TIME National Security

Widow of American Captive Killed in Strike Criticizes U.S. Hostage Support

The wife of Warren Weinstein joins a number of families calling for more centralized support and communication

The wife of an American captive of al-Qaeda who after more than three years was killed during a counterterrorism operation in January, the Obama administration acknowledged Thursday, called on the government to improve the “inconsistent and disappointing” help it offers the families of hostages.

“We hope that my husband’s death and the others who have faced similar tragedies in recent months will finally prompt the U.S. government to take its responsibilities seriously and establish a coordinated and consistent approach to supporting hostages and their families,” Elaine Weinstein, now the widow of Warren Weinstein, said in a statement, according to McClatchyDC. Her husband, who was held alongside Italian hostage Giovanni Lo Porto, also killed in the operation, was working as a development adviser in Pakistan when he was captured in 2011.

Weinstein’s comments echo calls from a number of families of U.S. captives for more frequent communication from the government, more centralized negotiation efforts—no single person is in charge of trying to free hostages—as well as a more case-by-case approach to freeing captives. Some families, including those of journalist James Foley and aid worker Kayla Mueller, have also criticized the U.S. ban on paying ransoms, which State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said would remain in place.

The Obama administration began an internal review of its hostage policies last summer, she told reporters, and has reached out to 82 families involved in hostage situations as far back as 2001.

“These families have gone through the worst thing they will ever have to go through, and I think you hear a lot of different statements from them. We’ve heard people talk about how supportive the U.S. government has been,” Harf said. “But we know this is an incredibly challenging issue. That’s why we’re doing a review of how we deal with all of these issues.”

[McClatchyDC]

TIME White House

Obama Apologizes to Families of al-Qaeda Hostages Killed in U.S. Drone Strike

'No words can fully express our regret over this terrible tragedy.'

President Barack Obama took “full responsibility” for the death of two hostages held by al-Qaeda in a drone strike in January.

Speaking at the White House on Thursday, Obama said that Dr. Warren Weinstein, an American held since 2011, and Giovanni Lo Porto, an Italian national held since 2012, were killed in a counter-terrorism operation on an al-Qaeda compound in the border region of Afghanistan and Pakistan.

“It’s a cruel and bitter truth that in times of war mistakes, sometimes deadly mistakes, can occur,” he said. “I offer our deepest apologies to the families.”

Weinstein’s family issued a statement on a website called Bring Warren Home, noting their disappointment

“We do not yet fully understand all of the facts surrounding Warren’s death but we do understand that the U.S. government will be conducting an independent investigation of the circumstances,” they wrote. “We look forward to the results of that investigation. But those who took Warren captive over three years ago bear ultimate responsibility.”

The White House said the same strike is believed to have killed Ahmed Farouq, an al-Qaeda who held American citizenship. Another U.S. strike in January killed American al-Qaeda member Adam Gadahn, Earnest revealed.

“While both Farouq and Gadahn were al-Qaeda members, neither was specifically targeted, and we did not have information indicating their presence at the sites of these operations,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said.

As of Thursday morning, Gadahn was still listed on the FBI’s “Most Wanted Terrorists” list.

In 2011, a U.S. drone strike targeted and killed Anwar al-Awlaki, a leader of Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, a case that stirred vigorous debate in the U.S. over the killings of Americans fighting alongside terrorist groups without trial.

In his brief statement to reporters, Obama said that after reviewing “hundreds of hours of surveillance, we believed that this was an al-Qaeda compound, that no civilians were present and capturing these terrorists was not possible.”

He added that he has ordered the operations to be declassified so that they could be publicly reviewed.

He also praised the two men, noting they had traveled to Pakistan as aid workers to help those facing poverty.

“There could be no starker contrast between these two selfless men and their al Qaeda captors,” he said.

TIME Iran

Iran Foreign Minister Urges Talks With West to Solve Crisis in Yemen

Smoke rises during an air strike on an army weapons depot on a mountain overlooking Yemen's capital Sanaa April 20, 2015.
Khaled Abdullah—Reuters Smoke rises during an air strike on an army weapons depot on a mountain overlooking Yemen's capital Sanaa April 20, 2015.

Mohammad Javad Zarif says U.S. and its allies must choose between "cooperation and confrontation"

Iran’s Foreign Minister has called for dialogue with the U.S. and Western allies to confront crises in its regional neighbors, saying civil war-torn Yemen would be a “good place to start.”

Mohammad Javad Zarif, who reached a framework agreement on his country’s nuclear program earlier this month with the U.S. and its negotiating partners, also tied the agreement to broader regional cooperation.

