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ABC investigated over uranium smuggling report


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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Justice Department is considering whether to bring charges against two ABC News employees who smuggled depleted uranium into the United States as part of a report on port security, government sources said.

The network said Thursday that its employees had done nothing illegal.

Federal authorities recovered a shipment of about 15 pounds of harmless material within an hour of its arrival at the port of Los Angeles, California, the sources said.

ABC said two producers packed the depleted uranium into a suitcase sent to Los Angeles aboard a container ship from the Indonesian capital of Jakarta. The network's report on homeland security vulnerabilities, by investigative correspondent Brian Ross, is scheduled to air Thursday night.

start quote"(The bogus smuggling) forces us to chase ghosts using homeland resources at a time when we are trying to prevent terrorist acts in our country.end quote
-- Dennis Murphy, Department of Homeland Security spokesman

"It is a valid and important test. We do not believe we committed any crime," ABC News Vice President Jeffrey Schneider said.

He said those involved in the project did not intend to defraud the government since it is legal to import the uranium, although they did not register it as required.

The Justice Department said it would not comment publicly about any investigation, but an official said any allegations about possible criminal conduct are taken seriously. However, there was no hint of charges being brought soon.

ABC official: 'We simply tested the system'

In a report published on its Web site, ABC News said it successfully brought the material into the United States from Indonesia to test security at American ports.

"Terrorists would not declare the uranium," Schneider said, explaining why it was a valid test of the system meant to detect weapons of mass destruction attempting to enter the United States.

"We simply tested the system," he said.

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ABC said weapons-grade uranium would have given off a similar signature in the screening devices that officials use at American ports.

But Department of Homeland Security officials said their screening system worked.

Department spokesman Dennis Murphy said that the container had been examined on arrival in Los Angeles and that radiation detectors would have indicated the presence of weapons-grade uranium.

"We don't calibrate for the fake stuff," he said.

Murphy said the department will take a "hard look at what happened there."

But he said the ABC report "forces us to chase ghosts using homeland resources at a time when we are trying to prevent terrorist acts in our country."

CNN's Kelli Arena, Kevin Bohn, Terry Frieden and Jeanne Meserve contributed to this report.


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