Ex-White House aide Richard A. Clarke says Sparrows Point is not a likely target

Gas plant called no terror risk

February 01, 2007|By Laura Barnhardt | Laura Barnhardt,sun reporter

Former White House counterterrorism chief Richard A. Clarke called one liquefied natural gas plant in Boston a "ticking time bomb" and wrote that if a tanker on the way there had blown up, it would have "wiped out" that city's downtown.

But he has also testified that a gas terminal proposed off the Massachusetts coast presented no undue risks. And Clarke - consultant to the firm proposing an LNG plant in eastern Baltimore County - said in an interview yesterday that an operation in Sparrows Point would be "safe."

Terrorists "want to kill people. They want to kill hundreds of people," the security expert and author said after releasing a two-page summary of his report on the proposed Sparrows Point operation. Clarke said that the LNG terminal proposed for Baltimore County is far enough away from homes and schools that it wouldn't be a likely target.

"It doesn't pass the lethality test," said Clarke.

AES Corp., a global power supply company, wants to build an LNG terminal at the former Bethlehem Steel shipyard. Tankers would bring super-chilled, liquefied natural gas to the plant, where it would be returned to its gas form and pumped through an 87-mile pipeline to southern Pennsylvania for distribution along the East Coast.

The company has submitted its plan for federal approval. It hired Clarke to assess the risk, as he did in a previous AES proposal in Boston Harbor.

Because of his credentials - a former White House adviser who criticized President Bush for not acting upon intelligence information about al-Qaida before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks - Clarke's views are frequently used in debates about the safety of LNG facilities.

His 2004 memoir of government service, Against All Enemies: Inside the War on Terror, includes his account of ordering the Boston LNG facility to close immediately after the World Trade Center attacks. His first novel, Scorpions' Gate, also includes a fictional account of a terrorist attack on an LNG tanker.

Clarke's findings on the Sparrows Point project were immediately criticized by elected officials and residents opposed to the project who say that his study seems to contradict his earlier warnings about the danger of terrorist attacks on American infrastructure, including LNG terminals.

"Richard Clarke is on record talking about how dangerous LNG is," said Donald I. Mohler III, a spokesman for Baltimore County Executive James T. Smith Jr., who opposes the Sparrows Point proposal. "Someone would have to ask Mr. Clarke: Was he correct after 9/11, or is he correct today?"

Clarke said that AES had no control over his findings.

"I think most people understand that my opinion is not for sale," said Clarke, a vocal critic of the Bush administration's justification for the Iraq war. "President Bush certainly does."

Clarke, who has a consulting firm in Virginia and has recently released a new novel on cyber-terrorism, declined to divulge how much AES paid for his risk analysis.

Clarke said a key difference between the proposed LNG facility in eastern Baltimore County and LNG facilities and proposals he has criticized is the distance from homes, schools and hospitals.

The Sparrows Point project would be about 1.2 to 1.3 miles from the Dundalk neighborhood of Turners Station. While some residents there fear the proposed terminal - wondering if their children would be safe playing in backyards - Clarke says the homes are far enough away that they wouldn't be harmed, even in the most serious scenarios.

They might feel the heat from an explosion, he said. "Having a building erupt is not likely given the distance," Clarke said.

In contrast, Clarke said, people work less than a quarter-mile from tankers traveling to the Boston LNG facility, which is about 1.3 miles from homes.

Clarke also said that the Sparrows Point facility wouldn't be close enough to Washington to be a "symbolic target," the way attacking a monument would be.

But Clarke does say in the summary of his report that there are "serious risks" associated with any LNG facility. And he recommends that AES install some of its security measures during construction, post 24 hour armed guards at the facility, install a loudspeaker system in Turners Station to announce emergency procedures and build a floating security barrier around LNG tankers docked at the terminal.

"The biggest fear I have is the ramming like that of the [USS] Cole," Clarke said, adding that the 2002 al-Qaida attack could have been prevented by a floating security barrier.

Clarke's appearance, in the downtown offices of Semmes, Bowen and Semmes, a law firm hired by AES to help with lobbying efforts, is the latest move by the company to win support for the project. The Arlington, Va.-based company also has also been advertising in local newspapers.

In other reports, Clarke has pointed out that because liquefied natural gas burns hotter and more intensely than other materials, firefighters might have to take a "let it burn" position.

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