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US VP: Another al-Qaida Terrorist Attack  A Near Certainty - 2002-05-19

Vice-President Dick Cheney says another al-Qaida terrorist attack on the United States is a near certainty. Mr. Cheney says Americans must stay vigilant.

The vice-president says the possibility of another terrorist attack is very real. "In my opinion the prospects of a future attack on the United States are almost certain. I would like to be able to say it is never going to happen again. But I don't think anybody who has really looked at it can say that," he said.

Mr. Cheney told NBC television's Meet the Press program that information is coming in about terrorist activities, but it is not specific and does not point to a certain time or place. "We don't know if it is going to be tomorrow or next week or next year," he said.

He made the remarks on a morning when there was word the terrorist threat could be on the rise.

Reports in The New York Times and major broadcast networks quoted U.S. officials as saying they were getting new messages hinting that al-Qaida is planning another major attack.

White House National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice was asked about the reports during an appearance on ABC's This Week. She said more information is coming in. But she said part of the reason may be enhanced U.S. intelligence efforts since the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

She said the United States is also obviously on a higher state of alert today than it was when the terrorists first struck. "We are constantly looking at a flood of information. We have to note that we have many more sources of information now than we had prior to 9-11. There is a kind of mobilization of the world wide intelligence network and we are getting information from multiple services and so just the sheer volume of information is greater" she said.

Vice-President Cheney and Ms. Rice went on national television, in large part, to counter new criticism of the administration's handling of information received prior to the September 11th attacks.

A few days ago, the White House acknowledged that President Bush was told last August that al-Qaida might be planning a hijacking, but never knew they might use planes as missiles. Congressional Democrats said the administration may have missed a warning, and suggested there should be an inquiry that goes beyond the current investigation of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees.

Vice-President Cheney's initial response was to warn the Democrats against playing politics. But his attitude during his Sunday television appearances was more restrained. He told Meet the Press that he felt, "a deep sense of anger." But now, he said, everyone should just calm down.

"There is a right way and a wrong way for us to conduct ourselves during this period of time, both in the executive and legislative branches. And we all need to adhere, I think, to a very high standard," he said.

Calmer tones were also heard on Sunday from the top Democrat in the House of Representatives. Richard Gephardt told the Fox News Sunday program that he wants an inquiry free of political rhetoric that can work in secret, if necessary, to assess the mistakes made prior to September 11th and suggest improvements.

"I never ever, ever thought anybody, including the president did anything up to September 11 other than their best," he said. "The question is, how do we do better?"

Mr. Gephardt is suggesting a panel be established just to handle this investigation made up of lawmakers, administration officials, and outside experts. But the White House is insisting that any inquiry should be conducted within the strict security procedures that govern the work of the congressional intelligence committees.