WASHINGTON -- The outbreak of war in the Persian Gulf has brought a security clamp of unprecedented stringency to the United States as government agencies and private companies move to guard against possible terrorist attacks from groups linked with, or sympathetic to, Iraq.
Airports across the country, using Federal Aviation Administration guidelines, eliminated curbside baggage check-ins, closed parking spaces near terminal buildings and increased scrutiny of luggage. Only passengers with tickets were allowed into departure gate areas.
At Dulles International Airport outside Washington, security officials asked passengers to remove batteries from radios and other electronic devices stowed in luggage, apparently so as not to confuse electronic bomb sensors.
The U.S. Customs Service announced yesterday that it was beginning operation "Border Shield" to complement the military operation in the gulf. Customs Commissioner Carol Hallett said security officers at all airports, border crossings and cargo facilities were ordered on full alert shortly after hostilities began.
She said it was "a massive coordinated effort" in conjunction with the National Guard and the Pentagon "to ensure the safety of our citizens and the security of our airports and borders."
FBI spokesman Bill Carter, who has worked 17 years at the bureau, said, "I cannot recall [the country] being at such a high state of alert."
By yesterday evening, he said, the bureau had no indication that terrorists were planning any attack within the United States, but it advised all companies and government agencies to be on the alert because of reprisal threats made by President Saddam Hussein and sympathizers before the U.S.-allied attack on Iraq.
The FBI and immigration officials, Mr. Carter said, began this week to locate and interview about 3,000 Iraqi citizens in the United States whose visas had expired.
He said the purpose of the action was precautionary -- to find out who they were, where they were staying and why they were in the country.
There had been no decision on whether to deport them, he said.
The FBI is also continuing a controversial program that involves making direct approaches to Arab-American community leaders and businessmen in the United States, warning them of possible public antagonism and asking them to tell the bureau if they have any information on possible terrorist activities.
Critics have accused the FBI of using the program, which Mr. Carter said was begun last week, to harass and coerce Arab-Americans.
Security checks were noticeably tighter at government offices throughout Washington yesterday. At the Department of Transportation and the Treasury, security guards scrutinized worker passes and prevented unfamiliar visitors from passing through security checkpoints.
The Treasury's Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms sent instructions yesterday to newspaper offices on how to deal with bombs and bomb threats.