Bait and Switch

By Dan Froomkin
Special to
Thursday, February 9, 2006; 1:15 PM

Under pressure to justify his warrantless domestic spying program, President Bush today with much fanfare disclosed new details about the thwarting of a terrorist hijacking plot four years ago. But what it had to do with eavesdropping, Bush didn't say.

White House spokesman Scott McClellan whipped up the press corps early this morning with word that Bush would offer hitherto secret information about the plot to crash a plane into Los Angeles's tallest building.

Reporters were abuzz, and CNN even pulled away from its live coverage of a news conference announcing murder charges for a British man whose American wife and baby were shot to death last month in Massachusetts.

But now we're all left scratching our heads a bit.

Why is the White House suddenly offering all these details, even though they are unrelated to the central issue preoccupying official Washington, namely whether Bush's secret surveillance plan is illegal?

Could it just be an attempt to change the subject?

The White House had previously disclosed the disruption of a mid-2002 plot to use aircraft hijacked overseas to attack the Library Tower (now US Bank Tower ) in Los Angeles.

In today's speech Bush added some details, including that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, had recruited men from southeast Asia to hijack a plane using shoebombs to breach the cockpit door -- and that the plot was thwarted with international cooperation.

Bush referred to the plot as targeting the Liberty Tower, even though he meant Library Tower.

Deb Riechmann has more for the Associated Press.

It's not the first time Bush has abruptly disclosed previously classified information when it was convenient.

In a speech last October, while trying to shore up sagging public support for the war in Iraq, Bush suddenly announced: "Overall, the United States and our partners have disrupted at least ten serious al Qaeda terrorist plots since September the 11th, including three al Qaeda plots to attack inside the United States. We've stopped at least five more al Qaeda efforts to case targets in the United States, or infiltrate operatives into our country."

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