US President George W. Bush's senior counterterrorism advisors held an urgent meeting last Saturday morning to consider elevating the country's terrorism threat level, one day after the broadcast of a videotape by Osama bin Laden, administration officials said on Friday.
At the previously undisclosed meeting, in which senior counterterrorism officials assembled via a White House video conference hookup, Attorney General John Ashcroft and others favored ratcheting up the alert level because of the bin Laden tape, the officials said.
But others disagreed, the officials said. Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge, FBI Director Robert Mueller and other White House officials expressed reservations or wanted a more detailed analysis of the tape, which contained no explicit threat of an attack against the US. In the end, the idea of raising the threat level was dropped, the officials said.
Even though no action was taken, the meeting reflected how the new bin Laden tape concerned Bush's aides as the presidential campaign moved into its final hours.
In public, Bush was cautious. In a final campaign swing through the Midwest, he responded carefully to bin Laden's message, saying that Americans "would not be intimidated or influenced" by the terrorist leader.
In his cryptic remarks, bin Laden declared that the security of the US rested with the public.
"Your security is not the hands of Kerry or Bush or al-Qaeda," he said. "Your security is in your own hands."
Bin Laden's purpose in issuing his recorded statement shortly before the election remains a matter of debate. Some officials say his message showed that bin Laden's network was so depleted that he could launch only a verbal assault at the US. Others believe it was a sign of bin Laden's confidence.