Monday, July 2, 2007

The national terrorist threat level will remain the same after a recent car-bomb attack in Scotland and a foiled car-bombing plot in London, but more air marshals will be added to overseas flights, said Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff.

“We have some pre-planned, additional security measures we have put into place and will have in place this week, but I think given what we know now, we’re comfortable that we’re at the right posture,” Mr. Chertoff said yesterday during an appearance on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

Mr. Chertoff said his agency had begun an increase of air marshals in August with a general flow focused toward European countries. Appearing on Fox, however, he denied speculation that the Department of Homeland Security had any information about imminent terrorist attacks on American soil.

“Our focus, of course, is to continue to look to see, ‘Are there any suggestions that this is part of a specific plot that would be directed at the United States?’ And we have not at this point seen that,” he told “Fox News Sunday.”

Mr. Chertoff also insisted that American and British authorities were in full cooperation and regular contact when it comes to exchanging intelligence regarding possible terrorist threats against either nation’s interests.

The official Homeland Security Advisory System currently ranks the national threat level as yellow, or “elevated.” However, the threat level is ranked as orange, or “high,” for all domestic and international flights. The red “severe” warning is only issued when an imminent terrorist attack is suspected.

Mr. Chertoff said extra security measures were being put into place at travel centers across the country in advance of the Fourth of July holiday. But he told ABC’s “This Week” that the increased vigilance was not related to any specific intelligence regarding a terrorist plot.

“We will be doing operations at various rail locations and other mass transit locations in cooperation with local authorities,” he said. “Again, not because of a specific piece of credible threat information, but because we are going into a holiday season. There will be a larger number of people traveling.”

Up to 4.7 million Americans are expected to fly this week, with the majority spending the entire week on vacation as the Fourth of July holiday falls on a Wednesday, according to the auto industry group AAA. In total, 41.1 million Americans are expected to travel this week.

Mr. Chertoff was asked during his four talk-show appearances yesterday whether Europe is now more vulnerable to terrorist attacks than the United States.

He said DHS was actively monitoring al Qaeda related cells in America but declined to say how many or to measure their level of sophistication.

However, he did acknowledge an increased focus on European threats and targets.

“I think one of the issues we’re increasingly concerned about is the movement of Europeans, including people with European citizenship, into areas of South Asia to get trained and get experience and then the prospect of these people coming back to carry out operations in Europe or in the United States using Europe as a departure point,” he told Fox News.

“It’s one of the reasons we’ve been very focused on increasing our security for people incoming from Europe. And that’s something we’re going to be looking at for the rest of the summer,” he said.

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