Archive for August, 2012

Finger Pointing

August 16, 2012

 

Tales from the Nuclear Age

Copyright © 2012 by Charles Glassmire

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Aug. 15, 2012

Finger Pointing

            As described in our last entry, ABCNews, in a repeat of a test done in 2002, in 2003 again shipped a 15 pound metal cylinder of depleted Uranium from the port of Jakarta Indonesia, (the largest Muslim country) to the port of Long Beach. The container arrived on 23 August 2003, and, due to the country of origin, was promptly flagged for inspection by HS agents. Later HS claimed they found nothing unusual or suspicious. Experts say the detection devices employed at the time could not distinguish depleted Uranium from enriched bomb quality U unless the trunk was opened for detailed inspection. ABC found the trunk still sealed with the wire seal which had been installed in Jakarta.

          ABCNews subsequently stated on Sept. 10,

          “… For a second year, U.S. government screeners have failed to detect a shipment of depleted uranium in a container sent by ABCNews from overseas as part of a test of security at American ports…”

           Officials in the Department of Homeland Security seemed upset about this second event. In an interview on World News Tonight hosted by Brian Ross, HS Security Assistant Secretary Asa Hutchinson told him “I think you’re a news reporter that is trying to carry out a hoax on our inspectors…” Hutchinson said “We targeted it, we inspected it, we confirmed that it was not a danger to America”. Meanwhile, Homeland Security assigned agents in four cities to investigate ABC personnel and news sources involved.(5)

          The shipment was given to a trucking company for transport inland. The driver became suspicious when told of the contents, suspecting that something was missed during the inspection, and called his company. Cesar Melgar, president of the trucking company said “This container went through an exam and so we were wondering about that, how come customs didn’t get this.” The trucking company alerted the FBI.

          That night (Sept. 2, 2003), the shipment left the port and the FBI began a weeklong investigation of the event, suggesting violations of felony smuggling laws.(5) HS stated that any decision to prosecute would be made by the U.S. Attorney in Los Angeles. At midnight September 2nd, federal agents appeared at the gates of the ABCNews bureau in Los Angeles. They demanded access to ABC personnel and demanded to be given the uranium in question. The canister was already on its way to the New York Office.(5) ABCNews editor Ursula Fahey said “Agent Susan Land of U.S. Customs said she was there on the authority of the Department of Justice…They wanted our people and they wanted the package…”. ABC later turned over the package to HS technicians who confirmed the material was harmless depleted Uranium.

          Two U.S. agents appeared at night at the San Diego home of cameraman Jeff Freeman, who had worked on the project. They demanded the video tapes he had shot. They identified themselves as FBI agents, but had no warrant or subpoena. It was later discovered they were not agents of the FBI. The tapes had been already shipped to ABCNews in New York. (5)

          A nuclear physicist named Cochran had supplied the Uranium to ABC and instructed them in packaging and shipping safely. That Saturday morning, two U.S. Customs Agents appeared unannounced at his home in Washington D.C. Cochran and his wife were going shopping and found their driveway blocked by federal agents! He told ABC

          “they pulled up and blocked my driveway so that I couldn’t pull the car out,…They didn’t call me up, they didn’t knock on my door, they just swooped in and stopped my exit from the driveway.(5)

Cochran told the agents to show up at his office on Monday during business hours when his attorney would be present.

            Later, Senator Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) sent a concerned letter to Attorney General John Ashcroft stating his concern about “a chilling effect on legitimate investigative reporting…” in the ABCNews case…

          “WASHINGTON – 17 July 2012 – The Obama administration has failed to meet a legal deadline for scanning all shipping containers for radioactive material before they reach the United States, a requirement aimed at strengthening maritime security and preventing terrorists from smuggling a nuclear device into any of the nation’s 300 sea and river ports.

            The Department of Homeland Security was given until July 1 [2012] to ensure that 100 percent of inbound shipping containers are screened at foreign ports.

            In a little-noticed action, the department’s secretary, Janet Napolitano informed Congress in May that she was invoking a two-year blanket exemption because the screening is proving too costly and cumbersome…Under [the current] system fewer than half a percent of the roughly 10 million containers arriving at U.S. ports last year were scanned before departure. DHS said those checks turned up narcotics and other contraband but that there have been no public reports [sic! – ed] of smuggled nuclear material.

            In response to the 9/11commission report, Congress passed a law in 2007 specifying that no cargo container may enter the United States before being scanned with imaging equipment and a radiation detection device… DHS says monitors scan 99 percent of containers for radiation after they arrive at U.S. ports, but experts say the monitors at America’s ports are not sophisticated enough to detect nuclear devices or highly enriched Uranium, which emit low levels of radiation.

            GAO has warned that a nuclear device could be detonated while at a port…causing billions of dollars in damage in addition to the loss of life. Estimates of damage caused by a nuclear detonation at a major port range from tens of billions of dollars to $1 trillion…”(4)

  (to be continued)

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(1)  “Customs fails to Detect Depleted Uranium”, ABC News, page 1 to 3, Sept. 11, 2002.

(2) http://abcnews.go.com/sections/wnt/Primetime/sept11_uranium030910.html.

(3)  Some references seem to cite “Los Angeles” as the port of entry.

(4)  “Feds miss cargo screens deadline”,  Pittsburgh Tribune Review, 17 July, 2012.

(5)  http://abcnews.go.com/WNT/story?is=129321&page.