A suspected al-Qaida plot to detonate a bomb during President Obama's inauguration was taken so seriously that Defense Secretary Robert Gates — a Bush administration holdover and the only member of Obama's Cabinet already confirmed by the U.S. Senate — was cloistered in an undisclosed, secure facility to preserve the line of succession in case an attack succeeded.
The New York Times reports on the incident in an upcoming magazine article, "Inside Obama's War on Terrorism," by Peter Baker. A preliminary version of the article was posted Monday on the newspaper's Web site.
In the weeks leading up to the inauguration, officials worked around the clock to analyze intelligence reports that a group of Somali jihadists planned to infiltrate the United States from Canada to detonate explosives.
The president's national security advisers concluded the threat of a major terror attack during the inauguration was serious. One major concern: That a bomb detonated during the inauguration of an American president would do irreparable, "debilitating" damage to America's image abroad.
Although President Obama declined to be interviewed for the Times article, top presidential adviser David Axelrod told Baker the threat appeared to weigh heavily on the president-elect in the days leading up to the inauguration.
Of course, Obama was aware of the terror threat long before he was elected. "But when the reality comes and the baton is being passed and you're now dealing with real terrorism threats," Axelrod said, "it's a very sobering moment."
Baker reports that Obama's team worked hand-in-hand with former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and other Bush administration officials to counter the threat.
Officials now believe the intelligence reports were bogus, an effort by one Somali faction to dupe the United States into taking out a rival group. It indicates how difficult it can be to discern actual security threats from bogus ones.
The Times' account suggests that Obama's encounter with the daunting realities of international terrorism, which have led him to embrace many of the very Bush administration policies that he scorned as a candidate, began much earlier than generally recognized.
Only vague details of the threat were released to the public at the time. On Inauguration Day, CNN reported the FBI and Homeland Security was worried about a possible attack by Al Shabaab, a Somali terror group.
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