- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 4, 2001

The director of homeland security yesterday warned of new terrorist attacks against U.S. targets, while the FBI advised 18,000 law-enforcement agencies nationwide to remain on the highest state of alert.
"Over the last several days, our intelligence and law-enforcement agencies have seen an increased volume and level of activity involving threats of terrorist attacks," said Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge during a White House press conference.
"The information we have does not point to any specific target either in America or abroad, and it does not outline any specific type of attack," he said, adding, however, that intelligence officials believe the "quantity and level of threats are above the norm and have reached a threshold where we should once again place the public on general alert."
Earlier, Attorney General John Ashcroft said National Guard troops would be assigned along the U.S.-Canada border to augment undermanned U.S. border patrols and strengthen security along the nearly 4,000-mile divide that separates the two countries.
Mr. Ashcroft, in announcing the plan, said the use of troops was not an attempt to fortify the world's longest undefended border, but an effort to give officials time to "staff up" and train U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service inspectors and Border Patrol agents for key locations. U.S. troops have been used at Canadian border crossings in the past.
"Two great friends have united to form a common defense against a common enemy with the recognition that the United States and Canada have a fateful choice to make: Either we will stand together to combat terrorism, or we will fall together to those who hate our freedom and seek to see it extinguished," Mr. Ashcroft said at a meeting with Canadian officials in Detroit.
In the alert, U.S. intelligence officials said the action was prompted by an increase in communications among Islamic radicals around the world indicating that some type of attack was planned for mid-December to coincide with the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
The increase in discussions was similar to exchanges that took place before the September 11 suicide strikes against the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, which were analyzed after the attacks. The information also is similar to communications detected in late October showing that Islamic terrorists were planning some type of attack, the officials said.
Mr. Ridge said the FBI issued a "terrorist-threat advisory" to 18,000 law-enforcement agencies across the country to stay at the highest alert and to notify the bureau immediately of any unusual or suspicious activity. This was the third general alert issued since the September 11 attacks.
He said the threats were coming from multiple sources and there was "no disagreement" in the intelligence community that "we should remind America we're still at war, we're still at risk, be vigilant, be aware."
Mr. Ridge said that while the threats being detected are "very generic," authorities are concerned that attacks have been planned in the past to coincide with Ramadan and other "important religious observations" this month. In December 1999, the government thwarted plans for a series of attacks related to the new millennium.
Mr. Ridge also said there was nothing in the information linking the warning with attacks in Israel that killed dozens, or to Israel's response.
Mr. Ashcroft's two-phase border program involves personnel, intelligence and air support including an expansion of U.S.-Canada border-enforcement teams, an increase in the number of Canadian control officers and the sharing of more immigration and criminal information.
He said the Border Patrol has about 500 people guarding a 3,987-mile border between Canada and the continental United States.
He said the U.S.-Mexico border, about 2,000 miles long, is guarded by 9,000 agents.
U.S. law-enforcement officials recently have been concerned about Canada's porous borders as a transit route for terrorists. Canada maintains an open immigration policy, which has made that country a logical entry point for would-be terrorists targeting the United States.
In December 1999, Ahmed Ressam, 34, an Algerian living in Canada, was caught at the Washington state border trying to enter the United States with explosives in the trunk of his car. He was convicted this year of plotting to bomb Los Angeles International Airport during the millennium celebration.
In a letter to Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, Mr. Ashcroft said the September 11 attacks on New York and Washington had "sharply focused national attention on the security of this country's borders."
But, he said, since the attacks, maintaining heightened readiness and security have required extraordinary efforts from limited staff resources. The attorney general said INS is requesting 419 National Guard soldiers to augment inspectors and agents who have been operating at "threat level one" since September 11.
This heightened security, he said, requires additional staffing of ports-of-entry and enhanced procedures at air, land and seaports to ensure all applicants for admission, vehicles, luggage and cargo are thoroughly inspected.
Mr. Ashcroft said the increased security has resulted in delays at some land border ports of entry and a growing burden on the existing staff on the northern border.
The INS already has detailed 120 Border Patrol agents to the northern border to assist with this effort, he said.
Twelve states on or near the Canadian border will receive National Guard soldiers at their 43 ports of entry to assist the INS, he said.
Mr. Ashcroft said a second phase will include aircraft, intelligence and additional personnel. The INS requested aircraft support to establish air capabilities to fulfill the law-enforcement mission of the Border Patrol.
He said military support will provide intelligence analysis, threat assessments and intelligence training, enabling the Border Patrol to focus and deploy its resources in areas to address the threat and achieve the greatest effect.
Bill Gertz contributed to this article.

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