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CNN BREAKING NEWS
JFK Airport Terror Plot Foiled; Severe Weather Update; Chaos in Rostock
Aired June 2, 2007 - 12:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
KOCH: ...who tells CNN that several people have been arrested in this alleged terror plot, one them in New York City, several in the Caribbean.
And according to our sources, the plot was not targeting aircraft, but ground operations. We don't have more specifics than that right now. We're told that the plot did not seem to be imminent. It was not a big one, but that it was a plot that had been under surveillance for quite a while.
So, again, this press conference coming at 1:00 p.m., in about an hour. We're told, according to our sources that it is not believed at this point that the people connected to this, those whose arrests will be announced, were in any way related to al Qaeda, had any links to al Qaeda. They were described by one of ours sources as instead "wannabes." But again, Tony, we are told that this is a case that has been developing for a long time. Back to you.
HARRIS: OK and once again, Kathleen, when are we expecting that news conference? It'll be something that we'll be wanting to pay close attention to.
KOCH: Exactly, 1:00 p.m. Eastern Time, again, by the FBI and then New York City's the Joint Terrorism in Task Force.
HARRIS: And for folks just joining us, I know we're just reporting this over the last couple of minutes. I think it's important just to sort of go over the sourcing on this, the information that you've learned, and the details of that information that you've learned. So if you wouldn't mind, just sort of walk us through it once again. Important story for us.
KOCH: Again, law enforcement official, a high-level government official involved in the investigation telling us that this is a plot against JFK Airport, not against aircraft, but against ground operations. So, they wouldn't give us anymore specifics than that, we are told it was unclear what these suspects were going to do.
One person, whose arrest will be announced, is in New York. I don't know if it's New York City or New York State, the rest in the Caribbean. We weren't told exactly what country in the Caribbean where they are, or where they're being held right now. But again in plot did not appear to be imminent. It was not a big one, according to our sources, but something that had been under surveillance for some time. And obviously we're going to hear in about an hour why authorities decided to move on (INAUDIBLE). HARRIS: All right Kathleen, appreciate it, thank you. Let's get to CNN's security analyst Pat D'Amuro. Pat is on the line with us.
Pat, if you would, talk us through the kind of investigation that must have taken place here that is ultimately going to lead to the announcement in about an hour of arrests.
PAT D'AMURO, CNN SECURITY ANALYST: Well Tony, we'll learn more when the announcement comes through, but there has been concern at various airports throughout the country, various employees could that be involved in these type of tactics. We need to know more about who these involves are, who they're affiliated with. Are they affiliated with radical fundamentalists or are they affiliated with drug organizations when we talk about the Caribbean.
There's a lot of questions that need to be answered, here. I'm sure the FBI is following up on any international connections these individuals have. We have to know the reason for the plot in the first place.
HARRIS: You talked about vulnerabilities and talk about airports, boy, it must be a real concern for airports around the country to be mindful of their employees, who's working for them, and what kinds of ties they might have beyond their work environment.
D'AMURO: Absolutely, a due diligence investigation, a background investigation that needs to be conducted on all employees working at the airports, various vendors that service the airports. A lot of these names are checked through the FBI counterterrorism base, to make sure that the individual's being hired don't have terrorism connections. So there's a lot of work that goes into doing background checks on individuals before they even get hired at the airport.
HARRIS: Now how does an investigation -- would you suspect we will learn that this investigation was launched as the result of a tip from someone working at the airport? Maybe someone who was close to the person who we expect to be arrested?
D'AMURO: You know, Tony, I'd hate to speculate on it. We haven't heard on how the investigation was initiated yet. I'm sure we'll learn that as the case develops and unfolds with the press conference. It'll be very interesting to see if it came from a citizen that knew of an individual working at the airport, if it came from another investigation that the Joint Terrorism Task Force may have been conducting in the first place.
HARRIS: Hey Pat, how concerned are you about vulnerabilities at the nation's airports this many years after 9/11?
D'AMURO: Well, there's been a lot of enhancements, a lot of improve s of security at airports, but there's still a lot of work that needs to be done. There's, you know, Homeland Security still has a long way to go to improve the security of the country, not only at the airports, but various ports and harbors, and all transportation modes throughout the country. It's something that, you know, security is an ongoing matter. As we come up with different security measures that are implemented, terrorists are constantly looking to defeat those security methods, so it's something that has to evolve and change as time goes on.
HARRIS: Great, Pat, thanks for your time. Appreciate it.
And let's talk again after the news conference about an hour or so from now.
Once again, just to update the breaking news this hour, one law enforcement official telling CNN, several people have been arrested, including one in New York related to an alleged terror plot aimed at JFK International Airport. We're expecting to hear more on this story, perhaps inside the hour. We will bring that information to you as we get it here in the CNN NEWSROOM.
Well, the good and the bad, switching gears here. Tropical Depression Barry, downgraded from a tropical storm, after it made landfall north of Tampa about two hours ago. Folks battened down the hatches for Barry to be sure, which is to bring much-needed rain to bone-dry Florida and parts of Georgia. Experts warn it could also spawn tornadoes.
Susan Roesgen joins us now from Steinhatchee, Florida with the very latest.
Susan, good to see you.
