Person of interest a focus in ricin letters case: Sources
Investigators have identified a person of interest as they seek the sender of three apparently licin-tainted letters sent to New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and President Obama, sources tell CBS News.
Authorities were seen searching the area of a home in New Boston, Texas on Thursday in video shot by CBS Shreveport, La. Affiliate KSLA-TV.
Officials said Thursday a suspicious letter mailed to the White House and intercepted this week was similar to two threatening, apparently poison-laced letters on the gun law debate sent to Bloomberg, one of the nation's staunchest gun-control advocates.
This, as yet another letter became known publicly Thursday, one tainted with the poison ricin and mailed to President Obama from Spokane, Wash. , the FBI said. Authorities have arrested a man in Spokane in connection with that letter, which was intercepted May 22.
The Secret Service said the White House-bound letter similar to the ones Bloomberg was sent was intercepted by a White House mail screening facility. Two similar letters postmarked in Louisiana and sent to Bloomberg in New York and his gun control group in Washington contained apparent traces of the deadly poison ricin.
It wasn't immediately clear whether the letter sent to Mr. Obama contained ricin. It was turned over to the FBI's Joint Terrorism Task Force for testing and investigation.
The two Bloomberg letters, opened Friday in New York and Sunday in Washington, contained an oily pinkish-orange substance.
New York Police Department Commissioner Raymond Kelly said Thursday the same machine or computer had produced the two letters to Bloomberg and the similar one to the president and that they may be identical. He referred specific questions to the FBI.
The FBI said in a statement that field tests on the letters were consistent with the presence of a biological agent, and the letters were turned over to an accredited laboratory for the kind of thorough analysis that is needed to verify a tentative finding. "More letters may be received," the statement said, without elaboration.
The body of the letter mailed to New York was addressed to "you" and referenced the gun control debate. Kelly said the unsigned letter says, in so many words, "Anyone who comes for my guns will be shot in the face." He refused to quote directly from the letter, saying he didn't want to do the author's bidding.
Bloomberg has emerged as one of the country's most important gun-control advocates, able to press his case with both his public position and his private money.
The New York letter was opened at the city's mail facility in Manhattan in a biochemical containment box, which is a part of the screening process for mayor's office mail.
"In terms of the processes and procedures that are in place now, we think they worked," Kelly said. "This is sort of an effect of the post-9/11 world that we live in that these checks and facilities are in place and the system worked."
The second letter was opened Sunday by Mark Glaze, director of Mayors Against Illegal Guns, the Washington-based nonprofit Bloomberg started.
The letter Glaze opened tested positive for ricin initially. The other letter to Bloomberg at first tested negative but tested positive at a retest Wednesday.
The postal workers union, citing information it got in a Postal Service briefing, said the letters bore a Shreveport, La., postmark. Kelly would not comment on the origin of the letter.
Louisiana State Police spokeswoman Julie Lewis said state authorities have deferred to the FBI and have not opened an investigation. The Shreveport postal center handles mail from Louisiana, Texas and Arkansas, so the letter could have come from any of those states, Lewis said.
The people who initially came into contact with the letters showed no symptoms of exposure to the poison, but three officers who later examined the New York letter experienced minor symptoms that have since abated, police said. The mayor visited the mailroom on Thursday but made no public comments on the topic.
On Wednesday, he said he didn't know why they were sent.
One of the letters "obviously referred to our anti-gun efforts, but there's 12,000 people that are going to get killed this year with guns and 19,000 that are going to commit suicide with guns, and we're not going to walk away from those efforts," said Bloomberg, adding that he didn't feel threatened.
According to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, ricin is a poison found naturally in castor beans. Symptoms can include difficulty breathing, vomiting and redness on the skin depending on how the affected person comes into contact with the poison.
The letters were the latest in a string of toxin-laced missives, but authorities would not say whether the letters to Bloomberg and Mr. Obama were believed to be linked to any other recent case.
