Friday 24 March 2006

U.S. security officials train with the pros

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Israeli troops in biological warfare gear secure the area... david blumenfeld / special to the chronicle

Israeli troops in biological warfare gear secure the area in a mass-casualties toxicological exercise during a four-day conference. Photo by David Blumenfeld, special to the Chronicle

Israelis demonstrate tools, tactics in fight against terrorism

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Joanne Hayes-White, San Francisco's fire chief, greets an... David Blumenfeld / special to the chronicle

Joanne Hayes-White, San Francisco's fire chief, greets an Israeli soldier at a high school during the drill. Photo by David Blumenfeld, special to the Chronicle

Matthew Kalman, Chronicle Foreign Service
Friday, March 24, 2006
Page A - 12

Nes Ziona, Israel -- A young Israeli firefighter tore the shirt off his back and insisted San Francisco Fire Chief Joanne Hayes-White take it home as a memento of a biochemical terror training drill she had just observed.

"I read about you on the Internet," said the Israeli, still breathless after spending an hour inside an orange biochemical protection suit under the blazing sun during a mock chemical attack on a school. "You're the first woman fire chief in San Francisco. You're my hero!"

Hayes-White was observing the exercise as part of a four-day conference on counterterrorism that attracted 130 U.S. law enforcement, emergency services and homeland security officials, the largest such delegation ever hosted by Israel. Other officials in the 23-member California delegation included San Francisco Deputy Police Chief Greg Suhr, Los Angeles Police Chief William Bratton and Erroll Southers, deputy director of the California Office of Homeland Security.

At Wednesday's chemical attack drill, simulating a poison-gas attack on a school, first on the scene were an ambulance and a police cruiser. As the "victims" collapsed, rescue personnel donned protective gear in different colors to distinguish between those securing the scene and those helping victims. Arriving firefighters were responsible for isolating the toxic material, while a police helicopter overhead kept an eye out for escaping terrorists and monitored traffic flow.

Within minutes, more than 50 security and rescue personnel were on the scene, under the command of the senior police officer. The senior medic performed triage, tagging all victims according to the seriousness of their injuries -- and within 20 minutes all were on their way to a hospital. Finally, all the suited emergency officers were washed down in special showers connected to fire trucks.

"That's smart," said a sheriff's officer from California. "Back home, we'd have to find a hydrant to get those showers going. We never thought to hook them up to the fire trucks."

"It was truly impressive," Hayes-White said of the exercise as she packed away the shirt to take home for her 12-year-old son.

"Our whole world changed after 9/11. It is something that we plan for now, but we have very little expertise in it. We've studied it, but we haven't really lived it. To come to a place like this, really you're learning from the true experts," she said.

On Tuesday, the Americans thought the day's exercise had started early when they arrived at the national headquarters of the Israeli Border Police in Jerusalem and saw a series of roadblocks set up and emergency vehicles screaming out of the gates, sirens wailing.

But this was no drill. They were caught in the middle of the real thing.

Israeli Police Chief Moshe Karadi welcomed his guests with the news that a Palestinian suicide bomber was loose in the city.

"They brought us in and gave us a step-by-step playback of the events as they were unfolding," said Hayes-White.

An hour later, after they were briefed about a dramatic helicopter and motorcycle chase through police roadblocks on the main Jerusalem-Tel Aviv highway, Hayes-White and the U.S. delegates were told the suicide bomber had been captured, together with 15 pounds of explosives packed with nails and shrapnel. A suicide attack had been prevented, thanks to accurate intelligence and swift police reaction.

It was a real-time introduction to the pressures of security in Israel for participants in the four-day conference, hosted by the Border Police and the Israeli Foreign Ministry. Participants attended intelligence briefings, counterterror drills, medical exercises and lectures from security, police and emergency services officials.

The Americans toured police surveillance facilities in the Old City of Jerusalem, visited a suicide-bomber exhibition at police headquarters and observed a full-blown counterterror exercise simulating a biochemical attack on a school, followed by emergency treatment of the mock victims at the Assaf Harofeh Medical Center.

