U.S. terror attack seen apt to follow ‘08 vote

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Mr. Bechtel said bin Laden and other al Qaeda leaders are likely weighing their next step right now.

“They are in a wait-and-see situation right now,” he said. “They run the risk, if they attack before the election, of really influencing the way the election goes, to their detriment. If there’s an attack, I really believe McCain is going to run away with the election, and I don’t think they want that. I think they really would like Obama as their first choice and Clinton as their second.”

Kenneth Katzman, a terrorism specialist at the Congressional Research Service, said “Al Qaeda has a pattern of testing new American leaders.”

“Even now, al Qaeda is probably trying to plan something for after the U.S. inauguration,” he said. “I think to a certain extent, al Qaeda tested President Clinton’s administration several times. The response was ineffective. I think al Qaeda concluded it could attempt something as ambitious as 9/11, but concluded the time was better after a new president, who would not have time to review his strategy on al Qaeda. The time settled on was the summer or early fall, after a new president was inaugurated. They chose September because they wanted all the officials to be back at their desks from summer vacations.”

A Congressional Research Service report last month noted that January will mark the first change in administrations since the 2001 al Qaeda attacks.

“Whether an incident of national security significance occurs just before or soon after the presidential transition, the actions or inactions of the outgoing administration may have a long-lasting effect on the new president’s ability to effectively safeguard U.S. interests and may affect the legacy of the outgoing president,” the report states.

The report urges the Bush administration to deliver extensive threat briefings to the president-elect’s national security team.

Congress foresaw such a need when it wrote the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004. The law allows for presidential candidates to obtain pre-election security clearances for its chosen transition officials so they can immediately be briefed on security threats by the outgoing administration.

On al Qaeda’s ability to attack America again, Mr. Bechtel said, “I think they are still somewhat fractured. If you want to look at it as a piece of window glass, it’s broken, but there are lots of sharp pieces out there. I think within the tribal areas of Pakistan, they feel pretty darn comfortable.”

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