Ridge: Terrorist Threat Persists; Nation Must Be Prepared
By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Nov. 18, 2002 The spectacular attack in Indonesia, the limited attack in Kuwait and the assault on the French tanker off the shores of Yemen all show terrorists' capabilities, Homeland Security Adviser Tom Ridge said Nov. 17.
"The bottom line is that they've demonstrated an ability to attack countries and people in various forms, and we have to be alert and aware and be as well-prepared to interdict and prevent all of those potential forms of attack," Ridge said on CNN's Late Edition.
The FBI's latest bulletin, issued last week by the National Infrastructure Protection Center, warned of possible "spectacular attacks" that would have high symbolic value, cause mass casualties and severe damage to the U.S. economy and create maximum psychological trauma.
Ridge said the FBI had summarized threat information received over the past six to eight weeks. The warning, he noted, was a reminder to law enforcement officials and the public that terrorists could certainly try to bring harm, death and destruction like they did a year ago.
U.S. officials review the national threat level each day, Ridge noted. "Right now, both within government and in the private sector, there's a range of protective measures you can take within the yellow level," he said. "We are at the upper end of that range."
The White House established the Homeland Security Advisory System as a means of disseminating information regarding the risk of terrorist acts to federal, state and local authorities and to the public. Five threat levels are designated by colors: low is green; guarded, blue; elevated, yellow; high, orange; severe, red.
Intelligence officials have made enormous progress in combining domestic and foreign intelligence-gathering capabilities. They're now gathering more information and in the past couple of weeks, Ridge said, they're reporting more "chatter."
"We must remember that we're getting more information because we have nearly 2,700 al Qaeda operatives detained around the world," Ridge noted. "So we're getting more information, both about the threat and about operational capability."
Information is being shared with the public, but "sometimes, with an abundance of caution," he said. "Sometimes it's not corroborated, and we want to go back and see if we can find it verified more completely."
If officials have specific information about the time, place, venue and means of attack, Ridge said, they would take action.
Sources of information include public statements from the al Qaeda leadership such as the audiotape aired recently by Al Jazeera television network. Ridge said the U.S. intelligence community believes it's likely the tape is the voice of Osama bin Laden.
Whether or not the speaker is the terrorist leader, he said, the hate and venom contained in the tape is what led to the Sept. 11 attack on the United States. Whenever such a speaker reiterates his conditions, threats and age-old complaints, "we understand it is from an evil heart, a hateful heart and an evil mind and an evil man, and we just have to deal with it."
Responding to those critical of the administration for failing to capture or kill bin Laden, Ridge, said his "we will get bin Laden; we're committed to that. That is a priority of this war on terrorism."
U.S. officials are taking the threats voiced in the tape against the president, vice president and defense secretary "very, very seriously," Ridge said. "All terrorist organizations, from time to time, look to assassination as a means of bringing terror and destruction to a country or a community."
Ridge confirmed that a high-ranking al Qaeda operative had been captured within the past 48 hours.
He hopes "we can secure more information about the nature of the threat and operational activity as it related to the United States and to their conduct around the rest of the world."
Speaking on Fox News Sunday, Ridge recapped the success that's been made to date in the war against terrorism. He said the military has disrupted the training facilities in Afghanistan and U.S. forces are working with local counter terrorism forces in Yemen and the Philippines. The international coalition has frozen $125 million worth of assets and disrupted terrorist activity in Spain, Italy and Germany. About 2,700 terrorists or supporters are in custody.
Even though the terrorists' communication and financing have been disrupted, he said, the nation must be "prepared as if they can and will strike."
"We need to do everything we can in this country, within the rule of law, within the Constitution of the United States, to identify and apprehend those who would do us harm," Ridge said.