As world leaders were gathering for this weekend's economic summit, law enforcement authorities were less concerned about international terrorists than about angry protesters possibly including people left jobless by the financial meltdown. US intelligence officials have no credible information about potential terrorist or criminal attacks against the so-called G-20 summit, according to a November 12 assessment obtained by The Associated Press.
The summit - the largest gathering of presidents and prime ministers in Washington since NATO's 50th anniversary in 1999 starts on Friday with a dinner at the White House, followed by a day of policy discussions on Saturday at the National Building Museum. It's the first in a series of meetings intended to deal with the enormity of the economic meltdown, and the next meeting won't be until after Bush leaves office on January 20.
The high profile event drawing many world leaders and media to one place is an appealing target for terrorists and other extremists who want to make a point.
The short notice for the summit, announced last month, combined with the high level of security, makes it a less attractive target for al-Qaida and similar groups, because they generally like to take time to plan a successful attack, according to the assessment. "It is possible, however, that an individual adversely affected by the current economic downturn and acting impulsively" could see the summit as an opportunity to commit violent acts, the assessment said.
The nation's jobless ranks zoomed past 10 million last month, the most in a quarter-century, as 240,000 more people lost jobs. Tight security around the National Building Museum lessens the possibility of an attack or disruption there, but it could also give extremists motivation to take advantage of nearby infrastructure that will not have the same amount of security, the assessment said. The event has been designated a National Special Security Event, and the Secret Service has the lead for security. The Service has coordinated with 57 other federal, state and local law enforcement agencies, including the FBI and the local Metropolitan Police Department.
The Secret Service said it is prepared for all security risks, but has no indication that extremists or protesters currently pose any dangers.
A group called Global Justice Action has organized protests on Friday at Lafayette Park and on Saturday at Murrow Park. The group provided an estimate of 200 protesters in its permit applications to the National Park Service.
The ANSWER coalition, which has been a leading participant in antiwar protests, is organizing a protest on Saturday outside the National Building Museum where the summit is being held. Protesters then plan to march to the Capitol to join a separate protest against California's recent referendum outlawing gay marriage. Authorities plan to close several streets in downtown Washington on Friday and Saturday nights in the vicinity of the National Building Museum, which is just a block or two away from Verizon Center, which is hosting a hockey game on Friday night and an AC/DC concert on Saturday night.
President-elect Barack Obama is steering clear of the summit but will have a couple of representatives available to meet with leaders on his behalf.
Besides the United States, the countries represented will be Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Britain, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, South Korea and Turkey. Those countries and the European Union make up the G-20.