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Police in Britain Thwart Plan To Blow Up Flights Headed to the U.S.; Secretary Chertoff Holds Press Conference

Aired August 10, 2006 - 08:00   ET


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: For those of you who are just joining us at the top of the hour, here is what we know at this hour. Police in Britain say they have thwarted a plan to blow up flights headed from the U.K. to the U.S. Airlines mentioned as possibly being targeted are United, Continental, and American Airlines. Also, there are reports that the destinations for those flights were New York, Washington, D.C., and California.
Twenty-one people in custody. Police say most of them were arrested around London. None of those arrests apparently coming from any of London's main airports. And the arrests, the culmination of major covert counterterrorism operation that seems to have lasted several months.

TONY HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: And a source close to the investigation says this is the real deal. British police saying more searches are underway, the Department of Homeland Security announcing a ban on liquids being carried onto airplanes that includes things like drinks, hair gels and lotions. In Britain they are stopping almost all carry- on items. There have been dozens of flight cancellations throughout Europe and here in the U.S. passengers are being told to expect long delays at airport security checkpoints.

O'BRIEN: Homeland Security correspondent Jeanne Meserve in Washington, D.C. for us this morning. Jeanne good morning.

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Good morning Soledad. Just talked to a U.S. government official, who when I asked about the seriousness of this threat called it the real deal. This administration official said there is more here than there has ever been before, except of course with the obvious exception of 9/11. He said this was more than fancy ideas. This was the art of the possible.

We're expecting a press conference shortly with Michael Chertoff, the head of the Department of Homeland Security, the Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, the head of the FBI, the head of the FAA, the head of the Transportation Security Administration. We're sure to get more specific information about the security measures that are being taken here. They may be reluctant to say too much more about this investigation, however, because it is on-going.

At this point, officials say there is no evidence of any U.S. link, but one administration official cautions that no one can say that with 100 percent certainty because this is an investigation that is continuing at this point in time. As you've mentioned, the TSA is not allowing liquids or gels onto aircraft. They are doing more increased scrutiny of flights as they take off -- before they take off, particularly from the U.K., and of all international flights once they arrive here, all of this just part of the ramped-up security posture. This is the first time ever that any sector has gone to threat level red. That is the top threat level, and that covers just flights from Britain to the United States, Soledad.

O'BRIEN: Elsewhere, Jeanne, it's a threat level orange, which means what exactly?

MESERVE: That means it's elevated. It has been to threat level orange before, but we haven't seen these sorts of specific prohibitions that we're seeing today at U.S. airports on liquids and gels. This is sure to be very disruptive. This is the heavy travel season. Flight capacity has gone way up to where it was before 9/11, and people had no notice that these changes were being made. It is sure to be chaotic. Right now government officials are pleading with the public to please be patient and please cooperate with security officials.

O'BRIEN: They've been talking about an abundance of caution. And in fact, let's break away and listen to Michael Chertoff, the Homeland Security Secretary as he begins this press conference. Listen.

MICHAEL CHERTOFF, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: -- on recent events in the United Kingdom and an update on the actions that we are taking to protect our citizens and to keep air travel safe and secure. We want to be as open as possible with the public about the facts. At the same time, it's important -- I'm sure you'll understand that we preserve confidentiality of matters that are necessary in order to complete this investigation. And we also have to respect the demands of the British legal process, which puts certain restrictions on what can be said about on-going cases.

As I think you're all aware, British authorities have arrested 21 individuals who are now in custody who are alleged to have engaged in a plot to detonate liquid explosives on board multiple commercial aircraft departing from the United Kingdom and bound for the United States.

This plot appears to have been well planned and well advanced with a significant number of operatives. The terrorists planned to carry the components of the bombs, including liquid explosive ingredients and detonating devices disguised as beverages, electronic devices, or other common objects.

While this operation was centered in Great Britain, it was sophisticated. It had a lot of members, and it was international in scope. This operation is in some respects suggestive of an Al Qaeda plot, but because the investigation is still underway, we cannot yet form a definitive conclusion. We're going to wait until all the facts are in. We believe that the arrests in Britain have significantly disrupted this major threat, but we can not assume that the threat has been completely thwarted or that we have fully identified and neutralized every member of this terrorist network. There is no current indication of any plotting within the United States. Nevertheless, as a precaution, the federal government is taking immediate steps to increase security measures with respect to aviation.

First of all, the United States government has raised the nation's threat level to our highest level of alert, severe or red, for commercial flights originating in the United Kingdom and bound for the United States. We've made this adjustment to coordinate our alert level with that that is currently in force in Britain.

In Britain, as you've heard, they are now operating at their highest level, which is called critical. Second, as a precaution against any members of the plot who may still be at large and recognizing the fact that we still have yet to take the investigation to its conclusion, we want to make sure that there are no remaining threats out there and we also want to take steps to prevent any would- be copy cats who may be inspired to similar conduct. Accordingly, we are raising the threat level, or we have raised the threat level with respect to aviation in general to high, or orange. That will cover all inbound international flights other than flights from Great Britain, and it will cover all flights within the United States itself.

We're taking some additional specific steps. In light of the nature of the liquid explosive devices which were designed by the plotters, we are temporarily banning all liquids as carry-ons in aircraft cabins. That means no liquids or gels will be allowed in carry-on baggage. Any liquids or gels have to be checked as part of baggage to go into the hold. There will be exceptions for baby formula and medicines, but travelers must be prepared to present these items for inspection at the checkpoint, and that will allow us to take a look at them and make sure that they're safe to fly.

