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FBI scrutinizes al Qaeda's latest bomb

Last Updated 2:10 p.m. ET

(CBS/AP) FBI experts are studying an unexploded bomb created by al Qaeda which was intended to blow up an airliner bound for the United States around the anniversary of Osama bin Laden's death.

A covert CIA operation in Yemen thwarted the suicide mission. The would-be suicide bomber, based in Yemen, had not yet picked a target or purchased plane tickets when the CIA seized the bomb, officials say.

Bomb experts at the FBI's laboratory at Quantico, Va., are examining the device to determine if it could have slipped past airport security and taken down a commercial jet.

The device did not contain metal, meaning it probably could have passed through an airport metal detector. But it was not clear whether new body scanners used in many airports would have detected it.

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Senior correspondent John Miller, a former Deputy Director of National Intelligence, said that the plot targeted planes bound for the United States, updated version of the underwear bomb - the device used during a failed attempt to blow a jetliner out of the skies over Detroit on Christmas Day 2009.

Officials said this new bomb was also designed to be used in a passenger's underwear, but this time al Qaeda developed a more refined detonation system.

A law enforcement source told CBS News that the new bomb has a slight modification from the original underwear bomb, but is not as sophisticated as has been suggested.

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The FBI's Terrorist Explosive Device Exploitation Center will examine the new device and try to develop information that can be shared with airport screeners around the world.

"What the FBI is doing is taking a look at the IED construction, to see what type of refinements and modifications might have been made since then," John Brennan, assistant to the president on Homeland Security and Counterterrorism, said on "CBS This Morning." (Watch the interview with Brennan at left.)

This marks the third uncovered plot by Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula targeting U.S. soil. It is believed to be the handiwork of Ibrahim Hassan al Asiri, who designed the original underwear bomb and was also behind the attempted cargo bomb plot, where explosives were hidden in printer cartridges bound for Chicago two years ago. Both the printer devices and the underwear bomb used a powerful industrial explosive.

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"Making bombs is not that difficult," Miller said. "It's the creative touch he adds, how they're concealed, how they're conceived. The printer bomb, for instance, was considered by bomb technicians around the world to be a brilliant stroke. So it boils down to one person, but one very dangerous person."

Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) has targeted Saudi Arabia, the U.K. , Yemen and the United States. Miller said the discovery of the plot and apprehension of the intended bomber shows cooperation among four intelligence agencies which have each been following AQAP for a period of years. "When those notes all come together that something is afoot, they combine resources. I think what we saw yesterday is the result of an effort involving multiple intelligence agencies," Miller said on "CBS This Morning."

President Barack Obama had been monitoring the operation since last month, the White House said Monday evening.

White House spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said the president was assured the device posed no threat to the public. Sources told CBS News they had enough controls to ensure the attack would not go forward.

On Tuesday, White House spokesman Jay Carney said the president was "certainly pleased" with the operation, saying it was "indicative of the kind of work our intelligence and counter-terror services are performing to counter the threat from al Qaeda in general and AQAP in particular."

Brennan wouldn't confirm whether the would-be bomber was in custody, but said that U.S. authorities are "confident that this device and any individual that might have been designed to use it are no longer a threat to the American people."

Some passengers, meanwhile, were taking the news of the new bomb in stride.

"The terrorists will always be looking to make a bomb," said Guillaume Viard, a 26-year-old physiotherapist from Nice, France, about to board a flight to Paris at New York's John F. Kennedy Airport.

Retirees Nan and Bill Gartner, also at Kennedy Airport, were on their way to a vacation in Italy.

"We were nervous — for a minute," said Nan Gartner. "But then we thought, we aren't going anywhere near Yemen, so we're OK."

Added Bill Gartner, "We hope we're right."

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