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U.S. Warns of Cargo-plane Threat

by Leslie Miller, Associated Press
Seattle Times - November 8, 2003

WASHINGTON -- The Homeland Security Department is warning law-enforcement officers al-Qaida might be plotting to fly cargo planes from overseas into such crucial targets in the United States as nuclear plants, bridges or dams, an agency official said last night.

Separately, the U.S. Embassy in Saudi Arabia said that, beginning today, it would close its diplomatic missions in that country for an undetermined period because of credible information terrorists are about to carry out attacks.

The United States also warned that Taliban insurgents might attempt to kidnap American journalists working in Afghanistan.

"The U.S. intelligence community remains concerned about al-Qaida's interest in carrying out attacks on us overseas," said Homeland Security spokesman Brian Roehrkasse.

A Homeland Security official said the information about the cargo planes, first reported yesterday by NBC News, came from a single source overseas.

"It has not yet been corroborated," the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity. "We're in the process of trying to corroborate this information."

"We also remain concerned about threats to the aviation industry and the use of cargo planes to carry out attacks on critical infrastructure," the official said.

The information about possible attacks in the Middle East came from a different source than the information about possible attacks using cargo aircraft, the official said.

Roehrkasse said the color-coded terror alert will remain at yellow, the middle level on the five-color scale indicated an elevated risk of terrorist attack.

He noted that cargo companies already have security measures in place.

Critics have said the Transportation Security Administration, the agency responsible for aviation security, hadn't done enough to make cargo planes safe. Those criticisms intensified when a New York shipping clerk packed himself in a crate and flew undetected to his parents' home in Dallas.

Only a small percentage of cargo is checked before being shipped in cargo or passenger planes. Neither air marshals nor armed pilots are aboard cargo planes, and areas where cargo is handled at airports are not as secure as passenger terminals.

The closure of the U.S. Embassy and two consulates in Saudi Arabia was ordered because of "highly credible and specific information," U.S. officials said, indicating the posts could be closed for a week or longer.

In Riyadh, the U.S. Embassy said it had received intelligence that "terrorists in Saudi Arabia have moved from the planning to operational phase of planned attacks in the kingdom." The potential targets include U.S. and Western facilities, commercial airlines and transportation throughout the Gulf region, a State Department official said. The prime suspects are extremists linked to al-Qaida, U.S. officials added.

The warning in Saudi Arabia was issued after two incidents this week between Saudi security forces and suspected militants.

A senior U.S. intelligence official noted that May attacks on U.S. targets in Riyadh that killed 35 people were preceded by the arrest several days earlier of terrorist cells. The arrests "may have sped up the attacks" by cells fearing discovery, the official said.

In the Afghan capital, Kabul, the U.S. Embassy warned journalists that Taliban rebels are now "actively searching" for U.S. journalists to take hostage "to use as leverage for the release of Taliban currently under United States control." The diplomatic mission urged journalists to "increase their security posture."

Sept. 11 panel to issue new subpoena to Bush administration for documents

WASHINGTON An independent commission investigating the Sept. 11 attacks announced yesterday that it will issue a second subpoena for documents from the Bush administration, but the legal demand does not include classified intelligence briefings that have been the focus of an ongoing dispute with the White House.

The new subpoena, for Pentagon records about U.S. air defenses on the day of the attacks, follows a demand last month for similar material from the Federal Aviation Administration. The commission said in a statement that it "has encountered some serious delays in obtaining needed documents from the Department of Defense" and that "records of importance to our investigation had not been produced."

The Pentagon said Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld "has directed that the department be responsive to help ensure the commission can meet its deadlines."

During a closed meeting Thursday night, the commission rejected a proposal by former Rep. Timothy Roemer, D-Ind., to immediately subpoena the CIA for access to the briefings, several members said. They also said the panel rejected an offer from the White House that would have restricted access to the briefings to a small group.


Leslie Miller, Associated Press
U.S. Warns of Cargo-plane Threat
Seattle Times Company, November 8, 2003

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