FBI/Energy Department sniff private invididuals for hot isotopes

Eugen Leitl eugen at leitl.org
Wed Dec 28 07:22:41 PST 2005


Widespread Radioactivity Monitoring Is Confirmed

Published: December 24, 2005

WASHINGTON, Dec. 23 - The F.B.I. and the Energy Department have conducted
thousands of searches for radioactive materials at private sites around the
country in the last three years, government officials confirmed on Friday.

The existence of the search program was disclosed on Thursday by U.S. News &
World Report, on its Web site. Since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, government
agencies have disclosed that they have installed radiation-detection equipment
at ports, subway stations and other public locations, but extensive
surreptitious monitoring of private property has not been publicly known.

The federal government has given thousands of radiation alarms, worn like
cellphones on the belt, to police and fire departments in major cities.

A spokesman for the Justice Department, Brian Roehrkasse, confirmed that law
enforcement personnel were conducting "passive operations in publicly
accessible areas to detect the presence of radiological materials, in a manner
that protects U.S. constitutional rights."

U.S. News, citing people it did not name, said many of the sites that federal
agents had monitored were mosques or the homes or businesses of Muslims, and
the report set off a dispute between a Muslim group here and the Federal
Bureau of Investigation.

The group, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said in a statement:
"This disturbing revelation, coupled with recent reports of domestic
surveillance without warrant, could lead to the perception that we are no
longer a nation ruled by law, but instead one in which fear trumps
constitutional rights. All Americans should be concerned about the apparent
trend toward a two-tiered system of justice, with full rights for most
citizens, and another diminished set of rights for Muslims."

But John Miller, an assistant director of the F.B.I., said in a statement that
his agency "does not target any group based on ethnicity, political or
religious belief."

"When intelligence information suggests a threat to public safety,
particularly involving weapons of mass destruction," the statement said,
"investigators will go where the intelligence information takes them."

Mr. Miller said the bureau was "disappointed at the conclusions" reached by
the Muslim group. He added that F.B.I. agents would work through the holiday
weekend to catch whoever set off a bomb on Tuesday that damaged the door of a
mosque near Cincinnati.

According to a federal official who would not allow his name to be used, the
investigators have visited hundreds of sites in Washington, New York, Chicago,
Detroit, Las Vegas and Seattle on multiple occasions, as well other locations
for high-profile events like the Super Bowl. The surveillance was conducted
outdoors, and no warrants were needed or sought, the official said, speaking
on anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss classified programs.

"If you can go drive a car into the parking lot near the shopping mall, we can
go there," he said. "It's nothing intrusive. We're not searching into a
particular building, just sniffing the air in the area."

Federal officials have expressed anxiety about two radiological threats. One
is a "dirty bomb," a conventional explosive that would spread a radioactive
material. Such an attack would be unlikely to kill anyone with radiation, but
it could contaminate streets, buildings or other public places. The materials
that would be used are highly radioactive and might be detected from some
distance, experts say.

The other threat is that someone would try to detonate a nuclear bomb. Bomb
fuel, either enriched uranium or plutonium, is much harder to detect, because
its radiation signature is weak, physicists say. But it is also much harder to

At least some of the surveillance was by the Nuclear Emergency Support Team,
part of the Energy Department's National Nuclear Security Administration,
which leads the American effort to secure nuclear materials around the world.

Eugen* Leitl <a href="http://leitl.org">leitl</a> http://leitl.org
ICBM: 48.07100, 11.36820            http://www.ativel.com
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