- The Washington Times - Friday, March 26, 2004

Texas oil-industry officials have been told by the FBI to be wary of possible terrorist attacks by al Qaeda against petroleum plants as the November presidential election approaches, although the advisory contained no specific information on potential targets or would-be threats.

The FBI’s threat advisory, issued Wednesday, went to oil-industry officials and local and state police agencies in the Houston area. The threats were labeled by officials at FBI headquarters in Washington as “unconfirmed and uncorroborated,” but forwarded by the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force in Houston “out of an abundance of caution.”

Meanwhile, FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III, in an interview with the Associated Press, said terrorists could seek to influence the presidential election by launching attacks in this country and abroad during the nominating conventions this summer in New York and Boston.

Mr. Mueller said the March 11 railway bombings in Madrid — which are credited with helping unseat Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar, an ally of President Bush’s war on terror, in the subsequent election — might have emboldened members of al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations to launch similar strikes here.

“In the wake of what happened in Madrid, we have to be concerned about the possibility of terrorists attempting to influence elections in the United States by committing a terrorist act,” Mr. Mueller said. “We understand that between now and the election, there is a window of time in which terrorists might try to influence events, whether it’s here or overseas.”

FBI spokesman Bob Doguim in Houston described the oil-industry information as “vague, raw intelligence from overseas” that originated from a single source, adding that it did not identify a “time frame, a date, location or methods.” But he said the information on the Texas refineries was “specific enough,” so it was disseminated “as quickly as we got it.”

Maurice McBride, spokesman for the Washington-based National Petrochemical & Refiners Association, said it was “important to understand” that the nation’s petrochemical manufacturers across the country and particularly in Texas and along the coasts “are already operating at heightened levels of preparedness.”

“This advisory needs to be put into context. The report is uncorroborated and unsubstantiated, but does need to be taken seriously,” Mr. McBride said. “So we expect refiners and petrochemical companies to continue to be vigilant and watchful.”

Texas has 25 operating oil refineries, the most of any state, which process more than 4.3 million barrels of crude oil a day — about 26 percent of total U.S. refining capacity.

Industry officials said the FBI advisory mentioned threats to pipelines and facilities in Texas coinciding with the election in November, adding that the FBI in Texas has issued a half-dozen similar warnings since last summer.

U.S. oil refineries have adopted tougher security measures since the September 11 attacks, including increased checking of visitors, and FBI agents in Houston meet regularly with oil-industry executives.

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