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Inside Politics

Dean again says politics behind terror alerts

Cheney rebuts Dean's allegation of threat hype


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Vice President Dick Cheney says Howard Dean "doesn't know anything" about terrorist groups.
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A look at the intelligence surrounding the latest terror warning.

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Former Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean asserted again Wednesday that "ample evidence" exists that President Bush was playing politics when he approved raising the terror alert level Sunday -- a contention Bush administration and campaign officials deny.

"In the last two days since I made this charge, they've been covering their you-know-what's and trying to come up with additional information," Dean said on CNN's "Anderson Cooper 360."

Two senior U.S. government sources told CNN Wednesday that intelligence evidence found in Pakistan shows that suspected al Qaeda operatives there "contacted" an individual or individuals in the United States in the past few months. (Full story)

Dean said he believes that leak was designed "to try to deflect the charge" of political manipulation of the terrorism issue.

"I actually think the Bush administration is scrambling a bit on this one," the former Vermont governor said.

Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge announced Sunday that the government was raising the terror alert level to orange, or high, for financial services buildings in New York City, Newark, New Jersey, and Washington, D.C.

The bulk of the information that triggered the alert was obtained last week from Muhammad Naeem Noor Khan, an alleged al Qaeda operative arrested in Pakistan in mid-July, sources told CNN.

Ridge conceded Tuesday that the surveillance of financial buildings took place before the attacks of September 11, 2001.

But he refuted suggestions that the administration was overreacting to outdated information, saying some of the reconnaissance was updated earlier this year, and noting that al Qaeda operatives often take years to plan attacks.

"Anybody that's spent any time combating terrorists ... will tell you that being old doesn't necessarily mean being irrelevant," Ridge said in a speech to a veterans' group Wednesday. "Good intelligence can be appropriate, no matter how old it is."

Dean first made the charge that politics may have played a role in the alert level decision in an interview Sunday on CNN's "Late Edition."

Since then, a number of prominent Democrats, including presidential nominee Sen. John Kerry, distanced themselves from those remarks.

Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut went so far as to say "nobody in their right mind" would believe that Bush would "scare people for political reasons."

Vice President Dick Cheney shot back directly Wednesday at a campaign rally in Missouri.

"There have been some commentary from some of our critics -- Howard Dean comes immediately to mind -- saying somehow that this is being hyped for political reasons, that the data that we collected here, the casing reports that provided the information on these prospective attacks, is old data, four or five years old," Cheney said.

"That just tells me that Howard Dean doesn't know anything about how these groups operate."

In his interview Wednesday on CNN, Dean was unbowed -- and unrepentant.

"If it took three weeks for them to get this information, then they're not doing their job protecting the United States of America," Dean said, pointing to the fact that Khan was arrested in mid-July.

"There's one of two possibilities here. One, we need a new president so we can really take care of intelligence needs and the defense of the United States of America against terrorism. Or two, they're playing politics with their timing of the release of these documents," Dean said.

Dean said he does not believe "that the threat of terrorism is an empty threat" and that it was appropriate to take security precautions at financial institutions, which according to the information captured from Khan were meticulously surveyed by al Qaeda operatives, sources said.

Pointing to the Bush administration's admission that the surveillance activity stretched back to before 9/11, Dean said, "We're still dealing with old stuff."

Ridge has insisted that politics played no role in his department's decision to ask Bush to raise the threat level from yellow, or elevated, for the financial sites.

When asked if he believed the secretary, Dean said, "No."

Noting that Bush "has said that he intends to run as a wartime president," Dean said, "If you say those kinds of things, then you're going to have to expect your motives to be questioned."

Responding to Dean's latest assertion, Bush campaign spokesman Terry Holt dismissed him as a "bizarre conspiracy theorist."

"This shameful display of angry partisanship from Howard Dean is more of the angry face of the Democratic Party, and it's not helping us win the war on terror," Holt said.

Holt also noted that Dean "is a leader in the Kerry campaign, a senior adviser, and he is saying things that are irresponsible."

"We have a chorus of people that have discredited and repudiated the Dean statements. The only person who stands by Dean and kept him as a senior adviser is John Kerry," Holt said.

CNN's Catherine Berger contributed to this report.


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