- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 4, 2002

Fighter jets will patrol the skies over Washington, New York and other U.S. cities tonight to guard against terrorism on the first Fourth of July since September 11.
President Bush, who was planning to watch Washington's fireworks from the South Portico balcony of the White House, urged Americans to attend tonight's celebrations.
"The president of the United States would encourage the American people to gather, to celebrate, to enjoy America's independence," said White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer.
"The law enforcement community of the United States will do the worrying," he added. "They will take care of the precautions, and that's true at the state, the local and the federal level."
Officials said the government received no specific threats of terrorism and left its new color-coded system at yellow, the middle of five levels indicating an "elevated" alert. A general fear that terrorists might try to ruin America's most patriotic holiday was offset by an almost defiant desire to celebrate the nation's independence.
"We don't let the terrorists win by canceling America's holidays," Mr. Fleischer declared.
Tonight will mark the first time since April that combat air patrols have protected Washington and New York. Those patrols began immediately after the September 11 attacks and remained in place until officials felt the threat had lessened.
Tonight's patrols have little more than psychological value, said counterterrorism specialist Bill Cowan, a retired lieutenant colonel with the U.S. Marine Corps. A cunning and determined terrorist may be able to plow a fast-moving Lear jet, for example, into a crowd of Fourth of July revelers.
"This is all about reaction time," Mr. Cowan said. "And so it's first a matter of detecting that there may be something going wrong, and then deciding you're going to send some airplanes over to take a look at it, and then deciding, once they see who it is, that they're going to do something. But there may not be enough time."
The other danger, says Mr. Cowan, is that a slow-moving plane that accidentally strays into restricted airspace could be targeted.
"I've just got this nagging fear that someone like that guy who flew into White House airspace a few weeks ago will make some mistake and be stumbling along and get shot down," he said.
Only 52 percent of Washington area residents and 55 percent of New Yorkers said they felt safe enough to attend fireworks celebrations, according to a poll by Fox News Channel and Opinion Dynamics. The figures were much higher in other parts of the country.
To reassure jittery Washingtonians, the National Park Service has erected 10 miles of wood-slatted snow fencing to secure the Mall. Two layers of fencing were spaced about 15 feet apart to prevent anyone outside from handing harmful items to someone inside the inner fence, said National Park Service spokesman David Barna.
Meanwhile, Metropolitan Police will activate surveillance cameras in the Joint Operations Command Center, which is designed to deliver real-time information to officers on the scene. Officers there can watch footage from 12 cameras downtown.
The center will be staffed by several federal and local agencies, including the FBI, Secret Service, U.S. Capitol Police, U.S. Marshals Service, Coast Guard, Fairfax County police and the D.C. fire department.
The U.S. Park Police, which is coordinating security plans, will be using the Metropolitan Police Department's surveillance camera system as well as its own temporary system, said Sgt. Scott Fear, a Park Police spokesman.
Mr. Barna said as many as 2,500 uniformed and plainclothes officers from various jurisdictions will be on duty. Celebrants entering the Mall will have to pass through metal detectors at 24 entry points.
Mr. Fleischer said increased staff at a national coordination center will monitor 2,100 of the largest Fourth of July events, which "can become something of a target for people who want to do us harm."
"As a precaution, the law enforcement community, the federal government, are joining together to take precautions around the country to help protect citizens against any generalized threat," Mr. Fleischer said. "A variety of actions are being taken on the ground in terms of greater resources, greater surveillance, greater protection, greater prevention, as well as an immediate operations setup in Washington to handle eventualities if they arise."
All 56 field offices of the FBI plan to monitor celebrations in their regions. The agency also will have extra agents staffing its primary operations center in Washington.
The FBI yesterday told all law enforcement agencies to "be vigilant and report any suspicious activity to the FBI." The agency said the State Department was picking up increased communications among foreign terrorism suspects in recent days, although no specific threat could be ascertained.
Brian DeBose and Arlo Wagner contributed to this report.


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