- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 1, 2001

A nationwide FBI alert was ordered after Canadian intelligence officials intercepted a coded message sent to Afghanistan by a suspected associate of Osama bin Laden's terrorist network, suggesting possible new attacks this week, federal law enforcement authorities said yesterday.
The message, authorities said, said a major event would take place "down south" over the next few days, although there was no elaboration.
Delivered to the FBI by Canadian officials, the intercepted message prompted Attorney General John Ashcroft to make public an order he had given to 18,000 law enforcement agencies nationwide to be on the "highest alert."
Authorities said that while the message had no specifics on the intended targets or the method of delivery, U.S. intelligence officials believe the coded dispatch is an indication that terrorist cells operating in this country, Canada and Europe are free to plan and carry out strikes without first seeking the permission from leaders of bin Laden's al Qaeda group in Afghanistan.
The message, intercepted Sunday, was the latest in a series of communications detected over the past 10 days by intelligence sources in this country, Canada and overseas. During the 10-day period, authorities said, several of the intercepted messages were routed to Afghanistan and to various al Qaeda operatives by associates in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and Jakarta, Indonesia.
Authorities said the intercepted messages suggested that new terrorist attacks against American targets would come in retaliation for the U.S. bombing of Taliban and al Qaeda sites in Afghanistan, and to coincide with the start this month of Ramadan, the ninth month of the lunar-based Islamic calendar.
A similar flurry of messages was intercepted in the days before the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, all of which suggested pending terrorist strikes against U.S. targets in Europe or the Middle East. Those messages, which gave no clue that New York and Washington would be struck by suicide pilots, were later described as part of a diversionary plan to conceal the terrorists' real intent.
Mr. Ashcroft issued the nationwide alert Monday, the second time the Justice Department had made the notice public, although he offered no details on intended targets or how the attacks would be carried out. He said the warning was made public because Americans were smart enough to "make good judgments" about what to do with the information.
A similar warning was issued Oct. 11, which said the FBI had "certain information" that additional attacks could occur within days. That was the same week a rash of anthrax-laced letters began to appear in Florida and later in New York and Washington, although the FBI has not determined if that warning and the anthrax letters were related.
Some members of Congress, both Democrats and Republicans, have questioned whether the public alerts are necessary or if their intended message has become confusing.
Republican Sens. Richard C. Shelby of Alabama and Robert F. Bennett of Utah asked whether the administration would be viewed as "crying wolf" if nothing happens, causing people to ignore the warnings. Sen. Christopher J. Dodd, Connecticut Democrat, said it was "crazy to make those kinds of statements."
But others, particularly in the wake of information showing that U.S. and Canadian intelligence officials had credible concerns about a possible new attack, seemed to agree yesterday with Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, who said the Bush administration was in a "very understandable dilemma."
"Under the circumstances, I really don't know that they could have made any other choice," the South Dakota Democrat said.
Mr. Ashcroft added yesterday that there was no reason to downgrade the new alert, although he again declined to elaborate.
"I wish I could turn the clock back to before September the 11th. I wish that we didn't have to talk about threats. I wish we didn't have to make announcements about threats. But the facts are different. We simply have an environment in which threats exist, and we have to, and I believe we are warranted in, trusting the American people to talk to them about that," he said.
"And I don't believe we can say that the threats have abated. I believe we still have to ask people to be alert, but we all have to understand that being American includes a certain amount of activity, and the freedoms we've enjoyed we should continue to enjoy. It's with that in mind that I can't say that people have any right to think that the risks have abated as it relates either to the anthrax or other terrorist risks," he said.


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