fries at four different Popeye’s restaurants and found a three-fold difference between the batches with the highest and lowest acrylamide levels.

In tests of 25 seemingly identical bags of Lay’s Classic Potato Chips, only two bags contained the exact same acrylamide level.

Acrylamide forms during traditional cooking methods – whether you buy a ready-made food or fry or bake from raw ingredients in your own kitchen – and it seems that the longer certain foods are cooked at especially high temperatures, the more acrylamide appears.

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