Key information given by Pakistani captured in July

Threat Of Terrorism


August 03, 2004|By Laura Sullivan, Mark Matthews and Scott Shane | Laura Sullivan, Mark Matthews and Scott Shane,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON - The information that triggered the elevation of the terror alert on Sunday was broader and more specific than the "chatter" intelligence agencies pick up as a matter of routine, the director of the National Security Agency said yesterday.

"This is a lot more than that," Lt. Gen. Michael V. Hayden said in an interview. "This is more in depth and breadth. Depth, in terms of specificity. And breadth, in terms of multiple sources over time. This isn't vague and unitary. It's more specific and more broad."

The key information came principally from the interrogation of Muhammad Naeem Noor Khan, 25, a computer engineer, intelligence officials said. Khan, the well-traveled son of a Pakistan International Airlines employee and a botanist, was captured July 13 and a subsequent examination of his computer hard-drive and computer disks yielded hundreds of photos, drawings and Web site images of potential targets, the officials said.

Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge said yesterday on NBC's Today show that on a scale of one to 10, the quality of the intelligence alluding to a possible strike is a "10."

U.S. officials announced Sunday that al-Qaida may be planning to attack one or more of five titans of the financial sector: the International Monetary Fund or the World Bank, both in Washington; the Prudential Financial building in Newark, N.J.; the Citigroup building in New York; or the New York Stock Exchange.

As a result, President Bush raised the alert level to orange, or high, for the financial sector and Washington. New York has been at orange alert since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Yesterday, Bush called the elevation of the threat level a "serious reminder, a solemn reminder, of the threat we continue to face."

"We are a nation in danger," Bush told reporters at the White House. "We are doing everything in our power to confront the danger."

In an interview with NBC last night, his national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, denied any political motivation in the timing of the announcement, saying that "quite unusual intelligence" is "all that is driving this."

Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry, who has been kept abreast of the possible threat, said he takes the warning seriously and does not believe the Bush administration is using the heightened alert to win favor with voters nervous about terrorism.

"I believe you take these threats seriously," Kerry said. "I think people of good conscience are working on these issues. I respect the men and women in the threat-reduction effort. I respect the people who are in the Homeland Security Department.

"I don't question them," the Massachusetts senator said. "I question the leadership."

Bush administration officials sought to calm jittery nerves, urging people to go about their lives and report to work in the targeted buildings, where heightened security was visible. Police and federal agents stood guard at the World Bank and IMF in Washington. In New York, some streets near the stock exchange and the Citigroup building were closed. New Jersey officials similarly bolstered security.

Treasury Secretary John W. Snow said the fact the buildings and the markets were open and operating was a testament to "the resiliency and strength of our financial system."

"People around the world rightly have confidence in the U.S. financial markets," Snow said. "While we must always remain vigilant against terror, we will not be intimidated and prevented from enjoying our lives and exercising our freedoms."

FBI officials said yesterday that they are sorting through the intelligence, trying to determine whether any al-Qaida operatives involved in the threat might be in the country or planning to launch an attack.

Bureau officials hope to identify the individuals who appear to be communicating with each other about the buildings and how best to launch a strike. Intelligence authorities said the reporting includes correspondence between several individuals who appear to have cased the structures, looking for security weaknesses and studying ways to launch a car or truck bomb.

The work is difficult, one official said, because it remains unclear when the surveillance was conducted or who was involved.

While Ridge declined to discuss the origin of the intelligence, he credited CIA and military efforts abroad and told CNN the information was a result of a "very aggressive interaction of the United States and our allies."

While Khan provided most of the information, some came as a result of the capture July 25 in Pakistan of Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, a Tanzania-born al-Qaida suspect and one of the FBI's most-wanted terrorists.

Pakistan's interior minister, Faisal Saleh Hayyat, told the Associated Press that Ghailani, who is in Pakistani custody, is providing "vital" information.

Former CIA counterterrorism official Vincent Cannistraro said Ghailani and Khan may be linked. Cannistraro said he has learned that intelligence operatives found data on Ghailani's computer that came from Khan.

Cannistraro said U.S. intelligence officials have a third source outside Pakistan who corroborated information about a plan to attack the financial community.

Frances F. Townsend, the White House homeland security adviser, said yesterday in an interview on PBS that surveillance reports had been "gathered in 2000 and 2001," apparently by al-Qaida operatives. That data might have been updated as recently as January, she added.

Pakistan's information minister, Sheik Rashid Ahmed, told the BBC that Khan's computer contained substantial information about possible attacks on buildings in the United States and Britain, which was passed on to U.S. and British officials.

A U.S. counterterrorism official said information provided by the CIA led to Khan's arrest.

"The documentary evidence, the sketches and documents were a result of his capture," the official said. At least one source outside Pakistan corroborated the information, the official said.

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