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(506) 2223-1327         Published Wednesday, Aug. 12, 2009,  in Vol. 9, No. 158      E-mail us
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Intelligence sharing seen as major anti-gang weapon
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

One new weapon against violent street gangs like MS-13 and 18th Street is the Central American Intelligence Program, a joint operation of the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation, the U.S. State Department and police agencies in gang-plagued countries.

“MS-13 and 18th Street are developing constantly and changing their methods,” L.T. Chu, an FBI gang expert said. “The only way to fight them is to understand their organizations from the top down. And the only way to accomplish that is through cooperative intelligence sharing across borders."

Costa Rica still does not know the extent of gang infiltration here. Police detained three Salvadorans, two brothers and a sister, over the weekend as they investigated an extortion abduction.  In El Salvador, police there estimate that there are about 15,000 MS-13 gang members. That gang also is called the Mara Salvatrucha.

El Salvador is contaminated by violent gangs, said Douglas Funes, who heads the transnational gang unit for the Policia Nacional Civil in El Salvador, as reported by the FBI. MS-13 including many members in the prison population. “Perhaps the most serious problem with MS-13,” he added, “is that they are constantly recruiting new members,” according to Funes.

In fact, prisons are a main area for recruiting new members because unaffiliated convicts are easy targets for theft and other crimes there. The MS-13 also actively recruits women, according to police sources because they make excellent couriers to carry drugs and cell phones into penitentiaries, said the FBI.

The three Salvadorans and a fourth person, a Panamanian woman, who were detained over the weekend are in prison now.

Costa Rican police have not been particularly effective against Colombian gangs. The principal product of law enforcement activity has been the confiscation of tons of cocaine. Drug shipments are highly vulnerable to police discovery, but other activities like gun running, human trafficking and kidnapping for cash are harder to investigate.

Further north there is more of an emphasis in investigating gangs. México is at war with the drug cartels, but there also are thousands of street gang members who divide their time between that country and the United States. They also serve supporting roles for the drug traffickers.

Guatemala has a huge problem with gangs, according to Heber Ramirez, chief of intelligence analysis for Policia Nacional Civil de Guatemala, as reported by the FBI.

The Central American Intelligence Program links veteran criminal analysts from the United States, El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico, and Canada who work gang-related matters.

Besides intelligence sharing, the objective is to standardize reports and other intelligence products and to minimize the communication gaps among countries — gaps that currently allow gang members to operate across borders, the FBI said.

Members of this group met for the first time last month at the FBI Academy in Quantico, Virginia.

“These gangs are transnational, and right now they pretty much cross our borders for criminal activity at will,” said the FBI's Chu.

Belize, also contributes to the gang problem.
Salvatrucha suspect
Houston Police Department photo via FBI
Tattoos identify this suspect in a Houston, Texas, robbery as a Salvatrucha member.


Three initiatives supervised by the U.S. State Department help unify the Central American gang fight

• the Central American Fingerprint Exploitation, which will permit immigration officers to search and share prints to help identify criminals and solve crimes,

• the Transnational Anti-Gang Unit, prosecutors, law enforcement and analytical personnel from El Salvador’s Policia Nacional Civil and two U.S. FBI agents stationed in the country, and

• a police officer exchange program that lets the Los Angeles Police Department and Sheriff’s Office to share officers with their counterparts in El Salvador.

The FBI estimates that there may be as many as 50,000 Salvatrucha members in the world and about 10,000 in the United States. Costa Rica is not known for its aggressive or flexible police methods, but the Mara Salvatrucha are innovators.

For example, in Houston, Texas, last January MS-13 gang members robbed a Houston beauty salon at gunpoint and sexually assaulted a salon employee. But one of the gang members went a step further: he took the owner’s picture so he knew exactly who she was, said the FBI. If she thought about going to the police, he said, she would be sorry. The owner was also told that from now on, she would be expected to pay $100 a week to the gang for protection, said agents.

In this case, the salon owner went to police and became the subject of a Univision television documentary. But many victims heed gang warnings. The salon owner, a Salvadoran, also had surveillance tapes of the crime. Seven persons have been arrested to face Texas justice.

