CBSN

Terror Fears On The Rise

Capitol Hill Police stand on guard on Capitol Hill Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2003 as security has been tightened as the U.S. remained under high alert for possible terrorist attacks, the second-highest level on a color-coded scale of five.
AP
Concern about another terrorist attack on the United States is near its highest levels ever, as Americans react to the latest government warnings, a CBS News/New York Times poll finds.

Eighty-two percent of those interviewed on Monday and Tuesday believe a terrorist attack in the next few months is likely – the highest figure since late 2001.

TERRORIST ATTACK ON U.S.

NOW
Very likely 35%

Somewhat likely 47%

Not very likely 16%

JANUARY '03
Very likely 14%

Somewhat likely 48%

Not very likely 35%

And concern appears to be increasing. Just a month ago, only 14 percent thought another terrorist attack was very likely. That number has risen to 35 percent now. The percentage also rose as the polling took place; there was a sharp increase in the number who feel an attack is very likely on Tuesday, after renewed government warnings and reports of a new tape by Osama bin Laden.

The poll also found that as many people say the government's warnings make them feel anxious as say the warnings make them feel more secure.

All that anxiety is with good reason, according to intelligence officials. CIA Director George Tenet reiterated Wednesday that the danger of an attack is rising.

New layers of security have been put in place in America's big cities as the nation adjusts to the new realities of life under Orange Alert and the now ever-present threat of terror attack – more police in the subways, fighter jets in the skies, anti-aircraft missiles on the ground.

U.S. officials deployed Avenger anti-aircraft missiles and extra radar around Washington following President Bush's decision Friday to raise the alert status from yellow to orange, the second-highest level. The Air Force has stepped up its combat air patrols over the capital, defense officials said.

FBI personnel assigned to rapid response teams that would react to any terrorist attacks have been told to have a bag packed for three days' deployment and put on standby. And U.S. Capitol police were told to carry gas masks at all times.

CBS News Correspondent Sharyl Attkisson reports there visible signs of frazzled nerves in Washington – a suspicious package stopped traffic on a major highway, another temporarily closed the subway.

It's not just Washington that's anxiety-struck, but two other cities involved in the 9-11 attacks. At Boston's Logan Airport a baggage scare turned into nothing; same with a "suspicious" truck in New York City that briefly shut down a bridge.

But a source tells CBS News the Homeland Security Department has become increasingly worried that most people outside the cities hit on Sept. 11 are not taking the terror threat seriously. So the department is now said to be working on a plan to carry its message directly to the nation's heartland, warning that anything can happen anytime, anywhere.

In testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee Wednesday, Tenet warned that an attack could occur as early as this week, either in the U.S. or on the Arabian Peninsula where American troops are stationed.

"If given the choice, al Qaeda terrorists will choose attacks that achieve multiple objectives, striking prominent landmarks, inflicting mass casualties, causing economic disruption and rallying support through shows of strength," the CIA director said. "The bottom line here, Mr. Chairman, is that al Qaeda is living in the expectation of resuming the offensive."

Tenet also said he is worried that the new audio message attributed to Osama bin Laden is a prelude to a strike.

"He's obviously raising the confidence of his people," Tenet said. "What he's said is often followed by an attack."

On Tuesday, Tenet said that new intelligence information led to last week's raising of the national terror alert level. The information came from "multiple sources with strong al Qaeda ties," Tenet said without providing details.

"The intelligence is not idle chatter on the part of terrorists and their associates," Tenet said. "It is the most specific we have seen, and it is consistent with both our knowledge of al Qaeda's doctrine and our knowledge of plots this network — and particularly its senior leadership — has been working on for years."

The information pointing to imminent attacks was gathered in the United States and overseas, said FBI Director Robert Mueller, who joined Tenet and other intelligence chiefs to brief the Senate Intelligence Committee in an annual public session on threats to national security.

The CIA director said the information suggests the attack may involve a "dirty bomb" — a weapon that spreads radioactive material over a wide area — or chemical or poison weapons. Officials last week worried the attack could be timed to coincide with the hajj, a Muslim holy period this week.

Mueller and Tenet said the U.S. government has no specific information pointing conclusively to where, when or how terrorists would strike. They said raising the national alert level — and taking security measures at government and business centers — makes it more difficult for the terrorists to carry out an attack.

Mueller and Tenet said al Qaeda is damaged but still dangerous. Mueller called it "clearly the most urgent threat to U.S. interests." It has a strong presence in Pakistan and Afghanistan and is developing a presence in Iran and Iraq, Tenet said.

The FBI suspects there are "several hundred" Muslim extremists in this country who focus mainly on fund raising, recruitment and training, Mueller said. But he said the greatest threat to Americans at home are "al Qaeda cells in the United States that we have not identified."