From the L.A. Daily News
Security stepped up at local airports for one-year anniversary of Osama bin Laden's death
LOS ANGELES - Security was expected to be on heightened alert at Los Angeles International Airport and other Southland airports for tomorrow's one-year anniversary of the death of al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden, and in response to reports that terrorist organizations may try to use surgically implanted bombs to bypass security checks.
Los Angeles World Airports, the city agency that operates LAX and airports in Ontario and Van Nuys, issued a statement saying that while no specific threats have been received, "we will continue to maintain vigilance and uphold our constant security posture to ensure the airport and the traveling public are safe ...
"LAWA will continue to monitor global events and stay in direct contact with our federal, state and local partners," according to the statement.
Various media reports out of Washington, D.C., stated that security has been stepped up at airports in Europe and the Middle East, and federal air marshals had been deployed overseas in advance of the anniversary of bin Laden's death.
U.S. and European authorities have been warning for the past year that al-Qaida operatives have been working to design non-metal explosives that can be surgically implanted so the carrier can slip unnoticed through airport security.
Department of Homeland Security officials insisted there was no specific threat of an attack.
"We have no indication of any specific, credible threats or plots against the U.S. tied to the one-year anniversary of bin Laden's death," DHS spokesman Peter Boogaard told ABC News.
From the Washington Times
No safety in weaker al Qaeda
Romney: Even Carter would've made the call to kill bin Laden
by Kristina Wong
One year after Navy SEALs killed Osama bin Laden, a weakened, fragmented al Qaeda is collaborating with other terrorist and militant groups to target and attack U.S. and Western interests abroad, intelligence officials say.
Aggressive counterterrorism efforts - such as drone strikes and economic sanctions - have crippled the global terrorist network's ability to replace competent leaders, attract recruits and plan devastating attacks, said John Brennan, assistant to the president for homeland security and counterterrorism.
“Al Qaeda is losing - badly,” Mr. Brennan said during a speech Monday at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars . “[But] as the al Qaeda core falters, it continues to look to its affiliates and adherents to carry on its murderous cause.”
U.S. intelligence officials who recently briefed reporters on al Qaeda said bin Laden's death removed the terrorist group's most effective and inspirational leader and hobbled its capacity for staging a complicated assault. But they said the threat from al Qaeda affiliates has increased.
“The organization that brought us 9/11 is essentially gone,” a senior U.S. counterterrorism official said on the condition of anonymity, but “it's really too soon to declare victory.”
Affiliates such as al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, al Qaeda in Iraq, al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and al-Shabab in Somalia carry out the bulk of attacks, said Robert T. Cardillo , deputy director of national intelligence.
In Nigeria, the al Qaeda affiliate Boko Haram has increased its profile by attacking U.N. offices in August and bombing churches in December.
The future of al Qaeda
Officials ranked al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula in Yemen as the top threat of the affiliates.
In 2009, the group inspired Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, a Nigerian who tried to blow up a Detroit-bound airliner with a bomb concealed in his underwear. In 2010, the group claimed responsibility for a failed cargo-bomb plot involving two planes headed for Chicago.
“They are not only intent on attacking the United States,” said a senior U.S. counterterrorism official, “but we are convinced they continue to plot against us. Their rhetoric, their propaganda is both widespread and effective.”
Mr. Cardillo said regional affiliates “will surpass the remnants of core al Qaeda remaining in Pakistan and seek opportunities to strike Western interests in its operating area. … But each group will have different intent and ability to execute those plans.”
To combat the threat posed by affiliates, the U.S. has expanded its drone campaign in places such as Yemen, its support for local governments and its work with local security forces to weaken the groups, said counterterrorism analyst Daniel L. Byman, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.
Meanwhile, the U.S. and NATO are winding down combat operations in Afghanistan, where they have ousted the Taliban-controlled government that sheltered al Qaeda before, during and after the terrorist group's 2001 attacks.
About 100 al Qaeda members are believed to be still operating in the country, and most international combat troops are expected to leave Afghanistan by the end of 2014.
The key challenge for the West over the next few years will be to balance aggressive counterterrorism operations against the risk of galvanizing new fronts for the terrorist movement, Mr. Cardillo said.