Costa Rica police and judicial officials are quick to admit that their staffers are overworked. A growing Salvatrucha threat is not likely to receive serious attention until some highly publicized event happens. Fortunately the Salvatruchas and other maras draw attention to themselves with extensive body tattoos. Such artwork has stopped more than one individual from entering Costa Rica.

Costa Rican lawmakers have passed an organized crime measure and one to protect victims and witnesses.  Despite the official hype, these are modest changes in the law and unlikely to have major long-term effects against organized and creative criminals like the Central American gangs.


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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Aug. 12, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 158

Costa Rica Expertise
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Puriscal Properties
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Professional Directory
A.M. Costa Rica's professional directory is where business people who wish to reach the English-speaking community may invite responses. If you are interested in being represented here, please contact the editor.


Appraiser

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7Legal services

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Protest becomes a mob
at blockade in Santa Ana

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A protest turned into a mob Monday night in Pozos de Santa Ana as residents staged a demonstration against what they see as various problems created by the restructured highway, now called the Autopista del Sol.

The Fuerza Pública said that 24 persons, eight of them minors, were arrested after a bus load of tactical police was greeted with rocks and sticks. The rain of objects broke the windshield.

The residents are unhappy with the increased toll on the new highway. The toll went from a single payment of 100 colons (about 17 U.S. cents) to a charge of 310 colons both coming and going, about $1.06.

The protestors said that the Ministerio de Obras Públicas y Transportes has not lived up to its promises.

The Unidad de Intervención Policial was not interested in their concerns when officers arrived shortly after 6 p.m. The residents had blocked traffic with small fires of tires and mattresses. They also damaged vehicles on the highway, said police.

Police said they tried to negotiate with the residents, but they ended up opening the highway by force about 9 p.m.

Residents are unhappy with the location of bus stops, with the location and design of a pedestrian bridge and the condition of a tunnel.

Police said the adults detained will face criminal action.


Matina dike completed

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The national emergency commission said Tuesday that a dike at frequently flooded Matina has been completed. The $251,000 project is designed to prevent flooding in Estrada, Banasol and Barmouth and nine banana plantations. The 800-meter (2,625-foot) project received financing from a consortium of public sources.

The commission also said that it is ready to seek bids to reduce flooding in the ríos Banano, Chirripó and Sixaola.


Our readers' opinions
Crime on Caribbean coast
generates informal responses


Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

The festering problem in southern Limón providence is a thorn in everyones side as explained by A.M. Costa Rica on many occasions.  I returned last week to my home in Home Creek due to the theft of our service electric line from the meter to the house and to finalize my pensionado while passing thru San José.

Fortunately the missing wire has been replaced by my friends and neighbors while I was gone.  It is now better than ever thanks to a good Canadian neighbor who comes from a family of electricians.  The thief of the wire has been terrorizing the area by slaughtering our good neighbors' cows.  Fortunately there was a neighbor who witnessed this person entering a area where the cows were.  My good neighbors all came together and met with this young man, who eventually confessed to the crimes.  He is lucky he is not dead because that was the intentions of my neighbors in the beginning. 

During his confession he mentioned repeatedly that he has since found God and asked for forgiveness.  He is a known crack addict to the area and has been a thief for many years.  Now I know his name and where he lives, and I will also extract a confession as well just for my pleasure after all this misery and money spent on 1,000 meters of number 4 wire.  He has been banned from our road and if anyone sees him he will be physically punished by those who lost their cattle.  The neighbors call it something like "cleansing"??.  Once they are up in arms they will make a move on any person who has continued to bring the neighborhood down. 

Good luck to the people of Puerto Viejo and Cahuita, too.  A good friend of mine was robbed a couple of weeks ago right in front of the San Francisco.  Fortunately he has many years experience in law enforcement and so in a brave move he overpowered the thief and took his machete from him.  A few days later he was passing the Penshurt area about 5 a.m. in the morning, on his way to Limón.  Occupants of a car flagged him down.  He stopped and rolled his window down to possibly help.

