In early July, the homeland security secretary, Tom Ridge, declared that credible intelligence showed al-Qaeda intended to mount a "large-scale attack" inside the US to "disrupt our democratic process." More than three months later, counterterrorism officials in the US and overseas say they are still concerned, but have uncovered little specific evidence of a plot timed to the election. \nExtensive investigations into the most significant reported threat unearthed this year, an al-Qaeda surveillance operation that was years old and was thought to be aimed at five financial institutions in New York, Newark and Washington, has found no sign that it had evolved into concrete operations. \nThere are now doubts among intelligence officials that a group of eight men arrested in Britain in August planned to strike in the US around the presidential election, as suspected at first. \nDicredited source \nAnd an informant on al-Qaeda, who told authorities last spring that there might be an election-season attack in the US, has recently been discredited, the officials said. \nIn a series of interviews here and abroad over the last two months, even after the conventions passed without incident, some intelligence and counterterrorism officials say they still fear an undetected plot. There are other theories as well. Some say a plan may have existed and been disrupted or postponed. And others think al-Qaeda is biding its time and will try to strike at a time of its choice, whether before or after Nov. 2. \n"We've undertaken a bunch of actions," said one senior administration official. "We don't know whether we've disrupted them or not. We continue to consider it a very serious threat and we continue to be at a higher operational level. If Nov. 2 comes and goes and nothing happens, I am not going to sleep any better at night." \nBut there are also those, especially abroad, who question the information and analyses relied on by Ridge and other senior Bush administration officials in their repeated public warnings of an election-year terror threat. \n"I've seen some analytical pieces from the bureau and the agency," said one senior US counterintelligence official, referring to election threat reports by the FBI and the CIA. "On a scale of one to a hundred, I'd give it about a two." \nPersuasive \nBut three top national security officials said that the intelligence seemed persuasive, and was backed up by specific and credible sources providing a reasonable basis for warnings. Those sources, they said, included informants with an inside knowledge of al-Qaeda, captured Qaeda operatives, intercepted communications and material taken from computer hard drives and disks. \nIn May, July and August, law enforcement and homeland security officials made high-profile announcements that traced a trajectory of rising alarm about a possible attack timed to the election season. But an intense international search for more clues has left investigators empty-handed. \nEach of the nearly two dozen US and European officials interviewed for this article said that al-Qaeda remained an extremely serious threat. All of the officials refused to be named because they were discussing classified information. Each is directly involved in national security or counterterrorism and is regularly briefed on terrorism developments.
A coronavirus-free tropical island nestled in the northern Pacific might seem the perfect place to ride out a pandemic, but residents on Palau said that life right now is far from idyllic. The microstate of 18,000 people is among a dwindling number of places on Earth that still report zero cases of COVID-19 as figures mount daily elsewhere. The disparate group also includes Samoa, Turkmenistan, North Korea and bases on the frozen continent of Antarctica. A dot in the ocean hundreds of kilometers from its nearest neighbors, Palau is surrounded by the vast Pacific Ocean, which has acted as a buffer against the
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