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by CSO Contributor

Intelligence Puzzle over N. Korea; Pillow Bombs Feared on Planes; Logan Airport to Launch Cargo-Screening Program; Transit Strike in L.A.

Oct 14, 20034 mins
CSO and CISOData and Information Security

Intelligence Puzzle over N. Korea

New intelligence estimates that North Korea may have produced one, two or even more nuclear weapons in recent months have immersed the Bush administration in another internal debate about the quality of intelligence about illegal weapons, according to a story in todays New York Times. Some Bush advisers say North Korea may be telling the truth about having turned 8,000 nuclear fuel rods into enough weapons-grade plutonium for several warheads. Others, including more cautious intelligence analysts at the State Department, say there is still no proof, and plenty of incentive for the North Koreans to bluff, according to the Times. The International Atomic Energy Agency has taken a middle view: It says that North Korea has enough plutonium to make two bombs, but did not assess whether the North could convert it into a working bomb. President Bush vowed earlier this year that he would never tolerate a nuclear North Korea. But he has left deliberately ambiguous how he defines “tolerate.” He will depart for a visit to Asia in a few days.Pillow Bombs Feared on PlanesThe Washington Post today, airport screeners in the United States and overseas are on the lookout for suspicious pillows, coats and even stuffed animals after U.S. intelligence concluded that al Qaeda operatives are being trained to apply special chemicals to the material inside to transform them into nitrocellulose bombs. Officials said that while airport X-ray machines cannot detect nitrocellulose, another technology called a trace-detection machine can. Screeners rub a suspicious material or object with a specially treated cotton swab or piece of gauze and then insert the swab into the machine. The machine heats the swab and can detect from the vapors whether explosive chemicals or narcotics are present. The Homeland Security Department’s Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has purchased several thousand trace-detection machines in the past year. The Post says the TSA and its predecessor the Federal Aviation Administration claim they have known of this threat for three years. On Aug. 8 the DHS sent a memo to airlines and airport security officials around the world, saying, “We judge this type of threat to be real and continuing.” The existence of the warning was reported by the Spanish newspaper El Mundo earlier this month. In the warning, later obtained by The Washington Post, Homeland Security officials told recipients that the document should not be shared with the media or public.

According to a story in

Logan Airport to Launch Cargo-Screening, Bostons Logan International Airport will become the first in the country to electronically screen cargo before it is loaded on commercial flights as part of a test program. According to the story, the General Accounting Office says about 22 percent of air cargo transported in the United States is carried aboard passenger planes, but only a small percentage of cargo is checked before being shipped. At Logan, a mammoth screening machine will scan full truckloads of cargo at the Boston airport for explosives for the next 30 days. Then Logan officials will probably try other versions of the technology before deciding on a security system for cargo. Logan was the first major airport to install a permanent screening program for all checked baggage. It was the originating airport for the hijacked planes that hit the World Trade Center towers on Sept. 11, 2001.

According to an AP report on

Transit Strike in L.A.The Mercury News. Up to 9,000 union workers could potentially honor the strike, which would go on indefinitely until a contract with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority is agreed upon, according to the Amalgamated Transit Union president. The parties are at odds over the mechanics union’s health fund, which is in dire financial shape. Meanwhile, the AP reports, about 70,000 unionized workers at three supermarket chains in southern California went on strike late Saturday, vowing not to return to work until they receive a contract with health benefits they can approve.

Mechanics for the nation’s third-largest public transportation system went on strike today, shutting down buses and trains that an estimated 500,000 daily riders count on to get around Los Angeles County, according to an AP story in