By Chris Strohm
May 7, 2004A federal interagency working group will present a plan by the end of this month for coordinating security, preparedness and intelligence-sharing at several major events, including the summer's political conventions in Boston and New York, homeland security officials said Friday.
Rep. Christopher Shays, R-Conn., sounded alarm bells about the upcoming events during a homeland security hearing Thursday.
"I happen to believe there will be a terrorist attack or more during the course of this year," the lawmaker said. "We have to deal with the World War II Memorial, we have to deal with the G8 Summit, we have two [political] conventions, we have the presidential election, and then the inauguration."
Homeland security officials say, however, there is no credible information that attacks are imminent.
Homeland Security Department Secretary Tom Ridge announced the creation of the interagency working group last month, saying the country will "soon enter a season that is rich with symbolic opportunities for the terrorists to try to shake our will." The group consists of representatives from the departments of Agriculture, Defense, Energy, Homeland Security, Interior, Justice, Transportation and Treasury.
Homeland Security Deputy Secretary James Loy said Thursday the pending events present a "window" for carrying out attacks, especially in the wake of train bombings in Madrid in March that killed 191 people, injured 1,500 and affected the outcome of elections in that country.
Loy said the interagency planning effort puts Homeland Security Presidential Directive 7 "on steroids, accelerates it, and focuses it in such a fashion that we are enormously attentive between now and over the course of the next six to eight months to the intelligence stream going by." That directive established a national policy for federal departments and agencies to identify and prioritize critical infrastructure and key resources in the country, and protect them from terrorist attacks.
"What we have done is establish five working groups inside the department with the …requirement to go all places necessary to pull together a game plan that we will present…to Secretary Ridge by the end of this month, " Loy said.
DHS spokeswoman Katy Minster said Friday the five components of the working group cover prevention, protection, preparedness, response and recovery, and special events. According to Minster, each event has its own security plan, and the working group was established to ensure the highest level of coordination between federal, state and local organizations, as well as the private sector.
"Right now, we don't have any specific credible threat information around these events, but if new information arises, then this group is there to ensure that proper communication is there at all levels," she said. "The five components will help focus our efforts as they work to strengthen preparedness efforts and information-sharing between homeland security officials and our partners."
Three of the upcoming events already have been declared national security special events. That designation, which was developed in 1998, means the Secret Service becomes the lead federal agency responsible for security. The designated events are the G8 summit in Savannah, Ga., June 8-10; the Democratic National Convention in Boston, July 26-29; and the Republican National Convention in New York City, Aug. 29-Sept. 4.
Ridge said last month on NBC's Today show that DHS was not planning to raise the national color-coded alert system for the upcoming events.
"I don't think America has any idea of the thousands of people that will be involved in planning and preparing and implementing very strong, comprehensive, across-the-board security for all of those events," the secretary said. "And you'd be absolutely amazed at the work that goes on involving multiple federal agencies, state and local officials. The planning is on the way. We don't need to raise the threat level, but we do need to come up with a unique security plan, and we will."
By Chris Strohm
May 7, 2004