- The Washington Times - Monday, February 18, 2008

ASSOCIATED PRESS

The U.S. intelligence chief said yesterday that internal Hezbollah groups or Syria may be to blame for the killing of a Hezbollah commander that has led the FBI to put domestic anti-terror squads on alert in the U.S.

Director of National Intelligence Michael McConnell, appearing on “Fox News Sunday,” said the U.S. is still reviewing the case following the death last Tuesday of Hezbollah commander Imad Mughniyeh. Hezbollah blamed Israel and has pledged to attack Jewish targets worldwide in retaliation. That led the FBI last week to be vigilant for possible threats in the U.S. against synagogues and other potential Jewish targets.

Mr. McConnell said he considers the threat to be primarily against Israel. But he said U.S. intelligence officials are keeping close watch and taking necessary action to protect the U.S. because Mughniyeh has been “responsible for more deaths of Americans and Israelis than any other terrorist with the exception of Osama bin Laden.”

“It is a serious threat,” Mr. McConnell said. “There’s some evidence that it may have been internal Hezbollah. It may have been Syria. We don’t know yet, and we’re trying to sort that out.”

Mr. McConnell also expressed hope that today’s parliamentary elections in Pakistan will help produce a stable, democratic government. The elections are considered crucial to restoring democracy in Pakistan after eight years of military rule under President Pervez Musharraf.

Over the weekend, a suicide bomber in Islamabad rammed a car packed with explosives into a crowd after a rally for a candidate allied with the opposition, killing at least 40 people and heightening fears of Islamic militant violence. Most of the victims appeared to be members of the opposition Pakistan Peoples Party, formerly led by the slain Benazir Bhutto.

“The whole effort in our work with Pakistan, negotiations back and forth, is to see these elections be fair and free — hopefully, to return them and put them on the path to democracy,” Mr. McConnell said.

Mr. McConnell also reiterated his belief that the U.S. is at “increased danger” of a terrorist attack and “it will increase more and more as time goes on” because Congress did not quickly renew an eavesdropping law that expired at midnight Saturday. The Bush administration wants the House to approve a Senate bill that would in part have provided legal protections for telecommunications companies that helped the government wiretap U.S. computer and phone lines after the September 11, 2001, attacks without approval first from a secret court.

McConnell said yesterday that without the legal protections, telecommunications companies are now unlikely to cooperate with the government in tracking suspected terrorists, and “we cannot do this mission without help and support from the private sector.”

Democratic leaders say President Bush is fear-mongering and misrepresenting the facts.