Bush Details Foiled Terrorist Plot to Strike L.A.

In a speech on Thursday, President Bush bolstered his assertion his administration is aggressively pursuing the so-called "war on terror" by detailing a foiled terrorist plot to strike a skyscraper in downtown Los Angeles in 2002.

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MADELEINE BRAND, host:

From the studios of NPR West this is DAY TO DAY, I'M Madeleine Brand.

ALEX CHADWICK, host:

And I'm Alex Chadwick. Coming up, the latest from the Enron trial in Houston.

BRAND: But first we go to Washington where President Bush today revealed new details of a planned terrorist attack in Los Angeles against the Library Tower now called the U.S. Bank Tower.

President GEORGE BUSH: We now know that in October 2001 Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the mastermind of the September 11th attacks had already set in motion a plan to have terrorists operatives hijack an airplane using shoe bombs to breach the cockpit door and fly the plane into the tallest building on the West Coast.

CHADWICK: Mr. Bush's remarks came as part of a wider speech about his administration's policies on terrorism. Joining us from Washington is NPR's Whitehouse correspondent Don Gonyea. Don did you hear something new this morning?

DON GONYEA reporting:

Well we did. There were specifics about a foiled plot that the President talked about for the first time. In the past it's always been kind of general discussions of plots that had been foiled in the war on terror.

We heard that kind of stuff from the President a number of time. Last fall he mentioned 10 plots that have been foiled. But again they would not go into details always citing national security. You know in terms of how any given plot was foiled or what it was. And we did here that this was a plot set in motion in 2001 right after 9/11. That Khalid Shaikh Mohammed was involved. The President reminded us that he was subsequently arrested in 2003. And he also told us again this is new stuff that this plot now named was broken up by an unnamed Southeast Asian nation. And that they, they picked up the key al-Qaeda operative who in debriefing, was how the President put it, revealed details of the plot which allowed key players to be picked up and arrested.

CHADWICK: Now Don this is a speech that the President's making at the National Guard Memorial in Washington. What else did he say?

GONYEA: Well it was clearly a speech that was about the broader war on terrorism. But the focal point again was this particular plot. And it seemed to be used as a way to demonstrate to the American public that 9/11 was not an isolated event. That there could very easily have been a West Coast attack nearly as large just months later, maybe six months later or whatever in 2002.

So it's an effort to put that very specific place, a building in downtown Los Angeles and a plot with shoe bombs. Those kinds of specific details into the American consciousness as a way even to impart some more urgency about the need to be vigilant today.

CHADWICK: Is the White House Press Office talking about why this speech now?

GONYEA: They're not giving a very detailed answer on that. But there do seem to be a couple of things at play. First, it's a chance for the President to trumpet his Administration's effectiveness in fighting terrorism. Now he's doing that at the start of an election year, where we know this will be an issue.

Also it seems to be pushed back at a time when the Administration is pushing that controversial NSA domestic spying program that is the subject of hearings on the Hill. This was not, at least the President told us, a product of NSA spying, at least he didn't mention it, but it does demonstrate from the White House's point of view why they need to do all they can to stop plots.

CHADWICK: And I guess the White House is saying that there, they may be more cooperative with these demands from Congress for some kind of oversighter participation. NPR White House Correspondent Don Gonyea. Thank you Don.

Mr. GONYEA: All right a pleasure.

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