CNN BREAKING NEWS
State Department Official: 'Certainty' of Terrorist Attack Attempts
Aired March 18, 2003 - 14:14 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: A bit of breaking news for you. The State Department is the dateline. One of the top counterterrorism officials there is telling us about what appears to be the certainty of a terrorist attack.
David Ensor tracks this and other things for us as our national security correspondent. David, whenever I hear certainty, I get very nervous, and I guess we should all be that way, shouldn't we?
DAVID ENSOR, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, I'm afraid so, Miles.
As you mentioned, Cofer Black, the chief of counterterrorism at the State Department used the word "certainty." Other intelligence officials are calling it a near certainty.
One senior intelligence official said that he thought it was a near certainty there would be small-scale terrorist attacks in the United States or against U.S. targets in the coming days as the war gets underway, as it presumably will shortly with Iraq. The counterterrorism chief at the State Department, Cofer Black, put it even more definitively, but he also said that we are in a time period where al Qaeda has been greatly weakened -- here's how he put it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
COFER BLACK, STATE DEPARTMENT: Al Qaeda is not the organization now that it was before. It is under stress organizationally. Its leadership spend more time trying to figure out how to keep from getting caught than they do trying to launch operations. Yet at the same time, we have to be mindful that there is the certainty that terrorists will attempt to launch multiple attacks against their enemy, which is us and our allies.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ENSOR: ... was based on the large volume of intelligence indicating that various groups, various individuals are interested in trying to use the war against Iraq as a -- as a pretext, as a reason for trying to conduct terrorism against the United States.
One FBI official who was in the same Senate hearing we just saw Mr. Black speaking at, said that they are watching Iraqi agents in the United States very closely, and others associated with them, that they -- there is some intelligence suggesting that the Iraqis might be interested in trying to get others to commit terrorism against the U.S. on their behalf. They say they believe -- the FBI believes it has the sources, the methods it needs to track this and make sure it doesn't come to fruition, but it is something they're watching very closely -- Miles.
O'BRIEN: David, you raise an important point here, and that is that it doesn't necessarily have to be organized terrorism. There are many people who might sympathize with either al Qaeda or Iraq or both in this case. It might use this as an opportunity without any link to al Qaeda or any other organized terrorist cell. How much of a concern are those sorts of characters?
ENSOR: That is the kind of concern that John Pistol (ph), the deputy assistant FBI director, also mentioned. He talked about loners who might, for their own reasons, be angry that the United States is planning to go to war against Iraq, and might on their own volition, perhaps, try to commit terrorism, perhaps trying to make it look as if it was Iraqi or al Qaeda, but might in fact not be.
So the FBI has its hands full, as this official said in the hearing, tracking not only the Iraqi agents and those they've been in touch with, but al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations who have representatives in this country and potential loners, and that third one is perhaps the most difficult of all -- Miles.
O'BRIEN: David Ensor, watching national security matters for us. Thanks very much. Always appreciate that.
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