Bush Defends Terror Alert to Journalists

Authorities have evidence that new surveillance photographs were taken of Prudential (search) Financial's headquarters in Newark in January, a top homeland security official said Friday, even as President Bush defended the decision to issue terrorism warnings on the basis of old intelligence.

In the past, U.S. officials have said only that there was some evidence of new surveillance (search) as late as January of this year.

But James Loy, the deputy secretary of homeland security and No. 2 official at the agency, told a reporter for The Associated Press, that new photographs were taken in January of the building's interior and exterior, and were not simply old photographs that had been altered or otherwise updated.

"Both inside and out," Loy told The Associated Press following a ceremony to confer badges on officers of the department's U.S. Customs and Border Protection Office.

Asked again, he stressed, "New pictures."

Friday's disclosure by Loy came as Bush in Washington defended last weekend's decision to issue terrorism warnings (searchand tighten security in New York, Newark and Washington, saying "the threats we're dealing with are real" even though some of the intelligence on which the government acted was as much as four years old.

Loy said he had no information on who took the new pictures. But he said possibilities included current or former employees, clients or delivery people.

"I have no information about the source of the photographs," Loy said. "It could be a customer, it could be an inside job."

In his speech in Washington, the president said the government had an obligation to tell Americans about the threats, even though some have questioned whether the warnings were politically motivated to strengthen the president's image as commander in chief in an election year.

"When we find out intelligence that is real, that threatens people, I believe we have an obligation as government to share that with people," Bush told a convention of minority journalists. "Imagine what would happen if we didn't share that information with the people in those buildings and something were to happen, then what would you write?"

On Sunday, authorities elevated alert levels on the belief that terrorists might be plotting attacks on specific financial institutions. The intelligence behind the warnings — including hundreds of detailed surveillance photos, sketches and written documents — came from sources including a seized laptop and computer discs and from interviews after the mid-July arrest of a young Pakistani computer engineer, Mohammad Naeem Noor Khan. But some of that intelligence dated back to information gathered by would-be terrorists as early as 2000.

"The threats we're dealing with are real and therefore we must do everything we can to ferret out the truth and follow leads," the president said. "There was more than one thread-line, threat-line. People are now seeing there was other reasons why we took the action we took."

In a campaign appearance in Stratham, N.H., later Friday, Bush said he is moving forward on reforming the nation's intelligence community to better coordinate the work of 15 far-flung intelligence agencies in the war on terror.

Bush said he is fighting "a lot of entrenched interests" in Washington, but said he would pursue the effort until it is accomplished.

"It's not enough to advocate reform; you've got to get the job done," the president told cheering supporters at a picnic.

In the appearance before news people, Bush declined — as he has in the past — to say how long American troops would be assigned to Iraq or when the troop-level would be cut back.

"We will stay there until the job is completed and our commanders on the ground tell us," Bush said.

Bush said that a questioner was "trying to get me to put a timetable out there. I'm not going to do it. Then when the timetable is busted they'll say, 'I told you.'"

On other points, Bush:

—Said he would consider supporting a constitutional amendment guaranteeing every American the right to vote in federal elections. "I can understand why African Americans in particular are worried about being able to vote since the vote had been denied for so long in the South in particular." He said Congress had approved $3 billion for states and local governments to make sure the voting process is fair.

—Indicated he believes colleges should abolish the "legacy" admissions preference that colleges and universities give to the sons and daughters of alumni.

Bush, himself, followed his father to Yale University and he has acknowledged that he was not much of a student. But he said, "In my case I had to knock on a lot of doors to follow the old man's footsteps."