The CIA, the Homeland Security Department, and several top lawmakers knew "for days" of the terror plot President Bush says shows the U.S. is at war with Islamic fascists who will use any means to destroy those who love freedom.
Many hours after British police announced they had
Snow also said that Mr. Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair held a lengthy teleconference on the matter on Sunday and spoke again Wednesday, on the phone.
Since the president was already aware of the situation, said Snow, he was not awakened in the middle of the night when British police decided to go public with their information and raise the U.K.'s national threat level to "crisis."
The President himself said nothing publicly until nearly noon, when he arrived in Green Bay, Wisconsin, for a previously scheduled visit to a factory to highlight economic issues and a GOP fundraiser later in the day.
"This nation is at war with Islamic fascists who will use any means to destroy those of us who love freedom, to hurt our nation," said
Senior lawmakers also received advance word. Several said they were briefed by Homeland Security or CIA officials as early as Monday.
"This was a well-advanced plan... in some respects suggestive of an al Qaeda plot," said U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, who was ready with a detailed news release at 3 a.m. Thursday, just 90 minutes after word of the foiled plot was made public in England and before the revelation of its details or the fact that 21 people were under arrest.
Homeland Security Deputy Secretary Michael Jackson said his agency had known for several days of the unfolding plot but waited for a signal from the British to announce it.
Early Thursday, dramaticwent into effect at British and U.S. airports and flights to and within the United States were put under an "orange" alert, one step below red, but an escalation from the "yellow" status that had been in effect.
Administration officials sought to reassure the traveling public at the same time they imposed heightened security restrictions.
"Today, air traffic is safe, and air traffic will remain safe precisely because of the measures we are adopting," said Chertoff.
It is not known how long the new airline security rules will remain in effect. One lawmaker, Michigan GOP Rep. Pete Hoekstra, said the situation "eliminates the days of carry-on baggage." Hoekstra is chairman of the Intelligence Committee in the House of Representatives.
Officials speaking anonymously say the suspects had planned, within the next two days, to do a test run of the plot to see whether they could smuggle the equipment they needed aboard the targeted flights. The actual attack would have occurred within days.
Chertoff, interviewed on CNN, did not challenge the account.
"It's not uncommon that these kinds of plots almost always have a dry run or a casing element before the actual plot is carried out," he said.
The attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, "had dry runs as well," he said.
A congressman briefed by intelligence officials, who did not want to be identified because of the sensitivity of the investigation, said U.S. intelligence had intercepted terrorist chatter and British intelligence helped thwart the plot through undercover work.
Two other U.S. officials said British, U.S. and Pakistani investigators are trying to retrace the footsteps of the suspects in Pakistan and are seeking to determine whether a couple of the suspects attended terrorist training camps there.
Minnesota Republican Rep. John Kline – a former Marine who was a military aide to Presidents Carter and Reagan, assigned to carrying the "football" with the codes for nuclear attack - was the only lawmaker to attend a closed-door briefing in the Capitol.
"This was a very close call," said Kline, a member of the House Armed Services Committee who has visited Iraq, Afghanistan and Kosovo.
House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi said events reinforced the need to implement the recommendations of an independent 9/11 commission, which studied government shortcomings surrounding the 2001 attacks. The suggestion is a reminder of one of her party's main campaign promises.
Implied criticisms of the Bush administration were not unanticipated by President Bush, who earlier in the day stressed that "the cooperation on this venture was excellent -- cooperation between U.K. and U.S. authorities and officials was solid. And the cooperation amongst agencies within our government was excellent."
"This country is safer than it was prior to 9/11. We've taken a lot of measures to protect the American people. But obviously, we're still not completely safe, because there are people that still plot and people who want to harm us for what we believe in," said Mr. Bush. "It is a mistake to believe there is no threat to the United States of America. And that is why we have given our officials the tools they need to protect our people."
In Ohio, Republican chairman Bob Bennett accused the Democrats' senatorial challenger of voting against spending money "for the very types of programs that helped the British thwart these vicious attacks."
Officials said the targets included United, American and Continental Airlines flights from Britain to major U.S. destinations of New York, Los Angeles and Washington.
Virginia's deputy homeland security director, Steven Mondul, said federal officials, in a conference call, pointed to JFK Airport in New York, Los Angeles International and Dulles Airport outside Washington as "major destinations for flights originating from the United Kingdom." No specific warnings were issued for these facilities, he added.
The governors of three states with vivid 9/11 memories – Massachusetts, where two of the hijacked flights originated; California, the intended destination of the passengers; and New York, where hijacked jets rammed into the World Trade Center – called out the National Guard in response to Thursday's revelation of a new plot.
Gov. Mitt Romney sent troops to Logan Airport in Boston, in their first airport security deployment since 2001.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger focused on airports with direct flights from Europe – San Francisco, Oakland and Los Angeles, where Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said as many as 10 flights were targeted.
Gov. George Pataki sent additional troops to La Guardia and JFK airports, where Mayor Michael Bloomberg said the NYPD is has been kept informed of developments but the city's security level will remain at orange, where it has stayed since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
"The nature of this plot doesn't lend itself to the kind of added high-profile police presence that we have instituted in the wake of other terrorist plots or attacks," said Bloomberg, mentioning the July 2005 attacks on London subways and buses.