- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 15, 2003

Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge yesterday cautioned against panic over the government's decision to raise the national threat assessment to the second-highest level, saying preparing for a possible terrorist attack was proper but warning citizens not to "start sealing the doors and windows."
Mr. Ridge, who announced an increase in the threat level to "orange," or high, on Feb. 7, said there was no plan to either raise or lower the level.
"We have not received any additional intelligence that would lead us to either raise or lower the threat level at this time," he said. "We assess all the available information several times a day.
"The information we had to work with more often than not is very vague. It does not tell us when, where or how. I assure you, however, that if we get detailed credible intelligence we can act upon, we will certainly let authorities know," Mr. Ridge said.
His comments came after information that some of the intelligence data used to justify the rise in the threat level is now believed to have been bogus, although U.S. intelligence sources and others said yesterday it did not form the basis of the government's decision to raise the alert status.
A U.S. official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said one source of the intelligence data a captured al Qaeda member may have provided "some information which was bogus" but added that it was "immaterial to the decision to raise the threat level."
A law enforcement officer, who also asked not to be identified, said the fabricated information involved the potential use of a "dirty bomb" in Washington, New York City or Florida. The story was ruled false after a polygraph test, the officer said.
Some intelligence officials had debated whether to raise the level because of concerns it would create "warning fatigue" and lead to skepticism among the public. Their concerns were overruled.
The U.S. official also noted that information from the questionable source was a mixture of good and bad intelligence. The information warned of a terrorist attack.
The good information was corroborated by other sources, the official said.
"The volume and nature of the threat information is what drove the decision, not statements by one individual, some of which were right," the official said.
Most of the information gathered by U.S. intelligence agents related to the threat of an al Qaeda attack is very worrisome, the official said, noting that the very nature of intelligence data is that they often include information of questionable veracity.
Mr. Ridge said people should not seal doors and windows with plastic and duct tape, but rather should have the supplies on hand in the event of a terrorist attack.
On Monday, the administration reviewed guidelines issued last year by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, prompting a nationwide run on these and other supplies.
Critics warned that sealing up rooms cuts off oxygen, which could cause suffocation.
"I want to make something very clear at this point. We do not want individuals or families to start sealing their doors or windows," Mr. Ridge said, adding that duct tape and plastic are "very appropriately" listed as emergency supplies in certain kinds of terrorist attacks.
"Frankly, a lot of folks around the country have taken our suggestion to build up that supply kit … but we want to emphasize again that it's part of an emergency supply kit," he said. "God forbid, there may come a time when local authorities or national authorities or someone will tell you that you've got to use them, but for the time being, we just don't want folks sealing up their doors or sealing up their windows."
The guidelines also recommend the storage of three days of water, along with batteries, cell phones, radios and flashlights. The kit should be used for a "worst-case scenario" and replenished if it is used during an expected snowstorm this weekend.
CIA Director George J. Tenet and FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III said at Senate hearings this week that the decision to raise the threat level was based on "multiple sources" with strong al Qaeda ties. They described the information as the "most specific" collected by intelligence officials since the September 11 attacks.
They said the new intelligence data focused on possible plots targeting two major fronts, sites within the United States and other U.S. targets located on the Arabian Peninsula. Of major concern, they said, was the possible use of a radiological-dispersion device, or "dirty bomb," as well as poisons and chemicals.
Mr. Mueller said the al Qaeda network had the ability and intent to inflict significant casualties with little warning, using "sleepers cells" federal agents have yet to identify. He described the highest priority targets as high-profile government or private facilities, commercial airliners, famous landmarks and critical infrastructure, such as energy-production and transportation facilities, but said "softer targets" would be more likely.
Those targets would include dams, power lines, banks, shopping malls, supermarkets, apartment buildings, schools and universities, churches and places of recreation and entertainment.
Audrey Hudson contributed to this report.

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