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RESPONSE TO TERROR

Security Tightened Around Gov. Bush

Threat: Assassination plot against president's brother may be a hoax, but authorities are taking all precautions.

January 12, 2002|JOHN-THOR DAHLBURG | TIMES STAFF WRITER

MIAMI — Because of either an assassination threat or a jailhouse hoax--authorities don't know which yet--security has been reinforced around Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, the president's younger brother, officials said Friday.

"These allegations could, and I emphasize could, turn out to be without merit," James T. Moore, commissioner of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, said from Tallahassee, the state capital. "However, we do not have the luxury of anything other than a complete and thorough investigation of these allegations."

Extra guards were posted Friday at the high-rise Capitol, where beefed-up anti-terrorist measures, including metal detectors at the entrances and concrete street barriers to deter car bombs, have been in effect since Sept. 11.

The FBI, Secret Service and Florida law enforcement agencies have pooled their forces to determine whether the 48-year-old Republican governor is indeed the target of a genuine assassination plot.

At issue is the credibility of a prison informant. Authorities say the inmate sent a letter to Bush late last month, spelling out the threat and naming four Middle Eastern men who he said were involved. The governor was made aware of the letter, and Moore said that he talked with Bush again Thursday night to update him on developments.

According to the Miami Herald, the unidentified informant, who reportedly is behind bars in the Fort Lauderdale area, claimed that the men were planning to drive a truck packed with explosives to Tallahassee and then detonate it close enough to the governor to kill him. Information provided by the prisoner led police Thursday to a van, which drew a reaction from bomb-sniffing dogs.

Moore said two people also were taken into custody on immigration charges in South Florida on Thursday in connection with the investigation.

The informant's story, however, should not be taken at face value, officials cautioned. He has failed numerous polygraph tests, and Moore said it is "a giant leap" to assume there is a terrorist conspiracy against Bush.

Gov. Bush met with President Bush on Wednesday in Washington, D.C., attended fund-raisers in Pennsylvania for his gubernatorial reelection campaign Thursday and was back at work at the Capitol on Friday. Officials in his office said that, whatever the legitimacy of the threat, his calendar was unchanged.

"Obviously, this is disconcerting. But the governor has full faith in our state's law enforcement, and he is going to let them do their job," said Katie Baur, Bush's director of communications, in a statement released overnight.

In an earlier statement, Moore had said that all threats against the governor are taken seriously and that "all necessary precautions" were being taken.

Since the Sept. 11 attacks, access to the Capitol has been restricted, and even members of the Florida Legislature now have to carry security cards to gain entry.

State Sen. Steve Geller said the consensus in Tallahassee seemed to be that the informant had concocted the tale to win favors or a shorter sentence.

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