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Bush Gives New Information On ...02 Qaeda Plot to Hit LA

By Elisabeth Bumiller 
and David Johnston


President Bush offered new information on Thursday about what he said was a foiled plot by al-Qaeda in 2002 to fly a hijacked airplane into the tallest building west of the Mississippi, the U.S. Bank Tower in Los Angeles, as he sought to make the case for his record on national security.

Although the administration made public the Los Angeles plot in general terms four months ago, Bush, in a speech to the National Guard Association, disclosed more specific details, including what he said was the planned use of a “shoe bomb” by hijackers to breach the airplane’s cockpit door and take over the controls.

In addition, Bush and one of his counterterrorism advisers said that four extremists were recruited from Southeast Asia to carry out the plan, that their leader received training in shoe bombs and that all four had traveled to an undisclosed place in Afghanistan after the Sept. 11 attacks to meet with Osama bin Laden and pledge their loyalty to al-Qaeda.

Bush and White House officials gave no reason for releasing details of a plot that they first disclosed in October 2005. But Bush’s speech came at a time when Republicans are intent on establishing their record on national security as the pre-eminent issue in the 2006 midterm elections, and when the president is facing questions from members of both parties about a secret eavesdropping program that he describes as pivotal to the war on terrorism.

In his speech, Bush said the plot had been “derailed in early 2002, when a Southeast Asian nation arrested a key al-Qaeda operative.” He added that “subsequent debriefings and other intelligence operations made clear the intended target and how al-Qaeda hoped to execute it.”

Bush and his counterterrorism adviser, Frances Fragos Townsend, made no claim on Thursday that the eavesdropping program, conducted by the National Security Agency, had helped to foil the 2002 plot. But in a conference call with reporters, Townsend did not rule out the program as a factor in discovering the plan.

“We use all available sources and methods in the intelligence community, but we have to protect them,” Townsend said. “So I’m not going to talk about what ones we did or didn’t use in this particular case.”

She added that the Los Angeles plot had grown out of the Sept. 11 attacks. As described in the staff report by the independent commission that investigated the Sept. 11 attacks, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, who is said to be the mastermind behind them, had originally envisioned an elaborate plan with 10 planes that would attack the East and West Coasts simultaneously on Sept. 11, 2001. But bin Laden rejected the plan, the report said, because of its difficulty.

“It was bin Laden who decided that it should just focus on the East Coast, and the West Coast should be held in abeyance until there was a follow-on attack,” Townsend told reporters. “It’s our understanding now that it was too difficult to get enough operatives for both the East and West Coast plots at the same time.”