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Pentagon expected to raise base security

From Barbara Starr
CNN Washington Bureau

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Joint Chiefs of Staff are expected to raise security measures at military bases across the United States by the end of the day, military officials told CNN on Friday.

Credible threats that the al Qaeda terrorist network might be planning attacks on U.S. targets prompted the federal government to raise the national threat level Friday to orange, indicating a "high risk of terrorist attacks."

It was only the second time that the level has risen above yellow, or elevated risk, since the system was put in place in the aftermath of the attacks of September 11, 2001. Orange is the second-highest level, behind red. (Full story)

The Pentagon is considering raising its threat level from Force Protection Condition Alpha to Bravo -- its third-highest level. The next level, Charlie, would mean that an incident is imminent or has occurred.

The new threat concern comes as more U.S. troops are being deployed to the Persian Gulf region in case of an attack against Iraq. It follows the recent arrests in Europe of terrorism suspects allegedly planning chemical attacks and concerns that al Qaeda could be planning strikes coinciding with the Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca, Saudi Arabia. The Hajj ends in mid-February.

If the military goes to Bravo alert, as is expected, it will put in place several measures to increase air defenses across the country, the officials said.

Those measures would include:

• Increasing air defenses for ground bases with vehicle-mounted anti-aircraft missiles

• Putting more fighters and air bases on alert for combat air patrols

• Increasing the scrutiny of radar data

Individual base commanders would tailor security measures at each site.

The military had used the word "threatcon," for threat condition, to describe its level of security. In the wake of the September 11 attacks, that was changed to "force protection condition," considered more accurate because the condition describes the readiness of U.S. forces rather than the nature of a threat, because intelligence about a threat is often ambiguous.

The Pentagon defines its force protection conditions as:

• Force Protection Condition Normal: No threat of terrorist activity is present

• Force Protection Condition Alpha: There is a general threat of possible terrorist activity against installations, building locations, and/or personnel, the nature and extent of which are unpredictable

• Force Protection Condition Bravo: There is an increased and more predictable threat of terrorist activity even though no particular target has been identified

• Force Protection Condition Charlie: An incident has occurred or intelligence has been received indicating that some form of terrorist action is imminent

• Force Protection Condition Delta: An attack has occurred or intelligence has been received that action against a specific location is likely

Each of the conditions carries a list of actions that commanders must institute.

In Kuwait, site of recent attacks on U.S. troops and civilians, officials announced new security plans Friday in anticipation of a U.S.-led conflict with Iraq, including a "comprehensive plan" for the evacuation of Western nationals. (Reporter encounters security)

Kuwaiti officials also said a team from the U.S. military, which has more than 45,000 troops deployed in Kuwait, toured the Al Jahra area hospital in northern Kuwait, looking at the facility's emergency room and surgery units, and reviewing the hospital's emergency operating plans.

A number of previously announced security measures will go into effect February 15, including closing the northern half of the country to civilians and deploying security forces around the country.

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