Dec. 19, 2003 -- Authorities are evaluating a surge of information related to possible terrorist threats to a number of cities in the United States, including New York City, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C., ABCNEWS has learned.
Threat information is coming from intelligence intercepts, interrogation of recent detainees and other methods, sources say.
Sources say the threat to New York City possibly involves a female suicide bomber, but no specific target has been identified and intelligence sources are still evaluating the credibility of this threat. The New York City Police Department released a statement saying it has "no credible intelligence pointing to a specific or imminent terrorist threat" in the city.
In the threats received for other cities, including Los Angeles and Washington, no mode of attack has been identified and no location or specific cells were named.
Senior officials from the Department of Homeland Security, intelligence and law enforcement have a planned meeting Monday to evaluate the recent surge in information related to possible terror threats.
"We have remained concerned about the volume of reporting of threats and that is why the Department of Homeland Security has sent out several bulletins over the past few weeks to homeland security officials and law enforcement personnel, urging all to continue be on heightened state of alert especially, as we enter the busy holiday season," White House spokesman Scott McClellan said today at a news conference.
Preparations Already Under Way
Officials around the nation were already actively engaged in serious discussions with the Department of Homeland Security about whether events, chatter and the time of year warrant elevating the threat level inside the United States to orange, or high, for the upcoming holiday season that starts tonight at sunset.
Considerations underpinning the discussions include the capture of Saddam Hussein, information gleaned from online chat rooms, classified information arising from one of the former Soviet republics and increased concerns of authorities in Italy, the United Kingdom and Poland, sources say.
The discussions are part of an intense series of conference calls and personal meetings between officials that have been ongoing since at least Wednesday, as the nation enters the holiday rush.
An estimated 500,000 people are expected to flood into New York City for this year's Times Square New Year Eve's bash. There, they will watch as retired Army Spc. Shoshana Johnson, a former prisoner of war in Iraq, will press the Waterford crystal button that signals the dropping of the ball.
Mitigating against raising the level to orange are fiscal considerations. State officials say the cost of raising the threat level is too high unless there is a specific threat. Today in New York City, law enforcement officials began finalizing their plans for the New Year's security package, which will include the welding shut of manhole covers, the removal of post office boxes, and the preparation of a rodeo-like series of pens and gates that funnel backpack-less revelers into the area along Broadway.
Heavy weapons teams, bomb squads, city, state and federal weapons of mass destruction units, bioterror sensors, undercover agents, thousands of uniformed officers and so-called Arch Angel convoys — units trained to remove dignitaries in case of an incident — are all part of the plan.
Sources said there is only a "slight chance" the nation could go to orange and it is much more likely that additional alerts will go out and local officials can then choose how to respond on their own.
The five levels of terrorism alerts, as well as recommended government and private-sector responses include the following:
Green: Low risk of terrorist attacks.
Refine and exercise planned protective measures.
Ensure emergency personnel receive training.
Assess facilities for vulnerabilities and take measures toreduce them.
Blue: Guarded condition. General risk of terrorist attack.
Check communications with designated emergency response orcommand locations.
Review and update emergency response procedures.
Provide the public with necessary information.
Yellow: Elevated condition. Significant risk of terroristattacks.
Increase surveillance of critical locations.
Coordinate emergency plans with nearby jurisdictions.
Assess further refinement of protective measures within the context of the current threat information.
Implement, as appropriate, contingency and emergency response plans.
Orange: High risk of terrorist attacks.
Coordinate necessary security efforts with federal, state and local law enforcement agencies or any National Guard or other appropriate armed forces.
Take additional precaution at public events and possibly consider alternative venues or cancellations.
Prepare to work at an alternate site or with a dispersed work force.
Restrict access to threatened facilities to essential personnel only.
Red: Severe risk of terrorist attacks.
Assign emergency response personnel and preposition specially trained teams.
Monitor, redirect or constrain transportation systems.
Close public and government facilities.
Increase or redirect personnel to address critical emergency needs.
ABCNEWS' Richard Esposito, Pierre Thomas and Chris Isham contributed to this report.