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Intelligence Agencies Warn California of Bridge Threats

By Gail Gibson
THE BALTIMORE SUN -- California

California Gov. Gray Davis on Thursday ordered National Guard soldiers posted on the state’s four soaring suspension bridges, including San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge, after he said authorities received “credible evidence” that the bridges could be terrorist targets over the next several days.

The tightened security around some of California’s most famous landmarks gave a stark specificity to the repeated terrorist alerts issued across the United States by federal and local officials in recent weeks, warnings that had unnerved many people precisely because of their vagueness.

In California, the alert issued by Davis was chilling in its details. The governor said that information from several law enforcement agencies, including the FBI, indicated that terrorists could be planning rush-hour attacks on the state’s suspension bridges sometime between Friday and next Wednesday.

It was unclear, though, how real the threat might be. The FBI’s warning, dated Wednesday and released Thursday night by Justice Department officials, said the information was uncorroborated and that the bureau was “attempting to verify the validity of this report.”

Justice Department spokeswoman Mindy Tucker said authorities didn’t consider the information to be as credible as the intelligence that prompted Attorney General John D. Ashcroft Monday to issue a broad, nationwide warning that people should be alert for possible terrorist attacks over the next week.

Ashcroft said officials had credible information that possible attacks were being planned but no details about the timing, the targets or the method.

The FBI warning issued two days later to officials in several Western states, including California, said “unspecified groups were targeting suspension bridges on the West Coast,” and that six incidents were possible during rush hour during the six-day period.

“No further information about this alleged attack is known at this time,” the FBI alert said. “The FBI is attempting to verify the validity of this report. Recipients will be updated as events warrant.”

Davis responded to the warning by ordering increased security at the Golden Gate and Bay Bridges, both in San Francisco; the Vincent Thomas Bridge at the Port of Los Angeles and the Coronado Bridge in San Diego.

He also decided to go public, telling the state’s residents about the threat.

“We are bound and determined to protect Californians,” Davis said at a Los Angeles news conference, which had been scheduled to announce the selection of a state security adviser for terrorism issues.

“The best preparation is to let terrorists know: We know what you’re up to, we’re ready for you,” Davis said.

The governor said added protections for the four suspension bridges would come from agencies ranging from the U.S. Coast Guard to the state highway patrol. He said he had ordered an unspecified number of National Guard soldiers to be stationed at each end of the bridges.

California Highway Patrol Commissioner D.O. “Spike” Helmick said officers would not restrict traffic, including truck traffic, on any of the bridges or close the Golden Gate bridge off to pedestrians.