SLUG: 3-532 PARCHINI-TERRORISM
HOST: C-I-A Director George Tenet has warned of the threat of terrorist attacks against targets on U-S soil or on the Arabian peninsula as early as this week. Mr. Tenet told a U-S Senate committee Tuesday that the threat includes suspected al-Qaida plots to use so-called radioactive "dirty bombs," as well as poisons and chemicals. He attributed information about the threats to specific intelligence -- not just idle chatter. News Now's Rebecca Ward asked terrorism expert John Parachini (par-uh-KEE-nee) of the Rand Corporation just what Mr. Tenet meant when he said "specific intelligence."
MR. PARCHINI: A number of factors are coming together now. One is the Hajj, the pilgrimage to Mecca, is just concluding, and there is a general concern about the prospect of war in the Persian Gulf, and we're coming up to some important anniversaries. At the end of this month will be the 10-year anniversary of the attack on the World Trade Center in 1993 and, indeed, 13 years after the end of the first Gulf War. So, there are a number of factors that may inspire either al-Qaida or al-Qaida-affiliated groups to wage attacks against the United States and United States' interests abroad. Specifically, the information that may be coming together that the Director sees are efforts by al-Qaida or al-Qaida-affiliated terrorists to wage an attack to correspond with some of these anniversaries.
MS. WARD: He described it as not just idle chatter, but specific. Where would you get specific intelligence from?
MR. PARCHINI: We are collecting information from detainees, from al-Qaida and al-Qaida-affiliated groups, as well as electronic intercepts, their communications with one another. And the combination of those may provide some intersection that suggests that they are planning to do things. Having said that, we shouldn't necessarily assume that just because we detect it that they're planning to do things that authorities won't intercede and interdict this plotting before it actually comes to fruition.
MS. WARD: And that brings me to my next question. Are these terror alerts helpful? I know that certainly people are talking about it, so people are certainly more aware, but are they helpful? And is the whole idea of homeland security helping us keep safe?
MR. PARCHINI: The homeland security advisory system has three different audiences. The first is a Federal audience of Federal officials and law enforcement authorities around the country, as well as State and local officials, principally the Joint Terrorism Task Forces that are convened in most cities and States around the country. That's the primary audience, and it really is urging those authorities to take extra precautions and to check their emergency response systems and plans. A secondary audience are businesses and people who manage utilities or run civic organizations, where lots of people might congregate from time to time. And as a tertiary audience, it's the ordinary citizen. And there the message really is to be on alert but take precautions that are really similar to those that you would in a time of a flood, a hurricane or a tornado. It's, in a sense, dual-use measures that the individual citizen should take. So, you've got to balance appropriate preventive measures that are really most appropriate for government and public authorities with not being too paranoid at the private level, where citizens should use their common sense.
MS. WARD: Do you think that the Bush administration's stepped up security of border controls, detainees, have all these things helped keep another terrorist attack from happening?
MR. PARCHINI: I think there is no question that the increased vigilance that the United States has assumed since September 11th have helped to prevent attacks against the United States homeland. And indeed we've seen that al-Qaida and al-Qaida-affiliated groups have attacked soft targets, civilian targets, abroad and only on rare occasions have struck at American military targets. And there really has been no major attack against the American homeland since September the 11th. So, I think that is evidence that the increased vigilance has indeed helped. The challenge is to keep that vigilance up when indeed there is credible evidence that terrorists are plotting to inflict harm against American citizens and against our homeland.
HOST: John Parachini (par-uh-KEE-nee) is a policy analyst for the Rand Corporation -- working on terrorism and weapons proliferation. He spoke to News Now's Rebecca Ward.
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