FBI: Al Qaeda Remarks May Signal Attack
W A S H I N G T O N, Oct. 10 — The FBI is warning state and local authorities that recent taped statements by al Qaeda leaders may signal that another attack on the United States has been approved.
The agency said Wednesday, however, that the nationwide alert level remains code yellow — "significant risk" — because officials do not have any specific information detailing where and when an attack may occur. Yellow is the third-highest of five threat levels.
In an audio taped message that aired Sunday on the Arab satellite TV station al-Jazeera, a voice believed to be that of Osama bin Laden refers to al Qaeda "targeting key sectors of the U.S. economy," the FBI noted.
Bin Laden's senior deputy, Ayman al-Zawahir, repeated the threat in another audio taped interview obtained Tuesday.
"The group's leaders have said that they aim to undermine what they see as the backbone of U.S. power, the economy," the FBI said in a statement.
The FBI said its concerns were heightened by comments from al Qaeda detainees who interpreted the taped remarks as a sign of an attack.
White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said earlier in the day information on the Al-Zawahir recording would be shared with law enforcement officers but would not prompt the government to raise the threat level.
The FBI urged law enforcement agencies to take extra precautions to "detect, disrupt, deter, and defend against potential attacks" against the nation, at home and abroad.
—The Associated Press
Recent Attacks Indicate Al Qaeda Danger
W A S H I N G T O N, Oct. 10 — U.S. counterterrorism officials pointed to the shootout in Kuwait and a bombing in the Philippines as potential examples of how a decentralized al Qaeda is operating a year after its base in Afghanistan was destroyed.
While both attacks are suspected of having links to Osama bin Laden's terrorist network, neither was especially sophisticated, with Tuesday's attack in Kuwait amounting to a drive-by shooting and the Philippines strike last week consisting of a nail-packed bomb mounted on a motorcycle.
Attacks directed from al Qaeda's top echelons are generally intended to be spectacular, using lots of explosives, often against multiple targets simultaneously. These small-scale operations may be local operatives acting without direction from the top, officials said.
Although both attacks killed U.S. military personnel, there's no evidence they are connected, a U.S. counterterrorism official said Wednesday, speaking on condition of anonymity. Counterterrorism analysts have expected some kind of action and officials said the small strikes don't eliminate the possibility of a large attack ahead.
In Tuesday's attack, two Kuwaitis in a pickup truck attacked a group of Marines during military exercises on a small island near Kuwait City. Marine Lance Cpl. Antonio J. Sledd, 20, of Hillsborough, Fla., was shot and killed. The attackers then drove to a second location and attacked again before being killed by Marines, the Pentagon said.
State Department spokesman Richard Boucher called the slaying a terrorist act.
On Wednesday, American troops in a Humvee on mainland Kuwait fired on another vehicle when they saw an occupant draw a gun on them, U.S. officials said. Further details were not immediately available.
The Oct. 2 bombing of a market in Zamboanga in the Philippines killed three people, including American Green Beret Sgt. 1st Class Mark Wayne Jackson, 40, who was in the region to train Filipino counterterrorism troops. The attackers are believed to be guerrillas fighting for Abu Sayyaf, an Islamic separatist group that is supported by al Qaeda.
Intelligence officials have said they believe al Qaeda decentralized after the U.S. attacks in Afghanistan. Many of its top leaders are hiding, allowing overseas cells to devise their own attacks, which are often poorly funded and unsophisticated. Leaders are communicating with followers through video and audiotapes, rather than direct contact.
But counterterrorism officials have said two top bin Laden lieutenants, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, are continuing to organize strikes.
Mohammed, the alleged mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks, has been tied to the April bombing of a synagogue in Tunisia, and al-Nashiri is suspected of organizing plots against U.S. and British warships crossing the Strait of Gibraltar and the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet Headquarters in Bahrain.
A large-scale plot to bomb at least one American embassy in Southeast Asia on the anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks was broken up. Details of the plot haven't been released, but officials believe it was organized by leaders of Jemaah Islamiyah, a regional affiliate of al Qaeda.
A senior al Qaeda operative also revealed some details of the plot after his capture, but it is unknown if it was directed by top lieutenants in the network.
