Daily Archives: August 24, 2011

Parks agency’s stop-sign cameras anger motorists


Todd Andrews is reflected in a traffic enforcement camera near a stop sign in Franklin Canyon Park. He received a $175 citation that was later dismissed, but only after an appeal process he called “a kangaroo court.” (Gary Friedman, Los Angeles Times / August 4, 2011)

Stop-sign cameras: It’s not just the ticket

The Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority is putting stop-sign scofflaws on candid camera in three Santa Monica Mountains parks. It’s legal, but it’s not very nice.

latimes.com | Aug 24, 2011

by Dan Turner

If a tree falls in the woods, does it make a sound? More to the point, if you roll past a stop sign in the woods and nobody is there to see it, do you get a ticket?

You do if you’re in one of the three Santa Monica Mountains parks overseen by the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority where stop-sign scofflaws are on candid camera. The authority has set traps for unsuspecting motorists by installing video cameras at stop signs and mailing citations to those who fail to come to a complete halt. According to a recent report by Times staff writer Martha Groves, the cameras generated $2.4 million in fines in the authority’s latest fiscal year, with the ticket program accounting for 8% of its budget.

I’m among the drivers whose pockets were electronically picked, and my biggest complaint is that I don’t really have much right to complain about it. I was, without a doubt, guilty of rolling past a stop sign in Franklin Canyon Park, as snapshots I received in the mail along with my $175 ticket made clear. If I had been more sharp-eyed, I would have noticed the sign warning that there was a camera enforcement program in place, and I would have made sure to come to a complete stop. But while Angelenos are pretty well familiar with red-light cameras by now, who’s ever heard of a stop-sign camera?

Yes, I know that you should come to a complete stop at an octagonal sign even if there’s no camera present. But this particular sign in Franklin Canyon seems like it was put there as an invitation to roll through it, a lure as appealing to a driver as a curly tail grub is to a largemouth bass. The speed limit in the park is just 15 mph, and there wasn’t a soul around; my very slow rolling right turn through the sign didn’t put anybody in danger.

Is the authority guilty of entrapment? No. But informing people that they’ve committed a traffic violation weeks after the fact doesn’t do much to alter driver behavior (those instant-feedback digital signs that tell you when you’re exceeding the speed limit are more effective), and although the authority claims the camera program has made the parks safer, it hasn’t presented any accident statistics to back that up.

The authority is within its rights to use the cameras, according to an appeals court decision last month. But just because you can doesn’t mean you should; an otherwise highly worthwhile agency that works to preserve badly needed open space in the Santa Monica Mountains is trashing its own reputation by resorting to a sneaky fundraising scheme.

Royal military advisers cost taxpayer £1 milion


The equerries are permanently attached to the Queen, who is head of the Armed Forces, along with Prince Philip, Prince Charles, the Duke of York, the Duke of Gloucester and Duke of Kent.

thisislondon.co.uk | Aug 23, 2011

by Craig Woodhouse

The Queen and five other members of the royal family today faced demands to give up their full-time military advisers, who cost the taxpayer almost £1 million a year.

A total of 13 equerries from the Armed Forces provide “specialist service knowledge and assistance” to the royals in their military roles and engagements, according to the Ministry of Defence.

MPs and campaigners said the posts, paid for out of the defence budget, were “excessive” when the military is facing deep cuts elsewhere. The £960,000 bill would pay for 55 soldiers on a starting salary of £17,265.

The equerries are permanently attached to the Queen, who is head of the Armed Forces, along with Prince Philip, Prince Charles, the Duke of York, the Duke of Gloucester and Duke of Kent.

Competition is fierce for the posts, which are rotated between the services. The job as Queen’s equerry is a three-year placement while most of the others are for two years.

The details were uncovered by shadow defence minister Kevan Jones, who told the Standard: “When the Forces are stretched in Afghanistan and Libya and cuts are being made elsewhere, this should be funded by the Treasury as part of the support given to the royal household.”

Paul Flynn, Labour MP for Newport West, said: “This is a very large amount of money and a large number of people to be doing duties that royal servants should be doing.”

But defence sources said the helpers worked hard in their roles, accompanying royalty on about 200 events a year each.

Commemorative 9/11 wines stirring controversy and stoking anger

A controversial wine that’s being sold to commemorate the upcoming 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks for the symbolic sum of $19.11 is drawing heat for what critics pan as a tasteless ploy to capitalize on a tragedy.

Relaxnews | Aug 22, 2011

A winery from Long Island is coming out with a commemorative 9/11 wine to mark the 10th anniversary.

The 9/11 Memorial Commemorative wines, produced by Lieb Cellars on Long Island, has drawn the expletive-laced ire of celebrity chef and No Reservations telelvision star Anthony Bourdain on Twitter, after @FDNY EMS Website — the Fire Department and Emergency Medical Services of New York — reached out to Bourdain, calling out his former stomping grounds, French brasserie Les Halles in New York for selling the wine.

