Tag Archives: terrorism

The Radicalization of Peter King

Peter King is, in one sense, uniquely qualified to hold hearings on the “radicalization” of young men to a terrorist cause: He may be the only member of the United States Congress to have undergone the process himself, at the hands of the Irish Republican Army.

Some of King’s  previous dealings with the IRA have been reported, but the depth of his embrace is best documented by Ed Moloney, author of A Secret History of the IRA and former Northern Ireland editor of the Irish Times and the Sunday Tribune, whose reportage on the IRA’s operations is second to none. Moloney now writes a  blog, The Broken Elbow, in which he recently recapped what he knows about King–including his links to none other than Col. Muammar Gaddafi, long known as an arms supplier to international terrorists:

The re-emergence of the old links to the IRA are embarrassing to Peter King and his response has been both utterly predictable and supremely dishonest – he has wrapped the peace process around himself as protection and justification for what he did. This is what he told the Washington Post:

‘ “I [wanted] a peace agreement, a working agreement, where the nationalist community would feel their rights would be respected,” King said in an interview at his Capitol Hill office. “I felt that the IRA, in the context of Irish history, and Sinn Fein were a legitimate force that had to be recognized and you wouldn’t have peace without them. Listen, I think I’m one of the people who brought about peace in Ireland.” ’

The facts, sadly for him, do not support any of this. King first came to Belfast in 1980 just when the first hunger strike, the one led by Brendan Hughes, was reaching a climax, and was radicalized by what he saw and experienced. He came back for the second hunger strike, and it was then he met the family of Bobby Sands, in particular his sister Bernadette and her then partner, now husband Micky McKevitt. He would visit them on every trip he made and often stayed in their home in Louth. When he was elected to Congress virtually the first thing he did was to jump on a plane to Ireland to host a celebratory dinner with Bernadette and Micky – and this was all at a time when McKevitt was masterminding the smuggling of Col Gaddafi’s Semtex and AK-47’s from Tripoli. In Belfast, King’s best friends were Anto’ Murray and his wife. McKevitt was the IRA’s Quarter Mster General  and Anto Murray was Belfast Operations Officer.

Moloney told me Thursday: “The point about the story is this: When King was most friendly with them in the 1980s, McKevitt was in charge of the smuggling of hundreds of tons of arms and explosives, including Sam-7 missile launchers, mortars, heavy machine guns, 1000’s of AK-47, 5-7 tons of Semtex, millions of rounds etc., provided gratis by Gaddafi. Given what is happening in Libya right now and that Gaddafi was, prior to Al Qaeda, main Muslim sponsor of international terrorism, it makes his hearings even more hypocritical. Add to that the fact that Libya was an enemy of the U.S. and the IRA was getting help from Libya–doesn’t that dent king’s claim that IRA never harmed America?” Furthermore, “One American was killed when the IRA bombed Harrods in London in 1983 and another wounded. So not quite true to say Americans were not directly affected.”

To summarize: Peter King is the last person in the world to be preaching about terrorism, including Muslim terrorism. The very idea that the U.S. Congress would put on such an odious display, led by this consummate hypocrite, humiliates the country at large.

Our Air Security Is In Shakey Hands

In announcing January hearings of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, which he chairs, Connecticut senator Joe Lieberman promised to address the “big, urgent questions” raised by the midair bombing attempt that took place on Christmas. Lieberman said that Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab “evaded our homeland security defenses,’’ adding, “We were very lucky this time but we may not be so lucky next time, which is why our defenses must be strengthened.’’

The answer to those questions may lie not far from home–in Lieberman’s own office and those of other members of Congress who have routinely turned away federal whistleblowers trying to alert the government to the weaknesses in our air security systems. These alarms were sounded even before 9/11, and have been repeated many times in years following.

Steve Elson, a former Navy Seal, served as a member of the FAA’s “Red Team”— a special ops outfit deployed to secretly probe U.S. air security defenses—from 1992 to 1999. After 9/11, as a private citizen, he continued to try to draw attention to the serious security problems in commercial aviation. Elson began working with TV reporters in setting up undercover operations and penetrated air security systems, he says, in dozens of airports around the United States, including JFK, Dulles, O’Hare, and San Francisco. In most cases, he smuggled lead protected bags, which could hide explosives, through checkpoints tailed by TV crews using hidden cameras. Elson easily made it past screeners in more than 70 percent of the cases.