In Washington state, a 37-year-old was charged last week with threatening to kill a federal judge in a letter that contained ricin. On Thursday, the FBI said a suspicious letter containing ricin was mailed to Mr. Obama from Spokane on the same day similar ricin-tainted letters were mailed to the judge and to a post office. A fourth letter, sent to nearby Fairchild Air Force Base, continues to undergo testing, officials said.
About a month earlier, letters containing the substance were addressed to Obama, a U.S. senator and a Mississippi judge. One of the letters postmarked in Memphis, Tenn., was traced back to Tupelo, Miss., and a Mississippi man was arrested.
Bloomberg and Boston Mayor Thomas Menino founded Mayors Against Illegal Guns, which now counts more than 700 mayors nationwide as members. It lobbies federal and state lawmakers, and it aired a spate of television ads this year urging Congress to expand background checks and pass other gun-control measures after the school shooting in Newtown, Conn. The background check proposal failed in a Senate vote in April, and other measures gun-control advocates wanted — including a ban on sales of military-style assault weapons — have stalled.
Separately, Bloomberg also has made political donations to candidates who share his desire for tougher gun restrictions. His super PAC, Independence USA, put $2.2 million into a Democratic primary this winter for a congressional seat in Illinois, for example. Bloomberg's choice, former state lawmaker Robin Kelly, won.
Iran's sponsorship of terrorism sees "marked resurgence" : U.S.
by Warren Strobel
(Reuters) - Iran's sponsorship of terrorism overseas underwent "a marked resurgence" in 2012, reaching levels not seen in 20 years, the U.S. State Department charged on Thursday in its annual report on trends in political violence.
The report cited a series of actual and planned attacks in Europe and Asia linked to Hezbollah, Iran's Lebanon-based ally, including a July 2012 bombing in Bulgaria that killed five Israeli citizens and a Bulgarian, and wounded 32 others.
"The year 2012 was ... notable in demonstrating a marked resurgence of Iran's state sponsorship of terrorism," via Tehran's elite al Quds force, its intelligence ministry, and Hezbollah, the report said. " Iran and Hezbollah's terrorist activity has reached a tempo unseen since the 1990s."
There was no immediate reply to a request for comment from Iran's mission to the United Nations.
Last July, Iran's U.N. ambassador denied his country's involvement in the Bulgaria bombing, which he accused Israel of carrying out. "We have never, and will not, engage in such a despicable attempt on ... innocent people," Ambassador Mohammed Khazaee said.
The report's release comes as U.S. and European officials and intelligence agencies say Iran and Hezbollah have stepped up their military backing for the besieged government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah on Saturday publicly committed the group to an Assad victory over Syrian rebels who, like the Damascus government, have been accused of abuses in the two-year-old civil war.
"Both Iran and Hezbollah are providing a broad range of critical support to the Assad regime, as it continues its brutal crackdown against the Syrian people," the State Department report said.
The report covers events in 2012 and does not include such incidents as the Boston Marathon bombings in the United States or last week's brutal killing of a British soldier on a London street.
President Barack Obama last week announced he was shifting the United States away from a "boundless global war on terror" begun by his predecessor as a response to the September 11, 2001, attacks. While continuing to target militants, he said he would restrict deadly drone strikes abroad and seek once again to close the Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba.
Overall, the State Department's "Country Reports on Terrorism 2012" paints a mixed picture of efforts to counter violent extremism.
It said that al Qaeda's Pakistan-based core group "continued to weaken" and that losses in leadership have driven the group's affiliates to become more independent, "setting their own goals and specifying their own targets."
Al Qaeda's two most dangerous franchises, Yemen-based al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and al Shabaab in Somalia, "have suffered significant setbacks," it said.
But at the same time, the tumultuous events set in motion by the "Arab Spring" revolutions have complicated the picture, the report said. The dispersal of weapons stocks following the fall of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi as well as the coup in Mali "presented terrorists with new opportunities," it said.
Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), the report said, is seeking to establish a long-term presence in Syria "under the pseudonym of al-Nusrah Front," an anti-Assad rebel group that the U.S. government has designated a terrorist organization.
Iraq was the site of three of the 10 most lethal attacks worldwide in 2012, it said, and 97 percent of the strikes whose perpetrator could be identified were attributed to AQI.
While terrorist attacks occurred in 85 countries last year, 55 percent of the attacks and 62 percent of the fatalities took place in just three countries: Pakistan, Iraq and Afghanistan, the State Department said.
The report said there were 6,771 terrorist attacks in 2012, killing 11,098 people. More than 1,280 people were kidnapped or taken hostage.
Because of changes in methodology, the figures are not directly comparable to previous years, it said.
(The full report is available at www.state.gov/j/ct/rls/crt/2012/index.htm)
Cyber threats pose 'stealthy, insidious' danger: defense chief
by David Alexander
(Reuters) - Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said on Friday that cyber threats posed a "quiet, stealthy, insidious" danger to the United States and other nations, and called for "rules of the road" to guide behavior and avoid conflict on global computer networks.
Hagel said he would address cyber security in his speech on Saturday to the Shangri-La Security Dialogue in Singapore and the issue was likely to come up in a brief meeting with Chinese delegates on the margins of the conference.
"Cyber threats are real, they're terribly dangerous," Hagel told reporters on his plane en route to the gathering. "They're probably as insidious and real a threat (as there is) to the United States, as well as China , by the way, and every nation."
Cyber conflict could lead to "quiet, stealthy, insidious, dangerous outcomes," from taking down power grids to destroying financial systems or neutralizing defense networks, Hagel said.
"That's not a unique threat to the United States, (it affects) everybody, so we've got to find ways here ... working with the Chinese, working with everybody, (to develop) rules of the road, some international understandings, some responsibility that governments have to take," he said.
Hagel's remarks came two days after news reports said the Defense Science Board - a committee of civilian experts who advise the Defense Department - had concluded that Chinese hackers have gained access to the designs of more than two dozen major U.S. weapons systems in recent years. The Pentagon downplayed the report as outdated and overstated.
But the Defense Department underscored its concerns about Chinese hacking in a separate report to Congress earlier this month, accusing Beijing of using cyber espionage to modernize its military.
The report said the U.S. government had been the target of hacking that appeared to be "attributable directly to the Chinese government and military."
President Barack Obama has made cyber security a priority of the administration and will discuss his concerns with Chinese President Xi Jinping in a meeting in California next week, White House spokesman Jay Carney said earlier this week.
Hagel told reporters on his plane to Singapore that he had invited Chinese Defense Minister Chang Wanquan to visit the United States and a trip was being organized for August.
Asked whether it was effective to deal with the issue by publicly naming China, Hagel said he thought both public diplomacy and private engagement were necessary. Public statements are necessary to let people know what is going on, he said, but it doesn't solve problems.
"The United States knows ... where many of these incursions come from," Hagel said. "It's pretty hard to prove that they are directed by any specific entity, but we can tell where they come from. And I think we've got to be honest about that."
The problem will ultimately be solved by more private discussions, he added. "But it has to be public as well and we'll deal with this. We must deal with this. This is a very dangerous threat to all of us."
Hagel is due to spend two days at the Shangri-La dialogue, engaging in bilateral and trilateral meetings with his Asian counterparts. He helped gain support for the annual dialogue as a U.S. senator more than a decade ago and was a leader of the first U.S. congressional delegation to the event.
After Singapore, Hagel will travel to a NATO ministerial meeting in Brussels that will hold its first review of cyber defense, a sign the issue is climbing to the top of the alliance's agenda due to concerns its infrastructure and secrets are vulnerable.
NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen has said NATO systems face "regular" computer attacks. Of particular concern are the systems used to coordinate military actions among the 28 allied nations.
Hagel said cyber security would be a centerpiece of the NATO defense ministers meeting, adding "we all need to find ways, international standards, agreements" to commit to responsible use of cyber and "deal with these real threats."
