WASHINGTON – Authorities have some evidence that suspected terror surveillance information on five financial buildings was looked at again and perhaps updated in January, a top homeland security official said Friday.
Separately, President Bush defended the decision to issue terrorism warnings last weekend based on the information.
James Loy, the deputy secretary of homeland security and No. 2 official at the agency, initially told The Associated Press that new surveillance photographs were taken in January of Prudential Financial Inc.'s headquarters in Newark, N.J., both interior and exterior, and were not simply old photographs that had been altered or otherwise updated.
"New pictures," Loy said after a ceremony in Elizabeth, N.J., to give badges to officers of the department's Customs and Border Protection Office. Pressed to provide specifics, he said: "Both inside and out."
But later Friday, Loy said that he had not personally been "poring over" the intelligence information. Loy said it was clear the surveillance files of the Prudential Building and four other sites held on a captured computer were accessed and perhaps updated in January, but he could not say with certainty that there were new photos taken then. He said he had been speaking hypothetically of what could constitute updating of information.
Loy said there also is some evidence of "freshening" of surveillance information from the other four buildings specifically named in the terror warnings last weekend, although he again said he could not say that "with total clarity."
A Prudential spokesman in Elizabeth, N.J., Robert DeFillipo, said Friday that company officials were confident that terrorists had taken no photographs of the headquarters since before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
"Yesterday, Prudential executives were at the FBI, where they looked at photographs from the computer, and were confident afterward that none of the photographs were more recent than 2001," DeFillipo said.
"One of the reasons they were confident was they noticed surveillance cameras that were installed after 9/11 were not in the photographs they examined. In addition, they noticed that some of the photographs that they looked at appeared to be taken out of a history of the company that was published four years ago."
The photos from the history book were of the building's interior and exterior, DeFillipo said.
In Washington, Bush defended the decision to issue terrorism warnings and tighten security in New York, Newark and Washington. He said, "The threats we're dealing with are real," even though some of the surveillance intelligence on which the government acted dated from four years ago.
Some have questioned whether the warnings were politically motivated to strengthen Bush's image as commander in chief in an election year.
But Bush said: "When we find out intelligence that is real, that threatens people, I believe we have an obligation as government to share that with people. 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, federal authorities elevated alert levels in the three cities in the belief that terrorists might be plotting attacks on specific financial institutions. The intelligence information 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, Mohammed Naeem Noor Khan.
But some of that intelligence dated back to information gathered by would-be terrorists as early as 2000.
Besides the Prudential Building, the terror alert named the Citigroup Center Building and New York Stock Exchange in New York City and headquarters of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank in Washington.