Calling the wines “grotesque, exploitative,” and “vomit inducing,” Bourdain reacted swiftly to the news and pulled some strings to remove the product from the restaurant’s menu.

Lieb Cellars, meanwhile, says proceeds of all sales will go towards the National September 11 Memorial Museum. In an interview with the LA Times, the winery said that amounts to six to 10 percent of sales.

The red wine is described as a barrel-fermented 2010 merlot, while their chardonnay is fermented in stainless steel, with dominant flavors of green apple, hints of citrus and pineapple, and a vanilla finish.

Or as one vociferous Twitterer put it, “9/11 wine. The dominant flavors are reminiscent of fresh green apples with underlying hints of VULTURES.”

Both retail for $19.11.

The winery also offers a September Mission Merlot for $9.11, with 10 percent of proceeds going towards the September’s Mission Foundation, a nonprofit organization.

The memorial wines are listed under Lieb’s ‘Great Wines for Good Causes.’

Other wine labels that support good causes include Fledgling Wine, a collaboration between Twitter, Crushpad and Room to Read which supports literacy and education in Asia and Africa, and Humanitas, which supports outfits like Feeding America and Habitat for Humanity.

 

For more info, visit http://www.liebcellars.com/.

NYPD spying in Muslim areas – with CIA’s help


Pedestrians start their morning under the watchful eyes of surveillance cameras in Times Square in New York, Tuesday, Aug. 19, 2011. (AP Photo/John Minchillo) (AP)

Last month, the CIA deepened its ties to the NYPD. It sent one of its most senior spies to New York to work out of police headquarters, on the CIA payroll. He is a special assistant in the intelligence division but U.S. officials said he is not doing intelligence-gathering.

CBS | Aug 24, 2011

NEW YORK – Since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the New York Police Department has become one of the nation’s most aggressive domestic intelligence agencies, targeting ethnic communities in ways that would run afoul of civil liberties rules if practiced by the federal government, an Associated Press investigation has found.

The operations have benefited from unprecedented help from the CIA, a partnership that has blurred the line between foreign and domestic spying.

The department has dispatched undercover officers, known as “rakers,” into minority neighborhoods as part of a human mapping program, according to officials directly involved in the program. They’ve monitored daily life in bookstores, bars, cafes and nightclubs. Police have also used informants, known as “mosque crawlers,” to monitor sermons, even when there’s no evidence of wrongdoing.

Neither the city council, which finances the department, nor the federal government, which has given NYPD more than $1.6 billion since 9/11, is told exactly what’s going on.

Many of these operations were built with help from the CIA, which is prohibited from spying on Americans but was instrumental in transforming the NYPD’s intelligence unit.

A veteran CIA officer, while still on the agency’s payroll, was the architect of the NYPD’s intelligence programs. The CIA trained a police detective at the Farm, the agency’s spy school in Virginia, then returned him to New York, where he put his new espionage skills to work inside the United States.

And just last month, the CIA sent a senior officer to work as a clandestine operative inside police headquarters.

The NYPD denied that it trolls ethnic neighborhoods and said it only follows leads. Police operations have disrupted terrorist plots and put several would-be killers in prison.

“The New York Police Department is doing everything it can to make sure there’s not another 9/11 here and that more innocent New Yorkers are not killed by terrorists,” NYPD spokesman Paul Browne said. “And we have nothing to apologize for in that regard.”

AP’s investigation is based on documents and interviews with more than 40 current and former New York Police Department and federal officials. Many were directly involved in planning and carrying out these secret operations for the department. Though most said the tactics were appropriate and made the city safer, many insisted on anonymity, because they were not authorized to speak with reporters about security matters.

In response to the story, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a leading Muslim civil rights organization, called on the Justice Department to investigate. The Justice Department had no immediate comment.

“This is potentially illegal what they’re doing,” said Gadeir Abbas, a staff attorney with the organization.

After the terrorist attacks, New York hired retired CIA official David Cohen to transform its intelligence division.

Among Cohen’s earliest moves at the NYPD was asking for help from his old CIA colleagues. He needed someone who had access to the latest intelligence so the NYPD wouldn’t have to rely on the FBI to dole out information.

CIA Director George Tenet dispatched Larry Sanchez, a respected CIA veteran, to New York while Sanchez was still on the CIA payroll, three former intelligence officials said. Sanchez directed and mentored officers, schooling them in the art of gathering information, officials said.

There had never been an arrangement like it, and some senior CIA officials soon began questioning whether Tenet was allowing Sanchez to operate on both sides of the wall that’s supposed to keep the CIA out of the domestic intelligence business.

