Shoe Bomber Correspondence Causes Controversy


Washington, D.C.—Security experts are skeptical of a Justice Department decision to allow Richard Reid, the “shoe bomber,” to correspond with family members from his prison cell.

Reid, who pled guilty in December 2001, to trying to detonate a bomb which was concealed in his shoe on an overseas flight from Paris, France, to Miami, Florida, had been subject to restrictions on his communications with anyone outside the prison in which he is serving a life sentence. The timetable for those restrictions has lapsed, and the Justice Department, based on recommendations from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the U.S. Attorney’s Office, and the Justice Department’s Counterterrorism Section.

The decision has caused concern in some homeland security experts. Former New York City Police Commissioner Howard Safir questioned the decision, saying, “”If a terrorist can communicate with his family, with other associates — even with monitoring — he could use codes; he could be directing other terrorist acts.” Safir, now a security consultant, went on to say: “This is somebody who tried to blow up hundreds of innocent people on an airliner, and in my view, he should be totally restricted.”

Even under new, looser restrictions, Reid, who was born in England, will only be allowed to communicate with his family, his attorneys, and the media. Still, these restrictions are not enough, some say. Clark Kent Ervin, former inspector general for the Department of Homeland Security, pointed out: “those letters could be forwarded by family members to others.”

In the past, convicted terrorists without such restrictions have managed to communicate with outsiders. Over 90 letters made their way to militants from three inmates convicted in connection to the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. Some of the recipients had been linked to the Madrid train bombings. One of the letters “praised Osama bin Laden as a hero in a letter sent to Arabic newspapers,” according to reports.

Reid poses a threat not only in his ability to plan other attacks from his cell, but also, according to Ervin, by inspiring others to follow in his footsteps. “The propaganda potential is huge for these kinds of things. Terrorists can be hugely inspiring figures.”

A Justice Department spokesman says that all phone calls and letters are screened. “Mail is not delivered to or sent from such inmates until it is read and analyzed for intelligence purposes,” spokesman Dean Boyd confirmed.


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