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Brevard tempting to terrorists?

By Editorial Staff
Published November 16, 1998

FLORIDA TODAY

High-profile facilities, attractions dot low-profile county, experts warn

Prime terrorist targets in Brevard County

Brevard could be at risk from terrorists because of high profile government, programs and businesses, officials and experts say.

  1. Disney Cruise Terminal and Magic cruise ship, Port Canaveral.
    A terrorist device could be packed in a suitcase and easily smuggled into the terminal or onboard a ship. Because Disney’s newest ship, the Magic, is docked at the port, an attack would generate publicity around the globe.
  2. Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex.
    Thousands of unscreened tourists visit the complex daily. A terrorist could strike at the U.S. government or the space program without having to smuggle a device into KSC’s more secure areas.
  3. Aware Woman Center for Choice, Melbourne.
    The clinic and pro-life protesters have clashed for a decade. Protests at the site have resulted in national media attention and could draw anti-abortion terrorists.

Sources: Brevard County Emergency Management law enforcement agencies and security experts

By Maurice Tamman, FLORIDA TODAY

Inside Bernard’s Surf, Sen. Ted Kennedy, D.- Mass., enjoyed his second helping of stone crab claws. Outside, someone double parked a truck and walked away, leaving the engine running.

On most nights, Cocoa Beach restaurant hostess Betty Lou Griffin might not have noticed it. But this was the night before John Glenn was scheduled to go back into space — and the restaurant was packed with former astronauts, politicians and celebrities.

“We have a lot of dignitaries around here, and we’re careful about what happens inside, but there’s not a lot we can do outside,” said Griffin, who called her boss’s attention to the truck. “We do think about (terrorism) around here.”

Griffin wasn’t overreacting: Law enforcement officers and security experts think there is good reason to worry about terrorism in Brevard County.

At first glance, the area doesn’t look like a prime target. There is no World Trade Center or foreign embassy. Brevard is home to fewer than a half-million people. The crime rate is below the state average, and the median income is higher.

Experts, however, say the county may be a more attractive target than many larger metropolitan areas because of publicity surrounding its high-profile government programs and businesses.

And because of the increased tension with Iraq, the risk of terrorism increases, said law enforcement consultant Bob Bolin, a retired CIA and State Department agent who lives in Satellite Beach.

“Before the Oklahoma City bombing (in 1995), who would have thought a building in Oklahoma would be a target? We are very susceptible,” he said. “We have attractive targets. We have every mode of transportation to get here, with very little security.”

According to Bolin and others the most likely local targets would be:

* Disney’s Port Canaveral cruise terminal and the Magic cruise ship; * The Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex; * Aware Woman Center for Choice in Melbourne.

“When we look around, we feel there is a threat,” county Director of Emergency Management Bob Lay said on the first day of a two day terrorism class at Port Canaveral last week.

About 100 local law enforcement officers, emergency rescue workers, firefighters and hospital workers attended the seminar.

It was designed to teach them how to identify the types of weapons that a terrorist could use, including explosive, chemical, biological and nuclear weapons.

“If something happens at the (KSC) visitor center, who would respond?” Lay asked. “If something happened here at the port, who would respond? We need to be ready.”

Magic vulnerable

He pointed toward the Disney Cruise Terminal.

“What’s over there?” Lay asked. “That’s one of the biggest cruise ships in the world, and because it’s owned by Disney, and everything they stand for, I would think they could be a target.”

Bolin said the Magic is particularly vulnerable to a chemical or biological attack.

He said a microscopic amount of anthrax, a deadly bacteria, could be smuggled on board and introduced into the water supply.

In a few hours, most of the ship’s 2,400 passengers would be dead or dying.

To make his point, at last week’s seminar be taped an envelope under a student table and asked the person who found it to open it.

At first, the person didn’t notice a pill but soon found it tucked in a fold.

“That could be anthrax,” he said. “I told them that would be enough anthrax to knock out all of North Brevard.”

And there is little anyone could do to stop such kind of attack.

Security falls short

Most security measures are designed to detect bombs and guns. Port Canaveral security, which is provided by the Canaveral Port Authority, is no exception.

Port Authority spokesman Tim DeClaire said the techniques used to minimize the threat of terrorism are similar to those used at airports.

He refused to elaborate or to acknowledge that Disney would be more of a target than other cruise lines.

“We are well aware of the potential” for a terrorist attack, DeClaire said.

Darlene Papalini, director of communications for the Disney Cruise Line, would not discuss specific details about the ship’s security.

“Security … and the safety of our passengers … is paramount to us,” she said. “We have very tightly controlled access to our ship. We took our experience from 25 years at Walt Disney World and have applied it here.”

Like Disney, the space program has become a symbol of America’s dominance around the world.

Wayne Kee, emergency preparedness officer at the Cape, said that could make it a target.

Most of KSC is relatively safe, he said. The center is surrounded by fences and water, and everyone entering must pass through a series of guarded checkpoints.

The Visitor Complex, however, is a weak link.

Unlike most of the space center and nearby Cape Canaveral Air Station, there are no security checkpoints leading into the complex, although it sits on land owned by KSC.

The kind of stringent security used at KSC would not be possible at the complex, which hosts thousands of visitors daily.

The center was the sixth most popular tourist destination in Central Florida last year.

“You don’t have any control,” Kee said. “We don’t know who is on all those buses (that take tourists into KSC).”

Gatherings risky

Added Bolin: “Any place where there is a gathering of innocent people is a target. But (an attack at the Visitor Complex) would be pubIicized worldwide because of its connection to the space program.”

Bolin said an attack on the Magic or the Visitor Complex would garner worldwide attention — but a third potential target is at a much higher risk.

“The (Aware Woman clinic) is the primo, primo, primo target,” he said.

He said abortion clinics have become routine targets for terrorists.

Most recently, a New York doctor was assassinated, and eight Midwest abortion clinics received letters containing a powder that the sender claimed was anthrax spores.

The powder in the envelopes was not the bacteria, but one day, the powder will be real, Bolin said.

“A good student can go to the library … and learn how to grow this stuff,” he said.

Locally, the Aware Woman clinic has escaped direct assault but it has been the site of legal and illegal — protests for years some of which have drawn national attention.

Twice this year, the bomb squad was called out to the abortion clinic to investigate reports of suspicious objects.

Both turned out to be nothing.

But a “deranged” person looking to make a statement could find the Melbourne clinic an attractive target, Bolin said.

“They want to make a statement,” Bolin said. “Sometimes they don’t even mind being arrested. They want to say, “Hey look at what I did.”

Clinic owner Patricia Baird Windle said she knows of the risks and keeps herself and her staff educated.

For example, she knew that the recent anthrax threats came in envelopes with a Cincinnati postmark. And any letter from there would be suspect.

“But we knew that because my connection with the Internet not because anyone told us,” she said.

City ready to help

Melbourne police Capt. Ron Bell said the city is ready to help clinic employees any way they want, but often Windle knows as much as his intelligence officers.

He said the city treats the clinic as a high priority, but preventing an attack would be difficult.

“If it’s a group or a nation, we can track that,” Bolin said. “It’s the individuals and the cells of two, three people — the Timothy McVeighs and Terry Nichols.”

How do you track an individual who grows hatred against a government or company?

“You can’t,” he said. “It’s not matter of if it’s going to happen, but when.”


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