updated 4/28/2004 7:54:37 PM ET 2004-04-28T23:54:37

The government for the first time said Wednesday that illegal immigrants who slipped into Boston on liquefied natural gas tankers in the 1990s may have had terrorist connections.

The Homeland Security Department, in a memo made public by Rep. Edward Markey, D-Mass., said preliminary analysis shows the immigrants may have been connected to terrorists indicted in a 1999 plot to blow up Los Angeles International Airport.

“The Homeland Security Department has provided a chilling confirmation that individuals with possible terrorist connections may have entered the U.S. onboard LNG tankers that docked in Everett,” said Markey. He added that it underscores the need for greater security at the Port of Boston.

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., said the information “demonstrates the appalling lack of communication between federal agencies and Boston officials. It’s far from clear that those problems are being solved satisfactorily.”

First suggested in Clarke book
Suggestions that the LNG tankers were used by terrorists to enter the United States first came to light in former White House adviser Richard A. Clarke’s recently released book. Since the book — “Against All Enemies” — came out in March, federal, state and local authorities have largely denied knowledge of such a terrorist connection or declined to comment on it.

But in a letter to Markey, Homeland Security Assistant Secretary Pamela J. Turner said that in “early 2001 there was some suspicion of possible associations between stowaways on Algerian flagged LNG tankers arriving in Boston and persons connected with the so-called Millennium Plot.”

The Homeland Security Department, in a separate memo, said officials received information about a possible terrorist connection in 2000-2001, but authorities are still investigating the matter. The department did not return calls for comment.

“This information is largely derived from what these individuals told law enforcement,” the memo said. “The department has not been able to verify what the associations, intentions or operational activities of these individuals were when they entered the United States.”

Last month, the head of Boston’s FBI office said the agency investigated the tanker situation and “came to the conclusion they were not being used to transport terrorists into our country.”

Kenneth Kaiser, special agent-in-charge, said authorities determined that one 1995 LNG stowaway, Abdelghani Meskini, later convicted in the so-called “Millennium” plot, did not have terrorist links when he arrived.

Boston FBI spokeswoman Gail Marcinkiewicz said Wednesday the agency knew stowaways were coming in on tankers “and that’s why we initiated an investigation.”

Were other ships involved?
Doug Bailey, a spokesman for Distrigas of Massachusetts, which owns and operates the LNG tankers, said he believes the report suggests ships other than the LNG tankers could have been used by stowaways with terrorist links.

He added, “We are working with authorities, and we maintain the highest standard of safety and security.” Also, no Algerian tankers have been allowed in Boston since May 2001, and increased security and intelligence measures have been implemented to protect the port.

Lawmakers have sought more information on what the government knew about possible stowaway terrorists in Boston ever since Clarke’s book was released. In his book, the former counterterrorism chief said that al-Qaida operatives had been coming into Boston on Algerian natural gas tankers.

His deputy Roger Cressey, in published reports, later said more than a dozen stowaways with al-Qaida ties came in via the tankers.

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