The chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee suggested Tuesday that the Obama administration may have misled the public in keeping the lid on the latest Al Qaeda-affiliate bomb plot, and called for a review into the way the government handles top-secret information.
"I think we have to find a better way in the future to see or at least do (a review on) how we can tell the public, what we should tell the public," Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., told Fox News. King described the challenge as walking a "fine line," but said that if officials are trying to keep a secret, they should "do it in a way not to mislead the public."
Law enforcement sources also told Fox News that the credibility of the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI has been undercut by this -- because in the run-up to the anniversary of Usama bin Laden's death they issued a bulletin saying there was no plot, when the administration, in fact, knew an explosive device was being tracked and intercepted.
The Obama administration, after prodding from reporters across Washington, ultimately confirmed late Monday what for weeks had been a highly classified operation. U.S. authorities had confiscated a sophisticated bomb that apparently was part of a plot by Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula to bring down a U.S.-bound airliner -- something the Al Qaeda affiliate failed to do in the attempted 2009 Christmas Day bombing plot.
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney confirmed Tuesday that President Obama was made aware of the operation in early April.
Yet in late April, the FBI and Department of Homeland Security sent out an intelligence bulletin claiming there was no specific, credible threat to the U.S. homeland in the run-up to the one-year anniversary of Usama bin Laden's death. The bulletin noted that terror groups would see an attack on the anniversary as a "symbolic victory," and warned about the danger of "lone-wolf" attacks around that time.
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At the time, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano also said "we have no specific or credible information about anything pinned to the anniversary."
And around the same time, a senior counterterrorism official was asked by Fox News during a formal briefing to mark the bin Laden death anniversary whether any explosive package had been recently picked up or intercepted. "Not that I know of, no," the official said.
Napolitano on Tuesday defended the administration's statements, calling them "accurate."
But King told Fox News that even though there's no "specific evidence" to show the plot was tied to the anniversary, Al Qaeda "does have respect for anniversaries."
"I would make the operating assumption (that) certainly the anniversary was a factor in choosing this time and place," King said.
He said determining how to discuss an ongoing operation like this in public is "always a challenge." The government, he said, wants to make the public aware without giving up the mission.
"Maybe they could have found a better way to express it -- and that there was a plot against the U.S. but no threat since we felt we had everything under control," King said.
Officials have said the latest counterterrorism operation was kept so secret in order to protect the operation itself.
One government source familiar with the intelligence told Fox News that the "operation is ongoing" still, and that a second potential threat has emerged out of the Middle East involving surgically implanted body bombs.
King acknowledged, "there's a lot that still can't be told on this."
He, like other lawmakers on Capitol Hill, praised the intelligence and law enforcement communities for a job well done in thwarting the potential plot.
"It's a victory for the U.S.," he said.
But King said he hopes the plot is a "wake-up call," casting doubt on Obama's recent claims on a surprise visit to Afghanistan that the war will end there.
"It's not going to end in Afghanistan. It's not going to end until Al Qaeda is destroyed worldwide," King said.
Fox News Chief Intelligence Correspondent Catherine Herridge's bestselling book "The Next Wave: On the Hunt for al Qaeda's American Recruits" was published by Crown on June 21. It draws on her reporting for Fox News into al-Awlaki and his new generation of recruits -- Al Qaeda 2.0. It is the first book to fully investigate al-Awlaki's American life, his connections to the hijackers, and how the cleric double-crossed the FBI after Sept. 11.
Catherine Herridge is an award-winning Chief Intelligence correspondent for FOX News Channel (FNC) based in Washington, D.C. She covers intelligence, the Justice Department and the Department of Homeland Security. Herridge joined FNC in 1996 as a London-based correspondent.