WASHINGTON (AP) – The United States does not plan to raise the security threat level because of a new tape of Osama bin Laden on which he says al-Qaeda is planning attacks, counterterror officials said Thursday.
The White House firmly rejected bin Laden’s suggestion of a negotiated truce. “We don’t negotiate with terrorists,” Vice President Dick Cheney said. “I think you have to destroy them.”
Counterterror officials said they have seen no specific or credible intelligence to indicate a coming al-Qaeda attack on the United States. Nor have they noticed an uptick in terrorist communications “chatter,” although that can increase or decrease dramatically immediately before an attack.
The audiotape, released by the Qatari television network Al-Jazeera, brought new attention to the al-Qaeda leader after a yearlong absence of public statements.
The national terror threat level currently stands at yellow, the middle of five grades, signifying an elevated risk of attack. The government has raised the alert level to orange, signaling a high threat risk, seven times since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
The tape, which Al-Jazeera said was recorded this month, represents bin Laden’s first public communication since December 2004. Since then, al-Qaeda’s No. 2 leader, Ayman al-Zawahri, has served as the terror network’s public face.
The recording was released only days after U.S missile attacks in Pakistan that Pakistani officials said killed four senior al-Qaeda operatives.
CIA analysts verified the recording as bin Laden’s voice. They offered no details about how they reached that conclusion, but in the past the agency has verified authenticity in part by comparing new recordings with earlier messages.
Vice President Cheney said the tape showed that al-Qaeda has been hobbled, because “they didn’t have the ability to do anything on video” and because it had been so long since bin Laden had been heard from. He said the tape’s significance depends in part on whether it is determined to have been produced in recent days or weeks or pieced together from the more distant past.
Homeland Security officials alerted states about bin Laden’s comments in a routine call Thursday morning, Homeland Security spokeswoman Michelle Petrovich said.
In Los Angeles, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said city police deployed additional resources at the airport and “posted signage indicating that bomb-sniffing dogs and searches will occur frequently.” He described the measures as precautionary, as the city had received no known threats. The Port of Los Angeles and the Department of Water and Power also planned precautionary measures, according to Villaraigosa’s statement.
Sharon Gang, a spokeswoman for District of Columbia Mayor Anthony A. Williams, said the national capital was not raising its terror alert level. Across the Potomac River in Virginia, the information triggered no alarms, said Steve Mondul, the state’s deputy preparedness director.
“The basic header we put on it was, everyone should be a little more alert, and watch this space for further instructions,” said Mondul, who participated in the Homeland Security call and then passed on the information to Virginia law enforcement, military, health and transportation agencies.
During the past year, there has been much speculation about bin Laden’s whereabouts and even whether he was alive.
The tape apparently provides no definitive answers to either question, but there was speculation it might have been an attempt to show supporters that bin Laden was still around.
“He has made threats before, but there hasn’t been a public utterance for a long time, and for that reason no one is being dismissive of it,” said one counterterror official, speaking on condition of anonymity while the tape was being analyzed.
FBI assistant director John Miller, who as a television news correspondent interviewed bin Laden in the 1990s, said bin Laden appeared to be trying to show he still controls his terrorist network, but that the tape should not alarm Americans.
“We’ve seen this message before, the demands and threats. In rare instances, tapes have been followed by attacks. But in many more, they haven’t been,” Miller said.
President George W. Bush was told about the audiotape Thursday, White House spokesman Scott McClellan said. “We do not negotiate with terrorists,” McClellan said. “We put them out of business.”