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Inside Politics

Authorities warn of possible debate threats

From Jeanne Meserve
CNN Washington Bureau

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CNN's Kelly Wallace on Thursday's debate in storm-weary Florida.
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America Votes 2004

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Department of Homeland Security and the FBI warned authorities in Florida that Thursday's presidential debate at the University of Miami could be an attractive target for terrorists.

The agencies sent an assessment of potential terrorist threats and tactics to Florida Homeland Security Adviser and to the FBI's Miami field office.

"We do not have any specific information or intelligence to suggest that this first presidential debate is a target," a DHS official said, adding that there was no specific threat information against any of the debates. (Special Report: America Votes 2004, the debates)

The official said that the face-offs between President Bush and Democratic nominee John Kerry were symbolic events that terrorists might target in an effort to disrupt the elections.

The warning, issued Monday, notes that southern Florida has been used as a base of operations and transit point by al Qaeda operatives and some of the 9/11 hijackers.

The warning identifies some potential "soft targets" in south Florida, but the DHS official said there is no specific intelligence that they have been targeted.

The warning "basically looks at very broad intelligence that has been out there for a long time," the official said.

It mentions "things to look out for" and points out vulnerable sectors, but the official said it does not recommend specific protective measures.

Because of its relatively small size, the debate has not been designated a national special security event -- unlike this summer's Democratic and Republican national conventions, the DHS official said.

The U.S. Secret Service is leading the security planning because it is charged with protecting Bush and Kerry.


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