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PHONE TAPS SPARKED NEW ALERT
By NILES LATHEM and BRIAN BLOMQUIST
October 31, 2001 --
The latest nationwide terror alert was prompted by phone calls intercepted in Afghanistan in which suspected al Qaeda members conversed in code about a "big event," sources told The Post.
The U.S. military intercepted a "handful" of satellite calls as late as last weekend, and the callers all used the same coded phrases, according to sources in the Bush administration.
There were also intercepted e-mails among suspected al Qaeda operatives in Canada making similar comments, the sources said.
Some intelligence suggested a lieutenant of Osama bin Laden has urged new attacks on Americans, and authorities suspect the terrorists are pre-programmed to strike, officials told The Associated Press.
The FBI alert did not specify potential targets, and White House Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge didn't elaborate.
"We believe the United States could very well be targeted this week," he said. "You can fairly assume that experts view this [as] . . . somehow related to al Qaeda or bin Laden, or else we wouldn't have ramped it up."
As a result, Vice President Dick Cheney was taken to an undisclosed secure location to preserve presidential succession.
Mayor Giuliani said the city is "already on the highest alert that it can be on," but beginning tomorrow, nearly 500 armed National Guard troops will watch city bridges, train stations and other sites.
-- PHO (firstname.lastname@example.org), October 31, 2001
New Terror Warning
‘Overwhelming’ Evidence of Threat
W A S H I N G T O N, Oct. 31 —
A flurry of intelligence intercepts of suspected terrorist communications have prompted top law enforcement officials to warn the nation to prepare for a new terrorist attack this week. "The administration has concluded, based on information developed, that there may be additional terrorist attacks within the United States and against United States interests over the next week," Attorney General John Ashcroft said Monday. "The administration views this information as credible, but unfortunately it does not contain specific information as to the type of attack or specific targets." More than 18,000 law enforcement agencies around the nation were sent a "terrorist threat advisory update" cautioning them to "continue on highest alert and to notify immediately the FBI of any unusual or suspicious activity." Agencies responsible for borders and nuclear power plants, along with virtually every other arm of the federal government, were ordered to take additional security measures.
The FAA issued a notice on Tuesday barring planes from flying within a 10-mile radius of all nuclear power plants.
Warning Based on New Information
Sources tell ABCNEWS the warning is based on calls made by suspected terrorist groups, including some that emanated from Afghanistan, that were intercepted by U.S. intelligence over the weekend. The calls referred to a "big event" that is coming up, using a codeword to describe the event consistently in a series of calls.
ABCNEWS counterterrorism consultant Vince Cannistraro reports evidence that such an attack is being set up is "overwhelming." But officials do not discount the possibility that electronic transmissions they are monitoring might be a form of deception.
Intelligence officials say their key concern is the next 48 hours.
"We are not recycling old stuff," a senior Bush administration official told ABCNEWS. "It is information that has been received in the last 24 and the last 48 hours. It is not just one piece of information but several pieces of information."
That official said that while the intelligence indicates a threat within a certain timeframe, they are not ruling out anything beyond that.
"The threats are credible enough that we believe that if an attack does not happen in the given time frame, then it is probably because of the enhanced law enforcement, not because an attack was not attempted or planned," the official said. "We find this threat information to be very real and very credible."
Hoping to Make the Nation Vigilant
White House officials said President Bush gave the green light for the new warning after being informed of the threat Monday morning at a briefing with Ashcroft, FBI Director Robert Mueller, Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge and CIA Director George Tenet. Monday afternoon, Ridge convened a conference call with about 40 of the nation's governors to inform them of the alert.
Ashcroft said he hoped the alerts would serve to make Americans more vigilant and help prevent terrorist attacks, rather than just panicking the public.
"If people take these warnings seriously, they go about their lives, but they participate with patience in the additional steps that are taken by law enforcement authorities," Ashcroft said. "They are very likely participating in the prevention of terrorism and in the disruption of terrorism."
Asked whether the new warning will just scare people more than empower them, a senior White House official said, "We think the American people get it. We think they'll know what to do with it."
In light of the new warnings, Ashcroft has canceled a trip to Toronto, where he was scheduled to deliver a speech Tuesday to an international conference of police chiefs.
The last time the FBI issued such a warning was exactly one month after the Sept. 11 attacks.
"Certain information, while not specific as to target, gives the government reason to believe that there may be additional terrorist attacks within the United States and against U.S. interests overseas over the next several days," the FBI said in that caution.
Nothing happened and Mueller said it's unclear whether the earlier warning warded off would-be terrorists.
"It is very difficult to tell, but it may have well have helped to avert such an attack," Mueller said.
Bush: Country Must Stay on Alert
Asked by reporters whether he believed "Osama bin Laden is planning a second wave of attacks" or "all the resources now dedicated to the anthrax situation reduce the country's level of preparedness," Bush told reporters the public needs to remain vigilant.
"We believe that the country must stay on the alert that our enemies still hate us," Bush said.
Bush made the remarks at a meeting of his new Homeland Security Council at the White House, where he announced a new crackdown to secure the nation's borders. Bush announced the group will form a task force to track potential terrorists, making sure foreigners who come to America actually carry out their stated purpose for being in the United States.
The group, to be chaired by Ashcroft, is expected to conduct a thorough review of student visa policies.
"If a person applies for a student visa and gets that visa, we want to make sure that person actually goes to school," Bush said.
Hani Hanjour, who is believed to have piloted the plane that slammed into the Pentagon, paid $110 in Saudi Arabia for a visa to attend a four-week language course in California. He entered the country legally — but never showed up at school.
The Justice Department announced Tuesday that the number of total arrests and detentions related to the attacks has now reached 1,017, of whom the vast majority are still being held. The Immigration and Naturalization Service is holding 179 on immigration violations.
White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said "more than 150 countries are cooperating in the financial war against terrorism. More than 80 blocking orders have been issued by various nations; $24 million has been blocked."
The number of total arrests and detentions since September 11 has now reached 1,017.
Bush Attends World Series
Game Three of the World Series in New York Tuesday night was billed as one of the most heavily guarded sports events ever — and that was before the White House announced the president and first lady Laura Bush would attend the game.
The Secret Service joined more than 1,200 police officers in guarding the Yankees game against the Arizona Diamondbacks. F-16 fighter jets flew over the stadium at the start of the game and patrolled the skies, which were off-limits to blimps and any other type of aircraft.
Fans had to run a security gauntlet, including metal detectors, before getting into Yankee Stadium.
But inside, the game went off without a hitch. President Bush threw a perfect strike from the rubber on the pitcher's mound at the start of the game as the Yankee Stadium crowd — traditionally hostile to all politicians until Sept. 11 — cheered ecstatically.
Most guests for the ceremonial first pitch toss the ball from the grass in front of the mound.
And over the famed Yankee Stadium facade, a tattered flag recovered from the ruins of the World Trade Center flew in the late October breeze.
The president left during the third inning. Ridge said that by attending, Bush was trying to set an example that the nation should follow.
"People have asked, what should we do? And I said, go to work, take your child to school. If you've got a softball game or a soccer game this afternoon, go to the game, the president's going to the baseball game tonight," Ridge said. "America has to continue to be America."
With the president at the game, however, Vice President Dick Cheney again spent the night in a secure location — not at his home.
-- PHO (email@example.com), October 31, 2001.