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These stories were published Friday, Nov. 21, 2003, in Vol. 3, No. 231
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This truck met a vehicle-eating pothole Thursday in Barrio Lomas, Desamparados
Internet crooks will be targeted internationally
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The United States will reach beyond its borders to catch and convict Internet criminals.

The nation’s top law enforcement official made that promise Thursday as a group of agencies announced the arrests or convictions of more than 125 individuals and more than 70 indictments in a coordinated crackdown on the leading types of online economic crimes.

The top U.S. law official, Attorney General john Ashcroft, said the campaign against cyber crime now has become international. 

"Criminals may be half way around the world, but the Internet gets them close enough to pick the virtual pockets of consumers faster than it takes to send an e-mail," said Ashcroft. ". . . on-line criminals are using more sophisticated techniques to conceal their true identities or locations from law enforcement. Law enforcement faces the challenge of adapting and out-thinking Internet criminals and on-line abusers."

Ashcroft has announced increased cooperation with other governments, including Ghana and Nigeria, to track suspects. Nigeria is the presumed home of the so-called Nigerian scam in which gullible e-mail users are promised a percentage of a large amount of money in exchange for increasing larger amounts of upfront money.

The operation announced Thursday targets a variety of online economic crimes that involved schemes including fraud, software piracy and the fencing of stolen goods. The investigation exposes the ways in which economic crimes are becoming increasingly global and multijurisdictional. 

The ongoing operation, known as Operation Cyber Sweep, was coordinated by 34 offices of U.S. attorneys nationwide, the FBI, the Postal Inspection Service, the Federal Trade Commission, the United States Secret Service, and the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, together with a variety of state, local and foreign law enforcement agencies. 

Some of the crimes were as simple as identity and credit card theft or failing to deliver products. But in one case in Virginia and Tennessee, 21-year-old K.C. Smith used the 

Internet in 2002 to promote a fraudulent scheme that promised investors high returns on their "international tax-free" investments in the Maryland Investment Club, a fictitious enterprise. 

Smith also ran a Web site called Kryer Financial in which he claimed to have all deposits insured by the United States Deposit Insurance Corp., another fictitious organization for which he constructed a convincing Web site. Smith pleaded guilty to two felony charges of securities fraud and got 14 months in prison.

Other cybercriminals broke into other Web sites to steal information or to carry on vendettas.

More than 125 investigations have been opened since Operation Cyber Sweep began on Oct. 1, 2003. Investigators said they have uncovered more than 125,000 victims with estimated losses of more than $100 million.

Operation Cyber Sweep was launched in response to an increase in the reporting of Internet-related complaints to federal agencies, officials said. The Internet Fraud Complaint Center, a joint project of the FBI and the National White-Collar Crime Center, reported that in the first nine months of 2003, it handled 58,392 Internet-related fraud complaints.

In contrast, in all of calendar year 2002, the center referred about 48,000 Internet-related fraud complaints to law enforcement. The Federal Trade Commission reported that more than half of the 218,000 fraud complaints it received in 2002 were Internet-related. 

Ashcroft pointed out that the proliferation of computers and increased access to the Internet makes users more vulnerable to criminal activities, including fraudulent activities like bogus on-line investment clubs, copyright violations and identity theft.

Security experts are also raising concerns that terrorist networks are using the Internet to infiltrate and sabotage security and national infrastructures. They see the increased focus on cyber crimes as an essential element in the global campaign against terrorism. 
 

Jo Stuart, our regular Friday columnist who usually occupied this space, is on vacation this week.
 
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The fingerprint scanner doesn’t hurt at all

U.S. now taking prints
of visa applicants

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

From now on when Costa Ricans go to the U.S. Embassy to obtain a visa to enter the United States, their index fingers will play an important role.

In keeping with new U.S. laws, each visa applicant is having the print on each index finger scanned digitally as part of the application process.

By January officials hope to have the visa system linked to an FBI database so U.S. officials will have more information on which to make a visa decision, according to Nicholas J. Manring, acting consul general.

Typically, a foreigner will be rejected for visas if the U.S. official interviewing him or her believes the individual will overstay the time limit of the visa or is really going to the United States to get a  job or for illegal purposes.

The fingerprints and the required photos provide secure identification, Manring noted.

