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Published Monday, October 8, 2001


California, Bay Area vulnerable targets; officials appeal for calm State buckles down, prepares for potential retaliatory strikes

By Thomas Peele and Corey Lyons CONTRA COSTA TIMESS


America's new enemies will strike back in this country for the military action that began Sunday in Afghanistan, terrorism experts say, with California and the Bay Area as vulnerable as anywhere else in the United States.

Within hours of Sunday's attacks, the FBI ordered all police departments across the nation to the highest possible alert levels. The California Highway Patrol ordered all officers to work 12-hour shifts.

The military ordered jets to patrol airspace near Sunday's sporting events. Some national tourist attractions closed. In Los Angeles, the Emmy Awards were canceled.

Nationally, officials called for calm and stressed that no specific threats existed.

Experts said they think that Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda network still has anywhere between 300 to 1,000 "sleepers" in the United States who could strike at landmarks, large gatherings of people and infrastructure such as bridges, electrical grids and dams.

U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said Friday that active terrorist cells operate in the Bay Area. She did not offer specific information. Gov. Gray Davis reiterated those remarks Saturday after speaking with Feinstein.

Sunday, Davis said, "We have gotten the very best intelligence we can from the FBI with which we're in touch ... several times a day."

He said no specific Bay Area threats existed Sunday. Security increased at Bay Area bridges, but only because they remain obvious targets, Davis administration officials said.

Davis said California has taken "every precaution" for possible strikes, but said he couldn't discuss specifics.

Feinstein could not be reached for comment Sunday and her spokesman, Howard Gantman, would not directly address her previous statements. Patti Hansen, an FBI spokeswoman in San Francisco, downplayed but did not deny Feinstein's comments and said the information did not come from the local FBI office. "It's just kind of fanning the flames, saying things like that," she said. "It was kind of surprising to see her say that."

The state Highway Patrol on Sunday pulled every officer on to overlapping 12-hour shifts, nearly doubling the manpower on state roadways. It deployed its nine emergency operations centers and launched its fleet of 14 planes and nine helicopters to monitor aqueducts and other possible targets, said Tom Marshall, a CHP spokesman.

U.S. Rep. George Miller, D-Martinez, said Sunday, "We've been warned we should expect some form of retaliation here in the United States and elsewhere around the world. It may well be that members of the terrorist organization are here. Americans have to be alert and pay attention."

"There will be counterattacks on American soil," said Gary Perlstein, a terrorism expert and criminal justice professor at Portland State University in Oregon. "I think we have joined London and Tel Aviv and Belfast. We need to expect" retaliation, he said.

Perlstein said he expected members of al-Qaeda to attack a sporting event or concert -- some large gathering of people -- perhaps in a smaller city, using explosives.

Edward Haley, a terrorism expert at Claremont McKenna College near Los Angeles, said "I think (retaliatory strikes) are very real. Once a terrorist cycle begins it's not a one-shot thing." The bin Laden al-Qaeda network, he said, has agents in the United States that the intelligence and security communities likely don't know about. "I'd be very surprised if we uncovered all the sleepers," he said.

Haley compared the situation to the long conflict between the British and the Irish Republican Army. The IRA, he said, could terrorize its enemy with bombs nearly at will despite strong British anti-terrorism efforts. "The IRA could set off a bomb in London any time it wanted to for 30 years,'' he said.

"There's no great intelligence or crystal ball," said Mike Guerin, chief of law enforcement for the state Office of Emergency Services, when asked whether an attack on the West Coast was likely. "Millions, or perhaps billions, of people find California one of the most desirable places in the United States, and that could work for or against you. You can only prepare by believing that an attack is a real possibility, and hoping that it's not."

"These guys think out of the box, and so we need to think even more out of the box if we're going to meet them on our land," said James Shebl, spokesman for the Federal Emergency Management Agency in San Francisco. "When you have a suicide bomber or a suicide gunner, that's a whole different kind of weapon."

The water supply in California and the rest of the West also remains a source of concern. Since Sept. 11, officials closed tours at federal dams and some roads that traverse dams. They also increased police patrols at reservoirs, tightened security at water treatment plants and increased water quality monitoring.

Across the Bay Area, security remains tight, from BART trains to highways.

"We view ourselves as one of many areas that could be targeted," said BART police Cmdr. Clark Lynch. "But we've had no credible threats from anyone targeting subway systems." BART police perform random sweeps of trains.

On the highways, CHP officers scrutinize trucks with placards for hazardous waste materials and closely watch any vans near bridges or state monuments, said CHP spokesman Peter Barra. "We're not just looking at vehicles transporting hazardous materials, but any van that could carry these materials. Most likely, a van with explosives inside will not have a placard on it."

In California, truckers haul about 500,000 shipments of hazardous waste across busy freeways and highways every year.

Ron Baker, spokesman for the state Department of Toxic Substances Control, said it closely inspects shipment manifests. "We're comparing manifest data from when the pick-up was made against its final destination," Baker said.

Officials also remain concerned about possible attacks from the air. The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection increased security on its 23 air tankers because, if they're stolen, terrorists could use them to disperse chemical or biological agents.

"It can be used in much the same way as a crop-duster. It has a similar tank near its belly," said Karen Terrill, spokeswoman for the CDF.

On Sept. 11, the Federal Aviation Administration grounded all crop-dusters for fear that they could be used to spray chemical agents. Several suspected terrorists expressed interest in crop-dusters shortly before the Sept. 11 attacks.

Staff writers Mike Taugher, John Simerman, Daniel Borenstein and Andrew LaMar contributed to this story.

-- Martin Thompson (, October 08, 2001


If the terrorists were nearly as capable of wide-spread devastation as we believe, they would have already planted bombs in tunnels, pipelines, on bridges, in stadiums, etc., that could be electronically activated at any time. They would have done all of this before Sept. 11 while America was still asleep. If we don't see a lot of the these explosions within the first week to ten days after an attack on Afghanistan, in direct retaliation, I don't think we will see a lot. Period.

-- Wayward (, October 08, 2001.

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