by John J. Lumpkin
Associated Press Writer
Officials are fearful that al-Qaida could expand a wave of attacks overseas into the United States, but there is "no specificity" as to potential targets or times of attack, FBI Director Robert Mueller stressed Wednesday.
Around the country, state and local authorities stepped up security measures. Police in California worked 12-hour shifts. National Guard troops in New York were called up to protect subways and bridges. In Washington, the Capitol police SWAT team prepared to conduct random patrols.
National monuments in Washington will remain open for the holiday weekend, although additional police will patrol them, a spokesman for the U.S. Park Police said. There will be tighter security at most airports, including random car inspections and canine teams checking for bombs, Transportation Security Administration spokesman Robert Johnson said. There will also be signs reminding people to stay alert and report any suspicious activity, Johnson told Associated Press Radio. Johnson also said some of the usual vacation travel gear, including golf clubs and golf shoes, will be subject to increased scrutiny. He said those items need to be cleaned off because they can pick up fertilizer that could set off bomb detectors. "The American public ought to go about its business understanding that it ought to be vigilant," Mueller said on ABC's "Good Morning America," saying the system of alerts deters terrorism. "We know that from our interrogations" with suspected terrorists, Mueller said.
Federal counterterrorism authorities called for increased security nationwide by raising the security alert to "high" on Tuesday. Asked whether President Bush spoke too soon in saying al-Qaida was "on the run," Mueller said: "They are on the run." Mueller said authorities believe that Osama bin Laden "is still out there. I think there's some concern about what kind of control he has over the people."
Some al-Qaida leaders are in Iran plotting attacks, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said Wednesday. He declined comment on whether the al-Qaida figures in Iran were tied to the attacks in Saudi Arabia. "There's no question but that there have been and are today senior al-Qaida leaders in Iran, and they are busy," Rumsfeld told reporters after meeting with Bahrain's Crown Prince, Salman bin Hamad Al-Khalifa. Although Mueller said the warnings are nonspecific, federal law enforcement officials speaking on condition of anonymity said that among the intelligence picked up recently were two electronic transmissions that discussed the possibility of an attack on New York, Washington, Boston and more broadly the U.S. coastlines. The officials said there were doubts about the credibility of the threats and stressed that they were not the driving factors in the decision to raise the threat level. The decision to raise the national alert to orange, signifying a "high" risk of attacks, from yellow, meaning an "elevated" risk, came after a review of intelligence information by Bush's homeland security council Tuesday, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said.
Orange is the second-highest on the five-color alert scale. Using the same intelligence as the FBI, the Defense Intelligence Agency at the Pentagon informed regional commanders and commanders of military bases in the United States that the threat level was being raised from "significant" to "high," putting it at the highest of the DIA's separate, four-tier system, officials said. It is up to those commanders to decide whether they need to take extra security precautions in their areas.
At the Pentagon in suburban Washington, military police who normally wear berets donned helmets and bulky flak vests to guard some entrances of the America's sprawling military headquarters. Members of the building's security force, which guards other entrances, were briefed by a terrorist specialist at morning roll call, reminding them to be extra vigilant due to the raised alert level.
The Federal Aviation Administration is planning to temporarily prohibit flights over sports stadiums and restrict small private planes flying within a 17.25-mile radius of the Washington Monument, said agency spokeswoman Laura Brown. The FAA will also require private planes flying into three Washington-area airports - College Park, Potomac and Washington Executive/Hyde - to first land at Tipton Airport in Maryland so the pilots can be checked, Brown said.
Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge encouraged governors and mayors to deploy extra police and take other precautions, particularly at large public gatherings during Memorial Day weekend. Overseas, where fears of imminent terrorism was even greater, U.S. officials also took additional security measures. The United States, Britain and Germany temporarily closed their embassies and consulates in Saudi Arabia. American counterterrorism officials suspect last week's bombings in Saudi Arabia and Morocco are part of a coordinated campaign to prove al-Qaida is still dangerous. Officials suspect senior al-Qaida leaders hiding in Iran are orchestrating the attacks, but Iran denies sheltering anyone from Osama bin Laden's network.