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Homeland Security Raises Threat Level To Orange

Aired December 21, 2003 - 17:00   ET


HOLLY FIRFER, CNN ANCHOR: We bring you now live to a press conference in Seattle. Police Chief Gil Kerlikowsky is speaking about heightened security. Let's take a listen.
QUESTION: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) which leads me to wonder a little bit about the filtering out of information and how quickly that happened and how the coordination works in getting people who are at the front lines and may not be your employees, but are involved pretty important security work.

CHIEF GIL KERLIKOWSKY, SEATTLE, WA. POLICE: Well, it wasn't until the press conference ended and then Secretary Ridge actually formally announced, I believe at 1:30 Eastern time. We had made contact with Seahawks management and staff to make sure that all of the protections were in place, not only with our officers but also to notify all of the security personnel.

Whether every single one of them was notified, because there was a pretty short time lapse between that, our traffic officers were just getting out of role call to go down there at the time this actually was occurring. So, it does take a small amount of time to let lots of security organizations know, you know, your point's well taken.

QUESTION: How do you -- is there any instantaneous way for you to communicate with your officers in your computer system, pagers or radio anouncement or essentially -- or do they not necessarily need to know that there is an elevated threat level.

KERLIKOWSKI: Well, as soon as the conference call was over, a message went out electronically throughout the department, notifying the officers. But in addition, and we have Assistant Chief Brent Wingstrand who is in charge of emergency preparedness, and Deputy Chief Clark Kimmer who is in charge of operations, also notifying all of our command personnel, whether they were on duty or off duty. Through a digital paging system there as a way to group page large numbers of people.

But on top of that, then we also called the commanders of those individual specialty units, and they'll filter that down. So, even though it takes a little bit of time, the information gets out pretty quickly within the department.

QUESTION: Chief, in terms of your conference call with Secretary Ridge, given that we're a border state, and the proximity of Canada and the whole concern about air traffic used as weapons, did any of that enter into this conversation in terms things that of they were asking the locals to be alert to? KERLIKOWSKY: There was no mention of the Canadian border issues at all by the secretary. It was pretty much as I informed you.

QUESTION: Should holiday travellers -- will they notice any changes or make any changes in their own travel plans?

KERLIKOWSKY: You know, I'm not sure and I know you'll probably want to interview the acting police chief out there right now, John Batiste, and he can probably give you a much better indication, but I think we've seen every time that the threat level has increased that there has been at least some delay at first in travel particularly getting through screening -- Yes.

QUESTION: Chief, when you hear that there's more chatter and more intelligence, what goes through your gut?

KERLIKOWSKI: Well, I think this was of concern to all of us. I mean, it wasn't alarming. We've been working on plans and training as all of you know from having covered this from the beginning, but to hear this, I think, certainly brings it again, to the forefront.

And you know, there may be less of an edge amongst the general public, given the fact that the threat level has increased, given the fact that it's been over two years since something has happened. Really, I think that's only, though, sharpened the focus of law enforcement to deal with these things and to be even more alert.

QUESTION: Can you explain whether all major city police chiefs are on that conference call, if not why you were selected as someone who needed to be in on this?

KERLIKOWSKI: Well, it's certainly no secret that seven cities were selected by the federal government a little over a year ago called The Urban Area Security Initiative, Washington D.C., New York, Houston, Los Angeles, Seattle, and I'm sure one or two others.

QUESTION: Chicago.

KERLIKOWSKI: Right, Chicago.

All were selected to receive additional federal funds, additional focus for these kinds of issues. Some of that probably has to do with the fact, as was mentioned, where we are, our proximity to the border. The other is the Ahmed Rassam (ph) case that was about a year earlier before the 9/11 tragedy.

Those kinds of things, I think sharpened. The fact that we have one of the largest deep water ports right here in the heart of the city, those are reasons. The important part is, though, is that it's not because of any specific threat to seattle.

QUESTION: Do you have any sense of how long you'll maintain the increased presence downtown and (UNINTELLIGIBLE)?

KERLIKOWSKI: We'll take a look at that on a day-to-day basis, but I think it's also assumed that we are going to remain as a nation at a higher threat level throughout the holidays, and maybe even somewhat beyond that. So we're going to base our deployment on that kind of information.

QUESTION: Were people's vacations canceled, that kind of thing, to take care of this new threat level?

KERLIKOWSKI: No, all of the officers were notified that because of this, there may be extended shifts and that means that we can hold officers that were normally going to be getting off duty after their nine-hour period that we could be holding them on duty. And that we could also bring people in on their days off.

Right now, we haven't gone to that. The department also has a protocol to go to a 12-hour shift, canceling all days off. We have not elected to do that, but we do have that plan ready.

QUESTION: How does the tone of this conference call compare to the last time the level was raised back in May.

KERLIKOWSKI: Well one, this is the first time that I'm aware of that this type of conference call was done, and I think the increase in communication and the ability to ask questions is significant. I think that's a big step in the right direction, and it's something that the locals have asked for.

We have good communication with our FBI offices and other federal officials. We have terrific communications with the State Emergency Operations Center. But to be here and, you know, and the furthest away from the other Washington, and to have this kind of ability to ask questions and be informed, actually before we saw it on CNN was pretty helpful.

QUESTION: Can you tell us whether you were told classified information in that conference call or is the reality such that all...

KERLIKOWSKI: The information I repeated to you was information also from Secretary Ridge's press conference. It was not a classified telephone call.

QUESTION: So in that sense, you're not privy to information -- do you know something more than the general public does at this point because of your position. And is there sort of a higher level of information that's filtering to keep people like yourself...

KERLIKOWSKI: Well, there is. Shortly after 9/11, a number of police chiefs and then in fact, our own mayor and others were pushed through to get security clearances at the secret or top secret level. And so information is provided to me that's helpful in decision- making, but it's also not the kind of information that would give anyone reason to be more concerned than exactly what we're telling you right now. There isn't some piece of information out there that I know that is triggering this. Pretty much what I've told you is information that's in the public venue.

QUESTION: Chief, given the top views last week, saying that there were mistakes in questioning, what's your sense going into this, is that difficult that news came out before this?

KERLIKOWSKI: No, I'm not, and I'm here to tell you from my perspective, we think that the top off exercise was a very good success. We went into it looking for problems and areas of weaknesses.

We think, because of that, we probably probed much harder and much deeper than even in a real incident, and when you look at the information that was brought up about, well, there were communications breakdowns, none of it affected the ability of fire and police commanders at the scene to protect the public or to make decisions. In fact, if it did anything, it expand the the safety zone or the caution.

So that's why we did it. I don't actually see any relationship other than the fact that because of Topoff, we're more knowledgeable. The lessons we learned, by the way, right after Topoff we started shoring up any of the problems that we had right after immediately after that. Okay. Okay. Thank you.


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