John Brennan, the White House’s chief counterterrorism adviser, said Wednesday that U.S. officials are increasing travel security for the holiday season - including the use of more imaging devices, and defended Director of National Intelligence James Clapper for not knowing about a foiled terrorist plot in London.
“As we enter the peak of the Christmas holiday season, [the federal government] is doing everything to prevent terrorists from carrying out cowardly attacks,” Mr. Brennan said at a White House press briefing Wednesday.
He said the “accelerated deployment of advanced-imaging technology” was related to concerns that al Qaeda may be plotting attacks in Europe and was not the result of a specific threat in the U.S. or elsewhere. He did not say whether the image scanners would go to airports for passenger screenings.
“This is what the president has directed; this is what the American people deserve,” Mr. Brennan said.
Mr. Brennan and other White House officials also defended Mr. Clapper, who appeared stumped by a question from a joint interview with ABC News Tuesday night about the arrests of 12 men suspected of involvement in an al Qaeda-related plot to blow up targets in London.
Mr. Clapper was asked whether the extensive terrorism plot uncovered in London could have security implications in the United States. The plot received heavy news coverage this week and was a major focus in Britain, the closest U.S. intelligence partner.
It was an embarrassing moment for the embattled position of director of national intelligence and reinforced grumblings that Mr. Clapper has failed to use his post forcefully to ride herd on the government’s unwieldy intelligence bureaucracy.
Mr. Brennan told reporters Wednesday that Mr. Clapper had been preoccupied with tensions between North and South Korea and helping ensure the passage of a nuclear weapons treaty with Russia, and had been left out of the loop on the developments in London.
“He should have been briefed by staff,” Mr. Brennan said, “but I’m glad Jim Clapper is not sitting in front of his TV and is focused on terrorists.”
Mr. Brennan said the U.S. also has taken additional steps to screen overseas cargo, following terrorists thwarted attempt in October to conceal explosives inside ink cartridges, then ship the devices on cargo aircraft bound for this country. The steps include checks on cargo coming from Yemen and Somalia and a ban on essentially all toners and ink cartridges coming into the country, including on carry-on bags.
Mr. Brennan said the plan improves information sharing. He cited as an example of the U.S.’s improved success the Oct. 27 arrest of Farooque Ahmed, a naturalized U.S. citizen from Pakistan. Mr. Ahmed was arrested on charges of assisting others whom he thought to be members of al Qaeda in planning bombings at Metro subway stations in the Washington, D.C., area.
On the subject of increased holiday security measures, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs declined to say whether police this week searching the bags of Metro riders is part of the enhanced security efforts.
“I’m don’t want to talk about specifics,” he said.