“To seal the anticipated nuclear deal, more political will is required,” he wrote in an op-ed article in the New York Times. “It is time for the United States and its Western allies to make the choice between cooperation and confrontation, between negotiations and grandstanding, and between agreement and coercion.”

Zarif, who was named this year as one of the TIME 100 most influential people in the world, said a forum for dialogue in the Sunni Persian Gulf states could help the traditional rivals to solve crises in Iraq and Syria, where the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria has seized swathes of territory, and in Yemen, where Saudi Arabia has spearheaded airstrikes against the rebel Houthis, a Shi’ite group with ties to Iran. Iran denies allegations that it has armed the group and is calling for a ceasefire.

“If one were to begin serious discussion of the calamities the region faces, Yemen would be a good place to start,” Zarif wrote.

Underscoring the rising violence in Yemen, an airstrike Monday morning in Sana’a, the capital, set off an enormous explosion that shook the city and reportedly killed dozens of people.

Read more at the New York Times.

TIME intelligence

The CIA’s Latest Mission: Improving Diversity

CIA Headquarters
David Burnett—Pool/Getty Images

A weapons analyst at the Central Intelligence Agency, Lisa was sorting resumes with a colleague when something shocking happened.

Lisa, who is black, was helping her white coworker find the best applicants for overseas posts, which are considered prestigious within the agency and can lead to more important jobs down the line. Lisa was midway through her own overseas posting and had already seen how it helped her career.

But looking at the resumes, her coworker casually said that she would not hire a black man.

“She told me that if there is a white man — doesn’t matter how capable the black man is — I’m picking the white man,” recalled Lisa. (At the request of the CIA, TIME agreed to withhold last names of agency employees, many of whom work undercover.) “As a minority, you know that, but to have someone tell you that? It’s telling.”

Like workplaces across the country, the CIA is striving to improve the diversity of its staff. And just like other companies, the agency nicknamed The Company has found that progress comes in fits and starts.

In interviews with more than a dozen black officers, TIME found that while the CIA has made diversity a top priority, it still struggles to recruit African-Americans and promote them to higher positions.

Diversity is not just important for its own sake. As an intelligence agency, the CIA lives and dies on its ability to interpret complex data about foreign countries. Black agents noted multiple times when their unique perspective as a minority within the United States led them to a breakthrough in understanding a foreign conflict.

The agency’s top leaders agree.

“Diversity is critical to the success of CIA’s mission. We need a workforce as diverse as the world we cover,” CIA Director John Brennan said in a statement to TIME. “CIA has come a long way in broadening the demographic of its senior ranks, but we still have significant work to do.”

To that end, Brennan launched the Diversity in Leadership Study to examine the current demographics of the agency’s senior ranks. A similar study on women, who make up 46% of the CIA workforce, was released in 2013.

A key part of the study, which is being directed by famed lawyer and civil rights activist Vernon Jordan, will be recommendations on how to better foster an environment where people from all backgrounds can rise to the top.

That was not always a priority. According to Milo Jones and Philippe Silberzahn’s book Constructing Cassandra, in 1967 “there were fewer than 20 African Americans among the approximately 12,000 non-clerical CIA employees.”

Spenser, a black officer who oversees the Africa division, said that when he started in the 1990s, there was “not a single non-white division chief,” one of the highest-ranking positions in the agency.

The CIA would not disclose the size of its workforce nor its demographic makeup to TIME. But Spenser said that times have changed.

“We now have division chiefs that are Hispanic, that are Asian. That are black, women,” he said. “It’s completely different.”

As with other companies, a central part of the CIA’s efforts is recruiting. Intelligence experts say that the agency still has ground to make up on its reputation in the African-American community.

“The negative reputation has lingered on despite everyone’s best efforts,” says Mark Lowenthal, a former CIA officer and intelligence expert.

As the African-American community outreach manager for the CIA, Tiffany spends most of her time talking with black professional organizations about the agency. She said that she’s heard all kinds of misconceptions about the agency’s past and present, some of which she even believed herself in the past.

“When I was offered an opportunity to work for the agency, my initial response was, ‘oh hell no,’” Tiffany says. Now, she uses her story to get audiences comfortable with the idea of letting their friends and family members join the CIA.

Lowenthal remembers asking some young recruits — three black men — at their training graduation ceremony to get involved in recruiting as soon as possible.

“I said, go back to your schools and become mentors and recruiters,” Lowenthall recalls. “You’ll be much more effective than I can ever be.”

While not all officers participate in recruitment efforts, many black officers see it as part of their job. Reginald, a deputy chief of European analysis and a graduate of two historically black colleges — Howard University in Washington and Southern University in Baton Rouge, La. — makes it a point to recruit as often as possible, particularly at black schools.

