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U.S. STRIKES BACK | SECURITY

In U.S., Vigilance Is Urged

Readiness: Fearing retaliation after airstrikes in Afghanistan, FBI warns potential targets nationwide.

October 08, 2001|AARON ZITNER and JOSH MEYER and ERIC LICHTBLAU | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

WASHINGTON — Law enforcement officials nationwide were bracing Sunday for what the FBI called the "high possibility" that terrorists will attempt a retaliatory strike against Americans in response to the U.S. bombing campaign in Afghanistan.

In the tense hours after the bombing began, the FBI sent out warnings to police, airports, utilities and thousands of other potentially vulnerable sites, urging authorities to maintain "the highest level of vigilance" and prepare for the threat of further terrorist attacks.

There was no immediate counterpunch from terrorist groups. But signs of unprecedented preparations--and anxiety--were present around the country, even as Osama bin Laden, in a tape-recorded message aired Sunday, warned that Americans "will not live in peace" unless they bow to his demands.

In Washington, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission called in extra personnel to staff an emergency operations center in the event of an attack, and the White House security detail shepherded Vice President Dick Cheney to an undisclosed location as a precaution.

In Los Angeles, federal authorities were particularly vigilant over the major movie studios because of earlier threats of terrorist retaliation. The city immediately activated its underground emergency operations center and police went on tactical alert. To bolster its personnel, the LAPD kept its morning-shift officers on duty throughout the afternoon, though no terrorist-related incidents were reported.

Anaheim police intensified patrols around Disneyland, another potential target. The California Highway Patrol reverted to precautions put in place in September by dispatching helicopters and additional cars to keep watch on the crucial California Aqueduct and elements of the electricity grid, said Commissioner D.O. "Spike" Helmick.

In New York, heightened security probably will include checks of bags and even requirements that workers show photo identification to get into some buildings, Mayor Rudolph Giuliani said.

"What we have to ask of people right now . . . is to have more patience when checkpoints have to be done, more checking of luggage or bags has to be done, or if we get a threat and we have to evacuate a building," Giuliani told Associated Press.

He asked New Yorkers to "just realize that we have to be . . . a lot more careful now than maybe we have in the past, and almost accept it as part of our way of life."

Armed National Guardsmen arrived, as previously scheduled, at John F. Kennedy International and LaGuardia airports to help with security.

At Grand Central Terminal, security had been stepped up after the terrorist attacks, and an adjoining street had been closed to traffic. On Sunday, passengers were reminded to watch their bags and warned that unattended luggage would be searched.

At Pennsylvania Station, more plainclothes officers were on patrol and bomb-sniffing dogs had been deployed.

"I think retaliation's going to happen [in New York], but I don't fear it," said Ron Whillock, who was boarding an Amtrak train to Washington. "I look at it as a random act--much like I would look at an earthquake or a tornado--and I can't do anything to affect that."

Heavy security was in place at virtually every entry gate in and out of the country. Airports, already on heightened alert since the Sept. 11 attacks on New York and the Pentagon, were gearing up for even more stringent levels of security.

Gov. Gray Davis, who appeared Sunday at the final game of the major league baseball season at San Diego's Qualcomm Stadium, said that National Guard troops already are patrolling Los Angeles and San Francisco international airports, and that more will be phased in at about 30 airports statewide by Oct. 19.

"I believe we're going to have a heightened sense of security for quite a while," Davis said.

In the nation's major ports and waterways, the Coast Guard expanded its armed defense base to levels unseen since World War II.

And overseas, the U.S. State Department warned American travelers and residents abroad of the danger of "strong anti-American sentiment and retaliatory actions."

"We have done the equivalent of locking down our assets. Every government agency has been instructed to do so," said a Bush administration official who asked not to be identified.

"All government agencies have put out alerts to their field offices, [saying] that with the onset of military activities we are officially in the window in which the next round of attacks could happen. And now we wait."

Anxiety was particularly high because of uncertainty about where, or how, terrorists might strike. Perhaps never before has any point on American soil been seen as vulnerable to attack without at least some measure of warning.

Indeed, since last month's hijackings, law enforcement agencies around the country have taken a series of extraordinary steps to guard against a variety of possible actions.

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