The Next Attack?

With Ashcroft predicting another terrorist attack, here is a brief rundown of possible targets and what's being done to protect them.

BRIDGES:Some protection. To allay bridge workers' fears, New York City cops are now protecting the Manhattan Bridge from satchel charges to the suspender cable that could send the entire bridge crashing into the East River. Coast Guard and police boats are patrolling the harbor between the 59th Street and Williamsburg bridges.

OIL SUPPLY:With 53 percent of oil imported from abroad, mostly the Middle East, the U.S. Navy must protect thousands of miles of sea lanes to both coasts.

NATURAL GAS PIPELINES:Underground trunk lines run from Texas and the Southwest to Los Angeles and New York. Guarded by planes, cars, and electronics, these 24-to 48-inch-wide lines may still be vulnerable to attacks at numerous compressor stations, which keep the gas flowing by boosting pressure. But if terrorists should access the stations they could wreck the system.

OIL PIPELINES:These pipelines are also underground, but because oil is not as volatile as natural gas, they present less of a danger.

NUCLEAR POWER PLANTS:In Nuclear Regulatory Commission tests, small assault teams broke through security at six of 11 nuclear power plants and could have caused the release of radioactivity. A diving suicide airliner could penetrate nuclear power stations, experts claim.

CYBERSPACE:Defense Department and FAA computers have little real security. As many as 24 federal agencies lack proper security to protect computers and networks, according to government reports and computer experts. Because of budget restraints, the FBI has not fully staffed a special computer center set up in 1998 to detect and prevent threats from cyberspace. The National Security Agency, our top spy works, didn't even staff the top posts of the center for more than a year. How susceptible are these systems? Chinese hackers broke into Pentagon computers during last year's spy plane incident. The Code Red computer virus infected thousands of government systems.

AMTRAK:The national passenger rail system is checking IDs at ticket counters and randomly stationing cops on trains. The engineer is separated in the locomotive behind heavy steel doors and communicates with the train crew by radio. Otherwise, access to trains, stations, and tracks is unchanged.

WATERWORKS:At reservoirs and aqueducts, fishing, hunting, and walking are banned. Boats, planes, and foot patrols guard the New York City watershed. The biggest danger would be an aqueduct explosion, seriously disrupting water supply to New York. Because poisoning the water supply would take very large amounts of contaminant, it's considered less likely.

AIRPORTS:The same poorly paid people continue to work the security checkpoints. Carry-on luggage is still permitted, and the president rejected calls to arm flight crews. The government has not taken over the security apparatus, leaving it in the hands of the do-nothing airlines and the useless FAA. Reopening Reagan National Airport allows the White House only 40 seconds to defend itself from a diving suicide airliner.


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