“It should not be a surprise to anyone that, after 9/11, the Central Intelligence Agency stepped up its cooperation with law enforcement on counterterrorism issues or that some of that increased cooperation was in New York, the site of ground zero,” CIA spokeswoman Jennifer Youngblood said.

Cohen also persuaded a federal judge to loosen rules and allow police to open investigations before there’s any indication a crime has been committed.

With that newfound authority, Cohen created a secret squad that would soon infiltrate Muslim neighborhoods, according to several current and former officials directly involved in the program.

The NYPD assigned undercover officers to monitor neighborhoods, looking for potential trouble. Using census data, police matched undercover officers to ethnic communities and instructed them to blend in, the officials said. They hung out in hookah bars and cafes, quietly observing the community around them.

The unit, which has been undisclosed until now, became known inside the department as the Demographic Unit, former police officials said.

“It’s not a question of profiling. It’s a question of going where the problem could arise,” said Mordecai Dzikansky, a retired NYPD intelligence officer who said he was aware of the Demographic Unit. “And thank God we have the capability. We have the language capability and the ethnic officers. That’s our hidden weapon.”

Cohen said he wanted the squad to “rake the coals, looking for hot spots,” former officials recalled. The undercover officers soon became known inside the department as rakers.

For years, detectives also used informants known as mosque crawlers to monitor weekly sermons and report what was said, several current and former officials directly involved in the informant program said. If FBI agents were to do that, they would be in violation of the Privacy Act, which prohibits the federal government from collecting intelligence on purely First Amendment activities.

Browne, the NYPD spokesman, flatly denied the accounts of mosque crawlers and rakers. He said the NYPD only uses undercover officers and informants to follow leads, not to target ethnic neighborhoods.

“We will go into a location, whether it’s a mosque or a bookstore, if the lead warrants it, and at least establish whether there’s something that requires more attention,” Browne said.

Last month, the CIA deepened its ties to the NYPD. It sent one of its most senior spies to New York to work out of police headquarters, on the CIA payroll. He is a special assistant in the intelligence division but U.S. officials said he is not doing intelligence-gathering. His name remains classified.

“It’s like starting the CIA over in the post-9/11 world,” Cohen said in “Protecting the City,” a laudatory 2009 book about the NYPD. “What would you do if you could begin it all over again? Hah. This is what you would do.”

SEC shredded Wall Street criminal probe records for 20 years


Wall Street financier Bernard Madoff leaving federal court in New York on March 10, 2009, after agreeing to plead guilty to 11 counts of fraud, theft money laundering and perjury for a decades-long Ponzi scheme that cost investors an estimated $20 billion. The Securities and Exchange Commission reportedly routinely destroyed records of initial investigations over the past two decades, including two early inquiries into Madoff that were closed without action. By Stan Honda, AFP/Getty Image

USA TODAY | Aug 18, 2011

By Michael Winter

A former Securities and Exchange Commission lawyer has told Congress the Wall Street regulator has routinely destroyed records of initial investigations over the past 20 years, obliterating evidence of possible financial crimes by some of the same firms and individuals involved in the 2008 meltdown, Rolling Stonereports.

One top agency official estimated that 18,000 investigations were involved, including two aborted inquiries into the activities of Bernard Madoff, who in 2009 pleaded guilty to a $20 billion Ponzi scheme that sent him to prison for 150 years.

Rolling Stone writes, “By whitewashing the files of some of the nation’s worst financial criminals, the SEC has kept an entire generation of federal investigators in the dark about past inquiries into insider trading, fraud and market manipulation against companies like Goldman Sachs, Deutsche Bank and AIG. …”

The magazine’s Matt Taibbi explains:

Under a deal the SEC worked out with the National Archives and Records Administration, all of the agency’s records -– “including case files relating to preliminary investigations” –- are supposed to be maintained for at least 25 years. But the SEC, using history-altering practices that for once actually deserve the overused and usually hysterical term “Orwellian,” devised an elaborate and possibly illegal system under which staffers were directed to dispose of the documents from any preliminary inquiry that did not receive approval from senior staff to become a full-blown, formal investigation. Amazingly, the wholesale destruction of the cases -– known as MUIs, or “Matters Under Inquiry” -– was not something done on the sly, in secret. The enforcement division of the SEC even spelled out the procedure in writing, on the commission’s internal website. “After you have closed a MUI that has not become an investigation,” the site advised staffers, “you should dispose of any documents obtained in connection with the MUI.”

Many of the destroyed files involved companies and individuals who would later play prominent roles in the economic meltdown of 2008. Two MUIs involving con artist Bernie Madoff vanished. So did a 2002 inquiry into financial fraud at Lehman Brothers, as well as a 2005 case of insider trading at the same soon-to-be-bankrupt bank. A 2009 preliminary investigation of insider trading by Goldman Sachs was deleted, along with records for at least three cases involving the infamous hedge fund SAC Capital.

