Warning was drawn from various information sources

Another vague threat brings advice to go on with life, cautiously

War On Terrorism

The Nation

October 31, 2001|By Gail Gibson | Gail Gibson,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- The FBI based its latest warning about possible new attacks against the United States on a convergence of information from several sources, some of them with "connections to the terrorists we're trying to fight," Tom Ridge, the director of homeland security, said yesterday.

Ridge and other officials urged Americans to go about their normal lives, but to be alert to a threat that authorities conceded was frustratingly vague. The mixed message was perhaps nowhere as evident as at the White House:

President Bush threw out the first pitch for Game 3 of the World Series last night in New York, while Vice President Dick Cheney was sequestered at an undisclosed location because of security concerns related to the new warning.

FOR THE RECORD - An article in Wednesday's editions of The Sun about the FBI's latest terrorism alert incorrectly reported how much Baltimore has spent on security-related overtime expenses since Sept. 11. The city has spent $2.5 million in additional personnel expenses. The Sun regrets the error.

"America still has to be America," Ridge said. "All we're saying with the general alert is continue to live your lives, continue to be America, but be aware, be alert, be on guard."

Across the country, police and local authorities tried again yesterday to strike that balance after the FBI warned Monday that terrorists might be planning new attacks against the United States over the next week.

Because of the latest alert, the Federal Aviation Administration will enforce a no-fly zone for private planes within 11 miles of nuclear plants.

Ridge said the new warning followed intelligence reports from multiple sources, some of which, he hinted, have ties to Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaida network.

"You can fairly assume that the experts view this information [as] somehow related to al-Qaida or bin Laden, else we wouldn't have ramped it up," Ridge said.

The warning delivered Monday by Attorney General John Ashcroft and FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III was nearly identical to an FBI warning issued Oct. 11 about the potential for new terrorist violence. Critics said the earlier warning, which also lacked details about possible targets or methods, had unduly frightened people.

But Justice officials said they believe that the possibility of new terrorist acts is real and that Americans need to be alert to potential dangers. They also said they feared that if the department issued no general public warning, news of the alert being relayed to 18,000 police agencies was sure to leak out and cause its own alarm.

"You have to keep in mind that any time the government is going to send an alert to 18,000 law enforcement personnel, it's going to become public," said Ari Fleischer, the White House spokesman. "If it's going to get shared with such a wide universe, the proper thing to do is fully and forthrightly inform the American people."

Investigators have arrested or detained 1,028 people as part of the investigation that followed the Sept. 11 attacks, the Justice Department said. Some of those people are believed to have connections to al-Qaida and are reportedly cooperating with authorities.

Fleischer would not discuss the intelligence information behind the alert. He did confirm that Cheney had been moved Monday night to an undisclosed location because of the warning, and he said decisions about the vice president's location would be reviewed "day by day."

Bush, meanwhile, headed to New York for the World Series game between the Yankees and the Arizona Diamondbacks.

"The World Series is a time of great excitement for many Americans," Fleischer said. "The president's going to participate in that. It helps to keep the fabric of our country strong."

Across the country, police agencies have been at or near the highest levels of alert since the attacks in New York and Washington and the FBI's warning Oct. 11 that more terrorist strikes could occur.

Some remained on highest alert yesterday, even though they weren't sure against what.

Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley, taking part in the most normal of day-to-day mayoral activities -- a ceremony to re-open the Charles Street entrance to the Jones Falls Expressway -- said that local police never relaxed their vigilance after the FBI's first public warning, issued nearly three weeks ago.

In fact, the city's police had been on heightened alert since the attacks, with the city spending more than $10 million in security-related overtime expenses during the past seven weeks.

"Maybe there's a deterrence value -- who's to say?" O'Malley said of the new alert issued Monday.

"You can't prove a negative."

Justice and FBI officials have tried to debunk one rumor. Investigators do not believe the new threats are connected to Halloween, said Mindy Tucker, the Justice Department spokeswoman. Officials also have dismissed as a hoax a widely circulated e-mail that warns of terrorist attacks planned for today at shopping malls.

Sun staff writer Jamie Stiehm contributed to this article.

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