Police to use hot dogs to keep Vineland safe
by Deborah M. Marko
VINELAND — Hoping to encourage some goodwill around the grill, Vineland police have scheduled a trio of community barbecues this summer.
The city's Community Policing Unit is inviting the public to its “Dog Days of Summer” events. The officers will be cooking up hot dogs that they'll give away along with beverages.
The Saturday afternoon barbecues are set for central locations near Center City apartment complexes.
Mark your calendar for the one closest to you. Each is scheduled for noon to 2 p.m.:
• June 15 — 400 block of North Sixth Street.
• June 27 — 1000 block of Florence Avenue
• July 20 — Carl Arthur Center on Plum Street.
“It's just about building relationships,” Officer Joe Pagano said. “We're going to them.”
The Community Policing Unit has launched new face-to-face ways to get to know the public. It has hosted neighborhood meetings and set up Coffee with a Cop gatherings; officers regularly eat lunch with students in school cafeterias.
But, Pagano said, the policing unit can't claim the hot dog barbecue as its own idea. Sgt. Vince Solazzo, before he retired, successfully hosted summer barbecues in Vineland.
“We are reviving the idea,” Pagano said.
When there's a police presence at an apartment complex, there's usually a curiosity about why officers are there. The Community Policing Unit is trying to change the perception that it's always a negative thing to see police in the neighborhood.
“We want to be there for the good stuff,” Pagano said. “I can't stress enough, we have to show people that we are here to help them.”
To best serve the public, he said, police must have their help.
Pagano will be manning the barbecue. He joked he graduated from the police academy with grill master honors.
The community outreach efforts culminate with the grandest event of the year, National Night Out, which is set for 5 to 9 p.m. Aug. 6 on the Chestnut Assembly of God grounds on East Chestnut Avenue, near Brewster Road.
There will be food, fun and music. The community is invited to the “going away party” for crime and drugs.
And, Pagano said, “we will have fireworks.”
Chicago Police Say Shooting Deaths Are Declining
After years of shocking gun violence, America's murder capital may be getting its streets under control
by Michael Daly
Chicago seemed the capital of gun violence when 15-year-old Hadiya Pendleton was killed by a stray round there just days after performing at President Obama's second inauguration.
But even then, Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy was reorganizing the department and implementing new strategies that would lead to a dramatic reduction in the violence.
The result: A nearly 40 percent drop in the murder rate and a 30 percent drop in shootings over the same period last year. These recent statistics mean 74 lives saved and 206 fewer shooting victims.
And though McCarthy is careful to call it “progress not victory,” he says the numbers promise to get ever better. He reports that the city is presently on track to post the lowest annual murder rate in more than 50 years.
Carthy detailed this progress and the innovations responsible for it in a 45-minute talk at the City Club in Chicago on May 23. The venue had a particular historical significance because McCarthy is a former deputy commissioner of the New York Police Department. Another former NYPD deputy commissioner, Alexander Piper, was retained by this same civic club back in 1904 to conduct an appraisal of the Chicago police.
What became known as the Piper Report found that the Chicago police department was “inefficient….insufficient” with "practically no discipline.” Piper suggested that “A self-respecting commanding officer, be he inspector, captain, or sergeant, would hesitate to take his pay check if he considered the character of duty he permits the men under him to perform.”
“If is not necessary or me to tell you that you have practically no protection on your streets,” Piper continued.
More than a century later, McCarthy appeared before the club to describe a department that is on the way to doing as much as the police possibly can in the face of societal ills that are beyond the power of any law-enforcement agency to remedy.
“While we're accountable for policing crimes, we're not in control of some things that cause it, like poverty, education or the breakup of the family unit,” he observed.
He noted that the present drop in crime in Chicago had come despite the biggest gang problem in the country. He allowed "this is going to sound a little bit scary” when he reported the number of especially hardcore violent criminals the department had identified.
