Official Sees Terror Threat During Elections

Intelligence chatter that is "stronger and more robust" than usual is heightening concerns Al Qaeda might launch attacks timed to the presidential election or the political conventions, a senior U.S. security official told The Associated Press on Thursday.

Adm. James Loy (search), deputy head of the Department of Homeland Security (search), said in an interview that his agency has received "nothing specific" about an attack on those events.

But, he said, there has been a "constant stream of intelligence that has been stronger and more robust."

"As you progress onward to the Democratic Party convention and the Republican Party convention and then the election itself, it has all added up to a registry of concern," Loy said by telephone from an international conference on terror in Vienna.

Outside the United States, Usama bin Laden's terror network was likely to repeat the tactics of the March 11 Madrid bombings, which killed 190 people. Three days later, the governing Popular Party — which strongly backed U.S. policy in Iraq — was defeated in Spain's general election. The new prime minister pulled Spanish troops from Iraq.

While refusing to directly link the bombing attacks to the defeat of Jose Maria Aznar's government, Loy pointed to "what the terrorists think rightly or wrongly was cause and effect."

Loy said that while "70 to 80 percent" of the Al Qaeda leadership has been killed or captured since the Sept. 11 attacks there was no room for complacency, as demonstrated by the nearly 180 terrorist attacks registered last year.

Worldwide, governments must "recognize that there is no return to the normalcy" preceding the Twin Tower attacks, he said, adding that the post-Sept. 11 war on terror was part of the "new normalcy."

On Wednesday, Loy told representatives of 55 nations that their governments should consider fingerprinting travelers as part of international security standards for travel documents. He said international fingerprint databases are far larger than databases containing information on facial features.

But Loy told the meeting of the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe (search) that such measures cannot threaten fundamental values like liberty and respect for privacy.

The U.S. Congress voted in 2002 to require travelers from 27 mostly European countries to have tamperproof passports that can be read by machine.

OSCE member states have already agreed to introduce machine-readable passports by the end of 2005.