Oct. 11, 2001 -- The FBI has issued a chilling but vague warning that new terror attacks may be launched against the United States in the coming days.
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"Certain information, while not specific as to target, gives the government reason to believe that there may be additional terrorist attacks within the United States and against U.S. interests overseas over the next several days," the FBI said in a release issued this afternoon.
Since the Sept. 11 suicide hijacking assaults on the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and Pennsylvania, U.S. officials have consistently maintained a high state of alert for possible future attacks. But this is the first formal warning issued by the FBI.
"The FBI has again alerted all local law enforcement to be on the highest alert and we call on all people to immediately notify the FBI and local law enforcement of any unusual or suspicious activity," the release continued.
The new warnings have been prompted by what law enforcement sources say is new intelligence. Before warning the public, the FBI had been asking federal offices, local police and utilities to be on high alert.
In one release provided to the U.S. Treasury Department, the FBI warned of "the need for heightened awareness concerning the potential use of chemical/biological and/or radiological/nuclear weapons of mass destruction as a precautionary measure."
The warning cited no specific threat, but cautioned building officials to be prepared to shut down air handling systems in the event that a terrorist attempted to use ventilation ducts to spread toxic substances.
Change in FBI Focus, Culture
Top U.S. officials today said the federal government was making efforts to thwart another attack.
Attorney General John Ashcroft, interviewed on ABCNEWS Nightline Thursday night, explained how agents had been refocused on terror prevention, amounting to a "a new culture — a culture of prevention."
"So much of our efforts in the past, so many of them have been devoted to prosecution," he said. "We haven't forsaken that as an objective, but our priority has to be prevent, to curtail, to disrupt, to interrupt, to keep from happening again the kind of event that could take another 5,000 lives."
The change of focus, in practical terms, could mean the FBI would risk ruining an investigation and proper, careful, full gathering of evidence for prosecution in order to try prevent an act of terror.
"If we end up ruining a criminal case because we, instead of waiting to see the crime committed or withdrawing and waiting for further evidence to develop, we warn and we interrupt," said Ashcroft.
President Bush on Thursday in a rare prime time press conference urged Americans to "go about their lives."
"Now, if we receive specific intelligence, where we [receive] a credible threat that targets a specific building or city or facility, I can assure you, our government will do everything possible to protect the citizens around, in or near that facility," he said.
Hospitals on Alert
Veterans Affairs hospitals around the country also were put on alert this week, warned in an e-mail to "Please assure that heightened security measures are taken appropriate to location and surroundings."
Disaster Medical Assistance Teams, part of a nationwide network of medical professionals who work with the U.S. Public Health Service during times of crisis, were told to be prepared to deploy in 12 to 24 hours. Vaccines are are being readied to move and emergency personnel are being told that they may have to dispense medications.
Justice Department officials said the fact that the public is now being given the same warnings does not necessarily mean there is any greater likelihood of an attack.