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Computer disk found in Iraq contained floor plans, other data on schools in six states

Updated:
WASHINGTON (AP) _ Education and law enforcement officials in six states were put on notice last month that a computer disk found in Iraq contained photos, floor plans and other information about schools in their areas, two U.S. government officials said.

The officials stressed they had no evidence of any specific threats involving the schools in eight districts located in California, Florida, Georgia, Michigan, New Jersey and Oregon.

The downloaded data was found by the U.S. military in July. All of the information is publicly available on the Internet and included an Education Department report guiding schools on how to prepare and respond to a crisis, said one of the officials, who spoke Thursday on condition of anonymity.

The person who possessed the disk was described as an Iraqi national with ties to the Baath Party that ruled Iraq under Saddam Hussein, according to a senior law enforcement official who spoke on condition of anonymity Friday. The person was not part of the terrorist insurgency being directed by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

The official declined to describe the person further or discuss the person's current whereabouts or possible intent.

The material on the disk appeared to be randomly downloaded from the Internet and included such things as manuals on workplace safety, crisis management studies and building security diagrams.

The FBI alerted local education and law enforcement authorities of the finding last month.

``We are unaware of any specific information that indicates terrorists are plotting or planning an attack at a school here in the United States,'' Homeland Security Department spokesman Brian Roehrkasse said.

Officials did not provide the names of the districts. But Kay Baker, superintendent of Oregon's Salem-Keizer district, confirmed hers was among them.

``Local law enforcement has no knowledge of a specific threat to any of our school buildings,'' she said. ``We will work collaboratively with law enforcement on any further developments.''

San Diego schools also were included, according to The San Diego Union-Tribune, and ABC News said there was a second California district. The Salem Statesman Journal reported the other districts were Fort Myers, Fla.; Jones County, Ga.; Birch Run, Mich.; and Franklinville and Rumson, both in New Jersey.

Roger Shatzkin, a spokesman for the New Jersey Office of Counterterrorism, confirmed officials there were told about the disk about two weeks ago.

``They were alerted, they were already doing things they should have been doing,'' Shatzkin said.

The disk contained an Education Department report called ``Practical Information on Crisis Planning: A Guide for Schools and Communities,'' published in May 2003, as well as photos and floor plans.

In a separate but more widespread warning put out this week, the Education Department advised school leaders nationwide to watch for people spying on their buildings or buses to help detect any possibility of terrorism like the deadly school siege last month in Russia.

The warning follows an analysis by the FBI and the Homeland Security Department of the siege that killed more than 330 people, nearly half of them children, in the city of Beslan.

``The horror of this attack may have created significant anxiety in our own country among parents, students, faculty staff and other community members,'' Deputy Education Secretary Eugene Hickok said in a letter sent Wednesday to schools and education groups.

The Education Department's advice is based on lessons learned from the Russian siege. But there is no specific information indicating a terrorist threat to any schools or universities in the United States, Hickok and other officials emphasized.

Federal law enforcement officials also have urged local police to stay in contact with school officials and have encouraged reporting of suspicious activities, the letter said.

In particular, schools were told to watch for activities that may be legitimate on their own _ but may suggest a threat if many of them occur.

Among those activities:

_ Interest in obtaining site plans for schools, bus routes and attendance lists.

_ Prolonged ``static surveillance'' by people disguised as panhandlers, shoe shiners, or newspaper or flower vendors.

``It's a positive sign that they're finally discussing this after years of downplaying or denying even the possibility of a terrorist strike on schools,'' said Kenneth Trump, a Cleveland-based school safety consultant. ``Public officials are in fear of creating fear, but we have to put the cards on the table, educate people in the school community and make sure they are well prepared.''

The federal government is advising schools to take many steps to improve the security of their buildings. Those include installing locks for all doors and windows, having a single entry point into buildings and ensuring they can reach school bus drivers in an emergency.
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