FBI director warns of `sleeper cells,' says Americans should remain alert

Super Bowl, Olympics are `high-profile events' for security, he says

February 01, 2002|By Laura Sullivan | Laura Sullivan,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON - FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III said yesterday that he believes "sleeper cells" of terrorists are still operating in the United States and that the nation must be especially vigilant with the approach of the Super Bowl and the Winter Olympics.

Speaking outside his office, Mueller said that although the war in Afghanistan has hindered al-Qaida's ability to strike, he believes that terrorists here and abroad remain a threat.

The FBI, he said, knows of no specific threat. But information from interrogations of Taliban and al-Qaida fighters and from recovered documents indicates that the nation should remain on a "very high state of alert," Mueller said.

"There are people plotting these kinds of things, and we have very high-profile events coming up," he said. "We have moved heaven and earth to provide security" for the Super Bowl this weekend and the Olympics later this month, he said.

FBI agents and U.S. Special Forces who combed through rubble and abandoned al-Qaida and Taliban hideouts in Afghanistan have obtained a trove of information, including videotapes of five men saying they were ready to die in a terrorist mission.

However, Mueller said, "We know half as much as we'd like about those in the attacks of Sept. 11."

The FBI has sent agents to Kandahar to help interrogate prisoners.

Also yesterday, Mueller further outlined his plans to overhaul the FBI, promoting two career agents to reinforce the message that the bureau's focus is no longer solving bank robberies and drug cases but instead a "mission of prevention," especially of terrorism.

He named Tim Caruso assistant director of the office that oversees counterintelligence and counterterrorism. And Mueller announced the appointment of Pat D'Amuro as assistant director for counterterrorism.

Recalling the events that led to the attacks of Sept. 11, Mueller said he is determined to ensure that no future warning signs go unheeded.

He noted that Zacarias Moussaoui, who is thought to have been the would-be 20th hijacker, was arrested in Minnesota a month before the attacks, after he had aroused suspicions while taking flying lessons.

U.S. Special Forces and other military personnel who are collecting documents, maps, diagrams and videotapes from abandoned caves and former al-Qaida and Taliban hideouts are shipping the material to the FBI.

In Washington, the items are being accessed by agents from the bureau, the CIA and other intelligence agencies.

"We'll never get back to what normal was on Sept. 10," Mueller said. "One lies awake at night, wondering how to ensure that there isn't another attack."

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