While some local authorities took steps to tighten security Friday, the Bush administration said it has no plans to raise the security threat level because of the audiotaped warning a day earlier by Osama bin Laden.
Counterterror officials said they have seen no specific or credible intelligence to indicate an upcoming al-Qaida attack on the United States. Nor have they noticed an uptick in terrorist communications “chatter” — although that can dramatically increase or decrease immediately before an attack.
The audiotape, released by the Arab television network Al-Jazeera, brought new attention to the al-Qaida leader after a yearlong lull in his public statements.
The White House firmly rejected bin Laden’s suggestion of a negotiated truce. “We don’t negotiate with terrorists,” Vice President Dick Cheney said in a television interview Thursday. “I think you have to destroy them.”
The Homeland Security Department said it would not raise the national threat alert at this time. But the tape prompted increased security at Los Angeles International Airport and other precautions at the city’s port and water and power facilities.
“At this time, we lack corroborating information suggesting that al-Qaida is prepared to attack the United States in the near term,” said Homeland Security spokeswoman Michelle Petrovich. “But we recognize that al-Qaida remains committed to striking the homeland.”
The FBI has asked the 103 joint terrorism task forces and intelligence units at its 56 field offices to re-examine its cases and investigative leads in light of the bin Laden tape. “Do you see something in your area of operation that might be assessed as more significant than it was the day before?” said an FBI official on condition of anonymity because he was discussing an internal FBI communication.
The national terror threat level currently stands at yellow, the middle of five grades, signifying an elevated risk of attack. The government has raised the alert level to orange, signaling a high threat risk, seven times since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
The tape, which Al-Jazeera said was recorded in December, represents bin Laden’s first public communication since December 2004. Since then, al-Qaida’s No. 2 leader, Ayman al-Zawahri, has served as the terror network’s public face.
The recording was released only days after U.S. missile attacks in Pakistan that Pakistani officials said killed four senior al-Qaida operatives.
CIA analysts verified the recording as bin Laden’s voice. They offered no details about how they reached that conclusion, but in the past the agency has verified authenticity in part by comparing new recordings to earlier messages.
Lack of video cited
Cheney said the tape showed that al-Qaida has been hobbled, because “they didn’t have the ability to do anything on video” and because it had been so long since bin Laden had been heard from.
Still, “I think we have to assume that the threat is going to continue for a considerable period of time.” the vice president said in an interview with Fox News Channel. “Even if bin Laden were no longer to be a factor, I still think we’d have problems with al-Qaida.”
Homeland Security officials alerted states about bin Laden’s comments in a routine call Thursday morning, Petrovich said.
In Los Angeles, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said city police deployed additional resources at their airport and “posted signage indicating that bomb sniffing dogs and searches will occur frequently.” He described the measures as precautionary.
Sharon Gang, a spokeswoman for District of Columbia Mayor Anthony Williams, said the capital was not raising its terror alert level. Across the Potomac River in Virginia, the information did not trigger any alarms, said Steve Mondul, the state’s deputy preparedness director.
Over the past year, there has been much speculation about bin Laden’s whereabouts and even whether he was still alive.
The tape apparently provides no definitive answers to either question, but there was speculation that it might be an attempt to show supporters that bin Laden was still around.
“He has made threats before, but there hasn’t been a public utterance for a long time, and for that reason no one is being dismissive of it,” said one counterterror official, speaking on condition of anonymity while the tape was still being analyzed.
FBI assistant director John Miller, who as a television news correspondent interviewed bin Laden in the 1990s, said bin Laden appeared to be trying to show he still controls his terrorist network, but that the tape should not alarm Americans.
“We’ve seen this message before, the demands and threats. In rare instances, tapes have been followed by attacks. But in many more, they haven’t been,” Miller said.
President Bush was told about the audiotape Thursday, White House spokesman Scott McClellan said.