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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, December 22, 2003

Hawai'i's threat level at orange for the first time

 •  U.S. preparing for possible attacks

By Peter Boylan
Advertiser Staff Writer

After an increase in the national threat alert status to "high risk," or code orange, Gov. Linda Lingle yesterday directed that the state raise its terror awareness to the same level, marking the first time Hawai'i has implemented such security measures.

Lingle said several factors, including the demeanor of Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge during an impromptu video conference between federal and state officials yesterday morning, contributed to the elevated threat level.

Lingle said no specific threats have been made against Hawai'i.

"It's the most serious we've ever seen him (Ridge) with intelligence information," Lingle said. "The volume of intelligence is greater than anytime including before 9/11."

Lingle urged all residents to continue to congregate for the holidays and said there is no need to deviate from their normal activities. She also said stepped-up security efforts would be put into place at government buildings, and critical infrastructure such as power plants and water supply sources.

The State's Director of Civil Defense, Maj. Gen. Robert Lee, said residents can expect longer lines at the airport and an increased National Guard presence. Lee said there would be random checks of all vehicles entering Honolulu International Airport.

He said the elevated threat condition led all branches of the military in Hawai'i to ratchet up their security.

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Coast Guard Capt. Paul Zukunft said the increased intelligence chatter has forced the Coast Guard to elevate its homeland security posture. He said he could not elaborate on the specifics of the increased patrols, but indicated that more ships would be patrolling Hawai'i's waters.

He said on any given day, Coast Guard vessels patrol the main maritime arteries leading into Honolulu Harbor, while a patrol plane scouts the waters up to 200 miles off the coast of Hawai'i.

"It's a layered defense," he said. "We'll be out there 24-7."

Federal officials said fresh intelligence suggests that terrorists may be planning a series of synchronized, catastrophic terrorist attacks during the holidays.

Ridge cited reports that Osama bin Laden's Al-Qaida terrorist network is trying to find holes in U.S. aviation security, and that "extremists abroad" are anticipating attacks that will rival or exceed the scope of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11.

In response to the alert, Mayor Jeremy Harris ordered the activation of the O'ahu Civil Defense Agency Emergency Operations Center.

Lingle said she raised the threat level after conferring with Lee, the state's four mayors, military leaders and officials of various federal, state and county agencies.

In the past, state officials have elected to leave the threat-level color coding alone, even when the federal government has elevated its status. Hawai'i and other states have the discretion to set terrorism alerts independently of the Department of Homeland Security.

State officials have said all states need the flexibility to determine threat levels independently. Simply increasing the warning for Hawai'i without a specific threat to the Islands could unnecessarily alarm residents or expend resources on additional security, they said.

Reach Peter Boylan at 535-8110 or pboylan@honoluluadvertiser.com.