“Weapons of mass effect” found on American soil says San Diego port director

In a startling video of a recent interview released yesterday, the assistant director of San Diego’s cruise port revealed that “weapons of mass effect” had been found in the past. As the interview continued, on-camera comments suggested a cover-up of important information regarding port safety.

In an interview reported on Fox News, San Diego assistant port director Al Hallor, also an officer with U.S. Customs and Border Protection, said that authorities had uncovered weapons of mass effect in the past and that San Diego was a target for terrorism.

“Given the open waterways and the access to the Navy fleet here, I’d say, absolutely, San Diego is a target,” Hallor said. When asked if they ever found a chemical agent or weaponized device Hallor replied “At the airport, seaport, at our port of entry we have not this past fiscal year, but our partner agencies have found those things”

Immediately, a public affairs officer stepped in to intervene, attempting to steer the interview in a different direction, limiting questions to just the Port of San Diego.

Homeland Security officials tried to say the assistant director was confused and nervous. Later in the day, the Customs and Border Protection issued this statement:

“CBP has not specifically had any incidents with nuclear devices or nuclear materials at our ports of entry. CBP is an all-threats agency. The purpose of many security measures is to prevent threats from ever materializing by being prepared for them. And, we must be prepared to stop threats in whatever form they do materialize at the border, whether it’s an individual or cargo arriving by land, air, or sea. Regardless of what the contraband or threat is, we’re being smart, evaluating, and focusing in on anything or anyone that is potentially high-risk.

We were able to show you first-hand one example of how we evaluate segment risk, inspect, etc. in the cargo environment by air and sea here in San Diego. This is one portion of the CBP mission, and hopefully gives you some examples of how much has evolved in the past decade, with the new technologies we have at our disposal. This, coupled with document requirements at the border, advanced passenger and cargo information, better information sharing, and many other measures help us to secure the border – and each measure doesn’t work individually or in a vacuum, but rather in the layered security that we were able to demonstrate one facet of.”

The Port of San Diego recently made news on another front when they introduced the technology that allows cruise ships to “plug in” when at port, turning off their highly-polluting engines while in port.

Flickr photo by Port of San Diego

Foreign tourist planning to visit the United States? Here is how to avoid the $14 ESTA fee for the next two years!

As you’ve read here on Gadling, tourists planning to visit the U.S. will soon have to start paying a $14 fee. $10 of that fee goes into a fund to help promote tourism to the U.S. – and yes, we totally understand how insane it is to ask tourists coming here to pay to promote coming here.

That said, there is a way to avoid this fee for the next 24 months – simply apply for an ESTA visa before September 8, and leave the “travel information” fields empty. These fields are not required and your form will be processed just fine without them.

This will get you approval (assuming you are not a terrorist) and a 24 month ESTA authorization, without having to pay any fees. The only requirement is that your passport needs to be valid for the entire 24 month period. Once it expires, you’ll need to re-apply (and pay the fee.)

If you wait till after September 8, you’ll be charged the $14 fee. So, even if you are not sure you are coming to the United States, apply anyway, and in the worst case, you’ll have lost ten minutes of your time. Then, when you get here, use the $14 you saved to buy something nice.

[Photo from: Getty Images]

LAX launches iWatch program

Los Angeles’ community anti-terror program, iWatch, has been expanded to the Los Angeles International Airport. The program, created by the LAPD, is intended to “educate the public about behaviors and activities that may have a connection to terrorism.”

Launched last October iWatch uses posters and pamphlets to spread the message. These printed materials encourage readers to report suspicious activity and list contact information for reporting perceived threats.

Critics worry the program may be used to racially profile innocent people. Los Angeles mayor Villaraigosa was careful in pointing out, “iWATCH not only provides an avenue to report suspicious activity, but more importantly it involves and educates the public about suspicious activities and behaviors, not personal characteristics, that may be associated with terrorist activities. The LAPD’s website lists suspicious behavior but doesn’t provide guidance on profiling.

Those witnessing suspicious behavior are encouraged to report using the threat line at 1-877-A-THREAT (1-877-284-7328), call 911 if an emergency or crime is occurring, contact their local police station, or go to iwatchla.org to file a report.

(Photo: Flickr/drbertdelgado)

Travel lobbying: Cuba, medical leave cost $305,000

Money may be tight in the travel business, but there’s always some pocket change hanging around for lobbyists. In the first quarter of 2010, the American Hotel & Lodging Association shelled out $305,000 on federal lobbying. Cuba was one of the top items, along with labor issues such as family medical leave and health insurance for small businesses in the industry.

Shocked at the number? I am, too. I figured it would be a tad higher. Given the strain on the travel industry as a result of prevailing economic conditions, I had a feeling that the industry would be lobbying hard for flexibility to save some cash and add a little more to the till.

The organization’s lobbying targets included Congress and the Departments of Labor, Commerce and Homeland Security.

Video shows the cause of Newark Airport shutdown – a couple in love

On Sunday, thousands of passengers ended up stuck at Newark airport for several hours, forced to evacuate the terminal, go through security again, and wait for the many flight delays and disruptions that happened as a result.

Some passengers tried to make the best of the situation. Many probably expressed frustration with the TSA employee who allowed a mystery man to walk the wrong way through a security checkpoint. And others may have wondered who the man was who caused them to suffer through the ordeal.

Was he a terrorist checking out the security system? Was he a man who made an Innocent mistake? No, as the just-released video footage of the incident suggests, he was a just a guy in love, looking for a few more minutes with his sweetheart. On the video below, you can see him hanging out by the security desk. He’s asked to move and does so, but when the guard leaves his post just a few seconds later, the guy takes that opportunity to duck under the rope and join his lady friend.

Ah, love. Cute, right? No. Not even a little. As a result of this guy breaking the law, and of the TSA employee’s failure to do his job, thousands of people were needlessly evacuated from the terminal. Time and money were wasted. And a few hundred people probably missed important connections or meetings, or at least had their vacation get off to a really bad start.

This guy wasn’t a terrorist (just an idiot), but the next person who tries and succeeds in getting past security could be. More than just frustrating travelers going through Newark on Sunday, the incident exposed just how insufficient TSA security is. What good are X-ray scanners and full-body pat-downs when a guy can simply breeze past an empty guard desk? It looks like our biggest threat to security may not be underpants bombs, but rather the lax attitudes of some employees within the TSA.

The TSA employee has been placed on administrative leave. The man who slipped past security has not been identified.


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