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August 29
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An archive of blogs on the state of national security.

August 14, 2003
Incredible Triumph? Or Incredible Screwup?
We report -- you decide
Yesterday U.S. attorney Christopher Christie stood on the steps of the federal courthouse in Newark, New Jersey, and called the arrest of arms dealer Hemant Lakhani “an incredible triumph.” Lakhani was caught in a sting operation trying to sell surface-to-air missiles to FBI agents posing as terrorists.
But there's a part of this story I bet you won't hear on Faux News.
According to Michael Isikoff and Mark Hosenball at Newsweek, Lekhani was a small-potatoes operator the FBI had planned to roll and use as an informant to get bigger potatoes, like maybe some part of al Qaeda. But the BBC got wind of the arrest and publicized it. The feds decided to make the best of the situation by getting some PR out of it.
"For all the hoopla over the case, the official confirmed, it was essentially a government-arranged “sting” that never involved any contact with actual terrorists." [Isikoff and Hosenball, "News Leak Blows Big Opportunity," Newsweek web exclusive, August 13, 2003]
You'll notice the article quoted above is a "web exclusive." We wouldn't want to put it into print, of course. People might read it.
Bush Says Something True!
President Bush, naturally, got into the act and praised the FBI arrest.
U.S. President George Bush has praised the arrest of a British arms merchant charged with smuggling surface-to-air missiles into the United States. Mr. Bush says it's an example of the progress being made in efforts to protect the American people.

The president said his administration is doing all it can to protect the nation and make sure the airports and waterways are safe. He says the arrest of Hemant Lakhani provides proof.

"We are doing everything possible to protect the homeland," said Mr. Bush. "And the fact we are able to sting this guy is a pretty good example of what we are doing in order to protect the American people." [Paula Wolfson, "Bush Praises Arrest of Alleged Missile Merchant," Voice of America News, August 13, 2003]

This story got my attention, because it catches President Bush in the rare act of saying something true. This little farce in Newark is a pretty good example of what his administration is doing to protect the American people.
It appears the feds (posing as Islamic terrorists) contacted  Lakhani in December 2001 and have been stringing him along ever since, attempting to lure him to Newark and flip him into becoming an informant. So they spend 18 months persuading Lakhani to come to the U.S. to sell weapons, then when he gets here they arrest him for selling weapons. Yes, this is useful. I feel much safer.
In another example of how well protected our airports and waterways are -- yesterday the New York Times reported that three young men who'd been fishing from a rubber raft washed ashore at Kennedy International Airport and roamed unnoticed among the jumbo jets.

"There were jumbo jets with their lights on, just waiting there," he [Joel Phagoo, one of the three young men] said. "You could walk right up and touch them if you wanted."

He said he had expected that they would be picked up by SWAT-type units soon after they landed. Instead, they walked the runways for 75 minutes looking for help.

"After we realized no one was going to come up and ask us what we were doing there, we knew we had to find them ourselves," he said. "You hear stuff about all these safety precautions and the terror alert being so high, and we're there walking around in an airport we didn't even know how we got into." [Corey Kilgannon, "Fishing for Blues; Strolling Among Jumbo Jets," The New York Times, August 13, 2003]

The three fishermen walked into the airport police station "waterlogged and smelling like bait," according to the Times story. The police immediately confiscated their fishing rods and tackle, the raft, clams intended as bait, and a 17-inch bluefish caught earlier in the day by Mr. Phagoo. In one of those details that is the stuff of great writing, the clams dried up and were stuck to the raft by the time Mr. Phagoo got it back from the police. He did not get his fish back, however.
Almost as weird: The Times reporter who wrote this story, Ms. Kilgannon, and a photographer were picked up yesterday by police while floating in a 24-foot boat in Jamaica Bay about 100 feet from a JFK airport runway, according to the Coast Guard.  Ms. Kilgannon says it was more like 100 yards. She had been planning to write a follow up to the story cited above.
The Rupert Murdoch-owned Daily News reported gleefully that two New York Times reporters were "on the hook" The Coast Guard says the journalists could face five years in prison and $25,000 fines. The New York Times says no charges have been filed as yet.
And the moral is: If you are a terrorist attempting to get into JFK airport, use a raft, not a 24-foot boat.
"The 28-page redaction is especially galling to the Sept. 11 families because we know the Bush administration has fought any serious inquiry into the events of that terrible day almost from the start. It opposed the formation of the 9/11 commission until it realized that the political groundswell that had developed following testimony before the JICI made it inevitable. Once the 9/11 commission was created, the administration did everything it could to neutralize it." -- R. William Harvey, whose wife died in the World Trade Center, "The Big Wedding," Salon, August 14, 2003 


Copyright 2003, 2004 by Barbara O'Brien

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