Kim, who at 35 is already the chief of Africa analysis, recognizes the importance of recruiting.

“I actually went to a school not too long ago,” she says. “I saw their eyes get big when they noticed I was a young, African-American woman doing well at CIA. And I told them, you can come here and do this, too. I’m not that special.”

But recruiting is not enough. Within the agency, there are well-traveled paths to upper management that recruits need to navigate.

Lisa says she feels part of the problem is that white agents have done a better job of networking with higher ups that can recommend or “sponsor” junior officers for better positions. “They go to a different length to get positions than we do,” she said. “Often, they have an inside scoop, someone on the inside who can vouch for them.”

Michael, a 40-year veteran of the agency’s clandestine service, says a lot of black officers have felt that they have to prove they can do the work on their own. “We didn’t network,” he says.

He worked to change that, meeting with a handful of other black officers in the CIA cafeteria regularly to decompress and share advice.

“Even if we did a tour and came back three years or five years later, that roundtable was still there,” Michael says. It was important for black officers to have that space, and it’s something they continue today, gathering outside of Langley for social events and one-on-one chats.

“We made that a point of pride,” he says. “It was a thing of, ‘I may not get there, but we want to position you to get to the top.’”

TIME National Security

Helicopter That Landed at Capitol ‘Literally Flew in Under the Radar,’ Homeland Security Chief Says

Capitol Aircraft
Manuel Balce Ceneta—AP A member of a bomb squad checks a small helicopter after a man landed on the West Lawn of the Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, April 15, 2015. Police arrested a man who steered his tiny, one-person helicopter onto the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol Wednesday, astonishing spring tourists and prompting a temporary lockdown of the Capitol Visitor Center. Capitol Police didn't immediately identify the pilot or comment on his motive, but a Florida postal carrier named Doug Hughes took responsibility for the stunt on a website where he said he was delivering letters to all 535 members of Congress in order to draw attention to campaign finance corruption. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said it was too soon to say whether safety procedures should change

(WASHINGTON)—The gyrocopter that landed on the lawn of the U.S. Capitol “apparently literally flew in under the radar,” Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said Thursday, as concerned lawmakers questioned how it was allowed to happen and why.

Johnson said it’s too soon to say whether Wednesday’s incident should prompt changes in security procedures. “I want to know all the facts before I reach an assessment of what can and should be done about gyrocopters in the future,” he said.

But lawmakers said the incident exposed a gap in security, especially amid revelations that the pilot, Florida postal worker Doug Hughes, was interviewed by the Secret Service almost two years ago. The agency apparently determined he did not pose a threat, said Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., the senior Democrat on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. Cummings spoke Thursday with the Secret Service director.

“I think that there’s absolutely a gap, and it’s a very dangerous gap, with regard to our airspace,” Cummings said. “I don’t want people to get a message that they can just land anywhere. Suppose there was a bomb or an explosive device on that air vehicle? That could have been a major catastrophe.”

Johnson said the Secret Service passed along the information from the interview with Hughes, who was to appear in court Thursday afternoon, to “all of the appropriate law enforcement agencies.”

The tiny, open-air aircraft landed without injuries to anyone, but the incident raises questions about how someone could be allowed to fly all the way from Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, right up to the Capitol. Hughes has said he was making the flight to publicize his concerns about the corrupting influence of money in politics, and deliver letters to all 535 members of Congress on the topic.

“We are a democracy. We don’t have fences around our airspace, so we’ve got to find the right balance between living in a free and open society and security and the protection of federal buildings,” Johnson told reporters on Capitol Hill. “And so we want to stay one step ahead of every incident like this, but then again, you don’t want to overreact, either.”

Still, lawmakers questioned why, if authorities had been in touch with Hughes, no action was taken to stop him.

“My concerns are the prior notice that he was going to do this and the lack of response,” said Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee.

“These small aircraft or UAV devices concern me because they could go undetected and cause damage, so that’s something we’re taking a look at,” McCaul said, adding he might hold hearings on the issue.

Cummings and others also complained that they were not notified of the incident and that many first learned of it from the news media.

Johnson defended existing protocols for dealing with the restricted airspace over Washington, D.C., federal buildings and monuments.

“We’ve got a well-coordinated federal response to dealing with issues of those who penetrate the restricted airspace without permission,” he said. He said his first reaction on hearing of the incident was to ask, “What’s a gyrocopter?”

TIME National Security

Former TSA Agent: Groping Scandal Is Business as Usual

Transportation Security Administration agents screen passengers at Denver International Airport in 2010.
John Moore—Getty Images Transportation Security Administration agents screen passengers at Denver International Airport in 2010.

