President Bush’s recent claim that U.S. and allied intelligence operatives had foiled 10 Al Qaeda terrorist plots included plans on the group’s wish list rather than fully formed attack plots, say intelligence and counterterrorism officials quoted by USA Today. In at least six of the cases, U.S. or allied forces arrested alleged conspirators who divulged details of operations they were planning. Those plots involved preliminary ideas about potential attacks, not operations that were about to be carried out, said officals who spoke anonymously because information about the list is classified.
One plan, the “West Coast airliner plot,” was uncovered in 2002. An official familiar with counterterrorism efforts said details of that plot weren’t fully understood until a year later with the arrest of Al Qaeda’s No. 3, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed. Mohammed suggested that the plot that was not fully formed. In several cases, U.S. intelligence believed conspirators had the expertise and resources to carry out major attacks but were nowhere near carrying out the operations on the White House list.