May 27, 2004 | Broadcast

The Early Show with Harry Smith


Good morning, Julie. As you said, this is an election year. Mr. Bush’s poll numbers are sagging and his leadership image has been tarnished by the increased violence and the increasing number of American deaths in Iraq as well as the prison abuse scandal. So the question is whether politics played a role. After all, the threat level, despite the credible intelligence chatter, has not been raised.

From the top…

President GEORGE W. BUSH: And they attack all the time. They’d like to attack us again.

ASSURAS: …and from the top deputy.

Secretary TOM RIDGE (Department of Homeland Security): (From December 31, 2003) …including Al-Qaida’s continued desire to carry out attacks against our homeland.

Mr. ROBERT MUELLER (FBI): (From February 11) The ability and the intent to inflict significant casualties in the United States.

ASSURAS: We’ve heard it all for months now. The US is a target for terrorists. So why this latest frenzy…

Mr. ASHCROFT: …indicates that al-Qaeda plans to attempt an attack on the United States.

ASSURAS: …without a change in the terror alert? Some Democrats suggest it may be a political smoke screen, pointing out the intelligence failures leading up to the war in Iraq.

Mr. RON KLAIN (Democratic Strategist): We have to be able to trust the administration when it speaks out on matters of national security. That trust has been broken, but we really have no choice but to continue to trust them.

ASSURAS: Republicans deny there’s a hidden agenda.

Mr. CLIFFORD MAY (Foundation For The Defense of Democracies): The best they can do is, I think, what they’re doing: share what they can with Americans. One, because it’s the right thing to do, and you don’t want to be accused later of holding things back.

ASSURAS: Still, cynicism may give John Kerry some sorely needed election energy.

Senator JOHN KERRY (Democratic Presidential Candidate): We deserve a president of the United States who doesn’t make homeland security a photo opportunity and the rhetoric of a campaign. We deserve a president who makes America safer.

ASSURAS: CBS News consultant Randy Larsen says the current intelligence information indicates al-Qaida is up to something and the new warnings do have value.

RANDY LARSEN (CBS News Consultant): By doing it this way, by not going to orange or even red alert, but by putting it on the press, the important message we should be sending to the American public is: Do you have a transportation plan for your family? A communications plan? Do you have a readiness kit?

ASSURAS: The administration is also asking Americans to be aware of their surroundings and to report anything suspicious to law enforcement. Better safe than sorry is a powerful adage, while the political cynics may say it applies to a White House concerned with safekeeping the White House in November. Julie.

CHEN: Thalia Assuras. Thanks, Thalia.