The whistle-blower is identified as Darcy Flynn, an agency lawyer for 13 years who in July alerted Congress. He was responsible for helping manage the records and said the destruction of preliminary investigations had been happening since at least 1993. He said senior SEC staff have scrambled to hide the agency’s actions.

Read the entire RS piece here.

Wednesday, in response to the article, Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, the ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee, wrote to SEC Chair Mary Shapiro asking for a response to the allegations.

Last week, the agency announced a new whistle-blower program to report violations and collect rewards.

. . .

Related

Joe Biden slammed after declaring he ‘understands’ China’s draconian ‘one child’ policy


US Vice President Joe Biden (R) and Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping (L) accompanied by their translators walk across the Dujiangyan Irrigation system in Dujiangyan outside Chengdu in China Photo: PETER PARKS/AFP/Getty Images

Republicans rounded on Joe Biden, the gaffe-prone US Vice President after he told students at a Chinese university that he “fully understands” the controversial population control policy.

Telegraph | Aug 23, 2011

The Democrat told students at Sichuan University in Chengdu, China, on Sunday: “Your policy has been one which I fully understand – I’m not second-guessing – of one child per family.”

On Tuesday presidential hopeful Mitt Romney joined a growing chorus of Republican outrage at Mr Biden’s comments.

“China’s one-child policy is gruesome and barbaric,” the former Massachusetts Governor said.

“Vice President Biden’s acquiescence to such a policy should shock the conscience of every American.

“Instead of condoning the policy, Vice President Biden should have condemned it in the strongest possible terms. There can be no defence of a government that engages in compulsory sterilization and forced abortions in the name of population control.”

His comments came one day after Republican House Speaker John Boehner, the number-three US elected official, said he was “deeply troubled” by Mr Biden’s words and that the policy “should not be condoned by any American official.”

US President Barack Obama’s “administration should be focusing on jobs for the American people, not encouraging foreign governments to utilize abortion as a means of population and deficit control,” said Mr Boehner.

US critics denounce the Chinese policy as enforced with forced abortions and sterilization.

Mr Boehner urged the White House to provide “a correction or clarification” to Mr Biden’s comments.

Libya: secret role played by British Intelligence creating path to the fall of Tripoli


Libyan rebel fighters prepare to shoot towards pro-Gadhafi forces during fighting in downtown Tripoli Photo: AP

The key role played by Britain in equipping and advising Libya’s rebel fighters for their final push on Tripoli was becoming clear last night as Col Muammar Gaddafi’s remaining forces staged a last stand around his bunker.

Telegraph | Aug 22, 2011

By Gordon Rayner, Thomas Harding and Duncan Gardham

For weeks, military and intelligence officers have been helping the rebels plan their co-ordinated attack on the capital, and Whitehall sources have disclosed that the RAF stepped up raids on Tripoli on Saturday morning in a pre-arranged plan to pave the way for the rebel advance.

MI6 officers based in the rebel stronghold of Benghazi had honed battle plans drawn up by Libya’s Transitional National Council (TNC) which were agreed 10 weeks ago.

The constantly-updated tactical advice provided by British experts to the rebel leaders centred on the need to spark a fresh uprising within Tripoli that could be used as the cue for fighters to advance on the city.

But when it finally came, the speed with which it achieved its goal took everyone, including the rebels, by surprise.

The Daily Telegraph has learnt that although the uprising in Tripoli began on Saturday night, the first phase of the battle for the capital had begun hours earlier, when RAF Tornado GR4 aircraft attacked a key communications facility in south-west Tripoli as part of the agreed battle plan.

On Saturday morning five precision-guided Paveway IV bombs were dropped on the Baroni Centre, a secret intelligence base headed by Gaddafi’s brother-in-law Abdullah Senussi.

The aircraft then struck at least one main battle tank belonging to Gaddafi’s troops, and in the afternoon another RAF patrol destroyed an artillery piece on the western edge of Tripoli and a nearby command and control facility.

On the ground, the rebels had spent weeks smuggling weapons, communications equipment and battle-hardened fighters into Tripoli, setting up secret arms dumps around the capital and waiting for a pre-arranged signal to trigger the uprising.

Mahmoud Shammam, a spokesman for the TNC, told the Daily Telegraph that the agreed signal was a televised speech by the TNC chairman, Mustafa Abd-al-Jalil, which was broadcast via the Qatar-based Libya TV on Saturday evening.

Mr Jalil told the citizens of Tripoli “you have to rise to the event”, and as dusk fell at around 8pm local time a group of rebels seized their chance and took control of the Ben Nabi Mosque close to the city centre.

Using loudspeakers which normally call people to prayer, they began anti-Gaddafi chants to confirm the start of what rebel leaders called Operation Mermaid Dawn – the battle for Tripoli, which is nicknamed Mermaid in Arabic.

