SAN FRANCISCO — Parking spaces remained empty at the Golden Gate Bridge’s visitor center, even after the FBI said there was no credible information backing Gov. Gray Davis’ warnings last week that terrorists were potentially targeting it.
Still, some who ventured across the bridge Tuesday said they stood by Davis’ decision and were not at all bothered by the heightened security.
“The FBI wasn’t that good at determining credible threats the first time, so how do they know now?” said Dane Golden, while preparing to cross the bridge on his bicycle. “I can’t say if I was the governor I would do anything different. I couldn’t blame him either way. He’s got to make these tough calls.”
Davis also defended his decision to warn of potential rush-hour terrorist attacks against four California bridges, and said he has no intention of easing security on the spans.
“I wanted to treat Californians like adults to allow them to make the best judgment they could make, but to tell them that if they did use those bridges they would all have elaborate security,” Davis said at an economic conference in Los Angeles. “I believe I took the correct steps.”
State officials remained on high alert, with California National Guard troops and highway patrol officers continuing to patrol the state’s major bridges Tuesday. Davis said he planned to keep them patrolling the bridge for the foreseeable future.
“We will review the FBI’s updated assessment,” he said. “It’s not uncommon for information to change from one day to the next. It may change again. We have those bridges as secure as they have ever been.”
National Guard specialists Lissette Renderos and Tangerine Gyi walked the Golden Gate Bridge and monitored pedestrians Tuesday, just as they have since Saturday.
“If there’s anybody that would be thinking about doing something, they would definitely think it over,” Renderos said. “People can start leading their normal lives again without being afraid.”
U.S. Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta on Tuesday said California’s bridges remain “vulnerable assets.”
“Regardless of whether the threat was bogus or not, they are vulnerable, critical infrastructure to all of us,” Mineta said.
Two National Guard troops and a Humvee vehicle were posted around-the-clock Tuesday at each end of San Francisco’s Golden Gate and Bay bridges, the Vincent Thomas Bridge at the Port of Los Angeles and San Diego’s Coronado Bridge.
“At this point, that’s what we’re doing — staying in place,” said National Guard spokesman Lt. Col. Charles “Terry” Knight.
The California Highway Patrol will have the final say on when the National Guard can stand down from the bridges, said Eric Lamoureux, a spokesman for the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services.
Davis announced last Thursday that federal officials had “credible evidence” that terrorists might be targeting the four California bridges during the following few days.
The governor was sharply criticized for publicizing the threat, which the FBI said was uncorroborated and should have not been released to the public.
On Tuesday, the FBI said in an advisory to law enforcement agencies that the threat to the bridges was not credible.
But Bill Swift and his wife Ellen Painter didn’t mind the warnings. They flew to San Francisco from Jasper, Ga., as an act of patriotism in spite of the heightened security and the Sept. 11 attacks.
“He’s the governor, but he is a person, too,” Painter said before walking across the bridge. “We’re a little scared but it didn’t stop us from coming.”
A warning of an “uncorroborated” threat against West Coast suspension bridges was passed on last Wednesday to law enforcement nationwide as well as 1,700 members of InfraGard, a partnership between the FBI and private companies. Many of these companies then shared the information with their employees.
The initial warning was based on information provided by U.S. Customs officials, said Matthew McLaughlin, a spokesman for the FBI in Los Angeles.
FBI agents conducting their own investigation determined there was no realistic threat to the bridges, he said.
But the public at large didn’t know about the threat until Davis made his announcement Thursday, saying it was based on “credible” information. That surprised federal officials, who nevertheless supported Davis’ decision to warn Californians.
“Coming from him, I just didn’t believe it. He’s a potential presidential candidate and a showboater,” said Bill Freed, who frequently crosses the Vincent Thomas Bridge. “You don’t change your daily patterns on something as far-fetched as that, especially when you hear it from Gov. Gray Davis.”
Associated Press writers Justin Pritchard in San Francisco, Seth Hettena in San Diego, Gary Gentile in Los Angeles, John Solomon in Washington, D.C., and Don Thompson and Alexa Haussler in Sacramento contributed to this report.