Boston FBI Denies Terrorists Entered U.S. Aboard Algerian LNG Tankers

FBI officials in Boston categorically denied Friday claims by former Bush administration counterterrorism chief Richard A. Clarke that the FBI failed to alert local authorities when it discovered in late 1999 that al Qaeda terrorists had been coming into Boston harbor aboard liquefied natural gas (LNG) tankers from Algeria.

"The FBI did a thorough investigation of LNG tankers coming into Boston [in 1999], and we concluded they were not being used to transport terrorists into Boston," FBI Special Agent Gail Marcinkiewicz told NGI.

"We didn't brief the mayor that there was an al Qaeda cell here, because there wasn't one," said Kenneth Kaiser, special agent-in-charge of the FBI's Boston office, in a Boston Globe article Friday. He told the newspaper the FBI was looking into the aborted "millennium" plot in 1999 to blow up Los Angeles International Airport when it learned that several people were being questioned in Boston for entering the U.S. as stowaways on LNG tankers from Algeria.

The Joint Terrorism Task Force, which was made up of members from the Boston police and the Massachusetts State Police, carried out an in-depth investigation and concluded that none of the stowaways were terrorists, Kaiser said.

Clarke said in new tell-all book, Against All Enemies, that "al Qaeda operatives had been infiltrating Boston by coming in on LNG tankers from Algeria" prior to the terrorist attacks in the U.S. on Sept. 11, 2001. The just-released book has sent shock waves throughout Washington, DC, and Boston.

Furthermore, Clarke said that on Sept. 11 top officials in the White House situation room feared that an attack was imminent on Boston through the LNG terminal in Everett, MA, and warned the U.S. Coast Guard that Boston Harbor may be an al Qaeda target, the Globe reported.

Distrigas of Massachusetts, which operates the Everett LNG terminal, disputed all of Clarke's claims. "We have no reason to believe there is any truth to the comments about LNG contained in Mr. Clarke's book," company spokeswoman Julie Vitek told NGI.

"Since we began operation in 1971, all LNG ships have been physically boarded, inspected and cleared by the Coast Guard before entering the Port of Boston. In addition, there is a check for stowaways. On the rare occasions stowaways have attempted to enter Boston harbor in the past...the individuals were identified and apprehended well before vessels transited the [port]," according to a Distrigas statement.

"There have been no stowaway incidents of any kind involving an LNG tanker in Boston not only for several months leading up to 9/11, but years," the company said.

Distrigas noted that an Algerian LNG tanker has not entered Boston harbor since May 4, 2001. Massachusetts Director of Public Safety Ed Flynn told the Globe the Coast Guard had barred Algerian tankers from the port since Sept. 11, but he said the reason for the action was never made clear.

Vitek said the Everett terminal received two Algerian shipments in December 2001 and January 2002, but the LNG was brought into Boston harbor aboard Luxembourg-flagged tankers, which were manned by European crews and officers. The bulk of the LNG shipped to the Everett terminal now comes from Trinidad.

Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-MA) last week called on Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge and Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta to respond to the allegations contained in Clarke's book.

"If Clarke's assertions are true, the Bush administration has ill-informed the Congress, state and local officials in Massachusetts, and the public about the risks that liquefied natural gas tankers and shipments pose to the security of the Boston metropolitan area," said Markey, a senior member of the House Select Committee on Homeland Security and a long-time critic of the security surrounding LNG.

"I was told that there was no known threat by al Qaeda to LNG facilities" by Mineta shortly after Sept. 11, he said. "If terrorists successfully infiltrating the U.S. on LNG tankers do not constitute a threat to LNG tankers or facilities, I don't know what does."

He further said he was "shocked" to learn that, despite claims by the administration that it relied on safety and security studies when it re-opened Boston harbor to LNG tanker traffic in the fall of 2001, Clarke wrote that "had one of the giant tankers blown up in the harbor, it would have wiped out downtown Boston."

According to Distrigas, the Coast Guard found "no specific threats to LNG shipments" in Boston harbor in the fall of 2001.

In separate letters, Markey asked both Ridge and Mineta to identify the risks a successful terrorist attack on an LNG tanker or storage facility would pose to the communities bordering Boston harbor, as well as to disclose when the Bush administration first became aware that al Qaeda operatives reportedly had stowed away on LNG tankers and why stronger security measures weren't in place for LNG crews or passengers. He also asked what the government was doing to prevent al Qaeda from targeting LNG facilities in the future.

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