DHS Background Briefing By Senior Intelligence
U.S. Department of Homeland Security
July 8, 2004
Contact: Press Office 202-282-8010
BACKGROUND BRIEFING BY SENIOR INTELLIGENCE OFFICIALS
(Washington, DC) July 8, 2004 - SENIOR INTELLIGENCE OFFICIAL:
If I could say a few words first. First of all, to address the
question regarding TTIC Online, TTIC Online is a website, at the
Top Secret, and now also at the Secret level. It is an information
system to make available to different types of recipients information
at different levels of classification. What the Department of Homeland
Security is doing, with what you referred to as the JRIES --
As Secretary Ridge mentioned, we know, from a broad base of (inaudible)
intelligence that al-Qaeda remains committed to carrying out a
full-on attack, series of attacks, in the homeland. And recent
and credible information indicates that al-Qaeda is determined
to carry out these attacks to disrupt our democratic processes.
Al-Qaeda has not been reluctant to, in fact, articulate that intent
and that threat. Osama bin Laden and Ayman Zawahiri have issued
several public statements last fall, threatening to carry out those
attacks. And numerous al-Qaeda spokespersons have, in fact, said
that these plans are underway and are near completion.
We are very concerned that al-Qaeda, even though it has been a
degraded organization as a result of counterterrorism successes
and efforts over the past several years, remains a dangerous organization,
because it is flexible and adaptable, as many international terrorist
There are strong indications that al-Qaeda will continue to try
to revisit past targets, those that they were able to attack, as
well as those that they were unable to attack.
In addition, there is intelligence that indicates that they are
looking at various transportations systems, as the Secretary alluded
to, and Madrid, the attacks against the subway systems there that
resulted in hundreds of deaths and injuries.
And looking at the current terrorist threat reporting and information
that we have, we continue to look at past plots to gain a better
understanding of the strategy and tactics that al-Qaeda may, in
fact, try to employ here in the states. In particular, looking
at some past al-Qaeda plans, as well as their capabilities and
their attacks overseas, we're concerned about Vehicle Borne Improvised
Explosive Devices -- VBIEDs, truck bombs -- and similar types of
vehicle borne explosives, given al-Qaeda's long history of successful
attacks overseas. These types of means of attack can be used to
go against different types of infrastructure targets, such as tunnels,
bridges, other types of targets that would lend themselves to that
type of targeting.
In addition, we know that al-Qaeda has carried out successful
attacks overseas in various locations, in Asia and in Europe recently.
Also, al-Qaeda has remained very interested in aviation attacks.
We know that it is a consistent focus of their efforts, as we saw
in 9/11. But since 9/11, and despite the numerous security enhancements
that have been made, al-Qaeda continues to pursue capabilities
that can use aircraft, either as a weapon or to target.
What we know about this most recent information that is being
directed from the senior-most levels of the al-Qaeda organization,
which includes Osama bin Laden, Ayman Zawahiri and others, and
we know that this leadership continues to operate along the border
area between Afghanistan and Pakistan.
And we'll take your questions.
QUESTION: Are you saying then, that bin Laden and Zawahiri are
now actively directing their followers?
SENIOR INTELLIGENCE OFFICIAL: When I mentioned the senior al-Qaeda
leadership, and there's senior al-Qaeda leadership, which include
Osama bin Laden and Ayman Zawahiri, also includes other senior
operatives. So this type of plotting, this type of operational
activity, is being done with the direction and authorization of
that senior leadership.
QUESTION: This intelligence that you have, are they specifically
mentioning their intent to thwart the democratic process, the election?
And if so, in what context?
SENIOR INTELLIGENCE OFFICIAL: Al-Qaeda, for many years, has, in
fact, tried to carry out attacks here or to design attacks that
would create political, economic and psychological damage on the
United States. Our various institutions, including the electoral
process, democratic processes here, are part of those institutions
that al-Qaeda is determined to try to disrupt.
So what we're doing is we're looking at this intelligence information
recently in the context of what is it that is happening, for example,
this year; and we know, with the election process here, this is
one of the reasons why I think everybody has to be -- remain vigilant.
QUESTION: So this is actually carrying on from the Madrid. I mean,
again, I just want to kind of follow-on on this question. Is it
that you're looking at it and there's a gut reaction, that you're
assuming that he must mean the political process, or you see information
that's specifically talking about the successes of Madrid and wanting
to replicate that here?
SENIOR INTELLIGENCE OFFICIAL: We are seeing, in a number of areas,
to include various websites that are used, as far as extremists
organizations are concerned, different types of reporting, that
they are focusing on what they perceive to have been successful
attacks in Madrid, as far as the impact on the electoral process
there and the outcome of that election.
