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Homeland Security Adviser: US Has Disrupted al-Qaida Terrorist Plans - 2004-08-08

President Bush's adviser on homeland security, Frances Townsend, says the recent arrests of suspected al-Qaida terrorists and the seizure of information about the group's detailed surveillance of financial centers have disrupted some of al-Qaida's plans for attacks on the United States.

Presidential homeland security adviser Frances Townsend said she believes the terror alert announced last week helped the U.S. government deter an al-Qaida terror attack. Speaking on Fox News Sunday, Ms. Townsend said much of the intelligence gathered from various sources indicated that an attack was possible before the U.S. presidential election in November.

"I certainly think by our actions, we have disrupted it. The question is, have we disrupted all of it or a part of it, and we're working through an investigation to uncover that," she said.

Authorities in Pakistan, with help from U.S. officials, have detained dozens of suspects and have seized computer files containing detailed information about terrorist surveillance of financial institutions in New York, New Jersey and Washington. Based on this information, the U.S. government issued a terror alert last week focusing on these sites.

Meawhile, authorities in Britain and Saudi Arabia also have rounded up suspected al- Qaida militants.

Speaking on another Sunday program, "Face the Nation" on CBS, Ms. Townsend added that there are other targets U.S. officials are aware of, although the intelligence has been less detailed. She said these targets include the U.S. Capitol -- where security has been stepped up in recent days. "Yes, in the past and as part of this continuing threat stream, and we shared it with them," she said.

Congresswoman Jane Harman, the highest-ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, told Fox News Sunday it is exactly the other possible targets that she is worried about. "I agree with Fran Townsend and I'm glad we're protecting these five buildings. But we'd better anticipate that these asymmetric threats could attack us elsewhere, now that they (the terrorists) know we're protecting these particular five sites, we have to be ready in a much bigger way than we have been," she said.

Congresswoman Harman echoed her party's call for a special session of Congress to immediately deal with some of the issues raised by the so-called 9-11 Commission.

But House Speaker Dennis Hastert, speaking on NBC's Meet the Press, said relevant House committees are already meeting during Congress's August recess to discuss the Commission report and decide what action should be done. But the speaker said it was important to proceed carefully.

"We don't want to knee-jerk into something with bad results. And we need to make sure we look at all the potentials and go through the whole hearing process, regular order, if you will, before we come up with a bill. I hope that we can get it done," he said.

Speaker Hastert added that he hopes there will be recommendations by September or October that the full House can act on when it returns from its recess.

In the wake of the terror alerts, the police chiefs of New York City and Washington appeared on CNN's Late Edition to reassure people that they are taking the threats seriously and have adopted new measures to tighten security. At the same time, they urged visitors and residents not to be frightened away.

Democratic Senator Charles Schumer, from New York, said he tells people that while they should be worried, they should not exaggerate the threat. "While we have to be as vigilant as we can be against terrorism, and should (be), the danger of you being hurt, God forbid, when you drive your car [80-kilometers] is greater than the danger of you being hurt from terrorism. And, we're all driving," he said.

He added that he believes Americans should continue to go forward with their lives as normal.