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Thursday
Sep012011

Germany: US Airport Full-Body Scanners Too Unreliable

Jeff Swensen/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- The German government halted the full rollout of American body imaging scanners in the nation's airports Thursday after the interior minister said the devices sound too many false alarms -- including at times mistaking underarm sweat for dangerous chemicals.

The determination came after a months-long test of a pair of L-3 Communications ProVision ATD human imaging scanners -- the same type of scanners already in use in dozens of airports across the U.S.

Over 800,000 Germans voluntarily tested the scanners at an airport in Hamburg from September 2010 to July 2011, during which time airport security reported so many "unnecessary alarms" that Friedrich said the technology, "despite the high detection performance," has not yet matured and is "not yet suitable" for general practical use. Local press reports put the false alarm rate as high as 49 percent and said sweaty armpits had been the culprit multiple times.

The German decision comes just a day after a 9/11 anniversary report by the Bipartisan Policy Center said U.S. was still "highly vulnerable to aviation security threats," partially because it said full-body imaging for explosive detection is unreliable.

"With significant federal funding, TSA has deployed large numbers of enhanced screening equipment used at passenger checkpoints and baggage check screening. Unfortunately, explosives detection technology lacks reliability and lags in its capability to automatically identify concealed weapons and explosives," the report says.

A TSA official told ABC News the administration could not comment on another country's technology and testing methods, but said the ProVision system is customizable and it is not known if the Germans were using the exact same models, standards and calibrations that U.S. airports use with their scanners.

"As with any technology, false alarms remain a possibility," the official said. "But this is the best available technology as one of our many layers of security to provide the best opportunity to detect dangerous items, such as explosives."

Approximately 250 ProVision scanners are in use in the U.S. currently, according to the TSA, from Atlanta to San Francisco to Honolulu. The TSA is in the process of upgrading all of those systems to the newer ProVision ATD model.

The ProVision scanner, which uses "safe active millimeter wave radio frequency," is one of two options from which American airports can choose for full-body imaging. The other system, known as "backscatter," uses X-ray technology to scan passengers and is used in machines built by L-3 Communications competitor Rapiscan.

The TSA credits both technologies with catching 300 "dangerous or illegal weapons" since January 2010 alone.

"Our top priority is the safety of the traveling public, and TSA constantly strives to explore and implement new technologies that enhance security and strengthen privacy protections for the traveling public," TSA Administrator John Pistole said in July when announcing the upgrade to the ProVision systems.

In addition to concerns over reliability, full-body scanners have come under significant scrutiny for potential privacy violations. The ProVision "image-free" upgrade, for instance, replaces the 3-D black-and-white silhouette of the passenger with a "generic, computer-generated outline of a person," according to the TSA.

After the failed December 2009 shoe bombing plot, the TSA worked closely with foreign governments to promote the use of advanced imaging technology (AIT), according to a report by the Government Accountability Office.

L-3 Communications declined to comment for this report. Rapiscan Executive Vice President Peter Kant said the company "clearly disagrees" with the 9/11 Commissions' findings on full-body scans and said multiple independent and government tests have found the Rapiscan technology more reliable than any other passenger inspection method.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Thursday
Sep012011

Storms Threaten Rain for Labor Day Weekend

Matt Cardy/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Labor Day weekend could be the last chance sunbathers have to enjoy the beach this summer season, or it could be another wallop of wet weather if two storm systems make their way to land.

Dual storm systems are barreling toward the Gulf Coast and the East Coast as the holiday weekend approaches, threatening large waves, rainy weather, and nervous beachgoers who could choose to stay home.

Katia was declared a Category 1 hurricane Thursday morning, with maximum sustained winds of 75 mph. The storm is not expected to hit land during the weekend, but rough weather is expected to hit the Carribbean, and Katia could make landfall in the U.S. next week, according to Dennis Feltgen, spokesman for the National Hurricane Center.

In the Gulf of Mexico, a tropical disturbance that could become Tropical Storm Lee is heading for Gulf Coast beaches this weekend. Beaches from the Florida panhandle to the Texas coast could be hit with torrential flooding rainfall and at least some coastal flooding and high surf, according to Weather.com.

There have already been evacuations of some personnel from offshore oil rigs, the report said.

Feltgen said the weather in the Gulf is expected to become a tropical cyclone in the next 48 hours, and potential visitors all along the Gulf Coast should keep an eye on the storm as they make their weekend plans.

