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U.S. boosts security at transit centers

(The following report appeared on the Bergen Record website on July 3.)

More uniformed and plainclothes police are patrolling the state's mass-transit and airport centers, in part because of a terrorism alert emanating from events in Britain.

Security officials predicted the added measures would scarcely affect travelers in the region's mass-transit system. But Bush administration officials cautioned that there might be added inconveniences for airport passengers.

"Our security was ramped up prior to today," NJ Transit spokesman Dan Stessel said, declining to go into specifics.

He said NJ Transit Chief of Police Joseph C. Bober was in contact with British counterparts, as well as law enforcement agencies statewide.

Stessel said the "heightened state of alert" and additional security extended to the state's buses, trains and stations. Despite increased police presence, he added, "passengers are not being significantly delayed."

The efforts in the metropolitan area matched those nationwide announced by the Bush administration on Saturday. But the administration said the nation's security alert status was not being heightened.

"There is no indication of any specific or credible threat to the United States -- no change in the overall security level," presidential spokesman Tony Snow told reporters in Maine.

Britain raised its security alert to the highest level possible, an indication that terrorist attacks are imminent.

Snow said after this step was announced in London that the British government had notified the White House in advance, and that it did not cause any change in the threat assessment in the United States. "We constantly monitor and assess the situation and adjust our posture as necessary," he said.

Still, U.S. officials were wary. Acting out of "an abundance of caution" during the upcoming Fourth of July holidays, Homeland Security chief Michael Chertoff said the government is putting in place plans to increase security at airports, on mass transit and at transportation facilities.

"Some of these measures will be visible; others will not," he said in a statement.

Chertoff added that "at this point, I have seen no specific, credible information suggesting that this latest incident is connected to a threat to the homeland. We have no plans at this time to change the national threat level, although we remind everyone that the aviation threat level has been raised to orange since last fall."

Orange is No. 2 of five levels and indicates a high risk of terrorist attacks. The current national threat level is yellow, or the third-highest, indicating an elevated threat.

The Transportation Security Administration is posting more agents outside terminals at some airports, Snow said.

"There will be some inconvenience of passengers in terms of longer wait times," he said. Local police also may take separate measures, he added.

"The most you're going to see right now is some inconvenience -- some increased inconvenience of airline passengers, more likely at large airports than small," Snow said.

Stessel said passengers should contact law enforcement if they see any abandoned baggage or specific suspicious activity.

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which operates Newark Liberty Airport in New Jersey and John F. Kennedy and La Guardia airports in New York, took "a number of measures as we always do to respond to security situations immediately," spokesman Steve Coleman said.

"People that are going to the airport over the next couple of days, take a lot of extra time," Coleman said Saturday evening. "Get to the airport and get through security." He added that people should take trains or buses if possible.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

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