- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 24, 2002

The chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence said yesterday that approximately 100 "al Qaeda operatives" are hiding in this country, posing an "immediate threat" to the security of the United States.
Both Sen. Bob Graham, Florida Democrat and chairman of the intelligence committee, and Sen. Richard C. Shelby of Alabama, its ranking Republican, have said they believe another terrorist attack on the United States is probable.
Interviewed yesteday on CNN's "Novak, Hunt & Shields," Mr. Graham was asked if he believes al Qaeda sleeper cells within the United States would most likely be responsible for the next major attack.
"The estimate is that there are 100 or more al Qaeda operatives inside the United States, some who have been here for a considerable period of time, all of whom went through a training program to prepare them to carry out terrorist plots when they were called upon to do so," Mr. Graham said, adding:
"That probably is the most immediate threat of a terrorist attack against the United States. But there are also maybe a dozen or more other international terrorist organizations, some of which also have agents inside the United States."
Mr. Graham's comments would seem to be the first time a government official has indicated how many members of Osama bin Laden's global terrorist network are in this country.
As for the whereabouts of the elusive bin Laden, the chairman said, "The best intelligence is that he's still alive. The best intelligence is that, of all the places he might be, he's most likely to still be in Afghanistan. But, frankly, we do not know where he is at this time."
Mr. Graham was also asked about the abduction and killing of Daniel Pearl, a reporter for the Wall Street Journal, by Islamic extremists in Pakistan. "Do you think it's time for the United States government to review its opposition to negotiating with kidnappers and, perhaps, even consider the payment of ransom?" co-host Robert Novak inquired.
"Difficult question. I would say no, because once the kidnappers feel that they have some opportunity of achieving their goals, which, in many cases are economic, then they will be incentivized to engage in even more kidnapping," Mr. Graham said.
He called the Pearl case "tragic" and said he wished there had been some way to save him. However, "we would be putting more journalists and more Americans of all types of backgrounds at risk, if it were known that we would negotiate and pay for the release of kidnapped persons," Mr. Graham said.
Mr. Graham also may have surprised many Americans and even some of his Senate colleagues when he said in the CNN interview he's heard no "credible information" that the United States is "planning military action against any of the three countries [Iraq, Iran, or North Korea] that the president identified as the 'axis of evil'" in his Jan. 29 State of the Union address.
The Florida Democrat said it was his impression that Mr. Bush identified the three countries as constituting a nexus of states who sponsor global terror in order to "send a signal" that the United States is "not only concerned about terrorism" but also about the "intersection of terrorism and weapons of mass destruction." Mr. Graham said the president was making it known that the three nations he described as forming an "axis of evil" are in a position to develop weapons of mass destruction, possess the means of delivering them, and might "possibly place them in the hands of terrorists."
While many of Mr. Graham's colleagues on both sides of the aisle are eager to make Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein a target in the Bush administration's war against terrorism, Mr. Graham yesterday advised caution on that front.
"In my judgment, we now are operating from the moral high ground with a tremendous coalition across the world in the war against terrorism. Unless we have evidence that Saddam Hussein is close to having a weapon of mass destruction, I think we should avoid the temptation of diverting ourselves away from the war on terrorism toward a war on Saddam Hussein," he said.

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