Appalled by his own findings, Elson tried to pass them on to members of Congress. In 2003, Elson dropped off a videotape at Joe Lieberman’s office showing how he personally had broken through air security time and time again. He wanted the senator to see it. “I took his office incontrovertible proof of the failures, including a one hour 15 minute tape of TSA failure after failure at the most simple security measures,” Elson said in an email on Wednesday. He followed up repeatedly by phone, and was finally told by a staffer that they “were too busy doing great things for the people of Connecticut and the U.S.” and didn’t have time to respond. They recommended Elson contact the FBI. (Lieberman’s office did not respond to requests for comment on this story, possibly because of the holiday.)

Elson also left copies of the tape for more than a dozen other senators, and managed to brief a few of their staff. He says he twice passed on documentation, in 2000 and 2003, to John McCain, then chair of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, which oversees the FAA. He is not aware of any action taken as a result. When Elson tried to present information to the 9/11 Commission, he was rejected. In one instance, an inspector general for the Department of Transportation told Elson the FAA was so corrupt nothing could be done.

Elson was not alone in exposing the cracks in the nation’s air security system. As I reported two years ago in Mother Jones, in 2004 and 2005, teams of undercover federal investigators acting for the Government Accountability Office set out to smuggle onto commercial jetliners component parts that, once aboard, could be put together to make a bomb. There is nothing new in this scheme: The famous Bojinka plot, precursor to the 9/11 plot, called for just such action. Yet these mock terrorists marched past screeners equipped with x-ray machines and wands at 21 airports, every time. When confronted with these embarrassing results, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) dismissed the exercise as only “hypothetical”: “While random items commonly found under a kitchen sink could conceivably be concocted into an IED… we find it highly implausible,” the agency said.

In February of 2007, the TSA’s own undercover agents walked through the airport screening system at the Denver international Airport with liquid explosives packed in their luggage and IEDs strapped to their bodies. The machines went off but the screeners didn’t look through their baggage or pat them down. CBS in Denver reported its sources said “an agent taped an IED to her leg and told the screener it was a bandage from surgery. Even though alarms sounded on the walk-through metal detector, the agent was able to bluff her way past the screener.” Earl Morris, then the man in charge of security at the TSA in Washington, said at the time: “We understand that security is not perfect in every aspect, but we understand that we go about trying to be perfect every single day and we are doing a tremendous job out there and the public should feel comfortable flying out today and quite frankly, they do.” The test failures, he said, were caused by “disgruntled and underachieving employees.”

Whatever happens in the wake of this latest bombing attempt will surely be affected by systemic problems in the federal agencies that regulate and oversee the commercial airline industry. The FAA has long been compromised by its cozy relationship with the airlines it is supposed to monitor, and the revolving door between the two is notorious. In 2008, FAA whistleblowers exposed a scandal in which cronyism between staff at the FAA and Southwest Airlines allowed Southwest to falsify hundreds of safety reports before they were caught.

The Transportation Security Administration, a post-9/11 creation that has been dogged by accusations of incompetence from the start, couldn’t even keep its own computer systems secure: In one of several scandals, a 2008 security breach was blamed on cronyism in awarding a contract for website design.  With people like this responsible for our safety, who needs terrorists?

Another Failure by US Intelligence?

What is now being widely viewed as a terrorist attempt to take down an American airliner over U.S. soil once again raises questions over air security operations at airports. In this instance, the central issue is why the suspected terrorist, who was on U.S. intelligence radar, wasn’t blocked from boarding a U.S.-bound flight  at the Amsterdam airport. Here, via Juan Cole, is a recent update:

Christian Purefoy is reporting on CNN that Abdul Mutallib ran into a radical Muslim network while studying in London. He was last registered in class at University College London in June 2008. This fall he had wanted to go study in Cairo, but his father was worried about his unsavory friends and afraid he would hook up with Egyptian radicals there. So the family sent him to study in Dubai instead. Sometime in late October he sent the family a text message that he was going off to Yemen and that the family would find it difficult to trace him because he was throwing away his phone’s sim card. So it appears that he was recruited into a radical Salafi cell in the United Arab Emirates that sent him to Yemen.

