Washington, Nov.15 : Security and intelligence officials in Britain have endorsed the views of their American counterparts vis--vis the huge threat that al Qaeda poses to the incoming Barack Obama administration.
According to The Times, there is genuine concern within the British security and intelligence apparatus that alQaeda will attempt a "spectacular" in the transition period, but they suggest that it may be aimed more at George W. Bush than Obama. "As far as we know there is nothing from the intelligence world to indicate that anything has changed dramatically in recent months to put us on alert for an attack at the moment," a source said.
The present threat level is "severe", which is the second-highest alert status. But a senior counter terrorism official suggested last month that this should be regarded as "the severe end of severe".
This would point to Britain facing a terrorist threat nearly as high as the period in the summer of 2005 when terrorists killed 52 people on London's transport network on July 7 and attempted a similar attack on July 21.
Britain and the US are sharing all intelligence on suspected terrorist activity because of the high risk of a plot involving transatlantic flights.
Al-Qaeda is understood still to be obsessed with mounting an attack using passenger airliners. There have also been warnings of al-Qaeda interest in developing a chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear (CBRN) device. The US has anti-CBRN units on constant patrol in main cities.
Al-Qaeda is known to be experimenting with biological agents, particularly anthrax, which they acquire from dead animals and then create cultures.
The key man involved in these experiments is Abou Kabbah al-Masri, who was engaged in the biological trials including tests on rabbits that were uncovered in Afghanistan when the Taleban were overrun after the US invasion in 2001.
James Lewis, a security expert with the Centre of Strategic and International Studies in Washington, said that al-Qaeda may wish to provoke a reaction from the next US Administration designed to show the rest of the world that "America is still the evil crusader".
General Michael Hayden, director of the CIA, this week acknowledged that there were dangers during a presidential transition when new officials were coming in and getting accustomed to the challenges. But he added that no "real or artificial spike" in intercepted transmissions from terror suspects had been detected.
Lord West of Spithead, the Home Office Security Minister, spoke recently of a "huge threat", saying: "There is another great plot building up again and we are monitoring this."
Intelligence chiefs on both sides of the Atlantic have indicated that such warnings refer more to a general sense of foreboding than fear of an imminent or specific plan.
Referring to the attacks in 1993 and 2001, General Hayden told a Washington think-tank on Thursday night: "For some people two data points create a trend line. For others, there may be more hesitation to call it that." He said that the chief danger comes from remote areas in Pakistan that border Afghanistan.
Hayden said that al-Qaeda remained a "determined, adaptive enemy" operating "from its safe haven in Pakistan".
He added: "If there is a major attack on this country it will bear the fingerprints of al-Qaeda."
The CIA chief also suggested that the terror group was seeking to recruit Western-looking operatives who would not cause attention if they were standing in airport screening queues.