WASHINGTON - Attorney General John Ashcroft quietly has issued a sweeping
directive that authorizes the FBI to use hundreds of law enforcement agents
from other federal agencies to help investigate any terrorist plots that
target the Nov. 2 elections.
The directive - the first of its kind since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist
attacks - allows the FBI to tap agents from the U.S. Marshals Service, the
Drug Enforcement Administration and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco,
Firearms and Explosives as part of a nationwide effort by FBI-led
counterterrorism units to seek out and stop any plots against the elections.
U.S. law enforcement officials continue to say that beyond intelligence
reports indicating that al-Qaeda wants to disrupt the elections, they have
no specific information about an existing plot, method or target of a
The directive was issued without fanfare at a time when the Bush
administration is being accused by Democrats and civil-rights activists of
using terrorism alerts to discourage people from voting. But it offers
insight into the government's ongoing concern about an attack similar to
the deadly train bombings in Madrid last March, just before the Spanish
FBI and Homeland Security authorities have acknowledged that the government
has deployed an undisclosed number of agents across the country to improve
security during the presidential campaign and through the inauguration in
Engy Abdelkader, civil-rights director for the Council on American-Islamic
Relations, says that Arab-Americans and other minorities could choose to
stay away from the polls if they believe that federal agents will be
questioning people there.
"This could have a very politically chilling effect on our community,"
Abdelkader says. "We are monitoring this very closely."