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Last Updated

12 Feb 2003

Source: The Chronicle of Higher Education, February 12, 2003

FBI Director Warns of Possible Terrorist Attacks Against Colleges


Al Qaeda is looking at colleges and other poorly defended locations as possible targets for terrorist attacks, the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation told a U.S. Senate committee on Tuesday.

While Al Qaeda recognizes the value of massive attacks that kill thousands of people to shock its adversaries and recruit potential members, it also values smaller operations with greater chances of success, Robert S. Mueller III, the FBI chief, told the committee. The recent attacks in Bali and Kuwait that killed dozens or hundreds of people, he said, "could readily be reproduced in the U.S."

"Multiple small-scale attacks against soft targets," including colleges and universities, Mr. Mueller said, "would be easier to execute and would minimize the need to communicate with the central leadership, lowering the risks of detection."

Mr. Mueller shared the floor with George J. Tenet, director of the Central Intelligence Agency, in a session before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.

Mr. Mueller's comments mark the "first time a senior official has noted the likelihood that an institution of higher education would be a target," said Sheldon E. Steinbach, vice president and general counsel for the American Council on Education.

Colleges do offer tempting targets for would-be terrorists, Mr. Steinbach said -- besides sponsoring large sporting events, they house ingredients for biological and chemical weapons, and a few even have nuclear reactors.

Since September 11, though, colleges have candidly talked about their potential vulnerabilities to terrorist attacks, Mr. Steinbach said. "Almost all institutions have taken reasonable precautions to heighten security at sensitive facilities and events."

The FBI chief's statement, he continued, will intensify colleges' efforts to ensure that their campuses are safe.