Assessing America's Latest Terror Alert

This is a partial transcript from The O'Reilly Factor, December 22, 2003.

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JOHN KASICH, GUEST HOST:  First, our top story tonight.  Americans are on high alert again after the feds raised the threat level to orange yesterday.  This is the fifth time the threat level's been raised from yellow to orange since the system made its debut in  March of 2002.  Here's what Homeland Secretary Tom Ridge said about it today.


TOM RIDGE, HOMELAND SECURITY:  We know for a fact that when we increase security plus vigilance this has a tendency to deter terrorists from acting.  That's one of the benefits of raising the level of security in response to going from yellow to orange.  Deterrence arises from vigilance and increased security.


KASICH:  Joining us now from Washington is Rita Katz, the director of the Site Institute, an international terrorist investigation and information group and author of the book Terrorist Hunter.

Rita, thanks for being with us.  Rita, why did they raise this security level?

RITA KATZ, SITE INSTITUTE:  Well, when raising the security level, you have a few factors under consideration.  One of them obviously is statements coming from Al Qaeda (search) prisoners, where they're the ones in Guantanamo Bay (search) or other prisoners held within the U.S. custody and having interrogations and getting the information from them.  And it's most likely we understand today that a lot of information about future attack, most possible, is in the United States.

Other information are coming from chatrooms within the Internet.  I myself surf a lot the Internet.  We gather information about the chatrooms.  And there are a lot of messages by Al Qaeda, indicating that in the next few days, they will carry out an attack in the United States.

Also is the other considerations.  For instance, the latest al-Zawahiri's -- Ayman al-Zawahiri's audiotape, released last Friday indicating that for the  anniversary of Tora Bora, which was in December, 2001, they will carry out attacks against Americans and will chase Americans all over.  So I would say that the agents of Homeland Security and Tom Ridge (search) are taking all these factors under consideration when they decide that it's important to raise the level.

KASICH:  All right, Rita, you know, one of the people downstairs said to me, well John, if there's postings on the Internet, and we got all this great intelligence, why don't we just go grab the people who are posting these things on the Internet?  Why not?

KATZ:  No, it doesn't go like that.


KATZ:  It's almost impossible, because when you talk about chatrooms,  there are a few ways to do it.  One very popular way they do it currently is through a program call Palltalk, which is very similar to communication through   telephone, only it goes to the cyber.  It goes to the cyber world, where you can't really track it down.  It's a very, very sophisticated way of communication.

KASICH:  Yes, but if you use a satellite phone or something like that, you know, they are able to track that.  But we don't need to spend a lot of time on that.

But you know, another thing people are saying is, okay, so they've raised the warning up.  I'm out here walking around.  Why do they need to tell me?  I'm just a citizen out here.  I'm already, you know, sort of vigilant.  Why are they telling me?  Why don't they just tell the law enforcement authorities and just not get everybody all stirred up?

KATZ:  Well, that's a great question.  In fact, there is a very important  sentence that I said in the book.  And I say "9/11 recruited all of us to this war."  And by raising the level, basically, you are -- we are all alert.  And it's important to keep our eyes open.  Very important to, you know, to look at every package we see, any suspicious activities.  We are part of this.

And not only that, it's also important to those that might consider carrying out attacks.  When they see that the level is so high, they might consider twice whether or not this is the right timing.

KASICH:  Now Rita, let's talk about the security actions that can be taken that you think really do deter an attack.  I mean, you know, I was at the airport today.  I'm going to be there the day after Christmas.  And it's going to be long lines, lots of hassles.  Tell us why that's effective?  Why does it matter?  And  what other things will really tell a terrorist, no, this is not the right time?

KATZ:  Well, many things.  Definitely the airport -- the security at the airport are very, very important.  And just a quick example, let's just all remember that in the past, Al Qaeda tried to carry out an attack during the Christmas celebration and New Year Eve during the millennium.  They actually tried to bomb the [Los Angeles Airport] LAX.  And it was only the awareness of the public and intel information that they gathered, they realized something is happening.

So the security really prevented that attack.  And not only in the United States, but in other locations abroad against American targets.  The security in the airport is very important because we already realized that this is one of the targets that they might use.  Also, we have to consider the fact that they might use soft targets.  So anywhere we can put our security would be definitely  important.

KASICH:  Yes, it scares them off when they see police, security, anybody else  around.

KATZ:  Very much.

KASICH:  Of course that L.A. attack was disrupted because you had somebody at the border who was not asleep at the switch and grabbed this guy.Thank God that they did.

Now a vast majority of the American people surveyed say they think there's going to be an attack right here inside the United States.  You have a different view of that.  Tell us why.

KATZ:  I believe that it's going to be very difficult for al Qaeda members to  carry out an attack in the United States first, because of the high level of  the security.  Second, the way that government agencies operated before 9/11 is different today.  It definitely improved a lot.  Definitely.

We are not in the best way, not the best way I would like to see, but there is more sharing of information.  I think we'll learn from the mistakes of 9/11.  But not only that, I think that for al Qaeda to carry out a sophisticated attack needs a  lot of -- that needs a lot of coordination is almost  impossible because the  government is monitoring most of the ways of their communication.

What they can carry out is a small attack with one of the things they are talking about in their chatrooms a lot and in the audios and videos released by Al Qaeda are car bombs, truck bombs, more like the attacks that they...

KASICH:  Do you expect that, Rita?

KATZ:  That's what they claimed that they would do.  And it's...

KASICH:  Well, what do you think?

KATZ:  Do they have the ability?  They do, but I don't think that's going to happen right now in the United States.  I think...

KASICH:  You know, Rita, we're almost out of time.  Just one quick answer to one quick question.  Some people think the reason they won't attack us is because the fury of the United States would be unleashed more than  they've ever seen before.  And frankly, it intimidates them.  Your view on that?

KATZ:  Well, it definitely intimidate them.  And -- but I think that nothing will stop Al Qaeda from striking, definitely not.  And every opportunity that they have, they will use and take advantage.

KASICH:  OK.  Rita, thank you.  Happy holiday.  Thanks for being with us.

KATZ:  And just last word, John.


KATZ:  It's very important for the American public to understand that by raising this level doesn't mean that they need to change their holiday plans.  Definitely not.  One of the things that al Qaeda do want us as Americans to do is  to change our plans, to you know...

KASICH:  I got you.  But be vigilant.  Be vigilant.  Thanks, Rita.

KATZ:  Exactly.

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