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U.S. picks up 'chatter' suggesting new attack

U.S. picks up 'chatter' suggesting new attack

From Kelly Wallace, Kelli Arena, and David Ensor
CNN Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- U.S. intelligence agencies have seen an increased level of activity suggesting another al Qaeda terrorist operation could be in the works, though they have received no specific information about a possible attack, government officials told CNN.

"There has been an increased level of chatter and activity," said a senior administration official, who did not want to be identified. The official said the information U.S. intelligence agencies have noticed over the past "couple of months" is "non-specific in nature ... not specific as to time, date [or] method."

Another government official confirmed that the volume of communications among suspected al Qaeda operatives "has definitely picked up in the last month or so" and characterized them as "troubling" and having prompted a "heightened level of concern."

The source added that both the volume and pattern of the communications were similar to those of messages intercepted in the months before the September 11 attacks.

"The credibility of some of the information is questionable," cautioned the source, but did indicate signs pointing to a possible attack overseas.

Another U.S. official told CNN this is the third time since four airliners were seized and three were crashed into World Trade Center and Pentagon last fall, that increased activity picked up by U.S. intelligence has indicated an increased threat level.

Since September 11, the U.S. government has issued five public terrorism alerts. But because the latest information about a possible attack is non-specific, the government has not issued a public alert.

News of a possible new terrorist operation comes as the White House is trying to contain the furor over revelations that President Bush received an intelligence briefing a month prior to the attacks indicating that al Qaeda operatives were planning to hijack U.S. aircraft.

The New York Times reported on its Web site Saturday that American intelligence agencies have intercepted a series of messages among al Qaeda operatives over the last few months, suggesting the terrorist network could be planning an attack "as big or bigger" than the September 11 attacks.

Vice President Dick Cheney, in a speech Thursday night warning Democrats not to play politics with any congressional inquiry into the pre-September 11 warnings, hinted another attack could be in the planning stages.

"An investigation must not interfere with ongoing efforts to prevent the next attack, because without a doubt, a very real threat of another, perhaps more devastating attack still exists," Cheney said.




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