- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 4, 2004

From combined dispatches

Federal investigators are poring over the trove of documents and photographs that led to this week’s terrorism warnings, but intelligence agencies have been unable to reach a consensus on whether the information reflects a defunct or ongoing plot.

The information, recovered in Pakistan, led the Bush administration to issue its most targeted warning, saying five financial institutions in New York, Washington and Newark, N.J., were potential targets.

The lack of specifics on the timing — some of the information seized about the surveillance of five buildings was as much as 4 years old — has led to questions about overreaction and charges from Democrats of politicization.

However yesterday, Bush administration officials said a new stream of intelligence also surfaced late last week indicating that al Qaeda still wants to strike financial institutions.

“There’s another new stream of intelligence that came to our attention on Friday as well, and I can’t go further into it, because I could compromise some ongoing operations,” White House spokesman Scott McClellan said.

A senior Justice Department official told the Associated Press the information was based on human intelligence from someone other than two recently captured terror suspects in Pakistan who provided information that led to the warning issued Sunday.

The intelligence did not specify when such an attack might be planned, the official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

A senior law-enforcement official who also spoke to AP on the condition of anonymity said the other intelligence was separate from computer surveillance information recovered during the arrest of one of the suspects in Pakistan, but declined to characterize it otherwise, saying it was highly classified.

Meanwhile yesterday, CNN quoted unnamed Pakistani intelligence officials as saying that at least six persons in the United States were contacted by Mohammad Naeem Noor Khan, a computer-savvy al Qaeda operative in Pakistan.

The network also reported that officials think that suspected al Qaeda operatives in Pakistan “contacted an individual or individuals in the United States in the past few months, according to two senior U.S. government sources.”

The CNN report followed a warning Tuesday by Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge that al Qaeda agents were thought to be in the United States already, although he said there was no hard evidence of that.

A senior counterterrorism official told AP the extensive surveillance reports that came to U.S. authorities last week were put together with “very recent and current activity” from al Qaeda, indicating the group’s interest in attacking this year, before the terror alerts were issued.

Some of the information seized about the surveillance of five financial buildings was as much as 4 years old. But the Bush administration says it had to alert the public because al Qaeda planning sometimes precedes actual attacks by as much as five years.

“This is an enemy that takes its time and is a prodigious planner, that is very patient,” Mr. Ridge said yesterday.

Counterterrorism analysts believe planning for the September 11 attacks began five years earlier, in 1996.

The FBI is monitoring suspected al Qaeda operatives and members of two allied terror groups in the New York area, the top-ranking FBI official in New York said Tuesday.

Pasquale D’Amuro, head of the New York office and a veteran terrorism investigator, said the persons under scrutiny include people linked to al Qaeda as well as Ansar al Islam and the Egyptian Islamic Jihad, the New York Daily News reported.

He said the monitoring began long before last weekend’s heightened alert was announced.

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