Report: U.S. to Heighten Terror Alert

This is a rush transcript from "America's Election HQ," July 29, 2008. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

MARTHA MACCALLUM, HOST: Well, the Olympics, the Democratic and Republican conventions, and November presidential election, a lot of very big high- profile events are coming down the pipeline right now. And a new report says that our country may be headed for a heightened alert status to step up our counter-terror efforts ahead of these big moments.

And at the moment, the nation's public threat level is at yellow or elevated and as the Homeland Security Department whether or not they're planning on raising it to orange is the next question, which would be a high state of alert.

Video: Watch Martha MacCallum's interview

With me now is terrorist expert, Scott Weber, former senior counsel to the Department of Homeland Security.

Scott, how worried are you that they are going to try to pull something off during these big events?

SCOTT WEBER, FMR. HOMELAND SECURITY DEPT. AIDE: Well, if you take a look at past history of some major attacks whether it was Madrid or the London subway bombings, or even the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, and 9/11 -- they all happened within a year or less of a major transition in administration.

So, it's clearly a time that terrorists like al-Qaeda and others look for vulnerabilities and figure we have leadership that's changing and while they're changing, and the new leadership is learning the department, and is learning the tactics and the procedures, now is the time to take advantage of that.

MACCALLUM: You know, you just mentioned that the Department of Homeland Security just got a whole boatload of money to handle IEDs. Are they afraid that there's going to be an IED explosion in this country?

WEBER: Well, let me step back. So, last Thursday the department announced its homeland security grants funding, which is approximately $1.9 trillion. And Secretary Chertoff in his announcement said that there's a clear focus on IED detection and prevention.

If you take a look at what has happened around the world with terrorist attacks, almost every one of them involves some sort of improvised explosive device. So, clearly, we need to continue to train not only state and locals but also corporate America on detection and prevention of improvised explosive devices.

MACCALLUM: Yes, but I look at that, so that money has been designated. You know, we all know how long it takes for government to work. So, how long before that money actually turns into protecting people for these events which are right around the corner?

WEBER: Well, these events have separate budget, line item budgets and there is something called a special emergency event also within the United States where additional emergency funding can be applied to it. So, like the DNC or the RNC will get additional funding. This is block funding given to the states in order to apply in areas that they think they have vulnerabilities.

MACCALLUM: All right. So, when I think about this, I wonder, you know, who's capable right now pulling something off, we've heard so much about the dismantling and the, you know, disenfranchisement of al-Qaeda. Which groups are you are most concerned about? Who is capable of pulling something off at these big events?

WEBER: Well, remember, al-Qaeda really has three levels, right? There's the top part of al-Qaeda, which is the leadership. Then there are the folks who are sort of the level below that have direct communications with folks like the leadership of al-Qaeda. And then there sort of these - - I wouldn't say splinter groups but, you know, little fringe groups that are wannabes.

MACCALLUM: Right, they want to impress (INAUDIBLE).

WEBER: They want to impress, exactly.

MACCALLUM: . small high-value kind of targets, right?

WEBER: Absolutely. So, those are the ones, frankly, that I'm more worried about. Those are the ones who, you know, they may already be folks here in the United States who have access to our critical infrastructure. Look at the JFK Airport plot that was thwarted. These were individuals who had access to secure areas and sensitive areas at JFK.

So, that you really need to make sure that the public and the private work together in a meaningful way so that the public sector, in essence -- I'm sorry, the private sector, in essence becomes a force multiplier for the federal government, for the state and locals. And that's the way really to try and shore up and hardened our facilities the way we need to.

MACCALLUM: But, you know, what would you tell people who are attending the Olympics, who are attending these conventions? I mean, how confident are you that the security is good enough and what should people do, what can they do other than change their plans?

WEBER: Well, the Olympics, look, the Olympics are in China. So, it's difficult for me to pass judgment on how effective the security forces and counterterrorism forces are over in China. They did have a bombing just last week in China.

I think that people need to have their senses alert. They need to be smart. They need to look for even simple things like bags that go unattended.

I've actually told friends of mine, "Unless you need to be in China, you know -- why? Watch the Olympics on TV." We're in a tumultuous time now, it's been a while since we've had a real big attack anywhere in the world and the Olympics in Beijing would be, frankly, a prime place for that.

MACCALLUM: All right. Scary. Scott Weber, thank you very much. Good to talk to you today.

WEBER: Thanks, Martha.

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