Latest Terror Threat Targets Subways
W A S H I N G T O N, May 23 — Federal transportation officials say they have gotten an unconfirmed warning that terrorists are planning attacks on subways in the United States.
The possible attack would involve simultaneous strikes against multiple trains, perhaps using time bombs, said an alert issued Wednesday by the Department of Transportation's Office of Intelligence and Security and obtained by ABCNEWS.
Although the warning specified subways, it advised all rail and transit security officials to review their safety procedures and "implement additional security measures commensurate with the current threat environment."
It emphasized that the threat was not confirmed, but advised the industry to remain on a heightened state of alert.
This latest warning is particularly unsettling to New Yorkers, who have already been told this week that the Brooklyn Bridge or the Statue of Liberty could be targeted by terrorists.
Millions of people ride the city's subways every day.
NYC Threat Came From Al Qaeda Lieutenant
N E W Y O R K, May 23 — A top lieutenant to Osama bin Laden is the source of information that led to a warning of potential terrorist attacks against the Brooklyn Bridge and the Statue of Liberty, a law enforcement official said today.
The official, speaking to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity, said the information, which has been described as uncorroborated, came from Abu Zubaydah, the senior al Qaeda terrorist leader now in U.S. custody.
Zubaydah's role in the terrorism warning was first reported in the Daily News.
Zubaydah is being interrogated by U.S. officials at an undisclosed location. He is believed to have played a key role in organizing the Sept. 11 attacks as al Qaeda's top operational planner.
Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said Wednesday that the detainee who gave FBI officials the information has provided authorities with credible information in the past, but would not discuss what information the detainee had given.
The FBI said the New York warning was not specific about timing or methods.
Authorities canceled a 119th birthday celebration for the Brooklyn Bridge because of the possible threat.
"We could not even contemplate finalizing our plans … because of the concerns that have been raised," said Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz, whose office had been planning the June 2 event.
As al Qaeda's top operational planner, Zubaydah ran the Khalden camp in Afghanistan, where U.S. investigators have learned many of the Sept. 11 hijackers trained. This suggests Zubaydah may have had direct contact with the hijackers and chosen them for training.
He also had telephone contacts with at least one student at U.S. flight schools, according to a July 10, 2001, memo from a Phoenix FBI agent.
The CIA, FBI and Pakistani authorities captured and wounded Zubaydah in a raid in Faisalabad, Pakistan, in March. He is believed to have masterminded the failed millennium bombing plots in Los Angeles and Jordan, and has been linked to failed plots to attack the U.S. embassies in Paris and Sarajevo.
Zubaydah was also indirectly linked, through a web of associations with other al Qaeda members in Europe, to lead Sept. 11 hijacker Mohamed Atta and his cell in Hamburg, Germany. Three members of the Hamburg cell were suicide hijackers; three others are still at large.
Kelly said the city remained on the same heightened alert status on which it has been since the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center.
Fleet Week, an annual maritime celebration expected to draw 6,000 naval personnel to the city, was to go on as planned during the Memorial Day weekend.
A warning earlier this week from federal authorities that terrorists could be renting apartments to blow up the buildings prompted Los Angeles authorities to issue guidelines today telling landlords how to spot potential terrorists. Warning signs included little or no rental history or tenants who are rarely at the apartment or carry unusual items or boxes with extreme caution.
However, police warned they do not want landlords to engage in housing discrimination. "We're hoping people will exercise good judgment and not base renting decisions only on a person looking like they're of Middle Eastern descent," police spokesman Sgt. John Pasquariello said.
— The Associated Press
Bush Opposes Independent Probe of Intelligence
B E R L I N, May 23 — President Bush said today he opposes establishing a special commission to probe how the government dealt with terror warnings before Sept. 11, saying the matter should be dealt with by congressional intelligence committees.
Bush also expressed reservations about releasing a memo he received last August that carried a warning that Islamic extremists might try to hijack an airliner.
"We're still at war," the president said. "We've still got threats to the homeland that we've got to deal with, and it's very important for us not to hamper our ability to wage that war." He said it is important to act in a manner that does not jeopardize intelligence-gathering.
Bush said the investigation of possible intelligence lapses should be confined to Congress despite a call by Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle and others for a special commission.
Bush said the members of the Senate and House intelligence committees "understand the obligations of upholding our secrets and our sources and methods of collecting intelligence. And therefore I think that's the best place for Congress to take a good look at the events leading up to Sept. 11."
The president spoke at a joint news conference with German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder on the first stop of a four-nation European trip.
Bush said he retains "great confidence" in the CIA and FBI despite revelations about advance intelligence that terrorists might hijack an airplane.
Bush's remarks came a day after Vice President Dick Cheney said a new series of public terror warnings was based on increased threats and was not a political strategy to deflect criticism of the administration's handling of pre-Sept. 11 intelligence.
"The fact is there is reason to believe that the threat level has increased somewhat," Cheney said Wednesday on CNN's Larry King Live. "We see more noise in the system, more reporting that leads us to be cautious here. We haven't changed our practices at all in terms of when we decide to go public and caution people."
Authorities continued to tighten security around New York City landmarks after the FBI disclosed uncorroborated information from detainees that sites such as the Statue of Liberty and Brooklyn Bridge might be attacked.
Cheney said the White House was not raising the nationwide terrorism alert status — currently at yellow, the third-highest of five levels — because intelligence on possible attacks was too vague.
