Advisory: Al Qaeda planning new U.S. attacks
Laundry list of possible attack scenarios
From Jeanne Meserve and Kelli Arena
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A Department of Homeland Security advisory issued Thursday warns that al Qaeda is working on plans to hijack airliners flying between international points that pass near or over the continental United States.
A department official said most of the flights fitting this description originate in Canada, and that U.S. officials have been working with Canada over the past month to ensure it is improving screening and other security measures.
One government official noted, however, the United States has no authority to require security measures of non-U.S. carriers whose flights originate outside the United States.
The advisory was issued because of concerns about the coming second anniversary of the September 11 attacks, a recent uptick in intelligence information, and threats to aviation that continued through the summer.
Issued to state and local authorities and the private sector, the advisory said terrorist operatives have been studying countries to determine which have the least stringent requirements for entry. That could be a factor in their consideration of which flights would be easiest to board and take control of.
The advisory includes a laundry list of possible attack scenarios, and says al Qaeda may be researching how to disseminate diseases and toxins by contaminating water and food, or aerosolizing an agent in an enclosed space.
But the advisory says there is no specific information on individual targets or dates that would warrant raising the nation's threat alert level from the current yellow (elevated) to orange (high).
Some tactical information and six pages of suggested protective measures were redacted from the version of the advisory provided to the press.
Risk of multiple attacks
The advisory says that arrests of key al Qaeda members over the past several months "may have delayed or even disrupted some plans," but a Homeland Security official would not provide any details. The official did say that interrogations of those detainees produced some of the information contained in the advisory. Intercepted communications and materials seized in raids of al Qaeda safe houses were other sources of the intelligence, the official said.
The advisory cites the risk of multiple attacks against the United States and U.S. interests overseas. It notes recent mass-casualty attacks in Saudi Arabia, Indonesia and Iraq, "suggesting that 'soft' targets with minimum physical security measures could be viewed as attractive options in the U.S."
Among the sorts of soft targets mentioned in operational plans are apartment complexes, gas stations and restaurants.
The advisory also says critical infrastructure could be hit because of the "potentially significant economic and psychological impacts." Examples of critical infrastructure listed as possible targets are nuclear power plants and other energy facilities, petroleum and chemical facilities, the transportation sector, water systems, and the food supply.
The advisory notes that al Qaeda has successfully used suicide bombers and warns that terrorists "will employ novel methods to artfully conceal suicide devices."
Earlier in the day, Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge held a conference call with state officials to tell them there are no plans at present to raise the threat level in advance of the September 11 anniversary. According to one participant in the call, Ridge said there had been an uptick in threat information, but not in the quantity or quality that would warrant moving from yellow to orange.