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Tuesday, October 18, 2005
January 2005 Boston "Nuclear Threat": The Story Changes

As I mentioned just recently, the day before the January 2005 inauguration, there was a sudden warning of a possible terror threat against Boston:

"To assure the people of Boston and Massachusetts that it is safe to be at home, I am going to be sleeping in my bed in Massachusetts tonight and I feel perfectly safe doing so," said Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. "In the very remote circumstance that my attention is needed, I will be able to respond on an immediate basis."

The news of the FBI search quickly ballooned into a frenzy of media reports that the suspects planned a radiological "dirty bomb" attack in Boston. But authorities stressed the sketchiness of the information they received.
A federal law enforcement official in Washington, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the ongoing investigation, said the uncorroborated tip was received by the California Highway Patrol. The tipster claimed the men were awaiting a shipment of "nuclear oxide" that would follow them from Mexico to Boston, the source said.

While the term implied some form of nuclear device, such as a "dirty bomb," there is no such material as "nuclear oxide," giving officials yet another reason to question the veracity of the tip, the source said.

Within a week, it became apparent that there was no such plot:

On Tuesday, the FBI said the chilling tip was a false alarm.

"There were, in fact, no terrorist plans or activity under way," the statement said. "Because the criminal investigation is ongoing, no further details can be provided at this time."

Jose Ernesto Beltran Quinones, one of 16 people sought for questioning about the alleged terror plot, was detained over the weekend in Mexicali, a border town near San Diego. His son, also named Jose, was detained Monday.'s what happened yesterday:

A man wanted for allegedly calling in a bogus terrorist threat that put Boston on high alert in January was arrested yesterday in Mexicali, Mexico, at the request of US officials, who had secretly issued a warrant for him in May, the FBI reported. Jose Ernesto Beltran Quinonez, 34, of Mexicali, is charged in a three-count indictment unsealed yesterday in California with calling 911 and falsely claiming that four Chinese nationals and two Iraqis were smuggling a nuclear warhead into the United States from Mexico and planning to transport it to Boston. The allegation sent law-enforcement officials nationwide scrambling, until the FBI publicly announced the tip was a false alarm.

That's the first I've heard about an outright nuclear weapon being "involved". Interestingly, so far none of the sources I've checked (most of them identical wire copy, anyway) have pointed out that the previous version of the story was very different, even at its scariest. Either the false-threat charge has been upgraded for maximum effect; or the original threat was only half-communicated to the rest of us; or the new reporting is just wrong. Given that I literally lost sleep over this (I live about 5 miles from Boston Harbor), I'd like to know which. Once again, I'll point out that Mitt Romney's "own bed in Massachusetts" turned out to be in the bunker in Framingham, 20 miles from Boston. And yes, I thought at the time that was a little far away from the city for a dirty bomb threat. (See sleep, losing, above.)

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