Jason Edward Harrington is a former TSA agent.

There are far too many federal hands on people's private parts in airports

The recent story of two Transportation Security Administration screeners at Denver International Airport manipulating full-body scanners in order to grope men’s crotches is disturbing, but it came as no surprise to me.

Over the course of my six years with the TSA, the leveraging of rules and surveillance tools to abuse passengers was a daily checkpoint occurrence. Has the TSA screener searching your luggage suddenly decided to share with you the finer points of official bag-search procedure just as your final boarding call is being announced? There’s a good chance that he or she just doesn’t like you. Or in some cases, as we’ve seen, it may be that the screener finds you attractive and wants to use the TSA rules as an excuse to get his or her hands on you.

Amid all the jokes in comment sections, it’s easy to forget that the groping of these dozen or more male passengers by two conspiring TSA screeners is sexual assault, plain and simple. And while it’s easy to focus all the blame on the two unsavory screeners who are now no longer with the agency, perhaps the bigger issue here is a systemic one: There are far too many federal hands on people’s private parts in airports.

(The TSA agents involved have been fired, and a spokesman for the agency has said: “All allegations of misconduct are thoroughly investigated by the agency. And when substantiated, employees are held accountable.”)

What most people don’t realize is that the full-body scanners the two agents used to assault those passengers — the scanners that millions of people pass through each day — are practically useless. The TSA, in its rush to replace the controversial “nude” radiation scanners that they phased out in 2013, swapped out one poorly functioning line of machines for another. The current millimeter wave scanners, with their outrageous false-positive rates, regularly cause unnecessary pat-downs: The agent running his or her hands over you after you pass through the scanner is almost never doing it for a good reason.

Just a few weeks ago, the TSA reached an agreement with the American Civil Liberties Union after a flurry of complaints from African-American women whose hair was too-frequently inspected after passing through the scanners. The reason? The scanners single out areas on passengers’ bodies for pat-downs for just about anything, from the hair of people with braids or barrettes, to the crotch areas of people whose pants are slightly sagging (usually due to the fact that the TSA makes people remove their belts). The scanners even misidentify perspiration as a potential concealed weapon (have you ever walked into Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport in July without a slight perspiration problem?) When I worked the millimeter wave scanners, we averaged false head-area anomalies on what I’d estimate was about 1 out of every 8 passengers.

Perhaps the most disturbing part of the sexual assault of male passengers at Denver International via full-body scanners is that the victims will likely never even know they were assaulted, since so many passengers have their private parts fondled when passing through the scanners, anyway. It’s difficult to tell where airport security ends and sexual assault begins these days. Pat-downs of people’s sensitive areas should be much rarer than they are at the airport.

The TSA should scale back its use of the ineffective full-body scanners. While there is a need for the capability to detect non-metallic threats on passengers going through checkpoints — especially after the failed Underwear Bomb Plot of 2009 — forcing every passenger to get inside costly, poorly functioning full-body scanners is not the answer. The TSA apologists who claim that 100% full-body scanning is the only way to prevent a terrorist from sneaking non-metallic weapons aboard an airplane haven’t given the matter much thought.

Though if the TSA were to do away with the faulty full-body scanners tomorrow and revert back to walk-thru metal detectors, there would still be half a dozen ways a passenger could find his or her crotch being patted down per the TSA’s current system, including:

  • The presence, oftentimes mysterious, of an “SSSS” on a passenger’s boarding pass, which prompts enhanced screening, including a full-body pat-down.
  • The determination by one of the TSA’s controversial Behavior Detection Officers that a passenger is acting suspiciously while standing in line.
  • False alarms on the explosives trace swab that officers use to swipe passengers’ hands and luggage.
  • And of course, there is the elephant in the room of every behind-closed-doors TSA agency meeting: The fact that no technology currently on the TSA checkpoint is capable of detecting an improvised explosive device stashed inside a body cavity. There simply is no way to stop a “butt bomber.” The idea of 100% safety that TSA agents try to sell us with their commands to step inside full-body scanners is just an illusion.

Adequate deterrence against a theoretical terrorist with a non-metallic weapon on his person is all the TSA can and need provide at airports. One or two full-body scanners per terminal, through which the occasional passenger could be randomly directed (alongside passengers on watch-lists), would provide that adequate deterrence. The vast majority of the traveling public need not pass through a full-body scanner, and need not be groped at all.

Read next: Hundreds of People Breached U.S. Airport Security in Past Decade, Investigation Finds

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TIME Aviation

Hundreds of People Breached U.S. Airport Security in Past Decade, Investigation Finds

Including two men caught skateboarding on the tarmac

Several hundred times over the last decade, intruders have hopped fences, slipped past guardhouses, crashed their cars through gates or otherwise breached perimeter security at the nation’s busiest airports — sometimes even managing to climb aboard jets.

