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Political analysis and other daily rants on the state of the nation

Saturday | May 17, 2003

Life in the National Security State

Under what could be called stupid young woman's antics cost government hundreds of thousands, I offer the following story:

Phony Threat Freezes Cruise Ship
Homesick Woman Guilty of High-Seas Terror Hoax

By Rene Sanchez
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, May 17, 2003; Page A01

LOS ANGELES, May 16 -- Kelley Marie Ferguson never wanted to take a stupid cruise. A week at sea with her parents? Away from her boyfriend? How boring. As soon as the ship set sail, she felt trapped and miserable.

Then she had an idea.

Ship stewards found the poorly worded notes in two bathrooms. One threatened to "kill all Americanos abord" if the ocean liner made its scheduled stop in Hawaii. "Give this warning to El Capt ion to save all lives," another said. "Do take this serious he sent me from far away land for mission I will complete if port on American soil."

It was only a prank. But it has become another parable of life in a time of terrorist fear.

Ferguson, 20, pleaded guilty Thursday in U.S. District Court in Honolulu to making the phony threats last month. Investigators said she had hoped the notes would hasten the cruise ship's return to Mexico and get her back home to Orange County, and the boyfriend her parents loathe, more quickly. But her plan backfired.

After receiving the threats, the captain immediately dropped anchor off Oahu. Then more than 100 federal and local agents scrambled aboard a U.S. Coast Guard cutter and sped across rough seas in the middle of the night to reach the apparently endangered ship. They deployed 40 bomb-sniffing dogs on every deck. They tested food for poison. They interrogated almost all of the 1,700 passengers and 700 crew members on board.

The swift and massive emergency response, federal authorities said, never would have occurred in a nation not still haunted by the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. They said it cost the Coast Guard and law enforcement agencies more than $300,000.

Investigators found nothing that seemed alarming or suspicious -- except their encounter with Ferguson. She had called attention to herself during the security sweep by telling them that she had seen someone plant the threatening notes in the bathrooms.

They questioned her awhile longer. Then her story fell apart. Prosecutors and her attorney said she soon confessed.

"She never wanted to go on the cruise. She wanted to see her boyfriend. She wanted to go home," federal public defender Loretta Faymonville, who is representing Ferguson, said in a telephone interview from Honolulu today. "She thought this would cause the cruise ship to turn back to Ensenada. It was extremely foolish and she knows that now."

Ferguson has spent weeks behind bars. Her parents, apparently tired of her antics, said after her arrest that they would not post bail even if a judge granted it.

"She promises not to do it again -- but yeah, right," her mother, Debra Ferguson, a nurse, told the Los Angeles Times earlier this month. She said the family felt terrible that so many vacationers on board the cruise ship had been frightened and delayed. She also called her daughter a "brat."

Hmmm, I guess the parents don't get it. Someone could have been killed. You have an HRT deploy on a ship, something which is no easy thing, grill everyone on board and they're sorry? The boyfriend, who is no great prize, of course has a rap sheet for drugs and theft. The real question is what kind of federal time she gets. The prosecutors say she could face up to 20 years, but is likely to serve two.

This, for a woman with no previous record.

Too many people still think this is a joke. Not that the Bush Administration has done much to help. On one hand, they are afraid of Al Qaeda, nearly jumping at every hint of attack, then they are ineffective. And many people, wavering between fear of the unknown and the all too casual attittude eminating from the White House, can treat a terrorist attack as a prank. Rove's attitude towards terrorism is that it is a club to shut up opponents and hand out political favors, not a real national security issue. As long as Bush looks good, everything is fine.

They write stupid, pointless songs about 9/11, accusing everyone from Mickey Mouse to America's Second Most Wanted, Saddam Hussein to being behind it, yet have not managed to convince the public of the true nature of the threat or logical ways to deal with it. No, Saddam didn't have anything to do with 9/11, regardless of what a judge says. Yes, our "friends" the Saudis did.

We have yet to develop a balance between reasonable response and all-out fearmongering. And thus, a 20 year old woman with no sense of responsibility will be tossed into the federal prison system, all because no one managed to break through her little shell and suggest if you fake a terrorist threat, heaven and Earth will swallow you whole.

Steve Gilliard

Posted May 17, 2003 08:08 AM | Comments (35)


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