"Parts of the Gulf Coast really need the rain, so it could be a godsend to some places," Feltgen said. "We want the rain but wouldn't want the winds."

Feltgen said it's too early to tell whether Katia will hit the U.S., or predict when or where it could make landfall. It is, however, expected to strengthen over the holiday weekend.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Thursday
Sep012011

Questions Raised About Innocence of Death Row Inmate Anthony Porter

Darrin Klimek/Thinkstock(CHICAGO) -- A man serving a 37-year double murder sentence in an Illinois prison may be doing so despite his innocence, according to a new complaint that alleges his lawyer helped put his own client behind bars in order to release the real killer from death row just hours before his execution.

Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist Bill Crawford filed a formal complaint Wednesday claiming lawyer Jack Rimland was part of a complicated conspiracy to release Anthony Porter -- who was originally convicted of the 1982 double homicide -- and imprison his own client, Alstory Simon, for the same crime. And a new eyewitness says he saw Porter commit the crime.

"I have no doubt that Alstory Simon is innocent," said Crawford, whose complaint was first reported by ABC News' Chicago affiliate, WLS-TV. "He was absolutely coerced through an unbelievably brilliant charade."

Simon is now serving his sentence in Illinois' Danville State Penitentiary for the double murder in Chicago's Washington Park, while Porter, who had served 17 years on death row before his release just two days before his scheduled execution in 1999, is a free man.

But Crawford says this is all wrong -- and is at least partially due to Rimland's failure to disclose information during Simon's sentencing that would have proven his client was forced into confessing to the crime he didn't commit.

Porter's high-profile 1999 exoneration and release was one of the lynchpin cases cited by then-Illinois Gov. George Ryan when he enacted a moratorium on the state death penalty in 2000, citing systemic problems with the state's capital punishment program. Illinois later abolished the death penalty.

According to Crawford's complaint, filed to the Illinois Supreme Court's attorney disciplinary body, Rimland's representation of Simon "amounted to a wanton derelicition of his sworn obligations and duties."

Rimland did not immediately return repeated requests by ABC News for comment for this story.

Crawford claims that Rimland was working in conjunction with private detectives associated with then-Northwestern professor David Protess, who headed the university's Medill Innocence Project, which investigated cases of people suspected of being wrongly convicted.

Protess was let go by the university earlier this year after questions were raised by Illinois' Cook County state's attorney into his and his students' conduct while investigating another suspected wrongful conviction.

According to the complaint, Rimland was aware that armed private investigators working for Protess coerced Simon into confessing, but he never mentioned it to the judge presiding over the case.

Following Simon's conviction, Crawford says Rimland went as far as to present an award to Protess for "their help in freeing Porter and their help in convicting Simon."

Also included in the complaint is sworn testimony by Ray Brown, an eyewitness to the 1982 murders who says he saw Porter shoot the victims and then run away.

Brown told WLS that he never came forward at the time of the crime because Porter was sent to prison. It wasn't until Porter's release that he began thinking about telling his story.

"The police locked him up for it so I thought it was a done deal till I seen him on the news getting out and I'm like, 'How'd he get out when he killed them?' And they showed another guy's face and that wasn't the guy who killed him," said Brown.

WLS also caught up with Porter, who is currently living on Chicago's southside and is unemployed.

"I'm just tired of this stuff, ya know, that I'm innocent, and these people just keep coming and bringing this stuff up like a ransom, putting my life in danger, my family in danger, ya know like saying people don't know nothing about the case. People know that I'm innocent," said Porter.

Crawford claims that Rimland was motivated by the desire to cash in on some of what he believed would be Porter's multi-million dollar payout from a civil case lodged against the state after his release. Porter ended up losing the case, and was never given any money.

Protess did not respond to a request to be interviewed for this story but told WLS-TV in a statement, "These are the same bogus claims that were twice brought before a criminal courts judge and the Illinois court of appeals -- and twice rejected. Having lost before every judge who has reviewed this matter, Alstory Simon's advocates are now reduced to file a bar complaint against an honorable lawyer who got Simon 37 years for a crime that had landed Anthony Porter on death row."

Regarding the allegations about the armed private investigators, Protess wrote, "Further, the brief passage about me is factually inaccurate. [The investigator] was not 'working' for me when he went to Milwaukee to interview Simon, and Simon's advocates incorrectly identified the other person who accompanied him."

