Authorities in New York and New Jersey increased security after reports of a credible, uncorroborated threat that terrorists may be plotting an attack in the city around the Sept. 11 anniversary.
Police cruisers took up positions on midtown blocks on Lexington, Park and Fifth avenues in Manhattan yesterday as officers stopped trucks and other vehicles for inspection. Police today were stopping trucks on Broadway near Fulton Street in lower Manhattan, a few blocks from Ground Zero.
“We have already had a full complement of people working shifts because of the Sept. 11 anniversary prior to this,” Jim Margolin, a spokesman for the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s New York office, said yesterday. “We are taking the logical investigative measures to assess this threat.”
New York police officers will extend their shifts by four hours at least through Sept. 12, said New York Police Commissioner Ray Kelly. Officers will increase vehicle checks and monitoring of bridges and tunnels, Kelly said. Police will also perform more baggage screenings in subways, patrol outside places of worship and government buildings and conduct bomb sweeps of public garages.
“We will deploy quick-reaction teams consisting of heavily armored officers,” Kelly said.
City landmarks, including Grand Central Terminal and Pennsylvania Station, will have heightened security tomorrow, as will major events including the U.S. Open tennis tournament in Queens.
A heavily guarded “frozen zone” for vehicles is being created from West Street to Broadway and Murray to Albany streets in Lower Manhattan. Several streets in the area will be closed during the weekend.
To assist the police, the FBI will mobilize specialized teams, including special agents, bomb technicians and SWAT and hazardous-materials crews.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said yesterday that he has deployed additional state police and National Guard troops throughout the New York City area this weekend, to supplement law enforcement patrols already assigned to regional airports, bus terminals and subway and train stations.
On Sept. 11, 2001, terrorists associated with al-Qaeda hijacked four airliners. Two were flown into the twin World Trade Center towers in New York, destroying them; a third hit the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia; and one crashed in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, after passengers attacked the hijackers. Close to 3,000 people were killed.
New York police have stopped at least 13 terrorist attacks since then, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said. While the killing of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden has helped reduce the threat, the mayor said, “The one thing we know is the terrorists have not gone away.”
The latest threat concerns a possible al Qaeda-sponsored attack targeting New York or Washington on or near the anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, attack, said a U.S. official, who wasn’t authorized to discuss the matter publicly. The official said the intelligence concerns a possible vehicle-borne attack, perhaps on a transportation hub or bottleneck, and cautioned that the options may be broader than a car or truck bombing.
U.S. authorities are “doing everything” possible to confirm the threat, House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Peter King said.
“There are literally hundreds if not thousands of names being scrubbed” in a database of suspected terrorists, King, a New York Republican, said in an interview yesterday. Investigators are “going to suppliers and store owners, anyone who’s had a car stolen, anyone who’s leased certain types of trucks, anyone who sold explosives,” he said.
The lawmaker praised the administration of U.S. President Barack Obama for its coordination of the investigation.
“This is light years different from pre-Sept. 11, when this information may have sat there,” King said.
A U.S. official in Washington said the credible intelligence revolved around a plot possibly hatched by al-Qaeda in Pakistan involving three individuals, including possibly one American. Another U.S. official cautioned that information wasn’t yet confirmed. The officials weren’t authorized to publicly discuss the intelligence.
A U.S. intelligence alert that federal officials sent to local law enforcement said operatives in the suspected plot may be carrying American documents, according to two people familiar with the alert who weren’t authorized to speak publicly.
U.S. intelligence officials learned of the possible threat in intercepted communications among suspected al-Qaeda operatives in the tribal areas of western Pakistan, three U.S. intelligence officials said.
However, they said, the “chatter,” as they described the intercepted conversations, didn’t name the alleged attackers and included only vague descriptions of vehicle-borne attacks on the two most likely targets on a day of obvious significance and media attention.
The intelligence community works with law enforcement to confirm tips. Some information is vetted by the 106 FBI-led Joint Terrorism Task Forces, said Juliette Kayyem, a former assistant secretary at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security who oversaw coordination between the department and state and local law enforcement.
Tips also can be analyzed at so-called fusion centers of analysts and law enforcement, run by state and local governments, Kayyem said.
By publicizing the threat, the DHS has added millions of potential tipsters who can help confirm the information, she said.
“There is a sense of empowerment that the public is being used,” said Kayyem, a lecturer in public policy at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Three weeks ago, 100 New Jersey state police detectives began contacting 2,500 businesses that may be used by terrorists, including fertilizer suppliers, truck rental agencies and hotels in a so-called trip-wire operation designed to produce leads, New Jersey State Police Superintendent Rick Fuentes told reporters in Ewing, New Jersey, yesterday.
‘People You Need’
“Those are the people you need to connect to; the people who are going to give you the initial leads that are going to get you to the bottom of terror operations,” Fuentes said.
In New York City, evidence of increased security was seen in several locations. At the subway station in the Port Authority bus terminal at 42nd Street in Manhattan, two police officers stood guard at the turnstiles yesterday while two others patrolled the platform.
Officers in a group of four stood on the subway platform at Broadway and Murray streets in lower Manhattan, giving directions to tourists making their way to and from the site of the 2001 attacks, four blocks south.
In Pennsylvania Station at 2 a.m., police with bomb sniffing dogs patrolled the Long Island Railroad corridor as late night revelers headed for trains home.
In Brooklyn, U.S. marshals armed with machine guns guarded the federal courthouse today and increased security was observed in front of the nearby city emergency management office.
“We have threats all the time,” Bloomberg said yesterday during his weekly appearance on WOR radio. “Each time we increase our security, which obviously we had done for this. Are we increasing a little more? Yes, we’re increasing a little more but there’s a limit to how much you can have, just because you can’t have a cop on every corner. But remember, a lot of the precautions we take, you don’t see.”
Obama, who is scheduled to attend ceremonies at Ground Zero tomorrow with former President George W. Bush, was briefed on the threat yesterday by National Security Adviser Tom Donilon, White House counterterrorism adviser John Brennan, and Deputy National Security Adviser Denis McDonough before leaving for a speech in Richmond, Virginia, White House press secretary Jay Carney said.
“As we head into the 9/11 anniversary weekend, we continue to urge the American public to be vigilant and report any suspicious activity to law enforcement authorities,” Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano said in a statement. “We take all threat reporting, including the recent specific, credible but unconfirmed threat information, seriously.”
The mayor is the founder and majority owner of Bloomberg News parent Bloomberg LP.