Advertisement
YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

THE NATION | THE STATE OF THE UNION

Troops Uncovered Diagrams for Major U.S. Targets, Bush Says

Speech: Papers analyzed nuclear plants, water systems and landmarks.

January 30, 2002|JOSH MEYER and AARON ZITNER | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

WASHINGTON — American forces searching Al Qaeda hide-outs in Afghanistan have discovered diagrams of American nuclear facilities, water treatment plants and landmarks, President Bush said Tuesday, shedding new light on the types of terrorist threats facing the United States.

The disclosures, made during Bush's first State of the Union address, provided the most detailed glimpse to date of the intelligence gathered in Afghanistan since the collapse of the Taliban regime.

Bush also said "tens of thousands" of Al Qaeda terrorists had been trained at the Afghanistan camps and remain deployed throughout the world--a far higher figure than his administration had previously provided.

"Our discoveries in Afghanistan confirmed our worst fears, and show us the true scope of the task ahead," Bush said. "We have found diagrams of American nuclear power plants and public water facilities, detailed instructions for making chemical weapons, surveillance maps of American cities and thorough descriptions of landmarks in America and throughout the world."

A senior Bush administration official described the evidence as previously classified and significant, and said it has alarmed the president's inner circle since it was found during the military campaign in Afghanistan.

By making the information public, the official said, the president was attempting to brace the American people for a continued state of high alert and the potential for more attacks.

"It's not been made public before," said the administration official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. "We had circumstantial evidence in the past of this, that they were directly targeting America: monuments and things like that. But now we know that it was all true.

"We know from fragmentary intelligence that they were interested in this kind of thing. But the fact that the president has mentioned it in a State of the Union indicates the quality of the evidence," the official said.

Like other counter-terrorism experts in and out of government, the official said Bush's remarks served to underscore the continuing threat of Al Qaeda and its global network of semi-autonomous terrorist cells, and to bolster his calls for additional military and homeland security funding.

"The lead-up time to an Al Qaeda attack is measured in months if not years, so it is likely that additional attacks are already in the operational stages," the official added. "This is a war that did not end with the elimination of the Taliban, and we will all have to prepare ourselves for that. There will be additional losses."

White House spokesman Scott McClellan declined to elaborate on Bush's remarks except to say that authorities around the nation have been kept abreast of any terrorist threats gleaned from the evidence found in the rubble of Afghanistan, as well as from interrogations of battlefield detainees and other sources of information.

"The law enforcement community throughout America has been made aware of these threats," McClellan said.

In his 48-minute speech, Bush portrayed Al Qaeda as bent on the mass killings of Americans through attacks on the nation's vulnerable points.

Nuclear plants, water treatment facilities and landmarks have long been described as potentially rich targets for terrorists.

In testimony last summer, Ahmed Ressam, who was later convicted in a plot to bomb Los Angeles International Airport, said he had been trained in Al Qaeda camps to gauge the vulnerability of American power plants, utilities and landmarks with the intention of bombing them to cause the most casualties. Ultimately, he settled on LAX, but the plot was thwarted when Ressam was arrested in December 1999 at the U.S.-Canadian border with explosives in his rental car.

Bush alluded repeatedly to the ongoing dangers posed by terrorists.

"What we have found in Afghanistan confirms that, far from ending there, our war against terror is only beginning," said Bush, who used the speech to disclose other previously classified findings gleaned from the four-month battle against the Taliban and Osama bin Laden's Al Qaeda terrorist network.

"Most of the 19 men who hijacked planes on Sept. 11 were trained in Afghanistan's camps, and so were tens of thousands of others," Bush said. "Thousands of dangerous killers, schooled in the methods of murder, often supported by outlaw regimes, are now spread throughout the world like ticking time bombs, set to go off without warning."

Neither Bush nor his senior aides disclosed specifics of the intelligence findings gained in Afghanistan, such as which American cities may have been targeted or at what time.

But he did say tens of thousands of "trained terrorists" are plotting attacks in at least a dozen countries.

Advertisement
Los Angeles Times Articles
|
|
|