And so the reporting and other things that we're seeing now is
with the same type of expectation and anticipation that similar
types of attacks could have, as I think the Secretary said, the
mistaken belief that it would have an impact here on the electoral
process. But the reporting that we are seeing, the information
that we have, is tied to the different types of democratic processes
QUESTION: Sir, in any of this intelligence, is there specific,
credible intelligence about what they want to do, in terms of how
they would carry this out, or is this basically intent only?
SENIOR INTELLIGENCE OFFICIAL: It's an intent and preparation to
carry out major attacks that would inflict major casualties, as
well as to create economic damage, political damage, psychological
damage to the United States. So it's the intent as well as the
preparation and plans that are underway to, in fact, effect those
QUESTION: When you're talking about political conventions, right,
you're talking about physical sites that can be defended, protected.
But how do you protect polling in thousands of places across the
country? I'd like to hear your thoughts on that. And also, where
do you think the threat is going to be highest? At the convention
stage of our process, or as we get closer to the actual decision
by the people?
SENIOR INTELLIGENCE OFFICIAL: I'll just take the second part,
and then I'll turn it over to [senior intelligence official] for
the first part. As far as the -- where the threat may be highest,
al-Qaeda traditionally has tried to target venues, buildings, whatever,
based on very meticulous and careful casing and surveillance, and
a lot of pre-operational activity. They are a meticulous and patient
organization that tries to optimize the chances for success. And
therefore, I believe that their target selection here, as well
as when they will carry out the attack, will be based on that type
of careful preparation, the thoroughness that, in fact, has been
a hallmark of al-Qaeda preparations.
So looking out over the next -- the rest of the year, and even
beyond, I think what we're doing, responsibly, collectively, is
to look at the threat information, look at the reporting, look
at those types of events, look at those types of venues and targets
that might, in fact, lend themselves to that type of --
QUESTION: So are you saying when we get closer to the actual voting?
Or at the stage of the nominating conventions? What worries you
SENIOR INTELLIGENCE OFFICIAL: I think we're here today to say
that we are concerned at this point, from this point on, and looking
out over the next many months. The al-Qaeda threat is a real one,
it's a continuing one, and I think we have to be vigilant from
this point forward.
QUESTION: Could you take the other part of my question, please?
How do you protect the polling stations?
SENIOR INTELLIGENCE OFFICIAL: Yes, I understand the question.
And I think the answer now has to be that this issue has not escaped
us. It's a very complex one, as you noted in your question.
We have begun a thought process and discussions about this issue.
We have to form an approach to it that makes sense here in the
United States, and that's what we'll be doing over the course of
the next days and weeks.
It would be inappropriate for us to discuss the details of our
planning or our effort to secure the election, but you can rest
assured that we'll certainly do our best to do that.
QUESTION: Would you postpone voting?
SENIOR INTELLIGENCE OFFICIAL: That's a speculative question that
I'm not prepared to answer, frankly. There are all kinds of issues
here we have to deal with. It's premature for anyone here at the
Department to give information on this topic.
And by the way, when you're talking about securing an event that
occurs on one day, very inappropriate for us to talk about the
detail of that.
QUESTION: Is this the result of a break in the case or is it a
result of ongoing collection of a large gestalt of information
that you've pieced together from many sources?
SENIOR INTELLIGENCE OFFICIAL: It's based on a very strong body
of intelligence acquired by intelligence and law enforcement over
the last two and a half years, and on top of that strategic intelligence
about al-Qaeda's plans and intentions, additional information that
has come in, not in terms of, you know, breaks in cases or whatever,
but just because of the continued determined efforts as far as
intelligence collection, law enforcement activities and others
to acquire the information. And as I think the Secretary said,
very credible sources of information are providing this.
QUESTION: But is any of this intelligence different than it was
last month when we heard this exact same warning? Is anything different
in the past several weeks? Is there new intelligence? Is there
a new threat? Or is this exactly what we heard last month?
SENIOR INTELLIGENCE OFFICIAL: I think I was mentioning that there
has been a growing body of intelligence over the past several years,
and I think over the past several months I would say we continue
to gain knowledge and understanding about what al-Qaeda is planning
to do. So every day there are nuggets that come in to the broader
intelligence community that we take a look at and start trying
to connect those pieces. So it's a dynamic process that allows
us to have a better understanding of exactly what we are facing
as far as the al-Qaeda threat.
QUESTION: You talked about wanting to revisit targets, both successful
and unsuccessful. That would be Los Angeles Airport, New York City
landmarks, bridges and tunnels. Is that what you're talking about?
You're saying New York City remains a prime target?
