- The Washington Times - Monday, October 29, 2001

Terrorist groups are using anthrax attacks as a diversion and taking advantage of an overburdened law-enforcement system to plan more attacks on America, federal law-enforcement and intelligence sources say.
The sources, all of whom are either working on or have close knowledge of the investigations of both the anthrax and Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, said that regardless of whether Osama bin Laden or the al Qaeda terrorist network are behind the anthrax attacks, they are taking advantage of the FBI and other law-enforcement agencies' dedication to solving and dealing with the anthrax attacks as well as hoaxes and scares.
"Our guard is down now because we are looking at mail," one intelligence source said.
Indeed, FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III told a group of the country's mayors that more than 7,000 of its 11,000 agents and support personnel are working on investigations relating to the Sept. 11 and anthrax attacks.
"There is just too much going on," an FBI source said, adding that agents are working on the investigations almost simultaneously by asking about both the anthrax and Sept. 11 attacks with those they question.
"We still have to deal with the hoaxes."
In addition to federal law enforcement working on the two investigations, local and state police are also taxed.
And that combination of overburdened law enforcement coupled with the anthrax attacks, according to sources, has given terrorists abroad and living in America more time to plan attacks because investigators have had to react to emergencies instead of searching for terrorists.
Sen. Richard C. Shelby, Alabama Republican and ranking member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, said he does not believe that Americans "should relax our guard in any way."
"This could be a ploy, a diversion, to scare us to make us panic while they get ready to do something else," Mr. Shelby said, adding he believes "al Qaeda or Mr. bin Laden would try to do something big, like on September 11."
Mr. Shelby said it is a basic terrorist tactic to "get us thinking about one thing and then they hit us with another" attack.
FBI and CIA officials seem to believe the anthrax attacks are the work of a domestic terrorist, sources say, but they are not ruling out a connection with al Qaeda or bin Laden.
Mr. Shelby said even though law enforcement is stretched thin, he still thinks that officers "are focused on the areas that are most vulnerable."
Rep. Saxby Chambliss, Georgia Republican and member of the House Select Intelligence Committee, said that the dual investigations are leaving the country vulnerable in some places.
"We are just stretching law enforcement thin and we are just exposing us" to possible attacks, Mr. Chambliss said.
Meanwhile, a senior intelligence source who has been working closely on the investigations said that intelligence agencies have evidence that not only are there "sleeper" terrorist cells in the country, but that those cells are planning other attacks.
The intelligence source said both the FBI and the CIA have reason to believe that terrorist groups that are associated with bin Laden and the al Qaeda network were working on future attacks even before the Sept. 11 attacks. "In their eyes, this is a long war," the source said. "They planned for it."
Members of the cells, the source said, have been in the country for a number of years and have "woven into the fabric of American life," which makes it difficult for investigators to spot suspect terrorists.
Both federal law enforcement and intelligence sources said it is foolhardy for Americans to think that Sept. 11 was the end of terrorist assaults on U.S. soil, sentiments expressed by numerous government officials, including President Bush.
The sources noted that both the FBI and the CIA believe the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and 1998 bombings of two U.S. embassies in Africa were done by bin Laden's foot soldiers.
A senior law enforcement source who is working on the investigation said intelligence information points to terrorists plotting attacks that involved car and truck bombs.
The source would not, however, provide more details about when or where the attacks may occur.
Mr. Chambliss said he believes terrorist groups may actually try to attack the sites where anthrax scares have broken out, particularly Washington, New York City and parts of Florida. "This may mean that they know they are taxing law enforcement and they may go there," Mr. Chambliss said.
New anti-terrorism measures signed into law last Friday, which allow the government to more easily tap phones, check e-mail, and detain suspected terrorists, should help investigators track down terrorists and prevent future attacks.
Ivo H. Daalder, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institute and former member of the National Security Council during the Clinton administration, said he has no doubt terrorist groups have planned more attacks.
"I think they thought two or three steps ahead before they began," Mr. Daalder said. "It would be terribly shortsighted to not assume that there could be other attacks." And while FBI agents and other law-enforcement personnel are likely engaged in an investigation that is looking into both the hijackings and the anthrax attacks, Mr. Daalder said "the threat du jur" may have investigators "missing crystal finds."
Mr. Daalder said he still believes there are "sleeper" terrorist cells in the country and that despite the roundup of nearly 900 people suspected of having a connection with the Sept. 11 attacks the government probably has not disrupted any of those active cells.
"I think they are planning something different from what we have already seen," Mr. Daalder said.

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