SUSAN ROESGEN, CNN NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Hey, good morning Tony and good to see that it has been downgrade dead a tropical depression. No one is every disappointed in this part of the world when a tropical storm is downgraded because that's a lot better than being upgraded to a hurricane, especially in a little low-lying community like Steinhatchee, a low-lying fishing community like this.
And as you mentioned, Tony, Florida is in the middle of record drought and they need a lot of rain, probably more than Barry brought. But also, Tony, this storm system, I think, at the start of the hurricane season is a gentle reminder for people living all along the coast that they should have at least a three-day supply of food and water and other essential items just in case, later this season, in what is expected to be a very active season, we do get a hurricane -- Tony.
HARRIS: OK, Susan Roesgen for us in Steinhatchee, Florida. Susan, thank you.
Let's get a check on weather conditions now and the downgrading of Barry. There she is, Bonnie Schneider for us in the Severe Weather Center.
Bonnie, good to see you.
BONNIE SCHNEIDER, METEOROLOGIST: Good to see you, Tony. Now look at this satellite perspective, you can see not much left, but it's still a tropical depression. Barry was actually downgraded shortly after it made landfall around 10:00 this morning.
Now, when the storm came onshore, officially it was still a tropic storm with maximum winds at about 45 miles-per-hour, just under 50. But now you can see, looking at the satellite perspective, a lot of wind shears with winds coming from the southwest in the upper levels in the atmosphere and that's definitely changing things for Barry quickly and dissipating it quite a bit, but we still have sustained winds at 35.
The movement's to the north-northeast at 23 miles-per-hour. And as the storm becomes extra tropical this afternoon, it'll still bring some needed moisture to the southeast, particularly here into Georgia and northern Florida, where the fires have been so problematic, any rain is welcome. We are expecting at least another three inches of rain, in certain areas about an inch more in others.
Here's a look at the next 24 hours as we put it in motion. You can see some of the heavier rain, still stays offshore, but we are getting rain, right here in northwest -- in northeast Florida, rather and that's, once again, the whole state is completely drought stricken, so any rain that we get anywhere will make a difference.
But the threat for severe weather has not died down. We still have a tornado watch in effect. This actually was issued early this morning. It goes straight until 3:00 today because we still run the risk of tornadoes, possibly, as the thunderstorms that you see onshore still kind of work their way across Florida.
Some of the heaviest rain is now further to north, but we still have rainbands coming into areas of south and central Florida and pretty strong winds out in the south right now, in Tampa to the north towards Tallahassee. And as we look towards Miami, the winds have also picked up, as well. You can see some rainbands now just working their way across the Everglades and they're going to be coming into Miami shortly. So, it may be sunny and dry where you, but watch out, because we will see some changes in the forecast, and we are going to keep that chance for rain and the threat for severe weather in the forecast as well.
Here's where the rain and the wind is that worst, right now this hour, coastal Georgia, where winds are clocking near Brunswick at about 30 miles-per-hour -- Tony.
HARRIS: OK, Bonnie, appreciate it. Thank you. We certainly need the rain in Florida and south Georgia, that's for sure.
Let's get the latest information that we have now on this alleged terror plot disrupted. Kathleen Koch is following the story for us in Washington. Kathleen, what have you learned?
KOCH: Tony, new information, both from our sources and also from the "Associated Press." The "Associated Press" is now reporting that the number of people arrested are three. Three people arrested and one being sought in this alleged terror plot against JFK Airport, one of the busiest airports in the nation. And again, the plot, as we've reported earlier, was in only the planning stages and according to one of our sources now, the reason that law enforcement officials are acting now, are going forward with these arrests is that some of the suspects were getting ready to travel. So, that's what motivated their action now because earlier sources had told us that it did not appear that any action was imminent and that the -- but the plot had indeed been under surveillance for a while.
Now another interesting issue from "AP," quoting again, "Associated Press," is that this was a plot to set off explosives. Now, we'd earlier report that the plot was not targeting aircraft, not targeting passenger terminals, something with ground operations. But according to "Associated Press," it has to do with explosives, plans to set off explosives of some sort at the airport.
And again, our sources tell us, at least one those who will be arrested is a former airport worker and again, we are told they are not believed to be affiliated with al Qaeda.
HARRIS: OK, Kathleen, appreciate that update. And stay with us. As you get additional information, just give us a heads-up, and we will get back to you quickly as possible.
More on this alleged terror plot disrupted. We will continue to check in with Kathleen Koch for the latest information. Right now, let's get you it a break. More CNN NEWSROOM coming up in just a moment.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN Breaking News.
HARRIS: And coming up on 15 minutes after the hour, just want to give you an update on the breaking news into CNN. Three suspects, we understand, have been arrested in an alleged terror plot aimed at New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport. A law enforcement official telling CNN and CNN's Kathleen Koch, a former JFK Airport employee, among those arrested, the FBI and the Joint Terrorist Task Force have called a news conference for 1:00 p.m. There are some indications that it might come a little earlier than that. But we'll stay with the 1:00 p.m. call on that news conference to provide details of the arrest and an indictment, we're told.
The plot was allegedly aimed at ground operations -- ground operations at JFK, not airplane flights. The official described the suspects as "al Qaeda wannabes." And one is said to be -- one of the suspects is said to be from the Caribbean. The case has been developing, we understand, for quite a long time.
