- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 11, 2002

The Bush administration yesterday raised the national alert status for a terrorist attack to the highest level to date, as the military, police and local governments ratcheted up security for the first anniversary of September 11.
Based on fresh intelligence reports, President Bush accepted a recommendation from homeland security advisers to increase the alert one notch, from code yellow to orange, indicating an increased chance of attack.
Officials said there is no information about a specific target or time, and intelligence suggests any attacks today will occur overseas. Key information came from a captured member of al Qaeda, Osama bin Laden's terror group, which carried out last year's attacks on the Pentagon and World Trade Center.
"The threats that we have heard recently remind us of the pattern of threats we heard prior to September the 11th," Mr. Bush said while visiting the embassy of Afghanistan, the country that became the first battlefield in the war against terrorism.
Locally, police and government authorities stepped up security at monuments and federal buildings, and U.S. Capitol Police officers changed from 8-hour shifts to 12-hour shifts so more officers could be deployed today.
Congress will remain open for business today and no special road closures are planned, said Lt. Dan Nichols, a spokesman for the U.S. Capitol Police. "I think it's going to be rather transparent to the visiting public," he said of the increased level of security.
D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams told reporters yesterday that the nation's capital was vigilant.
"There are not any specific threats against this city or against any other city in the United States that we know of," Mr. Williams said. "Our plan at this point is not to overreact."
As part of a military exercise announced Monday, anti-aircraft missile batteries have been stationed at undisclosed locations around Washington.
Yesterday's escalation of the alert level came after intelligence agencies collected information about potential attacks on U.S. citizens and embassies abroad. Code orange is the second-highest of five color warnings. The highest, code red, signals a specific attack is imminent.
"The increased threat level is based on specific intelligence received and analyzed by the full intelligence community," Attorney General John Ashcroft said in a Justice Department announcement.
"This information has been corroborated by multiple intelligence sources," Mr. Ashcroft added, indicating the United States was not taking the word of the captured al Qaeda member alone.
Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge, who designed the color-coded system for warning citizens, said: "We are now at high risk of a terrorist attack. For now, we are at level orange."
A senior intelligence official, who asked not to be named, said there is no indication of an impending attack on the United States. He predicted there will be relatively small attacks overseas today in the form of suicide or car bombings.
Vice President Richard B. Cheney went to an undisclosed location Monday night in reaction to the new information. He returned to the White House yesterday, then again left for his hideaway.
Mr. Ashcroft did not recommend the cancellation of public events or airline flights. The Federal Aviation Administration will limit air traffic over Washington, New York and Shanksville, Pa., sites of September 11 crashes of four hijacked airliners during ceremonies today.
The FBI in the past year has issued alerts periodically, warning of attacks on power plants, nuclear facilities and government buildings. But this was the first time the body of evidence was great enough to justify a move from code yellow to code orange since the system started in March.
Mr. Ashcroft said yesterday's alert was based on three assessments from the intelligence community, which includes the CIA and the Defense Intelligence Agency at the Pentagon:
A captured senior member of al Qaeda told debriefers that attacks on U.S. interests are planned for around September 11. Individual cells of al Qaeda have been set up in Southeast Asia. Since January, they have accumulated explosives to execute car bombings.
Intelligence sources say terrorists in the Middle East plan suicide attacks against Americans.
There are indications low-level al Qaeda members may choose September 11 for attacks anywhere in the world. "Widely dispersed, unsophisticated strikes are possible," the attorney general said.
Mr. Ashcroft said the information comes from "multiple intelligence sources" a phrase that likely means spies and from monitored communications, in addition to information from the detained al Qaeda member.
Besides raising the alert status, the administration also closed 14 U.S. embassies and consulates around the world. Embassies in Malaysia, Indonesia, Pakistan and Bahrain were closed. The embassy in the Gulf nation of Qatar canceled a memorial event. The State Department in Egypt warned U.S. citizens to be vigilant.
The headquarters of the U.S. Fifth Fleet in Bahrain on the Persian Gulf, where about 4,000 sailors and other troops are based, was put on "Threat Condition Delta," the military's highest.
The Pentagon already had taken extra precautions as Mr. Bush planned to visit the headquarters of the nation's armed forces today to honor those who lost their lives in the Pentagon attack.
The military is launching extra jet-fighter air patrols over undisclosed cities in case al Qaeda operatives try to repeat the attacks of a year ago. Then, 19 al Qaeda hijackers drove two passenger jets into the World Trade Center in New York, and one into the Pentagon. Passengers on the fourth commercial jet fought the terrorists, and the plane crashed into a farm field near Shanksville.
A year later, the United States is far more aware that its people and its soil are targets.
"The most likely targets of al Qaeda attacks are the transportation and energy sectors and facilities or gatherings that would be recognized worldwide as symbols of American power or security," Mr. Ashcroft said. "At this time, most intelligence focuses on possible attacks on U.S. interests overseas."
Tom Ramstack, Guy Taylor and Patrick Badgley contributed to this article, which is based in part on wire service reports.

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