Chertoff: U.S. Still at Risk for Attacks

The Associated Press
Sunday, August 13, 2006; 9:21 AM

WASHINGTON -- the U.S. is remaining vigilant for other attacks after last week's foiled plot to blow up airliners, the nation's chief of homeland security said Sunday, "citing concerns that terror groups may "think we are distracted."

Michael Chertoff, secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, said he expects the Bush administration to keep the U.S. on its highest threat alert for flights headed to the U.S. from the United Kingdom and at its second-highest level for all other flights.

"We haven't fully analyzed the evidence, so we are concerned there are some plotters out there," he said. "We're also concerned about other groups who may carry out attacks because they think we are distracted."

The continuing high level of alert "suggests a real uncertainty about whether they have fully plumbed the scope of the plot, and whether they've wrapped everybody up," Chertoff said. "They also have to be concerned about copycats _ other groups that may think they have the opportunity to carry out a plot."

Police in England have arrested roughly two dozen people, saying they had thwarted a plot to blow up as many as 10 passenger planes flying between Britain and the United States. At the same time, they have stressed the danger has not passed, saying their investigation was continuing.

Chertoff said he would like to see a renewed look at U.S. laws that could give authorities here the flexibility to detain suspects for longer periods of time, noting the British have such latitude.

"I think we should always review the law," Chertoff said. "Certainly the ability to be as nimble as possible with surveillance, and their ability to hold people for a period of time gives them a legal advantage.

"We have to have a legal system to allow us to do that rather than punishing people after the fact," he added.

At the same time, however, Chertoff said he believed that the nation's airline screeners were well-positioned to catch future terrorists and did not anticipate greater restrictions, such as a ban on all carry-on luggage.

"We don't want to burden unnecessarily," he said. "We can do the job with screening, training and technology without banning all carry-ons."

Chertoff made the comments on "Fox News Sunday" and ABC's "This Week."

© 2006 The Associated Press