A CIA informant provided false information about an impending al Qaeda attack, but other intelligence sources reveal that the danger of a major strike by the group close to the upcoming elections is real, U.S. officials said.
“We are concerned because a number of different threat reports we’ve received over the past few months indicate terrorists plan to disrupt the democratic process,” said one official with access to intelligence reports.
Officials said that since the spring, numerous information sources, both electronic and human, have indicated that al Qaeda is planning a major attack on the United States or on U.S. targets abroad before the Nov. 2 election.
But officials said several threat reports from April and May have been found to be “a deception” designed to fool U.S. intelligence agencies.
The bogus source made statements that were determined by intelligence officials to have been “not credible,” the officials said.
The bogus source said al Qaeda wanted to affect the democratic process in the United States just as an affiliated group did by bombing trains in Madrid on March 11. The attack, three days before the Spanish elections, killed 191 persons and prompted Spaniards to vote out of power a pro-American, conservative government.
The source had no indication of when or how that would be done, or by whom. There have been no recent intelligence reports of al Qaeda plans for attacks.
However, several other sources of intelligence indicated that al Qaeda is planning to disrupt the elections, officials said.
A second official said that the intelligence stating that a major attack is coming was derived from a variety of sources and that the false report has not led to changes in current threat assessments.
“Is there still reason to be concerned that al Qaeda is interested in attacking the homeland? Absolutely,” the official said.
As for the false source, the second official said intelligence always comes from sources of varying reliability.
“We get lots of information; some of it is reliable, and some of it’s not so reliable,” the official said.
No plans exist to raise the national alert level beyond the heightened (yellow) threat levels. In August, the threat of attack was raised to high (orange) for financial centers in New York, northern New Jersey and Washington.
“We have no plans to raise the threat level based on current threat assessments,” said Brian Roehrkasse, a spokesman for the Homeland Security Department.
Information about a terrorist attack was obtained after several key arrests of al Qaeda members in Britain and Pakistan, including one member whose laptop computer revealed secret about al Qaeda plans.
Officials also dismissed the worries expressed by Sen. Mark Dayton, Minnesota Democrat, who announced Oct. 15 that he was closing his Washington office because of threats of a terrorist attack in the Capitol.
A CIA briefing to lawmakers discussed a “worst-case” scenario of a terrorist attack, but gave no specific indication of an attack. The CIA assessment was “pure analysis” based on uncorroborated-threat reports of what would happen if al Qaeda conducted a major attack, one official said.