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Context of 'May 17-18, 2004: Ashcroft Warns of ‘Immediate Attack’: Announcement Follows Bad News from Iraq'

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Secretary of State Colin Powell leaves his Lima, Peru hotel after hearing news of the attacks.Secretary of State Colin Powell leaves his Lima, Peru hotel after hearing news of the attacks. [Source: Agence France-Presse]Just prior to learning about the 9/11 attacks, top US leaders are scattered across the country and overseas:
bullet President Bush is in Sarasota, Florida. [Washington Post, 1/27/2002]
bullet Secretary of State Colin Powell is in Lima, Peru. [Washington Post, 1/27/2002]
bullet General Henry Shelton, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is flying across the Atlantic on the way to Europe. [Washington Post, 1/27/2002; Giesemann, 2008, pp. 19-40]
bullet Attorney General John Ashcroft is flying to Milwaukee, Wisconsin. [Washington Post, 1/27/2002]
bullet Federal Emergency Management Agency Director Joe Allbaugh is at a conference in Montana. [ABC News, 9/14/2002] Others are in Washington:
bullet Vice President Dick Cheney and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice are at their offices in the White House. [Washington Post, 1/27/2002]
bullet Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is at his office in the Pentagon, meeting with a delegation from Capitol Hill. [Washington Post, 1/27/2002]
bullet CIA Director George Tenet is at breakfast with his old friend and mentor, former Senator David Boren (D-OK), at the St. Regis Hotel, three blocks from the White House. [Washington Post, 1/27/2002]
bullet FBI Director Robert Mueller is in his office at FBI headquarters on Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington, DC. [Washington Post, 1/27/2002]
bullet Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta is at his office at the Department of Transportation. [US Congress, 9/20/2001]
bullet Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke is at a conference in the Ronald Reagan Building, three blocks from the White House. [Clarke, 2004, pp. 1]

Entity Tags: John Ashcroft, Joseph M. Allbaugh, Richard A. Clarke, Henry Hugh Shelton, Norman Mineta, George W. Bush, Donald Rumsfeld, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice, David Boren, George J. Tenet, Robert S. Mueller III

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

On May 17, 2004, security officials say that recent intelligence has led to increased concern about the possibility of a major terrorist attack in the US. It is believed that the attack could take place as early as the summer and before November, perhaps in an attempt to affect the outcome of the Presidential election. Potential targets include the dedication of the National World War II Memorial on the National Mall in Washington, the G8 economic summit on Sea Island, Georgia, Fourth of July celebrations, the Democratic convention in Boston, the Republican convention in New York, and the Olympics in Greece. However, no specific target, time or date is identified for the possible attack. Sources do state that the assessment is new and is the result of intelligence gathered over time. However, an official with the Department of Homeland Security, speaking on condition of anonymity, states that “We are not aware of any new highly credible intelligence indicating a planned attack in the US this summer. Nothing in the current intelligence is exceptionally specific.” [CNN, 5/25/2004] The next day, Attorney General John Ashcroft and FBI Director Robert Mueller hold a news conference to warn of a “plane attack inside the United States.” They warn that terrorists are “poised for an immediate attack.” Ashcroft says “credible intelligence from multiple sources indicates that al-Qaeda plans to attempt an attack on the United States in the next few months. This disturbing intelligence indicates al-Qaeda’s specific intention to hit the United States hard.” [CNN, 5/26/2004] The Justice Department asks for assistance in locating seven alleged terrorist operatives and states an increased concern about attacks over the summer. [CBS News, 6/14/2004] It is later revealed the threat actually came from a group that falsely claimed responsibility for the terror attacks in Madrid. One expert says that the group is “not really taken seriously by Western intelligence.” These warnings come as the administration is under heavy criticism for failures in Iraq. The Abu Ghraib torture scandal dominates headlines. [Rolling Stone, 9/21/2006 pdf file] This warning also comes on the heels of other bad news for the Bush administration. During a May 16 interview on Meet the Press, Secretary of State Colin Powell is cut off by an aide while discussing misleading CIA information regarding WMD in Iraq. He admits that “it turned out that the sourcing was inaccurate and wrong and in some cases, deliberately misleading. And for that, I am disappointed and I regret it.” [MSNBC, 6/15/2004] Three days later, Newsweek reports that White House counsel Alberto Gonzalez warned in a January 25, 2002 internal White House memo that US officials could be prosecuted for war crimes due to the unprecedented and unusual methods used by the Bush administration in the war on terrorism. [Newsweek, 5/19/2004]

Entity Tags: US Department of Justice, Robert S. Mueller III, Central Intelligence Agency, Colin Powell, US Department of Homeland Security, Al-Qaeda, Alberto R. Gonzales, John Ashcroft

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, Iraq under US Occupation, 2004 Elections

President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney are re-elected to the US presidency for a second term. In the coming months, some important cabinet officials are replaced. Secretary of State Colin Powell resigns. Condoleezza Rice moves from National Security Adviser to Secretary of State. Her Deputy National Security Adviser Steven Hadley becomes the new National Security Adviser. Attorney General John Ashcroft resigns and is replaced by Alberto Gonzalez. Department of Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge resigns and is replaced by Michael Chertoff. [CBS News, 11/30/2004]

Entity Tags: Alberto R. Gonzales, Colin Powell, Tom Ridge, Stephen J. Hadley, Condoleezza Rice, George W. Bush, Michael Chertoff, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, John Ashcroft

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline, 2004 Elections

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