Mr Shammam said: “The start of the uprising was pre-arranged. We used our TV station for Mr Jalil to give a speech calling for the uprising and soon most of the people of Tripoli were on the streets.”

The timing of the uprising caught Gaddafi completely by surprise; the rebels had spent that day flushing out that last of his forces from Zawiyah, 30 miles west of Tripoli, and the Brother Leader had clearly expected them to regroup, reorganise and re-arm – as they had done in the past after each major battle – before making an attempt on Tripoli.

Instead, the rebels who had been fighting in Zawiyah were making a dash for the capital, and in the skies overhead RAF Tornados and Typhoons were launching further surgical strikes on pre-planned targets.

The RAF and its alliance partners carried out 46 sorties on Sunday alone, relying heavily on the RAF’s Brimstone ground attack missile system that can pick out targets close to civilian areas with incredible accuracy, minimising the risk of civilian casualties.

Gaddafi’s bunker at Bab al-Aziziya was pounded throughout the night, and the Tornados’ advanced electronics also enabled aircraft already in the sky to hit Gaddafi targets as they were identified, using a system known as dynamic targeting.

Gaddafi’s command and control centres, set up in industrial buildings or even empty schools, were also attacked, crippling the Libyan despot’s ability to direct his troops.

On the ground, meanwhile, the rebels sent out mass text messages to regime opponents waiting in Tripoli for a signal to rise up, and as Gaddafi’s forces tried in vain to suppress the revolt it spread out across 13 suburbs.

By Sunday afternoon the rebels who had been fighting in Zawiyah were just miles away from the outskirts of Tripoli.

William Hague, the Foreign Secretary, confirmed yesterday that Britain had equipped the fighters with a range of “non-lethal” kit including advanced telecommunications equipment and 1,000 sets of body armour.

They had also been given night vision goggles, which proved crucial in picking out snipers who had been sent by Gaddafi to impede their progress towards the capital.

The battle plan also included a sea-borne assault on Tripoli launched from the port of Misrata to the east, which landed at dawn on Sunday.

Gaddafi took to the airwaves to make a series of increasingly desperate appeals for Libyans to defend Tripoli from the rebels as “a matter of life and death” but the crackling recordings of his voice – and a lack of any video footage – led to speculation that he had either fled the country or had gone into hiding in a 2,000-mile network of tunnels built in the 1980s.

His soldiers, sensing the battle was lost, had begun dumping their uniforms wherever they stood, and by midnight on Sunday the rebels had reached Green Square, the symbolic heart of Tripoli, with little resistance.

The speed of the rebel advance was such that Gaddafi’s intended heir, his son Saif al-Islam, had no time to reach his father’s compound, and was captured by rebels on Saturday night.

His brother, Mohammed, was giving a telephone interview to a broadcaster when a gunfight broke out inside his home. The line went dead and seconds later he too was captured.

Mr Shammam said: “The plan was very successful. Our assumption was that it would take a few days but the results were clear in a few hours.

“We were expecting more resistance from Gaddafi’s troops. We thought they were determined to fight to the last moment but it seems like they got tired or lost the cause.”

David Cameron, who was on a family holiday in Cornwall, also seemed to have been caught out by the rapid turn of events.

Although he had been kept up to date with the rebels’ plans, no-one had expected Tripoli to fall so quickly, and the Prime Minister scrambled to get back to Downing Street to chair a meeting of the National Security Council yesterday.

Speaking outside Number 10, he paid tribute to the “incredible bravery, professionalism and dedication” of the RAF pilots, adding: “This has not been our revolution, but we can be proud that we have played our part.”

As the fighting continued in Tripoli last night, the rebels had gained control of around 90 per cent of the city, with the bloodiest battle raging around Gaddafi’s compound at Bab al-Aziziya.

Another of Gaddafi’s sons, Khamis, was reported to have led his eponymous Khamis Brigade into battle from the compound, killing what one official described as “a big number” of rebels.

Tanks rolled out of the compound to begin shelling the city, and snipers fired from rooftops to prevent rebels joining the battle at Bab al-Aziziya.

Loyalist tanks were also deployed at the port, but the rebels continued to press on, and scored further victories.

By mid-afternoon yesterday they had reportedly captured a third son of Gaddafi, Saadi, and at 4pm Libya’s state broadcaster went off the air, removing one of the despot’s final and most important tools in his ability to maintain any form of resistance.

Across Tripoli, its citizens tore down every green flag of the Gaddafi regime they could find, chanting “freedom” in English. By last night, Green Square had been renamed Martyrs’ Square as 42 years of tyranny finally came to an end.

“We came out today to feel a bit of freedom,” said Ashraf Halaby, 30, as he joined the celebrations in the square. “We still don’t believe that this is happening.”