Cheney also said a special, independent commission into how the government dealt with terror warnings before Sept. 11 would result in intelligence leaks. Democrats, including Daschle, have proposed that a special commission investigate the matter and have suggested that more should have been done with the advance intelligence.
Congress is already investigating.
"Our concern is that if we lay another investigation on top of that we'll just multiply potential sources of leaks and disclosures of information we can't disclose," Cheney said. "The key to our ability to defend ourselves and to take out the terrorists lies in intelligence."
Daschle questioned the Bush administration's motive for resisting the commission.
"I think while we respect the need for secrecy, we also have a strong belief in the need for sharing information so that we can make good judgments about the facts," the South Dakota senator said in a speech at the National Press Club. "And there is an increasing pattern that I find in this administration that reflects an unwillingness to share information — not only with us but within their own administration; one department not telling the other, people in positions of responsibility not telling the president."
The political battle intensified Wednesday over what information the government had before Sept. 11 about possible terror attacks. For the second day, FBI Director Robert Mueller and agent Kenneth Williams testified behind closed doors to lawmakers investigating what the government knew.
Williams wrote a pre-Sept. 11 warning about Arab students at an Arizona flight school that he hoped would lead to screenings of Middle Easterners who came to study U.S. airport operations, according to government officials familiar with his account.
Williams' July 10, 2001, memo linked the Arab students to a militant Muslim group in London whose leader openly supported Osama bin Laden, said government officials, speaking on condition of anonymity.
On Tuesday, both Mueller and Williams gave testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee. They appeared before the House and Senate Intelligence committees Wednesday.
Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, called the memo "highly embarrassing to the bureau" and urged its public release.
— The Associated Press
What's Congress Investigating?
W A S H I N G T O N, May 23 — Revelations about information the government had before Sept. 11 are fueling the congressional inquiry into the intelligence community and its counterterrorism efforts.
They also have led to new calls, largely from Democrats, for an independent commission to conduct a similar investigation.
A look, in question and answer form, at the Capitol Hill investigation:
Q: Who is running the existing congressional investigation?
A: The House and Senate intelligence committees are jointly in charge. The committees are led by two Floridians: Republican Rep. Porter Goss and Democratic Sen. Bob Graham.
The committees have a staff of two dozen people who are gathering documents and conducting interviews. Its current acting director is Rick Cinquegrana, but Eleanor Hill, a former Defense Department inspector general, is expected to take over shortly.
Q: What, and who, are they investigating?
A: The investigation, which officially began in February, is running along two tracks — one looking at the government's failure to detect and stop the Sept. 11 plot, and the other examining the U.S. government's counterterrorism effort since the mid-1980s. Graham has pushed the general inquiry; the vice chairman, Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., has wanted a more focused look at Sept. 11.
To these dual ends, investigators are looking at specific intelligence hinting at Sept. 11 — like the FBI's Phoenix memo, in which an agent worried about Arabs in U.S. flight schools as a possible sign of al Qaeda terrorism in the works. They are also looking at the structure and funding of the U.S. intelligence community, seeing if some failure of the system, rather than individuals, allowed the Sept. 11 and other terrorist attacks to slip through the cracks.
The CIA, FBI and National Security Agency — which gathers intelligence through intercepted communications — are the chief agencies being examined.
Q: What has the investigation accomplished so far?
A: Investigators have interviewed about 180 people and been provided access to about 180,000 pages of documents, officials said. About 50 of those interviews have been with CIA personnel; another 37 came from the Justice Department and FBI.
Q: Has the investigation run into any problems?
A: The first executive director, former CIA Inspector General L. Britt Snider, ran afoul of some senators by not informing them of a potential security issue with one of his staff members. Snider was dismissed.
Graham has criticized the CIA and Justice Department for not being fully cooperative with requests by investigators for information. Both agencies have responded that they are providing unprecedented access to their officials and documents.
Q: How much does it cost taxpayers?
A: The committee has a budget of $2.9 million through February 2003.
Q: What sort of conclusions might investigators reach?
A: They may pin some kind of failure on specific persons or agencies. Or they may simply recommend changes to the structure and funding of the intelligence community and their counterterrorism branches.
Q: How much of the investigation is classified?
A: A good deal, although the congressional officials have promised to be as forthcoming as they can. Hearings are expected to begin in mid-June, but some will be closed to the public.
Q: When will the committee issue its findings?
A: Interim recommendations for legislation may be issued this fall. The final report may not be finished until next year.
Q: Why do some members of Congress want an independent commission?
A: Senators like Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., and John McCain, R-Ariz., say an independent commission, composed of experts who have an understanding of intelligence matters, would be able to take a more objective look at the U.S. intelligence community, and perhaps feel free to propose more radical changes.
But the Bush administration, Republican congressional leadership and other proponents of the existing inquiry say another commission will only tie up CIA and FBI officials who must run the war on terrorism while already answering to the congressional investigation.
Also, an independent commission's report can be ignored by both Congress and the White House, while the congressional investigation can be backed up by legislation.
Q: Is there any precedent for this sort of inquiry?
A: The investigation has been compared to the government's inquiry into how the United States missed preparations for Japan's surprise attack on Pearl Harbor. Some of the findings led to the foundation of the modern U.S. intelligence community. The last large-scale investigation of intelligence matters was the commission set up by Sen. Frank Church in 1975. Its conclusions led to new congressional oversight of the CIA.
— The Associated Press