Friday’s elevation of the terrorist
threat level from yellow (moderate) to
orange (high) ignited a heated debate within
America’s intelligence community with some career
professionals complaining the Bush administration
is playing politics with the nation’s security.
Highly-placed sources within both the Federal
Bureau of Investigation and the Central
Intelligence Agency tell Capitol Hill
Blue that while they have new
information, they have no hard evidence a new
attack is forthcoming from Osama bin Laden’s al
Qaeda terrorist network or any of the dozens of
other terrorist groups currently monitored.
“We have lots of raw data, much of it
conflicting,” says one FBI agent. “Nothing is
conclusive, nothing contains the level of
substantiation we like to see in these cases.”
The "detailed" information that has come in has
not been confirmed, the sources say.
Some senior intelligence professionals
recommended against raising the threat level
without more specific information while others,
fearing getting burned by another 9-11 level
surprise, went along with the threat
“In the end, it was a political decision as
much as anything else,” a White House source
admitted Monday evening. “Better to elevate the
threat level and have nothing happen than say
nothing and get hit by another attack.”
Yet some White House planners fear the
administration may lose credibility in the
public’s eyes if nothing happens.
“We need to have an attack stopped before it
takes place,” says the White House aide. “That
would be the best scenario.”
White House political operatives, however, have
drafted several sets of talking points to explain
the elevated threat level, including a set in case
disaster strikes and a different set if nothing
Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge is hitting
the talk and news show circuit to sell the
administration position. As the newest member of
the administration’s anti-terror team, Ridge is
also the designated “fall guy” if nothing
Explaining Friday's elevation of the national
terror-alert status, Ridge told CBS's The
Early Show that "one of the reasons that we
raised it is that because we believe the threat
has substantially increased in the last couple of
On the five-step alert scale, red is the
highest, but no such terrorist warning level has
yet been issued.
Ridge and his deputies also advised various
industries and local governments how to increase
security in response to the threat.
On Friday, Homeland Security officials
recommended that hotels inspect all cars, that
malls and offices prohibit delivery trucks from
entering underground parking garages, and that
office tower managers control access at the door
and monitor their heating and air conditioning
ducts for breaches.
Terrorists could use chemical or biological
weapons in ductwork to attack an entire building,
Monday, federal officials recommended that
Americans should take basic disaster-preparation
steps such as maintaining a three-day stockpile of
food and water. They also recommended obtaining
duct tape and plastic sheeting to seal a house in
the event of a chemical or biological attack or
Homeland Security spokesman Gordon Johndroe
said the recommendations for the household are not
in response to the orange alert but instead just
proper planning for disasters, including terrorist
Asked Monday what U.S. citizens are expected to
do in response to such warnings, Ridge said, "When
we raise the level of alert, when we raise the
national consciousness about the level of attack,
that in itself, is a deterrence. ... Just being
more ready, being more prepared, is a deterrent in
and of itself."
Ridge was questioned about the seriousness of
the warning, which remains in effect.
"In discussing this matter with people that
have been around the White House longer than I
have, it is universally agreed that this is the
most significant set of warnings that we've had
since before Sept. 11," he replied.
Asked about critics' accusations that the alert
might have been tied to President Bush's warning
to Saddam Hussein that time is running out on
Baghdad avoiding war, Ridge said, "Well, I regret
Appearing on NBC's Today program,
Ridge said the warning was based on "the
accumulation of credible corroborated sources,
none of which are connected to the possibility of
military involvement with Iraq."
Ridge, however, said it was not possible to be
more specific about possible targets.
"We get general information and specific
information, but none of the specific information
talks about time, place or methods or means ... We
don't get the specificity that we would all like
to have in order to prepare," he said.
Political scientist George Harleigh says the
administration is playing a “high stakes political
spin game” with the threat level.
“If you keep warning that something will happen
and nothing happens, the American public will stop
listening to the alerts,” Harleigh said. “When
that happens, the country becomes most