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US sees terror threats, aims to boost security
Updated: 2004-04-20 09:33

The U.S. government believes it is vulnerable to a terror attack during this year's presidential election, party conventions and national holidays, and has launched a plan to beef up security, Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge said.

While there is no intelligence of specific threats, the number of high-profile political events this year are considered potential targets of a terrorist attack, and in a speech in Las Vegas on Monday Ridge vowed to increase vigilance and improve security.

"We soon enter a season that is rich with symbolic opportunities for the terrorists to try to shake our will," said Ridge, whose department is charged with trying to prevent another day like Sept. 11, 2001, when hijacked airline attacks left about 3,000 people dead.

Events viewed by the government as potential targets include national holidays like Memorial Day and Fourth of July, the G-8 summit in June, the Republican and Democratic party conventions this summer and the November presidential election.

"We know we're the number one target; we know we've got quite a few high-visibility, high-profile events which are potentially targets of opportunity for terrorists," Ridge said in a joint interview on Sunday with Reuters and the Associated Press.

"These targets of opportunity for the terrorists are opportunities that can't be missed to tighten our security," he said on Monday in remarks prepared for his Las Vegas speech.

Ridge's vow to tighten security comes after a panel investigating the Sept. 11 attacks sharply criticized the Bush administration for failing to take terrorism seriously enough in the months before the hijacked airline attacks.

Other U.S. officials have also said the United States was vulnerable to attack. National security adviser Condoleezza Rice warned on Sunday that terrorists might try to take advantage of the November election.

"I think we also have to take seriously that they might try during the cycle leading up to the election to do something," Rice said. "In some ways, it seems like it would be too good to pass up for them, and so we are actively ... trying to make certain that we are responding appropriately."

Ridge said Homeland Security will work with seven other cabinet agencies to set-up an inter-agency plan to enhance security on potential targets and infrastructure.

"Special attention will be given to areas of concern such as rail and security, hazardous materials shipments, chemical facilities and protection of the electrical grid," he said.


Other departments working on the plan include the Department of Agriculture, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Defense Department, the Department of Energy, the Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of Transportation and the Department of the Interior.

Ridge said the group would work with states and the private sector to keep public and private infrastructure secure.

"For example, we have targeted over 300 chemical sites," Ridge said.

"We will get (identification) of the sites to governors and to the companies, and have first responders go to the companies to make sure they put in these basic levels of protection."

Ridge said there were no plans to raise the nation's terror alert level from its current level of "yellow" or "elevated."

"There is no specific threat information, but we don't need to raise the level of threat to raise the level of security," Ridge said.

"The message is that Homeland Security doesn't wait to raise the threat level in order to make us safer and more secure. Our business is to make us safer and more secure every day. We are going to be using the inter-agency working group to promote that," he said.

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