Army destroying last chemical weapons in Utah cache

Army destroying last chemical weapons in Utah cache

At 2:11 p.m. Wednesday, a tray carrying 23 projectiles packed with mustard agent was removed from a 1,500-degree furnace at a U.S. Army facility in Utah. The two-hour process stripped the mustard agent of its toxicity -- its ability to blister the skin and attack the respiratory system.

And with that, officials celebrated the destruction of the last hard weapons at the Deseret Chemical Depot, which once housed the Army’s largest cache of chemical agents.

By the end of the week, when officials burn the last of the depot’s skin and lung irritant, the Army will have destroyed about 90% of its chemical weapons, the Associated Press reported. It could take until 2021 to rid depots in Colorado and Kentucky of the final 10%.

Although the U.S. will miss an April 29 deadline to dispose of all its chemical weapons, as it vowed to do under an international treaty, it’s further along than other nations that have signed on. Russia, for example, has destroyed about half of its stockpile, the AP said.

Disposing of chemical weapons is a delicate task. For decades, the depot near Tooele, Utah, burned toxins in the open air, the Salt Lake Tribune reported. In the 1970s, chemical incineration was halted while researchers figured out more environmentally sound methods.

Since weapons destruction resumed in 1996, the remote depot has rid itself of 1.1 million munitions and 13,600 tons of chemical agents.


Digging up chemical weapons in D.C.

Threatened by giant snakes, U.S. will ban import of 4 species

Snow wimps: Seattle is shut down by first real snow of the season

--Ashley Powers in Las Vegas

Photo: Becky Webster positions a container filled with 170 gallons of nerve gas onto a pallet at the Deseret Chemical Depot in Tooele, Utah, in 2001. This week, the depot is destroying the last of its toxins. Credit: Douglas C. Pizac/Associated Press

Arizona bombing trial: 2 white supremacists and one femme fatale

Arizona bombing
White supremacist Dennis Mahon couldn’t resist the woman in fishnet stockings and a thong.

She lived in a trailer at a campground in Oklahoma, where she displayed the Confederate flag and a fair amount of skin. She also gave Mahon, about 20 years her senior, at least two racy photos. In one, she wore a white bikini top and a grenade. In the other, the thong.

“Thought you'd love the butt shot,” she said in a note, according to the Associated Press.

In turn, Mahon boasted that he’d been involved with several bombings, including one in the Phoenix suburb of Scottsdale in 2004 that injured a black city official.

That’s exactly what federal investigators wanted.

The femme fatale, identified in court papers as Rebecca Williams, was working as an informant for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. She was paid every time she made contact with Mahon and his twin brother, Daniel, she testified at a court hearing, and was promised $100,000 if the men were convicted.

“I'm a girl, and they're guys,” she said, according to the Arizona Republic. “Guys like to talk to pretty girls.”

Mahon's attorneys argued that the ruse was essentially entrapment, in that Mahon was attracted to Williams and would make "exaggerated self-aggrandizing claims" to impress her, the AP reported. But a judge refused to throw out the brothers’ wiretapped conversations.

The Mahons, 61, have pleaded not guilty to charges stemming from the Scottsdale bombing, in which a package blew up in the hands of the city’s diversity director, Don Logan. The Mahons’ federal trial in Phoenix began this week and is expected to last two months.

Dennis Mahon has been active in the White Aryan Resistance movement and the Ku Klux Klan, and once called Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh a hero, reported KOTV in Tulsa, Okla.

“As a white separatist, I'd like to have my own schools, my own culture and my own community spirit. And if you look at it, it's a natural way of doing things,” he told the station in 1998, when he ran for mayor of Tulsa.


Van der Sloot pleads guilty: Closure for Natalee Holloway's family?

Polygamist leader Warren Jeffs loses prison phone privileges

Supreme Court orders new trial for convicted New Orleans killer

--Ashley Powers in Las Vegas

Photo: Don Logan, diversity director of Scottsdale, Ariz., was injured in 2004 when a package bomb detonated in his hands. Credit: Emily Piraino / East Valley Tribune / Associated Press

Lori Berenson returns to U.S. from Peru for holiday visit


Lori Berenson returned to the United States Tuesday morning for the first time after spending 15 years in a Peruvian prison for supporting revolutionary groups during a brutal civil war.

Now 42, Berenson arrived with her 2-year-old son, Salvador, at Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey, was greeted by her parents and a taken to a waiting car to go to Manhattan. She did not speak with the gaggle of reporters.

Rhoda Berenson, Lori’s mother and Salvador’s grandmother, earlier clutched a Bloomingdale's bag containing a winter coat for her grandson.