One such front is in Syria, where officials say al Qaeda in Iraq is trying to make inroads in the popular uprising against President Bashar Assad's autocratic regime.
Little support in Arab world
“Al Qaeda is interested in not only affecting the result, but in contributing to the fighting,” a senior U.S. counterterrorism official said.
However, the official said the terrorist movement has made few strides among Arab Spring protesters who have sought to overthrow longtime dictatorships - including in Syria, where there are few obvious sympathizers to al Qaeda's cause.
A recent poll conducted as part of the Pew Research Center's Global Attitudes Project found overwhelmingly unfavorable views of al Qaeda in Egypt, where Hosni Mubarak stepped down as president last year after a popular uprising.
Negative views of the terrorist network also were found in Jordan, Turkey, Lebanon and areas of Pakistan, where bin Laden was killed in hiding in May 2011.
“As these new governments take real steps to address public demands for political participation and democratic institutions and remain committed to [counterterrorism] efforts, we judge that core al Qaeda and the global jihadist movement will experience a strategic setback,” Mr. Cardillo said.
He warned, however, that any prolonged instability or missed promises by the new governments would give al Qaeda and its affiliates more time to establish networks, attract support and potentially engage in operations with less scrutiny from local security services.
Within U.S. borders, officials said, a mass attack by a foreign group using chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear weapons would be unlikely within the next year but the threat would come from “lone wolf” attackers or small groups not formally affiliated with al Qaeda but inspired by its ideology.
“It's more than just one person. It's an idea. It's a concept, and it's a concept that exists in many parts of the broader world today,” said Michael O'Hanlon, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.
While officials say al Qaeda's new leader, Ayman al-Zawahri, is not as inspirational as bin Laden, it is much too early to count out core al Qaeda.
“Al Qaeda is a resilient organization that's faced incredible difficulties in the past after leaving Afghanistan ,” the senior U.S. counterterrorism official said. “It was patient. It managed to wait us out, and they're clearly attempting to do that again right now.”
“Despite the great progress we've made against al Qaeda, it would be a mistake to believe this threat has passed,” Mr. Brennan said.
Lottery scams target vulnerable Americans
U.S. crackdown making little progress
by David McFadden
MONTEGO BAY, Jamaica — The 88-year-old retired Coast Guard officer hadn't been outside the U.S. in decades. Yet phone calls started pouring in from Jamaica, dangling the prospects of huge winnings from an international lottery that he had won.
There was a catch, of course. He had to send a check to pay the tax on his winnings. He wired the money to Jamaica. Soon he was ensnared in a scam that may cost him his home in an assisted living facility outside Seattle.
“It's been heartbreaking,” said Ruth Wilson, a Seattle woman trying to clean up the financial fiasco that she said has cost her frail parents about $250,000, nearly all of their retirement savings.
U.S. officials say that is just a tiny fraction that cross-border lottery frauds haul in each year, disproportionately from the elderly.
The schemes are so entrenched in Jamaica that some American police departments have begun warning elderly residents to be wary of calls from Jamaica's 876 telephone code, which resembles the three-digit area codes used in the United States.
“These scammers are very persistent and in some cases verbally abusive, threatening to harm victims if they do not send money,” said Maj. Bill King of Maine's York County Sheriff's Office, which launched in March a campaign called “Beware: Scams from Area Code 876.”
Police on the Caribbean island say there are visible signs of the fraud-spawned riches in St. James Parish, the hot spot for the gangs where some twentysomething Jamaicans from modest backgrounds are living very well for people without any obvious job or source of income. Three-story concrete mansions and luxury cars have increasingly popped up in the parish, which includes the resort city of Montego Bay.
The Jamaican and U.S. governments set up a task force three years ago to tackle the crime. But, if anything, the problem only seems to have gotten worse in Jamaica, where organized, violent gangs are deeply entrenched.
Complaints from American citizens about Jamaican lottery fraud soared from 1,867 in 2007 to about 30,000 last year, and most incidents go unreported out of fear or embarrassment, according to the Federal Trade Commission.
Underreported fraud cases
The task force, led by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, has conducted about 400 investigations and made about 115 arrests. U.S. officials say they are receiving cooperation from the Jamaican government, but cases are progressing slowly.
