Saturday, October 23, 2004
We were surely not the first to wonder why, if the government believed that al Qaeda was planning terrorist attacks to disrupt the election, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice would spend the month of October ignoring this grave and imminent threat in order to bounce around the country making glorified stump speeches in such swing states as Pennsylvania, Ohio, and (of course) Florida. Now, of course, we feel rather silly; it's only natural that Condi, because of her high-level security clearance, would get the all-clear some weeks before the rest of us:
In early July, the Homeland security secretary, Tom Ridge, declared that credible intelligence showed Al Qaeda intended to launch a "large-scale attack" inside the United States to "disrupt our democratic process." More than three months later, counterterrorism officials in the United States and overseas say they are still concerned, but have uncovered little specific evidence of a plot timed to the election.
Extensive investigations into the most significant reported threat unearthed this year, a years-old Qaeda surveillance operation thought to be aimed at five financial institutions in New York, Newark and Washington, has found no sign that it had evolved into concrete operations.
There are now doubts among intelligence officials that a group of eight men arrested in Britain last August planned to strike in the United States around the presidential election, as suspected at first.
And an informant on Al Qaeda, who told authorities last spring that there might be an election-season attack in the United States, has recently been discredited, the officials said.
In a series of interviews here and abroad over the last two months, even after the conventions passed without incident, some intelligence and counterterrorism officials say they still fear an undetected plot . . . .
"I've seen some analytical pieces from the bureau and the agency," said one senior American counterintelligence official, referring to election threat reports by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Central Intelligence Agency. "On a scale of one to a hundred, I'd give it about a two."