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US Security Gaps Found As New Terror Threat Reported

The United States has received intelligence suggesting a terrorist may be plotting an attack on a U.S. nuclear plant on the nation's July 4 holiday. The supposed threat comes at a time when federal investigators have found large gaps in post September 11 efforts to safeguard key government sites from terrorism.

A U.S. source who asked not to be identified confirms the United States is aware of intelligence suggesting associates of the al-Qaida network could be plotting to attack nuclear sites, including Pennsylvania's Three Mile Island nuclear plant, this July 4.

Gordon Johndroe, spokesman for Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge, will not characterize the credibility of the reported threats, saying only that the government takes all of them seriously. "We continue to receive information as we investigate al-Qaida in Afghanistan and gain information that indicates that they're interested in targeting our nuclear facilities as well as aspects of our critical infrastructure," he said.

The Washington Times newspaper quotes U.S. intelligence sources as saying Islamic terrorists are planning an attack against a U.S. nuclear plant somewhere in the northeast to coincide with Independence Day celebrations. But other officials describe the sources of the information as less than credible and certainly not solid enough to warrant issuing a new warning to the public or a change in the nation's overall security alert status.

Since last September's terrorist attacks, federal authorities have repeatedly warned that associates of Osama bin Laden could be plotting new attacks on everything from banks, to shopping malls to bridges in California. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said, "There's no question but that they can conduct other terrorist operations and they may very well in the period immediately ahead."

But even though President Bush has made preventing another attack his top priority, federal investigators report finding serious lapses in government efforts to safeguard sensitive sites.

In just one example, people with criminal records have been able to obtain security badges giving them access to aircraft and baggage at some of the nation's busiest airports. And, last month, a study conducted by a private group of defense and national security experts charged the Bush administration with failure to take adequate steps to ensure that potential targets, including nuclear power plants, are less vulnerable to terrorism.