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Officials Alert Americans to Possible Al Qaeda Attacks

Ashcroft: Over 100 planned attacks disrupted since Sept. 11

By Howard Cincotta
Washington File Special Correspondent

Washington --- The al Qaeda terrorist organization possesses the will and the intent to strike the United States and inflict massive casualties, possibly using commercial aviation as it did on September 11, U.S. officials warned on television news programs August 3.

Both Attorney General John Ashcroft and Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge stressed that by alerting Americans to the nature of the threat and providing as much information as possible, the government was seeking to reduce the risk and even disrupt plans for such terrorist attacks.

"I believe the potential for us to be hit again is very real," Ashcroft said on Fox News Sunday. "I believe they want to strike us whenever and wherever they can." He said that officials were highlighting the potential threat to civil aviation because the information appeared to be more "redundant, more repetitive in the intelligence community, and more corroborated."

On ABC's This Week, Ashcroft added: "One thing we also know about al Qaeda is they tend to go to things that they have been able to do successfully in the past."

At the same time, Ashcroft pointed out, the United States -- in cooperation with international friends and allies -- has intercepted or disrupted plans for more than 100 terrorist-related attacks around the world since the September 11, 2001 attacks.

"The interesting thing is that when you raise people's consciousness, it disrupts terrorism -- so that by raising the awareness of the American people, we literally diminish the risk," Ashcroft said on CBS's Face the Nation.

Tom Ridge, Secretary of Homeland Security, said on NBC's Meet the Press that, although threats to civilian aviation continue, the federal government, airline industry, and local law enforcement have built new and stronger layers of security and protection, including hardened cockpit doors, federal air marshals aboard planes, plans to arm pilots, new technologies at airports, and thousands of baggage and passenger screeners.

"Today, we are far more secure and far better protected than we were on September 10, 2001," Ridge said.

As an example of tightened security, both Ashcroft and Ridge cited the elimination of the "transit-without-visa" program, which permitted foreigners to travel through the U.S. to another international destination without first obtaining a U.S. visa. Even though only 1 percent of air travelers used this option, Ridge said, the increased threat to international air travel led to the decision to cancel the program and require U.S. visas for all U.S.-bound foreign travelers.

Ashcroft defended proposed amendments to strengthen the anti-terrorist Patriot Act, specifically a provision called "delayed notification," which permits a search without immediately notifying the individual or entity that a search has taken place. These actions, which always take place under the supervision of a federal judge, Ashcroft pointed out, are standard procedure in narcotics investigations.

"Last week, we had 230 arrests in a major drug bust," Ashcroft said on Fox News Sunday. "We couldn't have arrested all 230 if there was a lot of publicity about the first item that we did. We needed to stage the arrests, and stage the operations so that we could make all of the arrests. Sometimes it's necessary to do that in the area of terrorism."

Ridge stressed the wider context of the domestic anti-terrorism effort, pointing out that the government's responsibility is to reduce risk by countering vulnerabilities and threats to terrorist attacks at federal, state, and local levels.

"Every single day," Ridge said on NBC's Meet the Press, "we build more and better capacity to deal with these issues. We always need to move forward and look to the next deterrent, look to the next security measure, look to the next enhancement of protection. But our ability to respond to an incident of that sort has improved significantly since September 11, and we will continue to build the capacity to do just that. That's our job."

Created:03 Aug 2003 Updated: 03 Aug 2003