CNN's Kathleen Koch, of course, is following this story for us from Washington. Jason Carroll, our correspondent in New York, is making his way it the news conference, so we will have additional information for you from two fronts as we get this news into the CNN NEWSROOM, we will, of course, bring it to you.
Let's turn our attention to Germany, now. Violence and chaos in Rostock, Germany. Rocks, bottles and paint bottles flying as mass protesters clashed with police ahead of next week's G-8 Summit. Our Frederik Pleitgen is there and he joins us by phone.
And Frederik, the scene, I understand, is a bit calmer now and but just about two hours ago, it was very dramatic and very tense on the streets there in Germany.
FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN INTERNATIONAL REPORTER: Well Tony, right now the scene is turning more dramatic again. We've seen the protesters sort of regroup themselves. They're sort of screaming, throwing rocks at the police, throwing bottles at the police and basically throwing anything that they can find at the police. I've seen them throw a shopping cart at the police. And also, just a minute ago, they were smashing the pavements, the sidewalks here, and using the debris from that to also throw the police officers, here.
Now what police is doing is they're sort of trying to cordon off their area. They have moved in water trucks, they've also moved in armored personnel carriers into this area to try and get this situation under control and try to somehow disperse the crowd.
Now, up until now, they haven't been very successful doing that and they have had to retreat time and again and right now the situation here is heating up again. We're seeing a lot of scuffles that are beginning again, now. So, this is probably going to be a very, very long night for the police here -- Tony.
HARRIS: Frederik, who are the troublemakers? Do you know? Have we been able to identify who troublemakers are? Usually in a case like this, it's a small group of people making it difficult for everyone else.
PLEITGEN: Well, that's exactly what the police are telling us, here. I talk to the local police here, chief, just a little earlier, and he says that he basically thinks of the 50,000 or so protesters that are here, he thinks that about 98 percent of those are actually very peaceful people and don't want any violence here. But he says there are that two percent that come here and they're looking for violence to happen and they are the ones that throw the first rocks, they throw the first bottle and then try to sort of get that riot triggered.
HARRIS: And Frederik, when did this all start to unfold? I mentioned at the top here, it was about, oh, about two hours ago that we started to get some of the dramatic pictures. When did this all start to unfold when the police and certainly the folks who were there peacefully, began to realize that there were some real trouble makers in the crowd and this was about to get ugly fast?
PLEITGEN: Well, it did happen about 2-1/2 hours ago and we really had a very good view of how this began to unfold. It was just like I said, it's basically that there was a standoff between the police and the crowd here and then all of a sudden the first bottle flew and then the second bottle flew and then the police charged that crowd and that then sort of gained momentum more and more and that turned into this really, really large melee that was happening again.
We saw the police forces here, only moments ago, charging the square where this protest is happening, using water cannons to shoot at the people here and I actually -- I was hit by a dose of that water and it's filled with tear gas. And on the other hand though, the protesters are still out there, still throwing rocks. So this going on for a long time.
HARRIS: OK, Frederik Pleitgen for us. Frederik, appreciate it, thank you.
We want to get back to our breaking news story, right now. Again, three suspects have been arrested in an alleged terror plot aimed at New York's John F. Kennedy Airport in New York City. Law enforcement analyst Mike Brooks is on the line with us.
Mike, good to talk to you. Help us sort through what we know at this point.
Oh, we lost Mike? Did we?
OK. Then let me sort of recap the story again for you. Three suspects have been arrested in the alleged terror plot aimed at New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport, this information coming to us from a law enforcement official. A former JFK Airport employee was among those arrested, the official said. The FBI and the Joint Terrorist Task Force have called a news conference for 1:00 p.m. this afternoon, it may happen a bit early, to provide details of the arrest and word of an indictment.
The plot was allegedly aimed at ground operations, important here, ground operations, and not airplane flights. The official described the suspects as "al Qaeda wannabes." And one the suspects, we believe, is from the Caribbean.
The case has been developing for quite a long time. As you can imagine a plot like this, an alleged plot like this, targeting ground operations, could cause all kinds of chaos and panic at an airport the size of John F. Kennedy International Airport -- one of the -- one of the major airports in this country.
Pat D'Amuro, our CNN security -- D'Amuro, our CNN security analyst is on the line with us again.
And Pat, if you would, just talk to us through the significance of a plot like this, an alleged plot, at an airport the size of JFK and the kind of disruption if it had follow through to its natural conclusion as we're going to hear the details later, it would have been a major, major event for this country.
D'AMURO: Well, we have to learn more about what the event was to take place, what was the actual threat? Talking about affecting ground operations is different than trying to bring a plane down from the sky.
D'AMURO: But it could have caused major disruption. JFK is the size of many cities. It's extremely large.
That's a great point.
D'AMURO: A lot of different operations that take place at that airport every day.
Anything that can be made of
D'AMURO: but it could have caused major disruption. JFK is the size of many cities. It's extremely large.
HARRIS: That's a great point.
D'AMURO: A lot of different operations that take place at that airport every day.
HARRIS: Anything that can be made of the fact -- boy, this idea of al Qaeda wannabes is a scary notion. Do we have a handle on how many people -- people what kinds of people who are acceptable in this country now, if there are these kind so-called sleeper cells susceptible to the kind of propaganda war, and actual war, that is being waged by al Qaeda around the world?