In addition, terrorist groups still have the money to conduct fresh attacks on the United States despite the aggressive campaign to financially paralyze them, Bush administration officials told Congress on Wednesday.
It was unclear if terrorism was behind Sunday's explosion that damaged the hull of a French-owned oil tanker off the coast of Yemen. Some on the ship claim the vessel was struck by a small boat that exploded, but Yemeni officials dispute that.
American officials say they aren't sure what happened, although they note that some circumstances are similar to the October 2000 attack on the USS Cole in Yemen, in which an explosives-laden boat crashed into the destroyer.
French, Yemeni and American investigators are looking into the tanker attack. Francis Taylor, the State Department's top counterterrorism official, met with Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh on Tuesday, officials said.
—The Associated Press
FBI Memo Outlines Surveillance Errors in Terror Probes
W A S H I N G T O N, Oct. 10 — FBI agents illegally videotaped suspects, intercepted e-mails without court permission and recorded the wrong phone conversations during sensitive terrorism and espionage investigations, according to an internal memorandum detailing serious lapses inside the FBI more than a year before the Sept. 11 attacks.
The blunders — roughly 15 over the first three months of 2000 — were never made public but garnered the attention of the "highest levels of management" inside the Federal Bureau of Investigation, said the memo written by senior bureau lawyers and obtained by The Associated Press.
Lawmakers reviewing FBI missteps preceding the terror attacks expressed surprise Wednesday at the extent of errors detailed in the memo, which focused on sensitive cases requiring warrants under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.
The mistakes extend beyond those criticized in a rare public decision this summer by the secretive U.S. court that oversees the surveillance warrants. That court admonished the FBI for providing inaccurate information in warrant applications.
The April 2000 memo — marked "immediate" and classified as "secret" — describes different problems from those cited by the court. It describes agents conducting unauthorized searches, writing warrants with wrong addresses and allowing "overruns" of electronic surveillance operations beyond their legal deadline.
"The level of incompetence here is egregious," said Rep. William D. Delahunt, a member of the House Judiciary Committee who obtained the memo from the FBI and provided it to AP.
Said Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy: "Honest mistakes happen in law enforcement, but the extent, variety and seriousness of the violations recounted in this FBI memo show again that the secret FISA process breeds sloppiness unless there's adequate oversight."
The FBI's deputy general counsel, whose office approves requests for national security warrants, acknowledged Wednesday the mistakes led to broad concern inside his agency long before Congress began investigating whether the bureau missed signs of Sept. 11.
"There's always going to be mistakes," said M.E. "Spike" Bowman. "We looked at those incidents very, very hard. We found no common thread. A lot of it was inattention to detail."
These warrants are among the most powerful tools in the U.S. antiterrorism arsenal, permitting secret searches and wiretaps for up to one year without ever notifying the target of the investigation.
The court approved 1,012 such warrants in 2000.
Bowman said the FBI's Office of Professional Responsibility investigated the problems. No FBI agent lost his or her job as a result of the internal inquiry, Bowman said, and the FBI has not had the same number of mistakes since. It averages now about 10 mistakes a year in such cases, he said.
—The Associated Press
Lawmakers Decide Meeting With CIA, FBI Directors Should Be Closed
W A S H I N G T O N, Oct. 10 — With tensions rising between intelligence agencies and a congressional panel investigating the Sept. 11 attacks, lawmakers have decided that a meeting with the directors of the CIA and FBI should be held behind closed doors.
FBI Director Robert Mueller and CIA Director George Tenet had been scheduled to appear today before an open session of the House and Senate intelligence committees.
But those plans were changed abruptly late Wednesday while the committees met in a closed session. The subject of Wednesday's meeting wasn't announced, but it was believed to have included discussions about the FBI's handling of an informant who was the landlord of two of the Sept. 11 hijackers.
An FBI official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said congressional staff have spoken several times to the agent who handled the informant. But the bureau won't allow staff to speak to the informant, who has been promised anonymity.
In a statement announcing the postponement of the public hearing and today's closed-door meeting, the committees said only they needed to discuss "more business" from Wednesday's session.
