New York and Washington react to 9/11 threat with practiced seriousness

New York and Washington react to the unconfirmed bomb threat with heightened security amid intelligence from the raid on Osama bin Laden affirming his interest in the 9/11 anniversary.

Mary Altaffer/AP
A couple of police officers ride the shuttle between New York's Times Square and Grand Central Station, Friday, Sept. 9.

Washington put police on 12-hour shifts Friday and New York began searching vehicles approaching the city’s bridges amid unconfirmed intelligence of a terror attack to coincide with the 10th anniversary of 9/11.

At the same time officials asked members of the public to keep their eyes open for anything unusual, a reminder of the “see something, say something” campaign that has existed for years.

The heightened antiterrorism efforts in New York and Washington followed word Thursday of the unconfirmed plot, which was described as specific and “credible.”

“This is from a single source right now,” says Frank Cilluffo, director of George Washington University’s Homeland Security Policy Institute in Washington. “But, at the end of the day you have to take it seriously.”

On Friday, New York police had taken additional measures such as blocking off some of the approaches to Grand Central Station, stopping trucks and vans to search their contents, and increasing patrols. In Washington, police began working 12-hour shifts and said unattended vehicles near bridges and monuments would be towed.

One of the major reasons why law enforcement officials are taking no chances is because of intelligence gleaned from computers and notebooks found in the Pakistan compound where Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden was killed by US forces on May 2.

“When you see how fixated Osama bin Laden was on the 10th anniversary, it makes sense to have extra precautions during significant dates and events,” says Mr. Cilluffo.

On Sunday, President Obama plans to visit each of the sites hit on Sept. 11, 2001, the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and the field in Shanksville, Pa., where hijacked flight 93 crashed. The White House says the potential security threat will not change his schedule.

Both New York and Washington have wide experience with ramping up for potential security threats.

“Every year there is an anniversary, that’s the time when you would think that we should heighten our security, and we do,” said New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, at a briefing Thursday evening. “The risks are greater then, we imagine, but nobody is really sure.”

In the past during heightened security levels, the NYPD has set up roadblocks outside the city’s bridges and tunnels and pulled over trucks, vans and other vehicles. On Friday, they started those efforts again, pulling over vehicles.

In New York’s hot and steamy subway stops, police set up tables to search backpacks. Underneath Grand Central Station, four police officers eyed travelers as they entered the subway. Travelers using Amtrak reported an increased number of police and canine units as well.

The police presence is expected to get tighter and tighter as the weekend progresses. By late Saturday or early Sunday, access to the area around Ground Zero is expected to be very tightly controlled in what officials are terming a “frozen zone.” There will be quick-strike reaction forces buttressed with automatic weapons and heavy armor.

That’s on top of an already significant antiterror effort. According to Mr. Bloomberg, there are radiation detectors and 3,000 cameras positioned around the city, police offers stationed in a dozen cities around the world, 100 more assigned to work with the FBI, and a budget of $8.5 billion to keep the city safe.

“And, a lot of what we do you don’t see – the undercover people who are really the eyes and the ears,” Bloomberg told CBS News on Friday. “The level of security in this city probably makes it the safest place to be.”

According to Bloomberg, the city has broken up at least 13 terror plots in the past decade. “For all we know there were many others that, when terrorists want to attack us, took a look at what kind of precautions the NYPD and other agencies take here and said, ‘We’re not going to get away with it, so we’re not going to do it.’ ”

Cilluffo says it’s true that New York’s efforts are at a high level. But, he points out, “No one is 100 percent – that’s why they are taking it so seriously.”

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