Western law enforcement authorities are uncertain as to the form of possible follow-up terrorist attacks by bin Ladin, but much concern continues to be focused on the threat to infrastructure targets, and particularly nuclear power stations. US and Canadian authorities have stepped up security considerably, but neither plant security nor plant structures were designed to withstand a strike by a large airliner. UK law enforcement officials privately object to the UK government's position that Irish terrorists still represent a greater threat to power stations and gas terminals than do other international terrorists, and are maintaining a higher level of security than that dictated by the government. New security measures will increase costs for nuclear operators and fuel the debate on nuclear power.
An FBI contact has informed us that law enforcement authorities do not know what to expect in the form of follow-up terrorist attacks. He believes that bin Ladin would use different elements within his organization and a different modus operandi, making it difficult to foresee and prevent such attacks. Training at bin Ladin camps is known to include attacks on infrastructure targets, such as power stations. Much of the focus among Western authorities has been on the threat to national energy assets, and particularly nuclear power plants. Although nuclear plants are among the most hardened structures constructed and are generally designed to withstand extreme natural events (eg, earthquakes and tornadoes), attacks by large aircraft were never considered in the design process. The traditional security approach at these plants is consequently inadequate.
Response to this perceived threat has varied from country to country:
The security posture of US nuclear plants has been elevated to the highest level since immediately after the attacks. This has involved increased patrols, augmented forces, heightened coordination among relevant authorities, and limited access to installations -- all representing little defense against a fully fueled airliner.
Nuclear regulatory authorities in both Canada and the US are working with intellience and law enforcement authorities to review existing procedures and are seeking to identify measures to address the expanded threat. Authorities have established a secure air space around nuclear facilities. Security at major hydroelectric sites and oil fields has also been tightened to protect against attacks which could strike a major blow to the US and Canadian economies. New security measures are certain to increase costs for nuclear operators, and fuel the debate on the economics and safety of nuclear power.
Meanwhile, the assessed threat to power plants in the UK has been reduced to relatively low levels after briefly being stepped up. An MI5 contact informed us privately that the government has adopted the official line that Irish groups currently pose a greater threat to UK power stations and gas terminals than do other international terrorist groups. London Metropolitan Police and Scotland Yard officials have informed us that they object to this position by the government, and are in fact maintaining a higher level security posture than dictated by the government. Local law enforcement officials have identified 180 "Key Economic Points" in the London area that require close monitoring, including public transportation, water supply, telecommunications, electricity and gas facilities. MI5 has primary responsibility for protecting similar key points outside of London.