Las Vegas Sun

December 18, 2014

Currently: 53° — Complete forecast | Log in | Create an account

Federal help sought for security at dam

The governors of Nevada and Arizona have asked the Bush administration to assess the security needs of Hoover Dam and provide additional federal funds to protect it from a terrorist attack.

Kenny Guinn of Nevada and Jane Hull of Arizona sent a joint letter late last month requesting the study to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and Secretary of Interior Gale Norton.

In the two-page letter, Guinn and Hull said they have "serious manpower and resource questions that must be addressed immediately."

Both governors said they were having trouble coming up with state funds to protect the dam, which is a crucial water and power source for the West, under heightened security measures now in place because of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

"The states of Nevada and Arizona have and will continue to assist with security needs as necessary," Guinn and Hull wrote. "However, our resources are already spread thin. We are unable to continue providing the same personnel level indefinitely without compensation or a clear understanding of the commitment needed."

Nevada's congressional delegation was trying this week to get money for additional Hoover Dam security included in the counterterrorism bill being considered by Congress.

Copies of the letter from Guinn and Hull also were sent to Tom Ridge, the Bush administration's new director of homeland security and Thomas White, secretary of the Army.

The governors' concerns were raised prior to the FBI's national warning Thursday that additional terrorist attacks were expected in the United States over the next several days.

In the wake of the warning, the Las Vegas FBI office Thursday appealed to the public for help in identifying possible terrorist activity in the area.

"We ask for the public's assistance in reporting any activities, which are suspicious or unusual," the Las Vegas FBI said in a news release late Thursday.

"All (law enforcement) agencies remain vigilant in their efforts to prevent any further terrorist attacks."

The release stressed that the FBI "has no indication that Nevada is being targeted."

The FBI sent out the release after Guinn telephoned Grant Ashley, special agent in charge of the Las Vegas FBI office, for a clarification of the national FBI warning.

Guinn said he called the FBI chief to make sure there were no specific threats to the state.

"I was just being extra careful," Guinn said, adding he was reassured there were no threats directed against Nevada.

A national terrorism expert, however, told the Sun this week that he had word the FBI was worried about a terrorist attack on the West Coast.

" ... There were plans to attack other targets, and those targets were on the West Coast," said Vince Cannistraro, a former chief of counter terrorism for the CIA.

Cannistraro, a consultant for ABC News, would not discuss the specifics of the threat.

Guinn said all Nevada agencies remain on high alert.

"We're still on the highest level of vigilance that we can possibly get with our system," he said. "We're in the same position we've been in all week. "We are as prepared and well protected as we possibly can be."

Guinn said the Nevada National Guard was calling up 150 more guardsmen in the heightened state of alert.

And he expected some of those guardsmen to be assigned to protect Southern Nevada's water supply at Lake Mead.

Pat Mulroy, executive director of the Southern Nevada Water Authority, requested the guard's help to maintain security around the water intake system at the lake, Guinn said.

Guinn, the FBI and other law enforcement agencies are urging the public to stay alert to suspicious activity.

"People should just be more aware of what's going on around them," Guinn said.

An example of this heightened awareness occurred Thursday night after police were tipped off to a briefcase left at a bus stop across from the Stratosphere Hotel and Tower on Las Vegas Boulevard South.

Someone called police to report that a man of Middle-Eastern descent wearing a shirt with the word "Pakistan" printed on it had put down the briefcase at the bus stop and walked away.

Traffic in front of the Stratosphere was halted about 4:50 p.m. for about an hour Thursday evening as authorities worked to determine whether the briefcase contained an explosive device.

The Las Vegas Fire Department bomb squad X-rayed the case and opened it to find only pens and papers, Metro Police Sgt. Marty Schofield said.

"Given the location and the date, the threat had to be taken seriously," Schofield said.

Las Vegas Boulevard was reopened at 5:45 p.m., but many patrons inside the Stratosphere didn't notice that the road was closed.

Bob Andrews, director of Clark County's Emergency Management, said his office had meetings throughout Thursday with public safety agencies in response to the FBI warning.

"In terms of preparedness, I think everybody is about as prepared as we can be," Andrews said.

Andrews said he had no indication from the FBI or any other agency that Las Vegas would be more of a target than any other city.

Metro Police, meanwhile, remained on high alert.

"We're as ready as we've ever been," Deputy Chief Bill Young said this morning. "There's no specific threat against us. But being prepared is the No.1 priority right now. At the same time, people have to go on with their regular lives."

Nevada Highway Patrol troopers also are not taking any additional action as a result of the FBI alert, but have been checking commercial vehicles -- such as tractor-trailers -- more often since the Sept. 11 attacks.

"We are patrolling areas around the Strip, the Stratosphere and at times and places were there are events for commercial vehicles," said NHP spokesman Alan Davidson. "We were advised there were no threats specific to Southern Nevada, but we are still being vigilant."

After Sept. 11, Davidson said, troopers began checking commercial vehicles on the road 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Last month, the NHP began inspecting all trucks carrying hazardous materials on the state's highways as part of a national effort to avert additional terrorist attacks.

The checks were ordered after several people tied to the hijackers in the Sept. 11 attacks were charged on the East Coast with fraudulently obtaining licenses to haul hazardous materials.

Security, meanwhile, at Hoover Dam, the main water supply for the Las Vegas valley, remains at the same level it has been since Sept. 11, Bureau of Reclamation spokesman Bob Walsh said.

Every vehicle that goes across the dam is subject to a check, and commercial vehicles and trucks are being diverted and not allowed across the dam. The dam tour has been suspended.

The NHP and the Arizona Department of Public Safety are manning checkpoints on either side of the dam, checking cars, Walsh said.

Sun reporters Keith Paul, Jace Radke and Launce Rake contributed to this report.