We are taking the step of preventing liquids from getting into the cabin to give us time to make adjustments in our current screening tactics, based upon what we learn from this investigation concerning the nature of the devices that these individuals were constructing. We might also add that in order to expedite and ease the process of going through this new screening regime, travelers would be wise to pack as lightly as possible for their carry-on and to minimize clutter so that we can make the process go more quickly.

Additionally, the Transportation Security Administration will be implementing a series of additional security measures, some of them visible and some of them not visible, to ensure the security of the traveling public and the nation's transportation system. TSA is immediately implementing these changes to airport screening, including the prohibition against liquids and gels in any kind of carry-on baggage. And apart from these other measures, federal air marshals are being sent to the United Kingdom to provide expanded mission coverage for flights between the United Kingdom and the United States. The United States Customs and Border protection will be increasing enforcement efforts in the international arrival areas, including the use of advanced targeting tools, special response teams, including baggage and aircraft search teams, baggage x-ray equipment, specially trained canine units, and explosive detection technology. These measures, again, will be constantly evaluated and updated as circumstances warrant.

Now, we recognize these measures are going to be inconvenient, but they are proportionate to the very real threat to the lives of innocent people that was posed by this plot. And what is important here is that we are taking every prudent step to thwart new tactics of terror. Today, air traffic is safe, and air traffic will remain safe, precisely because of the measures we are adopting today. People should be patient, but they need not cancel their travel plans.

They simply need to be aware there may be some delays, and they may want to check with their carriers to see whether they ought to adjust their arrival times at airports. As always, we ask the American public to remain aware and vigilant and report any activity that they think is suspicious to local authorities or other appropriate law enforcement agencies.

The work in this investigation has been a remarkable example of interagency coordination in the federal government. We've had numerous intelligence components and law enforcement components working together seamlessly in a coordinated fashion to address this emerging threat and to take the steps necessary to protect the American public from it.

I also have to give special thanks to our partners, the British government. They have been terrific in terms of close information sharing and close coordination, recognizing that both countries which are bound together with great common feelings of culture, are also unfortunately bound together by being targeted for terror. But because of the close working relationship between the British government and the U.S. government, we have managed to make sure that the people of both countries and the people of the world are safer.

The American public can be assured that the United States government will continue to do everything in its power under the leadership of President Bush and in cooperation with our British and other allies, to defend our nations and our world. We will continue to provide updates throughout the day and the next few days as appropriate. Now I'd like to turn to Attorney General Gonzales.

ALBERTO GONZALES, ATTORNEY GENERAL: Thank you, Michael. Let me begin by repeating and emphasizing something that Secretary Chertoff said, and that is, we have a very serious investigation that is proceeding in the United Kingdom, and we want to be very, very careful as we try to inform and educate the American public about saying too much that might in any way jeopardize that investigation or subsequent prosecution, and so we ask for your patience in asking and receiving information, but we'll try to be as forthcoming as we can as quickly as we can, but again, we don't want to do anything that may in any way jeopardize or adversely affect an investigation or prosecution in the United Kingdom or perhaps even in this country.

Now, since 9/11, the threat reporting has consistently shown that there is a vicious and determined enemy that is intent on harming American lives, and every day it's September 12th, for those of us tasked with protecting America. And we know that our counterparts abroad feel the same way. Today's announcement is a true testament to the hundreds of hours of patient work by British authorities.

Their vigilance has led to the unraveling of this deadly plot by terror cells based in the UK, a plot as Mike indicated designed to detonate bombs aboard commercial airliners en-route to the United States, potentially killing hundreds of innocent people. And on behalf of the American people, I want to thank the British authorities for their tremendous efforts to disrupt this deadly scheme. Although the law enforcement investigation is on-going, I want to update you on the preliminary information that we have available at this time. We will, as Secretary Chertoff indicated, continue to provide additional information as it becomes available.

The perpetrators who were arrested overnight were extremists who had gone beyond just stating a desire to kill Americans. Their plotting turned to action as they took several steps to carry out their deadly plan. Their focus appears to have been on the use of liquid explosives. We are still assessing the links to Al Qaeda.

However, a plot of this sophistication is suggestive of Al Qaeda tactics as Secretary Chertoff mentioned. From the beginning of the investigation, we had been in constant contact with our counterparts in the UK. We share the same philosophy of prevention, a sense of urgency to dismantle these terrorist cells before an attack occurs. The FBI and other law enforcement intelligence agencies have worked closely with our colleagues at MI-5 on all aspects of this case, and they have aggressively pursued every domestic lead that has arisen from the intelligence that led to these arrests.

As Secretary Chertoff said, while there is currently no indication of any plotting within the United States, the federal government is taking immediate steps to increase security measures in the aviation sector. The FBI, the Department of Homeland Security, and the entire intelligence community will continue to aggressively pursue every lead and shred of intelligence that arises from this or any other terrorism case.

This has been our practice since 9/11, and today is no different from any other day in that sense. The American people should know that everything that can be done to protect them is being done by law enforcement and intelligence professionals around the country and abroad. We ask that people continue on with their normal lives, but with some extra patience as the professionals do their jobs, especially at the airports around the country.

As we have stated many times before, we are a nation at war. Today's actions are a stark reminder that the threat is real and that we have a deadly enemy who still wakes every morning thinking of new ways to kill innocent men, women and children and dreams every night about wrecking the destruction on freedom-loving countries. Our enemies should know that we are just as equally intent on stopping them. We will continue to work around the clock with our colleagues around the world to dismantle their operations one person at a time.

Thank you.

