Attorney General Alberto Gonzales on Foiled Terror Plot

This is a partial transcript of "The Big Story With John Gibson," August 10, 2006, that has been edited for clarity.

JOHN GIBSON, HOST: This plot involved using a sports drink which contained — or what looked like a British sports drink — which would contain liquids which when combined and then ignited with a MP3 player or a camera flash or something like that, would produce a bomb.

Federal law enforcement sources say in the weeks leading up to the British raids, the FBI has had as many as 200 agents tracking leads and threats on this side of the Atlantic. Moments ago I spoke with Attorney General Alberto Gonzales about what is being done now.


GIBSON: Mr. Attorney General, what was the role the United States played in the investigation and the apprehension of these terror suspects in London?

ALBERTO GONZALES, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: Well, you know, we've got a strong cooperative relationship with the British authorities. We've worked with them on many investigations and this was no exception. There were information, tips and leads here within the United States that the FBI, the Department of Justice, other law enforcement and intelligence agencies, that we followed up on. The FBI had over 20 agents running down each of these leads.

It is true, after doing all of that work, that we don't believe, based on what we know, that there is an ongoing plot here in the United States, but we shared — everything that we learned about this plot we shared with the British authorities. And we believe that our efforts were important, certainly instrumental in disrupting this current threat.

GIBSON: I'm reading from a U.S. News & World Report this afternoon. It said that the U.S. brought pressure to bear on Pakistan to make a key arrest, which had a domino effect and led to the subsequent arrests in Britain. What did we do to put pressure on in Pakistan?

GONZALES: Well, listen, one of the things that we're doing, of course, is we're cooperating with the British authorities, and they're the lead in the investigation and subsequent prosecution, and I don't want to say anything that might in any way adversely affect the ongoing investigation or the subsequent prosecution. I'll wait for the British authorities to get that information out to the public.

GIBSON: Mr. Attorney General, you know, some people have been saying that they have been hoping one day the United States authorities would ban liquids on planes because they knew the danger of one of these liquid mixture bombs. Is the day over when a passenger can carry liquids onto an airplane?

GONZALES: We'll have to wait and see. Obviously, Secretary Chertoff and the Department of Homeland Security, they're going to look at that, they're going to evaluate what exactly the individuals involved in this plot, what they intended to do with these materials.

We'll look to see whether or not we have adequate defenses for this kind of threat. If not, we'll ensure that defenses are, in fact, put in place so that we can satisfy or ensure the American public that it's safe to fly.

GIBSON: What is the role that either the Patriot Act or the NSA surveillance program or any of those kinds of things where American authorities listen in on people, what role did that play in this investigation?

GONZALES: Again, we want to be careful about how much we disclose at the initial stages of this investigation. We don't want to jeopardize the subsequent prosecution, not only in the U.K. but perhaps here in the United States.

And what I can say is that the president of the United States expects that all of us working in government utilize all the tools available to us under the Constitution and our laws to disrupt these kinds of attacks and to prosecute, to bring to justice people engaged in criminal activity against the United States.

GIBSON: Let me put it this way, Mr. Attorney General: Apparently the Brits did use sneak and peek as well as telephone taps. Does that illustrate, or should that illustrate to the American public why those are necessary tools here?

GONZALES: We have had a very dangerous and very determined enemy, and they're very smart. And they're very wise in the ways that they communicate with each other.

And I think we have a responsibility in government to ensure that we're taking advantage of changing technology ourselves. We shouldn't handicap ourselves.

Obviously, we are bound by the Constitution and by our laws, but we should take advantage of the technologies that currently exist, that allows us to engage in meaningful surveillance of the enemy, particularly during a time of war.

GIBSON: Mr. Attorney General, in '93 terrorists tried to bring down the World Trade Center. In 2001, they finally did it. In '94, '95, Ramzi Yousef and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed tried this exact same plot, to bring down airliners over the Pacific headed to the United States.

Are we to take from this that even though they are thwarted at one time, they just keep trying, even if it's a decade later?

GONZALES: I think evidence shows, history shows, that this is a very patient and very determined enemy. And the fact that we've gone five years without another attack here in the United States should not lead anyone to believe that there are not threats against the United States.

The president of the United States talked about that today, and that it is certainly true. And I see it every day when I go over to the FBI building and review the threat assessments against the United States.

GIBSON: All right. Mr. Attorney General, thank you very much. I appreciate it.

GONZALES: Thank you.

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