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Mukasey 'surprised' by scope of terrorist threats

  • Story Highlights
  • Attorney general: "It's surprising how varied it is, how many directions it comes from"
  • Mukasey issued no warnings and offered no suggestion of increased danger
  • He urged Congress to update the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act
  • Mukasey on bin Laden messages: "I wish he weren't in a position to issue them"
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From Terry Frieden
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Attorney General Michael Mukasey has been taken aback by the scope and variety of potential terrorism threats facing the United States, he told reporters Friday at an informal meeting in his office.

Attorney General Michael Mukasey receives terrorism updates during national security briefings.

"I'm surprised by how surprised I am," said Mukasey, who as a federal judge presided over terrorism-related trials in New York.

"It's surprising how varied [the threat] is, how many directions it comes from, how geographically spread out it is," he said.

Mukasey issued no warnings, made no pronouncements and offered no suggestion of increased danger or newly detected plots.

He would not discuss specifics of potential threats, which remain secret.

The attorney general said that after meeting with his European law enforcement counterparts last week in Slovenia, he understands their degree of anxiety as well.

"They're all concerned, and they're all looking for ways to cooperate with the United States and with one another," he said.

The attorney general used the occasion to once again urge congressional passage of a measure to update the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. An initial update, termed the Protect America Act, expired last month.

"I never thought I'd see that [expiration] happen," Mukasey said. "The danger doesn't fade."

He also referred to the terrorism updates he receives in early morning national security briefings.

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"The people I hear about every morning, their fatwas do not have an expiration date," Mukasey said.

The House has refused to bow to administration pressure to pass a version of the law that exempts telecommunications giants from legal action for taking part in the government's program to eavesdrop without a warrant when one of the parties is inside the United States.

Critics said the program violated the law, and phone and Internet companies face as many as 40 lawsuits related to their participation.

The Senate has passed a version that includes retroactive immunity for the telecom companies.

Mukasey said Friday that he is open to "a creative compromise" but that he has no "particular basis for hope."

"I'm hopeful, but if someone asked me for a reason, I'd be stuck for an answer," he said.

When the law first lapsed several weeks ago, some intelligence may have been lost, but that the problem has been rectified, Mukasey said.

"There were a couple of days where we weren't working as smoothly [with the telecom firms]. That has since been put back together," he said.

"I don't know what intelligence we missed," he added.

Asked about the latest taped comments from al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, Mukasey shook his head. "Am I alarmed? I'm alarmed, I guess. I wish he weren't in a position to issue them." E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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