Guess who worked at our nuke base

Terry Jeffrey
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Posted: Mar 19, 2003 12:00 AM

You would think that in a war on terrorism, as America moved to invade Iraq, and as the nation shifted in and out of Code Orange terror alerts, the federal government would make certain to secure our aircraft carriers, the place where we launch our space shuttles, and our largest nuclear missile base.

You would be wrong.

In the past two months, groups of illegal aliens have been arrested in each of these places. In one incident, many more got away than were caught.

On Jan. 22, Border Patrol and Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) officers raided the USS John F. Kennedy, an aircraft carrier that was undergoing renovations at Mayport Naval Station in Florida. They arrested 11 illegals working on the ship. All were from Mexico. But 54 others scattered and got away. The Florida Times-Union reported, "It is unknown what countries the missing workers are from."

Rep. Ander Crenshaw, R-Fla., wrote the secretary of the Navy: "In this time of heightened security, I was concerned to learn that non-U.S. citizens were allowed to perform work on a United States aircraft carrier without being fully vetted and screened."

"The bottom line in this story is national security," Crenshaw told the Times-Union. "We have to be clear about who is trying to access our ships and our military facilities."

No kidding. But we aren't.

Pete Gunn, a decorated Air Force veteran who is director of security for the Cape Canaveral-based Florida Space Authority (a state agency), intended to take action at his facility. "When I saw the thing on the aircraft carrier, my hair stood straight up," Gunn told the Times-Union.

I called Gunn, who told me what he had told the paper: When he called the INS to ask what he could do to verify the status of aliens seeking employment, he was sent an INS Employer Information Bulletin dated Jan. 3. He passed a copy on to me. It said: "Employers do not need to -- and should not attempt to -- verify 'A' numbers or INS documentation of alien workers in general, or even of individuals whom they suspect for any reason to be ineligible to work." (INS assigns an "A" number to each alien who enters the U.S. legally.)

They apparently did not check "A" numbers at the Kennedy Space Center, either.

A month ago, FBI Director Robert Mueller told the Senate Intelligence Committee that for its next target, al Qaeda is likely to pick something with "high symbolic value," perhaps a "high profile government" facility or "famous landmark."

"Al Qaeda is also developing or refining new means of attack, including use of surface-to-air missiles," testified CIA Director George Tenet.

That may be why, as the Associated Press reported, "NASA took unprecedented security measures for the Jan. 16 launch of the space shuttle Columbia, whose crew included Israeli astronaut Ilan Ramon."

On Feb. 18, however, AP reported, Border Patrol agents arrested four illegals working "inside a restricted area of the Kennedy Space Center and the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station." The illegals were from Mexico -- a fact that only could have been discovered after their arrest.

Francis E. Warren Air Force Base in Wyoming is the nation's largest repository of nuclear missiles. It is home to the 90th Space Wing, whose mission, says the base Web site, "is to defend America with the world's most powerful combat ready ICBM force."

On Feb. 26, INS arrested 37 Latin American illegals working construction projects at the base. How did INS catch them? Was it the result of aggressive investigation? Was it the result of the Air Force screening of workers? No. The Rocky Mountain (Colo.) News reported that on Feb. 7, base security noticed five people strolling out the main gate during a restricted period. They turned out to be illegals. Almost three weeks later, INS made its arrests.

Eighteen months after Sept. 11, our government still is not acting as if unmonitored aliens rolling across our borders -- and sometimes onto our most secure military facilities -- is a serious security threat. We can only hope this is not a miscalculation that will live in infamy.