- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 26, 2004

Yesterday, Attorney General John Ashcroft and FBI Director Robert Mueller warned that al Qaeda is almost ready to launch a large-scale attack on the United States over the summer or fall. The threat is not new, but the likelihood of an attack is. To counter it, all Americans will have to become citizen-soldiers.

The increased chatter that intelligence agents have detected is new, as is the threat assessment of what one senior counterterrorism official called extremely credible, highly corroborated intelligence. Mr. Ashcroft said, “This disturbing intelligence indicates al Qaeda’s specific intention to hit the United States hard.”

Neither Mr. Ashcroft nor Mr. Mueller had specific information on particular threats, but the targets are not hard to guess. This weekend’s opening of the World War II Memorial in Washington will be followed by the G-8 economic summit in Georgia in June, the Democratic Convention in Boston in July, the Republican Convention in New York in August and the November elections. Houston is also a plausible target.

Mr. Mueller released the names and photos of seven people (available at www.fbi.gov) who he said pose a “clear and present danger to U.S. interests around the world.” They may already be on American soil, attempting to lower their profiles by traveling with families or passing themselves off as Europeans. Earlier this year, Sen. Jon Kyl, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Terrorism, Technology and Homeland Security, told editors and reporters from The Washington Times that terrorist organizations are actively attempting to recruit operatives in the United States.

Intelligence-sharing among agencies has become better. Raymond Kelly, the New York Police commissioner, said his department had been given “highly sensitive intelligence,” and police departments in Los AngelesandBostonreceivedsimilar information. In the near future, the FBI will start a pilot project that will provide state and local authorities in New York and Vermont instant access to counterterrorism information, including watch lists of suspected terrorists.

Al Qaeda operatives have long desired to kill as many Americans as possible — preferably with a weapon of mass destruction. Unfortunately, even if it were possible for law enforcement officers to surround all likely targets with locked arms, terrorists might still get through.

Deterring and disrupting such attacks will require the determined efforts of law enforcement officials, but it will also require cooperation and vigilance from citizens. Mr. Ashcroft said he was asking for “unprecedented levels of cooperation” from law enforcement officials, but he might have said the same about citizens. Mr. Kyl added that those who are going to potential targets should plan ahead for what to do in the event of an attack, particularly in terms of communication and transportation.

As Mr. Ashcroft noted, we must not forget that the nation is at war. Those who hate us will show neither compassion nor compunction when ordered to strike.

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