LNG Tankers, Al Qaeda
says Hub was entryway
Charlie Savage, Boston Globe
Staff - 3/30/2004
WASHINGTON -- The nation's
former deputy counterterrorism czar said yesterday that Al Qaeda
operatives trained in Afghanistan came through Boston Harbor
on liquid natural gas tankers from Algeria and that officials
considered Boston a "logistical hub" for the terror
network's activities in New England before the attacks of Sept.
Roger Cressey, who was the top aide to former counterterrorism
chief Richard A. Clarke, said "more than a dozen" stowaways
with Al Qaeda ties had entered the United States in the late
1990s on tankers that made deliveries to the LNG terminal in
Everett. "The LNG tanker was an underground railroad for
these guys to come into the country illegally," he said.
"Were a majority just looking to come to the US and start
over again? I think that's a safe bet. What we don't know is
what percentage had other motives." Cressey's description
of what counterterrorism officials in the White House and intelligence
agencies knew about Al Qaeda's presence in the Boston area clashed
with statements made last week by Kenneth Kaiser, the special
agent in charge of the FBI's Boston office. Responding to a reference
to Boston-based activity by Al Qaeda in Clarke's new book, "Against
All Enemies," and a radio interview in which the former
White House aide criticized the FBI for not passing the information
on to local authorities, Kaiser told reporters last week that
the FBI had found no evidence that stowaways on the LNG tankers
had ties to the terror network. Kaiser also said that Clarke's
assertions were based on "incomplete information" because
the FBI had briefed Clarke while its investigation into the LNG
tankers was ongoing, and that he may not have known that the
bureau ultimately concluded the stowaways were not terrorists.
But Cressey said in an interview
yesterday that the White House information came from "other
intelligence sources" and that the FBI, which was not focused
on terrorism until after the attacks, may not have known the
full picture. He added that "there are still gaps in our
knowledge of what was going on in Boston," so any definitive
statement by the bureau is suspect. "The ability of the
bureau to have a real good idea of what was going on at those
locations -- those apartments and elsewhere -- was not as good
as it could have been," he said, referring to apartments
where suspected Al Qaeda members lived.
Another former national security official, speaking on condition
of anonymity, agreed with that analysis. "Our interest in
this came from foreign intelligence reporting, not the FBI,"
he said. "The FBI was responsible for looking into it, but
two and two may not have been put together."
Boston FBI office spokeswoman
Gail Marcinkiewicz said the office stood by Kaiser's comments
about what it knew and did not know of any Al Qaeda connections
of stowaways from Algeria on the LNG tankers. "The question
last week and the criticism was that the FBI had information
and did not share it," she said. "What we said and
continue to say is that, based on the investigation we conducted,
we did not have information to support that claim. If we had
that information, that certainly would have been shared."
Cressey also said US intelligence officials believed that Al
Qaeda had turned Boston into a "logistical hub" for
activities throughout New England in the late 1990s, using the
city as a base for proselytizing and moving recruits around.
While intelligence officials
never gathered evidence that Al Qaeda was planning to carry out
an attack in Boston, he said, the network's presence in the city
raised alarms inside the White House. "We knew some of them
had cycled through the training camps in Afghanistan," he
said. "The tankers were being used for transporting individuals
into Boston Harbor, but it doesn't take a stretch of the imagination
to come up with a scenario where something far more serious could
Describing concerns that the
LNG terminal might be a target on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001,
Clarke wrote in his book that "had one of the giant tankers
blown up in the harbor, it would have wiped out downtown Boston."
But Cressey's initial account contained a misstatement. He said,
inaccurately, that the Al Qaeda connection led to a Coast Guard
order that LNG tankers from Algeria could no longer dock in Boston
Distrigas spokeswoman Julie
Vitek said that while the last Algerian tanker docked in January
2002, it was the company that chose to switch its supplier to
Trinidad -- primarily because that source was closer and the
company signed a long-term contract. "Safety and security
play a role in all of our decisions, particularly after Sept.
11, but the fact that an Algerian LNG tanker hasn't called on
Boston Harbor for some time doesn't stem from a government directive,"
A Coast Guard spokesman confirmed that no ban was issued, but
noted that the agency had informed Distrigas that all Algerian
tankers would receive special law enforcement attention when
docking at Boston because the Guard had found stowaways and drugs
on a ship a few months before the attacks.
In a second interview later
in the day, Cressey acknowledged the error, noting he had left
the counterterrorism portfolio at the end of 2001 to spend 10
months working on cyber-security issues before leaving the government.
But he did not back off his other recollections. "We at
the White House and the Coast Guard were very concerned with
this as a potential threat," he said. "If [Distrigas]
said this was more cost-effective, I've got no reason to disagree
with them, but I'm sure nobody is shedding any tears as to not
having these Algerian LNG tankers going into South Boston anymore."
Seth Gitell, a spokesman for
Mayor Thomas Menino of Boston, said Cressey's statements bolster
the mayor's longtime criticism of the presence of the LNG terminal
in Everett. "The unfolding fact pattern continues to reaffirm
Mayor Menino's actions since 9/11," he said. "There
has been much discussion of danger around LNG tankers entering
into Boston, and this new information only reinforces that."
US Representative Edward Markey,
Democrat of Malden, said the FBI has conceded that one of the
men later convicted in the so-called millennium plot to bomb
Los Angeles International Airport, Abdelghani Meskini, arrived
in Boston as a stowaway on an Algerian tanker in January 1995.
But it said he was not a terrorist at the time. Markey said he
found it unlikely that Meskini would be the only terrorist to
use that route and "troubling" that the government
did nothing to increase security at the LNG facility or warn
local authorities after learning how Meskini got in. "They
knew from the moment they arrested Abdelghani Meskini that an
Al Qaeda operative had come through the LNG facility," he
said. "From that point on, why wasn't more done to beef
up security? The coordination of intelligence with law enforcement
before 9/11 was abysmal. This is just one more example of it."
back to top