Code orange in London

By Mark Follman
November 18, 2004 9:51PM (UTC)
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Remember the July surprise? Just hours before John Kerry went on stage to speak at the Democratic National Convention in Boston on July 29, the capture of a high level al-Qaida operative in Pakistan was announced; a few days later the Bush administration put sections of New York city and Washington D.C. on code orange alert. Reports followed that the terror alert was based primarily on intelligence information that was several years old, sparking contention that the alert was politically motivated -- perhaps intended to undermine an expected Kerry bounce in the polls.

Newsweek reported late yesterday that some "intelligence sources" now believe the Bush administration's warnings were off by about 3,500 miles.


"The latest analysis of evidence that led to last summers Code Orange alert suggests that Al Qaeda operatives were plotting a 'big bomb' attack against a major landmark in Britain -- but had no active plans for strikes in the United States, U.S. intelligence sources tell Newsweek. The reassessment of Al Qaeda plans is the latest indication that much of the Bush administrations repeatedly voiced concerns about a pre-election attack inside the United States was based in part on an early misreading of crucial intelligence seized months ago in Pakistan."

The report doesn't offer a whole lot more on the issue -- but toward the end there is one rather ominous paragraph about continuing worry of an attack in the British capitol.

"Some U.S. law-enforcement officers based in London, Newsweek has learned, have become extremely concerned about evidence regarding possible active Al Qaeda plots to attack targets in Britain. According to a U.S. government official, fears of terror attacks have prompted FBI agents based in the U.S. Embassy in London to avoid traveling on London's popular underground railway (or tube) system, which is used daily by millions of commuters. While embassy-based officers of the U.S. Secret Service, Immigration and Customs bureaus and the CIA still are believed to use the underground to go about their business, FBI agents have been known to turn up late to crosstown meetings because they insist on using taxis in London's traffic-choked business center."

Mark Follman

Mark Follman is Salon's deputy news editor. Read his other articles here.

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