And then there was the continuing influx of so many illegal guns that the Chicago police seize more than any other city.
“We've up against it, folks,” McCarthy said. “We're drinking from a fire hose.”
He reported that Chicago cops have been recovering illegal guns at nine times the rate of their counterparts in New York--nearly three times the number of weapons in a city one-third the size. And he knows the New York cops to be the equal of the cops in Chicago.
“We're not better at getting them,” he said of the guns. “There's just that many more.”
He added, “Every one of those guns we take, it's an armed confrontation…our men and women putting themselves in harm's way. They don't come up to us and tell us, ‘I've got a gun.'”
The cops continue risking all even though when they arrest someone for gun possession, Illinois law deems it to be a felony no more serious than possession untaxed cigarettes or a bag designed to thwart store anti-shoplifting sensors.
“Are you kidding me?” McCarthy said. “Where's the priority?”
McCarthy reported that a mandatory minimum sentence for gun possession might have prevented 72 recent murders.
“Including the murder of Hadiya Pendleton,” he said, the accused gunman in that case having been free on probation for gun possession.
Part of the Chicago police department's recent progress in such daunting circumstances can be attributed to principles that McCarthy learned in his 25 years with the NYPD. McCarthy was a captain during the revolution in policing of the mid-1990's, when Commissioner Bill Bratton and his resident genius, Deputy Commissioner Jack Maple, transformed the NYPD from a reactive to proactive and cut crime nearly in half in 26 months.
“There was a time when academics and some police departments in the country thought there was nothing we could do about crime other than show up after it happens, take a report and do an investigation,” McCarthy told the club. “[Bratton] changed the way the NYPD and policing is done across the country, probably forever.”
McCarthy implemented these strategies when he himself became a deputy commissioner. He also devised some of his own, notably using rookies fresh out of the academy to walk foot posts in locations that a three year analysis translated to computerized pin maps showed to be the most crime prone.
“Putting cops on the dots,” McCarthy said.
“We've up against it, folks. We're drinking from a fire hose.”
He had gone on to become the police commissioner in Newark, N.J. when he got the call two years ago from Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel asking if he was interested in running the Chicago police department. McCarthy flew in for an interview and his plane landed late. Emanuel is not a guy who likes to be kept waiting.
“I ran through the airport like O.J. before he was a criminal,” McCarthy recalled.
The meeting was at a nearby hotel and McCarthy entered to see Emanuel was on a cell phone. Emanuel paused to speak his first words to the man who would become his new top cop.
“Dude, you're right out of central casting.”
Emanuel then returned to his call. He and McCarthy afterward spoke for an- hour-and-45-minutes. They both envisioned a police department that knocked down crime while being embraced by the community as a protector rather than as an occupying army.
“He said, ‘Okay, we've got a shared vision, you tell me how to do it,'” McCarthy recalled.
The cop, who indeed looks like he is right out of central casting, surprised nobody by pursing aggressive crime busting methods that are measured by statistics. But he also embraced progressive principles that place importance not just on what the police do, but how they do it. These include the concepts procedural justice and police legitimacy put forth by Tracey Meares of Yale. The underlying idea is that police actions have to be viewed as both justified and fair.
“We can engage the community while at the same time reducing crime,” McCarthy told the club.
He emphasized the importance of a key capacity in is approach to police work.
“Being able to walk and chew gum.”
Before he could implement the new strategies, McCarthy had to reorganize the department itself. He began hiring civilians to free up cops on administrative assignments. He disbanded some specialized citywide units, assigning the cops to local commands.
"Having the same officer on the same beat every single day and then being held accountable for everything that happens,” McCarthy said. “They will know the good kids from the bad kids. You stop hearing, ‘Why are you stopping my son?' You know who the criminals are.”
He went on to say that when a beat cop does stop a kid, he has to keep in mind the impression he is making.
“Every single time that you have that interaction you have a teachable moment, and the question becomes what it is that we're teaching,” McCarthy said.
