Exclusive: Chertoff On Terror Threat

US DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY seal, on texture, generic

Protecting America from a terror attack is the main job of Michael Chertoff, the Secretary of Homeland Security. He gave an exclusive interview to Katie Couric Tuesday about a new intelligence report on the biggest threat to the United States.

KATIE COURIC: Mr. Secretary, last week you described a gut feeling that you had that the United States was at an increase risk of a terror attack this summer. Does today's intelligence report confirm that gut feeling?

MICHAEL CHERTOFF: I think what I was describing, and what this intelligence estimate confirms, is a general sense that we're entering a period where we do have to be concerned about a heightened risk. There is a recognition that we degraded the capabilities of al Qaeda, but also we have to be concerned that they are beginning to regenerate and that they have found some kind of safe haven in certain parts of South Asia.

COURIC: Do you have intelligence that al Qaeda has people in this country that are ready to attack at a moments notice?

CHERTOFF: No specific evidence that we're poised on the brink of an attack, but a recognition, as you see from time to time when cases become public, that there are people in the country who at a minimum sympathizers, if not more, and who we have to keep a very close eye on.

COURIC: What specific new action is being taken in the face of this heightened threat?

CHERTOFF: We're beginning of course outside the country with increased deployment of air marshals, more vigorous collection and analysis of intelligence. We've done more in terms of surging our security capabilities in the aviation sector. We've have more visible cyanine teams and other personnel and some that are not visible in our airports and in our mass transit.

COURIC: It has been about six years since the war on terror began. With the hundreds of billions of dollars spent and the thousands of lives lost, how is it possible that Al-Qaeda has managed to rebuild itself to the degree it has?

CHERTOFF: Well, I think it's a recognition to the fact that just as we've devoted a lot of energy to increasing our defenses, they haven't been standing still. They've learned lessons observing what we've done and as they continue to grow and they morph, they begin to stretch into places like Europe, North Africa and East Africa. This is a dynamic situation. It's a long war. And it's one in which we cannot afford to rest on our laurels, because I will tell you the enemy is not resting on their laurels.