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 Thursday, 13 June, 2002, 23:33 GMT 00:33 UK
Analysis: Is US terror fight 'overplayed'?
US Attorney General John Ashcroft
Ashcroft said the US had thwarted a major terror plot

The US Attorney General, John Ashcroft, appeared live on television news channels in a hastily-arranged link up from Moscow.

I don't think there was actually a plot beyond some fairly loose talk

Deputy Defence Secretary Paul Wolfowitz
He told the nation that a terrorist's plot to detonate a radioactive dirty bomb had been foiled.

He said the alleged bomber, Jose Padilla - also known as Abdullah al-Muhajir - was in custody, and he praised the CIA and FBI for their cooperation in uncovering the plot.

The bomb, Mr Ashcroft indicated, was probably destined for Washington.

But it later became clear that the alleged al-Qaeda member had actually been in detention for more than a month, and the plan itself was only in its early stages.

Paul Wolfowitz, the deputy defence secretary, said: "I don't think there was actually a plot beyond some fairly loose talk."

Timing questioned

It has made some people question the sudden and dramatic television address of John Ashcroft, especially in the light of the criticism the CIA and the FBI have faced over mishandled warnings prior to 11 September.

Jose Padilla
Padilla had been in custody for over a month

They wonder whether John Ashcroft's announcement was deliberately meant to counter some of the negative publicity the agencies' have endured.

Congressman Henry Waxman, a Democrat from California, said it was not possible to know whether the announcement's timing was manipulated.

But he said it was "hard to ignore that there seems to be a pattern that makes it appear they are being quite political in their calculations of the timing of these announcements".

Asked about the announcement's timing, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer replied: ''These very few people who want to make such an outlandish political accusation represent the most cynical among the most partisan, and they're not to be taken seriously.''

Speech leaked

But others have pointed to the timing of other information released in America's war on terror.

Last week a major address by the president on homeland security came on the same day an FBI whistleblower was due to give her first public testimony to a Congressional committee.

Coleen Rowley had written a damning letter to the FBI head, Robert Mueller, about the bureau's handling of intelligence warnings.

News of George W Bush's speech was leaked early in the day and dominated the headlines.

On Wednesday, the CIA director, George Tenet, was called before a private House intelligence committee.

It came amid questioning about the extend of the threat posed by Jose Padilla, the alleged dirty bomber.

Mr Tenet was asked to give details about how far the plot had progressed up to Padilla's arrest.

The suggestion by some on Capitol Hill is that as President Bush's image as the nation's protector begins to wane, his advisors are doing all they can to keep it alive.


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13 Jun 02 | Americas
11 Jun 02 | Health
10 Jun 02 | Americas
10 Jun 02 | South Asia
05 Dec 01 | Americas
23 Apr 02 | Americas
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