Jim Grogan, deputy administrator and chief counsel of the Illinois ARDC, declined to comment on the request for an investigation against Rimland and would only say that a response to the filing could be expected within a few days.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Thursday
Sep012011

Jere Melo Fort Bragg Murder: Father Says Son May Have Killed Before

Mendocino County Sheriff's Office(FORT BRAGG, Calif.) -- The father of a man suspected of killing a popular city councilman in Fort Bragg, Calif., told ABC News his son may have murdered someone else in August, just months after he said the legal system ignored concerns about his son's behavior.

Aaron Bassler, 35, is currently suspected of killing city councilman and former Fort Bragg Mayor Jere Melo while Melo patrolled forestland on a private timber company adjacent to California's Noyo River. Aaron Bassler, who is believed to be schizophrenic, was tending two small opium poppy fields when he allegedly shot Melo with a rifle, according to police.

In the past, "he never really did anything violent but you could feel the potential there," said his 59-year-old father, James Bassler. "We were all pretty scared of him, that he might go over the edge."

When Bassler heard property manager Matthew Coleman had died of a gunshot wound about 15 miles away near Westport, Calif., where his ex-wife had recently dropped off their son, he connected the dots.

His ex-wife, Bassler said, had tried to help their son in the only way she knew how, especially after Aaron Bassler crashed his car into a school tennis court during a drunk driving accident six months ago that resulted in his car and license being taken away.

"A few months back she was able to acquire food stamps for him," Bassler said, explaining his son had given up growing marijuana several years ago and didn't appear to have any other source of income.

"If he called her up -- she gave him rides. I believe she dropped him off up in Westport area [prior to the Aug. 11 shooting]," Bassler said.

As of right now, police haven't yet determined if Aaron Bassler shot Coleman, too.

"We're waiting for our evidence to tell us if that's related," Mendocino County Sheriff spokesman Kurt Smallcomb told ABC News Thursday.

In the meantime, officers assisted by several groups including the National Guard and FBI continue to conduct ground and aerial searches, but Aaron Bassler has so far managed to elude investigators.

James Bassler says his son knows the woods very well. He said his son had been living in the forest for four months after getting evicted from a Fort Bragg cabin owned by his grandmother, who died recently and left the property to somebody else.

Jere Melo's death shook the small coastal town of Fort Bragg, with a population of 7,000.

Melo, who had been investigating reports of a marijuana farm on the day he was shot, was accompanied by a co-worker who managed to escape and call police on his cellphone.

Police sent a SWAT team to the rural, rugged area but did not find Bassler, who was last seen with a high-caliber rifle and is considered armed and dangerous.

Melo's memorial service is planned for Sept. 10 at the high school Timberwolf Stadium he helped build. It's considered by many to be one of his greatest accomplishments while in public office. He is survived by his wife and two adult children.

"I learned what schizophrenia was...way, way too late," Bassler said. "I'm so frustrated with the system, I'm telling you this didn't have to happen."

Bassler told ABC News both he and his daughter had called the jail after his son had gotten arrested for drunk driving half a year ago, and had also written letters to his public defender and the sheriff's office, begging for him to get help. He reportedly received no answer.

The sheriff's office was not immediately available for comment.

It wasn't the first time he said his family had tried to get law enforcement officials to pay attention to Aaron Bassler's mental health.

"He has a long, long rap sheet," Bassler said.

About two and half years ago, Bassler said, his son caused a bomb scare at the Chinese Consulate in San Francisco after leaving packages "with strange drawings and writings," described by the San Francisco Chronicle as "drawings of red stars and writings that referred to the 'Martian military.'"

At one point within the past year, after confronting his son about a cooking fire that could have spread to other people's homes, "he just blew up and threatened to take my life, and he just snapped into a real angry, scary mood," Bassler said, explaining his son's erratic behavior had been so commonplace that all of the odd and frightening moments had blended together, making it difficult to pinpoint exactly when each episode happened. Now, Bassler is hoping his son -- who was a "normal child" until he started exhibiting erratic behavior at age 19 -- will eventually get the help he needs, with the assistance of investigators.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Thursday
Sep012011

Confessed Killer Sent Emails to Victim's Family 'from Africa'

Christopher Smith, shown here in an undated photo, was murdered in June 2010. (Orange County Sheriff's Office)(LOS ANGELES) -- A California businessman who didn't want to pay his partner $1 million killed the partner instead and then posed as the victim to send the man's family emails claiming he had gone to Africa, police said.