KIP HAWLEY, TSA ASST. SECRETARY: First I'd like to thank the traveling public and our partners at the airports and airlines, law enforcement and our own Transportation Security officers and all the people involved in this changeover. It normally takes us about four weeks to roll out a change at a security checkpoint, and this one came about in a little bit more than four hours in the middle of last night.

And so this was a surprise to many of us, and as such is difficult to implement, and I think we are going to see over the next day or two, as the public becomes aware and we all get used to the process, that it is going to get better, but in the next couple of days, we ask for your patience and we thank you for your understanding. This was strong and immediate action, and it was cooperative with among airlines, airports, law enforcement, to do much more than you can see at the checkpoint.

These changes sound complicated, but it is very, very simple. The major change is that passengers are no longer allowed to bring liquids through the checkpoint and onto the plane. That is the big change. Other than that, it is getting used to the new process and we're very confident that as time goes on, that will occur.

A couple of pointers. De-clutter your bag. If you let the TSO's have a clear view of what's in the bag with their x-ray, you'll move right on through. That is something very easy to do. As you pack your bag, leave the liquids at home, drink them. De-clutter your bag. And last, I'd say, enjoy your trip. I think this is what TSA was created for, to be flexible, to work with others in the community, to scale up security where needed in certain areas and be flexible and adjustable, and we look forward to delivering on that commitment.

CHERTOFF: Let me just echo that. I mean, it does seem a little odd maybe to hear somebody say enjoy your trip, but the whole point of this exercise is to continue to maintain the level of safety and security in air travel in this country that we have had since September 11th. Now, sometimes to do that, we have to be taking steps that do cause a little bit of inconvenience, but with patience and with cooperation and so far, I think we've seen that from the traveling public.

What we will deliver to the public is the thing which is most important, which is the ability to get on a plane, get about your business or enjoy your holiday, and do so with confidence that we are screening out people who want to do harm to innocent travelers.

Let me just introduce everybody else up here and then we'll take some questions and various people's area of expertise. We have Marion Blakey who is the head of the Federal Aviation Administration, you know Bob Mueller, the director of the FBI and Scott Red, who's the head of the NCTC. So with that, if you'll raise your hands and I'll direct questions.

Yes, Pete?

QUESTION: Secretary, you talked about the design of the devices by the plotters. Can you say whether they went beyond the design stage and actually built their devices? Can you say whether they had made reservations, bought tickets? How far along were they?

CHERTOFF: I would say that this plot was well advanced. In other words, they had accumulated and assembled the capabilities that they needed and they were in the final stages of planning before execution. I don't want to get very specific for investigative reasons about each individual step, but this is not a case where this was just in the initial thought stage. There were very concrete steps underway to execute all elements of this plan.

QUESTION: So they had built the bombs?

CHERTOFF: I'm not going to get that specific because I'm going to honor that original observation I made about not compromising the British case or the investigation. But they had accumulated the capabilities necessary and they were well on the way. This was a well advanced plan.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Secretary Chertoff, when you praise British authorities, what do you know about when they learned about this plot and when did they inform the United States?

CHERTOFF: Let me, again, I'm going to be a little bit circumspect and say that some of the threads which led to this investigation have been pursued by British authorities for some considerable period of time. However, it is only recently, within, certainly within the last two weeks, maybe less, that the investigation revealed that this planning was taking the direction of targeting the United States. And so in that much more recent period of time, we've obviously become much more involved from the United States standpoint and been working much more closely with the British to follow what appeared to be an accelerating plan to carry out a very, very serious terrorist act. Yeah?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I wonder if we could talk about the upcoming anniversary of 9/11 and whether this was in any way related to that. Was that a possible target date? And if not, can you say anything about when this plot would have come to fruition? And speaking of 9/11, can you compare this plot with that one in terms of scope, the number of airlines, the number of planes, the number of potential victims and so forth?

CHERTOFF: That's about five questions. We're all obviously mindful about September 11th. I can't tell you that that was a particular date that was in the mind of the people involved in this plot, nor can I tell you that they would have waited that long. I think that we were really getting you know, quite close to the execution phase. I can tell you where general experience, certainly when you deal with Al Qaeda -- and then I want to caution that we have not yet concluded this is Al Qaeda. But our general experience is that they're not necessarily motivated by anniversaries the way sometimes people project. In terms of seriousness, it's obviously hard to compare a plot that was frustrated, thank God, with a plot that was unfortunately executed. It is reminiscent, but again, I don't want to overdraw the comparison with a plot that was hatched by Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in the 1990's, in which he envisioned detonating bombs on, I think it was 11 airliners, mainly traveling over the pacific. And that's been well publicized, so that's obviously a known historical fact. Yeah?

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, Mr. Mueller or Mr. Red might answer this. If this isn't an Al Qaeda footprint, is there any evidence that leads you to believe that there are other organizations with the capability to do something like this?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This had the earmarks of an Al Qaeda plot. As the attorney general and Secretary Chertoff have said, we have no indication at this point in time of plotting within the United States aligned at all or at all intersecting the plotters and the UK. But that does not mean that there are not others around the world that have the same aspirations and would undertake the same type of plotting.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You mentioned the 11 planes in the (INAUDIBLE) plot. Do you know how many planes were actually targeted in this plot, and can you give us the airlines that were targeted as well?

CHERTOFF: Again, the investigation is still at a relatively early phase. The British are conducting the investigation. I don't feel that we can confidently give you a number. Clearly, what was envisioned were multiple explosions in multiple aircraft, but I think it would be speculative for us to come up with a number, you know, to fix a number onto it.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Can you name the airlines at all?

