Department of Justice Seal

Prepared Remarks of Attorney General John Ashcroft
(Please note that the Attorney General often deviates from the prepared remarks)
Threat Level Press Conference
September 10, 2002

Good afternoon.

The United States government has concluded, based on analysis and specific intelligence of possible attacks on U.S. interests overseas, to call government, law enforcement and citizens both at home and overseas to a heightened state of alert. After conferring with the Homeland Security Council, the recommendation has been made to increase the national threat level, currently classified at "elevated risk," to "high risk." The President has accepted this recommendation.

The U.S. intelligence community has received information, based on debriefings of a senior al Qaeda operative, of possible terrorist attacks timed to coincide with the anniversary of the September 11 attacks on the United States.

Information indicates that al Qaeda cells have been established in several South Asian countries in order to conduct car bomb and other attacks on U.S. facilities. These cells have been accumulating explosives since approximately January 2002 in preparation for these attacks.

The U.S. intelligence community has also received information that one or more individuals in the Middle East are preparing for a suicide attack or attacks against U.S. interests. At this time, we have no specific information as to where these attacks might occur.

The U.S. intelligence community has concluded that the most likely targets of al Qaeda attacks are the transportation and energy sectors and facilities or gatherings that would be recognized worldwide as symbols of American power or security. Examples of such symbols are U.S. military facilities, U.S. embassies and national monuments.

In addition, U.S. intelligence has concluded that lower-level al Qaeda operatives may view the September 11 anniversary time period as a suitable time to lash out in even small strikes to demonstrate their worldwide presence and resolve. Accordingly, widely dispersed, unsophisticated strikes are possible.

The specificity of some of this information has contributed to the decision to close four U.S. embassies in Southeast Asia and to elevate our security at all overseas diplomatic and military facilities.

The increased threat level is based on specific intelligence received and analyzed by the full intelligence community. This information has been corroborated by multiple intelligence sources.

Last year at this time, United States intelligence discerned similar patterns of terrorist threat reporting overseas. In addition, other recent events parallel terrorist activity that occurred in the weeks prior to last year's attacks.

I want to emphasize that the recommendation was NOT made to move to the highest level of alert, an action that would have been triggered by specific credible intelligence pointing toward an imminent attack on the United States homeland. At this time, most intelligence focuses on possible attacks on U.S. interests overseas.

I have directed that Joint Terrorism Task Forces nationwide coordinate their local response with U.S. Attorneys and local Anti-terrorism Task Forces. In addition, I have directed that all relevant information be shared with the Joint Terrorism Task Forces in order for federal officials to work effectively and cooperatively with state and local officials.

As we have been forced to do in the past, today we once again call on the American people to remain alert but defiant in the face of this new threat. We are NOT recommending that events be cancelled, nor do we recommend that individuals change domestic travel plans or that the federal workforce not report for duty.

We ask that Americans both at home and abroad mark the anniversary of last year's savage attacks with a heightened awareness of their environment and the activities occurring around them. This call, which Americans have heard before, is based on specific intelligence that heightened awareness and readiness deters terrorism. Each of us has the ability to increase the security of our ourselves, our families and our communities. Today we call on Americans to exercise this responsibility with special care and vigilance. Now Governor Ridge will discuss what actions will be taken in response to this new information.