- The Washington Times - Monday, February 17, 2003

Homeland Security Department Secretary Tom Ridge said yesterday that the national threat level may drop from its heightened status, and that U.S. intelligence officials are evaluating a new tape, purported to be of Osama bin Laden saying American war plans against Iraq are part of a broader plot against Muslim nations.
There has been some information about a second bin Laden tape "swirling around within the intelligence community for the past couple of days," Mr. Ridge said on ABC's "This Week." "Obviously we haven't authenticated it, but again the message is consistent: The values of the West are anathema to these people. If you don't believe, you're an infidel."
Although the release of statements from bin Laden have foreshadowed terrorist attacks, Mr. Ridge said he saw no "trigger" in the latest tape. "But there is no rhyme or reason to when they attack," Mr. Ridge said on ABC. "Ultimately they attack when they are ready."
The speaker on the tape said the goal of any U.S. war against Iraq would be to alter the map of the Middle East to benefit Israel.
The recording appeared to be the same 53-minute tape of which a few excerpts were released Thursday by the British-based Islamic Al-Ansaar news agency. It began appearing in full yesterday on Islamic-oriented Web sites. Al-Ansaar had said it acquired the tape from a seller who advertised it on the Internet.
Meanwhile, Mr. Ridge said the terrorist threat alert may be lowered to its previous level of yellow within days.
"Today, as we speak, because we review the information and our intelligence on a day-to-day basis, we maintain it at the orange level, but that could change within 24 to 48 hours," Mr. Ridge said on CNN's "Late Edition." "Although some [intelligence information] may have faded in terms of accuracy or relevance, there is still enough out there for today for us to remain on an orange level."
Mr. Ridge said that despite a discrediting of some information from informants, current intelligence did not allow a drop of the color-coded national threat assessment from the "high" level of orange announced last week back to the previous level of yellow.
"There were multiple sources, multiple lines of different kinds of plots, from fairly credible people," Mr. Ridge told ABC. "In this instance, one proved to be inaccurate, not valid. But in the totality of information we have received, that was just a piece of that information."
Also yesterday, Time magazine cited unnamed officials saying that members of Congress were targets of assassination attempts and that the FBI had believed several attacks were planned for last Wednesday.
Mr. Ridge told ABC that intelligence operatives were keeping tabs on the 20 to 40 people in the United States who have trained in al Qaeda terrorists camps in Afghanistan but said not enough evidence has been gathered to take them into custody.
"We know that they've got a rather substantial network," he said. "But this is a country that operates under the rule of law. There are restrictions to what we can do and when we can do it. When the rule of law and the burden of proof gets us to where we can take action, then I assure you we will."
Mr. Ridge declined to comment on the specifics of a report in Newsweek magazine, saying the CIA believes that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein could be planning to launch a terrorist attack on the United States using weapons of mass destruction.
The CIA analysis, the magazine reports, found a 59 percent chance an attack would occur before the end of March and a 6 percent chance such an attack would never occur.

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