CHERTOFF: What I prefer to say is this, it's clear that they were searching to look at possible options in terms of scheduled passenger airline flights. It does appear that towards the end, shortly before we brought this down, they had focused on a number of airlines involved, which have specific routes between Britain and the United States, and which are U.S. flag carriers.

We have talked to the airlines in question. In fact, we've talked to all the airlines that operate internationally and domestically, because we want to make sure that everyone is fully aware of what the dimensions of this planning was, and I can tell you the airlines have been very, very deeply committed to working with us to elevate the level of security to protect their passengers.

QUESTION: Secretary, there's so much emphasis here on liquids. Was the fear that they were planning actually to assemble a bomb on board the aircraft by mixing liquids? CHERTOFF: I would say certainly one of the considerations or one of the concerns we had is the possibility of bringing on board a number of different components of a bomb that each one of which would be benign, but when mixed together would create a bomb. And as we assess exactly what the design of these devices was or the plan design was, I think it will give us a better ability to tailor our counter measures, in order to pick up what appears to be a quite sophisticated conception of how to execute a terrorist bombing plot.

QUESTION: Regardless of whether this does turn out to be Al Qaeda or not, can you talk about the suspects in Britain and whether those people were home-grown folks who are British citizens or from Britain as opposed to people who came from elsewhere and moved there?

CHERTOFF: Yeah, I think we're going to let the -- this is really a sensitive area for the British legal system. I think we're going to let them discuss the nature of the defendants, but I do think a point that's very important is this. This was a very sophisticated plan and operation. This is not a circumstance where you had a handful of people sitting around, you know, coming up with dreamy ideas about terrorist plots.

The conception, the large number of people involved, the sophisticated design of the devices that were being considered, the sophisticated nature of the plan all suggests that this group that came together to conspire, was very determined and very skilled and very capable. And the reason I emphasize that is because frankly, we are taking some very serious and inconvenient measures, and I think the public is entitled to understand we're doing this because we recognize this was a plot that is certainly about as sophisticated as any we've seen in recent years, as far as terrorism is concerned.

QUESTION: When the threat alert system was created, the red level was supposed to indicate an imminent threat. Do you believe that there's an imminent threat against the United States at this point? If not, why didn't we just go to code orange like we did a year ago? And from your viewpoint, what's the difference in operational levels between red level and orange level? Also, quick follow-up. Are there any concerns about threats against any other modes of transportation in the United States?

CHERTOFF: What we try to do this year, as we did last year with July 7th, was to be as precise and sculptured as we could reasonably be in terms of the alert level. We did go to orange in the aviation system domestically, and every place outside of flights from Britain to the U.S., precisely because we have no specific indication of a threat in those channels of air travel.

But given what we don't know and given the possibility of copycats, we thought it prudent to raise the alert level generally in aviation. We don't believe that logic extends to raising it generally in a country. Now, as far as red, the British made a determination, and obviously, they are in the best decision, given their knowledge of what's going on in their investigation, that even with the 21 arrests, it is still prudent to consider the likelihood of attack as being at the highest possible level for travel from Britain to the United States.

And I think that based in significant parts certainly on that judgment and with our own assessment that seemed a prudent step to take with respect to this, you know, fairly defined subset of air travel, which was, after all, the objective of a sophisticated plot.

QUESTION: So in other words, there's no evidence right now to indicate that there is going to be an imminent attack on the United States?

CHERTOFF: I would say with respect to travel from the UK to the United States, given the fact that the arrest activities in Britain are still under way, prudence suggests that we treat, track that particular route of travel, UK to the U.S., as being at the highest level of being under threat.

Apart from that, we are certainly at a heightened alert level elsewhere but we don't have any specific reason to believe that there is a threat to other routes of air travel, but again, we always have to be careful that we don't necessarily know everything. We're going to learn a lot more in the course of the investigation, and I would rather have more protection and then scale it back as we become more reassured than underestimate the problem and find out, God forbid, that we've made a tragic mistake. Yes.

QUESTION: Secretary, they said the substances were benign. Is there any type of detection device we have, or could be created, to detect these liquid explosives?

CHERTOFF: Well, here's where I'm going to resist the temptation to give a recipe to terrorists about how to try to maximize their ability to succeed. Obviously, we're always assessing and examining the challenge posed by different kinds of improvised explosive devices.

We do use various kinds of techniques for different kinds of bomb-making, but when we do see a sophisticated design, we want to make sure we've properly engineered our counter measures to be able to detect. And so while we're in the process of assessing that -- and honestly, some of these are pretty difficult -- we want to, frankly, take the most protective stance. And that's why we have for the time being excluded liquids from the cabin.

QUESTION: Take two more questions, please.

CHERTOFF: Yes, in back.

QUESTION: Yes. Are the air marshals just going to Britain for flights coming this way? Or are they going to other European cities as well?

CHERTOFF: We have air marshals all over the world. We'll continue to have air marshals operate in the system, but we will be focusing at least in the short-term on putting extra air marshal resources in this particular route, because we know this was the focal point of the conspiracy that is in the process of being disrupted. QUESTION: Last question.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary. Just back to the red versus orange. The red would seem to indicate that you or the British authorities believe that some of the people involved are still at large. Is that the case or is this just precautionary?

CHERTOFF: I think it's a recognition of the fact that, particularly at this stage of the arrest and the takedown, there is sufficient uncertainty about whether the British have scooped up everybody. That we do think it's prudent to regard this particular target, this particular route, as still being at highest level of risk.

