Transcript: Terror Alert News Conference

Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge, U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft, and FBI Director Robert Mueller spoke to the press about the terror threat level being raised to orange. Below is the complete text of the news conference.

ASHCROFT: Good afternoon.

The United States government continuously reviews intelligence reporting to assess the current threat condition designation and to determine whether or not it should be adjusted.

After conferring this morning with the Homeland Security Council, the decision has been made to increase the threat condition designation currently classified at elevated risk, to increase that threat condition designation to the high-risk category.

This decision for an increased threat condition designation is based on specific intelligence received and analyzed by the full intelligence community. This information has been corroborated by multiple intelligence sources.

Since September the 11th, the U.S. intelligence community has indicated that the al Qaeda terrorist network is still determined to attack innocent Americans, both here and abroad. Recent reporting indicates an increased likelihood that al Qaeda may attempt to attack Americans in the United States and/or abroad in or around the end of the Hajj, a Muslim religious period ending mid-February 2003.

Recent intelligence reports suggests that al Qaeda leaders have emphasized planning for attacks on apartment buildings, hotels and other soft or lightly secured targets in the United States.

The recent bombings of a nightclub in Bali, Indonesia, and of a resort hotel in Mombasa, Kenya, demonstrate the continued willingness of al Qaeda to strike at peaceful, innocent civilians and their ability to carry out attacks on such soft or lightly guarded targets.

There are also indications bolstered by the recent arrests in London where the chemical, ricin, was discovered. These indications demonstrate al Qaeda's interest in carrying out chemical, biological and radiological attacks.

Historically, the intelligence community has indicated that al Qaeda might also seek economic targets, including the transportation and energy sectors, as well as symbolic targets and symbols of American power.

The United States government has specific intelligence and experience demonstrating that heightened awareness and readiness on our part deters terrorism. Since September the 11th of 2001, the United States has substantially improved its capacity to disrupt, deter and prevent terrorist attacks; terrorist attacks against innocent Americans.

The active cooperation of the American people, your cooperation, has been instrumental in preventing major terrorist attacks.

Since September the 11th, 2001, the Federal Bureau of Investigation has evaluated and investigated over 3,000 terrorist threats within the United States, issued 103 warnings to state and local law enforcement, and announced three — not including today's announcement — three major nationwide terrorist alerts.

The threat condition designation was last raised to high risk on September the 10th, 2002, and reduced to an elevated risk standing two weeks later.

Today's change in the threat condition designation from elevated risk to high risk will trigger a series of security precautions by the federal government, as well as state and local governments and U.S. citizens, to increase readiness to prevent terrorism.

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