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Terrorism report prompts transit watch in Massachusetts

(Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News circulated the following story by Michael S. Rosenwald of The Boston Globe on April 3.)

BOSTON -- Governor Mitt Romney directed his administration yesterday to develop "more robust" plans to protect the state's public transit system, following a Homeland Security Department bulletin highlighting uncorroborated intelligence reports about a plot by terrorists to target commercial transportation this summer.

Romney didn't have specific details about what such plans might be and how they would be implemented, but he said state officials would evaluate a series of Homeland Security Department recommendations in the bulletin and "evaluate how we might implement them within the context of our transit system."

The governor said that officials have been increasingly concerned about railways, following last month's terrorist attack on trains in Spain. Romney mentioned several possible tactics, including random screenings, limiting parking by vans and trucks without inspection, and searching bags.

"We are taking measures to do everything humanly possible to protect ourselves and our transit systems," Romney said at a State House press conference.

Public Safety Secretary Edward A. Flynn pointed out that the national terrorist threat level has not been increased and that the "information contained in this bulletin is information that has been conveyed to public safety officials in one form or another over the course of the last several months."

"Once again they are reminding us of our vulnerability in our transportation network," he said.

Dan Stessel, an Amtrak spokesman, said the bulletin had been passed along to Amtrak police, but that the rail line had already raised its level of vigilance in light of the Madrid bombing.

"We have increased police patrols and major stations and other facilities, including patrols by K-9 teams," he said. "We've reminded employees to remain vigilant and report suspicious activities."

Lynn Brown, a spokeswoman for Greyhound Lines Inc., said the company has security measures in place that correspond with the Department of Homeland Security's alert level.

"We are reminding employees to be vigilant and report suspicious persons, activities, or packages," she said.

Brown said Greyhound received funding from the Transportation Security Administration last fall that will allow the company to increase passenger screening this summer.

Flynn said that the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority received $3.7 million in grants last year to beef up security and that the state had learned this week that the agency had another $3.7 million in grant money.

MBTA general manager Michael Mulhern said: "We are reinforcing our observation and reporting procedures. ... We are on a higher state of alert, in terms of what to be looking for. Our police are looking at intelligence gathering."

At the same time, T officials began removing all bins in MBTA stations that were not bombproof, while officers were reminded to remain vigilant about unattended packages, garbage bags, or backpacks similar to those used in the Madrid attacks.

Homeland Security officials issued a number of recommendations for increasing security in the bulletin:

--Closely monitor terminal parking lots, improve lighting, and enforce restrictions against illegally parked vehicles.

--Remove trash receptacles or other containers that could hide a bomb.

--Deploy more visible security personnel and review security camera footage each day for signs of terrorist surveillance.

--Do random passenger inspections and security sweeps of stations and transit vehicles.

--Match bags and cargo with passengers and increase the number of public announcements to encourage people to promptly report unattended baggage or suspicious behavior.

--Safeguard uniforms, badges, identification cards, and other official items to ensure they cannot be stolen for use by terrorists to gain easier access.

But Romney sought to remind citizens "that we can't protect everything in our society."

"We are a free and open society and there are far more targets than there are police officers and other security officers," he said.

The highest priority is gathering intelligence to thwart terrorist plans from the beginning, he said.

Mayor Thomas M. Menino said he spoke with Police Commissioner Kathleen M. O'Toole yesterday afternoon to make sure that public safety officials are doing all that they can to guard against a terrorist attack.

He said this week's announcement that North Station and Inter state 93 would be closed down for a good portion of the Democratic National Convention in July is an example of authorities taking all possible steps to head off attacks.

"People might say they are extreme, but we're going to do everything we can for this one week in July," Menino said.

Monday, April 5, 2004

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