FBI Director Offers Sober Assessment of U.S. Vulnerability to Terror Attacks
by Ted Bridis, Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) - The FBI "moved heaven and Earth"' to heighten security for Sunday's Super Bowl game and next month's Winter Olympics, the bureau's director said.
Nevertheless, FBI Director Robert Mueller said Thursday, America should remain on a "very high state of alert ... for some time."
Mueller, meeting with reporters, said he believes groups of waiting terrorists exist even within the United States and certainly continue to operate overseas.
"There may well be those in the United States," he said. "Do I know for sure? I believe there are, but I cannot say for sure." He was far more certain that such cells continue to operate overseas.
Mueller said information about possible threats to the United States has emerged from interviews with captured al-Qaida soldiers and an enormous cache of documents, videotapes and other materials recovered in Afghanistan and elsewhere.
The FBI, military and U.S. intelligence agencies are keeping a painstaking inventory of captured documents and other materials, scanning them electronically and making them available to investigators on a secure computer network coordinated in Washington, said Mueller.
"We're still on a very high state of alert, and part of that comes from what you have seen as documents coming out of Afghanistan," he said.
Mueller said fighting in Afghanistan "has disrupted al-Qaida" and that terror organization's ability to carry out major attacks. The FBI still is frustrated in its efforts to piece together a complete picture of the events leading up to September's attacks against New York and Washington.
"We know half as much as we'd like about those in the attacks of Sept. 11," Mueller said.
He said there were, during different periods, from two to 10 FBI agents in Kandahar, Afghanistan, to interview captured soldiers and others but not to participate in combat. "The agents are not in the military," he said. As more soldiers are brought to the U.S. military prison in Cuba, the need for FBI agents in Afghanistan has dwindled, he said.
- Called the criminal investigations of Zacarias Moussaoui and Richard Reid "part of a patchwork of cases that will paint a partial picture of Osama bin Laden" and his activities in the United States. Moussaoui is the only person so far charged criminally in the Sept. 11 attacks; Reid is accused of trying to detonate a shoe bomb aboard a commercial flight from London to Miami.
- Expressed confidence that investigators ultimately will find the person responsible for mailing anthrax. "We're still interviewing a number of people at labs around the country and overseas,'' he said. "There is promise."
- Said the FBI has better procedures in place "to connect the dots" in cases like that of Moussaoui, whose activities in the United States puzzled investigators even in the weeks before Sept. 11; the FBI said it lacked enough information to arrest him until the attacks against New York and Washington.
- Talked during his recent trip to the Saudi Arabian capital, Riyadh, with Saudi officials about why there were so many Saudis among the captured soldiers at the U.S. military facility in Cuba. "The authorities in the countries that have citizens that were involved in either the events of Sept. 11 or are members of al-Qaida are all concerned about the possibility of these individuals committing acts in the future."
- Repeated that, as part of a broad reorganization of the bureau, he wants FBI agents around the country focused more on counterterrorism and counterintelligence cases, rather than "stand-alone" criminal investigations, such as bank robberies.