- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 3, 2004

Terrorists updated their plans this year to attack financial institutions, prompting the federal government to raise the threat level, Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge said yesterday.

“This is actionable information,” Mr. Ridge said during a press conference in New York with Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and Gov. George E. Pataki, both Republicans.

“There is no evidence of recent surveillance. But again, I would tell you that the information about the casings that we revealed on Sunday has been updated as recently as January of this year.”

Information from a computer seized during the arrest of an al Qaeda operative in Pakistan revealed detailed surveillance of the Prudential Financial building in Newark, the Citigroup Center and New York Stock Exchange, and the World Bank and International Monetary Fund in Washington.

Streets are closed near the buildings, and trucks are being searched. In Washington, armed police officers are boarding city buses, and bomb-sniffing dogs are checking buses carrying tourists.

“The report at the end of the day was not only did the stock market go up, but there were more employees on the floor of the exchange yesterday than for a normal Monday in August,” Mr. Pataki said. “That’s the way New Yorkers respond, and that’s the way we will continue to respond. This is the financial capital of the world, and it will be for a long time to come.”

One business traveler in New York said she was “amazed at the sheer number of officials.”

“I felt a lot safer there. I definitely felt the presence of the authorities.”

Officials say the information does not include a specific time frame, but New York’s Newsday is reporting that the attack would occur 60 days before the Nov. 2 presidential election. President Bush is scheduled to speak Sept. 2 at the Republican National Convention in New York.

“We will not become fortress America,” Mr. Ridge said.

Terrorists have collected information on the placement of security cameras, traffic patterns near target sites, the kinds of vehicles allowed in adjacent parking facilities, and where explosives could be hidden, intelligence officials say.

Investigators with the FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force are gathering information on al Qaeda’s efforts to target U.S. sites, although some intelligence officials say the plot might have been abandoned.

Government officials dispute criticism that their actions are based on old information and politically motivated.

“I think it’s wrong and plain irresponsible to suggest that it was based on old information,” White House spokesman Scott McClellan told reporters aboard Air Force One en route to a campaign stop in Dallas.

“Anyone who looks at the detail and specificity of this information — some of which was updated as recently as this year, and couple that with what we know about al Qaeda’s sophistication and history … would not make such an irresponsible suggestion,” Mr. McClellan said.

Mr. McClellan said the seized computer contained “detailed, specific information” and that al Qaeda has a history of planning attacks well in advance and then updating those plans just before staging the attacks.

“We don’t do politics in the Department of Homeland Security. Our job is to identify the threat,” Mr. Ridge said.

Joseph Curl and S.A. Miller contributed to this report.

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