[FoRK] Terror warning surprises Homeland Security Dept.

Paul Sholtz paulsholtz2004 at hotmail.com
Fri May 28 14:18:04 PDT 2004

Here's another great one. Also, so very reassuring..

Terror warning surprises Homeland Security Dept.

By Thomas Frank
Washington Bureau

May 28, 2004

WASHINGTON -- The Homeland Security Department was surprised by the 
announcement Wednesday by Attorney General John Ashcroft and FBI Director 
Robert Mueller that a terrorist attack was increasingly likely in the coming 
months, officials said.

The department, created a year after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, is charged 
with issuing terrorism warnings to the public, and tension arose when 
Ashcroft and Mueller effectively took over that role at a news conference 
Wednesday when they said al-Qaida is preparing an attack inside the United 

Officials said the Homeland Security Department knew in advance about the 
news conference but expected it to focus on seven suspects with ties to 
al-Qaida who were wanted for arrest or questioning. Department officials 
were caught off guard when Ashcroft went further and warned that al-Qaida 
"is ready to attack the United States."

The news conference, which excluded Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge, 
raised concerns in Washington that his department was not coordinating the 
domestic fight against terrorism, which was confusing the message for the 
public and for local authorities.

Earlier on Wednesday, Ridge spoke on morning television shows and appeared 
to downplay the threat that Ashcroft would later trumpet, officials said. He 
told ABC's "Good Morning America" that the threats are "not the most 
disturbing that I have personally seen during the past couple of years."

Lawmakers who oversee the Homeland Security Department said the events 
Wednesday appeared to undermine the effort to unify the federal government's 
response to terrorism threats.

"The reason that Congress created the Department of Homeland Security is 
that we need to merge the various parts of government responsible for pieces 
of the war on terrorism into one coordinated effort," said Rep. Christopher 
Cox (R-Calif.), chairman of the homeland security committee.

Cox said it was "regrettable" that Ridge did not appear with Ashcroft and 
Mueller "because their separate public appearances conveyed the impression 
that the broad and close interagency consultation we expect ... may not have 
taken place in this case." He noted that the 2002 law creating the 
department puts the secretary in charge of issuing "public advisories 
relating to threats to homeland security."

Just one week ago, Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge had told the Sept. 
11 commission at a hearing in Manhattan that his department "has made 
widespread information sharing the hallmark of our new approach to homeland 
security." Ridge added that his department was sharing information with 
local authorities, private officials and the public through bulletins, 
alerts and a new Homeland Security Information Network.

White House press secretary Scott McClellan disputed suggestions that the 
administration sent mixed signals, saying, "What you're seeing is that these 
officials are talking about it from their own positions of responsibility."

Rep. Jim Turner (D-Texas), the committee's senior Democrat, suggested the 
Homeland Security Department may not have known that the news conference 
would delve into threat conditions.

"If it is true that the FBI did not notify DHS of its intent to hold a press 
conference to advise the public of the current threat situation, we clearly 
have a lack of coordination between the two key agencies involved in 
homeland security," Turner said. "Almost three years after Sept. 11, we have 
yet to see a full integration and coordination of efforts to make America 

A similar issue arose two months ago when the FBI - not the DHS - warned 
that Texas oil refineries may be a target of attacks. In a letter to Ridge 
last month, Cox cited an "inconsistency," noting that a week after the 
refinery alert, Homeland Security and the FBI jointly warned about a 
possible strike on mass transit systems.

"Having multiple sources of threat advisories emanating from the federal 
government can lead to dangerous confusion among our nation's state and 
local first responders," Cox wrote.


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