Thursday, August 17, 2006
Some questions for JonBenet investigators
BOULDER, Colorado -- As I race all over this quiet and beautiful town at the foot of the rockies, following the latest developments in the JonBenet Ramsey case, I keep thinking about troubling questions.
They are questions that arose 10 years ago, when I first started covering this story, and they remain unanswered today. If John Mark Karr actually gave a confession, and if it is true, and if he is to be charged, authorities will want some answers to these questions.
Simply put: How did an intruder get into the Ramsey house? Police said at the outset there was no sign of forced entry, no footprints in the snow. Those assertions have since been challenged, and apparently a window was left unlocked, but the details still matter.
How did the killer navigate through this huge, labyrinth of a house in the dark to find his victim, brutally kill her, and hide the body without waking anyone?
Why did the killer leave a ransom note for a murder? And how did he know private details of John Ramsey's past and his finances?
The questions go on and on.
I'm sitting in a scorching satellite truck writing my story for tonight's "360" and suffering from deja vu. Once again, 10 years later, the story of this girl's terrible death is bringing more questions than answers.
JonBenet murder mystery far from solved
A man named Raymond Donovan, who was President Reagan's secretary of labor, was implicated in a long-forgotten scandal early in the 1980s. Many years later, Donovan was totally vindicated, but he and his family had suffered enormous embarrassment, legal fees and heartache. On the day Donovan was cleared, he said, "Where do I go to get my reputation back? Who do I see about that?"
The Ramsey family today might be asking the same question. Six-year-old JonBenet Ramsey was murdered on Christmas night of 1996. It is difficult to imagine a greater horror for any family to endure -- the brutal death of a beloved daughter, followed by years of suspicion that they were the ones who killed her. In 2003, they were officially cleared, after DNA tests on JonBenet Ramsey's clothing showed trace evidence of an unknown male -- but not any member of the Ramsey family. By that point, the case had largely disappeared from public view, destined, it seemed, to remain an unsolved mystery.
But then, seemingly out of nowhere, came the charges against John Mark Karr, who was arrested yesterday in Bangkok. In a bizarre and chaotic press conference, Karr made damaging admissions -- that he was present when JonBenet died, that her death was accidental, and that he was not "an innocent man." In New York, the Daily News summed up the new developments with a banner headline -- "SOLVED!"
But maybe it's time to put to work some of the lessons from the Ramseys' ordeal. The case is not solved. Karr has not been convicted of anything. No physical evidence has been made public that ties him to the crime. His confession has not been corroborated. In a peculiar press conference earlier today, the Boulder district attorney, Mary Lacy, seemed to claim that her own investigation had a long way to go and that the only reason she ordered the arrest was that she was concerned that Karr might flee or abuse his young students in Bangkok. Those are worthy goals, but they don't prove that Karr killed JonBenet.
No one is more impatient than a journalist. We want our stories resolved -- SOLVED! -- as soon as we learn about them. But in this case, of all cases, it's a good idea to take a deep breath, wait for the charges, the evidence and even the verdict, and then make up our collective minds. Enough reputations have already been unjustly destroyed in the wake of this young girl's death.
'Missing' Marine from 9/11 comes forward
On the night of September 11th, 2001, I stood near the site of the devastated World Trade Center complex, doing live reports on CNN.
One of my most vivid memories is watching police, firefighters, and private citizens desperately searching for possible survivors amid the fiery and smoky rubble. I marveled at their selfless courage. The wreckage that still stood and the rubble that was strewn precariously around the scene could have collapsed at any time.
Their goal was to find survivors. We all presumed many people were trapped under the wreckage, but when the rescue effort was over, only 20 people were pulled out alive.
The new Oliver Stone movie, "World Trade Center," tells the story of two Port Authority police officers -- Sgt. John McLoughlin and Officer Will Jimeno -- who were found by two former U.S. Marines working as volunteers. But the moviemakers only knew the whereabouts of one of the Marines; the other had seemingly vanished.
But now we know about that other one.
About three weeks ago, retired Marine Sgt. Jason Thomas was watching TV and saw a commercial for "World Trade Center." In the commercial, he saw two Marines rescuing two police officers at Ground Zero and realized one of those Marines was actually him!
For almost five years, Sgt. Thomas had decided to keep a very low profile about his heroic role that terrible day; partly because of modesty, and partly because of the emotional toll it took on him. But after family members saw the commercial, they told Sgt. Thomas he should get in touch with the movie producers. So he did. And now, we have gotten in touch with him.