One man put a gun to his head. The other man approached the car and told the other that he is the wrong man.  So the gun wielding older man said aloud "so this isn't the man you want me to kill??"  The second man said no.  The gunman then said "but he has seen my face, so i must kill him."  The second man said "No, cause if you do I will not pay you twice."  My good friend had to beg for his life and, thank God, the second man had some morals. 

As a long-time law enforcement officer with a lott of experience dealing with violence in the Talamanca district, he has come to the conclusion that the area is completely out of control.  Now he will no longer drive at night even though he carries a gun and all the policemen in the area know him and like him.  He has since banned his wife and children from going to the super or any other place after dark, no exceptions.  He now locks his doors at his home, despite the fact that he has grown up with everyone in Home Creek. 

Another topic on the minds of the locals is the new arrival of many Latino young men who are strangers.  There are many many of them and the locals assume that they are from Panamá, Colombia, and Nicaragua.  This is baffling to my friends and neighbors as well as a huge concern because no one knows them, where they work, what they do, where they live.  Many of these young men have no papers and are involved in a lot of petty thefts.  So not only are the business owners voicing their concerns for help, but the locals are also doing the same thing but in their own way. 

Crime is a big concern for the locals, too, who cannot afford to lose one cow or a son who is introduced to crack while visiting the village with friends.  My neighbors may be low key but they, too, are being effected by the changing times and they deserve protection from the same element that makes life miserable on the streets of Puerto Viejo.
Bruce Simpson
Home Creek

Real estate sales people
often just present the hype


Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

Once again, I open with a big thanks to your publication for consistently providing more truth about Costa Rica than any other publication.

I don’t know if your readers are interested. About a month ago you published my letter which (in addition to other items) I stated my mistake of buying deodorant from the states to bring the total purchase price up qualifying for free shipping.  The cost of the deodorant was about $10  When it arrived, I was informed deodorant was a restricted item and I needed a permit.  Anyway, one month after arrival in Costa Rica I received my package.  The permit, cost of the application forms, duty and taxes came to $65.  Ah, if only they could be so diligent with drug trafficking.

However, this is really in response to the article titled “Many complexities can come with property purchases” by Angela Jiménez Rocha, printed on Monday Aug. 10.

The writer states “If foreign buyers would consult with a real expert on real estate in Costa Rica almost all of these problems can be avoided”.  Therein lays the problem.  As most foreigners, I believed all the hype (lies?) you read about Costa Rica.  When I purchased my lot (1,400 square meters.) I went to the listing realtor, who is a well established realtor, Costa Rican but educated in the United States at some of the best colleges.

Some of the pertinent questions I asked included the immediate availability of water, electricity, phone, and Internet.  Answer, yes, of course they are.

Truth:

1.  Water?  My permit to build was held up for an additional six months because of an inadequate water supply.  Finally after a threat to sue, I did get the permit,

2. Electricity, true,

3. Phone, well it wasn’t available for almost two years,

4. Internet, no and no plans from the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad to provide it.

Angela Jiménez Rocha should have included in her article that realtors are not held accountable and some appear to have the same code of ethics as most abogados in this country.  Also even though I had the seller provide a new plano de catastrado approved by Registro Nacional just prior to closing on the property it didn’t mean a thing.  When applying for the building permit, the municipality rejected the document as being inaccurate.

When my topographer went to the Registro Nacional, one of the supervisors stated the document never should have been approved (obviously intending to mean that someone was paid to approve the document).  Consequently, I had the property resurveyed three times before achieving both Registro Nacional and municipality approval.

Therefore, in response to “If foreign buyers would consult with a real expert on real estate in Costa Rica almost all of these problems can be avoided”.  Wonderful!  (1) How do you find those persons? and (2) real expertise does not necessarily include honesty.
Bob Piazza
Birri de Santa Barbara de Heredia

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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Aug. 12, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 158

another great month
Your Costa Rica


Confirmed flu sufferer Arias to spend a week at home
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

President Óscar Arias Sánchez has the swine flu and will be at home in Rohrmoser at least until Monday, health officials and Casa Presidential said Tuesday.

