Bush Feared Nuclear Device in Pennsylvania

Five years after 9/11, President Bush's advisers say they have learned a great deal about how to fight a war on terror, and they are no doubt correct. In Newsweek's Aug. 21-28 cover story, "Terror Now," (on newsstands Monday, August 14), Assistant Managing Editor Evan Thomas, with a team of Newsweek correspondents, sift through the investigation in Britain of the terror attack that was to bring down 10 airliners and also examine the lessons learned since 9/11 in the global war on terror.

Bush has apparently learned not to overreact. In the panicky days after the Sept. 11 attacks, the president wanted to see any scrap of information, no matter how thinly sourced. As a result, raw and unfiltered intelligence gushed into the Oval Office. In one instance, authorities in Pennsylvania received a frightening tip from an FBI office overseas that terrorists had a nuclear device on a train somewhere between Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. The report went straight to the White House, where the president was anxiously consuming threat traffic like a midlevel CIA analyst. The information turned out to be bogus. Within a day it had been traced back to a conversation between two men overheard at a urinal in Ukraine.

That incident contrasts with the more measured approach Bush took when informed of the terror plot investigation thwarted last week by British officials. As British intelligence was closely tracking the plot over several months, Bush was kept only loosely in the loop, Newsweek reports.

At a briefing on Aug. 3, "he was basically told, 'This is happening and you should know about it, but we don't have a lot of details yet'," says a senior White House aide who asked to remain anonymous discussing intelligence briefings. "This shows how we're better equipped to fight the enemy now," Fran Fragos Townsend, the White House homeland security adviser, tells Newsweek. "We're seeing levels of cooperation between the FBI, CIA, and the NSA we didn't see before. Nobody was trying to hide the ball."

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