Another terrorist attack on the United States or on U.S. interests
abroad could come within the next week, the government warned yesterday.
But no one was able to say when, where or how it might be carried out.
"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 at a Washington news conference.
"The administration views this information as credible, but unfortunately
it does not contain specific information as to the type of attack or specific
Another official told the New York Times last night that the warning was
the product of both human and other types of intelligence about conversations
that used language similar to what had been heard in intelligence intercepts
before Sept. 11. There had been an increase, the official said, in the number
of these references and the violence of the language used.
The alert is the second issued by the administration this month. On Oct. 11,
the FBI released a statement that the agency had received "certain
information" indicating a terrorist attack could occur "over the next several
Not long after that alert, anthrax-laden letters were received by
congressional offices and news organizations. FBI Director Robert Mueller,
appearing at the same news conference with Ashcroft, said there was no
evidence linking the threats to the anthrax attacks.
Ashcroft said yesterday's warning was relayed nationwide to 18,000 law
enforcement agencies, many already on the highest state of alert.
NOTE DIVERTS PLANE
The heightened state of awareness was underscored yesterday when an
American Airlines flight en route from New York to Dallas was diverted to
Dulles Airport in Washington, D.C., after someone discovered what was thought
to be a threatening note. The plane landed safely, and passengers evacuated by
sliding down emergency chutes. Three people received minor injuries.
A government official, speaking to the Associated Press on condition of
anonymity, characterized the note as a bomb threat. But bomb-sniffing dogs
found no sign of a bomb aboard the plane.
Airport spokeswoman Tara Hamilton said the reaction was warranted
considering "the international situation."
That state of awareness affected the Bay Area, too, as U.S. Park Police
closed off a section of the Presidio yesterday afternoon. Officers found two
large trailers parked under the southbound Highway 101 access ramp and got
some "suspicious information" from the vehicles' leasing company, the park
Officers set up a perimeter and brought in the San Francisco police bomb
squad, which determined that there was no hazardous material in the trailers.
Meanwhile, local and state agencies said that they had received the warning
from the Justice Department but that there was little more they could do.
"We're still at the highest state of security following the Sept. 11
attacks," said Mike McCarron, spokesman for San Francisco International
Airport. "We're just keeping our eyes open for any kind of threat."
Oakland and San Francisco police departments said they felt prepared to
handle any kind of emergency but were going over contingency and response
Bob Cassel, spokesman for the State Office of Emergency Services, said the
warning was too vague to implement any specific action. As a result, he said,
the OES is simply reiterating to its employees and other state workers that
they should remain on alert.
Some critics complained that last month's alert was overly vague and simply
alarmed the public without giving any specific information that could help
them avoid being targets of an attack.
Just last week, mayors attending the U.S. Conference of Mayors' emergency
summit on terrorism asked Mueller to give them more information before issuing
warnings like the Oct. 11 alert, which forced them to spend extra money on
NO CAUSE FOR PANIC
But Ashcroft insisted that the American public is mature enough to
understand the warning without panicking.
President Bush urged people not to let the threats unnerve them.
"The American people must go about their lives," Bush said. "And I
recognize it's a fine balance. But the American people also understand that
the object of any terrorist activity is to cause Americans to abandon their
Counterterrorism expert Daniel Benjamin, a National Security Council aide
in the Clinton administration, told the Los Angeles Times that authorities run
the risk of having the public ignore their warnings if they put out too many
"That's a real danger, but at the same time if you've got a credible source,
you have to go with it," he said. "It would be politically disastrous if
something happened and it was shown afterwards that they had foreknowledge."
The FBI also alerted a number of federal agencies, including the
Immigration and Naturalization Service, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the
Environmental Protection Agency, the Federal Aviation Administration, the
Department of Transportation and the Department of Energy.
In New York, police officials said they will employ heavy security at
Yankee Stadium for tonight's World Series game.
In the West Hollywood area of Los Angeles, where as many as 250,000 people
were expected for Halloween celebrations tomorrow night, police plan to have
officers patrolling by foot, car and horseback -- security measures already
planned before yesterday's advisory.
San Francisco Chronicle staff writers Stacy Finz, Henry K. Lee, Matthew B. Stannard and Jaxon Van Derbeken, as well as Chronicle news services, contributed to this report.