D'AMURO: Well, we've been talking about this, Tony, for some time now. Since 9/11, there's been a lot of splintered groups that have spun off from al Qaeda that what they have in common with al Qaeda was the fact that they trained at the training camps. We're now seeing the evolution that, very possibly, many of these individuals haven't even gone to the training camps in Afghanistan or haven't even attended a terrorism training camp, but they're affiliating with the cause, with the radical fundamentalist cause. If that's what we're dealing with here, we need to see who individuals are and who they're connected to. And I'm sure the FBI, the Joint Terrorism Task Force are trying to run down all of those leads.
HARRIS: Hey Pat, how tricky an operation is it? And know the finest minds work on these things to allow an alleged plot to sort of continue to grow and not grow to the point that it reaches the operational stage. I mean that seems to me to be a very delicate balancing act.
D'AMURO: Absolutely, Tony. This is something that the bureaus had to deal with for years. You want to allow an investigation to run as long as you can to be able to identify the entire sphere of individuals that may be involved in the operation. If you take an operation down too soon, you gepordize (ph) the fact that you may not bring in all of the subjects, and that the actual event could still take place somewhere else.
So, it's something that executive management at the bureau watches closely to make sure that they can let an operation continue, but there comes a point where, if there's not enough control over an operation, you have to take that operation down. You can't run the risk of letting an event take place.
HARRIS: Yeah, absolutely. Pat, thanks for your time, again stay with us as we continue to follow to developments on this breaking news story. Into CNN right now, this alleged terror plot disrupted at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York City. We'll take a break and come back. You're in the CNN NEWSROOM.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN Breaking News.
HARRIS: And once again, the breaking news that we're following here in the CNN NEWSROOM for you this afternoon, three suspects, we understand, have been arrested in an alleged terror plot aimed at New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York City. And our law enforcement analyst, Mike Brooks is on the like.
Mike, great to talk to you. Mike, it seems that the FBI had been tracking this operation for some time now. What is it that you suspect here that they're acting on a tip, perhaps some information from a co-worker? What are your thoughts, as you hear this story start to unfold now?
MIKE BROOKS, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Well, I'm hearing from law enforcement sources, Tony, that it was a number of different things that played into it. They didn't want to say exactly how they started, how they developed the case, but New York City, the FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force, along with Port Authority police have been working on this for a while.
And they say there is three, possibly four arrests. And my sources are telling me that it looks as if this was aimed at the fuel lines, the fuel lines at JFK International Airport. And as many people go through airports, and you go around airports, you know you see different fuel farms and those kind of things and they have always been a critical infrastructure that, you know, the law enforcement security always was concerned about.
You know, when I was at the FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force in Washington, assigned there for quite some time, that was always something we were concerned with that the airports around the Washington-Baltimore area. And then when I was at Delta Air Lines, where I was manager as the corporate security, that was something that we always took a look at and we always tried to preplan for those kind of things, but if one of these people who they have arrested was a former airport employee, that is also a big concern and it's always a concern of people in law enforcement and airline security.
HARRIS: What would that mean? There are a couple of questions that come to mind. Let me go to the first one first, you mentioned the fuel lines, fuel tanks always being a bit of a concern. It would clearly be a vulnerability, and we're hearing from some of the reporting from Kathleen Koch, that this is an alleged plot with explosives. So you match that up with your information, it sounds like there was going to be some kind of an attack -- we still have to learn the specific details and the allegations in the indictment -- on the fuel lines and fuel tanks.
BROOKS: That's exactly right. And, you know, and they had mentioned also, you know, ground transportation. Well, that would fit right into this whole thing, Tony. If you -- there's always a concern about contractors coming on to the secure area. You know, and people go through, who work for these different contractors at airports, they go through a 10 year background check for felonies and serious misdemeanors, and if they have any conviction, then they're excluded. But if you have someone who's a foreign national from another country that comes in and is working for these contractors, if they come from another country, come to the United States and have never been arrested, then they're not going to have an arrest record and, you know, they could be affiliated as you were just talking to Pat.
Something the FBI tries to keep an eye on is, you know, these people coming from other countries. Is there any affiliation with any, you know, any rogue nations, any terrorist group, al Qaeda as such? And it's sometimes very, very hard to do that if you have people working for a contractor who just came from another country, they're here legally (INAUDIBLE). But they go ahead and get this pass to get them to the secure area. It always has been a concern, even before 9/11 happened.
HARRIS: OK, Mike, let me allow you to get back to your sources and continue to work this story with your sources. Thanks for your time. But get back to us when you have additional information.
Right now Representative Peter King of New York is on the line with us.
Congressman King, thanks for your time.
REP PETER KING (R), NEW YORK: You're welcome.
HARRIS: What are you hearing about this alleged terror plot disrupted, targeting, we understand, JFK International Airport?
KING: Well actually, I've been aware of this for at least the last eight, nine months, been briefed on it. I met with the NYPD and with the FBI and with the Homeland Security department and the National Counterterrorism Center.
