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Cheney Says Another Terror Attack is 'Almost Certain' (corrected copy)

By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, May 20, 2002 – Another terrorist attack on the United States is "almost certain," Vice President Dick Cheney warned Sunday on NBC's Meet the Press.

"We don't know if it's going to be tomorrow, or next week or next year," Cheney said. The U.S.-led war on terrorism has had some successes at disrupting the al Qaeda terrorist network, making it more difficult for them to carry out operations, he noted, but it's almost impossible to build "a 100 percent perfect defense."

"The American people must understand the reality of the enemy we're up against," he stressed. Even if your defense is 99 percent successful, that other one percent "can still kill you."

Gathering accurate knowledge of an attack in advance is a very hard thing to do, he said. The number of terrorists who know the details of an operation is exceedingly small. He said evidence indicates that even some of the Sept. 11 hijackers didn't know it was a suicide mission.

"So when you try to read the tea leaves," Cheney said, "we look for pieces of information and evidence, but you never get the complete picture. You've got to do the best you can with limited information. The nature of the beast we're dealing with here is that it's always going to be very fuzzy."

U.S. officials are focusing on lessons learned from of the Sept. 11 attack and are working to improve coordination between international intelligence-collecting operations and domestic law enforcement. "We're now building that capability, but it did not exist domestically in an effective fashion prior to Sept. 11th," Cheney said.

The goal is to establish a process that collects, analyzes, collates and puts intelligence information in usable form for U.S. policymakers, he said. That way, security officials could pull information from an arrest in Minnesota, combine it with speculative analysis from Phoenix, and act upon it.

U.S. security officials walk a fine line when they consider putting people on alert, Cheney noted. They don't want to panic people. When they don't have anything specific but there's "an increased level of noise in the system," they have to decide whether to notify law enforcement and transportation officials.

"You can only sustain an alert for so long, and then it gets to be old hat," Cheney said. "People have heard that before so they begin not to respond."

U.S. officials are also concerned about terrorists employing weapons of mass destruction. Caves and training camps in Afghanistan revealed ample evidence they were out to get chemical, biological and nuclear weapons. "We don't know how far they got," Cheney said. "We're aggressively trying to run down those leads."

The vice president said he doubts the terrorists have been successful in their quest for weapons of mass destruction. "My guess is not -- not yet," he said. "One theory would be that they'd have used it by now if they had it. But there's no question, we have to be concerned about a terrorist with a weapon, potentially a nuke, and that is a whole new scale of threat for us to face."

"Terrorism is an evil and pernicious thing," Cheney concluded, "and one of the biggest challenges we've ever faced as a nation to sort of reorient our whole focus in terms of national security and defense around that threat, as opposed to what we worried about in the last century."

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