Jennifer Kerr – Associated Press August 1, 2004
WASHINGTON - The federal government warned Sunday of possible terrorist attacks against "iconic" financial institutions in New York City, Washington and Newark, N.J., saying a confluence of intelligence over the weekend pointed to a car or truck bomb.
Specifically, the government named these buildings as potential targets:
_The Citicorp building and the New York Stock Exchange in New York City.
_The International Monetary Fund and the World Bank buildings in Washington.
_The Prudential building in Newark.
"The preferred means of attack would be car or truck bombs," Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge said in a briefing with journalists. That would be a primary means of attack."
The government said the new intelligence indicated the meticulous planning of al-Qaida. He identified explosives as the likely mode of attack, as opposed to a chemical or biological attack or a radiological "dirty" bomb.
Ridge said the government's threat level for financial institutions would be raised to orange, or high alert, but would remain at yellow, or elevated, elsewhere.
Ridge said it would be up to New York City officials to decide whether to move to the highest level, red. The city has remained on orange since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
The threat potential remains through the Nov. 2 elections, Ridge said.
The secretary said the government took the unprecedented step of naming specific buildings because of the level of specificity of the intelligence. "This is not the usual chatter. This is multiple sources that involve extraordinary detail," Ridge said. He said the government decided to notify the public because of the specificity of detail it had obtained.
Ridge acknowledged that protecting these buildings, located in heavily populated areas, would require additional security measures, especially because thousands of cars and trucks travel through these cities daily.
"Car and truck bombs are one of the most difficult tasks we have in the war on terror," Ridge said.
Local and state officials were notified earlier in the day and Ridge said new security procedures were already being implemented.
The government provided a wealth of detail that it had picked up in the past 36 hours, but a senior intelligence official described it only on condition of anonymity. The official described "excruciating detail" and meticulous planning "indicative of al-Qaida."
The official said the intelligence included security in and around these buildings; the flow of pedestrians; the best places for reconnaissance; how to make contact with employees who work in the buildings; the construction of the buildings; traffic patterns; locations of hospitals and police departments; and which days of the week present less security at these buildings.
To illustrate the level of detail obtained, the official cited these examples: midweek pedestrian traffic of 14 people per minute on each side of the street for a total of 28 people; that some explosives might not be hot enough to melt steel; and that the construction of some buildings might prevent them from falling down.
The official said he had not seen such extraordinary detail in his 24 years in intelligence work.
A White House spokeswoman, Erin Healy, said the intelligence on the threat is "very new, coming in during the last 72 hours."
"The president made the final decision today agreeing with the recommendation of Secretary Ridge to go ahead and raise the threat level in these select areas," Healy said.
This was the first time the color-coded warning system had been used in such a narrow, targeted way, Ridge said at a news conference at department headquarters.
"With this kind of information comes action," Ridge said. "This is sobering news."
This step will "bring protective resources to an even higher level" and alert industry employees to be extra vigilant, he said. Actions to tighten security around the five buildings he specifically named are under way, Ridge said.
He said workers at those buildings should get guidance from security officers at each site and remain alert as they go to work.
Last updated 02/08/2004