Report warns Guam, CNMI
Post-9/11 report details terror threat
By Gaynor Dumat-ol Daleno
Pacific Daily News
Guam and the Northern Marianas offer a "ready-made environment" for terror groups to launch attacks on U.S. facilities and personnel, according to a report that assessed security vulnerabilities on the islands in the aftermath of the 9/11 terror attacks.
With the nation's security at stake and the islands vulnerable to terror groups, the report states that "the level of safeguards and federal control" on the islands has not measured up.
A federal government regional security specialist prepared the report five years ago, but it has resurfaced in light of the federal conspiracy case filed earlier last week against Mark D. Zachares.
Zachares, a former Northern Marianas Cabinet official and ex-congressional staffer, said he used his job while still employed in the U.S. Congress to seek a copy of the report at the request of now disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff.
Zachares pleaded guilty on April 24 and is cooperating with authorities in the widening investigation into public corruption and Abramoff's lobbying activities. Abramoff has pleaded guilty to corruption and fraud charges.
The prosecution's case against Zachares in the U.S. District Court of the District of Columbia states that he used his various positions as congressional staffer to obtain insider information for Abramoff in exchange for a "steady stream" of gifts from the lobbyist and his associates.
Zachares in plea documents admitted that he accepted $10,000 in two wire transfers, a golfing trip to Scotland that included luxury accommodations, and a $160,000 Gulfstream charter jet service; and $30,000 worth of tickets to sporting events and concerts in the Washington, D.C., area.
Zachares is cooperating with prosecutors and, according to his plea agreement, has to provide "substantial assistance" in the ongoing federal investigation.
The security assessment report wasn't meant to be seen by lobbyists like Abramoff, who at the time was being paid by the Northern Marianas government to fight any federal attempt to take away immigration powers from the CNMI government.
Local immigration control in the CNMI has helped the local economy tap into foreign workers' skills for lower than U.S. minimum wage, but at the same time, CNMI control of immigration has become a loophole in the tight federal screening of foreigners entering other parts of the United States, including Guam, according to previous PDN interviews with authorities.
The 2002 report states if the "high-risk environment is allowed to stand, it will continue to threaten federal and public interests and seriously jeopardize the national security of the United States."
Guam Delegate Madeleine Bordallo last week said: "It is an egregious breach of the public trust for a federal employee to provide a classified government report to a lobbyist for private gain.
"I would not go so far as to say our nation's security was compromised," the delegate said, "but I would say that classified information is classified for a reason."
Since the Abramoff public corruption scandal broke more than a year ago, the Democrats in the U.S. Congress have tightened the House rules, but Democrats say more should be done to "eradicate the corrupt lobbying practices that the Abramoff scandals represent."
Abramoff was paid about $7 million by the Northern Marianas government between 1998 and 2002, according to Zachares' plea documents.
The 2002 security report strongly recommended tighter scrutiny of foreigners entering the islands, in part by applying U.S. immigration law in the Northern Marianas and positioning federal Customs agents at Guam points of entry for passengers and cargo.
The report is labeled "sensitive -- for limited official use only".
R. G. Meissner, a regional security specialist with the U.S. Attorney's Office East District of Virginia prepared the report on April 25, 2002.
The report was prepared at the request of Frederick Black, then-acting U.S. Attorney for the Districts of Guam and the CNMI.
According to the report, Meissner visited both districts in January and February 2002. Meissner said federal law enforcement officials, and a variety of military and territorial officials were consulted.
Previously compiled documents, surveys, reports, newspaper articles and other information pertaining to security-related actions also were reviewed, according to the report.
The CNMI, according to CNMI Attorney General Matthew Gregory, also is "a victim of the Abramoff conspiracy in other ways, not only in the overcharging of lobbying fees, but most significantly in the besmirching of the commonwealth's reputation."
Gregory stated, in a written comment, that the report "is primarily focused on physical security," of federal offices on the islands and emphasizes obtaining additional funding from Washington.
