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Terror Targets Open For Business

Terror Threat: New York Stock Exchange security person George Milian stands watch outside the New York Stock Exchange Sunday August 1, 2004. The federal government warned Sunday of possible al-Qaida terrorist attacks against "iconic" financial institutions in New York City, Washington and Newark, N.J., saying a confluence of chilling intelligence in recent days pointed to a car or truck bomb. (AP Photo/ Tina Fineberg)
AP
Financial industry workers returned to work with determination and little trepidation Monday following a government warning that terrorists may be planning to strike "iconic" financial institutions.

Streets were closed around the New York Stock Exchange, Citigroup Center in midtown Manhattan, Prudential Financial Inc.'s headquarters in Newark, New Jersey, and the International Monetary Fund and World Bank in Washington. All were identified by authorities Sunday as terrorism targets. Police wearing flak vests and armed with automatic weapons kept a wary eye on the crowds of employees waiting to get through increased security to get into the buildings.

"Just look around," said Arturo Ramirez, a maintenance worker at Citigroup, as he pointed to a pair of armed and armored police officers. "Now that these buildings have been named in the media and all the police are here, who's going to try anything? I feel safer now than I did before."

The extra security came as President Bush was announcing reforms to U.S. intelligence following the report of the Sept. 11 commission about failures leading up to the 2001 attacks.

To show their confidence in the city's security, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Sen. Charles Schumer and Gov. George Pataki rang the opening bell at the stock exchange.

"I would use the word defiant to describe these guys," Pataki said as he toured the floor of the exchange, shaking hands with traders. "It makes us proud to see all these people here with American flags on their jackets going about their work."

None of the targeted businesses reported unusual numbers of absentees Monday, and many of the people working at the buildings, when asked about their feelings regarding the terrorist threat, just shrugged, though many said they received calls from concerned friends and family about the threat.

Theodore Weisburg, an NYSE floor trader with Seaport Securities Corp., said he received a call Sunday night from his 92-year-old mother who was worried about him coming to work on Monday.

"I told her what I have been telling everybody else. We have good security here," Weisburg said. "I got my son on the floor over here, and my daughter is a trader on the desk right up the street. I feel safer here than I do in a lot of other places. You just have to go about your business and do the best you can."

There were no reports of major delays for workers entering the exchange Monday. The streets within two blocks of the exchange have been closed to traffic since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks at the nearby World Trade Center. The only apparent change on Wall Street was the increased number of police, who stood stoically as camera crews and tourists captured them on film. A rumored "sick-out," coordinated absences by Wall Street traders, never materialized, and most traders said it was just another day.

"After 9/11, it doesn't surprise me at all that you would find a map of this place (the exchange) in some cave in Pakistan," said Kenneth Polcari, a trader with Polcari/Weicker. "You realize that's the world you live in, and you deal with it."

Workers at the 59-story Citigroup Center were funneled through a single entrance, where guards checked identification and examined bags before employees were even allowed to enter.

"It's definitely a scary building to be working in when we're a big target," said Chip Persons, who works on the 24th floor.

New York officials forbade trucks and vans from entering the city through the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel and the Holland Tunnel, which lead to lower Manhattan. Trucks were instead diverted to tunnels and bridges in upper Manhattan, police said. Police also said they would close streets surrounding Grand Central Station.

Officials acted on intelligence that Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge called alarmingly specific, but he said officials could not tell whether an attack might be imminent and he encouraged people to go about their business.

A cache of recently obtained information — including photos, drawings and written documents — indicates that al Qaeda operatives have undertaken meticulous preparations to case the five specific buildings.

"What was very unique about this information … is the explicit nature, the detail, the thoroughness (and) the sophistication," Ridge told CBS News Early Show co-anchor Julie Chen in an

.

As a senior intelligence official put it, "every vulnerability has been identified."

The official told

that the information reveals terrorists have studied even the smallest security details. One piece of information concerning one building notes, "there are three security personnel located upstairs. Only one carries a weapon."

"It's seriously anxiety provoking," marketing executive Robert O'Donnell said as he took a Metro-North train from Connecticut to his job next to the Citigroup Center.

O'Donnell acknowledged having second thoughts about going to work, but concluded, "You can't live like that."

One company with offices at Citigroup gave employees the option of working from home Monday, but most chose to come in, said Donna Mendez, an executive assistant who works on the 27th floor.

"Since 9/11, I think any of us who work here know we're a target," she said. "We're not going to let (terrorists) stop us from doing what we do — that's what they want."

At the Prudential building in Newark, workers unloaded concrete barriers in front and behind the 24-story office building, and police armed themselves with assault rifles.

"I'm a little nervous given the 9/11 situation, but I'm confident Prudential's doing everything they can to ensure our safety," said Tracy Swistak, an analyst in the company's international finance department.

Not everyone was reassured by the increased security, however. Union negotiations between Prudential and 890 of its newly unionized workers, due to start Tuesday at a building just blocks from Prudential's headquarters, could be stalled as the union negotiators lobby for a different meeting site.

"They actually didn't want to go into the building," said John Edmonds, an organizer with the international union who will participate in the negotiations. "My wife says, `I don't want you there either."'

In Washington, employees of the World Bank and the IMF, many of whom come from all over the world, took the threat in stride.

"I did not give a second thought about coming to work this morning," said Malkiat Singh of India, who works in the World Bank's legal department. "Look around. It's completely normal except for all the television (cameras). That's what stands out."

The bank and the IMF are among the largest employers in Washington, with more than 10,000 people working in both buildings, located two blocks from the White House.

Shops around the targeted buildings were, for the most part, open as usual and reported no dropoff in business.

"Like everybody else, I was concerned, but we have been on this kind of alert ever since I can remember," said Marvin Rafeld, owner of 14 Wall Street Jewelers, located across the street from the main entrance to the New York Stock Exchange. "So far, the day is running smoothly."