Jersey Girls who emerged after 9/11 stay activists


In this Aug. 11, 2011, photograph, Lorie Van Auken poses for The Associated Press at her home in East New Brunswick, N.J. Van Auken, who lost her husband Kenneth Warren Van Auken during the Sept. 11 attacks, became an activist as a result of the tragedy. She is one of four New Jersey widows, known as the Jersey Girls, who pressed the government to do deeper digging into the causes of the attacks. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

Associated Press | Aug 23, 2011

By GEOFF MULVIHILL

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — The terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 turned them into widows and the four Jersey Girls, as they became known, turned themselves into activists.

A decade after the attacks, at least two of them are still trying to make change in public policy. In doing so, they’ve broadened their focus from post-attack truth-finding, the cause that brought them together nearly 10 years ago.

Lorie Van Auken is now a beekeeper who is pressing the federal Environmental Protection Agency to ban a pesticide that some blame for Colony Collapse Disorder, which has been killing honeybees.

Kristen Breitweiser blogs on politics and national security. Though those are issues tied to 9/11, she doesn’t write just about the attacks.

“I think a lot of times when people suffer tragedy or go through something in their own life, they feel compelled to turn it into something better,” Breitweiser said.

The four stay-at-home moms who lived relatively carefree lives in suburban Monmouth and Middlesex Counties became some of the most visible faces of the families of the dead and their main cause at the time: pushing the federal government to study the attacks — whether there was intelligence that could have prevented them, and whether the response once they began was adequate. They were subjects of scores of articles, multiple books — including a memoir Breitweiser published in 2006 — and a documentary film, “9/11: Press for Truth.”

The fame and the civic engagement, born of tragedy, came fast.

“I had a very complacent life: we voted, we paid taxes, we volunteered. That was it,” Breitweiser said. “That was the extent of our contribution.”

Two of the Jersey Girls, Patty Casazza and Mindy Kleinberg, did not respond to requests for interviews for this article and have not granted any interviews for the last few years.

All four had husbands working in the twin towers of the World Trade Center.

After 9/11, they united over their mounting frustration that the whole story wasn’t being told.

For more than a year, they parked their children with family and drove to Washington in Breitweiser’s SUV — dubbed the “widowmobile.”

Armed with thick binders of documents, they met with members of Congress and held rallies asking for a full government inquiry. They gave interviews by the score. They recognized that journalists were hungry for stories about the real people affected by the attacks. They could offer that, but they also talked about their policy agenda.

Finally, in November 2002 — 14 months after their husbands and nearly 3,000 other people were killed — President George W. Bush signed the law to create the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, known as the 9/11 Commission. It spent more than a year holding hearings and made a series of recommendations to strengthen national security. Most of them have since become law.

One of Jersey Girls’ champions in Congress was U.S. Rep. Chris Smith, a Republican from New Jersey. He said they did their research and came prepared in small ways. They knew he had a sweet tooth and were sure to bring him candy when they stopped by.

“The Jersey Girls were, in my opinion, the reason the commission came into being,” Smith said.

For Breitweiser and Van Auken, the result of the main government inquiry and another on intelligence before the attacks were disappointing, leaving them with many unanswered questions.

For one, a section of a report that appeared to deal with al-Qaeda funding was redacted from one government report.

They’re also not satisfied that the planes involved in the attack could not have been intercepted after the first one crashed into the World Trade Center.

“You want to say the first attack was a surprise? OK, the first attack was a surprise,” Van Auken said. “If we have a group of people that are in charge of our defense and they can’t manage to intercept an airplane for two hours?”

Breitweiser, a former Republican who campaigned for John Kerry during his 2004 run for president, said she’s not satisfied that the country is safe enough now. “I wish the billions of dollars we spent on wars overseas could have been used at home,” she said.

The women triggered a backlash from those who thought they were too partisan as they bashed Bush and supported Kerry. The apex came in 2006 when conservative commenter Ann Coulter, in a book, dubbed them the “Witches of East Brunswick.” ”I’ve never seen people enjoying their husbands’ deaths so much,” Coulter wrote.

Hillary Clinton, then a U.S. senator, was among those who came to their defense.

Smith said the criticism was hard for him to accept. They were grassroots activists, he said, doing what they thought was right.

Both Breitweiser and Van Auken say their activism was the right thing to do, though they’re not happy with the results.

“I only have regrets about the outcome,” Van Auken said. “I have regrets that nobody was held accountable.”

Van Auken, now 56, is in the same home where she lived with her children — now in their 20s — and husband, Kenneth, before he was killed.

Since 9/11 Van Auken has taken up beekeeping. As colonies have died off mysteriously, she’s tried to rally other beekeepers to fight for a federal ban of the pesticide clothianidin.

Unlike a decade ago, she’s now savvy about how government works.

So far, the EPA has not been willing to ban the pesticide. Van Auken says she’s not surprised, “We know from 9/11 that the EPA is not above bending to political will when they said the air was safe to breathe and all those people got sick,” she said.

