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Wednesday, January 30, 2002 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Space needle may have been terrorist target

Seattle Times staff reporters

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Seattle Police Chief Gil Kerlikowske said today that federal law-enforcement agents have told them that a photograph of the Space Needle was found along with other documents seized by American forces in Afghanistan that purportedly outline new targets for al-Qaida terrorist attacks.

But multiple law enforcement sources tonight said that reports of specific al-Qaida attack plans against the Space Needle or any other state landmark or installation were exaggerated.

“There’s absolutely no specific threat that I’ve been made aware of, other than the fact that a picture of the Space Needle was found,” Kerlikowske said today. “There is no specific threat, though certainly there’s cause for concern when a photograph of a Seattle landmark is found.”

Kerlikowske said he has been aware of the discovery for a few days, but the Space Needle has been under intense security for more then two years.

NBC News tonight cited unnamed federal officials in reporting that the documents “showed plans to attack other targets in Washington state, including massive hydroelectric dams, including the Grand Coulee Dam.”

The Space Needle has been under a tight watch since the fall of 1999, when local police worried it could be a target of protests during the WTO Conference.

Those events, combined with Sept. 11, have led to beefed-up security at the Space Needle, Kerlikowske said. Police officers are assigned full time to the Seattle Center, and private Space Needle security is trained to work with Seattle police, the chief said.

“I’m very confident with the fact that the Space Needle has excellent security,” Kerlikowske said. Mayor Greg Nickels said he was told of the apparent threat early Wednesday.

While Sept. 11 did not directly hit Seattle, Nickels said the latest news reinforces the notion that “It’s something that could happen in any American city.”

Like his police chief, Nickels said he didn’t know of any specific plan to attack the Space Needle or any other locations.

The Grand Coulee dam is federally operated, and as such has been under the tightest security since Sept. 11, said Dulcy Mahar, a spokeswoman for the Bonneville Power Administration, one of the agencies that operates the massive dam.

The BPA spokeswoman said she had not been informed by federal sources of any specific al-Qaida threat or the dam’s inclusion in recently recovered documents.

“All federal agencies have heightened their security to what some find nearly uncomfortable levels,” Mahar said. “But we’d rather err on the side of safety. We’re comfortable that people are doing everything they possibly can.’’

Even a successful attack on the Grand Coulee dam wouldn’t have the catastrophic effects on the Northwest Power grid that terrorists might hope, Mahar said. The dam supplies about 2,000 megawatts of electricity to the Northwest, just a part of the region’s power source.

“It wouldn’t black out the Northwest; it would just make things tighter,” Mahar said. “It’s not going to cripple the Northwest.”

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