Although the suspect has confessed to the killing, he is refusing to tell investigators what happened to the victim's body, authorities said.

Christopher Smith and Edward Shin were business partners who founded an advertising company together called 800xchange. A falling out between the two led to an agreement that Shin, 33, would buy out Smith's portion of the company for $1 million.

"Rather than paying $1 million, he killed him," Jim Amormino, the director of media relations for the Orange County Sheriff's Office, told ABCNews.com. "The motive was purely financial gain."

Shin, a husband and father of three, was arrested on Sunday at Los Angeles International Airport as he was boarding a flight to Canada.

A second man, Kenny Roy Kraft, was arrested on Monday as an accessory in the murder. Kraft was Shin's driver and personal assistant. He confessed to assisting Shin in disposing Smith's car, clothing and other personal belongings, but has pleaded not guilty, according to an Orange County news release.

In a six-hour interview with authorities, Shin revealed that he killed Smith, 32, in June 2010. For the next seven months, Shin pretended to be a traveling Smith in emails sent to his family in Oregon.

Before Smith, Shin had been involved with similar financial schemes, police said.

Last year, Shin was convicted of embezzlement in relation to a company in Riverside County. He was on probation and ordered to pay $700,000, according to police.

Another man who claimed to be a prior victim and business partner of Shin's attended the first part of his arraignment this week.

The man, who would only be identified as "Brian," spoke exclusively with ABC News' Los Angeles affiliate, KABC. He claimed that Shin stole up to $500,000 from him after they became partners in a mortgage business called Residential Finance America in 2003.

"Brian" said he came to court for "closure," since he could not afford to go after Shin himself.

"He doesn't care about anybody but himself," Brian told KABC. "He lived off of our money until we found out and when I confronted him, he basically just disappeared on us."

"I'm thankful that…I can make money again," Brian said. "Someone's lost far greater than what we lost."

Shin's arraignment is set to continue on Sept. 28. He is facing life in prison and could receive the death penalty.

Smith was an avid outdoorsman and adventurer. His bio on his company's website said, "Having been a former professional wakeboarder, Smith now spends most of his time in the big pond, the Pacific Ocean, where he can surf the best waves that California has to offer. He also enjoys sky diving, road cycling and is a well versed amateur astronomer."

Smith's family could not be reached for comment but said the following in a statement, according to the Orange County Register: "The past year has been an otherworldly time spent overwhelmed with misinformation and uncertainty. As the truth behind events is revealed, we ask for privacy as we cope with the surge of emotions and begin to grieve."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Thursday
Sep012011

US Condemns WikiLeaks' Latest Document Dump

Joe Raedle/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- WikiLeaks informed the U.S. State Department it was about to release a massive dump of classified cables -- over 125,000 in the past week -- but representatives of the agency wants to make known its not working with the group. State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland said in a statement Thursday the release is "irresponsible, reckless, and frankly dangerous."

Nuland said the anti-secrecy group ignored requests not to publish the confidential diplomatic cables.

When the first batch of cables was published last November, the State Department and media organizations helped ensure the documents were stripped of information that could identify sources like human rights activists and informants that could put them in danger. However, there are examples where names of sources have appeared in the documents released in the past week, and the entire unredacted cache was made available by the UK’s Guardian.

Earlier this week Nuland said that the U.S. has taken steps to help certain individuals that might be in danger, but would not elaborate.

“We remain concerned about these illegal disclosures and about concerns and risks to individuals. We continue to carefully monitor what becomes public and to take steps to mitigate the damage to national security and to assist those who may be harmed by these illegal disclosures to the extent that we can,” she said on Tuesday.

Here’s Nuland’s statement from Thursday in full:

Wikileaks did advise us of the impending release of information and of its intention to continue to release classified documents.  We have made clear our views and concerns about illegally disclosed classified information and the continuing risk to individuals and national security  that such releases cause.  Wikileaks has, however, ignored our requests not to release or disseminate any U.S. documents it may possess and has continued its well-established pattern of irresponsible, reckless, and frankly dangerous actions.  We are not cooperating with them.


Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Thursday
Sep012011

Ouch! Boy Won't Get $50,000 Prize for Lucky Hockey Shot

Jupiterimages/Thinkstock(MINNEAPOLIS) -- The 11-year-old boy who wowed hockey fans by hitting a puck through a tiny slot in a board 89 feet away has lost the $50,000 jackpot attached to the miracle shot.