He also placed a high priority on “depoliticizing” the department. He cited a politically connected cop who had received a series of supposedly “merit” promotions until he became commander of one of the toughest districts in the city.
“And that district exploded,” McCarthy said. “It wasn't fair to the individual and it wasn't fair to the community. And we're talking aobut people being murdered.”
He announced a principle that would have been revolutionary under earlier regimes.
“Meritorious promotions are now meritorious if you can believe it,” he said.
He reported that he personally interviewed every candidate for all such promotions and that 21 of the 22 present district commanders were selected by him through that process. They start in the slower districts and progress to the busiest ones. He considers this the most important position in the department.
“We've given them the authority and the accountability,” McCarthy said
McCarthy implemented CompStat as devised by Maple, in which commanders periodically appear along with a computerized map to explain what they were doing about specific crimes and patterns. And McCarthy stuck to the four basic tenets that Maple had first written down on a napkin at Elaine's nightspot at the start of the policing revolution in New York.
“Timely, accurate intelligence…effective tactics… quick response…relentless follow-up and assessment,” McCarthy recited.
Timely intelligence was proving key in combating the gang problem, where many of the shootings are retaliatory. McCarthy had his cops conduct a ”gang audit,” identifying each member and which gangs might be in conflict.
"We charted out the turfs that they call their own – I'm not willing to say they own a turf,” McCarthy reported.
When there was a gang-related shooting, the cops could now predict where a retaliatory shooting was likely to occur and get there first. McCarthy also continued gang “call-ins” practiced before his tenure, where members are summoned to a meeting with law enforcement and social services as well as people from the community. The members are told that if the shootings continue they will be subject to more heat than they can handle. Community members, including the parents of murdered children, try to convey the personal cost of the violence. Social services offer to help members get jobs.
‘Because that's always going to be an excuse; ‘I'm only doing what I'm doing because I can't get a J-O-B,'” McCarthy said,
In describing the efforts against narcotics, McCarthy began by saying that the war on drugs has been a failure.
“We put kilos on the table, we put up organizational charts, we declare victory, we walk away and then somebody else is selling narcotics on that corner before we even finish the press conference,” he said.
McCarthy said that in the absence of being able to rid of the city of drug dealers, he is seeking to teach them that violence is against their self-interest. The lesson begins whenever there is a shooting at a drug location. Undercover officers move in to make buys and then busts. Uniformed cops then occupy the spot.
“We shut down their market,” McCarthy said. “They don't make any money. We train them it's bad for business.”
At the same time, various city series are summoned to clean the street, paint over graffiti and fix potholes and street lamps. The police only then begin to slowly withdraw, having fulfilled what McCarthy views as the department's mission.
“Reduce crime and increase quality of life for the residents of the city,” he said.
He noted that he had not initially been able to purse quality of life violations in Chicago because such low-level illegalities had until recently been classified as civil violations.
“A civil remedy for a criminal offense,” McCarthy said. “That doesn't make a lot of sense.”
'The city council had recently changed that, so anyone who just ignores a ticket for gambling and public consumption of alcohol will be subject to arrest.
At the same time, the police are zeroing in on the 17,000 hardcore criminals. McCarthy said that his father also had been a New York cop and had advised him when he became one that the secret was to go up to the biggest guy on the block and “beat the crap out of him.”
“I said, ‘Dad, I'm going to try something different,'” McCarthy recalled. “But, at the end of the day, I'm using my dad's philosophy here.”
McCarthy's cops had identified 470 among the 17,000 who have the highest likelihood of either committing murder or being murdered.
“We're going after them,” McCarthy said. “We call it hot people policing.”
As all these strategies are coming together and the numbers get better overall, there remain tough days, such as Wednesday, when four people where shot to death and 11 others wounded in a 12 hour period.
But there were still those 74 fewer murder victims and 283 few shooting victims had things just kept going as they had been. And the dude who is proving to be from much more than central casting continues to make Chicago into a city of hope despite the gangs and guns.