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    CIA chief says threat highest since 9/11

    By Tabassum Zakaria

    WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The terrorist threat against the United States in the run-up to the November election is as serious as at any time since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, acting CIA Director John McLaughlin said on Tuesday.

    "This is about as serious a threat environment as I have seen since 9/11," said McLaughlin, the deputy director who took over on Sunday pending appointment of a permanent successor to Director George Tenet who resigned amid criticism of the agency's performance.

    "The quality of the information we have now is such that we have high confidence that the nation needs to be on guard," McLaughlin told Reuters in a telephone interview.

    He said the threats were not pinned specifically to the Democratic and Republican political conventions this summer but to the whole period before the November presidential election.

    "It's related to this period during which the country is exercising its democracy, it's this period particularly in the run-up to the election, but it's always a mistake in the counterterrorism business to focus uniquely on a date," McLaughlin said. The attackers would strike when they are ready and not because of a specific date, he said.