FARGO, N.D. – Increasing intelligence chatter indicates that terrorists are targeting the United States ahead of the fall elections, Vice President Dick Cheney (search) said. In an interview before a campaign rally in Minneapolis on Saturday, Cheney told The Forum newspaper and radio station WDAY that intelligence shows "the current threat level is very real."
"We have a reason to believe they'll try to hit us before the election," he said. Earlier this month, the Bush administration announced that the United States is tightening security because of the threat of an Al Qaeda (search) attack aimed at disrupting elections. U.S. officials have said they do not have specific knowledge of where, when or how such an attack would take place.
In the interview with media outlets of the Forum Communications Co., Cheney also defended the administration's decision to go to war in Iraq despite the conclusions of a congressional committee studying intelligence failures leading up to the conflict.
Cheney said there was ample evidence of ties between Saddam Hussein's regime and Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups. Saddam also had a long history of creating and using weapons such as nerve gas, he said.
"To suggest otherwise is misreading intelligence," Cheney said.
Cheney's visit was the latest stop in Minnesota by high-profile members of both presidential campaigns. President Bush campaigned in Duluth, Minn., on Tuesday, and John Kerry visited Cloquet, Minn., two weeks ago.
Mike Erlandson, chairman of Minnesota's DFL Party, said the Bush administration has shown "misguided priorities" in sending more than 3,500 Minnesota Guard and Reserve troops to Iraq and Afghanistan, many without effective body armor.
The administration has also proposed to cut funding for homeland security along North Dakota's and Minnesota's borders with Canada, Erlandson said.
"We're not really protecting our borders," he said.
North Dakota officials have been promoting the state as a training ground for aircraft and say Pentagon officials seem interested in the notion. Cheney said that plan could help bring more flying units to the state as the military reorganizes its bases.
Early estimates indicate that 100 bases could be marked for closure by the Defense Base Closure and Realignment Commission in 2005.
"You end up readjusting the forces. You end up plussing them in one area and reducing them in others," he said.
Cheney said the military is working to be more mobile and flexible. An example is the use of air power such as the Air Force's B-52s in Minot and air refueling tankers in Grand Forks, which helped bring a quick victory in Afghanistan, he said.
On the domestic front, Cheney said the nation's farm economy is improving. Last year, farmers took in $63 billion, up 11 percent from the year before, he said.
"Rural income is at an all-time high. I don't want to underestimate how difficult it is out there. But the fact of the matter is things are going well," he said.
Bush administration initiatives for increasing ethanol and biodiesel production should help that trend, Cheney said.
Erlandson, however, said "this administration has been an unmitigated disaster" for the economy.
"If you're one of the 90,000 Minnesotans out of work today, the unemployment rate is not 5.5 percent, it's 100 percent," Erlandson said.
Erlandson said Bush's policies have not been friendly to family farmers.
"If you're a farmer trying to make a go of it in Minnesota, it's going to be as tough as ever," he said.