Terror campaign was meant to last days, senator says

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Terror campaign was meant to last days, senator says

Comments made after CIA briefing

By Mark Schlueb. Special to the Tribune. Mark Schlueb is a staff writer for the Orlando Sentinel, a Tribune newspaper Published September 18, 2001

ORLANDO -- The attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon were supposed to be the first wave of a sustained, dayslong campaign of terror around the United States and the world, U.S. Sen. Bob Graham said Monday.

Graham (D-Fla.), chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, said the hijacked airliners were only one facet of a widespread plan by a cabal of terrorists likely headed by Osama bin Laden.

Graham was briefed about the findings Sunday by the Central Intelligence Agency.

"There has been very credible evidence gathered since Tuesday that Tuesday's attacks were not designed to be a one-day event," he said. "There were other acts of terrorism in the United States and elsewhere that were part of this plan."

Other attacks likely would not have involved commandeered airliners, Graham said. "Not necessarily hijacking another airliner, but maybe putting a chemical in a city's water system, or blowing up a bridge in a major urban center," he said.

Officials don't know precisely what kind of weapons are at the disposal of bin Laden and his terrorist cells scattered across the globe.

While bin Laden-linked terrorists have successfully used car- and boat-based bombs, the Islamic extremist also has tried to acquire components to build nuclear, biological and chemical weapons of mass destruction, according to international security experts who cite intelligence reports.

As recently as Sunday morning, intelligence agencies worried that follow-up attacks still might take place, he said. Graham could not identify possible targets of other attacks and would not reveal how U.S. intelligence agencies learned of the plans.

However, an Army official said that combat jets already are flying over U.S. cities to protect "major installations" such as nuclear power plants.

Graham also said a lack of coordination among U.S. intelligence services contributed to the failure to obtain warning of last week's attacks.

At least two suspects linked to the attacks had, at some point, been under CIA surveillance.

"There was a serious lack of coordination among federal agencies," he said. "There were some people with suspect backgrounds whom the CIA had been following outside the U.S., who were able to enter the U.S., which raises questions about our immigration service. And once they were in the U.S., they were able to lose themselves in the crowd."

On Thursday, Graham is expected to introduce a package of intelligence changes.

Gene Poteat, a former scientific intelligence officer with the CIA and head of an association of retired intelligence officers, downplayed the notion that other attacks are imminent.

"My feeling is these people have overplayed their hands," he said. "Their next step is to see how deep they can hide."

Poteat noted that more sophisticated weapons would require many more people and logistical support; both of which increase the risk of detection.

Micheal Wermuth, a senior policy analyst with Rand Corp., echoed that point. He also emphasized the difficulty and expense involved in creating chemical or biological weapons. Using biological and chemical agents is extremely complicated, from the initial effort to cultivate a disease agent such as anthrax, to figuring out how to transport it and deliver it in a manner that will hit a lot of people, Wermuth said.

The same applies to developing nuclear weapons.

But that, Wermuth said, doesn't mean those possibilities should be dismissed: "They're not impossible. They're just a lot harder."


-- Martin Thompson (mthom1927@aol.com), September 18, 2001

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