AUGUSTA – Gov. John Baldacci said Wednesday that Maine’s eyes are wide open even as federal officials report intelligence that al-Qaida is determined to launch an attack in the United States in the months ahead.

“There are no specifics pertaining to Maine or anywhere else. At the same time, though, we all ought to be on a heightened sense of security,” Baldacci said, adding that “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

Maine has already taken steps to secure its 611-mile border with Canada through agreements with the neighboring provinces of Quebec and New Brunswick, Public Safety Commissioner Michael Cantara said.

Baldacci said Maine bolstered lines of communication with federal authorities even before U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft and FBI Director Robert Mueller appealed to states Wednesday to do so.

“It’s my sense we have, but if we need to, we’ll do more,” said Baldacci.

In addition, Maine authorities are taking all the steps necessary to work more directly with county emergency management agencies and local emergency responders, Baldacci said.

Baldacci, Cantara and Maine Emergency Management Agency Director Art seconded the federal officials’ appeal to Americans to be aware of their surroundings and report suspicious activities amid intelligence pointing to a possible attack.

But Cantara added that it’s “important to place the information we heard this afternoon in perspective.”

“No method, no location, nothing about what form the potential threat might take … It is nothing that is state of Maine specific,” said Cantara, whose department oversees state police, the fire marshal’s office and other bureaus.

While there is no reason to suspect Maine is a terrorist target, its long international border and coast are seen as potential passageway for aliens with an interest in slipping into the country to do harm, Cantara acknowledged.

On the night before the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Mohamed Atta and Abdulaziz Alomari drove a rental car from Boston to stay at a hotel in South Portland before launching the deadly operation.

From Portland, the two men caught a commuter flight back to Boston, where they hopped a jet they would later crash into the World Trade Center.

Airport security has been tightened and some border crossings closed, to the inconvenience of some residents of the region who were long accustomed to crossing without question.

Cantara said vigilance serves law enforcement and the public well in a number of ways, but added that this is a diverse country and that sharpened vigilance should not seen as justification for racial profiling.

Maine officials also said the federal officials’ announcement is no cause for alarm.

“Your state is secure. Your state is working very closely with the federal government, county and local government, and we act as one in making sure our borders and people are secure,” Baldacci said.

“People need to go about doing their business and we’ll make sure that things are strong and secure.”

AP-ES-05-26-04 1730EDT



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