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    Officials Reveal Threat to Troops Deploying to Gulf

    COTT AIR FORCE BASE, Ill., Jan. 10 — Troops and weapons moving toward the Persian Gulf have come under threat of possible terrorist attack, say senior military officials, who add that they are more alert than ever to the risks.

    Within the past three weeks, American intelligence gathered what officials described as credible evidence of a planned bombing of a passenger airliner contracted to fly troops and freight for the military.

    To counter what senior commanders call the growing threat of attack on those mobilizing for a possible war with Iraq, the American military has begun for the first time to share classified intelligence warnings directly and quickly with commercial transportation companies ferrying United States forces toward the Middle East from here and abroad, the senior officials said.

    For example, in the case of the suspected bombing plan, the military had come up with intelligence identifying a specific civilian airline company, a specific airport in the United States and a specific date and time of a possible attack, military and intelligence officials said. (In interviews, they would not discuss the specifics in full detail, citing security considerations.)

    Military officials removed from the report details that might have revealed the source of the evidence or how it was gathered. Then, rather than risk any delays from working through domestic law enforcement authorities or federal transportation safety agencies, the military gave the secret threat assessment directly to the private airline company.

    Security officials at the company took pre-emptive steps, including changing the date and time of the flight and the route it followed.

    In a full mobilization to war, more than 90 percent of the troops deploying would fly aboard private air carriers contracted by the military, officials say. Commercial rail and trucking companies would help haul armored vehicles, fuel and food to domestic ports.

    A number of other new steps to share secret intelligence warnings with the private freight and passenger sector — including a password-protected Web site — are being been put in place here at Scott Air Force Base, in the cornfields of southern Illinois, where the United States Transportation Command coordinates the movement of every person and piece of equipment in the armed services.

    Gen. John W. Handy, the four-star Air Force officer who is chief of Transportation Command, said that since the military must rely on planes, trucks, rail cars and ships operated by private carriers, "We do everything we can to keep them well informed."

    General Handy said that even classified reports from the American intelligence community must be made available — at least in a sanitized form — to the private sector. Part of his job, he said, is to make that happen quickly.

    "Our request at my level is to keep pressing to share as much as we possibly can," General Handy said in an interview at his headquarters.

    As it carries out the fight against terrorism, the Bush administration, responding to criticism of intelligence failures before the Sept. 11 attacks, has consciously chipped away at a number of walls that previously separated domestic law enforcement, international intelligence gathering and the armed services.

    The Transportation Command plans to establish the restricted-access Web site for 24-hour posting of new intelligence warnings that can be read by freight carriers and the airlines.

    The issue is especially acute as tens of thousands of troops receive orders to deploy toward the Persian Gulf with their weapons and the fuel and munitions to sustain any offensive that President Bush might order against Iraq. Troop movements have accelerated in the past few days, and more are to come, according to Pentagon officials.

    During the mammoth mobilization for the war against Iraq in 1991, the government did not have such significant fears of terrorist strikes against transportation hubs or bases in the United States and overseas. Should there be another war with Iraq, officials concede, the prospect of such attacks would rise above any of the elevated threat levels since Sept. 11.

    Even when the nation is not at war, there are 45,000 shipments of high-explosive munitions within the continental United States by rail or truck every year, officials said — and each is a potential terrorist target.

    "The commercial carriers told us that they deserve some similar degree of intelligence support as the military," said Thomas S. Reynolds, deputy director of intelligence for Transportation Command. "This is a natural thing with the large level of current deployment activity."

    Mr. Reynolds said that sharing intelligence with private firms contracted to carry military personnel and cargo was not unprecedented. During the Persian Gulf war, he said, the military gave security briefings to commercial pilots contracted to fly to the region.

    The briefings contained intelligence reports classified secret, but included "only that information truly necessary for them to do their mission," Mr. Reynolds said.

    A similar balance between helping the private carriers guard military passengers and cargo while protecting the security of intelligence gathering is the goal of the new initiatives under way at Transportation Command.

    One of the most significant new steps is the formalizing of ad hoc conversations between Transportation Command officials — and those at the subordinate military commands overseeing cargo hauled by land, sea and air — and the commercial shippers.

    Mr. Reynolds said Transportation Command planned to start a Web site this month on which it will post carefully sanitized threat assessments from throughout the intelligence and law enforcement communities, for use by private contractors.

    Specific, credible threat warnings still will be relayed directly to the private carriers, but the Web site will include broader, less specific reports, like one recent sighting of men thought to have been conducting a surreptitious surveillance mission along a portion of Interstate highway used by military transports.


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