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CNN AMERICAN MORNING WITH PAULA ZAHN

FBI Says Al Qaeda Likely to Try Spectacular Attack

Aired November 15, 2002 - 09:13   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: In a weekly bulletin to law enforcement, the FBI says Al Qaeda is likely to try a spectacular attack. There has been a steady buildup of warning signs recently, and this threat on tape believed to be from Osama bin Laden may have triggered this alert.
In fact, we are at the same level we always have been, or at least for the last several weeks which is yellow. The government has not raised the nation's terror alert level.

Here with more is John King.

Good morning, John.

JOHN KING, CNN SR. WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Paula.

We should be clear, government officials say they have not increased that terror threat level. It is now at yellow, which is an elevated risk of terror attack. If it went up one notch, it would go to orange, which is a high risk of terrorist attack. The government says it stays at yellow for now, because despite the inflammatory language, you might call it, in this new alert to law enforcement agencies and terrorist task forces, the administration says there is no new information at all and no credible information at all about potential specific targets here in the United States.

Still in its weekly bulletin that goes out to the terrorist task forces around the country, the FBI does say that based on -- there is intelligence, not specific intelligence, but there is intelligence suggesting -- quote -- "in selecting its next targets, sources suggest Al Qaeda may favor spectacular attacks that meet several criteria. High symbolic value, mass casualties, severe damage to the U.S. economy and maximum psychological trauma. The highest priority targets remain within the aviation, petroleum and nuclear sectors, as well as significant national landmarks.

This alert goes out to the terrorist task force around the country. There are 56 of them, I believe. They then disseminate that information as they see fit to state and local law enforcement agencies around the country. U.S. officials saying yes, in part, this is because of that new audio recording that most senior U.S. officials believe is the voice of Osama bin Laden.

But one official saying this morning to me that even if it is not the voice of Osama bin Laden, it is clearly an attempt by someone in the Al Qaeda hierarchy to send a message out to Al Qaeda operatives and sympathizers around the world. So Osama bin Laden or not, they believe that message obviously sends a signal that the Al Qaeda network would like more attacks. That is why this alert goes out to federal law enforcement agencies. But again, Paula, officials stress no specific information at all suggesting any eminent attacks.

ZAHN: I think it's interesting to note, previously, when some of these new alerts came out, isn't it true they've moved Dick Cheney away from Washington D.C.? He was in town last night, wasn't he?

KING: He was in town last night. We are told he will be at the office today. He is here this morning. He's had a busy schedule because of the lame duck schedule of Congress is in view.

If they believe there is any specific information about attacks here in Washington or planned attack of the United States, they do that that precaution. It's part of what they call the continuity of government protocol; you keep the president and the vice president separated so if, God forbid, there is a terrorist strike, you have the leadership of the country that can continue.

ZAHN: Thanks so much, John. Have a good weekend.

Last time, we are checking in with you this morning.

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