“We have a massive, massive problem and everyone knows it,” said C. Steven Baker, the FTC's Midwest Region director based in Chicago who estimates Jamaica's relentless scammers could be bilking Americans out of $1 billion a year, if not more.
Researchers say lottery and sweepstakes fraud is vastly underreported, estimating up to 92 percent of victims stay silent, so exact figures are impossible to tally.
But even the most conservative estimates put the yearly take from Jamaican scams at $300 million, up from about $30 million three years ago.
Lottery fraud is an old crime, but experts say threats and harassment are what separates Jamaican scammers from other transnational telemarketing schemes based in Canada, Costa Rica, Spain and other countries.
Jamaican gangsters, using fake identities and disposable cellphones that can't be traced, have put a scary twist on the con.
Some have threatened to burn down elderly victims' homes if they don't keep the money coming. Investigators say some senior citizens have been told their grandchildren would be raped unless they wired payments.
“I think [victims] get to the point where they're giving the money out because they're afraid not to,” said Doug Shadel, a Seattle-based AARP expert on fraud schemes and the elderly. “Once you interact with these people, they just will not let you go.”
A common trick is to describe the victim's home via imagery available through Google Earth. Anguished senior citizens who have no inkling of that computer technology are convinced they are being watched.
Here's generally how it starts: Scammers inform their targets they have won an overseas lottery or sweepstakes but first need to make tax payments to obtain the prizes.
Some people are victimized because they appear on “sucker lists” of people who have been defrauded or targeted by criminal telemarketers in the past. The lists are created, bought and sold by the con artists. Cold calls and direct mail promising lottery winnings lure new victims.
The scammers build trust and rapport with their targets. But payments lead to only more requests for money. Swindlers often instruct elderly victims not to tell bank tellers or relatives the reasons for their withdrawals, warning it will ruin their chances to collect winnings.
Once a victim stops sending money, the threats start and demands for money become relentless.
‘Everybody's hands are tied'
Ms. Wilson said her elderly father became so enmeshed with the fraud artists that he even followed their instructions to buy a new phone and block his daughters from calling him.
Meanwhile, the cheats pressured him to wire money and provide passwords for all his accounts.
If victims try to recover losses, the Jamaican cheats sometimes even pose as investigators and ask for more money, saying they need payments to help collect evidence on the criminals.
The U.S.-Jamaica task force, dubbed Jamaica Operations Linked to Telemarketing, or JOLT, has seized only $1.1 million since it began in 2009, said Rex Setzer, section chief of the ICE unit that oversees the effort.
Mr. Setzer said U.S. task force members and many Jamaican police are doing their best, but a scarcity of crime-fighting technology in Jamaica, lengthy court delays and strict rules of evidence are hindering their efforts.
“Everybody's hands are tied with the system down there,” Mr. Setzer said from Washington.
Law enforcement officials find the transnational scams among the hardest crimes to investigate and prosecute because there is usually no paper trail and no face-to-face interaction.
In recent weeks, Jamaican police have reported an uptick in seizures and arrests, including the detention of 22 suspected scammers in March after raids of eight homes in St. James.
But law enforcers acknowledge recent successes have done little against the scale of the problem.
Senior police commanders and ICE officials say the lottery scams in Jamaica range from gang-led “boiler room” operations with multiple people making calls down to one-man shops.
Competition for the sucker lists is so intense that police believe that lottery fraud rings are behind 40 percent of the homicides in St. James.
“Jamaica is getting a very bad reputation abroad as a nation of scammers,” Police Commissioner Owen Ellington said.
U.S. infants in drug withdrawal triples
Treated with methadone because of mothers' opiate abuse
by Lindsey Tanner
CHICAGO — Less than a month old, Savannah Dannelley scrunches her tiny face into a scowl as a nurse gently squirts a dose of methadone into her mouth.
The infant is going through drug withdrawal and is being treated with the same narcotic prescribed for her mother to fight addiction to powerful prescription painkillers.
Disturbing new research says the number of U.S. babies born with signs of opiate drug withdrawal has tripled in a decade because of a surge in pregnant women's use of legal and illegal narcotics, including Vicodin, OxyContin and heroin, researchers say. It is the first national study of the problem.