SENIOR INTELLIGENCE OFFICIAL: I said that al-Qaeda has this penchant
to return to those targets; for example, the World Trade Center,
you know, the bombings in the mid-'90s and then coming back to
it. I think what we need to do from an intelligence/law enforcement/homeland
security perspective is continue to look at all those previous
targets. You mentioned, you know, LAX, Los Angeles Airport, New
York City, different places there. So we are not taking any of
those targets sort of off of our areas of concern. So there is
just a broad array of potential targets that al-Qaeda could threaten.
QUESTION: In the aftermath of Madrid there was a statement that
al-Qaeda had lost a lot of control and command and that these were
al-Qaeda inspired groups and that one of the biggest problems facing
the intelligence community was that there was no solid structure
of command. And the way you're talking here is I'm wondering if
what you're implying is that this new information you have leads
you to the conclusion that there is a solid structure of command
and that the guys in the Pakistan-Afghan border are back in control
SENIOR INTELLIGENCE OFFICIAL: I don't think I -- I certainly didn't
mean to imply that solid structure. I don't think I used that term
at all. What I said is that there are senior levels of the al-Qaeda
leadership that continue to oversee and direct many of the operations
as far as pointing at the different types of targets and encouraging
this type of activity to take place and directing it and sponsoring
But what you're referring to now is that there is an international
constellation of different types of Islamic extremist networks.
Some of them are very closely tied to what we refer to as the al-Qaeda
organization. Others are loosely affiliated with it. So what we
need to do from an intelligence perspective is to understand exactly
whether cells that exist within Southeast Asia or within Africa
or Europe or other places are, in fact, part of this central al-Qaeda
organization or are they offshoots of it.
What we see is because of tremendous successes against the terrorist
target that the command and control structure of al-Qaeda has broken
down, it's very difficult in terms of communication or whatever.
So there may be some greater autonomy being given to some of these
operatives who are responsible for certain areas and certain sort
of theaters or responsibility.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) that there are sleeper cells in the United
States, sleeper cells in the United States, that people are scouting
locations for, you know, explosions and so forth, or border crossings
to effect the same end?
SENIOR INTELLIGENCE OFFICIAL: I think we have seen from reporting
that al-Qaeda, as I mentioned, does this very careful, meticulous
planning ahead of time to carry out attacks. A lot of this type
of preparation and pre-operational surveillance and casing is carried
out by what you may be referring to as sleeper cells: those individuals
that may have been deployed to a target area in order to carry
out the type of casing and surveillance that's necessary in order
to do the facilitation, maybe to identify a logistics network or
other types of things.
So I think, again, from an intelligence perspective, what we're
looking at is what does al-Qaeda have in place, what are they doing,
in order to be able to realize their terrorist objectives.
QUESTION: One question I have deals with Ridge said that in Italy,
Jordan and Great Britain that they had not only the people but
the means to carry out the attacks. Has some of the intelligence
that you've picked up in the last few months suggested that there
are, in fact, people already in place in the U.S.?
SENIOR INTELLIGENCE OFFICIAL: There is intelligence that al-Qaeda
has individuals dispersed worldwide, and worldwide would include
the United States, that are -- they are using in order to facilitate
the operational planning necessary to carry out attacks successfully.
So one of the things that we have learned, and I think the reference
to different types of networks that have been wrapped up that the
Secretary's mentioning, plans in the United Kingdom to carry out
attacks with VBIEDs as far as individuals, the materials, we know
that that was done as a result not just of plans and directions
but also those individuals who helped facilitate that type of operation
who may be in place for many years and then become facilitators
and then may also go into an operational mode. So I think that
we have to think about what we see overseas and then apply that
to our understanding here in the States.
QUESTION: Can we hear something from the FBI? Can we hear just
a comment from the FBI? There's been no voice from the Bureau at
SENIOR INTELLIGENCE OFFICIAL: Yes, I think one thing that's really
important is in regards to Homeland Security one of the things
that's happening in the federal government is we're all coming
together working to address issues that arise in the country, specifically
with JTTF, the Joint Terrorism Task Forces. We've got representatives
from most, if not all, federal law enforcement agencies, state
agencies, local agencies, and we're working together.
I think what's really important and what I see from my position
at headquarters is that when we get into these modes of having
to operate, a lot of times you see the badges go off as far as
the agency or department that the people are working for. I think
that's what's really important. And I think what we have now is
law enforcement sees a real mission in that we've got to safeguard
the country and we're really working together to do it. And I think
one of the keys is that it has been alluded to by Secretary Ridge
and [senior intelligence official], is that we're working together
as far as intelligence. There's a lot of intelligence sharing.
There are constant meetings back here in D.C. as well as in cities
and states around the country, and we're working together collectively
and that's what really important. And we really think that's the
way we're going to succeed and we do have a huge mission ahead
SENIOR INTELLIGENCE OFFICIAL: Thank you very much. Thank you.