Breitweiser, now 40 and living in New York, is the Jersey Girl with the highest profile.

A lawyer by training, though she never practiced, she was often the spokeswoman, and she was the one who campaigned extensively for Kerry, wrote a memoir focusing on her political education and now blogs occasionally for the Huffington Post.

She still writes about 9/11 but also about other national security issues. She is particularly concerned that chemical plants are not safe enough.

Her main job, she said, is raising her daughter, Caroline.

Caroline is 12 now and was a toddler when her father, Ron, died. Caroline, she says, doesn’t have a memory of a dad. Breitweiser said that makes raising her alone easier but also sadder. Breitweiser says she knows that her husband would have continued to be a great father.

Breitweiser has been trying to expose Caroline to Muslim people and their beliefs. They’ve traveled to Morocco and are planning to go to Turkey and Egypt in the next year.

It’s all part of a lesson she didn’t imagine needing to teach her daughter 10 years ago. “It’s OK if women have a veil over their face. It doesn’t mean that they’re bad people,” she said. “I don’t want her growing up with any sort of hatred or rage inside of her.”

On Sept. 11, she intends to do what she always does on the anniversary: take a walk with her daughter and their dogs — currently three undisciplined Golden Retrievers — on a beach or in the woods.

She wants to stay far away from the solemn commemorations in New York City and elsewhere.

Van Auken will be in New York, but not at the ground zero ceremony. She’ll be there to see her daughter Sarah, now 22, act in a play.

NY, DC briefly shaken by 9/11 memories during earthquake


A law enforcement officer directs evacuating New Yorkers during Tuesday’s earthquake

CNN | Aug 23, 2011

by Elizabeth Landau

Tuesday’s earthquake was an uncomfortable albeit brief déjà-vu for many in New York City and Washington, D.C.

Workers dashed out of buildings, many of them worried that the tremors from a 5.8-magnitude  earthquake that struck the East Coast was a bomb or terrorist attack.

When Ellen Rea first felt her New York apartment shake, she dismissed it as a neighbor running on the treadmill. The tremors got stronger and a door in her apartment popped open.  She panicked.

“I’m not a person who gets scared, but I thought of 9/11 and thought what the hell happened?” Rea said.

She remembered being near the World Trade Center nearly 10 years ago and coming home with the ashes in her hair.

“It actually surprised me how those thoughts came up,” she said.  “I’m a tough New Yorker.  I was really surprised that was the first thought.”

People who lived through the attacks of September 11, 2001, in New York and Washington most likely have a low level of fear and anxiety that generally stays in the back of their psychological experience, but can be triggered, said Nadine Kaslow, professor of psychiatry at Emory University School of Medicine.

For some, a sudden traumatic event such as Tuesday’s earthquake can be a trigger of symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, although usually not the full-blown condition. They may feel panic, anxiety and fear, and even upsetting memories of past trauma.

“I guess I was frightened.  I’m not a scaredy-cat or anything. I didn’t think of an earthquake. I really thought something happened again,” Rea said.

Rea darted out of her chair and looked across the street to the police academy to see the reaction there. When she saw no activity, she calmed down.

She tweeted later: “For the people laughing at ny’ers b/c it was a small quake – you weren’t here for 9/11 and didn’t know if this was another bomb.”

That’s the worst part about PTSD, said Kaslow.

“The suddenness of it, the unpredictability and unexpected nature of it is going to bring up the worst for people,” she said.

The initial panic and fear will go away for most people once they realize it’s an earthquake and not a repeat of a past terrorist attack, she said.

When Alex Priest,  a director of marketing at ad company, Genius Rocket felt the tremors  on the 7th floor of  its office in Bethesda, Maryland, he also suspected a terrorist attack. He and his coworkers sprinted out of the building.

“I was young when the attacks happened,” said Priest, 22, about 9/11.  “For the vast majority of my formative years, we’ve just had this national security mindset. There are terrorists out there.”

“Just being in that environment and having that as a constant issue in the news and because of the 9/11 anniversary, the first thing that comes into your mind anytime something bad happens is ‘Oh my God, is it terrorist attack?’”

After a few moments, rational thinking returns.

PTSD can become a problem if a person feels numb, detached, frightened, anxious or experience difficulty concentrating.  They may re-experience the original traumatic event in flashbacks – all this is called acute stress disorder reaction.  Psychiatrists typically consider these kinds of problems PTSD if they persist for more than four weeks after the event.

There are ways to manage your reaction. A key strategy is to talk about your anxieties with people you trust; it may be helpful to get a counselor if you have been traumatized before, Kaslow said.  You may need medication if you have persistent sleep disturbances and depression.  Exercise, yoga and meditation can also help calm you down.