Yesterday, Sgt. Thomas told me the tale of what he did on September 11 -- how he met up with another retired Marine, Sgt. David Karnes, and together they moved along the rubble looking for survivors. They yelled "U.S. Marines, anyone down there?" continuously, but got no responses.
Finally, after night fell, they heard a soft voice coming from the two police officers trapped below them. The two Marines promised both men they would be rescued, and they were. They were seriously injured, but are recovering well.
I saw the movie and believe it was exceptionally well done and, for the most part, realistic. But something very interesting happened in the casting. Because the moviemakers (and most everyone else) didn't know much about the "missing" Marine, the actor playing him is a white man. In real life, Sgt. Thomas is African-American.
Sgt. Thomas says has no hard feelings about the racial mix-up. He realizes he received little acclaim because of his decision to stay quiet, but that's what he wanted to do.
And here is something else noteworthy -- Sgt. Thomas has not seen the movie and doesn't plan to. While he hears it's a very inspirational motion picture, he says the day of September 11, 2001, was too emotional for him, and he doesn't think he's ready to see it played back on the big screen.
Wednesday, August 16, 2006
What really matters about JonBenet's case
I never thought I'd see it. When I covered the JonBenet Ramsey murder and the unending aftermath that started a decade ago, I reached only one firm conclusion about the case -- I just knew that no one would ever be arrested.
Missteps by the police, the apparent wariness of John and Patsy Ramsey, and sheer time seemed to make it impossible for anyone to ever be locked-up for this crime.
Every suspect I heard about was soon discounted by the authorities. Every new lead turned to trash. Every suspicion seemed to lead back to the family or someone very close to them, and yet police could simply not find enough proof to level a charge. The winter of the killing turned to spring, then to summer, then to fall and then winter came again, and still I was stalking the streets of Boulder and filing reports on the horrible murder of a six-year-old girl.
I took to ending many of my stories with a simple statement; something like this: "For all the months of investigation, this is all we know -- a six-year-old girl was killed in her home on Christmas night, and no one has yet spent a day in jail for her murder."
I thought it was a line that captured what really mattered. Beyond the hype and tabloid coverage and prurient interests that swirled around the death of a little beauty queen, I felt I should always point out that she was first a little girl. It was her house. No one was being charged. And that is inherently tragic. I thought it was a line that would last forever.
The man who has been arrested, no one should forget, has not been convicted of this crime and we haven't even heard his side of the story yet. The book on JonBenet's murder is far from closed. But a new chapter has been opened and that is an enormous surprise.
A colleague in New York asked me years ago the perennial question: When will someone be arrested?
I took out a coin, taped it to the top of her computer, and said, "I'll bet you this quarter that it never happens. If it does, take the quarter. Meanwhile, I'll always know I've got 25 cents waiting for me in New York."
I hope she took it today. Best quarter I ever lost.
A case-study in missing the point
I will never cease being amazed at the speed with which the world's leaders miss the point.
As I write, the Capitol dome is visible through our office windows. I'm thinking about the great ideas that America has championed for more than two hundred years. I'm thinking about freedom of speech.
Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad is feeling heat at home over the money he is spending on his nuclear program and charges that Iran has spent a fortune supporting Hezbollah while 40 percent of the Iranian people live in poverty. So he has launched a new blog
, apparently to shore-up support among conservative Muslims at home and abroad.
The site is available in four languages and says precious little in any of them. The president's first post drones on about his childhood, select Iranian history, and of course includes a reference to America as the great Satan. He also asks if the United States and Israel are trying to start World War III.
Is it good for leaders to communicate with their people? I think most folks would say so. Good for them to solicit feedback to better inform their decisions? Again, many of us would agree.
But human rights activists say that is not what is happening in Iran. They say while the president expands his already vast capacity for free speech, his government is shutting down free speech for all its critics -- online, in newspapers, on TV, radio, you name it. And recent history in Iran lends a ring of truth to the critics' charges.
I think the point of free speech is supposed to be that everyone has it, not just the people who can already say what they wish because of their wealth, position or power.
The Iranian president's blog implies that he likes the idea of free speech, but I'll bet he doesn't like what I've written here.
What do you think: Is he missing the point?
Tuesday, August 15, 2006
Abu Ghraib whistleblower: 'I lived in fear'
Joe Darby is a military guy. A tough guy. About 6-feet tall, with a shaved head. He is best known as the whistleblower behind the Abu Ghraib prison scandal in Iraq.
