Panetta: U.S. Must Stay Vigilant Against Terrorist Attacks

WASHINGTON, May 8, 2012 — A recent attempt by Yemeni-based ter­ror­ists to plant an explo­sive device on an air­lin­er bound for the Unit­ed States shows the nation needs to remain vig­i­lant against new acts of ter­ror­ism, Defense Sec­re­tary Leon E. Panet­ta said.

In a plot whose details may nev­er be ful­ly known, U.S. and Yemeni oper­a­tives last month dis­rupt­ed the plans of a bomber affil­i­at­ed with al-Qai­da in the Ara­bi­an Penin­su­la, or AQAP, to det­o­nate a plas­tic explo­sive device aboard a com­mer­cial air­craft.

“What this inci­dent makes clear is that this coun­try has to con­tin­ue to remain vig­i­lant against those who would seek to attack this coun­try,” Panet­ta said dur­ing a news con­fer­ence yes­ter­day. “And we will do every­thing nec­es­sary to keep Amer­i­ca safe.”

On Air Force One today, White House spokesman Jay Car­ney said Pres­i­dent Barack Oba­ma, who was briefed on the oper­a­tion in ear­ly April, is pleased with the suc­cess of intel­li­gence and coun­tert­er­ror­ism offi­cials in foil­ing the attempt by al-Qai­da to use the explo­sive device.

“It is indica­tive of the kind of work that our intel­li­gence and coun­tert­er­ror­ism ser­vices are per­form­ing reg­u­lar­ly to counter the threat posed by al-Qai­da in gen­er­al, and AQAP in par­tic­u­lar,” Car­ney said. “At no time were Amer­i­cans in dan­ger as a result of this.”

Dur­ing an inter­view this morn­ing on NBC’s “Today,” John Bren­nan, chief White House coun­tert­er­ror­ism advi­sor, said inter­na­tion­al coop­er­a­tion was key to the operation’s suc­cess.

“It took very close coop­er­a­tion with our inter­na­tion­al part­ners,” Bren­nan said. “This is some­thing that we have real­ly empha­sized over the past many years — work­ing very close­ly with our Yemeni part­ners — because al-Qai­da in the Ara­bi­an Penin­su­la pos­es a seri­ous threat to us.”

Hav­ing the intel­li­gence and being able to take action before any IEDs can reach an air­plane or an air­port, he added, is instru­men­tal in dis­rupt­ing such attacks.

Accord­ing to news reports, the IED was plas­tic, sim­i­lar to the one Niger­ian Umar Farouk Abdul­mu­tal­lab tried to use on Christ­mas Day 2009 on North­west Air­lines flight 253, en route from Ams­ter­dam to Detroit. AQAP claimed cred­it for that attempt­ed attack.

AQAP’s bomb mak­er, Ibrahim al-Asiri, has demon­strat­ed real pro­fi­cien­cy as far as con­ceal­ment meth­ods as well as the mate­ri­als that are used in these IEDs,” Bren­nan said.

The FBI is exam­in­ing the IED to see what kind of mod­i­fi­ca­tions or refine­ments may have been made, he added.

The Unit­ed States also adapts its coun­ter­mea­sures, Bren­nan said.

“What­ev­er we learn from this IED, we’re going to ensure that it’s going to be incor­po­rat­ed into the mea­sures that we take at air­ports, as well as any oth­er avenues of approach that the would-be ter­ror­ists would take,” the president’s coun­tert­er­ror­ism advi­sor said.

Bren­nan said no one has to wor­ry about the IED or the would-be bomber.

“This is still in a sen­si­tive stage,” he added. “We’re work­ing very close­ly with those part­ners. We want to pro­tect sources and meth­ods, as well as oper­a­tional equi­ties. But nei­ther the device nor the would-be bomber pos­es a threat.”

Now, Bren­nan added, “we’re tak­ing addi­tion­al mea­sures in the event that there are oth­er efforts out there on the part of al-Qai­da to try to evade secu­ri­ty.”

In New Del­hi, today, on the last seg­ment of her trip to Asia, Sec­re­tary of State Hillary Rod­ham Clin­ton said the thwart­ed ter­ror­ist attack is on the minds of U.S. and Indi­an offi­cials.

Both gov­ern­ments “know the tragedies and loss­es that come with ter­ror­ism on our soil,” she told reporters.

“We have increased our coop­er­a­tion between India and the Unit­ed States,” she added, and we’re going to con­tin­ue to do every­thing we can not only to pre­vent ter­ror­ists from car­ry­ing out their evil acts of vio­lence, but also to try to con­vince peo­ple not to be recruit­ed into ter­ror­ism, which is very much of a dead end, lit­er­al­ly and fig­u­ra­tive­ly, when it comes to pur­su­ing any kind of polit­i­cal or ide­o­log­i­cal aims.”

The plot itself indi­cates that the ter­ror­ists will keep try­ing, she said.

“They keep try­ing to devise more and more per­verse and ter­ri­ble ways to kill inno­cent peo­ple,” the sec­re­tary of state added. “And it’s a reminder as to why we have to remain vig­i­lant at home and abroad in pro­tect­ing our nation and in pro­tect­ing friend­ly nations and peo­ples like India and oth­ers.”

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)