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American Public 'First Line of Defense' Against Attacks

By Kathleen T. Rhem
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Nov. 15, 2002 – Recent government warnings about possible terrorist threats are not necessarily based on new information and are not specific, a senior presidential adviser said today.

"It is important that Americans know when this sort of thing comes to the attention of the administration," National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice said at a White House media briefing. She said the warnings are "a summary of intelligence, not a new warning."

Rice urged Americans to remain vigilant, calling the public "the first line of defense" against attacks. "There have been many cases in which Americans who were alert to suspicious circumstances around them have been able to tip law enforcement officials," she said.

Even though the warnings are not specific regarding location or time, officials are taking additional protective measures toward critical infrastructure and symbolic sites, she said.

Rice dismissed the suggestion that the president is too concerned with waging war on Iraq to defend the country from terrorists. She noted President Bush begins each day with a briefing from the CIA director and several other homeland security experts.

"(The president) does not begin his day on Iraq. He begins his day on the war on terrorism and the threat levels and the threat information that we have in the United States," Rice said.

She noted that disarming Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein will further the aims of the war on terrorism. "The worst nightmare that we could face is the combination of extremism with a hostile regime armed with weapons of mass destruction," Rice said.

Bush has said repeatedly that Iraq's Saddam Hussein has such weapons and a history of supporting terrorist groups. With this knowledge, Rice said, the U.S. government doesn't need to prove that Hussein was involved in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on America, but only that he poses a threat of future attacks.

"Nobody has said (Hussein) has operational control of al Qaeda or that he caused Sept. 11. That's not the point," she said. "But ... if you look at a regime like Iraq, with growing capabilities in terms of weapons of mass destruction and with extreme animus toward the United States, and you look at the potential for that to link up with terrorist organizations, ... you have to be concerned about that."

Rice said it is important to deal with Iraq now "because you do not want Saddam Hussein, who is a homicidal dictator, armed with a nuclear weapon in the Middle East, which is the most volatile region of the world."

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