One man tossed his bike over a fence and pedaled across a runway at Chicago O’Hare, stopping to knock on a terminal door. Another rammed a sports-utility vehicle through a security gate at Philadelphia International and sped down a runway as a plane was about to touch down, forcing officials to hold takeoffs and landings.

At Los Angeles International, a mentally ill man hopped the perimeter fence eight times in less than a year — twice reaching stairs that led to jets. In Fort Lauderdale, Florida, a man who was on the run after stabbing a plumber scrambled over a barbed-wire fence and dashed into an empty plane.

In all, an Associated Press investigation found 268 perimeter security breaches since 2004 at airports that together handle three-quarters of U.S. commercial passenger traffic. And that’s an undercount, because two airports among the 31 that AP surveyed didn’t have data for all years, while four others — Boston’s Logan and the New York City area’s three main airports — refused to release any information, citing security concerns.

Until now, few of these incidents have been publicly reported. Most involved intruders who wanted to take a shortcut, were lost, disoriented, drunk or mentally unstable but seemingly harmless. A few trespassers had knives, and one man who drove past a raised security gate at O’Hare in January had a loaded handgun on the vehicle console. He told police he was bypassing train tracks.

None of the incidents involved a terrorist plot, according to airport officials.

The lapses nevertheless highlight gaps in airport security in a post-9/11 world where passengers inside airports face rigorous screening to prevent attackers from slipping through, and even unsuccessful plots — such as the would-be shoe bomber — have prompted new procedures.

“This might be the next vulnerable area for terrorists as it becomes harder to get the bomb on the plane through the checkpoint,” said airport security expert Jeff Price.

Since the Sept. 11 attacks, hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent to upgrade fencing, cameras and other detection technology along airport perimeters. Many have dozens of miles of fencing, but not all of that is frequently patrolled or always in view of security cameras.

Airport officials insist their perimeters are secure. They declined to discuss specifics, other than to say they have layers that include fences, cameras and patrols. Employees are required to ask for proof of security clearance if a badge is not obvious. Other measures may include ground radar and infrared sensors.

If a person hops a fence but is immediately caught, “the system did work,” said Christopher Bidwell, vice president for security at Airports Council International-North America, representing airport operators.

At the world’s most fortified airports, the outermost security layer has been enough. Tokyo’s Narita and Israel’s Ben Gurion airports report no perimeter intrusions. At Ben Gurion, officials said they spend more than $200 million annually on perimeter security.

In the U.S., airport authorities said it is neither financially nor physically feasible to keep all intruders out.

“There is nothing that can’t be penetrated,” said LAX Police Chief Patrick Gannon, noting that even the White House has struggled with perimeter security; last year an intruder with a knife climbed a fence and made it inside the executive mansion before being arrested.

The AP’s analysis was prompted by a high-profile breach last spring that resulted in one 15-year-old’s improbable journey to Hawaii. Yahya Abdi climbed a fence at San Jose International Airport, hoisted himself into a jet’s wheel well and survived an almost six-hour flight. Abdi, who lived with his father and stepmother, said he was trying to get back to his mother, a refugee in Ethiopia.

Afterward, San Jose airport spokeswoman Rosemary Barnes said breaches are more common than people realize.

Through public records requests, news archive searches and interviews, the AP created the most comprehensive public accounting of perimeter security breaches from January 2004 through January 2015 at San Jose and the nation’s 30 busiest airports. The analysis excluded incidents inside the airport, such as when a passenger went unscreened through a security checkpoint or walked out the wrong exit door.

Among the findings:

— At least 44 times, intruders made it to runways, taxiways or to the gate area where planes park to refuel or load passengers. In five cases, including Abdi’s, they got onto jets.

— Seven airports in four states accounted for more than half the breaches, although not all provided data for all years examined. San Francisco International reported the most, with 37. The others were the international airports in Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, San Jose, Miami and Tampa, Florida.

— Four years had more than 30 breaches each: 2007, 2012, 2013 and 2014. The most was 38, in 2014 and 2012; the fewest 12 in 2009.

— Few airports revealed how long it took to apprehend suspects, saying this detail could show security vulnerabilities. Available information showed most arrests happened within 10 minutes. Several people went undetected for hours or never were caught — including a Charlotte, North Carolina, stowaway who was found dead in 2010 after he fell from a wheel well when the landing gear opened on approach to Boston.

“Too often … we don’t really have an idea of how long the individual has been roaming around the airport,” said U.S. Rep. Eric Swalwell, a San Francisco Bay Area Democrat who began focusing on airport security after the Abdi incident.