It doesn't mean we know for a fact there are people out there who are still active. But as anybody who's been involved in these investigations knows, we're going to learn more things, and the British are going to learn more things in the next hours and days. And given the amount of planning and effort that was put into this plot, I think it would be a little bit risky to assume that everything is shut down and the threat has gone away.

So, you know, we spent a lot of time thinking about this. We certainly put a great deal of weight on the views taken by the British, because it is, after all, their investigation. Principally, it is there, the folks who are on the ground. And certainly when they express a concern that prudence requires the highest level of protection and the highest level of concern for this particular route. I think we're well advised to give a lot of weight to that.

QUESTION: Did these people plan to use planes as missiles?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thanks very much, everyone.

O'BRIEN: the secretary of Homeland Security, Michael Chertoff, wrapping up a press conference where he was briefing members of the media.

Essentially, he told us what we already know to some degree, which is there was a plot, it appears, out of the UK, which would blow up planes that were en route from the UK to the U.S. And, as was pointed out by the FBI head, fingerprinted Al Qaeda all over.

It let's go right back to Jeanne Meserve for analysis really, of this presser.

Jeanne, what I thought it was interesting out of this, was the sense of how close this plot maybe was to becoming a reality.

MESERVE: That's right. Secretary Chertoff made it clear that they had accumulated what they needed to carry this plot out, that it was very close to operational.

Obviously, in cases like this, they want to let things play out as long as they possibly can, because they are hoping to connect the dots and haul in as many people as they can who might be connected. But this clearly was on the brink of becoming operational. That's why they moved in, made those arrests, and so quickly put the security measures in place.

The other thing striking to me was his continued emphasis on the sophistication of this plot, saying that there were a few things that have compared to this they have seen that have compared to this in terms of the level of sophistication, particularly of this device, hinting that they were still working on counter measures to deal with this, that were workable over the long haul.

Obviously, this temporary thing they've put in place, of banning liquids and gels in carry-on luggage is something they wouldn't want to do indefinitely, but they have to make sure they have a reliable way to detect something that's turned up in this investigation.

O'BRIEN: Yes, to hear from Kip Hawley of the TSA, who says change usually -- you know, implementing change in the TSA, to get it to the public usually takes four weeks. This was done in four hours and overnight at that, really asking people for patience and appreciating their patience.

At the same time, no real indication, no clear indication of a U.S. link outside of the airplanes that would be en route to the United States, and it sounds as if U.S. carriers as well.

MESERVE: That's right. But they've also made clear that this is an on-going investigation, that they don't know for certain where it will end and where it will lead them. So the word they used is "currently", there is no indication of a U.S. side to this. So we'll see what develops over the next days, the next hours.

O'BRIEN: Jeanne Meserve for us. Jeanne, thanks, as always.

Let's turn to CNN terrorism analyst Peter Bergen.

Peter, nice so to see you in person for a change. So, here's the plot, in a nutshell, from what I can tell, as described from the secretary of Homeland Security.

You take planes that are going from the UK to the U.S., you bring in explosives that are in liquid form, sort of spread out maybe over several different people, carried on separately, assemble them together on that plane and blow up that plane, or planes, mid-flight over the Atlantic.


O'BRIEN: Does that sound like fingerprints of Al Qaeda all over it, to you?

BERGEN: Well, as Michael Chertoff indicated in the conference, Khalid Sheikh Mohammad, who was the operation commander of 9/11 had a similar plot to blow up 11 airliners in the Pacific in the mid-'90s. To me, the timing of this is very interesting.

One of the things that came out of the conference is it's not clear when this was going to be implemented, whether this was something that wad going to happen imminently, or -- but we are coming up on the fifth anniversary of 9/11, as Terry Frieden (ph), CNN's Justice producer pointed out in the conference. They do want to make a big statement.

I mean, I anticipate a videotape from bin Laden, the first one we will have seen for more than a year. I anticipate -- we've already seen from Ayman Al Zawahiri that he's got in his most recent statement, he had pictures of Mohammed Atta, the lead hijacker. They're gearing up for something.

Now, we don't know who these people are yet, but my -- it's not just simply the type of plot it was. The fact that its British citizens of Pakistani dissent is very reminiscent of the July 7, 2005 plot. Two of those guys went to Pakistan, they trained there, they hooked up with al Qaeda. When we know more about this plot, we will find that the leaders of this group, of 20 people, went to Pakistan, probably hooked up with some Kashmiri militant group. That got them access to al Qaeda. They may have even made suicide tapes. It's possible.

So I've always been very concerned about British citizens of Pakistani dissent, in terms of the threat to the United States. We've seen an attack in London conducted by British citizens of Pakistani dissent, killing 56 people. We saw an attack in Tel Aviv, you may remember this, in 2003.

British citizens of Pakistani dissent conducting a suicide attack in Israel. You may remember Richard Reid, the Jamaican-British, so-called shoe bomber. He actually had a buddy; didn't get a lot of play, who was also going to do a shoe bomb attack; he was also a British citizen of Pakistani dissent.

O'BRIEN: So when they -- everyone seems to be dancing around the issue of well, who are these suspects? I mean, you're the first person who said British citizen of Pakistani dissent -- on our air. When you listen to these press conferences, everyone will say, well, we don't want to really talk about religion. Remember, these are bad people who hide behind religion. Well, we don't want to jump to conclusions. We've talked to community leaders. All the catch phrases, really.

BERGEN: Right.

