Bin Laden Is Said to Be
Organizing for a U.S. Attack.
By David Johnston and David Stout
Washington, July 8 - Osama bin Laden and his chief lieutenants,
operating from hideouts suspected to be along the Afghanistan-Pakistan
border, are directing a Qaeda effort to launch an attack in the United
States sometime this year, senior Bush administration officials said on
"What we know about this most recent information is that it is being
directed from the seniormost levels of the Al Qaeda organization," said
a senior official at a briefing for reporters. He added, "We know that
this leadership continues to operate along the border area between
Afghanistan and Pakistan."
Counterterrorism officials have said for weeks that they are
increasingly worried by a continuing stream of intelligence suggesting
that Al Qaeda wanted to carry out a significant terror attack on United
States soil this year. But until the comments of the senior
administration officials on Thursday, it was not clear that Mr. bin
Laden and top deputies like Ayman Zawahiri were responsible for the
Another senior administration official said on Thursday that the
intelligence reports - apparently drawn partly from interviews with
captured Qaeda members and partly from other intelligence - referred to
efforts "to inflict catastrophic effects" before the election.
This official said that the reports did not refer specifically to Mr.
bin Laden's instructions or desires, but did make clear that
instructions were coming from Qaeda leaders. "It sounds like a corporate
effort," the official said.
The new information about Al Qaeda came as Congressional Republicans
barely managed to block an effort by Democrats to ban the government
from demanding records from libraries and book sellers in some terrorism
investigations. Although the Democrats' effort failed by a single vote,
it reflected the deep divisions over President Bush's signature
antiterrorism legislation, the U.S.A. Patriot Act, which allowed the
government access to such records.
In discussing the latest threat information, one of the officials said
the intelligence was "cryptic," about both timing and location. There is
a widespread assumption in the intelligence community that past targets
- New York, Washington, the Los Angeles airport - all still have
symbolic value to Al Qaeda. There is no specific reference to the coming
political conventions, the official said, but that remains an immediate
focus of concern.
Mr. bin Laden's precise role remains somewhat uncertain. It does not
appear that he is trying to take an active leadership role in
formulating a specific plan, as he did in preparations for the September
2001 attacks, an administration official said. There is evidence, the
official said, that he is able to communicate with his followers, urging
them to carry out operations in the name of the terror network.
In the past, Mr. bin Laden has used a variety of methods to carry his
messages, and he is acutely aware of American efforts to monitor his
conversations. He has used couriers to carry private instructions and
issued public statements that contained threats and exhortations. In
addition, his followers have used cellphones and computer messages to
disseminate his directives.
At a news conference on Thursday, Tom Ridge, the homeland security
secretary, said the intelligence about Al Qaeda's intentions was
credible, even if it lacked specifics. He said that the chances of
heading off an attack were better than ever, and that there was no
reason to raise the terrorist threat level for now.
Mr. Ridge said reliable information pointed to an attack in which
terrorists would try to "disrupt our democratic process," suggesting an
attack designed to disrupt the national political conventions or the
elections in November. He added that extra protective measures would be
in place at the conventions, even though there was no specific
indication that they were targets.
"We lack precise knowledge about time, place and method of attack, but
along with the C.I.A., F.B.I. and other agencies, we are actively
working to gain that knowledge," Mr. Ridge said. But several other
officials said there were "strong indications" that Al Qaeda might
strike at targets it had attacked before, "including those that they
were able to attack, as well as those that they were unable to attack."
That suggested possible targets would include New York and the Los
Angeles airport, which was a target in a millennium-related plot that
was foiled by the authorities in December 1999.
Source: New York Times.