While the Transportation Security Administration is responsible for screening passengers and baggage, individual airports are responsible for securing perimeters, typically with a mix of private security guards and airport police. The TSA reviews airport plans, conducts spot checks and can levy penalties. The agency said that from 2010 through 2014, it issued $277,155 in fines for 136 perimeter breaches.

Airports are supposed to inform the TSA of such lapses, but the federal Government Accountability Office in 2009 found not all incidents were reported. In 2011, a TSA report shared with a congressional subcommittee counted 1,388 perimeter security breaches since 2001 at the 450 airports that TSA regulates.

Details from that report are not publicly available, and nearly a year after the TSA granted expedited status to AP’s Freedom of Information Act request for incident data, it has released nothing. The agency declined to comment on AP’s findings, and pointed to previous statements that perimeter security is the responsibility of each airport.

Former TSA director John Pistole said that fences, patrols and alarms are effective. “Overall, people should feel confident that terrorists and bad guys aren’t able to exploit it, recognizing it’s not a perfect system,” said Pistole, who retired in December.

Among the breaches, an elderly woman who apparently thought she was at Sears drove through a security gate at the Philadelphia airport. Also in Philadelphia, two party-goers drove through a gate to ask an officer for directions.

At Washington Dulles and Tampa International, two men were caught skateboarding on tarmacs.

In Chicago, Marlow Sahron Land Jr. tossed his bike over a fence in 2010, rode it across taxiways and at least one runway, then knocked on a terminal door; a gate agent let him inside. Witnesses told arresting officers that he looked “wacked out.” Land pleaded guilty to misdemeanor attempting to resist arrest, spent six months under court supervision and paid a $190 fine.

Other intruders posed greater dangers or brought operations to a halt when they came too close to planes about to take off or land.

At Philadelphia International, Kenneth Mazik rammed his SUV through a gate in March 2012 and sped onto the runway as a plane carrying 43 people was about to land. Air traffic controllers told 75 aircraft to circle and held 80 on the ground for about half an hour. He faced a rare federal prosecution and served 16 months, paying a $92,000 fine. Part of his defense was that he was high on the attention deficit drug Adderall.

At the nation’s busiest airport, Hartsfield-Jackson in Atlanta, three different intruders reached runways — in 2007, 2012 and 2014. One was an aggravated assault suspect who came within 50 feet of a plane that had landed as he was pursued by police.

In Phoenix in 2006, a pilot told air traffic controllers he “nearly collided with a pedestrian” as he was taking off. Fence jumper Jesus Duarte Verdugo told authorities he wanted to take a shortcut to a bus stop “because I was being lazy,” adding he had done so three days earlier without getting caught.

Among the intruders, Christopher McGrath stands out.

Eight times between April 2012 and March 2013, police caught McGrath after he got over the fence at LAX on a mission to board a flight. In an affidavit, FBI special agent David Gates said McGrath demonstrated how he used his travel bag to protect himself from the barbed wire.

He never was armed but twice reached the stairs leading to jets, once with a bunch of bananas he hoped a pilot would accept in return for a ride to Australia. It wasn’t clear from police reports whether the planes were empty or full. Another time he hid for hours, later telling the FBI he had spent the night behind a trash bin before an airport employee discovered him.

McGrath’s repeated break-ins helped airport police address vulnerabilities: They trimmed a tree branch he had used to get over the fence.

When McGrath kept returning following short stints in local jail, LAX police turned to federal prosecutors. Last year, a federal judge found him not guilty by reason of insanity on a charge of entering an airport area in violation of security requirements. He remains at a medical lockup in Missouri.

In an email, McGrath told the AP that he had gone to Southern California to live as a transient because of the good weather, but after his belongings were stolen he wanted a fresh start. He said he targeted planes bound for Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne and New Zealand.

The Port Authority of New York & New Jersey, which oversees Kennedy, LaGuardia and Newark airports, refused to provide a full accounting of perimeter breaches.

But high-profile incidents have made the news. In one, a man whose watercraft ran out of fuel swam to shore in 2012, climbed an 8-foot fence at Kennedy and crossed two runways before asking an airline employee for help. The airport came under fire because a $100 million system of surveillance cameras and motion detectors failed.

While the AP examination focused on larger airports, perimeter breaches are also a problem at smaller airfields where security measures are less rigid. In 2012, for example, a SkyWest Airlines pilot suspected of killing his ex-girlfriend threw a rug over a razor-wire fence at the airport in St. George, Utah, and stole an empty 50-passenger jet, which he crashed as he taxied near a terminal. He then shot and killed himself.