Fingerprint reading devices have been installed at the interview windows at the U.S. consulate, and the additional process will only add a few minutes to the visa interview, said Manring, as he demonstrated the process to the predominately Spanish-language press Thursday.

Current holders of visas to the United States will not be affected, he said.

In the future, U.S. officials might require prints of more fingers and require foreigners to register their prints when they leave the United States, he said.

The United States seeks to have this system installed in every embassy and consulate where visas are issued worldwide by August.

Pregnant woman dies
in hijacked truck crash

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Bandits took over a truck from its driver Thursday, sped off at high speed and killed a pregnant woman when the vehicle smashed into her car.

The trio of hijackers still were on the loose last night.

The crash happened in Tirrases de Curridabat where truck operator Johnny Coto Montero, 41, was delivering goods and collecting bills. He said he was confronted with a gun held by a man who jumped on the running board of his cargo-carrying truck. Coto said he was shoved to the floor and did not see what happened next.

One of the assailants took over the wheel of the truck and appears to have taken off at high speed.

The dead woman, identified by police as Giselle Guzmán Madrigal was just three blocks from her home when the truck smashed into the driver’s side of her car and rolled atop it. She was dead at the scene. Investigators said she was five months pregnant.

She had just picked up her son, Franco, from school and was headed home. He was injured critically and was hospitalized.

Car thefts, extortions
results in three raids

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Investigators said they have jailed the bulk of a band of car thieves who would then sell the vehicles back to its owner.

Three men were detained when police conducted a series of raids Thursday morning in Santa Ana, nearby Pozos and Río Oro de Santa Ana.

Agents said a fourth suspect, a 25-year-old man, had died recently of natural causes.

The men who were arrested have these last names and ages: Araya, 40; Fallas, 26; and Sandí, 25.  Officials said the men are suspected of taking cars and then telephoning the owners to strike to deal to return the car. The cost for getting the car back was between 500,000 colons and 1.5 million colons, said officials from the Judicial Investigating Organization. That’s from about $1,200 to $3,600, depending on the value of the car.

Investigators said they had seven complains from victims and they expected more. 

Agents said they have jailed at least 170 car theft suspects as a result of recent cases.

Baptist church to end
book study with thanks

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The International Baptist Church concludes "40 Days of Purpose," a study of the book "The Purpose Driven Life" by Rick Warren with a celebration of thanks luncheon Sunday.

"This luncheon will combine the closure of the campaign with a traditional U.S. Thanksgiving Holiday meal in a Celebration of Thanks for God’s many blessings both during the 40 Days of Purpose and throughout this year," said an announcement by the church.

The covered dish luncheon will be held at the church in of Guachipelin following the morning worship service, which begins at 10 a.m.  Pastor Paul Dreessen said that the church has a long tradition of serving the English-speaking community in Costa Rica, whether English is the native tongue or a second language and always welcomes new people to worship with them. 

Pastor Dreessen added that if someone would like to be a part of this Thanksgiving Celebration with the church, he or she can bring a covered dish and come. The church is located on the north side of the across the Autopista Próspero Fernández north of Multiplaza.  For more information, please call the church, 215-2117.

Geological wonders
coming downtown

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

San José officials will be changing the photos in the freestanding sidewalk displays to depict spectacular geological scenes, the municipality reported.

This morning the first photo will be unveiled on the pedestrian mall between the Balmoral and El Presidente hotels.

In addition to the municipality, the program is sponsored by the Escuela Centroamericana de Geología of the Universidad de Costa Rica.
 
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Police planning keeps down violence at trade talks
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

MIAMI, Fla. — Police and protesters clashed here as trade negotiators held talks aimed at creating a Free Trade Area of the Americas by the end of next year. Police made a number of arrests, but there were no reports of the type of widespread violence that has broken out at other trade talks in recent years.

Groups of mostly young anti-globalization activists clashed with police in the streets of downtown Miami on Thursday. About two-thousand heavily armed police in riot gear formed a series of unbreakable lines, creating a security cordon that kept the protesters far away from trade negotiators who are drawing up an agreement which could lead to the creation of a Free Trade Area of the Americas.

Police say their overwhelming presence and the sealing off of much of downtown Miami with high steel fences helped to prevent widespread violence.Protesters said the heavy police presence was not only intimidating but also misguided.

