The United States government continuously reviews intelligence
reporting to assess the current threat condition designation and
to determine whether or not it should be adjusted.
After conferring this morning with the Homeland Security Council,
the decision has been made to increase the threat condition designation
currently classified at elevated risk, to increase that threat
condition designation to the high-risk category.
This decision for an increased threat condition designation is
based on specific intelligence received and analyzed by the full
intelligence community. This information has been corroborated
by multiple intelligence sources.
Since September the 11th, the U.S. intelligence community has
indicated that the Al Qaida terrorist network is still determined
to attack innocent Americans, both here and abroad. Recent reporting
indicates an increased likelihood that Al Qaida may attempt to
attack Americans in the United States and/or abroad in or around
the end of the Haj, a Muslim religious period ending mid-February
ASHCROFT: Recent intelligence reports suggests that Al Qaida leaders
have emphasized planning for attacks on apartment buildings, hotels
and other soft or lightly secured targets in the United States.
The recent bombings of a nightclub in Bali, Indonesia, and of
a resort hotel in Mombasa, Kenya, demonstrate the continued willingness
of Al Qaida to strike at peaceful, innocent civilians and their
ability to carry out attacks on such soft or lightly guarded targets.
There are also indications bolstered by the recent arrests in
London where chemical--ricin was discovered. These indications
demonstrate Al Qaida's interest in carrying out chemical, biological
and radiological attacks.
Historically, the intelligence community has indicated that Al
Qaida might also seek economic targets, including the transportation
and energy sectors, as well as symbolic targets and symbols of
ASHCROFT: The United States government has specific intelligence
and experience demonstrating that heightened awareness and readiness
on our part deters terrorism. Since September the 11th of 2001,
the United States has substantially improved its capacity to disrupt,
deter and prevent terrorist attacks; terrorist attacks against
The active cooperation of the American people, your cooperation,
has been instrumental in preventing major terrorist attacks.
Since September the 11th, 2001, the Federal Bureau of Investigation
has evaluated and investigated over 3,000 terrorist threats within
the United States, issued 103 warnings to state and local law
enforcement, and announced three--not including today's announcement--three
major nationwide terrorist alerts.
The threat condition designation was last raised to high risk
on September the 10th, 2002, and reduced to an elevated risk standing
two weeks later.
Today's change in the threat condition designation from elevated
risk to high risk will trigger a series of security precautions
by the federal government, as well as state and local governments
and U.S. citizens, to increase readiness to prevent terrorism.
ASHCROFT: I have directed that joint terrorism task forces nationwide
coordinate their local response with U.S. attorneys and local
anti-terrorism task forces. In addition, I have directed that
all appropriate information be shared with the joint terrorism
task forces in order for federal officials to work effectively
and cooperatively with state and local officials.
We are not recommending that events be canceled, nor do we recommend
that individuals change domestic, work or travel plans. As we
have in the past, we ask that Americans continue their daily work
and leisure activities with a heightened awareness of their environment
and the activities occurring around them.
As President Bush recounted in the State of the Union address,
we have arrested or dealt with many Al Qaida key commanders, 3,000
suspected terrorists have been arrested worldwide, other terrorists
have met a different fate. We've uncovered and stopped terrorist
conspiracies in the United States, in Yemen, Singapore, Saudi
Arabia, the Straits of Hormuz and Gibraltar. We've broken Al Qaida
cells around the world. And with the support of the American people,
we will prevail in this war on terror.
It's my pleasure now to introduce the secretary of the Department
of Homeland Security, Secretary Tom Ridge.
RIDGE: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen.
RIDGE: This heightened threat level has been or is being communicated
to local and state law enforcement officials, federal agencies,
members of Congress, governors, state homeland security advisers,
mayors and those who share responsibility for the nation's private
infrastructure. Information is also being provided to the nation's
first responders: our fire, emergency, health and public safety
The nation's Homeland Security Advisory System provides a national
framework to inform and to facilitate actions appropriate to different
levels of government and to private citizens, either in their
workplaces or in their homes. The system couples the threat level
with protective measures which should or will be taken to reduce
our country's vulnerabilities.
As a result of the increase in the threat level, as a result of
going from yellow to orange, elevated to high, specific protective
measures will be taken by all federal agencies, both to reduce
vulnerabilities and many of them actually will, we believe, serve
as a deterrent.
Increased security personnel at points of entry may, in fact,
limit points of entry and exit, enhanced identification checks,
restrictions to travel around federal facilities and airports
among the many augmented security measures that will be implemented.
As I mentioned before it's very important for you all to understand
that we've also alerted the medical and public health communities,
Now, at the same time as the federal government is taking action,
I want to reassure you that governors, mayors, state and local
law enforcement and private sector managers of the nation's critical
infrastructure will be taking action, as well.
We are asking all of these leaders to increase their security
and vigilance wherever necessary, and we remind them that sometimes
varying their security is a good alternative, depending on their
circumstances, to actually enhancing it.
RIDGE: It depends on a lot of circumstances. But doing things
differently can be a deterrent as well.
Now, as the attorney general mentioned, for individual Americans,
we ask you to remain aware and remain alert. We are not recommending
that events be canceled or travel or other plans be changed.
We do recommend that individuals and families, in the days ahead,
take some time to prepare for an emergency. The thought occurred
to me, traveling to join my colleagues for this public announcement,
that when I step across the threshold of the front door at night
I'm not sure I'm seen as the secretary of the Department of Homeland
Security; I'm a husband and a father, a parent and a spouse. And
I know a lot of parents and spouses are saying, ``Well, what should
we do? What does this mean for us?''