The number of newborns with withdrawal symptoms increased from a little more than 1 per 1,000 babies sent home from the hospital in 2000 to more than 3 per 1,000 in 2009, the study found. More than 13,000 U.S. infants were affected in 2009, the researchers estimated.
The newborns include babies like Savannah, whose mother stopped abusing painkillers and switched to prescription methadone early in pregnancy, and those whose mothers are still abusing legal or illegal drugs.
Weaning infants from these drugs can take weeks or months and often requires a lengthy stay in intensive care units. Hospital charges for treating these newborns soared from $190 million to $720 million between 2000 and 2009, the study found.
The study was released online Monday in the Journal of the American Medical Association .
Savannah is hooked up to heart and oxygen monitors in an Oak Lawn, Ill., newborn intensive care unit. She sleeps fitfully in a pink crib, sometimes cries all night and has had diarrhea and trouble feeding - typical signs of withdrawal. Some affected babies also have breathing problems, low birth weights and seizures.
It nearly breaks her young mother's heart.
“It's really hard, every day, emotionally and physically,” said Aileen Dannelley, 25. “It's really hard when your daughter is born addicted.”
Doctors say newborns aren't really addicted, but their bodies are dependent on methadone or other opiates because of their mothers' use during pregnancy. Giving them small methadone doses to wean them off these drugs is safer than cutting them off altogether, which can cause dangerous seizures and even death, said Dr. Mark Brown, chief of pediatrics at Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor.
It's the 21st-century version of what was known as the “crack baby” epidemic of the 1980s. Some experts say that epidemic was overblown and that infants born to mothers using crack cocaine face no serious long-term health problems. Some think the current problem is being overblown, too.
Doctors pushing powerful painkillers “like candy” contribute to the problem, said Arturo Valdez, who runs the Chicago substance abuse program that Aileen Dannelley attends.
Patients at his West Side clinic include men and women who are prescribed opiate painkillers for legitimate reasons, such as car-accident injuries, and find themselves addicted when the prescription runs out. Some turn to street drugs, which can be cheaper and easier to obtain, Mr. Valdez said.
From Google News
Florida task force seeks major overhaul to Stand Your Ground law
by Toluse Olorunnipa
The statewide task force to review Florida's Stand Your Ground law will begin its work Tuesday, but a state senator who formed his own task force is recommending the law be rewritten to make it more difficult for defendants to claim self-defense.
Sen. Chris Smith, D-Fort Lauderdale, said Monday the controversial law should be revised to allow law enforcement officers more leeway to investigate shootings of unarmed victims and make the self-defense protection less available to criminals looking for an out.
“We wanted to make sure that we put together an accurate report, to give the governor direction, to give the Legislature direction and to give the governor's task force direction,” he said. “Every day this law is being used and misused in courtrooms throughout the state of Florida.”
His task force recommended that those claiming self-defense should have the opportunity to make their claim before a grand jury, which can decide whether to bring charges or dismiss. The group also pushed for more clear wording in the statute and a new system to track all the cases where stand your ground is used as a defense. The 18-member group did not recommend that the law be repealed.
Gov. Rick Scott's official task force on public safety meets Tuesday to establish its mission and plan future meetings. That 19-member panel will put forth recommendations to the governor and the Legislature about Stand Your Ground and other safety issues.
Smith was not assigned to the public safety task force and said his request to present his findings to the group on Tuesday was denied. The inaugural meeting is mainly for organizational purposes, and public testimony will not be allowed. The public will be able to speak at future meetings.
“I guess I'll attend and maybe put [the recommendations] on their windshield wipers in their cars campaign-style afterwards,” he said.
Like Smith's task force, the governor's panel includes both prosecutors and criminal defense attorneys, who often square of in court in self -defense cases.
Mark Seiden, a Miami criminal defense lawyer who claims he has never lost a self-defense trial, said he will come to Tallahassee with an open mind on the law but respect for the right to bear arms.
“There are certainly many positive points to the law and whatever we do we should keep in mind that our state and our country have a strong Second Amendment background,” he said.