Arias, 67, is considered in a higher risk group because he has asthma. Weighing against that is that he is in an age group that probably has been exposed to a relative of the current swine flu virus sometime earlier in life. Health officials describe his illness as mild.

The problem is that Arias has been highly visible. He rode to Heredia Saturday with a trainload of youngsters. Tuesday morning he inaugurated the new facility of Associated Creditors Exchange in Heredia where he met company officials and took a tour of the company's call center.

The health ministry said that individuals who have been in contact with the president should continue their life as normal. If they become ill, they should follow the usual procedures, which include visits to medical facilities.

Arias was diagnosed quickly. Fluid samples were taken Monday and by midday Tuesday the results were in
confirming the swine flu, said officials.

Arias has received some publicity by being the first national president to come down with the flu. The news was carried on CNN, among others. Officials said they could not speculate on where Arias got the virus.

Casa Presidencial put together a late afternoon press conference after news of the president's condition became public. Mayi Antillón, the president's minister of Comunicaciones, said that Arias will continue to play a governmental role from his home by telephone. He has begun a treatment with a drug called Oseltamivir, an anti-viral that slows the spread of the disease.

Arias also received some x-rays and gave blood samples, said the health ministry.

The country has registered another swine flu-related death, the 28th. The victim was reported to be a 40-year-old pregnant woman who died in Heredia.

Experts advise that those who are working with ill individuals should maintain a distance of at least 1.8 meters (about six feet) and to avoid contact with body fluids, according to the Ministerio de Salud.


Proposal would let lawmakers attend via the Internet
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A bill presented to the legislature would allow lawmakers to vote even if they were just present electronically. The measure would permit virtual attendance by means of video conferencing.

The bill was presented by Rafael Elías Madrigal, who represents Limón and is a member of the Partido Acción Ciudadana.

Under current rules, lawmakers have to be present to vote, and they risk losing a daily stipend if they do not show up without permission.

The proposal would cover attendance in the full legislature as well as in the various committees.

The bill would allow the assembly president to give permission to a lawmaker to attend virtually via video conferencing or other technological means 10 percent of the time.

Only in the case of occasional secret ballots would a lawmaker actually have to be in the legislative hall, according to the proposal.
electronic voting
The legislator of the future


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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Aug. 12, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 158


Former Escazú scamster arrested on fraud charges in U.S.
Special to A.M. Costa Rica
with local reports

A British citizen charged in connection with the operation of a series of fraudulent business opportunities in Costa Rica has been arrested in Miami following his indictment by a Miami federal grand jury June 9, the U.S. Justice Department and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service have announced.

The man, Dilraj Mathauda, was arrested based on charges that he and his co-conspirators purported to sell beverage and greeting card business opportunities, including assistance in establishing, maintaining and operating such businesses. The charges form part of the government’s continued nationwide crackdown on business opportunity fraud. This one was operated out of Escazú.

According to the indictment, beginning in May 2005, Mathauda fraudulently induced victims to buy business opportunities in USA Beverages Inc. and Omega Business Systems Inc. for, in many cases, at least $10,000 each. Mathauda, using an alias, Mark Boland, and his co-conspirators employed voice over Internet protocol phone service and virtual offices in the United States to make it appear to potential purchasers that the companies’ operations were there.

The U.S. Justice Department has said that the franchise operation here also used the names Apex Management Group, Inc., Twin Peaks Gourmet Coffee Inc., Cards-R-Us Inc., Premier Cards Inc., The Coffee Man Inc., Powerbrands Distributing Co. and Nation West Distribution Co.

The business was considered fraudulent because the salesman made false promises and told lies to induce persons to invest from $10,000 and up in vending operations that were bound to fail, said the Justice Department.

According to the indictment, Mathauda and his co-conspirators falsely told their victims that the companies were established years earlier, had a significant number of distributors across the country, and had a track record of success. Potential purchasers were referred to references who, according to the indictment, told false tales of their success as business opportunity owners. Through these and other misrepresentations, purchasers of the business
opportunities were led to believe that they would earn substantial profits.

