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LIVE FROM THE HEADLINES

Americans Increase Security as Terror Alert Level Raises

Aired May 22, 2003 - 19:01   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

DARYN KAGAN, ANCHOR: First let's get to the top story. And that is there are fresh concerns that a terrorist attack could happen within the next two days. The national alert level is already at orange or high.
Our Kelli Arena says one of the factors contributing to the new concern, credible intelligence that al Qaeda may be alive and well in Iran.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KELLI ARENA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Despite Iran's repeated denials, CNN has learned Iranian officials have told a U.S. representatives that Iran does have several unnamed al Qaeda operatives in custody.

But U.S. officials say it is unclear whether the operatives are allowed to receive visitors and communicate. If they are, the U.S. says that would amount to safe haven. The U.S. and Britain are demanding Iran turn over any al Qaeda prisoners.

TONY BLAIR, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: We have said very clearly to the Iranian government that harboring al Qaeda would be entirely unacceptable.

ARENA: Among the operatives believed to have been detained by Iran at some point, Saif al-Addel (ph). He is said to be al Qaeda's top operational planner, third in the chain of command.

Officials believe he may have played a role in the recent bombings that killed eight Americans in Saudi Arabia.

DONALD RUMSFELD, DEFENSE SECRETARY: There is no question but that there have been, and are today, senior al Qaeda leaders in Iran and they're busy.

ARENA: Intercepts picked up around the time of last week's bombings is evidence, some officials say, of an operational al Qaeda post in Iran, and that evidence in part, led to raising the threat level to high alert in the United States.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Certainly Saif al-Addel (ph) in recent weeks has been issuing -- recent months, rather, has been issuing propaganda and has been more active, at least, in al Qaeda's more outward external communications, recruitment propaganda campaigns.

(END VIDEOTAPE) ARENA: Top Middle East experts point out that there was some optimism building about improved Iran-U.S. relations when it was revealed that the two were holding talks about regional issues and, most importantly, Iran's nuclear program. But the U.S. is now refusing to attend any more sessions. Officials say that any momentum that was building has been stopped dead in its tracks -- Daryn.

KAGAN: Kelli Arena in Washington. Thank you.

So America is getting ready for Memorial Day weekend. Security increasingly tight, especially at landmarks across the country. How do the people living near those landmarks react?

Our Mike Brooks is live. He's in South Leto (ph), California, on the northern end of the Golden Gate Bridge. Mike, hello.

MIKE BROOKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Daryn.

Well the Golden Gate Bridge is one of the largest icons in the United States and west coast. All over the world, people recognize the Golden Gate Bridge.

Now, I spoke with the director of emergency preparedness for the city of San Francisco yesterday, and he said the people of San Francisco are well prepared. He said they've been at a high state of awareness since September 11. And also the people here in San Francisco are more accustomed to emergency preparedness because they prepare on a regular basis for earthquakes.

But earlier today, Daryn, a drill was held here at the Golden Gate Bridge. It was a simulated terrorist incident of a takeover of a bus. Now the bus ended up on the north bridge just underneath the north ends of the Golden Gate Bridge. Now talking to officials who conducted the exercise, they felt that it was beneficial; it brought together 10 different agencies to test the response plan here at the bridge.

Now this exercise is held about once a year and it helps them prepare for anything from a hazardous material spill to earthquakes or to a terrorist incident like they drilled for today.

So the people of San Francisco here feel very well prepared, Daryn, and they move into...

KAGAN: Go ahead.

BROOKS: No, no, as they prepare for the holiday weekend and whether it be 48 hours or 48 days of a terrorist attack, possibly to occur, they feel that they are extremely well prepared.

KAGAN: Absolutely. Mike Brooks standing in one of the prettiest places in all of America, right there on the headlands looking back at San Francisco. Mike, thank you so much for that.

Well, there are two schools of thought out there, alerting the public about a possible terror attack. One says that the alert, which was raised yesterday to orange from yellow does help people prepare and could prevent or reduce loss of life. Then there's those people out there who think it does little more than affect the public.

Joining me, guests from both side was of the debate. In Atlanta, WDUV Martha Zoller and in San Francisco KGO's Bernie Ward.

Bernie, we were just in your city so we're going to start with you. What are folks in the Bay Area saying about this terror alert?

BERNIE WARD, KGO RADIO: Well, I'm glad he thinks everybody's ready because nobody else even talks about it.

KAGAN: Really?

WARD: So...

KAGAN: People who are calling in aren't talking about it?

WARD: Well, they're talking about it, but they're not talking about it because they're scared. They're talking about it because it was interesting that the guy who made the announcement was Asa Huchison (ph), who President Bush wants to run for the Senate in Arkansas, instead of Tom Ridge making the announcement. All of a sudden, he picks up a very high profile role. They talk about it because it keeps people afraid.

But most importantly they talk about it because Mike Brooks is standing over there by the bridge. This warning's at orange, am I not supposed to drive across the bridge?

KAGAN: I don't know about that, Bernie. I have a lot of friends that live in the Bay Area. They talk about that. If they live in Marin and need to drive into the city they do wonder about what they need to do.

If your kids are in Marin and you're working in the city, I think you'd think twice about it.

WARD: Well, think twice about what? Are you supposed to go over? Do you let them go into the city? Do you drive across the bridge? What is the administration saying about that?

KAGAN: Well...

WARD: Are they saying for the next 48 hours keep your children home? If I was going to go down to great America, down the peninsula, should I do that now because of this? Does this alert give me any information or guidance on any of that?

KAGAN: Martha, let's bring you into this. It sounds like Bernie is saying a little bit of information is not a good thing. You either need a lot of information or he doesn't want to hear about it. What do you think?

