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America's New War: Hazmat License

Aired September 27, 2001 - 05:14   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
CAROL LIN, CNN ANCHOR: In their search for terrorists in the skies, federal investigators say they have unraveled a dangerous scenario right here on the ground. Several people, they say, were trying illegally to secure a commercial license to transport hazardous material.

CNN's Susan Candiotti has more.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The alleged plot to sell commercial hazardous material licenses was hatched in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania two years ago. Ten people, of 20 charged, now under arrest in Michigan, Washington state and Kansas.

(on camera): According to the criminal complaint, a Pittsburgh driver's license examiner was selling permits under the table for as little as 50 or $100. The alleged buyers revealed so far have Arabic- sounding names. None so far is linked to the terrorist attacks.

(voice-over): The middleman in the deal is identified as Abdul Mohamman, known as Ben, who helped the suspects buy haz-mat licenses. The arrests come as the FBI begins reviewing records of anyone who handles or transports hazardous materials, making sure terrorists may not be trying to infiltrate a legitimate company to get their hands on a potential weapon.

In Queens, stepped-up cargo inspections going in and out of New York City, backing up traffic, in some cases, for hours. The FBI is taking new steps after last week's arrests of Nabil Almarabh. Sources say he has possible ties to Osama bin Laden. Agents search his Michigan apartment. Almarabh has a legally-obtained license to haul hazardous materials, issued September 11th, 2000, one year to the day before the terrorist attacks.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you would, go ahead and open the back up. Let's check your security of your load.

CANDIOTTI: In Texas, routine searches of truckers at highway weigh stations take on added significance.

SGT. MICHAEL BISHOP, TEXAS DEP'T OF PUBLIC SAFETY: We look at their log books, we look at their paperwork. We also look at the driver through the inspection process, you know. If we see something that is out of the ordinary, then the troops delve into it a little deeper.

CANDIOTTI: In Florida, the owner of a school that trains commercial drivers admits he'll be looking at applicants more closely following the attacks. Earning a hazardous materials license can cost as little as $800 for an experienced driver to about 5,000 for a rookie. Drivers first must first pass a 160-hour course. That includes learning the ins and outs of driving a big rig potentially loaded with lethal chemicals, then passing a multiple-choice written test. All you need to qualify for the course: a valid driver's license.

ALBERT HANLEY, CDL SCHOOL: That's your benchmark -- and to be 18 years of age.

CANDIOTTI (on camera): You need not be a U.S. citizen?

HANLEY: Correct, but you do have to be a resident alien or have a valid social security number.

CANDIOTTI (voice-over): The problem, of course, is catching fraudulent I.D.s, a problem already plaguing the FBI in its attempt to nail down the real identity of the suspected hijackers.

Susan Candiotti, CNN, Miami.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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