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Cheney: Future attack on U.S. 'almost certain'

Cheney: "Not a matter of if, but when."  

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The possibility of another attack against the United States is "very real," Vice President Dick Cheney said Sunday.

Recent reports of increased communications among suspected al Qaeda operatives are reminders that the war against terrorism remains in high gear, Cheney said.

"In my opinion, prospects of a future attack against the United States is almost certain," he said on NBC's "Meet the Press." "We don't know if it's going to be tomorrow or next week or next year." He added that it was "not a matter of if, but when."

A government official said Saturday that the volume and pattern of suspected al Qaeda communications were similar to those of messages intercepted in the months before the September 11 terrorist attacks. (Full story)

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Cheney said the information is "nonspecific," with U.S. investigators facing a major obstacle trying to obtain clues based on the fact that only a handful of terrorists may know the details of any planned attack.

He noted that not all of the September 11 hijackers apparently were aware beforehand that they were on a suicide mission, as Osama bin Laden suggested on a videotape last year.

"If they can keep the people who actually are carrying out the attack in the dark, then obviously the extent to which you can get access to find out the details of the operation is very limited and it's very hard," Cheney told "Fox News Sunday."

Asked about the chance of a nuclear attack, Cheney told NBC that U.S. officials are certain that the al Qaeda organization has been seeking access to weapons of mass destruction -- biological, chemical and nuclear.

"Have they been successful? My guess is not," he said.

Cheney rejected criticism that the Bush administration and federal agencies had reports foreshadowing the September 11 attacks but failed to act on them.

Cheney was asked about an August 6 written briefing in which Bush received information about bin Laden's history and methods of operation, including the possibility of a hijacking plot.

There was nothing in that report that contained "actionable intelligence," Cheney said.

"There were warnings over a period of months about the possibility of an attack at home," Cheney said, but it was impossible to warn the public effectively without specific information.

"What should the notification look like?" he asked. "You can also sustain an alert for only so long."

He said the Federal Aviation Administration was sent a series of alerts last summer about possible terrorist activity.

"It wasn't as though the system didn't respond," Cheney said.

The vice president said reforms have been established to prepare better for future attacks. U.S. agencies have improved intelligence gathering overseas since September 11, and the FBI has become more focused on preventing future strikes instead of concentrating solely on enforcement activities, he said.

The White House wants answers about intelligence failures before September 11, Cheney said, but the administration would like congressional intelligence committees, with their special expertise, to handle the probe.

"It's absolutely essential that we do it in a way that protects and preserves our capabilities to deal with security in classified information," Cheney told Fox News.

National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice echoed Cheney's remarks Sunday on CNN, saying the intelligence committees should be handling the investigation.

"In the context of this ongoing war, it is extremely important to protect the sources and the methods and the information so that we can try and disrupt further attacks," she said. (Full story)

Cheney told NBC he opposes a request by Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-South Dakota, for a copy of a memo from an FBI agent in Arizona who warned last July that Middle Eastern students, possibly with links to bin Laden, could be taking flight classes in the United States.

That memo should not be released to the media and public, he said.




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