And all I would say to you as a parent and a spouse is, take the
time now to get informed. There are so many available sources
of information that you could refer to that will give you and
your family and your businesses and your schools some comfort
to know that in the eventuality, with the possibility that something
might happen, you have taken some precautionary measures or taken
some steps to minimize the damage or perhaps to avoid it altogether.
One of the thoughts that I would just simply share with you, it's
probably not a bad idea to sit down and just arrange some kind
of a contact plan, that if an event occurred you want to make
sure you can--the family wants to get in touch with one another.
That's not a bad thing to do to prepare in advance of any kind
of emergency, whether it's a natural disaster or a terrorist attack.
Doesn't take a great deal of time. And I think it would make family
members a lot more comfortable if they knew they were able to
get in touch with one another in the event something happened.
I think there are ways that parents and adults can certainly be
bettered informed, because, as we've described to you, terrorist
attacks really can potentially take many forms. And so by learning
more now about these kinds of attacks, you and your families can
be armed in advance with the kind of information that you might
need and that will be critical to your health and your well-being.
And I would encourage Americans to log onto the department's web
site. You can log on to www.dhs.gov to learn more information,
to become better informed about steps that individuals can take
simply to be better prepared.
RIDGE: The call that we give today, which Americans have certainly
heard before, is based on our knowledge and our conviction that
heightened awareness and readiness deters terrorism and saves
lives. Each of us in our own ways can contribute to the security
of our nation, our families and our communities.
Today we call on Americans to continue to persevere in the face
of this evil, in the face of this terror. Because we understand
that by working together not only will we persevere, but we will
MUELLER: Thank you, Tom.
As already has been stated, recent intelligence reports have led
to the decision today to increase the threat level.
And today, as well as every day since September 11th, the FBI
has stood ready to protect Americans against those who seek to
do us harm. And today, as every day since September 11th, the
FBI is fully mobilized to respond through our Joint Terrorism
Task Forces, which are comprised of federal agencies, as well
as state and local law enforcement.
The Joint Terrorism Task Forces have been working 24 hours a day
following up on information we may have received.
But I've got to emphasize also, we believe that an alert public
is our strongest asset. If you observe suspicious activity, I
encourage you to contact your local FBI office or your local police,
and to report such activity.
I thank you.
And I turn it over to you, General.
QUESTION: Is your knowledge based on specific targets or has this
decision been made based on the weight--more of the weight of
everything that you're looking at?
ASHCROFT: I think I'll stick with the statements we've made that
intelligence, which is assessed on a regular basis, provides a
very sound basis and a responsibility for us to communicate what
we believe to be an elevated threat to the American people. And
for us to go beyond that is probably not in the interest of our
doing our job successfully or well.
QUESTION: Is this at all tied to the buildup of military presence
in the Gulf and the confrontation with Iraq or is it more just
continuing threat of Al Qaida cells?
ASHCROFT: Well, this is information regarding Al Qaida, which
has been manifest in a variety of settings around the globe, very
clearly unrelated to the issues that you have otherwise referenced:
the Bali bombings, the kinds of activities discovered in England,
the kinds of activities which were so damaging in Mombasa.
So when you put it in that context, it's pretty clear that this
is a situation where Al Qaida is going to strike the United States
and at the interest of free people in other settings. And it's
very clear that they were willing to do that on September 11th
of 2001 without any special provocations. It's their intention
to do what they can to disrupt free people and to destroy the
values for which America stands and which it represents to prominently
in the world.
It's very clear to us that we've taken action based on this kind
of intelligence and the kind of information that reflects this
as the motivation which is a long-continuing motivation of Al
QUESTION: This is for Secretary Ridge. How confident are you that
state and local agencies know specifically what they should be
doing in response to the threat and that they have specific plans
RIDGE: Well, first of all, for several months now, every governor
has called upon someone within their own community to become their
homeland security adviser. And every single state and every single
governor has worked very, very hard to coordinate activity among
their state agencies and were appropriate working through their
state agencies down to the local agencies, law enforcement, public
health and the like.
And so, I'm confident that, as this country continues to expand
its capacity to prevent terrorist attacks, to reduce our vulnerability
and then respond to an attack if it occurs, that we get stronger
every day. Perhaps not so much because of what the federal government
is doing--and we have a significant role, but we have to give
a great deal of credit and highlight what the governors and the
mayors and the people of local communities as well as the private
sector are doing.
QUESTION: We've talked to state and local community people and
they say they are confused about what to do. They don't know what
specific actions they need to take going from yellow to orange.
They feel that they are already doing everything they can and
should be doing. Can you be more specific about what they should
do with this elevated risk?
RIDGE: Well, I think you'll find that, through the efforts of--particularly
of the FBI, they know the simultaneous communications are going
out as we speak to the 17,000 to 18,000 law enforcement agencies
around the country, that we've given them some information. And
they are professionals and they know how to act on specific information,
and they will.
Again, we realize and understand that, from a technical point
of view, we want and need to build up our capacity to reduce our
own vulnerability and to respond in a terrorist event. That's
one of the reasons that the state and locals are hopeful, they're
very, very hopeful that the Congress will send--make available
to them an excess of $3.5 billion for the first responders, a
nearly significant part of the $6 billion to combat a bioterrorist
threat that the president submitted to Congress almost a year
And when those dollars are available to these state and local
communities, because these state and local communities have been
developing plans to enhance their capacity to respond through
training and the acquisition of equipment, they'll be in even
better shape today than they were yesterday.
So yes, I have confidence that they know what to do.