U.S. intelligence officials say there are signs terrorists are planning a major attack during the holiday season. But the signs are not specific enough to issue a warning to the public.
Increased chatter among terrorist groups associated with the al Qaeda network has been a common indicator in the past. Intelligence agencies have been picking up signals since early December from terrorist suspects indicating that an attack is being planned.
“They are talking about ‘the big one,’” an intelligence official tells us.
U.S. government public warnings about terrorism over the Christmas and New Year’s holiday have been limited to overseas-travel advisories.
The latest intelligence says a major terror attack could be carried out in the United States, the officials said.
The FBI warned this week that terrorists may attempt to blow up an airliner using explosives-laden shoes, similar to the attempt a year ago by accused shoe-bomb suspect Richard C. Reid.
CIA Director George J. Tenet said in a recent speech that the al Qaeda network is preparing terrorist attacks. He noted that recent taped messages by al Qaeda leaders were “unprecedented in their bluntness and urgency.”
Some Air Force commanders are discouraging airmen from adopting the Army’s rallying cry “hoo-ah.”
Soldiers have shouted “hoo-ah” for years as a motivational exclamation and morale builder. The shout has become particularly popular since the September 11 attacks. TV newscasts have captured President Bush being greeted by a volley of “hoo-ahs” when he speaks to Army troops.
In fact, the word has become so popular it has made its way into left-leaning Hollywood. The comedy film “Analyze That” has actor Billy Crystal exclaiming “hoo-ah” to a congregation of mobsters.
The Air Force is not immune to the “hoo-ah” craze, and not all commanders like it.
“By now, most of you have heard that the term ‘hoo-ah’ is not encouraged in our Air Force,” one senior sergeant said in an e-mail message to other sergeants. “Some of our folks may take this negatively, but they really shouldn’t. ‘Hoo-ah’ has been used by our brothers and sisters in the Army for years. I’m not sure how or why it started to infiltrate our conversations but it did. Now we’ve been asked to put it to rest.”
This sergeant recommended that airmen yell “air power” instead.
A lower-ranking sergeant sent an e-mail to other enlisted personnel saying ‘hoo-ah’ should be accepted.
“Hoo-ah,” he wrote, “simply means everything except ‘no.’ I can understand the non-understanding of those who spend their time in offices, looking at slides, making sure the orderly room clown has made the coffee, wondering which donut to pick out of the box not to have the clue as to what ‘hoo-ah’ means. It means not making excuses. It is a resounding ‘I will comply.’”
Lt. Col. Tyrone Woodyard, an Air Force spokesman at the Pentagon, said neither Gen. John P. Jumper, Air Force chief of staff, nor other senior leaders, are discouraging the use of ‘hoo-ah.’
“Gen. Jumper is clearly an ‘air power’ advocate, but he does not have a preference, as long as it’s in good taste and it unifies and inspires and motivates the unit to accomplish the mission,” Col. Woodyard said.
Vice Adm. Lowell E. Jacoby was quietly promoted to the post of director of the Defense Intelligence Agency in October. The word from some defense officials is that he is getting praise for keeping the intelligence service focused on capturing top al Qaeda leaders.
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld has been pushing the military hard to capture and kill more al Qaeda terrorists and the pressure has been increased on the DIA to do more as well.
Intelligence officials tell us, however, that Adm. Jacoby has not been getting the job done when it comes to getting the top al Qaeda leadership, which remains a major failing of the war on terrorism.
Few of the 22 top al Qaeda terrorists on the FBI’s list of key leaders has been captured. Osama bin Laden, the top al Qaeda leader, remains at large.
The big attack that killed six al Qaeda leaders in Yemen in October was a CIA operation, although the U.S. military was prepared to send in jets if the drone-launched missile attack had failed.
“DIA is not getting the job done,” said one intelligence critic. “The last time we had any clue to the location of bin Laden was December 2001 when he was detected in Afghanistan.”
The CIA also stated recently that about a third of the top al Qaeda leadership has been captured or killed and that the group is working to carry out new attacks.
ABC’s “20/20” broadcast a story last week on the Air Force practice of giving amphetamines (the service calls them “go-pills”) to counter fatigue in pilots flying long missions.
Maj. Harry Schmidt and Maj. William Umbach were on go-pills the night in April when they mistakenly bombed and killed four Canadian soldiers conducting a live-fire exercise in Afghanistan. Their lawyers, Charles Gittins and David Beck, plan to raise the issue when a pretrial hearing for the two men is conducted next month. The Air Force has charged both with manslaughter. A court-martial could result in a criminal conviction and prison time for an accident that happened in the “fog of war.”
What “20/20” did not show was Maj. Gen. Daniel P. Leaf pulling out his earpiece and walking out of an interview as ABC’s Brian Ross pressed him on one issue.
Air Force pilots must sign a form called “Informed Consent for Use of Dextroamphetamine as a ‘Go Pill’ in Military Operations.” The two men flew to Afghanistan from Kuwait and were typically in the air more than 10 hours on each mission. Not signing the form could result in a commander designating them as “unfit to fly a given mission,” the form states.
Mr. Ross wanted to know why the form did not contain the manufacturer’s stated warnings that “Amphetamines may impair the ability of the patient to engage in potentially hazardous activities such as operating machinery or vehicles. The patient should therefore be cautioned accordingly.”
An Air Force spokesman yesterday said Gen. Leaf, director of operational requirements, only ended the interview because Mr. Ross had used up his allotted one-hour time limit. ABC ate up nearly 30 minutes filming Mr. Ross and Gen. Leaf walking in the Pentagon. It took another five to 10 minutes to set up the interview, leaving about 20 minutes for questions before the general had to meet his next appointment.
“It could be perceived like he left early, but he used up his allotted time,” the spokesman said.
A Chinese jet fighter recently came within 300 feet of a U.S. EP-3 electronic intelligence-gathering aircraft near the coast of China. It was the second time in two months that a Chinese jet came close to a U.S. reconnaissance flight in international airspace.
The incident coincided with the recent visit to China by Adm. Thomas Fargo, commander of the U.S. Pacific Command. Adm. Fargo visited China as Washington and Beijing resumed military-to-military exchanges that were cut off last year.
The intercept followed the mid-November intercept of another EP-3 flight. Two F-7 jets tracked the EP-3 as it flew in international airspace and came within 250 feet of the U.S. aircraft. On April 1, 2001, a Chinese F-8 jet collided with a U.S. EP-3 over the South China Sea, causing the Chinese jet to crash and nearly causing the deaths of 23 Americans on the EP-3. The U.S. plane made an emergency landing at a Chinese air base, where they were held prisoner for 11 days before being released.