U.S. Heightens Threat Level of Terrorist Attack
By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Sept. 10, 2002 The United States is at high risk of terrorist attack, Attorney General John Ashcroft announced today.
New, credible information, coupled with intelligence analysis of the situation, has led U.S. officials to raise the nation's threat level to Orange, he said at a Justice Department news briefing. Only the Red threat level is higher in the five-tier Homeland Security Advisory System.
"The U.S. intelligence community has received information based on debriefings of a senior al Qaeda operative of possible terrorist attacks timed to coincide with the anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States," Ashcroft said.
U.S. officials are not recommending canceling commemorative events nor do they recommend that people change domestic travel plans or that the federal work force not report for duty.
"We are not making those recommendations," Ashcroft stressed. "We ask that Americans both at home and abroad mark the anniversary of last year's savage attacks with a heightened awareness of their environment and the activities occurring around them. This call is based on specific intelligence that heightened awareness and readiness deters terrorism.
The information indicates that al Qaeda cells have been set up in several South Asian countries to conduct car bombings and other attacks on U.S. facilities. The cells have been accumulating explosives since about January, he said.
Intelligence also indicates that one or more people in the Middle East are preparing for a suicide attack or attacks against U.S. interests. The most likely targets, Ashcroft said, are "the transportation and energy sectors and facilities or gatherings that would be recognized worldwide as symbols of American power or security," particularly U.S. military facilities, embassies and national monuments.
Lower-level al Qaeda operatives, he added, may see the anniversary as a time to lash out with small strikes to demonstrate their worldwide presence and resolve.
"At this time," Ashcroft said, "most intelligence focuses on possible attacks on U.S. interests overseas." U.S. officials have decided to close four U.S. embassies in Southeast Asia and to raise security at all overseas diplomatic and military facilities.
The intelligence U.S. officials have received has been analyzed by the full intelligence community, he noted, and has been corroborated by multiple intelligence sources. "Last year at this time, U.S. intelligence discerned similar patterns of terrorist-threat reporting overseas," he said. Other recent events also paralleled terrorist activity that occurred in the weeks before last year's attacks.
The attorney general called on the American people "to remain alert but defiant in the face of this new threat." He said each of us has the ability to increase the security that we need. Security for ourselves, security for our families and security for our communities. Today we call upon Americans to exercise this responsibility with special care and vigilance."
Ashcroft has directed the Joint Terrorism Task Forces in FBI district offices nationwide to coordinate their local response with U.S. attorneys and local anti-terrorism task forces. He has also directed that all relevant information be shared with the Joint Terrorism Task Forces in order for federal officials to work effectively and cooperatively with state and local officials.
"The primary aspiration that we have is to prevent terrorist attacks," the attorney general said. "We believe that state and local law enforcement, the federal authorities and the citizens of this nation working together, are the best effort we can make for prevention."
Homeland Security Director Gov. Tom Ridge said the heightened threat level is being communicated to local and state law enforcement, federal agencies, members of Congress, governors, state homeland security advisers and representatives of the private sector.
Federal agencies will take protective measures commensurate with the heightened threat level to reduce the country's vulnerabilities, Ridge said. These may include increased surveillance and countersurveillance operations, adjusting the number of entry points to buildings, enforcing strict access procedures, erecting more barriers and posting additional security personnel at federal facilities.
Calling on all Americans to maintain a high level of awareness, Ridge said every citizen should be alert to suspicious activity and take precautions. "Let's make sure that every individual citizen who sees something suspicious reports it to either the Joint Terrorism Task Force or the local law enforcement," he said.
Ridge encouraged families to discuss the possibility of terrorist activity during the commemoration period, and he advised employers and employees to review their emergency plans.
"Our advice to Americans is to continue with your plans," Ridge said. "If travel is in your plans, attendance at a public event, we would like you to proceed as you had planned to --- very consistent with the level of intelligence activity that was detected prior to 9-11 --the recommendation was made to raise the level of alert."
"I don't think America needs to be reminded that we are at war," he added. "However, this announcement is a reminder that there are people around the world who would do us harm. Our response is to continue to be America, but to be alert, to be vigilant. We have persevered through this. We'll persevere now. And ultimately, we will prevail."