WASHINGTON Ñ The U.S. intelligence community has again warned that
the United States faces an imminent threat of a nonconventional weapons
attack by Al Qaida and Iraq.
An attack by Al Qaida could take place either in the United States or
against U.S. interests in the Arabian Peninsula and Persian Gulf, U.S.
intelligence agencies said. Iraq could also use weapons of mass destruction
amid a U.S.-led war against President Saddam Hussein.
"The information we have points to plots aimed at targets on two
fronts Ñ in the United States and on the Arabian Peninsula," CIA director
George Tenet said on Tuesday. "It points to plots timed to occur as early as
the end of the Haj, which occurs late this week. And it points to plots that
could include the use of a radiological dispersion device as well as poisons
and chemicals, Middle East Newsline reported."
Tenet was referring to the Muslim festival of Id Al Adha, which
concludes the annual Haj pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia. Pilgrims are expected
to leave the kingdom starting on Wednesday.
Tenet told the Senate Select Intelligence Committee that the alert
constitutes the most specific information of an Al Qaida attack. He said the
attack has been planned by the leadership of Al Qaida, agents of which have
regrouped in such countries as Iran, Iraq and the Afghanistan border.
"The intelligence is not idle chatter on the part of terrorists and
their associates," Tenet said. "It is the most specific we have seen, and it
is consistent with both our knowledge of Al Qaida doctrine and our knowledge
of plots this network Ñ and, particularly, its senior leadership Ñ has
been working on for years. Al Qaida has also sharpened its focus on our
allies in Europe and on operations against Israeli and Jewish targets."
[On Tuesday, the Doha-based Al Jazeera satellite channel broadcast a
recording of a man identified by the Bush administration as Osama Bin Laden.
In the recording, Bin Laden advised Iraqis on how to fight the United States
and said his group was following "with utmost concern the Crusaders'
preparations to occupy the former capital of Islam [Baghdad]."
Last week, the United States ordered a "Code Orange" alert, the second
highest level deemed by the federal government. Code Orange warns of a high
threat of attack.
Tenet said Al Qaida has been developing new means of attacks. He said
this included the procurement of air-to-surface missiles, toxins, and
weapons to strike naval targets. He said more than one-third of the Al Qaida
leadership identified before September 2001 has either been killed or
FBI director Robert Mueller told the committee that Al Qaida agents have
entered the United States. Mueller said U.S. intelligence and law
enforcement agencies have failed to identify and locate Al Qaida operatives
as well as such potential allies as Hamas and Hizbullah.
"The greatest threat is from Al Qaida cells in the U.S. that we have not
yet identified," Mueller said. "The challenge of finding and rooting out Al
Qaida members once they have entered the U.S. and have had time to establish
themselves is our most serious intelligence and law enforcement challenge."
The U.S. intelligence community also envisioned an Iraqi biological or
chemical weapons attack on either U.S. troops or against Iraqis in the
Kurdish north or Shi'ite south. The WMD strikes would be part of a scorched
earth policy being considered by the Saddam regime.
"I expect him to pre-emptively attack the Kurds in the north, conduct
missile and terrorist attacks against Israel and U.S. regional or worldwide
interests Ñ perhaps using WMD and the regime's links to Al Qaida," Vice
Adm. Lowell Jacoby, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, said.
"Saddam is likely to employ a scorched-earth strategy. We should expect him
to use WMD on his own people."