- The Washington Times - Monday, August 9, 2004

Congressional leaders have been told that federal lawmakers and the U.S. Capitol, in addition to five financial centers identified last week, are targets for attack by al Qaeda terrorists.

Frances Townsend, homeland security adviser at the White House, and Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr., Delaware Democrat, both appearing on CBS’ “Face the Nation,” confirmed the threats and their extent as officials remain concerned about pre-election terrorist attacks, including abductions and assassinations.

The disclosures helped explain traffic checkpoints and other tighter security imposed last week around Capitol Hill.

When asked directly by interviewer Bob Schieffer whether “there have been some threats against the Capitol and members of Congress,” Mrs. Townsend replied “yes.”

Mrs. Townsend confirmed that the previously undisclosed threats to Capitol Hill are part of a “continuing threat stream” of intelligence.

“We knew that al Qaeda was practiced in the training camps for assassinations and kidnappings, and there are a number of others like that that are continuing threat streams,” she said.

Mr. Biden, ranking member of the Foreign Relations Committee, said he was notified Friday in Delaware over a secure FBI phone line, but questioned the authenticity of the threats against Congress.

Although Mr. Biden told CBS, “I take it seriously,” he also said: “I’m not impressed by some of the sources.

“Some of the sources, by the admission or statement of our intelligence people, were of questionable credibility, because we’ve received disinformation before,” Mr. Biden said.

“But I don’t want the American people or specifically my wife listening to this thinking that there’s hard data that is incontrovertible from hard sources that has targeted individual officeholders or targeted specific places in Washington, D.C.,” he said. “But there is a lot of talk about — there’s a whole lot of traffic out there.

“There’s reason to be concerned. I don’t think there’s reason to be alarmed,” he said.

With the exception of lawmakers on the several committees holding hearings on the September 11 commission’s report, most legislators are out of Washington until after Labor Day for the summer recess.

Mrs. Townsend said more targets might be named later as information is gathered from arrests in Britain, Pakistan and the United Arab Emirates.

She said the administration initially shared detailed information gathered from earlier overseas arrests in an “unprecedented” manner.

However, D.C. Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey says his department was not privy to the new information and was surprised at the sudden security crackdown around the Capitol, which snarled traffic.

“The security measures taken by the Capitol Police last week supposedly was in response to the Orange alert, which affected the financial district, and we weren’t given a heads-up on that,” Chief Ramsey told CNN’s “Late Edition.”

“So we’ve worked that out. I hope that in the future that sort of thing won’t happen, but obviously, the city still has concerns,” the chief said.

Chief Ramsey’s frustration is notable since his former No. 2, Terrance W. Gainer, is chief of the Capitol Police.

House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert said the heightened terrorist alert issued Aug. 1 should not be politicized. Mr. Hastert pointed to former Democratic presidential contender Howard Dean as an example of what his new book, “Speaker,” calls going beyond “the necessary watchful eye of oversight into the realm of uninformed hysteria.”

Mr. Dean last week accused the Bush administration of purportedly timing the latest terror alert for political advantage.

“Because of the timing, one would suspect strongly that politics had something to do with this announcement,” Mr. Dean said.

On NBC’s “Meet the Press” yesterday, Mr. Hastert, Illinois Republican, singled out “Howard Dean’s comment the other day that all this [alert action] … was political,” when prompted by host Tim Russert for an example of “uninformed hysteria.”

“I think we have to be very, very cautious, and when we have intelligence and new intelligence, even if it’s old new intelligence, take that and meld it with everything else and come up with the conclusion of what’s right and what’s wrong,” Mr. Hastert said.

Retired Gen. Wesley Clark, also a former Democratic presidential candidate, tempered his response to the alert and said it contained “a lot of substance.”

“I believe they did the right thing, but they did it the wrong way,” he told CNN.

“The way the information dribbled out over time, it undercut the credibility of the system. That’s the last thing we want,” Mr. Clark said.

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