This is a partial transcript of The Big Story With John Gibson, July 8, 2004, that has been edited for clarity.


TOM RIDGE, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: Credible reporting now indicates that Al Qaeda is moving forward with its plans to carry out a large-scale attack in the United States in an effort to disrupt our democratic process.

HEATHER NAUERT, GUEST HOST: And that's Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge (search) speaking earlier today. He says Al Qaeda's (search) planning a major attack here in the U.S. in time to upset the presidential election. And Ridge says the group has the ability to carry out a big attack.

Brian Levin is a terrorism analyst. And that's today's big question, Brian: is our government doing enough to prevent another terror attack like 9/11?

BRIAN LEVIN, TERRORISM ANALYST: I don't know if they're doing enough, but I think they're doing almost everything they can. There are some things they have to do a little better, and that goes a bit with coordination. But as Secretary Ridge spoke today, their communication system between agencies are improving every day, but just as we saw during the Reagan funeral event in D.C., there was a breach of airspace by the governor of Kentucky's plane over D.C. and there were some problems with that.

So, I think we are learning every day that we still have more to be done. But I can tell you that the people at DHS and the FBI in particular, for example, are making a Herculean effort to do the best they can. Also, the local authorities, especially in places like New York and Boston, are doing a tremendous effort. That being said, there are so many vulnerabilities, it's impossible to guarantee against something like this. And Al Qaeda has us in their crosshairs, and they want to hit us, particularly before the elections.

NAUERT: Well, judging from Tom Ridge's press conference earlier today, he really makes this sound, in a way, like this is a ticking time bomb, like this is inevitable. However, they do go on the record and say that there is no specific evidence other than the facts that Al Qaeda wants to hit us this summer and that they want to disrupt the democratic process.

LEVIN: Well, they base it on a couple things. First, it worked in places like Spain, in Madrid, where it did affect the election, so they know that. They also know going way back to the Iranian hostage situation how these kinds of events can influence elections. Additionally, though, let me just say, this is something that's going to be a multi-year thing. This is not something where the threat is going to be eliminated once the elections take place on November 2nd. This is going to be a multi-year thing. Al Qaeda wants to hit us, according to publicly released information. There have been scores...

NAUERT: Yes, but Brian, what's different about this? Because, you know, we've been following these stories, obviously, very, very closely since 9/11, and it seems to a lot of folks that, you know, this may be the most, or at least one of the most significant announcements that the U.S. government has made. Now granted, they have not raised the terror threat level in our country, but to say that they want to attack us this summer, that they want to disrupt the democratic process, those sound like some pretty strong terms that our government is using.

LEVIN: Absolutely, and I think you made an excellent point.

One of the things I was really annoyed about, with regard to "Fahrenheit 9/11," is that it inferred that these statements by politicians or by government officials are somehow rooted in political gain. Let me say that Secretary Ridge is completely on target when he talks about the level of threat. And one thing I can tell you, it's inevitable that they'll try again; whether or not they'll be successful is a difficult question.

They're looking to hit infrastructure, they're looking to hit areas where people congregate, entertainments, sporting events, commercial establishments, and they're also looking for symbolic events and symbolic targets. So, we know that they want to hit us in publicly released information. We know that there have been scores of attempts that have been thwarted, but like in hockey, you only have to be successful once with a goal.

NAUERT: OK. Well, could the conventions themselves, in New York and in Boston simply be a diversion? You know, we seem to be spending so much time and effort sort of, focusing on securing the conventions, spending a ton of money to do so and spending a lot of resources as well, in terms of checking out mass transit here in New York City and in Boston, but could those convention be a diversion?

LEVIN: Absolutely. Or even more so, look at the '96 Centennial Olympics in Atlanta. They were very tightly secured within the actual venue, but outside the venue in public areas they weren't as secure. And what we saw is a bombing involving a pipe bomb took place outside the more tightly pardoned area.

So what we could see is an attack in one of these cities outside the convention, as opposed to at the conventions, which will be some of the most tightly secured events in the United States. There's a special task force dealing with it, so getting actually into the event will be highly difficult, though not impossible, but in those cities and the surrounding areas, a lot of soft targets.

NAUERT: OK. And we also know there are lots of officials here combing the grounds in New York and in Boston, looking to try to pick up any additional intelligence.

Brian Levin, thanks so much for joining us.

LEVIN: Thank you, Heather.

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