“We are looking forward to the first holiday at home in a long, long time and many relatives who haven't met Salvador are excited to see him,” she told the Associated Press. “This is not a political time; this is a time for family, friends and holidays.”

Mark Berenson told the news agency that his daughter was looking forward to showing her son around New York City and acquainting him with Hanukkah traditions. He said the toddler loves snow, which he has rarely seen in Peru.

To some, Berenson was the face of a social activist in Latin America while others saw her as the face of modern terrorism years before the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

She was a college student when she became involved in social justice issues in Latin America, first in El Salvador where she worked with rebels on the 1992 peace accords. From there, she moved on to Peru, where a fierce civil war between the government and rebels eventually claimed about 70,000 lives.

She became involved with the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement, a junior group to the Maoist Shining Path, which was the leading proponent of revolutionary violence in Peru. Tupac Amaru grew from a group that distributed food for the poor to a more violent entity that was responsible for the 1996 raid on the Japanese Embassy in Lima where 72 hostages were held for months before a government raid killed the rebels.

Berenson had finished a visit to the Peruvian Congress when she was pulled off of a bus in 1995 and accused of helping plan an attack that never took place. She was also charged with collaborating with the terrorist group, some of whose armed members stayed in the house she rented.

Berenson was never convicted of any violent act but was judged guilty by a military tribunal in 1996 of supporting the Tupac Amaru and sentenced to life in prison. The judge wore a hood to hide his identity.

“It would be nice if people didn't see me as the face of terrorism, but I can't change that. I live with it. It's not easy, especially because I don't think that I'm a terrorist,” Berenson said at the time.

Her conviction ignited human rights groups around the world and in the United States who saw it as a flagrant violation of her legal rights because she was unable to examine the government’s evidence.

Under pressure from human rights groups and the U.S. government, and following a change in the Peruvian government in 2000, Berenson’s conviction was overturned and she received a new trial in a civilian court. She was convicted and sentenced to 20 years in prison. In November 2010, she was paroled and ordered to stay in Peru.

A court approved her departure to New York but she must return to Peru by Jan. 11. Peruvian prosecutors fought the ruling, arguing there was no way to guarantee that she would return as promised.


Crash of small plane in Texas kills five

Justice Department accuses Conn. police of bias against Latinos

Duggar baby photo viewed by some as a model for grieving parents

-- Michael Muskal

Man accused of trying to assassinate Obama is found competent

Oscar Ramiro Ortega-Hernandez has been found mentally competent to face charges of trying to assassinate President Obama.

The man accused of using a high-powered rifle to try to assassinate President Obama has been found mentally competent to face the charges against him. But prosecutors aren't taking any chances.

Oscar Ramiro Ortega-Hernandez, 21, of Idaho is accused of parking his car outside the White House on the evening of Nov. 11 and taking aim with an assault rifle. He fired up to nine shots, including one that struck a window of the Obamas' living quarters. That bullet was halted by security glass.

The president was never in any danger. He and the first lady were in California at the time. But authorities have yet to say whether their two daughters, Sasha and Malia, were at home on that Friday night.

A court-appointed psychiatrist met with Ortega-Hernandez for about 50 minutes and concluded that he is competent enough to fully understand the charges pending against him, and to aid in his own defense, according to documents filed by the prosecution and obtained by the Associated Press.

Prosecutors, however, are asking for more extensive tests, perhaps in a bid to ward off any competency issues cropping up later in the case.

A full psychiatric screening is warranted “given the serious nature of the criminal charges pending against the defendant and the likelihood that mental health issues may arise in the course of these proceedings,” according to the court document cited by AP.

Ortega-Hernandez's mother has said she doesn't believe her son is capable of hatching a plan by himself to kill the president. Others, however, say he had become obsessed with Obama, referred to him as "the antichrist" and believed he was personally called to do something about it.

He faces a life sentence if convicted. He made a brief court appearance on Monday, uttering only a "Yes, sir" when asked by the court if was following the nature of the proceedings. He is due back in court Dec. 12.


Herman Cain denies affair report

Eat more kale? Or chikin? Must one choose?

Connecticut money managers strike it rich -- via lottery

-- Rene Lynch

Photo: Oscar Ramiro Ortega-Hernandez. Credit: U.S. Park Police

Military policeman arrested in Alaska on suspicion of spying


A young military policeman stationed in Alaska has been arrested on suspicion of espionage, but military officials disclosed no details in their announcement Tuesday.

Specialist William Colton Millay, 22, was taken into custody Friday in Anchorage, where he is stationed at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, the Army said in a brief statement.

"The investigation is being conducted right now, and I don't have anything else to add," Lt. Col. Bill Coppernoll, public affairs office for the Army in Alaska, told The Times.

