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Security chief: No change likely in threat level

ERIE, Pennsylvania (CNN) -- Without any specific, credible information, the nation's terrorist threat level is likely to remain at yellow as the one-year anniversary of September 11 approaches, Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge said Sunday.

The nation is at a heightened state of alert for possible attacks, Ridge told CNN's "Late Edition With Wolf Blitzer."

Yellow means there's an elevated or "significant" risk of terrorist attacks, according to the Office of Homeland Security's color-coded advisory system.

"If we had specific, credible information targeting a particular economic sector, targeting a community, targeting a particular venue, it's conceivable that, based on that information, we could go to the next level or two," Ridge said.

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While Americans may find significant symbolism in the attacks' anniversary, it's not necessarily so for Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda operatives or other terrorist groups, Ridge said.

"Bin Laden and the terrorists and the terrorist community generally are strategic actors," he said.

"I don't think they'll be driven as much by the date as to when they either perceive there's a vulnerability or a weakness and then match that up with their ability to strike at that time."

Potential vulnerability at the nation's airports continues to be a concern.

The House of Representatives is expected this week to vote to put off the deadline for screening all passenger bags one year to December 31, 2003. Democrats and Republicans have called the original deadline unrealistic.

"Airport after airport, all across this nation, has made it clear: They're not going to make it," House Majority Leader Dick Armey, R-Texas, told NBC's "Meet the Press." "Let's get together, recognize the problem and get about the business of extending the time to fix the problem."

Ridge said the Department of Transportation and the Transportation Security Administration are "doing everything they possibly can to meet the old deadlines." But he conceded that not every airport will be ready in time.

"There is a question, depending on the particular airport, as to the ability to install some of these massive machines between now and the end of the year, and I think this probably gives the new agency a little more flexibility," he said.

There are also concerns about the capabilities of the screening equipment being installed.

"No risk is more serious or insidious than the risk of a false sense of security from believing your bags are screened by a technology that is not reliable," Armey said.

The Transportation Security Administration, which is in charge of placing explosive detection devices in airports, has said it will meet the 2002 deadline and has not requested an extension.

But the agency's director, John McGaw, was forced from office Thursday, in part because of congressional concerns that the agency would miss the deadline, lawmakers have said.




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