Fleeing the Fourth
With the president’s restricted airspace penetrated by four small planes over the weekend—one of them, oddly enough, during his colonoscopy at Camp David—few have much faith in White House defenses against a terrorist attack.
And if Washington, D.C., itself is targeted for a July 4 onslaught, visitors could easily find themselves trapped in the city’s quagmire of an evacuation plan. Consider:
• Last week, D.C. firefighters traveled on foot and used a garden hose to put out a fire in the southeast part of the city because their truck was in for repairs.
• Every fifth cop car is broken down.
• Rather than rely on the D.C. fire department’s dilapidated communications gear, firefighters communicate with each other through their personal cell phones. The department’s radio system doesn’t work at several key dead spots, including the local police and FBI headquarters, Union Station, MCI Center, and the State Department, according to The Washington Times.
• Visitors at Fourth of July events are encouraged to use the Metro. But in the event of any attack on Washington’s subway system, it could be difficult to get out. Escalators and elevators are often broken down, especially the ones at two key downtown stops, DuPont Circle and Farragut North, along with the busy Friendship Heights stop on the Maryland line. Things are so bad in the Metro, technicians currently are stationed at elevators to get trapped riders out. No wonder riders are calling the Metro the Kursk, after the Soviet submarine that sank with the crew trapped inside.
• How to get out in the event of an attack? Washington officials don’t want to upset anyone, so they’ve made green and white signs with arrows directing traffic to the 495 Beltway, a road hopelessly jammed with lines of cars on 9-11 after the Pentagon was hit. From the meager signs, you’d never know these “event routes” are meant for evacuation. In fact, you might never see them.
• The Capitol area has been turned into a fortress with barriers all around. Unfortunately the Capitol police, who actually patrol the area, have been cut back. So they are in less and less of a position to do anything, even though the government now is trying to lay on extra help for the holiday.
These failings leave the city with only one real protective measure—what amounts to a lockdown of the downtown area, with visitors having to pass through police checkpoints and wire fences surrounding major sites. All of which will only make it harder to get out in the event of a terrorist attack. Lacking an effective means of exit, those with the resources are making plans to survive staying here. Congress has stockpiled 25,000 gas masks—enough for every lawmaker, his or her entire staff, and any tourists unlucky enough to be on hand.
The Ugly Americans
With growing European distaste for America’s war on terror and for Americans in general, Senator Jesse Helms’s goodbye act, which would protect U.S. soldiers from being tried for war crimes in the new international court, may come just in time. That’s because a British documentary flatly depicts American troops as collaborators in an atrocity during the Afghan campaign.
The film, Massacre in Mazar, was made by Jamie Doran, a former BBC producer. The film tracks what happened after Kunduz, the last Taliban stronghold, fell on November 21, 2001, to Northern Alliance commanders with considerable assistance from U.S. Special Forces. Various people in the film claim to have seen U.S. troops participating in the torture and killing of thousands of Taliban prisoners near Mazar-i-Sharif. Doran includes footage of John Walker Lindh on his knees being interrogated in the desert. One witness claims he saw an American soldier break the neck of a Taliban prisoner, and Americans supposedly collaborated with their Islamic allies in cutting off Taliban soldiers’ fingers, tongues, and ears.
The Pentagon has dismissed the allegations as the work of a commie propagandist, a conclusion apparently drawn from the screening recently arranged by the PDS, a left-wing political party in Germany. “Frankly, I didn’t even know who the PDS were before I went—I haven’t a clue,” Doran told the Voice in an interview last Friday. The movie has not been shown in the States, although Doran said he hopes the film will air here on TV, perhaps in the fall.
Since there is little footage of actual events, the film’s credibility depends on witnesses. Among the six eyewitnesses were two drivers from hostile regions who separately took the crew to the same place in the desert where they’d been forced to dump the evidence of summary executions. “One taxi driver, he had gone to a gas station when he wondered what the horrific smell was, and he asked the attendant and he said, ‘Look behind you,’ ” Dolan related. “And there were three containers with blood pouring out from them.”
One of the drivers reported that as many as 40 GIs took part in the killings. Dolan said he’s still not sure about the exact figures, but the charges raise real questions. “You have to ask yourself why the witnesses agreed,” he said. “There’s absolutely nothing in it for them. The very opposite—they’ve put themselves in extreme danger. They didn’t get a single cent of money from me. They have nothing to gain.”
System of a Down
While U.S. intelligence officials fret over America’s wide-open borders, folks behind the scenes worry about vulnerabilities in the nation’s cyber-infrastructure. Enemy hackers could take over computer systems that control air traffic, hydroelectric generators, pipeline security, even nuclear plants.
That kind of action requires skill, but it can also be child’s play. In 1998, a 12-year-old boy successfully hacked into the controls for the huge Roosevelt Dam on the Salt River in Arizona. He might have released flood waters that would have inundated Mesa and Tempe, endangering at least 1 million people.
Cyber-attacks are growing more popular. During this year’s tense standoff between India and Pakistan, sapper gangs of cybernerds duked it out. According to the BBC, two groups—the Unix Security Guards and the World Fantabulous Defacers—made 111 digital attacks on Indian educational and business sites. A pro-Islamic cyber-alliance now operates across the Internet against U.S., Israeli, and Indian targets. “I know they exist, for I met some of them, either on the Web or in person,” Damien Bancal, editor of the French site Zataz.com, told the Voice.
As part of a campaign to demonstrate just how easily a savvy enemy could disrupt the nation, two nerds calling themselves the Deceptive Duo hacked into the Federal Aviation Agency in April and downloaded unpublished information on airport passenger screening.
The FAA acknowledged the breach, but said the system was an old one. Anyhow, the agency said all the hack job accomplished was to post information that already had been given to Congress and hence was public to begin with. “It was data that was used for a report that went to Congress, so it’s essentially public information anyway,” spokesman Paul Takemoto told Securityfocus.com.
In addition to hitting the FAA, the Duo broke into a U.S. Navy site and posted information taken from a Midwest Express Airlines passenger reservation system. They apparently also attacked a U.S. Department of Transportation site and two NASA sites. “We are two individuals who risk our future and our lives to help the nation in such a vulnerable time,” the Duo told Securityfocus.com. “Somebody has to do it; if we don’t, a terrorist might.”
If you want to see for yourself what’s out there on the Net for would-be attackers, check out Cryptome.org, a site where you can eyeball every nuclear power plant, with clear aerial photos and a concise data sheet prepared by federal disaster officials. The site also allows you a virtual tour of Dick Cheney’s VP mansion near the Naval Observatory in Washington. Outwardly, the place looks like a citadel, with barricades placed across the entrance and cop cars parked randomly along the brightly lit fence. But with the images provided by Cryptome.com, you can sail right past all this stuff and take a look that’s uncomfortably detailed.
Additional reporting: Gabrielle Jackson, Joshua Hersh, Caroline Ragon, and Cassandra Lewis.