CIA director- Al-Qaida ready to strike again against Americans

Friday, October 18, 2002

WASHINGTON -- CIA director George Tenet told lawmakers Thursday that recent attacks overseas suggest that al-Qaida is poised to strike once more against Americans -- possibly in the United States.

Following recent terrorist attacks in Kuwait and Indonesia, "you must make the assumption that al-Qaida is in an execution phase and intends to strike us both here and overseas," Tenet said. "That's unambiguous as far as I'm concerned."

Tenet said he was meeting later in the day with Homeland Security director Tom Ridge. He said Ridge has already taken defensive measures "in specific areas where the intelligence was most credible and in sectors where we're most worried about." He didn't identify them.

Tenet's comments came in response to questions as he defended CIA's counterterrorism efforts before the Sept. 11 attacks. Tenet and FBI director Robert Mueller appeared before the House and Senate intelligence committees, culminating five weeks of public hearings on intelligence failures leading up to the attacks.

Under questioning by Sen. Fred Thompson, R-Tenn., Tenet didn't say whether the national threat level should be raised beyond yellow, where it now stands.

But he said the current situation is comparable with what existed in the United States in the summer before the Sept. 11 attacks.

"You must make the analytical judgment that the possibility exists that people are planning to attack you inside the United States -- multiple simultaneous attacks. We are the enemy, we're the people they want to hurt inside this country," he said.

Tenets remarks followed similar warnings he gave the committees at a closed hearing in June. According to testimony released Thursday from that appearance, Tenet said it is impossible to guarantee that terrorists won't enter the country. He also said that "an attempt to conduct another attack on U.S. soil is certain."

Tenet also said then that there were reports that bin Laden himself had suggested crashing large planes into the World Trade Center after an associate proposed using small aircraft packed with explosives.

In his appearance Thursday, Tenet offered a somewhat defiant tone to lawmakers, some of whom have criticized the CIA during the inquiry. Asked to limit his remarks to 10 minutes, he spoke for 50 minutes. When Sen. Bob Graham, chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, urged him to abbreviate his remarks, Tenet refused.

He told lawmakers that before Sept. 11, the CIA had a large number of reports that a large al-Qaida operation was in the offing, but didn't know where Osama bin Laden's operatives would strike.

"In the months leading up to 9/11, we were convinced bin Laden meant to attack Americans, meant to kill large numbers and that the attack could be at home, abroad and both. And we reported these threats urgently," Tenet said.

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