- The Washington Times - Friday, March 16, 2007

Members of suspected extremist groups have signed up to drive school buses nationwide, federal authorities said yesterday in a law-enforcement bulletin, but the FBI said there was no reason for parents or children to be concerned.

“There is no threat, there is no plot,” FBI spokesman Richard Kolko told The Washington Times. “Parents and children should feel safe in riding the nation’s school buses. They have nothing to fear.” He said the FBI had no information leading it to conclude “there is any reason for concern.”

Mr. Kolko said the bulletin was sent only as part of an ongoing program by the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security to inform the nation’s 18,000 law-enforcement agencies on possible terrorist scenarios. He described the bulletin as an educational tool to help local police officers identify and respond to any suspicious activity.

School buses long have been a concern to federal law-enforcement authorities and others regarding potential terrorist threats and the government has sought to educate and train schools, bus drivers and others to be alert to them.

It was not clear yesterday what actually prompted the school bus bulletin and also why it did not reach several local officials.

Police officials in Prince George’s County, Montgomery County and the District’s Metropolitan Police Department had no information yesterday that they had received such a bulletin.

John White, a Prince George’s County schools spokesman, said he was not aware of the bulletin. He said the system’s bus drivers are required to pass a criminal background check as a condition of employment with the county.

According to law-enforcement authorities familiar with the document, the bulletin noted “recent suspicious activity” by foreigners who either drive school buses or are licensed to drive them, although it did not elaborate. First reported by the Associated Press, the bulletin did not include information on how often foreign extremists had sought to acquire licenses to drive school buses or in what states, cities or counties.

The bulletin also said foreigners under recent investigation including “some with ties to extremist groups” have been able to “purchase buses and acquire licenses,” but noted that the FBI and Homeland Security had “no information” showing that foreign nationals were involved in a terrorist plot.

It also said, according to the authorities, that most attempts by foreign nationals in the United States to acquire school bus licenses to drive them “are legitimate.”

Department of Homeland Security spokesman Russ Knocke told reporters there was no information of any immediate threat to the country and no credible information to suggest terrorists were “involved in buying school buses or seeking licenses to drive them.”

Homeland Security has funded a $21 million program for the American Trucking Association known as the Highway Watch. The program trains commercial truck and bus drivers, school bus drivers, highway maintenance crews, bridge and tunnel toll collectors and others highway professionals to identify and report safety and security concerns on the nation’s roads.

The program provides information and communications infrastructure to prepare hundreds of thousands of transportation professionals to respond in the event they or their cargo are the target of a terrorist attack and to share valuable intelligence with Homeland Security if they detect potential threats.

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