MARTHA ZOLLER, WDUN RADIO: Daryn, it was WDUN. So I wanted to get that clear. KAGAN: Sorry. Thank you for clearing that up.

ZOLLER: But you know what? We do need to have these warnings. At this point in time what's interesting about it is to see whether we know what to do. And maybe we just are looking at a high level.

No, we don't stop going places. We don't stay home at this point in time. Now a red alert means that we have a specific attack that's coming and there will be different plans that would happen then.

But now, I think it's ridiculous to say that there's political motives in this. If the president wanted to be political he wouldn't put these warnings out because it makes him look worse when we have warnings, not better. They haven't overused this and I think it's ridiculous to say it's political.

KAGAN: But Martha, how does it enhance your life or how does it change your life? Do you not go to the grocery store? Will you not drive down to Calloway Gardens (ph), do you not go over to the coast or down to the panhandle?

ZOLLER: No. You go into -- You're going to look around and be more aware.

But I think the orange level really affects law enforcement much more. They are at a higher rate of alert and they have certain plans they're going to put in place. I noticed when came into the CNN building today, there were more police officers at the front of the building. There were a few more checks that I went through than what I normally went to.

But I went to two airports this weekend, the Atlanta airport and La Guardia airport in New York and there was a little bit more of a check, but it didn't hold me up. But you were aware, everybody knew, if they started doing these more checks and you didn't know there was an alert there, I think that would be scarier than knowing there was an alert there.

KAGAN: Well, Martha, you're flying through the Atlanta airport at the same time that I would because I missed my flight.

Bernie, let's put you back on the hot seat here and say, so are you saying ignorance is bliss unless there's something you really need to know, you don't want to know about it?

WARD: No. I'm saying that, you know, these are CYA announcements, these are cover your rear end. We've got chatter. We're going to make these announcements and we're going to raise the threat level that is meaningless. It doesn't do anything about my life.

Mike Brooks says San Francisco's ready for it. San Francisco's not ready for this. San Francisco doesn't have the police manpower. Doesn't have the fire department manpower. The state of California is getting killed by these alerts. KAGAN: I think as we turn to Mike, what Mike's point was just that since people in the Bay Area are used to thinking things through because they go through earthquake situations. Perhaps they thought that situation, perhaps more than someone in, say, Kansas City.

WARD: Listen, you want to know what they're talking about in California right now, they're talking about the fact that we have a $35 billion deficit and we're laying off teachers and these alerts are making us spend $10, 15, 30 million at a pop that the federal government does not reimburse. I always thought the Republicans were against unfunded mandates and yet every time we get one of the alerts, the state of California is out a huge amount of money that could be used for a lot of other purposes.

KAGAN: Martha, I'll let you have the last word here. It does cost more money for law enforcement when they up the terror alert level. What about that?

WARD: Without any federal reimbursement.

ZOLLER: Well, you're kind of putting the government in a no-win situation, though. If they don't tell you when something happens, then you say why not. If they do tell you and something doesn't happen, you say, gee, you goofed up. We've got to really make sure that we've got it here, but it's not an unfunded mandate. We want our country to be secure and we have to share the costs along there.

But I'll tell you what, we are going to be safer because of this and security, if you don't have security, it doesn't matter if you have the best Medicare program. It doesn't matter if you don't have debt. It doesn't matter about any of those kind of social programs. If we get hit again we're going to have major problems that won't be able to be solved by great social programs.

KAGAN: I'm going to have to make that the last word. Martha Zoller of WDUN...

ZOLLERS: Good to see you, Bernie.

KAGAN: ... and Bernie Ward from KGO in San Francisco. Thanks so much to both of you; appreciate your time this evening.

Well, while Americans living on U.S. soil can look to the government to respond to terror threats, the lines of protection aren't so clear for those who live abroad.

State Department correspondent Andrea Koppel has that story.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ANDREA KOPPEL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Only days after suicide bombers in Saudi Arabia killed eight Americans...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Want to give daddy a kiss night-night?

KOPPEL: In London, Americans Peter and Katie (ph) Taylor continue nightly rituals.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Last week's attacks serve as a reminder that it can happen and we're certainly all targets and it very well might happen here.

KOPPEL: Since September 11, in fact, Peter's employer, U.S. brokerage firm Merrill Lynch, has been upgrading its own security procedures for thousands of American expatriates like the Taylors to prepare for the worst.

PETER TAYLOR, LIVES ABROAD: Working for an American company, I do think that I get barraged with a lot of information about what to do and what to be aware of.

KOPPEL (on camera): In addition to an estimated four million U.S. citizens who live overseas, millions more travel abroad as tourists, despite increasing threats to Americans around the world.

(voice-over) Travel warnings and public announcements are posted on the State Department's web site and e-mailed to Americans living overseas whenever the U.S. receives new information about potential risks.

The U.S. also regularly relies on host governments to step up security around U.S. facilities and other sites frequented by Americans.

Another service: the State Department's Overseas Advisory Council provides U.S. companies with information on how to protect American expatriates.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: As far as I know no other company organization has taken any kind of measures to pull people out.

KOPPEL: But, U.S. officials stress, security for Americans overseas is not guaranteed.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Cow.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Cow.

KOPPEL: In London, although the Taylor family may not feel like they're on the front lines.

TAYLOR: At the end of day it becomes more of a personal issue. Like what steps do you take to protect yourself because ultimately, you know, you have to watch out for yourself, regardless if you're an American, you know, living in Britain or Bahrain.

KOPPEL: A new reality for Americans no matter where they call home.

Andrea Koppel, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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