- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 11, 2003

WASHINGTON, Feb. 11 (UPI) — FBI Director Robert Mueller and CIA Director George Tenet told a Senate panel Tuesday that al Qaida still poses the greatest threat to the United States.

The most recent U.S. intelligence points to plots aimed at the United States and the Arabian Peninsula, according Mueller.

"The al Qaida network will remain for the foreseeable future the most immediate and serious threat facing this country," Mueller told the Senate Intelligence Committee during a hearing on worldwide threats.

As the Bush administration continues to amass forces for a possible invasion of Iraq, both intelligence officials concentrated on al Qaida as the greatest threat. Tenet discussed Iraq among developments in North Korea, worldwide nuclear proliferation, Iran, South Asia and chronic instability in Sub-Saharan Africa.

The group would prefer high-profile targets with mass casualties — possibly using toxins or poison against targets like government facilities, airliners and landmarks — and al Qaida is seeking weapons of mass destruction, according to the intelligence officials. But the group might resort to more conventional attacks on "soft" targets that are easier to execute.

"Multiple small-scale attacks against small targets — such as banks, shopping malls, supermarkets, apartment buildings, schools and universities, churches and places of recreation and entertainment — would be easier to execute and would minimize the need to communicate with central leadership, lowering the risks of detection," said Mueller.

Tenet also listed Iraq in a long list of threats posed by foreign regimes, terrorist groups and arms dealers operating in a "new world of proliferation" where organizations — as opposed to foreign states — become the purveyors of increasingly potent weapons of mass destruction weapons and technology.

He said North Korea's recent admission about highly enriched uranium program also "raises serious new challenges for the region and the world."

"The desire for nuclear weapons is on the upsurge," Tenet said. "Additional countries may decide to seek nuclear weapons as it becomes clear their neighbors and regional rivals are already doing so. The 'domino theory' of the 21st century may well be nuclear."

Mueller said the government raised terrorist threat level based on information from multiple sources with "strong al Qaida ties." The sources revealed possible plots "timed to occur as early as the end of Hajj" on Friday.

Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Sen. Pat Roberts asked if U.S. citizens should use plastic to help seal their homes in case of terror attacks using chemical agents.

Mueller said that citizens should be on heightened alert, but that, "It is our belief that Americans should go about their business and should not cancel any plans that they may have, because we have no specifics. But we all should be more alert."

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