Terrorism investigators dive into local scuba shop records


by By Dale Gauding, 13News Investigator


Posted on June 4, 2002 at 4:47 PM

Updated Friday, Oct 30 at 3:03 PM

As Congress hears testimony about lapses in government intelligence tracking before 9-11, 13News has learned that investigators were recently in Hampton Roads checking into scuba equipment rentals.

Last fall, someone had been spotted in the Elizabeth River off the piers of Naval Station Norfolk.

Naval investigators stopped at Chesapeake Bay Diving in Portsmouth to find out if it had commercial divers in the water near the base.

Then, last week, the FBI started asking questions.

Michelle Yuchnovich said they wanted records of anyone who took diving classes during the last three years, especially Middle Eastern people. "They did tell us they were looking...we don't teach re-breather classes, but if anyone came here asking for a re-breather class, they did ask us about that," said Yuchnovich.

Unlike standard scuba gear that sends up blooms of bubbles when a diver exhales, re-breathers are closed or semi-closed systems that recirculate gases, which means no bubbles coming to the surface. There's an obvious concern that terrorist divers with re-breathers could sneak up on maritime targets like bridges, or docked ships and attach explosives.

Re-breathers are not unusual, but they are pricey.

"So that's what they were looking for, specialty equipment that requires you to take a specialty course, any large purchases out of the ordinary," remembered Kim Brown with Divers Unlimited., who also got a visit from the feds.

Brown said agents looked through a lot of records. "Mainly, they were looking for names they already had in their profile as far as possible terrorists."

The FBI confirmed it is checking out dive shops, but officials added there are no specific threats in Hampton Roads.