Millay, of Owensboro, Ky., is a military policeman assigned to the 164th Military Police Company, 793rd Military Police Battalion, 2nd Engineer Brigade -- known as the "Arctic Enforcers."

The arrest followed a joint investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Army Counterintelligence and the Army's criminal investigative division, officials said, and will be prosecuted in the military court system.

"Today's arrest was the result of the close working relationship between the FBI and its military partners in Alaska. Through this ongoing partnership, we are better able to protect our nation," Mary Frances Rook, special agent in charge of the FBI in Alaska, said in a statement.

The Army Times broke the story of the arrest over the weekend but had few substantive details. It quoted a friend of Millay's, Janssen Payne, as saying the young MP was "as loyal to his country as he is to his best friends."

"He was really patriotic and really loved his country," Payne said. "I just don't see the motivation for him to do it."

Millay's company has served in both Afghanistan and Iraq over the past five years and last spring redeployed to Afghanistan to train Afghan police. Millay remained in Alaska as part of the company's rear detachment during the current deployment. The battalion's headquarters were moved from Germany to Alaska in 2010.



Wild orcas put on show that awes even jaded Seattle residents

Imperial woodpecker -- largest that ever lived -- is caught on film

New York man, 80, is swallowed by sinkhole just outside his front door

 -- Kim Murphy in Seattle

Photo: Guards at the former Elmendorf Air Force Base in Alaska. The base merged last year with Ft. Richardson to form Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson. Credit: Al Grillo/Associated Press


FBI releases new video of Russian spy Anna Chapman


Anna Chapman, now a television star and sometime lingerie model in her native Russia, was the face of the biggest spy swap since the Cold War when she and nine others were arrested in June 2010. On Monday, the FBI released a trove of videos and documents about Chapman and others.

In one, a woman in her late 20s with reddish hair and sporting big sunglasses walks into a New York City coffee shop, takes  a seat and pulls out a laptop computer.  She leans forward to talk to her companion and briefly flashes the smile that turned her into an international sensation.

The agency said it released the videos and documents in response to a Freedom of Information request.

“The arrests of 10 Russian spies last year provided a chilling reminder that espionage on U.S. soil did not disappear when the Cold War ended,” the agency said in an accompanying statement. “The highly publicized case also offered a rare glimpse into the sensitive world of counterintelligence and the FBI’s efforts to safeguard the nation from those who would steal our vital secrets.”

The agency said its investigation into Chapman and others working for the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) went on for more than decade. The investigation was dubbed “Operation Ghost Stories.”

The tapes show Chapman shopping in Macy’s at Herald Square. Additional photos and video show other conspirators burying money in a weed patch, handing off documents or meeting at Columbus Circle. The group was a collection of what is known as illegals because they took civilian jobs rather than working from the Russian Embassy. In general, they seemed to live quiet middle-class lives while burrowing into U.S. society to cultivate contacts.

Continue reading »

Kadafi death: Relatives of Pan Am 103 victims still seek justice


Relatives of those killed in the Lockerbie bombing — the destruction of Pan Am Flight 103 over Scotland by Libya in 1988 — greeted reports of the death of former strongman Moammar Kadafi with praise for the rebels, as well as a cautionary note.

More needs to be done to bring to justice those responsible for the deaths of 270 people, they say.

“Unfortunately, the path to justice is often long and circuitous,” said the Victims of Pan Am 103 Inc. in a statement posted on its website. The group represents the relatives of those killed on the flight.

 PHOTOS: Moammar Kadafi | 1942 - 2011

 “Although today is a great day for the Libyan people and for the universal fight for freedom, our work is not done,” the group said.

The Pan Am flight left Heathrow Airport on the evening of Dec. 21, 1988. As it flew over Scotland, a bomb exploded on the craft, killing all 243 passengers and 16 crew. Eleven more people were killed in Lockerbie by debris from the Boeing 747.

The incident became an international cause celebre and another battlefront between Libya and the West, which regarded the North African country as a supporter of terrorism. Of the 189 Americans on board, 35 were students at Syracuse University.

Libya repeatedly denied blame for the bombing, but under international pressure finally formally admitted responsibility in 2003, paying several billion dollars in compensation.

That capitulation came after authorities arrested two Libyans in connection with the incident. Abdel Basset Ali Megrahi, a Libyan intelligence officer and the head of security for Libyan Arab Airlines, and Lamin Khalifah Fhimah, the airline's station manager in Luqa Airport, Malta. Both were eventually tried for murder and Fhima was acquitted.

