There were conflicting reports Friday on what was new in intelligence pointing to a possible major terrorist attack this summer, after U.S. officials warned of possible plots for the second time in three months — but did not raise the nation's alert level.
Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge warned Thursday that al Qaeda was "moving forward with its plans to conduct an attack in the U.S. in an effort to disrupt our democratic process." That warning came more than a month after Attorney General John Ashcroft said al Qaeda planned an attack sometime this summer.
Ridge told the CBS News Early Show on Friday that since Ashcroft's warning in May, "we have certainly confirmed the credibility of the sources and that's always a concern."
"We're beginning to pick up on websites and other reporting a certain sense of anticipation or expectation," Ridge said. "So you plug all these things in to the picture, it is new. It is different. It is sobering."
It was not clear if the anticipation evidenced on those Web sites was because of al Qaeda planning of the United States' own warnings.
The country remains on "yellow," the midlevel stage of the five-step terror alert program administered by Ridge's department, set up after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people in New York, Pennsylvania and Washington.
Ridge denied that the Bush administration was talking publicly of a threat — without increasing the official alert status — to insulate itself from criticism in the event an attack happens.
"I would say to those who would criticize this kind of public statement that if you ask the homeland security officials at the state and local level, they get it. They understand," he told the Early Show.
"It's very important to keep the public informed," Ridge said.
While officials remain worried, the amount of terrorist "chatter" has not increased in recent weeks.
Still some officials are citing a "steady drumbeat of recent and credible intelligence," and U.S. security agents say the "summer of risk" is upon the nation, with the upcoming presidential election posing a potential dangers, reports CBS News Correspondent Bob Orr.
There are some worries that upcoming political conventions in Boston and New York could be terror targets. But there is no hard evidence that terrorists are plotting against the conventions and no specific credible information detailing any possible U.S. attack, reports Orr.
Ridge said that in addition to elaborate security plans for the political conventions, officials are weighing how to protect polling places come November.
Asked Thursday to say what was substantively new in the administration's latest public statements, Ridge said the administration based its decision to bolster security on credible reports about al Qaeda's plans, coupled with the pre-election terror attack in Spain earlier this year and recent arrests in England, Jordan and Italy.
The New York Times reported that the recent intelligence points for the first time that high-level al Qaeda leaders — perhaps including Osama bin Laden — are involved in planning the next attack.
On NBC Ridge said al Qaeda wants "to do something during this time period of the elections. You add all those things together, it does suggest there is some direct link to al Qaeda leadership. How high up it goes remains to be seen."
Ridge had said earlier the administration was not raising its color-coded alert status and that federal officials do not have specific knowledge about where, when or how an attack might take place. The CIA, FBI and other agencies "are actively working to gain that knowledge," he said.
The terror alert program has five steps ranging from the lowest — green — to the highest, which is red. A one-step increase would move the alert from its current yellow level to orange.