The Bush administration left the terror threat level unchanged Saturday, despite issuing a bulletin warning state and local officials that a videotape message from Osama bin Laden may portend a new terrorist attack.
"We don't have to go to (code level) orange to take action in response either to these tapes or just general action to improve security around the country," Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge told reporters.
Ridge urged Americans to go ahead with plans to vote in Tuesday's elections without undue concern.
His words and appearance both seemed designed to convey a lack of alarm. The nation's top anti-terrorism official made his remarks in casual clothes standing outside his office, rather than at a formal news conference of the type he and other administration officials have conveyed word of increased danger in the past.
There is no immediate indication that the tape of the al-Qaida leader, which aired Friday, offered any sign of an impending strike, said a U.S. government official, speaking on condition of anonymity. Intelligence agencies are conducting further analysis on the tape.
The warning shortly before Tuesday's election follows public discussion by top Bush administration officials during the summer about the seriousness of a potential threat to disrupt the election.
"We remain concerned about al-Qaida's interest in attacking the American homeland, and we cannot discount the possibility that the video may be intended to promote violence or serve as a signal for an attack," according to the memo sent late Friday from the FBI and the Homeland Security Department.
The bulletin went to homeland security advisers; federal, state and local law enforcement; and select members of private industry.
The government official said steps have been taken to secure the public and that homeland security officials have been urged to keep vigilant.
No overt threat
The tape, including portions net yet broadcast, contained no overt threat and no specific timetable or method of an attack, according to a law enforcement official, speaking on condition of anonymity.
This official, who was briefed on the entire tape, said much of what has not aired amounts to a sustained diatribe against President George W. Bush and his father, former President George H.W. Bush. It even criticizes the current president's economic and jobs programs and contends that the Iraq war is all about oil, the official said.
Government officials were comparing what bin Laden said with other al-Qaida intelligence gathered to see if patterns emerge that could lead them to a plot or potential terrorist operatives. That includes a tape aired Thursday by ABC News in which a shrouded man claiming to be an American member of al-Qaida promised attacks that will make U.S. streets "run red with blood."
The president on Saturday directed his national security aides to take any necessary steps in response to the bin Laden tape.
Bush held a videoconference call with national security adviser Condoleezza Rice and the heads of the CIA, FBI and departments of Justice and Homeland Security.
White House spokesman Scott McClellan said the president directed them to make sure any necessary action is taken with regard to the tape.
McClellan did not say what steps were being taken or contemplated. He played down the possibility of the administration raising the threat advisory level, currently at "yellow," or elevated, for most of the country.
Election Day security
Also Saturday, several hundred homeland security officials and some police chiefs held a conference call to discuss the tapes. Security at polling places on Tuesday was among the concerns and questions they raised.
In the video, bin Laden acknowledged for the first time directly that he ordered the Sept. 11 attacks and said he did so because of injustices against the Lebanese and Palestinians by Israel and the United States.
He said the United States must stop threatening the security of Muslims if it wants to avoid "another Manhattan" and while he did not directly warn of new attacks, he warned: "There are still reasons to repeat what happened."
"Your security is not in the hands of Kerry, Bush or al-Qaida. Your security is in your own hands," bin Laden said, referring to the president and his Democratic opponent, John Kerry. "Any state that does not mess with our security has naturally guaranteed its own security."
The television network Al-Jazeera received the 18-minute videotape at its offices in the Pakistani capital, Islamabad, where "somebody dropped it yesterday at the gate," Ahmad Muaffaq Zaidan, the Pakistan bureau chief, said Saturday.
In the earlier tape, the speaker who identifies himself as "Azzam the American" praised the Sept. 11 attacks, called bin Laden and his deputy his leaders, and said a new wave of attacks could come at any moment.