- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 19, 2003

Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge yesterday said the administration elevated the terror-alert level to high based on intelligence reports and threats from Osama bin Laden that retaliation for an attack on Iraq is certain.

"America wants us to take precautionary measures, but we need to understand it's all predicated upon what bin Laden and the terrorists have said, and what they've claimed they will do under certain sorts of circumstances, and it's our job to be prepared," Mr. Ridge told reporters during a press briefing.

The decision to go from the level Yellow (elevated) to Orange (high) was based on "credible information from within the intelligence community, but bin Laden himself has said in recent weeks that military action in Iraq would be a rallying cry, a potential call to others not just to al Qaeda, but to others," he said.

Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein and his oldest son, Uday, have both threatened retaliation against the United States if American troops attack Baghdad.

"Any aggression against Iraq will make [the Americans] regret their tragic fate and the wives and mothers of the Americans who fight us will cry tears of blood. They should not think themselves safe anywhere in Iraq or abroad," Uday Hussein said in a statement yesterday.

To protect against a terrorist attack, the Homeland Security Department has developed an initiative called Operation Liberty Shield.

As part of the operation, state governors were asked to deploy the National Guard and post law enforcement at strategic locations. Security at borders, airports, and train stations has increased, and the Coast Guard has stepped up patrols along the shores and at key petroleum and chemical facilities.

Mexico and Canada have pledged to cooperate along the borders, so members of the National Guard will not be called in for assistance there, Mr. Ridge said.

"We're going to do everything possible to minimize the inconvenience to citizens and the disruption to commerce," Mr. Ridge said.

Suicide bombers would be difficult to detect, but Mr. Ridge said public awareness will be the most effective means to prevent that kind of attack.

"The public's alertness, its sensitivity to its own surroundings could be of assistance," he said.

New flight restrictions are in place over Washington and New York, and security has increased at nuclear-power plants.

Officials are monitoring the Internet for signs of a potential terrorist attack cyber-terrorism or hacking and the Treasury Department has taken steps to protect financial networks and payment systems.

The Agriculture Department has notified farmers and its laboratories that diagnose diseases such as anthrax to be on high alert. Imported food also will be inspected.

"Our experts have provided security guidelines for producers, processors and food providers in order to strengthen systems at the local level," said Agriculture Secretary Ann M. Veneman.

The Department of Health and Human Services has alerted state and local health departments, hospitals and medical care providers to report any unusual disease or disease patterns.

Asylum-seekers from other countries will be detained until officials can determine the legitimacy of the request

"We just want to make sure that those who are seeking asylum are who they say they are and are legitimately seeking refuge in our country because of political repression at home, not because they choose to cause us harm or bring destruction to our shores," Mr. Ridge said.

Mr. Ridge declined to say what countries will be targeted for closer scrutiny, but said, "We know there is an al Qaeda network or other terrorist organizations, and it will be those countries we're looking at specifically." Last year, 600 people were temporarily detained, 60 percent of them from Iraq.

"Our response and recovery teams, and resources throughout our nation are mobilized, in position and ready," Mr. Ridge said.

This article is based in part on wire reports.

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