Mathauda is charged with conspiracy and with committing his offense via telemarketing. He is also charged with 10 counts of mail fraud and two counts of wire fraud. If convicted on the conspiracy count, Mathauda faces a maximum sentence of 25 years imprisonment, a possible fine, and mandatory restitution. He also faces a maximum statutory term of 25 years imprisonment on each of the mail and wire fraud counts, a possible fine, and mandatory restitution.

"We will not allow individuals living in other countries to use modern communication techniques to commit fraud on the American public. This international and domestic investigation illustrates our resolve to protect the American people from business scams, wherever they occur," said the U.S. postal inspector in charge, Henry Gutierrez, based in Miami.

The Federal Trade Commission previously brought a related civil suit and made the criminal referral.

In a related case, the Judicial Investigating Organization here arrested one of the managers of the franchise operation last Dec. 9. He is Jeff Pearson, who has been named in a U.S. warrant. The man was detained in Santa Ana where he was traveling with bodyguards. Investigators later searched his luxury home in Rohrmoser where they confiscated evidence that was to be sent to the United States.

Pearson has been identified by investigators as the intellectual author of two contract killings. The killings were prompted by disputes over the franchise vending business, which brought in up to $13 million, according to police estimates.

Agents detained two Costa Ricans and said they were the actual gunmen. Agents said the trio were linked to a murder Nov. 1, 2006, of a Colombian man at the Las Garantías Sociales traffic circle and the killing of a pirate taxi driver Sept. 9, 2007, in Los Anonos de Escazú. The investigators said they theorized that the U.S. citizen was upset with business partners and asked his bodyguard to take care of the individuals and that the bodyguard enlisted the services of his friend.


Fuerza Pública officers get an exception to use of seat belts
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Fuerza Pública officers are not obliged to buckle up for safety if someone is shooting at them.

That is the gist of a decree just signed by President Óscar Arias Sánchez and Janina del Vecchio, the minister of security.

The decree, published Friday in La Gaceta official
newspaper, said that officers do not have to wear seat belts if doing so would put them at risk or at a disadvantage. The ministry gave as an example a shootout.

The decree is part of the regulations regarding the use of official vehicles, according to Casa Presidencial.

No similar decree has been issued involving traffic policemen or agents of the Judicial Investigating Organization.


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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Aug. 12, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 158

Casa Alfi Hotel

Norte Valle cartel leader
takes a guilty plea in Florida


Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Diego Montoya Sanchez, 48, one of the leaders of the Norte Valle Colombian drug cartel and a former FBI top ten fugitive, pleaded guilty Tuesday in Miami to drug trafficking, murder and racketeering charges, the Justice Department announced.

Montoya Sanchez appeared before U.S. District Judge Cecilia M. Altonaga in Miami, where he pleaded guilty in two pending federal cases. In the first case, on which he was indicted in the Southern District of Florida by the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Montoya pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to import more than five kilograms of cocaine into the United States and one count of obstruction of justice by murder.

In the second case, for which he was indicted in the District of Columbia, Montoya Sanchez pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to engage in a pattern of racketeering activity.

Following the decline of the Cali Cartel in the mid-1990s, the Norte Valle Cartel emerged to become Colombia’s most prolific cocaine trafficking cartel. Based upon FBI estimates, at its peak the Norte Valle Cartel was responsible for 60 percent of the cocaine exported from Colombia to the United States. According to the District of Columbia indictment, between 1990 and 2004, the Norte Valle Cartel exported more than 1.2 million pounds, or 500 metric tons, of cocaine worth more than $10 billion from Colombia to the United States.

According to the statement of facts submitted in conjunction with Tuesday’s hearing, Montoya Sanchez was a high-level Colombian drug trafficker for more than two decades. In the mid-1980s, Montoya Sanchez ran cocaine laboratories that served many significant traffickers. In the late 1980s, Montoya Sanchez expanded his organization’s operations into smuggling plane loads of cocaine from Colombia to Mexico. According to the statement of facts, by the early 1990s, Montoya Sanchez had switched to maritime smuggling. During the course of the next 15 years, Montoya Sanchez’s organization routinely smuggled cocaine loads between 1,000 and 6,000 kilos at a time using fast boats and fishing boats, among other methods.

