Tuesday, May 25, 2004

Federal authorities have what one U.S. official described as “credible and disturbing” new information suggesting that a terrorist attack on the United States is planned for this summer, and government officials already are upgrading their efforts to respond.

Attorney General John Ashcroft and FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III were scheduled to hold a press conference today to describe the intelligence data.

Law enforcement authorities confirmed last night that the information did not include a time or place for a would-be attack, the method of delivery, or the suspected terrorist organization involved.

It was not clear whether the suspected terrorist plot involved members of the al Qaeda network, which was responsible for the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon that killed nearly 3,000 people.

The threat, first reported by the Associated Press, raised concerns among U.S. officials last night about terrorist use of chemical, biological or radiological weapons in public places.

Authorities also have been concerned about “soft targets” such as unprotected shopping malls, and railroad, train and bus depots. Officials also fear attacks during the November elections.

The U.S. official, who asked not to be identified, said there was “a certain level” of collaboration for the intelligence data, but he declined to elaborate.

There was no indication last night that the Department of Homeland Security planned to raise the nation’s terrorism threat level from Code Yellow, or elevated. However, the FBI planned to notify 18,000 state and local police agencies nationwide of the potential threat.

The threat level has been at Code Yellow since January.

The FBI already has established a special task force to focus on potential terrorist threats in the coming months.

Homeland Security Assistant Secretary Michael J. Garcia, who heads U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), said at a press briefing yesterday that security levels had been increased for Memorial Day ceremonies in Washington, D.C., including the opening Saturday of the National World War II Memorial.

Mr. Garcia, however, did not say there had been any specific threats, but he reported that ICE agents would provide “substantial law enforcement and security support to selected venues in the United States” for several high-profile government, political and athletic events this summer.

Among the other events Mr. Garcia mentioned were the Group of Eight summit in Georgia next month, the Democratic National Convention in Boston in July, and the Republican National Convention in New York in August.

He said the ICE Office of Investigations was providing the U.S. Secret Service with a “potential surge capacity” of 2,300 ICE agents to support security events in the coming months. In addition, he said, five to 20 teams of ICE agents have been positioned across the country to support the Secret Service’s presidential campaign details.

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