Post 9/11, surveillance cameras everywhere

Security industry boomed for years, but terror is rarely a focus

msnbc.com | Aug 23, 2011

By Allison Linn

When riots broke out in London this month, it didn’t take long before police began using security cameras to identify the alleged thugs.

And when a little boy went missing in New York City, security cameras were quickly used to track his last movements, although they didn’t end up saving his life.

In the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the market for video surveillance cameras boomed in the United States and around the world. Shocked by the worst attack on U.S. soil in 60 years, everyone from small-business owners to executives of giant multinationals rushed to get advanced security measures in place.

A decade later, there haven’t been any more major terrorist attacks in the United States, but there are an estimated 30 million more security cameras. Instead of being used to prevent terrorist attacks, experts say cameras are more often used for mundane purposes like nabbing criminals or calling out bad behavior at the office — if they’re used at all.

Of course the use of security cameras predated 9/11, but the market exploded in the fear-tinged months following the attack. A wave of new security businesses sprang up, and existing security providers rushed to land new government and corporate contracts installing security systems.

After 9/11, many companies realized for perhaps the first time that they could be vulnerable, said Ray O’Hara, president of the security industry trade group ASIS.

“There was a lot of money spent right after 9/11 to upgrade corporate facilities,” said O’Hara, who is also an executive with the security firm Andrews International. “From a reactionary standpoint when you just sat there for a second and said, ‘Could this happen in Los Angeles?’ And (you realized) the answer is yes.”
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The attacks coincided with technological advancements that made it much cheaper to install and monitor surveillance cameras, allowing even small businesses and private residences to afford such protections.

Market research firm IMS Research estimates that more than 30 million surveillance cameras have been sold in the United States in the past decade. Video surveillance alone is a $3.2 billion industry, representing about one-third of the overall security market, according to 2007 figures from the Security Industry Association, a trade group. That was the last time they gathered such data, a spokesman said.

Gregory Spear was one of those who saw opportunity soon after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. He founded Spear’s Security Industry Analyst to provide investors with information about the growing field.

After a burst of business in the first five years after the attacks, Spear said business slowed substantially, at least in part because no terror attacks occurred. Some security firms merged or went out of business, and the industry has stabilized in the last few years, he said.

Business has stayed stronger outside the United States in countries such as Israel, he said.

“You get attacked all the time in Israel, and you don’t get attacked in Manhattan,” Spear said.

Still, the panic lasted long enough to create the increasingly accurate perception that there is a camera on every corner, and it’s now rare to enter an office building without seeing some evidence that you’re being watched. Few people are surprised to have their photo snapped when they walk into a building for a business meeting, or to have their identification photocopied just to meet a friend for lunch.

A decade ago, those same visitors likely would have been waved through by a bored-looking security guard, if there was any protection at all.

Other uses
Although advanced security measures are now commonplace, they are rarely being used to nab would-be terrorists. Instead, security cameras often serve other purposes, such as catching students or workers who are misbehaving, or tracking down common criminals.

In London — where outdoor security cameras have long been more common than in U.S. cities — police have posted screen grabs from security cameras onto a Flickr page, in the hopes that ordinary citizens will help them catch looters. The police have been assisted by civilian efforts such as the “catch a looter” Tumblr blog.

Video cameras also were used to track the movement of 8-year-old Leiby Kletzky , the Brooklyn boy who was killed earlier this year while walking home alone.

The increasing prevalence of security cameras, often assisted these days by facial recognition software, have raised thorny privacy questions as Americans find their images captured with increasing regularity.

But in the fearful days after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, people were much more likely to say that invasion of privacy was worthwhile because it also made us feel safer. Now, the advent of social networking means people have just grown more accustomed to living their lives in a more public way.

“I think that as we transition forward, the openness in our society — with the Facebooks and the social networks and what have you — is going to prevail because that’s the way we’re going to live,” said O’Hara, the security executive.

Privacy advocates warn that we may be too complacent about the fact that our pictures are being taken everywhere from the department store checkout counter to the high school hallway, as well as shared freely on social networks. That data can potentially be used by everyone from marketers to police investigators.

“I do think it’s really important when we think about that question of where those data go in the world of social media,” said David Lyon, a professor of surveillance studies at Queen’s University in Canada.

Experts also warn that surveillance cameras — while perhaps the most obvious way in which our movements are tracked — are far from the only way personal information is now collected. In the wake of Sept. 11, and thanks also to technical advances, it’s become far more commonplace for companies to use devices such as keystroke trackers, which monitor everything you type on your computer.

“One thing that changed was that there was a new emphasis on attempting to obtain as much information as possible,” Lyon said.

And while security cameras are everywhere, security companies increasingly are looking at the less visible threat of cyberattacks.

“Today’s buzzword is the cyber-issues. There’s just no doubt about that,” O’Hara said. “We used to worry about people coming over the fence. Now that’s probably the least (of what’s on) our minds.”