At Ben-Gurion Airport and the control center for Israel Railways, the officials viewed state-of-the-art closed-circuit TV facilities with what the Israelis call behavioral video -- computer software that triggers an alarm when an unusual incident appears on the monitor.

Paul MacMillan, deputy chief of Boston's transit police, said the Massachusetts Bay Transport Authority had been considering the installation of behavioral video. After seeing the Israeli system, he said he planned to recommend it: "We've been looking at it ... but we've never really seen it in actual operation."

The aim of the conference was to encourage cooperation in sharing information and training, and before the sessions ended, several U.S. officials were already planning joint training seminars with the Israelis for U.S. law enforcement officials.

Southers said he planned to hold a similar conference for state homeland security employees in conjunction with the Israeli Consulate in Los Angeles. MacMillan said he would like to send his bomb-disposal teams to train in Israel, where police receive 200,000 alerts of suspicious packages every year.

"This country has excelled in safety and public security," Southers said of Israel. "What really strikes me here is that preparedness and security is a culture. It's something that we don't understand in the U.S. There are people in California who have zero resolve when it comes to this issue."

Suhr, the San Francisco deputy chief, said the trip had been "hugely useful." He said the analysis of mass-casualty incidents offered by lecturers were the best he had ever heard, and he intended to take them back home for training purposes.

"I've been doing this for 25 years, and I usually don't write anything. I just take the material they hand out," said Suhr. "This week, I've taken pages of notes because the things they say just strike you."

After four 16-hour days, the participants were joking grimly about graduating from the Israeli boot camp.

"The Israelis have kept us out of trouble," said one bleary-eyed participant. "I haven't even had time to buy gifts for my kids."

Likud hopeful tries to pick up the pieces

Leadership defects, and a party crumbles

BOSTON GLOBE / March 24, 2006

By Matthew Kalman Globe Correspondent

Part of a series examining candidates for the Israeli election on Tuesday.

JERUSALEM -- Shmuel Slavin looked tired as he returned to the Likud party's campaign headquarters in Jerusalem after another busy day on the hustings.

(Available here)

A first-hand lesson in fighting terror

Mass. officials attend Israeli conference

BOSTON GLOBE | March 24, 2006

By Matthew Kalman, Globe Correspondent

JERUSALEM -- When Paul MacMillan, deputy chief of the MBTA transit police, saw roadblocks and heard wailing sirens as his convoy entered the headquarters of the Israeli Border Police on Tuesday, it seemed that a planned emergency drill had begun a day early. But this was no exercise.

MacMillan and 130 other senior US security officials attending a counterterrorism conference in Jerusalem found themselves caught up in an unfolding manhunt for a suspected Palestinian suicide bomber.

An hour later, after a dramatic helicopter and motorcycle chase through police roadblocks on the main Jerusalem-Tel Aviv highway, Israeli police told the Americans that the would-be bomber had been captured, with 15 pounds of explosives packed with nails and shrapnel.

The blow-by-blow account of the operation provided a real-time introduction to Israeli security pressures for the participants in the four-day conference, designed to encourage information sharing and expertise between Israeli and US counterterrorism officials. The gathering boasted the largest group of US law enforcement, emergency services, and homeland security officials ever to assemble in Israel.

Other Bay State officials in attendance included Kenneth Kaiser, special agent in charge of the FBI's Boston office, and Albert Sherman, vice chancellor of University of Massachusetts Medical School. The largest delegation came from California, including Los Angeles Police Chief William J. Bratton, the former police commissioner in Boston, and Joanne M. Hayes-White, chief of the San Francisco Fire Department.

MacMillan said the episode in Jerusalem illustrated how much his job had changed since the Sept. 11 attacks.

''If you told me when I started my career that I would be in Israel learning about emergency preparedness for a terrorist attack, I would have said: 'What are you talking about?' We could never have imagined at the beginning of our police careers that we would be involved in such a situation," he said.