"I think the picture that bothered me the most was the one you see on TV and Internet of the male Iraqi standing and the other male Iraqi kneeling in front of him with the sandbags over their heads," Darby told me today.
Darby was first given the disturbing pictures by Specialist Charles Graner, who is now serving 10 years for his part in the abuse. Darby said he had asked Graner for photos from their travels so he could share them with his family. Instead, he got photos of prisoner abuse.
For weeks, Darby struggled with the biggest decision of his life. Should he turn in the photos to the Criminal Investigation Division?
"Ultimately it needed to be done. ... It had to be done," he said.
As the suspects were rounded-up, Darby grew scared.
"They had their weapons. They slept in the same compound I did. And they were trying to find out who turned them in. For that four to six weeks, I lived in fear that they would figure out it was me. I slept with a loaded weapon under my pillow until they left," he said.
Unfortunately, Darby couldn't stay anonymous forever. While dining at the mess hall with 400 others, he watched and listened as Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld publicly thanked him on national television. Darby says he left the mess hall immediately, out of fear.
Darby stood his ground as members of the military and his own family ostracized him. They called him a rat, a traitor, and a whistleblower.
"I don't like the tag that much. I view it as -- I was a soldier and I was an MP. I was just doing my job. And they violated the law," he said.
Things got so bad his wife called the Pentagon for extra security. Eventually, Darby and his wife had to move away. They entered military protective custody.
Today, they won't tell anyone where they live or who they work for. Still, Darby says he's proud to have served in the military and that he has no regrets.
(Editor's note: Randi Kaye's piece on Joe Darby airs on "360", tonight 10 p.m. ET)
'The most dangerous two miles in America'
Drive up and down the New Jersey Turnpike, and it's easy to see why this state is a potential playground for terrorists. There is a two mile stretch from Newark Airport to Port Elizabeth that terrorism experts have dubbed, "The most dangerous two miles in America."
"It's the consequence that frankly scares the pants off of us, when you think about what might happen in such a congested area," says New Jersey Homeland Security Director Richard Canas.
New Jersey is the most densely populated state in the country. And on this particular swath of land there are hundreds of potential terrorist targets -- chemical plants, rail yard, rail lines, refineries, an international airport, and the third largest port in the country, Port Elizabeth.
If a terrorist were to strike one of the many chlorine gas plants here, how much damage could he do?
Canas says a worst-case attack would bring lethal harm to more than 12 million people in a 14 mile radius. Even so, he's most concerned about the port itself. More than four million containers arrive there every year. But they are only inspected on the way out, not on the way in.
Clark Kent Ervin, a CNN security analyst and former inspector general of DHS, says New Jersey needs more money, better technology, and tighter perimeter security to really protect itself.
Canas tells me he has asked the federal government for $800 million to secure the state, but only got 10 percent of that. So he's forced to rely on tips from the public to keep safe. This year, his homeland security department received only one tip about a suspicious vessel.
What makes the chemical plants vulnerable?
Canas says only a fraction of the security requirements are mandated by the state of New Jersey. Most policing is left up to the plants themselves.
I spent some time yesterday in Kearny, New Jersey, where many of the potential targets fall. I talked to Deputy Police Chief Jack Corbett, who told me, "We have adequate patrols there. Could we staff that area 24 hours a day with 100 people to try and keep terrorists away? I don't think that's possible."
The railways in the area are another concern. Given the passenger train bombings in India and London, Canas has added rail marshals and is increasing training for transit police.
After hearing about all these vulnerabilities, I wonder how much will be enough when it comes to deterring terrorism.
Monday, August 14, 2006
Key oil port concerned about security
Los Angeles, Miami, the New York region -- those are areas that probably come to mind when you think about port security. But in Louisiana, the focus is on Port Fourchon (pronounced Foo-shon).
The port is a beehive of activity, with hundreds of boats constantly on the move, carrying supplies or crew members to offshore oil rigs. There are miles of pipes waiting to be put on ships and brought out to sea for use on oil rigs and on the ocean floor.
But what you don't see is what makes the port commission here worried about the possibility of a terrorist attack.
Each day, more than 1.5 million barrels of crude oil are pumped from offshore to Port Fourchon through underground pipelines. The site handles nearly 20 percent of all the crude oil the United States uses each day.
A well-planned terrorist attack would sever this critical energy artery, causing significant damage to the U.S. economy.
Right after 9/11, Port Fourchon received a healthy security grant from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS). It enabled the port to set up 16 cameras with an unblinking eye on all important sites on the 700-acre facility. The harbor police also bought a patrol boat to monitor activity near offshore rigs.
