Ridge: U.S. Ought to 'Go to Work' Despite Security Fears
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Americans must accept their nation is a target and get on with business as usual, U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge said Monday after raising the threat levels in Washington and New York to high.
"The reality of living in America after September 11 is that we have to accept the fact that from time to time that we're going to get information about attacks," he told ABC's "Good Morning America" show.
The United States issued a "high" level threat alert for financial institutions in Washington and the New York area on Sunday after receiving detailed intelligence about a possible al Qaeda attack.
The specific targets were the International Monetary Fund (news - web sites) and the World Bank (news - web sites) in Washington, the New York Stock Exchange (news - web sites) and Citigroup Inc. in New York and the Prudential Financial building in Newark, New Jersey.
The "high," or code-orange, threat level is the second highest in the government's five-stage terrorism alert system. It represents a "high risk of terrorist attacks."
"We have to go on being America. Go to work. There will be additional security measures taken to protect you ... let's go back to work," Ridge said.
It was the first U.S. terror alert to focus on a specific sector of the economy and the dollar slipped and stocks retreated as investors sought the haven of government bonds. Security fears also helped push oil to a fresh record high.
The "high," or code-orange, threat level is the second highest in the government's five-stage terrorism alert system.
It represents a "high risk of terrorist attacks." and was last invoked on Dec. 21 but then lowered back to yellow, or 'elevated', on Jan. 9.
Sunday's warning was based on the discovery of materials analyzing how to attack some of the most powerful symbols of western capitalism.
"The quality of the intelligence ... is rarely seen and it is alarming in both the amount and specificity of the information," Ridge said on Sunday.
Dealers said U.S. oil prices struck a new 21-year peak, climbing close to $44 a barrel on Monday. Most Asian stock markets fell, with Japan's Nikkei stock average down 0.9 percent by mid afternoon to 11,222.24.
Both the IMF (news - web sites) and World Bank are located within a few minutes' walk of the White House. Washington Police Chief Charles Ramsey said his department had beefed up coverage of the institutions as well as the Federal Reserve (news - web sites) and Bureau of Engraving.
ATTACKS USING TRUCKS
New York authorities said they were studying indications of possible bombing attacks using trucks, in an echo of the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center, which killed six people.
New York is already on a heightened state of alert, because the Republican convention to launch Bush's reelection bid will take place in the city at the end of August.
U.S. officials have previously warned of possible attacks before the U.S. presidential election in November.
Security policy has been a major issue in the campaign and some Democrats were quick to wonder if politics was purposefully getting mixed up with national security.
"I am concerned that every time something happens that's not good for President Bush (news - web sites) he plays his trump card which is terrorism," said Howard Dean (news - web sites), a former Democratic contender for the White House.
"It is just impossible to know how much of this is real and how much of this is politics," the former governor of Vermont told CNN on Sunday.
Ridge dismissed this claim out of hand: "If you were sitting in my shoes and had the analysis, the information and seen the thoroughness, the complexity, the sophistication, the detailed information they had accumulated, he would not have made that comment. Period," he told ABC.
A U.S. official told Reuters the intelligence had been collected in the past 24 to 36 hours.
The official said the material added up to a vulnerability assessment of the targets. It got down to details such as the glass thickness of the buildings, when and how many security staff were on duty and the location of elevators and parking.
Ridge declined to say where the information came from.
Citing U.S. intelligence officials, The Washington Post reported in Monday editions that the information came from documents discovered after a raid on an al Qaeda cell in Pakistan eight days ago. The newspaper said one of the men arrested in the raid led authorities to the documents.
On Friday, Pakistan announced the capture of a top al Qaeda operative, Tanzanian-born Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, wanted by the United States in the 1998 bombings of two U.S. embassies in East Africa, which killed 224 people.
A computer and several disks were seized when Ghailani and 13 others were seized last weekend southeast of Islamabad.
Ridge said it was up to the firms and institutions involved to decide whether to tell their people to stay away from work.
"We have to go on being America. Go to work. There will be additional security measures taken to protect you...let's go back to work," Ridge told ABC.