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Counterterrorism

Date: 07-04-09
Host: Ian Punnett
Guests: Fred Burton, Lynn Picknett

Ian spoke with counterterrorism agent Fred Burton, who provided behind-the-scenes details of his work tracking down the people responsible for terror attacks against the United States and its interests abroad. Burton said he began hunting terrorists in the mid-1980s, when he was assigned to the newly formed counterterrorism division of the Diplomatic Security Service. There were only three agents in the unit then. The fledgling group faced many challenges in the early days, Burton noted, including limited penetration and development of human assets within terrorist organizations. The Rewards for Justice program, which paid informants for securing intelligence information, was set up to help solve this problem, he said.

Burton discussed some of this division's success stories, including the capture of Ramzi Yousef, mastermind of the first World Trade Center bombing. According to Burton, Yousef had been planning to blow up several aircraft as well as kill American and British diplomats before he was arrested in Pakistan. Burton cited the creation of the Counter Surveillance Program and the development of Ballistic Window Film (which prevents glass from flying in the event of bombing) as additional high spots in the counterterrorism unit's record. Burton expressed regret for his group's failure to capture Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the man who planned the 9/11 attack. He also talked about the Oklahoma City bombing, and the likelihood of terrorists detonating a radiological 'dirty bomb' on U.S. soil.

Shroud of Turin Update

In the first hour, author Lynn Picknett reacted to a recent story that claims the Shroud of Turin was a self-portrait by Renaissance painter-inventor Leonardo da Vinci. She and co-author Clive Prince originally put forth this theory 15 years ago in their book, Turin Shroud. Picknett shared evidence that shows the Shroud is a fake that dates back to roughly the Late Medieval / Early Renaissance, as well as discussed how it was created. According to Picknett, Leonardo etched his facial features on to the fabric of the Shroud using an early photographic device called a camera obscura. Picknett has successfully used this technique to create her own Shroud-like images. Leonardo may have been employed by the Vatican to produce the Shroud as the ultimate Christian 'relic,' she noted.

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Robo-Hummingbird Takes Flight

DARPA-contractor AeroVironment has developed a tiny drone that mimics the wing movement of a hummingbird, allowing it fly about and hover just like the actual bird. The firm says the final version of the winged "nano air vehicle" will look like a real hummingbird too, as well as be controllable from up to a kilometer away -- even inside buildings. See test flight video at Wired.com.

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