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Alert Level Raised to Orange

Aired September 10, 2002 - 12:01   ET


KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: We begin with what the White House calls a "higher sense of guard" as September 11, 2002, approaches. In the words of the president's spokesperson, "anniversaries can be occasions for terrorists to attack again." And just moments ago, we learned the government's terror alert code was stepped up from yellow to orange. But anniversary or no anniversary, this nation any the less vulnerable today than on September 11, 2001?
CNN's Jeanne Meserve joins us from Washington with more answers on that question -- Jeanne.

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Kyra, John King reporting from the White House that the formal announcement will come at 1:00 this afternoon from attorney general John Ashcroft, and Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge. They will announce that the level of threat has increased from yellow, where it has been since March, to orange, which is the high level. We do not know why, at this point, they are choosing to take this step. We have been told as recently by yesterday by law enforcement officials throughout the federal government, that there were no specific and credible threats relating to the anniversary of the attacks on 9/11.

However, in just the last 24 hours, last 12 hours really, we have heard of a number of actions, all of them overseas. For one thing, the U.S. decided to close two of its embassies one in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, the other in Jakarta. The State Department issued a worldwide caution to Americans travelling, urging Americans to be vigilant. Also, the U.S. Navy in Bahrain issued a warning to all shipping in the Middle East and Persian Gulf to step up security measures.

All of the things have transpired recently, we don't know yet if this indicates that this decision to raise the threat level warning may center on some threat that is perceived overseas. What does all this mean? The high condition, according to the official documents from the White House indicates that there is a high probability of terrorist attacks. It means that the federal government will begin coordinating necessary security arrangements with federal, state, and local enforcement agencies, that additional precautions will be taken at public events, and that they will prepare to execute contingency procedures, such as moving to a secure site or dispersing the work force. Those are some of the things that apparently will be under consideration today, as the nation moves from the very first time from that yellow threat warning level up to orange -- Kyra.

PHILLIPS: Jeanne, are you able to talk a little bit more about what this means for you or me, or anybody at home watching this newscast -- should we start changing our plans for tomorrow, for the week? For the next couple of weeks?

MESERVE: I suspect that we may hear more about this in this 1:00 press conference that has been scheduled by the attorney general and the Office of Homeland Security. Probably what they are going to advise all Americans to do is to keep their eyes open, to be even more vigilant than they have been to the possibility of terrorism, to report anything they see that might be suspicious to their local authorities. Apart from that, Kyra, because I don't know yet what the nature of the threat is that they are responding to, I can't tell you about any additional precautions that may be recommended for the average American. Certainly, it is going to mean that law enforcement agencies across the nation, and perhaps across the world, are going to have to step up their efforts and their staffing -- Kyra.

PHILLIPS: All right, Jeanne. We look forward to the 1:00 p.m. Eastern time press conference on this. Thank you.

Now to New York, where police say they are ready, or at least much better prepared than a year ago, for whatever the week has in store.

CNN's Jason Carroll is by the United Nations now with more details on that -- hi, Jason.

JASON CARROLL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And good afternoon to you, Kyra. The FBI did issue an alert which says in part that the United Nations represents a potentially attractive target for terrorists. But long before this alert was released, New York city's police department was hard at work trying to make the city even more secure.


CARROLL (voice-over): As New York prepares to mourn those who lost their lives last September 11, the city's mayor sent a message to those who might want to disrupt the day.

MAYOR MICHAEL BLOOMBERG, NEW YORK: A fair warning to anybody, whether you're a petty criminal or a terrorist, New York City's Police Department is there to protect all of us.

CARROLL: The man who heads the police department, Commissioner Ray Kelly, says the city in this post-9/11 world is better prepared for a terrorist attack.

COMM. RAY KELLY, NEW YORK POLICE: We've done a lot of training. We'll be doing more training. We've done a lot of training. We've got new equipment. We're working more closely with federal authorities, with other state and local agencies to prepare for another event if, god forbid, it does happen.

CARROLL: The department doesn't want to reveal specific numbers, but expect more officers on the streets, on rooftops above memorial ceremonies, even in the water. NYPD scuba teams are patrolling docks and harbors.

Diver Sergeant John Harkins feels the importance of his job now more than ever.

SGT. JOHN HARKINS, NYPD SCUBA TEAM: It gives you extra emphasis on how important your job is and how important it is to society to keep everybody safe and, you know, their families and everyone, and the loved ones secure.

CARROLL: In the months following September 11, there were announcements about security checkpoints at bridges and tunnels. Not anymore. Kelly says checkpoints will be unannounced.

KELLY: We'll be using this intermittent enforcement strategy for the foreseeable future. We take a fairly robust group of officers, well armed, using detection equipment, bomb dogs, we move them throughout the city to sensitive locations.

CARROLL: Kelly says appropriate attention will be given to the city's national landmarks and religious institutions. He also says his department is used to meeting security challenges. Within the past week, the city hosted the U.S. Open, the NFL concert in Times Square, a special meeting of Congress and the United Nations General Assembly begins this week.

(on camera): Do any of the men or women within the NYPD feel any sort of sense of fatigue? I mean there have been so many events that require so much of their attention.

KELLY: It's possible. I don't think so. I think, on the other hand, there's more of a sense of exhilaration. They're working hard, no question about it. But I think they're on a mission.

CARROLL: A mission the department plans to keep pursuing beyond this September 11.


CARROLL: There is one thing that Kelly says his department needs more of, and that is federal dollars to help pay for all of the overtime his officers have worked, and will need to work in order to keep the city safe -- Kyra.

PHILLIPS: Jason, meanwhile, you live in New York. You have friends and family in New York. What are people saying about today, tomorrow, are they feeling secure, are they concerned about security?

CARROLL: It really depends upon who you talk to. I mean, there are some New Yorkers who feel as though there will eventually be some sort of a terrorist attack in the future, but no one can say for sure when. These are the type of people that say look, I just need to move on, and live my life -- live my life. And then there are other people who say, I definitely feel unsafe being here, but where else can I go? So it just really depends upon who you talk to.

But I have to also say that New Yorkers are a tough bunch, and they have already been through a lot, and I think, really, that at this point, at this stage where things are, New Yorkers are just ready to just sort of like -- set in their own minds to be ready for whatever happens.

PHILLIPS: All right. Our Jason Carroll in Lower Manhattan. Thanks, Jason.




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