This has been an ongoing investigation. There's been extraordinarily close cooperation among the federal and city law enforcement authorities, NYPD and FBI, especially. It didn't involve a potential attack on a pipeline at Kennedy Airport. I don't know how much detail is going to be released so I can't go much further than that other than to stay it did involve one person from Guyana. It was -- it's been came carefully watched for a number of months and as I understood the details of the attack, it could have caused a conflagration. This would have been a very, very serious attack if it actually had been carried out. And gain, I'm not aware yet if it was -- if the operation was staged. I don't believe it was, but I can't say that for certain.
HARRIS: OK, and you mentioned that one of the suspects is from the Caribbean. Did you say Guyana?
KING: Guyana. That's my understanding, Guyana, yes.
HARRIS: Well, I want to wait for the details to be announced by the FBI, but I'm curious, you just mentioned to us that this has been an ongoing investigation, eight to nine months in length.
KING: At least that I'm aware of, yes.
HARRIS: That you've been aware of. Do you have -- can you share with us what might have initiated the investigation? What kind of information was the FBI acting on?
KING: I really can't say that. I mean that's going to be up to them to disclose as to what they can say and not say. I don't want to be interfering with any sources. I don't want to be giving up any techniques that they have other than to say that it's been watched very carefully by the FBI and the NYPD, going well back into last year.
HARRIS: The idea of an attack on fuel lines, fuel tanks, that obviously for you has been a source of concern, not with the news of the investigation, but I would suspect long before that as a vulnerability at airports.
KING: It certainly has, and you know, when I first heard the one at JFK, it has the added significance because Tony, about 15 miles from my home, is very close to my congressional district. So, but you're right, though. Obviously, these is the type of infrastructure that can be vulnerable. It's what has to be constantly watched and it's why it's so important that we have really aggressive intelligence-seeking and close cooperation at all levels.
HARRIS: Are we talking about even closer scrutiny of airline employees now with the news that at least one former airline employee -- I'm sorry, airport employee was arrested?
KING: Yes, obviously we have to do more on that. The problem here is this -- my understanding is this was a homegrown plot. So, it's very likely -- not likely -- it's certainly possible that a person could pass all the background tests and still be hired as an airport employee. They don't have to be involved with al Qaeda. They don't have to have a terrorist background and so that's the added danger. Why there has to be this constant surveillance.
HARRIS: Anything you'd like to say to your constituency in New York?
KING: They can be very proud of the fact that the NYPD and the FBI and Homeland Security worked so closely on this. And even though the attack, if carried out, would have been absolutely deadly ...
KING: ...this has been under control for months. There was very little chance that this could have gone ahead because of the fact that it was being watched so carefully by the FBI and the NYPD.
HARRIS: Congressman King, thanks for your time. We appreciate it.
KING: You're welcome, thank you.
HARRIS: Let's get you to Washington, D.C., I believe that's where Kelli Arena is, our Justice Correspondent Kelli Arena joins us now.
And Kelli, what have you learned, what can you add to this story that's still developing for us?
VOICE OF KELLI ARENA, JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, here's what I know from law enforcement sources. First thing is that there are four people who have been charged. Three are in custody, one remains at large. Perhaps the most influential member of that group is a person, who is a former worker at John F. Kennedy Airport in New York. He is described by several sources as a Muslim extremist, a very angry person.
The way that law enforcement got onto this plot was that this group tried to recruit someone who was actually working with law enforcement, an informant. And that this -- this whole plan dates back to last summer on this, when they first started talking about it.
The plan was hardly operational at this point. Sources say that there was a lot of surveillance done, traveling back and forth, talking about it, plotting it out. But no one had purchased any explosives, no one had come up with a date or an actual time to move, a plot of action. They were basically not aiming at planes but at fuel tanks and pipelines in the airport.
Of course, the one question everyone always asks is, are these guys connected to al Qaeda?
HARRIS: Yes, yes.
ARENA: And there is absolutely no, no evidence of that whatsoever. However, they did, just last month I'm told, try to get together with a terrorist group in Trinidad known as JAM. There was a meeting of some sorts with representatives from that group. So, they were looking for some sort of a formal connection to an established terrorism group but it's very sketchy on exactly how far they got on that front. Right now, it's just being described as a group that was acting on its own.
The person who was working at JFK by the way was a U.S. citizen from Guyana and the other person who was taken into custody is a former member of parliament in Guyana. HARRIS: Really?
ARENA: Yes, and there was a third person who was taken into custody who was arrested in Trinidad, and as I said one person remains at large. You know, you try to get a reality check on this stuff and the sources that have contacted me and that I have been in touch with have said, they sort of put this maybe a level below the Ft. Dix plot. It was not operational.
And Mike Gollers (ph), who is our homeland security senior producer, you know, called in and said that his sources are telling him that -- that they really -- that there has been no change in the security stance. They do not believe that there's an imminent threat and that is exactly what I'm hearing from my sources as well. No imminent threat, no change in security status. They were well on top of these guys for a long time and now we're obviously you know, announce the details.
HARRIS: OK, I'm going to ask you something that I just don't quite know the answer to.
ARENA: And I may not either, we'll see.
HARRIS: Well, I'm just wondering, so this was hardly operational.
HARRIS: But it sounds like this was some kind of loosely-formed group that was trying to make connections. So, I guess the real tipping point here is when this one person made the contact with -- are we describing this person as an informant, a government informant? How are we describing this person? It sounds like that is the moment at which this whole plot -- and I'm also wondering what these men will ultimately be charged with.