O'BRIEN: And red flags for -- this has something to do with Muslims, in Great Britain. We don't -- and it's an incendiary issue and we don't want to fan the flames anymore. So that, to you, says this is home-grown, but with an al Qaeda link?

BERGEN: I believe so. And one of the reasons, the British legal system is -- it's very, very prejudicial in the British legal system to make statements about the suspects in a way that wouldn't be true in the United States. When we have a sort of terrorist plot here, very quickly names, you know, details, biographies. And I think the British are much more leery of that, and that's why, you know, we haven't necessarily heard it from them directly.

O'BRIEN: But even Michael Chertoff wouldn't elaborate.

BERGEN: I think because of concerns about the British legal system.

O'BRIEN: Interesting, interesting. So it's been successfully done before, to transport chemicals and assemble them?

BERGEN: Actually, once. Ramsey Yusef, who is the nephew of the operational commander of 9/11, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, assembled a bomb. I'm not sure with what the materials were exactly, but he ran a test for this plot in the mid-1990s. And he killed a Japanese citizen on one of these flights, and he assembled it somehow inside the plane. So it certainly is technically possible. It's been done before.

I'm not an explosives expert, but clearly from what we heard from this press conference, this is not just stuff they got off the Internet. They had a much more sophisticated plan than that. So, thank God it got averted.

O'BRIEN: It sounds to me that al Qaeda often revisits its -- not quite failures, but things that don't go as planned -- revisit, and revisit, until they pull it off the way they want.

BERGEN: Well, that's a good point, yes. Certainly the first World Trade Center attack in 1983 --

O'BRIEN: So let's do it again and see if we get it right.

BERGEN: And they're obsessed by commercial aviation. You may remember, a couple years ago, a whole series of Air France flights were canceled, a whole series of British Airways flights were cancelled. It was around the Christmas time period, and there was a real concern that these flights were being targeted. Now, I'm not sure how real that was, but you know, al Qaeda, you know, global aviation, really scores for them, particularly an American carrier. It's an American symbol, it's tourism, which is --

O'BRIEN: The three carriers that they've highlighted are American carriers.


BERGEN: So for them, you kill Americans, you hit American brand name, you hit global tourism, which is obviously very important.

O'BRIEN: Hit the economy.

BERGEN: Hit the economy. Hit, you know, aviation. I mean, and they are --

O'BRIEN: In a way that a subway terror attack wouldn't do, in a way that a tunnel attack wouldn't do, you think?

BERGEN: Yeah. Think about it. If they successfully blew up, let's say, a couple American planes, would you take your kids on vacation any time in the near future on an American carrier? The short answer is, no. And I think if they had pulled this off, this would have had a devastating effect on tourism, aviation, and by extension, the global economy.

O'BRIEN: The anniversary, the other thing. Michael Chertoff said well you know, al Qaeda doesn't operate in anniversaries, as we might think they do. Do you agree with that or not?

BERGEN: I don't agree about the fifth anniversary of 9/11. I mean, for them, that's a biggie. I mean, they're keenly aware of this anniversary. They have on other anniversaries of 9/11 released major statements, you know. For them, I think this would be a moment of showing the flag, al Qaeda, the organization has been very damaged in the past years. But it sort of reconstituted itself on the Afghan/Pakistan border with the July 7, 2005 attack they were able to show, you know, we can attack a major European city. If this attack had come off, we can attack American citizens again.

O'BRIEN: What I find interesting in all of this, if, as you point out, that these are sort of home-grown people with links to al Qaeda, maybe very distinct links to al Qaeda, not just disgruntled and inspired by al Qaeda, but actually trained by, funded by al Qaeda, it changes the game. Because no longer do you have people who have to pretend to be Western and pass in order to blow up a plane. They're already Western.


O'BRIEN: They have all the credentials. They don't have to fake it.

BERGEN: Well, you know, they're British citizens, right? So we have a thing called a visa waiver program with most European countries. You don't have to go to the embassy for a face-to-face interview with an American embassy official to get a visa to come to this country and that's a great program. But the point is, al Qaeda is not a dumb organization. They're not going to send people with Yemeni passports to attack us next. It will be obviously people with European passports that can, as you say, pass.

O'BRIEN: Interesting. Peter Bergen, as always thanks. We certainly appreciate your insight on this.


HARRIS: Well, as we've been telling you, dozens of flights cancelled in Europe, right now, for travelers still hoping to get out of the UK. There are some very restrictive rules in place. All passengers must be hand searched. That is slowing down the process considerably, as you can imagine. All footwear must be taken off and X-rayed.

Plus, all approved carry-on items also must go through the X-ray machines. Walking aides, like canes or walkers must also be X-rayed, and only airport-provided wheelchairs can pass through the screening points. Officials have banned almost all liquids from being carried on board. The only exception, milk for babies, that must first be tested by the passenger before it will be allowed.

The all-liquid ban also is in place here in the United States. The usual carry-on bags are now completely banned. No more garment bags or satchels of any kind; large purses also on that list. Some individual carry-on items are allowed, like wallets, eye glasses, and prescription medicines on that list, but all of those items must be put through a see-through plastic bag.

Now, all passengers headed to the United States need to be ready for a second search at the boarding gate. Let's go right now to Adrian Finnegan at Heathrow Airport.

And Adrian, what kind of air traffic are you seeing in and out of Heathrow, at this point?


Good morning to you. Welcome to Heathrow airport, one of the world's busiest airports, normally of course, 186,000 passengers a day pass through this place. There are nearly 1,300 aircraft movements a day, that's aircraft landing and taking off.

