FBI warns Western states: Terrorists may have sights on suspension bridges
Friday, November 2nd 2001, 12:00 am
News On 6
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) _ Traffic flowed across Bay Area bridges during the morning commute Friday, despite threats of a terrorist attack. But it was lighter than usual.
Security was notably increased, as National Guardsmen toured the bridges early in the morning to familiarize themselves with overlooks, buildings and other features.
On Thursday, Gov. Gray Davis announced that federal officials have ``credible evidence'' that terrorists may be targeting California bridges. He cited San Francisco's Golden Gate and Bay Bridges, the Vincent Thomas Bridge at the Port of Los Angeles and San Diego's Coronado Bridge as possible targets for attacks over the next few days.
After Davis spoke, the Justice Department confirmed that it had warned officials in eight Western states about possible attacks on bridges.
The alert was sent to law enforcement agencies in California, Washington, Oregon, Arizona, Nevada, Utah, Montana and Idaho on Wednesday. ``Reportedly, unspecified groups are targeting suspension bridges on the West Coast,'' the FBI message said.
Davis' decision to reveal the potential threats had the support of federal officials, although they didn't make the information public until after he spoke out.
``I respect the decision Governor Davis made; he exercised his judgment,'' said Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge. ``Had he chosen not to reveal, I would have respected that as well.''
Attorney General John Ashcroft said Friday that the FBI warning about possible attacks on West Coast bridges was based on a threat that authorities deemed to have ``relative credibility.''
Many commuters opted not to alter their routines, saying the warning wasn't specific enough to take seriously.
Sonoma resident Constance Kilgore commuted by bus across the Golden Gate Bridge on Friday to her work in San Francisco.
``I``m angry that I'm feeling anxious and afraid. Every time I cross the bridge I think about the terrorists and the way they are going to do it,'' she said. ``I don't think our security is good enough. There's no way they can monitor everything.''
Many others crowded onto the subway.
Taking Bay Area Rapid Transit means tacking an extra 45 minutes onto her commute, but film editor Stephanie Shallberg of Lafayette says she'll take the train rather than drive until year's end.
``There was no way I'd drive over the Bay Bridge,'' she said Friday morning. ``On my way home last night, I thought I was going to pass out.''
Both Southern California bridges had moderate traffic with no reported problems Friday morning. At Vincent Thomas, camouflaged National Guard troops carrying M-16 rifles stood below the spans.
``This bridge is probably as safe as it's ever been,'' said Janice Hahn, a city councilwoman who represents Los Angeles' Harbor district. California Highway Patrol officers and the U.S. Coast Guard also patrolled bridges and the water beneath them, but that's been standard practice since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11.
Although the FBI said the threat was uncorroborated, Davis told The Associated Press he felt he had an obligation to warn the public.
``If I failed to share that information and God forbid something went wrong, I'd be kicking myself,'' the governor said in a telephone interview.
Justice Department spokeswoman Mindy Tucker said the information that prompted the warning to the Western states was ``at a lower level'' than the reports that led authorities to alert the general public Monday of the possibility of an attack somewhere in the United States.
Officials representing the agencies that operate the bridges said they were taking the threats seriously.
Pedestrians and cyclists are still allowed on the Golden Gate Bridge. On the vehicles-only Bay Bridge, officials were inspecting identification badges and have welded shut potential access points to prevent trouble.
Officials in Oregon and Washington said the alert had triggered additional security precautions at some of the most heavily traveled bridges, including Washington's Tacoma Narrows Bridge. Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber said the Coast Guard would be checking underneath his state's bridges more often and he urged people not to be afraid.
``It would be an unfortunate victory we would hand them if people simply stopped driving,'' Kitzhaber said.
In San Francisco, tourists Sharon and Jeff Forrest of Bloomfield Hills, Mich., were strolling across the Golden Gate Bridge about the time Davis was making his announcement.
``It wouldn't change our plans at all,'' said Sharon Forrest. ``There was a lot of security on the bridge and we noticed the Coast Guard under the bridge. As far as we're concerned, you just keep doing what you're going to do.''
But Janet Vuoso, who lives near the Vincent Thomas bridge, said she is concerned about the safety of her family.
``I'm going to go home and tell my daughter to stay away from the bridge,'' said Vuoso, who teaches at a private medical school. ``I don't think it's a question of if, but a question of when.''