"CNMI immigration is mentioned almost as an afterthought," Gregory stated.
'Single most cause of concern'
The report states that the lack of oversight by federal immigration law enforcers over the screening of foreigners entering the CNMI is "the single most cause of concern" expressed by all federal law enforcement officials who provided input for the report.
Abramoff allegedly used his connections at the Justice Department to suppress the security-risk assessment report, according to a January 2006 statement from California Rep. George Miller and several other Democratic members of Congress.
The report was never acted upon, according to the statement from the congressional Democrats.
"The entire justice system lacks credibility when ... lobbyists are permitted to gain access to information that they cannot legally have," according John Conyers, senior Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, in the January 2006 joint statement that also included the signature of Bordallo.
The risk assessment report was made at the request of Black, the acting Assistant U.S. Attorney on Guam and the CNMI at the time, according to a Justice Department Office of Inspector General report last year.
Prepared seven months after 9/11, the report lists examples of the presence of certain people or groups on the islands that raise security concerns:
A man who claimed to be Iranian attempted to enter Guam using forged documents, and immediately requested asylum when arrested.
"Federal authorities fear that this individual is from Kabul and has terrorist ties," the report noted.
During a routine discussion between a member of the U.S. Attorney's Office and an official of the Guam airport agency, it was learned that the Guam airport received letters from three different addresses within Iraq.
"Each letter contained a request for maps, posters and promotional materials about Guam and the airport," the security report stated. "The information was compiled and was being readied for dispatch when it was discovered by a supervisor who brought the requests to the attention of higher management. No materials or information were provided."
Past incidents provide sufficient indication that Guam and the CNMI are being considered as possible targets for terrorist activity, according to the report.
It mentions a "bio-terrorism threat" that was received at several local government locations.
The threat was credited to al-Qaida "as much as one year prior to the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center," according to the report.
The identification of possible al-Qaida "cell members and other highly questionable individuals foster additional concern," according to the report.
"Additionally, there is a growing sentiment among federal officials that since the attacks against U.S. sites in Malaysia and Singapore were foiled, Guam and the CNMI have ... been moved up on a list of potential targets in the Pacific. These factors and others create a valid concern," according to the five-year-old security report.
While the report was being prepared, according to Meissner, a federal attorney on Guam was attempting to gather "open-source information" -- for the report -- about bombings in the Philippines.
But in the process of doing the electronic research, according to the report, the federal attorney's anti-hacking software warned that "the online activity was being monitored from a source in Pakistan."
Transnational crime organizations
The report made a host of recommendations, but it's unclear whether the recommendations were ever followed.
Besides beefing up Guam and Northern Marianas border security with federal law enforcers, the report also recommended "continuous on-island oversight of financial transactions ... to curtail the activities of transnational criminal organizations."
The report states there's indication of presence of Japanese, Russian, Chinese and other organized crime groups in the Northern Marianas.
"It would also provide U.S. authorities a means to monitor and prevent a flow of funding to terrorist groups and the countries that sponsor and support their efforts," according to the report.
"The presence of several transnational criminal organizations on Guam and in the CNMI coupled with the lack of federal immigration, customs and interdiction patrols present a critical vulnerability to the federal government and a ready made environment for terrorist groups to perpetrate any number of actions," according to the report.
'Done all they can'
U.S. Attorney Leonardo Rapadas, who covers Guam and replaced Black in the CNMI, said in a written response to e-mailed comments from the PDN: "All matters related to the Abramoff case are being handled by the Task Force from the U.S. Department of Justice in Washington, D.C."
But he said federal efforts on the island continue to be geared toward protecting the islands against security threats.
"We want to assure those who reside on Guam and in the CNMI that federal and local authorities have done all they can to protect their safety," Rapadas said. "Our efforts are continuing, we are at all times seeking to strengthen and improve the defenses against terrorist and national security threats."
Originally published April 30, 2007