Airborne IED Terrorist Attacks

In light of the horrendous record of failed airport security measures, which are recorded in detail in my book 5 Unanswered Question About 9/11, I am passing along this morning’s email on IEDs aboard aircraft, from Andrew R. Thomas, business professor at the University of Akron  and editor of the Journal of Transportation Security.

The most recent attempt by a terrorist to detonate an Improvised Explosive Device within the confines of an air cabin has several recent precursors: 

1995: Ramzi Yousef, the mastermind behind the 1993 WTC attack, was less than a week away from planting IEDs on several U.S. bound NWA flights from the Pacific. The IED was successfully tested in late 1994 on an Air Nippon Airways flight, killing a passenger. 

2001: An Al-Qaeda operative, Richard Reid, unsuccessfully attempted to detonate an IED concealed within his shoe on an U.S.-bound AA flight, originating from Paris’ Charles De-Gaulle International airport.

2004: Two Russian airliners are destroyed, nearly simultaneously, by female suicide bombers who detonated IEDs on-board. 

Source: “History of Attacks Against Civil Aviation” Aviation Security Management: Volume 1, Andrew R. Thomas editor (London; Praeger Security International) 2008,pp. 142-260.

Abortion Doctor Murder Suspect Makes Threats from Jail (but Don’t Call Him a Terrorist)

Excuse me, but is Scott Roeder, the man charged with killing Dr. George Tiller outside his church last Sunday, in jail, or on vacation at a Wichita hotel? In a call to the Associated Press over the weekend, the murder suspect complained about his living conditions and then threatened more abortion clinic violence.

“I know there are many other similar events planned around the country as long as abortion remains legal,” Roeder said. When asked by the AP what he meant and if he was referring to another shooting, he refused to elaborate further.

In an understatement, Nancy Keenan president of NARAL-Pro-Choice America, said Roeder’s comments “continue to escalate that kind of activity, that kind of violence.’’ The Justice Department said it was investigating and has ordered increased protection for “appropriate people and facilities last week.”

But as yet–and despite Roeder’s threats–the crime is apparently being treated as an isolated incident of violence, rather than part of a deadly crusade with political aims–which in this day and age is what  usually gets called terrorism.

The Wichita Eagle today reported today that the suspect would likely be charged with Tiller’s murder, as well as with aggravated assault (for threatening two churchgoers who tried to apprehend him). According to the paper, “Wichita police said it appeared that the suspect had acted alone but that they are investigating whether he had any connection to anti-abortion groups.”

Whether he had any connections?

Within hours of Roeder’s arrest, it was clear that he was up to his neck in the radical wing of the anti-abortion movement, as well as involved with the far-right anti-government group the Freemen. On the night of the shooting the Kansas City Star’s Judy Thomas reported that the suspect was labeled a “fanatic” even by some other right-to-lifers, supported the idea of “justifiable homicide” to prevent abortions. He had made prison visits to the woman who shot and wounded Tiller in 1993, and wrote a Web post declaring, “Tiller is the concentration camp ‘Mengele’ of our day and needs to be stopped before he and those who protect him bring judgment upon our nation.” He was also arrested in 1996 with weapons and bomb-making materials in his car (for which he received two years’ probation).

Perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising that Roeder would have an easy time of things in Wichita, which has long been a ground zero for anti-choice activists. In fact, the city–and the state–seem to have made more effort to prosecute Tiller on trumped up charges than they did to protect him. As the Wichita Eagle reports:

Tiller and his clinic have faced continuous threats and legal action. A Wichita jury ruled in March that he was not guilty of illegal abortion on 19 criminal charges he faced for allegedly violating a state law requiring an independent second physician’s concurring opinion before performing late-term abortions. Immediately following the ruling in the criminal case, the Kansas Board of Healing Arts made public a similar complaint against Tiller that was originally filed in December 2008.