ARENA: Right, well, I mean what they're going to be charged with is probably conspiracy to commit a terrorist act. They plotted, they surveiled. They took very careful notes, I'm told ...
HARRIS: Great, OK.
ARENA: ...of what kinds of explosives they would need. Especially the guy who worked at JFK, you know, responsible for a lot of that surveillance. Knew that airport like the back of his hand. They had charted out and plotted escape routes for them to get out. So, there was a lot of careful planning ...
HARRIS: Got you.
ARENA: ...that went in. But, they didn't actually go and buy the explosives.
HARRIS: Right, that -- that helps. Yes, that really helps.
ARENA: Right, so they weren't there yet but they were getting there.
ARENA: And you know, and it is -- you know, if you're planning to do harm or to blow up a place like an airport, that's a crime.
HARRIS: Absolutely, and I think the clarity of this provides for me is the moment at which you start surveiling areas and you start to make those kinds of plans and those kinds of notes ...
ARENA: And you recruit people, right, and you're recruiting people.
HARRIS: And you're recruiting people, OK, great. And that is clearly the kind of activity that is being alleged here.
ARENA: Exactly, and you know, this has been a matter of some debate ever since the September 11th attacks is when -- when and should law enforcement move in? And they have the government, government officials that have spoken publicly on this issue have all said, look, we cannot afford to wait until it's too late. We've got to move in when we know we have enough to prosecute but before anybody gets hurt.
HARRIS: All right, that is very helpful for us, Kelli. Our Justice Correspondent Kelli Arena for us this afternoon. Kelli, thank you.
ARENA: You're welcome.
HARRIS: We will take a quick break and we will come back with this developing story on the alleged terror plot aborted, disrupted, the terror plot targeting JFK International Airport in New York City. You're in the CNN NEWSROOM.
HARRIS: And we want to bring you the very latest on the breaking news into CNN this hour of the alleged terror plot disrupted. A terror plot, we are told, targeting fuel tanks, fuel lines with explosives at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York City.
Bill Daly is on the line with us, a former FBI analyst and an investigator. Bill, great to talk to you as always.
Bill, we understand now from Kelli Arena, our justice correspondent, four have been charged, three are in custody, and that these people were part of a group. We're not using the word, at least yet, as this group being some kind of sleeper cell of al Qaeda wanna- bes operating here in the United States. As you've been listening to the story as it's been unfolding for us here, what are your thoughts?
VOICE OF BILL DALY, FORMER FBI INVESTIGATOR: Well, Tony, it seems very similar to what we just saw a few weeks ago, with the plot against Ft. Dixon, New Jersey, where there were several people who were arrested and charged as a result of kind of their own -- their own personal jihad and were influenced by worldwide jihad and planned, made plans to actually buy weapons and start attacking Ft. Dix.
So, it's a little too early. We do want to hear all the details. But it may suggest that we had some people here who were talking among themselves. The authorities picked up on it, and it'll be very interesting to see how they picked up on it. Was it through an informant, was it through some type of interception of communications, and then acted on it.
It also sounds to me, Tony, like it may have been an investigation that's been going on for a bit of time. Not that it just happened today or yesterday, but they may have been working on this and just reached a critical point at which they decided time was to arrest them.
HARRIS: How worrisome is it to you to hear that one of the people arrested, an airport employee?
DALY: That's very troublesome because airport employees, many of whom by the way, are trained in TSA security measures and are very knowledgeable, particularly those people who have access to any of the sensitive areas. You know, they're aware of security protocols. But people who have inside information is always one of the most scary things for people like us in the business who say, someone armed with inside information could work with others and put together a very deadly plot.
And although, Tony, it sounds like there also -- there were no plans to attack the aircraft, per se. It sounds like the fuel tanks or maybe transportation of fuel may have been involved at which is interesting because it puts it outside of the more severe ring of security. There is of course security around those sensitive areas of the airports, but it moves it away from those areas that the TSA and others have been very heavily focused on, which are the passenger terminals, the passenger aircraft.
HARRIS: Yes, and that would suggest, and just for clarity sake I should say, that this was a former airport employee. But, it suggests that these groups, these individuals are poking and prodding for vulnerabilities.
DALY: That's exactly right and becoming -- even though, you know, we've used this word of al Qaeda wanna-bes, or even ad hoc terrorists, it doesn't make them any less deadly. And for several of these plots now to have unfolded, or at least arrested and made in the past several weeks, certainly gives us reason to pause and be concerned that here in our own country and people who are working and living among us could be potential plotters and it's a very serious situation.
HARRIS: Bill, this is your line of work, this is your expertise. Are there still major vulnerabilities? We get word of an alleged plot like this one, with some of the details that we have now, more to come of course. And again, this is your line of work, does it concern you that there are still many, many vulnerabilities at our airports, at other areas across the country that we need to do much more work on in terms of protecting? DALY: Well, first of all, in this particular plot, without knowing the details and also they were not successful. So, we would hope that it was either security or intelligence that picked up and ...
HARRIS: That's a great point.
DALY: ...thwarted it, which is what we're focused in on. That's what security and concensus (ph) grains (ph) of security is all about. But you know, when we talk about areas such as -- outside of airports or public transportation centers, which we've often, I know you and I have talked about in the past, after the London incident last year.