But Megrahi, who always maintained he was innocent, was convicted and sentenced to prison, where he served more than eight years. He was released in August 2009 on the compassionate grounds that he was dying of cancer. He returned to a hero’s welcome in Libya.

After commending the rebels now in control of Libya, the family advocate group went on to note that Megrahi was still at large “and other Libyan officials involved in the bombing have not been captured.”

“Nevertheless, we will take a moment today to honor our family members: In their memory, we did not give up. We kept fighting for them and for some semblance of justice. Today, we take some satisfaction that justice can be done,” the group said.


Exotic animal laws called into question after killings 

Exotic animal killings: 'It's always the animals that suffer'

Wild animal killings in Ohio prompt new calls for ban on exotic pets

— Michael Muskal

Photo: Convicted Lockerbie bomber Abdel Basset Ali Megrahi boards a plane to Libya after he was released from Greenock Prison on Aug. 20, 2009, in Glasgow, Scotland. Megrahi had been serving a life sentence for the 1988 Pan Am flight 103 Lockerbie bombing, which killed 270 people but was released on compassionate grounds because he had terminal cancer. Credit: Danny Lawson / Pool


San Antonio officials say break-in suspects not on watch list

San antonio
San Antonio officials said a group of five Moroccan nationals suspected of breaking into a county courthouse Wednesday were not on a terrorist watch list.

“We have no indication that they’re on anybody’s watch list or they were here to do anything terrorist,” Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff said during a briefing outside the courthouse Wednesday afternoon.

Wolff said at least two men, believed to be among those arrested, were seen in security camera footage parading down a courthouse hallway in decorative sombreros snatched from the law library and waving judges' gavels. The men appeared to be drunk when they were apprehended, and the incident was likely a prank, officials said.

Wolff said local officials were still working with the FBI to investigate the incident after the men were arrested about 1:40 a.m. on suspicion of burglary.

He said the men all have French home addresses and entered the country legally, arriving from London. They had rented a recreational vehicle in New Jersey, he said, but it was not clear what their final destination was.

The men were still in custody and being questioned with the help of a translator late Wednesday.

Authorities had applied for a warrant to search the men's RV, according to Cliff Herberg, Bexar County’s first assistant criminal district attorney.

“That might give us an indication of any other possible motive,” Herberg said.

Herberg said there was no indication of “terrorist activity,” but that he would seek a high bond “in an abundance of caution” because the men are foreign nationals and pose a flight risk.


Five men questioned in burglary at San Antonio courthouse

San Antonio courthouse break-in may be just a prank, police say

FBI, police say 5 men caught breaking into San Antonio courthouse

--Molly Hennessy-Fiske in Houston

Photo: Security footage shows two men walking down the courthouse hallway in sombreros. Five Moroccan nationals have been arrested on suspicion of breaking into thehistoric Bexar County courthouse. Credit: Bexar County Sheriff's Office.


ACLU releases documents alleging sexual abuse of female detainees

The American Civil Liberties Union has released government documents containing 185 allegations of sexual abuse against female immigration detainees in federal detention centers since 2007.

The documents, obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, include detailed narratives by three women who describe sexual assaults by guards while the detainees were being transported in prison vans.

The ACLU said the 185 assaults took place in or near federal detention centers around the country, with more allegations against facilities in Texas than in any other state. The assaults described in the documents, obtained from government agencies, do not represent the full scope of the problem because sexual assault is "notoriously underreported,’’ the ACLU said.

"Immigrants in detention are uniquely vulnerable to abuse -- and those holding them in custody know it," Mark Whitburn, senior staff attorney for the ACLU of Texas, said in a statement. "Many do not speak English ... and may not be aware of their rights, or they may be afraid to exercise them."

The documents reflect "just the tip of the iceberg" for detainees at risk of sexual abuse, Whitburn said.

The ACLU called on the federal government to take specific steps to ensure that detainees in government custody are fully protected.

The ACLU released the documents Wednesday in conjunction with a class-action suit filed in Texas on behalf of three women who say they were sexually assaulted. Those women, along with other female detainees who filed assault complaints, were seeking asylum in the U.S. after fleeing sexual assault in their home countries.

"The fact that these women sought sanctuary in the United States -- only to find abuse at the hands of officials they thought would protect them -- is wholly inconsistent with America’s self-proclaimed reputation as a beacon of human rights," Lisa Graybill, legal director of the ACLU of Texas, said in a statement.

The Texas suit names as defendants three officials from Immigration and Customs Enforcement; a guard accused of assaulting the women; and Corrections Corp. of America, the country’s largest private prisons contractor, which runs the detainee facility in Taylor, Texas, where several alleged assaults occurred.

