Officials revealed yesterday that most of the information that led to Sunday’s increase in the terror threat level around specific financial institutions was largely based on surveillance al Qaeda carried out over three years ago — before the Sept. 11 attacks. One senior law enforcement official told the Washington Post, “There is nothing right now that we’re hearing that is new. Why did we go to this level? … I still don’t know that.”
On Sunday the Department of Homeland Security warned of attacks against five site: the International Monetary Fund and World Bank headquarters in Washington; the New York Stock Exchange and Citigroup Center in New York; and the Prudential Financial building in Newark. Yesterday security at all of the sites was markedly increased. A counter-terrorism official told the Washington Post, “Most of the information is very dated but you clearly have targets with enough specificity, and that pushed it over the edge. You’ve got the Republican convention coming up, the Olympics, the elections… I think there was a feeling that we should err on the side of caution even if it’s not clear that anything is new.”
While both the New York Times and Washington Post have major pieces today highlighting that the intelligence was three years old, Bush administration officials on Sunday gave reporters no hint that the threat was so old. In its Monday editions the New York Times reported that Al Qaeda may have carried out test run attacks in “recent days” but today the Times reveals that officials in New Jersey had misspoken and that no such test runs are believed to have occurred.
President Bush said yesterday that he supports creation of a new national intelligence director and a national counterterrorism center, key recommendations of the Commission that investigated the attacks of September 11, 2001. His backing, however, is conditional — the intelligence chief would not have authority over budgets, hiring and firing and would not be stationed in the White House, counter to the suggestions of the Commission. The director would not be a member of the president cabinet.
Executive director of the 9/11 commission, Philip D. Zelikow, warned about Bush’s proposal. He told PBS that “If Congress takes the shell of this idea and then dilutes the powers so that it looks like they’ve done it but they haven’t really done it, then you will have another bureaucratic layer.”
The Los Angeles Times is reporting that Iraq’s top criminal court is investigating allegations that Ahmed Chalabi’s nephew Salem Chalabi threatened an Iraqi official days before the man was assassinated in late May. The Finance Ministry official who was killed was investigating whether the Chalabi family had illegally seized hundreds of pieces of property shortly after the US-invasion.
The Finance Ministry official reportedly told his wife shortly before he died that he had received many threats from Chalabi who warned 'You will not stay for long. We will get rid of you.' ” Chalabi has denied he threatened the man or had a role in the killing. He claims the allegation is part of an effort to remove him as head of the Iraqi Special Tribunal, which will try Saddam Hussein and other former leaders of the old regime.
UPI is reporting that U.S. forces arrested a leading Sunni Iraqi official shortly after he participated in a televised debate where he criticized the upcoming National Congress which will meet in August. The arrested man was the press official for a prominent Sunni group that has called for a boycott of the Congress. According to UPI, four US military vehicles intercepted his car and took him to an unknown destination.
U.S. forces fought for hours yesterday with supporters of Shiite cleric Muqtada al Sadr. Members of Sadr’s milita told the Knight Ridder news agency that US troops surrounded the home of Sadr’s late father in Najaf in an apparent attempt to arrest him. A firefight broke out that lasted several hours — at least one Iraqi was killed. US officials denied the account saying that their soldiers had came under attack. On Saturday US soldiers arrested the head of Sadr’s office in Karbula.
The attack on Sadr’s house comes as British reporter Robert Fisk warns that Iraq is on the verge of exploding. In his latest dispatch, Fisk warns that 700 Iraqis died in Baghdad in July marking the deadliest month since the fall of Baghdad. Fisk writes that the U.S.-appointed “government” controls only parts of Baghdad and that the unelected prime minister Iyad Allawi is little more than mayor of Baghdad.
The United Nations is warning a humanitarian crisis could break out in Basra, Iraq’s second largest city, due to a massive shortage of drinking water at the peak of summer. Water levels are now lower than before the US invasion and estimated to be around 40 to 60 percent of what is needed for Basra’s two million people.
The Sudanese government says it will double the number of security forces in the western Darfur region to 12,000. This in response to a United Nations mandate requiring the Khartoum government disarm the Janjaweed militias, groups accused of widespread violence against non-Arab groups. The Sudanese military said yesterday that the UN resolution was a QUOTE “declaration of war.”
The National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty called yesterday for the governor of Alabama to seek clemency for James Hubbard, a 74-year-old man scheduled to be executed on Thursday. If executed Hubbard will become the oldest person ever executed in Alabama and the oldest person executed in the United States in more than 60 years.
And Kuwait has banned Michael Moore’s film Fahrenheit 9/11 Sunday because it violates a law that prohibits insulting friendly nations. One Kuwaiti official said that the film “insulted the Saudi royal family by saying they had common interests with the Bush family and that those interests contradicted with the interests of the American people.”