The company that insured the charity event, Odds on Promotions, said that 11-year-old Nate Smith isn’t eligible to take home the $50,000 because the raffle ticket that allowed him to take the hockey shot was in his twin brother’s name.

The honesty of the twin boys’ father is what led the event organizers to realize that Nate had posed as his twin brother Nick when he made the shot.

“I called into the organizers. We told them that Nate made the shot. We did the right thing,” Pat Smith told ABC News on Aug. 15. “I just think that honesty is more important than any prize or money you could get.”

The twins had hoped to use the money for their college savings and to donate funds to their local hockey association, Smith said.

Nate made the lucky shot at a celebrity fundraiser hockey game in Faribult, Minn., on Aug. 11. He took aim from the center ice and fired the puck 89 feet straight in a goal which measured a mere three and a half inches. The puck is three inches wide.

The promoters say they will donate some money to charity instead of forking over the check.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Thursday
Sep012011

Katia Becomes Second Hurricane of 2011 Atlantic Season

NOAA/National Weather Service/National Hurricane Center(MIAMI) -- Katia, which earlier this week was named a tropical storm off the West African coast, has picked up enough strength to become the second hurricane of the 2011 Atlantic season.

The storm developed into a category 1 hurricane Wednesday night with maximum sustained winds of 75 miles per hour.  It is currently more than 1,000 miles east of the Leeward Islands and is moving west/northwest at 20 miles per hour.

Hurricane Katia is projected to steer clear of the Caribbean Islands and could pick up considerable strength by the week's end.

"We are expecting strengthening over the next couple of days and it could become a major hurricane or category 3 strength by the weekend," says Hurricane Specialist Daniel Brown at the National Hurricane Center in Miami.

But, as Brown says, "it's a little too early to know whether or not it could threaten the United States."

Another system, however, could pose a threat to the southeastern region of the country.  The National Hurricane Center says "a large area of cloudiness and thunderstorms over the eastern Gulf of Mexico" could develop into a tropical depression.  The system also has a 60 percent chance of developing into what would be Tropical Storm Lee in the next two days, the hurricane center said on Thursday.

Should this system strengthen, it could bring heavy rain to New Orleans and northern Florida over the Labor Day holiday weekend.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Thursday
Sep012011

9/11, Remembrance and Renewal: The New Ground Zero

DON EMMERT/AFP/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- Ten years after it became known as Ground Zero, the 16-acre World Trade Center site shows signs of life instead of death.

“There are oak trees, swamp white oak trees,” describes Lynn Rasic, the senior vice president of the 9/11 Memorial.

Hundreds of them, in fact, including one known as the "Survivor Tree," which, Rasic says, "was located on the World Trade Center on 9/11."  The tree stands as a symbol of hope and renewal at the center of the new 9/11 Memorial.

The site also features two waterfalls, positioned around the original footprints of the Twin Towers, that flow into pools around which are etched the names of the nearly 3,000 people who died in the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.

“They are based off of groupings, largely determined by where people worked, when they died and who they were with,” Rasic says, explaining how the victims' names are categorized. 

She says the waterfalls also can also capture rainbows as the sun shines through them.

The 9/11 Memorial will open on the 10th anniversary of the attacks, while the main skyscraper -- One World Trade Center -- nears completion. 

“The building was so laden with emotion, but in the end there is sort of no right way to remember what happened, but we have an obligation to remember,” Rasic says.

One World Trade Center is expected to be completed in 2013.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Thursday
Sep012011

Suspicious Package at Illinois' Scott AFB; Three Treated at Hospital

Scott [dot] AF [dot] mil/Karen Petitt(SCOTT AIR FORCE BASE, Ill.) -- Three people were hospitalized Wednesday after they developed “rash-like” symptoms while handling a suspicious package in the mail room at Scott Air Force Base in Illinois.

A spokesman for the base said the individuals have been treated and released.  Parts of the base, which is located about 25 miles east of St. Louis, Missouri, remain under evacuation as a precaution.

“Scott AFB emergency responders are well-trained professionals who provided immediate response.  They are working diligently to render the area safe and investigating the source of the package,” Col. Mike Hornitschek said in a statement.

The three servicemembers were transported to Memorial Hospital for “possible chemical exposure.”  Another 13 people are being decontaminated on site.  Those treated on site have also been released.

Base officials say they still do not know what the package contained, but said it is being currently tested.  A spokesman was unable to describe its contents but said there is “no immediate threat to the community.”

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio