The United States will stay on high alert, even though the recent anthrax attacks appear to have ended and there currently are no other specific threats to the nation.
At a White House briefing yesterday, Tom Ridge, head of the Office of Homeland Security, told reporters, “I’m hopeful, like the rest of America, that the anthrax [attack] has stopped permanently. We certainly haven’t seen nor detected any other sources of new anthrax.”
When asked about the nationwide state of alert after a perceived terrorism threat was made public last week, Mr. Ridge said, “We’re still on alert. We will be on alert indefinitely.”
Mayors and police commissioners in some major cities have complained that continuing the high-alert status drains financial resources and fatigues police. In many cities, law enforcement and emergency teams have been working overtime and been barred from taking vacations.
Acknowledging the situation, Mr. Ridge indicated he thought the degree of alertness will vary in different parts of the country from time to time. He said:
“I have talked to a variety of governors about this issue, and many of them, even before that [last] alert, had deployed initial state police, initial National Guard, had really beefed up their security not only around public facilities, but worked with the private sector to enhance security around their facilities, as well. I suspect that there will be an ebb and flow as governors who are on a heightened state of alert redeploy their resources.”
Nonetheless, said Mr. Ridge, “We believe America should stay on alert,” even though there have been no new, specific threats.
Reporting on the anthrax scare, Mr. Ridge confirmed that a total of four post offices in Maryland, New Jersey, Missouri and Virginia remain closed and “that the [U.S. Postal Service] has received 10,000 hoaxes they’ve had to deal with, which has resulted in closing different post offices for various periods of time. [Postal officials] have investigated and followed up, and they’ve made 25 arrests.”
Mr. Ridge said there still is no evidence indicating whether the anthrax mailed to news media offices in Miami and New York and to Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat, was produced by an individual or group, or whether the attack was made by a domestic or international terrorist.
A hour before his briefing, Mr. Ridge left a closed meeting with members of the House Republican Conference. The security chief said he had talked to the lawmakers about intelligence gathering and crisis response.