officials say the threat of terrorist attacks in the United States
and elsewhere remains high, but that efforts to protect the public
are being constantly upgraded and reinforced.
A little over a month before the two year anniversary of the
September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in New York and the Pentagon,
U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft gave a sobering assessment
of what the future may hold. Speaking on the U.S. television
program Fox News Sunday, Mr. Ashcroft said there is no
reason to doubt that further attacks are being planned. "I believe
that the potential for us to be hit again is very real. And the
efforts we are making, the information we are sharing with the
American people, signals that we believe there is such a potential,
but that we minimize the potential whenever we are alert," he
Mr. Ashcroft said the Bush administration is working to minimize
the threat of terrorist attacks. He noted that transit visa requirements
have been tightened for people making connecting flights at U.S.
The policy change followed an intelligence assessment that
terrorists continue to plot attacks that could involve hijackings,
as well as a controversial directive that would have cut back
on federal air marshals assigned to commercial flights. On NBC's Meet
the Press, U.S. Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge was
quick to state that the directive never went into effect, and
that the air marshal program is fully staffed. "All air marshals
are deployed. That order was rescinded," he said.
Mr. Ridge added that, as part of the war on terrorism, numerous
security measures have been enhanced to protect the flying public. "Let's
go back in the history of the air marshal program. Its primary
purpose is to prevent a breach of the cabin [of an aircraft].
For that reason, the program grew from a couple hundred air marshals
to several thousand air marshals. In the meantime, we are in
the process of arming pilots; we have secured cockpit doors;
we have passenger screeners and baggage screeners and new technology.
So, on balance, the federal air marshal program is a critical
program, but there are other assets and other layers of protection
that I think give us enhanced security," he said.
Attorney General John Ashcroft was asked on Fox News Sunday about
an audiotape purportedly from the al-Qaida terrorist network
that threatened retaliation if harm comes to detainees from Afghanistan
currently being held at the U.S. Naval Station at Guantanamo
Bay, Cuba. "It is ironic to say that they would wait until we
did something to one of them before they would do damage to the
United States," he said. "They did great damage to the United
States on September 11. I believe al-Qaida wants to strike us.
I believe they want to strike us whenever and wherever they can."
Mr. Ashcroft said the United States and its allies have disrupted
dozens, perhaps hundreds, of terrorist attacks around the world
since September 11, 2001.
He added that, like many Americans, he and his family will
be traveling by commercial airplane in the weeks ahead, and that
he is confident of the security measures in place.