Protesters blockaded Tiller’s clinic during Operation Rescue’s “Summer of Mercy” protests during the summer of 1991, and Tiller was shot by Rachelle Shannon at his clinic in 1993. Tiller was wounded in both arms. Shannon remains in prison.

The clinic was bombed in June 1986 and was severely vandalized last month. His lawyer said wires to security cameras and outdoor lights were cut and that the vandals also cut through the roof and plugged the buildings’ downspouts. Rain poured through the roof and caused thousands of dollars of damage in the clinic. Tiller reportedly asked the FBI to investigate the incident.

It’s not clear whether the FBI took any action–but as yet, the Justice Department, too, has not dealt with Tiller’s murder as anything but a lone incident. On the day of the shooting, Attorney General Eric Holder called the murder “an abhorrent act of violence.” On Friday, the Department of Justice said it was opening an investigation that would “consist of a thorough review of the evidence and an assessment of any potential violations of the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act (FACE Act) or other federal statutes”–which is better than nothing, but still a pretty palid response under the circumstances. Holder also said he was sending U.S. Marshals to protect other abortion providers as a “precautionary measure.” The very need to take such a measure would, again, suggest an organized, violent movement–but Holder has never used anything close to the T word, either.

I’ve often written before that both federal and state law enforcement tend to be circumspect when it comes to pursuing organized domestic far-right activity. Can you imagine what would happen if an Arab American had shot someone, after posting screeds on an Islamic extremist web site? The anti-abortion movement also gets a free pass compared with environmental or animal rights activists, or even Republican Convention protestors, as Will Potter notes on his excellent web site Green Is the New Red:

The FBI labels the animal rights and environmental movements as the “number one domestic terrorism threat” even though those activists have never harmed a human being. At the very worst, underground groups like the Animal Liberation Front and Earth Liberation Front have released animals from fur farms, destroyed SUVs and set fire to empty buildings.

When animal rights activists or environmental activists are arrested, though, the government immediately sends out press releases and holds press conferences trumpeting the arrest of “eco-terrorists” and “domestic terrorists.”

In contrast, Roeder is being held in a local county jail, while the Army of God celebrates him as a hero, Operation Rescue once again scambles to distance itself from an act they helped inspire, and anti-choice Christian commentators piously decry the “wicked deed in Wichita,” but can’t pass up an opportunity to remind us that “abortion is murder” and “what goes on in those clinics is institutionalized homicide.”

And while suspected Muslim terrorists are held in total isolation for years, without access to lawyers, much less the press, Scott Roeder is taking advantage of his bully pulpit to promote his cause–and complain about the discomfort of his jail cell:

 In two separate calls to AP on Sunday morning, Roeder was far more talkative about his treatment at the Sedgwick County jail, complaining about “deplorable conditions in solitary” where he was kept during his first three days there.

Sedgwick County Sheriff Robert Hinshaw said that Roeder is receiving appropriate medical treatment.

“It is after all a jail, but a modern state-of-the-art facility with professional staff,” Hinshaw said. “While Mr. Roeder may not care for being in the Sedgwick County jail, all of our conditions and policies are designed to provide safety and security for all inmates, staff and public at large.”

Roeder said it was freezing in his cell. “I started having a bad cough. I thought I was going to have pneumonia,” he said.

He said he called AP because he wanted to emphasize the conditions in the jail so that in the future suspects would not have to endure the same conditions.

Roeder also said he wanted the public to know he has been denied phone privileges for the past two days, and needed his sleep apnea machine.

Now, contrast this treatment with that afforded Herman Wallace and Albert Woodfox, whom I’ve written about before. These two men have been held in solitary confinement in 6×9 cells for 37 years at Louisiana’s Angola state prison, and denied access to the press. There is evidence that they have been singled out for this treatment because nearly four decades ago they were active with the Black Panther Party.

But a man accused of first degree murder for killing a doctor in service of a political cause–something which has, of course,  happened before–gets to use the phone (twice) to call the AP, complain that he’s cold and can’t sleep, and while he’s add it, warn of more murders? And the county sheriff’s response is to get defensive and say that their jail is really quite nice?

What is the matter with Kansas? And while we’re at it, what’s the matter with the Feds?