Intelligence Suggests That Al Qaeda May Try to Disrupt Elections

By William Branigin

Washington Post Staff Writer

Thursday, July 8, 2004; 12:30 PM

The United States has "credible" information indicating that the al Qaeda terrorist network is preparing a large-scale attack in the United States aimed at disrupting this year's electoral process, Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge said today.

But no specific intelligence has provided a target, date or location for the attack, and the department is not raising its security alert from the current elevated "yellow" level, Ridge said. That level, the middle category of five alert conditions, indicates a "significant risk of terrorist attacks."

In a press conference that he billed as an opportunity to remind the public of the continuing terrorist threat and to outline some of the protective measures being undertaken, Ridge said the government does not have any specific information on a plan to attack this summer's presidential nominating conventions. However, he noted that he has declared the conventions to be "national security events" and said he plans to visit the two sites soon to personally review security measures.

The Democratic Party is holding its convention July 26 to 29 in Boston, and the Republicans have scheduled their convention for Aug. 30 to Sept. 2 in New York.

"Credible reporting now indicates that al Qaeda is moving forward with its plans to carry out a large-scale attack in the United States in an effort to disrupt our democratic process," Ridge said. He said the CIA, FBI and other agencies were working to gain more knowledge about the time or place of such an attack.

Ridge said recent developments -- notably the Madrid train bombings in March and some subsequent interdictions in Britain, Italy and Jordan -- have shown that al Qaeda has the "capability" to carry out such an attack. "And they also hold the mistaken belief that their attacks will have an impact on America's resolve," he said.

While the threat level is not being raised, Ridge said, "we have permanent protections in place that did not exist a year ago." He said that "these protections make it harder for terrorists to attack us."

Among the measure Ridge mentioned was an integrated communication system with national, state and local partners that "allows us to make better decisions more quickly and take actions that deter, detect and defuse terrorist attacks."

Some of the measures involve tracking high-risk trucks and rail shipments and preventing the use of radiological "dirty" bombs through better detection equipment, Ridge said.