- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 12, 2006

ANCHORAGE, Alaska — The trans-Alaska pipeline looks like it would be an easy target for terrorists intent on destroying a valuable American asset, but those responsible for its safekeeping say looks can be deceiving.

The 800-mile pipeline, which carries nearly 17 percent of domestic crude oil production, snakes north to south across Alaska from the oil fields of Prudhoe Bay to the port of Valdez, where tankers are loaded for delivery to West Coast refineries.

About half of the 48-inch diameter pipeline lies underground. The other half is visible — a huge silver cylinder that parallels two Alaska highways and sits nearly in the back yards of some Fairbanks homes.

The Alyeska Pipeline Service Co., the company that operates the pipeline, even has a visitors center outside Fairbanks where tens of thousands of people have gone to get an up-close look at the pipeline.

“You can walk right under it,” said Alyeska spokesman Mike Heatwole.

Terrorism analysts say pipelines in general are easy targets, but tend to be low priority because they can be repaired quickly.

Officials with an intimate knowledge of the pipeline say it is far less vulnerable than it appears, in part because of the difficulty a saboteur would have getting any weapon capable of serious damage into Alaska.

State, federal and local agencies keep an eye on the pipeline, said John Madden, deputy director of the state Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management.

“There are quite a bit of those layers of defense and observation, which the public will never see,” Mr. Madden said.

Officials decline to say what specific actions have been taken to protect the pipeline.

Concerns that terrorists were targeting the pipeline were raised several weeks ago when the SITE (Search for International Terrorist Entities) Institute in Washington discovered a well-researched, 12-page Arabic essay posted on the Internet that discussed targeting the Alaska pipeline. Its author is unknown.

“It is not everyone who could sit and write something like this. You would have to have some background on how pipelines work,” said SITE Director Rita Katz.

Alyeska became aware of the Web posting about two weeks ago and sent an e-mail to its employees so people would not become needlessly alarmed, Mr. Heatwole said. The company made no changes as a result of the Web posting.

“We are not aware of any pending or imminent threat to the pipeline,” Mr. Heatwole said.

The Web posting provided numerous links to other Web sites with specific information on the pipeline, including Alyeska Pipeline Service Co.’s official Web site.

The Web message was posted on a password-protected forum affiliated with al-Qaeda. It was in response to messages from Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahri regarding recommended targets.

The Web message suggested that attacks be launched on oil pipelines, refineries and pumping stations in Iraq, Afghanistan, Turkmenistan and Alaska.

It recommended either shooting the pipeline or blowing it up.

Alyeska assessed its security after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Mr. Heatwole said. That same year an Alaska man shot up the pipeline with a .338-caliber hunting rifle, spewing about 300,000 gallons of crude. The man, who is now serving a 16-year prison sentence, apparently had no political motives.

The pipeline was shot but not perforated in other instances.

Although the Alaska pipeline would be easy to blow up, it is not an attractive target for terrorists, said Henry Lee, director of the Environment and Natural Resources Program at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard University. The center focuses on international security.

Mr. Lee said terrorists blow up pipelines more as an irritant, pointing to a pipeline in Colombia that rebels have blown up more than 100 times.

“Pipelines can be blown up, and they are fairly easy to blow up,” Mr. Lee said. “The day they did it, it would get headlines in all the papers. The problem is you would have it fixed in a matter of days.”

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