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Schumer: 'Intelligence was on the ball'

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Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y.

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Charles Schumer

NEW YORK (CNN) -- The FBI has uncovered a terrorist plot to attack New York City, including an idea to blow up tunnels in the hope of flooding lower Manhattan, intelligence sources say.

CNN's Carol Costello spoke to New York Sen. Charles Schumer, a Democrat, on "American Morning" for details of what he knew and the effect of the news on New York.

COSTELLO: This is what's swirling around out there about this alleged plot. [Abu Musab] al-Zarqawi and al Qaeda of Iraq were supposed to send money to a man in Beirut, who was working with maybe six or seven other people. And they were supposed to set up something in the United States, in New York, for someone to bring a truck loaded with explosives through the Holland Tunnel, blow it up and flood lower Manhattan.

First of all, are all of those details true? And what are you hearing?

SCHUMER: Well, what you've heard is correct, just to fill in some of the details. This was caught in its very early stages. There is no evidence in any way that anything was done, either purchase of explosives, even the sending of money. It was caught by the terrorists talking to one another.

So this is one instance where intelligence was on the ball.

Second, these don't seem to be the brightest bulbs in the terrorist lot. Their plan made no sense. The Lincoln Tunnel is below sea level. The waters are below sea level. And if you were to blow up the Lincoln Tunnel, God forbid, you would not flood lower Manhattan.

COSTELLO: Senator, could you compare these men to the Miami seven?

SCHUMER: Well, they probably were a little more sophisticated than that. I mean, I don't think they had names like Brother Naz and Prince, whatever he was. But I don't think that these were at the top of the list in terms of ability, in terms of getting things done.

COSTELLO: Senator, there's a man in custody in Beirut then. What should the United States do about him?

SCHUMER: Well, obviously, you know, I mean you don't want to get into details what they should do. They should find out everything he knows, who he's connected to, etc. You have to take every one of these plots seriously. But I just, you know, you don't want to say every time they caught someone, oh, within a week, had they not caught them, something terrible would have happened.

I think it shows that our intelligence is getting better and better. We are able to find these things earlier. We are able to nip them in the bud. This is a good one, in a certain sense.

COSTELLO: It still makes people a little nervous, especially in New York City.

SCHUMER: Sure. And let me tell you, I live in New York. I live in New York City. I take the subways. My daughter takes it to school every day. Obviously, you can't be too careful. And I don't mean to belittle it. I just don't want to put it at the same level as some of the others that have been found. But you take every one of these seriously. You track down every lead then ... should you apprehend people who might be involved, you follow the leads that they give you.

And as I said, our intelligence has made significant strides since 9/11.

COSTELLO: Are our tunnels and bridges protected enough?

SCHUMER: OK, well, that leads to a second point. The one thing other than the fact that intelligence got this early on that I think is important is this once again shows that Homeland Security and Secretary [Michael] Chertoff's view that New York shouldn't get funding and shouldn't get funding for personnel makes no sense whatsoever. The only way you would have stopped a plot like this is added personnel.

And the fact that New York's monies and Washington monies were cut while places like Dillingham, Alaska, and Modoc County, California, got increases in terrorist funds shows that they'd better go back and re-examine. How many plots aimed at New York do you have to have before Secretary Chertoff says New York should get a greater share of the money. And this idea that there should be a preference for mechanical devices and detection devices, important as they are, over manpower, doesn't make any sense at all.

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