But as the intelligence chief for the fourth-largest transit system in the United States, transporting 1.3 million passengers each day, MacMillan said his responsibility now goes well beyond the traditional problems of robberies and assaults.

''To say that Boston is a specific target, that's not an accurate statement. But they've hit two transit systems, in Madrid and London, and the general intelligence and logic would follow that they're eventually going to try and hit a transit system in the United States. . . . We certainly should prepare for it," he said.

The conference, hosted by the Israeli Foreign Ministry and Police, included intelligence briefings, counterterrorism drills, medical exercises, and lectures from security, police, and emergency services officials.

The participants toured police surveillance facilities in Jerusalem's Old City, visited a suicide-bomber exhibition at police headquarters, and observed a simulated biochemical attack on a school, followed by emergency treatment of the victims at the Assaf Harofeh Medical Center.

At Ben-Gurion Airport and the control center for Israel Railways, the officials saw state of the art CCTV facilities with ''behavioral video" -- computer software that triggers an alarm when an unusual incident appears on the monitor.

MacMillan said the MBTA had been studying the installation of behavioral video and, after seeing the Israeli system in action, he would recommend it back home -- one of several tangible results of the trip.

He also said he would recommend cooperation with Israeli police in training Boston's bomb-disposal personnel.

Also under consideration is a training course in Massachusetts run by the Israeli police.

Following an earlier visit to Israel by Robert Smith, head of counterintelligence at the State Police, the Massachusetts command staff already has been through two courses run by senior officials from the Israeli security services.

Assistance has also run in the opposite direction. Sherman, and Dr. Richard Aghababian, chairman of emergency medicine at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, have advised Israeli hospitals on developing emergency medical departments.

After watching a drill simulating an emergency room receiving victims of a large bio-chemical attack on Wednesday, Sherman said the Israelis had come a long way.

''I'm here to observe and learn and bring back to the Department of Public Health how the Israelis, who are regrettably the experts, do it differently to how we do it. In some cases it's better," said Sherman, who also serves on the Public Health Council, which sets public health policy for Massachusetts.

He said the Americans were impressed by what they saw.

''A smart man knows what he doesn't know. These people came to learn. There isn't a single person I've spoken to who doesn't have lots to bring back to their hometown," he said.

White, San Francisco's fire chief, said she found the conference ''truly impressive."

''Our whole world changed after 9/11. It is something that we plan for now, but we have very little expertise in it. To come to a place like this, really you're learning from the true experts," she said.

Conference participants debated the tension between counterterrorist measures and maintaining democracy, a concern that arose when security officials at Ben-Gurion explained that they were allowed to stop any car whose passengers appeared ''suspicious."

''It's a different mind set here. We're not allowed to do that. We have to have a specific plan in place on how we're going to do the stops," MacMillan said.

''It's a balancing act. We have a free and open society. If we want a dictatorship, we can lock down the country and not let anybody in and have government IDs and have everybody checked, but we're not going to live like that," MacMillan said.

Tuesday 21 March 2006

An Israeli political campaign tries to push voters to the right

RAMAT GAN, ISRAEL -- At age 12, Bat-Ami Fisher won't be able to vote for several years, but with barely a week to go before Israel's general election the bubbly pre-teen has been spending her evenings knocking on doors and explaining her political credo to complete strangers.

Bat-Ami is one of thousands of Israelis participating in ''Zazim Yemina" (Moving to the Right), a grass-roots political campaign to persuade voters not to support the Kadima Party of Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and elect a strong nationalist bloc to stop Olmert's plan to dismantle dozens of Israeli settlements in the West Bank.

Benjamin Netanyahu, leader of the right-wing Likud Party, has described the election as ''a national referendum on the Olmert-Kadima plan to give away land to Hamas for nothing in return." According to opinion polls, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict remains the number one concern of Israeli voters.

One night last week, Bat-Ami was tramping the streets of Ramat Gan, a middle-class suburb of Tel Aviv, with her parents and 5-year-old twin brothers. The Fishers live in Shiloh, a settlement halfway between Ramallah and Nablus in the heart of the West Bank. If Olmert implements his West Bank plan, Bat-Ami and her family will lose their home.