Airport perimeter security firms sold $650 million worth of fences, gates, sensors and cameras in the decade following the 9/11 attacks, according to industry analyst John Hernandez. He projects a drop in spending from $69 million in 2012 to $47.5 million in 2017.

Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport, which had a string of Palestinian attacks on planes in the 1970s, measures include two fences with a radar system between them, cameras and hundreds of armed agents, according to Shmuel Zakay, the airport’s managing director.

In the U.S., officials said there is neither the appetite nor funding to create fortress-like perimeters. And no solution is foolproof, according to airport security experts. One common refrain: Show me a 10-foot fence, and I’ll show you an 11-foot ladder.

Outfit cameras with software that is supposed to help identify intruders, and there may not be enough staff to monitor incoming images. Or security personnel might waste time chasing false alarms triggered by something as trivial as a plastic bag caught on a fence.

“Most airports that have invested in new technologies spend a lot of time responding to false alarms,” said Renee Tufts, security manager at Philadelphia International.

Companies routinely pitch airports to buy technology that may or may not make them safer. To help distinguish, a nonprofit called the National Safe Skies Alliance assesses technology at the request of airports. Its president, Scott Broyles, said airports have to weigh the potential threat of harm from a perimeter breach against the hefty cost of building elaborate defenses.

Airports calculate that what they have done keeps passengers safe.

Said airport security expert Price: “It’s one of those issues that I think until something really bad happens, not much is going to change.”

TIME National Security

Social Media Ban Lifted on Muslim Preacher Who Inspired Syrian Fighters

Cleric is a particular favorite of foreign jihadists in Syria

Ahmad Musa Jebril, a Michigan-based Muslim cleric, is free to return to social media after the lifting of a ban imposed upon him because his sermons were inspiring foreign jihadists to join the conflict in Syria, Reuters reports.

Last summer, a federal judge ordered restrictions on the imam after he was identified as an English-speaking preacher particularly admired by fighters traveling to Syria to join groups like ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra.

Jebril’s access to the Internet was severely restricted and he had to regularly report to probation officials.

Court documents reveal that Jebril, a U.S. citizen, has had a long involvement in hardline Islamist ideology along with his father.

Although the bans have now been lifted for a few days, it appears that Jebril has not yet been active on Twitter, YouTube or his own website.

[Reuters]

TIME Military

How the U.S. Would Destroy Iran’s Nuclear Program

DoD The Massive Ordnance Penetrator hits a test target.

'Massive Ordnance Penetrator' would be tapped for mission

The U.S. military has been getting ready to bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities to smithereens even longer than Secretary of State John Kerry has been trying to negotiate them away. And while Thursday’s “framework” between Tehran and the U.S. and five other nations could lead to a peaceful accord this summer, the Pentagon is ready if it doesn’t.

Iran has been conducting much of its suspected nuclear-weapons work for years in underground labs and research facilities thought to be able to survive attacks by earlier generations of U.S. military bunker-busters.

So the Defense Department has spent just as much time procuring a bigger punch.

“In October 2014, the Air Force successfully completed one weapon drop from the B-2 aircraft on a representative target,” the Pentagon’s top weapons-tester reported in January. “The test, conducted at the White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico, demonstrated weapon behavior after planned enhancements were incorporated.”

In late 2009, the Air Force quietly circulated a solicitation seeking a “Quick Reaction Capability” to “defeat a specific set of Hard and/or Deeply Buried Targets.” The weapon, the service said, would “maximize effects against Hard and/or Deeply Buried Targets (HDBTs), while minimizing time over target.” The Air Force said it needed the weapon to meet “Urgent Operational Needs requirements”—generally a plea from a battlefield commander who doesn’t think he has the weapons he needs to accomplish a mission assigned to him.

“The system will hold at risk those highest priority assets essential to the enemy’s war-fighting ability, which are heavily defended and protected,” the Air Force elaborated in February 2011 budget documents, “providing a critical global strike capability not currently met by inventory conventional weapons.”

The $15 million GBU-57 Massive Ordnance Penetrator weighs in at about 30,000 pounds, six times the heft of the existing GBU-28 bunker busters and nearly five tons heavier than the 22,600-pound GBU-43, once known as the “mother of all bombs.” The Pentagon has spent more than $300 million for 20 of GBU-57s.

Guided to its destination by GPS-guided lattice-type fins, the GBU-57’s alloy steel hull—some 80% of its weight—is designed to remain intact as it drills through rock or reinforced concrete before setting off its 5,300-pound warhead. Air Force officials have said it represents a “bridge” capability between existing bunker busters and nuclear weapons themselves.

