Transcript: Discerning Terror Chatter

This is a partial transcript of Special Report with Brit Hume, December 22, that has been edited for clarity.

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HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY TOM RIDGE: All the strategic indicators suggest from the volume -- really from the level and the amount of reporting has increased. We've never quite seen it at this level before. And the sources we could point to that are credible and our ability to corroborate some of this information, the strategic indicators suggest that it is the most significant threat reporting since 9-11.


BRIT HUME, HOST: If it is about the war on terror (search), and it comes from the darker reaches of the Arab world, there is one man you need to check in with. He is Fox News foreign affairs analyst Mansoor Ijaz, who has sources in parts of the world most people can't find on a map. He was good enough to join us tonight from Brussels, where he's been keeping in touch with his contacts.

Mansoor, welcome and thank you.


HUME: They're talking about chatter in the channels again. Strategic indicators. What do those things mean? What do those terms mean?

IJAZ: Well, Brit, essentially what the secretary is referring to is what they keep track of in terms of the electronic communication, eavesdropping, what our satellites pick up, things of that nature: e-mail traffic, other things that may be of fairly routine gathering of information and intelligence pipelines.

The problem is that the volume of information that comes in is so high that it's really very difficult to determine whether or not any of this information is genuinely pointing towards a threat. Or whether it's just because these guys are talking a lot to each other that there is a presumption that they're about to do something.

My guess is that what these terrorists are trying to do is mislead us domestically, and they do that because they do still have some elements of the sleeper infrastructure left here in the United States, where they're able to then see how we react, how we respond. What does it mean for our terror level alert to go up one notch at this time of year? Are we changing shopping mall entrance, checking them? Are we checking the bridges? Are we checking tunnels?

What exactly are we doing to try and counteract whatever it is that they have in mind? That is what I think this is really geared towards, not so much an actual attack on U.S. soil, which I still do not believe they have the capacity to pull off in any sort of a 9-11 type style.

HUME: So, you would then judge the raising of the terror alert in this country to be at least, and have it publicly announced like this, to be a mistake?

IJAZ: Well, maybe not so much a mistake, but -- well, no government could survive -- if I am wrong tonight, I've been right about these things pretty much along the way. But if I was wrong tonight and God forbids something happened, there is no government that could survive not having raised the terror level alert, given the information flow that they've got.

Now the question is, what are the sources? And I will tell you that we are concerned here in Europe and other parts of the world that there really is some communication going on amongst the highest levels of Al Qaeda (search). Specifically in intercepts that we've gotten out of Iran and other places in the Middle East, that there may be an attack not on U.S. soil or U.K. soil. But there may be an attack against major U.K. and U.S. interests outside of these areas. Meaning in some other part of the world. Africa or Southeast Asia or maybe even in Pakistan or India or someplace like that.

We haven't been able to ratchet it down yet, but the point I'm trying to make to you is that there is a concern about something big being planned. It is just not in my judgment on U.S. soil because they don't have the apparatus there right now to be able to pull that off.

HUME: How would you, by the way, assess the overall capability of Al Qaeda and its allies in the terrorist world today as compared to what it had up to and right after 9-11?

IJAZ: I think they've gotten a lot of it back. The only thing that was really missing for the last six or seven months was what I would call hard core funding coming out of Middle Eastern countries in some other places. And a lot of that has been able to resume; they've been able to liquidate certain assets, gold and diamonds and things like that. So it is my judgment that they're pretty much back to full strength.

And the fact that the key leader, as I said here about a month ago, are now out and able to communicate and freely roam about and do what they want to. In my judgment at least, according to my source on Iranian soil, it makes it very difficult for us to be able to stop their planning anymore. And what we've got to do now is get down to the hard core of what exactly are the targets? We needed to ratchet down our human intelligence, which was the key success in Iraq. That was really what got us, Saddam Hussein, our ability to get the human intelligence on the ground.

HUME: You say, "ratchet down," I assume you mean by that tighten the up or improve, right?

IJAZ: Yes. Tighten up. Yes.

HUME: Now, you say you think they're in Iran. Now, that means bin Laden, al Zawarhiri both you believe are in Iran now still?

IJAZ: Yes, I do. And they are active in what they're doing. It is my understanding that bin Laden has met in recent weeks on a number of different occasions with small militias of people coming across the Iraqi border to get instructions, to get theological sustenance and so forth. And Zawarhiri is engaged in the long-term attacks, that I've said, are going to come sometime in the not too distant future, within the next six months or so, against maritime attacks.

HUME: Now, you say there are large-scale attacks against maritime -- how would you characterize these attacks that you are hearing about and that you are concerned about?

IJAZ: Yes. You can sort of break it down and I'll do it very quickly. Break down al Qaeda's theological way of doing things in to nuisance terrorism, symbolic terrorism and structure terrorism. The nuisance terrorism is what we see on the ground in Iraq today. The symbolic terrorism is like 9-11 that had major economic consequences. And the structural terrorist attacks that they want to put together. For example, hitting a major maritime canal like the Suez Canal or Panama Canal, would affect the global economy in a significant way. That is the ultimate objective that they've got.

And all rest of what they do in the meantime is to keep the cells active, to keep everything fluid. And to keep us occupied in what they are doing. A little bit like a magician. Do something over here while the real stuff is going on over here.

HUME: And your view is that we lack the intelligence or the capability to prevent this kind of thing?

IJAZ: I think we don't have enough human intelligence on the ground yet, Brit. I really think that is getting better. But it's still not vast enough. It doesn't include enough language capability. Doesn't include enough cultural diversity and density. This is something that we have to work on very hard. And if President Bush gets re-elected, that ought to be his major thing.

HUME: All right. Mansoor Ijaz, tonight from Brussels. Thank you very much. Always a pleasure to have your insights.

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