WASHINGTON - Federal
investigators are pursuing leads in the United States related to the foiled plot
to blow up flights from Britain but so far have found no evidence of terrorist
activity, Bush administration officials said Friday.
Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff,
meanwhile, said he would adjust new flight restrictions to try to make air
travel for passengers "as simple and as easy as possible, as quickly as
U.S. counterterrorism officials stressed that
there was no reason for Americans to believe plotters or others connected with
the terror scenario were in the country. Still, the FBI has so far assigned an
estimated 200 investigators to track down potential links.
"We operate on the assumption that we don't
have everybody," White House homeland security adviser Frances Fragos Townsend
said in an interview with The Associated Press. "I never, and I don't think
anybody else in this business ever assumes when you take a case down that you've
"I think it's pretty clear that in this case,
we don't have everybody," she added.
In the two weeks before authorities cracked the
case, leading to 41 arrests in Pakistan and Britain, the FBI asked for legal
permission in a significant number of cases to obtain records, conduct searches
or surveillance in the United States. So far, the increased scrutiny has not
turned up terror-related evidence, according to a federal law enforcement
The arrests led the Bush administration to put
the U.S. on its highest threat alert for flights headed to the United States
from Britain. Additionally, all other flights were raised to the second-highest
Two other U.S. counterterrorism officials,
speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the
investigation, said the British suspects placed calls to several cities in the
United States before their arrests. At least some of the calls were placed to
people in New York, Washington, Chicago and Detroit, one official said. The
suspects are all British citizens, mostly men in the 20s and 30s of Pakistani
The FBI is expecting the arrests and searches
of homes and computers in England to generate another round of leads on possible
U.S. ties. But there have been no arrests in the United States in connection
with the plot, officials said.
Dozens of Muslim and Arab people in the United States
reported being questioned by law enforcement officials over the last several
weeks, community leaders said. But they believed the scrutiny was related to the
conflict between Israel and Lebanon - and not to the
"We were all looking one way," said James
Zogby, president of the Arab American Institute, who said he personally was told
of only a handful of recent complaints. "But if something else was happening, we
weren't focused on it."
Authorities on both sides of the Atlantic fear
there still could be dozens of people loose who participated in the plot ¡ª even
if only tangentially, like by supplying chemicals or funding. Lawmakers also
continued to be briefed on details.
Rep. Pete Hoekstra, R-Mich., chairman of the
House Intelligence Committee, interrupted an annual bike tour in his district to
return to Washington and meet with U.S. officials. Rep. Rob Simmons, R-Conn.,
who also was briefed Friday, said he believed the Patriot Act and other laws
that permit domestic surveillance of terror suspects were critical to capturing
Rep. Peter King (news, bio, voting record),
chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, said he was assured during
several intelligence briefings that "there's absolutely no evidence" of plotters
in the country.
"They're not looking at anybody in the U.S.,"
said King, R-N.Y.
Chertoff, seeking to ease travel concerns at
Washington's Reagan National Airport, also sought to assure Americans that there
is no evidence of plotters in the United States. But he cited the possibility of
other terrorists or sympathizers, saying, "So I'm not prepared to let my guard
The Transportation Security Administration
has barred many common carry-on items such as water bottles and toiletries since
the plot was unraveled. Chertoff provided no details but said officials would
focus on the threat involved - some common chemicals, which combined can form a deadly
Officials will study "how we can calibrate our
systems to take account of these developments, and then, with that in mind, try
to ultimately come back to a regime of security that will give the maximum
amount of freedom to the travelers," he said.