The public hearing will be rescheduled for next week, it said. The two directors were expected to appear, along with the National Security Agency director, Lt. Gen. Michael Hayden.
CIA spokesman Mark Mansfield said the agency had learned of the change in hearing plans late Wednesday afternoon. "Director Tenet was looking forward to testifying in open session," he said.
Relations between the committees and the agencies have been strained since the committees' joint inquiry into the Sept. 11 attacks began in February.
Lawmakers have complained repeatedly that intelligence agencies have been slow in providing information for the inquiry. The agencies say they have offered tremendous cooperation, providing thousands of documents and dedicating dozens of their personnel to the inquiry.
Most recently, members of the Senate panel have said intelligence agencies have not fully responded to requests for information about the threat posed by Iraq. The committee has also pushed for the declassification of some intelligence on Iraq. Some was declassified in a letter released Tuesday night, but the CIA declined to declassify additional material Wednesday.
Since the start of public hearings last month, inquiry staff have criticized agencies for failing to link clues that might have pointed to the Sept. 11 attacks. They included a rise in reports of possible terrorist attacks, a July 2001 memo by a Phoenix-based FBI agent warning that al Qaeda terrorists may be undergoing flight training at U.S. schools, and the August 2001 arrest of a suspicious student pilot, Zacarias Moussaoui, on immigration charges. Moussaoui has since been charged with conspiring in the attacks.
Also, staff and lawmakers accused the CIA of not doing enough to warn other federal agencies about two of the future hijackers after they were spotted attending an al Qaeda meeting in Malaysia in January 2000.
Former CIA and FBI officials have defended their agencies' efforts, saying they scored major gains against terrorism despite legal restrictions that hampered their work and inadequate funding for personnel and equipment.
Both the FBI and CIA have had lawmakers on the defensive in recent months. The FBI this summer investigated leaks from the committees. The investigation had been requested by inquiry leaders following White House complaints, but some lawmakers were bothered by agents' suggestions that they undergo lie detector tests.
—The Associated Press
Attorneys General Request More Nuclear Power Plant Protection
R A L E I G H, N.C., Oct. 10 — Attorneys general from 27 states, including North Carolina, are asking Congress to step up efforts to protect nuclear power plants from terror attacks.
The attorneys submitted a letter to congressional leaders on Wednesday urging creation of a task force and a more aggressive timetable to update plant security standards.
North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper thinks that federal and state officials have done a good job improving security at the plants, said J.B. Kelly, his general counsel. But Cooper supports efforts to centralize those efforts in a task force run by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the Office of Homeland Security.
The letter signed by Cooper and the others singles out risks posed by spent fuel pools at nuclear plants, where radioactive waste is stored. Those pools are a target of criticism by groups like NC WARN, which is critical of safety conditions at the Shearon Harris nuclear plant in Wake County.
Earlier this year, NC WARN asked Cooper to order owner Progress Energy to stop shipping spent waste to the Harris plant pools, saying the rail transports themselves pose a terrorist risk.
But on Wednesday, Kelly said there is no evidence that Progress Energy violates any laws or regulations with its transports. The Attorney General's Office sees no reason to take action against them, although it will continue to seek out information regarding their safety.
"We're not hearing anything from local law enforcement that they are concerned," Kelly said. "There is nothing that indicates that there is an imminent threat to anyone."
Shearon Harris is believed to have the largest waste storage capacity of any nuclear power plant in the country and to be the only commercial plant that imports waste for storage.
NC WARN this week submitted more information to Cooper's office. Stan Goff, a retired U.S. Army master sergeant with experience in security assessments, evaluated the vulnerability to attack of the Progress transports.
While keeping some details confidential, Goff said he concluded that the trains, which travel about 200 miles from Eastern North Carolina to the Harris site, are highly vulnerable. The train tracks they travel on are embedded in a heavily forested corridor where it would be simple for attackers to hide themselves and explosives, said Goff, a former Army Special Operations member who now works for NC WARN as an organizer.
Keith Poston, a Progress Energy spokesman, said it's highly unlikely that anyone could ever reach fuel locked inside 70-ton casks on the guarded shipments, which occur about 10 times a year on unannounced dates.
—The Associated Press