- The Washington Times - Monday, September 9, 2002

U.S. national security agencies are on alert for a terrorist attack after the discovery that a Middle Eastern man carried out suspicious surveillance of the Washington Monument, the Pentagon and other buildings in the area.
The man in question videotaped the Washington Monument on the Mall on Sept. 1 and paced off several distances around the monument, according to U.S. intelligence officials.
U.S. intelligence agencies surreptitiously obtained a copy of the videotape and discovered that it also contained surveillance of the Pentagon and other buildings, said officials who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The surveillance activity is regarded as a key indicator of terrorist preparation and one of the few signs of targeting.
Asked yesterday about future terrorist attacks, Vice President Richard B. Cheney said the al Qaeda network often waits years before striking, and U.S. and allied efforts may have forestalled an attack.
"We have made it much more difficult I think for them to operate," Mr. Cheney said on NBC's "Meet the Press."
"Now, did they have a major attack planned in that intervening period? I don't know. I suspect they probably did, and I suspect we probably deterred some attacks. But does that mean the problem is solved? Obviously not."
Mr. Cheney said there have been signs of increased communications among Islamic terrorists. He noted that there is a "temptation" on the part of terrorists to conduct attacks on significant dates.
"I'm not saying something is going to happen on September 11, but as these major milestones come along we often receive reporting that it's tied into one of those dates," he said.
U.S. intelligence and law-enforcement agencies detected a similar reconnaissance activity in Los Angeles several months ago. Two Middle Eastern men were spotted in the vicinity of the World Cruise Center in the Port of Los Angeles in June as they paced off distances to measure the length of the pier. Other surveillance was detected nearby as other suspicious men were seen videotaping the Vincent Thomas Bridge that crossed the main port channel.
Counterterrorism officials suspected that terrorists might be planning an attack on a cruise ship or planning to blow up the bridge in an attack that would block ship traffic in and out of the port.
Despite the recent targeting in Washington, U.S. intelligence agencies said there are no "specific" threats of impending attacks by terrorists coinciding with the one-year anniversary of the September 11 attacks on the Pentagon and World Trade Center.
However, U.S. military, intelligence and law-enforcement agencies have been on a heightened state of alert since Friday and will remain so through Wednesday.
A recent U.S. intelligence assessment stated that al Qaeda terrorists do not have a tradition of conducting terrorist attacks on the anniversary of earlier strikes. The main threat of terrorism this week is likely to be from terrorists or groups that are sympathetic to the al Qaeda network and other Islamic extremists.
"There could be some copycats," one official said.
U.S. intelligence analysts believe the car bombs that were detonated last week in Kabul, killing 30 persons, and the attempted assassination of Afghan leader Hamid Karzai also have raised fears of a coming al Qaeda terrorist attack.
Government counterterrorism analysts believe the Karzai assassination attempt may signal the start of a coordinated terrorist attack. The assassination attempt might be similar to al Qaeda's assassination of Ahmed Shah Massoud, a respected Afghan leader, who was killed by suicide bombers two days before the September 11 attacks.
Officials fear the attempt to kill Mr. Karzai may signal that a new mass-casualty attack by al Qaeda is coming.
Intelligence reports of the suspected terrorist targeting of the monument and the Pentagon come amid the resumption of 24-hour warplane patrols over New York and Washington.
The patrols in the past have included U.S. Air Force F-16 fighter interceptors, air refueling tankers and airborne warning and control aircraft that fly off the East Coast monitoring the skies.
Intelligence officials said there have been reports based on increased communications among suspected terrorists around the world that an attack might be coming.
"It's at a heightened level, but not as high as around the Fourth of July," a U.S. official told Reuters on the condition of anonymity. "Threat information comes in every day. Are we on a real high trend? No. Is there information coming in? Yes."
Federal law-enforcement agencies have not issued any major terrorism alerts in the past several days.


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