Officials: Super Bowl 'a desirable target' for terrorists
Assessment highlights several 'scenarios of concern'; George W. Bush will attend
By Michael Isikoff National investigative correspondent
NBC News NBC News
updated 2/4/2011 11:10:33 AM ET 2011-02-04T16:10:33
A team of U.S. counterterrorism and law enforcement officials recently prepared a nine-page “threat assessment” for Sunday’s Super Bowl.
Their conclusion: There are “no credible terrorist threats” to this year’s game. But its high profile “could make it a desirable target.” And there remain several “scenarios of concern” due in part to al-Qaida’s recent history of attacks on major overseas sporting events, according to a copy of the assessment obtained by NBC News.
Earlier this week, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano flew to Dallas and announced a public relations initiative aimed at heightening vigilance among the public in the run up to the game at Cowboys Stadium. “If you SEE something, SAY something,” read the ads, unveiled by Napolitano and NFL security chief Milt Ahlerich at a press conference.
As America's premier sporting event, the Super Bowl always attracts special attention from security officials. The NFL alone spends about $6 million on Super Bowl security. The Homeland Security Department consider the game a Level One security event — an official designation that enables the federal government to provide million of dollars in extra law enforcement and technical support, including sophisticated surveillance equipment, to assist local authorities screen vehicles entering the stadium and monitor crowd movements. As in past years, air space over the game will be restricted and policed by
But there are several reasons this year’s game is getting somewhat extra attention, officials say. One is that former President George W. Bush and his wife Laura are attending, guests of Cowboys owner Jerry Jones. (President Barack Obama had at one point indicated he might come as well if the Chicago Bears had prevailed in their NFC championship game against the Green Bay Packers.)
There is also an overall threat environment that continues to concern counterterrorism officials even if they are sometimes reluctant to talk about it publicly. As reported by WNBC’s Jonathan Dienst earlier this week , officials recently briefed top executives of major Wall Street firms about intelligence indicating that al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), the terror group’s Yemen-based affiliate, might be planning an attack on New York financial interests. “There’s an overall uptick and worry about AQAP,” said one U.S. counterterrorism official, who asked not to be identified.