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US Legislators Back Boosted Terror Warning - 2004-08-01


U.S. legislators say raising America's terror threat warning is prudent and appropriate given intelligence reports about potential al-Qaida plots. Several senators spoke as the Bush administration boosted the warning level for key financial institutions in Washington, New York City, and northern New Jersey.

Republican Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky says no one should be surprised that terrorists continue to target U.S. cities, including Washington and New York. Mr. McConnell, who sits on the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security, spoke on CNN's Late Edition program Sunday.

"We know the terrorists want to hit us again." he said. "Everyone is aware that Washington and New York seem to be the most desirable targets from their [the terrorists'] point of view. There is nothing they would like to do more than to strike in the United States again, particularly before the [November] election."

Democratic Senator Joe Lieberman of Connecticut echoed the sentiment. Also appearing on CNN, Mr. Lieberman said Americans must not be lulled into a false sense of security by the fact that their homeland has suffered no further terrorist attacks since September 11, 2001.

"It reminds us that we are in a war," he said. "Thank God that we have not been hit since September 11 [2001]. But let us never forget that al-Qaida went after the World Trade Center with a truck bomb in 1993 and eight years later came back and hit it with the planes. And I am very mindful that one of the targets they did not hit [in 2001] was the Capitol and the White House. And we have to raise our guard, and it is why, even in this political season, we ought to be pulling together in destroying al-Qaida and reaching out to the Islamic world and finishing the war in Iraq against terrorists."

But not everyone is taking the Bush administration at its word.

The elevated terror warning comes days after the conclusion of the Democratic National Convention in Boston, Massachusetts, four weeks before the Republican National Convention in New York City, and three months before the November general election in the United States.

Former Vermont Governor Howard Dean, who competed with Massachusetts Senator John Kerry for the Democratic Party's presidential nomination, noted that national security is a major campaign issue this year. Mr. Dean said it is not unreasonable to keep that fact in mind when contemplating the Bush administration's terror warnings.

"The president is basing his political campaign on the notion that he ought to be reelected because terrorism is a danger and his case to the American people is that 'I am the only person who can get us through this,' he said. "So of course this is politics. Do I believe that this [terror warning] is being fabricated? No, of course I do not believe that. But I do think there is politics in this and the question is: how much of this is politics and how much is a real threat?"

That comment brought a swift response from the chairman of President Bush's reelection campaign, Marc Racicot, who said that accusing the administration of allowing politics to intrude into national security decisions is both unfounded and harmful.

"I think it is reckless," he said. "No one would engage in that sort of thing [using terror alert for political gain]. And to suggest that, I think corrodes the confidence of the people of this country."

Mr. Racicot added that he is confident that officials are doing everything humanly possible to ensure public safety nationwide, including at the upcoming Republican National Convention in New York.