Of the 185 complaints of sexual assault contained in the government documents, 56 were from facilities in Texas, the ACLU said. There were 17 sexual assault allegations against facilities in California and 16 in Arizona.

Donald Dunn, the guard in Texas named in the lawsuit, has pleaded guilty in state court to three counts of official repression and two counts of unlawful restraint related to assaults against five women, according to the ACLU. Dunn also faces four federal counts of criminal violations of civil rights, the ACLU said.

Details of the allegations are posted on the ACLU website.


Dangerous animals deliberately freed in Ohio, officials say

Ski slopes in national forests could host year-round activities

Georgia Supreme Court to hear case of woman eaten by alligator

-- David Zucchino

Jury gets case of 3 North Carolina men charged with terrorism

Terrorism trial

Lawyers presented closing statements Tuesday in the federal terrorism trial of three young North Carolina Muslims charged with conspiring to take part in a jihadist plot to kill non-Muslims overseas.

The case goes to a jury Wednesday after a three-week trial in which the ringleader of the alleged plot testified for the government in a plea deal.

Daniel Boyd, 41, a Marine officer’s son who converted to Islam as a teenager, testified against Omar Aly Hassan, Ziyad Yaghi and Hysen Sherifi. The three men, from Raleigh, N.C., were indicted along with Boyd and Boyd’s two sons in 2009 on charges of conspiracy and providing material support to terrorists.

Daniel Boyd and his sons, Dylan Boyd, 24, and Zakariya Boyd, 21, pleaded guilty and testified against their co-defendants. They will be sentenced after the trial.

Jason Kellhofer, a federal prosecutor, said the defendants were motivated by "hate -- quite a lot of hate." He told jurors that the alleged jihad plot involved "murderous intent based on a twisted view of a religion, Islam."

Kellhofer ridiculed defense claims that the young men discussed jihad as a form of internal religious struggle. "What it means in reality ... is to kill innocent people," he said.

Prosecutors said the defendants underwent weapons training, firing guns in preparation for jihadist attacks. The men also traveled to the Middle East to scout "battlegrounds" for conducting jihad, they charged.

Defense lawyers said the three young men were guilty only of monumentally poor judgment and youthful bravado in openly praising Al Qaeda and longing for jihad. Especially damning were Facebook raps extolling violence against non-Muslims, including the line, "I smoke a Jew like a ciggy."

Dan Boyce, representing Hassan, dismissed it as "Muslim gangster rap."

"This was stupid stuff by teenagers," Boyce told the jury. "But Muslim gangster rap doesn’t mean you’re a terrorist."

Kellhofer, the prosecutor, said the intent of the lyrics went far beyond "the new jihad cool."

"It’s not a defense," he said.

Boyce countered later: "Are bad words about bad conduct enough to prove a crime?"

He said prosecutors, in their haste to build a case against Muslims who came into contact with Boyd, reduced the defendants to "collateral damage" or "by-catch" -- fish unintentionally caught in a fishing net.

Boyce said the defendants' comments about jihad, no matter how offensive, were protected free speech. And firing guns at targets -- a popular pastime in rural North Carolina -- is protected by the 2nd Amendment, he said.

Prosecutors amassed 750 hours of audio and videotape, some of it collected by paid FBI informants who secretly recorded the defendants. FBI agents said they seized nearly two dozen guns and 27,000 rounds of ammunition buried in a bunker under Daniel Boyd’s home.

Hassan, 22, Sherifi, 24, and Yaghi, 21, graduated from or attended high schools in the Raleigh area, and Hassan attended N.C. State University. All three speak fluent English and are intimately acquainted with American youth culture.

Hassan and Yaghi are American citizens. Sherifi, a native of Kosovo, is a permanent U.S. resident.

--David Zucchino in New Bern, N.C.


Mini-moon: Smallest full moon of 2011 rises tonight

Even record-setting rain isn't enough to ease Texas drought

Las Vegas pastor pleads guilty to stealing $650,000 from church

-- David Zucchino in New Bern, N.C.

Photo: Supporters gather outside U.S. District Court in New Bern, N.C., on Tuesday, Oct. 11, in the terrorist trial of three North Carolina men charged with being part of a conspiracy to commit a terrorist attack at the U.S. Marine Corps base in Quantico, Va., or targets overseas. Credit: AP / Sun Journal, Chuck Beckley


Recommended on Facebook

Your Hosts

Rene Lynch has been an editor and writer in Metro, Sports, Business, Calendar and Food. @ReneLynch

As an editor and reporter, Michael Muskal has covered local, national, economic and foreign issues at three newspapers, including the Los Angeles Times. @latimesmuskal

In Case You Missed It...