When Senator Mark Dayton shut down his Washington office last week, ostensibly out of concern for his staff's safety, many on Capitol Hill wondered if the Minnesota Democrat knew something everyone else didn't. The answer, it turns out, is far from it. Dayton last month received the same briefing as his fellow Senators about a CIA worst-case scenario involving simultaneous terrorist attacks across the country. Yet he apparently took the hypothetical threat as an imminent one. "Most people who heard the briefing," sniffs an intelligence official, "understood the context. It was theoretical."
Even stranger, Dayton sent his staff home several days after the CIA toned down the dramatic multiple-attack scenario, which the intelligence community "no longer believed to be valid," says the official. The CIA's initial report conflicted sharply with assessments by the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security that al-Qaeda is no longer able to mount synchronized spectacular events. In fact, fears of a pre-election attack have eased as an all-out push by law-enforcement and intelligence officers has failed to detect any trace of a terrorist cell operating in the U.S. "It's about as quiet as it can possibly be," says a top counterterrorism official. But he and others remain watchful. It was eerily calm before 9/11 too. Dayton's press secretary says the Senator has had "no second thoughts" about the closing. --By Elaine Shannon