It goes to show you though that in a free society, we certainly will always have vulnerable points. We will have sensitive areas that we just can't close up all of them and the important thing then is to have strong intelligence, strong law enforcement and security to protect against those major vulnerability points but also detect incidents before they happen.
HARRIS: Bill, great to talk to you as always. If you don't mind, let me put you to work for us this afternoon. If you would stick around and sort of take a look at this news conference and let's talk again about what you hear and what you've learned about the alleged plot. The news conference is scheduled for about 1:00 p.m. or so, all right?
Bill, thank you.
Let's get you back to Washington, D.C. now and our Kathleen Koch. Kathleen, what are you learning? What are you hearing?
KATHLEEN KOCH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Tony, I wanted to point out something that this -- these arrests that this case highlights. It's an ongoing concern that we hear often from pilots, from flight attendants. As they go through the airport, just like we passengers, they get checked, very heavily. They have to go through security, show their IDs, et cetera.
But then, when they're out there getting on the aircraft and they see these other ramp workers coming and going, I think some of the guests you've interviewed, have highlighted this ongoing concern that there just are not enough checks, ID checks. IDs often are too easy to falsify that they're very concerned that people are scrutinizing them, the ones who are getting on board the aircraft so very carefully, the pilots, the flight attendants, when they really should be focusing outward more to these vulnerable spots, where it's easier to come and go.
And again, we're talking today about allegedly this plot to blow up pipelines, fuel depots, where you could still do quite a lot of damage, still take out an airport for some extended period of time. So, this is something I'm sure that the flight attendants, the pilots who we're going to be hearing more from them on this. They're going to say, look, we told you so. This is the kind of thing you really have to be on guard for. HARRIS: All right, Kathleen. Once again, stay with us on this story. I know that you're working your sources for us.
Again, let me give you a quick around the horn on this. An alleged terror plot disrupted at John F. Kennedy International Airport. We understand that this is an investigation that has been eight to nine months in the making. That the plot never reached the operational stage. The FBI and the joint terrorist task force have called a news conference, let me remind you again, for 1:00 p.m. Eastern time to provide details of the arrest and an indictment.
We learned just a few moments ago from our justice correspondent, Kelli Arena, that three suspects have been arrested in this alleged terror plot, that a fourth suspect is still being sought. We will take a quick break and come back with more information on this story right here in the CNN NEWSROOM.
HARRIS: Once again, following this breaking news here at CNN. We understand that three suspects have been arrested in an alleged terror plot aimed at New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport. A fourth suspect is still at large.
Let's get you to our Justice Correspondent Kelli Arena. Kelli, great to talk to you again because you are really putting some meat on the bones, so to speak, in terms of what you're learning from your sources. So, if you would, please, talk us through the information that you've been able to ascertain from your sources.
ARENA: OK, well we'll start from the beginning. This was a plot that was allegedly, according to several law enforcement sources, hatched last summer. And there was one person who, a former worker at JFK who, I am told, knew the airport like the back of his hand. And he, along with several other people, had decided that they were going to plan to attack John F. Kennedy Airport. Not planes, but the airport itself, go after fuel tanks and pipelines.
This person, I'm told who will be charges will be announced later today, is a U.S. citizen from Guyana and he was allegedly working with another person who is a former member of parliament in Guyana.
ARENA: There was another person who was arrested in Trinidad and then another, a fourth person who remains at large. And what this group did, according to those law enforcement sources, is that they plotted out what they would have to do. They surveilled the airport. They plotted escape routes out of there. They had not, though, gotten to the point where this plan was operational. This is very much in the planning and talking stages, according to the law enforcement sources that we spoke to.
This group is described as a group of Islamic extremists. However, there is no evidence of any connection to al Qaeda or any of the groups that our viewers and listeners are most familiar with. But they did, I'm told, and of course this is all -- these are all allegations at this point ...
ARENA: ...try to set up a meeting, or had a meeting, with a group, a terrorist group in Trinidad, known as JAM. And I -- the information on that point, still very sketchy and hopefully, we'll be hearing more from the FBI and other officials there in New York. As you know, they're expected to have a press conference right at the top of the hour.
The thing that is most important I guess for our viewers to understand is that Homeland Security officials have told our -- you know, Mike Gollers (ph), our senior producer over there, and my (ph) law enforcement officials have also said there is no imminent threat. So, if you're traveling today in and out of JFK or anywhere else, they say calm down. There is no threat against airplanes. There is no evidence of any other activity. This was well under control. They had these people under surveillance for months.
And law enforcement, once again, got very lucky because this group allegedly tried to recruit someone who has a history of working with law enforcement. So, it was an informant that they went to. And you know, these cases, more and more, we're hearing this, that either an informant got involved or there was a tip from just the public that saw something strange and it just really shows you, there's a big difference between the level of involvement at the local level that counterterrorism officials have than they had pre-9/11.
HARRIS: It also points up the work that's being done by informants and how wide a circle, a network of informants is being utilized right now, doesn't it, by law enforcement, certainly the federal level and one would think at the state level as well?
ARENA: Yes, absolutely, absolutely. And you know, you need those -- and law enforcement officials will always contend that those people play very vital roles. And the whole use of informants is ...
