Law enforcement agencies across Minnesota are on alert;the FBI has issued a general warning for the Fourth of July holiday. The agency says terrorists may chose Independence Day because of its "political and cultural significance."
The FBI's Minneapolis field office will maintain a special command post over the holiday. Debbie Pierce, special agent in charge of the office, which covers Minnesota and North and South Dakota, says the FBI will pay close attention to the Minneapolis fireworks and the Taste of Minnesota festival in St. Paul. She says in South Dakota, the FBI has sent agents to holiday celebrations at Mount Rushmore.
"Logically, with large groups of people and the fact that we're celebrating our independence makes us a target. So we're asking everybody to be alert and to call in with anything that appears suspicious and we will coordinate with local law enforcement and make sure that we address that," Pierce says.
Pierce says FBI agents are already working closely with local officers to investigate anything unusual. "The other night we got a call from the sheriff's department that a couple of individuals had been spotted with pipe bombs on the Mississippi River. They were in custody and we sent agents over immediately to interview them and determine what their motives were, what they were involved in doing. We determined they were blowing up fish, but some concerned citizen called that in to the sheriff's department, the sheriff called us, we worked with the sheriff's department and the police department in resolving that matter," according to Pierce.
This latest terrorist advisory is the FBI's 19th since the September attacks. Previous FBI advisories have included warnings of possible attacks against banks in the Northeast, shopping malls, the Brooklyn Bridge or the Statue of Liberty, and synagogues.
Minnesota Department of Public Safety Spokesperson Kevin Smith says local law enforcement agencies will respond to this latest warning the same way they have to past ones. "What that means is: have you got a synagogue in your community? Maybe you take an extra drive around that, an extra patrol around that. If you've got a water plant facility, maybe if an officer is working the overnight shift and he's got to do his reports for his night, maybe he parks his squad by the front gate of the water treatment plant and keeps an eye on that while he does his reports," according to Smith.
The Department of Public Safety relayed the alert to every law enforcement agency in Minnesota. The alert, like all but about six of the others, was not intended for public consumption, but was leaked to the media.
Government officials have decided to stop issuing public alerts without more specific guidance. They're worried vague alerts may cause so called "threat fatigue."
But Smith says local law enforcement agencies are glad to be kept in the information loop. He says communication with the FBI has greatly improved. "If anything were specific, if we got some information that was highly credible about anything specific to Minnesota, what has changed since Sept. 11 is, they wouldn't mess around with that. They would call us immediately, they'd tell us what they knew, they'd get the information out to the agencies or agencies that would be in that vicinity and we would respond accordingly."
In New York and in Washington D.C., law enforcement officials plan to use metal detectors to check people coming to see fireworks displays. In Boston, officers will scan an estimated half-million people expected for an open air concert of the Boston Pops. No security measures on that scale are planned for Minnesota, but Minneapolis officials say they'll have additional police and other emergency personnel monitoring large crowds.
A spokesperson for the Mall of America in Bloomington declined to discuss security measures there. In Dakota County, which includes the Prairie Island nuclear plant, Chief Deputy Scott McNurlin says no extra patrols are being assigned to the plant. He says officers there have been advised of the alert.
"I'm not going to get specific about the details of the alert, but in the briefing they're aware of what the FBI has cited as potential risks, and they'll react to anything that fits within that protocol. So that means that they would stop and investigate and maybe question certain individuals, maybe stop certain vehicles if it seems that they were not in the norm of everyday traffic," says McNurlin.
MCNurlin says increased vigilance has become part of his officers' routines since Sept. 11.
The FBI is asking citizens who notice any suspicious activity to call its Minneapolis command post.
The FBI's Minneapolis command post phone number is 612.376.3200.More Information