Inside Bomber Row

How America's most dangerous criminals mix with a Who's Who of the global jihad in a Colorado prison

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According to Bureau of Prisons policy, the high-risk inmates in Rudolph's unit are allowed visits and phone calls only from their lawyers and from a list of approved contacts often restricted to immediate family members. All communications by such prisoners are supposed to be monitored by correctional staff. But a report by the Justice Department's Office of the Inspector General released last month faulted the bureau for not properly screening inmate mail and phone conversations at ADX Florence and other facilities. It confirmed reports that after 9/11, Mohammed Salameh, one of the 1993 World Trade Center bombers, wrote a letter praising Osama bin Laden that was published in Arabic newspapers. Salameh and two of his accomplices, also at ADX, mailed out at least 90 unmonitored letters between 2002 and 2004. The recipients included Islamic extremists with links to suspects in the Madrid train bombings; one letter was sent to Mohamed Achraf, alleged leader of a plot to blow up the National Justice Building in Madrid.

Investigators discovered that at the time the letters went out, there was only one part-time Arabic translator on staff at ADX to handle mail checks, which were done at random. The bureau has since hired three full-time Arabic translators for ADX but claims that more funds are needed to fully monitor the communications of all high-risk inmates, particularly non-English speakers.

To cut costs, the Bureau of Prisons in 2005 instituted a policy of shifting staff around within prisons and filling only the most critical positions. The union that represents correctional workers at the ADX charged that this resulted in the facility's being staffed far below the bureau's minimum safety standards. In spring a federal arbitrator heard testimony from ADX staff that some housing units had been left unattended for entire eight-hour shifts. Union officials also charged that posts in what they call the "terrorist unit" were routinely left vacant. According to the union, staff shortages meant that inmates weren't getting meals on time, scheduled phone calls were delayed or canceled, and exercise hours were cut because there was nobody to supervise them.

The inmates, correctional officers say, often turn hostile and dangerous when their basic needs are unmet or their routines are disrupted. "When you start tinkering with staffing levels, you start setting that system off balance, so you start seeing a lot of things popping up in terms of increased inmate assaults and increased threats," says Mike Schnobrich, a union representative who works at ADX. The union documented that since the new staffing policy began in 2005, two ADX inmates have been murdered by fellow prisoners, after 10 years without a killing at the facility; threats to staff increased, from 55 in 2005 to 110 in 2006; and assaults on correctional officers increased nearly a third over the same period, from 30 to 38 incidents.

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