ARENA: Very controversial, you know, and it goes up, it goes down. But in many cases, though, they are what ultimately brings a case to court.
HARRIS: Yes. And we're talking about Guyana, just so everyone is aware, it is Guyana is a country off the north coast of South America, the north coast of South America, and very near Venezuela, just as a reference point there.
Kelli Arena, thank you so much.
ARENA: You're welcome.
HARRIS: Thank you for your information.
Let's bring in our Homeland Security Correspondent Jeanne Meserve. And Jeanne, I know that you've been working your sources as well. What can you add to this developing story, this amazing story of this terrorist plot disrupted?
VOICE OF JEANNE MESERVE, HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Hi, this is Jeanne. Yes, we have heard from a Homeland Security official that this plot that Kelli has been talking about was not technically feasible. This Homeland Security official also says at this time there's no credible intelligence to suggest an imminent threat to the homeland. There are no adjustments to the U.S. security posture being made as a result of this plot.
They do consider the plot to have been credible with an intent to commit acts of violence but yet not fully operational. That's what they're saying about this.
I can tell you that there has always been concern about people who work at airports and the kind of access they have. If you're on the ground around an airplane when it comes in to be serviced, you have caterers coming in and cleaning crews coming in and fuel people doing fuel and baggage handling and there are just literally, at least a score of people around any aircraft. And it's been the subject of considerable concern for a considerable length of time.
I can tell you that we went up to JFK specifically and did a story a couple of years ago about their concern because there had been a number of major drug -- drug rings that had been broken that up involved airport workers and there was concern that these people could some day engage in terrorism through the access they had through the airport and the aircraft. It was very, very worrisome.
JFK presents a particular problem. We were talking with one official who told us that it does have this quite significant fuel farm nearby and that in particular has been a concern and some fear that it was not adequately protected.
HARRIS: Hey, Jeanne, if you would, I apologize. We just are getting some new information. We're coming close to the top of the hour, but I want to thank you for that information. Jason Carroll has some new information for us. That was our Homeland Security Correspondent Jeanne Meserve, Jeanne, thank you.
Jason Carroll is in New York and I believe he's actually in the room where the news conference is going to take place, just minutes from now.
Jason, if you're there, great to talk to you. What information, I understand, new information that you have for us?
VOICE OF JASON CARROLL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Tony, getting a lot of information. This comes from the Department of Justice. Let me just read you some of the details that they've given us here. This press conference, once again, about to begin in just a few moments, but I'll give you what I can until that happens.
What they're telling us is four individuals, including a former member of parliament of Guyana, and a former airport cargo worker at New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport, have been charged with conspiring to attack JFK Airport by planting explosives to blow up the airport's major jet fuel supply tanks and a pipeline.
Agents from the FBI and as well as the Terrorism Task Force arrested one of the defendants, the former JFK employee, Russell Defratus (ph), a U.S. citizen and native of Guyana. They arrested him in Brooklyn, New York. They've also given us names of some of the other suspects that they've arrested. Abdul Kadir (ph), a citizen of Guyana who has served as a member of the Guyanese Parliament. Another man, Kareem Ebraheem, a citizen of Trinidad. He's in custody in Trinidad. A fourth defendant, Abdul Nehr, is a citizen of Guyana, and the U.S. plans to seek tradition (ph).
And according to the criminal complaint, beginning in January of '06 and continuing up until present David (ph), defendants were conspiring to destroy buildings, fuel tanks and fuel pipelines at JFK Airport with explosives. It's alleged in the complaint that the plot captains into an international network of Muslim extremists from the United States, Guyana, and Trinidad, and utilized the knowledge and expertise and contacts of the conspirators to develop their plot.
An informant working with law enforcement agents actually began monitoring the plot in its early stages and made numerous recorded conversations with the defendants. And here's what's interesting, Tony, something that I have just found here. In a recorded conversation following one of the surveillance missions, Defratus, this is what he says and this an actual excerpt from a phone conversation.
He allegedly says, "Anytime you hit Kennedy, it is the most hurtful thing to the United States." To hit John F. Kennedy, wow. "They love John F. Kennedy. He's like, the man. If you hit that, this whole country will be in mourning. It's like you can kill the man twice."
I'm reading an excerpt from that reported phone conversation. Once again, we're waiting for this press conference that's about to begin in just about a few minutes with the FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force will be here as well. So, hopefully we'll be able to get you some more details when that starts.
HARRIS: Well, that is -- that is some chilling information there, Jason, just absolutely chilling. And just answer this quick question, logistically. Will we have a live signal, will we be able to bring that news conference to folks at home live? Or is this a situation where there won't be cameras in the room and we will count on your expert reporting on this?
CARROLL: Well, you can count on my expert reporting, Tony. But, we are working on it -- we are working on trying to get it live out to everyone who's watching. We're going to do our best to do that. If we can't though, we'll be here, and we'll get -- we'll do the best we can.
HARRIS: OK. Jason, that is -- that is (INAUDIBLE). Stay with us for just a moment as we sort of parse through this information.
Again, this Russell Defratus is -- correct me if I'm incorrect here -- the former airport cargo worker, and if you would, just go through that, those comments from him recorded by the informant, the FBI informant about what he said about hitting JFK.
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