The threat of a terrorist attack on the US still exists, but counterterrorism officials say there is a conspicuous lack of intelligence "chatter" being picked up. \nIt's a stark contrast to last year's holiday season, when there was chatter indicating a plot could be in the works. The nation was under heightened alert and a number of foreign flights to America were canceled because of specific threats. \nUS and foreign intelligence and law enforcement services report a continuing stream of vague, lower-level threats from al-Qaeda and other Islamic extremist groups against American interests at home and abroad. But officials say nothing specific and credible has emerged in recent months that would require the government to raise the risk level above yellow, or "elevated," the midpoint on the five-level threat scale. \n"It's a little bit like a duck on a pond. You've got a lot going on under the surface but you don't have any big waves," FBI counterterrorism and counterintelligence chief Gary Bald said in an interview Thursday. \nJust before Christmas last year, the threat level was raised to orange, or "high," and flights to the US from Paris, London, Scotland and elsewhere were canceled over several days. The FBI, Homeland Security Department and other agencies scrambled to check names booked on those flights for possible al-Qaeda operatives either trying to get into the US or to target the flights themselves. \nIn those cases, US and European officials were acting on difficult-to-obtain intelligence singling out specific flights of concern. But even then, no arrests were announced and it was unclear if any plots were thwarted. \nNothing like that has surfaced this year, despite a general concern that terrorists might try to disrupt the holidays or take advantage of hectic travel times to mount an attack. \n"We have no information about specific plots as we enter the holiday season," Homeland Security Department spokesman Brian Roehrkasse said. \nStill, officials and outside experts say the relative calm and lack of an al-Qaeda attack on the US homeland since Sept. 11, 2001, should not be viewed as evidence of decisive victory over terrorists. Al-Qaeda is known to plan attacks patiently and could have operatives already in the US primed for a long-awaited signal. \n"When we're in a state of high alert, that's when things are not going to happen," said Michael Greenberger, director of the University of Maryland's Center for Health and Homeland Security. \n"It's when we're not looking, when we're overconfident, that something will happen," he said. \nThe FBI, CIA and other agencies have carefully analyzed audio and video communications from al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden for clues about plots or timing. Although bin Laden's most recent statement focused on attacking foreign targets in Saudi Arabia, American officials aren't letting down their guard. \n"I think it would be incredibly naive for us to think that someone won't try another attack," Bald said. \nWith a week left in the year, the war on terrorism domestically in 2004 was most remarkable for what did not happen. After the threat involving foreign flights abated in January, officials grew increasingly concerned about a possible plot to disrupt the US elections, but nothing occurred. The terror threat level was raised for specific financial institutions in New York, New Jersey and Washington after discovery overseas of detailed -- albeit mainly old -- surveillance of key buildings. That threat level was lowered last month after no incidents occurred. \nLooking ahead, officials are planning exceptionally heavy security for the Jan. 20 inauguration of President George W. Bush. Security also will be tight for the Feb. 6 Super Bowl in Jacksonville, Florida. \nThere are currently no specific, credible threats of terror plots against any of those events. Despite the post-Sept. 11 advances in intelligence gathering and information sharing, officials acknowledge the silence could simply mean that the government isn't looking in the right places.
Reporters Without Borders has accused the Algerian government of taking advantage of the COVID-19 pandemic to “settle scores” with independent journalists, including those covering long-running anti-government protests. In a statement signed with Algerian non-governmental organizations, the watchdog on Thursday called for the immediate release of its correspondent, Khaled Drareni, who has been in pretrial detention since Sunday after being charged with inciting an unarmed gathering and endangering national unity. Drareni has been arrested several times for covering the “Hirak” anti-government protests held in the capital, Algiers, every Friday since February last year. Imprisoning people during a pandemic is “an act of physical endangerment,”
Vietnam has lodged an official protest with China following the sinking of a Vietnamese fishing boat that it said had been rammed by a Chinese maritime surveillance vessel near islands in the South China Sea. The Vietnamese fishing vessel, with eight fishermen onboard, was fishing near the Paracel Islands (Xisha Islands, 西沙群島) on Thursday when it was rammed and sunk by the Chinese vessel, the Vietnamese Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement posted on a government Web site yesterday. All of the fishermen were picked up by the Chinese vessel alive and were transferred to two other Vietnamese fishing vessels
DIVIDED YOUTH: There is a belief that overseas students see themselves as superior, which is compounded by perceptions of their extreme wealth and multiple nationalities Chinese students flying home from overseas to escape the COVID-19 pandemic face a frosty reception from sections of the public who view them as wealthy, spoiled — and potentially contaminated. The number of officially reported cases in China has dwindled dramatically over the last month, but the country is now taking drastic steps to try and stem a second wave of infections brought in from abroad. With most international flights canceled and nearly all foreigners barred from entering the country, the vast majority of returnees are Chinese nationals, including many students. The situation has exposed animosities over class and privilege in Chinese society,
An Australian graduate student arrested for spying and expelled from North Korea last year said that he was threatened with a firing-squad execution and told not even US President Donald Trump could save his “sorry arse.” Among the crimes Alek Sigley was accused of committing was posting a picture of a toy tank on Instagram, which his interrogators told him was military espionage. Sigley, 30, was studying for a master’s degree in Korean literature at Kim Il Sung University in Pyongyang when he went missing in June last year, sparking alarm. A fluent speaker of Korean, he had written articles for several publications