Report: Al-Qaeda May be Poised to Attack in U.S.

USA Today – USATODAY.com – Report: Al-Qaeda may be poised to attack in U.S.

Federal officials believe the al-Qaeda terror network may be in the “operational or planning phase of an attack” on the United States before the election, CNN is reporting.

Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge has scheduled an 11 a.m. ET news conference where he will discuss the threat, the network is reporting. The news conference comes after top FBI, CIA and Homeland Security Department officials briefed House members Wednesday about a steady stream of intelligence indicating al-Qaeda may seek to mount an attack aimed at disrupting U.S. elections. All House members were invited to the session at the Rayburn House Office Building with FBI Director Robert Mueller; Asa Hutchinson, Homeland Security undersecretary for border and transportation security; and John Brennan, a CIA official who heads the joint CIA-FBI Terrorism Threat Integration Center.

Rep. Christopher Cox, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, said he could not discuss specifics of the presentation. But he said there are broad concerns that al-Qaeda wants to strike inside the United States this summer or fall and hopes to influence the U.S. election, as terrorists did in Spain with the deadly Madrid train bombings in March. “There is a steady drumbeat of reporting and the threat has not abated,” Cox, R-Calif., told reporters.

Since this is Ridge and not Ashcroft, I’m inclined to take this more seriously. One wonders about the utility of informing the public, however. On the one hand, it’s probably necessary from a CYA standpoint, as people would get all bent out of shape if there is an attack and they weren’t warned. On the other, though, there’s not much the general public can do. I understand alerting first responders and briefing Congress but a press conference seems likely to raise anxiety without heightening security. My guess is we’re as “vigilant” as we’re likely to get.

UPDATE: CNN – Ridge says al Qaeda planning attack

Al Qaeda plans a large-scale attack on the United States “in an effort to disrupt the democratic process” before November’s elections, Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge said Thursday. Ridge cited “recent interdictions” for the new warning. He said U.S. officials have no precise knowledge of the time, place or method of attack, but said they are “actively working to gain that knowledge.” “We know they have the capability to succeed and they also hold the mistaken belief that their attacks will have an impact on America’s resolve,” Ridge said. Ridge did not raise the national color-coded threat level beyond its current yellow, or elevated, level.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tennessee, speaking before the briefing, said the intelligence was “very non-specific” and there was “no reason for panic, no reason for paralysis.”

***

Because there is no plan to raise the threat level and only general information, some Democrats privately have questioned whether the timing of the announcement is politically motivated.

A senior administration official said accusations of scaremongering are to be expected. But the official, who has read Ridge’s prepared remarks, added, “This is one of those damned if you do and damned if you don’ts, and our default is ‘do.’ “

My objections stand.

Update (6/9): Ellis Henican agrees.

FILED UNDER: Intelligence, Terrorism
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. jen says:

    Yeah, they’re sort of in a no-win regarding informing the public. We have the tin-foil hatted whiners to thank for that.

    Personally, I’d rather they didn’t say anything unless they had concrete information (where, when, how). Long ago we crossed the line where they’ve cried “Wolf!” enough that most people won’t pay much attention. When the wolves really do attack, these soft warnings won’t have helped much except for the CYA factor. It’s a shame.

  2. Eddie Small says:

    Alerting the public is ridiculous. Pure CYA.
    There is absoutely nothing the general public can do. The alert only adds to public anxiety which is exactly what terrorists want to do.

  3. norbizness says:

    Well, when the answers to the questions (1) ‘Are you raising the alert level?’ (2) ‘Do you have anything on time or place, other than the obvious?’ (3) ‘Is there any new information?’ and (4) ‘There’s no reason for us to believe this isn’t based on the same recycled crap Ashcroft tried to peddle two months ago, is there?’ are all “no”, I’m not sure you can blame Americans of Questionable Metallic Habadashery.

  4. Gagne84 says:

    We know what this is all about. On the day Bush buddy Ken Lay goes to trial and Kerry-Edwards visit several key states, and the day before the Senate Intelligence Committee issues its report, Ridge makes an announcement that lazy journalists embrace. We’ll get this all summer and right up until election day.