"They [the police] need to be protecting us from those delegates inside the Intercontinental Hotel who are making these deals that are going to affect us so negatively for the rest of our lives,"one female protester said. "I mean we are the ones who need to be protected from them. They do not need to be protected from us. That is the way it is."

Anti-free trade protesters have been organizing for months to oppose the proposed Free Trade Area of the Americas, which they say will encourage the transfer of jobs out of the United States to countries where workers earn low wages 
and have no rights. Proponents of the pact say it 

will encourage economic growth and trade throughout the hemisphere.

Police began sealing off much of downtown Miami earlier this week in preparation for Thursdays protests. Workers like Melissa Bancroft, who runs a delicatessen, say business this week has been the worst in memory.

"It is very slow, these are all our employees who work with me and we are all out here," said Miss Bancroft. "It is very slow no business." As anti-globalization activists protested against the police lines, a much larger group of labor union activists held an anti-free trade rally in a downtown park. John Sweeney, the president of the AFL-CIO, says free trade agreements have had a negative impact on American workers.

"Trade policy is so important to our country and to all the other countries who are represented here," said John Sweeney. "Trade is not working for working families. We have the experience of 10 years of NAFTA [The North American Free Trade Agreement] where the trade deficit has gone from $9 billion to $87 billion over the past 10 years. That has created a tremendous loss of jobs in the United States alone, and it is about time that our trade policies protected the core labor standards of workers and addressed environmental and human rights concerns."

Trade ministers from every country in the hemisphere, except Cuba, are debating a draft trade agreement that sets forth a minimal set of rights and obligations for each country to follow. It will allow countries to opt out of parts of the agreement they do not support, including sections dealing with investment protection, intellectual property rights and agriculture. 


 
New U.S. cargo rules to require notice of international movements
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge has announced new rules concerning advance cargo information intended primarily to prevent terrorist from using cross-border shipments to smuggle weapons and operatives into the United States.

Speaking Thursday at a U.S. Customs symposium in Washington, Ridge said that advance cargo information covered by the final rules of the Trade Act of 2002 just published by the Department of Homeland Security is a "cornerstone" in U.S. efforts to secure the country's borders against terrorism without delaying the flow of goods.

Ridge said that the rules will apply to all modes of transportation but advance notice and manifest timelines will vary.

In a news release, Homeland Security said that the regulations, to become effective in 15 days, also will cover outbound shipments.

Ridge explained that the advance notices' application to outbound cargo is not only a matter of reciprocity toward countries providing information on incoming goods but also a necessity dictated by the need to prevent smuggling of arms and technology out of the United States.

Robert Bonner, U.S. Customs and Border Protection commissioner joined Ridge to answer questions from reporters. He said that the new rules will allow his agency to have for the first time control over every shipment crossing U.S. borders.

"It will make America safer," he said.

With more complete and timely cargo information, Customs will be able to reduce the number of inspections and focus attention on high-risk shipments, Bonner added.

He said that his bureau will be pushing for electronic rather than paper manifests and 

advance notices but added that the new regulations will be phased in over several months in close cooperation with the trade community.

On the related issue of cargo container security, Bonner said that within a month his bureau will launch a "smart" container pilot program. "Smart container" technology would allow customs inspectors without opening the container to see if it was tampered with or opened.

Out of around 16 million cargo containers that enter the country every year only a small percentage is inspected by U.S. Customs agents. U.S. authorities are concerned that these containers can be used by terrorists to smuggle weapons of mass destruction or materials for dirty bombs.

The following are the timelines for all modes of transportation:

Inbound:

Air & Courier - 4 hours prior to arrival in U.S., or "wheels up" from certain nearby areas

Rail - 2 hours prior to arrival at a U.S. port of entry

Vessel - 24 hours prior to lading at foreign port

Truck - Free And Secure Trade (FAST): 30 minutes prior to arrival in U.S.; non-FAST: 1 hour prior to arrival in the U.S.

Outbound:

Air & Courier - 2 hours prior to scheduled departure from the U.S.

Rail - 2 hours prior to the arrival of the train at the border

Vessel - 24 hours prior to departure from U.S. port where cargo is laden

Truck - 1 hour prior to the arrival of the truck at the border


 
National Transportation Safety Board photos
Partly reconstructed fuselage of Flight 800 from debris recovered from the sea
Lawsuit seeks data used to probe Flight 800 crash
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Lisa Michelson remembers the moment she saw the CIA’s video animation depicting TWA Flight 800’s death throes and the seconds in which her son was dying aboard the Paris-bound jumbo jet in July 1996.

