10 September 2002
U.S. Upgrades Terrorist Threat Condition to Second Highest Level
(Intelligence sources point to potential terrorist strikes abroad)
By Merle D. Kellerhals, Jr.
Washington File Staff Writer
Washington -- The United States has upgraded its terrorist threat
alert to the second highest level -- code orange -- indicating a "high
risk" based on specific intelligence reports and analysis that point
to potential terrorist attacks at U.S. facilities and interests
worldwide, Attorney General John Ashcroft says.
The increased terrorist threat alert was announced September 10 at a
Justice Department briefing by Ashcroft, Homeland Security Director
Tom Ridge and FBI Director Robert Mueller.
"The U.S. intelligence community has received information, based on
debriefings of a senior al Qaeda operative, of possible terrorist
attacks timed to coincide with the anniversary of the September 11th
attacks on the United States," Ashcroft said. "Information indicates
that al Qaeda cells have been established in several South Asian
countries in order to conduct car-bomb and other attacks on U.S.
facilities. These cells have been accumulating explosives since
approximately January of 2002, this year, in preparation for these
Code Orange is the second-highest of five levels of threat security
and requires the U.S. government to take extra precautions at public
events and to coordinate efforts with law enforcement agencies and the
U.S. armed forces. It is one step below "severe risk" of terrorist
attack. Access to various government installations is restricted to
only "essential personnel."
Additionally, Ashcroft said intelligence reports indicate that one or
more individuals in the Middle East are preparing for a suicide attack
or attacks against U.S. interests. He said that the reports indicate
the most likely targets of the al Qaeda attacks would be in the
transportation and energy sectors, and at facilities or gatherings
worldwide that are symbols of American power or security.
President Bush, during a visit to the Afghanistan embassy in
Washington September 10, said, "the threats that we have heard
recently remind us of the pattern of threats we heard prior to
September the 11th (last year). We have no specific threat to America.
But, we're taking everything seriously."
Vice President Dick Cheney left the White House for a secure,
undisclosed location, and cancelled a September 10 evening speaking
engagement, the White House announced.
"This heightened threat level has been or is being communicated to
local and state law enforcement, federal agencies, members of
Congress, governors, state homeland security advisors, and
representatives of the private sector," said Homeland Security
Director Tom Ridge. "The nation's homeland security advisory system
provides a national framework to inform and facilitate decisions
appropriate to different levels of government and to private citizens
either at the workplace or at home.
"The system couples the threat level with protective measures that
will be taken to reduce our country's vulnerabilities."
Ashcroft said that low-level al Qaeda operatives may view the
September 11th anniversary as a suitable time to lash out in even
small strikes to demonstrate their worldwide presence, suggesting that
unsophisticated strikes are possible.
"The specificity of some of the information and analysis has
contributed to the decision to close four U.S. embassies in Southeast
Asia and to elevate our security at all overseas diplomatic and
military facilities," he said.
The State Department issued a notice of "worldwide caution" to
Americans abroad, citing potential terrorist threats, which will
remain in effect until October 31, department spokesman Richard
The U.S. government closed nine embassies and one consulate September
10 on the eve of the one-year anniversary of the September 11th
attacks, according to the State Department. Those facilities are in
Indonesia, Bahrain, Vietnam, Pakistan, Malaysia, Cambodia, Malawi,
Tajikistan and the United Arab Emirates.
Embassies in six countries -- Cote d'Ivoire, Cape Verde, Oman, South
Africa, Mozambique and Brunei -- were to close September 11 for
commemorations, according to the State Department. Embassies in
Ethiopia, Eritrea, Micronesia and Mauritius were to close September 10
for local holidays.
The Defense Department set its official threat condition at "Threat
Condition Charlie," the second-highest level on a four-tier scale.
However, the U.S. Fifth Fleet in Bahrain, with some 4,000 military
personnel, was put on the highest alert -- "Threat Condition Delta"
September 10, the Pentagon said.
(The Washington File is a product of the Office of International
Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site:
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