- The Washington Times - Friday, August 12, 2005

The Department of Homeland Security last night lowered the terror threat level for the nation’s mass-transit systems, saying there is “no specific, credible intelligence information” showing that an attack in the United States is imminent.

“However, we are also aware that the London and Madrid bombings were conducted without warning,” said Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, adding that the department will continue to “closely monitor and analyze threat information” to prevent possible future attacks.

The department issued a Code Orange, or high, alert for the nation’s buses, subways and trains on July 7 after the deadly attacks by suicide bombers in London that killed 56 persons aboard three subway trains and a double-decker city bus.

The alert level returned to Code Yellow, or elevated, at 8 p.m. local time yesterday, after the rush-hour traffic.

“While we are changing the threat level at this time, we continue to urge state and local officials, transportation authorities and the general public to remain alert,” Mr. Chertoff said. “Public vigilance is very important, and we encourage all citizens to keep a watchful eye for items left unattended or suspicious behavior and report any incidents to local authorities immediately.”

Machine-gun-toting police officers accompanied by bomb-sniffing dogs swept through the D.C. area’s Metro stations, trains and buses after the threat level on mass-transit systems was raised to Code Orange.

The department’s Special Threat Action Team — a group of 120 officers specially trained and equipped to handle terrorist attacks — was activated, along with bomb technicians and canine handlers, and hundreds of officers worked overtime.

The Joint Operations Command Center turned on 14 cameras stationed throughout the city and monitored Metro cameras in 86 rail stations. Officers were stationed on the steps on the west side of the Capitol and searched the bags of tourists, while officers armed with rifles patrolled the parking lot on Pennsylvania Avenue.

Increased police patrols and heightened inspection and surveillance efforts, including the use of bomb-sniffing dogs, cost the nation’s mass-transit systems about $33 million over the 36 days of the Code Orange alert.

Mr. Chertoff said that since raising the threat level for mass-transit systems, the department has been working with federal, state and local authorities to implement “sustainable mass-transit security measures” tailored to the unique design of each region’s transit system.

“Although the overall national threat level is being lowered for mass-transit systems, many transit systems, particularly the larger systems, will maintain a strengthened baseline level of preparedness beyond what existed before the London attacks, including a number of the security enhancements put into place for the July alert,” Mr. Chertoff said.

The U.S. Coast Guard yesterday also lowered the maritime security level for large passenger ferries from level two to level one, which corresponds with Code Yellow.

In a related matter, the FBI warned law-enforcement agencies this week that terrorists might try to use tanker trucks in three major U.S. cities — Chicago, New York and Los Angeles — as weapons against civilians, although authorities said the threat was uncorroborated and not based on reliable information.

“This is a single-source, uncorroborated statement of questionable reliability,” one FBI official said, noting that authorities long have been concerned about the use of tankers in an attack.

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