"I don’t understand aeronautics, but when I saw the CIA film of the nose coming off and the plane climbing over 3,000 feet, I wanted to vomit," the West Hills, Calif., mother said. "I thought, ‘How can they pull this off?’"

"In my own naïve way I thought about a hunter shooting a bird and hitting it in the head and him going back to the lodge and telling his hunting buddies how he shot this bird and it started flying up, up, up. I wonder how many of his buddies would have believed that fable. I didn’t believe the CIA either. I’m not a scientist but I do know what does and doesn’t make sense." 

On Dec. 15, a Los Angeles Federal Court judge will hear arguments about how much evidence U.S. officials must reveal to support their claims that a decapitated Boeing 747 could soar thousands of feet after 80,000 pounds of nose and cockpit were blown off. The suit seeking the information comes six years after the FBI presented the CIA-produced  animated hypothesis of Flight 800’s last seconds and the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) subsequently presented its own versions.

The issue is important because the FBI, using the CIA’s analysis, and the NTSB concluded that hundreds of witnesses did not see a missile streaking toward the TWA jumbo jet off New York’s coast on July 17, 1996. The agencies’ officials said that what the witnesses saw was flaming fuel from the crippled airliner as it soared upward after its nose was blown off by a hypothetical catastrophic series of mechanical mishaps.

The FBI announced that there was no evidence a bomb or missile struck TWA Flight 800 and caused the deaths of all 230 passengers and crew members aboard. FBI officials said that although scores of witnesses believed they had seen some upward-bound object hit the plane, the observers were deceived by the disintegrating plane’s death spiral upward.

That so-called "zoom climb" was impossible, a retired United Airlines pilot and captain, H. Ray Lahr of Malibu, Calif., said. It’s his suit, filed under the Freedom of Information Act, that’s being heard in Los Angeles.

Lahr, a former aviation accident investigator and safety officer, filed the suit after the NTSB refused to give him the information and calculations it used for its own "zoom climb" analysis or the information and calculations the CIA used. 

 "I don't believe the zoom-climb ever happened," Lahr said. "Boeing provided before-and-after data to the NTSB, and it was published in the accident report.  80,000 pounds of nose and cockpit were blown off.  This shifted the center-of-gravity far aft and generated about 6,000,000 foot-pounds of nose-up torque. The aircraft immediately pitched up and stalled.

"The wing probably failed right then since its center box structure had been blown apart," he continued.  "But using Boeing's data, I calculated that even if the wing had held together, the most the plane could have climbed is a few hundred feet, not the 3,200 feet claimed by the CIA.  That is why I want the data and calculations that were used to produce the CIA and NTSB videos."

Lahr said he tried to get the information at the NTSB’s final public hearing about the Flight 800 crash but was cut off by NTSB director Dr. Bernard Loeb. Lahr said he then exchanged letters with NTSB Chairman Jim Hall but got no answers. Lahr then filed Freedom of Information Act requests with the CIA. The CIA said it used data and conclusions provided by the NTSB. The NTSB said it couldn’t release the information because it was proprietary to Boeing. A Boeing press release said it provided "basic aerodynamic information to assist in the CIA’s analysis of the airplane’s performance (but) we are not aware of the data that was used to develop the video."

"My appeal of the NTSB decision was refused, so my only recourse was a lawsuit," Lahr said. The retired pilot has an engineering degree from the University of Southern California. As a member of the Air Line Pilots Association Safety Committee, he investigated eight major accidents that involved large jet airliners or freighters. Two involved aircraft that crashed into deep ocean water, just as Flight 800 did.

Lahr said other pilots who were eyewitnesses to Flight 800’s crash and aloft at the time refute the zoom-climb hypothesis. Two have filed affidavits in support of Lahr’s suit.

Retired Air National Guard helicopter pilot Major Fred Meyer, a Vietnam War combat veteran and an attorney, said he saw a streak of light with a trajectory like a shooting star explode near the airliner. Based on his combat experience, he said, the light was an explosive projectile, "definitely" a military warhead. He and the rescue helicopter crew, which happened to be on a nearby training mission, watched the fireball immediately plummet to the water as they raced to look for survivors. There was none.