Katherine Fernandez Rundle, Miami-Dade's state attorney, said her office has seen stand your ground defenses used in hundreds of cases, with some trying to apply it to domestic violence crimes. She referenced the case of Sherdavia Jenkins, the 9-year-old girl caught in crossfire of a Liberty City gunfight. The shooter unsuccessfully claimed stand your ground.
Fernandez Rundle said she would keep an open mind, but she's found the law has had "very little consistency in application."
"Our experience here is that there have been some tragic unintended consequences and that there have been some unfortunate legal consequences," she said.
Smith said his task force reviewed about 100 cases where a stand-your-ground defense was used successfully.
In several cases, task force members agreed that the law had been used by guilty people to escape justice.
“This is being used in many, many cases,” he said. “This is being used with a prostitute killing her john, this is being used in gang fights, this is being used everywhere.”
Profiled at airport? There's an app for that.
by Suzanne Gamboa
A Sikh advocacy group launched a free mobile application Monday that allows travelers to complain immediately to the government if they feel they've been treated unfairly by airport screeners.
Launched at midnight Monday by the Sikh Coalition, the FlyRights app had fielded two complaints by 10 a.m.
The first complaint came from a woman who said she felt mistreated after she disclosed to a screener that she was carrying breast milk. A man who is Sikh filed the second complaint, saying he was subjected to extra security even though he had not set off any alarms. The woman's complaint was based on gender and the man's, religion, said coalition program director Amardeep Singh.
Singh said the Department of Homeland Security and Transportation Security Administration were notified of the app before its launch. The agencies agreed to allow the app to use the agencies' system for submitting the complaints.
TSA said in a statement that it does not profile passengers on the basis of race, ethnicity or religion and is continually working with communities, including the Sikh Coalition, “to help us understand unique passenger concerns.” The agency said it supports “efforts to gather passenger feedback about the screening process.”
The app, available for iPhone and Android devices, was conceived in response to complaints from Sikhs in the United States who, since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks are routinely subjected to additional inspection, Singh said. Some are made to remove their turbans, which Sikhs wear for religious reasons, Singh said.
The app is intended for everyone who feels they are racially profiled or subjected to other unfair treatment. It is also intended to provide better data on how often such incidents occur.
In the wake of the shooting of Trayvon Martin in Florida, immigration laws in Alabama and Arizona, and the anniversary of the Rodney King trial “it has never been more readily apparent how the practice of racial profiling impacts all Americans,” said Wade Henderson, president and chief executive of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. The conference helped launch the app.
After completing screening, a person can go to the app and click on the “report” button. The app will automatically fill in the person's name, phone number and e-mail address. The app asks questions such as race and name of airport, as well as the basis of the complaint, such as religion or gender. It has “submit” and “share” buttons to post on social media that a complaint was filed. The app also contains information on rights of passengers and TSA procedures.
The Sikh Coalition gets hundreds of complaints of unfair treatment and profiling, Singh said. By contrast, he said, DHS said in its last report to Congress on civil rights and civil liberties that 11 people in the United States submitted complaints in the first six months of 2011.
“My hope is that this app will exponentially increase the number of complaints filed with the TSA, flood the system so they get that this is a problem. For too long the Transportation Security Administration has been able to tell Congress this is not an issue, nobody's complaining,” Singh said.
Passengers can ask to speak to supervisors or customer support managers at an airport, contact the TSA Contact Center, submit feedback through “Talk-to-TSA” online or file a civil rights complaint through its Web site, the agency said.
Prabhjit Singh, a motivational speaker, said he has been profiled 30 times, starting in February 2007 when he was taking an early morning flight from Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport to Alabama. In that incident, he was told he had to go through a mandatory pat-down of his turban, even though he had not set off the detector. But after asking for information on the TSA policy, a supervisor told him he could not fly, he said.
“Out of those 30 incidents, I have not yet been able to take myself and write down all the information I needed to and been able to convey that to the Sikh Coalition. This app will allow me to do that,” said Prabhjit Singh, who is not related to Amardeep Singh.
“When I sat down on that airplane, after that experience, I looked around at everybody else .?.?. and I thought, they did not have to go through what I had to go through to get on this airplane,” he said.