- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 15, 2003

WASHINGTON, Feb. 15 (UPI) — President George W. Bush on Saturday reassured an American public nervous over the heightened terror threat alert, saying the government will act with focus and determination to keep the nation safe.

"We are gathering the best information possible, and using it to make sure the right people are in the right places to protect our citizens," Bush said during his radio address to the nation.

The Bush administration last week raised the national terrorist threat level to orange, or "high," the second highest level of the Department of Homeland Security's five point color-coded threat scale. Administration officials said an increase in intelligence indicated an attack against the United States or U.S. interests abroad were likely, possibly this week.

The heightened threat level spurred many people in major cities and elsewhere to begin stockpiling water, plastic sheeting, duct tape and food after the Homeland Security Department issued fact sheets on what to do in the event of a biological or chemical attack.

The standoff between the United States and Iraq struck a personal cord with a jittery public as federal officials recommended that people prepare for a possible assault. Compounding the anxiety was an audiotape believed to be that of Saudi fugitive Osama bin Laden urging suicide attacks against Americans.

Concerns about the status of the nation's civil defense came as the Pentagon stepped up combat air patrols over Washington in response to the heightened threat of a terrorist attack. The Federal Aviation Administration on Wednesday expanded flight restrictions over the nation's capital to 30 miles from Washington, up from the 15-mile restricted area in place since Sept. 11, 2001. Humvees equipped with anti-aircraft missiles dispatched to sites around the city.

Bush said Saturday that raising the threat level informs the general public to be more alert and prepared for possible emergencies in the event of an attack. He urged Americans to go about their daily lives.

"These recent threats are a stark reminder that our country remains engaged in a war on terror," Bush said. "Our enemies are still determined to attack America, and there is no such thing as perfect security against a hidden network of killers."

He said Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge has issued strategic plans that would guide local officials in securing the nation's dams, power plants, computer networks, electrical and communication systems.

Bush on Friday chose the opening of a new Terrorist Threat Integration Center, or TTIC, to reassure Americans that with that the administration is better able to sift through alleged terrorist threats.

The new TTIC will take intelligence collected by all the security agencies and organize it to discover threats and assist in setting counterterrorism strategies. The new agency will draw analysts from both the CIA and FBI, and for the first time, they will be collocated in one location. One of the major criticisms of the breakdown of intelligence before the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks was that the agencies never shared information or coordinated leads on terrorist actions.

"We are gathering the best information possible, and using it to make sure the right people are in the right places to protect our citizens. Throughout the country, joint terrorism task forces are bringing together federal, state and local officials to fight terrorism," Bush said.

Bush said he is also asking Congress to approve $6 billion for vaccines and treatments effective against small pox, anthrax, botulinum toxin, Ebola and plague.

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