Today, though, well, the runway behind me would normally be screaming with jets once every 90 seconds or so. For the last hour or so, we haven't seen any. The airport closed to all inbound flights. All short-haul flights to domestic destinations, European destinations have been cancelled. Some long-haul flights are getting off the ground, but with severe delays.

We've just had a press briefing from Tony Douglas, the CEA of BAA Heathrow, the people who run the airport. He said that they're continuing to experience disruption to their operations, but because of a contingency plan that was put into place earlier this morning, London time, the situation is beginning to ease.

However, he said that severe check-in delays will continue. He urged anyone traveling from London today not to come to the airport unless absolutely necessary. He said that they hope to return to normal conditions, but within the new security restrictions tomorrow.

That means that he was urging passengers who were due to fly tomorrow, or over the weekend, not to arrive at the airport with hand luggage. And if they are carrying any of the items that are permitted to go on board the aircraft -- as listed in the BAA flyer that's handed to every passengers who arrives here -- he urged them to bring them bagged in clear plastic bags.

Now, he also said that once you've been through the long security process here at the airport, you will still be permitted to buy items from duty-free, as we call it here in the UK. Although he said, he sounded a note of caution for passengers bound for the U.S. , anything you buy at those shops, while you'll be able to consume your purchases within the airport, you will not be allowed to take them on board the aircraft.

Those items, at an additional security check, will be removed from you and put into the hold. Tony?

HARRIS: Adrian, give us a sense of -- you've been at Heathrow all day -- give us a sense what this has been like for passengers trying to board flights.

FINNEGAN: Organized chaos is how I describe it, Tony. People are arriving here, finding that they're not able to take their hand luggage on board. You know what it's like when you packed for a trip, particularly a long-haul trip, you fill your main bag as full as you possibly can. Suddenly, these people are finding they have to offload everything they wanted to take as hand luggage, somehow squash it into their main bag. And if they can't, they're being given clear, plastic bags by authorities here. They have to put it into the bags and tie it to their main luggage in the hope it's still intact when it gets to its destination.

People seem to be taking it on the chin. While it's fairly chaotic in the terminal, it is calm. People understand that these measures are in their best interests, that they're there to keep them safe. Most people, it seems, that I talked to anyway, are willing to put up with a little bit of disruption to ensure their safety -- Tony.

HARRIS: Adrian Finnegan for us at Heathrow International Airport, in London.

Adrian, Thank you.

So, what will all of this mean for traffic here, air traffic in the United States? AMERICAN MORNING's Alina Cho is at JFK International Airport here in New York City. It is a major entry point for travelers from London and other parts of the world. And Sumi Das is at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport in Atlanta, the country's second busiest airport. Let's start with Alina.

Alina, good morning.


If you are planning to fly out of the U.S. airports today, including JFK, you will want to give yourself some extra time. Get to the airport two hours before your flight. And remember, you've been hearing about this all morning, remember that there are severe restrictions on what you can carry onto the plane. Chief among them, you will not be able to bring on any liquids or gels onto the plane. They can be checked, but not onto the plane. That includes beverages, hair gels, shampoos, lotions, toothpaste, even perfume.

Now remember, the threat involves liquid explosives being smuggled on through carry-on luggage. So these items can be checked. There are some exceptions -- baby formula and medicine, but you may have to verify their authenticity as you go through security. So keep that in mind. Homeland Security officials are saying you can fly today, but try to pack as lightly as possible.

Passengers we spoke to, of course, are concerned but seem to be taking all of this in stride.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You know, I just know it's going to be a long day. Hopefully there will be nothing suspicious in the luggage. They'll open it up and hopefully allow me to get on the flight.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I am quite tired and I'm worried about the delays, and it's quite disturbing, really, about what's going on. But I mean, at least it's something positive, they foiled this attack, and I think that it's still quite unsettling.


CHO: Now, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said if you are planning today to fly out of any U.S. airport, you do not need to cancel your flight, but again, give yourself some extra time, pack lightly. Remember, you can not carry onto the plane any liquids or gels.

Passengers we spoke to today said of course they're concerned, of course they're inconvenienced, but Tony, so far, we haven't heard any passengers say they're going to cancel their plans.

HARRIS: Alina, very quickly, there are a lot of people who are just waking up to this news, and people who are getting up and getting ready to travel this morning who may not have turned on the television set. I have to ask you, are people who are arriving at the airport, as is the case at Heathrow, being given this flyer with a list of things that they can not bring on their carry-on luggage?

CHO: What's happening here at JFK, as far as we know, is they are putting up signs, and they are making announcements at the gate over the loud speaker and telling them exactly what they can and cannot bring onto the plane.

Tony, as you may have been hearing early this morning, a lot of passengers arrived at JFK early on, very, very confused. They thought that the airport was closed. They thought their flight might be cancelled. Sure, there are some cancellations, there are some severe delays, but so far, I think what we're hearing from passengers is that as the news gets out there, they are arriving to the airport, knowing what they can and cannot bring onto the plane.

HARRIS: Yeah. And the simple answer is just check it at this point, isn't it? Just check whatever it is that you can't take on as carry-on?

CHO: That's absolutely right. In fact, we heard one story about a woman who tried to bring her toiletries through and was told she either had to throw them away, or go back through security. So you can be inconvenienced. Better to check it, if you're in doubt.

HARRIS: Alina, thank you. CNN's Sumi Das is live at Hartsfield- Jackson International Airport in Atlanta.

Sumi, what's the view from where you are in Atlanta?

