WASHINGTON – With U.S. officials convinced that terrorists are targeting the presidential election, Attorney General John Ashcroft (search) has taken the unusual step of ordering all Justice Department law enforcement resources to be routed to terrorism "if and when necessary to prevent terrorist attacks."
Ashcroft's order allows the country's Joint Terrorism Task Forces (search) (JTTFs) to get emergency help from the FBI, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the U.S. Marshals Service and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. The order and an accompanying memo — obtained by FOX News — were sent Friday to federal law enforcement offices nationwide.
"Under the procedures I am putting into place, when necessary to prevent or respond to terrorist attacks, the JTTFs can call upon department law enforcement resources for assistance, including agents," Ashcroft wrote.
"This will ensure that during this heightened threat period, all department law enforcement resources are effectively deployed in support of the department's overall mission: to prevent terrorism and the loss of innocent life," Ashcroft wrote.
Senior law enforcement officials said last week they "absolutely believe" someone will attempt a terror attack inside the United States within the next four to six weeks. One official described this time "as a very, very serious period."
"I have not seen people in our intelligence communities this nervous since 9/11," one official said, referring to the Sept. 11, 2001 (search), attacks on the United States that killed almost 3,000 people.
The attorney general's order corresponds with an aggressive FBI plan to stop an attack. As part of this effort, the FBI will be questioning those who are believed to support terrorism or to have espoused extremist views. They may detain anyone of concern — using immigration violations or minor crimes charges to do so.
Now, if needed, the FBI and other agencies will have help. The order signed by Ashcroft expires in 60 days, when, presumably, the threat will have subsided, according to U.S. officials and the order.
"The highest priority of the Department of Justice is protecting Americans from terrorist attacks," Ashcroft wrote. "This responsibility requires that we devote every resource to preventing terrorists from attacking our homeland."
Days before Ashcroft issued the order, senior federal law enforcement officials told FOX News that each day new information comes in that "raises the level of anxiety" about a potential attack.
On Sept. 13, Ashcroft held a conference call with U.S. attorneys throughout the nation, according to senior federal law enforcement officials.
During that call, Ashcroft warned them of the possibility of a major terror attack on U.S. soil in upcoming weeks. Law enforcement throughout the country were to be made aware of this concern.
Law enforcement officials are drastically increasing their efforts to track down potential terrorists, and have been ordered to press their sources and conduct interviews with anyone who may be potentially connected to terrorism.
"We're asking law enforcement officers to vigorously find any legitimate reason to arrest people we believe could be involved in terrorist activity, such as go after them for visa violations and deport them," one official said, who described the overall effort as one of "shaking the trees."
FOX News' Anna Persky and Rita Cosby contributed to this report.