But Port Fourchon can't count on getting any more money from DHS, even though the federal agency doles out millions of dollars each year.
Ted Falgout, the port's commissioner, says DHS changed the criteria for its security grants -- DHS gauges the amount of cargo that comes in, and oil through a pipeline doesn't fit that bill. So Port Fourchon will likely have to be content with what it has, despite its desire for more patrol boats, harbor police and training.
So the busy port goes on with business as usual, hoping it never has to deal with a terrifying "what if" scenario. DHS did not respond to requests for comment on this story.
America the vulnerable
Three years ago, New York City went black, along with dozens of other cities in the eastern United States and Canada.
A massive power failure sent millions of people pouring into the streets trying to figure out how to stay at work, head home, or do much of anything with no electricity. And immediately, fears arose that the crippling blackout might be the work of terrorists.
It was not, of course, but three years later many of the major systems we rely on for everyday life remain vulnerable. Protecting our electrical supplies, computer networks, transportation systems, our economy, food, and water, remains an almost overwhelming challenge for security analysts.
The simple truth is, in our free society, there is too much to protect. Just look at the sheer number of potential targets in Target America.
The United States has more than 6,000 power generating stations from coast to coast, transmitting electricity over a half million miles of bulk transmission lines.
There are 12,000 miles of coast, 141,000 miles of railroad lines, 11 major seaports, with a dozen more up the Mississippi.
America has more than 5,000 airports with paved runaways.
There are 47,000 shopping centers, attracting nearly 200 million Americans each month.
Cyber attack? This year, the number of Americans using the internet, according to the Computer Industry Almanac, hit 198 million.
How do we even count the public events in which we might be vulnerable to a mad bomber or group of crazed gunmen -- concerts, sporting events, conventions, worship services, political rallies?
And what about the physical sites that matter so much to our national identity -- the great buildings that mark our skylines, the monuments to our nation's history and honor?
Every security analyst I have spoken to for years has said the same thing: We can't protect everything, and one day terrorists will hit America again.
So if that is a fact, what should we do in the meantime? Are we doing enough to secure ourselves against the most pressing threats or are we doing too much, living in the darkness of our fear so much that the terrorists are already winning?
Sunday, August 13, 2006
'Hello, Bonjour, Willkommen, Salaam Aleikum'
I set out on a walk of central London to gauge the mood. I began in Soho and went south toward Westminster.
Regent Street, with its high-end stores, was bustling. Hamleys toy store was packed -- sardine tight-- just like FAO Schwarz in New York City. Tall men dressed in pirate costumes engaged the children. I was struck by a young Muslim girl, her hair covered by a traditional black scarf, working the cashier.
I passed Picadilly Circus and stopped at Trafalgar Square. People were lined along the railings outside the National Gallery. Others sat at the base of Lord Nelson's column watching a modern dance recital performed by an Asian women's group.
The narrator welcomed everyone, saying, "Hello, Bonjour, Willkommen, Salaam Aleikum" -- a multicultural greeting for the tourists and Brits who had stopped to see what was going on. No one seemed worried. No one seemed afraid. They felt safe enough to stop and linger.
The sound of Indian music boomed over the loudspeakers and women in brightly colored saris walked out in a traditional bridal procession. It was a dance about women who crossed the ocean to have a different life than the ones they might have lived in Asia and the Pacific.
The roar of an airplane came across the speakers, and a voice talking about women's struggles and challenges said, "Fasten your seat belt there is turbulence ahead." Having spent the last 72 hours immersed in covering the jetliner terror plot, I smiled at the irony.
I was surprised to see only four policemen outside 10 Downing Street, where Prime Minister Tony Blair lives. An American man turned to his son, who looked to be about 10 years old, and said, "There's lots more security outside the White House." Though in all fairness, it could be due to the fact the prime minister and his family are on vacation in Barbados.
Reaching Westminster Hall and Parliament, I smiled as families snapped photos with Big Ben in the background. Millions of people from around the world must have that same photo of themselves from the exact same street corner.
It wasn't until I stepped off the return bus at Oxford Circus that I was yanked back to reality. A poster from the Evening Standard with the headline -- "TERROR PLOT: NEW DETAILS" -- in capital letters. I asked a shopkeeper whether business at 4:00 in the afternoon was slower than normal and he said, "Actually it's busier. People can't leave. We can't get rid of them." With that, he smiled and I walked back to the office.