SUMI DAS, CNN CORRESPONDENT, AMERICAN MORNING: Well, Tony, it is busy here, busier than it normally is; 34 times a week planes depart Hartsfield-Jackson Airport, one of the busiest in the world, certainly in the United States. And those planes are bound for the UK. The carriers are Delta and British Airways.

And while there have not been any cancellations as of yet, there have been delays, outbound delays due to increased security. We have seen a fire engine that's been stationed at the north terminal here, and we spoke to airport officials. They say that's part of the procedures they follow when there are security concerns.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Our entire airport team is on stand-by. We don't expect any security issues here today, but everyone in the country is on alert, because obviously, this terrorist attack could have happened, and so it is of concern for everyone.


DAS: The line, again, inside the terminal is quite long, about 45 minutes, possibly up to an hour. It snakes through a great part of the terminal. We spoke to some passengers, the ones we chatted with. They didn't seem to be visibly angered. There was some frustration, but they seemed to be resigned to catching a later flight, if necessary, Tony.

HARRIS: OK, Sumi, thank you.

And from the country's second busiest, to the busiest, Anupy Singla, of our CLTV, is at Chicago's O'Hare Airport.

Good morning to you.


Well, this morning we heard from the Chicago commissioner of the Department of Aviation, Maria Fernandez, and she recommended that everybody give at least two-hour delays for the flights leaving from O'Hare.

You can see the business behind me, we're in Terminal 2 at O'Hare. This is not even the international terminal, and already lines are forming all the way to where we are standing here with the cameras. We got here to about 4 o'clock this morning, Chicago time, and already people were coming in, standing in line, saying it's the busiest they've seen it at this time at this airport.

Many of them did not even know what was going on. They had not even heard the news out of England. There's not been a lot of frustration out here, just a lot of concern because there are no flights that have been delayed or cancelled thus far. Meaning they're leaving on time, and so people that have flights and can't get through this line won't be able to make many of those flights. Although, the concern primarily has been that they are going to miss flights.

Now, in the press conference, that they gave at 5:45 Chicago time this morning, they talked about what you've hearing about all morning. Just make sure in the carry-on bags you don't have liquid- based items, mouthwash, hair gels, toothpaste, even we heard here in Chicago, they were taking make-up, like liquid eyeliner out of people's bags.

What they've done here is set up receptacles so people can actually throw that stuff out if they don't want to put it in their packed bags, but you can put it in there. Of course, they are going to allow you to keep those prescription medications and the baby food, and formula in your bags.

They say with the prescription meds, though, you want to make sure that the name on the label is the same name as the passenger that is on the ticket. They say they're going to enforce these rules here up to 72 hours.

So for now, a lot of business here out at O'Hare and -- frustration? Not so much, but just a little bit of concern about making those flights on time. Tony, back to you.

HARRIS: Well, Anupy, just a quick question. It seems to me that people respond best when they get clear, straight-forward information. Is it your sense that folks are not demonstrating a lot of frustration because the information is coming to them in a clear and straight- forward manner?

SINGLA: Well, I don't know. They're getting it from us, many of them this morning, so that was the thing. A lot of them didn't even know what was going on. So we gave it to them. Once they heard what was going on, their first concern was that security remain tight. And now it appears they are starting here, the officials here are starting at the airport, to tell the passengers what's going on. So maybe they'll be able to contain their frustration. And you're right, by continuing to keep them informed.

HARRIS: Very good. Anupy Singla, with our Chicago affiliate, CLTV, at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport, on this terror plot, foiled in Britain, expected to rattle U.S. financial markets today, especially with the focus on airline stocks.

Already airline stocks in the UK are taking a hit. Andy is here, "Minding Your Business" this morning.

Good to see you.


Indeed, the news is already having an impact on businesses and markets around the globe. First of all, as you mentioned, airline stocks are taking a beating in Europe and in pre-market trading in the United States.

These are the three carriers that were -- have been named by U.S. officials as potential targets by the terrorists, and you can see here, 7 percent, 3.8 percent, almost 4 percent; those are big drops indeed.

Now, airline stocks in Europe also taking a hit. British Airways down 4 percent, Air France, KLM, down 3 percent, Lufthansa down 3 percent.

European stock markets, as you might expect, also feeling some pressure, down between 1 and 1.5 percent. That's the FTSE in London and the DAX and the CAC in London, there, CAC, and the stock in Paris.

Then the stock futures in the United States are taking a hit as well. You can see that. And then finally, an interesting note here, Tony, to finish up with. Oil trading is down. The price of a barrel of oil down between 50 cents and $1 this morning. That's because of the perception that this problem will affect airline companies, aircraft, and they won't be using as much jet fuel, which will mean less demand for oil, which is making the price of oil drop.

So all kinds of implications. And the backup, in the markets for planes, going all the way to Australia. So the travel, this is a ripple effect that Soledad was talking about earlier, and we are already seeing that in full force.

HARRIS: OK. Man! And it is just going to get, you would imagine, worse before it gets better.

SERWER: A little stickier today, yes.

O'BRIEN: And all those pilots, too. I mean, everybody's on for a certain window of time and then suddenly, you can no longer fly.

SERWER: Right.

O'BRIEN: So if you're parked at a gate for 16 hours, then you become a crew that needs to be off that plane. And then that crew can't move around the country or wherever, the world, to get to where they need to go next. It's going to be a huge, huge problem.

Thank you, Andy.

SERWER: Thank you.

O'BRIEN: We've got to take a short break. In a just few moments we'll update you on what's happening in this terror plot out of Great Britain. We're back in just a moment. Stay with us.




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