Eastwind Airlines pilot David McClaine’s aerial view of the Flight 800 fireball made him the first person to transmit the message of the tragedy to authorities. He was piloting a Boeing 737 when he saw a light ahead of him in the sky explode into a ball of flames, divide into two large streamers, and immediately fall to the water. Had Flight 800 zoom climbed, it would have done so right through McClaine’s course.

Paul Beaver, a missile specialist for the British military publishing house Jane’s, said both accounts sounded like a missile striking the passenger jet.


Those who doubt the theory that the center full tank exploded from a short circuit make much of the discoloration on part of the outer hull of the plane.
 
Why we publish this

Flight 800 crashed far from Costa Rica, but most of our readers are experienced air travelers with an interest in the quality of its investigation.

Plus A.M. Costa Rica has long supported a citizen’s right to obtain documents and information from his or her government

Lahr’s is one of two TWA-related FOIA suits moving through federal court.

On the East Coast, another engineer has taken the FBI to court in an attempt to acquire the forensic evidence about hundreds of foreign objects the FBI seized from the bodies of the crash victims during their autopsies. The evidence was never shared later with the coroner nor requested by the NTSB.

The engineer, Graeme Sephton, who works at the University of Massachusetts, said he realized that, "unlike other evidence collected from the bottom of the Atlantic, the foreign body evidence is definitive because there is no chain-of-custody ambiguity.  It cannot readily be explained away."

Sephton filed his freedom of information request in 1998. In early 2000 the FBI said it could find only 23 pages of responsive documents relating to the objects that were removed from 89 of the victims.  In July 2000, Sephton sued the FBI for its apparent withholding of documents.  That three-year litigation has produced documents confirming that substantial forensic lab data were withheld from the NTSB and the coroner. Among the 550 pages the FBI has submitted to the Federal District Court in Springfield, Mass, the FBI has surrendered only one page of actual forensic results.

One of the FBI affidavits to the court acknowledged that the FBI had not and would not do a simple keyword search in either of the two computer databases that a former FBI scientist identified as most likely containing the responsive records.

In August the District Court reaffirmed its 2001 judgment in favor of the FBI and returned the case to the First Circuit Court of Appeal in Boston for final review.  On Oct.  24,  the First Circuit rejected the lower court’s ruling and remanded the case back to Springfield District Court.  The First Circuit directed the lower court to now finally  "resolve the FOIA issues raised by Sephton."

A new hearing date is pending.

Apart from the single page released to Sephton, the FBI has released only one other forensic autopsy laboratory report out of those missing hundreds, Sephton said. That report, originally classified "Secret" by the FBI, was an analysis performed by Brookhaven National Lab to evaluate 20 small (1/4-inch diameter) pellets removed during autopsy of the person identified by the medical examiner as case 96-5037. The pellets were designated Item 1B-28. 

The lab report showed that a sample pellet was composed mostly of aluminum with traces of titanium, zirconium, cerium and barium. Such compounds are consistent with incendiary pellets used in some missiles, Sephton said. 

The report merely concluded "unknown origin." The details of 1B-28 were among more than 200 fairly innocuous pages of documents released in response to a Freedom of Information Act request from another independent researcher, Don Collins, in California.

Even if the remarkable incendiary components could be explained, Sephton said, the official low-velocity type fuel explosion could not shatter aluminum into small pellets.

In Los Angeles, the federal suit to dislodge the NTSB’s data about Flight 800’s alleged "zoom climb" is scheduled before Judge A. Howard Matz on Dec. 15 at 10 a.m. 

Lisa Michelson is supporting Lahr’s suit in hopes she will get more information about the death of her son, Yon Rojany, who was 19 at the time of the Flight 800 incident. He was on his way to Italy to try out for the Italian basketball league.

"I never could, and still don’t, understand how our government can discount so many eyewitnesses," Michelson said. "I also couldn’t understand why these people were not allowed to testify at the NTSB hearing. Too many things just didn’t add up. The majority of people to whom I spoke thought me to be a conspiracy nut, so I just stopped talking to them and tried to find out as much as I could on my own. Ray Lahr’s suit will help."

This article was provided by Graeme Sephton, one of the individuals involved in the case against the U.S. federal government. He is a member of the Flight 800 Independent Researchers Organization.


 
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