Terror Threat Alert

To Remain High

The threat of a terrorist attack against the United States remains high, and there are no plans to downgrade the nation's terror alert, Attorney General John D. Ashcroft said yesterday.

U.S. intelligence gathering continues to show enough of a threat to warrant keeping the alert level at "high risk," the second-highest level on a five-color scale, Ashcroft said.

The level was raised to orange Feb. 7, prompting the government to impose extra security measures and causing jitters throughout the country.

"The constant and continuous evaluation of the factors that go into the development of threat level have not changed in a way significant enough for the threat level to be changed," Ashcroft said.

Other Bush administration officials, notably Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge, have indicated the level could soon be reduced to "elevated," the middle of the color scale.

The attorney general said the possibility of a U.S.-led war with Iraq was a less important factor in assessing the risk of terrorism against the United States. He pointed out that the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, were not provoked by any international crisis.

Senate Aims to Curtail Child Pornography

The Senate moved to crack down on child pornography with a bill drawn to strengthen bans on using minors in obscene material while dealing with the Supreme Court's constitutional problems with an earlier version.

The bill, passed without dissent, was in response to a court ruling last April that struck down a 1996 law that specifically prohibited virtual child pornography. The court said banning images that only appear to depict real children engaged in sex was unconstitutionally vague and far-reaching.

The Senate bill prohibits the pandering or solicitation of anything represented to be obscene child pornography. Responding to the court ruling, it requires the government to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a person intended others to believe the material was obscene child pornography.

The bill, which still requires House action, also plugs a loophole in which pornographers could avoid prosecution by saying that their sexually explicit material was computer-generated and involved no real children. Under an affirmative defense provision, the defendant would be required to prove that real children were not a part of the production.

Venezuela's Chavez Draws U.S. Criticism

The United States accused Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and his government of using inflammatory rhetoric, possibly contributing to violence between opponents and supporters of the populist leader.

"Inflammatory statements such as those attributed to President Chavez are not helpful in advancing the dialogue between the government of Venezuela and the opposition," State Department spokesman Philip Reeker said.

On Sunday, Chavez warned the world to stop meddling in the affairs of his troubled South American nation, and Venezuelan police locked up a strike leader on "civil rebellion" charges. He accused the United States and Spain of siding with his enemies, warned Colombia he might break off diplomatic relations and reprimanded the chief mediator in peace talks for stepping "out of line."

Last week he said he was going on the offensive against the "terrorists" and "fascists" who have defied him.

For the Record

* The State Department warned Americans not to go to Colombia, where guerrillas abducted three Defense Department contractors last week. State said U.S. citizens were in danger of kidnapping, plane hijackings and murder. The threat to Americans could increase in response to U.S. support for the Colombian government's drug eradication programs, it added.

* Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (D-Conn.) urged the Bush administration to investigate whether consumers are being gouged at the gasoline pump and also to be ready to counter a disruption in crude oil supplies if war breaks out in Iraq. Oil prices have topped $36 a barrel on market fears of a U.S.-led attack on Iraq, which in turn have helped propel retail gasoline prices to more than $2 a gallon in some cities. Oil companies have denied wrongdoing and said gasoline prices reflect market conditions, including fears of war in Iraq, low oil inventories and strong consumer demand for petroleum products.

Compiled from reports by the Associated Press and Reuters