By the late 1990s, Montoya Sanchez and Wilber Varela emerged to become the Norte Valle Cartel’s two leading kingpins. Mounting tensions between the Montoya and Varela organizations led to a two-year war between the organizations in which each targeted the other’s members for murder. The Montoya-Varela war, which lasted from fall 2003 until fall 2005, resulted in hundreds of deaths, including those of innocent civilians.

At Tuesday’s hearing, Montoya Sanchez admitted that his organization’s practices included using violence and murder against people his organization feared were cooperating with law enforcement. Montoya Sanchez specifically admitted to the August 2003 murder of a one-time organization member who was believed to have been cooperating with authorities.

In May 2004, the FBI added Montoya Sanchez to its list of ten most wanted fugitives. On Sept. 10, 2007, Colombian authorities mounted an operation on a believed Montoya hide-out at a ranch in a rural area outside of Zarzal, Valle del Cauca, Colombia, and captured Montoya Sanchez hiding in a creek bed approximately 700 yards from the ranch. Montoya Sanchez was extradited from Colombia to Miami last Dec. 12.

Montoya Sanchez is the fourth member of his family to be convicted as part of the case out of the Southern District of Florida. In January 2009, Montoya Sanchez’s brother, Eugenio Montoya Sanchez, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to import more than five kilograms of cocaine into the United States and one count of obstruction of justice by murder and was subsequently sentenced to 30 years in prison. In November 2005, Montoya Sanchez’s brother, Juan Carlos Montoya Sanchez, and his cousin, Carlos Felipe Toro Sanchez, both pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to import more than five kilograms of cocaine into the United States. They were sentenced to terms of 262 and 235 months in prison.

According to in-court statements during the hearing, Diego Montoya Sanchez agreed to serve a 45-year prison term for the crimes outlined in the court documents. Sentencing has been scheduled for Oct. 21.
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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Aug. 12, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 158

Latin American news digest
Cyber attacks show systems
are vulnerable to invaders


By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Recent attacks on computer systems operating on the Internet, such as last month's assault on U.S. government systems, which is believed to have been instigated by North Korea, and the attack last week that disrupted service on the popular Twitter network show the vulnerability of cyber space. Many experts are worrying about what might come next and are urging the government to take preventive measures to defend America's vital infrastructure.

Experts say the Thursday attacks that briefly shut down the Twitter and Facebook social networking Web sites were aimed at silencing a Georgian blogger who is critical of Russia's military incursion into his country last year. Large scale cyber assaults against Chechnya and Georgia preceded Russia's military actions there.

The open nature of the Internet and its use by governments and business make it a rich target for an enemy attack.

Retired U.S. Air Force Gen. Harry Raduege served on the commission that provided President Barack Obama with recommendations on how to best protect the United States from cyber attacks. He spoke to the World Affairs Council in Houston earlier this month about the dangers and costs of cyber assaults.

"It is estimated that $1 trillion worth of data was stolen, globally, in the year 2008," he said.

General Raduege later spoke about how countries and private businesses can protect themselves.

"What you really have to do is manage the risk. We are vulnerable to these attacks. It is naïve to think that we are always going to be able to keep the attackers out of our network. You have to assume they are in," he added.

He says the more advanced a country is in its use of computers and the Internet, the more vulnerable it may be.

"The nation of Estonia was brutally attacked through cyber activity, where there was a directed denial of service through flooding that nation, which is very digitally advanced, with 5,000 e-mails a second," he said.

Raduege says one of his biggest concerns in Houston is the computer-run electronic control system that is vital to energy sector operations the country depends on.

"Someone could attack the industrial control systems that control all the valves, all the distribution systems, and are used to turn on and off various aspects involved with energy and the electrical power grid and oil and gas distribution networks," he said.



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