Despite her youth, Bat-Ami is already a seasoned political activist. She spent a week last summer camped out in protest at Israel's disengagement from Gaza. That failed to stop the pullout, but this time she hoped to be more successful. With more than 20 percent of Israeli voters still undecided, a last-minute swing could have a big impact.

''I think we can convince them and it will help the situation. I want the majority of people to be convinced that, even if they don't vote for the right, at least they won't vote for Kadima," she said.

''Kadima is full of people who want to throw people out of their homes. We don't want that," she said.

Armed with a computer printout targeting the homes of undecided right-wing voters, the Fishers visited two apartment blocks last Thursday, each housing six families. They explained their concern at Olmert's plans and were politely received. One family even invited them in to supper.

''We do not represent a particular party. Most people understand the issue. Just not Kadima," explained Rafi Fisher, Bat-Ami's father.

''The effect we're trying to produce is that in another two or three days Kadima's seats in the polls will start to fall and that will create a wave," he said.

After recording the results of their interviews, they returned the printouts to the campaign organizers and then began the hour-long drive back home to the West Bank. On this particular night, they found only four families at home, but the Fishers still felt it was worthwhile.

''There's nothing else to be done. This is the best thing we have. Others are calling by phone from the settlement. I'll also start making calls the minute I get home. It's like the butterfly effect, which can cause a tornado. I don't know if we're the butterflies, the tornado, or something in between. Who knows what will happen after we talk to them?" he said.

The Zazim Yemina organizers hope that Bat-Ami and her friends will reach 200,000 households before election day -- a huge campaign in a country with just over 5 million eligible voters.

''Every evening we have 1,000 people calling, and over 1,000 going out to visit -- and the numbers are rising," said Yaakov Sternberg, one of the campaign's national organizers.

They are relying on a quirk of the Israeli political system in which no party in Israel's history has ever won an outright majority, so the governments have been a series of coalitions.

The headline result of next week's election already appears to be a foregone conclusion. Olmert's Kadima Party is widely expected to come in first, winning 39 Knesset seats, according to the latest poll in the Israeli daily Yedioth Ahronoth.

In order to reach a majority of 61 Knesset seats, Kadima must team up with coalition partners that share Olmert's vision of a unilateral disengagement from the West Bank. First in line will be Labor, with a predicted 19 seats, and the left-wing Meretz with 4. But if the right does better than expected, that will force Kadima to look further afield.

In that case, Kadima could also look to Shas, the party representing ultra-orthodox Sephardic Jews, which looks set to win about 11 seats, and with them the ultra-orthodox party, Yahdut Hatorah, with six. That would give Kadima a safe majority, but the religious parties will demand a high price for their support, which could create internal tensions with the left-wing Meretz Party. And while Shas craves government office after three years in opposition, most of its members oppose a West Bank disengagement.

A further shift rightward could tilt the balance completely, leaving Olmert with a Pyrrhic victory in which Kadima is the largest party but is unable to form a government because of the combined strength of the right-wing and religious parties.

Amid this confusion, it's small wonder that the nightly television campaign broadcasts have left voters both amused and baffled. Thirty-one parties are competing in the elections, with at least 11 expected to win Knesset seats.

Kadima's broadcasts are dominated by statesmanlike images of the incumbent, Ehud Olmert. Also center stage are Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz and former Shin Bet security service chief Avi Dichter, vowing to target Palestinian terrorists.

Netanyahu's Likud Party has been struggling. Its broadcasts have become increasingly negative, attacking Kadima as a rag-bag of ''leftists." Labor, which has failed to put its key issues of domestic policy -- health, education, welfare services, and pensions -- on the agenda, has also been attacking Kadima leaders, accusing them of corruption.

Top marks for impact go to the outspoken Alei Yarok (''Green Leaf") Party, campaigning for the environment and the legalization of cannabis. Its video looks like a traditional Jewish wedding until the two white-clad brides embrace in a passionate kiss.