Washington, Sept. 7 (Reuters): With the anniversary approaching of the September 11 attacks on America, the US military has resumed 24-hour air patrols by fighter jets over Washington and New York, US officials said yesterday.
The officials, who asked not to be identified, told Reuters that the patrols — designed to prevent hijack attacks like the ones that destroyed New York’s World Trade Center and heavily damaged the Pentagon — resumed on Thursday.
“With members of Congress flying to New York, and the anniversary approaching, it was decided that the patrols should resume” indefinitely, one of the officials said.
The US Congress met in New York yesterday for the first time in more than 200 years to mark next week’s anniversary of the September 11 attacks that killed about 3,000 people.
The officials refused to comment on a CBS News report that the patrols were resumed due to increased Internet “chatter” or communications among known operatives of the al Qaida.
, the militant network the United States blames for the attacks.
U.S. intelligence agencies have recently picked up a somewhat higher level of“chatter,” or information about potential threats, but there was nothing specific and nothing to indicate that a terror attack was being planned for the Sept. 11 anniversary, a U.S. official told Reuters.
”It's at a heightened level, but not as high as around the Fourth of July,” the official said on condition of anonymity. ”Threat information comes in every day. Are we on a real high trend' No. Is there information coming in' Yes.”
The official added that U.S. security agencies were being vigilant around the anniversary, but there was no information suggesting that a terror attack was planned.
AROUND THE CLOCK FLIGHTS
The air patrols involving F-16 fighters and other jets flown by both Air National Guard pilots and regular Air Force personnel, will fly regular missions over the two cities around the clock, as they began doing after the attacks.
The pilots could be used, with tight restrictions, to shoot down a commercial airliner if it appeared to be headed for a sensitive ground target, according to officials.
In March, patrols were reduced over New York City and later over Washington to a mix of regular flights and“strip alerts” involving planes standing by at military and civilian airports to be scrambled into the air on very short notice.
Patrols have, meanwhile, also been continued on an intermittent basis over other key areas of the country, including other possible targets such as nuclear plants.
Before the patrols were reduced, they had tied up more than 200 fighter jets and 10,000 Air Force personnel at 30 bases across the country. Air Force officials said they had caused wear on equipment and stress on personnel, costing more than $502 million between last September and January alone.
The Pentagon recently tightened up Air Force responses to emergencies after a June 19 incident in Washington in which fighter jets from nearby Andrews Air Force Base were scrambled too late to intercept a small private airplane that wandered into restricted airspace near the White House.
President George W. Bush was in town at the time, but the aircraft, whose pilot was apparently unaware of the restrictions, flew out of the area before Air National Guard jets could intercept it.
After the embarrassing incident, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said communications between the Federal Aviation Administration and the Defense Department would be improved.