After several upgrades, the Air Force has let it been known that there’s an operational stockpile of the world’s most powerful non-nuclear bombs at Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri. They’re not far from the B-2 bombers now ready to carry them 7,000 miles to Iran.

BoeingA mockup of the Massive Ordnance Penetrator at Whiteman Air Force Base, Mo.
TIME Military

Saudi Air War Over Yemen Leaves U.S. on Sidelines

Saudi-led coalition launch airstrike in Yemen
Sinan Yiter / Anadolu Agency / Getty Images Houthis in the Yemeni city of Saana fire anti-aircraft weapons in the general direction of Saudi-led attacking warplanes March 30.

But former American commander says it’s about time

When it came time to bomb Libya—both times, in fact, in 1986 and 2011—American airpower led the way. When Iraq was in the crosshairs—all three times, in 1991, 2003 and 2014—the stars and bars of the U.S. Air Force led the charge. Same thing in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Sudan, Syria and even Iran (against oil platforms and small boats in the Persian Gulf in 1987-1988).

That history makes it almost relaxing for the U.S. military to be sitting out the latest air war launched by Saudi Arabia against the Houthi rebels now occupying a growing chunk of Yemen. The kingdom, which kicked off aerial attacks March 25, is nervous about the Iranian-backed rebels along its southern border. But Riyadh’s hardly flying solo: it has been joined by Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, Qatar, Sudan and the United Arab Emirates.

Washington shouldn’t feel left out, according to Anthony Zinni, the retired four-star Marine who headed U.S. Central Command, which oversees the region, from 1997 to 2000. “Ever since the first Gulf War in the early 1990s, we’ve been pushing to get some sort of alliance in the region,” he says. “We wanted them to come together and basically find a way where we could support them but not have to lead them all the time.”

Zinni says the Saudis have acted because they hate the Houthis, hate the Iranians, and hate the idea of an ungoverned state next door. “They will not tolerate a Houthis-led Yemen on their southern border,” he adds. “And they’re pissed that the Iranians support them.” Saudi Arabia has attacked the Houthis before, he notes, but never this extensively.

Precise details about what each country allied in the battle against the Houthis is doing remain murky. But it’s obvious a lot of the air attacks on Houthi sites, in what Riyadh has dubbed Operation Decisive Storm, involve U.S.-built warplanes dropping U.S.-built bombs.

Much of Saudi Arabia’s air force consists of U.S.-built warplanes. It says it has dedicated 100 to the fight, and lost a St. Louis-built F-15 involved in the campaign March 26 (both pilots rescued by a U.S. helicopter from the Gulf of Aden). Bahrain has earmarked up to 12 Fort Worth-built F-16s, with Jordan and Morocco contributing six apiece. Kuwait reportedly has dispatched 15 St. Louis-built F-18s to the battle.

But the U.S. role is decidedly limited. “Our current position is that we will help the Saudis with intelligence and logistics and planning support,” Army General Lloyd Austin, Zinni’s successor as chief of Central Command, told the Senate Armed Services Committee March 26. That’s not necessarily a bad thing: the U.S. has been selling weapons and providing training to many nations in the region for decades. Most Americans have no interest in wading into another war. President Obama—with his pledge not to deploy U.S. ground combat troops in the ongoing fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and Greater Syria—shares their view (although the U.S. has been bombing ISIS since August).

While U.S. intelligence has begun flowing to the Saudis, logistical help remains largely in the planning stages, U.S. officials say. U.S. intelligence is being funneled to the Saudis through the Combined Air and Space Operations Center at the major U.S. al Udeid air base in Qatar—the same base conducting the daily air strikes against the Islamic State in Iraq and Greater Syria. “Right now it’s almost exclusively intel—intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance,” a U.S. military officer says of the American aid.

“Log[istical] support hasn’t really kicked in yet,” he adds. “When it does it will be mostly refueling and spare parts. It’s not clear yet where the [aerial refueling] tankers would one from. Presumably al Udied.”

Without the U.S. in the lead, Washington can’t start and stop bombing. But it retains some control: it can control the flow of spare parts for the warplanes it built and the bombs they drop.

Of course, one of the advantages of being in charge is calling the shots, and knowing why they’re being called. When it comes to the Saudi effort against the Houthis, Austin acknowledged at that armed services committee session that he’s all but clueless. “I don’t currently know the specific goals and objectives of the Saudi campaign,” Austin said. “I would have to know that to be able to assess the likelihood of success.”

When you’re out of the loop, you also don’t know what’s going to happen next. The Saudi defense chief informed him of the impending strikes “the day of the attacks,” Austin said, “so it was not much before that they actually started the attacks.”

Read next: Al-Qaeda Group Frees Hundreds of Inmates in Yemen

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