Suspect in New Terror Alerts Fed U.S. False Info in 2002
By Staff and Wire Reports
Aug 5, 2004, 06:15
An imprisoned terror suspect that the Bush administration says provided "vital" information that led to increased alerts in Washington, New York and New Jersey is the same suspect who provided false information that led to false alerts in 2002, angry intelligence officials say.
The administration claimed it learned from an imprisoned terror suspect, separately from the documents and two prisoners named this week, that al-Qaida was plotting to attack U.S. financial buildings, officials.
The White House described the latest information as "another new stream of intelligence" that supported its decision to issue warnings. It arrived days before the public alert, even as officials were reviewing reams of documents and photographs that showed surveillance of five such financial buildings in New York, New Jersey and Washington carried out years ago by al-Qaida.
But Capitol Hill Blue has learned the terror suspect is Abu Zubaydah, an al-Qaida honcho captured in Pakistan in March, 2002. At that time, Zubaydah claimed suicide bomb attacks against the same financial institutions were imminent and U.S. officials responded by raising the terror alert status only to lower it a short time later and admit Zubaydah's information was "questionable."
"Old information isn't irrelevant information - particularly with this kind of enemy," Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge said Wednesday in Nashville, Tenn.
"Horseshit," muttered a DHS agent who, for obvious reasons, asked that his name be withheld. "We're chasing ghosts and we're chasing our tails. How many times must this clown lead us around by the nose before we learn we have been made fools of once again?"
The information corroborating al-Qaida's intentions to carry out attacks against U.S. financial buildings came from Zubaydah and two recently captured suspects in Pakistan, said a senior Justice Department official, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Information from those two suspects - a young militant familiar with computers and a man indicted in the U.S. Embassy bombings in Africa in 1998 - had provided the bulk of the intelligence that led to Sunday's warnings.
The corroborating information did not specify targets in the United States or say when an attack might be planned, the official said. But it so closely tracked the other intelligence that U.S. financial buildings had already been under surveillance by al-Qaida that it contributed to the decision to issue the public warnings.
"Coupled with general threat reporting, coupled with other pieces of information, then all of the sudden you say to yourself, 'This is a time when we have to talk to America about the threat.' And that's exactly what we did," Ridge said.
A U.S. counterterrorism official, also speaking on condition of anonymity, said the surveillance information last week was married with "very recent and current activity" from al-Qaida, indicating the group's interest in attacking this year. This information, which includes debriefings and other means of gathering information, is causing the administration serious cause for concern, the official said.
But other agents within the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI say they really can't tell if the information is real or just another wild goose chase.
The FBI is monitoring al-Qaida operatives and others associated with Islamic terror groups inside the United States, although these people have not been directly linked to the threat against financial buildings, the Justice Department official said. These people include financiers for Ansar al-Islam, the official said.
White House spokesman Scott McClellan declined to describe in detail what he called "another new stream of intelligence," saying it might endanger continuing intelligence operations. He criticized as an "irresponsible suggestion" any criticism that the administration had issued a terror warning for political purposes.
"When you connect all these streams of intelligence, it paints an alarming picture," McClellan told reporters aboard Air Force One during a campaign flight to Iowa.
Ridge and other senior administration officials spent a second day Wednesday defending the warnings, which came on the heels of the Democratic National Convention and drew attention from the presidential campaign of nominee John Kerry.
"I categorically state that the none of the terror threats are politically motivated," Ridge said.
In New York, Treasury Secretary John Snow said suggestions that terror alerts were manipulated were "pure, unadulterated nonsense." Snow toured the floor of the New York Stock Exchange and praised traders for their resilience in the face of such warnings.
Associated Press writers Ted Birdis, Katherine Pfleger Shrader in Washington, Matt Gouras in Nashville and Kendra Locke in New York contributed to this report.
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