Critics blast the Bush administration's decision to raise the terror alert.



Critics blast the Bush administration's decision to raise the terror alert.
KNIGHT RIDDER NEWSPAPERS
WASHINGTON -- The intelligence that led to this week's heightened terrorism alert came in part from a senior Al-Qaida operative in British custody who disclosed that the terrorist network was continuing to plan an attack in New York, possibly around the time of the Republican National Convention, U.S. officials said Wednesday.
The officials said that warning was received simultaneously late last week with the discovery of Al-Qaida computer files in Pakistan showing would-be terrorists had conducted surveillance of five buildings in New York, Washington and New Jersey beginning in 2000 and 2001.
Critics cry foul
The Bush administration is under intense pressure to justify its decision Sunday to raise the terrorism-alert level for financial districts in the three locales. Critics have decried the decision as unnecessary and even politically motivated.
Making their case, White House officials said Wednesday that, in addition to the computer files, late last week, top policy-makers "received intelligence about a separate, current threat to the U.S.," in the words of one U.S. official.
The information "represented another serious threat to New York," said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. The White House declined to describe the information further, citing security concerns.
"I can't go further into it because it could compromise some ongoing [counterterrorism] operations," White House spokesman Scott McClellan said.
A former U.S. official with close ties to the intelligence community said he was told the warning was relayed by the operative said to be in British custody, who's cooperating with investigators.
The operative, whose existence was first reported Monday by Knight Ridder, told authorities that Al-Qaida was planning an attack 60 days before the Nov. 2 presidential election, said the former official, who also spoke on condition that he not be identified.
That would coincide with the Republican National Convention, where President Bush is to be nominated.
The circumstances of the operative's detention remain unclear.
British officials and a CIA spokesman declined to comment.
British raids
Separately, British police announced late Tuesday that they had arrested 13 young men in anti-terrorist raids. One of them was freed Wednesday, according to British news reports.
Some Democratic politicians and counterterrorism experts have criticized the heightened terrorism alert, saying it served mostly to confuse the public.
"What are we supposed to do with this information?" said Larry Johnson, a former top CIA and State Department counterterrorism official.
None of the evidence found in Pakistan indicated that preparations for an attack on the buildings in New York, Washington and New Jersey went beyond the planning stage, he said.
Johnson warned that Al-Qaida could be engaged in a deception campaign aimed at confusing U.S. authorities about its plans and fatiguing American defenses by forcing security measures to change constantly. "I think that's where we're headed," he said.
Administration officials said they had three separate indicators of a possible attack: general intelligence showing that Al-Qaida wants to strike the United States during the election season; the warning aimed primarily at New York; and the captured computer files.
The files were seized after the arrest last month in Pakistan of Mohammed Naeem Noor Khan, a computer engineer who is accused of helping relay encoded computer messages to Al-Qaida operatives in the field.

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